In the dark times, will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing, about the dark times. – Bertolt Brecht (1939)
It is almost forty years since TWICE A MAN first took to the London stage. Sweden’s godfathers of electronic music first played a show at Heaven—on a bill organised by the legendary Final Solution—in the winter of 1981.
The fall of 2020 finds them with a new album, ‘On the Other Side of the Mirror’, expressing concern about the state of our planet. And it really is in a state. The view from their northern shore is an unhappy one, full of decay.
It wasn’t that long ago that TWICE A MAN were writing that ‘Everything Is Possible,’ but that gave way to ‘A Time of Terror.’ Now they sing about ‘A Rain of Shame.’ Their hopes for the world have diminished, even if their instincts for melody and atmosphere have not.
The band is currently a trio, composed of Dan Söderqvist, Karl Gasleben and Jocke Söderqvist. Their catalogue includes twenty-one studio albums, many of which are regularly cited as influences by other Scandinavian artists. Starting with 1982’s ‘Music for Girls’, TWICE A MAN have cut a distinctive path, combining its members’ progressive rock and new wave roots with modern tools and sounds.
‘On the Other Side of the Mirror’ invades the alternative dancefloor with epic chords (‘A Rain of Shame’) and strident beats (‘Naked’). It sweeps the bodies aside with thundering rhythms (‘Modern World’) and magnificent swells (‘Breath’). The Viking spirit is impressed into the tracks, as if overseen by Odin’s birds.
The Electricity Club linked up remotely with TWICE A MAN at their homes in Sweden to discuss the new album, their plans, and the prospects for political change.
How did the album come together? Was there a definite theme or sound that you were aiming for?
Jocke: The basic tracks were created at the same time that we were working on ‘Cocoon’. We started to make songs in other ways that were not fit for that album. We took a break, but Karl cannot do that. So, he made a lot of the basic tracks, and he had some basic lyrics, too. Normally, we all come in with things as a start, and we have a discussion how to do this next album or what direction we are going to go.
Dan: We didn’t want to make ‘Presence 2’. We wanted to do something that was different from Presence. There were a number of possible frameworks for what the album should be about.
We were talking about other influences. Like, we talked about the things from the 70s—bands like early GENESIS. We talked about the movement of surrealism. We talked about a lot of different themes that come into this picture. We called it ‘On the Other Side of the Mirror’, but it’s also mirroring ourselves when we made things in the 80s.
Was the album recorded with a view to the dystopian world we are living in now? Did the changes led by Covid-19 have any impact?
Dan: We recorded it in 2019, so before the Covid-19 situation. We were thinking about the kind of society that we are living in today.
Jocke: In a way, we were living in a situation where a change was bound to come, whether it was climate change or horrific wars or whatever. Covid-19 was a surprise, but it was not a surprise that something was going to happen.
Dan: You can see this on ‘Presence’, as well, of course. Trump and Boris Johnson were not around when we made that. Perhaps it doesn’t matter who is the President of the United States, but it is starting to be even more right-wing. The oligarchs are more openly running the show in England and in the United States—and here, in Sweden, too. The people have no one to speak for them; and, if they come—someone like Corbyn in England or Bernie Sanders in the US —then they are taken out.
Songs like ‘High in the Clouds’ sounded the alarm on the risks of environmental catastrophe. People have been unable to use their cars or fly in the normal way for many months. Do you think that the lessons from that will be learned?
Jocke: I’m very afraid that that the main thing on the agenda now is to get the wheels rolling again. I’m not sure, but everything needs to be up again, like usual. Then you sort of skip the climate for a while, because it is more important to get everything back to normal again. Maybe not flying but getting all the factories and so on back to where it was.
Karl: I think the only thing that maybe we change is that video conferencing is a more common way of meeting than it used to be; people don’t fly to every meeting. In the future, maybe that’s the only thing we can get out of this as a positive thing.
Disinformation and conspiracy theories are working to dumb down society in general. Do you think the rich and powerful are taking advantage of this, applying the theory of divide and rule? And do you think this is our ‘Modern World’?
Dan: Yes, that is one angle of that song, but it is very difficult to know what the truth is. It has become more and more difficult to know what who you can trust. You don’t have enough time to really perform research on everything that is happening. We have this for the virus—how to handle it? Should I wear the mask? It’s not possible to decide in every case who is right and who is wrong. I tend not to believe in anyone.
The new songs from ‘On the Other Side of the Mirror’ are fewer but longer, compared to ‘Presence’. They generally exceed radio play times. Is that a statement in itself?
Karl: They just became the length that they needed to be.
Jocke: I think also that, when we were making these songs, we weren’t really sure that it was going to be an album. We were searching, but we weren’t really sure. Maybe that let us have more freedom to let the songs be what whatever they wanted to be. Maybe that’s why they were longer.
