Chinese band STOLEN had been due to open for NEW ORDER in Spring 2020 in Japan and celebrate their 10th anniversary with a national tour. But with the coronavirus crisis, these live dates were put on hold as the world went into lockdown.
After the restrictions were lifted in their home city of Chengdu in May 2020, STOLEN performed the first post-lockdown live internet gig to over 650,000 viewers across the world. With China being able control their pandemic and its citizens compliant with the ongoing but more relaxed restrictions, STOLEN were able to embark on their tour in November 2020 to a rapturous response.
Having already supported NEW ORDER on their six date European tour in Autumn 2019, STOLEN continue to solidify their position as the leader of a new generation of Chinese artists which also includes FIFI RONG, QUIETER THAN SPIDERS and Re-TROS.
Following the release of their excellent breakthrough album ‘Fragment’ on MFS in Autumn 2018, produced by Mark Reeder and his regular collaborator Micha Adam, the Berlin based studio partnership have given the Sinomatic techno-rock sextet a subtle makeover with a Sinful Remix of ‘The Loop Sin’.
With a video using fan-recorded footage from various gigs including the 2019 NEW ORDER tour where it was the set closer, the buzzy extended jam of ‘The Loop Sin’ is a classic Reeder production full of heavy propulsive grit and live textural enhancements.
But the new denser version applies an extra bounce on the bass while additional synthetic strings and rhythmic elements boost the climatic instrumental layers over eight minutes, showcasing STOLEN’s brand of Sinomatic technorock.
The parent ‘Fragment’ album, from which ‘The Loop Sin’ was originally homed, is a well-thought out, well-crafted record with plenty of adventure, space and mystery within its multi-genre cocoon.
It all illustrates why Mark Reeder considers Liang Yi, Duan Xuan, Fangde, Yuan Yu Feng, Wu Jun Yang and graphix director Formol to be one of the bands he has been most excited about since NEW ORDER.
Meanwhile continuing his artistic kinship with NEW ORDER, there will be a Mark Reeder remix of their most recent single ‘Be A Rebel’ released in Spring 2021 via Mute Artists.
The Sinful Remix of ‘The Loop Sin’ is available via the usual digital platforms
The original version of The Loop Sin is taken from the album ‘Fragment’ released by MFS as a double vinyl LP, available from https://mfsberlin.com/
“It’s such a strange day, in such a lonely way” sang NEW ORDER on ‘Truth’ in 1981.
The coronavirus crisis of 2020 put the entire live music industry into limbo as concerts were postponed and tours rescheduled.
The situation was affecting everyone with several musicians like Bernard Sumner, Andy McCluskey, John Taylor and Sarah Nixey publicly stating that they had contracted the virus. Even when all pupils returned to schools in the Autumn, there was a ban on indoor singing in English classrooms. It was an indication that out of all professional fields, the arts was going suffer the most.
To make up for the absence of live shows, online streamed events become popular. Two of the best live online gigs were by Swedish veterans LUSTANS LAKEJER from the KB in Malmö and Sinomatic techno-rockers STOLEN with Lockdown Live From Chengdu. Not strictly a lockdown show but available for all to view on SVT was a magnificent live presentation of KITE at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm recorded in late 2019 combining synthesizers, orchestra and choir, proving again why Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg are the best electronic duo in Europe.
Concluding his ‘Songs: From the Lemon Tree’ series, Bon Harris of NITZER EBB presented a wonderful set of four electonic cover versions including songs made famous by Joan Armatrading, Connie Francis and Diana Ross. Meanwhile among independent musicians, Dubliner CIRCUIT3 led the way with an innovative multi-camera effected approach to his home studio presentation and Karin My performed al fresco in a forest near Gothenburg.
Taking the initiative, ERASURE did a delightful virtual album launch party for their new album ‘The Neon’ on Facebook with Vince Clarke in New York and Andy Bell in London, talking about everything from shopping to classic synthpop tunes.
Other streamed forms of entertainment came via podcasts and among the best was ‘The Album Years’ presented by Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness. Their knowledgeable and forthright views on selected years in music were both informative and amusing. It was interesting to note that at the end of the 1976 episode, the pair nominated ‘Oxygène’ by Jean-Michael Jarre as the most important album of that year while for 1979, it was ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by Gary Numan.
Many artists who had scheduled releases in 2020 went through with them, although in some cases, there were the inevitable delays to physical product. But a few notable acts couldn’t help but abuse the situation, notably a certain combo from Basildon.
