One of Sweden’s biggest exports and otherwise a much underrated Synth Princess, KARIN PARK returns with ‘Blue Roses’.
Her last long player ‘Apocalypse Pop’ showed a further growth in what can only be described as a neoclassical amalgamation of synth and then Park took to the stage, performing in the Norwegian version of ‘Les Miserables’, playing the role of Fantine. The musical turned out to be the most popular in its genre and Park proved again that whatever she does, is perfection.
The break from her solo releases also gave way to the newest project PANDORA DRIVE, with whom the multi-talented artist released ‘Albino Heart’ EP earlier this year.
‘Blue Roses’ continues the trends set on ‘Apocalypse Pop’, with the eponymous single creeping from a melancholic affair, into an inferno of ominous sounding bass and powerful, if childlike vocals, building up to an expansive cinematic piece of dread.
Park goes for the throat here: “If you see me with a gun in my hand, stay off my sacred land”. Park comes back to basics here, using the tribal elements and keeping things demure.
The fear factor enters in ‘Roaring Ocean’ co-written with Richard X, which cuts through like a knife in a Kate Bush fashion and the piano has never sounded this spooky. Yet, there’s hope, there’s beauty, there’s a reason to go on.
The whole affair is rather poetic, almost Poe-esque, while ‘Glass House’ introduces bluesy connotations and reminisces the latest achievements from ZOLA JESUS. ‘The Sharp Edge’ announces itself in a melodramatic and discordant way, frightening the receiver further.
Park certainly returns with the renewed power, maybe with the additional militant elements she’s ready to take on new challenges, both sonically and visually.
Either way, ‘Blue Roses’ stands out… in KARIN PARK fashion.
Like Germany and the UK, Sweden has an established history in electronic music.
With a melodic tradition rooted in traditional Nordic folk music and the region’s long dark nights causing bouts of melancholy, the Swedes are more than well suited to stay indoors and further the art of synthpop.
In addition, Clavia Digital Musical Instruments, founded in 1983 and based in Stockholm, have emerged as a world leader in modern virtual analogue subtractive synthesizers with its distinctive red Nord Lead series.
Probably the most influential act to come out of Sweden are THE KNIFE. Their influence internationally on countless acts such as GAZELLE TWIN, GRIMES, AUSTRA, THE HORN THE HUNT and BECKY BECKY to adopt darker colours and mess with the very fabric of sound, has held a flag for inventive artful experimentation.
Meanwhile, COVENANT maintain an audience across the Atlantic for their resonant futurepop and ROBYN has become so much part of the mainstream that her songs are regularly murdered by reality TV talent show wannabes.
The iconic Energy Rekords provided a platform for modern electronic music in the country while today, labels such as Progress Productions, Labrador and Wonderland have maintained their support for domestic talent.
So what’s so special about Sweden then? Listed chronologically and then alphabetically from its UK perspective with a restriction of one song per moniker, here are The Electricity Club’s 25 SVENSKA SYNTH SONGS…
LUSTANS LAKEJER Diamanter (1982)
With a shortened title, ‘Diamanter’ was a more synth driven re-recording of their second single. LUSTANS LAKEJER were labelled Sweden’s answer to DURAN DURAN and like the Birmingham combo, Johan Kinde and Co were heavily influenced by JAPAN. Their third album ‘En Plats I Solen’ was produced by Richard Barbieri with Mick Karn popping up with his sax on three of its tracks.
Founded in 1980 by Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko, PAGE are often credited with bringing the more purer form of synthpop as pioneered by Vince Clarke to Sweden. Their debut single ‘Dansande Man’ was a frantically percussive excursion suitable for dancing to as the title suggested. Bengtsson and Schiptjenko were to become key figures on the Swedish music scene in many guises, as we shall see…
Originally released as a single via Eskimo, currently unavailable
With their name inspired by a JAPAN song, THE MOBILE HOMES were another Swedish band adopting purer synthpop colours . For their second single ‘Feeling Better’, they signed to Sonet, a Scandinavian independent who coincidentally handled the early publishing of Martin Gore and Vince Clarke. Eschewing the quirkiness of PAGE, THE MOBILE HOMES reflected the more pessimistic side of life often associated with Sweden.
An almost cartoonish trio originally comprising of Alexander Bard, Jean-Pierre Barda and La Camilla, ARMY OF LOVERS countered their outlandish visual presence with catchy electronic dance tunes influenced by the hippy musical ‘Hair’. While the epic ‘Crucify’ was the huge worldwide hit, the musically more subtle ‘Obsession’ offered a softer side while still maintaining the cinematic drama.
In parallel with PAGE, Eddie Bengtsson joined vocalist Alexander Hofman to write and perform some ‘Star Trek’ themed songs for a friend’s Trekkie themed birthday party. . Originally called MR SPOCK, the band name was changed to an acronym for ‘Star Pilot On Channel K’ after threats of legal action from Paramount Studios. ‘Never Trust A Klingon’ is still their crowning moment, a genius combination of deadpan vocals, bubbling synthpop and samples from Captain James T Kirk.