The material doesn’t shy away from the dancefloor. The single version of ‘Naked’ comes with a number of remixes. Were you aiming for a danceable style over the ambience of ‘Cocoon’?
Dan: No, it is more in the area of ‘Presence’ and our 80s albums. If you take ‘Modern World,’ the end of it is like a flow, and that has a lot to do with our ambient stuff. It’s a little more aggressive in the sound, but it’s got this mantra feeling.
Karl: Because some of the songs we did parallel while working on ‘Cocoon’, we have a kind of injection of that style.
Karin My provides background vocals. What does Karin bring to the songs for you?
Dan: We have been working with Karin My for ten years now, on and off. We know her well by now and besides that she is a wonderful person, she has a voice that works very well with mine.
Jocke: Her voice—a female voice—there is a reserved space for it in our music. It really adds something.
Dan: Karin brought us together with Daniel Kaufeldt, who is now the producer for both Karin´s own work and for TWICE A MAN´s ‘Presence’ and ‘The Other Side of the Mirror’.
Karl: He is like a fourth member of the band, too, because in the mixing he put a lot of his own instruments in. It’s a good collaboration with him now.
How would you sum up the feeling of the album? Is there hope for change after everything that has happened?
Karl: Within the lyrics, the perspective is of the little man looking at the society from his chambers. You know, we can be the silence in the voice. That’s why it can be depressing—because I don’t think we leave any doors open to a bright future. It’s one for reflecting.
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to TWICE A MAN
Having released 21 albums since 1982, Swedish veterans TWICE A MAN have never been ones to shy away from serious issues.
The trio’s superb 2015 song ‘High in The Clouds’ confronted the prospect of environmental armageddon aided by the eerily beautiful voice of Karin My.
Having ventured down the ambient route with ‘Cocoon’ as a kind of interim solace following the release of the ‘Presence’ album from which ‘High In The Clouds’ came, TWICE A MAN have literally come out of the woods and found the world in a state of corrupt turmoil.
Like a delayed ‘1984′ with misinformation and paranoia everywhere and eugenics being pushed through the backdoor by right wing governments using the current pandemic crisis as a smokescreen and capitalism as its reasoning, TWICE A MAN highlight this increasingly dystopian situation emerging in front of everyone’s eyes on ‘On The Other Side Of The Mirror’.
Led by Dan Söderqvist with Karl Gasleben and Jocke Söderqvist providing the dark gentle storm of sound, the opening ’Breath’ exudes brooding industrial moods and sombre vocals, with chilling string machines enhancing the melancholic alienation.
But ‘Fireflies’ utilises ethnic percussive flavours and the return of Karin My to feed the claustrophobic air with Lampyridae acting as deadly symbolism for the end of future dreams.
The sinister gothic militarism that accompanies ’Rain of Shame’ is deeply fitting; fuelling a combustive atmosphere, Söderqvist realises “this is not my world, this is not my time”.
However, a variation in tempo and construction time again makes a highlight of ‘Naked’ with its penetrating basslines and swirling dramatic overtures that echo imperial phase DEPECHE MODE.
The shortest track on the album at four minutes, ’Growing’ sees TWICE A MAN emulating Gary Numan but in a more abstract psychedelic fashion with a sound that also recalls ‘New Head’, OMD’s unusual collaboration with Simon Fung of CHINA BLACK from 1996.
Closing with ’Modern World’, this is another warning in the vein of ‘High In The Clouds’, an orchestrated epic featuring another heavenly Karin My vocal as a dense cacophony of textural guitars, haunting high register synths and thunderous drumming points towards a deadly apocalyptic darkness.
Perhaps more organic and even heavier in tone than ‘Presence’, ‘On The Other Side Of The Mirror’ however reflects a world “where fear is the face of reality”; it is not an easy listen, offering observations and ambiguity rather than answers.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe there is, but that light could actually be an oncoming train! “Your future dreams are fireflies, you see them through your children’s eyes.”
2019 was a year of 40th Anniversaries, celebrating the synth becoming the sound of pop when ‘Are Friends Electric?’ reached No1 in the UK chart in 1979.
While GARY NUMAN opted for ‘(R)evolution’ and two of his former sidemen RRussell Bell and Chris Payne ventured solo for the first time, OMD offered a 7 disc ‘Souvenir’ featuring a whole album of quality unreleased material to accompany a concert tour to celebrate four decades in the business.
That was contrary to DEPECHE MODE who merely plonked 14 albums into a boxed set in a move where the ‘Everything Counts’ lyric “the grabbing hands grab all they can” became more and more ironic…
MIDGE URE partied like it was 1980 with the music of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX, while SIMPLE MINDS announced an arena tour for 2020 so that their audience could show Jim Kerr their hands again. HEAVEN 17 announced some special showcases of the early material of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and got a particularly warm reception opening on tour for SQUEEZE as a trailer ahead of their own ‘Greatest Hits’ jaunt next year.
