Berlin-based musician and DJ Luca Venezia, better known as CURSES, presents ‘Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’, his second curated compilation exploring the darker side of club music though the decades. The first volume had been a lockdown inspired exploration of his own record collection.
Released by Eskimo Recordings and featuring 49 tracks, the music is split into three distinct chapters with more than half being previously unreleased; “Many of these songs come from friends close of mine, or artists I perform with and tour with a lot, whose music and craft I admire and champion.” Luca Venezia told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the set, “We are all making a very niche style of music, and everyone is approaching it in their own unique way, it is only natural we migrate to be friends and share the stage together… like a primal instinct.”
Conceived with his ideal night out in mind, compiling such an compilation was not without its headaches; “Fortunately with the help of Eskimo and N.E.W.S., the licensing team are an absolute powerhouse” recalled Venezia, “It wasn’t easy, especially the older material, like Malcolm McLaren’s ‘Madame Butterfly’… and yes, there was SO much music I wanted but couldn’t get the rights to. Not because the artists said no, but because it was impossible to find WHO owned the rights now. Members in bands split up, some pass away, some vanish… it’s a puzzle at times to license the 80s underground electronic gems”.
Chapter 1 contains the pioneering acts of the past that were occasionally signed to major labels and even flirted with the mainstream pop charts. The set opens with ‘Distant Dreams Pt 2’, a wonderful suitably obscure 1980 B-side from THROBBING GRISTLE, while another lesser known gem comes from BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE with ‘The Big V’, the instrumental variant of the 1986 single ‘V. Thirteen’.
The first name likely to be recalled when dark club music comes to mind, especially to Taylor Swift fans, are CABARET VOLTAIRE and they fit like a glove on this compendium with ‘Blue Heat’ from ‘Micro-Phonies’, as do Dutch band CLAN OF XYMOX with ‘Obsession’, an excellent example of classic electro-goth disco.
Of course, NITZER EBB are present and correct with ‘Hearts & Minds’ while DAF stand firm with their declaration as ‘Brothers’ in their appealing but less heralded English language disco phase.
Collecting superb tracks from various acclaimed cult acts, ‘The Murder Of Love’ by PROPAGANDA and the I Dream Of Jeanne Mix of ‘Modigliani (Lost In Your Eyes)’ by BOOK OF LOVE demonstrate how the developing digital technology enabled powerful sampled sounds effectively at the flick of a switch. However, best of all are former SOFT CELL backing singers VICIOUS PINK who really should have had a huge worldwide hit with the brilliant Tony Mansfield produced ‘Cccan’t You See’
Chapter 2 moves the night on starting with ‘Voloczny’, an unreleased song from back in day by BOYTRONIC towards the present with modern day electronic producers such as Jennifer Touch and Kris Baha. In a new 2023 version, THE KVB come over like THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN with synths on ‘Still Warm’ while YEARS OF DENIAL capture plenty of stark menace on ‘It Sucks.
Canadian wife-and-husband duo ESSAIE PAS provide enigmatic prose en Français over a cascade of pulsing synths on ‘Retox’ while Berlin-based trio DINA SUMMER update the gothic disco template on ‘Darkness’. Affirming the international cast of ‘Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’, Spain’s DAME AREA go on a heavier industrial club excursion via ‘Buon Cittadino’ but on the opposite side of the coin and Atlantic, DESIRE offer enigmatic coyness on ‘Love Races On’ outside of their Italians Do It Better stable.
Chapter 3 is the part of the night you probably should go home but don’t… a wilder, harder and more aggressive energy is here if you so desire. There is naturally a Dark Remix of ‘Machina’ from BOY HARSHER with guest vocals by Mariana Saldaña. But utilising tense triplets and brassy melodramatic stabs, CURSES revamps J.W.B. HITS THE BEAT’s ‘Body On Body’. CURSES returns to remix NUOVO TESTAMENTO’s ‘Heartbeat’ and there is an enjoyable instrumental in ‘Non Fiction’ by SILENT SERVANT.
