As the world steadily emerged from a painful pandemic that put many lives on hold, nostalgia appeared to be the commodity most in demand as the music industry took steps to recover.
No matter which era, anything musically from the past was more desirable that anything that reminded the public of the past 20 or so months. The first escape destination in the summer for many restricted to staying on their own shores were the established retro festivals.
Meanwhile television provided an array of documentaries ranging from chart rundowns of past decades and informative classic song analysis on Channel 5 to Dylan Jones’ look at ‘Music’s Greatest Decade’ on BBC2 and Sky Arts’ ‘Blitzed’ with all the usual suspects such as Boy George, Philip Sallon, Marilyn, Gary Kemp and Rusty Egan.
SPARKS had their own comprehensive if slightly overlong film ‘The SPARKS Brothers’ directed by Edgar Wright, but the Maels’ musical ‘Annette’ starring Adam Driver was a step too far. Meanwhile the acclaimed ‘Sisters With Transistors’ presented the largely untold story of electronic music’s female pioneers.
Meanwhile for 2022, Midge Ure announced an extensive ‘Voices & Visions’ tour to present material from the 1981-82 phase of ULTRAVOX.
Also next year and all being well, GOLDFRAPP will finally get their belated 20th Anniversary tour for their marvellous debut ‘Felt Mountain’ underway while there are rescheduled ‘Greatest Hits’ live presentations for PET SHOP BOYS and SIMPLE MINDS.
Always money for old rope, but also giving audiences who missed them at their pioneering height an opportunity to catch up, ‘best of’ collections were issued by YELLO and TELEX while JAPAN had their 1979 breakthrough album ‘Quiet Life’ given the lavish boxed set treatment. Meanwhile, while many labels were still doing their best to kill off CD, there was the puzzling wide scale return of the compact cassette, a poor quality carrier even at the zenith of its popularity.
“Reissue! Repackage! Repackage! Re-evaluate the songs! Double-pack with a photograph, extra track and a tacky badge!” a disgraced Northern English philosopher once bemoaned.
The boosted market for deluxe boxed sets and the repackaging of classic albums in coloured vinyl meant that the major corporations such as Universal, Sony and Warners hogged the pressing plants, leaving independent artists with lead times of nearly a year for delivery if they were lucky.
But there was new music in 2021. Having achieved the milestone of four decades as a recording act, DURAN DURAN worked with Giorgio Moroder on the appropriately titled ‘Future Past’ while not far behind, BLANCMANGE took a ‘Commercial Break’ and FIAT LUX explored ‘Twisted Culture’. David Cicero made his belated return to music with a mature second album that was about ‘Today’ as Steven Jones & Logan Sky focussed on the monochromatic mood of ‘European Lovers’. Continuing the European theme but towards the former Eastern Bloc, Mark Reeder gave a reminder that he was once declared ‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ and fellow Mancunians UNE became inspired by the ‘Spomenik’ monoliths commissioned by Marshal Tito in the former Yugoslavia.
For those who preferred to immerse themselves in the darker present, Gary Numan presented ‘Intruder’, a poignant concept album produced by Ade Fenton about Mother Earth creating a virus to teach mankind a lesson! Meanwhile ITALOCONNECTION, the project of Italo veterans Fred Ventura and Paolo Gozzetti teamed up with French superstar Etienne Daho to tell the story of ‘Virus X’! The video of the year came from UNIFY SEPARATE whose motivation message to ‘Embrace The Fear’ despite the uncertainty reflected the thoughts of many.
Despite the general appetite for nostalgia, there was some excellent new music released from less established artists with the album of the year coming from Jorja Chalmers and her ‘Midnight Train’ released on Italians Do It Better. The critical acclaim for the UK based Aussie’s second long playing solo offering made up for the disbandment of the label’s biggest act CHROMATICS, as it went into its most prolific release schedule in its history with albums by GLÜME, JOON, DLINA VOLNY and LOVE OBJECT as well as its own self-titled compilation of in-house Madonna covers.
Attracting a lot of attention in 2021 were NATION OF LANGUAGE, who with their catchy blend of angst, melody and motorik beats welcomed synths as family in their evolving sound while also providing the song of the year in ‘This Fractured Mind’, reflecting the anxieties of these strange times. At the other end of the spectrum, DIAMOND FIELD went full pop with an optimistic multi-vocalist collection that captured the spirit of early MTV while BUNNY X looked back on their high school days with ‘Young & In Love’.
Featuring second generation members of NEW ORDER and SECTION 25, SEA FEVER released their eclectic debut ‘Folding Lines’ as fellow Mancunian LONELADY added sequencers and drum machines to her post-punk funk template. But Glasgow’s CHVRCHES disappointed with their fourth long player ‘Screen Violence’ by opting to sound like every other tired hipster band infesting the land.
The most promising artist to breakthrough in 2021 was Hattie Cooke whose application of traditional songwriting nous to self-production and arrangement techniques using comparatively basic tools such as GarageBand found a wider audience via her third album ‘Bliss Land’. In all, it was a strong year for female synth-friendly artists with impressive albums from Karin My, Laura Dre, Alina Valentina, Robin Hatch and Catherine Moan while comparative veterans like Fifi Rong, Alice Hubble, Brigitte Handley and Alison Lewis as ZANIAS maintained their cult popularity.
With ‘The Never Ending’ being billed as the final FM ATTACK album and PERTURBATOR incorrectly paraphrased by Metal Hammer in a controversial “synthwave is dead” declaration, the community got itself in a pickle by simultaneously attacking THE WEEKND for “stealing from synthwave”, yet wanting to ride on the coat tails of Abel Tesfaye, misguidedly sensing an opportunity to snare new fans for their own music projects.
With THE WEEKND’s most recent single ‘Take My Breath’, there was the outcry over the use of a four note arpeggio allegedly sampled from MAKEUP & VANITY SET’s ‘The Last City’. But as one online observer put it, “Wow, an arpeggiated minor chord. Hate to break it to you but you might want to check out what Giorgio Moroder was doing 50 years ago. We’re ALL just rippin’ him off if that’s how you think creativity works”. Another added “If a four note minor key arpeggiated chord can go to court on the basis of copyright law, we are in for a hell of a few years my synthy friends”. It outlined once again that there are some who are still under the impression that music using synths was invented by Ryan Gosling in 2011 for ‘Drive’ soundtrack ??
There were also belated complaints that 2019’s A-HA inspired ‘Blinding Lights’ had a simple melody and needed five writers to realise it… but then, so did UTRAVOX’s ‘Slow Motion’ and DURAN DURAN’s ‘Rio’! Collaboration, whether in bands, with producers or even outsiders has always been a key aspect of the compositional process. If it is THAT simple, do it yourself! As Andy McCluskey of OMD said on ‘Synth Britannia’ in 2009 about the pioneering era when Ryan Gosling was still in nappies: “The number of people who thought that the equipment wrote the song for you: ‘well anybody can do it with the equipment you’ve got!’ “F*** OFF!!”
Over the last two years, THE WEEKND has become the biggest mainstream pop act on the planet, thanks to spectacles such as the impressive gothic theatre of the Super Bowl LV half time showcase while in a special performance on the BRITS, there was a charming presentation of the ERASURE-ish ‘Save Your Tears’ where he played air synth in a moment relatable to many. But everything is ultimately down to catchy songs, regardless of synth usage.
