With the release of ‘Fakta För Alla’, PAGE have not only unveiled a candidate for the best album of 2019; they have sculpted some of the most mature and sophisticated sounds of their career.
It is nearly forty years since the first PAGE single was released, establishing them as the house band of the Swedish poptronica scene. ‘Dansande Man’ (‘Dancing Man’) became an instant cult classic, and each successive recording has raised their standing as the Nordic successors to ULTRAVOX, GARY NUMAN and SPARKS.
Where other Swedish bands have aped DEPECHE MODE and their changes of style, PAGE have struck a course firmly rooted in the spirit of 1979.
There have been some changes to the line-up over the years, but the original team of Eddie Bengtsson and keyboardist Marina Schiptjenko has been the core since 2010. With each album, their sound has been refined and polished, until what is left is a bank of Moog filters and patches underpinning Bengtsson’s characteristic melodies. The result is a set of songs that are the natural successors to DRAMATIS and VISAGE with a Swedish twist.
Bengtsson can’t help making catchy hooks, and ‘Fakta För Alla’ (‘Facts For Everyone’) doesn’t have a single filler track. It is hardcore poptronica, with sweeping filters and bubbling basses providing the bedrock for Bengtsson’s dynamic vocal lines. Their 2017 album, ‘Det Är Ingen Vacker Värld Men Det Råkar Vara Så Det Ser Ut’ suggested the direction that PAGE would be taking, but it didn’t prepare us for how good the songs would become.
The album opens with the title track, which draws upon Bengtsson’s love for English electronic music. He has previously covered Numan’s ‘Tracks’ (in Swedish as ‘Spår’) and the lightness and glam of Synth Britannia both find their way into the material. PAGE never bought into images of robotic alienation and having once covered SLADE’s ‘Coz I Luv You’, their upbeat style owes more to T-REX than JOHN FOXX.
‘Fakta För Alla’ is followed by ‘Puls’ (‘Pulse’), which takes the glam quotient higher with a stomping rhythm line and saw waves lined up in catchy phrases. Strings and soaring synths point to Billy Currie as a source of inspiration, but there is nothing derivative about the stylings.
‘Blöder Du’ (‘Are You Bleeding?’) takes proceedings in a darker direction. It is a classy, elegant track that growls and glowers with brooding synth lines.
Bengtsson ditched most of his keyboards for a collection of Moogs some time ago, and the familiar resonance of the company’s distinctive oscillators unites all of the songs on ‘Fakta För Alla’. There is something of ‘Vienna’-era ULTRAVOX in the sequencer line of ‘Första smällen’ (‘The First Punch’), but the noir spirit is warmed up by Bengtsson’s vocals. You don’t need to wear a trenchcoat or hang around Conny’s Studio to enjoy it, but it helps.
‘Klara Färdiga Gå’ (‘Ready Set Go’) takes the tempo up a notch with a track that is bound to become a live favourite. PAGE excel at simple, catchy and danceable poptronica, and the violin comes back here with purpose. That is followed by ‘Alla Ljuden I Ditt Rum’ (’All the Sounds in Your Room’), which finds PAGE at their most Numan-esque. The track’s low, electronic rhythms serve as the scaffolding for layers of atmospheric, gleaming pads and lead synths.
‘Glans & Gloria’ (‘Glory & Gloria’) is an instrumental that keeps the faith with the album’s 1979 vibe. It is inescapably Bengtsson’s music, but the addition of a virtual string section expands its sonic possibilities.
‘Kloner’ has Moog stylings galore. The technology sometimes leads to the song: just as it is hard to imagine ‘Cars’ without the Minimoog, it is also hard to imagine that someone wouldn’t have written ‘Cars’ once they had the keyboard in front of them. ‘Kloner’ wouldn’t sound the same with Roland or Yamaha instruments, but its dynamic, upbeat chorus wouldn’t have happened without Bengtsson’s natural gift for melody.
‘Okänd Man’ (‘Unknown Man’) starts with piano and violin under a sync patch from a Moog – a statement of intent drawn from the Billy Currie playbook, which leads into classic PAGE sounds.
One of Bengtsson’s achievements is to keep from sounding derivative of the classic electronic masters while borrowing some of their sounds and stylings.
The album wraps with two versions of ‘Maskin’ (‘Machine’) – the second a reprise. Previously, this is the kind of material that Bengtsson would reserve for his SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN project, but it fits naturally into the structure of ‘Fakta För Alla’. It also shows that the band’s sound has outgrown any simple pop labels – this is Pagetronica, in a class by itself.
Eddie Bengtsson has been a trailblazing presence on the Swedish electronic music scene.
While best known for his involvement in PAGE and S.P.O.C.K, there have also been his solo adventures SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN and THIS FISH NEEDS A BIKE as well as various productions, collaborations and remixes. Inspired by Synth Britannia, two of Bengtsson’s most notable influences have been Vince Clarke and Gary Numan, with ’Dreaming Of Me’ and ’Tracks’ among the cover versions he has recorded over the years. Meanwhile, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD and ULTRAVOX also loom heavily within Bengtsson’s concepts and sound.
Indeed, the moniker SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN, translated from Swedish as “last man on earth”, came from Phil Oakey’s spoken introduction on the latter’s original Fast Product version of ‘Circus Of Death’.
Eddie Bengtsson had actually started out as a drummer but dumped his kit for synths after hearing the ‘Music For Parties’ by SILICON TEENS, convinced they were a real band. As a indirect result, the music of Eddie Bengtsson has always been rhythmic and bursting with synth melodies, continuing to maintain a cult following both at home and in Europe.
