American born RIDER describes herself as “alternative pop”, exploring a variety of styles while ensuring larger than life melodies are at the core of her work.
Originally from Pennsylvania, RIDER emigrated to the UK and studied at LIPA, the educational establishment that includes Eddie Lundon of CHINA CRISIS as one of its lecturers.
Looking like Lana Del Rey gone synthwave, the London based singer and multi-instrumentalist’s most recent single ‘Tell Nobody’ is an energetic neon lit stomper that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a John Hughes teen movie. With her Trans-Atlantic timbre, RIDER’s dulcet tones suit the mood fabulously.
The accompanying sci-fi inspired video directed by Ollie Rillands of Shapeshifter Films features a young gamer girl who dreams of travelling into the future and builds her own time machine; RIDER herself makes a cameo as a shop assistant who sells a PP9 battery to the junior inventor at a hush-hush ‘Tell Nobody’ discount.
With her powerful voice and application of self-produced organic textures alongside the electronic, RIDER embroils an air of optimism within her heartfelt expression, as on ‘Hurts Me Too’, a soulful tune which could be likened to AFTERHERE, the HEAVEN 17 side project fronted by Berenice Scott.
Having recently developed a taste for NINA, FM-84 and THE MIDNIGHT, it will be interesting to see where she heads next.
While songs like ‘You’ recall the West Coast New Wave of THE GO GOS and ‘A Little Light’ takes a more steadfast approach to LORDE’s almost similarly titled ‘Green Light’, RIDER’s eclectic blend of genres highlight her sweet passionate approach to her music.
As RIDER herself puts it: “Life is sweet!”
‘Tell Nobody’ is released by Sapien Records, available on all digital platforms
2018 saw JEAN-MICHEL JARRE celebrate 50 years in the business and whether the world really needed another of his compilations, ‘Planet Jarre’ was probably one of the better collected representations of his work for casual admirers.
But not standing still and releasing his fourth new album in three years, ‘Equinoxe Infinity’ continued the story as the French Maestro tuned 70.
SOFT CELL made a totally unexpected return for a huge one-off farewell gig at London’s O2 Arena; and with it came a boxed set, the ‘Northern Lights’ single and other new recordings which have raised hopes for a new album.
From the same era, FIAT LUX announced plans for their debut album ‘Save Symmetry’ with an excellent lead track ‘It’s You’, while B-MOVIE came up with their most synth-propelled single yet in ‘Stalingrad’.
But one act who actually did comeback with a brand new album in 2018 were DUBSTAR; now a duo of Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie, as ‘One’ they reminded audiences as to why they were the acceptable face of Britpop with their bridge to Synth Britannia.
IONNALEE finally released her debut opus ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ and her tour which included choice cuts from IAMAMIWHOAMI, proved to be one of the best value-for-money live experiences in 2018, one that was even endorsed by Welsh songstress Charlotte Church.
CHVRCHES offered up their third album ‘Love Is Dead’ and continued their role as international flagwavers for quality synthpop, while EMIKA presented her best album yet in ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, an exquisite electronic record with a Bohemian aura.
JOHN GRANT was on an artistic roll both solo and in partnership with WRANGLER as CREEP SHOW with two new albums. However, he was beaten by Neil Arthur who managed three albums over a 12 month period as NEAR FUTURE and BLANCMANGE including ‘Wanderlust’, possibly the latter’s best body of work in its 21st Century incarnation.
It was a busy year for STEVE JANSEN with a new solo ambient work ‘Corridor’, the well-received vinyl reissue of JAPAN’s two Virgin-era studio albums and his epic, more organically flavoured band project EXIT NORTH with their debut long player ‘Book Of Romance & Dust’.
SARAH NIXEY went on some ‘Night Walks’ for her best solo album yet, a wonderful collection of everything she had ever been musically all wonderfully rolled into one.
Meanwhile TRACEY THORN went back to the ‘Dancefloor’ with her ‘Record’ which content wise was right up there with some of ALISON MOYET’s electronica output from the last five years.
Hungary’s BLACK NAIL CABARET offered some noirish ‘Pseudopop’ and promising Norwich youngsters LET’S EAT GRANDMA got more deeply into electronica without losing any of their angsty teenage exuberance on their second album ‘I’m All Ears’.
Less intense and more dreamy were GLASSHOUSE, the new duo fronted by former TECHNIQUE singer Xan Tyler.
While the new HEAVEN 17 album ‘Not For Public Broadcast’ is still to be finished, Glenn Gregory teamed by with live keyboardist Berenice Scott as AFTERHERE. Their long-time friend Claudia Brücken performed as xPROPAGANDA with Susanne Freytag and partnered up with one-time TANGERINE DREAM member Jerome Froese, releasing the ‘Beginn’ album in the process.
