Every self-respecting lover of darker, moodier electronica will know of WOLFSHEIM.
The duo’s best known song is still their 1991 debut single ‘The Sparrows & The Nightingales’ while their fourth album ‘Spectators’ released in 1999 went straight to No2 in the German charts. They were massive in Germany back in the day, winning the ECHO Music Prize in 2004 for ‘Best German Alternative Band’, although they remain largely unknown in the UK.
But after five full length albums, the duo split up in a monumental row seeing Peter Heppner moving his second-to-none voice elsewhere, leaving Markus Reinhardt standing. While Heppner went on to create solo projects and work with various collaborators including CAMOUFLAGE, Reinhardt is only resurfacing with his post-WOLFSHEIM material now.
As RENARD, he really is ‘Waking Up In A Different World’, bringing this multi-faceted, emotion laden production into life in the current climate of uncertainty, fear and new reality. Guest vocalists include Pascal Finkenauer, Sarah Blackwood, Marietta Fafouti, Eliza Hiscox, Joseh and Marian Gold while one of the producers is Oliver Blair, last spotted as RADIO WOLF in collaboration with PARALLELS.
With the release of ‘Waking Up In A Different World’, the man himself chatted about his past, present and future.
It’s been a while since you were musically active. Why now?
I was working on my album all these years. It was a process to find the best singers, producers and a record company. But you can’t force things to happen. They take patience to build. So the simple answer is, the album wasn’t ready before.
Are you worried about the fact that this record took years to get out while Heppner has been successfully releasing his material for years?
What should I be worried about? For me it’s not a fight of two big fish in a small pond.
You chose various artists for this project, what was the criteria?
I was looking for charismatic voices and the perfect match for each song. But it took time to find them. On the album you hear only the tip of the iceberg. I guess I contacted around 40 singers in total.
Some of the songs were written a good while ago…
Most of them where written a good while ago. I think it’s worthless to write a song you can’t publish a couple of years later just because a certain trend has passed.
During WOLFSHEIM, you were involved in side projects, what have you done in the in-between years?
Even when WOLFSHEIM was kind of successful I felt a void. First I was a bit angry with myself because I thought I wasn’t grateful enough. But I turned the end of WOLFSHEIM into an opportunity and I started to look for meaning in all this stuff.
Would you agree that Heppner’s single ‘Die Flut’ with Joachim Witt, boosted the band’s popularity and paved the way for ‘Spectators’?
Maybe, maybe not. What I know for sure though is that there would have been no ‘Die Flut’ without WOLFSHEIM at all.
On the side note, CARE COMPANY did incredibly well too…
I still love to listen to the album. But it wasn’t a commercial success though, if that’s what you meant.
However I’d love to hear Carsten Klatte (the CARE COMPANY singer) to sing on the next RENARD album.
Receiving the ECHO award was quite spectacular…
On one hand I enjoyed it because WOLFSHEIM got there with a small independent label, but on the other hand, I consider such events as the dark side of the music business.
And then WOLFSHEIM was no more… what happened?
A couple of days before Heppner was going to sign his major-label deal, he demanded an eighty / twenty split in his favor. Otherwise he wouldn’t go on with WOLFSHEIM. I found this a bit too much for someone who did barely twenty percent of the work. On top of that, he hired a so-called music expert who was supposed to confirm that my compositions for the next WOLFSHEIM album weren’t good enough for Heppner.
On a side note: one of the compositions turned out to be ‘Hotel’ [a song on the album featuring Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE]. I still have this disconcerting ‘music-expert’ document at home, maybe I’m going to frame it.
You say with this project you are “more with yourself”, would you care to elaborate?
There are plenty of reasons, let me mention some of them: It was a production with no strings attached. No deadline I’d to take care of. I didn’t need the skills of a psychologist since I worked only with easy-going artists this time.
What decided on the choice for the first single?
For me, it seemed only logical to pick ‘Travel in Time’ since it was the first song I had with a new singer after the end of WOLFSHEIM.
‘Travel In Time’ with Pascal Finkenauer is a tad confusing, he sounds like Heppner!
Maybe you got a bit fooled here. It’s the song that sounds absolutely like WOLFSHEIM and therefore Pascal Finkenauer reminds someone of Heppner in this particular case.
Britain is represented by Sarah Blackwood… how did that union take place?
I met Sarah through a label guy. I knew her work and I was surprised that she knew mine as well. I’m thankful to her because she was the third to join RENARD, at a time not many people believed in the project.
But there is some Greece there too…
I live partly in Athens and my girlfriend heard Marietta on the radio. I liked the song and contacted Marietta.
Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE is probably the best known voice on the album, what was he like to work with?
Marian is a great and humble guy. And he’s still enthusiastic about music. It was great working with him and I hope we’ll do it again.
What are your hopes and expectations with this record?
Basically all my expectations are already fulfilled. I had the pleasure to work with all these artists, the graphic and video artists included and the album will be published soon. I’ll see what happens next.
Are you going to promote it live, given the pandemic etc?
No live plans at the moment. I had some ideas that include AR and VR, not because of the pandemic though, but rather due to the big number of singers. But there’s nothing certain yet.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Markus Reinhardt
The tale of WOLFSHEIM will be known to any self-respecting lover of darker electronica, although relatively alien to English listeners, unless one had European connections or sought after more unusual sounds outside Britain in the last two decades of the 20th Century.
The Hamburg based duo with the superb voice of Peter Heppner and hit producing magician Markus Reinhardt released numerous gems such as ‘Once In A Lifetime’ or ‘The Sparrows & The Nightingales’, turning out superb albums, with ‘Spectators’ or ‘Casting Shadows’ to name just a couple.
But the good streak wasn’t to last, with the group disbanding into a monumental hiatus, seeing Heppner going solo or helping on other artist’s releases, with that ever haunting voice of his; Reinhardt stayed somewhat behind, only to return for what he calls “his reinvention”.
“The end of WOLFSHEIM motivated me to reinvent myself. A process that was urgently needed. With RENARD, I’m more with myself. My album combines the sound and mood of the 80s with the stylistic devices of today.”
Any sound manipulator needs a vocalist to showcase the uniqueness of their work and RENARD doesn’t settle on one. Why stick to the same voice when you are in a position to pick who you’d like to really bring variety and much needed diversity to your output?
‘Waking Up In A Different World’ is a debut, but it’s unlike any other debut, as in this case the debutant is not an inexperienced musician, promoting unknown vocalists.
So for the first single, Reinhardt chooses ‘Travel In Time’ with Pascal Finkenauer to take the reins of the vocals. A fellow German songwriter, guitarist and vocalist, Finkenauer’s melancholic voice sounds mistakenly like Heppner’s, bringing somewhat confusing connotations. In previous outings, Finkenauer can sound more or less like the original WOLFSHEIM boy, but one has to question the sense in this particular choice, especially with Reinhardt’s pledge to be more like himself on this record.
Nevertheless, this is a magnificent song, with a great dose of sorrow and longing. One cannot reject the obvious WOLFSHEIM connotations in the arrangement; it’s like the band have been resurrected for one tune. Well, if he can’t use the WOLFSHEIM name, then…
Joseh features on ‘Junkyards’, where guitar leads the SUEDE-esque intro, blossoming into an easy listening piece where the voice doesn’t sound like Heppner’s, but more natural and free flowing.
Joseh also guests on ‘The Meissen Figurine’, which combines a coalescence of modern elements with vintage components over a moderately unobtrusive tune, while Marietta Fafouti finds herself ‘Restless’. A prolific Greek composer, songwriter, and a well-known figure in her native land, Fafouti sings her soul away over a simplistic melody.
DUBSTAR’s Sarah Blackwood wrote the melody and lyrics to ‘Heresy’, which is commensurate with her own band’s output, both currently and back in the day. The song was written ten years ago and by Blackwood’s own admission containing words very personal to her. As always, it is superbly simplistic, cleverly put together and sung with the heart; the heart which “will have a speaking part, the first time in ages”.
Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE joins the party on ‘Hotel’. With its NEW ORDER-like guitar presence, the song actually brings back the good old days when the German collective ruled with ‘Big In Japan’. Gold returns on ‘Damn Happy’ where he’s clearly “happy to be unhappy”, sadly in a quite forgettable manner.
Interestingly enough, the production nods towards SUEDE again it its execution, although the song itself is missing the vital ingredient to make it worth replaying.
Thankfully, Eliza Hiscox of ROYALCHORD leads with the magnificent ‘My Heart’s Still Shaking’ which is not just magic in its vocal delivery but also in the symbiosis of the instrumentation and her voice. The closing ‘Intelligent Design’ ushers in a heavy plucked bass synth, progressing gently over eight bars of pure joy with yodelled voices, sculpting the ending beautifully.
Although altogether the album is a rather mixed bag, RENARD really is ‘Waking Up In A Different World’, bringing this multi-faceted, emotion laden production into life in the current climate of uncertainty, fear and new reality. May he achieve similar success to Peter Heppner with his solo ventures.
