METROLAND 12×12

‘12×12’ sees Belgium’s favourite passengers reach the five year mark in their musical journey…

It’s the story of METROLAND so far, celebrated in a lavish 4CD boxed set with 14 beautifully informative art cards and the carefully crafted conceptual presentation that came with their second album ‘Triadic Ballet’. It is a beautiful art piece on its own, but the music contained is of a high quality as well.

The journey began when their mechanised synthpop impressed audiences via the debut long player ‘Mind The Gap’, so much so that unscrupulous Russians bootleggers pirated several of the tracks and attempted to pass them off as new KRAFTWERK demos on eBay!

This undoubtedly was a back-handed compliment, especially as fans of METROLAND included Ralf, Florian, Karl and Wolfgang aficionados like Andy McCluskey and Rusty Egan. Certainly with KRAFTWERK today seemingly residing in 3D electro-cabaret, Passenger A and Passenger S have certainly filled a gap in the market. But without doubt, METROLAND have proved themselves more than just KRAFTWERK imitators over the last 60 months.

With each of the 4CDs following a distinct curative path, the ‘12≠12’ volume compiles the radio edits and short versions for an easily digestible introduction to the Mechelen duo. One thing METROLAND have especially managed better than KRAFTWERK, even in full length album form, is an understanding that tracks do NOT necessarily have to go on for ages.

‘12≠12’ is ideal for a cautious introduction with a listen over a cup of hot chocolate with friends. Beginning with the brilliance of ‘The Passenger’, a robotic number inspired by the tune which the former James Newell Osterberg wrote and recorded with a certain David Bowie, this has to be heard to be believed.

The ‘small’ version of the most recent single ‘Cube’ proves that METROLAND have moved on with the spectre of ORBITAL looming, while ‘Re-design’ acts as a fine bite-size sampler of the epic three part 11 minute adventure of ‘Design’ from ‘Triadic Ballet’.

But the touching ‘soul mix’ of ‘Brother’ is where METROLAND reveal an unexpected emotiveness in a fine tribute to their departed engineer and friend Louis Zachert aka Passenger L, thanks partly to a manipulated voice sample with echoes of angels and ghosts…

The ’12×12’ disc collects the longer versions and assorted extended remixes. Particularly enjoyable is the 12inch ‘Subway version’ of METROLAND’s tribute to Harry Beck, the London Underground’s map designer, and the previously unavailable ‘Troisieme Etape’ take on ‘Thalys’. Meanwhile, the toughened up ‘Headphone’ mix of ‘Under The Roof’ provides a powerful accompaniment on any peak time commute.

Best of all, as far as the concept curation on ‘12×12’ goes, is the ‘12+12’ disc featuring various B-sides and non-album songs. Here, some of METROLAND’s bolder experiments outside of the long playing format come into play.

The haunting trauma of ‘The Hindenburg Landing’ contains the harrowing report by journalist Herbert Morrison recorded at the time of that fiery airship disaster in New Jersey, while the brilliant uptempo attack of ‘(We Need) Machines Without Romance’ imagines a fantasy collaboration between GARY NUMAN and KRAFTWERK.

Despite these darker offerings, METROLAND can do sunny side up too as on ‘Vers La Cote D’Azure’, while the brilliant non-album single ‘2013’ is embroiled in the bright and cheery optimism of a new annum.

‘See You’ is Passenger A and Passenger S having fun with electronic improvisations based around a vocal sample from a MARSHEAUX cover of the early DEPECHE MODE tune and while not strictly a B-side as such, the tightly packaged 7 inch version of ‘Inner City Transport’ is sheer synthetic joy.

The fourth disc bears the title ‘x+≠’ and features assorted rarities such as demo versions, unissued songs and unreleased remixes, all of which are only available in this physical format. The amusing ‘Smoking Is Not Permitted’ and the sparkling technopop of ‘The Elephant’ are among some of the great melodies previously discarded, while the more austere ‘Space Age’ offers a hazier approach that differs from what became ‘The Manifesto’.

Passenger S said: “We wanted to do something more than just a best of, we wanted to tell a story… and I hope we achieved what our fans expect from us, and that the compilation gets picked up by many others as well…”

Definitely more than just a best of,  ’12×12′ presents an anthology with side anecdotes and “what if” scenarios. There is something for everyone who is a fan of European electronic music, especially those blessed with an appreciation for something more tangibly visionary.


