The leafy Kent town of Royal Tunbridge Wells was the location for first night of the BLANCMANGE tour rescheduled from 2020.
Originally intended to coincide with the 12th full length BLANCMANGE long player ‘Mindset’, Neil Arthur recorded another album ‘Commercial Break’ during lockdown while also preparing a soon-to-be-released collaboration with Finlay Shakespeare who will be the support act from Colchester Arts Centre onwards.
But tonight at The Forum, which was chosen to be a sort of warm-up to get BLANCMANGE back into the ritual of live performance after a gap of almost two years, the opening act was the energetic Anglo-Argentine electro duo HEARTBREAK. Comprising of charismatic vocalist Sebastian Muravchik and thoughtful instrumentalist Ali Renault, HEARTBREAK toured with the likes of LA ROUX and LITTLE BOOTS in support of their 2008 debut album ‘Lies’ before they went into hiatus for nearly a decade and re-emerging in 2018.
Muravchik has been making music as SNS SENSATION while Renault recently issued an instrumental solo mini-album ‘Nawce Blizzard’, but there is a new HEARTBREAK album on the way and it was with one of the new numbers ‘1888’ that they began their uptempo set. From ‘Lies’ came the modern Italo romp of ‘Akin to Dancing’ and the falsetto charged ‘Regret’ before Muravchik announced how the fall out between himself and Renault (which put HEARTBREAK on the backburner) had been channelled into another new song called ‘This Battle’.
Having regrown his moustache especially for this occasion, Muravchik busted some Latin lothario moves and beckoned the now warmed up audience to dance to HEARTBREAK’s appropriately titled signature song ‘We’re Back’ and the frenzied ‘My Tears Electro’.
The most enthusiastic of the participants was undoubtedly Renault’s primary school aged daughter who was totally thrilled with seeing her father perform for the very first time and assiting on vocoder.
To very bright stage lights, long standing BLANCMANGE live keyboardist Ogoo Maia and electronic percussionist Liam Hutton took their places as they awaited the arrival of Neil Arthur to launch into the ‘Mange Tout’ favourite ‘Game Above My Head’.
With a set divided equally divided between classic material and 21st Century BLANCMANGE works, the marvellous robopop of ‘In Your Room’ from 2018’s ‘Wanderlust’ and songs off the ‘Mindset’ album, such as the title song and ‘Clean Your House’, showed that Arthur was still pushing forward artistically. But surprises also came with the 1985 single ‘What’s Your Problem?’ and ‘I Prefer Solitude’ from the FADER collaboration with producer Benge.
‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘Waves’ and ‘I’ve Seen The Word’ highlighted that for those in attendance, the 1982 debut ‘Happy Families’ is still a record held with great affection by many while there was also space for the topical wordplay of ‘This A State’ from the upcoming ‘Commercial Break’ album.
However, during a lone ivory version of ‘The Day Before You Came’, Arthur got knocked off focus by those who were talking quite loudly during this key set-piece.
Asking Maia to stop, the Lancastrian made his thoughts known in his deep dry tone about the lingering chitter-chatter and said he would prefer it if people sang along instead. This prompted some to visit azlyrics.com on their phones and as Arthur continued with his rendition of his favourite ABBA song, he had to contain his laughter as most present joined in!
Heading for the home straight, ‘Living On The Ceiling’ prompted the now-customary massed chant of the song’s main instrumental while ‘Feel Me’ and ‘Blind Vision’ closed proceedings with a welcome Saturday night disco. “It’s been hard work in rehearsals and the first show proper after around 2 years is quite a challenge” Neil Arthur said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK afterwards, “In a good way.”
As the most prolific artist of the Synth Britannia generation and one who has toured every year since as BLANCMANGE’s comeback in 2011 up to and including 2019, Neil Arthur’s return to the live stage is an important symbol that gives hope after a difficult 21 months.
