KITE, “Sweden’s best kept pop-secret”, made their long awaited return to the live stage with a trio of sold-out shows at the Stockholm Slaktkyrkan.
Having produced some of the best electronic pop in the last decade, the enigmatic duo of Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg were on the crest of wider international success in 2017 with a new EP ‘VII’ in the can. But KITE had to cancel their German tour following concerns over Stenemo’s health later that Autumn.
The period of music afterwards was empty without KITE, so when Stenemo and Berg announced their return a year later with a one-off date at the Slaktkyrkan, excitement was in the air. Ticket demand led to the Slaktkyrkan date becoming a weekend residency as well as the announcement of more gigs in Sweden.
As Brian Eno and his lengthy landmark in electronic ambience ‘Discreet Music’ set the mood for the start, the unmanned stage looked impressive with ten synths of various vintages including a Roland JX8P, Korg Micro Preset, Dave Smith Prophet 08, Roland RS101, Dave Smith Pro-2, Korg Sigma and Studio Electronics SE1 plus tubes of fluorescent orange lighting set in rows of six around the stage and large Paiste cymbals fixed vertically to act as reflectors.
As ‘Discreet Music’ faded out after 15 minutes amongst increasing plumes of smoke, KITE took their positions with Berg in a black poncho capeing him like a Norse Rick Wakeman by his six keyboards.
Meanwhile Stenemo stood tall and stoic with his slightly more modest four keyboards, like a victorious tribal leader returning from the wilderness after another hard won battle, this time against the trials and tribulations of the human condition. With that in mind, the rousing ‘I Just Wanna Feel’ was a perfect way to open proceedings and affirm their comeback.
With its splitting Alan Wilder-esque bassline, I Can’t Stand’ resonated off the orange tube light set now at full brightness, recalling those radiant electric bar heaters of old and giving off almost as much energy as the music.
Taking in a deeper textural mood, ‘Count The Days’ offered some emotive respite; the song has by Stenemo’s own confession, prophetically documented an autobiographical warning to his recent burnout, with words that “I’ve become my own worst enemy in a world on fire I’m safe at home, live in denial but the pressures on and I justify it with the sleepless nights” being particularly poignant.
The gloriously majestic ‘Up For Life’ from 2015 has also taken on greater resonance with Stenemo’s rugged emotive cry admitting “Life to me you see don’t come so easily, but I’m up for tears, up for life, I’m up for heartache”. But despite the melancholy, there was optimism, especially alongside Berg’s expansive synth interplay which turned into VANGELIS after an extended ambient interlude reminiscent of MIRRORS’ ‘Secrets’, both ambitious works clocking in at over 9 minutes.
Fittingly ‘Demons & Shame’, KITE’s darkest and most epic offering yet followed. Confronting the despair that his life threw up while pursuing his dreams, Stenemo’s harrowingly powerful delivery had the audience enthralled. Surrounded by ritualistic drum mantras and Berg’s eerie bass drones, if Ennio Morricone had composed music for Nordic Noir dramas, it would have sounded like this.
For many KITE fans, ‘The Rhythm’ from 2013 is still considered one of their best songs with its trancey backbone and chanty gothic rock edge coming over like JEAN-MICHEL JARRE meeting IAMX at Berghain. Bursting with catchy crossover potential, it probably drew the biggest physical reaction of the evening from the crowd, with Stenemo making the odd leg kick in support.
The whirring pulsing atmospheres of ‘True Colours’ allowed for a breather, albeit one with a nightfall intensity before the dial was set back again to dance mode.
Effectively their first single, the throbbing synthpop of ‘Ways To Dance’ was a reminder of how far the duo have evolved since their beginnings in 2008, before the bouncy whistling poptronica of the 2010 fan favourite ‘Jonny Boy’ played around with some Scandinavian folk traditions.
‘Dance Again’ was a wonderful spiralling hands in the air moment before KITE closed the evening in magnificent dramatic style with ‘Nocturne’; a mysteriously captivating ballad, it progressively rotated itself into a spacey widescreen continuum, thanks to Stenemo’s electronically treated vocals and Berg’s mighty percussive soundscapes.
One of the things about KITE and their releases to date is that being confined to EPs only, they don’t outstay their welcome and present the highest quality material possible. And that was the case with their impressive live show, with Stenemo and Berg departing the stage after an hour to the roars of a rapturous audience wanting more but appreciative of what they saw.
KITE are probably the best modern electronic pop act in Europe at the moment, possibly the world. With this confident return to the public arena after a short hiatus, their secret garden should be not so secret anymore…
Produced by Flood and mixed in the main by François Kevorkian, DEPECHE MODE’s seventh album ‘Violator’ was the classic line-up of Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher and Alan Wilder firing on all cylinders.
The end result was four hit singles and five other songs that were more or less their equal. Although best known for ‘Enjoy The Silence’, ‘Personal Jesus’, ‘Policy Of Truth’ and ‘World In My Eyes’, the album featured some of DEPECHE MODE’s best work.