Two of the best tracks come via Australia; ‘Burning Eyes’ is a Hi-NRG romp with wispy voice ad-libs courtesy of NEU-ROMANCER and ZANIAS’ ‘Tryptamine Palace’ is a tremendous textural dance track. ANDI VS RANDOLPH & MORTIMER make their presence felt with big beats on ‘Formidable Truths’ while Michel Amato aka THE HACKER does not disappoint with the previously unreleased ‘Monopoly’. To end, Greek synth duo PARADOX OBSCUR make a beefy contribution in ‘Evo-Devo’ that recalls French art pop duo LES RITA MISOUKO.
On the spiritual and musical thread that helped make this cohesive collection, Luca Venezia surmised: “Every artist involved has their own personal and unique take on the timeless love affair between human and machine. All the music on ‘DEUX’ also embraces the punk and DIY raw energy of live music into electronic music; artists LIKE YEARS OF DENIAL, BOY HARSHER, NUOVO TESTAMENTO, NITZER EBB, BOYTRONIC and DINA SUMMER are all good examples of how the music is very personal, verse chorus verse song-based concert music, yet can also be DJ’d in a club at 4am in a dusty thriving warehouse rave.”
Music from the past and present can sit comfortably together in the same place and ‘Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’ proves it.
With thanks to Luca Venezia and Mirren Thomson at Eclectica
It was hoped to be a year of positive electricity but with the oddball burst of negative waves, 2022 was summed up by the title of its best album.
The product of Finnish duo SIN COS TAN, ‘Living In Fear’ captured the anxieties of living with The Bear Next Door in a post-pandemic world. With billionaires taking over social media with the intent of allowing the extreme right wing an increased voice, it was as if the lessons of Trump and Bolsonaro had not been learned.
‘The Wolves Are Returning’ warned xPROPAGANDA on a track from their excellent album ‘The Heart Is Strange’, the message coming from two Germans whose grandparents’ generation “did nothing” and had made the mistake of opening up the door to the Nazis was extremely poignant.
It was as if The Cold War had never ended; the poetry of one who has escaped ethnic genocide and been separated from next of kin as a refugee has substance. So for Alanas Chosnau on his second album with Mark Reeder, this was ‘Life Everywhere’ and provided a deeper statement on life during wartime. Meanwhile China’s STOLEN presented their ‘Eroded Creation’ and explained ‘Why We Follow’.
Battles both worldwide and personal were being reflected in music everywhere with ‘War’ by I SPEAK MACHINE being another example. Things did not get much cheerier with Rodney Cromwell whose long-awaited second long player ‘Memory Box’ provided commentary on a sadly post-truth world, the so-called “alternative facts” as Donald Trump’s extremely dim advisor Kellyanne Conway liked to put it.
As sardonic as ever, DUBSTAR presented their second collection of kitchen sink dramas since they reconfigured as a duo with ‘Two’ and reunited with producer Stephen Hague for their most acclaimed record since their 1995 debut ‘Disgraceful’.
On a more optimistic note, Italians Do It Better brought their cinematic world to London with headline shows by DESIRE and MOTHERMARY who each had new long form releases to air, while shyness was nice for the most promising breakthrough act of the year Gemma Cullingford who got all ‘Tongue Tied’ on her second long player. Meanwhile DAWN TO DAWN, ULTRAFLEX and H/P offered electronically escapist solutions to the year,
40 years after the release of their debut album ‘Happy Families’, BLANCMANGE returned home to London Records for a ‘Private View’ while mainman Neil Arthur was keeping himself busy with FADER too. Having being shelved for 30 years, the second ELECTRIBE 101 album ‘Electribal Soul’ finally saw the light of day. And some 39 years after it was first conceived, the lost Warren Cann and Hans Zimmer opus ‘Spies’ was released in a new 21st Century recording by the HELDEN Project’s lead vocalist Zaine Griff.
Although PET SHOP BOYS celebrated their career with the magnificent ‘Dreamworld’ tour for the best live event of 2022 and joined SOFT CELL in the ‘Purple Zone’, Marc Almond and David Ball presented the disclaimer ‘*Happiness Not Included’ before announcing that they would be performing at a run of outdoor events in 2023 despite having stated their 2018 O2 extravaganza would be their last.
Also having declared a final album in 2014, RÖYKSOPP returned with the triple volumed ‘Profound Mysteries’ that featured Susanne Sundfør and Alison Goldfrapp.
