Championed by none other than Vince Clarke and signed to his Brooklyn-based VeryRecords, REED & CAROLINE have just completed a successful US tour with ERASURE.
Reed Hays and Caroline Schutz’s 2016 debut album ‘Buchla & Singing’ did what it said on the tin, combining tunes with electronic experimentation.
But released in 2018, its follow-up ‘Hello Science’ is a much more on point as a distinct pop focussed offering suitable for live concert performances.
Marvellous quirky pop songs from the new album like ‘The Internet Of Things’ highlight the potential downfalls of modern society’s over-reliance on web-connected devices and home appliances, while there are also more personal moments like the stark eulogy of ‘Entropy’. It’s a reminder that it’s the juxtaposition of humans and electronics that made the best classic synthpop what it was and how synthesizers should never be the excuse for a song…
Now back home, Reed Hays kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about science, Buchlas, Orchestrons and his radio show with Vince Clarke…
What would you say is the creative dynamic of REED & CAROLINE?
We have always contributed our musicianship to each other’s works. When Caroline was working with her band FOLKSONGS FOR THE AFTERLIFE, I was playing cello on music she wrote. For REED & CAROLINE she is singing on songs I wrote.
How do you look back on your debut album ‘Buchla & Singing’?
I still like to listen to it, and we’ve performed some of the songs while we’ve been supporting ERASURE. The audiences have got misty-eyed during ‘John & Rene’, which is wonderful to watch.
How did the Buchla come to be the instrument of choice for REED & CAROLINE?
The Buchla spoke to me as soon as I heard my dad play a MORTON SUBOTNICK LP when I was a kid. I went to the only college in the US that would allow 18-year-olds to touch a Buchla. As soon as I made enough money from writing TV music, I started buying Buchla instruments.
The pattern over several years was that I would use the Buchla more and more and sell off my other analogue synthesizers. When it came to doing other music, apart from TV stuff, it felt most comfortable for me to do it solely on the Buchla.
You’ve added a Vako Orchestron to your armoury, where did you find that and what’s it like to use?
It came from the fabled Sound City studio in Los Angeles during a revamp a couple years ago. It’s only real appearance in the pop canon is on three KRAFTWERK albums, and I’m a huge fan of how it sounds. The crackly, low-bandwidth character of the instrument sounds like you’re peering at the future from the past.
You had sounds of your own customised and made into optical discs to use with the Orchestron, so who makes these then now?
Once I started searching for people who knew about Orchestrons, I discovered Pea Hicks who lives in San Diego.
Pea has access to the old machinery that made discs for the Orchestron and its predecessor the Optigan.
What other synths or software are used in your recordings?
I pretend ProTools is a tape recorder. For synchronization, I feed 16th-note audio clicks into the Buchla’s Envelope Follower.
Your songwriting appears to come from a folk tradition which is something you have in common with Vince Clarke?
I like simple melodies and whatever chords make them speak the best. I like modal interchange as much as the next guy, but Vince once reminded me that ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ takes you on a journey with only three chords.
How did Vince Clarke and VeryRecords become interested in REED & CAROLINE?
My friend Mark Verbos of Verbos Electronic helped to produce an event in Brooklyn called ‘Machines In Music’. He asked me if I’d give a lecture about using old synths in new productions.
Halfway through the lecture Vince walked in with a mutual friend, and we wound up having lunch. Later the friend played my song ‘Henry The Worm’ from what would become ‘Buchla & Singing’ for Vince, who decided it would be fun to release on his VeryRecords label.
What inspired the concept of ‘Hello Science’?
I grew up in a science and engineering town that also had a space museum so I was surrounded by it from an early age.
When I was little, there was a lot of idealism that science and technology would solve everyone’s problems. Now that I’m older, it’s less about a shiny future and more about science being discredited in these crazy modern times. Scientific concepts also make for convenient metaphors.
The ethical dilemmas behind technological progress with regards the backgrounds of some of those scientists must have provided an interesting background to write to?
