ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK aims to feature the best in new and classic electronic pop music. It doesn't promote bands or support scenes, it just writes about the music it likes, and occasionally some music it doesn't like...
With informed opinion and trivia, it embraces synthpop, ie pop music that uses synthesizers, while aiming to avoid lazy terms such as analogue, 80s and contemporary. It's like acid house never happened... AND WE'RE PROUD OF IT!
‘Fast Idol’ is Chris Stewart’s fourth album as BLACK MARBLE and his second on Sacred Bones Records, home to THE SOFT MOON and ZOLA JESUS.
Capturing the uncertainty of the future provoked by world events, Stewart pays homage to “the forgotten bedroom kids of the analogue era” such as ASYLUM PARTY, FUTURISK and OPPENHEIMER ANALYSIS.
While the previous BLACK MARBLE album ‘Bigger Than Life’ looked at cultural shifts in the US inspired during bus rides to his Los Angeles studio, ‘Fast Idol’ is more enclosed and inward looking, solitary even…
The sub-six minute ‘Somewhere’ acts as a fine opener with a beautiful filmic introduction before suddenly speeding up for its vocal section to offer some vibrant stoner synthpop reminiscent of New Yorkers NATION OF LANGUAGE, dressed with digital chimes, plonks and incessant pulsations.
Wonderfully lo-fi, ‘Bodies’ sees its gloomy vocal tone offset by bright synthesizer tones and a hypnotic passage of nocturnal moods to finish. Also as charming, ‘Royal Walls’ offers bell-like keys and groovy electronic bass like PET SHOP BOYS if they had beards while with a lilting octave shift, ‘Try’ gives a take on NEW ORDER, complete with higher end Hooky bass.
The minimal structuring of ‘The Garden’ presents a doom-laden drum machine waltz and is given a barrage boost of toms and cascading keys. But more guitar driven with an optimistic Far Eastern tone, ‘Say It First’ plays on post-punk Northern Englishness like THE DURUTTI COLUMN gone perky.
‘Streetlight’ reveals the influence of acts like CLUSTER with its shuffling take on Motorik and THOBBING GRISTLE dropped into moonlit gothic cocoon while the percussive ‘Ceiling’ is a homage to NEW ORDER’s early tribal gothic disco.
Despite its array of offbeats, ‘Ship To Shore’ remains constant with its driving staccato backbone, but ‘Preoccupation’ is phat and pumping with counter-melodies galore before ‘Brighter & Bigger’ closes with a spacey ballad that cleverly doesn’t reveal itself to be a waltz until about a minute in.
The nonchalant vocals, while a trademark of BLACK MARBLE sound, will not be to everyone’s taste and will begin to grate over what is a long album at 53 minutes. However, musically and synthetically, the content of ‘Fast Idol’ is intriguing and appeal despite not having the more immediate accessibility of say, NATION OF LANGUAGE.
‘Fast Idol’ is released by Sacred Bones Records in vinyl LP, CD and digital formats
BLACK MARBLE 2021 live dates featuring special guest DISCOVERY ZONE include:
Bournemouth Anvil (23rd October), Cardiff Club Ifor Bach (24th October), Milton Keynes Craufurd Arms (25th October), Hull The Adelphi (26th October), Edinburgh Mash House (27th October), Glasgow Stereo (28th October), Dundee Hunter S Thompson (29th October), Newcastle Anarchy Brewing Company (31st October), Chester Live Rooms (1st November), Oxford O2 Academy (2nd November), St Albans The Horn (3rd November), Bath Moles (5th November), London Moth Club (6th November), Hebden Bridge Trades Club (7th November)
If Jane Birkin had been backed by minimal electronics from Serge Gainsbourg, then they probably would have sounded like XENO & OAKLANDER.
Already veterans of seven albums, Liz Wendelbo and Sean McBride’s new long player ‘Vi/deo’ continues to expand on the duo’s multi-sensory exploration of synaesthesia, inspired by perfumes, celebrity culture and vintage technology such as Roland’s SH101, RS09, System 100 and TR808 alongside a Serge modular system and ARP sequencer.
Although recorded at their Southern Connecticut home studio, ‘Vi/deo’ exhibits hints of authentic Europeanism in the form of Italo and French disco-noir courtesy of Wendelbo’s wispy Franco / Norwegian charm.
She said: “The title of the album ‘Vi/deo’ is a reference to the Latin meaning of the word, ‘I see’. I’m really interested in the way senses influence each other: colors that are sounds that are scents that are tastes. Synaesthesia is a fascinating effect: how music can trigger different senses all at once, a note can have a color, a sensation, a scent.”
In a period when short and sharp eight track albums have been prevalent, XENO & OAKLANDER push the definition boundaries in an engaging seven song offering. With an unexpected industrial introduction and those textures later being inter-dispersed throughout, ‘Infinite Sadness’ plays with simulated slapped bass over a tense machine beat to provide a melancholic but vibrant start.
