Tag: Italians Do It Better (Page 1 of 6)

DESIRE Escape

‘Escape’ is the long awaited follow-up to the acclaimed debut album by DESIRE which was released in 2009. One of its tracks ‘Under Your Spell’ notably featured in the synthwave-tinged soundtrack of 2011’s ‘Drive’ starring Ryan Gosling.

Originally from Montreal, vivacious latex-clad front woman Megan Louise hasn’t been idle, continually releasing singles, collaborating and becoming president of Italians Do It Better. Produced by IDIB head honcho and beau Johnny Jewel, ‘Escape’ was mixed by Vaughn Oliver. Inspired by Italian Giallo horror films, the record was constructed in Los Angeles and Palm Springs.

‘Escape’ is multilingual singing in English, French, and Korean while Megan Louise plays the role of vixen and villain, opening proceedings with ‘Black Latex’, a spoken word art piece in French and English inspired by Andy Warhol. With pizzicato interventions and glorious synth salvos, ‘Telling Me Lies’ does that alluring moonlit driving thing over a tom-laden drum machine backbone where “you can run but you can’t hide”.

“All out of trying, all out of tears” while swathed in layers of electronic sounds and a wash of emotions, ‘Liquid Dreams’ echoes one-time label mates CHROMATICS and is boosted by a great frequency tuning solo. But featuring current label mates MIRAGE, ‘Love Is A Crime’ begins with an enigmatic and semi-spoken verse which is countered by a vocodered chorus. There are dense filtered tapestries where the processed voice declares “there’s no-one left to hold you” before the nostalgic tones of dial-up internet ring.

The wonderful ‘Zeros’ which was first released in early 2021 remains gorgeously dreamy and seductive with its sunset noir cinematics burying the past and “adding up to zero every single day”. Short, sweet and sans batterie, more spoken word is presented on the sparsely vibe laden ‘Dark Age’.

With elegant airy movements in Korean from ETHER’s Soo Joo Park, the forlorn ‘Haenim’ is an electronically styled cover of the 1968 Kim Jung Mi folk song with its narrative about woman who carries a traumas from the past confirming that “some scars never heal”; the haunting synth noir reinterpretation could be considered akin to when MIRRORS covered ‘Something On Your Mind’ which was recorded by Karen Dalton.

“Fading slow” with a delightful burst of synthesized pop bliss, ‘Ghosts’ is not for when the room is quiet, especially during the blistering keyboard solos. Given a remix, the brilliantly naive escapist electronic disco of ‘Escape’ which imagined BANANARAMA fronting NEW ORDER doesn’t quite hit the spot in this new version which is a shame in its position as the title track; the original slice of pop perfection should have been the preferred inclusion

Based around Fender Rhodes, ‘The Young & The Restless’ sounds like a song from a lost French arthouse movie while 11. the absorbing nocturnal electro-disco ‘Days & Nights’ is a gorgeously enticing highlight that glistens as “stars are shining”. Preceded by the interlude ‘L’Amulette De Vie’, the GOLDFRAPP-like ‘Friends & Enemies’ utilises Mellotron flute tones to provide another sparse resigned ballad, concluding with a haunting chorus of children and a foreboding toll.

Featuring seven previously released singles and six new tracks, that’s slightly more than TEARS FOR FEARS ‘The Hurting’ which only featured four new tracks when it came out back in 1983. ‘Escape’ does as its title suggests, a synth-laden soap opera with an idealistic narrative to overcome the challenges that life brings. It has been a long wait but the second DESIRE album is finally here with moments to savour.

‘Escape’ uses the following instruments: MiniKorg 700s, Roland Jupiter 8, Roland TR909, Mellotron, Simmons Rhythm Modules, ARP Solina String Machine, Roland D-50, Fender Rhodes


‘Escape’ is released on 3rd May 2022 via Italians Do It Better, pre-order or pre-save the album via https://idib.ffm.to/desire-escape

https://www.facebook.com/PRIMITIVEDESIRE/

https://twitter.com/primitivedesire

https://www.instagram.com/desire_musicofficial/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
30th April 2022

SALLY SHAPIRO Interview

Since releasing their first album ‘Disco Romance’ in 2006, SALLY SHAPIRO have charmed audiences with a brand of melancholic but uplifting electronic pop.

