Working under the stage name of herrB, Stefan Bernauer began his music career as a guitarist and songwriter in a number of rock, blues and jazz bands.
But deep inside Bernauer’s heart was a love for electronic dance music. 2011 saw his first release as herrB, a vibey deep house offering called ‘Dragonfly On Dope’.
But in 2013, he met the artist and post-punk poet Anne Clark, collaborating on the joint EP ‘Fairytales From The Underground’. A longer form release ‘Life Wires’ came in 2014 while further new material is work-in-progress.
Since they came together in the studio, herrB has often accompanied Anne Clark at many of her live performances. And it was at once such performance at the Electri_City_Conference 2017 in Düsseldorf that ‘Strangers Eyes’ featuring Katja von Kassel on lead vocals came about.
“It all started in Düsseldorf when the sound engineer from Anne Clark saw my performance” said Katja, “Anne and herrB were already at their own soundcheck in another room so they missed it. But herrB and me started talking after Anne’s performance and he said the sound engineer mentioned me to him, saying he saw an appearance that illuminated the room. I am a huge fan of his sounds and Anne Clark. So, herrB and me started working together and wrote ‘Strangers Eyes’.”
The cosmopolitan result sees three sets of seemingly incongruous styles in Eurodance, Weimar Cabaret and stark English poetry coming together in refined unison with a haunting dose of European melancholy added to the mix.
“Anne heard it when she was working with in the studio and added spontaneously her vocals because she really liked the track”, remembered Katja about how Anne Clark unexpectedly came to be involved, “At this time I was on holiday in Corsica and got an mp3 from herrB with Anne’s vox on it. I totally fell in love with it. I really liked it and she invited me to try it out live with her when she appeared at ‘Gothic Meets Klassik’ in Leipzig.”
While Katja von Kassel’s chanson flavoured take on the tragedies of life remains firmly intact, the dancier slant of ‘Strangers Eyes’ with its beat laden backbone will surprise listeners, especially the single’s accompanying four-to-the-floor remix.
Chris Payne is perhaps best known as a sideman to Gary Numan and co-writing ‘Fade To Grey’ with Billy Currie and Midge Ure for VISAGE.
But more recently, Payne released his second solo work ‘The Falling Tower’, an ambitious concept album with neo-classical stylings about “a social and political armageddon”, an all too possible prospect in the current work climate, with the twist of being sung in Latin, Esperanto AND English!
The Rouen-based Cornishman took time out to chat to The Electricity Club about ‘The Falling Tower’ and the various projects he is currently involved in…
‘The Falling Tower’ is your second solo album, but a significant part of it formed an ELECTRONIC CIRCUS album with the same title which came out in 2018?
Yes it is a rather unique situation whereby I released the album under the ELECTRONIC CIRCUS banner when it was clearly not ready. It was a bit of a disparate mix of songs as I was trying to fit the quirky synthpop songs such as ‘Roundabout’ and ‘Space Invaders’ with the more serious compositions like ‘In Red Fields Of Flanders’ and ‘Nocturne for Piano & Synths’. I decided to take a bit of an unprecedented step of redoing the album and dropping the synth pop stuff.
Do you still believe in the album as a concept and artform in this age of streaming and skipping?
Fundamentally yes. It’s true that with digital downloads and streaming etc, you don’t get the benefit of the classic album cover which is not only something that adds artistic merit to the music but also allows the listener to get information about who played on it, the lyrics etc. Of course you can put all of that information and more on your website or social media page but it isn’t quite the same as having it directly associated with the disc, be it CD or vinyl.
Certainly ‘The Falling Tower’ has a strong message of “Look after the planet or nothing else matters”. In other words as a species that is part of this planet it’s about time to stop ego and thinking xenophobically about nations and politics and redress the damage we are doing. I know it’s a theme that is preached to us all the time, and believe you me I’m the last person to want to be preached to, but if we don’t take a different course soon the risks are colossal for the planets existence.
Whilst ‘Space Invaders’ didn’t fit in at all, ‘Direct Lines’ with its nuclear catastrophe storyline and ‘Roundabout’ with its midlife crisis metaphors weren’t that far off the “political collapse of the world” narrative you were aiming at with ‘The Falling Tower’?
I see your point, but they were still very upbeat. As I’ve mentioned before if you’re going to make an album about the collapse of the political and social global civilisation as we know it, you don’t want an album of “jigs and reels”
On ‘The Great Gates’, you perform your first lead vocal since ‘Turn’ with DRAMATIS on ‘For Future Reference’, what brought that on? How different were the two recording sessions which were 37 years apart! 😉
Well I was never a singer and it’s still something that bothers me to be honest. I’ve been told on numerous occasions by my wife Dominique that singing isn’t all about technique, it’s about emotion and although it took me a long time to appreciate this, she was right.
