If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to see German Industrial rockers RAMMSTEIN tour in the past, the main question you will end up asking yourself is “will they be able to top their previous show?”.
The answer to that question after The Electricity Club witnessed their only UK date this year was a resounding “ja!”, but more about that later…
An early arrival at the Stadium MK was greeted with the sight of an enormous part ‘Mad Max’, part Fritz Lang inspired stage set which immediately reassured the gig goer that this band WOULD be able to fill and deliver to a 20,000+ venue.
The warm-up was by pianist duo DUO JATEKOK who (set up on a podium midway in the standing area) treated the crowd to an eight song set from RAMMSTEIN’s ‘Klavier’ album for two pianos and four hands. The piano versions that the duo delivered showcased RAMMSTEIN’s songs in a different light and revealed unheard layers which aren’t always immediately apparent in their bombastic guitar-driven incarnations. After a crowd sing-along to ‘Sonne’, DUO JATEKOK disappeared from their podium and the sense of expectation in the crowd for the headliners was palpable…
The strains of Handel’s ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks’ was accompanied by the raising of a digital RAMMSTEIN flag on the central structure within the stage design. Drummer Christophe Schneider took to the stage first, raised both arms, hit his drums and an earthshaking barrage of fireworks exploded across the stage.
Entering one by one, the band started their set with the downtempo ‘Was Ich Liebe’ from their eponymous new album; keyboardist Christian ‘Flake’ Lorenz dressed in a fetching shiny gold outfit (which from a distance made him look like C3PO) and bassist Oliver Riedel in a red cat gimp suit. This was a very different set starter than previous UK shows and for RAMMSTEIN could even be classified as ‘understated’(!).
Normal service was resumed when the marching sample of ‘Links 2-3-4’ filtered through the PA system and the band’s signature twin guitar attack was back with a vengeance. For a band well known for their pyrotechnic usage, RAMMSTEIN held back the fire and flames until later on in the set, but for the MK crowd this didn’t matter one iota when most of the songs had their own stunning individual theatrical set-pieces.
From ‘Puppe’, which saw vocalist Till Lindemann wheeling out a huge metal pram replete with a disfigured animatronic baby (which he duly set on fire), through to ‘Mein Teil’ with a giant cooking pot which revealed ‘Flake’ who is well known as the band’s ‘whipping boy’. At the song’s climax, Lindemann brought out progressively larger flame-throwers until he was left with what could only be described as a giant artillery fire cannon which left the poor synth player (now wearing a full fire-retardant suit) waving the white flag of defeat.
So what was new? The single ‘Deutschland’ provided an epic highlight of the midpoint of the set; starting with Richard Z. Kruspe’s dance remix being played from a DJ booth which was raised like a flag in the middle section of the set. The remaining members of the band then donned black bodysuits with hoodies which subsequently lit up as stick men and delivered a comical dance routine through the remainder of the song. The usual band version of ‘Deutschland’ was delivered afterwards, showing that the band was willing to take risks and not just stick with their tried and tested stage dramatics.
In case you’re wondering why a band such as RAMMSTEIN is occupying column inches on The Electricity Club, their new album is arguably their most synth / sequencer-oriented since the band’s first two hybrid electronic metal albums ‘Herzeleid’ and ‘Sehnsucht’. The recent single ‘Radio’ is a case in point, which as well as being very synth dominated, is also one of the band’s catchiest earworm singles for many a year.
The band’s main signature synth / guitar track ‘Du Hast’ was the first in the set to fully feature a blitzkrieg of fire effects with keyboardist Flake delivering his Nord keyboard parts whilst on a moving treadmill which was introduced on the band’s last world tour. Structures set further back in the arena also set off pyrotechnics in case you didn’t feel the full force of those set off on stage; this truly was a mind-blowing immersive experience which was continued with the next track ‘Sonne’.
After a full band version of ‘Ohne Dich’, the five members of the band then re-appeared on the podium / pilot stage with DUO JATEKOK to play an acoustic ‘Engel’, the lyrics running Karaoke-style on the stage that they’d just left. The next part of the show was a moment of pure theatre with the band (minus Lindemann) jumping into three rubber dinghies and ‘boat-surfing’ across the MK crowd and back to the stage. Lindemann then re-appeared there to greet them with a “Willkommen” sign, providing one of the few moments of political commentary within the show.
Appropriately the next track to be delivered was ‘Ausländer’ (‘Stranger’); this song has provoked some frenzied Reddit debate as to its meaning and depending on your viewpoint, it’s either a commentary on the refugee crisis or sex tourism. But as usual with RAMMSTEIN lyrics, they are deliberately left open to (mis)interpretation! In terms of song omissions in the set, only two were missed, ‘Feuer Frei!’ and ‘Keine Lust’, both previously long-term set favourites, but probably maneuvered out to make room for some of the RAMMSTEIN’s newer material.
Sadly, all good things must come to a (fiery) end and the band climaxed their MK show with versions of ‘Du Riechst So Good’, ‘Pussy’ (with Lindemann shooting a massive foam cannon into the crowd), ‘Rammstein’ and ‘Ich Will’. Truly no other band can compete with RAMMSTEIN for a show of this scale and although it would be easy to stereotype them as ‘just a Metal act’, the diversity of the crowd at Milton Keynes disproved this, with ages from 8 up to 60 somethings present.