Despite the name, they are actually a Swedish duo comprising of the enigmatic anonymous songstress Sally Shapiro and producer Johan Agebjörn. The albums ‘My Guilty Pleasure’ and ‘Somewhere Else’ followed but then in 2016, SALLY SHAPIRO issued a final single ‘If You Ever Wanna Change Your Mind’ and retired.

Agebjörn had begun a parallel solo career with 2011’s ‘Casablanca Nights’ album featuring LE PRIX, LAKE HEARTBEAT and QUEEN OF HEARTS but his profile was raised again with his work on the Swedish comedy thriller ‘Videoman’ which included ‘Hot Boy’ with Samantha Fox and ‘Love On Ice’ with Italo star Ryan Paris in a duet with Sally. This seeded a reunion and work on a brand new SALLY SHAPIRO album entitled ’Sad Cities’.

Released with great acclaim earlier this year by Italians Do It Better and headed by the single ‘Fading Away’ after a 5 year absence, as with previous albums, a remix variant of ‘Sad Cities’ is now available, featuring reworks by ITALOCONNECTION, BETAMAXX, SUNGLASSES KID, BARK BARK DISCO and IDIB head honcho Johnny Jewel among many.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had the pleasure of talking to Sally Shapiro and Johan Agebjörn about the making of ‘Sad Cities’, its remix collection and other aspects of their career to date…

What some don’t realise is that like GOLDFRAPP, SALLY SHAPIRO is a duo so what inspired you to adopt a “person” as a nom de théâtre rather than a group moniker?

Sally: We were inspired by some Italo disco artists like Valerie Dore or Katy Gray that had a female singer with an English-sounding pseudonym as the project name. So we wanted to do it in the same way. First the idea was to just make a single with that pseudonym, but then it quickly got established so it felt natural to continue to use it!

How would describe the creative and recording dynamic of SALLY SHAPIRO, do you sit together or work separately?

Sally: We work pretty much separately. Johan prepares the instrumental and then I go into the studio recording the vocals. Johan is not allowed to be in the studio when I sing. We of course listen to the music together and discuss different ideas and so on.

Are there any particular synths, drum machines and techniques that form the classic SALLY SHAPIRO sound?

Johan: We use a lot of drum sounds from the Simmons, LinnDrum, TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines. I have an old keyboard Yamaha PSR-3500 that has a bass sound and some percussion sounds that I’ve used a lot. The synths have been quite different ones, but a lot of Roland Juno and Jupiter series, or software emulations / samples of those. My favourite reverb is a built-in reverb in Propellerheads Reason.

SALLY SHAPIRO is a quite low key project in the grander scheme of things within the music scene but when did you realise the music was gaining traction and a cult following?

Johan: During 2006 and 2007, the listener count gradually grew, much thanks to Pitchfork who promoted every single we released and put ‘Disco Romance’ in their best-of-the-year chart. Still, it took a few years until we realised that some people actually viewed ‘Disco Romance’ as a cult album and were paying quite a lot of money for the original vinyl pressing. That felt weird.

The new album ‘Sad Cities’ came after a public announcement in 2016 that there would be no more music as SALLY SHAPIRO. But the gap was actually smaller than some acts’ time between albums when they haven’t announced a “retirement”, do you ever regret making the announcement and that perhaps a rest was all that was needed?

Sally: In one way, looking back it was maybe an immature announcement. At the same time, maybe it was a belief in a “total retirement” that was needed to get back the inspiration. We felt absolutely no pressure to make anything new, and maybe that was good for the creativity and the inspiration to record.

Saying that, the most recent album was ‘Somewhere Else’ in 2013 but there was the Johan solo album ‘Casablanca Nights’ before that. How do you look back on that prolific period?

Johan: It was a period with a lot of collaborations with other musicians, especially on ‘Casablanca Nights’, and a lot of DJing around the world, lots of remixing and lots of fun with now-defunct mp3 blogs that posted the music. I recently re-released ‘Casablanca Nights’ in a 22-track edition on Bandcamp, it was fun and nostalgic to revisit all the music from that time. In retrospect, this was the period when synthwave took shape and reached its creative peak, and I’m glad that we got some remixes by some of those artists (MIAMI NIGHTS 1984, MITCH MURDER, ANORAAK, LE MATOS etc) while the genre was still pretty new.

What was the impetus to relaunch SALLY SHAPIRO?