It really is the other side of love. B-sides have been a wondrous platform of adventure for the music fan, a hidden treasure trove of experimentation that was often a secret society that positioned the listener into being part of a mysterious taste elite.
So here are ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s favourite 25 Classic Synth B-sides… but how was this list defined?
These artefacts are flipsides of vinyl or bonus tracks on CD singles; basically songs that were not featured on the original issue of a full length album, or subsequently included on a new one. However, bonus tracks on later reissues are permitted. With 25 Synth Instrumentals Of The Classic Era being covered in a separate listing, wordless wonders are also omitted. The listing runs up until the start of the 21st Century.
However, there is a limitation of one song per artist moniker in this chronological retrospective, so rare indulgers of the B-side such as HEAVEN 17, JAPAN and SIMPLE MINDS get equal billing with prolific exponents like PET SHOP BOYS, DEPECHE MODE, OMD and ULTRAVOX. That may seem unfair but then life can be unfair…
THE NORMAL TVOD (1978)
Was ‘TVOD’ actually the A-side of this seminal and only release by THE NORMAL which launched Mute Records? But as ‘Warm Leatherette’ is listed at the top of the back sleeve and has moved into legend having been covered by GRACE JONES, LAIBACH and CHICKS ON SPEED, ‘TVOD’ qualifies for this list. With its hypnotic bassline and warbling synth hook, JG Ballard makes his influence heard as Daniel Miller monotones about a dystopian future where television is the new narcotic…
In the days when the B-side mattered as much as the A-side, more intuitive purchasers found another gem on the flip of ‘Are Friends Electric?’ with this pounding system of romance. Being the antithesis of the discordant diabolis in musica of the main act, ‘We Are So Fragile’ fused Minimoogs with guitars and a four-to-the-floor beat as the vulnerability of Gary Numan connected with the chilling Cold War dystopia of the times in a musical winter of discontent.
Originally the B-side of ‘Are Friends Electric?’; now available on the album ‘Replicas’ via Beggars Banquet Records
Commissioned as the theme to Janet Street-Porter’s early youth vehicle ‘20th Century Box’ which gave platforms to two then unknown bands SPANDAU BALLET and DEPECHE MODE, the combination of Foxx’s starkly dominant Compurhythm and ARP Odyssey dystopia were harsh but strangely danceable. However, ’20th Century’ signalled the wind down of the mechanical phase of John Foxx before thawing out and turning more conventional to less distinctive effect on ‘The Garden’.
Originally the B-side of ‘Burning Car’; now available on the deluxe album ‘Metamatic’ via Esdel Records
Like a number of bands of the period, SIMPLE MINDS went off doing B-sides as they progressed, often lazily filling the flips with live tracks or instrumental versions of existing tracks. ‘New Warm Skin’ was the original B-side of ‘I Travel’ and saw the Glaswegians ape SPARKS for this claptrap filled electronic cacophony of sound. Not claustrophobic enough for ‘Empires & Dance’, this is a delightfully creepy synth laden rarity in the SIMPLE MIDS back catalogue.
Originally the B-side of ‘I Travel’; now available as a bonus track on the boxed set ‘X5’ via Virgin Records
With so many great B-sides in the long career of DEPECHE MODE, it might seem strange that their best B-side was actually their first. ‘Ice Machine’ is possibly Vince Clarke’s darkest five minutes, but it has also proved to be highly influential. ROYKSOPP and S.P.O.C.K have covered it while the song’s core arpeggio has been borrowed by LADYTRON and FEATHERS. It is not only one of DM’s best B-sides, it is among one of the best songs of the Synth Britannia era.
Available on the DEPECHE MODE boxed set ‘DMBX1’ via Mute Records
HEAVEN 17 were an act who rarely did B-sides and even this cover of a lesser known BUZZCOCKS single started life as a track for the BEF ‘Music Of Quality & Distinct Volume 1’ opus but was quickly shelved. Unusual in many respects as ‘Are Everything’ features the early HUMAN LEAGUE synth sound emblazoned with acoustic guitar from Dave Lockwood, Glenn Gregory snarls in post-punk fashion away from the new funk hybrid which was later appear on ‘Penthouse & Pavement’.
Originally the B-side of ‘I’m Your Money’; 12 inch version now available on the HEAVEN 17 album ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ via Virgin Records
Originally recorded as a demo for the 1979 Giorgio Moroder sessions that produced ‘Life In Tokyo’, this sequencer heavy number was rejected by the Italian disco maestro. Left dormant in the vaults of Ariola Hansa, after JAPAN left the label, ‘European Son’ was subsequently finished off by John Punter and tagged onto a 1981 reissue of ‘Life In Tokyo’. Retrospectively, it shows David Sylvian’s vocals in transition from the catty aggression of earlier albums. In 1982, it became an A-side remixed by Steve Nye.
