MUSE’s use of glowing artwork by Kyle Lambert of ‘Stranger Things’ fame on their eighth album ‘Simulation Theory’ in 2018 sent sections of the Synthwave community into meltdown.
There were cries that they had “stolen the aesthetics and concept” and how “it’s not relevant to their sound”! But WHAM! had Peter Saville designed sleeves and never sounded like NEW ORDER or OMD. However, their touch paper is likely to be lit even further with the video to ‘Behold, The Glove’, an enjoyable solo synth instrumental by front man Matt Bellamy in the vein of Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre.
The video directed by Lance Drake is part of MUSE’s lavish ‘Simulation Theory’ film which “follows a team of scientists as they investigate the source of a paranormal anomaly appearing around the world. Blurring the lines between narrative and concert film, virtual and reality”.
Reminiscent of the closing scene from the 1968 film ‘Planet Of The Apes’ directed by Franklin J Schaffner, Bellamy is seen crawling around a desolate landscape when he finds what looks like a Nintendo power glove in the sand. Upon wearing it, it allows him to master the rather obscure and expensive Schmidt 8 Voice Polyphonic synth, a snip at 20,000 Euros!
While a Roland Juno 60 has been there since the band’s first album ‘Showbiz’, a Buchla 200e modular synthesizer was part of the armoury for the 2006 album ‘Black Holes & Revelations’ which featured ‘Map Of The Problematique’, a song quite clearly influenced by DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’. More recently,
ERASURE’s lawyers were probably knocking on the door of their tour bus for the similarities between ‘Something Human’ and ‘A Little Respect’. But the synth-friendly combo who have been most key to the sound of MUSE has been ULTRAVOX. It’s not difficult to imagine Midge Ure singing ‘Starlight’ while ‘Vienna’ has been borrowed not once but twice, first on ‘Apocalypse Please’ where the middle eight bass synth section was more or less lifted note-for-note and the second time was more obviously with the drum intro to ‘Guiding Light’.
Despite his lukewarm review of NEW ORDER’s ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’ for ‘Smash Hits’, as a fan of their singles, Neil Tennant wrote: “I’m still looking forward to their ‘Greatest Hits’”.
Not appreciating a greatest hits of an artist who you admire is the ultimate in fan snobbery; that they are in a position of being able to release one is often a symbol of wider acclaim and success.
Despite what those too cool for school hipster types would have you believe, when you are 15 years old with just £4 in your hand, if you are choosing a record of an artist who you only know the singles of, you tend to opt for a compilation where possible, that is a fact.
The greatest hits compilation has its place in documenting the immediate appeal of an artist. It can often be the only release that most casual listeners need, especially if the albums were disappointing and featured all the wrong versions of their best songs as was the case with FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD.
But then, duos like PET SHOP BOYS and ERASURE were just supreme in the singular format while conversely, there are those like HEAVEN 17 and VISAGE whose best work can be found on their first two albums. However, bands such as NEW ORDER could often be better represented by their singles rather than their albums, as many of them were standalone releases that were not included on their long players which were often quite different in musical style.
Now while something as “commercial” as releasing a greatest hits would have been an anathema to NEW ORDER’s label Factory Records in 1983, flush with unexpected success and cash, Tony Wilson wanted to play their singles using the CD player that came with his brand new Jaguar car.
Thus, the ‘Substance’ compilation was born in 1987; issued in a variety of formats including double vinyl, cassette, DAT and CD, the latter three variants made use of the extra playing time available and included bonuses such as B-sides, tracks only previously issued in Belgium, instrumental versions and those rarely essential dub experiments.
Perhaps not unsurprisingly despite its flaws with re-recordings, edits and omissions, ‘Substance’ has gone on to sell around twelve million copies worldwide and was many fans’ entry point into NEW ORDER.
A good compilation does the job of attracting new fans while providing something extra for long standing fans and completists where possible. New versions or up-to-the-minute remixes of established standards were the fashion for a period but thankfully, this marketing strategy is today generally considered passé and previously unreleased songs are now considered the main draw.
But ultimately, what makes a great greatest hits package is a seamless listening experience, although this is something which even the best acts don’t always get right despite the quality of their best output.
So The Electricity Club takes a personal look at the electronic legacy of greatest hits via twenty notable artist compilation albums, each with valid reasons for their inclusion, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order within. And as one great Northern English philosopher once wrote: “some are here and some are missing…”
ULTRAVOX The Collection (1984)
At the time of release, ‘The Collection’ was novel. Not only did it feature all thirteen Midge Ure-fronted ULTRAVOX singles to date, but in ‘Love’s Great Adventure’, it also included a brand new one too. Yes, 2009’s ‘The Very Best Of’ features four more tracks including the cancelled 1984 single ‘White China’, but honestly who really needs the singles from ‘U-Vox’? ‘The Collection’ was a perfect package that could be played from start to finish, from ‘Dancing With Tears in My Eyes’ to ‘Lament’ via ‘Vienna’.