Sally: A few musical ideas that just had to take shape into SALLY SHAPIRO tracks. After that it felt necessary to make a whole album!

How did Italians Do It Better and Johnny Jewel come to be involved in ‘Sad Cities’?

Johan: We had been in contact a few times earlier through the years, I emailed them and asked if Johnny wanted to take part in the production of the album in some form. They replied and were very enthusiastic about the album and after a while it felt logical to release the album on Italians Do It Better. Johnny and I mixed the album together and he helped out with some drum sounds that he recorded from his drum machines. He also remixed ‘Forget About You’ for the remix album.

‘Forget About You’, the opening song on ‘Sad Cities’ began as a collaboration with Ryan Paris, how did that come about?

Johan: We made a collaboration with Ryan Paris in 2018, ‘Love On Ice’ (released as a Johan Agebjörn track with duet guest vocals by Sally and Ryan), for the soundtrack to a Swedish movie called ‘Videoman’. We liked how it turned out, and ‘Forget About You’ was originally also a Sally / Ryan duet released as a Johan Agebjörn single in 2020, but then for the album we re-recorded it as a Sally solo track. Then Johnny Jewel liked it so much that he wanted it to be a single, and also the track that he wanted to remix for the remix album. Actually, there’s also an original instrumental version of the track from 1994 that I recorded on my Yamaha PSR-3500 keyboard at the time, completely without computer. That version is included as a “B-side” on the single!

‘Million Ways’ surprised listeners with its Italo House and jazz vibe?

Johan: Yeah, it was an attempt to recreate the Italo house sound of 1990 (in particular the productions at the time by Gianfranco Bortolotti – Cappella, 49ers etc) with the SALLY SHAPIRO atmosphere. I was a big fan of that sound at the time with the Korg M1 pianos and clattering 909 snares, also pretty similar to what MADONNA (‘Vogue’) and PET SHOP BOYS did at the time.

‘Fading Away’ is an epic dance tune to close, what was its genesis?

Johan: Thank you! I and Mikael Ögren have been working on ambient music and this is actually a result from those sessions, but something that we thought should be more synthwave-ish. So it has both a bit of atmospheric ambient feel and a bit of the relentless 80s disco / synthwave feel.

How do you think ‘Sad Cities’ has been received?

Johan: Really well! We had no idea if people would still be receptive of our music, but we feel really welcomed back.

As with previous SALLY SHAPIRO albums, ‘Sad Cities’ is being released in a remix variant; as someone who has remixed material for others, is there a brief given out to producers and do you have power of veto just in case?

Johan: We usually don’t give any directions, but sometimes they ask and we tell them maybe which of their tracks that have the sound that we think could sound good with Sally. We usually give some feedback during the process though, a lot of the times we ask for the vocals to be louder. Interestingly, that’s also what Johnny often asked me to change on the original versions! I think that when you produce a track you “know” the vocals and want to highlight all different parts in the production, but as someone listening for the first time, it’s important that the vocals stand out and sound clear if it’s pop music, I think.

Unlike many other remix albums, the companion to ‘Sad Cities’ is very listenable with the SUNGLASSES KID remix of ‘Tell Me How’ and ITALOCONNECTION’s take on ‘Believe In Me’ being particularly good. How did you choose the remixers?

Johan: It has to be a producer with some kind of warmth in their sound, but apart from that we like to have varied styles from ambient (Krister Linder) to techno (VONDA7) and a lot of 80s style producers of course. Many times it’s of course producers / remixers that have produced / remixed something that we’ve been impressed with. Some of them are artists we’ve been following for many many years, like Johnny Jewel, Fred Ventura of ITALOCONNECTION or Krister Linder (Swedish ambient / synthpop legend).

Ben Macklin gives ‘Dulcinea’ a wonderful pop treatment which is quite different from the midtempo synthwave-based original?

Johan: Yeah, Ben made a remix of our 2016 single ‘If You Ever Wanna Change Your Mind’ that we were really happy with, so we wanted to ask him again, and were really happy with the luxurious result.

BARK BARK DISCO’s remix of ‘Holiday’ is on the album as a sort of extra, what was the thinking behind covering this particular MADONNA song out of so many?

Sally: We made the ‘Holiday’ cover for Italians Do It Better’s MADONNA compilation last summer. It’s one of our favourite MADONNA tracks and suited us really well. But actually, our first choice would have been ‘La Isla Bonita’ but that song was already taken!

