Category: Transmissions (Page 1 of 9)

DAVE SMITH 1950 – 2022

Dave Smith, the synthesizer pioneer and one of the Godfathers of MIDI has sadly passed away aged 72. 

Through his company Sequential Circuits, the American revolutionised electronic music with his practical solutions and a unifying spirit within a very competitive marketing environment. In a statement, Sequential announced “It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that Dave Smith has died. We’re heartbroken, but take some small solace in knowing he was on the road doing what he loved best in the company of family, friends, and artists.”

The list of acts who used his instruments over the years reads like a who’s who of music: YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, KRAFTWERK, PINK FLOYD, TANGERINE DREAM, DEVO, JAPAN, OMD, NEW ORDER, SOFT CELL, DURAN DURAN, YAZOO, ULTRAVOX, ERASURE, THOMPSON TWINS, TALKING HEADS, BERLIN, PAGE, PSYCHE, KID KASIO, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, MAISON VAGUE, RADIOHEAD, SOFT METALS, KITE BASE, FM ATTACK, BETAMAXX, ULTRAFLEX and CIRCUIT3 among many.

Born in San Francisco, Smith became fascinated by music via the family piano. He later played guitar and bass in bands while studying Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California in Berkeley. Mesmerised by ‘Switched On Bach’ by Wendy Carlos, he visited a music store to try out a Minimoog and ARP Odyssey. He favoured the Bob Moog instrument and securing a credit union from his then-employer Lockheed, he acquired one with the serial number 1340.

Exploring his Minimoog while using a TEAC 4 track reel-to-reel, he identified a need for a low price analogue sequencer to work with Moog and ARP synths, so launched a company in 1974 to produce a 16 step machine called the Model 600. The microprocessor controlled Model 800 digital sequencer followed.

But his 8-step Model 700 Programmer, which set up sounds on Moog and ARP synths that could be recorded to memory and recalled at the touch of a button, sparked Dave Smith’s epiphanal moment; why not combine microprocessors with synthesizer integrated circuits to create a programmable synthesizer?

With neither Moog or ARP seemingly on the ball to come up with such an instrument, Smith gave up his day job to work full-time on designing what became the Prophet 5. Demonstrated at the popular NAMM trade show in 1978, it was the world’s first fully programmable polyphonic synthesizer. Among the first purchasers were veterans such as Rick Wakeman, David Bowie and Tony Banks but with its use of silicon chip technology, it was also affordable compared with the Polymoog or Yamaha CS80. The new guard such as Gary Numan, David Sylvian, Richard Barbieri, Dave Ball, Nick Rhodes and Paul Humphreys made it top of their shopping list when their record label advances came in.

Commenting on its usability, Paul Humphreys remarked “The Prophet 5 is one where I can imagine a sound and build it myself. I can programme it inside out” while Richard Barbieri said “I’ve never found anything that sounds as lush, warm and beautiful”.

Chris Payne who played with Gary Numan remembered “I bought my first Prophet 5 whilst touring in the States. I spent an entire night messing around with it editing sounds and trying desperately to create some cool strings. Sadly with the tiredness and overwhelming enthusiasm I created a string sound which was a lot worse than the preset. But having said that, this synth was a game changer and I purchased another one for live work. Our other keyboard player Denis had the Prophet 10 and I’d love to know what happened to that…”

The Prophet 10 was the twin keyboard variant of the Prophet 5 which was prone to overheating problems, but it was the ProOne, a monophonic version of the Prophet 5, that proved to be more popular, with Vince Clarke, Howard Jones and Tom Bailey among its exponents.

In 1981, after meetings with Tom Oberheim and Ikutaro Kakehashi of Roland, Smith presented a paper outlining the idea of a Universal Synthesizer Interface to create a standard means of synchronising electronic instruments manufactured by different companies. He and Sequential engineer Chet Wood designed an interface based on Roland’s Digital Control Bus. Also working in association Yamaha, Korg and Kawai, the Musical Instrument Digital Interface or MIDI was born in 1983 and remains in use today. Smith and Kakehashi were awarded a Technical Grammy for their innovation in 2013.

Despite these successes and presenting the first MIDI compatible digital drum machine in the Drumtraks, Sequential’s fortunes were taking a downturn thanks to success of the Yamaha DX7 and E-mu Emulator samplers.

