“There is only one hope for humanity… the synthesizer!”
Adult Swim is the night time wing of the Cartoon Network and frequently airs adult animation, mockumentaries and sketch comedy. Although ‘Live At The Necropolis: Lords Of Synth’ first aired in 2016, this little gem of a video is the gift that keeps giving for any fan of electronic music, especially the originators: Vangelis, Wendy Carlos and Giorgio Moroder.
For those that haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it, the skit adopts a wonderfully droll US sports commentary-style approach to a ‘synth-off’ (or as they word it, a “battle of fingoric dexterity”) between Xangelix, Carla Wendos and Morgio Zoroger. Each of the synth heroes are lovingly characterised with Zoroger being portrayed as a hard-drinking Italian (who harbours a long-running grudge against Xangelix and an ex-relationship with Wendos), Xangelis (a reclusive musician who is rarely seen in public) and Carlos Wendos (previously known as Carlton Wendos).
Also worthy of mention are the two US sports-style commentators, both named in homage to German electronic pioneers TANGERINE DREAM (Edgar Tangram and Zedd Centuari) who oversee the musical scoring of the return of Halley’s Comet to earth. The winner being subsequently crowned ‘Lord Of Synth’.
The parody was inspired by Greek-American musician Yanni’s extravagant 1993 ‘Live At The Acropolis’ concert which was seen in 65 countries and Public Broadcasting Service who originally promoted it. What adds to the overall enjoyment factor of ‘Live at the Necropolis’ is the attention to detail throughout, there are so many fantastic touches that it’s impossible to highlight all of them.
For a start, the synth equipment on stage is all appropriate to the individual ‘synth lords’ with Wendos having a Moog modular system, Moroger with a Jupiter 8 (fed through guitar pedals a la Johannes Schmoelling of TANGERINE DREAM) and a variety of other classic synths (including an Emulator I and a Prophet 5).
When it come apparent that Halley’s Comet is going to destroy earth and none of the Synth Lords (individually) will be able to halt its deadly trajectory, our trio combines forces and after sending a synth Morse Code to each other, metamorphosize into a streamlined all-white wearing synth ‘power trio’ with new keyboards to match.
With their collaborative performance, the “sheer coolness of the jam” cuts the heat from Halley’s Comet, a star constellation of Pegasus is summoned and a final triumphant chord sends a beam of light to the heavens and freezes the comet before it obliterates the Earth. Once it becomes apparent that humanity has been saved, former US President Gerald Ford returns (he had previously evacuated in a space pod) to bestow gold medals on our three Synth Lords.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK can’t recommend ‘Live At The Necropolis: Lords Of Synth’ highly enough, it is a joy from start to finish and repeated viewings reveal many fantastic comedic touches that may get missed first time around.
If there is one person who has probably sparked the realisation of a long-awaited second WHITE DOOR album, then it has to be the synth Superswede Johan Baeckström.
A solo artist in his own right but also a member of synth duo DAILY PLANET, the young Johan Baeckström was a fan of the first WHITE DOOR album ’Windows’ released in 1983.
When he needed B-sides for the singles from his own 2015 solo debut ’Like Before, he covered ’Jerusalem’ and ’School Days’.
Although Baeckström has been unashamedly candid about the influence of Vince Clarke on his music, his musicality was also been shaped by the small catalogue of songs by Mac Austin, Harry Davies and John Davies.
While Mac Austin and Harry Davies have continued to perform in their prog combo GRACE over the years, Baeckström sowed the seeds of a WHITE DOOR reunion when he and DAILY PLANET bandmate Jarmo Olilia invited Austin to provide lead vocals on ‘Heaven Opened’ on their 2017 album ‘Play Rewind Repeat’.
That sparked a WHITE DOOR reunion and as a newly confugured quartet, Mac Austin, John Davies, Harry Davies and Johan Baeckström now present ’The Great Awakening’. Baeckström gives the pulsing Vince Clarke-isms a breather and swaps it for the more polyphonically formed keyboard interventions of his other heroes like Howard Jones.
A joyous tune that sets the scene, the exotic sophistication of ’Among The Mountains’ possesses the soaring windscreen poise of A-HA with a flawless vocal from Mac Austin while the soundscape is sweetened by flute, providing an interesting timbral contrast.
Acknowledging the theme of ’Get Carter’ but with a more brassy flair, ’Resurrection’ surprises with a bouncy Giorgio Moroder inspired stomp and the lift of a rousing chorus. Meanwhile Mac Austin manages to sound like a cross between Morten Harket and Chris De Burgh over some beautifully symphonic synth and subtle slapped bass in a guest appearance from Baeckström’s son Simon.
’Soundtrack Of Our Lives’ captures the joys of spring, with the English folk austere that was very much part of WHITE DOOR’s make-up playing a key role with the harmonious vocal arrangement.
A sparkling production with space for all the elements to shine, there’s even a few classic Linn Drum sounds thrown in too. Yes, they are more recollections of A-HA although of course, the ’Windows’ album came out a year before ’Hunting High & Low’.
Holding down the steadier mood with a synth arpeggio, the richly layered ’Lullaby’ makes what appears to be a simple arrangement sound grand and complex in a cleverly configured traditional tune that steadily builds and surprises with a burst of saxophone in the final third which also glistens ivory-wise in the manner of Howard Jones.
Beginning with a slightly stuttering rhythm, ’Angel Of Tomorrow’ bursts into life with a spacey buoyant pomp that captures an air of Vangelis.
An elated majestic tone ensues as staring mortality in the face, ’The Great Awakening’ celebrates an embracment of life and second chances with a range of complex synth motifs. All wondefully complimenting one another, it is akin to a casade of church bells ringing on a Sunday morning.
The spritely ’Simply Magnificent’ does as the title suggests and is pure sequenced synthpop in the vein of early ALPHAVILLE, the distant transistor radio ending acting a nice tribute to bygone listening experiences.
Ending the album, ’Beautiful Girl’ is classic WHITE DOOR and a song which Harry Davies describes as ”a wonderful song for making babies to”. Vocally like a modern hymn with patterns of hooky chimes, there’s even a surprising lilt of sax that suits the electronic backdrop, with a gorgeous sweeping polysynth conclusion that CHINA CRISIS would be proud of, recalling the feel of their appropriately titled tune ‘The Soul Awakening’.
Hopeful, mature and joyous, ’The Great Awakening’ grandly blows away the attempted sensitive synth overtures of the young pretenders almost half their age. It is twilight magic provided by the sorcerers and their apprenctice. Nearly four decades on, WHITE DOOR have again passed the test with commendation.
Of his role in ’The Great Awakening’, Johan Baeckström said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: ”I really wanted to do my best to maintain the WHITE DOOR sound and spirit in the production on this album”.
