Tag: Boris Blank (Page 1 of 2)

Oh Yeah: The Legacy Of YELLO

The illustrious career of the Swiss electronic trailblazers YELLO is being celebrated in a new lavishly packaged 4CD earbook retrospective entitled ‘YELL4O Years’.

As well as containing their best known tracks, the duo’s more melodic cinematic works are compiled as a separate volume while there is also the inevitable collection of remixes from the likes of DJ Hell, Carl Craig and Mark Reeder. Frustratingly YELLO’s biggest UK hit ‘The Race’ appears in a 2016 live version from their Berlin Kraftwerk residency rather than its studio variants or even the wonderful atmospheric Magician’s Version for Tempest & Cottet!

Boris Blank founded YELLO in Zurich together with Carlos Perón through a mutual love of jazz, musique concrète and tape experimentation. Blank had a taste for the considered uncompromising aspirations of THE RESIDENTS and sent demos to Ralph Records, the label that the American art collective founded. Around the same time, at the suggestion of Paul Vajsabel who ran the Music Market record shop in Zurich which they mutually frequented, Blank and Perón were joined by Dieter Meier as lead vocalist.

Meier was the son of millionaire banker with his own business interests and had also been a professional gambler who had played cards in the presence of Marilyn Munroe. But perhaps in a reaction to his background, Meier had a penchant for performance art. In the rather conservative environment of Switzerland where a policy of neutrality is adopted to not upset anyone, secret banking is available to all with no questions asked and nuclear fallout shelters are a legal requirement in every home, artists were generally frowned upon, so they often had to develop a thick skin and a sense of humour to survive.

And it was within this society that YELLO’s tongue-in-cheek avant pop was born. As if to reinforce this, the name came from wanting a simple brand identity like Lego, inspired a comment made by Meier about “a yelled hello”. The first YELLO album ‘Solid Pleasure’ attracted the interest of Do It Records, the British label formed by Robin Scott of M and Ian Tregoning who had released the debut ADAM & THE ANTS album ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’.

As a result, one of its tracks ‘Bostich’ was played regularly at The Blitz Club by its resident DJ Rusty Egan. Its opening military drum tattoo was deceiving as an electronic throb quickly set in for a perfect slice of avant garde disco. With a quirky range of vocal pitches from Meier achieved by various tape manipulations, it introduced a style of speedy European rap later that was to become YELLO’s trademark.

The conga madness of ‘Pinball Cha Cha’ from the 1981 album ‘Claro Que Si’ proved they were not a straightforward electronic band. Boris Blank had begun with a Farfisa organ as his instrument of choice, later upgrading to the ARP Odyssey and Sequential Pro-One, but it was the purchase of the Fairlight CMI that was to change everything.

Opening up endless possibilities, Boris Blank said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in 2016 that “When making the music for YELLO, I never think about a certain aesthetic or a certain kind of concept. It just comes out. When you work every day, like I do in my studio, more as a painter than like a traditional musician, then things come up that I never knew before. I just make music for fun, of course – it should be fun all the time. At the end, that is the result, reflecting more or less my fantasy from the past months and years that I’ve been working on those tracks.”

Blank laboured over his Fairlight, sampling anything from broken guitars, percussion, rusty brass instruments, screaming, opera singers and golf swings, eventually building up a huge catalogued library of over 14,000 sounds.

“There was a lot of heart and sweat in those old samples. I recorded everything at the time” he said, “I threw a snowball at the studio wall and worked it into a bass drum in the end – things like this”

A self-confessed non-musician, his tendency was not to play notes or count rhythms, but to be like child playing with a classic Lego set comprising of many coloured bricks and no instructions, surmising “Working with modern technology is much more convenient though, it stops you making final decisions.”

With Dieter Meier, his delivery was more like a storyteller or acting as another instrument rather than being a traditional singer. And with the handy Fairlight, Blank had another colour on his palette. YELLO was not a democratic band with equal collaborative input and it was admitted by Blank that only when a track was instrumentally complete would Meier be invited to make his contribution. But while Meier wasn’t that involved in the studio aspects of the music, his voice would give YELLO their personality, much like his cravat would be the crucial statement that complimented his suit.

Having already released a solo record ‘Impersonator’, Carlos Perón left YELLO in early 1983, just after release of their third album ‘You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess’ on Stiff in the UK and Elektra in the US. It spawned the rhythmic gothic drama of ‘I Love You’ which utilised an unusual wobbly bassline that was doubled by a staccato voice sample, as well as pitched-up repeats of the title and lyrics inspired by ‘The Empire Strikes back’.

But with a synthesized squelch that predated acid house by several years, the moody disco number ‘Lost Again’ became the opening theme to the BBC2 yoof music show ‘ORS’, signalling an interest from TV and cinema in YELLO’s music. And although Do It folded in 1982, Ian Tregoning continued to work with YELLO and introduced the music of the Swiss duo to film director John Hughes.

As YELLO’s fourth studio album ‘Stella’ became their biggest seller to date, Blank and Meier made their mainstream breakthrough. An intricately woven patchwork of samples, the catchy ‘Vicious Games’ featuring the sexy vocals of Rush Winters became a US dance Top10 hit. Meanwhile, the quirky leftfield pop of ‘Oh Yeah’ appeared prominently in the 1986 John Hughes’ film ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’.

‘Oh Yeah’ centred around a deep slowed down Meier going “BEAUTIFUL, OH YEAH!”; the track possessed a comic element that led to it being synched in situations whenever an attractive lady would appear, although it ultimately became ubiquitous as Duffman’s signature tune in ‘The Simpsons’.

