PISTON DAMP are the new electronic pop duo based in Norway compromising of Jonas Groth and Truls Sønsterud.
The classically trained keyboardist / songwriter / arranger Truls Sønsterud has been playing piano since he was a child while singer/songwriter/producer Jonas Groth has been making music for more than 20 years’ experience mostly connected to his older brother Stephan and his band APOPTYGMA BERZERK.
Also connected to acts such as industrial rockers MAGENTA who he helped out on their 2009 album ‘Art & Accidents’, Jonas Groth has slowly been moving towards the front in the last few years and sang lead vocals on ‘Nearest’, an ethereal electronic ballad from the most recent APOPTYGMA BERZERK EP ‘Nein Danke!’.
The debut PISTON DAMP single ‘Something In Me’ was written and recorded with Stephan Groth serving as pre-production supervisor, so perhaps unsurprisingly, it is reminiscent of the more immediate side of APOPTYGMA BERZERK
But ‘Something In Me’ is what APOPTYGMA BERZERK or AESTHETIC PERFECTION would sound like if they were in full synthpop mode. Catchy, bubbly, melodic and rhythmic with an emotively spirited vocal, when Jonas Groth hits falsetto, it provides a most gloriously optimistic lift. Meanwhile, its twin ‘Noget I Mig’ is ‘Something In Me’ sung in Danish and this element adds an extra air of mystery to non-native speakers and reveals the song’s likely Nordic folk influence more explicitly.
The B-side of this debut single is a ‘Blue Heart’ version of ‘Another Pain’ and affirms just as ‘Shout’ did for DEPECHE MODE’s similarly folk influenced ‘New Life’, that PISTON DAMP are likely to have quality first album in the can. Much sparser than ‘Something In Me’, the spacey arpeggio on this version of ‘Another Pain’ allows Jonas Groth to soar, expressing some heartfelt frustration that the love of his life hasn’t even noticed him. And when his multi-tracked vocal ab-libs join in, it starts to sounds like FREIHEIT or ELO or THE BEATLES, depending on your way of thinking!
Both ‘Something In Me’ and ‘Noget I Mig’ come in a number of remixes from the likes of PEGBOARD NERDS, TECHNOMANCER, KLEINMELKER and THE ANIX, although classic synth fans will be most interested in the Extended 12” Remix that comes in the nine-track bundle.
It is the right moment for Jonas Groth to emerge from the shadow of his older brother and PISTON DAMP is a fine vehicle in which take that journey.
Norwegian electronic covers combo CHINESE DETECTIVES released their only album ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ in 1999.
The brainchild of Per Aksel Lundgreen who had cut his teeth in APOPTYGMA BERZERK, the concept was to be a “SILICON TEENS of the 90s” with frantic dance beats acting as the backbone to accompany the hooks of classic synthpop.
CHINESE DETECTIVES scored a number of Scandinavian hits with songs originally made famous by YAZOO, MEN WITHOUT HATS and DIVINE.
‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ additionally featured reinterpretations of SPARKS, BRONSKI BEAT, PET SHOP BOYS and several lesser known acts while the album itself was to become something of a cult favourite, partly thanks to featuring the only officially released version of a Vince Clarke instrumental from which CHINESE DETECTIVES got their moniker.
The classic trio line-up of Per Aksel Lundgreen, Preben Bjønnes and Desirée Grandahl kindly reminisced about the making of ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ with The Electricity Club.
So what came first, your cover of ‘Chinese Detectives’ or the band concept? How did it come about?
Preben: Per Aksel suggested ‘Chinese Detectives’ as a track and name for the band.
Per Aksel: Being an avid YAZOO and Vince Clarke collector, I had obtained a live tape that I bought at a stand in Camden Market in London of the 1982 gig at The Dominion, and on that tape, the instrumental track ‘Chinese Detectives’ was included. I always loved the track, and also the name, and I really wanted to use it as a band name, so we did. Then the idea was launched to do a cover of ‘Situation’ as the “A-Side” of the single, and a cover of ‘Chinese Detectives’ as the “B-Side”. I know that the track has also been referred to as ‘China’ on early live-recordings etc, but more on that later, ha ha!
Desirée: I´m the lucky one because I didn´t have to give any of that any thought! Got it all served on a silver platter.
The track is often mistaken as being the theme for the BBC TV drama ‘The Chinese Detective’ but is actually a Vince Clarke original. How did you go about interpreting and recording it? Did Mr Clarke give his approval?
Per Aksel: The sound quality on the live tape I had wasn’t really top notch, so we had to do our best to make out all the sounds and figures being played.
There’s also a part on there where it sounds like Vince is talking on top of the track, but we never ever figured out if that was just an accident, or if it was supposed to include some spoken words. I knew at the time that all Vince Clarke material was published via Sony Music Publishing, so I wrote them a letter, inquiring about the track, and asked for permission to do a cover version of it.
I actually received a reply via fax, yes it was that long ago, and in the fax it said something like: “Sony Music Publishing and Vince Clarke hereby grant you the rights to do a cover of the before mentioned track, ‘Chinese Detectives’.”
I was gobsmacked and very very happy of course. I saved that fax for many years, and when I one day went into some boxes to find it, the print had disappeared and the fax paper was all white, ha ha! I wish I’d taken a copy of it, but hindsight is 2020, right!
Preben: Hopefully we did the track justice 🙂
Desirèe: The credit for that goes to the lads. Hopefully Mr Clarke approved and loved it.
Why did you choose ‘Situation’ as a single to debut CHINESE DETECTIVES with?
Preben: We all loved the song and especially Vince Clarke’s song writing.
Desirée: I mean, even if I didn´t do the vocals on the first single, who wouldn´t choose that iconic song with that iconic group?
Per Aksel: We’re all huge YAZOO fans, and it was one of those tracks that we felt we could do something with. It was actually in the Norwegian Dance Charts and it was on a couple of “Eurodance” type compilations here in Norway, and the single sold close to 10.000 copies at the time, so we were very very happy of course. This made us want to do more, and the record company too cheered us on.
Strangely, in Norway we were considered “Eurodance”, but in Sweden and the rest of Europe and the US, they called us a synthpop act, and I for one wanted it to sound “synthpop”, but maybe we leaned towards the “Eurodance” since that was in the charts at the time. I don’t know, but we were treated very differently in Norway and in Sweden.
In Norway, we played “dance party” festivals for 5000 people together with 2 BROTHERS ON THE 4TH FLOOR, SOLID BASE, TWENTY 4 SEVEN, 2 UNLIMITED and stuff like that, but in Sweden we played on Swedish Alternative Music Awards for 500 people together with S.P.O.C.K, IN THE NURSERY and COVENANT, so it was a strange situation, but we just went with the flow and played everywhere we were wanted really.
We also had two other guys involved at the early stage of Chinese DETECTIVES, Trond Haugerud and Lars Kristian Aasbrenn, but they both dropped off. Lars Kristian after the first single, and Trond after the second one. No particular reasons for this, they just left basically, but they did also put in a good deal of work and input before they left, so I feel it’s important to put that out there.
After your second single, a cover of MEN WITHOUT HATS ‘Where Do The Boys Go’, your first singer Kristine Ulfeng departed, what effect did that have on whether to continue with CHINESE DETECTIVES?
Preben: No effect. We already knew we wanted to make a whole album with a different voice.
Per Aksel: When we started recording the third single, ‘You Think You’re A Man’, it became evident very early that Kristine’s voice wouldn’t cut it for that track. We took the harsh decision of telling her to leave and then asked Desirée to join the band. Not our proudest moment, and it wasn’t really fair to Kristine as she was fully devoted on the two first singles, but Preben and I were young and ambitious and had huge egos, so I’ll have to blame it on that.
Desirée: It had the wonderful effect of giving me the role of the mysterious and handsome girl at the mic.