Available on the album ‘Five Year Mission’ via Energy Rekords
Founded in 1988, ELEGANT MACHINERY were another act who preferred a purer synthpop stance; they even covered SPANDAU BALLET’s ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’ in the style of Vince Clarke for an excellent 1995 Energy Rekords tribute collection of the same name. Many consider ‘Hard To Handle’ their finest song, an excellent blend of dance friendly beats and blippy melodies.
Formed in 1986 in Helsingborg, the Eskil Simonsson fronted COVENANT managed to gain a footing in both synthpop and EBM camps, achieving great success in North America from touring the alternative electronic club network established following the stateside success of DEPECHE MODE. Still going strong, 2016 saw the release of their ninth long player ‘Blinding Dark’.
Sibling duo THE KNIFE are probably the acclaimed electronic act to emerge from Sweden. Their uncompromising approach has won them many plaudits. But there was a time when with their experimentation came a tune too. The wonderful ‘Pass This On’ took Karin Dreijer’s unsettling pitch shifted vocals and placed them over brother Olaf’s soundtrack of primitive string machine and uplifting steel drums. Things got much darker after this…
Tired of her label BMG trying to turn her into the Swedish CHRISTINA AGUILERA, ROBYN took began taking an interest in the electronic movement closer to home. Inspired by THE KNIF, she collaborated with them to produce what is now possibly the key song which transformed Robin Miriam Carlsson into the successful independently minded artist she is today.
Available on the album ‘Robyn’ via Konichiwa Records
Best known as a member of the cult Swedish indie band PARIS, singer and keyboardist Emma Nylén had aspirations to produce something that was more decisively electronic. Her first recordings immediately showcased a catchy dance friendly sound as exemplified by ‘Rock D’Amour’. Subsequent albums ‘Closet Wanderings’ and ‘Nomme’ have maintained the standard, although EMMON is currently on a career break to raise a family.
Eddie Bengstsson’s solo project, also referred to as SMPJ, saw him unafraid to mine his Synth Britannia influences. ‘Allt Är Klart’ was an ULTRAVOX tribute and effectively a Swedish vocal version of the instrumental B-side ‘Alles Klar’. The hard, staccato synth bassline was borrowed from the original, but the track was bolstered by some superb whirring synths in the tradition of Billy Currie’s adventures with the ARP Odyssey.
Combining dual male / female vocals with a danceable electro goth backdrop, Anders Hagström and Yasmine Uhlin achieved success in Germany as well as Sweden with ‘Spiders’. ASHBURY HEIGHTS came out of hiatus in 2015 with a new female vocalist Tea F Thimé and a new album ‘The Looking Glass Society’ after a settling a despite with their label Out Of Line.
BODIES WITHOUT ORGANS or BWO saw PAGE’s Marina Schiptjenko teaming up Alexander Bard from ARMY OF LOVERS in a project that has probably come closest to exploiting the musicality of ABBA for the 21st Century. Fronted by the extremely handsome Martin Rolinski, the classic pop tradition of the original Super Swedes was more than obvious on the mightily bonkers ‘Lay Your Love On Me’ which they entered for Eurovision.
Producer Andreas Kleerup hit paydirt with ‘With Every Heartbeat’, a collaboration with ROBYN. A marvellous self-titled album followed with ‘Longing For Lullabies’ featuring Neneh Cherry’s sister Titiyo being the tearful highlight. Despite being driven with raw mechanical beats, the simple vocal melody was simple, almost keyboard-like going up and down the ivory scale in the best tradition of OMD while Titiyo’s vocal range made it a bit Agnetha and Annifrid too!
One established artist who made a volte face in the wake of THE KNIFE was KARIN PARK. It was on more her ROBYN-esque third album ‘Ashes To Gold’ that she sowed the seeds of her current electronic template. The synthpop disco of ‘Ashes’ fused electronic counterpoints and a live bass guitar with an incessant groove while Miss Park provided her enticing vocal presence.
Another act formed under the spectre of THE KNIFE, Stockholm duo Malin Dahlström and Gustaf Karlöf released ‘Mother Protect’ as a free download to launch NIKI & THE DOVE. Then came ‘DJ, Ease My Mind’; shaped by a ritualistic percussive mantra and whirring sub-bass, Dahlström’s witchy mannerisms provided the surreal scenario of what the Dreijers might have sounded like if they had decided to enter Eurovision.
Available on the album ‘Instinct’ via Mercury Records
Having issued their first album ‘:Adored’ in 1996 and their second ‘Have You Ever Touched A Dream?’ in 2004, ‘Silent Dawn’ was a single released as part of DAYBEHAVIOR‘s much vaunted comeback. The song was an exploration in laid back filmic pop and breathy continental vocals that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in Italian art movie. Indeed their most recent single ‘Change’ was also released in an alternative Italian language version, naturally titled ‘Cambiare’.
KITE have been called “Sweden’s best kept pop-secret”; Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg have undoubtedly been producing some of the best electronic pop of the last few years. Only releasing EPs, things started to truly come together on their fourth release ‘IV’. From it, ‘Step Forward’ with its sharp percussive drama and pentatonic overtones was the undoubted highlight. More recently, the duo have been commissioned to provide a song for a new Steven Segal film.
