Sacred Bones Records release the lost album from Alan Vega, entitled ‘Mutator’.
Vega was best known as a member of the trailblazing electronic-punk duo SUICIDE with Martin Rev who confused audiences with their lack of a drummer and would go on to influence the likes of SOFT CELL and SIGUE SIGUE SPUTNIK.
Vega sadly passed away in 2016 but he left a vault of previously unreleased work at his New York studio. ‘Mutator’ was recorded during 1995-1996 with Liz Lamere who became his wife and key collaborator in his solo career.
It wasn’t intentionally shelved but so prolific was Vega with his numerous projects that eventually included 11 solo albums he was already focussing on another work before this was completed. “Our primary purpose for going into the studio was to experiment with sound, not to ‘make records” remembered Lamere, “I was playing the machines with Alan manipulating sounds”
Given a final production treatment in partnership with fellow Vega collaborator Jared Artaud 25 years after the material was first put to tape, ‘Mutator’ will be the first in a series of previously unheard recordings to be made public. Influenced by the streets of New York, Vega makes his presence felt with a collection of moments that are at times uneasy, but also paradoxically beautiful.
As an introduction, the drone sound sculpture ‘Trinity’ is a ghostly séance as if Vega is communicating from the other side. Meanwhile the album starts formally with ‘Fist’ as its percussive variation shaped by repetitive rhythm construction, coming over suitably gothic and gloomy.
The rumble of ‘Muscles’ provides a sinister backdrop for Vega’s preaching but the gorgeous ‘Samurai’ is poignant with Vega giving a resonant speech before shouting “GOODBYE- GOODBYE- GOODBYE”, reflecting on life with a backdrop that could have come off the ‘Twin Peaks’ soundtrack.
The slow industrial of ‘Filthy’ utilises a combination of distorted mechanical noise and a nail bed of ice, with Vega stamping his wayward personality throughout while ‘Nike Soldier’ rises and reverberates in a manner akin to THE SISTERS OF MERCY reworking a DEPECHE MODE B-side.
Doing away with percussion, the sombre ‘Psalm 68’ relies on a bassline pulse and uncomfortable screeching ambience for its effect before ‘Mutator’ closes with the sustained synthesizer collage ‘Breathe’, with Vega eerily proclaiming “the show is now over”
“’Mutator’ bridges the gap between the past and present” Jared Artaud said, “It’s something we feel he would have been really proud of, seeing this lost album released today. In so many ways, his music is needed now more than ever.”
A fitting epitaph to the experimental spirit of Alan Vega, anyone who has ever enjoyed cult SUICIDE classics such as ‘Ghost Rider’ and ‘Frankie Teardrop’ will find much to savour on the eight tracks that form ‘Mutator’.
Originally released in October 1981 by Alfa Records in Japan, ‘Hidari Ude No Yume’ was a product of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s most prolific year.
This period that followed his acclaimed second solo album ‘B-2 Unit’ in September 1980 came between two YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA long players ‘BGM’ and ‘Technodelic’, although it is now widely known that Sakamoto was largely absent from the ‘BGM’ sessions. YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA began as a one-off electronic disco project at the behest of Alfa Records to whom Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi and Ryuichi Sakamoto were already signed.
So the threesome always had solo projects running in parallel with what the public considered their main band and even played on each other’s solo albums. But ‘Hidari Ude No Yume’ saw Sakamoto collaborating more freely outside of his usual trio with a wider pool of musicians from a variety of backgrounds.
Recorded in Tokyo in Summer 1981 and highlighted by a photo on the back artwork, the project was based around the threesome of Sakamoto, co-producer Robin Scott of M fame and guitarist Adrian Belew who had worked with Frank Zappa and David Bowie. Meanwhile, lyrical contributions came from Shigesato Itoi, Tetsuro Kashibuchi and Sakamoto’s then wife Akiko Yano.
Despite the more organic spontaneous approach to ‘Hidari Ude No Yume’ after the rigid technological experimentation of ‘B-2 Unit’, Sakamoto still employed the programming skills of Hideki Matsutake aka LOGIC SYSTEM who had played a similar role in YMO’s pivotal albums. Sakamoto opted to record the album digitally on the new 3M 32 track recorder that Alfa Records had installed in its studios before mixing it in analogue.
Today, a bilingual crime drama such as ‘Giri / Haji’ can get commissioned by the BBC and receive critical plaudits while Anime and Manga are effectively part of the mainstream.
But in 1981, the world was very different world and anything artistic emerging from South East Asia often found itself Westernised to suit European and particularly American tastes. This was all despite the US success in 1979 of YMO which was achieved by taking a very Japanese approach.
Thus when ‘Hidari Ude No Yume’ was issued as Ryuichi Sakamoto’s third solo record proper in Japan, the interest in its Western collaborators saw Epic Records taking up its option for Europe via their arrangement with Alfa Records. However, when it was released in October 1982, the album came in a significantly altered version entitled ‘Left-Handed Dream’.
Featuring three tracks reworked in English with Robin Scott on lead vocals, there was also the addition of a new song called ‘The Arrangement’ which sounded strangely like SPARKS and the dropping of two tracks, ‘Saru No Le’ and ‘Living In The Dark’.
It meant to that the original parent album has largely become lost to international ears… until now!
Wewantsounds, a label specialising in rare international releases particularly from Japan, reissue ‘Hidari Ude No Yume’ in its original tracklisting outside of Japan for the first time, save for a small-scale Dutch double vinyl release on Plexus in 1981.
Sakamoto’s aim was for the music to evolve organically with the musicians working in collaborative improvisation. These parts were retained or discarded by Sakamoto depending on whether they complimented his vision.
One of the album’s highlights was ‘Relâché’, a joint Sakamoto / Scott / Belew effort that featured Takahashi and Hosono; the marvellous instrumental art funk was dominated by Belew’s textural guitar flights, with the track reminiscent of TALKING HEADS in their Brian Eno helmed phase.
But it all began with the percussive moods of ‘Boku No Kakera’, a traditional song experiment using technology but authentically sweetened with Kaoru Sato’s flanged violin and Robin Thompson’s hichiriki.
