Tag: Sarah Nixey (Page 1 of 2)

The Electronic Legacy of VARIOUS ARTISTS

So come on, whose first album was a various artists compilation?

They were the biggest sellers for a decade and had dominated the UK album charts so much so that they were given their own!

In 1966, the Canadian budget household gadget firm K-Tel diversified into the territory of compilation albums with ‘25 Country Hits’; it was a surprise success and this comparatively new idea of collecting a number of artists onto an album based around a single theme was expanded further.

K-Tel negotiated directly with artists and labels for the rights to reproduce the original recordings, but where this was not possible, the company would contract “one or more of the original artists” to make a new recording for the compilation, under the premise that the public generally could not tell the difference between a re-recording and the original.

However, UK budget label Pickwick Records via their Hallmark imprint went one step further in 1968 by producing compilations of the latest hits but as rush-recorded soundalike cover versions under the title ‘Top Of The Pops’ which had nothing to do whatsoever with the BBC TV show; it was all perfectly legal thanks to an oversight by the corporation on trademark.

Purchasers unknowingly got treated to unique interpretations of ‘Autobahn’ and ‘The Model’ by anonymous session musicians who quite obviously had only learnt the song ten minutes before entering the studio. Although demand for such records had dimmed by 1981, acts such as SOFT CELL were still unable to escape with ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ hilariously reduced to geezer pub rock! The singer was revealed to be one Martin Jay who a few years earlier had treated the world to his cloak and dagger take on ‘Are Friends Electric?’.

The albums from K-Tel attempted to cram as many songs as possible onto the 12 inch vinyl format. In order to accommodate this philosophy within its physical limitations, many of the tracks were faded out early or came in unusual and often clumsy edits. But even these versions were sought after by loyal fans, thus making the records they came from valued collector’s items.

The various artists compilation album changed forever in 1983 when Virgin and EMI joined forces to produce the ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ series which at the last count had reached ‘Now 106’ and spawned numerous spin-offs and even cable TV channels. In 1984, Sony BMG and Warner Music joined in the action with the ‘Hits’ series, but such was the domination in the UK of these types of albums that in 1989, they were given their own chart and excluded from the main one!

For electronic pop, ‘Machines’ released by Virgin Records in 1980 was one of the first attempts to gather music using synthesizers into one place, but the entry point for many new fans was 1981’s ‘Modern Dance’ on K-Tel. This well-thought out collection saw youngsters saving up their pocket money for their first record purchase or asking Santa to put it into their Christmas stocking, thanks to Radio1 DJ Peter Powell declaring that ‘Modern Dance’ was “The best of total danceability, the sounds of modern dance, on one LP!”.

As with greatest hits albums, what makes a great various artists compilation is a seamless listening experience where possible, or at least more killer than filler. However the continuous DJ mix was a particular irritant running through compilations for a period and rarely worked with classic material or recordings not specifically aimed at the clubland.

Staying within theme on a compilation though is VERY important and straying just slightly can spoil a whole concept, especially if it has been outlined in the title. Soul Jazz Records’ lushly packaged ‘Deutsche Elektronische Musik’ sets over two volumes contained a wide range of freeform experimental works from Germany, but occasionally forgot about the Trade Descriptions Act implications of its title. Meanwhile, ‘Reward’ by post-punk trip-poppers THE TEARDROP EXPLODES had a regular place on collections such as ‘Club For Heroes’, ‘New Romantic Classics’, ‘It’s Electric’ and ‘Our Friends Electric’ despite being brass dominated.

But the nadir came with ‘Synth Pop’, a 3CD collection by Sony Music in 2015 which totally missed the point by featuring AZTEC CAMERA and HAIRCUT 100!??! Now while the inclusion of IMAGINATION’s ‘Body Talk’ with its iconic Moog bassline could be justified, the set highlighted just how much the modern day definition of “synth pop” had become particularly blurred…

Now while some listeners just want endless hits on various artists compilations, others want to be informed and introduced to some lesser-known or rare songs. However, this latter approach can meet with mixed results.

For example, Cherry Red’s ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ and the Trevor Jackson’s ‘Metal Dance’ series were historically fascinating, but not always easy collections to listen to in one sitting. With some of the music close to being unlistenable, it could be akin to studying a hefty text book… highly educational but not always entirely fun!

So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK takes a personal look at the electronic legacy of various artists via twenty notable compilation albums, each with valid reasons for their inclusion, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order within.

Yes, several songs reoccur over a number of these releases, but perhaps that is more an indication of their timeless nature. These were tunes that were dismissed by the press and wider public back in the day, but are now considered classic and part of the cultural heritage.


MACHINES (1980)

Having seen the future and signed THE HUMAN LEAGUE as well as OMD through their Dindisc subsidiary, Virgin Records had the foresight to issue a long playing showcase of acts that used synthesizers as their primary instrumentation. As well as their two great hopes, among the outsiders on board were TUBEWAY ARMY, FAD GADGET, SILICON TEENS and DALEK I LOVE YOU. While XTC’s B-side ‘The Somnambulist’ appeared to be incongruous, this was from the band’s synth experimentation period before going more acoustic on 1982’s ‘English Settlement’.

‘Machines’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Machines/master/59149


METHODS OF DANCE (1981)

This compilation had actually been the idea of David Sylvian, hence why it was named after the JAPAN song although their contribution would be ‘The Art Of Parties’. Virgin presented their embarrassment of riches including BEF, DEVO, DAF, SIMPLE MINDS and MAGAZINE while the primary selling point was a new special dub edit of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Do Or Die’ acting as a trailer to ‘Love & Dancing’. The cassette featured more tracks including John Foxx and the actual undanceable ‘Methods Of Dance’ song in place of ‘The Art Of Parties’!

‘Methods Of Dance’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Methods-Of-Dance/master/43926


MODERN DANCE (1981)

1981 was when the sound of electronic pop was virtually everywhere, so the release of ‘Modern Dance’ was perfect synthchronicity. Featuring superb singles from the stellar cast of OMD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HEAVEN 17, JAPAN, DEPECHE MODE, SIMPLE MINDS, VISAGE, LANDSCAPE, FASHION and THE CURE as well as synth trailblazers John Foxx and Gary Numan, an indicator of how supreme this compilation was came with the fact that its most obscure track ‘A World Without Love’ by little known combo THE NEWS was rather good!

‘Modern Dance’ was released by K-Tel Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Modern-Dance/release/504872


SOME BIZZARE ALBUM (1981)

Stevo Pearce’s compendium of new Futurist acts has gone into folklore, having launched the careers of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE and B-MOVIE. Several of acts who didn’t make it were also superb. THE FAST SET’s cover of Marc Bolan’s ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ was enjoyable electro-macabre while ‘Tidal Flow’ by ILLUSTRATION is one of the great lost songs of the era, the band themselves disappearing despite securing the services of Martin Hannett to produce their debut single ‘Danceable’, but it was never finished…

‘Some Bizzare Album’ was released by Some Bizzare

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Some-Bizzare-Album/master/2754


CLUB FOR HEROES (1992)

It took a few years for people to realise just how good the music from the New Romantic era was, so how better than to celebrate it than a compilation named after one of Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s club nights. Featuring the all-star cast of DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET, ULTRAVOX, VISAGE, SOFT CELL and JAPAN, other acts who also got entry into the party were YAZOO, ABC, TALK TALK and CLASSIX NOUVEAUX while most welcome were ICEHOUSE with their eponymous single.

‘Club For Heroes’ was released by Telstar Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Club-For-Heroes/master/120444


IT’S ELECTRIC (1994)

Gathering nineteen “Classic Hits From An Electric Era” including the full length ‘Blue Monday’ from NEW ORDER, ‘It’s Electric’ was largely, a more purist synth collection than ‘Club For Heroes’. Alongside the usual suspects were A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, TEARS FOR FEARS, BRONSKI BEAT, KRAFTWERK, EURYTHMICS, BRONSKI BEAT and ERASURE. However, this collection featured the album version of ‘Tainted Love’ instead of the single, a mistake that would be repeated again and again even on SOFT CELL’s own compilations.

