Tag: Michael Oakley (Page 2 of 3)

A Short Conversation with MICHAEL OAKLEY

Canadian based Glaswegian Michael Oakley rode the Synthwave with his debut solo EP ‘California’ in late 2017.

Admittedly more synthpop than Synthwave, Michael Oakley’s songcraft is what sets him apart from much of the music emerging from that Trans-Atlantic influenced movement.

With a similar emotional centre that is at the core of the best synth-based pop from the last 40 years, songs such as ‘Turn Back Time’ and ‘Rabbit In The Headlights’ managed to capture the youthful angst of Brat Pack rom-coms and the coming-of-age movies of John Hughes. For his upcoming debut full-length offering ‘Introspect’, Michael Oakley has been re-exploring the music of teenage years.

Michael Oakley kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about the critical reception of ‘California’, producing other artists and how his new record was coming along…

How do you look back on the ‘California’ EP and its various offshoots?

Wow, I mean honestly I had no idea just how big the reaction to ‘California’ was going to be. I’ve never had that kind of a reaction before or I guess what you would call success prior to releasing that. So it’s been a wonderful new experience for me which thankfully I’m staying grounded about.

I initially set out to write an album that was about my crazy love life to help me understand it and get through it, like a kind of therapy. I didn’t intend to let anyone else hear it because the story behind those songs was so personal to me. All my songs are true stories and I’m immensely proud of ‘California’ and the impact it’s had on so many people.

You appear to have drifted slightly away from Synthwave for your debut album ‘Introspect’?

You know it’s funny because although my music is known within the Synthwave scene, I’ve always felt like my music is way more in the synthpop category. Not that I’m at all complaining! I think the Synthwave scene has kind of branched out into all these other sub-categories to give names to the changing faces of Synthwave and allow for different extensions of the sound to be embraced.

On ‘California’, I have a very romantic John Hughes movie sound which is quite atmospheric and cinematic but also euphoric. The lyrics are sad but the music is uplifting. On my new album ‘Introspect’, I wanted to move into a slightly different realm and not just write ‘California Part Two’.

As a producer, I like to feel challenged and write music which moves and excites me. A big part of that is charting new territory within my sound. I try and make sure none of my songs sound like each other and I deliberately avoid using the same sounds twice, except for Fairlight Orchestra Hits! Those are amazing!

I was listening to a lot of the music I grew up listening to like NEW ORDER, PET SHOP BOYS and Italo Disco which I have taken a big inspiration from in the sound of Introspect.

Was there any frustration that there was a demand for instrumental versions of the tracks on ‘California’ from some quarters of the movement, like they had no interest in your actual songcraft?

It’s funny because I would have never ever considered releasing an instrumental version of my album if it wasn’t for Andrew Zistler of NewRetroWave suggesting it to me.

So I thought you know, what the heck. All I have to do is go back into the sessions and mute my vocals, bounce them out and get them mastered.

For me, it was more a curious experiment to see what the response would be, which was really positive. Whenever I’m writing or working, I personally like listening to instrumental music because I can get immersed in the world of what I’m doing, but a lot of the time with vocals I get distracted. I’d like to think my instrumental album will appeal to people appreciating my production and arrangement skills!

One thing about Synthwave that The Electricity Club does struggle with is its fixation with AOR… having lived on both sides of the Atlantic, do you have any thoughts?

AOR is a double edged sword. On one hand it’s catchy, accessible and radio friendly. On the other hand, it breeds WAY too many copycat, same sounding artists which I do believe the scene is a bit saturated with. My philosophy is always about pushing for something different and there is definitely a generic, safe, default sound within the scene which does get tedious after a while.

There’s a lot of really great new artists coming out in the scene who are not afraid to take that sound and do something fresh with it like Ollie Wride and THE BAD DREAMERS who also add great songwriting in the mix too.

The Scots have always had more of an affinity with America musically, even during post-punk?