Desirée had a deeper resonance to her voice and her first single with CHINESE DETECTIVES was a cover of DIVINE’s ‘You Think You’re A Man’ in 1996; did you know that song was written by Geoffrey Deane who was the original lead singer of MODERN ROMANCE?!!? 😆
Preben: News to me 🙂
Desirée: Ooops, you got me there! Shame on me for not knowing that…
Per Aksel: All I know is that when I wrote the credits in the booklet, it said “G Deane”, but I had no idea it was the original lead singer of MODERN ROMANCE! :O
We all love a bit of HI-NRG, and especially DIVINE and Bobby O productions in general, and I really think we nailed that one! Very happy with that single to be honest! The two first ones were good too, but the sound on ‘You Think You’re A Man’ is still holding up in my opinion.
The album ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ finally came out in 1999, had it been a challenging project to finish?
Preben: It was a labour of love, I loved every bit of it. Working in a pro-studio with Erik Wøllo was a high point for me as I have mostly worked in my own studio. We had a very nice atmosphere in the studio where we loved every song we worked on. It became a very eclectic album I think. 🙂
Desirée: On the subject of who was gonna be our label and who was gonna release it – it was a challenge. The process of making the album wasn´t all that bad. We took some time picking and agreeing on the songs, then finding the right producer and of course getting it right in the studio. I will say that there was more laughter than fights.
Per Aksel: The truth is that the album was already finished late 1996 or early 1997, I can’t remember exactly now, and at the time, the label had a bit of a dry spell and didn’t have the money to finance the printing of the album, and the third single didn’t do as well as the first one, so maybe they lost a bit of faith in us, I’m not sure.
Anyway, in 1999 I kinda pushed them to release it, as 80s sounding synthpop was returning more and more, and the first pressing of 5000 copies sold pretty quickly, so I know the label never regretted it in the end.
It was the label that also paid the £3500 for the studio and recording of the album, so I was surprised that they didn’t want to try and recoup their money.
The process in Wintergarden Studio with Erik Wøllo as our co-producer really helped and lifted this record into what it became. We never could have achieved that result without Erik. His studio was in his basement, so we jokingly said we we’re recording “Downstairs At Erik’s”, ha ha! He also had a lot of cool equipment in his studio that we could use to fatten up our sound and to make the songs more diverse than they were in their original demo-form.
Stephan Groth of APOPTYGMA BERZERK had also bought a Novation Bass Station at the time, and we borrowed that for some tracks too, and it’s especially evident on ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’. I also had a Roland JX3P that we used heavily and a Yamaha TX7 that was in Erik’s studio that we used for the FM-bass lines and such.
Most of the ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ album sounds a bit like Alison Moyet fronting a frantic Eurodance covers project, there was a distinct HI-NRG bent with tunes like ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’, ‘All You Ever Think About Is Sex’, ‘You Think You’re A Man’ and a very pacey version of ‘Johnny & Mary’? Was the club market where you were aiming CHINESE DETECTIVES?
Desirée: Oh, I love me a bit of frantic Moyet!! Seriously, I think the club market was THE market at the time, but I also think we were a little bit a head of our time. If the album had hit the club market a bit into the 2000s, I personally think we would have had an even greater success with it. The trend of picking up great tunes from the 80s didn´t really kick in until 2004-2005. Maybe we can say that we started the trend? Let´s keep that illusion.
Preben: We all love HI-NRG and especially songs produced by Bobby O. Having said that, we wanted to do our own versions of our favourite songs.
Per Aksel:Alison Moyet is probably THE BEST female voice in the world of music in my opinion, and Desirée is blessed with a serious set of pipes and a voice that is very close to Alison’s, so we felt we’d struck gold when she wanted to join us to be honest.
I’m not quite sure we went for the club market OR “Eurodance” to be honest, it was all “synthpop” to us, but looking back, I can see how the music in the charts and the new synths coming out etc flavoured our sound and the outcome of the finished result. Having had chart success in Norway with the two first singles, we were actually on Norwegian television at the Norwegian Top 20 being interviewed about the ‘Where Do The Boys Go?’ track and video, so that probably also told us that we had a shot at “this chart stuff”, but we failed to chart after that, and became more of a thing for the synthpop fans instead. That’s a good thing, because that’s where we belong anyway, ha ha!
When the album slows down a bit in the middle, the album gets very interesting with your covers of ‘Love Is Just A Word’ by SILENT CIRCLE and ‘Run For Love’ by WINDER, two acts which would have been largely unknown outside of mainland Europe, what is the story behind these?
Preben: We loved the songs. WINDER’s is an all-time favourite of mine from Denmark. I think they only did three singles and an album.
Desirée: Those two songs were kind of pushed by the lads. I thought at first that ‘Love Is Just A Word’ was too “German lighter ballad-ish”, but it grew on me really. And after doing it live, it kind of gave you that arena-effect, with people singing along and of course waving their lighters.
When the song ‘Run For Love’ came up, I wasn´t sure what to do. I felt that it was so girly and non-edgy. The fun part is though, that so many reacted to this song and really liked our version. Let´s just say that this was my “swallow the camel” moment.
Per Aksel: The WINDER track was an old “guilty pleasure” of mine, and I thought that we could do a really good job with it. I know Desirée really didn’t like it much, but she played along, and the version we ended up with is ok I guess, but far from my favourite on the album. A lot of people seem to love this version though, which is great, but I don’t know, it’s still a bit Eurovision sounding and a bit cheesy!
‘Love Is Just A Word’ was picked as the idea of having a ballad on the album, but now that I think of it, we should have done ‘Touch In The Night’ instead. CHINESE DETECTIVES were never meant to do ballads, ha ha! I remember seeing SILENT CIRCLE performing ‘Touch In The Night’ on Peters Pop Show from Germany via Swedish Television back in the 80s, and that’s how I got turned onto the band. Their first album, ‘No 1’, is still a good album I think, a hidden gem for many, but a good synthpop album.
The album title song features something of an orchestra stab frenzy and was originally by SUDETEN CRÈCHE, a very obscure British duo. How did you hear about this song?
Preben: Per Aksel introduced us to the song and we knew immediately that we could make our mark on it.
Desirée: Why wouldn´t a bunch of nerdy electronic music people have heard about that one?
Per Aksel: Going back to me being an avid YAZOO and Vince Clarke collector, I’d heard from some other collectors that the compilation album ‘Europe In The Year Zero’ included a different version of ‘Goodbye 70s’ than the one on ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’, so I ended up getting hold of a copy of that LP. It had a different version of ’Goodbye 70s’ indeed with some extra echoes and delays to the vocal, and it was a bit shorter with a strange fade, but still a different version. Anyway, on that same album was the band SUDETEN CRÈCHE with their track ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’.
My girlfriend at the time loved this track and had it on several mixtapes, so I knew it well, and when it came time to pick track for the album, Preben, Desirée and I wrote down our suggestions of what tracks to do covers of, and we immediately agreed that we could do something with this minimal wave classic. We also decided to use the title of the track as the title of the album, as it was very 80s sounding and cool.
In 2006 or so, I got contacted by Mark Warner from SUDETEN CRECHE who asked us about this cover, because we tried to get hold of them back in 1996, but it was impossible to find any information. So we started emailing them back and forth, and they said they really liked the version we had done. Later I was invited to be live keyboarder for SUDETEN CRECHE on a European tour they did together with OPPENHEIMER ANALYSIS and a couple of other bands, but I couldn’t accept that offer since I had other commitments at the time, but the offer itself meant a lot to me and I was really flattered by it.
Later on, after a lot of emails and a growing friendship, Mark Warner invited me to come stay with him at his house outside Bedford where he’s got a studio in his back yard, to work on some music together.
This is how I ended up doing three EPs with ROSSETTI’S COMPASS together with Mark. He wrote all the material, and I was more in on the production side of things, but we had great fun in the studio, and I got to know his lovely wife and two daughters who now just call me Uncle Per. I visited Mark as late as January this year, and a lovely and lasting friendship has come out of doing that cover version. Who would have thought ha? Life can serve you up some wonderful things sometimes, especially when you meet great people like Mark Warner. A true friend.
You covered INDUSTRY with ‘State Of The Nation’ so the range of genres you sourced on ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ was very varied in hindsight?