Veterans Howard Jones, William Orbit, Jean-Michel Jarre and Wolfgang Flür as well as long-standing Nordic combos LUSTANS LAKEJER and A-HA released new albums but while the quality across the releases was mixed, fans were loyal and happy. After various trials and tribulations, TEARS FOR FEARS returned with ‘The Tipping Point’ and erased memories of the lacklustre 2004 comeback ‘Everybody Loves A Happy Ending’, but the duo were unable to capitalise when the majority of the UK concert tour of stately homes was cancelled due to an unfortunate accident that befell Curt Smith.
Creating a dehumanised technologically dependent Sci-Fi world, DIE KRUPPS opted for more machine than metal under their EBM pseudonym DIE ROBO SAPIENS. With NASA making its first steps back to the moon with the Artemis project, fittingly Italian producer EUGENE spent ‘Seven Years In Space’ and Ireland’s CIRCUIT3 looked back at space travel’s past on ‘Technology For The Youth’. Back on earth, THE WEEKND was still being accused of stealing from synthwave while coming up with the song of the year in ‘Less Than Zero’. In the meantime, having infuriated audiences by saying “f*ck that ‘synthwave’ stuff as u name it” in 2018, KAVINSKY was ‘Reborn’ with a second album that had much less of the wave and expanded into broader electronically generated templates with the occasional funkier overtones.
Celebrating ‘40 Years Of Hits’ on a sell-out arena tour and issuing a new album ‘Direction Of The Heart’ which featured a guest appearance by Russell Mael of SPARKS on the single ‘Traffic’ with the obligatory ‘Acoustic Mix’, as the excellent book ‘Themes For Great Cities’ by Graeme Thomson highlighted, the best years of SIMPLE MINDS are now well behind them. They are a poor facsimile of the great band they once were and as a special Summer concert in Edinburgh in honour of ‘New Gold Dream’ proved, Jim Kerr and Co can’t even play their best album properly.
Music-related books continued to be popular with Martyn Ware and Karl Bartos respectively writing their memoirs ‘Electronically Yours Vol1’ and ‘The Sound Of The Machine’. In a wider historical context, that crucial 1978-1983 period where electronic pop was more or less invented got documented in the encyclopaedic ‘Listening To The Music The Machines Make’ by Richard Evans.
2022 saw several prominent figures depart for the jukebox in the sky; Vangelis, Manuel Göttsching, Angelo Badalamenti, Julee Cruise, Dave Smith, Herb Deutsch, Terry Hall, Robert Marlow and Andy Fletcher will be sadly missed but ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was particularly devasted by the passing of German electronic legend Klaus Schulze only 4 days after he gave a rare interview to the site.
Meanwhile Dave Gahan and Martin Gore announced yet another tour of underwhelming arena shows plonked into stadiums for an as-yet-unfinished album that at least had a title ‘Momento Mori’. Ticketscalper took advantage with so-called dynamic pricing (or legalised touting) as hapless Devotees were fleeced thousands of dollars in North America… all this just to see a continually ungrateful frontman (who didn’t even sing is own words on a DEPECHE MODE song until 2005) gesture with a microphone in the air on a catwalk rather than actually singing on it and to possibly hear a pre-1985 song performed that will inevitably ruined by The Drumhead and The Noodler!
As Juls Garat of Massachusetts goth band PILGRIMS OF YEARNING observed via social media: “If you’re spending a kidney on DEPECHE MODE tickets and not attending a local show this weekend, I don’t wanna see you complaining that there’s no scene, local venues or new music anymore”. With the lack of curiosity amongst audiences who were content with nostalgia and the like, it was a difficult year for independent acts.
There is no easy answer and as the old saying goes, you can take a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink. But one promoter that did hit on an innovative idea was Duskwaves who came up with afternoon synth gigs. Hosted at various locations in the South East of England with the aim of drumming up daytime weekend business at venues, events started at 2.00pm and ended by 6.00pm to allow for an easy journey home or possibly dinner afterwards. Artists such as YOUNG EMPRESS,INFRA VIOLET,STRIKE EAGLE and AUW joined in the family friendly fun and while the concept was unusual, with classic synth audiences not getting any younger, it has potential.