The beautiful haunting ambience of ‘Waiting For The Night’ using the ARP 2600 synth / ARP 1601 sequencer combination and the climactic electro blues of ‘Clean’ were key highlights that ended each side of the original vinyl.
Of ‘Waiting For The Night’, Alan Wilder told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in a 2011 interview: “the main sequencer part here was produced using the ARP 2600 synth and sequencer, because it has many flaws when setting up your 16 note sequence (for example tuning and gate length) – this makes for happy accidents and almost random events. We would have fiddled around with that sequence for a while, tweaking the filters and envelopes within the ARP until we arrived at that particularly hypnotic end result. The resulting sequence shape would follow any held note on a keyboard to transpose between the song’s basic chord changes as it ran, which we would then record, and that is essentially the spine of the whole thing. All the other sounds in that song act as mere embellishment.”
The seamless second side with its instrumental interludes added tension and experimentation to proceedings while Martin Gore’s lyrics possessed an honesty that while dark and deviant, still retained a naïve innocence that many loners could relate to. The emotive if strange ‘Blue Dress’ is possibly the most under rated song in the DEPECHE MODE catalogue; the simple guilty pleasure of watching your girlfriend get ready for an evening out was a touching moment.
But the undoubted stand-out on ‘Violator’ was ‘Halo’; using drums sampled from LED ZEPPELIN’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’ but secondhand via a rap record, the distinctive bass squelch and screeching Elgar derived string samples hit home as the song built to its terrific, euphoric climax.
The ‘World Violation’ tour in 1990 was also DEPECHE MODE’s best ever. The status of those shows fell into legend as a result of no officially sanctioned concert footage ever being released. The memories of those present still recall in awe, Anton Corbijn’s stark but humourous projections and Dave Gahan’s increasingly confident and exaggerated swagger to suit the increasing bigger venues.
But why is ‘Violator’ so important and highly celebrated? It is still DEPECHE MODE’s most complete and accomplished body of work; people still talk about it because it is a good record. A good record is a good record, no matter what forlorn nostalgia may be lingering within the listener.
‘Violator’ is a complete body of work, unlike the patchier follow-up ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’ when on the subsequent ‘Devotional’ tour, Dave Gahan launched into the rock tool mode that to be frank, he has never really managed to escape from…
With DEPECHE MODE effectively no longer being an electronic band, an upcoming book ‘Halo’ documents that era while projecting a retrospective slant on its influence. Kevin May, the man behind ‘Halo’ kindly chatted about its genesis…
There have been a lot of books about DEPECHE MODE, why did you choose to do one on ‘Violator’?
The primary reason is that most of the DEPECHE MODE biographies that have been published up to now have been on their history as a whole. What I wanted to do was focus on a particular era… and I say era rather than an album. The period around ‘Violator’ which is 1989-90 is arguably the most important in their career.
The book doesn’t have contributions from the band members, so how did you think out of the box to tell the ‘Violator’ story?
I have been told that DEPECHE MODE do not interviews for biographies, so I needed to talk to people on the periphery of that era, like producers, engineers and tour personnel. So you get everything, BUT from the horse’s mouth. If I didn’t get those people who were intrinsically involved to talk to me, then it would have been just me analysing and reviewing ‘Violator’. There have been many examples of this and I wouldn’t have been able to add anything to the narrative on the album.
Some of the people I spoke to were François Kervorkian who mixed the album, Andy Franks who was involved in the tour, Neil Ferris who was the chief plugger and engineers from every studio they worked in during that period, including two from the Milan sessions; the latter were very funny and informative on some of the things that went on. There were quite a few people who wanted to talk, but not on record, out of loyalty to the band.
‘Personal Jesus’ at the time was quite a startling calling card, from the phoneline ad to the bluesier sound which had started with ‘Pleasure Little Treasure’?
Well you look at that, a lot of people say it’s an obvious track to release. But if you look at what they had done up to that point and since then, they always tried to come out with a record that challenges the pre-conceived ideas of they are. So subsequent to that, you’ve got ‘I Feel You’, prior to that you’ve got records like ‘Stripped’, ‘Blasphemous Rumours’, ‘Master & Servant’…these were tracks that made people go “OH! THIS ISN’T THE DEPECHE I KNEW!”
From a timeline perspective, it was one of the first songs they recorded in Milan. It was certainly the first track François Kervorkian remixed and he did that in Milan, whereas everything else he did for ‘Violator’ happened back in London or New York six months later. They knew that when ‘Personal Jesus’ was recorded and given to François, they knew it was going to be the single because it was so fundamentally different to anything else they’d ever done. It had that rocky influence but also the electronic sensibility that François added to it.
At the end of the day, it’s a good pop song… yes, there are probably songs like ‘Enjoy The Silence’ that were bigger hits, but for a song that was done and dusted very early on in that process, it made perfect sense to release that first.
There’s a lot of discussion about why ‘Personal Jesus’ was controversial, but they realised they had on their hands, a song that was not only really good, but it was going to cause a certain degree of controversy, not least in the US where all of a sudden, they’d been blown into the mainstream.