The ’12×12′ 4CD boxed set is released by Alfa Matrix on 26th May 2017, pre-order from http://alfa-matrix-store.com/metroland-12×12-4CD-box

An abridged digital format will also be available from https://alfamatrix.bandcamp.com/album/12×12

http://www.metrolandmusic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/metrolandmusic


Text by Chi Ming Lai
17th May 2017

SOULWAX Live at O2 Manchester Ritz

Manchester’s Ritz is an iconic venue for the city, having hosted everybody from local legends THE SMITHS through to THE BEATLES; a Grade II listed building and also notable for its sprung dance floor too.

Before Belgium’s SOULWAX even played a note tonight, the stage set was a synthspotter’s wet dream. A beautifully monochromatic and almost perfectly symmetrical set-up boasting an incredible array of mainly vintage equipment including an EMS Synthi A, ARP 2600 (with custom red LEDs on the sliders), ARP Odyssey, Oberheim 2 Voice and a Macbeth modular being amongst the gear on display.

It was plain from the off that this wasn’t going to be a low budget laptop-prodding live experience and that’s without mentioning the three drum kits! Two out of the three kits were Staccato ones; these unique looking drum sets (which have brilliantly been compared to ‘Humpty Dumpty’s shorts’ due to their flared-out look) were an essential tonight to help perform tracks from SOULWAX’s current opus ‘From Deewee’ which features three different percussionists.

What was also noticeable was the white acoustic tiling which lined the interior of the triple drum cages; in a nod to KRAFTWERK, the aesthetic of these recalled the clinical look of the German synth maestro’s Kling Klang studio soundproofing.

Opening with the instrumental overture ‘Preset Tense’ from the current album, the rippling synth arpeggios rose to an electronic crescendo before launching into ‘Masterplanned’ and the dropping of covers to reveal the three drummers; stage left and right and one behind the Dewaele brothers. Recalling the drama that used to accompany the imperial phase of DEPECHE MODE’s classic live shows, it was an undeniably stunning start to tonight’s show.

The majority of the night’s set was made of selections from the ‘From Deewee’ album with a few choice tracks from the SOULWAX back catalogue including ‘Krack’ and ‘Another Excuse’.

During ‘NY Excuse’, a metallic replica of the piston shaped robotic figure from the cover of ‘From Deewee’ rotated whilst being hit by a beam of white light as the song’s mantra-like quality took hold.

As the song hit its climax, Stephen Dewaele coaxed screaming lead synth sounds out of his ARP2600 and the track provided an undisputed highlight of the night’s show. Throughout the night, whilst many in the audience bounced up and down, others were transfixed by the spectacle of watching live electronics with three live drummers perfectly in synchronization.

For those that have witnessed the SOULWAX live experience before, their shows are presented in a breathless continuous mix format, with songs segued into each other, helping to maintain the club / dance vibe of most of their material.

Maintaining the monochromatic theme, piercing white lights positioned at strategic points on the stage were perfectly synced and triggered via the band’s Ableton software during the show.

After approximately an hour and half’s worth of performance, the band took a short break and then came back for an encore including a supercharged version of ‘Miserable Girl’ to climax the evening.

If a criticism could be levelled at the show it would be that it was maybe a little too heavily skewed towards the material from ‘From Deewee’ at the expense of some of the band’s stronger back catalogue. But considering the logistics of bringing three drummers, it made musical sense to bias towards these more recent songs as the featured musicians played such a big part in the creation of them.

What was ultimately refreshing about tonight was that there are still bands that are willing to take musical risks in the live arena and put on a show that was undoubtedly a major technical nightmare to stage and one that could possibly be a money-loser considering the amount of performers / equipment involved.

If you do get a chance to catch SOULWAX live or even their 2MANYDJS incarnation, don’t miss out on the chance.

This is about as far away from what some electronic / synth bands consider a live show… perfect symmetry indeed.


‘From Deewee’ is released by PIAS in the usual formats

http://www.soulwax.com/

https://www.facebook.com/soulwax/


Text by Paul Boddy
Photos by Roger Kamp
14th April 2017

GERMAN POP MUSIC: An Interview with Dr Uwe Schütte

The development of modern German pop music represents a cultural insight to the history of post-war Germany, reflecting its political developments and sociological changes.

It is also emerging as a new field of academic study thanks to the worldwide success of KRAFTWERK who were honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2014.

As an aid to scholars, teachers and students of German studies, sociology, musicology, post-war history and cultural studies, Dr Uwe Schütte has compiled ‘German Pop Music: A Companion’, a 270 page book discussing the post-war musical landscape of the country and its influence internationally.

