Tag: Benge (Page 2 of 10)

A Beginner’s Guide To BENGE

Developing on a childhood fascination with electronic sound, after finishing art school, Ben Edwards set up a music studio in London and began acquiring discarded vintage synthesizers on sale for next to nother to equip it.

Under his nickname of Benge, he released his debut album ‘Electro-Orgoustic Music’ in 1995 on his own Expanding Label.

But in 2011, he became best known for his role as Chief Mathematician and collaborative partner in JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS.

By this time, what had now become Benge’s MemeTune Studios was housing one of the largest collections of working vintage synthesizers in the world and was the location for several interviews filmed for the BBC documentary ‘Synth Britannia’.

Among the equipment were modular systems from Moog, Serge, E-Mu, Formant and Buchla, the ARP 2500 and 2600, digital systems like the Synclavier and Fairlight CMI, drum machines including the Linn LM1, Roland TR808 and CR78 as well as classic polyphonic keyboards such as the Yamaha CS80, Polymoog, Oberheim 4-Voice, ARP Omni and the less celebrated EMS Polysynthi.

As a collaborator, John Foxx said Benge was “Really good – Intelligent, knowledgeable, technically blinding. He does remind me of Conny Plank. Same generosity and ability, same civilized manner – even looks similar.”

Benge left London and relocated MemeTune Studios to Cornwall in 2015, but with artists savouring this more remote setting near some of the most breathtaking coastal scenery in England, he is now busier than ever as his recent production portfolio has shown.

So by way of a Beginner’s Guide to Benge, here are eighteen examples of his work, subject to a limit of one track per artist moniker or combination, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order. As his own blog says “It’s full of stars”!

TENNIS Weakness Together (2001)

Benge’s instrumental duo with Douglas Benford, TENNIS released their second album ‘Europe On Horseback’ just as dub electronica seemed to be all the rage. Scratchy and weirdly hypnotic with hidden hooks at over eight and a half minutes, the metallic percussive notions of ‘Weakness Together’ with its metronomic rhythms and solemn Cold War synths came together for a great highlight. A third long player ‘Furlines’ emerged in 2003 with ‘The Horseback Mixes’ as a bonus.

Available on the TENNIS album ‘Europe On Horseback’ via BiP_Hop Records


BENGE 1969 EMS VCS3 (2008)

Noted for his experimental solo albums, Benge’s most acclaimed was 2008’s ‘Twenty Systems’. It was an insightful soundtrack exploring how electronic sound architecture has evolved from using transistors to integrated circuits and from ladder filters to Fourier approximation. With each track crafted from a singular instrument, Brian Eno described it as “A brilliant contribution to the archaeology of electronic music” while it was via this album that Benge came to the attention of John Foxx.

Available on the BENGE album ‘Twenty Systems’ via Expanding Records


SERAFINA STEER How To Haunt A House Party (2010)

Legend has it that Serafina Steer’s union with Benge occurred when her harp was stolen and he made synths available to fill in for the intended harp parts. One of the more electronic tracks ‘How To Haunt A House Party’ added drum machine and the spacey accompaniment complimented the songstress’ quirky brand of kitchen sink introspection. ‘Change is Good, Change is Good’ got an endorsement from Jarvis Cocker, the PULP front man declaring it one of his favourite albums of the year.

Available on the SERAFINA STEER album ‘Change Is Good, Change Is Good’ via Static Caravan


JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS Watching A Building On Fire (2011)

Joining forces with Benge, John Foxx found the perfect creative foil to further his earlier analogue ambitions, only this time combined with a warmth that had not been apparent on ‘Metamatic’ or his work with Louis Gordon. The best track on their debut album ‘Interplay’ was a co-written duet with Mira Aroyo of LADYTRON entitled ‘Watching A Building On Fire’. With its chattering drum machine and accessible Trans- European melodies, it was an obvious spiritual successor to ‘Burning Car’.

Available on the JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS album ‘Interplay’ via Metamatic Records


OMD Dresden – JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS remix (2013)

The first band that the young Ben Edwards ever saw live was OMD, thanks to them opening for Gary Numan in 1979. He presented a suitably harsh remix to suit the harrowing lyrical tone of ‘Dresden’. But Andy McCluskey of OMD said: “‘Dresden’ is a whopping great, unsubtle metaphor… it’s not about the bombing of Dresden in the same way as ‘Enola Gay’ was about the aeroplane that dropped the atom bomb.”

