Since March 2010, The Electricity Club has built up a big portfolio of live reports featuring gigs by evergreens such as JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, OMD and HEAVEN 17 to modern day exponents of electronic music like EAST INDIA YOUTH, NIGHT CLUB, VILE ELECTRODES and TENEK.
Events both home and abroad such as The Electronic Phuture Revue and the ELECTRI_CITY CONFERENCE have also been reviewed. All of TEC’s live reports have been archived in an easy-to-use page set in reverse chronological order. More inside ›
Today, electronic instrumental music is everywhere, but often in the form of tedious dance tracks with no tunes all over Beatport and social media.
Luckily, there are still exponents of the classic synth instrumental, and thanks to the rise of the Synthwave sub-genre, there is currently a sympathetic environment for more esoteric and melodic musical offerings.
The key to a good instrumental is it either has to be very melodic to make up for the lack of vocals or very unobtrusive so that while the music is interesting enough to be listened to, it can also be ignored. Thus a Eurorack modular tutorial cannot credibly count as a valid release… 😉
As a follow-up to TEC’s 25 SYNTH INSTRUMENTALS Of The CLASSIC ERA, with a limit of one track per artist, The Electricity Club presents its 25 FAVOURITE SYNTH INSTRUMENTALS Of The 21ST CENTURY in chronological and then alphabetical order…
SYSTEM F Insolation (2000)
While Dutch producer Ferry Corsten hit paydirt with club hits such as ‘Out Of The Blue’ and ‘Cry’ as SYSTEM F, the debut album pointed towards the Trance’s link to electronic pop. As well as a collaboration with Marc Almond entitled ‘Soul On Soul’, the long player included the beautifully majestic classic instrumental ‘Insolation’ which took a breather from the usual four-to-the floor format.
PPK were a Russian trance duo comprising of Sergei Pimenov and Alexander Polyakov. The original melody of ‘ResuRection’ came from Eduard Artemyev’s synthesized theme from the epic 1979 Soviet movie ‘Siberiade’ which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. Easily mistaken for JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, the thrusting seven minute ‘Perfecto Edit’ in particular was like an exuberant rocket launch set to music.
Originally released by Perfecto Records, currently unavailable
With a piercing synthphonic riff, scat vocoder, robotic bass and a rigid programmed beat, ‘Turn It On’ saw LADYTRON take a bleep forward with an attempt at a KRAFTWERK track for the 21st Century via Liverpool, Glasgow and Sofia. But as it headed towards its final third, it detoured back to Liverpool and turned into ‘Electricity’ in a cheeky homage to Merseyside’s original electronic trailblazers OMD.
A Norwegian electronic duo consisting of Aggie Peterson and Per Martinsen, FROST released their second album ‘Melodica’ to a positive response, thanks to some production assistance by RÖYKSOPP on two tracks. The beautiful Arctic serenity of ‘Klong’ featuring local trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær alongside layers of gorgeous crystalline synths was one of the albums’ highlights.
Available on the album ‘Melodica’ via Frost World Recordings
‘Destroy Rock & Roll’ was the well-received debut album by Scottish DJ Myles MacInnes that alongside DAFT PUNK and BASEMENT JAXX, summed up the sample laden dance music that was prevalent at the time. The album’s best track however was the more downtempo, MOBY-esque richness of ‘Emotion 96.8’ with its beautiful sweeping synth melodies and unobtrusive rhythm structure.
With a hypnotic Motorik rhythm, pulsating bleeps and spacey whirs driving a moodier template along the lines of cult German experimentalists EMAK, Phil and Paul Hartnoll continued their primarily instrumental template on their ‘Blue Album’, although SPARKS contributed vocals to a totally unrelated track called ‘Acid Pants’. The brothers split shortly after the long player’s release, but returned in 2009 to play The Big Chill Festival.
From ‘Hymn’ to ‘First Cool Hive’ to ‘A Seated Night’, the man born Richard Melville Hall is a master of the instrumental. The solemn ‘Homeward Angel’ closed MOBY’s comparatively conventional and sample-less ‘Hotel’ album with a solemn yet uplifting slice of mood music that in retrospect, was incongruous with the main act. However, since leaving Mute in 2008, his more recent self-released albums such as ‘Destroyed’ and ‘Innocents’ have displayed this more esoteric quality.
A ten minute instrumental epic, ‘Alpha Male’ came from RÖYKSOPP’s under rated second long player, one that moved away from the chill-out climes of ‘Melody AM’ into much darker sonic territory. The track’s lengthy ambient intro was interrupted by a mighty metronomic beat and the sort of progressive synth overtures that would have made JEAN-MICHEL JARRE proud.
