Tag: Spray (Page 1 of 2)

RICARDO AUTOBAHN Interview

With something of a reputation as a musical prankster with his projects THE CUBAN BOYS, POUND SHOP BOYS and many more, Ricardo Autobahn is one of the more entertaining and irreverent characters in an industry that spends far too much time stating its self-importance.

A 2006 Eurovision entry with rapper Daz Sampson, along with producing a cowpunk-techno reworking of ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ featuring the late country legend Glen Campbell have only reinforced this image.

Even his longest running vehicle SPRAY, an electronic pop duo with his sister Jenny McLaren, has its tongue firmly in its cheek. But while known as a purveyor of pranklectro, an intricate instrumental album from Ricardo Autobahn in 2019 called ‘Check The Gyroscopes’ came as something of a pleasant surprise.

But not done with ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, there will soon be yet another version with his involvement, this time with Texan electro artpunk duo HYPERBUBBLE. Ricardo Autobahn joined in a fun conversation with The Electricity Club about his career, his recent role as the silent partner of Hacker T Dog and  the state of the synth nation…

You celebrated the 20th Anniversary of THE CUBAN BOYS ‘Cognoscenti vs. Intelligentsia’ aka “The Hamsterdance Song”, did you honestly think you’d still be making music two decades on?

I’m not sure. We did sign one of those famous million pound eight album recording contracts, which would have technically tied us into churning out product for decades but happily we almost immediately went down the dumper and left the label.

Actually I don’t think I did think I’d be making music still – I remember my dream was always to have one big hit and live off the royalties. Which didn’t really quite happen with “Hamsterdance” cos most of the money went to Roger Miller. And he’s dead!

The Electricity Club recently did a Various Artists compilation album listings article and two of the albums ‘Electricity 2’ and ‘Robopop Volume 1’ featured SPRAY. What was that early 21st Century period like being in a synthpop act?

Hard work trying to convince people electronic pop music (as opposed to dance music) was commercially viable. I think we were ahead of our time, or more accurately twenty years behind our time. Whisper it, but there is an 80s influence to our music, and during our time with THE CUBAN BOYS from 1999-2001, we were constantly trying to get a deal for SPRAY because (as we kept telling important people) the 80s revival was just around the corner. Synthpop would come back.

It nearly came off, the EMI demos went on to be remixed and finished as ‘Living In Neon’, but people just laughed at us for even thinking synthpop was going to return and find a fanbase with the record buying public. Those same people went on to great success a decade later with the likes of LA ROUX.

Ah the music industry, as forward thinking as ever…

Anyway, once ‘Living In Neon’ came out, we never really felt part of any scene because we never played live back then, and we were still doing behind-the-scenes production stuff on pop – so our day to day existence was very basic major label stuff. SPRAY was always our labour of love, our passion project – so when odd little things happened like our version of ‘You Spin Me Round’ turning up in ‘Desperate Housewives’, it was genuinely more gratifying than finding out something we’d worked on was No1 in Spain.

Slowing down a song to an inch of its life while wailing accompanied by an acoustic guitar does NOT make it better… DISCUSS!

It is a perfect thumbnail of the absolute bottom-feeding desperation of the music industry. One MOR singer songwriter has moderate success slowing a song down and it’s all claws to the pump to copy the idea and grind it down beyond reason for years and years.

I don’t think people really like them either; it’s just this perpetual cycle of them existing in a void that’s been created, because nobody comes up with any other ideas. Conversely, speeding up a song and adding orch hits always improves it though.

The Electricity Club was criticised for giving more airtime to synth covers of songs like ‘Witchita Lineman’ and ‘Gentle On My Mind’ which were made famous by Glen Campbell than modern day synth covers of DEPECHE MODE, ERASURE and ULTRAVOX… but there really is no point in doing a synth cover of a synth song is there?

There is not. Cover versions serve one purpose and one purpose only and that is to annoy fans of the original. Doing respectful covers is a waste of time.

So when as Daz & Rikki, you approached Glen Campbell to do a cover of ‘Rhinestone Campbell’, did he take much persuading to join in?

We’d demoed the song in spring 2002 and immediately had a bidding war, signing with BMG in May. The problem was re-recording the chorus to clear it. We tried various options including the ‘Stars In Their Eyes’ route, and at some point somebody important said “why don’t we just ask Glen?”.

Now I wasn’t party to the ins and outs of the conversations, but I was told one Thursday that we’d asked him and we were flying to Arizona to record it the next Tuesday so he must have been keen. He loved the idea though, I think he really really enjoyed it – these mad pasty-faced jet-lagged Mancunians turning up at his house with a DAT – to the extent we recorded a second never-finished single later in the summer, and I was talking with him for a couple of years about a duet with Jenny on a SPRAY version of his song ‘The Highwayman’.

Whilst we were in his studio, he said they’d been thinking of doing a similar idea themselves about modernizing ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, and was fascinated by how we’d put it together. We shared a lot of our haphazard production techniques, I remember he absolutely loved the kick drum we’d put on it.

After it came out and was a big hit, I got a call from a country music magazine (I forget which) who said there’d been “a lot of interest” from their readers and could I give some info about the release and the recording. So I did happily and when the magazine came out, the “interest” turned out to be a load of angry letters from furious Glen Campbell fans ripping us to shreds! *laughs*

The Electricity Club’s favourite Glen Campbell story is now he and Alice Cooper were caught by a speed camera driving to a golf course, what was your favourite memory during your time with him?

(By the time) we got to Phoenix and rented a convertible Camaro at the airport and drove to his gated-community mansion with the roof down in midsummer Arizona temperatures.

En route, we got out the old gigantic camcorder to film the journey as a travelogue. With some inevitability, we put the Rikki & Daz demo on the CD player and I stood up and lip-synched along, much like Kylie in that ‘Top Of The Pops’ video for ‘I Should Be So Lucky’.