‘It’s Electric’ was released by Dino Entertainment

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Its-Electric-Classic-Hits-From-An-Electric-Era/master/37974


DAWN OF ELECTRONICA (2000)

A tie-in with Uncut magazine celebrating “a music synonymous with futurism”, ‘Dawn Of Electronica’ included the album version of ‘From Here To Eternity’ by Giorgio Moroder and for the first time on CD, the Some Bizzare version of ‘Remembrance Day’ by B-MOVIE. With the likes of DAF, SUICIDE, ASSOCIATES, CABARET VOLTAIRE, PROPAGANDA, THE ART OF NOISE and YELLO alongside TUBEWAY ARMY, ULTRAVOX, JAPAN and SOFT CELL, this compilation was something a bit different compared to the ones that had come before.

‘Dawn Of Electronica’ was released by Demon Music Group

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Dawn-Of-Electronica-Uncut/release/577680


ELECTRIC DREAMS (2002)

Like ‘Teenage Kicks’ for punk and new wave, there are far too many compilations named ‘Electric Dreams’. This 2CD affair from Virgin Records comprised of thirty-eight “synth pop classics”. For once, this was a compilation documenting the different electronic pop phases including trailblazing analogue electro and the advent of digital sampling that actually worked. From ‘The Model’ and ‘Electricity’ to ‘Relax’ and ‘19’, with ‘We Are Glass’, ‘Yellow Pearl, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ and ‘Absolute’ in between, this was one of the best releases of its type.

‘Electric Dreams’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Electric-Dreams/release/322736


THIS IS NOT THE 80s (2002)

Subtitled “A Nu-Wave Electro Compilation”, this modern collection brought out the electro in Electroclash with gloriously klanky drum machines in abundance. The undoubted star was Miss Kittin with four tracks including the mighty scene anthem ‘You & Us’ with Michael Amato aka THE HACKER; meanwhile the man himself and Anthony Rother each had three contributions in various guises. FPU, DOPPLEREFFEKT and ADULT. were among those helping to bring the sound of vintage electronic pop into the 21st Century for the club crowd.

‘This Is Not The 80s’ was released by Incredible / Sony Music

https://www.discogs.com/Various-This-Is-Not-The-80s-A-Nu-Wave-Electro-Compilation/master/375573


THIS IS TECH-POP (2002)

Compiled by Ministry Of Sound, ‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was a representative snapshot of electronic music at the start of the 21st Century. However the “Tech-Pop or Electroclash or Synth-Core or Neu-Electro” legend in the booklet highlighted the dance music’s daft obsession with categorisation. But the music from the likes of FISCHERSPOONER, TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS, FC KAHUNA, WALDORF, ZOOT WOMAN, LADYTRON, SOVIET, FELIX DA HOUSECAT, CIRC and GREEN VELVET was mostly excellent, although DJ mixing the tracks together clouded the listening experience.

‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was released by Ministry Of Sound

https://www.discogs.com/Various-This-Is-Tech-Pop/release/50649


ELECTRICITY 2 An Electronic Pop Sampler (2003)

‘Electricity 2’ came at a time when the only platform for UK and Irish synth acts seemed to be Ninthwave Records in the USA. It featured HEAVEN 17’s first new song for six years in the ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ influenced ‘Hands Up To Heaven’ as well as material by WHITE TOWN, SPRAY and EMPIRE STATE HUMAN. Among the highlights were ‘The Machines’ by MASQ which sounded like a bizarre Gaelic synthpop take on Gary Numan and the comical ‘Alan Cumming’ by TURD FERGUSON which satirically sent up ‘Frank Sinatra’ by MISS KITTIN & THE HACKER.

‘Electricity 2’ was released by Ninthwave Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Electricity-2-An-Electronic-Pop-Sampler/release/730718


ROBOPOP Volume 1 (2003)

Compiled by Wayne Clements of Essex duo MACONDO for his own Lucky Pierre imprint, ‘Robopop’ was possibly the closest thing to the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ in the 21st Century. Heading the line-up were the-then newly configured CLIENT and MY ROBOT FRIEND while Mute stalwarts KOMPUTER contributed the previously unreleased ‘My Private Train’. The stand-outs though were machine funksters ALPINE STARS, irreverent retro-poppers BAXENDALE and VIC TWENTY featuring Piney Gir with a delicious synth cover of Lynsey de Paul’s ‘Sugar Me’.

‘Robopop Volume 1’ was released by Lucky Pierre Recordings

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Robopop-Volume-I/release/296881


RETRO:ACTIVE 5 (2006)

Compiled by Alex Hush, now of U2 and ERASURE remixers DAYBREAKERS, ‘Retro:Active 5’ pulled off the feat of gathering twelve classic 12 inch extended versions into a listenable programme. Longer takes of ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ by A-HA and ‘Pretty In Pink’ by THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS led the way with BLANCMANGE and DEAD OR ALIVE in support. But the biggest selling points were the ultra-rare ‘Love Cascade’ from LEISURE PROCESS and ‘More To Lose’ by SEONA DANCING, the synthpop duo fronted by Ricky Gervais.

‘Retro:Active 5’ was released by Hi-Bias Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-RetroActive5-Rare-Remixed/release/719639


ROBOPOP The Return (2006)

For ‘Robopop The Return’, Wayne Clements was joined by production duo MANHATTAN CLIQUE who co-released the compilation via their own Planet Clique label. Described as “Essential Electro Pop”, it was a much higher profile release than its predecessor with GOLDFRAPP, THE KNIFE, TIGA and DRAGONETTE all on board. Also present were THE MODERN relaunching themselves as MATINEE CLUB while HUSKI, FORMATIC, LORRAINE and SOHO DOLLS were among the worthy lesser-known inclusions. A bonus DJ mix by MANHATTAN CLIQUE also featured.

‘Robopop – The Return’ was released by Planet Clique / Lucky Pierre

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Manhattan-Clique-Robopop-The-Return/release/1410368


CHILLTRONICA A Definition No1 (2008)

Electronic music of a more downtempo disposition compiled by BLANK & JONES, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most exquisite tracks featured female vocalists with Sarah Nixey just pipping the highlight honours on her cover of JAPAN’s ‘Ghosts’ with INFANTJOY over Claudia Brücken guesting on the hosting trance DJ duo’s ‘Don’t Stop’. ‘Ghost Trains’, a solo tune by KINGS OF CONVENIENCE and RÖYKSOPP vocalist Erlend Øye was a livelier number that actually worked alongside chilled out tracks by THE GRID, BLISS, SPOOKY, MARCONI UNION and DEPECHE MODE.

‘Chilltronica – A Definition No1’ was released by Soundcolours

https://www.discogs.com/Blank-Jones-Chilltronica-A-Definition-No1/release/1714901


ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf (2016)

Tying in with Rudi Esch’s book about the German city of Düsseldorf’s music heritage, ‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2’ gathered the more accessible elements of Deutsche Elektronische Musik, Kosmische and Neue Deutsche Welle. Featuring RIECHMANN, DAF, DER PLAN, DIE KRUPPS, LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, RHEINGOLD, HARMONIA, LA DÜSSELDORF, NEU! and pre-PROPAGANDA girl group TOPLINOS featuring a very young Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag, this two volume collection was like a journey of discovery with the benefit of a local tour guide.

‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 – Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf’ was released by Grönland Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-ELECTRI_CITY-1_2/release/8919263


NEW ORDER Presents Be Music (2017)

Be Music was the moniker of NEW ORDER used to cover studio production work by all four members of the band. This boxed set gathered these varied recordings which involved either Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert and combinations thereof, with notable solo tracks from Marcel King, Paul Haig and Winston Tong alongside those of 52ND STREET, SECTION 25, THE BEAT CLUB, SHARK VEGAS and AD INFINITUM’s cover of ‘Telstar’ which many believed was NEW ORDER in disguise but actually only featured Hooky.

‘NEW ORDER Presents Be Music’ was released by Factory Benelux

https://www.factorybenelux.com/new_order_presents_be_music_fbn60.html


ELECTRICAL LANGUAGE Independent British Synth Pop 78-84 (2019)

From the team that put together the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ series, the 4CD ‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ did as it said on the tin and with a far more accessible template, was all the better for it. With THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, THE NORMAL and FAD GADGET included to draw in the more cautious consumer, purchasers were treated to a plethora of wonderful lesser known acts like FIAT LUX, BOX OF TOYS, LORI & THE CHAMELEONS, PASSION POLKA, TESTCARD F, EDDIE & SUNSHINE and JUPITER RED. Meanwhile, the best novelty item was a Schaffel driven cover of Alvin Stardust’s ‘My Coo Ca Choo’ by BEASTS IN CAGES; half of the band went on to form HARD CORPS!

‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ was released by Cherry Red Records

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/electrical-language-independent-british-synth-pop-78-84-various-artists-4cd-48pp-bookpack/


MUSIK, MUSIC, MUSIQUE (2020)

Subtitled ‘1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop’, this boxed set collection explored the year before the synth became the rule rather than the exception. Although this featured the expected big hitters from OMD, VISAGE and JAPAN, there were rarer tracks from ULTRAVOX and SPANDAU BALLET. Lesser known highlights included ‘A Circuit Like Me’ from Australian combo THE METRONOMES with its detached female vocal and the light-hearted ‘Dampfriemen’ from LA DÜSSELDORF, a quirky slice of synth “Oompah” with comedic chants and a kazoo section.

‘Musik Music Musique’ was released by Cherry Red Records

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/musik-music-musique-1980-the-dawn-of-synth-pop-various-artists-3cd/


THE TEARS OF TECHNOLOGY (2020)

Compiled by Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley of SAINT ETIENNE, what ‘The Tears Of Technology’ had was a heartfelt suite of music which captured the essence of its title. At its centre was OMD’s sub-eight minute adventure ‘Sealand’ alongside synthy diversions by THE TEARDROP EXPLODES and THE PALE FOUNTAINS, with the Merseyside connection extended to CARE and CHINA CRISIS. Scotland got also got a look in courtesy of Paul Haig and Thomas Leer. The rare ‘Direct Lines’ by Chris Payne’s ELECTRONIC CIRCUS found itself a place too.

‘The Tears Of Technology’ was released by Ace Records

https://acerecords.co.uk/bob-stanley-pete-wiggs-present-the-tears-of-technology-1


Text by Chi Ming Lai
2nd August 2020, updated 16th February 2021

2018 End Of Year Review

2018 saw JEAN-MICHEL JARRE celebrate 50 years in the business and whether the world really needed another of his compilations, ‘Planet Jarre’ was probably one of the better collected representations of his work for casual admirers.

But not standing still and releasing his fourth new album in three years, ‘Equinoxe Infinity’ continued the story as the French Maestro tuned 70.

SOFT CELL made a totally unexpected return for a huge one-off farewell gig at London’s O2 Arena; and with it came a boxed set, the ‘Northern Lights’ single and other new recordings which have raised hopes for a new album.

From the same era, FIAT LUX announced plans for their debut album ‘Save Symmetry’ with an excellent lead track ‘It’s You’, while B-MOVIE came up with their most synth-propelled single yet in ‘Stalingrad’.

But one act who actually did comeback with a brand new album in 2018 were DUBSTAR; now a duo of Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie, as ‘One’ they reminded audiences as to why they were the acceptable face of Britpop with their bridge to Synth Britannia.

IONNALEE finally released her debut opus ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ and her tour which included choice cuts from IAMAMIWHOAMI, proved to be one of the best value-for-money live experiences in 2018, one that was even endorsed by Welsh songstress Charlotte Church.

CHVRCHES offered up their third album ‘Love Is Dead’ and continued their role as international flagwavers for quality synthpop, while EMIKA presented her best album yet in ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, an exquisite electronic record with a Bohemian aura.

JOHN GRANT was on an artistic roll both solo and in partnership with WRANGLER as CREEP SHOW with two new albums. However, he was beaten by Neil Arthur who managed three albums over a 12 month period as NEAR FUTURE and BLANCMANGE including ‘Wanderlust’, possibly the latter’s best body of work in its 21st Century incarnation.

It was a busy year for STEVE JANSEN with a new solo ambient work ‘Corridor’, the well-received vinyl reissue of JAPAN’s two Virgin-era studio albums and his epic, more organically flavoured band project EXIT NORTH with their debut long player ‘Book Of Romance & Dust’.

SARAH NIXEY went on some ‘Night Walks’ for her best solo album yet, a wonderful collection of everything she had ever been musically all wonderfully rolled into one.

Meanwhile TRACEY THORN went back to the ‘Dancefloor’ with her ‘Record’ which content wise was right up there with some of ALISON MOYET’s electronica output from the last five years.

Those who liked their electronic music darker were well served with NINE INCH NAILS, IAMX, KIRLIAN CAMERA and HELIX, but after experimenting with the single only format for a few years, Daniel Graves announced he was taking the plunge again with a new AESTHETIC PERFECTION album.

The Sacred Bones stable provided some quality releases from THE SOFT MOON, HILARY WOODS, ZOLA JESUS and JOHN CARPENTER. Meanwhile, providing some fierce socio-political commentary on the state of the UK was GAZELLE TWIN.

Hungary’s BLACK NAIL CABARET offered some noirish ‘Pseudopop’ and promising Norwich youngsters LET’S EAT GRANDMA got more deeply into electronica without losing any of their angsty teenage exuberance on their second album ‘I’m All Ears’.

Less intense and more dreamy were GLASSHOUSE, the new duo fronted by former TECHNIQUE singer Xan Tyler.

Aussies CONFIDENCE MAN provided some wacky dancey glitz to the pop world and after nearly four decades in the business, Canadian trailblazers RATIONAL YOUTH finally played their first ever concert in London at ‘Non Stop Electronic Cabaret’ alongside dark wave compatriots PSYCHE and Numan-influenced Swedish poptronica exponents PAGE.

Sweden was again highly productive with KARIN PARK, JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM, TRAIN TO SPAIN and VAL SOLO while Norway took their own approach with FARAOSOFT AS SNOW and ELECTRO SPECTRE setting their standard. Veteran Deutschlanders THE TWINS and PETER HEPPNER returned with new albums after notable recorded absences while next door in Belgium, METROLAND presented themselves as ‘Men In A Frame’.

While the new HEAVEN 17 album ‘Not For Public Broadcast’ is still to be finished, Glenn Gregory teamed by with live keyboardist Berenice Scott as AFTERHERE. Their long-time friend Claudia Brücken performed as xPROPAGANDA with Susanne Freytag and partnered up with one-time TANGERINE DREAM member Jerome Froese, releasing the ‘Beginn’ album in the process.

It was a year of interesting collaborations all-round with UNDERWORLD working with Iggy Pop, U96 linking up with Wolfgang Flür for an excellent single called ‘Zukunftsmusik’ and German techno pioneer CHRIS LIEBING recruiting POLLY SCATTERGOOD and GARY NUMAN for his Mute released album ‘Burn Slow’.

Based in Berlin, THE KVB offered up some brooding gothic moods with ‘Only Now Forever’ while Valerie Renay of NOBLESSE OBLIGE released her first solo album ‘Your Own Shadow’.

Highly appealing were a number of quirky Japanese influenced female artists from around the globe including COMPUTER MAGIC, MECHA MAIKO and PLASMIC. But there were also a number of acts with Far Eastern heritage like STOLEN, FIFI RONG, DISQO VOLANTE and SHOOK who continued to make a worthy impression with their recorded output in 2018.

Heavy synth rock duo NIGHT CLUB presented their ‘Scary World’ on the back of tours opening for COMBICHRIST and A PERFECT CIRCLE while also from across the pond, NYXX and SINOSA both showcased their alluring potential.

At the poppier end of the spectrum, Holger Wobker used Pledge Music to relaunch BOYTRONIC with their most recent vocal incumbent James Knights in an unexpected twist to once again prove the old adage to “never say never” as far as the music industry is concerned.

Meanwhile, Chris Payne co-wrote and co-produced the excellent ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP with KATJA VON KASSEL while also revealing plans for an autobiography and opening for his old boss…

The surprise album of the year was CHRIS CARTER with his ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’ while using a not dissimilar concept with their second album ‘Hello Science’, REED & CAROLINE took their folk laden synthpop out on a US tour opening for ERASURE.

IMMERSION provided a new collection of their modern Motorik as SHRIEKBACK, FISCHERSPOONER, THE PRESETS, HEARTBREAK and QUEEN OF HEARTS all made comebacks of varying degrees with audiences still eager for their work.