Celebrating 20 years in music, there was the welcome return of LADYTRON with a self-titled comeback album, while Swedish evergreens LUSTANS LAKEJER performed the ‘Åkersberga’ album for its 20th Anniversary and similarly GOLDFRAPP announced a series of shows in honour of their magnificent cinematic debut ‘Felt Mountain’.
Cult favourites FIAT LUX made their intimate live comeback in a church in Bradford and released their debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ 37 years after their first single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’.
As a result, their fans were also treated to ‘Ark Of Embers’, the long player that Polydor Records shelved in 1985 when the band were on the cusp of a breakthrough but ended with a commercial breakdown.
Modern prog exponents Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson got back together as NO-MAN for their dual suite electronic concept record ‘Love You To Bits’, but an even more ambitious undertaking came from UNDERWORLD with their boxed set ‘Drift Series 1’.
After a short hiatus, the mighty KITE sold-out three gigs at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan and ended the year performing at an opera house, while GIORGIO MORODER embarked on his first ever concert tour where his songs were the stars.
Despite the fall of The Berlin Wall 30 years ago, there were more evident swipes to the right than there had been for a long time, with the concept of Brexit Electro becoming a rather unpleasant reality. So in these more sinister times, the need for classic uplifting electronic pop was higher than ever.
To that end, three superb debut albums fitted the bill. While KNIGHT$ offered quality Britalo on ‘Dollars & Cents’, the suave presence of OLLIE WRIDE took a more MTV friendly direction with ‘Thanks In Advance’.
But for those wanting something more home produced, the eccentric Northern electronic pop of the brilliantly named INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP continued the artistic lineage of THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
QUIETER THAN SPIDERS finally released their wonderful debut album ‘Signs Of Life’ which was naturally more understated and Denmark had some worthy synthpop representation with SOFTWAVE producing an enjoyably catchy debut long player in ‘Game On’.
On the shadier side of electronic pop, BOY HARSHER achieved a wider breakthrough with their impressive ‘Careful’ long player but as a result, the duo acquired a contemporary hipster element to their fanbase who seemed to lack manners and self-awareness as they romped around gigs without a care for anyone around them. But with tongues-in-cheeks, SPRAY continued to amuse with their witty prankelectro on ‘Failure Is Inevitable’.
Photo by Johnny Jewel
Italians Do It Better kept things in house as CHROMATICS unexpectedly unleashed their first album for six years in ‘Closer To Grey’ and embarked on a world tour.
Main support was DESIRE and accompanied on keyboards by HEAVEN singer Aja, the pair took things literally during their cover version of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ with a girl-on-girl kiss in front of head honcho Johnny Jewel.
Other ITIB acts on the tour dependent on territory included DOUBLE MIXTE, IN MIRRORS and KRAKÓW LOVES ADANA. But the best work to appear from the stable came from JORJA CHALMERS who became ‘Human Again’.
Touring in Europe with OMD and MIDGE URE, TINY MAGNETIC PETS unleashed two EPs ‘The Politburo Disko’ and ‘Girl In A White Dress’ as fellow Dubliner CIRCUIT3 got political and discussed ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’.
The King of Glum Rock LLOYD COLE surprised all with an electronic pop album called ‘Guesswork’ just as PET SHOP BOYS set an ‘Agenda’. HOWARD JONES released his most synthy work for years in ‘Transform’ and while CHINA CRISIS acted as his well-received support on the UK leg of his 35th Anniversary tour, their front man GARY DALY ventured solo with ‘Gone From Here’.
Sweden continued to produce quality electronic pop with enjoyable releases from the likes of MACHINISTA, PAGE, COVENANT, OBSESSION OF TIME and LIZETTE LIZETTE. One of the most interesting acts to emerge from the region was US featuring the now Stockholm-domiciled Andrew Montgomery from GENEVA and Leo Josefsson of LOWE, with the catalyst of this unlikely union coming from a shared love of the late country legend Glen Campbell. Meanwhile, veteran trio DAYBEHAVIOR made the best album of their career ‘Based On A True Story’.
However, Canada again gave the Swedes a good run for their money as ELECTRIC YOUTH and FM ATTACK released new material while with more of a post-punk slant, ACTORS impressed audiences who preferred a post-post-punk edge alongside their synths. DANA JEAN PHOENIX though showed herself to be one of the best solo synth performers on the live circuit, but artistically the best of the lot was MECHA MAIKO who had two major releases ‘Okiya’ and ‘Let’s!’.
Despite making some good music in 2019 with their ‘Destroyer’ two-parter, the “too cool for school” demeanour of TR/ST might have impressed hipsters, but left a lot to be desired. A diva-ish attitude of entitlement was also noticed by The Electricity Club to be disappointingly prevalent in several fledgling acts.