Preben: We wanted music from all over the spectrum; obscure to the big hits.
Desirée: There is and there was so much good music to choose from, in many genres. The list of songs we would have loved to put on the album was long, but I think we´re all quite happy with the once we chose. I also think that it shows that we´re influenced by many genres.
Per Aksel: ‘State Of The Nation’ to me was a “synthpop” song, and I really really liked it, and I also think we did a great version of it. There was a vocal part there at the end of the track, after the music ended that we should’ve kept though. Desirée wanted to keep it, but Preben and I voted against it, ha ha. Looking back, Desirée was right, we should’ve kept it. Wonder if I’ve still got that other version on DAT-tape somewhere. Hmmm…
What are your own personal favourites on ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ and why?
Desirée: Oh, that´s a hard one. I should of course say ‘Situation’ but I´m not gonna say that. I just love ‘State Of The Nation’; loved the song originally and loved to sing it. ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ and ‘All You Ever Think About Is Sex’ come in at second place. Just because ‘Are Kisses…’ became almost a completely new song when we did it and ‘All You Ever Think About Is Sex’ is a fun and theatrical song which I love.
Preben: ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’ by BRONSKI BEAT. I loved the vocals on it. And the mix still holds up. Very happy with the bassline 🙂
Per Aksel: I still think that our version of ‘I Want A Lover’ by PET SHOP BOYS is the best one, but nobody seems to agree with me! LOL! I also have a huge fondness for ‘You Think You’re A Man’, ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’ and ‘All You Ever Think About Is Sex’, great versions that differ from the original and still add something extra. I also love the energy that we managed to put into those tracks. They’re explosive in a way, and I’m very proud of what we managed to do together on those tracks! Would’ve been even better if we’d written the tracks ourselves of course, but hey, we borrowed someone else’s songwriting talent and built on that, that will have to do.
Was CHINESE DETECTIVES, like SILICON TEENS, destined to just do the one album?
Desirée: No, not really. We had plans and visions. Preben and I did our own project with POSH. We had so many ideas for our own music and CHINESE DETECTIVES was a cover project. But the intention was to make more music with CHINESE DETECTIVES as well.
Again the situation with getting a label, getting us distributed and of course the sign of the times in the music industry put a stop to more albums at the time. We do however, have some new covers done. We did some new tunes for a couple of gigs some years ago and that was great fun. So you never know, maybe we´ll be back.
Preben: I don’t think we had any plans beyond an album. Might have played it by ear.
Per Aksel: Funny you should say that! My own catch phrase / slogan was that we aimed to be a “SILICON TEENS of the 90s”! We are huge fans of the ‘Music For Parties’ album, and doing 80s tracks in the 90s before that became fashionable kinda put us in the same category at least as SILICON TEENS.
I never had plans beyond that one album back then at least. While waiting for the CHINESE DETECTIVES album to be released, Preben and Desirée continued on the side with their own project, POSH, that released a great album called ‘In Vanity We Trust’ on CD in 1999 too. That is also a great but sadly forgotten album by many. Sounds like YAZOO with a more modern sound.
CHINESE DETECTIVES reformed for Electronic Summer 2016 in Gothenburg, how was that for you?
Preben: I unfortunately had to pull out of it due to illness. But I hear it went down well 🙂
Per Aksel: That was amazing! We had a great great time, and back then it was exactly 20 years since we last played in Gothenburg, so it was a celebration and a huge kick being on stage with CHINESE DETECTIVES again in front of 600 people at The Brewhouse.
People loved it and we got so many people coming up to us after the show saying “finally I got to see you live” and stuff like that, including Hannes Malecki, the singer from WELLE: ERDBALL, who was also playing at the same festival. He confessed to being a huge fan of CHINESE DETECTIVES when I met him there, which was a very nice compliment, coming from a guy whose work I admire very very much. I have a complete collection of all the WELLE: ERDBALL CDs, so…
Desirée: Oh my Lord that was fun. I had no expectations for that gig. I thought we were forgotten and obsolete. We started the evening with our set and I thought that there would be close to no one in the audience. When the music started and I went on stage, I got a pleasant shock. The place was packed and people sang along and had a jolly good time. So did we! People were so positive and loving. That was just a blast!
Over twenty years on, how do you view the way an electronic pop cover should be done? With so much history, is going outside of the genre more preferable to achieve something different, rather than just cover say DEPECHE MODE, NEW ORDER, SOFT CELL and ERASURE, who interestingly CHINESE DETECTIVES didn’t cover?
Preben: We tried to stay away from the obvious songs. But there are millions of great songs we could have done. We have tried to do some new ones few years back. ‘The Metro’ by BERLIN was one of them. We have played it at some concerts. We also demoed ‘You Spin Me Round’ by DEAD OR ALIVE and even made an instrumental of ‘Heartbeat City’ by THE CARS. And a few others. Hopefully we will make another album in the future 🙂
Desirée: The term electronic pop is no longer obscure and for the few and nerdy. So to make an electronic pop cover today, the bar is lifted. We did go outside the electronic genre when we did our album and I think that by doing that, the songs got a new life. This, I think, is still the case. A good song is a good song in any genre. Even if it would be great fun to cover, let´s say a EURYTHMICS tune, the approach I think would be different now than it was twenty years ago. And no wonder, we´ve learned a lot in twenty years!!!
Per Aksel: We definitively tried to AVOID the “usual suspects” when picking tracks for the album. I know Desirée wanted to do both a cover of a EURYTHMICS track, and a CULTURE CLUB track, and that didn’t happen, probably because they were too big and famous or whatever. We had some strict but strange rules back then, ha ha!
The truth is that I’m usually not a big fan of cover versions myself, and it’s only a few that I really like, and I try to avoid them when other bands do covers. Strange to think of when I was in a band that did a whole album of them, right?
We had ‘Send Me An Angel’ by REAL LIFE half-finished in demo form back then, but it never came to fruition, and that’s about it I think from back then. Preben did demo some other tracks that I don’t remember right now, but we ended up with those that are on the album, and I think the selection is pretty much good. When it comes to DEPECHE MODE, we’ve had enough covers there already, haven’t we? I mean, we’ve had enough of the band itself even, so never mind covers ha ha!
Some cover versions that I do like though, are: FAIRLIGHT CHILDREN – ‘Bedsitter’, LEMONHEADS – ‘Mrs. Robinson’, APOPTYGMA BERZERK – ‘Major Tom’, WOLFSHEIM – ‘Ruby, Don’t Bring Your Love To Town”, MALARIA – ‘Lay, Lady Lay’, and BIGOD 20 – ‘Like A Prayer’. The “perfect” cover version in my opinion though, is the one that RÖYKSOPP feat. Susanne Sundfør did of ‘Ice Machine’. Absolutely love that one!
What songs would you cover today if you were to do a new album?
Preben: BLANCMANGE – ‘Blind Vision’ or ‘Don’t Tell Me’, THE CARS – ‘Heartbeat City’, ABC – ‘Be Near Me’, JAPAN – ‘Life In Tokyo’, CRETU – ‘Samurai’, THE HUMAN LEAGUE – ‘Boys & Girls’, OMD – ‘Telegraph’, BERLIN – ‘Metro’, SECRET SERVICE – ‘Flash In The Night’, DEAD OR ALIVE – ‘Big Daddy Of The Rhythm’, CLOCKWORK ORANGE – ‘Sensation Boys’, THOMPSON TWINS – ‘In The Name Of Love’ or HEAVEN 17 – ‘Come Live With Me’. All of those would have worked I suppose!
Desirée: I’ve always wanted to do a cover of ‘Sexuality’ with Erasure, but never got around to it. Maybe the time is now?
Per Aksel: Hmmmm… THOMPSON TWINS – ‘We Are Detective’ would fit us perfectly I think, and I also agree with Preben on ‘Big Daddy Of The Rhythm’, such power and energy! Maybe we should accommodate Desirée too, and do ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ or ‘Paint A Rumour’ by EURYTHMICS? I also would’ve picked another minimal wave track or two, like ‘Night In June’ with LINEAR MOVEMENT, or ‘All Rights Reserved’ by FRED. Great tracks, real gems that one could bring out to the masses! That’s the best thing I think, when you can get people to discover a track they’ve never heard before through your cover version!
