Tag: John Foxx (Page 1 of 16)

GARETH JONES Interview

The first solo album from Gareth Jones is set for release in September.

He is perhaps best known as the producer of DEPECHE MODE’s first albums with Alan Wilder – ‘Construction Time Again’, ‘Some Great Reward’, and ‘Black Celebration’.

Jones first made his name as an electronic music pioneer on John Foxx’s groundbreaking album ‘Metamatic’.

It was John Foxx who recommended Jones to Mute’s Daniel Miller, starting a creative relationship that shaped many of the towering recordings from FAD GADGET, WIRE, ERASURE and DIAMANDA GALÁS. Other acts who have benefited from Jones’ deft studio work include EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN, GUS GUS, TUXEDOMOON, GRIZZLY BEAR, INTERPOL, MESH, APPARAT and THE HOUSE OF LOVE.

For many years, Jones has worked to inspire young artists and studio techs through the Red Bull Academy and online videos. He has also chosen projects with the aim to help new artists get a foothold, in preference to more commercially advantageous work.

What has been less visible is the humble Jones’ own music. As one half of SUNROOF, he has created covers and remixes of Krautrock classics together with Miller. With Nick Hook, he has created three SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP albums and has another in the pipeline. He has also discreetly issued a number of experimental works over the years, ranging from spoken word pieces to ambient electronics.

‘ELECTROGENETIC‘, Jones’ first album under his own name, comes after his milestone 65th birthday, and it is a highly personal set of compositions.

Built on modular patches, it is also an accomplished melding of humanity and electronics; an organic interface between Mensch and Maschine. The cover features Jones’ father’s wedding ring and an Ankh; symbols of connectedness and life.

The notes prepared by Jones on his microsite for the album explain the spiritual inspirations for certain tracks, which include the passing of his mother-in-law and his own mother. In them, he describes the album as a form of requiem and credo. He seems to have taken to heart the line from Revelations 13:14: “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write…”

The music speaks for itself, however. Infused with modular sequences that are almost danceable, it is not pop. There are traces of THROBBING GRISTLE and hints of TEST DEPARTMENT, but it is not industrial. There are fusions of found sound and electronics that are reminiscent of The Orb, but it is not ambient house. Best listened to as a piece with different movements, ‘ELECTROGENETIC’ has the internal coherence to make up for its defiance of genres.

The album opens at ‘The Beginning’ with a reading from the book of Genesis. Initially sketched on an iPad, Jones developed the track in visits to a Methodist chapel near his studio.

‘Trinity’, which follows, borrows found sound from a choral practice in a Cambridge chapel. It also incorporates instruments from Jones’ childhood – an approach that develops in ‘Mercury’ with the addition of ocarina, recorder and tin whistle, supplemented by piano and a Roland JX-3P. The piano is actually a virtual instrument, played in Kontakt, using Joan-na, a sample bank that Jones made from his childhood piano and named after his late mother.

‘Michigan’ is built on a drone and incorporates vocal samples from WOVOKA GENTLE’s Immie Mason making a reference to his wife’s home state. It was in Detroit that Jones also developed ‘Safe Travels’, another of the stand-out tracks on the album.

The microsite created by Jones to accompany the album offers a set of virtual Post-It notes, leading to handwritten sleeve notes for each track and a link to sample packs. Visitors can download selected samples and import them into their own projects – the DNA of ‘ELECTROGENETIC‘ can live on beyond the album itself.

To find out more, The Electricity Club met Jones virtually in his studio, theArtLab, in the heart of London’s Strongroom complex.

How have you been coping with Covid-19?

I’m an urban cyclist, so I’m pretty comfortable travelling about, you know. I don’t like the Tube too much.

I’ve been very creative, though. In our home, I set up a Studio B in my back bedroom with a laptop, headphones, and a few little synths and things.

But I did loads of amazing work—it was quite astonishing to me that it turned out to be so productive. I’m lucky, in that I had food delivered every day—and I count my blessings, brother, for sure—but it was, strangely, musically a very productive time.

The album marks the passing of people close to you and touches on a number of deep themes – family, spirituality, connectedness. What led you in these directions?

At this stage of my life, I guess these are like major, major events that happened in my life. If there’s a theme, I guess that’s just my voice, my personality, my approach to electronics, and my approach to making music.

I’m not choosing a theme consciously; I’m just walking my path. This is what’s happening. I made a small commitment to myself, in 2019, that I would like to finish a solo project, inspired by all the collaborative work that I’ve done, which I very much enjoyed – you know, with Nick Hook in SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP and Chris Bono in NOUS ALPHA – and with all the remix work I’ve done. I just felt it was time for me to dig deep and do a solo project, and that was my personal contract with myself in 2019.

It came off the back of two very dear mothers dying in 2018: my mother-in-law and my own mother. Somehow, it all started to resonate with me, and the emotional impact of that emerged through the work over the year. It didn’t start as a project to commemorate the mothers, and I hope it’s more than that. It’s not just commemorating the mothers, but that was a certainly a big part of several of the songs – ‘Safe Travels’ being one of them, of course, and ‘Farewell’ another. The writing of those was in my mother-in-law’s house.

I gave up smoking when I was 50; and, perhaps it was a coincidence, but it seemed like a symbolic number. With the double loss—and all the parents are gone now—I felt this need or responsibility to myself to make this solo work. And, so, that’s my humble offering—what you hear is what stands before you.

Was your mother close to your work?

No, my mother thought that music was not a proper job. It took a while before my parents came around to the idea that, actually, I might be able to support myself working in music. Both my parents were big lovers of music, as consumers of music, if you like—listeners. They were huge lovers of music: classical music, very much so; not so much jazz and whatever; popular culture music they didn’t really get. A great musical inspiration came from my dad—a love of music from an early time.

My in-laws were much more lovers of popular culture–the Frank Sinatra period. Not just Frank Sinatra, but Tony Bennett, Howard Keel and the 40s, 50s and 60s—they were big lovers of music from that time.

So, there was a lot of music around, of course, but they were not professional musicians. My mother played a little bit of piano, I think, when she was a kid, but I didn’t grow up with parents playing music.

