Artist collaborations can be seen in several ways.
They are either a chance to take the best elements of great bands to form an even greater supergroup, or as has happened in many cases, there is a watering down of prime concepts which results in a fragmented mess of little interest to anyone.
So here are 25 artist collaborations that actually worked; the list is restricted to one song per main act, defined as being the one who released the parent album.
That means PET SHOP BOYS, who have been among the most ubiquitous and willing of conspirators, get to appear as themselves and as guests of ELECTRONIC and DAVID BOWIE while NEW ORDER’s Bernard Sumner appears as part ELECTRONIC, while also moonlighting for THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS.
Over more recent years, there appears to have much more freedom for artists to collaborate, notably with SPARKS recently unveiled collaboration with Glasgow based art rockers FRANZ FERDINAND, named rather straightforwardly FFS. And this is reflected by this list here which has a bias towards new millennium recordings, although The Electricity Club is pleased to say, this is a CALVIN HARRIS free zone 😉
SYLVIAN SAKAMOTO Bamboo Houses (1982)
Both David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto were beginning to make their artistic presence felt outside of their respective day jobs in JAPAN and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, and having collaborated previously on ‘Taking Islands in Africa’, another project was always on the cards. ‘Bamboo Houses’ expanded on the electro-acoustic textures of ‘Tin Drum’ over a catchy percussive framework courtesy of Steve Jansen. Sylvian delivered his usual mournful vocal but Sakamoto’s monologue and marimba gave the track that extra ethnic authenticity.
Available on the DAVID SYLVIAN compilation ‘A Victim of Stars 1982-2012’ via Virgin Records
MIDGE URE & MICK KARN After A Fashion (1983)
‘After A Fashion’ was a blistering sonic salvo that crossed the best of JAPAN’s rhythmical art muzak with ULTRAVOX’s ‘The Thin Wall’. However, it stalled at No39 in the UK singles charts and sadly, there was to be no album. But Karn later played on Ure’s ‘Remembrance Day’ in 1988 and Ure briefly joined JBK, the band formally known as JAPAN sans David Sylvian for an aborted project in 1992 that resulted in two songs ‘Cry’ and ‘Get A Life’. Sadly Karn passed away in 2011 after losing his battle against cancer.
Available on the MIDGE URE album ‘The Works’ via Music Club Deluxe
SHARPE & NUMAN Change Your Mind (1985)
Very much seen as the odd couple, the duo’s promotional photos captured the ultimate clash of images; the curly haired jazz funk aficionado with The Iceman! Bill Sharpe was the pianist with jazz fusion group SHAKATAK. Together with their drummer Roger Odell, they had written a piece of computerised electrofunk that needed a vocal. The recording session was engineered by Nick Smith who had also been working with GARY NUMAN. He made the suggestion that the former Mr Webb would be ideally suited to the futuristic backing. ‘Change Your Mind’ reached No17 in the UK.
Available on the SHARPE & NUMAN album ‘Automatic’ via Cherry Pop
LES RITA MITSOUKO & SPARKS Singing In The Shower (1990)
In France, LES RITA MITSOUKO became unlikely pop stars thanks to danceable hit singles such as ‘Marcia Baïla’ and ‘C’est Comme Ça’. Forming in 1979, vivacious singer Catherine Ringer and oddball instrumentalist Fred Chichin were influenced by the eccentric overtures of SPARKS and with a moniker in a similar vein to the Mael Brothers’ breakthrough LP ‘Kimono My House’, an artistic union was almost inevitable. In a perfect collaboration where the two duos were “feeling dirty and feeling clean”, the catchy ‘Singing In The Shower’ was a hit in Europe and featured in the film ‘Black Rain’.
Available on the LES RITA MITSOUKO album ‘Marc & Robert’ via Virgin France
ELECTRONIC featuring PET SHOP BOYS The Patience Of A Saint (1991)
‘The Patience Of A Saint’ from ELECTRONIC’s debut was undoubtedly the highlight of that album. Featuring the involvement of both PET SHOP BOYS, the witty exchange between Bernard Sumner and Neil Tennant was accompanied by a gorgeous backing track of drum machine, swimmy string synth and minimal guitar. Incidentally, the song was premiered in front of 60,000 people when ELECTRONIC, with Tennant and Lowe in tow, supported DEPECHE MODE at Dodger Stadium in August 1990.