A lecturer at Aston University, Schütte curated ‘Industrielle Volksmusik for the Twenty-First Century’, the first academic conference discussing the pioneering legacy of KRAFTWERK in January 2015. Among the speakers were The Blitz Club’s legendary DJ Rusty Egan, Dr Stephen Mallinder of CABARET VOLTAIRE fame and Dr Alexei Monroe who contributes a chapter on the development of German Techno to ‘German Pop Music – A Companion’.

Schütte himself discusses the pioneering retro-futurist legacy of KRAFTWERK. Over 25 pages, he dissects their Industrielle Volksmusik with an academic synopsis of their output from 1974’s ‘Autobahn’, a release he describes as “The most important watershed moment in the history of popular music in post-war Germany” to 2009’s ‘Der Katalog’, a career retrospective which marked a symbolic break with the band’s past as Florian Schneider left the group and Ralf Hütter moved the iconic Kling Klang studio to a business park outside Düsseldorf.

Of course, KRAFTWERK emerged from the horribly named Krautrock movement which is analysed in depth by John Littlejohn, a Professor of German at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. He highlights that much of this experimental music was instrumental and performed by groups or fluid combinations of musicians rather than solo artists. This reflected the form’s commune origins that came into being under the disillusionment of Germany’s recent past, the divided country’s military occupation and compulsory conscription, something which did not actually end in the reunified Germany until 2011.

Kosmische musik, as the locals preferred to call it, was also an exclusively West German phenomenon as the Communist DDR were more likely to clamp down on bearded, long-haired, drug taking types in its territory. Although a number of these groups like NEU! and HARMONIA did not get recognition until long after they had disbanded, TANGERINE DREAM ended up soundtracking Tom Cruise movies in Hollywood while CAN crossed over to an international audience and even scored a UK hit single with ‘I Want More’ in 1976.

Also discussed in the book to provide appropriate context is the conservative Schlager musical form which many associated with Germany before the influence of KRAFTWERK took a firm hold in dance music. Punk, Neue Deutsche Welle and Rap are also discussed, as well as Germany’s contribution to the Industrial genre through EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN and RAMMSTEIN.

Over the University vacation period, Dr Uwe Schütte kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about his overview of German pop music…

There are many books on German music and KRAFTWERK in particular, what inspired you to compile ‘German Pop Music – A Companion’?

Indeed, there has been a real upsurge in – mostly though not always – excellent books in English on topics such as KRAFTWERK, RAMMSTEIN, Krautrock, the Berlin music scene or German punk.

However, what I felt was missing was a kind of foundational work, a book that provides an overview of the entire landscape of German pop music.

The approach to the book is quite different to others, more like an academic guide aimed at students rather than music fans?

Yes, it is an academic book from an academic publisher. What I tried to achieve as editor, however, was to make this introduction accessible to both the general public and an academic audience. And that means: the target audience comprises not only of students, but also language instructors who want to use song lyrics for teaching purposes, or – say – researchers on French punk, who need an introduction to German punk in English.

Ralf Hütter described KRAFTWERK as Industrielle Volksmusik; this is an apt description as KRAFTWERK’s melodies often came from a classical tradition with a catchy simplicity that wasn’t far off Schlager… what are your thoughts on this?

Ok, I accept “classical tradition” but not Schlager, my dear! Though you have a point, of course, as KRAFTWERK’s music indeed represents an elevated form of simplicity, and it is their very combination of avant-garde electronic sounds and captivating, simple yet sophisticated melodies that makes them great.

In the book, you are dismissive of ‘The Model’ which could be described as KRAFTWERK’s best and perhaps only pop song. As this is most people entry point into KRAFTWERK and one of the few synthpop No1s in the UK, what are your reasons for this view?

Well, I never really personally liked that song more than any of their other great songs. I think I am dismissive of it as indeed it is the odd one out on the futuristic ‘Die Mensch-Maschine’ album, and it is too close to a mainstream hit record for my taste.

But don’t forget: the book is academic in nature, and it is the essence of critical thinking to revise established notions and to question received beliefs… but, to be honest, I also did it to tease the readers a little! *laughs*

But the DURAN DURAN world of models, clubs and “KORREKT” champagne depicted in ‘Das Modell’ was a reflection of KRAFTWERK’s real lives off-duty… or does all this spoil the illusion of “der Musikarbeiter”?

Yes, you are right in this respect. The song is the one exception in a body of work that is dominated by the strictly adhered to aesthetics of man-machine, futurism, technology and so on.

