Tag: FM Attack (Page 1 of 3)

2021 End Of Year Review

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.

It was big business for 40th anniversary live celebrations from the likes of HEAVEN 17, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD and SOFT CELL, while other veterans such as NEW ORDER and ERASURE returned to the live circuit with the biggest indoor headlining shows of their career.

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.

As Kat Von D teamed up with Dan Haigh of GUNSHIP for her debut solo record ‘Love Made Me Do It’, acts like DANZ CM, CLASS ACTRESS, GLITBITER, PRIMO THE ALIEN, PARALLELS, KANGA, R.MISSING, I AM SNOW ANGEL, XENO & OAKLANDER, HELIX and DAWN TO DAWN showed that North America was still the creative hub as far as electronically derived pop songs went.

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’.

ACTORS delivered their most synthy album yet while as LEATHERS, they keyboardist Shannon Hamment went the full hog for her debut solo effort ‘Reckless’. FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY released a new album and some of that ‘Mechanical Soul’ was brought by their Rhys Fulber into his productions this year for AESTHETIC PERFECTION.

In Europe, long playing debuts came from PISTON DAMP and WE ARE REPLICA while NORTHERN LITE released their first album completely in German and FRAGRANCE. presented their second album ‘Salt Air’. There was also the welcome return of SIN COS TAN, KID KASIO, GUSGUS, MARVA VON THEO, TINY MAGNETIC PETS and MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY.

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.

In 2021, sometimes words were very unnecessary and there were fine instrumental synth albums from BETAMAXX, WAVESHAPER, КЛЕТ and Richard Barbieri, with a Mercury nomination received by Hannah Peel for ‘Fir Wave’. But for those who preferred Italo Noir, popwave, post-punk techno and progressive pop, Tobias Bernstrup, Michael Oakley, Eric Random and Steven Wilson delivered the goods respectively.

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.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s year in music is gathered in its 2021 Playlist – Missing U at
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4rlJgJhiGkOw8q2JcunJfw


Text by Chi Ming Lai
17th December 2021

FM ATTACK The Never Ending

Shawn Ward says ‘The Never Ending’ is his last FM ATTACK album, but it’s a good one to end the story. The Canadian’s 2009 debut album ‘Dreamatic’ got a profile boost in 2011 when Ryan Gosling declared himself a fan of the record during interviews promoting the now-influential cult movie ‘Drive’.

2013’s ‘Déjà Vu’ moved into more song-based territory, while the third FM ATTACK album ‘Stellar’ in 2017 gave a showcase to Ward’s love of new-wave and post-punk. 2019’s ‘New World’ featured MECHA MAIKO and VANDAL MOON on vocals alongside the more understated tones of Ward to forward the template further.

Of his production style, Shawn Ward said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “I’m a vintage synth nerd, there is something very unique about programming your own sounds, the ones I use often are the Roland Jupiter 8, Jupiter 4 and the Emu Emax…”

‘The Never Ending’ sparkles with dream pop flourishes to add to the synthy experience while still being danceable, as epitomised by the sprightly opener ‘Days Like These’ which is swooped in aural optimism. Moderating to a more cruising pace, ‘Lonely Nights’ sees the first of Shawn Ward’s lead vocals, sweetened by Moroder-style vocoder phrasing. Meanwhile, following on with another vocalled track, ‘Footprints’ pulses and rings within a delightful percolating backdrop.

Taking centre-stage on the collection, ‘Hypnotize’ is a throbbing vocoder-laced highlight where the uptempo triplet groove is indeed hypnotizing. ‘So Blue’ features a sweet vocal refrain from his daughter Stella and utilises grainy synthetic strings and melodic six-string to head into what THE CURE might have sounded like had they been more electro.

‘Cinematic’ is possibly the most synthwave track on the album with its archetypical sombre bassline and full-on synthetic toms but the ringing chimes help it enter a different headspace, while the marvellously energetic ‘Starlight’ offers euphoric disco potential reminiscent of PET SHOP BOYS that more than reaches the hotspot.

Closing the album with the beautifully transient ‘Nova Child’, it outlines the gloriously understated craft that Shawn Ward puts into his music and perhaps signals a future direction as he retires FM ATTACK.

Longstanding fans will not be disappointed with ‘The Never Ending’, but for the curious who have not explored FM ATTACK before, this is an uplifting work which is just the tonic as the world comes out to play again. It may even lead to a journey to explore the catalogue of one of the North America’s leading synth exponents of the past 12 years.


