Tag: Assemblage 23 (Page 1 of 5)

HELIX Interview

HELIX are the North American synth power couple of solo artist Mari Kattman and ASSEMBLAGE 23’s Tom Shear.

Releasing their debut album ‘Twin’ in 2018, their busy schedules meant that there was no more from HELIX until 2021’s ‘Bad Dream’ EP. But their new EP ‘Unimaginable Place’ is their best body of work yet, dark yet strangely romantic and hopeful collection of songs combining elements of synthpop, dub, dance, trip hop, trap and more.

In an ‘Unimaginable Place’, Mari Kattman and Tom Shear gave ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK a wonderful insight into their creative relationship as HELIX and the workings of the modern music industry…

Both of you have been making music individually and in collaboration with others for a while, so was doing a music project together always a given?

Mari: I don’t think it was always a given per se. It’s certainly how things ended up, but our collaboration had as much to do with mutual respect and admiration of one another as people as well as artists. I think our personalities work amazing in a collaborative environment. As much as we may butt heads creatively once in a while, we are both extremely passionate, dedicated and artists that hold ourselves to a high standard of output. So it works out to being a success.

Tom: It’s funny, but the way it came together was that I had heard Mari’s previous project DAY TWELVE and really liked her voice. I had a track I was working on that I needed a harmony part that was higher than I could sing, so I asked her if she could do it and she nailed it. So I asked her to do some vocals on a remix I was working on. Then I asked her to sing on a SURVEILLANCE song. By that time it was like – wait, why don’t we have our own project together?!

What have been each of your favourite tracks done by the other?

Mari: I listened to Tom’s music occasionally before we met and over the years I would come to hear his stuff in passing with friends who were listening to his music or at clubs I was playing shows at. My favorite track from Tom was always ‘Cocoon’. It’s really atmospheric with that kind of reverb-y feel that is super dreamy. I also really appreciate the vocal being so present, clear, right up front. I always find myself tiring of the EBM stuff in general, it’s just so repetitive. So to hear this track in a sea of cookie cutter EBM, was a breath of fresh air. Tom always takes risks on every album which isn’t something most artists do, he will do something unique, out of the box and that’s really something that sets him apart.

Tom: I really like ‘Swallow’. It’s the whole package. It’s got a great rhythmic feel to it, an insistent hook, a really strong vocal and although the song title on its face might suggest something sexual, it’s actually about the struggles women deal with. I love that subversiveness. Honestly, though, it’s hard to pick. Mari’s really been getting stronger with each track she does. She’s been on fire lately!

What are your shared music likes but also any things that one liked that perhaps the other wasn’t very keen on? 😉

Mari: We are very similar, like eerily so, we even shared our common interest of Missy Elliott right when we first met. We also share a common background of punk rock music being our first real affair with music as teenagers. We both also have a HUGE appreciations for 90s electronic music. It’s really nice when there is much to bond about.

Tom: I think we really bonded over 90s music, particularly the electronic stuff. PORTISHEAD and MASSIVE ATTACK… hip-hop stuff like THE FUGEES and Missy Elliot. We’re both fans of 80s stuff, too, but I think the 90s ushered in a sort of darker sound overall that’s really appealing. I can’t really think of anything Mari likes that I hate.

In terms of your music partnership, how does it differ from your own established vehicles?

Mari: HELIX is a totally different sound than the Mari Kattman project. Tom is a true wonder with the cinematic, massive, string heavy, shimmering tracks. It’s fun to apply my vocals to the arrangements he comes up with. I am a totally different composer, I really focus my weight on edgy basslines and try and keep the song structures as simple as I can handle from a mixing perspective. When it comes to Tom holding the control over most of the music and having his expertise in mixing, we can totally push the limits of the stereo field, and we do.

Tom: For me, it’s a chance to just concentrate on the music and let someone else worry about the vocals and fronting the band. It’s refreshing.

Is there any style or approach that you have experimented with in HELIX that you perhaps wouldn’t normally go with?

Mari: We have totally done a lot of stuff that’s super 80s reminiscent. Not synthwave, but 80s 90s electronic music from a pop angle. It’s fun to be able to do whatever we feel like with this project, because it’s not meant to be a copycat of anything happening today. It’s truly a mish-mash of the music that has been inspirational to us in our lifetimes.

Tom: The thing that is the most fun for me is that I just kind of incorporate influences from different genres and squash them together to see if they gel. There’s elements of trip-hop, house, dance music, trap, hip-hop, rock, dub, synthpop in our stuff and somehow it just works.

