Despite his name, Zachery Allan Starkey is not the son of Ringo Starr but a New York based technopop artist with a love of NEW ORDER.
Indeed, he was invited to open for NEW ORDER during their ‘Music Complete’ tour in North America in 2016. With two albums ‘DIY’ and ‘Hard Power’ already under his belt, Starkey has been working on his new album ‘Fear City’.
‘Force’ is the third song to be previewed from ‘Fear City’ and is a powerful collaboration with Bernard Sumner of NEW ORDER featuring his signature Italo-influenced sequencing style. Starkey’s impassioned authentic vocals are a rallying call to the people with the daunting prospect of Donald Trump being re-elected on the horizon.
With a video reflecting on current world events, the jointly produced ‘Force’ is an uplifting electronic anthem reminding everyone to remain strong and brave in these dark and frightening times.
Hypnotically rhythmic with a danceable post-punk HI-NRG flavour, ‘Force’ follows ‘XXX‘ and ‘No Security’ as trailers for ‘Fear City’, an album which wears its rumbling techno and house flavours on its sleeve but does not overblow them, with the emphasis being on synth hooks and melodies while also being propulsive enough for the club environment. Sumner makes a second appearance on the ‘Fear City’ album, contributing to its title track.
Zachery Allan Starkey said: “’Fear City’ is about life in NYC in 2019/2020. It is about nightlife, darkness, the opiate epidemic, current political/economic fears, and uncertainties/anxiety caused by the rise of right wing politics around the world. It’s not an overtly political album, but it is a product of the current times. Hence the title Fear City, which is, as you might know, also an old name for New York City. With this album, I’ve tried to combine elements of Techno, Electro, Post-Punk, Coldwave, Minimal Synth, SynthPunk, Disco, and Trip Hop to hopefully create a unique musical backdrop.”
It was obvious there was gap waiting to be filled for a quality web publication that featured the best in new and classic electronic pop without having to lower itself to using the dreaded “80s” label. The Electricity Club was it and became reality on 15th March 2010.
Electronic pop music didn’t start in that Thatcher decade and certainly didn’t end there either. So there was even an editorial diktat which banned The Electricity Club’s writers from using the lazy”80s” term as a reference. Tellingly, several PR representatives said that one of the site’s main appeals was that it avoided the whole nostalgia bent that had been presented by both virtual and physical media.
At the time, kooky female fronted keyboard based pop like LA ROUX, LITTLE BOOTS, LADYHAWKE, LADY GAGA and MARINA & THE DIAMONDS were among those touted as being the future at the time. But it proved to be something of a red herring, as those acts evolved back into what they actually were, conventional pop acts.
The Electricity Club preferred the sort of innovative synthpop as outlined in BBC4’s Synth Britannia documentary with the next generation of artists like MARSHEAUX, VILE ELECTRODES, VILLA NAH and MIRRORS more than fitting the bill and that ethos of featuring pop music using synthesizers stuck too.
Meanwhile, The Electricity Club’s portfolio expanded swiftly with key personalities such as Rusty Egan, Sarah Blackwood, Richard James Burgess, Warren Cann, Chris Payne, Thomas Dolby, John Foxx, Andy McCluskey, Neil Arthur, Alan Wilder, Mark Reeder, Gary Langan, Jori Hulkkonen, Howard Jones, Mira Aroyo, Sarah Nixey and Hannah Peel among those giving interviews to the site during its first two years.
The Electricity Club has always prided itself in asking the questions that have never usually been asked, but which fans want to know the answers to. And it was with this reputation for intelligent and well researched interviewing that in March 2011, the site was granted its biggest coup yet.
Speaking to Stephen Morris of the then-on hiatus NEW ORDER, the drummer cryptically hinted during the ensuing chat that Manchester’s finest would return by saying “I never say never really”; and that is exactly what happened in Autumn of that year and the band have been there since, as popular as ever and still making great music with the release of ‘Music Complete’ in 2015.
Monday 21st March 2011 was an interesting day that partied like it was 1981 when it saw the release of albums by DURAN DURAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS. Also in 2011, Mute Records celebrated their influential legacy with a weekender also at London’s Roundhouse which culminated in ERASURE, YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY performing in the same set.
Despite the ‘Brilliant’ return of ULTRAVOX, 2012 paled in comparison after such a fruitful year and several acts who were featured probably would not have gained as much coverage in more competitive periods. With pressure from outsiders as to what was hot and what was not, this was the only time The Electricity Club felt it was obliged to support a domestic scene.
But realising acts like HURTS and STRANGERS were actually just jumping on an apparent synth bandwagon and possessing more style than substance, The Electricity Club decided to change tact and only featured acts it felt truly passionate about, even if it meant upsetting the wider synth community. The reasoning being that just because a band uses a synthesizer doesn’t mean it is good.
During this time, MIRRORS sadly disbanded while VILLA NAH mutated into SIN COS TAN. But the year did see the launch of CHVRCHES who stood out from the crowd with their opening gambit ‘Lies’. With their Taylor Swift gone electro template, Lauren Mayberry and Co managed to engage an audience who didn’t know or care what a Moog Voyager was, to listen to synthpop!
2013 turned out to be one of the best years for electronic pop since its Synth Britannia heyday. What The Electricity Club achieved during this year would take up a whole article in itself… there were high profile interviews with Alison Moyet, Gary Numan and Karl Bartos while OMD released the album of the decade in ‘English Electric’. PET SHOP BOYS made up for their ‘Elysium’ misstep with ‘Electric’ while there was finally a third volume in BEF’s ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’ covers series.
Although 2014 started tremendously with The Electricity Club being invited to meet Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür in Cologne, the year suffered next to quality of 2013.
The interviews continued, particularly with key figures from the Synth Britannia era including Midge Ure and the often forgotten man of the period Jo Callis who was a key member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE during their imperial phase.
But the year saw grandeurs of delusion at their highest, with one artist of a far too normal disposition in particular failing to realise that in order for a crowdfunding campaign to succeed, they needed to actually have quite a few fans in the first place!
Then, there was the similarly clueless Alt-Fest debacle which saw the organisers play Fantasy Festival with no cash to underwrite the infrastructure to enable it to actually happen!
Sadly today, there are still egotistic chancers organising events with zero budget and the money from ticket sales being fleeced to fund their holidays. But these artificial factors are rarely considered and so long as there are lower league artists desperate to play for nowt and a misguided enhancement in profile that is often on a platform that provides minimal exposure anyway, then the confidence tricks will continue.