‘The Never Ending’ is released by Starfield Music in vinyl LP, cassette and digital formats direct from
https://fmattack.bandcamp.com/album/the-never-ending

https://www.facebook.com/fmattackmusic/

https://twitter.com/fmattack

https://www.instagram.com/fmattack/

https://open.spotify.com/album/1E1hMtC817hSCTNbXWOelp


Text and Photo by Chi Ming Lai
30th May 2021

VANDAL MOON Interview

With a sound seeded from post-punk, goth and new wave, VANDAL MOON are shaped as much by their use of drum machines and synthesizers as much as guitars and the inevitable deep baritone vocals.

Comprising of Blake Voss and Jeremy Einsiedler, the Santa Cruz duo opened their account with the self-released ‘Dreamless’ in 2013.

Their most recent long player ‘Black Kiss’ is their most electronic work yet, although the sound of THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS and THE SISTERS OF MERCY permeates throughout, perhaps not unsurprisingly as the two are linked by John Ashton who was the guitarist for the classic line-up of the former and an early producer of the latter.

In 2018 for the release of the ‘Wild Insane’ album, VANDAL MOON signed to Starfield Music, the record label of Shawn Ward, best known for his work as FM ATTACK. It is perhaps Ward who can be credited for championing VANDAL MOON to the wider synth community. Meanwhile notable collaborations with BETAMAXX and MECHA MAIKO have cemented that association further.

But despite their influences like THE CURE and DEPECHE MODE, Blake Voss and Jeremy Einsiedler have presented their own take on a classic approach with the potential to connect with wider tribes and enclaves. Front man Blake Voss talked about the rise of VANDAL MOON.

Who were the bands that inspired VANDAL MOON?

I was born right around the time THE SEX PISTOLS broke in the UK. So, by the time I was cognisant of what was going on around me, new wave was all over the radio. EURYTHMICS, TEARS FOR FEARS, BLONDIE… those were the bands of my early childhood. At the same time, my Dad’s record collection was filled with everything from Lou Reed to PINK FLOYD. Oddly enough, VANDAL MOON was initially envisioned as a sort of electronic-psychedelic project, and I think my childhood experiences, and imagination turned it into what it is now.

Had the use of synthesizers and drum machines in VANDAL MOON been more out of necessity to keep the creative process as a duo, or had you been like a conventional rock band previously?

Jeremy is my best friend. He and I have been playing music together since the late 90s, in all kinds of different bands. Noise bands, punk bands, acid folk… everything. We both loved the sh*t out of math rock, and all those post-rock bands of the early 2000s that nobody talks about anymore.

Typically, he played the drums and I played guitar and sang. But the synths and drum machines came into play because of our mutual love of the soundtrack to the movie ‘Drive’. That movie really affected us both in a profound way. It did that for many people.

Of course, the original European definition of goth which was doomy but melodic has mutated over the years into this American take which is more like dark metal, any thoughts?

I don’t know much about dark metal, but I love goth music and goth culture. I’m not a goth and I don’t pretend to make strictly goth music, but we have a lot of fans from the subculture. I’ve never met nicer, more thoughtful people. I’m just happy to have been accepted by some of them. And I love them back.

How do you look back on the first three VANDAL MOON albums and how you’ve developed?

We’ve moved in a lot of different directions as a band. THE BEATLES sort of set that precedent for pop music; never doing the same thing for too long. Eventually they became a corporation more than anything, but we all learned the same lessons from them.

Art isn’t about being born fully formed from the head of Zeus or something. It’s a journey and a process. It’s about leaving a beautiful mess behind you and letting the kids sort it all out.

Oh yeah, and being a celebrity sucks. THE BEATLES taught us that as well.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK first heard of VANDAL MOON though collaborations with FM ATTACK and then MECHA MAIKO and BETAMAXX, so how did this synthwave association begin and has it expanded your audience?

I didn’t even know the synthwave community existed until a gentleman by the name of Axel from Neon Vice Magazine reached out to me around 2013. From there it just snowballed. The synthwave kids embraced me as an artist, and that was so heart-warming.

Because of that, I’ve been fortunate enough work with some artists who have forged a place for themselves in the history books. Shawn, Haley and Nick are all legends in their own right. These are people who have created something from nothing. Back when MTV mattered, they would have been featured on ‘120 Minutes’ or something. They deserve to be celebrated. History will not forget them, and neither will I.

You have described ‘Black Kiss’ as your most electronic record yet, had you been looking to evolve in this direction or did the acceptance by the synthwave community accelerate this and give you the confidence to make more of an artistic jump?

When I make a record, I imagine it in very abstract terms. To my imagination, this record wanted to be more angular and dark. A primarily electronic pallet was the best way for me to elaborate on that vision. I’ve written literally hundreds of songs on guitars, so it felt good to write this album on synthesizers. It gives it a different vibe. But who knows, maybe I’ll do something weird like a ‘VANDAL MOON: Unplugged’ album next. Or maybe a synthesizer style punk record. Who knows!