How do you look back on the making of the debut HELIX album ‘Twin’ released in 2018?

Mari: ‘Twin’ wasn’t only a pleasure to write but it was a true bonding experience for Tom and I. I like to use the analogy of “message in a bottle” he was in Seattle and I was in Rhode Island. We were both working so hard to create things for each other that were outstanding. I would send him back vocals after he sent me a song and just pray that when he woke up in the morning to download my files that he would love what I did. It was a labor of love, for sure.

Tom: That one was a lot different from the EPs because we were living on opposite coasts at the time. So it was a different way of working and was definitely a lot less collaborative. I feel like that album was also about us figuring out what HELIX was going to be. What our sound would be. I much prefer being able to collaborate with Mari in person. We butt heads from time to time, but I think it always results in stronger songs.

Was following up ‘Twins’ with two EPs ‘Bad Dream’ and now ‘Unimaginable Place’ more a consequence of practically as you are busy with your main creative outlets or was it more to do with today’s release strategies which do not appear to favour long playing formats on streaming services?

Mari: I am a big believer in catering to the limited attention span that most people have these days. However, this one was certainly a mix of both of our lives being very busy with the mundane tasks of daily life and yes, the limited attention span idea.

Tom: A little from column A, a little column B. We do feel like the way people consume music is much different from how it used to be. People have much shorter attention spans. I think it’s rare for someone to listen to an entire album from start to finish. So we thought EPs are more “digestible” and concentrated on making those four songs really good. We also figured it would allow us to release music more frequently, and I still hope that, but the reality has been that jobs, day-to-day life, etc slowed that pace down.

Social media has changed a lot even since ‘Bad Dream’, Twitter has turned into a nightmare while there is the rise of TikTok and the emergence of Threads… is this all getting too much?

Mari: I feel like everyoneis trying to get their 15 seconds of fame these days and to be honest, I couldn’t really be bothered. I really care about what I do, but I grew up in a time where things were much different. Physical looks were less important, followers were a non-issue, and musical quality was everything. I am extremely proud of my music but it’s hard for me to post videos and selfies everyday to promote, it all seems a big frivolous compared to the music product itself.

Tom: It’s hard to avoid the feeling that social media is overall a bad thing for humanity. The idea is great on paper, but the reality is it’s exploited as a really effective means of propaganda and spreading misinformation and it really brings out the worst in people a lot of times. I think I was happier before I knew so many crazy people walked among us.

What hardware, software and effects are you using in HELEX now, has there been anything that has been a particular revelation?

Tom: Hardware-wise I mostly used the ARP Odyssey, Roland SH-01a, Arturia Minifreak, and a borrowed Oberheim OB6. Softsynths used include U-he Repro, Kilohearts Phase Plant, Spectrasonics Omnisphere, Arturia Pigments, Inphonik RX-1200, my DAW’s sampler, and a ton more. I treated Mari’s vocals with a lot of stuff from Soundtoys, Valhalla, and others.

The ‘Unimaginable Place’ title song is a mighty club anthem that you can imagine being played at dark alternative establishment, are either of you much into dancing?

Mari: Tom is going to SAY he’s not into dancing, but believe me, he is. At least around the house to annoy our 8 year old daughter. In all honesty though, Tom and I are way more sedentary than we have any business being. haha.

Tom: I prefer to make other people dance than to dance myself. If you’ve ever seen me perform live you know why! I can’t dance to save my life. Which, as Mari mentioned, I have learned I can use to really bum out the kiddo to hilarious effect.

‘Lie To Herself’ ventures into some ominous tones, what is important to get the atmospheric of these types of downtempo songs right?

Mari: ‘Lie To Herself’ is truly a conversational piece, an outward thought. I think the main thing of importance with this track was to get the vocals situated to the front. The vocals truly took center stage when this one came together.

Tom: Atmosphere and texture are two important components of HELIX tracks. The song always comes first, but making it sound interesting and as if it inhabits a physical space of some sort really goes a long way towards creating a mood.

Was ‘Grey’ inspired by anything in particular, lyrically and musically?

Mari: I like to leave these lyrics up to fit whatever situation you are in and leave them there. I am trying to write about things that affect me these days. Feeling the weight of aging is something that a lot of us are dealing with right now. Where is the person I used to be? Am I still acceptable now that I’m not looking or feeling as youthful as I was? Is there still someone who will accept me when I’m not at my best?