The ideal DEPECHE MODE greatest hits package would be CD1 of ‘The Singles 86-98’ which ends with the ‘Violator’ 45s coupled with the innocent synthpop period gathered on ‘The Singles 81-85’. But as that doesn’t exist, the very first DM singles compilation wins over thanks to its inclusion of candid photos from the band’s history and some amusing negative review quotes, highlighting that once upon a time, DEPECHE MODE actually had a sense of humour. Oh! Those were the days!
The first compilation ‘New Man Numan’ was a 1982 singles collection that sold poorly as his star turn was on the wane. But by 1987, there was renewed interest in trailblazing exploits of Gary Numan; the ‘Exhibition’ double CD package featured not only his singles up to 1983 but choice album tracks from his imperial Beggars Banquet phase like ‘Metal’ and ‘Remind Me To Smile’ which should have been singles plus rarities like ‘On Broadway’ and B-sides such as ‘Do You Need The Service?’.
CHINA CRISIS had their fourteen track ‘Collection’ of primarily singles released in a wonderful limited edition double CD package with fourteen of their B-sides. Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon were better than their four Top20 hits suggested, with songs like ‘African & White’ and ‘Arizona Sky’ in particular deserving of much higher chart placings. Add in B-sides like ‘No Ordinary Lover’, ‘A Golden Handshake For Every Daughter’ and ‘Dockland’, and you have a near perfect document of their career.
The diminutive Glaswegian never stuck around in his bands for long but he had one of the most recognisable voices in pop, thanks to in his glorious falsetto. So what better than compiling his BRONSKI BEAT and COMMUNARDS singles alongside his solo work? From the poignant commentary on gay rights in songs like ‘Smalltown Boy’ and ‘Why?’ to the HI-NRG covers of disco standards ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ and ‘Mighty Real’, this was a fine collection.
After 1988’s financially disastrous ‘Spirit Of Eden’, EMI were keen to recoup their investment on the now departed TALK TALK and what better than with a compilation. While primarily based around their hit singles, ‘Natural History’ actually pulled off an accidental masterstroke by including the full-length album versions of songs like ‘Such A Shame’ and ‘Living In Another World’ which had sounded terrible as single edits. This all made for a better listening experience for those new to Mark Hollis and friends.
‘Discography’ gathered all of PET SHOP BOYS singles during what Neil Tennant has always describe as their imperial phase and could rightly be called one of the best greatest hits albums ever. Featuring four UK No1s, there were others like ‘Left To My Own Devices’, Being Boring’ and the Dusty Springfield duet ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This? that were equally as worthy. Later compilations like ‘PopArt’ mighty have ‘Go West’ and more, but ‘Discography’ captures the duo at their most consistent best.
Coming not long after ‘Discography’, ‘Pop! The First 20 Hits’ saw ERASURE take on PET SHOP BOYS at their own game. Andy Bell and Vince Clarke may have only had three less UK No1s than Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe but that’s a bit like saying Nigel Mansell wasn’t a good as Nelson Piquet on stats alone. ERASURE have always been a better singles act than they are an album one, but while a second volume was added in 2009, this initial volume is the more essential purchase.
Los Angeles goth industrial specialists Cleopatra Records pulled off a major coup by licencing the music of KRAFTWERK from their then-US label Capitol Records for a compilation album. Covering the period 1975-1978, the main point of interest for Kling Klang enthusiasts was the first time on CD release of ‘Radio-Activity’, ‘Trans Europe Express’, ‘The Robots’ and ‘Neon Lights’ in their single edits! ‘The Model’ retrospective was a good introduction to KRAFTWERK for the more cautious consumer.
Liverpool’s FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD are probably the epitome of hype over substance, but in their name came some magnificent ground-breaking singles. For a band who released only two albums, they have been documented more than most already with six greatest hits collections and a plethora of remix packages. The very first one ‘Bang!…’ was undoubtedly the best, serving the Frankie phenomenon in mostly bite size single edit portions with album highlights and perfect for the casual but interested observer.
The first John Foxx compilation ‘Assembly’ in 1992 while welcome, suffered from being selected by the man himself, as artists are not often the best judges of their own work. Much better and more comprehensive was ‘Modern Art’ which gathered all his singles into one place in their correct versions, while also adding a remastered version of the ‘Smash Hits’ flexi-disc ‘My Face’ as a bonus for Foxx aficionados as well as new material from ‘The Pleasures Of Electricity’.
