Tag: Gina X (Page 1 of 2)

MUSIK MUSIC MUSIQUE 2.0 1981: The Rise Of Synth Pop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th October 2021

DAS BEAT Identität EP

A product of Berlin’s 2020 lockdown, DAS BEAT comprise of German theatre actress Eddie Rabenberger and Agor Kerby from the Canadian electronic act BLUE HAWAII.

Rabenberger’s résumé includes opera, acrobatics, ballet, fencing skills and stage combat among her skills and talents. Meanwhile Kerby moved from Montreal to Berlin in 2018, but despite this, BLUE HAWAII released their third album ‘Open Reduction Internal Fixation’ in 2019.

With songs sung in German and English, DAS BEAT are quirkily rhythmic with an eye on the unorthodox nature of performance art, propping up a mix of Neue Deutsche Welle, Italo disco and dreamy atmospherics as they seek “to blast both boredom and boundary”.

With Amanda Lear and Gina Kikoine as influences, the hypnotic electro-cabaret of ‘Bubble’ is incessant detached disco for the outsider, as Rabenberger expresses the emotions of dancing alone. Despite the intensity, like its two muses, the bilingual alto vocal and vocoder delivery is also strangely playful. Meanwhile the ‘Identität’ title song utilises a Moroder-esque throb with some unexpected flute flourishes and shouty Mädchen expression like MALARIA! doing ‘I Feel Love’!

Much more laid back and inspired by the Cretan princess in Greek mythology, ‘Ariadne’ uses a charming vintage drum box and minimal harmonic six string to apply a muzak vibe that allows Rabenberger’s strident vocals to shine with the message that following break-up can come strength.

The closing number ‘Jackie’ is the EP’s most conventional sounding offering, being more guitar focussed with a lively use of drums despite the overall tone of resignation that is reminiscent of Nico, although not so quite so Götterdämmerung. Despite the Austere Gothic, there is light creeping through from the synth and the flute.

Released on Arbutus Records, the Canadian independent that was the home to GRIMES before she hooked up with Elon Musk, ‘Identität’ is a fine debut EP from DAS BEAT. Based on this diverse showcase and when the world is allowed out to play again, if more music is forthcoming from Eddie Rabenberger and Agor Kerby, that would be most welcome.


The ‘Identität’ EP is released by Arbutus Records on 4th June 2021, available from https://dasbeatofficial.bandcamp.com/album/identita-t-ep

https://www.instagram.com/das.beat/

https://soundcloud.com/dasbeatofficial

https://arbutusrecords.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
4th June 2021

RUSTY EGAN: The Blitzed Interview

‘Blitzed’ is the new Sky Arts documentary about the colourful London club night attended by aspirational young people driven to escape, express and create.

It was the start of the Thatcher era and before it was infiltrated by leg warmers, deely boppers, fluffy dice, yuppies and soddin’ Pat Sharp, the clientele of The Blitz were planting the seeds that were to shape the eighth decade of the 20th Century.

With the late Steve Strange acting as its Pied Piper, these personalities who emerged from a movement that got labelled The Blitz Kids, The Cult With No Name and The New Romantics were to have a big impact on popular culture. They included  costume designers Fiona Dealey and Michele Clapton, journalists Robert Elms and Dylan Jones as well as royal hat maker Stephen Jones. They tell their stories of that flamboyant period alongside the usual suspects of Rusty Egan, Boy George, Steve Dagger, Princess Julia, Gary Kemp, Marilyn, Andy Polaris, Chris Sullivan and Midge Ure.

While those not fully immersed in the history of The Blitz Club will delight in the 90 minutes of ‘Blitzed’, aficionados of New Romantic history will be disappointed to see many of the same old faces repeating variations on anecdotes told many times before. Meanwhile others will despair that music is not the main topic of discussion, although it would be fair to say that TV specials looking at key hit songs by VISAGE, ULTRAVOX, SPANDAU BALLET and CULTURE CLUB have been a plenty on Channel 5 lately…

However, some new faces do appear and Darla Jane Gilroy’s recollections of being chosen to be an extra in David Bowie’s ‘Ashes To Ashes’ video after he graced The Blitz are delightful.

The inclusion of Elly Jackson of LA ROUX though is questionable; obviously chosen as an example of a modern day Blitz Kid because of her “Flock of Tilda Swintons” hairdo and having a No1 with the synth-driven ‘Bulletproof’ in 2009, she comes across as blissfully unaware of the long term influence of The Blitz but then she did aspire to be a folk singer as a teenager!

Another frustrating aspect of ‘Blitzed’ that could have been better researched is when David Bowie is mentioned in his position as the Godfather of The Blitz; a fair proportion of the archive footage accompanying this section is from after the club closed including his spiky-haired ‘Glass Spider’ period in 1987 and in one clip, the ‘Earthling’ period of 1997!

Reliably entertaining in ‘Blitzed’, resident DJ Rusty Egan makes some memorable and amusing observations of the time. Acting as co-consultant and providing new music for the documentary, the recently released soundtrack album additionally features period pieces by his former protégés SHOCK and RONNY as well as inspired by tracks from artists such as WE ARE BRANDO and TINY MAGNETIC PETS who he would be playing at The Blitz Club if it was still around and hadn’t closed in Spring 1981. The interconnected collection concludes with a live version of David Bowie’s ‘Where Are We Now?’ by Boy George.

