Tag: Skinny Puppy

NIGHT CLUB Discuss Their Existential Dread

Having reflected on the ‘Scary World’ of 2018, LA based synth rock couple NIGHT CLUB go on the attack in 2020 with their excellent third album ‘Die Die Lullaby’.

Reflecting the times the world is living in, the duo of Emily Kavanaugh and Mark Brooks have delivered a record that captures the introspection and paranoia of 2020.

‘Die Die Lullaby’ will be one of those documents that commentators and historians will look back on in a few years when researching the uncomfortable and anxious emotions of the corona crisis.

For NIGHT CLUB, there has been frustration as they were travelling on an upward trajectory having opened for alternative rock supergroup A PERFECT CIRCLE in 2018 before embarking on their own headlining jaunt the following year.

Front woman Emily Kavanaugh talked to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK on behalf of NIGHT CLUB about their existential dread and riding the ‘Misery Go Round’…

As quoted from the closing track ‘Civil War’, ‘Die Die Lullaby’ is 35 minutes of “Existential dread”, so how and when did making the album begin in earnest?

We started writing songs for this album at the end of 2018. It takes us a long time to write and record an album and this one was the hardest yet. How do we grow from ‘Requiem’ and ‘Scary World’ sonically while also delving deeper into ourselves lyrically? We think / hope we succeeded in that.

You’d more or less come back from touring with A PERFECT CIRCLE and then a run of your own headlining North American shows. How had the response been?

It’s not easy to be the opener for such a beloved band in arenas (we’re only two people on stage after all) but we think we did pretty well and we’ve noticed a definite uptick in awareness in the band since then. Our headlining tour though this past Fall 2019 was by far our favorite tour yet. Gruelling but so incredibly rewarding.

We were gearing up to do another one this year – it was all booked and ready to go. But obviously Covid had other plans for us…

How was the comedown when you got home? Did your experiences naturally shape the sound of the album?

After we got off of tour with A PERFECT CIRCLE in 2018, we started writing songs for this record. A series of deaths happened at that time: our friend Jon Schnepp, Mark’s father and one of our pets. So that doom and gloom just kind of naturally permeated its way onto the record.

‘Die in The Disco’ lyrically was inspired by all of that darkness, and that was one of the first songs we ended up writing. It’s about just wanting to escape all the bad shit happening around us, but in true NIGHT CLUB fashion, making it an upbeat dance song. ‘California Killed Me’ and ‘Miss Negativity’ came next, which were definitely more autobiographical and introspective. Then 2020 rolled around: the coronavirus, quarantine and civil unrest all influenced the new songs we were writing like ‘Gossip’, ‘Misery Go Round’ and ‘The Creepshow’.

We met Courtney Taylor from THE DANDY WARHOLS in Portland during our headlining tour when he came out to our show at the Star Theater. And I remember a piece of advice he gave us was to write a song we could perform in the middle of our set that would allow us to slow down and just connect with the audience. Not a heavy song, no dancing, just an intense kind of personal moment; something ala DURAN DURAN’s ‘The Chauffeur’; and when we ended up writing ‘Civil War’, we were like… this is it!

Did you find yourselves ideally suited to working in isolation during lockdown?

Yeah, by the time the lockdown came around, we just buried our heads into finishing the album. It was such a strange but productive time. We’re used to just working together on a record, the two of us, so it was business as usual.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had used the “Britney Spears fronting NINE INCH NAILS” tagline a few years ago and it now seems to have stuck. But for ‘Die Die Lullaby’, you mixed the album with Dave “Rave” Ogilvie from SKINNY PUPPY member who also mixed NIN, Marilyn Manson and most importantly Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’, so that’s a rather perfect combination?

Yeah, we became friends with Rave several years ago when we discovered that he was digging the stuff we were making. We’re big fans of all of the stuff that he’s been involved with, so we always thought that we would work together in some way. Also, he’s one of the few people that equally loves dark underground electronics along with mainstream pop. It seemed like a no brainer that we should work together, and we’re so happy with the result.

While ‘Die Die Lullaby’ is still lyrically a heavy album, compared with ‘Requiem For Romance’ and ‘Scary World’, the more synthetic metal elements that were characteristic of those two records appear to be more restrained this time. Was that something you consciously aimed for during recording or did it come about at the mixing stage?

Not really. We try to always expand our sound and keep pushing the boundaries of what we do. We want the records to sound like us but be the next, more mature version of us. We never try to limit ourselves when we start writing; we just let it go where it wants to go.

‘Die In The Disco’ comes over as a rather wonderful homage to Giorgio Moroder and Bobby Orlando?

Yeah, that’s awesome that you think so. We’re both big fans of Moroder but also fans of so many genres of music. We view everything as an influence.

The deep pitch shifted vocals are used on ‘Die In The Disco’, ‘Sad Boy’ and on a number of other tracks, it is wonderfully creepy and suits NIGHT CLUB to a tee…

That’s one thing that we’ve been doing for years that we always love to incorporate. It gives the songs a little more texture and variance. It’s like having another singer in the band.

You introduced Indian sub-continent flavours on ‘My Valentine’, how had this come about?

When we started writing the melodies, it just naturally lent itself to Indian instrumentation using the sitar, tambora, and tablas. So we thought that would be a cool addition to the “NIGHT CLUB” sound.

