Tag: Associates (Page 1 of 4)

MUSIC FOR NEW ROMANTICS

The phenomenon of the New Romantics can be said to have begun in Autumn 1978 with the foundation of a “Bowie Night” by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan at Billy’s nightclub in London’s Soho.

The youth movement that emerged aimed to find something new and colourful to escape the oncoming drabness in The Winter Of Discontent. Like Edwardian dandies meeting the Weimar Cabaret with extras from ‘Barbarella’ in between, they did a strange swaying arms dance, so as to not mess up their theatrical bouffanted hair. But after a disagreement with the owners of Billy’s, the pair moved their venture to The Blitz Club in Holborn.

Despite names such as Futurists, The Blitz Kids and The Movement With No Name, it was the term “New Romantics” coined by producer Richard James Burgess that became the widely used press description for this flamboyant group of outsiders. It was to eventually stick on anything from synthpop, art rock and peacock punk to Latin grooves, jazz funk and cod reggae provided the artist wore make-up, zoot suits, frilly blouses, smocks, headbands or kilts. Parallel club scenes developed at The Rum Runner in Birmingham, Crocs in Rayleigh near Southend and The Warehouse in Leeds from which DURAN DURAN, DEPECHE MODE and SOFT CELL respectively emerged.

To celebrate this era in popular culture, Cherry Red Records release an eclectic boxed set entitled ‘Music For New Romantics’. But while it contains some fantastic music, the tracklisting is a confused affair, having been originally conceived around comings and goings of The Blitz Club. It was here that Steve Strange acted as doorman and fashion policeman, while Rusty Egan was its resident DJ providing the soundtrack for a scene which became the catalyst for several bands including SPANDAU BALLET, CULTURE CLUB and VISAGE as well as assorted fashion designers, visual artists and writers.

Everything was centred around fashion-obsessed and some would say self-obsessed individuals; while the story about turning away Mick Jagger is well documented, one of the ironies of Steve Strange’s gatekeeping antics was that he refused entry to Chris Payne, then a member of Gary Numan’s band in 1979; Strange was to have his biggest hit with a song that Payne co-wrote entitled ‘Fade To Grey’ while another refused entry that evening was Ced Sharpley who played the drums on it!

Contrary to legend, the playlists of the various New Romantic establishments did not comprise exclusively of electronic music as those types of tracks were comparatively scarce at the time. So international synthworks from the likes of KRAFTWERK, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, SPARKS, SPACE and TELEX sat alongside soundtracks, punk, disco and relatable glam rock tunes by David Bowie, Brian Eno and Bryan Ferry.

Rusty Egan declined to be involved in the collection after initial discussions led to conceptual differences. In the absence of The Blitz Club’s resident DJ who is now planning his own curated collection, one of the regulars Chris Sullivan, who himself ran a similar but less electronically focussed night at Le Kilt in Soho, steps in to provide commentary while the set was put together by the team behind Cherry Red’s ‘Musik Music Musique’ synthpop series and ‘Electrical Language’ boxed set.

‘Music For New Romantics’ comes with three loosely themed discs with CD1 focussing on glam, art rock and early electronic disco while CD2 covers Synth Britannia and new wave. CD3 though is a hotch-potch of soul, funk and electro with SISTER SLEDGE and LIPPS INC being rather incongruous inclusions; with their hit songs being readily available on any ‘Night Fever’ type compilation, there were many more suitable alternatives that could have been considered.

But it is CD2 that most will revel in and the tracklist has no fault as a listening experience. Standards such as the eponymous song by VISAGE, SIMPLE MINDS ‘Changeling’, OMD’s ‘Electricity’, ‘Moskow Diskow’ from TELEX, THE NORMAL’s ‘Warm Leatherette’, JAPAN’s Giorgio Moroder produced ‘Life In Tokyo’, ‘Bostich’ by YELLO, ‘Being Boiled’ from THE HUMAN LEAGUE and THROBBING GRISTLE’s ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ are present and correct. But it was SPANDAU BALLET’s ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’ and LANDSCAPE’s ‘Einstein A-Go-Go’ that were to confirm that the New Romantics were able to hit the charts in their own right after Steve Strange’s cameo in Bowie’s ‘Ashes To Ashes’ video.

CD1 features scene heroes such as Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Mick Ronson, but heroines come in the avant cabaret glamour of Nina Hagen with ‘TV-Glotzer’ and Grace Jones’ reinterpretation of Édith Piaf’s ‘La Vie En Rose’. The most welcome track on this disc though is RAH BAND’s ‘The Crunch’ which all but invented the sexy electro-Schaffel of GOLDFRAPP, while one obscure jewel is ‘The Ultimate Warlord’ by THE WARLORD. And when today’s synthwave fanboys go on and on ad nauseam about how influential the ‘Drive’ soundtrack is, then just throw ‘Chase’ by Giorgio Moroder from ‘Midnight Express’ at them!

Despite being a mess of styles, the highlights of CD3 are Marianne Faithfull’s terrorism commentary ‘Broken English’ and Gina X with the Quentin Crisp tribute ‘No GDM’ which both fit into the avant cabaret category. Although ‘M Factor’, the B-side of M’s ‘Pop Muzik’ was regularly played at The Blitz Club, ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ by NEW ORDER sticks out like a sore thumb… Peter Hook would likely scoff at being considered a New Romantic!

The move towards funk in the New Pop of late 1981 is reflected in ABC with ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ (full marks for using the CORRECT Steve Brown produced single version), HEAVEN 17’s ‘We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang’ (in a rare radio version with the lyric “fascist god” changed to “cowboy god”) and TOM TOM CLUB’s ‘Genius Of Love’. But those who consider New Romantics to be discerning studious types into synth and new wave will find the likes of Coati Mundi and Don Armando extremely alienating; after all, it was THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s Phil Oakey who said to Smash Hits around this time “I hate all trends like all this Ze Stuff”! 

When the New Romantic magazine ‘New Sounds, New Styles’ launched as a monthly publication in Summer 1981 after a promising launch edition, its content was confused with one angry punter later exclaiming via letter: You’re meant to be a Futurist mag so leave all this Latin and jazz funk sh*t out of it!” – with the embarrassing novelty party act MODERN ROMANCE also being lumped in with the New Romantics, it was obvious the rot had now set in. Tellingly within a year, ‘New Sounds, New Styles’ folded…

From 1982, ‘Club Country’ by ASSOCIATES which notably highlighted the observations of  Billy MacKenzie on what he saw as the posey vapid nature of The Blitz Club is a fitting inclusion. Meanwhile as the ‘Music For New Romantics’ essay writer, Chris Sullivan gets to include his own style over substance combo BLUE RONDO À LA TURK with ‘Klactoveesedstein’, a single that came in with a blank at No50 that same year!

Of course, Sullivan went on to establish Le Beat Route and The Wag Club because he loved salsa and was less than enthused about synthpop, highlighting that despite the New Romantics seeming to be a united voice of expression, like any movement, it had its factions. Not featuring in the set, it was another scene regular Marilyn who said on the recent ‘Blitzed’ Sky Arts documentary that “I hated the music, all that electronic crap” while Steve Strange imposed a ban on Gary Numan being played at The Blitz Club, thus prompting Mr Webb’s lines “These New Romantics are oh so boring” in the 1981’s ‘Moral’ and “I like romantics but I don’t like Steven” in 1982’s ‘War Songs’.

