Tag: Synth Britannia (Page 1 of 2)

Vintage Synth Trumps with FICTION STUDIOS

Fiction Studios is a boutique recording studio located right in the heart of Central London, fully equipped for recording, mixing and mastering while also available to hire for Voiceover and ADR recording.

The studio was set up by brothers Dominic and Nathan Cooper in 2016; Cooper is best known for his role in the film adaptation of ‘Mamma Mia’ while Nathan was a member of THE MODERN and today performs as KID KASIO.

Combining Dominic’s experience in the acting field and Nathan’s background in music production, the air conditioned studio caters for bands, musicians and voiceover artists.

The studio also features an array of classic analogue gear which The Electricity Club decided would be a good reason to visit and challenge Nathan Cooper to a round of Vintage Synth Trumps…

First card today and it’s a Korg Mono/Poly…

I’ve got the plug-in! My friend’s got a Mono/Poly and he swears by it, we were in a band together when we were young…

…I thought you were young? 😉

Yeah! *coughs*

His name’s Gabriel Prokofiev, we both got into synths at primary school and we’ve both built up a collection over the years. I’m quite jealous of his collection, there’s a few he’s got that I haven’t and the Mono/Poly is one of them.

What was the first synth you owned?

It depends if you want the first good one or the first keyboard? My first keyboard was a Yamaha PSS-110, I found one again recently on eBay and thought I’d buy it on a whim… it’s awful! It’s got these samples of a dog bark and cat meow and what’s supposed to be a cuckoo! *laughs*

So it was more like a toy?

Yes, so I followed that up with a Casio SK1 when I was about 10-11 which had a sampling thing in it, so that you could burp into it and play ‘Happy Birthday’ out of burps! *laughs*

But my first proper synth was when I was 14, I begged my mum to buy me what I wanted, which was a Roland Juno 60. In those days, you went to ‘Loot’ magazine… this was at a time when they were really cheap because everyone wanted a Roland D50 or Korg M1.

I would say it’s the same one I own now, but it isn’t… sadly in the early 90s, I was recording in Ezee Studios with TOYAH and MARILLION’s producer Nick Tauber.

He told me to leave the synth there as we’d be back in a couple of weeks.

But the session got put back and put back and we didn’t go back for nearly a year, so when I finally returned it was gone! I was heartbroken!

A lot of people just stared blankly when I asked where it was, we couldn’t trace where it had gone. The one I replaced it with, I’ve had now for a fair amount of time.

The Juno 60 is a robust old thing isn’t it?

Every synth I have at Fiction Studios has at some point, needed to be completely refurbished, apart from the Juno. It never goes out of tune! The only thing that ever happened to it, was when I was touring with THE MODERN and I snapped one of the keys while I was loading it back onto the van. It was after a horrific gig at an indie venue called ‘Filthy McNasty’s’ which was where THE LIBERTINES were signed, so God knows what we were doing there! *laughs*

What I really wanted was an Oberheim or a Jupiter 8, but that was out of my range, so the Juno fitted in the budget for a birthday present. I know Howard Jones used one and it was analogue so that was it.

OK, next card!! What are the chances, it’s a Juno 60!!! *laughs*

When I set up Fiction Studios, I was lucky to be loaned some of my dream synths like the Oberheim OBXa.

I also have the Prophet 5 which I saved up for ages for, but having said that, the go-to synth is still the Juno 60, it’s still used in my KID KASIO stuff more than anything else.

Maybe it’s because I know it so well and all the patches on it were programmed by me, but there’s something about the interface on it, it’s just so easy to manipulate, it does what you want it to do, to fit into the track. Having said that, you get less happy mistakes with it though. I guess because I know all the sounds on it so well, so it rarely does anything that truly surprises.

Now, here’s a monster on the next card, a Yamaha CS80!!

That’s the dream isn’t it? I’d love one! I have the Arturia softsynth version. I always think of VANGELIS, the ‘Blade Runner’ soundtrack and Stevie Wonder who used it a lot. It’s one of those synths that’s got a ‘sound’ to it with that ribbon controller.

The ribbon controller is an interesting point as the Polymoog had one too and I’m assuming that kind of controllability is very difficult to simulate using software?

Yeah, totally! It’s why I use as much hardware stuff as I can because when I’m using mod wheels, pitch bends and stuff, I’ll programme the part in MIDI and then have the part playing through the synth while tweaking it and then I’ll record the sound onto the computer, adding any kind of modulation manually.

Because you’ve got that tiny bit of human touch to it, that is what people kind of connect to.

Although it’s still synths, it’s got some human authenticity to it. You can use pitch bend and stuff with softsynths but you don’t get that same interaction. And I think that can make or break a sound sometimes.

I remember on one of my KID KASIO tracks ‘Full Moon Blue’, I was using a harmonica sound from a Yamaha DX7 but it wasn’t quite sounding right, and everyone said I needed to use a breath control; so you put this thing in your mouth and plug it into the back of the synth and it will change the sound as you blow.

I love things being electronic and mechanical but sometimes if you add something like that, it adds that human element to it. There’s something about humans AND machines.

So why set up a studio when today, someone can grab hold of a laptop, get GarageBand and do everything there? Why does anyone out there need somewhere like Fiction Studios?

Good question… because many softsynths are now based on old analogue ones, it’s got people hankering after the authentic sound, even though softsynths do a really great job.

I think most people are aware the original sounds are better, but people can’t get their hands on them and they are expensive these days; a lot of people don’t have the room for them as well.

So in the current environment where synthpop is popular, there is a market for people coming in and wanting to play around with the old synths and run their ideas through some classic analogue flagship gear. It’s nice in that sense that people can do that. Some people often just want another pair of ears so if people want me to produce something, I can listen to what they’ve done and steer it in a certain direction.

Modern music has become very inward because of home recording…

Yes, it’s become very introspective. You can get something sounding good on GarageBand and get it up to a professional level but you always need someone else, that’s why all KID KASIO albums are mixed by Adrian Hall because I need that extra pair of ears, he can hear stuff that’s clogging up the track that I’ve been too entrenched in to notice.

So that’s why a studio with an in-house engineer or producer is great to make professional sounding tracks, or they can use the synths to produce their own stuff.

How did your most recent single ‘Drive (Some Kind Of Love)’ come about?

It was inspired by the film ‘Drive’ which came out in 2011; I’d just finished doing the ‘Tamara Drew’ soundtrack with Ben Todd and ‘Drive’ really blew us both away.

We thought it would be great to write a song that could stylistically fit into the film.

We performed it live and realised it went down pretty well. So that’s why I decided to release it.

When it was being mixed, I gave Adrian some reference points which were ‘The Boys Of Summer’ by Don Henley and ‘You’re The Voice’ by John Farnham. The track had this American vibe to it which a lot of my stuff doesn’t have, my sound is very Synth Britannia but for some reason, ‘Drive (Some Kind Of Love)’ just had this MISTER MISTER element to it!

I envisaged the video being filmed on an American highway in an open top car, but it ended up being done in London with me driving around in my Reliant Scimitar classic car and the video came out ok *laughs*

Looking at Fiction Studios, I’m amazed how spacious it is… what did you have in mind when you chose this location?

