Celebrating forty years as recording artists, DURAN DURAN release their fifteenth studio album ‘Future Past’, a “live for the moment” reference of how something today can become a cherished memory in times to come.
Simon Le Bon, John Taylor, Roger and Nick Rhodes’ previous album ‘Paper Gods’ was a disappointment, especially after the return to form of the Mark Ronson produced ‘All You Need Is Now’ released in 2011. With the latter’s own 2007 predecessor ‘Red Carpet Massacre’ (with its contributions from Justin Timberlake and Timbaland) being as underwhelming as ‘Paper Gods’, will ‘Future Past’ see DURAN DURAN regain their groove?
The credits certainly indicate some potential with two tracks produced by electronic disco maestro Giorgio Moroder. But the majority of ‘Future Past’ has been helmed by British producer Erol Alkan of BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE fame. Also contributing guitar on most tracks is Graham Coxon of BLUR who might be seen as an unusual collaborator, but Britpop anthem ‘Girls & Boys’ was to all intents and purposes, a DURAN DURAN homage.
Certainly the chiptune inspired ‘More Joy!’ is reminiscent of former glories, its syncopated disco poise capturing DURAN DURAN at what they do best and with hypnotic electronics offset by a wonderful bass guitar run and chants by Japanese rock band CHAI, it exhilarates in a manner that is greatly appreciated.
Meanwhile, Giorgio Moroder lends his deft touch to ‘Beautiful Lies’ and ‘Tonight United’. With early DURAN DURAN songs like ‘Planet Earth’ and ‘Careless Memories’ having owed more than a debt to the Italian’s influence, the two songs deliver what is expected and that is no bad thing. The more immediate of the pair, ‘Beautiful Lies’ is a cousin to ‘Being Followed’ from ‘All You Need Is Now’ while ‘Tonight United’ swoops and rouses in a slightly funkier manner.
Sonically, the Moroder produced tracks have a clarity and power over the Erol Alkan produced offerings which suffer in places from the percussive harshness that seems to plague modern music, with recordings by acts such as BLANCK MASS and AVEC SANS being recent examples. ‘Invisible’ particularly falls victim to this and it would have been interesting to hear how Mark Ronson might have handled it as there is a good chorus in there!
Ronson does appear on guitar for ‘Wing’, a cinematic tune with Bond theme characteristics but this too is ruined by the drum sounds, although they are less obtrusive than on ‘Invisible’. More pleasing to the ear is the pumping and self-acknowledging ‘Anniversary’ which offers hints of ‘The Wild Boys’, ‘Girls On Film’ and ‘Save A Prayer’ like Easter eggs in an ode to four decades of friendship.
Following in the footsteps of Kelis, Ana Matronic, Janelle Monáe, Kiesza and Lindsay Lohan, Swedish songstress and Max Martin collaborator Tove Lo features on the introspective ‘Give It All Up’ which is enjoyable enough with an uplifting chorus and some soothing orchestrations, but ‘Hammerhead’ with drill rapper Ivorian Doll sees DURAN DURAN fall into prey to their often misguided desire to be current and contemporary.
Arranged to be epic, the ‘Future Past’ title track is a bit laboured while ‘Nothing Less’ sees Saffron Le Bon duetting with her father on a pleasant enough ballad. But for those preferring something of a more contemplative and arty vein, the lengthy drum machine driven ‘Falling’ sees David Bowie’s longest standing band member Mike Garson present his famed jazzy ivory runs to close.
Although a mixed bag, ‘Future Past’ is a vast improvement on ‘Paper Gods’, although it doesn’t hit the consistent heights of ‘All You Need Is Now’. There are enough good tracks in the classic DURAN DURAN mould to keep long standing fans of the band happy, with those likely to be live favourites as the band host on their belated Ruby anniversary parties around the world.
‘Future Past’ is released by Tape Modern / BMG to all digital platforms as well as being available as a CD, limited edition deluxe hardback book CD with additional tracks, coloured vinyl LP and cassette
To narrow down ten years of electronic pop to 30 songs was always going to be a challenging task.
But ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has given it a go to offer its own subjective twist.
As the decade started, female artists like LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX and LADYHAWKE had appeared to have been making in-roads into the mainstream as new flag bearers for the synthesizer.
But it proved to be something of a false dawn and while those artists continue today, the music that has made the most lasting impact between 2010-2019 has been made by evergreens from Synth Britannia whose talent has not subsided or independently minded musicians who focussed on art over commerce but didn’t forget to throw in a tune along the way.
As per usual, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s lists are all about rules. So this one has not only been restricted to one song per artist moniker but also to one vocalist. Hence SIN COS TAN just get the nod over VILLA NAH, while MIRRORS take preference over James New’s guest slot for FOTONOVELA on ‘Our Sorrow’ and the Midge Ure vocalled ‘Glorious’ has been chosen instead ULTRAVOX’s ‘Live’.
Presented in alphabetical order, here are our 30 SONGS OF THE DECADE 2010-2019…
With alternative songstress NYXX on additional vocals, ‘Rhythm + Control’ saw Daniel Graves take his industrial pop to the next level. The magnificent Electro Mix successfully realised an oddball blend of Darren Hayes, Britney Spears and Marilyn Manson. With a mightily elastic bassline, when asked whether ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had gone crazy coming up with the comparison, Daniel Graves replied “God no. Spot on, guys!” adding “The goal was to cram as many features into one song and have fun with it as possible.”
Close to the heart of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK with its solidarity to the synth, Synth Is Not Dead’ is a touching tribute to Messrs Clarke, Gore, Hütter and Schneider. Johan Baeckstrom said: “I guess I just wanted to reflect on the fact that there still IS a synthpop scene with some really great bands, both old and new. In another way, the song is sort of my ‘thank you’ to some of the artists that inspired me for several decades – some of them are mentioned in the lyrics, but far from all of course”.