It is a cliché, but this is a bucket list band to see before you die and one that you should beg, steal or borrow to get a ticket for; don’t quibble on ticket prices, you will NOT be disappointed and you will get a stadium-sized show in a stadium. At this point in time, RAMMSTEIN unquestionably provide the greatest live show on the planet…
‘Rammstein’ is released by Universal Music Group and available in various formats
There are many bands from the Synth Britannia-era that are often perceived as being electronic, when in fact they either started off in a traditional band format and integrated synthesizers/sequencers or remained like that throughout most of their career.
ULTRAVOX, NEW ORDER and GARY NUMAN all fell into that format, but what about others who have successfully managed to meld the rigidity and coldness of electronics with the more human element of guitars.
This list aims to highlight tracks both vintage and more recent that give the listener the “best of both worlds” when it comes to an electronic and live band aesthetic. It is presented in chronological order with a restriction of one track per artist moniker…
ULTRAVOX All Stood Still (1980)
With the exception of ‘Mr X’ (and even that featured Billy Currie’s viola), all of the tracks on ‘Vienna’ featured live instrumentation of one form or another; whether it be Midge Ure’s guitar or Chris Cross’ live bass. Despite being underpinned by the band’s’ trademark Minimoog bass pulse and Currie’s squealing ARP Odyssey solo, ‘All Stood Still’ rocks pretty hard with Ure’s guitar running throughout in what would become the fourth single to be released from the album.
A hybrid of Giorgio Moroder electronics and heavy guitars, the song with its extended middle section showcases some truly wonderful interlocking sequencer parts. Despite some major axe-wielding done by Midge Ure and John McGeoch, there was still room for some Simmons drum rolls by RUSTY EGAN and a trademark BILLY CURRIE synth lead.
Available on the album ‘Visage’ via Polydor Records
‘Quiet Life’ which was originally the B-side to the UK single ‘I Second That Emotion’, only became a chart hit when it was released by Hansa Records to capitalize on the success of the ‘Tin Drum’ album. Featuring guitar work from Rob Dean (who used an E-Bow to achieve the long sustained notes on the track), he departed the band after the ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ album when his guitar work started be regarded as superfluous to the band’s sound.
Combining Jupiter 4 arpeggiators, a Roland CR78 and chugging guitars, ‘I Die: You Die’ was a song written by Numan about the symbiotic relationship he had with the music press. Considering the track was a single, it was notable in that during its 3 and a half minute length, nearly half of the track was instrumental with a long intro and extended musical outro.
Combining both of the signature electronic sounds from their eponymous debut, flanged sequencer and string synth, ‘Careless Memories’ also rocks because of Andy Taylor’s guitar which takes over the track from the second verse onwards, affirming The Guardian’s 2015 synopsis that DURAN DURAN were indeed “an electronic band with a heavy rock guitarist bolted on”.
Although only charting at No42 in the UK charts, ‘Love My Way’ still remains a mainstay of New Wave / synth compilations from its era. Featuring Numan-inspired synths and a marimba played by track producer Todd Rundgren, the promo video was directed by Tim Pope who would go onto make his name as director of choice for THE CURE while guitarist John Ashton had a sideline producing THE SISTERS OF MERCY.
TEARS FOR FEARS’ ‘Pale Shelter’ was released three separate times with an edit of the Mike Howlett produced version being made available after the success of the ‘Songs From the Big Chair’ album. The promo video for the Ross Cullum/Chris Hughes re-recording of the track is in turns both surreal and incomprehensible, but still doesn’t diminish the power of a song which combines acoustic guitars and electronics seamlessly.
Notable for its use in the sci-fi film ‘Hardware’, ‘The Order of Death’ is a primarily instrumental piece with Floydian-influences and a mantra-like chant of “This is what you want, this is what you get” being the only featured vocal throughout. This atypical PiL track was arguably one of the better things about the film ‘Hardware’ which was a low-budget affair that owed more than a passing debt to ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Alien’, while it also latterly appeared in ‘The Blair Witch Project’.
The glorious string synth melody helps this CURE track make it into the 25 of this listing. One of Robert Smith’s most covered songs, with interpretations ranging from a grunge guitar version by DINOSAUR JR through to one by the wildly inoffensive KATIE MELUA; what is less known is that an instrumental version of ‘Just Like Heaven’ was used as the theme music to the French TV programme ‘Les Enfants du Rock’, helping give the song a wider European exposure prior to its eventual release.
Despite courting controversy, ‘Personal Jesus’ was inspired by a book about ELVIS PRESLEY’s wife Priscilla; Martin Gore revealed to Spin Magazine: “It’s a song about being a Jesus for somebody else, someone to give you hope and care. It’s about how Elvis was her man and her mentor and how often that happens in love relationships; how everybody’s heart is like a god in some way. We play these god-like parts for people but no one is perfect, and that’s not a very balanced view of someone is it?”.