It is right in the heart of London, very few studios are now, normally you have to go to the East of London or the trendier parts, this is slap bang central.

I was looking for a space with my brother and his accountants have got a firm on the fifth floor of this building. He mentioned to them he was looking for a location to set up a studio and they suggested their store room in the basement.

We came down to have a look and it was not what you would expect an accountancy firm’s store room to look… there were boxes of files but because this firm looked after actors, models and people in the entertainment industry, there was all this weird stuff there.

I was looking around and there were MTV and Nickelodean Awards for ONE DIRECTION!! The firm represented them! So there was a pile of their tour clothes and what was really sad was all their stuff that fans had given them was here!

So there was this huge great portrait of Harry Styles staring at me that some fan had spent ages drawing! And it was down there gathering dust! *laughs*

Anyway, I noticed a library area that looked something out of Hogwarts from ‘Harry Potter’ and it was set up originally as a film set but never got round to being used. They offered to move it but I said not to as I could imagine bands hanging out in this bit because it had a really nice vibe.

The brickwork and features are all fake, but the 6000 old books are real! Occasionally you’ll pick a book out and it’ll be from the 1850s. So it’s great for inspiration, and what I’ve found I’ve done recently is I’ve been tidying up, looked up at the shelves and see the spine of a book that has the title of a song I’ve just written! It’s very weird!

And there’s no curfew or restrictions on the time of day an act can use the studio?

No, people have booked Fiction Studios until very late at night and it has 24 hour concierge so you can come and go when you please.

You have your synths but you are equipped to record acoustically as well, was this important in the viability of the studio?

Yes, the drum kit has been put near the library area. I would happily just set it up as a synth studio but I was looking into this as a business, so I didn’t want to close it off and make it accessible to everyone. And it’s worked the other way, I haven’t really had enough synth acts in here! I’ve had indie bands, opera singers and everything here so it’s been really interesting *laughs*

So, time for another card, an Oberheim 2 Voice…

I haven’t got a 2 Voice but I’ve been really lucky recently to accquire an OBXa, which was one of my dream wants because I’m a big fan of Richard Barbieri from JAPAN, where they used the similar OBX and Prophet 5.

There’s just a sound about the OB series; since getting one I’ve actually come to really respect Richard Barbieri’s work because it’s not as easy as turning it on and having those sounds.

You can find them when you tweak but it’s hard, and makes me realise he was a bit of a genius when it came to that stuff. How I came to acquire it is one of those funny things, I was at a party and I got chatting to a guy called Ian Merrylees who is a TV Editor.

He said “I’ve got a few synths at home”. Now nine times out of ten with these types of conversations, it turns out the synth is a Casiotone… so I asked him what they were and he said “one’s an Oberheim” and I’m like “WHAT?”

It had been in his loft for fifteen years… so I went round to his house to have a look, and not only did he have an OBXa, but he had a Prophet T8 as well! He wanted to see them used, and he very kindly loaned them to Fiction Studios, although they needed loads of servicing… I needed about four people to carry the T8 into the car, it’s a real monster! *laughs*

What other synths do you have here at Fiction Studios?

As well at the Oberheim OBXa, Prophet 5 and Prophet T8, there’s a Crumar Performer which after the Juno 60 is my most used synth, the SH101, Yamaha DX7, Korg MS2000, Korg DS8 and a Korg Poly 800 which my band mate Chi in THE MODERN found in a skip!

My most recent addition to the synth armoury was from when Roland came down to the studio and were impressed with the look. So the deal is they will lend us anything if they can film in here every now and then, so I have been lent a Roland JDXa which Nick Rhodes of DURAN DURAN spearheads the campaign for. It has a really nice interface, it looks amazing.

It’s great for live because unlike the old analogues where you need a torch because you can’t see the controls, this has everything lit up really nicely and there are in-built effects so everything sounds nice straight out of the box.

You have two mixing desks here?

One is for bands to use when they rehearse in the live area, it’s an old Datum series made by Hill Audio who provided the desks for Live Aid.

I was keen on having an old analogue desk, so I got this Soundtracs IL36 32 channel mixer from a friend of mine who was downsizing. That’s the thing about these desks nowadays, no-one wants them, my friend just wanted it taken away, it took five people to lift it! But I love it because it’s got a great sound to the EQs, I run all my synths through it. I have a nice Focusrite pre-amp so that it sounds like those old Neve desks, it’s got a beautiful analogue sound.

I use Logic to record but if people want to use Pro-Tools, they can. I have a nice Neumann U87 microphone and an Avalon pre-amp so you can get a good vocal chain. The monitoring uses Genelec speakers so it’s all here for people if they want it.

Another card, an ARP Odyssey…

I was this close to getting the Korg remake last year and then the studio came up. So when there was the offer of these other synths and I was getting the studio set-up, I had to spend my money on other things. I’d like to get one because ULTRAVOX used it…

…you know Billy Currie’s just sold his?

Did he? Why would you sell it?

He did sell it for £8500!

Ah! That’s why you’d sell it! *laughs*

How much is the remake by Korg?

Don’t quote me on this, but I think it’s about £700 so it’s a lot cheaper than buying an old one and it’s got MIDI.

Now I see here you have a tape recorder AND a drum machine… *laughs*

The tape recorder is all rigged up and came into use recently. Dave Ball from SOFT CELL came in with some old ¼ inch tapes of demos recorded when he and Marc Almond were at Leeds Polytechnic. He wanted to find out what was on them in case there was any other stuff that hadn’t been heard before, and there was!

That was a great experience, he’s such a nice guy and one of my idols, so to sit there and go through this stuff first hand was amazing, This early stuff was almost punk and really out there lyrically, it was amazing how simplistic some of the synth lines were, that’s the beauty of them.

The Oberheim DMX was kindly donated by a friend, I must give it back to him soon as I’ve had it for about ten years *laughs*

It’s got a brilliant kick drum, snare and clap sound which I use in almost everything I do but I tend to sample it rather than use it as a drum machine.

There are modern drum machines like the Roland TR8, but most people just use software, so is there a place for drum machines in recording today?

I think there probably is, but I still use loops quite a lot. Most people will use a programme in Logic for drum sounds called Battery where you can load up whatever vintage drum machine you want and play it on the keys of a synth, layering up the percussion framework into the computer.

I like the inspiration you can get from loops, I use a company that supplies them and you can pick one out by year. When you buy a particular year like say 1982, they send you a pack of a hundred loops played on the popular drum machines of that year in various tempos and stuff. So what I invariably do is use that as a basis and layer the sounds up with real ones from the DMX or a sample from a 12 inch single. The great thing about the DMX is that you can open it up and tune up each drum to the song via the dials inside.

When it comes to using a drum machine to programme, it’s quite fiddly and you end up recording it back into the computer anyway, so it’s a bit pointless. But it is nice to have it hands on.

Final card, it’s the Polymoog…

People say I haven’t got any Moogs in the studio but they’re one of those makes that I never got into.