A signal to Sakamoto’s soundtrack future on ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ and ‘The Last Emperor’, the man himself gave an understated speech, an idea he would reprise for ‘Bamboo Houses’, his 1982 single with David Sylvian.
‘Saru To Yuki To Gomi No Kodomo’ was shaped by a hypnotic pulsing passage while Sakamoto-san charmingly took on the lead vocals, as on several numbers in the set. Sparse and quirky, ‘Kacha Kucha Nee’ saw Sakamoto singing the words of his wife before an unusual tribal clatter took hold. Meanwhile, ‘The Garden Of Poppies’ was interesting in its use of a morphing Taiko drum tattoo.
As well as pop focussed material, there were illustrations of Sakamoto’s love of the musical avant garde with the abstract ‘Slat Dance’ and the closing animal noise experiment ‘Saru No Ie’, although both were too indulgent to be truly enjoyable.
Demonstrating Sakamoto’s prowess on marimba with an African feel emanating, ‘Tell ‘Em To Me’ was complimented by Belew’s impressionistic approach and six string growl that served him well playing with TALKING HEADS.
‘Living In The Dark’ saw more art funk with Hosono and Takahashi backing another Sakamoto vocal where the generous space between all the participants was particularly noticeable.
With a clean and uncluttered production, ‘Living In The Dark’ also gave Sakamoto a chance to show off his classical piano virtuosity. ‘Venezia’ saw Sakamoto’s naïve vocal return backed by a chorus of friends including Masami Tsuchiya, Shoji Fujii and Akira Mitake of IPPU DO plus the song’s author Tetsuro Kashibuchi. It was a joyous moment with pretty piano and subtle synths, but such was the sum of its parts that the rhythm section almost went unnoticed as it melted into the backdrop.
Although the English variants featuring Robin Scott were released in January 1982 as a separate EP in Japan, it is said that Sakamoto was not happy with how these tracks were reworked in London without his full involvement and then ended up on what became ‘Left Handed Dream’. To be fair, Scott’s vocal versions of ‘Relâché’ as ‘Just About Enough’ and ‘Venezia’ as ‘The Left Bank’ were not bad.
But perhaps those four reworks should have stayed on ‘The Arrangement’ EP from a conceptual stand point if nothing else.
This reissue of ‘Hidari Ude No Yume’ offers the purer Sakamoto vision as it was intended, a director’s cut capturing the tension between contrasts of electronic versus traditional, digital versus analogue and pop versus the avant garde.
Hearing it in 2020, ‘Hidari Ude No Yume’ is a fascinating document tracing the exact point when Ryuichi Sakamoto began to leave technopop behind to head towards more esoteric climes and become the renowned soundtrack composer that everyone knows today.
While now established as a modern synthpop force in a similar vein to CHVRCHES, AVEC SANS and DANA JEAN PHOENIX, the story of PARALLELS actually began in 2008 while their debut album ‘Visionaries’ came out in 2010.
Fronted by Holly Dodson, PARALLELS at the time was a partnership with Cameron Findlay who had toured previously as the drummer for CRYSTAL CASTLES, while Joey Kehoe later joined as a live keyboardist. One of the Visionaries’ tracks ‘Dry Blood’ was used in the soundtrack for the 2012 film ‘Curfew directed by Shawn Christensen which won an Oscar for ‘Best Live Action Short Film’.
PARALLELS later achieved a wider worldwide breakthrough with their third album ‘Metropolis’ in 2016 with support from The Blitz Club legend Rusty Egan; a North American tour with NINA followed in 2018 after a successful premiere of the pairing at Zigfrid Von Underbelly in London.
Since then, there have been a number of notable collaborations, the most recent being on the soundtrack to the film ‘Proximity’ with RADIO WOLF aka PARALLELS live bandmate Oliver Blair whose previous credits have included CLIENT and KELLI ALI.
‘Visionaries’ has been reissued to celebrate its tenth anniversary in a double album edition featuring a remaster of the original and a bonus collection of special remixes from the likes of ANORAAK, MECHA MAIKO, GLITBITER, BETAMAXX, GHOSTHOUSE and many more from the synthwave community.
Despite being a decade old, ‘Visionaries’ has a lovely innocent charm about it, with Dodson finding her voice amongst a palette of catchy synth hooks, tight electronic sequences and live drums.
Deserving re-evaluation and discovery by those who may have missed it first time round, ‘Visionaries’ is a must for modern synthpop connoisseurs seeking a bridge to synthwave.
Holly Dodson kindly chatted from her home in Toronto about the start of her journey as PARALLELS and the making of the ‘Visionaries’ album.
Having grown up in a music family, was making an album always inevitable for you?
It was definitely encouraged! I was a really shy kid though, so it took me a while to build up the confidence to even say I wanted to learn how to record. Since the mid-70s, my parents were running an indie label and studio out of their basement so I was always in a studio environment growing up… so it would have been difficult to not get the music bug.
But before ‘Visionaries’, you released a solo album called ‘The Carousel’ in 2009; how do you look back on that and what made you opt for the more New Wave concept of PARALLELS for your next record?
When my Dad learned that I had been writing songs, he said the first thing I should do is learn how to build a production, learn how to program and arrange… basically learn my way around the studio so that I could be self-sufficient and record my ideas. He’s got a really DIY sensibility so he instilled that in me from early on. So making ‘The Carousel’ record was my first foray into producing my own records. At that time, I was hugely inspired by KATE BUSH, BAT FOR LASHES, DEPECHE MODE and JONI MITCHELL.
‘Visionaries’ was a collaboration between myself and drummer Cam Findlay and when we were writing that album, we were listening to a lot of NEW ORDER and JOY DIVISION… hugely inspired by New Wave so it inevitably spilled into our songwriting.
‘Visionaries’ had a distinct synthpop direction as heralded by the album opener ‘Find The Fire’, what interested you in synths?
Yeah, my main instrument was piano so I knew how to navigate around a keyboard. There were a collection of vintage synths in my Dad’s studio – Roland D-50, D-70, Yamaha DX-7 so there were always synths to play with growing up.
I love how colourful synths sounds are and how you can really customize these crazy sound waves, turning electricity into a song.