Despite the novelty of two mature continental eccentrics becoming the toast of Hollywood and perhaps more unexpectedly, Urban America, YELLO also had a more cinematic European side that was more akin to their cosmopolitan origins; after all, Switzerland is a middle European landlocked country that has four official and very different languages.

From the 1987 album ‘One Second’, ‘The Rhythm Divine’ was an immense brooding ballad originally written as part of an ambitious project about Marilyn Monroe under the working title of ‘Norma Jean’. On lead vocals was Shirley Bassey who had been introduced to Blank and Meier by Prince Hubertus Von Hohenlohe. The lyrics were written by the late Billy MacKenzie of ASSOCIATES whose own ghostly neo-operatic vocals proved to be vital as the mighty diva worked around the dynamics of this epic number.

Despite ‘The Rhythm Divine’ being a European hit, Dieter Meier reflected later that the song hadn’t been very YELLO and decided that their next album ‘Flag’ should be as YELLO as possible, with the focus on Blank and himself. It yielded ‘The Race’, their biggest hit yet in English speaking territories like the UK, Ireland and New Zealand. Frantic, thrilling and gimmick laden, ‘The Race’ featured in the 1990 film ‘Nuns On The Run’ and perhaps not surprisingly on the cable channel Eurosport, keeping Meier flush in casino chips and allowing Blank to purchase even more studio equipment.

Billy MacKenzie continued working with YELLO and Boris Blank remembered “The songs ‘Capri Calling’ and ‘Because You Love’ still get under my skin. Working with Billy was always a pleasure. He worked fast and sang with his whole heart and soul, he gave everything. You could see it was very emotional for him. And for me.”

Included on 1991’s ‘Baby’ album, ‘Capri Calling’ was a smooth sunset romance that captured a gentle Mediterranean spirit. The soaring ‘Baby’ title track did not actually appear on the album but later featured on Mackenzie’s first solo long player ‘Outernational’ in 1992. The groovy jazz inflected ‘Rubberbandman’ from ‘Baby’ with Meier pitch shifted down to sound like Louis Armstrong continued the quirky ingenuity.

However from hence on, YELLO made albums less frequently as Meier’s business interests in coffee, wine, watches, silk garments and organic beef took up more of his time. The 1997 album ‘Pocket Universe’ featured the enigmatic Swedish songstress Stina Nordenstam on the techno-flavoured ‘To The Sea’, but the follow-up long players ‘Motion Picture’ and ‘The Eye’ saw public interest wane, even in Switzerland and Germany which had been YELLO’s strongest markets.

After signing to Polydor, 2009’s ‘Touch Yello’ saw a revival in fortunes, reaching No1 in the homeland, their first long player to do so since ‘Stella’. Notably, guest singer Heidi Happy provided a sumptuous smoky quality to the airy ballads ‘Stay’ and ‘You Better Hide’, the latter fittingly appearing at the end of the dystopian Swiss sci-fi movie ‘Cargo’.

The interim period saw Dieter Meier release a solo album ‘Out Of Chaos’, while Boris Blank collaborated with Malawian jazz singer Malia and issued a boxed set of unreleased solo material called ‘Electrified’. Reuniting in 2016 and coinciding with their first full live shows in Berlin, ‘Toy’ released arrived with much fanfare.

‘Limbo’ was a classic YELLO single laced with Meier’s distinctive drawl over a big metronomic beat syncopated by rhythm guitar for something suitably racey. Meanwhile the superb ‘Electrified II’ saw a duet with a guesting Malia in a slice of seductive energetic electro-cabaret.

Meanwhile, Beijing-born chanteuse Fifi Rong offered her own dreamy elegance on ‘Kiss The Cloud’ as addition to the tradition of sophisticated YELLO mellows. She said when Boris Blank first approached her to collaborate: “He reached out to me by email and said he really liked my music and the way I do my harmonies in my tracks.”

YELLO’s most recent album ‘Point’ did not disappoint their cult following. There was no mistaking that the lead single ‘Waba Duba’ was them, all tribal and elastic while punctuated with staccato horn stabs that recalled ‘The Race’. ‘Arthur Spark’ presented a purer electronic vision while ‘The Vanishing of Peter Strong’ showed an artistic affinity with THE ART OF NOISE.

It’s together with THE ART OF NOISE that YELLO have a legacy in technical innovation, pioneering digital sampling and turning found sound into danceable pop music.

More importantly, Boris Blank and Dieter Meier incorporated a sense of humour in their art, something that was largely absent from a significant number of electronic artists. For the general public though, YELLO’s legacy manifests itself in movies, the segments familiar despite the pair remaining largely anonymous.

It would be fair to say that when doing uptempo material, YELLO did not deviate from their signature sound much with songs like ‘Bostich’, ‘The Race’, ‘Tied Up’, ‘Jungle Bill’, ‘Limbo’ and Waba Dubba’ all being close relations! However, in their more downtempo collaborations with other artists like Shirley Bassey, Billy Mackenzie, Heidi Happy and Fifi Rong, they ventured into something more otherworldly and the third “Mello YELLO” volume of the 4CD earbook provides a well-deserved platform for this less appreciated aspect of their catalogue.


‘YELL4O Years’ is released by Polydor on 30th April 2021, available as a 4CD collector’s box, 2CD, abridged double vinyl LP and digital download – further information at https://40years.yello.com/

http://yello.com

https://www.facebook.com/yello.ch/

https://www.instagram.com/yello_official/


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Simon Helm
19th March 2021

YELLO Toy

Recorded in Zurich, Swiss electro pioneers YELLO deliver ‘Toy’, their first album since 2009.