Although having played their farewell concert in 2000, PAGE has become Bengtsson’s most comparatively prolific outlet since reuniting with Marina Schiptjenko in 2010 for the album ’Nu’.
With a independent zest and focus despite having made music for nearly four decades, 2013 and 2017 saw the respective releases of ’Hemma’ and ’Det Är Ingen Vacker Värld Men Det Råkar Vara Så Det Ser Ut’ by PAGE.
Meanwhile 2019 will see the release of a brand new PAGE long player; entitled ’Fakta För Alla’ (translated as ”Facts For All”), Bengtsson reckons ”It’s the best I have ever done and that says alot. Heavely influenced by my favourite albums, it’s the songs NumanVox never did”. From it, the first single will be ‘Kloner’.
So as a Beginner’s Guide to his vast catalogue of work under his many different guises, The Electricity Club presents eighteen songs which are decisively ‘Just Like Eddie’ with commentary from the man himself…
PAGE Dansande Man (1983)
Originally comprising of Eddie Bengtsson, Marina Schiptjenko and Anders Eliasson, PAGE brought the more purer form of poptronica to Sweden. Their debut single ‘Dansande Man’ was a frantically percussive excursion suitable for dancing to as the title suggested. Bengtsson recalled it as: “One of the only songs I have co-written with somebody else, maybe the only one in fact. I haven’t decided if the song is a blessing or a curse. If this is the only song you’ve heard by PAGE, then it’s sad”.
Originally released as a PAGE single via Eskimo Records, currently unavailable
Eddie Bengtsson has often been referred to as the Swedish Vince Clarke, he confessed: “I had a YAZOO-period once…” when describing the second PAGE single ‘Som Skjuten Ur En Kanon’. Taking their time with releasing a debut album, ‘Hallå! (Var Tog Månbasen Vägen?)’ was recorded by Bengtsson and Schiptjenko as a duo and eventually emerged in 1994. Meanwhile 1992’s interim ‘Page’ collection gathered various tracks and remixes from 1984-1991 as a clearing of the vaults.
Originally released as a PAGE single via Accelerating Blue Fish, currently unavailable
In parallel with PAGE, Bengtsson joined vocalist Alexander Hofman to write and perform some ‘Star Trek’ themed songs for a friend’s Trekkie themed birthday party. ‘Never Trust A Klingon’ is still their crowning moment, a genius combination of deadpan vocals, bubbling electronics and samples from Captain James T Kirk himself. “I wanted to make something ‘hard’ and mechanical for S.P.O.C.K. Maybe this is their ‘Dansande Man’ in a way. A timeless song I think”.
Available on the S.P.O.C.K album ‘Five Year Mission’ via Energy Rekords
‘Electricity’ was how many in the UK first heard of PAGE as the track was bootlegged for various OMD covers compilations. Bengtsson remembered: “We did this for an album featuring covers of classic electronic pop songs. Some songs you shouldn’t make covers of, because they are perfect as they are. Just as ‘Electricity’ is by OMD. Therefore I wanted it to sound as close to the original as I could”. Meanwhile, S.P.O.C.K contributed a detached reinterpretation of DURAN DURAN’s ‘Planet Earth’.
For their third album, the S.P.O.C.K acquired a new crew member in Johan Billing. Inspired by the Extra-Terrestrial’s growly catchphrase, despite once stating ‘All E.T:s Aren’t Nice’ Bengtsson was pumped and energised: “Maybe my favourite song of all the songs I wrote for S.P.O.C.K. And the only one I wrote the lyrics for to”. But despite this artistic high, he departed the Federation Starship via its transporter room at the end of his five year mission following ‘Assignment: Earth’.
Although initially a collaboration with Matts Wiberg, SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN was effectively Bengtsson’s solo vehicle. A glorious love song to Mother Earth, ‘En Blå Planet’ was a delightful drumbox waltz with haunting echoes of OMD’s ‘International’ that even had him soaring to falsetto. With grainy synthetic strings and becoming more percussively militaristic as it progressed, this was according to Bengtsson: “The first SMPJ song with lyrics. Still as beautiful as it was ‘then’”.
Available on the SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN EP via ‘Först I Rymden’ via SubSpace Communications AB
“PAGE had a ‘gitarr-pop’ period” lamented Bengtsson, “Marina wasn’t in the band anymore and I made the mistake of continuing with the name. Shouldn’t have done that. The interesting thing is I made a whole PAGE album where the synths sounded so very much like guitars, the listeners really thought they were. ‘Too much guitars some said’ and the ordinary pop people said ‘too much synths’. Those two albums were really good, but didn’t really reach anyone, which is sad!”
Available on the PAGE single ‘Som Det Var’ via SubSpace Communications AB
‘Leonov’ was a fine tribute to Alexey Leonov, the legendary Voskhod 2 cosmonaut who became the first man to walk in space in 1965 and also took part in the 1975’s joint US / Soviet Apollo Soyuz Test Project. With its spacey floating vibe, it more than fitted in with regular space travel and Sci-Fi themes of SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN. “I wanted to get the feeling of a big spaceship, down in the machine room, a bit Russian and all. An SMPJ favourite” said Bengtsson, “The video made for this, was totaly weird!”
Available on the SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN album ‘Ok, Ok, Ok’ via SubSpace Communications AB
Having sung in Swedish for most of his career, Bengtsson looked to the language of the electronic pop that had emerged from British post-punk. While ‘Putting My Suit On’ could have been PAGE or SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN, ‘Do It’ had a deeper aggressiveness to its texture: “From another CD that kinda just passed by. THIS FISH NEEDS A BIKE is / was my English project. I wanted to do some kind of Punktronica. The whole album is very good!”
