It’s 2008 and YAZOO have reunited for a concert tour of the UK, Europe and North America.
While the duo of Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke only released two albums before disbanding in 1983, their style of electro-blues had become a blueprint for many in the art of soulful synthpop.
Around this time, acts as diverse as DJ producer REX THE DOG and girl groups like THE SATURDAYS and RED BLOODED WOMEN were mining the YAZOO back catalogue for samples. Meanwhile the resurgence in synthpop had seen the independent market saturated with girl/boy pairings clearly influenced by Moyet and Clarke.
One of the better but lesser known of these acts was the appropriately named ALISON from Gothenburg in Sweden. The union of Karin Bolin Derne and Magnus Johansson had been intended to be for only one show in the summer of 2005. Derne had somehow talked her way into getting a support slot with SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN, the solo project of Svensk synth mästare Eddie Bengsston from PAGE, by cheekily making up a story that she fronted a YAZOO covers act!
Now needing her own Vince Clarke, she contacted Johansson who was a veteran of bands such as ANTON WEBER, UZIEL 33 and TOPGUN but significantly a member of 101, a DEPECHE MODE tribute band with members of S.P.O.C.K whose concept was to imagine what would have happened had Vince Clarke not left Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher to their own devices.
After playing a successful show comprising of YAZOO songs including ‘Too Pieces’ and original material, ALISON became an entity as Derne and Johansson found the collaboration just too interesting to let go. The end result was an album ‘Duality’ released in early 2010.
Opening with what was ALISON’s second single in 2008, ‘No No No’ was a defiant Europop number celebrating empowerment with Derne happy with no longer having to play second best. Johansson provided a suitably synth brass laden backdrop.
Adding syndrums and pizzicato violins, the anthemic ‘There Was A Time’ lyrically referenced ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ while Derne gave a particularly spirited vocal performance.
A duet between Derne and Johansson, ‘Disco Dolly’ was a delightful homage to ‘Sweet Thing’ and ‘Nodisco’ in the first truly YAZOO aping moment of ‘Duality’. But cutely “la-la-la”, the raw deeper toned but heartily positive ‘Okey’ actually came over more like OMD, although it should be remembered that Vince Clarke’s entry point into synths was Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys’ ‘Almost’.
The slightly distorted ‘Dance Floor Killers’ sounded like it was about to burst into ‘Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I)’, but these YAZOO stylisations could only have been produced by a fan like Johansson who studied and understood Clarke’s sound design philosophy.
Again taking a leaf from OMD, ‘Give It Up For The Broken Hearted (Mr McCarthy)’ was wonderfully motorik electronic pop driven by a hypnotic synthetic engine room and while Berne wasn’t Alison Moyet, she delivered her own strong style of Nordic soul!
Actually sampling the rhythm track of ‘Ode To Boy’, ‘Where This Road Goes Down Tonight’ was more moody, borrowing the swishing, plucking and pulsing of EURYTHMICS ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ but slowing the pace down.
Closing ‘Duality’ was ‘Love Fool’, their feisty first single from 2007 which was basically a kind of percolating ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’ medley; Johansson’s programming in the sequence and rhythm department was superbly authentic while Derne gave it plenty of determined passion and grit.
The blatant YAZOO references polarised listeners by either charming or infuriating them, but over a decade on, what stands out about ‘Duality’ are its songs. And that, despite all the electro-blues accolades that were bestowed upon Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke, was what YAZOO were ultimately about.
There is still talk of a second ALISON long player but with Johansson having launched HILTIPOP and Derne working on solo material, that might be a while yet… but whatever happens, they left an enjoyable and fun album that captured the ‘Duality’ of YAZOO in the absence of the much-missed real thing.
‘Duality’ is still available via Electric Fantastic Sound as a download album
After three albums on the Swedish independent label Memento Materia, Bristol trio MESH were on the cusp of a wider breakthrough.
Formed in 1991, Mark Hockings, Richard Silverthorn and Neil Taylor had attained cult success in Europe, first with their debut ‘Fragile’ released in 1994 which was then followed up with ‘In This Place Forever’ and ‘The Point At Which It Falls Apart’. Then as is now, Germany embraced the sound of MESH and it was Sony Music via their Home Records subsidiary in Hamburg who offered the band their major label opportunity.
Released in 2002, ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ strengthened MESH’s position within European alternative music circles although it fell short of the mainstream profile that was perhaps anticipated, with a German album chart high of No63 proving to be a disappointment at the time.
But it proved to be an important record and MESH were later picked up by Königskinder Schallplatten who put out ‘We Collide’ in 2006. This kickstarted an imperial phase for what was to become the now-familiar duo line-up of Hockings and Silverthorn with the Dependent Records released long players ‘A Perfect Solution’, ‘Automation Baby’ and ‘Looking Skyward’ which reached No12 in Germany, their best international album chart position yet.
While songs from ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ such as ‘Leave You Nothing’, ‘Friends Like These’, ‘Firefly’ and ‘Little Missile’ continue to take turns for inclusion in the more recent MESH live sets, unlike other releases in their back catalogue, ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ has not been readily available for several years. This has largely been due to the collapse of Home Records, thus elevating the album to lost and rare status, with the CD now being offered for quite high prices on eBay and Amazon.
Richard Silverthorn kindly took time out to reflect on MESH’s brief sojourn with a major record label and his memories of making ‘Who Watches Over Me?’.
At this point in MESH’s career, had there been a conscious decision to move on after three albums with Memento Materia?
I think we reached a level where we were getting more and more gig offers and the media were starting to take an interest in what we were doing. The demand on our time was becoming difficult and trying to fulfil our commitments became increasingly harder for us.
I remember we talked to our manager/label guy at the time and said “If we are going to take this to the next level we will have to give up our jobs, we need a major deal”. Our relationship was always a good one with Memento Materia but we needed to make that change and try and move forward.
How did Home Record, a German subsidiary of Sony Music, become interested in signing MESH?
Around the same time DJ Mark ‘Oh (a well-known DJ / pop act in Europe) approached us as he was quite a fan of our music and asked if Mark would do vocals on a collaboration idea he had.
The idea was a cover of the BLANCMANGE track ‘Waves’ but done with a full orchestra and electronic elements. We liked the idea but wanted it to be “Mark ‘Oh and MESH” not just featuring Mark Hockings as guest vocalist. He managed to get the London Session Orchestra to record the track and Mark added his vocal. I also did a remix of the track for the single CD.
This all caught the attention of his record label Orbit Records. They were quite well established in the dance / electronic scene with a few major hits under their belts. They were really excited about the collaboration and wanted us to co-write an album with Mark ‘Oh and on the back of this they wanted to offer us a record deal.
They had just became partners with Sony Music and wanted to branch out into more alternative music so started Home Records to run alongside their dance label Orbit Records. Unfortunately the album idea with Mark ‘Oh never happened, although a few tracks were written with that in mind. They subsequently ended up becoming part of our next album.
What did Home Records offer that perhaps hadn’t been available to you before?
