Tag: Xeno & Oaklander

XENO & OAKLANDER Interview

Xeno&Oaklander-2014Minimal synth duo XENO & OAKLANDER release their fourth album ‘Par Avion’ this summer and as can be fathomed from the title, it sees them in comparative holiday mode.

The songs have been described by the pair as “postcards of love for a cold age — shimmering moments from the present, romantic messages from the past, and love mementos for the future”.

While Liz Wendelbo and Sean McBride retain their trademark combination of analogue trickery and unorthodox vocals, best showcased on ‘The Staircase’ from their last album ‘Sets & Lights’, this release on Ghostly International expands the template with a more expansive but still spacious sound. Icy string machines sit next to synergetic arpeggios and clattering drum machines in an exotically modern sound environment as both proven by the glistening offerings of ‘Sheen’ and ‘Providence’.

This new album’s aural diversity from upbeat to downbeat, slow to fast and light to dark comes as a half hour conceptual ode to synesthesia ie the union of the senses. As singer Liz Wendelbo explained: “Sound makes me think of a scent, which makes me think of an image, which makes me think of a certain kind of light”

The duo supported JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS at London’s XOYO in 2011 and the Brooklyn based pair were notable for their array of vintage instrumentation that included several Roland SH101s, a Roland RS09, Korg KR55 Rhythm Box, TR808 and an Oberheim SEM. This complex armoury provided for a frantically tensile approach that included manually operated percussion fills and some additional authentic Europeanism in the form of Wendelbo’s wispy Franco / Norwegian charm.

So ‘Par Avion’ is indeed looser than XENO & OAKLANDER have ever been before. The Electricity Club spoke to the duo’s Sean McBride about how they made their new album fly…

Xeno&Oaklander-ParAvionYour new album ‘Par Avion’ has been described as an ode to synesthesia. What conscious decisions were there to make it different from ‘Sets & Lights’?

At the outset of recording this album, Liz was engaged in developing several perfumes, ‘Eau de Xeno’, hence synesthesia. There was never a conscious decision to do something different. There were of course newfound synthesizer processes that we wanted to employ and expand on. As our music largely grows out of live performance, this new material, in part, emerged out of the interstitial moments between the set of songs we were playing live, namely the songs from ‘Sets & Lights’.

For instance, ‘Sheen’ grew out of the bridge linking ‘Sunday’ with ‘Blue’. After which we form them into structured pieces. So in a sense ‘Par Avion’ was squeezed out of the gaps of ‘Sets & Lights’. There is an internal logic integrated into not only the new album but also our entire catalogue. ‘Providence’ and ‘Reflections’ function as soundtracks within, and to this album and this logic.

‘Interface’ appears to have a more expansive audio spectrum than before?

We were really interested in a sonic thickness – elongated and dense walls of frequency modulated harmonic noise mixed with glassy string clusters and voltage controlled analog delay feedback – not necessarily a move away from the age-old syncopated arpeggios of our older material, but a stretching out and a kind of liquefaction of these elements.

The ‘Par Avion’ title track possesses a wispy dreamy romance alongside the more unorthodox sounds while the excellent ‘Sheen’ is quite bouncy yet smothered in ice and seems to nicely sum up the concept of the album. What would you consider the key tracks on ‘Par Avion’?

I think more important than “key tracks” would be “key processes” and so I would say that FM synthesis is that key process. We used between 10 and 15 oscillators, we relied less on filters and patched the oscillators directly to the VCA (amplifier) only using analog delays to cut high frequency distortion. With this we were able to achieve everything from wall of sound dreamy guitar noise (‘Sheen’ and ‘Lastly’) to tremulous bouzouki timbres (‘Par Avion’).

How would you describe your creative dynamic during writing and recording, particularly with regards to who takes lead vocals etc?

Mostly conceived during the live performance ‘bridging’ of songs, the recording process is very straightforward, as I am controlling the rhythmic, bass and chordal elements, Liz is producing melodies and atmospheres, both with synthesizers as well as her voice. Liz typically sings to begin with, as I can then adjust the harmonic structure around her and she around me. All of the music is recorded in one take – apart from the fact that all of the instruments require the clocked master pulse (often coming from a Roland system 104 or TR 606 or Korg KR 55), we want the songs themselves to be a registration of a particular performance of a particular moment in time. Perhaps not the most apt comparison, but we would rather work with clay than with Legos.

xeno_oaklander_sets_lightsHave your various solo projects as LIZ & LASZLO and MARTIAL CANTEREL had much of an effect on your approach to this album?

Liz sang on some of our friend Xavier’s songs (LASZLO, AUTOMELODI) and played string synths – as such I do not think it informs XENO & OAKLANDER so much, it’s a fun collaboration, whereas MARTIAL CANTEREL abides by, albeit solitarily, the same essential ethics and processes as XENO & OAKLANDER; so certainly there are a great deal of borrowed ideas, structures, and elements.