‘Without A Trace Of Emotion’ saw Karl Bartos conversing with his showroom dummy Herr Karl and confronting his demons as an ex-member of the world’s most iconic electronic group. But whereas his former colleague Wolfgang Flür vented his spleen in book form with ‘I Was A Robot’, Bartos took a more ironic musical approach with the line “I wish I could remix my life to another beat” summing up a wry reference to ‘The Mix’ project which drove him out of Kling Klang!
BEYOND THE WIZARD’S SLEEVE featuring HANNAH PEEL Diagram Girl (2016)
BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE’s ‘Diagram Girl’ was the work of Erol Alkan and Richard Norris of THE GRID. Featuring the unisex vocals of Hannah Peel, a deeper pitch shift provided a psychedelic out-of-this-world feel which bizarrely fitted in alongside the songstress’ dreamily breathy tones. “They wanted me to sound like a man!” she remembered. Meanwhile the pulsing electronic soundtrack had surreal echoes of OMD, in particular their lesser known minor hit ‘Secret’.
Muscian, producer and Italians Do It Better head honcho Johnny Jewel, has lways been into all things Lynchian. So when CHROMATICS released the dreamy Badalamenti-inspired ‘Shadow’, it instantly recalled The Black Lodge’s red curtains in that sleepy Washington town. With Ruth Radelet’s wispy vocal and an eerie string machine for the main melodic theme, the ghostly wistful tune later came to further prominence thanks to its inclusion in ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ in 2017.
CHVRCHES stuck to the synthpop template of their 2013 debut and as a result, delivered what LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX, and LADYHAWKE and HURTS all failed to do… a decent second album! The propulsive four-to-the-floor action of ‘Clearest Blue’ was wonderfully held in a state of tension before WHACK, there was a dynamic surprise in the final third that recalled the classic overtures of Vince Clarke. The song was electronic pop magnificence embroiled.
RODNEY CROMWELL is the alter-ego of Adam Cresswell, formally of ARTHUR & MARTHA. ‘Black Dog’ recalled the pulsing post-punk miserablism of SECTION 25 and was embellished by some Hooky styled bass. As with NEW ORDER’s ‘Temptation’, despite the inherent melancholy, there was an optimistic light at the end of the tunnel that made ‘Black Dog’ a most joyous listening experience despite its very personal themes of love, loss, depression and redemption.
The ‘All You Need Is Now’ album saw DURAN DURAN cyclically return to the funk-led syncopated pop of their first two classic albums. A superb sequencer assisted disco number with a tingling metallic edge, ‘Being Followed’ hinted at THE CURE’s ‘A Forest’ while Nick Rhodes’ vintage string machine captured the tension of post 9/11 paranoia. Simon Le Bon gave his wayward all and while he has technically never had a great voice, what he delivered was unique AND untouchable…
Despite EAST INDIA YOUTH being no more as a project, the debut long player ‘Total Strife’ pointed towards William Doyle’s potential to pen sublime pop, and with the follow-up ‘Culture Of Volume’, the album’s centrepiece was ‘Carousel’. It imagined OMD’s ‘Stanlow’ reworked during Brian Eno’s sessions for ‘Apollo: Soundtracks & Atmospheres’. With no percussive elements and over six minutes in length, Doyle gave a dramatic vocal performance resonating in beautifully crystalline melancholy.
‘Glorious’ not only reunited Midge Ure with Rusty Egan but also Chris Payne who co-wrote ‘Fade To Grey’; Ure told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “I liked the music, but I didn’t think the song / melody / lyrics were strong enough, so I rewrote all of that in my studio. I stripped the demo down to the basic track, edited it down into a more ‘song like’ format and started working on a glorious melody. I added the main melodic synth line and layered guitars over it, ending with the ‘hopefully’ uplifting solo over the outro”.
With ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, EMIKA produced one of the best electronic albums of 2018. The record was a concept album of sorts, a musical reflection on generations of sadness within the Anglo-Czech musician’s family. The pacey ‘Promises’ made the most of her lower and higher vocal registers, providing an eerie cascading harmonic with some rumbling dubby tension and booming stabs driving Eastwards with solemn spine tingling qualities.
Available on the album ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ via Emika Records
John Foxx and Jori Hulkkonen had worked together previously on singular songs like ‘Dislocated’ and ‘Never Been Here Before’, but never before on a body of work with a conceptual theme. ‘European Splendour’ took on a grainier downtempo template and the lead track ‘Evangeline’ was all the more beautiful for it. Full of depth, coupled with an anthemic chorus and vibrant exchange of character throughout, this rousing yet soothingly futuristic number was quite otherworldly.
Releasing their first new material in over three decades, FIAT LUX returned with the most splendid ‘It’s You’. As well as the bassline and harmony from David P Crickmore, the sax style was a fitting tribute to the sadly departed Ian Nelson. Singer Steve Wright said: “Lyrically, I hope, it expresses feelings that possibly everyone can relate to…” in this gloriously optimistic tune about finding love again in midlife. Their long awaited debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ finally came out in 2019.
As the title suggested, the gorgeous and sophisticated ‘Dreaming’ adopted a distinctly European flavour compared with the mid-Atlantic AOR focus of songs like ‘Rocket’, ‘Alive’ and ‘Believer’ on the ‘Head First’ album. Alison Goldfrapp’s voice resonated angelically with beautiful high-register chorus alongside the with pulsing sequences and string machine washes of Will Gregory’s primarily electronic arrangement complimented by Davide Rossi’s cinematic orchestrations.
The Berlin period of IAMX has maintained a special quality in that Chris Corner captured an electro Gothic aesthetic that combined the theatrics of Weimar Cabaret with themes of sex, alienation and dependency. Despite the lyrical content, Corner’s songs were always strongly melodic with an accessible grandeur. ‘Ghosts Of Utopia’ had instant appeal for a dance in the dark with exhilarating mechanical drive. His scream of ”this is psychosis” was wholly believable!
