Berlin-based musician and DJ Luca Venezia, better known as CURSES, presents ‘Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’, his second curated compilation exploring the darker side of club music though the decades. The first volume had been a lockdown inspired exploration of his own record collection.
Released by Eskimo Recordings and featuring 49 tracks, the music is split into three distinct chapters with more than half being previously unreleased; “Many of these songs come from friends close of mine, or artists I perform with and tour with a lot, whose music and craft I admire and champion.” Luca Venezia told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the set, “We are all making a very niche style of music, and everyone is approaching it in their own unique way, it is only natural we migrate to be friends and share the stage together… like a primal instinct.”
Conceived with his ideal night out in mind, compiling such an compilation was not without its headaches; “Fortunately with the help of Eskimo and N.E.W.S., the licensing team are an absolute powerhouse” recalled Venezia, “It wasn’t easy, especially the older material, like Malcolm McLaren’s ‘Madame Butterfly’… and yes, there was SO much music I wanted but couldn’t get the rights to. Not because the artists said no, but because it was impossible to find WHO owned the rights now. Members in bands split up, some pass away, some vanish… it’s a puzzle at times to license the 80s underground electronic gems”.
Chapter 1 contains the pioneering acts of the past that were occasionally signed to major labels and even flirted with the mainstream pop charts. The set opens with ‘Distant Dreams Pt 2’, a wonderful suitably obscure 1980 B-side from THROBBING GRISTLE, while another lesser known gem comes from BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE with ‘The Big V’, the instrumental variant of the 1986 single ‘V. Thirteen’.
The first name likely to be recalled when dark club music comes to mind, especially to Taylor Swift fans, are CABARET VOLTAIRE and they fit like a glove on this compendium with ‘Blue Heat’ from ‘Micro-Phonies’, as do Dutch band CLAN OF XYMOX with ‘Obsession’, an excellent example of classic electro-goth disco.
Of course, NITZER EBB are present and correct with ‘Hearts & Minds’ while DAF stand firm with their declaration as ‘Brothers’ in their appealing but less heralded English language disco phase.
Collecting superb tracks from various acclaimed cult acts, ‘The Murder Of Love’ by PROPAGANDA and the I Dream Of Jeanne Mix of ‘Modigliani (Lost In Your Eyes)’ by BOOK OF LOVE demonstrate how the developing digital technology enabled powerful sampled sounds effectively at the flick of a switch. However, best of all are former SOFT CELL backing singers VICIOUS PINK who really should have had a huge worldwide hit with the brilliant Tony Mansfield produced ‘Cccan’t You See’
Chapter 2 moves the night on starting with ‘Voloczny’, an unreleased song from back in day by BOYTRONIC towards the present with modern day electronic producers such as Jennifer Touch and Kris Baha. In a new 2023 version, THE KVB come over like THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN with synths on ‘Still Warm’ while YEARS OF DENIAL capture plenty of stark menace on ‘It Sucks.
Canadian wife-and-husband duo ESSAIE PAS provide enigmatic prose en Français over a cascade of pulsing synths on ‘Retox’ while Berlin-based trio DINA SUMMER update the gothic disco template on ‘Darkness’. Affirming the international cast of ‘Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’, Spain’s DAME AREA go on a heavier industrial club excursion via ‘Buon Cittadino’ but on the opposite side of the coin and Atlantic, DESIRE offer enigmatic coyness on ‘Love Races On’ outside of their Italians Do It Better stable.
Chapter 3 is the part of the night you probably should go home but don’t… a wilder, harder and more aggressive energy is here if you so desire. There is naturally a Dark Remix of ‘Machina’ from BOY HARSHER with guest vocals by Mariana Saldaña. But utilising tense triplets and brassy melodramatic stabs, CURSES revamps J.W.B. HITS THE BEAT’s ‘Body On Body’. CURSES returns to remix NUOVO TESTAMENTO’s ‘Heartbeat’ and there is an enjoyable instrumental in ‘Non Fiction’ by SILENT SERVANT.