Well post-punk there was that wonderful British invasion where America were listening to predominantly British music and synthpop grew. I know SIMPLE MINDS always get mentioned in the Scottish canon of successful Scots abroad, but for me I feel like THE BLUE NILE are Scotland’s real diamond when it comes to synthpop.

As with any scene that gains traction, more people hop on board the train and the music produced can vary in quality?

Absolutely, however the gap in quality is closing in. I think two or three years ago there was a lot of music which had a bedroom produced feel to it, in the sense that the mixes felt rough and didn’t have proper mastering. More and more now the quality has increased and people who maybe don’t have the best songs or music have had their stuff professionally mixed and mastered which makes all the difference.

I think if the scene wants to keep growing and appeal to a broader, mainstream audience then producers need to overcome their shortcomings by getting help from other more skilled producers to lift them up to match the quality levels coming into the scene over the past year.

What’s your take on how things have developed sonically in the last two years, good and bad?

Sonically I’m hearing music lately that I could easily hear on the radio. I feel like the scene is only one or two steps away from breaking mainstream. There’s highly skilled producers matched up with equally talented singer / songwriters, which has brought back the ‘Fire and Ice’ groups you used to see in the 80s like ERASURE and YAZOO. People like THE MIDNIGHT, FM84, THE NEW DIVISION and THE BAD DREAMERS are setting new standards and benchmarks for quality.

Synthpop has been rebranded under the term Popwave. The ‘good’ is that we are getting better and better music coming out and the ‘bad’ is that producers with little skill can pick up a laptop with minimal plugins and churn out a copied, watered down but less satisfying version of all the good stuff.

Is the new single ‘Control’ is an extension of the ‘California’ EP?

‘Control’ is darker than anything on ‘California’ for sure and my production on it is more aggressive too.

It’s the first single from ‘Introspect’ and I wanted to make a statement with it because it’s so different to anything I’ve done. It’s my way of planting a flag in the sand to say I’m charting new territory I hope.

So what has been your approach for ‘Introspect’?

I wanted to do something different that was a more pop sounding extension of what I had done before. I deliberately used Yamaha DX sounds and Fairlight sounds to capture more of that mid 1980s Trevor Horn sound and cut back using too many analogue sounds. Especially on bass.

After I finished ‘California’, I immediately felt anxious about how I was going to follow it up after such a great reaction, so I took some time out to work out what direction I was going in and set some limitations to work within. A lot of the stylistic choices I made on ‘California’ I deliberately avoided on ‘Introspect’. Also all the songs on ‘California’ are love songs, so for ‘Introspect’ I focussed on other aspects of myself and things which deeply affect me and also there’s a large part of the songs being about me living in Glasgow and how unhappy I had become with that.

‘Left Behind’ is one mighty Italo Disco statement, how did that one come together?

Haha yeah ‘Left Behind’ is absolutely my tribute to Trevor Horn, PET SHOP BOYS and Italo Disco. I’ve never done anything like that track before. I know some people have done Italo Disco in the scene but it’s always sounded authentically retro, whereas I wanted to give it a modern take. I actually wrote that song 14 years ago when I was in a band and the song is about me feeling like everyone around me was getting settled in their career, getting married and taking out a mortgage. Yet I was still living in my parents’ house, chasing a dream of being a musician that wasn’t working out.

Those orchestra stabs!!!! Although Italo Disco was vilified back in the day, the best of it has stood the test of time… discuss! 😉

Oh man I LOVE Orchestra Hits! Those are the staple of Italo. The best of Italo Disco for me is stuff like MODERN TALKING, BAD BOYS BLUE and the early PET SHOP BOYS records.

I’m very surprised no one has come out with any songs or albums that adopt parts of that sound within the scene. On my new album, I definitely have and really hope people like it.

What’s ‘Rain’ about, you sing of how to “find my way back home”, is this a reference to Glasgow at all?

Yes absolutely. ‘Rain’ is about me feeling trapped in a life I no longer had the heart or desire to continue living. I was working in a job I felt no connection with, I felt like a lot of the relationships I had with friends had changed and diminished into acquaintances. I think I reached an age where I was looking at my life and thinking “Who the hell am I?”.

