To celebrate 40 years since the release of their very first recording, SOFT CELL have re-released their debut EP ‘Mutant Moments’ as a 10 inch transparent vinyl edition.
Originally released as limited run of 2000 7” singles in October 1980 on the band’s own Big Frock imprint, the EP sold out immediately. Less than two years later, SOFT CELL would score five Top 5 UK hit singles in the space of just 13 months.
On the striking self-produced artwork, SOFT CELL were credited as David Ball (Synthesizer, Tapes, Electronics), Marc Almond (Vocals, Synthetic Scratch) and Steve Griffith (Visuals). Meeting as art students at Leeds Polytechnic, Almond needed music for his performance art so with his Korg 800DV synthesizer, Ball had the avant-garde credentials that the flamboyant vocalist was looking for.
“‘Mutant Moments’ was very homemade”Dave Ball told The Electricity Club in 2018, “very lo-fi and made on no money, done at art college”. On this reissue, he has personally supervised the remastering process to ensure a vast improvement on the original pressing, declaring it as “A vintage slice of lo-fi Polytechnic synthpop, lovingly remastered for you”.
Gloriously gritty, ‘Potential’ began the four song set with a metronomic buzzfest while the wonderful ‘L.O.V.E Feelings’ was a melodic sign of things to come with some basic but beautiful synth sounds and an air of John Barry’s ‘Midnight Cowboy’.
Although ‘Metro MRX’ was to sonically improved later when produced by Daniel Miller for a Flexipop giveaway, the ‘Mutant Moments’ version was scarier, especially when Almond eerily announced “he’s my favourite mutant!” over a heavily processed otherworldly rhythm box.
While ‘Frustration’ ended up on SOFT CELL’s subsequent 1981 debut long player ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’, it was barely recognisable in its earlier incarnation with its synth hooks yet to be part of the song.
Meanwhile Almond’s distorted cries of “I WANNA DIE” were deadly sinister while Ball creepily deadpanned that “I’m an ordinary bloke”!
The wider breakthrough on the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ with ‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’ was to come in early 1981 as SOFT CELL duelled with DEPECHE MODE over whose track was the stand out. Rated higher at the time than the Basildon boys, Ball and Almond were signed by Phonogram and the rest is history.
It’s amazing to think how much of an impact SOFT CELL were to have in popular culture and everyone from FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, BRONSKI BEAT, ERASURE and PET SHOP BOYS to NINE INCH NAILS, PSYCHE, FISCHERSPOONER, TIGA and HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR owe them a debt of gratitude for paving the way.
The do-it-yourself art school aesthetic of ‘Mutant Moments’ importantly enabled it all to begin with its dysfunctional gutter pop and primitively wayward electronic backdrop.
SOFT CELL may have played their last show with a lavish adieu at London’s O2 Arena last September, but Marc Almond and David Ball continue to maintain their legacy with the publication of a luxury limited edition photo book.
Published as a 1300 limited edition high quality 21 x 28 cm hardback, ‘To Show You I’ve Been There…’ is the ultimate piece of memorabilia featuring over 150 images.
Spanning the whole of SOFT CELL’s’s glorious career, the photos range from when Almond and Ball were unknowns sitting in various locations at Leeds Polytechnic and their first shoot with Gucci photographer Paolo Di Paolo to the iconic portraits by Peter Ashworth where the pair’s hair gets increasingly longer in the run up to ‘Soul Inside’.
For synth geeks, there is even two pages devoted to Dave Ball’s gear, including a Minimoog, Yamaha CS-5, Roland SH101, Korg 800DV, SCI Prophet 5, Korg MS10, Roland CR78, Alesis HR16, Oberheim DMX, Roland TR707, Yamaha QS330 and the distinctive core of the classic SOFT CELL sound, the Roland Synthe-Bass.
Photos by Peter Ashworth
Featuring commentary from Ball and Almond courtesy of new interviews with Mark Paytress, the story begins in 1979 around the Winter Of Discontent. “Imagine how heavy it was back then. Leeds was full of National Front supporters and there was a lot of intolerance around.” reflects Ball on the state of the nation back then, sadly sounding like it is now, “SOFT CELL must have seemed revolutionary – a duo, one guy with a synth and a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and out front a gay bloke covered in eyeliner. F*cking hell, no one had seen anything like that!”