Available on the THIS FISH NEEDS A BIKE album ‘Between A & B’ via Energy Rekords
‘Allt Är Klart’ was an ULTRAVOX tribute and effectively a Swedish vocal version of the instrumental B-side ‘Alles Klar’. The hard staccato bassline was borrowed from the original, but the track was bolstered by some superb whirring synths in the tradition of Billy Currie’. “I told Christer Hermodsson (the other part of SMPJ and stage keyboardist) to make this ULTRAVOX sounding song even more ULTRAVOX sounding.” Bengtsson recalled, “ Christer is a big ULTRAVOX fan, and he made this so very cool”.
Having departed in 1996 and found European success in BWO, Marina Schiptjenko returned to PAGE in 2010; Bengtsson was very pleased to see her back: “From the album ‘Nu’ and that was PAGE’s ‘Marina is back again in the band’ album. New sound but still very PAGE”. With its electro Schaffel stomp, ‘Ett S.O.S’ allowed Bengtsson to freely exploit his Glamtronica instincts, something very much in evidence on PAGE’s 2012 cover of SLADE’s ‘Coz I Luv U’ for ‘The Seventies Revisited’ tribute compilation.
ROBERT MARLOW The Future – Glamtronica Redux By Eddie B (2013)
For ‘The Future’, Eddie Bengtsson took his Glamtronica ethos to Basildon for his treatment of the Essex new town’s often forgotten trailblazer, best known for being a former bandmate of Alison Moyet and the best friend of Vince Clarke who produced his best known tune ‘The Face Of Dorian Gray’: “Well, that song really got so much cooler after my Glamtronica treatment. But still, Marlow is Marlow and what he does, it’s what he should sound like, and that cool enough”. 🙂
The warm reception for ‘Nu’ and the remergence of electronic pop led to PAGE following up with ‘Hemma’. Beginning with a sampled burst of THE SEX PISTOLS ‘Holidays In The Sun’ before revealing a distinctly Clarkean spirit deep inside the song’s genetic make-up, ’Lyssnade På Min Radio’ was something of an angry musical rant with Bengtsson’s observations on the awfulness of modern radio shows: “A classic pop song, about all the crap music that gets played on radio. This song never did”.
Available on the PAGE album ‘Hemma’ via Wonderland Records
Stockholm duo Kajsa Olofsson and Mark Pettersson were already veterans of five more conventionally minded albums and initially influenced by Grunge. But for their sixth long playing offering ‘Kajser Und Marit’, they wanted a fresh electronic touch. Enter label mate Eddie Bengtsson as collaborator and producer: “MY GOD DAMN TERRITORY, probably Sweden’s coolest most fresh indietronica band. A bit sad they opted for making a vinyl instead of a CD. Should have been huge, this band”.
“The newest song from SMPJ. I really love it. Gives me goose bumps when I hear it” says Bengtsson. Originally released as a single domestically in Swedish, the sparkly atmospheric pop of ‘Stadens Alla Ljus’ was given an English language treatment by Simon Helm of Cold War Night Life as the lyrically darker ‘All The City Lights’ for a special ‘Translate’ EP made available exclusively to attendees of SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN’s debut London performance at The Lexington in 2015.
Available on the SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN single ‘Stadens Alla Ljus’ via Club Electro Sound Sweden Records
“THE VOLT, with me and Ulrika Mild from COMPUTE did this one single…” said Bengtsson, “there was plans for more, maybe still are. Played a lot of ‘Fallout 3’ when I made this and of course it is a cover”. Written by jazz guitarist Dickie Thompson as ‘Thirteen Women & One Man’ and made famous by Elvis Presley’s unrequited crush Ann Margret, Mild gave her own seductive Bassey-like vocal treatment over the drum machine laden backing in this saucy ode to post-apocalypse permissiveness.
After ‘Lyssnade På Min Radio’, Bengtsson found solace in ‘The Pleasure Principle’ and ‘Vienna’: “I have really found how I want PAGE to sound like, this is it. I built some ‘walls’ to shut out all the music that don’t interest me. Inside the walls I have my favourite albums. I listen to them alot, and almost only them. I get a kick from that and lots of inspiration. It’s a model I recommend to anyone. We can call it the Eddie-modell and I can explain it better some other time”.
Available on the PAGE EP ‘Start’ via Energy Rekords
ANYMACHINE featuring JEDDY 3 To See A Man Like Me Go Down (2018)
A sombre number laced with the darker side of early OMD in its gothic overdrones for a collection of modern electronic pop inspired by John Hughes and The Brat Pack, ‘To See A Man Like Me Go Down’ saw Bengtsson dust off his JEDDY 3 moniker used in 2006 for the one-off ‘Another Day’: “ANYMACHINE is the very talented Ulf Persson from ARACHNOPHOBIA, it’s just that he doesn’t know how talented he is. This is his song that I wrote the lyrics and the song melody for. A nice collaboration”.
Available on the compilation album ‘Romo Night Records Vol 1’ (V/A) via Romo Night Records
2018 saw JEAN-MICHEL JARRE celebrate 50 years in the business and whether the world really needed another of his compilations, ‘Planet Jarre’ was probably one of the better collected representations of his work for casual admirers.
But not standing still and releasing his fourth new album in three years, ‘Equinoxe Infinity’ continued the story as the French Maestro tuned 70.
SOFT CELL made a totally unexpected return for a huge one-off farewell gig at London’s O2 Arena; and with it came a boxed set, the ‘Northern Lights’ single and other new recordings which have raised hopes for a new album.