A range of key New Romantic godfathers are missing from Bowie to Eno although MOTT THE HOOPLE’s hit take on ‘All The Young Dudes’ makes up for the former while ROXY MUSIC’s ‘Do The Stand’ effectively covers off the latter. KRAFTWERK, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA and SPARKS are also absent and of the lesser known cult figures, Wolfgang Riechmann undoubtedly deserved inclusion, while New Romantic staples such as ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’, ‘RERB’ and ‘Magic Fly’ are more preferable to the likes of ‘Funky Town’ or ‘Ai No Corrida’.

Although only a single disc, 2006’s ‘Only After Dark’ compiled by Nick Rhodes and John Taylor of DURAN DURAN based around the music played at The Rum Runner, managed to feature Bowie and Eno as well as YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA and KRAFTWERK so did more with less. While ‘Music For New Romantics’ is flawed and will cause some head scratching, this set is a reminder of those more innocent aspirational times and a scene that DID actually play its part in changing the world.

The Blitz Club’s tenure was short and after vacating it, Steve Strange and Rusty Egan started Club For Heroes and then in 1982 came The Camden Palace; it was the UK’s first modern superclub; music and clubbing were never the same again, and it was not for the better. However, the New Romantics had made their mark.

An elitist movement that was exclusive at its core despite the protestations of some, one amusing modern day legacy of the New Romantics and the Blitz generation in particular is how some try to ride on the scene’s trenchcoat tails, despite the fact that even if they had been old enough to visit licenced premises back in 1980, they almost certainly would have not been allowed in, thanks to the door policy of the man born Stephen John Harrington.

Taylor Swift did a song in 2014 called ‘New Romantics’ and when you google “New Romantics” these days, it’s what often springs up at the top of the searches… but that’s another story 😉


‘Music For New Romantics’ is released by Cherry Red as a 3CD Clamshell Box Set on 25th November 2022

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/music-for-new-romantics-3cd-clamshell-box-set/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
5th November 2022

BILLY MACKENZIE Satellite Life Recordings 1994-1996

Blessed with a majestic operatic voice akin to Mario Lanza on amphetamines, the late Billy MacKenzie first found fame as one half of ASSOCIATES with Alan Rankine.

Following the success of their 1982 album ‘Sulk’ featuring the hit singles ‘Party Fears Two’ and ‘Club Country’, ASSOCIATES imploded just before a UK concert tour was about to begin with Alan Rankine departing. Billy MacKenzie continued with the ASSOCIATES name and worked with YELLO before taking the solo plunge with ‘Outernational’; sadly it was to be his only solo long playing release during his lifetime.

25 years after his passing, ‘Satellite Life Recordings 1994-1996’ compiles the majority of his final recordings, highlighting his collaborations with musician Steve Aungle in particular. The pair has met in 1979 when Aungle declined MacKenzie’s invitation to join ASSOCIATES in favour of playing in a local cabaret band!

After 1985’s ‘Perhaps’ album which saw MacKenzie bring Martin Rushent and Martyn Ware into the production fold, Aungle collaborated on the song ‘Set Me Up’ which was pencilled in for the next album ‘The Glamour Chase’, only for ASSOCIATES’ label WEA to shelve the record.

Working more as a writer’s assistant rather than co-writer, a full composing partnership between the pair did not occur until 1994 when MacKenzie entered one of the most prolific phases of his career. As Aungle remembered: “Stylistically, we were all over the place. Piano ballads one minute, electronica the next, then we’d switch to 70s glam rock or 60s soul. A marketing nightmare for any record label to deal with…”

A number of the recordings appeared on the posthumous albums ‘Beyond The Sun’ (1997), ‘Eurocentric’ (2001), ‘Transmission Impossible’ (2004) and ‘Auchtermatic’ (2004). But Aungle felt his work with MacKenzie had not been presented or sequenced satisfactorily, hence his involvement in this newly curated 3CD compilation.

On ‘Satellite Life Recordings 1994-1996’, the music has been compiled into three themes ‘Winter Academy’, ‘Consenting Holograms’ and ‘Liberty Lounge’ with around a third of the material previously unreleased. With some of the tracks being demos, understandably the sound quality varies considerably.

Primarily comprising of stripped down material based either around piano or guitar, ‘Winter Academy’ provides a fitting backdrop for MacKenzie to excel as a charismatic interpreter. MacKenzie’s covers of ‘Wild In The Wind’ (made famous by Johnny Mathis and David Bowie) and SPARKS ‘Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth’ are outstanding. But the chilling drama of the self-composed ‘The Soul That Sighs’ encapsulates everything that is loved about Billy MacKenzie.

The haunting orchestrated reading of Randy Newman’s ‘Baltimore’ produced by Dennis Wheatley will be familiar to those who enjoyed the wonderful deep tech house JiiHoo bootleg by Jori Hulkkonen from 2011 which sampled the vocals, while ‘Sing That Song Again’, the ‘Winter Academy’ song and ‘Return To Love’ prove that the MacKenzie / Aungle partnership were more than adept at composing timeless torch songs.

The electronic dance approach of the ‘Consenting Holograms’ set is very much of its time and has not aged particularly well with the frantic ASSOCIATES gone techno material such as ‘3 Gypsies In A Restaurant’ and ‘Diamanda’ getting lost amongst all the energetic rhythmic rattle.

Originally from the posthumous ‘Eurocentric’ album, ‘Hornophobic’ experiments with drum ‘n’ bass and not surprisingly, sounds likes it could have come from David Bowie’s ‘Earthling’ album while the previously unreleased ‘Eurocentric’ title track moderates the percussive pace for something more palatable.

‘Liberty Lounge’ presents a mostly band-oriented sound. Among the standouts are the Pascal Gabriel produced ‘Give Me Time’ which was written with Paul Haig and the Cold War trip hop of ‘At The Edge Of The World’ which saw COCTEAU TWINS Simon Raymonde at the production helm; both were part of ‘Beyond The Sun’. The set ends fittingly with Aungle’s piano and violin instrumental ‘Von Hamburg’ which poignantly represents MacKenzie’s absence…

As an eclectic document of the final creative years of Billy MacKenzie, ‘Satellite Life Recordings 1994-1996’ does the job very well and his dedicated followers will be more than happy with the wealth of unreleased material presented in the highest quality possible.


‘Satellite Life Recordings 1994-1996’ is released by Cherry Red Records on 22nd April 2022 as a 3CD set, pre-order from https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/billy-mackenzie-satellite-life-satellite-life-recordings-1995-1996-3cd/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
27th March 2022

THE ELECTRONIC LEGACY OF 1982

While 1981 was the most important year in synth for its mainstream crossover, 1982 saw it consolidating its presence and finding itself intertwined into other genres.

A number of the school of 1981 such as OMD, KRAFTWERK and JAPAN were absent in album form during 1982 although they maintained a presence on the singles chart with KRAFTWERK getting a belated and well-deserved No1 for 1978’s ‘The Model’ while OMD scored the biggest single of the year in West Germany with ‘Maid Of Orleans’.

Meanwhile, JAPAN became chart regulars with re-issues from their previous label Ariola Hansa and their then-home Virgin Records, notching up a further six Top 40 singles including a pair of Top10s in ‘Ghosts’ and an understated 1980 cover of Smokey Robinson’s ‘I Second That Emotion’, but the band split by the end of the year after a world tour.