How would describe the creative dynamic within VANDAL MOON?

Much of the time, I’m alone in my studio, just f*cking around until something decent emerges. For every album, I write maybe 50 or 60 songs, and pick the best 10 or whatever. When I die, you can rummage through all my hard drives and release bullsh*t demos to your heart’s content. Jeremy and I get together a lot at his place, and drink vodka until we’re screaming at 2am and creeping the neighbours out. It’s a good way to let off some steam. A lot of songs come out of that process as well.

‘Wicked World’ does that epic gothic thing like FIELDS OF THE NEPHILM, did you know ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was in the same class at school as The Neph’s drummer Nod but he was into jazz funk then!?! Were there any genres of music you explored before settling where you are now?

I’ve listened to and made all kinds of music. I listen to hip-hop, math rock, Turkish psych music… you name it. I’ve done soundtracks for documentaries where I’m playing a dumbek drum and a melodica and just chanting. I’ll play any instrument. I might play it sh*ttily, but I’ll play it nonetheless. I just love making music. F*ck everything else. I’m determined to succeed at creation. The rest is just happenstance.

‘Hurt’ really plays on making THE SISTERS OF MERCY’s template more synthy, had that been intentional?

I don’t intentionally model any of my songs after particular artists. The bands I liken us to, for PR purposes, are just based upon what people tell me we sound like. The thing I love about this project is that people struggle to pigeonhole us. VANDAL MOON sounds like a lot of different things, but we don’t fit neatly into any one genre. That means we’re doing something unique. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.

The moody gothwave of ‘We Are Electric’ sees you collaborate with FM ATTACK again, Shawn Ward really loves his dark musical side doesn’t he?

Shawn is the warmest, most enthusiastic and supportive person I know. He invited me out to this home in Mazatlan and we made a bunch of songs together for this last album ‘New World’. He’s my friend first and foremost. And yes, he loves dark music.

He understands how to create something dark that touches people’s hearts in a way that is multi-faceted, and not just like “oh me, I’m angry, boo hoo”. That’s because he is a special soul, and talented as hell. We’ll probably make a full-length FM ATTACK // VANDAL MOON album together at some point. It’ll be like THE GLOVE or something.

You’re not afraid to play with post-punk disco templates as ‘Suicidal City Girl’ shows? What had this been influenced by?

I think I was listening to a lot of Sally Dige when I made that song. You can hear it in there. Sally is so talented. I hope I get to work with her one day. She’s a real artist in the lifestyle sense.

Her life is art and art is her life. At least from what I can see. She draws, paints, makes music and film. She’s what we all aspire to. I was supposed to get my ass out to Berlin to do a music video with her, but it never happened.

‘Robot Lover’ is like DEPECHE MODE meeting THE MISSION, how did this track come together?

That’s a lovely compliment, thank you. This is one of those songs that Jeremy and I wrote together at his house. I think I wrote the bass line and Jeremy came up with the chords. Jeremy came up with the idea for me to sing higher during the verse line “we are enslaved for life, our pain is real”. And I think that’s what really pushed the song forward. It’s a very futurist song.

The apocalyptic gothic trance of ‘No Future’ no doubt surprised your fans, but how has the reception been on the whole to ‘Black Kiss’, has anyone said you are “betraying your goth roots”?

To hell with anyone who tells me I’m betraying my roots. The first CD I ever purchased with my own money was LL Cool J’s ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’, just based upon the power of the album art, so what the fuck do they know about my roots? I put ‘No Future’ last on the album because I felt like it was just a really nice closer. It’s aggressive, but in a more EDM kind of way. Of course, it’s not EDM. Nobody knows what it is, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s a really fun song to perform, and it’s very powerful at loud volumes. It’s a song dedicated to dystopia, and also to John Lydon. Thank you for everything, John. We love you.

How have European audiences taken to VANDAL MOON, will some of the directions taken on ‘Black Kiss’ make that more palatable for the future?

We live in interesting times. We have followers from all over the world. We get an extreme amount of support from Brazil and the rest of South America. But in the end, we’re all humans who hurt and laugh and love.

I don’t give too much credence to where our audience is from, but rather I try to embrace their love and acceptance and express gratitude back towards them as individuals. I don’t know if ‘Black Kiss’ will connect more with European audiences, but I believe it will connect with those who listen with open hearts.

The ‘Black Kiss’ album title does rather capture the zeitgeist, any thoughts?

