Tag: Arctic Sunrise

ARCTIC SUNRISE Interview

Mönchengladbach is best known for the Borussia football team and F1 driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

But the North Rhine-Westphalia city is also the base of electronic duo ARCTIC SUNRISE. Comprising of Torsten Verlinden on vocals and Steve Baltes on synths, the seasoned pairing cite DEPECHE MODE, ULTRAVOX, HEAVEN 17, VISAGE, BLANCMANGE and OMD among their influences.

Opening for DAF’s Robert Görl, ARCTIC SUNRISE performed at the 2017 Electri_City_Conference in Düsseldorf. The intuitive crowd warmed to their enjoyable brand of dark synthpop showcased on songs like ‘Tell The Truth’ and ‘When Traces End’ which recalled the overtones of fellow German acts such as DE/VISION and CAMOUFLAGE.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK caught up with Steve Baltes from the duo to chat about music, synths and stuff…

With two successful albums bagged, are you pleased with how you’ve been received in the synth circles?

We are actually quite overwhelmed by the extremely warm welcome in the scene, since we pretty much came out of nowhere, with quite different musical careers before ARCTIC SUNRISE. We were very surprised especially by the global reception, worldwide airplays and fantastic reviews – so, yes… we are way more than pleased!

You cite the influences from DEPECHE MODE, HEAVEN 17, ULTRAVOX, VISAGE and BLANCMANGE. All things British then?

Good call! There’s some kind of spiritual connection to cities like Sheffield and Manchester. Synthpop-wise, the UK is where it really started and the most amazing and for us most influential music came from.

It’s the first thing which blows you away which will stay for you the whole life and that just was the sound of ULTRAVOX, VISAGE, NEW ORDER, HEAVEN 17, OMD and others…

Do you mind being compared to DE/VISION?

It’s not a bad thing to be compared to great bands, but to be honest we actually do not know too much of their material and are a bit surprised that we get compared quite often. We do think that they sound a bit more Depeche than us and vocal wise, we also sound quite different. If you do electronic pop music, you just share kind of the same DNA.

Germany mothers many a synth band. How would you say your sound differed from the rest?

We are not following this too closely, but we think that due to the way we work we might have developed our own sound. Part of that is to not use virtual instruments in the studio and the use of old drum machines in a contemporary way as well as making your own sounds. A lot of the bands use the same pool of sounds especially with drums or the more trancey preset lead hook sounds which we are not into too much and this makes a lot of projects sound quite similar. But there’s still much interesting stuff out there as well.

You like your vintage synths and drum machines. Any firm favourites?

If I have to name just one it’s probably the Linn Drum, this one really shaped a decade and gives you that warm feeling in your stomach by just switching it on 😉

I really love the fact that there is just one Kick and on Snare instead of gigabytes of Drum Libraries you carry on your computer.

Synth-wise, it would be the Roland System 100M Modular Synthesizer, which we pretty much use on every song – pure synthpop bliss.

What selection of hardware did you predominantly use on ‘When Traces End’?

It’s quite a long list, to name a few… drum machines like the Linn and Oberheim DMX, Korg DDD-1, Kawai R100, the mighty Simmons SDSV, some weird soviet effects, drum boxes and synthesizers like the fantastic Aelita which is 90% of ‘Tell The Truth’.

More synths we used a lot are the Roland System 100M, Akai AX60, Polymoog Keyboard as well as newer analogue stuff from my favourite companies (and friends) like Dreadbox from Greece or Analogue Solutions from the UK, especially the Nyborg12.

How does the use of vintage synthesizers translate to live gigs?

For gigs we try to keep it quite simple, safe and not too heavy.

Some sounds I play on stage, I recreated on virtual instruments like the U-He Zebra or Alchemy from Camel Phat inside of Ableton Live which also runs the drums and sequencer stuff.