Well certainly the money played a big part in the change. We were given enough money to give up our day jobs which gave us enough time to fully concentrate on music full time.
The backing of a major label was also a huge change for us. It all felt very real after this signing. We actually went to Sony’s HQ in Berlin to sign the contract.
The rooms were filled with gold discs and pictures of their artists, at that time Michael Jackson, Shakira etc. We suddenly found ourselves talking about TV appearances, radio plays and pluggers etc something we’d never really experienced.
Did you have to accept more A&R feedback on works-in-progress than maybe you would have done in the past?
No, luckily for us we still kept creative control over everything as they trusted us and the direction we wanted to take it. They knew we had a strong following and they wanted to expand on that.
The only real stipulation they had was they wanted it mixed by someone else to achieve that polished professional sound. This was something very new for us as up until that point, we’d done everything ourselves.
They suggested Peter Schmidt or BlackPete as he was sometimes known as. He was a known German engineer who worked at Berlin’s Hansa Studio and had worked on U2 ‘Achtung Baby’ and DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Black Celebration’ along with Gareth Jones.
With major label support, did you, Mark and Neil change your approaches in any way? What was your creative dynamic at the time?
Not really in the way we write, but we certainly felt a need to up our game especially with single choices. Maybe a little pressure for something a little more immediate and radio friendly. The track we had in mind was ‘Crash’ as it was kind of danceable and quite mainstream, but that soon changed after the 9/11 terrorist attack which happened around this time. Although the lyrics had nothing to do with that, we thought people could misunderstand and possibly interpret them that way. The track everyone seemed to lean towards was ‘Leave You Nothing’ so this became the first single.
Was your gear set-up still quite reliant on hardware?
Yes, it was pretty much all hardware synths, we had just spent a big chunk of our advance on new equipment to get inspiration. A Roland XP-30 (fully expanded with dance cards) played a big role on this album. A lot of the drum loops and sounds came from this keyboard, although we painstakingly chopped them up to make them less recognisable to the presets.
A NordLead 2 and an Access Virus B along with all our previous analogue gear was the palette of sounds we used. Sampling was taken care of by two Emax II’s and an Emu Esi32. Sampling was a major part of how we wrote and programmed at the time. Many hours of drum sampling and looping to create the rhythm sections / tracks.
‘Who Watches Over Me?’ was recorded in Bristol, but then it was mixed in Hamburg, did that environment help you to focus more on the final product?
The original plan was to write and record in our studio and take it somewhere locally to mix it. Initially, we tried at The Channel House studio in Bristol (owned by Toni Size) who had an SSL desk but the chemistry just wasn’t there with us and the guys we were working there.
The label suggested Home Studios in the centre of Hamburg. This had a Protools setup and a 96 channel SSL console.
It was previously known as Chateau Du Pape, DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’ was mixed there along with ‘Herzeleid’ by RAMMSTEIN and many other artists like NENA used it too.
We spent 3 weeks locked in there with Peter Schmidt and it was a breath of fresh air for us. It was the first time we could sit back and actually listen, rather than be engrossed in the programming side of things.
All-in-all, it was a fantastic experience and our fussball (table football) skills improved enormously. The album was mastered within days of finishing the mixing. We flew straight from Hamburg to Belgium to master it with Ronald Prent at Galaxy an outstanding purpose built studio.
‘Firefly’ was a fine opener that can be seen as classic MESH, how did it come together?
Initially it was just an instrumental track but Mark came up with a lyric idea for it. Mark and I lived very close to a supermarket in Bristol where an act of arson had taken place. Firefighter Fleur Lombard lost her life that day. She was the first ever female firefighter to lose her life in the line of duty in the UK. The lyrics are a twisted perspective through the eyes of the guy who caused the atrocity.
Would it be fair to say ‘Leave You Nothing’ was a bit reminiscent of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘It’s No Good’?
I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone refer to that track as sounding similar before but now you come to mention it… haha I don’t know, does it?
What was ‘Little Missile’ referring to? That brought a slight drum ‘n’ bass influence in?
‘Little Missile’ for me was more about that piano line, but we added this erratic “drum n bass” type loop which fitted really well so we just went with it. The structure of that song is all over the place but somehow seems to work and became a fan favourite.
The original title for the album was going to be ‘Stop Breathe’, a line taken from that song but the label had their concerns because the German people have problems pronouncing “th” in Breathe so we changed it last minute to ‘Who Watches Over Me?’.
The titles were quite pained from ‘Razorwire’ and ‘I Can’t Imagine How It Hurts’ to ‘Retaliation’ and ‘The Trouble We’re In’, how were things personally within the MESH camp at the time?
Weirdly, it was probably the most relaxed period in our history. We had signed “the major deal” and were in a very focused mindset. Mark’s lyrics have always had a very dark side to them which I’ve always thought was the appeal.
‘Who Watches Over Me?’ included ‘Friends Like These’ which has now taken on a life of its own and has become something of a MESH signature tune?
Yes. we released it as a single and we done a bizarre video for it on a farm in Berlin with a load of scantily clad girls an old Opel Kadett and a load of garden Gnomes… don’t ask…
Live, it became an anthem for us, probably helped by the fact we used to secretly take pictures of people entering the gig and their pictures would appear on the huge screens behind us during that track.
It was almost like us saying “thank you” to those who followed us and came to the shows. From then on it’s become the fans’ song, they own it now.
Which are your own personal favourite songs and memories from ‘Who Watches Over Me?’?
So many songs for different reasons. The making of this album was an exciting period for us. Personally I like ‘The Trouble We’re In’ although I seem to remember we were all really ill at the time of recording that song. We were all together in the studio for weeks on end so we’d all managed to catch this hideous flu like virus and you can really hear it in Mark’s vocal when you know that, but it just conjures up those long days for me listening to it now.
We were doing loads of odd sampling in my parents’ garage, dropping tools and bashing different things to create the percussion on that track. Layered up multiple takes of us clapping at the end to create a gospel type feel as it fades out. It just brings back up all those memories. Also, the time we spent at Home Studios was an amazing adventure. We stayed in three different hotels over a three week period and got to know Hamburg like a second home.
Looking back, how was ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ received in Europe when it was released?
From our existing fanbase, it was received with open arms and the reviews in all the dark scene magazines were excellent. I think our only gripe was with Sony. We had what we thought was a great album, everyone knew it was something special but we were such a small fish at Sony and I think their focus was on their bigger artists.
They got it into all the mainstream music outlets and had it featured on a lot of the listening posts but the publicity wasn’t great. We did get a review and interview in Rolling Stone magazine which was quite an achievement. The album did actually chart in the top 100 which was something for us, but with more of a push from them I think it could have broken down more barriers for us than it did but…
But things were not all well at Home Records and apart from MESH, one of the other casualties was Karl Bartos of KRAFTWERK, so what happened from your point of view?
Maybe it was the fact it was a new market for them as they were essentially a dance label with Sony Columbia’s backing, so I think they may have struggled with a strategy in this genre and trying to break into the mainstream. We were covered in all the usual magazines and media (which we had before) and limited amounts of radio play, but breaking new ground and establishing yourself was difficult to maintain.