I want one, partly because Howard Jones had a Moog Prodigy but when I was young, I always associated Moog with the more proggy end of music and it sort of put me off *laughs*

It’s funny because RODNEY CROMWELL admits he’s “a Moog Snob”

I guess it’s the difference between 1977-1980 which is more the lo-fi era of electronics where he comes from musically, while my stuff fits more into the more later end of synthpop 1982-1983…

Ah, the digitally stabilised analogue period…

Yeah, exactly *laughs*

Having said that, if anyone wants to donate a Moog synth? I do have all the Moog plug-ins but it’s just been one of those things.

So what are you up to at the moment musically?

Apart from producing an array of acts here at Fiction, I’m planning the video to the final release from my KID KASIO ‘Sit & Wait’ album. It’s going to be made up of old footage of me in bands from the 90s.

Also I’m putting the final touches to an EP of cover versions I’m releasing next year. And busy writing and recording for my third KID KASIO album.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Nathan Cooper and Fiction Studios

Fiction Studios is based at 49 – 51 Bedford Row, London, United Kingdom – for further information, please phone 020 7404 7111 or visit their website at http://www.fictionstudioslondon.com/

https://www.facebook.com/fictionstudioslondon/

https://twitter.com/fiction_studios

https://www.instagram.com/fictionstudios/

Vintage Synth Trumps is a card game by GForce that features 52 classic synthesizers


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
18th August 2017

Five Years of TEC: WHILE MY SYNTH GENTLY BLEEPS

The Electricity Club celebrates its fifth anniversary and it has been a glorious journey.

TEC 5 yearsThe site came into being on 15th March 2010 after the founding team discussed having an online platform to feature the best in new and classic electronic pop music. After weeks of deliberation, the decision to finally launch The Electricity Club came at the HEAVEN 17 aftershow party for their triumphant gig at The Magna Science Park on 6th March 2010.

During that evening, The Electricity Club met and chatted with HEAVEN 17’s Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware, OMD’s Paul Humphreys and Claudia Brücken, best known as the singer of PROPAGANDA… by the end of the year, all four had given insightful interviews to The Electricity Club.

With a tasteful design aesthetic, The Electricity Club received a major boost in profile in May 2010 when its interview with Paul Humphreys was quoted by The Guardian as part of a news item announcing the release of OMD’s comeback album ‘History Of Modern’.

Key interviews with DUBSTAR and CLIENT’s Sarah Blackwood, LANDSCAPE’s Richard James Burgess, THE ART OF NOISE’s Gary Langan and ULTRAVOX’s Warren Cann also followed. Later in the year, TEC featured promising acts TENEK and VILE ELECTRODES for the very first time; both were soon to become stalwarts of the UK independent electronic scene.

MIRRORS Cologne2011-ladiesBut the first act to formally be reviewed on The Electricity Club was MARINA & THE DIAMONDS, reflecting the kooky female fronted keyboard based pop like LA ROUX, LITTLE BOOTS, LADYHAWKE and LADY GAGA that was prevalent at the time. However, there was a changing of the guard on the horizon as new astute male fronted electronic based acts such as HURTS, VILLA NAH and MIRRORS appeared which The Electricity Club took a keen interest in.

The Electricity Club has always prided itself in asking the questions that have never usually been asked, but which fans want to know the answers to. And it was with this reputation for intelligent and well researched interviewing that the site was granted its biggest coup yet when it spoke to NEW ORDER’s Stephen Morris. In the ensuing chat, Morris cryptically hinted that Manchester’s finest would return… and that is exactly what happened in Autumn of that year when concerts in aid of the band’s late friend Michael Shamberg were announced.

TEC was on a roll in 2011 as OMD’s Andy McCluskey, RECOIL mainman Alan Wilder, BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur, Mira Aroyo of LADYTRON, HOWARD JONES, THOMAS DOLBY and DRAMATIS’ Chris Payne all gave interviews.

And in rather bizarre throwback to 1981, DURAN DURAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JOHN FOXX released new albums on the same day in March.

Meanwhile, up-and-coming acts such as AUSTRA, SOFT METALS, ELEVEN: ELEVEN and QUEEN OF HEARTS made a good first impression.

Events like ‘Return To The Blitz Club’, ‘Short Circuit Presents Mute’, ‘Back To The Phuture – Tomorrow Is Today’, ‘The Electronic Phuture Revue’ and the BEF Weekender reinforced the new found profile for music seeded from the Synth Britannia era and kept the team busy. The Electricity Club even found time to curate its own live event TEC001 featuring VILE ELECTRODES.

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. But the year did unearth talents such as CHVRCHES, GAZELLE TWIN, GRIMES, KARIN PARK, TRUST, METROLAND and IAMAMIWHOAMI who were eventually make a lasting impact. During this time though, MIRRORS sadly lost momentum and appeared to wind down after the departure of founder member Ally Young while VILLA NAH mutated into SIN COS TAN.

Ahead of ULTRAVOX’s recorded return with ‘Brilliant’, Billy Currie spoke to The Electricity Club and MARSHEAUX headlined a sold out TEC002 event with The Blitz Club’s legendary DJ Rusty Egan as its special guest. EDM was also becoming big news internationally. But The Electricity Club stood its ground and showed little interest in this largely repetitive sub-genre as parties within the industry desperately tried to centralise synthpop and dance music with misguided promotional campaigns such as ‘Electrospective’.

Karin + RustyIt was quite obvious the industry was struggling to come to terms with a changing marketplace, as well as failing to distinguish between dance music and electronic pop.

Contrary to general perception that music using synthesizers was 80s, The Electricity Club maintained a stance that electronic pop music didn’t start in that decade and certainly didn’t end there either. In fact, there was even an editorial diktat that banned TEC’s writers from using that horrific and lazy term of reference.

80s is neither an instrumentation style or a genre of music… tellingly, several PR representatives told The Electricity Club that one of the site’s main appeals was that it avoided the whole nostalgia bent as represented by events such as ‘Here & Now’ and other media, both virtual and physical.

2013 turned out to be one of the best years for electronic pop since 1981.

What The Electricity Club did in 2013 would take up a whole article in itself… interviews with ALISON MOYET, GARY NUMAN, KARL BARTOS, MARNIE, ADULT. and MISS KITTIN confirmed The Electricity Club’s impact while new releases from OMD, NINE INCH NAILS, BEF, PET SHOP BOYS, GOLDFRAPPMESH, MARSHEAUX, SIN COS TAN, POLLY SCATTERGOOD and VISAGE reflected the vibrancy of the contemporary electronic scene.

But the biggest recognition of how influential The Electricity Club had become was when VILE ELECTRODES were chosen to support OMD after being spotted by Andy McCluskey while he was perusing the site’s webpages.

There was even a radio show when ‘Rusty Egan Presents The Electricity Club’ ran for 25 programmes on dance station Mi-Soul.

Over the years, The Electricity Club has written about a number of talents whose promise was never fully realised despite producing great music… THE SOUND OF ARROWS, SUNDAY GIRL, KATJA VON KASSEL and THE VANITY CLAUSE all featured several times, but timing and in the cases of the first three, record company interference stifled potential. Whether signed or independent, nothing can be guaranteed in the today’s music world.