There are many references to spirituality in the material and in your notes on the micro-site for the album. The cover features the Ankh and a wedding ring: one an ancient symbol for life and the other representing connection and togetherness…

It has deep symbolism, the ring, doesn’t it? It is also symbolic of power and continuity – and, you know, eternity. As I get older, I hope my inward life develops deeper and deeper, and part of that is considering the larger questions. We can’t avoid them: birth and death. You know, this is life, brother.

On your site, you refer to ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran. Was that book a big influence on you?

When I was when I was adolescent, for sure. I haven’t read it for a long time. The idea of the trees came back to me when I was working on ‘Alone Together’. That was a very influential book on me as a teenager. It seems like a beautiful discourse on the nature of love and life.

You were previously releasing material with Nick Hook as SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP. Is that still happening?

Yes, it is very much ongoing. Nick’s a great inspiration, and the record’s coming out on his label. He’s got a label in Brooklyn called Calm + Collect. It felt like the right place for the record. He always said that he would help me bring my solo record to the world when I completed it, so we both stuck to our commitment. We are men of our word. We’re working currently on the fourth SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP album, which we’re very excited about. It’s got a bit more of a harmonic content than the last record, which was all drums.

We had plans to get together during the lockdown period to complete the record; but those plans were—like many people’s plans—disrupted, so we are attempting to finish it remotely. We’ve made quite a lot of progress, but all the work we’ve done so far has been the two of us in the room, and that’s very vibrant and very creative; and very fast, very enjoyable. It’s been a bit more difficult focusing energies remotely. That’s weird, but we will get there. The record is close to being finished.

The modern marketplace for music is becoming narrower, and major labels don’t seem to want to invest anything in artists who aren’t going to produce mainstream hits. Shopping something like this must be challenging, because there a limited number of labels that you could go to…

I didn’t try to shop it. Nick and I had this talk about it. We had a commitment. We did try to, as you say, shop the first SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP album, and we have between us a few influential colleagues in the business—lovely people and friends. Many people were kind enough to say how much they liked the record, but no one was remotely interested in putting it out. That was a depressing experience for both of us, which lasted about a month. Then, after a month or so, we said, okay, we just have got to put it out ourselves.

We are trying to make Calm + Collect like a small independent gallery where we can hang our stuff on the wall and say, “Look, we made this. If it’s of any interest, please explore the label further or hit us up or get in touch.”

Of course, it’s wonderful to have the support of a label with the PR and the contacts and the guidance, and even some funding. It’s a marvelous thing for an artist. But if you can’t get it, you can’t give up. You don’t give up.

You talked about the modern marketplace. The huge benefit of the modern technology is that we can bring our music to the world. On Calm + Collect, we can put music out that you can hear in Australia, the day after it’s come out, if you want to. Of course, there is huge, massive noise to try to get yourself noticed, but you have to try and rise above it. How wonderful, though, that we can present our wares to the world and say, “Well, look, here it is. Come and have a listen if you’d like to!”

One of the things that was interesting about the Web site that you can get sample packs, so that you can play with your sounds independently. Are you hoping that people will make their own mixes of the songs or just take the samples and use them in their own projects?

It’s my record company’s idea. All credit to Nick Hook for that. Nick said “Why don’t you make a sample pack?”

He suggested that I could sell them on Bandcamp, if I want, but I just decided to put them out as a gift, if people are interested. There are some elements of the songs, but you can’t remix a whole song from those because they’re not stems of the pieces—they’re not complete. They’re snippets. I went quickly through the nine pieces and chose what I thought were some interesting snippets. I said, well, there you go. If anyone’s interested in having these, then have them and make something with it.

I enjoyed the process. It didn’t take me too long. It seemed like a nice addition, and it was Nick’s idea. Nick and I try to implement each other’s ideas; we try not to shut each other down. So, I thought, okay, I’ll do it. I’m pleased I did it, and it’s something I’ll do in the future, too, I think.

It makes it more like an open source project. With the sample packs, people can look into the source code, and they can pick around and learn from it…

Great. There is a possibility that, down the line, I may well release the multi-tracks, where people can then really dig around if they want to—they can see the whole thing. Everyone who’s remotely interested in music now has some kind of Garage Band type thing on their computer, where they can just drag in a bunch of files and there it is—it plays.

I know, for me, it’s absolutely wonderful to hear other people’s multi-tracks. It’s wonderful to hear some of my old multi-tracks from the past, actually. I pull them up and I think, oh look, we made that 35 years ago or something—there is the multi. So, it’s a special vision, the multitrack. Obviously, I want people to hear my versions of the tunes first, but down the line I might well just link to the multitrack, so that people can see, hear, and dig around—like it’s open source. They can see how it’s made.

A key feature of the album is that you’re using modular kit, which carries an element of chance. One of the nice things about synthesisers is that it is not always predictable what they’re going to sound like and where they’re going to go. Is modular something of interest to you, which is why it was brought into this project?

Yes, it is deeply important. Thank you for asking about it, because it’s reflected in the name—even the name of ‘ELECTROGENETIC‘ is an attempt for me to convey the idea that the birth of the riffs and rhythms and timbres is here in the electronics. It’s born through the electronics.

Modern modular gear—Eurorack, I should say—has empowered me hugely as a musician to be able to speak and channel energies. I hesitate to use the word “express” because I’m a bit nervous about expressing myself. I feel more that I’m more of a channel or tool to concretise or realise, spiritual energy. The modulars have certainly allowed me to do that in a way that I’ve never found really from another instrument, and my personal development as a musician is deeply tied into my involvement with modern modular.

It’s not cheap, but it’s vaguely affordable, whereas the vintage modular that that is so loved is hugely expensive—and hugely expensive to maintain. That’s outside my league, really.

We have had digital gear and sequences for so long, do you think that the modular world brings back the organic quality that was apparent in the albums played by hand, like ‘Metamatic’ and the first two albums by THE HUMAN LEAGUE?