Tom: Musically, I had been listening to a lot of old TANGERINE DREAM and was messing around with that sort of “Berlin School” type of sequenced synth line. I set it up to modulate a bunch of different parameters on the synth and set the modulation out of sync with one another so the sound is constantly shifting and evolving against itself. The rest of the song got built around that.

‘Hurt Like Me’ has this powerful but distressing backdrop, do either of you find catharsis in music or can these emotions take you back to difficult paces that are a challenge to deal with?

Mari: I have definitely used this project and my own to sort out a lot of the feelings I was having internally. The coolest part about being a musician is that you are sort of an alchemist of sorts. You can take something really crappy and turn it into something people can dance to! How many people can do that? Musicians also have the last word, always.

Tom: I find the process of making music really cathartic, regardless of the mood or subject matter. Just the process itself is such a satisfying way of working through difficult times or feelings. I guess there’s always the risk of “wallowing in it” a bit, but for me, just going through the process has always been really helpful for getting past tough times.

What do you get from doing HELIX that you perhaps might not doing music with your main vehicle?

Mari: Collaboration is a whole other animal than when you are writing alone. You must be open, willing to bend, willing to settle and you also get the pleasure of the other person’s point of view. You get to combine both of your skills that you have honed over the years. Tom brings so much to the table, he has had decades of experience composing, mixing and producing. It’s so beautiful to hear how HE interprets my voice, instead of just how I do it when I’m alone. It’s a privilege for me to work with him.

Tom: For me, I find it really refreshing to do something different from ASSEMBLAGE 23. I enjoy that too, of course, but to be able to step into a different musical world with different rules and processes helps keep things fresh and also keeps me learning new stuff all the time. I think it’s important that you keep trying to learn new stuff no matter how long you’ve been making music. Stepping outside your usual comfort zone is a really good way to do that. Plus, getting to work with the love of my life ain’t bad either.

What is next for you both, either together or alone or with others?

Mari: I am now working on my first full length solo album and I will finish it this year. I also have some collaborations coming out this year with the FiXT record label, another few tracks with Julian Beeston (FEATURED, CUBANATE, NITZER EBB). I also have another collab with Markus Renard (WOLFSHEIM). You will also be able to catch me on the next MESH album, a much anticipated release that I hope comes out this year as well. So stay tuned!

Tom: We’ve got a bunch of live shows coming up this year for ASSEMBLAGE 23, HELIX and Mari’s solo stuff. Other than that, I’m working on new A23 material, although I have no idea when it will eventually come out. It’s in the works, though!

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Mari Kattman and Tom Shear

‘Unimaginable Place’ is available as a digital EP from https://helix.bandcamp.com/







Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
2 March 2024

HELIX Unimaginable Place EP

North America’s alternative music power couple Tom Shear and Mari Kattman are back as HELIX.

The former is the mastermind behind ASSEMBLAGE 23 while the latter has established career as a solo artist as well as collaborations with the likes of PSY’AVIAH, 3FORCE and BLACKCARBURING. Originally coming together for Shear’s 2014 EBM side project SURVEILLANCE, their debut HELIX long player ‘Twin’ came in 2018 but busy with their main musical outlets, an EP follow-up ‘Bad Dream’ didn’t appear until 2021.

Blessed with one of the most captivating voices in electronic music, Mari Kattman is on top form with the new HELIX EP ‘Unimaginable Place. Meanwhile Tom Shear creates soundscapes sympathetic to his leading lady while exploring textures and beats in a variety of dark styles without resorting to the calculated miserabilism of some acts.

The opening ‘Unimaginable Place’ title track is an infectious slice of electronic pop that is perfect for goth club dancefloors with its sparkling hooks and groovy rhythmics. The shadowy drama of ‘Lie To Herself’ though allows space for ominous piano in that present day Gary Numan vein while manoeuvring a staggered lattice of traps.

But sparkling arpeggios act as the draw into ‘Grey’ with the chime of eerie bells alongside bass frequency bubbles for a chilling Eurocentric atmosphere… it is kind of pretty although something far more sinister lies behind the façade that might have more than a few shades… to close, ‘Hurt Like Me’ provides percussively the hardest song on the EP as Mari delivers an impassioned vocal to suit the powerful but distressing backdrop.

