TV, beauty and tattoo celebrity Kat Von D puts her alternative universe to music on her debut album ‘Love Made Me Do It’.
Having already made guest appearances with IAMX, Kat Von D had classical piano training in her youth while she has strengthened her abilities under the guidance of vocal coach Ken Tamplin. Although the record began life as a collaboration with Grammy nominated songwriter Linda Perry, it is primarily produced by Kat Von D with her band of multi-instrumentalist Gregg Foreman, keyboardist Sammi Jo Doll and drummer Dave Parley while Dan Haigh of GUNSHIP did the album’s final mixing.
Opening with a two piece suite, the ‘Vanish’ intro offers a sinister dramatic synthy theme not that removed from GUNSHIP with its big electronic keys. Meanwhile, the main act offers a brooding spacious piano and strings ballad co-written with Linda Perry; it all acts as a solemn setting for “a crown of thorns that shows no mercy” before a rumbling climax kicks in.
A strident IAMX demeanour dominates the darkness of ‘Enough’, which offers strong vocals and a hook from THE CURE’s ‘Lullaby’ and when a sparkling instrumental kicks in, the tension only increases during a gloriously mighty second half; the work of noted songwriter Chris Brenner, it faces the spectre of unhealthy relationships.
The energetic synth rock punch of ‘Exorcism’ written by Nick Long and Tommy English develops on that tension with its topics of love, loss and moving on; it is so accomplished that this could be a mainstream pop hit by P!NK were it not wholly dressed in black…
Featuring a duet with Peter Murphy, the magnificent ‘Protected’ is a synthwave ballad that sees Kat Von D’s contralto blending well with the striking BAUHAUS front man as his vocal treatments add an extra weary otherworldly presence to the wonderful collage of sequences behind them. ‘Fear You’ perhaps suffers being next to ‘Protected’ and all that came before it, but smokey vocals and a contrast of shade and light maintains interest with an impactful rhythmic barrage.
Working with Eurovision winning composer Stefan Örn, ‘I Am Nothing’ utilises a great contralto CHROMATICS meets countrified gothwave vibe. This glamourous but unsettling air, while very ‘Twin Peaks’, is also very Kat Von D. The lady herself describes it as music for the “Anti-Prom that never happened but all alternative teens have dreamed about since the 80s” and “A sad bop for goths’ broken hearts that will end up in their older sister’s pop playlist”, but the swirling solo is the perfect tie to the exquisite suit.
The throbbing discothèque gothique of ‘Lost At Sea’ is rather good and powers up for the chorus to add drama before a string quartet provide a solemn drifting close. The Middle Eastern flavoured ‘Interlude’ is much more than the title suggests, recalling the more recent sound design favoured by Gary Numan. Complete with devilish whispers, it acts as a perfect bridge to the final quarter of the album.
Another of the Linda Perry co-writes, ‘Pretending’ imagines an energetic driving Brat Pack movie montage song made by Allison Reynolds, the Ally Sheedy character in ‘The Breakfast Club’ and yes, she’s dancing in the Shermer High School library to her own creation too! Meanwhile, ‘Easier Sung Than Said’ provides more arpeggio laden synth rock that will provoke singalongs and fist pumps.
Closing the collection, ‘The Calling’ is a pulsing widescreen epic with wailing banshee backing vocals, aided by Danny Lohner of NINE INCH NAILS fame. It also recalls GUNSHIP, as do a number of tracks on ‘Love Made Me Do It’, before dropping to just our heroine and a lone drone for the conclusion.
An impressive debut album, ‘Love Made Me Do It’ successfully puts Kat Von D’s striking persona to music in a blend of synths, goth, rock and pop for a collection of songs that cover loss and vulnerability which many will be able to relate to.
‘Love Made Me Do It’ is released by Kartel Music Group on 27th August 2021 in red or gold vinyl LP, red cassette, CD digipack and digital formats
Gary Numan began his recording career in 1978, but the electronic pioneer has been celebrating great victories with his last few releases, satisfying his die-hard fans as well as gathering new younger audiences, partially by introducing his daughters to the mix, alongside cult collaborators like IAMX.
Continuing to crowdfound his endeavours to successfully finance the enterprise and while also giving his followers a tasty insight into his artistic processes, the daddy of synth brings out his latest long player ‘Intruder’.
While its predecessor, ‘Savage’ depicted a deserted post-apocalyptic world, clad in darkness, ‘Intruder’ delves into the planet’s feelings upon the destruction humanity causes. “The planet sees us as its children now grown into callous selfishness, with a total disregard for its well-being” Numan said, “It feels betrayed, hurt and ravaged. Disillusioned and heartbroken it is now fighting back. Essentially, it considers human kind to be a virus attacking the planet. Climate change is the undeniable sign of the Earth saying enough is enough, and finally doing what it needs to do to get rid of us, and explaining why it feels it has to do it.”
