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.
The world found itself in a rather antagonistic and divisive state this year, as if none of the lessons from the 20th Century’s noted conflicts and stand-offs had been learnt.
Subtle political messages came with several releases; honorary Berliner MARK REEDER used the former divided city as symbolism to warn of the dangers of isolationism on his collaborative album ‘Mauerstadt’. Meanwhile noted Francophile Chris Payne issued the ELECTRONIC CIRCUS EP ‘Direct Lines’ with its poignant warning of nuclear apocalypse in its title song. The message was to unite and through music as one of the best platforms.
After a slow start to 2017, there was a bumper crop of new music from a number of established artists. NINE INCH NAILS and GARY NUMAN refound their mojo with their respective ‘Add Violence’ and ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ releases, with the latter recording his best body of work since his imperial heyday.
But the first quarter of the year was hamstrung by the anticipation for the 14th DEPECHE MODE long player ‘Spirit’, with other labels and artists aware that much of their potential audience’s hard earned disposable income was being directed towards the Basildon combo’s impending album and world tour.
Yet again, reaction levels seemed strangely muted as ‘Spirit’ was another creative disappointment, despite its angry politicised demeanour.
Rumours abounded that the band cut the album’s scheduled recording sessions by 4 weeks. This inherent “that’ll do” attitude continued on the ‘Global Spirit’ jaunt when the band insulted their loyal audience by doing nothing more than plonking an arena show into a stadium for the summer outdoor leg.
Despite protestations from some Devotees of their dissatisfaction with this open-air presentation, they were content to be short-changed again as they excitedly flocked to the second set of European arena dates with the generally expressed excuse that “it will be so much better indoors”.
By this Autumn sojourn, only three songs from ‘Spirit’ were left in the set, thus indicating that the dire record had no longevity and was something of a lemon.
Suspicions were finally confirmed at the ‘Mute: A Visual Document’ Q&A featuring Daniel Miller and Anton Corbijn, when the esteemed photographer and visual director confessed he did not like the album which he did the artwork for… see, it’s not just The Electricity Club 😉
Devotees are quick to say all criticism of DEPECHE MODE is unfair, but the band can’t help but make themselves easy targets time and time again. But why should the band care? The cash is coming, the cash is coming…
The Wirral lads demonstrated what the word spirit actually meant on their opus ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’, while the former class mate of Messrs Gore and Fletcher demonstrated what a soulful, blues-influenced electronic record should sound like with ‘Other’.
As Tony Hadley departed SPANDAU BALLET and Midge Ure got all ‘Orchestrated’ in the wake of ULTRAVOX’s demise, the ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ album directed by Rusty Egan, to which they contributed, became a physical reality in 2017.
Now if DM plonked an arena show into the world’s stadiums, KRAFTWERK put a huge show into a theatre. The publicity stunt of 2012, when Tate Modern’s online ticket system broke down due to demand for their eight album live residency, did its job when the Kling Klang Quartett sold out an extensive UK tour for their 3D concert spectacular.
No less impressive, SOULWAX wowed audiences with their spectacular percussion heavy ‘From Deewee’ show and gave a big lesson to DEPECHE MODE as to how to actually use live drums correctly within an electronic context.
Mute Artists were busy with releases from ERASURE, LAIBACH and ADULT. but it was GOLDFRAPP’s ‘Silver Eye’ that stole the show from that stable. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM returned after seven years with their ‘American Dream’ and it was worth the wait, with the most consistent and electronic record that James Murphy’s ensemble has delivered in their career.
2017 was a year that saw acts who were part of the sine wave of Synth Britannia but unable to sustain or attain mainstream success like BLUE ZOO, B-MOVIE, FIAT LUX and WHITE DOOR welcomed back as heroes, with their talent belatedly recognised.
Across the Baltic Sea, Finnish producer JORI HULKKONEN released his 20th album ‘Don’t Believe In Happiness’ while nearby in Russia, a duo named VEiiLA showcased an unusual hybrid of techno, opera and synthpop and ROSEMARY LOVES A BLACKBERRY offered a ‘❤’.
One of the year’s discussion points was whether Synthwave was just synthpop dressed with sunglasses and neon signs but whatever, Stateside based Scots but MICHAEL OAKLEY and FM-84 made a good impression with their retro-flavoured electronic tunes.
Female solo artists had strong presence in 2017 as FEVER RAY made an unexpected return, ZOLA JESUS produced her best work to date in ‘Okovi’ and HANNAH PEEL embarked on an ambitious synth / brass ‘Journey to Cassiopeia’. Meanwhile, SARAH P. asked ‘Who Am I’ and MARNIE found ‘Strange Words & Weird Wars’ as ANI GLASS and NINA both continued on their promising developmental path.