However, several of the sub-genre’s artists needed to rethink their live presentations which notably underwhelmed with their static motions and lack of engagement.
While promoters such as Outland developed on their solid foundations, others attempted to get too big too soon like the musical equivalent of a penis extension, leaving fans disappointed and artists unpaid. Attempting to turnover more than 10 acts during in a day with a quarter of an hour changeover has always been an odious task at best, but to try 15?!? One hopes the headliners were well paid despite having to go on at midnight when most of their supporters went home so as not to miss the last train…
Now at times, it was as if a major collective midlife crisis had hit independent electronic music in the UK during 2019.
It was not unlike how “born again bikers” have become a major road safety risk, thanks to 40somethings who only managed Cycling Proficiency in Junior School suddenly jumping onto 500cc Honda CMX500 Rebel motorcycles, thinking they were Valentino Rossi.
Something similar was occurring in music as a variety of posturing delusional synth owners indulged in a remix frenzy and visions of grandeur like it was normal behaviour, forgetting that ability and talent were paramount.
This attitude led to a number of poorly attended events where attendees were able to be counted on one hand, thanks to clueless fans of said combos unwisely panning their video footage around the venue.
Playing at 3:15pm in an empty venue is NOT performing at a ‘major’ electronic festival… “I’ll be more selective with the gigs I agree to in the UK” one of these acts haplessly bemoaned, “I’ve played to too many empty rooms!” – well, could that have been because they are not very good?
Bands who had blown their chance by not showing willingness to open for name acts during holiday periods, while making unwise comments on their national TV debut about their lack of interest in registering for PRS, said they were going to split a year in advance, but not before releasing an EP and playing a farewell show in an attempt to finally get validation for their art. Was this a shining example of Schrodinger’s Band?
Of course, the worst culprits were those who had an internet radio show or put on gigs themselves so that they could actually perform, because otherwise external promotors were only interested in them opening at 6.15pm after a ticket deal buy on for a five band bill. Humility wouldn’t have gone amiss in all these cases.
It’s a funny old world, but as The Electricity Club comes up to concluding its tenth year as an influential platform that has written extensively about not one or two or three or four BUT five acts prior to them being selected to open on tour for OMD, luckily the gulf between good and bad music is more distinct than ever.
Artwork by Heloisa Flores
The Electricity Club had a compilation released by Amour Records gathering some of the best music from the last 10 years and reached No2 in the German POPoNAUT charts.
It will be interesting to see if the high standard of electronic pop will be maintained or whether the influx of deluded poor quality artists will contaminate the bloodline.
So The Electricity Club ends the decade with a complimentary comment by a punter after TEC006 who had also been to TEC004: “You don’t put on sh*t do you…”
May the supreme talent rise and shine… you know who you are 😉
2019 was good for new music. The first two thirds of the year was particularly strong for up-and-coming talent, while a number of veterans returned to making music with synths for the first time in many years.
Inevitably, the quality of new releases couldn’t be sustained and things tailed off during the Autumn period as artists shifted their focus towards the live arena.
The launch of debut full-length releases by relative newcomers has tended to focus towards the winter in order to pitch to the deluge of tastemaker polls that are now prevalent both in mainstream and online media.
Of course, The Electricity Club is unable to include everything in its 30 SONGS OF 2019, so worthy mentions go to SHOOK, CIRCUIT 3, KANGA, FRAGILE SELF, NINA, THE HEARING, JAKUZI, TR/ST, SPELLLING, I AM SNOW ANGEL, PET SHOP BOYS, NO-MAN, RIDER, TINY MAGNETIC PETS, FRAGRANCE. and T.O.Y. for their output this year.
As per usual with a restriction of one song per artist moniker and presented in alphabetical order, these are The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF 2019…
APOPTYGMA BERZERK A Battle For The Crown
Over the 25 years since his debut album ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ , Stephan Groth has straddled EBM, synthpop, futurepop, alternative rock and more recently instrumentals with APOPTYGMA BERZERK. For his first new material since 2016’s ‘Exit Popularity Contest’, the upcoming EP ‘Nein Danke!’ sees a return to the synthpop / new wave format. Part of a teaser single, ‘A Battle For The Crown’ offered a suitably matted austere but crucially did not forget the hooks or the melodies.
Stark Massachusetts duo BOY HARSHER formed through an urgent need to produce and consume, so Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller utilised their minimal electronics and intense mindset to create a compelling narrative of deterioration. ‘LA’ featured a wonderfully incongruous mix of icy string synths and orchestra stabs for an enticing display of mutant electronic disco, all brilliantly sinister thanks to its varied use of effects and Matthews’ mournful demeanour.