I don’t groom my music to pump people up or bring them down, like Coca-Cola or something. I just follow my instincts and make songs based upon how I’m feeling at that moment. As a result, I think it sort of follows the emotional ups and downs of my human experience, which people can innately relate to.

I don’t want to make any commentary on what this album is or isn’t in terms of emotional content, because I want listeners to create their own experience and connections. The world is f*cked up, but it’s also filled with beauty.

The worldwide lockdown has made it difficult for everyone to make plans, but are there anymore collaborations planned for the future, or live appearances?

I’m working on a remix album with a bunch of insane artists that I won’t name here. But rest assured, it’s packed with talent. All 10 songs from ‘Black Kiss’ will be remixed by 10 different artists. I can’t wait. I also have like 3 different, full on collaborations that are in the works, which I think will surprise people.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Blake Voss

‘Black Kiss’ is released by Starfield Music as a white vinyl LP, cassette or download, available along with the rest of the VANDAL MOON back catalogue direct from https://vandalmoon.bandcamp.com/

https://www.vandalmoon.com/

https://www.facebook.com/vandalm00n/

https://twitter.com/VandalMoon

https://www.instagram.com/vandalm00n/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
17th June 2020

VANDAL MOON Black Kiss

During the MTV era, the advent of college radio with an Anglophile stance on American campuses and stations such as KROQ in Los Angeles featuring DJs like expat Englishman Richard Blade had a huge effect on youth in the US.

Considering themselves smarter than the average mainstream BON JOVI fan, this audience facilitated a breakthrough for a number of darker tinged acts alongside the bands who had been featured in John Hughes teen flicks like ‘Pretty In Pink’, ‘The Breakfast Club’ and ‘Some Kind Of Wonderful’.

So unlike the UK where they were more than likely to have totally different audiences, American fans of SIMPLE MINDS, DEPECHE MODE, OMD and ERASURE could often be seen attending the concerts of THE CURE, SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS, ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN, THE SMITHS and THE SISTERS OF MERCY alongside the goths and positive punks.

As a result, the New Wave movement in North America turned out in a way that would be considered incongruous by British music fans. But what it did culturally was influence generations of aspiring music creatives to mix and match genres without necessarily being self-conscious about it.

One of those acts is California’s VANDAL MOON. With a sound seeded from post-punk, goth and new wave, they are shaped as much by their use of drum machines and synthesizers as much as guitars and the inevitable deep baritone vocals.

Front man Blake Voss manages to sound somewhere between Andrew Eldritch and Richard Butler, while instrumentalist Jeremy Einsiedler is the more electronically inclined of the pair.

Having guested on records by FM ATTACK, BETAMAXX and MECHA MAIKO, the Santa Cruz duo has ended up with a foot each in the synthwave scene.

As a result, ‘Black Kiss’ is by their own admission is the duo’s most purely electronic work yet, largely written using synths while being inspired by THE CURE, DEPECHE MODE, THE SISTERS OF MERCY and THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS.

Conceived around the futuristic love story of two androids escaping enslavement, ‘Black Kiss’ begins with the profound statement that is ‘Hurt’; now if THE SISTERS OF MERCY’s ‘Lucretia My Reflection’ was redone with synths, it would sound like this.

‘Dead’ plays along with a more typical gothic template using a guitar-laced setting, but pretty cascading synth hooks add to the chilling atmosphere while metallic percussive samples provide some industrial edge. Meanwhile, the ‘Black Kiss’ title track signals impending doom and chipmunk voice samples provide a foreboding not-of-this-world aesthetic.

The more obviously synth driven ‘We Are Electric’ uses pulses and drones simultaneously for its low end, penetrating the darkwave via its hybrid overtones. This is perhaps not surprising as FM ATTACK’s Shawn Ward makes a notable guest contribution.

However, ‘We Live Forever’ surprises as a moody synthwave ballad; featuring Leanne Kelly from the San Francisco indie-pop duo NEW SPELL on vocals, it sees an understated Blake Voss adapting to a less overwrought singing style and delivering it very well.

But the frantic ‘Wicked World’ puts everything back on the epic gothic path with a thundering run of percussion that recalls Stevenage’s finest FIELDS OF THE NEPHILM and their ‘Moonchild’; trivia fact pop pickers, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was in the same class at school as The Neph’s drummer Nod!

‘Robot Lover’ enjoyably passes ‘Enjoy The Silence’ through a Wayne Hussey filter while ‘Suicidal City Girl’ is superb, showcasing electronic post-punk disco at its best with enthralling echoes of THE DANSE SOCIETY.

With the more laid back approach premiered on ‘We Live Forever’, ‘Pretend To Die’ sees Shawn Ward return on synths and here the FM ATTACK synthy shades are strong.