Meanwhile, the catchy electro-disco of ‘Poison’ has its rhythmic syncopation offset by the uneasy feel of a supernatural drama. Expanding on a European disco theme, the wonderful ‘Afar’ is the best song on ‘Vi/deo’, alluringly presented en Français for an infectious if bittersweet dancefloor experience.
Like it was tailor made for an Autumnal drive along the Côte d’Azur, ‘Technicolor’ exhibits a moody cocooned squelch in its widescreen setting with pretty synth melodies complimenting Wendelbo’s almost whispered tones.
The harder edged ‘Gain’ offers a boisterous bounce to proceedings laced with some accelerated keyboard jabs, while the more steadfast ‘Movie Star’ captures the innocence of an enthralling visit to the cinema and being hypnotised by the lead. Closing with ‘Rain Garden’, the cacophony of blips and a solid staccato synthbass provide the backbone for an airy uptempo conclusion.
If you have any of XENO & OAKLANDER’s previous releases, then ‘Vi/deo’ will undoubtedly appeal. Flirtatious and perhaps less icy than previously in the aural equivalent of Gauloises smoke filling a Parisian night club, while the vocal style will continue to be polarising for some, the album’s dancier template may possess crossover potential to more synthpop-inclined audiences.
SEA FEVER are a new but seasoned quintet whose musical family trees link up through their various associations with some of the city’s best known bands such as NEW ORDER, THE SMITHS, SECTION 25 and THE FALL.
Comprising of Iwan Gronow, Beth Cassidy, Tom Chapman, Phil Cunningham and Elliot Barlow, their debut album ‘Folding Lines’ is the sound of a band instinctively working together, exploring the music that has inspired each band member to merge into a new whole.
Aiming to explore new sounds and unusual instrumentations, examples of this approach come with the sombre indie rock of ‘Crossed Wires’ where Phil Cunningham’s guitar sounds are played through one of Tom Chapman’s synths and ‘Built To Last’ which uses a string quartet to complement the virtual orchestra sound.
Similarly filmic, ‘The Finder’ takes inspiration from the soundtracks of Bernard Hermann, Georges Delerue, Ennio Morricone and Ryuichi Sakamoto, while a hammered dulcimer makes an appearance to add tension and mood to the dual vocalled ‘Folding Lines’ title track.
‘Under Duress’ also exudes a particularly expansive sound with electronics, strings and anthemic vocal lines like Björk’s ‘Homogenic’ meeting a modern Mancunian Spaghetti Western soundtrack, while the buzzing electronically assisted indie rock of ‘Afterthought’ is equally spirited.
Two of the album’s best songs are tightly electronically driven; ‘De Facto’ is a delightful indie-disco feast with an adrenalin rush guaranteeing dancefloor satisfaction. Meanwhile cut from a similar cloth, the slightly less frantic ‘Le Coup’ sees Beth Cassidy take the lead vocal over a blend of many Mancunian club influences.
Closing with a choir on ‘Programme Your Life’ recorded at the Royal Northern School of Music in Manchester alongside woodwinds and strings, ‘Folding Lines’ is an eclectic collection of music showcasing no particular sound or feel other than being SEA FEVER.
If you a fan of any of the bands that SEA FEVER are linked with, you will be sure to love at least 3-4 tracks. Although all the members have other bands to return to, album number two has already been written, so more is to come…
Hailing from Manchester, LONELADY released her first album ‘Nerve Up’ on Warp Records in 2010.
The nom de théâtre of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Julie Campbell, her influences include post-punk, funk and electronic pop. Her stark urgent sound came from initially working with basic tools such an 8-track cassette recorder, Fender Telecaster, and Yamaha keyboard which triggered invention through enforced economy.
Embracing the funk, LONELADY’s second album ‘Hinterland’ came out in 2015 with the scratchy ‘Bunkerpop’ acting as kind of manifesto statement. She came to the attention of John Foxx and recorded a cover of ‘030’ from ‘Metamatic’ for the officially sanctioned ‘He’s A Liquid’ tribute EP saying “I live in a high-rise right next to a dual carriageway, so John Foxx’s music makes a lot of sense to me”.
Recorded in a basement bunker beneath Somerset House in London and released earlier in the summer, the third LONELADY album ‘Former Things’ saw an increased use of drum machines, sequencers and synths (particularly the ARP Odyssey and Korg MS10) in a lively but mournful eulogy to the lost golden age of childhood and youth.
