Tag: Soulwax (Page 1 of 2)

TEC’s 2017 End Of Year Review

Oscillate Mildly

The world found itself in a rather antagonistic and divisive state this year, as if none of the lessons from the 20th Century’s noted conflicts and stand-offs had been learnt.

Subtle political messages came with several releases; honorary Berliner MARK REEDER used the former divided city as symbolism to warn of the dangers of isolationism on his collaborative album ‘Mauerstadt’. Meanwhile noted Francophile Chris Payne issued the ELECTRONIC CIRCUS EP ‘Direct Lines’ with its poignant warning of nuclear apocalypse in its title song. The message was to unite and through music as one of the best platforms.

After a slow start to 2017, there was a bumper crop of new music from a number of established artists. NINE INCH NAILS and GARY NUMAN refound their mojo with their respective ‘Add Violence’ and ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ releases, with the latter recording his best body of work since his imperial heyday.

But the first quarter of the year was hamstrung by the anticipation for the 14th DEPECHE MODE long player ‘Spirit’, with other labels and artists aware that much of their potential audience’s hard earned disposable income was being directed towards the Basildon combo’s impending album and world tour.

Yet again, reaction levels seemed strangely muted as ‘Spirit’ was another creative disappointment, despite its angry politicised demeanour.

Rumours abounded that the band cut the album’s scheduled recording sessions by 4 weeks. This inherent “that’ll do” attitude continued on the ‘Global Spirit’ jaunt when the band insulted their loyal audience by doing nothing more than plonking an arena show into a stadium for the summer outdoor leg.

Despite protestations from some Devotees of their dissatisfaction with this open-air presentation, they were content to be short-changed again as they excitedly flocked to the second set of European arena dates with the generally expressed excuse that “it will be so much better indoors”.

By this Autumn sojourn, only three songs from ‘Spirit’ were left in the set, thus indicating that the dire record had no longevity and was something of a lemon.

Suspicions were finally confirmed at the ‘Mute: A Visual Document’ Q&A featuring Daniel Miller and Anton Corbijn, when the esteemed photographer and visual director confessed he did not like the album which he did the artwork for… see, it’s not just The Electricity Club 😉

Devotees are quick to say all criticism of DEPECHE MODE is unfair, but the band can’t help but make themselves easy targets time and time again. But why should the band care? The cash is coming, the cash is coming…

Luckily, veteran acts such as OMD and ALISON MOYET saved the day.

The Wirral lads demonstrated what the word spirit actually meant on their opus ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’, while the former class mate of Messrs Gore and Fletcher demonstrated what a soulful, blues-influenced electronic record should sound like with ‘Other’.

As Tony Hadley departed SPANDAU BALLET and Midge Ure got all ‘Orchestrated’ in the wake of ULTRAVOX’s demise, the ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ album directed by Rusty Egan, to which they contributed, became a physical reality in 2017.

Now if DM plonked an arena show into the world’s stadiums, KRAFTWERK put a huge show into a theatre. The publicity stunt of 2012, when Tate Modern’s online ticket system broke down due to demand for their eight album live residency, did its job when the Kling Klang Quartett sold out an extensive UK tour for their 3D concert spectacular.

No less impressive, SOULWAX wowed audiences with their spectacular percussion heavy ‘From Deewee’ show and gave a big lesson to DEPECHE MODE as to how to actually use live drums correctly within an electronic context.

Mute Artists were busy with releases from ERASURE, LAIBACH and ADULT. but it was GOLDFRAPP’s ‘Silver Eye’ that stole the show from that stable. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM returned after seven years with their ‘American Dream’ and it was worth the wait, with the most consistent and electronic record that James Murphy’s ensemble has delivered in their career.

To say Neil Arthur was prolific in 2017 would be an understatement as he released albums with BLANCMANGE and FADER while Benge, a co-conspirator on both records, worked with I SPEAK MACHINE to produce ‘Zombies 1985’ which was one of the best electronic albums of the year; and that was without the JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS stage play soundtrack ‘The Machines’.

Despite JAPAN having disbanded in 1982, solo instrumental releases from Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri were particularly well-received, while David Sylvian made a return of sorts, guesting on ‘Life Life’ for ‘async’, the first album from Ryuichi Sakamoto since recovering from his illness. On the more esoteric front, BRIAN ENO presented the thoughtful ambience of ‘Reflection’, while THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP had ‘Burials In Several Earths’.

2017 was a year that saw acts who were part of the sine wave of Synth Britannia but unable to sustain or attain mainstream success like BLUE ZOO, B-MOVIE, FIAT LUX and WHITE DOOR welcomed back as heroes, with their talent belatedly recognised.

Germany had something of a renaissance as veterans Zeus B Held and ex-TANGERINE DREAM member Steve Schroyder came together in DREAM CONTROL as another TD offshoot QUAESCHNING & SCHNAUSS offered up some impressive ‘Synthwaves’, while there actually was a new TANGERINE DREAM album, their first without late founder member Edgar Froese.

Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf offered up some KRAUTWERK as other veterans like RHEINGOLD, DER PLAN, BOYTRONIC and DJ HELL also returned. Comparatively younger, 2RAUMWOHNUNG and KATJA VON KASSEL both offered up enticing bilingual takes on classic electronic pop.

The Swedish synth community again delivered with DAILY PLANET, PAGE, REIN, VANBOT, ANNA ÖBERG, 047 and LIZETTE LIZETTE all delivering fine bodies of work, although KITE were missed, with their German tour cancelled and release of their ‘VII’ EP postponed due to vocalist Nicklas Stenemo’s illness; The Electricity Club wishes him all the best in his recovery.