While the worldwide situation remains uncomfortable and unsettling, for The Cold War generation, it all seemed strangely familiar. As Jori Hulkkonen of SIN COS TAN said in an interview with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK recently: “It feels kind of comfortable to be back in that same state of mind that you grew up in!! It’s like you grew up in not a nice place, but you get 20-30 years out of it and then you get drawn back into The Cold War state of mind. It’s where I come from and there’s nothing good about it, but somehow feels very familiar so you can handle it in a different way”.
The Cold War inspired songs such as ‘Enola Gay’, ‘Fireside Favourite’, ‘All Stood Still’, ‘Let’s All Make A Bomb’, ‘I Melt With You’, ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ and ‘Five Minutes To Midnight’ which encapsulated the nuclear paranoia of the times. So if the current tensions go on any longer, how will artistic expression be affected and driven?
But as Synthesizer Patel actor Sanjeev Kohli wittily remarked of the UK’s 41 day Prime Minister aka Mad Lizzie following her successful leadership bid: “Liz Truss has now been trusted with the nuclear button. I honestly wouldn’t trust her with the bossanova button on a broken Yamaha keyboard”.
In a year which saw the bizarre scenario of a black vicar worshipping Enoch Powell on the repulsive gammon TV channel GB News and the truth about Tory PPE scandals becoming clearer, Richy Sunak, Ugly Patel, Cruella Braverman and Krazi Kwarteng continued to be the ultimate race traitors in their Westminster tribute band A FLOCK OF SIEG HEILS. Failing to look in the mirror, their role as collaborators was all as part of a wider self-serving mission to help keep the whites Reich and line the pockets of their already loaded banker mates instead of paying nurses a fair wage. Nurses are for life and not just for Covid. So what did happen to that £350 million promised for the NHS by that pompous lying posh boy Boris Johnson if Brexit happened? As Tim Burgess of THE CHARLATANS summed it all up rather succinctly on Twitter: “Worth remembering that the real enemy travels by private jet, not by dinghy” ✊😉
After a successful first outing in 2021, The Pitchfork Festival London was back to present a variety of established and newer acts with various curated themes at venues across the capital including The ICA and Roundhouse
On the final day of the almost week long festival, the renowned superclub Fabric hosted a showcase by cult US electronic music label Italians Do It Better featuring DESIRE, GLÜME and CLUB INT’L.
The label was co-founded in 2006 by Johnny Jewel who continues to run the label to this day with partner-in-crime and the face of DESIRE, Megan Louise. Best known for once being the home of CHROMATICS, the profile of Italians Do It better was boosted a number of key soundtrack inclusions, notably the 2011 Ryan Gosling film ‘Drive’ which featured ‘Tick Of The Clock’ by CHROMATICS and ‘Under Your Spell’ by DESIRE.
More recently, Italians Do It Better has expanded its roster and signed a number of acts from all around the globe including JOON, LOVE OBJECT and MOTHERMARY who were present at Fabric to support their colleagues, but also to play at their own showcase at Laylow later in the week.
Opening proceedings were CLUB INT’L, essentially the vehicle of multi-instrumentalist John Eatherly but tonight, he has been accompanied on stage by co-vocalist and self-styled “Movie Character” Logan Avidan.
The photogenic couple looked like they finished a Jean Luc-Godard film and had music to match with a twist. Highlights included the shoegazey single ‘Ride’ and an appealing rendition of ‘The Tide Is High’, the reggae tune originally by THE PARAGONS made famous by BLONDIE.
The fashionable crowd waited in anticipation for GLÜME, the “Walmart Marilyn Monroe” whose 2021 debut album ‘The Internet’ unexpectedly gained worldwide traction and was praised by alternative artists such as Daniel Graves of AESTHETIC PERFECTION.
On stage, she showed her endearing vulnerability performing autobiographical songs such as ‘Child Actor’, ‘Body’ and ‘Nervous Breakdown’ but it was the new material premiered from the upcoming sophomore album like ‘Do Me A Favor’, ‘Main Character’ and ‘Surgery’ that impressed.
Playing on her Norma Jeane Mortenson parachuted into Twin Peaks persona, there was a playful Marilyn cover in ‘After You Get What You Want’ from the 1954 musical ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’.
The Gary Numan meets LADYTRON styled ‘Get Low’ got the audience participating in an crouching disco dance ended a highly enjoyable performance. For a girl who had never been outside of the USA before 2021, the world is now GLÜME’s oyster.
