With the release of their excellent breakthrough album ‘Fragment’ on MFS in Autumn 2018, STOLEN solidified their position leading the new generation of Chinese artists combining East and West.
‘Fragment’ was produced by Mark Reeder and Micha Adam in Berlin. Their Sinomatic techno-rock sound impressed NEW ORDER enough to invite the Chengdu sextet to open for them in Europe during Autumn 2919.
STOLEN were due to open for NEW ORDER again in Spring 2020 in Japan but with the escalating corona crisis, these dates along with an extensive tour of China were cancelled and the band was forced into lockdown for over six weeks.
After the restrictions were lifted in China, the moment that the band were allowed to go out, they immediately went to their practice studio and performed an live internet lockdown gig, in solidarity with all those people still in lockdown, or at worst, facing the prospect of one.
Led by the growly vocal presence of Liang Yi, songs from the NEW ORDER support set like the KRAFTWERK inspired ‘Why We Chose to Die in Berlin’, the mighty PINK FLOYD gone Techno of ‘Turn Black’, the buzzy extended jam of ‘The Loop Sin’ and the band’s hypnotic signature tune ‘Chaos’ were performed.
Other tracks featured included the poignant electro-metal rush of ‘Why We Follow?’ and the Middle Eastern flavoured ‘Aamir’ from their debut record ‘Loop’ which may appeal to modern day Numanoids. But proceedings were emotively concluded with the haunting Eno-esque ‘Drown With Me’.
The hour long set was broadcast live on 16th March 2020 and attracted over 200,000 viewers worldwide on social media. With virtually the whole world now in a state of isolation, this show has now been made available for all to stream via YouTube. Capturing aspects of the exhilarating audio-visual nature of their live presentation, it acts as a fine introduction to those who are curious about STOLEN.
With 2020 being the 40th anniversary of his passing, the late Ian Curtis of JOY DIVISION eerily captured the current situation in the lyrics of ‘Isolation’: “In fear every day, every evening – He calls her aloud from above – Carefully watched for a reason – Painstaking devotion and love – Surrendered to self preservation from others who care for themselves – A blindness that touches perfection but hurts just like anything else”
It was obvious there was gap waiting to be filled for a quality web publication that featured the best in new and classic electronic pop without having to lower itself to using the dreaded “80s” label. The Electricity Club was it and became reality on 15th March 2010.
Electronic pop music didn’t start in that Thatcher decade and certainly didn’t end there either. So there was even an editorial diktat which banned The Electricity Club’s writers from using the lazy”80s” term as a reference. Tellingly, several PR representatives said that one of the site’s main appeals was that it avoided the whole nostalgia bent that had been presented by both virtual and physical media.
At the time, kooky female fronted keyboard based pop like LA ROUX, LITTLE BOOTS, LADYHAWKE, LADY GAGA and MARINA & THE DIAMONDS were among those touted as being the future at the time. But it proved to be something of a red herring, as those acts evolved back into what they actually were, conventional pop acts.
The Electricity Club preferred the sort of innovative synthpop as outlined in BBC4’s Synth Britannia documentary with the next generation of artists like MARSHEAUX, VILE ELECTRODES, VILLA NAH and MIRRORS more than fitting the bill and that ethos of featuring pop music using synthesizers stuck too.
Meanwhile, The Electricity Club’s portfolio expanded swiftly with key personalities such as Rusty Egan, Sarah Blackwood, Richard James Burgess, Warren Cann, Chris Payne, Thomas Dolby, John Foxx, Andy McCluskey, Neil Arthur, Alan Wilder, Mark Reeder, Gary Langan, Jori Hulkkonen, Howard Jones, Mira Aroyo, Sarah Nixey and Hannah Peel among those giving interviews to the site during its first two years.
The Electricity Club has always prided itself in asking the questions that have never usually been asked, but which fans want to know the answers to. And it was with this reputation for intelligent and well researched interviewing that in March 2011, the site was granted its biggest coup yet.
Speaking to Stephen Morris of the then-on hiatus NEW ORDER, the drummer cryptically hinted during the ensuing chat that Manchester’s finest would return by saying “I never say never really”; and that is exactly what happened in Autumn of that year and the band have been there since, as popular as ever and still making great music with the release of ‘Music Complete’ in 2015.
Monday 21st March 2011 was an interesting day that partied like it was 1981 when it saw the release of albums by DURAN DURAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS. Also in 2011, Mute Records celebrated their influential legacy with a weekender also at London’s Roundhouse which culminated in ERASURE, YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY performing in the same set.
Despite the ‘Brilliant’ return of ULTRAVOX, 2012 paled in comparison after such a fruitful year and several acts who were featured probably would not have gained as much coverage in more competitive periods. With pressure from outsiders as to what was hot and what was not, this was the only time The Electricity Club felt it was obliged to support a domestic scene.
But realising acts like HURTS and STRANGERS were actually just jumping on an apparent synth bandwagon and possessing more style than substance, The Electricity Club decided to change tact and only featured acts it felt truly passionate about, even if it meant upsetting the wider synth community. The reasoning being that just because a band uses a synthesizer doesn’t mean it is good.
During this time, MIRRORS sadly disbanded while VILLA NAH mutated into SIN COS TAN. But the year did see the launch of CHVRCHES who stood out from the crowd with their opening gambit ‘Lies’. With their Taylor Swift gone electro template, Lauren Mayberry and Co managed to engage an audience who didn’t know or care what a Moog Voyager was, to listen to synthpop!
2013 turned out to be one of the best years for electronic pop since its Synth Britannia heyday. What The Electricity Club achieved during this year would take up a whole article in itself… there were high profile interviews with Alison Moyet, Gary Numan and Karl Bartos while OMD released the album of the decade in ‘English Electric’. PET SHOP BOYS made up for their ‘Elysium’ misstep with ‘Electric’ while there was finally a third volume in BEF’s ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’ covers series.