Mission accomplished 😀
’The Great Awakening’ uses the following synthesizers: Roland Jupiter 6, Roland Juno 106, Akai AX73, Minimoog, Korg Mono/Poly and ARP Odyssey
The soundtrack of The Blitz Club was provided by its resident DJ Rusty Egan and its story is more than well documented.
This vibrant post-punk scene, whose flamboyant clientele were dubbed ‘Blitz Kids’, ‘The Cult With No Name’ and ‘New Romantics’, became the catalyst for several bands including VISAGE, SPANDAU BALLET and CULTURE CLUB, as well as assorted fashion designers, visual artists and writers.
Rusty Egan told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “I just played as much as I could fit in, it was not all disco. It was a bar and opened after work. I’d arrive 8.30–9.00pm and played all my faves till it was packed, then I got them dancing and at the end, I slowed down”.
The dancing style at The Blitz Club often involved the swaying of arms at a distance from the face like slow motion maraca shaking so as not to spoil any carefully hairsprayed styles. Meanwhile, feet movements were often impossible as the small dancefloor was often overcrowded!
With Steve Strange as doorman and fashion gatekeeper, the concept for what was initially a “Bowie Night” came together at Billy’s nightclub in Soho in Autumn 1978 in an effort to find something new and colourful to escape the oncoming drabness in the Winter Of Discontent. After a disagreement with the owners of Billy’s, the pair moved their venture to The Blitz Club.
Although Rusty Egan had been a soul boy and an active participant in punk through a stint rehearsing with THE CLASH and then as a member of THE RICH KIDS with Midge Ure, the two friends became fascinated with electronic dance music though the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ album which had been a surprise favourite in New York discos and whose title track referenced David Bowie.
“There was a couple of years of punk which Midge Ure and myself weren’t too impressed with in terms of the clubs and the environment in Thatcherite Britain, it was horrible in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool!” recalled Egan, “So we were just trying basically to grasp the good in life, trying to be positive in a very negative time.”
Although Egan curated an eclectic playlist of available synth works supplemented with soundtracks and relatable art rock tunes, tracks were comparatively scarce in this new innovative electronic form.
So with studio time available following the split of THE RICH KIDS, Ure and Egan hit upon the idea of making their own electronic dance music for The Blitz Club, fronted by Steve Strange.
Ure came up with the name VISAGE for the project and presented the demo to his then employers at EMI Records, but it was rejected! Undeterred, the pair recruited Billy Currie from a then-in hiatus ULTRAVOX plus MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula, John McGeoch and Barry Adamson to record the first VISAGE album at the-then newly constructed Genetic Studios of Martin Rushent.
When Billy Currie toured with Gary Numan in 1979, he and fellow keyboardist Chris Payne composed what was to become ‘Fade To Grey’; it was included on the eventual ‘Visage’ album released by Polydor Records in 1980 and the rest is history, reaching No1 in West Germany!
VISAGE was the beauty of the synthesizer played with symphonic classical overtones fused to the electronic dance beat of Neu Europa and visually styled like a cross between the Edwardian dandies and Weimar Cabaret. Midge Ure remembered “it was a major part of my life and Steve was a major part of that period”.
The meeting of Ure and Currie in VISAGE led to the diminutive Glaswegian joining a relaunched ULTRAVOX who released the iconic ‘Vienna’ album in 1980. Co-produced by Conny Plank, the German always thought in terms of sound and on the title song, he imagined an old man at a piano in a desolate theatre who had been playing the same tune for forty years.
And when Billy Currie came to record his ivory parts, that was exactly the feel which Plank had engineered. It was to become a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the New Romantic movement when it was released as a single, stalling at No2 despite being one of the best selling singles of 1981, gracing the UK charts at the same time as ‘Fade To Grey’.
Having started as a “Bowie Night”, the man himself became fascinated by this emergent cult with no name that he had inspired. In 1980, Jacqueline Bucknell, an assistant from his label RCA who was also a Blitz Kid, had taken Bowie down to The Blitz Club to cast extras to appear in a video for his new single ‘Ashes To Ashes’; among the chosen ones was Steve Strange.
Utilising Roland guitar synths and an ARP string machine with a final burst of ARP Odyssey, David Bowie saw ‘Ashes To Ashes’ as an epitaph for his artistic past as he lyrically revisited the Major Tom character from ‘Space Oddity’ over a decade on.
With this, The Blitz Club had now become a mainstream phenomenon as the BBC’s Nationwide programme sent an investigative team in, signalling a changing of the guard in popular culture with parallel scenes going on at The Rum Runner in Birmingham, The Warehouse in Leeds and Crocs in Rayleigh from which DURAN DURAN, SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE were to respectively gain their fledgling followings.
The perceived elitist exclusivity of The Blitz Club had partly become legend as a result of Steve Strange refusing entry to Mick Jagger for his sporting of blue jeans. Playing on this and adopting its electronic aesthetic to attract attention, five lads from Islington formed SPANDAU BALLET and initially only performed at special events which were by invitation only. Essentially becoming The Blitz Club’s house band, the quintet later scored worldwide success with a less radical sanitised pop soul sound.
Singer Tony Hadley said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “Our first album The ‘Journeys To Glory’ will always be one of my favourite Spandau albums, we were just young excited lads trying to make our mark on the world. There’s a rawness and energy on that album that is impossible to recreate. I love synthpop and still one of my favourite songs is SPANDAU BALLET’s first release ‘ To Cut A Long Story Short’.”
Not all enjoyed their visits to The Blitz Club; Billy MacKenzie notably highlighted the vapid nature of the scene in ASSOCIATES’ second hit single ‘Club Country’. But buoyed by its success, Steve Strange and Rusty Egan eventually vacated The Blitz Club and took over The Music Machine in 1982 and relaunched it as The Camden Palace, making it one of the UK’s first modern superclubs.
But the spirit of The Blitz Club still lives on and recently, there came the surprise announcement that Zaine Griff was to join Rusty Egan and ‘Fade To Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne to perform the songs of VISAGE in an audio-visual presentation at a number of events across Europe including W-Festival in Belgium.
Using Dave Rimmer’s 2003 book ‘New Romantics: The Look’ as an initial reference point and calling on the memories of Rusty Egan himself to verify whether he had actually played these songs in his DJ sets, here are 25 Songs Of The Blitz Club selected by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to celebrate the flamboyant legacy of that Blitz Spirit.
ROXY MUSIC Both Ends Burning (1975)
Following-up the hit single ‘Love In The Drug’, ‘Both Ends Burning’ was ROXY MUSIC’s second ‘Siren’ call. With Bryan Ferry’s stylised but anguished vocals, it was a track which laid down the sophisticated art pop trail that JAPAN and DURAN DURAN would later be pursuing. Featuring a prominent coating of ARP Solina string machine sweetened by hypnotic bass and squawky sax, ‘Both Ends Burning’ is probably the most under rated single in the Roxy canon.