Dieter Meier and Boris Blank had made a recorded return earlier in the year with the moody ‘Why This, Why That & Why?’, a track in collaboration with JEAN-MICHEL JARRE as part of his ‘Electronica 2: The Heart Of Noise’ album.

Despite 37 years of making music together, the sound of YELLO remains intriguing and distinctly European.

The deluxe 17 track variant of ‘Toy’ starts with the delightful intro piece ‘Frau Tonium’, a short collage of bending synths and machine drones.

But the album begins proper with ‘Limbo’, a classic YELLO single laced with electronic effects and percussive mantras. Meier gives his distinctive drawl over a big metronomic beat syncopated by rhythm guitar for some suitably racey music.

The Moroder gone Latin Jazz lilt of ‘30,000 Days’ is appropriately moody, with brushes complimenting the vibrant but unimposing rhythmics before the superb ‘Electrified II’; with Meier’s mind blown by the velvet voice of Malia, this could be Shirley Bassey indulging in some seductive energetic electro-cabaret as she exclaims “Life’s a bitch and I’m no witch”.

Malia continues her soulful seduction on ‘Cold Flame’ which exploits the importance of grooves working in unison with fat driving beats. It shows exactly what club music at sunset should be.

Beijing-born chanteuse Fifi Rong makes her first vocal appearance on ‘Kiss The Cloud’, a slice of dreamy elegance over a drum loop that wouldn’t sound of place on one of her own recordings.

Malia returns for a gorgeous duet with Meier entitled ‘Starlight Scene’; as the man himself says, she is “out of this world” and with Blank’s bursts of vibratoed synth, this is a continental torch song that does its thing in just over three minutes. What is apparent about many of these new YELLO songs is how short they are, so they never outstay their welcome.

The pace picks up for ‘Tool Of Love’ with Blank’s crunchy electronics offsetting the inherent jive, while on the Malia-voiced ‘Give You The World’, a 6/8 pulse takes ‘Toy’ into another direction. The steadily pulsating ‘Dialectical Kid’ sees Meier’s robotised voice pair up with yet another female vocalist Heidi Happy, whose eerie overtones suit the track’s more obviously mechanical backbone.

The haunting ‘Dark Side’ sees the return of Fifi Rong where both Meier and Rong’s voices help create a wonderful filmic atmosphere alongside Blank’s layered voice samples.

A instrumental interlude ‘Pacific AM’ does exactly what it says on the tin, conjuring images of sunsets over a hypnotic rhythmical motif before the sunny Balearic flavoured ‘Blue Biscuit’.

Featuring some great acoustic guitar from Jeremy Baer who contributes all the fret work on ‘Toy’, Boris Blank takes his turn on vocals and using all manner of layered voice treatments, weirdly tells the object of his desire “you never know how much I love you”.

FIFI RONG 2016Taking its lead from the classic percussive snap of KRAFTWERK but with an added Latin flavour, ‘Lost In Motion’ with Fifi Rong sees her on an uptempo number for a change, with her angelic breathy tones offsetting the slightly fiercer electronic action.

With the song part of the deluxe variant of ‘Toy’ now over, the album concludes with three experimental pieces.

The oddball voice sample ambience of ‘Magma’, while well-intended, sadly spoils the flow of the album. Whether in standard or deluxe versions, this strangely sits on both formats while ‘Electrified II’ and ‘Lost In Motion’ feature on the deluxe only. Much better though is ‘Toy Square’, a more frantic instrumental that explores LEFTFIELD territory. A full-length reprise of ‘Fran Tonium’ ends both editions of ‘Toy’ with a collage of drones and bleeps, but unfortunately outstays its welcome.

YELLO-2016This last trio of instrumentals ultimately confuse the album, but will probably come fully into context at YELLO’s upcoming live shows with lashings of visuals and volume.

A danceable electronic record that is not built around the predictable beats and drops of EDM, ‘Toy’ is a mature and atmospheric statement, yet great fun. It loses it with the closing instrumental indulgences, but this album will not disappoint the eager YELLO faithful.


‘Toy’ is released via Polydor / Universal Music on 30th September 2016, available as a CD, deluxe CD, double LP and digital download

YELLO appear at Kraftwerk Berlin on 26th, 28th, 29th and 30th October 2016

http://yello.com

https://www.facebook.com/yello.ch/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
26th September 2016

YELLO Interview

YELLO-2016Boris Blank founded YELLO at the end of the 1970s, together with Carlos Perón.

They were soon joined by singer Dieter Meier, and the Swiss group became one of the most respected and influential electronic acts in the world. Reduced to a duo after Perón left for a solo career in 1983, YELLO’s best-known songs include ‘Oh Yeah’, which featured in ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’, and ‘The Race’, which was a Top 10 hit in the UK.

YELLO recently thrilled fans by announcing live Shows in Berlin in October. Boris Blank took a few minutes to speak with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the shows and YELLO’s new studio album, ‘Toy’.

The upcoming shows in Berlin are being billed as YELLO’s first live gigs, so how are they different from 1983’s ‘Live at The Roxy’?

The Roxy was more of a twenty minute gig, which was not a full live concert as we are playing now in Berlin – fully 90 minutes. It was very well prepared at the time with the Fairlight sampling machine. A few little things were live – and Dieter’s voice, of course, was live – but the rest was from this media.

yellology-yelloThis time, in Berlin, the richest track, ‘Tied Up’, will have fourteen people together with me and Dieter on stage. So, there will be some real live musicians on stage, as well – that is the difference between New York and today. People ask, after 38 years – the hardcore fans of YELLO – why don’t you do this for us? So I think it is time to share our music and our visuals with our YELLO fans.

