ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrates its tenth birthday and it really has been synthly the best.
At the HEAVEN 17 aftershow party for their triumphant gig at The Magna Science Park on 6th March 2010, following chats with Glenn Gregory, Martyn Ware, Paul Humphreys and Claudia Brücken, interview opportunities opened up. It was obvious there was gap waiting to be filled for a quality web publication that featured the best in new and classic electronic pop without having to lower itself to using the dreaded “80s” label.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was it and became reality on 15th March 2010. Electronic pop music didn’t start in that Thatcher decade and certainly didn’t end there either. So there was even an editorial diktat which banned ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s writers from using the lazy”80s” term as a reference. Tellingly, several PR representatives said that one of the site’s main appeals was that it avoided the whole nostalgia bent that had been presented by both virtual and physical media.
At the time, kooky female fronted keyboard based pop like LA ROUX, LITTLE BOOTS, LADYHAWKE, LADY GAGA and MARINA & THE DIAMONDS were among those touted as being the future at the time. But it proved to be something of a red herring, as those acts evolved back into what they actually were, conventional pop acts.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK preferred the sort of innovative synthpop as outlined in BBC4’s Synth Britannia documentary.
Meanwhile, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s portfolio expanded swiftly with key personalities such as Rusty Egan, Sarah Blackwood, Richard James Burgess, Warren Cann, Chris Payne, Thomas Dolby, John Foxx, Andy McCluskey, Neil Arthur, Alan Wilder, Mark Reeder, Gary Langan, Jori Hulkkonen, Howard Jones, Mira Aroyo, Sarah Nixey and Hannah Peel among those giving interviews to the site during its first two years.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has always prided itself in asking the questions that have never usually been asked, but which fans want to know the answers to. And it was with this reputation for intelligent and well researched interviewing that in March 2011, the site was granted its biggest coup yet.
Speaking to Stephen Morris of the then-on hiatus NEW ORDER, the drummer cryptically hinted during the ensuing chat that Manchester’s finest would return by saying “I never say never really”.
And that is exactly what happened in Autumn of that year and the band have been there since, as popular as ever and still making great music with the release of ‘Music Complete’ in 2015.
Monday 21st March 2011 was an interesting day that partied like it was 1981 when it saw the release of albums by DURAN DURAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS. Also in 2011, Mute Records celebrated their influential legacy with a weekender also at London’s Roundhouse which culminated in ERASURE, YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY performing in the same set.
Despite the ‘Brilliant’ return of ULTRAVOX, 2012 paled in comparison after such a fruitful year and several acts who were featured probably would not have gained as much coverage in more competitive periods. With pressure from outsiders as to what was hot and what was not, this was the only time ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK felt it was obliged to support a domestic scene.
But realising acts like HURTS and STRANGERS were actually just jumping on an apparent synth bandwagon and possessing more style than substance, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK decided to change tact and only featured acts it felt truly passionate about, even if it meant upsetting the wider synth community. The reasoning being that just because a band uses a synthesizer doesn’t mean it is good.
During this time, MIRRORS sadly disbanded while VILLA NAH mutated into SIN COS TAN. But the year did see the launch of CHVRCHES who stood out from the crowd with their opening gambit ‘Lies’.
With their Taylor Swift gone electro template, Lauren Mayberry and Co managed to engage an audience who didn’t know or care what a Moog Voyager was, to listen to synthpop!
2013 turned out to be one of the best years for electronic pop since its Synth Britannia heyday. What ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK achieved during this year would take up a whole article in itself… there were high profile interviews with Alison Moyet, Gary Numan and Karl Bartos while OMD released the album of the decade in ‘English Electric’. PET SHOP BOYS made up for their ‘Elysium’ misstep with ‘Electric’ while there was finally a third volume in BEF’s ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’ covers series.
Although 2014 started tremendously with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK being invited to meet Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür in Cologne, the year suffered next to quality of 2013.
The interviews continued, particularly with key figures from the Synth Britannia era including Midge Ure and the often forgotten man of the period Jo Callis who was a key member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE during their imperial phase.
But the year saw grandeurs of delusion at their highest. There was the clueless Alt-Fest debacle which saw the organisers play Fantasy Festival with no cash to underwrite the infrastructure to enable it to actually happen!
Sadly today, there are still egotistic chancers organising events with zero budget and the money from ticket sales being fleeced to fund their holidays. But these artificial factors are rarely considered and so long as there are lower league artists desperate to play for nowt and a misguided enhancement in profile that is often on a platform that provides minimal exposure anyway, then the confidence tricks will continue.
2015 saw the local emergence of Rodney Cromwell and Gwenno, while the majestic Swedish duo KITE proved that they were the best synth act in Europe with the ‘VI’ EP and their impressive live show.
It was also the year when ERASURE front man Andy Bell gave his first interview to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to offer some revealing insights.
Making something of a comeback after a recorded absence of nearly eight years, Jean-Michel Jarre presented his ambitious two volume ‘Electronica’ project which saw collaborations with a varied pool of musicians including Pete Townsend, Lang Lang, John Carpenter, Vince Clarke, Hans Zimmer, Cyndi Lauper, Sebastien Tellier and Gary Numan.
VILLA NAH returned in 2016, as did YELLO with Fifi Rong as one of their guest vocalists while APOPTYGMA BERZERK went instrumental and entered the ‘Exit Popularity Contest’. Riding on the profile generated from their ‘A Broken Frame’ covers album, MARSHEAUX released their biggest-selling long player to date, a two city concept in ‘Ath.Lon’. This was also the year that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK first became acquainted with the analogue synthesizer heaven of Johan Baeckström, a modern day Vince Clarke if ever there was one.
However DEPECHE MODE unleashed their most dire record yet in ‘Spirit’, a dreary exercise in faux activism bereft of tunes. Salt was rubbed into the wound when they merely plonked an underwhelming arena show into a stadium for their summer London show.
The trend was to continue later in 2019 as DEPECHE MODE just plonked 14 albums into a boxed set, while OMD offered an album of quality unreleased material in their ‘Souvenir’ package.
And with DEPECHE MODE’s sad descent into a third rate pseudo-rock combo during the last 15 years to appease that ghastly mainstream American institution called The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame with guitars and drums, Dave Gahan in particular with his ungrateful dismissal of the pioneering synth-based material with which he made his fortune with, now has what he has always coveted.
And don’t get ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK started on the 2019 Moog Innovation Award being given to Martin Gore, a real insult to true synth pioneers if ever there was one, including Daniel Miller, Vince Clarke and Alan Wilder, the three men who actually did the electronic donkey work on those imperial phase DEPECHE MODE albums! Gore may have been a very good songwriter during that time, but a synth innovator? Oh come on!?!
With regards Synth Britannia veterans, new albums in 2017 from Richard Barbieri and Steve Jansen saw a revived interest in JAPAN, the band with which they made their name.
Despite releasing their final album ‘Tin Drum’ in 1981, as a later conversation with one-time guitarist Rob Dean proved, cumulatively from related article views, JAPAN became the most popular act on ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK.
The return of SOFT CELL dominated 2018 with a lavish boxed set that was not just comprised of previously released long players, new songs, new books, a BBC documentary and a spectacular farewell show at London’s O2 Arena.