Across the Baltic Sea, Finnish producer JORI HULKKONEN released his 20th album ‘Don’t Believe In Happiness’ while nearby in Russia, a duo named VEiiLA showcased an unusual hybrid of techno, opera and synthpop and ROSEMARY LOVES A BLACKBERRY offered a ‘❤’.

One of the year’s discussion points was whether Synthwave was just synthpop dressed with sunglasses and neon signs but whatever, Stateside based Scots but MICHAEL OAKLEY and FM-84 made a good impression with their retro-flavoured electronic tunes.

It wasn’t all about the ex-pats and in a territory as big as North America, there came a number of up-and-coming home grown electronic artists with LOST IN STARS, PARALLELS, PATTERN LANGUAGE, SPACEPRODIGI, COMPUTER MAGIC, MATTHIAS, NTTX and BATTLE TAPES all gaining traction. Meanwhile, Canada’s PURITY RING infuriated some of their fanbase by working with KATY PERRY on three tracks for her album ‘Witness’. AESTHETIC PERFECTION’s new singles only policy was paying dividends and the Electro Mix of ‘Rhythm + Control’, which featured the promising newcomer NYXX, was one of the best tracks of 2017. South American wasn’t left out either and representation came via Argentina’s COSAQUITOS EN GLOBO.

Female solo artists had strong presence in 2017 as FEVER RAY made an unexpected return, ZOLA JESUS produced her best work to date in ‘Okovi’ and HANNAH PEEL embarked on an ambitious synth / brass ‘Journey to Cassiopeia’. Meanwhile, SARAH P. asked ‘Who Am I’ and MARNIE found ‘Strange Words & Weird Wars’ as ANI GLASS and NINA both continued on their promising developmental path.

Other female fronted acts like KITE BASE, SPECTRA PARIS, BLACK NAIL CABARET, AVEC SANS, EMT and THE GOLDEN FILTER again reinforced that electronic music was not solely about boys with their toys.

Respectively, Ireland and Scotland did their bit, with TINY MAGNETIC PETS and their aural mix of SAINT ETIENNE and KRAFTWERK successfully touring with OMD in support of their excellent second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’, while formed out of the ashes of ANALOG ANGEL, RAINLAND wowed audiences opening for ASSEMBLAGE 23.

A bit of smooth among the rough, CULT WITH NO NAME released a new album while other new(ish) acts making a positive impression this year included KNIGHT$, MOLINA, ANNEKA, SOFTWAVE, THE FRIXION and KALEIDA.

Despite getting a positive response, both iEUROPEAN and SOL FLARE parted ways while on the opposite side of the coin, Belgian passengers METROLAND celebrated five years in the business with the lavish ‘12×12’ boxed set

Overall in 2017, it was artists of a more mature disposition who held their heads high and delivered, as some newer acts went out of their way to test the patience of audiences by drowning them in sleep while coming over like TRAVIS on VSTs.

With dominance of media by the three major labels, recognition was tricky with new quality traditional synthpop not generally be championed by the mainstream press. With Spotify now 20% owned by those three majors, casual listeners to the Swedish streaming platform  were literally told what to like, as with commercial radio playlists.

It is without doubt that streaming and downloading has created a far less knowledgeable music audience than in previous eras, so Rusty Egan’s recent online petition to request platforms to display songwriting and production credits was timely; credit where credit is due as they say…

While The Electricity Club does not dismiss Spotify totally and sees it as another tool, it should not be considered the be all and end all, in the same way vinyl is not the saviour of the music industry and in physics terms, cannot handle the same dynamic range as CD.

Music is not as emotionally valued as it was before… that’s not being old and nostalgic, that is reality. It can still be enjoyed with or without a physical purchase, but for artists to be motivated to produce work that can connect and be treasured, that is another matter entirely.

However, many acts proved that with Bandcamp, the record company middle man can be eliminated. It is therefore up to the listener to be more astute, to make more effort and to make informed choices. And maybe that listener has to seek out reliable independent media for guidance.

However, as with the shake-up within the music industry over the last ten years, that can only be a good thing for the true synthpop enthusiast. And as it comes close to completing its 8th year on the web, The Electricity Club maintains its position of not actually promoting new acts or supporting any scene, but merely to write about the music it likes and occasionally stuff it doesn’t… people can make their own mind up about whether to invest money or time in albums or gigs.

Yes, things ARE harder for the listener and the musician, but the effort is worthwhile 😉


PAUL BODDY

Best Album: QUASCHENING & SCHNAUSS Synthwaves
Best Song: BATTLE TAPES No Good
Best Gig: SOULWAX at O2 Ritz Manchester
Best Video: SOULWAX Is it Always Binary?
Most Promising New Act: MARIE DAVIDSON


IAN FERGUSON

Best Album: OMD The Punishment of Luxury
Best Song: SPARKS Edith Piaf (Said it Better Than Me)
Best Gig: SPEAK & SPELL at Glastonbury
Best Video: ALISON MOYET Reassuring Pinches
Most Promising New Act: MICHAEL OAKLEY


SIMON HELM

Best Album: PAGE Det Är Ingen Vacker Värld Men Det Råkar Vara Så Det Ser Ut
Best Song: LAU NAU Poseidon
Best Gig: PAGE at Electronic Summer 2017
Best Video: PSYCHE Youth Of Tomorrow
Most Promising New Act: ANNA ÖBERG