Will you be playing some of the classic material? Will we, for example, get to hear ‘Domingo’ live?

‘Domingo’ is not on the list – no, I am sorry. There will be more famous tracks – ‘Oh Yeah’, of course. There will be other tracks like ‘The Evening’s Young’ and many other tracks from our old list of YELLO music. There will be ‘Tied Up’ – a very wild track. There will be bits of ‘Liquid Lies’. There will be some old tracks, of course, as well as the new YELLO tracks – and hopefully they will also become classic tracks in the next 25 years.

‘Toy’ has the classic YELLO sound, but it also feels more mature and refined. In the studio, did you have a vision of how you wanted the album to sound?

When making the music for YELLO, I never think about a certain aesthetic or a certain kind of concept. It just comes out. When you work every day, like I do in my studio, more as a painter than like a traditional musician, then things come up that I never knew before. I just make music for fun, of course – it should be fun all the time. At the end, that is the result, reflecting more or less my fantasy from the past months and years that I’ve been working on those tracks.

What is interesting and makes me very happy – it is sort of a compliment – is when people say, “You know, Boris, I can say after three bars that this is your music or this is YELLO music”. That is still, I think, the case with this album, as well. You can feel it or hear the characteristics.

boris-blank-fairlightYou mentioned the Fairlight, and your use of it is famous. Your old machine currently lives in Australia. Is it right that the lucky owner inherited your library of sound files?

The reason is that the hard drive didn’t work anymore, so I sent the whole Fairlight to Australia to have the system fixed. They played out all of my old library, which was immense – it is a huge library – and sent it back to me on two or three hard disks.

It is very nice going back into those sounds. I’m not using them for this album, but the next time that I find some space, I would like to recover or recycle those sounds with the newest technology for sampling and go deeper – like with a microscope, going deeper into the molecules of all those sounds – and make new sounds.

It is a tragedy for me, because there was a lot of heart and sweat in those old samples. I recorded everything at the time. I threw a snowball at the studio wall and worked it into a bass drum in the end – things like this. It is nice to go back and see, in retrospect, how I worked at the time; how my mind and my feeling for sounds today has changed. It is a funny kind of history – a documentary for myself – to dig out all those old sounds and recover or recycle them.

Do you work more these days with computers or do you prefer hardware synthesizers?

I do have, for sentimental reasons, still, the ARP Odyssey and a few other ones, but I hardly work with them because I am not an emotional or sentimental person. I work today with the newest plug-ins which are available.

Of course, it keeps my mind and my brain in a good condition. I think that, if I want to have a really dirty Moog type of sound, I can do this as well using some tricks. So, I am not a traditionalist – I am looking to the future.

We know you are a fan of THE NORMAL’s ‘Warm Leatherette’ / ’TVOD.’ Are you also a fan of FAD GADGET or other early electronic artists?

FAD GADGET, of course! I am also a fan of musique concrète. I am a big fan of Pierre Boulez, of course, György Ligeti, and even some parts from Karlheinz Stockhausen and Raymond Scott. They are real pioneers in using electronic music. They are big influences for my own music, as well. They gave me the original kick to start making electronic music.

At the shows in Berlin, Dieter will be front and centre, but is there a chance that we will get to see some of your collaborators – perhaps Malia and Fifi Rong?

Fifi Rong and Malia will be live there. Fifi will sing two tracks, Malia one track and two tracks in a duet or collaboration with Dieter. We are looking forward to keep them happy, of course!

You worked with Malia on another project, ahead of the YELLO album. How did you come together?

It is kind of a long story, because friends of Malia came to me and asked a few times whether I would like to collaborate with her to produce four or five demo tracks that she could use to get a new contract. Finally, we started working between YELLO works, over about two years.

It was not enough doing four tracks – why don’t we do a whole album? On and off, she came to the studio and we worked together for at least two years. She is still a good friend of YELLO, of course, so that is her voice – it fits well on our new album.

In the past, you have worked with Shirley Bassey and Billy Mackenzie, who are two of the great vocalists of the last century. Malia’s voice sounds just as rich.

Yes, she has a special touch in her voice. It is not a colour which you find every day on this planet. She has a really special characteristic to her voice. She is one of the most respected Nina Simone interpreters; so, yes, she has a great voice. She has something alive and emotional in this voice, which is very unusual.

You recently collaborated with JEAN-MICHEL JARRE. What was that experience like?

The experience with JEAN-MICHEL JARRE was, if you compare it to chess players, like if you send a move to your friend in Stockholm or Tokyo. He was in Los Angeles and he sent me the track which he would like to collaborate on with YELLO for his album. As our move, Dieter and I sent him back some voices and a story, which Dieter came up with, and a few rhythmic and sound ideas from myself.

We haven’t met so far, but it was a nice experience and I admire his musical life a lot. I remember ‘Oxygene’. When I was very young, l thought “Wow, this is a whole other world of electronic music” – you know, it had the characteristic that Krautrock, all the German electronics, had at the time.

It was a pleasure and a big honour for us to be on this album, in such great company, with MASSIVE ATTACK and all these great people involved in the project.

YELLO released a music-making app called the Yellofier. Do you think you could see YELLO making a commercial track using that technology?

