Tag: Visage (Page 1 of 9)

The Electronic Legacy of VARIOUS ARTISTS

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.


MACHINES (1980)

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’.

‘Machines’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Machines/master/59149


METHODS OF DANCE (1981)

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’!

‘Methods Of Dance’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Methods-Of-Dance/master/43926


MODERN DANCE (1981)

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!

‘Modern Dance’ was released by K-Tel Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Modern-Dance/release/504872


SOME BIZZARE ALBUM (1981)

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…

‘Some Bizzare Album’ was released by Some Bizzare

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Some-Bizzare-Album/master/2754


CLUB FOR HEROES (1992)

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.

‘Club For Heroes’ was released by Telstar Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Club-For-Heroes/master/120444


IT’S ELECTRIC (1994)

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.

‘It’s Electric’ was released by Dino Entertainment

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Its-Electric-Classic-Hits-From-An-Electric-Era/master/37974


DAWN OF ELECTRONICA (2000)

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.

‘Dawn Of Electronica’ was released by Demon Music Group

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Dawn-Of-Electronica-Uncut/release/577680


ELECTRIC DREAMS (2002)

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.

‘Electric Dreams’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Electric-Dreams/release/322736


THIS IS NOT THE 80s (2002)

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.

‘This Is Not The 80s’ was released by Incredible / Sony Music

https://www.discogs.com/Various-This-Is-Not-The-80s-A-Nu-Wave-Electro-Compilation/master/375573


THIS IS TECH-POP (2002)

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.

‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was released by Ministry Of Sound

https://www.discogs.com/Various-This-Is-Tech-Pop/release/50649


ELECTRICITY 2 An Electronic Pop Sampler (2003)

‘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.

‘Electricity 2’ was released by Ninthwave Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Electricity-2-An-Electronic-Pop-Sampler/release/730718


ROBOPOP Volume 1 (2003)

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’.

‘Robopop Volume 1’ was released by Lucky Pierre Recordings

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Robopop-Volume-I/release/296881


RETRO:ACTIVE 5 (2006)

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.

‘Retro:Active 5’ was released by Hi-Bias Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-RetroActive5-Rare-Remixed/release/719639


ROBOPOP The Return (2006)

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.

‘Robopop – The Return’ was released by Planet Clique / Lucky Pierre

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Manhattan-Clique-Robopop-The-Return/release/1410368


CHILLTRONICA A Definition No1 (2008)

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.

‘Chilltronica – A Definition No1’ was released by Soundcolours

https://www.discogs.com/Blank-Jones-Chilltronica-A-Definition-No1/release/1714901


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.

‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 – Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf’ was released by Grönland Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-ELECTRI_CITY-1_2/release/8919263


NEW ORDER Presents Be Music (2017)

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.

‘NEW ORDER Presents Be Music’ was released by Factory Benelux

https://www.factorybenelux.com/new_order_presents_be_music_fbn60.html


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!

‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ was released by Cherry Red Records

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/electrical-language-independent-british-synth-pop-78-84-various-artists-4cd-48pp-bookpack/


THE ELECTRICITY CLUB (2019)

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

http://www.electricityclub.co.uk/the-electricity-club-2cd-compilation/


THE TEARS OF TECHNOLOGY (2020)

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.

‘The Tears Of Technology’ was released by Ace Records

https://acerecords.co.uk/bob-stanley-pete-wiggs-present-the-tears-of-technology-1


Text by Chi Ming Lai
2nd August 2020

MUSIK, MUSIC, MUSIQUE 1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop

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.

From Cherry Red, makers of the excellent ’Electrical Language: Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ 4CD boxed set, comes ‘Musik Music Musique’; subtitled ‘1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop’, this 3CD 58 track collection explores the arrival of synth pop and the dawn of a new musical era. This was the year before the synth became the rule rather than the exception with the success of SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE.

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…


‘Musik Music Musique – 1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop’  is released on 31st July 2020 as a 3CD boxed set by Cherry Red Records

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/musik-music-musique-1980-the-dawn-of-synth-pop-various-artists-3cd/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
13th July 2020

The Electricity Club’s 25 CLASSIC SYNTH B-SIDES

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)

the_normal_-_warm_leatherette_-_front_smWas ‘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…

Available on the single ‘Warm Leatherette’ via Mute Records

www.mute.co.uk


TUBEWAY ARMY We Are So Fragile (1979)

are friends electricIn 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

www.numan.co.uk


JOHN FOXX 20th Century (1980)

foxxCommissioned 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

www.metamatic.com/


SIMPLE MINDS New Warm Skin (1980)

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

www.simpleminds.com


DEPECHE MODE Ice Machine (1981)

dreamingofme1With 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

www.depechemode.com


HEAVEN 17 Are Everything (1981)

heaven-17-im-your-money-virginHEAVEN 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

www.heaven17.com


JAPAN European Son (1981)

life in tokyoOriginally 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

www.nightporter.co.uk/


ULTRAVOX Paths & Angles (1981)

