What’s the definition of synthpop? Well, it’s pop music that uses synthesizers.
Whether it’s THE HUMAN LEAGUE or CHVRCHES, for generations over 30 years apart, these two acts’ interpretations of synthpop have been an entry point for many into the world of electronic music. People seem to forget that very few actually get into THROBBING GRISTLE on first listen!
Even Luis Vasquez, the man behind the darker platitudes of THE SOFT MOON expressed a love for PRINCE and MICHAEL JACKSON, admitting to The Electricity Club: “My first exposure to music was pop”
One new act embracing the sound of both THE HUMAN LEAGUE and CHVRCHES are the Leeds-based duo PARK FIRES. Comprising of Rachel Lissenburg and Emma Duffy, their second single ‘Watch Me Go’ released at the start of 2017 was both accessible and aesthetically inventive, adopting CHVRCHES’ ethos by producing a song that could have easily come from the pen of Taylor Swift.
With its percussive barrages and sweeps of sparkling synths, some might call it synthwave but The Electricity Club will keep it simple and call it synthpop. Presenting ‘Watch Me Go’ with a classic synth-laden framework for that avant pop edge which allowed THE HUMAN LEAGUE to appeal to tech geeks and hairdressers alike, those who enjoyed the small but enjoyable catalogues of TECHNIQUE and PEACH are likely to appreciate PARK FIRES.
PARK FIRES have had an interesting journey to date since their bittersweet debut single ‘Home’, having been part of indie trio AGAINST HABIT and experienced the joys of now jettisoned band management. Now wholly independent, Lissenburg and Emma Duffy have attracted BBC local radio airplay and have just had a brand new single ‘Wake Me Up’ released by local label Come Play With Me.
Utilising a 6/8 swing and dealing with the difficult issue of futile unrequited love, ‘Wake Me Up’ offers a darker trip-hop influence but with a wonderfully soulful chorus and sparkling synth runs to offset that mood.
So far releasing at a rate of one single per year, creative momentum is now increasing in the PARK FIRES camp with further live dates on the way and an EP expected later in 2018.
‘Wake Me Up’ is released by Come Play With Me via the usual digital platforms
What do DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE and THE THE have in common?
They all appeared on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ which acted as a springboard for their fame and fortune.
But the silent success story of the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ has to be Paul Statham; while his band B-MOVIE with Steve Hovington, Rick Holliday and Graham Boffey were unable to achieve a foothold in the mainstream like The Big Four, the guitarist later found considerable success as a songwriter and producer.
Working with personalities as varied as Peter Murphy, Jim Kerr, Billy Mackenzie, Dido, Dot Allison, Sarah Nixey, Kylie Minogue, Lisa Scott-Lee, Tina Arena and Rachel Stevens, Statham’s credits also include groups such as THE SATURDAYS and RIGHT SAID FRED.
Statham was also a member of cult electropop trio PEACH with Pascal Gabriel and Lisa Lamb, whose song ‘On My Own’ from their only album ‘Audiopeach’ featured during a key scene in the Gwyneth Paltrow movie ‘Sliding Doors’.
Although B-MOVIE reformed in 2004, Statham has continued his songwriting and production career in parallel.
More recently, there has also been his dark country project THE DARK FLOWERS, while he has also been releasing a series of ambient electronic albums, as well as establishing his own label Loki Records.
Paul Statham kindly took time out of his busy schedule to answer some of The Electricity Club’s questions about his career outside of B-MOVIE…
What has motivated you to start Loki Records in the current climate?
Well, exactly the words “current climate”! I did approach some leftfield labels, but the response time was tragic! Also as a long standing writer through Warner Chappell, there is always the thought that the song has to be commented on or is specifically ‘aimed’ at something , even going through an experimental label. So setting up my own label means I can go sit in the woods filming the moon all night, then decide that will be the video as it was for the track ‘Who Won’t Wait’! Of course who sees the video is then down to you endlessly trying to put links up!
After years of songwriting, how did this move towards more experimental music come about?
I have been involved in writing or creating pieces of instrumental music since 2002 through an art curator friend Victor De Circasia to run alongside writing more commercial music. My project THE DARK FLOWERS put a small element of experimental into traditional song using backdrops of wind or recorded atmosphere behind tracks, but my favourite album is Brian Eno’s ‘Another Green World’ and also I love reading about his compositional practice.
Your third ambient release is ‘Asylum’, how does this differ in concept from your first two releases of this type ‘Ephemeral’ and ‘Installation Music 1’ which were given away on Bandcamp?
