Tag: Scarlet Soho

SCARLET SOHO Programmed To Perfection – Best Of & Rarities

Although SCARLET SOHO went into hiatus after the release of their third album ‘In Cold Blood’ in 2015, interest in them has been rejuvenated thanks to the success of front man James Knights and his Britalo focussed exploits with his solo vehicle KNIGHT$.

Two tracks on ‘In Cold Blood’, ‘Two Steps From Heartache’ and ‘Gigolo’ were effectively blueprints for KNIGHT$ and are usually mainstays of his live set. But although SCARLET SOHO began with a more post-punk sound dominated by guitars, there was always a pop element throughout their career despite the darkness and that is evident on their new updated retrospective compilation ‘Programmed To Perfection – Best Of & Rarities’.

At the start of the 21st Century, electronic pop was making something of a resurgence with the likes of LADYTRON, GOLDFRAPP and THE KNIFE proving that “synthesizer” was not a dirty word. Alongside them were bands such as THE FAINT, THE KILLERS and THE BRAVERY who all had synths as a rogue element within their conventional instrumentation. There were also emergent acts such as IAMX, THE MODERN, PROTOCOL, DELAYS and BOY KILLS BOY, and it is perhaps in this group that SCARLET SOHO slotted in.

Comprising the nucleus of James Knights and Amy Brown aka Scarlet with Lee Kinrade on guitar and augmented by a drum machine, SCARLET SOHO’s debut release was the ‘Ruthless Animation’ EP in 2001. This led to support slots for THE FAINT and DELAYS, attracting the attention of the latter’s producer Justin Callaway to record their debut album ‘Divisions Of Decency’ issued in 2004 by Human Recordings. The excellent trio of ‘Skin Trade’, ‘Disconnected’ and ‘Modern Radio’ from ‘Divisions Of Decency’ were slabs of fuzzy machine rock in the vein of THE FAINT.

Meanwhile taking a slight diversion, ‘Programmed To Perfection’ came over like Alvin Stardust fronting SWEET produced by THE RAH BAND!

With Stuart Key replacing Nick Haynes who joined the SCARLET SOHO after the departure of Lee Kinrade, it would be 2009 before ‘Divisions Of Decency’ was followed up by ‘Warpaint’, released by Major Records, the German label who had issued albums by IAMX and LADYTRON.

Included on this collection, the galloping disco sequences and gritty determination of ‘I Dare’ signalled a significant progression towards the dancefloor and this was further affirmed by ‘Analogue Dialogue (Kill The Beat)’ which imagined Giorgio Moroder going indie and collaborating with THE KILLERS.

Reflecting some of their contemporaries, ‘Speak Your Mind’ was a rousing slice of synth indie in the vein of THE BRAVERY with a magnificent whirring keys solo, while ‘Is Growing Up The Best That We Can Do?’ was almost a Numan-esque take on PROTOCOL. But it is ‘Lights Out London’ which stands out from ‘Warpaint’ with a frantic electro-goth vibe up there with IAMX who SCARLET SOHO were to tour with extensively in Europe.

Released in 2015, ‘In Cold Blood’ was the third and so far final album by SCARLET SOHO. Despite the six year gap between long players, much of what became ‘In Cold Blood’ had been released in advance on the EPs ‘When The Lights Go Out’, ‘Solo KO’ and ‘Two Steps From Heartache’.

The self-produced and self-released ‘In Cold Blood’ looked set to be SCARLET SOHO’s breakthrough as it heralded a greater interest in electronic pop with fewer guitars in evidence. Much more immediate than any of their previous work, although the material appeared to be less angsty and fraught, it was still a gloomy album lyrically.

‘When The Lights Go Out’ demonstrated more of a  disco sound while ‘What You Need’ even flirted with synthwave as showcased on the ‘Drive’ soundtrack by KAVINSKY and COLLEGE. However, the sombre ‘Solo KO’ showed that SCARLET SOHO had not totally vacated their dark aesthetic, but leaving a lyrical signal of what was to come.