So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK would like to present a hypothetical case to consider… if someone uses the arpeggio function with a sparkling patch from a Juno 6 synth in a recording, does Cyndi Lauper sue for infringing the copyright of ‘All Through The Night’ or the original songwriter Jules Shear or even the Roland Corporation themselves as they created it? More than one producer has suggested that THE WEEKND’s soundbite came from a hardware preset or more than likely, a software sample pack, of which there are now many.
However, sample culture had hit another new low when Tracklib marketed a package as “A real game-changer for sample based music. Now everyone can afford to clear samples” with rapper and producer Erick Sermon declaring “Yo, this is incredible. They’re trying to put creativity back into music again. By having samples you can actually pay for and afford”.
Err creativity? How about writing your own songs and playing or even programming YOUR OWN instrumentation??!?
One sampling enthusiast even declared “I might go as far as to say you don’t really like dance music if you’ve got a problem with adding a beat to a huge (even instantly recognizable) sample”… well guess what? ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK LOATHES IT!!! ?
In 2021, music promotion became a bit strange with publicists at all levels keen more than ever to have their clients’ press releases just cut ‘n’ pasted onto online platforms, but very reluctant to allow albums to be reviewed in advance in the event of a potential negative prognosis.
While cut ‘n’ paste journalism has been a disease that has always afflicted online media, in a sad sign of the times, one long established international website moved to a “pay to get your press release featured” business model.
The emergence of reaction vloggers was another bizarre development while the “Mention your favourite artist and see if they respond to you” posts on social media only added more wood to the dumbing down bonfire already existing within audience engagement.
It was as if the wider public was no longer interested in more in-depth analysis while many artists turned their publicity into a reliance on others doing “big ups” via Twitter and Facebook. But then, if artists are being successfully crowdfunded with subscriptions via Patreon, Kickstarter, Bandcamp and the like, do they need a media intermediary any longer as they are dealing direct with their fanbases?
However, it wasn’t all bad in the media with ‘Electronically Yours With Martyn Ware’ providing insightful artist interviews and the largely entertaining ‘Beyond Synth’ podcast celebrating its 300th show. Due to their own music commitments, Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness were less prolific with their discussion show ‘The Album Years’ but it was still refreshing for commentators to be able to say that a record was sh*t when it actually was, rather than conform to the modern day adage that all music is good but not always to the listener’s taste! And while various programmes came and went, other such as ‘Operating//Generating’, ‘KZL Live’ and ‘Absynth’ came to prominence.
Post-pandemic, interesting if uncertain times are ahead within the music industry. But as live performance returns, while the mainstream is likely to hit the crowd walking, will there be enough cost effective venues to host independent artists? Things have been tough but for some, but things might be about to get even tougher.
However, music was what got many through the last 18 months and as times are still uncertain, music in its live variant will help to get everyone through the next year and a half and beyond.
Despite the general appetite for nostalgia with boxed sets and coloured vinyl of classic albums hogging the pressing plants, there was a lot of excellent new music released in 2021.
The quality of individual tracks released in 2021 was extremely high but at the end of the day, only 30 songs can be selected as a snapshot of the calendar year. As Monica Geller in ‘Friends’ once said, “Rules are good, rules help control the fun” – rules, routine and structure = creativity and fun ?
So the highly commended group who did not quite make ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 30 songs of 2021 includes Tobias Bernstrup, David Cicero, Alice Hubble, Michael Oakley, Jason Priest, Nina, Eric Random and Kat Von D’s duet with Peter Murphy, along with SIN COS TAN, FIAT LUX, LONELADY, GLITBITER, KNIGHT$, PEAKES, DESIRE, SOFTWAVE, XENO & OAKLANDER, BUNNY X, PISTON DAMP, FRAGRANCE. and HANTE.
So here are ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 30 songs of 2021, presented as usual alphabetically by act with a restriction of one song per artist moniker.
ACTORS Love U More
Thanks to the recruitment of new bassist Kendall Wooding, the male-to-female ratio of ACTORS has equalled up and altered their dynamic. The vocal duality between guitarist Jason Corbett and keyboardist Shannon Hemmett aka LEATHERS takes an increased role in the band’s developing sound. With the brooding baritone counterpointed by girly soprano and male falsetto to provide an uneasy uplift to the gloomy domino dance, ‘Love U More’ was a statement of intent like a goth DURAN DURAN with metronomic rhythms and eerie synths.
Midge Ure finally launched his BAND ELECTRONICA project as a recording entity with ‘Das Beat’, a glorious slice of Teutonic robopop in collaboration with Wolfgang Flür. With “Beats through wires, beats through walls”, the icy motorik bossa nova was complimented by a blisteringly catchy synth hook in the classic Kling Klang tradition and harked back the Glaswegian’s days hearing KRAFTWERK at The Blitz Club and making music with VISAGE and ULTRAVOX. Dancing is a given to the synthesizer rhythm.
Available on the single ‘Das Beat’ via BMG Rights Management
Although a seasoned musician as the sax and keyboard player for Bryan Ferry over the past 10 years, Australian multi-instrumentalist Jorja Chalmers did not release her first album until 2019. The superb take on SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES ‘Rhapsody’, an orchestrated gothic epic off their ninth album ‘Peepshow’, featured an intriguing electronic warble within its stripped down arrangement. From its claustrophobic cocoon, Chalmers sounded trapped inside an unsettling icy soundscape of synthetic strings and choirs.
CLASS ACTRESS is the nom de théâtre of one-time Giorgio Moroder protégée Elizabeth Harper. Releasing a new EP ‘Sense Memory’ which initially featured three cover including THE SMITHS’ ‘Ask’ but steadily expanded with new material, the percussive ‘Saint Patrick’ featured an array of infectious synth hooks while Harper’s richly passionate vocal over some strident keyboard work combined like Nerina Pallot fronting BOY HARSHER for a brilliant slice of modern electronic pop.
Perhaps more intentionally pop than Hattie Cooke has ever been before on her previous two long playing outings, an intimate gravitas comes with the expanded electronic texturing on her third album ‘Bliss Land’ and this is undoubtedly stamped on its opening song. The hypnotic ‘I Get By’ was superb with ringing hooks, sweeping soundscapes and airy understated vocals that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an Italians Do It Better ‘After Dark’ compilation.
‘The Absurdity of Human Existence’ is the debut album by DANZ CM, the artist formally known as COMPUTER MAGIC. New York based Danz Johnson is the synth girl behind both vehicles with a passion for the development of the electronic music. Reflecting the album’s title, the total melancholic brilliance of ‘Human Existence’ sees our heroine make a sombre declaration that “you can’t save me, I can’t save you” in a manner reminiscent of CHROMATICS meeting OMD.
Danceable dreampop trio DAWN TO DAWN feature in its line-up Tess Roby who released her debut album ‘Beacon’ on Italians Do It Better. Also featuring Adam Ohr and Patrick Lee with their Minimoog, Roland System 100, Roland Juno 60 and Korg 700s armoury, ’Care’ was written on a cold winter’s night and unsurprisingly captures that mood. Nocturnal yet rhythmic, Roby’s alluring folk-tinged vocal offsets the various synthetic overtures for a mysterious weightless quality.