Johan: For a while we thought about including ‘Holiday’ on the original album, but in the end we didn’t think it fit with the rest of the tracks. When we removed it, BARK BARK DISCO had already started remixing ‘Holiday’, and on the remix album, we think his remix fits better than the original ‘Holiday’ did on the original album. It’s a really fun and groovy remix.

Which are your own favourites from the remix version of Sad Cities’?

Sally: Oh it’s too difficult to choose!

What would you say have been your proudest moments as SALLY SHAPIRO, be it particular albums, songs or synchronisations?

Johan: Difficult question. Right now we feel a bit proud of ‘Sad Cities’, since the project felt buried just a few years ago.

So what is next either as SALLY SHAPIRO or under different umbrellas or projects?

Johan: It’s too early to speak about new SALLY SHAPIRO releases, but we have a mix for another artist in the loop. I am currently preparing a live ambient / chillwave performance together with Mikael Ögren for a festival in Norway this summer. I and Mikael haven’t performed live together before, so it requires some planning and practising!

Finally, talking of other projects, what was it like working with Samantha Fox on ‘Hot Boy’ for the ‘Videoman’ soundtrack in 2018?

Johan: It was a surreal experience! I made the track ‘Hot Boy’ together with my frequent co-writer Roger Gunnarsson, and Kristian (the director of ‘Videoman’) suggested that we should send it to Samantha Fox.

I thought there was one chance in a million, but contacted her through her official website and got a reply after a few days from her manager, that she had listened to the song and wanted to sing on it!

She recorded the vocals in the UK, so we never met during the recording process, but she came to Gothenburg for the recording of the music video later. The music video was prepared and filmed by the ‘Videoman’ team at a hotel, it was a fantastic day with a lot of enthusiastic people. Samantha was very joyful and easy to talk to.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Sally Shapiro and Johan Agebjörn

Special thanks to Frankie Davison at Stereo Sanctity

‘Sad Cities (The Remixes)’ is released by Italians Do It Better, available from https://sallyshapiro.bandcamp.com/music

https://italiansdoitbetter.com/sally-shapir/

https://www.facebook.com/shapirosally

https://twitter.com/sallyshapiro

https://www.instagram.com/sally_shapiro_official/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
4th April 2022

SALLY SHAPIRO Sad Cities

Although they announced a retirement of sorts in 2016 and released a final single ‘If You Ever Wanna Change Your Mind’, Swedish duo SALLY SHAPIRO joined the Italian Do It Better family in 2021 to make an unexpected return.

Comprising of the enigmatic anonymous songstress Sally Shapiro and producer Johan Agebjörn, they became cult favourites with their dreamy pop albums ‘Disco Romance’ ‘My Guilty Pleasure’ and ‘Somewhere Else’. In parallel, Agebjörn also had a solo career with 2011’s ‘Casablanca Nights’ album featuring LE PRIX, LAKE HEARTBEAT and QUEEN OF HEARTS attracting acclaim.

During the hiatus, Agebjörn has also worked on two collaborative records with Mikael Ögren as well as soundtrack work for the Swedish comedy thriller ‘Videomannen’ including the songs ‘Hot Boy’ with one-time Page3 stunna Samantha Fox and ‘Love On Ice’ with Italian star Ryan Paris in a duet with Shapiro.

As if they had never been away, the fourth SALLY SHAPIRO album ‘Sad Cities’ is mixed by both Agebjörn and Italian Do It Better head honcho Johnny Jewel. Originally recorded as a duet with Ryan Paris but with his backing vocals remaining in this Sally solo version, the wispy opener ‘Forget About You’ provides a wonderful wintery disco tune, as does the gorgeously airy ‘Believe In Me’ which follows.

But the elegiac ‘Down This Road’ could be a theme to a French Nouvelle Vague movie but throws in an unexpected guitar solo from Alex Karlinsky aka HIGHWAY SUPERSTAR to throw off the scent before vibing up and adding slinky sax from Jorja Chalmers.

Like an electronic version of yacht rock, ‘Sad City’ title exudes a drifting oceanic mood while ‘Dulcinea’ is a pretty midtempo synthwave ballad with a slight West European bent. With some Nordic flight, ‘Falling Clouds’ bounces delightfully skywards with a shuffling but danceable beat while despite having previously collaborated with ELECTRIC YOUTH on ‘Starman’ in 2013, ‘Love in Slow Motion’ is unsurprisingly more laid back in nature.