As IAMAMIWHOAMI, Jonna Lee and Claes Björklund offered icy musical art. ‘Hunting For Pearls’ featured wonderfully pulsing sequences and trancey atmospheres, coupled with beautifully rich vocals. With a mysterious falsetto reach, the air might have been cold outside but inside, things were warm if delightfully odd. If Kate Bush made a modern electronic dance record at ABBA’s Polar Studios, it would probably have sounded like this. Jonna Lee continues the artistic adventure now as IONNALEE.
Available on the album ‘Blue’ via towhomitmayconcern
Sweden’s KITE are probably the best synth act in Europe right now. Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg’s wonderfully exuberant array of sounds and rugged majestic vocals certainly deserve a much larger audience. Issuing only EPs and never albums, the magnificent progressive electronic epic ‘Up For Life’ was a two-part nine minute masterpiece, the passionate and sublime first half mutated into a beautifully surreal journey of VANGELIS-like proportions for its second.
Asking if “it is foolish to dream”, ‘Someday’ saw Katja von Kassel questioning a moment of passionate haste. “The phrase ‘Someday’ just opened it all up and everything else just fell into place.” the chanteuse said. Capturing the beautiful melancholy of Billy Mackenzie, the doomed romantic tragedy of the sadly departed Scot was echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by Chris Payne’s hypnotic bassline and haunting vox humana treatment over a simple rhythmic loop.
The beautiful ‘Ambulances’ was totally different to anything LADYTRON had done before, almost in te vein of SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES. Moving at a much slower pace, Helen Marnie’s voice adopted an unexpected angelic falsetto over the lush spacious mix featuring dramatic strings, synthetic timpani and an almost random hi-hat pattern. Daniel Hunt said he “wanted it to sound ethereal and otherworldly” and with a glorious crescendo, ‘Ambulances’ was certainly something to be to be savoured.
A worthy of re-assessment of DEPECHE MODE ‘A Broken Frame’ was long overdue and MARSHEAUX have certainly gave a number of its songs some interesting arrangements. Their version of ‘Monument’ borrowed its bassline from latter day DM B-side ‘Painkiller’. Combined with the wispily resigned vocals of Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou, it provided a tense soundtrack. It’s not often that cover versions are better than the originals, but this was one of them.
With their smart suits, MIRRORS presented an intense and artful approach to electronic pop that recalled Dindisc era OMD. With a dense synthetic chill and pulsing effects dominating this brilliantly uptempo electro number, ‘Ways To An End’ came over like TALKING HEADS ‘Crossed Eyed & Painless’ given a claustrophobic post-punk makeover. Sadly, MIRRORS were to only make the one album ‘Lights & Offerings’ which although under-appreciated on release, is now acknowledged as a classic of the decade.
Having worked successfully in 2013 with Guy Sigsworth on ‘the minutes’, which saw Alison Moyet return to the synthesized music forms to compliment her powerful and self-assured voice, the follow-up ‘Other’ was a natural progression. The startling orchestrated electro-dub drama of ‘Alive’ gave Moyet’s two former classmates in DEPECHE MODE a stark lesson in how to actually fully realise electronic blues. Indeed, it was ‘In Chains’, the lame opener from ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ gone right…
After the guitar dominated proceedings of the last few NEW ORDER albums, Bernard Sumner promised a return to electronic music for the Mancunians’ first album of new material without estranged founder member and bassist Peter Hook. That was certainly delivered on with ‘Plastic’, a full-on throbbing seven minute electro number mixed by Richard X with blippy echoes of ‘Mr Disco’. Dealing with the issue of superficiality, it declared “this love is poison, but it’s like gold”… beware of anything plastic and artificial!
With a lot less goth metal guitar and much more prominent use of synths, the ‘Savage’ album successfully outstripped ‘Splinter’. And it was the haunting ‘And It All Began With You’ that stopped all in its tracks, with an exposed and soulful vocal. Borrowing Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ for its chorus, the subtle orchestrations and a gentle shuffling beat coupled to a steadily discordant electric piano riff to close, it beautifully brought out the best in classic Gary Numan while maintaining forward momentum.
OMD began their recorded career with a KRAFTWERK homage in ‘Electricity’ and four decades on, they came full circle. A great grandchild of Klingklang and cousin of ‘Metroland’ from ‘English Electric’, ‘Don’t Go’ captured the essence of OMD’s enduring electronic appeal. With crystalline synths and a spirited vocal delivery attached to a hypnotic Synthanorma backdrop, OMD continue to produce quality avant pop tunes, using beautiful melodies to tell terrible things…
SIN COS TAN was the new mathematically charged project of producer Jori Hulkkonen and VILLA NAH vocalist Juho Paalosmaa. “A synthesized duo of great promise, broken dreams, and long nights”, they have certainly delivered with ‘Trust’, all draped in melancholy with emotive vocals haunted by the ghost of Billy Mackenzie. With driving hypnotic, layered strings, sampled cimbalom and Cold War dramatics, this was as Jori Hulkkonen put it: “Disco You Can Cry To”…
Chinese six-piece STOLEN are reckoned by Berlin-based producer Mark Reeder to be the most exciting band since NEW ORDER and they closed the decade opening for them on tour in Europe. Certainly their debut album ‘Fragment’ was impressive with ‘Turn Black’ being one of its standout tracks. “I like the idea of mixing of rock with techno…” said growly lead vocalist Liang Yi, “we are very proud that we don’t sound like any of the other Chinese bands.”
The Nordic vocalist of the decade has to be Susanne Sundfør who worked with M83, KLEERUP and RÖYKSOPP as she built her international profile as a solo artist. Propelled by a pulsing electronic backbone, ‘Fade Away’ from Sundfør’s breakthrough album ‘Ten Love Songs’ caught her in rousing form with a tune that came over like Scandinavian gospel. Meanwhile, a fabulous polyphonic synth solo inspired by QUEEN’s ‘I Want To Break Free’ added another dimension.
