Tag: Stephen Mallinder (Page 1 of 3)

STEPHEN MALLINDER Interview

In a career that started in 1978 with the first releases by CABARET VOLTAIRE, Stephen Mallinder has worn many hats with other outfits such as ACID HORSE, SASSI & LOCO, WRANGLER and CREEP SHOW featuring John Grant.

Widely acknowledged as an experimental electronic music pioneer, despite fronting CABARET VOLTAIRE through their imperial phase and a number of iconic tracks such as ‘Nag Nag Nag’, ‘Yashar’, ‘Sensoria’ and ‘Just Fascination’, his releases as a solo artist have been scarce.

Indeed, Stephen Mallinder’s surrealist second album ‘Um Dada’ was only released in 2019.

But it rekindled interest in his first solo record ‘Pow Wow’ from 1982. Ice Machine, a new sub-label of the Canadian electro imprint Suction Records is reissuing an expanded deluxe edition of that debut.

This new version of ‘Pow Wow’ now includes the trippy dub excursion of ‘Temperature Drop’ and the more motorik ‘Cool Down’ from the 12 inch single that came out on Fetish Records in 1981 prior to the album, as well as a recreation of the original iconic Neville Brody designed artwork, painstakingly recreated using scans of the original.

Reflecting on more than four decades in the music business, Stephen Mallinder spoke to The Electricity Club about his solo work, his CABARET VOLTAIRE years and much more.

‘Pow Wow’ was recorded simultaneously as doing CABARET VOLTAIRE, what was motivating you do work on solo material. Had it been intended that maybe some of these tracks would morph into Cabs tracks?

I tend to be quite reactive, and I like a challenge, so it was driven initially by being asked to do a release with Fetish rather than a burning desire to have a solo career.

We were really busy with lots of Cabs things but I was running around doing other stuff, and had friends all over.

There was a direct connection with Rod who set up Fetish, and Neville (Brody) who was a good friend, as were 23 SKIDOO, who came up to Western Works to record ‘Last Words’.

Fetish had become synonymous with Neville, the label’s identity was in part shaped by his designs and detailed ‘look’. So there was collective component, people who I was associated with it so it seemed natural that I’d be happy to record for them.

Musically it was a chance to do things on my own, it was an experiment to play everything myself. We had a studio, Western Works, I had the opportunity and so used the downtime during the night to try things out. They were never intended to be embryonic Cabs tracks because we had a different way of working. We were very collaborative and the tracks were made with us all together – it was never a case of individuals writing a piece and the others adding their names – we worked as a group from initiation to completion.

What would have been your equipment set up at this time at Western Works? 

It was still centred on tape recording as the key process. Although we had synths and a sequencer, these were still cobbled together, with bits of homemade gear and cheap instruments; it still had a futuristic junk shop vibe.

We had built up to using 8 track but didn’t move to 16 track until later when Richard and I did the Some Bizarre / Virgin deal.

We ended to put what money we had into outboard gear so we built up the rack of effects: compressors, noise gates, reverb, delays and processors. I think the MXR Harmoniser and Lexicon delay/multi effects get used a bit on the album. We also invested in drum machines and pedals. Multitracking, overdubbing and processing were the main means of working.

‘Pow Wow’ had a very rhythmic template and coincided with CABARET VOLTAIRE’s growing interest in the dancefloor?

To be honest it was always there, Richard and myself were old soul boys and were originally friends from the hanging out in record shops and blagging into nightclubs, illegally, when were 14-15 years old. But it’s fair to say that there was a growing interest in what was emerging from clubs, and importantly that through dance music, the 12inch single was becoming more accepted as a format which meant we could mess with that extended medium.

If you then throw in our interest in dub, a nod to the repetition of disco, and looser forms of funk and African music, there was a pattern emerging. We were starting to corral all these different elements before electro had even popped its head up so we were well placed. ‘Pow Wow’ was the early part of this curve – ‘Cool Down’ was done as a 12inch single, prior to, and independently from, the album.

How do you think ‘Pow Wow’ helped you in your future musical endeavours?

I’m not sure, perhaps it demonstrated I was capable of playing all the parts and taking on every role whenever I felt I needed to. It did contrast with the Cabs where there was a happy interaction between everyone and we knew it was a consequence of 2 or 3 individuals combining, complimenting and contrasting with each other to achieve a result. I guess it made me aware of different ways of working creatively.

On ‘The Crackdown’, you were working with a young producer by the name Flood, what did you see in him that would fit into the CABARET VOLTAIRE aesthetic?

Haa, it’s kind of funny because I think Flood refers to those as his dark days so maybe you should ask him what he thought of working with us. I don’t think it was us personally as we had some great times making music with Flood.

He was great for us because until we went to record ‘The Crackdown’ in Trident, where Flood was the in-house engineer, we had never really spent time in a proper outside studio.

Flood was open, inquisitive, up for anything so great for us and we had a good chemistry. And he came back to co-produce ‘Micro-Phonies’ with us – he even came to Western Works to contribute to the recording process before we went to Sarm and mixed that album. I think his subsequent history shows how great he was, I hope he has some good memories of it all.

The ‘Crackdown’ title track is often highlighted, but ‘Just Fascination’ was an excellent if underrated single in its John Luongo remix?

Yes, John was our first foray into the specialist club remix. He was great, very amiable and my lasting memory is him working relentlessly to get the perfect kick drum sound – it took pretty much a whole day. But we should also acknowledge Peter Care’s video for that track, the first vid we did together.

How do you look back now on that Some Bizzare / Virgin Records trilogy of ‘The Crackdown’, ‘Micro-phonies’ and ‘The Covenant, The Sword & The Arm Of The Lord’?