Ultravox-the voiceA 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

www.ultravox.org.uk


BLANCMANGE Running Thin (1982)

blancmange-living-on-the-ceiling-1982Originally 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

www.blancmange.co.uk


THOMAS DOLBY One Of Our Submarines (1982)

She_Blinded_Me_with_ScienceBorrowing 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

www.thomasdolby.com


THE HUMAN LEAGUE You Remind Me Of Gold (1982)

the-human-league-mirror-man-virginOutstripping 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

www.thehumanleague.co.uk/


OMD Navigation (1982)

OMDmaidOMD 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

www.omd.uk.com


SOFT CELL It’s A Mug’s Game (1982)

Where the Heart IsBoy 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

https://www.softcell.co.uk/


TALK TALK ? (1982)

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

https://spiritoftalktalk.com/


VISAGE I’m Still Searching (1982)

night trainOne 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

www.visage.cc/


YAZOO Situation (1982)

only youA 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

www.yazooinfo.com/


CARE Sad Day For England (1983)

careWhen 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

http://music-isms.blogspot.com/2007/12/care-singles-1983-1984.html


DURAN DURAN Secret Oktober (1983)

union_of_the_snakeThis 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

www.duranduran.com


HOWARD JONES It Just Doesn’t Matter (1983)

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

http://www.howardjones.com/


ALPHAVILLE The Nelson Highrise (1984)

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

https://www.alphaville.info/


CHINA CRISIS It’s Never Too Late (1985)

CC-black man rayRecorded 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

www.facebook.com/pages/China-Crisis/295592467251068


PET SHOP BOYS That’s My Impression (1986)

love comes quicklyPossibly 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

www.petshopboys.co.uk


NEW ORDER 1963 (1987)

true faithIs 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

http://www.neworder.com/


CAMOUFLAGE Kling Klang (1989)

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

http://www.camouflage-music.com/en/News


ERASURE Over The Rainbow (1991)

erasure-chorus(2)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

www.erasureinfo.com


‘TEC Has Everything B-Sides’, a playlist comprising of a number of flips from several eras can be listened to at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/44O9vvXs2sAJv24kdPQ9tC


Text by Chi Ming Lai
11th June 2020

ZACHERY ALLAN STARKEY Fear City

With two albums ‘DIY’ and ‘Hard Power’ already under his belt, Zachery Allan Starkey was invited to open for NEW ORDER during their ‘Music Complete’ tour in North America in 2016.

Starkey has described his new record ‘Fear City’ as being about “nightlife, darkness, the opiate epidemic, current political/economic fears, and uncertainties/anxiety caused by the rise of right wing politics around the world”.

Two of the album’s key tracks are collaborations with Bernard Sumner; the most striking of these is ‘Force’.

It sees the NEW ORDER front man contributing his signature Italo-influenced sequencing style for a hypnotically rhythmic danceable post-punk flavour with a touch of HI-NRG. The New York resident makes an impassioned rallying call  for everyone to remain strong and brave in these dark and frightening times.

Sumner’s second contribution to the ‘Fear City’ album is on its title track. Although less in your face than ‘Force’ by taking on a more steadfast rhythmical mantra, it recalls the Middle Eastern feel reminiscent of the lesser known NEW ORDER track ‘Brutal’ from ‘The Beach’ soundtrack. An anxious reflection of the current spooky climate within the Big Apple, it is a feeling that could be applied anywhere in the word right now.

But effectively making the album’s brilliant opening statement is the gothic techno throb of ‘XXX’ which aesthetically it recalls the Aggro Mix of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Never Let Me Down Again’. With its hard synthesized bass dominations but to a speedier four-to-the-floor beat, it exudes an atmosphere of unease and desolation via its eerie pseudo pizzicatos and screaming siren calls.

The instrumental body energy of ‘No Security’ is bolstered by creepy schizophrenic voices, vocal derived samples and dynamic drops. With the multiple meaning possibilities of ‘Fallout’, Starkey gives more of his fearful delivery, channelling his angsty fervour over a metronomic backdrop, asking “do you give up or do you fight?”.

But something of a total surprise, ‘Coked Up Biker Anthem’ is slice of electro-heavy metal, perhaps what Alice Cooper might sound like adopting synths! With another narcotic reference, ‘Opiate’ is suitably doom laden with sombre slimey tones and fraught vocals. Meanwhile ‘Bright Future’ makes an ironic call on dependency with stabs and pulses over a mutant disco backdrop

‘Neoliberal’ and ‘Love Does Not Win’ go in tandem, with feelings running high about how evil and capitalism with no conscience always seem to win. With ‘Neoliberal’, the message is in the Italo-flavoured music, while ‘Love Does Not Win’ is angrily constructed around a banging stomp. The battle might be lost but together, the love revolution can be victorious.