However, when working with another, the art of listening to the other becomes much more critical in importance – a synergy, a counterpoint. Also, Liz brings to X&O an aesthetic vision, a synesthetic vision – so her solo work with perfume, film and photography is central to our project’s universe.

How did you originally become interested in forming a project consisting exclusively of electronic instrumentation? Who were your main influences musically and culturally?

In the early 90s, I acquired a Korg Monopoly, Oberheim SEM and a SC Prophet 600, a SC Tom and an SC Drumtraks. I realized that there were archaic, pre digital ways to interface these instruments with one another. So simply as we acquired more, the studio became one large holistic, interfaceable, synergistic instrument – to borrow a term from Chomsky’s generative grammar, a discrete infinity of possibilities.

There was little need to bring in other instrumentation outside of the realm of voltage control – what little we have brought in over the years (trumpet, guitar, ethnic percussion) has been a playful highlight of the very thing it is playing alongside of – the synth studio. As goes influence, everything from Baroque to 60s psych to 80s Italian industrial and beyond… We are particularly interested, though, in the music and those projects which involved similar synthesizers to what we use, especially those who utilized synthesizers during their nascence – ca. 1964 to 1984.

You’ve acquired a Serge Modular? Why one of those as opposed to any other modular and how have you found it to use?

xeno&oaklanderI acquired the Serge 6 years ago and for me as, a unit, it is the most densely complex synthesizer I have ever used. The synthesizer wizardry lies in that the modules can have a multitude of different functionalities, its size, the mode of patching (banana jacks) and most importantly, the incredibly stable tuning of the unit. The Wave Multiplier section within my Serge system is perhaps a favorite function – sine waves rectified at odd number harmonic intervals.

However the Serge is just an element of a greater instrument – the multitude, the many interconnected synthesizers we use. So what is being played is not just the Serge, but 3 or 5 or 8 other synthesizers all patched together, talking to one another, at times ignoring one another. Funnily enough the Serge appeared more on Sets and Lights than on Par Avion…

The Roland SH101 appears to be one of your favourite instruments; what is it about is versatility / limitations that makes it an important part of the XENO & OAKLANDER sound?

The SH101s – we have 5 – for me, are used simply as controller keyboards to play either the Serge, 2600s, Eurorack system etc., and Liz largely uses them for atmospherics, noise percussion, and auxiliary bass overtones. The SH101’s greatness lies in the fact that it is so lightweight, and as such, makes touring with a complete analogue synthesizer set-up possible. The clockable arpeggiator and the built-in scratchpad sequencer are added perks.

xeno&oaklander02You’ve acquired a vast number of synths and devices over the years, are there any interesting stories you can tell us with regards some of their little eccentricities and quirks?

I brought the Serge with me to Copenhagen in 2010 as checked-in baggage, and after unpacking it and soundchecking, I realized that the oscillators were as I left them in New York – perfectly tuned.

Is there an instrument you’d like to have that you don’t already own yet?

More Serge modular and maybe a Wersi Alpha DX 300.

You’ve adapted the live set-up to use more modern technology to control the older synths. Did you have any artistic manifesto dilemmas to consider or was it a no-brainer in terms of practicality?

As we want the distinction between studio practice and live performance to collapse as much as possible, physical weight, size and durability become key. For the last three years we have used a hodge podge of eurorack modules fitted into a very portable carrying case. This allows us to match, let’s say, the functionality of the Serge or Roland System 100 in a relatively inexpensive and portable unit. While the manufacturers of yesteryear used higher calibre electronics and materials (military grade circuitry, leather tolex, brushed steel) the simple dimensions and weight of these instruments precludes using them live without a substantial road crew, an army of assistants.

Also within the eurorack format, one can very easily customize and swap out the modules within a case to the needs of the day – MARTIAL CANTEREL uses one grouping of modules, Xeno another. I have toured with the Serge and ARP Odyssey several times – the Serge’s power supply weighs more than the synth itself – however they no longer provide the most bang for what one human being can carry – especially across Europe – trains, planes, automobiles.

xenoSo are you darkwave, synthpop, electro, EDM or minimal synth? Do classifications such as these really matter in the end?

These terms do not matter to me. They are only important for the Historicists and as eBay LP auction keywords. We’ve used the term ‘Minimal Electronics’ over the years to describe our music, although with our new album ‘Par Avion’, the minimal has perhaps changed to maximal.


The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to XENO & OAKLANDER

Special thanks to Steve Malins at Random PR

‘Par Avion’ is released in LP, CD and digital formats by Ghost International. A special edition flesh coloured vinyl version, limited to 350 hand-numbered copies with a rose-scented art perfume insert will be available soon

http://xenoandoaklander.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Xeno-Oaklander/203176001287


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
27th June 2014

The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF 2011

So what did The Electricity Club think was hot back in 2011?