Before Jim Kerr hectored audiences to show them his hands, SIMPLE MINDS were one of the best art rock bands in the UK, swathed in Eurocentric synths and rhythms. ‘Early Gold’ satisfied those who always felt the Glaswegians lost it after ‘New Gold Dream’ by including The Blitz Club anthem ‘Changeling’, the Moroderesque ‘I Travel’ and the glory of ‘Someone Somewhere in Summertime’. However, the magnificent ‘Theme For Great Cities’ is missing but you can’t have it all…
With its hotch-potch of wrong mixes and ordering, the first edition of ‘Singles’ is historically incorrect. But unlike ‘Substance’, it has the correct takes of ‘Ceremony’ and ‘Temptation’. Yes, there’s the album cut of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ and an edited B-side version of 1963 as well, BUT as a listening experience, CD1 of ‘Singles’ does a better job of capturing NEW ORDER up to the end of 1987. ‘Blue Monday’ remains intact, and while the edit of ‘Thieves Like Us’ is annoying, ‘Confusion’ is more tolerable in abridged form.
First up, there is no ideal JAPAN compilation. But ‘The Very Best Of’ wins over because it was the only one that had the key Ariola Hansa era singles ‘Life In Tokyo’, ‘I Second That Emotion’ and ‘Quiet Life’ alongside the Virgin period that produced ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Nightporter’. However, the clumsy 1980 early fade of ‘Quiet Life’ was included rather than the sharper 1981 hit single edit. Also, were two versions of ‘Ghosts’ necessary when ‘Swing’ could have been dropped in? It all spoilt what potential this compendium had.
DURAN DURAN were described by The Guardian in 2015 as “an electronic band with a heavy rock guitarist bolted on” and that era of the classic Le Bon / Rhodes / Taylor / Taylor / Taylor line-up is captured in this 3CD package largely firing on all cylinders. Originally issued in 2003 as a lavish 13CD boxed set and featuring all their singles, extended versions and B-sides from that period, ‘The Singles 81-85’ is superior to the both the preceding ‘Decade’ and ‘Greatest’ compendiums.
“They only want you when you’re seventeen” sang LADYTRON on their single satirising modern day audition culture and perhaps not coincidently, their ‘Best Of 00–10’ featured that number of tracks. A fine introduction to the quartet via their more immediate songs like ‘Discotraxx’, ‘Playgirl’, ‘Runaway’ and the mighty ‘Destroy Everything You Touch’. Extra points were awarded for the right wing baiting revisionist cover of Nazi folkies DEATH IN JUNE’s ‘Little Black Angel’ in a defiant act of artistic and ideological subversion.
Often seen as Germany’s answer to DEPECHE MODE, CAMOUFLAGE added in elements of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA and have a marvellous back catalogue that is well worth investigating. ‘The Singles’ is a fine introduction, containing their signature song ‘The Great Commandment’ as well as ‘Stranger’s Thoughts’, ‘Love Is A Shield’, ‘Suspicious Love’, ‘Me & You’ plus a great cover of Moon Martin’s ‘Bad News’. With liner notes by The Electricity Club, what more could you want? 😉
Jean-Michel Jarre has several greatest hits albums but they all have been frustrating listens. This has largely been due to his synthesizer symphonies not being suited to sub-three minute edits, a flaw heavily exposed on the ‘Images’ compilation. But ‘Essential Recollection’ collected the French Maestro’s most accessible moments with sympathetic fades that captured the essence of his electronic wizardry. However, 2000’s ‘The Bells’ was odd inclusion in a collection that focussed on his earlier imperial phase.
SOFT CELL Keychains & Snowstorms – The Singles (2018)
No-one expected Marc Almond and Dave Ball to reunite as SOFT CELL for a final show in 2018, but a bigger surprise was a brand new single ‘Northern Lights’ b/w ‘Guilty (Cos I Say You Are)’. Both tracks were included on a new singles compilation which reminded people that SOFT CELL had five UK Top5 singles in just over thirteen months between 1981 and 1982. However, a minus mark gets awarded for using the inferior album mix of ‘Tainted Love’ instead of the chart topping single version!
As with JAPAN, there is no perfect OMD compilation. The brand has had some quite different phases, so means different things to different people. ‘The Best Of’ is still their biggest selling album but the comprehensive ‘Souvenir’ gathers all their singles, from the exemplarly ‘Messages’, ‘Enola Gay’ and ‘Maid Of Orleans’ to the more recent ‘Dresden’ and ‘Don’t Go’. But while there’s duffers like ‘Stand Above Me’ and ‘If You Want It’, maybe it’s the ideal time to put those CD programmers and playlists to work!