Details of Operation Paperclip and the Dora Camp weren’t too public while I was growing up, but the concert hall where I played in the symphony orchestra did have a gigantic painting of Wernher von Braun.
Interestingly, the title song of the new album is all cello?
I took a small Buchla system and a cello to provide background music for an event that my painter friend Stephen Hall was involved in. When Vince heard a recording of it, he put it on the VeryRecords Soundcloud, and that set the stage for using cello on other projects.
I didn’t know how Vince would react if I did something entirely on the cello, so at the very end of ‘It’s Science’, there’s one chime note on the Buchla, just in case he didn’t like it.
‘Entropy’ was an intriguing number and sounded like it was influenced by the ’Dance’ album period of GARY NUMAN which people rarely highlight?
America’s introduction to synthpop was through GARY NUMAN on ‘Saturday Night Live’ at the very end of 1979. As a child, I was captivated. I hated the saxophones on ‘Dance’, but the pitch-shifted CR-78 drums were so cool. ‘Entropy’ was an opportunity to recreate that feel on the Buchla. I even made a polyphonic patch to mimic the Yamaha CP-30 electronic piano.
‘Dark Matter’ is a quirky little pop tune recorded with KITE BASE? How did that come together?
There’s a YouTube video called ‘Two Bald Blokes & a Buchla’ where Vince interviews me and the camera pans to some rock stars that our friend Elia Einhorn brought to the studio. One of the rock stars was Ayşe Hasan of SAVAGES.
Later on, while producing ‘Dark Matter’, I had a terrible time with the synth bass line. Everything seemed to slow down the track. Just when I wanted to scrap the whole song, I got a text from Ayse and her friend Kendra Frost that they were in New York. I set them up in the studio with two bass guitars and the rhythm track for ‘Dark Matter’.
It was amazing watching them work out parts for the song. For the verses Kendra played low notes and Ayse played high notes, and for the choruses they switched roles. To come up with parts they sang them to each other, “Da da da da”. That sounded great, too, so I got them on mic singing for the breakdowns in the middle and the end.
There seems to be a love / hate relationship with how technology has affected the world, ‘Digital Trash’ being a case in point which can be taken in many ways?
Vince kept gently asking me to join social media after we made the first album, so there I was on Facebook and Twitter ten years after everyone else. I’m sure my friends went through that “nothing dies on the internet” thing a lot earlier than I did.
‘Computers’ is another one, what’s that about?
Over the past couple hundred years, prominent male astronomers and rocket engineers had employed uncredited women to crunch the numbers. They were actually referred to as computers. The song wrote itself!
You’ve just finished touring North America with ERASURE, what was that like and how did you adapt you sound for the stage?
After we did a little club date in New York to celebrate the release of ‘Buchla & Singing’, Vince asked if we’d tour with ERASURE.
Upon realizing he wasn’t kidding I wrote the ‘Hello Science’ album with performance in mind.
The big departure from the recorded albums is that I sing the backup vocals through a Xils EMS-5000 vocoder plug-in. There’s a small Buchla cabinet with patches accessible by unmuting channels in the mixer module. There’s also a NS Design cello on a tripod.
Tell us about ‘The Synthesizer Show’… 😉
It’s the ideal venue to hear two grown men eating roasted peanuts while listening to VISAGE.
What’s next for REED & CAROLINE?
Caroline is going straight from the airport to her daughters’ school to sign people up for the Parent-Teachers Association. That’s as far ahead as we’ve planned!
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Reed Hays
Currently opening for ERASURE in North America, REED & CAROLINE are the quirky Buchla driven duo who in the mission statement for their second album declared “Formulate hypotheses and gather all the facts – it’s science! It’s all about science!”
That second album entitled ‘Hello Science’ was released by Vince Clarke’s Very Records and song titles have included ‘Entropy’, ‘Another Solar System’, ‘Digital Trash’ and ‘Dark Matter’. Like AU REVOIR SIMONE meeting NEW ORDER for a jam session in Greenwich Village, the latter asks “Does dark matter matter?”