With ‘Miss Negativity’, was that a narrative or autobiographical? If Britney sung it, it would be a huge hit!

100% autobiographical. When you’re told you have a black cloud over your head “x” amount of times, the only natural thing to do is write a song about it. Lemons into lemonade!

Could ‘Gossip’ be a metaphor for fake news?

Absolutely. Basically that is what’s happening everywhere. Instead of actually learning the facts about something, people just repeat the rumors they hear. And that goes for music scenes and politics.

Is it healthy to keep riding the ‘Misery Go Round’?

No, it’s probably not but it’s an addictive cycle isn’t it? And that’s what the song is about: why do you keep doing something that makes you feel bad? Why are we obsessed with things that aren’t good for us?

On ‘The Creepshow’, you sing of “a broken lullaby” that “you sing until you die!”…

We wrote this a few months into quarantine. LA was in the middle of lockdown, civil unrest and the air was filled with smoke from the forests burning around us. The song was entrenched in the thought of everything crumbling around you and wanting to escape.

‘California Killed Me’ is classic NIGHT CLUB and within this intensity is a mighty chorus and a simple but effective synth solo, how do you feel about living in LA these days?

LA is without a doubt one of our biggest songwriting “muses”. It’s a recurring character in our songs as it’s (for many reasons) one of the darkest places in the world. You have TikTok influencers making millions a year, and then thousands of mentally ill or jobless people on the streets struggling to survive with nobody taking care of them. You have new friends one minute, no friends the next. It’s endless inspiration for creating art, you just have to try and keep your head above water before it sucks you under.

The notion of a ‘Civil War’ is quite an apt observation in US Presidential Election Year although it is more personal and you talk of how “I’ve become someone I hate” and “say it will be over soon”?

Yeah, so I get these really bad migraine headaches; usually after we play live shows. They’re awful. So originally I wanted to write a song inspired by these headaches I get and how debilitating they are, and how they only seem to cruelly occur after doing something I love, which in turn makes me anxious and scared to do the thing I love (performing) for fear of getting one of these migraines afterwards.

Anyway I started writing the lyrics about having a headache- “I can’t take the pounding in my head”; but then I guess I sort of drifted off and made it about myself and my own self-loathing. And it just sort of took a more natural introspective turn lyrically. Almost like a stream of consciousness style of writing.

It just became bigger than what I originally intended, more of an existential crisis in your brain brought on by something minor like a headache. Just spiralling down and down. Mark decided ‘Civil War’ would be an apt title for it, as it’s essentially a war with myself. But yes, also taking into account the civil unrest within our own society.

Have you any particular favourites from ‘Die Die Lullaby’ and how as a whole does it compare with your previous work?

Maybe ‘Miss Negativity’ and ‘Gossip’? But honestly, we’re proud of every song on this record for different reasons. This was the album we needed to make right now and we’re happy with how it’s been received so far.

We always aspire to great songwriting bands like DEPECHE MODE where every song is good on the record. No fillers, no skips. That’s our ultimate goal: to do that every time.

It’s an uncertain world out there now, but what are your hopes (and fears) for the future?

All of our fears are already baked into the songs on this album, but hopefully one day we’ll actually be able to play them live.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to NIGHT CLUB

‘Die Die Lullaby’ is released by Gato Blanco as a CD, purple vinyl LP and download, available direct from http://nightclubband.com/

https://www.facebook.com/nightclubband

https://twitter.com/nightclubband

https://www.instagram.com/nightclubband/

https://soundcloud.com/nightclubband


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
7th November 2020

NIGHT CLUB Die Die Lullaby

From the ‘Scary World’ of 2018 to the ‘Die Die Lullaby’ of 2020, LA based duo NIGHT CLUB have put their enforced confinement in lockdown to good use and channelled their angst to produce a wonderful 35 minutes of existential dread.

Emily Kavanaugh and Mark Brooks opened their account in 2012 with a self-titled EP. The second EP ‘Love Casualty’ included their first universally great song in ‘Poisonous’. But it was their excellent third EP ‘Black Leather Heart’ in 2014 that managed to truly harness the potential of their Britney Spears meets NINE INCH NAILS template across five tracks.

Their debut full-length album ‘Requiem For Romance’ turned up their love of heavy rock to 11 but they cleverly achieved it without the use of guitars or live drums, confusion some but delighting others.

‘Scary World’ was an extension of that sound but while ‘Die Die Lullaby’ is undoubtedly a refinement of its predecessors, like with Gary Numan’s ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’, the more metal elements have been turned down and in its place is a more vulnerable demeanour that emotively is no-less weighty in its attacks and observations.

Sonically, the album contains a typically NIGHT CLUB twist. Co-mixing with Brooks is Dave Rave Ogilvie, a former member of SKINNY PUPPY known for his work with NINE INCH NAILS and Marilyn Manson. But crucially, he also mixed Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2011 worldwide smash hit ‘Call Me Maybe’ so for ‘Die Die Lullaby’, NIGHT CLUB have found their perfect co-conspirator .

As they begin to ‘Go to Sleep’, ‘Die In The Disco’ sets the album off proper with a slice of throbbing HI-NRG disco, donning its hat to Giorgio Moroder and Bobby Orlando with Kavanaugh asking to “take me to a place I can dance” before a haunting request for life termination. And when an unsettling ghostly pitch-shifted voice exclaims that ”This is my party and I will die if I want to”, that die is cast.