There are some sounds – some parts, some fragments – on the new album which I had done with the Yellofier. Also, we are developing some more effects or features for the Yellofier quite soon. I would like to get in a collaboration to build some hardware or a sampling machine that has the architecture I wish to work with – an expanded version of the Yellofier – just limited somehow. But that is an idea for the future.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Boris Blank

Special thanks to Duncan Clark at 9PR

‘Toy’ is released via Polydor / Universal Music on 30th September 2016, available as a CD, deluxe CD, double LP and digital download

YELLO appear at Kraftwerk Berlin on 26th, 28th, 29th and 30th October 2016

http://yello.com

https://www.facebook.com/yello.ch/


Text and Interview by Simon Helm
17th September 2016

FIFI RONG Violently Silently EP

She has become a favourite of YELLO’s Boris Blank, she is FIFI RONG…

The Swiss musician said of her musical unique aesthetic: “She opens slowly up in her songs as a miraculous flower that does not grow in any garden, and it’s unmistakably beautiful”. Following on from ‘Next Pursuit’, the Beijing-born artist and producer has a new body of work to showcase her ever developing hyrid electronica sound.

The crowdfunded five track EP’s title ‘Violently Silently’ is a more than apt description for her music, which the songstress describes as “subtly vulnerable and introverted, yet extremely emotionally powerful and brutal”.

Mixed by Lee Slater, ‘Violently Silently’ is a cohesive statement where “the same set of sound elements were sampled, crafted and re-sampled to demonstrate a set of songs that people would conventionally consider to cross several genres”.

The eerie, abstract ‘Intro’ is actually a mutant taster of the following song ‘Once’, highlighting the conceptual theme of the EP. But ‘Once’ itself takes this breathy template into some exquisite electronic pop. Uptempo but engaging varying rhythm measures, it successfully avoids the repetition that plagues most trip-hop and downtempo dance forms which Miss Rong is often associated with.

Meanwhile, her family heritage in Chinese folk and opera makes its presence felt on the lovely ‘Slow Poison’. Playing around with a beautifully traditional topline, there is the bonus of a wonderful piano cascade towards the song’s conclusion.

‘Since When’ could be pretty PORTISHEAD. It is far less claustrophobic than Beth Gibbons and co, plus a whole lot more enjoyable too. With a string quartet, some fabulous stereo imaging on the electronic percussion and an unexpected cacophony of militaristic drums, it is quite a melting pot. The ‘Violently Silently’ EP concludes with another experimental piece in the glitchy dub trip-hop of ‘Outro’, effectively a remix of ‘Since When’.

Intimate and captivating, ‘Violently Silently’ continues FIFI RONG‘s development as one of the more unique artists in modern electronica.


The ‘Violently Silently’ EP can be downloaded via the usual digital outlets or purchased as a CD from http://www.fifirong.com/

https://www.facebook.com/fifirongmusic/

https://soundcloud.com/fifirong

https://www.twitter.com/fifirong

https://www.instagram.com/fifirong/

http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/fifirong


Text by Chi Ming Lai
7th December 2015

2014 End Of Year Review

Integrated Circuits
Photo by Jack Robinson / Getty Images

Photo by Jack Robinson / Getty Images

With 2013 having been one of the strongest years in electronic pop since its post-punk heyday, 2014 was always going to struggle to compete,

This was despite it being the 50th Anniversary of the Moog synthesizer’s first prototype demonstration at the Audio Engineering Society convention in October 1964.

While 2014 was nowhere near in terms of the high profile releases of 2013 or even 2011, it certainly surpassed the comparatively quiet year of 2012.

But there were still a lot of live shows as momentum continued in support of the previous year’s releases with NINE INCH NAILS, GARY NUMAN, DEPECHE MODE, CHVRCHES, FEATHERS, GOLDFRAPP, COVENANT and SOFT METALS among those doing the rounds.

Electronic pioneer KARL BARTOS began the year with his first concert tour since 2003 in Germany. His ‘Off the Record’ live presentation highlighted the best of his KRAFTWERK co-compositions alongside excellent new material.

Coincidentally, on the same night Herr Bartos opened in Cologne, Ralf Hütter picked up a Lifetime Achievement Grammy on behalf of KRAFTWERK, thus finally validating electronic music in the traditionally synthphobic territory of the USA. And by the end of the year, there was even a belated nomination for The Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame.

Staying in Germany, cult trio CAMOUFLAGE celebrated over 30 years in the business with a lavish package ‘The Box 1983-2013’ and a best of CD ‘The Singles’.

CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN though surprised everyone by strapping on an acoustic guitar for her third solo album ‘Where Else?’, but its mix of electronics and six string proved to be well received by her fans.

And on the subject of Germanic influences, Belgian duo METROLAND returned with their Kling Klang flavoured technopop courtesy of the multi-formatted single ‘Thalys’, a tie-in with the European high speed train operator and a rather original cover of ‘Close To Me’ for ‘A Strange Play – An Alfa Matrix Tribute To THE CURE’. Meanwhile, iEUROPEAN teamed up with Wolfgang Flür for some ‘Activity Of Sound’. Flür himself delighted KRAFTWERK fans by announcing he would be playing London gigs in the New Year.

MemeTune Studio in London’s trendy Shoreditch proved to be a hotbed of electronic activity throughout 2014.

Already the location for the largest array of vintage synthesizers in the UK, from the complex emerged fabulous music from the likes of HANNAH PEEL, GAZELLE TWIN and WRANGLER featuring ex-CABARET VOLTAIRE frontman Stephen Mallinder.

MemeTune even found time to curate its own live event ‘MUS_IIC.01’.

Well known for his connections with that stable, JOHN FOXX came back from a break (by his recent prolific standards) with the audio / visual collaboration ‘Evidence Of Time Travel’ in partnership with STEVE D’AGOSTINO.

