Alex Hush is the noted dance producer best known for his work in DAYBREAKERS with Ric Scott and before that, KOISHII & HUSH with Simon Langford.
Based in Toronto, undoubtedly now one of the liveliest and most creative hubs for modern electronic music, Alex Hush has an impressive portfolio that includes U2, MADONNA, ERASURE, PET SHOP BOYS, YAZOO, DURAN DURAN and INXS among others.
His latest work has been with DAYBREAKERS and an excellent remix of ERASURE’s new single ‘Hey Now (Think I Got A Feeling)’.
Alex Hush was also behind the famed seven volume ‘Retro:Active – Rare & Remixed’ CD compilation series on Hi-Bias Records in Canada which dug deep in the vaults for rare tracks by VITAMIN Z, LEISURE PROCESS and SEONA DANCING as well as featuring notable extended versions from the likes of A-HA, DEAD OR ALIVE, CAMOUFLAGE, OMD and THE CURE.
The Electricity Club spoke to him about his career to date DAYBREAKERS, KOISHII & HUSH and a whole lot more…
All the projects you have been involved with are largely associated with a dance friendly sound, what sort of clubs, DJs and environments influenced your approach to music?
Good question. I suppose I would say I was shaped by the music I grew up listening to in the 80s and to this day. In Toronto, there was a station called CFNY which played a ton of new wave and house tracks that were hugely influential. After that, people like Judge Jules, Pete Tong, Armin Van Buuren etc, all had a big influence with the tracks they played.
Who were the artists that you grew up loving?
ERASURE, NEW ORDER, DEPECHE MODE, PET SHOP BOYS, DEAD OR ALIVE, THE CULT, THE CURE, DURAN DURAN and many more. Even artists that only had one or two songs made an impact. I suppose for most people, if you liked one of the bands I mentioned, you more than likely listened to all of them.
So you love songs and you love remixes?
I do. I am no different than anyone when it comes to remixes. Sometimes a remix will turn a good track into a great track and other times I may not love the remix that was done. When it comes to remixes, fans can be very passionate and very opinionated and I am no different.
Who are your favourite remixers?
So many great ones but off the top of my head, the ones that I really like(d) are Shep Pettibone, Matt Darey, Tin Tin Out, Mark Saunders, Ferry Corsten. Any time their names appear you know you are getting something special.
Your first big name remix as DAYBREAKERS was ‘Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way’ for U2, there were a lot of remixes commissioned for that, what was your approach to make it distinct?
For that mix, we wanted to try something with a bit of a deeper vibe to it while using the vocals in a unique way. We did two mixes and Bono really liked the ‘main’ mix and had an idea for an extra vocal. So he recorded it and sent it over and we incorporated it into the final mix which we were really pleased about. Nice to have his input and something unique.
How did you feel when MADONNA came calling for ‘I Rise’? Did you get to find out what she thought of your mix?
Just to work on U2 and MADONNA tracks was a thrill. We got the MADONNA mix right after the U2 one and it was a lot of fun to work on also. Because of the style of song, we took that in a different direction and was glad she and her team were happy with it. No, we never got any direct feedback from her, but we were honoured that our mix was one of the ones chosen to be included on the RSD vinyl release.
DAYBREAKERS have produced a remix for ERASURE’s new single ‘Hey Now (I Think I Got A Feeling)’, do remixers get set a brief or is the point of being involved is that you are given artistic freedom?
I suppose that would depend on the project. We have never been given any sort of guidelines for a remix, but on occasion I have asked the label if they have any sort of direction for the mix. That can save a lot of time if you start out doing a mix in style a) and they really had style b) in mind. Other than that though, we have never had any sort of restrictions or template given to us.
The ERASURE mix was a lot of fun. We started out making a very progressive house sound and it was sounding good but neither Ric nor myself thought it was truly capturing the feel of the original. We completed that and set it aside, during which time Ric came up with a cool idea of a ‘pop’ mix, which ended up morphing into the final mix you hear now.
‘Marigold’ by the NEW ORDER offshoot SHADOWPARTY was another track remixed by DAYBREAKERS, would you like to be asked to work on an actual NEW ORDER song one day?
Yes! That is definitely on our bucket list! ‘Marigold’ was a great track to work on. Loved the original and having known Tom and Phil from NEW ORDER and BAD LIEUTENANT and getting to know Josh, doing a mix for them seemed like a no brainer. They are very passionate about what they do and great musicians.
Speaking of NEW ORDER, you worked with Gillian Gilbert on ‘Lifetime’ in KOISHII & HUSH, how did that come together?
I have been friends with NEW ORDER management for ages, and when we sat down to come up with our dream collaborators list, Gillian was on it.
Her vocals on THE OTHER TWO project are so good, we had to get her singing something for us, so we pitched the idea and luckily, she agreed! The entire NEW ORDER camp are great.
KOISHII & HUSH were known for using some unusual vocalists as in artists who were not known for singing. Had that been a conscious concept or did it evolve naturally?
Hmmmm. I don’t think we ever set out to make a ‘non singers’ list – it just kind of happened. We did have a running list of people we wanted to work with just because we thought the combinations would be unique and quite cool, but it was not really a concerted effort. I would say that of all the people we approached, we got about 90% of them on board. We still have many unreleased K&H tracks that will see the light of day at some point.
One example was DURAN DURAN’s John Taylor and ‘C’est Tout Est Noir’, what inspired the collaboration?
Well both Simon and I were fans of DURAN DURAN and I knew John had done stuff on his own and always liked his style. His track ‘I Do What I Do’ from the ‘9½ Weeks’ soundtrack really stood out in my mind and he considers ‘C’est Tout Est Noir’ a follow-up to that song, which is very cool.
‘C’est Tout Est Noir’ had a superb remix by Mark Reeder, when you write and produce a song, can you get “possessive” about things or does your experience allow you to remain objective?
Yes and no. Like I mentioned before, I can have the same reactions to remixes as anyone. What I do try and do though is remove myself from the equation and listen to it as someone not involved, which is not always easy to do. If you love a remix someone has done of your work, then great. If at first it is not really grabbing you, you need to think “ok, maybe this is not MY style but it might be for someone else”.
