1977 is often seen as Year Zero for synthpop, thanks to hit singles by DONNA SUMMER, SPACE and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE.
But it was not until 1979 with TUBEWAY ARMY reaching No1 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’ that the sound of synth truly hit the mainstream. Although ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ by SPARKS had actually been a hit a few months earlier, ‘Are Friends Electric?’ was the beginning of the synth being accepted as a worthy mode of expression, rather than as a novelty. But as synths became more affordable, they became the perfect tool of youthful expression.
The set starts appropriately with OMD and ‘Messages’, one of the first tunes showcasing the warmer side of electronics following the colder wave led by Messrs Numan and Foxx. But as if to counter this next generation of youngsters, ‘Messages’ is immediately followed by the collection’s vocoder laden title song ‘Musik Music Musique’ from Zeus B Held and the superb proto-industrial ode to loveless sex ‘Coitus Interruptus’ by the much missed FAD GADGET.
Zeus B Held was later to make his impression on popular culture remixing ALPHAVILLE and SIMPLE MINDS as well producing the likes of FASHION, DEAD OR ALIVE, SPEAR OF DESTINY and TRANSVISION VAMP, but his wider breakthrough came as part of GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 with The Blitz Club favourite ‘No GDM’; on this compendium, the lesser-known but just as worthy ‘Vendor’s Box’ from their second album ‘X-Traordinaire’ is deservedly provided a platform.
The best producers often earn their spurs as artists and realising their limitations, use their accumulated studio nous to subvert the mainstream via pop. ‘Astroboy’ by BUGGLES sees Trevor Horn develop his sonic architecture to prove that he had another song that wasn’t ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. Meanwhile the welcome inclusion of NEW MUSIK’s other hit ‘This World Of Water’ allows Tony Mansfield to showcase the crafted sparkle that would later go on to adorn records by CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, VICIOUS PINK, A-HA and NAKED EYES.
It may seem strange to see SPANDAU BALLET as part of this package but when they first appeared, they were considered a synthesizer band; ‘Glow’ was a UK double A side single with ‘Musclebound’ in 1981 and while it was the last synth-led track they did, their funk soul aspirations were there for all to hear. In fact, songwriter Gary Kemp had conceived ‘Glow’ with a brass section in mind, so it is now something of a curio that could be seen as a precursor to ‘Chant No1’.
SPANDAU BALLET were produced by Richard James Burgess who co-designed the Simmons SDSV; his electro-jazz combo LANDSCAPE figure with the Colin Thurston helmed ‘European Man’ which was actually designated “electronic dance music” on its single artwork some three decades before it was appropriated and abbreviated to become EDM…
Many of the usual suspects from the period like VISAGE, JAPAN, JOHN FOXX, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING are all present and correct with familiar recordings, but interestingly (although not for the better), it’s the original version of PHIL LYNOTT’s ‘Yellow Pearl’ without the Rusty Egan drums or the Midge Ure remix that gets the nod!
One of the main beauties of these thoughtfully curated collections is to be able sway away from the obvious and feature a known-name with a lesser-known work; in the case of ULTRAVOX, it’s the occasionally Eno-inspired and Conny Plank produced ‘Waiting’ which was the B-side to their first Midge Ure fronted single ‘Sleepwalk’. Meanwhile, SUICIDE are represented by the excellent Ric Ocasek produced ‘Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne’ and YELLO with ‘Bimbo’, the oddball opener of the Swiss trailblazers’ debut long player ‘Solid Pleasure’.
SILICON TEENS get to feature with something other than ‘Memphis Tennessee’ and it’s the Daniel Miller‘s self-penned instrumental ‘Chip N Roll’ that has the honour, while the Mute Records founder gets another track in with ‘Brushing Your Hair’, a gloriously vibrant instrumental production and co-write for Alex Fergusson of ALTERNATIVE TV.
There’s additionally tracks by lesser known international acts or those bands that faded from view after effectively being one hit wonders. The entire career of M may have been overshadowed by the ubiquitous ‘Pop Muzik’ but Robin Scott did go on to release three albums and work with Ryuichi Sakamoto; the sombre ‘Official Secrets’ may not really have much of a hook but it contains some percolating bleepy sections that pre-date KRAFTWERK’s ‘Home Computer’ by one year.