I have never felt comfortable about my own voice. It was always put down whilst I was at music college and as a result I really didn’t care that much. The DRAMATIS song ‘Turn’ was composed by me and I only recorded my own voice for either Denis Haines or RRussell Bell who were the principle vocalists on the album. But after I recorded it, everyone thought it fitted the track so we kept it.
For the recording of ‘The Great Gates’, Dominique had always told me that my voice had a more unique quality about it in a lower register, and I had had a couple of voice training sessions with a vocal trainer called Cecile Helene who used very imaginative vocal techniques to bring out the best in her pupils. She believes we all have the natural ability to sing, but the way we are structured as kids and taught in schools often condemns us to insecurity and a sense of non self-belief which inevitably blocks progression.
So this gave a certain confidence to sing the song which coincidentally happened to fall in a very nice key for my voice. The thing is, I’m not that interested in the continuing development of my singing career! So it’ll probably be a one off but it’s nice to get the feeling back of not being a vocal moron.
Speaking of DRAMATIS, what happened to the mooted reissue of ‘For Future Reference’ with those later non-album singles like ‘Face On The Wall’ and ‘The Shame’ as extras, which was trailed by the free download of a remastered ‘Ex Luna Scientia’?
Do you know what, I honestly don’t know. RRussell tracked down the owner of ‘For Future Reference’ which had been sold on so many times from our initial management team, who were a bunch of music business conmen! But RRussell bought the copyrights to the album back. As for the titles you mentioned, I’ve no idea if they were included or not. I’ll have to ask RRussell about that! Maybe they’re all for sale on eBay!!
‘Ex Luna Scientia’ was partly sung in Latin, as is ‘The Trapeze’ from The Falling Tower’ while the title track is in Esperanto, what inspired you to do that with those two tracks?
Well I know it sounds a bit musical elitist and trust me, I have no time for that nonsense! But Latin is a great language to sing in and I’m used to using it on my big orchestral choral works I’ve done in London and Prague over the years. It worked very well on ‘The Trapeze’ but when it came to ‘The Falling Tower’, I thought of Esperanto as it was created as a universal language to benefit mankind.
Now interestingly it didn’t work as a created language back in the 19th century and I’m sure that’s because a language isn’t a formal constructed thing from the outset, but a living growing and evolving form of communication that just happens on a gradual basis between us humans. Having said all of that, my wife and I looked at the language, realised it had similarities to Latin and went from there. We discovered that it’s a beautiful language to sing in and I’ve used it on the TULM project I’m working on with my daughter Marikay.
Will you do a song in Cornish next? Didn’t you work with Gwenno once upon a time on ‘Ysolt Y’nn Gweinten’, a version of which ended up on your ‘Between Betjeman, Bach & Numan’ solo debut ?
Well that’s another interesting thing about language. Take Cornish for example. It has been what I call a sleeping language for the last couple of hundred years and has recently, I guess post war, become a spoken and scholarly language once more with a lot of revivalist interest. It worked beautifully on the CELTIC LEGEND ‘Tristan & Isolde’ project.
Through a chance connection to Tim Saunders (Gwenno’s father and Cornish language expert), I got to work with Gwen. I remember her coming to Nigel Bates’ studio in Sussex and when she sang the instrumental I’d written with Tim’s lyrics and I thought “Wow! what an amazing sound!”, so emotive and full of expression.
Of course I had no idea what was being said, but Tim had given me a translation of it so I could follow the idea. Gwenno is also fluent in Welsh and I remember hearing her on the phone to her mother in Welsh and followed by a conversation with her father in Cornish.
Both languages are from the Brythonic Celtic branch, but to me have a difference in sonority. I really find this incredible and it values a language no matter how few people speak it. It would be a tragedy to lose the likes of Cornish, Welsh, Irish, Scottish, Breton and any so called minority languages as they have so much to offer in music and literature.
I’ve lost touch with Gwenno over the last five years or so, but I know she is a huge exponent of the Cornish language and is incorporating it into her own music, which in my opinion is both brave and brilliant.
‘Nocturne for Piano & Synths’ and ‘Electro Vivaldio’ have given you the opportunity to realise some of your classical synth fusion ideas?
Yes the ‘Nocturne…’ was an experiment whereby I tried to get the same emotion of a string orchestral arrangement to back the piano with synths. At first I tried to emulate the strings with a far too complex arrangement and so stripped it down to a simple very analogue sound using the classic Elka strings. I also added some synth voices and there you go, it worked. I’m very happy with it as it’s a piece very much inspired by a great pianist Ludovico Einaudi, although the difference is he uses the real strings on his recordings plus he’s a bit good and puts me in my place.