It featured a day in March when THE HUMAN LEAGUE, JOHN FOXX and DURAN DURAN all released new albums, while VILE ELECTRODES launched their debut EP. In a year when the synth pioneers were finally recognised for their valuable contribution to popular culture, here is The Electricity Club’s Top 30 songs of 2011 in alphabetical order by artist:


AUSTRA Spellwork

AUSTRA deliver a stark, baroque form of electronica fuelled by sexual tension. Like a gothic opera which successfully blends light and darkness with fragility and power, Katie Stelmanis and friends borrow the tones of classic DEPECHE MODE and cross it with THE KNIFE for this, their most accessibly brilliant synthpop offering from their debut album. The B-side ‘Indentity’ is a worthy listen too.

Available on the CD ‘Feel It Break’ via Domino/Paper Bag Records

http://www.austramusic.com


TARA BUSCH Rocket Wife

A charity single for The Bob Moog Foundation, if you’ve ever wanted to hear that bizarre sonic other worldiness of GOLDFRAPP’s first album Felt Mountain again, it’s right here on ‘Rocket Wife’. With hints of the eerie classic Star Trek theme, this is really does sound like THE CARPENTERS in outer space! Calling occupants of interplanetary craft, across the universe indeed!

Available on the download EP ‘Rocket Wife’ via The Bob Moog Foundation

http://tarabusch.com/


CURXES The Constructor

CURXES are Brighton duo Macaulay Hopwood and Roberta Fidora. Describing themselves as “a decorative set of bones, channelling the ghosts of discothèques past”, their haunting neo-gothique flavour is quite unique as far as Eurocentric electronic pop music is concerned. This is a fine example of a synth friendly SIOUXSIE SIOUX going on a mutant staccato journey via La Nouvelle Vague crossed with DEPECHE MODE.

Available as a download single via iTunes and Amazon

http://www.curxes.com


DAYBEHAVIOR It’s A Game (MARSHEAUX Remix)

With wonderful riffs and an uplifting chorus, this is delicious electronic pop from the cult Swedish trio of Paulinda Crescentini, Tommy Arell and Carl Hammar. Remixed by Athens synth maidens MARSHEAUX, this has the best of both worlds and could easily be mistaken for Sophie and Marianthi. Paulinda’’s Italo Nordic charm gives ‘It’s A Game’ a distinct Mediterranean flavour.

Available on the download EP ‘It’’s A Game’ via Graplur Records

http://www.daybehavior.com


BETH DITTO Do You Need Someone?

BETH DITTO would probably be the Alison Moyet of modern electro if she didn’t prefer the funky punk of her band GOSSIP. ‘Do You Need Someone?’ sees Ms Ditto’s powerful and passionate yearning adding soul to the sparkling electronic dance groove. With production from SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO, KRAFTWERK’s ‘Computer World’ tones towards the song’s coda are a marvellous touch. A future career as an alternative disco diva beckons.

Available on the CD EP ‘Beth Ditto’ via Deconstruction Records/Sony Music

http://www.gossipyouth.com

http://www.simianmobiledisco.co.ukk


THOMAS DOLBY Spice Train

While Dolby’s album return was largely organic with hints of bluegrass and Americana, its token synthpop offering was the wonderful ‘Spice Train’. Over its hypnotic, squelchy sequence and mechanised dance beat, it gets strangely humanised by a Mariachi horn section. With the kitchen sink and a host of exotic influences thrown in via Bollywood and the Middle East, ‘Spice Train’ does exactly what it says on the tin.

Available on the CD ‘A Map Of The Floating City’ via Lost Toy People.

http://www.thomasdolby.com


DURAN DURAN Being Followed

‘All You Need Is Now’ saw DURAN DURAN cyclically return to the funk-led syncopated pop of their first two albums. ‘Being Followed’ is one of its many highlights. A superb sequencer assisted disco number with a tingling metallic edge, touches of THE CURE’s ‘A Forest’ and Nick Rhodes’ vintage string machine capture the tension of post 9/11 paranoia. Simon Le Bon gives it his all and while he is technically one of the most chronic singers of his generation, he is unique AND untouchable… just try doing any DD song at karaoke to find that one out for yourself!!

Available on the CD ‘All You Need Is Now’ via Tape Modern

www.duranduran.com


LANA DEL REY Blue Jeans (NIKONN remix)

NIKONN’s brand new album ‘Instamatic’ is suitably Mediterranean so add that instrumentation to the voice of raspy New Yorker LANA DEL REY and the end result is a glorious sun-kissed dancefloor moment. Somehow, you end up feeling much happier after dancing to, what is essentially in its original form, a quite stark, heartfelt minor key ballad.

Originally issued as a free download but currently unavailable.

http://www.lanadelrey.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/nikonn/7193878082


SOPHIE ELLIS-BEXTOR Synchronised

From her under rated album ‘Make A Scene’ which includes contributions from Richard X and Armand Van Buuren, the appropriately titled Synchronised is a synthpop tune with a distinct YAZOO flavour to it. All highly appropriate as she supported ERASURE during their forests tour this year. This superbly cements her electro kinship which has been apparent since ‘China Heart’ from her ‘Tripping The Light Fantastic’ in 2007 and more recently on ‘Heartbreak Make Me A Dancer’ with FREEMASONS.