The very expensive Prophet T8 with its wooden piano weighted velocity sensitive keyboard turned out to be a white elephant and although Howard Jones liked using it to control his DX7, Billy Currie of ULTRAVOX remarked “I got it thinking it would be a competitor to the Yamaha CS80 but the action was always far too heavy.”

The Prophet 2000 sampler and the Prophet VS using vector synthesis were unable to regain the lost commercial momentum and Sequential closed in 1987 with the brand purchased by Yamaha, although the Japanese company never issued any products with that name. In 1989, Smith joined Korg to refine the vector synthesis concept of the Prophet VS on the Wavestation which was subsequently used by ENIGMA, ORBITAL, THE FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON, DUBSTAR, OZRIC TENTACLES and on the soundtrack of ‘The X-Files’.

After working on the software side of synthesis, Dave Smith Instruments was established in 2002 with the analogue-digital hybrid Evolver being the first in a new product line. Meanwhile the bright yellow Mopho was a compact but powerful monophonic that proved to be very versatile when used in a live context. Martin Swan of VILE ELECTRODES described it in 2011 as ”a modern take on the Sequential Circuits ProOne. The Mopho is a combination of that and the Moog Source, which was the first monosynth that had memories. Obviously, it really helps for playing live to switch from one patch to another. It’s kind of old school vintage synth in one way but it’s got a modern aesthetic as well. It’s very muscley!”

Reviving the Prophet name, the 08 polyphonic featured a 100% analogue signal path and a front panel with rotary controls using potentiometers while maintaining digital interfaces. It was popular with the next generation of synth musicians; James New of MIRRORS was particularly enthused, saying in 2010 “it seems to do a bit of everything. It sounds like an old Moog and it’s part digital so it doesn’t go ridiculously out of tune!” while bandmate Ally Young added “the way the sound is created in the DS is totally analogue and the pretext of the Prophet is that it’s not a homage to the Prophet 5 which Dave Smith and Sequential Circuits obviously made… it’s if he never made the Prophet 5 and was going to make one now, this is what it would be”

The expansive bi-timbral Prophet 12 combined two hybrid analogue-digital six voice synths into one package and was endorsed by Taylor Swift. Ever the one for collaboration, Smith brought in Roger Linn to co-design the Tempest drum machine sequencer while he teamed up with Tom Oberheim for the OB6 inspired by his classic SEM sound.

But in a gesture of goodwill and with the encouragement of Roland’s Ikutaro Kakehashi, Yamaha returned the Sequential Circuits brand to Smith in 2015.

The Prophet 6 and Prophet X followed as the first genuine Sequential products in several decades while in 2018, the Prophet 5 was reissued to mark its 40th anniversary. In a far cry from the company’s 1987 demise, its multi-million dollar revenue streams led to Sequential being bought in 2021 by Focusrite, the British audio technology company which had been established by recording studio trailblazer Rupert Neve.

Dave Smith had been scheduled to appear at NAMM 2022; his untimely passing will not only leave a void at that event but throughout the music world. Often pictured smiling and occasionally enjoying a Margarita, his impactful life can be truly said to have changed music making forever.


Text by Chi Ming Lai
2nd June 2022

VANGELIS 1943 – 2022

The esteemed Greek composer Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, best known to the world by his stage name of Vangelis has sadly passed away aged 79.

A self-taught musician, although Vangelis found fame as the keyboard player of prog rockers APHRODITE’S CHILD who were fronted by Demis Roussos, he first became known in Greece for writing a song called ‘Summer Dream’ which featured in the 1968 film ‘Operation Apollo’. While a member of APHRODITE’S CHILD, he composed a number of soundtracks including ‘L’Apocalypse des Animaux’ which accompanied a 1970 French documentary series directed by Frédéric Rossif.

After APHRODITE’S CHILD disbanded, Vangelis was invited by Jon Anderson to join YES to replace Rick Wakeman. Although he opted for what was to become a remarkable solo career, it was the beginning of a friendship that would lead to occasional collaborations and later, three unlikely hit singles in ‘I Hear You Now’, ‘I’ll Find My Way Home’ and ‘State Of Independence’.