The ‘Vivaldi’ was a way for me to express an idea which is simply this. Would the likes of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven etc have empathised with the synth and possibly changed their way of composing had it been around. I personally think yes. The ‘Vivaldi’ was just a sort of compositional metaphor to emphasise this idea.
This version of ‘The Falling Tower’ appears to be getting traction, do you think that’s because you’re actually using your own name and the exposure from The Skaparis Orchestral tour with Gary Numan?
I definitely think it helps. Having done the tour at the end of last year, it exposed me to a number of Gary’s fans again who probably thought I had retired or died! And just using my name rather than going under the ELECTRONIC CIRCUS banner probably helped as well as few would have connected EC to me.
How was that Numan tour incidentally for you?
Well you can imagine that it was totally amazing. Great venues including the Royal Albert Hall, being back on tour again and having my wife with me to share the experience.
Travelling on the tour bus with Gary and his band (plus crew of course) who incidentally are a brilliant bunch, and as I’ve said before outstanding musicians all of them.
Also the massive buzz of performing my own songs and instrumentals and Gemma (Gary’s wife) who is so kind and welcoming and unbelievably funny and straight away making us feel part of the family. My only regret was it lasted for ten days. I could have done a hundred!
You are writing an autobiography on your Numan days, how is that coming along?
I have been sketching it out and Erik Stein, singer from CULT WITH NO NAME, is helping to guide me through the process. It is quite daunting as I want to make it a historic book about my observations and perspective on events, but at the same time entertaining.
What has caught the imagination is my close involvement with Gary and the band members during this period from 1979 until 1990 (when I officially left) and it’s interesting writing it now from a very retrospective angle. If I had written this at the time, I don’t think it would be good. It would probably have been a bit like a diary and that’s the last thing I want it to be.
What’s perhaps not widely known is that on ‘The Pleasure Principle’, you and Gary shared the keyboard parts because from ‘Telekon’ onwards, he tended to handle the majority himself?
The difference between the two recordings was immense. ‘The Pleasure Principle’ was all of us playing together and to lay down the basis of the track and then doing overdubs.
‘Telekon’ was much more fragmented with us coming and going and sometimes hanging around all day and doing no recording at all.
I played some keyboards on it and viola, but Denis Haines had joined the band and added keyboard parts. Gary did a lot of overdubs himself on various synths and then you had RRussell adding guitar, Paul on bass and Cedric on drums. But my memory of it was that it was put together in a rather random way compared to ‘The Pleasure Principle’. It was still a brilliant album mind you and I’m well proud to have been involved.
Everyone naturally talks about tracks like ‘Complex’ when referencing your contribution, but I’d like to mention ‘M.E.’ and ‘Tracks’, what can you remember about doing those?
‘Tracks’ sadly I have no memory at all. Did I play on it? But on ‘M.E.’, I was given full license to come up with the parts under Gary’s guidance. I’d play them and he’d make the decision as to if he liked what I had done or not. This is a pattern that followed through into future recordings with Gary.
You’ve been working with German songstress Katja von Kassel and you did a new version of ‘Fade To Grey’ with her for ELECTRONIC CIRCUS. Now that version of the album has been taken out of circulation, will it reappear on say your next EP with her?
No I doubt it. I think Katja’s better off with releasing original material to establish her own identity rather than relying on covers.
‘Fade To Grey’ is something of an evergreen, there was people like Kelly Osbourne and Kylie Minogue with their respective songs like ‘One Word’ and ‘Like A Drug’ significantly borrowing from it, are you getting any royalties from those? 😉
We all got royalties from the Kelly Osbourne record. Linda Perry the producer and writer, you know the one from 4 NON BLONDES fame, producer of Pink, Christina Aguilera etc etc realised her error and relinquished her entire rights to the song. I still have her lovely letter written to me apologising for her mistake. To be honest it could happen to anyone and for her to have been so honest and forthcoming with a solution was admirable. I think she’s a really decent person and she has my total admiration.
Minogue on the other hand is a different story. She would have known full well it was a rip off, but the massive weight of her management and herself didn’t act as decently as Linda Perry as they employed the UK’s ‘top musicologist’ so they got away with it and we ended up with nothing. But hey that’s the music business! Nobody said it was fair!
While we’re on the subject of VISAGE, you contributed five songs to Rusty Egan’s ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ album which were sung by Midge Ure and Tony Hadley among others, anymore stuff on the way from you with that project?
Oh definitely. He’s a fascinating character who is passionate, driven, committed 100% to the electronic music cause.
He’s extremely loud (you can hear him over an AC/DC concert!) and as I describe him affectionately to others due to his direct no nonsense approach, ‘a social grenade’ but he’s a forceful character and he gets things done. During the album ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’, he managed to get so many good people on board.
How do you look back on it?