As SOFT CELL found fame, Almond recalls how naïve they were when they did their first major music press interview with Paul Morley for NME. As was par for the course, the scribe used his pseudo intellectualism to nastily and hypocritically look down on Ball and Almond for their Northerness; “Some time later, I bumped into him and pretended I didn’t hold a grudge but I kind of did!”
The SOFT CELL story is one against adversity, about how two working class boys shot to No1 and became a UK chart fixture, achieving five Top 5 UK hit singles in the space of 13 months during 1981-82 in a strike rate that neither THE HUMAN LEAGUE, DEPECHE MODE, OMD, JAPAN or ULTRAVOX ever managed and of their contemporaries, only GARY NUMAN even came close.
Each book is accompanied by an exclusive bonus 7 inch vinyl EP called ‘Magick Mutants’ containing four completely re-recorded tracks from the band’s early song archive highlighting how SOFT CELL saw themselves as the pop version of SUICIDE.
Best of the bunch is ‘Bleak Is My Favourite Cliché’ which has only been heard previously in distorted demo form on ‘The Bedsit Tapes’ and has since reappeared on the ‘Keychains & Snowstorms’ boxed set. The haunting reverberant electronic bass and doomy synthetic choir sounds provide an appropriate balance of glitter and grit to bring the song up to date, while a declaration that “It’s so European, bleak, it’s very bleak today” is strangely poignant and down with the zeitgeist.
Photo by Paul Cox
Driven by a solid synthbass triplet, ‘Science Fiction Stories’ is gloriously danceable and minimal, characterised by its spacey synth theme. Another demo from ‘The Bedsit Tapes’ sessions, like with ‘Bleak Is My Favourite Cliché’, its potential gets more fully realised and is deservedly as Almond himself sings “not to be forgotten”.
Originally one of the highlights on the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ compilation, the revisit of ‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’ is interesting if only to compare the vocals of the wayward energetic student Almond of 1981 with the battle-hardened abstinent artiste of today. The synths are as menacing as ever if missing the hiss and noise of vintage recording but on this one, the recklessness of youth has gone.
In a recognition of their art school roots at Leeds Polytechnic, Marc Almond and Dave Ball play tribute to fellow student and inspiration Frank Tovey with an authentic cover version of FAD GADGET’s ‘Back To Nature’. While remaining as detached as the original with deep dual voices for a schizophrenic quality, albeit with one part in a more torchy manner, as the sombre mood piece comes to its conclusion, Almond adds it’s all “For Frank”.
With artwork created by Dave Ball as on SOFT CELL’s debut EP ‘Mutant Moments’, the tracks on this 7 inch vinyl (with corresponding traceable downloads via an exclusive individual code) will ONLY be available by purchasing this book.
Full of “Postcards, pretty pictures and little bits of plastic”, this artefact is a must for SOFT CELL fans, but for popular culture observers too because without Marc Almond and Dave Ball paving the way, life might have been that bit more difficult for BRONSKI BEAT, ERASURE and of course, their most obvious successors PET SHOP BOYS.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Stuart Kirkham
Hailing from Orange County, PLASMIC describes herself as “your abused Barbie doll from childhood”.
Detonating infectious lo-fi synth bombs while full of femme rage fuelled by childhood anxiety, a hybrid of CRYSTAL CASTLES, DEVO, MINISTRY and DIVINE forms various parts of her artistic DNA.
Lauren Lusardi is the precocious talent behind PLASMIC. Offering a burst of delightfully odd escapism with a portable Yamaha Reface strapped round her neck, her recent appearance at TEC005 showcased her as a feisty live performer.
Displaying an energetic punk attitude like Siouxsie Sioux genetically mutated with Molly Ringwald if she was into Gothic Lolita fashion, she is already a veteran of three EPs releases.
The undoubted standout from her latest release ‘Validation Nation’ is ‘Baby Machine’, an immensely catchy feminist electropop anthem utilising a mixture of vintage Casio and Yamaha sounds that challenges the expectations of women to bear children.
