With GLASSHOUSE, Xan Tyler and David Liddell have in their words created “A journey through orchestral scores combined with dark underground techno and jazz.”
Xan Tyler is perhaps best known in electronic music circles as the vocalist of cult synthpop duo TECHNIQUE. The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Kate Holmes, the concept was a female interpretation of PET SHOP BOYS crossed with NEW ORDER’s post-punk edge. More recently, Tyler’s work has been of a more traditional nature, having contributed to the latest album by folk artists Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds.
Meanwhile David Liddell is a renowned classically trained trombonist who has worked with personalities as diverse as Roger Daltrey, Boy George and Pharrell Williams.
The debut GLASSHOUSE EP ‘We Are The Light & The Dark’ is their love letter to the human race and “asks the listener to restore their faith in mankind and embrace beauty and light.”
Opening song ‘Echo Chamber’ is a delightful return to the technopop reminiscent of Tyler’s time in TECHNIQUE, with a great sequenced bassline and an enticing off-beat. It vocally recalls a time when Sarahs Cracknell, Blackwood and Nixey ruled, with the string quintet providing a nice compliment next to the electronics.
The glistening synth tones on ‘Reward & Rewind’ dress a jazzier swing with Tyler’s sweet folkier tones unusually placed next to rapper MWS who announces it’s “time to rest”…
The ‘We Are The Light &The Dark’ title song chimes beautifully aided by harp-like tones, reminiscent of Hannah Peel; “You are the oxygen” Tyler affectionately coos, highlighting the Ying and Yang of romantic relationships accompanied by a rich orchestrated backdrop and a flugel horn solo from Reuben Fowler towards the end.
Over an electric piano intro, ‘The Temperature Is Rising’ sees a steady beat joining in, building to a gently chilled grooving dance tune which is far superior to much of the beach mix nonsense that afflicts summer holidays. Taking things down, the ballad ‘Cry Out’ closes proceedings with some trombone, but is perhaps the less convincing track on the EP.
Combining synths and brass like Hannah Peel did on ‘Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia’ but in a more traditional song based format, GLASSHOUSE have found themselves a unique combination and this EP is well worth your time.
What’s the definition of synthpop? Well, it’s pop music that uses synthesizers.
Whether it’s THE HUMAN LEAGUE or CHVRCHES, for generations over 30 years apart, these two acts’ interpretations of synthpop have been an entry point for many into the world of electronic music. People seem to forget that very few actually get into THROBBING GRISTLE on first listen!
Even Luis Vasquez, the man behind the darker platitudes of THE SOFT MOON expressed a love for PRINCE and MICHAEL JACKSON, admitting to The Electricity Club: “My first exposure to music was pop”
One new act embracing the sound of both THE HUMAN LEAGUE and CHVRCHES are the Leeds-based duo PARK FIRES. Comprising of Rachel Lissenburg and Emma Duffy, their second single ‘Watch Me Go’ released at the start of 2017 was both accessible and aesthetically inventive, adopting CHVRCHES’ ethos by producing a song that could have easily come from the pen of Taylor Swift.
With its percussive barrages and sweeps of sparkling synths, some might call it synthwave but The Electricity Club will keep it simple and call it synthpop. Presenting ‘Watch Me Go’ with a classic synth-laden framework for that avant pop edge which allowed THE HUMAN LEAGUE to appeal to tech geeks and hairdressers alike, those who enjoyed the small but enjoyable catalogues of TECHNIQUE and PEACH are likely to appreciate PARK FIRES.
PARK FIRES have had an interesting journey to date since their bittersweet debut single ‘Home’, having been part of indie trio AGAINST HABIT and experienced the joys of now jettisoned band management. Now wholly independent, Lissenburg and Emma Duffy have attracted BBC local radio airplay and have just had a brand new single ‘Wake Me Up’ released by local label Come Play With Me.
Utilising a 6/8 swing and dealing with the difficult issue of futile unrequited love, ‘Wake Me Up’ offers a darker trip-hop influence but with a wonderfully soulful chorus and sparkling synth runs to offset that mood.
So far releasing at a rate of one single per year, creative momentum is now increasing in the PARK FIRES camp with further live dates on the way and an EP expected later in 2018.
‘Wake Me Up’ is released by Come Play With Me via the usual digital platforms
XAN TYLER is perhaps best known as the vocalist of cult synthpop duo TECHNIQUE.
Together with multi-instrumentalist Kate Holmes, their concept was a female PET SHOP BOYS crossed with NEW ORDER.