Available on the ELECTRONIC album ‘Electronic’ via Warner Music
808 STATE featuring IAN McCULLOCH Moses (1993)
Following the departure of founder member Martin Price, ‘Gorgeous’ was 808 STATE’s first album as a three piece. Featuring early mash-up experiments based around UB40, THE JAM and JOY DIVISION, one of the wholly original compositions though was ‘Moses’, a rare electronically backed outing by Ian McCulloch. Sounding like NEW ORDER with a Scouse snarl, the unusual but enjoyable partnership was the highlight of the album, but it would take a full ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN reunion to get Mac The Mouth back into the limelight again.
Available on the 808 STATE album ‘Gorgeous’ via ZTT Records
ELEKTRIC MUSIC featuring ANDY McCLUSKEY Kissing The Machine (1993)
Recorded for his ELEKTRIC MUSIC project after leaving KRAFTWERK, Karl Bartos’ collaboration with OMD’s Andy McCluskey featured one of his best melodies synth melodies. Bartos told The Electricity Club: “He suggested we do something together and I was up for it… We picked some cassettes and finally I found the opening notes of ‘Kissing The Machine’. A month later he sent me a demo”. With fabulously surreal lyrics about a love affair with a sexy robot, it became a cult favourite. OMD resurrected the song in 2013 for the ‘English Electric’ opus.
Available on the ELEKTRIC MUSIC album ‘Esperanto’ via SPV Records
LEFTFIELD LYDON Open Up (1993)
John Lydon had shown himself to be open to collaboration following 1984’s ‘World Destruction’ as TIME ZONE with electro rap pioneer Afrika Bambaataa. But ‘Open Up’ with the then relatively unknown dance duo LEFTFIELD came as something of a surprise when it emerged in 1993. Lydon was suitably angry as he reflected on the tensions of his adopted home with a screaming “Burn Hollywood, burn!” over an intense, uptempo electronic soundtrack. And in an artistic twist, LEFTFILELD would later work with Afrika Bambaataa as well on ‘Afrika Shox’ in 1999.
Available on the LEFTFIELD album ‘A Final Hit’ via Sony Music
DAVID BOWIE featuring PET SHOP BOYS Hallo Spaceboy (1996)
BLUR’s Alex James once remarked that having a PET SHOP BOYS remix was like having your dog being taken for a walk, but then, when it came back, it was a different dog! Whatever, PET SHOP BOYS certainly re-produced this Bowie/Eno composition from ‘1.Outside’ into a much more commercial proposition, even utilising the cut-up technique to decide which words Neil Tennant would sing. Reaching No12, ‘Hallo Spaceboy’ became Da Dame’s biggest UK hit since ‘Jump They Say’ in 1990!
Available on the DAVID BOWIE album ‘Nothing Has Changed’ via EMI Music
THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS featuring BERNARD SUMNER Out Of Control (1999)
‘Out Of Control’ was THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS’ sonic template actually fulfilling its potential within a song based format with Bernard Sumner as the willing conspirator. With echoes of NEW ORDER’s 12 inch only excursions, ‘Out Of Control’ had everything from a bombastic backbeat and cerebral sequences to bizarre lyrics, especially when Sumner resigned that “maybe my moustache is too much…”. The association with Sumner continued into 2002 when they produced NEW ORDER’s terrific ‘Here To Stay’ for Factory Records biopic ’24 Hour Party People’.
Available on THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS album ‘Singles 93-03’ via Virgin Records
SYSTEM F featuring MARC ALMOND Soul On Soul (2001)
Ferry Corsten had a huge international hit in 1999 with ‘Out Of The Blue’ under his SYSTEM F moniker. It highlighted the spiritual connection between synthpop and trance so to substantiate the link further, the Rotterdam based producer recruited MARC ALMOND to guest on the blinding ‘Soul On Soul’ for a spirited, club friendly workout. This all tied in nicely with SOFT CELL’s comeback album ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ which finally arrived in Autumn 2002.
Available on the album ‘Out Of The Blue’ via Tsunami Records
X-PRESS2 featuring DAVID BYRNE Lazy (2002)
The Dumbarton born TALKING HEADS frontman was back in the mainstream limelight for the first time since the band disbanded in 1991 with this superb online collaboration with British DJ duo X-PRESS2. Byrne gave his best afflicted ‘Psycho Killer’ meets ‘Once In A Lifetime’ warble for a No2 chart hit. He later reworked ‘Lazy’ with orchestral embellishments for his 2004 solo long player ‘Grown Backwards’.