For sure I fell out of love with living in Scotland and more so after I went to California and recorded my album. Over there I met similar minded people who were all like me and I met my wife there too. So coming back home to Glasgow was a real downer after such a high and I also wanted to be with my wife permanently. The reference to finding a way back home is more about me feeling lost and being desperate to find my happy place and enjoy life again.

You duet with Dana Jean Phoenix on ‘Now I’m Alive’? What was that like?

I absolutely LOVE Dana Jean Phoenix. For me she is up there with the most talented musicians in the scene. She’s just an unbelievable singer. Such an amazing talent and a great person. I originally had the idea of doing one of those 80s duet ballads like George Michael and Whitney Houston or STARSHIP. There was really only one person I would ever do a duet with and in my mind it was always going to be Dana.

If she had said no, I definitely wouldn’t have continued with it. So I came up with the track, made a rough demo and sent it over to Dana and said “You have total freedom to write whatever you want to do with it”. I’m super happy with how it turned out and it’s definitely ticked off one of my bucket list things getting to sing with her.

You’ve also been working with Ollie Wride, vocalist with FM-84, is it important for you to branch out and work with other artists?

I have to confess there was a time in my life when I wasn’t open to collaboration and was very territorial about my work. However over the past couple of years, I’ve been better at it and realised that all my best work involves other people contributing in some way.

I got introduced to Ollie Wride through a friend and we were both in the right place at the right time. He wanted to work with a producer on his solo album and I was working on my solo album and wanted to work with another writer who would help me to push out my comfort zones and help me to say what I wanted to say.

I knew what the songs were about but was struggling to write all the lyrics and would do these therapy sessions with him where I would talk about what the song was about and then send him lyrics I had. Sometimes it was just a verse or a chorus and he would take what I had said and work his magic. I really couldn’t have finished this album without him.

I think it’s crucial to work with other people in order to grow as an artist. You have to keep yourself opening up to new ideas and new ways of working or you end up making watered down versions of your previous work. It’s important to learn how to play off someone else’s strengths and to use your strengths to lift them without focussing too much on you and how good you look. Team work being the sentiment I’m trying to make there.

So what are your hopes and fears for ‘Introspect’?

My hope is that the same people who really loved ‘California’ have the same reaction with ‘Introspect’. I hope they can appreciate my progression from ‘California’ and share the same vision I had while making it.

In terms of fears… I’m not sure, I mean I guess it’s my worst fear that people don’t get the creative direction I’ve gone in but we shall see what the reaction is. Ask me in 6 months *laughs*

The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Michael Oakley

‘Control’ is released as a digital single by NewRetroWave, available via the usual outlets and direct from https://newretrowave.bandcamp.com/track/control

‘California’ is still available as a download EP in song, remix and instrumental formats from https://michaeloakleysynthwave.bandcamp.com




Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
10th January 2019


Although best known as the lead vocalist for FM-84, the San Francisco based vehicle for Scotsman Colin Bennett, Los Angeles domiciled Brightonian OLLIE WRIDE has been working with another Scot Michael Oakley on solo material.

And while ‘Running In The Night’ in 2016 with FM-84 made him more widely known within Synthwave circles, Wride’s ‘The Driver’ explores the synth assisted pop rock of BILLY IDOL and SIMPLE MINDS with a dynamic production from Michael Oakley, who himself could potentially develop into the next Keith Forsey, a one-time protégé of Da Maestro Giorgio Moroder.

Directed by Brad A Kinnan and filmed in Los Angeles, the visually accompaniment captures Wride as an outsider driving an open-top Buick who is living in the shadows of his past life and performing in seedy clubs.

With guitars by Chris Huggett who also co-wrote ‘The Driver’, the song follows up Wride’s previous popwave solo singles ‘Never Live Without You’ and ‘Overcome’. Also featuring THE NIGHT HOUR, the track shows how a Trans-Atlantic aesthetic can be applied effectively without wholly submitting to the insipid overtures of AOR.