‘Dark Matter’ features Ayşe Hassan and Kendra Frost of KITE BASS who join Caroline Schutz for some endearing triple vocal accompaniment, especially in the closing “dah-da-da-da” refrain while also providing dual melodic bass backing to compliment Reed Hays’ electronics.
The appealing tune is now presented in a brand new video accompaniment directed Simon Lowery featuring the entire ‘Dark Matter’ ensemble.
Reed Hays and Caroline Schutz first presented their hybrid of traditionally derived tunes with electronic experimentation on their 2016 debut album ‘Buchla & Singing’, which did what it said on the tin. Hays also hosts a recurring Maker Park Radio series appropriately called ‘The Synthesizer Show’ with Vince Clarke which broadcasts from Staten Island.
In the meantime, REED & CAROLINE continue their Stateside tour with ERASURE until the end of August, while KITE BASE will be opening for NINE INCH NAILS in Washington DC and New York this October as well as New Orleans in November.
REED & CAROLINE’s debut album ‘Buchla & Singing’ did what it said on the tin and with it came charming quirky synthpop like ‘John & Rene’, ‘Singularity (We Bond)’ and ‘Electron’.
Championed by none other than Vince Clarke and signed to his Brooklyn-based Very Records, Reed Hays and Caroline Schutz successfully combined tunes with electronic experimentation.
Their second album ‘Hello Science’ is more of the same, but with cello and a Vako Orchestron added to the playground apparatus.
The Orchestron was a polyphonic electronic keyboard made famous by KRAFTWERK on ‘Radio-Activity’ and ‘Trans Europe Express’ which used optical discs containing pre-recorded sounds such as choirs and strings; for ‘Hello Science’, discs of Caroline Schutz’s voice were specially made using the original Orchestron factory equipment courtesy of its current custodian Pea Hicks!
Buchla launched its Music Easel in 1973 and ‘Hello Science’ certainly comprises of many airy sonic colours in a concept album of sorts inspired by Hays’ hometown of Huntsville, Alabama to where a community of rocket scientists had decamped from Europe after World War Two.
The album’s strapline is “Formulate hypotheses and gather all the facts – it’s science! It’s all about science!” and begins with the celebratory ‘Before’; the combination of watery arpeggios, cello and Schutz’s lightly treated voice provides a pleasant start to proceedings with this pretty electronic folk ballad.
The more uptempo and bouncy ‘Dark Matter’ adds vocoder plus some Hooky bass and vocals from Kendra Frost and Ayşe Hassan of KITE BASS. Despite the Brit presence, the track affirms REED & CAROLINE’s distinctly North American sound not unlike AU REVOIR SIMONE, especially in its enticing “dah-da-da-da” refrain.
With a tinge of techno, ‘Buoyancy’ provides a dancey lift while ‘Another Solar System’ is a direct “pie in the sky” reference to the ambitions of NASA with sparkly synths which reflect Hays’ belief that “my love of science is something spiritual and optimistic”.
The title track springs a surprise by being completely acoustic with this cello overture recalling SPARKS in its vocal arrangement and layering but despite this, it doesn’t sound at all out of place.
‘Digital Trash’ is what DUBSTAR would have sounded like if Sarah Blackwood had been born in Brooklyn instead of Halifax and is a wonderfully poignant commentary on social media, data manipulation and online privacy.
Treading not dissimilar musical territory, ‘Ocean’ is full of breezy nautical escapism and Buchla 100 handclaps.
The haunting ‘Entropy’ is a tribute to a departed friend and a fabulously touching Numan homage to his ‘Dance’ period, in particular ‘Cry The Clock Said’. The hypnotic soundtrack of gentle preset rhythms and eerie Roland CP30 electric piano is complimented by Schutz even adopting the phrasing of the man born Gary Anthony James Webb.
A variety of synthbass wobbles, Orchestron choral sweeps and sequenced pulses shape the appropriately robotic ‘Computers’ while with a militaristic offbeat that comes over like mutant chromatic reggae, ‘Internet Of Things’ is a cutely bizarre offering that lyrically highlights the potential downfalls of modern society’s over-reliance on web-connected devices and home appliances.