Had there been any particular acts like liked who you referenced to formulate your sound?
PETER GABRIEL, KATE BUSH, DM, NEW ORDER… asking “what would Kate do?” often gets me out of a production rut haha.
PARALLELS is widely accepted as your musical vehicle today, but at the time of ‘Visionaries’, was there more of a democratic band dynamic in place?
Yeah, like I had mentioned previously, ’Visionaries’ was a collaboration so Cam would make up demos and then I’d write topline, and we’d complete them together at my Dad’s studio. We tracked drums there as well! That ‘Visionaries’ era was pretty crazy for us, we were learning the industry – managing ourselves – figuring out who we were as artists etc, and it took a toll on Cam and I’s relationship so we ended up parting ways. He started a solo project and I continued on with PARALLELS… obviously 😉
‘Dry Blood’ has a real chill about it with those great synth strings, haunting choir samples and prominent vocoders, what was on your mind when you made it?
Cam had come to me with that track and I immediately thought it was a cool entity. I think it was one of the first tracks he had written. He didn’t really have lyrics for it so for the ‘Visionaries’ album I wrote some vocals and we put live drums on it which gave a bit more depth to the track. I was super into gothic literature at that time so… to precede your next question, the Goth girl was emerging…
On ‘Nightmares’ you sang about “the taste of blood in my mouth”, has there always been a Goth girl waiting to escape from you?
Yes. There still is ha! I was always into the supernatural and witchy things so discovering the original goths of the Romantic era opened up that world to me… I was reading Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, William & Coleridge – huge nerd over here, still am.
In terms of equipment, were you using hardware or software synths? Did you have any favourites?
We were working with a PolySix, Juno 60, Prophet, Waldorf Blofeld, Roland D-50, D-70 so ‘Visionaries’ features those.
‘Magnetics’ brought a pulsating NEW ORDER feel to proceedings? Have you always been a fan?
NEW ORDER was a huge inspiration throughout the whole album – I used to have jam sessions in my basement in high school, and some of my friends who would come to those jams (Cam included) turned me onto their stuff.
Meanwhile, ‘Counterparts’ explored the other side of NEW ORDER with a driving bass guitar?
Yeah, and very fast. We tend to play that one at the end of the set when the adrenaline is going haha. I think it was just bringing the whole scope of our inspirations in, and some songs call for different things so the chorus-y bass guitar adds a different colour to it. We were mixing a lot of electronic with live elements through the whole album.
The live drums took a breather and you got a drum machine out for ‘Vienna’, what was this song inspired by, as apart from ‘Dry Blood’, it’s probably the one that is the most different to the others on ‘Visionaries’?
This song was very escapist for me, dreaming of travelling to places I’d never been before and being in big open air, with open arms wandering fields like Julie Andrews haha. We were really into ‘Games Without Frontiers’ as well, so I think production-wise that played a part.
‘Midnight Voices’ has this fabulous futuristic disco vibe like Giorgio Moroder which still stands up?
Thank you! Huge fan of Giorgio Moroder – we were also super into Italo Disco as well so this song always reminds me of that influence.
‘Shadow Hearts’ is cut from not too dissimilar a cloth but one thing that is noticeable on that and ‘Ultralight’ is that the album manages to capture a lively percussive template in amongst all the synths and sequencers, not always an easy thing to do in a studio environment?
The live drums definitely add an edge to it, and a more human energy. Cam was a drummer so it was sort of a given. The demos were usually made with programmed drums and then we had recorded live drums for the final album versions. We kept certain elements of the programmed drums if it fit the song – like ‘Reservoir’ has a programmed kick and some hi-hat, and ‘Ultralight’ a bit of drum machine percussion. But yeah, ‘Visionaries’ doesn’t have a super polished sound which I prefer anyway – it was all about performing as tight as we could.
In what way do you think your voice has changed over the years in the way you use it?
I’ve definitely become more confident and found more fulfilment in singing; I was always insecure about my voice so I used to double track it. But I don’t really do that anymore – after years of soul searching and embracing what I have to offer… telling my inner-critic to go away ha. Singing started to become a sanctuary for me when I was recording the ‘Metropolis’ record.
How do you look back on ‘Visionaries’, what are your favourite songs and are there any you would do differently in hindsight?
It was such a formative time, and a whirlwind! It was the first time that people really listened to my music, so I’m so grateful for that. It’s hard to pick a favourite from the album but I think my favourites are ‘Counterparts’, ‘Reservoir’ and ‘City Of Stars’. And no I wouldn’t do anything differently, everything happened how it was supposed to 🙂
The new remixes you have commissioned to accompany this remaster appear to be from The Synthwave All-Stars, do you feel you have now found “your people” after ten years?
Agreed! I’m so grateful that they were a part of it – I envisioned it to be a compilation of artists who have somehow factored into this musical journey, both old and new friends… from the VALERIE COLLECTIVE to MORGAN WILLIS, who I just recently collaborated with. I finally connected with BETAMAXX in real life last year but it felt like we had known each other forever. And yeah I think it does take time to make friends in this music world because a lot of people come and go and everyone is doing their own thing. But it does feel like there’s a greater sense of community these days, it’s amazing how small the music world really is.
‘XII’ came after ‘Visionaries’, what were the most valuable experiences that came from recording your debut that you were able to put into the second PARALLELS album?
Giving yourself room to grow, inviting inspiration find you, staying curious and letting the magic happen. That’s ultimately why I felt called to evolve PARALLELS and keep it going.
I think a lot of artists get too precious about the first thing they create and in my opinion, the first record is the easiest in some ways.
It’s been nearly four years since the third PARALLELS album ‘Metropolis’ but you have been collaborating with FUTURECOP! and RADIO WOLF, so how have these experiences been for you in terms of your continued musical development?
It’s definitely helped me get some perspective and it feels like coming home now that I’m working on a new PARALLELS record. It felt like the right time to collaborate because I felt like I needed a break from ‘myself’ haha. Working with other artists helps bring inspiration out of you that you didn’t know you had. I also worked with MORGAN WILLIS, DIGITAL SHADES and CHRIS HUGGETT during that time.
Is there anyone you would love to collaborate with?