Available on the album ‘Violator’ via Mute Records
With a verse vocal melody scaringly similar to ABC’s ‘All of My Heart’, ‘Get The Message’ was the second single from the debut ELECTRONIC album. The Marr/Sumner collaboration cracked the Top 10 in 1991, but didn’t go down well with Melody Maker who described listening to the track as “Like watching a pony chew on a carrot for half an hour”!
With a synthetic introduction that sounds like a prime Violator-era DEPECHE MODE track, the song also features the twin guitar attack of Richard Kruspe and Paul Landers. Translated as “I want”, the track is noteworthy for the call and response section latterly in the piece, where RAMMSTEIN fans were recorded in an arena to get the epic and some might say, controversial Teutonic rally feel.
There are countless NEW ORDER tracks that could feature on this list, in fact you could probably fill all 25 slots with their hybrid electronic / rock tracks. The ‘Crystal’ promotional video is notable for inspiring Brandon Flowers from THE KILLERS to name his act from the fictional band which mimes to the song has the name emblazoned on the drummer’s kick drum!
Available on the album ‘Singles’ via Rhino Records
‘This Is The New Sh*t’ takes a lyrically cynical swipe at over-obsessed music fans devotion to their favourite bands. The track combines glitchy synths, analogue step sequencers, a ‘When The Levee Breaks’-style drum pattern and a dynamic screamed chorus from MANSON. In one of music’s most unlikely (and inspired) pairings, GOLDFRAPP re-interpreted the track with Alison adding a wonderful 20s influenced outro replete with her interpretation of the sweary vocals.
Available on the album ‘Hot Fuss’ via Interscope Records
With an opening 20 second blitzkrieg of synths and guitars, ‘Somebody Told Me’ needed a couple of releases for it to become a decent chart hit in the UK. Amusingly described by singer and keyboardist Brandon Flowers as “‘Rio’ with chest hair”, the song eventually reached No3 in the UK singles charts when it was re-released in 2005.
Available on the album ‘Hot Fuss’ via Lizard King Records
American act THE BRAVERY actually won ‘BBC Sound Of 2005’ and had a Top 10 single with their debut track ‘An Honest Mistake’, but unfortunately weren’t able to follow it up. Successfully merging sequenced synths and NEW ORDER-style guitars, the band also secured the support slot on DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Touring The Angel’ set of live shows but ditched the synths by their lukewarm second album ‘The Sun & The Moon’.
Led by Emily Haines, Canadian combo METRIC and their ‘Poster Of A Girl’ features a mixture of fizzing monosynths that evoke those used on THE CURE’s ‘Seventeen Seconds’ and ‘Faith’. The song’s deliciously filthy lyrics and seedy video combine to make this track a classic hybrid of guitars and synthesizers.
‘Only’ breaks all the rules of song structuring (the listener has to wait a full two minutes and eighteen seconds before the chorus hook comes in) and showcases a video promo which owes more than a passing debt to MIDGE URE’s ‘If I Was’. The song itself has one of those signature Reznor synth parts that immediately identifies it as a NIN track and combines this with sequencers and guitars to great effect.
It would be easy to dismiss Israel’s INFECTED MUSHROOM as an EDM / Psytrance act, but dig a little deeper and you will hear a multitude of influences. ‘Smashing The Opponent’ featuring vocals from Jonathan Davis of KORN, owes a major debt to DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Behind the Wheel’. A superb sequenced synth bassline drives the track along whilst a mixture of clean and distorted guitars help give the track an added live dimension & power that electronics alone would struggle to manage.
An unholy mix of the ‘Dr Who’ theme, ‘White Wedding’ by BILLY IDOL, ‘Call Me’ by BLONDIE and the BLACK SABBATH track ‘Children of the Grave’, ‘Uprising’ saw MUSE bring synths to the fore with this GOLDFRAPP-inspired schaffel stomp from the album ‘The Resistance’. The similarity with the BLONDIE song resulted in Debbie Harry and co mashing up the two songs when playing live.
One of the standout tracks from their debut album ‘To Lose My Life’, ‘E.S.T.’ was inspired by Electric Shock Therapy, the form of medical treatment that was given to WHITE LIES bass player Charles Cave’s mentally ill great grandmother. The track combines U2 style guitar lines and bombastic synths with Harry McVeigh’s Julian Cope aping vocal style to great effect.
KORN featuring SKRILLEX + KILL THE NOISE Narcissistic Cannibal (2011)
From the ‘When KORN went Dubstep’ phase, with SKRILLEX on production duties and synths/programming. The Electricity Club vividly remembers the general confusion which greeted KORN when they unveiled their new electronic direction in 2012; the act played Brixton Academy supported by Dubstep act DOWNLINK and a DJ set from frontman Jonathan Davis, much to the general bemusement of the band’s hard core fans.
With a German lullaby-style intro vocal, ‘I Come With Knives’ has a pretty low-key start until the listener is dragged screaming and kicking into the chorus with Chris Corner’s histrionic vocals at times evoking MUSE’s Matt Bellamy. The track successfully combines live drums, guitars and synths and is a definite standout in the IAMX catalogue.
