When is synthwave not synthwave? When it’s synthpop of course and much of the best synthwave is actually pop.
While a lot of synthwave appears to be just formless meandering instrumentals made by gamer boys with a Lamborghini fixation, the majority of the best exponents have been female and tune-based like NINA, MECHA MAIKO and DANA JEAN PHOENIX. Looking to join that roll of honour is ROXI DRIVE, a talented West London born singer / songwriter and actor with a crush on Ryan Gosling who confesses to “Living my Neon dreams one song at a time” and her debut album ‘Strangers Of The Night’ being “A collaboration of pure synth fusion”.
It imagines a world where Madonna Louise Ciccone and Pat Benatar get immersed in the wonders of the synthesizer and doesn’t forget the songs either. Opening number ‘Run All Night (Chase This Dream)’ pulses the night away like a maniac with a neon lit vocal, while the breathy ‘Falling’ recalls the synthpop of THE FRIXION with its various hooks and counter melodies.
The enjoyable ‘Walking Out Of Love’ borrows from the guilty pleasure of classic Italo disco complete with a Moroderesque vo-coda although whether the variable equalisation on the drums is deliberate or not, it makes for a highly frustrating listen. Production quality also blights ‘Call Me Tomorrow?’ which is a delightful ditty that would have sounded even better with a more sympathetic widescreen mix.
The ‘Strangers Of The Night’ titled song verges into AOR like much of the current crop of synthwave and doesn’t work, but much better is the more synthetically charged pop of ‘All Night Long’.
The energetic new wave of ‘Synthicide’ sees a pacier electronic take on ‘Words’ by MISSING PERSONS and might have made it into a John Hughes film if it had been released in 1985, but as it’s a STACEY Q cover, maybe that’s why! Meanwhile ‘See It In Your Eyes’ interludes with a funkier vibe to contrast the album.
‘Behind The Mask’ takes proceedings to a moodier level in a manner not dissimilar to KIRLIAN CAMERA and would go down a treat with the Amphi crowd before ‘Stay With Me’, a marvellous ‘Drive’ influenced ballad with a touch of ELECTRIC YOUTH concludes ‘Strangers Of The Night’.
While a promising and varied record, some of its production is unable to fully exploit the potential of the material, with an inconsistent sound that lacks clarity.
Meanwhile, some of the vocal effects are also perhaps too overbearing at times in an attempt to get things heard over the busy backing; seven producers of varying experiences appear to have been credited on the album which could account for this.
While much of this long player could have been more sonically accomplished, what ROXI DRIVE has proved with ‘Strangers Of The Night’ is she can write songs. Coupled with the right studio team, she could be up there in the future with the best of the current crop of independent synth-based artists.
Michael Oakley is a talented Glaswegian who describes his music as “Melancholic postcards from my heart wrapped up in synthesizers and drum machines”.
His debut EP ‘California’ rides on the current craze for Synthwave, which emerged following the cult acclaim for the neon-noir thriller ‘Drive’ in 2011 and its soundtrack featuring CHROMATICS, ELECTRIC YOUTH and KAVINSKY. Since then, TV series like ‘Stranger Things’ and their stark backdrop of vintage electronics have maintained the synthwave propagation.
Now virtually every new electronic pop act using widescreen synths from SOL FLARE and NINA to KNIGHT$ and PERTURBATOR is being labelled Synthwave. But what is Synthwave? To ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, it appears to be synthpop but dressed with sunglasses or Italo disco with neon signs and American accents.
But didn’t Giorgio Moroder do all this in 1980 on the soundtrack to ‘American Gigolo’? And it could be argued that John Hughes’ adoption of British new wave acts like SIMPLE MINDS, THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS, NEW ORDER and OMD for his soundtracks is another stray gene in synthwave? Indeed, the excellent ‘Without You’ by ELECTRIC YOUTH wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘The Breakfast Club’ soundtrack?
Speaking of which, Oakley says of his debut EP: “Imagine for a second this is 1985, you’ve just came out of the cinema from watching ‘The Breakfast Club’ and you’re driving home in your DeLorean and flicking through the radio stations looking for some more John Hughes movie soundtrack music…. Well here it is.”
Much in the same way his fellow Scots like WET WET WET, HIPSWAY, LOVE & MONEY, DEACON BLUE, TEXAS and GUN looked Stateside to realise their aspirations, Oakley is doing something similar in the 21st Century.
But that’s not to detract from the fact that ‘California’, where some of the recording also took place, features some very good songs.
‘Rabbit In The Headlights’ begins with the nostalgic sound of a cassette going into the in-car player while the straightforward rhythmic pulse leads into a glorious tune recalling ‘Get Closer’ by Valerie Dore, complete with Italo “woah-oh” chants. Arranged more conventionally, one could imagine this being sung by Taylor Swift.
Meanwhile, ‘Turn Back Time’ is catchy rock elettronico, bursting with hooks and melodies while complimented by a classic synthetic percussion framework and a guitar solo. Call it Synthwave, synthpop, electropop, Italo or whatever, this first pair of songs on ‘California’ reveals Oakley’s songwriting chops, regardless of genre.
The title track is more of a rock ballad, but continuing at this more moderate pace, ‘Devotion’ is reminiscent of CHVRCHES on their most recent album ‘Every Open Eye’ and pleasingly, Oakley has a far superior singing voice to Martin Doherty.