To be honest, I’ve done so much collaborating in the past while it feels right to just get in my little world again. But if Kate called…
What are your future plans, obviously depending on the world situation?
Oh right – the world situation! Haha…well we had tour plans for RADIO WOLF and I’s ‘Proximity’ soundtrack that have been put on the back burner, and another tour with MECHA MAIKO and BETAMAXX, some EU/UK dates… but alas. I’m cautiously hopeful we’ll be able to make up for it next year. So right now I’m back in my little world knee deep in writing a new record and building a Patreon community to share the progress with and stay connected.
Thanks so much for the chat – love to all at ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK give its warmest thanks to Holly Dodson
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK first saw THE MODERN opening for HEAVEN 17 at The Scala in December 2005.
With a colourful stage presence and an immediately catchy sound, they were the one of the new modern synthpop hopes with their debut single ‘Jane Falls Down’ making a good first impression.
Comprising of front woman Emma Cooke, with Nathan Cooper and Chi Tudor-Hart on vocals and synths plus Robert Sanderson on guitar and Bob Malkowski on drums, THE MODERN were signed by Mercury Records, home of TEARS FOR FEARS and DEF LEPPARD.
The band began recording an album under the working title ‘Life In A Modern World’ with producer Stephen Hague, best known for his work with OMD, PET SHOP BOYS, THE COMMUNARDS, ERASURE, NEW ORDER and DUBSTAR. However, after their single ‘Industry’ was disqualified from the UK singles charts in early 2006, THE MODERN were dropped by their label and found themselves out on a limb.
Changing their name to MATINEE CLUB, the album finally saw the light of day in late 2007, now retitled ‘Modern Industry’ and issued as a download only by Planet Clique. It also saw a CD release with a revised tracklisting as ‘The Modern LP’ through Ninth Wave Records in the US, while a 2CD special edition by EQ Music Singapore for the South East Asian market in 2009 saw another tracklisting with B-sides and bonus songs added.
Around this time, the founding trio Emma Cooke, Nathan Cooper and Chi Tudor-Hart returned to being called THE MODERN. But in 2010, Cooper bid adieu and became KID KASIO while Cooke and Tudor-Hart continued as THE MODERN, releasing a brand new album ‘Revenge’ in 2018.
In 2013, ‘Modern Industry’ was reissued under the title ‘Life In A Modern World’ as an album by THE MODERN in an expanded tracklisting which largely resembled the South East Asian 2CD edition.
In whatever variant, the debut album by THE MODERN often provokes many “what if” debates among electronic pop enthusiasts.
Emma Cooke, Nathan Cooper and Chi Tudor-Hart got together to talk about the joys and the setbacks that came with its making and marketing.
When THE MODERN signed to Mercury, did you more or less get despatched to record an album first, or was it very much in steps?
Nathan: We’d never thought of ourselves as an album band. The whole concept was quite alien to us. Every time we wrote a song it was with the intention of it being a single, so when the label started talking to us in terms of an album we just always saw it as a collection of singles with no fillers or anything.
Emma: First thing the label wanted was to find a producer. We were happy with Nick Zart but the label wanted someone known. This took longer than we thought as we were also touring.
How did Stephen Hague become involved in producing THE MODERN?
Nathan: Mercury had sent us round the houses with various different producers. We tried a different track with each producer that we had shortlisted with the label.
Chi: Remember Jeremy Wheatley? We tried recording ‘Discotheque Français’ with him. He was a total knob. He got really upset because Bob ate some of his Jelly Babies that were next to the mixing desk that turned out to be his. He didn’t get us at all and he sulked for the rest of the day over his sweets!
Nathan: We’d been dispatched to Sweden to work with Tore Johansen whose work with Franz Ferdinand was getting massive airplay at that time. I remember him picking us up from the airport in a battered old Volvo and explaining to us the importance of efficiency, which sounded to me like he just wanted to get us in and out as quickly as he could!
The label was obsessing about adding this “indie edge” to the sound, hence FRANZ FERDINAND’s producer, but I was much more interested in chatting to him about his work with ROXETTE which sadly for me he had no interest in discussing! The label had this idea that they wanted us to sound like BLONDIE who of course we all loved, but it became clear quite quickly the live drum sound just wasn’t working for us.
Emma: The sound just didn’t sound big enough for us. Mind you, I quite like listening to his version of ‘Jane Falls Down’ and the vocals on his version were amazing. We then met Stephen Hague and worked with him at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio. Beautiful place, the studio overlooked a lake with swans swimming around. The start of the session was a disaster as we couldn’t get the drums sounding right. But by the end of the weekend Stephen had ‘Closing Door’ sounding awesome. That nailed it for us to get him to produce the whole album.
Nathan: Rather than record the whole album in Wiltshire, Stephen booked The Strong Rooms in Shoreditch for us to record the album.
Chi: Nick Zart’s production on our demos was so good we got Nick to work on the whole album with us, so really being our 6th member of the band.
Nathan: Stephen was an obvious choice for us. It had dawned on us and the label by this time we were a full on synth pop band and he was the king of that genre, he had worked with all our favourites PET SHOP BOYS, ERASURE, OMD, NEW ORDER.
Stephen Hague worked on ‘Industry’, ‘Jane Falls Down’, ‘Closing Door’, ‘Questions’ and ‘Sometimes’, rather than the whole album, was this down to budget? So how did you go about shortlisting the songs that he would work on?
Chi: No, Stephen produced the whole album. The only track he didn’t do was ‘Suburban Culture’. Matt Jagger, head of Mercury and our champion, hated that track! We loved it so stuck Nick Zart’s version of it on the album anyway.
Emma: Yeah ‘Suburban Culture’ had to be on the album as before we were signed that track was the first song that got radio play on XFM and was always a favourite to play live as it always set the tone.
What was Stephen Hague like to work with, he’s known to be very meticulous with a big focus on vocals?
Nathan: I think our days mixing the album with him in The Strong Rooms in East London were some of my favourites in the band’s history. It really felt like we had taken control and were working with someone who finally understood what we were trying to do.