It took a long time and in fact five years from inauguration to finish and I was there from the start to the finish, in fact I was the only one. Many had dropped off not believing it would happen but there’s something about him that I share, and that is a driven passion to get the job done and get your music out there.
I contributed five songs to his album and the most interesting one was ‘Glorious’ with Midge Ure. I had written the basic track and had this idea about the chorus relating to the national anthem but as a love song, a sort of “You make me Glorious sometimes victorious” type of thing. Well, Rusty loved the initial idea and worked on it but it didn’t have that big anthem sound I had imagined.
It rested there for a year or so and then suddenly out of the blue Midge had got hold of it and although he kept the chord structure I had written, had revised it from verse to chorus and turned it into the song I always imagined it to be. I was stunned when I first heard it and all credit to Mr Ure, he had turned around a good song into an amazing song.
TULM is a new project with your daughter Marikay which has an eerie Medieval folk feel about it?
The TULM concept is a new project that I’m creating with my daughter Marikay. She has a passion for auditioning huge amounts of music from all over the world on the internet and has a unique ear and is also passionate about creating a project that involves not just the process of music but film, still photography, clothes design, jewellery etc. She has already connected a lot of artists in the Rouen region on this and they all are very committed to the project.
As for my role? Well that’s also different and interesting for me. I will listen to her basic story ideas which are normally based on dark fairy tales and create the music as we are going. In some cases such as the song ‘Flower Crown’, there is no standard structure. We are just going through a story told in music and lyrics and that’s it. It feels a bit like composing film music but without the film!
One thing that does show a certain generation gap is when I’m writing using a simple bed of strings and thinking to myself “Wow that sounds good”, she’ll me bring down to earth with a comment like. “Dad, that’s so 80s! No one uses that old fashioned sound now”. So I change it to something different and that’s how it works. The complete antithesis to how I normally work but an interesting learning curve. Plus as you said there are elements of folk. It’s actually a hard project to define to anyone.
You’ve been working with TINY MAGNETIC PETS on their new album ‘The Point Of Collapse’?
Yes, I was asked to contribute some piano and violin on a couple of their songs. I didn’t hesitate as they’re such an amazing band and more importantly such lovely people. It’s always a pleasure to meet up with them and I really hope they get to achieve the success they deserve with this album.
Have you had a chance to reflect on your career and how your synthy past has become a part of your creative life again in the last decade?
Well as you know I left synths when I left Gary back in 1990 as I went back to classical and folk instruments. I worked on a lot of orchestral projects for production film and media music, plus the use of the folk instruments in CELTIC LEGEND. But having said that , I was still using synths but as a background atmospheric thing rather than full on upfront.
Actually by 2010, I had got into a bit of a rut with music and this changed when Rusty contacted me and I had to get back into synths again. My entire way of looking at them has changed since then. They are an integral part of music creation and what I’ve always admired about the synth is the accessibility of the instrument to all. Think of it as a tool able to be used by non-musicians to create music.
For most instruments, it takes years to get proficient enough to be able to write with them, but the synth opens up this new world of creativity to non-musicians almost immediately which I’m convinced is a great thing. I have certainly reconnected with them and use them all the time. My poor old crumhorns, ocarinas, bamboo flutes, Bombards etc are just lying around in the corner of my studio. But I’ll find a project soon to incorporate them back into my musical life I’m sure.
What’s next for you, under whatever guise?
Simply to carry on writing in whatever form and creating music; I have an interesting project with an old music college friend called Michael Stewart who was mentored by Sir John Tavener, and this involves setting up our own neo-classical label. I would really like this to work but it’s going to take time and a lot of commitment.
We have a project in mind to start off, with an amazing pianist from Japan called Ahuri playing one of the rare Tavener piano compositions called ‘Palintropos’. And of course I have to finish the long awaited book ‘My Numan Days’, check out my Facebook page and www.chrispaynemusic.com for updates.
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Chris Payne
‘The Falling Tower’ is released by Gaia International Music, available as a digital album via the usual platforms
2018 was a year of good songs rather than good albums, with many of long players not as consistent or as of high a standard as the bumper crop from the Class of ’17.
However, The Electricity Club had plenty of material to choose from for its 30 SONGS OF 2018 and while it can’t include everything, worthy mentions go to ANI GLASS, BLACK NAIL CABARET, BRÜCKEN FROESE, DANA JEAN PHOENIX, DISQO VOLANTE, DUBSTAR, EKKOES, FAKE TEAK, FRAGRANCE, THE FRIXION, GUNSHIP, HILTIPOP, IAMX, LIZETTE LIZETTE, TRAIN TO SPAIN and WITCH OF THE VALE who were in this year’s shortlist.
Interestingly, three graduates from the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ made it into the final list, thus highlighting the longevity of that particular vinyl showcase some 37 years on!