‘Here Comes The Night’ doesn’t quite hit the heights of ‘Rabbit In The Headlights’ or ‘Turn Back Time’, but ‘End Of Summer’ is musically what a collaboration between TANGERINE DREAM and NEW ORDER might have sounded like.
This is an impressive first salvo from Oakley which shows great promise and potential. His love of ‘Miami Vice’, ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Back To The Future’ and ‘Drive’ quite obviously glows from his work.
But what he needs to do now is stand up from his influences and perhaps be cautious of throwing in too much towards the current fashion for Synthwave… after all, we know what happened with Romo, Synthcore and Electroclash.
CHVRCHES have actually achieved what LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX, LADYHAWKE or HURTS never managed; a decent second album!
And the best bit is, it’s a logical development of the first. None of this going house, disowning synths, rocking out or turning into SIMPLE MINDS nonsense! Hallelujah! Here’s a synthpop band actually using synths and proud of it!
Recorded in their basement studio in Glasgow and again self-produced, Iain Cook, Martin Doherty and Lauren Mayberry have taken a less complex approach to their effervescent synthpop on ‘Every Open Eye’.
On mixing duties, the more electronically tuned Mark ‘Spike’ Stent works his magic behind the desk rather than MUSE producer Rich Costey who looked after the debut ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’. The end result is more varied and possibly, even better than its predecessor.
The album sees Mayberry in particularly feisty mood, emerging as a fighter following playing the victim on CHVRCHES’ debut.
The apparent sweetness of her voice is again countered by vintage electronic backing, maintaining the light / shade demeanour that has made CHVRCHES so appealing throughout the world, especially in territories like South East Asia and the US which had all but forgotten synthpop.
The opening salvo of ‘Never Ending Circles’ is a statement of intent, a darker cousin of ‘Recover’ with a fight back manifesto. Mayberry is certainly biting at her detractors and while she’s not quite turned into a riot-grrrl, from a CHVRCHES perspective, this is a fair turn of assertiveness and aggression.
‘Leave A Trace’ is tougher still, “You took far too much” exclaims Lauren, on the attack. But what must not be forgotten is that this is an exemplarily pop song. Indeed, it could be a megahit if covered by TAYLOR SWIFT, who it has to be said, has mined CHVRCHES’ sound for her enjoyable ‘1989’ opus. Mayberry may be the anti-Taylor, but she has a few things in common with the starlet. With the horrid barrage of online misogyny she’s had to endure, Mayberry has had to shake it off too. Putting her energy into her art, with its booming backing, ‘Leave A Trace’ is a very personal song that acts as an inspiration to all.
‘Every Open Eye’ contains a delicious trio of uptempo electropop numbers that have been clearly influenced by the band’s success in America, possibly from watching Jerry Bruckheimer movies on the tour bus. With ‘Keep You On My Side’, the threesome deliver a pounding triplet stomper complimented by responsive synth phrases.
On the even more frantic ‘Make Them Gold’, Mayberry needs a hero with pounding electronic drums and widescreen chords dominating proceedings. Yes, this could easily be a song from a montage scene in a Rob Lowe / Demi Moore film but despite these explicit Americanised overtones, they’re perhaps not as overt as GOLDFRAPP’s AOR flirtations were on ‘Head First’.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more epic, there’s ‘Empty Threat’ which takes its lead from Oscar winning era Moroder, with a rock disco arrangement held down by a solid rhythm section. Despite this, there’s space within the dynamics. Some may consider it retro, but this is classic songwriting that is a pleasure to the ears, especially compared to DURAN DURAN’s painful EDM blow-out on ‘Paper Gods’.
The propulsive four-to-the-floor action of ‘Clearest Blue’ shows how far CHVRCHES have developed. Although not unlike an amalgam of ‘Gun’ and ‘Science/Visions’ from ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ , ‘Clearest Blue’ is more accomplished. CHVRCHES’ productions are now less gimmicky and proof that the team of Mayberry / Doherty / Cook are comfortable in their own skins. Not needing to overtry, ‘Clearest Blue’ is wonderfully held in a state of tension before WHACK, there’s a potent surprise in the final third that recalls the distinctive overtures of Vince Clarke. The song is indeed, magnificence embroiled.
But it’s not all four-to-the floor. The template that CHVRCHES borrowed from PURITY RING is still omnipresent, and while their Canadian contemporaries have made themselves more accessible with this year’s ‘Another Eternity’ album, the Glaswegians have been more adept at using it within a pop context. A crunchy off-kilter percussion sequence provides the backbone for the pretty ‘Down Side Of Me’, but the proof is most obvious when Mayberry’s Trans-Atlantic lilt closely resembles Megan James during the middle eight. ‘Playing Dead’ is closest to the previous sound of ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ but with a rockier slant. A belting chorus sees Mayberry going into battle again, with her announcing “you can tell me to jump, but I won’t go!”.
The two Martin Doherty vocalled tracks on ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ polarised opinion and his voice makes an appearance again on the Oberheim driven funk of ‘High Enough To Carry You Over’. Is The Dok as technically accomplished a singer as Mayberry?
Well, the factual answer is no… but taking on a more Americanised drawl in the vein of MISTER MISTER, this is a big improvement on his auditions for THE XX on the last long player.
Rugged machine synths burst into action for the wonderful ‘Bury It’; “I never promised you anything I couldn’t do” Mayberry exclaims, “we try to bury it and rise above”. With a barrage of stabs that haven’t been heard this side of NEW ORDER’s ‘Round & Round’, this is a determined anthem for female solidarity… and it WILL get covered!
