There’s a group of female artists out there, who are doing it for the girls and SARAH P. is certainly one of them.
Sarah Anna Psalti-Helbig started her love affair with music, while studying drama, by fronting the critically acclaimed Greek act KEEP SHELLY IN ATHENS for four years.
Looking for more opportunities, she moved to Berlin where her solo career took off with a bang around the release of a rather mature and deep LP ‘Who Am I’.
This winter sees her returning Greek goddess style with a five song EP borrowing its name from Greek mythology. ‘Maenads’ are female followers of Dionysus, the god of theatre, fertility and wine and SARAH P. feels united with her Hellenic heritage and describes the release as a true representation of herself.
“This record is the link between my previous work and what’s coming” she said, “Free symbolised my rebirth as an artist, Who Am I helped me discover different music paths and Maenads is representing 100% me, both musically and as an individual. I’m not big on classifying my music in genres, because I believe that this process is taking away from the magic of listening. I think that Maenads is way more accessible than my previous work, yet mysterious and uncommon.”
Indeed the opening ‘Sappho’s Leap’ borrows from traditional Greek poetry, and acts as a prelude to breathy ‘Mneme’, with whispered words and sparse guitar, seeing SARAH P. creating an amalgamation between KATE BUSH and BJÖRK vocally, while the musicality of this track hovers between dream pop and alternative, all wrapped in an unlaboured and carefree lullaby; a lullaby where the voice vixen channels her inner Robert Smith.
The need to rely on oneself is expressed in the foxy ‘Lotus Eaters’, which tunefully continues the echoes of THE CURE meeting THE PIXIES; the voice is edgy and sweet with an undertone of seduction. We mustn’t sleep, we must open our minds and make the change.
“We can’t undo our history, but we can learn from it and shape our future” is the message relayed in ‘Cybele’s Dream’, which is a serious tale of SARAH P.’s own heritage told by her ancestors.
The artist calls for a greater consideration of the burning issue of refugees over an easy listening piece, reminiscent of TEARS FOR FEARS.
The closing eponymous track changes the tempo and direction, appearing to be more of a dance tune, celebrating the beauty and fun of Athens, MARNIE style.
More accessible than her previous provisions? Perhaps. Different? Hell, yes! One thing is for certain; SARAH P. is ever evolving and is on the right track, creating genre of her own and refusing to be categorised and labelled. The creation of music is a fluid process and no boundaries are required.
Sitting on the sofa with my now thirteen year old daughter, who over the years has acquired a rather sarcastic sense of humour (who on Earth does she get that from?!) and pondering how to approach this task of reviewing ‘The Electricity Club’ compilation, makes us both burst out with hearty laughter.
After all, she wants to rise to the occasion properly, and review things “just like Mummy does”, or maybe not, as “Mummy always says it as it is!”
Children have the innate ability to always tell the truth; my daughter, however, has an uncontrollable need to please people, so this could really go either way. She will either be pulling her disgusted face, saying “what a load of rubbish!”, or candidly praise, without certainty.
My own adventure with music dates back many years indeed. I was brought up within, what they used to call in communist Poland, “an intelligence family”, meaning both my parents were white collar workers, rather than working class.
My father, a respectable judge, had loved his music greatly and was an avid guitar player himself, while my mum, a teacher, enjoyed listening to pretty much anything within the popular genre (usually via her radio, which, to this day, is always on).
Recalling the baby book entry, which my mum recorded when I was at the tender age of five, saying “Monika loves listening and dancing to records, she could spend all day doing so”, makes me try and remember the old record player and hundreds of vinyl albums which my parents owned.
All this said, I hold my older by ten years brother solely responsible for my eventual music choices. As I was growing up, I just had to endure what he was listening to (at great volume, may I add!).
As legal copies of western music were incredibly hard (or, simply, impossible) to get, his room was full of pirate cassette tapes of everything from THE HUMAN LEAGUE to MICHAEL JACKSON and anything and everything in between.
He would take great pride in inviting me into his musical cave and fed me with DEPECHE MODE, ERASURE, ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA and OMD.
And all this worked… during his absence, I’d sneak in and put my favourites on, which would primarily include the works of DEPECHE MODE, with the vinyl of ‘Black Celebration’ and maxi-single vinyl of ‘Stripped’ being the firm first choices. And that’s how I acquired the electronic music bug. From then on, not much else mattered but coming home from school and playing the entire back catalogue of the Basildon boys, dotted with the works of YAZOO and ERASURE.
My Allie has had little choice, since her musical adventure dates back to being in my womb. At the age of three she would sing ERASURE’s ‘You Surround Me’ on top of her little baby voice, and her sweet childish vocal was sampled and recorded by a well-known UK electronic duo.
Her first gig was at the age of five, and she went to see ERASURE at six and DEPECHE MODE twice at the grown-up age of seven, keenly taking part in the experience.