Originally the B-side of 1981 reissue of ‘Life In Tokyo’; now available on the JAPAN album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Virgin Records
A unique curio in the classic ULTRAVOX cannon as it does not feature Midge Ure. Chris Cross handled guitar duties and backing vocals while Warren Cann took the spoken lead. The powerful Linn driven track was provided the punch with the Minimoog bass while Billy Currie tastefully layered with his piano and violin interplay. ‘Paths & Angles’ was undoubtedly strong enough to have been an album track, but highly unlikely to have remained in this form if Ure had been involved.
Originally the B-side of ‘The Voice’; now available on the ULTRAVOX album ‘Rage In Eden’ via EMI Records
Originally recorded for a John Peel session but rescued for the B-side of ‘Living On The Ceiling’, ‘Running Thin’ featured a much starker, claustrophobic template than the subsequent ‘Happy Families’ album. Driven by a Roland drum machine, haunting blips and “elastic stretched too far” guitar, Neil Arthur’s resigned baritone matched the music backdrop. The track has since been revisited by BLANCMANGE for the upcoming 2CD ‘Happy Families Too’ 2CD set.
Originally the B-side of ‘Living On The Ceiling’; now available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Music Club
Borrowing the main melody of ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ theme and coupled with a sharp Tim Friese-Greene production, ‘One Of Our Submarines’ was actually based on the poignant story of TMDR’s uncle Stephen. He served in a submarine during World War Two but died while on manoeuvres as opposed to battle. His death became Dolby’s metaphor for the fall of the British Empire and his rebellion against the post-war Boys Own adventure illusion that his generation grew up in.
Originally the B-side of ‘She Blinded Me with Science’; now available on the THOMAS DOLBY album ‘The Golden Age Of Wireless’ via EMI Records
Outstripping the electro Tamla of the A-side, ‘You Remind Me Of Gold’ had the balance of weirdness, accessibility and the spectre of Jo Callis’ guitar synthesizer. Coupled with the precise but edgy production of Martin Rushent, this gave high hopes that the follow-up to the million selling ‘Dare’ would be a goody. Unfortunately, the band fell out with Rushent and the lukewarm ‘Hysteria’ was the result and it would take years for THE HUMAN LEAGUE to recover.
Originally the B-side of ‘Mirror Man’; now available on the HUMAN LEAGUE deluxe album ‘Dare / Fascination!’ via Virgin Records
OMD often were at their best when indulging in their vertical take-off experiments. Covered in hiss and layered with a shrilling, almost out-of-tune Mellotron, ‘Navigation’ was an abstract collage with the punching snare drum crescendo leading to a weird droning beacon of strange noises taken from their pre-OMD tapes that conjured the image of foggy uncharted oceans. It is without doubt, one of Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey’s stand-out recordings.
Originally the B-side of ‘Maid Of Orleans’; now available on the OMD album ‘Navigation’ via Virgin Records
Boy George once described SOFT CELL as music for teenagers who hate their parents. With ‘It’s A Mugs Game’, that ethos came to its head with this comical tirade of angry, adolescent angst! Marc Almond goes from crisis to crisis as he tries to annoy his dad by playing loud, all the records “he especially hates… ’Deep Purple In Rock, ‘Led Zeppelin II’”. But as Almond retorts: “even you hate those”! The closing rant of “I can’t wait until I’m twenty one and I can tell them all to sod off!” is classic!
Originally the B-side of ‘Where The Heart Is’; now available on the SOFT CELL album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Phonogram Records
Perhaps unsurprisingly with Colin Thurston at the production helm, the cryptically titled ‘?’ did sound like a DURAN DURAN flipside with thundering Simmons drums, disco bass and a fabulous synth solo from original keyboardist Simon Brenner. Utilising a weird chorus effect which sounded like the song was recorded on using dirty tape heads, while not a particularly prolific B-side band, TALK TALK certainly delivered more extras than perhaps JAPAN ever did.
Originally the B-side of ‘Talk Talk’. Available on the TALK TALK album ‘Asides Besides’ via EMI Music
One of the few vocal tracks to be a VISAGE B-side, ‘I’m Still Searching’ in hindsight sounds ahead of its time with its proto-PET SHOP BOYS vibe. Featuring just Steve Strange and Rusty Egan as the ULTRAVOX and MAGAZINE boys were all back in their day jobs, it hinted at a New York electronic disco direction which was expanded on with ‘Pleasure Boys’. But by the time of the third VISAGE album ‘Beat Boy’, rock was the name of the game with Strange’s voice left exposed and totally unsuited to its histrionics.