It’s hugely deep and hugely broad, and so it could be, but it can also be extremely rigid. It really is a very broad church, working with modular, and everyone engages with it in their own way. One of the joys for many of us is building a patch that unexpectedly delivers something that we can still interface with; to perform on. We’re joyfully surprised by elements that emerge from the patch we build. That is a very creative way for many of us working with modular setups.

We don’t get many people that — I know certainly that I don’t — go in with a rigid idea and then attempt to construct it in modular, in the sense that I imagine some people might try to write a string quartet, or perhaps how Wendy Carlos made ‘Switched On Bach’. It’s more about building patches, delving deeper and deeper into what emerges; modifying the patch; touching the patch; turning knobs; recording interesting events that occur. You know, it’s not random, by any means, but it’s very rich and very deep, once you embrace the chance element of it.

Do sound design and work on the patches themselves suggest the music? Do you get the idea that this new sound is going to give me the right kind of timbre, the right the right kind of voicing, to make this kind of song?

A lot of the patches already have rhythm and timbre, of course. Most of the pieces on the ‘ELECTROGENETIC‘ record started with a modular patch, which might be quite dense.

There were, of course, other modular patches I made in the period that didn’t develop further; but most of them started with an improvisation by me on a modular patch that I built, which might have melodies, counter-melodies, rhythms, counter-rhythms, all kinds of layers and textures–it can be quite complex.

That is available for further editing and overdubs. In my case, it certainly inspired some simple melodic extra layers performed with the piano, the voice, or the recorder or whatever. I can’t over-emphasise the importance of the improvisations on the modular as groundwork, though; as a very fertile field that this record grew out of. That’s highlighted in the microsite. I’ve even acknowledged my friends at Make Noise. Credit to the synthesiser manufacturer.


The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Gareth Jones

Additional thanks to Mat Smith at Calm + Collect

‘ELECTROGENETIC’ is released digitally on 18th September 2020 via Calm + Collect

http://electrogenetic.com/

https://twitter.com/geniusjones

https://www.instagram.com/garethgeniusjones/


Text and Interview by Simon Helm
20th August 2020

The Electronic Legacy of VARIOUS ARTISTS

So come on, whose first album was a various artists compilation?

They were the biggest sellers for a decade and had dominated the UK album charts so much so that they were given their own!

In 1966, the Canadian budget household gadget firm K-Tel diversified into the territory of compilation albums with ‘25 Country Hits’; it was a surprise success and this comparatively new idea of collecting a number of artists onto an album based around a single theme was expanded further.

K-Tel negotiated directly with artists and labels for the rights to reproduce the original recordings, but where this was not possible, the company would contract “one or more of the original artists” to make a new recording for the compilation, under the premise that the general public generally could not tell the difference between a re-recording and the original.

However, UK budget label Pickwick Records via their Hallmark imprint went one step further in 1968 by producing compilations of the latest hits but as rush-recorded soundalike cover versions under the title ‘Top Of The Pops’ which had nothing to do whatsoever with the BBC TV show; it was all perfectly legal thanks to an oversight by the corporation on trademark.

Purchasers unknowingly got treated to unique interpretations of ‘Autobahn’ and ‘The Model’ by anonymous session musicians who quite obviously had only learnt the song ten minutes before entering the studio. Although demand for such records had dimmed by 1981, acts such as SOFT CELL were still unable to escape with ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ hilariously reduced to geezer pub rock! The singer was revealed to be one Martin Jay who a few years earlier had treated the world to his cloak and dagger take on ‘Are Friends Electric?’.

The albums from K-Tel attempted to cram as many songs as possible onto the 12 inch vinyl format. In order to accommodate this philosophy within its physical limitations, many of the tracks were usually faded out early or came in unusual and often clumsy edits, but even these versions were sought after by loyal fans, thus making the records they came from valued collector’s items.

The various artists compilation album changed forever in 1983 when Virgin and EMI joined forces to produce the ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ series which at the last count had reached ‘Now 106’ and spawned numerous spin-offs and even cable TV channels. In 1984, Sony BMG and Warner Music joined in the action with the ‘Hits’ series, but such was the domination in the UK of these types of albums that in 1989, they were given their own chart and excluded from the main one!

For electronic pop, ‘Machines’ released by Virgin Records in 1980 was one of the first attempts to gather music using synthesizers into one place, but the entry point for many new fans was 1981’s ‘Modern Dance’ on K-Tel. This well-thought out collection saw youngsters saving up their pocket money for their first record purchase or asking Santa to put it into their Christmas stocking, thanks to Radio1 DJ Peter Powell declaring that ‘Modern Dance’ was “The best of total danceability, the sounds of modern dance, on one LP!”.

As with greatest hits albums, what makes a great various artists compilation is a seamless listening experience where possible, or at least more killer than filler. However the continuous DJ mix was a particular irritant running through compilations for a period and rarely worked with classic material or recordings not specifically aimed at the clubland.

However, staying within theme on a compilation is VERY important and straying just slightly can spoil a whole concept, especially if it has been outlined in the title. Soul Jazz Records’ lushly packaged ‘Deutsche Elektronische Musik’ sets over two volumes contained a wide range of freeform experimental works from Germany, but occasionally forgot about the Trade Descriptions Act implications of its title. Meanwhile, ‘Reward’ by post-punk trip-poppers THE TEARDROP EXPLODES had a regular place on collections such as ‘Club For Heroes’, ‘New Romantic Classics’, ‘It’s Electric’ and ‘Our Friends Electric’ despite being brass dominated.

But the nadir came with ‘Synth Pop’, a 3CD collection by Sony Music in 2015 which totally missed the point by featuring AZTEC CAMERA and HAIRCUT 100!??! Now while the inclusion of IMAGINATION’s ‘Body Talk’ with its iconic Moog bassline could be justified, the set highlighted just how much the modern day definition of “synth pop” had become particularly blurred…

Now while some listeners just want endless hits on various artists compilations, others want to be informed and introduced to some lesser-known or rare songs. However, this latter approach can meet with mixed results.

For example, Cherry Red’s ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ and the Trevor Jackson’s ‘Metal Dance’ series were historically fascinating, but not always easy collections to listen to in one sitting. With some of the music close to being unlistenable, it could be akin to studying a hefty text book… highly educational but not always entirely fun!