With this in mind, Numan introduces a different feel from ‘Splinter’ and ‘Savage’, still produced by Ade Fenton, who aims to deliver “what Gary wants”. The opus also features Elizabeth Bernholz and Gorkem Sen, who remotely worked their magic to enrich the production.
The eponymous single, with a video directed by Chris Corner aka IAMX once more, was the first song Numan shared with the audiences, at first struggling to find the appropriate chorus. The tale of the planet tired of being perpetually misused, rid of its resources and raped tirelessly by human kind, now fighting back is what he presents here. While musically not too dissimilar to his last two releases, the track is melodic and airy, retaining the adequate amount of heavier elements to ground it down, almost emulating the Camel Pose in yoga; being pulled from the heart, still very much attached to the source.
‘I Am Screaming’, alongside the classic Numan-esque sound of the electric piano, welcomes the Turkish musician Gorkem Sen, who brings the ethnic instrument of the Yaybahar into the mix. The use of this unique addition introduces quite an alien element into this electronic ballad, which is also quite poppy at times, wholesomely rounded by his haunting vocals.
Further Eastern influences can be palpable on ‘Saints & Liars’, while the cleverly cut ‘Now & Forever’ snips through the Earth’s funeral march with sparsely placed elements. Although gloomy, there’s hope here, accented with warm female vocal over lustrous synth. The song has double meaning, also being a love offering to his wife, as well as being a requiem for the dying planet.
Elizabeth Bernholz aka GAZELLE TWIN features on ‘The End Of Dragons’ bringing her uniqueness and melancholy. The track, in two versions, is otherworldly, eerily filmic and bursting with melody, possibly the most accomplished on the album.
The opening track ‘Betrayed’ with its off beat rhythm and wistful vocals, meanders in and out of consciousness, while the gritty ‘Is This World Not Enough?’ pumps the energy out into the damaged atmosphere. ‘The Gift’ with a further contribution from Gorkem Sen, retains the Eastern influences, weaving in and out of the gloomy rhythm.
A beautifully executed piano sequence ushers in ‘A Black Sun’, filled with fabulous sounds throughout, just to wrap up gently in a more classical way.
‘The Chosen’, in opposition, is fast paced and filled with pleading messages; Numan attacks again and again, just to progress to ‘And It Breaks Me Again’. This slower paced piece nods to the classic tonality of the electronic master, leading to pushy and driven ‘When You Fall’.
Numan, brilliantly engaging with his audiences, not only through the crowd funding, but his social media too, has proven that even a weathered artist can attract new blood. His honest and down to earth persona, the tight family and friendships with talented collaborators attract many, who will willingly place three red stripes down their faces and let it go viral.
And on top of that, the new album is not too shabby either!
‘Intruder’ is released by BMG in a variety of formats
Gary Numan 2022 UK and Ireland tour dates include:
Cardiff University Great Hall (28th April), Bristol O2 Academy (30th April), Brighton Centre (1st May), Birmingham O2 Institute (2nd May), Bournemouth O2 Academy (5th May), Plymouth Pavilions (6th May), London Wembley SSE Arena (7th May), Edinburgh Corn Exchange (9th May), Glasgow O2 Academy (10th May), Newcastle O2 City Hall (11th May), Leeds O2 Academy (12th May), Northampton Royal & Derngate (14th May), Norwich UEA (15th May), Nottingham Rock City (16th May), Manchester Albert Hall (18th May), Sheffield O2 (20th May), Dublin Olympia (24th May)
To narrow down ten years of electronic pop to 30 songs was always going to be a challenging task.
But ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has given it a go to offer its own subjective twist.
As the decade started, female artists like LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX and LADYHAWKE had appeared to have been making in-roads into the mainstream as new flag bearers for the synthesizer.
But it proved to be something of a false dawn and while those artists continue today, the music that has made the most lasting impact between 2010-2019 has been made by evergreens from Synth Britannia whose talent has not subsided or independently minded musicians who focussed on art over commerce but didn’t forget to throw in a tune along the way.
As per usual, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s lists are all about rules. So this one has not only been restricted to one song per artist moniker but also to one vocalist. Hence SIN COS TAN just get the nod over VILLA NAH, while MIRRORS take preference over James New’s guest slot for FOTONOVELA on ‘Our Sorrow’ and the Midge Ure vocalled ‘Glorious’ has been chosen instead ULTRAVOX’s ‘Live’.