Respectively, Ireland and Scotland did their bit, with TINY MAGNETIC PETS and their aural mix of SAINT ETIENNE and KRAFTWERK successfully touring with OMD in support of their excellent second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’, while formed out of the ashes of ANALOG ANGEL, RAINLAND wowed audiences opening for ASSEMBLAGE 23.
Despite getting a positive response, both iEUROPEAN and SOL FLARE parted ways while on the opposite side of the coin, Belgian passengers METROLAND celebrated five years in the business with the lavish ‘12×12’ boxed set
Overall in 2017, it was artists of a more mature disposition who held their heads high and delivered, as some newer acts went out of their way to test the patience of audiences by drowning them in sleep while coming over like TRAVIS on VSTs.
With dominance of media by the three major labels, recognition was tricky with new quality traditional synthpop not generally be championed by the mainstream press. With Spotify now 20% owned by those three majors, casual listeners to the Swedish streaming platform were literally told what to like, as with commercial radio playlists.
It is without doubt that streaming and downloading has created a far less knowledgeable music audience than in previous eras, so Rusty Egan’s recent online petition to request platforms to display songwriting and production credits was timely; credit where credit is due as they say…
While The Electricity Club does not dismiss Spotify totally and sees it as another tool, it should not be considered the be all and end all, in the same way vinyl is not the saviour of the music industry and in physics terms, cannot handle the same dynamic range as CD.
Music is not as emotionally valued as it was before… that’s not being old and nostalgic, that is reality. It can still be enjoyed with or without a physical purchase, but for artists to be motivated to produce work that can connect and be treasured, that is another matter entirely.
However, many acts proved that with Bandcamp, the record company middle man can be eliminated. It is therefore up to the listener to be more astute, to make more effort and to make informed choices. And maybe that listener has to seek out reliable independent media for guidance.
However, as with the shake-up within the music industry over the last ten years, that can only be a good thing for the true synthpop enthusiast. And as it comes close to completing its 8th year on the web, The Electricity Club maintains its position of not actually promoting new acts or supporting any scene, but merely to write about the music it likes and occasionally stuff it doesn’t… people can make their own mind up about whether to invest money or time in albums or gigs.
Yes, things ARE harder for the listener and the musician, but the effort is worthwhile 😉
It was a year when the veterans re-established their standing within electronic pop.
That was not to that comparatively newer acts weren’t making a good impression, it was just that a fair number of established acts gave their all and were producing some of their best work since their imperial heyday.
Great tracks by SPARKS, OUTERNATIONALE, SPACEPRODIGI, iEUROPEAN, PARALLELS, KITE, FEVER RAY, SOL FLARE, SOFTWAVE, KNIGHT$, 2RAUMWHONUNG, JORI HULKKONEN, FIFI RONG and KITE BASE made it onto the shortlist, but despite their quality, they did not make the final listing.
Also not included are songs from ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’, the debut album from RUSTY EGAN; although gaining a physical release this year, it was reviewed by The Electricity Club in the Autumn of last year when download versions of the long player were distributed to those who had purchased it in advance via Pledge Music. Meanwhile, its closing track ‘Thank You’ was included in The Electricity Club’s 30 Songs Of 2016.
So restricted to purchasable releases only and one song per artist moniker, here are The Electricity Club’s 30 Songs Of 2017 in alphabetical order…
AESTHETIC PERFECTION Rhythm + Control – Electro Mix
Additionally featuring NYXX and WILLIAM CONTROL on vocals, ‘Rhythm + Control’ saw Daniel Graves take AESTHETIC PERFECTION’s industrial pop to the next level via his new singles only policy. The magnificent Electro Mix successfully realised this oddball blend of Darren Hayes, Britney Spears and Marilyn Manson. With a mightily elastic bassline, when asked whether The Electricity Club had gone crazy coming up with the comparison, Daniel Graves replied “God no. Spot on, guys!”
From only the third solo album in the long career of Richard Barbieri, ‘Solar Sea’ was a sleazy rhythmic excursion into another world. With the one-time JAPAN sound designer using a Roland System 700 for its bassline, the track’s atonal jazz feel was augmented by the haunting voice manipulations of Lisen Rylander Löve through a vintage Soviet submarine microphone and warping noises offset by soothing brass inflections and live drums.
The American electronic rock quartet BATTLE TAPES continued to develop from their 2015 debut album ‘Polygon’ via their ‘Form’ EP. The best track ‘Control’ hinged around a syncopated filtered synth bass and a brilliantly catchy chorus sung by Josh Boardman, with enough guitars for power and texture without distracting from the overall electronic aesthetic, and even coming over like a heavier Stateside version of SIN COS TAN.