Although 2014 started tremendously with The Electricity Club being invited to meet Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür in Cologne, the year suffered next to quality of 2013.
The interviews continued, particularly with key figures from the Synth Britannia era including Midge Ure and the often forgotten man of the period Jo Callis who was a key member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE during their imperial phase.
But the year saw grandeurs of delusion at their highest, with one artist of a far too normal disposition in particular failing to realise that in order for a crowdfunding campaign to succeed, they needed to actually have quite a few fans in the first place!
Then, there was the similarly clueless Alt-Fest debacle which saw the organisers play Fantasy Festival with no cash to underwrite the infrastructure to enable it to actually happen!
Sadly today, there are still egotistic chancers organising events with zero budget and the money from ticket sales being fleeced to fund their holidays. But these artificial factors are rarely considered and so long as there are lower league artists desperate to play for nowt and a misguided enhancement in profile that is often on a platform that provides minimal exposure anyway, then the confidence tricks will continue.
2015 saw the local emergence of Rodney Cromwell and Gwenno, while the majestic Swedish duo KITE proved that they were the best synth act in Europe with the ‘VI’ EP and their impressive live show.
It was also the year when ERASURE front man Andy Bell gave his first interview to The Electricity Club to offer some revealing insights.
Making something of a comeback after a recorded absence of nearly eight years, Jean-Michel Jarre presented his ambitious two volume ‘Electronica’ project which saw collaborations with a varied pool of musicians including Pete Townsend, Lang Lang, John Carpenter, Vince Clarke, Hans Zimmer, Cyndi Lauper, Sebastien Tellier and Gary Numan.
VILLA NAH returned in 2016, as did YELLO with Fifi Rong as one of their guest vocalists while APOPTYGMA BERZERK went instrumental and entered the ‘Exit Popularity Contest’. Riding on the profile generated from their ‘A Broken Frame’ covers album, MARSHEAUX released their biggest-selling long player to date, a two city concept in ‘Ath.Lon’. This was also the year that The Electricity Club first became acquainted with the analogue synthesizer heaven of Johan Baeckström, a modern day Vince Clarke if ever there was one.
However DEPECHE MODE unleashed their most dire record yet in ‘Spirit’, a dreary exercise in faux activism bereft of tunes. Salt was rubbed into the wound when they merely plonked an underwhelming arena show into a stadium for their summer London show.
The trend was to continue later in 2019 as DEPECHE MODE just plonked 14 albums into a boxed set, while OMD offered an album of quality unreleased material in their ‘Souvenir’ package.
And with DEPECHE MODE’s sad descent into a third rate pseudo-rock combo during the last 15 years to appease that ghastly mainstream American institution called The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame with guitars and drums, Dave Gahan in particular with his ungrateful dismissal of the pioneering synth-based material with which he made his fortune with, now has what he has always coveted.
And don’t get The Electricity Club started on the 2019 Moog Innovation Award being given to Martin Gore, a real insult to true synth pioneers if ever there was one, including Daniel Miller, Vince Clarke and Alan Wilder, the three men who actually did the electronic donkey work on those imperial phase DEPECHE MODE albums! Gore may have been a very good songwriter during that time, but a synth innovator? Oh come on!?!
With regards Synth Britannia veterans, new albums in 2017 from Richard Barbieri and Steve Jansen saw a revived interest in JAPAN, the band with which they made their name.
Despite releasing their final album ‘Tin Drum’ in 1981, as a later conversation with one-time guitarist Rob Dean proved, cumulatively from related article views, JAPAN became the most popular act on The Electricity Club.
The return of SOFT CELL dominated 2018 with a lavish boxed set that was not just comprised of previously released long players, new songs, new books, a BBC documentary and a spectacular farewell show at London’s O2 Arena.
EMIKA was ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ and Swedish songstress IONNALEE showcased one of the best value-for-money live presentations in town, with a show that surreal imagined Kate Bush at a rave!
But from China came STOLEN, one of the most exciting bands in years who were then later rewarded for their graft with a European tour opening for NEW ORDER.
2019 was the year when synthwave graduates Dana Jean Phoenix and Ollie Wride were coming into their own as live performers, while electronic disco maestro Giorgio Moroder embarked on a concert tour for the first time with his songs being the true stars of the show.
Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS gave his first interview to The Electricity Club to tie in with his solo album ‘Gone From Here’, while a pub lunch with Mark White and Stephen Singleton mutated into an extensive chat about their days in ABC. Lloyd Cole adopted a more synthesized template on ‘Guessworks’ and Britpop went synth as GENEVA’s Andrew Montgomery formed US with Leo Josefsson of Swedish trio LOWE.
Partly because of this success, some of those who were less talented felt aggrieved despite feeling a narcisstic entitlement to be featured. A few deluded artists even went as far as to blame The Electricity Club publically for their lack of traction! NoW that’s what The Electricity Club calls deluded!
If an act is good enough, the fact that The Electricity Club hasn’t featured them should not matter, especially as other electronic and synth blogs are available. After taking its eye of the ball once before in 2012, The Electricity Club maintained a trust of its own gut instinct.
Meanwhile, its stance has been tested by those shouting loudest who instantaneously champion what they perceive as the next big thing like sheep, without really looking ahead at a wider picture. However, TRAVIS on VSTs is just not The Electricity Club’s thing frankly…
The Electricity Club’s participation in the annual ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE in Düsseldorf for on-stage interviews with Rusty Egan, Chris Payne, Mark Reeder and Zeus B Held was another high profile engagement to be proud of. Then there were six TEC branded live events and five rounds of hosting ‘An Audience with Rusty Egan’ in one of the most unenviable but highly entertaining refereeing assignments in music 😉
Other highlights over the last ten years have included The Electricity Club’s 2015 career retrospective on German trio CAMOUFLAGE being edited and used as booklet notes for the Universal Music sanctioned compilation CD ‘The Singles’.