EMIKA was ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ and Swedish songstress IONNALEE showcased one of the best value-for-money live presentations in town, with a show that surreal imagined Kate Bush at a rave!
But from China came STOLEN, one of the most exciting bands in years who were then later rewarded for their graft with a European tour opening for NEW ORDER.
2019 was the year when synthwave graduates Dana Jean Phoenix and Ollie Wride were coming into their own as live performers, while electronic disco maestro Giorgio Moroder embarked on a concert tour for the first time with his songs being the true stars of the show.
Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS gave his first interview to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to tie in with his solo album ‘Gone From Here’, while a pub lunch with Mark White and Stephen Singleton mutated into an extensive chat about their days in ABC. Lloyd Cole adopted a more synthesized template on ‘Guessworks’ and Britpop went synth as GENEVA’s Andrew Montgomery formed US with Leo Josefsson of Swedish trio LOWE.
If ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK does have a proudest achievement in its first ten years, then it is giving extensive early coverage to VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND, TINY MAGNETIC PETS and SOFTWAVE, six acts who were later invited to open on tour for OMD. Partly because of this success, some of those who were less talented felt aggrieved despite feeling an entitlement to be featured. If an act is good enough, the fact that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK hasn’t featured them should not matter, especially as other electronic and synth blogs are available. After taking its eye of the ball once before in 2012, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK maintained a trust of its own gut instinct.
Meanwhile, its stance has been tested by those shouting loudest who instantly champion what they perceive as the next big thing like sheep, without really looking ahead at a wider picture. However, TRAVIS on VSTs is just not ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s thing frankly…
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s participation in the annual ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE in Düsseldorf for on-stage interviews with Rusty Egan, Chris Payne, Mark Reeder and Zeus B Held was another high profile engagement to be proud of. Then there were six live events and five rounds of hosting ‘An Audience with Rusty Egan’ in one of the most unenviable but highly entertaining refereeing assignments in music 😉
Other highlights over the last ten years have included ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 2015 career retrospective on German trio CAMOUFLAGE being edited and used as booklet notes for the Universal Music sanctioned compilation CD ‘The Singles’.
As 2020 settles in, highly regarded artists within the electronic community continue to engage with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. Neil Arthur recently gave his seventh interview as BLANCMANGE and his tenth interview overall, taking into account his side projects FADER and NEAR FUTURE. Not far behind, Martyn Ware has also been a regular interviewee having spoken to the site on six occasions while Paul Humphreys has been interviewed no less than five times.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is still pushing the envelope, continuing to reflect the interests of people who love the Synth Britannia era and have a desire to hear new music seeded from that ilk.
Celebrating their 40th Anniversary, OMD are one of the acts from the Synth Britannia era whose creative powers now are as strong as their chart heyday.
Setting a high standard of romantic retro-futurism with lyrical gists ranging from technology and war to deceased religious figures and long distance relationships, OMD released their debut single ‘Electricity’ in 1979, a statement about the environment that would have made today’s young campaigner Greta Thunberg proud.
Those who complain that OMD’s music is not dark enough often forget that within their highly melodic songs, subjects have included the suicide of a charismatic musician, the suicide of a woman who worked as a stripper because she had no other means of supporting herself, the racially motivated massacre of five innocent demonstrators by the Ku Klux Klan, the death of over 140,000 people by nuclear attack and most notably on two hit singles, the brutal execution of a teenage girl!
Founder members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys began an impressive run of acclaimed albums and hit singles, starting with the Mike Howlett produced ‘Messages’ in 1980. The huge European popularity of the follow-up ‘Enola Gay’ captured the Cold War angst of the times under the spectre of Mutually Assured Destruction, while ‘Maid Of Orleans’ became the biggest selling single of 1982 in West Germany when Der Bundesrepublik was the biggest Western music market after the USA and Japan.
Long-time drummer Mal Holmes and live keyboardist Martin Cooper joined the fray as full band members for 1983’s ‘Dazzle Ships’ album, but things went creatively awry for OMD as McCluskey and Humphreys found themselves in an existential crisis, following journalistic criticism that songs about dead saints were not going to change the world. The more politically charged and experimental album failed to sell, but has since been re-evaluated in the 21st Century as a meisterwerk.
Bruised and under commercial pressure, OMD opted to pursue more conventional ambitions and traditions to stay in the black and scored the Top5 US hit ‘If You Leave’ from the John Hughes movie ‘Pretty In Pink’ in 1986. However a North American tour opening for DEPECHE MODE in 1988 failed to sustain momentum. In the backdrop of the resultant fallout and the inevitable musical differences, Humphreys, Holmes and Cooper departed, leaving McCluskey with the OMD brand name.
However, the split precipitated a number of interesting artistic and creative diversions for McCluskey and Humphreys which despite the triumphant reunion of the classic line-up in 2007 and the success of OMD’s most recent album ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’ in 2017 , continue in varying degrees today in parallel with band activities.
In his most recent interview with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, Paul Humphreys said: “I still find it utterly amazing and rather fantastic that after 40 years, OMD is still alive and well, selling out big tours and making what even our harshest critics consider to be relevant new records.”
By way of a Beginner’s Guide to showcase the diverse facets of OMD, a hefty 25 tracks of interest have been selected from their career, although largely eschewing those made famous by singular consumption.
But with so many tracks available and the list already being VERY long, links to the OMD family tree like THE ID, as well as work with MARSHEAUX and contributions to the soundtracks of ‘For The Greater Good’, ‘Eddie The Eagle’ and ‘The D-Train’ (which between them saw McCluskey working with notable names such as Danny Boyle, Gary Barlow, Hugh Jackman and Jack Antonoff) have been omitted.
With a restriction of one track per album project, they highlight how two lads from The Wirral have maintained their standing as a creative and cultural force four decades on, despite their numerous ups and downs.
OMD The Messerschmitt Twins (1980)
With their passion for military aircraft and German music, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys were nicknamed ‘The Messerschmitt Twins’; this mournful Compurhythm driven synth ballad of the same name had mournful if cryptic lyrics which could be seen as the thoughts of aircrew during wartime missions, pondering whether they would return to home. The bleak fatalistic narrative was given further resonance by Andy McCluskey’s resigned vocalisation.
The ‘Organisation’ album saw OMD purchase their first polyphonic synthesizer, a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 which allowed Paul Humphreys to explore more haunting gothic timbres away from the cheesier chords of the Vox Jaguar organ. Shaped by eerie choir textures and a repeating two note synthbass motif set to Mal Holmes’ simple marching snare pattern, the beauty of ‘2nd Thought’ echoed the third section of KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’ and displayed a maturity in OMD’s developing sound.
Running at almost eight minutes, the nautical adventure of ‘Sealand’ demonstrated OMD’s mastery of the epic, mysteriously beginning with a ghostly collage of melodica and reed horns before sad synths and progressive sweeps made their presence felt. Featuring just a minute of vocals in the sparse middle section, the penultimate movement collapsed into a fit of industrial noise before a slow misty reprise of the main melodic theme, like a lost ship in the fog.
Like ‘Maid Of Orleans’, the harrowing ‘International’ was musically inspired by the skippy waltz of ‘Back In Judy’s Jungle’ by Brian Eno. The introductory news report about “a young girl from Nicaragua whose hands had been cut off at the wrists by the former Somoza guards…” acted as one of the fuels for Andy McCluskey to express his anger about economic corruption, political hypocrisy and torture in captivity, all topics which are still sadly relevant today.