KERSTIN KEY

Best Album: OMD The Punishment of Luxury
Best Song: GOLDFRAPP Systemagic
Best Gig: OMD at Düsseldorf Mitsubishi Halle
Best Video: GARY NUMAN My Name Is Ruin
Most Promising New Act: KATJA VON KASSEL


CHI MING LAI

Best Album: I SPEAK MACHINE Zombies 1985
Best Song: AESTHETIC PERFECTION Rhythm + Control – Electro Version
Best Gig: OMD + TINY MAGNETIC PETS at Cambridge Corn Exchange
Best Video: I SPEAK MACHINE Shame
Most Promising New Act: MICHAEL OAKLEY


RCHARD PRICE

Best Album: FADER First Light
Best Song: OMD Isotype
Best Gig: MARC ALMOND at London Roundhouse
Best Video: GOLDFRAPP Anymore
Most Promising New Act: NINA


STEPHEN ROPER

Best Album:  OMD The Punishment of Luxury
Best Song: DUA LIPA Be The One
Best Gig: HANNAH PEEL at Norwich Arts Centre
Best Video: PIXX I Bow Down
Most Promising New Act: PIXX


MONIKA IZABELA TRIGWELL

Best Album: ZOLA JESUS Okovi
Best Song: GARY NUMAN My Name Is Ruin
Best Gig: ERASURE at London Roundhouse
Best Video: GARY NUMAN My Name Is Ruin
Most Promising New Act: ANNA ÖBERG


Text by Chi Ming Lai
14th December 2017

The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF 2017

It was a year when the veterans re-established their standing within electronic pop.

That was not to that comparatively newer acts weren’t making a good impression, it was just that a fair number of established acts gave their all and were producing some of their best work since their imperial heyday.

Great tracks by SPARKS, OUTERNATIONALE, SPACEPRODIGI, iEUROPEAN, PARALLELS, KITE, FEVER RAY, SOL FLARE, SOFTWAVE, KNIGHT$, 2RAUMWHONUNG, JORI HULKKONEN, FIFI RONG and KITE BASE made it onto the shortlist, but despite their quality, they did not make the final listing.

Also not included are songs from ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’, the debut album from RUSTY EGAN; although gaining a physical release this year, it was reviewed by The Electricity Club in the Autumn of last year when download versions of the long player were distributed to those who had purchased it in advance via Pledge Music. Meanwhile, its closing track ‘Thank You’ was included in The Electricity Club’s 30 Songs Of 2016.

So restricted to purchasable releases only and one song per artist moniker, here are The Electricity Club’s 30 Songs Of 2017 in alphabetical order…


AESTHETIC PERFECTION Rhythm + Control – Electro Mix

Additionally featuring NYXX and WILLIAM CONTROL on vocals, ‘Rhythm + Control’ saw Daniel Graves take AESTHETIC PERFECTION’s industrial pop to the next level via his new singles only policy. The magnificent Electro Mix successfully realised this oddball blend of Darren Hayes, Britney Spears and Marilyn Manson. With a mightily elastic bassline, when asked whether The Electricity Club had gone crazy coming up with the comparison, Daniel Graves replied “God no. Spot on, guys!”

Available on the single ‘Rhythm + Control’ via aestheticperfection.bandcamp.com/track/rhythm-control-electro-version-feat-william-control-nyxx

http://aesthetic-perfection.net/


RICHARD BARBIERI Solar Sea

From only the third solo album in the long career of Richard Barbieri, ‘Solar Sea’ was a sleazy rhythmic excursion into another world. With the one-time JAPAN sound designer using a Roland System 700 for its bassline, the track’s atonal jazz feel was augmented by the haunting voice manipulations of Lisen Rylander Löve through a vintage Soviet submarine microphone and warping noises offset by soothing brass inflections and live drums.

Available on the album ‘Planets + Persona’ via by Kscope

https://www.facebook.com/RichardBarbieriOfficial/


BATTLE TAPES Control

The American electronic rock quartet BATTLE TAPES continued to develop from their 2015 debut album ‘Polygon’ via their ‘Form’ EP. The best track ‘Control’ hinged around a syncopated filtered synth bass and a brilliantly catchy chorus sung by Josh Boardman, with enough guitars for power and texture without distracting from the overall electronic aesthetic, and even coming over like a heavier Stateside version of SIN COS TAN.

Available on the EP ‘Form’ via battletapes.bigcartel.com

http://battletapesband.com/


CLIENT LIAISON Feat TINA ARENA A Foreign Affair

“International in flavour, cosmopolitan in style” and sounding like a long lunch followed by a round of cocktails, Australian duo CLIENT LIAISON roped in one-time TV talent show star Tina Arena to duet on a lush slice of romantic pop that also rode on the current fashion for Synthwave. ‘A Foreign Affair’ could have easily been a Rat Pack movie song.

Available on the album ‘Diplomatic Immunity’ via Remote Control Records

http://www.clientliaison.com


CULT WITH NO NAME All I Have Is Yours (Including You)

CULT WITH NO NAME have never been short of mood, but their eighth album ‘Heir Of The Dog’ proved to be their best yet, combining a variety of tempos and textures. With a memorable crooning vocal from Erik Stein complimented by an enticing harmony from Sirena Riley and lush electronic backing sounding like OMD by the Aegean Sea, ‘All I Have Is Yours (Including You)’ was a song that rose forever and ever like one of Aphrodite’s grandchildren.