To finish, ‘Afterglow’ is another Canadian inspired twist that takes CHVRCHES closer to ELECTRIC YOUTH instead of PURITY RING. With just some Eno-esque ambience providing the backing and no drums or sequences, it is a beautiful song that makes for a perfect ending. Recalling EAST INDIA YOUTH’s ‘Carousel’, it also showcases a developing musical maturity. “I’ll find my own way back…” declares Mayberry, all exposed and vulnerable before in a state of heartfelt resignation, she cries out “I’ve given up all I can…”
A track originally from Zane Lowe’s bizarre 2014 ‘Drive: Rescore’ collection, ‘Get Away’ is the first of the deluxe bonus tracks and although excellent, it’s easy to see why it has been relegated to this status. It shows CHVRCHES in a state of transition, continuing the glitch vocal processing techniques characteristic to the trio’s earlier signature sound while finding its feet in a more assured direction.
For those who don’t get the popularity of CHVRCHES, ‘Every Open Eye’ is supreme pop music. The repetitive eight minute blips of FACTORY FLOOR, this is most certainly not.
What the Glaswegian trio have managed to do is get teenagers listening to classic synthpop, people who don’t necessarily know or even care what a Jupiter 8 is. And that can only be a good thing for the future of the genre.
As for CHVRCHES, they have proved themselves more than adept as songwriters and producers… a career in Hollywood and TAYLOR SWIFT collaborations beckon.
‘Every Open Eye’ uses the following synthesizers: Moog Voyager, DSI Prophet 08, Roland Juno 106, Korg MS20 Mini, DSI Prophet 12, Roland Jupiter 8, Oberheim OBXa, Korg Polysix, Moog Sonic Six and Korg ARP Odyssey
‘Every Open Eye’ is released by Virgin Records on 25th September 2015. It is available as a CD, deluxe CD with three bonus tracks, vinyl LP and download
CHVRCHES UK Tour includes:
Brighton Dome (16 November), Bristol O2 Academy (17 November), Manchester Albert Hall (19 November), Newcastle, O2 Academy (21 November), Aberdeen Music Hall (23 November), Dundee Fat Sam’s (24 November), Birmingham O2 Academy (25 November), London Alexandra Palace (27 November)
It would be fair to say that Mute Records’ initial commercial success came on the back of Vince Clarke’s songcraft.
First with DEPECHE MODE in 1981 and then YAZOO in 1982, Clarke demonstrated that Mute Records had some marvellous pop sensibilities amongst all the cult acclaim that was accorded to acts like THE NORMAL, DAF and FAD GADGET. He was to become one of the key players in an exciting period of music that was eventually documented in the BBC4 programme ‘Synth Britannia’. Born Vincent John Martin in Basildon, Clarke cut his teeth performing his own songs with a number of local bands including FRENCH LOOK.
But it was when he formed COMPOSITION OF SOUND with Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher that things got more serious. There was a new music revolution around the corner involving affordable synthesizers from Japan. With Clarke’s love of OMD’s now classic ‘Electricity’ single and its B-side ‘Almost’ coinciding with Martin Gore’s purchase of a Yamaha CS5, he and Fletch soon bought a Kawai 100f and Moog Prodigy respectively to follow this new futuristic direction.
However, unhappy with his own voice, Clarke recruited college student Dave Gahan as vocalist to fully realise their new ultrapop sound. They renamed themselves DEPECHE MODE after a French fashion magazine and the rest is history… but Clarke soon became disillusioned with touring and the general pop circus despite the success. And there was also that old chestnut of musical differences.
A song submitted by Clarke at rehearsals called ‘Only You’ had apparently been rejected by the other members of DEPECHE MODE. So teaming up with local girl ALISON MOYET in a new combo called YAZOO, they released ‘Only You’.
It reached No2 in the UK singles chart, higher than any DEPECHE MODE single had reached at the time and Clarke was vindicated. Although denied the top spot, the song reached No1 in an accapella rendition by THE FLYING PICKETS in 1984.
However, Clarke was reprising the personal disillusionment that had seen him leave DEPECHE MODE. He moved on to produce his mate ROBERT MARLOW via his own Reset Records imprint and record as THE ASSEMBLY with THE UNDERTONES’ Fergal Sharkey and YAZOO’s producer Eric Radcliffe.
But it was in 1985 that he finally settled down and formed ERASURE with Andy Bell. Although success was not instant, the chemistry between Clarke and Bell possessed a special spark both musically and personally; the pair have become one of the most consistent UK pop acts ever with hits such as ‘Sometimes’, ‘Victim Of Love’, ‘The Circus’, ‘A Little Respect’, ‘Stop!’, ‘Chorus’ and ‘Breath Of Life’.
Running in parallel over the years, there have been numerous other projects with 3D sound, computer games and in particular, remixes which have seen Clarke’s portfolio expand. His Midas touch has been commissioned notably for songs by SPARKS, GOLDFRAPP, BLANCMANGE and FUTURE ISLANDS. But his appeal has spread across all genres, as indicated by HAPPY MONDAYS’ 1988 invitation to rework ‘Wrote For Luck’ as well as more comparatively recently, remixes of FRANZ FERDINAND’s ‘No You Girls’, DIDO’s ‘End of Night’ and THE SATURDAYS’ ‘Issues’.