To be honest, I can only think of one occasion ages ago where a remix was submitted and we were not enamoured with it, but as it was not ‘our’ sound, who were we to judge? In Mark’s case, yes, it’s a great mix and we were thrilled to have him involved. I know John really liked his mix too and used it as the backing track on a vlog he made flying from London to LA.
The KOISHII & HUSH track ‘Rules & Lies’ was sung by Sarah Blackwood, what was she like to work with?
Total diva. LOL just kidding! She was great. Super sweet and did a great job on the writing and vocals. We met with Sarah at a coffee shop in London and hit it off right away. We were thrilled to have her involved because I had been such a huge fan of DUBSTAR. She is an underrated talent and would love to work with her again.
Is the album dying art? In the dance environment where there is less focus on the long player format?
It certainly seems that way, which I think is unfortunate. With so much of music being based on quick hits on social media, and with songs getting shorter to take advantage of streaming services, I think the whole experience that an album used to bring is gone. It obviously started with the ‘death’ of the CD and it has only gotten worse. Music seems to be the only instance where this seems to happen. You don’t watch bits of a movie or only read a few chapters of a book…
You’ve remixed DURAN DURAN, PET SHOP BOYS, YAZOO, INXS, WHEN IN ROME and B-MOVIE among others in your various guises, do you have any particular favourites from your career?
Oh sure. The remix of INXS’ ‘Need You Tonight’ was a big one and I think it still holds up to this day. ‘Storm In A Teacup’ for ERASURE and others, but it’s tough to pick out individual ones. They are all different and hopefully special to the listener in their own way.
Is there anyone else who you would really like to work with or remix?
I would really like to remix DEPECHE MODE or A-HA. I know we would love to work with a bunch of other people but I am not going to mention any names in case I jinx something 😊
What’s next for DAYBREAKERS or anything else you are working on?
We have our first single signed to a label and that will be coming out soon. We are really excited about this one. We think it sounds great and hopefully others think so too!
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Alex Hush
The one thing that Rusty Egan is not short of is something to say…
It makes him the most ideal guest for talk events and ‘An Audience with Rusty Egan’ returns to London this June for a fun couple of hours in the animated company of The Blitz Club DJ and VISAGE drummer.
Loud and frank, not always subtle and occasionally angry, but always interesting and lively, his anecdotes combine laughter, tears and a vivid eye-witness account of his role as a catalyst in popular culture over the past four decades.
The Electricity Club had originally met up Rusty Egan for what was intended to be a 10 minute chat to obtain quotes for a mooted Beginner’s Guide listings article but one hour later, the interview ended and only because he had a soundcheck to do for a DJ slot at Blow Up.
The resultant career spanning conversation over several cups of tea was far too enthusiastic, amusing and informative not to make public, so this is Rusty talking, with only a few edits to stop him from going to jail…
How did VISAGE come together in 1978?
Midge Ure and I had some demo time left over after THE RICH KIDS’ demise and EMI let us have Manchester Square Studios.
We got Barry Adamson and Dave Formula from MAGAZINE, Midge and me in, during that time we did ’If You Want Me To Stay’, ‘In The Year 2525’, ‘The Dancer’ and ‘Eve Of Destruction’, I can’t remember much about that last one as I wasn’t a fan, it was something Steve Strange wanted.
Photo by Sheila Rock
So ‘In The Year 2525’ and ‘The Dancer’ were among the first VISAGE recordings?
We did ‘In The Year 2525’ in half a day, but it was an example of the future sound of London you could call it, it was an example of what we wanted to do, as was ‘The Dancer’; these were demos for what became VISAGE but were turned down by EMI! ‘In The Year 2525’ was just me and Midge with him doing vocals and vocoder.
We were keeping it simple and all that but it was heavily influenced by KRAFTWERK. I had my CR78 Compurhythm and drum triggering while there was that Morse codey type intro. I loved it and I think still sounds great today, although some people hate it!
‘The Dancer’ was obviously influenced by NEU! as you can hear from my drums and a little bit of ‘One Of These Days’ by PINK FLOYD, we wanted that “sccchhiiiing!” and that was one of our trademarks. As Midge was doing guitar and John McGeoch played the sax.
How come ‘If You Want Me To Stay’ was made during those early VISAGE sessions with Ronny singing it?
I met Ronny in Paris, she was very androgynous and she had a low voice so people were going “is it a boy, is it a girl?”. I had this song in mind, Barry Adamson absolutely loved Sly Stone and at the time, we were being VISAGE. We knocked out as much as we could, as fast as we could.
I adored that record and we had an instrumental flipside. It had a lounge type concept like ‘Cracked Actor’; we literally played it live, got it going and pressed record. I bought the Swan Vestas to have the sound of the cigarette match burning.
Ronny later met Warren Cann who then introduced her to Hans Zimmer who he was working with in HELDEN at the time. Then through them, she met Vangelis and then Peter Godwin, so her whole creative life opened up. We remained friends and I’d often see her in clubs but as far as recording went, she was doing her own thing.
You spent a period playing drums with THE SKIDS in 1979?
There’s a hell of a lot of intricate drumming on THE SKIDS, when you talk about the NEU! drumming, I was trying to be a Motorik drummer. So on ‘Charade’, I got this CR78 drum machine banging away and the producer Bill Nelson, who did a great track called ‘Living In My Limousine’, he loved working with them.
So you influenced Bill Nelson’s later use of drum machines in his work?
Yes, I worked quite closely with him on the production of ‘Days In Europa’ at Rockfield Studios in Wales.
DALEK I LOVE YOU were in the next studio, I lent them my drum machine. Funnily enough at the same time, SIMPLE MINDS were in the rehearsal room there! So I’m stuck in Wales and going “Who’s here? Oh SIMPLE MINDS in the farmhouse!”, so we all got to hang out with each other as there was nothing else to do on a farm.
Want to know why the album is called ‘Days In Europa’? THE SKIDS had a hit in Germany and we were on a TV show called ‘Scene 79’ in Munich… it always happens to me but they only had one drum kit in the studio! It’s a live mimed show, MOTORHEAD were on before us and Philthy Animal Taylor wanted ALL the drums.