‘A Little Peace’ by NICOLE is described in the book as representing the end of the Schlager’s golden era, but lest we forget, it was actually the third German song to become a UK No1 in 1982 after ‘The Model’ and GOOMBAY DANCE BAND at the height of the New Romantic movement…

Yes, and I hadn’t known about this success in the UK until I started work on the book. I only knew that NENA’s ‘99 Luftballons’, in the original German version, was a hit in the USA too. I still vividly remember both songs when they came out – I hated NICOLE and loved NENA.

While ‘The Hall Of Mirrors’ has one of the better lyrics and is almost a spoken word piece, on the whole KRAFTWERK did not break the lyric bank, as exemplified by the title repeats as the vocal toplines of ‘Spacelab’ and ‘Metropolis’?

Indeed, and I think that was a good strategy. The music is powerful enough to speak for itself. Better to forego song lyrics than to use crappy ones….

You rightly highlight ‘Computer Love’ as visionary, predicting the society’s reliance on internet dating and social networking in a world of personal isolation. In many respects, this is the most human of all KRAFTWERK recordings?

Yes, probably… and lonely KRAFTWERK fans will have a hard time meeting women at their gigs, as it is always mostly blokes in the audience. Clearly, female KRAFTWERK fans are more interesting because many male fans hold views of German culture that I sometimes find problematic as a German.

Also, being in favour of the Brexit and liking KRAFTWERK don’t seem mutually exclusive in this country, sadly.

Your text refers to another academic Dr Alexei Monroe’s assertion that ‘Numbers’ is “dystopian”… but surely, it’s a just a high quality novelty track with multi-lingual counting that’s got a good beat? 😉

Alexei is spot on with his view, I think, and that is why I quote him. The genius of KRAFTWERK is that their art works perfectly on different levels. Children love ‘Die Roboter’ or ‘Autobahn’ for obvious reasons, yet these are two of the greatest works of art in twentieth-century music. And in the same sense, ‘Nummern’ is both a novelty song and a radical piece of concept art that sparked electronic dance music.

So what do you think of the view that the reclusive legend behind KRAFTWERK has perhaps caused them to be over-intellectualised in more recent years?

I guess I am the wrong person to ask this question. After all, it is my – self-chosen – job to intellectualise about the band, or to be more precise: their music and artistic concept. And, along with the publications by my colleagues, I think we only just started…

Do you have any purist view as to whether KRAFTWERK should be listened to in English or German?

Of course – in German only!

While German electronic pop music is of valid cultural importance, it did take British bands like ULTRAVOX, OMD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and DEPECHE MODE to make turn the roots of it into an internationally recognised art form?

Yes, I think one can see this as an equalizer after KRAFTWERK had scored first… *laughs*

What did you think of the later German electronic pop acts that had European success while singing in English, like ALPHAVILLE, CAMOUFLAGE, WOLFSHEIM, DE/VISION and U96 after KRAFTWERK?

To be honest, I never really cared about them, except maybe for ALPHAVILLE. I truly love PROPAGANDA, though.

In the book, Alexander Carpenter asks the question “Industrial Music as ‘German Music’?” As a German living in the UK, how do you feel about the image and sound of more aggressive bands like DIE KRUPPS, DAF and RAMMSTEIN who actually sang in German?

It all depends. I have always been a devoted fan of EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN and really like much of the early DIE KRUPPS stuff. Their latest release ‘Stahlwerkrequiem’ is also a triumph, in my mind. Gabi and Robert from DAF are my heroes – hearing ‘Der Mussolini’ for the first time in a student disco was one of the things that changed my life.

RAMMSTEIN are just pathetic. To quote Ivan Novak from LAIBACH: “RAMMSTEIN are LAIBACH for adolescents and LAIBACH are RAMMSTEIN for grown-ups…”

What, to you, have been the true indicators that German pop music has indeed crossed over onto the world stage?

That is a difficult question… maybe that many people would agree to the claim that KRAFTWERK were more influential than THE BEATLES?


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Dr Uwe Schütte

‘German Pop Music: A Companion’ edited by Dr Uwe Schütte is published by De Gruyter, available from all good book retailers

https://www.degruyter.com/

http://www.aston.ac.uk/lss/staff-directory/schutteu/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
11th April 2017

METROLAND Cube

“A cube is also a square parallelepiped, an equilateral cuboid and a right rhombohedron. A cube has 6 faces, 12 edges, and 8 vertices”

Belgium’s favourite passengers METROLAND are back to celebrate their fifth anniversary with a lushly packed, supremely designed 4CD boxed artefact entitled ’12×12′.