STEVEN JONES & LOGAN SKY harked back to the days when GARY NUMAN and OMD would release two albums in one year by offering ‘Hans Und Lieselotte’ and ‘The Electric Eye’ in 2016. Those veteran acts themselves celebrated their 40th anniversaries by going orchestral, something which SIMPLE MINDS also did when they opted to re-record ‘Alive & Kicking’ for the ’80s Symphonic’ collection although Jim Kerr forgot how a third of the song went!

With SIMPLE MINDS also performing a horrible and barely recognisable ‘Promised You A Miracle’ during BBC’s ‘The Biggest Weekend’, making up for the live joke that his former band have become was one-time bassist Derek Forbes with the album ‘Broken Hearted City’ as ZANTi with Anni Hogan of MARC & THE MAMBAS fame.

Other former members of high-profile bands were busy too with Ian Burden, formally of THE HUMAN LEAGUE returning with the Floydian ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ while A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS reformed briefly for an orchestral re-run of their catalogue.

With the release of their second album ‘Kinetik’, EKKOES handed over THE HUMAN LEAGUE support baton to SHELTER who came up with their best body of work yet in the more introspective shades of ‘Soar’

That darker approach manifested itself on singer Mark Bebb’s side project FORM with Keith Trigwell of SPEAK & SPELL whose debut long player ‘defiance + entropy’ also came out in 2018.

Having been championed by RÖYSKSOPP, Wales’ MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY returned with ‘Infinity Mirror’ while riding on the well-deserved momentum from opening for OMD, Ireland’s TINY MAGNETIC PETS embarked on their first headlining tour.

Representing North of the border were RYAN VAIL and HANNAH PEEL, but hailing from Scotland were WITCH OF THE VALE who proved to be one of the most interesting new acts of 2018 having supported ASSEMBLAGE 23 on their most recent UK visit. There was a good showing from UK acts in 2018 with RODNEY CROMWELL, ANI GLASS, THE FRIXION, NEW ARCADES, OLLIE WRIDE and FAKE TEAK all issuing some excellent synth tinged songs for public consumption.

NINA’s long awaited debut album ‘Sleepwalking’ was a fine hybrid of synthpop and the currently fashionable Synthwave aesthetic; her live double billing with Canadian synthpopsters PARALLELS was one of the hottest tickets of the year.

The sub-genre was indeed making waves and there were some very enjoyable artists coming out of it like GUNSHIP, DANA JEAN PHOENIX and MICHAEL OAKLEY.

However, the endless AOR excesses, moonlight sax breaks and highly unimaginative band monikers using numbers between 80 to 89 affixed to an archaic technology reference, illustrated by yet another neon sunset, VCR grid and Lamborghini, were becoming tiresome.

As Synthwave cynics, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s touch paper was being lit big time! The whole point of the synthesizer’s role during the Second British Invasion of the US was to fight against the insipid overtures of AOR like TOTO, CHICAGO and JOURNEY, NOT to make music coated with its horrid stench as THE MIDNIGHT did in 2018 with their long player ‘Kids’.

But there was naivety within some quarters too; electronic music did not begin in 2011 with ‘Drive’, an above average film with a good if slightly over rated soundtrack. However, its cultural influence has led to a plethora of meandering tracks made by gamer boys which sounded like someone had forgotten to sing on them; perhaps they should have gone back to 1978 and listened to GIORGIO MORODER’s ‘Midnight Express Theme’ to find out how this type of instrumental music should be done?

Many of the newer artists influenced by Synth Britannia that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has featured have sometimes been accused of being stuck in the past, but a fair number of Synthwave acts were really taking the soggy biscuit with their retro-obsession.

Rock band MUSE’s use of glowing artwork by Kyle Lambert of ‘Stranger Things’ fame on their eighth album ‘Simulation Theory’ sent sections of the Synthwave community into meltdown. There were cries that they had “stolen the aesthetics and concept” and how “it’s not relevant to their sound”!

But WHAM! had Peter Saville designed sleeves and never sounded like NEW ORDER or OMD, while electropop diva LA ROUX used a visual stylisation for ‘In For The Kill’ that has since been claimed by Synthwavers as their own, despite it being from 2009 when Ryan Gosling was peddling graveyard indie rock in DEAD MAN’S BONES 😉

This was one of the bigger ironies of 2018, especially as MUSE have always used synths! One of Matt Bellamy and co’s biggest musical inspirations is ULTRAVOX, indicating the trio probably have a better understanding of the fusion between the synthesizer, rock and classical music, as proven by the ‘Simulation Theory’ bookends ‘Algorithm’ and ‘The Void’, than any static laptop exponent with a Jan Hammer fixation.

It is interesting to note today how electronic music has split into so many factions, but there’s still the assumed generalisation that it is all one thing and that synthpop fans must also like Synthwave, Deep House, EDM, Industrial and those tedious beach chill-out remixes.

Back in the day and even now, some fans of THE HUMAN LEAGUE didn’t like OMD, DEPECHE MODE fans only liked DEPECHE MODE and rock fans had a token favourite electronic band.

Out of all the acts from the Synth Britannia era, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had very little time for THOMPSON TWINS despite their huge international success, but their leader Tom Bailey’s 2018 solo recorded return ‘Science Fiction’ was warmly received by many.

Just as COLDPLAY and SNOW PATROL fans don’t all embrace ELBOW, it is ok to have preferences and to say so. Not liking the music of an artist does not make you a bad person, but liking everything does not make you a better person either… in fact, it shows you probably have no discerning taste! In 2002, SOFT CELL warned of a ‘Monoculture’, and if there is no taste differentiation in art and music, it will spell the end of cultural enhancement.

Taste is always the key, but then not everyone who loves chocolate likes Hersheys… and with that analogy, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK bids farewell to 2018 and looks forward to a 2019 that includes the return of TEARS FOR FEARS and the first full live shows from GIORGIO MORODER, plus new releases by VILE ELECTRODESKITE, VILLA NAH, I AM SNOW ANGEL and LADYTRON.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2018

PAUL BODDY

Best Album: MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY Infinity Mirror
Best Song: MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY Lafayette
Best Gig: TANGERINE DREAM at London Union Chapel
Best Video: THE SOFT MOON Give Something
Most Promising New Act: VOX LOW


IAN FERGUSON

Best Album: BLANCMANGE Wanderlust
Best Song: ELECTRO SPECTRE The Way You Love
Best Gig: OMD at Glasgow Kelvingrove Park
Best Video: NYXX Voodoo
Most Promising New Act: WITCH OF THE VALE


SIMON HELM

Best Album: DUBSTAR One
Best Song: PAGE Start (Poptronica Version)
Best Gig: DIE KRUPPS + FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY at O2 Academy Islington
Best Video: FIFI RONG Horizon
Most Promising New Act: ZANTi


CHI MING LAI

Best Album: EMIKA Falling In Love With Sadness
Best Song: FIAT LUX It’s You
Best Gig: SOFT CELL at London O2 Arena
Best Video: FAKE TEAK Bears Always Party The Exact Right Amount
Most Promising New Act: WITCH OF THE VALE


MONIKA IZABELA TRIGWELL

Best Album: GUNSHIP Dark All Day
Best Song: SHELTER Karma
Best Gig: IAMX at London Electric Ballroom
Best Video: JUNO REACTOR Let’s Turn On
Most Promising New Act: MECHA MAIKO


Text by Chi Ming Lai
8th December 2018

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 30 SONGS OF 2018

2018 was a year of good songs rather than good albums, with many of long players not as consistent or as of high a standard as the bumper crop from the Class of ’17.

However, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had plenty of material to choose from for its 30 SONGS OF 2018 and for obvious reasons, cannot include everything that was in this year’s shortlist…

So worthy mentions go to ANI GLASS, BLACK NAIL CABARET, BRÜCKEN FROESE, DANA JEAN PHOENIX, DISQO VOLANTE, DUBSTAR, EKKOES, FAKE TEAK, FRAGRANCE, THE FRIXION, GUNSHIP, HILTIPOP, IAMX, LIZETTE LIZETTE, TRAIN TO SPAIN and WITCH OF THE VALE.

Interestingly, three graduates from the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ made it into the final list, thus highlighting the longevity of that particular vinyl showcase some 37 years on!