Following on, ‘Sad Boy’ is classic NIGHT CLUB, up there with their best but more old school Goth than metal with hooks galore. ‘My Valentine’ though is heavier and here, the Kavanaugh / Brooks / Ogilvie combination achieves a fine balance of edge and pop while throwing in a few exotic flavours too.

Trapped in her own personal hell and under the spectre of IAMX’s ‘Spit It Out’, ‘Miss Negativity’ sees Kavanaugh capturing the zeitgeist, singing that “No, I don’t want to go out cos I won’t have any fun, I am sick and infected with pure pessimism…”

On ‘Gossip’, Kavanaugh tells someone to shut their dirty mouth as a chilling horror movie Theremin announces its presence. ‘Misery Go Round’ though will surprise some with its sparse but effective verse structure that gets overturned with a chorus pitch shift and vocoder ending while our heroine tells everyone that “I don’t feel so good right now”.

The haunting music box on ‘The Creepshow’ will remind some of Numan’s ‘It Will End Here’ and that’s not a bad thing, while ‘California Killed Me’ captures Kavanaugh in a cage of anxiety because ”I feel like crying” as “I’ve nowhere to run”. However, mated to all of this intensity is a mighty chorus and synth solo.

Closing with ‘Civil War’, Kavanaugh channels her existential dread, unhappy that “I’ve become someone I hate” as she battles her demons because she “can’t escape the pain in the war inside my brain”.

A slice of dark DEPECHE MODE tinged pop that says “it will be over soon”, the words are worrying but on point, echoing how many feel in this strange world that was already becoming irrational and self-destructive even before the Covid crisis.

‘Die Die Lullaby’ sees the NIGHT CLUB motto of “Keep your friends close and your enemies in your songs” being maintained, but pragmatically looks within the psyche too.

Reflecting the times the world is living in, this is uncomfortable but enjoyably cathartic. When commentators and historians look back in a few years for an audio document that captures the introspection and paranoia of 2020, then they will need to look no further than ‘Die Die Lullaby’.


‘Die Die Lullaby’ is released by Gato Blanco on 9th October 2020 as a CD, purple vinyl LP and download, pre-order from http://nightclubband.com/

https://www.facebook.com/nightclubband

https://twitter.com/nightclubband

https://www.instagram.com/nightclubband/

https://soundcloud.com/nightclubband


Text by Chi Ming Lai
4th October 2020

25 TRACKS FROM THE CIRCUIT BOARDS OF CANADA

Like Sweden, as a country with a relatively small population in relation to land mass, Canada punches above its weight when it comes to its contribution to popular music.

Canada’s internationally famous artists may be Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Céline Dion, Bryan Adams and Alanis Morisette, but there have been so many more that have been far more interesting.

Canada has been a significant presence in synth from the post-punk pioneers such as NASH THE SLASH and CERAMIC HELLO, to international MTV-era hits from the likes of MEN WITHOUT HATS, TRANS-X and KON KAN, up to the present day via the mainstream profile of GRIMES, PURITY RING and CRYSTAL CASTLES. Meanwhile, it also has developed into a hub for the burgeoning sub-genre of Synthwave thanks to FM ATTACK and DANA JEAN PHOENIX.

Like in the UK with the availability of affordability of technology from Japan in particular, Canadian youngsters were taking up synthesizers. And while several were to attain cult status like RATIONAL YOUTH and PYSCHE, some such as the Winnipeg trio EUROPA were destined just to have their moment on domestic television without an official release to their name.

Today, the tradition continues with artists such as DEADMAU5, TIGA, KOISHII & HUSH, LOLA DUTRONIC and TECHNIQUES BERLIN covering a wide spectrum of electronic pop and dance music.

So here is ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s list of 25 tracks from the circuit boards of Canada, subject to a limit of one per artist moniker, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order. But notice a void in between 1990 to 2000 when it could be said that the likes of Dion, Adams and Morisette dominated the airwaves of the globe.

However, the number of electronic acts who have appeared in the 21st Century have more than made up for things.


CERAMIC HELLO Climatic Nouveaux (1980)

CERAMIC HELLO were a duo who hailed from Burlington in Ontario, formed by Brett Wickens in 1980 after leaving post-punk band SPOONS. He teamed up with Roger Humphreys who added a more classical bent to their minimal synth in the vein of JOHN FOXX and FAD GADGET. Their first release was the detached cold wave paranoia of ‘Climatic Nouveaux’. Wickens later moved to England to join Peter Saville Associates, making a major contribution to the artwork for OMD’s ‘Architecture & Morality’.

Available on the album ‘The Absence Of A Canary’ via Suction Records

https://www.studiobrettwickens.com/


NASH THE SLASH Swing Shift – Flexi Version (1981)

NASH THE SLASH opened for GARY NUMAN and was signed to Dindisc Records. It was during this period that he had his highest mainstream media profile with features in ‘Smash Hits’; it was with the pop mag that his best known recording in the UK came via a blue flexi-disc with an early self-produced stripped down version of ‘Swing-Shift’ sitting next to his label mates OMD’s live rendition of ‘Pretending To See The Future’. He sadly passed away in 2014.