The acclaimed debut album by DESIRE was released in 2009 and creating a follow-up has seemingly been an arduous process. But Megan Louise hasn’t been idle over the intervening years, continuing to release singles, collaborate and getting involved in the day-today operations of Italians Do It Better.
With the second DESIRE album ‘Escape’ finally released in 2022, Megan Louise and Johnny Jewel had more songs to play around with compared to their last London gig at The Roundhouse opening for CHROMATICS in 2019. Live favourites such as ‘Don’t Call’, ‘If I Can’t Hold You’ and the cover of NEW ORDER’s Bizarre Love Triangle’ remained. But in came glorious atmospheric electro-disco numbers like ‘Zeros’ and ‘Liquid Dreams’ with wonderful synth interventions by Jewel on his vintage Univox K-2, the US variant of the MiniKorg 700s. Benefitting from more penetrating rhythmic backdrops, ‘Black Latex’ and ‘Days & Nights’ ensured that there was no excuse to go for a comfort break.
Dressed in black latex, Megan Louise was tastefully brazen while playfully teasing the crowd. At one point, she even made out with a skeleton while accidently dismembering it.
With the support of those present, all the “LAHS” came out in force during a reinterpretation of Kylie’s ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ and a dynamic take on the ‘Escape’ title song before a toughened-up ‘Under Your Spell’ provided a thumping close to the evening.
Almost as soon as the curtain came down, Megan Louise was already in casuals, meeting fans in the foyer and happily posing for selfies. It was just one of those good natured evenings with a welcoming atmosphere and of course, great music. With their brand outlining a distinct stamp of quality, hopefully Italians Do It Better will be back again in London soon to put on more showcases… KID MOXIE & NINA next time please 😉
Special thanks to Frankie Davison at Stereo Sanctity
‘Escape’ is the long awaited follow-up to the acclaimed debut album by DESIRE which was released in 2009. One of its tracks ‘Under Your Spell’ notably featured in the synthwave-tinged soundtrack of 2011’s ‘Drive’ starring Ryan Gosling.
Originally from Montreal, vivacious latex-clad front woman Megan Louise hasn’t been idle, continually releasing singles, collaborating and becoming president of Italians Do It Better. Produced by IDIB head honcho and beau Johnny Jewel, ‘Escape’ was mixed by Vaughn Oliver. Inspired by Italian Giallo horror films, the record was constructed in Los Angeles and Palm Springs.
‘Escape’ is multilingual singing in English, French, and Korean while Megan Louise plays the role of vixen and villain, opening proceedings with ‘Black Latex’, a spoken word art piece in French and English inspired by Andy Warhol. With pizzicato interventions and glorious synth salvos, ‘Telling Me Lies’ does that alluring moonlit driving thing over a tom-laden drum machine backbone where “you can run but you can’t hide”.
“All out of trying, all out of tears” while swathed in layers of electronic sounds and a wash of emotions, ‘Liquid Dreams’ echoes one-time label mates CHROMATICS and is boosted by a great frequency tuning solo. But featuring current label mates MIRAGE, ‘Love Is A Crime’ begins with an enigmatic and semi-spoken verse which is countered by a vocodered chorus. There are dense filtered tapestries where the processed voice declares “there’s no-one left to hold you” before the nostalgic tones of dial-up internet ring.
The wonderful ‘Zeros’ which was first released in early 2021 remains gorgeously dreamy and seductive with its sunset noir cinematics burying the past and “adding up to zero every single day”. Short, sweet and sans batterie, more spoken word is presented on the sparsely vibe laden ‘Dark Age’.
With elegant airy movements in Korean from ETHER’s Soo Joo Park, the forlorn ‘Haenim’ is an electronically styled cover of the 1968 Kim Jung Mi folk song with its narrative about woman who carries a traumas from the past confirming that “some scars never heal”; the haunting synth noir reinterpretation could be considered akin to when MIRRORS covered ‘Something On Your Mind’ which was recorded by Karen Dalton.