Literally within ten seconds, we heard the sirens of a police car and to our excitement we were pulled over. The officer asked us what the HELL DID WE THINK WE WERE DOING and Daz – in his best Northern English accent – explained we weren’t from round here and didn’t know the rules. We were sent on our way.

Anyway, my top Glen Anecdote came during a break in recording in the studio at his home. He said “Hey, Rikki, come and look at this!” and showed me into an anteroom where dozens and dozens of guitars were lined up against the walls. It was a great sight and he picked one out and told me to have a go. Now I’m no guitarist but I wanted to show willing, so I clanged out a few atonal chords from ‘Shaddap Your Face’ or something and handed it back to the revelation that “that was Elvis’ guitar”!*laughs*

Is your co-write ‘Teenage Life’ for Daz Sampson as the UK’s 2006 Eurovision entry possibly your most subversive moment?

There are a lot more reasons than this to be sad that John Peel died before his time in 2004, but I would have loved him to come to Greece with us for the Eurovision. He was a big fan of the contest, and the idea that somebody who had topped the Festive 50 was representing the UK would have no doubt appealed.

Imagine the BBC documentary we could have made. I think the fact that an indiepop Maida Vale veteran went to Eurovision was, at the time, equally annoying for both Peel fans and Eurovision fans. P*ssing off everybody, that’s what I like!*laughs*

What did you think of Will Ferrell’s film ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’?

I thought it was a lot of rubbish, but that Will Ferrell kind of mainstream facsimile-of-comedy-via-overacting doesn’t appeal to me anyway. It’s not aimed at me. I actually abandoned it after half an hour when the only thing even approaching comedy was Ferrell saying “ding dong” in an accent.

Should the UK treat the contest with more respect like Sweden does, like they had LUSTANS LAKEJER, their equivalent of DURAN DURAN, in the running to represent them in 2007?

The UK should either treat the contest as something to be taken seriously with a proper selection procedure of decent young writers and credible acts, or as a full-on full-fat extravaganza and spend loads of money on absurd gimmicks and get me and Daz to write all the songs. The halfway house of ‘X Factor’ rejects singing never-used ONE DIRECTION album tracks makes no sense as it appeals to no-one and doesn’t inspire enough passion to vote. At least if you enter something that’s massively hated, logic dictates it will be equally massively loved.

What was your Euro-vision, as it were?

With ‘Teenage Life’, we’d originally demoed it with BLAZIN’ SQUAD the year before and my mix of that was going to be slightly grimy and dusty, with some soot-faced urchins singing the chorus rather than the slick showbiz performance you saw at Eurovision. I think if it had been more like that, it might have sparked a bit more inspiration with the voters.

We fell a bit between two stools, balancing a glossy performance with a weird (for Eurovision) rhythm and rap. I do remember getting home on the Monday after the show and watching the video recording and thinking despite everything that happened that whole chaotic weekend, it was still a really good song.

I think had LORDI not entered that year and had the Lithuanian singers doing ‘We Are The Winners’ not been there, our gimmick might have been more successful. But we were out-gimmicked by the kings of the gimmick.

Hahaha! When LORDE first emerged and got radio play, The Electricity Club thought “Bloody hell, their sound has changed!”… anyway as THEATTERY SQUASH, you made ‘Devo Was Right About Everything’ and even got it remixed by DEVO members Robert and Gerald Casale… so were they??

We put George W Bush on the artwork for the single and the fact that he looks comparatively statesmanlike now sort of spoils the joke somewhat.

What was the idea behind POUND SHOP BOYS, a move towards ultimate pop supremacy?

My colleague and associate Phil Fletcher – the man behind TV’s Hacker T Dog – is a big fan of the PET SHOP BOYS like myself. When he was a kid he had a cassette of TV themes and told me that as a youth he’d always thought ‘Fireman Sam’ would sound great sung by the PET SHOP BOYS but could never really explain why he thought that.

Having a studio to hand, we are able to take throwaway ideas that most people would treat as a passing thought and actually do it. It took a day and we had a good laugh especially when my girlfriend of the time came up with the “it’s Pontypandemonium!” hook.

You completed this POUND SHOP BOYS plan with a video…

Oh we never plan anything; we made a video for ‘Fireman Sam’ almost by accident when we did some silly lip-synching against a white wall on our iPhones and threw every effect we could find in Final Cut Pro at it. Genuinely, we spent 10 minutes filming that and it became this great thing. Radcliffe and Maconie even played it on BBC 6Music a few times.

Since then we’ve appeared on stage with THE GRUMBLEWEEDS and THE KRANKIES and our version of ‘The Banana Splits Theme’ saw us on NBC news across the States with the original actors who portrayed the Splits. The point is, if we do become ultimate pop supremacists, it will be by accident.

You play keyboards with HELEN LOVE, what’s happening there at the moment?

New album out in October. We were supposed to be playing Paris Popfest in September before all the Corona kicked off, but hopefully 2021 will see us back on the international touring scene.

You released an instrumental solo album ‘Check The Gyroscopes’ in 2019 and some might say they were surprised that it was a serious record, do you tire of being considered a musical prankster?

My first love was always instrumental synth music from Jean Michel Jarre or THE ART OF NOISE and I’ve always favoured stuff that shows a good sense of fun now and then – TANGERINE DREAM, even Mike Oldfield at times – as opposed to the po-facedness of yer Vangelises.

It’s the same with non-instrumental, I’ve always enjoyed people like SPARKS and YELLO and always just endured people like DEPECHE MODE and various clones down the years. So I hope there’s a lightness and jollity to the instrumental stuff I do – I’ve done four albums over the years and it’s always been pure self-indulgence.