Indeed the bridge to KNIGHT$ came with ‘Gigolo’, a song on ‘In Cold Blood’ that was so wonderfully poppy, Knights and Scarlet had initially felt it was not suitable for SCARLET SOHO and the glorious house-laden ‘Two Steps From Heartache’ which appears on the double set as a vocoder-assisted James Yuill remix with a more tightly incessant rhythmic base.

Any good retrospective set features rarities or unreleased songs and ‘Programmed To Perfection’ satisfies both requirements. Among the best of the bunch is ‘Into The Night’ in collaboration with Loic Rathscheck; recorded for the 2011 German film ‘Bauernfrühstück’; it features the “Classic meets Pop” singer Isgaard replicating the soprano from Ennio Morricone’s ‘Ecstasy Of Gold’ to strangely compliment the track’s intense electronic backdrop. The moody ‘Children Of The Sun’ with its European grandeur was written in the same sessions but didn’t get used, so is a welcome inclusion for SCARLET SOHO and KNIGHT$ completists alike.

Of the other rarities, there are remixes by !DISTAIN, TOKYOTRON and CANDIDE amongst others but the tracks that will attract most interest are the B-sides and previously unreleased demos.

‘Daylight’ is an electronic indie rock hybrid with a snarl that is very much of its time while ‘Pseudo Sushi’ is very guitar-driven, but ‘Useless Information’ will be a shock to some as it is almost heavy metal!

Then there is ‘Professionals’ from the ‘Two Steps From Heartache’ EP which was something of a dubstep experiment while off the ‘When The Lights Go Out’ EP, ‘Retail Therapy’ was an electro new wave hybrid that was more typically SCARLET SOHO.

‘Programmed To Perfection’ acts as a fine introduction to SCARLET SOHO, gathering them at their most accessible. For anyone who appreciates the shades donning solo persona of James Knights as KNIGHT$, it documents an interesting and significant part of the artistic journey that led to ‘Dollars & Cents’, one of the best albums of 2019.


‘Programmed To Perfection – Best Of & Rarities’ is released on 16th November 2020 by Scentair Records as a double CD or download, signed copies available for pre-order direct from https://scarletsoho1.bandcamp.com/album/programmed-to-perfection-best-of-rarities-2020

https://www.facebook.com/scarletsoho/

https://twitter.com/scarletsoho

https://twitter.com/JPSKNIGHTS


Text by Chi Ming Lai
14th November 2020

Lost Albums: SCARLET SOHO In Cold Blood

Released in February 2015, ‘In Cold Blood’ was the third and so far final album by SCARLET SOHO.

A duo based in the south of England, James Knights and Scarlet had begun with a more post-punk sound dominated by guitars. Much of the material compiled on ‘In Cold Blood’ had been previously released on the EPs ‘When The Lights Go Out’, ‘Solo KO’ and ‘Two Steps From Heartache’, heralding a greater interest in electronic pop. Much more accessible than any of their previous work, ‘In Cold Blood’ looked set to be SCARLET SOHO’s breakthrough from the underground to a wider audience.

However, it was not to be and the album was unable to gain momentum in a year when NEW ORDER made their recorded return with ‘Music Complete’ and ‘Every Open Eye’ maintained the standing of CHVRCHES as the UK’s leading act in modern synthpop.

But one thing that ‘In Cold Blood’ did do was plant the seed of KNIGHT$, the shades donning solo persona of James Knights; he released the lively Britalo flavoured ‘Dollars & Cents’ in 2019, one of the best albums of that year.

James Knights and Scarlet got together again to reminisce about the making of ‘In Cold Blood’ with The Electricity Club and how it is a lost jewel awaiting rediscovery.

As SCARLET SOHO prepared to record ‘In Cold Blood’, it had been ten years since your debut album ‘Divisions Of Decency’, how had you changed as a band?

Scarlet: As a band we’d changed a lot in a decade. I was 16 when we started gigging and we never stopped touring in all of those years.

Studio time had previously been very fraught, lacking momentum, with James and myself trying to squeeze as much as we could into scattered time frames – often using different producers, studios, techniques, and both operating on very little sleep.