So with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, here are our 30 SONGS OF 2018 presented in alphabetical order…


AFTERHERE Breaking Rules

AFTERHERE is the brand new project of HEAVEN 17 singer Glenn Gregory and live keyboardist Berenice Scott, but with their roles reversed. Exploring their inner GOLDFRAPP but in a funkier vein, with groovy reminisces of ‘Twist’ and ‘Yes Sir’, the song seductively boasted a captivating sexually charged electronic energy. Berenice Scott said: “We always wanted to have a driving track on the album that you could hopefully move your feet to, party to… possibly get in a little trouble!”

Available on the AFTERHERE album ‘Addict’ via Manners McDade

https://afterhere.co.uk/wp/


JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM Utopia

While the Clarke was strong with this one, the first impression that came across with ‘Utopia’ was that things became a slight bit darker in the world of JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM. Despite that, there was a rousing chorus and percolating sequences to savour as he pointed out the futility of seeking that perfect future, when life has so much more on offer. “I wouldn´t describe the album as dark though” the DAILY PLANET synthesist helpfully added, “it´s absolutely a pop album.”

Available on the JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM album ‘Utopia’ via Progress Productions

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


BLANCMANGE Distant Storm

For BLANCMANGE, ‘Distant Storm’ was rather unusual with its dance beat, reverberant Moog bassline and dreamy processed vocoder aesthetic. With a rousing, almost spiritual quality and elements of JAMES’ ‘Come Home’ creeping in for good measure, it displayed Neil Arthur’s comfort in working with producer Benge on effectively their third album together. “I wanted to sing it as though it was really detached with my voice being synthesized” he told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK.

Available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘Wanderlust’ via Blanc Check Records

http://www.blancmange.co.uk/


B-MOVIE Stalingrad

Veteran Mansfield quartet B-MOVIE made their most electronic pop single to date with the chilling aesthetics of ‘Stalingrad’. Complete with an infectious synth melody, an eerie mezzo-soprano and using the crucial Second World War battle as a metaphor for a doomed relationship, it was possibly Steve Hovington, Paul Statham, Rick Holliday and Graham Boffey’s  best song since their 21st Century reformation; appropriately, its B-side was called ‘Something Cold’…

Available on the B-MOVIE EP ‘Repetition’ via Loki Records

http://www.b-movie.co.uk/


CHVRCHES Graffiti

‘Get Out’ may have acted as a superb launch single, but starting off their ‘Love Is Dead’ album was the wonderful ‘Graffiti’. This was a classic kaleidoscopic CHVRCHES tune that punched the sky with some rousing vocals. It was also a supreme singalong showcasing Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Docherty in full bouncy Taylor mode. Despite the downcast lyrical demeanour on lost youth and the passing of time, this was still a grand pop statement.

Available on the CHVRCHES album ‘Love Is Dead’ via Virgin Records

https://chvrch.es/


CONFIDENCE MAN Don’t You Know I’m In A Band

Australian duo CONFIDENCE MAN were a ray of sunshine in 2018 with their own brand of campy dork pop, being everything SCISSOR SISTERS should have been. ‘Don’t You Know I’m In A Band’ was an amusing satire on ego and sense of entitlement in the music industry. With an electro take on the groovy swoop of WAR’s ‘Low Rider’, a pitch shifted Sugar Bones came over like an inebriate Teddy Pendergrass while Janet Planet delightfully counterpointed in her alluring girly manner.

Available on the CONFIDENCE MAN album ‘Confident Music For Confident People’ via Heavenly Records

https://www.confidenceman.com.au/


CREEP SHOW Safe & Sound

CREEP SHOW is the meeting of minds between eclectic singer / songwriter John Grant and the dark analogue electro of WRANGLER whose members comprise Stephen Mallinder, Benge and Phil Winter. On ‘Safe & Sound’, the quartet explored a spacious KRAFTWERK and GIORGIO MORODER hybrid to reveal gradually some wonderfully warm melodic synth textures to accompany Grant’s passionate lead croon. The project led to Benge also working on Grant’s ‘Love Is Magic’ album also released in 2018.

Available on the CREEP SHOW album ‘Mr Dynamite’ via Bella Union

http://creepshowmusic.com


RODNEY CROMWELL Comrades

Driven by a meaty electronic bassline and metronomic backbone, the marvellous vocoder-laden ‘Comrades’ by RODNEY CROMWELL captured a really chilling Cold War atmosphere, bathed in an ensemble of sweeping synth oboes and cosmic string machines. “I ended up thumping at the MicroKorg and came up with the opening riff” he said. Rich with melody and a panoramic resonance, it surreally captured the sound of Moroder being played through a Soviet Foxtrot submarine intercom system.

Available on the RODNEY CROMWELL EP ‘Rodney’s English Disco’ via Happy Robots Records

https://www.happyrobots.co.uk/rodney-cromwell


EMIKA Promises

With ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, EMIKA produced one of the best electronic albums of 2018. The record was a concept album of sorts, a musical reflection on generations of sadness within the Anglo-Czech musician’s family in her most personal statement yet. The pacey ‘Promises’ made the most of her lower and higher vocal registers, providing an eerie cascading harmonic with some rumbling dubby tension and booming stabs driving Eastwards with solemn spine tingling qualities.

Available on the EMIKA album ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ via Emika Records

http://emikarecords.com/


FARAO Marry Me

Taking in more synthetic ambitions, FARAO’s second album ‘Pure-O’ was a playful bleep forward. While ‘The Ghost Ship’ saw Kari Jahnsen focussed on her forlorn little girl lost lyrics, the wonderfully uptempo ‘Marry Me’ offered an accessible PET SHOP BOYS flavour and romantic layers of vocals masking a deep scepticism of the institution of marriage, while the lush backing and chugging electronic backbone carried the air of her compatriot SUSANNE SUNDFØR.

Available on the FARAO album ‘Pure-O’ via Western Vinyl

http://www.farao.info/


FIAT LUX It’s You

Releasing their first new material in over three decades, FIAT LUX returned with the most splendid ‘It’s You’. As well as the bassline and harmony from David P Crickmore, the sax style was a fitting tribute to the sadly departed Ian Nelson. Singer Steve Wright said: “Lyrically, I hope, it expresses feelings that possibly everyone can relate to…” – their long awaited debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ is expected in 2019.

Available on the FIAT LUX single ‘It’s You’ via Splid Records

http://www.fiat-lux.co.uk


IONNALEE Fold

The ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ album was easily equal to Jonna Lee’s work with IAMAMIWHOAMI. Best of the set was possibly the marvellous closing number ‘Fold’. Featuring exotic cascading timbres and spacey pulsars, distorted string synths added tan appropriate chill as Lee’s passionate vocals completed the filmic vibe. Less mysterious, the IONNALEE transition was a triumph, especially with one of the best value-for-money live presentations of 2018.

Available on the IONNALEE album ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ via To Whom It May Concern

https://ionnalee.com


KATJA VON KASSEL Someday

Asking if “it is foolish to dream”, ‘Someday’ saw KATJA VON KASSEL questioning a moment of passionate haste. “The phrase ‘Someday’ just opened it all up and everything else just fell into place.” the chanteuse said. Capturing the beautiful melancholy of ASSOCIATES’ Billy Mackenzie, the doomed romantic tragedy of the sadly departed Scot was echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by CHRIS PAYNE’s hypnotic bassline and haunting vox humana treatment over a simple rhythmic loop.

Available on the KATJA VON KASSEL EP ‘Walking In West Berlin’ via https://katjavonkassel.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/KatjavKassel/


LET’S EAT GRANDMA Donnie Darko

Despite their age, LET’S EAT GRANDMA have a feisty but mature musical ambition, as successfully realised on ‘Donnie Darko’, an 11 minute tribute to the troubled teenager haunted by a monstrous rabbit-like figure. Utilising a sedate start before morphing into a wonderful movement of cascading electronics set to a metronomic beat, there were passionate reflections on the subject of human suffering. It all went a bit “batsh*t crazy” into a glorious synthony before calming to its conclusion!

