After an excellent debut album featuring great songs such as ‘Age Of The Train’, ‘After Dark’ and ‘The Ballad Of Remedy Nilsson’, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP bring more of their danceable synthy togetherness to the safety of your own home with some ‘Pop Gossip’.
Sheffield veterans Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer of THE MOONLANDINGZ, along with vocalist Leonore Wheatley have added her primary school mate Katie Mason to take up the space vacated by THE HUMAN LEAGUE since Oakey, Catherall and Sulley opted for the lucrative if not artistically challenging nostalgia circuit.
Having co-produced THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Credo’, Dean Honer has steered the staff room to put into realisation the kind of album Oakey and Co should have been making in the first place.
In celebration of the local Ritzy, opening tune ‘Don’t Diss The Disco’ squiggles in the bass department and wonderfully recalls handbags piled on the dancefloor with a few more energetic hooks than can be found on the latest ERASURE album.
Taking in the serious subject of misogyny and #MeToo, ‘Gaslight’ utilises a prominent offbeat and a chorus out of THE HUMAN LEAGUE songbook. With a more ironic approach on a similar gist “cos you’re an arseh*le”, the bouncy dancehall of ‘I Stole Yer Plimoles’ featuring Jason Williamson of SLEAFORD MODS may not be for everyone, but its sardonic nature encapsulates the departed spirit of YOUNGER YOUNGER 28s, a Northern English band from before the turn of the century who also owed a small debt to THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
But the moodier synth excursions of ‘Flood The Club’ recall the early avant pop phase of THE HUMAN LEAGUE set to a more metronomic beat and there’s even a subtle air of Eastern Promise attempting to break through amongst the cleverly chopped-up and manipulated vocals.
Meanwhile, the laid back approach of ‘A Change’ isn’t far off being an R n B soul ballad in the vein of ROSE ROYCE (or for younger listeners BRANDY) and it adds a new string to the bow of INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP.
Recalling the topline phrasing of ‘I Feel Love’, Katie Mason makes her lead vocal debut on ‘Prince (The Final Wheelie)’, a wonderful electronic disco tribute to The Purple One rather than Harry although HRH and his missus are the subject of the album’s closer ‘The Tower’; that provides the brilliant uptempo album closer and amusingly imagines Queen Elizabeth II telling her Beefeaters to “Take them to The Tower, it’s a beautiful day, take them away!” like a future scene from series 6 of ‘The Crown’.
On ‘The Red Dots (Dirty Mind)’ , the verse of comes over like Joanne Catherall singing lead for THE HUMAN LEAGUE for the first time, while the sub-two minute ‘Beats Working For A Living (For Martin)’ is more experimental with pulses in portamento and glitchy voices all in unison.
If you got an ‘A’ grade in German O level, then you will know ‘Ein Weiterer Stein In Der Wand’ is PINK FLOYD’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ sung in Deutsch before even playing it. A bold statement on the state of the nation and Brexit, Adrian Flanagan told The Electricity Club: “I hope that statement is ‘I hate PINK FLOYD but love KRAFTWERK’ and / or – ‘I hate you but love the EU’”.
Brilliantly sparkling and thumping in keeping with its title, ‘Femenenergy’ is a younger cousin of ‘After Dark’ but there’s nowt wrong with that! A tribute to Patrick Cowley and Sylvester James via a female empowerment take on ‘Menergy’, this is a fine example of INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP continuing the fine tradition of Northern English synth.
A natural progression, if you loved the ‘International Teachers Of Pop’ debut, you will love ‘Pop Gossip’. No complaints, no issues, this record is a reminder that the halcyon days everyone has missed over the last few months will return and in the interim, acts as an aural cuddle for the masses.
‘Pop Gossip’ is released via Desolate Spools in CD, vinyl LP and download formats
INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP’s 2021 UK tour includes:
Manchester Yes (12th February) Edinburgh Sneaky Pete’s (13th February), Glasgow Broadcast (14th February), Leeds Headrow House (15th February), Birmingham Hare & Hounds (16th February), London Moth Club (17th February), Bristol Rough Trade (18th February), Sheffield The Leadmill (19th February)
So come on, whose first album was a various artists compilation?
They were the biggest sellers for a decade and had dominated the UK album charts so much so that they were given their own!
In 1966, the Canadian budget household gadget firm K-Tel diversified into the territory of compilation albums with ‘25 Country Hits’; it was a surprise success and this comparatively new idea of collecting a number of artists onto an album based around a single theme was expanded further.
K-Tel negotiated directly with artists and labels for the rights to reproduce the original recordings, but where this was not possible, the company would contract “one or more of the original artists” to make a new recording for the compilation, under the premise that the general public generally could not tell the difference between a re-recording and the original.
However, UK budget label Pickwick Records via their Hallmark imprint went one step further in 1968 by producing compilations of the latest hits but as rush-recorded soundalike cover versions under the title ‘Top Of The Pops’ which had nothing to do whatsoever with the BBC TV show; it was all perfectly legal thanks to an oversight by the corporation on trademark.
Purchasers unknowingly got treated to unique interpretations of ‘Autobahn’ and ‘The Model’ by anonymous session musicians who quite obviously had only learnt the song ten minutes before entering the studio. Although demand for such records had dimmed by 1981, acts such as SOFT CELL were still unable to escape with ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ hilariously reduced to geezer pub rock! The singer was revealed to be one Martin Jay who a few years earlier had treated the world to his cloak and dagger take on ‘Are Friends Electric?’.
The albums from K-Tel attempted to cram as many songs as possible onto the 12 inch vinyl format. In order to accommodate this philosophy within its physical limitations, many of the tracks were usually faded out early or came in unusual and often clumsy edits, but even these versions were sought after by loyal fans, thus making the records they came from valued collector’s items.
The various artists compilation album changed forever in 1983 when Virgin and EMI joined forces to produce the ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ series which at the last count had reached ‘Now 106’ and spawned numerous spin-offs and even cable TV channels. In 1984, Sony BMG and Warner Music joined in the action with the ‘Hits’ series, but such was the domination in the UK of these types of albums that in 1989, they were given their own chart and excluded from the main one!
For electronic pop, ‘Machines’ released by Virgin Records in 1980 was one of the first attempts to gather music using synthesizers into one place, but the entry point for many new fans was 1981’s ‘Modern Dance’ on K-Tel. This well-thought out collection saw youngsters saving up their pocket money for their first record purchase or asking Santa to put it into their Christmas stocking, thanks to Radio1 DJ Peter Powell declaring that ‘Modern Dance’ was “The best of total danceability, the sounds of modern dance, on one LP!”.
As with greatest hits albums, what makes a great various artists compilation is a seamless listening experience where possible, or at least more killer than filler. However the continuous DJ mix was a particular irritant running through compilations for a period and rarely worked with classic material or recordings not specifically aimed at the clubland.