Other Synth Britannia stalwarts were in action too. OMD celebrated their ‘Dazzle Ships’ era with a pair of concerts at the Museum Of Liverpool and SIMPLE MINDS continued their grandiose demeanour with ‘Big Music’. Meanwhile, MIDGE URE released a fine collection of songs entitled ‘Fragile’, his first of original solo material in 12 years; it also featured a great collaboration with MOBY entitled ‘Dark Dark Night’. As well as that, he worked on a track with Dutch composer Stephen Emmer for an orchestral laden crooner album called ‘International Blue’ which additionally featured his pal Glenn Gregory.

Mr Gregory wasn’t idle either, recording ‘Pray’ b/w ‘Illumination’, HEAVEN 17’s first new material since 2005’s Before After’.

He even found time to impersonate DAVID BOWIE for some special live shows performing ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ with Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey as HOLY HOLY.

And to cap it all, HEAVEN 17 presented ‘The Tour Of Synthetic Delights’ with BLANCMANGE, proving that heritage events could be both nostalgic and credible if the line-up was right.

After last year’s seasonal offering ‘Snow Globe’, ERASURE made a full return in 2014 with ‘The Violet Flame’, the marriage of Andy Bell and Vince Clarke showcasing their best work since 2005’s ‘Nightbird’. Interestingly, ‘The Violet Flame’ was launched via the crowdfunding platform Pledge Music, although this appeared to be more as a promotional tool and fan networking opportunity.

CHINA CRISIS went the Pledge Music route too, announcing their first album in 20 years entitled ‘Autumn In the Neighbourhood’ while also crowdfunded, YELLO’s Boris Blank delivered ‘Electrified’, a solo box set of unreleased material.

Not to be outdone, his YELLO bandmate Dieter Meier responded with his grouchy solo offering ‘Out Of Chaos’ which appeared to be a tribute to Tom Waits. And unexpectedly on the back of ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ becoming a terrace chant for Aberdeen FC’s Scottish League Cup victory, ex-HUMAN LEAGUE member Jo Callis launched a new project called FINGER HALO.

The enduring legacy of many of these veterans was celebrated in ‘Mad World: An Oral History of the New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s’, possibly the best book of its kind about that musical era which the Americans like to refer to as New Wave. Featuring brand new interviews with key protagonists like GARY NUMAN, OMD, NEW ORDER, DURAN DURAN, YAZOO, ULTRAVOX, A-HA and HEAVEN 17, it was a high quality publication that made up for some previously clumsy attempts by others at documenting the period.

Also a good read was Bernard Sumner’s memoirs ‘Chapter and Verse’ which covered his career to date with JOY DIVISION and NEW ORDER.

Coincidentally, Mark Reeder, the man often credited with introducing electronic dance music to Sumner, had a career spanning compendium called ‘Collaborator’ issued containing his earlier work as a member SHARK VEGAS, right up to his more recent remixes of DURAN DURAN’s John Taylor and Sumner’s various projects with BLANK & JONES and WESTBAM.

It was a particularly active year for the industrial scene; AESTHETIC PERFECTION toured Europe with their more accessible but still aggressive ‘Til Death’ opus while ASSEMBLAGE 23 frontman Tom Shear continued developing his SURVEILLANCE side project with ‘Oceania Remixed’. Swedish trio LEGEND gained acclaim for their live performances in support of their debut album ‘Fearless’, Texan duo IRIS released a new album ‘Radiant’ and DIE KRUPPS blasted their way into the South East of England for their first UK dates since 2008.

In more contemporary circles, LA ROUX finally released a second album, appropriately named ‘Trouble In Paradise’. Singer Elly Jackson had split with silent partner Ben Langmaid due to good old fashioned musical differences and as expected, the songs were less synthpoppy than the self-titled debut. Reaching for more disco orientated leanings such as CHIC, GRACE JONES and TOM TOM CLUB, this was if nothing, a more superior offering to either what LITTLE BOOTS or LADYHAWKE managed with their sophomore albums. North of the border, MARNIE did her bit for the Scottish Independence Campaign with the rousingly anthemic ‘Wolves’.

imogen + taylorThe delightfully eccentric IMOGEN HEAP showcased her innovative collaborative developments in music technology via her new album ‘Sparks’ and even squeezed in a collaboration with pop princess TAYLOR SWIFT for the latter’s million selling album ‘1989’.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK commented in 2012 about how CHVRCHES‘ ‘The Mother We Share’ sounded like “Taylor Swift gone electro”, so in a give some, take some back move, the young songstress came up with ‘Out Of The Woods’, a ditty quite obviously influenced by the Glaswegian trio and a synth laden tune entitled ‘New Romantics’ on the bonus edition.

By coincidence with her slight passing resemblance to Miss Swift, QUEEN OF HEARTS launched her debut musical charter ‘Cocoon’ after several years in the making to confirm that pop was indeed not a dirty word.

In the leftfield electronica arena, Warp Records issued ‘High Life’, a collaboration by KARL HYDE and BRIAN ENO while there was also the long awaited new album from APHEX TWIN entitled ‘Syro’. And former MASSIVE ATTACK producer DAVIDGE released an impressive debut collection of songs ‘Slo Light’ that featured SANDIE SHAW, CATE LE BON and EMI GREEN among its vocalists.