Edited down from an amusing conversation that went on for nearly 4 hours, Rusty Egan chatted about the making of the ‘Blitzed’ documentary and its accompanying soundtrack.

It looks like the ‘Blitzed’ documentary has gone down well with the general public?

Yeah, it’s been very well received by the GENERAL public. But within the community of actual Blitz Kids, I put together a list of 50 or so of the most important people that went to The Blitz like John Galliano who would have been 18-19 year old students and part of the hub… I shared it online and called it “The 50 Blitz Kids Who Were Too Cool To Be In A Documentary About The Blitz”! *roars of laughter*

The quip went down well with them because they were being labelled “too cool”, it’s got a funny juxtaposition; of course, a lot of them couldn’t be squeezed into 90 minutes anyway!

So I acknowledged them by doing a video for a track called ‘Catwalk’ which is part of the ‘Blitzed’ soundtrack… I told them I wouldn’t be in the documentary unless I did the music! It was my chance to right some wrongs, the sound I was trying to get on the accompanying OST album, whether I wrote it, produced it or got someone else to do it, was not a retro album or another compilation with ‘Ashes To Ashes’ or ‘The Model’ which it easily could have been, it’s a different thing!

‘Catwalk’ appears to have the same chord progression as ‘The Model’ by KRAFTWERK?

NO! It’s the same chord progression as ‘Turn To Dust’ which Boy George sent me which I stripped down and added my sequence. So it was that music which accompanied the video footage of KRAFTWERK. But with that chord progression of ‘The Model’, you could sing 50 or so reggae or dance tunes over that…

…yeah! ‘Ride On Time’ by BLACK BOX is one!!

Well there you go!! I could probably do a mash-up of ‘The Model’ with ‘Ride On Time’! The DJ Robin Skouteris did one mixing ‘Fade To Grey’ with ‘Magic Fly’ and HURTS ‘Wonderful Life’ and even dropped PET SHOP BOYS in! He could stick the song ‘New Romantics’ by Taylor Swift with Dolly Parton and Mark Ronson in a never ending mix, unbelievable what he can do with the technology of today!

It would be fair to say people who had been more aware of The Blitz and its history have said many of the same people who were in the BBC’s ‘A Fine Romance’ 2001 documentary were in ‘Blitzed’?

When the producers said they wanted my help and said they wanted the phone numbers of Midge Ure, Boy George etc, I thought “oh, same old sh*t!” – so there was a bit of bartering, I said I’d to it if I did the music and I got paid!

Chris Payne did a piano and violin version of ‘Fade To Grey’. I thought I should put bass and drums onto that and extend it, cos you know I love an extended, and then for people like you, there’s a three and a half minute version there! *laughs*

Now, there was Chris Payne, Rusty Egan and Oscar Egan, there was no Midge Ure or Billy Currie, just us three making a version of ‘Fade To Grey’ at 105 BPM. I think it’s a good beautiful piece of music with wonderful arpeggios from Chris, low voice by me and my ex, the French speaking Belgian girl Brigitte. I am still in contact with her so I asked her to reprise it, we did as good as we could without Midge or Billy in our remake of ‘Fade To Grey’.

It’s all in my home studio, not in Abbey Road! Everybody says they’ve liked what we’ve done, that’s it! It’s not like I’ve added a rapper! I didn’t add a dance beat, I just made it clearer and louder with a middle break. It’s not like I had Abbey Road, the mixing desk of Conny Plank, Alan Parsons producing, Michael Rother on guitar and made a pile of sh*t! If I did that, you’d be right to have a go! It’s a labour of love!

Some more seasoned enthusiasts did not really find out anything new from watching ‘Blitzed’, it could have benefitted from the perspective of say, actress Eve Ferret who actually performed at The Blitz and Jacqueline Bucknell who brought David Bowie down that night…

I gave the producers a list of everyone, you know me, I’m very inclusive… Marilyn actually didn’t want to do it, I had to phone him up and told him “it’s better to be in it than not in it”… I do agree with you, but you’re discussing something I had no control over.

Overall, were you happy with how ‘Blitzed’ turned out?

NO, I LOOK FAT!

Yeah, a white shell suit is not a good look on you even if it’s Ralph Lauren!! *laughs*

They told me everyone wears black, please wear white!!!!

But yes, I’m pleased with the documentary because when was the last time fashion was intertwined with music? You don’t look at THE KILLERS and go “what are they wearing?”, they’re just a band from Las Vegas! You don’t look at NEW ORDER and go “what is Barney wearing?”, they’re not a fashionable band.

SPANDAU BALLET were very ambitious and eventually successful, but you helped them out?

Steve Strange fancied Martin Kemp so wanted to put SPANDAU BALLET on at The Blitz. But he asked me to take a look and advise them what to do, so I did!

Gary Kemp could sit there in his mansion and talk about how he knew if he jumped on that stage, he could take the scene… but he didn’t know Richard James Burgess, he didn’t know how to make a dance record, he didn’t know what a synthesizer was, he was just a young kid.