Releasing his first album ‘Earth’ as Vangelis in 1973, his style involved him playing virtually everything including guitar, various ethnic instruments, drums and percussion. Relocating to London, he established his iconic Nemo Studios complex near Marble Arch. There he recorded 1975’s ‘Heaven & Hell’ to start what was to be a series of imperial albums. 1976 saw Vangelis’ first space themed long player ‘Albedo 0.39’, the key track of which was the cosmic ‘Pulstar’ whose stabby synth lines were later sampled by Gary Numan for the song ‘Strange Charm’ in 1986.

Vangelis’ wider breakthrough came with the 1977 album ‘Spiral’ and it was here that he debuted the Yamaha CS80. An incredibly complex synthesizer, the CS80 boasted a ribbon controller which allowed for the application of pitch-bends and glissandos polyphonically, while also boasting velocity-sensitive and after-touch qualities. He put these to effective use on ‘To The Unknown Man’, a three part piece over nine minutes which was to become one of his most captivating recordings. But while much of Vangelis’ work possessed a sedate symphonic quality, he proved he could funk it with the best of them on ‘Dervish D’, which utilised a spinning Roland System 100 sequencer core with a brilliantly played jazz-inflected solo.

In 1979, Vangelis was to present his best work yet in ‘China’; although he had not visited the country at the time of record, he became fascinated by its people and culture while observing a connection between ethnic Greek and Chinese music. Using traditional instruments and compositional styles alongside ring modulated synthesizers, ‘The Tao Of Love’ was to be the album’s centrepiece.

Vangelis was continuing to make his name in soundtracks and ‘Opéra Sauvage’ featuring the mighty ‘Hymn’ was to become his most successful album in the US to date. However, it was in 1981 with ‘Chariots of Fire’, the David Puttnam produced movie which told the story of two British athletes at the 1924 Paris Olympics that set him towards a lucrative career in cinema. Composed after watching three run throughs, the film’s opening ‘Titles’ with its iconic six note melodic phrase became an international hit single. The soundtrack won an Oscar for Best Original Music Score.

His next soundtrack for 1982’s ‘Blade Runner’ was to be his most celebrated work but also most troubled. Capturing the futuristic dystopian unsettlement of the story based on Philip K Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’, although nominated for a BAFTA and Golden Globe as Best Original Score, Vangelis felt unable to issue a soundtrack album at the time of the film’s release due to creative differences with director Ridley Scott.

The magnificent ‘End Titles’ would not appear until 1989’s ‘Themes’ compilation, while the 1994 ‘Blade Runner’ album omitted much of the original music that appeared with previously unheard tracks such as ‘Rachel’s Song’ featuring the voice of Mary Hopkin now included; the evocative piece was later sampled by THE FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON for their single ‘My Kingdom’.

Rarely giving interviews, Vangelis’ preference for low profile made him an ideal film composer with ‘Missing’, ‘Antarctica’, ‘Bounty’, ‘Bitter Moon’, ‘The Plague’, ‘1492: Conquest of Paradise’, ‘Alexander’ and ‘Twilight of Shadows’ among his other movie credits.

Vangelis adopted a more classical approach on ‘El Greco’, ‘Mythodea – Music for the NASA Mission: 2001 Mars Odyssey’ and ‘The 2002 FIFA World Cup Official Anthem’ but following an inspirational video call with Dutch astronaut André Kuipers from the International Space Station, 2016’s ‘Rosetta’ saw a return to the electronic music to celebrate the European Space Agency probe launched in 2004 to perform a detailed study of comet 67P while flying past Mars and several asteroids along the way.

‘Nocturne: The Piano Album’ from 2019 was another recording inspired by Vangelis’ passion for space, while his final album ‘Juno to Jupiter’ in 2021 continued the theme with a work inspired by NASA’s mission with the Juno space probe to explore Jupiter, featuring opera star Angela Gheorghiu as the “voice” of Juno.

Vangelis leaves behind a vast legacy with some of the best electronic instrumental music ever recorded.


Text by Chi Ming Lai
19th May 2022

KLAUS SCHULZE 1947 – 2022

The German electronic music legend Klaus Schulze has sadly passed away at the age of 74 after a long illness.

Despite this, his passing was unexpected as Schulze was set to release a new album ‘Deus Arrakis’ this summer on SPV. He had collaborated with Hans Zimmer on ‘Grains of Sand’ aka ‘Herbert’ for the end credits of the new ‘Dune’ 2021 film adaptation directed by Denis Villeneuve.