Available on the X-PRESS2 album ‘Muzikizum’ via Skint Records
JUNKIE XL featuring DAVE GAHAN Reload (2003)
‘Reload’ was a welcome relief after DEPECHE MODE’s tedious and paradoxically titled ‘Exciter’. The brief sojourn with Dutch producer Tom Holkenborg aka JUNKIE XL proved once and for all how well DAVE GAHAN’s voice worked on uptempo electronic dance tracks. He may be more interested in rock and MUMFORD & SONS these days, but frankly, over a lively synth laden backbone is where he sounds best. The ‘Radio JXL: A Broadcast from the Computer Hell Cabin’ album also featured guest vocals from GARY NUMAN, THE CURE’s Robert Smith, REPUBLICA’s Saffron and ELVIS PRESLEY!
Available on the JUNKIE XL album ‘Radio JXL: A Broadcast From the Computer Hell Cabin’ via EMI Music
ERASURE featuring CYNDI LAUPER (2007)
Ms Lauper was heading towards a career renaissance with her excellent ‘Bring Ya To The Brink’ album in 2008 so her collaboration with ERASURE in 2007 was quite timely. A soulful slice of Trans-Atlantic synthpop, ‘Early Bird’ was an enjoyable duet between her and Andy Bell that turned out to be the one of the more memorable tracks that emerged from ERASURE’s rather lukewarm ‘Light At The End Of The World’ sessions.
Available on the ERASURE EP ‘Storm Chaser’ via Mute Records
LITTLE BOOTS featuring PHILIP OAKEY Symmetry (2009)
At the time ‘Symmetry’ was unveiled, THE HUMAN LEAGUE had not released any new material since 2001. With a fabulous chorus, this was the nearest thing to a new HUMAN LEAGUE track with Victoria Hesketh doing her best Susanne Sulley impression. So when it was Phil talking, it was magic. “Tell me your dreams and I’ll tell you all my fears” he announced, as they complimented each other in a way that had not really even been heard on a League record before.
Available on the LITTLE BOOTS album ‘Hands’ via 679 Recordings
MY ROBOT FRIEND featuring ALISON MOYET Waiting (2009)
MY ROBOT FRIEND aka Howard Rigberg famously created the song ‘We’re The Pet Shop Boys’ in honour of Messrs Tennant and Lowe, who subsequently covered it by way of a reverse compliment. For his 2009 album ‘Soft-Core’, Rigberg went recruited ALISON MOYET for her first purely electronic adventure since the YAZOO days on ‘Waiting’. Harking back to her time with Vince Clarke, this welcome union with its off-kilter synth sounds alongside her voice no doubt helped ignite her interest in working within the genre again, the result of which was 2013’s ‘the minutes’.
Available on the MY ROBOT FRIEND album ‘Soft-Core’ via Double Feature/Worried Rainbow
PET SHOP BOYS featuring PHILIP OAKEY This Used To Be The Future (2009)
‘This Used To Be The Future’ was a dream trioet, exclusive to ‘Yes etc’, that featured Neil Tennant, Philip Oakey and Chris Lowe. With Lowe actually singing as opposed to just speaking, this triumphant celebration of yesterday’s tomorrow saw Oakey deadpan in that classic disappointed tone that things didn’t quite turn out how Raymond Baxter predicted on ‘Tomorrow’s World’! In a style much loved on many a HUMAN LEAGUE tune, he finally resigned himself and at the end, grunted “AMEN!”.
Available on the PET SHOP BOYS deluxe 2CD album ‘Yes etc’ via EMI Music
RÖYKSOPP featuring ROBYN The Girl & The Robot (2009)
The centrepiece of RÖYKSOPP’s third album ‘The Girl & The Robot’ was perhaps the culmination of ROBYN’s steady rise as a truly independent female artist. Despite having gained success in 1997 with the R’n’B tinged ‘Show Me Love’, ROBYN’s superiors at BMG reacted negatively to her new electropop aspirations inspired by fellow Swedes THE KNIFE. Frustrated, ROBYN bought herself out of her contract and set up her own Konichiwa Records, giving her the freedom to work with whoever she wanted. The partnership continued into 2014 with the ‘Do It Again’ joint EP.