First appearing online as a video exclusive in 2010, ‘Deep Red’ was inspired by Dario Argento’s ‘Profondo Rosso’. A gorgeous seven and a half minute funeral ballad that came over like CLIENT fronting classic OMD, this was tremendously dramatic stuff from Anais Neon and Martin Swan. It caught the ear of a certain Andy McCluskey who spotted VILE ELECTRODES while perusing ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and later invited them to open for OMD in Germany during their 2013 ‘English Electric’ tour.
Techno DJ WESTBAM celebrated 30 years in music with an intriguing mature collection of songs under the title of ‘Götterstrasse’. While the theme of the album centred on the joy and euphoria of underground nightlife, he said ‘You Need The Drugs’ was “the first explicit electronic appeal AGAINST the use of drugs with a clear message: drugs are a bore!”. Voiced brilliantly by Richard Butler of THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS’, it featured prominently in Mark Reeder’s film ‘B Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin 1979–1989’.
But there were plenty of quality songs on offer throughout the year and a number were significantly outstanding. Rounding down to a final 30 songs is always difficult and among the acts in the initial shortlist were ADAM IS A GIRL, BRIAN ENO, DELERIUM, EMIKA, KALEIDA, LADYHAWKE, METROLAND, PRESENCE OF MIND, REIN, FIFI RONG, SPRAY, WHITE LIES and the now disbanded ANALOG ANGEL.
After much deliberation and with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, here are ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 30 Songs of 2016 in alphabetical order…
APOPTYGMA BERZERK Rhein Klang
Futurepop veteran Stephan Groth certainly put his head on the line releasing an instrumental Sci-Fi concept album as an APOPTYGMA BERZERK long player. But with influences like KRAFTWERK, TANGERINE DREAM and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, ‘Exit Popularity Contest’ was an undoubted artistic success and perhaps what ‘MG’ should have sounded like. Full of Groth’s electronic lifeblood, ‘Rhein Klang’ was a wonderful oscillating slice of synth motorik in tribute to NEU!
JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM has been involved in electronic music for several decades, but it wasn’t until 1994 that he gained recognition as part of DAILY PLANET with vocalist Jarmo Ollila. His first album ‘Like Before’ in 2015 drew favourable comparisons to Vince Clarke. A competent vocalist himself, the long player’s title song got a standalone release in 2016 and instantly recalled the glory days of ERASURE with its precise, yet emotive synthpop with a message to “swim the oceans like before”.
Possibly one of the songs of 2016, BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE’s ‘Diagram Girl’ was the work of Erol Alkan and Richard Norris, formally of THE GRID. Featuring the unisex vocals of HANNAH PEEL, a deeper pitch shift provided a psychedelic out-of-this-world feel which bizarrely fitted in alongside the songstress’ dreamily breathy tones. Meanwhile the pulsing electronic soundtrack had surreal echoes of OMD, in particular their lesser known minor hit ‘Secret’.
BLACK NEEDLE NOISE featuring KENDRA FROST Warning Sign
It can be tricky keeping up with the prolific studio legend John Fryer. Following the critical success of his projects MURICIDAE and SILVER GHOST SHIMMER, BLACK NEEDLE NOISE employed a flexible lead vocal policy and did away with the idea of albums or EPs, focussing on just single songs. Magically breathy, ‘Warning Sign’ employed the soaring vocals of Kendra Frost from KITE BASE against a spacious backdrop of synths, beats and guitars for a brooding sonic amalgam.
With the sort of mighty Linn Drum engine room that would make Martyn Ware proud and punctuated with some rugged lead synth, ‘Hundred Hands’ was the best track on CIRCUIT3’s debut album. The work of Dublin based musician Peter Fitzpatrick, he even dropped in hints of KRAFTWERK’s ‘Showroom Dummies’ by way of a musical tribute. The parent album ‘siliconchipsuperstar’ was classic styled synthpop made by someone weaned on classic synthpop.
The elegiac ‘Thank You’ utilised some ‘Endless Endless’ vocodered stylings over layers of sweeping synthetic strings and a gentle metronomic pulse. A list of RUSTY EGAN’s musical heroes and associated beneficiaries in no particular order, this tone poem was a touching acknowledgement of electronic music’s marvellous history. A simple yet highly effective idea, the beauty is in its realisation. Appropriately, it ends with a touchingly poignant “VISAGE… thank you”.
A previously unreleased song for a compilation of Foxx’s song based work in the new millennium, ‘A Man & A Woman’ was a surprise in that it was less rigid than previous JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS recordings. Featuring some enchanting whispers from the seemingly ubiquitous HANNAH PEEL, it was an interesting departure that even featured some subtle acoustic guitar flourishes. Foxx’s work is still under-appreciated, so for many ‘21st Century: A Man, A Woman And A City’ provided an opportunity to catch up.
Welsh songstress ANI GLASS served her apprenticeship with girl groups GENIE QUEEN and THE PIPETTES and worked with Andy McCluskey and Martin Rushent respectively along the way. ‘Y Ddawns’ (‘The Dance’) was a wonderfully exhilarating pop art adventure. Swathed in synths and driven by a metronomic beat, it was a declaration of hope, deeply voiced in the verse with a gorgeous soaring resonance in the chorus, about “finding solace and meaning in music, dance, art and culture”.
Helsinki-based Ringa Manner has been making crystalline sine waves as THE HEARING. Her second album ‘Adrian’ boasted the sub-eight minute epic ‘Kabeldon’. A outstanding electronic work with an affinity to Norwegian songstress SUSANNE SUNDFØR, there were also bows to DAVID BOWIE’s ‘I’m Deranged’ when the mad cascading piano kicked in alongside the frantic drum ‘n’ bass and steadily building cacophony of noise. Then, when it appeared all over, the song mutated into an eloquent Nordic dubstep ballad!