I have only happy memories of those sessions. I do remember being a bit put out when trying to extract some exciting tit bits of information about his early work with OMD, only for him to confess he didn’t really like synth pop and he had fallen into the genre completely inadvertently, and he actually preferred rock!! He actually said that!
Emma: I agree, I loved recording at The Strong Rooms and really felt Stephen Hague understood us, and as a band and really captured our group dynamic in the recordings
Nathan: I do remember the vocals being particularly difficult for me. Emma sailed through hers but I remember having to do the chorus of ‘Jane Falls Down’ about 100 times. It didn’t fill me with confidence either when after take 82, he said over the talkback that my voice reminded him of a foghorn!
Did you know ‘Smash Hits’ nickname for Tony Hadley was “Foghorn”? 😆
Nathan: Ok I don’t feel so awful now!
‘Sometimes’ sounded like it could have been one of Stephen Hague’s productions for ERASURE’s album ‘The Innocents’, while ‘Questions’ has this frantic energy, where did this stem from?
Nathan: The majority of the album was songs that had begun life as demos myself, Chi and Emma had written over the previous four years with Nick Zart producing. I think there were four songs on the album which had come about in a totally different way, these were ‘Questions’, ‘Jane Falls Down’, ‘Closing Door’ and ‘Sometimes’.
These came from instrumentals that Robert Sanderson our guitarist had made. Myself, Chi and Emma would go to his tiny bedroom studio and just take turns trying out different vocal top lines and ideas over these backings. Loads of really good stuff came out of those sessions, it was competitive but in a friendly super productive kind of way.
We’d be there sitting on Robert’s bed in this little room and he’d blast the verse out of the speakers and you’d have about 10 minutes to sit there and work out something in your head!! You’d be right in the middle of writing down a killer lyric or humming a melody in your head when someone would obliterate your concentration with a cry of “I’ve got something” and run up to the microphone to record it! It was a really strange way to do things but it really worked!!
I think that’s where the frantic energy on ‘Questions’ comes from. It’s sitting in that room desperately trying to get your idea crystallized onto a piece of paper before someone shouts “I’ve got it!”; the song has two choruses crammed into one song vying for attention!
‘Jane Falls Down’ was mighty, were hopes running on this being THE MODERN’s breakthrough?
Nathan: We all hoped as the first single that it would do well. I remember sitting listening to the chart rundown on Radio1 on a Sunday evening and hearing it was at number 32. None of us in the band had been that happy with the way the video turned out and I think the fact it had charted at all with so little airplay was testament to the song and the people who’d bought the single off the back of the live shows.
‘Industry’ was reminiscent of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, did Mike Score’s lawyers come knocking on the door?
Nathan: We knew nothing about this until half way through promotion for the single. We’d just finished a sound check somewhere and had been ushered into a local radio station to do a promotional interview for the single. We were sat there in the radio studio with headphones on and the presenter plays both songs back to back, and then goes live to air and asks us if we copied them on purpose!!! I just remember being completely dumbfounded.
Truth is that this one must be my fault because very early versions of the song had come from a demo I’d recorded. The song had been through loads of transitions since then but the vocal melody in the verse had remained the same. I’d always been a big fan of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS and had a VHS with ‘The More You Live, The More You Love’ on it. I think these things happen subconsciously sometimes. We thought about dropping it from the set when we supported A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS a few years later, but we went and had a chat with Mike Score and he was completely lovely about it.
What was the story behind ‘Closing Door’? It seemed to become oddly prophetic when it ended up as the B-side of ‘Industry’?
Nathan: This was another one that started as one of Robert’s instrumental demos; I think it was touted as a single for a short while. I think the lyrics might have been vaguely about some decisions we had had to make as a band regarding management etc. I actually think it’s one of the most positive songs on the album. It always went down well live that one.
The events that led to THE MODERN being dropped by Mercury in 2006 and the band morphing into MATINEE CLUB are well documented, but how complete was the album at this point?
Chi: The album was completely done and dusted. Mercury got a new head of label, Jason Iley, and he did not like us. This guy was all that is wrong with the industry. When asked what bands he liked, he answered with a straight face, “Bands that sell”… total tw*t! His efforts went into promoting his new signing Matt Willis.
Matt Jagger, who signed us, was ousted, so we no longer had our champion. The chart fiasco happened and the label ghosted us!
How did Planet Clique become interested in releasing what was now the MATINEE CLUB album?
Emma: So when Matt Jagger left Mercury he started a new label under Universal, Europa. He signed us and paid for us to shoot a video for ‘Discotheque Français’. The idea Matt had with Planet Clique was for them to promote us on the underground dance scene.
Europa’s other band was INFERNAL and just had a big hit with From Paris to Berlin so I think they liked the idea of ‘Discotheque’ coming out of the clubs like INFERNAL ’s track.
Chi: Yeah, then true to our luck Europa went under and Planet Clique then offered to release the album on their label, download only, just to get it out there.
Were there many challenges in acquiring the masters for the album now titled ‘Modern Industry’ for release by Planet Clique?
Chi: Lucian Grange, head of Universal, was very nice about giving over all our masters. He always liked THE MODERN.
‘Discotheque Français’ was solely produced by Nick Zart and was released as the lead single for the album, what was the song inspired by?
Nathan: The original song was written in 2001 under the band name DIRTY BLONDE. We had a studio in Hackney at the time and there was a whole collective of producers and remixers living in this massive old factory called The Sweatshop. A friend in the studio next door to us heard us recording it and asked if they could do a remix.
Once a month there would be these massive parties at The Sweatshop and the remix of the song got played there. Somehow from there Eddie Temple Morris got hold of it and played it on his show on XFM. We released it as a white label, which I had a listen to the other day. It sounds like BUGGLES meets THE TOURISTS!
I think the lyric idea in the chorus had stemmed from the summers me and Chi used to spend at my mum’s place in southern France. The highlight of the holidays would be going to these tiny discos in these French villages and dancing to Eurodance music. The house was in the middle of nowhere in rural south west France and there was one radio station we could pick up called radio NRJ.
I used to religiously sit by the ghettoblaster all day long recording these fantastic Eurodance tracks onto cassette, so I’d have them long before they’d be released in the UK. I remember hearing ‘Rhythm Of The Night’ by CORONA about 6 months before it was released over here.
