Tag: Daniel Miller (Page 1 of 6)

From The Port To The Bridge: The Story of THOMAS LEER & ROBERT RENTAL

First established as an exhibition in Greenock during the Autumn of 2018, ‘From The Port To The Bridge: The Story of Thomas Leer & Robert Rental’ recently made its London debut at The Horse Hospital in Russell Square.

Released at the end of 1979, ‘The Bridge’ was the only album by Port Glaswegians Thomas Leer and Robert Rental whose respective solo singles ‘Private Plane’ and ‘Paralysis’ were among 1978 pioneering electronic independent releases which also included THE HUMAN LEAGUE, THE NORMAL and CABARET VOLTAIRE.

To launch the London leg of the exhibition which was attended by luminaries such as John Foxx, Stephen Mallinder and Brian Griffin, a special event was held featuring talk by Daniel Miller who had toured in the guise of THE NORMAL with Robert Rental as a duo opening for Ulster punk bank STIFF LITTLE FINGERS in Spring 1979. As well as loaning his still-working Korg 700s with which he made ‘Warm Leatherette’ for display, his label Mute will be reissuing ‘The Bridge’ as a white vinyl LP edition and CD via their imprint The Grey Area.

Thomas Leer and Robert Rental had met working as gardeners and shared a love of TONTO’S EXPANDING HEAD BAND. Using just two EDP Wasp synthesizers, an EDP Spider sequencer, a guitar and recording equipment provided by THROBBING GRISTLE who originally released the album on their Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ is considered a landmark in DIY and experimental electronic music.

As stated on the back of the cover: ”This album was recorded at home on 8 track equipment, provided for us by Industrial Records. It was produced in two weeks dating 18th June to 2nd July. All blips clicks & unseemly noises were generated by refrigerators & other domestic appliances & are intrinsic to the music.”

Comprising of a side of five songs and a side with four ambient instrumentals, the best known track on ‘The Bridge’ is the pulsating dystopia of ‘Day Breaks, Night Heals’ which found itself playlisted regularly at The Blitz Club.

Other highlights included the appropriately titled ‘Attack Decay’ which undoubtedly influenced John Foxx in his ‘Metamatic’ period, the hopeless claustrophobia of ‘Connotations’ and the spacey Eno-inspired soundscape of ‘Interferon’.

The uneasy creative tension between Thomas Leer and Robert Rental revealed itself in the eventual recordings, especially with THROBBING GRISTLE deliberately withholding their best equipment. In a short film of interviews shown as part of the evening, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti confirmed it was all part of their mind games to ensure the Scottish pair captured the spirit of their demos and retained their own unique sound, whilst gaining an improvement in sound quality. Carter set up the equipment in the shy and introverted Rental’s London flat and with minimal guidance, let them get on with their voyage of discovery with a deadline of a week (later extended by another week) to complete the album.

It was within the THROBBING GRISTLE axis that Robert Rental had met Daniel Miller, leading eventually to the release of the ‘Double Heart’ single as MUTE 010 but in-between, they played a number of shows together and it was this aspect of the story that the conversation with Daniel Miller hosted by exhibition curator Simon Dell focussed on.

Among the amusing stories, Miller talked of how due to the touch-sensitive membrane keyboard of the Wasp, it would play by itself when overheating under stage lights while with regards to the upcoming reissue of ‘The Bridge’, how important it was not to clean the album up too much although to make it sound good on Spotify, the trick was to “compress the f*ck out of it”.

After the release of the raw ‘Live at West Runton Pavilion, 6-3-79’ one-sided album on Rough Trade, Robert Rental went on to produce the soundtrack for The Comic Strip’s 1984 feature ‘A Fistful of Traveller’s Cheques’. But despite the support of Daniel Miller to continue in music, ever the perfectionist and concerned that Mute might release material that he felt was not of the required standard, Rental retired from the industry; he sadly passed away in 2000.

Thomas Leer went on to release the album ‘Scale Of Ten’ on Arista in 1985 and formed ACT with Claudia Brücken who recorded just one long player ‘Laughter Tears & Rage’ for ZTT in 1988. After a career break, he began releasing music again in 2001.

Photo by Chris Carter

Now living in Greenock and unable to attend the exhibition launch in person, Leer was represented by an insightful new interview filmed by his brother just a few weeks before.

One of the highlights in his forthright anecdotes was his dismay at how DIY was misperceived by the too cool for school crowd as his Fairlight programming was done at home before entering the studio, making it valid as a DIY product as much his 1982 album ‘Contradictions’ on Cherry Red Records.

With records, photographs, press cuttings, film and equipment including an EDP Wasp and Boss Dr Rhythm DR55 drum machine to tell one of the forgotten stories of Synth Britannia, the pioneering legacy of Thomas Leer & Robert Rental deserves greater recognition and this exhibition provides just that.


‘From The Port To The Bridge: The Story of Thomas Leer & Robert Rental’ runs at The Horse Hospital in London until 10th February 2022, entry to the exhibition is free but pre-booking is required at https://www.thehorsehospital.com/events/from-the-port-to-the-bridge

‘The Bridge’ is reissued by The Grey Area in limited edition white vinyl LP, CD and digital fomats, pre-order or pre-save via https://mute.ffm.to/TheBridge

https://www.facebook.com/leerandrentalexhibition

https://twitter.com/leer_and


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Simon Helm
24th January 2022

MUSIK MUSIC MUSIQUE 2.0 1981: The Rise Of Synth Pop

1981 is the year covered by the second instalment of Cherry Red’s ‘Musik Music Musique’ series.

1980 was something of a transition year for the synth as it knocked on the door of the mainstream charts but by 1981, it was more or less let in with welcome arms. From the same team behind the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ compendiums and the most excellent ‘Electrical Language’ boxed set, ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0 1981 – The Rise Of Synth Pop’ presents rarities alongside hits and key album tracks from what many consider the best year in music and one that contributes the most to the legacy of electronic music in its wider acceptance and impact.

