Tag: Blancmange (Page 1 of 13)

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 than their first single ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ 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 in a newly emerging electronic world. Produced by Mike Hedges, ‘Sulk’ was a kaleidoscopic triumph. Featuring reworked versions of ‘Party Fears Two’ and ‘Club Country’, from the frantic instrumental ‘Arrogance Gave Him Up’ to 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 the blistering opening of 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, frontman and synth player 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 the use of four producers, the songs ranged from the tribal mantras of ‘African & White’ to eveocative ballads such as ‘Christian’ with catchy synthpop like ‘Some People I Know To Have Fantastic Lives’ 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 minimal electro body re-recording of their 1980 Mute single ‘Kebab Träume’. Transformed into something much heavier, the memorable if 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 was holed up working on the first YAZOO album at Blackwing Studios on the night shift, during the day Daniel Miller was working 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’ made use of pretty ringing tones courtesy of a newly acquired 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

‘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. For his intellectual approach to modern pop, Thomas Dolby adopted a boffin persona which came to its zenith on the US hit ‘She Blinded Me With Science’ which was later appended onto the album.

‘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’ was a highlight capturing 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

With a sound that combined enough conventional rock guitar to have mainstream appeal while adding a spacey sheen with prominent synths, Liverpool’s A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS had winning formula to break America. Produced by Mike Howlett, their long playing debut was a concept album of sorts about an alien invasion that featured ‘I Ran’, ‘Space Age Love Song’ and ‘Telecommunication’. In an America still drunk on TOTO and JOURNEY, their greatest achievement was winning a ‘Best Rock Instrumental Performance’ Grammy Award for the album track ‘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 from the mixing board 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 percussive dub laden barrage of ‘Do Or Die’ was one of the highlights, 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’. With international ambitions, an English version was recorded first and 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 with the single ‘Music For Chameleons’ and the subsequent ‘I Assassin’ album. 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 how young Poles might have spent their down time 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’. When the wall came down at the end of 1989, the trio’s work was done.

‘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 the promising ‘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. Jim Kerr’s lyrics were enigmatic gibberish but 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 indeed, its Bryan Ferry / David Bowie cross very much had a Marmite. 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 one of the highlights. Meanwhile complimented by 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 the ‘Quartet’ album, ULTRAVOX worked with George Martin who produced THE BEATLES. The sound was brighter, more structured and stripped of the density that had characterised the albums with Conny Plank, perhaps 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 and experimental that anything 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 possibly the most under rated 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 the two founder members 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. The debut ‘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 talent that was apparent on ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’ has meant both have maintained musical careers that continue to this day.

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

http://www.yazooinfo.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
7th January 2022

BLANCMANGE + HEARTBREAK Live in Tunbridge Wells

The leafy Kent town of Royal Tunbridge Wells was the location for first night of the BLANCMANGE tour rescheduled from 2020.

Originally intended to coincide with the 12th full length BLANCMANGE long player ‘Mindset’, Neil Arthur recorded another album ‘Commercial Break’ during lockdown while also preparing a soon-to-be-released collaboration with Finlay Shakespeare who will be the support act from Colchester Arts Centre onwards.

But tonight at The Forum, which was chosen to be a sort of warm-up to get BLANCMANGE back into the ritual of live performance after a gap of almost two years, the opening act was the energetic Anglo-Argentine electro duo HEARTBREAK. Comprising of charismatic vocalist Sebastian Muravchik and thoughtful instrumentalist Ali Renault, HEARTBREAK toured with the likes of LA ROUX and LITTLE BOOTS in support of their 2008 debut album ‘Lies’ before they went into hiatus for nearly a decade and re-emerging in 2018.

Muravchik has been making music as SNS SENSATION while Renault recently issued an instrumental solo mini-album ‘Nawce Blizzard’, but there is a new HEARTBREAK album on the way and it was with one of the new numbers ‘1888’ that they began their uptempo set. From ‘Lies’ came the modern Italo romp of ‘Akin to Dancing’ and the falsetto charged ‘Regret’ before Muravchik announced how the fall out between himself and Renault (which put HEARTBREAK on the backburner) had been channelled into another new song called ‘This Battle’.

Having regrown his moustache especially for this occasion, Muravchik busted some Latin lothario moves and beckoned the now warmed up audience to dance to HEARTBREAK’s appropriately titled signature song ‘We’re Back’ and the frenzied ‘My Tears Electro’.

The most enthusiastic of the participants was undoubtedly Renault’s primary school aged daughter who was totally thrilled with seeing her father perform for the very first time and assiting on vocoder.

To very bright stage lights, long standing BLANCMANGE live keyboardist Ogoo Maia and electronic percussionist Liam Hutton took their places as they awaited the arrival of Neil Arthur to launch into the ‘Mange Tout’ favourite ‘Game Above My Head’.

With a set divided equally divided between classic material and 21st Century BLANCMANGE works, the marvellous robopop of ‘In Your Room’ from 2018’s ‘Wanderlust’ and songs off the ‘Mindset’ album, such as the title song and ‘Clean Your House’, showed that Arthur was still pushing forward artistically. But surprises also came with the 1985 single ‘What’s Your Problem?’ and ‘I Prefer Solitude’ from the FADER collaboration with producer Benge.

‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘Waves’ and ‘I’ve Seen The Word’ highlighted that for those in attendance, the 1982 debut ‘Happy Families’ is still a record held with great affection by many while there was also space for the topical wordplay of ‘This A State’ from the upcoming ‘Commercial Break’ album.

However, during a lone ivory version of ‘The Day Before You Came’, Arthur got knocked off focus by those who were talking quite loudly during this key set-piece.