With Karolina Komstedt’s dramatically assertive vocal and a bursting bassline from Johan Angergård, CLUB 8 showed in a crisp 180 seconds with ‘Stop Taking Time’ that a danceable electronic tune didn’t have to be a journey into death by four-to-the-floor. Formed in 1995 as a more conventional pop act, CLUB 8’s most recent album ‘Pleasure’ celebrated 20 years for the duo.
MACHINISTA are seasoned hands, John Lindqwister was part of CAT RAPES DOG while Richard Flow was in VISION TALK with the late Krister Petersson. Their mantra is produce synthpop with a rock’n’roll edge. Like THE CURE gone electronic, or ALPHAVILLE crossed with SUICIDE, ‘Molecules & Carbon’ is both catchy and danceable with some suitably rousing elements too.
First launched via a set of mysterious viral videos with alphanumeric code titles, IAMAMIWHOAMI helmed by vocalist Jonna Lee and producer Claes Björklund premiered a delightfully odd cinematic electronic sound. From the second album ‘Blue’, the rich Scandipop of ‘Chasing Kites’ sees Jonna Lee hitting those ABBA-esque high notes with ablomb before adopting a huskier register for the second half.
Available on the album ‘Blue’ via To Whom It May Concern
A touching tribute to Messrs Clarke, Gore, Hütter and Schneider, JOHAN BAECKSTROM said “I guess I just wanted to reflect on the fact that there still IS a synthpop scene with some really great bands, both old and new. In another way, the song is sort of my ‘thank you’ to some of the artists that inspired me for several decades – some of them are mentioned in the lyrics, but far from all of course”.
Founded by Dan Söderqvist and Karl Gasleben, TWICE A MAN were the opposite to many Swedish acts in that they used synths and electronic effects for more sombre atmospheric soundscapes rather than performing outright pop. Still operating as a unit, their 2015 album ‘Presence’ featuring epic environmental message songs like ‘High In The Clouds’ showed their talents have not waned over the years and indeed have become more accessible.
Available on the album ‘Presence’ via Ad Inexplorata
After her inconclusive self-titled debut album in 2011, VANBOT aka Ester Ideskog had a rethink and started venturing into artier climes with the dreamy and enigmatic ‘Trooper’. With layers of vocals and rushes of lush synth, it started a journey towards the otherworldly template of IAMAMIWHOAMI. Her icy journey continues on her next album ‘Siberia’ which was written and recorded on a 17 day trip aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway.
REIN I Don’t Get Anything But Sh*t From You (2016)
Feisty, ambitious and not to be messed with, REIN has certainly caused a stir with Europe’s male dominated EBM scene. A true Rebel Girl as suggested by one of the highlights from her self-titled debut 2016 EP, even within the inherent shouty nature of the genre and Joanna Reinikainen’s debut song ‘Can’t Handle Me’ effectively being a mission statement, things are ramped up to 11 on ‘I Don’t Get Anything But Sh*t From You’. She’s an artist to watch for sure…
In a far more productive year than 2014, many electronic music veterans returned to the fold in 2015 with their first new albums for many years.
There were plenty of releases from independent acts too, with Nordic Europe being a particularly strong territory once again. 45 quality songs made the shortlist and were eventually whittled down to 30.
So mention must be made of ALICE IN VIDEOLAND, ANALOG ANGEL, BEBORN BETON, BECKY BECKY, CAMOUFLAGE, CLUB 8, ELECTROGENIC, EURASIANEYES, MACHINISTA, ME THE TIGER, HANNAH PEEL and SIN COS TAN who all released recordings in 2015 that would have easily made the listing in less competitive years such as 2012 and 2014. Even DURAN DURAN’s disappointing ‘Paper Gods’ yielded one decent track in ‘Face For Today’, but one swallow doesn’t make a summer.
So the decision has been made; with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, this alphabetical list comprises tracks released in physical formats, or digitally as purchasable or free downloads during the calendar year. Here are The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF 2015…
A-HA She’s Humming A Tune
Having played what appeared to be their farewell concert at the Oslo Spektrum in December 2010, A-HA reunited in a relaxed manner that recalled their days as a fledgling band. On ‘She’s Humming A Tune’, there were hints of 1986’s ‘Scoundrel Days’ in a lower key with sweeping synths, bottle neck six string and live drums moulding the chilling soundscape with that exquisite Nordic allure. ‘Cast In Steel’ was the antithesis of the misguided EDM blow-out that DURAN DURAN attempted on ‘Paper Gods’
Available on the album ‘Cast In Steel’ via Universal Music
Feeling gloomy? Then take heed of the advice from BLACK NAIL CABARET and “Don’t be sad! Don’t be whiney!” – this brooding slice of Gothtronica was the lead single from the Hungarian duo’s second album ‘Harry Me, Marry Me, Bury Me’. Laden with a delicious synth bassline like DEPECHE MODE reimagined for a Weimar Cabaret set piece and topped with eerie string machine, ‘Satisfaction’ was the duo’s best individual offering to date. The pair also made a worthy impression opening for CAMOUFLAGE.