The standout track from LA-based BATTLE TAPES’ debut album ‘Polygon’. ‘Valkyrie’ is a brilliant merging of rock band dynamics and sequenced electronic elements. Lyrically the song is one of those that the listener can analyse countless times and still not have a clue what it’s all about (…and that’s a good thing).
Taking their cues from JOY DIVISION but welding them to a dance music aesthetic, France’s VOX LOW’s epic 8 and a half minute single ‘Something Is Wrong’ is a slow builder with wonderfully quirky lyrics about patching synths and flangers. “You plug the wire… not the good wire…”
Bridging the gap between Synth Britannia and Acid House, PET SHOP BOYS first found international success with ‘West End Girls’ in 1986.
Photo by Cindy Palmano
With their Gilbert & George inspired persona, they cleverly satirised Thatcherism on ‘Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)’ and used board game symbolism in their observation of the AIDS crisis on ‘Domino Dancing’.
They also combined cool aloofness with pop stardom and achieved 4 UK No1 singles; they were only denied a fifth with their 1993 cover of Village People’s ‘Go West’ by Will Smith as ‘The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air’ and his pal DJ Jazzy Jeff!
Preferring to “dance to disco” because they “don’t like rock”, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe managed to change the whole concept of concert presentation in 1991 by removing from the stage, that one consistent element in the history of rock ‘n’ roll… the live musician!
The success in 1987 of ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’, a duet with iconic starlet DUSTY SPRINGFIELD showed PET SHOP BOYS’ willingness to collaborate, while Tennant’s involvement in ELECTRONIC with Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr illustrated that work away from the nest was not out of bounds either.
Since their imperial phase, they have shown their versatility in projects ranging from producing or remixing other artists and running their own Spaghetti Records label to assorted theatre, film and ballet commissions. As well as DUSTY SPRINGFIELD, LIZA MINNELLI and DAVID BOWIE, the PET SHOP BOYS portfolio has also included TINA TURNER, MADONNA, KYLIE MINOGUE and GIRLS ALOUD.
Becoming the esteemed funny uncles of the British music scene, they have managed to acquire the sort of public recognition that has been denied to DEPECHE MODE. Although both can count a Brit Award for Best Single on their mantelpieces, it would appear publicly in the UK at least that PET SHOP BOYS are held in greater affection.
With an Outstanding Contribution to Music BRIT Award in 2009 and an appearance in the 2012 London Olympics Closing Ceremony alongside Ray Davies, PET SHOP BOYS can now be regarded as quintessentially English as much as THE KINKS.
So presented in chronological order with a limit of one track per artist project, here are 20 tracks by PET SHOP BOYS… collaboratively!
EIGHTH WONDER I’m Not Scared (1988)
‘I’m Not Scared’ for Patsy Kensit’s EIGHTH WONDER was the duo’s first production outside of their own work; dubbed a “Princess Stephanie record” by Tennant, influenced by the likes of moody Gallic disco tunes like ‘Voyage Voyage’, Kensit’s gorgeous purr en Français of “Débarrasse-moi de ces chiens – Avant qu’ils mordent…” was the icing on the cake. PET SHOP BOYS released their own recording of the song for ‘Introspective’, but it lacked the panache of Kensit’s version.
Available on the album ‘Fearless’ via Cherry Red Records
The combination of “Liza with a Z” and her strident theatrics with PET SHOP BOYS’ orchestrated electronic pop was somewhere over the rainbow and the ‘Results’ project was a combination of Tennant / Lowe originals and cover versions; one of those covers was an outlandish hip-hop inspired take on Tanita Tikaram’s ‘Twist in My Sobriety’, featuring a rap by A CERTAIN RATIO’s Donald Johnson. Whereas the original was organic and droll, this was a welcome stab in the face!
Available on the LIZA MINNELLI album ‘Results’ via Cherry Red Records
The snappy electropop of ‘In Private’ was Springfield’s third hit single in a row helmed by PET SHOP BOYS and had originally been written for the film ‘Scandal’; considered too contemporary by the film’s producers, the song was temporarily shelved and the moodier ‘Nothing Has Been Proved’ was used instead. As with ‘I’m Not Scared’, when PET SHOP BOYS recorded their own version as a duet with Elton John for the B-side to ‘Minimal’ in 2006, it was less accomplished.
Available on the DUSTY SPRINGFIELD album ‘Reputation’ via Cherry Red Records
David Cicero was a Scottish musician who after attending a PET SHOP BOYS concert in Glasgow, passed a demo tape to the duo’s personal assistant Peter Andreas. Impressed, they signed him to Spaghetti Records and co-produced his second single ‘Love is Everywhere’. Like NEW ORDER crossed with OMD and RUNRIG, complete with bagpipes, it actually reached No19 in the UK singles chart. Despite a tour supporting TAKE THAT, Cicero’s career was unable to gain further mainstream momentum.
Available on the CICERO album ‘Future Boy’ via Cherry Red Records
Having appeared on ‘Gettting Away With It’ and ‘The Patience Of A Saint’, Tennant sang lead vocals on his third and final contribution to Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr’s ELECTRONIC. A Europop number inspired by the French dance hit ‘Désenchantée’ by MYLENE FARMER, producer Stephen Hague’s pop sensibilities came to the fore on the lush single mix; ‘Disappointed’ became a fully functioning hit that many understandably mistook for being PET SHOP BOYS.
