Tag: Sarah Blackwood (Page 1 of 6)

A Short Conversation with DUBSTAR

Despite recently celebrating the 25th anniversary of the release of their debut album ‘Disgraceful’, DUBSTAR are still going strong and releasing songs as vital as ever.

Co-produced by Stephen Hague, ‘Disgraceful’ spawned the hits ‘Not So Manic Now’, ‘Stars’ ‘Anywhere’ and ‘Elevator Song, acting as the unlikely musical bridge between Britpop and Synth Britannia.

Signed to Food Records who also had BLUR, JESUS JONES, THE SUPERNATURALS and SHAMPOO on their books, there were two more albums in ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Make It Better’ before DUBSTAR ended their first tenure. After several false starts, 2018’s long player ‘One’ co-produced by Youth was a welcome return for DUBSTAR, but the impression was that Blackwood and Wilkie were just warming up and there was still much more to come.

With ‘Hygiene Strip’ and the new single ‘I Can See You Outside’, both co-produced by Stephen Hague, the reconfigured duo of Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie are again exploring the electronic direction of their earlier sound and as a result, recording some of the best work of their career in the face of adversity.

DUBSTAR kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about their artistic motivation in lockdown, as well as reflecting on the longevity and continued popularity of ‘Disgraceful’.

There was a very positive reaction to ‘Hygiene Strip’, it connected with a lot of people…

Chris: It’s interesting – songwriters have always been able to count on certain universal themes for emotional traction: things like love, loss, anger and ideology are frequently revisited for instance, since it’s assumed that a greater number of people will be able to relate directly.

The pandemic, by its global nature, has affected everybody in some way or another, so unsurprisingly it’s been embraced gratefully by creatives as another vehicle for reaching people where they live. We never would have cynically set out to record a ‘Covid song’, and it really wouldn’t be our style to write about the virus itself, but there was a point during the first lockdown when it felt almost inappropriate to avoid acknowledging it, or to just pretend it wasn’t happening.

So when I found myself mumbling the verse while waiting in a socially-distanced queue outside the Co-op, it seemed okay to just let it come. Especially since I’d been struggling to finish the album due to chronic anxiety, which had been greatly exacerbated by the preceding weeks. There was a feeling that shopping for groceries was a perilous thing to do, and I noticed that I’d started dressing up more for the occasion. It felt necessary to show humanity in an ordinary situation which, at that point anyway, was ‘different’.

Sarah: It’s one of those songs I think, the more you listen to it the more things you hear, production and otherwise… I think it connected on a few levels – firstly, that it’s marking an unusual time with unusual restraints and restrictions, imposed universally. But on a more microcosmic level, it’s an apocalyptic heartbreak song – I think we’ve all bumped into the person we least want to see when we are looking our worst, pandemic notwithstanding.

There’s also some escapism going on musically; the play on words with ‘Hygiene Strip’ / ‘Sunset Strip’ -which makes me think of sunshine and happily-ever-afters, alluded to with key changes, in the style of a big Hollywood musical number, offering the hope we will wake up and find it’s all been a terrible dream and we can go back to normal…

You have often talked about “spine-tingling” moments in the studio, was there a feeling that you had something special when you were recording ‘Hygiene Strip’?

Chris: It was perhaps a bigger deal because so much effort had gone into the structure of ‘Hygiene Strip’, compared with previous songs we’ve done. I think Hague and myself had attempted five different versions of the track with differing modulations before settling on the one which is on the record. In other words, the chords which I had for the choruses and verses remained essentially the same, but the focus was on which key they would be in when they landed each time. We’d done this for several days and probably tested Sarah’s patience, since she’d have to verify how each attempt would sound when it was actually sung.

Next came the finer detail of the arrangement: Stephen sent me a file showing how the piano part in the chorus might work, and I liked it a lot, but worried that there was too much of it all at once. The verses in ‘Hygiene Strip’ are pretty tight and congested with images, reflecting the claustrophobia of the scenario, and I wanted the environment to empty-out when the chorus arrives, so we can float above the street. I told Stephen on the phone that I hoped the listener would feel like oxygen had finally come rushing into the ‘Strip.

About an hour later, he sent a rough mix of the track where you could actually hear the air arriving before the chorus hits. I was so relieved that I actually wept. It’s been a weepy year, let’s face it, but that was the moment when I knew my hopes for ‘Hygiene Strip’ were being realised.

It was fortunate for Haguey that we were producing distantly, since he would have been physically embraced for an uncomfortably long period of time, under conventional circumstances. Then Sarah delivered one of the strongest vocals of her career, and my rapture was complete.

Sarah: I remember Chris sent the demo on a Friday night. I was half way through eating a poppadom and hadn’t even got to the chorus, before I was on the WhatsApp typing frantically about how brilliant I thought it was. It wouldn’t leave my head, and I sang the demo the next morning. I love it when a song gives you that energy rush.

What is it like to have Stephen Hague back in the DUBSTAR camp again?

Chris: It’s been a real blessing. If I had to pre-select someone to be in touch with pretty much every day of this year, I might have picked Stephen anyway, regardless of the album. We became fast friends in the mid-90s, since we have a similar sense of humour and worldview, and he’s an excellent navigator in a crisis.

Also, he was really helpful when I suffered something of a breakdown while making the ‘Goodbye’ album, so he’s a ‘safe’ person for me. I’ve often said that I learned my best habits as a recording musician from Haguey when we were making ‘Disgraceful’, and my bad habits are entirely inherent! It’s been a real privilege to work so closely with him on this record, albeit in different places.