Asking Maia to stop, the Lancastrian made his thoughts known in his deep dry tone about the lingering chitter-chatter and said he would prefer it if people sang along instead. This prompted some to visit azlyrics.com on their phones and as Arthur continued with his rendition of his favourite ABBA song, he had to contain his laughter as most present joined in!

Heading for the home straight, ‘Living On The Ceiling’ prompted the now-customary massed chant of the song’s main instrumental while ‘Feel Me’ and ‘Blind Vision’ closed proceedings with a welcome Saturday night disco. “It’s been hard work in rehearsals and the first show proper after around 2 years is quite a challenge” Neil Arthur said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK afterwards, “In a good way.”

As the most prolific artist of the Synth Britannia generation and one who has toured every year since as BLANCMANGE’s comeback in 2011 up to and including 2019, Neil Arthur’s return to the live stage is an important symbol that gives hope after a difficult 21 months.

Certainly those present at The Forum seemed happy to be out with their friends for some live music and a drink or three, even if not all were necessarily paying attention to what they had paid their hard earned money to see.


With thanks to Joe Pidgeon at AGMP and Chris Pritchard at The Forum

‘Commercial Break’ is released by Blanc Check on 17th September 2021 in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats, available from http://blancmange.tmstor.es/

BLANCMANGE 2021 live dates include:

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)

BLANCMANGE will also be opening for ERASURE on 17th October 2021 and London O2 Arena

http://www.blancmange.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/BlancmangeMusic

https://twitter.com/_blancmange_

https://www.instagram.com/blancmange_music/

https://www.facebook.com/Heartbreak-14224761975


Text and Photos by Chi Ming Lai
13th September 2021

BLANCMANGE Commercial Break

Never one to sit still, Neil Arthur explores a new direction for BLANCMANGE’s 14th album ‘Commercial Break’.

While the synthesizer framework remains, the unexpected textures of acoustic six string and various field recordings permeate on this reflective work co-produced by Benge at his Memetune Studios in Cornwall.

To add some of that air and atmosphere that can be missing from many modern productions using computerised media, Neil Arthur has absorbed audio captures of electric saws, seafronts, conversations, bird song and old water pumps into the backdrop.

To a background of sea breezes, a lone bass synth squelches from ‘Share Out The Light’. In the frustrated vein of the classic Northern English comedy show ‘Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads?’, Neil Arthur decides that “A knock on the door, I don’t want to know the score” as the mood envelopes over 5 and a half minutes as “we learn from mistakes”. Cut from a similar cloth, ‘Endless Posts’ is harsher, adding electric guitar in a cutting percussive attack on social media obsession.

Offering something more in the vein of classic OMD, ‘This A State’ sees Neil Arthur still as dry as ever with his wordplay, declaring “this is the state we’re in”! But as our hero is switching channels due to a ‘Commercial Break’, he declares “It’s five to five and it’s Crackerjack” over an a stepped lattice of pulse and throb! Meanwhile with a hypnotic rhythmic backbone behind creepy minimal texturing, ‘Dog Walk In A Cloud’ requests listeners to “make something of it”

But after all the electronics, ‘Empty Street’ surprises with an acoustic guitar instrumental! With a solemn monologue and accompanied by field recordings, ‘Strictly Platonic’ takes the minimal guitar structures further while it electrifies them on the instrumental ‘On A Ride’.

‘Duo’ is stripped down even further with tape manipulations and lone arpeggios but with basic percussive clatter and occasional six string picking, ‘Long Way Road’ adopts a sigh of resignation as its surroundings slowly build with an array of subtle synths in all frequencies.

‘Looking After Aliens’ could be THE DURUTTI COLUMN with its layers of guitars in a neo-classical style, and is an instrumental that can be as far away from ‘Feel Me’ or ‘Living On The Ceiling’ although an understated set of ARP2600 generated pulses are a reminder that this artist is still BLANCMANGE.

The second half may come as a shock to long standing BLANCMANGE fans but it shows Neil Arthur’s appetite to evolve and try something different. He remains the most prolific member of the Synth Britannia generation and one of its most interesting, using the enforced slower pace of the last 18 months as a creative spur.


‘Commercial Break’ is released by Blanc Check on 24th September 2021 in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats, available from http://blancmange.tmstor.es/

Other works by BLANCMANGE are available as digitally direct from https://blancmangemusic.bandcamp.com/

BLANCMANGE’s 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)

http://www.blancmange.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/BlancmangeMusic

https://twitter.com/_blancmange_

https://www.instagram.com/neilarthur/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
6th September 2021

25 BBC RADIO1 SESSION TRACKS

The origin of the BBC radio session came about due to restrictions imposed on the corporation by the Musicians Union and Phonographic Performance Limited with regards the airing of recorded music.

The thinking behind this was to create employment, as well as force people to buy records and not listen to them free of charge on the air. As a result, the BBC had to hire bands and orchestras to perform cover versions of recorded music to make up for the shortfall.

When the policy evolved with the advent of the more pop and rock oriented station Radio1, bands ventured into BBC’s Maida Vale studios to lay down between 3 to 5 tracks, with in-house personnel such as John Walters, Dale Griffin, Jeff Griffin, Chris Lycett, Mike Robinson, John Owen Williams and (not that) Tony Wilson helming the sessions.

The most celebrated of these BBC sessions were recorded for John Peel, but equally of merit and perhaps more of an indicator to potential breakthroughs into the mainstream were those produced for Richard Skinner and Kid Jensen.

Sessions were usually recorded and mixed in a single day, so had a rougher feel that lay somewhere between a live performance and a studio recording, sounding almost like a polished demo.