There’s a strange appealing romance and hope about this ‘Unimaginable Place’ which presents the best and most immediate body of work that Tom Shear and Mari Kattman have made together as HELIX. Hopefully, there will be more…

‘Unimaginable Place’ is available as a digital EP from https://helix.bandcamp.com/




Text by Chi Ming Lai
1 February 2024


As the Yule Tide season gets into full swing, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK presents a collection of modern seasonal tunes with a more artful slant…

With a song to play on each of the 25 days in December until Christmas, some are covers with a modern approach while others gather their thoughts and emotions into original compositions. But each has their own take on the holiday period, whether happy or sad or both.

Synths at Christmas are not entirely new; ‘Last Christmas’ by WHAM! was primarily made with a Roland Juno 60 while BAND AID’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas? was dominated by PPG Wave 2.2 with a percussive sample taken from ‘Memories Fade’ by TEARS FOR FEARS also being key to the intro.

However the traditional nature of Christmas often dictates traditional instrumentation in its songs, which means that Christmas synth songs are comparatively uncommon and a more recent phenomenon.

Whatever your plans whether with the family or in the studio, please remember, a synth is for life and not just for Christmas… may it bring you lots of cheer! The 25 songs are presented in yearly then alphabetical order within…

BE MUSIC Rocking Carol (1982)

A Be Music production given away as limited edition flexi-disc of 4400 given away at The Haçienda on Christmas Eve 1982, with the greeting “Merry Xmas From The Haçienda And Factory Records”, this was NEW ORDER covering the traditional Czech seasonal tune also known as ‘Jesus Sweetly Sleep’ and ‘We Will Rock You’ as a robotic electronic tone poem.

Available on the compilation album ‘Ghosts of Christmas Past (Remake)’ (V/A) via Les Disques du Crépuscule


EURYTHMICS Winter Wonderland (1987)

Recorded as part of an album on behalf of Special Olympics that featured U2, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, Bryan Adams and Alison Moyet among others, EURYTHMICS’ glistening electronic take on romance during the winter season was cited by ASCAP as now the most played version of the song which was made famous by Darlene Love.

Available on the compilation album ‘A Very Special Christmas’ (V/A) via Universal Music


S.P.O.C.K White Christmas (1992)

Originally recorded by S.P.O.C.K for Energy Rekords’ ‘Virtual X-Mas 92’ EP and then a bonus song on their 1995 compilation ‘A Piece Of The Action’, this cover of the Irving Berlin standard made famous by Bing Crosby was suitably melodramatic as the holiday season was celebrated in The Neutral Zone while under threat of an alien attack.

Available on the compilation album ‘Virtual 2020 X-Mas’ (V/A) via Energy Rekords


SAINT ETIENNE Featuring TIM BURGESS I Was Born On Christmas Day (1993)

Delightfully catchy with a house-laden bounce, ‘I Was Born on Christmas Day’ was written in acknowledgement of band member Bob Stanley’s birthday for an EP ‘Xmas 93’. Featuring a duet between Sarah Cracknell and special guest vocals by Tim Burgess from THE CHARLATANS, the joyful narrative saw the couple elope, confusing some fans and press.

Available on the SAINT ETIENNE album ’A Glimpse Of Stocking’ via PIAS


DEAD OR ALIVE Blue Christmas (2000)

Originally recorded as a sparse ballad for the B-side of 1990 single ‘Your Sweetness Is Your Weakness’, Pete Burns’ foray into the music for holiday season was given a dancier makeover in 2000 and in hindsight, now sounds like a stylistic blue print for PET SHOP BOYS ‘It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas’. The two would later work together on the excellent ‘Jack & Jill Party’ in 2004.

Available on the DEAD OR ALIVE album ‘Fragile’ via Demon Music Group


SALLY SHAPIRO Anorak Christmas (2006)

With their naïve wispiness, understated cinematics and disco beats, if there act who are ably suited to Christmas pop music, it is Swedish duo SALLY SHAPIRO. A cover of a song by fellow Swede Nixon, the lines “The first time that I saw your face on a cold December night, it was a Tuesday on a gig with a band that we both liked” captured an innocent romance and the aural warmth of the named apparel.

Available on the SALLY SHAPIRO album ‘Disco Romance’ via Paper Bag Records


PET SHOP BOYS It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas (2009)

Pet_Shop_Boys_-_ChristmasOriginally recorded in 1997 for an exclusive fan club single but remixed in 2009, ‘It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas’ was a suitably cynical offering. Famous for keeping THE POGUES ‘Farytale Of New York’ off the 1987 UK Christmas No1 spot with their cover of ‘Always On My Mind’, while this didn’t hit those commercial heights, it provided a very PET SHOP BOYS take on the madness of the festive season.