That SPANDAU BALLET comeback song ‘Once More’ in 2009, it was so bloomin’ middle of the road, it needed its own government safety film!! *laughs*

Ouch! They wanted to be pop stars, as did DURAN DURAN and DEPECHE MODE, they wanted to make pop music.

‘Blitzed’ is not a music documentary but were you surprised ‘Vienna’ only got mentioned for 15 seconds and ‘Fade To Grey’ for about 30?

I actually didn’t want them to play ‘Vienna’, I didn’t want them to play ‘Ashes To Ashes’, cos I didn’t want them playing the same songs… having that clip of Bowie doing ‘Heroes’ on ‘Top Of The Pops’ probably cost them £20,000! The labels have a chart of what songs are worth and they run it like a business, and because they go on the premise that they generally can only sell a song once, the price can be very high!

So what’s your favourite moment on ‘Blitzed’ that isn’t you?

I loved Boy George in it… y’know he could have died several times over the decades, but I saw a happy Boy George who had a whiter smile than me, happy to tell people he was a thief because he had no money and lived in a squat… thing is, Steve Strange was also a thief but lied about it! They had nothing and wanted to be wearing the latest clothes! They wanted to go clubbing every night and that cost a fortune!

Whereas although I went to borstal like in the film ‘Scum’ and I learned to survive with billiard balls in a sock to protect myself, I was always nice and said “come and stay round my house” and they would rob me sadly! Looking back at those people from 40 years ago, they are many who never made it, I could list a load of people. Y’know, it’s lovely to be an old man with my bus pass and to get my jab, having people I knew when I was 20 like Eve Ferret contacting me on a daily basis.

A lot of people don’t like me, they like Steve Strange and feel I shouldn’t be taking any of the glory on ‘Blitzed’. Even a friend of mine who I got DEPECHE MODE tickets for on the last tour wrote “it’s not all about you Rusty”… but I didn’t make the documentary, I’m just a bloke in it! I’VE GOT NO CONTROL OVER NOTHING!

Your new song ‘When We Were Young’ features prominently in ‘Blitzed’, it’s quite obviously influenced by Gina X’s ‘No GDM’ but I just wanted to say that its co-writer Zeus B Held has heard it and says he’s not going to sue you! *laughs*

Well, if he did, he wouldn’t be suing me, he’d be suing Paul Statham of B-MOVIE who came up with the music! He sent me the bassline and synthline, I put in a straight four LinnDrum beat and made it bigger. But ‘No GDM’ was a song I heard in Düsseldorf and brought in to play at The Blitz and it inspired so many people in the UK like FASHION and DEAD OR ALIVE because it was produced by Zeus B Held, ‘Nice Mover’ was another one from the album that I played.

So yes, I agree 100% that there’s a link! But the end result with the lyrics about “Tonight’s the night, we danced to Iggy, Ferry and Bolan, hey, we found love when we were young” became perfect for ‘Blitzed’.

‘When We Were Young’ manages to be retro-referencing but modern, and that’s quite a tricky thing to achieve…

You know that’s what I was trying to do, cos you kept moaning “Rusty, can you stop trying to be modern?!?” *laughs*

It’s my sound but we are in 2021 and I don’t want to be on at Rewind or Let’s Rock between Limahl and Kim Wilde! I’ll be hopefully doing Rusty Egan Presents VISAGE 1980-2021 at W-Festival in Belgium this August, performing the first two albums with Zaine Griff, Chris Payne and Dave Brookes before OMD headline on the Saturday night.

It’s is so difficult to write anything completely original! If I spoke to Ralf Hütter, he would say that to do KRAFTWERK, he had to put his blinkers on, turn everything off, turn off American Forces radio, turn off the TV with its schlager music, go into the lab at Kling Klang, be German and go into himself as to who he is!

So what was unique about the era captured in ‘Blitzed’ and why could it not really happen today?

As you know, I still go to night clubs and I went to one called The Box in Soho which I’ve been to about 20 times. It’s been going for about 7 or 8 years and is described as the “Studio 54 of today” and “The Blitz Club of today”. There are creative people in their 20s there who love Lee Bowery and Boy George, the sort of people who support LGBTQ+, would watch the Channel 4 drama series ‘It’s A Sin’ and love the music of the 80s or similar. They are creative types who can’t make a living from what they do, but might be influencers…

I met with the owners of ‘The Box’, the club started in New York and it was attended by the richest people in the city, the dot com millionaires, the “in with the in-crowd” types! They were putting on people miming to Lady Gaga songs and freak shows of people putting knitting needles through their nipples as entertainment. So it was loads of rich people throwing away money that flew in their letter box while they were asleep on their friends or so-called models on Instagram, all while the DJ is playing Kanye West!

But it sounds like a nightmare! That doesn’t interest me! So I suggested them putting on original artists and musicians, but they said they didn’t want to do it as they were making loads of money with people coming in six nights a week! Everything was about money!

The thing is, The Blitz was real, we were all broke, we were all thieves or on the dole, we were no-ones! The Box looks like The Blitz, but it’s not!