My co-producer role came largely from necessity, since the ‘remote’ nature of the recording required us to share so much more of the process, and in different locations. Sometimes when we work with people whose legacy we admire, there comes a point when you feel like you have the measure of their shtick; the wiring under the boards are exposed, and the spell is broken. By contrast, I’m constantly learning new things from Stephen, and I think artists are happier when they feel that they’re evolving and improving.

Sarah: It feels like no time has passed at all, we just kind of picked up where we left off last time. We know each other’s humour and he feeds me chocolate brownies if I’ve done a good job singing. I realise we do have this kind of synchronicity in the studio: he can give me direction from the shrug of his shoulders or angle of his head, and it will make me change the dynamic of the line or word I’m singing. He’s a master of detail and nuance. Can we really be old enough to have known each other 25 years though!?

You recently celebrated the 25th Anniversary of your debut album ‘Disgraceful’ with acoustic versions of ‘Not So Manic Now’ and THE BEATLES ‘Free As A Bird’?

Chris: It felt appropriate to acknowledge the 25th anniversary of our debut, although the new album had already taken a lot longer than any of us expected, so there was some debate over whether we could afford to take time out of the main schedule. A change is as good as a rest, as the saying goes, so it was fun to have a diversion and create a session which was all about natural, ‘almost-live’ performance.

We realised that it would be John Lennon’s 80th when this was released, and ‘Free As A Bird’ was in the charts when ‘Not So Manic Now’ made the Top 20, so it seemed to enrich the sense of occasion. There was some stiff competition that week, as I remember: Michael Jackson was at number one… Oasis had just released ‘Wonderwall’… Madonna had one out… We really didn’t expect THE BEATLES to show up as well!

Sarah: In the absence of being able to play live, we thought it would be nice to release something that was “as live”. The acoustic Not So Manic Now was done in one take, I think that gives it a certain energy.

‘Free As A Bird’ we did, again, as live. But remotely. I recorded the vocal in my bedroom and Stephen put it all together. I was very nervous doing a song by THE BEATLES. I grew up with them, singing along probably before I could even talk, and I think it was a big deal for Chris too.

How do you look back on ‘Disgraceful’ now?

Chris: On the rare occasions when I hear it these days, I’m transported back to the places where it was made. I was still only 21 when we did ‘Disgraceful’, and recorded most of the guitars for ‘Stars’ and ‘Anywhere’ on my birthday. The title track was the following day, with an awful hangover. I learned a lot about recording guitars on those sessions, which were always very intimate. It was usually just me, Stephen Hague and sometimes Sam Hardaker, the engineer who would go on to form ZERO 7 shortly after.

When we first started doing ‘Stars’ a couple of years earlier, the James Brown ‘Funky Drummer’ break which features in it prominently was already sounding a little hackneyed. By the time of our release in ’95, it had developed a character which was beyond irony. A bit like having a ghost in the room. I worried at the time that an over-reliance on breakbeats might eventually date-stamp the music unfavourably, but I think we got away with it most of the time, given the benefit of context and the other performances.

What kind of memories does it evoke?

When I hear the singles from ‘Disgraceful’ on the radio, I’m always struck by how great Sarah is on them, and that ultimately is why the record was a success, after all. Some of my fondest memories are related to observing the additional personnel – like Andy Duncan doing his percussion sessions, which really made some of the tracks sparkle, and he had good anecdotes. I got a kick out of sitting-in on Phil Spalding’s bass session for ‘Manic’, and Jon Kirby (keyboards) was good company all throughout those sessions, as well as making a significant contribution to some of the arrangements.

Sarah: It was a time of breathless excitement and hope. Having everything I’d ever wanted, happen, freaked me out. I had no idea what I had done to deserve it. I was nervous, wondering if I’d be good enough, wondering if I’d live up to all my expectations and whether it would be everything I’d hoped. I was excited, intimidated, I didn’t dare to hope or enjoy in case it was snatched away creating pain too big to bear. It was that beautiful moment of dreams coming into view, almost within reach, before they collided with reality, lost their sparkle and became just another day.

During that Britpop period, the press liked to pitch the female fronted acts like SAINT ETIENNE, SLEEPER, REPUBLICA, ECHBELLY and PORTISHEAD against each other, was there a real rivalry or were you all pals drinking together in the pub?

Sarah: We certainly didn’t hang out like one big exclusive girl gang. Which was a real shame. I used to spend a bit of time with Saffron from REPUBLICA who is a particularly warm hearted, lovely person and great company.

SAINT ETIENNE came to our gigs sometimes, and I remember one time we had records out the same week, and the press had really tried to manufacture a ‘Sarah vs Sarah’ story.

There was an event, and they were hoping for a confrontation. I was cringing in a corner as Sarah walked in. She walked straight up to me, took my hand and was so lovely. I won’t forget that gesture of solidarity and how she deflated their nonsense with kindness and dignity.

I always hated the Ladette thing, but if you didn’t join in, you were seen as being a bit of a spoilsport. The sad truth was, we would never be taken seriously, or seen as equals no matter how much we drank and gobbed off – despite being encouraged to beat them at their own game and subsequently judged by their shifting standards.

There was an awful lot of female talent around, that I feel was belittled by presenting us as being in some sort of competition with each other, and, even more offensively, the implicit suggestion that we were a sideshow to the ‘main event’. It was institutional, chauvinistic marginalisation. I suffered from being quite laid-back and non-confrontational (I still do!) and I think that, combined with my being female, made some people continually try to put me down and disadvantage me, disregarding me as “just a singer”. That wouldn’t be tolerated now, but it happened back then, and the legacy of it still impacts me today.