With a sense of satisfaction. It was an interesting, and challenging time. We were trying to mould our sound, and whole approach, to a changing situation – technology, formats, media, audiences were all moving rapidly and we were in the middle of all that. We wanted to move forward but not to lose what we had achieved until then – being on the outside creating noise and disruption – but knowing we should embrace the changes. Those albums capture that tension both for us, and the times.

What opportunities did the move to Australia present that weren’t open to you in the UK at the time?

It was a bit of a shock because I had to survive, bring up my daughters, and continue with my creative work. I didn’t know a single person there. I learnt how to adapt but retain the core of yourself.

Although it felt like starting again, it was an opportunity to try things without feeling the weight of expectation on top of me all the time. I could try whatever I wanted without as much attention so I was able to write, start a record label, set up a production company, promote gigs and festivals, become a radio producer running arts and current affairs, DJ, have radio shows, complete my PhD. I did them all in a relatively short space of time which I think was only possible being away from the UK bubble.

How different was Australia to the UK when you moved there? Especially Western Australia which is in itself even more ‘remote’?

It was quite disconcerting at first as you become very aware of how small and distant you can feel when detached from your past, and that very familiar world.

But I was lucky in that I developed strong connections in Sydney and Melbourne so travelled a lot doing music and the label. I was also very lucky in that the radio show was a way of getting people in. That plus the gigs through the production company, meant every week I had someone from overseas coming in or staying with me.

So one week it might be COLDCUT, the next MR SCRUFF, KRUSH, GRANDMASTER FLASH, JURASSIC 5 or mates like MOLOKO, Jarvis Cocker or whoever passing through. I became like Our Man in Havana in Graham Green’s novel.

Also the Off World Sounds label was run by me and Pete Carroll, brother of Central Station’s Matt and Pat, and Shaun Ryder’s cousin, so barely a month would go by without half of Manchester coming to stay.

Was there any particular reason the ACID HORSE project with MINISTRY only produced one single? Was the plan for it to be an ongoing act in the vein of REVOLTING COCKS?

No it could only be a one off. In fact to this day we’ve never owned up to it really. We were in the studio in Chicago with Marshall Jefferson recording tracks for ‘Groovy, Laidback & Nasty’ and did some moonlighting with Al (Jorgensen) and Chris (Connelly) to do ACID HORSE. EMI had paid for the trip to record with Marshall so would have taken a dim view of us doing a bit on the side, hence we were credited under pseudonyms on the release.

You finally followed-up ‘Pow Wow’ after 37 years with ‘Um Dada’, while you had been recording and releasing albums as part of WRANGLER, what was the impetus to do another solo record after so long?

I just felt like taking control for a bit, and because we’d been so busy with WRANGLER, there was suddenly a bit of time to do it.

There was no particular plan, in fact I can’t really remember how it happened. I think I started making tracks at home because I had a bit of time, it followed from there.

I was never conscious of not making solo stuff until it was pointed out it’d been years since I did something under my actual name. I feel ownership of all music that I’ve worked on from CABARET VOLTAIRE, SASSI & LOCO, WRANGLER etc, there’s but tons of releases so really it was just the name for me. I’ve always preferred hiding behind a branded name, but it was nice to think there could be a direct connection by using my own.

How would ‘Working (As You Are)’ have come together and would it have been something you could have done while doing ‘Pow Wow’?

No, technology changes things, and context too. Each are a result of their own specific time and place. Although the common elements of rhythm and simplicity are consistent. I’m the link and what feathers my duster remains pretty stable.

How have the continual changes in music technology influenced the way you work? How would a young Master Mallinder have reacted to the vast libraries of sounds available at the click of a mouse?

Like everyone it gives choices. I can work from home on my laptop, and I can also choose to go into a studio. I do enjoy that flexibility, and I like that each can have their own approach and sound, or grain. And at this moment working remotely but collaborating is a good thing to be able to do.

I think the bigger changes are in transmission – how we share that music and how we choose to present ourselves. As the tangible content – the product itself – has been transformed, almost lost, so has the exchange value and our relationship to creative work. It’s certainly not all good, but we have to work with it. For every annoyance that Spotify and YouTube have made music seem like a free product, Bandcamp, coupled with social media, have given us the opportunity to quickly upload and sell.

Music, like much creative output, has become a utility. A consumable, available at the end of a click.

How did you find the reception for ‘A Situation’, your third album with WRANGLER? Did you enjoy working in Benge’s new Cornwall studio complex and seeing what he had brought into that already vast synth armoury?

Well we’ve been working all along in the Cornwall space – we did the previous album ‘White Glue’ there, recording in the upstairs space before the studio was built, plus CREEP SHOW and I finished ‘Um Dada’ there.

You won’t be surprised to know Phil and I were the first ones in there… we pretty much followed the removal truck down.

But yes, Benge has done a great job – it has taken a few years but it’s brilliant, perfection I’d say. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work there but really it’s about the people and I love working with Benge and the guys. We can work anywhere though… Benge and I finished a Laura Marling mix in an Air B&B in Glasgow.

Yes, we released the WRANGLER album as lockdown happened. We were fortunate to do a couple of gigs before the shutters came down but not great timing… particularly for the videos Aki did, they are too amazing to be missed so I hope they get seen.

The current lockdown is highlighting something you have written about in the past, namely the place of live music in a digital world. With many artists at this time performing set on platforms like Zoom, do you see audiences perceptions of what is ”live” being changed forever?

Zoom is the work of the Devil… a mate just messaged me and said that!