And as the song’s brilliant accompanying video produced by Mental Pictures and directed by Kenneth Lui shows, she will NOT say yes to this monster of a dress!
While she was in London, PLASMIC chatted to The Electricity Club about her music and independently minded ethos…
You describe yourself as “your abused Barbie doll from childhood”, what was it like for you growing up in Orange County and how did it shape who you are?
I was born in Los Angeles where my parents met, we then moved to Mission Viejo shortly after my brother was born. Growing up in Orange County sounds like a dream, but the more south you get, the more conservative. We know what that means for anyone who is even remotely different. I learned very early on the problems with our country and violence towards women, queers and people of colour.
Where I live you see a trump sign or confederate flag every couple of houses. People protest in front of Planned Parenthood every Sunday. It’s shaped the person I am today and I will always stand up for what’s right.
You studied electronic music at a local community college, what did that involve and how did you realise this would be a good tool for your artistic expression?
I had been toying with production since I was 16 so when I arrived I had realized I taught myself everything.
I took the three only classes that applied to my interests: Ableton 1&2 and audio engineering. I had an awesome professor in my audio engineering class.
I knew being the brain power behind my art was the only way to go. I was eager to learn new recording techniques to bring to my little home studio.
It must have been quite interesting when you brought your portable Yamaha into class? And now Yamaha themselves came calling?
Yeah, I’d been tagging them on Instagram and Facebook with the Reface. Then the NAMM shows came around at the Convention Centre in California where all the musicians are seen and Yamaha asked me to demonstrate their new keytar so that was really exciting!
Which particular electronic acts drew you in and became influences on PLASMIC?
I really love PEACHES, FEVER RAY, CRYSTAL CASTLES and Alice Glass in particular. When I was growing up, I remember I was listening to DEVO and I was like “OH MY GOD!”; it was what really made me want to make music, Mark Mothersbaugh is my favourite.
Your most recent latest release is ‘Validation Nation’, is it a concept EP of sorts?
I guess it’s conceptual. PLASMIC is super confident and fiery, but off the stage validation is what I seek to move forward. I have trouble believing in my work. That’s what sparked ‘Validation Nation’. I didn’t intend for all the themes to go hand in hand, but I guess that concept worked out! On the title song, one of the lines is “I’m gonna wear colour that once segregated me, to prove your words never meant a thing”, that’s kinda my life right there, everything is pink. I wasn’t always this pink, but I’ve embraced this femininity like a happy chaos. *laughs*
From it, ‘Baby Machine’ is catchy feminist electropop anthem… what inspired that?
The song is about the expectations upon female presenting folks to settle down, have babies and conform to the American dream of being a housewife. But where does that leave queer folks and those who cannot conceive?
‘Baby Machine’ is an anthem against pro-lifers and strict parents who have preconceived notions of what their child will do for them. It’s an anthem for anyone who feels pressured to have kids.
Does ‘Compliance’ confront the longstanding issue of patriarchy?
Actually ‘Compliance’ is about opioid use.
You’ve described ‘Revenge’ from your self-titled EP as cathartic?
Writing ‘Revenge’ was the moment I turned my life around. I never stood up for myself, I always felt like my abuse was my fault and that wasn’t the case. There wasn’t a #MeToo movement when I wrote the song. People told me I should apologize for my rapist going to jail (for only a week. Lame.) Instead of continuing to feel sorry myself, I said f*ck it. I’m aloud to be angry. I want other people to hear this and know that their feelings are valid. You need to be your own hero, you bleed when you create art, that’s how I coped.
You recently issued a delightful cover of ‘Female Trouble’ to celebrate the birthday of the late actor and HI-NRG diva DIVINE?
In LA, I perform a lot of shows but my favourites are the Lethal Amounts ones. There was this DIVINE Ball where a bunch of queens were competing to be the best DIVINE and I was invited to perform this cover. I did it differently like if it was on her ‘Jungle Jezebel’ album. It was really fun, Traci Lords was there.
On the other side of the coin, there was also a cover of ‘Every Day Is Halloween’ by MINISTRY, is there anything else you would like to have a go at reinterpreting?