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Rusty Egan

‘Blitzed’ is available on demand via Sky

The ‘Blitzed’ soundtrack album is released by Future Music and available now via digital outlets

Rusty Egan, Zaine Griff, Chris Payne and Dave Brooks perform the music of VISAGE 1980 x 2021 at W-Festival in Belgium on Saturday 28th August 2021 – tickets are available from https://w-festival.com/en/

https://www.facebook.com/rustyegan/

https://twitter.com/DJRustyEgan

https://www.instagram.com/rustyegan/

https://www.mixcloud.com/rustyegan/

https://open.spotify.com/album/3BXZJhaZG3Qf87umwTLM5d


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
22nd March 2021

2020 End Of Year Review

“It’s such a strange day, in such a lonely way” sang NEW ORDER on ‘Truth’ in 1981.

The coronavirus crisis of 2020 put the entire live music industry into limbo as concerts were postponed and tours rescheduled.

The situation was affecting everyone with several musicians like Bernard Sumner, Andy McCluskey, John Taylor and Sarah Nixey publicly stating that they had contracted the virus. Even when all pupils returned to schools in the Autumn, there was a ban on indoor singing in English classrooms. It was an indication that out of all professional fields, the arts was going suffer the most.

To make up for the absence of live shows, online streamed events become popular. Two of the best live online gigs were by Swedish veterans LUSTANS LAKEJER from the KB in Malmö and Sinomatic techno-rockers STOLEN with Lockdown Live From Chengdu. Not strictly a lockdown show but available for all to view on SVT was a magnificent live presentation of KITE at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm recorded in late 2019 combining synthesizers, orchestra and choir, proving again why Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg are the best electronic duo in Europe.

Concluding his ‘Songs: From the Lemon Tree’ series, Bon Harris of NITZER EBB presented a wonderful set of four electonic cover versions including songs made famous by Joan Armatrading, Connie Francis and Diana Ross. Meanwhile among independent musicians, Dubliner CIRCUIT3 led the way with an innovative multi-camera effected approach to his home studio presentation and Karin My performed al fresco in a forest near Gothenburg.

Taking the initiative, ERASURE did a delightful virtual album launch party for their new album ‘The Neon’ on Facebook with Vince Clarke in New York and Andy Bell in London, talking about everything from shopping to classic synthpop tunes.

Demonstrating a possible new model for the future, Midge Ure launched his subscription based ‘Backstage Lockdown Club’ which included intimate live performances and specials guests like Glenn Gregory and Howard Jones.

Other streamed forms of entertainment came via podcasts and among the best was ‘The Album Years’ presented by Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness. Their knowledgeable and forthright views on selected years in music were both informative and amusing. It was interesting to note that at the end of the 1976 episode, the pair nominated ‘Oxygène’ by Jean-Michel Jarre as the most important album of that year while for 1979, it was ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by Gary Numan.

Many artists who had scheduled releases in 2020 went through with them, although in some cases, there were the inevitable delays to physical product. But a few notable acts couldn’t help but abuse the situation, notably a certain combo from Basildon.

There were already “quality control issues” with the lavish ‘MODE’ 18 CD boxed set, but there was uproar even among the most hardcore Devotees with the ‘Spirits In The Forest’ release. The cardboard packaging was reported to be flimsy and prone to dents, while there was continuity errors galore as Dave Gahan rather cluelessly and selfishly wore different coloured outfits over the two nights in Berlin that the live footage was filmed under the direction of Anton Corbijn.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was an Anton Corbijn official illustrated history of DEPECHE MODE entitled ‘DM AC’ in the form of a coffee table photo book published by Taschen which retailed at €750; even though it was signed by Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher, the price tag was a mightily steep. The increasingly ironic words of “The grabbing hands grab all they can…” from ‘Everything Counts’ were not lost on people, who are people, after all!

But Andy Fletcher did provide the most amusing and spot-on quote of the year; during DEPECHE MODE’s acceptance speech into that dinosaur institution The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, when Dave Gahan remarked to his bandmates that “I dunno what the hell I would have been doing if I didn’t find music to be quite honest…”, the banana eating handclapper dryly retorted “YOU’D HAVE BEEN STILL STEALING CARS DAVE!”

There were lots of great albums released in 2020 and Berlin appeared to be at the creative centre of them.

There was ‘LP II’ from LINEA ASPERA who made a welcome return after eight years in hiatus and  the playful debut by ULTRAFLEX, a collaborative offering from Berlin-based Nordic artists SPECIAL-K and FARAO which was “an ode to exercise, loaded with sex metaphors badly disguised as sports descriptions” .

The DDR born Jennifer Touch told her story with ‘Behind The Wall’ and resident New Yorker DISCOVERY ZONE was on ‘Remote Control’, while Lithuania’s top pop singer Alanas Chosnau made ‘Children of Nature’, his first album in English with Mark Reeder, who himself has lived in the former walled city since 1978; their collected experiences from both sides of the Iron Curtain made for a great record with the political statement of ‘Heavy Rainfall’ being one of the best songs of 2020.