I always admired Beth from PORTISHEAD. She was having none of it, and she was portrayed as brittle and vulnerable, but I saw her as strong and powerful because she had the courage to be true to her unique self. I loved ‘Dummy’. It was my soundtrack to us being signed, along with ‘Trouble’ by SHAMPOO, ‘Confide In Me’ by KYLIE, and ‘Linger’ by THE CRANBERRIES.

The new single ‘I Can See You Outside’ is classic DUBSTAR with something of an ironic title?

Chris: It was initially intended in a more existential than literal way, since I imagined the “ride” in the lyric as a metaphor for a way of living, or life itself. Ideally, it should mean various things to different people, though.

It’s always good to leave some room for interpretation, and in more recent days, the title feels more pertinent than when we recorded it. For me, ‘I Can See You Outside’ evokes Christine McVie and Giorgio Moroder liaising unexpectedly in a condemned nightclub.

Sarah: Hahaha yes. Something of a zeitgeisty title for sure. Totally unintentional. I think the current atmosphere has seeped in and unconsciously coloured everything. It was written just as lockdown was lifting and we were released like lambs into a brave new world of unease, confusion, conspiracy and sadness. All set to a disco beat.

How did ‘I Can See You Outside’ come together? Is this another Stephen Hague co-production?

Chris: Stephen gets a writing credit, as well as production one on this track, since I started writing the verses in reaction to something which he’d played. This approach had worked well on ‘Hygiene Strip’ also, since I’d been struggling to initiate the process in the usual way, amid the heightened anxiety of the pandemic. He would send occasional synth riffs, which sounded like beautiful little micro-productions, and it was impossible to avoid reacting with melodies and words.

Once we knew Haguey would be involved in this project, I didn’t really find myself referring to the albums which we made with him in the 90s, but instead revisiting his earlier records, which I’d loved in my teens. It was an opportunity to bottle some of that magic at the source.

So is the new DUBSTAR album progressing in earnest? How has the lockdown inspired or hampered you creatively?

Chris: Dilemmas and experiments which would normally consume an afternoon can take a week, when you’re recording remotely.

On the upside, you have additional time to immerse yourself in it, which I’ve found to be a welcome distraction from extraneous matters this year. Frankly, I shudder to think how badly I might have coped otherwise. It’s been really fortunate personally, and turned out particularly well, considering the adversity. Maybe because of the adversity? The best songs are usually the ones which you’re compelled to write, beyond any practical need to ‘provide content’.

Sarah: It’s certainly made us get our heads around technology. It’s nice to be able to do a vocal and see Chris’s face pop up on the computer screen because I’ve left my zoom open. And we all speak most days. For hours…

It’s been a bit of both. It’s frustrating to not be able to kick ideas around face-to-face and decide things together, so the process has taken longer because the communication has been a pipeline rather than a bubble. But there has been plenty to write about!

With everything going on, what are your hopes and fears for the future?

Chris: I hope this phase in history is eventually reduced to a disturbing memory. My fear is that it will endure.

Sarah: I hope we can find our humanity again, reconnect with kindness and empathy. Currently there is no respect for differences and no value in expertise and we need to restore and reset fast, the future of the planet depends upon it.

As Madonna says; “Love makes the world go round”, let’s cling to that as we find our path to hope.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to DUBSTAR

‘I Can See You Outside’ is released as a digital single by Northern Writes on 27th November 2020, pre-save or pre-order at https://fanlink.to/dubstar-icsyo

https://www.dubstarofficial.co/

http://www.facebook.com/dubstaruk/

https://twitter.com/dubstarUK

https://www.instagram.com/dubstaruk/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
19th November 2020, updated 27th November 2020

RENARD Interview

Every self-respecting lover of darker, moodier electronica will know of WOLFSHEIM.

The duo’s best known song is still their 1991 debut single ‘The Sparrows & The Nightingales’ while their fourth album ‘Spectators’ released in 1999 went straight to No2 in the German charts. They were massive in Germany back in the day, winning the ECHO Music Prize in 2004 for ‘Best German Alternative Band’, although they remain largely unknown in the UK.

But after five full length albums, the duo split up in a monumental row seeing Peter Heppner moving his second-to-none voice elsewhere, leaving Markus Reinhardt standing. While Heppner went on to create solo projects and work with various collaborators including CAMOUFLAGE, Reinhardt is only resurfacing with his post-WOLFSHEIM material now.

As RENARD, he really is ‘Waking Up In A Different World’, bringing this multi-faceted, emotion laden production into life in the current climate of uncertainty, fear and new reality. Guest vocalists include Pascal Finkenauer, Sarah Blackwood, Marietta Fafouti, Eliza Hiscox, Joseh and Marian Gold while one of the producers is Oliver Blair, last spotted as RADIO WOLF in collaboration with PARALLELS.

With the release of ‘Waking Up In A Different World’, The Electricity Club is chatting to the man himself about his past, present and future.

It’s been a while since you were musically active. Why now?

I was working on my album all these years. It was a process to find the best singers, producers and a record company. But you can’t force things to happen. They take patience to build. So the simple answer is, the album wasn’t ready before.

Are you worried about the fact that this record took years to get out while Heppner has been successfully releasing his material for years?

What should I be worried about? For me it’s not a fight of two big fish in a small pond.

You chose various artists for this project, what was the criteria?

I was looking for charismatic voices and the perfect match for each song. But it took time to find them. On the album you hear only the tip of the iceberg. I guess I contacted around 40 singers in total.