‘Continuous Interfold’ acts as an abstract art piece before the main act closes with ‘Metatron’ which delightfully goes all Philip Glass with its cacophony of voices. As a bonus, Vince Clarke provides his distinctive studio magic to a remix of ‘Before’, giving it a more percussive mainstream accessibility.
Speaking of which, with fewer of the instrumental interludes that formed a significant part of ‘Buchla & Singing’, ‘Hello Science’ is a much more distinct pop focussed offering with songs kept quite short and on point.
If there is a criticism, it might be there are slightly too many tracks, but it does not disguise the fact that this record is a very enjoyable listen.
Despite the science, the maths, the machines and the tuned vocal aesthetic, there is also flesh and blood that has to work it out and get it all together.
KITE BASE released their debut long player ‘Latent Whispers’ in 2017.
Comprising of two bass guitars and electronics courtesy of a Dave Smith Instruments Tempest drum machine affectionately named Alan, the dynamic duo SAVAGES’ bassist Ayşe Hassan and the haunting vocal presence of Kendra Frost.
Songs such as the wonderfully hypnotic ‘Transition’ and the mantric percussive vibes of ‘Soothe’ have won Frost and Hassan a cult audience all of their own. But it has been their cover of ‘Something I Can Never Have’, a track from NINE INCH NAILS’ first album ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ that has attracted the most attention.
John Fryer, the producer of ‘Pretty Hate Machine’, invited Kendra Frost to contribute vocals to his BLACK NEEDLE NOISE project. Meanwhile, Trent Reznor himself has invited KITE BASE to open for NINE INCH NAILS on five North American dates for the upcoming ‘Cold & Black & Infinite’ tour.
Kendra Frost kindly took time out to chat to The Electricity Club about the ongoing progression of KITE BASE, as well as her new found passion for synth building and sound design.
KITE BASE have an unusual format in that it’s two bass guitars and programmed electronics. What were the inspirations behind making music like this?
It honestly wasn’t a conscious choice we made. When Ayşe and I first met, we bonded over the fact that we were both bassists and also shared a love of electronic music, so we stuck true to those things; the things that initially drew us together.
Working out how to physically integrate the electronics part was a big learning curve as I hadn’t programmed anything outside of basic level DAW tinkering before and so acquiring the right kit and learning how to use it was a challenging voyage of discovery.
Your drum machine / sequencer named Alan is a Dave Smith Tempest designed by Roger Linn, what made you choose one of those as opposed to something else and what is ‘he’ like to use?
Primarily, we both agreed that we wanted to avoid having a laptop on stage. So I set about the hunt for a singular piece of hardware that had a playlist function for practical reasons – so that I could play bass and sing at the same time. But I also wanted the ability to sculpt sounds and modulate live (certain songs ended up being written in a particular way to allow my hands to be free because I wanted to get some live modulation in there). Otherwise it would’ve felt a little like owning a vintage E-Type Jaguar and only taking it out to the supermarket on Sundays…!
Handily, I have a best friend who is a genius in all things sonically related and so I asked him what he might recommend for the job, after autonomous investigation only resulted in my drowning in the bombardment of options available out there. He gave me a very clever three tier choice system, based on price and rabbit hole depth. He introduced me to the Korg Volcas – which I still adore and use for inspiration – worked up to the Roland TR8 and then he said… “now hunt down and try out this…!” So I sourced a Tempest at the awesome store, Funky Junk, in London, and… well, how could I not have gotten hooked?! I took him home with me and named him ‘Alan’ in honour of Mr. Turing.
Alan is a complicated beast and he demands dedication. However, KITE BASE as it currently stands would not exist without him and he is well worth the effort.
I learned to use him by working out how to translate my demo programming over from Propellerhead Reason, finding ways to better it as I learnt the functionality of the machine.