Available on the album ‘Careful’ via Nude Club Records
Jorja Chalmers is the sax and keys player for Bryan Ferry but while it was recorded in her boss’ studio, her first solo album ‘Human Again’ exuded a more sombre filmic disposition. Conceived and sketched in hotel rooms during the come down from playing to packed theatres around the world. ‘She Made Him Love Again’ was a song where Chalmers’ breathy vocals possessed a gorgeous forlorn allure and when the icy string machine and deep sax joined in, proceedings lifted to another level.
Available on the album ‘Human Again’ via Italians Do It Better
Lloyd Cole had recorded an experimental electronic album ‘Selected Studies Vol 1’ with Hans-Joachim Roedelius of CLUSTER in 2013, while there was also a solo instrumental collection entitled ‘1D Electronics 2012-2014’. But he put all of that modular knowhow into a song based format with the charming synthy single ‘Violins’ which saw him turn into OMD! However the King of Glum Rock didn’t totally alienate his main fan base, with guitars making their presence felt in amongst all the machinery at the halfway point.
CHINA CRISIS have been an unlikely influence on acts such as VILLA NAH and MIRRORS, but while these days their synthwork is less pronounced, front man and keyboardist Gary Daly took the plunge with a full length solo record entitled ‘Gone From Here’. The wonderful first single ‘I Work Alone’ acted as both a statement of intent and an affirmation in self-belief. A lovely whimsical piece of Casiotone folktronica, Daly said “it’s very much ‘Neon Lights’ meets ‘Autobahn’”
With a range of tempo variation, ‘Based On A True Story’ was the undoubtedly the best album of Swedish trio DAYBEHAVIOR’s long if sporadic career. Including a number of more danceable numbers to counterpoint the more laid back aspects of their cinematic sound without losing any of their exquisite aesthetics, one of the best examples could be heard in the fabulous Europop number ‘Driving In My Car’. It was just one part of a priceless collection of quality Scandipop.
Available on the album ‘Based On A True Story’ via Graplur
Nearly four decades is a long time to wait for a debut album, but with Wakefield’s FIAT LUX, it was been worth it. Recalling BLACK and CHINA CRISIS, the guarded optimism of ‘We Can Change The World’ provided a call to action in these turbulent times within an uptempo setting dressed with bubbling synths and rousing dual vocals sweetened by smooth sax. Steve Wright and David P Crickmore honoured their late band mate Ian Nelson in the best way possible with their recorded and live return.
Georgia Barnes is the daughter of LEFTFIELD’s Neil Barnes and the former drummer for Kate Tempest. Although her eponymous debut album possessed a more urban DIY feel, her sound has recently moved into more accessible electronic pop territory. From upcoming second album ‘Seeking Thrills’, the gloriously throbbing workout of ‘About Work The Dancefloor’ took its lead from ROBYN with its rousing Scandipop sheen, offset by a creepy distorted vocal refrain.
A Copenhagen domiciled German, classically schooled Greta Louise Schenk teamed up with Norwegian producer FARAO to enter a dreamy synthpop universe. With its unusual rhythmic structure and chromatic overtones, ‘White’ could have been an art rock number? “I often wonder how this song came out of me” she said, “I actually wrote it on my Irish bouzouki, which may explain the chords. I was listening a lot to LANA DEL REY and it was quite a dark time in my life.”
Another project of Johnny Jewel, HEAVEN first came to wider attention with the ‘Lonesome Town’ EP. Fronted by the enigmatic allure of singer and keyboardist Aja, the brilliant ‘Truth Or Dare’ perhaps unsurprisingly sounded like CHROMATICS but with more synths and drum machine. While on tour as keyboardist with DESIRE, Aja took the title literally when they performed a cover of NEW ORDER’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ and Jewel watched nearby…
ALICE HUBBLE is the new solo project of Alice Hubley, previously best known for fronting ARTHUR & MARTHA and COSINES. Hubley’s synth earth mother demeanour came to the fore on the sub-OMD of ‘We Are Still Alone’. While the lilting bass and elegiac transistorised melody were glorious, when the synth strings responded in that ASHRA style, it became perfect avant pop with Hubley sadly resigning to herself that she “couldn’t find the way to make me better”.
Leeds based singer / songwriter IMI is gifted with a most glorious soprano but she applies that and her love of analogue synths to an intelligent avant pop aesthetic. ‘I Feel Alright’ with its sharp melodic call and ethereal voices headed into assertive optimism. This most promising young synth talent told The Electricity Club: “This song was written after a few years of struggling with some personal issues and it was a celebration of finally feeling ok and feeling hopeful about the future.”
Hailing from Sheffield, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP and their world of academia would make “eccentric Northern electronic pop” compulsory on the curriculum. From their vibrant and accessible self-titled debut album, the bubbly ‘Love Girl’ was a luscious cross between DUBSTAR and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. Cosmic but catchy, their intelligent musical escapism has been just the tonic in these turbulent times. One of their manifesto statements is “Smile at the neon and the mirrorball”.