Synth-builder and artist Finlay Shakespeare presented the superb angst ridden long player ‘Solemnities’ with its opener ‘Occupation’ tackling the social injustice of unemployment. A most frightening future was captured in musical form by New York-resident Zachery Allan Starkey who saw his home become a ‘Fear City’, while WRANGLER got themselves into ‘A Situation’.

SPARKS discussed ‘The Existential Threat’ and ‘One For The Ages’ while pleading ‘Please Don’t F*ck Up My World’ on their eclectic 25th album ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’, just as NIGHT CLUB reflected what many were thinking on ‘Die Die Lullaby’ with ‘Miss Negativity’ looking to ‘Die In The Disco’ while riding the ‘Misery Go Round’.

ASSEMBLAGE 23 chose to ‘Mourn’ with one of its highlights ‘Confession’ illustrating what DEPECHE MODE could still be capable of, if they could still be bothered.

But it was not all doom and gloom musically in 2020. With the title ‘Pop Gossip’, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP did not need to do much explaining about the ethos of their second album and drum ‘n’ synth girl GEORGIA was happily ‘Seeking Thrills’.

Veterans returned and 34 years after their debut ‘Windows’, WHITE DOOR teamed up with the comparative youngster Johan Baeckström for ‘The Great Awakening’, while CODE made a surprise return with their second album ‘Ghost Ship’ after an absence 25 years.

‘The Secret Lives’ of German duo Zeus B Held and Mani Neumeier illustrated that septuagenarians just want to have fun. Along with Gina Kikoine, Zeus B Held was also awarded with Der Holger Czukay Preis für Popmusik der Stadt Köln in recognition of their pioneering work as GINA X PERFORMANCE whose ‘No GDM’ was a staple at The Blitz Club in Rusty Egan’s DJ sets.

Incidentally, Rusty Egan announced that Zaine Griff would be joining him with Numan cohorts Chris Payne and David Brooks in a live presentation of VISAGE material, although the announced dates were postponed, pending rescheduling for 2021.

Swiss trailblazers YELLO were on ‘Point’ and continuing their occasional creative collaboration with Chinese songstress Fifi Rong, while one time YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA collaborator Hideki Matsutake returned as LOGIC SYSTEM and released a new long player ‘Technasma’, his project’s first for 18 years.

It was four decades since John Foxx’s ‘Metamatic’ and Gary Numan’s ‘Telekon’, with the man born Gary Webb publishing ‘(R)evolution’, a new autobiography to supersede 1997’s ‘Praying To The Aliens’. Meanwhile, the former Dennis Leigh teamed up with former ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon plus his regular Maths collaborators Benge and Hannah Peel for the blistering art rock statement of ‘Howl’ as well as finally issuing his book of short stories ‘The Quiet Man’.

2020 saw a lot of 40th anniversaries for a number of key albums including ‘Vienna’ by ULTRAVOX, ‘Travelogue’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE and ‘Closer’ by JOY DIVISION.

Back in 1980, it was not unusual for bands to release two albums in a calendar year as OMD did with their self-titled debut and ‘Organisation’, or JAPAN did with ‘Quiet Life’ and ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’.

It appeared to be a tradition that BLANCMANGE were adopting as Neil Arthur delivered the acclaimed ‘Mindset’ and an enjoyable outtakes collection ‘Waiting Room (Volume 1)’.

PET SHOP BOYS and CERRONE proved they still liked to dance to disco because they don’t like rock, but the year’s biggest surprise came with THE SMASHING PUMPKINS whose single ‘Cyr’ crossed the templates of classic DEPECHE MODE with DURAN DURAN.

Interestingly, Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS and Michael Rother of NEU! used sketches recorded many moons ago to inspire their 2020 solo creations, proving that if something is a good idea, it will still make sense years later. Veteran Tonmeister Gareth Jones released his debut solo album ‘ELECTROGENETIC’ having first come to prominence as the studio engineer on ‘Metamatic’ back in 1980, but Jah Wobble was as prolific as ever, issuing his ninth album in four years, as well as a run of download singles over lockdown.

ANI GLASS had her debut long player ‘Mirores’ shortlisted for Welsh Music Prize and OMD remixed her song ‘Ynys Araul’ along the way, while SARAH P. was ‘Plotting Revolutions’. NINA and a returning ANNIE vied to be the Queen Of Synthwave with their respective albums ‘Synthian’ and ‘Dark Hearts’, although Canadian synth songstress DANA JEAN PHOENIX presented her most complete and consistent body of work yet in ‘Megawave’, a joint album with POWERNERD.

RADIO WOLF & PARALLELS contributed to the soundtrack of the film ‘Proximity’ released on Lakeshore Records and from the same label, KID MOXIE made her first contribution to the movie world with the score to ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need To Have A Serious Talk’ that also featured a stark cover of ALPHAVILLE’s ‘Big In Japan’. Meanwhile gothwavers VANDAL MOON made their most electronic album yet in ‘Black Kiss’ and POLYCHROME got in on the kissing act too with their new single ‘Starts With A Kiss’.

It would be fair to say in recent times that the most interesting and best realised electronic pop has come from outside of the UK; the likes of TWICE A MAN explored the darker side of life, although TRAIN TO SPAIN used the dancefloor as their mode of expression, 808 DOT POP developed on the robopop of parent band METROLAND and ZIMBRU preferred disco art pop.