From what I know, they knew they were playing with fire, so they played with it. They were on the brink of making something beyond their wildest dreams, so why not capitalise on it? At that point, they were a commercial band and ‘Personal Jesus’ was a very commercial song. The idea to do the “pick up the receiver and I’ll make you a believer” phoneline while you dial this number and it plays the song… in another world, it’s just marketing.
The music press at the time, particularly Q Magazine, seemed to focus a bit too much on the guitar elements of ‘Violator’ when as Alan Wilder quite rightly states, it is still a very electronic album; it was like the press were legitimising DEPECHE MODE because they now used more prominent guitar…
There are several points here; it was a crossroads in popular music then. They had created their own sound as a European electronic band with British sensibilities, and the up until that point, their music had been very electronic… yes there had been guitars before, but they were at a point where they were influenced by electronic dance music like house and techno so they were conscious of that. But equally, they wanted to challenge the idea of what an electronic band should be.
Should an electronic band just be three geezers stood behind keyboards with an incredibly charismatic front man doing their thing? Or should they be band that challenges that idea of what music should be. And I think Flood and Alan Wilder in particular wanted to push that idea forward, so they introduced real instruments. There was sampled guitar before but not until that point, had they made the guitar the lead riff or melody. So that was them putting a stake in the crowd and having the confidence to do it.
The production moved away from drum machines to sampled drum loops like on ‘Halo’ but synthwise, to older contraptions like the Roland System 700?
By that point, the technology and the process had become very much secondary to what they were trying to do. Yes, they were an electronic band; yes, they decided to introduce some guitars; and yes, Flood was pushing them in certain ways. But they just wanted to create music that they thought sounded good and would resonate with their own fans.
They had gone beyond agonising over the technology they were using to make the final outcome. They had a songwriter who could play a guitar lick, so why not use him and produce something that sounds good?
The way ‘Enjoy The Silence’ developed from a sparse ballad into a disco number is well documented, but François Kervorkian’s mix was rejected by Daniel Miller. Have you had a chance to hear it and informatively assess why?
From François’ point of view, he spent a lot of time mixing ‘Personal Jesus’ including the remixes and doing the album, there was his own dissatisfaction with how ‘Enjoy The Silence’ was turning out. It’s worth saying that at that point, it already was a disco track; it was the final mix that there was a disagreement.
It was deemed that François didn’t have enough time to work his magic on it, so it was given back to Daniel to do his thing with his own team of engineers like Phil Legg, resulting in the version we now all know.
The trick to any new book or review about an acclaimed body of work from the past is to uncover previously untold stories. What were the biggest revelations for you?
I don’t think there’s a huge revelation in the book. I think what I found most interesting from collecting all the stories was that the band didn’t really quite understand what was about to hit them. So their behaviour was exactly the same as it had been in the previous 8-9 years. But on the other hand, there were a lot of things in place within the machine to capitalise on it. Some elements of this machine realised this was going to fly!
A lot of people say to me that the ‘Violator’ period was a time when the band were having fun. Martin Gore has said in more recent interviews that ‘Violator’ was the last time they had fun making an album. I think that’s really reflected in the output by the vibe among the members at the time.
There was a lot of experimentation, ‘Violator’ was part of an evolution; dance music was starting to happen with the rave scene; rock, grunge and indie guitar was taking a new step forward. DEPECHE MODE were right at the centre of it, not steering it, but they were a band that wanted to try and embrace as many things as they could. And they were all still young guys!
They were enjoying themselves. Of course, it didn’t continue like that after ‘Violator’.
What was the most difficult part of the book to write?
It was difficult having the patience to accept the music industry operates at much slower level than other industries I’m used to writing about!
People have very sketchy memories and that is not because they are being loyal or they’re nervous about revealing something, it’s because at the end of that day, it is something that happened 25 years ago… a quarter of a century! So when you’re asking people to recollect something that happened in a studio in Milan in 1989, you shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t remember! *laughs*
Yes, I have some wonderful soundbites from the guys in Milan about how they would all jump into a car at the end of sessions and go off to a club in the city to give the DJ a copy of the work to test out. But with something specific like how the footsteps on ‘Personal Jesus’ were recorded, if I asked what kind of flight cases they used, they’re not going to remember!
Those were great footsteps by Fletch though!
It wasn’t just Fletch, it was all of them! *laughs*
Why do you think ‘Violator’ still holds a special resonance? How does it stand up against other electronic or even rock albums?
This is the crux of the book; it’s important that it’s about the recorded output, but of equal importance is the marketing, the visuals, the videos and the way the tour was produced. When you put all that together in an era, that’s when it becomes important.
It’s as important as ‘Black Celebration’, but it’s not on the same scale… and I say that because ‘Black Celebration’ was the first album which they really experimented and found their depth, which arguably Alan Wilder had found his feet in what he was able to do musically. It was also the point when they also realised how popular they were as a live act in the US.