However, staying within theme on a compilation is VERY important and straying just slightly can spoil a whole concept, especially if it has been outlined in the title. Soul Jazz Records’ lushly packaged ‘Deutsche Elektronische Musik’ sets over two volumes contained a wide range of freeform experimental works from Germany, but occasionally forgot about the Trade Descriptions Act implications of its title. Meanwhile, ‘Reward’ by post-punk trip-poppers THE TEARDROP EXPLODES had a regular place on collections such as ‘Club For Heroes’, ‘New Romantic Classics’, ‘It’s Electric’ and ‘Our Friends Electric’ despite being brass dominated.
But the nadir came with ‘Synth Pop’, a 3CD collection by Sony Music in 2015 which totally missed the point by featuring AZTEC CAMERA and HAIRCUT 100!??! Now while the inclusion of IMAGINATION’s ‘Body Talk’ with its iconic Moog bassline could be justified, the set highlighted just how much the modern day definition of “synth pop” had become particularly blurred…
Now while some listeners just want endless hits on various artists compilations, others want to be informed and introduced to some lesser-known or rare songs. However, this latter approach can meet with mixed results.
For example, Cherry Red’s ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ and the Trevor Jackson’s ‘Metal Dance’ series were historically fascinating, but not always easy collections to listen to in one sitting. With some of the music close to being unlistenable, it could be akin to studying a hefty text book… highly educational but not always entirely fun!
So The Electricity Club takes a personal look at the electronic legacy of various artists via twenty notable compilation albums, each with valid reasons for their inclusion, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order within.
Yes, several songs reoccur over a number of these releases, but perhaps that is more an indication of their timeless nature. These were tunes that were dismissed by the press and wider public back in the day, but are now considered classic and part of the cultural heritage.
Having seen the future and signed THE HUMAN LEAGUE as well as OMD through their Dindisc subsidiary, Virgin Records had the foresight to issue a long playing showcase of acts that used synthesizers as their primary instrumentation. As well as their two great hopes, among the outsiders on board were TUBEWAY ARMY, FAD GADGET, SILICON TEENS and DALEK I LOVE YOU. While XTC’s B-side ‘The Somnambulist’ appeared to be incongruous, this was from the band’s synth experimentation period before going more acoustic on 1982’s ‘English Settlement’.
This compilation had actually been the idea of David Sylvian, hence why it was named after the JAPAN song although their contribution would be ‘The Art Of Parties’. Virgin presented their embarrassment of riches including BEF, DEVO, DAF, SIMPLE MINDS and MAGAZINE while the primary selling point was a new special dub edit of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Do Or Die’ acting as a trailer to ‘Love & Dancing’. The cassette featured more tracks including John Foxx and the actual undanceable ‘Methods Of Dance’ song in place of ‘The Art Of Parties’!
1981 was when the sound of electronic pop was virtually everywhere, so the release of ‘Modern Dance’ was perfect synthchronicity. Featuring superb singles from the stellar cast of OMD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HEAVEN 17, JAPAN, DEPECHE MODE, SIMPLE MINDS, VISAGE, LANDSCAPE, FASHION and THE CURE as well as synth trailblazers John Foxx and Gary Numan, an indicator of how supreme this compilation was came with the fact that its most obscure track ‘A World Without Love’ by little known combo THE NEWS was rather good!
Stevo Pearce’s compendium of new Futurist acts has gone into folklore, having launched the careers of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE and B-MOVIE. Several of acts who didn’t make it were also superb. THE FAST SET’s cover of Marc Bolan’s ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ was enjoyable electro-macabre while ‘Tidal Flow’ by ILLUSTRATION is one of the great lost songs of the era, the band themselves disappearing despite securing the services of Martin Hannett to produce their debut single ‘Danceable’, but it was never finished…
It took a few years for people to realise just how good the music from the New Romantic era was, so how better than to celebrate it than a compilation named after one of Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s club nights. Featuring the all-star cast of DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET, ULTRAVOX, VISAGE, SOFT CELL and JAPAN, other acts who also got entry into the party were YAZOO, ABC, TALK TALK and CLASSIX NOUVEAUX while most welcome were ICEHOUSE with their eponymous single.
Gathering nineteen “Classic Hits From An Electric Era” including the full length ‘Blue Monday’ from NEW ORDER, ‘It’s Electric’ was largely, a more purist synth collection than ‘Club For Heroes’. Alongside the usual suspects were A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, TEARS FOR FEARS, BRONSKI BEAT, KRAFTWERK, EURYTHMICS, BRONSKI BEAT and ERASURE. However, this collection featured the album version of ‘Tainted Love’ instead of the single, a mistake that would be repeated again and again even on SOFT CELL’s own compilations.
A tie-in with Uncut magazine celebrating “a music synonymous with futurism”, ‘Dawn Of Electronica’ included the album version of ‘From Here To Eternity by Giorgio Moroder and for the first time on CD, the Some Bizzare version of ‘Remembrance Day’ by B-MOVIE. With the likes of DAF, SUICIDE, ASSOCIATES, CABARET VOLTAIRE, PROPAGANDA, THE ART OF NOISE and YELLO alongside TUBEWAY ARMY, ULTRAVOX, JAPAN and SOFT CELL, this compilation was something a bit different compared to the ones that had come before.
Like ‘Teenage Kicks’ for punk and new wave, there are far too many compilations named ‘Electric Dreams’. This 2CD affair from Virgin Records comprised of thirty-eight “synth pop classics”. For once, this was a compilation documenting the different electronic pop phases including trailblazing analogue electro and the advent of digital sampling that actually worked. From ‘The Model’ and ‘Electricity’ to ‘Relax’ and ‘19’, with ‘We Are Glass’, ‘Yellow Pearl, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ and ‘Absolute’ in between, this was one of the best releases of its type.
Subtitled “A Nu-Wave Electro Compilation”, this modern collection brought out the electro in Electroclash with gloriously klanky drum machines in abundance. The undoubted star was Miss Kittin with four tracks including the mighty scene anthem ‘You & Us’ with Michael Amato aka THE HACKER; meanwhile the man himself and Anthony Rother each had three contributions in various guises. FPU, DOPPLEREFFEKT and ADULT. were among those helping to bring the sound of vintage electronic pop into the 21st Century for the club crowd.
Compiled by Ministry Of Sound, ‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was a representative snapshot of electronic music at the start of the 21st Century. However the “Tech-Pop or Electroclash or Synth-Core or Neu-Electro” legend in the booklet highlighted the dance music’s daft obsession with categorisation. But the music from the likes of FISCHERSPOONER, TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS, FC KAHUNA, WALDORF, ZOOT WOMAN, LADYTRON, SOVIET, FELIX DA HOUSECAT, CIRC and GREEN VELVET was mostly excellent, although DJ mixing the tracks together clouded the listening experience.