From the same era, FIAT LUX announced plans for their debut album ‘Save Symmetry’ with an excellent lead track ‘It’s You’, while B-MOVIE came up with their most synth-propelled single yet in ‘Stalingrad’.
But one act who actually did comeback with a brand new album in 2018 were DUBSTAR; now a duo of Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie, as ‘One’ they reminded audiences as to why they were the acceptable face of Britpop with their bridge to Synth Britannia.
IONNALEE finally released her debut opus ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ and her tour which included choice cuts from IAMAMIWHOAMI, proved to be one of the best value-for-money live experiences in 2018, one that was even endorsed by Welsh songstress Charlotte Church.
CHVRCHES offered up their third album ‘Love Is Dead’ and continued their role as international flagwavers for quality synthpop, while EMIKA presented her best album yet in ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, an exquisite electronic record with a Bohemian aura.
JOHN GRANT was on an artistic roll both solo and in partnership with WRANGLER as CREEP SHOW with two new albums. However, he was beaten by Neil Arthur who managed three albums over a 12 month period as NEAR FUTURE and BLANCMANGE including ‘Wanderlust’, possibly the latter’s best body of work in its 21st Century incarnation.
It was a busy year for STEVE JANSEN with a new solo ambient work ‘Corridor’, the well-received vinyl reissue of JAPAN’s two Virgin-era studio albums and his epic, more organically flavoured band project EXIT NORTH with their debut long player ‘Book Of Romance & Dust’.
SARAH NIXEY went on some ‘Night Walks’ for her best solo album yet, a wonderful collection of everything she had ever been musically all wonderfully rolled into one.
Meanwhile TRACEY THORN went back to the ‘Dancefloor’ with her ‘Record’ which content wise was right up there with some of ALISON MOYET’s electronica output from the last five years.
Hungary’s BLACK NAIL CABARET offered some noirish ‘Pseudopop’ and promising Norwich youngsters LET’S EAT GRANDMA got more deeply into electronica without losing any of their angsty teenage exuberance on their second album ‘I’m All Ears’.
Less intense and more dreamy were GLASSHOUSE, the new duo fronted by former TECHNIQUE singer Xan Tyler.
While the new HEAVEN 17 album ‘Not For Public Broadcast’ is still to be finished, Glenn Gregory teamed by with live keyboardist Berenice Scott as AFTERHERE. Their long-time friend Claudia Brücken performed as xPROPAGANDA with Susanne Freytag and partnered up with one-time TANGERINE DREAM member Jerome Froese, releasing the ‘Beginn’ album in the process.
Highly appealing were a number of quirky Japanese influenced female artists from around the globe including COMPUTER MAGIC, MECHA MAIKO and PLASMIC. But there were also a number of acts with Far Eastern heritage like STOLEN, FIFI RONG, DISQO VOLANTE and SHOOK who continued to make a worthy impression with their recorded output in 2018.
Heavy synth rock duo NIGHT CLUB presented their ‘Scary World’ on the back of tours opening for COMBICHRIST and A PERFECT CIRCLE while also from across the pond, NYXX and SINOSA both showcased their alluring potential.
At the poppier end of the spectrum, Holger Wobker used Pledge Music to relaunch BOYTRONIC with their most recent vocal incumbent James Knights in an unexpected twist to once again prove the old adage to “never say never” as far as the music industry is concerned.
Meanwhile, Chris Payne co-wrote and co-produced the excellent ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP with KATJA VON KASSEL while also revealing plans for an autobiography and opening for his old boss…
The surprise album of the year was CHRIS CARTER with his ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’ while using a not dissimilar concept with their second album ‘Hello Science’, REED & CAROLINE took their folk laden synthpop out on a US tour opening for ERASURE.
STEVEN JONES & LOGAN SKY harked back to the days when GARY NUMAN and OMD would release two albums in one year by offering ‘Hans Und Lieselotte’ and ‘The Electric Eye’ in 2016. Those veteran acts themselves celebrated their 40th anniversaries by going orchestral, something which SIMPLE MINDS also did when they opted to re-record ‘Alive & Kicking’ for the ’80s Symphonic’ collection although Jim Kerr forgot how a third of the song went!
With SIMPLE MINDS also performing a horrible and barely recognisable ‘Promised You A Miracle’ during BBC’s ‘The Biggest Weekend’, making up for the live joke that his former band have become was one-time bassist Derek Forbes with the album ‘Broken Hearted City’ as ZANTi with Anni Hogan of MARC & THE MAMBAS fame. Other former members of high-profile bands were busy too with Ian Burden, formally of THE HUMAN LEAGUE returning with the Floydian ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ while A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS reformed briefly for an orchestral re-run of their catalogue.
With the release of their second album ‘Kinetik’, EKKOES handed over THE HUMAN LEAGUE support baton to SHELTER who came up with their best body of work yet in the more introspective shades of ‘Soar’
That darker approach manifested itself on singer Mark Bebb’s side project FORM with Keith Trigwell of SPEAK & SPELL whose debut long player ‘defiance + entropy’ also came out in 2018.
There was a good showing from UK acts in 2018 with RODNEY CROMWELL, ANI GLASS, THE FRIXION, NEW ARCADES, OLLIE WRIDE and FAKE TEAK all issuing some excellent synth tinged songs for public consumption. However, the side was let down by the conveyor belt of lame profanity laden offerings from a number of British acts afflicted with deluded normality.
NINA’s long awaited debut album ‘Sleepwalking’ was a fine hybrid of synthpop and the currently fashionable Synthwave aesthetic; her live double billing with Canadian synthpopsters PARALLELS was one of the hottest tickets of the year. The sub-genre was indeed making waves and there were some very enjoyable artists coming out of it like GUNSHIP, DANA JEAN PHOENIX and MICHAEL OAKLEY.