Two of the best tracks come via Australia; ‘Burning Eyes’ is a Hi-NRG romp with wispy voice ad-libs courtesy of NEU-ROMANCER and ZANIAS’ ‘Tryptamine Palace’ is a tremendous textural dance track. ANDI VS RANDOLPH & MORTIMER make their presence felt with big beats on ‘Formidable Truths’ while Michel Amato aka THE HACKER does not disappoint with the previously unreleased ‘Monopoly’. To end, Greek synth duo PARADOX OBSCUR make a beefy contribution in ‘Evo-Devo’ that recalls French art pop duo LES RITA MISOUKO.
On the spiritual and musical thread that helped make this cohesive collection, Luca Venezia surmised: “Every artist involved has their own personal and unique take on the timeless love affair between human and machine. All the music on ‘DEUX’ also embraces the punk and DIY raw energy of live music into electronic music; artists LIKE YEARS OF DENIAL, BOY HARSHER, NUOVO TESTAMENTO, NITZER EBB, BOYTRONIC and DINA SUMMER are all good examples of how the music is very personal, verse chorus verse song-based concert music, yet can also be DJ’d in a club at 4am in a dusty thriving warehouse rave.”
Music from the past and present can sit comfortably together in the same place and ‘Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’ proves it.
With thanks to Luca Venezia and Mirren Thomson at Eclectica
It was hoped to be a year of positive electricity but with the oddball burst of negative waves, 2022 was summed up by the title of its best album.
The product of Finnish duo SIN COS TAN, ‘Living In Fear’ captured the anxieties of living with The Bear Next Door in a post-pandemic world. With billionaires taking over social media with the intent of allowing the extreme right wing an increased voice, it was as if the lessons of Trump and Bolsonaro had not been learned.
‘The Wolves Are Returning’ warned xPROPAGANDA on a track from their excellent album ‘The Heart Is Strange’, the message coming from two Germans whose grandparents’ generation “did nothing” and had made the mistake of opening up the door to the Nazis was extremely poignant.
It was as if The Cold War had never ended; the poetry of one who has escaped ethnic genocide and been separated from next of kin as a refugee has substance. So for Alanas Chosnau on his second album with Mark Reeder, this was ‘Life Everywhere’ and provided a deeper statement on life during wartime. Meanwhile China’s STOLEN presented their ‘Eroded Creation’ and explained ‘Why We Follow’.
Battles both worldwide and personal were being reflected in music everywhere with ‘War’ by I SPEAK MACHINE being another example. Things did not get much cheerier with Rodney Cromwell whose long-awaited second long player ‘Memory Box’ provided commentary on a sadly post-truth world, the so-called “alternative facts” as Donald Trump’s extremely dim advisor Kellyanne Conway liked to put it.
As sardonic as ever, DUBSTAR presented their second collection of kitchen sink dramas since they reconfigured as a duo with ‘Two’ and reunited with producer Stephen Hague for their most acclaimed record since their 1995 debut ‘Disgraceful’.
On a more optimistic note, Italians Do It Better brought their cinematic world to London with headline shows by DESIRE and MOTHERMARY who each had new long form releases to air, while shyness was nice for the most promising breakthrough act of the year Gemma Cullingford who got all ‘Tongue Tied’ on her second long player. Meanwhile DAWN TO DAWN, ULTRAFLEX and H/P offered electronically escapist solutions to the year,
40 years after the release of their debut album ‘Happy Families’, BLANCMANGE returned home to London Records for a ‘Private View’ while mainman Neil Arthur was keeping himself busy with FADER too. Having being shelved for 30 years, the second ELECTRIBE 101 album ‘Electribal Soul’ finally saw the light of day. And some 39 years after it was first conceived, the lost Warren Cann and Hans Zimmer opus ‘Spies’ was released in a new 21st Century recording by the HELDEN Project’s lead vocalist Zaine Griff.