The pair had two minor hit singles ‘Sun Is Shining’ and ‘You & Me’ in 1999, both under the auspices of acclaimed producer Stephen Hague.
Having worked on a variety of projects since then, Tyler released an electro-acoustic hybrid EP ‘Into The Blue’ at the end of 2014.
Produced by Stuart Crossland, she told The Electricity Club:“I’ve always listened to wide mix of different music and I wanted to make something that reflected my varied tastes”. One of the key songs ‘Stop The Clock’ has just had a brand new video created by Alice Emily Baird to accompany its sublime beats and beautiful dreamy vocals.
Recalling the more recent synth tinged work of HANNAH PEEL’s ‘Fabricstate’ EP, ‘Stop The Clock’ is perfect listening for the onset of Autumn. “I’m aware that the tracks are all quite different from each other” said Tyler about the songs on her recent EP, “but I think there is a thread running through them that ties them together. My voice and writing style alongside Stuart’s incredible production… I think it works, hopefully others will too”.
XAN TYLER is perhaps best known in electronic music circles as the vocalist of cult synthpop duo TECHNIQUE.
The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Kate Holmes, the concept was a female interpretation of PET SHOP BOYS crossed with NEW ORDER’s post-punk edge, hence the moniker after the Mancunian quartet’s fifth album.
The pair had two minor hit singles ‘Sun Is Shining’ and ‘You & Me’ in 1999, both under the auspices of acclaimed producer Stephen Hague while a mini-album ‘Pop Philosophy’ belatedly came out in 2001. As a result, TECHNIQUE were booked to support DEPECHE MODE in Europe but Tyler was unavailable for the tour, rumoured to be AWOL. DUBSTAR’s Sarah Blackwood was recruited to replace her and the new duo eventually became CLIENT in 2002.
Meanwhile, XAN TYLER continued to work on a variety of projects and has now unleashed a new EP ‘Into The Blue’ which adopts an electro-acoustic flavour not entirely dissimilar from HANNAH PEEL, particularly on the spacious piano-led title track. The jazz flavoured ‘Rainmaker’ could be a British take on JULEE CRUISE while ‘No One Like You’ is a pretty, atmospheric number with sweeps and beeps alongside some acoustic strumming. ‘Stop The Clock’ adds a drum machine to the EP’s template but ‘If’ takes an even more electronic stance with the beats taking a more prominent role. Closing with ‘This Room’, it is this one that perhaps is most reminiscent of TECHNIQUE despite the six string picking.
Now based in Scotland, XAN TYLER kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about her career, the new approach to her music and heading ‘Into The Blue’…
You first became known to the synth world as part of TECHNIQUE with Kate Holmes. How do you look back on that time?
Really fondly… before that, I had been a jobbing singer, touring and doing the odd session here and there. Then all of a sudden I was doing live telly, making expensive videos and partying on expenses. I had a great time.
TECHNIQUE were signed to Creation but were out of place with the post-Britpop mood of the times. The music environment was not as sympathetic to electronic pop, particularly fronted by women, then as it is now… the press appeared to be quite hostile to you?
Well, not all of them were hostile, we did get some great press but yeah, it was tough here in the UK. We did better in Europe and Japan in that respect. The British press just couldn’t get past Kate’s relationship with Alan McGee. Despite her being an established artist in her own right years before she met Alan, the British press were just obsessed with it and it really got in the way. Also, I do think musically we were a bit early. We paved the way for others… including CLIENT!
But TECHNIQUE were vindicated when ‘You & Me’ became a hit in China via a cover version by COCO LEE in 2000?
Well, it was covered by Coco, so obviously I had very little to do with that but I was chuffed for Kate because she did well out of it. It was a nice two fingers up to all the doubters.
TECHNIQUE worked with Stephen Hague and seven tracks appeared on the ‘Pop Philosophy’ mini-album via Poptones in 2001 after Creation folded. Mr Hague is known for his ‘painstaking’ approach’, how close were you to finishing a full length album?
‘Pop Philosophy’ was always going to be a mini-album. It’s a cracking little album and I still get messages from TECHNIQUE fans that say they listen to it often. Stephen Hague is a genius.
TECHNIQUE supported DEPECHE MODE on tour in 2001 but you were not part of it and the group eventually morphed into CLIENT. What’s your side of the story and do you have any regrets?