I did plan to do it this way. The first two are unaltered pieces that were actually used in two installations, ‘Installation Music 1’ is very specific to a sculpture ‘Diving Woman’ by Sottish artist David Mach. ‘Asylum’ took some installation music from the Asylum Chapel in Peckham and simply used it as the starting point to create an album that was added to and experimented on over time.
What do you get out of this more experimental direction that you wouldn’t get from writing pop songs?
Total Freedom. A real journey from going out and exploring sounds in the outside world to developing artwork / films and setting out and letting the unfolding music direct where it heads to with no thought of who may like this. That’s why sometimes I’ll give them away for free!
Any thoughts about trying to compose hour long pieces like Brian Eno has done?
I already have a 28 minute piece that was used in an installation. It involved 28 pieces of thirty seconds long, starting with one then adding to it the next piece every 30 seconds to create a collage of found sound, then after 28 minutes it reverses. I will locate it and put it out for free on Bandcamp now you have reminded me! It was accompanied by painter Daisy Cook’s series of 28 small paintings of the Australian landscape but taken from the air. We made a film but I’ve since lost it!
The B-side to B-MOVIE’s ‘Marilyn Dreams’ was ‘Film Music Part 1’, what ever happened to Part 2 and is composing film music a direction you would like to head in?
That was written by Rick and I really like it! I think it was Rick, although Steve wrote most things back then! Film music is something I would love to do and would offer the music for free to any budding or low budget film in need!
After B-MOVIE first ended, you started to work with Peter Murphy in 1988 and continue to do so today, how would describe your creative dynamic?
Slow development! No, it’s completely different than my usual co-writing and has been long distance, with us rarely or actually ever sitting down in the same room and writing anything together. ‘Love Hysteria’ was me sitting in his attic with a four track and a few instruments, then leaving it with him. ‘Deep’ was similar but in a studio room, with Peter adding stuff once I’d put any sort of sketch down. After his move to Turkey, I would visit Ankara but again go into his studio room alone and sketch ideas, whilst he would then go in after me later at night and really shape them up. Since the internet, we simply share files. Some people find this dynamic difficult but after such a long time, I find it easy to send him anything I feel will intrigue.
Photo by Pete Walsh
In 1996, you formed PEACH who you described as “ABBA Meets THE KLF”? What inspired this?
Hahahaha! That was meeting Pascal Gabriel who produced the Murphy album ‘Cascade’. After the ‘Holy Smoke’ album, Peter dropped THE 100 MEN (band) and I went back to co-writing the whole album via sketches and lots of different styles, but with a more electronic feel. We all went to Spain to record, Peter, Pascal and myself and it was fairly high pressure.
On returning to London, I began to hang out with Pascal and he suggested that we form a very up dayglo electronic trio… very different to my Murphy work and at the time, it was something I definitely needed to do.
How did getting signed to Mute come about? It appeared to happen quite quickly…
We signed to Daniel Miller’s Mute label after playing him two demos in his office with no singer and Pascal sorting of humming vocal ideas. I really respect Daniel Miller and how he got what we were trying to do immediately and offered us a deal on the spot!
I will always be grateful to Pascal as he gave me studio keys and access to all these incredible synths and recording gear and simply let me learn my way around it, whilst we simply began recording with no agenda, other than kicking electropop tunes!
While your first single ‘On My Own’ wasn’t a UK Top 40 hit, it attracted positive responses?
It was a hit in the States and reached No 11 on the radio charts and also was a pop Top 40 hit. It was No 1 in Canada, Israel and bizarrely Singapore where Lisa Lamb and myself headed out to play the city’s 33rd birthday celebrations…v v odd!
Photo by Adrian Green
How did you feel when ‘On My Own’ featured in the film ‘Sliding Doors’?
I remember being very excited, especially meeting Gwyneth Paltrow at the aftershow of the London premiere. Also seeing your name come up at the end of the film credits was worth it!
‘From This Moment On’ is a timeless pop tune?
I wrote the majority of that alone, picturing a sort of ABBA / ACE OF BASS crossover with a different rhythmic feel than the rest of the more uptempo songs.
I started with the sequencer and then went back and wrote this long intro as I may have discovered a jazz chord or two from some book! Lyrically, I just liked the sound of the words / sentiment without it being particularly about anything! I don’t normally write lyrics, perhaps you can see why!
The eventual ‘Audiopeach’ album was one of the last recordings that the late Billy Mackenzie contributed to. His ad libs on ‘Deep Down Together’ are so unmistakable, how did you know him and what was he like to work with?