Commissioned to produce the soundtrack of the Neil Jordan film ‘The Crying Game’, Tennant and Lowe covered the 1964 hit for Dave Berry with Boy George as the song for the closing credits; he laid down what the duo thought was a guide vocal, expecting him to return to the studio the next day to finish it. But he didn’t and they were left to salvage the track using the CULTURE CLUB singer’s slightly wayward performance. Not that it mattered, as it gave the finished recording a marvellously vulnerable quality.
Already aping BLONDIE’s ‘Atomic’ and DURAN DURAN with its discofied template, ‘Girls & Boys’ was BLUR’s breakthrough hit. Beginning a spate of remix commissions, bassist Alex James remarked that having a PET SHOP BOYS remix was like having your dog being taken for a walk, but when it came back, it was a different dog! That different dog was performed live by Tennant and Lowe themselves on their ‘Discovery’ tour later in the year.
If ‘Girls & Boys’ came back as a different dog, then ‘Hallo Spacebuoy’ was virtually hijacked, with PET SHOP BOYS certainly re-producing this Bowie / Eno composition from ‘1.Outside’ into a much more commercial proposition. But in the true artful spirit of Bowie, Tennant even utilised the cut-up technique made famous by William S Burroughs to decide which words from the song he would duet with. It became Bowie’s biggest UK hit single since ‘Jump They Say’ in 1990.
PETER RAUHOFER + PET SHOP BOYS = THE COLLABORATION Break 4 Love – UK Radio Mix (2002)
A renowned remixer with DEPECHE MODE and MADONNA among his credits, the late Peter Rauhofer’s project THE COLLABORATION united him with Tennant and Lowe to produce a cover of RAZE’s cult house classic ‘Break 4 Love’. While the ‘Classic Radio Mix’ straightforwardly borrowed the arrangement of the sparse original, the ‘UK Radio Mix’ was more frantic and busy, the energetic antithesis of the more understated ‘Release’ album that was out at the time.
Available on the PET SHOP BOYS single ‘Home & Dry’ via EMI Records
YOKO ONO Walking On Thin Ice – PSB Electro Mix (2003)
The original recording of ‘Walking On Thin Ice’ was notable for being the very last song that John Lennon ever worked on. Yoko Ono’s haunting lyrics for the disco inflected tune reflected on the unpredictability of life, death and of “throwing the dice in the air” before poignantly adding that “when our hearts return to ashes, it will be just a story….”. The PET SHOP BOYS remix, with its hypnotic octave shift mantra and metronomic backbone, gave it a respectful futuristic sheen.
Available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Disco 4’ via EMI Records
Sounding not unlike the backing track to PET SHOP BOYS’ remix of ‘Walking On Thin Ice’, ‘Jack & Jill Party’ was a long awaited recording with the late Pete Burns that exuded a wonderful Electroclash tension that suited the snarly DEAD OR ALIVE singer down to the ground. Mixed by Bob Kraushaar and released on Tennant and Lowe’s Olde English imprint, it actually reached No75 in the UK singles chart but this was to be a collaborative one-off.
RAMMSTEIN Mein Teil – PSB You Are What You Eat Remix (2004)
When German industrial metallers RAMMSTEIN released ‘Mein Teil’, it attracted controversy as its lyrics were inspired by the disturbing Armin Meiwes cannibalism case. Vocalist Till Lindemann said “It is so sick that it becomes fascinating and there just has to be a song about it”. Appropriately, PET SHOP BOYS offered up the ‘You Are What You Eat Remix’ which retained the guitars and the aggression, thus maintaining some gothic fervour for the dancefloor.
Available on the RAMMSTEIN single ‘Mein Teil’ via Universal Music
THE KILLERS Read My Mind – PSB Stars Are Blazing Mix (2005)
Singer Brandon Flowers referred to the underwhelming ‘Sam’s Town’ as “the album that keeps rock & roll afloat”, but Neil Tennant had joked that he knew THE KILLERS’ second long player would not be as good as the debut ‘Hot Fuss’ because Flowers had grown a beard! After the synth indie hybrid of ‘Somebody Told Me’ and ‘Mr Brightside’, it was extremely disappointing but Tennant and Lowe put some pulsing electronics into ‘Read My Mind’ to alert audiences as to what could have been.
Available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Disco 4’ via EMI Records
‘Battleship Potemkin’ was a 1925 Soviet silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein about a 1905 naval mutiny. Using their surnames like classical composers on this updated soundtrack commission, the pair were accompanied by Dresdener Sinfoniker, conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer. Arranger Torsten Rasch had released ‘Mein Herz Brennt’, a song-cycle based on the music of RAMMSTEIN. Despite being uptempo, the mix of strings and electronics on ‘Nyet’ reflected the grim tension of the story.
The former TAKE THAT star had covered ‘I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing’ so was a proven fan. With PET SHOP BOYS in charge of production, ‘She’s Madonna’ was inspired by a conversation Williams had with his ex Tania Strecker on the excuse her former boyfriend Guy Ritchie gave for leaving her for Madonna. It was an interesting artistic twist, as Tennant and Lowe had remixed ‘Sorry’ for Madge in 2005.