Although the year started tremendously with The Electricity Club being invited to meet KARL BARTOS and WOLFGANG FLÜR in Cologne, 2014 suffered next to quality of 2013. But TEC interviewed more key figures from the Synth Britannia era including MIDGE URE, ex-CABARET VOLTAIRE frontman Stephen Mallinder and the often forgotten man of the period JO CALLIS, who was a key member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE during their imperial phase.

For the 25th Anniversary of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘101’, Alan Wilder spoke exclusively to TEC about how that live document became a major game changer for the band. And at his autobiography launch in London, Bernard Sumner revealed that NEW ORDER‘s next album would be more electronic than the band’s last couple of offerings. Meanwhile, SUSANNE SUNDFØR’s various collaborations with RÖYKSOPP and KLEERUP enhanced her profile in readiness for ‘Ten Love Songs’, her most accomplished work yet. Also riding high were Glasgow’s ANALOG ANGEL with their third album ‘Trinity’ and a support tour with Swedish veterans COVENANT in 2015 was their reward.

The live circuit was vibrant and there was a third event TEC003 which had a DEPECHE MODE flavour thanks to tribute band SPEAK & SPELL playing ‘Speak & Spell’ and ‘101’ sets. There was also a DJ set by Sarah Blackwood plus a special memorabilia exhibition curated by Deb Danahay, co-founder of the first official DM Information Service. At the same event VILE ELECTRODES celebrated the first anniversary of their debut album ‘The future through a lens’ having snapped up two Schallwelle awards in Germany for ‘Best International Album’ and ‘Best International Artist’.

As 2015 settles in, highly regarded acts within the electronic community continue to engage with The Electricity Club. German trio CAMOUFLAGE used an edit of TEC’s career retrospective on the band as liner notes for their CD ‘The Singles’. Meanwhile studio legend John Fryer, who worked with FAD GADGET, DEPECHE MODE, COCTEAU TWINS and NINE INCH NAILS, also stopped by for a chat as did BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur, securing a site record with his fourth interview for TEC.

Newer artists over the last few years as varied as FEATHERS, KID MOXIE, HANNAH PEEL, I AM SNOW ANGEL, TWINS NATALIA, NIGHT CLUB, PAWWS, MACHINISTA, QUIETER THAN SPIDERS, PRIEST and TRAIN TO SPAIN have proved that electronic music is still very much alive 🙂

The Electricity Club appears to have reflected the interests of people who love the Synth Britannia era and have a desire to hear new music rooted in that ilk.

Tapio Normall + Hannah Peel for TECWhile things cannot carry on for ever, there is a belief that there is much more excellent music still to be created and discovered.

The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to all who have contributed over the last five years, be they writers, musicians, commentators, photographers, artists or models And a big thank you to everyone who has taken the time read an article on the site


Text by Chi Ming Lai
14th March 2015

TEC’s 25 FAVOURITE VINTAGE DRUM MACHINES and ELECTRONIC PERCUSSION SETS

Electronics gave musicians the opportunity to experiment outside the confines of the traditional four or five piece live band.

Synthesizers meant to an extent that ensembles of instruments could be replaced and led to the formation of more streamlined combos who could exert a greater degree of artistic control. And with the simultaneous advent of the drum machine, there came the elimination of the most unpredictable element of any band… the drummer! With one of these electronic units, precise and metronomic rhythm could be provided without the annoying desire of a human to egotistically add fills or breaks!

Hence came the joke: “What is the difference between a drummer and a drum machine? With a drum machine, you only have to punch the instructions in once!”

However, if a drummer was willing to join in on the minimal electronic adventure, an array of hand triggered synthetic devices could be used to replace parts of the conventional drum kit while syncopating along to a precise machine rhythm. KRAFTWERK’s Wolfgang Flür was one of the first musicians to be widely seen playing a self-built electronic percussion set on German TV Station ZDF in 1973.

He said in his autobiography ‘I Was A Robot’: “It’s the eternal dilemma of percussionists in many bands I’ve seen, who like to see themselves as the dominant artists and therefore play those wearing, extravagant drum solos…”.

So here are the drum machines and electronic percussion sets that The Electricity Club has the most affection for. As with TEC’s 25 Favourite Vintage Synthesizers list, they are not necessarily the most technically accomplished of machines, but each have their place in electronic music history. This list is purely for fun and not a product endorsement, presented chronologically by year of production origin and then alphabetically.

But before TEC proceeds with its list, here’s another joke: “How many drummers does it take to change a lightbulb? None, because there are machines that can do exactly what drummers do, and so much better!” 😉


KEIO MINIPOPS 7 (1967)

Minipops7Made by Japanese company Keio who eventually morphed into Korg, this rhythm unit had 2 banks of 10 rhythms which were selected by a flip switch. With its distinctive snakey guiro sound, although not credited, it appeared on JEAN MICHEL JARRE’s first two albums ‘Oxygène’ and ‘Equinoxe’. The mournful Factory act MINNY POPS derived their name from this machine while it was also used by BLANCMANGE on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ version of ‘Sad Day’.

Iconic Example Of Use: JEAN MICHEL JARRE ‘Equinoxe V’


ELKA DRUMMER ONE (1969)

Elka Drummer OneLooking a bit like a Hi-Fi Receiver, this simple preset rhythm box from the Italian organ manufacturer was much loved by kosmische bands such as CLUSTER and HARMONIA. It was one of the first machines to have individual volume level control for each of its 9 percussion sounds and by pressing two separate preset rhythm buttons, a whole new pattern could be generated. The limitations of such devices often led musicians to making other worldly music with these source sounds.

Iconic Example Of Use: HARMONIA ‘Dino’


FARFISA RHYTHM UNIT 10 (1969)

farfisa-rhythm-10-drum-machine2An early preset drum machine designed as a home organ accompaniment, this was the first such unit owned by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider who used it on early KRAFTWERK recordings like the sub-17 minute ‘Kling Klang’ and the studio take of ‘Tanzmusik’. While limited in its capability, the duo’s curiosity led to the unit being customised for their own ends so that the sounds could be hand triggered, and thus leading to the investigation of the electronic rhythms that KRAFTWERK were later to become famous for.

Iconic Example Of Use: KRAFTWERK ‘Kling Klang’


EKO RHYTHMAKER (1972)

EKO-RhythmakerAn Italian drum box that although wasn’t programmable, had separate fader controls for each of its sounds. It made a prominent appearance on ASHRA’s cult ambient classic ‘New Age Of Earth’. Will Sergeant from ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN also acquired one and named it ‘Echo’ after the manufacturer and inspiring the band name; it was used on their debut 45 ‘Pictures On My Wall’. ‘Echo’ was later replaced by a Doctor Rhythm DR55, but is believed to have ended up moonlighting on OMD’s debut album.

Iconic Example Of Use: OMD ‘Julia’s Song’


ROLAND TR77 (1972)

rolandTR77The first rhythm machine used by Warren Cann of ULTRAVOX, its debut appearance was on ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’. Using a sub-bossa nova preset with buttons pushed in assorted combinations to achieve variation, it provided the spacey backbone to the chilling highlight of the ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ album. The ‘TR’ prefix stood for ‘Transistor Rhythm’. Critically, the TR77 had separate faders for the kick, snare, guiro, hi-hat, cymbal and maracas sounds, thereby making it a very flexible machine for use in the studio.