Billy Mackenzie was a friend of Pascal’s and I was a HUGE fan of ASSOCIATES. It was shortly before he committed suicide and he arrived very down to earth and humble with a few cans of beer. He simply opened his mouth and that voice exploded. I loved it so much, I owned a DAT tape of him simply singing his vocal line unaccompanied, it was so pure with such a range. He also sang on ’Give Me Tomorrow’, replacing the high sampled opera vocal. I have read ‘The Glamour Chase’ biography twice now and recently have started listening to him a lot.
Photo by Joe Dilworth
By the time ‘Audiopeach’ came out in 1998, the momentum appeared to have stalled, what happened?
Basically we didn’t all get on. Lisa proved difficult at the time, while Pascal and her were complete ‘Polar Opposites’ in just about everything. I think Lisa herself will admit she found it difficult and although we had success, our vision of what PEACH should sound like / appear like were pulling in two very different directions. I was sad as had left a long running collaboration with Murphy, found success with this pop / electronic vibe, signed to Mute and then walked away from it all.
PEACH supported ERASURE in London but did not play live much, could this have been a contributory factor?
I loved playing live, especially after some amazing live shows around the world with Peter Murphy, who was and is a great frontman and thrived on chaos. Pascal wasn’t so much a live musician and Lisa just got more outrageous, so it wasn’t really a live show at all, just playing a few chords over a backing track. We played three shows with ERASURE in London and before that, two in Hamburg. The German shows were a real success and very enjoyable, but somehow we’d lost enthusiasm by the time we played London!
PEACH appeared to help kickstart your next phase as a pop writer with artists like Kylie Minogue, Rachel Stevens and Lisa Scott-Lee?
Yes, that was only due to the fact I signed via PEACH to Warner Chappell and became great friends with my A&R man Mike Sault who began getting us co-writes with other artists and also, the great work that Sandy Dworniak at TMT Management did as Pascal’s and my manager.
Some might say your best known song is ‘Here With Me’ which you did with Dido, how do you look back on it?
It was so good as Dido had no expectations on her and I loved her voice; as a person and collaborator, she was great fun and wrote quickly and strongly in terms of her lyrics / melodies. We wrote quite a lot of songs and I remember vividly writing ‘I’m No Angel’ with her in about two hours!
So how would you approach a song for a singer, as opposed to artists like Dido, Sarah Nixey or Dot Allison who are more involved in the composition side? Is there a brief from the label?
Yep, sort of. It’s always strange as they give you a reference video by another artist, then the artist plays you something different and the management tell you they want something off the wall and different, so I just try and write the most interesting music I can and see where it goes. It’s so hard to get these things right and you end up with literally hundreds of very very good songs, but then so does everyone else who co-writes with them. It’s frustrating going back and seeing a huge iTunes library with lots of songs that you feel could be hits if the artist / A&R / manager had chosen to go with the song you co-wrote!!
You also worked with Jim Kerr on ‘Return Of the King’, a tribute to Billy Mackenzie for his LOST BOY solo project and subsequently, ‘Kill Or Cure’ for SIMPLE MINDS, what was that like?
Fantastic! I saw SIMPLE MINDS four times in one year when I was a teenager and was a HUGE fan of the first four albums. Not so much ‘New Gold Dream’ onwards, but ‘Reel To Real Cacophony’ and ‘Empires & Dance’.
So writing with Jim Kerr in my small bedroom sized home studio was one of those moments you think if I could have told my 18 year old self that, he wouldn’t have believed me! Also we share a lot of great music references in Bowie, Bolan, Roxy and certain literary styles / books. Jim is a very optimistic and supportive friend, he encouraged THE DARK FLOWERS and we have written a lot of material that may or may not see the light of day!
So what’s happening with THE DARK FLOWERS, which has featured Jim Kerr, Peter Murphy and Dot Allison amongst others?
I have all the music… it’s like herding cats trying to get a song or two from each person as they are all involved constantly in their own work. However I’m getting excited about the second album as its shaping up well… darker in tone than the first (deliberately) and featuring David J as well. Lloyd Cole was interested and started a track, but as of yet???!!!!
In all, are you quite happy with how you music career has turned out in its various guises?
I’m very happy… more so than ever. I re-signed to Warner Chappell in January and balance my week with running a course at BIMM in London once a week and heading up the songwriting workshops at Solent University (sixth year now) once a week too. This leaves me plenty of time to work on my own stuff and collaborate with long standing friends / artists
What’s next for you in whatever guise?