Wride will be back in the UK with FM-84 for a sold out gig at The Garage in London on Saturday 16th February 2019, while Oakley has just released a new single ‘Control’ which will feature on his forthcoming debut album ‘Introspect’ and which was also co-written with Wride ?

‘The Driver’ is released by New Retro Wave and available from the usual digital outlets







Text by Chi Ming Lai
10th December 2018

TEC’s 2018 End Of Year Review

2018 saw JEAN-MICHEL JARRE celebrate 50 years in the business and whether the world really needed another of his compilations, ‘Planet Jarre’ was probably one of the better collected representations of his work for casual admirers.

But not standing still and releasing his fourth new album in three years, ‘Equinoxe Infinity’ continued the story as the French Maestro tuned 70.

SOFT CELL made a totally unexpected return for a huge one-off farewell gig at London’s O2 Arena; and with it came a boxed set, the ‘Northern Lights’ single and other new recordings which have raised hopes for a new album.

From the same era, FIAT LUX announced plans for their debut album ‘Save Symmetry’ with an excellent lead track ‘It’s You’, while B-MOVIE came up with their most synth-propelled single yet in ‘Stalingrad’.

But one act who actually did comeback with a brand new album in 2018 were DUBSTAR; now a duo of Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie, as ‘One’ they reminded audiences as to why they were the acceptable face of Britpop with their bridge to Synth Britannia.

IONNALEE finally released her debut opus ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ and her tour which included choice cuts from IAMAMIWHOAMI, proved to be one of the best value-for-money live experiences in 2018, one that was even endorsed by Welsh songstress Charlotte Church.

CHVRCHES offered up their third album ‘Love Is Dead’ and continued their role as international flagwavers for quality synthpop, while EMIKA presented her best album yet in ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, an exquisite electronic record with a Bohemian aura.

JOHN GRANT was on an artistic roll both solo and in partnership with WRANGLER as CREEP SHOW with two new albums. However, he was beaten by Neil Arthur who managed three albums over a 12 month period as NEAR FUTURE and BLANCMANGE including ‘Wanderlust’, possibly the latter’s best body of work in its 21st Century incarnation.

It was a busy year for STEVE JANSEN with a new solo ambient work ‘Corridor’, the well-received vinyl reissue of JAPAN’s two Virgin-era studio albums and his epic, more organically flavoured band project EXIT NORTH with their debut long player ‘Book Of Romance & Dust’.

SARAH NIXEY went on some ‘Night Walks’ for her best solo album yet, a wonderful collection of everything she had ever been musically all wonderfully rolled into one.

Meanwhile TRACEY THORN went back to the ‘Dancefloor’ with her ‘Record’ which content wise was right up there with some of ALISON MOYET’s electronica output from the last five years.

Those who liked their electronic music darker were well served with NINE INCH NAILS, IAMX, KIRLIAN CAMERA and HELIX, but after experimenting with the single only format for a few years, Daniel Graves announced he was taking the plunge again with a new AESTHETIC PERFECTION album.

The Sacred Bones stable provided some quality releases from THE SOFT MOON, HILARY WOODS, ZOLA JESUS and JOHN CARPENTER. Meanwhile, providing some fierce socio-political commentary on the state of the UK was GAZELLE TWIN.

Hungary’s BLACK NAIL CABARET offered some noirish ‘Pseudopop’ and promising Norwich youngsters LET’S EAT GRANDMA got more deeply into electronica without losing any of their angsty teenage exuberance on their second album ‘I’m All Ears’.

Less intense and more dreamy were GLASSHOUSE, the new duo fronted by former TECHNIQUE singer Xan Tyler.

Aussies CONFIDENCE MAN provided some wacky dancey glitz to the pop world and after nearly four decades in the business, Canadian trailblazers RATIONAL YOUTH finally played their first ever concert in London at ‘Non Stop Electronic Cabaret’ alongside dark wave compatriots PSYCHE and Numan-influenced Swedish poptronica exponents PAGE.

