Rounding down to a final 30 songs is always difficult and among the acts in the initial shortlist were ADAM IS A GIRL, BRIAN ENO, DELERIUM, EMIKA, KALEIDA, LADYHAWKE, METROLAND, PRESENCE OF MIND, REIN, FIFI RONG, SPRAY, WHITE LIES and the now disbanded ANALOG ANGEL.
After much deliberation and with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, here are The Electricity Club’s 30 Songs of 2016 in alphabetical order…
APOPTYGMA BERZERK Rhein Klang
Futurepop veteran Stephan Groth certainly put his head on the line releasing an instrumental Sci-Fi concept album as an APOPTYGMA BERZERK long player. But with influences like KRAFTWERK, TANGERINE DREAM and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, ‘Exit Popularity Contest’ was an undoubted artistic success and perhaps what ‘MG’ should have sounded like. Full of Groth’s electronic lifeblood, ‘Rhein Klang’ was a wonderful oscillating slice of synth motorik in tribute to NEU!
Available on the album ‘Exit Popularity Contest’ via Hard: Drive
JOHAN BAECKSTROM Like Before
JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM has been involved in electronic music for several decades, but it wasn’t until 1994 that he gained recognition as part of DAILY PLANET with vocalist Jarmo Ollila. His first album ‘Like Before’ in 2015 drew favourable comparisons to Vince Clarke. A competent vocalist himself, the long player’s title song got a standalone release in 2016 and instantly recalled the glory days of ERASURE with its precise, yet emotive synthpop with a message to “swim the oceans like before”.
Available on the album ‘Like Before’ via Progress Productions
BATTERY OPERATED ORCHESTRA Radiation
Crossing CRYSTAL CASTLES with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, the husband and wife DIY duo BATTERY OPERATED ORCHESTRA released their first album ‘Incomplete Until Broken’ in 2014. Inspired by a poltergeist experience after a gig in Hamburg, the ‘Radiation’ album’s title song synthetically apes WIRE and TUBEWAY ARMY as it searches for its shadow in vain. Yes, there are musical references to the past, but the tune is fully Battery Operated.
Available on the album ‘Radiation’ via https://batteryoperatedorchestra.bandcamp.com/
BEYOND THE WIZARD’S SLEEVE Diagram Girl
Possibly one of the songs of 2016, BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE’s ‘Diagram Girl’ was the work of Erol Alkan and Richard Norris, formally of THE GRID. Featuring the unisex vocals of HANNAH PEEL, a deeper pitch shift provided a psychedelic out-of-this-world feel which bizarrely fitted in alongside the songstress’ dreamily breathy tones. Meanwhile the pulsing electronic soundtrack had surreal echoes of OMD, in particular their lesser known minor hit ‘Secret’.
Available on the album ‘The Soft Bounce’ via Phantasy Sound
BLACK NEEDLE NOISE featuring KENDRA FROST Warning Sign
It can be tricky keeping up with the prolific studio legend John Fryer. Following the critical success of his projects MURICIDAE and SILVER GHOST SHIMMER, BLACK NEEDLE NOISE employed a flexible lead vocal policy and did away with the idea of albums or EPs, focussing on just single songs. Magically breathy, ‘Warning Sign’ employed the soaring vocals of Kendra Frost from KITE BASE against a spacious backdrop of synths, beats and guitars for a brooding sonic amalgam.
Available as a download single via https://blackneedlenoise.bandcamp.com/
CIRCUIT3 Hundred Hands
With the sort of mighty Linn Drum engine room that would make Martyn Ware proud and punctuated with some rugged lead synth, ‘Hundred Hands’ was the best track on CIRCUIT3’s debut album. The work of Dublin based musician Peter Fitzpatrick, he even dropped in hints of KRAFTWERK’s ‘Showroom Dummies’ by way of a musical tribute. The parent album ‘siliconchipsuperstar’ was classic styled synthpop made by someone weaned on classic synthpop.
Available on the album ‘siliconchipsuperstar’ via https://circuit3.bandcamp.com/
RUSTY EGAN PRESENTS Thank You
The elegiac ‘Thank You’ utilised some ‘Endless Endless’ vocodered stylings over layers of sweeping synthetic strings and a gentle metronomic pulse. A list of RUSTY EGAN’s musical heroes and associated beneficiaries in no particular order, this tone poem was a touching acknowledgement of electronic music’s marvellous history. A simple yet highly effective idea, the beauty is in its realisation. Appropriately, it ends with a touchingly poignant “VISAGE… thank you”.