Available on the OMD single ‘Dresden’ via BMG


GAZELLE TWIN Exorcise (2014)

The moniker of Elizabeth Bernholz, the secomd GAZELLE TWIN second album ‘Unflesh’ with additional production and mixing by Benge, allowed the Brighton-based songstress to extract her demons with some artistic violence. One of the highlights ‘Exorcise’ was an impressively aggressive cross between PINK FLOYD’s ‘One The Run’ and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Home Computer’. Its uneasy resonance was aided by Bernholz’s harsh, deadpan commentary.

Available on the GAZELLE TWIN album ‘Unflesh’ via Anti-Ghost Moon Ray


HANNAH PEEL & BENGE Find Peace (2014)

Hannah Peel joined JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS in 2011 and became one of the MemeTune family, eventually taking over the studio space when Benge relocated. At the time her most overtly electronic song yet, she teamed up with Benge for a haunting modern day seasonal hymn. With a suitably poignant message, ‘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.

Available on the HANNAH PEEL single ‘Find Peace’ via My Own Pleasure


WRANGLER Lava Land (2014)

A trio featuring Benge, Stephen Mallinder ex-CABARET VOLTAIRE and of TUNNG’s Phill Winter, the WRANGLER manifesto was to harness “lost technology to make new themes for the modern world”. ‘Lava Land’ saw Mallinder’s voice manipulations ranging from demonic gargoyle to stern drowning robot. The frantic pace was strangely danceable but the twisted mood was distinctly unsettling and dystopian, especially when the screeching steam powered Logan string machine kicked in.

Available on the WRANGLER album ‘LA Spark’ via by Memetune Recordings



GHOST HARMONIC omprisedof John Foxx and Benge alongside violinist Diana Yukawa. ‘Codex’ evolved over the space of a couple of years. Foxx said: “the underlying intention was we all wanted to see what might happen when a classically trained musician engaged with some of the possibilities a modern recording studio can offer…” The result was a startling dynamic between Yukawa’s heavily treated violin and the looming electronics. Closing the album, the title track was a string and synth opus of soothing bliss.

Available on the GHOST HARMONIC ‘Codex’ via Metamatic Records


JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS featuring GARY NUMAN Talk (2016)

‘Talk’ has been used by John Foxx to explore different approaches from a singular idea with other kindred spirits such as Tara Busch and Matthew Dear. ‘Talk (Are You Listening To Me?)’ finally saw Gary Numan working on a track with his long-time hero who he had admired since the ULTRAVOX! days. His take naturally screamed alienation and fully exploited his haunting classic synth overtures, thanks to Benge’s use of a Polymoog and his effective application of its swooping ribbon controller.

Available on the JOHN FOXX album ’21st Century: A Man, A Woman & A City’ via Metamatic Records


FADER 3D Carpets (2017)

While BLANCMANGE’s ‘Unfurnished Rooms’ was the first time Benge and Neil Arthur worked together, their FADER duo project saw the former instigating the music as opposed to working on already written songs. Working on their parts separately, Neil Arthur said “In FADER, Benge will send me the embryonic musical idea and I’m reacting to what he’s given me” ;‘3D Carpets’ captured an independent post-punk intensity, like JOY DIVISION or THE CURE but realised with electronics rather than guitars.

Available on the ‘First Light’ via Blanc Check Records


I SPEAK MACHINE Shame (2017)

“Benge and I had always wanted to write together, so we took the opportunity to do so here, by expanding on the ‘Zombies 1985’ world.” said Tara Busch of how he became involved in the soundtrack of I SPEAK MACHINE’s short film about greed and self-obsession in Thatcher’s Britain as a businessman drives home, oblivious to a zombie apocalypse going on around him. The brilliant ‘Shame’ was a wonderful hybrid of THROBBING GRISTLE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and GOLDFRAPP.

Available on the album ‘Zombies 1985’ via Lex Records



LONE TAXIDERMIST is the vehicle of Cumbrian lass Natalie Sharp, a performance artist who believes “Your body is a sensory device”. With Phill Winter of TUNNG and WRANGLER among the collaborators, Benge acted as co-producer and released the album himself. The debut album’s opening song ‘Home’ made Sharp’s avant pop intentions clear with a catchy throbbing outline and a wonderfully wayward vocal style crossing Grace Jones with Ari Up.