In Scandinavia, there was the welcome return of UNIFY SEPARATE (formally US) and HILTIPOP aka Magnus Johansson of ALISON who finally released some music in his own right; once he started, he didn’t stop with 9 releases and counting in 2020! APOPTYGMA BERZERK released ‘Nein Danke!’, their self-proclaimed return to “New Wave Synthpop” and out of that set-up sprang the very promising PISTON DAMP.

Within the PAGE camp, Eddie Bengtsson continued his Numan fixation on the ‘Under Mitt Skinn’ EP although his musical partner Marina Schiptjenko teamed up with LUSTANS LAKEJER bassist Julian Brandt to ride the Synth Riviera for a delightful second helping of their electro crooner concept cheekily titled ‘For Beautiful People Only’.

Over in Germany, U96 teamed up Wolfgang Flür while RENARD, the solo vehicle of Markus Reinhardt from WOLFSHEIM teamed with Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE and Sarah Blackwood of DUBSTAR. DUBSTAR themselves released a striking corona crisis statement entitled ‘Hygiene Strip’ which saw reconfigured duo reunited with producer Stephen Hague. Meanwhile another poignant song on the topic ‘Small World’ came from SNS SENSATION, the new project by Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK. In lockdown, TINY MAGNETIC PETS recorded an entire album which they called ‘Blue Wave’.

Of course, 2020 was not full of joy, even without the pandemic, as the music world sadly lost Florian Schneider, Gabi Delgado-Lopez, Chris Huggett, Andrew Weatherall, Matthew Seligman, Dave Greenfield, Rupert Hine, Tom Wolgers, Harold Budd and Ennio Morricone.

An introspective tone was reflected the music of female fronted acts such as and ZANIAS, PURITY RING, WE ARE REPLICA, KALEIDA, LASTLINGS, NEW SPELL, WITCH OF THE VALE, REIN, BLACK NAIL CABARET, GLÜME, GEISTE THE FRIXION, FEMMEPOP and SCINTII. However, countering this, the optimism of RIDER, ROXI DRIVE and NEW RO presented a much brighter, hopeful take on life and the future.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrated 10 years as a platform and affirming the site’s intuition about synth talent in anticipation of them achieving greater things, SOFTWAVE opened for OMD on the Scandinavia leg of their ‘Souvenir’ tour. The Danish duo became the sixth act which the site had written about to have become part of a tradition that has included VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND and TINY MAGNETIC PETS.

On a more cheerful note, S.P.O.C.K beamed down to Slimelight in London before lockdown for their first British live performance in 17 years. Meanwhile on the same night, LAU NAU and VILE ELECTRODES did modular sets at Cecil Sharp House, the spiritual home of English traditional music.

At that event, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK took delight in curating a DJ set comprising of John Cage’s 4’33” in variations by DEPECHE MODE, GOLDFRAPP, ERASURE, NEW ORDER and THE NORMAL from Mute’s Stumm433 boxed set. This defiant act of silence even caused a curious Jonathan Barnbrook to raise an eyebrow, this from the man who designed the artwork with the white square on David Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’ 😉

The final live event that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK attended before the March lockdown was an informative lecture at Queen Mary University in London presented by noted cultural scholar Dr Uwe Schütte, in support of his book ‘KRAFTWERK Future Music From Germany’.

Also attending was Rusty Egan who held court at the reception afterwards by having a debate with another musician about the state of UK synth music. He then loudly beckoned ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK over and mentioned how the site was only interested acts that scored “9 out of 10” before admitting that a number of acts he supported only scored “6 out of 10”, with his reasoning being that if acts aren’t supported, then there will be no synth acts existing at all. After a decade in existence, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK remains proud that it is still extremely selective.

In 2020, the notion of reviews being needed to achieve a promotional profile underwent an existential crisis among media platforms. With streaming now being the main method of music consumption, why would anyone want to read a blog for an opinion about an album when they can just hit ‘play’ and hear the thing for themselves on Spotify, Amazon, Tidal or Bandcamp?

The sound of classic synthpop does live on happily in today’s mainstream via singles by THE WEEKND, DUA LIPA and even STEPS! In that respect, the trailblazing kings and queens of Synth Britannia from four decades ago did their job rather well.

From SUGABABES mashing-up ‘Are Friends Electric?’ for ‘Freak Like Me’ in 2002 to ‘Blinding Lights’ borrowing a bit of A-HA in 2020, the sound of synth is still strong.