Some of the songs were written a good while ago…

Most of them where written a good while ago. I think it’s worthless to write a song you can’t publish a couple of years later just because a certain trend has passed.

During WOLFSHEIM, you were involved in side projects, what have you done in the in-between years?

Even when WOLFSHEIM was kind of successful I felt a void. First I was a bit angry with myself because I thought I wasn’t grateful enough. But I turned the end of WOLFSHEIM into an opportunity and I started to look for meaning in all this stuff.

Would you agree that Heppner’s single ‘Die Flut’ with Joachim Witt, boosted the band’s popularity and paved the way for ‘Spectators’?

Maybe, maybe not. What I know for sure though is that there would have been no ‘Die Flut’ without WOLFSHEIM at all.

On the side note, CARE COMPANY did incredibly well too…

I still love to listen to the album. But it wasn’t a commercial success though, if that’s what you meant.

However I’d love to hear Carsten Klatte (the CARE COMPANY singer) to sing on the next RENARD album.

Receiving the ECHO award was quite spectacular…

On one hand I enjoyed it because WOLFSHEIM got there with a small independent label, but on the other hand, I consider such events as the dark side of the music business.

And then WOLFSHEIM was no more… what happened?

A couple of days before Heppner was going to sign his major-label deal, he demanded an eighty / twenty split in his favor. Otherwise he wouldn’t go on with WOLFSHEIM. I found this a bit too much for someone who did barely twenty percent of the work. On top of that, he hired a so-called music expert who was supposed to confirm that my compositions for the next WOLFSHEIM album weren’t good enough for Heppner.

On a side note: one of the compositions turned out to be ‘Hotel’ [a song on the album featuring Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE]. I still have this disconcerting ‘music-expert’ document at home, maybe I’m going to frame it.

You say with this project you are “more with yourself”, would you care to elaborate?

There are plenty of reasons, let me mention some of them: It was a production with no strings attached. No deadline I’d to take care of. I didn’t need the skills of a psychologist since I worked only with easy-going artists this time.

What decided on the choice for the first single?

For me, it seemed only logical to pick ‘Travel in Time’ since it was the first song I had with a new singer after the end of WOLFSHEIM.

‘Travel In Time’ with Pascal Finkenauer is a tad confusing, he sounds like Heppner!

Maybe you got a bit fooled here. It’s the song that sounds absolutely like WOLFSHEIM and therefore Pascal Finkenauer reminds someone of Heppner in this particular case.

Britain is represented by Sarah Blackwood… how did that union take place?

I met Sarah through a label guy. I knew her work and I was surprised that she knew mine as well. I’m thankful to her because she was the third to join RENARD, at a time not many people believed in the project.

But there is some Greece there too…

I live partly in Athens and my girlfriend heard Marietta on the radio. I liked the song and contacted Marietta.

Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE is probably the best known voice on the album, what was he like to work with?

Marian is a great and humble guy. And he’s still enthusiastic about music. It was great working with him and I hope we’ll do it again.

What are your hopes and expectations with this record?

Basically all my expectations are already fulfilled. I had the pleasure to work with all these artists, the graphic and video artists included and the album will be published soon. I’ll see what happens next.

Are you going to promote it live, given the pandemic etc?

No live plans at the moment. I had some ideas that include AR and VR, not because of the pandemic though, but rather due to the big number of singers. But there’s nothing certain yet.


The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Markus Reinhardt

Special thanks to Gary Levermore at Red Sand PR

‘Waking Up In A Different World’ is released by Metropolis Records in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats on 9th October 2020, available from https://renard.bandcamp.com/album/waking-up-in-a-different-world

http://www.renard-official.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Renard-1391654787606169

https://www.instagram.com/renard_official/


Text and Interview by Monika Izabela Trigwell
8th October 2020

RENARD Waking Up In A Different World

The tale of WOLFSHEIM will be known to any self-respecting lover of darker electronica, although relatively alien to English listeners, unless one had European connections or sought after more unusual sounds outside Britain in the last two decades of the 20th Century.

The Hamburg based duo with the superb voice of Peter Heppner and hit producing magician Markus Reinhardt released numerous gems such as ‘Once In A Lifetime’ or ‘The Sparrows & The Nightingales’, turning out superb albums, with ‘Spectators’ or ‘Casting Shadows’ to name just a couple.

But the good streak wasn’t to last, with the group disbanding into a monumental hiatus, seeing Heppner going solo or helping on other artist’s releases, with that ever haunting voice of his; Reinhardt stayed somewhat behind, only to return for what he calls “his reinvention”.

“The end of WOLFSHEIM motivated me to reinvent myself. A process that was urgently needed. With RENARD, I’m more with myself. My album combines the sound and mood of the 80s with the stylistic devices of today.”

Any sound manipulator needs a vocalist to showcase the uniqueness of their work and RENARD doesn’t settle on one. Why stick to the same voice when you are in a position to pick who you’d like to really bring variety and much needed diversity to your output?

‘Waking Up In A Different World’ is a debut, but it’s unlike any other debut, as in this case the debutant is not an inexperienced musician, promoting unknown vocalists.

So for the first single, Reinhardt chooses ‘Travel In Time’ with Pascal Finkenauer to take the reins of the vocals. A fellow German songwriter, guitarist and vocalist, Finkenauer’s melancholic voice sounds mistakenly like Heppner’s, bringing somewhat confusing connotations. In previous outings, Finkenauer can sound more or less like the original WOLFSHEIM boy, but one has to question the sense in this particular choice, especially with Reinhardt’s pledge to be more like himself on this record.