Available on the album ‘Heir Of The Dog’ via cultwithnoname.bandcamp.com

http://cultwithnoname.net/


DAILY PLANET featuring MAC AUSTIN Heaven Opened

Johan Baeckström made positive waves with his debut solo album ‘Like Before’ in 2015 but reunited with his musical partner Jarmo Ollila, producing an excellent third album with more tempo variation than their 2014 offering ‘Two’. Featuring the guest vocals of Mac Austin from cult synth trio WHITE DOOR who were one of the inspirations for DAILY PLANET, ‘Heaven Opened’ was an uncomplicated but wonderfully poignant slice of classic synthpop.

Available on the album ‘Play Rewind Repeat’ via Progress Productions

https://www.facebook.com/dailyplanetband/


ELECTRONIC CIRCUS The Trapeze

ELECTRONIC CIRCUS is the musical vehicle of Chris Payne, the one-time Numan band member who also co-wrote ‘Fade To Grey’. With a symphonic theme bursting with melody and musicality like ULTRAVOX galloping across the plains of Normandy, the brilliant neo-instrumental ’The Trapeze’ was given a wondrous tone of humanistic unity when Payne’s wife and daughter joined in on the final straight in Latin.

Available on the EP ‘Direct Lines 2017’ via https://www.electroniccircus.co.uk/store/

http://www.electroniccircus.co.uk/


FADER 3D Carpets

FADER are the synth superduo featuring BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur and Benge; ‘3D Carpets’ captured an independent post-punk intensity, like JOY DIVISION or THE CURE but realised with analogue electronics rather than guitars. While the pair worked on their parts separately, their creative dynamic produced a great debut album in ‘First Light’.

Available on the ‘First Light’ via Blanc Check Records

https://www.facebook.com/WeAreFader


ANI GLASS Geiriau

From the Welsh synth songstress’ first EP, the fabulous ‘Geiriau’ was a driving sequential drama that had more than a passing resemblance to the first part of SPARKS’ ‘No1 Song In Heaven’. Revolving around ANI GLASS’ experience of flying the nest and returning years later to reconnect with her Welsh and Cornish heritage, it was a spacey and futuristic soundtrack for a wonderfully uplifting homecoming.

Available on the EP ‘Ffrwydrad Tawel’ via aniglass.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/aniglasscymru/


THE GOLDEN FILTER Rivers

‘Volupsa’, the promising Nordic flavoured debut album from THE GOLDEN FILTER came out in 2010, but the Aussie American duo of vocalist Penelope Trappes and synth programmer Stephen Hindman took their time with the follow-up ‘Still//Alone’, having relocated to London after spending several years based in New York. The hypnotic pulse of ‘Rivers’ with its precise drum machine pointed to a female fronted OMD, complete with a catchy riff and synthy jabbing bassline.

Available on the album ‘Still // Alone’ via Optimo

http://www.thegoldenfilter.com/


GOLDFRAPP Systemagic

The immensely catchy ‘Systemagic’ was a prize electronic gem from the seventh GOLDFRAPP album ‘Silver Eye’, reminiscent of the lusty and beat laden electronic material from ‘Black Cherry’. But its riff asked the question as to whether you will always find Alison Goldfrapp in the kitchen at parties? In the event of Jona Lewie filing a lawsuit, the lucrative income from the song’s use in a BMW advert may ease any potential net payout.

Available on the album ‘Silver Eye’ via Mute Artists

http://goldfrapp.com/


IONNALEE Not Human

After three acclaimed albums as IAMAMIWHOAMI with producer Claes Björklund, Jonna Lee went solo in 2017 although it was actually difficult to hear the join on the glorious ‘Not Human’, so seamless was the transition; there were still the icy electronic soundscapes, spacey dance beats and uplifting Scandipop vocals while the delightfully odd visuals were all present and correct.

Available on the download single ‘Not Human’ via To Whom It May Concern

http://www.ionnalee.com


I SPEAK MACHINE Shame

I SPEAK MACHINE is the audio / visual collaboration between musician Tara Busch and filmmaker Maf Lewis. Soundtracking their film ‘Zombies 1985’, the story was one of greed and self-obsession in Thatcher’s Britain as a businessman drives home, oblivious to the zombie apocalypse going on around him. Co-written and co-produced with Benge, the brilliant ‘Shame’ with its cascading synths and noise percussion was a wonderful hybrid of THROBBING GRISTLE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and GOLDFRAPP.

Available on the album ‘Zombies 1985’ via Lex Records

http://www.ispeakmachine.com/


KATJA VON KASSEL In Little Rooms (Show Me Love)

After a number of years gigging around London, KATJA VON KASSEL finally unleashed released her electro Weimer Cabaret to the world. The pulsating ‘In Little Rooms (Show Me Love)’ captured an aesthetic which closely resembled that of RONNY, a former protégé of Rusty Egan. Attached to Alex Gray’s intricate filmic electronics, Fraulein von Kassel’s deep vocal detachment was art cool sexy.

Available on the EP ‘Katja von Kassel’ via katjavonkassel.bandcamp.com

https://www.facebook.com/katja.vonkassel


LCD SOUNDSYSTEM American Dream

James Murphy returned as LCD SOUNDSYSTEM after seven years with this widescreen musical statement reflecting on the political situation in the US. Glancing across the Atlantic and back to the Winter Of Discontent, this 3/4 synth laden tune that had more than a passing resemblance to THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Circus Of Death’. So did “The Clown” referred to in that song remind Murphy of someone in particular?