It was very much a year much of the past catching up with the present with THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s original 1978 Fast Version of ‘Being Boiled’ reaching No6 on the back of a reissue under licence to EMI while ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ reached No1 in America, just as a remix collection ‘Love & Dancing’ maintained the band’s profile back home.

Taking a leaf out of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s book, SOFT CELL revealed what they had been doing while clubbing in New York with the remix EP ‘Non-Stop Ecstatic’ and although it didn’t hit the heights of the Sheffield combo, Marc Almond and Dave Ball continued propping up the Top3 of the UK singles chart with ‘Torch’ and ‘What’.

In their album chart absence came new acts like YAZOO, TALK TALK, BLANCMANGE, CHINA CRISIS, BERLIN and RATIONAL YOUTH as those who had made their wider breakthroughs in 1981 such as DURAN DURAN, ABC, ASSOCIATES and SIMPLE MINDS swooped in. Meanwhile as DEPECHE MODE were soldiering on, NEW ORDER found a new electronic direction on the standalone single ‘Temptation’.

Despite all this, signs of a synth backlash were coming to a head and there were those who didn’t consider the use of synthesizers as real music. Songwriters like Elvis Costello and Ian Dury publicly declared their dislike of acts who used synths while the Musicians Union tabled a motion in May 1982 to ban synthesizers from recording and live performance.

Tensions had been brewing for a while; when HEAVEN 17 performed on ‘Top Of the Pops’ for the first time in 1981 with ‘Play To Win’, singer Glenn Gregory remembered how the heavily unionised show, where MU membership was compulsory, refused to let Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh perform behind synths, insisting that they used a guitar and glockenspiel instead! There were plenty of misconceptions about the latest technology as Andy McCluskey of OMD said on ‘Synth Britannia’ in 2009: “The number of people who thought that the equipment wrote the song for you: ‘well anybody can do it with the equipment you’ve got!’ “F*** OFF!!”

But with the best selling UK single of 1982 being the more traditional ‘C’mon Eileen’ by DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS, the public were perhaps tiring of the sound of synth and with this in mind, things were never quite the same again. In alphabetical order with the restriction of one album per artist moniker, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK lists 20 albums that contributed to the electronic legacy of 1982.


ABC The Lexicon Of Love

ABC wanted to be a far more technically polished pop proposition so approached Trevor Horn to produce their debut album ‘The Lexicon Of Love’. The first fruit of labours was ‘Poison Arrow’ which was augmented by some dramatic piano passages from Anne Dudley who also added strings to the smooth electronic funk of ‘The Look Of Love’ and the ballad ‘All Of My Heart’. Meanwhile, Horn planted the seed of the FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD sound on ‘Date Stamp’.

‘The Lexicon Of Love’ is still available via Mercury Records

http://www.abcmartinfry.com/


ASSOCIATES Sulk

ASSOCIATES were a majestic and outlandish new pop take on Weimar cabaret. Produced by Mike Hedges, ‘Sulk’ was a kaleidoscopic triumph. Featuring reworked versions of ‘Party Fears Two’ and ‘Club Country’, the chromatic overtures of ‘Skipping’ to the evocative drama of ‘No’, the music had the basis for being more accessible, but was still inventive with the brilliant ‘It’s Better This Way’ art and pop in perfect unison.

‘Sulk’ is still available via BMG

https://www.facebook.com/theassociatesofficial


BERLIN Pleasure Victim

Inspired by ULTRAVOX and KRAFTWERK, BERLIN’s independent mini-LP ‘Pleasure Victim’ was one of the first occasions of an American pop act embracing the synthesizer which had changed the face of music in Europe, exemplified by brilliant songs such as ‘The Metro’ and ‘Masquerade’ with their motorik drum machines and Teutonic pulses. It led to a deal with Geffen Records and notoriety with the deviantly fuelled breakthrough single ‘Sex (I’m A…)’.

‘Pleasure Victim’ is still available via Rubellan Remasters

http://www.berlinmusic.net


BLANCMANGE Happy Families

With blistering Linn Drum and elastic synth bass, the aggressive ‘I Can’t Explain’ opened  ‘Happy Families’ and set the scene for an impressive debut album from BLANCMANGE. ‘Feel Me’ crossed TALKING HEADS and JOY DIVISION while the haunting melancholy of ‘I’ve Seen The Word’ fused the sombre lyricism of the latter with textures of OMD. Featuring tablas and sitar, breakthrough hit ‘Living On The Ceiling’ headed to towards mystical East.

‘Happy Families’ is still available via Edsel Records

http://www.blancmange.com


CHINA CRISIS Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms, Some People Think It’s Fun To Entertain

Of CHINA CRISIS’ debut, Gary Daly said: “I love all the songs, I love the way Ed and me from the off were not a ‘band’ and we made the most of every musician who contributed to our songs”. Making use of four producers, the songs ranged from the tribal mantras of ‘African & White’ to evocative ballads such as ‘Christian’, with catchy synthpop like ‘Some People I Know…’ and the ambient closer ‘Jean Walks In Fresh Fields’ part of a fine collection.

‘Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms…’ is still available via Caroline Records

https://www.facebook.com/chinacrisisofficial


DAF Für Immer

The last of the Conny Plank produced album trilogy, ‘Für Immer’ maintained the industrial standard of its predecessors and featured a re-recording of their 1980 Mute single ‘Kebab Träume’. Transformed into something much heavier, the controversial line “Deutschland, Deutschland, alles ist vorbei!” threw more wood onto the provocation bonfire. But despite the fame, all was not well within DAF with Gabi Delgado and Robert Görl falling out under a haze of sex, drugs and sequencer…

‘Für Immer’ is still available via Grönland Records

https://www.groenland.com/en/artist/deutsch-amerikanische-freundschaft/


DEPECHE MODE A Broken Frame

While Eric Radcliffe co-produced the first YAZOO album at Blackwing Studios on the night shift, during the day Daniel Miller worked with DEPECHE MODE on their second. With a catchy melodic theme, ‘Nothing To Fear’ made the most of Miller’s programming expertise to signal an optimistic future while ‘My Secret Garden’, ‘See You’ and ‘The Sun & The Rainfall’ utilised pretty ringing tones courtesy of the new PPG Wave 2. But ‘Leave In Silence’ pointed to darker climes.

‘A Broken Frame’ is still available via Sony Music

http://www.depechemode.com/


THOMAS DOLBY The Golden Age Of Wireless

For his intellectual approach to modern pop, Thomas Dolby adopted a boffin persona. ‘The Golden Age Of Wireless’ was a real ‘Boy’s Own’ adventure of an album featuring the singles ‘Airwaves’, ‘Radio Silence’ and the percussive ‘Europa & The Pirate Twins’ featuring XTC’s Andy Partridge on harmonica. The UK hit breakthrough came with the tremendous ‘Windpower’ which ended with a BBC shipping forecast from John Marsh.

‘The Golden Age Of Wireless’ is still available via EMI Records

https://www.thomasdolby.com/


DURAN DURAN Rio

On the Colin Thurston produced ‘Rio’ album with its iconic Patrick Nagel cover image, DURAN DURAN achieved the perfect balance between art and pop. “A dialogue between the ego and the alter-ego”, ‘New Religion’ captured a schizophrenic tension while ‘The Chauffeur’ threw in a drum machine, synths, treated piano and an ocarina alongside a closing monologue about insects. ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’, ‘Save A Prayer’ and the title song provided the hits… and no, ‘Rio’ is not about a girl!