Available on the ROXY MUSIC album ‘The Best Of’ via Virgin Records
With a title that was an anagram of TALKING HEADS, the New York art school combo were the inspiration for the frantic metallic romp of ‘Kings Lead Hat’ which became a favourite at The Blitz Club. Brian Eno aped David Byrne in his vocal delivery, while he was later to produce three of the band’s albums as he moved further away from art rock as a solo artist. The song was later covered by ULTRAVOX in their live sets during the early phase their Midge Ure-fronted incarnation.
KRAFTWERK reacted as they generally did to negative criticism by writing a song. A response to a review that said their motionless persona at live performances was like ‘Showroom Dummies’, the sparse eerie atmosphere was punctuated by a tight and rigid electronic drum sound that was completely new and alien, something Rusty Egan was looking to emulate. Incidentally, the count-in of “eins zwei drei vier” was a deadpan Germanic parody of THE RAMONES!
An Iggy Pop collaboration with David Bowie, the Vampiric glam of ‘Nightclubbing’ was the former James Osterberg’s commentary on what it was like hanging out with him every night. Utilising a simple piano melody and a cold Schaffel rhythm via the mechanical precision of a Roland drum machine, legend has it that Iggy insisted on keeping it, saying “it kicks ass, it’s better than a drummer”. Alongside ‘Lust For Life’, ‘Nightclubbing’ also featured in the soundtrack of ‘Trainspotting’.
Available on the IGGY POP album ‘The Idiot’ via Virgin Records
Utilising Warren Cann’s modified Roland TR77 rhythm machine, this was John Foxx moving ULTRAVOX! into the moody ambience pioneered by CLUSTER, away from the art rock of the self-titled first album and the punky interim single ‘Young Savage’. ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ had initially been premiered as a far spikier uptempo number for the B-side of ‘ROckWrok’. Incidentally, the ‘CC’ credited on saxophone is not Chris Cross, but a member of the art collective GLORIA MUNDI.
Available on the ULTRAVOX! album ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ via Island Records
LA DÜSSELDORF’s second long player ‘Viva’ was their most successful album and the title track was a regular staple at The Blitz Club. An oddball slice of cosmic space rock sung in French and German by Klaus Dinger, proceedings were aided by the dual motorik thud of Hans Lampe and Thomas Dinger. Performed with the same group of musicians, ‘E-Musik’ by Dinger’s previous band NEU! had also been a favourite at The Blitz Club, influencing the intro of the ULTRAVOX B-side ‘Face To Face’.
Commissioned by Alan Parker for the graphic prison drama ‘Midnight Express’, the noted director wanted some electronic accompaniment to the crucial chase scene of the film in the style of ‘I Feel Love’. The bassline from Giorgio Moroder’s own 1976 cover of ‘Knights In White Satin’ was reappropriated. The fruit of their labours was this Oscar winning Hi-NRG romp bursting with VANGELIS-like keyboard melodies, driven by an intense slamming and syncopated by popping pulses.
Already a fan of German music and ‘Autobahn’ by KRAFTWERK in particular, Daniel Miller’s sense of experimentation and an adoption of punk’s DIY ethic led him to buying a Korg 700s synthesizer. Wanting to make a punk single with electronics, he wrote and recorded the stark JG Ballard influenced ‘Warm Leatherette’ as an independent single release on his own Mute Records. Meanwhile, The Blitz Kids came up with their own bizarre twisting and turning dance entering a human arch to accompany it…
The late Wolfgang Riechmann is the forgotten man in the Düsseldorf axis having been in SPIRITS OF SOUND with Michael Rother and Wolfgang Flür; had his life not been tragically cut short, he certainly had the potential to become a revered and respected cult musical figure. The opening title track of his only album chimed like a Cold War spy drama before the beautifully almost oriental melodic piece imagined PINK FLOYD meeting CLUSTER over a delicate Schaffel beat.
ZAGER & EVANS’ pessimistic ditty was perfect fodder for the first VISAGE demo. Steered by Midge Ure using his freshly acquired Yamaha synths and punctuated by Rusty Egan’s incessant Roland drum machine and synthetic percussion, ‘In The Year 2525’ was perfectly resigned aural dystopia from its vocodered intro onwards. Steve Strange’s deadpan fronted the sombre tone perfectly but Ure’s vocal backing and counterpoints added that extra slice of musicality.
Available on the VISAGE album ‘The Face’ via Universal Records
One of first Japanese bands to have a Top 20 hit single in the UK was YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA in 1980. ‘Firecracker’ was a cover of a 1959 composition by Martin Denny but actually released as ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’. Recorded in 1978, the parent self-titled album was noted for its use of the then brand new Roland MC8 Micro-Composer to control the synthesizers. The result was a clean, exotic pop sound that was unusual, even in the synthpop heartland of Europe.
Produced by Zeus B Held, ‘No GDM’ was written by androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp and featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground. Unsurprisingly, the song gained heavy rotation at The Blitz Club. The nonchalant, detached vocal influence of GINA X PERFORMANCE went on to be heard in the music of LADYTRON, CLIENT and MISS KITTIN.
Working with Giorgio Moroder, David Sylvian submitted ‘European Son’ for the session in Los Angeles but it was rejected by the producer. Instead, the Italian offered several of his demos, of which, Sylvian picked the one he considered to be the worst so that he could stamp more of his own vision for the developing synthesized sound of JAPAN. Considered to be too avant-garde at its inception but ahead of its time, unbeknown to Moroder and Sylvian, they had just conceived DURAN DURAN!
Available on the JAPAN album ‘Assemblage’ via Sony BMG Records
THOMAS LEER & ROBERT RENTAL Day Breaks Night Heals (1979)
Originally released on THROBBING GRISTLE’s Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ album saw Scottish duo Thomas Leer and Robert Rental trading vocal and instrumental duties. With an air of FAD GADGET, ‘Day Breaks Night Heals’ showcased some of Leer’s pop sensibility that was later apparent in his Arista solo period and in ACT with Claudia Brücken, while Rental maintained a dark experimental presence in this slice of artful electronic blues. Robert Rental sadly passed away in 2000.
Available on the album ‘The Bridge’ via The Grey Area
Manipulating their influences like SPARKS and MAGAZINE with a very European austere, Glasgow’s SIMPLE MINDS were “underground, pulsating through” thanks to the rhythmic interplay of Derek Forbes’ bass with Mick McNeil’s synths. Charlie Burchill was now thinking beyond the sound of a conventional electric guitar while the precision of under rated drummer Brian McGee locked the glue. That just left Jim Kerr to throw his bizarre shapes and pontificate over this dark avant disco.
Having graced the UK Top 20 again with the tremendous ‘No1 Song In Heaven’, SPARKS continued their Giorgio Moroder produced rejuvenation and had an even bigger hit with ‘Beat The Clock’. Percussively augmented by Keith Forsey who was later to produce Billy Idol, Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto more than suited the electronic disco sound while the programmed backing meant that Ron Mael could stoically maintain his image of doing nothing.