Producing his most synthpop work in ages, originally from the ‘Eddie The Eagle’ film sessions, Howard Jones said of ‘Hero In Your Eyes’: “I was really drawn to the part where his parents were amazing, continuing to believe in him when he was obviously not really very good at what he’d chosen to do, they kept supporting him. So him being a hero in their eyes always, that ‘I’ll be there for you’ feeling, I thought that it was something a lot of people could relate to”
Coming over like the love child of Richard Butler and Neil Tennant, KNIGHT$ made synthwaves with his sparkly Britalo on his energetic debut album ‘Dollars & Cents’. The Hi-NRG romp of ‘Hijack My Heart’ aped BRONSKI BEAT complete with a closing bursts of falsetto as the Winchester lad tightened his glitzy clubbing trousers to full effect and even dropped in a blistering synth solo to add to the fun. It was a highlight on one of the best albums of 2019.
LADYTRON produced their last offering ‘Gravity The Seducer’ in 2011. Their recent heavier self-titled reboot saw the quartet of Helen Marnie, Mira Aroyo, Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu entering the ‘Deadzone’. Unsettlingly percussive and full of tension but hitting the spot with the right dose of melodic elements intertwined with haunting grit and grime, LADYTRON were back with a sucker punch. All in all, it was a fantastic comeback.
LIZETTE LIZETTE is Lizette Nordahl, a gender neutral Swedish / Peruvian producer and performance artist whose first mini-album album ‘Queerbody’ was released 2017. The beautifully sad Nordic synth ballad ‘Computer Game’ was written in tribute to a departed friend. Showcasing Nordahl’s more emotive side, it was a quality that had not been obviously apparent in LIZETTE LIZETTE’s more danced-based recordings.
Reflecting gloomier times, ‘Anthropocene’ saw MACHINISTA produce their most consistent body of work yet. Vocalist John Lindqwister and instrumentalist Richard Flow took their time in a refinement of their anthemic signature sound and the addition of some conventionally flavoured twists. The title song took its lead from the dark electronic pop of Norway’s APOPTYGMA BERZERK and owed more than a debt to the haunting riff of ‘Burning Heretic’ in the ultimate sorcerer’s apprentice spell.
Behind the quirky avant pop of MECHA MAIKO is the talented Canadian Hayley Stewart. ‘Apathy’ from her new album ‘Let’s!’ can only be described as delightfully nuts, with an inventive mix of a jazz swing Charleston vibe, frantic techno dance beats and vibrant synthpop hooks. It showed she was not afraid to blend seemingly incongruous influences to get an end result and with a slight sprinkling of Japanese instrumentation to close, the eclectic creative cycle was complete!
Swedish songstress Karin My sang with veteran combo TWICE A MAN on their poignant environmental catastrophe warning ‘High In The Clouds’ in 2105. Her solo single ‘The Silence’ was one of the first truly great songs of 2019. Swathed in beautiful synths and embroiled in that wonderful Scandinavian melancholy, her gorgeous vocals evoked a forlorn abandonment just as a wintery chill set in with the sad dilemma of whether to give up…
The mighty Italo Disco statement of ‘Left Behind’ came complete with obligatory orchestra stabs and a rousing chorus, gleefully fusing SAVAGE, RAF, PET SHOP BOYS and BEE GEES within a big Trevor Horn styled kitchen sink! But despite the fun laden octave shift frenzy, the lyrics were concerned with midlife reflection. Michael Oakley told The Electricity Club: “the song is about me feeling like everyone around me was getting settled in their career, getting married and taking out a mortgage.”
Every now and then, the world needs a lively unpretentious synth instrumental record. With the second OBLONG album ‘The Sea At Night’, the trio of Benge, Dave Nice and Sid Stronarch delivered a collection of rustic electro-acoustic organically farmed electronica! With mood and pace, ‘Echolocation’ was a classic synth instrumental with its crystalline textures and charming slightly off-key blips, aurally reflecting the remote moorland location in Cornwall where it was recorded.
OMD began their recorded career with a KRAFTWERK homage and four decades on, they came full circle. A great grandchild of Klingklang and cousin of ‘Metroland’ from ‘English Electric’ but refined for BBC Radio 2 airplay, ‘Don’t Go’ captured the essence of OMD’s enduring electronic appeal. With crystalline synth melodies from Humphreys and a spirited vocal delivery from McCluskey attached to a hypnotic Synthanorma backdrop, OMD continue to produce quality avant pop tunes.