Originally the B-side of ‘Night Train’; now available on the VISAGE album ‘The Anvil’ via Rubellan Remasters
A B-side that was later issued as an A-side in various markets, ‘Situation’ was one of only three writing collaborations between Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke. At barely 2 minutes in its original form, it made its point with its rousing blues based sequenced dance pop; it became a US club favourite remixed by Francois Kevorkian who was later to work with KRAFTWERK and DEPECHE MODE. Another version mixed by ERASURE producer Mark Saunders took the song into the UK Top20 in 1990.
Originally the B-side of ‘Only You’; now available on the album ‘The Collection’ via Music Club
When Liverpool band THE WILD SWANS split, two thirds formed the basis of THE LOTUS EATERS while their singer Paul Simpson teamed up with ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN producer Kingbird aka Ian Broudie. Combining acoustic guitars and stark drum machine with strong synthesizer melodies and melancholic vocals, ‘Sad Day for England’ was a mournful recollection of young manhood. The duo split before their debut album was completed. Broudie eventually formed THE LIGHTNING SEEDS.
Originally the 12 inch B-side of ‘My Boyish Days’; now available on the CARE album ‘Diamonds & Emeralds’ via Camden Records/BMG Records
This atmospheric ballad from the ‘Seven & The Ragged Tiger’ sessions turned out to be one of the the most synth led recordings under the DURAN DURAN name. Featuring just Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon, it showcased the more esoteric influences of JAPAN who the pair were particularly fond of. A precursor to their painfully pretentious ARCADIA project, none of those songs ever reached the heights of ‘Secret Oktober’. It was dusted off for the 1998 Greatest Hits tour.
Originally the B-side of ‘Union Of the Snake’; now available on the DURAN DURAN boxed set ‘The Singles 81-85’ via EMI Records
B-sides are for quirky experimentation and Howard Jones certainly veered from the norm with this oddball slice of electro-ska. With the declaration that “If I haven’t got any friends, it just doesn’t matter” and “If I’ve been misunderstood, it just doesn’t matter”, the song was possibly written as a positive motivator to face the music whatever following the success of his debut single ‘New Song’. The critics may not have loved him but his fans did, with the ‘Human’s Lib’ album entering the UK chats at No1.
Originally the B-side of ‘What is Love?’; now available on the HOWARD JONES album ‘The Very Best Of’ via WEA
Subtitled ‘Sector One: The Elevator’, ‘The Nelson Highrise’ was the B-side to ‘Sounds Like A Melody’ which wasn’t released as a single in the UK. After a dynamic instrumental build of over a minute and a half, the opening line “Time is fleeting, you can’t stop time” was deeply ominous while the backing was almost industrial with very sharp edges. The dystopian air might have been a surprise to some, but then ‘Big In Japan’ was inspired by the plight of heroin addicts in Berlin…
Originally the B-side of ‘Sounds Like A Melody’; now available on the ALPHAVILLE deluxe album ‘Forever Young’ via Warner Music
Recorded during the ‘Working With Fire & Steel’ sessions produced by Mike Howlett, ‘It’s Never Too Late’ was a lost gem probably droppedby CHINA CRISIS from the album on account of it sounding like a more steadfast ‘Wishful Thinking’, featuring its familiar Emulator strings sound in the melody. Unreleased until 1985, even then it was tucked away on the limited edition 12 inch of ‘Black Man Ray’, making it one of the rarest of high quality B-sides from the era.
Originally the 12 inch limited edition B-side of ‘Black Man Ray’; now available on the CHINA CRISIS deluxe album ‘Flaunt The Imperfection’ via Caroline International
Possibly the song which indicated that PET SHOP BOYS were going to be around for a while and not just a flash in the pan, ‘That’s My Impression’ was menacing as opposed to melancholic, combining SOFT CELL with DIVINE. Neil Tennant’s final angry refrain of “I went looking for someone I couldn’t find – staring at faces by the Serpentine…” is pure Marc Almond, tense and embittered in a manner that turned out to be quite rare in PET SHOP BOYS later work.
Originally the B-side of ‘Love Comes Quickly’; now available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Alternative’ via EMI Records
Is this song about JFK? Is it a homo-erotic love story that ends in murder? Who knows? But ‘1963’ was an outstanding result of the sessions NEW ORDER had with PET SHOP BOYS producer Stephen Hague that also spawned ‘True Faith’. However, much to Hooky’s annoyance, his contributions on ‘1963’ were virtually written out. Bloody mindedness ensured ‘1963’ was tucked away as a B-side for 8 years before it was released as an A-side in a more Hooky audible rework by Arthur Baker.