Belgian trio TELEX comprised of Marc Moulin, Dan Lacksman and Michel Moers, with the intention of “making something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. Opening their debut album ‘Looking for Saint Tropez’ which also contained their funeral robotic cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’, ‘Moscow Diskow’ took the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow, adding a funkier groove compared with KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ excursion for what was to become a cult international club favourite.
From their third album ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’, the uncompromising THROBBING GRISTLE led by the late Genesis P-Orridge were neither jazzy or funky! Gloriously sequenced by Chris Carter via a Roland System-100M modular, ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ was mutant dystopian disco lento with a hypnotic rhythm punctuated by a synthetic whip-crack for that S&M twist as Cosey Fanni Tutti’s whispered vocals competed with pentatonic melodies and electronic drill noises!
Zaine Griff had a Bowie-esque poise was tailor made for The Blitz Club and Tony Visconti saw enough in him to produce his debut solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’. Featuring Hans Zimmer on synths, the title song was sitting just outside the Top 40 and earned a performance on Top Of The Pops but the episode was pulled thanks to a Musicians Union strike. Demonstrating the song’s longevity despite it not being a major hit, it was recently covered live by American alternative rockers MGMT.
‘Being Boiled’ was the first song Philip Oakey wrote with Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh for THE HUMAN LEAGUE, his bizarre lyrics being the result of a confusion between Buddhism and Hinduism while highlighting the plight of silk worms. Intended to reimagine FUNKADELIC’s funky overtones as synthetic horns, this brassier re-recorded version with fatter electronic beats was included on the ‘Holiday 80’ EP and the ‘Travelogue’ album, becoming a dance staple of The Blitz Club.
Available as a bonus track on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Travelogue’ via Virgin Records
Didier Marouani wrote the worldwide hit ‘Magic Fly’ but having left the band, Roland Romanelli and Jannick Top continued as SPACE. The rousing thrust of ‘Tender Force’ was, like ‘Magic Fly’, produced by Jean-Philippe Iliesco who later invited Rusty Egan to contribute a timbale heavy remix of this synth disco tune ; he was later to begin an ill-fated business relationship with Iliesco who was named by Midge Ure in his ‘If I Was’ autobiography as responsible for putting a wedge between him and Egan in VISAGE…
Although now known as a duo, eccentric Swiss pioneers YELLO actually began as a trio of Dieter Meier, Boris Blank and Carlos Peron. Later remixed and extended, the military drum tattoo at the start of ‘Bostich’ was deceiving as an electronic throb quickly set in. This was perfect avant garde disco for The Blitz Club with a quirky range of vocal pitches from Meier while the track also included a style of speedy European rap later that was repeated on their only major UK hit ‘The Race’ in 1988.
Available on the YELLO album ‘Essential’ via Mercury Records
Electronic pop music was often seen as pretentious, LANDSCAPE had their tongues firmly in their cheeks as evidenced by ‘Einstein A Go-Go’. “The song is a cautionary tale about the apocalyptic possibilities of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of theocratic dictators and religious extremists.” said the band’s Richard Burgess, “We talked about the track conceptually before we wrote it and our objective was to make a very simple, cartoon-like track with a strong hook that would belie the meaning of the lyrics!”
Written as a B-side instrumental for The Blitz Club’s resident dance troupe SHOCK to work a routine to, ‘R.E.R.B.’ was constructed by Rusty Egan and Richard Burgess, hence the title. Burgess had been doing the linking interludes with a Fairlight on the first VISAGE album and brought in Roland System 700 modular driven by the Micro-composer while Egan triggered the brain of the synthesized drum system that Burgess had been working on with Dave Simmons for its punchy drum fills.
Available on the SHOCK single ‘R.E.R.B.’ via Blitz Club Records
Produced by Daniel Miller, one of the first SOFT CELL recordings on signing to Phonogram was the seminal ‘Memorabilia’. While not a hit, it was critically acclaimed and become a favourite at The Blitz Club. Dave Ball’s deep Roland Synthe-Bass and klanky Korg Rhythm KR55 provided a distinctive danceable backbone to accompany Marc Almond’s souvenir collecting metaphors about sexual promiscuity. After this, SOFT CELL were signed by Rusty Egan to Metropolis Music for publishing.
Hailing from Buenos Aires, Maru Pardo Saguier and Sebastian Cordoves have been making music as COSAQUITOS EN GLOBO since 2004.
Their underground electronic pop has always been strong on melody and rhythm, although their musical journey has taken them into experimenting with guitars and finding their voice linguistically.
Now located in Berlin, COSAQUITOS EN GLOBO are again reflecting more of the European heritage that is a key part of Argentina and the duo’s love of synthesizers in pop. Whatever, their music influenced by Ralf, Florian and Giorgio transcends language.
Having spent a charming evening having dinner with the couple in their adopted home last Autumn, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK chatted to COSAQUITOS EN GLOBO about their career to date.
Your self-tilted 2007 debut album seems such a long time ago. It featured a fabulous song called ‘Fantasy’, how did you arrive at your style of music?
Sebastian: The first album ‘Cosaquitos En Globo’ was an experiment. When we started, we were a bit bored of the styles of music we were doing with our previous projects, so we tried to do something different.
We started doing some Trip-Hop songs in early 2004…actually, the first release of our first album was independently in 2005!
Then we started to experiment a bit with different styles, some electroclash, electropop and synthpop, until we were comfortable with the later styles and maybe something that today we can call synthwave (as ‘Fantasy’ is very synthwave). So, the first album turned out as an eclectic mix of all that as a result of our search for our own style.
Maru: It’s amazing to think back to that time and remember that ‘Fantasy’ almost didn’t make it to the album. We quarrelled a lot about that. By that time, we were working differently to what we do today. Sebastian would give me a recording of his ideas and I would come up with some melody and lyrics in my dead times at the office I used to work in. The song was very much there musically, but I couldn’t make anything to work on my side.
One day, the lyrics started to be sung by themselves. I was not very happy with my almost spoken melody, but showed it to Sebastian anyway. I thought he would hate it but on the contrary, he loved it and there it was, the first song that really felt like we had something else than the sum of the both of us. It’s the song that we can never take out of a show.
Argentina appears to have more musicians and producers interested in electronic pop than other South American countries, why do you think that is?
Maru: Argentina has always looked to Europe in terms of influence, not only in music and art but also in other aspects. It’s a country that has always welcomed immigration, not only from other fellow American countries, but also a strong part of the population is European, so our ears and sensibility have always been tuned up with what was going on there (or here, now!). We are curious, we receive the info but then, as it always happens, we mix it up with our own DNA and make our own Argentine version.