THE PARTNERSHIP was an unrealised side project of Peter Saville cohort and ex-SPOONS member Brett Wickens with Roger Humphreys (no relation) who recorded as CERAMIC HELLO. Produced by William Orbit, the pulsatingly uptempo ‘Sampling The Blast Furnace’ featured guest vocals from Andy McCluskey alongside vocodered voices and chants by Martha Ladly. While this version remains unreleased, the slower McCluskey-less demo was on the reissue of CERAMIC HELLO’s only album.
Not officially released, alternate version available on the CERAMIC HELLO album ‘The Absence Of A Canary V1.1’ via Vinyl On Demand
After the critical mauling that ‘Dazzle Ships’ received, OMD were in debt to Virgin Records and realised that they would have to sell more records to survive. The commercial pressure led to a trip to the sunnier climes of AIR Studios in Monserrat and the musically diverse ‘Junk Culture’. A song about McCluskey’s intimate liaison with a local girl, the bizarre mix of carnival whistles, soca, Mellotron choir, rhythm guitar and 808 driven electro came over a bit like AZTEC CAMERA produced by Arthur Baker.
1985’s ‘Crush’ was Stephen Hague’s first full album production and opened the doors for OMD’s ambitions in the US. Following the success of ‘If You Leave’, ‘The Pacific Age’ continued the partnership and was intended to reinforce momentum. The opening song ‘Stay’ threw in the kitchen sink from Mal Holmes’ mighty drums to layers of synthetic strings plus the addition of soulful female backing singers, brass and heavy metal guitar. But the esoteric elements that made OMD so appealing were being wiped away.
The suave and sophisticated Etienne Daho was seen as France’s answer to George Michael. While OMD were in Paris recording ‘The Pacific Age’ at Studio de la Grande Armée, they took part in a ‘Les Enfants Du Rock’ French TV special also which also saw their French label mate interviewing his musical influences like Françoise Hardy and Serge Gainsbourg. The DAHOMD duet saw Daho and McCluskey’s low voices blend well over the original Stephen Hague produced single from ‘Crush’.
Available on the ETIENNE DAHO deluxe album ‘Pop Satori’ via Virgin Records
ARTHUR BAKER & THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES Walkaway (1989)
Producer Arthur Baker gathered a studio collective to make a pop record tracing his love of soul, synthpop, disco, HI-NRG and Europop. His first recording since the fragmentation of OMD, Andy McCuskey contributed lyrics, keyboards and vocals to the electro-reggae of ‘Walkaway’ which threatened to turn into CULTURE CLUB’s ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?’. The vocal cast of the ‘Merge’ album included Al Green, Martin Fry, Jimmy Somerville and Etienne Daho.
Available on the ARTHUR BAKER & THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES album ‘Merge’ via A&M Records
Going it alone as OMD, Andy McCluskey became open to collaboration. Meeting Stuart Kershaw and Lloyd Massett from pop rap combo RAW UNLTD, the pair set about modernising the rhythmic elements of McCluskey’s new songs. The ghostly ‘Walking On Air’ referenced ‘Statues’ from ‘Organisation’ while the mechanical bossa nova evoked the mellow moods of Bryan Ferry. Kershaw has since taken over the drum stool from Mal Holmes who left OMD in 2014 for health reasons.
Available on the OMD album ‘Sugar Tax’ via Virgin Records
THE LISTENING POOL Where Do We Go From Here? (1993)
With bursts of sampled choir, electric piano and wah-wah guitar, ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ came from THE LISTENING POOL’s only album ‘Still Life’ released in 1994. Driven by a gently percolating drum machine programmed by Mal Holmes, the understated air reminiscent of CHINA CRISIS was sweetened by Martin Cooper’s soprano sax with Paul Humphreys vocally pondering their creative situation with the threesome having now departed the OMD camp.
Available on the THE LISTENING POOL album ‘Still Life’ via Telegraph Records
Recorded for his ELEKTRIC MUSIC project after leaving KRAFTWERK, Karl Bartos’ collaboration with Andy McCluskey featured one of his best melodies synth melodies. Bartos told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “He suggested we do something together and I was up for it… We picked some cassettes and finally I found the opening notes of ‘Kissing The Machine’”. With fabulously surreal lyrics about a love affair with a sexy robot, the song was later resurrected with new backing from Paul Humphreys for ‘English Electric’.
Available on the ELEKTRIC MUSIC album ‘Esperanto’ via SPV Records
On a commercial roll and aiming for a younger pop market, ‘Liberator’ featured lots of busy modern dance effects but saw Andy McCluskey losing his way in the song department. Its confused schizophrenic nature was compounded by the pure genius of darker numbers like ‘King Of Stone’ and ‘Christine’. The symphonic string laden ‘Best Years Of Our Lives’ was another of the better tracks, borrowing its solemn topline from ‘Spanish Harlem’, a song made famous by Ben E King.
Available on the OMD album ‘Liberator’ via Virgin Records
After the muted reception for 1993’s painfully poppy ‘Liberator’, Andy McCluskey brought in a more conventional rock sound for 1996’s ‘Universal’. However, the OASIS sounding ‘Walking On The Milky Way’ failed to get major traction. One of its B-sides ‘The New Dark Age’ gave a haunting nod to ‘Statues’ using the auto-accompaniment on the Elgam Symphony organ and was the last great synth song of the solo era as the OMD vehicle was quietly retired by McCluskey… for now!
When Andy McCluskey joined Stuart Kershaw to make some dysfunctional pop for a girl group, most thought he had lost his marbles. The original project HONEYHEAD was stillborn, but when three girls from Liverpool were recruited to form ATOMIC KITTEN, it eventually led to a UK No1 single with ‘Whole Again’. However, the demo of the first single ‘Right Now’ sounded like disco evergreen ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ arranged like ‘Sugar Tax’ era OMD, but with female vocals!
Available on the ATOMIC KITTEN single ‘Right Now’ via Innocent Records
Having been ousted from Team AK by a coup d’état, Andy McCluskey licked his wounds and recruited another three local girls to form THE GENIE QUEEN. Featuring soon-to-be WAG / top model Abbey Clancy and future TV presenter Anna Ord, ‘What A Girl Goes Through’ was an appealing pop R ’n’ B number based around samples of ‘Souvenir’. The project disbanded without being signed, but a track intended for THE GENIE QUEEN called ‘Pulse’ appeared on ‘History Of Modern’ featuring the girls.
Paul Humphreys and Claudia Brücken released their only album as ONETWO in 2007 and from it was ‘Anonymous’, a song that began life as a demo from the aborted PROPAGANDA reunion and which had also been co-written with Andy McCluskey. The pretty ringing melodies and elegiac atmospheres were very reminiscent of classic OMD. But the collaboration had been unusual as at the time of the song’s conception, as Humphreys had not yet committed to rejoining McCluskey in his old band.
