Adopting the dishevelled persona of a satanic Libertas, the new I SPEAK MACHINE long player ‘War’ captures the zeitgeist. Despite this, it is actually a more personal album dealing with the themes of addiction and mental illness.
I SPEAK MACHINE is the audio visual project of Tara Busch and Maf Lewis; their album ‘Zombies 1985’ produced by John Foxx collaborator Benge was a soundtrack to a short horror sci-fi film about a Zombie Apocalypse. One of the best albums of 2017, it was notable for Busch’s own restylings of singers as diverse as Doris Day, Alison Goldfrapp and Grace Jones.
Constructed remotely between Los Angeles and Sheffield over a three year period, ‘War’ has been co-produced by Dean Honer of I MONSTER, THE ECCENTRONIC RESEARCH COUNCIL and INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP fame. He has done a particularly good job with the jagged sound design. Meanwhile Busch has processed her voice as a central instrument, bending it through effects, vocoders and a Korg MS-20 as Will Gregory did with Alison Goldfrapp on the ‘Felt Mountain’ album.
Short and sweet with reminiscences of Gary Numan’s ‘Metal’, the screeching title song opener sets the scene and declares the album’s intentions with a rumbling backdrop. Embroiled in menace and some eerie flute, ‘Left For Dead’ cuts and bleeds and frightens while the progressive avant-funk of ‘Beat Down By Heaven’ is aided by sharper objects such as guitar, sub-bass and distorted claptraps.
Featuring backing vocals from Kendra Frost of KITE BASE and shaped by a dysfunctional analogue sequence, the wonderful Sci-Fi goth of ‘Santa Monica’ acts as an ironic love letter to Los Angeles, making use of Busch’s impressive vocal range from high soprano to deep contralto.
With a salvo of industrial Schaffel to shape a cover of American alt rockers CONCRETE BLONDE’s ‘Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)’, this is how GOLDFRAPP might sound if contributing to a Wes Craven movie. Sparser than the other tracks, ‘Dirty Soul’ weirdly echoes David Essex’s ‘Rock On’ while crossing paths with Patti Page on Venus. Then with a sense of foreboding in line with Gary Numan’s more recent work, ‘Ruined Me’ sees Busch point the finger at her dependency and how it has contaminated her aura.
Acting as a beautiful harp interlude, the soothing ‘I See You’ is counterpointed by a foreboding presence. But ramping up the pressure, as its title suggests, ‘The Metal of My Hell’ is a fierce aural assault of frantic heavy metal with synths and an aggressive rage as Busch decides to “burn the witch” and “burn the bitch” because “you had it coming for a long time!”.
A co-write with Kendra Frost, the ghostly ‘Push The Grease’ presents a stuttering percussive tension and another processed otherworldly vocal. Feisty and frantic, ‘Rats Rise’ is the final battle as the dirty rodents leave the sinking ship but with shades of ‘Clowns’ by GOLDFRAPP, the angelic ‘Until I Kill The Beast’ offers peace and tranquillity although the discordant metallic embellishments confirm that work is still to be done as “the devil sits with me until I kill the beast”.
There is cathartic joy in the discomforting exorcism that is the ‘War’ album; I SPEAK MACHINE’s bizarre mix of timbres and styles provide a severe but rather appealing and cerebral listening experience. If you are going to see Gary Numan on his European tour in May and June, arrive early because guess who is opening?
With esteemed fans such as Phil Oakey and Richard Hawley among their ranks, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP will use their summer holidays to embark on an extensive British club tour.
It is likely they will ‘Drive All Night’, so it is appropriate that their brand new single captures the anticipation of this forthcoming adventure before the quartet of Adrian Flanagan, Dean Honer, Leonore Wheatley and Katie Mason take a sabbatical from continuing the fine tradition of Northern English synth, many acts from which went on to be part of The Electronic Legacy of 1981.