Although PET SHOP BOYS celebrated their career with the magnificent ‘Dreamworld’ tour for the best live event of 2022 and joined SOFT CELL in the ‘Purple Zone’, Marc Almond and David Ball presented the disclaimer ‘*Happiness Not Included’ before announcing that they would be performing at a run of outdoor events in 2023 despite having stated their 2018 O2 extravaganza would be their last.
Also having declared a final album in 2014, RÖYKSOPP returned with the triple volumed ‘Profound Mysteries’ that featured Susanne Sundfør and Alison Goldfrapp.
Veterans Howard Jones, William Orbit, Jean-Michel Jarre and Wolfgang Flür as well as long-standing Nordic combos LUSTANS LAKEJER and A-HA released new albums but while the quality across the releases was mixed, fans were loyal and happy. After various trials and tribulations, TEARS FOR FEARS returned with ‘The Tipping Point’ and erased memories of the lacklustre 2004 comeback ‘Everybody Loves A Happy Ending’, but the duo were unable to capitalise when the majority of the UK concert tour of stately homes was cancelled due to an unfortunate accident that befell Curt Smith.
Creating a dehumanised technologically dependent Sci-Fi world, DIE KRUPPS opted for more machine than metal under their EBM pseudonym DIE ROBO SAPIENS. With NASA making its first steps back to the moon with the Artemis project, fittingly Italian producer EUGENE spent ‘Seven Years In Space’ and Ireland’s CIRCUIT3 looked back at space travel’s past on ‘Technology For The Youth’. Back on earth, THE WEEKND was still being accused of stealing from synthwave while coming up with the song of the year in ‘Less Than Zero’. In the meantime, having infuriated audiences by saying “f*ck that ‘synthwave’ stuff as u name it” in 2018, KAVINSKY was ‘Reborn’ with a second album that had much less of the wave and expanded into broader electronically generated templates with the occasional funkier overtones.
Celebrating ‘40 Years Of Hits’ on a sell-out arena tour and issuing a new album ‘Direction Of The Heart’ which featured a guest appearance by Russell Mael of SPARKS on the single ‘Traffic’ with the obligatory ‘Acoustic Mix’, as the excellent book ‘Themes For Great Cities’ by Graeme Thomson highlighted, the best years of SIMPLE MINDS are now well behind them. They are a poor facsimile of the great band they once were and as a special Summer concert in Edinburgh in honour of ‘New Gold Dream’ proved, Jim Kerr and Co can’t even play their best album properly.
Music-related books continued to be popular with Martyn Ware and Karl Bartos respectively writing their memoirs ‘Electronically Yours Vol1’ and ‘The Sound Of The Machine’. In a wider historical context, that crucial 1978-1983 period where electronic pop was more or less invented got documented in the encyclopaedic ‘Listening To The Music The Machines Make’ by Richard Evans.
2022 saw several prominent figures depart for the jukebox in the sky; Vangelis, Manuel Göttsching, Angelo Badalamenti, Julee Cruise, Dave Smith, Herb Deutsch, Terry Hall, Robert Marlow and Andy Fletcher will be sadly missed but ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was particularly devasted by the passing of German electronic legend Klaus Schulze only 4 days after he gave a rare interview to the site.
Meanwhile Dave Gahan and Martin Gore announced yet another tour of underwhelming arena shows plonked into stadiums for an as-yet-unfinished album that at least had a title ‘Momento Mori’. Ticketscalper took advantage with so-called dynamic pricing (or legalised touting) as hapless Devotees were fleeced thousands of dollars in North America… all this just to see a continually ungrateful frontman (who didn’t even sing is own words on a DEPECHE MODE song until 2005) gesture with a microphone in the air on a catwalk rather than actually singing on it and to possibly hear a pre-1985 song performed that will inevitably ruined by The Drumhead and The Noodler!
As Juls Garat of Massachusetts goth band PILGRIMS OF YEARNING observed via social media: “If you’re spending a kidney on DEPECHE MODE tickets and not attending a local show this weekend, I don’t wanna see you complaining that there’s no scene, local venues or new music anymore”. With the lack of curiosity amongst audiences who were content with nostalgia and the like, it was a difficult year for independent acts.