To launch it, the duo have released the ORBITAL-like spy drama technopop of ‘Cube’ as a single.

Captive in symmetry, ‘Cube’ comes with a corresponding video which director Passenger N says is “about how it’s useless to look around everywhere, all you have to do is to think about who you are and you’ll find people like you that will help you to be yourself”

Of the upcoming ‘12×12’ set, Passenger S told The Electricity Club: “We toyed with a ‘best of’ for some time, but compilations tend to be boring, adding not much interesting to people who already know you as a band. And so we exchanged ideas for 8 months and the result is the 4CD box ’12×12’”.

Each CD will follow a concept, with ’12×12’ collecting the duo’s 12 inch versions, ‘12+12’ featuring various B-sides or non-album songs and ‘12≠12’ compiling radio edits. However, the 4th CD with the title ‘x+≠’ will feature rarities such as demo versions, unreleased songs and unreleased remixes that will be available in physical format only. That said, the download version will include three exclusive mixes.

Passenger S concluded: “we wanted to do something more than just a ‘best of’, we wanted to tell a story. This is something for the true fans…”


The 5 track ‘Cube’ download bundle featuring the extended version, 2 remixes and an exclusive B-side ‘Led Me Think’ is available from https://alfamatrix.bandcamp.com/album/cube-ep

The ’12×12′ 4CD boxed set is released by Alfa Matrix on 26th May 2017

http://www.metrolandmusic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/metrolandmusic

https://twitter.com/MetrolandMusic


Text by Chi Ming Lai
10th April 2017

TEC PANEL INTERVIEW 2016

The Electricity Club’s annual panel interview gathers personalities from within independent electronic music to discuss the state of the synth nation.

Paul Boddy is a regular contributor to TEC who also has a double life as a successful producer whose credits have included MELANIE C, ARASHI and ECHOBEATZ; he also performs in the DEPECHE MODE tribute band SPEAK & SPELL.

Meanwhile, Adam Cresswell is better known via his alter-ego of RODNEY CROMWELL whose long player ‘Age Of Anxiety’ was a critic’s favourite in 2015; his previous bands have included ARTHUR & MARTHA and SALOON.

Last but not least is Rob Green, the frontman of synth combo THE DEPARTMENT whose debut album ‘Alpha’ was released in last year; he also presents ‘The Synth Wave Show’ on Artfefaktor Radio and has hosted several festivals around the country.

Together, they chewed the fat over a number of varied questions posed by TEC’s chief editor Chi Ming Lai…

2016 saw the climax of JEAN-MICHEL JARRE’s collaborative ‘Electronica’ project with a huge world tour. Was it an artistic success and if you were to undertake an EP of a similar concept, which acts would you want to collaborate with?

Adam: Whether it was a success or not, I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t there, but I’m sure it was good with lasers, fireworks, jugglers and all the stuff you would expect! Collaborations don’t excite me though, I’m not a solo artist for nothing! It’s like DAVID BOWIE and QUEEN, KYLIE and ROBBIE WILLIAMS, all that sort of stuff! UGH! I can’t think of anyone I’d like to collaborate with, I wouldn’t do it!

Rob: I didn’t see him live, but there are some great collaborations on the albums like ‘Here For You’ with GARY NUMAN. Because he’s such a historical hero and can still do it, pretty much anyone will work with JEAN-MICHEL JARRE. The results are good and there’s no harm in it.

Paul: I enjoyed the Jarre show, it was my gig of the year. My choices for collaborations would be Annie Lennox, Liz Fraser, Morrissey… *laughter all round*
I would love to have Morrissey in studio full of synths just to wind him up! I would also pick Bernard Sumner and Alison Moyet. With this whole collaboration thing, I would love Vince Clarke to revisit THE ASSEMBLY with different vocalists. He’s been really loyal to Andy Bell with ERASURE, but I think he works best when he’s with different people, I think it would reinvigorate him…the track he did with Jarre was good and I think personally, he could do more of that.

KRAFTWERK are undertaking a major tour in the UK in 2017. Are they relevant anymore and have they been over-intellectualised now, particularly by the dance fraternity?

Rob: KRAFTWERK are a franchise now essentially and they’ll probably be going on after Ralf Hütter leaves us. It’s an amazing, technical show… is it dancentric? They’re closer to Techno so I can see why they’ve been intellectualised so much. I think they’re very important because I don’t think most of us would be here if it wasn’t for them.