There were already “quality control issues” with the lavish ‘MODE’ 18 CD boxed set, but there was uproar even among the most hardcore Devotees with the ‘Spirits In The Forest’ release. The cardboard packaging was reported to be flimsy and prone to dents, while there was continuity errors galore as Dave Gahan rather cluelessly and selfishly wore different coloured outfits over the two nights in Berlin that the live footage was filmed under the direction of Anton Corbijn.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was an Anton Corbijn official illustrated history of DEPECHE MODE entitled ‘DM AC’ in the form of a coffee table photo book published by Taschen which retailed at €750; even though it was signed by Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher, the price tag was a mightily steep. The increasingly ironic words of “The grabbing hands grab all they can…” from ‘Everything Counts’ were not lost on people, who are people, after all!
But Andy Fletcher did provide the most amusing and spot-on quote of the year; during DEPECHE MODE’s acceptance speech into that dinosaur institution The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, when Dave Gahan remarked to his bandmates that “I dunno what the hell I would have been doing if I didn’t find music to be quite honest…”, the banana eating handclapper dryly retorted “YOU’D HAVE BEEN STILL STEALING CARS DAVE!”
There were lots of great albums released in 2020 and Berlin appeared to be at the creative centre of them.
There was ‘LP II’ from LINEA ASPERA who made a welcome return after eight years in hiatus and the playful debut by ULTRAFLEX, a collaborative offering from Berlin-based Nordic artists SPECIAL-K and FARAO which was “an ode to exercise, loaded with sex metaphors badly disguised as sports descriptions” .
The DDR born Jennifer Touch told her story with ‘Behind The Wall’ and resident New Yorker DISCOVERY ZONE was on ‘Remote Control’, while Lithuania’s top pop singer Alanas Chosnau made ‘Children of Nature’, his first album in English with Mark Reeder, who himself has lived in the former walled city since 1978; their collected experiences from both sides of the Iron Curtain made for a great record with the political statement of ‘Heavy Rainfall’ being one of the best songs of 2020.
Synth-builder and artist Finlay Shakespeare presented the superb angst ridden long player ‘Solemnities’ with its opener ‘Occupation’ tackling the social injustice of unemployment. A most frightening future was captured in musical form by New York-resident Zachery Allan Starkey who saw his home become a ‘Fear City’, while WRANGLER got themselves into ‘A Situation’.
SPARKS discussed ‘The Existential Threat’ and ‘One For The Ages’ while pleading ‘Please Don’t F*ck Up My World’ on their eclectic 25th album ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’, just as NIGHT CLUB reflected what many were thinking on ‘Die Die Lullaby’ with ‘Miss Negativity’ looking to ‘Die In The Disco’ while riding the ‘Misery Go Round’.
ASSEMBLAGE 23 chose to ‘Mourn’ with one of its highlights ‘Confession’ illustrating what DEPECHE MODE could still be capable of, if they could still be bothered.
But it was not all doom and gloom musically in 2020. With the title ‘Pop Gossip’, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP did not need to do much explaining about the ethos of their second album and drum ‘n’ synth girl GEORGIA was happily ‘Seeking Thrills’.
Veterans returned and 34 years after their debut ‘Windows’, WHITE DOOR teamed up with the comparative youngster Johan Baeckström for ‘The Great Awakening’, while CODE made a surprise return with their second album ‘Ghost Ship’ after an absence 25 years.
‘The Secret Lives’ of German duo Zeus B Held and Mani Neumeier illustrated that septuagenarians just want to have fun. Along with Gina Kikoine, Zeus B Held was also awarded with Der Holger Czukay Preis für Popmusik der Stadt Köln in recognition of their pioneering work as GINA X PERFORMANCE whose ‘No GDM’ was a staple at The Blitz Club in Rusty Egan’s DJ sets.
Incidentally, Rusty Egan announced that Zaine Griff would be joining him with Numan cohorts Chris Payne and David Brooks in a live presentation of VISAGE material, although the announced dates were postponed, pending rescheduling for 2021.
Swiss trailblazers YELLO were on ‘Point’ and continuing their occasional creative collaboration with Chinese songstress Fifi Rong, while one time YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA collaborator Hideki Matsutake returned as LOGIC SYSTEM and released a new long player ‘Technasma’, his project’s first for 18 years.