Available on the LONE TAXIDERMIST album ‘Trifle’ via MemeTune Recordings


BLANCMANGE In Your Room (2018)

Working with Benge again on what was effectively their third album together, Neil Arthur has undoubtedly found comfort in their partnership. ‘Wanderlust’ was possibly BLANCMANGE’s best body of work in its 21st Century incarnation and from it, ‘In Your Room’ was a great slice of vintage robopop, with a vocoder aesthetic and an assortment of manipulated sounds at a reasonably uptempo pace. “Lyrically it was about being content with something quite simple” added Arthur.

Available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘Wanderlust’ via Blanc Check Records


CREEP SHOW Safe & Sound (2018)

With eclectic US singer / songwriter John Grant joining forces with the WRANGLER boys Stephen Mallinder, Benge and Phill Winter at MemeTune Studios, CREEP SHOW was something of an electronic meeting of minds. On the resultant album ‘Safe & Sound’, the quartet explored a spacious KRAFTWERK vs Moroder hybrid using dark analogue electronics, gradually revealing some wonderfully warm melodic synth textures to accompany Grant’s passionate lead croon.

Available on the CREEP SHOW album ‘Mr Dynamite’ via Bella Union


JOHN GRANT He’s Got His Mother’s Hips (2018)

Following the artistic success of the CREEP SHOW collaboration, it was only natural that Benge would step up to produce John Grant’s number four solo album ‘Love Is Magic’ to more allow the Icelandic-domiciled American to fully embrace his love of electronic music. Making use of a vintage synth brass line, the mutant crooner disco of ‘He’s Got His Mother’s Hips’ was driven by a delicious synthetic groove while not forgetting to include an uplifting chorus.

Available on the JOHN GRANT album ‘Love Is Magic’ via Bella Union


LUMP Hand Hold Hero (2018)

Lyrically inspired by the apparent emptiness of contemporary life, when British nu-folk queen Laura Marling teamed up with Mike Lindsay, co-founder of acid-folkies TUNNG and Benge’s one-time partner-in-crime, it called for something out-of-the-box and that came courtesy of Benge’s Moog Modulars. A hypnotic sequencer line provided the backbone to ‘Hand Hold Hero’ for a rather unusual slice of Sci-Fi Country ‘N’ Western that met ‘On the Run’ somewhere on the Virginia plains.

Available on the LUMP album ‘Lump’ via Dead Oceans


OBLONG Echolocation (2019)

It only took 13 years to follow-up their debut record ‘Indicator’, but with the second OBLONG album ‘The Sea At Night’, the trio of Benge, Dave Nice and Sid Stronarch delivered a collection of rustic electro-acoustic organically farmed electronica! With mood and pace, ‘Echolocation’ was a classic synth instrumental with its crystalline textures and charming slightly off-key blips, aurally reflecting the remote moorland location in Cornwall where it was recorded.

Available on the OBLONG album ‘The Sea At Night’ via MemeTune Recordings


Text by Chi Ming Lai
9th March 2020

BLANCMANGE: The Mindset Interview

As prolific as ever, Neil Arthur has a new BLANCMANGE album set for release in May 2020.

Entitled ‘Blancmange’, it will be the eighth full length long player of new material since 2011’s return with ‘Blanc Burn’.

Despite their success, Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe only released three albums during their original heyday which began in 1982 with the hit single ‘Living On The Ceiling’.

While BLANCMANGE are also known for their cover of ABBA’s ‘The Day Before You Came’, Neil Arthur has also notably reinterpreted CAN and CHIC.

When Stephen Luscombe was unable to continue with BLANCMANGE due to illness after ‘Blanc Burn’, Neil Arthur continued alone, working on other projects such as NEAR FUTURE, FADER and KINCAID while driving his main vehicle in parallel.

In his tenth interview with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the site, Neil Arthur chatted about his mindset, his music and his motivations…

Does ‘Mindset’ have a concept?

It’s not a concept album. Lyrically with the title song, there’s a part that says “so much for giving, so much for taking…” – it has two meanings, there’s looking for truth, so I’m saying “so much for giving” but that could also be “so much forgiving…”, I felt that set the tone.

I’m on a bit of a journey where I’m looking for truth, where you think about the mass of information and misinformation that’s around, and somehow we’ve all got to make some sense of it. Even if we don’t choose, we’re filtering things all the time, this “what’s going on here?”.