Certainly those present at The Forum seemed happy to be out with their friends for some live music and a drink or three, even if not all were necessarily paying attention to what they had paid their hard earned money to see.
With thanks to Joe Pidgeon at AGMP and Chris Pritchard at The Forum
Colchester Arts Centre (16th September), Norwich Arts Centre (17th September), Birmingham Institute 2 (18th September), Gloucester Guild Hall (23rd September), Exeter Phoenix (24th September), Nottingham Rescue Rooms (25th September), Blackburn King George’s Hall (29th September), Newcastle Riverside (30th September), Edinburgh Liquid Room (1st October), Glasgow Oran Mor (2nd October), Southampton The Brook (13th October), Bristol Fleece (14th October), Northampton Roadmender (22nd October), Manchester Club Academy (27th October), Leeds The Wardrobe (28th October), Liverpool Grand Central Hall (29th October), Brighton Concorde 2 (17th November), Harpenden Public Halls (18th November), Cardiff Portland House (25th November), London Under The Bridge (26th November), Shrewsbury Buttermarket (27th November)
BLANCMANGE will also be opening for ERASURE on 17th October 2021 and London O2 Arena
The third installation in the SNS SENSATION lockdown series, ‘Mirror Radio’ is a fuzzier, more aggressive synthpop number than its two predecessors, for whom the detuned bells toll.
Although not part of the trilogy, there was a hint of this upcoming change in mood on ‘Discoboom’, a throbbing dance metal hybrid from the ‘Trans-Global Excess Volume 1’ compilation recently issued by Specchio Uomo.
While ‘Small World’ captured panic and ‘Your Door’ was swathed in sadness, ‘Mirror Radio’ channels anger with a harder industrial edge at the powers that be and their response to the pandemic.
Argentine-born Sebastian Muravchik is the man behind SNS SENSATION; he is best known as the front man of HEARTBREAK who shared stages with THE PRESETS, LA ROUX and LITTLE BOOTS. Some of HEARTBREAK’s horror electro-rock elements as heard on ‘Destroy All Power’ from their appropriately titled ‘Deceit’ EP have found their way into ‘Mirror Radio’.
Reflecting the new single’s fractured if surreal tone, the accompanying video, set in the world of the mind and reflecting it on a TV screen, takes inspiration from Samuel Beckett’s ‘Not I’ and ‘Quad’, Lucio Fulci’s ‘The House By The Cemetery’, and Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Winter Light’.
Sebastian Muravchik said: “The challenge with this song was to convey that industrial anger with 808 sounds as the starting point. Despite the electro funk element in rhythm terms on this song, I wanted the 808 to howl”.
As with many intuitive artists, laying down restrictions aided the production process. “What I seem to be doing is limiting my sound sources as a starting point and keeping an eye on where flow finds a deterritorializing avenue of some sort” he added, “There’s a time stamp, desaturated and blurred by the damage the years have done since the initial firm grip on the statement. This is where I see the ideological grounding of my sound production is rooted”.
Having captured the claustrophobic solitude of lockdown with ‘Small World’, Muravchik’s voice evokes a frustration that will no doubt gain further enhancement with a remix by the mysterious industrial electro personality of MANASYt whose career of nearly 20 years has produced music that described as “what exactly hostile aliens would listen to while attacking Earth”!
There is nothing like the other side of life. As a companion to its favourite 25 Classic Synth B-sides, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK presents a listing looking at the 21st Century equivalent.
B-sides often take on a cult following, provoking discussions among fans about why they might have missed inclusion on the parent album.
On why artists occasionally overlook a track when it is clearly good enough, Richard Silverthorn of MESH said “Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees”.
Then there are the occasional abstract studio experiments which often fail but occasionally work and the occasional cover versions which don’t always find favour with some listeners but are infinitely more preferable over pointless remixes of the A-side!
But how is a modern B-side been defined? There is a wider definition now due to digital and streaming formats, so they can include flipsides of vinyl, bonus tracks on CD singles and non-album tracks released as part of a download single or EP bundle. Despite all this, the term “B-side”, like “album” and “video”, still remains.