2015 saw the local emergence of Rodney Cromwell and Gwenno, while the majestic Swedish duo KITE proved that they were the best synth act in Europe with the ‘VI’ EP and their impressive live show.
It was also the year when ERASURE front man Andy Bell gave his first interview to The Electricity Club to offer some revealing insights.
Making something of a comeback after a recorded absence of nearly eight years, Jean-Michel Jarre presented his ambitious two volume ‘Electronica’ project which saw collaborations with a varied pool of musicians including Pete Townsend, Lang Lang, John Carpenter, Vince Clarke, Hans Zimmer, Cyndi Lauper, Sebastien Tellier and Gary Numan.
VILLA NAH returned in 2016, as did YELLO with Fifi Rong as one of their guest vocalists while APOPTYGMA BERZERK went instrumental and entered the ‘Exit Popularity Contest’. Riding on the profile generated from their ‘A Broken Frame’ covers album, MARSHEAUX released their biggest-selling long player to date, a two city concept in ‘Ath.Lon’. This was also the year that The Electricity Club first became acquainted with the analogue synthesizer heaven of Johan Baeckström, a modern day Vince Clarke if ever there was one.
However DEPECHE MODE unleashed their most dire record yet in ‘Spirit’, a dreary exercise in faux activism bereft of tunes. Salt was rubbed into the wound when they merely plonked an underwhelming arena show into a stadium for their summer London show.
The trend was to continue later in 2019 as DEPECHE MODE just plonked 14 albums into a boxed set, while OMD offered an album of quality unreleased material in their ‘Souvenir’ package.
And with DEPECHE MODE’s sad descent into a third rate pseudo-rock combo during the last 15 years to appease that ghastly mainstream American institution called The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame with guitars and drums, Dave Gahan in particular with his ungrateful dismissal of the pioneering synth-based material with which he made his fortune with, now has what he has always coveted.
And don’t get The Electricity Club started on the 2019 Moog Innovation Award being given to Martin Gore, a real insult to true synth pioneers if ever there was one, including Daniel Miller, Vince Clarke and Alan Wilder, the three men who actually did the electronic donkey work on those imperial phase DEPECHE MODE albums! Gore may have been a very good songwriter during that time, but a synth innovator? Oh come on!?!
With regards Synth Britannia veterans, new albums in 2017 from Richard Barbieri and Steve Jansen saw a revived interest in JAPAN, the band with which they made their name.
Despite releasing their final album ‘Tin Drum’ in 1981, as a later conversation with one-time guitarist Rob Dean proved, cumulatively from related article views, JAPAN became the most popular act on The Electricity Club.
The return of SOFT CELL dominated 2018 with a lavish boxed set that was not just comprised of previously released long players, new songs, new books, a BBC documentary and a spectacular farewell show at London’s O2 Arena.
EMIKA was ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ and Swedish songstress IONNALEE showcased one of the best value-for-money live presentations in town, with a show that surreal imagined Kate Bush at a rave!
But from China came STOLEN, one of the most exciting bands in years who were then later rewarded for their graft with a European tour opening for NEW ORDER.
2019 was the year when synthwave graduates Dana Jean Phoenix and Ollie Wride were coming into their own as live performers, while electronic disco maestro Giorgio Moroder embarked on a concert tour for the first time with his songs being the true stars of the show.
Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS gave his first interview to The Electricity Club to tie in with his solo album ‘Gone From Here’, while a pub lunch with Mark White and Stephen Singleton mutated into an extensive chat about their days in ABC. Lloyd Cole adopted a more synthesized template on ‘Guessworks’ and Britpop went synth as GENEVA’s Andrew Montgomery formed US with Leo Josefsson of Swedish trio LOWE.
Partly because of this success, some of those who were less talented felt aggrieved despite feeling a narcisstic entitlement to be featured. A few deluded artists even went as far as to blame The Electricity Club publically for their lack of traction! NoW that’s what The Electricity Club calls deluded!
If an act is good enough, the fact that The Electricity Club hasn’t featured them should not matter, especially as other electronic and synth blogs are available. After taking its eye of the ball once before in 2012, The Electricity Club maintained a trust of its own gut instinct.
Meanwhile, its stance has been tested by those shouting loudest who instantaneously champion what they perceive as the next big thing like sheep, without really looking ahead at a wider picture. However, TRAVIS on VSTs is just not The Electricity Club’s thing frankly…
The Electricity Club’s participation in the annual ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE in Düsseldorf for on-stage interviews with Rusty Egan, Chris Payne, Mark Reeder and Zeus B Held was another high profile engagement to be proud of. Then there were six TEC branded live events and five rounds of hosting ‘An Audience with Rusty Egan’ in one of the most unenviable but highly entertaining refereeing assignments in music 😉
Other highlights over the last ten years have included The Electricity Club’s 2015 career retrospective on German trio CAMOUFLAGE being edited and used as booklet notes for the Universal Music sanctioned compilation CD ‘The Singles’.
There was also ‘The Electricity Club’ 2CD released by Amour Records in 2019 which included TEC featured acts like MESH, SECTION 25, SIN COS TAN, KID KASIO, NIGHT CLUB, QUIETER THAN SPIDERS, ELECTRONIC CIRCUS, DAYBEHAVIOR, LIEBE, TWINS NATALIA, KID MOXIE, GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS, ELEVEN: ELEVEN, AUTOMATIC WRITING, FOTONOVELA and QUEEN OF HEARTS among its 34 excellent tracks, including a bangin’ MARSHEAUX remix of Katy Perry!
As 2020 settles in, highly regarded artists within the electronic community continue to engage with The Electricity Club. Neil Arthur recently gave his seventh interview as BLANCMANGE and his tenth interview overall, taking into account his side projects FADER and NEAR FUTURE. Not far behind, Martyn Ware has also been a regular interviewee having spoken to the site on six occasions while Paul Humphreys has been interviewed no less than five times.
The Electricity Club is still pushing the envelope, continuing to reflect the interests of people who love the Synth Britannia era and have a desire to hear new music seeded from that ilk. With artists like ANI GLASS, IMI, KNIGHT$, NINA, MECHA MAIKO, GEISTE and PLASMIC among those on the cusp of a wider breakthrough, there is still more excellent music still to be created, discovered and savoured.
One inferior revivalist platform featuring far too much normal rubbish once complained that The Electricity Club “only feature bands that are popular…”; what they actually mean is “only feature bands that are really good”! 😉
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to everyone who has taken the time read any article on the site over the last ten years, it is greatly appreciated.