There was also ‘The Electricity Club’ 2CD released by Amour Records in 2019 which included TEC featured acts like MESH, SECTION 25, SIN COS TAN, KID KASIO, NIGHT CLUB, QUIETER THAN SPIDERS, ELECTRONIC CIRCUS, DAYBEHAVIOR, LIEBE, TWINS NATALIA, KID MOXIE, GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS, ELEVEN: ELEVEN, AUTOMATIC WRITING, FOTONOVELA and QUEEN OF HEARTS among its 34 excellent tracks, including a bangin’ MARSHEAUX remix of Katy Perry!
As 2020 settles in, highly regarded artists within the electronic community continue to engage with The Electricity Club. Neil Arthur recently gave his seventh interview as BLANCMANGE and his tenth interview overall, taking into account his side projects FADER and NEAR FUTURE. Not far behind, Martyn Ware has also been a regular interviewee having spoken to the site on six occasions while Paul Humphreys has been interviewed no less than five times.
The Electricity Club is still pushing the envelope, continuing to reflect the interests of people who love the Synth Britannia era and have a desire to hear new music seeded from that ilk. With artists like ANI GLASS, IMI, KNIGHT$, NINA, MECHA MAIKO, GEISTE and PLASMIC among those on the cusp of a wider breakthrough, there is still more excellent music still to be created, discovered and savoured.
One inferior revivalist platform featuring far too much normal rubbish once complained that The Electricity Club “only feature bands that are popular…”; what they actually mean is “only feature bands that are really good”! 😉
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to everyone who has taken the time read any article on the site over the last ten years, it is greatly appreciated.
‘The Electricity Club’ is released by Amour Records / Minos EMI / Universal Music in collaboration with Undo Records as a 34 track 2CD set in a deluxe 6 panel digipak with track-by-track commentary and ‘O’ card; the compilation be purchased from the following retailers:
01 MAISON VAGUE Synthpop’s Alive
02 KID KASIO Full Moon Blue
03 ELECTRONIC CIRCUS Roundabout
04 DAYBEHAVIOR It’s A Game (Marsheaux remix)
05 MARNIE The Hunter
06 ELEVEN:ELEVEN Through The Veil
07 NIGHT CLUB Cruel Devotion
08 QUEEN OF HEARTS United
09 KATY PERRY Hot ‘N’ Cold (Marsheaux remix)
10 ERASURE Be The One (Paul Humphreys remix)
11 KID MOXIE The Bailor
12 KEEP SHELLY IN ATHENS Oostende
13 FOTONOVELA featuring JAMES NEW Our Sorrow (Original mix)
14 GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS Jessica 6
15 AUTOMATIC WRITING Continuous
16 METROLAND Thalys (London Edit)
17 RODNEY CROMWELL Black Dog
01 SIN COS TAN Trust
02 POLLY SCATTERGOOD Other Too Endless (Vince Clarke remix)
03 TENEK What Do You Want? (Alternate TEC version)
04 ANALOG ANGEL We Won’t Walk Away
05 ARTHUR & MARTHA Autovia
06 MARSHEAUX Suffer The Children
07 SECTION 25 My Outrage
08 047 featuring LISA PEDERSEN Everything’s Fine
09 TAXX Is It Love?
10 LIEBE I Believe In You
11 QUIETER THAN SPIDERS Shanghai Metro
12 iEUROPEAN featuring WOLFGANG FLÜR Activity Of Sound
13 TWINS NATALIA Destiny
14 MESH Tuesday
15 MIRRORS Between Four Walls
16 OMD Time Burns (Fotonovela rework)
17 VILE ELECTRODES Deep Red
Please note this product is NOT on sale through The Electricity Club website and only via retailers
Text by Chi Ming Lai
Image Design by Volker Maass
16th March 2020
Szechuan six-piece STOLEN are part of a new generation of Chinese artists combining East and West.
Following on from FIFI RONG guesting with YELLO and Re-TROS supporting DEPECHE MODE, STOLEN undertaking a prestigious six date European tour opening for NEW ORDER has possibly been the most important moment for Chinese pop music in the 21st Century yet.
With influences such as JOY DIVISION, PORTISHEAD, BLUR, MASSIVE ATTACK, KRAFTWERK, NEW ORDER, RADIOHEAD and APHEX TWIN, they released their excellent breakthrough album ‘Fragment’ on MFS in Autumn 2018. Recorded and produced by Mark Reeder and Micha Adam in Berlin, their Sinomatic techno-rock sound has been exemplified by songs such as ‘Chaos’, ‘Turn Black’, ‘Why We Chose To Die In Berlin’ and ‘Copyshop’.
Liang Yi, the growly charismatic lead singer of STOLEN said to The Electricity Club in 2018: “It is our basic principle to try and separate our sound from other music. We can let others hear our influence, but we don’t want to become a ‘copy shop’ ourselves! We are trying to inspire others to join us and create our own Sino-sound.”
Capturing the nature of modern China, where traditional values can clash with mass industrialisation and capital growth, aspiration has always been part of the ethnic psyche.
And while STOLEN have successfully toured and played festivals in their homeland, they had ambitions to take their music to Europe.
Bernard Sumner had already declared his enthusiasm for them on the NEW ORDER website in 2018: “STOLEN are a young Chinese electronic band trying to carve out their own unique sound in a sometimes overwhelming environment of commercial ‘junk music’. I think this is a brave new album from STOLEN and I commend their efforts to shape the future sound of China.”
“The tour came together after Bernard asked me if I thought STOLEN would be interested in supporting NEW ORDER in Berlin.” remembered Mark Reeder, “I immediately said yes, without hesitation. A few months previously, I had been on a trip to Gdansk with Bernard and told him I had just finished producing an album by a young Chinese band called STOLEN, and that I was preparing to release it on my freshly rejuvenated MFS label”.