With THE SATURDAYS in particular, this five piece girl group were practically joined at the hip with Clarke; their first single ‘If This Is Love’ sampled YAZOO’s ‘Situation’ while their sixth was a cover of ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ for Comic Relief! Indeed, YAZOO’s musical template was a much coveted sound among girl groups in the late noughties, the best example of which was RED BLOODED WOMEN using ‘Don’t Go’ as the basis for their feisty number ‘Colour Me Dirty’. It was recognition of how absorbed into the mainstream Clarke’s music had become.
But one of the best covers of his songs came in 2012 when RÖYKSOPP and SUSANNE SUNDFØR recorded ‘Ice Machine’. With ERASURE releasing their best album in nearly a decade with ‘The Violet Flame’ and ‘Only You’ being used in a McVities TV ad, Clarke’s stock is as high as ever. Further reinforcement came recently via an episode of the acclaimed Cold War spy drama ‘The Americans’, which featured ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’ as part of the plot.
So what tracks would make up an imaginary twenty track double CD retrospective as an introduction to Vince Clarke’s work?
With a restriction of one track per album project, this list is not a best of as such, but a chronological compendium of historic and artistic adventures that capture the career diversity of a man who used synthesizers to present traditional song structures with that something different.
DEPECHE MODE Photographic – Some Bizzare Version (1981)
The recording that started it all off, the first version of ‘Photographic’ was driven by Mute supremo Daniel Miller’s klanky Korg 55 Rhythm box. It was undoubtedly the stand-out track on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ compiled by DJ and Futurist champion Stevo Pearce which also showcased SOFT CELL, THE THE, BLANCMANGE and B-MOVIE. Much darker than the eventual ‘Speak & Spell’ album take, while tuneful, ‘Photographic’ was not indicative of the supreme pop nous that Clarke was later reveal.
Signing to Mute Records, the debut single ‘Dreaming of Me’ made an impressive first chart showing at No57 for DEPECHE MODE in Spring 1981. The infectious melody and closing “la-la-la” refrain borrowed from ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up & See Me)’ by COCKNEY REBEL (incidentally later covered by ERASURE) were a dreamboat combination as a naïve but snarly Dave Gahan interpreted Clarke’s rather bizarre lyrics. Although not a Top 40 hit, as a great slice of synthpop, it certainly deserved to be…
Available as a bonus track on the DEPECHE MODE album ‘Speak & Spell’ via Mute Records
YAZOO In My Room – David Jensen BBC Session Version (1982)
‘In My Room’ was a good song from ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’ but was spoiled by the tape loop experiments featuring Clarke’s voice that had formed the polarising ‘I Before E Except After C’. For a David Jensen BBC session, these spoken word passages were omitted as the track was reworked using a Fairlight and Linn Drum combination. While much sparser, this superior version allowed the beautifully dark nature of ‘In My Room’ to shine. Alison Moyet in particular was on tremendously passionate vocal form.
Originally the B-side to ‘The Other Side of Love’, ‘Ode To Boy’ was one of only three songwriting collaborations Clarke did with Moyet while in YAZOO. The song itself was Moyet’s own personal tribute to Clarke, and despite their difficulties in gelling as people, the chemistry between them in this sparse but hypnotic track showed that musically at least, there was potentially much more great work to come, had YAZOO been able to stay together. They did eventually reform in 2008 for the ‘Reconnected’ live tour.
On what turned out to be THE ASSEMBLY’s only single, ‘Never Never’ saw Fergal Sharkey providing his distinctive warble which was marvellously counterpointed by himself doing some very Moyet-esque backing vocals. It was an interesting concept to feature guest vocalists over Clarke’s songs. Although BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur was rumoured to be one of those likely to be involved, the only track that did eventually surface from these sessions was ‘One Day’ with Paul Quinn from BOURGIE BOURGIE.
“After Vince left DEPECHE MODE and was in the middle of the YAZOO project, I tapped him on the shoulder and said ‘I’ve got some songs, can you give me a day in the studio?’” recalled ROBERT MARLOW, Clarke’s best friend and a cult figure in the Basildon music scene. ‘The Face Of Dorian Grey’ was the first fruit of labours and was released on Reset Records, a label set up by Clarke and Eric Radcliffe that was licensed initially to RCA. But the single wasn’t a hit and RCA later withdrew funding.
In 1985, Clarke placed a small ad in Melody Maker that said “Versatile voice wanted for established songwriter”. A 21 year old Andy Bell was audition #36 and what set the ex-butcher apart from the others was his ability to hit falsetto during the audition piece ‘Who Needs Love (Like That)’. Impressing not only with his Moyet-esque vocal technique but range too, in neo-X Factor style, the judging panel of Clarke, producer Flood and Daniel Miller declared Bell as the winner… ERASURE were born.
Available on the ERASURE album ‘Wonderland’ via Mute Records
Released on Polydor, TWILIGHT comprised of ERASURE’s tour manager Andrew Mansi and soon-to-be NITZER EBB tour manager Steev Toth. So it was natural that Clarke would end up being involved in the production of what turned out to be their only single. ‘Just Me Alone’ was great synthpop regardless, but that VC touch gave it something special. The B-side ‘Talk To You’ showed that TWILIGHT did indeed have songwriting talent, but the duo eventually went back to their day jobs.
Originally released as a single via Polydor Records, currently unavailable
Imagine ROY ORBISON doing electropop… that was the concept of ‘Blue Savannah’. Uncluttered and full of soaring optimism, this glorious ditty has crossed over to be one of ERASURE’s most universally loved songs and is without doubt, equal to ‘A Little Respect’. It came in the middle of an imperial phase that began with ‘The Innocents’ and continued to the spectacular theatrical shows in 1992 documented on ‘The Tank, The Swan and The Balloon’.