So The Electricity Club takes a personal look at the electronic legacy of various artists via twenty notable compilation albums, each with valid reasons for their inclusion, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order within.

Yes, several songs reoccur over a number of these releases, but perhaps that is more an indication of their timeless nature. These were tunes that were dismissed by the press and wider public back in the day, but are now considered classic and part of the cultural heritage.


MACHINES (1980)

Having seen the future and signed THE HUMAN LEAGUE as well as OMD through their Dindisc subsidiary, Virgin Records had the foresight to issue a long playing showcase of acts that used synthesizers as their primary instrumentation. As well as their two great hopes, among the outsiders on board were TUBEWAY ARMY, FAD GADGET, SILICON TEENS and DALEK I LOVE YOU. While XTC’s B-side ‘The Somnambulist’ appeared to be incongruous, this was from the band’s synth experimentation period before going more acoustic on 1982’s ‘English Settlement’.

‘Machines’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Machines/master/59149


METHODS OF DANCE (1981)

This compilation had actually been the idea of David Sylvian, hence why it was named after the JAPAN song although their contribution would be ‘The Art Of Parties’. Virgin presented their embarrassment of riches including BEF, DEVO, DAF, SIMPLE MINDS and MAGAZINE while the primary selling point was a new special dub edit of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Do Or Die’ acting as a trailer to ‘Love & Dancing’. The cassette featured more tracks including John Foxx and the actual undanceable ‘Methods Of Dance’ song in place of ‘The Art Of Parties’!

‘Methods Of Dance’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Methods-Of-Dance/master/43926


MODERN DANCE (1981)

1981 was when the sound of electronic pop was virtually everywhere, so the release of ‘Modern Dance’ was perfect synthchronicity. Featuring superb singles from the stellar cast of OMD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HEAVEN 17, JAPAN, DEPECHE MODE, SIMPLE MINDS, VISAGE, LANDSCAPE, FASHION and THE CURE as well as synth trailblazers John Foxx and Gary Numan, an indicator of how supreme this compilation was came with the fact that its most obscure track ‘A World Without Love’ by little known combo THE NEWS was rather good!

‘Modern Dance’ was released by K-Tel Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Modern-Dance/release/504872


SOME BIZZARE ALBUM (1981)

Stevo Pearce’s compendium of new Futurist acts has gone into folklore, having launched the careers of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE and B-MOVIE. Several of acts who didn’t make it were also superb. THE FAST SET’s cover of Marc Bolan’s ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ was enjoyable electro-macabre while ‘Tidal Flow’ by ILLUSTRATION is one of the great lost songs of the era, the band themselves disappearing despite securing the services of Martin Hannett to produce their debut single ‘Danceable’, but it was never finished…

‘Some Bizzare Album’ was released by Some Bizzare

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Some-Bizzare-Album/master/2754


CLUB FOR HEROES (1992)

It took a few years for people to realise just how good the music from the New Romantic era was, so how better than to celebrate it than a compilation named after one of Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s club nights. Featuring the all-star cast of DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET, ULTRAVOX, VISAGE, SOFT CELL and JAPAN, other acts who also got entry into the party were YAZOO, ABC, TALK TALK and CLASSIX NOUVEAUX while most welcome were ICEHOUSE with their eponymous single.

‘Club For Heroes’ was released by Telstar Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Club-For-Heroes/master/120444


IT’S ELECTRIC (1994)

Gathering nineteen “Classic Hits From An Electric Era” including the full length ‘Blue Monday’ from NEW ORDER, ‘It’s Electric’ was largely, a more purist synth collection than ‘Club For Heroes’. Alongside the usual suspects were A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, TEARS FOR FEARS, BRONSKI BEAT, KRAFTWERK, EURYTHMICS, BRONSKI BEAT and ERASURE. However, this collection featured the album version of ‘Tainted Love’ instead of the single, a mistake that would be repeated again and again even on SOFT CELL’s own compilations.

‘It’s Electric’ was released by Dino Entertainment

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Its-Electric-Classic-Hits-From-An-Electric-Era/master/37974


DAWN OF ELECTRONICA (2000)

A tie-in with Uncut magazine celebrating “a music synonymous with futurism”, ‘Dawn Of Electronica’ included the album version of ‘From Here To Eternity by Giorgio Moroder and for the first time on CD, the Some Bizzare version of ‘Remembrance Day’ by B-MOVIE. With the likes of DAF, SUICIDE, ASSOCIATES, CABARET VOLTAIRE, PROPAGANDA, THE ART OF NOISE and YELLO alongside TUBEWAY ARMY, ULTRAVOX, JAPAN and SOFT CELL, this compilation was something a bit different compared to the ones that had come before.

‘Dawn Of Electronica’ was released by Demon Music Group

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Dawn-Of-Electronica-Uncut/release/577680


ELECTRIC DREAMS (2002)

Like ‘Teenage Kicks’ for punk and new wave, there are far too many compilations named ‘Electric Dreams’. This 2CD affair from Virgin Records comprised of thirty-eight “synth pop classics”. For once, this was a compilation documenting the different electronic pop phases including trailblazing analogue electro and the advent of digital sampling that actually worked. From ‘The Model’ and ‘Electricity’ to ‘Relax’ and ‘19’, with ‘We Are Glass’, ‘Yellow Pearl, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ and ‘Absolute’ in between, this was one of the best releases of its type.

‘Electric Dreams’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Electric-Dreams/release/322736


THIS IS NOT THE 80s (2002)

Subtitled “A Nu-Wave Electro Compilation”, this modern collection brought out the electro in Electroclash with gloriously klanky drum machines in abundance. The undoubted star was Miss Kittin with four tracks including the mighty scene anthem ‘You & Us’ with Michael Amato aka THE HACKER; meanwhile the man himself and Anthony Rother each had three contributions in various guises. FPU, DOPPLEREFFEKT and ADULT. were among those helping to bring the sound of vintage electronic pop into the 21st Century for the club crowd.