So for the purposes of this listing as before with the 25 Classic Synth B-sides, B-sides featured on the original issue of a full length album, or subsequently included on a new one are NOT included. However, those added as bonus tracks on later reissues, deluxe editions or compilations are permitted. Rules are good, rules help control the fun! 😉
So with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, presented in date and then alphabetical order within, these are ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 25 Synth B-Sides Of The 21st Century…
LADYTRON Oops Oh My (2003)
LADYTRON surprised their audiences during live shows in support of the ‘Light & Magic’ album by closing with a feisty synthpunk cover of TWEET’s ‘Oops Oh My’. Co-written by Missy Elliot, the Timbaland produced original with a DEVO sample had been a hip-hop favourite but the aggressive Riot Grrrl styled take on this risqué song about self-love with lyrics like “There goes my skirt, droppin at my feet” added a rockier edge to their sound.
Available on the LADYTRON single ‘Evil’ via Telstar Records
“This was written in response to the Iraq War” said Sarah Blackwood aka Client B, “I remember endless discussions with Toast Hawaii boss Fletch about whether it was the right decision and with heavy hearts, watching endless shelling and firefighting, from the 24 hour news coverage on far flung European hotel TVs. It was the first time I had felt that disconnection and frustration with my home country, the ‘not in my name’ ringing loudly in my ears. Bit late to the party but that’s the story of my life.”
Available on the CLIENT single ‘Here & Now’ via Toast Hawaii / Mute Records
The eloquence and surreal atmospheres of the first GOLDFRAPP album ‘Felt Mountain’ may have taken a back seat on its follow-up ‘Black Cherry’ but the experimentation continued on the B-sides of the album’s singles. ‘White Soft Rope’ combined the unsettling imagery of bondage with a chorus sung a school choir, but ‘Gone To Earth’ was even more otherworldly. The reverberating bassline combined with swirling synths and dreamy glides while Alison’s alternate cosmic language startled with a spacey hypnotism.
Nathan Cooper who was in THE MODERN said: “The inspiration came from ROXY MUSIC’s ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ which was about a blow up doll, we took that a step further and Model# 426 is about some kind of sex droid!! ‘Model #426’ was always the song that would get the audience talking because singer Emma would open a trunk on stage and lead a gimp out on a collar into the bemused looking audience!! I think it was actually that stunt that got us signed to Universal!”.
Interpolating KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND’s ‘That’s The Way (I Like It), the self-produced ‘Party Song’ was naturally a throbbing disco driven affair outshone the horrendous Diane Warren penned ballad ‘Numb’ which comprised the main act. Lyrically inspired by the classic Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter fronted Campari adverts that, it began life as a dance cover of NIRVANA’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ suggested by Elton John and intended as a single for a new PET SHOP BOYS ‘Greatest Hits’!!
Originally the B-side of ‘Numb’, now available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Format’ via EMI Music
‘Japanese Kiss’ was from the debut release on Happy Robots from Alice Hubley and Adam Cresswell. “This was the first track I wrote for ARTHUR & MARTHA” he recalled, “mostly recorded in the bedsit I’d moved into after splitting up with my girlfriend. I was absorbed in self-pity, comforting myself with Japanese-horror movies and the company of my ARP Quartet, Moog Rogue and the DR-55. Living my best life!”; 11 years later as Rodney Cromwell, Cresswell did a NEW ORDER inspired ‘KW1’ remix.
Available on the ARTHUR & MARTHA single ‘Autovia’ via Happy Robots
Basing its title on the well-known NEW ORDER tune, as with a number of the B-sides listed here, ‘Bizarre Love Duo’ outshone the main act ‘Ghost’. It all began with a pitch shifted groan sample repeated with hypnotic effect over some squelchy backing. But during the second half, the track built itself to a fabulous but abstract electrodisco number with a marvellously catchy refrain. While not quite a song and not quite an experiment, ‘Bizarre Love Duo’ was enjoyable tune in the MARSHEAUX canon.