Sweden was again highly productive with KARIN PARK, JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM, TRAIN TO SPAIN and VAL SOLO while Norway took their own approach with FARAOSOFT AS SNOW and ELECTRO SPECTRE setting their standard. Veteran Deutschlanders THE TWINS and PETER HEPPNER returned with new albums after notable recorded absences while next door in Belgium, METROLAND presented themselves as ‘Men In A Frame’.

While the new HEAVEN 17 album ‘Not For Public Broadcast’ is still to be finished, Glenn Gregory teamed by with live keyboardist Berenice Scott as AFTERHERE. Their long-time friend Claudia Brücken performed as xPROPAGANDA with Susanne Freytag and partnered up with one-time TANGERINE DREAM member Jerome Froese, releasing the ‘Beginn’ album in the process.

It was a year of interesting collaborations all-round with UNDERWORLD working with Iggy Pop, U96 linking up with Wolfgang Flür for an excellent single called ‘Zukunftsmusik’ and German techno pioneer CHRIS LIEBING recruiting POLLY SCATTERGOOD and GARY NUMAN for his Mute released album ‘Burn Slow’.

Based in Berlin, THE KVB offered up some brooding gothic moods with ‘Only Now Forever’ while Valerie Renay of NOBLESSE OBLIGE released her first solo album ‘Your Own Shadow’.

Highly appealing were a number of quirky Japanese influenced female artists from around the globe including COMPUTER MAGIC, MECHA MAIKO and PLASMIC. But there were also a number of acts with Far Eastern heritage like STOLEN, FIFI RONG, DISQO VOLANTE and SHOOK who continued to make a worthy impression with their recorded output in 2018.

Heavy synth rock duo NIGHT CLUB presented their ‘Scary World’ on the back of tours opening for COMBICHRIST and A PERFECT CIRCLE while also from across the pond, NYXX and SINOSA both showcased their alluring potential.

At the poppier end of the spectrum, Holger Wobker used Pledge Music to relaunch BOYTRONIC with their most recent vocal incumbent James Knights in an unexpected twist to once again prove the old adage to “never say never” as far as the music industry is concerned.

Meanwhile, Chris Payne co-wrote and co-produced the excellent ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP with KATJA VON KASSEL while also revealing plans for an autobiography and opening for his old boss…

The surprise album of the year was CHRIS CARTER with his ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’ while using a not dissimilar concept with their second album ‘Hello Science’, REED & CAROLINE took their folk laden synthpop out on a US tour opening for ERASURE.

IMMERSION provided a new collection of their modern Motorik as SHRIEKBACK, FISCHERSPOONER, THE PRESETS, HEARTBREAK and QUEEN OF HEARTS all made comebacks of varying degrees with audiences still eager for their work.

STEVEN JONES & LOGAN SKY harked back to the days when GARY NUMAN and OMD would release two albums in one year by offering ‘Hans Und Lieselotte’ and ‘The Electric Eye’ in 2016. Those veteran acts themselves celebrated their 40th anniversaries by going orchestral, something which SIMPLE MINDS also did when they opted to re-record ‘Alive & Kicking’ for the ’80s Symphonic’ collection although Jim Kerr forgot how a third of the song went!

With SIMPLE MINDS also performing a horrible and barely recognisable ‘Promised You A Miracle’ during BBC’s ‘The Biggest Weekend’, making up for the live joke that his former band have become was one-time bassist Derek Forbes with the album ‘Broken Hearted City’ as ZANTi with Anni Hogan of MARC & THE MAMBAS fame. Other former members of high-profile bands were busy too with Ian Burden, formally of THE HUMAN LEAGUE returning with the Floydian ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ while A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS reformed briefly for an orchestral re-run of their catalogue.

With the release of their second album ‘Kinetik’, EKKOES handed over THE HUMAN LEAGUE support baton to SHELTER who came up with their best body of work yet in the more introspective shades of ‘Soar’

That darker approach manifested itself on singer Mark Bebb’s side project FORM with Keith Trigwell of SPEAK & SPELL whose debut long player ‘defiance + entropy’ also came out in 2018.