There is no easy answer and as the old saying goes, you can take a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink. But one promoter that did hit on an innovative idea was Duskwaves who came up with afternoon synth gigs. Hosted at various locations in the South East of England with the aim of drumming up daytime weekend business at venues, events started at 2.00pm and ended by 6.00pm to allow for an easy journey home or possibly dinner afterwards. Artists such as YOUNG EMPRESS,INFRA VIOLET,STRIKE EAGLE and AUW joined in the family friendly fun and while the concept was unusual, with classic synth audiences not getting any younger, it has potential.
While the worldwide situation remains uncomfortable and unsettling, for The Cold War generation, it all seemed strangely familiar. As Jori Hulkkonen of SIN COS TAN said in an interview with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK recently: “It feels kind of comfortable to be back in that same state of mind that you grew up in!! It’s like you grew up in not a nice place, but you get 20-30 years out of it and then you get drawn back into The Cold War state of mind. It’s where I come from and there’s nothing good about it, but somehow feels very familiar so you can handle it in a different way”.
The Cold War inspired songs such as ‘Enola Gay’, ‘Fireside Favourite’, ‘All Stood Still’, ‘Let’s All Make A Bomb’, ‘I Melt With You’, ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ and ‘Five Minutes To Midnight’ which encapsulated the nuclear paranoia of the times. So if the current tensions go on any longer, how will artistic expression be affected and driven?
But as Synthesizer Patel actor Sanjeev Kohli wittily remarked of the UK’s 41 day Prime Minister aka Mad Lizzie following her successful leadership bid: “Liz Truss has now been trusted with the nuclear button. I honestly wouldn’t trust her with the bossanova button on a broken Yamaha keyboard”.
In a year which saw the bizarre scenario of a black vicar worshipping Enoch Powell on the repulsive gammon TV channel GB News and the truth about Tory PPE scandals becoming clearer, Richy Sunak, Ugly Patel, Cruella Braverman and Krazi Kwarteng continued to be the ultimate race traitors in their Westminster tribute band A FLOCK OF SIEG HEILS. Failing to look in the mirror, their role as collaborators was all as part of a wider self-serving mission to help keep the whites Reich and line the pockets of their already loaded banker mates instead of paying nurses a fair wage. Nurses are for life and not just for Covid. So what did happen to that £350 million promised for the NHS by that pompous lying posh boy Boris Johnson if Brexit happened? As Tim Burgess of THE CHARLATANS summed it all up rather succinctly on Twitter: “Worth remembering that the real enemy travels by private jet, not by dinghy” ✊😉
During lockdown, electronic music displayed its emotional empathy with isolation and solitary working.
But as during The Cold War in its breakthrough years, it read the room again with the onset of worldwide and domestic conflicts, both armed and political. There were times in 2022 that were as if The Cold War had never ended and in amongst the turmoil, artists reflected their anxieties on top of those already existing.
Jori Hulkkonen of SIN COS TAN said: “Overall, this decade has been a real downer with the pandemic and now the war, so if we are trying to look for silver linings here, I think it will be interesting for the creative community to get something out of it, the frustration, the fears and all that.”
As further pandemic songs were released as well, what emerged were songs of varying moods and while there was fresh optimising in the air, there were calls to arms and resignation looming too. Overall, 2022 saw many great individual tracks issued and mention must be made of NNHMN, NATION OF LANGUAGE, O+HER, DIE ROBO SAPIENS, DESIRE and MOTHERMARY who were among those shortlisted for this year’s listing.
As ever on ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, rules help control the fun… so restricted to tracks available on the usual online retail platforms with a limit of one song per artist moniker, here are the 30 SONGS OF 2022 in alphabetical order by artist…
ANNIEE featuring VON HERTZOG Danger Electricity
Bubbling with a dynamic thrust, the angelic voice of Anniee evoked the excitement of a night clubbing while Von Hertzog provided the hypnotic backing and beautiful soundscape. “I was jogging in London and came across the words in the sidewalk ‘danger electricity’” she said, “I had always wanted to create a dance track – something that reflected my love for EDM”.