Featuring HEAVEN 17  with ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’, OMD with ‘Souvenir’ and the eponymous single by VISAGE, these songs are iconic 1981 canon that need no further discussion. Meanwhile the longevity of magnificent album tracks such as ‘Frustration’ by SOFT CELL and ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ by ULTRAVOX can be summed by the fact that they have featured in 21st Century live sets alongside their parent acts’ hits.

Although not quite as celebrated, ‘You Were There’ from pastoral second John Foxx long player ‘The Garden’ captures the move from stark JG Ballard imagery to something almost romantic. DEVO are represented by the LinnDrum driven ‘Through Being Cool’, the opener of the ‘New Traditionalists’ album which comes as a statement that the mainstream was their next target; the Akron quintet were one of the many acts signed by Virgin Records as the label focussed on a synth focussed takeover that ultimately shaped the sonic landscape of 1981.

Then there’s TEARS FOR FEARS’ promising debut ‘Suffer The Children’ in its original synthier single recording and The Blitz Club favourite ‘Bostich’ from quirky Swiss pioneers YELLO. Another Blitz staple ‘No GDM’ from GINA X PERFORMANCE gets included despite being of 1978 vintage due to its first UK single release in 1981. The use of synth came in all sorts of shapes and FASHIØN presented a funkier take with ‘Move Øn’ while the track’s producer Zeus B Held took a more typically offbeat kosmische approach on his own ‘Cowboy On The Beach’.

Pivotal releases by JAPAN with the ‘The Art Of Parties’ (here in the more metallic ‘Tin Drum’ album version) and A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS ‘(It’s Not Me) Talking’ highlight those bands’ then-potential for mainstream success. But in the battle of the New Romantic boy bands, the sitar tinged DURAN DURAN B-side ‘Khanada’ easily blows away the SPANDAU BALLET album track ‘Reformation’ in an ominous sign as to who would crack it biggest worldwide.

The great lost band of this era, B-MOVIE issued the first of several versions of ‘Nowhere Girl’ in December 1980 on Dead Good Records and its inclusion showcases the song’s promise which was then more fully realised on the 1982 Some Bizzare single produced by the late Steve Brown although sadly, this was still not a hit.

The best and most synth flavoured pop hits from the period’s feisty females like Kim Wilde and Toyah are appropriate inclusions, as is Hazel O’Connor’s largely forgotten SPARKS homage ‘(Cover Plus) We’re All Grown Up’. But the less said about racist novelty records such as ‘Japanese Boy’ by Aneka, the better… the actual nation of Japan though is correctly represented by their most notable electronic exponents YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA with ‘Cue’ from ‘BGM’, the first release to feature the Roland TR808 Rhythm Composer.

With these type of boxed sets, it’s the less familiar tracks that are always the most interesting. As the best looking member of TANGERINE DREAM, Peter Baumann had a crack at the single charts with the catchy Robert Palmer produced ‘Repeat, Repeat’ while former Gary Numan backing band DRAMATIS are represented by ‘Lady DJ’ although its epic A side ‘Ex Luna Scientia’ would have equally merited inclusion. But BEASTS IN CAGES who later became HARD CORPS stand out with the stark dystopia of ‘Sandcastles’.

The one that “should-have-been-a-pop-hit” is the ABBA-esque ‘I Can’t Hold On’ by Natasha England and it’s a shame that her career is remembered for a lame opportunistic cover of ‘Iko Iko’ rather than this, but the delightful ‘Twelfth House’ demonstrates again how under-rated Tony Mansfield’s NEW MUSIK were, and this with a B-side!

The rather fraught ‘Wonderlust’ by THE FALLOUT CLUB captures the late Trevor Herion in fine form on a Thomas Dolby produced number with a dramatic Spaghetti Western flavour that is lushly sculpted with electronics. Over a more sedate rhythm box mantra, ‘Love Moves In Strange Ways’ from BLUE ZOO swirls with a not entirely dissimilar mood.

Mute Records founder Daniel Miller was breaking through with his productions for DEPECHE MODE in 1981, but representation on ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0’ comes via the colder austere of ‘Science Fiction’ by Alan Burnham. ‘West End’ by Thomas Leer adds some jazzy freeform synth soloing to the vocal free backdrop, while ‘Surface Tension’ from ANALYSIS is an appealing instrumental.

The strangely accessible weirdness of CHRIS & COSEY’s ‘This Is Me’, MYSTERY PLANE’s ‘Something To Prove’ and the gritty ‘Brix’ from PORTION CONTROL will delight those more into the leftfield, while AK-47’s ‘Stop! Dance!’, the work of Simon Leonard (later of I START COUNTING and KOMPUTER fame) is another DIY experiment in that aesthetic vein.

Some tracks are interesting but not essential like Richard Bone’s ‘Alien Girl’ which comes over like an amusing pub singer SILICON TEENS, Johnny Warman’s appealing robopop on ‘Will You Dance With Me?’ and the synth dressed New Wave of ‘Close-Up’ by THOSE FRENCH GIRLS. For something more typically artschool, there’s the timpani laden ‘Taboos’ by THE PASSAGE and SECOND LAYER’s screechy ‘In Bits’.

More surprising is Swedish songstress Virna Lindt with her ‘Young & Hip’ which oddly combines showtune theatrics with blippy synth and ska! The set ends rather fittingly with Cherry Red’s very own EYELESS IN GAZA with the abstract atmospherics of ‘The Eyes Of Beautiful Losers’ although they too would eventually produce their own rousing synthpop statement ‘Sunbursts In’ in 1984.

