Steven Jones and Logan Sky were introduced to each other by their mutual friend Steve Strange.
The late VISAGE front man and Blitz Club figurehead had been working with Logan Sky in the rebooted version of that band which returned with the ‘Hearts & Knives’ album in 2013. As if born into the wrong era, Steven Jones’ neu romance lyrics with their slight dystopian edge have often been inspired by a fascination for international travel and the inherent history it uncovers. Having released their debut full length long player ‘Hans und Lieselotte’ in 2018, further albums ‘The Electric Eye’ and ‘Rotating Angels’ followed in quick succession.
And now the duo present their fourth in three years. As the title track, ‘European Lovers’ bookends the album, the opening variant pulsating the mood while sweetened by soothing sax from the ever dependable Gary Barnacle who himself played with VISAGE and SOFT CELL. Steven Jones ably delivers the fractured mannered baritone that could be seen to be deriving from anyone one of Scott Walker, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry or Midge Ure. Meanwhile the closing postscript provided a hypnotic arpeggio and Polymoog vox humana to accompanying a spoken word take on ‘European Lovers’.
Lost in the rainy streets of Mittel Europa, Jones ponders his ‘Survival’ over tinkling ivories like Ferry on ‘A Song For Europe’ where “the dream of dying is the dream of living”. But the album paces up with ‘When The Night Falls In’, an infectious syncopated electro set-piece accented by the occasional burst of synthetic toms.
Echoing ‘Fade To Grey’, Charlotte Condemine provides an alluring Gallic monologue to the wonderful ‘Sons of Hallucination’. Meanwhile Jones borrows some phrasing from ‘Wishing Well’, the 1987 hit by Terence Trent D’Arby which was produced by Martyn Ware of HEAVEN 17. It’s a curious mix that is ultimately satisfying for the headphones of any passing New Europeans. And when the soprano sax comes in, it all becomes reminiscent of BLACK if Colin Verncombe had into VISAGE.
‘Awaken From The Dream’ utilises an electric piano for a short intermission while the exquisite synth tones of ‘The Girl On The 8.45’ captures an inevitably doomed romance in a tale of unrequited love for a beautiful stranger on the daily commute.
With an ear for obscure jewels, a tense offbeat squelch shapes ‘Cafe Europe’, an excellent cover of a song by FATAL CHARM who supported ULTRAVOX and OMD back in 1980; the cult Nottingham duo too had a fascination inter-continental travel and their Midge Ure-produced single ‘Paris’ captured the days before The Channel Tunnel.
Both projecting a stark austere, the bubbling melancholy of ‘Lovers & Losers’ and spy drama chill of ‘All Her Things Are Gone’ mine an era of long overcoats when The Third Man could walk in at any moment. And although ‘Like A Ghost’ uses a largely similar drumless template to ‘All Her Things Are Gone’, its subtle congas provide an atmospheric backbone alongside the virtual muted guitar loop. As the penultimate statement to the main act, the mournful piano ballad ‘Past & Future Lives’ recalls CULT WITH NO NAME.
For those who opt for the CD, there are three bonus tracks and assorted remixes of ‘Lovers & Losers’ including a brooding one from American gothwavers VANDAL MOON. ‘The Shape Of Darkness’ does what it says on the tin as another electric piano spoken word piece accompanied by an eerie falsetto backing vocal, while ‘Politics & Gesture’ is a rather sombre observation on the state of the nation.
Meanwhile ‘Another Hallucination’ exhibits a threatening throb at the start of a darker alternate take of ‘Sons Of Hallucination’ that allows more room for Gary Barnacle’s soprano sax, with Jones offering another spoken interpretation alongside the feminine prose en Français.
‘European Lovers’ is exactly as it suggests and harks back to a Europe after the rain, conjuring up images of mysterious shadows and enigmatic romances.
An authentic accomplished collection, it contains some terrific moments, although its emphasis on monochromatic mood is perhaps a challenge over so many tracks.
However, what Steven Jones and Logan Sky have is a genuine understated passion for the heritage of their influences, very much the antithesis to the genre hopping style over substance posing of HURTS and la faux sincérité of other duos that could be mentioned.
In 1978, Schroeder named his second son after Klaus Schulze and this event, which featured some self-composed music used at the christening placed him on the cosmic synth maestro’s radar, eventually resulting in him being signed to Schulze’s Innovative Communication label later that year.