We have to adapt so I see this as a response to a situation, but music was never meant to be experienced live though laptop speakers. I find the funniest thing is how celebrity culture functions in lockdown – the need for attention seems to drive much of it, not a burning creative desire.

Much music is rooted in the experience, and importantly a sense of shared experience. We need a feeling of connection. Live gigs on Zoom seem a bit shit, but everyone is trying to make things work so I don’t want to be moaning on the sidelines, it’ll be interesting to see what we choose to take from all this.

What’s next for you in terms of future projects whether musical or academic, lockdown depending?

Oh I seem to have lots of things on: mixes, collaborations, film projects under way. I’ve shot bits for two promo clips in my bedroom in last three weeks. I’ve written the follow-up to ‘Um Dada’ but need to get to studio to finish.

Sadly all the gigs been cancelled or postponed. I think much seems in preparation for the big return… although that may be a series of small returns right now. One footnote being “try running a Sound Arts course online!”; big respect to everyone out there doing their best to make things work in this different world.


The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Stephen Mallinder

Additional thanks to Steve Malins at Random Management

‘Pow Wow’ is reissued by Ice Machine on 19th June 2020 in double baby blue vinyl LP, CD and digital formats, pre-order via https://pow-wow.bandcamp.com/album/pow-wow

‘Um Dada’ is available via Dais Records as a vinyl LP in three colours plus the standard black as well as CD and download from https://www.daisrecords.com/products/stephen-mallinder-um-dada

https://www.facebook.com/stephenmallinderofficial/

https://twitter.com/stephenmal

https://www.instagram.com/malmallinder/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Interview by Chi Ming Lai and Ian Ferguson
10th June 2020

A Beginner’s Guide To BENGE

Developing on a childhood fascination with electronic sound, after finishing art school, Ben Edwards set up a music studio in London and began acquiring discarded vintage synthesizers to equip it.

Under his nickname of Benge, he released his debut album ‘Electro-Orgoustic Music’ in 1995 on his own Expanding Label.

But in 2011, he became best known for his role as Chief Mathematician and collaborative partner in JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS.

By this time, what had now become Benge’s MemeTune Studios was housing one of the largest collections of working vintage synthesizers in the world and was the location for several interviews filmed for the BBC documentary ‘Synth Britannia’.

Among the equipment were modular systems from Moog, Serge, E-Mu, Formant and Buchla, the ARP 2500 and 2600, digital systems like the Synclavier and Fairlight CMI, drum machines including the Linn LM1, Roland TR808 and CR78 as well as classic polyphonic keyboards such as the Yamaha CS80, Polymoog, Oberheim 4-Voice, ARP Omni and the less celebrated EMS Polysynthi.

As a collaborator, John Foxx said Benge was “Really good – Intelligent, knowledgeable, technically blinding. He does remind me of Conny Plank. Same generosity and ability, same civilized manner – even looks similar.”

Benge left London and relocated MemeTune Studios to Cornwall in 2015, but with artists savouring this more remote setting near some of the most breathtaking coastal scenery in England, he is now busier than ever as his recent production portfolio has shown.

So by way of a Beginner’s Guide to Benge, here are eighteen examples of his work, subject to a limit of one track per artist moniker or combination, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order. As his own blog says “It’s full of stars”!


TENNIS Weakness Together (2001)

Benge’s instrumental duo with Douglas Benford, TENNIS released their second album ‘Europe On Horseback’ just as dub electronica seemed to be all the rage. Scratchy and weirdly hypnotic with hidden hooks at over eight and a half minutes, the metallic percussive notions of ‘Weakness Together’ with its metronomic rhythms and solemn Cold War synths came together for a great highlight. A third long player ‘Furlines’ emerged in 2003 with ‘The Horseback Mixes’ as a bonus.

Available on the TENNIS album ‘Europe On Horseback’ via BiP_Hop Records

https://myblogitsfullofstars.blogspot.com/


BENGE 1969 EMS VCS3 (2008)

Noted for his experimental solo albums, Benge’s most acclaimed was 2008’s ‘Twenty Systems’. It was an insightful soundtrack exploring how electronic sound architecture has evolved from using transistors to integrated circuits and from ladder filters to Fourier approximation. With each track crafted from a singular instrument, Brian Eno described it as “A brilliant contribution to the archaeology of electronic music” while it was via this album that Benge came to the attention of John Foxx.

Available on the BENGE album ‘Twenty Systems’ via Expanding Records

https://twitter.com/zackdagoba


SERAFINA STEER How To Haunt A House Party (2010)

Legend has it that Serafina Steer’s union with Benge occurred when her harp was stolen and he made synths available to fill in for the intended harp parts. One of the more electronic tracks ‘How To Haunt A House Party’ added drum machine and the spacey accompaniment complimented the songstress’ quirky brand of kitchen sink introspection. ‘Change is Good, Change is Good’ got an endorsement from Jarvis Cocker, the PULP front man declaring it one of his favourite albums of the year.

Available on the SERAFINA STEER album ‘Change Is Good, Change Is Good’ via Static Caravan

http://www.serafinasteer.com/


JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS Watching A Building On Fire (2011)

Joining forces with Benge, John Foxx found the perfect creative foil to further his earlier analogue ambitions, only this time combined with a warmth that had not been apparent on ‘Metamatic’ or his work with Louis Gordon. The best track on their debut album ‘Interplay’ was a co-written duet with Mira Aroyo of LADYTRON entitled ‘Watching A Building On Fire’. With its chattering drum machine and accessible Trans- European melodies, it was an obvious spiritual successor to ‘Burning Car’.