However, the endless AOR excesses, moonlight sax breaks and highly unimaginative band monikers using numbers between 80 to 89 affixed to an archaic technology reference, illustrated by yet another neon sunset, VCR grid and Lamborghini, were becoming tiresome.
As Synthwave cynics, The Electricity Club’s touch paper was being lit big time! The whole point of the synthesizer’s role during the Second British Invasion of the US was to fight against the insipid overtures of AOR like TOTO, CHICAGO and JOURNEY, NOT to make music coated with its horrid stench as THE MIDNIGHT did in 2018 with their long player ‘Kids’.
But there was naivety within some quarters too; electronic music did not begin in 2011 with ‘Drive’, an above average film with a good if slightly over rated soundtrack. However, its cultural influence has led to a plethora of meandering tracks made by gamer boys which sounded like someone had forgotten to sing on them; perhaps they should have gone back to 1978 and listened to GIORGIO MORODER’s ‘Midnight Express Theme’ to find out how this type of instrumental music should be done?
Many of the newer artists influenced by Synth Britannia that The Electricity Club has featured have sometimes been accused of being stuck in the past, but a fair number of Synthwave acts were really taking the soggy biscuit with their retro-obsession.
Rock band MUSE’s use of glowing artwork by Kyle Lambert of ‘Stranger Things’ fame on their eighth album ‘Simulation Theory’ sent sections of the Synthwave community into meltdown. There were cries that they had “stolen the aesthetics and concept” and how “it’s not relevant to their sound”! But WHAM! had Peter Saville designed sleeves and never sounded like NEW ORDER or OMD, while electropop diva LA ROUX used a visual stylisation for ‘In For The Kill’ that has since been claimed by Synthwavers as their own, despite it being from 2009 when Ryan Gosling was peddling graveyard indie rock in DEAD MAN’S BONES 😉
This was one of the bigger ironies of 2018, especially as MUSE have always used synths! One of Matt Bellamy and co’s biggest musical inspirations is ULTRAVOX, indicating the trio probably have a better understanding of the fusion between the synthesizer, rock and classical music, as proven by the ‘Simulation Theory’ bookends ‘Algorithm’ and ‘The Void’, than any static laptop exponent with a Jan Hammer fixation.
It is interesting to note today how electronic music has split into so many factions, but there’s still the assumed generalisation that it is all one thing and that synthpop fans must also like Synthwave, Deep House, EDM, Industrial and those tedious beach chill-out remixes.
Back in the day and even now, some fans of THE HUMAN LEAGUE didn’t like OMD, DEPECHE MODE fans only liked DEPECHE MODE and rock fans had a token favourite electronic band. Out of all the synth based pop acts of the Synth Britannia era, The Electricity Club had very little time for THOMPSON TWINS despite their huge international success, but their leader Tom Bailey’s 2018 solo recorded return ‘Science Fiction’ was warmly received by many.
Just as COLDPLAY and SNOW PATROL fans don’t all embrace ELBOW, it is ok to have preferences and to say so. Not liking the music of an artist does not make you a bad person, but liking everything does not make you a better person either… in fact, it shows you probably have no discerning taste! In 2002, SOFT CELL warned of a ‘Monoculture’, and if there is no taste differentiation in art and music, it will spell the end of cultural enhancement.
2018 was a year of good songs rather than good albums, with many of long players not as consistent or as of high a standard as the bumper crop from the Class of ’17.
However, The Electricity Club had plenty of material to choose from for its 30 SONGS OF 2018 and while it can’t include everything, worthy mentions go to ANI GLASS, BLACK NAIL CABARET, BRÜCKEN FROESE, DANA JEAN PHOENIX, DISQO VOLANTE, DUBSTAR, EKKOES, FAKE TEAK, FRAGRANCE, THE FRIXION, GUNSHIP, HILTIPOP, IAMX, LIZETTE LIZETTE, TRAIN TO SPAIN and WITCH OF THE VALE who were in this year’s shortlist.
Interestingly, three graduates from the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ made it into the final list, thus highlighting the longevity of that particular vinyl showcase some 37 years on!
So with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, here are The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF 2018 presented in alphabetical order…
AFTERHERE Breaking Rules
AFTERHERE is the brand new project of HEAVEN 17 singer Glenn Gregory and live keyboardist Berenice Scott, but with their roles reversed. Exploring their inner GOLDFRAPP but in a funkier vein, with groovy reminisces of ‘Twist’ and ‘Yes Sir’, the song seductively boasted a captivating sexually charged electronic energy. Berenice Scott said to The Electricity Club: “We always wanted to have a driving track on the album that you could hopefully move your feet to, party to… possibly get in a little trouble!”
Available on the AFTERHERE album ‘Addict’ via Manners McDade
While the Clarke was strong with this one, the first impression that came across with ‘Utopia’ was that things became a slight bit darker in the world of JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM. Despite that, there was a rousing chorus and percolating sequences to savour as he pointed out the futility of seeking that perfect future, when life has so much more on offer. “I wouldn´t describe the album as dark though” the DAILY PLANET synthesist helpfully told The Electricity Club, “it´s absolutely a pop album.”
Available on the JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM album ‘Utopia’ via Progress Productions
For BLANCMANGE, ‘Distant Storm’ was rather unusual with its dance beat, reverberant Moog bassline and dreamy processed vocoder aesthetic. With a rousing, almost spiritual quality and elements of JAMES’ ‘Come Home’ creeping in for good measure, it displayed Neil Arthur’s comfort in working with producer Benge on effectively their third album together. “I wanted to sing it as though it was really detached with my voice being synthesized” he told The Electricity Club.