“Fading slow” with a delightful burst of synthesized pop bliss, ‘Ghosts’ is not for when the room is quiet, especially during the blistering keyboard solos. Given a remix, the brilliantly naive escapist electronic disco of ‘Escape’ which imagined BANANARAMA fronting NEW ORDER doesn’t quite hit the spot in this new version which is a shame in its position as the title track; the original slice of pop perfection should have been the preferred inclusion
Based around Fender Rhodes, ‘The Young & The Restless’ sounds like a song from a lost French arthouse movie while 11. the absorbing nocturnal electro-disco ‘Days & Nights’ is a gorgeously enticing highlight that glistens as “stars are shining”. Preceded by the interlude ‘L’Amulette De Vie’, the GOLDFRAPP-like ‘Friends & Enemies’ utilises Mellotron flute tones to provide another sparse resigned ballad, concluding with a haunting chorus of children and a foreboding toll.
Featuring seven previously released singles and six new tracks, that’s slightly more than TEARS FOR FEARS ‘The Hurting’ which only featured four new tracks when it came out back in 1983. ‘Escape’ does as its title suggests, a synth-laden soap opera with an idealistic narrative to overcome the challenges that life brings. It has been a long wait but the second DESIRE album is finally here with moments to savour.
‘Escape’ uses the following instruments: MiniKorg 700s, Roland Jupiter 8, Roland TR909, Mellotron, Simmons Rhythm Modules, ARP Solina String Machine, Roland D-50, Fender Rhodes
Founded in 2006 by Johnny Jewel and Mike Simonetti, Italians Do It Better is an independent record label based in West Hollywood making music and art with a strong visual identity, emphasising the cinematic thread running through its ethos.
GLASS CANDY, the duo featuring Johnny Jewel and Ida No had released their first album ‘Love Love Love’ through Simonetti’s Troubleman Unlimited in 2002, but the pair saw potential for a platform that offered more electronically tinged night music, free of interference and scheduling.
Italians Do It Better built itself initially around Johnny Jewel’s musical projects GLASS CANDY, CHROMATICS and then DESIRE whose 2009 self-titled album was to become an acclaimed favourite; the combo’s front woman Megan Louise would later become Jewel’s partner and the label’s president.
Before then CHROMATICS’ singer Ruth Radelet was romantically involved with Jewel and their evolving dynamic from the debut album ‘Night Drive’ right up to the long delayed ‘Dear Tommy’ has kept followers of both the band and label waiting… but one relationship that was unable to be maintained was with Mike Simonetti who parted ways with the label in 2014.
The profile of Italians Do It better has been boosted a number of key soundtrack inclusions; the tracks ‘Tick Of The Clock’ by CHROMATICS and ‘Under Your Spell’ by DESIRE were both used in the 2011 Ryan Gosling film ‘Drive’, while the actor’s 2014 directorial debut ‘Lost River’ featured a score composed by Johnny Jewel.
But for ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ in 2017, David Lynch handpicked CHROMATICS to perform their ethereal 2014 single ‘Shadow’ at the Roadhouse for a scene in Episode 2. Meanwhile material from Johnny Jewel’s ‘Windswept’ was included alongside new music from the original series composer Angelo Badalamenti, its sound of “time wasted” fitting in perfectly with the surrealist drama.
Over the past few years, Italians Do It Better has expanded beyond its core roster and signed a number of new acts from all around the globe. Acting like a creative director, Johnny Jewel carefully considers the label’s aesthetic, writing and producing for many of the artists, ensuring a considered continuity of ambience throughout its output.
As part of their diversification, Italians Do It Better have also released demo recordings of now well-known tracks by Fred Ventura and Julee Cruise.
The surprise signing of Swedish cult favourite Sally Shapiro following a 2016 retirement signalled wider ambitions but this news this was countered by CHROMATICS announcing they were disbanding.
The past 18 months has seen Italians Do It Better enter one of its most prolific periods yet, while maintaining its high quality. Known for their ‘After Dark’ series of compilations, the label recently paid a 63rd birthday tribute to Madonna (who inspired the label’s name via a T-shirt slogan “Italians Do It Better” in the ‘Papa Do Preach’ video) with a collection of in-house covers.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK presents by way of a Beginner’s Guide, a selection from the Italian Do It Better catalogue, placed in yearly, then alphabetical order subject to a restriction of one track per artist moniker.