One act establishing themselves as major players in the modern electronic scene were Canada’s TR/ST. Led by the polarising “Eeyore gone goth” moodiness of Robert Alfons, the ironically titled ‘Joyland’ was an excellent second album that captured the sleazy nature of a 21st Century SOFT CELL and attached it to the grumpiness of Leonard Cohen.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn minimal duo XENO & OAKLANDER gave the world ‘Par Avion’, possibly their most accessible and colourful work yet. Also from the area came the shadowy huskiness of AZAR SWAN and the alternative mystique of REXXY. Over in LA, NIGHT CLUB showed further promise with their best offering yet in their third EP ‘Black Leather Heart’ while in San Antonio, HYPERBUBBLE launched an ‘Attack Of The Titans’.

Baltimore’s FUTURE ISLANDS however divided opinion; their fans included Andy McCluskey, Vince Clarke, Martyn Ware, Rusty Egan and Jori Hulkkonen, but their unintentionally amusing live appearance on ‘The David Letterman Show’ performing ‘Seasons’ came over to some observers like a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit on the 80s. However, with two sold out dates at London’s Roundhouse in March 2015, Samuel T. Herring and Co are the ones having the last laugh.

The Nordic region proved itself again to be the centre of electronic creativity. The dream partnership of ROBYN and RÖYKSOPP reconvened after the success of 2010’s ‘The Girl & The Robot’ to ‘Do It Again’ while RÖYKSOPP themselves released what they announced to be their last album, appropriately titled ‘The Inevitable End’.

Also featuring on that album was Nordic vocalist of the moment SUSANNE SUNDFØR who has her own new eagerly awaited long player ‘Ten Love Songs’ out in 2015.

KARIN PARK and MARGARET BERGER provided another united Scandinavian front when they performed together at Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix while Finnish duo SIN COS TAN delivered their third long player in as many years with a concept album called ‘Blown Away’.

From Sweden came the welcome return of KLEERUP with ‘As If We Never Won’, the first of two new EPs before an album to follow-up the brilliant self-titled debut from 2008. Meanwhile, EMMON delivered her fourth album ‘Aon’ as well as a baby. There was more glacial oddness from IAMAMIWHOAMI with her second album ‘Blue’ while the brooding Nordic Noir pop of stunning identical twins SAY LOU LOU started to gain a foothold in readiness for their first long player ‘Lucid Dreaming’.

Nordic friendly music blog Cold War Night Life curated possibly the best electronic event of the year with ‘An Evening With The Swedish Synth’ at London’s 93 Feet East. In a bill supported by the promising TRAIN TO SPAIN and synth rock duo MACHINISTA who delivered a great debut album in ‘Xenoglossy’, the event was headlined by synthpop veterans PAGE. Incidentally, Eddie Bengtsson of PAGE’s solo project SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN produced some interesting covers of OMD and DEVO, both reworked i Svenska.

And all this while ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK bore witness to a puzzled British musician who actually asked with a straight face “What’s so special about Sweden then?”!! ‘An Evening With The Swedish Synth’ was a fine example of what could be achieved when an electronic event was actually curated by electronic music enthusiasts, as this was not always the case in several instances during 2014.

Following a four year hiatus, CLIENT rebooted and released ‘Authority’ with new singer Client N doing a fine impersonation of MARNIE on the single ‘Refuge’. After a long gestation period, Anglo-German collective TWINS NATALIA released their debut long player ‘The Destiny Room’ and pleasantly wallowed in the neu romance of classic synthpop, dressing it with the vocal styles of GRACE JONES and ABBA.

TWINS NATALIA’s ‘The Destiny Room’ was released on Anna Logue Records who in 2015 will issue ‘Signs Of life’, the debut album from enigmatic South East Asian combo QUIETER THAN SPIDERS. Possibly the best new synthpop act to emerge in 2014, as befitting their name, they made their music, edited some videos and just discretely got on with it, thus proving the theory that those who shout loudest are not always necessarily the best…

kid moxie-twin peaksMARSHEAUX celebrated ten years in the business with a compilation called ‘Odyssey’ on the prestigious Les Disques Du Crépuscule label. They also announced an unusual project for 2015, an album covering DEPECHE MODE’s ‘A Broken Frame’ in its entirety. Also on Undo, KID MOXIE released her second album ‘1888’ featuring a collaboration with acclaimed film score composer Angelo Badalamenti to compliment her new cinematic pop approach. Meanwhile, one-time Undo label mates LIEBE started getting traction on MTV Europe and MIKRO maintained their position as Greece’s premier power pop band with their seventh album ‘New’ despite the departure of singer Ria Mazini following its unveiling.

From Dublin came the filmic ambience of POLYDROID while cut from a similar cloth, there was the haunting soundscapes of Trans-Belgian pairing MARI & THE GHOST. There were also several other promising female led talents ranging from the sugary pop of PAWWS and the quietly subversive electro of I AM SNOW ANGEL to the soulful moodiness of HUGH and the mysteriously smoky allure of FIFI RONG.

VILE ELECTRODES confirmed their position as the best independent electronic act in the UK currently when they snared not just one, but two Schallwelle Awards in Germany.

To celebrate the first anniversary of their brilliant debut album ‘The future through a lens’, the sparkling duo of Anais Neon and Martin Swan played alongside DEPECHE MODE tribute act SPEAK & SPELL for a wonderful evening that also featured SARAH BLACKWOOD.

Miss Blackwood gave spirited live vocal performances of several songs from her own career as part of a singing DJ set including ‘Justice’, her recent collaboration for the FOTONOVELA album ‘A Ton Of Love’. There was additionally the bonus of her duetting with SPEAK & SPELL on ‘A Question Of Time’ during their ‘101’ performance celebrating the film’s 25th anniversary.