We actually did a show case gig at the launch of the label in Hamburg and Karl Bartos was our support. Unbelievable the godfather of electronic music supporting us???! I think he may have suffered the same fate as us. I think their hearts were in it, but maybe that last piece of the puzzle for opening new doors was missing. Our time with them was amazing and a real eye opener to the real world of the music business that not many people get to experience. As a label they were really cool guys and great people to work with.
While ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ did not achieve a British breakthrough, the overall momentum got Gareth Jones interested enough to work with you?
Yes, Gareth was originally earmarked to do ‘Who Watches Over Me?’, but we felt the DEPECHE MODE connection which he was synonymous with wasn’t good for us so we initially turned it down.
When we started on ‘We Collide’, his name came up again and we thought “yeah what the hell” and that was another exciting chapter…
Having had the major label experience and been with Dependent since 2009 for ‘A Perfect Solution’, what would you say to artists now about whether to sign on the dotted line?
That’s a tricky one really. In all honesty, I think being on a small enthusiastic label is better than signing with a major label that has big artists to deal with. The money and experience was fantastic but I’m not so sure it’s like that these days. There certainly isn’t the money anymore and I think maybe a more internet based label with streaming and social media experience is a better option nowadays.
How do you think ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ sits within the MESH portfolio now as four albums have come since?
I personally think it sits there just right. It was a huge step forward for us and it’s all documented in that album. It still sounds like us as we had creative control but maybe it’s more professionally polished.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Richard Silverthorn
As KID MOXIE, Elena Charbila has been on a most interesting musical journey, one which has included collaborating with Angelo Badalamenti on an updated version of ‘The Mysteries Of Love’, the ‘Blue Velvet’ song best known in its original form voiced by Julee Cruise.
Her most recent release was the soundtrack to Greek film ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need to Have a Serious Talk’ which was released on the Grammy-nominated label Lakeshore Records, home to the physical editions of ‘Drive’ and ‘Stranger Things’.
While KID MOXIE achieved a breakthrough with the ‘1888’ album in 2014, it all started slightly less conspiciously. Having released a debut EP entitled ‘Human Stereo’ in 2007, a long playing statement was made in 2009 with ‘Selector’. At the time of its making, KID MOXIE was a duo comprising of Elena Charbila and Erica Zabowski.
Elena Charbila kindly chatted about how her journey began on ‘Selector’ and may have led her down the artistic paths she follows today…
Despite ‘Selector’ being the debut KID MOXIE album, it sounds quite transitional now?
11 years have passed and I am a different person and that is reflected musically on this album. It’s like growing up and seeing your development through your music, like a public diary. Any song you write, any album you make, there’s a public diary of where you’re at during each stage of your life.
So like reading your diary from high school, you cringe! But it also rings true to you because you remember how you feel and what you wanted to sound like. Looking back at ‘Selector’, I wasn’t as honest and free with myself as I feel now. I was not as mature or savvy, instrumentation or production-wise *laughs*
When I was in my 20s, I was mostly going out for style rather than substance. I was thinking “I’m going to make an electropop record, it’s supposed to sound like this and I’m supposed to sing it like Madonna in her early years etc!”… it was like Paris Hilton in the nid-2000s or whatever! *laughs*
So it was very nubile and adolescent, it was very immature, the way I sounded, the way I wrote! But there was something endearing because it’s like looking at an old picture of yourself when you’re a kid, so this album was more “Baby Moxie”!
Creatively, what would have been the dynamic within KID MOXIE at this point?
I had just moved to my first apartment in LA and my roommate Erica who was a violinist and I found in the LA Times, we started KID MOXIE together, she was a big fan of electropop. We were composing and rehearsing in our living room but then, we were later evicted for making too much noise!
We had a garage space so we were practicing there. It was so hot in LA that summer that we even had naked practice days on Tuesdays, wearing bikinis! It was like a sauna in there, 110 degrees in that garage.
We had a producer walk by while he was getting coffee and he heard what we were doing. He thought we were interesting and fresh so invited us to record in his studio on the same block. So that’s how the ‘Selector’ album started! We were practicing pretty much naked and doing this kind of obnoxious electropop and this producer saw something in that! *laughs*
At that point, I was writing most of the music and Erica was co-writing the lyrics with me. But even then, although I enjoyed being in the band set-up, I still knew that I was a bit of a Billy Corgan, I liked to do things my way and wanted full control. I was never comfortable sharing the creative experience of making music, minus having a producer to make things sound better sonically. So the process back then was very different because there were more people involved and you can hear it. We were very young and trying to get into the new scene in LA at the time, which was very bleepy and poppy and fun.
What sort of music would you have been listening to as inspiration?
I was always listening to a lot of GOLDFRAPP but by no means did I sound like that, but I loved that style. I also listened to BELLE & SEBASTIAN, French pop and a big fan of DAFT PUNK and AIR.
Plus just though my contacts in Greece, I loved MARSHEAUX and close to them as we were friends and I felt sonically that I belonged in this group. Inevitably, if you feel you belong somewhere, you emulate it. So the Undo Records crowd of the late 2000s was very much shaping my sound.
Around this time, you recorded a cover of Madonna’ ‘Burning Up’ which is not on the album and has never been released, is this an indicator of your mindset during this stage of KID MOXIE?
For sure, I was listening to a lot of early Madonna… as she got older, her music got better I felt and her voice… she never had an excellent voice but the songs were great. But in the early 80s, stuff like ‘Burning Up’ and ‘Borderline’ was a massive influence, probably more than anybody. I was like “Hey! I think I can sound like that!”, the spoilt girly type of thing, I thought I could do that…
One thing that has been a continuing artistic thread is vocalising en Francais which you did on ‘French Disco In Space’, had done before on ‘Ma Romance D’Hiver’ on your first EP and did later on ‘Lacuna’ from ‘1888’?
I studied French at school and got quite fluent; being Greek, you have to learn more than your own language. English is a given when you are in first grade, and most Greek kids take another language and it’s either French or German.
I think it’s the most beautiful language, I like the sound of it and it sounds great in a song format. It’s so crisp and has such a beautiful ring to it. ‘Ma Romance D’Hiver’ and ‘French Disco In Space’ which actually has a French rap, both got on major TV shows.
‘Ma Romance D’Hiver’ was used in ‘The L-Word’ and ‘French Disco In Space’ got in the film ‘Yoga Hosers’ which was directed by Kevin Smith and produced by Johnny Depp, it stars their daughters. So these early songs, they got on big media productions.
‘What Kind Of Girl’ is an interesting track and has a gothic resonance, like a girly IAMX in retrospect?
I was very happy with that song because even then, without really knowing it, there was composition… it had violins and things that go beyond a pop format, it intrigued me. I was feeling really good that I could write something that included real instruments and bring it into a pop format. I would explore this more years later, bringing me to this point where I’m doing a lot more scores and stuff for film and TV. So that was kind of like the seed in an odd way.