Saying that, you’ve done a reinterpretation of ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ with CBBC’s Hacker T Dog… he described you as his “second favourite music producer from yesteryear” so what was he like to deal with, does he have any dark secrets or diva-like tendencies like George and Zippy from ‘Rainbow’ did?

I will say he’s an incredibly lazy dog. We’ve just filmed a new video in Wigan where Hacker is from – he regularly celebrates and mentions the town so that if he’s ever asked to do any location filming he doesn’t have to go too far and can be home in time for Coronation Street. I asked him why he didn’t move to Salford and stayed in Wigan, and he said “because all my stuff’s there”.

‘Q’ magazine recently announced it was folding, but it did disappear up its own backside! Are we missing the irreverence of early ‘Q’ and imperial phase ‘Smash Hits’ in music journalism? It’s like you can’t make fun of an artist or highlight their shortcomings anymore without someone jumping on social media going “HOW DARE YOU? THEY’RE A LEGEND?” in a time when the word ‘legend’ is seriously overused…

I can’t express it any better than that. The best kind of artists – pop or otherwise – are those that don’t take themselves too seriously, or at least take their sense of humour seriously. But everything’s so BRIT School-honed nowadays there’s nothing to make fun of.

‘Q’ was pretty good in the 90s, a rich feast of thoughtful and interesting articles and had that Tom Hibbert irreverence and lack of respect. But like all print media, it suffered at the hands of the internet – half the joy of ‘Q’ was finding out what was coming out, reading their impressions of what forthcoming albums were like. When you’re renowned for your refreshing and wordy music reviews, you don’t want something like Spotify coming along to make them obsolete. Why read a music review when you can just listen to it to see if you like it?

SPRAY’s ‘We Gotta Get Haircuts!’ became quite relevant during lockdown, was it time to mullet over?

If we had any sense we’d have written a song called ‘We Gotta Get Haircuts’ that was actually about getting a haircut, and made a video with loads of people getting haircuts, and we’d probably have got on ‘The One Show’ or something.

But no, we had to make it a really oblique song about failing rockers in the twilight of their career, and an observation on how cool music always sounds exactly like unfashionable music if you take the stylists out of the equation! *laughs*

How do you see the UK synth scene at the moment, it would seem that talentless normality is rife with some socially inept promoters trying to get in on the act for not entirely genuine reasons?

We consider ourselves part of no scene, and if anything SPRAY are the hands across the world bringing people together. We’re not saying we’re better than religion, but we are.

We’re not synthpop, we’re not indiepop, but we’re also both of those and we’re probably other things too.

To that end we had actually booked a few punk venues to play in November before Covid-19 hit, perhaps it’s for the best those won’t happen now.

Is a Darwin-esque period of evolution required now or should listeners have more empathy and support any kind of synth music whatever the quality, so that it still continues to exist?

I do like the general support and positivity synth music gets across the “scene”, I’m not massively into synthwave for example, but I do appreciate the way it’s dipping it’s toe in the real world where normal people are getting to hear it. Essentially, I need people to curate the synthwave highlights for me, which is where radio comes in.

Anyone that follows your Twitter will be amused by your live commentary on ‘Top Of The Pops’ re-runs and various nostalgic radio shows. Was the phenomenon of pop really much better in the past or are people like us are just grumpy old men???

This goes back to the irreverence of pop and I do quite like to treat sacred cows with the lack of respect they deserve.

I don’t always mean it. I once said I was glad David Bowie was dead because of ‘Dancing In The Street’, and I didn’t get banned so it must have successfully come across as a joke. Maybe my brand of iconoclasm is getting a bit tired and I should be more positive for ‘Top Of The Pops’ as it lumbers into the 90s. Like and subscribe, readers, @ricardoautobahn on all portals, please RT for awareness.

You do lose touch with pop music, I listen to Radio1 a lot in the car and like most of it but have no idea who the artists are. The charts are always the charts, you remember the good and bad and forget the mediocre. That said, it’s always a relief more than anything when an artist comes along who you can still go bonkers for even at this age, and that artist this year is Ava Max. Who is fantastic.

I’d like there to still be a weekly TV pop show that I can make fun of on Twitter…

Of course, the new SPRAY video for ‘Chump For Your Love’ is a homage to ITV’s ‘The Chart Show’…

‘Chump For My Love’, we felt we needed to plug 2019’s ‘Failure Is Inevitable’ album a bit more, so gave it an electronic overhaul and went down to Crosby Beach in February, before the lockdown. We figured if we got 20 or 30 minutes of quick footage, we could make a nice low-budget arty video, but we got so cold after about 10 minutes, we came home again.

Adding some captions was a fun way to try and distract from the lack of footage, and it soon became apparent we could have a bit of a laugh with it. It’s a good way of getting people to watch all the way through rather than just tailing off after a minute like most of our stats seem to indicate *laughs*

As a grumpy old man who has had his 15 minutes of fame, should grumpy old men by their nature still be trying to make that last gasp at validation?

Once I get that validation, I will stop. I’m unceasingly grumpy due to the fact my various smash hits are so forgotten, they don’t even crop up as questions on Ken Bruce’s Popmaster – once I’ve had my BBC4 documentary, I’ll stop banging on about it! *laughs*

What are the upcoming plans in the SPRAY camp and any other projects you’re allowed to talk about?

I bought one of those Behringer 303 knockoffs before lockdown and have written a lot of spontaneous acid-esque backing tracks.

We’ve got loads of wacky ideas floating for these, when we finally get around to getting together and recording them it’ll be a quick, spiky, spontaneous SPRAY album and the world will be delighted. SPRAY and the POUND SHOP BOYS will get back on the road in 2021.

What have been your own career highlights?

Although it never got shown in the end outside of BBC Prime (?), filming ‘Top Of The Pops’ was the greatest three minutes. Doing your first Pops is exactly like you’d expect it to be. This dreamlike state of posing and trying to drink in the moment.