For Reeder who had introduced electronic dance music to Sumner and ultimately influenced the direction of the band that was once JOY DIVISION, the NEW ORDER front man was curious, especially about their working-class background and the obstacles that a band still has to overcome in China. “So we spent the best part of our trip talking about how STOLEN were the spearhead of an evolving new underground music scene in China and listening to their album ‘Fragment’” Reeder recalled, “I think he asked if they wanted to support NEW ORDER in Berlin because he knew himself what it was like to be in their position”.
But then about an hour later, NEW ORDER’s manager asked Reeder, who was now also acting as STOLEN’s European manager, that if STOLEN were going coming to Berlin for one gig, would they be interested in supporting NEW ORDER on the entire European tour? It was an offer that Reeder, who had supported NEW ORDER himself as part of SHARK VEGAS in 1984, could not refuse…
“I was preparing dinner in the kitchen when I got the news from Mark called and told me” said Liang Yi, “it didn’t register at first. Then I suddenly realised what it all meant. Once I told everybody in the band, our whole team had a sleepless night, we were so excited! The idea that we would be playing with the band who have been our constant companion in our Walkman or CD players, we just couldn‘t believe it. We will be opening for them! It was something each of us had always secretly dreamt of, but we never really thought it would ever be possible.”
But back in China, things were not so straightforward for STOLEN in their preparations; “It was probably nerves in most cases” Liang Yi confirmed, “We had some problems in work habits and communication, but we managed to solve them.”
It was here that Reeder’s experience came to the fore as although STOLEN wanted to make as best an impression as possible, there were the practicalities of being a support act from another continent that was only a cog in a much bigger operation. “Mark told us to practice setting up our stuff and taking it down, as well as performing the songs, because we had a short time limit between bands.” said Liang Yi, “So, by the time we came to play on stage I think we were a very well-oiled machine.”
While being their mentor, Reeder still had the important balance of allowing the band to maintain their artistic integrity: “I asked the band to decide which songs they wanted to play. I told them to think it over carefully though, because this could be their one and only opportunity to make a positive impression to a Western audience. Once they had decided which songs they wanted to play, my only suggestion was to swap the position of one of the songs.”
“We chose the songs which we knew always received the most excited or positive reaction from our fans when we are performing in China” Liang Yi added, “We wanted to see if European audiences would also dance or move to our music just like Chinese audiences do…”
As the tour headed towards its opening night in Prague, there were the usual tour nerves and tensions, not just for STOLEN but for NEW ORDER too.
“At the start of the tour, everyone was tense”, Reeder observed, “It was NEW ORDER’s first gig in Prague, just as much as it was STOLEN’s. So, everyone who was there, actually saw a small piece of music history.”
Liang Yi could not hide his excitement about the reality that was unfolding: “We were really moved when we arrived at the huge Prague venue and heard the first notes of ‘Atmosphere’ during the sound check. It was such a thrill for us to finally see NEW ORDER perform live too. It was really a dream come true. At the same time, we felt very nervous. We were going to have to face a bigger stage and thousands of hardcore NEW ORDER fans, all who have grown up with the history of modern rock music. It was a huge challenge for us.”
Not everyone had been positive about the opportunity that had been accorded to STOLEN. “On a few social media platforms, some even questioned why NEW ORDER had chosen a band from China over a local support band. A band from China? It probably sounded incredulous to most people” said Reeder, perhaps mindful of his own memories with SHARK VEGAS, “The crowds at first appeared to be rather sceptical and after the gigs, people came and told us they were very curious at first. We had no idea how the hardcore NEW ORDER fans would receive STOLEN. Support acts usually play to a disinterested audience, whose sole purpose seems to be clambering for a place at the bar.”
Reeder needn’t have worried, with an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the Prague crowd: “It was a wonderful feeling and a huge relief, to see how NEW ORDER’s audience accepted STOLEN, with encouraging clapping hands, and it was like that throughout the entire tour.”
Liang Yi’s reaction to what happened on this first night of the tour was a combination of ecstasy and relief: “We were very, very nervous and excited indeed! We had no idea how the Czech audience would react towards us. Secretly each of us thought the same thing, would they like our music? Would they accept us? In our hearts, we all wanted them to like our music and for our live performances to be seen and recognised by the Western World.”
STOLEN’s case was helped by them putting on a very visual, energetic and enthusiastic show. Not unlike NEW ORDER themselves, STOLEN’s other band members Fangde, Duan Xuan, Yufeng and Jun are multi-instrumentalists, often swapping mid-song. Meanwhile, their live performance was boosted by the striking often blood red tinged visuals of French-born on-stage VJ Formol who impressed Bernard Sumner so much, that he was asked to create and perform the visuals for ‘Fine Time’ during the headline NEW ORDER set.
On to Germany and Berlin was a sort of homecoming for STOLEN as they had recorded ‘Fragment’ with Mark Reeder there. One of the concepts Reeder had when making the record, was how the album should be more of a listening experience with a few quieter songs and its own atmosphere, as opposed to the full-raw power in almost every song during their live performances.
One musician keenly observing the fortunes of STOLEN with interest has been New York-based singer and producer Zachery Allan Starkey who was asked to remix ‘Chaos’ for the expanded Japanese digital edition of ‘Fragment’.
“The essence of STOLEN’s appeal are their hard edged electronics matching up with Liang Yi’s fluid, expressive, and androgynous voice.” said the American, “The band are incredible in terms of their songwriting and arrangements, use of synth, and Liang Yi is a really special singer.”
Starkey had an interesting approach to his restyling of ‘Chaos’: “As STOLEN’s original version of the song is very Techno oriented, I didn’t want to do a Techno remix. Liang Yi has a very sensual and androgynous voice that reminds me, in its tonal fluidity, of gay disco icon Sylvester, and this resulted in me taking my remix in a very Patrick Cowley meets New York leather bar direction… I have spent a lot of time in New York leather bars, so I know the vibe.”
Berlin’s Tempodrom is an impressive structure that inside perhaps isn’t unlike London’s Roundhouse but much taller and therefore bigger. Now whether the audience arrived early to get a prime standing spot for NEW ORDER or to actually see STOLEN, there was already a sizeable crowd inside the iconic venue as Mark Reeder took to the stage to introduce Chengdu sextet.