Although since she’s found love for KATIE PERRY, ARIANA GRANDE and TAYLOR SWIFT, and electronic music hasn’t been on her radar much lately, she absolutely loved ASHBURY HEIGHTS’ ‘The Looking Glass Society’. She also has a lot of vintage DEPECHE MODE on her Spotify playlist, interestingly enough none of it past ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’, and plays it at least twice a week.
Having heard that, I would include her opinion in the tongue-in-cheek review of The Electricity Club compilation, she keenly decided to be a serious contributor, and so it goes…
MAISON VAGUE Synthpop’s Alive
Allie: I don’t like it but I like it…
Mon: Bit GARY NUMAN this is! But a tad laboured and rough and ready.
Allie: I like the synth sounds, the voice sounds a bit weird.
KID KASIO Full Moon Blue
Mon: Ah, my favourite of Nathan’s! Love it, love it, love it!
Allie: I like the sounds, the first bit sounds a bit like DEPECHE MODE!
Mon: Yeah, a tribute to ‘Two Minute Warning’!
Allie: That’s it! I like it a lot. I like his voice.
ELECTRONIC CIRCUS Roundabout
Allie: Oh my God! Rubbish!
Mon: Why? *cannot contain the laughter*
Allie: It’s just rubbish!
Mon: Erm, the synth is good, not sure about the vocal…
DAYBEHAVIOR It’ s A Game – Marsheaux remix
Mon: I like this, analog synth! Lovely…
Allie: I like it, like the vocal, but it’s not something I’d listen to if I had a choice.
Mon: Oh, I would. Very good song and well produced by MARSHEAUX.
MARNIE The Hunter
Allie: Reminds me of something but I don’t know what. I like it, love the vocal.
Mon: I hear a bit of LADYTRON, BJÖRK and MARSHEAUX. It’s fresh and enticing.
Allie: Yes, LADYTRON! That’s it!
NIGHT CLUB Cruel Devotion
Allie: Ohhhh, I like that!
Mon: You’ve met them last year Allie! Very good!
Allie: Oh yes, I do like this! I like the background sound and the vocals. I’d play that in my room… She doesn’t sound American! Is she American?
Mon: Yes! *laughs*
Allie: I’d make music like that!
ELEVEN ELEVEN Through The Veil
Mon: I like the beginning, bit of KYLIE there.
Allie: I don’t know who that is! I like the vocals!
Mon: I like the sound! (Note to self: “must educate Allie on KYLIE”).
QUEEN OF HEARTS United
Mon: Oh I’m liking this, fat synth and decent voice…
Allie: I like it, both synth and the vocal.
KATY PERRY Hot N Cold – Marsheaux remix
Allie: It’s KATY PERRY! I like this! I like this remix, it’s different from the original! *singing out loud*
Mon: I never liked the original and this doesn’t do it for me either.
Allie: What?! I love it! But her voice is a bit screechy, like on the normal version!
ERASURE Be The One – Paul Humphreys remix
Allie: Sounds like ERASURE…
Mon: It is!
Allie: Ah, I knew it! Is it a remix?
Allie: I love ERASURE, this is lovely.
Mon: Totally agree.
KID MOXIE The Bailor
Allie: I don’t like her vocals.
Mon: I do, it’s a good song.
Allie: I like the music, the melody is nice.
Mon: It’s a grown up song, very atmospheric and cinematic. Great use of synth. My kind of electronica.
KEEP SHELLY IN ATHENS Oostende
Allie: I like it! The vocals are great. I’d listen to it in the car.
Mon: Yes, it’s good, both vocally and musically.
FOTONOVELA featuring JAMES NEW My Sorrow
Allie: I’ve heard it before.
Mon: Really? I haven’t! You must be thinking of something else.
Allie: It’s ok, reminds me of something you’ve played before.
GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS Jessica
Allie: I don’t like it, vocals aren’t great, don’t like the music.
Mon: It’s not my cup of tea either, but I’m sure it’ll appeal to few people.
AUTOMATIC WRITING Continuous
Mon: Interesting start! It’s different, I shouldn’t like it but I do.
Allie: It’s ok, again, it reminds me of something.
METROLAND Thalys – London edit
Mon: Oh I like that. Simple arrangement and that’s all you need. Not sure about the voice sample though.
Allie: It’s very robotic, like science fiction. It’s like something from another planet. It’s KRAFTWERK!
RODNEY CROMWELL Black Dog
Allie: Yeah! That’s ok! *does a little dance*
Mon: Hmmm, not sure. It’s not unpleasant.
SIN COS TAN Trust
Allie: Don’t know, not sure about that one.
Mon: It’s ok.
Allie: Bored now!
POLLY SCATTERGOOD Other Too Endless – Vince Clarke remix
Mon: Good synth on this one. Liking this a lot. Competent vocals and arrangement, a real stand out.