Having been championed by RÖYSKSOPP, Wales’ MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY returned with ‘Infinity Mirror’ while riding on the well-deserved momentum from opening for OMD, Ireland’s TINY MAGNETIC PETS embarked on their first headlining tour. Representing North of the border were RYAN VAIL and HANNAH PEEL, but hailing from Scotland were WITCH OF THE VALE who proved to be one of the most interesting new acts of 2018 having supported ASSEMBLAGE 23 on their most recent UK visit.

There was a good showing from UK acts in 2018 with RODNEY CROMWELL, ANI GLASS, THE FRIXION, NEW ARCADES, OLLIE WRIDE and FAKE TEAK all issuing some excellent synth tinged songs for public consumption. However, the side was let down by the conveyor belt of lame profanity laden offerings from a number of British acts afflicted with deluded normality.

NINA’s long awaited debut album ‘Sleepwalking’ was a fine hybrid of synthpop and the currently fashionable Synthwave aesthetic; her live double billing with Canadian synthpopsters PARALLELS was one of the hottest tickets of the year. The sub-genre was indeed making waves and there were some very enjoyable artists coming out of it like GUNSHIP, DANA JEAN PHOENIX and MICHAEL OAKLEY.

However, the endless AOR excesses, moonlight sax breaks and highly unimaginative band monikers using numbers between 80 to 89 affixed to an archaic technology reference, illustrated by yet another neon sunset, VCR grid and Lamborghini, were becoming tiresome.

As Synthwave cynics, The Electricity Club’s touch paper was being lit big time! The whole point of the synthesizer’s role during the Second British Invasion of the US was to fight against the insipid overtures of AOR like TOTO, CHICAGO and JOURNEY, NOT to make music coated with its horrid stench as THE MIDNIGHT did in 2018 with their long player ‘Kids’.

But there was naivety within some quarters too; electronic music did not begin in 2011 with ‘Drive’, an above average film with a good if slightly over rated soundtrack. However, its cultural influence has led to a plethora of meandering tracks made by gamer boys which sounded like someone had forgotten to sing on them; perhaps they should have gone back to 1978 and listened to GIORGIO MORODER’s ‘Midnight Express Theme’ to find out how this type of instrumental music should be done?

Many of the newer artists influenced by Synth Britannia that The Electricity Club has featured have sometimes been accused of being stuck in the past, but a fair number of Synthwave acts were really taking the soggy biscuit with their retro-obsession.

Rock band MUSE’s use of glowing artwork by Kyle Lambert of ‘Stranger Things’ fame on their eighth album ‘Simulation Theory’ sent sections of the Synthwave community into meltdown. There were cries that they had “stolen the aesthetics and concept” and how “it’s not relevant to their sound”! But WHAM! had Peter Saville designed sleeves and never sounded like NEW ORDER or OMD, while electropop diva LA ROUX used a visual stylisation for ‘In For The Kill’ that has since been claimed by Synthwavers as their own, despite it being from 2009 when Ryan Gosling was peddling graveyard indie rock in DEAD MAN’S BONES 😉

This was one of the bigger ironies of 2018, especially as MUSE have always used synths! One of Matt Bellamy and co’s biggest musical inspirations is ULTRAVOX, indicating the trio probably have a better understanding of the fusion between the synthesizer, rock and classical music, as proven by the ‘Simulation Theory’ bookends ‘Algorithm’ and ‘The Void’, than any static laptop exponent with a Jan Hammer fixation.

It is interesting to note today how electronic music has split into so many factions, but there’s still the assumed generalisation that it is all one thing and that synthpop fans must also like Synthwave, Deep House, EDM, Industrial and those tedious beach chill-out remixes.

Back in the day and even now, some fans of THE HUMAN LEAGUE didn’t like OMD, DEPECHE MODE fans only liked DEPECHE MODE and rock fans had a token favourite electronic band. Out of all the synth based pop acts of the Synth Britannia era, The Electricity Club had very little time for THOMPSON TWINS despite their huge international success, but their leader Tom Bailey’s 2018 solo recorded return ‘Science Fiction’ was warmly received by many.