In his preamble, Reeder talked about how he brought an unknown band called JOY DIVISION into the divided city during one cold January in 1980. Now with walls fallen, it was to be STOLEN’s opportunity to play in front of Berliners.
And how appropriate it was that in the capital city of the artistic underground, STOLEN opened impressively with ‘Why We Chose to Die in Berlin’. And as it burst into its middle section inspired by KRAFTWERK’s 1991 reboot of ‘Radio-activity’, the sort of frantic flashing lights they put warning notices about at concert venues filled out the domed confines of the Tempodrom.
They continued the hypnotic momentum with what has now become the band’s signature tune ‘Chaos’ and the mighty PINK FLOYD gone Techno of ‘Turn Black’, all illustrated by surreal collages and stark graphics. The eerie ‘Vampire Lovers’ allowed for a comparative breather before STOLEN concluded their support set with the disciplined but exhilarating jam of ‘The Loop Sin’.
“Knowing that STOLEN were going through the same challenges that I have when I’ve played with NEW ORDER on the ‘Music Complete’ tour, I thought STOLEN’s opening set for NO in Berlin was fantastic.” Zachery Allan Starkey remarked, “They owned the stage, each member gave the set their all, and they were raw, unique, theatrical, bold, and thrilling. I loved it. Opening for NEW ORDER is both a great honour, and a great challenge.”
Also in attendance and totally enthused was Volker Maass, presenter of the ‘Operating / Generating’ radio show on Hamburg’s LautFM who confirmed that: “STOLEN was THE discovery 2018 for me, an intense experience full of energy. Like a raw diamond and exactly how Mark Reeder aptly put it: The future sound of China”.
NEW ORDER themselves did not disappoint, playing a host of fan favourites like ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, ‘Temptation’ and ‘Your Silent Face’.
But there was also room given to lesser known singles like ‘Subculture’ and magnificent new numbers such as ‘Plastic’ alongside ‘True Faith’, ‘Regret’ and ‘Blue Monday’. Accompanied by a spectacular light show, NEW ORDER certainly appeared to visibly enjoy performing live much more than back in their Factory Records days.
In acknowledgement of their JOY DIVISION heritage, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert, Phil Cunningham and Tom Chapman also gave explosive renditions of ‘Transmission’ and ‘She’s Lost Control’ as well as a faithful and respectful ‘Decades’ for the first encore before closing the set with ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’.
After the show, the STOLEN boys went over to the merchandise stall only to be mobbed. “After Berlin, we had no more CDs left” said Reeder with a smile and perhaps caught slightly by surprise, “If we had brought double the amount of CDs and vinyl with us, we could have probably sold all that too. Some people bought two or three copies of their releases. I think people saw it as a one-off opportunity to get a STOLEN CD or vinyl and get it signed by the band, at the gig.”
Indeed, by the end of the tour, STOLEN had no more of their MFS double vinyl, thus affirming the long held theory that physical product is one of the keys to generating and maintaining support, if a band is able to impress on a platform such as opening for a major band. VILE ELECTRODES who had opened for OMD on their 2013 German tour had a trilogy of CD EPs available which ultimately became collector’s items and built-up that vital early bond with their burgeoning fanbase.
But the tour was not over yet. In fact STOLEN had their own headlining club show at Maze with a host of Berlin-based talent including Taiwanese DJ BB Deng and French theatrical artist Valerie Renay, best known as the vivacious front woman of NOBLESSE OBLIGE as well as Zachery Allan Starkey. “STOLEN are lovely human beings” he said, “it was really nice to hang out with them and especially with Liang Yi. His voice is unique and incredible, he hits so many notes”.
“For STOLEN, their main concern was what did NEW ORDER themselves think of them?” said Reeder, “They were so relieved and happy to hear their praise and how enthusiastic and encouraging NEW ORDER were.” Indeed, STOLEN had made such an impression on NEW ORDER during the first few dates of the tour having seen their performance each night, they came on their day-off to see them perform at Maze.
Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam were the next cities to visit and having settled into the Autumnal weather and European food, STOLEN and Reeder began to allow themselves some “fun-fun-fun” on the autobahn. But the tour was not without its hitches.
“Poor Liang Yi arrived in Prague complaining of toothache.” recalled Reeder of the singer’s unfortunate dental misadventure, “After piles of painkillers, I managed to get him to the dentist in Berlin and she said he needed either special root canal treatment or to have his tooth pulled. I explained to her that Liang Yi was the singer of a band, currently on tour and that he had to sing.”
This was turning out to be the most unusual experience Mark Reeder ever had to deal with during his varied forty year music career: “Two days later we were leaving for Paris, and in the early morning before departure, I went with Liang Yi to the dentist to have his tooth pulled. This was a first-time experience for him and he was duly concerned. Yet, it went very smoothly and painlessly and the relief of having no more toothache offset the fact that his tooth had been pulled.”
Tooth extracted, Liang Yi began to savour his time in Europe: “I seemed to like the food here in Europe a lot better than I did before! Language was also much easier. We realised how much our English has improved since our last visit to Berlin when we were recording ‘Fragment’ and it was pleasantly surprising to us how well we could communicate. Especially when going out with Bernard and having an in-depth chat.”
There is the old joke that the English rather like to talk about the weather but then by coincidence, so do the Chinese: “We were actually very lucky with the weather. It wasn’t so bad. It rained in Prague and Munich and a bit in Berlin, but it was over 20°C in Paris. I just hope next time when we come to Europe, it will be warmer, because every time we come to Europe it always seems to be cold and wintery.”
Over at the Forest National in Brussels, German NEW ORDER fan Sony Pusteblume felt she had just seen something special: “STOLEN was a sovereign opening act that fitted like a ‘fist to the eye’ of NEW ORDER. I got goosebumps when they started playing. They caught the attention of the audience quickly and the crowd danced and applauded to the music; an absolutely successful support.”