While acts would often use the opportunity to promote their latest single or album, others would premiere recently written compositions, try out different arrangements on established songs or perform cover versions. A number of these session recordings were even superior to their eventual officially released versions.

So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK presents its favourite 25 BBC Radio1 session tracks with other selection criteria including rare songs or tracks capturing the zeitgeist and signalling a change in the course of music. Presented in chronological and then alphabetical order within each year with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, here are some special moments from our beloved Auntie Beeb.


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Blind Youth (John Peel 1978)

In Summer 1978, THE HUMAN LEAGUE perhaps surprisingly recorded their only session for the BBC which included ‘Being Boiled’, ‘No Time’ (which became ‘The Word Before Last’), a cover of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ and ‘Blind Youth’. The latter was the frantic percussive highlight of the four, a wonderfully shambolic slice of synth punk with bum bleeps and avant waves of white noise, all held together by the metallic rhythmic bed of a sequenced Roland System 100.

Not officially released

http://www.thehumanleague.co.uk/


TUBEWAY ARMY I Nearly Married A Human (John Peel 1979)

Although only comprising of three tracks, Gary Numan’s session as TUBEWAY ARMY for John Peel in early 1979 captured an artist in transition. From the comparatively punky ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’ to the dystopian synthpop of ‘Down In The Park’, the electronics were gaining more prominence to suit his increasingly unsettling lyrical themes. And on the mostly instrumental ‘I Nearly Married A Human’, the machines launched a coup d’etat and took over like an army of replicants with the murmurs of the title being the only sign of flesh and blood.

Available on the GARY NUMAN ‎// TUBEWAY ARMY album ‘Replicas – The First Recordings’ via Beggars Banquet

http://garynuman.com/


OMD Pretending To See The Future (John Peel 1980)

Several months after the release of their self-titled debut long player, OMD returned for their second of their four John Peel sessions with Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey accompanied by drummer Malcolm Holmes and keyboardist Dave Hughes. By now, their live sound had expanded and this change was captured on this session with the version of ‘Pretending To See The Future’ having more presence and a looser percussive edge compared with the underwhelming drum machine-led album version.

Available on the OMD album ‘Peel Sessions 1979-1983’ via Virgin Records

https://www.omd.uk.com/


B-MOVIE Polar Opposites (John Peel 1981)

One of the bands alongside SOFT CELL, DEPECHE MODE and BLANCMANGE who got a profile boost from their inclusion on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’, although they were signed by Phonogram to take on DURAN DURAN, B-MOVIE had more of a psychedelic vibe as reflected by songs like ‘Welcome To The Shrink’ and ‘All Fall Down’ on their first John Peel session in March 1981. But the highlight was ‘Polar Opposites’ with its mighty ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ synth line. It would have made a great single, but never properly was!

Available on the B-MOVIE ‎album ‘BBC Radio Sessions 1981-1984’ via Cherry Red Records

http://www.b-movie.co.uk/


DEPECHE MODE Boys Say Go (Richard Skinner 1981)

Broadcast in Summer 1981, this session captured the original DEPECHE MODE line-up of Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher and Vince Clarke several months before the release of debut album ‘Speak & Spell’. Refining into a pop band but still retaining much of the synthetic rawness that linked them artistically to acts like FAD GADGET, the session was characterised by use of the Korg Rhythm KR55 drum machine with its charming klanky metallics. This version of ‘Boys Say Go’ possessed an aggression that was lost on the eventual album cut.

Available on the compilation ‎album ‘1 & Only – 25 Years of BBC Radio 1’ (V/A) via BBC Enterprises / Band Of Joy

http://www.depechemode.com/


DURAN DURAN Like An Angel (Peter Powell 1981)

Like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, DURAN DURAN only did the one BBC session for their biggest champion Peter Powell. Broadcast in June 1981 to coincide with the release of their self-titled debut, they recorded near-facsimile versions of ‘Girls On Film’, ‘Anyone Out There’ and ‘Night Boat’. But a surprise came with ‘Like An Angel’, a sprightly love song unreleased at the time which pointed away from the New Romantics to the more mainstream pop ambition of the ‘Rio’ opus that was to come just a year later.

Available on the DURAN DURAN boxed set ‘Duran Duran’ via EMI Records

http://www.duranduran.com


SOFT CELL Seedy Films (Richard Skinner 1981)

Contributing five songs to their first BBC session as ‘Tainted Love’ was rising up the UK chart, brilliant songs like ‘Bedsitter’, ‘Entertain Me’, ‘Chips On My Shoulder’ and ‘Youth’ demonstrated the potential of Marc Almond and Dave Ball, even in basic form. While ‘Seedy Films’ was faster paced and a bit “snap, crackle and pop” compared to the more sophisticated and laid-back clarinet-laden ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ album version, it outlined why at the time, SOFT CELL were rated higher than DEPECHE MODE.

Available on the SOFT CELL boxed set ‘Keychains & Snowstorms’ via Universal Music

https://www.softcell.co.uk/


SPANDAU BALLET Mandolin (Studio B15 1981)

‘Studio B15’ was a short-lived Sunday afternoon magazine show presented by the late Adrian Love that often invited their guests to perform live. SPANDAU BALLET had just released their debut album ‘Journeys To Glory’ and as a band that didn’t tour and rarely played live, this was an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. ‘Mandolin’ featured a prominent Yamaha CS10 synth line while this version featured Simmons drums and a much clearer vocal with a more pronounced diction from Tony Hadley compared to the oddly smothered album version.