But once they got to ‘Violator’, they were able to amplify that to the power of 10! So it’s a combination of the songs, the production, what they did on tour, the way it was packaged, the videos and the impact of the crossover songs like ‘Enjoy The Silence’.
‘Enjoy The Silence’ won ‘Best British Single’ in the 1991 Brit Awards, although by slightly manipulative phone poll means… but the point is, ‘Violator’ was their crossover album. And if crossovers are important, which arguably they are, it exposed DEPECHE MODE to a whole new audience. Everything changed for them after this album.
So, the way that the current incarnation of DEPECHE MODE play tracks from ‘Violator’ live with The Drumhead and The Noodler… discuss!
The ‘World Violation’ tour was the last time they performed as a synth band, I don’t hold up that tour in the annals of history as maybe other Devotees do. I think the ‘World Violation’ has gained its legendary status simply because people don’t have a decent visual recording of it. I think it was a terrific tour, it was the first time I ever saw them and I was blown away. But I don’t think anything will beat the ‘Devotional’ tour.
The ‘World Violation’ tour was DEPECHE MODE knowing and having the confidence to produce a record in a live setting. The ‘Devotional’ tour was them taking that confidence, with whatever means and substances they were using at the time, to the Nth degree. They realised how far they could go and I think it worked.
The interesting thing about ‘Violator’ is that as Alan has said many times before, it is still incredibly programmed. On the one hand, it’s what makes the album so good, not least because François Kervorkian made it the very precise album that it was.
Now, when you take that precision out of some of the ‘Violator’ songs, as we have later seen with the live performances of ‘World In My Eyes’ and ‘Policy Of Truth’… they were really precise and what made them brilliant songs in the first place.
‘Personal Jesus’ is like the elephant in the room, as it’s basically a rock song.
So those ‘Violator’ songs were all about the precision and to suddenly change those to be live drum songs, it’s maybe going against the strengths of ‘Violator’… songs that were created electronically should perhaps be performed electronically, because that is how the fondness for these songs was obtained.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Kevin May
Special thanks to Michael Rose for the ‘Personal Jesus’ advert and ‘World Violation’ live photo
The switch to digital technology in the production of synthesizers caused a seismic shift not just in the way that music was produced, but also how analogue devices were perceived.
The advent of the Yamaha DX7 was the catalyst which caused many musicians to throw out/sell their old Moogs and Korgs with the viewpoint that these new devices could do everything sonically that they could plus more besides. The newly pioneered Frequency Modulation and Phase Distortion forms of synthesis meant that harmonically complex sounds such as bells and pianos could now be simulated and the warm, analogue sounds of synths such as the Roland Jupiter range began to sound immediately dated in comparison.
The trend was continued when both Korg and Roland introduced their PCM/sample-based M1 and D50 synths which added in new layers of complexity in sound creation which again would have been impossible to create using a voltage controlled oscillator-based device.
One only has to listen retrospectively to songs like ‘Human’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE or albums such as ‘Provision’ by SCRITTI POLITTI to hear how the sawtooth-based electronic sounds of the past had almost overnight become replaced by shiny bell-like tones and THAT omnipresent rubbery ‘Lately’ DX bass sound.
However, hindsight is a wonderful thing and many producers/musicians were left with major egg on their faces when it eventually became apparent that digital synths weren’t the be all and end all, lacking the warmth and ease of programmability that their earlier analogue counterparts were able to provide.
Tales of vintage synths being sold for relative peanuts are now legendary and most keyboard players who experienced this era will have an appropriate sob story to tell relating to this!
The next wave of technology to have a significant impact was the birth of the digital sampler – now musicians were able to grab any sound and trigger it from a keyboard and again this had a huge effect on the sound of music production.
Ironically in 2016, everything has now come full circle; manufacturers are now frantically reissuing remakes of earlier analogue and digital products, while with the birth of the virtual synthesizer, packages such as the Arturia Collection V offer up software versions of the Prophet 5, Oberheim SEM and Minimoog at an affordable price.
The choice of digital synthesizers here is a fairly personal one and it isn’t intended to endorse a particular product. Some of the chosen synthesizers weren’t necessarily the highest specified ones either, but were adopted because a producer/musician managed to use it in such a way that belied their lower price point. The synths chosen are also from the first wave of digital synths and as such doesn’t include any of the current wave of digital-based products.
FAIRLIGHT CMI (1979)
The Rolls Royce of samplers and a fully integrated workstation that included a digital synth, sequencer and rhythm programmer, the Australian Fairlight CMI and its 28mb of memory (!) indelibly left its mark on music production. Costing as much as a decent sized house, the CMI helped transform the sound of artists such as JEAN-MICHEL JARRE who used it extensively on ‘Magnetic Fields’ and ‘Zoolook’. Its omnipresent ‘Orchestra 5’ “Whooomph!” patch was used and abused by everybody from PET SHOP BOYS, KLAUS SCHULZE and KATE BUSH to U2 and prog rockers YES…
Iconic example of use: PET SHOP BOYS ‘It’s A Sin’
NED SYNCLAVIER (1979)
The Synclavier was an all singing, all dancing sampling mega-workstation that was favoured by DEPECHE MODE, MICHAEL JACKSON and THE CURE. The cost of some of the versions of the Synclavier made the Fairlight seem affordable in comparison, with a top-spec system going for the outrageous price of $200,000 dollars! Like the CMI, the Synclavier was way ahead of its time and brought a higher quality of sampling and sequencing into a few privileged high end studios.