Allie: Not my cup of tea.
TENEK What Do You Want?
Allie: Is that MESH? Sounds like it!
Mon: No, it’s not, it’s TENEK. It’s a good song.
Allie: Yes, I really like it. I like the instruments.
ANALOG ANGEL We Won’t Walk Away
Allie: It’s fast. Not my kind of thing.
Mon: It’s very well written. It needs more oomph! Very OMD.
ARTHUR & MARTHA Autovia
Allie: It’s not in tune… I don’t know, I don’t like it.
Mon: It’s different, not me either…
MARSHEAUX Suffer The Children
Mon: A cover. Good.
Allie: It is good, bouncy.
SECTION 25 My Outrage
Mon: Oh dear, messy! Too candied for me, bit all over the place.
Allie: Yes, I don’t think it’s good. I can’t describe it but it’s not something I’d listen to.
047 featuring LISA PEDERSEN Everything’s Fine
Allie: Clubby! Like it. Yes, I do! *bounces away*
Mon: Good, isn’t it? I like the club feel to it. A good dance song.
TAXX Is It Love?
Mon: Oh yes, good stuff! Progressive. Decent vocal too.
Allie: It’s ok, but I wouldn’t listen to it in the car. At a disco, maybe…
LIEBE I Believe In You
Allie: You know the ding-ding sounds? They remind me of PET SHOP BOYS!
Mon: “Ding-ding sounds!” To me the vocal technique resembles NEW ORDER. It’s good.
QUIETER THAN SPIDERS Shanghai Metro
Mon: It’s ok.
Allie: Too poppy, way too poppy. Chow mein? *laughs*
iEUROPEAN feat WOLFGANG FLÜR Activity Of Sound
Mon: That’s it! The synth is all there. Semi-modular synth? Very tidy!
Allie: I do actually like it! It’s club but different.
TWINS NATALIA Destiny
Mon: Not me vocally but decent synth I suppose.
Allie: I like the vocals! I don’t know, all confused now, too many songs!
Mon: No, that’s awful.
Mon: YAZOO cover Allie!
Allie: I knew that I knew it! Is that MESH?!
Allie: Thought so. I like anything MESH!
Mon: Now, there’s a surprise!
Allie: You know me!
MIRRORS Between Four Walls
Allie: Like this one, nice music.
Mon: Bit laboured… it’s not bad though.
OMD Time Burns – Fotonovela rework
Allie: Very robotic.
Mon: Not me!
VILE ELECTRODES Deep Red
Allie: I like the vocals, sounds a bit like Sarah Blackwood!
Mon: It’s Jane actually!
Allie: Ahhhh! Doh! I like that a lot. It’s slow! *laughs*
Mon: It is good, but no surprise there.
Allie: Is that the last song?!
Allie: Thank god, I’m tired now!
She will sleep well! I have to say, she did surprise me with some songs and disappointed with others but that just proves to me, that tastes do indeed vary, and even if I’m vehemently against something, others will find it enticing.
‘The Electricity Club’ compilation is a marvellous collection of tunes, and that’s a given. There’s something for everyone here and what a cross-section of all electronica. Still, I come to conclusion that thirteen year olds are probably not mature enough to fully appreciate certain synth music…
Will she follow in my steps? Not for a while… if ever! The one thing we certainly have in common: WE SAY IT AS IT IS!
‘The Electricity Club’ is released on 3rd December 2018 by Amour Records / Minos EMI / Universal Music in collaboration with Undo Records as a 34 track 2CD set in a deluxe 6 panel digipak with track-by-track commentary and ‘O’ card; the compilation can be pre-ordered from the following retailers:
Amour Records / Minos EMI / Universal Music in collaboration with Undo Records are to release a 2CD compilation compiled by The Electricity Club.
Capturing its ethos to feature the best in new and classic electronic pop music, this compilation is the culmination of a period which has seen the resurgence of the genre. Over the years, The Electricity Club appears to have reflected the interests of people who love the Synth Britannia era and have a desire to hear new music seeded from that ilk.
Little did The Electricity Club know when it launched on 15th March 2010, it would go on to interview many of the key players in Synth Britannia, get granted an audience with two former members of KRAFTWERK and be influential in helping some of the best new synthesizer talents gain a profile within a reinvigorated scene. So it is highly apt that WOLFGANG FLÜR should make an appearance on this collection.
The Electricity Club is pleased to showcase its ethos in the form of this tangible audio artefact. Among the impressive cast, there are prime movers from the classic era like PAUL HUMPHREYS and VINCE CLARKE. Without the influence of the bands they respectively co-founded, OMD and DEPECHE MODE, electronic pop as The Electricity Club likes it would not exist.