Available on the CD ‘Make A Scene’ via Douglas Valentine Limited

www.sophieellisbextor.net


JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS Watching A Building On Fire

The best track on the ‘Interplay’ album is a co-written duet with Mira Aroyo of LADYTRON. ‘Watching A Building On Fire’, with its chattering drum machine and accessible Trans- European melodies, oozes a synthetic smokiness. Aroyo’s counterpoint is almost playfully feline although Foxx’s inherent dystopianism gives it his stamp, making this a second cousin of ‘Burning Car’. The Andy Gray remix is also a worthy acquisition on the second JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS double CD package ‘The Shape of Things’.

Available on the CD ‘Interplay’ via Metamatic Records

http://blog.johnfoxxandthemaths.com/

www.metamatic.com


GAZELLE TWIN The Eternal

JOY DIVISION’s original on ‘Closer’ was one of the most fragile, funereal collages of beauty ever committed to vinyl but Elizabeth Walling has covered this cult classic and made it even more haunting! Replacing the piano motif with eerily chilling synth and holding it together within an echoing sonic cathedral, she pays due respect while adding her own understated operatic stylings. PAUL YOUNG’s interpretation of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ this most certainly ain’t… you should hear her version of ‘Louie Louie’!

Available on the download EP ‘I Am Shell I Am Bone’ via Anti-Ghost Moon Ray Records

www.gazelletwin.com


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Never Let Me Go

Susanne Sulley does her best LITTLE BOOTS impression with this opener to ‘Credo’, the long awaited comeback album from THE HUMAN LEAGUE. Sounding like ‘Crash’ gone right, it is also auto-tuned to the hilt as Da League go all contemporary with this marvellous slice of electronic funk. Let’s hope it’s not another ten years before there’s new material!

Available on the CD ‘Credo’ via Wall Of Sound

www.thehumanleague.co.uk


IAMAMIWHOAMI Clump

‘Clump’ could be the sound of the drums on OMD’s ‘History Of Modern Part 1’ but it’s actually this kooky little number by IAMAMIWHOAMI aka Jonna Lee. A synthetically charged amalgam with vintage sounds and even a toy piano thrown in, this is a bit brighter than some her contemporaries if still delightfully odd and mysterious. It’s musically more BJORK than FEVER RAY although she does share the same management company with the latter.

Available on the download single ‘Clump’ via iTunes and Amazon

http://www.facebook.com/pages/iamamiwhoami/270417754335


IAMX Ghosts Of Utopia

IAMX have captured an electro Gothic aesthetic that combines the theatrics of Weimar Cabaret with themes of sex, alienation and dependency in the best tradition of DEPECHE MODE and NINE INCH NAILS. Despite the lyrical and aural fervor, Corner’s songs are strongly melodic with an accessible grandeur. The superb lead single ‘Ghosts Of Utopia’ from new album ‘Volatile Times’ has instant appeal with its exhilarating mechanical drive and electrickery. His scream of “this is psychosis” is wholly believable! Dance in the dark!

Available on the CD ‘Volatile Times’ via Republic of Music/BMG

http://iamxmusic.com/


LADYTRON Mirage

Flautist textures dominate the more sedate pace of ‘Mirage’ almost as a reaction to the loudness war of previous album ‘Velocifero’. Helen Marnie’s voice beautifully suits the synthetic atmospherics while the widescreen, spacious mix compliments a catchy tune that has hints of SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES. Although confusing some of their fans, given room to explore, ‘Gravity The Seducer’ is that under rated album which will be hailed as a classic in years to come.

Available on the CD ‘Gravity The Seducer’ via Nettwerk Productions

http://www.ladytron.com


MAISON VAGUE Synthpop’s Alive

Maison Vague-SynthpopsAlive-cover

Living in a dream since 1983 and as a homage to ‘The Pleasure Principle’, MAISON VAGUE mainman Clark Stiefel responded musically to a YouTube video entitled ‘Synthpop Is Dead’. The opening salvo is brilliant and the lyric of “Everyone’s entitled to opinion, you have yours and well I have mine” hits home. But it’s the retort of “And though it seems that our opinions differ, you’ll agree in time!” that says it all. This could be the sound of PLACEBO gone electro. This post-Synth Britannia battlecry has heart, soul and humour.

Available on the download album ‘Synthpop’s Alive’ via Amazon

http://www.maisonvague.com


MIRRORS Secrets

Closing MIRRORS’ outstanding ‘Lights & Offerings’ long player, ‘Secrets’ shifting phat bass riff across two octaves is pure Kling Klang, driven by an intense percussive march. An epic at over ten minutes in length and split into three movements, the ambient interlude of the second section consists of an aural sculpture that plays with the mind. It then suddenly reprises with a piercing military tattoo for its finale with unsettling voices in your head for some added claustrophobic edge.