Presented in alphabetical order, here are our 30 SONGS OF THE DECADE 2010-2019…
With alternative songstress NYXX on additional vocals, ‘Rhythm + Control’ saw Daniel Graves take his industrial pop to the next level. The magnificent Electro Mix successfully realised an oddball blend of Darren Hayes, Britney Spears and Marilyn Manson. With a mightily elastic bassline, when asked whether ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had gone crazy coming up with the comparison, Daniel Graves replied “God no. Spot on, guys!” adding “The goal was to cram as many features into one song and have fun with it as possible.”
Close to the heart of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK with its solidarity to the synth, Synth Is Not Dead’ is a touching tribute to Messrs Clarke, Gore, Hütter and Schneider. Johan Baeckstrom said: “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”.
‘Without A Trace Of Emotion’ saw Karl Bartos conversing with his showroom dummy Herr Karl and confronting his demons as an ex-member of the world’s most iconic electronic group. But whereas his former colleague Wolfgang Flür vented his spleen in book form with ‘I Was A Robot’, Bartos took a more ironic musical approach with the line “I wish I could remix my life to another beat” summing up a wry reference to ‘The Mix’ project which drove him out of Kling Klang!
BEYOND THE WIZARD’S SLEEVE featuring HANNAH PEEL Diagram Girl (2016)
BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE’s ‘Diagram Girl’ was the work of Erol Alkan and Richard Norris of THE GRID. Featuring the unisex vocals of Hannah Peel, a deeper pitch shift provided a psychedelic out-of-this-world feel which bizarrely fitted in alongside the songstress’ dreamily breathy tones. “They wanted me to sound like a man!” she remembered. Meanwhile the pulsing electronic soundtrack had surreal echoes of OMD, in particular their lesser known minor hit ‘Secret’.
Muscian, producer and Italians Do It Better head honcho Johnny Jewel, has lways been into all things Lynchian. So when CHROMATICS released the dreamy Badalamenti-inspired ‘Shadow’, it instantly recalled The Black Lodge’s red curtains in that sleepy Washington town. With Ruth Radelet’s wispy vocal and an eerie string machine for the main melodic theme, the ghostly wistful tune later came to further prominence thanks to its inclusion in ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ in 2017.
CHVRCHES stuck to the synthpop template of their 2013 debut and as a result, delivered what LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX, and LADYHAWKE and HURTS all failed to do… a decent second album! The propulsive four-to-the-floor action of ‘Clearest Blue’ was wonderfully held in a state of tension before WHACK, there was a dynamic surprise in the final third that recalled the classic overtures of Vince Clarke. The song was electronic pop magnificence embroiled.
RODNEY CROMWELL is the alter-ego of Adam Cresswell, formally of ARTHUR & MARTHA. ‘Black Dog’ recalled the pulsing post-punk miserablism of SECTION 25 and was embellished by some Hooky styled bass. As with NEW ORDER’s ‘Temptation’, despite the inherent melancholy, there was an optimistic light at the end of the tunnel that made ‘Black Dog’ a most joyous listening experience despite its very personal themes of love, loss, depression and redemption.
The ‘All You Need Is Now’ album saw DURAN DURAN cyclically return to the funk-led syncopated pop of their first two classic albums. A superb sequencer assisted disco number with a tingling metallic edge, ‘Being Followed’ hinted at THE CURE’s ‘A Forest’ while Nick Rhodes’ vintage string machine captured the tension of post 9/11 paranoia. Simon Le Bon gave his wayward all and while he has technically never had a great voice, what he delivered was unique AND untouchable…
Despite EAST INDIA YOUTH being no more as a project, the debut long player ‘Total Strife’ pointed towards William Doyle’s potential to pen sublime pop, and with the follow-up ‘Culture Of Volume’, the album’s centrepiece was ‘Carousel’. It imagined OMD’s ‘Stanlow’ reworked during Brian Eno’s sessions for ‘Apollo: Soundtracks & Atmospheres’. With no percussive elements and over six minutes in length, Doyle gave a dramatic vocal performance resonating in beautifully crystalline melancholy.
‘Glorious’ not only reunited Midge Ure with Rusty Egan but also Chris Payne who co-wrote ‘Fade To Grey’; Ure told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “I liked the music, but I didn’t think the song / melody / lyrics were strong enough, so I rewrote all of that in my studio. I stripped the demo down to the basic track, edited it down into a more ‘song like’ format and started working on a glorious melody. I added the main melodic synth line and layered guitars over it, ending with the ‘hopefully’ uplifting solo over the outro”.
With ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, EMIKA produced one of the best electronic albums of 2018. The record was a concept album of sorts, a musical reflection on generations of sadness within the Anglo-Czech musician’s family. The pacey ‘Promises’ made the most of her lower and higher vocal registers, providing an eerie cascading harmonic with some rumbling dubby tension and booming stabs driving Eastwards with solemn spine tingling qualities.
Available on the album ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ via Emika Records
John Foxx and Jori Hulkkonen had worked together previously on singular songs like ‘Dislocated’ and ‘Never Been Here Before’, but never before on a body of work with a conceptual theme. ‘European Splendour’ took on a grainier downtempo template and the lead track ‘Evangeline’ was all the more beautiful for it. Full of depth, coupled with an anthemic chorus and vibrant exchange of character throughout, this rousing yet soothingly futuristic number was quite otherworldly.
Releasing their first new material in over three decades, FIAT LUX returned with the most splendid ‘It’s You’. As well as the bassline and harmony from David P Crickmore, the sax style was a fitting tribute to the sadly departed Ian Nelson. Singer Steve Wright said: “Lyrically, I hope, it expresses feelings that possibly everyone can relate to…” in this gloriously optimistic tune about finding love again in midlife. Their long awaited debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ finally came out in 2019.
As the title suggested, the gorgeous and sophisticated ‘Dreaming’ adopted a distinctly European flavour compared with the mid-Atlantic AOR focus of songs like ‘Rocket’, ‘Alive’ and ‘Believer’ on the ‘Head First’ album. Alison Goldfrapp’s voice resonated angelically with beautiful high-register chorus alongside the with pulsing sequences and string machine washes of Will Gregory’s primarily electronic arrangement complimented by Davide Rossi’s cinematic orchestrations.
The Berlin period of IAMX has maintained a special quality in that Chris Corner captured an electro Gothic aesthetic that combined the theatrics of Weimar Cabaret with themes of sex, alienation and dependency. Despite the lyrical content, Corner’s songs were always strongly melodic with an accessible grandeur. ‘Ghosts Of Utopia’ had instant appeal for a dance in the dark with exhilarating mechanical drive. His scream of ”this is psychosis” was wholly believable!
As IAMAMIWHOAMI, Jonna Lee and Claes Björklund offered icy musical art. ‘Hunting For Pearls’ featured wonderfully pulsing sequences and trancey atmospheres, coupled with beautifully rich vocals. With a mysterious falsetto reach, the air might have been cold outside but inside, things were warm if delightfully odd. If Kate Bush made a modern electronic dance record at ABBA’s Polar Studios, it would probably have sounded like this. Jonna Lee continues the artistic adventure now as IONNALEE.
Available on the album ‘Blue’ via towhomitmayconcern
Sweden’s KITE are probably the best synth act in Europe right now. Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg’s wonderfully exuberant array of sounds and rugged majestic vocals certainly deserve a much larger audience. Issuing only EPs and never albums, the magnificent progressive electronic epic ‘Up For Life’ was a two-part nine minute masterpiece, the passionate and sublime first half mutated into a beautifully surreal journey of VANGELIS-like proportions for its second.
Asking if “it is foolish to dream”, ‘Someday’ saw Katja von Kassel questioning a moment of passionate haste. “The phrase ‘Someday’ just opened it all up and everything else just fell into place.” the chanteuse said. Capturing the beautiful melancholy of Billy Mackenzie, the doomed romantic tragedy of the sadly departed Scot was echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by Chris Payne’s hypnotic bassline and haunting vox humana treatment over a simple rhythmic loop.
The beautiful ‘Ambulances’ was totally different to anything LADYTRON had done before, almost in te vein of SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES. Moving at a much slower pace, Helen Marnie’s voice adopted an unexpected angelic falsetto over the lush spacious mix featuring dramatic strings, synthetic timpani and an almost random hi-hat pattern. Daniel Hunt said he “wanted it to sound ethereal and otherworldly” and with a glorious crescendo, ‘Ambulances’ was certainly something to be to be savoured.
A worthy of re-assessment of DEPECHE MODE ‘A Broken Frame’ was long overdue and MARSHEAUX have certainly gave a number of its songs some interesting arrangements. Their version of ‘Monument’ borrowed its bassline from latter day DM B-side ‘Painkiller’. Combined with the wispily resigned vocals of Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou, it provided a tense soundtrack. It’s not often that cover versions are better than the originals, but this was one of them.