SQUAREPUSHER is the musical vehicle for the Chelmsford-born producer Tom Jenkinson, noted for his drum n bass, breakbeat and jazz techno work.
Signing to Warp Records in 1995, his prolific run of albums have led him to become one of the most acclaimed IDM artists in the UK.
His most recent long playing release being ‘Be Up A Hello’ was described by Uncut magazine as “An impressively wide ranging fusion of twisted synth melodies, knotty beats and sense-rupturing speed-jazz”.
Amongst the speedy tracks on ‘Be Up A Hello’ like ‘Oberlove’ and ‘Nervelevers’ was a more melodic ambient piece entitled ‘Detroit People Mover’. On this new ‘Lamental’ EP, Jenkinson focusses on that lesser-known contemplative side to SQUAREPUSHER.
‘Detroit People Mover’ was a number seeded from a Jean-Michel Jarre aesthetic with glorious synthy swoops and bursts of spacey string machine. But with the ‘Lamental’ opener ‘The Paris Track’, a squelchy accelerated rework of ‘Detroit People Mover’ is presented which despite the frantic building of techno beats, remains gloriously filmic and melodic.
‘Les Mains Dansent’ springs a total surprise as a rather solemn acoustic guitar interlude, but following it is Jenkinson’s own ‘Avec Batterie’ rework of ‘MIDI Sans Frontieres’ which was written in 2016 as a marvellously melancholic response to the EU referendum in the vein of William Orbit. Here, he explores a type of ambient breakbeat which is strangely compelling, with the two styles unexpectedly complimenting one another.
Unlikely to alienate Jenkinson’s loyal fanbase, the reworkings featured on ‘Lamental’ are beat laden but they are also unobtrusive, allowing the cinematic synth aspects to glow.
With great crossover potential, SQUAREPUSHER is likely to draw in previously disinterested parties to listen to his music with this release.
‘Lamental’ is released by Warp Records as a 12 inch vinyl EP and download
So how did The Electricity Club arrive at its discerning musical ethos?
It probably all began with a very liberal and Bohemian junior school teacher named Miss Nielsen who played KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’, PINK FLOYD’s ‘Echoes’ and the soundtrack of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ to the class, with the unusual sound of all three providing an otherworldly, yet captivating listen.
Later on, various parts of the 22 minute ‘Autobahn’ track appeared on the end credits of BBC children’s drama ‘Out Of Bounds’ and opened ‘Newsround Extra’, but 1977 was to become the true Year Zero in electronic pop. With ‘Oxygène’, ‘Sound & Vision’, ‘Magic Fly’ and ‘I Feel Love’ all hitting the UK Top 3 within months of each other, this was effectively the beginning of synths designing the future.
To celebrate the 10th birthday of the site, here is a very personal list of 30 tracks that shaped The Electricity Club. These are primarily songs that solidified and expanded the interest in synth or later provided hope in the face of real music snobbery and the return of the guitar in the wake of Britpop.
There will be grumbles that the likes of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, HEAVEN 17, YAZOO, DURAN DURAN, TALK TALK, PROPAGANDA, CLIENT, RÖYKSOPP and others are not featured, and certainly if this list was a 40, they would all be included. But this list is an impulsive snapshot of The Electricity Club’s own journey in music, as opposed to being a history of electronic pop or a best of.
What? No industrial, acid house, techno or dubstep you ask? Well, that’s because The Electricity Club disliked the majority of it. While this is not always the case, the site has generally about synthpop ie pop music using synthesizers, as can be seen from this rather esteemed electronic roll of honour 😉
This is the history that the too cool for school media, who think everything jumped from KRAFTWERK to Detroit Techno in one fell swoop, don’t like to mention…
With a restriction of one track per artist moniker and presented in yearly and then alphabetical order featuring music from before the site came into being, here is why The Electricity Club is how it is…
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE Oxygène (1976)
For many including Jean-Michel Jarre, ‘Popcorn’ for their first experience of a synthpop hit and he released his own version under the moniker of THE POPCORN ORCHESTRA in 1972. But while working on his first proper full length electronic album in 1976, Jarre adapted a melodic phrase from the late Gershon Kingsley’s composition as the main theme of what was to become the project’s lead single. That composition was ‘Oxygène IV’ and the rest is history.
Exploring a “whole new school of pretension” with his new creative muse Brian Eno, ‘Sound & Vision’ saw David Bowie capture a tense European aesthetic. Utilising an uplifting rhythm guitar hook and an ARP Solina string machine, the most distinctive feature was the pitch shifted percussion, produced by Tony Visconti feeding the snare drum though an Eventide H910 Harmonizer. The half instrumental track was a taster of the approach that was to come with the half instrumental parent album ‘Low’.