What differentiated Schroeder from some of the artists of his era was his willingness to build custom-built electronic instruments including his own step sequencer and a less experimental more pastoral melodic approach with guitar textures as well as synthetic ones.
2021 sees the emergence of a new album ‘Pyroclast’ by Schroeder who has constantly released new works as well as revisiting some of his older pieces since his imperial phase. Album opener ‘Pressure’ is a hypnotic piece with analogue drum machine and guitar loops modulating up and down in key through its ten minute length; reversed guitar textures and a 4/4 kick are interspersed with Mellotron choirs and sporadic bursts of live percussion throughout.
‘Plasma’ starts off as a far more ambient proposition, almost like THE ORB with snippets of distant voices and phased strings; at the five minute mark analogue-generated kick, snares and open hats fade in with added Mellotron choir textures.
‘Tephra’ is a delicate piano piece with a time-stretched child’s voice and subtle underpinning strings. Shorter in conception than most of the tracks on ‘Pyroclast’, it features more classic era pad sounds but suffers due to the over repetitive piano figure which is repeated all the way through.
‘Eruption’ is more string-based in nature with pulsing cello and skittering acoustic tambourine loops; the track is pleasant enough and functions well as switch-off chill-out fare. ‘Fertile Soil’ with its monk choral samples recalls a more ambient-sounding ENIGMA; a Minimoog-style solo, live-sounding drums and triplet delayed percussion sample provide an intriguing mix of textures throughout.
‘Exothermic Energy’ is less ambient then the preceding tracks on ‘Pyroclast’ and this upping of pace is welcome. The first five minutes are centred around a two chord sequencer part and laid-back 4/4 drum part with interspersed drum flourishes, whilst the conclusion of the track takes it into ‘Oxygène’ territory with lush pads and echoed synth parts. Closer ‘Pyroclastic Flows’ is arguably one of the strongest pieces on ‘Pyroclast’, again very hypnotic with vocal samples, guitar soloing and a Mellotron choir outro which ends the album in the mood that fits in with much of the ambient aesthetic of the album.
A pyroclast and a tephra are elements of volcanic material which are spewed out by volcanic activity and those approaching this album expecting a similarly ‘wild’ and untamed musical direction will find something which is almost the polar opposite.
If ‘Pyroclast’ has its place, then it is definitely as music for zoning out to and aiding relaxation; fans of THE ORB and the ambient genre will certainly enjoy much of the works here; but those seeking tracks which function as stand-alone listening will probably struggle with the ‘background’ nature of the album.
‘Pyroclast’ suits its demographic perfectly and from that perspective is a success, but just lacks that ‘X Factor’ which would convince new listeners to delve into repeated listening.
‘The Absurdity of Human Existence’ is the first album by DANZ CM, formally known as COMPUTER MAGIC.
New York based Danz Johnson is the synth girl behind both vehicles with a passion for the development of the electronic music.
Having started the ‘Synth History’ online platform which has to date interviewed Gary Numan, Vince Clarke, Rick Wakeman, Dave Smith, Suzanne Ciani, Pete Townsend and James Murphy amongst others, she also produced an acclaimed podcast on the career of electronic music pioneer Wendy Carlos.
Her first COMPUTER MAGIC album proper ‘Davos’ came out in 2015, but her most recent long playing offering ‘Danz’ released in 2018 was much darker than the enjoyably escapist ‘Obscure But Visible’ EP and its utterly charming highlight ‘Lonely Like We Are’ from 2016. So a compromise adaptation of her moniker was almost inevitable to reflect her artistic maturity.
Capturing a sombre disposition reflecting the album’s title, the enjoyable opening song and first single ‘Idea of You’ is a stark statement that she’s “Gotta step back to put things in perspective”. ‘Domino’ continues in the vein, Johnson’s afflicted vocals cascading while backed by a range of sweeping timbres over vintage drum machine as everything topples around her; “I wish that my love was enough” she despairs.
With schizophrenic overtones, ‘My Other Self’ is spacey and has and exudes a stark vulnerability while ‘Low’ makes good use of deep synth bass for a burst of hi-hat driven avant pop. Pacier with synth triggers concocting a kaleidoscopic sound, ‘Don’t Stop’ sees Danz wanting to take action and coming over like a girly John Grant as her f***ing mind is blown.