Highly appealing were a number of quirky Japanese influenced female artists from around the globe including COMPUTER MAGIC, MECHA MAIKO and PLASMIC. But there were also a number of acts with Far Eastern heritage like STOLEN, FIFI RONG, DISQO VOLANTE and SHOOK who continued to make a worthy impression with their recorded output in 2018.
Heavy synth rock duo NIGHT CLUB presented their ‘Scary World’ on the back of tours opening for COMBICHRIST and A PERFECT CIRCLE while also from across the pond, NYXX and SINOSA both showcased their alluring potential.
At the poppier end of the spectrum, Holger Wobker used Pledge Music to relaunch BOYTRONIC with their most recent vocal incumbent James Knights in an unexpected twist to once again prove the old adage to “never say never” as far as the music industry is concerned.
Meanwhile, Chris Payne co-wrote and co-produced the excellent ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP with KATJA VON KASSEL while also revealing plans for an autobiography and opening for his old boss…
The surprise album of the year was CHRIS CARTER with his ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’ while using a not dissimilar concept with their second album ‘Hello Science’, REED & CAROLINE took their folk laden synthpop out on a US tour opening for ERASURE.
STEVEN JONES & LOGAN SKY harked back to the days when GARY NUMAN and OMD would release two albums in one year by offering ‘Hans Und Lieselotte’ and ‘The Electric Eye’ in 2016. Those veteran acts themselves celebrated their 40th anniversaries by going orchestral, something which SIMPLE MINDS also did when they opted to re-record ‘Alive & Kicking’ for the ’80s Symphonic’ collection although Jim Kerr forgot how a third of the song went!
With SIMPLE MINDS also performing a horrible and barely recognisable ‘Promised You A Miracle’ during BBC’s ‘The Biggest Weekend’, making up for the live joke that his former band have become was one-time bassist Derek Forbes with the album ‘Broken Hearted City’ as ZANTi with Anni Hogan of MARC & THE MAMBAS fame.
Other former members of high-profile bands were busy too with Ian Burden, formally of THE HUMAN LEAGUE returning with the Floydian ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ while A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS reformed briefly for an orchestral re-run of their catalogue.
With the release of their second album ‘Kinetik’, EKKOES handed over THE HUMAN LEAGUE support baton to SHELTER who came up with their best body of work yet in the more introspective shades of ‘Soar’
That darker approach manifested itself on singer Mark Bebb’s side project FORM with Keith Trigwell of SPEAK & SPELL whose debut long player ‘defiance + entropy’ also came out in 2018.
Having been championed by RÖYSKSOPP, Wales’ MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY returned with ‘Infinity Mirror’ while riding on the well-deserved momentum from opening for OMD, Ireland’s TINY MAGNETIC PETS embarked on their first headlining tour.
NINA’s long awaited debut album ‘Sleepwalking’ was a fine hybrid of synthpop and the currently fashionable Synthwave aesthetic; her live double billing with Canadian synthpopsters PARALLELS was one of the hottest tickets of the year.
However, the endless AOR excesses, moonlight sax breaks and highly unimaginative band monikers using numbers between 80 to 89 affixed to an archaic technology reference, illustrated by yet another neon sunset, VCR grid and Lamborghini, were becoming tiresome.
As Synthwave cynics, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s touch paper was being lit big time! The whole point of the synthesizer’s role during the Second British Invasion of the US was to fight against the insipid overtures of AOR like TOTO, CHICAGO and JOURNEY, NOT to make music coated with its horrid stench as THE MIDNIGHT did in 2018 with their long player ‘Kids’.
But there was naivety within some quarters too; electronic music did not begin in 2011 with ‘Drive’, an above average film with a good if slightly over rated soundtrack. However, its cultural influence has led to a plethora of meandering tracks made by gamer boys which sounded like someone had forgotten to sing on them; perhaps they should have gone back to 1978 and listened to GIORGIO MORODER’s ‘Midnight Express Theme’ to find out how this type of instrumental music should be done?
Many of the newer artists influenced by Synth Britannia that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has featured have sometimes been accused of being stuck in the past, but a fair number of Synthwave acts were really taking the soggy biscuit with their retro-obsession.
Rock band MUSE’s use of glowing artwork by Kyle Lambert of ‘Stranger Things’ fame on their eighth album ‘Simulation Theory’ sent sections of the Synthwave community into meltdown. There were cries that they had “stolen the aesthetics and concept” and how “it’s not relevant to their sound”!
But WHAM! had Peter Saville designed sleeves and never sounded like NEW ORDER or OMD, while electropop diva LA ROUX used a visual stylisation for ‘In For The Kill’ that has since been claimed by Synthwavers as their own, despite it being from 2009 when Ryan Gosling was peddling graveyard indie rock in DEAD MAN’S BONES 😉
This was one of the bigger ironies of 2018, especially as MUSE have always used synths! One of Matt Bellamy and co’s biggest musical inspirations is ULTRAVOX, indicating the trio probably have a better understanding of the fusion between the synthesizer, rock and classical music, as proven by the ‘Simulation Theory’ bookends ‘Algorithm’ and ‘The Void’, than any static laptop exponent with a Jan Hammer fixation.