Available on the CD ‘Lights & Offerings’ via Skint Entertainment

https://www.facebook.com/theworldofmirrors/


MOBY Be The One

Yes, MOBY has settled into a formula but he does it well. One of the more immediate tracks from the excellent ‘Destroyed’ album, ‘Be The One’ is full of rich layered synth strings with moody chordial sweeps over a motorik beat and textured vocoder. Despite the simplistic robotic couplet “I was the hell that you needed – I was the one when you needed love”, it strangely exudes warmth and emotion.

Available on the CD ‘Destroyed’ via Little Idiot Records

http://www.moby.com


NIGHTLIFE On The Run

From their second EP Radio, Darin Rajabian and Caroline Myrick met at a party in Michigan and soon developed their interest in dreamy danceable synthpop. With Caroline’s soft vocals attached to Darin’s classic electro disco inspired backing, ‘On The Run’ could be described as ELLIE GOULDING gone right and is free of folkisms. Caroline nicely summed up the escapist feel of the song with: “I want back the soft quiet days of ever, when there was lemonade and sand, and rainy screen doors and sad movies; when the minutes were no one else’s but ours”.

Available on the download EP ‘Radio’ via their website

http://nightlifepop.com/


GARY NUMAN The Fall

Anthemic gothic rock is what the former Gary Webb deals in these days but ‘The Fall’ is a lot less heavier and one-dimensional than the offerings on previous album ‘Jagged’. With a fair smattering of synths too, this achieves a much better sonic balance and GARY NUMAN’s most accessible number in years.

Available on the CD ‘Dead Son Rising’ via Mortal Records

www.numan.co.uk


QUEEN OF HEARTS Spanish Sahara

This mysterious young royal with her assorted headgear and couture is modern electropop’s own Queen Amidala. From a galaxy far, far away and light years ahead of the poptastic competition, this moody, pulsing cover of indie rockers THE FOALS is transformed by a hypnotism textured with spacious synths to give our Queenie room for some sexy breathiness.

Available on the download EP ‘The Arrival’

www.iamqueenofhearts.com


SECTION 25 Colour, Movement, Sex & Violence

Best known for their seminal electro classic ‘Looking From A Hilltop’ in 1984, the song’s husband and wife vocalists Larry Cassidy and Jenny Ross have sadly since passed away. So it was highly appropriate that for SECTION 25’s recorded return, fronting the former punks would be Larry and Jenny’s daughter Bethany. She does a fine job with this danceable synth led ditty which captures that classic hedonistic Manchester vibe that recalls THE OTHER TWO’s ‘Tasty Fish’ while also placing itself in contemporary club culture.

Available on the download EP ‘Invicta’ via Fac 51 The Hacienda

www.section25.com


SOFT METALS Eyes Closed

SOFT METALS are a newish electro duo comprising Patricia Hall and Ian Hicks. Now resident in Los Angeles, they have an accessibly minimal sound with Hall’s pretty vocals being a particular delight and reminiscent of DOT ALLISON’s flirtatious aura. ‘Eyes Closed’ is probably the highlight from their very promising debut album, elements of ORBITAL creeping into the danceable bleep fest.

Available on the CD ‘Soft Metals’ via Captured Tracks

www.facebook.com/softmetals


THE SOUND OF ARROWS Longest Ever Dream

Stefan Storm and Oskar Gullstrand hail from Gavle in Sweden. Both filmic and musical elements are important factors in THE SOUND OF ARROWS. Produced by Richard X and featuring a sweet guest vocal from ACTION BIKER aka Sarah Nyberg Pergament, the choral patches and the symphonic templates are just so reminiscent of OMD. Coupled to some fantastically optimistic ambition, Longest Ever Dream is a panoramic joy!

Available on the CD ‘Voyage’ via Skies Above

www.thesoundofarrows.com


TENEK What Do You Want?

Featuring violin by Chris Payne from The GARY NUMAN Experience, ‘What Do You Want?’ is the first TENEK track that could be described as possessing a degree of beauty. The Brtish duo’s more rousing anthemic style takes a breather here and although this has more in common with their other ballad track ‘The Art Of Evasion’, the subtlety and strings add a new sonic dimension to the developing TENEK sound.

Available on the CD ‘EP2’ via Toffeetones Records

www.tenek.info


TIGER BABY Landscapes

TIGER BABY are a Copehagen trio led by Pernille Pang with Benjamin Teglbjærg and Nikolaj Tarp Gregersen in synthetic support. They released their debut album ‘Noise Around Me’ in 2007. Stylistically, this has all the unmistakeable melodic sensibility that Scandinavian pop acts seem to naturally possess as pretty arpeggios and wispy vocals combine for some dream laden electro.