‘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:
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
Please note this product is NOT on sale through The Electricity Club website and only via retailers
Text by Chi Ming Lai
Image Design by Volker Maass
16th March 2020
So how did The Electricity Club arrive at its discerning musical ethos?
It probably all began with a very liberal and Bohemian junior school teacher named Miss Nielsen who played KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’, PINK FLOYD’s ‘Echoes’ and the soundtrack of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ to the class, with the unusual sound of all three providing an otherworldly, yet captivating listen.
Later on, various parts of the 22 minute ‘Autobahn’ track appeared on the end credits of BBC children’s drama ‘Out Of Bounds’ and opened ‘Newsround Extra’, but 1977 was to become the true Year Zero in electronic pop. With ‘Oxygène’, ‘Sound & Vision’, ‘Magic Fly’ and ‘I Feel Love’ all hitting the UK Top 3 within months of each other, this was effectively the beginning of synths designing the future.
To celebrate the 10th birthday of the site, here is a very personal list of 30 tracks that shaped The Electricity Club. These are primarily songs that solidified and expanded the interest in synth or later provided hope in the face of real music snobbery and the return of the guitar in the wake of Britpop.
There will be grumbles that the likes of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, HEAVEN 17, YAZOO, DURAN DURAN, TALK TALK, PROPAGANDA, CLIENT, RÖYKSOPP and others are not featured, and certainly if this list was a 40, they would all be included. But this list is an impulsive snapshot of The Electricity Club’s own journey in music, as opposed to being a history of electronic pop or a best of.
What? No industrial, acid house, techno or dubstep you ask? Well, that’s because The Electricity Club disliked the majority of it. While this is not always the case, the site has generally about synthpop ie pop music using synthesizers, as can be seen from this rather esteemed electronic roll of honour 😉
This is the history that the too cool for school media, who think everything jumped from KRAFTWERK to Detroit Techno in one fell swoop, don’t like to mention…
With a restriction of one track per artist moniker and presented in yearly and then alphabetical order featuring music from before the site came into being, here is why The Electricity Club is how it is…
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE Oxygène (1976)
For many including Jean-Michel Jarre, ‘Popcorn’ for their first experience of a synthpop hit and he released his own version under the moniker of THE POPCORN ORCHESTRA in 1972. But while working on his first proper full length electronic album in 1976, Jarre adapted a melodic phrase from the late Gershon Kingsley’s composition as the main theme of what was to become the project’s lead single. That composition was ‘Oxygène IV’ and the rest is history.
Exploring a “whole new school of pretension” with his new creative muse Brian Eno, ‘Sound & Vision’ saw David Bowie capture a tense European aesthetic. Utilising an uplifting rhythm guitar hook and an ARP Solina string machine, the most distinctive feature was the pitch shifted percussion, produced by Tony Visconti feeding the snare drum though an Eventide H910 Harmonizer. The half instrumental track was a taster of the approach that was to come with the half instrumental parent album ‘Low’.
SPACE was the brainchild of Didier Marouani who went under the pseudonym of Ecama and formed the collective in 1977 with Roland Romanelli and Jannick Top. Together with compatriot Jean-Michel Jarre and a certain Giorgio Moroder also in the charts, the space disco of the iconic ‘Magic Fly’ heralded the start of a new European electronic sound within the mainstream. With its catchy melody and lush accessible futurism, ‘Magic Fly’ sold millions all over the world.
Working with Donna Summer on an album called ‘I Remember Yesterday’, producer Giorgio Moroder wanted to feature a track that represented “the sound of the future”. Employing the Moog Modular system with an 8-step analogue sequencer plus a triplet delay to create the pulsing synthesizer lines and metronomic beat, ‘I Feel Love’ changed the course of music. Summer’s hypnotic Middle Eastern falsetto was an accident, coming as a result of the track being laid down outside of her usual vocal range.
Using a Micromoog for its iconic hook, ‘The Model’ was inspired by KRAFTWERK’s visits to night clubs in the more vibrant city of Cologne 30km down the road from Düsseldorf where their iconic Kling Klang studio was based. There, they would observe beautiful models drinking champagne and seek their company. It was quite the antithesis of the robot image that the quartet were portraying. Sonically ahead of its time, it became a UK No1 four years after its initial release in 1982.
In a creative rut following their massive UK success in the glam-era, the Mael Brothers had found ‘I Feel Love’ awe inspiring. A journalist friend put SPARKS into contact with Giorgio Moroder who had aspirations to work with a band and set to work with them immediately. The first result was the tremendous ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ where Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto fitted well with the electro-disco sound, while the programmed backing meant Ron Mael could maintain his image of doing nothing.
Still using the group name of TUBEWAY ARMY at the behest of Beggars Banquet, the astoundingly long ‘Are Friends Electric?’ with its diabolus in musica structure became the entry point for many into electronic music. It was Synth Britannia’s ‘Starman’ moment when it was featured on ‘Top Of The Pops’ and Old Grey Whistle Test’ during the same week. When it reached No1 in the UK, life was never the same for Gary Numan, the pale-faced front man of what turned out to be a phantom band.
Available on the album ‘Replicas’ via Beggars Banquet
Departing ULTRAVOX after the ‘Systems Of Romance’ album and now making music along with an ARP Odyssey, Elka Rhapsody and a Roland CR78 Compurhythm, John Foxx realised his own starker vision of electronic music. Engineered by Gareth Jones who was to later notably work with DEPECHE MODE, ‘Underpass’ channelled the dystopian writings of JG Ballard in his lyrical imagery, with Foxx added that the English novelist was “addressing what I’d come to call ‘the unrecognised present’.”
Available on the album ‘Metamatic’ via Metamatic Records
A track that “weighed more than Saturn”, ‘The Black Hit Of Space’ sounded extraordinary when it opened the second album by THE HUMAN LEAGUE. The Sci-Fi lyrics about an infinite pop hit were strangely out there while harsh screeching frequencies from overdriving the mixing desk; “We were also experimenting with guitar pedals” Martyn Ware told The Electricity Club, “All that was a reaction to the cleanness of the previous album so we overcompensated.”
The resonant heart of ‘Quiet Life’ was a Roland System 700 driven by Richard Barbieri’s snappy eight step Oberheim Mini-sequencer. Complimented by Mick Karn’s distinctively fluid fretless bass, Rob Dean’s clean guitar lines and David Sylvian’s lyrical conclusion that the band were outsiders in the environment they were born into, it was a sure-fire hit… but not yet as Ariola Hansa release it as a single in the UK until 1981. But meanwhile, JAPAN had invented DURAN DURAN!