So I’m waiting for the kit to be moved from MOTORHEAD’s stage and the announcer goes “Und jetzt DER SKIDS!”… I’ve not even got my f***ing drum kit and I’m standing there like “great!”, the track’s already started and the roadies are bringing me the kit but it’s a live show! *laughs*
You got involved with the New Romantic mime troupe SHOCK and recorded a cover of ‘Angel Face’ backed with ‘R.E.R.B.’ for their first single in 1980?
When VISAGE was recording demos etc, I found out Midge had a professional relationship with some 70s pop writers Bill Martin and Phil Coulter who were involved with SLIK, the bottom line is this led him to know John Hudson who worked with THE GLITTER BAND and owned Mayfair Studios. I thought “Brilliant, I don’t have to go to Wales”
We sat in the control room talking, I loved THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s cover of ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll’ and said I wanted a sound like that clap, so John went round the back and got these two floorboards with some door handles and clapped them together, that’s how they the claps did those records! I said I’d like to do this sound but with computers and triggered drums.
I said I could make a track with this trademark sound but without physically playing anything. So I told him I knew this bloke called Richard Burgess who had been doing the linking interludes on the VISAGE album and had that massive Roland System 700 modular with the Micro-composer. Richard had a Fairlight as well, he seemed to be able to get access to all this stuff via the tech companies.
Basically Richard was my tech guy, he’d got hold of Dave Simmons and got me a deal on only the brain of the synthesized drum system they were working on, cos they hadn’t got the pads as they hadn’t been made yet. He said I could trigger them which is how I got the drum fills on ‘R.E.R.B.’
So basically, doing ‘Angel Face’ was the catalyst for ‘R.E.R.B.’?
We programmed the whole thing to do a cover of ‘Angel Face’ first at Mayfair and John Hudson said “You know I can get hold of Gerry Shephard who wrote the song”, so he came along and helped us with the backing vocals… and the lead vocals! *laughs*
Meanwhile, Robert Pereno from SHOCK did ‘Top Of The Pops’ as a member of TIGHT FIT for that ‘Back To The 60s’ medley before ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’!
You know that Tim Friese-Greene produced ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ and it was when Mark Hollis heard that, he got him to work with TALK TALK?
REALLY? Well, the sound of that was amazing! Anyway I haven’t finished!! *laughs*
So we’re talking about SHOCK, and “R.E.” Rusty Egan and “R.B.” Richard Burgess… so we had this 7 inch and 12 inch record of ‘Angel Face’ done, John went to RCA and said they loved it and would put it out, but we needed a B-side. So I quickly threw up ‘Angel Face’ and took off all the vocals and things, me and Richard sat at the piano to do that “da-da-dah” theme. I wanted to call it ‘The Red Bridge’ because it was in Luxembourg and has the most beautiful view, I had been there with Brigitte who was the girl’s voice on ‘Fade To Grey’, I wanted to get this feeling of European grandeur but we ran out of time to do any words. So ‘R.E.R.B.’ came out of ‘Angel Face’.
Now if you go back to THE SKIDS, on the album track ‘Animation’, the closing track of ‘Days Of Europa’ is ‘Animation’ backwards, but with the drums put forwards while Stuart Adamson and Richard Jobson wrote another song over it, but it was the basically same backing track. So I had this idea that you could do music over another one, so that’s what we did on ‘R.E.R.B’ with a new melody and those signature drums.
Your first remix was ‘ Burundi Black’…
It was 1980 and I’m DJing in a club. I knew Marco Pirroni from ADAM & THE ANTS and they dropped this record ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’ and I knew it was the Burundi drums. So I said to my then partner Jean-Philippe Iliesco who produced SPACE about wanting to get hold of it and he said he knew Eddie Barclay of Barclay Records who had released it; so he called him and got the multi-tracks for me. I just wanted the drums on their own with the tribe and no music, then I added a drum machine and some playing, I wanted this tribal feel and the future together.
I don’t believe I did a great job on that to be honest… it’s funny but recently Mark Reeder released an album ‘Mauerstadt’ and as I was listening to it, I noticed one track ‘Giant Mushrooms’ was like that, I heard the Burundi sample and loved it. I mentioned it to Mark and said “Oh, you sampled Burundi” but he replied he’d sampled someone who’d sampled Burundi! *laughs*
And that’s the world of sampling now! I might come back to that you know, I’ve got an idea based on what you can do today.
Let’s talk about ‘Yellow Pearl’…
If I’m not mistaken, ‘Yellow Pearl’ was a track that Midge was working on for the VISAGE album but hadn’t got past the drum machine stage. But I had done the break in a rehearsal room somewhere with him that lodged in his head.
After Midge did the THIN LIZZY tour, Phil Lynott came to The Blitz Club and heard the sounds there so when he was doing his solo album, he said he wanted me in on the drums. I did a few songs like ‘Kathleen’ which were very normal. Then I got this call back from Midge that Phil wanted me to do ‘Yellow Pearl’ and use that break. So I said “yeah”, turned up and I did that. Then Midge’s manager showed up with a single piece of paper and asked me to sign my life away so I did, then it got on ‘Top Of The Pops’ as the theme and I was a bit p*ssed off because I’d signed my life away!
SPACE are most famous for ‘Magic Fly’ and you did a remix of a later single ‘Tender Force’…
When I get a remix, I don’t necessarily want to put Rusty all over it, I just like something a lot and I feel that I can shine a light on it.
If you get a song which you like that didn’t make it, sometimes a remix can bring people’s attention to the original and people go “I heard this version by Rusty which I didn’t like, but then I found the original”. So I did timbale drumming cos when you’re a drummer, why don’t you do some drums?
SPACE introduced me to Didier Marouani and Jannick Top who were exceptional musicians, I thought these guys were amazing. Through them, I got on really well with Roland Romanelli and I programmed everything on his solo album ‘Connecting Flight’ which was very pioneering.
So what was ‘Do What Ya Wanna Do’ by THE CAGE featuring Nona Hendryx all about?
I’d got myself a TR808 by now, I had this beat and sequence to make people dance so I’m playing around with it and thought “why don’t I do T-CONNECTION but totally electro?”, it could sound like ‘I Feel Love’. I called up Gary Barnacle who played with SOFT CELL, he brought his bass playing brother Steve and we had this little Casio out for the break, there’s this 64 bar build with the percussion before I smash a light bulb, it was literally hitting fire extinguishers, bashing everything. It was great, I was grabbing everything in the studio, bits of wood…
Through my trips to New York, I’d known Nona Hendryx was session singing having been in LABELLE who did ‘Lady Marmalade’. So Vicki Wickham who managed Dusty Springfield and Nona suggested having her on the track. It was this time that I met producer John Luongo who had remixed THE JACKSONS, so it was all about dance music for me as The Camden Palace was about to open and had the biggest sound system in the world.