Available as a bonus track on the album ‘Children Of The Night’ via Artoffact Records ‎

http://nashtheslash.com/


MEN WITHOUT HATS The Safety Dance (1982)

Hailing from Montreal, ‘The Safety Dance’ was written by MEN WITHOUT HATS lead singer Ivan Doroschuk after he had been kicked out of a club for pogoing, thus it was effectively a protest song against conformity, a call for freedom of expression. it had been misinterpreted as a being about safe sex and as an anti-nuclear protest song. The bouncy almost medieval feel combined with Doroschuk’s vocals like a less doomy Andrew Eldritch to produce a huge international hit.

Available on the album ‘Rhythm Of Youth’ via Bulldog Brothers ‎

http://safetydance.com/


SPOONS Arias & Symphonies (1982)

Hailing from Toronto and lead by Gordon Deppe, after the acclaim for the 1981 debut album ‘Stick Figure Neighbourhood’, the songs on the second ‘Arias & Symphonies’ were more European influenced. With JAPAN producer John Punter behind the desk, the title song was an perfect amalgam of prog theatrics, new wave gallop and synth pomp. SPOONS were soon to be opening for bands such as SIMPLE MINDS and THE POLICE. Today, Deppe is also the guitarist for A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS.

Available on the album ‘Arias & Symphonies’ via Ready Records

https://www.spoonsmusic.com/


STRANGE ADVANCE Love Games (1982)

STRANGE ADVANCE were a Canadian new wave band formed in Vancouver, made up of Drew Arnott (keyboards, percussion, vocals), Darryl Kromm (lead vocals, guitars), and Paul Iverson (bass). Utilising synthesizers and advances in programming technology, their music was a fusion of progressive rock and MTV friendly pop that struck a chord, with the lyrical couplet “The time is right / We’ll love tonight” of ‘Love Games’ capturing the mood of times.

Available on the album ‘Worlds Away’ via VR

https://www.strangeadvance.com/


MARTHA Light Years From Love (1983)

The stunning Martha Ladly was more than just a pretty face; she was a musician, vocalist, artist and designer. Following her stints with MARTHA & THE MUFFINS, ASSOCIATES and doing paintings for Peter Saville’s NEW ORDER sleeve artwork, she teamed up with Brett Wickens from CERAMIC HELLO on this charming pop tune which echoed THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Open Your Heart’. Peter Hook provided his distinctive melodic six-string bass while the dynamic production came from Steve Nye.

Originally released as a single by Island Records, currently unavailable

http://samemistakesmusic.blogspot.com/2009/01/charmed-life-of-martha-ladly_22.html


RATIONAL YOUTH Holiday In Bangkok (1983)

The classic RATIONAL YOUTH line-up of Tracy Howe, Bill Vorn and Kevin Komoda gained acclaim for their 1982 debut album ‘Cold War Night Life’, which became one of the biggest-selling Canadian independent albums at the time and secured a deal with Capitol Records. However, Vorn left to continue his university studies, but contributed synth programming to ‘Holiday In Bangkok’, a sinister overwrought warning about the dangers of becoming international drug mule.

Available on the album ‘Heredity’ via Capitol Records

https://rational-youth.com/


TRANS-X Living On Video (1983)

French-born Canadian Pascal Languirand was the man behind TRANS-X, and had previously been known for his spacey progressive rock solo albums like ‘Minos’ and ‘De Harmonia Universalia’. Originally issued in French as ‘Vivre Sur Video’, this cosmic octave-shifting electronic dance tune, with additional vocals by Laurie Ann Gill, became a massive hit worldwide after being re-released in 1985 and went onto to influence Electroclash artists such as FISCHERSPOONER and MISS KITTIN.

Available on the album ‘Living On Video’ via Unidisc

http://transx-music.com/


PSYCHE The Saint Became A Lush (1986)

PSYCHE are the acclaimed dark synthpop duo from Edmonton, founded by the Huss brothers Darrin and Stephen. Of the foreboding overtones of ‘The Saint Became A Lush’, “Many think the main sequence sounds like ‘Tubular Bells’ and there may be some element of that as it was used in ‘The Exorcist’ movie which my brother loved” Darrin said, “It’s also inspired by JOY DIVISION, as I was really going for the sound of a world weary preacher and channelling the voice of Ian Curtis for that.”

Available on the album ‘Unveiling The Secret’ via Artoffact Records

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


SKINNY PUPPY Dig It (1986)

“Love cannot attach itself to binding ugliness” goes the theatrical horror of ‘Dig It’; formed in Vancouver by cEvin Key of IMAGES IN VOGUE and vocalist Nivek Ogre, SKINNY PUPPY are widely considered as the pioneers of industrial. ‘Dig It’ was a big favourite of NINE INCH NAILS mainman Trent Reznor and heavily influenced his own track ‘Down In It’ which appeared on ‘Pretty Hate Machine’, so much so that he later confessed he had actually sampled it!

Available on the album ‘Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse’ via Nettwerk America

http://skinnypuppy.com/


MITSOU Les Chinois (1988)

Mitsou Annie Marie Gélinas achieved the comparatively unusual feat of having a francophone pop hit across Canada with ‘Bye Bye Mon Cowboy’. But her best tune was the saucy Fairlighted ‘Les Chinois’ from the multicultural-themed album ‘El Mundo’. Written and produced by Jean Pierre Isaac who later worked with Céline Dion, she exclaimed “Non non non c’est pas comme ça, qu’on fait l’amour, regarde les Chinois”… was she trying to make babies?