It wasn’t a great performance because the idea we’d had was for it to be a performance art piece (a la PET SHOP BOYS when they did ‘Can You Forgive Her’), with John Peel centre-stage covered in cobwebs. He couldn’t do it in the end so they just wheeled in as many synths as they could find out of storage. They still used the cobwebs though.


The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Ricardo Autobahn

‘Check The Gyroscopes’ is available as a digital album direct from https://spray.bandcamp.com/album/check-the-gyroscopes

The SPRAY EP ‘Offerings From The Algorithm’ is available from https://spray.bandcamp.com/album/offerings-from-the-algorithm

A selection of POUND SHOP BOYS releases in physical and digital formats can be obtained at https://poundshopboys.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/ricardoautobahn

https://twitter.com/ricardoautobahn

https://www.instagram.com/ricardo_autobahn/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
16th August 2020

The Electronic Legacy of VARIOUS ARTISTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


MACHINES (1980)

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

‘Machines’ was released by Virgin Records

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


METHODS OF DANCE (1981)

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

‘Methods Of Dance’ was released by Virgin Records

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


MODERN DANCE (1981)

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

‘Modern Dance’ was released by K-Tel Records

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


SOME BIZZARE ALBUM (1981)

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

‘Some Bizzare Album’ was released by Some Bizzare

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


CLUB FOR HEROES (1992)

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

‘Club For Heroes’ was released by Telstar Records

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


IT’S ELECTRIC (1994)

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

‘It’s Electric’ was released by Dino Entertainment

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


DAWN OF ELECTRONICA (2000)

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

‘Dawn Of Electronica’ was released by Demon Music Group

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


ELECTRIC DREAMS (2002)

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

‘Electric Dreams’ was released by Virgin Records

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


THIS IS NOT THE 80s (2002)

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

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

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


THIS IS TECH-POP (2002)

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

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

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


ELECTRICITY 2 An Electronic Pop Sampler (2003)

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

‘Electricity 2’ was released by Ninthwave Records

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


ROBOPOP Volume 1 (2003)

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

‘Robopop Volume 1’ was released by Lucky Pierre Recordings

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


RETRO:ACTIVE 5 (2006)

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

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

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


ROBOPOP The Return (2006)

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

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

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


CHILLTRONICA A Definition No1 (2008)

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

‘Chilltronica – A Definition No1’ was released by Soundcolours

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


ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf (2016)

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

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

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


NEW ORDER Presents Be Music (2017)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


THE ELECTRICITY CLUB (2019)

Comprising of thirty-four tracks from 2009 to 2015, ‘The Electricity Club’ compilation has stood the test of time, scrutiny and repeated plays. With ERASURE heading the line-up alongside a MARSHEAUX remix of Katy Perry and acts such as MIRRORS, SIN COS TAN, VILE ELECTRODES, NIGHT CLUB, ARTHUR & MARTHA, KID MOXIE, MESH and ELECTRONIC CIRCUS. In hindsight, the weakest link comes surprisingly from one of the star attractions, coming as a result of the licencing compromises that often have to be made when the first and second choices get declined 😉

‘The Electricity Club’ was released by Amour Records / Minos EMI / Universal Music in collaboration with Undo Records

http://www.electricityclub.co.uk/the-electricity-club-2cd-compilation/


THE TEARS OF TECHNOLOGY (2020)

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

‘The Tears Of Technology’ was released by Ace Records

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


Text by Chi Ming Lai
2nd August 2020

TEC’s 2019 End Of Year Review

2019 was a year of 40th Anniversaries, celebrating the synth becoming the sound of pop when ‘Are Friends Electric?’ reached No1 in the UK chart in 1979.

While GARY NUMAN opted for ‘(R)evolution’ and two of his former sidemen RRussell Bell and Chris Payne ventured solo for the first time, OMD offered a 7 disc ‘Souvenir’ featuring a whole album of quality unreleased material to accompany a concert tour to celebrate four decades in the business.

That was contrary to DEPECHE MODE who merely plonked 14 albums into a boxed set in a move where the ‘Everything Counts’ lyric “the grabbing hands grab all they can” became more and more ironic…

MIDGE URE partied like it was 1980 with the music of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX, while SIMPLE MINDS announced an arena tour for 2020 so that their audience could show Jim Kerr their hands again. HEAVEN 17 announced some special showcases of the early material of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and got a particularly warm reception opening on tour for SQUEEZE as a trailer ahead of their own ‘Greatest Hits’ jaunt next year.

Celebrating 20 years in music, there was the welcome return of LADYTRON with a self-titled comeback album, while Swedish evergreens LUSTANS LAKEJER performed the ‘Åkersberga’ album for its 20th Anniversary and similarly GOLDFRAPP announced a series of shows in honour of their magnificent cinematic debut ‘Felt Mountain’.

Cult favourites FIAT LUX made their intimate live comeback in a church in Bradford and released their debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ 37 years after their first single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’.

As a result, their fans were also treated to ‘Ark Of Embers’, the long player that Polydor Records shelved in 1985 when the band were on the cusp of a breakthrough but ended with a commercial breakdown.

Modern prog exponents Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson got back together as NO-MAN for their dual suite electronic concept record ‘Love You To Bits’, but an even more ambitious undertaking came from UNDERWORLD with their boxed set ‘Drift Series 1’.

Also making live returns were one-time PET SHOP BOYS protégé CICERO with a charity gig in his hometown of Livingston, WHITE DOOR with JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM at Synth Wave Live 3, ARTHUR & MARTHA at TEC005 and Mute Records veterans KOMPUTER at TEC006.

After a short hiatus, the mighty KITE sold-out three gigs at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan and ended the year performing at an opera house, while GIORGIO MORODER embarked on his first ever concert tour where his songs were the stars.