The final classic VISAGE track ‘I’m Still Searching’ was moody but still very New York…
It was actually just me and Steve, mostly me although I did credit the other members of VISAGE because at the time, I didn’t believe we had split up, the fact that they weren’t there was irrelevant. VISAGE was always about a group of people where some show up and some can’t like John McGeoch, but he was still a member. So we had to do a B-side…
It’s unusual in that it was a VISAGE B-side that had a vocal…
Yeah, it was just one finger on the synth…
It sounded a bit like PET SHOP BOYS…
I’d never heard of PET SHOP BOYS back then in 1982…
Well that’s cos they didn’t exist at the time! *laughs*
Ok, so what’s the story about your UK remix of MADONNA’s ‘Everybody’?
I’ve been recently linking and tweeting over the years about how upset I am about this, but the reason I’m upset is based on my knowledge of Blockchain and how in the future, musicians will ALL be paid, there will be none of this not paying people and all the b*llocks that the music industry loves…
So the bottom line is we did a verbal agreement in New York that I would remix the track for Warner Bros that needed a British introduction. Basically at the time, you could make it easier in England than you could in America.
Was this a thing you sorted with Seymour Stein of Sire Records who were part of the Warners set-up?
Yes, I did a lot with Seymour, I gave him SOFT CELL whose publishing I looked after, B-MOVIE, the ‘Batcave: Young Limbs And Numb Hymns’ compilation album, we did a lot.
Everything was agreed and we put her on at The Haçienda in Manchester, that would introduce her to ‘cool’ England, the tune would be cool and I think it did the job, the press were all over it. I think I did a great mix and you can find it online. If you go to madonna.com there is information on it even though it’s not credited “Rusty Egan”, it says “UK mix” but that IS the Rusty Egan mix. I only played my mix at The Camden Palace, all the time…
So what did you do specifically on your mix that was different to make it more UK friendly?
I gave it a lot more space, it was more on vocals and guitar because I liked that rhythm thing like on ‘The Anvil’ plus I especially liked the talking. I think the regular MADONNA version is a pop song and I made it more of a seductive groove in a club, I extended the breaks, I put echoes and delays on the vocals and brought it right up.
So, let’s enter ‘The Twilight Zone’…
I had an agreement with Warner Chappell and each project they turned down, this was a Warner movie and a classic theme, I did not want to use the main theme, just the well-known sequence adding all the rest myself, bassline and string stabs and percussion. Rob Dickens of Warners came to the studio and said he would not accept the mix unless I edited in the main orchestral and organ theme. So it was released like that as ‘The Twilight Zone’, RUSTY 1 on Warner Bros Records.
That tw*t John Pitcher of MRC who stole VISAGE, ‘R.E.R.B’ and Blitz Club Records then added it to a compilation ‘Trevor Jackson – Metal Dance 2: Industrial New Wave EBM Classics & Rarities 79-88’. But what Trevor did was edit out the main theme back to what I submitted, so it’s all me.
TIME ZONE ‘Wild Style’, you’ve reclaimed this one…
The story is I heard this band called YELLO and I was invited by Ian Tregoning of their label Do It Records to meet them. There was this place on the way by train where these blokes SUPERSEMPFT had made a record I liked, so we went to their studio. I sampled all these records by BLANCMANGE and KRAFTWERK into a beat, programmed the drum machine, played the bass on the Moog and did all the pieces in one night.
I had a cassette of it and went on my journey to meet YELLO, but when I got back, I sent it to Celluloid Records in New York who released a lot of French electronic music I was liking like MATHÉMATIQUES MODERNE, the French seemed to like quite odd records at the time. Anyway, next thing I know, Afrika Bambaataa loves it and suggested we go 50:50 as I’d done the music.
But over the years, people online I’ve never heard of who have claimed they wrote it by logging into this publishing database, I didn’t know about that… in 1993, Todd Terry made a record called ‘My Definition Wild Style’, all he did was take the B-side of the record and added a nice beat, that was it! We don’t mind that BUT what we mind is he claimed he wrote the f***ing thing! I was furious, then a load of other blokes claimed they wrote it, so I had to get Notting Hill Music to say 100% written by Rusty Egan and all the others can F*** OFF! But they’d all been paid for 20 years!
Anyway, I reworked it for ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ as ‘Wonderwerke’ because I kept saying in German “Was ist das? Ein Wonderwerke?”, so I’ve reclaimed it from Todd Terry!
To continue the German connection, what about when you worked with German act HONGKONG SYNDIKAT in 1984?
These guys sampled Ronald Reagan’s speech in Berlin for a track called ‘Berlin Bleibt Doch Berlin’ and they did this beat. I met with Gerd Plez from HONGKONG SYNDIKAT, he played me the demos for the next album and I suggested mixing it at my Trident Studios and adding overdubs. We did this song ‘Divided By’ which was literally a pocket calculator that went “9-8-7, 7-8-9, divided by-divided by”, it was hard, maybe too hard.
Then there was a song called ‘Too Much’, I introduced him recently to HP Hoeger and the chill out mix has ended up on a few ‘Buddha Bar’ albums.
Now, you formed THE SENATE and released ‘The Original Sin’…
Yeah, with Kirk Brandon… well, ‘The Original Sin’ was the one everyone says is about Kirk’s friendship with Boy George. Now the other day on The Blitz Club Facebook group, there’s a picture of Kirk Brandon which the poster labelled “closet”, what a f***ing thing to write? Don’t forget, The Blitz was a place where people who were unsure of their sexuality could go to.
While it wasn’t a gay club, you had to be open-minded so why do we have people on The Blitz Club Facebook group talking like a homophobic thug?
