Paul Boddy is a regular contributor to TEC who also has a double life as a successful producer whose credits have included MELANIE C, ARASHI and ECHOBEATZ; he also performs in the DEPECHE MODE tribute band SPEAK & SPELL.
Meanwhile, Adam Cresswell is better known via his alter-ego of RODNEY CROMWELL whose long player ‘Age Of Anxiety’ was a critic’s favourite in 2015; his previous bands have included ARTHUR & MARTHA and SALOON.
Last but not least is Rob Green, the frontman of synth combo THE DEPARTMENT whose debut album ‘Alpha’ was released in last year; he also presents ‘The Synth Wave Show’ on Artfefaktor Radio and has hosted several festivals around the country.
Together, they chewed the fat over a number of varied questions posed by TEC’s chief editor Chi Ming Lai…
2016 saw the climax of JEAN-MICHEL JARRE’s collaborative ‘Electronica’ project with a huge world tour. Was it an artistic success and if you were to undertake an EP of a similar concept, which acts would you want to collaborate with?
Adam: Whether it was a success or not, I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t there, but I’m sure it was good with lasers, fireworks, jugglers and all the stuff you would expect! Collaborations don’t excite me though, I’m not a solo artist for nothing! It’s like DAVID BOWIE and QUEEN, KYLIE and ROBBIE WILLIAMS, all that sort of stuff! UGH! I can’t think of anyone I’d like to collaborate with, I wouldn’t do it!
Rob: I didn’t see him live, but there are some great collaborations on the albums like ‘Here For You’ with GARY NUMAN. Because he’s such a historical hero and can still do it, pretty much anyone will work with JEAN-MICHEL JARRE. The results are good and there’s no harm in it.
Paul: I enjoyed the Jarre show, it was my gig of the year. My choices for collaborations would be Annie Lennox, Liz Fraser, Morrissey… *laughter all round*
I would love to have Morrissey in studio full of synths just to wind him up! I would also pick Bernard Sumner and Alison Moyet. With this whole collaboration thing, I would love Vince Clarke to revisit THE ASSEMBLY with different vocalists. He’s been really loyal to Andy Bell with ERASURE, but I think he works best when he’s with different people, I think it would reinvigorate him…the track he did with Jarre was good and I think personally, he could do more of that.
KRAFTWERK are undertaking a major tour in the UK in 2017. Are they relevant anymore and have they been over-intellectualised now, particularly by the dance fraternity?
Rob: KRAFTWERK are a franchise now essentially and they’ll probably be going on after Ralf Hütter leaves us. It’s an amazing, technical show… is it dancentric? They’re closer to Techno so I can see why they’ve been intellectualised so much. I think they’re very important because I don’t think most of us would be here if it wasn’t for them.
Paul: For me, they’re like my equivalent of THE ROLLING STONES or THE BEATLES, they’re that important. What’s not in their favour is they’ve not done anything new for quite a while now, but their saving grace is their 3D show…
…but observers might argue the point that JEAN-MICHEL JARRE has jumped ahead of them with the 3D effects in his show, which don’t require the use of 3D glasses?
Paul: I dunno… what Jarre is trying to do, it’s like an EDM type show which works really well. I still think KRAFTWERK are relevant. TANGERINE DREAM are still going with no original members so as Rob said, KRAFTWERK will carry on. Ralf Hütter’s dream was always to send off a load of robots to do the tour instead and I’m sure it probably will happen. Someone will replace Ralf and KRAFTWERK will keep going…
Adam: I still think KRAFTWERK are relevant. When I think of some of the average bands that reform these days, KRAFTWERK had such a big effect longitudinally. In terms of the current thing, well I saw ‘Tour De France’ and of the Tate Modern shows and they were both interesting because one was promoting a new album and the other had the 3D thing. I don’t think they’re doing anything new this time though, it’s the greatest hits in 3D…I saw ‘The Phantom Menace’ in 3D and that didn’t improve anything!