Outside of the music, the booklet is a bit disappointing with the photos of OMD, TEARS FOR FEARS, HEAVEN 17, B-MOVIE and a glam-bouffanted Kim Wilde all coming from the wrong eras. And while the liner notes provide helpful information on the lesser known acts, clangers such as stating Toyah’s ‘Thunder In The Mountains’ was from the album ‘The Changeling’ when it was a standalone 45, “GONG’s Mike Hewlett” and “memorable sleeve designs by Malcolm Garrett’s Altered IMaGes” do not help those who wish to discover the origins of those accumulated gems.

But these quibbles aside, overall ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0’ is a good collection, although with fewer rare jewels compared with the first 1980 volume which perhaps points to the fact that those who had the shine to breakthrough actually did… 40 years on though, many of those hit making acts (or variations of) are still performing live in some form.

Was 1981 the most important year in synth as far becoming ubiquitous in the mainstream and hitting the top of the charts internationally? With VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ becoming a West German No1 in Spring 1981 through to SOFT CELL taking the summer topspot in the UK and culminating in THE HUMAN LEAGUE eventually taking ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ to No1 in the US, the sound of synth had done its job. Setting the scene for 1982 and 1983, further editions of ‘Musik Music Musique’ are planned.


‘Musik Music Musique 2.0 1981 – The Rise Of Synth Pop’ is released on 15th October 2021 as a 3CD boxed set

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/musik-music-musique-2-0-the-rise-of-synth-pop-3cd-clamshell-box/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th October 2021

GARETH JONES Interview

The first solo album from Gareth Jones is set for release in September.

He is perhaps best known as the producer of DEPECHE MODE’s first albums with Alan Wilder – ‘Construction Time Again’, ‘Some Great Reward’, and ‘Black Celebration’.

Jones first made his name as an electronic music pioneer on John Foxx’s groundbreaking album ‘Metamatic’.

It was John Foxx who recommended Jones to Mute’s Daniel Miller, starting a creative relationship that shaped many of the towering recordings from FAD GADGET, WIRE, ERASURE and DIAMANDA GALÁS. Other acts who have benefited from Jones’ deft studio work include EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN, GUS GUS, TUXEDOMOON, GRIZZLY BEAR, INTERPOL, MESH, APPARAT and THE HOUSE OF LOVE.

For many years, Jones has worked to inspire young artists and studio techs through the Red Bull Academy and online videos. He has also chosen projects with the aim to help new artists get a foothold, in preference to more commercially advantageous work.

What has been less visible is the humble Jones’ own music. As one half of SUNROOF, he has created covers and remixes of Krautrock classics together with Miller. With Nick Hook, he has created three SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP albums and has another in the pipeline. He has also discreetly issued a number of experimental works over the years, ranging from spoken word pieces to ambient electronics.

‘ELECTROGENETIC‘, Jones’ first album under his own name, comes after his milestone 65th birthday, and it is a highly personal set of compositions.

Built on modular patches, it is also an accomplished melding of humanity and electronics; an organic interface between Mensch and Maschine. The cover features Jones’ father’s wedding ring and an Ankh; symbols of connectedness and life.

The notes prepared by Jones on his microsite for the album explain the spiritual inspirations for certain tracks, which include the passing of his mother-in-law and his own mother. In them, he describes the album as a form of requiem and credo. He seems to have taken to heart the line from Revelations 13:14: “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write…”

The music speaks for itself, however. Infused with modular sequences that are almost danceable, it is not pop. There are traces of THROBBING GRISTLE and hints of TEST DEPARTMENT, but it is not industrial. There are fusions of found sound and electronics that are reminiscent of The Orb, but it is not ambient house. Best listened to as a piece with different movements, ‘ELECTROGENETIC’ has the internal coherence to make up for its defiance of genres.

The album opens at ‘The Beginning’ with a reading from the book of Genesis. Initially sketched on an iPad, Jones developed the track in visits to a Methodist chapel near his studio.

‘Trinity’, which follows, borrows found sound from a choral practice in a Cambridge chapel. It also incorporates instruments from Jones’ childhood – an approach that develops in ‘Mercury’ with the addition of ocarina, recorder and tin whistle, supplemented by piano and a Roland JX-3P. The piano is actually a virtual instrument, played in Kontakt, using Joan-na, a sample bank that Jones made from his childhood piano and named after his late mother.

‘Michigan’ is built on a drone and incorporates vocal samples from WOVOKA GENTLE’s Immie Mason making a reference to his wife’s home state. It was in Detroit that Jones also developed ‘Safe Travels’, another of the stand-out tracks on the album.

The microsite created by Jones to accompany the album offers a set of virtual Post-It notes, leading to handwritten sleeve notes for each track and a link to sample packs. Visitors can download selected samples and import them into their own projects – the DNA of ‘ELECTROGENETIC‘ can live on beyond the album itself.

Gareth Jones spoke virtually from his studio, theArtLab, in the heart of London’s Strongroom complex.

How have you been coping with Covid-19?

I’m an urban cyclist, so I’m pretty comfortable travelling about, you know. I don’t like the Tube too much.

I’ve been very creative, though. In our home, I set up a Studio B in my back bedroom with a laptop, headphones, and a few little synths and things.

But I did loads of amazing work—it was quite astonishing to me that it turned out to be so productive. I’m lucky, in that I had food delivered every day—and I count my blessings, brother, for sure—but it was, strangely, musically a very productive time.

The album marks the passing of people close to you and touches on a number of deep themes – family, spirituality, connectedness. What led you in these directions?

At this stage of my life, I guess these are like major, major events that happened in my life. If there’s a theme, I guess that’s just my voice, my personality, my approach to electronics, and my approach to making music.