Originally the B-side of ‘Ghost’, now available on the MARSHEAUX album ‘E-Bay Queen Is Dead’ via Undo Records
A cover of a cover, namely SHOCK’s take on THE GLITTER BAND’s 1974 Top5 hit; playing the role of the Latin lothario in response to the Annie song ‘Anthonio’, Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK and now SNS SENSATION remembered: “Richard X produced this version of ‘Angel Face’ as a side B in his single ‘Annie’. I sang both sides, which kind of shows two sides of Anthonio’s personality in a way. It was a fantastic experience – Richard is a great guy and über pro, so really a win-win.”
Available on the ANTHONIO single ‘Annie’ via Pleasure Masters
“Positive and negative can only attract” sang Victoria Hesketh on the bouncy ‘Catch 22’, a lesser known LITTLE BOOTS track which initially only appeared on the 7 inch single of ‘Earthquake’ in the UK. Gloriously synthpoppy, in hindsight along with other songs that did not make it onto the final tracklisting of her debut album ‘Hands’, it highlighted a possible direction that could have been taken, but which was ultimately watered down for wider acceptance after she was named BBC Sound Of 2009.
Originally the B-side of the single ‘Earthquake’, now available on the LITTLE BOOTS deluxe album ‘Hands’ via On Repeat Records
Continuing a great tradition among the synthpop acts of the past, VILLA NAH had ‘Benny’s Burning’ and ‘Daylight’ as part of their B-side armoury as well as the brilliant debut album ‘Origin’. Highlighting the inherent talent of Juho Paolosmaa and Tomi Hyyppä, ‘Benny’s Burning’ was a smoother and more atmospheric side of VILLA NAH compared with the uptempo technopop impressions of its A-side ‘Rainmaker’. The Helsinki duo later opened for OMD during the UK leg of 2010’s ‘History Of Modern’ tour.
Available on the VILLA NAH single ‘Rainmaker’ via Keys Of Life
Produced by Vince Clarke, ‘Never Let You Down’ was free of the many autotune treatments that Frankmusik had applied when helming the disappointing ‘Tomorrow’s World’ album in his attempts to make ERASURE sound more modern and contemporary. As a result, that heartfelt soul often associated with Andy Bell made its presence felt over a glorious galloping synthpop tune in the classic ERASURE vein, especially during the middle eight section in Spanish.
In their short career, MIRRORS left not only a great album in ‘Lights & Offerings’ but a body of wonderful B-sides too. Any number of them are worthy of mention but the nod goes to ‘Fall By Another Name’ as it was accessible enough to have been an A-side. Not as dense as MIRRORS’ usual pop noir hence its likely relegation to flipside, the bright pulsing melodies and James New’s Dave Gahan impression made this sound rather like a quality outtake from DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Speak & Spell’.
While the A-side was a faithful cover version of Peter Schilling’s anthemic ‘Major Tom’, ‘Dead Air Einz’ was a self-composed song by APOPTYGMA BERZERK mainman Stephan Groth that was eagerly welcomed at the time, thanks to it being his first original new track for four years. Utilising distorted radio broadcasts in its backdrop, it also featured some Korg MS20 from Jon Erik Martinsen and was something of a grower with its steadfast drum machine shuffle.
Available on the APOPTYGMA BERZERK single ‘Major Tom’ via Pitch Black Drive Productions
Making their initial impression with the mighty ‘Lies’ in 2012, Glasgow trio CHVRCHES actually became the mainstream saviours of synthpop that LITTLE BOOTS and LA ROUX had promised but ultimately failed to deliver on. ‘Now Is Not The Time’ was a fantastic midtempo tune with a great chorus that like ‘The Mother We Share’ sounded like Taylor Swift gone electro. However, it got relegated to B-side status despite being superior to several songs on their debut long player ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’.