Available on the JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS album ‘Interplay’ via Metamatic Records

http://www.metamatic.com/


OMD Dresden – JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS remix (2013)

The first band that the young Ben Edwards ever saw live was OMD, thanks to them opening for Gary Numan in 1979. He presented a suitably harsh remix to suit the harrowing lyrical tone of ‘Dresden’. But Andy McCluskey of OMD said: “‘Dresden’ is a whopping great, unsubtle metaphor… it’s not about the bombing of Dresden in the same way as ‘Enola Gay’ was about the aeroplane that dropped the atom bomb.”

Available on the OMD single ‘Dresden’ via BMG

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


GAZELLE TWIN Exorcise (2014)

The moniker of Elizabeth Bernholz, the secomd GAZELLE TWIN second album ‘Unflesh’ with additional production and mixing by Benge, allowed the Brighton-based songstress to extract her demons with some artistic violence. One of the highlights ‘Exorcise’ was an impressively aggressive cross between PINK FLOYD’s ‘One The Run’ and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Home Computer’. Its uneasy resonance was aided by Bernholz’s harsh, deadpan commentary.

Available on the GAZELLE TWIN album ‘Unflesh’ via Anti-Ghost Moon Ray

https://www.gazelletwin.com/


HANNAH PEEL & BENGE Find Peace (2014)

Hannah Peel joined JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS in 2011 and became one of the MemeTune family, eventually taking over the studio space when Benge relocated. At the time her most overtly electronic song yet, she teamed up with Benge for a haunting modern day seasonal hymn. With a suitably poignant message, ‘Find Peace’ was a Christmas song longing for the cold but merry winters of yesteryear under the modern day spectre of global warming, armed conflict and political tension.

Available on the HANNAH PEEL single ‘Find Peace’ via My Own Pleasure

http://www.hannahpeel.com/


WRANGLER Lava Land (2014)

A trio featuring Benge, Stephen Mallinder ex-CABARET VOLTAIRE and of TUNNG’s Phill Winter, the WRANGLER manifesto was to harness “lost technology to make new themes for the modern world”. ‘Lava Land’ saw Mallinder’s voice manipulations ranging from demonic gargoyle to stern drowning robot. The frantic pace was strangely danceable but the twisted mood was distinctly unsettling and dystopian, especially when the screeching steam powered Logan string machine kicked in.

Available on the WRANGLER album ‘LA Spark’ via by Memetune Recordings

https://www.facebook.com/mallinderbengewinter/


GHOST HARMONIC Codex (2015)

GHOST HARMONIC omprisedof John Foxx and Benge alongside violinist Diana Yukawa. ‘Codex’ evolved over the space of a couple of years. Foxx said: “the underlying intention was we all wanted to see what might happen when a classically trained musician engaged with some of the possibilities a modern recording studio can offer…” The result was a startling dynamic between Yukawa’s heavily treated violin and the looming electronics. Closing the album, the title track was a string and synth opus of soothing bliss.

Available on the GHOST HARMONIC ‘Codex’ via Metamatic Records

https://www.facebook.com/johnfoxxmetamatic/


JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS featuring GARY NUMAN Talk (2016)

‘Talk’ has been used by John Foxx to explore different approaches from a singular idea with other kindred spirits such as Tara Busch and Matthew Dear. ‘Talk (Are You Listening To Me?)’ finally saw Gary Numan working on a track with his long-time hero who he had admired since the ULTRAVOX! days. His take naturally screamed alienation and fully exploited his haunting classic synth overtures, thanks to Benge’s use of a Polymoog and his effective application of its swooping ribbon controller.

Available on the JOHN FOXX album ’21st Century: A Man, A Woman & A City’ via Metamatic Records

http://garynuman.com/


FADER 3D Carpets (2017)

While BLANCMANGE’s ‘Unfurnished Rooms’ was the first time Benge and Neil Arthur worked together, their FADER duo project saw the former instigating the music as opposed to working on already written songs. Working on their parts separately, Neil Arthur said “In FADER, Benge will send me the embryonic musical idea and I’m reacting to what he’s given me” ;‘3D Carpets’ captured an independent post-punk intensity, like JOY DIVISION or THE CURE but realised with electronics rather than guitars.

Available on the ‘First Light’ via Blanc Check Records

https://www.facebook.com/WeAreFader/


I SPEAK MACHINE Shame (2017)

“Benge and I had always wanted to write together, so we took the opportunity to do so here, by expanding on the ‘Zombies 1985’ world.” said Tara Busch of how he became involved in the soundtrack of I SPEAK MACHINE’s short film about greed and self-obsession in Thatcher’s Britain as a businessman drives home, oblivious to a zombie apocalypse going on around him. The brilliant ‘Shame’ was a wonderful hybrid of THROBBING GRISTLE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and GOLDFRAPP.

Available on the album ‘Zombies 1985’ via Lex Records

https://www.ispeakmachine.com/


LONE TAXIDERMIST Home (2017)

LONE TAXIDERMIST is the vehicle of Cumbrian lass Natalie Sharp, a performance artist who believes “Your body is a sensory device”. With Phill Winter of TUNNG and WRANGLER among the collaborators, Benge acted as co-producer and released the album himself. The debut album’s opening song ‘Home’ made Sharp’s avant pop intentions clear with a catchy throbbing outline and a wonderfully wayward vocal style crossing Grace Jones with Ari Up.