I love classical stuff, I come from a classical background having been trained on piano as a kid, so it was refreshing to have done this little something among all the bleepy girly attitude, it felt more redeeming.
The title song and ‘Medium Pleasure’ were quite poppy, but they ended up much better when remixed by FOTONOVELA and MARSHEAUX respectively, have you any thoughts on that?
They were… the original production was way better than I could have achieved but FOTONOVELA and MARSHEAUX put them both in a new light and better than the originals.
In my next album ‘1888’, you can hear the different sonically because I introduced different producers for different tracks that made them sound so much more solid and crisp than on ‘Selector’, so I definitely learnt that lesson from these two remixes. Also ‘Tsunami’ was remixed by Serafim Tsotsonis and got a ton of airplay, and still gets played on the biggest Greek radio station as their “signal”.
‘Tsunami’ was an attempt at the more atmospheric music with that ‘Twin Peaks’ feel that came later with KID MOXIE and the backing sounds like OMD. It’s quite naïve but do you now see it as an indicator of where you were heading?
I think yes, you’re spot on. Again as with ‘What Kind Of Girl’, ‘Tsunami’ is a favourite from this record as it create atmosphere with very few words. All the other songs were verse-chorus-verse-chorus, this one was ethereal vocals maybe for the first time and more sparse; it became my signature later on. It much more what I’m about now. I wrote it on my MicroKorg in my bedroom and it felt like an accomplishment at the time. It came out of a dream and I basically reiterated the dream. But that remix was much better and that’s why it became a radio hit in Greece.
‘Neon Tears’ and ‘Dream In Pale Blue’ are moody tracks that also perhaps signal ‘1888’… it would appear that the rhythmic side needed work, it this as a result of limited equipment and experience?
I don’t feel that was the case for ‘Dream In Pale Blue’. Serafim Tsotsonis who remixed ‘Tsunami’ only worked on that one track and did the rhythm section, that still hits a chord with me, I am still feeling that one. But ‘Neon Tears’? Absolutely, that’s a very loose song, it could have been done way better like a lot of stuff on this album, I do cringe at a lot of aspects of ‘Neon Tears’.
‘Polytechnic’ sees you sounding like THE B-52s, was this conscious?
Oh God! It might have been! It was just two chicks being arsey and wordy, giving attitude!
It had that 60s pop vibe going on and to me, it sounds so hollow right now, it’s like my diary at 15! *laughs*
Were you’re still figuring out how best to use your voice?
Yes, I was still working out what to do with my voice; I was working with a male producer and perhaps looking back subconsciously, there was some kind of male-pleasing aspect to my singing at the time although I wasn’t about that. The dudes I was hanging around with liked that so I kind of went with it. The producer though the girly thing was very appealing. But honestly, I was trying to figure out my voice, but I don’t I think I did during that album! I died trying! *laughs*
That airy continental vocal style you’re known for now is nowhere on this album, so how did that eventually emerge?
There a tiny bit of it on ‘Tsunami’ as a precursor… I worked on a lot of different projects for various Greek producers; I tested myself on their tracks. That liberated me from fabricating this persona that I had in mind that I should be following or doing. So I decided I would follow their music and see how my voice translated onto other people’s stuff. And eventually, I brought it into my own sound and crystallised it because it has sounded so good then. That other work shaped my new voice on ‘1888’.
So was ‘The Bailor’, which came a few years after ‘Selector’, the breakthrough song where you found your sound?
Yes, I love that tune, it still speaks to me. I’m proud of it and feel ‘that’s’ my voice.
And here we are today, do you see ‘Selector’ as an important album to your development as an artist or would you have preferred it not to have been released in hindsight?
I’m going to reply to this in a very personal way! I look on this like any relationship I’ve had that I’m not happy with. I’ve made mistakes in my life and I’m not one of those people who is proud of everything I’ve done and wouldn’t change a thing, like why? If I had the power to go back in time, I would have changed a few things. But it did feel right at the time…
I wish it was sonically better, I wish I had found my voice earlier and done a different job with it. At the same time, I look on it endearingly (like at my teen diary) even though I cringe. It’s like my first crush, my first time.
It was my first attack in a record and a production, I messed so many things up. I wish I could have changed them but I can’t so I look as it now as an endearing time of my life.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to Elena Charbila
Released in February 2015, ‘In Cold Blood’ was the third and so far final album by SCARLET SOHO.
A duo based in the south of England, James Knights and Scarlet had begun with a more post-punk sound dominated by guitars. Much of the material compiled on ‘In Cold Blood’ had been previously released on the EPs ‘When The Lights Go Out’, ‘Solo KO’ and ‘Two Steps From Heartache’, heralding a greater interest in electronic pop. Much more accessible than any of their previous work, ‘In Cold Blood’ looked set to be SCARLET SOHO’s breakthrough from the underground to a wider audience.
However, it was not to be and the album was unable to gain momentum in a year when NEW ORDER made their recorded return with ‘Music Complete’ and ‘Every Open Eye’ maintained the standing of CHVRCHES as the UK’s leading act in modern synthpop.
But one thing that ‘In Cold Blood’ did do was plant the seed of KNIGHT$, the shades donning solo persona of James Knights; he released the lively Britalo flavoured ‘Dollars & Cents’ in 2019, one of the best albums of that year.
James Knights and Scarlet got together again to reminisce about the making of ‘In Cold Blood’ and how it is a lost jewel awaiting rediscovery.
As SCARLET SOHO prepared to record ‘In Cold Blood’, it had been ten years since your debut album ‘Divisions Of Decency’, how had you changed as a band?
Scarlet: As a band we’d changed a lot in a decade. I was 16 when we started gigging and we never stopped touring in all of those years.
Studio time had previously been very fraught, lacking momentum, with James and myself trying to squeeze as much as we could into scattered time frames – often using different producers, studios, techniques, and both operating on very little sleep.
We had always wanted to release more songs in that decade between albums, but enjoyed touring more, so prioritised that.
We had streamlined things a lot by the time we wanted to record ‘In Cold Blood’ and had a better idea of how we wanted an album to sound as a whole. I think it came out pretty well!
Compared with songs like ‘Speak Your Mind’ and ‘Cyclone’ on the second album ‘Warpaint’ and ‘We Must Destroy’ from ‘Divisions Of Decency’, ‘In Cold Blood’ on the whole seems to be less angsty and fraught, was there a conscious decision to make a more positive statement?
Scarlet: I think it was quite a natural thing for the sound to change by the time we wrote ‘In Cold Blood’. The songs have always reflected where James and I were at, which I think is often quite a surprise to people that don’t ‘get’ electronic music, and deem it to be something cold and calculated.
Over the years our circumstances had changed, my lifestyle was considerably less chaotic at this point, and we were comfortable with being a duo. We were willingly accepting help from additional musicians for live performances, rather than trying to incorporate a rolling cast of (albeit very talented) third members as we had done previously.
Lyrically it’s a pretty gloomy album, but musically it’s something else, which I think also says a lot about where we were both at.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, we had both grown up quite a lot and I think this album shows a real progression in songwriting, with James really coming into his own. I think the positivity comes from that confidence.