For the analogue vibe, I play a quite rare Korg SB100 Synthesizer which I love a lot and mainly use for bass live. It’s small, built into a handy case and adds a really nice low end to the setup. It’s also built like a tank and even though it’s very old, it’s very reliable. Some of the other machines from the studio would be a bit scary on stage, since they have their own life sometimes.

Any plans to visit the UK Soon?

It would be fantastic to actually play in the UK since we feel very connected because of our musical heroes, but unfortunately nothing planned yet … we’ll see. From time to time, I go to the UK for some shows of bands like BLANCMANGE who are not playing in Germany since they became active again. Recently I also played with my ambient project BALTES & ERBE near Birmingham which was nice.

After two albums, is there a third one looming?

Yes, absolutely – we are working on it and have a couple of songs written, loads of ideas and so far around 3 songs completely finished. Since we were very pleased especially with the last album, we try really hard to take things even further, which we think we did with a couple of the new ones. We don’t have a roadmap for a release yet, but we think maybe around the end of 2018. We just want to make sure it’s as good as possible. So please be patient 😉

You mention the influences derived from the pinnacle years of synth, any contemporary artists that take your fancy?

I love the latest stuff by TRENTEMØLLER which has a nice 80s vibe without just being retro. Also I was blown away by the latest BJÖRK album, very innovative and strange in the best way. Also THE XX, WRANGLER and FADER… not sure if you could call this contemporary though 😉

How did the Electri_City_Conference gig come about and how do you think it went?

I’ve known Carsten Siewert, who was organising the Conference, loosely for about 30 years. Back then I was working in a Supermarket and he worked for a company who delivered CDs to the shop – back then we always had a nice chat mainly about DEPECHE MODE or electronic music.

We then met from time to time and I visited the Conference as well. At one point we were thinking about showing some gear at Electri_City as well and he mentioned ”hey, if you there for the gear anyway, you of course have to play with your band as well” which we of certainly couldn’t resist.

It was a great event and show, the people were very friendly. It was almost family like and the reception was fantastic. So we were more than happy to get the chance to play an event like this. Stage looked great, sound was great, we think we played quite good and people seem to like it … what more to ask for, we were VERY happy to be part of this!

The synth world is raving about the new Minimoog Model D, have you got yours yet?

Actually I finally ran out of space for more keyboards and only might be able to add some smaller stuff like drumboxes or Eurorack modules. Regardless I played the new Model D a few times and I must admit that I really like it a lot. Next to the Moog Sub 37, it’s the first of the newer Moogs I really loved. I used to have a Minimoog Voyager which I never really got along with too, well since it sounded a bit “static” in my opinion (sorry!) … so if I find some extra room or a larger space, or maybe bring some stuff to my repair guy I might finally join the party.

What album would you say you loved the most in 2017?

I think probably ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’ by OMD, what a great return – it was a big surprise and still sounded fresh! Also the latest GARY NUMAN album – fantastic production!


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to Steve Baltes

Both ARCTIC SUNRISE albums ‘A Smarter Enemy’ and ‘When Traces End’ are released by Echozone

https://www.facebook.com/wearearcticsunrise/

https://www.reverbnation.com/arcticsunrise4

http://www.echozone.de


Text and Interview by Monika Izabela Trigwell
31st January 2018

ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE 2017

With the ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE now running for its third successive year, 2017’s event gathered together another stellar line-up of speakers and performers to celebrate Düsseldorf’s standing as the spiritual home of electronic music.

Noted previous participants have included Jean-Michel Jarre, Andy McCluskey, Daniel Miller, Rusty Egan, John Foxx, Mark Reeder, Peter Hook, Stephen Mallinder, Gabi Delgado-Lopez and Michael Rother.

In keeping with the best-selling ‘ELECTRI_CITY – The Düsseldorf School of Electronic Music’ book by Rudi Esch which got the ball rolling, its ethos is to reflect on the cultural impact of the city, while providing a platform for both new and veteran artists.