We had always wanted to release more songs in that decade between albums, but enjoyed touring more, so prioritised that.

We had streamlined things a lot by the time we wanted to record ‘In Cold Blood’ and had a better idea of how we wanted an album to sound as a whole. I think it came out pretty well!

Compared with songs like ‘Speak Your Mind’ and ‘Cyclone’ on the second album ‘Warpaint’ and ‘We Must Destroy’ from ‘Divisions Of Decency’, ‘In Cold Blood’ on the whole seems to be less angsty and fraught, was there a conscious decision to make a more positive statement?

Scarlet: I think it was quite a natural thing for the sound to change by the time we wrote ‘In Cold Blood’. The songs have always reflected where James and I were at, which I think is often quite a surprise to people that don’t ‘get’ electronic music, and deem it to be something cold and calculated.

Over the years our circumstances had changed, my lifestyle was considerably less chaotic at this point, and we were comfortable with being a duo. We were willingly accepting help from additional musicians for live performances, rather than trying to incorporate a rolling cast of (albeit very talented) third members as we had done previously.

Lyrically it’s a pretty gloomy album, but musically it’s something else, which I think also says a lot about where we were both at.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, we had both grown up quite a lot and I think this album shows a real progression in songwriting, with James really coming into his own. I think the positivity comes from that confidence.

The title song ‘In Cold Blood’ had the opening line “You shot me down” but signalled the album’s intention of more focussed use of electronic instrumentation and less guitars?

Scarlet: SCARLET SOHO started out as a band with three guitars and a drum machine – three! It was a mess, and over the years we shedded a lot of that, with both James and myself only playing guitars on a couple of songs by ‘In Cold Blood’. Prior to Soho we were both in punk bands and by this point, guitars and amps were starting to feel like baggage – both physically and mentally.

We were both getting more out of a well-produced snappy snare and rib-rattling bass synth than a scrappy guitar sound careering around a venue. The latter also being a pain to shift around on flights and in cars. We wanted to strip things back to what we essentially needed, and could really allow to shine. James’ vocal being one of those things. Starting a song with purely that, felt like a call to arms.

‘When The Lights Go Out’ demonstrated more of a pop disco sound? How did this come about?

Scarlet: I really wish I had an answer to this. James and I both love 70s and 80s disco, and it felt brave to incorporate this into a SCARLET SOHO track. I feel like it’s a true representation of the SCARLET SOHO sound, and always sounded fantastic live whatever it was nestled up against in the setlist. But I truly have no recollection of how it came about. In my head it was birthed as a fully formed song. Perhaps it was…?

‘What You Need’ has THIS pulsing electronic bassline that some would now call synthwave, had things like the ‘Drive’ soundtrack or anything like that been an interest at this point? And what was going on with the speeded up ending?

Scarlet: ‘What You Need’ is one of my favourites. I’m a bit of a film buff, and enjoyed ‘Drive’ and the like, but I’m not sure James had seen it. We’d always been into KAVINSKY, but I’ve never twigged that as an influence to this song. The speeded up ending was some studio fun that we thought would translate well to a sweaty club when we toured it. It did.

Listening to ‘Gigolo’ now, it sounds like the start of KNIGHT$, especially in the rousing warning chorus, do you have any thoughts in hindsight?

James: I can remember us thinking the song was a bit too “pop” to be on a SCARLET SOHO album. We deliberated over this for a little while before deciding to be brave and put it on the LP. It’s possible the reaction to this song gave me some extra confidence to create KNIGHT$ in the end, subliminally at least. Maybe it should’ve been a single!

Despite the melancholic words, ‘Two Steps From Heartache’ is another track that blueprints KNIGHT$ and is a tune you still perform, what was your mindset at the time of writing and recording? And is the middle eight from Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ being borrowed here, particularly Guy Pratt’s bass guitar solo?

James: Now I’m going to have to go back to ‘Like A Prayer’ and check this Guy Pratt thing! I think it was a little bit inspired from Stuart Key’s time in the band and some of his music we’d listen to on the road. This song was our attempt to infuse house music somehow. It has the pulsing brass line and hallmarks like that, but in the end it still sounds very Soho.