Available on the PET SHOP BOYS EP ‘Christmas’ via EMI Records


CHEW LIPS When You Wake Up (2010)

CHEW LIPS might have disbanded but in 2010, on the back of their only album ‘Unicorn’ and its subsequent tour, they were on a productive high. ‘When You Wake Up’ was a bonus tune recorded and given away as a Christmas gift to fans at the end of that very successful year. Delivered with lead singer Tigs’ usual feisty panache, listening back only highlights how much CHEW LIPS are missed.

Originally released as a free download


HURTS All I Want For Christmas Is New Year’s Day (2010)

Hurts-christmasWith their TAKE THAT dressed as ULTRAVOX template, Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson turned their attentions to memories of “the worst Christmas of our lives”. In true Bros Go To Bavaria style, despite the mournful start, ‘All I Want For Christmas Is New Year’s Day’ transformed itself into a hopeful anthem with a big chorus and lashings of tubular bells.

Available on the HURTS album  ‘Happiness’ via Major Label / RCA


LOLA DUTRONIC Another Christmas Without Snow (2010)

Lola Dutronic-Christmas without snowIn the UK, a wet Christmas is always more likely,  but LOLA DUTRONIC’s ‘Another Christmas Without Snow’ resonated with its melancholic yet pretty demeanour. The project of Canadian producer Richard Citroen and using a flexible roster of wispy female vocalists, the tones of Lola Dee came over all dreamy like SAINT ETIENNE and conveyed the season’s mixed emotions.

Available on LOLA DUTRONIC single ‘(Another) Christmas Without Snow’ via Lola Dutronic


ERASURE Gaudete (2013)

ERASURE GaudeteAndy Bell and Vince Clarke’s version of this traditional Ecclesiastical Latin carol continued an ERASURE tradition that had begun with ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ for the CD edition of the ‘Crackers International’ EP in 1988. With a precise electronic backbeat, ‘Gaudete’ was taken from its 16th Century origins and thrown into the new millennium with a cheeky ‘Ice Machine’ reference for good measure.

Available on the ERASURE album ‘Snow Globe’ via Mute Artists


HYPERBUBBLE A Synthesizer for Christmas (2013)

HYPERBUBBLE A Synthesizer for ChristmasWhether it was a Casio, Yamaha or Roland, everyone wanted ‘A Synthesizer For Christmas’. Texan couple HYPERBUBBLE took that enduring memory and turned it into a delightful synthpop ditty that could resonate with electronic geeks from 8 to 80 the world over. Short but sweet, it was another joyous “cartoon automaton symphony” from Jess and Jeff.

Available on the HYPERBUBBLE single ‘A Synthesizer For Christmas’ via Socket Sounds


VILE ELECTRODES The Ghosts Of Christmas (2013)

VILE ELECTRODES The Ghosts Of ChristmasIf ‘Twin Peaks’ met ‘Leader Of The Pack’ under the mistletoe, it would sound like this. Possibly the best Christmas tune of the last 10 or so years, VILE ELECTRODES’ harrowing tale of a departed loved one is strangely enticing, with the beautifully haunting echoes of Julee Cruise’s ‘The Nightingale’ lingering over the frozen lake.

Available on the ILE ELECTRODES EP ‘The Ghosts Of Christmas’ via Vile Electrodes


HANNAH PEEL Find Peace (2014)

HANNAH PEEL Find Peace‘Find Peace’ was a Christmas song longing for the cold but merry winters of yesteryear under the modern day spectre of global warming, armed conflict and political tension. The off-kilter analogue buzzing and almost random sequences made for a striking listen as a frantic percussive death rattle and an emotive synth drone take hold to provide an appropriate backdrop for the eerie but beautiful voice of Hannah Peel.

Available on the HANNAH PEEL single ‘Find Peace’ via Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club


MARSHEAUX We Met Bernard Sumner At A Christmas Party Last Night (2015)

GHOSTS-OF-CHRISTMAS-PAST-twi158cd‘We Met Bernard Sumner At A Christmas Party Last Night’ was a wonderfully whispery synthpop number that was classic MARSHEAUX. The lyrics were constructed from the song and album titles of NEW ORDER to provide an imaginary narrative on Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou surreally bumping into the Manchester combo’s lead singer at a Yule Tide function.