Paul: For me, they’re like my equivalent of THE ROLLING STONES or THE BEATLES, they’re that important. What’s not in their favour is they’ve not done anything new for quite a while now, but their saving grace is their 3D show…

…but observers might argue the point that JEAN-MICHEL JARRE has jumped ahead of them with the 3D effects in his show, which don’t require the use of 3D glasses?

Paul: I dunno… what Jarre is trying to do, it’s like an EDM type show which works really well. I still think KRAFTWERK are relevant. TANGERINE DREAM are still going with no original members so as Rob said, KRAFTWERK will carry on. Ralf Hütter’s dream was always to send off a load of robots to do the tour instead and I’m sure it probably will happen. Someone will replace Ralf and KRAFTWERK will keep going…

Adam: I still think KRAFTWERK are relevant. When I think of some of the average bands that reform these days, KRAFTWERK had such a big effect longitudinally. In terms of the current thing, well I saw ‘Tour De France’ and of the Tate Modern shows and they were both interesting because one was promoting a new album and the other had the 3D thing. I don’t think they’re doing anything new this time though, it’s the greatest hits in 3D…I saw ‘The Phantom Menace’ in 3D and that didn’t improve anything!

I’m not part of the dance fraternity, but I am one of the people who have over-intellectualised them as I’ve read five KRAFTWERK books… and if people keep buying books about them, they’re going to be intellectualised, the market is there for that!

Another combo returning back to the fold are DEPECHE MODE… are Devotees just going to be disappointed again?

Paul: My glimmer of hope is that they’ve got a new producer on board for the album who will take them out of their comfort zone. I think the live stuff will be pretty much more of the same and I’ve not got high hopes for it.

Although I’m in a DEPECHE MODE tribute band, I’m one of these people who are bitterly disappointed about what they’ve become; they’re not the band that I fell in love with.

Adam: There’s lots of people who want four guys with synthesizers and a drum machine… if you’re expecting them to be like how they were at Crocs in Raleigh, you’re going to be solely disappointed. They’re playing stadiums, they want to put on a big show and if they want to play with a live drummer, I respect them for it. They are making the music they want to make. If you don’t like it, don’t go! Get a ticket to see something else! I’m not going to go!

Rob: If anyone wants Adam’s ticket, just send me an email *laughter all round*

DEPECHE MODE are one of my favourite bands, I saw them in Gothenburg in 2014 and it was a superb show, it didn’t disappoint at all, they can still pull it off live, there is no question about that. Next time I see them will be in London at a little place that was the Olympic Stadium. I hope that will have an element of the ‘101’ atmosphere and have some really energy and electricity about it. I think The Devotees are likely to be disappointed because I think they’re hankering for something from the past. If you love DEPECHE MODE, their best work is considered to be in the 80s and early 90s; Devotees are going to be judging it by the very best, so whatever DM come up with, it may be a bit disappointing for them. I really hope not.

Five years on from the ‘Drive’ soundtrack, synth wave appears to have made an impact as a sub-genre with the series ‘Stranger Things’. Will this be possibly the saving grace for electronic music away from dance?

Rob: It depends what you term as ‘synth wave’. To me, synth wave is like synthpop, pop made with synths but with a darker edge which has deeper meaning and soul to it. However, synth wave in the ‘Drive’ and ‘Stranger Things’ sense is about film music. It’s shone a light on electronic music that’s nothing to do with dance music which is a good thing.

Paul: What’s good about much of synth wave is that it’s instrumental; it gets away from the potentially dodgy vocals which get strapped onto a lot of electropop stuff, which for me is a deal breaker. A lot of this stuff is really well produced. I’m a big fan of PERURBATOR and DAN TERMINUS but what’s odd about them is that they’re on a heavy metal label. For some odd reason, metal fans are getting into synth wave and I can’t quite get my head around that! I went to a PERURBATOR gig and half the crowd were long haired metal fans… they were head banging to synth music, which is really quite bizarre! It’s easy to stereotype synth wave as being the stuff from ‘Drive’, but a lot of it has edge and is really good. And it’s not particularly dance music, it’s not techno, it’s in a middle ground in that it follows some of the rules of synthpop. It’s a good thing to have around.

Rob: But what I would hate synth wave to become is another dance sub-genre, which it could so easily do. I saw someone do a tutorial titled ‘How To Make Synth Wave’, that’s what makes it become like painting by numbers and then it becomes an electronic/dance fad..

Adam: I agree with all of that. I really the ‘Stranger Things’ soundtrack and the TV series; is it going to be the saving grace of electronic music? NO! I don’t think one album or one band can ever save a scene or the industry. There’s an awful lot more that needs to be done.