I’m not choosing a theme consciously; I’m just walking my path. This is what’s happening. I made a small commitment to myself, in 2019, that I would like to finish a solo project, inspired by all the collaborative work that I’ve done, which I very much enjoyed – you know, with Nick Hook in SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP and Chris Bono in NOUS ALPHA – and with all the remix work I’ve done. I just felt it was time for me to dig deep and do a solo project, and that was my personal contract with myself in 2019.

It came off the back of two very dear mothers dying in 2018: my mother-in-law and my own mother. Somehow, it all started to resonate with me, and the emotional impact of that emerged through the work over the year. It didn’t start as a project to commemorate the mothers, and I hope it’s more than that. It’s not just commemorating the mothers, but that was a certainly a big part of several of the songs – ‘Safe Travels’ being one of them, of course, and ‘Farewell’ another. The writing of those was in my mother-in-law’s house.

I gave up smoking when I was 50; and, perhaps it was a coincidence, but it seemed like a symbolic number. With the double loss—and all the parents are gone now—I felt this need or responsibility to myself to make this solo work. And, so, that’s my humble offering—what you hear is what stands before you.

Was your mother close to your work?

No, my mother thought that music was not a proper job. It took a while before my parents came around to the idea that, actually, I might be able to support myself working in music. Both my parents were big lovers of music, as consumers of music, if you like—listeners. They were huge lovers of music: classical music, very much so; not so much jazz and whatever; popular culture music they didn’t really get. A great musical inspiration came from my dad—a love of music from an early time.

My in-laws were much more lovers of popular culture–the Frank Sinatra period. Not just Frank Sinatra, but Tony Bennett, Howard Keel and the 40s, 50s and 60s—they were big lovers of music from that time.

So, there was a lot of music around, of course, but they were not professional musicians. My mother played a little bit of piano, I think, when she was a kid, but I didn’t grow up with parents playing music.

There are many references to spirituality in the material and in your notes on the micro-site for the album. The cover features the Ankh and a wedding ring: one an ancient symbol for life and the other representing connection and togetherness…

It has deep symbolism, the ring, doesn’t it? It is also symbolic of power and continuity – and, you know, eternity. As I get older, I hope my inward life develops deeper and deeper, and part of that is considering the larger questions. We can’t avoid them: birth and death. You know, this is life, brother.

On your site, you refer to ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran. Was that book a big influence on you?

When I was when I was adolescent, for sure. I haven’t read it for a long time. The idea of the trees came back to me when I was working on ‘Alone Together’. That was a very influential book on me as a teenager. It seems like a beautiful discourse on the nature of love and life.

You were previously releasing material with Nick Hook as SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP. Is that still happening?

Yes, it is very much ongoing. Nick’s a great inspiration, and the record’s coming out on his label. He’s got a label in Brooklyn called Calm + Collect. It felt like the right place for the record. He always said that he would help me bring my solo record to the world when I completed it, so we both stuck to our commitment. We are men of our word. We’re working currently on the fourth SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP album, which we’re very excited about. It’s got a bit more of a harmonic content than the last record, which was all drums.

We had plans to get together during the lockdown period to complete the record; but those plans were—like many people’s plans—disrupted, so we are attempting to finish it remotely. We’ve made quite a lot of progress, but all the work we’ve done so far has been the two of us in the room, and that’s very vibrant and very creative; and very fast, very enjoyable. It’s been a bit more difficult focusing energies remotely. That’s weird, but we will get there. The record is close to being finished.

The modern marketplace for music is becoming narrower, and major labels don’t seem to want to invest anything in artists who aren’t going to produce mainstream hits. Shopping something like this must be challenging, because there a limited number of labels that you could go to…

I didn’t try to shop it. Nick and I had this talk about it. We had a commitment. We did try to, as you say, shop the first SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP album, and we have between us a few influential colleagues in the business—lovely people and friends. Many people were kind enough to say how much they liked the record, but no one was remotely interested in putting it out. That was a depressing experience for both of us, which lasted about a month. Then, after a month or so, we said, okay, we just have got to put it out ourselves.

We are trying to make Calm + Collect like a small independent gallery where we can hang our stuff on the wall and say, “Look, we made this. If it’s of any interest, please explore the label further or hit us up or get in touch.”

Of course, it’s wonderful to have the support of a label with the PR and the contacts and the guidance, and even some funding. It’s a marvelous thing for an artist. But if you can’t get it, you can’t give up. You don’t give up.

You talked about the modern marketplace. The huge benefit of the modern technology is that we can bring our music to the world. On Calm + Collect, we can put music out that you can hear in Australia, the day after it’s come out, if you want to. Of course, there is huge, massive noise to try to get yourself noticed, but you have to try and rise above it. How wonderful, though, that we can present our wares to the world and say, “Well, look, here it is. Come and have a listen if you’d like to!”

One of the things that was interesting about the Web site that you can get sample packs, so that you can play with your sounds independently. Are you hoping that people will make their own mixes of the songs or just take the samples and use them in their own projects?

It’s my record company’s idea. All credit to Nick Hook for that. Nick said “Why don’t you make a sample pack?”

He suggested that I could sell them on Bandcamp, if I want, but I just decided to put them out as a gift, if people are interested. There are some elements of the songs, but you can’t remix a whole song from those because they’re not stems of the pieces—they’re not complete. They’re snippets. I went quickly through the nine pieces and chose what I thought were some interesting snippets. I said, well, there you go. If anyone’s interested in having these, then have them and make something with it.

I enjoyed the process. It didn’t take me too long. It seemed like a nice addition, and it was Nick’s idea. Nick and I try to implement each other’s ideas; we try not to shut each other down. So, I thought, okay, I’ll do it. I’m pleased I did it, and it’s something I’ll do in the future, too, I think.

It makes it more like an open source project. With the sample packs, people can look into the source code, and they can pick around and learn from it…

Great. There is a possibility that, down the line, I may well release the multi-tracks, where people can then really dig around if they want to—they can see the whole thing. Everyone who’s remotely interested in music now has some kind of Garage Band type thing on their computer, where they can just drag in a bunch of files and there it is—it plays.