Since his musical return in 1997 with ‘Shifting City’, JOHN FOXX has practically had albums coming out of his ears in song-based, ambient and soundtrack formats, both solo and in collaboration with other artists. The spacey mechanical Schaffel of ‘Kurfurstdendam’ came from an imaginary soundtrack he called ‘Tiny Colour Movies’, inspired by a friend’s birthday screening of a private film collection comprising of random surveillance clips and offcuts from Hollywood.
Few acts actually genuinely sound like their name… SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN, which translates as “the last man in space”, is the solo project of Swedish synthpop trailblazer Eddie Bengtsson, he of PAGE and S.P.O.C.K fame. The frantic ‘Space-Elevator’ with its swimmy string synths and Sci-Fi derived melody acted as an effective Moroder-esque interlude on his excellent sixth album ‘Tredje Våningen’.
Borrowing the distinctive bassline from SIMPLE MINDS’ 1981 single ‘Love Song’, Geoff Pinckney and Peter Steer put together this lively instrumental for their debut TENEK EP. With a modern mechanical groove coupled to their trademark synth rock, the almost funky ‘Ice Fields’ became an early live favourite, although the duo have focussed on more song based adventures for their three albums to date, ‘Stateless’, ‘On The Wire’ and ‘Smoke & Mirrors’.
In 2007, Andreas Kleerup, producer and one-time drummer for THE MEAT BOYS, undertook his first mainstream collaboration with fellow Swede ROBYN. The success of ‘With Every Heartbeat’ led to the recording of his self-titled debut album which featured a number of brilliant instrumentals. ‘Hero’ was its perfect start and with a solid bassline and strong choral timbres, it had the vibe of how OMD might have sounded if they had formed in the 21st Century.
While most of the ‘Tron Legacy’ soundtrack album was arranged and orchestrated by Joseph Trapanese, DAFT PUNK’s spiky electronics and drum machine were kept in alongside the epic strings for the end titles of the sequel to the 1982 movie ‘Tron’. There were nods to Wendy Carlos who composed the score to the original film, with Thomas Bangalter focusing on the heroic themes while Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo was more inclined to generating the darker elements.
Available on the soundtrack album ‘Tron Legacy’ via Walt Disney Records
Forming in 2001, Swedish duo 047 began their chiptune experiments thought a mutual appreciation of vintage video games. But after their debut long player, Peter Engström and Sebastian Rutgersson began to incorporate melodic song based elements and vocals into their music. The end results led to the impressive second album ‘Elva’, but they celebrated their chiptune influenced roots with the jolly YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA salute of ‘Kanpai!’
‘The E-Bay Queen Is Dead’ was collection of rarities from the MARSHEAUX archives. While Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou have done a fair number of cover versions in their time, they are not really known for doing instrumentals. But the electro-boppy ‘Now & Never’ was a very promising wordless demo that Vince Clarke would have approved of; as one of his former DEPECHE MODE colleagues once sang: “words are very unnecessary…”
Fusing Detroit techno with more European experimental forms, Patricia Hall and Ian Hicks’ second SOFT METALS album ‘Lenses’ featured the fabulous instrumental ‘Hourglass’. As Hall put it: “I really wanted to write lyrics for that one, but was never quite satisfied with what I came up with. I decided it would be better to let that one be an instrumental. I think it holds up on its own. It’s nice to give the listener a chance to interpret its meaning on its own rather than direct them with words”.
Available on the album ‘Lenses’ via Captured Tracks
Anais Neon and Martin Swan’s tribute to ‘Assault On Precinct 13’, ‘The future through a lens’ was a moody but booming instrumental that began their excellent debut longer player of the same name, which later netted a Schallewelle Award for ‘Best international Album’ in 2014. With their vast array of analogue synthesizers and exquisite taste for sound textures, it won’t be too surprising if VILE ELECTRODES aren’t offered some soundtrack opportunities in the near future.
Although making his name within EDM circles, the Norwegian producer born Todd Olsen paid a musical tribute to ‘Back To The Future’ and its futuristic gull-wing doored Delorean DMC-12 car with this suitably driving Synthwave instrumental. Unlike other so-called dance producers, Terje is conversant with electronic music history and possesses a wry sense of humour, as evidenced by the witty wordplay of track titles like ‘Inspector Norse’ and his own DJ moniker.