Available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘Wanderlust’ via Blanc Check Records
Veteran Mansfield quartet B-MOVIE made their most electronic pop single to date with the chilling aesthetics of ‘Stalingrad’. Complete with an infectious synth melody, an eerie mezzo-soprano and using the crucial Second World War battle as a metaphor for a doomed relationship, it was possibly Steve Hovington, Paul Statham, Rick Holliday and Graham Boffey’s best song since their 21st Century reformation; appropriately, its B-side was called ‘Something Cold’…
Available on the B-MOVIE EP ‘Repetition’ via Loki Records
‘Get Out’ may have acted as a superb launch single, but starting off their ‘Love Is Dead’ album was the wonderful ‘Graffiti’. This was a classic kaleidoscopic CHVRCHES tune that punched the sky with some rousing vocals. It was also a supreme singalong showcasing Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Docherty in full bouncy Taylor mode. Despite the downcast lyrical demeanour on lost youth and the passing of time, this was still a grand pop statement.
Australian duo CONFIDENCE MAN were a ray of sunshine in 2018 with their own brand of campy dork pop, being everything SCISSOR SISTERS should have been. ‘Don’t You Know I’m In A Band’ was an amusing satire on ego and sense of entitlement in the music industry. With an electro take on the groovy swoop of WAR’s ‘Low Rider’, a pitch shifted Sugar Bones came over like an inebriate Teddy Pendergrass while Janet Planet delightfully counterpointed in her alluring girly manner.
CREEP SHOW is the meeting of minds between eclectic singer / songwriter John Grant and the dark analogue electro of WRANGLER whose members comprise Stephen Mallinder, Benge and Phil Winter. On ‘Safe & Sound’, the quartet explored a spacious KRAFTWERK and GIORGIO MORODER hybrid to reveal gradually some wonderfully warm melodic synth textures to accompany Grant’s passionate lead croon. The project led to Benge also working on Grant’s ‘Love Is Magic’ album also released in 2018.
Driven by a meaty electronic bassline and metronomic backbone, the marvellous vocoder-laden ‘Comrades’ by RODNEY CROMWELL captured a really chilling Cold War atmosphere, bathed in an ensemble of sweeping synth oboes and cosmic string machines. “I ended up thumping at the MicroKorg and came up with the opening riff” he said. Rich with melody and a panoramic resonance, it surreally captured the sound of Moroder being played through a Soviet Foxtrot submarine intercom system.
With ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, EMIKA produced one of the best electronic albums of 2018. The record was a concept album of sorts, a musical reflection on generations of sadness within the Anglo-Czech musician’s family in her most personal statement yet. The pacey ‘Promises’ made the most of her lower and higher vocal registers, providing an eerie cascading harmonic with some rumbling dubby tension and booming stabs driving Eastwards with solemn spine tingling qualities.
Taking in more synthetic ambitions, FARAO’s second album ‘Pure-O’ was a playful bleep forward. While ‘The Ghost Ship’ saw Kari Jahnsen focussed on her forlorn little girl lost lyrics, the wonderfully uptempo ‘Marry Me’ offered an accessible PET SHOP BOYS flavour and romantic layers of vocals masking a deep scepticism of the institution of marriage, while the lush backing and chugging electronic backbone carried the air of her compatriot SUSANNE SUNDFØR.
Available on the FARAO album ‘Pure-O’ via Western Vinyl
Releasing their first new material in over three decades, FIAT LUX returned with the most splendid ‘It’s You’. As well as the bassline and harmony from David P Crickmore, the sax style was a fitting tribute to the sadly departed Ian Nelson. Singer Steve Wright said: “Lyrically, I hope, it expresses feelings that possibly everyone can relate to…” – their long awaited debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ is expected in 2019.
Available on the FIAT LUX single ‘It’s You’ via Splid Records
The ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ album was easily equal to Jonna Lee’s work with IAMAMIWHOAMI. Best of the set was possibly the marvellous closing number ‘Fold’. Featuring exotic cascading timbres and spacey pulsars, distorted string synths added tan appropriate chill as Lee’s passionate vocals completed the filmic vibe. Less mysterious, the IONNALEE transition was a triumph, especially with one of the best value-for-money live presentations of 2018.
Asking if “it is foolish to dream”, ‘Someday’ saw KATJA VON KASSEL questioning a moment of passionate haste. “The phrase ‘Someday’ just opened it all up and everything else just fell into place.” the chanteuse said. Capturing the beautiful melancholy of ASSOCIATES’ Billy Mackenzie, the doomed romantic tragedy of the sadly departed Scot was echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by CHRIS PAYNE’s hypnotic bassline and haunting vox humana treatment over a simple rhythmic loop.
Despite their age, LET’S EAT GRANDMA have a feisty but mature musical ambition, as successfully realised on ‘Donnie Darko’, an 11 minute tribute to the troubled teenager haunted by a monstrous rabbit-like figure. Utilising a sedate start before morphing into a wonderful movement of cascading electronics set to a metronomic beat, there were passionate reflections on the subject of human suffering. It all went a bit “batsh*t crazy” into a glorious synthony before calming to its conclusion!
Available on the LET’S EAT GRANDMA album ‘I’m All Ears’ via Transgressive Records
CHRIS LIEBING featuring POLLY SCATTERGOOD And All Went Dark
Noted techno exponent CHRIS LIEBING teamed up with Mute label mate POLLY SCATTERGOOD on a stark polyrhythmic number appropriately titled ‘And All Went Dark’. The brooding minimalist electronic piece with its eerily poetic spoken contribution from Miss Scattergood saw the Essex songstress haunted by a “dark shadow on my shoulder” and telling how “a sickness took hold early on”.