There appears to be a fashion for covering an entire album and reconfiguring it for an electronic audience. So what album would you cover and why?

Rob: Yeah, it would be something by THE CURE like ‘Faith’ or ‘Seventeen Seconds’. I love THE CURE and I think the songs on those albums would lend themselves to electronic production.

Adam: I don’t really like doing cover versions! You either do a good song and potentially ruin it, or you do something crap hoping you can make it better but equally, it might end up being just as bad! I’ve done a couple of covers this year and I deliberately choose things that suit my limited vocal range. So maybe I’d do an album by THE FALL or ‘Alpha’ by THE DEPARTMENT! Only joking Rob! *laughs*

Paul: Most classic albums, I wouldn’t touch. Some albums should be left alone. So maybe ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ by PINK FLOYD in an electronic sort of way…that would be completely off the wall!

Butlins recently had its ‘Electric Dreams’ weekender which put classic acts like OMD, HEAVEN 17, BLANCMANGE and MARC ALMOND with newer acts like MARSHEAUX and AVEC SANS on the same bill…has this event model has been a long time coming, what are your views?

Adam: It’s a model that’s been in existence for ages, like with ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ on the indie scene.

It’s good they’re doing stuff like this for synth based music; the only thing I will say is there needs to be a few grass roots bands on the line-up. I mean, if MARSHEAUX who have done five albums are the indie representative??

There needs to be some young talent, like a Max Verstappen of synthpop coming through…Electric Dreams, if you’re reading this, give me a call! *laughs*

Paul: My standpoint is that where people try to do festivals like Alt-Fest, it sounded like it was too good to be true, and it was! And the Vintage Festival thing, while it was a good line-up, I don’t think there’s a market to put on an event with quite niche electronic bands. Of course, we’re all getting a bit older so the Butlins scenario kind of works. It’s not a bad model to try and follow, as it fits the age range of the demographic that would go to it. Yeah, go to see some bands at Butlins and get the accommodation thrown in.

Rob: It’s a great idea, it’s like The Southport Weekender of the electronic scene and I hope it goes onto bigger and better things. If it could involve more newer acts in equal measure as the classic established ones, then great.

Adam: The feedback was that AVEC SANS owned the weekend apparently, how do you feel about that Chi?

I’ve struggled with AVEC SANS, they were first pitched to me three years ago. I did ask other people in case I’d missed something, but they felt the same. I’m always willing to listen again because acts can get better… after all, there have been some acts featured on TEC that weren’t covered with their first two releases… anyway which new acts are interesting you at the moment?

Paul: I’m terribly fussy with new music and hard to please but I like BATTLE TAPES, they’ve been my favourite band for the last year. I like how they can do the rock stuff but integrate great electronic elements as well. They know their stuff and their debut album ‘Polygon’ is outstanding for its songwriting and production. They can also cut it live and integrate a drummer with electronics.

I like PERTURBATOR as well but doesn’t work so well live. VOX LOW are an intriguing new French act; they’re more experimental and take elements like JOY DIVISION like the live bass and integrate it with electronics and dance stuff. I’ve got high hopes for them.

Adam: I’ve been listening to COMPUTER MAGIC from New York, a lot she’s a female solo act who does synth stuff. She had a really good album out last year called ‘Davos’ and a great EP this year. Of the more grass rootsy stuff, there’s RÉMI PARSON who does this Factory synthy thing in French and a band called VIEON who are geeky computer guys with those guitar synth things. But a lot of my favourite stuff with electronics has been more German-influenced Krautrocky, psychedelic stuff or darker electronic things like PYE CORNER AUDIO, ESSAIE PAS, VANISHING TWIN and CAMERA… yeah, they’re spelt with a ‘C’ which makes them really hard to find on Google! *laughs*

Rob: One act who really sticks out for me is GUNSHIP, a duo from the UK. They have some amazing songs like ‘Tech Noir’. They’ve got this new album out on vinyl, and you know how much I like vinyl… *laughs*

…I’ve heard vinyl is selling more than food now!

Rob: Yeah… anyway, there’s NINA who I think is a fantastic new artist, VILLA NAH whose album ‘Ultima’ you introduced me to and I’m loving. There’s also MICHAEL OAKLEY who another solo synth wave artist, KNIGHTS and there’s more, I could go on and on…

TEC is continually critical of posh boy journalists that can’t tell their tape recorders from their drum machines who seem to have a presence in the music press… a TEC insider recently confirmed that said ‘posh boy’ has no real interest in electronic music and is just following where he thinks the money is… how does this affect the credibility of any press for the genre?