Sebastian: Also, Argentina had a very rich pop/synthpop scene during the 80s and had some of the artists that can be considered pioneers in the electronic and synth scene in South America. I think that scene influenced a lot the music scene of other countries, but now there are other countries that have a lot of artists making electronic music in all of it forms. Mostly Chile has a lot of electronic pop artists.
Your second album ‘Moving Under’ from 2010 had even more great songs like ‘The System is Running Out’, ‘Out of Presence’ and ‘Silence’, how do you think you were developing at this point?
Maru: After ‘Fantasy’, which we consider the milestone of our personality, songs started to come out more easily. It was a very nice period for us, we were enjoying ourselves because we were convinced about our material and also our live shows were benefited by that sense of, let’s say, pride. In addition to that, we’d found an image to project we felt comfortable with.
Sebastian: We continued the search for our own sound; we were a bit more confident about our direction and what we were doing. I think it’s more electro, a bit darker (I think it is our darkest album) and more consistent than our first one.
But for the ‘Voy a Buscarte’ EP in 2011, you changed direction and starting to exclusively sing in Spanish and add guitars, what were the reasons for this?
Maru: When we started with Cosaquitos we had a guitarist. We were almost getting to a trio stage because we were very much in sync with what he was bringing to the table, but due to one of the many big crises of our country, he emigrated and we went back to “square one”. Time passed and the what if? question about having a permanent guitarist kept haunting us, so we decided that we should give that possibility a shot.
Sebastian: At that time, the music scene in Buenos Aires was very strange, very rock oriented, and we felt a bit disconnected with the public. In the first two albums, we have songs in Spanish and in English but the most popular songs were in English (‘Fantasy’, ‘Out of Presence’, etc). The Spanish songs were more melancholic, so we tried to do some more danceable songs in Spanish trying to make a connection with people.
Maru: it wasn’t easy because we didn’t have an influence in Spanish of the style we were doing. When I tried forcing myself to translate the songs I wrote in English, it didn’t feel natural, but kind of forced and romantic, instead. I felt like a melodic singer from the 70s.
We were much criticized because of the choice of language in Argentina. We were considered too European for our country’s ears, so it was natural that we had better response from outside our own land.
We didn’t have a problem with maintaining this linguistic duality, but at some point we wanted to force ourselves to having more songs in Spanish because the balance had switched too much to the English side. So ‘Voy a Buscarte’ was the sum of that, plus presenting our new formation with guitars.
Around that time was our first European tour. We weren’t sure about how our songs in Spanish would be received but, besides in the UK, Spanish was much celebrated. It’s amazing to see how much time changed, because now the UK is one of the countries that listens to us the most, where our songs in Spanish and English are invited to be part of compilations and where radio shows play our music these days.
Sebastian: By that time, we started playing at places a bit bigger and we started to feel we needed another member in the band to make our shows more dynamic. We’d had guest guitar players before and, as the scene was so rock oriented, having a guitar player in the band looked like a good choice, then.
How did you find working with a guitarist, was it what you had hoped?
Sebastian: Working with a guitar player is like working like any other musician, a real pain, hahaha! Seriously it was a nice experience, especially live. I felt a bit freer to do what I wanted to do live because I had fewer eyes on me. We had some musical differences with both guitar players we had, and the result was that we did some music that was a bit different to what we’d do as a duo, but I think that’s the reason of having another member in the band, to collaborate and do something different…
Maru: There was a rockish sound that we sometimes appreciated, but mostly we thought it was too much. We weren’t looking for that. As the music we were trying to make was not very popular in our country, we struggled to find a guitarist who would understand the role of the instrument in the band – that didn’t have anything to do with playing chords all the time nor with playing all the time!
We enjoyed it though, and it also seemed to be the time where our popularity started to raise in Argentina. Shows were fun and it let the rock part of our influences come out and play for a little while. But that was it. We didn’t want to pursue that line of sound in the future. As the composition always remained between Sebastian and me, we thought we should carry on with just the two of us.
Your 2014 album ‘Asimetricos’ was also in Spanish, but on its follow-up ‘Humanum’, songs in English like ‘Loop of Love’, ‘We Have Enough’ and ‘About Love’ returned, why was there a change of heart linguistically?
Sebastian: I think there are several reasons and no reason at all… we became a duo again and we wanted to make music without imposing anything to ourselves. In ‘Asimetricos’, we had some songs in English but tried to do most of them in Spanish. In ‘Humanum’, we just let the music take control.
Maru: In every stage of Cosaquitos’ life, besides most of our first album, we did exactly what we felt at the time. When we explored the sometimes darker and somewhat detached sound of ‘Moving Under’, we were channelling our man-machine dialog; with the more rough sound that started with ‘Voy a Buscarte’ and had its peak in ‘Asimetricos’, there was some kind of violence within us, how we felt about the world at that moment, that needed to be expressed with those albums. Language-wise English seemed to be suitable for one stage and Spanish for another.
‘Humanum’ came along in a period in which we realized the world and the people were going to hell and we needed to find the sensibility, we thought it was being erased from the face of the earth.
If we were missing sensibility and delicacy, we needed to find it in ourselves and then offer them to whoever needed to connect from that place. We found it to be one of the albums we love the most.
With this in mind, why did you choose to relocate to Berlin?
Sebastian: We visited Berlin in our 2011 European tour (the year that we met you at our show in London) and fell in love with the city.
We liked the vibe, the people and the music scene; so on our second tour in 2015, we decided to spend more time here and we stayed for a month playing around the city. At that time we decided we wanted to live here, at least for some time, but we didn’t know how…
Maru: It took us another four years to really decide to leave everything behind and move here. It wasn’t easy.
So what sort of instrument and software set-up do you use now?
Sebastian: Because of moving to Berlin, we had to sell most of our gear, mostly big vintage synths that were very expensive to bring to Europe. So we came with a minimal set-up and bought a few things here.
At the moment, to produce we use a DIY Modular Synth (5U format), a Korg Prologue 8, a Novation Bass Station 2, an Arturia MiniBrute SE, a Korg R3 and a very modified Roland TR-707 for drums, I added extra sound EPROMs and various mods to the circuit.
At live shows we bring the R3, the Bass Station 2 and MicroBrute, also Maru uses a Digitech Vocalist Pro for vocal effects.
Software-wise we use Cakewalk by Bandlab to produce, record and mix, and Ableton Live 7 LE to play the backing tracks live. I used Cakewalk since the early 90s (it then become SONAR, now it is called Cakewalk again)
Your most recent EP release ‘Fast Cars’ saw you go in an artistic circle and back to the style of your first two albums with no guitars and singing in English, what has been the motivation for this?
Maru: By this time, we had already taken the decision to move to Berlin. We thought we needed to have some new material almost ready to start a new stage of our lives and career with a fresh sound. Besides, we weren´t sure if we would have the time or would find a place where we could turn the volume up… we were not mistaken!