GLASS CANDY Etheric Device (2007)
Formed in Portland by Ida No and Johnny Jewel, the second GLASS CANDY album ‘B/E/A/T/B/O/X’ was among the first long players released on Italians Do It Better. Its compendium of dysfunctional electro-disco featured highlights such as ‘Beatific’. But the sharp mantric cascade of ‘Etheric Device’ saw Ida No channel a startled cross of Debbie Harry, Lene Lovich and Cyndi Lauper over bursts of rumbling synthbass. A third album ‘Body Work’ was announced in 2012 but remains unreleased.
Johnny Jewel was originally commissioned with CHROMATICS drummer and synthesist Nat Walker to provide an electronic soundtrack for ‘Drive’. But his work was not used and replaced by Cliff Martinez. So Jewel reworked the music and other abstract archive material as ‘Themes For An Imaginary Film’. Using the moniker SYMMETRY, the instrumental ‘Thicker Than Blood’ was one of the standouts Meanwhile, one track turned into a song was ‘Streets Of Fire’ which featured the vocals of Ruth Radlett.
While their fourth album ‘Kill For Love’ showcased CHROMATICS cross of NEW ORDER styled indie guitar pop and synthesized grandeur, ‘Looking For Love’ was a dark slice of John Carpenter-inspired electronic disco lento at 103 BPM, with Ruth Radlett offering more of a tone of resignation rather than her trademark her wispiness. Originally, it was one of three new songs by CHROMATICS on the ‘After Dark 2’ collection featuring a selection of the Italians Do It Better roster.
JOHNNY JEWEL featuring SAOIRSE RONAN Tell Me (2014)
Undeterred by his frustrating experience working on ‘Drive’, Johnny Jewel agreed to provide the score for ‘Lost River’, the directorial debut of Ryan Gosling. A sparse ballad of innocence, ‘Tell Me’ was its undoubted highlight and sung in the film by Saoirse Ronan as her character Rat. The actress had never sung before and her contribution was recorded in two takes with a single microphone and no headphones. This nervous tension presented a wonderful ‘Twin Peaks’ vibe and a chilling if emotive ambience.
The contralto folktronica of Tess Roby was something of a departure for the Italians Do It Better stable. Born to musician parents, Roby dedicated the ‘Beacon’ album to her father and built her songs around the understated tones of a Roland Juno 106, allowing room for her vocals to take centre stage. ‘Catalyst’ was the album’s key reflective ode and provided an expansive earthy quality in its minimalism. She is also a photographer and a member of the danceable dreampop trio DAWN TO DAWN.
Originally a duo comprising Thomas Maan and Clara Apolit, brooding Parisians DOUBLE MIXTE projected themselves as a modern day Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin but with a lively techno backbone that was especially evident on their debut Italians Do It Better single ‘Romance Noire’. The Gauloises flavoured film noir synergy came over in a combination of feminine Gallic prose over fat bursts of synths for a dark disco soundtrack that had decadent cool written all over it.
The mysterious HEAVEN first came to wider attention with the ‘Lonesome Town’ EP featuring the hauntingly breathy ‘It’s Not Enough’ and a funereal paced cover of the Ricky Nelson title ballad that captured the fragility of the broken heart. Fronted by the enigmatic allure of singer and keyboardist Aja, the brilliant ‘Truth Or Dare’ sounded like CHROMATICS but with more synths and drum machine. Perhaps unsurprisingly, closer scrutiny revealed that HEAVEN was another project helmed by the ubiquitous Johnny Jewel.
Inspired by Cyberpunk and Giallo cinema, ORION are the enigmatic Rhode Island duo of Orion Dommisse and John-Paul Sullivan. Their second single ‘I Want You So Bad’ was a wonderful Italo-inspired slice of “Cybernetic Noir” produced by Johnny Jewel where the breathy inter-galactic desire was so hot that “I flew from space to love you”. The follow-up single ‘Higher’ was another noteworthy Eurocentric offering with an airy and alluring feminine disposition.
Also produced by Johnny Jewel, West Coast synthwave duo CAUSEWAY are Allison Rae and Marshall Watson. With a deep vocal resignation augmented by the tick of the clock and a foggy electronic disposition, ‘We Were Never Lost’ premiered on the ‘After Dark 3’ compilation. The duo kept up the standard with its more dreampop-laden follow-up ‘Hide & Seek’ while their most recent singular offering was a cover of NEW ORDER’s ‘Your Silent Face’.