‘Rio’ is still available via EMI Music

http://www.duranduran.com/


A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS A Flock Of Seagulls

Combining enough conventional rock guitar to have mainstream appeal with a spacey sheen from prominent synths, Liverpool’s A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS had winning formula to break America. Produced by Mike Howlett, their debut was a concept record about an alien invasion that featured ‘I Ran’, ‘Space Age Love Song’ and ‘Telecommunication’. Their greatest achievement was winning a Grammy for the album’s instrumental ‘DNA’.

‘A Flock Of Seagulls’ is still available via Cherry Pop

https://www.aflockofseagulls.org/


THE LEAGUE UNLIMTED ORCHESTRA Love & Dancing

“The most creative experience I’ve ever had in my life” was how THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s producer Martin Rushent described ‘Love & Dancing’, an album of remixes from ‘Dare’. Pre-sampling, the material was reworked using a multitude of effects with vocal stutters created by cutting up small portions of tape and splicing them together with the aid of his custom-made ruler. The dub laden barrage of ‘Do Or Die’ was a highlight, along with a largely instrumental ‘Don’t You Want Me’.

‘Love & Dancing’ is still available via Virgin Records

http://www.thehumanleague.co.uk


LUSTANS LAKEJER En Plats I Solen

LUSTANS LAKEJER are the unga moderna trailblazers once described as Sweden’s answer to DURAN DURAN. Their third long player ‘En Plats I Solen’ was produced by Richard Barbieri of JAPAN while Mick Karn also played sax. One of the first pop albums is use an Emulator, it featured prominently on ‘Den Glöd Som Aldrig Dör’ and ‘Något Måste Brista’. An English version was later released as ‘A Place In The Sun’ with the band changing their name to VANITY FAIR.

‘En Plats I Solen’ is still available via Universal Music

https://www.facebook.com/LustansLakejer/


GARY NUMAN I Assassin

After the downtempo nature of ‘Dance’, Gary Numan got more energetic again for ‘I Assassin’ but still under the spell of JAPAN, Numan brought in Pino Palladino to take over from Mick Karn on fretless bass which provided the dreamy focus next to crashing Linn Drum programming. Songs like ‘We Take Mystery’ (To Bed), ‘War Songs’ and ‘This Is My House’ were more rhythmical, signalling Numan’s desire to return to the live circuit having announced his retirement in 1981.

‘I Assassin’ is still available via Beggars Banquet

https://garynuman.com/


RATIONAL YOUTH Cold War Night Life

Montreal’s RATIONAL YOUTH comprised of Tracy Howe, Bill Vorn and Kevin Komoda; their debut album ‘Cold War Night Life’ captured the fraught tensions of two opposing ideologies and living under the spectre of Mutually Assured Destruction. A tense vision of young Poles in underground clubs under martial law was captured in ‘Saturdays In Silesia’, while observing “Checkpoint Charlie’s social climb”, there was the possibility of ‘Dancing On The Berlin Wall’.

‘Cold War Night Life’ is still available via Universal Music

https://rationalyouth.bandcamp.com/album/cold-war-night-life


SIMPLE MINDS New Gold Dream

Following ‘Sons & Fascination’, SIMPLE MINDS lost their intensity and recorded a magnificent album filled with pretty synthesized melodies, effected textural guitar and driving lead bass runs. The titles like ‘Someone Somewhere In Summertime’, ‘Colours Fly & Catherine Wheel’ and ‘Hunter & The Hunted’ made investigation essential and the luckily, the music reflected that. The vocals were fairly low down in the mix to produce a wonderful wash of sound.

‘New Gold Dream’ is still available via Universal Music

http://www.simpleminds.com/


YUKIHIRO TAKAHASHI What Me Worry?

Being the main vocalist for YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA did not necessarily mean Takahashi-san was a great singer and it had a Marmite effect. With his solo albums of course, his voice took centre stage although on his fourth offering ‘What Me Worry?’, ‘This Strange Obsession’ written by Zaine Griff featuring vocals from the Kiwi and Ronny provided a highlights. Featuring Bill Nelson’s blistering E-bow, the frantic ‘It’s Gonna Work Out’ signalled where YMO were heading.

‘What Me Worry?’ is still available via GT Music

https://www.facebook.com/yt.hints


TALK TALK The Party’s Over

‘The Party’s Over’ was an impressive synth flavoured collection devoid of guitar that very much captured the sound of the era with its thundering Simmons drums and fretless bass. While very much of its time, it still retains much of its charm. Despite being generally glossed over in TALK TALK history, the album is an excellent under rated jewel that has aged well, thanks to the quality of its songs such as ‘Today’, ‘Talk Talk’, ‘It’s So Serious’, ‘Have You Heard The News’ and its epic title track.

‘The Party’s Over’ is still available via EMI Music

https://www.facebook.com/SpiritOfTalkTalk


ULTRAVOX Quartet

For ‘Quartet’, ULTRAVOX worked with George Martin. The sound was brighter, more structured and stripped of the density that had characterised the albums with Conny Plank, coinciding with the use of more digital hardware like the PPG Wave 2.2 and Emulator. The catchy ‘Reap The Wild Wind’ opened proceedings with an immediacy that was less angular than before although ‘Hymn’, ‘Visions In Blue’, ‘Mine For Life’ and ‘The Song (We Go)’ provided some neo-classical pomp.

‘Quartet’ is still available via EMI Music

http://www.ultravox.org.uk/


VISAGE The Anvil

‘The Anvil’ is an underrated album of the period. There was still neu romance in songs such as ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’ and ‘Again We Love’ but influenced by the New York club scene, the title song offered heavy metronomic beat sans hi-hats in a soundtrack to hedonism. But VISAGE got the funk on ‘Night Train’, resulting in Midge Ure and Rusty Egan falling out over the drummer’s insistence that John Luongo remixes were needed for the US market, with the Glaswegian bidding adieu…

‘The Anvil’ is still available via Rubellan Remasters

https://www.therealvisage.com/


YAZOO Upstairs At Eric’s

Disillusioned by the pop circus, Vince Clarke departed DEPECHE MODE in late 1981 and formed YAZOO with Alison Moyet. ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’ was a perfect union of passionate bluesy vocals and pristinely programmed synthpop. Songs such as ‘Only You, ‘Don’t Go’, ‘Tuesday’, ‘Midnight’, ‘Goodbye 70s’ and ‘Winter Kills’ set a high standard but while Clarke and Moyet eventually parted ways, the pair’s talent was apparent.

‘Upstairs at Eric’s’ is still available via Mute Records

http://www.yazooinfo.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
7th January 2022

The Electronic Legacy of VARIOUS ARTISTS

So come on, whose first album was a various artists compilation?

They were the biggest sellers for a decade and had dominated the UK album charts so much so that they were given their own!

In 1966, the Canadian budget household gadget firm K-Tel diversified into the territory of compilation albums with ‘25 Country Hits’; it was a surprise success and this comparatively new idea of collecting a number of artists onto an album based around a single theme was expanded further.

K-Tel negotiated directly with artists and labels for the rights to reproduce the original recordings, but where this was not possible, the company would contract “one or more of the original artists” to make a new recording for the compilation, under the premise that the public generally could not tell the difference between a re-recording and the original.