This isn’t just in a virtual reality world, it can be applied to the way people end up being acting themselves or socialising. It’s not all bad, but I’m observing stuff and looking for other worlds at the same time we’re living in this one, several things at once and questioning how people react with others, how they’re feeling about themselves and how that impacts on other people.

Has politics affected you?

Right back to ‘Happy Familes’! Listen to the link between ‘Wasted’ and ‘Living On The Ceiling’! *laughs*

Back then, we were writing pop songs but I haven’t changed my tact on that in a way, but I’m not really writing singles now for a record label.

But of course the politics and recent events have affected me sonically as well as lyrically. I’m an artist and I observe what’s going on around me, for better or for worse, I reflect that.

But I don’t have a soapbox to stand on or find it particularly easy, but this is the way I get my thoughts out. There’s ambiguity in there as well so you can take things in many different ways. There’s a lot of choruses on the album, I deliberately wanted them on quite a lot of the songs, there’s more structure, it’s not all of them but that was my general approach with the music and I wanted some of the sounds to convey what I was saying lyrically.

So for example, there’s a song called ‘When’ and the chorus goes “When is anything about what it’s about?”, so I’m asking the question… you know when somebody says something to you? You could take them at face value and you can trust that and it’s great… but sometimes, when somebody screams and shouts, you’re thinking “what’s going on here?” and of course, you don’t know half the story. What you’re getting is what you’re receiving at the moment…

All the way through the song, there’s the sound of a panic alarm, it’s musically there to represent a state of panic. So they’re not only trying to deal with their own emotions, but whoever else is offloading their baggage onto them.

The first single is the ‘Mindset’ title song and it’s very band sounding with that staccato Velvets / Bowie piano and guitar, but then those psychedelic vibes clash with that arpeggio during the close?

I write a lot of songs on guitar but it doesn’t always end up on the album. While we were doing this, Benge and I had a chat and he felt the very simple guitar part really needed to stay, as he thought it was fundamental to what had been written. With the instrumentation, I wanted a repetitive piano thing which was slightly and deliberately out of time now and then, and also an odd note like a 7th. The one reference that was definitely discussed was NEU! and that period when Michael Rother first went solo. It sent us on a creative journey and I ended up going away to listen CAN again. It was good fun to put together, but most of the time, we took stuff out rather than adding.

‘Clean Your House’ though is very synthy with that bubbling bassline and those gated pulses…

It has a really simple synth line and gets busy on the outro but we tried to keep it reasonably empty so that there was a dynamic emphasis on the chorus when that arrived.

Lyrically, you could say it’s reflecting on events of recent times or you could it slight more personalised like a relationship.

‘This Is Bliss’ appears to be a musical relative to ‘Clean Your House’, but adds a trancier element perhaps not heard a lot on previous BLANCMANGE songs?

Maybe I should have added a question mark, y’know ‘This Is Bliss?’, is this it? Or again, this IS bliss. I spend a lot of time playing with words and moving them round with the music, if it doesn’t need anything else, it’s best to leave it like that. With the music, it’s very stripped down.

In terms of the content, I wanted to have a good groove to it and I thought if we can make it work with the least amount of elements, it might have a chance. I didn’t want to add little bits to it, you can but it would be very difficult to keep simple. So when the chorus comes in and repeats itself and does the breakdown, the lyrics become a musical noise, so it takes you into that trance thing. Its original title was ‘The Lost Wallet Experiment’ and now it’s called something in the chorus which is ‘This Is Bliss’! *laughs*

You are working with Benge again, did you find any gear that had been new to you that fascinated you?

We had a Polymoog on it, one of things we had to do was keeping it in tune, there were a few issues with it but Benge got it absolutely spot on.

The Buchla was doing some rhythm parts, there’s a Jupiter 4 and a Jupiter 6 on the album, some nice unique stuff.

Benge’s band OBLONG are opening on the first leg of the tour, ‘The Sea At Night’ is a rather good album…

Yeah, I like both their albums, that and ‘Indicator’ the one from ten years before that. Great sounds on them, there’s going to be more people with the opening act than will be with the main act! *laughs*

Is there a reason why you tend to tour in small chunks around weekends rather than whole weeks at a time?

Yeah, I want to go home! *laughs*

I’m looking forward to taking ‘Mindset’ on tour, but as you know, I don’t like the miles. A lot also depends on the venues and their availability.