It is interesting to note today how electronic music has split into so many factions, but there’s still the assumed generalisation that it is all one thing and that synthpop fans must also like Synthwave, Deep House, EDM, Industrial and those tedious beach chill-out remixes.
Back in the day and even now, some fans of THE HUMAN LEAGUE didn’t like OMD, DEPECHE MODE fans only liked DEPECHE MODE and rock fans had a token favourite electronic band.
Out of all the acts from the Synth Britannia era, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had very little time for THOMPSON TWINS despite their huge international success, but their leader Tom Bailey’s 2018 solo recorded return ‘Science Fiction’ was warmly received by many.
Just as COLDPLAY and SNOW PATROL fans don’t all embrace ELBOW, it is ok to have preferences and to say so. Not liking the music of an artist does not make you a bad person, but liking everything does not make you a better person either… in fact, it shows you probably have no discerning taste! In 2002, SOFT CELL warned of a ‘Monoculture’, and if there is no taste differentiation in art and music, it will spell the end of cultural enhancement.
2018 was a year of good songs rather than good albums, with many of long players not as consistent or as of high a standard as the bumper crop from the Class of ’17.
However, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had plenty of material to choose from for its 30 SONGS OF 2018 and for obvious reasons, cannot include everything that was in this year’s shortlist…
So worthy mentions go to ANI GLASS, BLACK NAIL CABARET, BRÜCKEN FROESE, DANA JEAN PHOENIX, DISQO VOLANTE, DUBSTAR, EKKOES, FAKE TEAK, FRAGRANCE, THE FRIXION, GUNSHIP, HILTIPOP, IAMX, LIZETTE LIZETTE, TRAIN TO SPAIN and WITCH OF THE VALE.
Interestingly, three graduates from the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ made it into the final list, thus highlighting the longevity of that particular vinyl showcase some 37 years on!
So with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, here are our 30 SONGS OF 2018 presented in alphabetical order…
AFTERHERE Breaking Rules
AFTERHERE is the brand new project of HEAVEN 17 singer Glenn Gregory and live keyboardist Berenice Scott, but with their roles reversed. Exploring their inner GOLDFRAPP but in a funkier vein, with groovy reminisces of ‘Twist’ and ‘Yes Sir’, the song seductively boasted a captivating sexually charged electronic energy. Berenice Scott said: “We always wanted to have a driving track on the album that you could hopefully move your feet to, party to… possibly get in a little trouble!”
Available on the AFTERHERE album ‘Addict’ via Manners McDade
While the Clarke was strong with this one, the first impression that came across with ‘Utopia’ was that things became a slight bit darker in the world of JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM. Despite that, there was a rousing chorus and percolating sequences to savour as he pointed out the futility of seeking that perfect future, when life has so much more on offer. “I wouldn´t describe the album as dark though” the DAILY PLANET synthesist helpfully added, “it´s absolutely a pop album.”
Available on the JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM album ‘Utopia’ via Progress Productions
For BLANCMANGE, ‘Distant Storm’ was rather unusual with its dance beat, reverberant Moog bassline and dreamy processed vocoder aesthetic. With a rousing, almost spiritual quality and elements of JAMES’ ‘Come Home’ creeping in for good measure, it displayed Neil Arthur’s comfort in working with producer Benge on effectively their third album together. “I wanted to sing it as though it was really detached with my voice being synthesized” he told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK.
Available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘Wanderlust’ via Blanc Check Records
Veteran Mansfield quartet B-MOVIE made their most electronic pop single to date with the chilling aesthetics of ‘Stalingrad’. Complete with an infectious synth melody, an eerie mezzo-soprano and using the crucial Second World War battle as a metaphor for a doomed relationship, it was possibly Steve Hovington, Paul Statham, Rick Holliday and Graham Boffey’s best song since their 21st Century reformation; appropriately, its B-side was called ‘Something Cold’…
Available on the B-MOVIE EP ‘Repetition’ via Loki Records
‘Get Out’ may have acted as a superb launch single, but starting off their ‘Love Is Dead’ album was the wonderful ‘Graffiti’. This was a classic kaleidoscopic CHVRCHES tune that punched the sky with some rousing vocals. It was also a supreme singalong showcasing Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Docherty in full bouncy Taylor mode. Despite the downcast lyrical demeanour on lost youth and the passing of time, this was still a grand pop statement.
Australian duo CONFIDENCE MAN were a ray of sunshine in 2018 with their own brand of campy dork pop, being everything SCISSOR SISTERS should have been. ‘Don’t You Know I’m In A Band’ was an amusing satire on ego and sense of entitlement in the music industry. With an electro take on the groovy swoop of WAR’s ‘Low Rider’, a pitch shifted Sugar Bones came over like an inebriate Teddy Pendergrass while Janet Planet delightfully counterpointed in her alluring girly manner.