Analog Angel-in-profilePossibly the best independently released album of 2014 came from Glasgow’s ANALOG ANGEL who freed themselves of their industrial shackles to produce a collection of sophisticated synthpop entitled ‘Trinity’.

Having been around since 2009 and with two albums already to their name, the Scottish trio put their money where their mouths were. Their decision to avoid crowdfunding and invest in their own music was an applaudable decision, especially when other bands, who were still yet to prove themselves, were out with the begging bowls.

Indeed, 2014 was a strange year in which ego appeared to overtake ability and none more so than on the live circuit, where that old adage about needing to learn to walk before running ran true. Wanabee promoters with no notable experience bit off more than they could chew by playing Fantasy Festival, as was proven by the Alt-Fest debacle.

Despite a much publicised crowdfunding exercise, the simple use of a pocket calculator would have shown that an event of such magnitude could not be underwritten by such a comparatively small amount of cash and anticipated ticket sales. When rumours abounded that Alt-Fest was to be cancelled due to a lack of funds, the organisers’ silence and lack of resolve caused much resentment. Risk is all part of the game, but live ventures require solid finance, spirited commitment and an attempt at least to get in the black.

Alt-Fest-cancelledHowever, a few promoters appeared to want to make life difficult for themselves from the off. In its investigations, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK found that with one poorly attended event back in 2013, there was no way the event could have balanced its books, even if it had sold out its ticket capacity!

Meanwhile, there was another gig in 2014 publicised so covertly with restricted social media and bizarre pricing structures, it was as if the promoters didn’t want anyone to attend! Of course, there was also that tactic of announcing an event almost a year in advance without confirming any of the acts for several months, as if the event was more important than any of the music!

As Whitby Goth Weekend’s Jo Hampshire pointed out: “Alt-Fest had put its tickets on sale while still booking acts including headliners, which is potentially disastrous”! Despite the general feeling that independently curated live initiatives should be anti-corporate, everything is about business at the end of the day.

However, a number of promoters at this end of the market failed to realise this. Any artists performing must be paid their expenses and fees as per any agreement, regardless of the final ticket sales unless terms such as door percentages or ticket sale buy-ons have been arranged.

But as one-time TECHNIQUE singer Xan Tyler pointed out: “Musicians get ripped off at every turn, online stores take a huge cut, Spotify don’t remunerate artists properly, venues expect you to play for bugger all (and in some case they expect you to pay to play). If you want to make money from the music industry, don’t be a musician!”

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is coming into its fifth anniversary and continues to maintain a readership of discerning music fans, despite protestations in some quarters to the contrary.

The site’s manifesto has always been about celebrating the best in new and classic electronic pop music.

It has never made claims about supporting unsigned acts or any music that happens use a synthesizer.

As Client A put it franklyin the Autumn: “in the electronica age, anyone can be a musician but that also makes it a free for all with every tom, dick or curly clogging up the internet with their crap music…”

Meanwhile, NIGHT CLUB added: “People forget about things so quickly these days because the internet is so inundated with crap…”

So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK considers what music it features very, very carefully. it may not manage to be first, like many so-called buzz blogs try to be, but it has always had longevity in mind, even if that is difficult to predict.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2014

PAUL BODDY

Best Album: TODD TERJE It’s Album Time
Best Song: RÖYKSOPP & ROBYN Do It Again
Best Gig: NINE INCH NAILS at Nottingham Arena
Best Video: MAPS You Will Find A Way
Most Promising New Act: TODD TERJE


DEB DANAHAY

Best Album: RÖYKSOPP The Inevitable End
Best Song: RÖYKSOPP featuring JAMIE IRREPRESSIBLE Something In My Heart
Best Gig: COVENANT + LEGEND at Gothenburg Electronic Summer Festival
Best Video: PRINCESS CENTURY Das Schlimmste
Most Promising New Act: LEGEND


IAN FERGUSON

Best Album: MIDGE URE Fragile
Best Song: MIDGE URE Dark, Dark Night
Best Gig: THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP at Glasgow Quayside
Best Video: IMOGEN HEAP The Listening Chair
Most Promising New Act: WRANGLER


MONIKA IZABELA GOSS

Best Album: ERASURE The Violet Flame
Best Song: ANALOG ANGEL Drive
Best Gig: DEPECHE MODE at Strasbourg Zénith
Best Video: DIE KRUPPS Robo Sapien
Most Promising New Act: PAWWS


STEVE GRAY

Best Album: RÖYKSOPP The Inevitable End
Best Song: RÖYKSOPP featuring JAMIE IRREPRESSIBLE I Had This Thing
Best Gig: GARY NUMAN at Hammersmith Apollo
Best Video: KID MOXIE Lacuna
Most Promising New Act: TWINS NATALIA


CHI MING LAI

Best Album: MIDGE URE Fragile
Best Song: ANALOG ANGEL The Last Time
Best Gig: KARL BARTOS at Cologne Live Music Hall
Best Video: LIEBE I Believe In You
Most Promising New Act: QUIETER THAN SPIDERS


SOPHIE NILSSON

Best Album: ERASURE The Violet Flame
Best Song: SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN Stadens Alla Ljus
Best Gig: ANDY BELL in ‘Torsten The Bareback Saint’ at London St James Theatre
Best Video: ANDY BELL I Don’t Like
Most Promising New Act: PULSE


RICHARD PRICE

Best Album: ERASURE The Violet Flame
Best Song: POLLY SCATTERGOOD Subsequently Lost
Best Gig: PET SHOP BOYS at Brighton Dome
Best Video: JOHN FOXX B-Movie
Most Promising New Act: PAWWS


Text by Chi Ming Lai
9th December 2014

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