– THE DARK FLOWERS 2
– The continued release of experimental music via Loki Records
– AFTER THE RAIN (my new sample / DJ Shadow style project)
– New B-MOVIE album
– New Peter Murphy collaborations
– A new KRAFTWERK / vaporwave project with film composer Magnus Fiennes out in LA
– And continued co-writing via Warner Chappell’s, particularly with electro R‘n’B singer Billie Black.
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Paul Statham
PAUL STATHAM’s musical contributions date back to post-punk, and having worked and composed for many successful artists, his accolades are many.
Signed to Mute, his project PEACH with a fellow producer Pascal Gabriel, brought ‘Audiopeach’ and the song ‘On My Own’ featured in the film ‘Sliding Doors’, became a US top 20 hit.
Working with SIMPLE MINDS, TINA ARENA and THE SATURDAYS alongside others, his main commercial success came on DIDO’s and KYLIE MINOGUE’s albums as a co-writer and producer.
Having his fingers in many pies includes co-founding the band B-MOVIE, acting as a visiting professor in Leeds College Of Music and running songwriting workshops in London. Statham also developed his own project THE DARK FLOWERS, which featured collaborations with Peter Murphy, with whom the producer has a long lasting working relationship, SIMPLE MINDS’ Jim Kerr, Dot Allison from ONE DOVE and HELICOPTER GIRL. If that wasn’t enough, the multi-talented artist busies himself with film, art installations and exhibitions.
Recently the many faces of Paul Statham were realised in a start-up of his own label Loki Records and the release of an eight track album ‘Asylum’. Having been signed to Warner Chappell Publishing for over twenty years, Statham set up Loki to issue his experimental material, a phase which began with the ‘Ephemeral’ and ‘Installation Music 1’ releases.
‘Asylum’ features music from an audio visual installation created with painter Jonathan McCree, which was held in Asylum Chapel in South London’s Peckham.
The opening eponymous track’s video utilises images from an Italian exhibition as well as dancers from Turkish State Contemporary Dance Company. The song itself is minimalistic and sparse, yet evolving the feelings of distress, fear, anxiety, laced with blissful oblivion and dread.
Soundtrack worthy, ‘Asylum’ is creepily delicious, and the senses are becoming to wake with the following ‘Collision’, a messier, more confused enterprise, still bearing the elements of dystopia and madness.
‘Who Won’t Wait’ continues the ambient atmosphere with the feeling of no hope, and ‘Tq347773’ brings a delicate piano, treated with a dose of electronic manipulation.
‘Rhea Moon’ introduces a steady beat and a promise of brighter days within the disjointed musicality and leads onto much heavier sounding ‘Estuary Point’.
Here, the inevitable dread returns with the uncomfortable images of being shut out from the world, enclosed in a small space and being fed disturbing images for no other reason but to be broken. Was Statham going for mind control references here; Montauk experiment perhaps?
No relief comes in the form of ‘Malleki’, which utilises treated found sounds; wooden, primal, ritualistic. The strings and piano have no chance against the gritty synth. The closing ‘Ascend’ promises a glimmer of hope from the onset. Being lifted in a beam of light; lifted to the higher spiritual plains or being taken maybe.
This is the beauty of ambivalent music – anyone can imagine what they like and address the feelings a particular piece may evoke. ‘Ascend’ brings that aura of weightlessness, the divine connotations and the calmness of being, away from the “asylum”.
‘Asylum’ will appeal to the discerning customer, to the lovers of unusual synth play, GAZELLE TWIN or JORI HULKKONEN or maybe even THE KNIFE.
It’s wholesomely cinematic, marvellously ethereal and perilously addictive, if you aren’t afraid of darker auras and more intellectual sound manipulations.
Without doubt, Mute Records is one of the most important record labels in the history of electronic music.
While the early electronic legacy of Virgin Records helped the genre gain its first foothold in the mainstream, the discerning ethos of Mute has maintained its presence in both pop and more experimental fields.
Like many, Mute supremo Daniel Miller began taking an interest in synthesizers as tools for making pop music after hearing KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’.
The son of Austrian Jewish refugees, he was DJing on the continent after completing his film studies course when he became enthralled by the Kling Klang sound.
He was inspired to make electronic music himself but at the time, the equipment was prohibitively expensive. That all changed with the advent of affordable synthesizers from Japan manufactured by the likes of Korg and Roland.
Already a fan of German kosmische scene, his sense of experimentation and an adoption of punk’s DIY ethic led him to buying a Korg 700s. Wanting to make a punk single with electronics, he wrote and recorded ‘Warm Leatherette’ b/w ‘TVOD’ for a one-off independent single release in 1978.
He needed a label name and chose ‘Mute’ after the button that came on the equipment that he had used as a film studies student.