Although their long-awaited-as-yet-untitled third album was still to materialise, VILE ELECTRODES went back on the road in Europe with APOPTYGMA BERZERK and THE INVINCIBLE SPIRIT. Meanwhile, Chinese techno-rock sextet STOLEN opened for NEW ORDER on their Autumn European tour and EMIKA performed in a series of Planetariums.

Despite the fall of The Berlin Wall 30 years ago, there were more evident swipes to the right than there had been for a long time, with the concept of Brexit Electro becoming a rather unpleasant reality. So in these more sinister times, the need for classic uplifting electronic pop was higher than ever.

To that end, three superb debut albums fitted the bill. While KNIGHT$ offered quality Britalo on ‘Dollars & Cents’, the suave presence of OLLIE WRIDE took a more MTV friendly direction with ‘Thanks In Advance’.

But for those wanting something more home produced, the eccentric Northern electronic pop of the brilliantly named INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP continued the artistic lineage of THE HUMAN LEAGUE.

QUIETER THAN SPIDERS finally released their wonderful debut album ‘Signs Of Life’ which was naturally more understated and Denmark had some worthy synthpop representation with SOFTWAVE producing an enjoyably catchy debut long player in ‘Game On’.

On the shadier side of electronic pop, BOY HARSHER achieved a wider breakthrough with their impressive ‘Careful’ long player but as a result, the duo acquired a contemporary hipster element to their fanbase who seemed to lack manners and self-awareness as they romped around gigs without a care for anyone around them. But with tongues-in-cheeks, SPRAY continued to amuse with their witty prankelectro on ‘Failure Is Inevitable’.

Photo by Johnny Jewel

Italians Do It Better kept things in house as CHROMATICS unexpectedly unleashed their first album for six years in ‘Closer To Grey’ and embarked on a world tour.

Main support was DESIRE and accompanied on keyboards by HEAVEN singer Aja, the pair took things literally during their cover version of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ with a girl-on-girl kiss in front of head honcho Johnny Jewel.

Other ITIB acts on the tour dependent on territory included DOUBLE MIXTE, IN MIRRORS and KRAKÓW LOVES ADANA. But the best work to appear from the stable came from JORJA CHALMERS who became ‘Human Again’.

There were a variety of inventive eclectic works from FAKE TEAK, MAPS, FINLAY SHAKESPEARE, ULTRAMARINE, TYCHO, THE GOLDEN FILTER, FRAGRANCE. and FADER. Meanwhile VON KONOW, SOMEONE WHO ISN’T ME and JAKUZI all explored themes of equality while BOYTRONIC preferred ‘The Robot Treatment’.

But expressing themselves on the smoother side of proceedings were CULT WITH NO NAME and notably SHOOK who looked east towards the legend of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA.

Dark minimalism reigned in the work of FRAGILE SELF and WE ARE REPLICA while no less dark but not so aggressive, WITCH OF THE VALE cemented their position with a well-received opening slot at Infest.

Touring in Europe with OMD and MIDGE URE, TINY MAGNETIC PETS unleashed two EPs ‘The Politburo Disko’ and ‘Girl In A White Dress’ as fellow Dubliner CIRCUIT3 got political and discussed ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’.

2019 was a year of electronic instrumental offerings galore from NEULAND, RICARDO AUTOBAHN, EKKOES, M83, RELIEF, FEMMEPOP and OBLONG, although ERIC RANDOM’s dystopian offering ‘Wire Me Up’ added vocoder while BRIAN ENO celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing ‘For All Mankind’.

The King of Glum Rock LLOYD COLE surprised all with an electronic pop album called ‘Guesswork’ just as PET SHOP BOYS set an ‘Agenda’. HOWARD JONES released his most synthy work for years in ‘Transform’ and while CHINA CRISIS acted as his well-received support on the UK leg of his 35th Anniversary tour, their front man GARY DALY ventured solo with ‘Gone From Here’.

Among the year’s best new talents were IMI, KARIN MYGRETAGEISTE and ALICE HUBBLE with their beautifully crafted avant pop.

And with the media traction of artists such as GEORGIA, REIN, JENNIFER TOUCH, SUI ZHEN, THE HEARING, IONNALEE, PLASMIC, ZAMILSKA, IOANNA GIKA, SPELLLING, KANGA, FIFI RONG and I AM SNOW ANGEL, the profile of women in electronic music was stronger than ever in 2019.

Sweden continued to produce quality electronic pop with enjoyable releases from the likes of MACHINISTA, PAGE, COVENANT, OBSESSION OF TIME and LIZETTE LIZETTE. One of the most interesting acts to emerge from the region was US featuring the now Stockholm-domiciled Andrew Montgomery from GENEVA and Leo Josefsson of LOWE, with the catalyst of this unlikely union coming from a shared love of the late country legend Glen Campbell. Meanwhile, veteran trio DAYBEHAVIOR made the best album of their career ‘Based On A True Story’.

However, Canada again gave the Swedes a good run for their money as ELECTRIC YOUTH and FM ATTACK released new material while with more of a post-punk slant, ACTORS impressed audiences who preferred a post-post-punk edge alongside their synths. DANA JEAN PHOENIX though showed herself to be one of the best solo synth performers on the live circuit, but artistically the best of the lot was MECHA MAIKO who had two major releases ‘Okiya’ and ‘Let’s!’.

Despite making some good music in 2019 with their ‘Destroyer’ two-parter, the “too cool for school” demeanour of TR/ST might have impressed hipsters, but left a lot to be desired. A diva-ish attitude of entitlement was also noticed by The Electricity Club to be disappointingly prevalent in several fledgling acts.