While the conference still had its usual international feel, there was a distinct focus closer to home with local heroes such as Robert Görl, Zeus B Held, Eberhard Kranemann, Bodo Staiger and Tommi Stumpff all speaking at the event, while others such as Wolfgang Flür and Ralf Dörper graced the event with their presence.

Proceedings began with a showing of ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’, an art documentary on the making of the David Lynch film, serenely soundtracked by TUXEDOMOON and CULT WITH NO NAME; the latter’s Erik Stein chatted with German filmmaker Peter Braatz aka Harry Rag about how he captured the psyche of the maverick director and the behind the scenes tensions on set as a young intern on the iconic movie.

Following on, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK chaired a panel discussion with renowned music producer Zeus B Held and one-time GARY NUMAN band member Chris Payne, whose musical lives changed when they were introduced to synthesizers. While Held became a member of the German prog rockers BIRTH CONTROL, Payne first became acquainted with German music at music college via FAUST, while he was also a fan of English band VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR who were also a favourite of Paul Humphreys from OMD.

Although Held wanted to make a cold electronic album with GINA X PERFORMANCE, he found that the art student’s eroticism countered the coldness which in turn, created something completely new. For Payne, he admitted it took him some time to get over his original perception that synthesizers were cold, but Numan possessed a strong creative vision that used techniques that could not be learnt at music college, like using diminished 5th chords that suited the dystopian aura of work.

After GINA X PERFORMANCE, Held attended a 1980 Numan gig in Düsseldorf which Payne was a part of. The pair would cross paths again via DEAD OR ALIVE.

In a lively and light hearted chat, the pair recalled their experience of working with their larger-than-life frontman Pete Burns who passed away 12 months ago.

In the studio, Held said “I got on fine with Pete because his mother was German, so we had a few common words we could use. He had a clear vision of what he wanted and the emotional thing he was aiming at. It was crazy, we used four microphones because he sings very loud!”

Meanwhile as live musical director, Payne remembered: “We were rehearsing in Liverpool in 1985 for the ‘Youthquake’ tour, none of the backing singers had arrived, it was just myself and the band making sure everything was in place. Pete was actually quite shy to talk to and he didn’t say anything for the first few days apart from hello… then all of a sudden while we were playing, I heard this VOICE! I looked round and it was Pete who was coming over clearly, but he had no microphone! We could hear him over our racket! It was absolutely extraordinary, I’ve never ever heard anything like it! Although he was insecure, he was a great performer!”

What was particularly striking about the DEAD OR ALIVE material produced by Zeus B Held was that it successfully integrated sequencers and programmed drums with live bass guitar, percussion and brass as on the cover of ‘That’s The Way (I Like It)’ – “It was quite risky and we had to squeeze the brass in” recalled Held, “but Pete wanted this stabbing brass in and we were lucky as we had some good guys, THE KICK HORNS, and explored the spaces we could use them and made sure the sequences weren’t too much on the one to get a feeling of rhythm”

The other artist both Payne and Held have a shared history is of course GARY NUMAN. Payne was one of the musicians on ‘The Pleasure Principle’ in 1979 and recalled “We all played together, we had drums, we had a bassist and myself and Gary on keyboards… there were overdubs but the fundamentals were recorded together”.

From it, ‘Cars’ became a UK No1 and was remixed in 1987 by Held who remembered “I had my new secret weapon called the Fairlight, so I synched up my points and put in car noises. It was also the week the Roland D50 came out so with this and the multi-tracks of ‘Cars’, it was a dream job… I beefed up the drums a bit and I had fun”

With both Held and Payne now in their 60s, their reinvigorated enthusiasm for electronic music and playing live in their respective projects DREAM CONTROL and ELECTRONIC CIRCUS are proof that age is no barrier to continuing musical creativity.