Leeds based duo DEVOIR comprise of Imogen Holmes who released the impressive ‘Lines’ EP as IMI and Jacob Marston. A product of lockdown, although ‘Mercer’ is entirely electronic, it differs slightly from IMI in its four-to-the-floor construction. So imagine GOLDFRAPP at an Alpine rave in the Hornlihutte basecamp next to The Matterhorn. As the cinematic techno builds, the magnificent voice that graced IMI soars and shines, expressing itself at the extremes of alluring spoken word and piercing high soprano.
DIAMOND FIELD is the musical vehicle of Andy Diamond, the New York based Kiwi who, looks to studio icons such as Hugh Padgham, Rupert Hine and Peter Wolf as his heroes. With a backing track like NEW ORDER’s ‘Your Silent Face’ reworked by OMD, ‘A Kiss Apart’ is superb and sees a velvet performance by Belinda Bradley of New Zealand collective SELON RECLINER; akin to the other Belinda, Ms Carlisle crossed with Marcella Detroit there is a gorgeous chorus and some great synth interventions recalling lost Mute trio PEACH.
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?”.
Available on the album ‘Dazed’ via Italians Do It Better
With her mix of modern synthpop and synthwave coupled to her deep nonchalant vocals, Laura Dre captures the rainy dystopian air of ‘Blade Runner’, but with a sexy enigmatic allure and a mischievously wired groove that wouldn’t go amiss in a West Berlin nightclub. The glorious uptempo disco number ‘All Day, All Night’ offers great crossover potential; drenched in sparkle and a delicious percussive base. It’s a number for fans of early PET SHOP BOYS, complete with a classic Tennant / Lowe styled instrumental middle eight.
Celebrating 40 years as recording artists, DURAN DURAN released their 15th studio album ‘Future Past’ in a “live for the moment” reference of how something today can become a cherished memory in times to come. The chiptune inspired ‘More Joy!’ was reminiscent of past glories, its syncopated disco poise capturing DURAN DURAN at what they do best and with hypnotic electronics offset by a wonderful bass guitar run and chants by Japanese rock band CHAI, its exuberant manner presented the right dose of escapism.
Like a tattooed Marilyn Monroe dropped into Twin Peaks, GLÜME is a shimmering new starlet in the Italians Do It Better stable. From her debut album ‘The Internet’, ‘Get Low’ was an intriguing slice of accessible avant pop about the high of falling for someone where brain chemistry and nervous systems are affected. Applying some rumbling electronic bass, stabbing vintage synths and simple but prominent digital drum beats, ‘Get Low’ sounded not unlike an experimental hybrid of OMD and LADYTRON!
Made using the T.O.N.T.O. synth complex created Malcom Cecil and Robert Margouleff which was made famous by Stevie Wonder, the same titled album is the fifth solo body of work by the Toronto-based neoclassical composer and multi-instrumentalist Robin Hatch. The sinister ‘Airplane’ took shape around an avant garde soundscape. Utilising the talents of doom metal violinist Laura Bates of VOLUR alongside the synthetic strings and hypnotic generative blips, this encapsulated an unsettling gothic grandeur.
For Italian musician veterans Fred Ventura and Paolo Gozzetti, the ethos of ITALOCONNECTION is “to sound vintage in a modern way”. The superb ‘Virus X’ featuring French veteran Etienne Daho sprung a surprise as a suave slice of Gallic synthwave. With its downbeat verse and an emotive chorus, this was as a fitting musical document of the past year and half’s tensions while using toxic personal relationships as a poignant lyrical analogy.
Hailing from Turkey, JAKUZI’s Italo flavoured song ‘Hiç Işık Yok’ saw the usual cowbells substituted by processed pots and pans, while the mix of classic brassy tones and chilling synth pads blended to create something rather unusual and extraordinary. Working with Maurizio Baggio who mixed the most recent albums by BOY HARSHER and THE SOFT MOON, the Italian producer turned what had been a gothic futureless mood piece with a sombre vocal intonation into a dark but catchy electronic disco number.
2021 was a year craving for more ‘Good Times’ and JOON, the electronic solo project from Maltese producer Yasmin Kuymizakis did her best to remember them. Another recent signing to Italians Do It Better, she reflected on “The way you sing your songs and make me dance, the way you take a chance on a little romance” before affirming “You remind me of the good times”. It all captured a charming innocence in a dreamy Mediterranean take on Japanese City Pop.
КЛЕТ is a music project of Bohemian-born composer and producer Michal Trávníček. Primarily celebrating the Soviet space programme with its impressive series of firsts, while the ‘Alconaut’ album’s pivotal track was its opener ‘Gagarin’s Start’ which honoured the handsome hero who was the first man in space as he prepared for lift-off, the spacey Sovietwave mood over 13 tracks made for an enticing listen. The sparkling sparseness of ‘Eternity’ with its stuttering vintage drum machine provided another highlight.
LEATHERS is the more synth focussed solo project from ACTORS keyboardist Shannon Hemmett. The undoubted highlight of her debut ‘Reckless’ EP was the title song. Resigned and accepting, she was still alluring in her voicing despite the heartbreak of her love being so cruel and dangerous. A rather lovely slice of synthpop in that classic melancholic vein with an infectious steadfast motorik beat, it again showed that Canada again was leading the way in the modern version of the form.
Available on the EP ‘Reckless’ via Artoffact Records
Having treated the world with her charming cover of the Alan Wilder penned DEPECHE MODE B-side ‘Fools’, Philadelphian songstress CATHERINE MOAN launched her debut album with the self-composed ‘Drop It!’, song craving the joy of nightlife after a year of lockdown confinement. Dreamily floating over a classic four chord progression with an eerily sombre apocalyptic understatement, ‘Drop It!’ channelled her innocent sound in the manner of ELECTRIC YOUTH meeting STRAWBERRY SWITCHBLADE and MARSHEAUX via her own bedroom aesthetic.
While Karin My has been working with TWICE A MAN and MACHINISTA over the last ten years, it was only in 2019 that she stepped out to front her own traditionally derived electronic songs. A steadfast drum machine propels ‘Loop’ while sweeping symphonic melodies in the vein of ULTRAVOX accompany the despairing resignation. The closing computer generated female speech declaring “identification – procedure – quote – hyphen – perform – display – go to – loop – full stop – execute” added to the dystopian unsettlement.
Using a rigid motorik backbone and capturing a danceable ethereal shudder, ‘This Fractured Mind’ breathed new life via its sprightly synth tones in a reference to the past. Although there was also some frenetic bass guitar grit to provide a hint of claustrophobia, the machines that had only been friends previously became family in the NATION OF LANGUAGE sound. Dealing with the spectre of unrealised dreams and jealousy towards more successful others, by the end of ‘This Fractured Mind’, any inferiority complex is countered with hopeful acceptance.
The project of Andreas Kubat and Sebastian Bohn, the 2001 NORTHERN LITE single ‘Treat Me Better’ was a cult favourite on the electroclash scene. Translating as “I don‘t think so…”, Kubat reflected on enforced isolation and staying sane. In a chorus that could be roughly interpreted: “You can‘t be happy and by liked by everyone at the same time”, ‘Ich Fürchte Nein’ was a delightfully catchy synthpop tune with a bright and jolly melodic section contrasted by a vocal of a more anxious disposition.