Available on the album ‘El Mundo’ via Unidisc

http://mitsoumagazine.com/en/


KON KAN I Beg Your Pardon (1989)

The project of Barry Harris, the KON KAN name was a play on the policy of “Canadian Content” which enforced Canadian radio station to air at least 30% domestic music. Voiced by Kevin Wynne, ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ was not just content with borrowing off NEW ORDER but inspired by ‘Pump Up The Volume’, used samples of other songs like ‘Rose Garden’, ‘Disco Nights (Rock-Freak)’ and ‘Get Up & Boogie’, as well as National Lampoon’s ‘Disco Hotline’. This mash-up became a huge international one hit wonder.

Available on the album ‘Move To Move’ via A&M Records

https://www.facebook.com/konkanofficial


SOLVENT Wish (2005)

Toronto-based Jason Amm is all about “synthesizers, drum machines, fx, knobs, buttons, wires, wave, electro, acid”. But while he is now best known for his documentary film ‘I Dream Of Wires’, he has a vast catalogue of music released under the SOLVENT moniker. With gentle vocoder treatments and glorious whirring synths, ‘Wish’ set a pattern for acts like FOTONOVELA and QUIETER THAN SPIDERS to follow in the understated melodic machine pop stakes.

Available on the album ‘Demonstration Tape (1997-2007)’ via Ghostly International

http://www.solventcity.com/


DRAGONETTE I Get Around (2007)

Toronto’s DRAGONETTE comprised of singer Martina Sorbara, producer Dan Kurtz and drummer Joel Stouffer. The acclaim for their self-released self-titled EP led to a deal with Mercury Records and a relocation to the UK. Opening shows for BASEMENT JAXX and SUGABABES, the highlight of their debut album ‘Galore’ was ‘I Get Around’ which was previewed on Planet Clique and Lucky Pierre’s ‘Robopop – The Return’ compilation. It also was used in ‘The Vampire Diaries’.

Available on the album ‘Galore’ via Mercury Records

http://www.dragonetteonline.com/


FM ATTACK Sleepless Nights (2009)

With ‘Drive’ star Ryan Gosling being a notable FM ATTACK admirer, Shawn Ward has concocted a unique hybrid electronic sound combining Gino Soccio and Giorgio Moroder with Italo disco, French house, new wave and post-punk, all with a fine-honed musicality. From 2009’s ‘Dreamatic’ album which opened up the gates and led the way for what was to become Synthwave, ‘Sleepless Nights’ crossed arpeggios with octave lilts for an enjoyable vocoder-laced romp.

Available on the album ‘Dreamatic’ via Starfield Music

https://www.facebook.com/fmattackmusic/


CRYSTAL CASTLES Suffocation (2010)

Named after a line in ‘She-Ra: Princess of Power’ and capturing a gritty lo-fi electronic sound, Toronto’s CRYSTAL CASTLES were a world apart from other modern duos with chaotic live shows that had an almost demonic energy. With Ethan Kath’s deliberately distorted synthetic goth-punk and Alice Glass’ afflicted vocal presence, ‘Suffocation’ was haunted, yet captured an understated beauty. But in October 2014, Glass announced that she was leaving to pursue a solo career amid acrimony.

Available on the album ‘(II)’ via Fiction Records

https://www.crystalcastles.com/


AUSTRA Spellwork (2011)

Named after the goddess of light in Latvian mythology, Toronto’s  AUSTRA deliver a stark, baroque form of arty electronica fuelled by the sexual tension. Like a gothic opera which successfully blended light and darkness with fragility and power, Katie Stelmanis and friends borrowed from classic DEPECHE MODE and crossed it with THE KNIFE for ‘Spellwork’, their most accessibly brilliant synthpop offering from their debut album ‘Feel It Break’.

Available on the album ‘Feel It Break’ via Domino / Paper Bag Records

http://austra.fyi/


GRIMES Oblivion (2012)

While Claire Boucher might be now more widely known for being the girlfriend of Elon Musk, she began as the kooky Montreal sensation GRIMES, sounding like LYKKE LI fronting KRAFTWERK. Presented in a fun leftfield lady meets pop princess fusion, ‘Oblivion’ was a sumptuously infectious tune that despite the almost unintelligible vocals and weird noises, was probably the most immediate track on her ‘Visions’ album which also featured less immediate but equally enjoyable ‘Genesis’.

Available on the album ‘Visions’ via 4AD Records

https://grimesmusic.com/


PARALLELS Moonlight Desires (2012)

Behind PARALLELS is Holly Dodson and on their second long player was a lovely synthpop version of GOWAN’s 1987 rock tune ‘Moonlight Desires’. She said of her love for the song: “We hear the original version it all the time in Canada. It’s always fulfilled all the necessary criteria – incredible hooks, the moon, magic melodies, nostalgia. I just recently learned that GOWAN’s actually heard the cover… and approves!! Which is SUCH a relief haha…”

Available on the album ‘XII’ via Marigold Productions

http://www.iloveparallels.com/


TR/ST Gloryhole (2012)

TR/ST began as the project of Robert Alfons and AUSTRA’s Maya Postepski. Although Postepski left to return to AUSTRA, the debut ‘TRST’ made a slow burning impact as Alfons toured his “Eeyore gone goth” electro template around the world. From it, the filthy ‘Gloryhole’ was a wondrous combination of sinister portamento and hypnotic dance beats. Postepski returned to the fold for the recent double album opus ‘The Destroyer’, but Alfons still remains something of an awkward character.