Erik Stein returned to the stage to interview poet ANNE CLARK who despite being from London and being almost unknown in her home country, became a cult favourite within Germany’s vibrant alternative music scene. Growing up in South London, her aim was to put music to poetry and punk opened the doors for her. She said: “the punk thing exploded culturally in everything including comedy, theatre, dance and literature… the things that came after are still resonating”

On her love of electronic music, it was the energy that attracted her, particularly Giorgio Moroder and ‘I Feel Love’. Although Clark has almost near anonymity in the UK, key figures such as John Foxx and Mark Reeder have worked on her music. On why her work has been more appreciated in Germany, she said: “I don’t know, maybe in mainland Europe, people are much more open minded”, although Clark still remembers there was disbelief when ‘Sleeper In Metropolis’ and ‘Our Darkness’ became German hits as she “didn’t fit into the pop star mould”.

The first day of talks was concluded with an excellent presentation by Jonathan Barnbrook entitled ‘Designing Bowie’; “It sounded like someone doing an impression of David Bowie” remembered the Grammy award winner on when the much missed legend phoned Barnbrook about becoming his graphic designer, after seeing his work on a Damien Hirst monograph. He found Bowie to be a charming man who made the process of working with him really enjoyable and fun; this in turn got the best out of Barnbrook.

Referring to designers such as Peter Saville, Malcolm Garrett and Vaughan Oliver, Barnbrook said: “when the magic of the graphics works, it makes something better of the album’s music and the artist, and it’s beyond marketing and something almost spiritual”

On the polarising artwork for ‘The Next Day’ which was the “Heroes” album sleeve with a white square over the top, Barnbrook said it questioned why a new image was expected of an artist every time they released an album, especially with an artist like Bowie who was often shackled by his past.

Also as Bowie hadn’t done an album for 10 years, it was a direct reference to ‘Where Are We Now?’, the lead single from the album. So the artwork effectively subverted Bowie’s whole history by defacing it.

Although the process took six months to get to the white square, various studies had been carried out using the ‘Aladdin Sane’ and Pin Ups’ sleeves, as well an old photo of Bowie performing in New York with a particularly isolated look.

Of course, the artwork was not entirely embraced but with good humour, Barnbrook gamely showed screen captures of some of the more critical responses he received. One was “@barnbrook the Bowie cover? come on, it really is bollocks right?”, but maybe this was actually referring to DEPECHE MODE’s recent live reinterpretation of “Heroes”? 😉

But ‘The Next Day’ artwork became a viral marketing sensation with the public, something that had not been planned at all, with cats inevitably figuring later on. While the passing of Bowie in January 2016 inevitably lingered over the follow-up ‘Blackstar’, its graphics and various ‘secrets’ were again an internet talking point.

“It’s a system and not an album cover” reflected Barnbrook, referring to how modern visual representation of albums ranges from iTunes, CD and vinyl to posters and advertising boards.

Remembering a question the young Barnbrook asked William S Burroughs about the future of typography, the Texan replied “it’s between Egyptian hieroglyphics and airport pictograms…” – inadvertently, the postmodernist writer had predicted emoticons!

So this was discussed with Bowie and the idea for using the Unicode U+2605 pictogram came into being, with the eventual black-on-black vinyl edition of ‘Blackstar’ becoming a much talked about art piece on its own. Barnbrook’s fascinating insight into his work proved to be one of the highlights of the conference.

The musical programme was opened by ELECTRONIC CIRCUS, the combo led by Chris Payne featuring his wife Dominique Hemard plus college buddies Nigel Bates and Mike Stewart.

The emotive gallop of ‘The Trapeze’ and the midlife reflection of ‘Roundabout’ provided a captivating start, with Hemard providing her sweetly naïve Gallic voix. Meanwhile, with Trump and Kim treating the 38th Parrallel like a school playground, the frantic ‘Direct Lines’ was a stark reminder that nuclear war is still a real threat

Mid-set, Payne remained on stage for the arrival of KATJA VON KASSEL to showcase three magnificent songs that the pair had co-written over the last few months. ‘Someday’ captured the beautiful melancholy of Billy Mackenzie while ‘Radio Symphony’ exuded pure electro Weimar cabaret.