Introducing scratchy funk guitar and deviant dancehall rhythms into the squelchy mix, Leonore Wheatley said “’Drive All Night (We Love E.U.)’ tries to encapsulate the glamour of going on tour and how you spend the days. Alot of the time you’re asleep, using up phone data you don’t have, needing a pee, walking aimlessly around a town you don’t know and buying souvenirs to add to that magnet collection you’ve tried to keep going” although amusingly, Adrian Flanagan added “For me, it’s like going back to NAM or somewhere – where simply getting home quickly is always determined by the strength of another person’s bladder!!’”
Sending up the era of Thatcherism as fellow Sheffield combo HEAVEN 17 did back in 1981, the video sees Flanagan, Wheatley, Mason and new live drummer Dimitri take to vintage brick sized mobile phones in an empty converted factory apartment, all while indulging in variations of skanking, vogueing and robot dancing. Meanwhile Honer remains in his studio to prepare the remix which is included in the download bundle.
“With the new promo photos and video for the single, we were giving a nod to HEAVEN 17’s ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ album – and all them bloody awful modern day Yuppies…” confirmed Flanagan, “But it’s all come true though hasn’t it? Everywhere you look now on the trains – in bars and restaurants, it’s people with these portable offices strapped to their noses and ears – 20something males checking their crypto currency graphs – or talking to 8 mini squares on Zoom to people who look like the bleedin’ Manson Family, all of whom have these IKEA bookcases behind them to convince you that they aren’t all serial killers but are in fact – highly qualified academics!!”
The B-side to ‘Drive All Night (We Love E.U.)’ is the delightful live favourite ‘Miss Lollipop’ which will appeal to anyone who has appreciated the danceable synthy togetherness of INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP as showcased on their self-titled debut album and its 2020 follow-up ‘Pop Gossip’ with songs like ‘The Age Of The Train’, ‘After Dark’ and ‘The Ballad Of Remedy Wilson’, ‘The Tower’, ‘Femenenergy’ and ‘Don’t Diss the Disco’.
“It’s such a strange day, in such a lonely way” sang NEW ORDER on ‘Truth’ in 1981.
The coronavirus crisis of 2020 put the entire live music industry into limbo as concerts were postponed and tours rescheduled.
The situation was affecting everyone with several musicians like Bernard Sumner, Andy McCluskey, John Taylor and Sarah Nixey publicly stating that they had contracted the virus. Even when all pupils returned to schools in the Autumn, there was a ban on indoor singing in English classrooms. It was an indication that out of all professional fields, the arts was going suffer the most.
To make up for the absence of live shows, online streamed events become popular. Two of the best live online gigs were by Swedish veterans LUSTANS LAKEJER from the KB in Malmö and Sinomatic techno-rockers STOLEN with Lockdown Live From Chengdu. Not strictly a lockdown show but available for all to view on SVT was a magnificent live presentation of KITE at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm recorded in late 2019 combining synthesizers, orchestra and choir, proving again why Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg are the best electronic duo in Europe.
Concluding his ‘Songs: From the Lemon Tree’ series, Bon Harris of NITZER EBB presented a wonderful set of four electonic cover versions including songs made famous by Joan Armatrading, Connie Francis and Diana Ross. Meanwhile among independent musicians, Dubliner CIRCUIT3 led the way with an innovative multi-camera effected approach to his home studio presentation and Karin My performed al fresco in a forest near Gothenburg.
Taking the initiative, ERASURE did a delightful virtual album launch party for their new album ‘The Neon’ on Facebook with Vince Clarke in New York and Andy Bell in London, talking about everything from shopping to classic synthpop tunes.
Other streamed forms of entertainment came via podcasts and among the best was ‘The Album Years’ presented by Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness. Their knowledgeable and forthright views on selected years in music were both informative and amusing. It was interesting to note that at the end of the 1976 episode, the pair nominated ‘Oxygène’ by Jean-Michel Jarre as the most important album of that year while for 1979, it was ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by Gary Numan.
Many artists who had scheduled releases in 2020 went through with them, although in some cases, there were the inevitable delays to physical product. But a few notable acts couldn’t help but abuse the situation, notably a certain combo from Basildon.