While ‘Savage’ depicted a deserted post-apocalyptic world, clad in darkness, The Ade Fenton produced ‘Intruder’ saw Planet Earth react to human kind’s self-destructive misdemeanours by unleashing a virus! “It feels betrayed, hurt and ravaged. Disillusioned and heartbroken it is now fighting back” said Gary Numan poignantly. ‘The Chosen’ was fast paced synth rock and filled with pleading messages embroiled in frustration and despair, asking “Do you need one more sign?” and “Can you see, or are you so blind?”
Mark Reeder first met Fifi Rong who at the Berlin Kraftwerk in 2016 when she was singing in concert with Swiss trailblazers YELLO. From his album ‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ , the opening track ‘Figure of 8’ was a magical new collaboration between the two with a cinematic backdrop of sparse piano and glistening sequences over which the exquisite Chinese songstress added her distinctive air of mystery to a more metronomic rhythm construction than perhaps heard on her own work.
New York City-based darklings R. MISSING are fronted by Sharon Shy, a vocalist with an elegant Jane Birkin-like presence while the studious Toppy Frost does the music. 2020’s ‘Placeholder For The Night’ signalled airier developments in their increasingly synthy sound, but the wonderful ‘Crimeless’ was R. MISSING’s most electronic pop noir statement yet. It was like CHROMATICS carefully reconfigured for the dancefloor with Sharon Shy presenting a whispery singing style that could easily be mistaken for Ruth Radelet.
Available on the single ‘Crimeless’ via Sugarcane Recordings
Subtitled ‘Hommage à Florian’, ‘Danse Du Robot’ was a magical tribute to the late KRAFTWERK co-founder with hints of ‘Trans Europe Express’ from Swedish producer Martin Lillberg, the man behind SCHÖNHEIT. Not exactly a prolific project with singles in 2014 and 2019, Lillberg however records under various monikers including as DEOLETUS, DESTINY NATION, INESI, LAURENTIA, LOVE ON DRUGS, MY SWEETEST PUNCH and WML as well as holding down a day job as a classical percussionist.
SEA FEVER are the new eclectic Manchester combo featuring second generation members of SECTION 25 and NEW ORDER, Beth Cassidy, Tom Chapman and Phil Cunningham. ‘De Facto’ was a delightful electro-disco feast with a rhythm rush that screamed strobelights and likely to fill indie club dancefloors while also crossing over to lovers of synth. With echoes of NEW ORDER and THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS, it captured a vibrant energy worthy of Manchester and its musical heritage.
As the prospect of interacting with others again set off anxieties after 18 months of social distancing, for Scottish Swedish duo UNIFY SEPARATE, it was time to ‘Embrace The Fear’. While the theme was relatable to lockdown, the lyrical gist touched on the more general existential crises that afflict many as they navigate a life crossroads. But despite the air of unease and the grittier disposition, as with most of UNIFY SEPARATE’s output, there was light at the end of the tunnel.
Gorgeously melodic within a claustrophobic drama, ‘Lost In The Cloud’ did as the title suggested like Vangelis meeting Giorgio Moroder at the Necropolis on a dreamy dance trip. A lovely little uplifting synth instrumental, Tom Andersson the man behind WAVESHAPER suggested something darker, saying “Imagine Red Riding Hood trapped in the Digital Cloud, behind the Mainframe. How would she feel? What would she see? There is probably more to fear than a wolf in the forest…”
Available on the album ‘Mainframe’ via Waveshaper Music Production
Like a high tech K-Tel compilation album but from the baton of one conductor, the multi-vocalist self-titled debut album by DIAMOND FIELD captures the spirit of the pioneering MTV era and classic Brat Pack movie soundtracks.
The musical vehicle of the New Zealander Andy Diamond, he looks to studio icons such as Hugh Padgham, Rupert Hine and Peter Wolf as prime inspirations.
Although written before the worldwide pandemic, many of the lyrics deal with hope and positivity and the international cast of Nina Luna, Matthew J Ruys, Miriam Clancy, Nik Brinkman, Cody Carpenter, Becca Starr, Belinda Bradley, Chelsea Nenni and Kyle Brauch do the songs proud.
Andy Diamond spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the creation of his DIAMOND FIELD opus while also sharing his thoughts on many of aspects of music as an independent artist.
It’s taken a while to get round to there being a DIAMOND FIELD album, were there any particular reasons?
Well, there’s a few reasons for that, ha ha. Like most people, time is a factor and I tend to have a bunch of other things going on – music to learn and rehearse with other artists, remixes and production projects, design work, family life, photography, buying records on Discogs lol. It doesn’t make it easy to allow for solid chunks of time to be blocked out for album production. I’m also collaborating with other artists and they have their own schedules. I’ve had a few instances where I was waiting several months for a vocal for a song, only to have it fall through and having to go through the process again with someone else. That stuff all adds up.
It was only in late 2020 when I finally had all the musical pieces together and was able to sit down and start mixing everything. I set myself a date to have the finished tracks ready for mastering, turning down a bunch of other things to clear time and make it happen. January to June 2021 was spent hard-out on the final mixes, a lot of ‘final’ mixes that led to more final mixes and level tweaking. Add to that all the artwork production and additional non-musical ‘fun stuff’ that goes into preparing a release and it was a busy time.
I was also wary of the increasingly long production times required for vinyl production so I needed to get things rolling. I’m not quite sure how the likes of SELLOREKT/LA DREAMS, BART GRAFT and FAINT WAVES manage to pump all those albums out! Just making one is enough of a big deal, but after all this, I definitely feel more confident in producing DIAMOND FIELD music at a higher rate of output.
Had singles like ‘Neon Summer’, ‘The Nightingale’, ‘Burning Blood’ and ‘Won’t Compromise’ been more toe-dipping exercises, how do you look back on those tracks?
No – all the singles were definite statements – “hey, this is DIAMOND FIELD, this is how we sound and this is what we do”. ‘Neon Summer’ (with Nina Yasmineh aka Nina Luna) is still a good representation of what DIAMOND FIELD was intended to be from the start, sonically and stylistically. For that first release, I carefully prepared how the visuals, social media and music video would look for maximum effect. I purposely released the song as a maxi-single with a bunch of remixes (with some well-known names) to get the widest reach. It was like “we’re here, take note, we’ve thought about this”. None of that ‘drop a song on Soundcloud and cross your fingers’ stuff.
All four singles – ‘Neon Summer’, ‘This City’ (with Matthew J Ruys), ‘Closer’ (with Rat Rios) and ‘Won’t Compromise’ (with Bob Haro) would be right at home on the DIAMOND FIELD album. In fact they were all contenders for the album – I had intended them to be lead tracks for the album but because the other songs weren’t ready, they defaulted to being standalone singles in their own right.