Synthwave increased its profile further with the film ‘The Rise Of The Synths’ narrated by none other than John Carpenter. MICHAEL OAKLEY released his debut album ‘Introspect’, BETAMAXX was ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’, COM TRUISE came up with a ‘Persuasion System’ and NEW ARCADES were ‘Returning Home’.

Scene veteran FUTURECOP! collaborated with PARALLELS, COMPUTER MAGIC and NINA prior to a hiatus for the foreseeable future, while there were promising new talents emerging in the shape of POLYCHROME, PRIZM, BUNNY X and RIDER.

However, several of the sub-genre’s artists needed to rethink their live presentations which notably underwhelmed with their static motions and lack of engagement.

While promoters such as Outland developed on their solid foundations, others attempted to get too big too soon like the musical equivalent of a penis extension, leaving fans disappointed and artists unpaid. Attempting to turnover more than 10 acts during in a day with a quarter of an hour changeover has always been an odious task at best, but to try 15?!? One hopes the headliners were well paid despite having to go on at midnight when most of their supporters went home so as not to miss the last train…

Now at times, it was as if a major collective midlife crisis had hit independent electronic music in the UK during 2019.

It was not unlike how “born again bikers” have become a major road safety risk, thanks to 40somethings who only managed Cycling Proficiency in Junior School suddenly jumping onto 500cc Honda CMX500 Rebel motorcycles, thinking they were Valentino Rossi.

Something similar was occurring in music as a variety of posturing delusional synth owners indulged in a remix frenzy and visions of grandeur like it was normal behaviour, forgetting that ability and talent were paramount.

This attitude led to a number of poorly attended events where attendees were able to be counted on one hand, thanks to clueless fans of said combos unwisely panning their video footage around the venue.

Playing at 3:15pm in an empty venue is NOT performing at a ‘major’ electronic festival… “I’ll be more selective with the gigs I agree to in the UK” one of these acts haplessly bemoaned, “I’ve played to too many empty rooms!” – well, could that have been because they are not very good?

Bands who had blown their chance by not showing willingness to open for name acts during holiday periods, while making unwise comments on their national TV debut about their lack of interest in registering for PRS, said they were going to split a year in advance, but not before releasing an EP and playing a farewell show in an attempt to finally get validation for their art. Was this a shining example of Schrodinger’s Band?

Of course, the worst culprits were those who had an internet radio show or put on gigs themselves so that they could actually perform, because otherwise external promotors were only interested in them opening at 6.15pm after a ticket deal buy on for a five band bill. Humility wouldn’t have gone amiss in all these cases.

It’s a funny old world, but as The Electricity Club comes up to concluding its tenth year as an influential platform that has written extensively about not one or two or three or four BUT five acts prior to them being selected to open on tour for OMD, luckily the gulf between good and bad music is more distinct than ever.

Artwork by Heloisa Flores

The Electricity Club had a compilation released by Amour Records gathering some of the best music from the last 10 years and reached No2 in the German POPoNAUT charts.

It will be interesting to see if the high standard of electronic pop will be maintained or whether the influx of deluded poor quality artists will contaminate the bloodline.

So The Electricity Club ends the decade with a complimentary comment by a punter after TEC006 who had also been to TEC004: “You don’t put on sh*t do you…”

May the supreme talent rise and shine… you know who you are 😉


THE ELECTRICITY CLUB Contributor Listings of 2019

PAUL BODDY

Best Album: UNDERWORLD Drift Series 1
Best Song: MOLINA Venus
Best Gig: RAMMSTEIN at Milton Keynes MK Bowl
Best Video: SCALPING Chamber
Most Promising New Act: SCALPING


IAN FERGUSON

Best Album: NO-MAN Love You To Bits
Best Song: NO-MAN Love You To Shreds
Best Gig: RAMMSTEIN at Stadion Slaski Chorzow
Best Video: RAMMSTEIN Deutschland
Most Promising New Act: IMI


SIMON HELM

Best Album: PAGE Fakta För Alla
Best Song: PAGE Fakta För Alla
Best Gig: LAU NAU at London Cafe OTO
Best Video: LAU NAU Amphipoda on Buchla 200 at EMS Stockholm
Most Promising New Act: THE HIDDEN MAN


CHI MING LAI

Best Album: KNIGHT$ Dollar & Cents
Best Song: OMD Don’t Go
Best Gig: KITE at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan
Best Video: NIGHT CLUB Your Addiction
Most Promising New Act: IMI


RICHARD PRICE

Best Album: KNIGHT$ Dollar & Cents
Best Song: OMD Don’t Go
Best Gig: MIDGE URE + RUSTY EGAN at The London Palladium
Best Video: IMI Margins
Most Promising New Act: PLASMIC


MONIKA IZABELA TRIGWELL

Best Album: MECHA MAIKO Let’s
Best Song: KANGA Burn
Best Gig: DANA JEAN PHOENIX, KALAX + LEBROCK at London Zigfrid von Underbelly
Best Video: IONNALEE Open Sea
Most Promising New Act: PRIZM


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Ian Ferguson
16th December 2019

RICARDO AUTOBAHN Check The Gyroscopes

Ricardo Autobahn is a something of a music industry veteran and a known purveyor of pranklectro through his various adventures with THE CUBAN BOYS, SPRAY and POUND SHOP BOYS.

And all this without mentioning a 2006 Eurovision entry with rapper Daz Sampson, plus recordings with CBBC puppet star Hacker T Dog and the late country legend Glen Campbell with a cowpunk-techno reworking of ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’.

So when ‘Check The Gyroscopes’ arrived in The Electricity Club’s inbox, it caused some headscratching…

What, a serious instrumental electronic album with intricate complex layers that was thematically a reaction against the current fashion for Synthwave? “I had been writing a lot of library music, production music and TV music and occasionally found myself doing stuff that was too or meandering for that format” said Autobahn on how ‘Check The Gyroscopes’ developed as a follow-up to 2012’s ‘Rasterscan’ and 2016’s ‘Panophobia’.