The title song ‘In Cold Blood’ had the opening line “You shot me down” but signalled the album’s intention of more focussed use of electronic instrumentation and less guitars?
Scarlet: SCARLET SOHO started out as a band with three guitars and a drum machine – three! It was a mess, and over the years we shedded a lot of that, with both James and myself only playing guitars on a couple of songs by ‘In Cold Blood’. Prior to Soho we were both in punk bands and by this point, guitars and amps were starting to feel like baggage – both physically and mentally.
We were both getting more out of a well-produced snappy snare and rib-rattling bass synth than a scrappy guitar sound careering around a venue. The latter also being a pain to shift around on flights and in cars. We wanted to strip things back to what we essentially needed, and could really allow to shine. James’ vocal being one of those things. Starting a song with purely that, felt like a call to arms.
‘When The Lights Go Out’ demonstrated more of a pop disco sound? How did this come about?
Scarlet: I really wish I had an answer to this. James and I both love 70s and 80s disco, and it felt brave to incorporate this into a SCARLET SOHO track. I feel like it’s a true representation of the SCARLET SOHO sound, and always sounded fantastic live whatever it was nestled up against in the setlist. But I truly have no recollection of how it came about. In my head it was birthed as a fully formed song. Perhaps it was…?
‘What You Need’ has THIS pulsing electronic bassline that some would now call synthwave, had things like the ‘Drive’ soundtrack or anything like that been an interest at this point? And what was going on with the speeded up ending?
Scarlet: ‘What You Need’ is one of my favourites. I’m a bit of a film buff, and enjoyed ‘Drive’ and the like, but I’m not sure James had seen it. We’d always been into KAVINSKY, but I’ve never twigged that as an influence to this song. The speeded up ending was some studio fun that we thought would translate well to a sweaty club when we toured it. It did.
Listening to ‘Gigolo’ now, it sounds like the start of KNIGHT$, especially in the rousing warning chorus, do you have any thoughts in hindsight?
James: I can remember us thinking the song was a bit too “pop” to be on a SCARLET SOHO album. We deliberated over this for a little while before deciding to be brave and put it on the LP. It’s possible the reaction to this song gave me some extra confidence to create KNIGHT$ in the end, subliminally at least. Maybe it should’ve been a single!
Despite the melancholic words, ‘Two Steps From Heartache’ is another track that blueprints KNIGHT$ and is a tune you still perform, what was your mindset at the time of writing and recording? And is the middle eight from Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ being borrowed here, particularly Guy Pratt’s bass guitar solo?
James: Now I’m going to have to go back to ‘Like A Prayer’ and check this Guy Pratt thing! I think it was a little bit inspired from Stuart Key’s time in the band and some of his music we’d listen to on the road. This song was our attempt to infuse house music somehow. It has the pulsing brass line and hallmarks like that, but in the end it still sounds very Soho.
‘This Town Is Mine’ appears to channel your inner Marc Almond?
James: I’m not a huge fan of slow songs, but now and then we would work on one or two in our spare time.
I appreciate the compliment, because somehow this ended up being one of my favourite and best studio vocals.
You get the vocoder out on ‘Make The Final’ for a bit of robotic Italo, what had this been inspired by?
Scarlet: We’ve always loved a vocoder. Pretty much every Soho demo has a vocoded part on it at some point! There’s something sinister about a human voice that you can control and manipulate, and somehow it still ends up sounding fun.
It’s also a great way of putting BVs into a track without me having to sing. James has a huge vocal range, so reducing his voice down to something more simplistic is something we both got a kick out of.
That song was inspired by the Olympics and ‘Chariots Of Fire’ and Vangelis. Big sports fans! Would love to hear ‘Make The Final’ soundtracking some televised athletics in a parallel universe.
‘2015’ is primarily instrumental and points towards synthwave… these days, you have a toe in that scene as KNIGHT$ but you didn’t fully head in that direction, could you have done?
James: It’s not for me to say really, but probably not. There’s a bit more to my music than just that.
The final track ‘Solo KO’ is comparatively darker in aesthetic and sombre, but were you sending out a signal with the title and the lyrics “with nothing left to do and still so much to prove”?
There’s a mystery piano ballad following a gap after the end of ‘Solo KO’; this long last track with two songs several minutes apart thing was very much the fashion in the CD era, but could be annoying! Why not just have it as two tracks? *laughs*
James: I vaguely remember that hidden ballad not really being in our thoughts when putting the tracklist together. It didn’t really fit with the other 9 songs! So when we compiled the 9, we found the album was much shorter than expected!
Adding the hidden ballad was a good way to give a little extra, but we didn’t want to mess with the flow of the other 9 tracks. I hope that makes sense!
SCARLET SOHO seemed to on the cusp of a breakthrough with support slots for IAMX and KOSHEEN that were well received, but it didn’t happen, had that precipitated tensions within further?
James: No, we had some of our best times during this period and enjoyed the ride! At times, we were a little bloody minded, especially when interested parties wanted to speak to us about management and so on, but somehow talking to them often brought us closer together. After all, we were right and they were wrong!
So when did SCARLET SOHO end and how did KNIGHT$ begin?
James: SCARLET SOHO never really ended as such, but after 15 years, we needed to take a break for sure. Our final London show was February 2015. I started writing for KNIGHT$ in early 2016, after almost a year of inactivity. I started to miss singing and writing more than I thought I would!
‘In Cold Blood’ stands up as a good album five years on, which can’t be said of some records, how do you look back on it all now?
Scarlet: Thank you! I hope it continues to have a place in people’s hearts and record collections in the next 5 years 🙂
James: Compared to our other records, it’s the one that never really got promoted and toured. We cancelled the ‘In Cold Blood’ tour through illness, so there is a feeling that some of our best work went unheard, but it’s always nice to hear that people like the album. I think it could be our best.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to SCARLET SOHO
Norwegian electronic covers combo CHINESE DETECTIVES released their only album ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ in 1999.
The brainchild of Per Aksel Lundgreen who had cut his teeth in APOPTYGMA BERZERK, the concept was to be a “SILICON TEENS of the 90s” with frantic dance beats acting as the backbone to accompany the hooks of classic synthpop.
CHINESE DETECTIVES scored a number of Scandinavian hits with songs originally made famous by YAZOO, MEN WITHOUT HATS and DIVINE.
‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ additionally featured reinterpretations of SPARKS, BRONSKI BEAT, PET SHOP BOYS and several lesser known acts while the album itself was to become something of a cult favourite, partly thanks to featuring the only officially released version of a Vince Clarke instrumental from which CHINESE DETECTIVES got their moniker.
The classic trio line-up of Per Aksel Lundgreen, Preben Bjønnes and Desirée Grandahl kindly reminisced about the making of ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’.
So what came first, your cover of ‘Chinese Detectives’ or the band concept? How did it come about?
Preben: Per Aksel suggested ‘Chinese Detectives’ as a track and name for the band.