‘Electricity 2’ came at a time when the only platform for UK and Irish synth acts seemed to be Ninthwave Records in the USA. It featured HEAVEN 17’s first new song for six years in the ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ influenced ‘Hands Up To Heaven’ as well as material by WHITE TOWN, SPRAY and EMPIRE STATE HUMAN. Among the highlights were ‘The Machines’ by MASQ which sounded like a bizarre Gaelic synthpop take on Gary Numan and the comical ‘Alan Cumming’ by TURD FERGUSON which satirically sent up ‘Frank Sinatra’ by MISS KITTIN & THE HACKER.
Compiled by Wayne Clements of Essex duo MACONDO for his own Lucky Pierre imprint, ‘Robopop’ was possibly the closest thing to the ‘Some Bizzare’ album in the 21st Century. Heading the line-up were the-then newly configured CLIENT and MY ROBOT FRIEND while Mute stalwarts KOMPUTER contributed the previously unreleased ‘My Private Train’. The stand-outs though were machine funksters ALPINE STARS, irreverent retro-poppers BAXENDALE and VIC TWENTY featuring Piney Gir with a delicious synth cover of Lynsey de Paul’s ‘Sugar Me’.
Compiled by Alex Hush, now of U2 and ERASURE remixers DAYBREAKERS, ‘Retro:Active 5’ pulled off the feat of gathering twelve classic 12 inch extended versions into a listenable programme. Longer takes of ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ by A-HA and ‘Pretty In Pink’ by THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS led the way with BLANCMANGE and DEAD OR ALIVE in support. But the biggest selling points were the ultra-rare ‘Love Cascade’ from LEISURE PROCESS and ‘More To Lose’ by SEONA DANCING, the synthpop duo fronted by Ricky Gervais.
For ‘Robopop The Return’, Wayne Clements was joined by production duo MANHATTAN CLIQUE who co-released the compilation via their own Planet Clique label. Described as “Essential Electro Pop”, it was a much higher profile release than its predecessor with GOLDFRAPP, THE KNIFE, TIGA and DRAGONETTE all on board. Also present were THE MODERN relaunching themselves as MATINEE CLUB while HUSKI, FORMATIC, LORRAINE and SOHO DOLLS were among the worthy lesser-known inclusions. A bonus DJ mix by MANHATTAN CLIQUE also featured.
Electronic music of a more downtempo disposition compiled by BLANK & JONES, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most exquisite tracks featured female vocalists with Sarah Nixey just pipping the highlight honours on her cover of JAPAN’s ‘Ghosts’ with INFANTJOY over Claudia Brücken guesting on the hosting trance DJ duo’s ‘Don’t Stop’. ‘Ghost Trains’, a solo tune by KINGS OF CONVENIENCE and RÖYKSOPP vocalist Erlend Øye was a livelier number that actually worked alongside chilled out tracks by THE GRID, BLISS, SPOOKY, MARCONI UNION and DEPECHE MODE.
ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf (2016)
Tying in with Rudi Esch’s book about the German city of Düsseldorf’s music heritage, ‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2’ gathered the more accessible elements of Deutsche Elektronische Musik, Kosmische and Neue Deutsche Welle. Featuring RIECHMANN, DAF, DER PLAN, DIE KRUPPS, LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, RHEINGOLD, HARMONIA, LA DÜSSELDORF, NEU! and pre-PROPAGANDA girl group TOPLINOS featuring a very young Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag, this two volume collection was like a journey of discovery with the benefit of a local tour guide.
Be Music was the moniker of NEW ORDER used to cover studio production work by all four members of the band. This boxed set gathered these varied recordings which involved either Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert and combinations thereof, with notable solo tracks from Marcel King, Paul Haig and Winston Tong alongside those of 52ND STREET, SECTION 25, THE BEAT CLUB, SHARK VEGAS and AD INFINITUM’s cover of ‘Telstar’ which many believed was NEW ORDER in disguise but actually only featured Hooky.
ELECTRICAL LANGUAGE Independent British Synth Pop 78-84 (2019)
From the team that put together the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ series, the 4CD ‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ did as it said on the tin and with a far more accessible template, was all the better for it. With THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, THE NORMAL and FAD GADGET included to draw in the more cautious consumer, purchasers were treated to a plethora of wonderful lesser known acts like FIAT LUX, BOX OF TOYS, LORI & THE CHAMELEONS, PASSION POLKA, TESTCARD F, EDDIE & SUNSHINE and JUPITER RED. Meanwhile, the best novelty item was a Schaffel driven cover of Alvin Stardust’s ‘My Coo Ca Choo’ by BEASTS IN CAGES; half of the band went on to form HARD CORPS!
Comprising of thirty-four tracks from 2009 to 2015, ‘The Electricity Club’ compilation has stood the test of time, scrutiny and repeated plays. With ERASURE heading the line-up alongside a MARSHEAUX remix of Katy Perry and acts such as MIRRORS, SIN COS TAN, VILE ELECTRODES, NIGHT CLUB, ARTHUR & MARTHA, KID MOXIE, MESH and ELECTRONIC CIRCUS. In hindsight, the weakest link comes surprisingly from one of the star attractions, coming as a result of the licencing compromises that often have to be made when the first and second choices get declined 😉
‘The Electricity Club’ was released by Amour Records / Minos EMI / Universal Music in collaboration with Undo Records
Compiled by Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley of SAINT ETIENNE, what ‘The Tears Of Technology’ had was a heartfelt suite of music which captured the essence of its title. At its centre was OMD’s sub-eight minute adventure ‘Sealand’ alongside synthy diversions by THE TEARDROP EXPLODES and THE PALE FOUNTAINS, with the Merseyside connection extended to CARE and CHINA CRISIS. Scotland got also got a look in courtesy of Paul Haig and Thomas Leer. The rare ‘Direct Lines’ by Chris Payne’s ELECTRONIC CIRCUS found itself a place too.
1977 is often seen as Year Zero for synthpop, thanks to hit singles by DONNA SUMMER, SPACE and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE.
But it was not until 1979 with TUBEWAY ARMY reaching No1 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’ that the sound of synth truly hit the mainstream. Although ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ by SPARKS had actually been a hit a few months earlier, ‘Are Friends Electric?’ was the beginning of the synth being accepted as a worthy mode of expression, rather than as a novelty. But as synths became more affordable, they became the perfect tool of youthful expression.
The set starts appropriately with OMD and ‘Messages’, one of the first tunes showcasing the warmer side of electronics following the colder wave led by Messrs Numan and Foxx. But as if to counter this next generation of youngsters, ‘Messages’ is immediately followed by the collection’s vocoder laden title song ‘Musik Music Musique’ from Zeus B Held and the superb proto-industrial ode to loveless sex ‘Coitus Interruptus’ by the much missed FAD GADGET.
Zeus B Held was later to make his impression on popular culture remixing ALPHAVILLE and SIMPLE MINDS as well producing the likes of FASHION, DEAD OR ALIVE, SPEAR OF DESTINY and TRANSVISION VAMP, but his wider breakthrough came as part of GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 with The Blitz Club favourite ‘No GDM’; on this compendium, the lesser-known but just as worthy ‘Vendor’s Box’ from their second album ‘X-Traordinaire’ is deservedly provided a platform.