After the first phase of BLANCMANGE, Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe worked within the TV and film industry, scoring soundtracks and incidental music. Although best known for his voice, Neil Arthur’s instrumentals have been a continual form of expression. The brilliant ‘Cistern’ comes over like an imaginary Bond Theme for a retro-futuristic world. The wordless wonder that is the parent album ‘Nil By Mouth’ is an unsung masterpiece.
Adam Cresswell’s sombre vocals and the darker lyrical themes on his debut RODNEY CROMWELL album ‘Age Of Anxiety’ took a breather with the bright and breezy ‘Baby Robot’. With sweet synthesizer melodies, pretty glints of glockenspiel and a bouncy beatbox, the instrumental was inspired by birth of his son. “Yes, ‘Baby Robot’ is the one track on the album that’s 100% upbeat as it is about the experience of being a father” he gleefully told The Electricity Club.
While Danish duo DARKNESS FALLS are better known for their melancholic Nordic vocals and neo-gothic overtones on songs like ‘The Void’, the dark synthy instrumental ‘Thunder Roads’ proved to be one of the most striking tracks on their second album ‘Dance & Cry’. With a punchy drum machine mantra and menacing reverberant sequence, it was augmented by guitar screeches and sombre six string basslines reminiscent of JOY DIVISION and THE CURE.
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE & BOYZ NOISE The Time Machine (2015)
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE’s first album for since ‘Teo & Tea’ in 2007 was a two volume opus entitled ‘Electronica’; it features collaborations with a number of synth pioneers and modern day dance artists including BOYZ NOISE aka Berlin DJ Alexander Ridha. This climactic track took on a new life as the set closer on the French synth maestro’s ‘Electronica’ world tour, with a lasered 3D visual feast that required no special glasses! BUT BEWARE OF FLASHING IMAGES! 😉
Available on the album ‘Electronica 1 – The Time Machine’ via Columbia Records
The horror film king recorded his ‘Lost Themes’ series in collaboration with his son Cody and his godson Daniel Davies as standalone pieces, without the pressure of having to put the music to moving images. The second volume was completed on a tighter schedule to accompany a world concert tour and thus replicated some of the challenging moods in his soundtrack work with tracks like ‘Utopian Façade’ recalling his classic movie soundscapes.
Dixon and Stein are members of the Texan group SURVIVE and their accompanying music to ‘Stranger Things’, a cross between ‘ET’, ‘The Goonies’ and ‘Alien’, sent electronic music fans into online meltdown with its use of vintage analogue synths. With a soundtrack influenced by the horror flicks of Dario Argento and of course John Carpenter, the one minute opening title music to the acclaimed drama series said all that was needed to be said in its brooding dissonant tones.
As would be expected from a title like ‘Klangfarben’, this vibrant instrumental from Dublin trio TINY MAGNETIC PETS is an enjoyable homage to Germanic music forms, with a loose percussive feel that still maintains that vital degree of Motorik. A word meaning “soundcolour”, it refers to a technique whereby a musical line is split between several instruments, rather than assigning it to just one instrument, thereby adding timbre and texture to proceedings.
Zeus B Held may be not as well-known as Giorgio Moroder, Conny Plank, Martin Rushent, Mike Howlett and Colin Thurston, but the German producer has been a key presence in the development of electronic pop music.
Making his name as a keyboard player in the German rock band BIRTH CONTROL, the experience allowed Zeus B Held to progress as a session musician and producer who the NME later described as being able to combine “electronic Teutonic sounds with a soulful sensibility for melodic expression”.
Often considered an artier counterpart to Giorgio Moroder, Held too embarked on a solo career.
His production breakthrough came from working with GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 when the single ‘No GDM’ became a club favourite within the New Romantic movement. At the height of the synth assisted pop boom in Europe, Held was producing the likes of FASHION, JOHN FOXX, DEAD OR ALIVE and DIE KRUPPS while also remixing ALPHAVILLE, SIMPLE MINDS and GARY NUMAN.
In 1995, Held wrote and recorded the music for a worldwide advertising campaign for Swatch while in more recent times, he has tended to work in more jazz inclined fields involving big band orchestras and a World Music collective called DIGITAL DREAMING. But then in 2014, he teamed up with former TANGERINE DREAM member Steve Schroyder in a new electronic project appropriately named DREAM CONTROL.
Without doubt deserving greater recognition for his adventures in modern recording, The Electricity Club looks back at eighteen of his works in chronological order, with a restriction of one track per artist moniker…
ZEUS Fool On The Hill (1978)
Zeus B Held delivered this spacey vocodered cover of THE BEATLES favourite for his debut solo album ‘Zeus’ Amusement’ on Brain Records, home to kosmische acts like CLUSTER, NEU! and KLAUS SCHULZE. Released as a single, ‘Fool On The Hill’ showcased his interest in new technologies while maintaining a traditional and widely recognisable musical aesthetic.