Available on the SPANDAU BALLET deluxe album ‘Journeys to Glory’ via EMI Records

http://www.spandauballet.com/


BLANCMANGE Running Thin (John Peel 1982)

Aired in February 1982, BLANCMANGE were captured in their only John Peel session as a much darker proposition than was later perceived by their UK chart success. It included an early take on ‘Living On The Ceiling’ without its Indian embellishments but the session was notable for ‘I Would’ and ‘Running Thin’, two songs that would not make it onto the ‘Happily Families’ tracklisting. ‘Running Thin’ in particular saw Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe trapped in a stark state of gloomy resignation.

Available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Demon Music

http://www.blancmange.co.uk/


CHINA CRISIS This Occupation (John Peel 1982)

Recorded nearly six months before the release of their debut album, CHINA CRISIS’ first John Peel session saw the duo exploring territory that sat between electronic and traditional pop. ‘Seven Sports For All’ and ‘Some People I Know To Lead Fantastic Lives’ ended up on the album while the more moody ‘Be Suspicious’ was already a B-side. But this version of ‘This Occupation’ was pure machine-propelled synthpop complete with sequencing and strong lead lines; later recordings that appeared on the B-sides of ‘Wishful Thinking’ were never as good.

Available on the CHINA CRISIS deluxe album ‘Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms’ via Caroline Records

https://www.facebook.com/chinacrisisofficial


EURYTHMICS I’ve Got An Angel (Kid Jensen 1982)

After their 1981 German-inspired debut ‘In The Garden’, Annie Lennox and David A Stewart explored the possibilities of the synthesizer and acquired a Movement Drum Computer to live up to their moniker. In a BBC session that also included ‘Love Is A Stranger’ which was soon to be issued as a single , ‘I’ve Got An Angel’ was an unusual hybrid of synths, electronic drums and wah-wah guitar, with flute by the front woman alongside her particularly intense and raw vocal. By comparison, the released version on the ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ album was more restrained.

Not officially released

https://www.eurythmics.com/


NEW ORDER Too Late (John Peel 1982)

Not actually recorded at the BBC, NEW ORDER’s second self-produced John Peel session was a fascinating document of the Mancunian’s transitioning sound with the throbbing sequences of ‘586’ highlighting a future proto-dance direction. Meanwhile ‘Turn The Heater On’ was a cover of the Keith Hudson reggae song in tribute to Ian Curtis and ‘We All Stand’ had avant jazz overtones. But ‘Too Late’ was significant, sounding like it could have come off debut album ‘Movement’ with its lingering gothic doom but also remaining unreleased, discarded as if a relic from another era.

Available on the NEW ORDER boxed set ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’ via Rhino

http://www.neworder.com/


TEARS FOR FEARS Memories Fade (Kid Jensen 1982)

Featuring ‘The Prisoner’, ‘The Hurting’, ‘Start Of The Breakdown’ and ‘Memories Fade’, the arrangements for this BBC session aired after TEARS FOR FEARS’ success with ‘Mad World’ differed significantly from the versions on their debut album. Featuring Linn Drum programming and Banshees-like guitar instead of sax, this version of ‘Memories Fade’ was far superior, utilising a much more powerful mechanised rhythmic tension that reflected the fraught paranoia and resignation of Roland Orzabal’s lyrical angst.

Available on the TEARS FOR FEARS boxed set ‘The Hurting’ via Mercury Records

https://tearsforfears.com/


YAZOO In My Room (Kid Jensen 1982)

Reshaped with a Fairlight and Linn Drum Computer, this version of ‘In My Room’ recorded in session for Kid Jensen was far superior to the irritating album version on ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’. Forming the basis for the live interpretation, it was now free of Vince Clarke’s “Our Father” tape loop monologue and allowed Alison Moyet space to express her emotive frustration to reveal a fantastic song free of distractions. Other songs in the session included beefed up takes on ‘Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I)’, ‘Situation’ and ‘Too Pieces’.

Available on the YAZOO boxed set ‘Three Pieces’ via Mute Records

http://yazooinfo.com/


DEAD OR ALIVE Give It To Me (Kid Jensen 1983)

Co-written with Wayne Hussey, ‘Give It To Me’ was Pete Burns at his filthy lyrical best, declaring that “Apart from all your obvious attractions, I’ve got the bullets, you’ve got the gun, bang me into action, let’s make this obvious distraction, physically you are just what I wanted!”. Although this slice of  Middle Eastern favoured HI-NRG later surfaced as a bonus track on the 12 inch single of ‘I’d Do Anything’, it seems almost unbelievable now that this potential hit single was never developed further in the studio.

Available on the DEAD OR ALIVE boxed set ‘Sophisticated Boom Box MMXVI’ via Edsel Records

https://dead-or-alive-band.fandom.com/wiki/Dead_or_Alive


JOHN FOXX Hiroshima Mon Amour (Saturday Live 1983)

‘Saturday Live’ was a show that featured interviews and live sessions. Having ventured out touring for the first time since his ULTRAVOX days in support of his third solo album ‘The Golden Section’, John Foxx eschewed material from ‘Metamatic’ but perhaps more surprisingly, mined his former band’s catalogue. Backed by Robin Simon, Peter Oxdendale, David Levy and Barry Watts, Foxx performed an interesting arrangement of ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ sans rhythm machine but with guitars, ARP Odyssey and the ubiquitous thud of Simmons drums.