Available on the CD ‘Open Windows Open Hills’ via Gunhero records

http://www.tigerbaby.dk


VILE ELECTRODES My Sanctuary

VILE ELECTRODES are a colourful beat combo who combine analogue synths with fetish fashion. Their sound could be described as THE SMITHS reincarnated as CLIENT but ‘My Sanctuary’, the closing track on their debut EP is a sweeping moody epic that recalls imperial phase ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK. Anais resigned melancholic vocal gives that ice maiden demeanour over glorious symphonic synth strings and deep sombre tones. It’s magnificence embroiled.

Available on the CD EP ‘Vile Electrodes’

www.facebook/vileelectrodes


WHITE LIES Strangers

They’re the 21st Century equivalent of THE TEARDOP EXPLODES but with no brass. WHITE LIES however are much more bombastic with synths carrying melodies and assorted effects. Driven by a sweeping theme and deep bass thud before leading to a sense of urgency in the verse, a thoroughly anthemic chorus doesn’t appear until halfway to increase tension. This is possibly what TX could have sounded like if Julian Cope hadn’t gone to live under a tortoise shell!

Available on the CD ‘Ritual’ via Fiction/Polydor Records

www.whitelies.com


XENO & OAKLANDER The Staircase

Chugging arpeggios, clattering primitive drum machines and slightly unorthodox vocals, minimal duo XENO & OAKLANDER give a brilliantly vibrant offering of vintage futurism. ‘The Staircase’ is their most immediate offering yet. Based in Brooklyn, part of their authentic Europeanism comes from Liz Wendelbo’s wispy French / Norwegian charm. Writing with partner Sean McBride since 2004, they successfully supported JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS in October where they were warmly received for their stark electronic sound.

Available on the CD ‘Sets & Lights’ via Wierd Records

http://xenoandoaklander.com/


ZEBRA & SNAKE Empty Love Song

Those dark Nordic nights certainly have their effect as this cynical tune from this Finnish duo indicates. Comprising helpfully of two friends Tapio and Matti, ZEBRA & SNAKE fuse vintage electronics with a touch of ambient dexterity as an “artistic form of therapy”. ‘Empty Love Song’ is suitably bittersweet and sounds a bit like MGMT’s ‘Time To Pretend’ after six months in deep freeze! However, despite its lyrical stance, it possesses a grand anthemic quality.

Available as a free download from http://soundcloud.com/freeman-pr/zebra-snake-empty-love-song

www.zebraandsnake.com


Text by Chi Ming Lai
21st December 2011, updated 14th March 2017

Introducing SOFT METALS

SOFT METALS are a snappy new duo comprising of Patricia Hall on vocals / synths and Ian Hicks on synths / drum machines / programming / sequencing.

Originally from Portland, Oregon but now resident in Los Angeles, on first impression they may be considered part of the Minimal Wave, but perhaps have a more immediate sound than say XENO & OAKLANDER.

Compared with other North American duos, they are maybe also a bit shinier than CRYSTAL CASTLES. But that’s not to say SOFT METALS don’t have much weightier influences as their affectionate cover of THROBBING GRISTLE’’s ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ proves. They released their first EP The Cold World Melts in 2010.

Armed with an arsenal of cool vintage synths such as the Sequential Pro One, Micromoog, Korg Mono/Poly and Roland Juno 60 as well as modern ones such as the Dave Smith Mopho, SOFT METALS aren’t afraid to occasionally crossover into pop. ‘Eyes Closed’ is probably the highlight from their promising debut album, elements of ORBITAL and DERRICK MAY creeping into the rugged squelch ‘n’ bleep framework. Meanwhile, the marvellous ‘Voices’ is five and a half minutes of synthetically charged joy, dripping with cute and bubbly romance.

The brilliantly titled ‘Psychic Driving’ has Hicks’ soundtrack hypnotically pulsing away while his riffs and Hall’s angelic tones complement this delicious ditty. The widely processed chorals on ‘Celestial Call’ add a humanic touch to an atmospheric beat instrumental while ‘The Cold World Melts’ is their calling card, industrialised European electronics and a slightly unsettling vocal sent into a melodic dreamlike state like a less Teutonic GINA X.

With ‘Do You Remember?’, there’’s wonderfully doom laden but appealing electronic disco a la SECTION 25’’s ‘Looking From A Hilltop’. At times, Patricia Hall flirtatious demeanour even sounds like DOT ALLISON in her ONE DOVE days.

Throughout the collection, the Roland TR family of Rhythm Composers happily clatter away for an enjoyable percussive template, proving that darkness can be fun and without necessarily the need to practice witchcraft. Although several of their other tracks are a touch repetitive, SOFT METALS are ideal for those who like to listen to music in an unlit room, but happily tap their foot incessantly at the same time while unsure whether to get up and dance!


SOFT METALS eponymous debut album is available now on Captured Tracks as a CD and download

https://www.facebook.com/SOFTMETALS

http://soundcloud.com/soft-metals


Text by Chi Ming Lai
6th December 2011

On Tour with JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS

JOHN FOXX’s first concert tour for several years captured the hearts of loyal electro heads and the curious alike.