The best producers often earn their spurs as artists and realising their limitations, use their accumulated studio nous to subvert the mainstream via pop. ‘Astroboy’ by BUGGLES sees Trevor Horn develop his sonic architecture to prove that he had another song that wasn’t ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. Meanwhile the welcome inclusion of NEW MUSIK’s other hit ‘This World Of Water’ allows Tony Mansfield to showcase the crafted sparkle that would later go on to adorn records by CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, VICIOUS PINK, A-HA and NAKED EYES.
It may seem strange to see SPANDAU BALLET as part of this package but when they first appeared, they were considered a synthesizer band; ‘Glow’ was a UK double A side single with ‘Musclebound’ in 1981 and while it was the last synth-led track they did, their funk soul aspirations were there for all to hear. In fact, songwriter Gary Kemp had conceived ‘Glow’ with a brass section in mind, so it is now something of a curio that could be seen as a precursor to ‘Chant No1’.
SPANDAU BALLET were produced by Richard James Burgess who co-designed the Simmons SDSV; his electro-jazz combo LANDSCAPE figure with the Colin Thurston helmed ‘European Man’ which was actually designated “electronic dance music” on its single artwork some three decades before it was appropriated and abbreviated to become EDM…
Many of the usual suspects from the period like VISAGE, JAPAN, JOHN FOXX, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING are all present and correct with familiar recordings, but interestingly (although not for the better), it’s the original version of PHIL LYNOTT’s ‘Yellow Pearl’ without the Rusty Egan drums or the Midge Ure remix that gets the nod!
One of the main beauties of these thoughtfully curated collections is to be able sway away from the obvious and feature a known-name with a lesser-known work; in the case of ULTRAVOX, it’s the occasionally Eno-inspired and Conny Plank produced ‘Waiting’ which was the B-side to their first Midge Ure fronted single ‘Sleepwalk’. Meanwhile, SUICIDE are represented by the excellent Ric Ocasek produced ‘Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne’ and YELLO with ‘Bimbo’, the oddball opener of the Swiss trailblazers’ debut long player ‘Solid Pleasure’.
SILICON TEENS get to feature with something other than ‘Memphis Tennessee’ and it’s the Daniel Miller‘s self-penned instrumental ‘Chip N Roll’ that has the honour, while the Mute Records founder gets another track in with ‘Brushing Your Hair’, a gloriously vibrant instrumental production and co-write for Alex Fergusson of ALTERNATIVE TV.
There’s additionally tracks by lesser known international acts or those bands that faded from view after effectively being one hit wonders. The entire career of M may have been overshadowed by the ubiquitous ‘Pop Muzik’ but Robin Scott did go on to release three albums and work with Ryuichi Sakamoto; the sombre ‘Official Secrets’ may not really have much of a hook but it contains some percolating bleepy sections that pre-date KRAFTWERK’s ‘Home Computer’ by one year.
‘A Circuit Like Me’ from Australian combo, THE METRONOMES actually sounds very 21st century with its detached female vocal and charming monosynths, while the gallop of ‘Drawn & Quartered’ by THE KORGIS is a worthy find. Now while ROCKETS found fame with a catchy robotic flavoured cover of ‘On The Road Again’ with the help of Zeus B Held, the silver faced Italians found that the vocoder suited their performance art poise and reapplied it for the self-penned space rocker ‘Galactica’.
Also possessing a bit of a gallop is LORI & THE CHAMELEONS’ wispy Morricone-influenced single ‘The Lonely Spy’ although with its acoustic strum, it is quite different from the understated electronic disco of their best known track ‘Touch’. Cut from a similar melodic post-punk cloth, the Martin Hannett produced ‘Sympathy’ from PAULINE MURRAY & THE INVISIBLE GIRLS is a reminder of how women were coming to the fore after punk in synth-assisted new wave, a fact borne out on ‘Musik Music Musique’ by the inclusion of more obscure works from TOYAH, KIM WILDE and HAZEL O’CONNOR.
‘Musik Music Musique’ is also an opportunity to become reacquainted with lost tunes of yore and ‘The Eyes Have It’ by KAREL FIALKA will be remembered by those who owned the 1980 Virgin Records compilation ‘Machines’, as will the octave driven ‘Destiny’ by DALEK I LOVE YOU. Some enjoyably avant pop adventures come courtesy of XYNN’s ‘Computed Man’ and SCIENCE’s ‘Tokyo’, while one of the more bizarre but successful experiments included is ‘I’m A Computer’ by THE GOO-Q.
One of the lesser known acts featuring with the eccentric ‘Money’ is MOEBIUS, not the member of German duo CLUSTER but an American art rock band with a penchant for DEVO. ‘Doctor …?’ by BLOOD DONOR is another wonderful discovery while of the more experimental art pieces included, NINI RAVIOLETTE’s ‘Suis-Je Normale’ delightfully comes over like a collaboration between Jane Birkin and Laurie Anderson.
Düsseldorf is often seen as the spiritual home of electronic music and there is worthy representation from DER PLAN and ‘Da Vorne Steht Ne Ampel’ illustrating how there were other dimensions to German electronic music other than that engineered by KRAFTWERK. But closing the set is the band named after the Electri_City itself, LA DÜSSELDORF with the light-hearted ‘Dampfriemen’; a quirky slice of synth “Oompah” with comedic chants and a kazoo section, it sums up the manic oddball nature of the former NEU! drummer Klaus Dinger.
There are many other tracks that have merit, but textures which reoccur on ‘Musik Music Musique’ to date stamp the period are the icy chill of the affordable ARP Quartet string machine and squawky sax, although not in an overblown jazz funk way.
Despite ‘Musik Music Musique’ comprising of a carefully researched tracklisting, a few errors do slip through; as well as the SPANDAU BALLET track being released in 1981 as already mentioned (although it was available on a very scarce Japanese-only promo sampler in late 1980), the version of ‘Kebabträume’ by DAF is the 1982 Conny Plank version from the Virgin album ‘Für Immer’ and not the Bob Giddens produced Mute Records five piece band recording which actually came out in 1980.
Then in the booklet, the Foxx fronted 1977 line-up of ULTRAVOX! gets illustrated as opposed to the New Romantic suited Midge Ure one, while LA DÜSSELDORF’s Hans Lampe is referred to as a “Keyboard Whizz” when he is actually a drummer and now performs with Michael Rother who was Klaus Dinger’s partner in NEU!; in fact Dinger handled keyboards himself under the pseudonym of Nikolaus Van Rhein.
Those are minor quibbles though, because this set is very good value and acts as a great music history lesson as well as offering the chance to hear some new vintage synth. While many may have heard of BERLIN BLONDES, THE PASSAGE, THE FALLOUT CLUB and EYELESS IN GAZA, only a few will have heard their music.
‘Musik Music Musique’ offers something of a low risk opportunity to make some new friends while becoming reacquainted with a few old and lost ones. Here’s to the 1981 follow-up set…
It really is the other side of love. B-sides have been a wondrous platform of adventure for the music fan, a hidden treasure trove of experimentation that was often a secret society that positioned the listener into being part of a mysterious taste elite.