Available on the CHRIS LIEBING album ‘Burn Slow’ via Mute Artists
With the name transcending Toronto based Hayley Stewart’s fascination with Japanese culture, cyber space and a love of vintage synthesis, ‘Mad But Soft’ was her first album as MECHA MAIKO. The magically crystalline ‘False Memories’ could have been part of the ‘Stranger Things’ soundtrack. Uncomplicated on the surface yet multi-layered and airy, this day-glow pink neo-instrumental concoction was well-thought through and deliciously produced.
One-time RÖYSKSOPP collaborator Ryan A James continues to hone and develop his hybrid mix of luxuriant synthetics and subtle guitar textures as MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY. He said about the gorgeous electronic bubblebath of ‘Lafayette’: “It’s really a song about the end of a relationship, disguised as a song about Scientology, and how defectors of Scientology are disowned by their loved ones. The name comes from the religion’s founder Lafayette Ron Hubbard.”
Available on the MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY album ‘Infinity Mirror’ via Killing Moon Records
“Beware! It’s a scary world” and with their BRITNEY SPEARS fronting NINE INCH NAILS template, NIGHT CLUB took their sweet but sinister synth rock sound to its zenith with the title track of their second album. And when the children’s choir joined in the chorus to sing of demons everywhere, this was a musical trick or treat that no parent would want their offspring to be part of, the message being “they only love you if you swallow”!
A fabulously optimistic closer to NINA’s debut album, ‘80s Girl’ came beaming over like some missing song from the film ‘Mannequin’. With big Simmons drums, sampled orchestra stabs and driving synthbass triplets, it was however delivered with subtlety and restraint so that it wasn’t a HEART or STARSHIP pastiche. Dedicated to her mother, it had a telling message of “don’t let the past hold you back”.
Perhaps best known as the alluring if slightly blunt chanteuse of BLACK BOX RECORDER, SARAH NIXEY released her best solo album to date in ‘Night Walks’, a quality record with air and presence, collecting everything she has ever been musically, all rolled into one. One of its key tracks was the delightful ‘Journey’, a glorious number of the type that Marc Almond has often been so good at, laced with crystalline synths and gorgeously breathy vocal tones à la Jane Birkin.
Available on the SARAH NIXEY album ‘Night Walks’ via Black Lead Records
The ‘Savage’ album turned out to be both an artistic and commercial vindication for GARY NUMAN. ‘It Will End Here’ from ‘The Fallen’ EP was a natural progression from that, exploring a heavy but melodic electronic sound without relying on the predictable backing of rock guitars. With and anthemic chorus and the apocalypse is looming over the aural desert, there was even a soaring vocal pitch shift up at the song’s conclusion which added an extra eerie vampiric quality.
NYXX is very much her own woman, like the Greek goddess of night she is named after, a figure of power and beauty with a Britney-like vocal presence that sweetly offsets some of her darker overtones. A collaboration with Daniel Graves of AESTHETIC PERFECTION who contributed a glorious evangelical middle eight, she said “It would not be what it is without him. I came in with a sketch of a song, a melody and lyric of another song… Daniel heard nuances in it and we built what is now ‘Voodoo’.”
Available on the NYXX single ‘Voodoo’ via Close To Human Music
Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko initially came together in PAGE releasing their first single ‘Dansande Man’ in 1983. Since then, the pair have parted and reunited on a number of occasions but the mission for the ‘Start’ EP was to party like it’s 1979 when GARY NUMAN was No1. ‘Nere För Räkning’ was an urgent slice of pulsing synthrock with a piercing vibratoed lead line akin to the keyboard interventions heard on ‘The Pleasure Principle’.
Available on the PAGE EP ‘Start’ via Energy Rekords
From Mission Viejo in California, PLASMIC describes herself as an “Orange County one-woman dervish” and in a vivid haze that’s pretty in pink, “your abused Barbie doll from childhood”. Combining J-Pop with CRYSTAL CASTLES and DEVO, the undoubted standout from her ‘Validation Nation’ EP was ‘Baby Machine’, an immensely catchy feminist electropop anthem utilising a mixture of vintage Casio and Yamaha sounds that challenged the expectations of women to bear children.
Championed by none other than Vince Clarke, REED & CAROLINE successfully combine tunes with electronic experimentation. The haunting ‘Entropy’ was a tribute to a departed friend and a fabulously touching GARY NUMAN homage to his ‘Dance’ period, in particular ‘Cry The Clock Said’. The hypnotic soundtrack of gentle preset rhythms and eerie electric piano, courtesy of a Buchla modular synth, was complimented by Schutz even adopting the phrasing of the man born Gary Anthony James Webb.
Weird and wonderful, ‘Red Moon Voyage’ was a ghostly 10 minute epic comprising of glitchy voices and varying rhythm constructions recorded especially for Halloween. Free of album concepts and the pop song format, this was FIFI RONG at her most adventurous yet, delightfully adding her native Mandarin language towards the third part. She told The Electricity Club: “having a long journey means you can get very deep and lots of moods and transitions”.
Marc Almond and Dave Ball were the boys who came back-back-BACK as SOFT CELL in 2018. ‘Northern Lights’ reminisced about their days at the Wigan Casino and recaptured the pop essence that led to the duo having five consecutive Top 10 hits! Despite the grittiness and energetics, the duo always had melody and that came back in abundance on their welcome recorded return. The darker B-Side ‘Guilty (‘Cos I Say You Are)’ affirmed that as a creative force, SOFT CELL still had it.