I’m not part of the dance fraternity, but I am one of the people who have over-intellectualised them as I’ve read five KRAFTWERK books… and if people keep buying books about them, they’re going to be intellectualised, the market is there for that!
Paul: My glimmer of hope is that they’ve got a new producer on board for the album who will take them out of their comfort zone. I think the live stuff will be pretty much more of the same and I’ve not got high hopes for it.
Although I’m in a DEPECHE MODE tribute band, I’m one of these people who are bitterly disappointed about what they’ve become; they’re not the band that I fell in love with.
Adam: There’s lots of people who want four guys with synthesizers and a drum machine… if you’re expecting them to be like how they were at Crocs in Raleigh, you’re going to be solely disappointed. They’re playing stadiums, they want to put on a big show and if they want to play with a live drummer, I respect them for it. They are making the music they want to make. If you don’t like it, don’t go! Get a ticket to see something else! I’m not going to go!
Rob: If anyone wants Adam’s ticket, just send me an email *laughter all round*
DEPECHE MODE are one of my favourite bands, I saw them in Gothenburg in 2014 and it was a superb show, it didn’t disappoint at all, they can still pull it off live, there is no question about that. Next time I see them will be in London at a little place that was the Olympic Stadium. I hope that will have an element of the ‘101’ atmosphere and have some really energy and electricity about it. I think The Devotees are likely to be disappointed because I think they’re hankering for something from the past. If you love DEPECHE MODE, their best work is considered to be in the 80s and early 90s; Devotees are going to be judging it by the very best, so whatever DM come up with, it may be a bit disappointing for them. I really hope not.
Five years on from the ‘Drive’ soundtrack, synth wave appears to have made an impact as a sub-genre with the series ‘Stranger Things’. Will this be possibly the saving grace for electronic music away from dance?
Rob: It depends what you term as ‘synth wave’. To me, synth wave is like synthpop, pop made with synths but with a darker edge which has deeper meaning and soul to it. However, synth wave in the ‘Drive’ and ‘Stranger Things’ sense is about film music. It’s shone a light on electronic music that’s nothing to do with dance music which is a good thing.
Paul: What’s good about much of synth wave is that it’s instrumental; it gets away from the potentially dodgy vocals which get strapped onto a lot of electropop stuff, which for me is a deal breaker. A lot of this stuff is really well produced. I’m a big fan of PERURBATOR and DAN TERMINUS but what’s odd about them is that they’re on a heavy metal label. For some odd reason, metal fans are getting into synth wave and I can’t quite get my head around that! I went to a PERURBATOR gig and half the crowd were long haired metal fans… they were head banging to synth music, which is really quite bizarre! It’s easy to stereotype synth wave as being the stuff from ‘Drive’, but a lot of it has edge and is really good. And it’s not particularly dance music, it’s not techno, it’s in a middle ground in that it follows some of the rules of synthpop. It’s a good thing to have around.
Rob: But what I would hate synth wave to become is another dance sub-genre, which it could so easily do. I saw someone do a tutorial titled ‘How To Make Synth Wave’, that’s what makes it become like painting by numbers and then it becomes an electronic/dance fad..
Adam: I agree with all of that. I really the ‘Stranger Things’ soundtrack and the TV series; is it going to be the saving grace of electronic music? NO! I don’t think one album or one band can ever save a scene or the industry. There’s an awful lot more that needs to be done.
Rob: Yeah, it would be something by THE CURE like ‘Faith’ or ‘Seventeen Seconds’. I love THE CURE and I think the songs on those albums would lend themselves to electronic production.
Adam: I don’t really like doing cover versions! You either do a good song and potentially ruin it, or you do something crap hoping you can make it better but equally, it might end up being just as bad! I’ve done a couple of covers this year and I deliberately choose things that suit my limited vocal range. So maybe I’d do an album by THE FALL or ‘Alpha’ by THE DEPARTMENT! Only joking Rob! *laughs*
Paul: Most classic albums, I wouldn’t touch. Some albums should be left alone. So maybe ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ by PINK FLOYD in an electronic sort of way…that would be completely off the wall!