So with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, here are The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF 2018 presented in alphabetical order…
AFTERHERE Breaking Rules
AFTERHERE is the brand new project of HEAVEN 17 singer Glenn Gregory and live keyboardist Berenice Scott, but with their roles reversed. Exploring their inner GOLDFRAPP but in a funkier vein, with groovy reminisces of ‘Twist’ and ‘Yes Sir’, the song seductively boasted a captivating sexually charged electronic energy. Berenice Scott said to The Electricity Club: “We always wanted to have a driving track on the album that you could hopefully move your feet to, party to… possibly get in a little trouble!”
Available on the AFTERHERE album ‘Addict’ via Manners McDade
While the Clarke was strong with this one, the first impression that came across with ‘Utopia’ was that things became a slight bit darker in the world of JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM. Despite that, there was a rousing chorus and percolating sequences to savour as he pointed out the futility of seeking that perfect future, when life has so much more on offer. “I wouldn´t describe the album as dark though” the DAILY PLANET synthesist helpfully told The Electricity Club, “it´s absolutely a pop album.”
Available on the JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM album ‘Utopia’ via Progress Productions
For BLANCMANGE, ‘Distant Storm’ was rather unusual with its dance beat, reverberant Moog bassline and dreamy processed vocoder aesthetic. With a rousing, almost spiritual quality and elements of JAMES’ ‘Come Home’ creeping in for good measure, it displayed Neil Arthur’s comfort in working with producer Benge on effectively their third album together. “I wanted to sing it as though it was really detached with my voice being synthesized” he told The Electricity Club.
Available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘Wanderlust’ via Blanc Check Records
Veteran Mansfield quartet B-MOVIE made their most electronic pop single to date with the chilling aesthetics of ‘Stalingrad’. Complete with an infectious synth melody, an eerie mezzo-soprano and using the crucial Second World War battle as a metaphor for a doomed relationship, it was possibly Steve Hovington, Paul Statham, Rick Holliday and Graham Boffey’s best song since their 21st Century reformation; appropriately, its B-side was called ‘Something Cold’…
Available on the B-MOVIE EP ‘Repetition’ via Loki Records
‘Get Out’ may have acted as a superb launch single, but starting off their ‘Love Is Dead’ album was the wonderful ‘Graffiti’. This was a classic kaleidoscopic CHVRCHES tune that punched the sky with some rousing vocals. It was also a supreme singalong showcasing Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Docherty in full bouncy Taylor mode. Despite the downcast lyrical demeanour on lost youth and the passing of time, this was still a grand pop statement.
Australian duo CONFIDENCE MAN were a ray of sunshine in 2018 with their own brand of campy dork pop, being everything SCISSOR SISTERS should have been. ‘Don’t You Know I’m In A Band’ was an amusing satire on ego and sense of entitlement in the music industry. With an electro take on the groovy swoop of WAR’s ‘Low Rider’, a pitch shifted Sugar Bones came over like an inebriate Teddy Pendergrass while Janet Planet delightfully counterpointed in her alluring girly manner.
CREEP SHOW is the meeting of minds between eclectic singer / songwriter John Grant and the dark analogue electro of WRANGLER whose members comprise Stephen Mallinder, Benge and Phil Winter. On ‘Safe & Sound’, the quartet explored a spacious KRAFTWERK and GIORGIO MORODER hybrid to reveal gradually some wonderfully warm melodic synth textures to accompany Grant’s passionate lead croon. The project led to Benge also working on Grant’s ‘Love Is Magic’ album also released in 2018.
Driven by a meaty electronic bassline and metronomic backbone, the marvellous vocoder-laden ‘Comrades’ by RODNEY CROMWELL captured a really chilling Cold War atmosphere, bathed in an ensemble of sweeping synth oboes and cosmic string machines. “I ended up thumping at the MicroKorg and came up with the opening riff” he said. Rich with melody and a panoramic resonance, it surreally captured the sound of Moroder being played through a Soviet Foxtrot submarine intercom system.
With ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, EMIKA produced one of the best electronic albums of 2018. The record was a concept album of sorts, a musical reflection on generations of sadness within the Anglo-Czech musician’s family in her most personal statement yet. The pacey ‘Promises’ made the most of her lower and higher vocal registers, providing an eerie cascading harmonic with some rumbling dubby tension and booming stabs driving Eastwards with solemn spine tingling qualities.
Taking in more synthetic ambitions, FARAO’s second album ‘Pure-O’ was a playful bleep forward. While ‘The Ghost Ship’ saw Kari Jahnsen focussed on her forlorn little girl lost lyrics, the wonderfully uptempo ‘Marry Me’ offered an accessible PET SHOP BOYS flavour and romantic layers of vocals masking a deep scepticism of the institution of marriage, while the lush backing and chugging electronic backbone carried the air of her compatriot SUSANNE SUNDFØR.