Available on the JOHN FOXX album ‘Metadelic’ via Edsel Records

http://www.metamatic.com/


HOWARD JONES Don’t Put These Curses On Me (Kid Jensen 1983)

Having triumphed opening for CHINA CRISIS in Spring 1983, Howard Jones impressed with his first BBC session featuring songs like ‘New Song’ and ‘Natural’ which would be included on his debut album ‘Human’s Lib’. The album title track also featured on the session with its original love triangle monologue intro. But ‘Don’t Put These Curses On Me’ would not be released until 2003, thanks to Jones considering the song unlucky following an equipment breakdown while attempting to perform it on the live Channel 4 TV show ‘Loose Talk’.

Available on the HOWARD JONES boxed set ‘Human’s Lib’ via Cherry Red Records

http://www.howardjones.com/


SIMPLE MINDS The Kick Inside Of Me (Kid Jensen 1983)

By the end of 1983, SIMPLE MINDS were leaning heavily towards more rockist climes with songs like ‘Waterfront’. But for a three song BBC session which also featured a reprise of ‘New Gold Dream’, there was the debut of ‘The Kick Inside Of Me’, a lively track with catchy synth riffs, an infectious bassline and minimal guitar. But come the released version for the Steve Lillywhite produced ‘Sparkle In The Rain’, it had totally been ruined with distorted guitar, overblown drums and yobbish shouting in a pointless attempt to emulate THE SEX PISTOLS!

Available on the SIMPLE MINDS boxed set ‘Sparkle In The Rain’ via Universal Music

https://www.simpleminds.com/


TALK TALK Why Is It So Hard? (Kid Jensen 1983)

This session captured TALK TALK after the departure of keyboardist Simon Brenner but before producer Tim Friese-Greene came on board as Mark Hollis’ writing partner. Showcasing at the time four brand new songs, only ‘Call In The Night Boy’ ended up on the next album ‘It’s My Life’ while ‘For What It’s Worth’ and ‘Again A Game Again’ became B-sides. But most interesting was ‘Why Is It So Hard?’ which was only released in Canada on the ‘It’s My Mix’ EP as an Extended Version and didn’t get a UK release until 1998 on the ‘Asides Bsides’ collection.

Not officially released

https://www.facebook.com/Talk-Talk-Mark-Hollis-12307963901/


VISAGE Questions (Kid Jensen 1983)

With only Steve Strange and Rusty Egan now remaining, VISAGE surprised all by recording a BBC session with new members Steve Barnacle and Andy Barnett, featuring previously unheard songs ‘Can You Hear Me?’, ‘Only The Good Die Young’, ‘The Promise’ and the funky standout ‘Questions’. With a more live feel, there was hope that VISAGE would be able to sustain some creative momentum despite the departure of Midge Ure, Billy Currie and Dave Formula but the eventual over-produced ‘Beat Boy’ album was rotten, marred by heavy metal guitar and hopelessly off-key singing!

Not officially released

http://www.therealvisage.com/


HARD CORPS Metal + Flesh (John Peel 1984)

Despite the patronage of Rusty Egan, Daniel Miller and Martin Rushent as well as a tour opening for DEPECHE MODE, the industrial pop of HARD CORPS did not breakthrough and by the time their only album ‘Metal + Flesh’ was released in 1990, all momentum had been lost. But the gothic tension and edgy energy of their music was perhaps best represented by their BBC sessions for John Peel and Richard Skinner, with ‘Metal + Flesh’ from the 1984 Peel session far outstripping the eventual album title track studio incarnation.

Available on the HARD CORPS album ‘Radio Sessions’ directly via https://hardcorps.bandcamp.com/album/radio-sessions

https://www.facebook.com/hard-CORPS-217860235015406


BRONSKI BEAT The Potato Fields (John Peel 1984)

For an Autumn session before the release of their debut album ‘The Age Of Consent’, BRONSKI BEAT took the unusual step of recording three solo tracks, with the only band offering being a take on ‘Why?’ B-side ‘Close To the Edge’. Larry Steinbachek presented a HI-NRG instrumental ‘Ultraclone’ while Jimmy Somerville offered the acapella ‘Puit D’amour’. But Steve Bronski contributed the most unusual track, a beautifully new age piece called ‘The Potato Fields’ which took its lead from the Japanese composer Kitaro, a version of which ended up as a bonus on the ‘I Feel Love’ 12 inch.

Not officially available

http://www.bronskibeat.co.uk/


FIAT LUX Breaking The Boundary (Kid Jensen 1984)

From Spring 1984 to coincide with the release of their new single ‘Blue Emotion’, FIAT LUX stepped into BBC Maida Vale for a session to demonstrate their diversity and musicality as more than just a synth act. As well as ‘Blue Emotion’, there was its Brechtean B-side ‘Sleepless Nightmare’ and an acoustic version of ‘Secrets’. But best of all was ‘Breaking The Boundary’, a glorious burst of uptempo North European melancholy that did not officially see the light of day until the shelved FIAT LUX album ‘Ark Of Embers was finally released by Cherry Red Records in 2019.

Not officially available

http://www.fiat-lux.co.uk/


ERASURE Who Needs Love Like That? (Bruno Brookes 1985)

With ERASURE, Vince Clarke had found himself back to square one after YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY. Recruiting Andy Bell as the flamboyant front man capable of falsetto and creating the vocal tones of Alison Moyet, ‘Who Needs Love Like That?’ did sound like a YAZOO outtake and in this BBC session recording, was busier and more percussive than the already released single version. While ERASURE were not an instant success, the song did eventually chart on its remixed re-release in 1992.