All in all though, I’m a little fed up with covers at the moment as I told you, but I’m not going to be a killjoy.
Preben, Desirée and I live nearby each other, and if we find the time and inspiration, I don’t see why we couldn’t / shouldn’t do some more stuff together. All that without giving any promises though, ha ha!
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to CHINESE DETECTIVES
Over the last 10 years, The Electricity Club has been a voice for the discerning enthusiast of electronic pop.
With a balancing act of featuring the classic pioneers of the past alongside the emergent new talent for the future, The Electricity Club has become well known for its interviews and reviews, asking the questions people have always wanted to ask while celebrating the continuing development of the synthesizer in popular music. All this while holding to account those who deliver below expectations, assuring the listener that if they are perhaps not hearing the genius that some devoted fans are declaring, then The Electricity Club is there to assist in affirming or denying that assessment.
But when artists do deliver, they tend to build a strong relationship with The Electricity Club. So with the site celebrating its first 10 years, presented here are greetings and messages from some people who you might know…
Rusty Egan, VISAGE
TEC is 10 years old with the synth knowledge of a 50 year old. If I can’t remember something electronic I don’t Google, I TEC!
Glenn Gregory, HEAVEN 17
The Electricity Club and its wonderful leader Chi is like the League Of Super Heroes for Electronic Music. Our future is safe in his hands.
I have been involved in electronic music making for 40 years, yet one half hour conversation with Chi makes me realise how little I know. From then to now, he’s knows!
Neil Arthur, BLANCMANGE
Chi has been brilliantly supportive of BLANCMANGE, for which I am very grateful. We’ve always managed to have a good laugh during our interviews, as he would ask me about the darkness and gloom lying within a given BLANCMANGE song! I look forward to our next chat.
The Electricity Club has a very important place and a role to play, in spreading the news of electronic music, new and old, far and wide. Here’s to the next ten years. Well done and good luck.
Gary Daly, CHINA CRISIS
Thanks for all your wonderful support Chi, so glad someone has taken the time to ask some great questions…
Sarah Blackwood, DUBSTAR
I love The Electricity Club website. It’s a treasure trove of informative articles, both a very readable historical archive and a forward looking platform for encouraging new talent. In what can be traditionally and lazily categorised as a very male dominated scene, Chi encourages great music regardless of gender and I enjoy the updated Spotify playlist if I’m ever stuck for what to listen to whilst running.
As regards interviews, it’s always enjoyable – Chi is a bit too easy to talk to and his passion for music and synth geekery shines through – heaven forbid you try sneaking a (cleared) sample past him, he will spot it!
Is it 10 years already? Happy birthday TEC!
Chris Payne, DRAMATIS
With 18,000 likes and 12,000 Facebook followers; The Electricity Club under the guidance of its purveyor Chi Ming Lai, has become the leading place for the Electronic Music fan. Intelligent, well written and well researched journalism with a great team of writers presenting an array of brilliant fascinating new acts (and some older ones as well!), hopefully it will continue for at least another 10 years.
Tracy Howe, RATIONAL YOUTH
Congratulations to The Electricity Club on ten years of brilliant reporting of, and support to, the electronic pop scene. TEC is the authoritative publication “of record” for fans and makers of synthpop alike and is the international rallying point and HQ for our music. We look forward to many more years of in-depth interviews and probing articles, all in the beautifully written TEC style. Happy birthday TEC!
Mark White, ABC + VICE VERSA
Chi Ming Lai and Paul Boddy are two of the most learned, nay, erudite music journalists I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, a rare experience indeed to be quizzed by a pair who know their onions. And unusual integrity. Chi promised me if we asked, he would turn off the tape recorder and it would never appear in print. And has been true to his word. This has literally never happened in my career. Also these two chaps are bloody good fun. I laughed til I cried. Go see the movie!
Rob Dean, JAPAN
10 years of The Electricity Club? Only one for me (yes, I know…), but it’s heartening to know that Chi and the crew have created a site so cutting edge for us die-hard fans of electronica. Having read the highly entertaining VICE VERSA chaps interview, I was delighted to be asked to do my own, confident that the questions would be thoughtful and intelligent and yes, a little bit probing too. Here’s to the next 10 and thank you!
Richard Silverthorn, MESH
On several occasions I have done interviews for The Electricity Club. Every time I felt like they actually cared about the music and scene and put some educated thought into the questions. It’s good to feel that enthusiasm.
Tom Shear, ASSEMBLAGE 23
Congratulations on 10 years of covering and supporting the scene! Here’s to another 10 and beyond…
Sophie Sarigiannidou, MARSHEAUX
I first met Chi at Sparrowhawk Hotel, Burnley in November 2000 for an OMD convention. It took me 13 hours to reach by train to Burnley from London due to bad weather.
I saw him playing live (!!!!) with his covers band THE MESSERSCHMITT TWINS, they were having their time of their life, dancing and singing, so so happy! Us too of course!! From that moment on we became friends.
Then he supported our band MARSHEAUX from the very early beginning and I thank him a lot for that! It’s always great having Chi asking questions for interviews . We as a band had our best interviews with The Electricity Club! We spent a lot of hours talking about the history of electronic music and the future of synthpop. My favourite articles on TEC are the “A Beginners Guide To…” series, you have a lot to learn from these pages!!! Happy Anniversary Chi, we’ve indeed had 10 amazing years with TEC. I hope and wish the next 10 to be even better.
Erik Stein, CULT WITH NO NAME
The Electricity Club elected not to review earlier CWNN albums, so we just had to keep making better and better records until they would finally relent. They finally gave in from album number 7 onwards, and it was well worth the wait. The writing was spot on and not a single DEPECHE MODE reference in sight.
Mark Reeder, MFS BERLIN
Congratulations and a very Happy 10th Birthday TEC! Over the past 10 years, The Electricity Club website has developed into becoming the leading website for all kinds of electronic synthpop music. It has become a familiar friend, because it is something I can personally identify with, as it is maintained by fans, for fans.
However, it is not only commendable, but can also be quite critical too, and that is a rare balancing act in the contemporary media world. It has been a great source of regular electronic music information. I have discovered and re-discovered many wonderful electronic artists, and regularly devour the in-depth interviews and features.
Through TEC, I have been introduced to and worked with some of the wonderful artists presented on your pages, such as QUEEN OF HEARTS or MARSHEAUX and in return, it has supported my work, my label and my artists too, and I thank them for that! We can all celebrate ten years of TEC and together, look forward to the next 10 years of inspiring electronic music.
Per Aksel Lundgreen, SUB CULTURE RECORDS
The Electricity Club is a highly knowledgeable and very passionate site! They are digging out rarities from the past as well as exploring and discovering new acts, giving them attention and writing about them often before anybody else around have even heard of them.
This makes TEC a very interesting page to follow, as their in-depth stories about older bands “missing in action” as well as the latest stuff “in the scene” gets perfectly mixed together, giving you all you want basically in a one-stop-site for everything electronic. I also love the way they give attention to unsigned / self-released bands and small indie-labels, giving everybody a fair chance as long as the music is good enough. Congrats on the 10th Anniversary, well deserved!
Jane Caley aka Anais Neon, VILE ELECTRODES
When VILE ELECTRODES were just starting out, we heard through the Facebook grapevine about a new electronic music blog called The Electricity Club. We had a London gig coming up, and had recently made a promo video for our song ‘Deep Red’, so we dropped them an email about both, not expecting to hear back, since we were virtually unknown. However it transpired they really liked our sound, likening us to “Client B born and raised in the Home Counties fronting Dindisc-era ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK”.
The Electricity Club subsequently gave this very description to Andy McCluskey, which piqued his interest such that he checked out our music. We were invited to tour Germany with OMD as a direct result!