However, UK budget label Pickwick Records via their Hallmark imprint went one step further in 1968 by producing compilations of the latest hits but as rush-recorded soundalike cover versions under the title ‘Top Of The Pops’ which had nothing to do whatsoever with the BBC TV show; it was all perfectly legal thanks to an oversight by the corporation on trademark.

Purchasers unknowingly got treated to unique interpretations of ‘Autobahn’ and ‘The Model’ by anonymous session musicians who quite obviously had only learnt the song ten minutes before entering the studio. Although demand for such records had dimmed by 1981, acts such as SOFT CELL were still unable to escape with ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ hilariously reduced to geezer pub rock! The singer was revealed to be one Martin Jay who a few years earlier had treated the world to his cloak and dagger take on ‘Are Friends Electric?’.

The albums from K-Tel attempted to cram as many songs as possible onto the 12 inch vinyl format. In order to accommodate this philosophy within its physical limitations, many of the tracks were faded out early or came in unusual and often clumsy edits. But even these versions were sought after by loyal fans, thus making the records they came from valued collector’s items.

The various artists compilation album changed forever in 1983 when Virgin and EMI joined forces to produce the ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ series which at the last count had reached ‘Now 106’ and spawned numerous spin-offs and even cable TV channels. In 1984, Sony BMG and Warner Music joined in the action with the ‘Hits’ series, but such was the domination in the UK of these types of albums that in 1989, they were given their own chart and excluded from the main one!

For electronic pop, ‘Machines’ released by Virgin Records in 1980 was one of the first attempts to gather music using synthesizers into one place, but the entry point for many new fans was 1981’s ‘Modern Dance’ on K-Tel. This well-thought out collection saw youngsters saving up their pocket money for their first record purchase or asking Santa to put it into their Christmas stocking, thanks to Radio1 DJ Peter Powell declaring that ‘Modern Dance’ was “The best of total danceability, the sounds of modern dance, on one LP!”.

As with greatest hits albums, what makes a great various artists compilation is a seamless listening experience where possible, or at least more killer than filler. However the continuous DJ mix was a particular irritant running through compilations for a period and rarely worked with classic material or recordings not specifically aimed at the clubland.

Staying within theme on a compilation though is VERY important and straying just slightly can spoil a whole concept, especially if it has been outlined in the title. Soul Jazz Records’ lushly packaged ‘Deutsche Elektronische Musik’ sets over two volumes contained a wide range of freeform experimental works from Germany, but occasionally forgot about the Trade Descriptions Act implications of its title. Meanwhile, ‘Reward’ by post-punk trip-poppers THE TEARDROP EXPLODES had a regular place on collections such as ‘Club For Heroes’, ‘New Romantic Classics’, ‘It’s Electric’ and ‘Our Friends Electric’ despite being brass dominated.

But the nadir came with ‘Synth Pop’, a 3CD collection by Sony Music in 2015 which totally missed the point by featuring AZTEC CAMERA and HAIRCUT 100!??! Now while the inclusion of IMAGINATION’s ‘Body Talk’ with its iconic Moog bassline could be justified, the set highlighted just how much the modern day definition of “synth pop” had become particularly blurred…

Although some listeners just want endless hits on various artists compilations, others want to be informed and introduced to some lesser-known or rare songs. However, this latter approach can meet with mixed results.

For example, Cherry Red’s ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ and the Trevor Jackson’s ‘Metal Dance’ series were historically fascinating, but not always easy collections to listen to in one sitting. With some of the music close to being unlistenable, it could be akin to studying a hefty text book… highly educational but not always entirely fun!

So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK takes a personal look at the electronic legacy of various artists via 20 notable compilation albums, each with valid reasons for their inclusion, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order within. Yes, several songs reoccur over a number of these releases, but perhaps that is more an indication of their timeless nature. These were tunes that were dismissed by the press and wider public back in the day, but are now considered classic and part of the cultural heritage.


MACHINES (1980)

Having seen the future and signed THE HUMAN LEAGUE as well as OMD through their Dindisc subsidiary, Virgin Records issued a long playing showcase of acts that used synthesizers as their primary instrumentation. Among the outsiders were TUBEWAY ARMY, FAD GADGET, SILICON TEENS and DALEK I LOVE YOU. XTC’s B-side ‘The Somnambulist’ appeared to be incongruous, but was from their synth experimentation period.

‘Machines’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Machines/master/59149


METHODS OF DANCE (1981)

This compilation been the idea of David Sylvian, hence why it was named after the JAPAN song although their contribution would be ‘The Art Of Parties’. Virgin presented their embarrassment of riches including BEF, DEVO, DAF, SIMPLE MINDS and MAGAZINE while the primary selling point was a special dub edit of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Do Or Die’ as a trailer to ‘Love & Dancing’. The cassette had more tracks including John Foxx and the actual undanceable ‘Methods Of Dance’ song!

‘Methods Of Dance’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Methods-Of-Dance/master/43926


MODERN DANCE (1981)

1981 was when the sound of electronic pop was virtually everywhere, so ‘Modern Dance’ was perfect synthchronicity. Featuring the stellar cast of OMD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HEAVEN 17, JAPAN, DEPECHE MODE, SIMPLE MINDS, VISAGE, LANDSCAPE, FASHION and THE CURE as well as John Foxx and Gary Numan, an indicator of how supreme this compilation was came with the fact that its most obscure track ‘A World Without Love’ by THE NEWS was rather good!

‘Modern Dance’ was released by K-Tel Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Modern-Dance/release/504872


SOME BIZZARE ALBUM (1981)

Stevo Pearce’s compendium of new Futurist acts has gone into folklore, having launched the careers of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE and B-MOVIE. Several of acts who didn’t make it were also superb. THE FAST SET’s cover of Marc Bolan’s ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ was enjoyable electro-macabre while the rousing ‘Tidal Flow’ by ILLUSTRATION is one of the great lost songs of the era.

‘Some Bizzare Album’ was released by Some Bizzare

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Some-Bizzare-Album/master/2754


CLUB FOR HEROES (1992)

It took a few years to realise just how good the music from the New Romantic era was. This compilation was named after one of Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s club nights. Featuring DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET, ULTRAVOX, VISAGE, SOFT CELL and JAPAN, others who also got into the party were YAZOO, ABC, TALK TALK and CLASSIX NOUVEAUX while most welcome were ICEHOUSE with their eponymous single.

‘Club For Heroes’ was released by Telstar Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Club-For-Heroes/master/120444


IT’S ELECTRIC (1994)

Gathering “Classic Hits From An Electric Era” including the full length ‘Blue Monday’ from NEW ORDER, ‘It’s Electric’ was largely, a more purist synth collection than ‘Club For Heroes’. Alongside the usual suspects were A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, TEARS FOR FEARS, BRONSKI BEAT, KRAFTWERK, EURYTHMICS, BRONSKI BEAT and ERASURE. However, this collection featured the album version of ‘Tainted Love’ instead of the single, a mistake that would be repeated again and again.

‘It’s Electric’ was released by Dino Entertainment

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Its-Electric-Classic-Hits-From-An-Electric-Era/master/37974


DAWN OF ELECTRONICA (2000)

Celebrating “a music synonymous with futurism”, ‘Dawn Of Electronica’ included the album version of ‘From Here To Eternity’ by Giorgio Moroder and the Some Bizzare version of ‘Remembrance Day’ by B-MOVIE. With the likes of DAF, SUICIDE, ASSOCIATES, CABARET VOLTAIRE, PROPAGANDA, THE ART OF NOISE and YELLO alongside TUBEWAY ARMY, ULTRAVOX, JAPAN and SOFT CELL, this compilation was something a bit different to what had come before.