Rob: Any attention helps, but if there’s more journalists writing for the wrong reasons, in a sense it helps because all ships rise in high tides…

…but this particular journalist keeps giving out five star reviews; they get dished out A LOT and I think if you saw too many five star reviews, the credibility of the writing has to be questioned?

Rob: On the one hand, any attention is good, but bad journalism in the long term is not good and the credibility sinks.

Paul: For me, the cardinal sin of journalism is being uneducated. I’m quite new to writing and reviewing so it has been a rite of passage being with The Electricity Club. There’s always going to be someone who knows more than you know, particularly with the advent of social media. Back in the day, it was different but now… I’ve done articles where people have queried dates and stuff, it can be tricky but you have to get your facts rights. At least with electronic media, you can correct stuff if you do go wrong…

…yes, but there’s a difference between getting a year wrong by a few months and failing to identify a known fact, something that was central to an act’s formation?

Paul: That’s a good point and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from doing journalism, it’s to get your facts right before you write!

Rob: I started off many years back as a music journalist in a small way, and you end up reviewing things that you don’t have much of a grasp on. You can’t like every genre but you just have to do your best. But if you’re focussing on a genre, you should know what you’re talking about.

Adam: I think artists moaning about the music press makes you sound like those Jeremy Corbyn fans constantly moaning about the mainstream media! As an artist, it’s not something I feel comfortable talking about. I think the issue is integrity, because that’s really what this question is about. We all have a responsibility to act with integrity because it rubs off on the whole of the scene and the whole of the industry.

For example bands should stop buying fake Facebook likes, promoters should actually promote gigs and artists should not get arsey with sound engineers when things don’t go their way. I’ve certainly seen a lot of that this year. We can’t all get it right all the time, but we have a responsibility to the fans and each other to at least act with integrity.

I could talk for ages about how the music industry has been ruined by metrics based approaches; where these numbers which can be manipulated are used in deciding who is good and who is bad. I’ve supported artists this year where they brought one person to the gig, but they’ve got 2000 Facebook likes. You go and you look and they’ve bought all their likes from Mexico or whatever, and these promoters are just seeing the metrics and the numbers! Where’s the integrity in that? It rubs off badly on everybody because the whole night collapses!

Rob: But I think people are wise to the buying likes scam now.

Adam: REALLY? I think some artists are, but not everybody… I could name one band who have bought 50% of their 20,000 likes!

What’s next for each of you and what would you like to happen in 2017 as far as electronic music is concerned?

Adam: I’m concentrating on my Happy Robots label next year and hoping to get a compilation out. I’m trying to write some new material as well with a new RODNEY CROMWELL EP in 2018 and a new album for release, I kid you not, in January 2021! I’d like to see somebody breakthrough big time in the grass roots scene. But we need more exposure at a national level, that’s the thing that’s really hard to get. I’ve been lucky to get national exposure and it’s really helped me so it would be great if more bands could get that. I’d like to see Rusty Egan getting a show on BBC 6Music; that could make a real difference to everybody.

Paul: Personally, I’m a musical whore and I work on all sorts of different stuff. SPEAK & SPELL have got some exciting stuff happening in 2017 while as a producer, I do a lot of J-Pop and K-Pop stuff but my hope is that DEPECHE MODE might make a half decent album. This one’s not been a classic year for electronic music by any stretches of the imagination, but there’s been some glimmers to keep it going. I’m hoping 2017 will be a better year and that not so many of our heroes will die, it’s been a been sh*tty from that point of view

Rob: My plans for 2017 are a new EP from THE DEPARTMENT and I’ve got Synth Wave Live on Saturday 1st April. It’s a new London festival to celebrate Artefaktor Radio’s first anniversary and to reflect station founder Renato Moyssén’s contribution to build this movement up.

It’ll feature NINA, NEON LINES, SOFTWAVE, STEVEN JONES & LOGAN SKY, TINY MAGNETIC PETS, BATTERY OPERATED ORCHESTRA, SOL FLARE, THE DEPARTMENT, BRUTALISTARCHITECTURE IN THE SUN, MECHANICAL CABARET, NATURE OF WIRES and COUNTESS M plus DJ sets from Mark Jones and Rob Harvey. You can get tickets at https://www.wegottickets.com/event/377517


With thanks to Paul Boddy, Adam Cresswell and Rob Green

https://www.mixcloud.com/paulboddy568/

http://www.happyrobots.co.uk/

https://www.mixcloud.com/robsoundgreen/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
12th December 2016