Available on the album ‘Harry Me, Marry Me, Bury Me’ via Basic Unit Productions
From Neil Arthur’s first BLANCMANGE album without long time bandmate Stephen Luscombe, ‘Useless’ was a brilliant hybrid of BRIAN ENO circa ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ with LCD SOUNDSYSTEM. “It’s about anyone who thinks they might be useless” said Arthur, “This song is about that whole idea that we’re all flawed and you’re ‘useless as you are’… there are just times when you think ‘f*cking hell, I couldn’t organise a p*ss up in a brewery’ or that whole thing about confidence”.
Available on the album ‘Semi Detached’ via Cherry Red Records
Although launch single ‘Shine’ indicated it was business as usual, as hinted at with the title, CAMOUFLAGE’s long awaited long player ‘Greyscale’ was their most mature artistic statement yet. The mellow and warm ‘Count On Me’ saw Marcus Meyn duet with Peter Heppner of WOLFSHEIM fame. The lush blend of vocals and atmospherics showcased two of Germany’s most highly regarded electronic acts at their best.
CHVRCHES stuck to the synthpop template of their debut and delivered what LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX, and LADYHAWKE and HURTS all failed to do… a decent second album! The propulsive four-to-the-floor action of ‘Clearest Blue’ shows how far CHVRCHES developed. Although not unlike an amalgam of ‘Gun’ and ‘Science / Visions’, ‘Clearest Blue’ is even more accomplished, wonderfully held in a state of tension before WHACK, there’s a dynamic surprise that recalls the classic overtures of Vince Clarke.
Available on the album ‘Every Open Eye’ via Virgin Records
RODNEY CROMWELL is Adam Cresswell, formally of ARTHUR & MARTHA. ‘Black Dog’ recalled the pulsing post-punk miserablism of SECTION 25 and was embellished some Hooky styled bass. Cresswell told TEC: “It’s all broadly linked to experiences in my life over the last ten years; themes of love, loss, depression, redemption”. As with NEW ORDER’s ‘Temptation’, despite the inherent melancholy, there was light at the end of the tunnel that made ‘Black Dog’ a most joyous listening experience.
Available on the album ‘Age Of Anxiety’ via Happy Robots
Utilising her Italian heritage, DAYBEHAVIOR’s lead singer Paulinda Crescentini gave a suitably alluring performance on ‘Cambiare’, the B-side of the Swedish trio’s single ‘Change’. Remixed to poptastic effect, the joyous yet melancholic tune took the best elements of Italo disco with an expression of sorrow and happiness that recalled imperial phase PET SHOP BOYS. With a catchy chorus and seductive topline, Linguaphone language lessons were never this much fun…
An offshoot of Swedish EBM veterans SPETSNAZ, DESTIN FRAGILE are a very different animal with hints of CAMOUFLAGE and DEPECHE MODE in their sound. ‘Run Away’ opened their ‘Halfway To Nowhere’ opus, an album which some observers have hailed as one of the best of 2015. Featuring a fine vocal from Pontus Stålberg resembling MESH’s Mark Hockings, this is what modern synthpop should be like; pop music with synths and melody as well as dynamic synth solos.
Available on the album ‘Halfway To Nowhere’ via Dark Dimensions
EAST INDIA YOUTH’s debut ‘Total Strife’ pointed towards William Doyle’s potential to pen sublime pop, and with the follow-up ‘Culture Of Volume’, this was more than realised. But the album’s centrepiece was ‘Carousel’. Imagine the start of OMD’s ‘Stanlow’ reworked during BRIAN ENO’s sessions for ‘Apollo: Soundtracks & Atmospheres’. With no percussive elements and over six minutes in length, Doyle gave a dramatic vocal performance resonating in beautifully crystalline melancholy.
Available on the album ‘Culture of Volume’ via XL Recordings
Berlin-based EMIKA is one of the dark horses of the UK electronic scene. A combination of her classical training, Czech heritage and use of modern technology has made for a provoking, brooding sound that has attained critical acclaim over the last few years. From her third album, helpfully named ‘Drei’, ‘My Heart Bleeds Melody’ was its highlight, a concoction of intricate pulsing layers and solemn detachment that provided a captivating listening experience.
FFS proved collaborations do work. A total triumph, ‘P*ss Off’ was possibly the album’s most outstanding number. With the vibrancy of ‘Kimono My House’ and ‘Propaganda’ era SPARKS, there were plenty of jaunty ivories and camp vocal theatrics in the vein of classics like ‘Something For The Girl With Everything’ and ‘BC’. “It’s inexplicable” they all growled as the multi-track phrase of “HARMONISE” kicked in! A total joy, ‘P*ss Off’ was the ultimate two fingered art school pop anthem.
One of the highlights in Herr Flür’s DJ sets has been The Ninjaneer Mix of ‘Cover Girl’, a swirling synthpop track that the former KRAFTWERK percussionist has described as ‘The Model MkII’. He told TEC: “Her story goes on and unfortunately shows her going downhill. She had bad experiences with drugs, alcohol and other things so had to dance in night clubs for earning money at least. A true story, a bad life… that’s sometimes the way how super models are knitting their career”
Available on the album ‘Eloquence’ via Cherry Red Records
JOHN GRANT’s adventure into a solemn electronic template on ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ not only won him a BRIT Award nomination too. Meanwhile his collaboration with HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR showed he understood the disco as well. ‘Disappointing’ combined the two approaches and added some funk for an enjoyable Bowie meets YAZOO styled workout. In a song full of surprises, not only was there the presence of slap bass, but there was the dulcet tones of EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL’s Tracey Thorn too.