Available on the CHVRCHES single ‘Recover’ via Virgin Records
In a pattern similar to the ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ boxed set only track ‘Oh Well’, the best song from ‘Delta Machine’ sessions was left out of the main act. ‘All That’s Mine’ featured a tightly sequenced backbone, electronically derived rhythms and a gloomy Eurocentric austere, all the perfect ingredients for a classic DM tune! While it was no doubt rejected for not fitting into the faux blues aspirations of modern DEPECHE MODE, it made up for the dreary notions of the A-side ‘Heaven’ which were more like hell…
Originally the B-side of the single ‘Heaven’, now available on the DEPECHE MODE deluxe album ‘Delta Machine’ via Columbia Records
OMD’s twelfth album ‘English Electric’ was notable for combining conceptual art pieces alongside supreme electronic pop in a manner reminiscent of their fourth long player ‘Dazzle Ships’ and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Radio-Activity’. Although four of these concepts made it onto the final running order of the album, one that didn’t was ‘Time Burns’, a intriguing sound collage comprising of clock movements, chimes and digital watch alarms over rumbles of sub-bass and profound computer generated speech.
Originally the B-side of the single ‘The Future Will Be Silent’, now available on the OMD EP ‘Night Café’ via BMG
A stomping electro disco number produced by Mark Reeder and Micha Adam, Elizabeth Morphew’s cooing Bush-like howls and breathy euphoria are a total delight to the ears while the mighty cavernous sound provided the heat! However, ‘United’ has ended up as the B-side. Reeder said ”I saw a piece posted on ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about QUEEN OF HEARTS and I was curious. I really liked Elizabeth’s voice from the moment I heard the first couple of tracks.”
Originally the B-side of ‘Secret’, now available on the QUEEN OF HEARTS deluxe album ‘Cocoon’ via Night Moves
With an alluringly haunting vocal from Anais Neon, the eerily stark ‘Little Death Capsule’ saw VILE ELECTRODES tell the story of early space travel when these primitive craft were sent out of the earth’s atmosphere effectively sitting on inter-continental ballistic missiles, with burning up also a possibility on return. With pulsing instrumentation from Martin Swan, it featured the sort of sterling analogue treatments that would make KRAFTWERK and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA proud.
A touching tribute to Messrs Clarke, Gore, Hütter and Schneider with hints of YAZOO’s ‘In My Room’, Johan Baeckström said of ‘Synth Is Not Dead’: “I guess I just wanted to reflect on the fact that there still IS a synthpop scene with some really great bands, both old and new. In another way, the song is sort of my ‘thank you’ to some of the artists that inspired me for several decades – some of them are mentioned in the lyrics, but far from all of course”.
Available on the JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM single ‘Come With Me via Progress Productions
METROLAND (We Need) Machines Without Romance (2015)
METROLAND’s second album ‘Triadic Ballet’ was a triumphant electronic celebration of the Bauhaus, art movement led by Walter Gropius. Gropius theorized about uniting art and technology and on the B-side of its launch single ‘Zeppelin’, METROLAND worked towards the 21st Century interpretation of that goal. Now imagine if Gary Numan had actually joined KRAFTWERK in 1979? Then the brilliantly uptempo ‘(We Need) Machines Without Romance’ would have surely been the result.
Originally the B-side of ‘Zeppelin’, now available on the METROLAND boxed set ’12×12′ via Alfa Matrix
Of the superbly rousing ‘Paper Thin’, Richard Silverthorn of MESH recalled: “Mark Hockings presented me with a demo at the time we were writing material for ‘Looking Skyward’. On first listen, I wasn’t too sure about the track as I thought it didn’t really fit with the overall feeling of the album so it kind of got shelved. The record company asked ‘what about the B-side?’ so Mark suggested ‘Paper Thin’ again. The bassline, drums and many other lines were changed and the new version came to life.”