I have a huge list that I want to redo, but that one was a big one for sure, I’m a huge MINISTRY fan and it was a homage to them, they helped shape my sound as I was growing up and learning about drum machines and stuff.
You opened for Marc Almond in LA at Sex Cells, what was that like?
SOFT CELL are the gods of synthpop, every song is so good. Meeting Marc Almond was a big milestone for me. I owe it all to Lethal Amounts for having me on the line-up!
There were a lot of artists on that bill and Marc was the most humble and the kindest person. He was so professional but also so down to earth, not a diva at all, so nice and awesome. I got to see his soundcheck.
It was the first time I played a set with dancers and they killed it. Vladonna and Crystal Pallace were my epic dancers. I still can’t believe I got to dance on stage with Marc when he closed out with ‘Sex Dwarf’. A bucket list moment for sure.
Is it true you are related to Linda Lusardi?
So here’s the story! I was at the airport going through customs and they looked at my name and asked “Are you related to Linda Lusardi?” and I’m like “WHAT?”, I didn’t realise she was a household name in the UK but it’s cool! All the Lusardis from Italy are related, so there’s a good chance that most likely we are. I can’t really do a DNA test! *laughs*
What are your personal hopes and fears as PLASMIC?
I think every musician is not in it for being a hobby, they really want to quit their day job and do what they love, right?
This is truly what I love, it’s my dream, touring the world and inspiring young women and queers to just be awesome.
I have a bit of social anxiety and have trouble speaking up for myself when I’m not on stage, so my biggest fear is probably convincing A&R people, but I think I’m pretty stern with what I do.
What’s next for PLASMIC?
There’s a lot of music and video coming so stick around…
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to PLASMIC
2018 was a year of good songs rather than good albums, with many of long players not as consistent or as of high a standard as the bumper crop from the Class of ’17.
However, The Electricity Club had plenty of material to choose from for its 30 SONGS OF 2018 and while it can’t include everything, worthy mentions go to ANI GLASS, BLACK NAIL CABARET, BRÜCKEN FROESE, DANA JEAN PHOENIX, DISQO VOLANTE, DUBSTAR, EKKOES, FAKE TEAK, FRAGRANCE, THE FRIXION, GUNSHIP, HILTIPOP, IAMX, LIZETTE LIZETTE, TRAIN TO SPAIN and WITCH OF THE VALE who were in this year’s shortlist.
Interestingly, three graduates from the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ made it into the final list, thus highlighting the longevity of that particular vinyl showcase some 37 years on!
So with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, here are The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF 2018 presented in alphabetical order…
AFTERHERE Breaking Rules
AFTERHERE is the brand new project of HEAVEN 17 singer Glenn Gregory and live keyboardist Berenice Scott, but with their roles reversed. Exploring their inner GOLDFRAPP but in a funkier vein, with groovy reminisces of ‘Twist’ and ‘Yes Sir’, the song seductively boasted a captivating sexually charged electronic energy. Berenice Scott said to The Electricity Club: “We always wanted to have a driving track on the album that you could hopefully move your feet to, party to… possibly get in a little trouble!”
Available on the AFTERHERE album ‘Addict’ via Manners McDade
While the Clarke was strong with this one, the first impression that came across with ‘Utopia’ was that things became a slight bit darker in the world of JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM. Despite that, there was a rousing chorus and percolating sequences to savour as he pointed out the futility of seeking that perfect future, when life has so much more on offer. “I wouldn´t describe the album as dark though” the DAILY PLANET synthesist helpfully told The Electricity Club, “it´s absolutely a pop album.”
Available on the JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM album ‘Utopia’ via Progress Productions
For BLANCMANGE, ‘Distant Storm’ was rather unusual with its dance beat, reverberant Moog bassline and dreamy processed vocoder aesthetic. With a rousing, almost spiritual quality and elements of JAMES’ ‘Come Home’ creeping in for good measure, it displayed Neil Arthur’s comfort in working with producer Benge on effectively their third album together. “I wanted to sing it as though it was really detached with my voice being synthesized” he told The Electricity Club.