Offering an Italo housey stance, ‘Million Ways’ twists expectations with cosmic synth solos, jazzy electric Rhodes and filmic orchestrations. Shyness is nice as ‘Tell Me How’ with TOMMY ’86 offers more typical synthwave atmospheres that bubble into an absorbing odyssey.

As the title suggests, ‘Christmas Escape’ is a drifting mood piece that reflects the crystalline air of the winter holiday season before the mighty dance laden ‘Fading Away’ features a glorious plethora of trancey electronics and thumping rhythms over seven minutes to provide a satisfying closer.

Five years has allowed time for SALLY SHAPIRO to be missed and this new collection of songs is a gift to their fans. ’Sad Cities’ doesn’t stray too much from past formulas, right down to the collaborators but that doesn’t matter. This is blissful breezy electronic pop despite its inherent melancholy and sadness.


‘Sad Cities’ is released by Italians Do It Better on 18th February 2022, available from https://sallyshapiro.bandcamp.com/

https://italiansdoitbetter.com/sally-shapir/

https://www.facebook.com/shapirosally

https://twitter.com/sallyshapiro

https://www.instagram.com/sally_shapiro_official/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
15th February 2022

MOTHERMARY I Am Your God

Inspired by the Prayer of the Blessed Virgin, the strikingly photogenic twins Elyse and Larena are like real-life ‘Twin Peaks’ characters, with the backstory being that they escaped their strict Mormon family in remote Montana.

Elyse hitched a ride to Salt Lake City before uprooting to Brooklyn and attempted a solo music career. But unhappy with how producers failed to see her vision, when Larena joined her in The Big Apple, MOTHERMARY came into existence to reclaim their sexuality and womanhood, having been brainwashed to “Have children, procreate, but don’t be sexual beings!”

Released on Italians Do It Better, with an appealing contrast of light and shade, their debut album ‘I Am Your God’ highlights religious hypocrisy with resigned contralto vocals and immersive synthetic instrumentation. This is exemplified by an electro-take on Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ which brings the tone of the song’s lyrical content more in line with its true meaning about the euphoria of oral sex. Making a similarly profound statement, ‘Burn With Desire’ utilises a steadfast synthwave backdrop to encapsulate the twin’s repressed sexuality.

Opening the album with the swung presence of ‘Catch Fire’, it’s a number that gradually develops its power while ‘Wearing Me Thin’ introduces a slow soulful groove. There’s dancier material too; sounding like haunting Anglo-German art pop duo KALEIDA but with an acid house squelch, ‘Pray’ is a highly provocative highlight with gritty references to a “sacrificial offering” and confirmation that “We’ll pray for you…”

In line with the album’s recurring religious imagery, ‘Resurrection’ is undoubtedly another bedroom metaphor, enhanced by a barrage of sleazy synth smothering, but despite its understated R ‘n’ B rhythms, ‘Coming For You’ morphs with strident synthbass in a statement of desire which when the glitch vocals take their place, presents more of a creepy stalker mentality like ‘You’ set to an electronica soundtrack.

‘Give It Up’ follows a similar arrangement template although the message is more resigned. The closing ‘I Am Your God’ title track also brings in deep vocal pitch shifting for an unsettling demonic twist.

Reminiscent of KALIEDA but with more urban derived beats, the ‘I Am Your God’ album captures a haunting anguish despair that channels their pain and uncertainty into the music with a collective repression.

“Women can be mothers and nurturing and caring and smart, and we also get to have f***ing sex drives” MOTHERMARY said, “We get to enjoy our bodies. We get to enjoy pleasure. We get to orgasm if we want to.”


‘I Am Your God’ is released by Italians Do It Better on 28th January 2022 , pre-order at https://idib.ffm.to/i-am-your-god

https://www.mothermary.band/

https://www.facebook.com/1800mthrmry/

https://twitter.com/mothermarymusic

https://www.instagram.com/mothermarymusic/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
27th January 2022

2021 End Of Year Review

As the world steadily emerged from a painful pandemic that put many lives on hold, nostalgia appeared to be the commodity most in demand as the music industry took steps to recover.

No matter which era, anything musically from the past was more desirable that anything that reminded the public of the past 20 or so months. The first escape destination in the summer for many restricted to staying on their own shores were the established retro festivals.