Available on the ERASURE album ‘Wild!’ via Mute Records
ERASURE’s seventh self-titled album was Vince Clarke’s attempt at prog synth or as Andy Bell referred to it, the duo’s own ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ ie ‘Bright Side Of The Sun’. It was an ambitious, if flawed opus with extended intros and the sub-10 minute numbers like ‘Rock Me Gently’. But there was also emotive neo-classical moments such as ‘Grace’. The brilliant ‘Fingers and Thumbs (Cold Summer’s Day)’ though was its most accessible offering and is possibly their most under rated single.
CHINESE DETECTIVES were a strange beast, hailing from Norway and only doing cover versions of New Wave classics as a “SILICON TEENS of the 90s”. Among their reworkings was YAZOO’s ‘Situation’. But naturally having named themselves after the plinky instrumental interlude of YAZOO’s 1982 concert tour, they recorded their own version of it. Very much a note-for-note transcription, it remains the only officially released version of the track; founder member Per Aksel Lundgreen now runs Subculture Records.
Together with Martyn Ware, Clarke founded the Illustrious company to exploit the creative possibilities of 3D sound technology. Their first release was ‘Pretentious’ as THE CLARKE & WARE EXPERIMENT. But their follow-up ‘Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle’ formed part of an art installation where the colours referred to in the titles of the six lengthy pieces were “programmed to cross fade imperceptibly to create an infinite variation of hue”. ‘Green’ took the looming template of OMD’s ’66 & Fading’ into a new spacey dimension.
‘The Floating World’ was an instrumental that closed the Glaswegians’ rather dull ‘Cry’ album. Basically a thumping rave version of the ‘Dr Who Theme’, it was also nothing like the FM pomp rock of SIMPLE MINDS’ stadium years. Closer scrutiny revealed this track to be written by one ‘V. Clarke’ and was more like an update of the band’s early electronic experiments such as ‘Theme For Great Cities’ and ‘Film Theme’. This unlikely collaboration was SIMPLE MINDS’ most interesting piece of work in nearly 15 years.
Available on the SIMPLE MINDS album ‘Cry’ via Eagle Records
Following 2001’s dull “indie” album ‘Loveboat’ and their inconclusive covers compendium ‘Other People’s Songs’, Andy Bell and Vince Clarke made ‘Nightbird’, possibly their best album since ‘The Innocents’. Something of a departure, it comprised entirely soft synths and was more layered than anything they had undertaken before. ‘Here I Go Impossible Again’ was one of the highlights in a brilliant cohesive collection of work. It was proof if that if you’ve got it but have lost it, you can get it again back if you keep trying…
Available on the ERASURE album ‘Nightbird’ via Mute Records
POLLY SCATTERGOOD Other Too Endless – Vince Clarke Remix (2009)
POLLY SCATTERGOOD was managed by former Mute plugger Neil Ferris and her self-titled debut came out on Mute in 2009 to largely positive reviews. An intense organic collection of ethereal songs, Scattergood revealed herself to be a promising talent unafraid to express emotion and vulnerability. From it, ‘Other Too Endless’ was bolstered by a superb VC remix and highlighted the compatibility of her sound within a synthesized pop environment.
THE GOOD NATURED were a British pop trio who were keen to collaborate to develop their sound. This slice of electropop goodness originated from a demo that Clarke had sent over to the band. Wanting to explore more electronic territory, singer Sarah McIntosh’s voice was given a layered, almost robotic aesthetic that suited the eerie but danceable atmosfear. Like a futuristic funfair ride, ‘Ghost Train’ swooped in a manner that was very appealing. They later changed their name to LOVESTARRS.
Originally released as a free download via Astralwerks, currently unavailable
ELECTRIC YOUTH are a synthesizer couple hailing from Edmonton in Canada. Having enjoyed ‘A Real Hero’, Bronwyn Griffin and Austin Garrick’s contribution to the ‘Drive’ soundtrack, Clarke accepted the duo’s invitation to provide his production and mixing skills to the dreamy synthpop of ‘The Best Thing’. Bringing a vintage Yamaha CS80 along to the session, this laid back but melodic ditty was enhanced by the input and came out as ELECTRIC YOUTH’s second single.
Available on the ELECTRIC YOUTH album ‘Innerworld’ via Last Gang Entertainment / Secretly Canadian
At 2011’s Short Circuit Presents Mute, Martin Gore discussed with Vince Clarke about collaborating on some minimal techno sketches. After a period of exchanging sound files via the web, the fruits of their endeavours were released as ‘Ssss’ by Mute. Very much Martin Gore’s “kind of disco”, tracks like ‘Spock’, ‘Single Blip’ and the ironically titled ‘Skip This Track’ were possibly more accessible than purer forms of techno; the best track was ‘Lowly’ with its sweeping synthetic strings over robotic rhythms.
Available on the VCMG album ‘Ssss’ via Mute Records
VINCE CLARKE & ANA BRUN Fly On The Windscreen (2012)
Novelist Tonya Hurley commissioned her brother-in-law to record a stark cover of his former band’s ‘Fly On The Windscreen’ with vocalist ANE BRUN, as part of promotion for her literary trilogy ‘The Blessed’. While the guitar-like textures appeared to have been borrowed from the original in an act of artistic homage, the rest of the widescreen arrangement was quite different as the vulnerable feminine Gothic twist acted as the ‘Twilight’ Generation’s perfect introduction to DEPECHE MODE.