‘Breaking Point’ uses an icy variation on the ‘Stranger Things’ arpeggio with Johnson coming over rather forlorn, but far more boisterous and almost indie rock is ‘Something More although it does amusingly see Johnson exclaim “it doesn’t f***ing suit you”!
‘I Don’t Need a Hero’ is a homage to THE CURE’s ‘Fascination Street’ with added throbbing electronics and blistering stabs of synth while ‘Not Gonna Stand By’ takes a curveball and lightens the mood with disco bass and brass, but her honest vocal offsets any apparent cheerfulness although this contrast is precisely the song’s harm.
However, the best is saved until last with the total melancholic brilliance of ‘Human Existence’, a glorious string synth laden set piece in the manner of OMD meeting CHROMATICS where Johnson declares “you can’t save me, I can’t save you”.
“I outgrew COMPUTER MAGIC. I outgrew the shy bedroom pop girl a long time ago” said Danz Johnson when she announced the birth of DANZ CM and certainly the innocence of her previous work is certainly absent on ‘The Absurdity of Human Existence’.
What is in its place is a more intense presence and a wider ambition exploring different music styles and timbres while still remaining at its core, the creation of a talented woman who has overcome her shyness and had the courage to engage with and learn from some of the biggest names in synth.
David Cicero’s ascent into the pop charts was swift. The first signing to Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s Spaghetti Records imprint, his 1991 PET SHOP BOYS produced single ‘Love Is Everywhere’ reached No19 in the UK charts.
The album ‘Future Boy’ followed in 1992 while he also contributed the song ‘Live For Today’ to the Oscar nominated film ‘The Crying Game’. But record company politics intervened at Spaghetti Records’ parent organisation Polydor and after the sad passing of his manager Peter Andreas, Cicero effectively left the mainstream music industry.
There were sporadic solo single releases over the next few decades, while he released several albums as THE EVENT and collaborated with dance DJs on a number of trance tracks. It was after a comeback charity concert in July 2019 in aid of MacMillan Cancer Support that Cicero started to put together his second album.
He had material from his Spaghetti Records days as well as his occasional singles, thus half the album was already written. So while reconfiguring his ‘Future Boy’ songs into a modern technological format for his live return, he would work on new material during breaks from programming. The Scot told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “it’s not ‘Future Boy 2’ but it’s still going to have that Cicero feel to it with a more up to date cutting edge sound”
Fast forward to 2021 and during the intervening period, Cicero tragically lost his mother and stepfather within a year. As a result, the album ‘Today’ is a very personal affair tinged with sadness but also full of hope.
Opening track ‘It’s Over’ is not too frantic a start and eases the listener back into the world of Cicero; using the voice treatments of now, it is that relatable tale of being in love with someone you can’t get on with… hey, we’ve all been there!
The hopeful euphoria of ‘Wish’ is undeniably a close relation to ‘Live For Today’ and features Amy Meave Baillie on vocals.
She ably deputises for Sylvia Mason-James in a manner that Neil Tennant used refer to as a “disco lungsmith” and perhaps unsurprisingly, it is a song from that bygone Spaghetti Records era.
Also led by soaring female vocals are the poignant ‘Face This World Alone’, a drum n bass excursion first issued as a single in 2015 and ‘Anyone But You’ which exudes further ripples of the breakbeat form, indicating the origins of both may have been from the same period. At the opposite end of the spectrum, ‘In the Rain (Children of Today)’ is a homely piano ballad featuring his daughter Holly calling for a better world and hoping that “happiness will come my way”.
A slice of heavenly spaghetti disco, ‘River of Lies’ is mighty with a strong PET SHOP BOYS influence. Out of all the tracks on ‘Today’, it is the one that, as his former mentor Neil Tennant used to say when he was Assistant Editor of Smash Hits, confirms Cicero is “Back-back-BACK!”. Also uptempo, the propulsive banger ‘Hide from Life Instead’ is wonderfully energetic and even features a few drops, all that’s missing are strobes!
A solemn heartfelt ballad, ‘This Way I Feel Inside’ encapsulates the very personal reflections that are omnipresent on ‘Today’. But the self-explanatory ‘Turned Around’ shows how the future boy has become a future man. A song about watching his daughter growing up, it is joyful tune that moves from ballad into Eurodance stomper after a minute and a half. It is also slightly reminiscent of Roger Sanchez’s TOTO sampling ‘Another Chance’ but with a considerably stronger lyrical focus.