It was four decades since John Foxx’s ‘Metamatic’ and Gary Numan’s ‘Telekon’, with the man born Gary Webb publishing ‘(R)evolution’, a new autobiography to supersede 1997’s ‘Praying To The Aliens’. Meanwhile, the former Dennis Leigh teamed up with former ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon plus his regular Maths collaborators Benge and Hannah Peel for the blistering art rock statement of ‘Howl’ as well as finally issuing his book of short stories ‘The Quiet Man’.
Back in 1980, it was not unusual for bands to release two albums in a calendar year as OMD did with their self-titled debut and ‘Organisation’, or JAPAN did with ‘Quiet Life’ and ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’.
It appeared to be a tradition that BLANCMANGE were adopting as Neil Arthur delivered the acclaimed ‘Mindset’ and an enjoyable outtakes collection ‘Waiting Room (Volume 1)’.
PET SHOP BOYS and CERRONE proved they still liked to dance to disco because they don’t like rock, but the year’s biggest surprise came with THE SMASHING PUMPKINS whose single ‘Cyr’ crossed the templates of classic DEPECHE MODE with DURAN DURAN.
Interestingly, Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS and Michael Rother of NEU! used sketches recorded many moons ago to inspire their 2020 solo creations, proving that if something is a good idea, it will still make sense years later. Veteran Tonmeister Gareth Jones released his debut solo album ‘ELECTROGENETIC’ having first come to prominence as the studio engineer on ‘Metamatic’ back in 1980, but Jah Wobble was as prolific as ever, issuing his ninth album in four years, as well as a run of download singles over lockdown.
ANI GLASS had her debut long player ‘Mirores’ shortlisted for Welsh Music Prize and OMD remixed her song ‘Ynys Araul’ along the way, while SARAH P. was ‘Plotting Revolutions’. NINA and a returning ANNIE vied to be the Queen Of Synthwave with their respective albums ‘Synthian’ and ‘Dark Hearts’, although Canadian synth songstress DANA JEAN PHOENIX presented her most complete and consistent body of work yet in ‘Megawave’, a joint album with POWERNERD.
RADIO WOLF & PARALLELS contributed to the soundtrack of the film ‘Proximity’ released on Lakeshore Records and from the same label, KID MOXIE made her first contribution to the movie world with the score to ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need To Have A Serious Talk’ that also featured a stark cover of ALPHAVILLE’s ‘Big In Japan’. Meanwhile gothwavers VANDAL MOON made their most electronic album yet in ‘Black Kiss’ and POLYCHROME got in on the kissing act too with their new single ‘Starts With A Kiss’.
It would be fair to say in recent times that the most interesting and best realised electronic pop has come from outside of the UK; the likes of TWICE A MAN and COSAQUITOS EN GLOBO explored the darker side of life, although TRAIN TO SPAIN used the dancefloor as their mode of expression, 808 DOT POP developed on the robopop of parent band METROLAND and ZIMBRU preferred disco art pop.
In Scandinavia, there was the welcome return of UNIFY SEPARATE (formally US) and HILTIPOP aka Magnus Johansson of ALISON who finally released some music in his own right; once he started, he didn’t stop with 9 releases and counting in 2020! APOPTYGMA BERZERK released ‘Nein Danke!’, their self-proclaimed return to “New Wave Synthpop” and out of that set-up sprang the very promising PISTON DAMP.
Within the PAGE camp, Eddie Bengtsson continued his Numan fixation on the ‘Under Mitt Skinn’ EP although his musical partner Marina Schiptjenko teamed up with LUSTANS LAKEJER bassist Julian Brandt to ride the Synth Riviera for a delightful second helping of their electro crooner concept cheekily titled ‘For Beautiful People Only’.
Over in Germany, U96 teamed up Wolfgang Flür while RENARD, the solo vehicle of Markus Reinhardt from WOLFSHEIM teamed with Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE and Sarah Blackwood of DUBSTAR. DUBSTAR themselves released a striking corona crisis statement entitled ‘Hygiene Strip’ which saw reconfigured duo reunited with producer Stephen Hague. Meanwhile another poignant song on the topic ‘Small World’ came from SNS SENSATION, the new project by Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK. In lockdown, TINY MAGNETIC PETS recorded an entire album which they called ‘Blue Wave’.
Of course, 2020 was not full of joy, even without the pandemic, as the music world sadly lost Florian Schneider, Gabi Delgado-Lopez, Chris Huggett, Andrew Weatherall, Matthew Seligman, Dave Greenfield, Rupert Hine, Tom Wolgers, Harold Budd and Ennio Morricone.