CREEP SHOW is the meeting of minds between eclectic singer / songwriter John Grant and the dark analogue electro of WRANGLER whose members comprise Stephen Mallinder, Benge and Phil Winter. On ‘Safe & Sound’, the quartet explored a spacious KRAFTWERK and GIORGIO MORODER hybrid to reveal gradually some wonderfully warm melodic synth textures to accompany Grant’s passionate lead croon. The project led to Benge also working on Grant’s ‘Love Is Magic’ album also released in 2018.
Driven by a meaty electronic bassline and metronomic backbone, the marvellous vocoder-laden ‘Comrades’ by RODNEY CROMWELL captured a really chilling Cold War atmosphere, bathed in an ensemble of sweeping synth oboes and cosmic string machines. “I ended up thumping at the MicroKorg and came up with the opening riff” he said. Rich with melody and a panoramic resonance, it surreally captured the sound of Moroder being played through a Soviet Foxtrot submarine intercom system.
With ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, EMIKA produced one of the best electronic albums of 2018. The record was a concept album of sorts, a musical reflection on generations of sadness within the Anglo-Czech musician’s family in her most personal statement yet. The pacey ‘Promises’ made the most of her lower and higher vocal registers, providing an eerie cascading harmonic with some rumbling dubby tension and booming stabs driving Eastwards with solemn spine tingling qualities.
Taking in more synthetic ambitions, FARAO’s second album ‘Pure-O’ was a playful bleep forward. While ‘The Ghost Ship’ saw Kari Jahnsen focussed on her forlorn little girl lost lyrics, the wonderfully uptempo ‘Marry Me’ offered an accessible PET SHOP BOYS flavour and romantic layers of vocals masking a deep scepticism of the institution of marriage, while the lush backing and chugging electronic backbone carried the air of her compatriot SUSANNE SUNDFØR.
Available on the FARAO album ‘Pure-O’ via Western Vinyl
Releasing their first new material in over three decades, FIAT LUX returned with the most splendid ‘It’s You’. As well as the bassline and harmony from David P Crickmore, the sax style was a fitting tribute to the sadly departed Ian Nelson. Singer Steve Wright said: “Lyrically, I hope, it expresses feelings that possibly everyone can relate to…” – their long awaited debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ is expected in 2019.
Available on the FIAT LUX single ‘It’s You’ via Splid Records
The ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ album was easily equal to Jonna Lee’s work with IAMAMIWHOAMI. Best of the set was possibly the marvellous closing number ‘Fold’. Featuring exotic cascading timbres and spacey pulsars, distorted string synths added tan appropriate chill as Lee’s passionate vocals completed the filmic vibe. Less mysterious, the IONNALEE transition was a triumph, especially with one of the best value-for-money live presentations of 2018.
Asking if “it is foolish to dream”, ‘Someday’ saw KATJA VON KASSEL questioning a moment of passionate haste. “The phrase ‘Someday’ just opened it all up and everything else just fell into place.” the chanteuse said. Capturing the beautiful melancholy of ASSOCIATES’ Billy Mackenzie, the doomed romantic tragedy of the sadly departed Scot was echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by CHRIS PAYNE’s hypnotic bassline and haunting vox humana treatment over a simple rhythmic loop.
Despite their age, LET’S EAT GRANDMA have a feisty but mature musical ambition, as successfully realised on ‘Donnie Darko’, an 11 minute tribute to the troubled teenager haunted by a monstrous rabbit-like figure. Utilising a sedate start before morphing into a wonderful movement of cascading electronics set to a metronomic beat, there were passionate reflections on the subject of human suffering. It all went a bit “batsh*t crazy” into a glorious synthony before calming to its conclusion!
Available on the LET’S EAT GRANDMA album ‘I’m All Ears’ via Transgressive Records
CHRIS LIEBING featuring POLLY SCATTERGOOD And All Went Dark
Noted techno exponent CHRIS LIEBING teamed up with Mute label mate POLLY SCATTERGOOD on a stark polyrhythmic number appropriately titled ‘And All Went Dark’. The brooding minimalist electronic piece with its eerily poetic spoken contribution from Miss Scattergood saw the Essex songstress haunted by a “dark shadow on my shoulder” and telling how “a sickness took hold early on”.
Available on the CHRIS LIEBING album ‘Burn Slow’ via Mute Artists
With the name transcending Toronto based Hayley Stewart’s fascination with Japanese culture, cyber space and a love of vintage synthesis, ‘Mad But Soft’ was her first album as MECHA MAIKO. The magically crystalline ‘False Memories’ could have been part of the ‘Stranger Things’ soundtrack. Uncomplicated on the surface yet multi-layered and airy, this day-glow pink neo-instrumental concoction was well-thought through and deliciously produced.