Following opening for NEW ORDER, LONELADY was invited to perform ‘(There Is) No Logic’ on the BBC’s ‘Later… with Jools Holland’; the song itself is one of the highlights on ‘Former Things’, a hypnotic blippy slice of industrial funk which while adopting soulful Trans-Atlantic forms, is distinctly English in its art punk presentation, recalling CABARET VOLTAIRE and ‘Sensoria’ in particular.
Filmed in the desolate grandeur of Brunswick Mill where JOY DIVISION were captured for their ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ video, the charismatic performance also features James Field on electronic drums and Kendra Frost of KITE BASE on synths.
‘Former Things’ is without doubt, the most immediate and accessible LONELADY album yet. Previous single ‘Fear Colours’ crosses PRINCE with TALKING HEADS while using a LinnDrum and a straightforward synthbass pattern for its backbone, ‘Time Time Time’ is a passionate slice of post-punk funk featuring a Korg Triton given to Campbell by Brian Eno. Driven by a distant rhythm unit, ‘The Catcher’ takes on a sombre disposition despite the classic electro groove while the title song brings in hushed disco vibes.
As well as an upcoming European tour, LONELADY’s affinity with CABARET VOLTAIRE is taken to the next level in new collaboration with Stephen Mallinder and WRANGLER bandmate Benge for a six track mini-album ‘Clinker’ with the first preview track ‘Camouflage’ recalling A CERTAIN RATIO.
Out on Les Disques du Crepuscule, the project actually began a few years but the various commitments of the trio saw the recordings exiled on a hard drive until now.
‘(There Is) No Logic’ is from the album ‘Former Things’ released by Warp Records in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats
Hebden Bridge Trades Club (14 January), Liverpool 24 Kitchen Street (15 January), Sheffield Record Junkee (16 January), Birmingham Hare & Hounds (17 January), Paris Le Hasard Ludique (19 January), Ghent Charlatan (20 January), Hamburg Headcrash (22 January), Berlin Kantine am Berghain (23 January), Cologne Blue Shell (24 January), Amsterdam Paradiso Kleine Zaal (25 January), Cambridge Junction 2 (27 January), Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach (28 January), Southampton The Joiners (29 January), Norwich Arts Centre (30 January), Nottingham Bodega (1 February), Edinburgh The Mash House (2 February), Glasgow Audio (3 February), Dublin The Grand Social (15 February), Ulster Sports Club (16 February)
1981 is the year covered by the second instalment of Cherry Red’s ‘Musik Music Musique’ series.
1980 was something of a transition year for the synth as it knocked on the door of the mainstream charts but by 1981, it was more or less let in with welcome arms. From the same team behind the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ compendiums and the most excellent ‘Electrical Language’ boxed set, ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0 1981 – The Rise Of Synth Pop’ presents rarities alongside hits and key album tracks from what many consider the best year in music and one that contributes the most to the legacy of electronic music in its wider acceptance and impact.
Featuring HEAVEN 17 with ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’, OMD with ‘Souvenir’ and the eponymous single by VISAGE, these songs are iconic 1981 canon that need no further discussion. Meanwhile the longevity of magnificent album tracks such as ‘Frustration’ by SOFT CELL and ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ by ULTRAVOX can be summed by the fact that they have featured in 21st Century live sets alongside their parent acts’ hits.
Although not quite as celebrated, ‘You Were There’ from pastoral second John Foxx long player ‘The Garden’ captures the move from stark JG Ballard imagery to something almost romantic. DEVO are represented by the LinnDrum driven ‘Through Being Cool’, the opener of the ‘New Traditionalists’ album which comes as a statement that the mainstream was their next target; the Akron quintet were one of the many acts signed by Virgin Records as the label focussed on a synth focussed takeover that ultimately shaped the sonic landscape of 1981.
Then there’s TEARS FOR FEARS’ promising debut ‘Suffer The Children’ in its original synthier single recording and The Blitz Club favourite ‘Bostich’ from quirky Swiss pioneers YELLO. Another Blitz staple ‘No GDM’ from GINA X PERFORMANCE gets included despite being of 1978 vintage due to its first UK single release in 1981. The use of synth came in all sorts of shapes and FASHIØN presented a funkier take with ‘Move Øn’ while the track’s producer Zeus B Held took a more typically offbeat kosmische approach on his own ‘Cowboy On The Beach’.
Pivotal releases by JAPAN with the ‘The Art Of Parties’ (here in the more metallic ‘Tin Drum’ album version) and A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS ‘(It’s Not Me) Talking’ highlight those bands’ then-potential for mainstream success. But in the battle of the New Romantic boy bands, the sitar tinged DURAN DURAN B-side ‘Khanada’ easily blows away the SPANDAU BALLET album track ‘Reformation’ in an ominous sign as to who would crack it biggest worldwide.
The great lost band of this era, B-MOVIE issued the first of several versions of ‘Nowhere Girl’ in December 1980 on Dead Good Records and its inclusion showcases the song’s promise which was then more fully realised on the 1982 Some Bizzare single produced by the late Steve Brown although sadly, this was still not a hit.