Well it’s rather like electronic music fans who are into KRAFTWERK ‘Europe Endless’ and ULTRAVOX ‘New Europeans’ but being staunchly pro-Brexit…
Yes, so basically this song is Kirk admitting that Boy George was a beautiful boy, as was Marilyn, and about when you’re 19-20 years old and you are unsure of your sexuality. We loved that “is it a boy, is it a girl?” time and when I heard that lyric “since you came into my life, I had to rearrange my heart”, boy did Kirk have a voice and I wanted to have this orchestrated epicness behind it, but I think I went way over the top!
Was THE SENATE meant to be a limited project?
Yes, it was one-off, me and Kirk were mates and I’d produced SPEAR OF DESTINY, ‘Mickey’ is a classic and featured Anne Dudley on strings.
PULSE’s cover version of LED ZEPPELIN ‘Whole Lotta Love’, you were having a hit again…
This was 1988, on the bottom of the rear artwork, it says “Every generation has a musical revolution…” and I was part of the 1980 musical revolution. But I was sitting in the Island Records office, working as a friend for U2 on a little salary, I’d lost my wife, my home, my car so basically I’m losing it, 80% of the people at Island were into DEACON BLUE and I was at my lowest ebb! It really wasn’t happening, I liked THE CHRISTIANS and SHRIEKBACK but I was desperately looking for something.
I knew Paul Oakenfold and all these DJs that had come to The Camden Palace so I thought to myself “something is going to happen musically to get me out of this”. But in the meantime, it wasn’t house as it hadn’t arrived yet, electro and techno had probably peaked. I did this psychedelic record sleeve and I just thought of Robert Plant, so I had this idea of doing ‘Whole Lotta Love’ with Tracy Ackerman from SHAKATAK on vocals, an amazing singer.
Dave Robinson who was Stiff Records but now Island MD at that time was linked with Trevor Horn cos of FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD.
So I was invited down to Sarm Studios and they offered to let me use it, so we made that! Then U2 released it on their Son Records imprint…
Ah yes, Son Records released that novelty Country & Western cover of ‘The Fly’ by THE JOSHUA TRIO and ‘Riverdance’…
And again, I never got paid! *laughs*
So it all ended for a few decades but you came back with a club remix of FILTHY DUKES ‘Messages’ in 2009…
I think it’s f***ing great that mix! The late Mick Clark who signed SOUL II SOUL suggested I remix so they put me in this studio with all the parts of FILTHY DUKES, but of course I hadn’t been in one for 20 years so didn’t know what to do, it was all computerised! So I’m there with this guy Sie Medway-Smith who I was told had remixed DEPECHE MODE and I was like “WHAT?”… they said he was the right guy for me.
BUT, when you go back into the studio for the first time in ages and don’t really know how it works anymore, you tend to let other people do things and then say “I don’t like it”… but when you say “I don’t like it”, it tends to go down like nails down a blackboard! So what happened with him was he went “well, this is how it works mate!”
I just wanted it simple and I did all the synths, but everything about it was an argument! Sie Medway-Smith was way advanced and in-demand so acted like he was doing me a favour, I couldn’t p*ss him off!
So there’s this interesting side-story with LA ROUX…
Because of that mix, through Mick Clark I got the chance to see and remix LA ROUX. I went to the Notting Hill Arts Club and I heard ‘Bulletproof’. So I went back to Sie and said “I want to do this!”, but he went “it’s f***ing rubbish Rusty”! Sie pulled up the lead vocal and said “it’s terrible” and I was like “IT’S NOT! IT’S A POP SONG!”, so we basically had this argument. I’m trying to do a remix and he’s literally downing tools, doing anything to avoid finishing it! *laughs*
I was powerless cos I don’t know what to do, so we get like a half finished version to Mick Clark who said “it’s good but it’s not right and you’ve missed the deadline, they’ve gone for some drum ‘n’ bass guy and it’s blowing up!”…. I had to ask what that meant!! I was so angry! You can hear it on my Soundcloud.
Fast forward to 2014 and you do this mash-up with Antony Toga on TINY MAGNETIC PETS ‘Control Me’?
I search for stuff all the time and I found ‘Control Me’, I thought it was brilliant although the drums were sh*t, so I knew Antony Toga and his adaptation of ‘Seconds’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE so I mashed them together and sent it to the band. I said “I think you’re great and I love your songs but you need to sort your drums out”…
Funnily enough, I said the same to them after I first saw them live in Düsseldorf 2015…
It was only supposed to be an idea, but TINY MAGNETIC PETS made a video and uploaded it saying I did it but it wasn’t me as such. They left it as it is but I suggested they contact Antony Toga to make sure he didn’t mind. They do this version live…
Some of your most high profile remixes recently were for U2?
I had always been a U2 fan, but I lost it around ‘How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’. I hadn’t really reconnected to their new music, their first five albums were classic as most people I think would agree, although I did like ‘Beautiful Day’. But I reconnected on this new album ‘Songs Of Experience’, I felt it had a message and that message was love. It had vocoders, synthesizers and I thought “this isn’t your rock ‘n’ roll’, I would love to do something with this”.
So I wrote to U2 asking if I could remix them, not realising 20 other DJs had already done so. They sent me a link and they were HORRIBLE, sh*tty terrible EDM! I asked to do ‘Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way’ which I did with HP Hoeger, one without drums, one with drums and one in the style of ‘In The Air Tonight’ by Phil Collins.
NOW, we all know ‘In The Air Tonight’ is a Roland CR78 drum machine, it’s got this sound but I just wanted to put a beat on it, which I programmed on a plug-in. I sent it to the band and they loved this version but wanted more guitars on, so it became like the ‘band’ mix. But the Chill mix without the drums is my preferred mix…
U2 go with the ‘band’ mix which is not the one I love, but then this well-known remixer from Holland, Ben Liebrand is on YouTube and Soundcloud going “RUSTY EGAN HAS STOLEN MY DRUMS!”, so I’m like “what?”… I searched and found he had remixed a version of ‘In The Air Tonight’ in 1988, I listened to it and went “OH F*CK! It sounds like the same thing!”, but then that’s because it’s the same drum machine!
Anyway, when you Google “Drums In The Air Tonight Phil Collins”, there’s all these YouTube tutorials going “Hi! Whassup? Today we’re going to show you how to programme the ‘In The Air Tonight’ drums”… I was like “Hang on Ben Liebrand, there’s 25 guys here who can programme the ‘In The Air Tonight’, I DIDN’T do ‘In The Air Tonight’, I did U2 and used the same f***ing drum machine! There is no ‘In The Air Tonight’ drums on it, it is just SOUND!”