‘Dawn Of Electronica’ was released by Demon Music Group

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Dawn-Of-Electronica-Uncut/release/577680


ELECTRIC DREAMS (2002)

Like ‘Teenage Kicks’ for punk and new wave, there are far too many compilations named ‘Electric Dreams’. This 2CD affair from Virgin Records comprised of 38 “synth pop classics”. This was a compilation combining trailblazing analogue electro and the advent of digital sampling that actually worked. From ‘The Model’ and ‘Electricity’ to ‘Relax’ and ‘19’, with ‘We Are Glass’, ‘Yellow Pearl, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ and ‘Absolute’ in between, this was one of the best releases of its type.

‘Electric Dreams’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Electric-Dreams/release/322736


THIS IS HARDCORE (2002)

God Made Me Hardcore was a label set-up by Andy Chatterley and Richard Norris for electroclash tracks they had involvement in. ‘This Is Hardcore’ included some striking covers; THE DROYDS and MOON UNIT contributed SQUEEZE’s ‘Take Me I’m Yours’ and DEVO’s ‘Whip It’ respectively, while there was also a brilliant posh boy mash-up ‘Assault On The West End Girls’ by MUGATU. Siobhan Fahey of SHAKESPEAR’S SISTER and Irish combo RIVIERA also featured.

‘This Is Hardcore’ was released by God Made Me Hardcore

https://www.discogs.com/release/289143-Various-This-Is-Hardcore


THIS IS NOT THE 80s (2002)

Subtitled “A Nu-Wave Electro Compilation”, this brought out the electro in Electroclash with gloriously klanky drum machines in abundance. The undoubted star was Miss Kittin with four tracks including the mighty scene anthem ‘You & Us’ with Michael Amato aka THE HACKER; meanwhile the man himself and Anthony Rother each had three contributions. FPU, DOPPLEREFFEKT and ADULT. were among those bringing the sound of electronic pop into the 21st Century.

‘This Is Not The 80s’ was released by Incredible / Sony Music

https://www.discogs.com/Various-This-Is-Not-The-80s-A-Nu-Wave-Electro-Compilation/master/375573


THIS IS TECH-POP (2002)

Compiled by Ministry Of Sound, ‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was a representative snapshot of the start of the 21st Century, although “Tech-Pop or Electroclash or Synth-Core or Neu-Electro” legend highlighted dance music’s daft obsession with categorisation. The music from LADYTRON, FISCHERSPOONER, TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS, FC KAHUNA, WALDORF, SOVIET, FELIX DA HOUSECAT and GREEN VELVET was excellent but DJ mixing the tracks together clouded the listening experience.

‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was released by Ministry Of Sound

https://www.discogs.com/Various-This-Is-Tech-Pop/release/50649


ELECTRICITY 2 An Electronic Pop Sampler (2003)

‘Electricity 2’ came at a time when the only platform for UK and Irish synth acts seemed to be Ninthwave Records in the USA. It featured HEAVEN 17’s first new song for six years in ‘Hands Up To Heaven’ as well as material by WHITE TOWN, SPRAY and EMPIRE STATE HUMAN. Highlights included ‘The Machines’ by MASQ which sounded like a bizarre Gaelic synthpop take on Gary Numan and the comical ‘Alan Cumming’ by TURD FERGUSON which sent up MISS KITTIN & THE HACKER.

‘Electricity 2’ was released by Ninthwave Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Electricity-2-An-Electronic-Pop-Sampler/release/730718


ROBOPOP Volume 1 (2003)

Compiled by Wayne Clements of Essex duo MACONDO, ‘Robopop’ was possibly the closest thing to the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ in the 21st Century. Heading the line-up were CLIENT and MY ROBOT FRIEND while Mute stalwarts KOMPUTER contributed ‘My Private Train’. The stand-outs though were machine funksters ALPINE STARS, irreverent retro-poppers BAXENDALE and VIC TWENTY featuring Piney Gir with a delicious synth cover of Lynsey de Paul’s ‘Sugar Me’.

‘Robopop Volume 1’ was released by Lucky Pierre Recordings

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Robopop-Volume-I/release/296881


RETRO:ACTIVE 5 (2006)

Compiled by Alex Hush, now of U2 and ERASURE remixers DAYBREAKERS, ‘Retro:Active 5’ gathered 12 classic 12 inch extended versions into a listenable programme. A-HA and THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS led the way with BLANCMANGE and DEAD OR ALIVE in support, but the biggest selling points were the ultra-rare ‘Love Cascade’ from LEISURE PROCESS and ‘More To Lose’ by SEONA DANCING, the duo fronted by Ricky Gervais.

‘Retro:Active 5’ was released by Hi-Bias Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-RetroActive5-Rare-Remixed/release/719639


ROBOPOP The Return (2006)

For ‘Robopop The Return’, Wayne Clements was joined by production duo MANHATTAN CLIQUE. Described as “Essential Electro Pop”, it was a much higher profile release than its predecessor with GOLDFRAPP, THE KNIFE, TIGA and DRAGONETTE all on board. Also present were THE MODERN relaunching as MATINEE CLUB while HUSKI, FORMATIC, LORRAINE and SOHO DOLLS were among the worthy lesser-known inclusions.

‘Robopop – The Return’ was released by Planet Clique / Lucky Pierre

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Manhattan-Clique-Robopop-The-Return/release/1410368


CHILLTRONICA A Definition No1 (2008)

A downtempo compilation by BLANK & JONES, the most exquisite tracks featured female vocalists with Sarah Nixey just pipping the highlight honours on her cover of JAPAN’s ‘Ghosts’ with INFANTJOY over Claudia Brücken on the hosting DJ duo’s ‘Don’t Stop’. Meanwhile, ‘Ghost Trains’ by Erlend Øye was a livelier number that worked alongside chilled out tracks by THE GRID, BLISS, MARCONI UNION, SPOOKY and DEPECHE MODE.

‘Chilltronica – A Definition No1’ was released by Soundcolours

https://www.discogs.com/Blank-Jones-Chilltronica-A-Definition-No1/release/1714901


ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf (2016)

Tying in with the book about Düsseldorf’s music heritage, ‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2’ gathered the more accessible elements of Deutsche Elektronische Musik, Kosmische and Neue Deutsche Welle. With RIECHMANN, DER PLAN, DIE KRUPPS, LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, RHEINGOLD, DAF, LA DÜSSELDORF, NEU! and pre-PROPAGANDA girl group TOPLINOS, this two volume collection was like a journey of discovery with the benefit of a local tour guide.

‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 – Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf’ was released by Grönland Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-ELECTRI_CITY-1_2/release/8919263


NEW ORDER Presents Be Music (2017)

Be Music was the moniker which NEW ORDER used to cover studio production work by all four members of the band. This boxed set gathered these varied recordings which involved them, with notable solo tracks from Marcel King, Paul Haig and Winston Tong alongside those of 52ND STREET, SECTION 25, THE BEAT CLUB, SHARK VEGAS and AD INFINITUM’s cover of ‘Telstar’ which many believed was NEW ORDER in disguise but actually only featured Peter Hook.