A new song ‘Walking In West Berlin’ gave an indication of what is to come on Fraulein von Kassel’s new EP, before the chanteuse and the band swapped positions again for some ‘Space Invaders’.

Returning to the stage to join ELECTRONIC CIRCUS for their final number, those present were treated to a wonderful synth laden version of ‘Fade To Grey’, the German No1 for VISAGE which Payne co-wrote with Billy Currie and Midge Ure.

CREEPS gave a suitably mysterious performance as per their name, the trio donning masks with hints of ‘Twin Peaks’ within their carefully thought out presentation. However, the illusion was tempered slightly when they thanked the audience at the end, rather than moodily walking off stage which would have suited their aura better.

A good proportion of the crowd were gathered for ANNE CLARK to savour her stark observations on the darker side of the human condition. Beginning with dramatic ‘Sleeper In Metropolis’, she kept her audience entranced. With electronic backing provided by Herr B, Clark has said her future live performances will be more selective, but she gave a confident performance which more than satisfied her enthusiastic fans, especailly when she encored with her big German hit ‘Our Darkness’.

The second day of the ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE 2017 had a more Germanic flavour and Dr Uwe Schütte, who compiled the academic guide ‘German Pop Music’, addressed the conference on KRAFTWERK who all but put the city of Düsseldorf on the world map, while Tommi Stumpff recollected the development of electronic body music with journalist Ecke Stieg.

Bodo Staiger from RHEINGOLD made a rare appearance to talk about his career with Rudi Esch; the band never performed live despite the popularity of songs such as ‘Fluss’ and ‘Dreiklangdimensionen’ so have almost become lost whenever the history of German pop is discussed.

RHEINGOLD are certainly under rated and the excellent new album ‘Im Laut Der Zeit’ is a fine return after an absence of original material for many years.

With questions from Jochen Oberlack of Bellerophon Records, the enthusiasm of original KRAFTWERK member and multi-instrumentalist Eberhard Kranemann aka Fritz Müller brought a smile to proceedings. Talking about his new project KRAUTWERK with Harald Grosskopf, he enthused about taking their updated art school kosmische to places as far flung as China. Inspired by the lack of new material emerging from his former colleagues at Kling Klang, the talkative Kranemann certainly has the zest of a man half his age.

Following a presentation of visual and audio interpretations of DAF under the title of ‘Der Räuber Ist Der Prinz’ by students from Der Hochschule in Düsseldorf, it was fitting that the focus of the conference moved towards the duo who formed around the scene at the city’s punk club Die Ratinger Hof.

With the release of the ‘Das Ist DAF’ boxed set on Grönland Records, the profile of the EBM trailblazers is in the ascendancy again. While the music of DAF was aggressive by nature, drummer Robert Görl smiled a lot and revealed an endearing sense of humour during his chat with Rudi Esch.

This was especially evident when pretty photos of himself and partner Gabi Delgado-Lopez, that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Smash Hits or Bravo, were projected on the big screen.

With a biography on the duo written by Esch as a companion to the boxed set on the horizon plus more new material too, new generations of electronic music enthusiasts have the opportunity to discover DAF.

ARCTIC SUNRISE began the musical leg of the second day with their enjoyable brand of dark synthpop. Songs like ‘Tell The Truth’ and ‘When Traces End’ recalled CAMOUFLAGE and particularly DE/VISION whose singer Steffen Keth has clearly influenced the vocal style of Torsten Verlinden.

While mostly remaining behind his rack of keyboards, Steve Baltes dusted off a Roland GR77 bass guitar synth to use on ‘Silent Tears’.