But using a drum sound is not like nicking a bit off an actual song…
That’s right! So if you want to get into that, I made THE ART OF NOISE drum sound! I’d brought JJ Jeczalik who did ABC into my studio, I paid him £500 to press all these buttons on a Fairlight as none of us knew how to work it, he took my sound and he had a band of his own called THE ART OF NOISE!
Was that the VISAGE ‘Beat Boy’ drum sound?
YES! You can tell ‘Beat Boy’ and THE ART OF NOISE are the same sound! We made it before! *laughs*
If Ben Liebrand had written to me privately about the similarity or whatever, we could have handled it in an “oh my god, I didn’t realise” manner. ‘Yellow Pearl’ IS my drum sound, people when they listen to music always go “oh, it sounds like…”
Let’s talk about ‘Thank You’, the closing track on your album ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’…
‘Thank You’ is as it is, I just believe a lot of people should say “thank you” but they don’t… so I felt when I made my album, my career and everything that I am is because of that list of people.
And even if in there I thank Nikonn who worked with me on that album and I clashed with, or people that I disagreed with, it’s about the music. I even end it poignantly by saying “VISAGE”, regardless of any problems or issues that I had with Steve Strange, I am still immensely proud of the music I made with VISAGE, so I am very upset when it is imitated or faked as anybody would be…
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Rusty Egan
William Mark Wainwright got his affectionate nickname Orbit from his friends who considered him to be something of a “space cadet”.
As William Orbit, the Hackney born musician and composer became one of the most revered producers, winning Grammys, Ivor Novellos and several other music industry awards.
Despite being a competent guitarist, Orbit considered himself unable to play keyboards well and admitted that it was the advent computers in music that allowed him to fully realise his creative potential.
His portfolio has ranged from electronic acts like KRAFTWERK, OMD, CAMOUFLAGE, ERASURE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, NITZER EBB and DEPECHE MODE to rock bands like QUEEN, U2 and BLUR.
However, it was within dance-oriented pop that Orbit made his fortune through productions characterised by his trancey soundscapes, sparing fretwork and understated rhythmic construction. He even had a Top5 hit bearing his own name, albeit with a radically different trance remix by Ferry Corsten of ‘Adagio For Strings’ in 2000.
Brought up in a classical music loving family, Orbit shocked his teacher parents by dropping out of school to pursue his more creative inclinations, having tried a synth for the first time at the age of sixteen.
Things came to came to fruition when a friend wanted to start a recording studio. That venture eventually became Guerilla Studios which has now been based in various locations over the past three and a half decades.
These days, Orbit is a very content man, hosting a classical music show on Scala Radio as well as curating occasional lecture and multimedia art events.
Showing little concern for the financial aspects of the music industry, his two most recent albums ‘Orbit Symphonic’ and ‘Strange Cargo 5’ were given away as free downloads on Soundcloud in 2014.
With such a vast and varied career, it would be quite tricky to compile eighteen tracks involving Orbit’s magic touch, but The Electricity Club will attempt to do that with the restriction of one track per album project. So presented in chronological order, here is a Beginner’s Guide to William Orbit.
TORCH SONG Prepare To Energise (1983)
Comprising Orbit, Laurie Mayer, Grant Gilbert and latterly Rico Conning who subsequently worked with Martin Gore on the ‘Counterfeit’ collection, TORCH SONG were signed by music entrepreneur by Miles Copeland; the advance allowed for Orbit to build up his Guerilla Studios. ‘Prepare To Energise’ is probably still their best known tune, a pulsating cosmic club favourite with robotic voices and synthesized textures which featured in the film ‘Bachelor Party’ that was maybe ahead of its time.
Originally available on the TORCH SONG ‘Wish Thing’ via IRS Records, currently unavailable
THE PARTNERSHIP was an unrealised side project comprising of Peter Saville cohort and ex-SPOONS member Brett Wickens with Roger Humphreys who together recorded as CERAMIC HELLO. Produced by Orbit and heavily influenced by KRAFTWERK, the uptempo ‘Sampling The Blast Furnace’ featured lead vocals by Andy McCluskey of OMD alongside vocodered voices and chants by Martha Ladly. The slower McCluskey-less demo was a bonus on the reissue of CERAMIC HELLO’s only album.
Having artists from Mute Records and their dance subsidiary Rhythm King who included S-EXPRESS being remixed at Guerilla Studios gave Daniel Miller first-hand exposure to William Orbit’s capabilities. So who better to ask to house-up ERASURE’s cover version of Cerrone’s electronic disco landmark? The end result was suitably vibrant while still importantly retaining the core of the tune amongst all the fascinating dance rhythms and interplanetary effects.
From THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s final Virgin album, ‘The Stars Are Going Out’ was a good tune from Oakey and Co that was one of four mixed by William Orbit in a bitty collection that also contained two songs produced by Martin Rushent and one by ex-ZTT cohort Bob Kraushaar. Strangely though, there appeared to be little of Orbit’s distinctive magic audible in the end result. It had been an unhappy time, as Orbit preferred to work without any of the band present, something they had not been prepared for.
Available on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Romantic?’ via Virgin Records
Combining modern developments in house music and dub with the feel of SOUL II SOUL, Orbit slotted right into the zeitgeist with ‘Fascinating Rhythm’ featuring vocalist Sharon Musgrave and rapper MC Inna One Step with an uplifting club friendly number that had “pulsating action” and was “breaking into heaven”. BASSOMATIC lasted for just two albums but it cemented Orbit’s position as a studio wizard who understood sound as well as the dancefloor.
KRAFTWERK Radioactivity – William Orbit 12″ Remix (1991)
‘The Mix’ was actually supervised by KRAFTWERK themselves, with the most significant makeover being ‘Radioactivity’ and its additional unsettling machine chant of “TSCHERNOBYL – HARRISBURGH – SELLAFIELD – HIROSHIMA” for an anti-nuclear message highlighting recent atomic catastrophes. For the single release, remixes were farmed out externally and Orbit’s version offered a more preferable electro enhancement than François Kevorkian’s house laden rework.