It is up to any potential successors to live up to that high standard of Synth Britannia, which was as much down to the quality of the songwriting, as much as it was to do with the sound of the synthesizer. It is a fact that many overlook and if aspiring musicians could pay more attention to the song, instead of making the synthesizer the excuse for the song, then classic electronic pop music may still be around for a little longer and continue to evolve.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2020

PAUL BODDY

Best Album: LOGIC SYSTEM Technasma
Best Song: NEW ORDER Be A Rebel
Best Gig / Live Stream: NICOLAS GODIN at London Rough Trade
Best Video: POLLY SCATTERGOOD Snowburden
Most Promising New Act: RUE OBERKAMPF


IAN FERGUSON

Best Album: ASSEMBLAGE 23 Mourn
Best Song: DUBSTAR I Can See You Outside
Best Gig / Live Stream: WITCH OF THE VALE online Unplugged Live for SAY Women
Best Video: STEVEN WILSON Personal Shopper
Most Promising New Act: LASTLINGS


SIMON HELM

Best Album: LINEA ASPERA LPII
Best Song: PAGE Blutest Du?
Best Gig / Live Stream: LAU NAU + VILE ELECTRODES at Cecil Sharp House
Best Video: STRIKKLAND Dance Like A God
Most Promising New Act: INDEPENDENT STATE


CHI MING LAI

Best Album: LINEA ASPERA LPII
Best Song: ALANAS CHOSNAU & MARK REEDER Heavy Rainfall
Best Gig / Live Stream: LUSTANS LAKEJER online at Malmö KB
Best Video: ULTRAFLEX Olympic Sweat
Most Promising New Act: LASTLINGS


MONIKA IZABELA TRIGWELL

Best Album: ERASURE The Neon
Best Song: DUBSTAR Hygiene Strip
Best Gig / Live Stream: IŻOL Koncert online at Ziemi Rybnickiej
Best Video: PET SHOP BOYS Monkey Business
Most Promising New Act: MENTRIX


Text by Chi Ming Lai
21st December 2020

MUSIK, MUSIC, MUSIQUE 1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop

1977 is often seen as Year Zero for synthpop, thanks to hit singles by DONNA SUMMER, SPACE and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE.

But it was not until 1979 with TUBEWAY ARMY reaching No1 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’ that the sound of synth truly hit the mainstream.

Although ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ by SPARKS had actually been a hit a few months earlier, ‘Are Friends Electric?’ was the beginning of the synth being accepted as a worthy mode of expression, rather than as a novelty. But as synths became more affordable, they became the perfect tool of youthful expression.

From Cherry Red, makers of the excellent ’Electrical Language: Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ 4CD boxed set, comes ‘Musik Music Musique’; subtitled ‘1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop’, this 3CD 58 track collection explores the arrival of synth pop and the dawn of a new musical era. This was the year before the synth became the rule rather than the exception with the success of SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE.

The set starts appropriately with OMD and ‘Messages’, one of the first tunes showcasing the warmer side of electronics following the colder wave led by Messrs Numan and Foxx. But as if to counter this next generation of youngsters, ‘Messages’ is immediately followed by the collection’s vocoder laden title song ‘Musik Music Musique’ from Zeus B Held and the superb proto-industrial ode to loveless sex ‘Coitus Interruptus’ by the much missed FAD GADGET.

Zeus B Held was later to make his impression on popular culture remixing ALPHAVILLE and SIMPLE MINDS as well producing the likes of FASHION, DEAD OR ALIVE, SPEAR OF DESTINY and TRANSVISION VAMP, but his wider breakthrough came as part of GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 with The Blitz Club favourite ‘No GDM’; on this compendium, the lesser-known but just as worthy ‘Vendor’s Box’ from their second album ‘X-Traordinaire’ is deservedly provided a platform.

The best producers often earn their spurs as artists and realising their limitations, use their accumulated studio nous to subvert the mainstream via pop. ‘Astroboy’ by BUGGLES sees Trevor Horn develop his sonic architecture to prove that he had another song that wasn’t ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. Meanwhile the welcome inclusion of NEW MUSIK’s other hit ‘This World Of Water’ allows Tony Mansfield to showcase the crafted sparkle that would later go on to adorn records by CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, VICIOUS PINK, A-HA and NAKED EYES.

It may seem strange to see SPANDAU BALLET as part of this package but when they first appeared, they were considered a synthesizer band; ‘Glow’ was a UK double A side single with ‘Musclebound’ in 1981 and while it was the last synth-led track they did, their funk soul aspirations were there for all to hear. In fact, songwriter Gary Kemp had conceived ‘Glow’ with a brass section in mind, so it is now something of a curio that could be seen as a precursor to ‘Chant No1’.

SPANDAU BALLET were produced by Richard James Burgess who co-designed the Simmons SDSV; his electro-jazz combo LANDSCAPE figure with the Colin Thurston helmed ‘European Man’ which was actually designated “electronic dance music” on its single artwork some three decades before it was appropriated and abbreviated to become EDM…

Many of the usual suspects from the period like VISAGE, JAPAN, JOHN FOXX, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING are all present and correct with familiar recordings, but interestingly (although not for the better), it’s the original version of PHIL LYNOTT’s ‘Yellow Pearl’ without the Rusty Egan drums or the Midge Ure remix that gets the nod!

One of the main beauties of these thoughtfully curated collections is to be able sway away from the obvious and feature a known-name with a lesser-known work; in the case of ULTRAVOX, it’s the occasionally Eno-inspired and Conny Plank produced ‘Waiting’ which was the B-side to their first Midge Ure fronted single ‘Sleepwalk’. Meanwhile, SUICIDE are represented by the excellent Ric Ocasek produced ‘Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne’ and YELLO with ‘Bimbo’, the oddball opener of the Swiss trailblazers’ debut long player ‘Solid Pleasure’.