Following the disappointment of 2011’s ‘Tomorrow’s World’, ‘The Violet Flame’, produced by Richard X saw ERASURE return to form and express an infectious zest for the future. Interestingly following his VCMG techno project, the songs began with Vince Clarke’s pre-recorded dance grooves. With Andy Bell preferring these faster pace backbones, the result was a much more immediate and uptempo album. ‘Dead Of Night’ was the collection’s euphoric, uplifting opening number.
Over the five years since its inception on 15th March 2010, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has aimed to highlight the best new music within the electronic pop world.
But with so much music and only a finite allocation of time, songs have slipped under the radar occasionally, or perhaps only received a glancing mention. However, a bit of time and distance can reveal if these recordings really are actually lost gems and whether the site missed the boat. So here are 30 songs from the cover the period between March 2010 to December 2014 which are worthy of rediscovery.
They have been released as physical product or purchasable / free downloads and are listed in chronological and then alphabetical order.
YVY DEMINA Alley of Aces (2010)
Sounding like night meeting day with an omnipresent gothic allure, YVY DEMINA has been making music since 2007 but despite having songs on compilations, so far she has yet to have a release in her own right. A debut EP scheduled for July 2009 never materialised but the excellent ‘Alley Of Aces’ crept out on the ‘Zwischenfall – A New Decade Vol. 01’ compendium which also featured XENO & OAKLANDER. No more has been heard since…
Available on the compilation album ‘Zwischenfall – A New Decade Vol. 01’ via Real Voice Of Underground
Seductive, Weimer Cabaret styled electropop with a rich, layered atmosphere, ‘Sternentanz’ was a gloriously vibrant song from this promising German songstress. But aside from three mixes of ‘Sternentanz’ and another track titled ‘Kein Weg Zu Weit’ on the single release, that was it. LYLEE’s website has long since gone offline so despite Google, there appears to be no extra information on her whatsoever… so a song and artist truly lost.
Available as a download single via Batleth Records, extended version available on the compilation album ‘electropop.5’ via Conzoom Records
Sick of female fronted synthpop? Well, tough! We want “synths with balls” cry the electro fraternity still stuck in their shouty, chauvinistic cauldron! But as the feminist synth combo TIKKLE ME put it on their song ‘Remind The World’: “I’ve got no balls you see… I’ve already checked!”. This Swedish collective certainly made a positive impression with some thought provoking lyrics on their feisty self-titled debut album and have tunes too! Their second album ‘What Is Real’ is even better!
Available on the download album ‘Tikkle Me’ via Gaphals
047 Featuring LISA PEDERSEN Everything’s Fine (2011)
With some rich Scandipop in the vein of ROBYN courtesy of guest vocalist LISA PEDERSEN, ‘Everything’s Fine’ showed that Swedish electronic duo 047 could produce quality song based material. Sebastian Rutgersson and Peter Engström started out as a chiptune act before expanding their sonic template on their second album proper, ‘Elva’. It is territory they’re continuing in with the much anticipated follow-up, currently being recorded.
JOHAN AGEBJÖRN & LE PRIX featuring LAKE HEARTBEAT Watch The World Go By (2011)
JOHAN AGEBJÖRN is better known as cult Swedish songstress SALLY SHAPIRO’s right hand man, but for his debut solo album, he brought in a number of guest vocalists like QUEEN OF HEARTS for ‘Casablanca Nights’, a rather danceable electronic pop album. ‘Watch The World Go By’ was an uptempo highlight with a longing, melancholic vocal from Janne Kask of LAKE HEARTBEAT that was treated to the point of being almost feminine.
Available on the download album ‘Casablanca Nights’ via Paper Bag
Produced by FRANZ FERDINAND’s Alex Koupranos, CITIZENS! ‘True Romance’ had a hint of HOT CHIP collaborating with Vince Clarke about it. Catchy and quirky, it was released in late 2011 and even had a slight passing resemblance to the CCS remix of LYKKE LI’s ‘Little Bit’. From a so-called indie band, ‘True Romance’ had a fresh, synth assisted approach that didn’t involve too many guitar interventions.
HIGH PLACES are a duo based in Brooklyn. Dark but danceable, Mary Pearson’s half spoken / half wispy vocals on the haunting ‘Year Off’ are unearthly. As a percussive mantra takes hold, the cacophony of synthetic sound produced by musical partner Rob Barber only enhances the cerebral experience of this magnificent track, with an electronic bassline solid enough to knock your head on.
Available on the album ‘Original Colors’ via Thrill Jockey Records
While quite obviously derived from THE KNIFE and the hanutronica mood of the times, ‘Mother Protect’ was a great brooding tune from NIKI & THE DOVE. Malin Dahlstrom had a menacing growl that strangely sat between Karin Dreijer and Cyndi Lauper on this doom laden percussive rattle. The pair had potential and while THE KNIFE go to Eurovision of ‘DJ, Ease My Mind’ was another good tune in their cannon, they lacked consistency and the debut album ‘Instinct’ was not quite as impressive.