BLANK & JONES featuring BERNARD SUMNER Miracle Cure – Paul Humphreys Onetwo remix (2008)
Having worked with THE CURE’s Robert Smith, trance duo Piet Blank and Jaspa Jones had Bernard Sumner of NEW ORDER high on their list of vocalists for their album ‘The Logic Of Pleasure’, which also featured Claudia Brücken. The German duo remixed ONETWO’s ‘Kein Anschluß’, so naturally the gesture was reciprocated when Paul Humphreys offered his smooth offbeat atmospheric rework of ‘Miracle Cure’ in what could be seen as the nearest thing to a NEW ORDER vs OMD collaboration.
Of this ‘History Of Modern’ highlight, Paul Humphreys said: “It was a song Andy did many, many years ago with Stuart and I think it was done in the 90s. He played it to me and it sounded a bit like a rock ballad. I said ‘I think the vocal tune’s great, but everything else has to go. Give me the vocal stem and I’ll do a whole new track for it’, so I came to my studio and completely reworked it.” – the result was mesmerising and even dropped in ROXY MUSIC’s ‘If There Is Something’ at the close.
Mal Holmes once said that “MIRRORS do OMD better than OMD do OMD!”… originally a ten minute epic split into three movements, ‘Secrets’ closed MIRRORS’ outstanding ‘Lights & Offerings’ long player, driven by an intense percussive tattoo and a shifting octave bass riff that was pure Klingklang. While pushing forward the synthetic claps, Andy McCluskey stripped down and the backing and shortened proceedings, making it much less claustrophobic and militaristic than the original.
Originally on the MIRRORS deluxe album ‘Lights & Offerings’ via Undo Records, currently unavailable
PAUL HUMPHREYS & DOUGLAS COUPLAND Electric Ikebana (2012)
A collaboration between ‘Generation X’ author Douglas Coupland, and Paul Humphreys, ‘Electric Ikebana’ was an audio visual installation to act as the voice of the network for French telecoms company Alcatel-Lucent. The beautiful piece had conceptual hints of KRAFTWERK’s ‘The Voice Of Energy’ while there was also a charming mathematical formula recital “x = [-b +- √(b² -4ac)] / 2a” to the tune of the nursery rhyme ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ which recalled ‘ABC Auto-Industry’ from ‘Dazzle Ships’.
Of ‘Helen Of Troy’, Andy McCluskey said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “George Geranios and Nick Bitzenis of FOTONOVELA were our label bosses in Greece via their Undo Records and they sent me this track…the demo had Nick going “Helen Of Troy – Helen Of Troy” so I took his vocal off as you do, chopped it all up and rearranged it… it’s gorgeous! I have used some of Nick’s backing vocals… I love it to bits! And ‘Helen Of Troy’ is much more of a metaphor than either of the ‘Joan Of Arcs’ were.”
Andy Bell’s debut solo album ‘Electric Blue’ had been produced by ONETWO’s backing band THE MANHATTAN CLIQUE and featured two duets with Claudia Brücken. ‘The Violet Flame’ album saw ERASURE express an infectious zest for the future with songs beginning as pre-recorded dance grooves from Vince Clarke. But the best number from the sessions was ‘Be The One’ remixed by Paul Humphreys who added some of the beautiful Synthwerk magic that characterised ‘English Electric’.
The avant pop approach of VILE ELECTRODES is reminiscent of early OMD, with ‘Deep Red’ capturing Andy McCluskey’s interest enough to invite the duo to support the German leg of the ‘English Electric’ tour. With its potent drama, ‘The Vanished Past’ came complete with a mighty drum climax like ‘Navigation’. Bleak and wonderful, “not everything is as it seems” as a forlorn stranger joins in after five minutes. As the adventure unfolds like a lost OMD epic, that stranger reveals himself to be Mr McCluskey!
OMD began their recorded career with a KRAFTWERK homage and four decades on, have come full circle. A great grandchild of Klingklang and cousin of ‘Metroland’ from ‘English Electric’ but refined for BBC Radio 2 airplay, ‘Don’t Go’ captures the essence of OMD’s enduring electronic appeal. With crystalline synth melodies from Humphreys and a spirited vocal delivery from McCluskey attached to a hypnotic Synthanorma backdrop, OMD continue to produce quality avant pop tunes.
Norway has been a hotbed of electronic music based talent, be it A-HA, RÖYKSOPP, ANNIE or SUSANNE SUNDFØR.
One act with a heavier slant that can be added to that illustrious group is APOPTYGMA BERZERK who recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of their debut album ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ with a CD and double vinyl reissue remastered from its original tapes.
Essentially the solo artistic vehicle of Stephan Groth, APOPTYGMA BERZERK have straddled EBM, synthpop, futurepop, goth and alternative rock.
With biases depending on the Danish born singer and musician’s creative mindset, 2016’s ‘Exit Popularity Contest’ album caught many fans by surprise with its classic synth instrumental content.
No stranger to the cover versions, Groth’s sources have been eclectic to say the least, ranging from KIM WILDE to THE HOUSE OF LOVE with OMD and KRAFTWERK caught in between.
While a cult proposition in the UK, APOPTYGMA BERZERK have been favourites on the live circuit in Europe, North America, South America and Australia. This summer, they embark on live dates in Germany and their Norwegian homeland with the UK’s VILE ELECTRODES opening at selected shows.
During on a short visit to London, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK caught up with Stephan Groth over brunch for an extensive career spanning chat.
You celebrated the 25th anniversary of your debut album ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ in 2018, how do you look back on it now?
Normally I don’t like to focus on my older stuff, I prefer to move on and concentrate on new adventures. I don’t like to look back, but on this album, it has really been fun. With the 25th anniversary, we remastered the album from the original tapes rather than from an old already mastered CD and I went to find my old tapes and files but most of it was ruined, my old floppy disc were moulded so many files were lost, so we had to recreate lots of things.
Going through those old files, demos, DATs with no song titles and listening, looking for bonus tracks, it was quite fun. 25 years is a pretty long time and I have to say, it’s a really good album…at the time I was young and hungry and had no clue what I was doing, but everything was fun. We wanted to conquer the world and it was a fun period of my life where I was super creative and it was exciting. You can really tell when you listen to it.
On the technology side, a lot has happened in the last 25 years so we were working with very limited equipment…we only had one synth, one sampler, one drum machine and we had to borrow synths that were only available in the studio, working in a totally different way to now. From all the limitations we had, it’s actually quite impressive what we got out of it. Today’s music with the software and all that where every 16 year old producer has everything available on his laptop, back in the day we had to use our imagination way more and be more creative than today. It’s been a long ride but it doesn’t seem like that.
What songs particularly still stand up for you today?
‘Burning Heretic’ and ‘Backdraft’ are probably the best two songs from the album, they’ve both become club classics in Germany and the US, and they have stood the test of time.
Who were APOP’s likes and influences?
I had more of an 80s synthpop taste, although I loved THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. But I was getting into the harder style of electronic music like THE INVINCIBLE SPIRIT, FRONT 242 and NITZER EBB in the period 1987-1989. I liked German stuff such as releases by the Music Research and Zoth Ommog label, but I was never really into the American or Canadian stuff except PSYCHE and a little bit of FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY.
Was ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ by NINE INCH NAILS one?
Not really, it never really made it big in the electronic scene in Norway. I considered NIN an alternative rock act, not an electronic band and therefore probably wasn’t that interested in them. It’s a great album but something that I picked up on later.
Technologically what were you using then?