Meanwhile the next generation are represented by acts such as KID MOXIE, NIGHT CLUB, RODNEY CROMWELL and VILE ELECTRODES. Incidentally, the latter were invited to support OMD on their 2013 German tour following ANDY McCLUSKEY’s discovery of the duo while perusing The Electricity Club’s virtual pages. The bloodline from ‘Radio-Activity’ to ‘Romance Of The Telescope’ and then to ‘Deep Red’ is easily traceable and deeply omnipresent.
The Electricity Club has always relished its diverse taste credentials. It doesn’t do retro or contemporary, just good music. No other compendium could dare to include the spiky post-punk of GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS and the rousing electro-rock of MESH alongside pop princesses such as QUEEN OF HEARTS or KATY PERRY. Be it Glasgow’s ANALOG ANGEL and MARNIE, Manchester veterans SECTION 25 or Essex boys TENEK, it all fits into The Electricity Club’s avant pop playground.
With international representation also from Gothenburg’s DAYBEHAVIOR and 047, Shanghai synthpoppers QUIETER THAN SPIDERS, Texan dance duo ELEVEN: ELEVEN, Belgium’s own passengers METROLAND and the self-explanatory KEEP SHELLY IN ATHENS, the tracks gathered capture a special moment in time where innovative musical aspirations and good tunes have again manifested themselves in the same context.
The collection features a number of covers including MESH’s take on YAZOO’s ‘Tuesday’ and MARSHEAUX’s reinterpretation of TEARS FOR FEARS’ first single ‘Suffer The Children’. In addition, tracks such as MARSHEAUX’s stomping remix of KATY PERRY’s ‘Hot ‘N’ Cold’ and MIRRORS’ ‘Between Four Walls’ make their premiere in CD format.
The tracklisting is:
01 MAISON VAGUE Synthpop’s Alive
02 KID KASIO Full Moon Blue
03 ELECTRONIC CIRCUS Roundabout
04 DAYBEHAVIOR It’s A Game (Marsheaux remix)
05 MARNIE The Hunter
06 ELEVEN:ELEVEN Through The Veil
07 NIGHT CLUB Cruel Devotion
08 QUEEN OF HEARTS United
09 KATY PERRY Hot ‘N’ Cold (Marsheaux remix)
10 ERASURE Be The One (Paul Humphreys remix)
11 KID MOXIE The Bailor
12 KEEP SHELLY IN ATHENS Oostende
13 FOTONOVELA featuring JAMES NEW Our Sorrow (Original mix)
14 GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS Jessica 6
15 AUTOMATIC WRITING Continuous
16 METROLAND Thalys (London Edit)
17 RODNEY CROMWELL Black Dog
01 SIN COS TAN Trust
02 POLLY SCATTERGOOD Other Too Endless (Vince Clarke remix)
03 TENEK What Do You Want? (Alternate TEC version)
04 ANALOG ANGEL We Won’t Walk Away
05 ARTHUR & MARTHA Autovia
06 MARSHEAUX Suffer The Children
07 SECTION 25 My Outrage
08 047 featuring LISA PEDERSEN Everything’s Fine
09 TAXX Is It Love?
10 LIEBE I Believe In You
11 QUIETER THAN SPIDERS Shanghai Metro
12 iEUROPEAN featuring WOLFGANG FLÜR Activity Of Sound
13 TWINS NATALIA Destiny
14 MESH Tuesday
15 MIRRORS Between Four Walls
16 OMD Time Burns (Fotonovela rework)
17 VILE ELECTRODES Deep Red
‘The Electricity Club’ is released by Amour Records / Minos EMI / Universal Music in collaboration with Undo Records as a 34 track 2CD set in a deluxe 6 panel digipak with track-by-track commentary and ‘O’ card; the compilation be purchased from the following retailers:
The world found itself in a rather antagonistic and divisive state this year, as if none of the lessons from the 20th Century’s noted conflicts and stand-offs had been learnt.
Subtle political messages came with several releases; honorary Berliner MARK REEDER used the former divided city as symbolism to warn of the dangers of isolationism on his collaborative album ‘Mauerstadt’. Meanwhile noted Francophile Chris Payne issued the ELECTRONIC CIRCUS EP ‘Direct Lines’ with its poignant warning of nuclear apocalypse in its title song. The message was to unite and through music as one of the best platforms.
After a slow start to 2017, there was a bumper crop of new music from a number of established artists. NINE INCH NAILS and GARY NUMAN refound their mojo with their respective ‘Add Violence’ and ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ releases, with the latter recording his best body of work since his imperial heyday.
But the first quarter of the year was hamstrung by the anticipation for the 14th DEPECHE MODE long player ‘Spirit’, with other labels and artists aware that much of their potential audience’s hard earned disposable income was being directed towards the Basildon combo’s impending album and world tour.