Butlins recently had its ‘Electric Dreams’ weekender which put classic acts like OMD, HEAVEN 17, BLANCMANGE and MARC ALMOND with newer acts like MARSHEAUX and AVEC SANS on the same bill…has this event model has been a long time coming, what are your views?
It’s good they’re doing stuff like this for synth based music; the only thing I will say is there needs to be a few grass roots bands on the line-up. I mean, if MARSHEAUX who have done five albums are the indie representative??
There needs to be some young talent, like a Max Verstappen of synthpop coming through…Electric Dreams, if you’re reading this, give me a call! *laughs*
Paul: My standpoint is that where people try to do festivals like Alt-Fest, it sounded like it was too good to be true, and it was! And the Vintage Festival thing, while it was a good line-up, I don’t think there’s a market to put on an event with quite niche electronic bands. Of course, we’re all getting a bit older so the Butlins scenario kind of works. It’s not a bad model to try and follow, as it fits the age range of the demographic that would go to it. Yeah, go to see some bands at Butlins and get the accommodation thrown in.
Rob: It’s a great idea, it’s like The Southport Weekender of the electronic scene and I hope it goes onto bigger and better things. If it could involve more newer acts in equal measure as the classic established ones, then great.
Adam: The feedback was that AVEC SANS owned the weekend apparently, how do you feel about that Chi?
I’ve struggled with AVEC SANS, they were first pitched to me three years ago. I did ask other people in case I’d missed something, but they felt the same. I’m always willing to listen again because acts can get better… after all, there have been some acts featured on TEC that weren’t covered with their first two releases… anyway which new acts are interesting you at the moment?
Paul: I’m terribly fussy with new music and hard to please but I like BATTLE TAPES, they’ve been my favourite band for the last year. I like how they can do the rock stuff but integrate great electronic elements as well. They know their stuff and their debut album ‘Polygon’ is outstanding for its songwriting and production. They can also cut it live and integrate a drummer with electronics.
I like PERTURBATOR as well but doesn’t work so well live. VOX LOW are an intriguing new French act; they’re more experimental and take elements like JOY DIVISION like the live bass and integrate it with electronics and dance stuff. I’ve got high hopes for them.
Adam: I’ve been listening to COMPUTER MAGIC from New York, a lot she’s a female solo act who does synth stuff. She had a really good album out last year called ‘Davos’ and a great EP this year. Of the more grass rootsy stuff, there’s RÉMI PARSON who does this Factory synthy thing in French and a band called VIEON who are geeky computer guys with those guitar synth things. But a lot of my favourite stuff with electronics has been more German-influenced Krautrocky, psychedelic stuff or darker electronic things like PYE CORNER AUDIO, ESSAIE PAS, VANISHING TWIN and CAMERA… yeah, they’re spelt with a ‘C’ which makes them really hard to find on Google! *laughs*
Rob: One act who really sticks out for me is GUNSHIP, a duo from the UK. They have some amazing songs like ‘Tech Noir’. They’ve got this new album out on vinyl, and you know how much I like vinyl… *laughs*
Rob: Yeah… anyway, there’s NINA who I think is a fantastic new artist, VILLA NAH whose album ‘Ultima’ you introduced me to and I’m loving. There’s also MICHAEL OAKLEY who another solo synth wave artist, KNIGHTS and there’s more, I could go on and on…
TEC is continually critical of posh boy journalists that can’t tell their tape recorders from their drum machines who seem to have a presence in the music press… a TEC insider recently confirmed that said ‘posh boy’ has no real interest in electronic music and is just following where he thinks the money is… how does this affect the credibility of any press for the genre?
Rob: Any attention helps, but if there’s more journalists writing for the wrong reasons, in a sense it helps because all ships rise in high tides…
…but this particular journalist keeps giving out five star reviews; they get dished out A LOT and I think if you saw too many five star reviews, the credibility of the writing has to be questioned?