Available on the ERASURE deluxe album ‘Wonderland’ via Mute Records

https://www.erasureinfo.com/


PET SHOP BOYS A Powerful Friend (John Peel 2002)

John Peel was not a fan of PET SHOP BOYS or much synthpop for that matter, so it was a surprise when Neil Tennant and Chris Love did a session for him using the back to basics approach that they had adopted for the ‘Release’ tour with guitars, bass and percussion in the line-up. But the bonus for fans was that two of the songs recorded ‘If Looks Could Kill’ and ‘A Powerful Friend’, which had been written in 1983 and shelved, were specially revived for the occasion. Both numbers were particularly energetic with the latter even featuring very loud rock guitars!

Available on the PET SHOP BOYS deluxe album ‘Release: Further Listening 2001 – 2004’ via EMI Records

https://www.petshopboys.co.uk/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
2nd January 2021

2020 End Of Year Review

“It’s such a strange day, in such a lonely way” sang NEW ORDER on ‘Truth’ in 1981.

The coronavirus crisis of 2020 put the entire live music industry into limbo as concerts were postponed and tours rescheduled.

The situation was affecting everyone with several musicians like Bernard Sumner, Andy McCluskey, John Taylor and Sarah Nixey publicly stating that they had contracted the virus. Even when all pupils returned to schools in the Autumn, there was a ban on indoor singing in English classrooms. It was an indication that out of all professional fields, the arts was going suffer the most.

To make up for the absence of live shows, online streamed events become popular. Two of the best live online gigs were by Swedish veterans LUSTANS LAKEJER from the KB in Malmö and Sinomatic techno-rockers STOLEN with Lockdown Live From Chengdu. Not strictly a lockdown show but available for all to view on SVT was a magnificent live presentation of KITE at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm recorded in late 2019 combining synthesizers, orchestra and choir, proving again why Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg are the best electronic duo in Europe.

Concluding his ‘Songs: From the Lemon Tree’ series, Bon Harris of NITZER EBB presented a wonderful set of four electonic cover versions including songs made famous by Joan Armatrading, Connie Francis and Diana Ross. Meanwhile among independent musicians, Dubliner CIRCUIT3 led the way with an innovative multi-camera effected approach to his home studio presentation and Karin My performed al fresco in a forest near Gothenburg.

Taking the initiative, ERASURE did a delightful virtual album launch party for their new album ‘The Neon’ on Facebook with Vince Clarke in New York and Andy Bell in London, talking about everything from shopping to classic synthpop tunes.

Demonstrating a possible new model for the future, Midge Ure launched his subscription based ‘Backstage Lockdown Club’ which included intimate live performances and specials guests like Glenn Gregory and Howard Jones.

Other streamed forms of entertainment came via podcasts and among the best was ‘The Album Years’ presented by Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness. Their knowledgeable and forthright views on selected years in music were both informative and amusing. It was interesting to note that at the end of the 1976 episode, the pair nominated ‘Oxygène’ by Jean-Michel Jarre as the most important album of that year while for 1979, it was ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by Gary Numan.

Many artists who had scheduled releases in 2020 went through with them, although in some cases, there were the inevitable delays to physical product. But a few notable acts couldn’t help but abuse the situation, notably a certain combo from Basildon.

There were already “quality control issues” with the lavish ‘MODE’ 18 CD boxed set, but there was uproar even among the most hardcore Devotees with the ‘Spirits In The Forest’ release. The cardboard packaging was reported to be flimsy and prone to dents, while there was continuity errors galore as Dave Gahan rather cluelessly and selfishly wore different coloured outfits over the two nights in Berlin that the live footage was filmed under the direction of Anton Corbijn.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was an Anton Corbijn official illustrated history of DEPECHE MODE entitled ‘DM AC’ in the form of a coffee table photo book published by Taschen which retailed at €750; even though it was signed by Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher, the price tag was a mightily steep. The increasingly ironic words of “The grabbing hands grab all they can…” from ‘Everything Counts’ were not lost on people, who are people, after all!

But Andy Fletcher did provide the most amusing and spot-on quote of the year; during DEPECHE MODE’s acceptance speech into that dinosaur institution The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, when Dave Gahan remarked to his bandmates that “I dunno what the hell I would have been doing if I didn’t find music to be quite honest…”, the banana eating handclapper dryly retorted “YOU’D HAVE BEEN STILL STEALING CARS DAVE!”

There were lots of great albums released in 2020 and Berlin appeared to be at the creative centre of them.

There was ‘LP II’ from LINEA ASPERA who made a welcome return after eight years in hiatus and  the playful debut by ULTRAFLEX, a collaborative offering from Berlin-based Nordic artists SPECIAL-K and FARAO which was “an ode to exercise, loaded with sex metaphors badly disguised as sports descriptions” .

The DDR born Jennifer Touch told her story with ‘Behind The Wall’ and resident New Yorker DISCOVERY ZONE was on ‘Remote Control’, while Lithuania’s top pop singer Alanas Chosnau made ‘Children of Nature’, his first album in English with Mark Reeder, who himself has lived in the former walled city since 1978; their collected experiences from both sides of the Iron Curtain made for a great record with the political statement of ‘Heavy Rainfall’ being one of the best songs of 2020.

Synth-builder and artist Finlay Shakespeare presented the superb angst ridden long player ‘Solemnities’ with its opener ‘Occupation’ tackling the social injustice of unemployment. A most frightening future was captured in musical form by New York-resident Zachery Allan Starkey who saw his home become a ‘Fear City’, while WRANGLER got themselves into ‘A Situation’.

SPARKS discussed ‘The Existential Threat’ and ‘One For The Ages’ while pleading ‘Please Don’t F*ck Up My World’ on their eclectic 25th album ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’, just as NIGHT CLUB reflected what many were thinking on ‘Die Die Lullaby’ with ‘Miss Negativity’ looking to ‘Die In The Disco’ while riding the ‘Misery Go Round’.