Iconic example of use: SOFT CELL ‘Tainted Love’
CON BRIO ADS200 (1980)
With only two units being produced, once seen, the Con Brio ADS200 can never be forgotten. Looking like something out of ‘Space 1999’, with a built-in display monitor and clad wall-to-wall in veneer, the ADS200 is probably the nearest the synth world came to an outlandish concept car; it looked incredible, but ultimately was doomed to remain a pipe dream. One belonged to BECK’s father David Campbell who reportedly paid £17,000 for it. The ADS200’s implementation of FM synthesis raised a few legal eyebrows at Yamaha although no action was taken.
Iconic example of use: Fittingly the Con Brio ADS100 got used for sound effects on the movie reboot of ‘Star Trek’
PPG WAVE 2 (1981)
The striking and very blue-looking PPG (Palm Products GmbH) Wave 2 synth became another popular digital synth. Its bell-like quality can be heard on DEPECHE MODE’s ‘A Broken Frame’. TANGERINE DREAM also toured with one extensively after assisting the company with the development many of their other products. Martin Gore had a Casio MT30 sat on his PPG Wave 2 with a ‘Fairlite’ name stuck on the back in what could be seen as a side swipe at Vince Clarke who had ploughed a large percentage of his royalties into a Fairlight purchase.
Iconic example of use: DEPECHE MODE ‘The Sun & The Rainfall’
YAMAHA GS1 (1981)
Despite its 19th Century appearance and looking for all intents and purposes like a grand piano, the GS1 was the first keyboard produced by Yamaha to feature the patented Frequency Modulation (FM) technology. Like the Fairlight, the GS1’s prohibitive price tag of $25,000 meant that it was out of reach for most musicians. The size and weight of the machine at nearly 90kg meant that it was never intended to be a touring machine; only a 100 units were manufactured too, but it still deserves its place in synthesizer history for kick-starting the FM revolution.
Iconic example of use: TOTO ‘Africa’
DIGITAL KEYBOARDS SYNERGY (1982)
The Synergy used additive synthesis to generate its sounds and its 74 note keyboard made it attractive to keyboard players like WENDY CARLOS who used the Synergy on ‘Digital Moonscapes’ and ‘Beauty In The Beast’. It was unusual in that it allowed the layering of four sounds and also possessed a four track in-built sequencer, but unfortunately lost its memory once the machine was powered down. Sadly, the DX7 signalled the death knell for the Synergy, costing three times less and being fully programmable…
Iconic example of use: WENDY CARLOS ‘Tron’ soundtrack
YAMAHA DX7 (1983)
Taking the technology first used in the GS1, the DX7 brought FM Synthesis to the masses and along the way transformed the sound of the charts between 1983-1989. The DX’s distinctive rubbery bass sound started to appear everywhere from A-HA’s ‘Take On Me’, HOWARD JONES’ ‘What is Love?’ through to LEVEL 42’s ‘Hot Water’. But unless you were a musical brainiac like BRIAN ENO, the DX7 was notoriously difficult to program and legend has it that most units which were returned back to Yamaha for any maintenance still had their preset sound banks left untouched!
Iconic example of use: BERLIN ‘Take My Breath Away’
YAMAHA DX1 (1983)
The DX1 could be considered as a connoisseur version of the DX7, every part of it is THAT more expensive looking from its fully weighted keyboard, deeper control panel through to its wooden end cheeks. The sound of the DX1 was much thicker than the often thin sounding DX7 because the user was able to layer two sounds together. If however you intend buying one of these, the secondary market is extremely limited as only 140 models were produced. Users included PET SHOP BOYS and DIRE STRAITS.
Iconic example of use: DIRE STRAITS ‘Money for Nothing’
CASIO CZ101 (1984)
The CASIO CZ101 and YAMAHA DX100 were almost like distantly related cousins; both had mini keys, utilised digital sound generating techniques and had guitar strap pegs which allowed them to be played in a keytar style. The 101 was adopted by Vince Clarke and was used extensively on the debut ERASURE album ‘Wonderland’. Despite being digital, the CZ range was still capable of some pretty rich analogue style sounds and patches like the Organ preset soon found themselves appearing on many a house track.
Iconic examples of use: BLANCMANGE ‘Believe You Me’ album
EMU EMULATOR II (1984)
Much beloved of DEPECHE MODE and NEW ORDER, the follow-up to the original Emulator was an 8 bit machine that had analogue filters. In contrast to the rack-mounted Akai range, the keyboard-based Emulator became a much more popular live machine, with sample storage being held on 5.5 inch floppy disks. The addition of MIDI compatibility, in-built sequencer and separate audio outputs made it a highly sought after sampler. PET SHOP BOYS’ Neil Tennant played one in the infamous Old Grey Whistle Test performance where he fluffs the string part in ‘Opportunities’.