So here are The Electricity Club’s favourite 25 Classic Synth B-sides… but how was this list defined?
These artefacts are flipsides of vinyl or bonus tracks on CD singles; basically songs that were not featured on the original issue of a full length album, or subsequently included on a new one. However, bonus tracks on later reissues are permitted. With TEC’s 25 Synth Instrumentals Of The Classic Era being covered in a separate listing, wordless wonders are also omitted. The listing runs up until the start of the 21st Century.
However, there is a limitation of one song per artist moniker in this chronological retrospective, so rare indulgers of the B-side such as HEAVEN 17, JAPAN and SIMPLE MINDS get equal billing with prolific exponents like PET SHOP BOYS, DEPECHE MODE, OMD and ULTRAVOX. That may seem unfair but then life can be unfair…
THE NORMAL TVOD (1978)
Was ‘TVOD’ actually the A-side of this seminal and only release by THE NORMAL which launched Mute Records? But as ‘Warm Leatherette’ is listed at the top of the back sleeve and has moved into legend having been covered by GRACE JONES, LAIBACH and CHICKS ON SPEED, ‘TVOD’ qualifies for this list. With its hypnotic bassline and warbling synth hook, JG Ballard makes his influence heard as Daniel Miller monotones about a dystopian future where television is the new narcotic…
In the days when the B-side mattered as much as the A-side, more intuitive purchasers found another gem on the flip of ‘Are Friends Electric?’ with this pounding system of romance. Being the antithesis of the discordant diabolis in musica of the main act, ‘We Are So Fragile’ fused Minimoogs with guitars and a four-to-the-floor beat as the vulnerability of Gary Numan connected with the Cold War dystopia of the times in a musical winter of discontent.
Originally the B-side of ‘Are Friends Electric?’; now available on the album ‘Replicas’ via Beggars Banquet Records
Commissioned as the theme to Janet Street-Porter’s early youth vehicle ‘20th Century Box’ which gave platforms to two then unknown bands SPANDAU BALLET and DEPECHE MODE, the combination of Foxx’s starkly dominant Compurhythm and ARP Odyssey dystopia were harsh but strangely danceable. However, ’20th Century’ signalled the wind down of the mechanical phase of John Foxx before thawing out and turning more conventional to less distinctive effect on ‘The Garden’.
Originally the B-side of ‘Burning Car’; now available on the deluxe album ‘Metamatic’ via Esdel Records
Like a number of bands of the period, SIMPLE MINDS went off doing B-sides as they progressed, often lazily filling the flips with live tracks or instrumental versions of existing tracks. ‘New Warm Skin’ was the original B-side of ‘I Travel’ and saw the Glaswegians ape SPARKS for this claptrap filled electronic cacophony of sound. Not claustrophobic enough for ‘Empires & Dance’, this is a delightfully creepy synth laden rarity in the SIMPLE MIDS back catalogue.
Originally the B-side of ‘I Travel’; now available as a bonus track on the boxed set ‘X5’ via Virgin Records
With so many great B-sides in the long career of DEPECHE MODE, it might seem strange that their best B-side was actually their first. ‘Ice Machine’ is possibly Vince Clarke’s darkest five minutes, but it has also proved to be highly influential. ROYKSOPP and S.P.O.C.K have covered it while the song’s core arpeggio has been borrowed by LADYTRON and FEATHERS. It is not only one of DM’s best B-sides, it is among one of the best songs of the Synth Britannia era.
Available on the DEPECHE MODE boxed set ‘DMBX1’ via Mute Records
HEAVEN 17 were an act who rarely did B-sides and even this cover of a lesser known BUZZCOCKS single started life as a track for the BEF ‘Music Of Quality & Distinct Volume 1’ opus but was quickly shelved. Unusual in many respects as ‘Are Everything’ features the early HUMAN LEAGUE synth sound emblazoned with acoustic guitar from Dave Lockwood, Glenn Gregory snarls in post-punk fashion away from the new funk hybrid which was later appear on ‘Penthouse & Pavement’.
Originally the B-side of ‘I’m Your Money’; 12 inch version now available on the HEAVEN 17 album ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ via Virgin Records
Originally recorded as a demo for the 1979 Giorgio Moroder sessions that produced ‘Life In Tokyo’, this sequencer heavy number was rejected by the Italian disco maestro. Left dormant in the vaults of Ariola Hansa, after JAPAN left the label, ‘European Son’ was subsequently finished off by John Punter and tagged onto a 1981 reissue of ‘Life In Tokyo’. Retrospectively, it shows David Sylvian’s vocals in transition from the catty aggression of earlier albums. In 1982, it became an A-side remixed by Steve Nye.
Originally the B-side of 1981 reissue of ‘Life In Tokyo’; now available on the JAPAN album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Virgin Records
A unique curio in the classic ULTRAVOX cannon as it does not feature Midge Ure. Chris Cross handled guitar duties and backing vocals while Warren Cann took the spoken lead. The powerful Linn driven track was provided the punch with the Minimoog bass while Billy Currie tastefully layered with his piano and violin interplay. ‘Paths & Angles’ was undoubtedly strong enough to have been an album track, but highly unlikely to have remained in this form if Ure had been involved.
Originally the B-side of ‘The Voice’; now available on the ULTRAVOX album ‘Rage In Eden’ via EMI Records
Originally recorded for a John Peel session but rescued for the B-side of ‘Living On The Ceiling’, ‘Running Thin’ featured a much starker, claustrophobic template than the subsequent ‘Happy Families’ album. Driven by a Roland drum machine, haunting blips and “elastic stretched too far” guitar, Neil Arthur’s resigned baritone matched the music backdrop. The track has since been revisited by BLANCMANGE for the upcoming 2CD ‘Happy Families Too’ 2CD set.
Originally the B-side of ‘Living On The Ceiling’; now available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Music Club
Borrowing the main melody of ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ theme and coupled with a sharp Tim Friese-Greene production, ‘One Of Our Submarines’ was actually based on the poignant story of TMDR’s uncle Stephen. He served in a submarine during World War Two but died while on manoeuvres as opposed to battle. His death became Dolby’s metaphor for the fall of the British Empire and his rebellion against the post-war Boys Own adventure illusion that his generation grew up in.
Originally the B-side of ‘She Blinded Me with Science’; now available on the THOMAS DOLBY album ‘The Golden Age Of Wireless’ via EMI Records
Outstripping the electro Tamla of the A-side, ‘You Remind Me Of Gold’ had the balance of weirdness, accessibility and the spectre of Jo Callis’ guitar synthesizer. Coupled with the precise but edgy production of Martin Rushent, this gave high hopes that the follow-up to the million selling ‘Dare’ would be a goody. Unfortunately, the band fell out with Rushent and the lukewarm ‘Hysteria’ was the result and it would take years for THE HUMAN LEAGUE to recover.