Originally released by Brain Records, currently unavailable
Teaming up with the androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine, ‘No GDM’ was written in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp and featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground where freedom of expression was key. Unsurprisingly, the song became a regular staple of Rusty Egan’s DJ sets at The Blitz Club. The nonchalant, detached vocal influence of GINA X PERFORMANCE went on to be heard in the music of LADYTRON, CLIENT and MISS KITTIN.
When Lord Foxx of Chorley briefly went pop, he teamed up with Zeus B Held for one of the most accessible albums of his career in ‘The Golden Section’. With its emphasis on a band feel and Foxx playing more electric guitar, some critics accused him of starting to sound like ULTRAVOX again. ‘My Wild Love’ was the powerful, in-yer-face opening to the long player. Foxx himself later remarked the album was a mistake as he tried to “fit too many favourite things together”.
At the height of his fame, Pete Burns came over looking like a later period Gina Kikoine, so it was not entirely surprising that when DEAD OR ALIVE decided to pursue a more electronic dance direction, Zeus B Held would come on board as a willing conspirator. This cover version of KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND’s classic disco tune was the breakthrough, combining precise programming and a brass section with live bass and percussion, plus the vocal colossus that was Burns.
If Sting had joined DURAN DURAN, it might have sounded like this. Featuring an incessant synth riff over a barrage of Simmonds drums and rock guitars, ‘Dreaming’ featured Alan Darby who took over from original vocalist Dee Harris who departed after the acclaimed ‘Fabrique’ album produced by Held. The German remained for the second album ‘Twilight Of Idols’ and while the band had lost momentum from the line-up changes, this single along with the album’s instrumental title track were worthy highlights.
Available on the album ‘Twilight Of Idols’ via Cherry Red
A HI-NRG disco take on the provocative tune penned by Serge Gainsbourg and made famous by Brigitte Bardot, Gina Kikoine returned in 1984 with a less ambiguous image for her solo album debut ‘Yinglish’, although Held was still holding the production reins. While Held and Kikoine wrote most of the album together, it was also noted for featuring another cover in THE BEATLES ‘Drive My Car’.
Available on the album ‘Yinglish’ via LTM Recordings
Named after a 1952 sci-fi novel by Raymond Jones, THIS ISLAND EARTH were led by songwriter John Hawkins and secured a deal with Magnet Records. They were teamed with Zeus B Held to record two singles, the first of which ‘See That Glow’ was catchy enough to secure BBC radio airplay. Alas the single stalled in the UK chart at No47 in late 1984 and after another Held produced song ‘Take Me To The Fire’ failed to chart, that was it from the band…
Originally released by Magnet Records, currently unavailable
Zeus B Held was becoming a master of the 12 inch extended remix and his treatment of ALPHAVILLE’s breakthrough tune put the mighty Linn Drum programming centre stage while working round the song’s catchy verse and chorus. Reversed tape elements, random blips and what was to become Held’s trademark breakdown were added to the seven minute extension, along with a fretless bass not heard on the original, no doubt in a cheeky reference to the band JAPAN.
Despite the dramatic intro, ‘Risk’ was a comparatively pop-oriented offering from the Düsseldorf industrialists with brassy synth tones and orchestral samples coming over like DAF fronting DEAD OR ALIVE. In a bizarre twist, it even featured Mel Gaynor from SIMPLE MINDS on drums! The parent album ‘Entering The Arena’, also produced by Held, offered much of the same with ‘Gladiators’ another of the albums highlights.
Available on the album ‘Entering The Arena’ via Energy Rekords
In his WAH! days, Wylie proved he could spring an anthemic chorus as on songs like ‘The Story Of The Blues’ and ‘Come Back’. His debut solo single ‘Sinful!’ was an epic widescreen cacophony of grand throbbing electronics, massed synthetic chorals and Wylie’s own urgent vocal delivery. While it was produced by Ian Ritchie, Zeus B Held gave the track a vital remix and ended up producing three further songs on the eventual ‘Sinful!’ album.
Available on the album ‘Sinful!’ via Siren Records
The synth propelled new wave of ‘Love Bomb’ was the former ALTERED IMAGES singer’s debut single. Unfortunately, as the title suggested, it indeed did bomb and the album ‘Trash Mad’ recorded with Held was never released. While Miss Grogan did not have the feisty aggression to pull off a tune that was aimed squarely at the American market, Zeus B Held’s production on ‘Love Bomb’ now sounds like a blueprint for TRANSVISION VAMP.