Featuring the album ‘Interplay’, his most accessible and critically acclaimed body of work since ‘Metamatic’, the show delivered a mechanised charm while simultaneously adding a humanic warmth.

Ably assisted by Chief Mathematician Ben Edwards aka Benge with stylish synth girls Serafina Steer and Hannah Peel, classic and new songs were combined as the welcome live return of ‘A New Kind of Man’ and ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ blended in perfectly with the Trans-European dystopia of ‘Watching A Building On Fire’ and the futuristic folk of ‘Evergreen’.

JOHN FOXX means different things to different people, so longtime followers stood side-by-side with the newly-converted.

Tapio Normall remembers discovering the one-time Dennis Leigh as an impressionable teenager in Finland: “It is actually a small wonder that I started to like JOHN FOXX. Radio didn’t play his songs, Finnish music magazines didn’t write about him and where I lived, there were no English music papers available. My friend’s sister had a compilation album called Modern Dance. It had ‘Europe After The Rain’ that was where I heard a JOHN FOXX song the first time. A few months later I saw the ‘Dancing Like A Gun’ video on TV and after that I was sure this is my thing”.

Thirty years on, Tapio says: “Today I like JOHN FOXX more than ever and I’ve been lucky to meet him few times”. Although arrays of vintage equipment were present during previous one-off shows at The Roundhouse and The Troxy, mobilisation for a European tour dictated a more practical rather than wholly artistic approach.

Foxx was leading his young crew from behind his Roland PC300 controller like a veteran ship’s captain while in the engine room, Benge primarily played the distinctive Simmons SDS5 hexagonal pads over various Roland CR78/TR808 and LinnDrum patterns while occasionally turning to a variety of other devices.

The marvellous ARP Omni MkI string machine was delicately handled by Serafina Steer who also had an Alesis Micron at her disposal. It was April 2010 when PULP’s Jarvis Cocker said her album ‘Change Is Good Change Is Good’ was “Probably my favourite album of the year so far”. Since then, she has become a mainstay of JOHN FOXX’s band. Stage left, new addition Hannah Peel had that ubiquitous female friendly modelling synth in the MicroKorg plus a Roland JX3P. At Manchester Academy 4, John von Ahlen was a keen observer of their live presentation: “Tonight it was really a band performance, with only minimal instrumentation coming from the backing track. Benge had a headset which fed him the click-track and backing, whilst the rest of the band performed the music live…”

Martin Swan is a member of newish combo VILE ELECTRODES; an analogue synth expert who was part of the project team who curated the Oramics To Electronica exhibition at the Science Museum, he gave some interesting thoughts while at one of the London XOYO shows: “They’ve obviously slimmed down the set-up from before and I think they’ve made some very astute decisions about what it’s important to take. It was interesting to see they’re using virtual analogues onstage – the MicroKorg and Serafina’s Alesis Micron – they were presumably picked specifically because they were small…”

He also added: “Most importantly however, it didn’t seem to make a big difference sonically: Sound wise I don’t think it affected the quality, although I think Benge was playing some stuff off his laptop… cheat ­ haha! They were obviously using some live pedals and grungy effects which always helps a lot to take the digital edge off modern synths”

He also has some thoughts about the transportation logistics: “In terms of touring with some of the older stuff, the JX3P that Hannah Peel used is a fairly sturdy beast. My main hope is that they have a decent flight case for the ARP Omni!” That particular antique is rumoured to be of at least 1976 vintage so would be expected to have a degree of fragility but according to Martin: “Maybe surprisingly, old kit often stands up to tours very well because it’s made of wood and metal, rather than plastic! I’m not sure that some of the synths being made today will be on the road in 30 years time. I’m glad I’m not their roadie though…”

So this jaunt was a much more streamlined set-up with no film projections and focussing as a playing unit. Organic tensions were provided by Serafina Steer’s bass guitar and the VU-like bowed embellishments of Hannah Peel.

A solo artist in her own right, in 2010 she released the Rebox EP on Static Caravan which included musicbox covers of synth laden classics such as ‘Tainted Love’, ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘Electricity’.

With her own ‘Organ Song’ being sampled by OMD for ‘Bondage of Fate’ and her inclusion in the band line-up, Peel’s reputation has certainly been enhanced by the endorsement of such Synth Britannia luminaries.

The live components came together like a fusion of LADYTRON and ULTRAVOX with Peel and Steer also providing Mira and Helen styled backing vox to compliment Foxx’s own distinct tones. Meanwhile, Benge’s analogue percussive snaps, Steer’s bass and Peel’s violin (particularly on the ‘Metamatic’-era material such as ‘Plaza’, ‘He’s A Liquid’ and ‘Burning Car’) indicated how these songs could have sounded had Foxx not parted ways with Messrs Cann, Cross and Currie back in 1979.

London’s XOYO in Shoreditch played host to two shows presented by Artrocker magazine with different support acts on each night.