Available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘Wanderlust’ via Blanc Check Records
Veteran Mansfield quartet B-MOVIE made their most electronic pop single to date with the chilling aesthetics of ‘Stalingrad’. Complete with an infectious synth melody, an eerie mezzo-soprano and using the crucial Second World War battle as a metaphor for a doomed relationship, it was possibly Steve Hovington, Paul Statham, Rick Holliday and Graham Boffey’s best song since their 21st Century reformation; appropriately, its B-side was called ‘Something Cold’…
Available on the B-MOVIE EP ‘Repetition’ via Loki Records
‘Get Out’ may have acted as a superb launch single, but starting off their ‘Love Is Dead’ album was the wonderful ‘Graffiti’. This was a classic kaleidoscopic CHVRCHES tune that punched the sky with some rousing vocals. It was also a supreme singalong showcasing Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Docherty in full bouncy Taylor mode. Despite the downcast lyrical demeanour on lost youth and the passing of time, this was still a grand pop statement.
Australian duo CONFIDENCE MAN were a ray of sunshine in 2018 with their own brand of campy dork pop, being everything SCISSOR SISTERS should have been. ‘Don’t You Know I’m In A Band’ was an amusing satire on ego and sense of entitlement in the music industry. With an electro take on the groovy swoop of WAR’s ‘Low Rider’, a pitch shifted Sugar Bones came over like an inebriate Teddy Pendergrass while Janet Planet delightfully counterpointed in her alluring girly manner.
CREEP SHOW is the meeting of minds between eclectic singer / songwriter John Grant and the dark analogue electro of WRANGLER whose members comprise Stephen Mallinder, Benge and Phil Winter. On ‘Safe & Sound’, the quartet explored a spacious KRAFTWERK and GIORGIO MORODER hybrid to reveal gradually some wonderfully warm melodic synth textures to accompany Grant’s passionate lead croon. The project led to Benge also working on Grant’s ‘Love Is Magic’ album also released in 2018.
Driven by a meaty electronic bassline and metronomic backbone, the marvellous vocoder-laden ‘Comrades’ by RODNEY CROMWELL captured a really chilling Cold War atmosphere, bathed in an ensemble of sweeping synth oboes and cosmic string machines. “I ended up thumping at the MicroKorg and came up with the opening riff” he said. Rich with melody and a panoramic resonance, it surreally captured the sound of Moroder being played through a Soviet Foxtrot submarine intercom system.
With ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, EMIKA produced one of the best electronic albums of 2018. The record was a concept album of sorts, a musical reflection on generations of sadness within the Anglo-Czech musician’s family in her most personal statement yet. The pacey ‘Promises’ made the most of her lower and higher vocal registers, providing an eerie cascading harmonic with some rumbling dubby tension and booming stabs driving Eastwards with solemn spine tingling qualities.
Taking in more synthetic ambitions, FARAO’s second album ‘Pure-O’ was a playful bleep forward. While ‘The Ghost Ship’ saw Kari Jahnsen focussed on her forlorn little girl lost lyrics, the wonderfully uptempo ‘Marry Me’ offered an accessible PET SHOP BOYS flavour and romantic layers of vocals masking a deep scepticism of the institution of marriage, while the lush backing and chugging electronic backbone carried the air of her compatriot SUSANNE SUNDFØR.
Available on the FARAO album ‘Pure-O’ via Western Vinyl
Releasing their first new material in over three decades, FIAT LUX returned with the most splendid ‘It’s You’. As well as the bassline and harmony from David P Crickmore, the sax style was a fitting tribute to the sadly departed Ian Nelson. Singer Steve Wright said: “Lyrically, I hope, it expresses feelings that possibly everyone can relate to…” – their long awaited debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ is expected in 2019.
Available on the FIAT LUX single ‘It’s You’ via Splid Records
The ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ album was easily equal to Jonna Lee’s work with IAMAMIWHOAMI. Best of the set was possibly the marvellous closing number ‘Fold’. Featuring exotic cascading timbres and spacey pulsars, distorted string synths added tan appropriate chill as Lee’s passionate vocals completed the filmic vibe. Less mysterious, the IONNALEE transition was a triumph, especially with one of the best value-for-money live presentations of 2018.