“International in flavour, cosmopolitan in style” and sounding like a long lunch followed by a round of cocktails, Australian duo CLIENT LIAISON roped in one-time TV talent show star Tina Arena to duet on a lush slice of romantic pop that also rode on the current fashion for Synthwave. ‘A Foreign Affair’ could have easily been a Rat Pack movie song.
CULT WITH NO NAME All I Have Is Yours (Including You)
CULT WITH NO NAME have never been short of mood, but their eighth album ‘Heir Of The Dog’ proved to be their best yet, combining a variety of tempos and textures. With a memorable crooning vocal from Erik Stein complimented by an enticing harmony from Sirena Riley and lush electronic backing sounding like OMD by the Aegean Sea, ‘All I Have Is Yours (Including You)’ was a song that rose forever and ever like one of Aphrodite’s grandchildren.
Johan Baeckström made positive waves with his debut solo album ‘Like Before’ in 2015 but reunited with his musical partner Jarmo Ollila, producing an excellent third album with more tempo variation than their 2014 offering ‘Two’. Featuring the guest vocals of Mac Austin from cult synth trio WHITE DOOR who were one of the inspirations for DAILY PLANET, ‘Heaven Opened’ was an uncomplicated but wonderfully poignant slice of classic synthpop.
ELECTRONIC CIRCUS is the musical vehicle of Chris Payne, the one-time Numan band member who also co-wrote ‘Fade To Grey’. With a symphonic theme bursting with melody and musicality like ULTRAVOX galloping across the plains of Normandy, the brilliant neo-instrumental ’The Trapeze’ was given a wondrous tone of humanistic unity when Payne’s wife and daughter joined in on the final straight in Latin.
FADER are the synth superduo featuring BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur and Benge; ‘3D Carpets’ captured an independent post-punk intensity, like JOY DIVISION or THE CURE but realised with analogue electronics rather than guitars. While the pair worked on their parts separately, their creative dynamic produced a great debut album in ‘First Light’.
From the Welsh synth songstress’ first EP, the fabulous ‘Geiriau’ was a driving sequential drama that had more than a passing resemblance to the first part of SPARKS’ ‘No1 Song In Heaven’. Revolving around ANI GLASS’ experience of flying the nest and returning years later to reconnect with her Welsh and Cornish heritage, it was a spacey and futuristic soundtrack for a wonderfully uplifting homecoming.
‘Volupsa’, the promising Nordic flavoured debut album from THE GOLDEN FILTER came out in 2010, but the Aussie American duo of vocalist Penelope Trappes and synth programmer Stephen Hindman took their time with the follow-up ‘Still//Alone’, having relocated to London after spending several years based in New York. The hypnotic pulse of ‘Rivers’ with its precise drum machine pointed to a female fronted OMD, complete with a catchy riff and synthy jabbing bassline.
The immensely catchy ‘Systemagic’ was a prize electronic gem from the seventh GOLDFRAPP album ‘Silver Eye’, reminiscent of the lusty and beat laden electronic material from ‘Black Cherry’. But its riff asked the question as to whether you will always find Alison Goldfrapp in the kitchen at parties? In the event of Jona Lewie filing a lawsuit, the lucrative income from the song’s use in a BMW advert may ease any potential net payout.
After three acclaimed albums as IAMAMIWHOAMI with producer Claes Björklund, Jonna Lee went solo in 2017 although it was actually difficult to hear the join on the glorious ‘Not Human’, so seamless was the transition; there were still the icy electronic soundscapes, spacey dance beats and uplifting Scandipop vocals while the delightfully odd visuals were all present and correct.
Available on the download single ‘Not Human’ via To Whom It May Concern
I SPEAK MACHINE is the audio / visual collaboration between musician Tara Busch and filmmaker Maf Lewis. Soundtracking their film ‘Zombies 1985’, the story was one of greed and self-obsession in Thatcher’s Britain as a businessman drives home, oblivious to the zombie apocalypse going on around him. Co-written and co-produced with Benge, the brilliant ‘Shame’ with its cascading synths and noise percussion was a wonderful hybrid of THROBBING GRISTLE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and GOLDFRAPP.
After a number of years gigging around London, KATJA VON KASSEL finally unleashed released her electro Weimer Cabaret to the world. The pulsating ‘In Little Rooms (Show Me Love)’ captured an aesthetic which closely resembled that of RONNY, a former protégé of Rusty Egan. Attached to Alex Gray’s intricate filmic electronics, Fraulein von Kassel’s deep vocal detachment was art cool sexy.
James Murphy returned as LCD SOUNDSYSTEM after seven years with this widescreen musical statement reflecting on the political situation in the US. Glancing across the Atlantic and back to the Winter Of Discontent, this 3/4 synth laden tune that had more than a passing resemblance to THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Circus Of Death’. So did “The Clown” referred to in that song remind Murphy of someone in particular?