Within the environment of colder electronic pioneers such as Gary Numan and John Foxx, OMD were perhaps the first of the warmer synthesizer bands. ‘Messages’ utilised a pulsing ‘Repeat’ function on a Korg Micro-Preset shaped by hand twisting the octave knob. Re-recorded from the original album version under the helm of producer Mike Howlett, he harnessed a template of basic primary chord structures and one fingered melodies, netting a No13 UK chart hit.
Of ‘Astradyne’, Billy Currie told The Electricity Club: “Midge started with that strong melody, Chris’ bass was also a very strong feature. I played a piano counter melody behind. The track was so strong that we felt at ease to lengthen it with a long textural piano bit that is sort of bell-like with the metronomic bass drum beats and the violin tremolo solo… Midge came up with that final section lift taking it out of the long ARP solo. I double it! It is very celebratory at the end…”
Available on the album ‘Vienna’ via Chrysalis/EMI Records
Conceived during soundchecks under the working title of ‘Toot City’ while they were playing on Gary Numan’s first concert tour, Chris Payne, Billy Currie and Ced Sharpley had recorded the track at Genetic Studios as a souvenir keepsake. Midge Ure later came up lyrics and a melody when the track was added to the debut VISAGE album and the rest was history. Capturing the cinematic pomp of the New Romantic movement in all its glory, ‘Fade To Grey’ became a No1 hit in West Germany.
Available on the album ‘Visage’ via Polydor Records
Written by Vince Clarke and produced by Daniel Miller, DEPECHE MODE fulfilled the Mute label founder’s vision of a teenage pop group with synthesizers that he had imagined and conceived for SILICON TEENS. Despite its danceable bubblegum appeal and catchy synthesizer hooks, ‘New Life’ also featured some intricate folk vocal harmonies which made it quite distinct from the chanty nature of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ which was also out at the same time.
The expansive instrumental ‘Theme for Great Cities’ was initially been given away as a freebie having initially been part of ‘Sister Feelings Call’, a seven track EP given gratis to early purchasers of SIMPLE MINDS’ breakthrough fourth album ‘Sons & Fascination’. Starting with some haunting vox humana before a combination of CAN and TANGERINE DREAM takes hold, the rhythm section covered in dub echo drove what is possibly one of the greatest synth signatures ever!
SOFT CELL’s cover of ‘Tainted Love’ became ubiquitous as Synth Britannia’s first true crossover record, reaching No1 in UK, Germany, Australia and Canada while also breaking the US Top 10 a year later. Written by Ed Cobb, ‘Tainted Love’ was recorded by Gloria Jones and became a Wigan Casino favourite on the Northern Soul scene. As a fan of that scene, David Ball knew the song and took it into haunting electronic torch territory, while Marc Almond added an honestly spirited vocal.
With its iconic honky tonk piano line and sophisticated arrangement, ‘Party Fears Two’ was a magnificent song about dealing with the perils of schizophrenia, made all the more resonant by Billy Mackenzie’s operatic prowess. It also kick started a brief period when ASSOCIATES subverted the UK charts with an avant pop approach that fitted in with the Synth Britannia template of the times. A Top10 hit and emotive to the nth degree, the original single version is still the best and total perfection.
Harrow College of Art students Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe were unlikely pop stars, but an appearance on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ led to a deal with London Records as well as support slots with DEPECHE MODE and JAPAN. Using a Korg MS20 synched to a Linn Drum Computer as its rhythmic backbone, the haunting melancholy of ‘I’ve Seen The Word’ fused the sombre lyricism of JOY DIVISION with the melodies and textures of OMD via a Roland Jupiter 8.
Merseyside duo CHINA CRISIS are probably the most under rated band of their generation. The haunting ‘Christian’ was a song about the fate of soldiers in the trenches during World War One. Slow and melancholic, ‘Christian’ was as unlikely a hit single as ‘Ghosts’ by JAPAN was, but in a far more open-minded and diverse period in pop music than today, acts with a less obvious rock ‘n’ roll outlook were generally in with a chance; it reached No12 in the UK singles charts.
‘Temptation’ was NEW ORDER’s self-produced electronic breakthrough away from the haunting legacy of JOY DIVISION. The recording itself was marvellously flawed, with Stephen Morris’ overdriven Simmons snare panned too far to the right while band members could also be heard calling instructions and tutting. The pulsing hypnotism of the triggered ARP Quadra and the iconic “oooh-oo-ooh” vocal refrain made ‘Temptation’ rather joyous and magical.
When Jimmy Somerville, Steve Bronski and the late Larry Steinbachek made their first ever TV appearance performing on BBC2’s ‘ORS’, BRONSKI BEAT were nothing short of startling, thanks to their look, their minimal synth sound and Somerville’s lonely earth shattering falsetto. The trio had sought to be more outspoken and political in their position as openly gay performers and the tale of ‘Smalltown Boy’ about a gay teenager leaving his family and fleeing his hometown made an important statement.
It was with the re-recorded Stephen Hague version of ‘West End Girls’ that PET SHOP BOYS hit No1 in both the UK and US in 1986. Interestingly, the character of its distinctive bass synth was achieved by Hague coercing a reluctant Chris Lowe into hand playing the riff. Meanwhile, the track fulfilled Neil Tennant’s concept of the duo sounding “like an English rap group” with a dour demeanour that was the antithesis of WHAM! It started an imperial phase for PET SHOP BOYS which included three more No1s.
In today’s world, DEPECHE MODE influenced acts are common place but in 1988, this was highly unusual. Taking ‘Some Great Reward’ as their template, CAMOUFLAGE developed on the industrial flavoured synthpop of ‘Master & Servant’ and ‘People Are People’ which the Basildon boys had all but abandoned from ‘Black Celebration’ onwards. Probably the best single DM never recorded. while ‘The Great Commandment’ was a hit in Europe and the US, it made no impression in Britain.
Available on the CAMOUFLAGE album ‘The Singles’ via Polydor Records / Universal Music
Produced by Stephen Hague, ‘A Little Respect’ was perfection from the off with its lively combination of Vince Clarke’s pulsing programming and strummed acoustic guitar. As the busy rhythmical engine kicked in, Andy Bell went from a tenor to a piercing falsetto to provide the dynamic highs and lows that are always omnipresent in all the great pop songs like ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Careless Whisper’. Something of a crossover record for ERASURE, ‘A Little Respect’ was covered by WHEATUS in 2000.