There’s all sorts of reasons but if you can do a Thursday-Friday-Saturday, it’s a lot better than doing a Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday in terms of footfall, that comes into it. From my point of view, I’ve done long tours and I’d much rather do it like this without a doubt.

The likely demographic for BLANCMANGE tends to not want to go out on a ‘school night’ but can handle Thursdays-Fridays-Saturdays… *laughs*

Yes, that comes into it. It’s difficult because there are some areas where it wouldn’t make so much difference, but in general, it’s better to do a Thursday-Friday-Saturday, Saying that, we do get some younger inquisitive people coming along who are getting into BLANCMANGE because of younger DJs who are playing the music. It’s funny because we notice that little pockets of them are all dancing while other people are going “What are people dancing for? We want a seat!” But they’re all very welcome *laughs*

There’s an Roman Flügel remix of ‘Living On The Ceiling’ that’s just come out and an upcoming remix of ‘Blind Vision’ by Honey Dijon as part of ‘London Remixed’, are you happy with how they’ve turned out?

Yes, I particular like the Dub mix that Roman’s done. I was very flattered because I really like his work. And to get Honey Dijon to do ‘Blind Vision’, I’ve heard the test pressings and what she’s done is phenomenal.

The thing is, for some people, the mix of ‘Living On The Ceiling’ that was done all those years ago is always going to be THE MIX. Nobody is trying to make it better, it’s just another interpretation. And if you can introduce another audience to your music by doing that, then so be it.

Nobody is saying “this is how it should sound”, it’s just an interpretation, it’s only a bit of music and you shouldn’t get too carried away with it. I’m flattered they wanted to do it but of course, I‘m being paid for it *laughs*

I’m all for different stuff, you know me, I’m not that nostalgic, for me, nostalgia is history without the guilt. I’d much rather deal with the history, deal with the guilt… yeah, all these things happened, it’s not sometimes quite how you’d like to remember it, it was slightly different y’know. I’m also very much interested in the future.

Looking back on your return in 2011, how do you look back on the body of work running from ‘Blanc Burn’ to ‘Wanderlust’? Any personal favourites?

I don’t have a favourite as such. I feel lucky I get to do what I do and I look forward to doing more. I really enjoying working with Benge on BLANCMANGE and FADER, I would love the opportunity to take the FADER project out live. In terms of a musical moment I am most proud of, that was when I stood on stage with my son for the first time in Liverpool Arts Club, when Joe under the name KINCAID, opening for CREEP SHOW on tour. That was a really significant moment for me.

Has it been better than you thought it would be?

There’s been a few surprises, I’m quite a nervous person, sometimes I feel more comfortable on stage than I do off it. I was very nervous about coming back with BLANCMANGE. I didn’t know what to expect or whether it would be just one album. The opportunity came along but Stephen has to stop doing what he did for health reasons and it gave me a kick up the arse to get on with it, which thankfully I did.

It was very different because I had been signed to a major record label, this is no disrespect to London Records because this is how all labels operated back in the day, I have a lot more control now over everything that we do, albeit on a much smaller scale.

I am under no illusions that I will have huge success, I am very happy doing what I’m doing. And if people are interesting in buying, or listening or coming to a show, that’s fantastic. I’m doing it because it’s my job, I need to work and earn money, and this is a great way to try and do that. It’s tough without a doubt, you’ve got to do a lot of legwork and but I don’t mind that.

As long as I can, I’m going to keep doing it, it’s not easy but I think I enjoy it a bit more now than I did in the 80s. And I think I’m more appreciative… I was then, but even more so now.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Neil Arthur

Special thanks to Rosalia Ferrara at Hush PR

‘Mindset’ is released by Blanc Check on 22nd May 2020 in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats

BLANCMANGE Rescheduled 2021 ‘Mindset’ tour includes:

Tunbridge Wells Forum (11th September), Colchester Arts Centre (16th September), Norwich Arts Centre (17th September), Birmingham Institute 2 (18th September), Gloucester Guild Hall (23rd September), Exeter Phoenix (24th September), Nottingham Rescue Rooms (25th September), Blackburn King George’s Hall (29th September), Newcastle Riverside (30th September), Edinburgh Liquid Room (1st October), Glasgow Oran Mor (2nd October), Southampton The Brook (13th October), Bristol Fleece (14th October), Northampton Roadmender (22nd October), Manchester Club Academy (27th October), Leeds The Wardrobe (28th October), Liverpool Grand Central Hall (29th October), Brighton Concorde 2 (17th November), Harpenden Public Halls (18th November), Cardiff Portland House (25th November), London Under The Bridge (26th November), Shrewsbury Buttermarket (27th November),





Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
19th February 2020, updated 21st May 2021

FADER In Shadow

Synth superduo FADER have followed up their 2017 debut album ‘First Light’ with a collection of slightly more minimal introspective songs appropriately entitled ‘In Shadow’.