Feisty, fiery and on-message as “your abused Barbie doll from childhood”, Lauren Lusardi, better known as PLASMIC dropped yet another synth bomb with a vivid narrative on the fame game where women have to compromise and serve the male gaze to get to where they want. While pink is her colour, the rugged lo-fi cocoon of anxious sound penetrated the soul with a raging reminder that if “You wanna be famous?”, then really “Don’t be so f*cking brainless!”
Available on the single ‘Famous’ via CandyShop Recordings
“Beautiful melodies telling me terrible things” said a cartoon meme… with echoes of OMD, the life and death of the tragic Soyuz 1 cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was captured poignantly in this instrumental by QUIETER THAN SPIDERS from their brilliant debut album ‘Signs Of Life’; Yi Fan from the anonymous Chinese synth trio said: “we were moved by the human story behind it all together with the haunting backdrop of primitive space experimentation.”
Danish duo SOFTWAVE have been gaining momentum with endorsements from luminaries such as ex-members of THE HUMAN LEAGUE Jo Callis and Ian Burden, while improving enormously since their 2016 debut EP ‘Together Alone’. Punctuated by machines of ice, ‘No Need To Hide’ was undoubtedly Clarkean, celebrating positivity in possibly SOFTWAVE’s finest moment yet with one of those rousing Scandipop choruses and coming over not unlike Celine Dion fronting ERASURE.
The powerful electro R’N’B tinged ‘Way Out’ was the first English language taster from Beijing-born songstress’ ambitious new Anglo-Mandarin bilingual album project. Fifi Rong said of her concept to The Electricity Club: “I’m making a double album. One album in Chinese and the other in English. Not the typical type of translation type of bilingual album from one language to another… So the two albums are all individual songs interlinked in sounds, themes, vibes.”
Andrew Montgomery, best known as the vocalist of GENEVA who scored hits with ‘Into The Blue’ and ‘Best Regrets’ in 1997, teamed up with Leo Josefsson of Stockholm trio LOWE to form the electronic duo US. If Jeff Buckley had dumped his Fender Telecaster for a Korg MS20, then that is the dark anthemic sound of US. ‘Voyager’ went all spacey avant trance in a wonderful cross-pollination of styles that came over a bit like MUSE at Gatecrasher.
It was a big year for WITCH OF THE VALE as their highly spirited otherworldly sound, deeply rooted in Celtic folklore and Wiccan beliefs, found a sympathetic audience at Infest 2019. The eponymous track from their second EP introduced serene, yet uncertain feelings channelled via clear but eerie vocals over the croon from a raven. This angelic ballad put all the fears to sleep and demonstrated how Erin and Ryan Hawthorne sound are like nothing else within the world of modern electronica.
Although best known as the lead vocalist for FM-84 on ‘Running In The Night’, Ollie Wride unleashed his debut solo album in 2019. The Driver’ put into dynamic realisation as to what SIMPLE MINDS might have sounded like had Moroder-graduate Keith Forsey produced the 1985 ‘Once Upon A Time’ album instead of Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain. The superb grouchy synth rock saw the Brighton boy successfully pull off a cross between Jim Kerr and Billy Idol!
The previous albums of Swedish duo MACHINISTA, ‘Xenoglossy’ and ‘Garmonbozia’, each had terrific highlights but new long player ‘Anthropocene’ is their most consistent body of work yet.
Like a cross between THE CURE and ALPHAVILLE producing a fusion of synthpop and rock n roll, vocalist John Lindqwister and instrumentalist Richard Flow have added conventionally flavoured twists like guitars and cellos.
Refining their anthemic signature sound as well as reflecting today’s darker times, MACHINISTA’s gloomy club-friendly template went down a storm recently with the regulars at alternative club night Exit The Grey when the duo, accompanied by versatile guitarist Mattias Johansson, supported Mexican aggro-tech duo HOCICO at Electrowerkz in London.
While they were in the city, MACHINISTA chatted to The Electricity Club about the genesis of ‘Anthropocene’ and much more…
The ‘Anthropocene’ album has been a long time coming, are there any particular reasons?
Richard: Oh yes, many reasons for this. We did switch to a new label, so we had to work this out. I did a lot of remix-work for other bands as well as producer-work with the Swedish band PAGE. John has a bunch of side-projects as well he did work on and also we had a lot of focus on gigs during these years. But all this time we did record songs and released some singles as well. We did participate on several tribute albums, re-releases and stuff. Also private-life comes between sometimes so yeah this album took many years to finish for many reasons. You won´t need to wait years for the next release *laughs*
Did record companies have any bearing, because each MACHINISTA album has been released on a different label?
Richard: With our first label, there was some problems for sure. After that label closed down, we signed to UK based label Analoguetrash. We really liked that label, very kind people and easy to work with, but at the same time we started to play a lot more in Germany. Germany is really the best country for our kind of music so when we did get an offer from Infacted Recordings, we jumped on that train and it feels really good! The guys at Analoguetrash understood our situation and a chance for us to go in the direction we needed. We still have good contact with Analoguetrash so no hard feelings there.