George Geranios, UNDO RECORDS
Chi is a really rare quality of a man. He is passionate about music which is so obvious of course while reading The Electricity Club. Through our mutual love for OMD, we discovered that we have the same musical taste. TEC helped us promote all of Undo Records projects and finally we ended collaborating and releasing this brilliant TEC double CD compilation! Chi, I wish you health and to continue writing the best music texts in the industry!!
Adam Cresswell, HAPPY ROBOTS RECORDS
Some people say The Electricity Club doesn’t support the scene but I’ve not found that to be the case; having been a part of two TEC gigs and the recent CD, I know how much blood, sweat and tears they put into what they do. TEC might get a few people’s back-up, but they know their stuff when it comes to synth-driven music and I’m massively grateful that they have supported so many Happy Robots artists since 2010.
Stuart McLaren, OUTLAND
It’s no secret that the burgeoning new synthwave genre shares a common history with the great synthesizer acts and pioneers of the 80s, like Dolby, Jones, Luscombe, Wilder, Daly et al who created new soundscapes with what we now define as vintage synths.
These sounds are brought back to life by pioneers in their own right like FM ATTACK, GUNSHIP, ESPEN KRAFT and BETAMAXX to name a few.
The Electricity Club and Chi Ming Lai have always been at the forefront of championing, interviewing and reviewing the luminaries of this great instrument past to present, and are likely to remain the de facto voice of the synth scene well into the future… we agree on one thing and that is FM-84’s singer Ollie Wride is deffo one to watch as a star for the future!
Paula Gilmer, TINY MAGNETIC PETS
Happy Birthday TEC. thank you for your support. You never fail to impress with your encyclopedic knowledge of synthpop. Here’s looking forward to 10 more!
Mr Normall, NUNTIUS
I’ve been following most of my favourite artists since they were brand new and often this means 30+ years, yet reading articles and interviews by The Electricity Club, I have learned every time something new about of my favourites.
Following The Electricity Club have made me paid attention to several new acts that I would likely know nothing about if they hadn’t appeared on the page.
Catrine Christensen, SOFTWAVE
An outstanding magazine supporting new and upcoming artists whom they choose carefully as they have great taste of music regarding to their huge knowledge within the synthpop genre, when it comes to their writing and promotion – there’s no one like them. Happy birthday 😘
Elena Charbila, KID MOXIE
Happy 10th birthday TEC! Your love and commitment to the synth community is unparalleled and your support has meant a lot to me on a professional but also on a personal level. Here’s to the next 10 years! 😘
Alexander Hofman aka Android, S.P.O.C.K
I’m a fan of The Electricity Club for several reasons. You showed up when I perceived the majority of the electronic scene had turned more and more harsh; as much as I can appreciate an occasional emotional outburst, I’m a happy guy and thus I’m into pop – TEC showed, and still shows me that there’s still electronic pop music being made. Good electronic pop! Which makes me glad, as I find the greater part of the generally popular darker scene to be of lower musical quality.
Moreover, TEC writes in an amazingly happy tone – remember, I’m a happy guy, so it’s right up my alley. Add the fact that TEC regularly publishes interesting articles, using intelligent and varied vocabulary, shows enormous knowledge and interest of the theme, the style, the scene – and I’m hooked. Thanks for being around – keep up the good work, it’s much needed! And congratulations – let’s grab a beer again! 🍻
HARD CORPS were like a piece of a jigsaw that didn’t quite fit.
Utilising aesthetically entrancing KRAFTWERK-like electronic minimalism, produced by the legendary Martin Rushent and Daniel Miller, but restrained by a major label record contract that meant that they never fulfilled their true potential and only belatedly released one full length album ‘Metal & Flesh’ in 1990. Clive Pierce, Hugh Ashton, Rob Doran and Regine Fetet were a candle that burned exceedingly brightly, but still left a small but none the less important legacy of synthetic music which could give their German counterparts a run for their money.
Tracks such as ‘Je Suis Passée’, ‘Dirty’ and ‘Porter Bonheur’ still remain classics of their genre with the band supporting DEPECHE MODE and THE CURE before dissolving a few years after their conception.
HARD CORPS vocalist Regine Fetet cut an enigmatic, but controversial figure by infamously disrobing during their DEPECHE MODE support slots; but tragically passed away in 2003.
Clive Pierce kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about his tenure in HARD CORPS with additional contributions from band members Hugh Ashton and Rob Doran.
What were your individual musical influences?
Hugh: The first records I recall being bought on my behalf were Neil Sedaka’s ‘Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen’ and ‘Runaway’ by Del Shannon. This latter track featured the sound of a Musitron, an early electronic keyboard with a powerful ‘unworldly’ sound jumping out of the recording which made me aware of the emotional power of ‘sound’. Other examples of this would be ‘62’s Joe Meek produced ‘Telstar’ by THE TORNADOS which was a bit ‘cheesy’ but listen to that Clavioline, another great pre-synthesizer electronic keyboard and DELIA DERBYSHIRE and the BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP’s ‘Dr Who Theme’.
Rob: Probably my first subconscious feeling that music was powerful, was in secondary school when a cool American kid with hair down to his arse joined. He introduced me to THE DOORS and I especially loved the track ‘Unknown Soldier’ which I played over and over again. I loved its political message and even then, the blending of found sources within music which I have been a fan of ever since.
Clive: After a long time coming, when it was hand-me-down time, I found myself the proud owner of a box of 45s and an old Volmar valve record player that my brother used to own. I think I was more captivated by the machinery than by the music itself at the time, but still within that box of 45s I would as a young child be spinning tracks like ‘You Really Got Me’ by THE KINKS and ‘Telstar’ by THE TORNADOS.
Prior to the eventual meeting with Regine, how did the band members come together and what were their individual backgrounds?
Rob: I met Hugh in the 1970s in Brixton and lived in the same large Victorian house. Eventually I ran the recording studio (which we called Mekon) which was built in the basement of the house and became a sound engineer / designer with the punk group Hugh Ashton had formed called THE SKUNKS.
Clive: One day I answered an advertisement from a band based in Brixton, South London called THE SKUNKS. They described themselves as a sort of punk group, not exactly what I envisaged myself getting involved with, but I decided to give it a go because again they mentioned that they had a record deal and a connection with Pete Townsend of THE WHO. Within minutes of starting my audition, I could visualise myself quite happily being involved with them fully.
Only just recently I became aware that they chose me because of two main reasons, all of which centred around a Roland CR78 drum machine. The first was I didn’t object or feel intimidated by the use of one. A lot of drummers saw these machines as a threat to their livelihoods and considered them as just a poor imitation. Secondly, I was actually able to keep very good time alongside one.
Hugh: Having replaced our old-style rock drummer with the metronomic Clive Pierce, we changed our name to CRAZE and started incorporating a new hybrid sound. This led to a record deal with EMI and in ’79, we released the single ‘Motions’ with an instrumental B-side ‘Spartans’ which started getting played at Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s freshly opened New Romantic hangout at The Blitz in London’s Covent Garden.
Once you had formed as an act, what did you hope to achieve together?
Clive: Speaking personally, it was a break from all that had been before. For a start, it marked the end of looking at myself as just being a drummer within a traditional group structure and the hierarchy that came with that.
Rob: We found the machines enabled us to break out of our previous musical roles. Being only a machine-based band initially narrowed our options musically, but at the same time as we developed into electronic musicians, widened our musical palette. Perhaps we were KRAFTWERK’s rough and noisy neighbours!
Hugh: So with Rob and Clive equally happy to join in this marriage with these powerful new toys, we started to evolve the working methods that would sustain us over the coming few years. It was now ‘81 and apart from seeing KRAFTWERK (whose new masterpiece ‘Computer World’ album showed they were still leading from the front) on their long awaited tour, it did not really matter what other musicians were up to. We were quite happily lost in our own bubble.
How did you go about integrating vocals into the band?