Trained as a classic guitarist, Schulze took up the drums and was a member of TANGERINE DEAM and ASH RA TEMPEL, remaining with them for only their debut albums.

Disillusioned with both drums and guitars, he embarked on a solo career using keyboards and electronics, simply because it would take him on a creative journey into the unknown. Coinciding with the advent of synthesizers and sequencers to free him from the constraints of a conventional band where the discussions that went on were often longer than any music being played, his own improvised compositions lasting for almost half an hour at a time were the antithesis of modern pop songs and more akin to his musical hero Richard Wagner.

Schulze saw synthesizers as an opportunity to develop original tone colours and saw little point in using them to imitate real instruments like trumpets as Keith Emerson had done, reasoning that if he wanted to have the sound of an orchestra, he would then use one. He even occasionally donned a full face helmet for live appearances in the days when DAFT PUNK were still in short trousers!

Whenever cultural commentators talk about vintage synthesizers stacked up like telephone exchanges in the formative years of electronic music, Klaus Schulze is likely to be one of the key figures they are referring to. Unlike his contemporaries, Schulze had a playful approach with a physical element that encompassed a minimalist groove, a legacy of his earlier explorations as a drummer. During his concerts where he usually performed new material, he would sit crossed legged in front of his complex with his back to the audience while the cosmic trance-like soundscapes poured out.

His 1972 debut solo album ‘Irrlicht’ had been organ driven but its follow-up ‘Cyborg’ brought an EMS VCS3 into the armoury. Acquiring an ARP Odyssey, ARP 2600 and assorted Crumar keyboards, the wider breakthrough came with 1975’s ‘Timewind’ which was released internationally via Virgin Records and its associated imprint Caroline.

Winning the prestigious Grand Prix Du Disque International in France, the success of ‘Timewind’ allowed Schulze to up-the-ante with the purchase of a Moog IIIP modular system and the opportunity to record 1976’s ‘Moondawn’ in a multi-track studio having used just two-track equipment previously; the album was also notable for featuring Harald Grosskopf on drums with the union sparking the WALLENSTEIN sticksman’s own interest in synthesizers to record his acclaimed 1980 solo debut ‘Synthesist’.

Schulze was by now well into what many consider his imperial phase and adding PPG modules to his set-up, released his wintery 1977 masterpiece ‘Mirage’ on Island Records, supported by two lavish concerts at the London Planetarium and planting the seed for New Age in the process.

Harald Grosskopf rejoined Schulze for the ambitious 1978 double opus ‘X’ which also incorporated strings in a record comprising of “Six Musical Biographies” in honour of figures such as philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, composer Friedemann Bach and ‘Dune’ author Frank Herbert. Interest in the latter was developed further on an actual album called ‘Dune’ featuring Arthur Brown on vocals in 1979.

The next two albums ‘Dig It’ and ‘Trancefer’ saw Schulze embrace new digital technology and the Crumar GDS system while 1991’s ‘Beyond Recall’ brought in sampling. A reunion with Manuel Göttsching of ASH RA TEMPEL came on the appropriately titled ‘Return Of The Tempel’ on 1995’s ‘In Blue’. Then released in 1996 on the Eye Of The Storm label founded by the production team behind SNAP!, ‘Are You Sequenced?’ saw Schulze venture into dance music in his own inimitable way with perceptively shorter pieces – “My style of music is always the same” Schulze once said, “but the expression is different with each piece…”

With almost as many live documents as studio recordings, soundtracks, classical, opera and his alias Richard Wahnfried, Schulze’s portfolio contained over 130 albums in many guises including collaborations such as ’The Dark Side Of The Moog’ series with the late Peter Namlook and the supergroup GO with Steve Winwood, Michael Shrieve and Stomu Yamashta, as well as productions for ALPHAVILLE and DEAD CAN DANCE’s Lisa Gerrard.

Schulze even made a cameo appearance in the 2001 German TV murder mystery ‘Klassentreffen – Mordfall Unter Freunden’ as a member of a fictional band THE WANDERING STARS performing at the school reunion, alongside KRAFTWERK’s Florian Schneider on double bass and ALPHAVILLE singer Marian Gold for a cover of ‘Those Were The Days’!