The other songs – the cover of ‘The Nightingale’ (with Rat Rios), “Twin Peaks” tribute ‘Burning Blood’, and then ‘Freedom Pass’ (with Dana Jean Phoenix) were all written specially for compilations that had deadlines. Those weren’t album tracks but still had the DIAMOND FIELD sound. Likewise with all of DIAMOND FIELD’s remixes for other artists (or ‘reworks’ as I prefer to call them). Those all have DIAMOND FIELD DNA in them, and because I use different artists on my own songs, reworking someone else’s song could sound like a DIAMOND FIELD cut because I’m working with supplied vocals and recreating the music in my style. A couple of good examples of those are the DIAMOND FIELD reworks of BUNNY X’s ‘Come Back’ and Roxi Drive’s ‘Electricity’.
It’s no coincidence that vocalists from previous DIAMOND FIELD singles make return appearances on the album. Nina and Matt are there and I had Rat Rios lined up but it didn’t work out this time. I look back at all these early tracks fondly and I’m very proud of them.
You are more influenced by producers like Hugh Padgham, Rupert Hine, Peter Wolf and Stephen Hague rather than actual bands or artists, what do you think these studio icons brought to their respective works?
I do think production is really the main influencer for me. I love the artists of course, but if it were not for the producers, many iconic albums would have sounded a lot different.
I guess it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg situation – what came first? The producer or the artist? Maybe we are in fact mixing the chicken and the egg together here, simultaneously! The common thread with all of these producers is that they weren’t afraid to utilize the emerging technology of the time and figure out how to integrate it. They were hoovering up the latest gadgets and using them to their maximum potential, even though it was a painstaking process and syncing everything up was not as easy as it is today. They were able to create distinctive sounds, rhythms and techniques that became what we refer to as “the sound of the 80s”.
In Padgham’s case it was that big gated drum sound that worked so well for Phil Collins, and Stephen Hague was great with synthesizers and nailed some great sounds that are iconic ear candy and moments. Although many of these producers worked on a lot of electronic music, they were all able to skillfully combine the electronic side of things with the traditional – guitars, bass and drums. That is why with DIAMOND FIELD you hear ‘real’ drums, bass and electric guitars combined with the drum machines, sequencers and synths. They all work so well together for that ‘80s sound that doesn’t focus solely on early DEPECHE MODE man/machine type music.
How did the album begin in earnest, was there a particular epiphany when you thought a long playing record was a realistic possibility?
Again, this was all planned out from day one and the first single ‘Neon Summer’. Everything would build on and progress from that.
The idea was always to have an album of material as the logical end goal, release it physically and play it live.
I’m still a believer in full length albums and never really bought into the “people only listen to singles” thing.
I was talking to Alex Karlinsky aka HIGHWAY SUPERSTAR about the value of albums. Is it better to just drop a single every month so you can stay visible? With an album, it’s a one-time drop. By dropping constant singles you can keep yourself in the limelight more regularly.
Of course there is no reason you can’t take ten singles and release them as an album later down the line, but an album quantifies an artist’s vision as a complete body of work. There’s no p*ssing around with dropping a track here and there – it’s “Wham! Check this thing out!” You need to put some time aside to take this all in.
I’d like to think all the tracks on the DIAMOND FIELD album could be singles and I could push them individually over time (with a music video for example). As for the live thing, that could only really happen after the album was complete as I needed to have enough completed songs to play out!
What criteria did you use to select your vocalists?
Most importantly these are people I like and respect. I’ve also worked with many of them in some way the past, with the exception of Cody. I’ll always start my songs with the music first and then add vocals on top of that. I figure out whose voice might be a good fit for the musical bed and how that could add to the overall picture. Is this a ballad? Would this be better sung from a female point of view? Is this a ‘belter’ that needs a big voice? In that way it’s kinda good to have the luxury of different vocalists because you can get additional scope that you may not get with a sole lead singer.
Sometimes I’ll write the lyrics and the main vocal melody (top line), demo it and give that to the vocalist to copy. I might have a very specific idea and that includes the lyrics and vocal melody. Other times the vocalist may write the lyrics and top line. So I’m open.
Matt and I go way back to our teens making music together and we’re good friends. He’s a total pro when it comes to vocals and full of ideas. There are several songs on the album where over half the tracks in the session are made up of Matt’s BVs alone. Chelsea and I play in her band LATE SLIP and she’s also a pro.
I’ve also played in bands with Nina, Miriam (Clancy) and guitarist Rodger Cunningham so there’s a bit of a history there. Chris Ward (saxophone) was my neighbour and I fed his cats when he was on vacation, and Kyle, Becca and Nik have all done great work on their own projects. Sometimes cold calling someone to collaborate with can work too. That’s how Nina and I originally met and since then we have made a lot of music together over. A successful cold call is a one-time thing and ideally from that you can develop a relationship and keep it going. That said, I’ve had my fair share of being turned down by people who were either not interested or too busy, but it all worked out in the end!
Had the opener ‘New Situation’ with Nina Luna been intended to be your take on TEARS FOR FEARS?
Oh I think everything of mine probably has some subliminal TEARS FOR FEARS in it lol. I was not aware of that connection while making the song, especially since it has a female vocal, but since you mentioned it, I think your reference point might be ‘Head Over Heels’? It has a similar tempo, lots of keyboards and a snare build-up.
‘Head Over Heels’ is one of my favourite TFF songs, so if I have emulated something that makes people think of it without being total rip off, then I think that’s pretty cool.
‘Glowing In The Dark’ featuring Miriam Clancy recalls BERLIN, do you think Terri Nunn’s combo are often forgotten and under-rated…for example, everyone knows ‘Take My Breath Away’ but no-one seems to remember the artist?
BERLIN are one of my favourite bands from the early to mid ‘80s. ‘Pleasure Victim’ and ‘Love Life’ are up there in my list of favorite albums. BERLIN were the epitome of sophisticated US West Coast new wave bands at the time, and like MISSING PERSONS, proved that Americans were quite good at interpreting what Europe was doing musically, but injecting some sex and glam into the equation. ‘Take My Breath Away’ is the least BERLIN sounding BERLIN song since it’s really Terri singing over someone else’s track. Check out ‘The Metro’ and ‘No More Words’ for true BERLIN classics.
Incidentally, I lifted the ‘Diamond’ part of my “stage name” from BERLIN’s synth player David Diamond. I thought it would make a cool sounding name, still being related to DIAMOND FIELD, and when David had hair in the ‘80s, he looked really sharp behind his Prophet 5. Also, BERLIN’s main songwriter John Crawford is a bass player (like myself) and in the ‘80s I sported a similar mullet to his, so I’m really on that aesthetic.
How did ‘Glowing In The Dark’ come about?
‘Glowing In the Dark’ started out as an instrumental and worked quite well in that form. A melody built around muted synth brass, sparkly DX7s and synth bass with programmed drums. Another song I’d say emulates music from 1986/87 in terms of sounds. Since there were already a lot of instrumental hooks on this, any vocals would need to be able to fit with the music (and I wanted vocals). I didn’t want to have to reduce the hooks to fit vocals around, which sometimes needs to happen to avoid conflicts – you need to have space, not competing elements.