Hugh: A guy called David Porter came in to do vocals and managed to get us a support slot to play at the Marquee Club in Soho. In preparation, he brought us copies of some of the latest gay disco tracks (Patrick Cowley, Bobby O etc) which we copied and changed a bit and then he wrote new ‘songs’ on top and we were ready!
Except how could we recreate it live? This was to become a perennial challenge in the following years and not just for us but for many early 80s electronic acts.
David had hurriedly plucked the name HARD CORPS (which was a sort of opposite of SOFT CELL who had recently gone to No1 with ‘Tainted Love’) from a shortlist of possible names I had in my notebook. Thus under the gaze of a few disgruntled and confused rock fans being subjected to a weird reimagining of gay disco… HARD CORPS was born!
At the Marquee Club, David even had an open mic ‘dispute’ on stage with the giant rocker Fish from MARILLION which we by then we were able to enjoy from the audience. Although I don’t think David ever went back on to a stage again and we were more than happy to disappear from the opprobrium and back to the womb of our studio not to re-emerge without a more compelling reason to surface again. So what next?
So what did happen next??
Hugh: The answer was to arrive at a party we were giving at our HQ. Someone I did not know well came up to me and basically said “there is this girl here who you really should meet, she is looking for people to work with because she wants to sing and she is … different and I think she might suit your music!” So off he goes and back he comes with Regine. Well she was just 29 but she looked pretty fine… a gaunt figure with a fine-featured almost medieval visage below a fiery red mane of hair shaved away at the sides and a dead fox (or was it a ferret) draped across her shoulders. She spoke, suggesting she would like to revisit with a cassette of her ‘work’, with a mysterious clipped French accent with almost Germanic overtones (Une Vosgienne!).
She felt hard to refuse and so without much to lose, it was agreed she would return. So she came back to the studio and we found that a song she had already written about a lovelorn petrol-station attendant worked well with a backing track we had recently recorded and ‘Dirty’ was born. Intrigued by the way it all seemed to combine, we found we could create several more tracks that combined tracks we had already prepared with lyrics Regine had already written. So with this ‘flesh’ now added to the bones, the monster HARD CORPS was now truly born.
With Regine now on board, what made you decide to go for a completely electronic aesthetic?
Rob: It was different, a challenge, new, revolutionary, the future, a break from the pompous masturbation of endless dull guitarists and hypocritical rock music. It was two fingers to bland corporate American music. It had a vitality not seen since punk, it was European and it was pioneered by the excellence of KRAFTWERK.
Hugh: So basically we had virtually no outside influences on the music we were making at that time other than late 70s GIORGIO MORODER and KRAFTWERK. Regine was also not really influenced by other writers or singers. She was just very keen to express herself creatively to balance her life…
How did the demos you were creating around this time metamorphose into actual singles?
Hugh: So around 1983, Steve McGowan offered to take our recordings around some record companies. Having got some positive feedback, he effectively became our manager and developed the strategy that led to ‘Dirty’ being pressed as a white label and then being picked up by Survival. We then got an offer to debut at a party in June ‘84, organised by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan who still had a strong presence in London’s clubland.
Steve then secured Polydor’s interest and squeezed a complicated ‘album’ deal out of them that was supposed to give us creative control over all aspects including music production, press, artwork etc which we signed hoping we would keep some control whilst accessing the resources of a ‘major’ record company… a decision we would sooner than expected come to regret.
Whilst Polydor seemed agreeable to us self-producing ‘album’ tracks, they predictably wanted to gain exposure with a single release and wanted to find a producer who could add cache and supervise recording in a ‘proper’ studio rather than our admittedly ‘semi-pro’ basement in Brixton. We were suspicious, but when they offered up Martin Rushent, we were tempted into agreeing given his achievement producing ‘Dare’ for THE HUMAN LEAGUE a few years before. So we recorded ‘Je Suis Passée’ at his Genetic Studios in Reading, Berkshire.
How was the experience of working with Rushent?
Clive: Firstly it was a “pinch yourself” moment for me. I remember quite vividly on the final mix of ‘Je Suis Passée’ sitting alongside Martin at the mixing desk with him riding the 16th delays on a fader on the eight to the bar bass sequence part and me also riding a fader on 16th delays on my middle range sequence part and just bouncing and grooving off each other as the track exited what we affectionately called the ‘crunchy middle break bit’ and thinking to myself “what the f*** is occurring here?” There I was, Little Clive From The Block playing what was effectively duelling banjos with the oddball genius bearded bloke; the one that looked totally out of place in the pictures on the back cover of one of my favourite albums of all time ‘Love and Dancing’. Nuts. Completely nuts!
Martin also monitored extremely loud recording as well as mixing. I was used to working in our Brixton studio on a couple of Auratone speakers, only switching to Tannoys in short bursts to test out the energy of a track for fear of upsetting the very nice lady who lived next door. Martin would have me pinned against the back wall from the blast from the speakers with every bass drum beat hitting me square on in the solar plexus.
Over the space of a few days, it wore me completely down to the point of suffering what I can only describe as mild shellshock. I spent an afternoon in the group restroom on the sofa staring into space and physically shaking much to the amusement of Hugh and Rob, but I felt totally f**ked. I progressively got better but had to request a lower level of playback and take regular breaks from the audio barrage from then onwards. Strange really as I had previously played the drums in various groups with stage monitors pumping sound straight at me, but this was quite different and incessant. I still wince at loud music all these years on… very weird!
Rushent’s huge impact on the production of the songs of THE HUMAN LEAGUE is well documented, what do you feel he brought to the sound of HARD CORPS?
Clive: What we hoped Martin would be able do was to refine and flesh out our sound beyond the point we were physically able to manage ourselves down in our resident basement studio in Brixton and that he did. To also help coax and winkle out the best from Regine who although one of a kind, was never a vocalist in the traditional sense of the word.
She was by nature very hit or miss at the best of times but as much as this could on the one hand be intensely frustrating for us, on the other it could incredibly rewarding when a line or word would emanate from her that was not in any textbook but just sounded right within the context of the music. It was spotting them that was the skill. Martin having worked with the technical brilliance of Shirley Bassey and at the other end of the spectrum Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley and their “Working as a waitress in a cocktail bar” performance, I would say was a perfect choice for us.
As you started to record and produce songs for HARD CORPS, how did your relationship with Polydor develop?
Hugh: A profound problem for us was that we had signed thinking we would self–produce an album in our own studio and now we were being cajoled by Polydor into a scenario involving ‘expensive’ names to produce our music and promos. This made the whole project subject to the typical major record company ploy of promoting a single (or two if you’re lucky!) and delaying an album until you have a ‘hit’ and then making the album or otherwise if not, they just drop you.
Given how much they had just spent on one song (combined with the advance we now owed more than £100,000), their position was understandable, but we had spent some years recording enough tracks for an album which they had heard and had originally approved.
As Martin Rushent was now in the throes of a divorce, our A&R man Malcolm Dunbar scouted around for another ‘name’ and to his credit, gained Daniel Miller’s interest. This was quite something since at that time Daniel was steering DEPECHE MODE to international status and was not in the habit of working with people outside of his Mute stable of artists.
So in short, it was an offer we could not refuse and ‘Respirer’ duly ended up being completed with Daniel producing. So now we had two of the best ‘electronic’ music producers in the UK both helping on our track, not to mention Daniel was using Flood as his engineer. A stellar cast and indeed a great honour for us… the only trouble being ‘Respirer’, whilst being a ‘strong’ track was not really, in common with most of our tracks, obvious ‘hit’ single material.
It’s hard not to compare HARD CORPS with PROPAGANDA, especially with tracks like ‘Respirer (To Breathe)’, was there any kind of rivalry or kinship?
Clive: Absolutely none whatsoever in either rivalry or kinship. I only became aware of them initially when I visited a friend of mine who was an eclectic buyer of slightly alternative music, CABARET VOLTAIRE, PSYCHEDELIC FURS, NEW ORDER, FLOCK OF SEAGULLS etc. He played ‘Dr Mabuse’ to me and I immediately thought FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD and I was right.