I had a Roland Juno 60, a Roland SH101 and an Ensoniq EPS sampler which cost a fortune! *laughs*
Samplers were so expensive at the time, 13 bit and mono, I maxed out the memory which was like, a megabyte! You couldn’t just fill up the RAM with (hundreds of) samples, you really had to work on truncating the samples and making them as small as possible to fit the memory.
Photo by Arvid Schanke Knutsen
Today if you sample an analogue synth, you can sample every key on the keyboard… back then, there wasn’t enough memory for that and you would sample one sound like say, a middle C which would sound great but it would get worse and worse and when you want down one octave, it would sound like sh*t. This old school way of sampling has become popular again the last few years. It is a very distinct sound that is hard to re-create on modern equipment.
But we had to use it like that and you can hear it in the songwriting, certain chords and the basslines, they were made according to sounds that were still “ok-sounding”.
It made a limitation chord-wise since we could only use a few notes up or down from the main sample key. It was a limited way to work but of course. After we made the demos at home on an Atari running either Cubase or Pro24 with 24 MIDI tracks which was insane, we went to the studio and recorded the album using the possibilities that were available. We had to be very clever and invent lots of work-arounds to make everything sound right.
How have your composition and production methods changed over the years from ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ to ‘Exit Popularity Contest’?
Back then, I had no clue what I was doing. I grew up in a musical family, my father was in a rock band and my mum was a DJ so I think I had some good genes. I never went to music school or got any professional training, but with 25 years of experience, you pick up a lot of stuff. Now I have a big studio compared with before.
The complexity is way ahead working with hundreds of tracks, dependent on the song, although on ‘Exit Popularity Contest’, some of the stuff only uses two tracks. Back in 1993, I had no idea what I’m doing now would even be possible. The technology has just rocketed.
But today, I’m going back on the sample quality because it adds those little artefacts and those accidental things that happened with lower quality samples, there’s the grittiness and something that is very pleasing to my ear. So I prefer the sounds to be either 100% analogue or when digital, a little gritty…
So what you’ve referring to is like you’ve been missing the “air” in your music?
The dynamic is very important, especially if you are working with drums and grooves, so for years we had the loudness war going on in mastering which I thought ruined music big time. That is also the reason why we chose to remaster ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ from the original tapes, we didn’t want to use the already compressed files and then compress them even more for the reissue. We wanted to get it all back dynamically but with brand new mastering using today’s technology.
Photo by Tarjei Krogh
Interestingly, you can actually see a musical link between say ‘Burning Heretic’ to ‘For Now We See Through A Glass, Darkly’ from ‘Exit Popularity Contest’…
You’re exactly right and on that track, it ends with a part from ‘Burning Heretic’ where the riff comes back in, I can’t remember why I did that…
Was it a statement despite ‘Exit Popularity Contest’ being an instrumental album that “this is me!”?
I just put the riff in there and thought “wow, this is perfect”, it was a way of connecting the old with new to make it full circle.
You’ve brought things up to date with remixes of tracks from ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ which you will issue as a double vinyl album ‘SDGXXV’, but you like to remix too, with recent reinterpretations on PAGE, MACHINISTA and PETER HEPPNER?
I’ve been remixing a lot of acts over the years, it’s a way of staying on top of the technical things and to stay creative when you are not doing anything else and it’s great fun. I get asked a lot but I don’t have the time to do all of them so I have to be a bit picky. I do it if there’s good money involved or if it’s a track I can really hear something… and instantly connect to it.
Like with MACHINSTA, it was a remix that happened because I wanted to include the song in my DJ sets. I asked if they had a more synthpop remix but they didn’t, they had one but it didn’t fit into my style. So they sent me the stems and I made a version and it turned out great.
PETER HEPPNER is huge in Germany, that was his label requesting a dance remix for his quadruple album that would work in the darker electro scene. So I wanted to make something that the old WOLFSHEIM fans would like, I found out who some of the other remixers were so I decided not to do it in a modern pop way but to do it in a more dark Italo HI-NRG style. I just made a groove for his legendary voice and it ended up becoming the shortest remix I’ve ever made and very to the point, in a “don’t bore us, let’s get to the chorus” way.
‘Kathy’s Song’ from 2000 is probably still APOP’s most known track, which came in remixes as diverse as Ferry Corsten and VNV NATION… how do you feel about all that now?
At that time, remixes were the most important promotional tool you had. We were on Tatra Records at the time, but soon after we got signed to East West. But ‘Kathy’s Song’ was also licensed to Polydor while in the US, it was put out by Metropolis and there was a UK label Above The Sky who commissioned local remixes, so there were ‘Kathy`s Song’ remixes all over the place and one even ended up on one of those ‘Welcome To Ibiza’ mix CDs! *laughs*
It was on so many formats, it was an underground club hit and the most important track in my catalogue, it benefitted us big time. People love it when we play it live and it’s a great pop song. What I did with the “robot” vocals was pretty clever, there had never really been a chorus that was sung by a machine to my knowledge. You`ll hear machines sing little bits and pieces in many electronic songs but never the main chorus.
The reason it’s called ‘Kathy’s Song’ is because it’s from the Mac OS voice called Kathy Macintosh, I did text to speech so my computer generated words, so it was never a vocal sample, the chorus is 100% computer generated.
I even ended up getting an email from Steve Jobs afterwards, I was on tour in the US and I met a guy at Apple HQ. I asked him “do you ever see Steve Jobs?” and replied that he went into the canteen sometimes, so I gave him a copy of the record. Months later, an email popped up from Steve Jobs, very polite and short saying thank you for the CD and how glad he was that Apple had a place in my heart. It was a hugely important track for me and has been paying my bills for many years 😉
In 2002, there was a second Duet Version of ‘Unicorn’ with Claudia Brücken, how did that come about?
It was an idea from my then-manager Markus Hartmann, he thought it would be good to have duet or guest appearance thing on the ‘Harmonizer’ album. It was a nod in the direction of German 80s synthpop, so to me it was sending a message to the people who know that we are on the right channel here, even though the music on the album is more 90s than 80s; ‘Something I Should Know’ is very 80s but the rest of the record is not like that.
It was Paul Humphreys of OMD doing the recording of Claudia’s vocals so I was quite starstruck by that! I loved her vocals and at the time, she hadn’t recorded in years so she was sort of brought out of oblivion.
Throughout the APOP albums, spiritualism is probably the most predominant feature?
It’s very important, I grew up in a Christian home so religion and spirituality has totally been normal and was talked about every day. Not only is it important in my own life, but it’s very interesting and abstract, just like art can be. Integrating this spiritual dimension into art makes total sense to me.
‘You & Me Against The World’ in 2006 introduced rockier textures into APOP’s sound and it was good. Bands like DE/VISION nearly lost their fan base with releases such as ‘Void’ or ‘Two’ which both swayed towards the rock genre. Didn’t happen to you…
A lot of people who were into electronic music for the sake of electronic music, they lost interest in APOP which was totally understandable. But the die-hard APOP fans, they got it… maybe it’s not their favourite album even though it’s by far our biggest record. There was still a clear and typical APOP thread in all the songs and in the melodies.
There were lots of guitar and on some tracks also acoustic drums, but also lots of synths. There was definitely a change of attitude and style, and I totally stopped using digital synths and “futurepop” elements, I think that was what freaked so many people out. In 2005 I got bored with dance music, so making a record aimed at the dancefloor was not something that I wanted to do.