Yet again, reaction levels seemed strangely muted as ‘Spirit’ was another creative disappointment, despite its angry politicised demeanour.
Rumours abounded that the band cut the album’s scheduled recording sessions by 4 weeks. This inherent “that’ll do” attitude continued on the ‘Global Spirit’ jaunt when the band insulted their loyal audience by doing nothing more than plonking an arena show into a stadium for the summer outdoor leg.
Despite protestations from some Devotees of their dissatisfaction with this open-air presentation, they were content to be short-changed again as they excitedly flocked to the second set of European arena dates with the generally expressed excuse that “it will be so much better indoors”.
By this Autumn sojourn, only three songs from ‘Spirit’ were left in the set, thus indicating that the dire record had no longevity and was something of a lemon.
Suspicions were finally confirmed at the ‘Mute: A Visual Document’ Q&A featuring Daniel Miller and Anton Corbijn, when the esteemed photographer and visual director confessed he did not like the album which he did the artwork for… see, it’s not just The Electricity Club 😉
Devotees are quick to say all criticism of DEPECHE MODE is unfair, but the band can’t help but make themselves easy targets time and time again. But why should the band care? The cash is coming, the cash is coming…
The Wirral lads demonstrated what the word spirit actually meant on their opus ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’, while the former class mate of Messrs Gore and Fletcher demonstrated what a soulful, blues-influenced electronic record should sound like with ‘Other’.
As Tony Hadley departed SPANDAU BALLET and Midge Ure got all ‘Orchestrated’ in the wake of ULTRAVOX’s demise, the ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ album directed by Rusty Egan, to which they contributed, became a physical reality in 2017.
Now if DM plonked an arena show into the world’s stadiums, KRAFTWERK put a huge show into a theatre. The publicity stunt of 2012, when Tate Modern’s online ticket system broke down due to demand for their eight album live residency, did its job when the Kling Klang Quartett sold out an extensive UK tour for their 3D concert spectacular.
No less impressive, SOULWAX wowed audiences with their spectacular percussion heavy ‘From Deewee’ show and gave a big lesson to DEPECHE MODE as to how to actually use live drums correctly within an electronic context.
Mute Artists were busy with releases from ERASURE, LAIBACH and ADULT. but it was GOLDFRAPP’s ‘Silver Eye’ that stole the show from that stable. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM returned after seven years with their ‘American Dream’ and it was worth the wait, with the most consistent and electronic record that James Murphy’s ensemble has delivered in their career.
2017 was a year that saw acts who were part of the sine wave of Synth Britannia but unable to sustain or attain mainstream success like BLUE ZOO, B-MOVIE, FIAT LUX and WHITE DOOR welcomed back as heroes, with their talent belatedly recognised.
Across the Baltic Sea, Finnish producer JORI HULKKONEN released his 20th album ‘Don’t Believe In Happiness’ while nearby in Russia, a duo named VEiiLA showcased an unusual hybrid of techno, opera and synthpop and ROSEMARY LOVES A BLACKBERRY offered a ‘❤’.
One of the year’s discussion points was whether Synthwave was just synthpop dressed with sunglasses and neon signs but whatever, Stateside based Scots but MICHAEL OAKLEY and FM-84 made a good impression with their retro-flavoured electronic tunes.
Female solo artists had strong presence in 2017 as FEVER RAY made an unexpected return, ZOLA JESUS produced her best work to date in ‘Okovi’ and HANNAH PEEL embarked on an ambitious synth / brass ‘Journey to Cassiopeia’. Meanwhile, SARAH P. asked ‘Who Am I’ and MARNIE found ‘Strange Words & Weird Wars’ as ANI GLASS and NINA both continued on their promising developmental path.
Respectively, Ireland and Scotland did their bit, with TINY MAGNETIC PETS and their aural mix of SAINT ETIENNE and KRAFTWERK successfully touring with OMD in support of their excellent second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’, while formed out of the ashes of ANALOG ANGEL, RAINLAND wowed audiences opening for ASSEMBLAGE 23.
Despite getting a positive response, both iEUROPEAN and SOL FLARE parted ways while on the opposite side of the coin, Belgian passengers METROLAND celebrated five years in the business with the lavish ‘12×12’ boxed set
Overall in 2017, it was artists of a more mature disposition who held their heads high and delivered, as some newer acts went out of their way to test the patience of audiences by drowning them in sleep while coming over like TRAVIS on VSTs.
With dominance of media by the three major labels, recognition was tricky with new quality traditional synthpop not generally be championed by the mainstream press. With Spotify now 20% owned by those three majors, casual listeners to the Swedish streaming platform were literally told what to like, as with commercial radio playlists.