Available on the LET’S EAT GRANDMA album ‘I’m All Ears’ via Transgressive Records

http://letseatgrandma.co.uk


CHRIS LIEBING featuring POLLY SCATTERGOOD And All Went Dark

Noted techno exponent CHRIS LIEBING teamed up with Mute label mate POLLY SCATTERGOOD on a stark polyrhythmic number appropriately titled ‘And All Went Dark’. The brooding minimalist electronic piece with its eerily poetic spoken contribution from Miss Scattergood saw the Essex songstress haunted by a “dark shadow on my shoulder” and telling how “a sickness took hold early on”.

Available on the CHRIS LIEBING album ‘Burn Slow’ via Mute Artists

http://www.chrisliebing.com/


MECHA MAIKO False Memories

With the name transcending Toronto based Hayley Stewart’s fascination with Japanese culture, cyber space and a love of vintage synthesis, ‘Mad But Soft’ was her first album as MECHA MAIKO. The magically crystalline ‘False Memories’ could have been part of the ‘Stranger Things’ soundtrack. Uncomplicated on the surface yet multi-layered and airy, this day-glow pink neo-instrumental concoction was well-thought through and deliciously produced.

Available on the MECHA MAIKO album ‘Mad But Soft’ via New Retro Wave

https://www.facebook.com/mechamaiko/


MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY Lafayette

One-time RÖYSKSOPP collaborator Ryan A James continues to hone and develop his hybrid mix of luxuriant synthetics and subtle guitar textures as MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY. He said about the gorgeous electronic bubblebath of ‘Lafayette’: “It’s really a song about the end of a relationship, disguised as a song about Scientology, and how defectors of Scientology are disowned by their loved ones. The name comes from the religion’s founder Lafayette Ron Hubbard.”

Available on the MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY album ‘Infinity Mirror’ via Killing Moon Records

https://manwithout.country/


NIGHT CLUB Scary World

“Beware! It’s a scary world” and with their BRITNEY SPEARS fronting NINE INCH NAILS template, NIGHT CLUB took their sweet but sinister synth rock sound to its zenith with the title track of their second album. And when the children’s choir joined in the chorus to sing of demons everywhere, this was a musical trick or treat that no parent would want their offspring to be part of, the message being “they only love you if you swallow”!

Available on the NIGHT CLUB album ‘Scary World’ via Gato Blanco

http://nightclubband.com/


NINA 80s Girl

A fabulously optimistic closer to NINA’s debut album, ‘80s Girl’ came beaming over like some missing song from the film ‘Mannequin’. With big Simmons drums, sampled orchestra stabs and driving synthbass triplets, it was however delivered with subtlety and restraint so that it wasn’t a HEART or STARSHIP pastiche. Dedicated to her mother, it had a telling message of “don’t let the past hold you back”.

Available on the NINA album ‘Sleepwalking’ via Aztec Records

http://www.ninamusic.co.uk/


SARAH NIXEY Journey

Perhaps best known as the alluring if slightly blunt chanteuse of BLACK BOX RECORDER, SARAH NIXEY released her best solo album to date in ‘Night Walks’, a quality record with air and presence, collecting everything she has ever been musically, all rolled into one. One of its key tracks was the delightful ‘Journey’, a glorious number of the type that Marc Almond has often been so good at, laced with crystalline synths and gorgeously breathy vocal tones à la Jane Birkin.

Available on the SARAH NIXEY album ‘Night Walks’ via Black Lead Records

http://www.sarahnixey.com/


GARY NUMAN It Will End Here

The ‘Savage’ album turned out to be both an artistic and commercial vindication for GARY NUMAN. ‘It Will End Here’ from ‘The Fallen’ EP was a natural progression from that, exploring a heavy but melodic electronic sound without relying on the predictable backing of rock guitars. With and anthemic chorus and the apocalypse is looming over the aural desert, there was even a soaring vocal pitch shift up at the song’s conclusion which added an extra eerie vampiric quality.

Available on the GARY NUMAN EP ‘The Fallen’ via BMG

https://garynuman.com/


NYXX featuring AESTHETIC PERFECTION Voodoo

NYXX is very much her own woman, like the Greek goddess of night she is named after, a figure of power and beauty with a Britney-like vocal presence that sweetly offsets some of her darker overtones. A collaboration with Daniel Graves of AESTHETIC PERFECTION who contributed a glorious evangelical middle eight, she said “It would not be what it is without him. I came in with a sketch of a song, a melody and lyric of another song… Daniel heard nuances in it and we built what is now ‘Voodoo’.”

Available on the NYXX single ‘Voodoo’ via Close To Human Music

http://www.nyxxnyxxnyxx.com/


PAGE Nere För Räkning

Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko initially came together in PAGE releasing their first single ‘Dansande Man’ in 1983. Since then, the pair have parted and reunited on a number of occasions but the mission for the ‘Start’ EP was to party like it’s 1979 when GARY NUMAN was No1. ‘Nere För Räkning’ was an urgent slice of pulsing synthrock with a piercing vibratoed lead line akin to the keyboard interventions heard on ‘The Pleasure Principle’.

Available on the PAGE EP ‘Start’ via Energy Rekords

https://www.facebook.com/PageElektroniskPop/


PLASMIC Baby Machine

From Mission Viejo in California, PLASMIC describes herself as an “Orange County one-woman dervish” and in a vivid haze that’s pretty in pink, “your abused Barbie doll from childhood”. Combining J-Pop with CRYSTAL CASTLES and DEVO, the undoubted standout from her ‘Validation Nation’ EP was ‘Baby Machine’, an immensely catchy feminist electropop anthem utilising a mixture of vintage Casio and Yamaha sounds that challenged the expectations of women to bear children.

Available on the PLASMIC EP ‘Validation Nation’ via Devour Records

http://www.plasmic.rocks


REED & CAROLINE Entropy

Championed by none other than Vince Clarke, REED & CAROLINE successfully combine tunes with electronic experimentation. The haunting ‘Entropy’ was a tribute to a departed friend and a fabulously touching GARY NUMAN homage to his ‘Dance’ period, in particular ‘Cry The Clock Said’. The hypnotic soundtrack of gentle preset rhythms and eerie electric piano, courtesy of a Buchla modular synth, was complimented by Schutz even adopting the phrasing of the man born Gary Anthony James Webb.

Available on the REED & CAROLINE about ‘Hello Science’ via Very Records

https://www.reedandcaroline.com/


FIFI RONG Red Moon Voyage

Weird and wonderful, ‘Red Moon Voyage’ was a ghostly 10 minute epic comprising of glitchy voices and varying rhythm constructions recorded especially for Halloween. Free of album concepts and the pop song format, this was FIFI RONG at her most adventurous yet, delightfully adding her native Mandarin language towards the third part. “Having a long journey means you can get very deep and lots of moods and transitions” she told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK

Available on the FIFI RONG single ‘Red Moon Voyage’ via https://fifirong.bandcamp.com/track/red-moon-voyage-full

http://fifirong.com/


SOFT CELL Northern Lights

Marc Almond and Dave Ball were the boys who came back-back-BACK as SOFT CELL in 2018. ‘Northern Lights’ reminisced about their days at the Wigan Casino and recaptured the pop essence that led to the duo having five consecutive Top 10 hits! Despite the grittiness and energetics, the duo always had melody and that came back in abundance on their welcome recorded return. The darker B-Side ‘Guilty (‘Cos I Say You Are)’ affirmed that as a creative force, SOFT CELL still had it.

Available on the SOFT CELL EP ‘Northern Lights’ via Universal Music

http://www.softcell.co.uk/


STOLEN Turn Black

Chinese six-piece STOLEN are reckoned by Berlin-based producer Mark Reeder to be possibly the most exciting band he has seen since NEW ORDER. Certainly their debut album ‘Fragment’ was impressive and one of the best of 2018, with ‘Turn Black’ being one of the standout tracks. “I like the idea of mixing of rock with techno…” said growly lead vocalist Liang Yi to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, “we are very proud that we don’t sound like any of the other Chinese bands.”

Available on the STOLEN ‘Fragment’ via MFS

https://www.facebook.com/strangeoldentertainment/


U96 + WOLFGANG FLÜR Zukunftsmusik

Ingo Hauss and Hayo Lewerentz handed back the BOYTRONIC brand to Holger Wobker and returned to being U96, teaming up with former KRAFTWERK percussionist Wolfgang Flür for the best track by either party in recent years. Stark and Teutonic with stark robotic vocoder aesthetics, the union of two German musical heavyweights from different generations was equal to Flür’s ‘Activity Of Sound’ collaboration with Ireland’s iEUROPEAN.