Available on the LONE TAXIDERMIST album ‘Trifle’ via MemeTune Recordings

https://www.facebook.com/lonetaxidermist/


BLANCMANGE In Your Room (2018)

Working with Benge again on what was effectively their third album together, Neil Arthur has undoubtedly found comfort in their partnership. ‘Wanderlust’ was possibly BLANCMANGE’s best body of work in its 21st Century incarnation and from it, ‘In Your Room’ was a great slice of vintage robopop, with a vocoder aesthetic and an assortment of manipulated sounds at a reasonably uptempo pace. “Lyrically it was about being content with something quite simple” added Arthur.

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

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


CREEP SHOW Safe & Sound (2018)

With eclectic US singer / songwriter John Grant joining forces with the WRANGLER boys Stephen Mallinder, Benge and Phill Winter at MemeTune Studios, CREEP SHOW was something of an electronic meeting of minds. On the resultant album ‘Safe & Sound’, the quartet explored a spacious KRAFTWERK vs Moroder hybrid using dark analogue electronics, gradually revealing some wonderfully warm melodic synth textures to accompany Grant’s passionate lead croon.

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

https://www.facebook.com/creepshowmusic/


JOHN GRANT He’s Got His Mother’s Hips (2018)

Following the artistic success of the CREEP SHOW collaboration, it was only natural that Benge would step up to produce John Grant’s number four solo album ‘Love Is Magic’ to more allow the Icelandic-domiciled American to fully embrace his love of electronic music. Making use of a vintage synth brass line, the mutant crooner disco of ‘He’s Got His Mother’s Hips’ was driven by a delicious synthetic groove while not forgetting to include an uplifting chorus.

Available on the JOHN GRANT album ‘Love Is Magic’ via Bella Union

https://johngrantmusic.com/


LUMP Hand Hold Hero (2018)

Lyrically inspired by the apparent emptiness of contemporary life, when British nu-folk queen Laura Marling teamed up with Mike Lindsay, co-founder of acid-folkies TUNNG and Benge’s one-time partner-in-crime, it called for something out-of-the-box and that came courtesy of Benge’s Moog Modulars. A hypnotic sequencer line provided the backbone to ‘Hand Hold Hero’ for a rather unusual slice of Sci-Fi Country ‘N’ Western that met ‘On the Run’ somewhere on the Virginia plains.

Available on the LUMP album ‘Lump’ via Dead Oceans

https://www.facebook.com/thisisLUMP/


OBLONG Echolocation (2019)

It only took 13 years to follow-up their debut record ‘Indicator’, but with the second OBLONG album ‘The Sea At Night’, the trio of Benge, Dave Nice and Sid Stronarch delivered a collection of rustic electro-acoustic organically farmed electronica! With mood and pace, ‘Echolocation’ was a classic synth instrumental with its crystalline textures and charming slightly off-key blips, aurally reflecting the remote moorland location in Cornwall where it was recorded.

Available on the OBLONG album ‘The Sea At Night’ via MemeTune Recordings

https://twitter.com/oblongtheband


Text by Chi Ming Lai
9th March 2020

CREEP SHOW Mr Dynamite

CREEP SHOW is an electronic meeting of minds between eclectic US singer / songwriter John Grant and the dark analogue electro of WRANGLER, the trio comprising Stephen Mallinder, Phil Winter and Benge.

Brought together for the Rough Trade 40th Anniversary celebrations in 2016, the first fruit of this collaboration is ‘Mr Dynamite’ – an album which was recorded in Cornwall following the move of Benge’s Memetune studio from its original Hoxton location.

Opening with the title track, ‘Mr Dynamite’ sees Grant’s vocal cut-up, pitch-changed and split over different keys on a vintage AKAI sampler.

This is then laid over a minimalist drum machine, bass pulse and a signature John Grant synth lead.

‘Modern Parenting’ sees a hybrid of funky bass synth and echoed sequenced synths with a typical quirky Grant vocal. The addition of female backing vocals give the overall impression of TALKING HEADS ditching their guitars and going fully electronic instead; the surreal chorus hook of “when your doggy jumps the fence and sets its sights on you” also adds to the playful, funky nature of the track.

‘Tokyo Metro’ is a KRAFTWERK-inspired 8-bit Chip-Tune style piece, the vocodered vocal very reminiscent of ‘Dentaku’, their Japanese version of ‘Pocket Calculator’.

‘Endangered Species’ is a chilled glitchy piece with a floaty string synth; the track also gives Grant a chance to go into his full-on crooner mode and take a squealing lead synth solo. The song ramps up a level with the unexpected addition of CULTURE CLUB’s original backing vocalists Mary Pearce, Maria Q and Zee Asher; having originally toured with Grant, they give the slightly creepy “You are the endangered species” hook a brilliantly quirky resonance. For those familiar with Grant’s work, the nearest comparison here would be his solo tracks ‘Voodoo Doll’ and ‘Black Belt’; the ones where he mixes vitriol and downright bitchiness…

On the final two lengthy tracks ‘Fall’ and ‘Safe & Sound’, the band go full-on KRAFTWERK and GIORGIO MORODER; the songs are given room to breathe and reveal themselves gradually with some wonderfully warmly melodic synth parts. On ‘Fall’, there are tiny slithers of voices which float over the instrumental backing and on ‘Safe & Sound’, Grant reins in the quirkiness to deliver a hazy vibrato-filled vocal.

‘Mr Dynamite’ is a really fresh and uncontrived sounding album, it’s not over-produced and comes across as a piece of work that all involved had a real blast making. It would have been interesting if the band had pursued the sound of the final track a little further though. There still remains a gaping hole in the market for retro synthesizer-based tracks featuring a real vocalist, not just someone that’s appears to have been drafted in as an afterthought (see: some underperforming UK-based synth acts).