Available on the album ‘American Dream’ via DFA Records

https://lcdsoundsystem.com/


LIZETTE LIZETTE Rest

Having started out in a more rave inclined environment, Lizette Nordahl ventured into more synthy climes and her debut mini-album had the air of KITE is all over it, which was not entirely surprising as its co-producers were Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg from the acclaimed duo. ‘Rest’ with its swirling synth sounds and widescreen Nordic atmosphere had an optimistic air of acceptance despite the melancholic tone and majestic growls.

Available on the EP ‘Queerbody’ via lizettelizette.bandcamp.com/releases

http://lizettelizette.com/


LOST IN STARS Sky

Led by British born musician Dylan Willoughby, LOST IN STARS is a floating ensemble which also includes Elena Charbila aka KID MOXIE and producer/songwriter Darren Burgos. The latter takes the lead vocal on the spirited electronic pop of ‘Sky’; now if NEW ORDER were from Los Angeles instead of Manchester, they would have sounded like this.

Available on the album ‘Lost In Stars’ via lostinstars.bandcamp.com/

https://www.lostinstars.space/


MARNIE Bloom

After releasing her first solo album ‘Crystal World’ in 2013, Helen Marnie added more prominent choruses and guitar onto her second, resulting in a catchy Scandipop style. ‘Bloom’ was an optimistic burst of synth laden pleasure and while not totally dissimilar to LADYTRON, it was without their usual hardness or gothic gloom.

Available on the album ‘Strange Words & Weird Wars’ via Disco Piñata

http://www.helenmarnie.com/


ALISON MOYET Alive

Having worked successfully in 2013 with Guy Sigsworth on ‘the minutes’, an acclaimed album which saw ALISON MOYET return to the synthesized music forms to compliment her powerful and self-assured voice, the follow-up ‘Other’ was a natural progression. The startling orchestrated electro-dub drama of ‘Alive’ gave Moyet’s two former classmates in DEPECHE MODE a stark lesson in how to actually fully realise electronic blues. Indeed, it was ‘In Chains’, the lame opener from ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ gone right…

Available on the album ‘Other’ via Cooking Vinyl

http://alisonmoyet.com/


GARY NUMAN When The World Comes Apart

With the narrative of ‘Savage’ provoked by Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States of America from the Paris Climate Accord, the mighty apocalyptic rock of ‘When The World Comes Apart’ was something of a revelation for GARY NUMAN. Using synths as the dominant instrument and having guitars less obviously prominent in the mix, with its richly anthemic chorus, this was the magnificent crossover song that both old and new Numanoids had been waiting for.

Available on the album ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ via BMG

https://garynuman.com/


MICHAEL OAKLEY Rabbit In The Headlights

MICHAEL OAKLEY is a talented Glaswegian who describes his music as “Melancholic postcards from my heart wrapped up in synthesisers and drum machines”. The melodic ‘Rabbit In The Headlights’ came complete with Italo “woah-oh” chants and whether it was Synthwave, synthpop, electropop, Italo or whatever, it showcased Oakley’s fine songwriting abilities, regardless of genre.

Available on the EP ‘California’ via michaeloakleysynthwave.bandcamp.com

https://www.facebook.com/MichaelOakleySynthwave/


OMD One More Time

The excellent ‘One More Time’ was a classic bittersweet OMD stomper, where “everything you gave me didn’t last”. Using electronic percussion as opposed to drum machines, the enticing verse and uplifting bridge were set to a plethora of gorgeous textures and distorted synth to add a touch of enigmatic weirdness. While Andy McCluskey cried “you can break my heart just one more time”, the track’s star was Paul Humphreys with his crystalline synth sounds laced with some portamento bounce.

Available on the album ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’ via 100% Records

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


HANNAH PEEL Goodbye Earth

As well as keyboards and violin, HANNAH PEEL can also play the trombone. Featuring an array of analogue synthesizers and a 29-piece colliery brass band, ‘Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia’ was her instrumental story about a fictional elderly musical stargazer. Beginning with the lift-off of ‘Goodbye Earth’, Miss Peel’s electronic arpeggios and synthetic noise built up to a crescendo of brass and timpani for a quite unusual combination of two very different musical worlds.

Available on the album ‘Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia’ via My Own Pleasure

http://www.hannahpeel.com


RAINLAND Rainland

From the ashes of ANALOG ANGEL came forth RAINLAND. Their self-titled calling card was a vibrant synthpop statement, embroiled in a musicality that provided a journey through the Grampian Mountains. Ian Ferguson had already proved himself a worthy vocalist in his previous combo with dulcet tones not dissimilar to a certain Midge Ure and this was allowed to reign free on ‘Rainland’. Meanwhile, the ivories of Derek MacDonald stylistically aped the symphonic overtones of ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie.

Available on the EP ‘Touch’ via rainland.bandcamp.com/

https://www.rainland.co.uk/


RHEINGOLD Paradieshafen

Between 1980 to 1984, RHEINGOLD were at the forefront of Die Neue Deutsche Welle, releasing three albums and achieving their first domestic hit ‘3klangsdimensionen’ in 1981. Led by Bodo Staiger, ‘Im Lauf Der Zeit’ was their first album of new material for many years. The melodic synth of ‘Paradieshafen’ drove along a beautiful instrumental that came over like a dream collaboration between OMD and Michael Rother.