‘This Is Not The 80s’ was released by Incredible / Sony Music

https://www.discogs.com/Various-This-Is-Not-The-80s-A-Nu-Wave-Electro-Compilation/master/375573


THIS IS TECH-POP (2002)

Compiled by Ministry Of Sound, ‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was a representative snapshot of electronic music at the start of the 21st Century. However the “Tech-Pop or Electroclash or Synth-Core or Neu-Electro” legend in the booklet highlighted the dance music’s daft obsession with categorisation. But the music from the likes of FISCHERSPOONER, TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS, FC KAHUNA, WALDORF, ZOOT WOMAN, LADYTRON, SOVIET, FELIX DA HOUSECAT, CIRC and GREEN VELVET was mostly excellent, although DJ mixing the tracks together clouded the listening experience.

‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was released by Ministry Of Sound

https://www.discogs.com/Various-This-Is-Tech-Pop/release/50649


ELECTRICITY 2 An Electronic Pop Sampler (2003)

‘Electricity 2’ came at a time when the only platform for UK and Irish synth acts seemed to be Ninthwave Records in the USA. It featured HEAVEN 17’s first new song for six years in the ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ influenced ‘Hands Up To Heaven’ as well as material by WHITE TOWN, SPRAY and EMPIRE STATE HUMAN. Among the highlights were ‘The Machines’ by MASQ which sounded like a bizarre Gaelic synthpop take on Gary Numan and the comical ‘Alan Cumming’ by TURD FERGUSON which satirically sent up ‘Frank Sinatra’ by MISS KITTIN & THE HACKER.

‘Electricity 2’ was released by Ninthwave Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Electricity-2-An-Electronic-Pop-Sampler/release/730718


ROBOPOP Volume 1 (2003)

Compiled by Wayne Clements of Essex duo MACONDO for his own Lucky Pierre imprint, ‘Robopop’ was possibly the closest thing to the ‘Some Bizzare’ album in the 21st Century. Heading the line-up were the-then newly configured CLIENT and MY ROBOT FRIEND while Mute stalwarts KOMPUTER contributed the previously unreleased ‘My Private Train’. The stand-outs though were machine funksters ALPINE STARS, irreverent retro-poppers BAXENDALE and VIC TWENTY featuring Piney Gir with a delicious synth cover of Lynsey de Paul’s ‘Sugar Me’.

‘Robopop Volume 1’ was released by Lucky Pierre Recordings

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Robopop-Volume-I/release/296881


RETRO:ACTIVE 5 (2006)

Compiled by Alex Hush, now of U2 and ERASURE remixers DAYBREAKERS, ‘Retro:Active 5’ pulled off the feat of gathering twelve classic 12 inch extended versions into a listenable programme. Longer takes of ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ by A-HA and ‘Pretty In Pink’ by THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS led the way with BLANCMANGE and DEAD OR ALIVE in support. But the biggest selling points were the ultra-rare ‘Love Cascade’ from LEISURE PROCESS and ‘More To Lose’ by SEONA DANCING, the synthpop duo fronted by Ricky Gervais.

‘Retro:Active 5’ was released by Hi-Bias Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-RetroActive5-Rare-Remixed/release/719639


ROBOPOP The Return (2006)

For ‘Robopop The Return’, Wayne Clements was joined by production duo MANHATTAN CLIQUE who co-released the compilation via their own Planet Clique label. Described as “Essential Electro Pop”, it was a much higher profile release than its predecessor with GOLDFRAPP, THE KNIFE, TIGA and DRAGONETTE all on board. Also present were THE MODERN relaunching themselves as MATINEE CLUB while HUSKI, FORMATIC, LORRAINE and SOHO DOLLS were among the worthy lesser-known inclusions. A bonus DJ mix by MANHATTAN CLIQUE also featured.

‘Robopop – The Return’ was released by Planet Clique / Lucky Pierre

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Manhattan-Clique-Robopop-The-Return/release/1410368


CHILLTRONICA A Definition No1 (2008)

Electronic music of a more downtempo disposition compiled by BLANK & JONES, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most exquisite tracks featured female vocalists with Sarah Nixey just pipping the highlight honours on her cover of JAPAN’s ‘Ghosts’ with INFANTJOY over Claudia Brücken guesting on the hosting trance DJ duo’s ‘Don’t Stop’. ‘Ghost Trains’, a solo tune by KINGS OF CONVENIENCE and RÖYKSOPP vocalist Erlend Øye was a livelier number that actually worked alongside chilled out tracks by THE GRID, BLISS, SPOOKY, MARCONI UNION and DEPECHE MODE.

‘Chilltronica – A Definition No1’ was released by Soundcolours

https://www.discogs.com/Blank-Jones-Chilltronica-A-Definition-No1/release/1714901


ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf (2016)

Tying in with Rudi Esch’s book about the German city of Düsseldorf’s music heritage, ‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2’ gathered the more accessible elements of Deutsche Elektronische Musik, Kosmische and Neue Deutsche Welle. Featuring RIECHMANN, DAF, DER PLAN, DIE KRUPPS, LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, RHEINGOLD, HARMONIA, LA DÜSSELDORF, NEU! and pre-PROPAGANDA girl group TOPLINOS featuring a very young Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag, this two volume collection was like a journey of discovery with the benefit of a local tour guide.

‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 – Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf’ was released by Grönland Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-ELECTRI_CITY-1_2/release/8919263


NEW ORDER Presents Be Music (2017)

Be Music was the moniker of NEW ORDER used to cover studio production work by all four members of the band. This boxed set gathered these varied recordings which involved either Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert and combinations thereof, with notable solo tracks from Marcel King, Paul Haig and Winston Tong alongside those of 52ND STREET, SECTION 25, THE BEAT CLUB, SHARK VEGAS and AD INFINITUM’s cover of ‘Telstar’ which many believed was NEW ORDER in disguise but actually only featured Hooky.