Originally the B-side of ‘True Faith’; now availableon the NEW ORDER album ‘Substance’ via Warner Music
Bietigheim-Bissingen’s CAMOUFLAGE took over the mantle of delivering the heavier synthpop blueprint which DEPECHE MODE started during ‘Construction Time Again’ and ‘Some Great Reward’, but left behind with ‘Black Celebration’. ‘Kling Klang’ actually was a B-side to their single ‘One Fine Day’. This was not only a tribute to KRAFTWERK but in a rarity for the trio, it was also sung in German. But it was so rigidly authentic that at times, it inadvertently sounded like a Bill Bailey musical comedy skit.
Originally the B-side of ‘One Fine Day’, now available on the CAMOUFLAGE deluxe album ‘Methods Of Silence’ via Bureau B
This bouncy tune with its lyrical celebration by Andy Bell of ABBA borrowed heavily from OMD. Vince Clarke went on record to say the record that influenced him most to start working with synthesizers was ‘Electricity’. So on ‘Over The Rainbow’, he borrowed its lead melody wholesale and added a few of the speaking clock samples that had adorned OMD’s ‘Dazzle Ships’. Listen carefully and listeners will also notice ULTRAVOX are affectionately pillaged too!
Originally the B-side of ‘Chorus’; now available in the boxed set ‘EBX4’ via Mute Records
If there is one person who has probably sparked the realisation of a long-awaited second WHITE DOOR album, then it has to be the synth Superswede Johan Baeckström.
A solo artist in his own right but also a member of synth duo DAILY PLANET, the young Johan Baeckström was a fan of the first WHITE DOOR album ’Windows’ released in 1983.
When he needed B-sides for the singles from his own 2015 solo debut ’Like Before, he covered ’Jerusalem’ and ’School Days’.
Although Baeckström has been unashamedly candid about the influence of Vince Clarke on his music, his musicality was also been shaped by the small catalogue of songs by Mac Austin, Harry Davies and John Davies.
While Mac Austin and Harry Davies have continued to perform in their prog combo GRACE over the years, Baeckström sowed the seeds of a WHITE DOOR reunion when he and DAILY PLANET bandmate Jarmo Olilia invited Austin to provide lead vocals on ‘Heaven Opened’ on their 2017 album ‘Play Rewind Repeat’.
That sparked a WHITE DOOR reunion and as a newly confugured quartet, Mac Austin, John Davies, Harry Davies and Johan Baeckström now present ’The Great Awakening’. Baeckström gives the pulsing Vince Clarke-isms a breather and swaps it for the more polyphonically formed keyboard interventions of his other heroes like Howard Jones.
A joyous tune that sets the scene, the exotic sophistication of ’Among The Mountains’ possesses the soaring windscreen poise of A-HA with a flawless vocal from Mac Austin while the soundscape is sweetened by flute, providing an interesting timbral contrast.
Acknowledging the theme of ’Get Carter’ but with a more brassy flair, ’Resurrection’ surprises with a bouncy Giorgio Moroder inspired stomp and the lift of a rousing chorus. Meanwhile Mac Austin manages to sound like a cross between Morten Harket and Chris De Burgh over some beautifully symphonic synth and subtle slapped bass in a guest appearance from Baeckström’s son Simon.
’Soundtrack Of Our Lives’ captures the joys of spring, with the English folk austere that was very much part of WHITE DOOR’s make-up playing a key role with the harmonious vocal arrangement.
A sparkling production with space for all the elements to shine, there’s even a few classic Linn Drum sounds thrown in too. Yes, they are more recollections of A-HA although of course, the ’Windows’ album came out a year before ’Hunting High & Low’.
Holding down the steadier mood with a synth arpeggio, the richly layered ’Lullaby’ makes what appears to be a simple arrangement sound grand and complex in a cleverly configured traditional tune that steadily builds and surprises with a burst of saxophone in the final third which also glistens ivory-wise in the manner of Howard Jones.
Beginning with a slightly stuttering rhythm, ’Angel Of Tomorrow’ bursts into life with a spacey buoyant pomp that captures an air of Vangelis.
An elated majestic tone ensues as staring mortality in the face, ’The Great Awakening’ celebrates an embracment of life and second chances with a range of complex synth motifs. All wondefully complimenting one another, it is akin to a casade of church bells ringing on a Sunday morning.