Available on the ROBBIE WILLIAMS album ‘Rudebox’ via EMI Records
SAM TAYLOR-WOOD I’m In Love With German Film Star (2008)
Visual artist and director Sam Taylor-Wood became friends with PET SHOP BOYS when she provided film projections for their shows at London’s Savoy Theatre in 1997. She later recorded covers of ‘Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus’ and ‘Love To Love You Baby’ both produced by Tennant and Lowe, but it was her moody electro version of ‘I’m In Love With A German Film Star’, originally recorded by THE PASSIONS, that was the first to actually be released under her own name.
When Tennant and Lowe received their Outstanding Contribution to Music Award at the BRITs, they were joined on a ‘Hits Medley’ by THE KILLERS’ Brandon Flowers and LADY GAGA who did her turn on ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’. Originally a lame cod calypso excursion from the latter’s debut album ’The Fame’, PET SHOP BOYS managed to rework ‘Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)’ into an electro-disco stomper despite its break-up subject matter.
Available on the LADY GAGA album ‘The Remix’ via Interscope Records
PET SHOP BOYS featuring PHILIP OAKEY This Used To Be The Future (2009)
‘This Used To Be The Future’ was a dream trioet that featured both PET SHOP BOYS and Philip Oakey of THE HUMAN LEAGUE, recorded as a bonus song for ‘Yes etc’. With Lowe actually singing albeit autotuned, as opposed to just speaking, this celebration of yesterday’s tomorrow saw Oakey deadpan that his utopian dream didn’t quite turn out how Raymond Baxter predicted on ‘Tomorrow’s World’! Disappointed, he conclusively grunts “AMEN!”
A cover of the lost NEW ORDER single from 1985, Finnish producer Jori Hulkkonen remembered: “The idea was to take what me and STOP MODERNISTS partner Alex Nieminen felt was an underrated song, make a late 80s deep house interpretation and bring some extra twist with having Chris on the vocals. It’s very hard – impossible, actually – to explain how important this record is to me. PET SHOP BOYS have been the most important musical influence for me”.
Available on the STOP MODERNISTS single ‘Subculture’ via Keys Of Life
JEAN MICHEL JARRE & PET SHOP BOYS Brick England (2016)
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE’s ambitious ‘Electronica’ project was a worldwide collaborative adventure where the handsome French Maestro “had this idea of merging DNA with musicians and artists of different generations”; ‘Brick England’ with PET SHOP BOYS was a slice of classic mid-tempo Euro disco, with Tennant and Lowe not breaking with tradition, although Jarre’s ribbon controlled lead synth sounded like it was going to break into EUROPE’s ‘The Final Countdown’!
Midway through 2017 sees a veritable hive of activity for Slovenia’s LAIBACH, this includes the release of ‘Liberation Day’ which documents the group’s controversial 2015 tour of North Korea; and almost simultaneously ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’, the band’s version of music for the theatrical production of Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’.
In many respects, LAIBACH are the ideal act to soundtrack this piece of work, both the band and Nietzsche are / were confrontational in their own ways.
‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ provoked outrage upon its release by pondering the concept that “God is dead” and introduced the terms ‘Übermensch’ (Superman) and ‘Untermensch’ (Inferior being)…
As well causing a media storm with their well publicised visit to North Korea, LAIBACH themselves (like their contemporaries RAMMSTEIN) have flirted with imagery, symbolism and themes which are designed to provoke and are often deliberately left open to misinterpretation.
Whereas 2014’s album ‘Spectre’ could be a considered a fairly commercial release when compared with much of LAIBACH’s back catalogue, this piece of work comes across as a far more experimental and challenging proposition. Five out of the twelve tracks are instrumental and although being fairly stripped back in nature, they still remain faithful to the band’s sound and aesthetic.
Opening piece ‘Vor Sonnen-Untergang’ (‘Before The Downfall’) starts with a subtle burst of filtered white noise before a soaring string-driven orchestral overture sets the tone for the piece, a small fanfare of synthesized melody finishes the track, hinting at some of the more electronic elements to come. ‘Ein Untergang’ is bleak and uncompromising, underpinned by a retro analogue bass drum, clanging metallic percussion and Milan Fras’ stentorian vocal.
The German spoken word elements touch upon the themes from the book relating to the concept that man is in transition between ‘Untermensch’ and ‘Übermensch’ and that “the human being is a goal, a bridge”. ‘Die Unschuld I’ sees the first real synergy of synthetic and orchestral elements on the album, again full of percussive layers, the piece would have sat quite happily on the soundtrack to the LAIBACH-scored movie ‘Iron Sky’.
As the album progresses, certain sounds reappear, sounds of knives being sharpened and struck act as percussive layers; ‘Von Gipfel Zu Gipfel’ starts minimalistically before eventually building towards an emotional piano and cello-driven climax and then dissolving into a wall of orchestral strings. ‘Das Gluck’ (‘Happiness’) is a stop/start track full of found sounds (panting, eating and breathing) and ominous synth bass pulsations, not exactly easy listening but again well-suited as a soundtrack piece.