Iconic example of use: DEPECHE MODE ‘Christmas Island’
ENSONIQ MIRAGE (1984)
The Mirage was a good value for money sampler/synthesizer, although the specifications these days look laughable with 8 bit, 333 note sequencing memory and 128kb of RAM. It featured analogue filters, a velocity sensitive keyboard and 8 note polyphony. Even now, players swear by the warmth that the filter can give to a sample, but the inscrutable programming method it utilised via hexadecimal-code manipulation meant that editing samples was only for the faint-hearted! Users included SKINNY PUPPY and JANET JACKSON on the ‘Control’ album.
Iconic example of use: SKINNY PUPPY ‘Jackhammer’
KORG DW8000 (1985)
The heart of the KORG DW8000’s sound was digitally generated from its DWGS (Digital Waveform Generator System). The DW8000 was a bit of a hybrid, half-way between a DX7 and an analogue synthesizer in that its waveforms were digital and its filter analogue. The synth gained a lot of fans because of its in-built arpeggiator and FX and although not as successful as the M1, it was still used by artists such as DEPECHE MODE and KEITH EMERSON.
Iconic example of use: EMERSON, LAKE & POWELL ‘Love Blind’
YAMAHA DX100 (1985)
The DX100 along with the FB01 sound module were the entry level points for those wishing to explore FM synthesis. Whilst not possessing the same amount of operators as its bigger DX brothers, the DX100 became popular with Detroit Techno producers like Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Juan Atkins because of its distinctive bass sound. If you also check out an equipment list from the ‘Electric Café’ era of KRAFTWERK, you will see that one surprisingly also found its way into the German electronic maestros synth armoury too.
Iconic example of use: RHYTHIM IS RHYTHIM ‘Nude Photo’
SEQUENTIAL CIRCUITS PROPHET VS (1986)
After their success with the Prophet 5, Prophet 10 and Pro One, the Prophet VS was a departure for Sequential Circuits and featured an innovative joystick which allowed the user to mix/program sounds. The VS was used on the soundtrack to ‘Tron’ and John Carpenter’s ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ with synthesist Alan Howarth using some of the synth’s more ‘eastern’ sounding presets to evoke the atmosphere needed for the film. This was another favourite synth for Vince Clarke and featured extensively on both ‘The Circus’ and ‘The Innocents’ albums.
Iconic example of use: ERASURE ‘It Doesn’t Have to Be’
BUCHLA 700 (1987)
Although generally known as Robert Moog’s competitor in the analogue modular synth stakes, Don Buchla actually produced a digital synth in the shape of the 700. Used by Alessandro Cortini of NINE INCH NAILS fame, it used a mixture of synthesis techniques (FM/Wavetable/Subtractive/Additive) and in true esoteric Buchla fashion, let the user create their own tunings with as many or as little notes per octave as wanted. Only six were made, but BENGE went on to create a mini-album using the 700 called ‘Chimeror’ produced as a result an hour’s improvisation with the machine.
Iconic example of use: BENGE ‘Chimeror’
ROLAND D50 (1987)
Utilising a combination of Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) and Linear Arithmetic (LA) synthesis, the D50 was another omnipresent synth. Its many famous users included ENYA, VANGELIS, JEAN-MICHEL JARRE and Nick Rhodes from DURAN DURAN. For some reason there was a bitter rivalry between M1 and D50 owners as to who had the ‘best’ synth, and to this day, debates still rage on in synth forums! Arguments aside, the D50 was certainly one of the ‘big three’ digital synths that transformed the sound libraries of most synth players in the period.
Iconic example of use: JEAN-MICHEL JARRE ‘Computer Weekend’
AKAI S1000 (1988)
Despite being a royal pain in the ar*e to program due to its small LED screen, the S1000 was THE digital sampler which found its way into the equipment list of every decent studio of the period. Bringing sampling to the masses it also featured a timestretch function which let samples be warped and became the de rigueur vocal effect on tracks such as JOSH WINK’s seminal acid track ‘Higher State of Consciousness’ and DOUBLE 99’s Speed Garage anthem ‘Ripgroove’.
Iconic example of use: PORTISHEAD ‘Dummy’ album
KORG M1 (1988)
Alongside the D50 and the DX7, the M1 was THE synth that was most likely to appear on ‘Top Of The Pops’ when a band featured a keyboard player. With a range of sounds from arguably the first decent ‘real’ piano sound through to some complex/atmospheric patches, the M1 was adopted by everybody from house producers using the organ bass like on ‘Show Me Love’ by ROBIN S through to your typical functions band of the day. OMD’s 1991 ‘Sugar Tax’ album is almost entirely Korg M1!