Literally never one to sit still, ‘Deus Arrakis’ was his next musical salute to Frank Herbert, remaining true to his characteristic style and dreamy sheen while remaining open to sonic experimentation. The crystal lake is somewhat emptier tonight but somewhere up there right now, Klaus Schulze is probably having one almighty synth jamming session with Florian Schneider, Edgar Froese and Peter Namlook…


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photo by Guido Harari
27th April 2022

2021 End Of Year Review

As the world steadily emerged from a painful pandemic that put many lives on hold, nostalgia appeared to be the commodity most in demand as the music industry took steps to recover.

No matter which era, anything musically from the past was more desirable that anything that reminded the public of the past 20 or so months. The first escape destination in the summer for many restricted to staying on their own shores were the established retro festivals.

Meanwhile television provided an array of documentaries ranging from chart rundowns of past decades and informative classic song analysis on Channel 5 to Dylan Jones’ look at ‘Music’s Greatest Decade’ on BBC2 and Sky Arts’ ‘Blitzed’ with all the usual suspects such as Boy George, Philip Sallon, Marilyn, Gary Kemp and Rusty Egan.

SPARKS had their own comprehensive if slightly overlong film ‘The SPARKS Brothers’ directed by Edgar Wright, but the Maels’ musical ‘Annette’ starring Adam Driver was a step too far. Meanwhile the acclaimed ‘Sisters With Transistors’ presented the largely untold story of electronic music’s female pioneers.

It was big business for 40th anniversary live celebrations from the likes of HEAVEN 17, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD and SOFT CELL, while other veterans such as NEW ORDER and ERASURE returned to the live circuit with the biggest indoor headlining shows of their career.

Meanwhile for 2022, Midge Ure announced an extensive ‘Voices & Visions’ tour to present material from the 1981-82 phase of ULTRAVOX.

Also next year and all being well, GOLDFRAPP will finally get their belated 20th Anniversary tour for their marvellous debut ‘Felt Mountain’ underway while there are rescheduled ‘Greatest Hits’ live presentations for PET SHOP BOYS and SIMPLE MINDS.

Always money for old rope, but also giving audiences who missed them at their pioneering height an opportunity to catch up, ‘best of’ collections were issued by YELLO and TELEX while JAPAN had their 1979 breakthrough album ‘Quiet Life’ given the lavish boxed set treatment. Meanwhile, while many labels were still doing their best to kill off CD, there was the puzzling wide scale return of the compact cassette, a poor quality carrier even at the zenith of its popularity.

“Reissue! Repackage! Repackage! Re-evaluate the songs! Double-pack with a photograph, extra track and a tacky badge!” a disgraced Northern English philosopher once bemoaned.

The boosted market for deluxe boxed sets and the repackaging of classic albums in coloured vinyl meant that the major corporations such as Universal, Sony and Warners hogged the pressing plants, leaving independent artists with lead times of nearly a year for delivery if they were lucky.

But there was new music in 2021. Having achieved the milestone of four decades as a recording act, DURAN DURAN worked with Giorgio Moroder on the appropriately titled ‘Future Past’ while not far behind, BLANCMANGE took a ‘Commercial Break’ and FIAT LUX explored ‘Twisted Culture’. David Cicero made his belated return to music with a mature second album that was about ‘Today’ as Steven Jones & Logan Sky focussed on the monochromatic mood of ‘European Lovers’. Continuing the European theme but towards the former Eastern Bloc, Mark Reeder gave a reminder that he was once declared ‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ and fellow Mancunians UNE became inspired by the ‘Spomenik’ monoliths commissioned by Marshal Tito in the former Yugoslavia.

For those who preferred to immerse themselves in the darker present, Gary Numan presented ‘Intruder’, a poignant concept album produced by Ade Fenton about Mother Earth creating a virus to teach mankind a lesson! Meanwhile ITALOCONNECTION, the project of Italo veterans Fred Ventura and Paolo Gozzetti teamed up with French superstar Etienne Daho to tell the story of ‘Virus X’! The video of the year came from UNIFY SEPARATE whose motivation message to ‘Embrace The Fear’ despite the uncertainty reflected the thoughts of many.

Despite the general appetite for nostalgia, there was some excellent new music released from less established artists with the album of the year coming from Jorja Chalmers and her ‘Midnight Train’ released on Italians Do It Better. The critical acclaim for the UK based Aussie’s second long playing solo offering made up for the disbandment of the label’s biggest act CHROMATICS, as it went into its most prolific release schedule in its history with albums by GLÜME, JOON, DLINA VOLNY and LOVE OBJECT as well as its own self-titled compilation of in-house Madonna covers.