Available on the U96 single ‘Zukunftsmusik’ via UNLTD Recordings

https://www.facebook.com/U96reboot/


HILARY WOODS Jesus Said

Combining piano, synths, field recordings, drones, occasional beats, old string instruments and HILARY WOODS’ wonderfully forlorn voice in the vein of Julee Cruise, ‘Jesus Said’ questioned the existence of God. Described by the Irish songstress herself as “a song that seeks catharsis”, her child-like expression over the drifting synthesized tones and hypnotic drum machine to augment her beautiful piano playing gave ‘Jesus Said’ a gentle meditative quality.

Available on the HILARY WOODS album ‘Colt’ via Sacred Bones

http://www.hilarywoods.com


Text by Chi Ming Lai
3rd December 2018

SARAH NIXEY Night Walks

SARAH NIXEY first won the hearts of audiences as the lead singer of BLACK BOX RECORDER; 18 years since they got on ‘Top Of The Pops’ with ‘The Facts of Life’ and seven years since her last solo album ‘Brave Tin Soldiers’, Nixey is back with ‘Night Walks’.

A nocturnal body of work set in a metropolitan sub-world where everyone dodges the dangers of reality, the album was inspired by Nixey’s bouts of insomnia during a recovery from illness.

She said “All the songs are set at night time and it felt like I was going on night walks when I was writing them”.

Co-produced by her husband Jimmy Hogarth, ‘Night Walks’ is a sophisticated amalgam of everything SARAH NIXEY has ever been musically, with a Roland Jupiter 8, Minimoog, Casiotone 701 and a Hammond M102 among the instrumentation used, all fed through Leslie amps and captured on a Studer tape machine. As a result, this record has air and presence, a quality missed on many modern day home studio digital recordings.

The album’s key song is the chromatic flavoured ‘The Zeppelin’, an observation on warfare where the characters are either at war with themselves or with each other. In typical SARAH NIXEY style, there is that impending if seductive sense of doom over the drone-laden backdrop…

However, beginning ‘Night Walks’, the neo-Motorik ‘Coming Up For Air’ discusses the delicate subject of teenage mental health illness and parental love, but touchingly acknowledges the pain while offering support and encouragement.

Meanwhile, ‘Burning Bridges’ is not a JAPAN cover but a lively offering of synthetic disco driven by clattering drum machine, which despite Nixey’s previous dalliances with electronic pop, comes as something of a pleasant surprise and with a timely socio-political message.

Also conveying socio-political concerns, the sparse but more guitar oriented ‘Merry England’ covers the gentrification of London and Brexit, with Nixey’s voice sounding particularly rich and assured.

Continuing a brilliant musical ‘Journey’, this appropriately named tune is like one of those glorious Eurocentric numbers that Marc Almond has often been so good at, laced with crystalline synths and gorgeously breathy vocal tones à la Jane Birkin.

Taking things down, the acoustically centred ‘Love Is Blue’ offers some Bohemian filmic drama before the short celestial spoken word title track. The throbbing sequencer filled ‘Dancing At The Edge Of The World’ is Nixey’s own ‘I Feel Love’ with a classic NEW ORDER digital drum machine template thrown into the mix, crossed with falsetto and deadpan speech.

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum and layered in Hammond organ and muted guitar within a brush filled rhythmic setting, ‘Neon Moon’ beautifully reflects what it says on the tin.

Harsher in tone and more reminiscent of BLACK BOX RECORDER, ‘Tiger Woman’ features a powerful statement about a woman who doesn’t have a care in the world, while similarly sharper with bluesy guitar motifs and loud bangy drums, Nixey asks people to ‘Follow Me’.

Closing with ‘The Planet Of Dreams’, an electric piano is joined by some six string accompaniment with the surprise of flute and E-bowed guitar alongside minimal sweeps of vintage synth, as Nixey divinely offers hope in these uncertain times.

“Mostly, I wanted to tell stories and create a little metropolitan sub-world where I could escape to, and my listeners could eventually come with me”, Nixey said of ‘Night Walks’, “It’s an album that’s supposed to be listened to in its entirety, which is possibly a big ask these days.”

Although having a mix of electronic and acoustic based tracks, ‘Night Walks’ exudes a satisfying sonic cohesion that will please anyone who has ever been interested in the Dorset-born songstress’ work; it is undoubtedly SARAH NIXEY’s best solo album to date. Former BLACK BOX RECORDER band mate Luke Haines once said how SARAH NIXEY “had the ability to make all men fall in love with her”… well, it is time to fall in love all over again!


‘Night Walks’ is released by Black Lead Records, available direct from https://music.sarahnixey.com/album/night-walks

http://www.sarahnixey.com/

https://www.facebook.com/sarahnixey/

https://twitter.com/sarahnixey

https://www.instagram.com/nixeysdarkroom/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
6th October 2018, updated 9th November 2018

A Short Conversation with SARAH NIXEY

After a seven year absence, SARAH NIXEY is back with a nocturnal new album called ‘Night Walks’.

Written whilst struggling with insomnia during a recovery from illness, her songs are set in a metropolitan sub-world where everyone dodges the dangers of reality.

For this new album, Nixey made a conscious stylistic decision to move away from her previous solo albums ‘Sing, Memory’ and ‘Brave Tin Soldiers’ by respectively not focusing solely on electropop or live instrumentation to realise a captivating collection of lush avant-pop songs.

With her strict school teacher persona, Nixey first won the hearts of audiences as the lead singer of BLACK BOX RECORDER with Luke Haines and John Moore on songs such as Child Psychology’, ‘The Facts Of Life’, ‘The Art Of Driving’, ‘These Are The Things’ and ‘The School Song’; their work was recently celebrated with the career spanning ‘Life Is Unfair’ boxed set released by Caroline International.

SARAH NIXEY kindly embarked on a night walk with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to chat about her new album and the current state of the music industry…

Earlier this year, there was a BLACK BOX RECORDER boxed set ‘Life Is Unfair’ which you contributed to and then a guest appearance with Luke Haines and John Moore at The Lexington in London, how was it to go back to that period again?

I was very happy to venture into BBR’s archives and listen to some of my favourite songs from that period. We had a good time putting the boxset together and spent ages compiling it all. I like the look of it and it feels complete now, to have everything in one place, and I’m looking forward to the vinyl version later this year.

That Lexington gig was all very last minute. Luke called me the night before and asked if I wanted to do it. I was excited but nervous, as I hadn’t been on stage for years, and we hadn’t rehearsed. It felt good though, and I have always loved being on stage with Luke and John.

It’s been seven years since your last album ‘Brave Tin Soldiers’? Were there other things you wanted to do or had the writing process become more challenging?

My original intention was to release more songs fairly soon after ‘Brave Tin Soldiers’, and I did continue to write, but getting into the studio was a bit more of a challenge. Unfortunately, I was ill with oral shingles, misdiagnosed several times, and a few complications followed as a result. I ended up in hospital and I’m still taking medication for nerve pain across my face two years later. I had to get back into shape vocally, as this all took its toll on my voice – the medication kept drying out my mouth and throat. I worked really hard with a singing teacher who specialises in performing arts medicine and learnt so much about how the voice works and vocal health. Eventually, my voice got stronger and I have more choices now, with regard to how I can express myself.

It wasn’t just the illness that kept me from the studio. My time recording demos at home became really difficult too. I’ve got three children at home and I wanted to be available to them as much as possible, which meant not being in my home studio so much. My husband and I also started a recording studio business which I run, and that takes up quite a lot of my time. At one point I did wonder whether I would ever get back to music, but the songs were there, waiting to be recorded and I was determined to release them.

I still have this very strong need to be creative and I get very low in mood if I don’t write or record for a while. Writing a song and recording the demo, getting all the parts in place and the arrangements right is such a pleasure, and ideally I would be doing this full time. It can be extremely frustrating having to put everything aside to go about my domestic life, but that’s the way it is for now. I chose that path and somehow I have to make it work.