‘A Circuit Like Me’ from Australian combo, THE METRONOMES actually sounds very 21st century with its detached female vocal and charming monosynths, while the gallop of ‘Drawn & Quartered’ by THE KORGIS is a worthy find. Now while ROCKETS found fame with a catchy robotic flavoured cover of ‘On The Road Again’ with the help of Zeus B Held, the silver faced Italians found that the vocoder suited their performance art poise and reapplied it for the self-penned space rocker ‘Galactica’.
Also possessing a bit of a gallop is LORI & THE CHAMELEONS’ wispy Morricone-influenced single ‘The Lonely Spy’ although with its acoustic strum, it is quite different from the understated electronic disco of their best known track ‘Touch’. Cut from a similar melodic post-punk cloth, the Martin Hannett produced ‘Sympathy’ from PAULINE MURRAY & THE INVISIBLE GIRLS is a reminder of how women were coming to the fore after punk in synth-assisted new wave, a fact borne out on ‘Musik Music Musique’ by the inclusion of more obscure works from TOYAH, KIM WILDE and HAZEL O’CONNOR.
‘Musik Music Musique’ is also an opportunity to become reacquainted with lost tunes of yore and ‘The Eyes Have It’ by KAREL FIALKA will be remembered by those who owned the 1980 Virgin Records compilation ‘Machines’, as will the octave driven ‘Destiny’ by DALEK I LOVE YOU. Some enjoyably avant pop adventures come courtesy of XYNN’s ‘Computed Man’ and SCIENCE’s ‘Tokyo’, while one of the more bizarre but successful experiments included is ‘I’m A Computer’ by THE GOO-Q.
One of the lesser known acts featuring with the eccentric ‘Money’ is MOEBIUS, not the member of German duo CLUSTER but an American art rock band with a penchant for DEVO. ‘Doctor …?’ by BLOOD DONOR is another wonderful discovery while of the more experimental art pieces included, NINI RAVIOLETTE’s ‘Suis-Je Normale’ delightfully comes over like a collaboration between Jane Birkin and Laurie Anderson.
Düsseldorf is often seen as the spiritual home of electronic music and there is worthy representation from DER PLAN and ‘Da Vorne Steht Ne Ampel’ illustrating how there were other dimensions to German electronic music other than that engineered by KRAFTWERK. But closing the set is the band named after the Electri_City itself, LA DÜSSELDORF with the light-hearted ‘Dampfriemen’; a quirky slice of synth “Oompah” with comedic chants and a kazoo section, it sums up the manic oddball nature of the former NEU! drummer Klaus Dinger.
There are many other tracks that have merit, but textures which reoccur on ‘Musik Music Musique’ to date stamp the period are the icy chill of the affordable ARP Quartet string machine and squawky sax, although not in an overblown jazz funk way.
Despite ‘Musik Music Musique’ comprising of a carefully researched tracklisting, a few errors do slip through; as well as the SPANDAU BALLET track being released in 1981 as already mentioned (although it was available on a very scarce Japanese-only promo sampler in late 1980), the version of ‘Kebabträume’ by DAF is the 1982 Conny Plank version from the Virgin album ‘Für Immer’ and not the Bob Giddens produced Mute Records five piece band recording which actually came out in 1980.
Then in the booklet, the Foxx fronted 1977 line-up of ULTRAVOX! gets illustrated as opposed to the New Romantic suited Midge Ure one, while LA DÜSSELDORF’s Hans Lampe is referred to as a “Keyboard Whizz” when he is actually a drummer and now performs with Michael Rother who was Klaus Dinger’s partner in NEU!; in fact Dinger handled keyboards himself under the pseudonym of Nikolaus Van Rhein.
Those are minor quibbles though, because this set is very good value and acts as a great music history lesson as well as offering the chance to hear some new vintage synth. While many may have heard of BERLIN BLONDES, THE PASSAGE, THE FALLOUT CLUB and EYELESS IN GAZA, only a few will have heard their music.