I know, for me, it’s absolutely wonderful to hear other people’s multi-tracks. It’s wonderful to hear some of my old multi-tracks from the past, actually. I pull them up and I think, oh look, we made that 35 years ago or something—there is the multi. So, it’s a special vision, the multitrack. Obviously, I want people to hear my versions of the tunes first, but down the line I might well just link to the multitrack, so that people can see, hear, and dig around—like it’s open source. They can see how it’s made.

A key feature of the album is that you’re using modular kit, which carries an element of chance. One of the nice things about synthesisers is that it is not always predictable what they’re going to sound like and where they’re going to go. Is modular something of interest to you, which is why it was brought into this project?

Yes, it is deeply important. Thank you for asking about it, because it’s reflected in the name—even the name of ‘ELECTROGENETIC‘ is an attempt for me to convey the idea that the birth of the riffs and rhythms and timbres is here in the electronics. It’s born through the electronics.

Modern modular gear—Eurorack, I should say—has empowered me hugely as a musician to be able to speak and channel energies. I hesitate to use the word “express” because I’m a bit nervous about expressing myself. I feel more that I’m more of a channel or tool to concretise or realise, spiritual energy. The modulars have certainly allowed me to do that in a way that I’ve never found really from another instrument, and my personal development as a musician is deeply tied into my involvement with modern modular.

It’s not cheap, but it’s vaguely affordable, whereas the vintage modular that that is so loved is hugely expensive—and hugely expensive to maintain. That’s outside my league, really.

We have had digital gear and sequences for so long, do you think that the modular world brings back the organic quality that was apparent in the albums played by hand, like ‘Metamatic’ and the first two albums by THE HUMAN LEAGUE?

It’s hugely deep and hugely broad, and so it could be, but it can also be extremely rigid. It really is a very broad church, working with modular, and everyone engages with it in their own way. One of the joys for many of us is building a patch that unexpectedly delivers something that we can still interface with; to perform on. We’re joyfully surprised by elements that emerge from the patch we build. That is a very creative way for many of us working with modular setups.

We don’t get many people that — I know certainly that I don’t — go in with a rigid idea and then attempt to construct it in modular, in the sense that I imagine some people might try to write a string quartet, or perhaps how Wendy Carlos made ‘Switched On Bach’. It’s more about building patches, delving deeper and deeper into what emerges; modifying the patch; touching the patch; turning knobs; recording interesting events that occur. You know, it’s not random, by any means, but it’s very rich and very deep, once you embrace the chance element of it.

Do sound design and work on the patches themselves suggest the music? Do you get the idea that this new sound is going to give me the right kind of timbre, the right the right kind of voicing, to make this kind of song?

A lot of the patches already have rhythm and timbre, of course. Most of the pieces on the ‘ELECTROGENETIC‘ record started with a modular patch, which might be quite dense.

There were, of course, other modular patches I made in the period that didn’t develop further; but most of them started with an improvisation by me on a modular patch that I built, which might have melodies, counter-melodies, rhythms, counter-rhythms, all kinds of layers and textures–it can be quite complex.

That is available for further editing and overdubs. In my case, it certainly inspired some simple melodic extra layers performed with the piano, the voice, or the recorder or whatever. I can’t over-emphasise the importance of the improvisations on the modular as groundwork, though; as a very fertile field that this record grew out of. That’s highlighted in the microsite. I’ve even acknowledged my friends at Make Noise. Credit to the synthesiser manufacturer.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to Gareth Jones

Additional thanks to Mat Smith at Calm + Collect

‘ELECTROGENETIC’ is released digitally on 18th September 2020 via Calm + Collect

http://electrogenetic.com/

https://twitter.com/geniusjones

https://www.instagram.com/garethgeniusjones/


Text and Interview by Simon Helm
20th August 2020

A Beginner’s Guide To DANIEL MILLER

This history of Mute Records and its esteemed founder Daniel Miller is more than well documented.

The lavish book ‘Mute: A Visual Document From 1978 – Tomorrow’ published in 2017 captured the iconic label’s visual aesthetic. Already a fan of German kosmische scene, Daniel Miller began taking an interest in synthesizers for making pop music after hearing KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’.

The advent of affordable synthesizers from Japan manufactured by the likes of Korg and Roland made it possible for him to adopt punk’s DIY ethic by buying a Korg 700s for the price of a guitar. That enabled him to make music using just one finger, instead of having to learn three chords.

Conceiving a punk single with electronics, he wrote and recorded ‘Warm Leatherette’ b/w ‘TVOD’ for a one-off independent single release in 1978. Miller’s sense of experimentation within a structured albeit avant pop context led to kindred spirits sending him tapes, thanks to him including his mother’s address “16 Decoy Avenue London NW 11 England” on the back of the MUTE 001 sleeve.

Mute Records’ first signing was a former art student Frank Tovey who released the macabre ‘Back To Nature’ as FAD GADGET in 1979 as MUTE 002 with Miller co-producing. It began establishing a good reputation for experimental electronic pop music. As well as running the label and working in the studio with his own roster of acts, Miller also produced and remixed other artists, although this became less frequent as Mute Records achieved more and more success.

If Daniel Miller had a characteristic sound during the pioneering years of Synth Britannia, then it was his use of the ARP 2600 driven by an ARP 1601 analogue sequencer, particularly for unique rhythmic templates obtained from the percussive capabilities of this versatile American synth.

Always keen to keep up-to-date with the latest technology, Miller’s later acquisitions included a Synclavier, PPG Wave 2, Emulator, Roland System 100M and Roland MC4 Micro-Composer. Many years later, Miller even bought the customised vocoder used on ‘Autobahn’ from the late Florian Schneider even though it was not in fully working order.