Asking if “it is foolish to dream”, ‘Someday’ saw KATJA VON KASSEL questioning a moment of passionate haste. “The phrase ‘Someday’ just opened it all up and everything else just fell into place.” the chanteuse said. Capturing the beautiful melancholy of ASSOCIATES’ Billy Mackenzie, the doomed romantic tragedy of the sadly departed Scot was echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by CHRIS PAYNE’s hypnotic bassline and haunting vox humana treatment over a simple rhythmic loop.
Despite their age, LET’S EAT GRANDMA have a feisty but mature musical ambition, as successfully realised on ‘Donnie Darko’, an 11 minute tribute to the troubled teenager haunted by a monstrous rabbit-like figure. Utilising a sedate start before morphing into a wonderful movement of cascading electronics set to a metronomic beat, there were passionate reflections on the subject of human suffering. It all went a bit “batsh*t crazy” into a glorious synthony before calming to its conclusion!
Available on the LET’S EAT GRANDMA album ‘I’m All Ears’ via Transgressive Records
CHRIS LIEBING featuring POLLY SCATTERGOOD And All Went Dark
Noted techno exponent CHRIS LIEBING teamed up with Mute label mate POLLY SCATTERGOOD on a stark polyrhythmic number appropriately titled ‘And All Went Dark’. The brooding minimalist electronic piece with its eerily poetic spoken contribution from Miss Scattergood saw the Essex songstress haunted by a “dark shadow on my shoulder” and telling how “a sickness took hold early on”.
Available on the CHRIS LIEBING album ‘Burn Slow’ via Mute Artists
With the name transcending Toronto based Hayley Stewart’s fascination with Japanese culture, cyber space and a love of vintage synthesis, ‘Mad But Soft’ was her first album as MECHA MAIKO. The magically crystalline ‘False Memories’ could have been part of the ‘Stranger Things’ soundtrack. Uncomplicated on the surface yet multi-layered and airy, this day-glow pink neo-instrumental concoction was well-thought through and deliciously produced.
One-time RÖYSKSOPP collaborator Ryan A James continues to hone and develop his hybrid mix of luxuriant synthetics and subtle guitar textures as MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY. He said about the gorgeous electronic bubblebath of ‘Lafayette’: “It’s really a song about the end of a relationship, disguised as a song about Scientology, and how defectors of Scientology are disowned by their loved ones. The name comes from the religion’s founder Lafayette Ron Hubbard.”
Available on the MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY album ‘Infinity Mirror’ via Killing Moon Records
“Beware! It’s a scary world” and with their BRITNEY SPEARS fronting NINE INCH NAILS template, NIGHT CLUB took their sweet but sinister synth rock sound to its zenith with the title track of their second album. And when the children’s choir joined in the chorus to sing of demons everywhere, this was a musical trick or treat that no parent would want their offspring to be part of, the message being “they only love you if you swallow”!
A fabulously optimistic closer to NINA’s debut album, ‘80s Girl’ came beaming over like some missing song from the film ‘Mannequin’. With big Simmons drums, sampled orchestra stabs and driving synthbass triplets, it was however delivered with subtlety and restraint so that it wasn’t a HEART or STARSHIP pastiche. Dedicated to her mother, it had a telling message of “don’t let the past hold you back”.
Perhaps best known as the alluring if slightly blunt chanteuse of BLACK BOX RECORDER, SARAH NIXEY released her best solo album to date in ‘Night Walks’, a quality record with air and presence, collecting everything she has ever been musically, all rolled into one. One of its key tracks was the delightful ‘Journey’, a glorious number of the type that Marc Almond has often been so good at, laced with crystalline synths and gorgeously breathy vocal tones à la Jane Birkin.
Available on the SARAH NIXEY album ‘Night Walks’ via Black Lead Records
The ‘Savage’ album turned out to be both an artistic and commercial vindication for GARY NUMAN. ‘It Will End Here’ from ‘The Fallen’ EP was a natural progression from that, exploring a heavy but melodic electronic sound without relying on the predictable backing of rock guitars. With and anthemic chorus and the apocalypse is looming over the aural desert, there was even a soaring vocal pitch shift up at the song’s conclusion which added an extra eerie vampiric quality.