Available on the album ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ via Black Mosaic from
JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS A Man & A Woman
A previously unreleased song for a compilation of Foxx’s song based work in the new millennium, ‘A Man & A Woman’ was a surprise in that it was less rigid than previous JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS recordings. Featuring some enchanting whispers from the seemingly ubiquitous HANNAH PEEL, it was an interesting departure that even featured some subtle acoustic guitar flourishes. Foxx’s work is still under-appreciated, so for many ‘21st Century: A Man, A Woman And A City’ provided an opportunity to catch up.
Available on the album ’21st Century: A Man, A Woman And A City’ via Metamatic Records
ANI GLASS Y Ddawns
Welsh songstress ANI GLASS served her apprenticeship with girl groups GENIE QUEEN and THE PIPETTES and worked with Andy McCluskey and Martin Rushent respectively along the way. ‘Y Ddawns’ (‘The Dance’) was a wonderfully exhilarating pop art adventure. Swathed in synths and driven by a metronomic beat, it was a declaration of hope, deeply voiced in the verse with a gorgeous soaring resonance in the chorus, about “finding solace and meaning in music, dance, art and culture”.
‘Y Ddawns’ is available as a download single from https://aniglass.bandcamp.com/
THE HEARING Kabeldon
Helsinki-based Ringa Manner has been making crystalline sine waves as THE HEARING. Her second album ‘Adrian’ boasted the sub-eight minute epic ‘Kabeldon’. A outstanding electronic work with an affinity to Norwegian songstress SUSANNE SUNDFØR, there were also bows to DAVID BOWIE’s ‘I’m Deranged’ when the mad cascading piano kicked in alongside the frantic drum ‘n’ bass and steadily building cacophony of noise. Then, when it appeared all over, the song mutated into an eloquent Nordic dubstep ballad!
Available on the album ‘Adrian’ via Solina Records
I AM SNOW ANGEL Losing Face
The project of Julie Kathryn, the haunting tension of ‘Losing Face’ accentuates a variety of electronic and organic colours. A muted chop’ n’ chuck provides the percussive backbone while an eerie soundscape is steadily configured as Kathryn succumbs to lust. “You’re different when you’re on top of me… how I hate the state I’m in” she paradoxically reflects, as bubbling detuned synth swirls and acoustic guitar penetrate the foreboding atmosphere in the vein of ‘Felt Mountain’ era GOLDFRAPP.
Available on the EP ‘Desert’ via I Am Snow Angel
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE & CYNDI LAUPER Swipe To The Right
After decades of composing lengthy synth symphonies, there must have been times when the France maestro must have just wanted to do a four minute pop tune. This JEAN-MICHEL JARRE managed in a quirky collaboration with Brooklyn’s CYNDI LAUPER. No stranger to electronic forms, particularly with her under rated ‘Bring Ya To The Brink’ album of 2007, ‘Swipe To The Right’ had big bass riffs galore for a great poptastic exploration, while reflecting on the use of Tinder in modern relationships.
Available on the album ‘Electronica 2: The Heart Of Noise’ via Columbia / Sony Music
KID MOXIE Still High
KID MOXIE is Elena Charbila, the Greek born singer and actress who likes to make music with friends. Working best in collaboration, her well-received album ‘1888’ showed she had blossomed and displayed an inventive maturity following the gutter pop of her early releases. From her best body of work yet in ‘Perfect Shadow’, the seductive ‘Still High’ was gloriously cinematic synthpop with a touch of maiden iciness that affirmed this artistic progression.
Available on the mini-album ‘Perfect Shadow’ is via West One Music Group
LIEBE The Box
One-time label mates of MARSHEAUX, LIEBE are the electro disco duo comprising of George Begas and Dimos Zachariadis who could be considered the Greek PET SHOP BOYS. Sitting on that difficult bridge between pastiche and post-modern, their romantic disco friendly sound mines Europop while adding the vocal drawl of Jarvis Cocker. The magnificent JEAN-MICHEL JARRE goes Italo disco of ’The Box’ was the highlight of their wonderfully escapist pop album ‘Revolution Of Love’.