‘Humanum’ had opened a door to us that we didn’t feel like closing. English started to come back to me as naturally as Spanish did in 2011 and 2014. Some songs just are born one way or another and we just stopped arguing with that. I imagine Spanish will still appear in the future, but not in the near future. We have another EP in English that will be released in a couple of months.
Sebastian: I think that our comeback to that synthpop and synthwave sound started with ‘Humanum’. To me, ‘Humanum’ is our more finished album, the one that is closest to the idea we had when we started to make it and the one we made with more freedom, so when we started to make new songs, we wanted to stay in that path. The ‘Fast Cars’ EP is a continuation of the musical idea of ‘Humanum’.
What is the song ‘Fast Cars’ about and what was the idea behind the simple but very effective video?
Maru: ‘Fast Cars’ is a song about closing up to the noise of this world and finding your own way. Sebastian says all of my lyrics are melancholic and I think he has a point, especially when it comes to the melodies. But this song is mainly about hope, to find something good where it’s not supposed to be.
The video is a photoshoot gone… wrong? It was a lovely afternoon we spent with our creative friends Wanda Panda and Marcelo Espinola aka CINERS. They sort of, had prepared a video trap for us and we gladly fell right into it. We were trying to make a change image-wise that would reflect our change of location – and also, hairstyles – that would support our new release, to press a very much needed refresh button in every aspect.
So, they had the concept, the lights prepared and the mood was perfect. We shot it without even realizing and we think they understood perfectly where we were trying to go. We are happy about it! Since our arrival to Berlin, they both have been a great source of help, comfort and creative support for us. Marcelo is joining us in most of our shows here with his live visuals and Wanda takes amazing pictures. Back in 2015, they were responsible of registering our live shows here in video and photos and they also made a short video documentation of our life through the month we spent here.
Has moving to Berlin had a positive effect on your creativity? Have you had much of an opportunity to network with musicians based there and play live?
Sebastian: I think at the moment, it is a bit early to say something for sure. It was a very hard year settling down in the city, doing paperwork to stay legally, trying to learn the language, etc… but I feel it was positive for me.
We finished ‘Fast Cars’ EP and now we are finishing a new one, we did a remix for the Danish band SOFTWAVE, we played some great gigs, mostly in small but very nice venues and now we have a new videoclip. Above all, we started to think about a new album.
Maru: During our first months here we played a lot. We didn’t expect that. It’s an almost surreal thing because being an immigrant has nothing to do with the experience of visiting, coming here to play and enjoy the city.
Paperwork and some sort of depression were the main aspects of our life. If shows weren’t in the middle of everything to remind us of the reason we came for – or who we are -, really, I don’t know what would have happen with us.
Our first plus to being here is teaming up with these two talented friends we were talking about. Now, when things were starting to be smoother and we were starting to warm up again, this Corona crisis came and the shows from the next month were rescheduled. Hopefully, for the sake of all, this will end soon enough…
How are you finding living in Europe anyway, with the difference in climate and food etc?
Sebastian: I feel really comfortable; I like the food and the climate. The winter is dark, there is much less sunlight that in Argentina, but it’s not affecting me much. On the other hand we love Berlin in Springtime, we really enjoy the city. Something we don’t have in Buenos Aires and we love here is the rivers crossing the city. Also Berlin has so much green, we and our little dog enjoy going to the parks. We miss a bit some of the food we have back in Argentina like empanadas, dulce de leche and strangely Argentinian pizza, but here there is a lot of food we like. We love wursts, Currywurst, Sauer Kraut and Döner Kebap…
Maru: Of course as the time passes, you cannot help missing things, people, mainly. The way of life here is less frenetic and we like that. We also love the fact that you can feel history through your bones and live music is still a very important aspect of the personality of the city
Looking back, what songs or albums have been artistic highs for you?
Sebastian: In general, what I think is our high changes over time. Trying to be as objective as possible, I think our best album is ‘Humanum’. Song-wise I think that ‘Fantasy’, ‘Out of Presence’, ‘Cruzando el Puente’, ‘We Have Enough’, ‘Fast Cars’ and in the less popular category but that I like a lot are ‘Explora’, ‘The System is Running Out’, ‘Voy a Dejarte’ and ‘Zero Gravity’…
Maru: I agree. I would add’ Loop of Love’.
What’s next for COSAQUITOS EN GLOBO?
Sebastian: Soon we will be releasing a new EP called ‘Recall’. It’s a three song EP, kind of a brother of ‘Fast Cars’ EP, as we wrote the songs at the same time. Also, we are talking with CINERS about making another video for one of the songs. And we started to think in a new album, possibly for next year…
Maru: We have a couple of festivals we’ll be playing at, providing this pandemic ends soon. Aztec Records have released ‘Pure Latin Synth Vol 1’, a compilation with songs in Spanish in which we participate with our song ‘Cristal’ from our 2017 album ‘Humanum’.
Following that, ‘We Have Enough’, another song from that album is going to be included into another Aztec Records compilation called ‘Synth Songs of Hope’. This compilation was born out of this COVID-19 pandemic situation. Half of the proceedings will be donated to the International Council of Nurses, which supports the advancement of nursing education, research and support for their families.
And hopefully, more shows to come, not only in Berlin. We want to play everywhere!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to COSAQUITOS EN GLOBO
So how did ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK arrive at its discerning musical ethos?
It probably all began with a very liberal and Bohemian junior school teacher named Miss Nielsen who played KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’, PINK FLOYD’s ‘Echoes’ and the soundtrack of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ to the class, with the unusual sound of all three providing an otherworldly, yet captivating listen.
Later on, various parts of the 22 minute ‘Autobahn’ track appeared on the end credits of BBC children’s drama ‘Out Of Bounds’ and opened ‘Newsround Extra’, but 1977 was to become the true Year Zero in electronic pop. With ‘Oxygène’, ‘Sound & Vision’, ‘Magic Fly’ and ‘I Feel Love’ all hitting the UK Top 3 within months of each other, this was effectively the beginning of synths designing the future.
To celebrate the 10th birthday of the site, here is a very personal list of 30 tracks that shaped the site. These are primarily songs that solidified and expanded the interest in synth or later provided hope in the face of real music snobbery and the return of the guitar in the wake of Britpop.
There will be grumbles that the likes of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, HEAVEN 17, YAZOO, DURAN DURAN, TALK TALK, PROPAGANDA, CLIENT, RÖYKSOPP and others are not featured, and certainly if this list was a 40, they would all be included. But this list is an impulsive snapshot of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s own journey in music, as opposed to being a history of electronic pop or a best of.