It is without doubt that streaming and downloading has created a far less knowledgeable music audience than in previous eras, so Rusty Egan’s recent online petition to request platforms to display songwriting and production credits was timely; credit where credit is due as they say…
While The Electricity Club does not dismiss Spotify totally and sees it as another tool, it should not be considered the be all and end all, in the same way vinyl is not the saviour of the music industry and in physics terms, cannot handle the same dynamic range as CD.
Music is not as emotionally valued as it was before… that’s not being old and nostalgic, that is reality. It can still be enjoyed with or without a physical purchase, but for artists to be motivated to produce work that can connect and be treasured, that is another matter entirely.
However, many acts proved that with Bandcamp, the record company middle man can be eliminated. It is therefore up to the listener to be more astute, to make more effort and to make informed choices. And maybe that listener has to seek out reliable independent media for guidance.
However, as with the shake-up within the music industry over the last ten years, that can only be a good thing for the true synthpop enthusiast. And as it comes close to completing its 8th year on the web, The Electricity Club maintains its position of not actually promoting new acts or supporting any scene, but merely to write about the music it likes and occasionally stuff it doesn’t… people can make their own mind up about whether to invest money or time in albums or gigs.
Yes, things ARE harder for the listener and the musician, but the effort is worthwhile 😉
It was a year when the veterans re-established their standing within electronic pop.
That was not to that comparatively newer acts weren’t making a good impression, it was just that a fair number of established acts gave their all and were producing some of their best work since their imperial heyday.
Great tracks by SPARKS, OUTERNATIONALE, SPACEPRODIGI, iEUROPEAN, PARALLELS, KITE, FEVER RAY, SOL FLARE, SOFTWAVE, KNIGHT$, 2RAUMWHONUNG, JORI HULKKONEN, FIFI RONG and KITE BASE made it onto the shortlist, but despite their quality, they did not make the final listing.
Also not included are songs from ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’, the debut album from RUSTY EGAN; although gaining a physical release this year, it was reviewed by The Electricity Club in the Autumn of last year when download versions of the long player were distributed to those who had purchased it in advance via Pledge Music. Meanwhile, its closing track ‘Thank You’ was included in The Electricity Club’s 30 Songs Of 2016.
So restricted to purchasable releases only and one song per artist moniker, here are The Electricity Club’s 30 Songs Of 2017 in alphabetical order…
AESTHETIC PERFECTION Rhythm + Control – Electro Mix
Additionally featuring NYXX and WILLIAM CONTROL on vocals, ‘Rhythm + Control’ saw Daniel Graves take AESTHETIC PERFECTION’s industrial pop to the next level via his new singles only policy. The magnificent Electro Mix successfully realised this oddball blend of Darren Hayes, Britney Spears and Marilyn Manson. With a mightily elastic bassline, when asked whether The Electricity Club had gone crazy coming up with the comparison, Daniel Graves replied “God no. Spot on, guys!”
From only the third solo album in the long career of Richard Barbieri, ‘Solar Sea’ was a sleazy rhythmic excursion into another world. With the one-time JAPAN sound designer using a Roland System 700 for its bassline, the track’s atonal jazz feel was augmented by the haunting voice manipulations of Lisen Rylander Löve through a vintage Soviet submarine microphone and warping noises offset by soothing brass inflections and live drums.
The American electronic rock quartet BATTLE TAPES continued to develop from their 2015 debut album ‘Polygon’ via their ‘Form’ EP. The best track ‘Control’ hinged around a syncopated filtered synth bass and a brilliantly catchy chorus sung by Josh Boardman, with enough guitars for power and texture without distracting from the overall electronic aesthetic, and even coming over like a heavier Stateside version of SIN COS TAN.
“International in flavour, cosmopolitan in style” and sounding like a long lunch followed by a round of cocktails, Australian duo CLIENT LIAISON roped in one-time TV talent show star Tina Arena to duet on a lush slice of romantic pop that also rode on the current fashion for Synthwave. ‘A Foreign Affair’ could have easily been a Rat Pack movie song.
CULT WITH NO NAME All I Have Is Yours (Including You)
CULT WITH NO NAME have never been short of mood, but their eighth album ‘Heir Of The Dog’ proved to be their best yet, combining a variety of tempos and textures. With a memorable crooning vocal from Erik Stein complimented by an enticing harmony from Sirena Riley and lush electronic backing sounding like OMD by the Aegean Sea, ‘All I Have Is Yours (Including You)’ was a song that rose forever and ever like one of Aphrodite’s grandchildren.
Johan Baeckström made positive waves with his debut solo album ‘Like Before’ in 2015 but reunited with his musical partner Jarmo Ollila, producing an excellent third album with more tempo variation than their 2014 offering ‘Two’. Featuring the guest vocals of Mac Austin from cult synth trio WHITE DOOR who were one of the inspirations for DAILY PLANET, ‘Heaven Opened’ was an uncomplicated but wonderfully poignant slice of classic synthpop.