NYXX is very much her own woman, like the Greek goddess of night she is named after, a figure of power and beauty with a Britney-like vocal presence that sweetly offsets some of her darker overtones. A collaboration with Daniel Graves of AESTHETIC PERFECTION who contributed a glorious evangelical middle eight, she said “It would not be what it is without him. I came in with a sketch of a song, a melody and lyric of another song… Daniel heard nuances in it and we built what is now ‘Voodoo’.”
Available on the NYXX single ‘Voodoo’ via Close To Human Music
Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko initially came together in PAGE releasing their first single ‘Dansande Man’ in 1983. Since then, the pair have parted and reunited on a number of occasions but the mission for the ‘Start’ EP was to party like it’s 1979 when GARY NUMAN was No1. ‘Nere För Räkning’ was an urgent slice of pulsing synthrock with a piercing vibratoed lead line akin to the keyboard interventions heard on ‘The Pleasure Principle’.
Available on the PAGE EP ‘Start’ via Energy Rekords
From Mission Viejo in California, PLASMIC describes herself as an “Orange County one-woman dervish” and in a vivid haze that’s pretty in pink, “your abused Barbie doll from childhood”. Combining J-Pop with CRYSTAL CASTLES and DEVO, the undoubted standout from her ‘Validation Nation’ EP was ‘Baby Machine’, an immensely catchy feminist electropop anthem utilising a mixture of vintage Casio and Yamaha sounds that challenged the expectations of women to bear children.
Championed by none other than Vince Clarke, REED & CAROLINE successfully combine tunes with electronic experimentation. The haunting ‘Entropy’ was a tribute to a departed friend and a fabulously touching GARY NUMAN homage to his ‘Dance’ period, in particular ‘Cry The Clock Said’. The hypnotic soundtrack of gentle preset rhythms and eerie electric piano, courtesy of a Buchla modular synth, was complimented by Schutz even adopting the phrasing of the man born Gary Anthony James Webb.
Weird and wonderful, ‘Red Moon Voyage’ was a ghostly 10 minute epic comprising of glitchy voices and varying rhythm constructions recorded especially for Halloween. Free of album concepts and the pop song format, this was FIFI RONG at her most adventurous yet, delightfully adding her native Mandarin language towards the third part. She told The Electricity Club: “having a long journey means you can get very deep and lots of moods and transitions”.
Marc Almond and Dave Ball were the boys who came back-back-BACK as SOFT CELL in 2018. ‘Northern Lights’ reminisced about their days at the Wigan Casino and recaptured the pop essence that led to the duo having five consecutive Top 10 hits! Despite the grittiness and energetics, the duo always had melody and that came back in abundance on their welcome recorded return. The darker B-Side ‘Guilty (‘Cos I Say You Are)’ affirmed that as a creative force, SOFT CELL still had it.
Chinese six-piece STOLEN are reckoned by Berlin-based producer Mark Reeder to be possibly the most exciting band he has seen since NEW ORDER. Certainly their debut album ‘Fragment’ was impressive and one of the best of 2018, with ‘Turn Black’ being one of the standout tracks. “I like the idea of mixing of rock with techno…” said growly lead vocalist Liang Yi, “we are very proud that we don’t sound like any of the other Chinese bands.”
Ingo Hauss and Hayo Lewerentz handed back the BOYTRONIC brand to Holger Wobker and returned to being U96, teaming up with former KRAFTWERK percussionist Wolfgang Flür for the best track by either party in recent years. Stark and Teutonic with stark robotic vocoder aesthetics, the union of two German musical heavyweights from different generations was equal to Flür’s ‘Activity Of Sound’ collaboration with Ireland’s iEUROPEAN.