Distributed by Rough Trade, MUTE 001 was a surprise success and thanks to him including his mother’s North London home address on the back of the striking monochromatic crash test dummy sleeve, Miller started receiving cassettes from kindred spirits who were keen to explore the brave new electronic world; he realised that a new scene was developing.
Through his connections at Rough Trade, he became aware of former art student Frank Tovey. As FAD GADGET, Tovey recorded ‘Back To Nature’ which was issued as MUTE 002 in October 1979. A seminal work that was also critically acclaimed, it helped establish Mute’s credentials as a champion of electronic music.
The first album released on Mute was ‘Die Kleinen Und Die Bösen’ (translated as ‘The Small and The Evil’) by German band DEUTSCH AMERIKANISCHE FREUNDSCHAFT (DAF) in March 1980.
Miller had signed them because “they weren’t relying on past rock”.
The majority of STUMM 1 was recorded with the legendary Conny Plank at the controls of the studio recordings, while the remainder came from tape of a live gig at London’s Electric Ballroom.
DAF set the ball rolling in furthering Mute’s aspirations, while the Germanic influence continued through into the label’s cataloguing system as the album prefix Stumm was the German word for Mute.
Meanwhile, Miller was fascinated about the idea of synthesizers as the future of popular music and conceived a teenage pop group who would use only synths; he called them SILICON TEENS although in reality, this was actually his solo electronic covers project. Something of a novelty, his cover of ‘Red River Rock’ ended up on the closing credits of the Steve Martin / John Candy comedy ‘Planes, Trains & Automobiles’ in 1987!
But Miller’s dream became flesh and blood when he came across a young quartet from Basildon called DEPECHE MODE. Signed on a handshake 50/50 deal, while the group was a chart success, they fragmented after their 1981 debut album ‘Speak & Spell’. However the remaining trio of Andy Fletcher, Dave Gahan and Martin Gore recruited Alan Wilder, soldiered on and the rest is history. Meanwhile, the departed Vince Clarke went on to further success with YAZOO, THE ASSEMBLY and ERASURE.
With the label’s commercial success, Mute were able to back more experimental releases from Germany including the quirky single ‘Fred Vom Jupiter’ by ANDREAS DORAU & DIE MARINAS, and ‘Los Ninos Del Parque’ by LIAISONS DANGEREUSES. Mute’s business ethos, where money made from record sales allowed acts to develop within a sympathetic creative environment free from interference, proved to be key to its artistic and financial prosperity.
As the label expanded over the years, further signings included EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN, NICK CAVE, LAIBACH, WIRE, BOMB THE BASS (through the Blast First subsidiary), INSPIRAL CARPETS, MOBY and GOLDFRAPP. Meanwhile Miller took the ultimate step in his love of German music, acquiring the rights to the music of CAN and becoming the winning bidder for the vocoder used on ‘Autobahn’ when it came up for auction!
In May 2002, Mute Records was bought by EMI for £23m, although Miller remained as a figurehead and in charge of the company’s global activities. The label became the brand for the multi-national’s electronic music activities and when KRAFTWERK’s back catalogue was finally remastered by EMI, it was released under the Mute banner.
However, with rapid changes occurring within the industry as a result of the new digital marketplace, EMI and Miller reached an agreement in September 2010 to establish a second independently run record label under the name Mute Artists for new acts, while the Mute Records name and rights to the label’s archive recordings remained under the control of EMI via its new owners Universal.
As owners of their own catalogue though, DEPECHE MODE formally ended their association with the label that launched them and signed a lucrative licencing agreement with Sony BMG. But the Mute story continues with acts such as MAPS and POLLY SCATTERGOOD, while Miller’s latest addition to the roster has been NEW ORDER whose new album ‘Music Complete’ will be out on 28th September 2015.
So what twenty albums or EPs best represent Mute’s electronic legacy? With a restriction of one release per artist moniker, here are The Electricity Club’s choices…
FAD GADGET Fireside Favourites (1980)
Following the success of singles ‘Back To Nature’ and ‘Ricky’s Hand’ with a small but loyal fanbase now established, a FAD GADGET album was eagerly anticipated. It came in September 1980 with ‘Fireside Favourites’ co-produced with Eric Radcliffe and John Fryer. it developed on the minimal industrialism of the singles. The superb ‘Coitus Interruptus’ was a cynical commentary on casual relationships while the Cold War tensions were documented on ‘Fireside Favourite’.