‘Musik Music Musique’ offers something of a low risk opportunity to make some new friends while becoming reacquainted with a few old and lost ones. Here’s to the 1981 follow-up set…
It really is the other side of love. B-sides have been a wondrous platform of adventure for the music fan, a hidden treasure trove of experimentation that was often a secret society that positioned the listener into being part of a mysterious taste elite.
So here are The Electricity Club’s favourite 25 Classic Synth B-sides… but how was this list defined?
These artefacts are flipsides of vinyl or bonus tracks on CD singles; basically songs that were not featured on the original issue of a full length album, or subsequently included on a new one. However, bonus tracks on later reissues are permitted. With TEC’s 25 Synth Instrumentals Of The Classic Era being covered in a separate listing, wordless wonders are also omitted. The listing runs up until the start of the 21st Century.
However, there is a limitation of one song per artist moniker in this chronological retrospective, so rare indulgers of the B-side such as HEAVEN 17, JAPAN and SIMPLE MINDS get equal billing with prolific exponents like PET SHOP BOYS, DEPECHE MODE, OMD and ULTRAVOX. That may seem unfair but then life can be unfair…
THE NORMAL TVOD (1978)
Was ‘TVOD’ actually the A-side of this seminal and only release by THE NORMAL which launched Mute Records? But as ‘Warm Leatherette’ is listed at the top of the back sleeve and has moved into legend having been covered by GRACE JONES, LAIBACH and CHICKS ON SPEED, ‘TVOD’ qualifies for this list. With its hypnotic bassline and warbling synth hook, JG Ballard makes his influence heard as Daniel Miller monotones about a dystopian future where television is the new narcotic…
In the days when the B-side mattered as much as the A-side, more intuitive purchasers found another gem on the flip of ‘Are Friends Electric?’ with this pounding system of romance. Being the antithesis of the discordant diabolis in musica of the main act, ‘We Are So Fragile’ fused Minimoogs with guitars and a four-to-the-floor beat as the vulnerability of Gary Numan connected with the Cold War dystopia of the times in a musical winter of discontent.
Originally the B-side of ‘Are Friends Electric?’; now available on the album ‘Replicas’ via Beggars Banquet Records
Commissioned as the theme to Janet Street-Porter’s early youth vehicle ‘20th Century Box’ which gave platforms to two then unknown bands SPANDAU BALLET and DEPECHE MODE, the combination of Foxx’s starkly dominant Compurhythm and ARP Odyssey dystopia were harsh but strangely danceable. However, ’20th Century’ signalled the wind down of the mechanical phase of John Foxx before thawing out and turning more conventional to less distinctive effect on ‘The Garden’.
Originally the B-side of ‘Burning Car’; now available on the deluxe album ‘Metamatic’ via Esdel Records
Like a number of bands of the period, SIMPLE MINDS went off doing B-sides as they progressed, often lazily filling the flips with live tracks or instrumental versions of existing tracks. ‘New Warm Skin’ was the original B-side of ‘I Travel’ and saw the Glaswegians ape SPARKS for this claptrap filled electronic cacophony of sound. Not claustrophobic enough for ‘Empires & Dance’, this is a delightfully creepy synth laden rarity in the SIMPLE MIDS back catalogue.
Originally the B-side of ‘I Travel’; now available as a bonus track on the boxed set ‘X5’ via Virgin Records
With so many great B-sides in the long career of DEPECHE MODE, it might seem strange that their best B-side was actually their first. ‘Ice Machine’ is possibly Vince Clarke’s darkest five minutes, but it has also proved to be highly influential. ROYKSOPP and S.P.O.C.K have covered it while the song’s core arpeggio has been borrowed by LADYTRON and FEATHERS. It is not only one of DM’s best B-sides, it is among one of the best songs of the Synth Britannia era.
Available on the DEPECHE MODE boxed set ‘DMBX1’ via Mute Records
HEAVEN 17 were an act who rarely did B-sides and even this cover of a lesser known BUZZCOCKS single started life as a track for the BEF ‘Music Of Quality & Distinct Volume 1’ opus but was quickly shelved. Unusual in many respects as ‘Are Everything’ features the early HUMAN LEAGUE synth sound emblazoned with acoustic guitar from Dave Lockwood, Glenn Gregory snarls in post-punk fashion away from the new funk hybrid which was later appear on ‘Penthouse & Pavement’.