I pretty much became a total recluse because of that, and willingly so! To learn the DSI functionality is not the learning curve, synthesis is. I didn’t even know what an oscillator was when I started and so beyond working out the basics like how to programme the sequencer, the science behind it was and still is the real challenge.
But what I did have to my aid were years of listening to and adoring outfits like NIN, AUTECHRE, BOARDS OF CANADA, CABARET VOLTAIRE and a whole host of other dance genres, so I had an excellent hand hold in that respect – I knew what I wanted to hear. To really get the most out of the Tempest, in my mind, you need to study the science behind sound to at least some degree. Years later, I still feel I have merely scratched the surface of that learning, but that is exciting to me because it directly influences my creative output and so aids artistic development.
How do you look back on the making of ‘Latent Whispers’ and how it was received?
I am proud of what we created. It was an honest reflection of that moment in time and to me that is the holy grail of creating anything.
I am exceedingly grateful for the reception the album received, the shows we were invited to play and all of the opportunities we obtained via it. We were lucky to do some incredible things off the back of it and meet some amazing people. It is always an honour to receive a positive review from any platform, but I try very hard to be honest with myself about the creative output first and foremost.
It takes courage to release any form of art and you hope people react to it in a positive way, but that is ultimately a subjective thing over which you have no control. As an artist of any medium, I think it’s vital to strive for that kind of one step removal, however impossible that may ultimately be. Otherwise your future output, your voice, becomes less genuine as external factors inevitably influence you, one way or another.
Was the gestation time for the album quite long due to all the various other commitments?
In short, yes. But from my part that was something I took on board willingly from the off because I knew that’d be the case and I fully believe in the project. Also, everything happens for a reason and had things rolled sooner, some of the incredible things that did happen quite simply would not have come into being.
‘Transition’ appears to be the one that has crossed over into various audiences?
Yes, and I am profoundly happy about that because lyrically and sonically, it was the track that I felt best reflected upon what was actually happening in real time on a personal level. I guess you could say it was the most mindful track, as opposed to reflective or something. That immediacy and honesty was important for me.
Which tracks still remain favourites for you from the record and why?
‘Dadum’; it was the first demo I wrote and the first track that Ayşe and I subsequently worked on together as KITE BASE. It also marked a turning point for me in that the melody came to me in quite an inopportune moment – at the start of a gig and I knew I’d lose it if I didn’t run outside into the snow (it was winter) and quickly record some teeth chattering, melodic babbling into my phone. I absolutely detest the cold, so it really tested my mettle. Life has a way of doing that, doesn’t it? It puts hurdles in your way by method of measuring how much you want a thing, I believe…! That was the first time I’d harnessed that philosophy and it has since become a vital method of writing for me.
Your cover of NINE INCH NAILS’ ‘Something I Can Never Have’ has opened a few doors for you, what’s the story behind KITE BASE reinterpreting it?
I had been listening to LAURIE ANDERSON’s incredible ‘O Superman’ on repeat for days. I find walking helps generate creative catalysts, and I was playing about with that addictive, repetitive staccato vocal in my head on my way in to work one day. Then a counter melody appeared over the top of it and I couldn’t quite place it at first, so I let it unfold and eventually cottoned on that it was the opening piano riff for ‘Something I Can Never Have’ by NIN.
I’ve always loved that song because of its honesty, but also because I felt that there was an intense beauty in the hope I read as being hidden there in the lyrics too – in that regardless of something feeling hopelessly out of reach, it doesn’t stop you wanting it and therefore hoping for it to happen…
I let the melody roll in my head as I often do when working out harmonies and then I realised you could take that incredible theme from ‘The Fragile’, the melody found in the track ‘La Mer’, and place it over the top too allowing the different time signatures to double helix a bit… that was when I got excited and called Ayşe to explain the idea and sense check if I had lost my marbles!
I visualise sounds in that way a lot, as a first port of call when writing – I studied photography for my degree and that visual training had a profound effect on the way I approached music afterwards.