With their smart suits, MIRRORS presented an intense and artful approach to electronic pop that recalled Dindisc era OMD. With a dense synthetic chill and pulsing effects dominating this brilliantly uptempo electro number, ‘Ways To An End’ came over like TALKING HEADS ‘Crossed Eyed & Painless’ given a claustrophobic post-punk makeover. Sadly, MIRRORS were to only make the one album ‘Lights & Offerings’ which although under-appreciated on release, is now acknowledged as a classic of the decade.
Having worked successfully in 2013 with Guy Sigsworth on ‘the minutes’, which saw Alison Moyet return to the synthesized music forms to compliment her powerful and self-assured voice, the follow-up ‘Other’ was a natural progression. The startling orchestrated electro-dub drama of ‘Alive’ gave Moyet’s two former classmates in DEPECHE MODE a stark lesson in how to actually fully realise electronic blues. Indeed, it was ‘In Chains’, the lame opener from ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ gone right…
After the guitar dominated proceedings of the last few NEW ORDER albums, Bernard Sumner promised a return to electronic music for the Mancunians’ first album of new material without estranged founder member and bassist Peter Hook. That was certainly delivered on with ‘Plastic’, a full-on throbbing seven minute electro number mixed by Richard X with blippy echoes of ‘Mr Disco’. Dealing with the issue of superficiality, it declared “this love is poison, but it’s like gold”… beware of anything plastic and artificial!
With a lot less goth metal guitar and much more prominent use of synths, the ‘Savage’ album successfully outstripped ‘Splinter’. And it was the haunting ‘And It All Began With You’ that stopped all in its tracks, with an exposed and soulful vocal. Borrowing Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ for its chorus, the subtle orchestrations and a gentle shuffling beat coupled to a steadily discordant electric piano riff to close, it beautifully brought out the best in classic Gary Numan while maintaining forward momentum.
OMD began their recorded career with a KRAFTWERK homage in ‘Electricity’ and four decades on, they came full circle. A great grandchild of Klingklang and cousin of ‘Metroland’ from ‘English Electric’, ‘Don’t Go’ captured the essence of OMD’s enduring electronic appeal. With crystalline synths and a spirited vocal delivery attached to a hypnotic Synthanorma backdrop, OMD continue to produce quality avant pop tunes, using beautiful melodies to tell terrible things…
SIN COS TAN was the new mathematically charged project of producer Jori Hulkkonen and VILLA NAH vocalist Juho Paalosmaa. “A synthesized duo of great promise, broken dreams, and long nights”, they have certainly delivered with ‘Trust’, all draped in melancholy with emotive vocals haunted by the ghost of Billy Mackenzie. With driving hypnotic, layered strings, sampled cimbalom and Cold War dramatics, this was as Jori Hulkkonen put it: “Disco You Can Cry To”…
Chinese six-piece STOLEN are reckoned by Berlin-based producer Mark Reeder to be the most exciting band since NEW ORDER and they closed the decade opening for them on tour in Europe. Certainly their debut album ‘Fragment’ was impressive with ‘Turn Black’ being one of its standout tracks. “I like the idea of mixing of rock with techno…” said growly lead vocalist Liang Yi, “we are very proud that we don’t sound like any of the other Chinese bands.”
The Nordic vocalist of the decade has to be Susanne Sundfør who worked with M83, KLEERUP and RÖYKSOPP as she built her international profile as a solo artist. Propelled by a pulsing electronic backbone, ‘Fade Away’ from Sundfør’s breakthrough album ‘Ten Love Songs’ caught her in rousing form with a tune that came over like Scandinavian gospel. Meanwhile, a fabulous polyphonic synth solo inspired by QUEEN’s ‘I Want To Break Free’ added another dimension.
First appearing online as a video exclusive in 2010, ‘Deep Red’ was inspired by Dario Argento’s ‘Profondo Rosso’. A gorgeous seven and a half minute funeral ballad that came over like CLIENT fronting classic OMD, this was tremendously dramatic stuff from Anais Neon and Martin Swan. It caught the ear of a certain Andy McCluskey who spotted VILE ELECTRODES while perusing ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and later invited them to open for OMD in Germany during their 2013 ‘English Electric’ tour.
Techno DJ WESTBAM celebrated 30 years in music with an intriguing mature collection of songs under the title of ‘Götterstrasse’. While the theme of the album centred on the joy and euphoria of underground nightlife, he said ‘You Need The Drugs’ was “the first explicit electronic appeal AGAINST the use of drugs with a clear message: drugs are a bore!”. Voiced brilliantly by Richard Butler of THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS’, it featured prominently in Mark Reeder’s film ‘B Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin 1979–1989’.