Available on the album ‘Ghost Of Christmas Past (Remake)’ (V/A) via Les Disques du Crépuscule


SPARKS Christmas Without A Prayer (2015)

SPARKS Christmas Without A PrayerOn 1974’s ‘Kimono My House’ album, the Mael brothers recorded a song called ‘Thank God It’s Not Christmas’, a typically perverse SPARKS romp that had nothing to do as such with the holiday season. After their FFS collaboration, Russell and Ron ended the year with ‘Christmas Without A Prayer’, a fitting offering which also amusingly outlined that albums by WINGS were actually unwanted gifts.

Available on the SPARKS single ‘Christmas Without A Prayer’ via Lil’ Beethoven Records


VICE VERSA Little Drum Machine Boy (2015)

“A twisted cover of a cover of a cover”, this synth laden reinterpretation of the tune based on a traditional Czech carol made famous by a bizarre but highly enjoyable version by David Bowie and Bing Crosby, saw former ABC stalwarts Mark White and Stephen Singleton reconvene as  VICE VERSA to wax lyrical about 303s, 808s, 909s and a “shiny new Roland toy”. It was a fabulous combination of sleigh bells, squelching arpeggios and of course, drum machines…

Available as a free download via Soundclod


ASSEMBLAGE 23 December (2016)

When you’ve had enough of Christmas shopping and the in-laws, there’s probably nothing better to let off steam than a bit of ASSEMBLAGE 23. While not exactly seasonal, Tom Shear’s Futurepop discoscape captured many of the mixed emotions endemic with the final month of the year, all “Silent and alone, trying to make sense”.

Available on the ASSEMBLAGE 23 album ‘Endure’ via Metropolis


SIN COS TAN Dead By X-Mas (2016)

A cover of Finnish metal glamsters HANOI ROCKS, this take on ‘Dead By X-Mas’ from the nocturnal synth duo SIN COS TAN aka Juho Paalosmaa and Jori Hulkkonen came over a bit like Billy Idol gone electro, but with an elegiac twist. Bizarrely in 2006, the former William Broad issued his own collection of seasonal themed tunes entitled ‘Happy Holidays’ … it’s a nice day for a ‘White Christmas!

Available as a free download via Soundcloud


FERAL FIVE I Want U (2017)

With female empowerment lyrics like “I don’t need any money or a new handbag, I just need a kind of thing I’ve never had, who says you have to have some shabby gifts”, FERAL FIVE attacked tacky commercialism in a sonic cacophony of crunchy bass guitar, big beats, sparkling electronics and chilling string machines for an alternative take on festivities.

Available on the FERAL FIVE single ‘I Want U’ via Primitive Light Recordings


CIRCUIT3 I Believe In Father Christmas (2018)

Made famous by Greg Lake, CIRCUIT3 used analogue synths such as a Sequential Pro-One, Roland JX10, Korg Wavestation and Moog Sub37 to add an eerie chill to the already cynical song protesting at the commercialisation of Christmas. The lyricist was Peter Sinfield who later wrote the words to BUCKS FIZZ’s No1 ‘The Land Of Make Believe’ which warned against the evils of Thatcherism.

Available on the CIRCUIT 3 single ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’ via Diode Records


WAVESHAPER Walking In The Air (2020)

Written by Howard Blake for the 1982 animated film ‘The Snowman’ which later added a cameo intro by David Bowie, ‘Walking In The Air’ became a hit for Aled Jones although the original version was actually sung by choir boy Peter Auty. Tom Andersson is the Swedish synthesist and retro gamer known as WAVESHAPER and his symphonic instrumental synthwave cover was both respectful and beautiful.

Available as a free download via Soundcloud


RODNEY CROMWELL Cold Christmas (2022)

If ACTORS did Christmas songs, then it would have probably sounded like this gothic motorik number from the ever cheerful Rodney Cromwell. Written for by Cherryade Records’ ‘A Very Cherry Christmas’ compilation, its chilling ARP synth strings and driving bass guitar was in total antithesis to Cliff Richard with bleak observational lyrics “like ‘Eleanor Rigby’ turbo-charged for 2022”.

Available on the RODNEY CROMWELL single ‘Cold Christmas’ via Happy Robots Records


SOFTWAVE featuring Barney Ashton-Bullock Will It Ever Be Christmas Again? (2022)

Presented as “Probably the first synthpop Christmas song in Danish music history”, SOFTWAVE provided a hopeful message to hold back on overindulgence. ‘Andy Bell Is Torsten’ writer Barney Ashton-Bullock made a cameo as Santa Claus to remind everyone that “Self-service, doesn’t mean self, self, self…” and that joy comes from being able to give to others.