‘This Town Is Mine’ appears to channel your inner Marc Almond?

James: I’m not a huge fan of slow songs, but now and then we would work on one or two in our spare time.

I appreciate the compliment, because somehow this ended up being one of my favourite and best studio vocals.

You get the vocoder out on ‘Make The Final’ for a bit of robotic Italo, what had this been inspired by?

Scarlet: We’ve always loved a vocoder. Pretty much every Soho demo has a vocoded part on it at some point! There’s something sinister about a human voice that you can control and manipulate, and somehow it still ends up sounding fun.

It’s also a great way of putting BVs into a track without me having to sing. James has a huge vocal range, so reducing his voice down to something more simplistic is something we both got a kick out of.

That song was inspired by the Olympics and ‘Chariots Of Fire’ and Vangelis. Big sports fans! Would love to hear ‘Make The Final’ soundtracking some televised athletics in a parallel universe.

‘2015’ is primarily instrumental and points towards synthwave… these days, you have a toe in that scene as KNIGHT$ but you didn’t fully head in that direction, could you have done?

James: It’s not for me to say really, but probably not. There’s a bit more to my music than just that.

The final track ‘Solo KO’ is comparatively darker in aesthetic and sombre, but were you sending out a signal with the title and the lyrics “with nothing left to do and still so much to prove”?

Scarlet: Yes!

There’s a mystery piano ballad following a gap after the end of ‘Solo KO’; this long last track with two songs several minutes apart thing was very much the fashion in the CD era, but could be annoying! Why not just have it as two tracks? *laughs*

James: I vaguely remember that hidden ballad not really being in our thoughts when putting the tracklist together. It didn’t really fit with the other 9 songs! So when we compiled the 9, we found the album was much shorter than expected!

Adding the hidden ballad was a good way to give a little extra, but we didn’t want to mess with the flow of the other 9 tracks. I hope that makes sense!

SCARLET SOHO seemed to on the cusp of a breakthrough with support slots for IAMX and KOSHEEN that were well received, but it didn’t happen, had that precipitated tensions within further?

James: No, we had some of our best times during this period and enjoyed the ride! At times, we were a little bloody minded, especially when interested parties wanted to speak to us about management and so on, but somehow talking to them often brought us closer together. After all, we were right and they were wrong!

So when did SCARLET SOHO end and how did KNIGHT$ begin?

James: SCARLET SOHO never really ended as such, but after 15 years, we needed to take a break for sure. Our final London show was February 2015. I started writing for KNIGHT$ in early 2016, after almost a year of inactivity. I started to miss singing and writing more than I thought I would!

‘In Cold Blood’ stands up as a good album five years on, which can’t be said of some records, how do you look back on it all now?

Scarlet: Thank you! I hope it continues to have a place in people’s hearts and record collections in the next 5 years 🙂

James: Compared to our other records, it’s the one that never really got promoted and toured. We cancelled the ‘In Cold Blood’ tour through illness, so there is a feeling that some of our best work went unheard, but it’s always nice to hear that people like the album. I think it could be our best.


The Electricity gives its warmest thanks to SCARLET SOHO

‘In Cold Blood’ was released by Mirrorman Recordings and is still available as a CD from https://scarletsohoshop.bigcartel.com/ or as a digital download direct from https://scarletsoho1.bandcamp.com/album/in-cold-blood

https://www.facebook.com/scarletsoho/

https://twitter.com/scarletsoho

https://twitter.com/JPSKNIGHTS


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Steve Hogg at Cosmic Egg
8th May 2020

A Short Conversation with KNIGHT$

Photo by Tanya Raffety

Shiny danceable electronic pop is what KNIGHT$ is all about and as the vehicle of James Knights, formally of SCARLET SOHO, his ethos is to make synthwaves with his brand of sparkly Britalo!

It’s been a busy time for the Winchester based singer/songwriter, with his first two releases ‘What’s Your Poison?’ and ‘Alligator’ gaining airplay on internet radio.