Available on the album ‘Revolution Of Love’ via Emerald & Doreen Recordings
Recorded in London and Athens, a new approach saw MARSHEAUX’s trademark wispiness blended in with a subtle tone of aggression. The opening song on ‘Ath.Lon’, the album title of which was derived from the cities of Athens and London, ‘Burning’ was a harsh but sexy slice of synth expressionism. While clearly referencing darker electronica forms with its hypnotising percussive motif, it crucially maintained the essence of a good tune.
Available on the album ‘Ath.Lon’ via Undo Records
MESH The Fixer
With their new album ‘Looking Skyward’, MESH alleviated any fears that they might not be able to sustain the artistic momentum seeded by 2013’s ‘Automation Baby’. Despite the lyrically negative nature of ‘The Fixer’, a driving bass triplet attached to a solid four-to-the-floor beat and an anthemic topline shed a light of optimism amongst the gloom. MESH have firmly carved their own niche and any disillusioned DEPECHE MODE fans should consider joining the fold immediately…
Available on the album ‘Looking Skyward’ via Dependent Records
NIGHT CLUB Pray
Buoyed by the acclaim of their EP trilogy and their power as a live act, NIGHT CLUB experimented with a more aggressive synth rock disco sound for their debut long player ‘Requiem For Romance’. Playing around with a range of unsettling vocal pitch shifts and religious imagery for the sinister overtones of ‘Pray’, Emily Kavanaugh and Mark Brooks have more than substantiated their position as one of North America’s best independent electronic pop duos.
Available on the album ‘Requiem For Romance’ via Gato Blanco from http://nightclubband.com/album/requiem-for-romance
HANNAH PEEL All That Matters
It’s been a busy year for HANNAH PEEL; layered with staccato voice samples and uplifting bursts of symphonic strings, the driving arpeggio laden ‘All That Matters’ was her calling card, not just as her most synthpop offering yet but also as a mantra to live in the moment. The opening track of her second album ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’, her very personal musical journey themed around memory and the effects of dementia was a startling artistic triumph.
Available on the album ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’ My Own Pleasure
PET SHOP BOYS The Dictator Decides
Never mind their age, PET SHOP BOYS are still ‘The Pop Kids’ and ‘Twenty-something’ ones at that. But on the moodier ‘The Dictator Decides’, there comes one of those politically laced introspective numbers in the vein of ‘My October Symphony’ and ‘Don Juan’ that Tennant and Lowe always do so well. As Tennant deadpans “if you get rid of me, we can all be free”, the song provides an amusing surreal narrative of a tyrannical politician bored of his outright power and wanting to live a normal life.
Available on the album ‘Super’ via x2
PSYCHE Ring The Bells
From the Cold War Night Life curated ‘Heresy: A Tribute To Rational Youth’, one of the highlights from the collection is PSYCHE’s take on ‘Ring The Bells’ from appropriately, RATIONAL YOUTH’s ‘Cold War Night Life’ debut. The clattering 808 beat and elegantly haunting sweeps combined with Darrin Huss’ mournful vocal provide an atmospheric reworking that betters the original and reflects the decades long kinship between RATIONAL YOUTH and PSYCHE.
Available on the album ‘Heresy: A Tribute To Rational Youth’ (V/A) via Cold War Night Life from http://www.stormingthebase.com/various-heresy-a-tribute-to-rational-youth-3lp-vinyl-2cd/
SARAH P. I’d Go
Greek electropop goddess SARAH P. started her music career as the frontwoman of KEEP SHELLY IN ATHENS. With ‘I’d Go’ she said: “Most of the people do not get that this song is not as happy as it sounds at a first listen”. In her own words she confesses: “I’m a childish woman and nobody can stop me from being one” and adds “If there’s anything I stand for with all my heart is the ‘Go be you’ motto!” – her full length debut long player ‘Who Am I?’ is eagerly awaited.
Available on the mini-album ‘Free’ via EraseRestart
SILENT WAVE War
Enigmatic Gothenburg electronic trio SILENT WAVE possess the hauntronica hallmarks of fellow Swedes THE KNIFE. ‘War’ is a reminder of how that sibling duo once combined tunes with their experimentation. With a suitably dark Nordic vibe, it could easily have come off ‘Silent Shout’ and while the template is undoubtedly derivative, ‘War’ is extremely well executed.