The best and most synth flavoured pop hits from the period’s feisty females like Kim Wilde and Toyah are appropriate inclusions, as is Hazel O’Connor’s largely forgotten SPARKS homage ‘(Cover Plus) We’re All Grown Up’. But the less said about racist novelty records such as ‘Japanese Boy’ by Aneka, the better… the actual nation of Japan though is correctly represented by their most notable electronic exponents YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA with ‘Cue’ from ‘BGM’, the first release to feature the Roland TR808 Rhythm Composer.
With these type of boxed sets, it’s the less familiar tracks that are always the most interesting. As the best looking member of TANGERINE DREAM, Peter Baumann had a crack at the single charts with the catchy Robert Palmer produced ‘Repeat, Repeat’ while former Gary Numan backing band DRAMATIS are represented by ‘Lady DJ’ although its epic A side ‘Ex Luna Scientia’ would have equally merited inclusion. But BEASTS IN CAGES who later became HARD CORPS stand out with the stark dystopia of ‘Sandcastles’.
The one that “should-have-been-a-pop-hit” is the ABBA-esque ‘I Can’t Hold On’ by Natasha England and it’s a shame that her career is remembered for a lame opportunistic cover of ‘Iko Iko’ rather than this, but the delightful ‘Twelfth House’ demonstrates again how under-rated Tony Mansfield’s NEW MUSIK were, and this with a B-side!
The rather fraught ‘Wonderlust’ by THE FALLOUT CLUB captures the late Trevor Herion in fine form on a Thomas Dolby produced number with a dramatic Spaghetti Western flavour that is lushly sculpted with electronics. Over a more sedate rhythm box mantra, ‘Love Moves In Strange Ways’ from BLUE ZOO swirls with a not entirely dissimilar mood.
Mute Records founder Daniel Miller was breaking through with his productions for DEPECHE MODE in 1981, but representation on ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0’ comes via the colder austere of ‘Science Fiction’ by Alan Burnham. ‘West End’ by Thomas Leer adds some jazzy freeform synth soloing to the vocal free backdrop, while ‘Surface Tension’ from ANALYSIS is an appealing instrumental.
The strangely accessible weirdness of CHRIS & COSEY’s ‘This Is Me’, MYSTERY PLANE’s ‘Something To Prove’ and the gritty ‘Brix’ from PORTION CONTROL will delight those more into the leftfield, while AK-47’s ‘Stop! Dance!’, the work of Simon Leonard (later of I START COUNTING and KOMPUTER fame) is another DIY experiment in that aesthetic vein.
Some tracks are interesting but not essential like Richard Bone’s ‘Alien Girl’ which comes over like an amusing pub singer SILICON TEENS, Johnny Warman’s appealing robopop on ‘Will You Dance With Me?’ and the synth dressed New Wave of ‘Close-Up’ by THOSE FRENCH GIRLS. For something more typically artschool, there’s the timpani laden ‘Taboos’ by THE PASSAGE and SECOND LAYER’s screechy ‘In Bits’.
More surprising is Swedish songstress Virna Lindt with her ‘Young & Hip’ which oddly combines showtune theatrics with blippy synth and ska! The set ends rather fittingly with Cherry Red’s very own EYELESS IN GAZA with the abstract atmospherics of ‘The Eyes Of Beautiful Losers’ although they too would eventually produce their own rousing synthpop statement ‘Sunbursts In’ in 1984.
Outside of the music, the booklet is a bit disappointing with the photos of OMD, TEARS FOR FEARS, HEAVEN 17, B-MOVIE and a glam-bouffanted Kim Wilde all coming from the wrong eras. And while the liner notes provide helpful information on the lesser known acts, clangers such as stating Toyah’s ‘Thunder In The Mountains’ was from the album ‘The Changeling’ when it was a standalone 45, “GONG’s Mike Hewlett” and “memorable sleeve designs by Malcolm Garrett’s Altered IMaGes” do not help those who wish to discover the origins of those accumulated gems.
But these quibbles aside, overall ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0’ is a good collection, although with fewer rare jewels compared with the first 1980 volume which perhaps points to the fact that those who had the shine to breakthrough actually did… 40 years on though, many of those hit making acts (or variations of) are still performing live in some form.
Was 1981 the most important year in synth as far becoming ubiquitous in the mainstream and hitting the top of the charts internationally? With VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ becoming a West German No1 in Spring 1981 through to SOFT CELL taking the summer topspot in the UK and culminating in THE HUMAN LEAGUE eventually taking ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ to No1 in the US, the sound of synth had done its job. Setting the scene for 1982 and 1983, further editions of ‘Musik Music Musique’ are planned.