Available on the album ‘Adrian’ via Solina Records
The project of Julie Kathryn, the haunting tension of ‘Losing Face’ accentuates a variety of electronic and organic colours. A muted chop’ n’ chuck provides the percussive backbone while an eerie soundscape is steadily configured as Kathryn succumbs to lust. “You’re different when you’re on top of me… how I hate the state I’m in” she paradoxically reflects, as bubbling detuned synth swirls and acoustic guitar penetrate the foreboding atmosphere in the vein of ‘Felt Mountain’ era GOLDFRAPP.
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE & CYNDI LAUPER Swipe To The Right
After decades of composing lengthy synth symphonies, there must have been times when the France maestro must have just wanted to do a four minute pop tune. This JEAN-MICHEL JARRE managed in a quirky collaboration with Brooklyn’s CYNDI LAUPER. No stranger to electronic forms, particularly with her under rated ‘Bring Ya To The Brink’ album of 2007, ‘Swipe To The Right’ had big bass riffs galore for a great poptastic exploration, while reflecting on the use of Tinder in modern relationships.
KID MOXIE is Elena Charbila, the Greek born singer and actress who likes to make music with friends. Working best in collaboration, her well-received album ‘1888’ showed she had blossomed and displayed an inventive maturity following the gutter pop of her early releases. From her best body of work yet in ‘Perfect Shadow’, the seductive ‘Still High’ was gloriously cinematic synthpop with a touch of maiden iciness that affirmed this artistic progression.
One-time label mates of MARSHEAUX, LIEBE are the electro disco duo comprising of George Begas and Dimos Zachariadis who could be considered the Greek PET SHOP BOYS. Sitting on that difficult bridge between pastiche and post-modern, their romantic disco friendly sound mines Europop while adding the vocal drawl of Jarvis Cocker. The magnificent JEAN-MICHEL JARRE goes Italo disco of ’The Box’ was the highlight of their wonderfully escapist pop album ‘Revolution Of Love’.
Recorded in London and Athens, a new approach saw MARSHEAUX’s trademark wispiness blended in with a subtle tone of aggression. The opening song on ‘Ath.Lon’, the album title of which was derived from the cities of Athens and London, ‘Burning’ was a harsh but sexy slice of synth expressionism. While clearly referencing darker electronica forms with its hypnotising percussive motif, it crucially maintained the essence of a good tune.
With their new album ‘Looking Skyward’, MESH alleviated any fears that they might not be able to sustain the artistic momentum seeded by 2013’s ‘Automation Baby’. Despite the lyrically negative nature of ‘The Fixer’, a driving bass triplet attached to a solid four-to-the-floor beat and an anthemic topline shed a light of optimism amongst the gloom. MESH have firmly carved their own niche and any disillusioned DEPECHE MODE fans should consider joining the fold immediately…
In August 2015, METROLAND’s sound engineer and close friend Louis Zachert, aka Passenger L, passed away. The Brussels based duo recorded ‘Things Will Never Sound The Same Again’, a musical eulogy created from scratch as their way of paying homage to their fellow passenger. The uplifting ’Music / Machine’ with its Jarre-esque melodies started as a METROLAND remix of MUSICOCOON, a project involving Louis and his friend Philippe Malemprée. Kindly donated, its presence is in honour of Louis as the last piece of music he ever worked on.
Buoyed by the acclaim of their EP trilogy and their power as a live act, NIGHT CLUB experimented with a more aggressive synth rock disco sound for their debut long player ‘Requiem For Romance’. Playing around with a range of unsettling vocal pitch shifts and religious imagery for the sinister overtones of ‘Pray’, Emily Kavanaugh and Mark Brooks have more than substantiated their position as one of North America’s best independent electronic pop duos.
It’s been a busy year for HANNAH PEEL; layered with staccato voice samples and uplifting bursts of symphonic strings, the driving arpeggio laden ‘All That Matters’ was her calling card, not just as her most synthpop offering yet but also as a mantra to live in the moment. The opening track of her second album ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’, her very personal musical journey themed around memory and the effects of dementia was a startling artistic triumph.
Never mind their age, PET SHOP BOYS are still ‘The Pop Kids’ and ‘Twenty-something’ ones at that. But on the moodier ‘The Dictator Decides’, there comes one of those politically laced introspective numbers in the vein of ‘My October Symphony’ and ‘Don Juan’ that Tennant and Lowe always do so well. As Tennant deadpans “if you get rid of me, we can all be free”, the song provides an amusing surreal narrative of a tyrannical politician bored of his outright power and wanting to live a normal life.
From the Cold War Night Life curated ‘Heresy: A Tribute To Rational Youth’, one of the highlights from the collection is PSYCHE’s take on ‘Ring The Bells’ from appropriately, RATIONAL YOUTH’s ‘Cold War Night Life’ debut. The clattering 808 beat and elegantly haunting sweeps combined with Darrin Huss’ mournful vocal provide an atmospheric reworking that betters the original and reflects the decades long kinship between RATIONAL YOUTH and PSYCHE.
Greek electropop goddess SARAH P. started her music career as the frontwoman of KEEP SHELLY IN ATHENS. With ‘I’d Go’ she said: “Most of the people do not get that this song is not as happy as it sounds at a first listen”. In her own words she confesses: “I’m a childish woman and nobody can stop me from being one” and adds “If there’s anything I stand for with all my heart is the ‘Go be you’ motto!” – her full length debut long player ‘Who Am I?’ is eagerly awaited.
Available on the mini-album ‘Free’ via EraseRestart
Enigmatic Gothenburg electronic trio SILENT WAVE possess the hauntronica hallmarks of fellow Swedes THE KNIFE. ‘War’ is a reminder of how that sibling duo once combined tunes with their experimentation. With a suitably dark Nordic vibe, it could easily have come off ‘Silent Shout’ and while the template is undoubtedly derivative, ‘War’ is extremely well executed.
Available on the download single ‘War’ via Silence Records
With his career spanning 10 CD box set ‘Trials Of Eyeliner: Anthology 1979-2016’, the last thing anyone expected from MARC ALMOND this year was an electronic pop album. Almond first recorded with Anglo German production duo STARCLUSTER in 2008. A great cover version, ‘To Have & Have Not’ was originally recorded by RONNY and retains the stern manner of the former Parisian model, while giving this slice of modern Weimar Cabaret a new lease of life.