There were already “quality control issues” with the lavish ‘MODE’ 18 CD boxed set, but there was uproar even among the most hardcore Devotees with the ‘Spirits In The Forest’ release. The cardboard packaging was reported to be flimsy and prone to dents, while there was continuity errors galore as Dave Gahan rather cluelessly and selfishly wore different coloured outfits over the two nights in Berlin that the live footage was filmed under the direction of Anton Corbijn.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was an Anton Corbijn official illustrated history of DEPECHE MODE entitled ‘DM AC’ in the form of a coffee table photo book published by Taschen which retailed at €750; even though it was signed by Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher, the price tag was a mightily steep. The increasingly ironic words of “The grabbing hands grab all they can…” from ‘Everything Counts’ were not lost on people, who are people, after all!
But Andy Fletcher did provide the most amusing and spot-on quote of the year; during DEPECHE MODE’s acceptance speech into that dinosaur institution The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, when Dave Gahan remarked to his bandmates that “I dunno what the hell I would have been doing if I didn’t find music to be quite honest…”, the banana eating handclapper dryly retorted “YOU’D HAVE BEEN STILL STEALING CARS DAVE!”
There were lots of great albums released in 2020 and Berlin appeared to be at the creative centre of them.
There was ‘LP II’ from LINEA ASPERA who made a welcome return after eight years in hiatus and the playful debut by ULTRAFLEX, a collaborative offering from Berlin-based Nordic artists SPECIAL-K and FARAO which was “an ode to exercise, loaded with sex metaphors badly disguised as sports descriptions” .
The DDR born Jennifer Touch told her story with ‘Behind The Wall’ and resident New Yorker DISCOVERY ZONE was on ‘Remote Control’, while Lithuania’s top pop singer Alanas Chosnau made ‘Children of Nature’, his first album in English with Mark Reeder, who himself has lived in the former walled city since 1978; their collected experiences from both sides of the Iron Curtain made for a great record with the political statement of ‘Heavy Rainfall’ being one of the best songs of 2020.
Synth-builder and artist Finlay Shakespeare presented the superb angst ridden long player ‘Solemnities’ with its opener ‘Occupation’ tackling the social injustice of unemployment. A most frightening future was captured in musical form by New York-resident Zachery Allan Starkey who saw his home become a ‘Fear City’, while WRANGLER got themselves into ‘A Situation’.
SPARKS discussed ‘The Existential Threat’ and ‘One For The Ages’ while pleading ‘Please Don’t F*ck Up My World’ on their eclectic 25th album ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’, just as NIGHT CLUB reflected what many were thinking on ‘Die Die Lullaby’ with ‘Miss Negativity’ looking to ‘Die In The Disco’ while riding the ‘Misery Go Round’.
ASSEMBLAGE 23 chose to ‘Mourn’ with one of its highlights ‘Confession’ illustrating what DEPECHE MODE could still be capable of, if they could still be bothered.
But it was not all doom and gloom musically in 2020. With the title ‘Pop Gossip’, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP did not need to do much explaining about the ethos of their second album and drum ‘n’ synth girl GEORGIA was happily ‘Seeking Thrills’.
Veterans returned and 34 years after their debut ‘Windows’, WHITE DOOR teamed up with the comparative youngster Johan Baeckström for ‘The Great Awakening’, while CODE made a surprise return with their second album ‘Ghost Ship’ after an absence 25 years.
‘The Secret Lives’ of German duo Zeus B Held and Mani Neumeier illustrated that septuagenarians just want to have fun. Along with Gina Kikoine, Zeus B Held was also awarded with Der Holger Czukay Preis für Popmusik der Stadt Köln in recognition of their pioneering work as GINA X PERFORMANCE whose ‘No GDM’ was a staple at The Blitz Club in Rusty Egan’s DJ sets.
Incidentally, Rusty Egan announced that Zaine Griff would be joining him with Numan cohorts Chris Payne and David Brooks in a live presentation of VISAGE material, although the announced dates were postponed, pending rescheduling for 2021.