Originally the B-side of ‘I’m Your Money’; 12 inch version now available on the HEAVEN 17 album ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ via Virgin Records
Originally recorded as a demo for the 1979 Giorgio Moroder sessions that produced ‘Life In Tokyo’, this sequencer heavy number was rejected by the Italian disco maestro. Left dormant in the vaults of Ariola Hansa, after JAPAN left the label, ‘European Son’ was subsequently finished off by John Punter and tagged onto a 1981 reissue of ‘Life In Tokyo’. Retrospectively, it shows David Sylvian’s vocals in transition from the catty aggression of earlier albums. In 1982, it became an A-side remixed by Steve Nye.
Originally the B-side of 1981 reissue of ‘Life In Tokyo’; now available on the JAPAN album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Virgin Records
A unique curio in the classic ULTRAVOX cannon as it does not feature Midge Ure. Chris Cross handled guitar duties and backing vocals while Warren Cann took the spoken lead. The powerful Linn driven track was provided the punch with the Minimoog bass while Billy Currie tastefully layered with his piano and violin interplay. ‘Paths & Angles’ was undoubtedly strong enough to have been an album track, but highly unlikely to have remained in this form if Ure had been involved.
Originally the B-side of ‘The Voice’; now available on the ULTRAVOX album ‘Rage In Eden’ via EMI Records
Originally recorded for a John Peel session but rescued for the B-side of ‘Living On The Ceiling’, ‘Running Thin’ featured a much starker, claustrophobic template than the subsequent ‘Happy Families’ album. Driven by a Roland drum machine, haunting blips and “elastic stretched too far” guitar, Neil Arthur’s resigned baritone matched the music backdrop. The track has since been revisited by BLANCMANGE for the upcoming 2CD ‘Happy Families Too’ 2CD set.
Originally the B-side of ‘Living On The Ceiling’; now available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Music Club
Borrowing the main melody of ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ theme and coupled with a sharp Tim Friese-Greene production, ‘One Of Our Submarines’ was actually based on the poignant story of TMDR’s uncle Stephen. He served in a submarine during World War Two but died while on manoeuvres as opposed to battle. His death became Dolby’s metaphor for the fall of the British Empire and his rebellion against the post-war Boys Own adventure illusion that his generation grew up in.
Originally the B-side of ‘She Blinded Me with Science’; now available on the THOMAS DOLBY album ‘The Golden Age Of Wireless’ via EMI Records
Outstripping the electro Tamla of the A-side, ‘You Remind Me Of Gold’ had the balance of weirdness, accessibility and the spectre of Jo Callis’ guitar synthesizer. Coupled with the precise but edgy production of Martin Rushent, this gave high hopes that the follow-up to the million selling ‘Dare’ would be a goody. Unfortunately, the band fell out with Rushent and the lukewarm ‘Hysteria’ was the result and it would take years for THE HUMAN LEAGUE to recover.
Originally the B-side of ‘Mirror Man’; now available on the HUMAN LEAGUE deluxe album ‘Dare / Fascination!’ via Virgin Records
OMD often were at their best when indulging in their vertical take-off experiments. Covered in hiss and layered with a shrilling, almost out-of-tune Mellotron, ‘Navigation’ was an abstract collage with the punching snare drum crescendo leading to a weird droning beacon of strange noises taken from their pre-OMD tapes that conjured the image of foggy uncharted oceans. It is without doubt, one of Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey’s stand-out recordings.
Originally the B-side of ‘Maid Of Orleans’; now available on the OMD album ‘Navigation’ via Virgin Records
Boy George once described SOFT CELL as music for teenagers who hate their parents. With ‘It’s A Mugs Game’, that ethos came to its head with this comical tirade of angry, adolescent angst! Marc Almond goes from crisis to crisis as he tries to annoy his dad by playing loud, all the records “he especially hates… ’Deep Purple In Rock, ‘Led Zeppelin II’”. But as Almond retorts: “even you hate those”! The closing rant of “I can’t wait until I’m twenty one and I can tell them all to sod off!” is classic!