What? No industrial, acid house, techno or dubstep you ask? Well, that’s because ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK disliked the majority of it. While this is not always the case, the site has generally about synthpop ie pop music using synthesizers, as can be seen from this rather esteemed electronic roll of honour 😉
This is the history that the too cool for school media, who think everything jumped from KRAFTWERK to Detroit Techno in one fell swoop, don’t like to mention…
With a restriction of one track per artist moniker and presented in yearly and then alphabetical order featuring music from before the site came into being, here is why is it how it is…
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE Oxygène (1976)
For many including Jean-Michel Jarre, ‘Popcorn’ for their first experience of a synthpop hit and he released his own version under the moniker of THE POPCORN ORCHESTRA in 1972. But while working on his first proper full length electronic album in 1976, Jarre adapted a melodic phrase from the late Gershon Kingsley’s composition as the main theme of what was to become the project’s lead single. That composition was ‘Oxygène IV’ and the rest is history.
Exploring a “whole new school of pretension” with his new creative muse Brian Eno, ‘Sound & Vision’ saw David Bowie capture a tense European aesthetic. Utilising an uplifting rhythm guitar hook and an ARP Solina string machine, the most distinctive feature was the pitch shifted percussion, produced by Tony Visconti feeding the snare drum though an Eventide H910 Harmonizer. The half instrumental track was a taster of the approach that was to come with the half instrumental parent album ‘Low’.
SPACE was the brainchild of Didier Marouani who went under the pseudonym of Ecama and formed the collective in 1977 with Roland Romanelli and Jannick Top. Together with compatriot Jean-Michel Jarre and a certain Giorgio Moroder also in the charts, the space disco of the iconic ‘Magic Fly’ heralded the start of a new European electronic sound within the mainstream. With its catchy melody and lush accessible futurism, ‘Magic Fly’ sold millions all over the world.
Working with Donna Summer on an album called ‘I Remember Yesterday’, producer Giorgio Moroder wanted to feature a track that represented “the sound of the future”. Employing the Moog Modular system with an 8-step analogue sequencer plus a triplet delay to create the pulsing synthesizer lines and metronomic beat, ‘I Feel Love’ changed the course of music. Summer’s hypnotic Middle Eastern falsetto was an accident, coming as a result of the track being laid down outside of her usual vocal range.
Using a Micromoog for its iconic hook, ‘The Model’ was inspired by KRAFTWERK’s visits to night clubs in the more vibrant city of Cologne 30km down the road from Düsseldorf where their iconic Kling Klang studio was based. There, they would observe beautiful models drinking champagne and seek their company. It was quite the antithesis of the robot image that the quartet were portraying. Sonically ahead of its time, it became a UK No1 four years after its initial release in 1982.
In a creative rut following their massive UK success in the glam-era, the Mael Brothers had found ‘I Feel Love’ awe inspiring. A journalist friend put SPARKS into contact with Giorgio Moroder who had aspirations to work with a band and set to work with them immediately. The first result was the tremendous ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ where Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto fitted well with the electro-disco sound, while the programmed backing meant Ron Mael could maintain his image of doing nothing.
Still using the group name of TUBEWAY ARMY at the behest of Beggars Banquet, the astoundingly long ‘Are Friends Electric?’ with its diabolus in musica structure became the entry point for many into electronic music. It was Synth Britannia’s ‘Starman’ moment when it was featured on ‘Top Of The Pops’ and Old Grey Whistle Test’ during the same week. When it reached No1 in the UK, life was never the same for Gary Numan, the pale-faced front man of what turned out to be a phantom band.
Available on the album ‘Replicas’ via Beggars Banquet
Departing ULTRAVOX after the ‘Systems Of Romance’ album and now making music along with an ARP Odyssey, Elka Rhapsody and a Roland CR78 Compurhythm, John Foxx realised his own starker vision of electronic music. Engineered by Gareth Jones who was to later notably work with DEPECHE MODE, ‘Underpass’ channelled the dystopian writings of JG Ballard in his lyrical imagery, with Foxx added that the English novelist was “addressing what I’d come to call ‘the unrecognised present’.”
Available on the album ‘Metamatic’ via Metamatic Records
A track that “weighed more than Saturn”, ‘The Black Hit Of Space’ sounded extraordinary when it opened the second album by THE HUMAN LEAGUE. The Sci-Fi lyrics about an infinite pop hit were strangely out there while harsh screeching frequencies from overdriving the mixing desk; “We were also experimenting with guitar pedals” Martyn Ware told The Electricity Club, “All that was a reaction to the cleanness of the previous album so we overcompensated.”
The resonant heart of ‘Quiet Life’ was a Roland System 700 driven by Richard Barbieri’s snappy eight step Oberheim Mini-sequencer. Complimented by Mick Karn’s distinctively fluid fretless bass, Rob Dean’s clean guitar lines and David Sylvian’s lyrical conclusion that the band were outsiders in the environment they were born into, it was a sure-fire hit… but not yet as Ariola Hansa release it as a single in the UK until 1981. But meanwhile, JAPAN had invented DURAN DURAN!
Within the environment of colder electronic pioneers such as Gary Numan and John Foxx, OMD were perhaps the first of the warmer synthesizer bands. ‘Messages’ utilised a pulsing ‘Repeat’ function on a Korg Micro-Preset shaped by hand twisting the octave knob. Re-recorded from the original album version under the helm of producer Mike Howlett, he harnessed a template of basic primary chord structures and one fingered melodies, netting a No13 UK chart hit.
Of ‘Astradyne’, Billy Currie told The Electricity Club: “Midge started with that strong melody, Chris’ bass was also a very strong feature. I played a piano counter melody behind. The track was so strong that we felt at ease to lengthen it with a long textural piano bit that is sort of bell-like with the metronomic bass drum beats and the violin tremolo solo… Midge came up with that final section lift taking it out of the long ARP solo. I double it! It is very celebratory at the end…”
Available on the album ‘Vienna’ via Chrysalis/EMI Records
Conceived during soundchecks under the working title of ‘Toot City’ while they were playing on Gary Numan’s first concert tour, Chris Payne, Billy Currie and Ced Sharpley had recorded the track at Genetic Studios as a souvenir keepsake. Midge Ure later came up lyrics and a melody when the track was added to the debut VISAGE album and the rest was history. Capturing the cinematic pomp of the New Romantic movement in all its glory, ‘Fade To Grey’ became a No1 hit in West Germany.
Available on the album ‘Visage’ via Polydor Records
Written by Vince Clarke and produced by Daniel Miller, DEPECHE MODE fulfilled the Mute label founder’s vision of a teenage pop group with synthesizers that he had imagined and conceived for SILICON TEENS. Despite its danceable bubblegum appeal and catchy synthesizer hooks, ‘New Life’ also featured some intricate folk vocal harmonies which made it quite distinct from the chanty nature of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ which was also out at the same time.
The expansive instrumental ‘Theme for Great Cities’ was initially been given away as a freebie having initially been part of ‘Sister Feelings Call’, a seven track EP given gratis to early purchasers of SIMPLE MINDS’ breakthrough fourth album ‘Sons & Fascination’. Starting with some haunting vox humana before a combination of CAN and TANGERINE DREAM takes hold, the rhythm section covered in dub echo drove what is possibly one of the greatest synth signatures ever!