The spritely ’Simply Magnificent’ does as the title suggests and is pure sequenced synthpop in the vein of early ALPHAVILLE, the distant transistor radio ending acting a nice tribute to bygone listening experiences.
Ending the album, ’Beautiful Girl’ is classic WHITE DOOR and a song which Harry Davies describes as ”a wonderful song for making babies to”. Vocally like a modern hymn with patterns of hooky chimes, there’s even a surprising lilt of sax that suits the electronic backdrop, with a gorgeous sweeping polysynth conclusion that CHINA CRISIS would be proud of, recalling the feel of their appropriately titled tune ‘The Soul Awakening’.
Hopeful, mature and joyous, ’The Great Awakening’ grandly blows away the attempted sensitive synth overtures of the young pretenders almost half their age. It is twilight magic provided by the sorcerers and their apprenctice. Nearly four decades on, WHITE DOOR have again passed the test with commendation.
Of his role in ’The Great Awakening’, Johan Baeckström said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: ”I really wanted to do my best to maintain the WHITE DOOR sound and spirit in the production on this album”.
Mission accomplished ?
’The Great Awakening’ uses the following synthesizers: Roland Jupiter 6, Roland Juno 106, Akai AX73, Minimoog, Korg Mono/Poly and ARP Odyssey
The plot centres around a womanizer who finds out he is a carrier of a sexually transmitted virus, lethal only to women. But he is also the only hope for a curing vaccine if he can find which one of his ex-girlfriends had the first viral strain!
Released on Lakeshore Records whose digital catalogue includes the prestigious soundtracks for ‘Stranger Things’, ‘The Rise Of The Synths’ and ‘Drive’, while there are numerous ambient and instrumental pieces, ‘Unpleasant’ also includes two notable cover versions.
One of them is ‘Big In Japan’ which was originally recorded by ALPHAVILLE; the new KID MOXIE arrangement sees ‘Stranger Things’ meet ‘The Ipcress File’ within its icy aural aesthetic. Meanwhile, there is also a moody reworking of ‘The Night’, a 1983 Stephen J Lipson produced US hit for THE ANIMALS. Elena Charbila chatted from Los Angeles about her ‘Unpleasant’ experience…
Is ‘Unpleasant’ your first soundtrack venture?
This is the first time a full soundtrack I’ve composed has been released, as opposed to giving tracks to certain shows, films or commercials which I’ve done in the past.
How did it come about?
I was approached by the director who I met in LA and who is also Greek, he had known my stuff and has the same synth sensibilities as me, we gelled on the kind of sonic landscape that we both liked.
When he was ready to shoot the film, he asked me to compose the soundtrack and I also acted in the film as well. It’s a small part but it was a pretty fun thing.
What’s the character that you play and what’s the premise of ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need To Have A Serious Talk’?
The basic story is that we’re in Greece in the future, it’s a Sci-Fi / dark comedy / drama where there’s a disease which is sexually transmitted that kills women but men carry it! The lead character has to go back into his past to figure out who gave it to him so that he can tell them all that they’re dying… it’s pretty grim but there is definitely some humour injected into it, done in a tasteful way I think. Spoiler alert! I’m the first girl who is going to die in the story.
What was the big difference for you working on ‘Unpleasant’ compared with doing pop songs?
The magical thing that happens with not doing actual songs was the freedom that is offered by non-verbal compositions. It was very liberating not to write lyrics because I didn’t have to write about me and my experiences, but it became about creating a world that these other characters could live in. This meant I wasn’t going to “talk” basically, so it was liberating not to be confined to the structure of a pop song, verse/chorus, having to say something and then match it or rhyme it. It was very rewarding in a different way.
So were you doing what Vangelis does, composing to moving pictures, or writing to a brief?
I’ve done some more soundtrack work since and every film is different. But for this particular one, the director wanted a lot of stuff in advance, even before they shot because he wanted to rehearse with the actors using that music. So the actors and all the elements grew together, so during rehearsals, there was stuff to listen to and play on set. A lot of stuff was also made after the cut, so I was very much involved in the whole process.
‘Bonsai’ perhaps doesn’t stray too much away from the music people know you for as it has your vocal on and your airy sound?
Yes, that’s safe to say but it was such a freeform process. ‘Bonsai’ was the last track I wrote for the whole soundtrack after I had seen the rough cut of the film.
There’s a Japanese character and there’s a lot of Japanese dialogue.
And there’s this bonsai that keeps growing throughout the film, it’s almost like a character in itself. So that was based on the energy which that bonsai was emanating to me.