One-time RÖYSKSOPP collaborator Ryan A James continues to hone and develop his hybrid mix of luxuriant synthetics and subtle guitar textures as MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY. He said about the gorgeous electronic bubblebath of ‘Lafayette’: “It’s really a song about the end of a relationship, disguised as a song about Scientology, and how defectors of Scientology are disowned by their loved ones. The name comes from the religion’s founder Lafayette Ron Hubbard.”
Available on the MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY album ‘Infinity Mirror’ via Killing Moon Records
“Beware! It’s a scary world” and with their BRITNEY SPEARS fronting NINE INCH NAILS template, NIGHT CLUB took their sweet but sinister synth rock sound to its zenith with the title track of their second album. And when the children’s choir joined in the chorus to sing of demons everywhere, this was a musical trick or treat that no parent would want their offspring to be part of, the message being “they only love you if you swallow”!
A fabulously optimistic closer to NINA’s debut album, ‘80s Girl’ came beaming over like some missing song from the film ‘Mannequin’. With big Simmons drums, sampled orchestra stabs and driving synthbass triplets, it was however delivered with subtlety and restraint so that it wasn’t a HEART or STARSHIP pastiche. Dedicated to her mother, it had a telling message of “don’t let the past hold you back”.
Perhaps best known as the alluring if slightly blunt chanteuse of BLACK BOX RECORDER, SARAH NIXEY released her best solo album to date in ‘Night Walks’, a quality record with air and presence, collecting everything she has ever been musically, all rolled into one. One of its key tracks was the delightful ‘Journey’, a glorious number of the type that Marc Almond has often been so good at, laced with crystalline synths and gorgeously breathy vocal tones à la Jane Birkin.
Available on the SARAH NIXEY album ‘Night Walks’ via Black Lead Records
The ‘Savage’ album turned out to be both an artistic and commercial vindication for GARY NUMAN. ‘It Will End Here’ from ‘The Fallen’ EP was a natural progression from that, exploring a heavy but melodic electronic sound without relying on the predictable backing of rock guitars. With and anthemic chorus and the apocalypse is looming over the aural desert, there was even a soaring vocal pitch shift up at the song’s conclusion which added an extra eerie vampiric quality.
NYXX is very much her own woman, like the Greek goddess of night she is named after, a figure of power and beauty with a Britney-like vocal presence that sweetly offsets some of her darker overtones. A collaboration with Daniel Graves of AESTHETIC PERFECTION who contributed a glorious evangelical middle eight, she said “It would not be what it is without him. I came in with a sketch of a song, a melody and lyric of another song… Daniel heard nuances in it and we built what is now ‘Voodoo’.”
Available on the NYXX single ‘Voodoo’ via Close To Human Music
Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko initially came together in PAGE releasing their first single ‘Dansande Man’ in 1983. Since then, the pair have parted and reunited on a number of occasions but the mission for the ‘Start’ EP was to party like it’s 1979 when GARY NUMAN was No1. ‘Nere För Räkning’ was an urgent slice of pulsing synthrock with a piercing vibratoed lead line akin to the keyboard interventions heard on ‘The Pleasure Principle’.
Available on the PAGE EP ‘Start’ via Energy Rekords
From Mission Viejo in California, PLASMIC describes herself as an “Orange County one-woman dervish” and in a vivid haze that’s pretty in pink, “your abused Barbie doll from childhood”. Combining J-Pop with CRYSTAL CASTLES and DEVO, the undoubted standout from her ‘Validation Nation’ EP was ‘Baby Machine’, an immensely catchy feminist electropop anthem utilising a mixture of vintage Casio and Yamaha sounds that challenged the expectations of women to bear children.
Championed by none other than Vince Clarke, REED & CAROLINE successfully combine tunes with electronic experimentation. The haunting ‘Entropy’ was a tribute to a departed friend and a fabulously touching GARY NUMAN homage to his ‘Dance’ period, in particular ‘Cry The Clock Said’. The hypnotic soundtrack of gentle preset rhythms and eerie electric piano, courtesy of a Buchla modular synth, was complimented by Schutz even adopting the phrasing of the man born Gary Anthony James Webb.
Weird and wonderful, ‘Red Moon Voyage’ was a ghostly 10 minute epic comprising of glitchy voices and varying rhythm constructions recorded especially for Halloween. Free of album concepts and the pop song format, this was FIFI RONG at her most adventurous yet, delightfully adding her native Mandarin language towards the third part. “Having a long journey means you can get very deep and lots of moods and transitions” she told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK
Marc Almond and Dave Ball were the boys who came back-back-BACK as SOFT CELL in 2018. ‘Northern Lights’ reminisced about their days at the Wigan Casino and recaptured the pop essence that led to the duo having five consecutive Top 10 hits! Despite the grittiness and energetics, the duo always had melody and that came back in abundance on their welcome recorded return. The darker B-Side ‘Guilty (‘Cos I Say You Are)’ affirmed that as a creative force, SOFT CELL still had it.