SPACE was the brainchild of Didier Marouani who went under the pseudonym of Ecama and formed the collective in 1977 with Roland Romanelli and Jannick Top. Together with compatriot Jean-Michel Jarre and a certain Giorgio Moroder also in the charts, the space disco of the iconic ‘Magic Fly’ heralded the start of a new European electronic sound within the mainstream. With its catchy melody and lush accessible futurism, ‘Magic Fly’ sold millions all over the world.
Working with Donna Summer on an album called ‘I Remember Yesterday’, producer Giorgio Moroder wanted to feature a track that represented “the sound of the future”. Employing the Moog Modular system with an 8-step analogue sequencer plus a triplet delay to create the pulsing synthesizer lines and metronomic beat, ‘I Feel Love’ changed the course of music. Summer’s hypnotic Middle Eastern falsetto was an accident, coming as a result of the track being laid down outside of her usual vocal range.
Using a Micromoog for its iconic hook, ‘The Model’ was inspired by KRAFTWERK’s visits to night clubs in the more vibrant city of Cologne 30km down the road from Düsseldorf where their iconic Kling Klang studio was based. There, they would observe beautiful models drinking champagne and seek their company. It was quite the antithesis of the robot image that the quartet were portraying. Sonically ahead of its time, it became a UK No1 four years after its initial release in 1982.
In a creative rut following their massive UK success in the glam-era, the Mael Brothers had found ‘I Feel Love’ awe inspiring. A journalist friend put SPARKS into contact with Giorgio Moroder who had aspirations to work with a band and set to work with them immediately. The first result was the tremendous ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ where Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto fitted well with the electro-disco sound, while the programmed backing meant Ron Mael could maintain his image of doing nothing.
Still using the group name of TUBEWAY ARMY at the behest of Beggars Banquet, the astoundingly long ‘Are Friends Electric?’ with its diabolus in musica structure became the entry point for many into electronic music. It was Synth Britannia’s ‘Starman’ moment when it was featured on ‘Top Of The Pops’ and Old Grey Whistle Test’ during the same week. When it reached No1 in the UK, life was never the same for Gary Numan, the pale-faced front man of what turned out to be a phantom band.
Available on the album ‘Replicas’ via Beggars Banquet
Departing ULTRAVOX after the ‘Systems Of Romance’ album and now making music along with an ARP Odyssey, Elka Rhapsody and a Roland CR78 Compurhythm, John Foxx realised his own starker vision of electronic music. Engineered by Gareth Jones who was to later notably work with DEPECHE MODE, ‘Underpass’ channelled the dystopian writings of JG Ballard in his lyrical imagery, with Foxx added that the English novelist was “addressing what I’d come to call ‘the unrecognised present’.”
Available on the album ‘Metamatic’ via Metamatic Records
A track that “weighed more than Saturn”, ‘The Black Hit Of Space’ sounded extraordinary when it opened the second album by THE HUMAN LEAGUE. The Sci-Fi lyrics about an infinite pop hit were strangely out there while harsh screeching frequencies from overdriving the mixing desk; “We were also experimenting with guitar pedals” Martyn Ware told The Electricity Club, “All that was a reaction to the cleanness of the previous album so we overcompensated.”
The resonant heart of ‘Quiet Life’ was a Roland System 700 driven by Richard Barbieri’s snappy eight step Oberheim Mini-sequencer. Complimented by Mick Karn’s distinctively fluid fretless bass, Rob Dean’s clean guitar lines and David Sylvian’s lyrical conclusion that the band were outsiders in the environment they were born into, it was a sure-fire hit… but not yet as Ariola Hansa release it as a single in the UK until 1981. But meanwhile, JAPAN had invented DURAN DURAN!
Within the environment of colder electronic pioneers such as Gary Numan and John Foxx, OMD were perhaps the first of the warmer synthesizer bands. ‘Messages’ utilised a pulsing ‘Repeat’ function on a Korg Micro-Preset shaped by hand twisting the octave knob. Re-recorded from the original album version under the helm of producer Mike Howlett, he harnessed a template of basic primary chord structures and one fingered melodies, netting a No13 UK chart hit.
Of ‘Astradyne’, Billy Currie told The Electricity Club: “Midge started with that strong melody, Chris’ bass was also a very strong feature. I played a piano counter melody behind. The track was so strong that we felt at ease to lengthen it with a long textural piano bit that is sort of bell-like with the metronomic bass drum beats and the violin tremolo solo… Midge came up with that final section lift taking it out of the long ARP solo. I double it! It is very celebratory at the end…”
Available on the album ‘Vienna’ via Chrysalis/EMI Records
Conceived during soundchecks under the working title of ‘Toot City’ while they were playing on Gary Numan’s first concert tour, Chris Payne, Billy Currie and Ced Sharpley had recorded the track at Genetic Studios as a souvenir keepsake. Midge Ure later came up lyrics and a melody when the track was added to the debut VISAGE album and the rest was history. Capturing the cinematic pomp of the New Romantic movement in all its glory, ‘Fade To Grey’ became a No1 hit in West Germany.