Iconic Example Of Use: ULTRAVOX ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’


PAiA PROGRAMMABLE DRUM SET (1975)

PAiA Electronics Programmable Drum SetOften credited as the first programmable drum machine, sounds were produced using a technique called ringing oscillators. A filter that was very close to oscillating on its own was hit with a short pulse so that it rang the way a drum did! Designed in Oklahoma, it was sold as a kit with instructions for the buyer to build the machine themselves. PETER GABRIEL was one of its first exponents.

Iconic Example Of Use: PETER GABRIEL ‘Games Without Frontiers’


POLLARD SYNDRUM QUAD (1976)

pollard syndrum quadThe first commercially available electronic drum was devised by Joe Pollard, a drummer who played with THE BEACH BOYS. Although the Syndrum had many different sounds, the one most commonly used was a sine wave that pitch-bent downwards… hence the ubiquitous and some would say annoying “doooo-oo” sound of the disco era! Despite the Syndrum being heard everywhere, Pollard had financial problems, leaving rivals Star and Simmons to take up the mantle for hand operated electronic percussion.

Iconic Example Of Use: THE CARS ‘Good Times Roll’


ROLAND CR78 COMPURHYTHM (1978)

roland_cr78One of the most distinctive sounding drum machines ever made, it was the first device of its kind to use integrated circuits. The CR78 had an accent control knob which increased the loudness of certain steps, plus there were useful mute buttons for four of the sounds including bass and snare to give further variation while in operation. This programmable unit with 15 sounds and 34 different preset rhythms was used by most of the Synth Britannia innovators including GARY NUMAN, OMD, JOHN FOXX and ULTRAVOX.

Iconic Example Of Use: OMD ‘Enola Gay’


STAR SYNARE 3 (1978)

synare3-02The earlier Synares 1 and 2 had several drum pads built into a suitcase, but the Synare 3 was a standalone drum synthesizer that looked like a flying saucer, triggered by hitting the pressure sensitive rubber pad. There was a noise generator with a tune function and a low-pass filter with cut-off, resonance and decay controls. It was used by Warren Cann for the thunder sound on ULTRAVOX’s ‘Vienna’ and Stephen Morris for the “tschak-tschak” noise on JOY DIVISION’s ‘She’s Lost Control’.

Iconic Example Of Use: ULTRAVOX ‘Vienna’


KORG RHYTHM 55 (1979)

Korg-r55With 48 preset patterns with 16 intros / fill-ins and 10 drum voices, this was Daniel Miller’s first drum machine and used on his early productions such as ‘Lady Shave’ by FAD GADGET, ‘Memorabilia’ by SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE’s first recorded version of ‘Photographic’ for the ‘Some Bizzare Album’. The Korg Rhythm 55 had a characteristically klanky percussive sound which JEAN MICHEL JARRE also used as the metronomic bed for his third long player ‘Magnetic Fields’.

Iconic Example Of Use: DEPECHE MODE ‘Photographic (Some Bizzare Version)’


PEARL SYNCUSSION SY1 (1979)

pearl SY1 topThis was a two channel drum synth where each section had an oscillator that could produce different basic waveforms which were then shaped by a simple envelope generator. Usually triggered from two bongo-like drums fitted with transducers, it could also be activated via a synth with a gate output. It was extensively used by Mal Holmes for OMD’s crunchy electronic percussion sounds to replace conventional hi-hat and cymbals.

Iconic Example Of Use: OMD ‘Joan Of Arc’


BOSS DOCTOR RHYTHM DR55 (1980)

boss dr rhythmDR55Not to be confused with the Korg Rhythm 55, this basic ‘step-write’ drum machine was produced by Roland’s musical accessory sub-division and one of the first truly affordable programmable drum machines. With just primitive analogue generated kick, snare, hi-hat and rimshot sounds available, it possessed a unique character of its own. Its successor, the DR110 featured a novel LCD rhythm pattern display and manual fill capability with sounds similar to the Roland TR606 Drumatix.

Iconic Example Of Use: NEW ORDER ‘Truth’


LINN LM-1 (1980)

LinnLM-1Using digital samples of real drum sounds, Roger Linn’s drum computer changed pop music with its logical programming capability. It gained prominence on THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ and HEAVEN 17’s ‘Penthouse & Pavement’. It was also used hand triggered by Steve Jansen for the clap and bass drum sounds on JAPAN’s ‘Tin Drum’. The first Linn did not actually have a crash cymbal sound because there was not enough memory in the chips. When it came out, it cost the same as a Renault 5!

Iconic Example Of Use: THE HUMAN LEAGUE ‘Don’t You Want Me?’


ROLAND TR808 RHYTHM COMPOSER (1980)

Roland-TR-808Probably one of the most popular analogue drum machines, it had distinctive sounds such as its handclap and bongos that while sounding nothing like what they were supposed to represent, possessed a unique character that appealed particularly within urban dance culture. First used on YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s ‘BGM’ album in 1981, it was also used by SOFT CELL and YAZOO but gained prominence on a variety of Arthur Baker’s classic New York electro crossover productions with AFRIKA BAMBAATA.

Iconic Example Of Use: AFRIKA BAMBAATA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE ‘Planet Rock’


SOUND MASTER MEMORY RHYTHM SR88 (1980)

Soundmastersr88aThis was an entry level ‘step-write’ drum machine that was owned by The Electricity Club! It provided hours of fun with just four really thin analogue drum sounds (kick / snare / hi-hat / cymbal) by tapping the keys like Morse Code!! It had a useful clock output for synching to basic sequencers while an output pulse could also be synched with the cymbal sound to trigger synths for more varied effects. It was the rhythm box that COCTEAU TWINS used when they first formed.

Iconic Example Of Use: CRY ‘Looking To The Future’


MOVEMENT SYSTEMS DRUM COMPUTER MKI (1981)

movement_drum_computer_mk1This was the British-built hybrid drum computer used by EURYTHMICS which appeared in their ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ video. Its nine analogue synthesized drum sounds were similar to Simmons SDSV while the five digital ones were 8 bit samples. A monitor came separately to display the drum notes and sequencing graphically in a similar fashion to page R on the Fairlight CMI. The MKII had a built-in monitor and was used by THOMPSON TWINS, but was bulky when compared with the LinnDrum.

Iconic Example Of Use: EURYTHMICS ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’


OBERHEIM DMX (1981)

OberheimDMXThe digital drum machine on NEW ORDER’s ‘Blue Monday’ as programmed by Stephen Morris. This was a direct competitor to the Linn Drum but much cheaper, offering more options and crucially, allowed tuning of sounds. It was designed to work in tandem with the OB8 synth and DSX sequencer using the ‘Oberheim Parallel Bus’ system pre-MIDI. Also used by SOFT CELL, THE CURE, MATT FRETTON, HERBIE HANCOCK and RUN DMC.