‘Empire’ with its layers of orchestrated synths is deviantly hypnotic, recalling the solid heart of ‘The Anvil’ by VISAGE; Starkey’s agitated pulpit pronouncements are like those of a deranged dictator and let’s face it, there are a few of those characters around in power aspiring to be one of those!

Heading towards the home straight of what is quite a lengthy long player, the hauntingly bleak instrumental ‘Covid 19’ looks set to soundtrack documentaries and films about the catastrophic pandemic with its booming uptempo flare and strangely melodic overtures of unease.

But the album doesn’t end on a particularly cheery note either, as the short final concept piece ‘Future Shock’ demonstrates via a collage of blasts and explosions.

“It’s not an overtly political album, but it is a product of the current times” says Starkey and certainly ‘Fear City’ captures a dystopian tension driven using hooky electronics and resounding club-friendly beats.

Alongside the recent work of Zanias and Finlay Shakespeare, Zachery Allan Starkey has presented a compulsive observation of gritty realism.


‘Fear City’ is released by Death Trip NYC and available now via the usual digital platforms including https://zasmusic.bandcamp.com/

https://www.zacheryallanstarkey.com/

https://www.facebook.com/ZASmusic/

https://twitter.com/ZacheryAStarkey

https://www.instagram.com/zacheryallanstarkey/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
6th May2020

Introducing SNS SENSATION

If there is a song right now that captures the claustrophobic solitude of lockdown isolation both aurally and visually, then it is the appropriately titled ‘Small World’ by SNS SENSATION.

SNS SENSATION is the solo musical vehicle of Sebastian Muravchik, best known as the charismatic front man of the Italo flavoured electro rockers HEARTBREAK; together with Ali Renault, the pair were often on concert billings with LITTLE BOOTS and LA ROUX during the electro resurgence of 2007-2009.

A song about self-isolation during the pandemic crisis, ‘Small World’ itself is a throbbing electronic number with icy rhythms, marrying the elegance of minimal synth with the melodic presence of Italo disco.

It is reminiscent of ‘I’m Still Searching’ and ‘Miserabilsm’, two excellent songs released respectively as B-sides by VISAGE and PET SHOP BOYS.

Articulating the mood of our times, Sebastian Muravchik kindly spoke to The Electricity Club from the isolation of his ‘Small World’…

The subject matter of ‘Small World’ is quite timely with everything going on in the world, is that a coincidence?

The release was going to be a different song, but this pandemic kicked off and ‘Small World’ happened quite quickly as a response to it. Having said that, many of the issues enhanced by this crisis are there in regular times; existential ghosts that you’ll find in this pandemic song, but also in other SNS SENSATION’s songs, unrelated to the pandemic.

‘Small World’ has an uptempo but claustrophobic feel which is also reflected in the video, how did you come up with both?

Writing and producing songs is easy, mostly, because the music and the lyrics write themselves, and the arrangements and ideas emerge from flow. The only real obstacles in the way are ego and fear.

In this blurry channelling of ideas, one key concept was descending steps. The claustrophobia in descent. Descent is there in the lyrics, the music and the music video (including the descent of what’s falling onto you).

The aim was to find claustrophobia in the way disease, fear, uncertainty, meaninglessness and time itself descend onto your feeble existence (or how it descends onto them). A down-sloping diagonal, like a steeper remake of ‘North by Northwest’ by David Lynch.

After the initial shock and the panic that ensued from becoming aware of what this pandemic could be and mean, I felt that facing the reality of it head-on in my work was a way of coping: perhaps a sense of control, even if illusory. There are enough good artists out there singing bright songs of hope and togetherness, and they do it very well. My contribution is to help make some sort of sense of this reality; to try to understand more.

Some may know you from your work with HEARTBREAK, so how does SNS SENSATION differ conceptually and musically? Who are your influences and inspirations in this respect?

SNS SENSATION is more cinematographic, tends to be more noir. SNS SENSATION’s disco-pop is more tinged by minimal wave and post-punk, and acts like DEUX, or the more wistful end of INTERNATIONAL MUSIC SYSTEM; but the bedroom textures of old school house and techno are still there to be found.

SNS SENSATION is also more aligned to KRAFTWERK’s emotional channeling (e.g. ‘Neon Lights’, ‘Metropolis’, ‘Spiegelsaal’, etc), ie the movement in the still picture, as opposed to HEARTBREAK’s attempt to stop time by invoking the speed of light.

SNS SENSATION’s approach to multiplicity in identity is channeled through the cinematographic, rather than by putting the personality of the rock star through the cycles of a washing machine, as we do in HEARTBREAK. The robotic is still there, but it’s a film star robot (‘Das Modell’).