As Kat Von D teamed up with Dan Haigh of GUNSHIP for her debut solo record ‘Love Made Me Do It’, acts like DANZ CM, CLASS ACTRESS, GLITBITER, PRIMO THE ALIEN, PARALLELS, KANGA, R.MISSING, I AM SNOW ANGEL, XENO & OAKLANDER, HELIX and DAWN TO DAWN showed that North America was still the creative hub as far as electronically derived pop songs went.

Attracting a lot of attention in 2021 were NATION OF LANGUAGE, who with their catchy blend of angst, melody and motorik beats welcomed synths as family in their evolving sound while also providing the song of the year in ‘This Fractured Mind’, reflecting the anxieties of these strange times. At the other end of the spectrum, DIAMOND FIELD went full pop with an optimistic multi-vocalist collection that captured the spirit of early MTV while BUNNY X looked back on their high school days with ‘Young & In Love’.

ACTORS delivered their most synthy album yet while as LEATHERS, they keyboardist Shannon Hamment went the full hog for her debut solo effort ‘Reckless’. FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY released a new album and some of that ‘Mechanical Soul’ was brought by their Rhys Fulber into his productions this year for AESTHETIC PERFECTION.

In Europe, long playing debuts came from PISTON DAMP and WE ARE REPLICA while NORTHERN LITE released their first album completely in German and FRAGRANCE. presented their second album ‘Salt Air’. There was also the welcome return of SIN COS TAN, KID KASIO, GUSGUS, MARVA VON THEO, TINY MAGNETIC PETS and MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY.

Featuring second generation members of NEW ORDER and SECTION 25, SEA FEVER released their eclectic debut ‘Folding Lines’ as fellow Mancunian LONELADY added sequencers and drum machines to her post-punk funk template. But Glasgow’s CHVRCHES disappointed with their fourth long player ‘Screen Violence’ by opting to sound like every other tired hipster band infesting the land.

The most promising artist to breakthrough in 2021 was Hattie Cooke whose application of traditional songwriting nous to self-production and arrangement techniques using comparatively basic tools such as GarageBand found a wider audience via her third album ‘Bliss Land’. In all, it was a strong year for female synth-friendly artists with impressive albums from Karin My, Laura Dre, Alina Valentina, Robin Hatch and Catherine Moan while comparative veterans like Fifi Rong, Alice Hubble, Brigitte Handley and Alison Lewis as ZANIAS maintained their cult popularity.

In 2021, sometimes words were very unnecessary and there were fine instrumental synth albums from BETAMAXX, WAVESHAPER, КЛЕТ and Richard Barbieri, with a Mercury nomination received by Hannah Peel for ‘Fir Wave’. But for those who preferred Italo Noir, popwave, post-punk techno and progressive pop, Tobias Bernstrup, Michael Oakley, Eric Random and Steven Wilson delivered the goods respectively.

With ‘The Never Ending’ being billed as the final FM ATTACK album and PERTURBATOR incorrectly paraphrased by Metal Hammer in a controversial “synthwave is dead” declaration, the community got itself in a pickle by simultaneously attacking THE WEEKND for “stealing from synthwave”, yet wanting to ride on the coat tails of Abel Tesfaye, misguidedly sensing an opportunity to snare new fans for their own music projects.

With THE WEEKND’s most recent single ‘Take My Breath’, there was the outcry over the use of a four note arpeggio allegedly sampled from MAKEUP & VANITY SET’s ‘The Last City’. But as one online observer put it, “Wow, an arpeggiated minor chord. Hate to break it to you but you might want to check out what Giorgio Moroder was doing 50 years ago. We’re ALL just rippin’ him off if that’s how you think creativity works”. Another added “If a four note minor key arpeggiated chord can go to court on the basis of copyright law, we are in for a hell of a few years my synthy friends”. It outlined once again that there are some who are still under the impression that music using synths was invented by Ryan Gosling in 2011 for ‘Drive’ soundtrack ??