Having started out in a more rave inclined environment, Lizette Nordahl ventured into more synthy climes and her debut mini-album had the air of KITE is all over it, which was not entirely surprising as its co-producers were Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg from the acclaimed duo. ‘Rest’ with its swirling synth sounds and widescreen Nordic atmosphere had an optimistic air of acceptance despite the melancholic tone and majestic growls.
Led by British born musician Dylan Willoughby, LOST IN STARS is a floating ensemble which also includes Elena Charbila aka KID MOXIE and producer/songwriter Darren Burgos. The latter takes the lead vocal on the spirited electronic pop of ‘Sky’; now if NEW ORDER were from Los Angeles instead of Manchester, they would have sounded like this.
After releasing her first solo album ‘Crystal World’ in 2013, Helen Marnie added more prominent choruses and guitar onto her second, resulting in a catchy Scandipop style. ‘Bloom’ was an optimistic burst of synth laden pleasure and while not totally dissimilar to LADYTRON, it was without their usual hardness or gothic gloom.
Having worked successfully in 2013 with Guy Sigsworth on ‘the minutes’, an acclaimed album which saw ALISON MOYET return to the synthesized music forms to compliment her powerful and self-assured voice, the follow-up ‘Other’ was a natural progression. The startling orchestrated electro-dub drama of ‘Alive’ gave Moyet’s two former classmates in DEPECHE MODE a stark lesson in how to actually fully realise electronic blues. Indeed, it was ‘In Chains’, the lame opener from ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ gone right…
With the narrative of ‘Savage’ provoked by Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States of America from the Paris Climate Accord, the mighty apocalyptic rock of ‘When The World Comes Apart’ was something of a revelation for GARY NUMAN. Using synths as the dominant instrument and having guitars less obviously prominent in the mix, with its richly anthemic chorus, this was the magnificent crossover song that both old and new Numanoids had been waiting for.
MICHAEL OAKLEY is a talented Glaswegian who describes his music as “Melancholic postcards from my heart wrapped up in synthesisers and drum machines”. The melodic ‘Rabbit In The Headlights’ came complete with Italo “woah-oh” chants and whether it was Synthwave, synthpop, electropop, Italo or whatever, it showcased Oakley’s fine songwriting abilities, regardless of genre.
The excellent ‘One More Time’ was a classic bittersweet OMD stomper, where “everything you gave me didn’t last”. Using electronic percussion as opposed to drum machines, the enticing verse and uplifting bridge were set to a plethora of gorgeous textures and distorted synth to add a touch of enigmatic weirdness. While Andy McCluskey cried “you can break my heart just one more time”, the track’s star was Paul Humphreys with his crystalline synth sounds laced with some portamento bounce.
As well as keyboards and violin, HANNAH PEEL can also play the trombone. Featuring an array of analogue synthesizers and a 29-piece colliery brass band, ‘Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia’ was her instrumental story about a fictional elderly musical stargazer. Beginning with the lift-off of ‘Goodbye Earth’, Miss Peel’s electronic arpeggios and synthetic noise built up to a crescendo of brass and timpani for a quite unusual combination of two very different musical worlds.
From the ashes of ANALOG ANGEL came forth RAINLAND. Their self-titled calling card was a vibrant synthpop statement, embroiled in a musicality that provided a journey through the Grampian Mountains. Ian Ferguson had already proved himself a worthy vocalist in his previous combo with dulcet tones not dissimilar to a certain Midge Ure and this was allowed to reign free on ‘Rainland’. Meanwhile, the ivories of Derek MacDonald stylistically aped the symphonic overtones of ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie.
Between 1980 to 1984, RHEINGOLD were at the forefront of Die Neue Deutsche Welle, releasing three albums and achieving their first domestic hit ‘3klangsdimensionen’ in 1981. Led by Bodo Staiger, ‘Im Lauf Der Zeit’ was their first album of new material for many years. The melodic synth of ‘Paradieshafen’ drove along a beautiful instrumental that came over like a dream collaboration between OMD and Michael Rother.
With hypnotising hints of Kate Bush and percolating Ryuichi Sakamoto style textures, ‘Who Am I’ by electropop goddess SARAH P. was an ode to “humanity, the world we live in and our importance (or unimportance) as individuals and/or as a whole”. And as the Greek-born songstress announced that “I don’t know where I come from… do you know my name?”, a metronomic beat kicked in to lead a dramatic house-laden climax.