For Alanas Chosnau and Mark Reeder, the ongoing world tensions were a symbol of ‘Life Everywhere’. Like a Harry Palmer film given an electro soundtrack and hidden behind the facade of love songs, they poignantly made a statement on life during wartime. With a speedy conga mantra and a dominant digital clap, ‘All You Need Is Love’ entered funky electronic disco territory.
Despite questioning selective memories on his second album ‘Memory Box’, with ‘The Winter Palace’, Rodney Cromwell was wanting to forget a former beau because “I dream of you regardless, whether I am asleep or awake”. With hints of classic NEW ORDER and OMD, the wonderfully icy number embraced motorik mechanisation and a glorious synth solo for a hopeful uplift.
Available on the album ‘Memory Box’ via Happy Robots Records
BOY HARSHER made a short horror movie ‘The Runner’ and a soundtrack to go with it. Although comprising of their usual dark and danceable electronic pop, it featured several special guests. Sung in Spanish and English, ‘Machina’ featuring Ms. BOAN aka Mariana Saldaña was aimed at the dancefloor, recalling the Latino electronic disco of Bobby Orlando, particularly PET SHOP BOYS ‘A Man Could Get Arrested’.
Available on the album ‘The Runner’ via Nude Club / City Slang
For his third CIRCUIT3 album, Peter Fitzpatrick presented a retro-futuristic narrative on the world before the space shuttle. Valentina Tereshkova whose 1963 adventure in Vostok 6 made her the first woman in space was celebrated with ‘Valentina Fly’, the wonderful piece evoking OMD. “She’s not a celebrated as Yuri Gagarin” said the Dubliner, but “in some respects, what she achieved was much greater.”
If Yoko Ono’s ‘Walking On Thin Ice’ had been reconfigured as a Balearic friendly electronic disco number, then it would have come out like ‘Tongue Tied’, the title track of the second album by Gemma Cullingford. With a nonchalant but sensual vocal style reminiscent of Sarah Nixey, ‘Tongue Tied’ exuded a positive if nervous energy in a purer metronomic adoption of electronics. Shyness is nice…
Canadian danceable dreampop trio DAWN TO DAWN celebrated the joy of music in times of adversity with ‘Stereo’. Driven by a Roland TR909, the song touched on the acceptance of confinement where “I wait for no one to ask ‘when do we go?’”. In its romantic reflection of good times, a breezy infectious allure was captured with a promise of better things to come.
Since Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie reconfigured DUBSTAR as a duo, there was always the impression that the comeback album ‘One’ was a warm-up. Opening album ‘Two’ was ‘Token’; co-produced by Stephen Hague, it pointed to his work with PET SHOP BOYS and ERASURE. Its narrative about leaving behind abusive relationships and minor gestures was a topic that many could relate to.
Since releasing her first sassy pop album ‘The Art & The Evil’ in 2007, Emma Nylen has got progressively darker and harder while still retaining an enigmatic presence. While most of her ‘Recon’ album headed in an EBM direction, synthpop was the sound on the ‘Black Celebration’ inflected mission that was ‘The Battle’, a timely commentary on world and deomestic events.
Available on the album ‘Recon’ via Icons Creating Real Art
As with previous FADER works, Benge worked alone on the instrumentation in Cornwall while Neil Arthur did his lyrics and vocals. Their third album together ‘Quartz’ was inspired by incidental atmospheric music used in vintage TV shows. Minimalistic structures provided a reflective and elegiac backdrop. The icy waltz ‘Serpentine’ opened the album with its sparse keys like Gary Numan meeting Brian Eno.
Available on the album ‘Quartz’ via Blanc Check Records
A reinterpretation of THE CARS’ mournful classic’, this chilling version of ‘Drive’ by THE GOLDEN FILTER simply captured the zeitgeist in amongst the turmoil of world events… the work of Penelope Trappes and Stephen Hindman, the duo defied people not to well up on hearing the words “Who’s gonna tell you when it’s too late? Who’s gonna tell you things aren’t so great?”.