‘Cocktails On The Dream Train To Hyperspace’ is a delightful uptempo opening, taking a leaf out of JEAN-MICHEL JARRE and his ‘Arpégiateur’ but with a harder beat. ‘The Tranquility Of Gravity’ extends on that vibe but with a spacier outlook, thanks to its swimmy string machines which sit within a grand widescreen setting haunted by its wintery Berlin origins.

A pulsing lattice shapes the sub-eight minute ‘Jetsphere Luxury Lounge’ into a more progressive proposition before the more chillingly ambient ‘Icedrop On The Camera Lens’. Meanwhile ‘Rocketronic Mooncar’ is a beautifully melodic metronomic piece that is both lean and to the point.

‘Atomic Romance’ swirls and sparkles in a manner that trumpets with a folky resonance like MIKE OLDFIELD. And as Autobahn prepares for launch on the lengthy ‘Destination Astroworld’, guitar makes its presence felt although it’s the Kontakt software variant with “acoustic strum” and virtual Strats among the palettes used; the track is a fine demonstration of modern production techniques if nothing else as a computerised Steve Howe pops out… but like many YES tracks, it does go on a bit unfortunately.

Things get back on track with the frantic but rousing ‘Too New To Be True’ which enters VANGELIS territory with its sweeping texturing, despite its pace and octave interplay. Although possessing a rather long title, ‘Emporium For Art Deco Adventurers’ is as minimal and sparse as the album can get with more synthetic guitar stylings, leading into the closing tune ‘The Comet Collector’ which re-enters Planet Jarre but additionally throws in digital strums and bright Synth Britannia themes.

‘Check The Gyroscopes’ is an immediately likeable record and some may even prefer it to JEAN-MICHEL JARRE’s more recent offerings. And as a reaction to Synthwave, it certainly hammers home the point and remembers to include some variation and tunes.


‘Check The Gyroscopes’ is released as a digital album by Banoffeesound via the usual platforms and direct from https://spray.bandcamp.com/album/check-the-gyroscopes

https://www.facebook.com/ricardoautobahn

https://twitter.com/ricardoautobahn

https://www.instagram.com/ricardo_autobahn/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
30th October 2019

SPRAY Interview

‘Failure Is Inevitable’ is the fifth album from mischievous indiesynth duo SPRAY.

Ricardo Autobahn and Jenny McLaren first came to wider attention as THE CUBAN BOYS and went head-to-head with Sir Cliff Richard in the Christmas Chart Battle of 1999 where their single ‘Cognoscenti Vs Intelligentsia’ (aka ‘Hamsterdance’) reached No. 4 in the UK single charts and got them on ‘Top of the Pops’. The sibling pair later formed SPRAY, releasing their debut album ‘Living In Neon’ in 2002 on the noted American independent label Ninthwave Records.

SPRAY were also co-conspirators in ‘Teenage Life’, the UK’s 2006 Eurovision song for Daz Sampson. More recently, they have been recording music with anarchic CBBC star Hacker T Dog. Celebrating everything that is great about pop while tinged with cynicism, despair and ironic humour, SPRAY often offer social commentary with their upbeat electronica.

They kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about their new album and gave some interesting thoughts from 20 years of experience within the music industry.

For those who don’t know SPRAY, the two of you have interesting chequered pasts, so what are your CVs?

We are brother and sister, so as youngsters in the mid-late 90s, we experimented with a four track tape machine, some primitive sampling technology and Jenny’s angelic singing voice. After investing in a CD burner, we found a fan in John Peel which somehow led to us topping the charts and winning the nation’s hearts as THE CUBAN BOYS and our ‘Hamsterdance’ hit ‘Cognoscenti Vs Intelligentsia’.

Our entire history was documented, incidentally, on the SPRAY song ‘The Ballad Of Xmas ’99’ which was part of Cherryade’s ‘A Very Cherry Christmas Vol 13’ compilation CD last year. Since then we’ve been involved with assorted crackpot schemes, often with our friend Daz Sampson. You can hear Jenny on Daz’s pan-European hit ‘The Woah Song’ for example, and his Eurovision song ‘Teenage Life’ was co-written with me – the kids chorus is essentially SPRAY singing through a pitch-shifter.

Your last album ‘Enforced Fun’ in 2016 featured a political observation called ‘It’s The Night Of The Long Knives, Charlie Brown’ and three years on, things are even worse now…

Yes, that was a wacky sideways glance at the buffoonish clownery of political celebrities, done with our typical light-hearted tongue in cheek attitude. I suspect if we wrote that now it might be a bit more directly harsh as we don’t find them so funny anymore.

It’s appropriate that the new album is called ‘Failure Is Inevitable’…

Well, we aren’t necessarily a political band but the whole album *was* written and recorded whilst absorbing world events, so the album is coloured and tinted by the state of things. It struck us that people still have optimism for the future despite the evidence of the past, and we feel it’s our duty to add a bit of balance and realism.

But the album begins with those dreaded words ‘Here’s One From The New Album’, so how much new stuff should an artist perform at gigs or should it all be about nostalgia?

SPRAY have recently entered the live arena after being a studio band for many years. As we don’t really have any hits we can play – other than ‘Hamsterdance’ which we’ve managed to shoehorn in – we’ve had this complicated decision as to work out how to keep a crowd engaged.

We’ve decided that entertaining a passive audience *has* to be key, rather than promoting new material, and built a set around that. It is purely coincidental we’ve discovered one of our new songs is a terrific live set opener. As gig-goers, we prefer to hear the hits as well. You should have seen the queues at the bar whenever PET SHOP BOYS played tracks from ‘Elysium’ on their 2013 tour. Maybe you did!