Available on the album ‘Who Am I’ via EraseRestart Records
The normally flamboyant Welsh duo SHELTER surprised all with their darkest and most accomplished song yet in ‘Karma’. “What you want is what you’ll get…” sang Mark Bebb, “…you will get a lot more that you planned”. A vibrant but edgy production from Rob Bradley complimented the sentiment as the message was relayed loud and clear…
Available on the single ‘Karma’ via Ministry Of Pop
From ‘From Deewee’, the first new SOULWAX album since 2004’s ‘Any Minute Now’, ‘Conditions Of A Shared Belief’ was a modular synth lover’s wet dream from the Dewaele brothers. With a retro-futuristic collage of detuned blippy sounds and a backbone of smashing white noise percussion recalling THE HUMAN LEAGUE in their Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh phase, it was complimented by some suitably abstractly pitched TALKING HEADS inspired vocals.
TINY MAGNETIC PETS had their best year yet with a UK tour opening for OMD and to accompany it was their second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’. Featuring Wolfgang Flür, the album’s best song ‘Never Alone’ sounded appropriately like SAINT ETIENNE fronting KRAFTWERK. Paula Gilmer has one of the best voices in modern synthpop and her alluring tone no doubt added to the song’s breezy dreamlike state.
The adventurous third VANBOT album ‘Siberia’ was composed and recorded during a 17 day journey on the Trans-Siberian railway. The crystalline ‘Collide (Krasnoyarsk)’ though captured a more Nordic vibe with its gorgeous melodies, while the surrounding rhythmic pace of a train ride made its presence felt. An aural exploration of the relationship between time, location and emotion, ‘Siberia’ was a bold musical experiment.
With the ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE now running for its third successive year, 2017’s event gathered together another stellar line-up of speakers and performers to celebrate Düsseldorf’s standing as the spiritual home of electronic music.
Noted previous participants have included Jean-Michel Jarre, Andy McCluskey, Daniel Miller, Rusty Egan, John Foxx, Mark Reeder, Peter Hook, Stephen Mallinder, Gabi Delgado-Lopez and Michael Rother.
While the conference still had its usual international feel, there was a distinct focus closer to home with local heroes such as Robert Görl, Zeus B Held, Eberhard Kranemann, Bodo Staiger and Tommi Stumpff all speaking at the event, while others such as Wolfgang Flür and Ralf Dörper graced the event with their presence.
Proceedings began with a showing of ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’, an art documentary on the making of the David Lynch film, serenely soundtracked by TUXEDOMOON and CULT WITH NO NAME; the latter’s Erik Stein chatted with German filmmaker Peter Braatz aka Harry Rag about how he captured the psyche of the maverick director and the behind the scenes tensions on set as a young intern on the iconic movie.
Following on, The Electricity Club chaired a panel discussion with renowned music producer Zeus B Held and one-time GARY NUMAN band member Chris Payne, whose musical lives changed when they were introduced to synthesizers. While Held became a member of the German prog rockers BIRTH CONTROL, Payne first became acquainted with German music at music college via FAUST, while he was also a fan of English band VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR who were also a favourite of Paul Humphreys from OMD.
Although Held wanted to make a cold electronic album with GINA X PERFORMANCE, he found that the art student’s eroticism countered the coldness which in turn, created something completely new. For Payne, he admitted it took him some time to get over his original perception that synthesizers were cold, but Numan possessed a strong creative vision that used techniques that could not be learnt at music college, like using diminished 5th chords that suited the dystopian aura of work.
After GINA X PERFORMANCE, Held attended a 1980 Numan gig in Düsseldorf which Payne was a part of. The pair would cross paths again via DEAD OR ALIVE.
In a lively and light hearted chat, the pair recalled their experience of working with their larger-than-life frontman Pete Burns who passed away 12 months ago.
In the studio, Held said “I got on fine with Pete because his mother was German, so we had a few common words we could use. He had a clear vision of what he wanted and the emotional thing he was aiming at. It was crazy, we used four microphones because he sings very loud!”
Meanwhile as live musical director, Payne remembered: “We were rehearsing in Liverpool in 1985 for the ‘Youthquake’ tour, none of the backing singers had arrived, it was just myself and the band making sure everything was in place. Pete was actually quite shy to talk to and he didn’t say anything for the first few days apart from hello… then all of a sudden while we were playing, I heard this VOICE! I looked round and it was Pete who was coming over clearly, but he had no microphone! We could hear him over our racket! It was absolutely extraordinary, I’ve never ever heard anything like it! Although he was insecure, he was a great performer!”