Available on the single ‘Drive’ via The Golden Filter
H/P were formally known as HAPPINESS PROJECT, issuing their first album in 2008. For their H/P debut ‘Programma’, the trio not only shortened their moniker but also adopted a minimal synth approach. Acknowledging the debt of influence to cult French act MARTIN DUPONT, ‘Vicinities’ appled a complex spiral of delicate blips, while was enclosed is an emotional centre that recalled OMD.
Adopting the dishevelled persona of a satanic Libertas, ‘War’ by I SPEAK MACHINE was another album that captured the zeitgeist. With hints of Gary Numan, the screeching title song set the scene. “It definitely has ‘Metal’ in there as an influence” she said, “It came about from me messing with my Casio SK1 and then running that through a Moogerfooger ClusterFlux to make it all bendy and provide actual notes from the feedback.”
Karen Hunter was a Gary Numan live band member between 1984-85 and recorded a wonderful cover of the ballad ‘Don’t Call My Name’ in support of The Ced Sharpley Drumming Bursary. The original was on the 1988 album ‘Metal Rhythm’ and given a serene feminine twist. Produced by music veteran Steve Hunter, Numan associates Chris Payne and Andy Coughlan also contributed.
Vincent Belorgey aka Kavinsky made his name with ‘Night Call’. But it was featured in the cult movie ‘Drive’, the Frenchman found it was an albatross around his neck. He upset people when he said “f*ck that ‘synthwave’ stuff as u name it”. Now ‘Reborn’, channelling his inner Moroder circa ‘Midnight Express’, ‘Outsider’ was a magnificent instrumental laced with orchestrated drama and tension.
Available on the album ‘Reborn’ via Record Makers / Protovision
Taking both musical and lyrical inspiration from DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Never Let Me Down Again’, there were darker and harder aesthetics at play on ‘Shine’ with KID MOXIE assertively declaring “I’m taking the lead in the back seat”. “We definitely channelled some DM vibes” she remembered, “it was even a running joke while we were in studio recording it with FADERHEAD”.
“Sweden’s best kept pop-secret” returned with ‘Panic Music’ and exuded a fierce anxiety with front man Nicklas Stenemo presenting his characteristic screaming delivery. Over an epic neo-gothic backdrop now associated with KITE, Christian Berg continued his fascination for electronic drones and swoops while there was also the surprise of a guitar solo. The stress and strain of the past two years was captured in song.
Available on the digital single ‘Panic Music’ via Astronaut Recordings
From Vancouver in British Columbia, ACTORS keyboardist Shannon Hemmett continued with her more synth focussed solo project LEATHERS. Not completely divorced from the main band family, frontman Jason Corbett acts as producer and collaborator, just as Daniel Hunt did with Helen Marnie on her solo work during the LADYTRON hiatus. ‘Runaway’ was gorgeous dreamy synthpop to elope to.
Available on the digital single ‘Runaway’ via Artoffact Records
Hayley Stewart returned as MECHA MAIKO with ‘NOT OK’ to highlight the social-political flashpoints that emerged during the pandemic. But focussing on warmer moments and feeling the force of some mighty electro, ‘Sunny, Softly (I Feel Love)’ threw in the iconic throb from the Giorgio Moroder produced Donna Summer hit for a glorious beat driven statement enhanced by an angelic delivery.
Available on the album ‘NOT OK’ via New Retro Wave
Sister and brother duo MINIMAL SCHLAGER began in 2020 as a consequence of the pandemic. Based between London and Berlin, Alicia Macanás and Francisco Parisi began to develop a brand of synth heavy dreampop. While bubbling with glistening synths, ‘Submission’ was a more of a new wave number with subtle guitar and a rhythmic bounce that set it apart from the other songs on their first album.