Available on the album ‘TRST’ via Arts & Crafts

https://tr-st.xyz/


FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY Killing Grounds (2013)

Bill Leeb formed FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY in 1986 after his short stint with SKINNY PUPPY under the name Wilhelm Schroeder. With Rhys Fulber as the other long standing member, they were influenced by acts such as CABARET VOLTAIRE, PORTION CONTROL, DAF, TEST DEPT and SPK. Having integrated guitars, FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY returned to making exclusively electronic music on their fifteenth album ‘Echogenetic’, the highlight of which was ‘Killing Grounds’.

Available on the album ‘Echogenetic’ via Dependent Records

http://www.mindphaser.com/


ELECTRIC YOUTH Without You (2014)

Hailing from Toronto, ELECTRIC YOUTH‘s collaboration with COLLEGE entitled ‘A Real Hero’ was included on the ‘Drive’ soundtrack’ in 2011. Their debut album ‘Innerworld’ finally came out in Autumn 2014 and one of its highlights was another collaboration, this time with ROOM8 called ‘Without You’. Echoing Aussie combo ICEHOUSE  and ‘Great Southern Land’ in particular, its bridge and chorus were particularly tremendous with a nostalgic Brat Pack movie presence.

Available on the album ‘Innerworld’ via Last Gang Entertainment / Secretly Canadian

https://electricyouthmusic.com/


PURITY RING Begin Again (2015)

With CHVRCHES having had success borrowing PURITY RING’s electro template, the Edmonton duo’s sophomore album ‘Another Eternity’ was more focussed than its predecessor ‘Shrines’. Still utilising glitch techniques, booming bass drops and Corin Roddick’s rattling drum machine programming, ‘Begin Again’ made the most of Megan James’ sweet and dreamy voice. The pair off a major surprise by working with Katy Perry on three songs for her 2017 album ‘Witness’.

Available on the album ‘Another Eternity’ via 4AD Records

https://purityringthing.com/


DANA JEAN PHOENIX Only For One Night (2018)

Self-described as a “Retro Synthwave Singer”, Toronto’s DANA JEAN PHOENIX isn’t a stranger to synthylicious ditties. Having moved away slightly from pure Synthwave styles, as one of the best live solo synth performers currently, she enjoys rocking out onstage with her keytar Jareth. The sparkling template of one of her most rousing numbers ‘Only One For One Night’ brought along a youthful escapism that reminisced about first loves and first disappointments.

Available on the album ‘PixelDust’ via New EmPire Entertainment

https://www.danajphoenix.com/


MECHA MAIKO Apathy (2019)

Behind the quirky avant pop of MECHA MAIKO‬ is the talented Torontonian, Hayley Stewart. The delightfully odd ‘Apathy’ from her second album ‘Let’s!’ was an inventive oddball fusion of jazz swing Charleston, frantic techno dance beats and vibrant synthpop hooks. It showed she was not afraid to blend seemingly incongruous influences to get an end result and with a slight sprinkling of Japanese instrumentation to close, the eclectic creative cycle was complete!‬‬‬‬‬

Available on the album ‘Let’s!’ via ORO Records

https://www.mechamaiko.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Simon Helm
17th February 2020

FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY Interview

Photo by Bobby Talamine

Bill Leeb is unimpressed with the Super Bowl half-time show. The best the NFL could muster for the break in the biggest game in the American sports season was MAROON 5, who showed twice as many nipples as Janet Jackson and a tenth of the melody of Taylor Swift.

We’re speaking the day after the event, but not about Tom Brady’s passing game. Leeb’s main band, FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY, has a new album to share.

‘Wake Up The Coma’, the latest from Canada’s electro-industrial pioneers, is loaded with energy and makes a number of surprising plays. We start by asking why FLA weren’t asked to do the half-time show.

Leeb: Because I don’t have enough tattoos. I gotta say, if I put a tattoo across my chest, stating Vancouver, that would be kind of a big statement.

On stage, Leeb is an imposing figure, even without his hometown etched into his skin. The former SKINNY PUPPY keyboardist prowls the boards with a shock of blond hair rising above him. When he points at the audience, you half expect lightning to take out the front row. He’s always drawn attention for his looks. When he moved to Canada as a teenager, the Austrian stood out.

Photo by Bobby Talamine

Leeb: The craziest thing is my first girlfriend in Vancouver, Debbie Jones, who is no longer with us, approached me at a nightclub because these guys were harassing her table. She asked if she could sit with me.  I used to get this question all the time, because of my hair: “Hey, are you in a band?” I think I’ve been asked that more than anything my entire life.

The meeting with Jones led to another important connection.

Leeb: We started chit-chatting, and the next thing you know she knew cEvin [Key] from SKINNY PUPPY. They met because Debbie and her cousin Donna were driving through a park, and cEvin pulled up in a black Monte Carlo with swivel seats. He rolled down the window and said, “Hey, do you guys want to smoke a joint?” Debbie said, “OK, yeah, sure.” There was also Gary [Smith] from Images in Vogue. So it all started with that group of people. When I think back now, it’s a bit like a movie how we all met up together.