‘NEW ORDER Presents Be Music’ was released by Factory Benelux

https://www.factorybenelux.com/new_order_presents_be_music_fbn60.html


ELECTRICAL LANGUAGE Independent British Synth Pop 78-84 (2019)

The 4CD ‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ did as it said on the tin and with a far more accessible template, was all the better for it. With THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, THE NORMAL and FAD GADGET included to draw in the more cautious consumer, purchasers were treated to a plethora of wonderful lesser known acts like FIAT LUX, BOX OF TOYS, LORI & THE CHAMELEONS, PASSION POLKA, TESTCARD F, EDDIE & SUNSHINE and JUPITER RED. Meanwhile, the best novelty item was a Schaffel driven cover of Alvin Stardust’s ‘My Coo Ca Choo’ by BEASTS IN CAGES; half of the band went on to form HARD CORPS!

‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ was released by Cherry Red Records

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/electrical-language-independent-british-synth-pop-78-84-various-artists-4cd-48pp-bookpack/


THE TEARS OF TECHNOLOGY (2020)

Compiled by Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley of SAINT ETIENNE, ‘The Tears Of Technology’ gathered a heartfelt suite of music. OMD’s ‘Sealand’ sat alongside synthy diversions by THE TEARDROP EXPLODES and THE PALE FOUNTAINS, with the Merseyside connection extended to CARE and CHINA CRISIS. Scotland got also got a look in with Paul Haig and Thomas Leer. The rare ‘Direct Lines’ by Chris Payne’s ELECTRONIC CIRCUS found itself a place too.

‘The Tears Of Technology’ was released by Ace Records

https://acerecords.co.uk/bob-stanley-pete-wiggs-present-the-tears-of-technology-1


Text by Chi Ming Lai
2nd August 2020, updated 9th December 2022

FINLAY SHAKESPEARE Interview

Influenced by the experimental side of Synth Britannia and the groundbreaking electronica of Warp Records, Bristol-based Finlay Shakespeare has presented one of the most impressive releases of 2020 in his second album ‘Solemnities’.

Passionate and intense in his vocal delivery, the music of Finlay Shakespeare is strangely pop, but his modular laden backdrop will satisfy those seeking more of a colder mechanised edge. He encapsulates the spirit of early Mute Records and that’s probably just as well because he has just been signed by Mute Song for publishing.

Reference points range from THE HUMAN LEAGUE and THROBBING GRISTLE to AUTECHRE and THE FAINT, while the socially conscious lyrics recall Paul Weller during his time in THE JAM.

Also an independent musical device manufacturer via his Future Sound Systems umbrella, ‘Solemnities’ captures the balance of melody and freaky angst that was showcased live to BLANCMANGE fans who arrived early when Shakespeare opened for Neil Arthur & Co in 2019.

Finlay Shakespeare kindly took time out and spoke about the making of ‘Solemnities’, its lyrical inspiration and gave a fascinating insight into the equipment involved in the album’s realisation.


Your new album ‘Solemnities’ is rather on point in the current situation, but what had been your original concept?

The majority of material that I write, at least lyrically speaking, tends to come from improvisation, and in the case of ‘Solemnities’, recording many iterations and honing in on a finished version. I’ve always tried to capture a sense of the present when writing and recording too – I like the idea that music can form a time capsule to be listened back to. Much of the subject matter across ‘Solemnities’ is politically motivated, and how I see the UK’s current political situation affecting me and others around me.

While you have said ‘Solemnities’ has a rawer approach, it appears to be a lot more focussed and disciplined than your debut album ‘Domestic Economy’?

Hugely – this predominantly came from returning to a more conventional writing form. The base material of ‘Domestic Economy’ comes from the total improvisation of the ‘Housediet’ sessions – no re-takes, simple edits, etc. – which was then fleshed out and reworked slightly for the album.

For ‘Solemnities’, it’s been more a case of overdubbing each individual element as a track comes together. These elements may be rather spontaneously recorded, but through allowing myself to edit and arrange more deeply, the songs became more rigidly structured.

‘Solemnities’ does capture more of what you’re like on stage, how did you find opening for BLANCMANGE?

The BLANCMANGE shows were a great experience – I had been hankering for more live appearances for a while, and was lucky to be given the chance through, not only Neil Arthur, but also Jez Bernholz and Steve Malins. Playing those support slots definitely made me focus more on my live practice. How do I get this modular synth to do what I want it to do? How do I make these songs come to life on stage? Trying to answer those questions also informs the writing and recording process to a degree. It was also fantastic to spend some time with Neil, Liam Hutton, Oogoo Maia and Adam Fuest – they’re a great bunch of people and I hope to see them all again soon.

What had got you interested in making music with synthesizers? What was your first electronic instrument?

A childhood fascination with my parents’ record collection is really what kicked all this off. LPs and CDs by JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, VANGELIS, KRAFTWERK – I wanted to know where all these sounds came from. I remember staring at photographs of their studios, intrigued by all the equipment that surrounded these pioneers. I took keyboard lessons from a young age and was lucky enough to be entering my early teens at the height of the ‘virtual analogue’ synth boom. My first synth was a Korg Electribe EA-1 – I have very fond memories of it, but sadly sold it a while ago to buy other gear!

You founded Future Sound Systems, so would you describe yourself as electronic musician first or second, or is it all embroiled and co-dependent?

It’s very much a co-dependent thing in my eyes – I got into designing and building equipment because I felt that might be a cheaper way of acquiring more gear. On one hand, that was very much incorrect, but the learning curve (which I’m still very much following) gave me some degree of knowledge that led to the day job I have now. Many of the designs that come from FSS are dreamt up whilst I’m playing music myself, and that music often incorporates some of the equipment we design and build, so it’s very much a feedback loop.

How did you develop musically as you sound like post-punk acts such as THROBBING GRISTLE and THE NORMAL meeting Warp Records?

By the time I had exhausted my parents’ LPs, I started getting into the acts that were recording and releasing at the time – I feel lucky to have been growing up when acts like ORBITAL, THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS, DAFT PUNK etc were at their prime. I’d drag my family to record fairs and such, buying up what I could save with pocket money and going between various artist recommendations that we’d typically get from the stall holders.

I remember hearing APHEX TWIN’s ‘Come To Daddy’ and ‘Windowlicker’ amidst all this, and those were pretty monumental in terms of showing me that electronic music still had the potential to be very different. We also had a music library local to us, which proved to be a huge resource of harder-to-find music. I’ve still got a cassette of avant-garde works by Mimaroglu, Cage and Berio which I bought at one of their sales – that was ‘really’ eye-opening stuff to hear as a kid!

You also have been very vocal about your love of the ASSOCIATES album ‘Sulk’, why do you think this record is so special?

I’ve got a great deal of respect for artists and bands who really are totally unique, and ASSOCIATES are high up on that list, particularly the partnership between Alan Rankine and Billy Mackenzie. Typically, I find myself listening to ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ more so than ‘Sulk’, but ‘Sulk’ deserves legendary status simply because there’s no other record like it. It’s truly manic in every aspect – its musicianship is frantic, the lyrics are all over the shop, and the mix sounds like nothing else. There’s also the more archival aspect where seemingly no two issues of the album are the same!

So how did your intense fraught vocal style emerge?