The CREEP SHOW album really plays to the combined strengths of WRANGLER and John Grant; the latter’s vocals being the icing on the proverbial electronic cake and ensuring the listener will undoubtedly reacquaint themselves with ‘Mr Dynamite’ time and time again and again.


With thanks to Danielle Carr at Bella Union

‘Mr Dynamite’ is released on 16th March 2018 by Bella Union

CREEP SHOW 2019 live dates:

Sheffield The Foundry (5th October), Liverpool Arts Club Loft (6th October), Bristol Trinity Centre (8th October), London Scala (9th October), Hove Old Market (10th October), Newcastle Boiler Shop (12th October), Glasgow Art School (14th October)

http://creepshowmusic.com

https://www.facebook.com/creepshowmusic/

https://twitter.com/CreepShowMusic

https://www.instagram.com/creepshowmusic/


Text by Paul Boddy
14th March 2018, updated 26th June 2019

CREEP SHOW Interview

CREEP SHOW sees a dream team collaboration between US singer-songwriter and professed synth-lover John Grant with the established experimental electro triad of Stephen Mallinder, Benge and Phil Winter, collectively known as WRANGLER.

The two parties started to develop a working relationship after the latter remixed Grant which then lead onto live dates at The Barbican and The Royal Albert Hall.

The resulting link-up has since given birth to the ‘Mr Dynamite’ album.

It’s a meeting of minds that in the words of Mallinder is: “…a Hydra. A beast with multiple heads and voices, so no one is quite sure who is saying and doing what. Everything is permitted and everything is possible”

The Electricity Club spoke to CREEP SHOW about the gestation of the album, the impact of Benge’s studio relocating to Cornwall and some of the tech involved in the making of ‘Mr Dynamite’.

The Electricity Club saw WRANGLER support John at The Royal Albert Hall, was this a calculated attempt by John to engineer a collaboration between both parties? 😉

Mal: Well we’d already collaborated by this point as John and myself had been talking and WRANGLER had done a remix of ‘Voodoo Doll’ from the ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ album. It was around the time of the Albert Hall show that we’d been asked to work together and play at the Barbican, so the Albert Hall was just a nice cherry on the cake of us joining forces. We were very chuffed being asked to play, it was a lovely gesture by JG and all the team.

Phil: I just remember it being a very surreal evening, but we were made to feel very welcome.

Benge: I think at the time it was the biggest gig we had done – and certainly the poshest! It doesn’t get much posher than the Royal Albert. We even got to meet The Queen (Kylie Minogue)!

JG: Everything I do is carefully calculated which is why I am also a real estate magnate.

With John involved, how did this change the working dynamic of WRANGLER?

Mal: I don’t know if anything had to change too much as we all integrated so well; we worked in the studio with consummate ease. It was just nice to have another element, another tangent to go to, another voice – quite literally when John did vocals. But we all worked on every aspect of the tracks together, no roles were defined which is exactly how WRANGLER work anyway. It was fun though, so just a case of going from being a wonky tricycle to being a wonky car… the fourth wheel was very handy.

Phil: Yeah, nothing really changed, we just had another pair of hands (that could even play chords) and another mouth to feed !

Benge: It was good to find out that John is as up for experimenting with sounds and ideas as we all are. We deliberately don’t usually have many boundaries when we work together as WRANGLER, so I guess it could have been problematic adding in another personality to the mixture, but John is so open minded and up for experimenting that it felt really natural.

JG: It’s always the perverts who are up for “experimenting” – I’m calling my solicitor!

Were they any prior decisions on the direction for the album or did things evolve organically?

Mal: Well the three of us did some preliminary sketches, as John was on tour, but they were very broad ideas that quickly changed when we got together. Plus John had already sketched out the ideas for ‘Mr Dynamite’. After that, it was just all hands on deck but there was no prior discussion about what it should sound like … apart from f*cking great.

Phil: Even if there were, they disappeared very quickly once we realised we were heading in roughly the same direction .

Benge: Before we started, I was asking myself, how is this going to work vocally as Mal and John are stylistically polar opposites – there was a lot of room for it to go horribly wrong! But the interesting thing was that the addition of John’s new dynamic, lyrically, vocally and musically mutated what we do as WRANGLER into something completely new and unique. Originally we weren’t going to have a new band name, we would have been called “Wrangler featuring John Grant” or “John Grant featuring Wrangler”. But we felt we had created something that had its own strong personality

JG: I felt it was very organic and soon we had settled into a comfortable atmosphere of resentment, competitive pettiness and sardonic laughter.

How did the songwriting process work on ‘Mr. Dynamite’?

Mal: We were backstage after his show at the De La Warr Pavilion and John played me the ideas of rhythms for ‘Mr. Dynamite’ that he’d done. We took it all into the studio and then began working on it.

Phil: Do you mean the track, or the album as a whole? Either way it was pretty much the same, get a load of sequences, a beat , and then play and sing over the top .

Benge: And then shove it all through a pitch shifter and flanger.

JG: For my part, Benge and I sampled every single word into an old Akai sampler from the 80s and then played them at different pitches on a keyboard.

Whose idea was the big girlie backing vocals on ‘Endangered Species’?

Mal: I’ll let JG answer that one, but suffice to say we were all happy with it. John and I sat in the studio with the girls and let them rip through it. It was great as they all loved the tracks… when we got to sing on ‘Modern Parenting’, they made the right connections to George Clinton and FUNKADELIC so we knew it was going to work.

Phil: John’s… great call, we’d never do anything like that, love it!

Benge: I think originally John had put some backing vocal parts in at the end of that one, then he casually said “why don’t I get Culture Club’s original backing vocalists to redo them?” – when we realised he wasn’t joking, it was a no brainer.