‘NEW ORDER Presents Be Music’ was released by Factory Benelux

https://www.factorybenelux.com/new_order_presents_be_music_fbn60.html


ELECTRICAL LANGUAGE Independent British Synth Pop 78-84 (2019)

From the team that put together the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ series, the 4CD ‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ did as it said on the tin and with a far more accessible template, was all the better for it. With THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, THE NORMAL and FAD GADGET included to draw in the more cautious consumer, purchasers were treated to a plethora of wonderful lesser known acts like FIAT LUX, BOX OF TOYS, LORI & THE CHAMELEONS, PASSION POLKA, TESTCARD F, EDDIE & SUNSHINE and JUPITER RED. Meanwhile, the best novelty item was a Schaffel driven cover of Alvin Stardust’s ‘My Coo Ca Choo’ by BEASTS IN CAGES; half of the band went on to form HARD CORPS!

‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ was released by Cherry Red Records

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/electrical-language-independent-british-synth-pop-78-84-various-artists-4cd-48pp-bookpack/


THE ELECTRICITY CLUB (2019)

Comprising of thirty-four tracks from 2009 to 2015, ‘The Electricity Club’ compilation has stood the test of time, scrutiny and repeated plays. With ERASURE heading the line-up alongside a MARSHEAUX remix of Katy Perry and acts such as MIRRORS, SIN COS TAN, VILE ELECTRODES, NIGHT CLUB, ARTHUR & MARTHA, KID MOXIE, MESH and ELECTRONIC CIRCUS. In hindsight, the weakest link comes surprisingly from one of the star attractions, coming as a result of the licencing compromises that often have to be made when the first and second choices get declined 😉

‘The Electricity Club’ was released by Amour Records / Minos EMI / Universal Music in collaboration with Undo Records

http://www.electricityclub.co.uk/the-electricity-club-2cd-compilation/


THE TEARS OF TECHNOLOGY (2020)

Compiled by Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley of SAINT ETIENNE, what ‘The Tears Of Technology’ had was a heartfelt suite of music which captured the essence of its title. At its centre was OMD’s sub-eight minute adventure ‘Sealand’ alongside synthy diversions by THE TEARDROP EXPLODES and THE PALE FOUNTAINS, with the Merseyside connection extended to CARE and CHINA CRISIS. Scotland got also got a look in courtesy of Paul Haig and Thomas Leer. The rare ‘Direct Lines’ by Chris Payne’s ELECTRONIC CIRCUS found itself a place too.

‘The Tears Of Technology’ was released by Ace Records

https://acerecords.co.uk/bob-stanley-pete-wiggs-present-the-tears-of-technology-1


Text by Chi Ming Lai
2nd August 2020

The Electronic Legacy of GREATEST HITS

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 Collection’ was released by Chrysalis Records

http://www.ultravox.org.uk/


DEPECHE MODE The Singles 81-85 (1985)

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 Singles 81-85’ was released by Mute Records

http://www.depechemode.com/


GARY NUMAN Exhibition (1987)

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?’.

‘Exhibition’ was released by Beggars Banquet

http://garynuman.com/


CHINA CRISIS Collection (1990)

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.

‘Collection’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.facebook.com/chinacrisisofficial


JIMMY SOMERVILLE The Singles Collection (1990)

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.

‘The Singles Collection’was released by London Records

https://www.jimmysomerville.co.uk/


TALK TALK Natural History (1990)

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.

‘Natural History’ was released by EMI Records

https://spiritoftalktalk.com/


PET SHOP BOYS Discography (1991)

‘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.

‘Discography’ was released by EMI Records

https://www.petshopboys.co.uk/


ERASURE Pop! The First 20 Hits (1992)

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.

‘Pop! The First 20 Hits’ was released by Mute Records

https://www.erasureinfo.com/


KRAFTWERK The Model (1992)

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.

‘The Model’ was released by Cleopatra Records

http://www.kraftwerk.com/


FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD Bang!… (1993)

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.

‘Bang!…’ was released by Warner Music

http://www.ztt.com/artists/frankie_goes_to_hollywood.html


JOHN FOXX Modern Art (2001)

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’.

‘Modern Art’ was released by Music Club

http://www.metamatic.com/


SIMPLE MINDS Early Gold (2003)

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…

‘Early Gold’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.simpleminds.com/


NEW ORDER Singles (2005)

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.

‘Singles’ was released by London Records

http://www.neworder.com/


JAPAN The Very Best Of (2006)

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.

‘The Very Best Of’ was released by Virgin Records

http://www.nightporter.co.uk/


DURAN DURAN The Singles 81-85 (2009)

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.

‘The Singles 81-85’ was released by EMI Records

http://www.duranduran.com/


LADYTRON Best Of 00-10 (2011)

“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.

‘Best of 00-10’ was released by Nettwerk Records

http://www.ladytron.com/


CAMOUFLAGE The Singles (2014)

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? 😉

‘The Singles’ was released by Polydor Records

http://www.camouflage-music.com/en/News


JEAN MICHEL JARRE Essential Recollection (2015)

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.

‘Essential Recollection’ was released by Sony Music

https://jeanmicheljarre.com/


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!

‘Keychains & Snowstorms – The Singles’ was released by Universal Music

https://www.softcell.co.uk/


OMD Souvenir (2019)

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!

‘Souvenir’ was released by Virgin Records

http://www.omd.uk.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
25th July 2020, updated 27th July 2020

JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS Howl

One of the great scene debates runs as follows… what’s better? The John Foxx or Midge Ure era incarnations of ULTRAVOX? This is as idiotic as the Fish versus Steve Hogarth debates that rage (and they do rage) amongst MARILLION fans or the similar GENESIS camps that exist around lead singers.

It’s akin to comparing apples to oranges and without the front man leaving these bands, we would have been denied spectacular bodies of work and long careers from all concerned which would potentially have been cut shorter. And yes I include Phil Collins in this, bite me…

There is however a “what might have been?” surrounding John Foxx and ULTRAVOX, with or without the exclamation mark. Had he stayed with the band beyond ‘Systems of Romance’, what would it have sounded like? A continuation of the ‘Systems’ sound or something more like the imperious ‘Metamatic’? With the release of ‘Howl’, the fifth album under the guise of JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS, we get an idea of what could have been.