Emma: Actually Eddie Temple Morris got a hold of Ed Solo’s remix of ‘Suburban Culture’. It’s on the 2015 album release, Arts and Craft mix; The Sweatshop lot remixed ‘Suburban’ after the success of ‘Discotheque’.
Stephen did a version of ‘Discotheque ‘but it never came together. He admitted never feeling it.
The cover of David Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’ can be considered either very brave or very foolish, what led you to record it? What do you think about it in retrospect? 😆
Chi: God, I foolishly love our cover!
Nathan: There were a couple of covers we’d sometimes do in the live set that always used to go down well. My favourite was ‘Strange Little Girl’ by THE STRANGLERS. We did a really interesting take on that. We also covered ‘Over You’ by ROXY MUSIC and got the chance to record our version with Phil Manzanera playing guitar! Although I’m pretty sure that never saw the light of day.
Another one was ‘Under My Skin’ by Cole Porter, we did this great minimalistic icy electronic version of that. ‘Modern Love’ came about entirely because of the association with the band’s name and a club night we were doing at the time at Filthy McNasty’s in Islington called Modern Love. I’m pretty sure it was Nick Zart’s idea. In hindsight it might have been foolish, I certainly wouldn’t dare take on such a classic now, let alone a Bowie classic but I thought we brought something to it.
Emma: Filthy McNasty’s! Yes, great club night. We did it every fortnight and THE LIBERTINES did the other weeks.
How do you think ‘Modern Industry’ was received when it finally came out in 2007? There was a loss of momentum but how did it affect the band?
Nathan: I think if we’d brought out the album in 2005 it would’ve looked very different. Maybe it would have had ten tracks on it and been a bit more cohesive, but because there was this massive gap by the time it was released, it almost became a kind of retrospective of everything we’d done over the past seven years. It ended a kind of being a “Best Of” in a way.
It was a strange period for physical formats so were you disappointed the album came out as a download only?
Nathan: That was just the way things were going. No-one in their right mind would’ve released a vinyl album in 2007. It was a time of real change and people were still adjusting to it and trying to work it all out. No ‘Smash Hits’, no ‘Top Of The Pops’, we were in a right muddle!
In 2008, you returned to being called THE MODERN again, what were your reasons?
Emma: We changed the name to MATINEE CLUB as Europa were keen to relaunch us, phoenix from the ashes, but we always felt THE MODERN suited us so we just went back to that.
THE MODERN soldiered on for a few years but then the line-up fragmented in 2010?
Chi: Nathan had much more he wanted to do musically and Emma was doing a lot of acting work so KID KASIO was born. Emma and I have carried on and Rees Bridges, our original drummer came back to us after touring with DIRTY VEGAS. We released ‘Revenge’ in 2018, many of the tracks co-written with Nathan.
‘Modern Industry’ was given an expanded reissue as a release by THE MODERN under the new title of ‘Life In A Modern World’ in 2013, what was the thinking behind this?
Chi: Pure laziness. It just took us this long to get the album in its entirety out there.
Looking back, how do you think the album as a whole stands up? Which are your own favourite tracks?
Nathan: I think all of it still stands up well. My favourites on there are ‘Seven Oceans’ and ‘Sometimes’ and I really like ‘Travelogue’ (which is just on the 2013 re-release). It’s a great set of songs and an album that I’m really proud to have been part of.
Emma: I love ‘Sometimes’. The whole album still sounds fresh to me.
Chi: ‘Questions’ and ‘Nothing Special’. I’m so proud of the whole album.
If you had your time in THE MODERN again, how differently would you have done things?
Emma: We should have released singles and album much faster as back then there was a real coming back of synth bands like THE BRAVERY, FISCHERSPOONER and GOLDFRAPP but by the time we released it, THE ARCTIC MONKEYS got out there and it all went the way of indie guitar.
Chi: Nothing I’d change. I loved it.
Nathan: Yeah same, I wouldn’t have changed anything. The touring got stressful sometimes but on the whole when I look back, I just think of the fun we had and the great songs that came out of it.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Emma Cooke, Nathan Cooper and Chi Tudor-Hart
1994’s ‘Warped By Success’ was the sixth album by CHINA CRISIS and came some five years after ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’ which was mostly produced by Walter Becker of STEELY DAN and their last record for Virgin Records.
Despite their first three albums charting in the Top25 in the UK having yielded a hit single each in ‘Christian’, ‘Wishful Thinking’ and ‘Black Man Ray’, sales for the next two albums were disappointing, thus precipitating the end of their seven year relationship with Virgin Records. It also saw Gazza Johnson, Kevin Wilkinson and Brian McNeil leaving the CHINA CRISIS family, having been all together as a unit since 1985.
But given the opportunity to make another album again a few years later by West Coast Productions, a mysterious company that specialised in budget compilations and bizarre rock collections, Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon regrouped to make what was to be a very personal record. One of the team assisting CHINA CRISIS to realise the sound of ‘Warped By Success’ was the future Grammy Award winning engineer Mark Phythian, with a creative relationship that continues to this day.
Developing on the mature laid back feel of ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’, there were jazzier overtones on the opener ‘Hand On The Wheel’ while glorious blue-eyed soul could be found on ‘Wishing Time’. The cautious optimism of ‘Everyday The Same’ recalled CHINA CRISIS’ later Virgin-era singles and heralded a new dawn for the duo, although ‘Real Tears’ touchingly captured the sadness of bereavement and ‘Hard To Be Around’ reflected on a relationship coming to the end of its natural course.
Something of a follow-up to ‘Stranger By Nature’ on ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’, ‘Without The Love’ celebrated the joy of parenthood while the solemn orchestrated ballad ‘The Way We Are Made’ was dedicated to Derek Jarman.
Despite being a fine collection of well-written songs, ‘Warped By Success’ is very much the forgotten album in the CHINA CRISIS portfolio. But as ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was to find out, the aftermath of its initial genesis was less than happy, perhaps indicating why it would not be until 2015 that CHINA CRISIS would release another long player in ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’; and while that album is being re-issued in a vinyl edition, ‘Warped By Success’ remains unavailable.