Iconic Example Of Use: NEW ORDER ‘Blue Monday’


ROLAND TR606 DRUMATIX (1981)

drumatix tr-606The Roland TR-606 Drumatix was a portable programmable analogue drum machine designed to tandem with the TB303 Bassline synth to provide solo artists with rhythm accompaniment. While the squelchy oddness of the TB303 later became synonymous with Acid House, the TR606 was almost dated by the time it was released, thanks to the advent of digital drum machines. It was used as a demo tool by acts like HEAVEN 17, while OMD were one of the few to use it in its own right on the ‘Dazzle Ships’ album.

Iconic Example Of Use: OMD ‘Silent Running’


SIMMONS SDS-V (1981)

Simmons-sds5_pads_01One of the first electronic percussion kits, it was designed by Dave Simmons and Richard James Burgess of LANDSCAPE. The electronics were based on the ARP 2600 synth and the material for the drum sets was similar to that used in police riot shields. Meanwhile, the shape was inspired by honeycomb. Its sound soon became characteristic of the era and drummers from all genres got in on using it. But the lack of give in the drum material caused physical problems for players due to the dead shock to the arms!

Iconic Example Of Use: TALK TALK ‘Today’


LINNDRUM (1982)

LinnDrumOfficially known as the LM-2, the LinnDrum was an upgraded, more efficiently packaged version of the original LM-1 drum computer with added crash and ride cymbals which were not possible on the first machine due to restricted memory size of the integrated circuits used. It also had some innovative features for the time such as swing, quantizing and memory storage. It became the studio drum machine of choice for many including OMD, HEAVEN 17, GARY NUMAN, JOHN FOXX and ULTRAVOX.

Iconic Example Of Use: HEAVEN 17 ‘Temptation’


E-MU SYSTEMS DRUMULATOR (1983)

drumulatorFollowing the success of their affordable Emulator sampler, E-MU Systems developed a programmable rhythm unit that featured 12 bit samples. At just $1000, it opened up digital drum sounds to many more musicians unwilling to shell out for a LinnDrum or DMX. Used by TEARS FOR FEARS on ‘Shout’ and DEPECHE MODE on their ‘Construction Time Again’ opus, it was also the first digital drum machine of choice for COCTEAU TWINS.

Iconic Example Of Use: DEPECHE MODE ‘Everything Counts’


ROLAND TR909 RHYTHM COMPOSER (1984)

Roland-TR-909An analogue / sample hybrid drum machine with MIDI compatibility and editable analogue sounds, it was originally a poor seller on its release due to a hefty £1000 price tag for its apparently dated credentials. However, it was later picked up on by American dance DJs and is now considered to be the link between Detroit Techno and Chicago House with its recognisable kicks, hi-hats and snares plus tweakable attack, tone, tuning, decay, snap and accent functions.

Iconic Example Of Use: INNER CITY ‘Big Fun’


SEQUENTIAL CIRCUITS DRUMTRAKS (1984)

sci_drumtraksThe Drumtraks was the first digital drum machine to feature the MIDI interface proposed by Sequential Circuits’ Dave Smith. But with a standard clock output as well, it was also compatible with older analogue synths. There were 13 sounds, each with programmable tuning and level control while editing was straightforward. It was used extensively by ULTRAVOX’s Warren Cann on the ‘Lament’ album and the standalone single ‘Loves Great Adventure’. Other users included PRINCE, GARY NUMAN and ORBITAL.

Iconic Example Of Use: ULTRAVOX ‘White China’


YAMAHA RX5 (1986)

Yamaha-rx5The RX5 was a versatile and affordable digital MIDI drum machine used by NEW ORDER and CAMEO. It had many editable parameters such as attack, decay, reverse and damp for each sound plus two levels of accent. The sounds could even be pitch-bent across several octaves while the bizarre time signatures that could be programmed ranged from 1/32 to 99/2! Also available were ROM Cartridges with further genre based percussive sets, while created sounds could be stored on RAM cartridges.

Iconic Example Of Use: NEW ORDER ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’


ALESIS HR16 (1987)

ALESIS HR16A 16 pad MIDI drum machine with 49 sounds including 10 kicks, 7 snares and a complete set of ethnic percussion which all came as 16 bit samples, this was a low-cost digital rhythm unit that survived an era when most producers were sampling live drumming performances into Akai S1000s. Patterns could be programmed in either step or real-time, while up to 16 drum tones could be used within a pattern. The key to its success was its value for money and it was used by ORBITAL, THE GRID and OMD.

Iconic Example Of Use: OMD ‘Sailing On The Seven Seas’


Text by Chi Ming Lai
16th September 2014, updated 23rd October 2017

TEC’s 25 FAVOURITE VINTAGE SYNTHS

Synthesizers are The Electricity Club’s first love and their impact on modern popular music cannot be underestimated.

EMSVCS3However, this was only made possible once the synthesizer became affordable and inspired an artistic revolution. From the moment these futuristic contraptions were spotted on ‘Top Of The Pops’ or ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’, regardless of whether they were used on the actual song, they sparked fascination and passion from interested observers in the same way that Stingray, Thunderbird 2, Shado 2,  the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle or Eagle Transporter from the Gerry Anderson TV shows did.

Inspired by Martyn Ware’s talk ‘A Journey In 20 Synths’, here are the 25 synthesizers that The Electricity Club has the most affection for. They are not necessarily the most technically accomplished, or even the most interesting sounding of machines, but each have their place in electronic music history. This list is purely for fun and not a product endorsement, presented chronologically by year of production origin and then alphabetically.

Note that the majority of these machines were developed between 1969-79… this alone should dispel the public and press notion, once and for all, that if a song features a synthesizer, then it must be “80s”… now here’s the proof!


MINIMOOG (1970)

MinimoogCosting over £1000 when first made available in the UK, this classic monosynth had three voltage controlled oscillators for that famous fat sound. Its distinctive solid bass pulse was made possible by the rapid attack times that its contour generators were capable of, plus the comfortable feel of its controls and keyboard. Used by KRAFTWERK, BRIAN ENO, KLAUS SCHULZE, VANGELIS, ULTRAVOX and GARY NUMAN, it is probably the one synth that most people actually know the name of!

Iconic example of use: KRAFTWERK ‘Autobahn’


ARP 2600 (1971)

ARP2600This semi-modular synth had hard wired and patch-cord routing capabilities while it could also be triggered using the ARP 1613 Sequencer. With three oscillators and a variety of waveforms, it was favoured by Daniel Miller and Martin Hannett to make synthetic percussive sounds for FAD GADGET, DEPECHE MODE, THE DURUTTI COLUMN and JOY DIVISION. Its circuitry later formed the basis of the Simmons SDSV. But the ARP 2600 could do gentle as well, as on DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Waiting For The Night’.

Iconic example of use: DEPECHE MODE ‘Waiting For The Night’


ARP ODYSSEY (1972)

ARPOdysseyThis two oscillator duophonic synth was effectively a scaled down version of the ARP 2600. All its parameters were editable via sliders and buttons on the front panel instead of knobs which made it very player friendly. It also had a sample-and-hold function and in a later version, three pressure sensitive pads to bend pitch or induce vibrato. This was the distinctive sound of ULTRAVOX’s synth solos as played by Billy Currie. It has also been used by KRAFTWERK, TANGERINE DREAM, JOHN FOXX and GARY NUMAN.