Rob: On the one hand, any attention is good, but bad journalism in the long term is not good and the credibility sinks.
Paul: For me, the cardinal sin of journalism is being uneducated. I’m quite new to writing and reviewing so it has been a rite of passage being with The Electricity Club. There’s always going to be someone who knows more than you know, particularly with the advent of social media. Back in the day, it was different but now… I’ve done articles where people have queried dates and stuff, it can be tricky but you have to get your facts rights. At least with electronic media, you can correct stuff if you do go wrong…
…yes, but there’s a difference between getting a year wrong by a few months and failing to identify a known fact, something that was central to an act’s formation?
Rob: I started off many years back as a music journalist in a small way, and you end up reviewing things that you don’t have much of a grasp on. You can’t like every genre but you just have to do your best. But if you’re focussing on a genre, you should know what you’re talking about.
Adam: I think artists moaning about the music press makes you sound like those Jeremy Corbyn fans constantly moaning about the mainstream media! As an artist, it’s not something I feel comfortable talking about. I think the issue is integrity, because that’s really what this question is about. We all have a responsibility to act with integrity because it rubs off on the whole of the scene and the whole of the industry.
For example bands should stop buying fake Facebook likes, promoters should actually promote gigs and artists should not get arsey with sound engineers when things don’t go their way. I’ve certainly seen a lot of that this year. We can’t all get it right all the time, but we have a responsibility to the fans and each other to at least act with integrity.
I could talk for ages about how the music industry has been ruined by metrics based approaches; where these numbers which can be manipulated are used in deciding who is good and who is bad. I’ve supported artists this year where they brought one person to the gig, but they’ve got 2000 Facebook likes. You go and you look and they’ve bought all their likes from Mexico or whatever, and these promoters are just seeing the metrics and the numbers! Where’s the integrity in that? It rubs off badly on everybody because the whole night collapses!
Adam: REALLY? I think some artists are, but not everybody… I could name one band who have bought 50% of their 20,000 likes!
What’s next for each of you and what would you like to happen in 2017 as far as electronic music is concerned?
Adam: I’m concentrating on my Happy Robots label next year and hoping to get a compilation out. I’m trying to write some new material as well with a new RODNEY CROMWELL EP in 2018 and a new album for release, I kid you not, in January 2021! I’d like to see somebody breakthrough big time in the grass roots scene. But we need more exposure at a national level, that’s the thing that’s really hard to get. I’ve been lucky to get national exposure and it’s really helped me so it would be great if more bands could get that. I’d like to see Rusty Egan getting a show on BBC 6Music; that could make a real difference to everybody.
Paul: Personally, I’m a musical whore and I work on all sorts of different stuff. SPEAK & SPELL have got some exciting stuff happening in 2017 while as a producer, I do a lot of J-Pop and K-Pop stuff but my hope is that DEPECHE MODE might make a half decent album. This one’s not been a classic year for electronic music by any stretches of the imagination, but there’s been some glimmers to keep it going. I’m hoping 2017 will be a better year and that not so many of our heroes will die, it’s been a been sh*tty from that point of view
Rob: My plans for 2017 are a new EP from THE DEPARTMENT and I’ve got Synth Wave Live on Saturday 1st April. It’s a new London festival to celebrate Artefaktor Radio’s first anniversary and to reflect station founder Renato Moyssén’s contribution to build this movement up.
It’ll feature NINA, NEON LINES, SOFTWAVE, STEVEN JONES & LOGAN SKY, TINY MAGNETIC PETS, BATTERY OPERATED ORCHESTRA, SOL FLARE, THE DEPARTMENT, BRUTALISTARCHITECTURE IN THE SUN, MECHANICAL CABARET, NATURE OF WIRES and COUNTESS M plus DJ sets from Mark Jones and Rob Harvey. You can get tickets at https://www.wegottickets.com/event/377517
With thanks to Paul Boddy, Adam Cresswell and Rob Green
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
12th December 2016