Hypnotic to the point of being gothic trance, the apocalyptic closer ‘No Future’ is another surprise, a magnificent four-to-the-floor dance number complete with squealing drops and a mighty climax. If this track doesn’t crossover into the German alternative club scene, then ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK will eat its copy of SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES ‘Superstition’…

But despite all these retrospective alternative influences, what VANDAL MOON have come up with is something unique at this moment in time. THE CURE and THE SISTERS OF MERCY were never as synthy as VANDAL MOON, so with their melting of styles, Voss and Einsiedler have presented their own take on a familiar classic approach.

Mixed and mastered by Maurizio Baggio who worked on THE SOFT MOON’s ‘Criminal’ and the BOY HARSHER breakthrough album ‘Careful’, ‘Black Kiss’ sits up there as a great modern alternative pop record with its gothwave aesthetics.

If it had been released in 1984, many of these songs would have gone down extremely well at The Batcave, the famous London goth haunt where Hamish Macdonald and Rusty Egan DJed. Today, they wouldn’t sound at all out of place at Slimelight.

A fine record that captures a dystopian outlook on life with an appealing electronic sensibility, ‘Black Kiss’ has the potential to connect with a number of different tribes and audiences.


‘Black Kiss’ is released by Starfield Music, available as a white vinyl LP, cassette or download from https://vandalmoon.bandcamp.com/album/black-kiss

https://www.vandalmoon.com/

https://www.facebook.com/vandalm00n/

https://twitter.com/VandalMoon

https://www.instagram.com/vandalm00n/

https://open.spotify.com/album/6Z8qGpueRVwXM3M2orJtBr


Text by Chi Ming Lai
15th May 2020

25 TRACKS FROM THE CIRCUIT BOARDS OF CANADA

Like Sweden, as a country with a relatively small population in relation to land mass, Canada punches above its weight when it comes to its contribution to popular music.

Canada’s internationally famous artists may be Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Céline Dion, Bryan Adams and Alanis Morisette, but there have been so many more that have been far more interesting.

Canada has been a significant presence in synth from the post-punk pioneers such as NASH THE SLASH and CERAMIC HELLO, to international MTV-era hits from the likes of MEN WITHOUT HATS, TRANS-X and KON KAN, up to the present day via the mainstream profile of GRIMES, PURITY RING and CRYSTAL CASTLES. Meanwhile, it also has developed into a hub for the burgeoning sub-genre of Synthwave thanks to FM ATTACK and DANA JEAN PHOENIX.

Like in the UK with the availability of affordability of technology from Japan in particular, Canadian youngsters were taking up synthesizers. And while several were to attain cult status like RATIONAL YOUTH and PYSCHE, some such as the Winnipeg trio EUROPA were destined just to have their moment on domestic television without an official release to their name.

Today, the tradition continues with artists such as DEADMAU5, TIGA, KOISHII & HUSH, LOLA DUTRONIC and TECHNIQUES BERLIN covering a wide spectrum of electronic pop and dance music.

So here is ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s list of 25 tracks from the circuit boards of Canada, subject to a limit of one per artist moniker, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order. But notice a void in between 1990 to 2000 when it could be said that the likes of Dion, Adams and Morisette dominated the airwaves of the globe.

However, the number of electronic acts who have appeared in the 21st Century have more than made up for things.


CERAMIC HELLO Climatic Nouveaux (1980)

CERAMIC HELLO were a duo who hailed from Burlington in Ontario, formed by Brett Wickens in 1980 after leaving post-punk band SPOONS. He teamed up with Roger Humphreys who added a more classical bent to their minimal synth in the vein of JOHN FOXX and FAD GADGET. Their first release was the detached cold wave paranoia of ‘Climatic Nouveaux’. Wickens later moved to England to join Peter Saville Associates, making a major contribution to the artwork for OMD’s ‘Architecture & Morality’.

Available on the album ‘The Absence Of A Canary’ via Suction Records

https://www.studiobrettwickens.com/


NASH THE SLASH Swing Shift – Flexi Version (1981)

NASH THE SLASH opened for GARY NUMAN and was signed to Dindisc Records. It was during this period that he had his highest mainstream media profile with features in ‘Smash Hits’; it was with the pop mag that his best known recording in the UK came via a blue flexi-disc with an early self-produced stripped down version of ‘Swing-Shift’ sitting next to his label mates OMD’s live rendition of ‘Pretending To See The Future’. He sadly passed away in 2014.