Following the acclaim that was accorded to THE NORMAL, Daniel Miller decided to undertake a new project where rock ’n’ roll standards such as ‘Memphis Tennessee’, ‘Just Like Eddie’ and ‘Let’s Dance’ were reinterpreted in a synthpop style, with Miller singing like he had a clothes peg attached to his nose. With his inherent shyness, the vehicle he used was SILICON TEENS, a fictitious synth group where several young actors were hired to appear in videos and do press interviews.
Disillusioned by the pop circus following the singles success of ‘New Life and ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’, Vince Clarke departed DEPECHE MODE in late 1981 and formed YAZOO with Alison Moyet. Although they only released two albums, YAZOO’s impact was long lasting. The debut ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’ was a perfect union of passionate bluesy vocals and pristinely programmed synthpop. Songs such as ‘Only You, ‘Don’t Go’, ‘Midnight’ and ‘Winter Kills’ set a high standard but Clarke and Moyet parted ways.
In a departure from DAF’s pioneering electronic body music, drummer Robert Görl lightened up considerably with a solo synthpop record that even had him posing bare chested by a swimming pool on the cover. ‘Night Full Of Tension’ even featured vocal contributions from EURYTHMICS’ Annie Lennox on ‘Charlie Cat’ and ‘Darling Don’t Leave Me’. Although not featuring on the original LP, the brooding but accessible single ‘Mit Dir’ was an electronic cult classic and included on the CD reissue.
Although success for ERASURE was not instant with debut album ‘Wonderland’ and its lost single ‘Oh L’Amour’, the chemistry between Clarke and Bell possessed a special spark. ERASURE toured the college circuit and built up a loyal fanbase, eventually hitting chart paydirt with ‘Sometimes’. ERASURE added political commentary ‘It Doesn’t Have To Be’ and ‘The Circus’ title track, while songs such as ‘Spiralling’ and ‘Hideaway’ confirmed they were more than just a great singles act.
Controversial Slovenians LAIBACH played with Teutonic rhythms and Third Reich imagery, while their unique covers of QUEEN’s ‘One Vision’ and OPUS’ ‘Life Is Life’ indicated they were either ironic art terrorists or possibly, preachers of a dangerous political message. There were accusations of Mute tolerating artists having far right sympathies but with Daniel Miller’s Jewish heritage, this was unlikely. Their industrial torture made an impact with ‘Opus Dei’ and laid the foundations for many including RAMMSTEIN.
‘Counterfeit’ allowed Gore to indulge in a mini-album of six covers with varying origins. The emotive traditional standard ‘Motherless Child’ revealed his love of the Blues while a great version of SPARKS’ ‘Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth’ was a fitting look back at the eccentric pop that would have fed the young Mr Gore. Reinterpretations of cult artists such as TUXEDOMOON, THE DURUTTI COLUMN and THE COMSAT ANGELS revealed there was a lot more to Gore’s record collection.
Why is ‘Violator’ so important and highly celebrated? It is still DEPECHE MODE’s most complete and accomplished body of work. It was the classic Fletcher/Gahan/Gore/Wilder line-up firing on all cylinders and at their most happiest as a unit. The end result was four hit singles but also songs such as ‘Halo’, ‘Waiting For The Night’ and ‘Clean’ which were easily their equal. And on ‘Blue Dress’, Gore’s lyrics possessed an honesty that while dark and deviant, still retained a naïve innocence that many could relate to.
‘As Is’ saw Essex industrialists NITZER EBB at the height of their imperial powers. Although produced by the band, each song was mixed by a different artist or producer. These included Jaz Coleman from KILLING JOKE, producer Flood and MAGAZINE’s Barry Adamson. But the best number was ‘Come Alive’ mixed by Alan Wilder which had the legacy of ‘Violator’ stamped all over it. Although the subsequent album ‘Ebbhead’ which was produced by Wilder and Flood, appeared sans ‘Come Alive’.
While there had been two EPs ‘1 + 2’ and ‘Hydrology’ by RECOIL, Alan Wilder’s solo sideline to DEPECHE MODE, it wasn’t until 1992 that there was a full length album. Entitled ‘Bloodline’, it featured vocals from NITZER EBB’s Douglas McCarthy, Toni Halliday of CURVE and MOBY. Wilder’s brooding electronic soundscapes and meticulous production made their presence felt and it was McCarthy’s contributions to a cover of THE ALEX HARVEY BAND’s ‘Faith Healer’ that stole the show.
When MOBY was signed by Daniel Miller, he was considered to be a one hit wonder with ‘Go’ in 1991. His first proper album ‘Everything Is Wrong’ arrived in 1995. The superb instrumental ‘First Cool Hive’, the happy hardcore of ‘Feeling So Real’, the gospel punk of ‘All That I Need Is To Be Loved’ and the neo-classical ‘Hymn’ showcased his eclectic tastes. Miller’s tremendous foresight turned out to be a wise decision when the unexpected success of ‘Play’ in 1999 provided a boost in income for Mute.