Closing with ‘Broken’, a ballad concluding with a glorious piper’s lament and elegiac Vangelis inspired synth, Cicero heartbreakingly recalls in song of how he was unable to see his mother when she passed away.
‘Today’ is a mature midlife statement that touches on topics such as love, relationship breakdown, parenthood and bereavement which many will relate to. There are also some nostalgic nods to clubbing but let’s face it, while it is fun to go out and dance in your 50s, you wouldn’t want to do it every week now or even every month. It reflects the stage of life when the end is closer than the beginning, but there is still so much more to do and with that in mind, there can be a new found optimism.
It may have taken nearly 30 years for Cicero to follow-up his debut album, but it is time to rejoice that he is still able to produce good music, with some cracking tracks contained on ‘Today’.
Bentornato Cicero 🙂
‘Today’ is available via the usual digital platforms
‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ was the East German Secret Police classification given to Berlin-based producer and remixer Mark Reeder in his STASI file.
On Mayday 1982, Mark Reeder paid a visit to the DDR part of the then-walled city and while he was taking photos of the grand parade, he was arrested by the STASI and taken in for interrogation.
He had been under surveillance as they suspected he was working for M16 and about to assassinate their esteemed leader Erich Honecker… either that or he going to corrupt the youth of East Germany with pop music!
Indeed, it was the latter; but for those who received Reeder’s smuggled-in cassettes of JOY DIVISION, NEW ORDER and the like, it was more like an education as fictionally documented when Mark Reeder lookalike Martin Rauch, HVA agent codename Kolibri, in ‘Deutschland 83’ lit up with joy on hearing DURAN DURAN for the first time on that prize symbol of capitalism, the Sony Walkman!
During those tense Cold War times of East versus West and The Iron Curtain, all the eternally optimistic Reeder wanted to do was to unite people through music. So when The Berlin Wall fell at the end of 1989 and the imminent threat of nuclear holocaust was lifted with the promise of a better, more open-minded world, he did his bit by establishing Masterminded For Success (MFS), a dance label that achieved great success across the European club scene.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and the world is struggling with narcissists despite a pandemic crisis, driven into conflict by power, corruption and lies by that age-old management and control technique of “divide and rule” which most citizens understand but ultimately fail to actually recognise.
A recognised internationalist, Mark Reeder is doing his bit again by issuing a double album named after his STASI classification of productions and remixes made by himself and his engineer Micha Adam.
Celebrating his cross-border artistic ethos, where the songs have been restyled, he has added guitar, bass and synths while he has also lent his spoken voice to his own solo productions.
‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ is bookended by Fifi Rong who Reeder first met at the Berlin Kraftwerk in 2016 when she was singing in concert with Swiss trailblazers YELLO. The first track ‘Figure of 8’ is a magical new collaboration between the two with a cinematic backdrop of sparse piano and glistening sequences over which the exquisite Chinese songstress adds her distinctive air of mystery to a more metronomic rhythm construction than perhaps heard on her own work.
Closing the collection, Reeder offers ‘The Present is a Gift Mix’ of Fifi Rong’s 2016 single ‘Future Never Comes’, an eerie and very Berlin-inspired concoction where Chinese musical theatre meets electro Weimer Cabaret via Synth Britannia for a haunting slice of initial after brilliance
YELLO themselves appear via the superb ‘Wet&Hard Remix’ of ‘Vicious Games’; tightened up and given a modern treatment without losing the essence of the 1985 original with the sexy vocals of Rush Winters given the spotlight.
The original ‘Vicious Games’ was an intricately woven patchwork of samples and Reeder even amusingly drops in an ‘I Feel Love’ sequence during the middle eight.
‘United’ by QUEEN OF HEARTS was one of the outstanding highlights from Reeder’s previous 2017 collection ‘Mauerstadt’ and making a welcome appearance on ‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ is the track that precipitated his union with frontfrau Liz Morphew; dressed with cooing vampishness, the ‘Electrically Excited Remix’ of ‘Neon’ is nearly 8 minutes of gently energetic Schaffel.
Both having also appeared on ‘Mauerstadt’, MFU return with a ‘Brexile Remix’ of ‘Law’ that is a blend of distorted guitars, synth pulses and post-punk Mancunian vocals while THE KVB have ‘White Walls’ remodelled as a ‘Stoner Remix’, which is actually a fairly good description despite the frantic arpeggio and claustrophobic string machine.