Available as a bonus track on the album ‘Children Of The Night’ via Artoffact Records ‎

http://nashtheslash.com/


MEN WITHOUT HATS The Safety Dance (1982)

Hailing from Montreal, ‘The Safety Dance’ was written by MEN WITHOUT HATS lead singer Ivan Doroschuk after he had been kicked out of a club for pogoing, thus it was effectively a protest song against conformity, a call for freedom of expression. it had been misinterpreted as a being about safe sex and as an anti-nuclear protest song. The bouncy almost medieval feel combined with Doroschuk’s vocals like a less doomy Andrew Eldritch to produce a huge international hit.

Available on the album ‘Rhythm Of Youth’ via Bulldog Brothers ‎

http://safetydance.com/


SPOONS Arias & Symphonies (1982)

Hailing from Toronto and lead by Gordon Deppe, after the acclaim for the 1981 debut album ‘Stick Figure Neighbourhood’, the songs on the second ‘Arias & Symphonies’ were more European influenced. With JAPAN producer John Punter behind the desk, the title song was an perfect amalgam of prog theatrics, new wave gallop and synth pomp. SPOONS were soon to be opening for bands such as SIMPLE MINDS and THE POLICE. Today, Deppe is also the guitarist for A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS.

Available on the album ‘Arias & Symphonies’ via Ready Records

https://www.spoonsmusic.com/


STRANGE ADVANCE Love Games (1982)

STRANGE ADVANCE were a Canadian new wave band formed in Vancouver, made up of Drew Arnott (keyboards, percussion, vocals), Darryl Kromm (lead vocals, guitars), and Paul Iverson (bass). Utilising synthesizers and advances in programming technology, their music was a fusion of progressive rock and MTV friendly pop that struck a chord, with the lyrical couplet “The time is right / We’ll love tonight” of ‘Love Games’ capturing the mood of times.

Available on the album ‘Worlds Away’ via VR

https://www.strangeadvance.com/


MARTHA Light Years From Love (1983)

The stunning Martha Ladly was more than just a pretty face; she was a musician, vocalist, artist and designer. Following her stints with MARTHA & THE MUFFINS, ASSOCIATES and doing paintings for Peter Saville’s NEW ORDER sleeve artwork, she teamed up with Brett Wickens from CERAMIC HELLO on this charming pop tune which echoed THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Open Your Heart’. Peter Hook provided his distinctive melodic six-string bass while the dynamic production came from Steve Nye.

Originally released as a single by Island Records, currently unavailable

http://samemistakesmusic.blogspot.com/2009/01/charmed-life-of-martha-ladly_22.html


RATIONAL YOUTH Holiday In Bangkok (1983)

The classic RATIONAL YOUTH line-up of Tracy Howe, Bill Vorn and Kevin Komoda gained acclaim for their 1982 debut album ‘Cold War Night Life’, which became one of the biggest-selling Canadian independent albums at the time and secured a deal with Capitol Records. However, Vorn left to continue his university studies, but contributed synth programming to ‘Holiday In Bangkok’, a sinister overwrought warning about the dangers of becoming international drug mule.

Available on the album ‘Heredity’ via Capitol Records

https://rational-youth.com/


TRANS-X Living On Video (1983)

French-born Canadian Pascal Languirand was the man behind TRANS-X, and had previously been known for his spacey progressive rock solo albums like ‘Minos’ and ‘De Harmonia Universalia’. Originally issued in French as ‘Vivre Sur Video’, this cosmic octave-shifting electronic dance tune, with additional vocals by Laurie Ann Gill, became a massive hit worldwide after being re-released in 1985 and went onto to influence Electroclash artists such as FISCHERSPOONER and MISS KITTIN.

Available on the album ‘Living On Video’ via Unidisc

http://transx-music.com/


PSYCHE The Saint Became A Lush (1986)

PSYCHE are the acclaimed dark synthpop duo from Edmonton, founded by the Huss brothers Darrin and Stephen. Of the foreboding overtones of ‘The Saint Became A Lush’, “Many think the main sequence sounds like ‘Tubular Bells’ and there may be some element of that as it was used in ‘The Exorcist’ movie which my brother loved” Darrin said, “It’s also inspired by JOY DIVISION, as I was really going for the sound of a world weary preacher and channelling the voice of Ian Curtis for that.”

Available on the album ‘Unveiling The Secret’ via Artoffact Records

http://www.psyche-hq.de/


SKINNY PUPPY Dig It (1986)

“Love cannot attach itself to binding ugliness” goes the theatrical horror of ‘Dig It’; formed in Vancouver by cEvin Key of IMAGES IN VOGUE and vocalist Nivek Ogre, SKINNY PUPPY are widely considered as the pioneers of industrial. ‘Dig It’ was a big favourite of NINE INCH NAILS mainman Trent Reznor and heavily influenced his own track ‘Down In It’ which appeared on ‘Pretty Hate Machine’, so much so that he later confessed he had actually sampled it!