An introspective tone was reflected the music of female fronted acts such as and ZANIAS, PURITY RING, WE ARE REPLICA, KALEIDA, LASTLINGS, NEW SPELL, WITCH OF THE VALE, REIN, BLACK NAIL CABARET, GLÜME, GEISTE THE FRIXION, FEMMEPOP and SCINTII. However, countering this, the optimism of RIDER, ROXI DRIVE and NEW RO presented a much brighter, hopeful take on life and the future.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrated 10 years as a platform and affirming the site’s intuition about synth talent in anticipation of them achieving greater things, SOFTWAVE opened for OMD on the Scandinavia leg of their ‘Souvenir’ tour. The Danish duo became the sixth act which the site had written about to have become part of a tradition that has included VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND and TINY MAGNETIC PETS.
On a more cheerful note, S.P.O.C.K beamed down to Slimelight in London before lockdown for their first British live performance in 17 years. Meanwhile on the same night, LAU NAU and VILE ELECTRODES did modular sets at Cecil Sharp House, the spiritual home of English traditional music.
At that event, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK took delight in curating a DJ set comprising of John Cage’s 4’33” in variations by DEPECHE MODE, GOLDFRAPP, ERASURE, NEW ORDER and THE NORMAL from Mute’s Stumm433 boxed set. This defiant act of silence even caused a curious Jonathan Barnbrook to raise an eyebrow, this from the man who designed the artwork with the white square on David Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’ 😉
The final live event that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK attended before the March lockdown was an informative lecture at Queen Mary University in London presented by noted cultural scholar Dr Uwe Schütte, in support of his book ‘KRAFTWERK Future Music From Germany’.
Also attending was Rusty Egan who held court at the reception afterwards by having a debate with another musician about the state of UK synth music. He then loudly beckoned ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK over and mentioned how the site was only interested acts that scored “9 out of 10” before admitting that a number of acts he supported only scored “6 out of 10”, with his reasoning being that if acts aren’t supported, then there will be no synth acts existing at all. After a decade in existence, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK remains proud that it is still extremely selective.
In 2020, the notion of reviews being needed to achieve a promotional profile underwent an existential crisis among media platforms. With streaming now being the main method of music consumption, why would anyone want to read a blog for an opinion about an album when they can just hit ‘play’ and hear the thing for themselves on Spotify, Amazon, Tidal or Bandcamp?
The sound of classic synthpop does live on happily in today’s mainstream via singles by THE WEEKND, DUA LIPA and even STEPS! In that respect, the trailblazing kings and queens of Synth Britannia from four decades ago did their job rather well.
From SUGABABES mashing-up ‘Are Friends Electric?’ for ‘Freak Like Me’ in 2002 to ‘Blinding Lights’ borrowing a bit of A-HA in 2020, the sound of synth is still strong.
It is up to any potential successors to live up to that high standard of Synth Britannia, which was as much down to the quality of the songwriting, as much as it was to do with the sound of the synthesizer. It is a fact that many overlook and if aspiring musicians could pay more attention to the song, instead of making the synthesizer the excuse for the song, then classic electronic pop music may still be around for a little longer and continue to evolve.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2020
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”
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrates its tenth birthday and it really has been synthly the best.
At the HEAVEN 17 aftershow party for their triumphant gig at The Magna Science Park on 6th March 2010, following chats with Glenn Gregory, Martyn Ware, Paul Humphreys and Claudia Brücken, interview opportunities opened up. 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.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’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.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK preferred the sort of innovative synthpop as outlined in BBC4’s Synth Britannia documentary.
Meanwhile, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’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.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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. There was the 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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK.
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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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.
If ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK does have a proudest achievement in its first ten years, then it is giving extensive early coverage to VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND, TINY MAGNETIC PETS and SOFTWAVE, six acts who were later invited to open on tour for OMD. Partly because of this success, some of those who were less talented felt aggrieved despite feeling an entitlement to be featured. If an act is good enough, the fact that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK maintained a trust of its own gut instinct.
Meanwhile, its stance has been tested by those shouting loudest who instantly 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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s thing frankly…
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’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 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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 2015 career retrospective on German trio CAMOUFLAGE being edited and used as booklet notes for the Universal Music sanctioned compilation CD ‘The Singles’.
As 2020 settles in, highly regarded artists within the electronic community continue to engage with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. 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.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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.
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 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.“
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Liang Yi, Mark Reeder, Zachery Allan Starkey, Volker Maass and Sony Pusteblume