Just as COLDPLAY and SNOW PATROL fans don’t all embrace ELBOW, it is ok to have preferences and to say so. Not liking the music of an artist does not make you a bad person, but liking everything does not make you a better person either… in fact, it shows you probably have no discerning taste! In 2002, SOFT CELL warned of a ‘Monoculture’, and if there is no taste differentiation in art and music, it will spell the end of cultural enhancement.

Taste is always the key, but then not everyone who loves chocolate likes Hersheys… and with that analogy, The Electricity Club bids farewell to 2018 and looks forward to a 2019 that includes the return of TEARS FOR FEARS and the first full live shows from GIORGIO MORODER, plus new releases by VILE ELECTRODESKITE, VILLA NAH, I AM SNOW ANGEL and LADYTRON.

THE ELECTRICITY CLUB Contributor Listings of 2018


Best Album: MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY Infinity Mirror
Best Song: MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY Lafayette
Best Gig: TANGERINE DREAM at London Union Chapel
Best Video: THE SOFT MOON Give Something
Most Promising New Act: VOX LOW


Best Album: BLANCMANGE Wanderlust
Best Song: ELECTRO SPECTRE The Way You Love
Best Gig: OMD at Glasgow Kelvingrove Park
Best Video: NYXX Voodoo
Most Promising New Act: WITCH OF THE VALE


Best Album: DUBSTAR One
Best Song: PAGE Start (Poptronica Version)
Best Gig: DIE KRUPPS + FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY at O2 Academy Islington
Best Video: FIFI RONG Horizon
Most Promising New Act: ZANTi


Best Album: EMIKA Falling In Love With Sadness
Best Song: FIAT LUX It’s You
Best Gig: SOFT CELL at London O2 Arena
Best Video: FAKE TEAK Bears Always Party The Exact Right Amount
Most Promising New Act: WITCH OF THE VALE


Best Album: GUNSHIP Dark All Day
Best Song: SHELTER Karma
Best Gig: IAMX at London Electric Ballroom
Best Video: JUNO REACTOR Let’s Turn On
Most Promising New Act: MECHA MAIKO

Text by Chi Ming Lai
8th December 2018

NEW ARCADES Nothing Is Lost

NEW ARCADES are Dean Canty and Adam Sullivan, a synth powered duo from London reimagining an era when they might have been soundtracking Brat Pack movies.

With liberal use primarily of synth based textures, but also occasionally integrating guitars and cleverly programmed live drum feels, their most highest profile release to date has been ‘Irreparable’, an enjoyable AOR flavoured trioet with German songstress NINA and her percussionist Laura Fares. Making music since 2013, NEW ARCADES have already released a couple of EPs which have been welcomed within the synthwave community; one interesting aspect about the duo’s output is that they eschew remixes and this ethos of getting it right first time is interesting in a market place where dance reworks and instrumental versions are common place.

But now comes the important step of widening their reach with a new 5 track EP entitled ‘Nothing Is Lost’. The key track is ‘Inhale’ featuring the sultry vocal presence Lula; a brilliantly cinematic pop tune with a pulsing backbone and (Shock! Horror!) tempo changes, ‘Inhale’ wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘The Breakfast Club’, ‘Some Kind Of Wonderful’ or ‘St Elmo’s Fire’. It showcases Canty and Sullivan’s songwriting potential if nothing else.

The EP is bookended by two marvellous instrumentals ‘Afterlight’ and ‘Our Place In The Stars’; the titles are self-explanatory but demonstrate how NEW ARCADES grasp the importance of voicing in music. This might sound a bit odd when no singing is actually taking place, but often synthwave instrumentals can just drift along with a neon backdrop and not much else takes place. Again, taking in rhythmic respite and ensuring that their synth lines have hooks and counterpoints, Canty and Sullivan have an intuitive approach to arrangement and production.