Nevertheless, this is a magnificent song, with a great dose of sorrow and longing. One cannot reject the obvious WOLFSHEIM connotations in the arrangement; it’s like the band have been resurrected for one tune. Well, if he can’t use the WOLFSHEIM name, then…

Joseh features on ‘Junkyards’, where guitar leads the SUEDE-esque intro, blossoming into an easy listening piece where the voice doesn’t sound like Heppner’s, but more natural and free flowing.

Joseh also guests on ‘The Meissen Figurine’, which combines a coalescence of modern elements with vintage components over a moderately unobtrusive tune, while Marietta Fafouti finds herself ‘Restless’. A prolific Greek composer, songwriter, and a well-known figure in her native land, Fafouti sings her soul away over a simplistic melody.

DUBSTAR’s Sarah Blackwood wrote the melody and lyrics to ‘Heresy’, which is commensurate with her own band’s output, both currently and back in the day. The song was written ten years ago and by Blackwood’s own admission containing words very personal to her. As always, it is superbly simplistic, cleverly put together and sung with the heart; the heart which “will have a speaking part, the first time in ages”.

Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE joins the party on ‘Hotel’. With its NEW ORDER-like guitar presence, the song actually brings back the good old days when the German collective ruled with ‘Big In Japan’. Gold returns on ‘Damn Happy’ where he’s clearly “happy to be unhappy”, sadly in a quite forgettable manner.

Interestingly enough, the production nods towards SUEDE again it its execution, although the song itself is missing the vital ingredient to make it worth replaying.

Thankfully, Eliza Hiscox of ROYALCHORD leads with the magnificent ‘My Heart’s Still Shaking’ which is not just magic in its vocal delivery but also in the symbiosis of the instrumentation and her voice. The closing ‘Intelligent Design’ ushers in a heavy plucked bass synth, progressing gently over eight bars of pure joy with yodelled voices, sculpting the ending beautifully.

Although altogether the album is a rather mixed bag, RENARD really is ‘Waking Up In A Different World’, bringing this multi-faceted, emotion laden production into life in the current climate of uncertainty, fear and new reality. May he achieve similar success to Peter Heppner with his solo ventures.


‘Waking Up In A Different World’ is released by Metropolis Records in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats on 9th October 2020, pre-order from https://renard.bandcamp.com/album/waking-up-in-a-different-world

http://www.renard-official.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Renard-1391654787606169

https://www.instagram.com/renard_official/


Text by Monika Izabela Trigwell
28th September 2020

DUBSTAR Hygiene Strip

As a gesture of solidarity with fellow humans, DUBSTAR present ‘Hygiene Strip’.

“’Hygiene Strip’ was created at the height of the 2020 UK lockdown” said Sarah Blackwood to The Electricity Club, “The writing, recording and video had to be done remotely, and it is the first collaboration with Stephen Hague and DUBSTAR to be released since the ’90s.”

Written by Sarah Blackwood, Chris Wilkie and Stephen Hague, the song itself is classic DUBSTAR and characterised by Blackwood’s distinctively forlorn vocal presence. But there is also the subtle lifting air of PET SHOP BOYS looming to offer some hope in the haze of melancholy.

Hygiene strips of course have become common place now to remind the population of social distancing but of course, they could also be metaphorically referring to the removal of personal protective clothing for sterilisation or the role of face coverings, actions that ultimately affect life.

The self-made lyric video is a striking monochromatic affair highlighting the emotional tension and psychological effects of the worldwide lockdown; it concludes with Miss Blackwood starkly masking up…

Stephen Hague produced DUBSTAR’s first two albums ‘Disgraceful’ and ‘Goodbye’ as well as their biggest hit singles ‘Stars’ and ‘Not So Manic Now’. Now domiciled on the South Coast of England, the American became best known for working with OMD, PET SHOP BOYS, NEW ORDER and ERASURE.

While Hague has not worked with DUBSTAR since 1997, he and Sarah Blackwood have remained in contact over the years, so a recording reunion was almost inevitable. The 2018 comeback ‘One’ was produced by Youth but while new DUBSTAR material is being written and recorded, the release schedule has yet to be confirmed.


‘Hygiene Strip’ is released as a digital single by Northern Writes and also available as a three track yellow vinyl 12 inch featuring extended and dub mixes direct from  https://dubstar.tmstor.es/cart/product.php?id=71377

DUBSTAR mecrchandise is available direct from https://dubstar.tmstor.es/

http://dubstarofficial.co/

http://www.facebook.com/dubstaruk/

https://twitter.com/dubstarUK

https://www.instagram.com/dubstaruk/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
27th August 2020, 27th October 2020

THE ELECTRICITY CLUB’S 25 Synth B-Sides Of The 21st Century

There is nothing like the other side of life. As a companion to its favourite 25 Classic Synth B-sides, The Electricity Club presents a listing looking at the 21st Century equivalent.

B-sides often take on a cult following, provoking discussions among fans about why they might have missed inclusion on the parent album.

On why artists occasionally overlook a track when it is clearly good enough, Richard Silverthorn of MESH said “Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees”.

Then there are the occasional abstract studio experiments which often fail but occasionally work and the occasional cover versions which don’t always find favour with some listeners but are infinitely more preferable over pointless remixes of the A-side!

But how is a modern B-side been defined? There is a wider definition now due to digital and streaming formats, so they can include flipsides of vinyl, bonus tracks on CD singles and non-album tracks released as part of a download single or EP bundle. Despite all this, the term “B-side”, like “album” and “video”, still remains.