Available on the FARAO album ‘Pure-O’ via Western Vinyl
Releasing their first new material in over three decades, FIAT LUX returned with the most splendid ‘It’s You’. As well as the bassline and harmony from David P Crickmore, the sax style was a fitting tribute to the sadly departed Ian Nelson. Singer Steve Wright said: “Lyrically, I hope, it expresses feelings that possibly everyone can relate to…” – their long awaited debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ is expected in 2019.
Available on the FIAT LUX single ‘It’s You’ via Splid Records
The ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ album was easily equal to Jonna Lee’s work with IAMAMIWHOAMI. Best of the set was possibly the marvellous closing number ‘Fold’. Featuring exotic cascading timbres and spacey pulsars, distorted string synths added tan appropriate chill as Lee’s passionate vocals completed the filmic vibe. Less mysterious, the IONNALEE transition was a triumph, especially with one of the best value-for-money live presentations of 2018.
Asking if “it is foolish to dream”, ‘Someday’ saw KATJA VON KASSEL questioning a moment of passionate haste. “The phrase ‘Someday’ just opened it all up and everything else just fell into place.” the chanteuse said. Capturing the beautiful melancholy of ASSOCIATES’ Billy Mackenzie, the doomed romantic tragedy of the sadly departed Scot was echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by CHRIS PAYNE’s hypnotic bassline and haunting vox humana treatment over a simple rhythmic loop.
Despite their age, LET’S EAT GRANDMA have a feisty but mature musical ambition, as successfully realised on ‘Donnie Darko’, an 11 minute tribute to the troubled teenager haunted by a monstrous rabbit-like figure. Utilising a sedate start before morphing into a wonderful movement of cascading electronics set to a metronomic beat, there were passionate reflections on the subject of human suffering. It all went a bit “batsh*t crazy” into a glorious synthony before calming to its conclusion!
Available on the LET’S EAT GRANDMA album ‘I’m All Ears’ via Transgressive Records
CHRIS LIEBING featuring POLLY SCATTERGOOD And All Went Dark
Noted techno exponent CHRIS LIEBING teamed up with Mute label mate POLLY SCATTERGOOD on a stark polyrhythmic number appropriately titled ‘And All Went Dark’. The brooding minimalist electronic piece with its eerily poetic spoken contribution from Miss Scattergood saw the Essex songstress haunted by a “dark shadow on my shoulder” and telling how “a sickness took hold early on”.
Available on the CHRIS LIEBING album ‘Burn Slow’ via Mute Artists
With the name transcending Toronto based Hayley Stewart’s fascination with Japanese culture, cyber space and a love of vintage synthesis, ‘Mad But Soft’ was her first album as MECHA MAIKO. The magically crystalline ‘False Memories’ could have been part of the ‘Stranger Things’ soundtrack. Uncomplicated on the surface yet multi-layered and airy, this day-glow pink neo-instrumental concoction was well-thought through and deliciously produced.
One-time RÖYSKSOPP collaborator Ryan A James continues to hone and develop his hybrid mix of luxuriant synthetics and subtle guitar textures as MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY. He said about the gorgeous electronic bubblebath of ‘Lafayette’: “It’s really a song about the end of a relationship, disguised as a song about Scientology, and how defectors of Scientology are disowned by their loved ones. The name comes from the religion’s founder Lafayette Ron Hubbard.”
Available on the MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY album ‘Infinity Mirror’ via Killing Moon Records
“Beware! It’s a scary world” and with their BRITNEY SPEARS fronting NINE INCH NAILS template, NIGHT CLUB took their sweet but sinister synth rock sound to its zenith with the title track of their second album. And when the children’s choir joined in the chorus to sing of demons everywhere, this was a musical trick or treat that no parent would want their offspring to be part of, the message being “they only love you if you swallow”!
A fabulously optimistic closer to NINA’s debut album, ‘80s Girl’ came beaming over like some missing song from the film ‘Mannequin’. With big Simmons drums, sampled orchestra stabs and driving synthbass triplets, it was however delivered with subtlety and restraint so that it wasn’t a HEART or STARSHIP pastiche. Dedicated to her mother, it had a telling message of “don’t let the past hold you back”.
Perhaps best known as the alluring if slightly blunt chanteuse of BLACK BOX RECORDER, SARAH NIXEY released her best solo album to date in ‘Night Walks’, a quality record with air and presence, collecting everything she has ever been musically, all rolled into one. One of its key tracks was the delightful ‘Journey’, a glorious number of the type that Marc Almond has often been so good at, laced with crystalline synths and gorgeously breathy vocal tones à la Jane Birkin.