Your new album is called ‘Night Walks’, so it does what it says on the tin?

That title came from the fact that I have had insomnia for a few years. Sometimes it feels like the night really does walk, as opposed to run. All the songs are set at night time and it felt like I was going on night walks when I was writing them – little journeys around a lost part of the city and glimpses into lives of forgotten characters. I had a bit of an obsession with a particular area of London I lived in for a while called Fitzrovia. I started reading up on its history and all the artists that lived there, bohemians from a bygone era, writers and heiresses – just moments in their lives – and then used segments in my songs, along with other ideas.

I’ve always liked getting up in the night, when no one is around, and most of London is asleep. I used to drive around town or get a cab in the early hours and enjoy the city at night. Now, I just go to my home studio, and write and record whenever I can’t sleep. It’s a great time to get things done and think clearly, without any interruptions. It’s also very addictive, getting up and working when you know that no one is going to bother you. It can’t go on for long periods of time though, otherwise you end up with shingles.

‘Night Walks’ has been described as “a blend of electronica and classic 1970s analogue recording”, so are we talking vintage synths, reel-to-reel tape and a giant mixing console here?

Absolutely. We played around with a Roland Jupiter 8, Mini Moog, Casiotone 701 and a Hammond M102 through a Leslie 144. The tape machine is a Studer A800 MKIII. I used Neumann U47 and Telefunken V76 vocal mics, and that giant mixing desk is a Neve 8058 MKII. Also, various reverbs and delays too, which I won’t go into here.

‘Coming Up For Air’ discusses teenage mental health illness and parental love which is quite different from the harsh lyrical frankness of ‘Child Psychology’, has this been shaped by being a mother?

Not necessarily. I have always been around mental health illness. Some of my family members and close friends have had really hard times due to their mental health and I have a huge amount of compassion for them. I haven’t always completely understood but I do what I can to help them.

The chorus in ‘Child Psychology’ is a very British, wry response to a young woman recounting her privileged but unhappy childhood. I laughed when I first heard that song, although I do realise that not everyone shares this humour. By contrast, ‘Coming Up For Air’ acknowledges the pain and offers some words of encouragement. Perhaps the tough love chorus in ‘Child Psychology’ is too brutal now, given that we have seen a rise in child and adolescent mental health illness with this generation of young people. In 1998, when I was a young woman myself, it seemed quite amusing.

I hope ‘Coming Up For Air’ raises awareness around mental health issues in general, as it’s still something that we need to talk more about and address properly with more funding, and more understanding. My cousin took his own life last year and it rocked the whole family. He was surrounded by people that adored him, and yet he was utterly lost. Some songs have the power to let people cry and a few people have told me that this song has helped them in that way. That means a lot to me.

But there’s a song called ‘Tiger Woman’, is that about strict parenting or something else entirely?

‘Tiger Woman’ is about a woman who doesn’t have a care in the world. I was reading about a bohemian model and dancer called Betty May, and this song kind of wrote itself, overnight. She’s strong and daring, beautiful and graceful all at once.

With everything that’s going on socio-politically, England is one of your lyrical topics on songs like ‘Merry England’ and ‘The Zeppelin’?

‘Merry England’ is definitely a socio-political song. I started writing it when I was reading about the post war slum clearances and it got me thinking about all the gentrification going on in London at the moment. The EU referendum result was announced just before I finished writing it so the chorus ended up taking that in too.

‘The Zeppelin’ was the first song I wrote for this album and it set the tone for all the other songs. War is a strong theme throughout – all the characters are either at war with themselves or with each other. There is a sense of impending doom, but one way or another, they survive.

How do you think your voice has changed over the years, have there been any new techniques you’ve been trying for this album?

I’m constantly working on my voice and I look after it so much better now than I did twenty years ago. I like to think it’s getting richer, and I’m exploring more ways to express myself these days, but I will leave that to my listeners to decide. For a period of time around ‘The Facts of Life’, my singing became very breathy and, whilst I have kept that aspect of my voice, I have made steps to move away from it on some of these new songs.

I am more aware now of how my voice works and what I need to do to keep it in shape, so that I can continue to sing in the future. I’ve read so many books on singing and attended a few courses – I am now a voice nerd. I teach my children to sing and their friends, and I work with their school sometimes too. I’m currently reading about singing and the imagination. Plus I’ve also been developing my musicianship skills, and continue to do this on a daily basis by playing the piano and studying music theory. I am a constantly learning and I don’t think I’ll ever stop.

By the sounds of things, ‘Night Walks’ appears to be a collection of everything you’ve ever been musically, all rolled into one?

Yes, that’s what I was really aiming for. Sonically, at least.

Mostly, I wanted to tell stories and create a little metropolitan sub-world where I could escape to, and my listeners could eventually come with me. It’s an album that’s supposed to be listened to in its entirety, which is possibly a big ask these days. I know that most people listen to songs, but I love listening to whole albums from start to finish. I’m not someone who listens to playlists. Perhaps I’m becoming old fashioned, or maybe I always was.

Since we last spoke in 2011 about how illegal downloading was changing the music consumption landscape, streaming has taken over with the issue of artist recompense being a major talking point, what are your own thoughts?

The business of music is full of people who do not care about music. They are literally there to make money and that has always been the case, but it seems all the more so now.

I’m not sure there are A&R people anymore at record labels – just business managers. If you have managed to get a good following on social media and have an album already recorded, then you may get signed. I think years ago, interesting artists were signed because someone at a label loved what they were doing, knowing that they may never make huge amounts of money. How many artists are getting this kind of support now? If you’ve got a lot of money (or your family has) to fund your projects, you may be ok.

You can make an album in your bedroom, but I think you can only do so much on a laptop. If you want your music to sound good, you need to spend some time and money on the right studio equipment and getting the right people to work on it. How can you do that if you don’t have the resources and there aren’t any A&R people ready to listen? Right now, I have more questions than answers.

The music scene is all about the musicians, writers, producers and the fans, and all the people in the background helping them get to where they want to be. The music business makes money out of the music scene, and the big record labels used to control the market. That’s all changed. The internet has helped break down the barriers between artists and their audience. Listeners can find bands and singers they love much more easily. This is what needs harnessing, and perhaps in the future, streaming corporations will be bypassed altogether, so that we have point to point contact, with fans buying directly from artists. For now, the corporations who control streaming should be challenged at every opportunity. The right deals can be struck. It feels like a constant battle though.

But the market for vinyl appears to have re-opened, is this something you are personally interested in, especially as from your BLACK BOX RECORDER and solo catalogue, ‘England Made Me’ was the only album ever originally issued in this format?

I think vinyl is becoming more popular but it’s probably a niche market. Perhaps what people are doing is listening to music on their computers and phones, and then buying into the physical product sometimes, if they want the artwork, or just like the idea of having something tangible. ‘Night Walks’ will be released on vinyl, and I’m really excited about having it in that format. I play records at home and love the sound of vinyl – it’s a personal thing. In reality, I think most people want the convenience of digital music.

Will ‘Night Walks’ be supported by any live shows? Is performing something you actually enjoy?

I always loved performing in plays and musicals when I was young. I even studied Drama for my degree and spent a year in a theatre company before Black Box Recorder. We toured as a band, and I’ve played lots of solo gigs too. Playing live has taken a back seat to writing and recording more recently. It also became more difficult to fit in with my family life. I have to put my family before everything else, otherwise I’m not happy. I also have to help put food on the table, and running a business contributes to that, and I put in the hours there.

Also, playing live now costs way more than I get paid and I don’t have a record label behind me with a tour budget, so I have to weigh up whether a gig is worth it financially. I need a band if I’m going to do it properly and they all need paying. Rehearsal space, transport, hotels etc… it all costs, and unless I get some kind of financial backing, a tour is no longer possible. I may be able to play some acoustic gigs, but really, I will have to see how things go. That’s the reality of the situation, and it’s not ideal.

But there’s nothing like standing in front of an audience who want to hear your songs. I miss that.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to SARAH NIXEY

‘Night Walks’ is released on 7th October 2018 by Black Lead Records in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats

http://www.sarahnixey.com/

https://www.facebook.com/sarahnixey/

https://twitter.com/sarahnixey

https://www.instagram.com/nixeysdarkroom/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
13th September 2018

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