So I thought about making something different, a more rock influenced album, although it’s not at all a typical “rock” album because it is still very electronic. But bringing in all the guitars and drums, electronic bands going rock was unusual at the time and a different animal. I did it and it worked out, it was a great success and I moved on from there.
A lot of people who mostly liked electronic music took a break from APOP at that point, but we recruited a lot of new people, and it was important that we got a younger generation in there to prolong my career. With the ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ reissue and ‘SDGXXV’ remixes, I’m sure that a lot of the old-school APOP fans are coming back. I like to be challenged, a lot of people just want me to make a new ‘Welcome To Earth’ every year, that’s never going to happen.
Before all this, after the ‘Harmonizer’ album, we toured Europe and the US for a whole year. I was totally worn out, sick and tired of music, sick and tired of APOP, and even electronic music. I needed a break to figure out why I started making music in the first place, I needed a good reason to get back in the saddle.
The way I got back into music and particularly electronic music was going back to my attic and dusting off my old analogue synths. During the ‘Harmonizer’ era, I was mostly working with plug-ins and VST instruments.
That was great fun when it was all brand new and exciting, but I soon lost interest. I did a session there and came back to those “real” sounds and then it happened… it was fun to work in the studio again.
So that was how FAIRLIGHT CHILDREN came into being, it was this primitive naïve thing. I thought “I’m just going to write an album here” to get back in business. It was quite an important thing to help me get back into the APOP world and to rediscover my love for real instruments.
I grew up liking electro and hip-hop which is actually how I discovered KRAFTWERK… through Arthur Baker and ‘Planet Rock’. I like a good melody, I like good vocals, I have ears for a good pop song. If it’s made with guitars or made with electronics, it doesn’t matter. A good song is a good song.
So how would you advise DEPECHE MODE to get their act together as today, they are not a good rock band, and are no longer a good electronic band anymore? *laughs*
I think that DEPECHE MODE are probably doing exactly the right thing, they are selling out shows all the time, they are huge all over, especially in Germany, selling albums and filling stadiums on every tour. So if that is their goal, then they are doing everything just right. It looks to me as they are giving the fans exactly what they like…
I used to be very influenced by DM, but for many years I haven’t heard or seen anything from them that I like. It feels like they lost the inspiration somehow? To me they don’t seem excited about what they’re dong. They are one of the biggest bands on earth but they could have been so much more exciting, although putting out an album called ‘Exciter’ was a bit of an oxymoron! *laughs*
Depending on what the goal is, we talked about having fun but it does not seem like DEPECHE MODE are having fun. I think a good idea would be to get back to having fun again, like the title of that old B-side.
For those of us who are really interested in electronic music, we have outgrown them, DEPECHE MODE never really developed that much… OK they added some drums and had some great producers but they’ve not really been that experimental lately. And to me, experimenting is where the fun is… like on ‘Exit Popularity Contest’, now, that is fun!
OK, let’s talk about that album now… over the last couple of years we have been served with instrumental albums from BLANCMANGE and MG; but ‘Exit Popularity Contest’ sounds so superb that it beats everyone else hands down, it’s one of your best regardless of style…
My idea with ‘Exit Popularity Contest’ was like, you know when eating sushi, you have the ginger to clean the palette… this was me cleaning my palette. So I thought ok, let’s start all over again.
After putting out so many albums, the expectations from fans rise every time and that freaks me out. I don’t want to do what is expected of me. It is my duty as a creative artist to bring new and exciting things to my fans, not repeating myself.
I had not put out an album for years, and I felt that I needed to wake people up. Unfortunately today, for most bands, just putting out a new album is not enough to wake anybody up, people are busy with their lives and Facebook and other social media is eating up many peoples time. There is so much music being released every day, we are being totally flooded. Releasing ‘Exit Popularity Contest’ got APOP a lot of attention, but I didn’t wake as many people up as I’d hoped for.
You woke me up! *laughs*
Actually we woke up a lot of the people we wanted to wake up!
So was your idea with the narrative, UFOs etc, did you feel you needed more imagination for, rather than just stamp lyrics to tell the story, or was it more to take the pressure off yourself artistically?
It was both… I think one of the reason people do those instrumental albums is to have a break, like doing remixes. You’re still being creative but it’s not as demanding and sucking all of your energy out like writing an album. Making an instrumental is more playful and abstract, so you can add more humour. It’s what art and music is supposed to be, adults playing really.
The story behind ‘Exit Popularity Contest’ was loosely based on my own life, and personal stuff I was going through at the time. We then spiced it up with some conspiracy theories and elements from Lars von Trier’s brilliant ‘The Kingdom’ series.
Oscar Wilde said “Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth”, so it was easier to be honest while wearing a mask, so that whole story in the artwork is about me, but I’m pretending to be someone else. Like when you go to a psychiatrist and say “my friend is wondering about…”
…like “I have a friend who likes Taylor Swift, how can we help them?”*laughs*
It’s incurable! *laughs*
You’re partial to the occasional cover version like OMD’s ‘Electricity’ and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Ohm Sweet Ohm’ to more recently PETER SCHILLING’s ‘Major Tom’, what are your artistic or personal motivations with these?
‘Major Tom’ is a great song, insanely catchy and a very important song for me personally, as were all the other cover versions that we did, there’s an educational thing going on like a hint to my background.
If people want to understand APOP, it is crucial to know my roots and what kind of music inspired me to make music. We put out a compilation in 2006 with many of our cover-versions called ‘Sonic Diary’.
One of the reasons we did ‘Major Tom’ was we were opening for the German band UNHEILIG who are extremely huge there, they are like a softer very of RAMMSTEIN. It was a huge stadium tour in 2010, we would be playing every night to 15,000 people who were not interested in us… playing to 100 people who are not interested in us is bad enough! *laughs*
Photo by Krichan Wihlborg
I figured out I needed to connect to this audience but how was I going to do that? I had to do a song that all of them will know, a song that would tell people about who APOPTYGMA BERZERK are and what we are doing without making a speech. The original is in German but I don’t speak it, so we had to the English version which was a huge hit in the US.
So what we did and it worked out brilliant, was we had 15,000 people screaming along… we were singing it in English but they didn’t care and sang the chorus in German which was amazing! So we just stopped singing the choruses after a while and let the crowd go nuts!
That version was made just for that tour, but when it was over, the emails started coming and asking us to release ‘Major Tom’. I didn’t really want to do it, but there was demand and it was quite successful, we still play it live sometimes now and then, people love it with half the crowd singing in German and half in English. Although it’s a German song, it’s not actually very German sounding, it’s much more English I would say.
Looking back, your proudest achievement with APOP?
There’s been many but the Steve Jobs email was pretty cool. We also performed on the German ‘Top Of The Pops’ for a cover version of ‘Shine On’ by THE HOUSE OF LOVE which was a Top10 hit there. We performed before TOKIO HOTEL, have you heard of them?