Iconic example of use: GARY NUMAN ‘Sacrifice’ album
ROLAND W30 (1989)
The W30 deserves its place if only for the way that Liam Howlett from THE PRODIGY was so devoted to it for nigh on 20 years. Despite being Roland’s 1st workstation synthesizer and featuring sampling technology, Howlett used the W30 primarily as a sequencer to drive sounds/loops from his Akai Sampler and would go onto use up until 2008. Howlett’s live use of the W30 was so extensive that he bought up the remaining keys from Roland Japan as he used to break them every other show…
Iconic example of use: THE PRODIGY ‘Everybody In The Place’
ROLAND JD800 (1991)
The JD800 signalled a return to the analogue-style design philosophy of its older machines with plenty of real-time control and sliders, but at the time wasn’t a terribly successful selling machine. The machine featured a keyboard with aftertouch which allowed extra control of its sounds, but if you manage to find a JD800 on the s/h market now, this was one of the things to fail on the machine as the glue used had a habit of melting. Famous users of the JD800 include: FAITHLESS, UNDERWORLD and DEPECHE MODE.
Iconic example of use: JEAN-MICHEL JARRE ‘Chronologie 4’
WALDORF WAVE (1993)
Although a digital synth (it was Wavetable based), the Wave had analogue filters which helped give it its warmth. Its users included HANS ZIMMER, LEFTFIELD, ANTHONY ROTHER, KLAUS SCHULZE and ULRICH SCHNAUSS who still has an orange model – it was also unusual in being expandable from 16 voices up to 48 voices. With only roughly 200 sold, the Wave pretty much put Waldorf out of business, losing money on each unit shipped. Due to its scarcity, the Wave is highly collectable with a price tag close to $10,000 for one.
Iconic example of use: BJÖRK ‘Violently Happy (Live Version)’
CLAVIA NORD LEAD (1994)
The original Clavia Nord Lead helped coin the term “virtual analog synthesis”. It was followed by a series of other machines all in a distinctive red livery and was adopted by many artists including NINE INCH NAILS, UNDERWORLD and FLUKE. The addition of several real-time controls plus the ability to mimic several retro analogue synths meant that the Lead became an extremely popular synth with a range that still endures today.
Iconic example of use: THE PRODIGY ‘Funky Sh*t’
KORG PROPHECY (1995)
The Prophecy was unusual in that it was a monophonic synth that used virtual modelling to emulate everything from blown and plucked sounds, through to thicker, more analogue textures. Probably most famous for providing one of the lead sounds on THE PRODIGY’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, the Prophecy was also blessed with aftertouch and ribbon control on what was often affectionately referred to as a ‘sausage roll’ on the left hand edge of the synthesizer.
Iconic example of use: THE PRODIGY ‘Smack My Bitch Up’
KURZWEIL K2500 (1996)
The K2500 in its keyboard and rack version was popular as a workstation synth, featuring a synth engine, sequencer and sampling with the additional ability to load in Akai samples. It found favour as live machine for several years with PINK FLOYD and in the studio with NINE INCH NAILS. The rack version wasn’t the most user friendly machine to use due its over-reliance on its editing screen, but the machine had a lush warm sound to them and many users continue to swear by them.
Iconic example of use: PLASTIKMAN ‘Plasticine’
WALDORF MICROWAVE XT (1998)
With the rise of melodic trance, synths like the brightly coloured (or some might say ‘lairy’) Microwave XT from the Waldorf range help artists such as FERRY CORSTEN re-introduce some welcome digital-based analogue sounds back into the musical marketplace. The Microwave XT, although a baby brother to the HUGE Wave synth, was still an extremely fat sounding synth and coloured its most prominent control (the filter cut-off) in a fetching shade of red to differentiate it from the other controls on its orange front panel. NINE INCH NAILS also count amongst one its famous users.
Iconic example of use: THE ART OF NOISE ‘The Seduction of Claude Debussy’ album
Formerly of THE MODERN and later MATINEE CLUB, Nathan Cooper debuted as KID KASIO with the long player ‘Kasiotone’ in 2012. And with his latest single ‘Full Moon Blue’, he simply couldn’t get any Wilder…
Performing alongside MARSHEAUX and RODNEY CROMWELL on SATURDAY 5TH NOVEMBER 2016 in Norwich, Cooper is a man who is plainly honest about where his influences lie. His love of electronic acts such as HOWARD JONES and OMD permeates throughout his work. His most recent album ‘Sit & Wait’ is a fine collection of playful synthpop that is unafraid to nails its colours to the mast in a totally unpretentious manner.
Now imagine if DEPECHE MODE were fronted by Nik Kershaw instead of Dave Gahan? With ‘Full Moon Blue’, this musical fantasy is fully realised with a clever interpolation of ‘Two Minute Warning’, one of the songwriting contributions from Alan Wilder on ‘Construction Time Again’. The recording had originally started life as a cover version, but mutated into its own entity.