Available on the download single ‘War’ via Silence Records
STARCLUSTER & MARC ALMOND To Have & Have Not
With his career spanning 10 CD box set ‘Trials Of Eyeliner: Anthology 1979-2016’, the last thing anyone expected from MARC ALMOND this year was an electronic pop album. Almond first recorded with Anglo German production duo STARCLUSTER in 2008. A great cover version, ‘To Have & Have Not’ was originally recorded by RONNY and retains the stern manner of the former Parisian model, while giving this slice of modern Weimar Cabaret a new lease of life.
Available on the album ‘Silver City Ride’ via Closing the Circle / Private Records
TINY MAGNETIC PETS Not Giving In
An appearance at the 2015 ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE in Düsseldorf reinforced TINY MAGNETIC PETS’ reputation as an intriguing live act by winning over figures such as Rusty Egan and Andy McCluskey. The soulful ‘Not Giving In’ makes the most of Paula Gilmer’s enticingly wispy voice. With detuned pulses contrasting the digital chimes and staccato voice samples, an unusual stuttering reggae inflected beat enhances the atmosphere.
Available on the EP ‘The NATO Alphabet’ via https://tinymagneticpets.bandcamp.com/
TRAIN TO SPAIN Believe In Love
Highly exuberant and featuring a poptastic four chord progression, ‘Believe In Love’ was TRAIN TO SPAIN’s first recording to feature producer Lars Netzel aka NOT LARS as a full-time member. It developed on the promise of songs like ‘Passion’ from their debut album ‘What it’s All About’ released in 2015 and significantly gave more space within Jonas Rasmusson’s classic synthpop framework for lead singer Helena Wigeborn to exude her charm in. But it seems TRAIN TO SPAIN are back to a duo again…
Available on the download single ‘Believe In Love’ via Subculture Records
TRENTEMØLLER River In Me
‘River In Me’ was an unusual TRENTEMØLLER recording in that Jehnny Beth from SAVAGES actually came to his home studio in Copenhagen to lay down her vocals. The end result possessed a Gothic intensity, yet was vibrant and melodic with Beth’s Siouxsie-like tones complimenting the hybrid synth laced soundscape. While some complained that ‘River In Me’ was not as dark as the Dane’s previous work, it was his most immediate offering yet with a fine balance of accessibility and mood.
Available on the album ‘Fixion’ via In My Room
VILE ELECTRODES The Vanished Past
It’s the avant pop approach reminiscent of early OMD that sets VILE ELECTRODES apart from and makes them so captivating. ‘The Vanished Past’ is a potent successor to the drama of ‘Deep Red’, complete with a mighty drum cacophony à la OMD’s ‘Navigation’. Bleak and wonderful, “not everything is as it seems” as a forlorn stranger joins in. As the seven minute adventure unfolds like a lost OMD epic, that stranger begins to sound like a certain George Andrew McCluskey!
Available on the album ‘In The Shadows Of Monuments’ via http://vileelectrodes.bigcartel.com/
VILLA NAH Stranger
From their superb second album ‘Ultima’, ‘Stranger’ was a brilliant return for VILLA NAH after a five year absence. Front man Juho Paalosmaa said: “‘Stranger’ is a play on words; how somebody you’ve known can turn stranger over the span of time… and end up as a complete stranger in the process. I don’t think it’s a track I would’ve written as a 20 year old. It requires some years of age and experience to really understand how time can change people, including yourself.”
Available on the album ‘Ultima’ via Solina Records
If CABARET VOLTAIRE had hijacked Compass Point Studios in The Bahamas while TALKING HEADS were recording ‘Speaking In Tongues’, the end result might have ended up sounding a bit like this. ‘Stupid’ sees Stephen Mallinder in warped falsetto mode over a hypnotic sequence of menacing synths from Benge and Phil Winter. The track’s rhythmic heart creates an almost robotic, yet electro-funk feel for one of the undoubted highlights on WRANGLER‘s ‘White Glue’ album.
Available on the album ‘White Glue’ via MemeTune
YELLO Electrified II
Despite 37 years of making music together, the distinctive sound of YELLO remains intriguing and distinctly European and the new album ‘Toy’ delighted fans. On the superb ‘Electrified II’ (the original version appeared on Boris Blank’s boxed set of the same name), Dieter Meier has his mind blown by the velvet voice of Malia. As she exclaims “Life’s a bitch and I’m no witch”, this could be Shirley Bassey indulging in some seductive energetic electro-cabaret.
Available on the album ‘Toy’ via Polydor / Universal Music
Text by Chi Ming Lai
8th December 2016