Chinese six-piece STOLEN are reckoned by Berlin-based producer Mark Reeder to be possibly the most exciting band he has seen since NEW ORDER. Certainly their debut album ‘Fragment’ was impressive and one of the best of 2018, with ‘Turn Black’ being one of the standout tracks. “I like the idea of mixing of rock with techno…” said growly lead vocalist Liang Yi to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, “we are very proud that we don’t sound like any of the other Chinese bands.”
Ingo Hauss and Hayo Lewerentz handed back the BOYTRONIC brand to Holger Wobker and returned to being U96, teaming up with former KRAFTWERK percussionist Wolfgang Flür for the best track by either party in recent years. Stark and Teutonic with stark robotic vocoder aesthetics, the union of two German musical heavyweights from different generations was equal to Flür’s ‘Activity Of Sound’ collaboration with Ireland’s iEUROPEAN.
Combining piano, synths, field recordings, drones, occasional beats, old string instruments and HILARY WOODS’ wonderfully forlorn voice in the vein of Julee Cruise, ‘Jesus Said’ questioned the existence of God. Described by the Irish songstress herself as “a song that seeks catharsis”, her child-like expression over the drifting synthesized tones and hypnotic drum machine to augment her beautiful piano playing gave ‘Jesus Said’ a gentle meditative quality.
Available on the HILARY WOODS album ‘Colt’ via Sacred Bones
Gregory is best known as the front man of HEAVEN 17 while Scott is a singer / songwriter who is also the Sheffield electronic pioneer’s live keyboardist; she joined their concert set-up in 2011 while releasing her most recent solo album ‘Polarity’ in 2014.
As well as HEAVEN 17, the pair have also been part of HOLY HOLY.
A supergroup led by Spiders drummer Woody Woodmansey and producer Tony Visconti, HOLY HOLY perform the songs of DAVID BOWIE from the period between 1969 to 1973 at concerts around the world and it was while touring that AFTERHERE came into being.
What began as a platform for soundtrack work eventually mutated into songs for their debut album ‘Addict’; “Glenn being part of one of the most innovative electronic bands calls to mind elements of KRAFTWERK and of course HEAVEN 17” Berenice Scott said, “We both love classic, brilliant songwriting such as the HALL & OATES catalogue and one of my favourite singers is Karen Carpenter, and then we kind of end up meeting somewhere in the middle with a shared love of DAFT PUNK.”
For their debut gig at Venue 2 of 229, an underground location in Central London, Scott and Gregory reversed their known roles from HEAVEN 17. Beginning with an introspective instrumental ‘Butterfly’, it was certainly unusual to see Gregory behind two synthesizers.
The soulful electronically assisted pop of ‘After the Night’ had its rainy backdropcomplimented gentle backbeat from Al Anderson on electronic drums,
It showcased how with Scott taking the majority of the lead vocals, AFTERHERE’s songs take on a more personal and emotional level compared with the socio-political animal that is HEAVEN 17.
‘Darkstar’ saw Gregory take the first verse in a duet with Scott, their two very different voices working well in unison and providing enough anguish around a solid bassline, swooping electronics and subtle piano.
Aided by a synthetic rumble and thundering rhythms from Anderson, ‘Unbroken’ was full of emotive drama with Scott exclaiming “I’ll be there for you”. The jazzier overtones of ‘It’s OK’ were disturbed by some solid schaffel beats, although Scott’s terrifically rich voice was not overawed by the dominant percussive backbone.
With a solemn demeanour, ‘I Won’t Cry’ with its mix of piano and synths came over like an electro-FLEETWOOD MAC and was amusingly boosted by Gregory’s BEE GEES inspired falsetto backing vox.
Then in a nod to HEAVEN 17 and DAVID BOWIE, Scott provided solo piano interpretations of ‘Temptation’ and ‘Wild Is The Wild’ which were both voiced by Gregory.
The haunting overtures of ‘Liar’, which formed part of AFTERHERE’s first soundtrack commission, more than suited the parent TV show’s heavy subject content; “is he dead?” grinned Scott to the audience at the song’s conclusion in a reference to the series one cliffhanger…
The excellent ‘Addict’ album title track dealt with emotional exploration of relationships, but proceeding were injected with a dancey boost, courtesy of the funky GOLDFRAPP of ‘Breaking Rules’; with groovy reminisces of ‘Twist’ and ‘Yes Sir’, the song’s captivating sexually charged seduction almost got Scott up on her feet, although she remained somewhat the reluctant front woman despite having the voice and looks to more than fulfil the role.
The nocturnal atmospheres of ‘A Place To Be’ were perfect as the penultimate song of the evening before Berenice Scott and Glenn Gregory closed with a stark trip-hop styled cover of ‘All Along the Watchtower’.