Available on the RÖYKSOPP album ‘Junior’ via Wall Of Sound / PIAS
BLANK & JONES featuring CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN Don’t Stop (2010)
The German dance duo had previously worked with Miss Brücken on ‘Unknown Treasure’, a most gorgeous electrobeat ballad from 2003. ‘Don’t Stop’ was a progression on that but with a wider texture pallet and more abstract electronic overtones. Despite being less song based, vocally it is classic Claudia with its spoken verse and sexy ice maiden delivery in chorus.
Available on the BLANK & JONES album ‘The Logic Of Pleasure’ via Kontor Records
CRYSTAL CASTLES featuring ROBERT SMITH Not In Love (2010)
Re-recorded for single release, Alice Beer took a breather to allow guest Robert Smith from THE CURE to take lead on ‘Not In Love’, a dark but accessible number from CRYSTAL CASTLES’ second album. Smith more than fitted in with the Canadian duo’s aggressive electronic template on this uncovering of a song originally recorded by obscure new wave combo PLATINUM BLONDE.
Available on the CRYSTAL CASTLES featuring ROBERT SMITH single ‘Not In Love’ via Last Gang/Fiction Records
MOTOR featuring MARTIN L GORE Man Made Machine (2012)
MOTOR’s electro stomper ‘Man Made Machine’ featured vocals by DEPECHE MODE’s Martin Gore in a collaboration which came over a bit like a camp IGGY POP. Gore certainly sounded a touch nervous and uneasy, luring over the duo’s brand of harder edged schaffel techno which only enhanced its appeal. Incidentally, the same titled parent album also featured guests such as GARY NUMAN, BILLIE RAY MARTIN and NITZER EBB’s Doug McCarthy, brother of the original ‘Top Gear’ Stig!
Available on the MOTOR album ‘Man Made Machine’ via CLR
FOTONOVELA featuring MIRRORS Our Sorrow (2013)
Not content with producing MARSHEAUX and collaborating with OMD on ‘Helen Of Troy’, Greek duo FOTONOVELA released a more song based second album featuring a number of prominent international vocalists entitled ‘A Ton Of Love’. One of the numbers ‘Our Sorrow’ featured James New from the much missed MIRRORS. In the vein of classic OMD, New’s majestic vocal touching the heartstrings, the wonderful melancholy was perfect, soulful electronic pop.
Available on the FOTONOVELA album ‘A Ton Of Love’
JOHN FOXX & JORI HULKKONEN Evangeline (2013)
Foxx and Hulkkonen had worked together previously on various one-off songs like ‘Dislocated’ and ‘Never Been Here Before’ but had never before attempted a body of work with a conceptual theme. When the two finally found some collaborative time together, he result was ‘European Splendour’, an EP with a grainier downtempo template than before. The lead track ‘Evangeline’ was full of depth, coupled with an anthemic chorus and vibrant exchange of character throughout. It was rousing yet soothingly futuristic and otherworldly.
Available on the JOHN FOXX & JORI HULKKONEN EP ‘European Splendour’ via Sugarcane Records
SIN COS TAN featuring CASEY SPOONER Avant Garde (2013)
SIN COS TAN’s Jori Hulkkonen first found fame as part of TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS back in 2001 at the height of the Electroclash movement. Partly recalling that era, ‘Avant Garde’ saw Casey Spooner from the scene’s flag bearers FISCHERSPOONER make a guest appearance on the duo’s second long player ‘Afterlife’. The track itself though was not club oriented at all though, being much more like THE CURE produced by PET SHOP BOYS with Spooner providing a suitably cynical snarl to contrast Juho Paalosmaa’s impassioned lost boy cry.
Available on the SIN COS TAN album ‘Afterlife’ via Solina Records
iEUROPEAN featuring WOLFGANG FLÜR Activity Of Sound (2014)
Although WOLFGANG FLÜR’s last full album project was as YAMO with ‘Time Pie’ back in 1997, he has not been idle and one of his most recent musical adventures was a marvellous electronic number entitled ‘Activity Of Sound’, recorded in collaboration with iEUROPEAN. The project of Dublin based artist Sean Barron, the additional female monologue for ‘Activity Of Sound’ incidentally is provided by Barron’s wife, Izabella. The track sees Herr Flür quoting an archive interview with the late avant garde composer JOHN CAGE to a soundtrack of hypnotic synthetic bliss.
Available on the iEUROPEAN featuring WOLFGANG FLÜR download single ‘Activity Of Sound’ via Subculture Records
Text by Chi Ming Lai
25th May 2015, updated 19th January 2017