Gary Daly kindly gave a candid recollection of the background behind ‘Warped By Success’ and why for him at least, it is not among his favourites and how CHINA CRISIS eventually got back their creative mojo for ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’.
‘Warped By Success’ was at the time in 1994 seen as a comeback for CHINA CRISIS which seems funny now considering it had only been five years since ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’, compared with the timespan that occurred before ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ in 2015?
I can’t imagine at the time Eddie and myself thought it was anything other than a very very different experience from being with a major label… we would have thought maybe we had come full circle, from starting out on Inevitable Records then Virgin then back to a small independent label / Stardumb. And after being responsible for soooo many people’s livelihoods, jobs etc etc, it was really quite a nice experience to be back to just Ed and myself…
How had things changed within the CHINA CRISIS camp by the time ‘Warped By Success’, both personally and creatively?
Gosh, lots… just about everything that could change, did. Our band, which had been together about 8 years, was suddenly no more. It was a mutually agreed parting of the waves, as they say but basically we had no wages for anyone and people had to make a living…
Kev got busy doing sessions and touring with bands, everyone from FISH, SQUEEZE to THE PROCLAIMERS … Gaz took over his family business and continued to play live and do sessions… Brian opened and ran his own studios up in Glasgow, Scotland.
Personally, lots of the stuff of life was happening in our lives, births deaths and marriages. And this all fed into the songwriting… Eddie singing about losing his dad on the songs ‘Thank You’ and ‘Hands On The Wheel’ and myself singing about Eddie losing his dad on ‘Real Tears’.
You were recording at Hatch Farm Studios in Surrey which was as different as you can get from Maui and Los Angeles where parts of ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’ had been done? Any thoughts?
Yeah, awful place, awful people! It really was a massive mistake of Eddie’s and mine to get involved with the place and the people. But it was a chance to make a record and that’s all we ever wanted to do really… it’s a definite “If I could turn back time…” moment. We have a version of the album we made with Mark Phythian, it’s a beautiful thing and we hope to release one day… I hope so.
You and Eddie were back working as a duo again. Had this been out of necessity after the full band years or had technology advanced that music could be made electronically while exuding the live performance qualities you desired?
It was basically how we found ourselves after leaving Virgin records and the band moving on, it did feel completely natural. We rented a room from Peter Coyle of THE LOTUS EATERS on Hope Street in Liverpool. Eddie and myself would make our way there each day and write and record our little instrumental demos, just like when we started out. So you can imagine after almost 10 years touring, to be back just the 2 of us demoing, it was quite lovely really.
The technology hadn’t moved on that much in the early 90s… Eddie and me would have set the room up old school, synths , drum machines, effects, portastudio, mixing desk…
Were the sessions more relaxed than before without the pressure of being on a major label? It seems to come across like that on the record…
We was enjoying ourselves lots, it was soooooo great making a record with no real producer involved, it meant Eddie and myself could properly get fully involved with guiding the tracks.
I think on reflection though, you can hear there was no-one at the helm, steering the ship, so to speak. I think there’s a lack of standout moments… most of the songs are decent, but there’s not many great performances.
I think with us making some hugely standout albums with the “band” giving the songs depth with their performances, on reflection, that’s what the songs lack… no Kev, no Brian, no Gaz, no Walter… awwwww…
‘Warped By Success’ is a great title, had that been an ironic comment on your Virgin years?
Absolutely, you have no idea what you are signing up for and then BOOM! You’ve been on the telly and suddenly you are different… not really, but you are… some more than others…
Now more than ever I think you could apply that title, just think of all the many many reality TV shows / talent shows / etc etc! Success like that really can warp your life and your mind! Success I think is something best “worked” for, but then again I’m an old Grandad now so I would say that… ahaaa!
‘Hands On The Wheel’ and ‘Every Day The Same’ appeared to reflect on the topics of the first two albums, or has ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK read that wrong?
Eddie would have to vouch for ‘Hands On The Wheel’… ‘Everyday The Same’ is basically myself singing about our new found freedom and how best to engage with that, and get positive again…
There was an element of being dropped from Virgin Records which wasn’t great, everyone losing their jobs was tough. So this album being our first post Virgin Records album… there was deffo an element of us being “Indie” again which felt right…
‘Without The Love’ and ‘Real Tears’ were classic emotive CHINA CRISIS pop tunes, you certainly hadn’t lost it?
Yeah, they are both proper lovely songs. ‘Without The Love’, that’s me being a young dad and absolutely loving being home with my girls and not away all the time touring. ‘Real Tears’, well that’s just myself being Eddie’s old school buddy and watching him go through it a bit with his dad being poorly at the time. It would be great to see the Chinas perform these songs one day, I hope so .
There were more Eddie lead vocals on ‘Warped By Success’ than on other CHINA CRISIS albums, had this partly been as a result of you both writing separately during the hiatus?
Not really, because we was actually working more together after leaving Virgin than we had previously when we was still with the label and band. I think Eddie sang / wrote more then, mainly because he had more going on in his personal life…
‘Hard To Be Around’ was very honest and emotive…
It’s a funny one ‘Hard To Be Around’, at the time I dedicated it to Kevin mainly because in lots of ways, Kevin kept the Chinas going. He just made us all feel a lot better about ourselves and whatever situation we found ourselves in. But I think I’d really felt it when I could see Kevin was sort of throwing in the towel with us, not for any other reason than it was time to “move on”… but yeah, it was a hard pill to swallow .
Was ‘Good Again’ about anything specific?
Err yeah, everything that was happening round about then felt like renewal. Relationships / making a new album, it was a very exciting time. We’d gotten over no longer being with a major label and it was time to make it “Good Again”.
‘Wishing Time’ seems to have captured CHINA CRISIS at their most soulful, those vocal harmonies, woodwinds, brass and drum machine work beautifully together…
Ah yeah, that was Eddie having his SOUL II SOUL moment, I think the drum loop is possibly from ‘Back To Life’ or similar. Bowie’s ‘Young Americans’ album was a massive influence on Eddie and myself, so if you ever hear us sounding a bit “soulful”, that’s what it is…
Oh and Eddie would have got properly involved with arranging the brass which is something he loves to do… me myself, I’m more of a woodwinds kinda guy… ahaaaa
‘One Wish Too Many’ and ‘The Way We Are Made’ appear to be musically connected, how had they emerged?