Swiss trailblazers YELLO were on ‘Point’ and continuing their occasional creative collaboration with Chinese songstress Fifi Rong, while one time YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA collaborator Hideki Matsutake returned as LOGIC SYSTEM and released a new long player ‘Technasma’, his project’s first for 18 years.
It was four decades since John Foxx’s ‘Metamatic’ and Gary Numan’s ‘Telekon’, with the man born Gary Webb publishing ‘(R)evolution’, a new autobiography to supersede 1997’s ‘Praying To The Aliens’. Meanwhile, the former Dennis Leigh teamed up with former ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon plus his regular Maths collaborators Benge and Hannah Peel for the blistering art rock statement of ‘Howl’ as well as finally issuing his book of short stories ‘The Quiet Man’.
Back in 1980, it was not unusual for bands to release two albums in a calendar year as OMD did with their self-titled debut and ‘Organisation’, or JAPAN did with ‘Quiet Life’ and ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’.
It appeared to be a tradition that BLANCMANGE were adopting as Neil Arthur delivered the acclaimed ‘Mindset’ and an enjoyable outtakes collection ‘Waiting Room (Volume 1)’.
PET SHOP BOYS and CERRONE proved they still liked to dance to disco because they don’t like rock, but the year’s biggest surprise came with THE SMASHING PUMPKINS whose single ‘Cyr’ crossed the templates of classic DEPECHE MODE with DURAN DURAN.
Interestingly, Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS and Michael Rother of NEU! used sketches recorded many moons ago to inspire their 2020 solo creations, proving that if something is a good idea, it will still make sense years later. Veteran Tonmeister Gareth Jones released his debut solo album ‘ELECTROGENETIC’ having first come to prominence as the studio engineer on ‘Metamatic’ back in 1980, but Jah Wobble was as prolific as ever, issuing his ninth album in four years, as well as a run of download singles over lockdown.
ANI GLASS had her debut long player ‘Mirores’ shortlisted for Welsh Music Prize and OMD remixed her song ‘Ynys Araul’ along the way, while SARAH P. was ‘Plotting Revolutions’. NINA and a returning ANNIE vied to be the Queen Of Synthwave with their respective albums ‘Synthian’ and ‘Dark Hearts’, although Canadian synth songstress DANA JEAN PHOENIX presented her most complete and consistent body of work yet in ‘Megawave’, a joint album with POWERNERD.
RADIO WOLF & PARALLELS contributed to the soundtrack of the film ‘Proximity’ released on Lakeshore Records and from the same label, KID MOXIE made her first contribution to the movie world with the score to ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need To Have A Serious Talk’ that also featured a stark cover of ALPHAVILLE’s ‘Big In Japan’. Meanwhile gothwavers VANDAL MOON made their most electronic album yet in ‘Black Kiss’ and POLYCHROME got in on the kissing act too with their new single ‘Starts With A Kiss’.
It would be fair to say in recent times that the most interesting and best realised electronic pop has come from outside of the UK; the likes of TWICE A MAN explored the darker side of life, although TRAIN TO SPAIN used the dancefloor as their mode of expression, 808 DOT POP developed on the robopop of parent band METROLAND and ZIMBRU preferred disco art pop.
In Scandinavia, there was the welcome return of UNIFY SEPARATE (formally US) and HILTIPOP aka Magnus Johansson of ALISON who finally released some music in his own right; once he started, he didn’t stop with 9 releases and counting in 2020! APOPTYGMA BERZERK released ‘Nein Danke!’, their self-proclaimed return to “New Wave Synthpop” and out of that set-up sprang the very promising PISTON DAMP.
Within the PAGE camp, Eddie Bengtsson continued his Numan fixation on the ‘Under Mitt Skinn’ EP although his musical partner Marina Schiptjenko teamed up with LUSTANS LAKEJER bassist Julian Brandt to ride the Synth Riviera for a delightful second helping of their electro crooner concept cheekily titled ‘For Beautiful People Only’.