DUBSTAR straddled Britpop with a twist of Synth Britannia. ‘Not So Manic Now’ was a song by Wakefield indie band BRICK SUPPLY, but the trio made it their own with the Northern lass earthiness of Sarah Blackwood providing the chilling commentary of an attack on a helpless pensioner. Stephen Hague’s wonderful production fused programmed electronics with guitars and cello in fine fashion, while the incessant programmed rhythms drove the song along without being obtrusive to the horrifying story.
It is interesting to think that GOLDFRAPP were initially labelled as a trip-hop act. Their superb stratospheric debut ‘Felt Mountain’ had Ennio Morricone’s widescreen inflections but to accompany an ascent to the Matterhorn rather than a trek through a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. The opening song ‘Lovely Head’ was laced with deviant sexual tension. Will Gregory’s mad Korg MS20 treatments on Alison Goldfrapp’s operatic screaming produced some thrilling musical moments.
Describing the relationship between artist and fan, this was another throbbing Moroder-inspired cacophony of electronic dance from Michel Amato with a dirty clanking Korg KR55 Rhythm used to great effect. Deliciously hypnotic, the swimmy ARP synths drowned any sorrows as the pulsing euphoria took a hold. Miss Kittin didn’t sing as much as deadpan her thoughts, but her sexy Grenoble charm carried off what was a rather superb Electroclash anthem.
LADYTRON became one of the first bands for many years to primarily use synthesizers as their tools of expression and attain critical acclaim. Their debut ‘604’showed electro potential in their initial quest to find ‘yesterday’s tomorrow’. With octave shifts galore to satirical lyrics about the X-Factor/Next Year’s Top Model generation, ‘Seventeen’ demonstrated the tactile nature of analogue synthesis that was key to a revival in fortunes for electronic pop in the 21st Century.
Probably the most influential electronic act to come out of Sweden are THE KNIFE. Those long winter nights certainly had their effect on siblings Karin and Olof Dreijer. ‘Silent Shout’ was hypnotic understated rave with the a quota of creepy Nordic eccentricity. The sharp appregiator and ambient percussion melted with Karin Dreijer’s heavily pitch-shifted low register vocals providing a menacing counterpoint to her younger brother’s vibrant electronic lattice.
Is a cover or is it Memorex? This interpolation of ‘Space Age Love Song’ by A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS provided MARSHEAUX with their most immediate number yet. Borrowing the uniformed look of CLIENT but applying a pure synthpop template, Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou became notable for their marketing masterstrokes. The parent ‘Peek-A-Boo’ CD included a paper bag ghost mask. Fans wore it, took pictures and sent them to the duo… around 3,500 pictures were gathered!
Following the ‘Technique’ album released in early 1989, NEW ORDER were in something of a state of flux.
Bernard Sumner had already opted for what was planned as a solo album but became ELECTRONIC after meeting up with Johnny Marr, then a free agent having left THE SMITHS. Peter Hook responded with the fittingly named REVENGE. Even the band’s manager Rob Gretton had his own adventure with Rob’s Records.
But what of Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert, THE OTHER TWO?
Having soundtracked the BBC’s comedy drama ‘Making Out’ and youth culture show ‘Reportage’, the NEW ORDER couple had been composing and stockpiling various sketches and instrumentals pieced together at their home studio near Macclesfield in the event of future commissions, as happened later with ‘America’s Most Wanted’.
However, following the Italia 90 World Cup song ‘World In Motion’ which was supposed to start the process towards making the follow-up to ‘Technique’, Gilbert and Morris found themselves with time to kill having turned down a film soundtrack to accommodate the now false start. ‘World In Motion’ had actually mutated from the ‘Reportage’ theme which Gilbert had mostly written, so Factory Records’ Alan Erasmus suggested that some of this stockpiled material could be released as an album.
In a 2011 interview, Stephen Morris told The Electricity Club: “They start off as these things for TV, you get really attached to them and you twist one or two of them into being songs. Some of them never turn into songs but you get persuaded by the record company or someone that you have to get a singer! So we tried to get a singer and then Gillian ended up doing it which is great, she’s really good at it.” – that singer they tried to get was actually Kim Wilde! But when that idea never got beyond a meeting, Gilbert took on the role of lead vocalist, helped along the way with some singing lessons.
The brilliant debut single ‘Tasty Fish’ released in late 1991 was superbly catchy and had the Kylie Factor. But with the ongoing problems at Factory Records, the single never made it to many shops and stalled at No41 in the singles chart.
The subsequent album which had actually already given a catalogue number of Fact 330 never got released on Factory as planned, while the couple’s attentions were turned to NEW ORDER for what was to become ‘Republic’, produced by Stephen Hague. In the fallout that came with talk of London Records buying Factory out, the iconic Manchester record label collapsed and NEW ORDER signed with London direct.
THE OTHER TWO ‘& You’ finally appeared in late 1993 on London Records seven months after ‘Republic’ and had been tweaked from its original Factory configuration by Stephen Hague.
Opening with a new version of ‘Tasty Fish’, although Hague’s additional production neutered the dynamics of the original Pascal Gabriel single mix, the song still stood out, a well-deserved hit if ever there was one, but not to be.
Following it was the dancey DUBSTAR of ‘The Greatest Thing’, a joyous music statement about the power love. Its sampled acoustic guitar lines could easily have been represented by Peter Hook’s bass and highlighted the couple’s contribution to NEW ORDER, despite some reports to the contrary.
‘Selfish’ made it three in a row for the start of THE OTHER TWO ‘& You’, a Hague production rich in synthetic strings and lively but unobtrusive machine driven rhythms. Gilbert’s resigned vocal about “someone I hate” reinforced to the inherent melancholy in a fabulous song with an exquisite understated quality.
On the moodier electro-acoustic strum of ‘Movin’ On’, it wasn’t difficult to imagine Sarah Blackwood and the usual cup of tea, with Gillian Gilbert’s singing lessons proving effective and highlighting her as actually the best technical vocalist in NEW ORDER.
With soundtracks having been their main compositional forte during this period, there were naturally instrumentals; the uptempo pulse of ‘Ninth Configuration’ wouldn’t have sounded out of place as a NEW ORDER B-side circa ‘Technique’, ditto ‘Spirit Level’, although the eerie interlude ‘Night Voice’ pointed more towards filmic ambience.
Meanwhile the widescreen synthpop of ‘Feel This Love’ foresaw a future Stephen Hague produced act called TECHNIQUE; a female electronic pop duo comprising of Xan Tyler and Katie Holmes, they were to name themselves after the NEW ORDER album and later morphed into CLIENT featuring Sarah Blackwood! The charming ‘Innocence’ with its lovely OMD-styled string melody embraced a subtle Italo house staccato, but closing the album was the brilliant ‘Loved It (The Other Track)’.