Now who doesn’t like FGTH in small doses, but the formulaic sound of the ZTT production machine just becomes really tiring after a very short space of time to my ears. Not enough rough edges for my taste and far too manipulated to feel any affinity towards. I can see the comparison you make with ‘To Breathe’ though.
The band did a session for John Peel in 1984, how was that experience when at the time the BBC engineers there were more used to dealing with Indie-style guitar acts?
Clive: Yes, it was a very sterile experience for both parties. The chaps at the BBC by nature were very institutionalised and it was record it and ship it out, and we felt the same. Naively, I personally thought John Peel would be popping his head in and out the studio during the recording but he didn’t. A time constraint dictated that we have some of the instrumentation pre-recorded at our Brixton studio and we would only play certain key components live on the sessions.
There was a rather funny moment when the BBC engineer, I think it was Mike Robinson said he had heard some nasty distortion on our track ‘Dirty’. We hadn’t spotted it and so he rewound the tape and ran it past us again. “There!” he gestured pointing at the monitors. Again none of us reacted as we hadn’t heard anything untoward and looked at each other quizzically.
“One more time please Mike” we asked starting to feel a bit amateurish at not having his depth of perception in the distortion spotting department. “There, there” he said again now standing up out of his chair in order to point closer to the speaker in a bid to home in more precisely to identify it for us. Again we couldn’t react to him until it then dawned on us simultaneously that the distortion he was trying to alert us to, was in fact a sound we had generated in our studio by feeding a delay back into itself and allowing it to get to the point that it started to break up.
We had lovingly crafted the distortion he was trying to point out to us as a defect. I don’t think we had the heart to tell him he hadn’t grasped the concept of the track and why should he but on a trip to the free vend coffee machine, the three of us had a good old giggle about it!
With much of Regine’s lyrics being in French, did you come under a lot of pressure to record totally in English?
Clive: For sure, albeit after we had signed with Polydor. Regine however was no Vanessa Paradis. If you put on the Bardot and sing all cutey, then you can get away with quite a lot as you pander to the stereotypical image most ignorant Brits have of the French, but Regine did not fit that model in the slightest. Her vocals and lyrics came from the scars of her life. They could not be delivered in a contrived way. What came out was what you had to work with and unfortunately working her art in the UK was always going to be an uphill struggle whilst singing in her native language.
Prior to Polydor and the “assault” on the charts, she could have sung in Martian as far as we were concerned. The language was not important to us. It was her personality, her realism and her honesty that mattered. She was flawed but in an intoxicating way to our ears to others this was not always appreciated as much.
What was the reaction when ‘Dirty’ was released as a single in 1984?
Rob: Extraordinary! We thought we were far to leftfield for that kind of interest and were totally unprepared for that amazing response.
Clive: It was very favourable, we attained record of the week in the NME and things snowballed from then onwards.
What kind of image did the band try to cultivate?
Rob: We tried to create a hard machine world with the macho men lined up along the back of the stage and the gentle flower symbolised by Regine pushing through the metaphorical concrete. As usual it became quite controversial!
Clive: The image I reflected on stage was purely a theatrical statement based on how I felt in regards my relationship to the music. I saw the musical phrases I played as having gender. Some male, others female. It felt honest and right to have both those represented in the way, I portrayed myself, a hard edge and a sensitive edge, both of which I possessed. I also think there was a degree of wanting to escape the everyday me who in reality was a rather average guy.
Hugh: I remember I had to deal with a panic at Polydor which involved being hauled in front of John Preston, the new CEO. We had performed at Islington Town Hall in London and we backline boys had decided to wear some 1950s surplus store ex-police motorcyclist’s jodhpurs as a uniform to emphasise our differences to normal casual rock band attire. They were reminiscent of those worn in Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ and seemed to us to capture in an amusing way (to us anyway), the sort of ‘retro-futurist’ vibe.
However we had not anticipated members of NITZER EBB being at the front of the audience dressed in long leather SS type overcoats. It led to a review in the music press where the reviewer was concerned that she had stumbled on some sort of ‘neo-fascist’ gathering. Preston wanted reassurance that his company had not signed something politically malodorous. I had to reassure him this was not the case and in fact the gig had been organised by Rock Against Racism which might have explained the reviewer’s sensitivity!
The band’s performance of ‘Je Suis Passée’ on ‘The Tube’ is still transfixing, can you tell The Electricity Club about the lead up to this appearance and why Regine looks so stressed and distant?
Clive: Well, we missed our flight from Heathrow to Newcastle. I can’t recall exactly why, but whatever the reason, it was quite inexcusable. TV appearances when you are in your infancy as a group do not throw themselves at your feet very often. We managed to get a later flight from Heathrow to Teeside Airport a good thirty odd miles from the TV studio so had to jump into a cab and tell the driver to put his foot down to get us there. Fortunately our gear had gone up the day before and was already partly set up when we arrived to sound check.
After the sound check I (as I usually did) drifted off to have a look around ‘The Tube’ set and take as much as I could in before the show started. I really had no idea that during this time Regine had had an argument with our manager. I never knew until a long time after the show that this is why her performance looked so stressed. She was actually brooding live on TV. I just thought she was just being her normal self and took no notice of it!
For The Electricity Club, the bit where Rob and yourself turn their backs on the audience, tweak the Rolands and glance at each other is probably one of the coolest things in a live electronic music performance, was that pre-rehearsed?
Clive: Yes is the simplest answer to that! It was the routine that was required to carry out that part of the track. The turning of our backs to the audience was not intended as snub to them at all. The System 100M by nature is rather plain looking viewed from behind so we opted to have the modules with their flashing LED’s facing out towards the audience for the drama. Consequently when we had to change any settings, it meant having to turn our backs to the audience.
DEPECHE MODE’s Black Swarm Devotee fanbase was notoriously antagonistic towards support bands, were you aware of this prior to playing with them?
Clive: No we weren’t aware of them at all. Even if we were, it wouldn’t have bothered us in the slightest. We actually would have revelled in a bit of antagonism, but I can’t say that on the ‘Music For The Masses’ tour, we noticed any animosity from the devotee DM fans.
The worst it ever got for me on the DM tour was actually backstage at the NEC in Birmingham.
There are long periods of spare time on tour pre-concert and the chance to have a bit of a kick around with a football was a good way to while a bit of time away and stretch those legs from the tour van. Rob and I were just passing the ball around when a couple DM roadies walked by. “Wanna game lads, HARD CORPS v DM?” and I said, “Yeah alright”. So down with the jumpers for goalposts and off we went. Within a short while (which normally always happens) a few others joined in on each side including Martin Gore and we had a five a side match on our hands.
Now it was all good natured and sporting, that is until one of the DM roadies took it upon himself to tackle me so ridiculously hard that he almost broke my leg in the process. I wasn’t prepared for that level of aggression from him in what was essentially just a friendly kick around and certainly not two hours before I was due to go on stage. I thought “you complete f**king tw*t!” That tackle could have spelled out the end of my DM tour.
When he next got the ball, I made it my mission to dish out a bit of retribution and hit him twice as hard as he had hit me. He went down but immediately got up and before we knew it we had squared up to each other snarling and swearing with fists about to fly. That was until Martin Gore stepped in between us before things got completely out of hand and managed to calm it down a bit!
What was your opinion about Regine’s dress sense on the DM support tour, do you feel that there was something wilfully self-destructive about it or was it a natural kind of ‘punk’ aesthetic for her?
Clive: Regine was a law unto herself. If she wanted to do something, she would do it regardless of what anyone said or recommended to her. That was her strength as well as her weakness.
The DM tour came at a time where we were as a unit struggling to keep the momentum going and sort of had a fatalistic attitude going into it. Perhaps a few years prior to the DM tour, I might have questioned the sanity of how far she was taking it but on this tour, I thought if we go down we may as well go down in flames…. which is what happened in the end! Retrospectively looking back on it, I can fully understand how her antics rendered us a liability to both DM and their promoters.