Originally the B-side of ‘Mirror Man’; now available on the HUMAN LEAGUE deluxe album ‘Dare / Fascination!’ via Virgin Records
OMD often were at their best when indulging in their vertical take-off experiments. Covered in hiss and layered with a shrilling, almost out-of-tune Mellotron, ‘Navigation’ was an abstract collage with the punching snare drum crescendo leading to a weird droning beacon of strange noises taken from their pre-OMD tapes that conjured the image of foggy uncharted oceans. It is without doubt, one of Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey’s stand-out recordings.
Originally the B-side of ‘Maid Of Orleans’; now available on the OMD album ‘Navigation’ via Virgin Records
Boy George once described SOFT CELL as music for teenagers who hate their parents. With ‘It’s A Mugs Game’, that ethos came to its head with this comical tirade of angry, adolescent angst! Marc Almond goes from crisis to crisis as he tries to annoy his dad by playing loud, all the records “he especially hates… ’Deep Purple In Rock, ‘Led Zeppelin II’”. But as Almond retorts: “even you hate those”! The closing rant of “I can’t wait until I’m twenty one and I can tell them all to sod off!” is classic!
Originally the B-side of ‘Where The Heart Is’; now available on the SOFT CELL album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Phonogram Records
Perhaps unsurprisingly with Colin Thurston at the production helm, the cryptically titled ‘?’ did sound like a DURAN DURAN flipside with thundering Simmons drums, disco bass and a fabulous synth solo from original keyboardist Simon Brenner. Utilising a weird chorus effect which sounded like the song was recorded on using dirty tape heads, while not a particularly prolific B-side band, TALK TALK certainly delivered more extras than perhaps JAPAN ever did.
Originally the B-side of ‘Talk Talk’. Available on the TALK TALK album ‘Asides Besides’ via EMI Music
One of the few vocal tracks to be a VISAGE B-side, ‘I’m Still Searching’ in hindsight sounds ahead of its time with its proto-PET SHOP BOYS vibe. Featuring just Steve Strange and Rusty Egan as the ULTRAVOX and MAGAZINE boys were all back in their day jobs, it hinted at a New York electronic disco direction which was expanded on with ‘Pleasure Boys’. But by the time of the third VISAGE album ‘Beat Boy’, rock was the name of the game with Strange’s voice left exposed and totally unsuited to its histrionics.
Originally the B-side of ‘Night Train’; now available on the VISAGE album ‘The Anvil’ via Rubellan Remasters
A B-side that was later issued as an A-side in various markets, ‘Situation’ was one of only three writing collaborations between Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke. At barely 2 minutes in its original form, it made its point with its rousing blues based sequenced dance pop; it became a US club favourite remixed by Francois Kevorkian who was later to work with KRAFTWERK and DEPECHE MODE. Another version mixed by ERASURE producer Mark Saunders took the song into the UK Top20 in 1990.
Originally the B-side of ‘Only You’; now available on the album ‘The Collection’ via Music Club
When Liverpool band THE WILD SWANS split, two thirds formed the basis of THE LOTUS EATERS while their singer Paul Simpson teamed up with ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN producer Kingbird aka Ian Broudie. Combining acoustic guitars and stark drum machine with strong synthesizer melodies and melancholic vocals, ‘Sad Day for England’ was a mournful recollection of young manhood. The duo split before their debut album was completed. Broudie eventually formed THE LIGHTNING SEEDS.
Originally the 12 inch B-side of ‘My Boyish Days’; now available on the CARE album ‘Diamonds & Emeralds’ via Camden Records/BMG Records
This atmospheric ballad from the ‘Seven & The Ragged Tiger’ sessions turned out to be one of the the most synth led recordings under the DURAN DURAN name. Featuring just Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon, it showcased the more esoteric influences of JAPAN who the pair were particularly fond of. A precursor to their painfully pretentious ARCADIA project, none of those songs ever reached the heights of ‘Secret Oktober’. It was dusted off for the 1998 Greatest Hits tour.
Originally the B-side of ‘Union Of the Snake’; now available on the DURAN DURAN boxed set ‘The Singles 81-85’ via EMI Records
B-sides are for quirky experimentation and Howard Jones certainly veered from the norm with this oddball slice of electro-ska. With the declaration that “If I haven’t got any friends, it just doesn’t matter” and “If I’ve been misunderstood, it just doesn’t matter”, the song was possibly written as a positive motivator to face the music whatever following the success of his debut single ‘New Song’. The critics may not have loved him but his fans did, with the ‘Human’s Lib’ album entering the UK chats at No1.
Originally the B-side of ‘What is Love?’; now available on the HOWARD JONES album ‘The Very Best Of’ via WEA
Subtitled ‘Sector One: The Elevator’, ‘The Nelson Highrise’ was the B-side to ‘Sounds Like A Melody’ which wasn’t released as a single in the UK. After a dynamic instrumental build of over a minute and a half, the opening line “Time is fleeting, you can’t stop time” was deeply ominous while the backing was almost industrial with very sharp edges. The dystopian air might have been a surprise to some, but then ‘Big In Japan’ was inspired by the plight of heroin addicts in Berlin…
Originally the B-side of ‘Sounds Like A Melody’; now available on the ALPHAVILLE deluxe album ‘Forever Young’ via Warner Music
Recorded during the ‘Working With Fire & Steel’ sessions produced by Mike Howlett, ‘It’s Never Too Late’ was a lost gem probably droppedby CHINA CRISIS from the album on account of it sounding like a more steadfast ‘Wishful Thinking’, featuring its familiar Emulator strings sound in the melody. Unreleased until 1985, even then it was tucked away on the limited edition 12 inch of ‘Black Man Ray’, making it one of the rarest of high quality B-sides from the era.
Originally the 12 inch limited edition B-side of ‘Black Man Ray’; now available on the CHINA CRISIS deluxe album ‘Flaunt The Imperfection’ via Caroline International
Possibly the song which indicated that PET SHOP BOYS were going to be around for a while and not just a flash in the pan, ‘That’s My Impression’ was menacing as opposed to melancholic, combining SOFT CELL with DIVINE. Neil Tennant’s final angry refrain of “I went looking for someone I couldn’t find – staring at faces by the Serpentine…” is pure Marc Almond, tense and embittered in a manner that turned out to be quite rare in PET SHOP BOYS later work.
Originally the B-side of ‘Love Comes Quickly’; now available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Alternative’ via EMI Records
Is this song about JFK? Is it a homo-erotic love story that ends in murder? Who knows? But ‘1963’ was an outstanding result of the sessions NEW ORDER had with PET SHOP BOYS producer Stephen Hague that also spawned ‘True Faith’. However, much to Hooky’s annoyance, his contributions on ‘1963’ were virtually written out. Bloody mindedness ensured ‘1963’ was tucked away as a B-side for 8 years before it was released as an A-side in a more Hooky audible rework by Arthur Baker.