Per Aksel: Being an avid YAZOO and Vince Clarke collector, I had obtained a live tape that I bought at a stand in Camden Market in London of the 1982 gig at The Dominion, and on that tape, the instrumental track ‘Chinese Detectives’ was included. I always loved the track, and also the name, and I really wanted to use it as a band name, so we did. Then the idea was launched to do a cover of ‘Situation’ as the “A-Side” of the single, and a cover of ‘Chinese Detectives’ as the “B-Side”. I know that the track has also been referred to as ‘China’ on early live-recordings etc, but more on that later, ha ha!
Desirée: I´m the lucky one because I didn´t have to give any of that any thought! Got it all served on a silver platter.
The track is often mistaken as being the theme for the BBC TV drama ‘The Chinese Detective’ but is actually a Vince Clarke original. How did you go about interpreting and recording it? Did Mr Clarke give his approval?
Per Aksel: The sound quality on the live tape I had wasn’t really top notch, so we had to do our best to make out all the sounds and figures being played.
There’s also a part on there where it sounds like Vince is talking on top of the track, but we never ever figured out if that was just an accident, or if it was supposed to include some spoken words. I knew at the time that all Vince Clarke material was published via Sony Music Publishing, so I wrote them a letter, inquiring about the track, and asked for permission to do a cover version of it.
I actually received a reply via fax, yes it was that long ago, and in the fax it said something like: “Sony Music Publishing and Vince Clarke hereby grant you the rights to do a cover of the before mentioned track, ‘Chinese Detectives’.”
I was gobsmacked and very very happy of course. I saved that fax for many years, and when I one day went into some boxes to find it, the print had disappeared and the fax paper was all white, ha ha! I wish I’d taken a copy of it, but hindsight is 2020, right!
Preben: Hopefully we did the track justice 🙂
Desirèe: The credit for that goes to the lads. Hopefully Mr Clarke approved and loved it.
Why did you choose ‘Situation’ as a single to debut CHINESE DETECTIVES with?
Preben: We all loved the song and especially Vince Clarke’s song writing.
Desirée: I mean, even if I didn´t do the vocals on the first single, who wouldn´t choose that iconic song with that iconic group?
Per Aksel: We’re all huge YAZOO fans, and it was one of those tracks that we felt we could do something with. It was actually in the Norwegian Dance Charts and it was on a couple of “Eurodance” type compilations here in Norway, and the single sold close to 10.000 copies at the time, so we were very very happy of course. This made us want to do more, and the record company too cheered us on.
Strangely, in Norway we were considered “Eurodance”, but in Sweden and the rest of Europe and the US, they called us a synthpop act, and I for one wanted it to sound “synthpop”, but maybe we leaned towards the “Eurodance” since that was in the charts at the time. I don’t know, but we were treated very differently in Norway and in Sweden.
In Norway, we played “dance party” festivals for 5000 people together with 2 BROTHERS ON THE 4TH FLOOR, SOLID BASE, TWENTY 4 SEVEN, 2 UNLIMITED and stuff like that, but in Sweden we played on Swedish Alternative Music Awards for 500 people together with S.P.O.C.K, IN THE NURSERY and COVENANT, so it was a strange situation, but we just went with the flow and played everywhere we were wanted really.
We also had two other guys involved at the early stage of Chinese DETECTIVES, Trond Haugerud and Lars Kristian Aasbrenn, but they both dropped off. Lars Kristian after the first single, and Trond after the second one. No particular reasons for this, they just left basically, but they did also put in a good deal of work and input before they left, so I feel it’s important to put that out there.
After your second single, a cover of MEN WITHOUT HATS ‘Where Do The Boys Go’, your first singer Kristine Ulfeng departed, what effect did that have on whether to continue with CHINESE DETECTIVES?
Preben: No effect. We already knew we wanted to make a whole album with a different voice.
Per Aksel: When we started recording the third single, ‘You Think You’re A Man’, it became evident very early that Kristine’s voice wouldn’t cut it for that track. We took the harsh decision of telling her to leave and then asked Desirée to join the band. Not our proudest moment, and it wasn’t really fair to Kristine as she was fully devoted on the two first singles, but Preben and I were young and ambitious and had huge egos, so I’ll have to blame it on that.
Desirée: It had the wonderful effect of giving me the role of the mysterious and handsome girl at the mic.
Desirée had a deeper resonance to her voice and her first single with CHINESE DETECTIVES was a cover of DIVINE’s ‘You Think You’re A Man’ in 1996; did you know that song was written by Geoffrey Deane who was the original lead singer of MODERN ROMANCE?!!? 😆
Preben: News to me 🙂
Desirée: Ooops, you got me there! Shame on me for not knowing that…
Per Aksel: All I know is that when I wrote the credits in the booklet, it said “G Deane”, but I had no idea it was the original lead singer of MODERN ROMANCE! :O
We all love a bit of HI-NRG, and especially DIVINE and Bobby O productions in general, and I really think we nailed that one! Very happy with that single to be honest! The two first ones were good too, but the sound on ‘You Think You’re A Man’ is still holding up in my opinion.
The album ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ finally came out in 1999, had it been a challenging project to finish?
Preben: It was a labour of love, I loved every bit of it. Working in a pro-studio with Erik Wøllo was a high point for me as I have mostly worked in my own studio. We had a very nice atmosphere in the studio where we loved every song we worked on. It became a very eclectic album I think. 🙂
Desirée: On the subject of who was gonna be our label and who was gonna release it – it was a challenge. The process of making the album wasn´t all that bad. We took some time picking and agreeing on the songs, then finding the right producer and of course getting it right in the studio. I will say that there was more laughter than fights.
Per Aksel: The truth is that the album was already finished late 1996 or early 1997, I can’t remember exactly now, and at the time, the label had a bit of a dry spell and didn’t have the money to finance the printing of the album, and the third single didn’t do as well as the first one, so maybe they lost a bit of faith in us, I’m not sure.
Anyway, in 1999 I kinda pushed them to release it, as 80s sounding synthpop was returning more and more.
The first pressing of 5000 copies sold pretty quickly, so I know the label never regretted it in the end. It was the label that also paid the £3500 for the studio and recording of the album, so I was surprised that they didn’t want to try and recoup their money.
The process in Wintergarden Studio with Erik Wøllo as our co-producer really helped and lifted this record into what it became. We never could have achieved that result without Erik. His studio was in his basement, so we jokingly said we we’re recording “Downstairs At Erik’s”, ha ha! He also had a lot of cool equipment in his studio that we could use to fatten up our sound and to make the songs more diverse than they were in their original demo-form.
Stephan Groth of APOPTYGMA BERZERK had also bought a Novation Bass Station at the time, and we borrowed that for some tracks too, and it’s especially evident on ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’. I also had a Roland JX3P that we used heavily and a Yamaha TX7 that was in Erik’s studio that we used for the FM-bass lines and such.
Most of the ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ album sounds a bit like Alison Moyet fronting a frantic Eurodance covers project, there was a distinct HI-NRG bent with tunes like ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’, ‘All You Ever Think About Is Sex’, ‘You Think You’re A Man’ and a very pacey version of ‘Johnny & Mary’? Was the club market where you were aiming CHINESE DETECTIVES?