Over in Germany, U96 teamed up Wolfgang Flür while RENARD, the solo vehicle of Markus Reinhardt from WOLFSHEIM teamed with Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE and Sarah Blackwood of DUBSTAR. DUBSTAR themselves released a striking corona crisis statement entitled ‘Hygiene Strip’ which saw reconfigured duo reunited with producer Stephen Hague. Meanwhile another poignant song on the topic ‘Small World’ came from SNS SENSATION, the new project by Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK. In lockdown, TINY MAGNETIC PETS recorded an entire album which they called ‘Blue Wave’.
Of course, 2020 was not full of joy, even without the pandemic, as the music world sadly lost Florian Schneider, Gabi Delgado-Lopez, Chris Huggett, Andrew Weatherall, Matthew Seligman, Dave Greenfield, Rupert Hine, Tom Wolgers, Harold Budd and Ennio Morricone.
An introspective tone was reflected the music of female fronted acts such as and ZANIAS, PURITY RING, WE ARE REPLICA, KALEIDA, LASTLINGS, NEW SPELL, WITCH OF THE VALE, REIN, BLACK NAIL CABARET, GLÜME, GEISTE THE FRIXION, FEMMEPOP and SCINTII. However, countering this, the optimism of RIDER, ROXI DRIVE and NEW RO presented a much brighter, hopeful take on life and the future.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrated 10 years as a platform and affirming the site’s intuition about synth talent in anticipation of them achieving greater things, SOFTWAVE opened for OMD on the Scandinavia leg of their ‘Souvenir’ tour. The Danish duo became the sixth act which the site had written about to have become part of a tradition that has included VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND and TINY MAGNETIC PETS.
On a more cheerful note, S.P.O.C.K beamed down to Slimelight in London before lockdown for their first British live performance in 17 years. Meanwhile on the same night, LAU NAU and VILE ELECTRODES did modular sets at Cecil Sharp House, the spiritual home of English traditional music.
At that event, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK took delight in curating a DJ set comprising of John Cage’s 4’33” in variations by DEPECHE MODE, GOLDFRAPP, ERASURE, NEW ORDER and THE NORMAL from Mute’s Stumm433 boxed set. This defiant act of silence even caused a curious Jonathan Barnbrook to raise an eyebrow, this from the man who designed the artwork with the white square on David Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’ 😉
The final live event that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK attended before the March lockdown was an informative lecture at Queen Mary University in London presented by noted cultural scholar Dr Uwe Schütte, in support of his book ‘KRAFTWERK Future Music From Germany’.
Also attending was Rusty Egan who held court at the reception afterwards by having a debate with another musician about the state of UK synth music. He then loudly beckoned ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK over and mentioned how the site was only interested acts that scored “9 out of 10” before admitting that a number of acts he supported only scored “6 out of 10”, with his reasoning being that if acts aren’t supported, then there will be no synth acts existing at all. After a decade in existence, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK remains proud that it is still extremely selective.
In 2020, the notion of reviews being needed to achieve a promotional profile underwent an existential crisis among media platforms. With streaming now being the main method of music consumption, why would anyone want to read a blog for an opinion about an album when they can just hit ‘play’ and hear the thing for themselves on Spotify, Amazon, Tidal or Bandcamp?
The sound of classic synthpop does live on happily in today’s mainstream via singles by THE WEEKND, DUA LIPA and even STEPS! In that respect, the trailblazing kings and queens of Synth Britannia from four decades ago did their job rather well.
From SUGABABES mashing-up ‘Are Friends Electric?’ for ‘Freak Like Me’ in 2002 to ‘Blinding Lights’ borrowing a bit of A-HA in 2020, the sound of synth is still strong.
It is up to any potential successors to live up to that high standard of Synth Britannia, which was as much down to the quality of the songwriting, as much as it was to do with the sound of the synthesizer. It is a fact that many overlook and if aspiring musicians could pay more attention to the song, instead of making the synthesizer the excuse for the song, then classic electronic pop music may still be around for a little longer and continue to evolve.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2020
After an excellent debut album featuring great songs such as ‘Age Of The Train’, ‘After Dark’ and ‘The Ballad Of Remedy Nilsson’, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP bring more of their danceable synthy togetherness to the safety of your own home with some ‘Pop Gossip’.