Originally the B-side of ‘True Faith’; now availableon the NEW ORDER album ‘Substance’ via Warner Music
Bietigheim-Bissingen’s CAMOUFLAGE took over the mantle of delivering the heavier synthpop blueprint which DEPECHE MODE started during ‘Construction Time Again’ and ‘Some Great Reward’, but left behind with ‘Black Celebration’. ‘Kling Klang’ actually was a B-side to their single ‘One Fine Day’. This was not only a tribute to KRAFTWERK but in a rarity for the trio, it was also sung in German. But it was so rigidly authentic that at times, it inadvertently sounded like a Bill Bailey musical comedy skit.
Originally the B-side of ‘One Fine Day’, now available on the CAMOUFLAGE deluxe album ‘Methods Of Silence’ via Bureau B
This bouncy tune with its lyrical celebration by Andy Bell of ABBA borrowed heavily from OMD. Vince Clarke went on record to say the record that influenced him most to start working with synthesizers was ‘Electricity’. So on ‘Over The Rainbow’, he borrowed its lead melody wholesale and added a few of the speaking clock samples that had adorned OMD’s ‘Dazzle Ships’. Listen carefully and listeners will also notice ULTRAVOX are affectionately pillaged too!
Originally the B-side of ‘Chorus’; now available in the boxed set ‘EBX4’ via Mute Records
Influenced by the experimental side of Synth Britannia and the groundbreaking electronica of Warp Records, Bristol-based Finlay Shakespeare has presented one of the most impressive releases of 2020 in his second album ‘Solemnities’.
Passionate and intense in his vocal delivery, the music of Finlay Shakespeare is strangely pop, but his modular laden backdrop will satisfy those listeners seeking more of a colder mechanised edge. Reference points range from THE HUMAN LEAGUE and THROBBING GRISTLE to AUTECHRE and THE FAINT, while the socially conscious lyrics recall Paul Weller during his time in THE JAM.
Also an independent musical device manufacturer via his Future Sound Systems umbrella, ‘Solemnities’ captures the balance of melody and freaky angst that was showcased live to BLANCMANGE fans who arrived early when Shakespeare opened for Neil Arthur & Co in 2019.
Finlay Shakespeare encapsulates the spirit of early Mute Records and that’s probably just as well because he has just been signed by Mute Song for publishing. He kindly took time out and spoke to The Electricity Club about the making of ‘Solemnities’, its lyrical inspiration and gave a fascinating insight into the equipment involved in the album’s realisation.
Your new album ‘Solemnities’ is rather on point in the current situation, but what had been your original concept?
The majority of material that I write, at least lyrically speaking, tends to come from improvisation, and in the case of ‘Solemnities’, recording many iterations and honing in on a finished version. I’ve always tried to capture a sense of the present when writing and recording too – I like the idea that music can form a time capsule to be listened back to. Much of the subject matter across ‘Solemnities’ is politically motivated, and how I see the UK’s current political situation affecting me and others around me.
While you have said ‘Solemnities’ has a rawer approach, it appears to be a lot more focussed and disciplined than your debut album ‘Domestic Economy’?
Hugely – this predominantly came from returning to a more conventional writing form. The base material of ‘Domestic Economy’ comes from the total improvisation of the ‘Housediet’ sessions – no re-takes, simple edits, etc. – which was then fleshed out and reworked slightly for the album.
For ‘Solemnities’, it’s been more a case of overdubbing each individual element as a track comes together. These elements may be rather spontaneously recorded, but through allowing myself to edit and arrange more deeply, the songs became more rigidly structured.
‘Solemnities’ does capture more of what you’re like on stage, how did you find opening for BLANCMANGE?
The BLANCMANGE shows were a great experience – I had been hankering for more live appearances for a while, and was lucky to be given the chance through, not only Neil Arthur, but also Jez Bernholz and Steve Malins. Playing those support slots definitely made me focus more on my live practice. How do I get this modular synth to do what I want it to do? How do I make these songs come to life on stage?
Trying to answer those questions also informs the writing and recording process to a degree. It was also fantastic to spend some time with Neil, Liam Hutton, Oogoo Maia and Adam Fuest – they’re a great bunch of people and I hope to see them all again soon.
What had got you interested in making music with synthesizers? What was your first electronic instrument?
A childhood fascination with my parents’ record collection is really what kicked all this off. LPs and CDs by JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, VANGELIS, KRAFTWERK – I wanted to know where all these sounds came from. I remember staring at photographs of their studios, intrigued by all the equipment that surrounded these pioneers.
I took keyboard lessons from a young age and was lucky enough to be entering my early teens at the height of the ‘virtual analogue’ synth boom. My first synth was a Korg Electribe EA-1 – I have very fond memories of it, but sadly sold it a while ago to buy other gear!
You founded Future Sound Systems, so would you describe yourself as electronic musician first or second, or is it all embroiled and co-dependent?
It’s very much a co-dependent thing in my eyes – I got into designing and building equipment because I felt that might be a cheaper way of acquiring more gear. On one hand, that was very much incorrect, but the learning curve (which I’m still very much following) gave me some degree of knowledge that led to the day job I have now. Many of the designs that come from FSS are dreamt up whilst I’m playing music myself, and that music often incorporates some of the equipment we design and build, so it’s very much a feedback loop.
How did you develop musically as you sound like post-punk acts such as THROBBING GRISTLE and THE NORMAL meeting Warp Records? ?
By the time I had exhausted my parents’ LPs, I started getting into the acts that were recording and releasing at the time – I feel lucky to have been growing up when acts like ORBITAL, THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS, DAFT PUNK etc were at their prime.
I’d drag my family to record fairs and such, buying up what I could save with pocket money and going between various artist recommendations that we’d typically get from the stall holders.
I remember hearing APHEX TWIN’s ‘Come To Daddy’ and ‘Windowlicker’ amidst all this, and those were pretty monumental in terms of showing me that electronic music still had the potential to be very different. We also had a music library local to us, which proved to be a huge resource of harder-to-find music. I’ve still got a cassette of avant-garde works by Mimaroglu, Cage and Berio which I bought at one of their sales – that was ‘really’ eye-opening stuff to hear as a kid!
You also have been very vocal about your love of the ASSOCIATES album ‘Sulk’, why do you think this record is so special?
I’ve got a great deal of respect for artists and bands who really are totally unique, and ASSOCIATES are high up on that list, particularly the partnership between Alan Rankine and Billy Mackenzie. Typically, I find myself listening to ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ more so than ‘Sulk’, but ‘Sulk’ deserves legendary status simply because there’s no other record like it. It’s truly manic in every aspect – its musicianship is frantic, the lyrics are all over the shop, and the mix sounds like nothing else. There’s also the more archival aspect where seemingly no two issues of the album are the same!
So how did your intense fraught vocal style emerge?
I’ve never really thought that much about how I sing.
What I try to do is use my vocal as a way of expressing emotion, almost to bolster the atmosphere of a track, and I guess a lot of what I’m singing about is rather intense!
There’s always the aim of doing something a little bit calmer in the future, but I’m not sure that it’ll ever happen.