Available on the album ‘Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse’ via Nettwerk America

http://skinnypuppy.com/


MITSOU Les Chinois (1988)

Mitsou Annie Marie Gélinas achieved the comparatively unusual feat of having a francophone pop hit across Canada with ‘Bye Bye Mon Cowboy’. But her best tune was the saucy Fairlighted ‘Les Chinois’ from the multicultural-themed album ‘El Mundo’. Written and produced by Jean Pierre Isaac who later worked with Céline Dion, she exclaimed “Non non non c’est pas comme ça, qu’on fait l’amour, regarde les Chinois”… was she trying to make babies?

Available on the album ‘El Mundo’ via Unidisc

http://mitsoumagazine.com/en/


KON KAN I Beg Your Pardon (1989)

The project of Barry Harris, the KON KAN name was a play on the policy of “Canadian Content” which enforced Canadian radio station to air at least 30% domestic music. Voiced by Kevin Wynne, ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ was not just content with borrowing off NEW ORDER but inspired by ‘Pump Up The Volume’, used samples of other songs like ‘Rose Garden’, ‘Disco Nights (Rock-Freak)’ and ‘Get Up & Boogie’, as well as National Lampoon’s ‘Disco Hotline’. This mash-up became a huge international one hit wonder.

Available on the album ‘Move To Move’ via A&M Records

https://www.facebook.com/konkanofficial


SOLVENT Wish (2005)

Toronto-based Jason Amm is all about “synthesizers, drum machines, fx, knobs, buttons, wires, wave, electro, acid”. But while he is now best known for his documentary film ‘I Dream Of Wires’, he has a vast catalogue of music released under the SOLVENT moniker. With gentle vocoder treatments and glorious whirring synths, ‘Wish’ set a pattern for acts like FOTONOVELA and QUIETER THAN SPIDERS to follow in the understated melodic machine pop stakes.

Available on the album ‘Demonstration Tape (1997-2007)’ via Ghostly International

http://www.solventcity.com/


DRAGONETTE I Get Around (2007)

Toronto’s DRAGONETTE comprised of singer Martina Sorbara, producer Dan Kurtz and drummer Joel Stouffer. The acclaim for their self-released self-titled EP led to a deal with Mercury Records and a relocation to the UK. Opening shows for BASEMENT JAXX and SUGABABES, the highlight of their debut album ‘Galore’ was ‘I Get Around’ which was previewed on Planet Clique and Lucky Pierre’s ‘Robopop – The Return’ compilation. It also was used in ‘The Vampire Diaries’.

Available on the album ‘Galore’ via Mercury Records

http://www.dragonetteonline.com/


FM ATTACK Sleepless Nights (2009)

With ‘Drive’ star Ryan Gosling being a notable FM ATTACK admirer, Shawn Ward has concocted a unique hybrid electronic sound combining Gino Soccio and Giorgio Moroder with Italo disco, French house, new wave and post-punk, all with a fine-honed musicality. From 2009’s ‘Dreamatic’ album which opened up the gates and led the way for what was to become Synthwave, ‘Sleepless Nights’ crossed arpeggios with octave lilts for an enjoyable vocoder-laced romp.

Available on the album ‘Dreamatic’ via Starfield Music

https://www.facebook.com/fmattackmusic/


CRYSTAL CASTLES Suffocation (2010)

Named after a line in ‘She-Ra: Princess of Power’ and capturing a gritty lo-fi electronic sound, Toronto’s CRYSTAL CASTLES were a world apart from other modern duos with chaotic live shows that had an almost demonic energy. With Ethan Kath’s deliberately distorted synthetic goth-punk and Alice Glass’ afflicted vocal presence, ‘Suffocation’ was haunted, yet captured an understated beauty. But in October 2014, Glass announced that she was leaving to pursue a solo career amid acrimony.

Available on the album ‘(II)’ via Fiction Records

https://www.crystalcastles.com/


AUSTRA Spellwork (2011)

Named after the goddess of light in Latvian mythology, Toronto’s  AUSTRA deliver a stark, baroque form of arty electronica fuelled by the sexual tension. Like a gothic opera which successfully blended light and darkness with fragility and power, Katie Stelmanis and friends borrowed from classic DEPECHE MODE and crossed it with THE KNIFE for ‘Spellwork’, their most accessibly brilliant synthpop offering from their debut album ‘Feel It Break’.