I try to hear what I can imagine seeing and I find it a useful writing aid to ask myself questions like what shape I want a part of a song to be as a result of the emotion of a lyric, noise, sound, overriding concept. Then the melody follows that.
As for the vocal harmonies, I’ve been singing with my dear friends Grace, Theresa and Eve since we met in a local choir aged about 10! All of them are professional singers now, and I was so happy they agreed to collaborate on this as I really had them in mind to perform it, having sung with them as a female barbershop group for fun for years. And of course the two basses… Ayşe and I often fondly refer to each other as ‘yin yang’ in that we have contrasting but complimentary ways of playing bass.
Ayse’s is fantastically heart felt, no nonsense, wallop and mine is less immediate, but more planned out – I like to think “what am I trying to achieve here?”, mull it over and then play. It’s the balance between those two styles that gives KITE BASE its voice, I’d say. We owe a huge debt of thanks to Giorgio Testi and Simone Pellegrini and their incredible team for directing and shooting that video and Dan Conway’s outstanding visuals. Without them, the track would have been half of a whole. You need the gift of sound and vision.
John Fryer, the original producer of ‘Something I Can Never Have’, asked you to sing on first ‘Warning Sign’ and then ‘This Kind Of Road’ for his BLACK NEEDLE NOISE project, how was that?
That was a wonderful experience and I was thrilled to have been asked to collaborate. John had written the music and he gave me free reign to write whatever vocal melodies and lyrics I wanted in reaction to the tracks. It was a real treat because I could just focus purely on the vocal and the words and push that communication. I’d not done that before, purely focus on just those elements, and was happily surprised to find it all flowed very quickly. When you’ve already got a great foundation to build upon, the rest is a joy!
Then KITE BASE actually get invited to open for NINE INCH NAILS on selected dates on the Autumn US tour… have you taken it in yet and are you ready?
We are still pinching ourselves and I don’t think it has quite sunk in yet for either of us! This has been a pipe dream for us both since we discovered NIN in our teens… it’s beyond an honour to have been asked and a massive great big deal for us both personally.
Are we ready?! YES! We cannot bloody wait to get out there! Nerves kind of haven’t come into it because it’s all so wonderfully, David Lynch level beautiful / surreal. A place we are both very happy to be in.
How will you approach playing considerably larger venues than maybe you’ve played in the past?
Turn it up to 11 and dig out the miniature Stonehenge props! No, in all seriousness, it’ll be great to have a bit more space on stage! We are usually on top of our 8×10’s blasting out a whole spectrum of shades of distorted bass frequencies… try pitching to that! Ha! Smaller stages are hugely challenging for that reason and we usually get that AND low ceilings… you’re basically in the epicentre of a giant sonic bass whirlpool in those situations, and although that can feel cool as heck, it will be great to have some space on stage.
Will you have any new music to release? Are you taking KITE BASE into any different directions?
It’s well underway and we have demos. We would love to work with a producer this time around… I don’t want to repeat old ground and have been exploring ways to revise the current set up. As much as I love Alan the Tempest, there obviously are other pieces of hardware out there requiring different technical approaches that would therefore lead to new creative outcomes. Superbooth this year was choc full of incredible new machines – that MFB Tanzbar 2, oooh…!
Also, I like the idea of the possibility of putting my bass down here and there, in favour of adopting a bass synth, for example. That’d stay true to the ‘two basses’ idea then, but move it into different territory, generate new sounds and create fresh areas to explore sonically.
You’ve got into the physical act of synth building with soldering and all that, how did this all come about?
That was a moment of amazing serendipity; I am ridiculously lucky to have been taken under the wing of ‘The Prof’, Steve Thomas at Digitana. Along the lines of thought of investigating new synths and hardware to use in KITE BASE, I’ve always been very keen on the idea of building my own DIY electronics, directly inspired by artists like Chris Carter of THROBBING GRISTLE, Oliver Ackermann of DEATH BY AUDIO / A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS, Guido and Kyle of VACTROL PARK etc.