I’ve never really thought that much about how I sing. What I try to do is use my vocal as a way of expressing emotion, almost to bolster the atmosphere of a track, and I guess a lot of what I’m singing about is rather intense! There’s always the aim of doing something a little bit calmer in the future, but I’m not sure that it’ll ever happen.

The ‘Solemnities’ opener ‘Occupation’ makes a real musical as well as lyrical statement and appears to recall THE FAINT, was it inspired by personal experience?

‘Occupation’ draws from various imagined scenarios given the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, particularly how the exit has been pushed by self-serving politicians, but also how it will prevent citizens of the UK from enjoying various freedoms and privileges that are about to be removed from them. The track began life exactly how it’s heard on the album – the drums came from a really aggressive patch I had going on an ARP 2600 clone and some Serge modular equipment, so vocally and lyrically it needed to reflect that.

‘The Information’ really showcases your love of the early period of THE HUMAN LEAGUE? It undergoes a few structural changes within its four and a half minutes, how would you have constructed this in the studio?

‘The Information’ dates back to tracks I was writing back when I was finishing school, so the majority of elements here are at least ten years old! When putting ‘Solemnities’ together, I wanted to revisit some old work of mine that was never really finished, so I loaded up ‘The Information’ and wanted to see where I could take it. It’s funny how it can take more than a decade to finish off a four-minute track!

What are your preferred tools at the moment? Is it modular all the way for you?

I’m in no way a purist – I end up making a lot of hybrid configurations of synths and other gear at the studio, which I like to think lends itself to finding new sounds and getting to a place that’s a little different from using separate pieces of gear stand-alone. For example, I have a Korg MS-20 and MS-10 which I often chain together to create, what I often label, an MS-30. There’s a lot of that on the album, as well as the aforementioned ARP / Serge combo. Since running the majority of the studio’s equipment into a patchbay, I can treat the entire studio as a patchable modular-esque set-up.

At the moment, I’m trying to get deeper into the Nord G2X that I’ve had for a while – it’s a digital modular environment which is still really powerful and flexible despite being a little old now! Again, there’s a lot of G2X on the new album, but used mainly to process other sounds.

‘Second Try’ appears to play homage to both THROBBING GRISTLE and KRAFTWERK?

‘Second Try’ actually came from powering the G2X up with a ‘mad’ patch on it – that’s what’s heard at the intro, then a couple of passes of that patch get looped to form the drums. ‘Second Try’ came together really quickly, and is actually a great example of how I try to work now – still working very quickly and not spending a lot of time on things, but managing to get a lot done in that session.

The poignant ‘Crisis’ features a range of fantastic textures, one set being the impactful spacey synthetic voices, how you set about sound designing those?

‘Crisis’ came almost completely from my Elektron Digitakt sampler/sequencer. I had been booked to play a show in Nantes and was terrified about checking my modular rig in to the hold in case it never made the connecting flight. The Digitakt was coming in my hand luggage, so I had prepared this back-up improvisatory set using that and the Mutable Shruthi synth that I also use live now. ‘Crisis’ was born out of that set, using the Shruthi for the bass then the Digitakt for almost all the other melodic elements, including that pitched Mellotron choir sample.

You may be pleased to know that the modular never disappeared, but ‘Crisis’ made an impromptu premiere as the encore to that Nantes show!

You show more of your understated side on ‘Fantasy’, had this been a conscious move as part of the album’s journey?

I was definitely trying to form more of an ‘arc’ for this album – two sides of vinyl that feel they have some degree of flow to both – and ‘Fantasy’ felt right in between two relatively more energetic tracks. This track was born out of two sessions coming together – powering up the studio after the recording of ‘Occupation’ and the drum patch falling over itself, hence the pounding bass drum that runs throughout, and a long take of overdubbed feedback guitars I had recorded a few years prior. I also wanted to experiment with building up a small choir of myself, making many overdubs of the same vocal with different harmonies.

You go for an extended banging adventure on ‘She Says / Nothing Ends’ to finish, was it originally two songs that morphed into one epic track?

Almost – it was always treated as one track, but I wanted the feel of two distinct sections to it, both of which would crescendo as much as they do, almost as though they ‘could’ be two individual tracks. However, the fluttery, glitchy chords of the latter half, and the distorted vocals ‘were’ recorded as part of another separate session, and brought in on top of the near-gabber that already existed.

Who do you hope ‘Solemnities’ might appeal to?

I’ve always wanted my music to be a bridge between what I’m influenced by and something more present, perhaps even futuristic. Therefore, I’m hoping ‘Solemnities’ would appeal to fans of the late 70s / early 80s greats who may have been there at the time, as well as younger electronic music fans who perhaps aren’t so aware of all those albums approaching their 40th anniversaries.

If my work puts people on to acts like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, CABARET VOLTAIRE, SEVERED HEADS, FAD GADGET etc, then I feel that I’ve definitely done my job.

Your music is released by Editions Mego in Austria, is it still important for modern independent artists to have some kind of label support in your opinion?

Very much so. Whilst self-releasing online is easier than ever, there are more and more people doing it, and with the lack of any curation, it can be really difficult to be found as an artist. I have huge respect for what Peter Rehberg at Mego does – he releases whatever he wants to put out on Mego, there are no stylistic boundaries that he’s following, so the label is truly in line with his tastes. There’s no nonsense.

If you’re into what is on Mego, it’s likely you’ll enjoy whatever the next release is. It’s that curation that is really important for being an artist released by a label – your work becomes part of a stream that can be followed by the label’s fans.

You recently signed to Mute Song, joining a renowned family, what does that bring to you which perhaps you were unable to do when handling your own publishing?

It’s still early days at the moment, but even talking to the Mute Song team has been hugely reinvigorating. It’s a similar story with getting to know Peter at Mego better – it’s really helpful being able to send people music and get an honest response back that you know you can trust. It’s akin to the whole Bowie-ism of never being truly comfortable in what you’re doing – there were things on ‘Solemnities’ that I wanted Peter’s thoughts on, simply because I wasn’t so sure of them at first.

Having a wider net of ‘primary ears’ can only be a good thing, particularly when those ears are working with the roster of artists that are with Mute Song. From an industry point of view, I’d say I still don’t really know what I’m doing, and being able to ask for advice from such an experienced team is a huge benefit.

Where do you think you might like to take your next album?

There are already some initial sketches, but it seems that I’m trying to push the studio further, incorporating more guitars and drums into the mix, but taking the synths into more abstract territory – trying to do weirder things but perhaps make them poppy. I’ve started trying to listen to how musicians whose work I love have played their instrument, and whether I can map any of that to completely different practices. I still want to be able to play a synth the way that Andy Gill played guitar, but conversely, what happens if you have a guitar made to sound like what Ian Craig Marsh was doing in THE HUMAN LEAGUE?

What’s next for you? Is there anything interesting coming out from Future Sound Systems?

There are some really exciting collaborations in the works right now, both new and old, and I’m always striving to bring people together in the studio. As I hinted at above, I’m really interested to see what happens when different styles and practices are brought together, and I hope I can continue that this year. Meanwhile, at FSS, we are designing plenty of new equipment which I hope will pique other producers’ interest – there’s certainly a lot of it that I want to spend more creative time with! Watch this space!


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Finlay Shakespeare

‘Solemnities’ is released by Editions Mego in vinyl LP and digital formats, available from https://editionsmego.bandcamp.com/album/solemnities

http://finlayshakespeare.com/

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https://www.futuresoundsystems.co.uk/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
12th May 2020

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