But the solemn filmic ambience of ‘The Distance Grows Again’ and ‘Interlude’ will surprise?
Yes, those tracks are definitely a departure, if the people listened to these next to my pop songs, they will not believe it’s the same person. I wanted to be something totally different because this project felt totally different. The images and the feelings I was drawing from were different from other stuff that I free-willingly started writing from scratch. This time, I had a “guide” who was somebody else, a film saying “come to us, come this way” and I followed it.
What equipment set-up this you find was the best way of working for you?
I would say half of it is hardware, but I do use a lot of software, I travel a lot so I complete a lot of things that way. It’s like a 50/50 process between hardware and software.
I ended up using quite a bit of Arturia Oberheim Sem V, Moog Grandmother, the Moog Minitaur and Moog Mother.
There are some live guitars here and there like on ‘Bonsai’, I wrote the parts but had a friend play it cause I am sh*t at the guitar! I play bass which feels good for me because it’s not so intricate, I’ve always had a little fear of the guitar and that’s not because I’m a synth person, there was never a calling for me to explore it. Whereas the bass felt much more right, it’s like the spine of a song, it holds the beat and the melody together, and that felt very intriguing.
But there’s no bass on your ‘Unpleasant’ soundtrack?
It was natural not to involve anything rhythmic elements in the soundtrack (apart from on ‘Closer Than Ever’) other than the two cover versions. I feel there has to be a good reason to include a rhythmic element, there has to be a really good reason to include drums or bass in movies.
‘Closer Than Ever’ captures an underlying tension, had any particular composers influenced you?
I was channelling more of the dark wave elements on this one, newer bands like SHE PAST AWAY from Turkey who I like, a little bit of JOY DIVISION and SISTERS OF MERCY, that mix of synths and guitars.
Overall, Vangelis is an influence over anything that I do, John Carpenter too and Clint Mansell who happens to also be a good friend. There’s also the German composer Nils Frahm and Cliff Martinez, all of these people, I’m recycling things from all of them.
Was the release of the ‘Unpleasant’ soundtrack on Lakeshore Records always a given?
No, it wasn’t… it was finished when they heard it through Clint Mansell who loved it. He made the connection, Lakeshore loved it and they said “bring it on”.
There are two takes on ‘Love Poem’, one variation being mostly based around solo piano…
At some point I wondered what it would sound like if I replaced the piano sound with a synth. In my head, it made it have a nostalgic, romantic quality that suited a scene in the film that was very melancholy.
The soundtrack is notable for having two songs on it, one being a cover of ALPHAVILLE’s ‘Big In Japan’, so what was your approach?
The director loved ‘Big In Japan’ so it went into the end credits. Because there was a strong Japanese element in the film, it made sense to use that. It didn’t feel right to necessarily use drums because I did want to take a departure from the ALPHAVILLE original. There was already a strong rhythm element with the synth bass and it takes it to a different place by having a woman sing it.
‘Big In Japan’ comes with a very striking video, what was the narrative behind that?
There’s no full story but I don’t think everything needs a full story, it just needs a feeling and an atmosphere to be enveloped in.
I guess the video is a bit of a commentary on children being forced to grow up too fast, especially in Hollywood.
I’ve always perceived the song as being about fame (although I am aware that it’s not what the original was about).
The other song is also a cover of ‘The Night’ by THE ANIMALS which you perform with Phil Diamond?
It plays during the movie and was one of the director’s requests to cover this particular track. I thought it would be nice to have it as a duet so I asked a friend of mine to sing it with me. It really departs from the original which was much more of an early 80s pop rock hit, so I made it much more ethereal to match the tone of the film.
‘Slow Escape’ is a glorious mix of piano and synth pulses…
I was listening to a lot modern classical music so just blending the synthetic arpeggio sounds with natural sounds like the piano creates a very multi-layered experience in my mind. By definition, a synth can be a cold sound which is not human, but then there’s piano which is more warm and human, so by blending them, you get an interesting “sonic sandwich”!
Photo by Ghost Of Oz
How have you found working on ‘Unpleasant’ as an experience and for your musical development?
Contrary to its title, it’s been a very pleasant experience for me because it’s opened up a whole new chapter in my music career! I wasn’t sure I had it or could do it, I wasn’t sure I could take on a whole soundtrack by myself. Now I want more. So I’m working on more soundtracks and I hope to keep doing it.
What’s next for you, will you go back to songs?
I have an EP out in Spring 2020 and I’ve also been working on music for a video game amongst other things.
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‘Big In Japan’ is released by Lakeshore Records as a digital single, available now via the usual platforms