Comprising of Neil Arthur from BLANCMANGE and Benge, best known for his work with WRANGLER and JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS, this is a less aurally harsh proposition than modern day BLANCMANGE.

Delicate in disposition, darker and moodier overtones exude with the spectre of insomnia a dominant factor.

Allowing more time for deeper thinking and worry, Neil Arthur’s lyrics play with the disturbed consciousness, while from his Memetune Studios in the Cornwall countryside, Benge concocts a minimal underground aesthetic to surround it.

With the frantic powertrain of ‘Always Suited Blue’ and its obvious state of the nation commentary, all appears business as usual for FADER but it’s something of a red herring. The phrase “the psycho in you, in me” is anger fuelled by a dislike of politicians, particularly the worldwide rise of the right wing.

Although upper mid-tempo, ‘Midnight Caller’ with its primitive drum machine is quite minimal, naturally nocturnal in air, sombre in its bass structure. Taking a steadier stuttering pace, ‘What Did It Say’ also follows the minimal path, with Arthur deep in thought, asking lots of questions and seeking lots of answers.

The solemn ‘Youth On A Wall’ with an electronic processed vocal template asking “why is everyone sick on TV?” features some fabulous buzzing reverberant synths which act as an appropriate backdrop to whatever is “fading from our view”. Taking to 6/8 time, ‘Whispering’ is stark and stripped with Arthur doing as it says on the tin, accompanied by haunting sweeps of synths.

With an ‘Aspirational’ lift, the second half screeches to life with wobbly squelches and dystopian counterpoints providing a Cold Wave air reminiscent of Eric Random and John Foxx. ‘Enemy Fighter’ diverts to a bit of drum n bass, even sounding hand played for a looser feel while swathed in mysterious electronic voice treatments. But the mood subsides on ‘Mindsweeper’ and the ‘In Shadow’ title track with sparing guitar appearing on the latter.

With a hypnotic arpeggio, ‘Every Page’ alters the palette and adopts some subtle metallic rattles next to sharp Klingklang percussion blips, but is very bare in its exquisite presentation, haunted by a recurring ghostly chant of “No1”. Closing with the pressure drop of ‘Reporting’, Arthur displays a total air of resignation like the aural equivalent of The Bends.

A by-product of the gloomy world that we currently live in, ‘In Shadow’ reflects an understated anger that will be seen by future generations as a time capsule capturing one of the most bizarre periods in modern British history, a time when the working classes backed disaster capitalists like turkeys voting for Christmas…

‘In Shadow’ is released by Blanc Check Records on 25th October 2019 as a CD and download, pre-order from https://fader.tmstor.es/



Text by Chi Ming Lai
19th October 2019

A Short Conversation with FADER

Photo by Piers Allardyce

Together, Neil Arthur and Benge are FADER. While Arthur is front man of BLANCMANGE, Benge is best known for his work with WRANGLER, CREEP SHOW and JOHN FOXX &THE MATHS.

Following the critical acclaim for their 2017 debut long player ‘First Light’, a second FADER album entitled ‘In Shadow’ is about to be unleashed for public consumption at the end of October.

Perhaps musically more introspective than its predecessor, ‘In Shadow’ however finds Neil Arthur expressing an understated frustration and anger with the world at large.

Neil Arthur and Benge kindly spoke bout their latest collaboration and its more minimal approach.

How do you look back on the making and reception of the debut FADER album ‘First Light’?

Neil: The making was more or less the same approach, in terms of how we work. That is, initially remotely, exchanging files and a number of conversations online and by phone.

The reception seemed to be favourable, although it would have been good to sell a few more I guess. Creating the first album was an exciting step into the unknown, as we’d not worked together before, but after a couple of FADER and a brace of BLANCMANGE recordings, I’m constantly surprised, in a positive way, at Benge’s approach and the results therein.