With its hypnotic digital slap bass and club friendly vibes, it had been composed to celebrate the opening of The New Factory, a building in Charles Street which became a white elephant and ultimately contributed to Factory Records’ collapse.
Featuring cut-up speech from the likes of the late label co-founder Tony Wilson shouting “Any one of you miserable musicians want any more pills?” as well members of NEW ORDER deadpanning “Not my idea!” and “Are you sure?”, time has made the track an amusingly ironic musical document of that carefree Factory period.
Better than REVENGE but not consistently soaring to the heights of the ELECTRONIC debut, THE OTHER TWO ‘& You’ did however showed how Gilbert and Morris had often been overlooked in the NEW ORDER story.
Over the following years, work continued on THE OTHER TWO’s second album ’Super Highways’. It eventually surfaced in 1999 and was perhaps less immediate than its predecessor. The realisation of their original guest female vocalist idea came to fruition with Melanie Williams from Rob Records signings SUB SUB on the excellent ‘You Can Fly’ and the very DUBSTAR sounding title track.
Gilbert sang on the lovely orchestrated electropop of ‘The River’ while there were also various experiments in drum ‘n’ bass like the mighty ‘One Last Kiss’. However, the record had been overshadowed by the reunion of NEW ORDER with their triumphant comeback gigs at Manchester Apollo and the Reading Festival in 1998.
Family matters led to Gillian Gilbert departing NEW ORDER before the guitar heavy ‘Get Ready’ was released in 2001. The void left the band in a much tenser masculine environment and the sad untimely death of Rob Gretton in 1999 left the now well-documented conflicts between Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook without a referee. Fast forward to today, Gillian Gilbert is back in NEW ORDER and the electronics have returned in style on 2015’s ‘Music Complete’ released on Mute Records. “I’m on all the best records” she amusingly quipped to Q magazine on her return.
But if NEW ORDER hadn’t made a return in 1998 and THE OTHER TWO had been able to be a full-time occupation, could they have been as successful as DUBSTAR or SAINT ETIENNE?
“No, we’re completely the wrong kind of people!”,Stephen Morris said adamantly. “I’ve tried but it never works… we’d never be popstars!”
THE OTHER TWO ‘& You’ + ‘Super Highways’ are reissued by Factory Benelux in double coloured vinyl LP and CD formats on 3rd April 2020 with ‘The Other Disc’ bonus CD featuring rare tracks and remixes by FACTORY FLOOR available as an exclusive optional extra via FBN mailorder copies of either album, pre-order direct from https://www.factorybenelux.com/the_other_two.html
Szechuan six-piece STOLEN are part of a new generation of Chinese artists combining East and West.
Following on from FIFI RONG guesting with YELLO and Re-TROS supporting DEPECHE MODE, STOLEN undertaking a prestigious six date European tour opening for NEW ORDER has possibly been the most important moment for Chinese pop music in the 21st Century yet.
With influences such as JOY DIVISION, PORTISHEAD, BLUR, MASSIVE ATTACK, KRAFTWERK, NEW ORDER, RADIOHEAD and APHEX TWIN, they released their excellent breakthrough album ‘Fragment’ on MFS in Autumn 2018. Recorded and produced by Mark Reeder and Micha Adam in Berlin, their Sinomatic techno-rock sound has been exemplified by songs such as ‘Chaos’, ‘Turn Black’, ‘Why We Chose To Die In Berlin’ and ‘Copyshop’.
Liang Yi, the growly charismatic lead singer of STOLEN said to The Electricity Club in 2018: “It is our basic principle to try and separate our sound from other music. We can let others hear our influence, but we don’t want to become a ‘copy shop’ ourselves! We are trying to inspire others to join us and create our own Sino-sound.”
Capturing the nature of modern China, where traditional values can clash with mass industrialisation and capital growth, aspiration has always been part of the ethnic psyche.
And while STOLEN have successfully toured and played festivals in their homeland, they had ambitions to take their music to Europe.
Bernard Sumner had already declared his enthusiasm for them on the NEW ORDER website in 2018: “STOLEN are a young Chinese electronic band trying to carve out their own unique sound in a sometimes overwhelming environment of commercial ‘junk music’. I think this is a brave new album from STOLEN and I commend their efforts to shape the future sound of China.”
“The tour came together after Bernard asked me if I thought STOLEN would be interested in supporting NEW ORDER in Berlin.” remembered Mark Reeder, “I immediately said yes, without hesitation. A few months previously, I had been on a trip to Gdansk with Bernard and told him I had just finished producing an album by a young Chinese band called STOLEN, and that I was preparing to release it on my freshly rejuvenated MFS label”.
For Reeder who had introduced electronic dance music to Sumner and ultimately influenced the direction of the band that was once JOY DIVISION, the NEW ORDER front man was curious, especially about their working-class background and the obstacles that a band still has to overcome in China. “So we spent the best part of our trip talking about how STOLEN were the spearhead of an evolving new underground music scene in China and listening to their album ‘Fragment’” Reeder recalled, “I think he asked if they wanted to support NEW ORDER in Berlin because he knew himself what it was like to be in their position”.
But then about an hour later, NEW ORDER’s manager asked Reeder, who was now also acting as STOLEN’s European manager, that if STOLEN were going coming to Berlin for one gig, would they be interested in supporting NEW ORDER on the entire European tour? It was an offer that Reeder, who had supported NEW ORDER himself as part of SHARK VEGAS in 1984, could not refuse…
“I was preparing dinner in the kitchen when I got the news from Mark called and told me” said Liang Yi, “it didn’t register at first. Then I suddenly realised what it all meant. Once I told everybody in the band, our whole team had a sleepless night, we were so excited! The idea that we would be playing with the band who have been our constant companion in our Walkman or CD players, we just couldn‘t believe it. We will be opening for them! It was something each of us had always secretly dreamt of, but we never really thought it would ever be possible.”
But back in China, things were not so straightforward for STOLEN in their preparations; “It was probably nerves in most cases” Liang Yi confirmed, “We had some problems in work habits and communication, but we managed to solve them.”
It was here that Reeder’s experience came to the fore as although STOLEN wanted to make as best an impression as possible, there were the practicalities of being a support act from another continent that was only a cog in a much bigger operation. “Mark told us to practice setting up our stuff and taking it down, as well as performing the songs, because we had a short time limit between bands.” said Liang Yi, “So, by the time we came to play on stage I think we were a very well-oiled machine.”