Available on the album ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ via Bella Union
GWENNO’s Welsh and Cornish heritage has allowed her to develop a unique brand of lo-fi electronica. Her full-length Welsh language debut ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ came out on Peski Records in October 2014. Now reissued in 2015 by Heavenly Recordings, GWENNO has deservedly gained an increased profile for her music. With beautiful, traditionally derived melodies placed in a spacey yesterday’s tomorrow setting, the spacey ‘Calon Peiriant’ was one of the more immediate delights on offer from a wonderful album.
Available on the album ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ via Heavenly Recordings
Depression despite apparent material success has been an ongoing lyrical theme for Chris Corner as IAMX. And with ‘Happiness’, his craving for a mind to be free of bad news, negative influences and jealousy was countered with his line of “Everywhere hypocrisy!” as pulsing arpeggios kicked in for the final third’s gentle but drama laden climax. Highly poignant in the current economic and political climate, Corner’s move from Berlin to Los Angeles certainly did his music no harm.
Available on the album ‘Metanoia’ via Caroline International
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE & VINCE CLARKE Automatic Parts 1 + 2
The French synth maestro’s first album for since ‘Teo & Tea’ in 2007 was an opus entitled ‘Electronica 1 – The Time Machine’ featuring collaborations with TANGERINE DREAM, JOHN CARPENTER, LITTLE BOOTS, MASSIVE ATTACK among many. But the two part ‘Automatic’ with VINCE CLARKE was the highlight, taking in the best of the tune based elements of both artists while not letting one party dominate. VCJMJ was certainly a more artistically realised proposition than the polarising techno of VCMG!
Available on the album ‘Electronica 1: The Time Machine’ via Columbia Records
“Whether I release it in 2013 or 2016, it’s still going to sound like 1985!” said KID KASIO main man Nathan Cooper. A man whose is plainly honest about where his influences lie, his love of classic synthpop permeates throughout his work. Now imagine if DEPECHE MODE was fronted by Nik Kershaw instead of Dave Gahan? With ‘Full Moon Blue’, that musical fantasy became fully realised with a clever interpolation of ‘Two Minute Warning’, one of Alan Wilder’s songwriting contributions from ‘Construction Time Again’.
Despite having been around since 2008, Swedish synth duo KITE have tended to be overlooked internationally. But Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg’s wonderfully exuberant array of sounds and rugged, majestic vocals deserve a much larger audience. Issuing only EPs and never albums, KITE’s most recent release ‘VI’ opened with the magnificent progressive electronic epic ‘Up For Life’. The passionate and sublime first half mutated into a beautifully surreal journey of VANGELIS-like proportions for the second.
A worthy of re-assessment of DEPECHE MODE ‘A Broken Frame’ has been long overdue and MARSHEAUX have certainly given a number of its songs some interesting arrangements. Their version of ‘Monument’ borrowed its bassline from latter day DM B-side ‘Painkiller’. Combined with some wispily resigned vocals, it provided a tense soundtrack that could be seen as metaphoric commentary on the economic situation in Greece. It’s not often that cover versions are better than the originals, but this is one of them.
Available on the album ‘A Broken Frame’ via Undo Records
METROLAND’s second album ‘Triadic Ballet’ was a triumphant electronic celebration of the Bauhaus, art movement led by Walter Gropius. Gropius theorized about uniting art and technology and on the B-side of its launch single ‘Zeppelin’, METROLAND worked towards the 21st Century interpretation of that goal. Now imagine if GARY NUMAN had actually joined KRAFTWERK in 1979? Then the brilliantly uptempo ‘(We Need) Machines Without Romance’ would have surely been the result.
Studio legend John Fryer has been busy and the project that perhaps harks closest to THIS MORTAL COIL is MURICIDAE. Featuring the exquisite vocals of Louise Fraser, she and Fryer apparently “met on the beach searching for mermaids”… the sea is very much the visual theme for their music, with Fryer cultivating “sonic sculptures to musically embody the exquisite Muricidae Shell itself”. The tranquil beauty of ‘Away’ captures a shimmering soundscape that compliments Fraser’s plaintive lament.
Available on the EP ‘Tales From A Silent Ocean’ via Muricidae Music
After the guitar dominated proceedings of the last few NEW ORDER albums, Bernard Sumner promised a return to electronic music for the Mancunians’ first album of new material without estranged founder member and bassist Peter Hook. That was certainly delivered on with ‘Plastic’, a full-on throbbing seven minute electro number mixed by Richard X with blippy echoes of ‘Mr Disco’. Dealing with the issue of superficiality, it declares “this love is poison, but it’s like gold”… yes, beware of anything plastic and artificial!
Available on the album ‘Music Complete’ via Mute Artists
In 2015, the Norge domiciled Swedish songstress’ KARIN PARK finally released her fifth album, the profanity laden fifth ‘Apocalypse Pop’. While less harsh in sound to some of the other tracks on the long player, ‘Stick To The Lie’ was no less angry. The most overtly synthpop track on the collection, this accessible yet emotive song was one of the highlights on a collection that affirmed KARIN PARK’s place in modern electronic pop.