Desirée: Oh, I love me a bit of frantic Moyet!! Seriously, I think the club market was THE market at the time, but I also think we were a little bit a head of our time. If the album had hit the club market a bit into the 2000s, I personally think we would have had an even greater success with it. The trend of picking up great tunes from the 80s didn´t really kick in until 2004-2005. Maybe we can say that we started the trend? Let´s keep that illusion.
Preben: We all love HI-NRG and especially songs produced by Bobby O. Having said that, we wanted to do our own versions of our favourite songs.
Per Aksel:Alison Moyet is probably THE BEST female voice in the world of music in my opinion, and Desirée is blessed with a serious set of pipes and a voice that is very close to Alison’s, so we felt we’d struck gold when she wanted to join us to be honest.
I’m not quite sure we went for the club market OR “Eurodance” to be honest, it was all “synthpop” to us, but looking back, I can see how the music in the charts and the new synths coming out etc flavoured our sound and the outcome of the finished result. Having had chart success in Norway with the two first singles, we were actually on Norwegian television at the Norwegian Top 20 being interviewed about the ‘Where Do The Boys Go?’ track and video, so that probably also told us that we had a shot at “this chart stuff”, but we failed to chart after that, and became more of a thing for the synthpop fans instead. That’s a good thing, because that’s where we belong anyway, ha ha!
When the album slows down a bit in the middle, the album gets very interesting with your covers of ‘Love Is Just A Word’ by SILENT CIRCLE and ‘Run For Love’ by WINDER, two acts which would have been largely unknown outside of mainland Europe, what is the story behind these?
Preben: We loved the songs. WINDER’s is an all-time favourite of mine from Denmark. I think they only did three singles and an album.
Desirée: Those two songs were kind of pushed by the lads. I thought at first that ‘Love Is Just A Word’ was too “German lighter ballad-ish”, but it grew on me really. And after doing it live, it kind of gave you that arena-effect, with people singing along and of course waving their lighters.
When the song ‘Run For Love’ came up, I wasn´t sure what to do. I felt that it was so girly and non-edgy. The fun part is though, that so many reacted to this song and really liked our version. Let´s just say that this was my “swallow the camel” moment.
Per Aksel: The WINDER track was an old “guilty pleasure” of mine, and I thought that we could do a really good job with it.
I know Desirée really didn’t like it much, but she played along, and the version we ended up with is ok I guess, but far from my favourite on the album. A lot of people seem to love this version though, which is great, but I don’t know, it’s still a bit Eurovision sounding and a bit cheesy!
‘Love Is Just A Word’ was picked as the idea of having a ballad on the album, but now that I think of it, we should have done ‘Touch In The Night’ instead. CHINESE DETECTIVES were never meant to do ballads, ha ha! I remember seeing SILENT CIRCLE performing ‘Touch In The Night’ on Peters Pop Show from Germany via Swedish Television back in the 80s, and that’s how I got turned onto the band. Their first album, ‘No 1’, is still a good album I think, a hidden gem for many, but a good synthpop album.
The album title song features something of an orchestra stab frenzy and was originally by SUDETEN CRÈCHE, a very obscure British duo. How did you hear about this song?
Preben: Per Aksel introduced us to the song and we knew immediately that we could make our mark on it.
Desirée: Why wouldn´t a bunch of nerdy electronic music people have heard about that one?
Per Aksel: Going back to me being an avid YAZOO and Vince Clarke collector, I’d heard from some other collectors that the compilation album ‘Europe In The Year Zero’ included a different version of ‘Goodbye 70s’ than the one on ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’, so I ended up getting hold of a copy of that LP.
It had a different version of ’Goodbye 70s’ indeed with some extra echoes and delays to the vocal, and it was a bit shorter with a strange fade, but still a different version. Anyway, on that same album was the band SUDETEN CRÈCHE with their track ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’.
My girlfriend at the time loved this track and had it on several mixtapes, so I knew it well, and when it came time to pick track for the album, Preben, Desirée and I wrote down our suggestions of what tracks to do covers of, and we immediately agreed that we could do something with this minimal wave classic. We also decided to use the title of the track as the title of the album, as it was very 80s sounding and cool.
In 2006 or so, I got contacted by Mark Warner from SUDETEN CRECHE who asked us about this cover, because we tried to get hold of them back in 1996, but it was impossible to find any information. So we started emailing them back and forth, and they said they really liked the version we had done. Later I was invited to be live keyboarder for SUDETEN CRECHE on a European tour they did together with OPPENHEIMER ANALYSIS and a couple of other bands, but I couldn’t accept that offer since I had other commitments at the time, but the offer itself meant a lot to me and I was really flattered by it.
Later on, after a lot of emails and a growing friendship, Mark Warner invited me to come stay with him at his house outside Bedford where he’s got a studio in his back yard, to work on some music together.
This is how I ended up doing three EPs with ROSSETTI’S COMPASS together with Mark. He wrote all the material, and I was more in on the production side of things, but we had great fun in the studio, and I got to know his lovely wife and two daughters who now just call me Uncle Per.
I visited Mark as late as January this year, and a lovely and lasting friendship has come out of doing that cover version. Who would have thought ha? Life can serve you up some wonderful things sometimes, especially when you meet great people like Mark Warner. A true friend.
You covered INDUSTRY with ‘State Of The Nation’ so the range of genres you sourced on ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ was very varied in hindsight?
Preben: We wanted music from all over the spectrum; obscure to the big hits.
Desirée: There is and there was so much good music to choose from, in many genres. The list of songs we would have loved to put on the album was long, but I think we´re all quite happy with the once we chose. I also think that it shows that we´re influenced by many genres.
Per Aksel: ‘State Of The Nation’ to me was a “synthpop” song, and I really really liked it, and I also think we did a great version of it. There was a vocal part there at the end of the track, after the music ended that we should’ve kept though. Desirée wanted to keep it, but Preben and I voted against it, ha ha. Looking back, Desirée was right, we should’ve kept it. Wonder if I’ve still got that other version on DAT-tape somewhere. Hmmm…
What are your own personal favourites on ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ and why?
Desirée: Oh, that´s a hard one. I should of course say ‘Situation’ but I´m not gonna say that. I just love ‘State Of The Nation’; loved the song originally and loved to sing it. ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ and ‘All You Ever Think About Is Sex’ come in at second place. Just because ‘Are Kisses…’ became almost a completely new song when we did it and ‘All You Ever Think About Is Sex’ is a fun and theatrical song which I love.
Preben: ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’ by BRONSKI BEAT. I loved the vocals on it. And the mix still holds up. Very happy with the bassline 🙂
Per Aksel: I still think that our version of ‘I Want A Lover’ by PET SHOP BOYS is the best one, but nobody seems to agree with me! LOL! I also have a huge fondness for ‘You Think You’re A Man’, ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’ and ‘All You Ever Think About Is Sex’, great versions that differ from the original and still add something extra. I also love the energy that we managed to put into those tracks. They’re explosive in a way, and I’m very proud of what we managed to do together on those tracks! Would’ve been even better if we’d written the tracks ourselves of course, but hey, we borrowed someone else’s songwriting talent and built on that, that will have to do.