Available on the SARAH NIXEY album ‘Night Walks’ via Black Lead Records
The ‘Savage’ album turned out to be both an artistic and commercial vindication for GARY NUMAN. ‘It Will End Here’ from ‘The Fallen’ EP was a natural progression from that, exploring a heavy but melodic electronic sound without relying on the predictable backing of rock guitars. With and anthemic chorus and the apocalypse is looming over the aural desert, there was even a soaring vocal pitch shift up at the song’s conclusion which added an extra eerie vampiric quality.
NYXX is very much her own woman, like the Greek goddess of night she is named after, a figure of power and beauty with a Britney-like vocal presence that sweetly offsets some of her darker overtones. A collaboration with Daniel Graves of AESTHETIC PERFECTION who contributed a glorious evangelical middle eight, she said “It would not be what it is without him. I came in with a sketch of a song, a melody and lyric of another song… Daniel heard nuances in it and we built what is now ‘Voodoo’.”
Available on the NYXX single ‘Voodoo’ via Close To Human Music
Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko initially came together in PAGE releasing their first single ‘Dansande Man’ in 1983. Since then, the pair have parted and reunited on a number of occasions but the mission for the ‘Start’ EP was to party like it’s 1979 when GARY NUMAN was No1. ‘Nere För Räkning’ was an urgent slice of pulsing synthrock with a piercing vibratoed lead line akin to the keyboard interventions heard on ‘The Pleasure Principle’.
Available on the PAGE EP ‘Start’ via Energy Rekords
From Mission Viejo in California, PLASMIC describes herself as an “Orange County one-woman dervish” and in a vivid haze that’s pretty in pink, “your abused Barbie doll from childhood”. Combining J-Pop with CRYSTAL CASTLES and DEVO, the undoubted standout from her ‘Validation Nation’ EP was ‘Baby Machine’, an immensely catchy feminist electropop anthem utilising a mixture of vintage Casio and Yamaha sounds that challenged the expectations of women to bear children.
Championed by none other than Vince Clarke, REED & CAROLINE successfully combine tunes with electronic experimentation. The haunting ‘Entropy’ was a tribute to a departed friend and a fabulously touching GARY NUMAN homage to his ‘Dance’ period, in particular ‘Cry The Clock Said’. The hypnotic soundtrack of gentle preset rhythms and eerie electric piano, courtesy of a Buchla modular synth, was complimented by Schutz even adopting the phrasing of the man born Gary Anthony James Webb.
Weird and wonderful, ‘Red Moon Voyage’ was a ghostly 10 minute epic comprising of glitchy voices and varying rhythm constructions recorded especially for Halloween. Free of album concepts and the pop song format, this was FIFI RONG at her most adventurous yet, delightfully adding her native Mandarin language towards the third part. She told The Electricity Club: “having a long journey means you can get very deep and lots of moods and transitions”.
Marc Almond and Dave Ball were the boys who came back-back-BACK as SOFT CELL in 2018. ‘Northern Lights’ reminisced about their days at the Wigan Casino and recaptured the pop essence that led to the duo having five consecutive Top 10 hits! Despite the grittiness and energetics, the duo always had melody and that came back in abundance on their welcome recorded return. The darker B-Side ‘Guilty (‘Cos I Say You Are)’ affirmed that as a creative force, SOFT CELL still had it.
Chinese six-piece STOLEN are reckoned by Berlin-based producer Mark Reeder to be possibly the most exciting band he has seen since NEW ORDER. Certainly their debut album ‘Fragment’ was impressive and one of the best of 2018, with ‘Turn Black’ being one of the standout tracks. “I like the idea of mixing of rock with techno…” said growly lead vocalist Liang Yi, “we are very proud that we don’t sound like any of the other Chinese bands.”
Ingo Hauss and Hayo Lewerentz handed back the BOYTRONIC brand to Holger Wobker and returned to being U96, teaming up with former KRAFTWERK percussionist Wolfgang Flür for the best track by either party in recent years. Stark and Teutonic with stark robotic vocoder aesthetics, the union of two German musical heavyweights from different generations was equal to Flür’s ‘Activity Of Sound’ collaboration with Ireland’s iEUROPEAN.
Combining piano, synths, field recordings, drones, occasional beats, old string instruments and HILARY WOODS’ wonderfully forlorn voice in the vein of Julee Cruise, ‘Jesus Said’ questioned the existence of God. Described by the Irish songstress herself as “a song that seeks catharsis”, her child-like expression over the drifting synthesized tones and hypnotic drum machine to augment her beautiful piano playing gave ‘Jesus Said’ a gentle meditative quality.
Available on the HILARY WOODS album ‘Colt’ via Sacred Bones
The highlight of German songstress KATJA VON KASSEL’s ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP, the song ‘Someday’ has now been given a welcome and fitting video treatment.