KITE, “Sweden’s best kept pop-secret”, made their long awaited return to the live stage with a trio of sold-out shows at the Stockholm Slaktkyrkan.
Having produced some of the best electronic pop in the last decade, the enigmatic duo of Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg were on the crest of wider international success in 2017 with a new EP ‘VII’ in the can. But KITE had to cancel their German tour following concerns over Stenemo’s health later that Autumn.
The period of music afterwards was empty without KITE, so when Stenemo and Berg announced their return a year later with a one-off date at the Slaktkyrkan, excitement was in the air. Ticket demand led to the Slaktkyrkan date becoming a weekend residency as well as the announcement of more gigs in Sweden.
As Brian Eno and his lengthy landmark in electronic ambience ‘Discreet Music’ set the mood for the start, the unmanned stage looked impressive with ten synths of various vintages including a Roland JX8P, Korg Micro Preset, Dave Smith Prophet 08, Roland RS101, Dave Smith Pro-2, Korg Sigma and Studio Electronics SE1 plus tubes of fluorescent orange lighting set in rows of six around the stage and large Paiste cymbals fixed vertically to act as reflectors.
As ‘Discreet Music’ faded out after 15 minutes amongst increasing plumes of smoke, KITE took their positions with Berg in a black poncho capeing him like a Norse Rick Wakeman by his six keyboards.
Meanwhile Stenemo stood tall and stoic with his slightly more modest four keyboards, like a victorious tribal leader returning from the wilderness after another hard won battle, this time against the trials and tribulations of the human condition. With that in mind, the rousing ‘I Just Wanna Feel’ was a perfect way to open proceedings and affirm their comeback.
With its splitting Alan Wilder-esque bassline, I Can’t Stand’ resonated off the orange tube light set now at full brightness, recalling those radiant electric bar heaters of old and giving off almost as much energy as the music.
Taking in a deeper textural mood, ‘Count The Days’ offered some emotive respite; the song has by Stenemo’s own confession, prophetically documented an autobiographical warning to his recent burnout, with words that “I’ve become my own worst enemy in a world on fire I’m safe at home, live in denial but the pressures on and I justify it with the sleepless nights” being particularly poignant.
The gloriously majestic ‘Up For Life’ from 2015 has also taken on greater resonance with Stenemo’s rugged emotive cry admitting “Life to me you see don’t come so easily, but I’m up for tears, up for life, I’m up for heartache”. But despite the melancholy, there was optimism, especially alongside Berg’s expansive synth interplay which turned into VANGELIS after an extended ambient interlude reminiscent of MIRRORS’ ‘Secrets’, both ambitious works clocking in at over 9 minutes.
Fittingly ‘Demons & Shame’, KITE’s darkest and most epic offering yet followed. Confronting the despair that his life threw up while pursuing his dreams, Stenemo’s harrowingly powerful delivery had the audience enthralled. Surrounded by ritualistic drum mantras and Berg’s eerie bass drones, if Ennio Morricone had composed music for Nordic Noir dramas, it would have sounded like this.
For many KITE fans, ‘The Rhythm’ from 2013 is still considered one of their best songs with its trancey backbone and chanty gothic rock edge coming over like JEAN-MICHEL JARRE meeting IAMX at Berghain. Bursting with catchy crossover potential, it probably drew the biggest physical reaction of the evening from the crowd, with Stenemo making the odd leg kick in support.
The whirring pulsing atmospheres of ‘True Colours’ allowed for a breather, albeit one with a nightfall intensity before the dial was set back again to dance mode.
Effectively their first single, the throbbing synthpop of ‘Ways To Dance’ was a reminder of how far the duo have evolved since their beginnings in 2008, before the bouncy whistling poptronica of the 2010 fan favourite ‘Jonny Boy’ played around with some Scandinavian folk traditions.
‘Dance Again’ was a wonderful spiralling hands in the air moment before KITE closed the evening in magnificent dramatic style with ‘Nocturne’; a mysteriously captivating ballad, it progressively rotated itself into a spacey widescreen continuum, thanks to Stenemo’s electronically treated vocals and Berg’s mighty percussive soundscapes.
One of the things about KITE and their releases to date is that being confined to EPs only, they don’t outstay their welcome and present the highest quality material possible. And that was the case with their impressive live show, with Stenemo and Berg departing the stage after an hour to the roars of a rapturous audience wanting more but appreciative of what they saw.
KITE are probably the best modern electronic pop act in Europe at the moment, possibly the world. With this confident return to the public arena after a short hiatus, their secret garden should be not so secret anymore…
2018 saw JEAN-MICHEL JARRE celebrate 50 years in the business and whether the world really needed another of his compilations, ‘Planet Jarre’ was probably one of the better collected representations of his work for casual admirers.