Was CHINESE DETECTIVES, like SILICON TEENS, destined to just do the one album?
Desirée: No, not really. We had plans and visions. Preben and I did our own project with POSH. We had so many ideas for our own music and CHINESE DETECTIVES was a cover project. But the intention was to make more music with CHINESE DETECTIVES as well.
Again the situation with getting a label, getting us distributed and of course the sign of the times in the music industry put a stop to more albums at the time. We do however, have some new covers done. We did some new tunes for a couple of gigs some years ago and that was great fun. So you never know, maybe we´ll be back.
Preben: I don’t think we had any plans beyond an album. Might have played it by ear.
Per Aksel: Funny you should say that! My own catch phrase / slogan was that we aimed to be a “SILICON TEENS of the 90s”! We are huge fans of the ‘Music For Parties’ album, and doing 80s tracks in the 90s before that became fashionable kinda put us in the same category at least as SILICON TEENS.
I never had plans beyond that one album back then at least. While waiting for the CHINESE DETECTIVES album to be released, Preben and Desirée continued on the side with their own project, POSH, that released a great album called ‘In Vanity We Trust’ on CD in 1999 too. That is also a great but sadly forgotten album by many. Sounds like YAZOO with a more modern sound.
CHINESE DETECTIVES reformed for Electronic Summer 2016 in Gothenburg, how was that for you?
Preben: I unfortunately had to pull out of it due to illness. But I hear it went down well 🙂
Per Aksel: That was amazing! We had a great great time, and back then it was exactly 20 years since we last played in Gothenburg, so it was a celebration and a huge kick being on stage with CHINESE DETECTIVES again in front of 600 people at The Brewhouse.
People loved it and we got so many people coming up to us after the show saying “finally I got to see you live” and stuff like that, including Hannes Malecki, the singer from WELLE: ERDBALL, who was also playing at the same festival. He confessed to being a huge fan of CHINESE DETECTIVES when I met him there, which was a very nice compliment, coming from a guy whose work I admire very very much. I have a complete collection of all the WELLE: ERDBALL CDs, so…
Desirée: Oh my Lord that was fun. I had no expectations for that gig. I thought we were forgotten and obsolete. We started the evening with our set and I thought that there would be close to no one in the audience. When the music started and I went on stage, I got a pleasant shock. The place was packed and people sang along and had a jolly good time. So did we! People were so positive and loving. That was just a blast!
Over twenty years on, how do you view the way an electronic pop cover should be done? With so much history, is going outside of the genre more preferable to achieve something different, rather than just cover say DEPECHE MODE, NEW ORDER, SOFT CELL and ERASURE, who interestingly CHINESE DETECTIVES didn’t cover?
Preben: We tried to stay away from the obvious songs. But there are millions of great songs we could have done. We have tried to do some new ones few years back. ‘The Metro’ by BERLIN was one of them. We have played it at some concerts. We also demoed ‘You Spin Me Round’ by DEAD OR ALIVE and even made an instrumental of ‘Heartbeat City’ by THE CARS. And a few others. Hopefully we will make another album in the future 🙂
Desirée: The term electronic pop is no longer obscure and for the few and nerdy. So to make an electronic pop cover today, the bar is lifted. We did go outside the electronic genre when we did our album and I think that by doing that, the songs got a new life. This, I think, is still the case. A good song is a good song in any genre. Even if it would be great fun to cover, let´s say a EURYTHMICS tune, the approach I think would be different now than it was twenty years ago. And no wonder, we´ve learned a lot in twenty years!!!
Per Aksel: We definitively tried to AVOID the “usual suspects” when picking tracks for the album. I know Desirée wanted to do both a cover of a EURYTHMICS track, and a CULTURE CLUB track, and that didn’t happen, probably because they were too big and famous or whatever. We had some strict but strange rules back then, ha ha!
The truth is that I’m usually not a big fan of cover versions myself, and it’s only a few that I really like, and I try to avoid them when other bands do covers. Strange to think of when I was in a band that did a whole album of them, right?
We had ‘Send Me An Angel’ by REAL LIFE half-finished in demo form back then, but it never came to fruition, and that’s about it I think from back then. Preben did demo some other tracks that I don’t remember right now, but we ended up with those that are on the album, and I think the selection is pretty much good. When it comes to DEPECHE MODE, we’ve had enough covers there already, haven’t we? I mean, we’ve had enough of the band itself even, so never mind covers ha ha!
Some cover versions that I do like though, are: FAIRLIGHT CHILDREN – ‘Bedsitter’, LEMONHEADS – ‘Mrs. Robinson’, APOPTYGMA BERZERK – ‘Major Tom’, WOLFSHEIM – ‘Ruby, Don’t Bring Your Love To Town”, MALARIA – ‘Lay, Lady Lay’, and BIGOD 20 – ‘Like A Prayer’.
The “perfect” cover version in my opinion though, is the one that RÖYKSOPP feat. Susanne Sundfør did of ‘Ice Machine’. Absolutely love that one!
What songs would you cover today if you were to do a new album?
Preben: BLANCMANGE – ‘Blind Vision’ or ‘Don’t Tell Me’, THE CARS – ‘Heartbeat City’, ABC – ‘Be Near Me’, JAPAN – ‘Life In Tokyo’, CRETU – ‘Samurai’, THE HUMAN LEAGUE – ‘Boys & Girls’, OMD – ‘Telegraph’, BERLIN – ‘Metro’, SECRET SERVICE – ‘Flash In The Night’, DEAD OR ALIVE – ‘Big Daddy Of The Rhythm’, CLOCKWORK ORANGE – ‘Sensation Boys’, THOMPSON TWINS – ‘In The Name Of Love’ or HEAVEN 17 – ‘Come Live With Me’. All of those would have worked I suppose!
Desirée: I’ve always wanted to do a cover of ‘Sexuality’ with Erasure, but never got around to it. Maybe the time is now?
Per Aksel: Hmmmm… THOMPSON TWINS – ‘We Are Detective’ would fit us perfectly I think, and I also agree with Preben on ‘Big Daddy Of The Rhythm’, such power and energy! Maybe we should accommodate Desirée too, and do ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ or ‘Paint A Rumour’ by EURYTHMICS? I also would’ve picked another minimal wave track or two, like ‘Night In June’ with LINEAR MOVEMENT, or ‘All Rights Reserved’ by FRED. Great tracks, real gems that one could bring out to the masses!
That’s the best thing I think, when you can get people to discover a track they’ve never heard before through your cover version! All in all though, I’m a little fed up with covers at the moment as I told you, but I’m not going to be a killjoy.
Preben, Desirée and I live nearby each other, and if we find the time and inspiration, I don’t see why we couldn’t / shouldn’t do some more stuff together. All that without giving any promises though, ha ha!
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