‘Full Moon Blue’ comes accompanied with a promo video sourced from home movie footage; “It’s compiled from footage of an old VHS tape a friend found in a box in his mum’s attic. It’s a film we made on camcorder when we were 18. A kung fu film” said Cooper, “I’ve just kind of thrown it together, but it kind of works. It’s certainly not a video I would have planned for the song, but I think that’s better sometimes. I was keen not to spend 2 years making a video this time around, like I did with ‘The Kodo Song’ and this came with a ready-made back story, so I thought ‘why not?’”.
Having previously worked with the likes of Stephen Hague who produced ERASURE, NEW ORDER and PET SHOP BOYS, KID KASIO has a quality background.
He said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in 2015: “Whether I release it in 2013 or 2016, it’s still going to sound like 1985!” – in the case of ‘Full Moon Blue’, KID KASIO parties like its 1983!
KID KASIO plays Epic Studios, 114 Magdalen Street, Norwich, Norfolk NR3 1JD on SATURDAY 5TH NOVEMBER 2016 at– also appearing will be MARSHEAUX + RODNEY CROMWELL with DJ James Nice of Les Disques du Crépuscule
KID KASIO, or Nathan Cooper, formerly of THE MODERN and subsequently MATINEE CLUB, debuted as a solo artist with his 2012 album ‘Kasiotone’.
The idea of going bandless has always appealed to him, as it meant that his concepts were implemented into the music he produced, without having to answer to anyone or explain the reasons. If anything went wrong, he “only had myself to blame”.
Having previously worked with Stephen Hague, who produced ERASURE, NEW ORDER and PET SHOP BOYS, THE MODERN enjoyed a brief period of popularity with a few chart singles. Cooper and his partner-in-crime, Chi Tudor-Hart were subjected to some animosities resulting from the poor management and problems with the label, before he decided to go on his own.
Citing DURAN DURAN, JAPAN, NEW ORDER, OMD, HOWARD JONES and most of “80s music because I play synths, and that’s the era when synths dominated popular music” as influences, Cooper isn’t a stranger to vintage synthesisers such as the Roland Juno 60, Prophet 5, Korg Poly 800, SH101, Crumar Performer or DX7. Turning out, what only can be described as true synthpopia tunes, it’s been nearly four years since his last album. However, Cooper busied himself with contributing music to Drew Barrymore, his brother Dominic and Toni Collette’s film ‘Miss You Already’. Now KID KASIO is returning with his newest production ‘Sit & Wait’. The album took a few years to come to fruition, bearing in mind it was mastered back in 2013.
It was the video to ‘The Kodo Song’ that pushed back the “mixed bag”, which had to be “refreshed”. But as he muses: “whether I release it in 2013 or 2016, it’s still going to sound like 1985!!” – not minding how long the long player took, given “I don’t have Simon Cowell beating my door down demanding a product”, and not too keen on the idea of just releasing an EP, Cooper embraced the concept of “an album as a chronological story with a beginning, middle and end”.
‘The Kodo Song’ opens the opus utilising the South African vibe “with an air of melancholy (….) through the story of the Anglo-Zulu war”, describing a relationship between two friends fighting on the frontline. With one of them dying, the other remembers his comrade through the song. The ethnic sounds on this production punctuate the story, which itself is an epic production, having taken two years to turn out with the accompanying video.
‘Letters Of Love’, an excellently synth driven piece of candy, bursts with boyish charm and magnificent vintage sounds, while ‘Full Moon Blue’ displays all the correct NIK KERSHAW characteristics, being timeless and superbly modern at the same time. But it’s also a younger brother of ‘Two Minute Warning’, so much so that it even has an ALAN WILDER co-writing credit!
If EIFFEL 65 had good enough voices to produce a track without the overkill of melodyne, it could have sounded something like ‘Blood Red Skies’; while the ballad-based ‘The Story of Kid Charlemagne’ probes the synth sounds to perfection, without indulgence. The title track kicks in, reminiscent of HOWARD JONES‘ signature vocals over something VINCE CLARKE would have produced for early DEPECHE MODE.
‘One Chance’ and ‘Drive (Some Kind Of Love)’ further explore the eclectic talents of Cooper, with the latter sounding as if it’s been a soundtrack to ‘Foot Loose’ or ‘Flashdance’. ‘One More Time’ could have easily been written for Eurovision, and it would probably win, carrying the biggest chorus ever. The trials to “capture the sound of that era, albeit with a 2015 slant” are continuing to be palpable on ‘Human Beings’, while the closing ‘The End’ is a coagulation of everything that was amazing during the best periods of DEPECHE MODE.
‘Sit & Wait’ is simply inspired. For those missing the lost tracks of the post-Synth Britannia; to those who simply cannot move on from the era when synthpop was at its best, with big hair, colourful clothes and camp moves, this is like going back in time, but still keeping it fresh and current. Many an electronica listener would have been waiting for an album like this, something to compare to the good, old classics; something that could easily have been written 30 years ago.
Congratulations KID KASIO; while many others are going into undefined directions resulting in mediocrity, you’ve achieved perfection, while going back to your roots. Your “mixed bag, albeit made out of that black, grey and red striped material that all 80s duvet covers were made out of” is straightforwardly genius.