London-based duo Simon Leonard and David Baker began in 1982 as I START COUNTING and then morphed into FORTRAN 5. But as KOMPUTER, they created some heavily KRAFTWERK influenced numbers to make up for the lack of new material from Kling Klang. From their 4 track ‘EP’, ‘We Are Komputer’ was their own ‘The Robots’, while there was also the marvellous tribute to the first female Cosmonaut ‘Valentina Tereshkova’ which mined ‘The Model’.
The concept of PEACH was ‘ABBA meets THE KLF’. Released in September 1997, ‘Audiopeach’ is one of those albums that has been lost in the midst of ‘Cool Britannia’. The album’s reputation was based on the participation of its two instrumentalists Pascal Gabriel and Paul Statham. Completing PEACH’s line-up was singer Lisa Lamb. The album’s launch single ‘On My Own’ was classic pop for the modern era with Lamb’s vocal delivery akin to Belinda Carlisle going electro.
While LADYTRON were using their Korg MS20s making sinewaves in a more pop oriented setting, ADD N To (X) took their MS series synths into more obscure, experimental territory. ‘Add Insult To Injury’ had one half written / performed by Ann Shenton and Steve Claydon, while the other was written / performed by Barry 7. The wonderful robotic sexual tension of ‘Plug Me In’ was the highlight while the fun continued with the bouncy ‘Adding N To X’ and the creepy noise fest of ‘Hit For Cheese’.
One of Mute’s best ever albums, ‘Felt Mountain’ was a superb introduction to the then electro Weimar Cabaret cinematics of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory. Beginning with the superb ‘Lovely Head’ with its spine tingling whistle and MS20 assisted banshee wails, the album thrilled with Morricone style widescreen inflections to accompany an ascent to the Matterhorn rather than a trek through a Spaghetti Western. ‘Felt Mountain’ was a slow burner that was deservedly nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.
VINCENT CLARKE & MARTYN WARE Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle (2001)
‘Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle’ was composed in 2000 as part of an art installation where the colours referred to in the titles of the six lengthy pieces were ‘programmed to cross fade imperceptibly to create an infinite variation of hue’ in a white clothed room. Tracks like ‘White – You Are In Heaven’, ‘Yellow – You Are On A Beach’, ‘Blue – You Are Underwater’ and’ Green – You Are In A Forest’ were all utilised to full effect with a binaural 3D mixing technique that was best heard using headphones.
In 2002, DUBSTAR’s Sarah Blackwood was recruited to front female synthpop duo TECHNIQUE by Kate Holmes. Somewhere in Leipzig supporting DEPECHE MODE, they became CLIENT and were mysteriously referred to as Client A and Client B in a ‘1984’ inspired Orwellian twist. Signed to Mute via Andy Fletcher’s Toast Hawaii imprint, they announced “Client… satisfaction guaranteed… innovate never imitate… we aim to please… at your service” before a “F*** OFF! DON’T TOUCH ME THERE!”
His solo debut ‘Paper Monsters’ was a disappointment, but Gahan was still finding his feet as a songwriter, becoming more realised on ‘Playing The Angel’. His second album ‘Hourglass’ was better and ‘Kingdom’ could have made a great DM recording. But in the same way that Mick Jagger’s 1984 Nile Rodgers produced solo debut LP having very few takers meant that the ROLLING STONES would continue ad infinitum, would DEPECHE MODE still be going if Mr Gahan’s solo career had actually taken off?
While Mute continues to diversify and experiment, the more esoteric pop aspirations of Mute’s synthetic roster continues. MAPS is the vehicle of James Chapman and with a more expansive electronic template, his third album ‘Vicissitude’ was a selection of very personal songs with a strong melodic backbone. Unafraid to let the instrumental synthesizer elements take a prime role in the overall aesthetic, tracks like ‘AMA’ and ‘You Will Find a Way’ put MAPS into the same league as M83 and EAST INDIA YOUTH.
POLLY SCATTERGOOD signalled the more electronic journey of her second album ‘Arrows’ with the marvellous electro-COCTEAU TWINS twist of ‘Wanderlust’. While there were still signs of her folkier roots, synthetic textures and technological trickery were very much part of the action. The sad but driving pop of ‘Falling’ and ‘Subsequently Lost’ attracted empathy with Polly World, while the highly emotive ‘Miss You’ and the dreamy ‘Cocoon’ displayed her passion and vulnerability.