The big news is that Foxx and his Maths collaborators Benge and Hannah Peel are joined by former ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon. Simon appeared with The Maths at the Roundhouse in 2010 so this has been a while coming and it arrives in snarling upfront style with the opener ‘My Ghost’, with its stripped down punky intro morphing into a familiar Foxx effected vocal performance, all underpinned by an insistent rhythm track. On the playout, we get swooping synths under a simple but effective guitar solo.

One of the key contributions Simon brings to the table is what Foxx terms as “Demolition Intercision” and this is shown to its fullest on the title track ‘Howl’.

Recorded in one take which left everyone “standing on their chairs”, the tortured, swooping playing harks back to the songs like ‘Slow Motion’ and ‘Dislocation’ in the way it interplays with the synths and Foxx’s voice.

“Born in the middle of a storm” sings Foxx and this is appropriate as his guitarist whips up a hurricane of noise which at all times remains musical.  Hannah Peel is given room to shine on the next track, ‘Everything Is Happening At The Same Time’, a psychedelic electronic number that appears owes a more than a little to a certain BEATLES song. Given current events, the message of this track is all the more prescient. “we have to choose between the clowns and the fools…” bemoans the lyrics… quite…

‘Tarzan & Jane Regained’ (a contender for title of the year) and ‘The Dance’ tread familiar sonic territory for the Maths which is not to say they are not good songs, in fact ‘The Dance’ is in places a beautiful shimmering piece of electronica.

‘New York Times’ doesn’t outstay its welcome and features some great drum programming. As stated above these are not bad songs, it’s just these three central tracks are bookended by the sonically more interesting ‘stuff’. ‘Last Time I Saw You’ reintroduces Simon’s more upfront guitar work. In the press release, Foxx compares it to violence and it can be at times shocking but also “…a true delight”.

On this and the opening cuts, the almost visceral at times fretwork married to the electronics is not what one would expect from a band leader that is in his five decade as a performer.

This is however the key to John Foxx, he always does the unexpected and doesn’t allow himself to be pigeonholed. As happy to release an ambient work as he is a straightforward ‘pop’ album or indeed to walk away from music altogether, he really is someone that deserves wider recognition. That said, one feels the artist himself would be uncomfortable with that.

Keeping the best to last, closer ‘Strange Beauty’ is possibly the best thing JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS have ever done, an electronic ballad that puts the plodding attempts at similar by bigger bands to shame. Benge’s production on this really does merit his bandmate’s claim that he is this generation’s Conny Plank.

Across this release there is a musicality to the production that is missing from many modern electronic works. The shear fury in places of Robin Simon’s playing could have just been noise at the hands of a lesser, knowing producer but here it is given room to shine. As a closer, this track more than any other points towards that might have been.

Once again John Foxx has shown how to remain relevant in these modern times.

The Electricity Club has never hidden its love of the man’s prodigious body of work and ‘Howl’ reinforces that further. At a time when Moog are handing out ‘Innovator’ awards to artists as a purely marketing tool, we should be thankful that performers like John Foxx continue to push their own boundaries instead of playing it safe. I can’t wait to hear what he does next.


‘Howl’ is released by Metamatic Records on 24th July 2020 as a CD and yellow vinyl LP, pre-order from https://johnfoxx.tmstor.es/

http://www.metamatic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/johnfoxxandthemaths/

https://twitter.com/foxxmetamedia

https://johnfoxx.bandcamp.com/


Text by Ian Ferguson
15th July 2020

MUSIK, MUSIC, MUSIQUE 1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop

1977 is often seen as Year Zero for synthpop, thanks to hit singles by DONNA SUMMER, SPACE and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE.

But it was not until 1979 with TUBEWAY ARMY reaching No1 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’ that the sound of synth truly hit the mainstream.  Although ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ by SPARKS had actually been a hit a few months earlier, ‘Are Friends Electric?’ was the beginning of the synth being accepted as a worthy mode of expression, rather than as a novelty. But as synths became more affordable, they became the perfect tool of youthful expression.

From Cherry Red, makers of the excellent ’Electrical Language: Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ 4CD boxed set, comes ‘Musik Music Musique’; subtitled ‘1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop’, this 3CD 58 track collection explores the arrival of synth pop and the dawn of a new musical era. This was the year before the synth became the rule rather than the exception with the success of SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE.

The set starts appropriately with OMD and ‘Messages’, one of the first tunes showcasing the warmer side of electronics following the colder wave led by Messrs Numan and Foxx. But as if to counter this next generation of youngsters, ‘Messages’ is immediately followed by the collection’s vocoder laden title song ‘Musik Music Musique’ from Zeus B Held and the superb proto-industrial ode to loveless sex ‘Coitus Interruptus’ by the much missed FAD GADGET.

Zeus B Held was later to make his impression on popular culture remixing ALPHAVILLE and SIMPLE MINDS as well producing the likes of FASHION, DEAD OR ALIVE, SPEAR OF DESTINY and TRANSVISION VAMP, but his wider breakthrough came as part of GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 with The Blitz Club favourite ‘No GDM’; on this compendium, the lesser-known but just as worthy ‘Vendor’s Box’ from their second album ‘X-Traordinaire’ is deservedly provided a platform.

The best producers often earn their spurs as artists and realising their limitations, use their accumulated studio nous to subvert the mainstream via pop. ‘Astroboy’ by BUGGLES sees Trevor Horn develop his sonic architecture to prove that he had another song that wasn’t ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. Meanwhile the welcome inclusion of NEW MUSIK’s other hit ‘This World Of Water’ allows Tony Mansfield to showcase the crafted sparkle that would later go on to adorn records by CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, VICIOUS PINK, A-HA and NAKED EYES.

It may seem strange to see SPANDAU BALLET as part of this package but when they first appeared, they were considered a synthesizer band; ‘Glow’ was a UK double A side single with ‘Musclebound’ in 1981 and while it was the last synth-led track they did, their funk soul aspirations were there for all to hear. In fact, songwriter Gary Kemp had conceived ‘Glow’ with a brass section in mind, so it is now something of a curio that could be seen as a precursor to ‘Chant No1’.