With cEvin Key, Leeb struck up both a friendship and a friendly rivalry to find the latest obscure sounds from around the world. Their bible was the Contact List of Electronic Music (CLEM), an annotated directory of record stores and labels involved in the DIY tape and record scenes.

Leeb: One of the first things that got me going was a magazine called CLEM. That was one of our key influences. In there was all the PORTION CONTROL, ATTRITION and LUSTMORD. They had all the contacts, and you could write to all these people, and I think that was the big key for us. Me and cEvin being competitive, of course, we started writing to all these artists.

Back then, you could send an IRC [International Reply Coupon], which was a coupon you could buy at the post office that could be exchanged overseas for stamps. 

We started collecting cassettes from all these artists, and I still have lots of them. Me and cEvin would meet up, and it would be, “I’ve got a cassette from Edward Ka-Spel or In Phaze Records or PORTION CONTROL.” So, we started a bit of a collection war, and that’s how we got onto a lot of those artists.

Crate digging was the other way that the two friends found the sounds that connected them to the industrial and electronic scenes on the other side of the world.

 Leeb: Odyssey Imports and Quintessence Records were the two main stores in Vancouver which continuously, every week, brought in 12” vinyls from the UK and Germany. The UK pressings were better than those from anywhere else, so every Monday we would go down and wait to see what was going on. I remember cEvin turned me on to FAD GADGET. One day, he was standing beside me in the record store and he pulled out that album, Fireside Favourites, and said, “Have you heard this?” I go, “No.” And he says, “Great album – check it out!” And, of course, I became a huge FAD GADGET fan.

Still, Leeb gives a lot of credit to CLEM and its publisher, Alex Douglas.

Leeb: He was way ahead of the curve, as far all those bands. We got half of our contacts and info from that guy. That magazine was invaluable.

It was through CLEM and the underground cassette scene that Leeb became aware of Third Mind, a British label, and its guiding force, Gary Levermore. Third Mind would go on to release Front Line Assembly in the UK and organise shows for the innovative band.

Leeb: The thing that got me on to Gary was when he released Rising from the Red Sand. That was in CLEM magazine, and it had PORTION CONTROL, ATTRITION, BUSHIDO, LUSTMORD – it just went on and on. That was probably the best of the cassette compilations – song for song, that was probably the best one. 

Another great thing that me and cEvin used to do was stay up all night with our group of people, getting wasted and high, and we would find phone numbers for these artists. Come Sunday morning, we would call them. One time, we called PORTION CONTROL at three in the morning here – because the UK is eight hours ahead. Some guy would answer the phone, like Ian [Sharp of PORTION CONTROL], and be, “Hello?” 

We’d be, “Hey, this is cEvin and Bill. We really love your music.” I think they were taken aback that we would call them. It was a different time. You can’t do shit like that now. You’d probably send an email or something. 

It was a much bigger deal back then to get something like that – to get a cassette. I guess these guys over there, if you needed a cassette, they would just run one off.

One of Vancouver’s natural advantages is its permanent place on the North American tour map for interesting artists. Pity music fans from Winnipeg, who were in overflight territory for bands like SIMPLE MINDS and DEPECHE MODE.

Leeb: The crazy thing about DEPECHE MODE is I saw them the very first time they came to Canada, because Images in Vogue – cEvin’s band – opened for them at the Commodore. You know, cEvin and Gary and Joe had the latest and greatest stuff. They had all of that onstage and played. Then DEPECHE MODE, the original line-up, came onstage, and all they had was one keyboard – a small one – and they had an 8-track on the chair behind them. No visuals – that was it. When I think that I saw them last year at the Rogers Arena in front of 80,000 people…

At the first show, there were maybe only 400 people there, and they were up there with only one keyboard. We laughed then, because Images had all the gear and those guys didn’t, but who knew that they were going to be as massive as they were? Who puts a tape player on a chair behind them? But people were different back then.

That isn’t to say that everyone was open to the harder, darker electronics that Leeb and his friends were getting into.

Leeb: I was with cEvin the night he went to Images in Vogue’s manager and said, “I’m leaving the band and starting a new band called SKINNY PUPPY.” Kim Clarke Champniss was the manager of Images, and he was basically telling cEvin, “You’re crazy! Images is on a major; they’ve opened for Roxy and Duran – and you’re going to start a band called SKINNY PUPPY?! Are you crazy?” I was there just for support. And I think SKINNY PUPPY turned out to be ok, right?

The first support for their new approach came from the country that was producing many of the artists Leeb and Key had been discovering – England.

Leeb: For the very first review we got with SKINNY PUPPY – for Remission – me and cEvin went down to Odyssey Imports. There was a guy in Sounds [one of the weekly music tabloids from the UK] called Dave Henderson who ran a weekly thing called Wild Planet – he was another forerunner, encouraging those bands. He wrote a review, and we were walking down the street with it. It said, ”From the land of Anne Murray and Gordon Lightfoot, there is a new electronic band by the name of SKINNY PUPPY. Who do these guys think they are?”

 cEvin was so excited about this guy acknowledging us and saying he liked the album Remission. We’re reading this as we’re storming down the street, and he’s like, ”Bill, look – someone in the UK knows who SKINNY PUPPY is!” Henderson called us all the Wild Planet bands. It was another key factor in this movement, way in the very early days.

Once he was touring with FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY, Leeb got to know some of those bands better.