Available on the SOFTWAVE single ‘Will It Ever Be Christmas Again?’ via Softwave


GEMMA CULLINGFORD In The Bleak Midwinter (2023)

Something of a tradition having covered ‘Walking In The Air’, ‘Lonely This Christmas’ and ‘Deck The Halls’ in previous years, Gemma Cullingford took Christina Rossetti’s poem and Gustav Holst’s musical arrangement of ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ into darker and colder electro dance territory, reflecting today’s divided world in a cost of living crisis.

Available on the GEMMA CULLINGFORD single ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ via Elmo Records


A further varied collection of seasonal synth based tunes compiled by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK can be listened to at: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7vIIjZkGd3cVOSarUPvX85

Text by Chi Ming Lai
2 December 2023

HELIX Bad Dream

Shakespeare posed the question “If music be the food of love…” and over the course of popular music numerous couples have released work. From Ike & Tina Turner to Chris & Cosey through EURYTHMICS and more recently our own VILE ELECTRODES and WITCH OF THE VALE, all have shown what can be achieved if partners do more than spend their evenings watching ‘Love Island’ (let’s not mention John and Yoko though…)

Another romantic pairing who have released music are Tom and Mari Shear under the name of HELIX. Their 2018 debut ‘Twin’ was one of the highlights of the year and they have now returned with a new EP, ‘Bad Dream’.

Tom of course is well known from his band ASSEMBLAGE 23 who have been leading lights on the EBM / Industrial scene for some 20 plus years and he brings the muscular instrumentation and production from that project to HELIX but with a number of twists that will raise a few eyebrows.

All of this underpins the new Mrs Shear’s frankly spectacular voice which has been heard across numerous collaborations from her new husband’s SURVEILLANCE release to guest vocals with, to name a few, COMADUSTER and IVARDENSPHERE. More on those vocal skills in a moment…

Opening with the energetic ‘Run’, which picks up from where the ‘Twin’ album left off, this acts as an excellent appetiser for what’s to come. A fine danceable pop infused number, this will no doubt go down a storm not only in a club setting but also in the set at the, currently, infrequent HELIX live outings. Mari easily harmonises with herself in the layered vocals on the chorus to wonderful effect.

One of the great things about any side project is it gives the opportunity to try new things musically and this is evidently the approach taken on the next few tracks by Tom himself. ‘Slip’ opens with a laid-back percussion track underpinning effected samples leading into verse which sensibly allows the vocal to carry the thrust of the track.

As previously stated, I think Mari has one of the best female voices on the scene and this is proven on this track which allows her to be heard without swamping with unnecessary processing.

‘Kill The Unknown’ further allows Mr Shear the scope to do new things musically. This moves into almost ‘indie’ territory with live drums and, gasp, guitars courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Elias Black. These add an expected texture and bite to the track and shifts HELIX in another direction entirely.

Closer ‘Bad Dream’ is a brooding slice of electronica with an almost metal chorus which drops in and out of the arrangement that hinges around a frantic drum track. The accompanying remix included on the EP by MESH frontman Mark Hockings is actually my preferred version, again the ‘dancier’ mix will go down a storm in a club and the mix further highlights Mari’s great vocal take.

Closing the tracklist out is a mix of ‘Run’ by ex-IRIS member Andrew Sega under his HALLOWED HEARTS moniker. This is an almost goth interpretation with chiming guitars and a straightforward 4/4 drum track. Again, this version underlines how well this song will go down in a club set.

In the second part of Shakespeare quote at the top of this article he asks that we “play on”. On the strength of both the earlier album and this all too short EP, we can but hope that Mr and Mrs Shear do just that, there is much here to feed even the hungriest of souls.

‘Bad Dream’ is available as a digital EP from https://helix.bandcamp.com/album/bad-dream



Text by Ian Ferguson
5th November 2021


Consistency is a dangerous word to use when referring to music. Sadly for many in the current ‘scene’, the definition pertaining to porridge is the most appropriate, though I guess many of these bands ability to deliver stodgy fare over and over could also bring the other meaning into play.