SOFT CELL’s cover of ‘Tainted Love’ became ubiquitous as Synth Britannia’s first true crossover record, reaching No1 in UK, Germany, Australia and Canada while also breaking the US Top 10 a year later. Written by Ed Cobb, ‘Tainted Love’ was recorded by Gloria Jones and became a Wigan Casino favourite on the Northern Soul scene. As a fan of that scene, David Ball knew the song and took it into haunting electronic torch territory, while Marc Almond added an honestly spirited vocal.
With its iconic honky tonk piano line and sophisticated arrangement, ‘Party Fears Two’ was a magnificent song about dealing with the perils of schizophrenia, made all the more resonant by Billy Mackenzie’s operatic prowess. It also kick started a brief period when ASSOCIATES subverted the UK charts with an avant pop approach that fitted in with the Synth Britannia template of the times. A Top10 hit and emotive to the nth degree, the original single version is still the best and total perfection.
Harrow College of Art students Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe were unlikely pop stars, but an appearance on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ led to a deal with London Records as well as support slots with DEPECHE MODE and JAPAN. Using a Korg MS20 synched to a Linn Drum Computer as its rhythmic backbone, the haunting melancholy of ‘I’ve Seen The Word’ fused the sombre lyricism of JOY DIVISION with the melodies and textures of OMD via a Roland Jupiter 8.
Merseyside duo CHINA CRISIS are probably the most under rated band of their generation. The haunting ‘Christian’ was a song about the fate of soldiers in the trenches during World War One. Slow and melancholic, ‘Christian’ was as unlikely a hit single as ‘Ghosts’ by JAPAN was, but in a far more open-minded and diverse period in pop music than today, acts with a less obvious rock ‘n’ roll outlook were generally in with a chance; it reached No12 in the UK singles charts.
‘Temptation’ was NEW ORDER’s self-produced electronic breakthrough away from the haunting legacy of JOY DIVISION. The recording itself was marvellously flawed, with Stephen Morris’ overdriven Simmons snare panned too far to the right while band members could also be heard calling instructions and tutting. The pulsing hypnotism of the triggered ARP Quadra and the iconic “oooh-oo-ooh” vocal refrain made ‘Temptation’ rather joyous and magical.
When Jimmy Somerville, Steve Bronski and the late Larry Steinbachek made their first ever TV appearance performing on BBC2’s ‘ORS’, BRONSKI BEAT were nothing short of startling, thanks to their look, their minimal synth sound and Somerville’s lonely earth shattering falsetto. The trio had sought to be more outspoken and political in their position as openly gay performers and the tale of ‘Smalltown Boy’ about a gay teenager leaving his family and fleeing his hometown made an important statement.
It was with the re-recorded Stephen Hague version of ‘West End Girls’ that PET SHOP BOYS hit No1 in both the UK and US in 1986. Interestingly, the character of its distinctive bass synth was achieved by Hague coercing a reluctant Chris Lowe into hand playing the riff. Meanwhile, the track fulfilled Neil Tennant’s concept of the duo sounding “like an English rap group” with a dour demeanour that was the antithesis of WHAM! It started an imperial phase for PET SHOP BOYS which included three more No1s.
In today’s world, DEPECHE MODE influenced acts are common place but in 1988, this was highly unusual. Taking ‘Some Great Reward’ as their template, CAMOUFLAGE developed on the industrial flavoured synthpop of ‘Master & Servant’ and ‘People Are People’ which the Basildon boys had all but abandoned from ‘Black Celebration’ onwards. Probably the best single DM never recorded. while ‘The Great Commandment’ was a hit in Europe and the US, it made no impression in Britain.
Available on the CAMOUFLAGE album ‘The Singles’ via Polydor Records / Universal Music
Produced by Stephen Hague, ‘A Little Respect’ was perfection from the off with its lively combination of Vince Clarke’s pulsing programming and strummed acoustic guitar. As the busy rhythmical engine kicked in, Andy Bell went from a tenor to a piercing falsetto to provide the dynamic highs and lows that are always omnipresent in all the great pop songs like ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Careless Whisper’. Something of a crossover record for ERASURE, ‘A Little Respect’ was covered by WHEATUS in 2000.
DUBSTAR straddled Britpop with a twist of Synth Britannia. ‘Not So Manic Now’ was a song by Wakefield indie band BRICK SUPPLY, but the trio made it their own with the Northern lass earthiness of Sarah Blackwood providing the chilling commentary of an attack on a helpless pensioner. Stephen Hague’s wonderful production fused programmed electronics with guitars and cello in fine fashion, while the incessant programmed rhythms drove the song along without being obtrusive to the horrifying story.
It is interesting to think that GOLDFRAPP were initially labelled as a trip-hop act. Their superb stratospheric debut ‘Felt Mountain’ had Ennio Morricone’s widescreen inflections but to accompany an ascent to the Matterhorn rather than a trek through a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. The opening song ‘Lovely Head’ was laced with deviant sexual tension. Will Gregory’s mad Korg MS20 treatments on Alison Goldfrapp’s operatic screaming produced some thrilling musical moments.
Describing the relationship between artist and fan, this was another throbbing Moroder-inspired cacophony of electronic dance from Michel Amato with a dirty clanking Korg KR55 Rhythm used to great effect. Deliciously hypnotic, the swimmy ARP synths drowned any sorrows as the pulsing euphoria took a hold. Miss Kittin didn’t sing as much as deadpan her thoughts, but her sexy Grenoble charm carried off what was a rather superb Electroclash anthem.
LADYTRON became one of the first bands for many years to primarily use synthesizers as their tools of expression and attain critical acclaim. Their debut ‘604’showed electro potential in their initial quest to find ‘yesterday’s tomorrow’. With octave shifts galore to satirical lyrics about the X-Factor/Next Year’s Top Model generation, ‘Seventeen’ demonstrated the tactile nature of analogue synthesis that was key to a revival in fortunes for electronic pop in the 21st Century.
Probably the most influential electronic act to come out of Sweden are THE KNIFE. Those long winter nights certainly had their effect on siblings Karin and Olof Dreijer. ‘Silent Shout’ was hypnotic understated rave with the a quota of creepy Nordic eccentricity. The sharp appregiator and ambient percussion melted with Karin Dreijer’s heavily pitch-shifted low register vocals providing a menacing counterpoint to her younger brother’s vibrant electronic lattice.
Is a cover or is it Memorex? This interpolation of ‘Space Age Love Song’ by A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS provided MARSHEAUX with their most immediate number yet. Borrowing the uniformed look of CLIENT but applying a pure synthpop template, Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou became notable for their marketing masterstrokes. The parent ‘Peek-A-Boo’ CD included a paper bag ghost mask. Fans wore it, took pictures and sent them to the duo… around 3,500 pictures were gathered!