Available on the album ‘Apocalypse Pop’ via State Of The Eye
With CHVRCHES having borrowed PURITY RING’s electro template and pushed it into the mainstream, the direction taken on the Edmonton duo’s sophomore album ‘Another Eternity’ was going to be watched with interest. Certainly it was more focussed than its predecessor ‘Shrines’. Still utilising glitch techniques, booming bass drops and Corin Roddick’s rattling drum machine programming, the album’s best song ‘Begin Again’ made the most of Megan James’ sweet and dreamy voice.
Available on the album ‘Another Eternity’ via 4AD Records
Sweden’s SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN (translated as “The Last Man on Earth”) are led by Eddie Bengtsson, best known for his work with S.P.O.C.K and PAGE. The themes of space travel and Sci-Fi are regular lyrical gists and while all of SMPJ’s songs are voiced i Svenska, Bengtsson opened up his Vince Clarke influenced synthpop to the English language in 2015 with the ‘Translate’ EP. Brilliantly produced, ‘All The City Lights’ (a version of his 2014 single ‘Stadens Alla Ljus’) was its highly enjoyable opening gambit.
SUSANNE SUNDFØR and her acclaimed ‘Ten Love Songs’ album developed on the electronic focus of its predecessor ‘The Silicone Veil’. With an eerie, droning intro with echoes of THE WALKERS BROTHERS’ ‘The Electrician’, ‘Delirious’ thundered with some fierce electronics bolstered by dynamic orchestrations like THE KNIFE meeting DEPECHE MODE. It captured love as a reluctant battle of the emotions while our heroine announced with emotive resignation “I’m not the one holding the gun”.
Available on the album ‘Ten Love Songs’ via Sonnet Sound
TRAIN TO SPAIN’s developing brand of uptempo, energetic pop utilises classic synthesizer sounds in the vein of Vince Clarke coupled to a metronomic rhythm structure akin to the 1985 ‘Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder’ album. Coming over like LANA DEL REY fronting YAZOO, Wigeborg’s cooingly vulnerable vocals on ‘Passion’ let rip over a suitably complimentary electronic backbone from Rasmusson, while a superb remix by MACHINISTA added some beefy gothic disco goodness.
Available on the download single ‘Keep On Running’ via Sub Culture Records
Manchester based Ross Tregenza is an experienced hand having co-written ‘Diaries Of A Madman’ with Dave Formula and Steve Strange when he was a member of VISAGE II in 2007. He surprised electronic music audiences with a Spartan cover of ‘The Partisan’, a song made famous by LEONARD COHEN. While many may despair at the very mention of the droll Canadian, his work has strong parallels with many Gothic veined musical forms, especially with this harrowing tale of fighting for La Résistance.
Originally from the EP ‘Stolen Thunder’, alternate version available on the album ‘Into The Void’ via Tregenza Music
On VILE ELECTRODES’ mesmerising ‘Captive in Symmetry’, “Filmic” is indeed a very apt description with the booming synth bass motif possessing echoes of the ‘Twin Peaks’ theme tune ‘Falling’. As beautiful sequences, eerie strings and Anais Neon’s hauntingly alluring vocals take hold, it all comes over like a dreamboat collaboration between JULEE CRUISE and OMD that could easily be considered for use in the proposed revamp of the surreal North American drama.
Available on the EP ‘Captive In Symmetry’ via Vile Electrodes
VIVIEN GLASS took a major bleep forward in 2015 with a well-produced album ‘Jura’. ‘Black Magic’ was a good example of their dark but melodic synthpop. With a catchy riff, syncopated percussive bass grunt and piercing synth pads like LITTLE BOOTS meeting GARY NUMAN at The Batcave, Melissa Glass’ gothic laden vocal provided an additional enticing allure. The bonus of an engaging co-ordinated live presentation also put the trio ahead of the domestic competition.
The Electricity Club has said many times before: “There are electronic music events… and there are electronic music events…”
And the best sort of electronic music events are those curated by electronic music enthusiasts, people who actually enthuse about the genre, recognise its history and expel a passion to see it continue as a defined artform.
Two such people are Henrik Wittgren and Sebastian Hess, whose organisation Depeche Mode Party Gothenburg have been running successful music events in the Swedish city for several years. Electronic Summer started as a DEPECHE MODE fan event in 2012 with none other than Alan Wilder as guest of honour, while the live headliners were MESH and DE/VISION.
Since then, the event has developed with DAF and APOPTYGMA BERZERK headlining in 2013, while the 2014 event featured COVENANT, ASSEMBLAGE 23 and AESTHETIC PERFECTION.
With VNV NATION, SOLAR FAKE, MARSHEAUX, KARIN PARK and PYSCHE featuring in the Electronic Summer 2015 line-up, a sell-out crowd at the Brewhouse Arena was eagerly anticipating a great weekend of music and culture.