Leeb: We toured with PORTION CONTROL and did remixes with them. We became friends with Edward Ka-Spel and he and cEvin did THE TEAR GARDEN. Debbie Jones actually went out with Edward for a while – the girl who had brought us all together. Me and Gary Levermore have been really good friends. All those early tours we did through his label in Europe – we became a huge family. It was quite a movement for quite a while – thirty years.

The influence of those cassette-trading pioneers is still being felt.

Leeb: It spawned the things like, in Europe, the M’era Luna festival and Wave-Gotik-Treffen festival –  Amphi. Every band there – whether AND ONE or COVENANT, any of these bands – got their cue from that movement. Not just us, but the whole movement.

Half the bands that are industrial still sound like SKINNY PUPPY or were motivated by that sound. We were motivated by PORTION CONTROL with that distorted, angry vocal – I’d never heard anyone do that before! People were so brainwashed with rock and roll back then. If you think about the whole Gothic world, our world had a lot to do with bringing that forward.

Of course, you had your German bands like DAF – another groundbreaker. FRONT 242 were there, too. They came along during the early SKINNY PUPPY days. That all created a healthy, thriving world in itself. It maybe wasn’t as big as hip hop, but still… NINE INCH NAILS opened for SKINNY PUPPY when it was just Trent for a while and he’s kind of done ok, right? The whole Marilyn Manson thing. It’s spawned a couple of decades of music and it’s still going strong in its own way. It’s still an alternative to all that other stuff, like MAROON 5. It’s so narcissistic, all that world of new popstars now: half the day at the gym; half the day at the tattoo parlour. It’s a whole different mindset.

‘Wake Up The Coma’ features several collaborations. A notable one ‘Eye On You’ with Robert Görl of DAF, opens the album.

Leeb: We met at M’era Luna and another festival. We all hung out backstage, and I kind of hunted him down. One time, they played right after us and we were hanging out backstage, waiting to change, and I just started talking to him. I was such a huge fan, and the first couple of DAF albums were groundbreaking – kind of like the whole Mute and DEPECHE MODE world. We just started chatting in German, and he’s a super nice guy, and next thing you know we were doing the track.

We were going to get him to sing on the song, but he had some things he had to deal with at the time and we couldn’t get it all together – but that was a good start. 

If I think back to twenty five years ago, that I would actually get to do a track with someone like him – I would have thought was far-fetched. That was kind of cool for me. A final thing, as we fade into the future mist.

”David Bowie” even makes a surprise appearance on the last track ‘Structures’.

Leeb: I asked Chris [Connelly], because he does that SONS OF THE SILENT AGE. It’s very popular. They do a couple of Bowie albums every year. I asked him to use that approach to a song. When we did that tour with REVOLTING COCKS in America, it was such a success. Every show sold out. We became really good friends with Richard 23 and Chris and Paul Barker. It was a very fun tour, and everyone was very professional and friendly, so I took the liberty to ask Chris when we became friends and he agreed [snaps fingers] just like that.

The song that will make or break the album might actually be a cover. FLA’s version of Falco’s ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ will surprise a lot of fans with its audacity. It’s not an obvious choice; but, infused with intensity by Rhys Fulber’s programming, and shorn of the wigs and powder of the original, it could be a cross-over hit. They have had those before in their DELERIUM guise.

Leeb: I thought that, having been born and raised in Austria, and being Austrian, there was enough of a connection to do that song. I felt like something foreign and I like classical music, so I hope that the Mayor of Vienna gives me the key to the city and that song gets on Viva rotation. I’m curious to see how much hate and love we get over it. Rhys is loving it. He’s like, “Everyone is going to hate it!” Well, ok, that’s cool. When you hear the original and ours, they are quite different. Jimmy [Urine] is the king of irony. The way he does the song has a hint of humour in it. In the studio, he had it in two or three takes – in German!

Even with covers and collaborations, ‘Wake Up The Coma’ hangs together incredibly well. It’s a mature, sophisticated FLA release. The unifying theme, if there is one, is contact.

Leeb: Jeremy [Inkel] sent me some demos, and the day after he passed away we were supposed to speak. After ‘Echogenetic’, Rhys was back in the picture. It was so crazy, and we put this record together with bits and pieces of these guys. I made new friends with Robert and Chris. Three of the songs came from Ian Pickering. ‘Wake Up The Coma’ was from one of his songs. He was the guy who wrote a bunch of lyrics for SNEAKER PIMPS. We became friends with him through somebody else.

‘Wake Up The Coma’ is with the guy from PARADISE LOST [Nick Holmes]; he does the vocals. Rhys produced a couple of PARADISE LOST albums and they became good friends. It was a weird, big, crazy thing. Rhys summed it up, with all the craziness and Jeremy’s passing: “I guess we’re a real band now.”


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to Bill Leeb

Special thanks to Gary Levermore at Red Sand PR

‘Wake Up The Coma’ is released by Metropolis Records, in double vinyl LP, CD and digital formats, available from https://frontlineassembly.bandcamp.com/

http://www.mindphaser.com/

https://www.facebook.com/frontlineassembly/

https://twitter.com/f7a

https://www.instagram.com/front.line.assembly.official/

https://www.metropolis-records.com/artist/front-line-assembly


Text and Interview by Simon Helm
Photos by Simon Helm except where credited
16th February 2019