Miriam was someone whose work I always loved as both a songwriter and singer. I was looking for an opportunity to work on a song with her and it finally panned out when she said she’d be down to sing on the album. And sing she did. What she delivered in terms of lyrics and vocals on ‘Glowing In The Dark’ were amazing. Everything fit perfectly and it was like the music and lyrics had originally been written together, not in different places at different times. Miriam also dipped-in to her bag of songwriting tricks and refined my initially over-long arrangement, so that it was more concise.
A tricky thing about ‘Glowing In The Dark’ is that it has a key change (something that is underutilized in today’s pop music) and Miriam nailed that transition. At first we thought it could have sounded gimmicky, but combined with the slowed-down ending (emulating the tempo on a sequencer being manually reduced to a stop) I think it is a nice little signature piece. There’s a personal little Easter egg at the end of the song.
In the late ‘80s, there was a very distinctive patch on the Roland D-50 synth called ‘Soundtrack’. I always loved it and wanted to use it some time. I never owned a D-50 but I did have a 1990 Korg T3 synth which had its own variation on the D-50’s Soundtrack patch. I used the T3 extensively for several years and have a big soft spot for that synth. These days I use Korg’s M1 soft synth (which includes all of the T3 sound libraries) and so what you hear at the end of the song is the Korg version of that D-50-type patch. Great to include both a patch from one of my favorite synths and the vocals from one of my favorite singers on the same track!
Matthew J Ruys gets to do two tracks, the brassy electro-funk of ‘Bring Back Love’ and the mighty blue-eyed growl of ‘Out Here For Love’, two quite different styles?
Well that’s Matt for you. He’s a very versatile singer and can sing whatever you throw at him. Back in the late 90s he was doing stuff with ORGANIZED NOISE (OUTKAST) in Atlanta so he’s able to pull off R ‘n’ B and rhymes, but is just as comfortable doing rockers and everything in-between. You can give him an instrumental and he’ll come up with a voice and style to fit. And he knows his sh*t when it comes to BVs.
On ‘Bring Back Love’ I was going for a white boy RnB/Latin feel – a little Michael McDonald and MIAMI SOUND MACHINE crossover. The overt synth brass mixed with real brass samples was intentional – I wanted to capture that ‘80s brass emulation without making it either too sterile or overly real.
For ‘Out Here For Love’, that song started from a piece of music that Australian retrowave artist Lachi James had written. It was originally going to be a collaboration with Lachi, but the timing didn’t work out so I got Matt to sing it and my old friend Rodger Cunningham to throw down the guitar leads on it. I was aiming for that hi-tech pop / rock sound that Michael Sembello was so good at on his ‘Without Walls’ album – the type of song you’d hear on a ‘Rocky’ soundtrack by Robert Tepper. It’s also the most collaborative track on the album with Lachi, Matt, Rodger and myself all contributing.
‘Look To The Stars’ gives a nod to New York electro, where there any key records from the past that helped shape this?
That’s a hard song for me to pin-down, comparison-wise. I mean I am in NYC but that’s about it. I was going for an energetic track with a heavy sequencer vibe, with overdubbed instruments. I’m trying to give the impression of something that’s been made on a Fairlight around 1986 or so, with the tight drums and sequenced bass.
I get the electro angle, in many ways that’s probably coming from the NEW ORDER corner of my brain. Kyle Brauch was a good fit for vocals on this.
I’d done a remix for his MIDAWE project and he’d done a DIAMOND FIELD remix for ‘This City’ so I had been wanting to get his vocals on one of my own songs. Kyle has that Rick Springfield vibe and knows how to belt it out. He came up with the lyrics and vocal melody too.
I added some real bass to compliment the sequenced bass which is something I do quite often (think NEW ORDER’s Peter Hook playing bass over sequenced bass parts), added some electric guitars and had The Saxophone Warrior (Chris Ward) play the sax on it. Chris is a very talented jazz player but also does cool stuff with effects and pushing the sax in new directions (although I had him keep it pretty straight on ‘Look To The Stars’ since it’s a kinda period-specific track). Chris has also played with FISCHERSPOONER who are my favourite electroclash act so that is a cool connection.
How did the wonderful ‘A Kiss Apart’ with Belinda Bradley come together?
This is another example of having an instrumental track and figuring out whose voice might suit it best. ‘A Kiss Apart’ is also tightly sequenced with late ‘80s influences. It has a fuller, more mature, lush synth pop sound so the vocal needed to compliment that. I’ve known Belinda for a while and was a big fan of her band SELON RECLINER who make amazing cinematic, widescreen pop. In a way, with Belinda writing the lyrics and singing, it’s almost like a SELON RECLINER song being covered by DIAMOND FIELD, and I’m just fine with that idea!
‘Used To Be’ pays homage to the THE GO-GO’S?
Oh for sure. In fact more specifically THE GO-GO’S’ Jane Wiedlin and her 1988 song ‘Rush Hour’ that was produced by Stephen Hague. I wanted something upbeat and fun sounding, something that Jane might have done. The original version of ‘Used To Be’ had programmed bass and a drum machine but I decided it would make for a better GO-GO’S new wave pop feel by using real bass, livelier drums and more guitars.
I was playing bass in Chelsea Nenni’s band LATE SLIP and just love her vocals, so if anyone was going to do this song justice it was Chelsea. She wrote the lyrics, came in and did couple of takes and that was it – nailed! The poppy upbeat music with Chelsea’s break up lyrics makes a good combo.
One surprise was Cody Carpenter’s track ‘Spills Like Love’ which was a lot more jazzier perhaps than the work he is associated with via his Horror Master father?
Yeah I think Cody mostly gets associated with the work he does with his dad, whereas his own projects are also really great. It was Cody’s LUDRIUM project that connected with me. The mix of prog and fusion combined with Cody’s vocals in LUDRIUM are something that you don’t often hear these days. He manages to bring together everything good about those styles without the waffling-on that sometimes gives prog a bad rep.
LUDRIUM also reminded me of the 1970s work of DAVID SANCIOUS & TONE who created wonderful, feel good fusion. I’d crafted the instrumental of ‘Spills Like Love’ to be a blend of late ‘70s West Coast vibes, yacht rock and early 80s synths.
So yeah, I had my eye on Cody for this one. He had the perfect voice and vibe. And he didn’t just stop at vocals, he dropped that amazing synth solo on there, giving me visions of Cody blazing on a white-face ARP Odyssey in a wood panelled man cave. I was also referencing ‘70s music like FLEETWOOD MAC, which featured prominent male / female vocals and so I had Becca Starr add BVs to give it that feel.
Which tracks are your own favourites on the album and why?
Oh I think I’d have to say they are all favourites. There are parts of songs I really like such as the percussion tracks in ‘Bring Back Love’ and the DX7 keyboard riff in ‘Spills Like Love’ but they are all special to me based on who is signing on the song and how and when I wrote it. Each song has its own ‘slot’ and I don’t think there’s any ‘filler’. That’s confirmed to me when people listen to the album and tell me which track is their favourite, and that tends to be a different song for everyone. That was my aim in a way, an album that was quite varied but still cohesive, where everyone finds something they like.
A number of the earlier DIAMOND FIELD singles were embraced by the synthwave community but was it a conscious decision to navigate around that scene and focus on doing a pop record?