Such was the community spirit of the occasion that musicians from local acts such as TRAIN TO SPAIN were also in attendance. To start proceedings, early arrivals were welcomed to an enjoyable pre-party featuring AVANTGARDE, XHILE, PRESENCE OF MIND and DESTIN FRAGILE. Each act had appeared on the cult Swedish synthpop compilation ‘Circuit One’ and gathered to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
PRESENCE OF MIND were particularly impressive with their brand of dark, but melodic synthrock. Their debut album ‘Interpersonal’ was only released in 2014, but it is a indicator as to why Swedish acts are generally holding their own against competition from around the world. Meanwhile, DESTIN FRAGILE showcased songs from their ‘Halfway To Nowhere’ album released this year and some observers have considered it one of the best synth flavoured long players of 2015.
Day 1 began in the late afternoon with Nordic friendly blog Cold War Night Life hosting a DJ set in The Outsider bar area. As music fans prepared themselves for a nine hour night, DJ combo Spacelab aka Alexander Hofman and Johan Billing from S.P.O.C.K. continued the electronic soundtrack.
Throughout the weekend, there were enjoyable DJ sets based around the themes of Mute, DEPECHE MODE, NITZER EBB and ERASURE but there was also just great electronic pop by artists of all generations ranging from KRAFTWERK, SOFT CELL and NEW ORDER to CLUB8, TRUST and SUSANNE SUNDFØR. The first live act of the day was the milk loving PETER SJÖHOLM who gave his distinctive quirky take on electronic pop.
But that was followed by the unusual sight of Day 2 headliners VNV NATION taking to the stage at 19:00 hours. Performing what was billed as an alternative set, it contained a collection of their lesser played works from their vast catalogue like ‘Kingdom’ and was a suitable dress rehearsal for their headline slot. Following on, NATTSKIFTET and VIRTUAL VOICES kept the crowds warm in preparation for Canadian darkwave trailblazers PSYCHE.
Accompanied by Stefan Rabura, Darrin Huss led a spirited performance that was fittingly poignant following the recent sad passing of his brother and PSYCHE founder member Stephen. This was particularly evident on ‘The Brain Collapses’ from ‘Insomnia Theatre’, their debut album together.
The magnificent ‘The Saint Became A Lush’ from ‘Unveiling The Secret’ was another pivotal moment while that album’s title track and the single ‘Uncivilized’ were other treats. Huss recited his synthpop knowledge too, dropping in snatches of EURYTHMICS’ ‘Sweet Dreams’ and YAZOO’s ‘Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I)’ during the set.
KARIN PARK gave another of her towering performances, the aggressive synth glam of ‘Look What You’ve Done’ fully exploiting the presence of her metalhead drummer brother David and lively new keyboardist Kine Sandbæk Jensen aka PIECES OF JUNO. Meanwhile ‘Stick To The Lie’ and ‘Ashes’ demonstrated that despite her intense stage demeanour, Miss Park does supreme electronic pop. To climax the set, the charismatic Swede led a three way drum barrage to conclude the mighty ‘Thousand Loaded Guns’.
PROJECT PITCHFORK concluded the evening with a suitably Teutonic fist of aggression; their in-yer-face pounding ensured any remaining energy left in the audience after a long day was put to efficient use. If nothing, it ensured a good night’s sleep in preparation for Electronic Summer 2015’s second instalment.
Day 2 began with HILTIPOP, the solo project of Magnus Johansson from the YAZOO influenced duo ALISON.
His promising FAD GADGET meets KRAFTWERK template was an ideal way to ease everyone back into the synthetic groove and many watching including George Geranios of Undo Records and Darrin Huss were impressed.
Following on, STURM CAFÉ gave their localised take on electro body music. With enough flashes of DAF to wake anyone who was still sleepy, the Alte Schule sound was not totally unexpected from a band who soundtracked a movie called ‘Die Zombiejäger’.
Meanwhile, ME THE TIGER were another Swedish band on the second day’s very international bill and notably reflected their country’s solidarity values. With their synth assisted new wave songs like ‘Ariana’ and ‘Pocket Sized Edition Ending’, the trio showcased their YEAH YEAH YEAHS influenced pop augmented by punky guitars and lively drums.
In Gabriella Åström, ME THE TIGER have a feisty front woman full of energy and attitude, something that was particularly evident on anthemic numbers like ‘Heartbeats’ and ‘What Promises Are Worth’. Even a broken kick pedal didn’t dampen their enthusiasm and this was promptly repaired without a flutter.
The event maintained its original DEPECHE MODE roots with the presence of Athens based synth maidens MARSHEAUX performing selections from their acclaimed reinterpretation of ‘A Broken Frame’. The wispy renditions of ‘My Secret Garden’, ‘Monument’ and ‘Leave In Silence’ were particular highlights while there was the surprise inclusion of ‘See You’ B-side ‘Now This Is Fun’. Best of of all though was an angelic rendition of ‘The Sun & The Rainfall’.
But it wasn’t all about Basildon as MARSHEAUX impressed the Devotee dominant crowd with their own cracking tunes like ‘Hanging On’, ‘Dream Of A Disco’, ‘Come On Now’ and ‘Breakthrough’.