Originally available on the KRAFTWERK single ‘Radioactivity’ via EMI Records, currently unavailable
WILLIAM ORBIT featuring BETH ORTON Water From A Vine Leaf (1993)
If there was a track that could be considered the root of the recognised Orbit signature sound, it probably has to be ‘Water From A Vine Leaf’, his first collaboration with kooky folktronica maiden Beth Orton. Having met at a party and beginning a relationship shortly after, he asked her to contribute spoken word phrases and singing for the third in his ‘Strange Cargo’ series over some looping rhythms, hypnotic bass and chill-out vibes. Orton went on to have a solo career and work with THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS.
Orbit’s concept of adapting classical works came about because he wanted to make a chill-out album that had some good tunes. In his first attempt using a pseudonym, one of the key tracks was ‘Fratres’ by 20th Century Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Comprising of a six-bar theme, Orbit gave his electronic arrangement a sublime haunting stillness that explored the piece’s rich harmonic space via a slow meditative tempo. However, Pärt objected to its copyright infringement and the album was quickly withdrawn.
Originally on THE ELECTRIC CHAMBER album ‘Pieces In A Modern Style’ via N-Gram Recordings, currently unavailable
With Orbit having remixed ‘Erotica’ in 1992, Ms Ciccone was keen to work with the Englishmen, spending four and a half months at Larrabee Studios in Hollywood. ‘Ray Of Light’ was an interpolation of a little known 1971 song ‘Sepheryn’ by the British folk duo of Dave Curtiss and Clive Maldoon. Despite its frantic pace, Orbit ensured that the rhythmic elements were subtle in their make up to procure an earthy rave quality that was the antithesis of most dance music of the era.
With his new found fame via MADONNA, Orbit was given the opportunity to reissue ‘Pieces In A Modern Style’ and included several new recordings, one of which was Ludwig Van Beethoven’s lesser known ‘Triple Concerto’. With synthetic bells and glistening pentatonics reminiscent of Ryuichi Sakamoto added for a soothing lullaby effect, use was also made of the metallic percussive loop that had been part of his version of Arvo Pärt’s ‘Cantus’ from the original withdrawn album… waste not, want not!
Following MADONNA’s success, next in line for the Orbit treatment were London girl group ALL SAINTS. Having scored a No1 with the sublime ‘Pure Shores’ from ‘The Beach’ soundtrack, the combination did it again with ‘Black Coffee’. Orbit’s dreamy electronic aesthetics, spacey effects and minimal textural guitar worked perfectly for the soulful quartet to produce something that was commercial and accessible yet otherworldly and unconventional.
With his high-public profile thanks to MADONNA and ALL SAINTS, it was no big surprise when U2 came calling. With a suitably airy beginning and heavy on acoustic guitar for the more esoteric sound that the Dubliners had been peddling since working with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, in the end ‘Electrical Storm’ just built up to sound just like U2, albeit with occasionally prominent windy electronic textures. There was also a second Orbit produced tune in ‘The Hands That Built America’.
WILLIAM ORBIT featuring SUGABABES & KENNA Spiral (2006)
Continuing his flirtation with out-and-out pop, Orbit teamed up with the UK pop’s answer to Charlie’s Angels SUGABABES and US/Ethopian artist Kenna on this slice of ambient electro R’n’B. Continuing to collaborate with TORCH SONG bandmates Laurie Mayer and Rico Conning, while the ‘Hello Waveforms’ album continued in the chill-out vein of ‘Pieces In A Modern Style’ and even included ‘The Humming Chorus’ by Puccini, prominent vocals were in the mix as well as real strings and brass.
By the mid-noughties, Robbie Williams was the biggest popstar in the world but strange things were happening in the wake of his split with hit collaborator Guy Chambers. Finding a new collaborator in Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy, he belatedly went electroclash with their first fruit of labour ‘Radio’. He then went all Synth Britannia on ‘Rudebox’, working with PET SHOP BOYS but also covering his new writing partner’s ‘Kiss Me’ and THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Louise’ which Orbit produced…
Available on the ROBBIE WILLIAMS album ‘Rudebox’ via EMI Records
WILLIAM ORBIT featuring SARAH BLACKWOOD White Night (2010)
During the CLIENT hiatus, Sarah Blackwood took time out to work on ‘White Night’, a Rico Conning penned track for Orbit’s ‘My Oracle Lives Uptown’ album which dated back to their TORCH SONG days. Although her version did not appear on the final tracklisting, her take was offered as a free download. More accessible than some of CLIENT’s offerings but more purely electronic than DUBSTAR, this was a priceless pop gem which lyrically expressed her pain during that period.
Originally available as a free download, currently unavailable
Producing a long awaited follow-up to his original electronic classical collection, ‘Pieces In A Modern Style 2’ continued where its predecessor left off, offering another predominantly chill-out album that had some good tunes. But one of the bonuses was an unexpected novelty in a sparkling technopop version of Georges Bizet’s opera standard ‘Carmen’, complete with stabbing synths and dramatic percussive passages to portray the seductive title character as a kind of Barbarella.
A co-write with the one-time princess of pop, ‘Alien’ highlighted Britney’s feelings of loneliness. However, a vocal warm-up recording without her characteristic electronic treatment was leaked onto the internet, prompting Orbit to say in defence of the starlet: “Whomever put this on the internet must have done so in a spirit of unkindness, but it can in no way detract from the fact that Britney is and always will be beyond stellar! She is magnificent! And that’s that.”
Orbit had discussed how becoming a superstar producer had made him unhappy and how he was pleased to have blown his fortune as all he had done was spend it on first class travel and equipment he never used. So when he recorded ‘Did It For Love’ with actress, artist and performer Triana Terry, the sentiment couldn’t have been more poignant in a feisty oddball mixture of electronic, pop and rock dynamics. Together, Orbit and Terry have presented a number of exhibitions combining paintings and music.
Not officially released, only available on YouTube
When is synthwave not synthwave? When it’s synthpop of course and much of the best synthwave is actually pop.
While a lot of synthwave appears to be just formless meandering instrumentals made by gamer boys with a Lamborghini fixation, the majority of the best exponents have been female and tune-based like NINA, MECHA MAIKO and DANA JEAN PHOENIX.