Available on the album ‘Im Lauf Der Zeit’ via Lucky Bob Records / Soulfood

https://www.facebook.com/Rheingold-156171354461006/


SARAH P. Who Am I

With hypnotising hints of Kate Bush and percolating Ryuichi Sakamoto style textures, ‘Who Am I’ by electropop goddess SARAH P. was an ode to “humanity, the world we live in and our importance (or unimportance) as individuals and/or as a whole”. And as the Greek-born songstress announced that “I don’t know where I come from… do you know my name?”, a metronomic beat kicked in to lead a dramatic house-laden climax.

Available on the album ‘Who Am I’ via EraseRestart Records

http://sarahpofficial.com/


SHELTER Karma

The normally flamboyant Welsh duo SHELTER surprised all with their darkest and most accomplished song yet in ‘Karma’. “What you want is what you’ll get…” sang Mark Bebb, “…you will get a lot more that you planned”. A vibrant but edgy production from Rob Bradley complimented the sentiment as the message was relayed loud and clear…

Available on the single ‘Karma’ via Ministry Of Pop

http://www.shelterofficial.com/


SOULWAX Conditions Of Shared Belief

From ‘From Deewee’, the first new SOULWAX album since 2004’s ‘Any Minute Now’, ‘Conditions Of A Shared Belief’ was a modular synth lover’s wet dream from the Dewaele brothers. With a retro-futuristic collage of detuned blippy sounds and a backbone of smashing white noise percussion recalling THE HUMAN LEAGUE in their Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh phase, it was complimented by some suitably abstractly pitched TALKING HEADS inspired vocals.

Available on the album ‘From Deewee’ via PIAS

http://www.soulwax.com


TINY MAGNETIC PETS Never Alone

TINY MAGNETIC PETS had their best year yet with a UK tour opening for OMD and to accompany it was their second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’. Featuring Wolfgang Flür, the album’s best song ‘Never Alone’ sounded appropriately like SAINT ETIENNE fronting KRAFTWERK. Paula Gilmer has one of the best voices in modern synthpop and her alluring tone no doubt added to the song’s breezy dreamlike state.

Available on the album ‘Deluxe/Debris’ via Happy Robots Records

https://www.facebook.com/Tiny-Magnetic-Pets-69597715797/


VANBOT Collide (Krasnoyarsk)

The adventurous third VANBOT album ‘Siberia’ was composed and recorded during a 17 day journey on the Trans-Siberian railway. The crystalline ‘Collide (Krasnoyarsk)’ though captured a more Nordic vibe with its gorgeous melodies, while the surrounding rhythmic pace of a train ride made its presence felt. An aural exploration of the relationship between time, location and emotion, ‘Siberia’ was a bold musical experiment.

Available on the single ‘Collide (Krasnoyarsk)’ via Lisch Recordings

http://www.vanbotmusic.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
11th December 2017

SOULWAX Live at O2 Manchester Ritz

Manchester’s Ritz is an iconic venue for the city, having hosted everybody from local legends THE SMITHS through to THE BEATLES; a Grade II listed building and also notable for its sprung dance floor too.

Before Belgium’s SOULWAX even played a note tonight, the stage set was a synthspotter’s wet dream. A beautifully monochromatic and almost perfectly symmetrical set-up boasting an incredible array of mainly vintage equipment including an EMS Synthi A, ARP 2600 (with custom red LEDs on the sliders), ARP Odyssey, Oberheim 2 Voice and a Macbeth modular being amongst the gear on display.

It was plain from the off that this wasn’t going to be a low budget laptop-prodding live experience and that’s without mentioning the three drum kits! Two out of the three kits were Staccato ones; these unique looking drum sets (which have brilliantly been compared to ‘Humpty Dumpty’s shorts’ due to their flared-out look) were an essential tonight to help perform tracks from SOULWAX’s current opus ‘From Deewee’ which features three different percussionists.

What was also noticeable was the white acoustic tiling which lined the interior of the triple drum cages; in a nod to KRAFTWERK, the aesthetic of these recalled the clinical look of the German synth maestro’s Kling Klang studio soundproofing.

Opening with the instrumental overture ‘Preset Tense’ from the current album, the rippling synth arpeggios rose to an electronic crescendo before launching into ‘Masterplanned’ and the dropping of covers to reveal the three drummers; stage left and right and one behind the Dewaele brothers. Recalling the drama that used to accompany the imperial phase of DEPECHE MODE’s classic live shows, it was an undeniably stunning start to tonight’s show.

The majority of the night’s set was made of selections from the ‘From Deewee’ album with a few choice tracks from the SOULWAX back catalogue including ‘Krack’ and ‘Another Excuse’.

During ‘NY Excuse’, a metallic replica of the piston shaped robotic figure from the cover of ‘From Deewee’ rotated whilst being hit by a beam of white light as the song’s mantra-like quality took hold.

As the song hit its climax, Stephen Dewaele coaxed screaming lead synth sounds out of his ARP2600 and the track provided an undisputed highlight of the night’s show. Throughout the night, whilst many in the audience bounced up and down, others were transfixed by the spectacle of watching live electronics with three live drummers perfectly in synchronization.

For those that have witnessed the SOULWAX live experience before, their shows are presented in a breathless continuous mix format, with songs segued into each other, helping to maintain the club / dance vibe of most of their material.

Maintaining the monochromatic theme, piercing white lights positioned at strategic points on the stage were perfectly synced and triggered via the band’s Ableton software during the show.

After approximately an hour and half’s worth of performance, the band took a short break and then came back for an encore including a supercharged version of ‘Miserable Girl’ to climax the evening.