Combining piano, synths, field recordings, drones, occasional beats, old string instruments and HILARY WOODS’ wonderfully forlorn voice in the vein of Julee Cruise, ‘Jesus Said’ questioned the existence of God. Described by the Irish songstress herself as “a song that seeks catharsis”, her child-like expression over the drifting synthesized tones and hypnotic drum machine to augment her beautiful piano playing gave ‘Jesus Said’ a gentle meditative quality.
Available on the HILARY WOODS album ‘Colt’ via Sacred Bones
SARAH NIXEY first won the hearts of audiences as the lead singer of BLACK BOX RECORDER; 18 years since they got on ‘Top Of The Pops’ with ‘The Facts of Life’ and seven years since her last solo album ‘Brave Tin Soldiers’, Nixey is back with ‘Night Walks’.
A nocturnal body of work set in a metropolitan sub-world where everyone dodges the dangers of reality, the album was inspired by Nixey’s bouts of insomnia during a recovery from illness; she told The Electricity Club, “All the songs are set at night time and it felt like I was going on night walks when I was writing them”.
Co-produced by her husband Jimmy Hogarth, ‘Night Walks’ is a sophisticated amalgam of everything SARAH NIXEY has ever been musically, with a Roland Jupiter 8, Minimoog, Casiotone 701 and a Hammond M102 among the instrumentation used, all fed through Leslie amps and captured on a Studer tape machine. As a result, this record has air and presence, a quality missed on many modern day home studio digital recordings.
The album’s key song is the chromatic flavoured ‘The Zeppelin’, an observation on warfare where the characters are either at war with themselves or with each other. In typical SARAH NIXEY style, there is that impending if seductive sense of doom over the drone-laden backdrop…
However, beginning ‘Night Walks’, the neo-Motorik ‘Coming Up For Air’ discusses the delicate subject of teenage mental health illness and parental love, but touchingly acknowledges the pain while offering support and encouragement.
Meanwhile, ‘Burning Bridges’ is not a JAPAN cover but a lively offering of synthetic disco driven by clattering drum machine, which despite Nixey’s previous dalliances with electronic pop, comes as something of a pleasant surprise and with a timely socio-political message. Also conveying socio-political concerns, the sparse but more guitar oriented ‘Merry England’ covers the gentrification of London and Brexit, with Nixey’s voice sounding particularly rich and assured.
Continuing a brilliant musical ‘Journey’, this appropriately named tune is like one of those glorious Eurocentric numbers that Marc Almond has often been so good at, laced with crystalline synths and gorgeously breathy vocal tones à la Jane Birkin.
Taking things down, the acoustically centred ‘Love Is Blue’ offers some Bohemian filmic drama before the short celestial spoken word title track. The throbbing sequencer filled ‘Dancing At The Edge Of The World’ is Nixey’s own ‘I Feel Love’ with a classic NEW ORDER digital drum machine template thrown into the mix, crossed with falsetto and deadpan speech.
At the complete opposite end of the spectrum and layered in Hammond organ and muted guitar within a brush filled rhythmic setting, ‘Neon Moon’ beautifully reflects what it says on the tin.
Harsher in tone and more reminiscent of BLACK BOX RECORDER, ‘Tiger Woman’ features a powerful statement about a woman who doesn’t have a care in the world, while similarly sharper with bluesy guitar motifs and loud bangy drums, Nixey asks people to ‘Follow Me’.
Closing with ‘The Planet Of Dreams’, an electric piano is joined by some six string accompaniment with the surprise of flute and E-bowed guitar alongside minimal sweeps of vintage synth, as Nixey divinely offers hope in these uncertain times.
“Mostly, I wanted to tell stories and create a little metropolitan sub-world where I could escape to, and my listeners could eventually come with me”, Nixey said of ‘Night Walks’ to The Electricity Club, “It’s an album that’s supposed to be listened to in its entirety, which is possibly a big ask these days.”
Although having a mix of electronic and acoustic based tracks, ‘Night Walks’ exudes a satisfying sonic cohesion that will please anyone who has ever been interested in the Dorset-born songstress’ work; it is undoubtedly SARAH NIXEY’s best solo album to date.
Former BLACK BOX RECORDER band mate Luke Haines once referred to how SARAH NIXEY “had the ability to make all men fall in love with her”… well, it is time to fall in love all over again!