After SCARLET SOHO, James Knights busied himself with a new Britalo inspired solo project. With hints of NEW ORDER’s ‘Subculture’ and found on KNIGHT$ debut EP ‘What’s Your Poison?’, he said “’So Cold’ is the second or third song I wrote as KNIGHT$. It’s a little darker than my other material, and the only song I’ve recorded using a marxophone (a fretless zither which I borrowed from my friend Alun Davies). It didn’t make it onto my debut album, but it’s still a song the audience enjoy, as do I.”
PSYCHE co-founder Darrin Huss said of ‘Truth Or Consequence’: “It started out under the title ‘Life On Trial’ and was about the Bradley Manning (now Chelsea) situation. It’s about the NSA surveillance, whistleblowers, etc. It’s also about the confusion between what is Truth, and what are the consequences of telling it, living it? Do we have safety in numbers? etc. It’s all in the lyrics. It’s a very PSYCHE song with even a nod to ‘The Brain Collapses’ with our use of that song’s drum machine the Oberheim DMX.”
That Marc Almond and Dave Ball reunited for a farewell gig and new material was a pleasant surprise. The frustration and anger expressed in ‘Guilty (Cos I Say You Are)’ with the lines “I can denounce you just because I can, I didn’t have the life I wanted, I didn’t do the things I dreamed” saw SOFT CELL continue where they left of in 2003. With dark resonances like ‘The Omen’ gone disco, its eerie gothique countered the celebratory electro-soul of A-side ‘Northern Lights’
INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP Another Brick In The Wall – Remoaner mix (2019)
Inheriting the mantle of THE HUMAN LEAGUE in the modern synthpop stakes, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP impressed with their self-titled debut album. With the single release of ‘The Ballad Of Remedy Wilson’ was a timely Remoaner mix of PINK FLOYD’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ sung in German that made a bold musical and political statement. Headteacher Adrian Flanagan said: “I hope that statement is ‘I hate PINK FLOYD but love KRAFTWERK’ and / or – ‘I hate you but love the EU’”.
Having captured the claustrophobic solitude of lockdown with ‘Small World’, SNS SENSATION follow-up that slice of disco noir with a variation on the theme.
Entitled ‘Your Door’, this reflective electronic number deals with the effect that isolation has on the wider human condition.
Highly influenced by the cool synthpop templates of NEW ORDER and PET SHOP BOYS, Sebastian Muravchik is the man behind SNS SENSATION.
Muravchik was best known as the front man of HEARTBREAK and while that project’s Italo sheen remains one of the continuity elements within SNS SENSATION, less prominent though are the heavier synth rock elements that came via musical partner Ali Renault. However, ‘Your Door’ springs a surprise with some distorted guitar in the final third to counterpoint its more wistful elements.
The promo music video for ‘Your Door’ is another inventive home-made affair and tells the story of a young school boy dealing with lockdown, unhappy about being taught by parents and unable to meet friends, but finally getting to enjoy the wide-open spaces of the great outdoors.
The video is a London-based present day colour tribute to Francois Truffaut’s 1959 nouvelle vague drama ‘The 400 Blows’, a story about a misunderstood Parisian adolescent who struggles with his parents and school. Elements could also be thematically seen to visually resonate a similar sentiment to TEARS FOR FEARS and the artwork for their debut album ‘The Hurting’.
Being in lockdown has made many feel like John Tracy in Thunderbird 5 and the subtle processing on Muravchik’s voice creates a hazy cabin fever feeling that aesthetically conveys all manner of frustrated emotions within ‘Your Door’.
In an interview with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in April, Sebastian Muravchik said: “After the initial shock and the panic that ensued from becoming aware of what this pandemic could be and mean, I felt that facing the reality of it head-on in my work was a way of coping: perhaps a sense of control, even if illusory.”
He concluded that “My contribution is to help make some sort of sense of this reality; to try to understand more”.