ELECTRONIC CIRCUS is the musical vehicle of Chris Payne, the one-time Numan band member who also co-wrote ‘Fade To Grey’. With a symphonic theme bursting with melody and musicality like ULTRAVOX galloping across the plains of Normandy, the brilliant neo-instrumental ’The Trapeze’ was given a wondrous tone of humanistic unity when Payne’s wife and daughter joined in on the final straight in Latin.
FADER are the synth superduo featuring BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur and Benge; ‘3D Carpets’ captured an independent post-punk intensity, like JOY DIVISION or THE CURE but realised with analogue electronics rather than guitars. While the pair worked on their parts separately, their creative dynamic produced a great debut album in ‘First Light’.
From the Welsh synth songstress’ first EP, the fabulous ‘Geiriau’ was a driving sequential drama that had more than a passing resemblance to the first part of SPARKS’ ‘No1 Song In Heaven’. Revolving around ANI GLASS’ experience of flying the nest and returning years later to reconnect with her Welsh and Cornish heritage, it was a spacey and futuristic soundtrack for a wonderfully uplifting homecoming.
‘Volupsa’, the promising Nordic flavoured debut album from THE GOLDEN FILTER came out in 2010, but the Aussie American duo of vocalist Penelope Trappes and synth programmer Stephen Hindman took their time with the follow-up ‘Still//Alone’, having relocated to London after spending several years based in New York. The hypnotic pulse of ‘Rivers’ with its precise drum machine pointed to a female fronted OMD, complete with a catchy riff and synthy jabbing bassline.
The immensely catchy ‘Systemagic’ was a prize electronic gem from the seventh GOLDFRAPP album ‘Silver Eye’, reminiscent of the lusty and beat laden electronic material from ‘Black Cherry’. But its riff asked the question as to whether you will always find Alison Goldfrapp in the kitchen at parties? In the event of Jona Lewie filing a lawsuit, the lucrative income from the song’s use in a BMW advert may ease any potential net payout.
After three acclaimed albums as IAMAMIWHOAMI with producer Claes Björklund, Jonna Lee went solo in 2017 although it was actually difficult to hear the join on the glorious ‘Not Human’, so seamless was the transition; there were still the icy electronic soundscapes, spacey dance beats and uplifting Scandipop vocals while the delightfully odd visuals were all present and correct.
Available on the download single ‘Not Human’ via To Whom It May Concern
I SPEAK MACHINE is the audio / visual collaboration between musician Tara Busch and filmmaker Maf Lewis. Soundtracking their film ‘Zombies 1985’, the story was one of greed and self-obsession in Thatcher’s Britain as a businessman drives home, oblivious to the zombie apocalypse going on around him. Co-written and co-produced with Benge, the brilliant ‘Shame’ with its cascading synths and noise percussion was a wonderful hybrid of THROBBING GRISTLE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and GOLDFRAPP.
After a number of years gigging around London, KATJA VON KASSEL finally unleashed released her electro Weimer Cabaret to the world. The pulsating ‘In Little Rooms (Show Me Love)’ captured an aesthetic which closely resembled that of RONNY, a former protégé of Rusty Egan. Attached to Alex Gray’s intricate filmic electronics, Fraulein von Kassel’s deep vocal detachment was art cool sexy.
James Murphy returned as LCD SOUNDSYSTEM after seven years with this widescreen musical statement reflecting on the political situation in the US. Glancing across the Atlantic and back to the Winter Of Discontent, this 3/4 synth laden tune that had more than a passing resemblance to THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Circus Of Death’. So did “The Clown” referred to in that song remind Murphy of someone in particular?
Having started out in a more rave inclined environment, Lizette Nordahl ventured into more synthy climes and her debut mini-album had the air of KITE is all over it, which was not entirely surprising as its co-producers were Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg from the acclaimed duo. ‘Rest’ with its swirling synth sounds and widescreen Nordic atmosphere had an optimistic air of acceptance despite the melancholic tone and majestic growls.
Led by British born musician Dylan Willoughby, LOST IN STARS is a floating ensemble which also includes Elena Charbila aka KID MOXIE and producer/songwriter Darren Burgos. The latter takes the lead vocal on the spirited electronic pop of ‘Sky’; now if NEW ORDER were from Los Angeles instead of Manchester, they would have sounded like this.
After releasing her first solo album ‘Crystal World’ in 2013, Helen Marnie added more prominent choruses and guitar onto her second, resulting in a catchy Scandipop style. ‘Bloom’ was an optimistic burst of synth laden pleasure and while not totally dissimilar to LADYTRON, it was without their usual hardness or gothic gloom.