Iconic example of use: ULTRAVOX ‘Hymn’


EMS Synthi AKS (1972)

EMSSynthiAKSThe Synthi AKS was essentially the electronic guts of the earlier VCS3 and ‘suitcased’ with a touch sensitive keyboard and a 256 step on-board monophonic digital sequencer. Costing £450 on launch, it had three oscillators and a matrix-based patch system which made it very good for generating sci-fi type sounds. It featured heavily on ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ by PINK FLOYD and was also used by KLAUS SCHULZE, BRIAN ENO, JEAN MICHEL JARRE and ULTRAVOX.

Iconic example of use: PINK FLOYD ‘On The Run’


KORG 700s (1974)

Korg700sAlso known as the mini-Korg, this was purchased by Martyn Ware in 1977 to cheer himself up to splitting up with his then-girlfriend; it was subsequently used in his recordings as a founder member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE. It was an affordable £200 at that time when compared with the £1000 asking price for the Minimoog. The 700s differed from the earlier 700 model in that it had two oscillators. It was also Daniel Miller’s first synth and he used it recording as THE NORMAL, simultaneously launching Mute Records.

Iconic example of use: THE NORMAL ‘Warm Leatherette’


POLYMOOG (1975)

polymoog-2Released in 1975, this was Moog’s first polyphonic instrument and unlike the Minimoog which was all made up of transistors, the Polymoog used silicon chips under each key. GARY NUMAN used the Vox Humana preset to such great success on ‘Cars’ that it effectively killed off this machine because no-one else wanted to buy it! JAPAN and BUGGLES also used it, but it was ultimately overshadowed by the release of the Yamaha CS80. A simpler Polymoog Keyboard variant with fewer features did little to help sway sales.

Iconic example of use: GARY NUMAN ‘M.E.’


ROLAND SYSTEM 100 (1975)

SYSTEM100Not to be confused with the very different System 100M, this was a semi-modular monophonic standalone synth that could be expanded. Having all the component parts made it into a two-oscillator monosynth with sequencing, monitoring and effects capabilities. It had the most amazing bass sound and could get quite an interesting choral sound. Notable for its industrial sounding percussive capabilities, it was used extensively by Martyn Ware in THE HUMAN LEAGUE and HEAVEN 17.

Iconic example of use: THE HUMAN LEAGUE ‘Being Boiled (Fast Version)’


ARP OMNI (1976)

ARPOmniA more complex, but compact development of the classic but cumbersome ARP Solina string machine, this brilliant string synthesizer had polyphonic Violin and Viola waveforms as well as monophonic Bass and Cello waveforms. There were also Strings, Synthesizer, and Bass synth sections which were all simultaneously available. When passed through Martin Hannett’s Marshall Time Modular, it produced the really claustrophobic Mellotron type sounds on JOY DIVISION’s ‘Closer’ LP.

Iconic example of use: JOY DIVISION ‘Heart & Soul’


KORG 770 (1976)

korg770A monophonic with dual oscillators and unique features such as two ring modulator modes, pitched noise and a chorus waveform, this synth was also known as the MaxiKorg. This was the first synth of both SIMPLE MINDS’ Mick McNeil and THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s Phil Oakey. Subsequently, it was used on ‘Dare’ for its distinctive solid basslines as on ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ and ‘Love Action’. It also had a place in more guitar oriented bands such as THE ICICLE WORKS.

Iconic example of use: THE HUMAN LEAGUE ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’


ROLAND SYSTEM 700 (1976)

roland_system700A beast of a modular synth, a complete system had 47 modules, options including sequencer, keyboard controller and additional soundbanks which could be controlled by the Roland’s MC8 Micro-composer. The system was used to great effect by GIORGIO MORODER, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, HANS ZIMMER, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JAPAN. Later superceded by the System 100M, Flood used it to construct the bassline for DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’.

Iconic example of use: DEPECHE MODE ‘Enjoy The Silence’


YAMAHA CS80 (1976)

yamaha_CS80-totalThis almighty polysynth with symphonic prog rock associations had features such as a piano weighted keyboard and touch sensitivity. One popular function it had was a ribbon controller that allowed for polyphonic pitch-bends and glissandos. It had an incredible, complex richness to its sound that meant it was a favourite of many musicians such as EMERSON LAKE & PALMER, PETER GABRIEL, KATE BUSH, VANGELIS, KLAUS SCHULZE, BRIAN ENO and ULTRAVOX.

Iconic example of use: VANGELIS ‘To The Unknown Man’


KORG M500 MICRO-PRESET (1977)

Morg-micropresetActually the most basic of devices with only 30 different sounds and limited variant control, the Micro-Preset was the main synth on OMD’s early work. The small pockets of both Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys meant the instrument had to be explored and pushed out of necessity… and without it, the repeating octave shifting blips on ‘Messages’ or the pulsing bass on ‘Stanlow’ couldn’t have happened ! Thanks to its functional limitations, these experiments became distinctive components of inventive pop songs.

Iconic example of use: OMD ‘Messages’


YAMAHA CS10 (1977)

yamaha_cs-10-2The CS10 sat between the single oscillator / envelope CS5 which was Martin Gore of DEPECHE MODE’s first synth, and the two VCO CS15 favoured by THE HUMAN LEAGUE. This relatively inexpensive monophonic used by SPANDAU BALLET and CHINA CRISIS had one oscillator and VCF / VCO envelopes, as well as a one octave portamento and CV / Gate. Unlike Roland and Korg, Yamaha’s synths were designed with players in mind rather than programmers, something that would haunt their later digital DX7.

Iconic example of use: SPANDAU BALLET ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’


YAMAHA SS30 (1977)

yamaha ss30This wood encased, multiphonic string synthesizer employed a divide-down, electric organ type of architecture on its two master oscillators for tone generation. These could be detuned to create chorus and phasing effects. The SS30’s distinctive sounds can be heard on ULTRAVOX’s ‘The Voice’ and ‘Vienna’ as well as SIMPLE MINDS’ Life In A Day’. It was also a keyboard of choice for Dave Formula from MAGAZINE and VISAGE.

Iconic example of use: ULTRAVOX’s ‘The Voice’


EDP WASP (1978)

EDP WASPCheap at just under £200 when launched, this had a 25 note electrostatic touch sensitive yellow / black keyboard, two digital oscillators supported by analogue filters and its own speaker. It was DURAN DURAN’s Nick Rhodes first synth while OMD’s Paul Humphreys owned one but didn’t like it. The deluxe variant had a proper keyboard. Its companion Spider sequencer used EDP’s pre-MIDI connection system and exploited by DEPECHE MODE for the bass sequence on the Aggro Mix of ‘Never Let Me Down Again’.