No, not at all. All the DIAMOND FIELD music comes from the same outlet. It’s always been overtly pop with lots of synth and ‘80s elements so it made total sense to drop it in the synthwave / retrowave sphere. I figured if synthwave fans liked artists like Kristine back in 2013, or Michael Oakley in the current day, you’d probably like DIAMOND FIELD.
If you’re strictly into Darkwave or instrumental Outrun, then maybe it’s not so much your thing (although I always release instrumental versions). Synthwave / retrowave is an obvious audience for me and has become far more accepting of vocal pop. I like to think my audience extends to anyone who likes pop music, regardless of what genres they are in to. A lot of people who love the album have zero awareness of synthwave (or any kind of scenes for that matter). They just like the music, and to me that is mission accomplished!
What’s your take on how some are accusing big acts like THE WEEKND and MUSE of ‘stealing’ from synthwave so should acknowledge that scene? Surely the use of synth arpeggios is decades old, dating backing to Giorgio Moroder while sombre electronic basslines came via KRAFTWERK on ‘Radio-Activity’ so it was not something invented by Ryan Gosling for ‘Drive’? ??
There’s overt rip-offs out there, like the guy who was stealing music and reposting as his own on Spotify, and then there are THE WEEKND vs VANITY & MAKEUP SET situations.
One is easy to prove as a rip off and the other is harder. Arpeggios in electronic music are tough to police because of the way an arpeggiator works.
In a nutshell, you play a note and select the timing of the arp and off it goes. Things change depending on the complexity of the arp you select and the notes played in that sequence. More often than not, the arpeggiator is used for things like basslines which are synced to the drums and tend to be pretty straightforward. That creates a situation where a song might sound very similar to another.
If you did a scientific experiment on songs that use an arpeggiator and stripped away the other tracks, you’d find a great deal of similarity. What goes on top of the arpeggiation is what starts to makes a difference. ‘Blue Monday’ isn’t directly ripping off ‘I Feel Love’ but it is highly influenced by it, as are a gazillion other songs. Does Lorde’s ‘Solar Power’ sounds like George Michael’s ‘Freedom 90’? Sure. But George Michael’s estate is cool with it. How long have we got to compare all the music that sounds like something else?
While music and technology continue to evolve, there are only so many sounds, chords and progressions out there and inevitably you’ll get similarities popping up from time to time. Having a good lawyer and deep pockets can help if you really want to prove your song has been copied. Some artists are successful in doing so and others are increasingly not. Check out Katy Perry’s ‘Dark Horse’ lawsuit from a few years back as an example.
I think what bothers me most is when an artist is part of a ten person songwriting team and still manages to write a song that has obvious melodic or chordal similarities to another song. All those writers and you can’t be more original? Maybe it’s an obvious homage. But if no-one’s suing…
How do you see the future of music with regards formats, platform and live performance after a difficult 20 months for many?
Having experienced total lockdown for over a year myself, not playing or seeing any live music, it’s been so great to come out the other side and spend the six months getting back into it. Live music is very important. People are into it. They need it.
That whole live-performance-on-the-internet stuff was driving me nuts. There were some good performances and it created a new outlet for artists to perform shows online, almost by-default. Online shows are no match for live in-person performances.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to watch recorded live shows but I prefer that interaction of being in a crowd and having the band in front of me. There’s nothing like it. That said I’m really interested to see how this virtual ABBA thing is going to work.
With music formats, vinyl is going apesh*t and the result is that it is now taking six to eight months to get an album pressed. That’s a huge amount of lead time to plan for, especially for indie artists. Fans are now reluctantly reserved to waiting months for a physical release to materialize, having to put their funds up for something that won’t get into their hands until well after the digital release. That is a lot to ask, especially in the instant world of Amazon and music streaming. I can’t see it changing anytime soon though.
I do love the fact that many people are returning to listening to music in a better way, via vinyl and/or with better equipment to take advantage of streaming services that offer master quality hi-fi streams. Artists lamenting about having mixed and mastered their music meticulously only to have the user listen on ‘crappy earbuds’ is looking like it will be a thing of the past sooner than later
You are quite active on social media, but is there a wider caution that support for up-and-coming musicians comes from other musicians, rather than a potential non-creative audience who are actually the ones who spend money on product and gigs?
That’s an interesting question. Without a doubt, artists tend to comment on other artists’ posts, in a kind of empathetic way. But that depends on what style of social media an artist chooses to engage in. If they are fan-centric you’re going to get different posts than if they are talking about production techniques (which will get more engagement from artists vs. fans). Many artists will follow back new artists as a means of showing support but are less likely to engage with them after that. A new artist will probably follow an established artist in hopes of being noticed by that artist (and their fans).
So maybe musically, social media is a bubble with fan interaction limited to a handful of popular artists, and the rest are just talking amongst themselves. That can also be the case with a lot of reviews and online radio, where it’s only the artist that really listens, to hear their own song or to read their own review. Right now, social media is necessary but as well all know, often draining and somewhat soul destroying!
How feasible is it to take DIAMOND FIELD out live with its inherent multi-vocalist format? What are your future plans?
Yes sir – I really dug myself a hole in terms of trying to do a live show and having a dozen different vocalists on my songs! There’s no way I can get everyone together to sing one song only! To make DIAMOND FIELD work live I needed to find a vocalist (locally) that was able to sing a bunch of the songs and make a live set possible.
Luckily for me I have found such a person in Abby Holden. She’s a singer-songwriter who also just happens to be from New Zealand, and has a killer voice. We’ve put together a set list of DIAMOND FIELD songs she feels comfortable singing and are in the process of getting a live show together.
At first it’ll be the two of us with backing tracks and myself on guitar, bass or synths depending on the song. Getting that up and running means we’ll be able to start playing shows, then expand it out with other musicians down the line. These days, audiences are fine with laptops and backing tracks, but as a musician with a long history in playing in bands, I’d love to make everything as live as possible. I’m looking forward to finally getting DIAMOND FIELD on the stage!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to Andy Diamond
DIAMOND FIELD is the musical vehicle of Andy Diamond, the New York based Kiwi who despite associations with the North American synthwave movement, looks to studio icons such as Hugh Padgham, Peter Wolf and the sadly departed Rupert Hine as his heroes.
The songs ‘Won’t Compromise’ with BMX freestyle godfather Bob Haro and ‘Freedom Pass’ with Dana Jean Phoenix reinforced the perception of a purer synthesizer affinity. But the self-titled debut springs a surprise by mixing traditional instrumental colours with electronic production techniques.
So as can be expected from an artist whose production moniker is named after a Pat Benatar song, electric guitars, live bass and real drum feels are combined with drum machines, sequencers and synths. But the stars of the record are the songs and each of their various international guest vocalists recruited and recorded via the joys of the internet.
With stabbing keyboard themes plus a combination of solid synthbass and loose live sounding drums, ‘New Situation’ with Nina Luna taking lead vocals provides a driving opener that comes over like a more sprightly take on TEARS FOR FEARS ‘Head Over Heels’ if it had been reinterpreted for use in ‘Pretty In Pink’.