ASSEMBLAGE 23 chose to ‘Mourn’ with one of its highlights ‘Confession’ illustrating what DEPECHE MODE could still be capable of, if they could still be bothered.

But it was not all doom and gloom musically in 2020. With the title ‘Pop Gossip’, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP did not need to do much explaining about the ethos of their second album and drum ‘n’ synth girl GEORGIA was happily ‘Seeking Thrills’.

Veterans returned and 34 years after their debut ‘Windows’, WHITE DOOR teamed up with the comparative youngster Johan Baeckström for ‘The Great Awakening’, while CODE made a surprise return with their second album ‘Ghost Ship’ after an absence 25 years.

‘The Secret Lives’ of German duo Zeus B Held and Mani Neumeier illustrated that septuagenarians just want to have fun. Along with Gina Kikoine, Zeus B Held was also awarded with Der Holger Czukay Preis für Popmusik der Stadt Köln in recognition of their pioneering work as GINA X PERFORMANCE whose ‘No GDM’ was a staple at The Blitz Club in Rusty Egan’s DJ sets.

Incidentally, Rusty Egan announced that Zaine Griff would be joining him with Numan cohorts Chris Payne and David Brooks in a live presentation of VISAGE material, although the announced dates were postponed, pending rescheduling for 2021.

Swiss trailblazers YELLO were on ‘Point’ and continuing their occasional creative collaboration with Chinese songstress Fifi Rong, while one time YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA collaborator Hideki Matsutake returned as LOGIC SYSTEM and released a new long player ‘Technasma’, his project’s first for 18 years.

It was four decades since John Foxx’s ‘Metamatic’ and Gary Numan’s ‘Telekon’, with the man born Gary Webb publishing ‘(R)evolution’, a new autobiography to supersede 1997’s ‘Praying To The Aliens’. Meanwhile, the former Dennis Leigh teamed up with former ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon plus his regular Maths collaborators Benge and Hannah Peel for the blistering art rock statement of ‘Howl’ as well as finally issuing his book of short stories ‘The Quiet Man’.

2020 saw a lot of 40th anniversaries for a number of key albums including ‘Vienna’ by ULTRAVOX, ‘Travelogue’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE and ‘Closer’ by JOY DIVISION.

Back in 1980, it was not unusual for bands to release two albums in a calendar year as OMD did with their self-titled debut and ‘Organisation’, or JAPAN did with ‘Quiet Life’ and ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’.

It appeared to be a tradition that BLANCMANGE were adopting as Neil Arthur delivered the acclaimed ‘Mindset’ and an enjoyable outtakes collection ‘Waiting Room (Volume 1)’.

PET SHOP BOYS and CERRONE proved they still liked to dance to disco because they don’t like rock, but the year’s biggest surprise came with THE SMASHING PUMPKINS whose single ‘Cyr’ crossed the templates of classic DEPECHE MODE with DURAN DURAN.

Interestingly, Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS and Michael Rother of NEU! used sketches recorded many moons ago to inspire their 2020 solo creations, proving that if something is a good idea, it will still make sense years later. Veteran Tonmeister Gareth Jones released his debut solo album ‘ELECTROGENETIC’ having first come to prominence as the studio engineer on ‘Metamatic’ back in 1980, but Jah Wobble was as prolific as ever, issuing his ninth album in four years, as well as a run of download singles over lockdown.

ANI GLASS had her debut long player ‘Mirores’ shortlisted for Welsh Music Prize and OMD remixed her song ‘Ynys Araul’ along the way, while SARAH P. was ‘Plotting Revolutions’. NINA and a returning ANNIE vied to be the Queen Of Synthwave with their respective albums ‘Synthian’ and ‘Dark Hearts’, although Canadian synth songstress DANA JEAN PHOENIX presented her most complete and consistent body of work yet in ‘Megawave’, a joint album with POWERNERD.

RADIO WOLF & PARALLELS contributed to the soundtrack of the film ‘Proximity’ released on Lakeshore Records and from the same label, KID MOXIE made her first contribution to the movie world with the score to ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need To Have A Serious Talk’ that also featured a stark cover of ALPHAVILLE’s ‘Big In Japan’. Meanwhile gothwavers VANDAL MOON made their most electronic album yet in ‘Black Kiss’ and POLYCHROME got in on the kissing act too with their new single ‘Starts With A Kiss’.

It would be fair to say in recent times that the most interesting and best realised electronic pop has come from outside of the UK; the likes of TWICE A MAN and COSAQUITOS EN GLOBO explored the darker side of life, although TRAIN TO SPAIN used the dancefloor as their mode of expression, 808 DOT POP developed on the robopop of parent band METROLAND and ZIMBRU preferred disco art pop.

In Scandinavia, there was the welcome return of UNIFY SEPARATE (formally US) and HILTIPOP aka Magnus Johansson of ALISON who finally released some music in his own right; once he started, he didn’t stop with 9 releases and counting in 2020! APOPTYGMA BERZERK released ‘Nein Danke!’, their self-proclaimed return to “New Wave Synthpop” and out of that set-up sprang the very promising PISTON DAMP.

Within the PAGE camp, Eddie Bengtsson continued his Numan fixation on the ‘Under Mitt Skinn’ EP although his musical partner Marina Schiptjenko teamed up with LUSTANS LAKEJER bassist Julian Brandt to ride the Synth Riviera for a delightful second helping of their electro crooner concept cheekily titled ‘For Beautiful People Only’.