Benge: The first album was a bit of an anomaly for us both really. It came out of a very unusual situation, and the results took us both by surprise, which is always a good thing.

On that album, I had written 90% of the music beforehand, on a trip to LA a few years before I had met Neil. The tracks had been sitting on a hard drive waiting for someone to put vocals on them. I was lucky enough to meet Neil one day and the idea was suggested that we collaborate on an album project, and FADER was born.

The reception was really great to the debut – maybe because no one was expecting it, and maybe also because it had a fairly unique and original sound to it, which was the result of the unique process we had gone through to get it made.

The follow-up ‘In Shadow’ as the title suggests, appears to be darker and moodier in tone?

Neil: When Benge sent over his initial instrumental ideas, I thought the tracks were more melodic than those on ‘First Light’, which I thought would lead to a lighter tone and feel, but when it came to doing the lyrics, I just followed my noise and went down a moodier path!

Benge: The second album also came about in quite an odd way, because neither of us had sat down together and decided to write new material for it really. It was another case of me sending a whole bunch of tracks over to Neil, and him listening to them all and hearing a sonic theme and then working on the vocals and lyrics and responding to my tracks.

I have a way of working sometimes where I will set up a synth and a sequencer or drum machine in the corner of the studio and leave it there for a week or so, with a tape to record any little sketches I might come up with while I am exploring. After several months, I found I had a bunch of tracks that sounded like they might work as new FADER material, because they had a certain simple melodic structure to them that I thought Neil would get his head round and twist it all up with his vocals. So as I say, I sent them all over to him in a zip file and waited for a response. A few days later these amazing songs started popping up in my in box. It was really exciting for me.

Has insomnia been a factor and given more time for deeper thinking?

Neil: Well, for various reasons I don’t sleep to well or when I do get some rest, I don’t sleep for long. That does lead to some early morning mind wanderings.

Is the core of the creative dynamic to be in the same room for each song’s conception, or is remote working the fastest, most practical method?

Neil: The practicals dictate on the whole how we work. That said, I like this method, at first working remotely, exchanging ideas, as the project starts to take its shape. It’s like getting a musical present or surprise, each time I see a WeTransfer arrive from Benge. As I mentioned earlier, always a surprise!

But when you do get together at the MemeTune base in remote Cornwall, it must be a wonderful place to work with no city distractions?

Neil: It’s a brilliant studio to work in and when the perspective is needed, there’s always the dog to be walked up on Bodmin, the pub, the coast or a bike ride.

Benge: Yes, that’s my favourite bit of the process, when you get together in the studio and you can hear an album take shape. It’s a magical thing. The songs begin to make sense (if that’s possible with Neil’s lyrics!), and the things that need to be done on each song reveal themselves all of a sudden.

Sometimes it’s a case of maybe adding a synth line, tweaking an arrangement, or maybe taking things away and simplifying the track as much as possible.

Is ‘Always Suited Blue’ fuelled by a dislike of politicians maybe?

Neil: I have a dislike for some politicians, the careerist, self-serving, bullying type, who are no use, to man nor beast, but no, it’s not fuelled by that.

Some of the album’s vocals are deeper than say the more recent BLANCMANGE work, like on ‘What Did It Say’ and ‘Reporting’? The latter just captures a total air of resignation…

Neil: I think from memory, I did some of the vocals sitting down. That could have got me taking a more intimate and deeper tone. I’ve always had a pretty low voice, maybe it’s breaking!

The approaches to ‘Midnight Caller’, ‘What Did It Say?’ and ‘Whispering’ are quite minimal?

Neil: Benge and I spend a lot of time editing out during the mix stage, to see how little is needed to complete the track. Sometimes there’s a tendency to add layers, because you can and maybe there’s an idea that seems to work with the one that’s already there. But if the original sound, or part is standing up for itself, why add to it? So we don’t, we save that idea for another song, another time.

‘Enemy Fighter’ pulls out a bit of drum n bass, but what might it be referring to, is it literal or metaphoric?

Neil: Lyrically, it centres on a characters moment of reflection, while in the heat of a battle and in a certain death situation. The tuned vocals seemed to fit.

What sort of instruments were you largely turning to for ‘In Shadow’, had there been any particular paint palette set behorehand?