While Miller’s production work with DEPECHE MODE over five albums naturally led American new wave acts like BOOK OF LOVE to seek his knowhow, indie band THE HOUSE OF LOVE were surprisingly curious enough to secure his services on their track ‘Safe’. Meanwhile, post-punk art rock combo WIRE saw him as a kindred spirit keen to explore new interesting ways of recording and worked with Miller in various guises.

While Daniel Miller stepped back from producing DEPECHE MODE in 1987 to concentrate on Mute Records, it was his mix with Phil Legg of the Flood produced ‘Enjoy The Silence’ that became the international hit single; Miller had felt the version that François Kevorkian had presented was too electronic. 

While work had been going well with the French-born DJ’s mixes for the ‘Violator’ album, Miller’s instincts told him ‘Enjoy The Silence’ needed to be brought back slightly with a more organic vision. The song had already been transformed in the studio from a funereal ballad to an electronic disco number with house influences!

Although Mute Records was bought by EMI in 2002, Miller reached an agreement in 2010 to establish a second independently run record label under the name Mute Artists while the Mute Records name and rights to the label’s archive recordings remained under the control of EMI’s present owners Universal. More recently, Daniel Miller has been happily DJ-ing around the world playing largely techno sets for Berghain in Berlin, Sónar in Barcelona and IMS in Ibiza among others.

Meanwhile he has also occasionally given talks at events such as MoogFest. Red Bull Music Academy, LEAF and the Electri_City_Conference.

With a vast and varied portfolio to investigate, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK looks back at the creative career of Daniel Miller in music via eighteen of his productions and remixes, with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, presented in yearly, then alphabetical order.


THE NORMAL Warm Leatherette (1978)

Daniel Miller’s sense of experimentation and vision of the synth being the ultimate punk instrument requiring the use of just one finger led to him making his first record. Lyrically inspired by JG Ballard’s ‘Crash’ with its story around car collision symphorophilia, the dystopian ‘Warm Leatherette’ was based around two noisy notes and a twitchy rhythmic backbone that was menacing yet enthralling at the same time. It turned out to be something of a game changer.

Available on THE NORMAL single ‘ Warm Leatherette’ / ‘TVOD’ via Mute Records

http://mute.com/category/the-normal


FAD GADGET Coitus Interruptus (1980)

Following the success of singles ‘Back To Nature’ and ‘Ricky’s Hand’, a FAD GADGET album was eagerly anticipated and it came with ‘Fireside Favourites’ which brought in a Korg Rhythm 55 drum machine, conventional instruments and various found objects alongside the synths. A four way production effort between Frank Tovey, Daniel Miller, Eric Radcliffe and John Fryer, the superb ‘Coitus Interruptus’ was a deeply cynical commentary on casual relationships.

Available on the album ‘Fireside Favourites’ via Mute Records

https://fadgadget.co.uk/


ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980)

Larry Least was a production pseudonym inspired by the producer, Rak Records mogul and ‘New Faces’ judge Mickey Most. This infectious solo single by Alex Fergusson featured Daniel Miller’s distinctive electronic footprint and his involvement helped the ALTERNATIVE TV guitarist transform from post-punk to more synthesized song experiments. With Fergusson forming PSYCHIC TV with Genesis P-Orridge, it wasn’t until 1992 that a white label only self-titled solo album was released.

Available on the boxed set ‘Electrical Language: Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ (V/A) via Cherry Red Records

https://www.scaruffi.com/vol4/atv.html


SILICON TEENS Memphis Tennessee (1980)

Following THE NORMAL, Daniel Miller decided to undertake a new project where rock ’n’ roll standards like ‘Just Like Eddie’ and ‘Memphis Tennessee’ were reinterpreted in a synthpop style, using a fictitious group called SILICON TEENS as a front. While Miller sang like he had a clothes peg attached to his nose and produced the recordings as Larry Least, several actors hired to appear in videos and do press interviews, although lead vocalist ‘Darryl’ was played by Frank Tovey.

Available on the SILICON TEENS album ‘Music For Parties’ via Mute Records

http://mute.com/release/music-for-parties


ALAN BURNHAM Science Fiction (1981)

For a one-off single on Cherry Red Records, the dystopian minimal synth of ‘Music To Save The World By’ from the little known and somewaht reclusive Alan Burnham was produced by Daniel Miller at Blackwing Studios. He also worked on its B-side ‘Science Fiction’ which was just as haunting as the main act. Perhaps more organic thanks to the use of live drums by Cam Findlay, it took a leaf out of the quirky cult Wirral duo DALEK I LOVE YOU and their song ‘The World’ in particular.

Available on the boxed set ‘Electrical Language: Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ (V/A) via Cherry Red Records

http://mute.com/mute/daniel-miller


SOFT CELL Metro MRX (1981)

The original ‘Metro MRX’ came from the SOFT CELL debut EP ‘Mutant Moments’ released in October 1980, but the sub-two minute Daniel Miller take of ‘Metro MRX’ for ‘Flexipop’ magazine borrowed the same synthetic rhythm track as DEPECHE MODE’s ‘New Life’ to accompany Almond’s snarls of “he’s a mutant!”. Miller also produced ‘A Man Can Get Lost’, ‘Persuasion’ and perhaps most significantly, the proto-house of ‘Memorabilia’ at those same Stage One recording sessions.

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

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


DEPECHE MODE Nothing To Fear (1982)

While Eric Radcliffe was holed up working with Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet on the first YAZOO album at Blackwing Studios on the night shift, during the day Daniel Miller was working with DEPECHE MODE on their second. With punchy Simmons Drum modules and a catchy melodic theme, ‘Nothing To Fear’ was a glorious instrumental statement from an important long player that made the most of Miller’s programming expertise to ensure an optimistic future for Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher.