After the concert, she could see a lot of people were buying vinyl and merchandise so she opted to chat first. “I had a nice small talk with Mr Reeder. He was totally happy about the gig and about ‘his’ band. I am sure they are on the right way.” she said, “The STOLEN guys were very friendly and thankful for all the good words which people said. After I also bought some CDs and vinyl, I also told them that I loved the gig and hope they come back to Europe, hopefully Germany.”
And as STOLEN’s European jaunt ended with a final club headliner in Strasbourg, there was time to reflect on what was a very successful tour with NEW ORDER. “The crowds were really encouraging” said Reeder, a man who has been very much at the heart of unity throughout his life, “it was a great feeling knowing we were bringing people and cultures together purely through music and showing European audiences that China actually has its own new music scene too.”
“Almost all of the cities on this tour gave us a lot of encouragement” added Liang Yi, “We got a lot of praise and active support. The audiences were very welcoming and it reflected in the way the crowd came to us after the gigs to have selfies and buy our merch. We almost sold out of all the band’s merchandise that we brought from China with us.”
“We could also see how the concerts had been received by how fast the merch we had brought with us, rapidly diminished.” Reeder affirmed. At the end of the day, the sign is not how many people watch the support band at the start, but now many are remaining by the end of the set and who then go over to buy an album in their chosen format. Vinyl remains the ultimate artefact, but CDs can be popped into pockets and played straight away in the car on the drive home.
So which city on the tour was the favourite? Although all the gigs went down very well, the majority had standing areas so reaction was less straightforward to gauge. But at the prestigious Bavarian music centre of Philharmonie im Gasteig which was all seated, things were more explicit as Mark Reeder recollected: “The best reaction was probably in Munich, where the gig was held in a classical concert hall. STOLEN got a standing ovation there. No one expected that. Even the crew who have seen every kind of support act play before NEW ORDER, said they had never seen a support act get a standing ovation, ever! So that was quite an emotional moment for everyone. The band were floored by that response.”
For Liang Yi though, the significance of the tour as a whole made choosing much more difficult: “I think it is very hard to choose one favourite city, because it’s all new for us and we really only spent a few moments in each one, hardly getting a chance to really see them, only a few sights. Our time was mainly spent hanging about the venues waiting for our soundcheck. We can only evaluate the reaction of the crowds each night. In Munich, the audience were very enthusiastic and in Brussels too. I hope to have a chance to get to know more about these cities and be able to make a better judgment in the future.”
A few months on, Mark Reeder felt it turned out rather well: “I think I can safely say NEW ORDER liked them too.”
And with the next stage prepared, Liang Yi had one final word on STOLEN’s first significant cross-cultural milestone: “Our hopes are to reach an even wider audience in 2020, maybe with a few festival shows and we would like to play a club tour and make a new album and continue to attract new fans. A dream came true to play with New Order in 2019.“
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Liang Yi, Mark Reeder, Zachery Allan Starkey, Volker Maass and Sony Pusteblume
To narrow down ten years of electronic pop to 30 songs was always going to be a challenging task, but The Electricity Club has given it a go to offer its own subjective twist.
As the decade started, female artists like LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX and LADYHAWKE had appeared to have been making in-roads into the mainstream as new flag bearers for the synthesizer.
But it proved to be something of a false dawn and while those artists continue today, the music that has made the most lasting impact between 2010-2019 has been made by evergreens from Synth Britannia whose talent has not subsided or independently minded musicians who focussed on art over commerce but didn’t forget to throw in a tune along the way.
As per usual, The Electricity Club’s lists are all about rules. So this one has not only been restricted to one song per artist moniker but also to one vocalist. Hence SIN COS TAN just get the nod over VILLA NAH, while MIRRORS take preference over James New’s guest slot for FOTONOVELA on ‘Our Sorrow’ and the Midge Ure vocalled ‘Glorious’ has been chosen instead ULTRAVOX’s ‘Live’.
Presented in alphabetical order, here are The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF THE DECADE 2010-2019…
With alternative songstress NYXX on additional vocals, ‘Rhythm + Control’ saw Daniel Graves take his industrial pop to the next level. The magnificent Electro Mix successfully realised an oddball blend of Darren Hayes, Britney Spears and Marilyn Manson. With a mightily elastic bassline, when asked whether The Electricity Club had gone crazy coming up with the comparison, Daniel Graves replied “God no. Spot on, guys!” adding “The goal was to cram as many features into one song and have fun with it as possible.”
‘Synth Is Not Dead’ is a song close to the heart of The Electricity Club with its solidarity to the synth. A touching tribute to Messrs Clarke, Gore, Hütter and Schneider, Johan Baeckstrom said: “I guess I just wanted to reflect on the fact that there still IS a synthpop scene with some really great bands, both old and new. In another way, the song is sort of my ‘thank you’ to some of the artists that inspired me for several decades – some of them are mentioned in the lyrics, but far from all of course”.
‘Without A Trace Of Emotion’ saw Karl Bartos conversing with his showroom dummy Herr Karl and confronting his demons as an ex-member of the world’s most iconic electronic group. But whereas his former colleague Wolfgang Flür vented his spleen in book form with ‘I Was A Robot’, Bartos took a more ironic musical approach with the line “I wish I could remix my life to another beat” summing up a wry reference to ‘The Mix’ project which drove him out of Kling Klang!
BEYOND THE WIZARD’S SLEEVE featuring HANNAH PEEL Diagram Girl (2016)
BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE’s ‘Diagram Girl’ was the work of Erol Alkan and Richard Norris of THE GRID. Featuring the unisex vocals of Hannah Peel, a deeper pitch shift provided a psychedelic out-of-this-world feel which bizarrely fitted in alongside the songstress’ dreamily breathy tones. “They wanted me to sound like a man!” she remembered. Meanwhile the pulsing electronic soundtrack had surreal echoes of OMD, in particular their lesser known minor hit ‘Secret’.