Does a modern electronic pop band with a niche audience actually need a record label these days?
Richard: I guess not. It’s easy nowadays to do it by yourself and promote with YouTube, Facebook and all that. But at the same time, we are traditional when it comes to releasing physical CDs and that is so much easier with a label running all that for you. Also our current label Infacted Recordings is an established label in our genre with good connections when it comes to distribution, promotion and all that. Of course these days as a band you have to promote a lot by yourself to reach out, but with a label doing this work as well we can focus much more on the main thing, to record new songs!
While MACHINISTA lyrics have never been exactly cheerful, they have taken on a darker, almost fatalistic tone on this new album?
John: Actually it’s not a conscious thing that it ended up like that, haha! Maybe my brain has sucked up too much negative stuff listening on the radio every day.
Well I write about dark stuff and difficulties in life, but I think I put hope in there as well. ‘Anthropocene’ indicates a rough image of the future but we can change that. I hope 😉
The overall sound has become harder, still electronic but with more guitars?
Richard: Yes that’s correct! From the start we never really had any rules when it comes to the sound. However, our first album had a lot synth-pop songs for sure. When we started to write songs for ‘Garmonbozia’, we wanted to go into a darker direction. Dark, moody songs are a lot more fun to write and make me more happy than sunny pop songs. During this time we also started to have a guitarist on stage and it fitted in a lot more to a harder, darker sound.
Norway’s APOPTYGMA BERZERK appears to have been a big influence?
Richard: Well, yeah you know I listen to a wide range of music and APOP has always been a favourite band. I like that Stephan Groth does whatever he wants every time they release a new album. No rules. It’s similar to what we do. Then of course they have a great back-catalogue of songs! MACHINISTA was also part of the APOPTYGMA BERZERK tribute album that was released some years ago.
The excellent ‘Anthropocene’ title song even slips in the haunting riff of APOP’s ‘Burning Heretic’?
Richard: Yes, it was meant to be a little “tribute” to that song in the intro of ‘Anthropocene’. From the beginning, it was almost identical but then I did change some of the notes.
Stephan Groth and MACHNISITA have developed a kinship over the last few years?
Richard: We have met a few times during the years. He did a remix of ‘Dark Heart Of Me’, I also did mastering for the APOPTYGMA BERZERK remix of the PAGE song ‘Krash’. Recently I did a solo-gig and performed a lot of cover-songs. Among them, the classic Apoptygma song ‘Eclipse’. Stephan was at this event so he joined me on stage on that one. Very good fun!
Despite the harder aesthetic, ‘Astrid’ is quite cinematic and orchestrated featuring the very talented Karin My on cello?
Richard: This song turned out really well! The original demo was more electronic but when John added the vocals, I heard something else in my head. I thought about for a long time to do a song a lot more like THE CURE, that alternative feeling and this one was perfect. Karin My is a brilliant musician and singer so we are really happy that she was part of this song. Also Mattias’ guitar-playing did add a new dimension to it.
Having previously covered ‘Heroes’, ‘Anthropocene’ closes with another Bowie connected cover in THE BEATLES ‘Across The Universe’?
John: I wanted to do that cos it’s good song and as a small homage to my mother who named me after him and her being a big fan. And I’m a universe kind of guy!
You like your cover versions, you have been doing FRONT 242 ‘No Shuffle’ at recent gigs?
Richard: Yes, THIS London-gig actually! ?
John: There have been so many covers, it has to stop ?
The guitar has entered the live fray as well, although what Mattias Johansson does is complimentary and not overplayed, one minute he’s Midge Ure, then he uses an E-bow and then, it’s like THE SISTERS OF MERCY! *laughs*
Richard: We are more than happy to have Mattias with us! He is a great guitarist and always comes up with great melodies and stuff. The trick is to add a guitar that blends in good to the original music. Mattias does this and more! Also a great and funny guy to hang with, so we all have very fun together.
‘Anthropocene’ is probably your most consistent body of work to date, which are your own favourite songs on it and why?
Richard: Hmm. that changes from day to day. At the moment I would say ‘Astrid’. That song turned out almost exactly the way I wanted.
What’s next for you, either individually or as MACHINISTA?
Richard: We will play in Copenhagen on 30th August at Elektroland, that will be a lot of fun! At the moment we are also working on new songs that feel really nice. The sound will take a step in a different direction. We are exploring new dark territories. It will still sound MACHINISTA of course ?
John: I have CAT RAPES DOG and we are going to do a few shows, plus there’s the new project I have with Jonas from TRAIN TO SPAIN called FOLK ÄR FOLK. And Flow is in the live set with us. That will be fun.
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to MACHINISTA