Originally the B-side of ‘Where The Heart Is’; now available on the SOFT CELL album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Phonogram Records
Perhaps unsurprisingly with Colin Thurston at the production helm, the cryptically titled ‘?’ did sound like a DURAN DURAN flipside with thundering Simmons drums, disco bass and a fabulous synth solo from original keyboardist Simon Brenner. Utilising a weird chorus effect which sounded like the song was recorded on using dirty tape heads, while not a particularly prolific B-side band, TALK TALK certainly delivered more extras than perhaps JAPAN ever did.
Originally the B-side of ‘Talk Talk’. Available on the TALK TALK album ‘Asides Besides’ via EMI Music
One of the few vocal tracks to be a VISAGE B-side, ‘I’m Still Searching’ in hindsight sounds ahead of its time with its proto-PET SHOP BOYS vibe. Featuring just Steve Strange and Rusty Egan as the ULTRAVOX and MAGAZINE boys were all back in their day jobs, it hinted at a New York electronic disco direction which was expanded on with ‘Pleasure Boys’. But by the time of the third VISAGE album ‘Beat Boy’, rock was the name of the game with Strange’s voice left exposed and totally unsuited to its histrionics.
Originally the B-side of ‘Night Train’; now available on the VISAGE album ‘The Anvil’ via Rubellan Remasters
A B-side that was later issued as an A-side in various markets, ‘Situation’ was one of only three writing collaborations between Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke. At barely 2 minutes in its original form, it made its point with its rousing blues based sequenced dance pop; it became a US club favourite remixed by Francois Kevorkian who was later to work with KRAFTWERK and DEPECHE MODE. Another version mixed by ERASURE producer Mark Saunders took the song into the UK Top20 in 1990.
Originally the B-side of ‘Only You’; now available on the album ‘The Collection’ via Music Club
When Liverpool band THE WILD SWANS split, two thirds formed the basis of THE LOTUS EATERS while their singer Paul Simpson teamed up with ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN producer Kingbird aka Ian Broudie. Combining acoustic guitars and stark drum machine with strong synthesizer melodies and melancholic vocals, ‘Sad Day for England’ was a mournful recollection of young manhood. The duo split before their debut album was completed. Broudie eventually formed THE LIGHTNING SEEDS.
Originally the 12 inch B-side of ‘My Boyish Days’; now available on the CARE album ‘Diamonds & Emeralds’ via Camden Records/BMG Records
This atmospheric ballad from the ‘Seven & The Ragged Tiger’ sessions turned out to be one of the the most synth led recordings under the DURAN DURAN name. Featuring just Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon, it showcased the more esoteric influences of JAPAN who the pair were particularly fond of. A precursor to their painfully pretentious ARCADIA project, none of those songs ever reached the heights of ‘Secret Oktober’. It was dusted off for the 1998 Greatest Hits tour.
Originally the B-side of ‘Union Of the Snake’; now available on the DURAN DURAN boxed set ‘The Singles 81-85’ via EMI Records
B-sides are for quirky experimentation and Howard Jones certainly veered from the norm with this oddball slice of electro-ska. With the declaration that “If I haven’t got any friends, it just doesn’t matter” and “If I’ve been misunderstood, it just doesn’t matter”, the song was possibly written as a positive motivator to face the music whatever following the success of his debut single ‘New Song’. The critics may not have loved him but his fans did, with the ‘Human’s Lib’ album entering the UK chats at No1.
Originally the B-side of ‘What is Love?’; now available on the HOWARD JONES album ‘The Very Best Of’ via WEA
Subtitled ‘Sector One: The Elevator’, ‘The Nelson Highrise’ was the B-side to ‘Sounds Like A Melody’ which wasn’t released as a single in the UK. After a dynamic instrumental build of over a minute and a half, the opening line “Time is fleeting, you can’t stop time” was deeply ominous while the backing was almost industrial with very sharp edges. The dystopian air might have been a surprise to some, but then ‘Big In Japan’ was inspired by the plight of heroin addicts in Berlin…
Originally the B-side of ‘Sounds Like A Melody’; now available on the ALPHAVILLE deluxe album ‘Forever Young’ via Warner Music
Recorded during the ‘Working With Fire & Steel’ sessions produced by Mike Howlett, ‘It’s Never Too Late’ was a lost gem probably droppedby CHINA CRISIS from the album on account of it sounding like a more steadfast ‘Wishful Thinking’, featuring its familiar Emulator strings sound in the melody. Unreleased until 1985, even then it was tucked away on the limited edition 12 inch of ‘Black Man Ray’, making it one of the rarest of high quality B-sides from the era.