Originally released by London Records, currently unavailable
A commentary from the Doroschuk brothers on the ups and downs of fame, while more organic than ‘The Safety Dance’, ‘Pop Goes the World’ produced by Zeus B Held featured a fair smattering of synths and reached No1 in Austria. The parent album of the same name went platinum in the band’s homeland of Canada. The song itself achieved an enhancement to its longevity when it later appeared in a TV advert for Tide laundry detergent pods in 2012.
Coinciding with the new E registration car number plates of that year, Zeus B Held added some digital clangs, pitched swirls and guitars to Numan’s signature synth classic which undoubtedly boosted the song’s longevity. Meanwhile the extended version maximised Ced Sharpley’s drums by isolating them at the start of an impressively arranged mid-song breakdown. Amazingly, the radio edit of Held’s remix has actually been a UK Top 20 hit single twice in its own right, although it was retitled ‘The Premier Mix’ in 1996.
Radio edit available on the GARY NUMAN album ‘Premier Hits’ via Beggars Banquet
SIMPLE MINDS Ghostdancing – Special Extended 12″ Remix (1987)
As was usual with Zeus B Held’s remixes, he often cleaned up the sound and made the percussive elements sharper. On the extended version of ‘Ghostdancing’, the song’s roots in the more Eurocentric ‘I Travel’ were highlighted as sequencers and reverb were added, along with a building middle eight breakdown. This release for Amnesty International happened to also be the first ever CD single issued on Virgin Records.
Kirk Brandon was never the happiest fellow in the world and ‘Never Take Me Alive’ produced by Held was possibly SPEAR OF DESTINY’s angry zenith. A mix of acoustic guitar, fretless bass, programmed percussion, synthetic goth choir and modern production values gave SPEAR OF DESTINY their biggest hit in a period when THE CURE, THE SISTERS OF MERCY, THE CULT and THE MISSION ensured that goth shone in the UK singles chart.
Available on the SPEAR OF DESTINY album ‘Outland’ via 10 Records
Just as Mutt Lange had been very clever in using state-of-the-art technology to make DEF LEPPARD’s ‘Hysteria’ sound heavy metal, Zeus B Held achieved the same in making his heavily synthesized productions for TRANSVISION VAMP sound punk. A catchy tune arranged by Duncan Bridgeman who had worked with JOHN FOXX on ‘The Garden’ and been a member of jazz funkers I-LEVEL, ‘I Want Your Love’ thrust singer Wendy James into the limelight for her 15 minutes of fame.
Available on the album ‘Pop Art’ via Universal Music
The East Berlin born singer and actress started her musical life in the band AUTOMOBIL, but released her first album with the NINA HAGEN BAND in 1978. Maintaining her cult popularity as a punk icon, ‘Hold Me’ was from her solo 1989 album debut proper, produced by Held. An outlandish cover of a traditional gospel song, the arrangement will no doubt have upset purists with its synthetic backing, rock guitars and Hagen’s own theatrical vocal histrionics.
Available on the NINA HAGEN album ‘Nina Hagen’ via Mercury Records
ZEUS B HELD Kant Can Dance – Dream Control Mix (2015)
‘Logic Of Coincidence’ was Held’s most recent solo record and largely a cinematic, almost ambient imaginary film soundtrack. While the album was perhaps not wholly representative of Held’s past pop exploits, his artier Moroder template notably appeared on ‘Kant Can’t Dance’. While seeming a bit out of place on the album, its electronic disco friendly template delighted fans of his remix work during his production heyday, especially in its bonus DREAM CONTROL incarnation.
Today is The Electricity Club’s seventh birthday and our big portfolio of interviews reads like a Who’s Who? of electronic pop music. Whether you are interested in the pioneers of the genre or newer, up-and-coming acts, there is something for you.
They are archived in an easy-to-use page. From ex-members of KRAFTWERK, JAPAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE, to OMD, MIDGE URE and HEAVEN 17, to KITE, MIRRORS and VILE ELECTRODES, they are all here. More inside ›
Over the last seven years, The Electricity Club has written a large number of features that fall outside of the standard interview or review format.
Articles have included new artist introductions, lost albums, song listings based around a variety of topics, beginner’s guides on highly regarded personalities and TEC’s tongue-in-cheek Carry On Synthpop series. These Transmissions have been archived on a page in reverse chronological order. More inside ›