The brazen and provocative sass of DESIRE fronted by Megan Louise presents the more playful side of Italians Do It Better compared with the ice maiden persona of Ruth Radlett. This was more than demonstrated on a saucy if faithful cover of NEW ORDER’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’. But crossing the Italo-influenced electronic pop of Manchester’s finest with BANANARAMA, the charming follow-up single ‘Escape’ did as its title suggested, offering delightful escapism for the dancefloor.
If PET SHOP BOYS had remixed THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN, then it might have sounded a bit like BARK BARK DISCO. Maltese producer Ian Schranz is the man behind the glitterball canine moniker and ‘Get Up & Run’ was an optimistic rallying call to overcome lockdown fatigue where “You’ve gotta get back to the other side”. As well as recording his own material, BARK BARK DISCO is also an occasional collaborator of label mate and neighbour JOON.
If there is an artist that encapsulates the nocturnal cinematic aesthetic of Italians Do It Better, then it is Australian multi-instrumentalist Jorja Chalmers. Her debut album ‘Human Again’ captured a lonely hotel room comedown but the second long player ‘Midnight Train’ presented more refinement, structure and vocals. Driven by a drum mantra in the vein of Bill Ward from BLACK SABBATH with expressive sax straight out of ‘Neuköln’, she captured a decadent European chill on the wonderfully windswept ‘I’ll Be Waiting’.
Inspired by the spectre of the former Soviet Union, Minsk trio DLINA VOLNY explore post-punk with a dance beat not unlike NEW ORDER. Having already had two albums already under their belt and singing in English with an inherent Eastern Bloc gloom in Masha Zinevitch’s vocals throughout their Italians Do It Better period, their fifth single for the label ‘Bipolar’ was dark disco with plenty of synth and mystery that asked “But what is it like being on the border?”.
If Lana Del Rey is the “Gangster Nancy Sinatra”, then Los Angeles-born GLÜME is the self-styled “Walmart Marilyn Monroe”. ‘Get Low’ was an intriguing slice of accessible avant pop about the high of falling for someone and how brain chemistry and nervous systems are affected. Applying some rumbling electronic bass, stabbing vintage synths and simple but prominent digital drum beats, ‘Get Close’ sounded not unlike an experimental hybrid of OMD and LADYTRON!
JOON is the artist formally known as YEWS and the musical vehicle of Maltese producer Yasmin Kuymizakis. With many voices in her head, the blippy avant pop ‘ET’ comes over like an oddball variant on Berlin-based Nordic duo ULTRAFLEX; with wonderfully eerie Theremin tones that make the concoction creepy yet fun, this inviting lo-fi number was used in a digital fashion show for the Nintendo simulation game ‘Animal Crossing’, adding to its aural surrealism.
Angelica Ranåsen and Jacob Fagerstål are Berlin-based Swedish duo JUNO FRANCIS who had released several synthpop singles on Finland’s Solina Records. But on teaming up with Venezuelan producer Alejandro Molinari, they became much more danceable and ‘Symmetry’ offered a sensual electro-funkiness that fitted in with the international disco aspirations of Italian Do It Better. Glamorous, hypnotic and decadent, the video was filmed in the notorious KitKatClub located in the Mitte suburb of the former Mauerstadt.
Available on the JUNO FRANCIS & ALEJANDRO MOLINARI single ‘Symmetry’
Inspired by the Prayer of the Blessed Virgin, the strikingly photogenic twins Elyse and Larena are like real-life ‘Twin Peaks’ characters, the backstory being that they escaped their strict Mormon family in remote Montana and uprooted to Brooklyn. Sounding a bit like Anglo-German art pop duo KALEIDA but with an acid house squelch, ‘Pray’ was their most provocative offering to date with gritty references to a “sacrificial offering” and confirmation that “We’ll pray for you…”
Another diversion for Italians Do It Better, RAMXES is a producer based in Texas with a background in hip-hop and rap who favours using Sequential Prophet Rev2 and Prophet 12 synths. The self-proclaimed “Dystopic Cowboy” combines house and glitch from within a video game mindset, a combination that is in its fullest flow with the sinister but infectious ‘Bibliotech Virus’. The parent album ‘Deep Crimson’ contained another 11 pieces of relentless electronic drive.