The concept of PEACH was “ABBA meets THE KLF”. Released on Mute Records in September 1997, ‘Audiopeach’ is one of those synthpop albums that has been lost in the midsts of Cool Britannia.
The trio had been slowly building a profile, having supported ERASURE, based on the musical reputations of their two instrumentalists Pascal Gabriel and Paul Statham.
The pair had met during the recording of ex-BAUHAUS singer Peter Murphy’s solo album ‘Cascade’.
Gabriel worked with BOMB THE BASS, S’EXPRESS, EMF and CLAUDIA BRUCKEN, while Statham was the Goth icon’s writing partner and had been the guitarist with B-MOVIE. Led by Steve Hovington, B-MOVIE were a band with so much promise that their then manager Stevo of Some Bizzare Records fame was able to include the then unknown SOFT CELL as part of the conditions for Phonogram Records to sign the Nottingham quartet in an innovative ‘2 for 1’ deal! Completing PEACH’s line-up was blonde South African born singer and dancer Lisa Lamb who Gabriel and Statham had met at an art exhibition in London.
Released in 1996, first single ‘On My Own’ was classic pop for the modern era. Lisa Lamb’s vocal delivery echoed Belinda Carlisle going electro while the vibrant backing took the dance sound of the times into a song format. Although failing to capture the hearts of the British public, ‘On My Own’ was later crucially chosen for a key scene in the Gwyneth Paltrow film ‘Sliding Doors’ which incidentally was directed by Peter Howitt, the actor who played Joey Boswell in the sitcom ‘Bread’!
This eventually led to the song entering the US Billboard Top 40 in 1998 where the band had to be renamed PEACH UNION for the North American market. The follow up single ‘From This Moment On’ is a truly lost jewel. Mid-paced synth pulses accompanied by Lamb’s cutely processed “do-do-do” vocals coupled to a tremendous tune in the Bacharach and David tradition unfortunately went over the heads of most. As a result, the album was delayed until 1997.
‘Audiopeach’ was a lovely, lushly produced album. The standout track is ‘Deep Down Together’ a frantic spacey Eurostomper in the vein of SPARKS’ ‘(When I Kiss You) I Hear Charlie Parker Playing’. With throbbing hints of ‘I Feel Love’, it is seasoned with some wonderfully distinctive vocal ad-libs from the late BILLY MacKENZIE. He pops up again on the NEW ORDER-ish ‘Higher Ground’ which offers some love technique while on their final single ‘Sorrow Town’, the trio go all poptastic.
An intended single release of the very pretty ‘Made In Vain’ was abandoned for a reissue of ‘On My Own’ following its North American success which was then met with ambivalence, reaching only No67 in the UK charts.
The beautiful album closer ‘Hush’ recalls PET SHOP BOYS more reflective moments, although Lamb’s voices gives it some soulful intensity sounding not unlike Tennant and Lowe’s compositions for DUSTY SPRINGFIELD’s ‘Reputation’ album.
Of the other tracks, ‘Perfect World’ is a pleasant electro-acoustic excursion similar to Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr’s side project ELECTRONIC. Driven by a chunky bass triplet, ‘Tell Me’ has a club-friendly feel while continuing in that mood, ‘Give Me Tomorrow’ is punctuated by the chunky Italo House piano of the times.
Unlike the other one girl / two guy electronic based acts of the day like SAINT ETIENNE, DUBSTAR and ONE DOVE, PEACH were too obviously electronic to attract the support of a media drunk on Britpop and not consistently dancey enough attract a club following. Unfortunately for their few admirers, there would be no second album.
Put in simple terms, ‘Audiopeach’ was under appreciated and happened to be ten years ahead of its time. Despite the unfortunate timing, PEACH laid the foundations of a sound that would become widely accepted by the late-noughties.
Since PEACH disbanded, Gabriel and Statham continued their partnership for a number of years, writing and producing songs for a variety of acts including DIDO, DOT ALLISON, KYLIE MINOGUE and RACHEL STEVENS. More recently, Gabriel has successfully collaborated with LADYHAWKE, LITTLE BOOTS, MISS KITTIN, GOLDFRAPP and MARINA & THE DIAMONDS, while Statham has worked with SARAH NIXEY and THE SATURDAYS.
Lamb founded a sonic branding company called Sonicsista, creating audio identities for clients such as T Mobile, AT&T, Ben & Jerry’s and Disney. In late 2009, she performed two PEACH tracks ‘From This Moment On’ and ‘Sorrow Town’ at a special one-off performance in South London.