What was particularly striking about the DEAD OR ALIVE material produced by Zeus B Held was that it successfully integrated sequencers and programmed drums with live bass guitar, percussion and brass as on the cover of ‘That’s The Way (I Like It)’ – “It was quite risky and we had to squeeze the brass in” recalled Held, “but Pete wanted this stabbing brass in and we were lucky as we had some good guys, THE KICK HORNS, and explored the spaces we could use them and made sure the sequences weren’t too much on the one to get a feeling of rhythm”
The other artist both Payne and Held have a shared history is of course GARY NUMAN. Payne was one of the musicians on ‘The Pleasure Principle’ in 1979 and recalled “We all played together, we had drums, we had a bassist and myself and Gary on keyboards… there were overdubs but the fundamentals were recorded together”.
From it, ‘Cars’ became a UK No1 and was remixed in 1987 by Held who remembered “I had my new secret weapon called the Fairlight, so I synched up my points and put in car noises. It was also the week the Roland D50 came out so with this and the multi-tracks of ‘Cars’, it was a dream job… I beefed up the drums a bit and I had fun”
With both Held and Payne now in their 60s, their reinvigorated enthusiasm for electronic music and playing live in their respective projects DREAM CONTROL and ELECTRONIC CIRCUS are proof that age is no barrier to continuing musical creativity.
Erik Stein returned to the stage to interview poet ANNE CLARK who despite being from London and being almost unknown in her home country, became a cult favourite within Germany’s vibrant alternative music scene. Growing up in South London, her aim was to put music to poetry and punk opened the doors for her. She said: “the punk thing exploded culturally in everything including comedy, theatre, dance and literature… the things that came after are still resonating”
On her love of electronic music, it was the energy that attracted her, particularly Giorgio Moroder and ‘I Feel Love’. Although Clark has almost near anonymity in the UK, key figures such as John Foxx and Mark Reeder have worked on her music. On why her work has been more appreciated in Germany, she said: “I don’t know, maybe in mainland Europe, people are much more open minded”, although Clark still remembers there was disbelief when ‘Sleeper In Metropolis’ and ‘Our Darkness’ became German hits as she “didn’t fit into the pop star mould”.
The first day of talks was concluded with an excellent presentation by Jonathan Barnbrook entitled ‘Designing Bowie’; “It sounded like someone doing an impression of David Bowie” remembered the Grammy award winner on when the much missed legend phoned Barnbrook about becoming his graphic designer, after seeing his work on a Damien Hirst monograph. He found Bowie to be a charming man who made the process of working with him really enjoyable and fun; this in turn got the best out of Barnbrook.
Referring to designers such as Peter Saville, Malcolm Garrett and Vaughan Oliver, Barnbrook said: “when the magic of the graphics works, it makes something better of the album’s music and the artist, and it’s beyond marketing and something almost spiritual”
On the polarising artwork for ‘The Next Day’ which was the “Heroes” album sleeve with a white square over the top, Barnbrook said it questioned why a new image was expected of an artist every time they released an album, especially with an artist like Bowie who was often shackled by his past. Also as Bowie hadn’t done an album for 10 years, it was a direct reference to ‘Where Are We Now?’, the lead single from the album. So the artwork effectively subverted Bowie’s whole history by defacing it.
Although the process took six months to get to the white square, various studies had been carried out using the ‘Aladdin Sane’ and Pin Ups’ sleeves, as well an old photo of Bowie performing in New York with a particularly isolated look.
Of course, the artwork was not entirely embraced but with good humour, Barnbrook gamely showed screen captures of some of the more critical responses he received. One was “@barnbrook the Bowie cover? come on, it really is bollocks right?”, but maybe this was actually referring to DEPECHE MODE’s recent live reinterpretation of “Heroes”? 😉
But ‘The Next Day’ artwork became a viral marketing sensation with the public, something that had not been planned at all, with cats inevitably figuring later on. While the passing of Bowie in January 2016 inevitably lingered over the follow-up ‘Blackstar’, its graphics and various ‘secrets’ were again an internet talking point. “It’s a system and not an album cover” reflected Barnbrook, referring to how modern visual representation of albums ranges from iTunes, CD and vinyl to posters and advertising boards.
Remembering a question the young Barnbrook asked William S Burroughs about the future of typography, the Texan replied “it’s between Egyptian hieroglyphics and airport pictograms…” – inadvertently, the postmodernist writer had predicted emoticons!
So this was discussed with Bowie and the idea for using the Unicode U+2605 pictogram came into being, with the eventual black-on-black vinyl edition of ‘Blackstar’ becoming a much talked about art piece on its own. Barnbrook’s fascinating insight into his work proved to be one of the highlights of the conference.