On the first date, TARA BUSCH, described by JOHN FOXX himself as a cross between “Karen Carpenter, Nico and Doris Day on a Moog” did exactly that as Richard Price found out: “She started her set with THE CARPENTERS cover Rainy Days & Sundays, it came across as nice and soft on gently played out synth”.

Her set, which also included her marvellous Bob Moog Foundation charity single ‘The Rocket Wife’, impressed Tapio Normall: “I liked TARA BUSCH and her one woman show. Her gig reminded me of how THOMAS DOLBY started and look where he is now; in Suffolk. No really… TARA BUSCH’s small scale live show was engaging thing to hear and see”.

Meanwhile Brighton’s GAZELLE TWIN aka Elizabeth Walling was a different kettle of fish altogether: “Wow, what can I say? Just dark but done well” said Richard Price, “she sings really well in an almost operatic style. The band had these finger LED lights on which worked very well in the almost total darkness of the act”. Tapio Normall, who has just about seen it all on his musical travels, commented “she was maybe the strangest thing I have seen and I’ve seen some quite odd stuff! GAZELLE TWIN’s most unusual look and haunting songs are something else. You don’t confuse them with your average rock ‘n’ pop act”!

The second London gig featured the acclaimed XENO & OAKLANDER who have just released their third album ‘Sets & Lights’. They were particularly impressive, literally fighting on stage to keep their array of vintage and virtual gear operating in unison. Tapio Normall remarked “they were a very appropriate support band. A friend of mine said they sound like early BERLIN. Is that true? I wouldn’t know but my impression of XENO & OAKLANDER was positive”.

VILE ELECTRODES lead singer Anais Neon noticed the platform Foxx had given female electronic musicians to perform, both in his band and as support: “In the past, girls in electronic music were often just a pretty face fronting someone else’s music, so it’s great seeing women on stage manning the synths (no pun intended) and being multi-instrumentalists just as well as their male counterparts”.

So have music fans finally cottoned onto the idea of female friendly synthesis? Anais certainly thinks the genre has been slow to respond: “For such a futuristic and forward thinking style of music, popular electronic music has really lagged behind guitar driven music in terms of girls being properly at the helm. Although women have long had a lead role in avant garde electronic music: think Daphne Oram, Laurie Anderson, Delia Derbyshire etc but, for some reason, popular electro missed the boat. More women and more synths, I say!”

And at the final London show, the tremendous reaction from the audience rose to being particularly ecstatic at the end. One thing that must be celebrated is how respectful and knowledgeable fans of JOHN FOXX are.

No inappropriate whooping during quiet sections of the show, chit-chat during the more esoteric material or lack of appreciation of the imperial, pioneering back catalogue. When the fanbases of several Synth Britannia-era acts are reduced to nostalgia freaks whose only interests are drunken singalongs to greatest hits and the lead singer’s trouser content, JOHN FOXX is proof of how the elder statesman’s role can be carried forward with dignity.

At the height of his powers by delivering possibly his best ever live set and new material that is equal to his most regarded work, JOHN FOXX is in an enviable position.

And as one of electronic music’s father figures, rather than dismissing the new breed of synthesizer based artists for their apparent lack of integrity as some of his peers have done, Foxx has actually had them share the stage with him or become part of his band.

One thing that is not normally talked about with JOHN FOXX is his humanity; “He’s a man with a very expressive face, you might say he’s one of those people who has grown more distinguished as he’s grown older. As a photographer I find this fascinating” said Mike Cooper, “Foxx was massively influential on electronic music’s development, up there and in fact in earlier than some of the other Synth Britannia pioneers such as THE HUMAN LEAGUE, GARY NUMAN and THE NORMAL – ‘Metamatic’ had sounds, songs, and an aesthetic that would be influential on synthpop, minimal wave, EBM, industrial, and eventually techno…”

Continuing his ever prolific creative spurt of the last decade, available on this tour was the new JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS album ‘The Shape Of Things’ which features starker, reflective material that didn’t fit into the overall pop concept of ‘Interplay’. On it, ‘Rear View Mirror’ and ‘Unrecognised’ are perhaps the most immediate tracks with their pulsing hypnotics.

The deluxe edition includes a bonus CD of remixes with two highlights being Andy Gray’s superb reworks of ‘Watching A Building On Fire’ and ‘Interplay’. Also worthy of mention are XENO & OAKLANDER’s take on ‘Evergreen’ and ‘Where You End & I Begin’, a collaboration with TARA BUSCH. So as this tour of JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS proves, the link between past, present and future in electronic music is the healthiest it has ever been.


Special thanks to Steve Malins at Random and all who contributed their valued recollections of the tour.

‘The Shape Of Things’‘ is released by Metamatic Records

http://www.johnfoxxandthemaths.com/

http://www.metamatic.com

http://playstudios.carbonmade.com/

http://serafinasteer.com/

http://www.hannahpeel.com/

http://tarabusch.com/

http://gazelletwin.com/

http://xenoandoaklander.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Richard Price, Mike Cooper, Chi Ming Lai and Ed Fielding
16th November 2011