Meanwhile television provided an array of documentaries ranging from chart rundowns of past decades and informative classic song analysis on Channel 5 to Dylan Jones’ look at ‘Music’s Greatest Decade’ on BBC2 and Sky Arts’ ‘Blitzed’ with all the usual suspects such as Boy George, Philip Sallon, Marilyn, Gary Kemp and Rusty Egan.

SPARKS had their own comprehensive if slightly overlong film ‘The SPARKS Brothers’ directed by Edgar Wright, but the Maels’ musical ‘Annette’ starring Adam Driver was a step too far. Meanwhile the acclaimed ‘Sisters With Transistors’ presented the largely untold story of electronic music’s female pioneers.

It was big business for 40th anniversary live celebrations from the likes of HEAVEN 17, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD and SOFT CELL, while other veterans such as NEW ORDER and ERASURE returned to the live circuit with the biggest indoor headlining shows of their career.

Meanwhile for 2022, Midge Ure announced an extensive ‘Voices & Visions’ tour to present material from the 1981-82 phase of ULTRAVOX.

Also next year and all being well, GOLDFRAPP will finally get their belated 20th Anniversary tour for their marvellous debut ‘Felt Mountain’ underway while there are rescheduled ‘Greatest Hits’ live presentations for PET SHOP BOYS and SIMPLE MINDS.

Always money for old rope, but also giving audiences who missed them at their pioneering height an opportunity to catch up, ‘best of’ collections were issued by YELLO and TELEX while JAPAN had their 1979 breakthrough album ‘Quiet Life’ given the lavish boxed set treatment. Meanwhile, while many labels were still doing their best to kill off CD, there was the puzzling wide scale return of the compact cassette, a poor quality carrier even at the zenith of its popularity.

“Reissue! Repackage! Repackage! Re-evaluate the songs! Double-pack with a photograph, extra track and a tacky badge!” a disgraced Northern English philosopher once bemoaned.

The boosted market for deluxe boxed sets and the repackaging of classic albums in coloured vinyl meant that the major corporations such as Universal, Sony and Warners hogged the pressing plants, leaving independent artists with lead times of nearly a year for delivery if they were lucky.

But there was new music in 2021. Having achieved the milestone of four decades as a recording act, DURAN DURAN worked with Giorgio Moroder on the appropriately titled ‘Future Past’ while not far behind, BLANCMANGE took a ‘Commercial Break’ and FIAT LUX explored ‘Twisted Culture’. David Cicero made his belated return to music with a mature second album that was about ‘Today’ as Steven Jones & Logan Sky focussed on the monochromatic mood of ‘European Lovers’. Continuing the European theme but towards the former Eastern Bloc, Mark Reeder gave a reminder that he was once declared ‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ and fellow Mancunians UNE became inspired by the ‘Spomenik’ monoliths commissioned by Marshal Tito in the former Yugoslavia.

For those who preferred to immerse themselves in the darker present, Gary Numan presented ‘Intruder’, a poignant concept album produced by Ade Fenton about Mother Earth creating a virus to teach mankind a lesson! Meanwhile ITALOCONNECTION, the project of Italo veterans Fred Ventura and Paolo Gozzetti teamed up with French superstar Etienne Daho to tell the story of ‘Virus X’! The video of the year came from UNIFY SEPARATE whose motivation message to ‘Embrace The Fear’ despite the uncertainty reflected the thoughts of many.

Despite the general appetite for nostalgia, there was some excellent new music released from less established artists with the album of the year coming from Jorja Chalmers and her ‘Midnight Train’ released on Italians Do It Better. The critical acclaim for the UK based Aussie’s second long playing solo offering made up for the disbandment of the label’s biggest act CHROMATICS, as it went into its most prolific release schedule in its history with albums by GLÜME, JOON, DLINA VOLNY and LOVE OBJECT as well as its own self-titled compilation of in-house Madonna covers.

As Kat Von D teamed up with Dan Haigh of GUNSHIP for her debut solo record ‘Love Made Me Do It’, acts like DANZ CM, CLASS ACTRESS, GLITBITER, PRIMO THE ALIEN, PARALLELS, KANGA, R.MISSING, I AM SNOW ANGEL, XENO & OAKLANDER, HELIX and DAWN TO DAWN showed that North America was still the creative hub as far as electronically derived pop songs went.