So for the purposes of this listing as before with the 25 Classic Synth B-sides, B-sides featured on the original issue of a full length album, or subsequently included on a new one are NOT included. However, those added as bonus tracks on later reissues, deluxe editions or compilations are permitted. Rules are good, rules help control the fun! 😉

So with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, presented in date and then alphabetical order within, these are The Electricity Club’s 25 Synth B-Sides Of The 21st Century…


LADYTRON Oops Oh My (2003)

LADYTRON surprised their audiences during live shows in support of the ‘Light & Magic’ album by closing with a feisty synthpunk cover of TWEET’s ‘Oops Oh My’. Co-written by Missy Elliot, the Timbaland produced original with a DEVO sample had been a hip-hop favourite but the aggressive Riot Grrrl styled take on this risqué song about self-love with lyrics like “There goes my skirt, droppin at my feet” added a rockier edge to their sound.

Available on the LADYTRON single ‘Evil’ via Telstar Records

http://www.ladytron.com/


CLIENT Can’t See Me Now (2003)

“This was written in response to the Iraq War” said Sarah Blackwood aka Client B, “I remember endless discussions with Toast Hawaii boss Fletch about whether it was the right decision and with heavy hearts, watching endless shelling and firefighting, from the 24 hour news coverage on far flung European hotel TVs. It was the first time I had felt that disconnection and frustration with my home country, the ‘not in my name’ ringing loudly in my ears. Bit late to the party but that’s the story of my life.”

Available on the CLIENT single ‘Here & Now’ via Toast Hawaii / Mute Records

https://www.facebook.com/ClientMusic


GOLDFRAPP Gone To Earth (2004)

The eloquence and surreal atmospheres of the first GOLDFRAPP album ‘Felt Mountain’ may have taken a back seat on its follow-up ‘Black Cherry’ but the experimentation continued on the B-sides of the album’s singles. ‘White Soft Rope’ combined the unsettling imagery of bondage with a chorus sung a school choir, but ‘Gone To Earth’ was even more otherworldly. The reverberating bassline combined with swirling synths and dreamy glides while Alison’s alternate cosmic language startled with a spacey hypnotism.

Available on the GOLDFRAPP single ‘Black Cherry’ via Mute Records

http://goldfrapp.com/


THE MODERN Model #426 (2005)

Nathan Cooper who was in THE MODERN said: “The inspiration came from ROXY MUSIC’s ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ which was about a blow up doll, we took that a step further and Model# 426 is about some kind of sex droid!! ‘Model #426’ was always the song that would get the audience talking because singer Emma would open a trunk on stage and lead a gimp out on a collar into the bemused looking audience!! I think it was actually that stunt that got us signed to Universal!”.

Originally on THE MODERN EP ‘Eastern Bloc’, now available on the album ‘Life In A Modern World’ via Pie & Mash Recordings Ltd

https://www.themodernband.com/


PET SHOP BOYS Party Song (2006)

Interpolating KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND’s ‘That’s The Way (I Like It), the self-produced ‘Party Song’ was naturally a throbbing disco driven affair outshone the horrendous Diane Warren penned ballad ‘Numb’ which comprised the main act. Lyrically inspired by the classic Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter fronted Campari adverts that, it began life as a dance cover of NIRVANA’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ suggested by Elton John and intended as a single for a new PET SHOP BOYS ‘Greatest Hits’!!

Originally the B-side of ‘Numb’, now available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Format’ via EMI Music

https://www.petshopboys.co.uk/


ARTHUR & MARTHA Japanese Kiss (2008)

‘Japanese Kiss’ was from the debut release on Happy Robots from Alice Hubley and Adam Cresswell. “This was the first track I wrote for ARTHUR & MARTHA” he recalled, “mostly recorded in the bedsit I’d moved into after splitting up with my girlfriend. I was absorbed in self-pity, comforting myself with Japanese-horror movies and the company of my ARP Quartet, Moog Rogue and the DR-55. Living my best life!”; 11 years later as Rodney Cromwell, Cresswell did a NEW ORDER inspired ‘KW1’ remix.

Available on the ARTHUR & MARTHA single ‘Autovia’ via Happy Robots

https://www.facebook.com/arthurandmarthaband


MARSHEAUX Bizarre Love Duo (2008)

Basing its title on the well-known NEW ORDER tune, as with a number of the B-sides listed here, ‘Bizarre Love Duo’ outshone the main act ‘Ghost’. It all began with a pitch shifted groan sample repeated with hypnotic effect over some squelchy backing. But during the second half, the track built itself to a fabulous but abstract electrodisco number with a marvellously catchy refrain. While not quite a song and not quite an experiment, ‘Bizarre Love Duo’ was enjoyable tune in the MARSHEAUX canon.

Originally the B-side of ‘Ghost’, now available on the MARSHEAUX album ‘E-Bay Queen Is Dead’ via Undo Records

https://www.facebook.com/marsheaux


ANTHONIO Angel Face (2009)

A cover of a cover, namely SHOCK’s take on THE GLITTER BAND’s 1974 Top5 hit; playing the role of the Latin lothario in response to the Annie song ‘Anthonio’, Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK and now SNS SENSATION remembered:Richard X produced this version of ‘Angel Face’ as a side B in his single ‘Annie’. I sang both sides, which kind of shows two sides of Anthonio’s personality in a way. It was a fantastic experience – Richard is a great guy and über pro, so really a win-win.”