Then comes the brassy electro-funk of ‘Bring Back Love’ with Matthew J Ruys approximating Stevie Wonder and the riff laden ‘Glowing In The Dark’ featuring Kiwi songstress Miriam Clancy which sexily rouses like BERLIN before providing an effective slowed tape stop. The college radio rock of ‘In This Moment’ though crosses the darker shades of ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN and THE CURE while referencing SIMPLE MINDS ‘Chelsea Girl’, although the synth riffs along with Nik Brinkman’s mannered delivery point to fellow New Yorkers NATION OF LANGUAGE.
However, the exotic rhythmic moods and jazzy cosmic solos that shape ‘Spills Like Love’ make for a joyous turn from Cody Carpenter that is the antithesis of his work with his Horror Master father, while ‘It’s Your Time’ sung by Becca Starr of Scottish retrowavers THE VAN DAMMAGE offers a percolating rock-infused stomp with a passionate vocal.
With a backing track like NEW ORDER’s ‘Your Silent Face’ reworked by OMD, ‘A Kiss Apart’ is superb and sees a velvet performance by Belinda Bradley of New Zealand collective SELON RECLINER; akin to the other Belinda, Ms Carlisle crossed with Marcella Detroit (who co-wrote ‘Little Black Book’ with THE GO GOS front woman), a gorgeous chorus and some great synth interventions in the instrumental break recall Mute trio PEACH who contributed ‘On My Own’ to the ‘Sliding Doors’ soundtrack.
And speaking of Belinda Carlisle, Chelsea Nenni of LATE SLIP pays homage on ‘Used To Be’ which plays with that sunny rock flavour that THE GO GO’s once took to No1 with ‘Beauty & The Beat’.
With bursts of gratuitous sax and the vocal presence of Kyle Brauch, ‘Look To The Stars’ goes very New York in its mighty machine generated groove. But ‘Out Here For Love’ is the ‘Mighty Wings’ of the collection and as that did on ‘Top Gun’, it ends DIAMOND FIELD’s eponymous debut with Matthew J Ruys returning to give proceedings some blue-eyed growl in the manner of LIVING IN A BOX’s Richard Derbyshire.
This may not be the album that those who have liked DIAMOND FIELD’s previous singles will be expecting at all. It is much more of a pop offering but that isn’t a bad thing as this is the sort of optimistic album many need right now.
Although written before the worldwide pandemic, many of the lyrics deal with hope and positivity. The quality of songwriting is high, something that a lot of synthwave and modern synthpop is lacking.
Applied with engaging productions and arrangements, the music captures the spirit of the pioneering MTV era and classic Brat Pack movie soundtracks. Like a high tech K-Tel compilation album but from the baton of one conductor, this is perhaps the most cohesive multi-vocalist album since the only long player to date by KLEERUP which combined electro-soul, synthpop, Italo, kosmische and ambient. DIAMOND FIELD has successfully thrown in new wave, synthpop, funk, R ‘n’ B and AOR into one escapist pot.
People are very nostalgic right now, whether for the 70s, 80s, 90s or 00s because anything is better than what has happened in the last 18 months, but DIAMOND FIELD has shown that the present and future are going to be alright.
Originally released in November 2019, ‘Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years’ collected together exclusive tracks from the world of synthwave and electronic pop.
Curated by Aaron Vehling, founder of Vehlinggo, the 17 tracks presented the musical ethos of the Brooklyn-based website, podcast and multimedia platform. Having been issued digitally, ‘Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years’ is now available on CD with a slight adjustment in running order to reflect Vehling’s vision of an imaginary film soundtrack.
Any good compilation contains promising talents alongside established names and this is certainly the case here.
The reconfigured tracklisting begins in a cool stylish fashion with ANORAAK’s ‘Panarea’, a funky nu-disco instrumental. Retrospective references surface with Canada’s PARALLELS on ‘The Magic Hour’, an exquisite slice of synthesized new wave that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a classic Brat Pack movie.
Remaining in Canada which has become the creative centrepoint for much of the best modern synth music, Ryan Gosling favourites FM ATTACK offer more of their trademark atmospheric electronic disco on ‘Paradise’.
The mood changes though with the appealing girly Italopop of New Yorkers BUNNY X and their ‘Revolving Doors’.
Now THE MIDNIGHT have become possibly the biggest synthwave crossover act with their sax assisted AOR but their appeal still baffles some observers; ‘Sometimes She Smiles’ does not change things and sounds not unlike busker balladeer PASSENGER but constructed using VSTs.
But with the pacey ‘Rage Of Honor’, proceedings are rocked up by LE MATOS although the backbone is still predominantly electronic. With a track entitled ‘Hi-NRG’, BETAMAXX begins proceedings with a cowbell frenzy but the speedy arpeggios soon join in for a Giorgio Moroder homage complete with digital chimes.
The shiny electro continues with the Sweden’s Johan Agebjörn and ‘Have You Ever Been In Love?’; using robotic vocal treatments like FM ATTACK, because this is a dub version of the track, the featured vocal of Tom Hooker, the voice behind many of the hits for famed Italo star Den Harrow, only comes in phrases which proves to be frustrating; the solution is to track down the original mix of the song from the ‘Videoman’ soundtrack.
MAETHELVIN cuts a solid funk groove on ‘Dance Through The Night’ aided by a LinnDrum derived pattern but maintains a chilly air, while from the Italians Do It Better stable, the previously unreleased Johnny Jewel produced ‘Gold’ by IN MIRRORS builds on some staccato tension.
The throbbing ‘Girl On Video’ from FORGOTTEN ILLUSIONS is loaded with hooks and big synthetic drum fills but while it is passable 4/4 synthwave fare, it is overlong and may have benefitted from being constructed around a 6/8 Schaffel to give it more bite.
A self-confessed “21st Century ’80s” artist, DIAMOND FIELD takes the delightful Dana Jean Phoenix into an interesting direction on ‘Freedom Pass’ by producing something that comes over like THE GO-GO’S gone synthpop. It recalls when Jane Wiedlin was working with PET SHOP BOYS producer Stephen Hague after the group first disbanded.
Beginning with some female prose en Français, DEADLY AVENGER‘s ‘Your Phone Is Off The Hook, But You’re Not’ is reminiscent of the quirky French underground from which cult acts such as MATHEMATIQUES MODERNES and RUTH emerged. Meanwhile, the wonderful MECHA MAIKO contributes the arty ‘Selfless’ which stands out with its screechy backdrop before settling into an avant pop concoction that makes hypnotic use of her repeated “It’s alright” phrasing!
‘She Sees A Future’ from Lakeshore Records signing VH X RR perhaps has the most nostalgic references like THE LOVER SPEAKS meeting ANIMOTION, but proceedings are taken down a notch by the filmic vocodered mood piece that is METAVARI’s ‘Be What You See’.
But the best is saved until last with HIGHWAY SUPERSTAR and the gorgeously dreamy ‘Slow Motion’; featuring a fabulous vocal by Zoe Polanski, the end result comes across a bit like ELECTRIC YOUTH.
‘Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years’ does its job well of showcasing new and established international talent from an American perspective.
Coming from variants of electronic music that have been labelled as synthpop, Italo Disco, synthwave, nu-disco and French disco, what actually matters is whether the music is any good.
Considering this compilation contains largely of previously unreleased material with the baggage that can come with that knowledge, the majority of it is excellent. Listeners will of course have their own favourites, but there really is something for everyone who loves electronic pop with quality and substance.