Full of European melancholy, ‘Darkest Days’ did what it said on the tin and appeared on the ‘Electropop.6’ compilation alongside VILE ELECTRODES and OBLIQUE. The vehicle of French producer Peter Rainman whose remixed for artists on labels such as Dependent, A Different Drum and Out Of Line, to date this has been his last offering as SPLENDOR PROJEKT. It is often quite puzzling how some musical ventures never get beyond a few released songs, while other less satisfactory acts keep going on and on…
Available on the compilation album ‘electropop.6’ via Conzoom Records
PATRICK WOLF once claimed to have had his image and act nicked by LA ROUX, but he seemed to do alright for himself as a kind of 21st Century’s answer to MARC ALMOND. With the synthetically accessible Richard X remix of ‘This City’, he actually came over like the lost Glaswegian band H20 through a Eurodisco filter. If Wolf actually stopped worrying about having his thunder stolen and actually did more stuff like this, he might then be able to outstrip LA ROUX.
Available on the download single ‘In The City’ via Hideout Recordings
Hailing from Portland, CHROMATICS were one of the brace North American electronic acts who appeared on the ‘Drive – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack’ with their song ‘Tick Of The Clock’. ‘Kill For Love’ from their fourth album of the same name could have been THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN if they were a female fronted synth band. With a lo-fi, punkier edge to their sound, CHROMATICS straddle several camps and bring a unique template to the alternative music table.
Available on the album ‘Kill For Love’ via Italians Do It Better
Gothenburg’s Ulrika Mild is COMPUTE whose first two releases ‘This’ in 2009 and ‘The Distance’ in 2012 impressed with their wispy, emotive DIY synthpop. Since then, she also found time to record a fabulous cover of ‘Goodbye’, written by Paul McCartney and first recorded by Mary Hopkin, for a tribute CD that also featured Swedish synth veterans PAGE with a great electro version of SLADE’s ‘Coz I Luv You’. Known for taking her time over things, COMPUTE’s third release is still eagerly awaited.
Available on the download compilation album ‘The Seventies Revisited’ via Friends of Electronically Yours
Following the second disbandment of A-HA in 2010, MORTEN HARKET has sat again in that awkward artistic hinterland where he has the voice and the cheekbones, but is more challenged in the songwriting department. However, the spritely ‘Scared Of Heights’ written by Espen Lind, a mentor on the Norwegian version of ‘The Voice’, recalled the best of A-HA’s classic singles with Harket’s trademark falsetto allowed to let rip. However, Harket is unlikely to ever escape A-HA…
Available on the album ‘Out Of My Hands’ via Island / Universal Music
While bandmate Sean McBride was busy with his MARTIAL CANTEREL solo project, XENO & OAKLANDER’s Liz Wendelbo took a parallel busman’s holiday and contributed string synths and vocals to some tracks recorded by Xavier Paradis of AUTOMELODI fame. Perhaps lighter than XENO & OAKLANDER and more obviously in key, ‘Rien À Paris’ captured Wendelbo’s Gallic charms in a manner than was Francoise Hardy rather than her usual Jane Birkin.
The act that influenced CHVRCHES, Edmonton duo PURITY RING combined synths and glitch techniques with a clattering, off-kilter drum machine backbone. Megan James’ vocals aren’t that far off Lauren Mayberry’s sweet tones but while ‘Belispeak’ was a good tune full of invention and atmosphere, overall PURITY RING have perhaps lacked the pop oriented immediacy and focus of their Glaswegian contemporaries. Where they head next in the light of this will be interesting…
The enticing project of NEW PONY CLUB’s Lou Hayter and Jean-Benoît Dunckel from AIR, ‘So Long My Love’ was a wonderfully motorik number with hypnotic drum machine, brash synth effects and sexy nonchalance all thrown into the bargain. Such an interesting combination had so much potential, but the resultant self-titled album released in 2013 lacked the vibrancy of this calling card and was sadly a disappointment.
Available on the album ‘Tomorrow’s World’ via Homebase
Released on Sweden’s Labrador Records who launched THE SOUND OF ARROWS, ‘Stop Taking My Time’ was proof that a danceable electronic tune didn’t have to be a journey into death by four-to-the-floor or longer than five minutes. With Karolina Komstedt’s dramatically assertive vocal and a bursting bassline, CLUB 8 showed in a crisp 180 seconds that glorious, uplifting synthpop could still have an impact.
Available on the album ‘Above The City’ via Labrador Records
Like fellow Mancunians HURTS, DELPHIC were hailed as one of the great hopes for male fronted electronic pop with a sound not unlike A CERTAIN RATIO gone right! Their debut album ‘Acolyte’ showed what they could be capable of, if they could only turn their extended jams into songs. However, the follow-up album ‘Collections’ disappointed with a misguided excursion into rap. The launch single ‘Baiya’ though was a cracker, combining the anthemic vocal pomp of MUSE with the rhythmical overtures of PRINCE.
Available on the album ‘Collections’ via Polydor Records
Ghostly are the innovative label founded by American electronic musician MATTHEW DEAR and home to electro-punksters ADULT. Their roster also includes a number of interesting acts like London based FORT ROMEAU. The project of producer Michael Greene, ‘Stay True’ takes on a pulsating electro influence, but is allowed to breathe and progress with the space permitted by the length of the piece.
ISAAC JUNKIE featuring GLENN GREGORY Something About You (2013)
Having toured both ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ and ‘The Luxury Gap’, HEAVEN 17 really needed to record new material to maintain their credibility. It could be argued that this collaboration with Mexican producer ISAAC JUNKIE and GLENN GREGORY went part of the way in kick starting that. A marvellously trancey electronic dance tune, the only thing that stops ‘Something About You’ from being perfect is the way Mr Gregory’s vocals have been processed and distorted.