There were also belated complaints that 2019’s A-HA inspired ‘Blinding Lights’ had a simple melody and needed five writers to realise it… but then, so did UTRAVOX’s ‘Slow Motion’ and DURAN DURAN’s ‘Rio’! Collaboration, whether in bands, with producers or even outsiders has always been a key aspect of the compositional process. If it is THAT simple, do it yourself! As Andy McCluskey of OMD said on ‘Synth Britannia’ in 2009 about the pioneering era when Ryan Gosling was still in nappies: “The number of people who thought that the equipment wrote the song for you: ‘well anybody can do it with the equipment you’ve got!’ “F*** OFF!!”

Over the last two years, THE WEEKND has become the biggest mainstream pop act on the planet, thanks to spectacles such as the impressive gothic theatre of the Super Bowl LV half time showcase while in a special performance on the BRITS, there was a charming presentation of the ERASURE-ish ‘Save Your Tears’ where he played air synth in a moment relatable to many. But everything is ultimately down to catchy songs, regardless of synth usage.

So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK would like to present a hypothetical case to consider… if someone uses the arpeggio function with a sparkling patch from a Juno 6 synth in a recording, does Cyndi Lauper sue for infringing the copyright of ‘All Through The Night’ or the original songwriter Jules Shear or even the Roland Corporation themselves as they created it? More than one producer has suggested that THE WEEKND’s soundbite came from a hardware preset or more than likely, a software sample pack, of which there are now many.

However, sample culture had hit another new low when Tracklib marketed a package as “A real game-changer for sample based music. Now everyone can afford to clear samples” with rapper and producer Erick Sermon declaring “Yo, this is incredible. They’re trying to put creativity back into music again. By having samples you can actually pay for and afford”.

Err creativity? How about writing your own songs and playing or even programming YOUR OWN instrumentation??!?

One sampling enthusiast even declared “I might go as far as to say you don’t really like dance music if you’ve got a problem with adding a beat to a huge (even instantly recognizable) sample”… well guess what? ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK LOATHES IT!!! ?

In 2021, music promotion became a bit strange with publicists at all levels keen more than ever to have their clients’ press releases just cut ‘n’ pasted onto online platforms, but very reluctant to allow albums to be reviewed in advance in the event of a potential negative prognosis.

While cut ‘n’ paste journalism has been a disease that has always afflicted online media, in a sad sign of the times, one long established international website moved to a “pay to get your press release featured” business model.

The emergence of reaction vloggers was another bizarre development while the “Mention your favourite artist and see if they respond to you” posts on social media only added more wood to the dumbing down bonfire already existing within audience engagement.

It was as if the wider public was no longer interested in more in-depth analysis while many artists turned their publicity into a reliance on others doing “big ups” via Twitter and Facebook. But then, if artists are being successfully crowdfunded with subscriptions via Patreon, Kickstarter, Bandcamp and the like, do they need a media intermediary any longer as they are dealing direct with their fanbases?

However, it wasn’t all bad in the media with ‘Electronically Yours With Martyn Ware’ providing insightful artist interviews and the largely entertaining ‘Beyond Synth’ podcast celebrating its 300th show. Due to their own music commitments, Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness were less prolific with their discussion show ‘The Album Years’ but it was still refreshing for commentators to be able to say that a record was sh*t when it actually was, rather than conform to the modern day adage that all music is good but not always to the listener’s taste!  And while various programmes came and went, other such as ‘Operating//Generating’, ‘KZL Live’ and ‘Absynth’ came to prominence.

Post-pandemic, interesting if uncertain times are ahead within the music industry. But as live performance returns, while the mainstream is likely to hit the crowd walking, will there be enough cost effective venues to host independent artists? Things have been tough but for some, but things might be about to get even tougher.

However, music was what got many through the last 18 months and as times are still uncertain, music in its live variant will help to get everyone through the next year and a half and beyond.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s year in music is gathered in its 2021 Playlist – Missing U at
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4rlJgJhiGkOw8q2JcunJfw


Text by Chi Ming Lai
17th December 2021

Is SOFT CELL Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret the Best Album of 1981?

So! “Here we are again!” Sorry, that’s actually a lyric from another band touring on the 40th Anniversary of a classic 1981 album.

Despite saying hello and waving goodbye with a spectacular final show at London’s O2 Arena in 2018, SOFT CELL have not only got a new album ‘*Happiness Not Included’ slated for release in February 2022, but they will also be performing their seminal debut album ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ in its entirety for the first time on a UK tour. But as SOFT CELL celebrate the legacy of ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ alongside their other hits, they will also be previewing tracks from ‘*Happiness Not Included’.