Available on the album ‘Visage’ via Polydor Records
Written by Vince Clarke and produced by Daniel Miller, DEPECHE MODE fulfilled the Mute label founder’s vision of a teenage pop group with synthesizers that he had imagined and conceived for SILICON TEENS. Despite its danceable bubblegum appeal and catchy synthesizer hooks, ‘New Life’ also featured some intricate folk vocal harmonies which made it quite distinct from the chanty nature of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ which was also out at the same time.
The expansive instrumental ‘Theme for Great Cities’ was initially been given away as a freebie having initially been part of ‘Sister Feelings Call’, a seven track EP given gratis to early purchasers of SIMPLE MINDS’ breakthrough fourth album ‘Sons & Fascination’. Starting with some haunting vox humana before a combination of CAN and TANGERINE DREAM takes hold, the rhythm section covered in dub echo drove what is possibly one of the greatest synth signatures ever!
SOFT CELL’s cover of ‘Tainted Love’ became ubiquitous as Synth Britannia’s first true crossover record, reaching No1 in UK, Germany, Australia and Canada while also breaking the US Top 10 a year later. Written by Ed Cobb, ‘Tainted Love’ was recorded by Gloria Jones and became a Wigan Casino favourite on the Northern Soul scene. As a fan of that scene, David Ball knew the song and took it into haunting electronic torch territory, while Marc Almond added an honestly spirited vocal.
With its iconic honky tonk piano line and sophisticated arrangement, ‘Party Fears Two’ was a magnificent song about dealing with the perils of schizophrenia, made all the more resonant by Billy Mackenzie’s operatic prowess. It also kick started a brief period when ASSOCIATES subverted the UK charts with an avant pop approach that fitted in with the Synth Britannia template of the times. A Top10 hit and emotive to the nth degree, the original single version is still the best and total perfection.
Harrow College of Art students Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe were unlikely pop stars, but an appearance on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ led to a deal with London Records as well as support slots with DEPECHE MODE and JAPAN. Using a Korg MS20 synched to a Linn Drum Computer as its rhythmic backbone, the haunting melancholy of ‘I’ve Seen The Word’ fused the sombre lyricism of JOY DIVISION with the melodies and textures of OMD via a Roland Jupiter 8.
Merseyside duo CHINA CRISIS are probably the most under rated band of their generation. The haunting ‘Christian’ was a song about the fate of soldiers in the trenches during World War One. Slow and melancholic, ‘Christian’ was as unlikely a hit single as ‘Ghosts’ by JAPAN was, but in a far more open-minded and diverse period in pop music than today, acts with a less obvious rock ‘n’ roll outlook were generally in with a chance; it reached No12 in the UK singles charts.
‘Temptation’ was NEW ORDER’s self-produced electronic breakthrough away from the haunting legacy of JOY DIVISION. The recording itself was marvellously flawed, with Stephen Morris’ overdriven Simmons snare panned too far to the right while band members could also be heard calling instructions and tutting. The pulsing hypnotism of the triggered ARP Quadra and the iconic “oooh-oo-ooh” vocal refrain made ‘Temptation’ rather joyous and magical.
When Jimmy Somerville, Steve Bronski and the late Larry Steinbachek made their first ever TV appearance performing on BBC2’s ‘ORS’, BRONSKI BEAT were nothing short of startling, thanks to their look, their minimal synth sound and Somerville’s lonely earth shattering falsetto. The trio had sought to be more outspoken and political in their position as openly gay performers and the tale of ‘Smalltown Boy’ about a gay teenager leaving his family and fleeing his hometown made an important statement.
It was with the re-recorded Stephen Hague version of ‘West End Girls’ that PET SHOP BOYS hit No1 in both the UK and US in 1986. Interestingly, the character of its distinctive bass synth was achieved by Hague coercing a reluctant Chris Lowe into hand playing the riff. Meanwhile, the track fulfilled Neil Tennant’s concept of the duo sounding “like an English rap group” with a dour demeanour that was the antithesis of WHAM! It started an imperial phase for PET SHOP BOYS which included three more No1s.
In today’s world, DEPECHE MODE influenced acts are common place but in 1988, this was highly unusual. Taking ‘Some Great Reward’ as their template, CAMOUFLAGE developed on the industrial flavoured synthpop of ‘Master & Servant’ and ‘People Are People’ which the Basildon boys had all but abandoned from ‘Black Celebration’ onwards. Probably the best single DM never recorded. while ‘The Great Commandment’ was a hit in Europe and the US, it made no impression in Britain.