SPANDAU BALLET were produced by Richard James Burgess who co-designed the Simmons SDSV; his electro-jazz combo LANDSCAPE figure with the Colin Thurston helmed ‘European Man’ which was actually designated “electronic dance music” on its single artwork some three decades before it was appropriated and abbreviated to become EDM…

Many of the usual suspects from the period like VISAGE, JAPAN, JOHN FOXX, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING are all present and correct with familiar recordings, but interestingly (although not for the better), it’s the original version of PHIL LYNOTT’s ‘Yellow Pearl’ without the Rusty Egan drums or the Midge Ure remix that gets the nod!

One of the main beauties of these thoughtfully curated collections is to be able sway away from the obvious and feature a known-name with a lesser-known work; in the case of ULTRAVOX, it’s the occasionally Eno-inspired and Conny Plank produced ‘Waiting’ which was the B-side to their first Midge Ure fronted single ‘Sleepwalk’. Meanwhile, SUICIDE are represented by the excellent Ric Ocasek produced ‘Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne’ and YELLO with ‘Bimbo’, the oddball opener of the Swiss trailblazers’ debut long player ‘Solid Pleasure’.

SILICON TEENS get to feature with something other than ‘Memphis Tennessee’ and it’s the Daniel Miller‘s self-penned instrumental ‘Chip N Roll’ that has the honour, while the Mute Records founder gets another track in with ‘Brushing Your Hair’, a gloriously vibrant instrumental production and co-write for Alex Fergusson of ALTERNATIVE TV.

There’s additionally tracks by lesser known international acts or those bands that faded from view after effectively being one hit wonders. The entire career of M may have been overshadowed by the ubiquitous ‘Pop Muzik’ but Robin Scott did go on to release three albums and work with Ryuichi Sakamoto; the sombre ‘Official Secrets’ may not really have much of a hook but it contains some percolating bleepy sections that pre-date KRAFTWERK’s ‘Home Computer’ by one year.

‘A Circuit Like Me’ from Australian combo, THE METRONOMES actually sounds very 21st century with its detached female vocal and charming monosynths, while the gallop of ‘Drawn & Quartered’ by THE KORGIS is a worthy find. Now while ROCKETS found fame with a catchy robotic flavoured cover of ‘On The Road Again’ with the help of Zeus B Held, the silver faced Italians found that the vocoder suited their performance art poise and reapplied it for the self-penned space rocker ‘Galactica’.

Also possessing a bit of a gallop is LORI & THE CHAMELEONS’ wispy Morricone-influenced single ‘The Lonely Spy’ although with its acoustic strum, it is quite different from the understated electronic disco of their best known track ‘Touch’. Cut from a similar melodic post-punk cloth, the Martin Hannett produced ‘Sympathy’ from PAULINE MURRAY & THE INVISIBLE GIRLS is a reminder of how women were coming to the fore after punk in synth-assisted new wave, a fact borne out on ‘Musik Music Musique’ by the inclusion of more obscure works from TOYAH, KIM WILDE and HAZEL O’CONNOR.

‘Musik Music Musique’ is also an opportunity to become reacquainted with lost tunes of yore and ‘The Eyes Have It’ by KAREL FIALKA will be remembered by those who owned the 1980 Virgin Records compilation ‘Machines’, as will the octave driven ‘Destiny’ by DALEK I LOVE YOU. Some enjoyably avant pop adventures come courtesy of XYNN’s ‘Computed Man’ and SCIENCE’s ‘Tokyo’, while one of the more bizarre but successful experiments included is ‘I’m A Computer’ by THE GOO-Q.

One of the lesser known acts featuring with the eccentric ‘Money’ is MOEBIUS, not the member of German duo CLUSTER but an American art rock band with a penchant for DEVO. ‘Doctor …?’ by BLOOD DONOR is another wonderful discovery while of the more experimental art pieces included, NINI RAVIOLETTE’s ‘Suis-Je Normale’ delightfully comes over like a collaboration between Jane Birkin and Laurie Anderson.

Düsseldorf is often seen as the spiritual home of electronic music and there is worthy representation from DER PLAN and ‘Da Vorne Steht Ne Ampel’ illustrating how there were other dimensions to German electronic music other than that engineered by KRAFTWERK. But closing the set is the band named after the Electri_City itself, LA DÜSSELDORF with the light-hearted ‘Dampfriemen’; a quirky slice of synth “Oompah” with comedic chants and a kazoo section, it sums up the manic oddball nature of the former NEU! drummer Klaus Dinger.

There are many other tracks that have merit, but textures which reoccur on ‘Musik Music Musique’ to date stamp the period are the icy chill of the affordable ARP Quartet string machine and squawky sax, although not in an overblown jazz funk way.

Despite ‘Musik Music Musique’ comprising of a carefully researched tracklisting, a few errors do slip through; as well as the SPANDAU BALLET track being released in 1981 as already mentioned (although it was available on a very scarce Japanese-only promo sampler in late 1980), the version of ‘Kebabträume’ by DAF is the 1982 Conny Plank version from the Virgin album ‘Für Immer’ and not the Bob Giddens produced Mute Records five piece band recording which actually came out in 1980.

Then in the booklet, the Foxx fronted 1977 line-up of ULTRAVOX! gets illustrated as opposed to the New Romantic suited Midge Ure one, while LA DÜSSELDORF’s Hans Lampe is referred to as a “Keyboard Whizz” when he is actually a drummer and now performs with Michael Rother who was Klaus Dinger’s partner in NEU!; in fact Dinger handled keyboards himself under the pseudonym of Nikolaus Van Rhein.

Those are minor quibbles though, because this set is very good value and acts as a great music history lesson as well as offering the chance to hear some new vintage synth. While many may have heard of BERLIN BLONDES, THE PASSAGE, THE FALLOUT CLUB and EYELESS IN GAZA, only a few will have heard their music.

‘Musik Music Musique’ offers something of a low risk opportunity to make some new friends while becoming reacquainted with a few old and lost ones. Here’s to the 1981 follow-up set…


‘Musik Music Musique – 1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop’  is released on 31st July 2020 as a 3CD boxed set by Cherry Red Records

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/musik-music-musique-1980-the-dawn-of-synth-pop-various-artists-3cd/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
13th July 2020

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