I for one, even though I am far from being a prude would have been seriously pissed off if I had gone to a DM concert with my young son or daughter and saw the support group’s front woman with her private parts out parading around on stage. There are lines you do not cross and even though I ashamedly had no regard for that line back then, I regret having been party to Regine being allowed to cross it. It cost us the European leg of the tour and perhaps the American leg and signalled the end for us.
Hugh: The first concert was in Newport in Wales and the concert promoters were furious because parents, who had accompanied their young teenage children, were suddenly confronted with a French Stripper! We had recruited a private detective friend to manage us for the tour and he had to deal with the fall out. So Regine had to sign a letter for the tour promoters, promising specifically not to expose her nipples again. So she did the rest of the tour with a rubber band across her breasts inscribed with the word “censored”.
Did you ever at any point say to her, “look let’s tone things down a bit”?
Clive: Yes! When you have 15 minutes or so before going on stage and the promoter won’t allow you to go on unless Regine signed a disclaimer stating that she would not disrobe on stage. Regine refused to sign the disclaimer but eventually after us pleading to her, signs it with a scrawl and then goes on stage and disrobes anyway!
Hugh: We were not offered the European leg of the tour despite Martin Gore’s stage attire being remarkably similar to that which Regine revealed when she removed her orange raincoat!
You also supported THE CURE, do you have any memories of this experience?
Clive: We were very fortunate to be published by the same company as THE CURE were and as a result were offered the slot on ‘The Head On The Door’ tour. The chance to tap in to THE CURE’s following was not to be sniffed at and all of us having a healthy respect for them and their music was an amazing opportunity.
Little ole hard CORPS on the same bill as THE CURE… wow the thought blew me personally away. A lot of my mates were ardent CURE fans and I just couldn’t wait to tell them the news. It was all very exciting!
In Torino, Italy we played our set to half a crowd as most of them were still in the bar areas. I don’t remember which track we were performing but we probably weren’t being very well received by the crowd as all manner of objects were being hurled at us. I got hit on the head with a couple of coins and a boiled sweet which fortuitously bounced down on to my keyboard.
Being a boiled sweet fan (who isn’t?) I unwrapped it and popped it in my mouth and gave a thumbs up in the general direction the gift horse had originated from. Hugh was less fortunate. This whole carrier bag of something was lobbed at him. What a shot. The handle managed to impale itself on one of his drumsticks stopping him in full flow. We lost a bar or so of beats as he untangled himself from his plastic nightmare and we finished the rest of our set dodging used Tampax etc!
As I left the stage, I grabbed the bag as I was curious to see what was in it. It was a whole packed lunch. Sandwiches, a packet of crisps and an apple. So if the person who threw it at Hugh ever reads this, I hope you went home hungry that night you bastard!
The band eventually split, was there a particular straw that broke the camel’s back or a series of contributory factors to this?
Clive: We fizzled out rather than split. As touched on previously, the death warrant had been signed when we became too difficult to handle anymore after the DEPECHE MODE tour. We had effectively painted ourselves into a very bleak corner. I think any comradery we had forged since the time Regine joined forces with us had evaporated and we met less and less to work on material, eventually just naturally drifting off our separate ways.
After all of the various recording sessions and singles, the album for Polydor never saw the light of day, why was that?
Rob: If we had released an album on Polydor, they would have been obliged to enter the next year of the contract so it became economically political. In other words, it would have cost them more investment than their accountants were prepared to budget for.
With your electronic aesthetic, you seemed on paper to be an ideal Mute Records band especially with the Daniel Miller link, do you think things could have turned out differently if HARD CORPS had been on a more sympathetic label?
Clive: I really believe we should have adopted the album band model and not been so wooed by the lure of a major label. We could never have been a commodity that would have sat comfortably on ‘Top Of The Pops’ churning out catchy tunes. Polydor were throwing serious money at us and had every right to demand chart contending ditties, but we just didn’t have them in us nor the personality to carry that pop star act off.
When HARD CORPS dissolved, what kind of career did you pursue afterwards?
Clive: My father was a self-employed builder among other things and I had worked alongside him off and on ever since leaving school to help pay my way. When we split, it was really game over for me. So much time was put into the project that I was left well behind my friends’ career wise. They had become civil servants, accountants, estate agents, policemen and were already well into paying mortgages off. I had virtually nothing in comparison to them.
So I just completely turned my back on music and knuckled down working with my father. We made a very good team with me supplying the strength and he the experience. I loved every moment with him. It was around this time that I became a father myself and my focus from then onwards was to provide security for my daughter.
Rob: I wrote and produced music and sound design for Film, TV and radio commercials.
Hugh: In ’92, I joined THE SUN KINGS and using the same equipment as HARD CORPS, we had an enjoyable time through the rest of the 90s doing our take on sort of ambient-techno incorporating our love of 60s psychedelia and 70s ‘German’. We released three albums ‘Hall of Heads’ on G.P.R in 1994, ‘Soul Sleeping’ on Blue Room in 1997 and ‘Before We Die’ released on Chill Out sometime after we stopped in ‘99.
Although HARD CORPS’ body of work is pretty small in comparison with many of their contemporaries, why do you think there is an enduring interest in the band’s work?
Clive: I think we were a truffle in a forest of chanterelles. Not to everyone’s taste but never the less rare and pungent in an appealing way to those who like their musical bouquet a little different.
Dedicated to the memory of Regine Fetet
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to HARD CORPS
Producer Jonas Rasmusson had been recording as TRAIN TO SPAIN since 2011, but it wasn’t until the recruitment of singer Helena Wigeborn in 2013 that things begin to gather momentum.
The 2015 debut album ‘What It’s All About’ featured songs such as ‘Passion’ and ‘Remind Myself’ which showcased the duo’s potential, coming over at times like like Lana Del Rey fronting YAZOO. ‘Believe In Love’, the brilliant first new song issued in 2016 after ‘What It’s All About’ developed on its promise, allowing more space within Rasmusson’s classic framework Wigeborn to work in.
With the aforementioned included as a bonus track, ‘A Journey’continues… riding on an upward momentum, the vibrant opening salvo ‘I Follow You’ is an optimistic pop statement in the Kylie vein. The upbeat fervour continues on ‘Saviour’, with Wigeborn hunting high and low over Rasmusson’s energetic backing. ‘You Got To Do It’ shows what TRAIN TO SPAIN can do using a more restrained approach, while the frantic pace of ‘Not With Me’ utilises the metallic klang of Berlin-era DEPECHE MODE.
‘Pretend We Won’ moves away from the usual TRAIN TO SPAIN four-to-the-floor template during its intro which is attached to a good melodic structure. But the gloriously guilty pleasure of ‘Monsters’ is one of those Eurodance stompers with chunky triplets that filled German discos once upon a time and at various points, it feels as though a rapper will make their presence felt!
The more midtempo ‘Confused’ allows for a breather and is another highlight, featuring an alluring chorus from Wigeborn and filmic synths from Rasmusson. Taking things down further, ‘Teaser’ about a girl “who knows how to mess with your mind” is a ballad that shows subtlety in its rhythmic backbone while swathed in atmospheric electronic sweeps, while ‘What If’ is another midtempo offering although driven by heavy electronic drums and shaped by Wigeborn’s lower vocal register which suits both her and the tune.
But the closing ‘80s Drum Machine’ is the disappointing ‘Martin, David & Fletch’ of ‘A Journey’. Like its ‘What It’s All About’ cousin, the song is intended as an affectionate tribute to TRAIN TO SPAIN’s influences, but actually is a throwaway novelty that is not entirely essential with its spoken vocal and stripped down production.
Another bonus track ‘Dominant One’ plays with octaves and crashing metronomic drums in the vein of ‘Blip Blop’ from ‘What It’s All About’ and as with ‘80s Drum Machine’, it could have been left off ‘A Journey’ altogether to leave a tighter collection of ten tracks. All-in-all, ‘A Journey’ is a progression from ‘What It’s All About’ on all fronts musically, vocally and aurally. But most importantly, it is good old fashioned appealing synthpop with a Eurocentric twist. So take a TRAIN TO SPAIN and go round the world again…