Available on the CAMOUFLAGE album ‘The Singles’ via Polydor Records / Universal Music
Produced by Stephen Hague, ‘A Little Respect’ was perfection from the off with its lively combination of Vince Clarke’s pulsing programming and strummed acoustic guitar. As the busy rhythmical engine kicked in, Andy Bell went from a tenor to a piercing falsetto to provide the dynamic highs and lows that are always omnipresent in all the great pop songs like ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Careless Whisper’. Something of a crossover record for ERASURE, ‘A Little Respect’ was covered by WHEATUS in 2000.
DUBSTAR straddled Britpop with a twist of Synth Britannia. ‘Not So Manic Now’ was a song by Wakefield indie band BRICK SUPPLY, but the trio made it their own with the Northern lass earthiness of Sarah Blackwood providing the chilling commentary of an attack on a helpless pensioner. Stephen Hague’s wonderful production fused programmed electronics with guitars and cello in fine fashion, while the incessant programmed rhythms drove the song along without being obtrusive to the horrifying story.
It is interesting to think that GOLDFRAPP were initially labelled as a trip-hop act. Their superb stratospheric debut ‘Felt Mountain’ had Ennio Morricone’s widescreen inflections but to accompany an ascent to the Matterhorn rather than a trek through a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. The opening song ‘Lovely Head’ was laced with deviant sexual tension. Will Gregory’s mad Korg MS20 treatments on Alison Goldfrapp’s operatic screaming produced some thrilling musical moments.
Describing the relationship between artist and fan, this was another throbbing Moroder-inspired cacophony of electronic dance from Michel Amato with a dirty clanking Korg KR55 Rhythm used to great effect. Deliciously hypnotic, the swimmy ARP synths drowned any sorrows as the pulsing euphoria took a hold. Miss Kittin didn’t sing as much as deadpan her thoughts, but her sexy Grenoble charm carried off what was a rather superb Electroclash anthem.
LADYTRON became one of the first bands for many years to primarily use synthesizers as their tools of expression and attain critical acclaim. Their debut ‘604’showed electro potential in their initial quest to find ‘yesterday’s tomorrow’. With octave shifts galore to satirical lyrics about the X-Factor/Next Year’s Top Model generation, ‘Seventeen’ demonstrated the tactile nature of analogue synthesis that was key to a revival in fortunes for electronic pop in the 21st Century.
Probably the most influential electronic act to come out of Sweden are THE KNIFE. Those long winter nights certainly had their effect on siblings Karin and Olof Dreijer. ‘Silent Shout’ was hypnotic understated rave with the a quota of creepy Nordic eccentricity. The sharp appregiator and ambient percussion melted with Karin Dreijer’s heavily pitch-shifted low register vocals providing a menacing counterpoint to her younger brother’s vibrant electronic lattice.
Is a cover or is it Memorex? This interpolation of ‘Space Age Love Song’ by A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS provided MARSHEAUX with their most immediate number yet. Borrowing the uniformed look of CLIENT but applying a pure synthpop template, Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou became notable for their marketing masterstrokes. The parent ‘Peek-A-Boo’ CD included a paper bag ghost mask. Fans wore it, took pictures and sent them to the duo… around 3,500 pictures were gathered!
‘Mirores’ is the excellent debut long player by Welsh synth songstress ANI GLASS and conceived around the idea of movement and progress around her hometown of Cardiff.
With enticing synthpop songs sitting together with more conceptual found sound adventures, it is one woman’s artistic vision celebrating her heritage and home, empowered by the freedom and democracy opened up via electronic music.
ANI GLASS released her first EP ‘Ffrwydrad Tawel’ in 2017 having served an apprenticeship under mentors such as OMD’s Andy McCluskey and the late Martin Rushent. She kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about realising her artistic vision and remaining true to her culture.
Your debut album ‘Mirores’ has been several years in the making, how did you keep focussed and motivated?
It’s been a real labour of love and I’ve really enjoyed the whole process. That’s not to say that it’s been a never-ending journey of joyful motivation; there have been heavy periods of down-time whilst I focussed on other things such as my Masters and PhD, but even during those times I was busy collecting ideas and building a narrative. I’ve always wanted to have created and crafted a strong body of work and so that was all the motivation I needed to make sure that I finished, no matter how long it took.
What were the main differences in approach for you with the album compared with your debut EP ‘Ffrwydrad Tawel’?
The main difference I would say is that my ideas, musicianship and skills have developed since writing and recording the EP and so my approach to making the album was more considered. Essentially, I would just say that I was far more confident in my ability this time around.