One act that can’t be accused of dishing out plates of grey sludge is ASSEMBLAGE 23. Ostensibly, in the studio at least, a vehicle for singer and instrumentalist Tom Shear, A23 have delivered some of the best electronic music released over the last 20 plus years and the latest album ‘Mourn’ continues that trend.

Full disclosure… I am not only a fan of ASSEMBLAGE 23 but have also toured on a number of occasions with the band and count Tom and his band mates Paul Seegers and Michael Jenney as close friends, despite the number of restraining orders all parties have issued against one another. What this does mean is, I won’t sugar coat any views I have of them, they wouldn’t want that. It is however challenging not to sound ‘gushy’ when presented with material this strong.

The brooding intro to album opener ‘Epiphany’ sets the tone immediately. From the outset it’s clear this is an A23 release. One thing I am glad to report is the production on the vocals is carried over from the last album ‘Endure’, so is upfront and free from any unnecessary effects. This means the listener can quickly catch the lyrical punch many of the tracks carry. Like many of the cuts on the album, ‘Epiphany’ has a double meaning both as a commentary on, when written, current global events and on a more personal level.

This punch continues through to the next song ‘Factory’ which is a withering critique of how governments are manufacturing whole generations of broken ‘men’ both at home and also those returning from conflicts abroad. It asks why those self-same leaders are surprised by the actions of these damaged souls. If you follow Shear on social media, you will know he isn’t shy when it comes to his politics and this is shown here and across the album.

‘Bloom’ is a dark piece of EBM that has its downbeat verses counterpointed by a hopeful, uplifting chorus. Following this is the most ‘traditional’ EBM/Industrial song on the album, ‘Anxiety’. This an driving insistent bass and drums and easily chantable chorus this will no doubt become a live favourite as and when live shows can begin again.

Anyone familiar with the history of the ASSEMBLAGE 23 project will know the catalyst for Tom starting the band was hearing a DJ spin various electronic tracks at a DEPECHE MODE show back in the later part of the 80s. He has never hidden his love of DM and this is shown on ‘Confession’. DM fans will find much here to love with its Wilder-esque arrangement and instrumentation but still retaining a very A23 sound. It is not hard however to imagine Gahan singing this lyric. Is it too early to start the campaign to get Shear to produce the next Depeche album…?

Next up is simply a blinding good pop song in ‘Dissonance’. Dripping with melody and driven by a thumping bass line, this is destined to become a club favourite. As previously stated, Shear has no issue in pinning his political colours to the mast and ‘Welcome, Apocalypse’ doesn’t so much pin but nail gun them. A cataloguing of current events brought about by “narcissistic imbeciles” (I wonder who this could be…?), this is not just the centre piece of the album but the track that will I am sure become the biggest favourite amongst fans.

Good songwriting comes from the experiences of the artist and the final three tracks have a more more personal ring to them. ‘Could’ve’ takes on people who relish the problems of others to the detriment of friendship and without getting both sides of the story. We have all been there I am sure.

‘Tragedy’ wraps those questions that arise from the end of a relationship in yet another great pop song. Again there is melody aplenty: others should take note, this is how to write an engaging electronic song without it sounding like you are moaning that you aren’t getting beans for tea. Closer ‘This House Is Empty’ builds from a sparse intro to end on a strangely upbeat feel despite the main lyrical hook extorting the burning down of said domicile.

As part of the excellent special edition, there is a disc of remixes from the likes of ALPHA QUADRANT, :SITD and KLACK alongside 2 further tracks ‘Crescendo’ and ‘Black Dog’. Don’t mistake these as mere throwaways as they could easily sit alongside the ‘main’ 10 tracks. ‘Black Dog’ especially is a thumping piece of modern danceable electronica.

So what of the 2020 version of ASSEMBLAGE 23? It’s not unusual for an act that has been around as long as Tom Shear to start taking it easy but on the evidence of this and the work he has done in offshoot SURVEILLANCE and the excellent HELIX with partner Mari Kattman, this is clearly not the case.

This is yet another progression from his previous release. It’s appropriate that the album will be released on the September 11th, a day which America now looks back on with understandable sadness and loss. There is sadness and loss aplenty on ‘Mourn’ but also hope for the future.

We can all take comfort that hope is available to us all, no matter what the journey of late has been.

‘Mourn’ is released by Metropolis Records on 11th September 2020 in CD, deluxe 2CD, double vinyl LP and download variants, available at https://assemblage23.bigcartel.com/ or direct from https://assemblage23.bandcamp.com/




Text by Ian Ferguson
12th August 2020

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