Available on the ANTHONIO single ‘Annie’ via Pleasure Masters ‎

https://www.facebook.com/wearesns


LITTLE BOOTS Catch 22 (2009)

“Positive and negative can only attract” sang Victoria Hesketh on the bouncy ‘Catch 22’, a lesser known LITTLE BOOTS track which initially only appeared on the 7 inch single of ‘Earthquake’ in the UK. Gloriously synthpoppy, in hindsight along with other songs that did not make it onto the final tracklisting of her debut album ‘Hands’, it highlighted a possible direction that could have been taken, but which was ultimately watered down for wider acceptance after she was named BBC Sound Of 2009.

Originally the B-side of the single ‘Earthquake’, now available on the LITTLE BOOTS deluxe album ‘Hands’ via On Repeat Records

https://www.littlebootsmusic.co.uk/


VILLA NAH Benny’s Burning (2010)

Continuing a great tradition among the synthpop acts of the past, VILLA NAH had ‘Benny’s Burning’ and ‘Daylight’ as part of their B-side armoury as well as the brilliant debut album ‘Origin’. Highlighting the inherent talent of Juho Paolosmaa and Tomi Hyyppä, ‘Benny’s Burning’ was a smoother and more atmospheric side of VILLA NAH compared with the uptempo technopop impressions of its A-side ‘Rainmaker’. The Helsinki duo later opened for OMD during the UK leg of 2010’s ‘History Of Modern’ tour.

Available on the VILLA NAH single ‘Rainmaker’ via Keys Of Life

https://www.facebook.com/villanah


ERASURE Never Let You Down (2011)

Produced by Vince Clarke, ‘Never Let You Down’ was free of the many autotune treatments that Frankmusik had applied when helming the disappointing ‘Tomorrow’s World’ album in his attempts to make ERASURE sound more modern and contemporary. As a result, that heartfelt soul often associated with Andy Bell made its presence felt over a glorious galloping synthpop tune in the classic ERASURE vein, especially during the middle eight section in Spanish.

Available on the ERASURE single ‘Be With You’ via Mute Artists

http://www.erasureinfo.com/


MIRRORS Falls By Another Name (2011)

In their short career, MIRRORS left not only a great album in ‘Lights & Offerings’ but a body of wonderful B-sides too. Any number of them are worthy of mention but the nod goes to ‘Fall By Another Name’ as it was accessible enough to have been an A-side. Not as dense as MIRRORS’ usual pop noir hence its likely relegation to flipside, the bright pulsing melodies and James New’s Dave Gahan impression made this sound rather like a quality outtake from DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Speak & Spell’.

Available on the MIRRORS single ‘Into the Heart’ via Skint Records

https://www.facebook.com/theworldofmirrors


APOPTYGMA BERZERK Dead Air Einz (2013)

While the A-side was a faithful cover version of Peter Schilling’s anthemic ‘Major Tom’, ‘Dead Air Einz’ was a self-composed song by APOPTYGMA BERZERK mainman Stephan Groth that was eagerly welcomed at the time, thanks to it being his first original new track for four years. Utilising distorted radio broadcasts in its backdrop, it also featured some Korg MS20 from Jon Erik Martinsen and was something of a grower with its steadfast drum machine shuffle.

Available on the APOPTYGMA BERZERK single ‘Major Tom’ via Pitch Black Drive Productions

http://www.theapboffice.com/


CHVRCHES Now Is Not The Time (2013)

Making their initial impression with the mighty ‘Lies’ in 2012, Glasgow trio CHVRCHES actually became the mainstream saviours of synthpop that LITTLE BOOTS and LA ROUX had promised but ultimately failed to deliver on. ‘Now Is Not The Time’ was a fantastic midtempo tune with a great chorus that like ‘The Mother We Share’ sounded like Taylor Swift gone electro. However, it got relegated to B-side status despite being superior to several songs on their debut long player ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’.

Available on the CHVRCHES single ‘Recover’ via Virgin Records

https://chvrch.es/


DEPECHE MODE All That’s Mine (2013)

In a pattern similar to the ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ boxed set only track ‘Oh Well’, the best song from ‘Delta Machine’ sessions was left out of the main act. ‘All That’s Mine’ featured a tightly sequenced backbone, electronically derived rhythms and a gloomy Eurocentric austere, all the perfect ingredients for a classic DM tune! While it was no doubt rejected for not fitting into the faux blues aspirations of modern DEPECHE MODE, it made up for the dreary notions of the A-side ‘Heaven’ which were more like hell…

Originally the B-side of the single ‘Heaven’, now available on the DEPECHE MODE deluxe album ‘Delta Machine’ via Columbia Records

http://www.depechemode.com/


OMD Time Burns (2013)

OMD’s twelfth album ‘English Electric’ was notable for combining conceptual art pieces alongside supreme electronic pop in a manner reminiscent of their fourth long player ‘Dazzle Ships’ and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Radio-Activity’. Although four of these concepts made it onto the final running order of the album, one that didn’t was ‘Time Burns’, a intriguing sound collage comprising of clock movements, chimes and digital watch alarms over rumbles of sub-bass and profound computer generated speech.

Originally the B-side of the single ‘The Future Will Be Silent’, now available on the OMD EP ‘Night Café’ via BMG

http://www.omd.uk.com/


QUEEN OF HEARTS United (2013)

A stomping electro disco number produced by Mark Reeder and Micha Adam, Elizabeth Morphew’s cooing Bush-like howls and breathy euphoria are a total delight to the ears while the mighty cavernous sound provided the heat! However, ‘United’ has ended up as the B-side. Reeder said ”I saw a piece posted on The Electricity Club about QUEEN OF HEARTS and I was curious. I really liked Elizabeth’s voice from the moment I heard the first couple of tracks.”