Meanwhile, he also provided lead vocals for the current incarnation of veteran German electropopsters BOYTRONIC on their comeback album ‘Jewel’.

Coming over like the love child of Richard Butler and Neil Tennant, the crowd pleasing nature of James Knights himself has made him a must-see live act, while the music of KNIGHT$ has that unashamedly glitterball disco drive.

Having just returned from a successful German tour opening for WOLFSHEIM’s Peter Heppner, James Knights unpacked his suitcase and kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about his upcoming plans for KNIGHT$…

You’ve described the music of KNIGHT$ as Britalo, what led you to pursue your new poptastic direction?

When my previous project went on a break, it was important to take some time out and think about what to do.

I knew I would be the main writer/performer in KNIGHT$, so I wanted to create an alter ego to hide behind, someone very different from me in real life.

I toured mainland Europe a few years ago, and I was introduced to some older pop music we never had over here in the UK. This Italo sound inspired me for sure, along with so many US one-hit wonders and some Synthwave tracks, plus FALCO, GAZEBO, STEPHEN FALKEN etc. At the time, I needed something to drag me away from all the music I knew before, and this captured my imagination and inspired me to be creative again.

There’s an air of ‘American Gigolo’ both aurally and visually within your music?

What can I say? It’s not intentional, but I guess there’s something about that kind of vibe I like to take with us on the stage. Every time you perform you have a chance to change the whole ambience of a venue. I see this as a challenge. I love it!

You appear to place as much importance on videos and a good live presentation as the music, what’s your thinking behind this?

We’re in such a visual time. I consume music with my ears and eyes and hope other people do the same! I know I can write a song, but that’s just one part of the role.

Your first two releases ‘What’s Your Poison?’ and ‘Alligator’ were quite a bit more sparkly than some of your previous work with SCARLET SOHO? What are the stories behind the title tunes?

Photo by Mark Holloway

‘What’s Your Poison?’ and ‘Alligator’ were some of the first tracks I wrote as KNIGHT$. ‘Alligator’ is just a little anecdote about something we all experience from time to time, the one-sided conversation with someone who doesn’t listen! ‘What’s Your Poison?’ was a bit of a slight on today’s dating culture.

I guess I thought people would have a better idea of finding the perfect date by offering people drinks and judging them on their choice! Gotta be better than Tinder!

Songs like ‘Gigolo’ and ‘Two Steps From Heartache’ indicate that what became the KNIGHT$ sound was omnipresent in SCARLET SOHO. How do you look back on that period and what the band achieved?

SCARLET SOHO was a way of life for anyone involved. For almost 15 years, we were making music together. We were very young when we started the project, and learned a lot about writing, recording, live shows and the business. You could look back and say mistakes were made along the way of course! I’m very proud to have done it.

What have been the main differences for you creatively between working solo and within a band format?

I think working alone has made the process a bit slicker perhaps. I’m always on the move when I demo tracks, and I like writing music on the train and stuff. With a band, you can deliberate over ideas for too long.

Are you a softsynth or hardware man? Has there been too much over romanticisation of vintage gear maybe?

I programme everything on my laptop with some approximated sounds. Then, when the arrangement is complete, I take the demo, all the vocals, and all the MIDI files to a studio so we can bounce the synth sounds through vintage synths and begin mixing. If you have access to the real gear you should use it. I mean, why not?

NEW ORDER’s ‘Subculture’, which appears to be the inspiration for ‘So Cold’, is their most under rated song? Discuss!

Love it, great track of course and I love NEW ORDER! I hope I don’t disappoint you here though… the biggest influence on ‘So Cold’ was 70s disco!

You’re known for performing covers which have ranged from ‘Uncivilized’ by dark Canadian trailblazers PSYCHE to PET SHOP BOYS ‘Heart’, you’ve even sung U2’s ‘New Year’s Day’ with BOYTRONIC. How do you choose your cover versions and are there any others you would like to attempt?

If it sounds good I’ll have a go! There are loads I’d like to try… it’s just finding the time. ‘Don’t Cry Tonight’ by SAVAGE would be a good one, ‘Monday Morning’ by FLEETWOOD MAC I like to sing, and the Spanish version of ‘Toy Soldiers’ by MARTIKA, topped off with ‘I.O.U’ by FREEEZ!