But not standing still and releasing his fourth new album in three years, ‘Equinoxe Infinity’ continued the story as the French Maestro tuned 70.
SOFT CELL made a totally unexpected return for a huge one-off farewell gig at London’s O2 Arena; and with it came a boxed set, the ‘Northern Lights’ single and other new recordings which have raised hopes for a new album.
From the same era, FIAT LUX announced plans for their debut album ‘Save Symmetry’ with an excellent lead track ‘It’s You’, while B-MOVIE came up with their most synth-propelled single yet in ‘Stalingrad’.
But one act who actually did comeback with a brand new album in 2018 were DUBSTAR; now a duo of Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie, as ‘One’ they reminded audiences as to why they were the acceptable face of Britpop with their bridge to Synth Britannia.
IONNALEE finally released her debut opus ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ and her tour which included choice cuts from IAMAMIWHOAMI, proved to be one of the best value-for-money live experiences in 2018, one that was even endorsed by Welsh songstress Charlotte Church.
CHVRCHES offered up their third album ‘Love Is Dead’ and continued their role as international flagwavers for quality synthpop, while EMIKA presented her best album yet in ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, an exquisite electronic record with a Bohemian aura.
JOHN GRANT was on an artistic roll both solo and in partnership with WRANGLER as CREEP SHOW with two new albums. However, he was beaten by Neil Arthur who managed three albums over a 12 month period as NEAR FUTURE and BLANCMANGE including ‘Wanderlust’, possibly the latter’s best body of work in its 21st Century incarnation.
It was a busy year for STEVE JANSEN with a new solo ambient work ‘Corridor’, the well-received vinyl reissue of JAPAN’s two Virgin-era studio albums and his epic, more organically flavoured band project EXIT NORTH with their debut long player ‘Book Of Romance & Dust’.
SARAH NIXEY went on some ‘Night Walks’ for her best solo album yet, a wonderful collection of everything she had ever been musically all wonderfully rolled into one.
Meanwhile TRACEY THORN went back to the ‘Dancefloor’ with her ‘Record’ which content wise was right up there with some of ALISON MOYET’s electronica output from the last five years.
Hungary’s BLACK NAIL CABARET offered some noirish ‘Pseudopop’ and promising Norwich youngsters LET’S EAT GRANDMA got more deeply into electronica without losing any of their angsty teenage exuberance on their second album ‘I’m All Ears’.
Less intense and more dreamy were GLASSHOUSE, the new duo fronted by former TECHNIQUE singer Xan Tyler.
While the new HEAVEN 17 album ‘Not For Public Broadcast’ is still to be finished, Glenn Gregory teamed by with live keyboardist Berenice Scott as AFTERHERE. Their long-time friend Claudia Brücken performed as xPROPAGANDA with Susanne Freytag and partnered up with one-time TANGERINE DREAM member Jerome Froese, releasing the ‘Beginn’ album in the process.
Highly appealing were a number of quirky Japanese influenced female artists from around the globe including COMPUTER MAGIC, MECHA MAIKO and PLASMIC. But there were also a number of acts with Far Eastern heritage like STOLEN, FIFI RONG, DISQO VOLANTE and SHOOK who continued to make a worthy impression with their recorded output in 2018.
Heavy synth rock duo NIGHT CLUB presented their ‘Scary World’ on the back of tours opening for COMBICHRIST and A PERFECT CIRCLE while also from across the pond, NYXX and SINOSA both showcased their alluring potential.
At the poppier end of the spectrum, Holger Wobker used Pledge Music to relaunch BOYTRONIC with their most recent vocal incumbent James Knights in an unexpected twist to once again prove the old adage to “never say never” as far as the music industry is concerned.
Meanwhile, Chris Payne co-wrote and co-produced the excellent ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP with KATJA VON KASSEL while also revealing plans for an autobiography and opening for his old boss…
The surprise album of the year was CHRIS CARTER with his ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’ while using a not dissimilar concept with their second album ‘Hello Science’, REED & CAROLINE took their folk laden synthpop out on a US tour opening for ERASURE.
STEVEN JONES & LOGAN SKY harked back to the days when GARY NUMAN and OMD would release two albums in one year by offering ‘Hans Und Lieselotte’ and ‘The Electric Eye’ in 2016. Those veteran acts themselves celebrated their 40th anniversaries by going orchestral, something which SIMPLE MINDS also did when they opted to re-record ‘Alive & Kicking’ for the ’80s Symphonic’ collection although Jim Kerr forgot how a third of the song went!