You have never heard of TOKIO HOTEL? I like you even more! *laughs*
Basically, they were like a boy band with an Emo twist and popular in the same era as the Finnish act HIM, they were one of the biggest acts to come out of Germany! It was the last German episode of ‘Top Of The Pops’ as well. It was a childhood dream so that was big… not to play with TOKIO HOTEL, but to be on ‘TOTP’ *laughs*
But my biggest highlight was I did a remix of NICO’s solo version of ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’
Photo by Chi Ming Lai
What next for APOP, tours tours tours? And VILE ELECTRODES are on board with you too?
I’m doing shows in Germany, Belgium and Norway in the summer, I checked a few live clips of VILE ELECTRODES and their sound is so cool. Her voice is very true and real, and the analogue synth sounds are amazing, so we invited them to open for us. It’s very important to have a whole evening that makes sense and which will tell a story.
We’re going to release the ‘SDGXXV’ remix album in March, and I’m working on a regular APOP album with vocals as well as a follow-up to ‘Exit Popularity Contest’, so lots of stuff.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Stephan Groth
Special thanks to Per Aksel Lundgreen
‘Soli Deo Gloria’ is released by Tatra Records / Pitch Black Drive Productions (Europe) and Artoffact Records / Storming The Base (USA/Canada) as a 25th Anniversary LP and CD edition. The LP includes the original 13 tracks mastered from the original source tapes while on the CD version you get seven bonus tracks. Available from http://www.stormingthebase.com/ (USA / Canada) and https://www.brokensilence.de/ or http://www.poponaut.com/ (Europe)
The ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ reworked collection ‘SDGXXV’ is released as a double LP set in cornetto or smoked effect vinyl, cassette and CD on 22nd March 2019 by Artoffact Records / Storming The Base (USA / Canada), pre-order from https://apoptygmaberzerk.bandcamp.com/ and as a double LP set in translucent or green / black splatter, and CD via Tatra Records/Pitch Black Drive Productions (Europe) distributed via https://www.brokensilence.de/ – pre-orders and orders for both albums in Europe can be done via http://www.poponaut.com/
APOPTYGMA BERZERK 2019 live dates include:
Oberhausen E-Tropolis Festival (16th March), Hannover Capitol (15th August)*, Dresden Reithalle Strasse E (16th August)~, Cologne Essigfabrik (17th August)*~, W-Festival (18th August), Oslo Parkteatret (24th August)*
special guests *VILE ELECTRODES, ~THE INVINCIBLE SPIRIT
2018 saw JEAN-MICHEL JARRE celebrate 50 years in the business and whether the world really needed another of his compilations, ‘Planet Jarre’ was probably one of the better collected representations of his work for casual admirers.
But not standing still and releasing his fourth new album in three years, ‘Equinoxe Infinity’ continued the story as the French Maestro tuned 70.
SOFT CELL made a totally unexpected return for a huge one-off farewell gig at London’s O2 Arena; and with it came a boxed set, the ‘Northern Lights’ single and other new recordings which have raised hopes for a new album.
From the same era, FIAT LUX announced plans for their debut album ‘Save Symmetry’ with an excellent lead track ‘It’s You’, while B-MOVIE came up with their most synth-propelled single yet in ‘Stalingrad’.
But one act who actually did comeback with a brand new album in 2018 were DUBSTAR; now a duo of Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie, as ‘One’ they reminded audiences as to why they were the acceptable face of Britpop with their bridge to Synth Britannia.
IONNALEE finally released her debut opus ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ and her tour which included choice cuts from IAMAMIWHOAMI, proved to be one of the best value-for-money live experiences in 2018, one that was even endorsed by Welsh songstress Charlotte Church.
CHVRCHES offered up their third album ‘Love Is Dead’ and continued their role as international flagwavers for quality synthpop, while EMIKA presented her best album yet in ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, an exquisite electronic record with a Bohemian aura.
JOHN GRANT was on an artistic roll both solo and in partnership with WRANGLER as CREEP SHOW with two new albums. However, he was beaten by Neil Arthur who managed three albums over a 12 month period as NEAR FUTURE and BLANCMANGE including ‘Wanderlust’, possibly the latter’s best body of work in its 21st Century incarnation.
It was a busy year for STEVE JANSEN with a new solo ambient work ‘Corridor’, the well-received vinyl reissue of JAPAN’s two Virgin-era studio albums and his epic, more organically flavoured band project EXIT NORTH with their debut long player ‘Book Of Romance & Dust’.
SARAH NIXEY went on some ‘Night Walks’ for her best solo album yet, a wonderful collection of everything she had ever been musically all wonderfully rolled into one.
Meanwhile TRACEY THORN went back to the ‘Dancefloor’ with her ‘Record’ which content wise was right up there with some of ALISON MOYET’s electronica output from the last five years.
Hungary’s BLACK NAIL CABARET offered some noirish ‘Pseudopop’ and promising Norwich youngsters LET’S EAT GRANDMA got more deeply into electronica without losing any of their angsty teenage exuberance on their second album ‘I’m All Ears’.
Less intense and more dreamy were GLASSHOUSE, the new duo fronted by former TECHNIQUE singer Xan Tyler.
While the new HEAVEN 17 album ‘Not For Public Broadcast’ is still to be finished, Glenn Gregory teamed by with live keyboardist Berenice Scott as AFTERHERE. Their long-time friend Claudia Brücken performed as xPROPAGANDA with Susanne Freytag and partnered up with one-time TANGERINE DREAM member Jerome Froese, releasing the ‘Beginn’ album in the process.
Highly appealing were a number of quirky Japanese influenced female artists from around the globe including COMPUTER MAGIC, MECHA MAIKO and PLASMIC. But there were also a number of acts with Far Eastern heritage like STOLEN, FIFI RONG, DISQO VOLANTE and SHOOK who continued to make a worthy impression with their recorded output in 2018.
Heavy synth rock duo NIGHT CLUB presented their ‘Scary World’ on the back of tours opening for COMBICHRIST and A PERFECT CIRCLE while also from across the pond, NYXX and SINOSA both showcased their alluring potential.
At the poppier end of the spectrum, Holger Wobker used Pledge Music to relaunch BOYTRONIC with their most recent vocal incumbent James Knights in an unexpected twist to once again prove the old adage to “never say never” as far as the music industry is concerned.
Meanwhile, Chris Payne co-wrote and co-produced the excellent ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP with KATJA VON KASSEL while also revealing plans for an autobiography and opening for his old boss…
The surprise album of the year was CHRIS CARTER with his ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’ while using a not dissimilar concept with their second album ‘Hello Science’, REED & CAROLINE took their folk laden synthpop out on a US tour opening for ERASURE.
STEVEN JONES & LOGAN SKY harked back to the days when GARY NUMAN and OMD would release two albums in one year by offering ‘Hans Und Lieselotte’ and ‘The Electric Eye’ in 2016. Those veteran acts themselves celebrated their 40th anniversaries by going orchestral, something which SIMPLE MINDS also did when they opted to re-record ‘Alive & Kicking’ for the ’80s Symphonic’ collection although Jim Kerr forgot how a third of the song went!
With SIMPLE MINDS also performing a horrible and barely recognisable ‘Promised You A Miracle’ during BBC’s ‘The Biggest Weekend’, making up for the live joke that his former band have become was one-time bassist Derek Forbes with the album ‘Broken Hearted City’ as ZANTi with Anni Hogan of MARC & THE MAMBAS fame.