Fronted by enigmatic Sharon Shy, having released some fabulously ethereal singles in the past 18 months, New York-based darklings R. MISSING presented the sinister beauty of ‘New Present City’. In their embracement of the fragility of life with gently propelled soundscapes swathed in icy melancholia, this slice of electronic pop noir fittingly filled a gap left by the now disbanded CHROMATICS.
‘The Inevitable End’ in 2014 was said to be the final RÖYKSOPP album but after various singles and soundtracks, they returned with the ‘Profound Mysteries’ trilogy. Featuring Alison Goldfrapp, the delicious ‘Impossible’ was a mighty avant disco excursion with a seductive high soprano middle eight drifting into an intergalactic twist.
Swedish songstress Hanna Rua has a dreamy electronic pop sensibility with the emphasis on the pop, but her debut EP ‘Light Up Your Dark’ also demonstrated her scope and capability using darker aesthetics. With a wonderfully gritty austere, the title song played with gothier influences while remaining melodic, coming over like a Nordic NINA in her more recent work in a battle against the demons.
Although they announced a retirement of sorts in 2016, Swedish duo SALLY SHAPIRO joined the Italian Do It Better family in 2021 to make an unexpected return. ‘Fading Away’ was an epic dance tune where an atmospheric template was merged with a relentless disco synthwave hybrid, utilising a glorious plethora of trancey electronics and thumping rhythms across its seven minutes.
Available on the album ‘Sad Cities’ via Italians Do It Better
With the bear next door, the title of SIN COS TAN’s fourth album ‘Living In Fear’ resonated with anyone resident in Finland or anywhere in the civilised world; “Do you fear the dark, love, war, or yourself? Whatever the answer, you can be certain: Fear is a powerful thing.” The windswept electro-motorik of ‘Endless’ used the melodic synthy highs of OMD to counter the melancholic expression.
The tense industrialised pulse of ‘Nighthawks’ recalled the sweaty alternative club overtures of one-time Some Bizzare stable mates CABARET VOLTAIRE. Featuring a deranged expletive laden rap from drag performance artist Christeene, SOFT CELL fans were even treated to the deep growly voice of Mr Ball himself alongside Marc Almond while ‘Staying Alive’ backing vocals provided another counterpoint.
Documenting a period of personal struggle, the new UNIFY SEPARATE album attempted ‘Closure’ which set the scene with a building atmospheric trance tune that simply mesmerised, especially when front man Andrew Montgomery hit his trademark falsetto. Instrumentalist Leo Josefsson cited influences such as MODERAT, NITZER EBB, UNDERWORLD and FRONT 242.
With shades of Alison Goldfrapp, Hannah Peel and the often forgotten Stella Grundy, the positively feline and angelic ‘Cold Breeze’ was the London-based Aussie Bella Unwin’s best song yet. The additional production and mix by Finlay Shakespeare boosted the punchy and immediate machine funk that was laced with wispy and alluringly coy vocals.
THE WEEKND again reminded the mainstream of the emotive beauty that can come from classic synthpop with ‘Less Than Zero’. ‘Less Than Zero’ itself sounded not unlike Michael Jackson produced by Tony Mansfield. The cross of catchy hooks, glorious counter-melodies and acoustic strums were reminiscent of Mansfield’s own combo NEW MUSIK who went produced most of A-HA’s debut album.
Available on the album ‘Dawn FM’ via by XO / Republic Records
Porduced by Stephen J Lipson, a stark warning on rise again of the far right was highlighted on ‘The Wolves Are Returning’. The message coming from two Germans whose grandparents’ generation had made the mistake of opening up the door to the Nazis and “did nothing” was poignant. Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag provided a worthy follow-up to ‘A Secret Wish’ as xPROPAGANDA.
With the challenges of the past two years, it is perhaps unsurprising with the brooding menacing aura omnipresent in their music that BOY HARSHER have made a short horror movie and soundtrack.
Entitled ‘The Runner’ and written, produced and directed by the duo, it is a classic slasher attached to a meta-style documentary about the BOY HARSHER recording process, so think ‘Scream’ or ‘Fight Club’ but with a music studio. The film will premiere on the horror streaming platform Shudder on January 16th with screening events planned across the globe.