Having worked successfully in 2013 with Guy Sigsworth on ‘the minutes’, an acclaimed album which saw ALISON MOYET return to the synthesized music forms to compliment her powerful and self-assured voice, the follow-up ‘Other’ was a natural progression. The startling orchestrated electro-dub drama of ‘Alive’ gave Moyet’s two former classmates in DEPECHE MODE a stark lesson in how to actually fully realise electronic blues. Indeed, it was ‘In Chains’, the lame opener from ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ gone right…
With the narrative of ‘Savage’ provoked by Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States of America from the Paris Climate Accord, the mighty apocalyptic rock of ‘When The World Comes Apart’ was something of a revelation for GARY NUMAN. Using synths as the dominant instrument and having guitars less obviously prominent in the mix, with its richly anthemic chorus, this was the magnificent crossover song that both old and new Numanoids had been waiting for.
MICHAEL OAKLEY is a talented Glaswegian who describes his music as “Melancholic postcards from my heart wrapped up in synthesisers and drum machines”. The melodic ‘Rabbit In The Headlights’ came complete with Italo “woah-oh” chants and whether it was Synthwave, synthpop, electropop, Italo or whatever, it showcased Oakley’s fine songwriting abilities, regardless of genre.
The excellent ‘One More Time’ was a classic bittersweet OMD stomper, where “everything you gave me didn’t last”. Using electronic percussion as opposed to drum machines, the enticing verse and uplifting bridge were set to a plethora of gorgeous textures and distorted synth to add a touch of enigmatic weirdness. While Andy McCluskey cried “you can break my heart just one more time”, the track’s star was Paul Humphreys with his crystalline synth sounds laced with some portamento bounce.
As well as keyboards and violin, HANNAH PEEL can also play the trombone. Featuring an array of analogue synthesizers and a 29-piece colliery brass band, ‘Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia’ was her instrumental story about a fictional elderly musical stargazer. Beginning with the lift-off of ‘Goodbye Earth’, Miss Peel’s electronic arpeggios and synthetic noise built up to a crescendo of brass and timpani for a quite unusual combination of two very different musical worlds.
From the ashes of ANALOG ANGEL came forth RAINLAND. Their self-titled calling card was a vibrant synthpop statement, embroiled in a musicality that provided a journey through the Grampian Mountains. Ian Ferguson had already proved himself a worthy vocalist in his previous combo with dulcet tones not dissimilar to a certain Midge Ure and this was allowed to reign free on ‘Rainland’. Meanwhile, the ivories of Derek MacDonald stylistically aped the symphonic overtones of ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie.
Between 1980 to 1984, RHEINGOLD were at the forefront of Die Neue Deutsche Welle, releasing three albums and achieving their first domestic hit ‘3klangsdimensionen’ in 1981. Led by Bodo Staiger, ‘Im Lauf Der Zeit’ was their first album of new material for many years. The melodic synth of ‘Paradieshafen’ drove along a beautiful instrumental that came over like a dream collaboration between OMD and Michael Rother.
With hypnotising hints of Kate Bush and percolating Ryuichi Sakamoto style textures, ‘Who Am I’ by electropop goddess SARAH P. was an ode to “humanity, the world we live in and our importance (or unimportance) as individuals and/or as a whole”. And as the Greek-born songstress announced that “I don’t know where I come from… do you know my name?”, a metronomic beat kicked in to lead a dramatic house-laden climax.
Available on the album ‘Who Am I’ via EraseRestart Records
The normally flamboyant Welsh duo SHELTER surprised all with their darkest and most accomplished song yet in ‘Karma’. “What you want is what you’ll get…” sang Mark Bebb, “…you will get a lot more that you planned”. A vibrant but edgy production from Rob Bradley complimented the sentiment as the message was relayed loud and clear…
Available on the single ‘Karma’ via Ministry Of Pop
From ‘From Deewee’, the first new SOULWAX album since 2004’s ‘Any Minute Now’, ‘Conditions Of A Shared Belief’ was a modular synth lover’s wet dream from the Dewaele brothers. With a retro-futuristic collage of detuned blippy sounds and a backbone of smashing white noise percussion recalling THE HUMAN LEAGUE in their Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh phase, it was complimented by some suitably abstractly pitched TALKING HEADS inspired vocals.
TINY MAGNETIC PETS had their best year yet with a UK tour opening for OMD and to accompany it was their second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’. Featuring Wolfgang Flür, the album’s best song ‘Never Alone’ sounded appropriately like SAINT ETIENNE fronting KRAFTWERK. Paula Gilmer has one of the best voices in modern synthpop and her alluring tone no doubt added to the song’s breezy dreamlike state.
The adventurous third VANBOT album ‘Siberia’ was composed and recorded during a 17 day journey on the Trans-Siberian railway. The crystalline ‘Collide (Krasnoyarsk)’ though captured a more Nordic vibe with its gorgeous melodies, while the surrounding rhythmic pace of a train ride made its presence felt. An aural exploration of the relationship between time, location and emotion, ‘Siberia’ was a bold musical experiment.