The musical programme was opened by ELECTRONIC CIRCUS, the combo led by Chris Payne featuring his wife Dominique Hemard plus college buddies Nigel Bates and Mike Stewart. The emotive gallop of ‘The Trapeze’ and the midlife reflection of ‘Roundabout’ provided a captivating start, with Hemard providing her sweetly naïve Gallic voix. Meanwhile, with Trump and Kim treating the 38th Parrallel like a school playground, the frantic ‘Direct Lines’ was a stark reminder that nuclear war is still a real threat
Mid-set, Payne remained on stage for the arrival of KATJA VON KASSEL to showcase three magnificent songs that the pair had co-written over the last few months. ‘Someday’ captured the beautiful melancholy of Billy Mackenzie while ‘Radio Symphony’ exuded pure electro Weimar cabaret.
A new song ‘Walking In West Berlin’ gave an indication of what is to come on Fraulein von Kassel’s new EP, before the chanteuse and the band swapped positions again for some ‘Space Invaders’. Returning to the stage to join ELECTRONIC CIRCUS for their final number, those present were treated to a wonderful synth laden version of ‘Fade To Grey’, the German No1 for VISAGE which Payne co-wrote with Billy Currie and Midge Ure.
CREEPS gave a suitably mysterious performance as per their name, the trio donning masks with hints of ‘Twin Peaks’ within their carefully thought out presentation. However, the illusion was tempered slightly when they thanked the audience at the end, rather than moodily walking off stage which would have suited their aura better.
A good proportion of the crowd were gathered for ANNE CLARK to savour her stark observations on the darker side of the human condition. Beginning with dramatic ‘Sleeper In Metropolis’, she kept her audience entranced. With electronic backing provided by Herr B, Clark has said her future live performances will be more selective, but she gave a confident performance which more than satisfied her enthusiastic fans, especailly when she encored with her big German hit ‘Our Darkness’.
The second day of the ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE 2017 had a more Germanic flavour and Dr Uwe Schütte, who compiled the academic guide ‘German Pop Music’, addressed the conference on KRAFTWERK who all but put the city of Düsseldorf on the world map, while Tommi Stumpff recollected the development of electronic body music with journalist Ecke Stieg.
Bodo Staiger from RHEINGOLD made a rare appearance to talk about his career with Rudi Esch; the band never performed live despite the popularity of songs such as ‘Fluss’ and ‘Dreiklangdimensionen’ so have almost become lost whenever the history of German pop is discussed. RHEINGOLD are certainly under rated and the excellent new album ‘Im Laut Der Zeit’ is a fine return after an absence of original material for many years.
With questions from Jochen Oberlack of Bellerophon Records, the enthusiasm of original KRAFTWERK member and multi-instrumentalist Eberhard Kranemann aka Fritz Müller brought a smile to proceedings. Talking about his new project KRAUTWERK with Harald Grosskopf, he enthused about taking their updated art school kosmische to places as far flung as China. Inspired by the lack of new material emerging from his former colleagues at Kling Klang, the talkative Kranemann certainly has the zest of a man half his age.
Following a presentation of visual and audio interpretations of DAF under the title of ‘Der Räuber Ist Der Prinz’ by students from Der Hochschule in Düsseldorf, it was fitting that the focus of the conference moved towards the duo who formed around the scene at the city’s punk club Die Ratinger Hof.
With the release of the ‘Das Ist DAF’ boxed set on Grönland Records, the profile of the EBM trailblazers is in the ascendancy again. While the music of DAF was aggressive by nature, drummer Robert Görl smiled a lot and revealed an endearing sense of humour during his chat with Rudi Esch; this was especially evident when pretty photos of himself and partner Gabi Delgado-Lopez, that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Smash Hits or Bravo, were projected on the big screen.
With a biography on the duo written by Esch as a companion to the boxed set on the horizon plus more new material too, new generations of electronic music enthusiasts have the opportunity to discover DAF.
ARCTIC SUNRISE began the musical leg of the second day with their enjoyable brand of dark synthpop. Songs like ‘Tell The Truth’ and ‘When Traces End’ recalled CAMOUFLAGE and particularly DE/VISION whose singer Steffen Keth has clearly influenced the vocal style of Torsten Verlinden.
While mostly remaining behind his rack of keyboards, Steve Baltes dusted off a Roland GR77 bass guitar synth to use on ‘Silent Tears’.
In the absence of his DAF partner, Robert Görl bravely performed along to a selection of pre-laid backing tracks comprising of material from his ‘Glücksritter’ live only project. Musically close to DAF but without the live drums, the material was laced with amusingly deviant lyrics while there was a techno edge in keeping with his more recent and largely instrumental output. However no songs from his brilliant solo debut ‘Night Full Of Tension’ were aired, but Görl’s uptempo set was enjoyable with songs like ‘Schieb Das Kind’ and ‘U.S. Acidboys’.
Modular trance duo STRÖME provided the musical surprise of the weekend. With their magnificent tandem Doepfer A100 systems in full view, the pairing of Mario Schönhofer and Tobi Weber kept the audience’s attention, with their combination of pulsing electronics and moderate but energetic synthesized rhythms showing how modern EDM should be done.