Available on the DEPECHE MODE album ‘A Broken Frame’ via Mute Records

http://www.depechemode.com/


THOMAS DOLBY Radio Silence (1982)

When recording ‘Radio Silence’ for singular consumption, Thomas Morgan Dolby Robertson sought the assistance of Daniel Miller thanks to his track record with DEPECHE MODE. Bringing in his PPG Wave 2 and helping with the final mix, it was released as a single in early 1982 with an alternative rockier guitar driven version on the B-side which was favoured in the US. Both takes also featured the voice of Akiko Yano, who was married to Ryuichi Sakamoto at the time.

Available on the THOMAS DOLBY album ‘The Golden Age Of Wireless’ via EMI Records

https://www.thomasdolby.com/


DUET EMMO Or So It Seems (1982)

WIRE refugees, Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis had been working under the name DOME, so when a collaborative adventure with Miller was suggested, an anagram of that moniker and Mute resulted in DUET EMMO. Recorded at Blackwing Studios, ‘Or So It Seems’ was their debut offering, a slice of experimental pop shaped with grumbling synthesized bass, captivating electronics and textural harmonic guitar while Lewis’ haunting vocals provided the emotional centre, spooked by sombre bursts of brass.

Available on the DUET EMMO album ‘Or So It Seems’ via Mute Records

https://mutesong.com/writers/duet-emmo/


YAZOO Situation (1982)

Originally the B-side to ‘Only You’, ‘Situation’ was one of only three writing collaborations between Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke, as well as only being one of five YAZOO tracks that Daniel Miller co-produced with Eric Radcliffe. Clocking in at barely two minutes in its original form, it made its impact with some rousing blues based sequenced dance pop; it became a US club favourite when it was remixed by Francois Kevorkian who later worked with KRAFTWERK and DEPECHE MODE.

Available on the YAZOO boxed set ‘The Collection’ via Mute Records

https://twitter.com/yazooinfo


ROBERT GÖRL Mit Dir (1983)

Following DAF’s Virgin album trilogy produced by Conny Plank, the duo borke up in a haze of sex, drugs and sequencer. Drummer and synthesist Robert Görl signed to Mute as a solo artist and began his account with the standalone single ‘Mit Dir’. Dark, brooding and magnificent, the song was co-produced by Daniel Miller and went on to become a favourite among the cognoscenti, reinterpreted for Prada commercials and covered by DJ HELL with STEREO MCs.

Available on the ROBERT GÖRL album ‘Night Full Of Tension’ via Mute Records

http://www.robert-goerl.de/


HARD CORPS To Breathe (1985)

Polydor A&R man Malcolm Dunbar managed to gain Daniel Miller’s interest to help out on a HARD CORPS track that Martin Rushent had started. “It was an offer we could not refuse and ‘Respirer’ duly ended up being completed with Daniel producing” said the band’s Clive Pierce, “So now we had two of the best ‘electronic’ music producers in the UK both helping on our track”. Exquisitely Gallic, Polydor however released ‘Respirer’ in English as ‘To Breathe’ but it was not the hit that they were seeking.

Available as ‘Respirer’ on the HARD CORPS album ‘Metal & Flesh’ via Sub Culture Records

http://www.hardcorps.co.uk/


NITZER EBB Join In The Chant – Gold! (1987)

Chelmsford’s NITZER EBB were founded by school friends Douglas McCarthy, Bon Harris and Bon Harris. Originally produced by Pete Waterman associate Phil Harding, the ambiguous chants of “muscle and late, lies, lies, gold, gold” in ‘Join In The Chant’ encouraged exactly as the title suggested in the manner of a DAF body sculpture. Daniel Miller and Flood’s Gold! restructure took out the Balearic beats and pushed forward a more Teutonic industrial thrust complete with metallic tools to boot.

Available on the NITZER EBB album ‘Body Of Work’ via Mute Records

http://www.nitzer-ebb.com/


ERASURE Supernature – Daniel Miller & Phil Legg Remix (1990)

ERASURE were not shy about doing cover versions with ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ and ‘River Deep Mountain High’ having already been reinterpreted by this point. Andy Bell and Vince Clarke’s take on Marc Cerrone’s electronic disco landmark saw Daniel Miller and Phil Legg present this tight electro-dance remix extended to over seven minutes. Miller and Legg got together again for DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’ and it was their mix that became the ‘Violator’ album version and single release.

Available on the ERASURE deluxe album ‘Wild!’ via Mute Records

https://www.erasureinfo.com/


CHRIS & COSEY Synaesthesia – Daniel Miller Mix (1991)

After leaving industrial pioneers THROBBING GRISTLE, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti became a popular cult duo with their experimental pop utilising electronics, sampling, rhythms and even cornet alongside Cosey’s distinctive nonchalant vocals. Superbly sinister but beautiful metallic synthpop, ‘Synaesthesia’ exuded hints of PET SHOP BOYS ‘Euroboy’ but a good year before it. Meanwhile Daniel Miller’s brilliant rework took on a different groove to the harder bleepy house laden original.

Available on the CHRIS & COSEY single ‘Synaesthesia’ via Conspiracy International

http://www.chrisandcosey.com/


SUNROOF! Hero (1998)

SUNROOF! was Daniel Miller’s occasional project with Gareth Jones who he first worked with on DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Construction Time Again’ album. Exploring their love of Kosmische, it was perhaps no surprise that they covered the symbolic NEU! track ‘Hero’. Given more of a pulsing electronic treatment, the alluringly detached vocals came from Alison Conway who has part of the Mute family having been part of AC MARIAS, a project which also featured Bruce Gilbert of WIRE and Barry Adamson of MAGAZINE.