With an introduction by ‘Liar’ and ‘Vanity Fair’ director James Strong, he explained how he wanted the music for his shows to be slightly darker in tone. A song that has been reinterpreted by many in the past including Jimi Hendrix, Bryan Ferry and U2, authentic guitar sounds emerged from Gregory via his Roland GAIA. Combined with Scott’s spooky air, it came over like MORCHEEBA doing Dylan.
It was an enjoyable debut performance from AFTERHERE with Scott particularly impressing. Gregory had said he was particularly nervous in his new role as a live musician, but he needn’t have worried. Both he and Scott just need to get a bit more confident within their role reversals and everything else will nicely fall into place.
With thanks to Sacha Taylor-Cox at Hush PR
‘Addict’ is released by Manners McDade in CD and digital formats
AFTERHERE is the brand new project of HEAVEN 17 front man Glenn Gregory and live keyboardist Berenice Scott.
Glenn Gregory along with band mates Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh scored a number of hits including ‘Temptation’, ‘Come Live With Me’, ‘Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry’, ‘Sunset Now’ and ‘This Is Mine’ as HEAVEN 17.
Berenice Scott joined their live set-up in 2011 while releasing her most recent solo album ‘Polarity’ in 2014.
As well as HEAVEN 17, the pair have also been part of HOLY HOLY, the supergroup led by Spiders drummer Woody Woodmansey and producer Tony Visconti who perform the songs of DAVID BOWIE from the period between 1969 to 1973 at concerts around the world.
As AFTERHERE, Berenice Scott and Glenn Gregory got their first commission for the soundtrack of the ITV drama ‘Liar’. With their debut album ‘Addict’ due for release later this month, music from it will feature in another ITV drama ‘Vanity Fair’ due for broadcast in September 2018.
Berenice Scott kindly chatted about the comings and goings of AFTERHERE and more…
You’ve been working live with HEAVEN 17 since 2011, so how did AFTERHERE happen?
Glenn and I started chatting about working together on something a couple of years into my playing with HEAVEN 17. We didn’t really have a firm idea of what that might be, we just kind of started conceptualising things… Glenn would occasionally ping ideas my way, things he was working on for his other film / TV composing projects, or new H17 tracks, things like that.
But it wasn’t until we were touring together with HOLY HOLY that we began to formulate AFTERHERE and what that entity might be. In fact, I remember standing in the corridor of a rehearsal studio in London called The Joint, guitars blaring out David Bowie and both of us deciding on the name. So I guess that’s the moment that it happened!
You began with providing the soundtrack of the TV drama ‘Liar’? How did you find that experience of putting music to moving pictures?
Absolute joy from start to finish. I’d witnessed Glenn at work scoring for a TV film before we started working together and it was enthralling to see the process and also the choices Glenn would use and why he would do particular things in places to aid the pace, mood and story. Since studying piano classically from a young age I’ve always written piano compositions, so when Glenn and I were pitching for ‘Liar’ it was fascinating to combine all these elements. Particularly with a heavy subject content such as ‘Liar’ it was moving to be supporting the storyline whilst retaining that subtlety that’s needed for scoring. With pop music, it’s out and out emotion isn’t it! Glenn and I love building the sometimes long tension and release that’s involved with film composing.
Conceptually, how do you see AFTERHERE differing from your own solo work?
I think I’d say that I find the initial approach to writing very similar; I still try to access the same creative flow and emotion, but that very quickly becomes a joint project, with both our wells of taste and experiences being pooled together.
Because we have a very similar work ethic it is a pretty seamless transition from the singer / songwriter world I’ve inhabited to the more cinematic, electro concept we visualise as being ‘us’.
What particular artist influences were each of you bringing to the table?
As the album started taking shape we both started to naturally pick out and identify various influences… Glenn being part of one of the most innovative electronic bands calls to mind elements of KRAFTWERK and of course HEAVEN 17. We both love classic, brilliant songwriting such as the HALL & OATES catalogue and one of my favourite singers is Karen Carpenter, and then we kind of end up meeting somewhere in the middle with a shared love of DAFT PUNK. When we’re asked about what our tracks sound like I think we both agree that those could be our references.
What is the creative dynamic of AFTERHERE with Glenn, was it decided quite early on that you would be lead vocalist?
There’s never a moment before we start writing a song that we decide on who will sing. In fact strangely we just start an idea and write as if we both could sing it, almost as if we might be writing for another singer because it’s the song and story that is most important to us. It’s only when its fully taken shape that the song settles on either one of us. It’s invariably a case of “you do it” – “No you do it!” That kind of thing for a while before we agree on who has to stand up and leave the comfy studio chairs to sing.
But you do duet with Glenn on ‘Dark Star’…
When I get to the studio in the mornings, Glenn will usually have been in a couple of hours before me, brushing up on yesterday’s session, having a fresh listen etc. Often I get there and he’ll play me what he’s been up to and I’m always like “Yes that’s f****** brilliant!!”