If a criticism could be levelled at the show it would be that it was maybe a little too heavily skewed towards the material from ‘From Deewee’ at the expense of some of the band’s stronger back catalogue. But considering the logistics of bringing three drummers, it made musical sense to bias towards these more recent songs as the featured musicians played such a big part in the creation of them.

What was ultimately refreshing about tonight was that there are still bands that are willing to take musical risks in the live arena and put on a show that was undoubtedly a major technical nightmare to stage and one that could possibly be a money-loser considering the amount of performers / equipment involved.

If you do get a chance to catch SOULWAX live or even their 2MANYDJS incarnation, don’t miss out on the chance.

This is about as far away from what some electronic / synth bands consider a live show… perfect symmetry indeed.


‘From Deewee’ is released by PIAS in the usual formats

http://www.soulwax.com/

https://www.facebook.com/soulwax/


Text by Paul Boddy
Photos by Roger Kamp
14th April 2017

SOULWAX From Deewee

‘From Deewee’ is the first studio album from Belgium’s SOULWAX in twelve years, the core of the act are brothers Stephen and David Dewaele and their return has seen a shift towards using more real drums, employing JAMIE T’s Victoria Smith, TURBO WOLF’s Blake Davies and SEPULTURA’s Igor Cavelera (all percussionists) to help achieve this vision.

The usage of live / acoustic drums with electronic music has often been a contentious issue amongst the synthpop fraternity.

By its very nature, synthesizer-based tracks should sound rigid, robotic and missing the dynamic that an acoustic instrument can bring. There have however been bands that have carried it off: DAF, NEW ORDER, VISAGE to name a few… but with that Basildon band now back in the limelight, it’s hard to wipe the mental image of a certain insensitive drummer beating the life out of a band’s back catalogue on stage…

The band obviously had a clear concept in mind before sitting down and making ‘From Deewee’; that being the successful melding of up to three live drummers with a primarily electronic musical backbone. But before you go running to your nearest copy of ‘Dare’, this has really worked incredibly well and if you’ve seen the band’s ‘Part of the Weekend Never Dies’ live set, you’ll know that this will translate incredibly well into their live experience too.

The instrumental overture ‘Preset Tense’ has an arpeggiated TOMITA feel to it with warm Moog textures before hitting an electronic crescendo and seamlessly mixing into the 303 driven ‘Masterplanned’. What sets SOULWAX apart from some of their contemporaries is that in amongst their collection of cool analogue electronic sounds, they still retain an ear for melody and adherence to writing actual songs rather than coasting along on a few semi-decent synth patches. At the musical heart of ‘Masterplanned’ you can also hear the ghost of the kind of chords that Martin Gore is a huge fan of…

Photo by Alex Salinas

‘Missing Wires’ starts off with a ludicrously over the top drum roll before a rising/flanged segue into a mid-range reverbed synth bass.

It’s hard not to smile and appreciate the attention to detail when the phrase “missing wires” is first featured in the lyric and a synthetic hand clap is deliberately dropped out of the mix. A loping sequenced part which recalls ULTRAMARINE joins the mix and the final two minutes features a cheeky re-work of the ‘White Lines’ bassline.

With melodies that could have been fleeced from the debut YMO album and the GARY NUMAN trademark of following the vocal line with a synth melody, ‘Missing Wires’ is a definite highlight here. ‘Conditions Of A Shared Belief’ is a modular synth lover’s wet dream, featuring the style of detuned blippy sounds favoured by Daniel Miller on the early Mute releases.

It’s not just live drums that get their chance to shine here, ‘Conditions’ features a brilliant homage to the white noise percussion synth break from ‘Being Boiled’ and drum pattern from ‘The Black Hit Of Space’ too.

‘Is It Always Binary’ features a Burundi styled ADAM & THE ANTS live drum mantra before breaking into a DAF-style sequencer pattern which perfectly matches the snares beat for beat. A drop into a vocal section (which sounds like the band have sampled their own track ‘Krack’) leads back into the driving rhythmic section again. Probably the nearest to a filler track on the album, ‘Is It Always Binary’ works, but it’s not the strongest track here.

‘Do You Want To Get Into Trouble’ starts with a GLITTER BAND double drummer stomp and live guitar and bass. After vocalist Stephen Dewaele’s menacing intoning of the song’s hook, a wonderful Mellotron string break shows that it’s not all monosynth action here and the outro of the song again owes a big debt to Germany’s DAF.

Photo by Younes Klouche

‘Here Come the Men in Suits’ pinches a lyric from THOMAS DOLBY’s ‘Commercial Breakup’ and starts like an out-take from the ‘Stranger Things’ TV show before heading into a funky modular synth break down.

Solina strings flesh out the song towards the end before closing with the down-tempo ‘Goodnight Transmission’.

One thing that cannot be denied is that SOULWAX have immaculate taste, they are the synthpop equivalent of a fine dining experience, each track has a superb provenance of sounds and influences featuring an enviable range of vintage analogue equipment.

Elsewhere, this album has been compared to a “batshit crazy sci-fi disco concept album” which sort of hits the nail on the head, although it does stick within certain conventions and could be accused of being a little two-dimensional in places.

‘From Deewee’ does what it does extremely well and will translate superbly into the band’s live shows, especially as the band’s new trio of drummers will be taking to the road too. The album was apparently recorded ‘live’ in one take, but this is hard believe considering some of the vocal overdubbing present, especially on closing track ‘Goodnight Transmission’.