Available on the album ‘Feel It Break’ via Domino / Paper Bag Records

http://austra.fyi/


GRIMES Oblivion (2012)

While Claire Boucher might be now more widely known for being the girlfriend of Elon Musk, she began as the kooky Montreal sensation GRIMES, sounding like LYKKE LI fronting KRAFTWERK. Presented in a fun leftfield lady meets pop princess fusion, ‘Oblivion’ was a sumptuously infectious tune that despite the almost unintelligible vocals and weird noises, was probably the most immediate track on her ‘Visions’ album which also featured less immediate but equally enjoyable ‘Genesis’.

Available on the album ‘Visions’ via 4AD Records

https://grimesmusic.com/


PARALLELS Moonlight Desires (2012)

Behind PARALLELS is Holly Dodson and on their second long player was a lovely synthpop version of GOWAN’s 1987 rock tune ‘Moonlight Desires’. She said of her love for the song: “We hear the original version it all the time in Canada. It’s always fulfilled all the necessary criteria – incredible hooks, the moon, magic melodies, nostalgia. I just recently learned that GOWAN’s actually heard the cover… and approves!! Which is SUCH a relief haha…”

Available on the album ‘XII’ via Marigold Productions

http://www.iloveparallels.com/


TR/ST Gloryhole (2012)

TR/ST began as the project of Robert Alfons and AUSTRA’s Maya Postepski. Although Postepski left to return to AUSTRA, the debut ‘TRST’ made a slow burning impact as Alfons toured his “Eeyore gone goth” electro template around the world. From it, the filthy ‘Gloryhole’ was a wondrous combination of sinister portamento and hypnotic dance beats. Postepski returned to the fold for the recent double album opus ‘The Destroyer’, but Alfons still remains something of an awkward character.

Available on the album ‘TRST’ via Arts & Crafts

https://tr-st.xyz/


FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY Killing Grounds (2013)

Bill Leeb formed FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY in 1986 after his short stint with SKINNY PUPPY under the name Wilhelm Schroeder. With Rhys Fulber as the other long standing member, they were influenced by acts such as CABARET VOLTAIRE, PORTION CONTROL, DAF, TEST DEPT and SPK. Having integrated guitars, FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY returned to making exclusively electronic music on their fifteenth album ‘Echogenetic’, the highlight of which was ‘Killing Grounds’.

Available on the album ‘Echogenetic’ via Dependent Records

http://www.mindphaser.com/


ELECTRIC YOUTH Without You (2014)

Hailing from Toronto, ELECTRIC YOUTH‘s collaboration with COLLEGE entitled ‘A Real Hero’ was included on the ‘Drive’ 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’. Echoing Aussie combo ICEHOUSE  and ‘Great Southern Land’ in particular, its bridge and chorus were particularly tremendous with a nostalgic Brat Pack movie presence.

Available on the album ‘Innerworld’ via Last Gang Entertainment / Secretly Canadian

https://electricyouthmusic.com/


PURITY RING Begin Again (2015)

With CHVRCHES having had success borrowing PURITY RING’s electro template, the Edmonton duo’s sophomore album ‘Another Eternity’ was more focussed than its predecessor ‘Shrines’. Still utilising glitch techniques, booming bass drops and Corin Roddick’s rattling drum machine programming, ‘Begin Again’ made the most of Megan James’ sweet and dreamy voice. The pair off a major surprise by working with Katy Perry on three songs for her 2017 album ‘Witness’.

Available on the album ‘Another Eternity’ via 4AD Records

https://purityringthing.com/


DANA JEAN PHOENIX Only For One Night (2018)

Self-described as a “Retro Synthwave Singer”, Toronto’s DANA JEAN PHOENIX isn’t a stranger to synthylicious ditties. Having moved away slightly from pure Synthwave styles, as one of the best live solo synth performers currently, she enjoys rocking out onstage with her keytar Jareth. The sparkling template of one of her most rousing numbers ‘Only One For One Night’ brought along a youthful escapism that reminisced about first loves and first disappointments.

Available on the album ‘PixelDust’ via New EmPire Entertainment

https://www.danajphoenix.com/


MECHA MAIKO Apathy (2019)

Behind the quirky avant pop of MECHA MAIKO‬ is the talented Torontonian, Hayley Stewart. The delightfully odd ‘Apathy’ from her second album ‘Let’s!’ was an inventive oddball fusion of jazz swing Charleston, frantic techno dance beats and vibrant synthpop hooks. It showed she was not afraid to blend seemingly incongruous influences to get an end result and with a slight sprinkling of Japanese instrumentation to close, the eclectic creative cycle was complete!‬‬‬‬‬

Available on the album ‘Let’s!’ via ORO Records

https://www.mechamaiko.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Simon Helm
17th February 2020

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