In the absence of his DAF partner, Robert Görl bravely performed along to a selection of pre-laid backing tracks comprising of material from his ‘Glücksritter’ live only project. Musically close to DAF but without the live drums, the material was laced with amusingly deviant lyrics while there was a techno edge in keeping with his more recent and largely instrumental output. However no songs from his brilliant solo debut ‘Night Full Of Tension’ were aired, but Görl’s uptempo set was enjoyable with songs like ‘Schieb Das Kind’ and ‘U.S. Acidboys’.

Modular trance duo STRÖME provided the musical surprise of the weekend. With their magnificent tandem Doepfer A100 systems in full view, the pairing of Mario Schönhofer and Tobi Weber kept the audience’s attention, with their combination of pulsing electronics and moderate but energetic synthesized rhythms showing how modern EDM should be done.

And so ended another fabulous weekend with a friendly, intelligent cultured atmosphere that held plenty of insight and passion; the 2018 event promises a new central location and a big name speaker as the ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE continues to develop and build its reputation even further.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to Rudi Esch and Carsten Siewert

Next year’s ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE will take place on 12th-13th October 2018

http://www.electricity-conference.com/de

https://www.facebook.com/ELECTRICITY.Conference/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Chi Ming Lai, Kerstin Key and Anja Deerberg
6th November 2017

ARCTIC SUNRISE When Traces End

Citing influences from DEPECHE MODE, ULTRAVOX, HEAVEN 17, VISAGE, BLANCMANGE and other gems of the electronica era, Germany’s ARCTIC SUNRISE are Torsten Verlinden on vocals and Steve Baltes in charge of production.

Having accomplished one album ‘A Smarter Enemy’ already plus a few EPs, the duo have already established themselves within the followers of synthpop beats, especially within the devoted fans of DE/VISION, due to the obvious sound similarities between the bands.

Indeed, taking the contemporary approach to otherwise classic elements of synth play, Baltes is capable of creating a decent collection of tunes. ‘When Traces End’ follows its predecessor with a bunch of elaborate sound manipulations, and the inclusion of few dance numbers further enriches the outing.

Although the unavoidable DE/VISION comparison cannot be ignored, specifically on ‘Tell The Truth’ or ‘Forever Yours’; the former reminiscent of Keth/Adam’s works on ‘Two’, it has to be said that both songs carry a powerful concoction of atmosphere and clever treatment of sound.

‘Let It Rain’ provides further connection to the D/V boys, with the exception of enhanced vocal techniques, while ‘Changing’ is deliciously synth laden with a perfect bass line. The title track evokes positive emotions thanks to ERASURE-esque background noises, wrapped around irresistible sound treatments and fresh vocals by Verlinden.

‘Silent Tears’ is a mix of vintage SIMPLE MINDS and THE CURE, with a pinch of grunge-laced tonality on the lead vocal. The foundation for the track is built on Roland System 100M arpeggios with bass guitar played by Verlinden himself. The slower paced ‘Mine Forever’ shines with simplicity of the production and ‘Over Me’, sounding like the works of AND ONE, only a bit dirtier, is wholesome and polished.

The closing ‘Your Eyes’ wraps up the release with classic HUMAN LEAGUE sound effects combined with those modern noises made by APOPTYGMA BERZERK on their latest long player. All that, plus poignant lyrics and a complex musicality, add up to the most notable track on the opus.

Even with the very obvious influences from their countrymen DE/VISION, ARCTIC SUNRISE definitely have a lot of potential to shine in their own light. The second album syndrome doesn’t apply here and the duo certainly did their homework.

It is clear that the LP was recorded with the help of many a vintage synthesiser and drum machine, and Baltes isn’t a stranger to capable productions.

‘When Traces End’ is an accomplished body of work, worth a repeat listen.


‘When Traces End’ is released by Echozone in CD and digital formats

https://www.facebook.com/wearearcticsunrise/

http://www.echozone.de


Text by Monika Izabela Trigwell with thanks to Simon Worboys
30th October 2016