If you are a synthpop fan that is put off by the words “features live drums”, don’t let it deter you; this is a superbly produced piece of work that although does take risks, ultimately succeeds and adds another fine set of songs to the SOULWAX back catalogue.


‘From Deewee’ is released by PIAS

SOULWAX play London’s Electric Ballroom on 8th April and Manchester O2 Ritz on 9th April before a two night stint at Brussels Ancienne Belgique on 11th-12th April 2017

http://www.soulwax.com/

https://www.facebook.com/soulwax/


Text by Paul Boddy
2nd April 2017

Lost Albums: SPLEEN UNITED School of Euphoria

SPLEEN UNITED school_of_euphoriaDenmark’s SPLEEN UNITED somehow never quite managed to break through the glass ceiling of widespread electronic music popularity.

Being blessed with the kind of misrepresentative band name which conjured images of a third division UK punk band arguably didn’t help their cause either. Consistently producing music of an equal quality to their nearest counterparts RÖYKSOPP, the band produced three albums and although have not technically split up, ended up smashing all of their equipment at their final show at the Northside Festival in 2013.

‘School of Euphoria’ was the follow up to 2011’s ‘Neanderthal’, which in itself was the somewhat muted sequel to the sparkling electro-pop debut of ‘Godspeed Into The Mainstream’.

What sets ‘School of Euphoria’ apart from its two predecessors is the influence of Acid House – the Roland TB303 Bassline looms large across the whole album and most of the material is an adrenaline rush of electronic dance, with a wealth of other retro gear being deployed to give the work a retro but cohesive feel.

First track ‘Days of Thunder’ is a full-pelt statement of intent with its stabbing synth and vocal samples leading into an opening 303 and vocal attack of lead vocalist Bjarke Niemann – combining melancholic melodies and squelching analogue synths it very much sets the template for a good two thirds of the album.

If you unwrap the layers of ‘Misery’, featuring a surprising guest vocal appearance from Gitte Nielson, (better known as Sylvester Stallone’s ex Brigitte), you’ll find the DNA of ORBITAL, with Roland TR909 drums, more stabbing synths and some funky electronic Latin percussion.

A drum breakdown leads into what is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the album ‘Sunset to Sunset’, another melancholy-filled dance track, but with an unpredictable jerky/syncopated synth riff bouncing around the verse of song which is a hymn to club culture. Fans of the early works of HARDFLOOR and Chicago House pioneers such as MR. FINGERS will ADORE the way the track busts out into a fully-fledged Acid track which might just have you going through your wardrobe looking for that faded smiley t-shirt you used to wear down to Shoom.

Interestingly, ‘Sunset to Sunset’ formed an epic 24 hour live improvisational piece that the band performed at Roskilde Festival. SPLEEN UNITED rehearsed in Sydhavn, Copenhagen beforehand and the edited highlights featured in a video with a Parental Advisory for its vintage synth porn overload…

The last minute and a half of the track is a chilled comedown which leads into the first downtempo track of the album ‘Simplicity’ – hinging around a hypnotic ‘I want simplicity back, you can have simplicity back’ vocal, the omnipresent 303 is still there in the background, but overlayed with fierce monosynths. Following a similar format to its preceding track, ‘Simplicity’ breaks down to a beautiful floating out, with more cut-ups of the vocal helping wind the track down to its conclusion.

The structure of the next few tracks craftily template elements of the second side of KRAFTWERK’s ‘Computerworld’ album, where pieces blend into each other and themes reappear in an almost ‘megamix’ format. ‘Pi’ takes deconstructed snippets of ‘Days of Thunder’ and ‘Euphoria’ before flowing into ‘Bright Cities Keep Me Awake’, then ‘Groundspeed’ and the acidic ‘Mu’.

‘Loebner’ (named after music journalist Lars Löbner Jeppesen) is based around a large sample of THE FLAMING LIPS track ‘Do You Realize??’ with its “Everyone you know someday will die” hookline. The only track on the album to feature mainly live drums, the song breaks into another 303 workout before the FLAMING LIPS sample makes a reappearance at the end of the piece.

Spleen Utd‘Suburbia’ (not to be confused with the PET SHOP BOYS song) is all syncopated synth house riffs and returns to a welcome song format after the preceding primarily instrumental pieces. The mantra “Love is just a buzz, just a buzz you can’t get” is repeated throughout.

‘School of Euphoria’ was certainly the sign of a band with confidence to go full tilt and change direction with their sound. If you are the kind of person that likes their electronic music tinged with a throwback dance element, then it’s hard to go wrong with this album.

Because songs such as ‘Days of Thunder’ and ‘Sunset to Sunset’ utilise such a classic analogue synthesizer and drum aesthetic, they have a timeless feel to them and this work, alongside SPLEEN UNITED’s previous two albums, are certainly worthy of re-investigation.

Vocalist Bjarke and Kasper Nørlund have since gone on to pursue a different (lighter) direction with the band LIGHTWAVE EMPIRE with Bjarke being quoted as saying that gloomy and dark music “wasn’t his thing” and that he wanted to make “happy music”; if this is a permanent shift, then this is a significant loss to contemporary electronic music.

Bands that can perform synthetic music live in a challenging way utilising hardware effectively are few and far between and SPLEEN UNITED were one of the few (alongside SOULWAX and their contemporaries BATTLE TAPES) that made this type of sound a viable live proposition; for many they will be greatly missed.


‘School Of Euphoria’ was released by Copenhagen Records

http://www.spleenunited.dk/

https://www.facebook.com/spleenunited/


Text by Paul Boddy
14th November 2016

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