Although it has been four decades since the seedy personas of Marc Almond and Dave Ball, photographed by Peter Ashworth, adorned the front cover and hit the shelves of WH Smith, Boots, Littlewoods and Woolworths, the fact that ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ was available where your parents and grandparents shopped can now be seen as being one of the most subversive acts in popular culture.

Art students who met at Leeds Polytechnic, the album title came from one of the neon signs outside The Raymond Revue Bar in London’s Soho where Almond lived, an area that at the time was full of strip clubs, sex shops and entrances saying “model upstairs”.

While JAPAN glamourised Chinese Communism on ‘Tin Drum’ and THE HUMAN LEAGUE presented working class aspiration like a synthpop ABBA on ‘Dare’, SOFT CELL told of the grit that could come with glitter in musical tales about dirty old men, prostitutes, grooming, sexual deviance, personal grievance, tabloid sensationalism, middle class entitlement and living in squalor. Only the pair of tunes by OMD about the brutal execution of a teenage girl on ‘Architecture & Morality’ were historically darker than SOFT CELL’s gutter heart take on reality.

The recent Twitter listening party hosted by Tim Burgess highlighted the worldwide love and affection for ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’. With Marc Almond and Dave Ball on hand to provide insights and memories on the making of the record, a number of interesting points of trivia were provided.

While the duo were in New York to record and mix the album with producer Mike Thorne, ‘Tainted Love’ became a hit in Germany. So with Ball otherwise engaged in working the state-of-the-art NED Synclavier and the much more basic Roland Synthe-Bass SB100 which provided SOFT CELL with a very distinct sound, Almond was despatched to perform the song on TV show ‘Disco’ with a Dave Ball lookalike who ZDF tried to keep in shadow and out of shot, but failed!

Of ‘Entertain Me’, Marc Almond said “This is about people who are just never satisfied. The pop star world we found ourselves in after the success of ‘Tainted Love’”; but of this new world they were now part of, Dave Ball recalled “it was all a big adventure. Highlights were meeting Divine and Madonna in Danceteria then meeting Andy Warhol at The Factory”

‘Secret Life’ was revealed to be a preceding song to ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ about a politician’s affair with a prostitute whose other secret is that he is also a cross dresser… with sex scandals still rife in Parliament, the songs on ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ are as relevant as ever.

Bedsitter’ is another case in point which despite its bittersweet ode to nightlife, on which the Roland TR808 Rhythm Composer was heard on a UK hit single for the first time, reflects on the poor quality accommodation offered by private landlords thanks to the selling off of affordable council housing in Britain; the effects of this Thatcherite policy are sadly still felt today.

The most sinister song when applied to the present is ‘Frustration’ which could be a narrative on incels or “involuntary celibates”, the deeply unpleasant right wing faction of males who are unable to get a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one, but whose misguided and ignorant anger spills into misogyny and racism.

The most important aspect about ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ though is that it possessed catchy off-kilter tunes with great synth hooks and edgy lyrics over infectious machine beats. With its No1 single and a pair of Top 5s, SOFT CELL initially stole a march on DEPECHE MODE whose own debut ‘Speak & Spell’ paled in comparison. But while Almond and Ball first spilt in 1984, PET SHOP BOYS picked up their baton and although they smoothed the template out, proved that the technologically assisted pop duo format still had legs.

There is much to reasonably justify ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ as the Best Album of 1981, but if it isn’t, then it is certainly in the Top 5 alongside THE HUMAN LEAGUE, JAPAN, KRAFTWERK and OMD in what was a sensational year for electronic pop music.


SOFT CELL’s 2021 ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ 40th Anniversary live dates:

Glasgow O2 Academy (10th November), Manchester O2 Apollo (12th November), Leeds O2 Academy (13th November), London Hammersmith Apollo (15th November), London Hammersmith Apollo (16th November) – tickets available from https://myticket.co.uk/artists/soft-cell

The new album ‘*Happiness Not Included’’ is released on 25th February 2022 via BMG, the single ‘Bruises On My Illusions’ is available now on CD and 12″ vinyl formats from https://softcell.tmstor.es/

http://www.softcell.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/softcellband/

https://twitter.com/softcellhq

https://www.instagram.com/softcellhq/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Peter Ashworth
2nd November 2021

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