Other former members of high-profile bands were busy too with Ian Burden, formally of THE HUMAN LEAGUE returning with the Floydian ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ while A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS reformed briefly for an orchestral re-run of their catalogue.
With the release of their second album ‘Kinetik’, EKKOES handed over THE HUMAN LEAGUE support baton to SHELTER who came up with their best body of work yet in the more introspective shades of ‘Soar’
That darker approach manifested itself on singer Mark Bebb’s side project FORM with Keith Trigwell of SPEAK & SPELL whose debut long player ‘defiance + entropy’ also came out in 2018.
Having been championed by RÖYSKSOPP, Wales’ MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY returned with ‘Infinity Mirror’ while riding on the well-deserved momentum from opening for OMD, Ireland’s TINY MAGNETIC PETS embarked on their first headlining tour.
NINA’s long awaited debut album ‘Sleepwalking’ was a fine hybrid of synthpop and the currently fashionable Synthwave aesthetic; her live double billing with Canadian synthpopsters PARALLELS was one of the hottest tickets of the year.
However, the endless AOR excesses, moonlight sax breaks and highly unimaginative band monikers using numbers between 80 to 89 affixed to an archaic technology reference, illustrated by yet another neon sunset, VCR grid and Lamborghini, were becoming tiresome.
As Synthwave cynics, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s touch paper was being lit big time! The whole point of the synthesizer’s role during the Second British Invasion of the US was to fight against the insipid overtures of AOR like TOTO, CHICAGO and JOURNEY, NOT to make music coated with its horrid stench as THE MIDNIGHT did in 2018 with their long player ‘Kids’.
But there was naivety within some quarters too; electronic music did not begin in 2011 with ‘Drive’, an above average film with a good if slightly over rated soundtrack. However, its cultural influence has led to a plethora of meandering tracks made by gamer boys which sounded like someone had forgotten to sing on them; perhaps they should have gone back to 1978 and listened to GIORGIO MORODER’s ‘Midnight Express Theme’ to find out how this type of instrumental music should be done?
Many of the newer artists influenced by Synth Britannia that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has featured have sometimes been accused of being stuck in the past, but a fair number of Synthwave acts were really taking the soggy biscuit with their retro-obsession.
Rock band MUSE’s use of glowing artwork by Kyle Lambert of ‘Stranger Things’ fame on their eighth album ‘Simulation Theory’ sent sections of the Synthwave community into meltdown. There were cries that they had “stolen the aesthetics and concept” and how “it’s not relevant to their sound”!
But WHAM! had Peter Saville designed sleeves and never sounded like NEW ORDER or OMD, while electropop diva LA ROUX used a visual stylisation for ‘In For The Kill’ that has since been claimed by Synthwavers as their own, despite it being from 2009 when Ryan Gosling was peddling graveyard indie rock in DEAD MAN’S BONES 😉
This was one of the bigger ironies of 2018, especially as MUSE have always used synths! One of Matt Bellamy and co’s biggest musical inspirations is ULTRAVOX, indicating the trio probably have a better understanding of the fusion between the synthesizer, rock and classical music, as proven by the ‘Simulation Theory’ bookends ‘Algorithm’ and ‘The Void’, than any static laptop exponent with a Jan Hammer fixation.
It is interesting to note today how electronic music has split into so many factions, but there’s still the assumed generalisation that it is all one thing and that synthpop fans must also like Synthwave, Deep House, EDM, Industrial and those tedious beach chill-out remixes.
Back in the day and even now, some fans of THE HUMAN LEAGUE didn’t like OMD, DEPECHE MODE fans only liked DEPECHE MODE and rock fans had a token favourite electronic band.
Out of all the acts from the Synth Britannia era, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had very little time for THOMPSON TWINS despite their huge international success, but their leader Tom Bailey’s 2018 solo recorded return ‘Science Fiction’ was warmly received by many.
Just as COLDPLAY and SNOW PATROL fans don’t all embrace ELBOW, it is ok to have preferences and to say so. Not liking the music of an artist does not make you a bad person, but liking everything does not make you a better person either… in fact, it shows you probably have no discerning taste! In 2002, SOFT CELL warned of a ‘Monoculture’, and if there is no taste differentiation in art and music, it will spell the end of cultural enhancement.
A new fan-made PROPAGANDA video which founder member Ralf Dörper has described as “unglaublich” has just hit the web. Set against ‘The Murder Of Love’ from ‘A Secret Wish’, it reimagines a visit to New York by PROPAGANDA during their ‘Outside World’ tour in 1985 when they performed at the Irving Plaza.
With cinematography by Rick Martinez plus makeup by Connie Ojeda Smith and Jaelene Jaquez, the superb and affectionate visual presentation is directed and edited by Vlad Panov. A humorous and nostalgic tribute to PROPAGANDA, Hannah Fleming and Talia Shvedova as respectfully Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag are quite convincing, while Panov himself could pass for Michael Mertens in the way the actors who played Stephen Morris in ’24 Hour Party People’ and ‘Control’ did.
However, Vladimir Putin lookalike Michael DeGrandpre could do with a pair of stack heels or stilts as Ralf Dörper. As is always the way, these type of films play with artistic licence and in this instance, the very tall Düsseldorfer actually declined to be part of the ‘Outside World’ tour so was not even in New York on 26th September 1985.
Ralf Dörper told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in Autumn 2012: “I had a quite stubborn view on playing live as PROPAGANDA as I believed it would be not possible to give a proper impression without lifting the studio on stage. And I did not consider it an option to use guest musicians … especially no guitar player.” – their label ZTT just issued a press release to say he was at his day-job in a bank to cover for his absence!
While Dörper continues today touring and recording as a member of DIE KRUPPS, Brücken and Freytag will be opening as xPROPAGANDA for HEAVEN 17 on ‘The Luxury Gap’ tour this Autumn.
Meanwhile, Mertens continues as a successful freelance composer whose production company Escape Route has had commissions from Volkswagen, Renault, Ford, Autostadt and C&A.
‘The Murder Of Love’ is from ‘A Secret Wish’, available via BMG in vinyl LP, CD and digital formats
xPROPAGANDA open for HEAVEN 17 on ‘The Luxury Gap’ 35th Anniversary Tour, dates include:
Northampton Roadmender (Friday 9th November), Norwich UEA (Saturday 10th November), Bournemouth O2 Academy (Friday 16th November), Birmingham O2 Institute (Saturday 17th November), Glasgow O2 ABC (Friday 23rd November), Liverpool O2 Academy (Saturday 24 November), London O2 Shepherds Bush Empire (Friday 30th November), Bristol O2 Academy (Saturday 1st December), Manchester O2 Ritz (Friday 7th December), Sheffield O2 Academy (Saturday 8th November)
DIE KRUPPS go on ‘The Machinists United Tour’ with FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY in 2018, dates include:
London O2 Islington Academy (19th August), Paris La Machine (20th August), Utrecht De Helling (21 August), Krefeld Kulturfabrik (22 August), Gothenburg Truck Stop (24 august 2018), Stockholm Klubben (25 August), Wroclaw Stary Klasztor (29 August), Prague Lucerna Music Bar (30 August),
Budapest A38 (31 August), Bratislava Majestic Music Club (1st September), Vienna Viper Room (2nd September, Munich Backstage Halle (4th September), Frankfurt Batschkapp (5th September)