Available on the single ‘Something About You’ via Isaac Junkie Records
Like MARSHEAUX crossed with POLLY SCATTERGOOD, the dream laden chillwave of ‘Oostende’ showcased what COCTEAU TWINS might have sounded like had they been a synth duo. Comprising of the gorgeous afflicted voice of Sarah P,. and the mysterious RΠЯ, KEEP SHELLY IN ATHENS actually hailed from the Greek capital, but sounded like they’d emerged from a frozen Fjord in Narvik. Sarah P. subsequently departed in 2014, but KEEP SHELLY ATHENS continue today with new singer Myrtha.
Despite having released their five EPs in five years, this Swedish duo have tended to be overlooked. There was a two year wait for KITE’s most recent EP ‘V’, but it was worth the wait when Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg offered some fine, if mournful electropop in the shape of ‘The Rhythm’. With layers of exuberant synth sounds and Stenemo’s almost chant like vocals full of brooding sadness but with a glimmer of hope, the next EP ‘VI’ is set for a Spring 2015 release.
NATTEFROST is Danish musician Bjørn Jeppesen whose tenth album ‘Futurized’ encompassed many of the spacey elements of yesterday’s tomorrow that fans of JEAN MICHEL JARRE and KRAFTWERK would enjoy. Featuring as a guest vocalist, Michel Moers of Belgian synth subversives TELEX, his Gallic nonchalance on ‘Will I Get to Your Heart?’ is particularly good with sequenced percussive effects and rich synth sweeps providing some old fashioned synthpop.
Available on the album ‘Futurized’ via Sireena Records
MULU featuring RUSSELL MAEL David – Frozen Smoke Remix (2013)
SPARKS have never just been an exclusively synthpop act but with the Mael Brothers more orchestrated in their instrumental template these days, it is rare to hear the magnificent nuances of Russell Mael on an electronic track in the 21st Century. This rather good collaboration with MULU remained strangely unreleased until dance act FROZEN SMOKE threw caution to the wind and let their synth dominated remix with its meaty snare sounds out. Singer Laura Campbell sounded totally glorious next to the younger Mael.
Originally available as a free download via Soundcloud, currently unavailable
Art rockers NIGHT ENGINE are possibly the most interesting guitar driven band to come out of the UK for some time. What separates them from the pack is their use of whirring synths for their solos. The rousing ‘Give Me A Chance’ fuses DAVID BOWIE and TALKING HEADS before digressing into a punchy end section which would conscript the quartet into TUBEWAY ARMY. And this is without mentioning that lanky vocalist / guitarist Phil McDonnell has that menacing air of Thin White Duke about him too.
Available on the download EP ‘Night Engine’ via Demand Vinyl / Something In Construction
Mining the heritage of Italo disco, enigmatic Greek singer / songwriter TAXX aka Taxiarchis Zolotas successfully combined atmospherics, propulsive bass sequences and a solid electro beat on the immensely catchy ‘Is It Love?’. With a moodiness reminiscent of PET SHOP BOYS, but with spacey buzzes and a harder kick, TAXX’s homage to the club based sub-genre was a worthy excursion into classic European pop.
Available on the download single ‘Is It Love?’ via Undo Records
TRENTMØLLER featuring SUNE ROSE WAGNER Deceive (2013)
Anders Trentemøller made a name for himself when he remixed DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Wrong’ in 2009. He succeeded not only in stamping his own vision with a far superior interpretation but highlighted shortcomings in DM’s production department. The muted synth trumpets and spacey swirls of ‘Deceive’ driven by an incessant drum machine made for a positively nocturnal atmosphere . And when crossed with an eerie vocal turn by Sune Rose Wagner, it all came over brilliantly like DM meeting DEATH IN VEGAS.
Hailing from Canada, ELECTRIC YOUTH’s collaboration with COLLEGE entitled ‘A Real Hero’ was included on ‘Drive – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack’ in 2011. Their debut album ‘Innerworld’ finally came out in Autumn 2014 and one of its highlights was another collaboration, this time with ROOM8 called ‘Without You’. The bridge and chorus are particularly tremendous. Now if this electronic ditty had come out thirty years ago, there is no doubt it would have ended up in a Brat Pack movie.
Available on the album ‘Innerworld’ via Last Gang Entertainment / Secretly Canadian
Pitch shifted to an almost asexual resonance, EMIKA delivered a wonderfully unique cover of one of Bowie’s best known tunes. The stabbing synth melody only vaguely sounds like it may have been derived from the original ‘Let’s Dance’. Indeed, this is more of a tribute with EMIKA herself describing it as “A new time-travel, gender twisting experiment in honour of one of my favourite artists…” – indeed, DURAN DURAN’s ‘Union Of The Snake’ sounds more obviously like a cover of ‘Let’s Dance’ than this does 😉
Available on the CD ‘David Bowie – Recovered’ free with Rolling Stone Germany – May 2014
The now New York based pop princess moved away from her Nashville roots for her first overtly pop album ‘1989’. Whereas tracks like ‘Blank Space’ and ‘Out Of The Woods’ merely flirted with synthpop in the mould of CHVRCHES, the appropriately titled deluxe bonus track ‘New Romantics’ almost went the full hog! In fact, if Miss Swift’s inherent Americanisms were not so apparent, this enticing number could easily be mistaken for the dreamy allure of Scandipodean twins SAY LOU LOU.
Available on the album ‘1989 – Deluxe edition’ via Big Machine Records