At the time, I was working with TIMO MAAS on Positiva and I was involved with a club night in London that clashed with the tour. It was only one night that clashed as I remember and with hindsight I probably shouldn’t have blown out the whole DM tour for it but no, I don’t regret it. That time was an important turning point for me personally and career-wise… it was meant to be. If Sarah Blackwood hadn’t come in at that point, CLIENT wouldn’t have happened… that was also meant to be. Kate and I wouldn’t have evolved into CLIENT. Besides, if I had done the tour, I wouldn’t have had the enjoyment of reading press reports that described me as AWOL!
You subsequently worked in the dance scene. How did you find this compared with TECHNIQUE and which of your tracks/collaborations were your particular highlights?
It wasn’t all dance music after TECHNIQUE. I also did a dub album with MAD PROFESSOR, which featured a guest vocal from LEE SCRATCH PERRY. That was released on Poptones too.
ORINOKO was the highlight of my dance chapter. I collaborated with TIMO MAAS and MARTIN BUTTRICH on that track and at the time, the two of them were massive. Positiva was a really cool label and they were putting out amazing stuff – it was nice being a part of that scene.
In 2011, there came the surprising news that you were to join CLIENT. But what happened there?
It was after Sarah had left CLIENT and I visited Kate in Wales. At the time, Kate was busy setting up her Client London brand but she knew she wanted to do another album and that there might be a tour. She asked me if I would stand in on any gigs and I said yes. It was only ever going to be for live shows and as it turned out nothing came in before the start of the album. Kate and I are good mates. Who knows, we might collaborate again in the future.
You’ve finally gone solo and have a brand new EP ‘Into the Blue’ which, while having an electronic base, explores more acoustic territory?
Yeah, I’ve always listened to wide mix of different music and I wanted to make something that reflected my varied tastes. Stuart Crossland (producer) and I were involved in the London underground scene near the end of my involvement with TECHNIQUE. We shared a lot of ideas about music across a lot of genres and it was only a matter of time before we would collaborate on some kind of creative project. We have bonded over everything from folk, pop, deep house to techno. We didn’t feel we needed to restrict ourselves during this project. We finally got together in 2013 when Stuart found time from his busy schedule at Artspace Studios. It was a collaboration that was destined to happen and it brought together a whole load of influences and artists to create an interesting mix of sounds.
What is the story behind ‘This Room’, which is probably the track that’s a good entry point for anyone who has been aware of your previous work?
I actually feel any of the last three songs on the EP are a good starting point for those people as they are all more rooted in an electronic vein.
‘This Room’ is about a break up but it’s also about the sense you can get when you’re in a relationship that you’ve lost yourself and don’t recognise who you once were. The industrial noises and beats really give a sense of that loneliness. But above and beyond, it’s simply a really good dance track.
What are your particular favourites from the ‘Into the Blue’ EP and why?
The first track, ‘Into the Blue’ is about strength and courage coming from a delicate source. I wanted it to be spacious and light. When the flugelhorn and trombone come in during the chorus it feels bright and hopeful. I love that moment because it sounds exactly the way I heard it in my head when I wrote it!
Stuart and I both wanted a retro sound for ‘Rainmaker’ and Jamie Fisher came in and put down these incredible Mark Ronson-esque drums. They are perfection.
On ‘No One Like You’ I really love the double bass played by Andy Tolman. The song is about unrequited love and somehow the double bass gives both sadness and hope. It’s lovely. I’ll never tire of hearing those horns (Titch Walker and Kieron O’Neill) kick in either… I’m a sucker for a horn section!
‘If’ is a bit of a nod to James Figurine (DNTEL) who Stuart and I both rate. I really love the production of that track and the beats are sublime.
I’m aware that the tracks are all quite different from each other but I think there is a thread running through them that ties them together. My voice and writing style alongside Stuart’s incredible production… I think it works, hopefully others will too.
This is your first release without label backing. So what is the future for an artist of your position in this modern music world? Is it crowdfunding? Or does an artist now have to aim for it to perhaps be a sustainable hobby while juggling a day job?
It’s really hard to make money through music now more than ever. The industry is going through a shake up and big bands are giving away their music. Musicians get ripped off at every turn, online stores take a huge cut, Spotify don’t remunerate artists properly, venues expect you to play for bugger all (and in some case they expect you to pay to play). If you want to make money from the music industry, don’t be a musician!
As for me, I’m putting together a live set and rehearsing for gigs next year. I’m promoting this EP and already writing songs for the next one.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to XAN TYLER