While being their mentor, Reeder still had the important balance of allowing the band to maintain their artistic integrity: “I asked the band to decide which songs they wanted to play. I told them to think it over carefully though, because this could be their one and only opportunity to make a positive impression to a Western audience. Once they had decided which songs they wanted to play, my only suggestion was to swap the position of one of the songs.”
“We chose the songs which we knew always received the most excited or positive reaction from our fans when we are performing in China” Liang Yi added, “We wanted to see if European audiences would also dance or move to our music just like Chinese audiences do…”
As the tour headed towards its opening night in Prague, there were the usual tour nerves and tensions, not just for STOLEN but for NEW ORDER too.
“At the start of the tour, everyone was tense”, Reeder observed, “It was NEW ORDER’s first gig in Prague, just as much as it was STOLEN’s. So, everyone who was there, actually saw a small piece of music history.”
Liang Yi could not hide his excitement about the reality that was unfolding: “We were really moved when we arrived at the huge Prague venue and heard the first notes of ‘Atmosphere’ during the sound check. It was such a thrill for us to finally see NEW ORDER perform live too. It was really a dream come true. At the same time, we felt very nervous. We were going to have to face a bigger stage and thousands of hardcore NEW ORDER fans, all who have grown up with the history of modern rock music. It was a huge challenge for us.”
Not everyone had been positive about the opportunity that had been accorded to STOLEN. “On a few social media platforms, some even questioned why NEW ORDER had chosen a band from China over a local support band. A band from China? It probably sounded incredulous to most people” said Reeder, perhaps mindful of his own memories with SHARK VEGAS, “The crowds at first appeared to be rather sceptical and after the gigs, people came and told us they were very curious at first. We had no idea how the hardcore NEW ORDER fans would receive STOLEN. Support acts usually play to a disinterested audience, whose sole purpose seems to be clambering for a place at the bar.”
Reeder needn’t have worried, with an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the Prague crowd: “It was a wonderful feeling and a huge relief, to see how NEW ORDER’s audience accepted STOLEN, with encouraging clapping hands, and it was like that throughout the entire tour.”
Liang Yi’s reaction to what happened on this first night of the tour was a combination of ecstasy and relief: “We were very, very nervous and excited indeed! We had no idea how the Czech audience would react towards us. Secretly each of us thought the same thing, would they like our music? Would they accept us? In our hearts, we all wanted them to like our music and for our live performances to be seen and recognised by the Western World.”
STOLEN’s case was helped by them putting on a very visual, energetic and enthusiastic show. Not unlike NEW ORDER themselves, STOLEN’s other band members Fangde, Duan Xuan, Yufeng and Jun are multi-instrumentalists, often swapping mid-song. Meanwhile, their live performance was boosted by the striking often blood red tinged visuals of French-born on-stage VJ Formol who impressed Bernard Sumner so much, that he was asked to create and perform the visuals for ‘Fine Time’ during the headline NEW ORDER set.
On to Germany and Berlin was a sort of homecoming for STOLEN as they had recorded ‘Fragment’ with Mark Reeder there. One of the concepts Reeder had when making the record, was how the album should be more of a listening experience with a few quieter songs and its own atmosphere, as opposed to the full-raw power in almost every song during their live performances.
One musician keenly observing the fortunes of STOLEN with interest has been New York-based singer and producer Zachery Allan Starkey who was asked to remix ‘Chaos’ for the expanded Japanese digital edition of ‘Fragment’.
“The essence of STOLEN’s appeal are their hard edged electronics matching up with Liang Yi’s fluid, expressive, and androgynous voice.” said the American, “The band are incredible in terms of their songwriting and arrangements, use of synth, and Liang Yi is a really special singer.”
Starkey had an interesting approach to his restyling of ‘Chaos’: “As STOLEN’s original version of the song is very Techno oriented, I didn’t want to do a Techno remix. Liang Yi has a very sensual and androgynous voice that reminds me, in its tonal fluidity, of gay disco icon Sylvester, and this resulted in me taking my remix in a very Patrick Cowley meets New York leather bar direction… I have spent a lot of time in New York leather bars, so I know the vibe.”
Berlin’s Tempodrom is an impressive structure that inside perhaps isn’t unlike London’s Roundhouse but much taller and therefore bigger. Now whether the audience arrived early to get a prime standing spot for NEW ORDER or to actually see STOLEN, there was already a sizeable crowd inside the iconic venue as Mark Reeder took to the stage to introduce Chengdu sextet.
In his preamble, Reeder talked about how he brought an unknown band called JOY DIVISION into the divided city during one cold January in 1980. Now with walls fallen, it was to be STOLEN’s opportunity to play in front of Berliners.
And how appropriate it was that in the capital city of the artistic underground, STOLEN opened impressively with ‘Why We Chose to Die in Berlin’. And as it burst into its middle section inspired by KRAFTWERK’s 1991 reboot of ‘Radio-activity’, the sort of frantic flashing lights they put warning notices about at concert venues filled out the domed confines of the Tempodrom.
They continued the hypnotic momentum with what has now become the band’s signature tune ‘Chaos’ and the mighty PINK FLOYD gone Techno of ‘Turn Black’, all illustrated by surreal collages and stark graphics. The eerie ‘Vampire Lovers’ allowed for a comparative breather before STOLEN concluded their support set with the disciplined but exhilarating jam of ‘The Loop Sin’.
“Knowing that STOLEN were going through the same challenges that I have when I’ve played with NEW ORDER on the ‘Music Complete’ tour, I thought STOLEN’s opening set for NO in Berlin was fantastic.” Zachery Allan Starkey remarked, “They owned the stage, each member gave the set their all, and they were raw, unique, theatrical, bold, and thrilling. I loved it. Opening for NEW ORDER is both a great honour, and a great challenge.”
Also in attendance and totally enthused was Volker Maass, presenter of the ‘Operating / Generating’ radio show on Hamburg’s LautFM who confirmed that: “STOLEN was THE discovery 2018 for me, an intense experience full of energy. Like a raw diamond and exactly how Mark Reeder aptly put it: The future sound of China”.
NEW ORDER themselves did not disappoint, playing a host of fan favourites like ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, ‘Temptation’ and ‘Your Silent Face’.
But there was also room given to lesser known singles like ‘Subculture’ and magnificent new numbers such as ‘Plastic’ alongside ‘True Faith’, ‘Regret’ and ‘Blue Monday’. Accompanied by a spectacular light show, NEW ORDER certainly appeared to visibly enjoy performing live much more than back in their Factory Records days.
In acknowledgement of their JOY DIVISION heritage, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert, Phil Cunningham and Tom Chapman also gave explosive renditions of ‘Transmission’ and ‘She’s Lost Control’ as well as a faithful and respectful ‘Decades’ for the first encore before closing the set with ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’.