And so ended another fabulous weekend with a friendly, intelligent cultured atmosphere that held plenty of insight and passion; the 2018 event promises a new central location and a big name speaker as the ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE continues to develop and build its reputation even further.
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Rudi Esch and Carsten Siewert
Next year’s ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE will take place on 12th-13th October 2018
With the release of her first EP, KATJA VON KASSEL has been deservedly gaining traction with radio stations and plaudits from personalities within the music industry.
One such figure has been RUSTY EGAN; The Blitz Club’s legendary DJ no doubt spotted in her stylised electro Weimar Cabaret, a Eurocentric connection with his own Parisian protégé RONNY. With her charismatic presence and an alluring Marlene Dietrich tone, KATJA VON KASSEL exudes an enticing technostalgic quality with her timeless, escapist songs.
KATJA VON KASSEL kindly took time out for a quick chat with The Electricity Club and her hopes for the future…
You were gigging frequently in London between 2008-2010 and featured in line-ups that included VILE ELETRODES who are quite well known today. How do you remember that period?
It’s great to perform live but if you have too many gigs in the same city, even somewhere as big as London, you over expose yourself and who wants to hear the same songs every night?
You were showcasing a set of songs co-written with Alex Gray who also co-wrote ‘My Delirium’ with LADYHAWKE. How did your ‘1930s Meets the Future’ sound develop?
Finding Alex and our sound was destiny. One lucky day I walked into Alex´s studio. I said to Alex that I really needed a cool beat to a melody I had written. It didn’t even take him long! After that day ‘Dancing on Airwaves’ was the first ‘1930s meets the Future’ track that came to life.
The turning point appeared to be when you supported ERASURE in Germany during the Autumn of 2011?
Some unknown artists are lucky and get a support slot with a famous name. But if you don’t have more lucky breaks like this, nothing else will come out of it.
You were signed by Warners which was a fine recognition of your artistic potential. But then it appeared there was confusion about how to market you? What actually happened?
I was signed and after six months Warners got rid of all new artists and I was one of them.
I didn’t even get a chance to start working with them.
A re-recorded version of ‘Lili Marlene’ appeared but your sound was drastically altered?
My management at this time decided to create a more polished version of it for a broader market. So a producer from Hamburg worked on the track. It is available on iTunes.
Things must have been demoralising when contractual issues stopped you working?
I just can’t stop working on the music, with or without support from record companies. The only thing that really keeps me going is the support from the wonderful people I connect with every day. It’s all about helping each other without saying “me, me, me” all day. This is what my life is about. Connecting and being creative.
In hindsight, was the imposed creative break necessary to recharge your artistic muse?
I never had a break. I keep thinking about music 24/7. The industry changed completely. I needed to get my head around the online marketing and social networks. This is a learning curve which never stops. I started to film and cut my videos. I was listening to tips for artists in the industry on podcasts in the morning before going to my little office job and I was trying to find a quiet time to write, create and record.
It is great that these songs that you produced with Alex Gray have finally seen the light of day publicly. What prompted you to self-release?
I just couldn’t wait for another label to pick me up. Times have now completely changed and you will not get anywhere without doing everything on your own and helping each other!
The music business has changed considerably since 2011; as an artist, what do you see as the positives and negatives of this?
There is a lot of positive things for artists to get heard on YouTube, on Facebook… but honestly today you need to be incredibly good at absolutely everything and only a few artists will break through, have fans and earn enough money to make a living out of it.
Video have been an important aspect of your artistic presentation. Why have you taken this approach?
I like watching videos from other creative people. Music, Art, Fashion etc. I can better connect this way with their art, thoughts and feelings. So I thought it would be great to put something myself on YouTube.
Your debut ‘Katja von Kassel’ EP appears to have drawn some very positive responses and reignited interest in your music?
Chi! I am so happy about this. Thank you for featuring me on your amazing website and a big thank you to all the online radio stations who played the EP and of course thank you to all my friends on the social network sites who like the music and shared it! I am trying to connect to people every day. A lot of them I know personally. I do care about people and can’t wait to meet them all again!
What’s next for you, as there are still a number of great songs that you recorded with Alex Gray that are still yet to be released?
Yes. We do have some more to come…
Are there any plans to return to the live arena?
I am working on it. I perform secret gigs just to stay in shape. I need to get myself some bookings going in London and Germany. I love to perform live and see everyone for one or two drinks after the show.
But beforehand, I need to distribute all the lyrics of the songs so you can all sing along with me! I know you’ve got a good voice in there Chi 🙂
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to KATJA VON KASSEL