Well, on one of those mornings he played me ‘Dark Star’ with his vocals and I was blown away. It had to be a duet. The lyrics suddenly made sense and gradually the ending vocal arrangement developed and became a much bigger thing too in the process.
You’ve played around with a few subtle vocal processing techniques on the album, so when do you decide it’s appropriate to use in a recording?
I don’t know really, it shifts and changes for me every day. Some days I’ll wake up and just sing with a morning growly voice and not give a sh*t. ‘Blackout’ was one of those. And then sometimes I’m searching for a precision and particular sound that probably doesn’t exist, but I’m still going to die trying and also test Glenn’s patience in the process ha! It’s all just a choice isn’t it?
What are your views about how it is used in modern mainstream pop?
As long as you know you’re happy to sit down in a room with a piano or guitar and just sing without a mic, effects etc, then I’d say just knock yourself out in the studio – experiment away. Even if you arrive back at a place without any effects. Glenn’s voice for example requires nothing at all! You could leave a channel completely naked with his voice and still have clarity, volume and presence. I’m all for that, I also love creating an almost ethereal atmosphere, but it’s a fine balance.
‘Blackout’ could be described as “dubstep soul”?
‘Blackout’ started with an early morning after a late night voice, it was all about the feel of the vocal.
I played it to Glenn who loved it immediately, the only danger was would we be able to find that voice again when we finally wrote the finished lyrics!
Glenn did some beautiful work on the backing track, in fact it was ready for a vocal for about 4 weeks, all we had to do was wait for the right time to do it.
We had planned to do it after getting back really late from a gig one night – I stayed over at Glenn’s house with the intention that we both got up at 6AM to go straight into the studio to get the same husky vocal from the guide, but of course that didn’t happen! Waking up late and Starbucks got in the way of that. It was about a week later when I finally did the vocal and thankfully managed to match the vocal from the rough.
And if it’s Dubstep Soul that we created, I’m very happy that we did.
HEAVEN 17 lyrics are often reflecting socio-political concerns, has this been the case with AFTERHERE or have they been much more personal?
It’s more personal, well, universal and personal I’d say, all the songs on the album are emotional and connected both musically and lyrically.
Was the Kim Wilde track ‘Without Your Love’ which you and Glenn did with Gary Barlow for the ‘Fly’ soundtrack souvenir from 2016 originally pencilled in for AFTERHERE?
Well spotted! In a roundabout way it was sort of pencilled in… we actually had a song that Glenn sang, I forget the title now, anyway Gary Barlow happened to hear it as he was in contact with Glenn for a different track for the soundtrack, and somehow we all started working on that original piece to eventually make ‘Without Your Love’. Kim felt like the perfect choice, so Glenn gave her a call and that was that.
So what’s the title track album opener ‘Addict’ all about?
‘Addict’ is all about emotion and emotional involvement, exploration of relationships, it’s about discovering depths, nuance and desire. Sometimes leaving something or someone behind is the only way to discover that you need it, and maybe that you shouldn’t need it! It’s about connection beyond the everyday and the heartache or joy involved in that.
The wonderful ‘Breaking Rules’ is a surprise and appears to have you exploring your inner GOLDFRAPP?
That’s really great to hear, thank you! We always wanted to have a driving track on the album that you could hopefully move your feet to, party to… possibly get in a little trouble! I don’t know, we’re both fans of classic club tracks and I guess as the song is set in a club-type setting it was always going to push towards having that feel.
You’ve done a trip-hop styled cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’, how did that come together? The song’s been reinterpreted by many people in the past, which version is your own favourite?
Glenn and I were working closely with the director James Strong when we were composing for ‘Liar’, and as he started filming for the new ITV blockbuster ‘Vanity Fair’, he came to us to bat ideas around for a possible theme for the show. He knew he wanted it to be slightly dark in tone, but also to have the lyrical relevance needed for introducing the show each episode.
We all circled around ‘Watchtower’ and let that idea percolate for a bit whilst James continued filming and we were recording our album. At some point it just popped up and sprung itself into shape in the studio as the edits of the opening titles started being sent over to us along with visuals and ideas from James.
In terms of my favourite version I would have to say Jimi Hendrix’s, it’s the version I know most well and I’m sure I’m not alone in that!
Was there any new interesting bits of kit that you found a revelation to work with recording this album, either hardware or software?
Glenn! Haha! No but seriously, when I was laying down vocals something felt very different to any other times I’ve recorded in studios, whether alone with myself engineering or with other artists and producers.
We sort of found a zone, I can’t really explain it other than a total trust just being there which allows you that kind of creative freedom. Equally if something isn’t working it’s fantastic to have that trust so you can set aside ego and move on and try different things.
Are there any plans to take AFTERHERE out live at all?
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Berenice Scott
The ‘Addict’ album is released on 31st August 2018 via Manners McDade