Benge: The songs were each borne from a handful of monosynths and polysynths as I mentioned before, all of them being from the late 1970s or early 80s. If I remember correctly, the main ones were Korg DV800, Roland Jupiter 6, Oberheim Xpander, Roland SH101 and then some early digital drum machines, like the Casio RZ1, Korg DDD1 and Roland TR505.

So what was this Butler 100 synth Neil was referring to in his last BLANCMANGE interview that Benge later commented didn’t exist? *laughs*

Neil: Ha ha, I think when we did the interview you misheard. We had been using a Buchla synth.

It got Benge and I inventing imaginary synth names – the Jeeves 2000, Wooster V2. PG 808 etc.

Benge: My favourite synth of all time – the Lambert & Butler Sound Modulator 400

NEAR FUTURE have done and CREEP SHOW + KINCAID are going out live, would that be a possibility for FADER in the future?

Neil: We do talk about that. It would be great. How about the Minack theatre?

Benge: Or the Eden Project gift shop?

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to FADER

Additional thanks to Steve Malins at Random Management

‘In Shadow’ is released by Blanc Check Records on 25th October 2019 in CD and download formats, pre-order from https://fader.tmstor.es/



Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
30th September 2019

OBLONG The Sea At Night

Every now and then, the world needs a lively unpretentious synth instrumental album to provide a temporary route of escapism; OBLONG’s ‘The Sea At Night’ is that record.

OBLONG formed out of a friendship between Benge (synths + drum programming), Dave Nice (synths, bass + drums) and Sid Stronarch (piano, synths + guitars) which eventually resulted in an album ‘Indicator’ in 2006.

And now with their second album ‘The Sea At Night’, the trio deliver a rustic electro-acoustic record of organically farmed electronica!

The beautifully spacey opener ‘Planetesimal’ conjures up widescreen images of the countryside with a wonderful musicality, something that is very prevalent throughout ‘The Sea At Night’. Starting with acoustic and bass guitar, ‘Frost Pocket’ uses the electronics more sparingly while the six string rings in a Michael Rother fashion. Meanwhile cut from a not dissimilar cloth, ‘Cool Calm & Connected’ does what it says on the tin, gently swinging and making effective use of double bass.

‘The Sea At Night’ title track adopts a propulsive Motorik stance, string synths and percussive accents vying for the high ground in an enjoyable cosmic duel. With a glorious groove, ‘Robot Dan’ puts vocoder into the mix, this futuristic jazz funk being Huggy Bear’s theme for the 22nd Century.

The pretty ‘Siphonophore’ and the equally pleasing ‘Phosphorescence’ soothe while ‘Fast Radio Burst’ ups the tempo which sees some funk and electronic bass in unison with sweeps of synths, all counterpointed by ringing melodies and a whirring solo.

Keeping up the pace, ‘Echolocation’ is a classic synth instrumental with its crystalline textures and charming slightly offkey blips while with its brilliant title, ‘Romford Suzuki’ acts as a fun funky interlude recalling Richard O’Sullivan’s opening title tune to ‘Robin’s Nest’.

With the glorious overtones of CLUSTER, ‘Weird Sugar’ takes things onto a more gentler pace towards the home straight as ‘The Sea At Night’ concludes magnificently with ‘Number Nine’; here Stronarch lets rip with his strummed acoustic while Nice complements with his double bass alongside rich layers of synths from all persuasions.

Reflecting the remote moorland location in Cornwall where it was recorded, ‘The Sea At Night’ captures the atmosphere of the nearby coastal landscapes.

While primarily synthesizer driven, the use of traditional instruments like acoustic guitar and double bass alongside the electronics adds an unusual but accessible focal point, like a more animated development of the 1981 Virginia Astley record ‘From Gardens Where We Feel Secure’.

‘The Sea At Night’ is proof that instrumental albums can still be wonderfully charming and melodic, there’s no Eurorack tutorials like those fashioned by Martin Gore for his ‘MG’ solo folly or formless meandering synthwave present here.

‘The Sea At Night’ is released by Memetune Recordings on 22nd March 2019 in vinyl LP and digital formats, pre-order via https://oblong.tmstor.es/

OBLONG will be special guests of JOHN GRANT at the following 2019 shows in Ireland:

Limerick University Concert Hall (27th March), Cork Opera House (28th March), Galway Leisureland (30th March), Dublin Born Gals Energy Theatre (31st March)




Text by Chi Ming Lai
5th March 2019

« Older posts Newer posts »