Originally the 12 inch limited edition B-side of ‘Black Man Ray’; now available on the CHINA CRISIS deluxe album ‘Flaunt The Imperfection’ via Caroline International
Possibly the song which indicated that PET SHOP BOYS were going to be around for a while and not just a flash in the pan, ‘That’s My Impression’ was menacing as opposed to melancholic, combining SOFT CELL with DIVINE. Neil Tennant’s final angry refrain of “I went looking for someone I couldn’t find – staring at faces by the Serpentine…” is pure Marc Almond, tense and embittered in a manner that turned out to be quite rare in PET SHOP BOYS later work.
Originally the B-side of ‘Love Comes Quickly’; now available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Alternative’ via EMI Records
Is this song about JFK? Is it a homo-erotic love story that ends in murder? Who knows? But ‘1963’ was an outstanding result of the sessions NEW ORDER had with PET SHOP BOYS producer Stephen Hague that also spawned ‘True Faith’. However, much to Hooky’s annoyance, his contributions on ‘1963’ were virtually written out. Bloody mindedness ensured ‘1963’ was tucked away as a B-side for 8 years before it was released as an A-side in a more Hooky audible rework by Arthur Baker.
Originally the B-side of ‘True Faith’; now availableon the NEW ORDER album ‘Substance’ via Warner Music
Bietigheim-Bissingen’s CAMOUFLAGE took over the mantle of delivering the heavier synthpop blueprint which DEPECHE MODE started during ‘Construction Time Again’ and ‘Some Great Reward’, but left behind with ‘Black Celebration’. ‘Kling Klang’ actually was a B-side to their single ‘One Fine Day’. This was not only a tribute to KRAFTWERK but in a rarity for the trio, it was also sung in German. But it was so rigidly authentic that at times, it inadvertently sounded like a Bill Bailey musical comedy skit.
Originally the B-side of ‘One Fine Day’, now available on the CAMOUFLAGE deluxe album ‘Methods Of Silence’ via Bureau B
This bouncy tune with its lyrical celebration by Andy Bell of ABBA borrowed heavily from OMD. Vince Clarke went on record to say the record that influenced him most to start working with synthesizers was ‘Electricity’. So on ‘Over The Rainbow’, he borrowed its lead melody wholesale and added a few of the speaking clock samples that had adorned OMD’s ‘Dazzle Ships’. Listen carefully and listeners will also notice ULTRAVOX are affectionately pillaged too!
Originally the B-side of ‘Chorus’; now available in the boxed set ‘EBX4’ via Mute Records
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
Ian Ferguson, founder member of RAINLAND, one-time member of ANALOG ANGEL and occasional contributor looks back from both sides of the fence at The Electricity Club…
It’s appropriate that a 10th anniversary is celebrated with tin or aluminium given the current state of the UK electronic scene (spoiler, there is no ‘scene’, just folk making scenes) as when looking for gold, you are more likely to dig up an old mouldy dog food can than a nugget of rare and precious metal.
Like the UK industrial scene before it, this loose of collection of folk making noise is slowly eating itself alive in the pursuit of success that was never going to be attainable in first place.
Seriously, the number of grown adults acting as though they are members of a million selling act rather than one that can’t fill a phone box would be hilarious if it wasn’t so toxic in the way it manifests itself, but more of that later..
So what of my last decade as a fan of electronic music, a contributor to TEC and someone that has thrown out a few releases of my own in that time? Highlights and lowlights abound and here are a few of them…
‘Electronic music, what like 80s stuff…?’
The last decade has been in turns brilliant and infuriating for a fan of synth music. The re-emergence of some of my favourite bands producing music of a similar quality to their releases from the height of their fame has been particularly gratifying. The number of excellent new bands that have come through in this time has also been a joy to behold. This is due primarily to the real advances in technology which has allowed anyone with a laptop and a few plugins to make music.