Looking to join that roll of honour is ROXI DRIVE, a talented West London born singer / songwriter and actor with a crush on Ryan Gosling who confesses to “Living my Neon dreams one song at a time” and her debut album ‘Strangers Of The Night’ being “A collaboration of pure synth fusion”.
It imagines a world where Madonna Louise Ciccone and Pat Benatar get immersed in the wonders of the synthesizer and doesn’t forget the songs either.
Opening number ‘Run All Night (Chase This Dream)’ pulses the night away like a maniac with a neon lit vocal, while the breathy ‘Falling’ recalls the synthpop of THE FRIXION with its various hooks and counter melodies.
The enjoyable ‘Walking Out Of Love’ borrows from the guilty pleasure of classic Italo disco complete with a Moroderesque vo-coda although whether the variable equalisation on the drums is deliberate or not, it makes for a highly frustrating listen. Production quality also blights ‘Call Me Tomorrow?’ which is a delightful ditty that would have sounded even better with a more sympathetic widescreen mix.
The ‘Strangers Of The Night’ titled song verges into AOR like much of the current crop of synthwave and doesn’t work, but much better is the more synthetically charged pop of ‘All Night Long’.
The energetic new wave of ‘Synthicide’ sees a pacier electronic take on ‘Words’ by MISSING PERSONS and might have made it into a John Hughes film if it had been released in 1985, but as it’s a STACEY Q cover, maybe that’s why! Meanwhile ‘See It In Your Eyes’ interludes with a funkier vibe to contrast the album.
‘Behind The Mask’ takes proceedings to a moodier level in a manner not dissimilar to KIRLIAN CAMERA and would go down a treat with the Amphi crowd before ‘Stay With Me’, a marvellous ‘Drive’ influenced ballad with a touch of ELECTRIC YOUTH concludes ‘Strangers Of The Night’.
While a promising and varied record, some of its production is unable to fully exploit the potential of the material, with an inconsistent sound that lacks clarity.
Meanwhile, some of the vocal effects are also perhaps too overbearing at times in an attempt to get things heard over the busy backing; seven producers of varying experiences appear to have been credited on the album which could account for this.
While much of this long player could have been more sonically accomplished, what ROXI DRIVE has proved with ‘Strangers Of The Night’ is she can write songs. Coupled with the right studio team, she could be up there in the future with the best of the current crop of independent synth-based artists.
The long awaited synth collaboration between the East and West of the United States is finally here.
HELIX marks the musical marriage between the Rhode Island songstress Mari Kattman and the man behind everything ASSEMBLAGE 23, Seattle-based Tom Shear.
Kattman, previously of DAY TWELVE and MARI & THE GHOST, debuted with her personal signature sound on a rather fetching long player, ‘Hover’, where she collaborated with Matt Echo. The record settled in a genre of its own and turned many musical heads, including Shear’s.
It wasn’t the first time that his compass pointed East, as the pair had worked together on his side project SURVEILLANCE, where Kattman provided her vocal skills on ‘Husk’ from ‘Oceania’.
Tom Shear needs no introduction within the hard core lovers of electronica; being the musical, lyrical and vocal supplier of ASSEMBLAGE 23, which continuously provides top shelf synth offerings, appreciated not only by those “on the verge of collapse”.
It is therefore imaginable that such collaboration is bound to bring miraculous effects and show yet another side to the Seattle based producer. And indeed the new approach comes out on their debut ‘Twin’, especially with the opening ‘Widescreen’, where floatingly gentle melody creates the base for Kattman’s vocal journey further East.
If she’s out to snake whisper, she certainly succeeds, for ‘Anymore’ ushers a change of mood ear worthy a repeat play time. Subtly subdued, yet containing multiple layers of instrumentation courtesy of Shear, it provides an excellent canvas for the voice reminiscent that of Sharleen Spiteri’s. The power of ‘Bird Of Prey’ accents itself in this uptempo gem, where Shear goes vintage musically and on production, while Kattman channels her inner MADONNA, just like MECHA MAIKO had done on her debut ‘Mad But Soft’ couple of months back.
If you’re expecting ‘Kicking & Screaming’ to do what it says on the tin, you’ll be in for a disappointment. This piercing semi-ballad has plenty of subtle power, that’s best served with the addition of darkness, and perhaps it doesn’t prepare for the corker that is ‘Expensive Things’. Here Shear does what Shear does best: takes that beat and twists it into something amazing, adding a pinch of heavy synth and a dollop of ear teasing percussion, interloping with regularly appearing arpeggios and nudges of beats paying homage to vintage DM via ‘Shout’.
This could be a hard act to follow but ‘We Are’ does a good job regardless, changing the feel into a modern offering of off-beat hipster styles, leading into the school disco of ‘Like A Drug’. What SPECTRA PARIS did on ‘Retromachine Betty’, Mari Kattman does here; enhanced by electrifying guitar, fast paced rhythm and plenty of pink and fluffy synths.
While ‘I May Be Wrong’, HELIX keeps going and now Shear joins Kattman on vocals to make it right. This middle of the road track provides a delicate easy listening experience; star gazing and romantic, making Shear sound a tad like Peter Heppner, which is always a good move.
But the ripe beats return suddenly on ‘Live In My Heart’. And what a fast pleasure that is! Kattman goes quirky with her vocal provision and Shear shows he can do the club feel very well. Pure ASHBURY HEIGHTS on steroids, riding on Space Mountain, getting stoned… hang on, that’s LA based NIGHT CLUB… you get the idea!
As all good things have to come to an end, ‘The Beautiful Unseen’ ushers the wrap for the album. Slightly slower, deeper and marvellously executed, where the piano paves the way for the haunting voice and pointed synth, this closing track leaves plenty of thinking space and hope for continuation.
It comes as no surprise that Shear can deliver musically, it’s also not news that Kattman is a valid artist on her own, but those two twinned together provide higher levels of musical enjoyment.
While the debut offering from HELIX may feel like a mixed bag for some and too demure for others, let’s not forget that musical knowhow is deeply ingrained in the pair, and for their first full album as a newly found partnership, ‘Twin’ provides heaps of listening pleasure.
And if it’s too mainstream for you, go and indulge in ASSEMBLAGE 23 instead. Either way, you won’t miss out on the good thing.