German duo SOLAR FAKE led by Sven Friedrich kept the crowd moving with their Goth infused electro, a tone that was not entirely surprising given Friedrich’s roots in cult alternative band DREADFUL SHADOWS. ‘I Hate You More Than My Life’ was a more than ideal overture while ‘Under Control’ provided a trancey focal point with hints of COVENANT. The remainder of their set was enjoyably accessible dark synthpop that suited the duo’s striking look.
To conclude the weekend, VNV NATION blasted their way through a hits set of their characteristic Futurepop, the duo of Ronan Harris and Mark Jackson certainly providing lashings of “Victory Not Vengeance”.
2011’s ‘Space & Time’ and the 1999 vintage of ‘Standing’ were just two of the stomping crowd pleasers while the more epic electro rock inclined ‘Perpetual’ made a fitting set closer. Throughout the weekend, there was an enormously warm and friendly atmosphere. The event had something for everyone so as different factions of the audience moved between their preferred acts, there was plenty of time for passionate discussion in the various bars.
Despite fierce debate about the merits of synthpop versus industrial, most shared an intense dislike of EDM and agreed that its inane DJ culture was ruining electronic music. However, when there were differences in opinion as the well-known Nordic enjoyment for liquid refreshment kicked in, no-one took it personally. There was plenty of mutual laughter as chat varied from whether ‘MG’ was actually a Eurorack YouTube tutorial put to record, to the use of the word ‘Marmite’ as a descriptive term in music journalism.
Electronic Summer has developed into a fine annual platform showcasing the best in independent synth driven talent from around the world. The 2015 variant was a truly worldwide event, again proving what can be done when event organisers actually enjoy and understand the music they are dealing in.
It was indeed, a fine benchmark for other event organisers to aspire to.
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Henrik Wittgren and Sebastian Hess at Depeche Mode Party Gothenburg
Let’s face it, 2012’s ‘Highwire Poetry’ was always going to be a pretty damn hard act to follow.
Arguably one of the best electronic pop albums from the last five years, it managed to maintain a balance of quirky, original songs, wrapped up in a production template that kept synth fans happy, but with also nods to contemporary sonics too.
Tracks such as ‘Thousand Loaded Guns’ and ‘Fryngies’ even brought KARIN PARK to the attention of GARY NUMAN, who chose her as support on one of his UK tours. There must be an element of frustration in the Park camp that she hasn’t broken on a wider scale by now, on paper she has everything, astonishing model looks, a fantastic and charismatic live show (with her brother David accompanying her on drums) and with ‘Highwire Poetry’, an album that easily held its own against her contemporaries such as ROBYN, THE KNIFE and BJÖRK (comparisons which she’s probably getting tired of by now!).
This brings us to Park’s fifth album and second for Portsmouth-based label State of the Eye: ‘Apocalypse Pop’. The temptation would have probably been to stick with the format that worked so well on album four, but Park’s new set of songs has a distinctly different sound and vibe to them. The overall tone and production on ‘Apocalypse Pop’ is much more edgy both from a sonic point of view (distortion and rock dynamics are more prevalent here) and with some of the lyrical content (more on that later). If anything, the overall sound of this album is more homogenized and cohesive than the last, but this is not necessarily a good thing, with many of the tracks taking several listens to hit home, the stylistic mish-mash of immediate songs which filled ‘Highwire Poetry’ is to a large degree missing here.
Opening track and single ‘Look What You’ve Done’ sets the tone, each sound has been overdriven including Park’s vocals and the track bounces along to the familiar 6/8 Schaffel beat which has been used by everybody from DEPECHE MODE to RACHEL STEVENS. Another previously released single ‘Shine’ follows next, its understated feel adding to the rollercoaster feel of the album (one moment you’re up, the next you’re down).
‘Stick To The Lie’ follows a more traditional electronic format with its driving sequencers and arpeggiators and is far better for it, lyrically it also connects far more successfully, with Park injecting its “truth… hurts like a sharp knife” hook with real emotion. ‘Daemons’ is the real Marmite track on the album, Park bearing her soul with the “I know I’ve been a c***” lyric, whereas musically and vocally, the chorus takes the track into decidedly unwelcome R’n’B territory. Final track ‘Hurricane’ lifts things tempo-wise and has a wonderful elastic / portamento bass sound and finishes proceedings in a more hypnotic/dance manner, Park sharing lead vocals with Thomas Knights from UK act PANDORA DRIVE.
The darker and more understated feel throughout has undoubtedly been informed by the illness of Park’s partner last year. This is not a bad album, but in places, it treads water rather than taking the standards previously set to a higher level. ‘Stick To The Lie’ is easily the most immediate track here and should act as the in point for fans of Park’s previous work. Meanwhile, the use of explicit language misfires badly, nobody really wants to hear the ‘C’ word in an electronic pop record and in many ways it seems to suggest that Park and her collaborators are trying a little too hard here to get themselves noticed.
For maybe a little too long now, KARIN PARK has been electronic pop’s best kept secret, and she certainly warrants a much larger demographic than what’s she’s achieved so far. Hopefully ‘Apocalypse Pop’ will help maintain the momentum she has generated and she will get a wider degree of success that she so richly deserves.
‘Apocalypse Pop’ is released by State Of The Eye Recordings on CD, download and vinyl.