You opted to self-produce the album, what were the pros and cons you uncovered along the way?
The only con I can think of was that it probably took far longer than it may have had someone else produced it, but the list of pros is pretty endless to be honest. I learnt the skill of production, I learnt how to fully realise my ideas from start to finish, I felt more ownership over my music and could work at my own pace and it encouraged me to listen to music in a different and more observant way. It also made me realise the amount of work involved and I now fully understand why Martin Rushent took over a year to finish the second PIPETTES album!
What hardware or software synths were you using, have you been tempted by any of those affordable Behringer clones?
I tend to stick to hardware synths, the ones I used on the album include a Juno 106, Waldorf Blofeld, Fender Rhodes and a Korg Minilogue. There maybe one or two software synths but mainly incidental or background stuff and absolutely no Behringer clones!
The album is an observational electronic travelogue with pop songs and conceptual interludes, that appears to be reminiscent of OMD’s ‘Dazzle Ships’ or ‘English Electric’? What were you main pointers influence-wise?
My main sonic influences were Vangelis, Martin Rushent, Giorgio Moroder, Jean-Michel Jarre and Arthur Russell. I do love OMD so I’m quite happy if anything I make resembles their work! The album is a journey – based around a day in the life of a Cardiff girl – and journeys tend to vary in pace, mood and tone and so I made an album that I felt would represent this.
The ‘Mirores’ title song has a very liberating quality about it, what was its genesis?
It was one of the last songs from the album that I wrote, and I certainly began to feel liberated knowing that I had nearly finished it! I wanted the song to capture how moments of doubt and despair can evolve into ones of clarity and realisation.
You play with Euro-disco on ‘Ynys Araul’, do you ultimately still have a pop heart within the messages you are looking to convey?
To me, I find pop music to be the most versatile when it comes to freedom of narrative. I’ve never felt restricted by its more traditional format, this structure allows me to experiment with lyrical themes and ideas. I’m generally quite conceptual and often a little vague when it comes to lyrics which then allows me to discuss almost anything. OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’ is a classic example of how a well-crafted song can be both pop and poignant.
You use sample of Welsh newsreader Huw Edwards within the voice collage on ‘Peirianwaith Perffaith’?
This recording is taken from a news report during the 1997 Welsh devolution referendum results. This momentous event in the social, cultural and political calendar of Wales has played a huge part in the development of Cardiff as a European capital city. What was once the largest exporter of coal in the world, the place where the first million-pound cheque was signed felt like a pretty grey and dreary place during the 80s and 90s.
Despite this, there were a lot of exciting things happening in various pockets around the city and most of all, the people were kind and generous.
The city is unrecognisable today, in part due to the devolution process which has weaved its way into the minds and mechanics of Welsh life, and although we have all the problems of other cities – it’s home.
There’s a gospel flavoured interlude called ‘I.B.T’ which appears to sound familiar?
The recording is of my Mum’s choir CÔR COCHION CAERDYDD (Cardiff Reds), who are a socialist street choir. They sing every Saturday in Cardiff city centre to raise money for great causes and have done for the best part of 40 years. The song itself ‘Freedom Is Coming’ is a South African protest song, but this version is called ‘I.B.T’ which reads in Welsh ‘I Beaty’ (To Beaty). Beaty was a choir member and a wonderful woman and friend, and I recorded the choir singing this song at her funeral.
What was the idea behind including both English and Welsh in ‘Agnes’?
The words spoken at the beginning are taken from an interview done with the artist Agnes Martin as part of a documentary and the Welsh passages that follow depict my feelings about her work (basically, I love her). Her work stops you from thinking or worrying about things, it’s very calming and hugely inspiring – most certainly one of my greatest inspirations.
Do you have any personal favourite tracks on the album, or is it one thread of work for you?
I don’t think I do – they each have specific meanings that are equally important to me. They are reflective of different places, feelings and experiences and I suppose I value them all. I most certainly have songs which fall into the more traditional ‘pop’ category (and I really love pop), but I don’t think I would say that I like them more.
You’re going to be touring the ‘Mirores’ album first in Wales, what have you got planned as far as its presentation is concerned and will you be taking it further afield?
I’ve recently picked up the bass again – I hadn’t played it since I was a member of GENIE QUEEN a long time ago – so that will make an appearance. Andy McCluskey bought this bass for me (as he managed the band at the time) and so the whole process of learning to play it again has been quite an emotional experience… probably realising that I’m not 19 anymore! I will most certainly be travelling across the border and further afield later in the year so I’m very much looking forward to that.
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to ANI GLASS
Special thanks to Bill Cummings at Sound & Vision PR