The ‘Solemnities’ opener ‘Occupation’ makes a real musical as well as lyrical statement and appears to recall THE FAINT, was it inspired by personal experience?
‘Occupation’ draws from various imagined scenarios given the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, particularly how the exit has been pushed by self-serving politicians, but also how it will prevent citizens of the UK from enjoying various freedoms and privileges that are about to be removed from them. The track began life exactly how it’s heard on the album – the drums came from a really aggressive patch I had going on an ARP 2600 clone and some Serge modular equipment, so vocally and lyrically it needed to reflect that.
‘The Information’ really showcases your love of the early period of THE HUMAN LEAGUE? It undergoes a few structural changes within its four and a half minutes, how would you have constructed this in the studio?
‘The Information’ dates back to tracks I was writing back when I was finishing school, so the majority of elements here are at least ten years old! When putting ‘Solemnities’ together, I wanted to revisit some old work of mine that was never really finished, so I loaded up ‘The Information’ and wanted to see where I could take it. It’s funny how it can take more than a decade to finish off a four-minute track!
What are your preferred tools at the moment? Is it modular all the way for you?
I’m in no way a purist – I end up making a lot of hybrid configurations of synths and other gear at the studio, which I like to think lends itself to finding new sounds and getting to a place that’s a little different from using separate pieces of gear stand-alone. For example, I have a Korg MS-20 and MS-10 which I often chain together to create, what I often label, an MS-30. There’s a lot of that on the album, as well as the aforementioned ARP / Serge combo. Since running the majority of the studio’s equipment into a patchbay, I can treat the entire studio as a patchable modular-esque set-up.
At the moment, I’m trying to get deeper into the Nord G2X that I’ve had for a while – it’s a digital modular environment which is still really powerful and flexible despite being a little old now! Again, there’s a lot of G2X on the new album, but used mainly to process other sounds.
‘Second Try’ appears to play homage to both THROBBING GRISTLE and KRAFTWERK?
‘Second Try’ actually came from powering the G2X up with a ‘mad’ patch on it – that’s what’s heard at the intro, then a couple of passes of that patch get looped to form the drums. ‘Second Try’ came together really quickly, and is actually a great example of how I try to work now – still working very quickly and not spending a lot of time on things, but managing to get a lot done in that session.
The poignant ‘Crisis’ features a range of fantastic textures, one set being the impactful spacey synthetic voices, how you set about sound designing those?
‘Crisis’ came almost completely from my Elektron Digitakt sampler/sequencer. I had been booked to play a show in Nantes and was terrified about checking my modular rig in to the hold in case it never made the connecting flight. The Digitakt was coming in my hand luggage, so I had prepared this back-up improvisatory set using that and the Mutable Shruthi synth that I also use live now. ‘Crisis’ was born out of that set, using the Shruthi for the bass then the Digitakt for almost all the other melodic elements, including that pitched Mellotron choir sample.
You may be pleased to know that the modular never disappeared, but ‘Crisis’ made an impromptu premiere as the encore to that Nantes show!
You show more of your understated side on ‘Fantasy’, had this been a conscious move as part of the album’s journey?
I was definitely trying to form more of an ‘arc’ for this album – two sides of vinyl that feel they have some degree of flow to both – and ‘Fantasy’ felt right in between two relatively more energetic tracks. This track was born out of two sessions coming together – powering up the studio after the recording of ‘Occupation’ and the drum patch falling over itself, hence the pounding bass drum that runs throughout, and a long take of overdubbed feedback guitars I had recorded a few years prior. I also wanted to experiment with building up a small choir of myself, making many overdubs of the same vocal with different harmonies.
You go for an extended banging adventure on ‘She Says / Nothing Ends’ to finish, was it originally two songs that morphed into one epic track?
Almost – it was always treated as one track, but I wanted the feel of two distinct sections to it, both of which would crescendo as much as they do, almost as though they ‘could’ be two individual tracks. However, the fluttery, glitchy chords of the latter half, and the distorted vocals ‘were’ recorded as part of another separate session, and brought in on top of the near-gabber that already existed.
Who do you hope ‘Solemnities’ might appeal to?
I’ve always wanted my music to be a bridge between what I’m influenced by and something more present, perhaps even futuristic. Therefore, I’m hoping ‘Solemnities’ would appeal to fans of the late 70s / early 80s greats who may have been there at the time, as well as younger electronic music fans who perhaps aren’t so aware of all those albums approaching their 40th anniversaries.
If my work puts people on to acts like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, CABARET VOLTAIRE, SEVERED HEADS, FAD GADGET etc. then I feel that I’ve definitely done my job.
Your music is released by Editions Mego in Austria, is it still important for modern independent artists to have some kind of label support in your opinion?
Very much so. Whilst self-releasing online is easier than ever, there are more and more people doing it, and with the lack of any curation, it can be really difficult to be found as an artist. I have huge respect for what Peter Rehberg at Mego does – he releases whatever he wants to put out on Mego, there are no stylistic boundaries that he’s following, so the label is truly in line with his tastes. There’s no nonsense.
If you’re into what is on Mego, it’s likely you’ll enjoy whatever the next release is. It’s that curation that is really important for being an artist released by a label – your work becomes part of a stream that can be followed by the label’s fans.
You recently signed to Mute Song, joining a renowned family, what does that bring to you which perhaps you were unable to do when handling your own publishing?
It’s still early days at the moment, but even talking to the Mute Song team has been hugely reinvigorating. It’s a similar story with getting to know Peter at Mego better – it’s really helpful being able to send people music and get an honest response back that you know you can trust. It’s akin to the whole Bowie-ism of never being truly comfortable in what you’re doing – there were things on ‘Solemnities’ that I wanted Peter’s thoughts on, simply because I wasn’t so sure of them at first.
Having a wider net of ‘primary ears’ can only be a good thing, particularly when those ears are working with the roster of artists that are with Mute Song. From an industry point of view, I’d say I still don’t really know what I’m doing, and being able to ask for advice from such an experienced team is a huge benefit.
Where do you think you might like to take your next album?
There are already some initial sketches, but it seems that I’m trying to push the studio further, incorporating more guitars and drums into the mix, but taking the synths into more abstract territory – trying to do weirder things but perhaps make them poppy. I’ve started trying to listen to how musicians whose work I love have played their instrument, and whether I can map any of that to completely different practices. I still want to be able to play a synth the way that Andy Gill played guitar, but conversely, what happens if you have a guitar made to sound like what Ian Craig Marsh was doing in the Human League?
What’s next for you? Is there anything interesting coming out from Future Sound Systems?
There are some really exciting collaborations in the works right now, both new and old, and I’m always striving to bring people together in the studio.
As I hinted at above, I’m really interested to see what happens when different styles and practices are brought together, and I hope I can continue that this year.
Meanwhile, at FSS, we are designing plenty of new equipment which I hope will pique other producers’ interest – there’s certainly a lot of it that I want to spend more creative time with! Watch this space!
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Finlay Shakespeare