Available on the album ‘Silver City Ride’ via Closing the Circle / Private Records
An appearance at the 2015 ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE in Düsseldorf reinforced TINY MAGNETIC PETS’ reputation as an intriguing live act by winning over figures such as Rusty Egan and Andy McCluskey. The soulful ‘Not Giving In’ makes the most of Paula Gilmer’s enticingly wispy voice. With detuned pulses contrasting the digital chimes and staccato voice samples, an unusual stuttering reggae inflected beat enhances the atmosphere.
Highly exuberant and featuring a poptastic four chord progression, ‘Believe In Love’ was TRAIN TO SPAIN’s first recording to feature producer Lars Netzel aka NOT LARS as a full-time member. It developed on the promise of songs like ‘Passion’ from their debut album ‘What it’s All About’ released in 2015 and significantly gave more space within Jonas Rasmusson’s classic synthpop framework for lead singer Helena Wigeborn to exude her charm in. But it seems TRAIN TO SPAIN are back to a duo again…
‘River In Me’ was an unusual TRENTEMØLLER recording in that Jehnny Beth from SAVAGES actually came to his home studio in Copenhagen to lay down her vocals. The end result possessed a Gothic intensity, yet was vibrant and melodic with Beth’s Siouxsie-like tones complimenting the hybrid synth laced soundscape. While some complained that ‘River In Me’ was not as dark as the Dane’s previous work, it was his most immediate offering yet with a fine balance of accessibility and mood.
It’s the avant pop approach reminiscent of early OMD that sets VILE ELECTRODES apart from and makes them so captivating. ‘The Vanished Past’ is a potent successor to the drama of ‘Deep Red’, complete with a mighty drum cacophony à la OMD’s ‘Navigation’. Bleak and wonderful, “not everything is as it seems” as a forlorn stranger joins in. As the seven minute adventure unfolds like a lost OMD epic, that stranger begins to sound like a certain George Andrew McCluskey!
From their superb second album ‘Ultima’, ‘Stranger’ was a brilliant return for VILLA NAH after a five year absence. Front man Juho Paalosmaa said: “‘Stranger’ is a play on words; how somebody you’ve known can turn stranger over the span of time… and end up as a complete stranger in the process. I don’t think it’s a track I would’ve written as a 20 year old. It requires some years of age and experience to really understand how time can change people, including yourself.”
Available on the album ‘Ultima’ via Solina Records
If CABARET VOLTAIRE had hijacked Compass Point Studios in The Bahamas while TALKING HEADS were recording ‘Speaking In Tongues’, the end result might have ended up sounding a bit like this. ‘Stupid’ sees Stephen Mallinder in warped falsetto mode over a hypnotic sequence of menacing synths from Benge and Phil Winter. The track’s rhythmic heart creates an almost robotic, yet electro-funk feel for one of the undoubted highlights on WRANGLER‘s ‘White Glue’ album.
Despite 37 years of making music together, the distinctive sound of YELLO remains intriguing and distinctly European and the new album ‘Toy’ delighted fans. On the superb ‘Electrified II’ (the original version appeared on Boris Blank’s boxed set of the same name), Dieter Meier has his mind blown by the velvet voice of Malia. As she exclaims “Life’s a bitch and I’m no witch”, this could be Shirley Bassey indulging in some seductive energetic electro-cabaret.
Available on the album ‘Toy’ via Polydor / Universal Music
Hannah Peel first became widely known as the synth playing violinist with JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS.
Although a musician nurtured within a more traditional background, synthpop was the root of her 2010 debut EP ‘Rebox’ which featured music box covers of classics such as ‘Electricity’, Tainted Love’ and ‘Blue Monday’. Over the last few years, more electronic elements have blended into the work of HANNAH PEEL.
2014’s ‘Fabricstate’ EP was a marvellous hybrid of the synthetic and the organic while on her 2015 seasonal single ‘Find Peace’, Peel went the full electronic hog with a dreamy cacophony of analogue bleeps and percussive mantras.
While ‘Rebox 2’ in 2015 provided an enticing stopgap, Hannah Peel’s second full length album ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’ is now ready to be unleashed. Produced with long-term collaborator Erland Cooper from THE MAGNETIC NORTH, the record is a concept album of sorts about memory and the tragic effects of dementia, based on events in Peel’s own life.
An impressive body of work that will startle even her new followers who have come on board via her work with JOHN FOXX, ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’ sees Peel at her most experimental yet, especially in the long player’s strident second half. However, the album is launched with the accessible yet poignant pop statement of ‘All That Matters’.
In a busy 2016 which has seen Hannah Peel contribute to recordings by THE MAGNETIC NORTH, BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE and JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS as well as her own album and an instrumental project under the pseudonym of Mary Casio, she kindly took time out to chat from her retreat in County Donegal.
It’s been a few years since your debut album ‘The Broken Wave’, how do you think you’ve developed as an artist in that time?
I think from the experience firstly of collaborating with John Foxx, then doing THE MAGNETIC NORTH, scoring for MARY CASIO and doing ‘Rebox 2’, I’ve really learnt a lot. I found things I really like and adore in the way I want to make music. In terms of learning from John and Benge about analogue synths, being part of MemeTune studio for the last few years has enabled me to discover who I am. It’s been a very nice process.
You’ve also taken over the studio space where MemeTune used to be based with Erland Cooper. Did Benge leave any synths behind for you?
He left quite a few, it took him weeks to move out… a year later, he’s got his palace in Cornwall sorted and there’s only a Hammond organ left! It’s all sadly gone down there.
You gave your profile an additional boost earlier in the year by working with BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE?
BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE was a fantastic thing, they really liked ‘All That Matters’ and Richard Norris ended up doing a remix. So in return, he asked me to come to this big house to record some vocals.