Iconic example of use: DEPECHE MODE ‘Never Let Me Down Again (Aggro Mix)’


KORG MS20 (1978)

KorgMS20An analogue two oscillator monophonic with hard wired and patchable connections, the circuitry came from one of the original modules on the chunky PS3300; the hard-wiring could be overridden using patch-cords. The MS20 could be triggered by external inputs such as percussion or vocals for strange effects; one of its best uses was on GOLDFRAPP’s ‘Felt Mountain’ album where it processed assorted screaming voice sounds. Also been used by FAD GADGET, BLANCMANGE, ADD N TO (X) and LADYTRON.

Iconic example of use: GOLDFRAPP ‘Lovely Head’


ROLAND JUPITER 4 (1978)

roland-jupiter4One of the first affordable polyphonic synths, its four individual polyphonic voices could be synced together for one monophonic lead. It also featured a useful arpeggiator as heard on ‘Dreams Of Leaving’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE. This 49 key instrument however lacked a CV / Gate and was prone to tuning difficulties. But it became a workhorse polysynth for GARY NUMAN, DURAN DURAN, SIMPLE MINDS and HEAVEN 17. However, its dated styling has meant it is not as well remembered as the Jupiter 8.

Iconic example of use: SIMPLE MINDS ‘Theme For Great Cities’


CRUMAR PERFORMER (1979)

crumar_performerThis versatile Italian string and brass machine was best known for its distinctive swimmy sound as used extensively by Nick Rhodes on the first two DURAN DURAN albums. A simple three band equalizer with high, mid and low sliders was used to give the strings shimmering sparkle or moody dark timbres. A fully polyphonic 49 note keyboard, its brass capability was apparently much less impressive.

Iconic example of use: DURAN DURAN ‘Girls On Film (Night Version)’


OBERHEIM OBX (1979)

Oberheim OBXFor years, QUEEN declared “No Synthesizers” on their albums before finally relenting in 1980 by using an OBX on their album ‘The Game’. Also used by JAPAN’s Richard Barbieri and ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie, this polyphonic was the first to use individual voice cards. Available in four or eight voice configurations, this was the start of the series that would later include the OBXa and OB8. This family of instruments eventually became known for a fat, raunchy brass sound that was ubiquitous in the era.

Iconic example of use: ULTRAVOX ‘We Stand Alone’


SEQUENTIAL CIRCUITS PROPHET 5 (1979)

SCI-Prophet5With five voice polyphony, two oscillators per voice and a white noise generator, this synth became very popular with acts such as OMD, SOFT CELL, NEW ORDER, GARY NUMAN and DURAN DURAN. But it suffered from notorious unreliability, due to frequent overheating issues. However, it was David Sylvian’s favourite synth as heard on JAPAN’s ‘Tin Drum’  album while his brother Steve Jansen also used it for keyboard percussion sounds on songs like ‘Visions Of China’.

Iconic example of use: OMD ‘2nd Thought’


CASIO VL-TONE (1981)

Casio VL-ToneWho could forget this? The VL-Tone had 29 little calculator-type button keys, five presets, a built-in rhythm machine (with waltz, swing, rock, samba, etc) and a 100-note sequencer. There was an LFO with vibrato and tremolo effects plus an ADSR envelope. Used on ‘Bandwagon Tango’ by TESTCARD F and unforgettably ‘Da Da Da!’ by TRIO, Phil Oakey even dragged one out to perform ‘Get Carter’ during THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s retrospective ‘Dare’ tour in 2007.

Iconic example of use: THE HUMAN LEAGUE ‘Open Your Heart’


ROLAND JUPITER 8 (1981)

rolandjupiter8-1Released in Autumn 1981 at a price of £3395, this was an eight voice, sixteen oscillator programmable polysynth capable of deep bass, vibrant brass and sparkling string sounds. It could also be considered Roland’s first truly high end professional instrument. Its versatile arpegiator was used by Nick Rhodes of DURAN DURAN throughout the ‘Rio’ album while it was also a favourite synth of HEAVEN 17, DEPECHE MODE, HOWARD JONES, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, CHINA CRISIS and BLANCMANGE.

Iconic example of use: DURAN DURAN ‘Save A Prayer’


SEQUENTIAL CIRCUITS PRO-ONE (1981)

SCI-ProOneThe Pro-One was basically a monophonic version of the Prophet 5. There was also a simple onboard sequencer for up to 40 notes and an arpeggiator, both of which were very handy for one man bands such as HOWARD JONES. Good value at £499, as well as appearing on a number of YAZOO recordings, particularly for the bassline of ‘Don’t Go’, it also formed part of NEW ORDER’s synth armoury. It was later used by moden synth acts such as LADYTRON.

Iconic example of use: YAZOO ‘Don’t Go’


ROLAND JUNO 60 (1982)

rolandJuno60_TotalAn analogue polyphonic with digital enhancements for clocking oscillators and 56 patches of memory storage, its success lay in being able to make grand Jupiter-like sounds for just under £1000 as FAD GADET showed on ‘Under The Flag’ while A-HA made good use of it on their debut long player ‘Hunting High & Low’. And as with Roland’s other noted polysynths, it featured a great arpeggiator. Built to last, it has been a very popular live keyboard with modern acts such as MIRRORS and AU REVOIR SIMONE.

Iconic example of use: A-HA ‘Take On Me’


ROLAND SH101 (1982)

roland-sh101This ubiquitous single oscillator monosynth with its own digital sequencer was marketed as an entry level synth at £250. It was portable and its pitch bender could be played with via an optional handle in a keytar stylee. However, it tended to be seen as a prop in promo videos rather than actually used for real! Part of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS’ live keyboard set-up, the SH101’s robust construction has enabled it to be carried into the modern era by XENO & OAKLANDER and VILE ELECTRODES.

Iconic example of use: OMD ‘Locomotion’


Text by Chi Ming Lai
15th August 2014, updated 9th January 2019

MARTYN WARE Launches No Illegal Connections Sample Library

Synth Britannia trailblazer MARTYN WARE has launched a new sample library entitled ‘No Illegal Connections’.

Martyn Ware NIC Box Shot TransparentIt contains an exclusive selection of classic analogue synth and drum sounds from his collection of rarefied electronic delights as used on his iconic records with THE HUMAN LEAGUE, BEF and HEAVEN 17.

With over 270 delectable presets, some with up to 5 distinctly different mixable signal paths giving a total library size of 13.5 GB in compressed downloadable data from 25.1 GB of WAV, a total of 11016 samples, this library is broad selection of synth and drum sounds that chart the very beginnings of UK electronica and synthesizer pop.

One of the source instruments is his beloved Roland System 100 which The Electricity Club had the privilege of operating during his talk ‘A Journey In 20 Synths’ at The South Bank Centre in late 2013.

There are a huge selection of pads, leads, pops, drums, fx, amazing tempo locked sequences and curios designed by MARTYN WARE himself plus a comprehensive selection of warped versions, designed by award winning composers and producers. All sounds are presented in “super mono” to give a selection of channels processed via vintage class-A analogue outboard processing.

The ‘No Illegal Connections’ package is available by DOWNLOAD ONLY from SPITFIRE AUDIO from www.spitfireaudio.com AT A ONE-OFF LAUNCH PRICE OF £75. The offer ends on 12th June 2014 – RRP £99


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Martyn Ware and Spitfire Audio
30th May 2014

« Older posts