But Muravchik admitted “the biggest challenge of all, bigger than the very real and horrific death we all justifiably fear, is freedom. And for as long as we manage to stay healthy, freedom is everywhere.”
If there is a song right now that captures the claustrophobic solitude of lockdown isolation both aurally and visually, then it is the appropriately titled ‘Small World’ by SNS SENSATION.
SNS SENSATION is the solo musical vehicle of Sebastian Muravchik, best known as the charismatic front man of the Italo flavoured electro rockers HEARTBREAK; together with Ali Renault, the pair were often on concert billings with LITTLE BOOTS and LA ROUX during the electro resurgence of 2007-2009.
A song about self-isolation during the pandemic crisis, ‘Small World’ itself is a throbbing electronic number with icy rhythms, marrying the elegance of minimal synth with the melodic presence of Italo disco. It is reminiscent of ‘I’m Still Searching’ and ‘Miserabilsm’, two songs released respectively as B-sides by VISAGE and PET SHOP BOYS.
Articulating the mood of our times, Sebastian Muravchik kindly spoke from the isolation of his ‘Small World’…
The subject matter of ‘Small World’ is quite timely with everything going on in the world, is that a coincidence?
The release was going to be a different song, but this pandemic kicked off and ‘Small World’ happened quite quickly as a response to it. Having said that, many of the issues enhanced by this crisis are there in regular times; existential ghosts that you’ll find in this pandemic song, but also in other SNS SENSATION’s songs, unrelated to the pandemic.
‘Small World’ has an uptempo but claustrophobic feel which is also reflected in the video, how did you come up with both?
Writing and producing songs is easy, mostly, because the music and the lyrics write themselves, and the arrangements and ideas emerge from flow. The only real obstacles in the way are ego and fear.
In this blurry channelling of ideas, one key concept was descending steps. The claustrophobia in descent. Descent is there in the lyrics, the music and the music video (including the descent of what’s falling onto you).
The aim was to find claustrophobia in the way disease, fear, uncertainty, meaninglessness and time itself descend onto your feeble existence (or how it descends onto them). A down-sloping diagonal, like a steeper remake of ‘North by Northwest’ by David Lynch.
After the initial shock and the panic that ensued from becoming aware of what this pandemic could be and mean, I felt that facing the reality of it head-on in my work was a way of coping: perhaps a sense of control, even if illusory.
There are enough good artists out there singing bright songs of hope and togetherness, and they do it very well. My contribution is to help make some sort of sense of this reality; to try to understand more.
Some may know you from your work with HEARTBREAK, so how does SNS SENSATION differ conceptually and musically? Who are your influences and inspirations in this respect?
SNS SENSATION is more cinematographic, tends to be more noir. SNS SENSATION’s disco-pop is more tinged by minimal wave and post-punk, and acts like DEUX, or the more wistful end of INTERNATIONAL MUSIC SYSTEM; but the bedroom textures of old school house and techno are still there to be found.
SNS SENSATION is also more aligned to KRAFTWERK’s emotional channeling (e.g. ‘Neon Lights’, ‘Metropolis’, ‘Spiegelsaal’, etc), ie the movement in the still picture, as opposed to HEARTBREAK’s attempt to stop time by invoking the speed of light.
SNS SENSATION’s approach to multiplicity in identity is channeled through the cinematographic, rather than by putting the personality of the rock star through the cycles of a washing machine, as we do in HEARTBREAK. The robotic is still there, but it’s a film star robot (‘Das Modell’).
There is a lot less influence from Metal as well, since Ali is the expert on that genre, and I feed from his passion for metal in our collaboration. And less of that electro-industrial edge that Ali brings to the work we do together.
Singing-wise, less Ozzy in this project, and more the Ralf Hutter end of Neil Tenant’s singing, as well as the singing in IMS’ ‘Runaway’ (what is that singer’s name!? anyone?). Horror is still key, but SNS SENSATION focuses on the fear while HEARTBREAK focuses on the gore… but just like HEARTBREAK, openness and a wide range are key, letting the creative flow dictate what a project is, and what it becomes.