Sheffield veterans Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer of THE MOONLANDINGZ, along with vocalist Leonore Wheatley have added her primary school mate Katie Mason to take up the space vacated by THE HUMAN LEAGUE since Oakey, Catherall and Sulley opted for the lucrative if not artistically challenging nostalgia circuit.
Having co-produced THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Credo’, Dean Honer has steered the staff room to put into realisation the kind of album Oakey and Co should have been making in the first place. In celebration of the local Ritzy, opening tune ‘Don’t Diss The Disco’ squiggles in the bass department and wonderfully recalls handbags piled on the dancefloor with a few more energetic hooks than can be found on the latest ERASURE album.
Taking in the serious subject of misogyny and #MeToo, ‘Gaslight’ utilises a prominent offbeat and a chorus out of THE HUMAN LEAGUE songbook. With a more ironic approach on a similar gist “cos you’re an arseh*le”, the bouncy dancehall of ‘I Stole Yer Plimoles’ featuring Jason Williamson of SLEAFORD MODS may not be for everyone, but its sardonic nature encapsulates the departed spirit of YOUNGER YOUNGER 28s, a Northern English band from before the turn of the century who also owed a small debt to THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
But the moodier synth excursions of ‘Flood The Club’ recall the early avant pop phase of THE HUMAN LEAGUE set to a more metronomic beat and there’s even a subtle air of Eastern Promise attempting to break through amongst the cleverly chopped-up and manipulated vocals.
Meanwhile, the laid back approach of ‘A Change’ isn’t far off being an R n B soul ballad in the vein of ROSE ROYCE (or for younger listeners BRANDY) and it adds a new string to the bow of INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP.
Recalling the topline phrasing of ‘I Feel Love’, Katie Mason makes her lead vocal debut on ‘Prince (The Final Wheelie)’, a wonderful electronic disco tribute to The Purple One rather than Harry although HRH and his missus are the subject of the album’s closer ‘The Tower’; that provides the brilliant uptempo album closer and amusingly imagines Queen Elizabeth II telling her Beefeaters to “Take them to The Tower, it’s a beautiful day, take them away!” like a future scene from series 6 of ‘The Crown’.
On ‘The Red Dots (Dirty Mind)’ , the verse of comes over like Joanne Catherall singing lead for THE HUMAN LEAGUE for the first time, while the sub-two minute ‘Beats Working For A Living (For Martin)’ is more experimental with pulses in portamento and glitchy voices all in unison.
If you got an ‘A’ grade in German O level, then you will know ‘Ein Weiterer Stein In Der Wand’ is PINK FLOYD’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ sung in Deutsch before even playing it. A bold statement on the state of the nation and Brexit, Adrian Flanagan said: “I hope that statement is ‘I hate PINK FLOYD but love KRAFTWERK’ and / or – ‘I hate you but love the EU’”.
Brilliantly sparkling and thumping in keeping with its title, ‘Femenenergy’ is a younger cousin of ‘After Dark’ but there’s nowt wrong with that! A tribute to Patrick Cowley and Sylvester James via a female empowerment take on ‘Menergy’, this is a fine example of INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP continuing the fine tradition of Northern English synth.
A natural progression, if you loved the ‘International Teachers Of Pop’ debut, you will love ‘Pop Gossip’. No complaints, no issues, this record is a reminder that the halcyon days everyone has missed over the last few months will return and in the interim, acts as an aural cuddle for the masses.
‘Pop Gossip’ is released via Desolate Spools in CD, vinyl LP and download formats
INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP’s 2021 UK tour includes:
Manchester Yes (12th February) Edinburgh Sneaky Pete’s (13th February), Glasgow Broadcast (14th February), Leeds Headrow House (15th February), Birmingham Hare & Hounds (16th February), London Moth Club (17th February), Bristol Rough Trade (18th February), Sheffield The Leadmill (19th February)
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’”.