Originally the B-side of ‘Secret’, now available on the QUEEN OF HEARTS deluxe album ‘Cocoon’ via Night Moves

http://iamqueenofhearts.com/


VILE ELECTRODES Little Death Capsule (2013)

With an alluringly haunting vocal from Anais Neon, the eerily stark ‘Little Death Capsule’ saw VILE ELECTRODES tell the story of early space travel when these primitive craft were sent out of the earth’s atmosphere effectively sitting on inter-continental ballistic missiles, with burning up also a possibility on return. With pulsing instrumentation from Martin Swan, it featured the sort of sterling analogue treatments that would make KRAFTWERK and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA proud.

Available on the VILE ELECTRODES EP ‘The Last Time’ via Vile Electrodes

http://www.vileelectrodes.com/


JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM Synth Is Not Dead (2015)

A touching tribute to Messrs Clarke, Gore, Hütter and Schneider with hints of YAZOO’s ‘In My Room’, Johan Baeckström said of ‘Synth Is Not Dead’: “I guess I just wanted to reflect on the fact that there still IS a synthpop scene with some really great bands, both old and new. In another way, the song is sort of my ‘thank you’ to some of the artists that inspired me for several decades – some of them are mentioned in the lyrics, but far from all of course”.

Available on the JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM single ‘Come With Me via Progress Productions

https://www.facebook.com/bstrommusic/


METROLAND (We Need) Machines Without Romance (2015)

METROLAND’s second album ‘Triadic Ballet’ was a triumphant electronic celebration of the Bauhaus, art movement led by Walter Gropius. Gropius theorized about uniting art and technology and on the B-side of its launch single ‘Zeppelin’, METROLAND worked towards the 21st Century interpretation of that goal. Now imagine if Gary Numan had actually joined KRAFTWERK in 1979? Then the brilliantly uptempo ‘(We Need) Machines Without Romance’ would have surely been the result.

Originally the B-side of ‘Zeppelin’, now available on the METROLAND boxed set ’12×12′ via Alfa Matrix

http://www.metrolandmusic.com/


MESH Paper Thin (2016)

Of the superbly rousing ‘Paper Thin’, Richard Silverthorn of MESH recalled: “Mark Hockings presented me with a demo at the time we were writing material for ‘Looking Skyward’. On first listen, I wasn’t too sure about the track as I thought it didn’t really fit with the overall feeling of the album so it kind of got shelved. The record company asked ‘what about the B-side?’ so Mark suggested ‘Paper Thin’ again. The bassline, drums and many other lines were changed and the new version came to life.”

Available on the MESH single ‘Kill Your Darlings’ via Dependent Records

http://www.mesh.co.uk/


KNIGHT$ So Cold (2017)

After SCARLET SOHO, James Knights busied himself with a new Britalo inspired solo project. With hints of NEW ORDER’s ‘Subculture’ and found on KNIGHT$ debut EP ‘What’s Your Poison?’, he said “’So Cold’ is the second or third song I wrote as KNIGHT$. It’s a little darker than my other material, and the only song I’ve recorded using a marxophone (a fretless zither which I borrowed from my friend Alun Davies). It didn’t make it onto my debut album, but it’s still a song the audience enjoy, as do I.”

Available on the KNIGHT$ EP ‘What’s Your Poison?’ via Speccio Uomo ‎

https://knights101.com/


PSYCHE Truth or Consequence (2017)

PSYCHE co-founder Darrin Huss said of ‘Truth Or Consequence’: “It started out under the title ‘Life On Trial’ and was about the Bradley Manning (now Chelsea) situation. It’s about the NSA surveillance, whistleblowers, etc. It’s also about the confusion between what is Truth, and what are the consequences of telling it, living it? Do we have safety in numbers? etc. It’s all in the lyrics. It’s a very PSYCHE song with even a nod to ‘The Brain Collapses’ with our use of that song’s drum machine the Oberheim DMX.”

Available on the PSYCHE single ‘Youth Of Tomorrow’ via Artoffact Records

http://www.psyche-hq.de/


SOFT CELL Guilty (2018)

That Marc Almond and Dave Ball reunited for a farewell gig and new material was a pleasant surprise. The frustration and anger expressed in ‘Guilty (Cos I Say You Are)’ with the lines “I can denounce you just because I can, I didn’t have the life I wanted, I didn’t do the things I dreamed” saw SOFT CELL continue where they left of in 2003. With dark resonances like ‘The Omen’ gone disco, its eerie gothique countered the celebratory electro-soul of A-side ‘Northern Lights’

Originally the B-side of ‘Northern Lights’, now available on the SOFT CELL album ‘Keychains & Snowstorms – The Singles’ via Universal Records

https://www.softcell.co.uk/


INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP Another Brick In The Wall – Remoaner mix (2019)

Inheriting the mantle of THE HUMAN LEAGUE in the modern synthpop stakes, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP impressed with their self-titled debut album. With the single release of ‘The Ballad Of Remedy Wilson’ was a timely Remoaner mix of PINK FLOYD’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ sung in German that made a bold musical and political statement. Headteacher Adrian Flanagan said: “I hope that statement is ‘I hate PINK FLOYD but love KRAFTWERK’ and / or – ‘I hate you but love the EU’”.

Available on the INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP single ‘The Ballad Of Remedy Nilsson’ via Desolate Spools

https://www.facebook.com/internationalteachersofpop


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to all the artists who contributed
19th July 2020

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