You have a close bond with Germany and a number of its veteran electronic acts, why do you think this has managed to develop over the years?

I performed in Germany for the first time in 2006, shortly after that SCARLET SOHO signed to a German label and we spent more time over there. So naturally we met more people and were introduced to music and bands we hadn’t heard before which was really exciting. We always felt very at home.

Photo by Michael Gamon

For those who have not witnessed a KNIGHT$ live performance, what can they expect from you?

The stage show grows in strength the more time I rehearse with the band, I hope to have some new songs in the set and play for a little longer than usual! Maybe a costume change or two midway through, or a special guest.

What’s next for KNIGHT$ on the release schedule? Does the album format figure in your plans or are EPs the way to go?

I would like to make an album as most of the songs are ready now. I’m talking to some labels and we’ll see what happens. If not, I will continue with EPs on vinyl!


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to James Knights

The ‘Alligator’ and ‘What’s Your Poison?’ EPs are available in vinyl and digital formats from https://knights101.bandcamp.com/

http://knights101.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Knights101/

https://twitter.com/JPSKNIGHTS

http://knightstore.bigcartel.com


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
4th January 2018, updated 9th February 2018

Introducing KNIGHT$

Coming over like the love child of Richard Butler and Neil Tennant, KNIGHT$ is making waves with his self-confessed brand of sparkly Britalo!

Formally of London duo SCARLET SOHO who were capable of a good tune or two as proven by ‘Gigolo’ and ‘Two Steps From Heartache’, James Knights has a new electropop anthem in ‘Alligator’ co-produced by Martin Dubka.

With its unashamedly glitterball disco drive, KNIGHT$ plays on his crowd pleasing nature like KID KASIO collaborating with LES RYTHMES DIGITALES. The B-side ‘Playin’ It Cool’ doesn’t stray too far from the formula, but is evidence why he was chosen for a parallel role as the lead singer in the current live incarnation of veteran German electropopsters BOYTRONIC.

Shiny danceable pop might be what KNIGHT$ is all about, but he knows and understands his synthpop history, as exemplified by the covers that have featured in his live set. ‘Uncivilized’ was originally recorded by Canadian darkwave trailblazers PSYCHE, while at the other end of the spectrum is PET SHOP BOYS‘ fourth UK No1 single ‘Heart’.

These influences were all successfully mutated together for the impressive debut EP ‘What’s Your Poison?’ which came out in 2016. From it, ‘What We Leave Behind’ took up the mantle of Giorgio Moroder, while the playful neo-instrumental ‘Miami Knight$’ fitted right in with the current vogue for sun kissed synthwave. Then there was the loose electro-funk of the title song while borrowing from NEW ORDER’s ‘Subculture’, ‘So Cold’ more than affirmed KNIGHT$’ Britalo aspirations.

It is often very easy for a promising artist to make a good first impression only to lose it by the release of the first album, but KNIGHT$ still has the poptastic IAMX of ‘Cards On The Table’ up his sleeve.

With a recent slot opening for HEAVEN 17 and an upcoming tour supporting Peter Heppner of cult German act WOLFSHEIM in November, things are certainly heading on the right trajectory for KNIGHT$.


‘Alligator’ featuring remixes from ITALOCONNECTION and SUPER HEXAGON is released on 13th October 2017 by Mirrorman / SpecchioUomo via the usual digital outlets

A limited edition 4 track 10 inch green vinyl EP and CD are also available direct from https://knights101.bandcamp.com/

KNIGHT$ opens for Peter Heppner of WOLFSHEIM on the following dates:

Munich Backstage Werk (17th November), Krefeld Kulturfabrik (18th November), Bremen Aladin (19th November), Dresden Alter Schlachthof (23rd November), Erfurt Gewerkschafthaus (24th November), Potsdam Waschaus (25th November),

https://www.facebook.com/Knights101/

https://twitter.com/JPSKNIGHTS


Text by Chi Ming Lai
5th October 2017