Over in Germany, U96 teamed up Wolfgang Flür while RENARD, the solo vehicle of Markus Reinhardt from WOLFSHEIM teamed with Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE and Sarah Blackwood of DUBSTAR. DUBSTAR themselves released a striking corona crisis statement entitled ‘Hygiene Strip’ which saw reconfigured duo reunited with producer Stephen Hague. Meanwhile another poignant song on the topic ‘Small World’ came from SNS SENSATION, the new project by Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK. In lockdown, TINY MAGNETIC PETS recorded an entire album which they called ‘Blue Wave’.

Of course, 2020 was not full of joy, even without the pandemic, as the music world sadly lost Florian Schneider, Gabi Delgado-Lopez, Chris Huggett, Andrew Weatherall, Matthew Seligman, Dave Greenfield, Rupert Hine, Tom Wolgers, Harold Budd and Ennio Morricone.

An introspective tone was reflected the music of female fronted acts such as and ZANIAS, PURITY RING, WE ARE REPLICA, KALEIDA, LASTLINGS, NEW SPELL, WITCH OF THE VALE, REIN, BLACK NAIL CABARET, GLÜME, GEISTE THE FRIXION, FEMMEPOP and SCINTII. However, countering this, the optimism of RIDER, ROXI DRIVE and NEW RO presented a much brighter, hopeful take on life and the future.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrated 10 years as a platform and affirming the site’s intuition about synth talent in anticipation of them achieving greater things, SOFTWAVE opened for OMD on the Scandinavia leg of their ‘Souvenir’ tour. The Danish duo became the sixth act which the site had written about to have become part of a tradition that has included VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND and TINY MAGNETIC PETS.

On a more cheerful note, S.P.O.C.K beamed down to Slimelight in London before lockdown for their first British live performance in 17 years. Meanwhile on the same night, LAU NAU and VILE ELECTRODES did modular sets at Cecil Sharp House, the spiritual home of English traditional music.

At that event, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK took delight in curating a DJ set comprising of John Cage’s 4’33” in variations by DEPECHE MODE, GOLDFRAPP, ERASURE, NEW ORDER and THE NORMAL from Mute’s Stumm433 boxed set. This defiant act of silence even caused a curious Jonathan Barnbrook to raise an eyebrow, this from the man who designed the artwork with the white square on David Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’ 😉

The final live event that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK attended before the March lockdown was an informative lecture at Queen Mary University in London presented by noted cultural scholar Dr Uwe Schütte, in support of his book ‘KRAFTWERK Future Music From Germany’.

Also attending was Rusty Egan who held court at the reception afterwards by having a debate with another musician about the state of UK synth music. He then loudly beckoned ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK over and mentioned how the site was only interested acts that scored “9 out of 10” before admitting that a number of acts he supported only scored “6 out of 10”, with his reasoning being that if acts aren’t supported, then there will be no synth acts existing at all. After a decade in existence, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK remains proud that it is still extremely selective.

In 2020, the notion of reviews being needed to achieve a promotional profile underwent an existential crisis among media platforms. With streaming now being the main method of music consumption, why would anyone want to read a blog for an opinion about an album when they can just hit ‘play’ and hear the thing for themselves on Spotify, Amazon, Tidal or Bandcamp?

The sound of classic synthpop does live on happily in today’s mainstream via singles by THE WEEKND, DUA LIPA and even STEPS! In that respect, the trailblazing kings and queens of Synth Britannia from four decades ago did their job rather well.

From SUGABABES mashing-up ‘Are Friends Electric?’ for ‘Freak Like Me’ in 2002 to ‘Blinding Lights’ borrowing a bit of A-HA in 2020, the sound of synth is still strong.

It is up to any potential successors to live up to that high standard of Synth Britannia, which was as much down to the quality of the songwriting, as much as it was to do with the sound of the synthesizer. It is a fact that many overlook and if aspiring musicians could pay more attention to the song, instead of making the synthesizer the excuse for the song, then classic electronic pop music may still be around for a little longer and continue to evolve.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2020

PAUL BODDY

Best Album: LOGIC SYSTEM Technasma
Best Song: NEW ORDER Be A Rebel
Best Gig / Live Stream: NICOLAS GODIN at London Rough Trade
Best Video: POLLY SCATTERGOOD Snowburden
Most Promising New Act: RUE OBERKAMPF


IAN FERGUSON

Best Album: ASSEMBLAGE 23 Mourn
Best Song: DUBSTAR I Can See You Outside
Best Gig / Live Stream: WITCH OF THE VALE online Unplugged Live for SAY Women
Best Video: STEVEN WILSON Personal Shopper
Most Promising New Act: LASTLINGS


SIMON HELM

Best Album: LINEA ASPERA LPII
Best Song: PAGE Blutest Du?
Best Gig / Live Stream: LAU NAU + VILE ELECTRODES at Cecil Sharp House
Best Video: STRIKKLAND Dance Like A God
Most Promising New Act: INDEPENDENT STATE


CHI MING LAI

Best Album: LINEA ASPERA LPII
Best Song: ALANAS CHOSNAU & MARK REEDER Heavy Rainfall
Best Gig / Live Stream: LUSTANS LAKEJER online at Malmö KB
Best Video: ULTRAFLEX Olympic Sweat
Most Promising New Act: LASTLINGS


MONIKA IZABELA TRIGWELL

Best Album: ERASURE The Neon
Best Song: DUBSTAR Hygiene Strip
Best Gig / Live Stream: IŻOL Koncert online at Ziemi Rybnickiej
Best Video: PET SHOP BOYS Monkey Business
Most Promising New Act: MENTRIX


Text by Chi Ming Lai
21st December 2020

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