I turned up and met his musical partner Erol Alkan; I was instructed to sing one thing and it went on… it was about eight hours later that I actually left! I ended up doing about seven tracks, but it all blurred into one!
Was the deep pitch shifted vocal on ‘Diagram Girl’ done in post-production?
No, it was recorded that way… they wanted me to sound like a man! *laughs*
How did you approach the concept of ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’, what’s its thematic core?
I’ve been writing this album for a very long time since the first one and it’s gone through hundreds of stages, but it never felt quite right. Unfortunately, my granny had dementia and I never quite formalised in my head what it could be, like scientifically where does this disease come from?
I’d read about how people had used music to communicate with those who had lost their memory or had dementia. So one Christmas, I mentioned that to my family and suggested we sing a couple of songs. From not knowing us at all or where she was, she sang every single song and smiled… she even said “Happy Christmas”.
She was very old when she passed away this year, so you can imagine after ten years of having that kind of feeling, all of a sudden being woken up by music… as soon as that happened, I realised that’s what the album was about and what I’ve been writing about these last few years, but I hadn’t really thought about it.
So it took a while to jig it around, the running order is quite specific in terms of how it goes into the rabbit hole of the brain and the darker side. The instrumentals and tracks with no lyrics represent how people lose their speech and hallucinate, so with that second side which is more psychedelic and the repeating of lyrics, I made sure certain elements were brought out when we were mixing it.
But I didn’t want to make a record that was depressing. Obviously it’s a very tragic thing, but also the person is still exactly the same person.
A lot of the time, you think you’ve lost them but actually, they’re just in a different world. So that’s why I wanted to approach it as if going into their world and their mind, and through that process, finding solitude and peace myself as well.
Did your interim releases like ‘Fabricstate’, ‘Find Peace’ and ‘Rebox 2’ have any bearing on how you made ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’?
That’s a really good question because they really did, mostly because I was obsessed for a long time with this Italo Calvino book ‘Invisible Cities’; it’s fifty-five short prose poems about these imaginary cities and worlds that all delve into emotion. ‘Fabricstate’ came directly from that book and for a long time, I was like “why am I obsessed with this book?” because I just couldn’t figure it out.
But that specific moment with my granny, I got what I’d been trying to do for the last few years. It was building a city inside your mind or going to another place and understanding it, and that world could be so upside-down as if you live in a net or a valley.
The track ‘Octavia’ on the album is a direct reference to one of the cities, like ‘Chloe’ from the ‘Fabricstate’ EP. It was like maps and the mind, where everything is connecting neurons and everything, it all folded into one whole body of work. So all the EPs and everything all came from the same place really, it was just how they actually come together on the album.
‘Chloe’ from ‘Fabricstate’ was the theme song to the dark Channel 4 drama ‘Dates’. Out of interest, what did you think of it?
Somebody heard the demo, really liked the lyrics and thought it would work well with the show. At the time, I didn’t have the EP ready so I was like “Why not? That would be nice!”
We had to adjust every single ending of the song for each different episode and it came very naturally. I’m glad that it’s got a purpose. I really liked the show, mainly because it was like watching a theatre show on TV with a couple in one place and that was it. It was a gorgeous concept and it was a shame it didn’t get commissioned any further.
‘All That Matters’ is possibly your most synthpop song yet, how did that develop from writing to recording because it started on piano?
It goes back to basic songwriting, in that if it works with one instrument which is my core solid grounding like a piano, it can work across all different kinds of forms. It worked beautifully on the piano, but I don’t think it gave the album enough hope, fun and youthfulness that it needed to open up a record.
It needed that big sense of life affirming power, the arpeggiator synthline and the blend of the organic strings came together quite naturally.
Talking of this more positive tone despite the darkness, there’s songs with melancholic optimism like ‘Hope Lasts’?
It had the same kind of angle in terms of being supported and that no matter how bad things get, you keep a bright eye on things. I think a lot of what I deal with as an artist is self-doubt and self-deprecating myself to the point that I can’t do something *laughs*
What I saw echoed in a lot of other people, especially with something like this where it’s so tragic, is it doesn’t have to be, there is hope there. There are people trying to find a cure, there is support and music can do that. So there had to be this hopeful “I can see you – I can see the future – I can see its going to be ok – don’t worry” aspect, it’s quite simple really. That’s another song that really works on the piano and I’ve been saying to my manager Steve Malins that it would be really lovely to do a version of some of the songs from the record with just piano and strings.
The second half of the album will surprise some because it’s quite experimental. You mentioned ‘Octavia’ earlier but there are also the title track and ‘Foreverest’ which are both quite long…
Those are the tracks that came from writing things like the instrumentals on ‘Rebox 2’ and ideas that came from using the same instruments like the Roland SH101.
It felt that to go into that world, you needed to go into a trance state with something that is long and stepping into something else. ‘Foreverest’ was originally two tracks, they fitted so well together so they were joined with a Claptrap *laughs*
‘Foreverest’ was written from an outside perspective of looking at the world and how particularly in life, we race around and we try our best to succeed or get to the top and people are cut-throat. I goes back to ‘All That Matters’ at the end of the day, regardless of anything, is you have someone around you who cares for you and you love. It was a kind of reflection on how people try to get to the top of Mount Everest and die on the way up and don’t get lifted down!
There’s hundreds of people who go up there and die on the mountain and are left there! When I read that in ‘National Geographic’, I thought at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you don’t get to the top of your career or whatever, because you might lose your mind or memory… what does it matter?
You’ve covered ‘Cars In The Garden’ by Paul Buchanan from THE BLUE NILE, what made you choose this song for the album?
I’ve been playing this song live for a while and for me when I heard it, it triggered something that was very emotional. I’m a massive fan of THE BLUE NILE and a lot of the basis of the album’s production comes from ‘A Walk Across The Rooftops’ and ‘Hats’. It’s the blend of analogue synths, beautiful lush strings and Paul Buchanan’s voice in particular which just resonates.