After the show, the STOLEN boys went over to the merchandise stall only to be mobbed. “After Berlin, we had no more CDs left” said Reeder with a smile and perhaps caught slightly by surprise, “If we had brought double the amount of CDs and vinyl with us, we could have probably sold all that too. Some people bought two or three copies of their releases. I think people saw it as a one-off opportunity to get a STOLEN CD or vinyl and get it signed by the band, at the gig.”
Indeed, by the end of the tour, STOLEN had no more of their MFS double vinyl, thus affirming the long held theory that physical product is one of the keys to generating and maintaining support, if a band is able to impress on a platform such as opening for a major band. VILE ELECTRODES who had opened for OMD on their 2013 German tour had a trilogy of CD EPs available which ultimately became collector’s items and built-up that vital early bond with their burgeoning fanbase.
But the tour was not over yet. In fact STOLEN had their own headlining club show at Maze with a host of Berlin-based talent including Taiwanese DJ BB Deng and French theatrical artist Valerie Renay, best known as the vivacious front woman of NOBLESSE OBLIGE as well as Zachery Allan Starkey. “STOLEN are lovely human beings” he said, “it was really nice to hang out with them and especially with Liang Yi. His voice is unique and incredible, he hits so many notes”.
“For STOLEN, their main concern was what did NEW ORDER themselves think of them?” said Reeder, “They were so relieved and happy to hear their praise and how enthusiastic and encouraging NEW ORDER were.” Indeed, STOLEN had made such an impression on NEW ORDER during the first few dates of the tour having seen their performance each night, they came on their day-off to see them perform at Maze.
Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam were the next cities to visit and having settled into the Autumnal weather and European food, STOLEN and Reeder began to allow themselves some “fun-fun-fun” on the autobahn. But the tour was not without its hitches.
“Poor Liang Yi arrived in Prague complaining of toothache.” recalled Reeder of the singer’s unfortunate dental misadventure, “After piles of painkillers, I managed to get him to the dentist in Berlin and she said he needed either special root canal treatment or to have his tooth pulled. I explained to her that Liang Yi was the singer of a band, currently on tour and that he had to sing.”
This was turning out to be the most unusual experience Mark Reeder ever had to deal with during his varied forty year music career: “Two days later we were leaving for Paris, and in the early morning before departure, I went with Liang Yi to the dentist to have his tooth pulled. This was a first-time experience for him and he was duly concerned. Yet, it went very smoothly and painlessly and the relief of having no more toothache offset the fact that his tooth had been pulled.”
Tooth extracted, Liang Yi began to savour his time in Europe: “I seemed to like the food here in Europe a lot better than I did before! Language was also much easier. We realised how much our English has improved since our last visit to Berlin when we were recording ‘Fragment’ and it was pleasantly surprising to us how well we could communicate. Especially when going out with Bernard and having an in-depth chat.”
There is the old joke that the English rather like to talk about the weather but then by coincidence, so do the Chinese: “We were actually very lucky with the weather. It wasn’t so bad. It rained in Prague and Munich and a bit in Berlin, but it was over 20°C in Paris. I just hope next time when we come to Europe, it will be warmer, because every time we come to Europe it always seems to be cold and wintery.”
Over at the Forest National in Brussels, German NEW ORDER fan Sony Pusteblume felt she had just seen something special: “STOLEN was a sovereign opening act that fitted like a ‘fist to the eye’ of NEW ORDER. I got goosebumps when they started playing. They caught the attention of the audience quickly and the crowd danced and applauded to the music; an absolutely successful support.”
After the concert, she could see a lot of people were buying vinyl and merchandise so she opted to chat first. “I had a nice small talk with Mr Reeder. He was totally happy about the gig and about ‘his’ band. I am sure they are on the right way.” she said, “The STOLEN guys were very friendly and thankful for all the good words which people said. After I also bought some CDs and vinyl, I also told them that I loved the gig and hope they come back to Europe, hopefully Germany.”
And as STOLEN’s European jaunt ended with a final club headliner in Strasbourg, there was time to reflect on what was a very successful tour with NEW ORDER. “The crowds were really encouraging” said Reeder, a man who has been very much at the heart of unity throughout his life, “it was a great feeling knowing we were bringing people and cultures together purely through music and showing European audiences that China actually has its own new music scene too.”
“Almost all of the cities on this tour gave us a lot of encouragement” added Liang Yi, “We got a lot of praise and active support. The audiences were very welcoming and it reflected in the way the crowd came to us after the gigs to have selfies and buy our merch. We almost sold out of all the band’s merchandise that we brought from China with us.”
“We could also see how the concerts had been received by how fast the merch we had brought with us, rapidly diminished.” Reeder affirmed. At the end of the day, the sign is not how many people watch the support band at the start, but now many are remaining by the end of the set and who then go over to buy an album in their chosen format. Vinyl remains the ultimate artefact, but CDs can be popped into pockets and played straight away in the car on the drive home.
So which city on the tour was the favourite? Although all the gigs went down very well, the majority had standing areas so reaction was less straightforward to gauge. But at the prestigious Bavarian music centre of Philharmonie im Gasteig which was all seated, things were more explicit as Mark Reeder recollected: “The best reaction was probably in Munich, where the gig was held in a classical concert hall. STOLEN got a standing ovation there. No one expected that. Even the crew who have seen every kind of support act play before NEW ORDER, said they had never seen a support act get a standing ovation, ever! So that was quite an emotional moment for everyone. The band were floored by that response.”
For Liang Yi though, the significance of the tour as a whole made choosing much more difficult: “I think it is very hard to choose one favourite city, because it’s all new for us and we really only spent a few moments in each one, hardly getting a chance to really see them, only a few sights. Our time was mainly spent hanging about the venues waiting for our soundcheck. We can only evaluate the reaction of the crowds each night. In Munich, the audience were very enthusiastic and in Brussels too. I hope to have a chance to get to know more about these cities and be able to make a better judgment in the future.”
A few months on, Mark Reeder felt it turned out rather well: “I think I can safely say NEW ORDER liked them too.”
And with the next stage prepared, Liang Yi had one final word on STOLEN’s first significant cross-cultural milestone: “Our hopes are to reach an even wider audience in 2020, maybe with a few festival shows and we would like to play a club tour and make a new album and continue to attract new fans. A dream came true to play with New Order in 2019.“
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Liang Yi, Mark Reeder, Zachery Allan Starkey, Volker Maass and Sony Pusteblume