Chinese six-piece STOLEN are reckoned by Berlin-based producer Mark Reeder to be possibly the most exciting band he has seen since NEW ORDER. Certainly their debut album ‘Fragment’ was impressive and one of the best of 2018, with ‘Turn Black’ being one of the standout tracks. “I like the idea of mixing of rock with techno…” said growly lead vocalist Liang Yi, “we are very proud that we don’t sound like any of the other Chinese bands.”
Ingo Hauss and Hayo Lewerentz handed back the BOYTRONIC brand to Holger Wobker and returned to being U96, teaming up with former KRAFTWERK percussionist Wolfgang Flür for the best track by either party in recent years. Stark and Teutonic with stark robotic vocoder aesthetics, the union of two German musical heavyweights from different generations was equal to Flür’s ‘Activity Of Sound’ collaboration with Ireland’s iEUROPEAN.
Combining piano, synths, field recordings, drones, occasional beats, old string instruments and HILARY WOODS’ wonderfully forlorn voice in the vein of Julee Cruise, ‘Jesus Said’ questioned the existence of God. Described by the Irish songstress herself as “a song that seeks catharsis”, her child-like expression over the drifting synthesized tones and hypnotic drum machine to augment her beautiful piano playing gave ‘Jesus Said’ a gentle meditative quality.
Available on the HILARY WOODS album ‘Colt’ via Sacred Bones
In recent times, there have been a number of music events where there have been so many acts of varying abilities on the line-up, the suspicion is that it’s a ruse to ensure that are actually people in the venue. Having more band members than punters does not make for a good music event…
Luckily, ‘Non Stop Electronic Cabaret’ in London hosted by music and culture blog Cold War Night Life was nothing too normal and avoided all that.
An event where quality prevailed over quantity, the sold-out show featuring an esteemed international line-up comprising of RATIONAL YOUTH, PAGE and PSYCHE was rammed from the minute that the opening act took to the stage of The Islington.
With SOFT CELL playing what was billed as their final concert at the O2 Arena the following day, dark Canadian / German synthpop duo PSYCHE paid tribute Messrs Ball and Almond by opening with a fine respectful cover version of ‘Martin’. Featuring Darrin Huss on vocals and Stefan Rabura on synths, there was passion from the former while aided by a high quality sound system, the latter was able to get to work on a variety of hand played synthetic inflections.
PSYCHE brought things up to date with their most recent single ‘Youth Of Tomorrow’ while the industrial Italo of ‘Uncivilized’ kept up the mutant dance tempos. Introducing ‘Truth Or Consequence’, the edgier B-side of ‘Youth Of Tomorrow’, Huss joked that it was getting more streams than the A-side, while an excellent reinterpretation of Q LAZZARUS’ ‘Goodbye Horses’ was appreciated by the PSYCHE faithful that had travelled over from Germany, Sweden, Finland and Italy for the event. A glorious ‘Unveiling The Secret’ from the 1986 album of the same name concluded a wonderfully engaging set.
Swedish poptronica exponents PAGE were making their return to London after a successful live debut in 2014. More recently, the duo of Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko have been exploring their inner Numan via the EP ‘Start’, while an enjoyable trilogy of albums ‘Nu’, ‘Hemma’ and ‘Det Är Ingen Vacker Värld Men Det Råkar Vara Så Det Ser Ut’ have maintained their cult standing.
Appropriately beginning with the ‘Start’ EP’s title song, the mash-up of ‘Tracks’ and ‘Metal’ partied like in was 1979. The catchy ‘Som Ett Skal’ from ‘Hemma’ and the glam Schaffel swing of ‘Ett S.O.S’ from ‘Nu’ kept the crowd moving while there was even a band clapalong on ‘Alla Som Väntar’. ‘Krasch’ kept up the thrusting Svensk elektronisk essence but closing their set early due to battery recharge difficulties, ‘Stör Ej’ took the Numan fixation to its zenith with the Compurhythm pattern from ‘Love Needs No Disguise’ appearing halfway through.
Canadian synthpop trailblazers RATIONAL YOUTH were making their first ever live appearance in the UK and mainman Tracy Howe was particularly fired up. Accompanied by his wife Gaenor on backing vocals and synths, the fitting political statement of ‘This Side Of The Border’ from 2016’s ‘Future Past Tense’ EP provided a poignant message for the multi-national crowd that was gathered. The stark ‘Dancing On The Berlin Wall’ from the ‘Cold War Night Life’ album (which the event hosts were named after) recalled a time when there really were divisive physical walls, while the midlife angst of ‘Here It Comes Again’ said it all!
Possibly RATIONAL YOUTH’s best known song, the intense electro drama of ‘Holiday in Bangkok’ provided one of the set highlights, although the sense of occasion got the better of Howe as he forgot some of the words. One-time member Dave Rout, now of TECHNIQUES BERLIN, joined the duo on synth for a rendition of their co-write ‘Energie’, while closing a spirited set, two ‘Cold War Night Life’ evergreens ‘City of Night’ and ‘Saturdays in Silesia’ more than satisfied the now very sweaty crowd who had danced from the beginning of the evening.
The Electricity Club often goes on about how the best electronic music events are curated by electronic music fans and Cold War Night Life did it again with their ‘Non Stop Electronic Cabaret’.
The lesson for other promoters? If the acts are of a sufficiently high quality and the bill has some appropriate fits, the rest will be then straightforward. And as Jim Morrison said in Wayne’s World 2’, “Book them and they will come…”
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Simon Helm at Cold War Night Life