China’s STOLEN are considered by Reeder to be the most exciting band he’s seen since NEW ORDER and his ‘Sinner Remix’ of ‘The Loop Sin’ is another of his classic productions; full of heavy propulsive grit and live textural enhancements, this denser but more compact version applies an extra bounce on the bass and highlights why the Chengdu six-piece were chosen to open for NEW ORDER on their European tour on 2019.
Of course, Reeder is known for his close friendship with NEW ORDER and his remixes of ‘Singularity’, ‘Academic’ and ‘The Game’ were notable for improving on their initial guises from the ‘Music Complete’ album. His driving ‘Cheeky Devil Remix’ of their most recent single ‘Be A Rebel’ presents a more rigid staccato treatment before tripleting in the chorus while adding guitars that were actually absent from the original mix.
One notable new inclusion to the Mark Reeder portfolio is BIRMINGHAM ELECTRIC led by Dutch-based American Andrew Evans whose previous singles ‘Light of the World’ and ‘Moving Target’ featured long-time OMD drummer Malcolm Holmes; The ‘Crying Remix’ of ‘How Do We End Up Here?’ is a rather good vibey tune with vocoder treatments like a disco lento AIR.
‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ is not just about remixes and Reeder gets to fly solo as well. The percussive ‘21st Century Girl’ sees him quoting from cult TV show ‘The Prisoner’ as his soundtrack penetrates with its almost industrial demeanour, augmented by a guitar lick reprise from his own Save Yourself Mix of ‘Manifesto’ by BLANK & JONES and a cheeky burst of T-REX’s ‘20th Century Boy’,
Described by Reeder himself as “a Wet&Hard trilogy”, the three part ‘You Can Touch Me’ starts in a moody mantric fashion with groans and synth sweeps, before pacing up with a growly bass. It all seems a bit superfluous at first but it sets the scene and gets progressively hypnotic, segueing into a propulsive rumbling section that adds more menace to an already sinister track. As Reeder impassively asks “do you want to touch me?”, it eventually slows down after a frenzy of frenetic rhythmic clatter. This is fine provocative dance music if a little too long, but when it hits the spot during the majority of its 13 minutes, it is mighty!
‘Children Of Nature’ was Reeder’s fine 2019 long player with Alanas Chosnau, best known as one of Lithuania’s biggest singing stars with his penchant for DEPECHE MODE. In an ‘Unpredictable Remix’, ‘Love Of My Life’ mutates into something more minimal but harder compared with the original mix. Meanwhile, in collaboration with Mr Sam and Rani Kamal, ‘I Surrender’ is soulful pop given a shadier new wave treatment with the incongruity adding more tension.
‘Dead Souls’ from Hong Kong domiciled Mexicans DEER Mx is not the JOY DIVISION song but a fit of snarling aggression and strident gothic drama to electronic screeches not heard since ‘Crazy Horses’ by THE OSMONDS. Ending with sampled blasts of mariachi trumpets in the background, it is delightfully odd. However, the heavy deadpan resonance of LIARS and ‘Staring at Zero’ will not be for everybody although their eccentric frontman Angus Andrew has declared Reeder’s ‘Two Thousand Yards Stare Remix’ as his favourite of his own work.
Already rock focussed, ‘Coked Up Biker Anthem’ from New York-based Zachery Allan Starkey sees Reeder realise some of his mad axeman fantasies with his guitar enhanced ‘Leather & Beers’ rework by taking the dystopian metal original into even more speedy Alice Cooper territory. But with an icy build, CEMETERY SEX FAIRIES’ ‘Tanz Allein’ sees a move away from Reeder’s usual four-on-the-floor template and maintains an enjoyably creepy quality with the scary German Grimm tales vocal.
While many purchasers will be NEW ORDER and YELLO completists after the exclusive remixes on ‘Subversiv-Dekadent’, this Mark Reeder collector has so much more to offer. As well for presenting his sometimes lesser-lauded abilities as a composer, it also provides a platform for emergent acts from all around the world to be discovered.
Despite being regarded as ‘Subversiv-Dekadent’, through music Mark Reeder has unified more people than any politician has. In this modern online environment, the influence of music is more international than ever. It makes people connect, love, dance, escape and protest. This diverse collection does that, and isn’t that what music is all about.