Available on the album ‘A Homage to NEU!’ (V/A) via Cleopatra

http://www.garethjones.com/


POPPY & THE JEZEBELS Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out! – Richard X Meets Larry Least Mix (2012)

POPPY & THE JEZEBELS were a school band based in Birmingham signed to Mute Song. ‘Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out!’ was superbly playful girly synthpop with the ‘Isolation’ bassline borrowed from JOY DIVISION bouncing around in electronic form while sinister Maggie Thatcher voice samples echoed. Originally produced by Richard X, Larry Least came out of retirement when the girls persuaded Miller to remix the track using his trusty Korg 700s synth.

Available on the POPPY & THE JEZEBELS single ‘Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out!’ via Gunball Machine

https://mutesong.com/writers/poppy-and-the-jezebels/


WRANGLER Theme From Wrangler – Daniel Miller rework (2016)

The brief from WRANGLER to remixers of tracks from their album ‘LA Spark’ was simple: “We provide some basic stems from a track selected by you from our debut album ‘LA Spark’ and you add whatever sounds you like – the only rule being that you use just one analogue modular synthesiser system of your choice.” Sweetened by flanged string machine, Daniel Miller provided a gliding rumbling bassline over a metronomic kick on his rework of ‘Theme from Wrangler’.

Available on the WRANGLER album ‘Sparked: Modular Remix Project’ via MemeTune Records

https://www.facebook.com/mallinderbengewinter/


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Simon Helm and Volker Maass
Photos by Simon Helm
4th June 2020, updated 14th February 2021

FINLAY SHAKESPEARE Solemnities

For Bristol-based Finlay Shakespeare, his interest in synthesizers came from his parents’ record collection, with iconic music from the likes of JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, KRAFTWERK, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JAPAN.

An independent musical device manufacturer, he founded Future Sound Systems, building modular synthesizer components, predominantly for the Eurorack format.

But with his own music, his complex modular construction and anxious theatrics were inspired by Warp Records stalwarts AUTECHRE.

With a crystal clear modular synth sound coupled to claustrophobic vocals like they were buried in a box in the manner of FAD GADGET, among those impressed was Neil Arthur who invited Shakespeare to tour with BLANCMANGE in 2019. Live, he possessed the persona of a restless IT technician, delivering a hybrid of THE FAINT, THE KILLERS and THE BRAVERY dreaming of wires rather than guitars.

The material on his debut album ‘Domestic Economy’ was initiated by improvisation whilst being recorded live, with one of its highlights ‘Amsterdam’ being an example in modern Motorik. But ‘Solemnities’ is a definite progression, offering more shape and structure than its predecessor, but maintaining a distinct post-punk anguish.

Finlay Shakespeare said on Twitter: “Many of these tracks are becoming weirdly prescient with the current situation. I hope it’ll bring some degree of comfort, but simultaneously bring about some kind of call to arms. Things have to change and soon.”

The opening track ‘Occupation’ is superb, a metronomic squelch fest about social injustice which sees an angry and impassioned Shakespeare conduct a raucous avant noise experiment in song with penetrating noise percussion and icy retro-futuristic string machines.

The following ‘Fortune’ sounds almost synthpop in comparison; rather like Daniel Miller, Eric Random, Chris Carter, Thomas Leer and Robert Rental morphed into one, it is cold enough to be credible but melodic enough to have been in the charts back in the day alongside John Foxx, Gary Numan and Dindisc-era OMD.

‘The Information’ recalls THE HUMAN LEAGUE when Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh were helming the instrumentation, particularly ‘The Path Of Least Resistance’ although with more of a percussive groove.

However, as the synths starting ringing, it steadily mutates into Da League MkII with echoes of ‘Love Action’.

Moving at a more energetic pace and with Shakespeare’s honest vocals complimenting the backdrop, ‘Second Try’ makes good use of a tight pulsating bassline and synth generated rhythms like THROBBING GRISTLE reworking KRAFTWERK’s ‘The Robots’.

The banging techno punk of ‘Crisis’ is hypnotic and poignant to the current world health emergency, embroiled in a wall of thrusting energy, electronic voice approximations and screeching synths for something oddly euphoric. Its urgent on-message vocal charge isn’t far off from being an electronic take on THE JAM; an odd comment maybe but what’s not widely known is that Paul Weller was a fan of the John Foxx-led ULTRAVOX!

‘Fantasy’ is less shouty and more haunted vocally for what could only be described as an industrial ballad. The eerie electronic texturing and a multi-tracked choir of himself then mutates into a crystalline passage driven by heavy militaristic drum samples and ending with the blast of a deep synthetic kazoo section!

The metallic shiver of the frantic ‘She Says / Nothing Ends’ closes with a sub-eight minute epic. At times, it does sound like a range of crockery is being bashed in the manner of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Shout’, but as the track builds with layers of sequenced electronics and Shakespeare’s snarling voices, it verges on being almost trippy like a banging trance version of THE FAINT.

Wrapped in a marvellous dynamic tension with a balance of melody and freaky angst, Finlay Shakespeare delivers a fresh take on the experimental side of Synth Britannia that is strangely pop, but will satisfy those seeking more of a colder mechanised edge.

‘Solemnities’ contains a captivating mixture of flavours that work well together, capturing the intense spirit of his live performances.

There are a number of acts being hailed as the new saviours of electronic pop, but Finlay Shakespeare is the real deal, a gloriously wayward soul who simultaneously is also intriguingly disciplined.


‘Solemnities’ is released by Editions Mego in vinyl LP and digital formats, available now from https://editionsmego.bandcamp.com/album/solemnities

http://finlayshakespeare.com/

https://www.facebook.com/FinlayShakespeareUK/

https://twitter.com/FinShakespeare

https://www.instagram.com/finlayshakespeare/

https://www.futuresoundsystems.co.uk/

https://open.spotify.com/album/6ULuwiMRH1q4lm5scs6KHb


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Rob Davison and Chi Ming Lai
24th April 2020

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