JG: I don’t mind taking credit for this one. Mary Pearce, Maria Q and Zee Asher have worked with CULTURE CLUB for yonks and I just wanted an excuse to be in the same room with them again as they have toured with me and they are fantastic as you can hear.

Alongside the obvious CABARET VOLTAIRE influence, much of the synth bass on ‘Mr Dynamite’ is reminiscent of classic electro like ‘Bassline’ by MANTRONIX, how much of an influence is era this on your work?

Mal: That period is so important to us all. Technology-wise Benge’s studio is massively invested in that sound and we all love that period as it represents a very dynamic collaboration between machines and people. The whole idea of drum machines, synths and basslines all talking to each other in a very live way. We all grew up with that sound, and on opposite sides of the Atlantic, so it is an important way for all four of us to connect. Phil and I have been friends, and worked together, for years and the whole electro period is our provenance – put on an Oberheim DMX drum machine and Juno bassline and we turn to liquid.

Phil: I guess if we have a default setting it’s that sound, but I’d like to think there are wider aspects to our sound.

Benge: Yes, but when you walk round the studio and you are confronted by a corner of the room that has a DMX, a Roland SH101, Oberheim 4-voice and a Claptrap all connected together, it’s hard not to slip into electro-mode, even just a little bit.

JG: Yeah, that’s just part of my DNA, the synth basses of the 80s – the SH-101 from Roland is beyond all human understanding.

MemeTune studio and its synths has now relocated down to Cornwall, has the change of location had any effect on the music making process?

Mal: Well, it takes a little bit longer to get to, but once we’re there it means we have no distractions. When MemeTune was in Hoxton, there were too many people and places to tempt us out so the working process different. But wherever it is we’ll go and work – I think using ‘Space 1999’ as an inspiration, we need to have a MemeTune Moonbase.

Phil: Obviously, it’s a very different experience to working in a studio in London. But as mentioned, it’s all about the people really (and the dog).

Benge: What’s nice now is when people come down here, it’s a total lock-in. No-one can escape for days on end! It’s a good focus. And yes, even Rothko (my dog) gets involved.

JG: I always feel completely invigorated and inspired by the beauty of Cornwall and Benge’s amazing studio, so it certainly affects me. Sadly, I never saw the London MemeTune studios 🙁

John’s professed love of the Roland Juno 106 is well-known, how well-used was this synth on the album?

Mal: Not at all!

Phil: I think the CS80 has taken his heart ❤

Benge: Or was it the Sequential Prophet VS?

JG: It is indeed the CS80 (the greatest synth of all time) and the Prophet VS which have stolen my heart. But the Juno 106 is still precious to me.

So were there particular go to synths on this album?

Mal: There is always ‘synth of the week’ – usually the one that’s just come back from the Keith the Synth Cobbler – but that’s always changing. There’s a particular little Akai machine that’s been made to work its socks off in the last few sessions.

Phil: I seem to remember the Roland SH2 and the Minimoog providing a lot of the basslines .

Benge: As always at MemeTune, there’s a lot of interplay between all the instruments. Keyboards, drum machines, effects units, analog sequencers, modular systems all get connected together in millions of ways. It’s impossible to keep track of it all

‘Fall’ in places is akin to a lost ‘Autobahn’ era KRAFTWERK track, do you think electronic artists will ever stop paying homage to the German meisters?

Mal: Who? Never heard of them!

Phil: Why would you?

Benge: I’ve heard of an English band called Craftwork

JG: My mother did a lot of craft work as well and there were latch hook rugs all over the place. But to answer your question: I hope not.

‘Safe & Sound’ is a wonderful mix of old-school crooner vocals and analogue electronics and is The Electricity Club’s favourite track on ‘Mr Dynamite’, can you each select a favourite from the album and why?

Mal: ‘Endangered Species’

Phil: Impossible, sorry!

Benge: I like the way ‘Fall’ turned out – I think it’s got a simplicity and beauty and groove that I’m into at the moment

JG: ‘Endangered Species’ for me too. Loved doing that vocal and lyrics and the combo of bassline and pad makes my legs go all rubbery.

So… ‘Mr Dynamite’ a glorious one-night stand of an album or the start of a continuing meaningful relationship between all the parties involved?

Mal: It would be so rude not to call after such a memorable night!

Phil: And I need my scarf back!

Benge: It wasn’t goodbye, it was au revoir.

JG: What they said…


The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to CREEP SHOW

Special thanks to Danielle Carr at Bella Union

‘Mr Dynamite’ is released on 16th March 2018 by Bella Union in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats

CREEP SHOW 2019 live dates:

Sheffield The Foundry (5th October), Liverpool Arts Club Loft (6th October), Bristol Trinity Centre (8th October), London Scala (9th October), Hove Old Market (10th October), Newcastle Boiler Shop (12th October), Glasgow Art School (14th October)

http://creepshowmusic.com

https://www.facebook.com/creepshowmusic/

https://twitter.com/CreepShowMusic

https://www.instagram.com/creepshowmusic/

http://www.johngrantmusic.com

https://www.facebook.com/mallinderbengewinter/


Text and Interview by Paul Boddy
21st February 2018, updated 16th June 2019

HANNAH PEEL Live at St Leonard’s Church

It was at “a meeting of minds on memory / art / music / literature / film” curated by Kirsteen McNish of Vine Collective in association with Alzheimer’s Research UK that HANNAH PEEL launched her acclaimed second album ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’ with an emotional live presentation in the heart of London.

hannah-peel-shoreditch-church-01Only a stone’s throw from her basement studio where most of the album was recorded, St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch was the setting for an event to raise awareness of the effects of memory loss and dementia.