The duo Augustus Muller and Jae Matthews see this project as an artistic exorcism rather than their fifth album. The chaos and uncertainty of the times provided the mood, but Matthews was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis with added anxieties closer to home. This provided inspiration for a sinister character, a woman running through the woods.
The soundtrack stands up as an album in its own right and is their most diverse collection yet, featuring their usual dark and danceable electronic pop with some special guests and alongside eerie instrumentals.
Opening track ‘Tower’ offers a slow gothic presence with an impending doom though Jae Matthews’ distraught vocals although this is offset as often or not with many BOY HARSHER tunes by Augustus Muller’s keyed brightness alongside the sombre bass and fierce percussive attack, combining desire with destruction. ‘Give Me A Reason’ is classic BOY HARSHER and could be from any of the more recent albums, dark but melodic and hooky,
But ‘Autonomy’ featuring Cooper B Handy from the band LUCY. The track is a surprise, not just vocally but when the pulsing sequences and optimistic synthetic string tones kick in alongside the simulated Hooky bass, it is more reminiscent of NEW ORDER after they ditched the raincoats and started wearing shorts!
By contrast with its foreboding rhythmic mantra, ‘The Ride Home’ is far gloomier and more expected for a horror soundtrack. Following on, ‘Escape’ is a midtempo song captures a nocturnal tension that sees Matthews declaring “What’s done is done, my old friend” with something of a fatalistic density having already optimistically suggested “Maybe, we can escape?”.
Sung in Spanish and English, ‘Machina’ with Ms. BOAN is aimed at the dancefloor, recalling the Latino electronic disco of Bobby Orlando, particularly PET SHOP BOYS ‘A Man Could Get Arrested’ with the vocal interplay between the vocodered phrases and Mariana Saldaña being particularly seductive
The wholly instrumental ‘Untitled (Piano)’ sees BOY HARSHER go ambient and it works brilliantly while ‘I Understand’ is cut from a similar cloth but with the addition of a resigned and heartbroken Matthews cocooned in a box for a disturbing claustrophobic effect.
A cathartic collection, the duo said on their social media that “BOY HARSHER fans are the clear waves that keep us afloat”; while the soundtrack of ‘The Runner’ not a traditional album in the vein of ‘Careful’, they will not be disappointed.
Istanbul-based JAKUZI released their debut album ‘Fantezi Müzik’ in 2017.
The musical vehicle of Kutay Soyocak, JAKUZI impressed with their 2019 second album ‘Hata Payı’ (translated from Turkish as “Tolerance”) with the NEW ORDER influenced synth driven post-punk anthem ‘Toz’ being a key track.
JAKUZI release their first new music in two years with a two song EP ‘Açık Bir Yara’. The best of the pair is the great new Italo flavoured song ‘Hiç Işık Yok’. The usual cowbells are substituted by processed pots and pans, while the mix of classic brassy Italo tones and chilling synth pads blend to create something rather unusual and extraordinary.
The approach to the vocal intonation on ‘Hiç Işık Yok’ recalls the sinister but celebratory club romp ‘Take Me To The Club’ by MANNEQUIN from the Electroclash movie ‘Party Monster’; it has been co-produced with Maurizio Baggio who mixed the most recent albums by BOY HARSHER and THE SOFT MOON. Working with the man from Vicenza, the Italian turned what had been a gothic futureless mood piece into a dark but catchy dance number.
Meanwhile the accompanying ‘Açık Bir Yara’ title song co-produced by Kerem Brumend takes more of a gothic vibe like an EBM flavoured DEPECHE MODE with Soyocak sounding perfect for its sombre mood.
Both songs show an increased use of electronics compared with JAKUZI’s previous output and were written before the pandemic crisis, but their release is timely as they address the world’s changing needs while many reconsider the priorities in their lives. Never afraid to address the sort of personal psychological and mental health issues not known for public discussion in Turkish society, JAKUZI continue to offer a voice of hope.