These tools also mean that bands can now play live easier than ever, not needing to haul a van load of keyboards around to replicate their sound. Still however we see folk ‘jazz hands-ing’ live, thinking dressing up in age-inappropriate clothing and dancing around like you are holding in a wee is a live performance… news just in, it’s not…
This of course means you have to wade through tonnes of chaff to find the wheat and TEC has been invaluable in doing a lot of the ‘leg work’ in this task.
The best releases of the last decade would fill a number of Op Ed pieces but standouts include the ‘English Electric’ and ‘The Punishment of Luxury’ albums by OMD, which show that if you stick with what you know the quality will shine through, the ULTRAVOX album ‘Brilliant’ and numerous KITE EPs.
The aforementioned ‘scene’ featured a number of standout releases from the likes of VILE ELECTRODES, ASSEMBLAGE 23 and MESH who let the music do the talking and reaped suitable rewards. These bands and a number of others all show how to conduct yourself in a professional way without fermenting what basically amounts to a hate campaign against those that don’t subscribe to your narrow view of how things are done.
The childishness of certain corners that house a handful of bands and hangers on from the UK has been one aspect of the last 10 years that I personally could do without. These self-proclaimed ‘scene’ gatekeepers have actually done themselves more damage than good.
It’s funny that they think they are all in a self-supporting community when any one of them would throw the others under the bus (a tour one, you can come on-board if you sell 30 tickets to each show, then you can pretend you are an in-demand support) given the chance of a gig with a named act or coverage on this site. This petulance has escalated more recently to thinly veiled racism and this needs to be stomped out, preferably by a big pair of New Rock boots. They need to grow up and concentrate on producing decent music and not poorly thought through opinions.
‘I prefer rogues to imbeciles, because sometimes they take a rest…’ Alexandre Dumas
I have been writing for TEC for around half of its existence and I have had the chance to meet some of my heroes thanks to this association. Highlights include bumping into Imogen Heap who on hearing I had written the TEC review of her ‘Sparks’ album, thanked me for my kind words and asked for a selfie (a proper fan boy moment), recommending soft synths to Martyn Ware and Green Gartside, chatting with John Foxx and seeing quotes from my reviews being used in NO-MAN promotional ads.
You only need to look at the people that give up time to speak to TEC and the PR people that approach TEC for coverage to understand how highly the site, and by extension site founder Chi Ming Lai, is held by the people in the know in the industry. From NEW ORDER to OMD, BLANCMANGE to Midge Ure, various members of JAPAN to HEAVEN 17 all have spoken openly at length about their careers giving insight to the people behind the music we all love.
And what other site can discuss an obscure electronic release by a leading light of the UK Prog movement one minute and chat with Synthesizer Patel the next without missing a beat or it appearing to jar?
‘You’re still in a band… Aren’t you a bit old for that behaviour…?’
I have come back to music this last decade after a considerable time out from writing and performing. I am sure there are a number of folk that wish I had stayed ‘retired’ and I accept that though I will be setting up a website soon called The Electrikery Club to let them all know why they are wrong, I am right and to give some much needed exposure to my mate Colin’s magnum opus recorded on a VL-Tone on his mum’s old Bush tape recorder…
Since returning to the fray, I have toured with some well-known names, played some big festivals both in the UK and further afield (actual festivals, not vanity gigs with 38 bands on the bill in a pub in Peckham), seen folk do questionable things with chicken nuggets and on more than one occasion, almost killed a well-known electronic percussionist and filthy hippy (who may or may not be my son…)
I have spent way way too long listening to subtle mixes of the same song, locked in windowless rooms with my musical compatriot Derek MacDonald and eaten considerably more motorway service station sarnies than is healthy. And you know what, I wouldn’t change one bloody minute of it.
I would even do Glastonbury again with Keith Trigwell and that included watching him dancing and let’s be honest, nobody wants that…
When a week is a long time in politics, a decade publishing music related guff on the web is an eternity… TEC has been around for 10 years and I get the feeling this is really just the start of the journey. Stay on-board, it’s been and will continue to be one hell of a ride
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!