With SIMPLE MINDS also performing a horrible and barely recognisable ‘Promised You A Miracle’ during BBC’s ‘The Biggest Weekend’, making up for the live joke that his former band have become was one-time bassist Derek Forbes with the album ‘Broken Hearted City’ as ZANTi with Anni Hogan of MARC & THE MAMBAS fame.
Other former members of high-profile bands were busy too with Ian Burden, formally of THE HUMAN LEAGUE returning with the Floydian ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ while A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS reformed briefly for an orchestral re-run of their catalogue.
With the release of their second album ‘Kinetik’, EKKOES handed over THE HUMAN LEAGUE support baton to SHELTER who came up with their best body of work yet in the more introspective shades of ‘Soar’
That darker approach manifested itself on singer Mark Bebb’s side project FORM with Keith Trigwell of SPEAK & SPELL whose debut long player ‘defiance + entropy’ also came out in 2018.
Having been championed by RÖYSKSOPP, Wales’ MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY returned with ‘Infinity Mirror’ while riding on the well-deserved momentum from opening for OMD, Ireland’s TINY MAGNETIC PETS embarked on their first headlining tour.
NINA’s long awaited debut album ‘Sleepwalking’ was a fine hybrid of synthpop and the currently fashionable Synthwave aesthetic; her live double billing with Canadian synthpopsters PARALLELS was one of the hottest tickets of the year.
However, the endless AOR excesses, moonlight sax breaks and highly unimaginative band monikers using numbers between 80 to 89 affixed to an archaic technology reference, illustrated by yet another neon sunset, VCR grid and Lamborghini, were becoming tiresome.
As Synthwave cynics, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s touch paper was being lit big time! The whole point of the synthesizer’s role during the Second British Invasion of the US was to fight against the insipid overtures of AOR like TOTO, CHICAGO and JOURNEY, NOT to make music coated with its horrid stench as THE MIDNIGHT did in 2018 with their long player ‘Kids’.
But there was naivety within some quarters too; electronic music did not begin in 2011 with ‘Drive’, an above average film with a good if slightly over rated soundtrack. However, its cultural influence has led to a plethora of meandering tracks made by gamer boys which sounded like someone had forgotten to sing on them; perhaps they should have gone back to 1978 and listened to GIORGIO MORODER’s ‘Midnight Express Theme’ to find out how this type of instrumental music should be done?
Many of the newer artists influenced by Synth Britannia that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has featured have sometimes been accused of being stuck in the past, but a fair number of Synthwave acts were really taking the soggy biscuit with their retro-obsession.
Rock band MUSE’s use of glowing artwork by Kyle Lambert of ‘Stranger Things’ fame on their eighth album ‘Simulation Theory’ sent sections of the Synthwave community into meltdown. There were cries that they had “stolen the aesthetics and concept” and how “it’s not relevant to their sound”!
But WHAM! had Peter Saville designed sleeves and never sounded like NEW ORDER or OMD, while electropop diva LA ROUX used a visual stylisation for ‘In For The Kill’ that has since been claimed by Synthwavers as their own, despite it being from 2009 when Ryan Gosling was peddling graveyard indie rock in DEAD MAN’S BONES 😉
This was one of the bigger ironies of 2018, especially as MUSE have always used synths! One of Matt Bellamy and co’s biggest musical inspirations is ULTRAVOX, indicating the trio probably have a better understanding of the fusion between the synthesizer, rock and classical music, as proven by the ‘Simulation Theory’ bookends ‘Algorithm’ and ‘The Void’, than any static laptop exponent with a Jan Hammer fixation.
It is interesting to note today how electronic music has split into so many factions, but there’s still the assumed generalisation that it is all one thing and that synthpop fans must also like Synthwave, Deep House, EDM, Industrial and those tedious beach chill-out remixes.
Back in the day and even now, some fans of THE HUMAN LEAGUE didn’t like OMD, DEPECHE MODE fans only liked DEPECHE MODE and rock fans had a token favourite electronic band.
Out of all the acts from the Synth Britannia era, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had very little time for THOMPSON TWINS despite their huge international success, but their leader Tom Bailey’s 2018 solo recorded return ‘Science Fiction’ was warmly received by many.
Just as COLDPLAY and SNOW PATROL fans don’t all embrace ELBOW, it is ok to have preferences and to say so. Not liking the music of an artist does not make you a bad person, but liking everything does not make you a better person either… in fact, it shows you probably have no discerning taste! In 2002, SOFT CELL warned of a ‘Monoculture’, and if there is no taste differentiation in art and music, it will spell the end of cultural enhancement.