SILICON TEENS get to feature with something other than ‘Memphis Tennessee’ and it’s the Daniel Miller‘s self-penned instrumental ‘Chip N Roll’ that has the honour, while the Mute Records founder gets another track in with ‘Brushing Your Hair’, a gloriously vibrant instrumental production and co-write for Alex Fergusson of ALTERNATIVE TV.

There’s additionally tracks by lesser known international acts or those bands that faded from view after effectively being one hit wonders. The entire career of M may have been overshadowed by the ubiquitous ‘Pop Muzik’ but Robin Scott did go on to release three albums and work with Ryuichi Sakamoto; the sombre ‘Official Secrets’ may not really have much of a hook but it contains some percolating bleepy sections that pre-date KRAFTWERK’s ‘Home Computer’ by one year.

‘A Circuit Like Me’ from Australian combo, THE METRONOMES actually sounds very 21st century with its detached female vocal and charming monosynths, while the gallop of ‘Drawn & Quartered’ by THE KORGIS is a worthy find. Now while ROCKETS found fame with a catchy robotic flavoured cover of ‘On The Road Again’ with the help of Zeus B Held, the silver faced Italians found that the vocoder suited their performance art poise and reapplied it for the self-penned space rocker ‘Galactica’.

Also possessing a bit of a gallop is LORI & THE CHAMELEONS’ wispy Morricone-influenced single ‘The Lonely Spy’ although with its acoustic strum, it is quite different from the understated electronic disco of their best known track ‘Touch’. Cut from a similar melodic post-punk cloth, the Martin Hannett produced ‘Sympathy’ from PAULINE MURRAY & THE INVISIBLE GIRLS is a reminder of how women were coming to the fore after punk in synth-assisted new wave, a fact borne out on ‘Musik Music Musique’ by the inclusion of more obscure works from TOYAH, KIM WILDE and HAZEL O’CONNOR.

‘Musik Music Musique’ is also an opportunity to become reacquainted with lost tunes of yore and ‘The Eyes Have It’ by KAREL FIALKA will be remembered by those who owned the 1980 Virgin Records compilation ‘Machines’, as will the octave driven ‘Destiny’ by DALEK I LOVE YOU. Some enjoyably avant pop adventures come courtesy of XYNN’s ‘Computed Man’ and SCIENCE’s ‘Tokyo’, while one of the more bizarre but successful experiments included is ‘I’m A Computer’ by THE GOO-Q.

One of the lesser known acts featuring with the eccentric ‘Money’ is MOEBIUS, not the member of German duo CLUSTER but an American art rock band with a penchant for DEVO. ‘Doctor …?’ by BLOOD DONOR is another wonderful discovery while of the more experimental art pieces included, NINI RAVIOLETTE’s ‘Suis-Je Normale’ delightfully comes over like a collaboration between Jane Birkin and Laurie Anderson.

Düsseldorf is often seen as the spiritual home of electronic music and there is worthy representation from DER PLAN and ‘Da Vorne Steht Ne Ampel’ illustrating how there were other dimensions to German electronic music other than that engineered by KRAFTWERK. But closing the set is the band named after the Electri_City itself, LA DÜSSELDORF with the light-hearted ‘Dampfriemen’; a quirky slice of synth “Oompah” with comedic chants and a kazoo section, it sums up the manic oddball nature of the former NEU! drummer Klaus Dinger.

There are many other tracks that have merit, but textures which reoccur on ‘Musik Music Musique’ to date stamp the period are the icy chill of the affordable ARP Quartet string machine and squawky sax, although not in an overblown jazz funk way.

Despite ‘Musik Music Musique’ comprising of a carefully researched tracklisting, a few errors do slip through; as well as the SPANDAU BALLET track being released in 1981 as already mentioned (although it was available on a very scarce Japanese-only promo sampler in late 1980), the version of ‘Kebabträume’ by DAF is the 1982 Conny Plank version from the Virgin album ‘Für Immer’ and not the Bob Giddens produced Mute Records five piece band recording which actually came out in 1980.

Then in the booklet, the Foxx fronted 1977 line-up of ULTRAVOX! gets illustrated as opposed to the New Romantic suited Midge Ure one, while LA DÜSSELDORF’s Hans Lampe is referred to as a “Keyboard Whizz” when he is actually a drummer and now performs with Michael Rother who was Klaus Dinger’s partner in NEU!; in fact Dinger handled keyboards himself under the pseudonym of Nikolaus Van Rhein.

Those are minor quibbles though, because this set is very good value and acts as a great music history lesson as well as offering the chance to hear some new vintage synth. While many may have heard of BERLIN BLONDES, THE PASSAGE, THE FALLOUT CLUB and EYELESS IN GAZA, only a few will have heard their music.

‘Musik Music Musique’ offers something of a low risk opportunity to make some new friends while becoming reacquainted with a few old and lost ones. Here’s to the 1981 follow-up set…


‘Musik Music Musique – 1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop’  is released on 31st July 2020 as a 3CD boxed set by Cherry Red Records

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/musik-music-musique-1980-the-dawn-of-synth-pop-various-artists-3cd/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
13th July 2020

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