With Canty taking the lead vocals on the remaining two songs, ‘Wait For Tonight’ is an enjoyable widescreen number with a hazy sunny glitz that recalls Aussie duo CLIENT LIAISON, although the tune might have benefitted from using a contributing female vocalist in the chorus.

However, ‘We Can’t Turn Back’ takes the AOR elements that are often prevalent in synthwave a bit too far, with the very loud electronic drums likely to take someone’s head off! But when some acts can’t even produce one decent track, to be have three excellent ones on a single long form EP is most welcome.

Unsurprisingly given the dramatic aura of their music, NEW ARCADES have been already featured in cult films such as ‘Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong’ and ‘A Light Beneath Their Feet’. They could go even further and are certainly up there with Toronto-based Glaswegian MICHAEL OAKLEY in terms of achievable crossover appeal.

‘Nothing Is Lost’ is released on 27th April 2018, available as a CD, cassette or download from https://newarcades.bandcamp.com

NEW ARCADES appear at the Outland Glasgow 2018 Retro Party Extravaganza at The Classic Grand on Saturday 5th May with MICHAEL OAKLEY, TIMECOP 1983, VHS DREAMS and many more, tickets available from https://tickets-scotland.com/outla





Text by Chi Ming Lai
26th April 2018

The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF 2017

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!”

Available on the single ‘Rhythm + Control’ via aestheticperfection.bandcamp.com/track/rhythm-control-electro-version-feat-william-control-nyxx



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.

Available on the album ‘Planets + Persona’ via by Kscope



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.

Available on the EP ‘Form’ via battletapes.bigcartel.com



“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.

Available on the album ‘Diplomatic Immunity’ via Remote Control Records


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.

Available on the album ‘Heir Of The Dog’ via cultwithnoname.bandcamp.com


DAILY PLANET featuring MAC AUSTIN Heaven Opened

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.

Available on the album ‘Play Rewind Repeat’ via Progress Productions



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.

Available on the EP ‘Direct Lines 2017’ via https://www.electroniccircus.co.uk/store/


FADER 3D Carpets

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’.

Available on the ‘First Light’ via Blanc Check Records



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.

Available on the EP ‘Ffrwydrad Tawel’ via aniglass.bandcamp.com/



‘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.

Available on the album ‘Still // Alone’ via Optimo


GOLDFRAPP Systemagic

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.

Available on the album ‘Silver Eye’ via Mute Artists



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.

Available on the album ‘Zombies 1985’ via Lex Records


KATJA VON KASSEL In Little Rooms (Show Me Love)

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.

Available on the EP ‘Katja von Kassel’ via katjavonkassel.bandcamp.com



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?

Available on the album ‘American Dream’ via DFA Records



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.

Available on the EP ‘Queerbody’ via lizettelizette.bandcamp.com/releases



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.

Available on the album ‘Lost In Stars’ via lostinstars.bandcamp.com/



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.

Available on the album ‘Strange Words & Weird Wars’ via Disco Piñata



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…

Available on the album ‘Other’ via Cooking Vinyl


GARY NUMAN When The World Comes Apart

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.

Available on the album ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ via BMG


MICHAEL OAKLEY Rabbit In The Headlights

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.

Available on the EP ‘California’ via michaeloakleysynthwave.bandcamp.com


OMD One More Time

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.

Available on the album ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’ via 100% Records


HANNAH PEEL Goodbye Earth

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.

Available on the album ‘Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia’ via My Own Pleasure



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.

Available on the EP ‘Touch’ via rainland.bandcamp.com/


RHEINGOLD Paradieshafen

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.

Available on the album ‘Im Lauf Der Zeit’ via Lucky Bob Records / Soulfood



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


SOULWAX Conditions Of Shared Belief

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.

Available on the album ‘From Deewee’ via PIAS



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.

Available on the album ‘Deluxe/Debris’ via Happy Robots Records


VANBOT Collide (Krasnoyarsk)

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.

Available on the single ‘Collide (Krasnoyarsk)’ via Lisch Recordings


Text by Chi Ming Lai
11th December 2017

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