‘Vor Sonnen Aufgang’ is by far the most melodic piece here, featuring the vocals of Mina Špiler, it is a truly beautiful and haunting track with its “here comes the sun” lyric providing a welcome glimmer of hope in an unrelentingly dark album. Throughout ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ there is a signature piece of audio which is not unlike the leitmotif that HANS ZIMMER created for The Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’, the sound is that of a continually rising (and sometimes falling) bowed string. Because the note is never resolved, it creates a sense of dread and foreboding and in the context of this soundtrack works extremely well. This is especially effective on the climatic final piece ‘Von Den Drei Verwandlungen’ which is arguably the musical equivalent of someone dragging their nails down a blackboard!
The main issue with LAIBACH’s ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ is whether it can hope to function as a stand-alone work. To fully appreciate it, ideally one would need to a) have an awareness of Nietzsche’s story to appreciate the underlying content and b) understand the German language to gain an insight into the lyrical message of the vocal pieces here.
These factors aside, this is an undeniably impressive sounding body of work and there could not be a more perfect match in the combination of story and artist involved. LAIBACH, like NINE INCH NAILS, are now in an enviable position in that they can comfortably straddle both the industrial rock arena and the flipside of more artistic endeavours such as film soundtracks. The ability to do this must be a fantastic boon for the band and ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ is a challenging but worthy addition to the bands’ 30 year plus back catalogue.
The development of modern German pop music represents a cultural insight to the history of post-war Germany, reflecting its political developments and sociological changes.
It is also emerging as a new field of academic study thanks to the worldwide success of KRAFTWERK who were honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2014.
As an aid to scholars, teachers and students of German studies, sociology, musicology, post-war history and cultural studies, Dr Uwe Schütte has compiled ‘German Pop Music: A Companion’, a 270 page book discussing the post-war musical landscape of the country and its influence internationally.
A lecturer at Aston University, Schütte curated ‘Industrielle Volksmusik for the Twenty-First Century’, the first academic conference discussing the pioneering legacy of KRAFTWERK in January 2015. Among the speakers were The Blitz Club’s legendary DJ Rusty Egan, Dr Stephen Mallinder of CABARET VOLTAIRE fame and Dr Alexei Monroe who contributes a chapter on the development of German Techno to ‘German Pop Music – A Companion’.
Schütte himself discusses the pioneering retro-futurist legacy of KRAFTWERK. Over 25 pages, he dissects their Industrielle Volksmusik with an academic synopsis of their output from 1974’s ‘Autobahn’, a release he describes as “The most important watershed moment in the history of popular music in post-war Germany” to 2009’s ‘Der Katalog’, a career retrospective which marked a symbolic break with the band’s past as Florian Schneider left the group and Ralf Hütter moved the iconic Kling Klang studio to a business park outside Düsseldorf.
Of course, KRAFTWERK emerged from the horribly named Krautrock movement which is analysed in depth by John Littlejohn, a Professor of German at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. He highlights that much of this experimental music was instrumental and performed by groups or fluid combinations of musicians rather than solo artists. This reflected the form’s commune origins that came into being under the disillusionment of Germany’s recent past, the divided country’s military occupation and compulsory conscription, something which did not actually end in the reunified Germany until 2011.
Kosmische musik, as the locals preferred to call it, was also an exclusively West German phenomenon as the Communist DDR were more likely to clamp down on bearded, long-haired, drug taking types in its territory. Although a number of these groups like NEU! and HARMONIA did not get recognition until long after they had disbanded, TANGERINE DREAM ended up soundtracking Tom Cruise movies in Hollywood while CAN crossed over to an international audience and even scored a UK hit single with ‘I Want More’ in 1976.
Also discussed in the book to provide appropriate context is the conservative Schlager musical form which many associated with Germany before the influence of KRAFTWERK took a firm hold in dance music. Punk, Neue Deutsche Welle and Rap are also discussed, as well as Germany’s contribution to the Industrial genre through EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN and RAMMSTEIN.
Over the University vacation period, Dr Uwe Schütte kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about his overview of German pop music…
There are many books on German music and KRAFTWERK in particular, what inspired you to compile ‘German Pop Music – A Companion’?
Indeed, there has been a real upsurge in – mostly though not always – excellent books in English on topics such as KRAFTWERK, RAMMSTEIN, Krautrock, the Berlin music scene or German punk.
However, what I felt was missing was a kind of foundational work, a book that provides an overview of the entire landscape of German pop music.
The approach to the book is quite different to others, more like an academic guide aimed at students rather than music fans?
Yes, it is an academic book from an academic publisher. What I tried to achieve as editor, however, was to make this introduction accessible to both the general public and an academic audience. And that means: the target audience comprises not only of students, but also language instructors who want to use song lyrics for teaching purposes, or – say – researchers on French punk, who need an introduction to German punk in English.
Ralf Hütter described KRAFTWERK as Industrielle Volksmusik; this is an apt description as KRAFTWERK’s melodies often came from a classical tradition with a catchy simplicity that wasn’t far off Schlager… what are your thoughts on this?