It is said that one-in-three people will develop dementia. The charity Alzheimer’s Research UK aims to defeat dementia through studies in prevention, treatment and cure.

The experiences of HANNAH PEEL with her own grandmother’s gradual decline into dementia inspired ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’ and the event featured a number of artists from different fields, each with their own story to tell on the issue.

First up was poet, writer and filmmaker Lavinia Greenlaw and her short film ‘The Sea Is An Edge And An Ending’. At times deeply upsetting, it was indeed a moving “study of the impact of dementia on our sense of time and place”. To continue the theme, director and choreographer Shelly Love introduced her more surreal short film ‘Scratch’ where “A lone character inhabits a subterranean world. Stuck between worlds, she fails to move on…”

wrangler-shoreditch-church-01In between, music was provided by WRANGLER’s Stephen Mallinder and Phil Winter with a DJ set described by Mallinder on Twitter as “all kinda ‘tings with @disco_rdance visual magics”. Beginning sedately, as the evening progressed, the soundtrack got louder and more distorted. But whether this was a creative aspect to proceedings or the electrics at the church struggling to cope, it was difficult to tell.

christopher-eccleston-shoreditch-churchA special guest took to the stage in the shape of one-time ‘Doctor Who’ Christopher Eccleston; the actor lost his own father to the dementia and has become a supporter of Alzheimer’s Research UK.

He read two poems ‘Apart’ by Robin Robertson and ‘Straw Weight’ by Will Burns with his passionate charisma clearly projecting through and holding the attention of all present.

Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Christmas campaign advert ‘Santa Forgot’ was also shown; produced by Aardman Animations and featuring a voice over by Stephen Fry with music composed by HANNAH PEEL, it imagines a world without Santa Claus; it touchingly ends with the little girl Freya whispering to Santa “I believe in you”.

Electronic pioneer John Foxx could be considered HANNAH PEEL’s mentor having brought her to wider attention via JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS, so it was highly fitting that he eloquently introduced her to the stage.

john-foxx-shoreditch-churchA short piano only intro of ‘All That Matters’ acted as an overture before the thrust of driving synth bass and sparkling arpeggios of the fully synthesized version filled the church hall.

Meanwhile second song in, ‘Silk Road’ from her interim ‘Fabricstate’ EP was a surprise but welcome inclusion in a set based around the album Awake But Always Dreaming’.

The poignant ‘Don’t Take It Out On Me’ highlighted the main theme of the evening before the spacey cocoon of the ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’ title song showcased Peel’s progression as an artist, with its looming, hallucinogenic squeals. It was augmented by the complimentary percussive colours of Daisy Palmer, a fabulously intuitive drummer who only played what was required and avoided the excesses found with some better known electronic based combos.

The set was enhanced with films produced by Daniel Conway and By Emmaalouise Smith comprising of mind maps and Super 8 home footage to visualise the fracturing of memory and this was particularly striking on the haunting moods of ‘Tenderly’.

‘Standing On The Roof Of The World’ and ‘Hope Lasts’ added a few noisier textures as Miss Peel made effective use of her two Dave Smith Mopho x4 synths, one now specially customised with a new keyboard to suit her soloing technique.

hannah-peel-shoreditch-church-02But the crowd were in total silence for an impressively forlorn performance of Paul Buchanan’s ‘Cars In The Garden’ on music box.

Joined by Erland Cooper, her producer and bandmate from THE MAGNETIC NORTH, on harmonies, the on-stage banter between the pair revealed a closeness that can only come from being locked in a studio together as Cooper joked about Peel’s white stage outfit resembling a lab coat.

The beautiful vocal melodies on ‘Invisible City’ continued the mood before the main segment of the show closed with the two-movement ‘Foreverest’. Mutating into a heavy Glam laden stomp with screeching violin, it provided a fitting off-kilter soundtrack to the futility of the rat race while forgetting the importance of loving relationships.

hannah-peel-shoreditch-church-03Returning for an encore, the heartfelt and very personal ‘Conversations’ provided an emotive focal point as to the evening’s aims.

But not wanting to finish things on a downer, Peel’s encouraged the crowd to sing along to a ‘Rebox’ rendition of ‘Tainted Love’. Despite forgetting the words to the third verse and the dark lyrics, it provided the hopeful lift that was needed to ensure the evening’s message rang home.

While it was full of drama and tears, there was the optimism and hope that only art and music can provide. With HANNAH PEEL’s own story of how her grandmother was able to singalong to Christmas carols despite having suffered from memory loss for several years, it is said that “Researchers have found that playing music from someone’s young adult years, from around 18 to 25, is likely to provoke the strongest response. As patients enter late-stage dementia, music from their childhood may prove more powerful”.

With this information to hand, The Electricity Club is all for harking back and celebrating the past if it goes any way towards improving an individual’s quality of life.


HANNAH PEEL Awake But Always Dreaming‘Awake But Always Dreaming’ is released by My Own Pleasure in CD, vinyl and download formats and available from https://hannahpeel.tmstor.es/

http://www.hannahpeel.com

https://www.facebook.com/HannahPeelMusic/

https://twitter.com/Hanpeel

For information on the work of Alzheimer’s Research UK and how to donate, visit http://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/

Laura Barton’s article for The Guardian ‘Awakenings: Hannah Peel on how she harnessed music’s power to cut through dementia’ can be read at: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/nov/23/awakenings-hannah-peel-on-how-she-harnessed-musics-power-to-cut-through-dementia


Text and Photos by Chi Ming Lai
28th November 2016

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