What was ‘Anthologised By Cherry Red’ particularly inspired by, and do you like personally like their cult album reissues and boxed sets?

Specifically it was inspired by a chat I had with Luke Haines at a festival in Spain we were both playing – I also play live synths with indie-punk poppers Helen Love. He actually said “I’m being anthologised by Cherry Red” and I stored it away cos it’s a great title.

We didn’t want it to become a critique of Cherry Red as they’re responsible for some truly superb releases, so I hope it came across as affectionate. Seeing Peter Schilling’s ‘Error In The System’ get an expanded UK CD release a couple of years ago was completely unexpected and fantastic and their work on THE RESIDENTS catalogue is nothing short of wonderful.

We’re truly living in a golden age for archive stuff. You can remember growing up in the 90s when sometimes the best you could get for older bands were hopeless petrol station compilation cassettes. And nowadays you can’t move for A-HA demos and unreleased tracks by THE ART OF NOISE. But ‘Anthologised’ is more about questioning what will happen when the archive runs dry?

If THE HUMAN LEAGUE had roots in being a folk band, it would sound like ‘Futuristic’…

That’s a very strong and kind observation actually and we thank you for it. THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s sci-fi pop cinematic melodrama is always something we’ve appreciated and occasionally tried to emulate.

We did record an authentic acoustic version of ‘Futuristic’ to appeal to muso snobs, but because we hate authentic acoustic versions of things, we’ll probably never release it.

What do you think of INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP who appear to be kindred spirits?

We love them, they’re right in our wheelhouse and got into them because of umpteen people saying “you’d like them”. We’re also jealous of their popularity so don’t like to mention them too much.

On ‘Astronomical’, you’ve gone all ‘Top Gun’?

The full tilt, full fat, everything-louder-than-everything-else vibe is much under-used these days. Synths and guitars.

We rock out a bit on this album which wasn’t really intentional – to counteract it there are a lot of thunderclaps and Fairlight orch hits. But there’s glamour in drama we think. Oh that’s a good song title.

Is ‘Chump (For My Love)’ written from personal experience?

No. Ron Mael from SPARKS once said if you have to write songs from personal experience, it shows a remarkable lack of imagination, and we broadly stick to that protocol.

‘You Had Me At Easily Pleased’, is that a reflection of our “AWESOME” society???

The title came first and yeah the idea was to do a p*ss-take of how everybody is so over-emotional and euphoric and SO INTENSE in pop songs nowadays. They take everything so seriously these pop stars, they’re going to give themselves heartburn.

‘Big Karma’ is like a modern Eurovision anthem…

It was internally referred to as “The ERASURE Song” for ages. It’s another “state of the world” song, borderline-topical. “Why aren’t people nice to each other anymore? Well, this is why”. That kind of thing.

But that’s a nice observation, we are keen to have another tilt at Eurovision. We reckon SPRAY can survive the humiliation and it’ll be nice night out. Funnily enough, our colleague and associate Daz Sampson is annoyed with us at the minute cos he reckons ‘You Had Me At Easily Pleased’ is a Eurovision smash and we should have given it to him first before we released it.

The Electricity Club was once sent a pitch by a quintet and didn’t bother even listening to the music after seeing their photo which had them ALL with beards! So what is ‘We All Gotta Get Haircuts’ about?

The basic premise is that music, essentially, never changes down the ages but people’s visual perception of it does. It’s like those berries that trick your tastebuds into thinking you’re eating a peach when it’s actually an onion. A good haircut can trick the listener into thinking they’re listening to something cutting edge and not just a glam rock rip off with a drum machine.

BBC Radio 1 will *still* play tracks based on the age / haircut / sex appeal of the performer. Somehow THE FOO FIGHTERS have passed by the tastemakers and still get played but there’s still that very ‘Logan’s Run’ feel to the playlist. I think it was hearing a HAIM song once and, not knowing who it was, thinking “it’s unusual for Radio 1 to be playing Sheryl Crow” that started our train of thought on this one.

Having said that, and this is SPRAY’s hypocrisy in full flow, we fully agree with The Electricity Club’s stance on beards. One or two in a band or unshaven stubble is fine – but a full band of beards? It’s a boon and a timesaver because I know I won’t like them.

You really have seen it all, so any thoughts on the current state of independent electronic music in the UK with event promoters who think “ticket touts are free enterprise”, bedroom internet radio DJs with more sinister intentions and media platforms with veiled extreme right wing affiliations?

The level playing field that should have been brought in by the digital revolution has levelled everything too much – everybody thinks they’re good at everything, and there aren’t enough gatekeepers any more to tell them they’re not.

In the past, by way of an example, if you had some opinion you wanted to get to the public you’d either have to physically write to The Times, or publish your own fanzine. Or become an authority on a subject. Or buy ad space. If you had an ambition you’d have to work at it – to get to a conclusion you’d have to put some sort of reasonable effort in and everybody else could then be satisfied you were an expert and knew what you were doing. But without any real application, anybody reading this right now could decide to be say, a promoter. Now this is the punk spirit and I think it’s broadly fantastic most of the time.

But it’s never been easier to cover up incompetence or worse, ulterior motives than under the respectability of being a “professional”. Incompetence is always eventually found out of course, but the damage has often been done to those who put trust in apparent experts.

What’s next for you both?

Now we’ve got a taste for the stage, SPRAY intend to agree to play every gig we’re asked to and have plans for two albums in 2020. One will be our ‘Introspective’ with six long dance songs and absolutely no guitars, and the other will be lots of short songs in the semi-fictitious genre of “Zolo”.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to SPRAY

‘Failure Is Inevitable’ is released by AnalogueTrash as a CD and download, available from http://spray.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/spraynet/

https://twitter.com/spraypopmusic

https://www.instagram.com/spraypopmusic/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
31st May 2019

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