Ok, I accept “classical tradition” but not Schlager, my dear! Though you have a point, of course, as KRAFTWERK’s music indeed represents an elevated form of simplicity, and it is their very combination of avant-garde electronic sounds and captivating, simple yet sophisticated melodies that makes them great.
In the book, you are dismissive of ‘The Model’ which could be described as KRAFTWERK’s best and perhaps only pop song. As this is most people entry point into KRAFTWERK and one of the few synthpop No1s in the UK, what are your reasons for this view?
Well, I never really personally liked that song more than any of their other great songs. I think I am dismissive of it as indeed it is the odd one out on the futuristic ‘Die Mensch-Maschine’ album, and it is too close to a mainstream hit record for my taste.
But don’t forget: the book is academic in nature, and it is the essence of critical thinking to revise established notions and to question received beliefs… but, to be honest, I also did it to tease the readers a little! *laughs*
But the DURAN DURAN world of models, clubs and “KORREKT” champagne depicted in ‘Das Modell’ was a reflection of KRAFTWERK’s real lives off-duty… or does all this spoil the illusion of “der Musikarbeiter”?
Yes, you are right in this respect. The song is the one exception in a body of work that is dominated by the strictly adhered to aesthetics of man-machine, futurism, technology and so on.
‘A Little Peace’ by NICOLE is described in the book as representing the end of the Schlager’s golden era, but lest we forget, it was actually the third German song to become a UK No1 in 1982 after ‘The Model’ and GOOMBAY DANCE BAND at the height of the New Romantic movement…
Yes, and I hadn’t known about this success in the UK until I started work on the book. I only knew that NENA’s ‘99 Luftballons’, in the original German version, was a hit in the USA too. I still vividly remember both songs when they came out – I hated NICOLE and loved NENA.
While ‘The Hall Of Mirrors’ has one of the better lyrics and is almost a spoken word piece, on the whole KRAFTWERK did not break the lyric bank, as exemplified by the title repeats as the vocal toplines of ‘Spacelab’ and ‘Metropolis’?
Indeed, and I think that was a good strategy. The music is powerful enough to speak for itself. Better to forego song lyrics than to use crappy ones….
You rightly highlight ‘Computer Love’ as visionary, predicting the society’s reliance on internet dating and social networking in a world of personal isolation. In many respects, this is the most human of all KRAFTWERK recordings?
Yes, probably… and lonely KRAFTWERK fans will have a hard time meeting women at their gigs, as it is always mostly blokes in the audience. Clearly, female KRAFTWERK fans are more interesting because many male fans hold views of German culture that I sometimes find problematic as a German.
Also, being in favour of the Brexit and liking KRAFTWERK don’t seem mutually exclusive in this country, sadly.
Your text refers to another academic Dr Alexei Monroe’s assertion that ‘Numbers’ is “dystopian”… but surely, it’s a just a high quality novelty track with multi-lingual counting that’s got a good beat??
Alexei is spot on with his view, I think, and that is why I quote him. The genius of KRAFTWERK is that their art works perfectly on different levels. Children love ‘Die Roboter’ or ‘Autobahn’ for obvious reasons, yet these are two of the greatest works of art in twentieth-century music. And in the same sense, ‘Nummern’ is both a novelty song and a radical piece of concept art that sparked electronic dance music.
So what do you think of the view that the reclusive legend behind KRAFTWERK has perhaps caused them to be over-intellectualised in more recent years?
I guess I am the wrong person to ask this question. After all, it is my – self-chosen – job to intellectualise about the band, or to be more precise: their music and artistic concept. And, along with the publications by my colleagues, I think we only just started…
Do you have any purist view as to whether KRAFTWERK should be listened to in English or German?
Of course – in German only!
While German electronic pop music is of valid cultural importance, it did take British bands like ULTRAVOX, OMD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and DEPECHE MODE to make turn the roots of it into an internationally recognised art form?
Yes, I think one can see this as an equalizer after KRAFTWERK had scored first… *laughs*
What did you think of the later German electronic pop acts that had European success while singing in English, like ALPHAVILLE, CAMOUFLAGE, WOLFSHEIM, DE/VISION and U96 after KRAFTWERK?
To be honest, I never really cared about them, except maybe for ALPHAVILLE. I truly love PROPAGANDA, though.
In the book, Alexander Carpenter asks the question “Industrial Music as ‘German Music’?” As a German living in the UK, how do you feel about the image and sound of more aggressive bands like DIE KRUPPS, DAF and RAMMSTEIN who actually sang in German?
It all depends. I have always been a devoted fan of EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN and really like much of the early DIE KRUPPS stuff. Their latest release ‘Stahlwerkrequiem’ is also a triumph, in my mind. Gabi and Robert from DAF are my heroes – hearing ‘Der Mussolini’ for the first time in a student disco was one of the things that changed my life.
RAMMSTEIN are just pathetic. To quote Ivan Novak from LAIBACH: “RAMMSTEIN are LAIBACH for adolescents and LAIBACH are RAMMSTEIN for grown-ups…”
What, to you, have been the true indicators that German pop music has indeed crossed over onto the world stage?
That is a difficult question… maybe that many people would agree to the claim that KRAFTWERK were more influential than THE BEATLES?
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Dr Uwe Schütte