When I was putting the album together, the very end felt like it needed a music box to bring you back to childhood, which is where everybody seems to go. My granny remembered where she was born when she was aged six and that was right up until she died, but she wouldn’t remember anything past that. The music box for me is obviously very innocent, real and fed with paper, and the song itself talks about folding into the landscape and being overcome by nature. So it felt like the perfect ending to round it off to go back to the beginning.
I tried various different duet vocals and we’ve got a really wonderful version with John Foxx, but the one with Hayden Thorpe from WILD BEASTS made it onto to album because his vocal is so subtle and soft, it just needed that other perspective on it.
What would you say are your favourite songs on the new album?
One in particular is ‘Conversations’, I can’t sing it at the moment without crying, recording that was really difficult.
I don’t know if I’ll ever do that one live; if I do, it will be when I’ve got used to the album maybe later down the line.
‘Conversations’ reminds me of Kate Bush…
Oh thank you, that’s really nice. I suppose it’s the vocal that goes up really high, speaking and stuff.
I do want all the songs there, but there’s a couple that I find very emotionally connecting, ones that really mark where emotions come from. ‘Foreverest’, ‘All That Matters’ and ‘Don’t Take It Out On Me’ are the main ones that grab me and get me going inside, they’re so direct.
Does having other projects such as THE MAGNETIC NORTH and Mary Casio help with focussing your different interests?
Yes, they do. It’s really important that they have a separate voice so there is a different sound. Mary Casio could have been a Hannah Peel album, but it’s so different in terms of there’s no vocals.
It’s very much an instrumental journey, so it helped me to compose it under a different name and gave me the confidence to just go for it. They do blend but I think the key is the style and the blend of soundscapes that hopefully makes it different on each one, but also keeps it together.
Some of your earlier fans don’t appear to have enjoyed your new direction. Who do you think your fanbase is these days?
I’ve moved on so much since ‘The Broken Wave’ so I don’t feel that anybody that was on that first album should have been on that journey with me. I do find that my fanbase is very, very varied and comes from all different angles; there’s THE MAGNETIC NORTH and John Foxx obviously in particular.
The first record wasn’t me, I just did it because it was fun and someone said “I’ll produce and put this out for you”, I just said “Yeah, why not!” – most of it was written while I was recording just in the studio, because I’d never really written songs before.
It was an interesting thing when it came out. I actually ended up, not resenting the album because it means a lot, but it just didn’t feel like me.
I’ve said to Steve Malins several times, “I want it off iTunes! I don’t want it there anymore” because it doesn’t represent who am I now and he just went “You can’t do that! You can’t just wipe it off and start again!”*laughs*
When I go to see family in Donegal and I go down the pub, people down there ask me to play ‘Song For The Sea’ from ‘A Broken Wave’ because it’s still a favourite of people around there because they know me from childhood. So that’s nice, it makes me feel better.
You’re about to embark on the five date ‘Troika’ tour with KITE BASE and I SPEAK MACHINE. What’s happening here?
I like KITE BASE, they supported me in London last year and we knew Tara Busch was coming over to support GARY NUMAN as I SPEAK MACHINE. We were all free at this time so someone said “Shall we do something?” and we just pencilled it in.
We’re all playing solo, we’re not doing anything joint, it’s just a joint billing tour. Every night, the headliner will be different so we’re just making sure everybody comes down for the first act… what that first act is, you won’t know until you get there! *laughs*
We’re all of a similar age and come from the same background, and although the music from each act is different, it does feel similar in a way. Also, it’s nice to have some kind of support because even just for myself to get on a support tour is really difficult if you’re not on a big label. It’s nice that we have this group mentality of “right, we’re going do something and we’re going to do it” and it’s going to be called THIS and the poster is going to have a Soviet style that we all really like!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Hannah Peel
Special thanks also to Josh Cooper at 9PR and Steve Malins at Random Management
It’s only April, but could ‘Diagram Girl’ by BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE be one of the songs of 2016?
The psychedelically monikered sonic brotherhood of DJ Erol Alkan and Richard Norris, who is best known for his partnership with Dave Ball in THE GRID, BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE are set to release their debut album proper ‘The Soft Bounce’ on 1st July 2016, following establishing their reputation as remixers with their series of ‘Re-Animations’. ‘Diagram Girl’ is the gorgeously enticing lead track from the album and comes over as a blissfully sequenced electronic take on M83 or MAPS, but with the twist of unisex vocals by HANNAH PEEL.
Directed by BAFTA winner Kieran Evans, the wonderful monochromatic video for ‘Diagram Girl’ is a wonderful surreal homage to Nouvelle Vague cinema, capturing a forlorn woman surreally trapped in a derelict house stalked by a ghost and assorted crow-like beings; meanwhile the delightful Miss Peel also makes a cameo appearance.
Released as a single, the bundle also contains a Re-Animation which takes off the male lead vocal and leaves just Peel’s natural dreamily breathy tones over the extended electronic workout.
The Craigavon-born songstress and composer herself has been very busy of late. As well as juggling projects such as THE MAGNETIC NORTH and MARY CASIO, there will also be the live debut of a collaborative work called ‘In The Shadows Of Steam’, celebrating the lost railways of Donegal at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival on Thursday 5th May 2016.
And this is without Peel’s own upcoming second solo album ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’, contributing her vocals to a new JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS song ‘A Man & A Woman’ which will feature on a new compilation ‘21st Century: A Man, A Woman And A City’ and a South Coast tour of eight record shops in support of her ‘Rebox 2’ mini-album release on gold vinyl for RSD2016 on Saturday 16th April.
Meanwhile, promising an album of “pleasure and pain, doubt and transcendence” with other guest such as Blaine Harrison of indie rockers MYSTERY JETS, Euros Childs from GORKY’S ZYGOTIC MYNCI, Jane Weaver and Holly Miranda, BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE launch ‘The Soft Bounce’ with a 4 hour DJ set at The Moth Club in London on the evening of its release.