I just think it’s insanely cool to be able to make and use your own pieces of kit in addition to bought hardware and I’d been hunting for a teacher for a while with the hope of following along in those footsteps. I was relaying this to my dear friend and awesome film and TV composer, Carly Paradis, and she said “you need to meet Steve from Digitana”.
Steve was about to visit her to showcase the prototype of a new analogue synth he’d built called the SX-1 as a collaboration with THE FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON, so Carly very kindly invited me along too.
I couldn’t believe how awesome the SX-1 was, the sounds, the build quality, the classic EMS aesthetic… We all got on like a house on fire, and, it transpired that Steve was looking to train someone up to join the team. (I know how unbelievable this all sounds and no, I cannot believe my luck!)
Since then, I have been trained up on a number of awesome things and I am currently soldering and wiring the looms for the licensed EMS Synthi Hi-FLi, whilst my fellow team mate Alina Kalancea, who is an incredible electronic artist in her own right, works on the SX-1. It is beyond a perfect role because it’s a truly wonderful company, motivated by excellence and craft – Steve is as much a genius as he is a genuinely lovely guy and an outstanding teacher (he is a head of PHD physics!).
Everything is designed by him and every item is built and made by hand by Digitana. I get to learn about synthesis as well as electronics and Steve fully supports our work as musicians also, making it as flexible as possible so we can still write and play.
Will this possibly spark an interest in hardware like modulars? We’ve discussed Alan but what other equipment are you looking at for your music?
Yes! Just before landing my role at Digitana, I undertook a short evening course at London Modular, an introduction to modular synths. I love that store! It was excellent as it gave a thorough overview into Eurorack systems and basic patching. We mainly used modules by Doepfer and Make Noise, but I just couldn’t keep my eyes off the alluringly sci-fi looking Buchla 222e control surface in the corner of the room.
Buchla is just something else. It feels like a classical instrument in every way to me; learning wise, sound quality wise… price wise… I’d long been a fan of Buchla artists like SUZANNE CIANI, ALESSANDRO CORTINI and REED & CAROLINE but Buchla has always seemed to be that unreachable, shiniest star over yonder for a number of reasons.
Until I met Alina at Digitana, that is, who I am excited to say has literally just sold me two of her second hand 200e modules! I’m due to receive them in the next couple of weeks and I cannot wait to fall down that rabbit hole. Bang goes any social life I had! Oh well! And yes, I’ve already named it – it’s a she and she is called ‘Pris’. After all, Pris did rock Buchla blue as eye make-up so very well!
What else are you up to musically at the moment?
KITE BASE and I SPEAK MACHINE have collaborated on the soundtrack for Matt Harlock and Krent Able’s short horror ‘Deep Clean’, which should hopefully be released soon! I LOVED working with Tara Busch from ISM, she is such a fabulous musician.
And personally, I’ve been working on something that I am exceedingly proud of and excited by; I’ve been doing musical sound design for Carly Paradis on the score for the new and forthcoming Netflix series ‘The Innocents’ which is due to air this summer.
I’ve been using the FSOL / Digitana SX-1 and Tempest Alan to make sounds for some of the best briefs I’ve ever seen; emotive, dark, alluring, sci-fi, thriller sounds – everything that is totally my cup of tea!
Working with Carly has been an absolute dream and it’s a wonderful pairing for me in that I make the raw sounds and send them over to her to be incorporated into her score writing per scene. It has been incredible to see the journey of these sounds unfold. To make something and have it illustrate stunningly beautiful cinematography like that and to collaborate with an artist like Carly has been one of my proudest achievements to date and it is something that I very much hope will continue.
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Kendra Frost
KITE BASE appear as part of Robert Smith’s Meltdown Festival on Sunday 24th June at London’s Southbank Centre on the Sunday Surprises stage – it is a free show with the duo performing a half hour set at 1.00pm
They will play the following Autumn 2018 dates with NINE INCH NAILS + THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN:
Washington The Anthem (9th – 10th October), New York Radio City Music Hall (13th October), New Orleans Saenger Theatre (23rd – 24th November)
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 😉