Muscian, producer and Italians Do It Better head honcho Johnny Jewel, has lways been into all things Lynchian. So when CHROMATICS released the dreamy Badalamenti-inspired ‘Shadow’, it instantly recalled The Black Lodge’s red curtains in that sleepy Washington town. With Ruth Radelet’s wispy vocal and an eerie string machine for the main melodic theme, the ghostly wistful tune later came to further prominence thanks to its inclusion in ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ in 2017.
CHVRCHES stuck to the synthpop template of their 2013 debut and as a result, delivered what LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX, and LADYHAWKE and HURTS all failed to do… a decent second album! The propulsive four-to-the-floor action of ‘Clearest Blue’ was wonderfully held in a state of tension before WHACK, there was a dynamic surprise in the final third that recalled the classic overtures of Vince Clarke. The song was electronic pop magnificence embroiled.
RODNEY CROMWELL is the alter-ego of Adam Cresswell, formally of ARTHUR & MARTHA. ‘Black Dog’ recalled the pulsing post-punk miserablism of SECTION 25 and was embellished by some Hooky styled bass. As with NEW ORDER’s ‘Temptation’, despite the inherent melancholy, there was an optimistic light at the end of the tunnel that made ‘Black Dog’ a most joyous listening experience despite its very personal themes of love, loss, depression and redemption.
The ‘All You Need Is Now’ album saw DURAN DURAN cyclically return to the funk-led syncopated pop of their first two classic albums. A superb sequencer assisted disco number with a tingling metallic edge, ‘Being Followed’ hinted at THE CURE’s ‘A Forest’ while Nick Rhodes’ vintage string machine captured the tension of post 9/11 paranoia. Simon Le Bon gave his wayward all and while he has technically never had a great voice, what he delivered was unique AND untouchable…
Despite EAST INDIA YOUTH being no more as a project, the debut long player ‘Total Strife’ pointed towards William Doyle’s potential to pen sublime pop, and with the follow-up ‘Culture Of Volume’, the album’s centrepiece was ‘Carousel’. It imagined OMD’s ‘Stanlow’ reworked during Brian Eno’s sessions for ‘Apollo: Soundtracks & Atmospheres’. With no percussive elements and over six minutes in length, Doyle gave a dramatic vocal performance resonating in beautifully crystalline melancholy.
‘Glorious’ not only reunited Midge Ure with Rusty Egan but also Chris Payne who co-wrote ‘Fade To Grey’; Ure told The Electricity Club: “I liked the music, but I didn’t think the song / melody / lyrics were strong enough, so I rewrote all of that in my studio. I stripped the demo down to the basic track, edited it down into a more ‘song like’ format and started working on a glorious melody. I added the main melodic synth line and layered guitars over it, ending with the ‘hopefully’ uplifting solo over the outro”.
With ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, EMIKA produced one of the best electronic albums of 2018. The record was a concept album of sorts, a musical reflection on generations of sadness within the Anglo-Czech musician’s family. The pacey ‘Promises’ made the most of her lower and higher vocal registers, providing an eerie cascading harmonic with some rumbling dubby tension and booming stabs driving Eastwards with solemn spine tingling qualities.
Available on the album ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ via Emika Records
John Foxx and Jori Hulkkonen had worked together previously on singular songs like ‘Dislocated’ and ‘Never Been Here Before’, but never before on a body of work with a conceptual theme. ‘European Splendour’ took on a grainier downtempo template and the lead track ‘Evangeline’ was all the more beautiful for it. Full of depth, coupled with an anthemic chorus and vibrant exchange of character throughout, this rousing yet soothingly futuristic number was quite otherworldly.
Releasing their first new material in over three decades, FIAT LUX returned with the most splendid ‘It’s You’. As well as the bassline and harmony from David P Crickmore, the sax style was a fitting tribute to the sadly departed Ian Nelson. Singer Steve Wright said: “Lyrically, I hope, it expresses feelings that possibly everyone can relate to…” in this gloriously optimistic tune about finding love again in midlife. Their long awaited debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ finally came out in 2019.
As the title suggested, the gorgeous and sophisticated ‘Dreaming’ adopted a distinctly European flavour compared with the mid-Atlantic AOR focus of songs like ‘Rocket’, ‘Alive’ and ‘Believer’ on the ‘Head First’ album. Alison Goldfrapp’s voice resonated angelically with beautiful high-register chorus alongside the with pulsing sequences and string machine washes of Will Gregory’s primarily electronic arrangement complimented by Davide Rossi’s cinematic orchestrations.
The Berlin period of IAMX has maintained a special quality in that Chris Corner captured an electro Gothic aesthetic that combined the theatrics of Weimar Cabaret with themes of sex, alienation and dependency. Despite the lyrical content, Corner’s songs were always strongly melodic with an accessible grandeur. ‘Ghosts Of Utopia’ had instant appeal for a dance in the dark with exhilarating mechanical drive. His scream of ”this is psychosis” was wholly believable!
As IAMAMIWHOAMI, Jonna Lee and Claes Björklund offered icy musical art. ‘Hunting For Pearls’ featured wonderfully pulsing sequences and trancey atmospheres, coupled with beautifully rich vocals. With a mysterious falsetto reach, the air might have been cold outside but inside, things were warm if delightfully odd. If Kate Bush made a modern electronic dance record at ABBA’s Polar Studios, it would probably have sounded like this. Jonna Lee continues the artistic adventure now as IONNALEE.
Available on the album ‘Blue’ via towhomitmayconcern
Sweden’s KITE are probably the best synth act in Europe right now. Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg’s wonderfully exuberant array of sounds and rugged majestic vocals certainly deserve a much larger audience. Issuing only EPs and never albums, the magnificent progressive electronic epic ‘Up For Life’ was a two-part nine minute masterpiece, the passionate and sublime first half mutated into a beautifully surreal journey of VANGELIS-like proportions for its second.