The song was the start of a new writing partnership with former Numan keyboardist Chris Payne. Tastefully risqué, the visuals see a very sultry Fraulein von Kassel sorrowfully pondering over the phone and questioning after her moment of haste if “it is foolish to dream”.
Capturing the beautiful melancholy of Billy Mackenzie, the doomed romantic tragedy of ‘Someday’ is echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by Payne’s hypnotic bassline and haunting vox humana treatment over a simple but hypnotic rhythmic loop.
Fresh from their successful and well-received performance at Synth Wave Live 2, where they performed the ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP and their joint cover of ‘Fade To Grey’, Katja and Chris chatted about the genesis of ‘Someday’ and its sophisticated magnificence.
How did ‘Someday’ come about?
Chris: This was one of the first songs I wrote for Katja, I became interested in working with her because of her voice. I get to hear some really good singers but there are very few that have got that extra something, that dynamic, that individuality, that emotion, whatever you want to call it.
When I listened to her earlier stuff, I realised the connection with that Dita von Teese / Marlene Dietrich / Liza Minnelli / Weimar Cabaret vibe but it was too obvious, so I wanted to take it into another dimension and create this atmosphere of Katja a dynamic declamatory singer on stage. When I sent her the backing track, she loved it and found the words straight away which led to us doing other pieces.
What was going on in your mind with the lyrics?
Katja: When Chris sent the backing track, straight away I had the melody which was just calling out for the lyrics. The music was so amazing that the melody felt like it already existed in my head.
‘Someday’ has a very timeless melody and recalls Billy Mackenzie in particular…
Chris: It wasn’t until you mentioned it that I remembered ASSOCIATES and I thought “Wow”! It wasn’t a conscious direction, but maybe in my sub-conscious the song does have that atmospheric analogue sound of that period, mixed with some FM modular pads.
It does encapsulate something of a forlorn tragedy…
Katja: What’s strange is when you hear something as an artist when you hear the music, you just feel it and it comes out of you without any logic behind it, the phrase ‘Someday’ just opened it all up and everything else just fell into place. It feels like it HAS to be this way with the melody and lyrics…
Chris: What I didn’t realise when I sent you the backing track, was that it unlocked something, that’s amazing! That’s always a good sign! Another interesting thing about ‘Someday’ is after Katja had done her vocals, for a bit of fun I took all the percussive elements out and it created another track where the entire emotion had changed, I thought that was amazing so that’s why this Cinematic version is also on the EP.
Is there going to be more work from you two?
Chris: OH YEAH!
Chris: Obviously, we’re trying to get a whole album together which will take time…
Katja: So we need everyone who likes our music to let others know we are existing, because that’s the difficult thing as an artist these days.
The captivating German songstress KATJA VON KASSEL follows up her debut EP with a three song plus bonus variants compendium entitled ‘Walking In West Berlin’.
Having worked previously with LADYHAWKE collaborator Alex Gray, ‘Walking In West Berlin’ sees a change of direction in a new writing partnership with former Numan keyboardist Chris Payne, fresh from a rebooting of his ELECTRONIC CIRCUS side-project and his successful stint writing with Rusty Egan where his contributions were sung by luminaries such as Midge Ure and Tony Hadley.
“The tragedy of life is always a good inspiration to me” Katja once said and this is none more apparent on the airy magnificence of ‘Someday’. Capturing the beautiful melancholy of ASSOCIATES’ Billy Mackenzie, the doomed love affair is echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by Payne’s hypnotic synth bassline and haunting Numan-esque vox humana over a simple but hypnotic rhythmic loop.
And when some gentle piano cascades into the song’s second half, it generates an emotional lift which takes ‘Someday’ into a dreamy stratosphere; a sparse alternate Cinematic take of the song prolongs the song’s inherently introspective mood sans percussion.
Exuding purer electro Weimar cabaret with her Dietrich-like overtones, ‘Radio Symphony’ is more dramatic with a harder percussive edge, but still distinctly European and technolstagic in its Kraftwerkian fascination of the broadcast medium’s highly contrasting moods and motivations.
The ‘Walking In West Berlin’ title track is laced with Europäisch Neu Romantisch, to the point that it almost sounds as it is going to burst into ‘Fade To Grey’, the German No1 for VISAGE in 1981 which Chris Payne co-wrote with Billy Currie and Midge Ure; there are also hints of Scott Walker in his lonely Jean-Paul Satre phase too within the poetic grandeur of Katja’s delivery.
Bolstered by versions of all the tracks in Deutsch, this EP contains a thematically cohesive trio of songs that showcase the best in the musical sensibilities of both Fraulein von Kassel and Monsieur Payne.
If not a full-length album, then a follow-up EP is a must. It really would be a shame if the chemistry and compatibility of the von Kassel / Payne partnership was not artistically furthered.