‘The Way We Are Made’… having just listened to it now, crikey ! The recordings not great at all! Hearing it now, it’s deffo a rites of passage song… again, becoming a young dad, I would have been very much of a mind… the road is indeed, just as Paul McCartney and THE BEATLES had pointed out… L O N G!
You set up your own Stardumb Records imprint to release the album, how was it for you to venture into this part of the operation?
By name only… there was no Stardumb label. The company we was working with had lots and lots of differing musical projects on the go, with our album being just one of many.
We needed something / anything to separate us from the companies other super naff projects and so we came up with the name… as I said before, it was an awful, awful situation we found ourselves in.
When ‘Warped By Success’ came out, how did you find the press and audience reaction to it?
The expression “piss poor” springs to mind… awww I do hope you can print that, because it’s true! We were, as a musical force, absolutely spent! Imagine at the time, it was OASIS , BLUR, THE STONE ROSES and… ’Warped By Success’… no, not a great time… ahaaa but thems is the breaks which you have to weather… and weather them we did… and continue to do…
How do you look back on the album now, what are your own favourite tracks?
I don’t look back at that album at all. Eddie will remind me now and then just how great some of the songs are and recently we had ‘Hands On The Wheel’ in the live show and we almost had ‘Good Again’ in there.
But as memories go, I don’t “go” there… too sad and upsetting for me. They are not any of my fave CC songs but I wouldn’t want to put anyone off having a listen. Lots and lots of China fans love this album, I’m just not one of them…
Out of all the CHINA CRISIS albums, ‘Warped By Success’ is the most difficult to one to obtain, is there any chance it ever will be back in the public domain again?
Our version, certainly… but the actual album, n , there’s too much legal stuff around it. And the future is a Big Bright and Beautiful Wonderful New World .
One thing that ‘Warped By Success’ did do was reboot CHINA CRISIS as a live entity because that is one area where there has been a demand for you…
Maybes, eventually it did…we did slowly, but surely, begin to play live again.
I would say it took us a good couple of decades to get back to “Hey ! How good are CHINA CRISIS, must go and see ‘em live…”
Honestly , when we’d left Virgin in 1990, we had no live fans really, having only ventured out live when promoting each new record. And there’s a big big difference between having a live following and having hit records. So yeah , we properly got on with it and I’m glad to say, I can’t imagine we was ever better live than we are now… prettier, yeah, absolutely… but actually a better live act, I doubt it… ahaaa 😀
The ‘Warped’ experience put you off releasing new music for a long time, but you finally did again with ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ in 2015? What was the spark to get you motivated into writing new songs again?
The ‘Warped’ experience wasn’t great… it didn’t so much put us off recording as make us realise times had changed. We was properly back to being just the two of us… we did tour the album and even recorded a new live album ‘Acoustically Yours’ for Paul Humphreys of OMD’s Telegraph label which was a super lovely evening at the Neptune Theatre in Liverpool that reunited the Classic 80s China’s line up plus guest appearances from Peter Coyle and Jennifer John.
So basically the China’s got busy playing live which we felt at the time we was sort of starting from scratch, not really having a “live” reputation. I think it was all the performing live that got us writing and recording again, with us being asked at almost every show “when are yous gonna record a new record????”
What made ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ a much happier and more satisfying experience?
The fact the recording had purpose, it was properly funded and the fans what made it happen got properly involved. . .every step of the way… which at times was challenging with not everybody being on the same page at the same time… ahaaa, but it did work brilliantly. All the studio sessions had a great up against the legacy… Walter Becker, Mike Howlett, Langer and Winstanley, Phil Brown, Pete Walsh… all these amazing artists we’d worked with and had such success, that was the challenge. Back in the day , our recording budgets were huge, 80s style huge and although ‘Autumn’ was properly funded, it was nowhere near what it was back in the day!
Was it about being able to have more control of the creative process from start to finish, thanks to the crowdfunding process?
Yes, it absolutely was… it felt like we was back to being “indie” which is exactly how we started, ‘African & White’ on Inevitable Records, distributed by Rough Trade.
You were back working with Mark Phythian and had Carl Brown in to produce while at various points, the old band of Gazza and Brian reappear while Kevin was also there in spirit, was making the album more like a family get-together in atmosphere?
Yes, Mark and Carl and Brian all gave so much to the project… their expertise was invaluable. Mark’s ears are “GOLD” and it would be him that was responsible for the stereo loveliness coming out the speakers.
Carl and Brian were very much hands on performing and recording, both being musicians / producers with years and years of experience. They would very much want to capture all the performances and again, would be very much of a mind that “this is a bit special”, we’ve all grown up together.
Which songs ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ were highlights for you?
‘Because My Heart’ is sublime , Gazza and Kevin are completely responsible for the feel of that song; I originally wrote the song on piano and when we first played it, the feel was very much ‘How Long’ by the band ACE. It was Gaz who went home and played it on guitar and then Kevin and Gaz came back into the studio and completely changed the feel to what it is on the record, which is what I like to call “line dancing fantastic”… ahaaa
I think Eddie’s song ‘Fool’ worked out amazing; I’d heard it just as a song Eddie sang with his guitar. He then came into the studio and sang and played it to a click… and boom! Months and months and months later… wow! What an arrangement… Eddie worked with a pal of ours, Paul Mitchell Davis on the brass / wind arrangement. I could imagine Walter Becker would be very very impressed… incredible!
You’ve released two solo records since ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’, so will there be any more new CHINA CRISIS music?
YES! We are currently working on a “Classic Crisis” album / tour for 2021… we’ll be reworking some of our classic Crisis songs, ‘Black Man Ray’, ‘Wishful Thinking’ etc etc alongside new material. So we’ll add as many new songs as we can and all in a classical setting, strings, wind and brass, top hat, black tie and tails kinda scene… ahaaaa
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Gary Daly
‘Warped By Success’ was released by Stardumb Records and is occasionally available via private sellers on eBay and Amazon Marketplace