Asking if “it is foolish to dream”, ‘Someday’ saw Katja von Kassel questioning a moment of passionate haste. “The phrase ‘Someday’ just opened it all up and everything else just fell into place.” the chanteuse said. Capturing the beautiful melancholy of Billy Mackenzie, the doomed romantic tragedy of the sadly departed Scot was echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by Chris Payne’s hypnotic bassline and haunting vox humana treatment over a simple rhythmic loop.
The beautiful ‘Ambulances’ was totally different to anything LADYTRON had done before, almost in te vein of SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES. Moving at a much slower pace, Helen Marnie’s voice adopted an unexpected angelic falsetto over the lush spacious mix featuring dramatic strings, synthetic timpani and an almost random hi-hat pattern. Daniel Hunt said he “wanted it to sound ethereal and otherworldly” and with a glorious crescendo, ‘Ambulances’ was certainly something to be to be savoured.
A worthy of re-assessment of DEPECHE MODE ‘A Broken Frame’ was long overdue and MARSHEAUX have certainly gave a number of its songs some interesting arrangements. Their version of ‘Monument’ borrowed its bassline from latter day DM B-side ‘Painkiller’. Combined with the wispily resigned vocals of Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou, it provided a tense soundtrack. It’s not often that cover versions are better than the originals, but this was one of them.
With their smart suits, MIRRORS presented an intense and artful approach to electronic pop that recalled Dindisc era OMD. With a dense synthetic chill and pulsing effects dominating this brilliantly uptempo electro number, ‘Ways To An End’ came over like TALKING HEADS ‘Crossed Eyed & Painless’ given a claustrophobic post-punk makeover. Sadly, MIRRORS were to only make the one album ‘Lights & Offerings’ which although under-appreciated on release, is now acknowledged as a classic of the decade.
Having worked successfully in 2013 with Guy Sigsworth on ‘the minutes’, which saw Alison Moyet return to the synthesized music forms to compliment her powerful and self-assured voice, the follow-up ‘Other’ was a natural progression. The startling orchestrated electro-dub drama of ‘Alive’ gave Moyet’s two former classmates in DEPECHE MODE a stark lesson in how to actually fully realise electronic blues. Indeed, it was ‘In Chains’, the lame opener from ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ gone right…
After the guitar dominated proceedings of the last few NEW ORDER albums, Bernard Sumner promised a return to electronic music for the Mancunians’ first album of new material without estranged founder member and bassist Peter Hook. That was certainly delivered on with ‘Plastic’, a full-on throbbing seven minute electro number mixed by Richard X with blippy echoes of ‘Mr Disco’. Dealing with the issue of superficiality, it declared “this love is poison, but it’s like gold”… beware of anything plastic and artificial!
With a lot less goth metal guitar and much more prominent use of synths, the ‘Savage’ album successfully outstripped ‘Splinter’. And it was the haunting ‘And It All Began With You’ that stopped all in its tracks, with an exposed and soulful vocal. Borrowing Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ for its chorus, the subtle orchestrations and a gentle shuffling beat coupled to a steadily discordant electric piano riff to close, it beautifully brought out the best in classic Gary Numan while maintaining forward momentum.
OMD began their recorded career with a KRAFTWERK homage in ‘Electricity’ and four decades on, they came full circle. A great grandchild of Klingklang and cousin of ‘Metroland’ from ‘English Electric’, ‘Don’t Go’ captured the essence of OMD’s enduring electronic appeal. With crystalline synths and a spirited vocal delivery attached to a hypnotic Synthanorma backdrop, OMD continue to produce quality avant pop tunes, using beautiful melodies to tell terrible things…
SIN COS TAN was the new mathematically charged project of producer Jori Hulkkonen and VILLA NAH vocalist Juho Paalosmaa. “A synthesized duo of great promise, broken dreams, and long nights”, they have certainly delivered with ‘Trust’, all draped in melancholy with emotive vocals haunted by the ghost of Billy Mackenzie. With driving hypnotic, layered strings, sampled cimbalom and Cold War dramatics, this was as Jori Hulkkonen put it: “Disco You Can Cry To”…
Chinese six-piece STOLEN are reckoned by Berlin-based producer Mark Reeder to be the most exciting band since NEW ORDER and they closed the decade opening for them on tour in Europe. Certainly their debut album ‘Fragment’ was impressive with ‘Turn Black’ being one of its standout tracks. “I like the idea of mixing of rock with techno…” said growly lead vocalist Liang Yi, “we are very proud that we don’t sound like any of the other Chinese bands.”
The Nordic vocalist of the decade has to be Susanne Sundfør who worked with M83, KLEERUP and RÖYKSOPP as she built her international profile as a solo artist. Propelled by a pulsing electronic backbone, ‘Fade Away’ from Sundfør’s breakthrough album ‘Ten Love Songs’ caught her in rousing form with a tune that came over like Scandinavian gospel. Meanwhile, a fabulous polyphonic synth solo inspired by QUEEN’s ‘I Want To Break Free’ added another dimension.
First appearing online as a video exclusive in 2010, ‘Deep Red’ was inspired by Dario Argento’s ‘Profondo Rosso’. A gorgeous seven and a half minute funeral ballad that came over like CLIENT fronting classic OMD, this was tremendously dramatic stuff from Anais Neon and Martin Swan. It caught the ear of a certain Andy McCluskey who was perusing The Electricity Club and later invited VILE ELECTRODES to open for OMD in Germany during their 2013 ‘English Electric’ tour.
Techno DJ WESTBAM celebrated 30 years in music with an intriguing mature collection of songs under the title of ‘Götterstrasse’. While the theme of the album centred on the joy and euphoria of underground nightlife, he said ‘You Need The Drugs’ was “the first explicit electronic appeal AGAINST the use of drugs with a clear message: drugs are a bore!”. Voiced brilliantly by Richard Butler of THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS’, it featured prominently in Mark Reeder’s film ‘B Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin 1979–1989’.
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’.
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.
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’.
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’.
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’.
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.
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 😉