There is a lot less influence from Metal as well, since Ali is the expert on that genre, and I feed from his passion for metal in our collaboration. And less of that electro-industrial edge that Ali brings to the work we do together.

Singing-wise, less Ozzy in this project, and more the Ralf Hutter end of Neil Tenant’s singing, as well as the singing in IMS’ ‘Runaway’ (what is that singer’s name!? anyone?). Horror is still key, but SNS SENSATION focuses on the fear while HEARTBREAK focuses on the gore… but just like HEARTBREAK, openness and a wide range are key, letting the creative flow dictate what a project is, and what it becomes.

SNS SENSATION embraces influences from EARTH WIND & FIRE, from CASCO (rip Salva x), and from DAS DING. It’s about the song as much as the sound. If you can picture the band SEND MORE PARAMEDICS dancing to John Parr’s ‘Man in Motion’, you’ll get the idea. There’s some very bright disco pop and some eco-apocalyptic minimal synth-inspired songs, and some in the middle.

Even if both HEARTBREAK and SNS SENSATION are heavily grounded in disco and the bedroom producer aesthetic, I am quite curious as to how HEARTBREAK fans will respond to SNS SENSATION’s more sombre shades, as well as its overexposed pop inclinations… in other words, I hope they like it!

Some may not know you were the voice of ‘Anthonio’ in the ‘Annie’ response single in 2009, working with Richard X. How do you look back on that experience and how it may have shaped SNS SENSATION?

It was really helpful; it was an opportunity to explore that other singing range I hadn’t found an outlet for, guided by a top producer. I was really happy with the outcome too, and sort of opened the door for me to be more confident in exploring this SNS SENSATION area. Richard X also helped me with the vocal recording of an SNS SENSATION single produced back then, ‘Everybody’; he was very supportive about the songwriting aspect of my work, which helped a lot too.

So what is next for SNS SENSATION ? An album or EP?

SNS SENSATION’s strategy is more digital singles, monthly or so. An EP is definitely a possibility, a decent format right now (concise, yet showing range and a journey through songs). There are plans for a vinyl EP with a fantastic label at some point this year hopefully, but no date confirmed yet. I am very excited about a physical release through such a highly reputed label. I always have loved vinyl (also tape).

Another aim is to keep developing the SNS SENSATION video and photography work, and find out how social media can be an aspect of its body of work. To keep SNS SENSATION evolving, and figure out its audience.

I’m enjoying it enormously, the experimental freedom and the fun of seeing where it goes, the wondrous surprises, the constant learning.

What is the strategy for modern music marketing now as HEARTBREAK came out of period before streaming took hold and where selling to the mainstream was still a target for many labels?

What was just starting back in the days of HEARTBREAK’s ‘Lies’ is now the norm. The more I understand and adapt to it, the freer I feel.

One thing I love about social media is that it is generally accepted as a way of putting “unfinished work” out there, of experimenting and trying out things; most people accept it as a form of documenting your process, or just having fun! It encourages you to be creative every day of your life, not just during the album recording phase.

All the restrictive stages of the previous exposure model are irrelevant now; even the greatest stars discover themselves in this looking glass 🙂

Also the idea of sharing in social media is still strong I think. The relationship to fans is so much healthier than it used to be, less oppressive for fans, less lonely for artists. And the multiple is there too: you are part of different groups, where you can indulge your love for music, for images, for history, experiments and novelty. If you use it right (and not everybody does), it can be very organic and natural. It allows you to be yourself; but more importantly, it allows you to disguise yourself, which is more honest!

Release strategy-wise, I think regular singles are great, very dynamic and respectful of people’s time. They also enable the songs to remain relevant to a fast-changing world. But particularly, as a songwriter, I feel really excited about the space and the importance that it gives to THE SONG. Songs are easy to write, but a good song is rather hard to come by – respect to the makers of this complex form is overdue, in my opinion.

I genuinely think this is a wonderful time to be alive. As we face extinction on several fronts, and however real the panic and the horror is, we are forced to become more resourceful and creative with our technologies, to adapt, and also to face the truth.

We are forced to love every breath we are able to take, like that Italian doctor said who was recovering from the virus.

And the biggest challenge of all, bigger than the very real and horrific death we all justifiably fear, is freedom. And for as long as we manage to stay healthy, freedom is everywhere.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Sebastian Muravchik

‘Small World’ is available now as a digital single via all the usual platforms including https://wearesns.bandcamp.com/ or https://open.spotify.com/track/4FSEEAhCd81BcCHWrYGm8E

https://www.facebook.com/wearesns/

https://twitter.com/sns_wave

https://www.instagram.com/sns_discopop_noir/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
25th April 2020

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