SNS SENSATION embraces influences from EARTH WIND & FIRE, from CASCO (rip Salva x), and from DAS DING. It’s about the song as much as the sound. If you can picture the band SEND MORE PARAMEDICS dancing to John Parr’s ‘Man in Motion’, you’ll get the idea. There’s some very bright disco pop and some eco-apocalyptic minimal synth-inspired songs, and some in the middle.
Even if both HEARTBREAK and SNS SENSATION are heavily grounded in disco and the bedroom producer aesthetic, I am quite curious as to how HEARTBREAK fans will respond to SNS SENSATION’s more sombre shades, as well as its overexposed pop inclinations… in other words, I hope they like it!
Some may not know you were the voice of ‘Anthonio’ in the ‘Annie’ response single in 2009, working with Richard X. How do you look back on that experience and how it may have shaped SNS SENSATION?
It was really helpful; it was an opportunity to explore that other singing range I hadn’t found an outlet for, guided by a top producer. I was really happy with the outcome too, and sort of opened the door for me to be more confident in exploring this SNS SENSATION area.
Richard X also helped me with the vocal recording of an SNS SENSATION single produced back then, ‘Everybody’; he was very supportive about the songwriting aspect of my work, which helped a lot too.
So what is next for SNS SENSATION ? An album or EP?
SNS SENSATION’s strategy is more digital singles, monthly or so. An EP is definitely a possibility, a decent format right now (concise, yet showing range and a journey through songs). There are plans for a vinyl EP with a fantastic label at some point this year hopefully, but no date confirmed yet. I am very excited about a physical release through such a highly reputed label. I always have loved vinyl (also tape).
Another aim is to keep developing the SNS SENSATION video and photography work, and find out how social media can be an aspect of its body of work. To keep SNS SENSATION evolving, and figure out its audience.
I’m enjoying it enormously, the experimental freedom and the fun of seeing where it goes, the wondrous surprises, the constant learning.
What is the strategy for modern music marketing now as HEARTBREAK came out of period before streaming took hold and where selling to the mainstream was still a target for many labels?
What was just starting back in the days of HEARTBREAK’s ‘Lies’ is now the norm. The more I understand and adapt to it, the freer I feel.
One thing I love about social media is that it is generally accepted as a way of putting “unfinished work” out there, of experimenting and trying out things; most people accept it as a form of documenting your process, or just having fun! It encourages you to be creative every day of your life, not just during the album recording phase.
All the restrictive stages of the previous exposure model are irrelevant now; even the greatest stars discover themselves in this looking glass 🙂
Also the idea of sharing in social media is still strong I think. The relationship to fans is so much healthier than it used to be, less oppressive for fans, less lonely for artists. And the multiple is there too: you are part of different groups, where you can indulge your love for music, for images, for history, experiments and novelty. If you use it right (and not everybody does), it can be very organic and natural. It allows you to be yourself; but more importantly, it allows you to disguise yourself, which is more honest!
Release strategy-wise, I think regular singles are great, very dynamic and respectful of people’s time. They also enable the songs to remain relevant to a fast-changing world. But particularly, as a songwriter, I feel really excited about the space and the importance that it gives to THE SONG. Songs are easy to write, but a good song is rather hard to come by – respect to the makers of this complex form is overdue, in my opinion.
I genuinely think this is a wonderful time to be alive. As we face extinction on several fronts, and however real the panic and the horror is, we are forced to become more resourceful and creative with our technologies, to adapt, and also to face the truth.
We are forced to love every breath we are able to take, like that Italian doctor said who was recovering from the virus.
And the biggest challenge of all, bigger than the very real and horrific death we all justifiably fear, is freedom. And for as long as we manage to stay healthy, freedom is everywhere.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Sebastian Muravchik