Attracting a lot of attention in 2021 were NATION OF LANGUAGE, who with their catchy blend of angst, melody and motorik beats welcomed synths as family in their evolving sound while also providing the song of the year in ‘This Fractured Mind’, reflecting the anxieties of these strange times. At the other end of the spectrum, DIAMOND FIELD went full pop with an optimistic multi-vocalist collection that captured the spirit of early MTV while BUNNY X looked back on their high school days with ‘Young & In Love’.

ACTORS delivered their most synthy album yet while as LEATHERS, they keyboardist Shannon Hamment went the full hog for her debut solo effort ‘Reckless’. FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY released a new album and some of that ‘Mechanical Soul’ was brought by their Rhys Fulber into his productions this year for AESTHETIC PERFECTION.

In Europe, long playing debuts came from PISTON DAMP and WE ARE REPLICA while NORTHERN LITE released their first album completely in German and FRAGRANCE. presented their second album ‘Salt Air’. There was also the welcome return of SIN COS TAN, KID KASIO, GUSGUS, MARVA VON THEO, TINY MAGNETIC PETS and MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY.

Featuring second generation members of NEW ORDER and SECTION 25, SEA FEVER released their eclectic debut ‘Folding Lines’ as fellow Mancunian LONELADY added sequencers and drum machines to her post-punk funk template. But Glasgow’s CHVRCHES disappointed with their fourth long player ‘Screen Violence’ by opting to sound like every other tired hipster band infesting the land.

The most promising artist to breakthrough in 2021 was Hattie Cooke whose application of traditional songwriting nous to self-production and arrangement techniques using comparatively basic tools such as GarageBand found a wider audience via her third album ‘Bliss Land’. In all, it was a strong year for female synth-friendly artists with impressive albums from Karin My, Laura Dre, Alina Valentina, Robin Hatch and Catherine Moan while comparative veterans like Fifi Rong, Alice Hubble, Brigitte Handley and Alison Lewis as ZANIAS maintained their cult popularity.

In 2021, sometimes words were very unnecessary and there were fine instrumental synth albums from BETAMAXX, WAVESHAPER, КЛЕТ and Richard Barbieri, with a Mercury nomination received by Hannah Peel for ‘Fir Wave’. But for those who preferred Italo Noir, popwave, post-punk techno and progressive pop, Tobias Bernstrup, Michael Oakley, Eric Random and Steven Wilson delivered the goods respectively.

With ‘The Never Ending’ being billed as the final FM ATTACK album and PERTURBATOR incorrectly paraphrased by Metal Hammer in a controversial “synthwave is dead” declaration, the community got itself in a pickle by simultaneously attacking THE WEEKND for “stealing from synthwave”, yet wanting to ride on the coat tails of Abel Tesfaye, misguidedly sensing an opportunity to snare new fans for their own music projects.

With THE WEEKND’s most recent single ‘Take My Breath’, there was the outcry over the use of a four note arpeggio allegedly sampled from MAKEUP & VANITY SET’s ‘The Last City’. But as one online observer put it, “Wow, an arpeggiated minor chord. Hate to break it to you but you might want to check out what Giorgio Moroder was doing 50 years ago. We’re ALL just rippin’ him off if that’s how you think creativity works”. Another added “If a four note minor key arpeggiated chord can go to court on the basis of copyright law, we are in for a hell of a few years my synthy friends”. It outlined once again that there are some who are still under the impression that music using synths was invented by Ryan Gosling in 2011 for ‘Drive’ soundtrack ??

There were also belated complaints that 2019’s A-HA inspired ‘Blinding Lights’ had a simple melody and needed five writers to realise it… but then, so did UTRAVOX’s ‘Slow Motion’ and DURAN DURAN’s ‘Rio’! Collaboration, whether in bands, with producers or even outsiders has always been a key aspect of the compositional process. If it is THAT simple, do it yourself! As Andy McCluskey of OMD said on ‘Synth Britannia’ in 2009 about the pioneering era when Ryan Gosling was still in nappies: “The number of people who thought that the equipment wrote the song for you: ‘well anybody can do it with the equipment you’ve got!’ “F*** OFF!!”

Over the last two years, THE WEEKND has become the biggest mainstream pop act on the planet, thanks to spectacles such as the impressive gothic theatre of the Super Bowl LV half time showcase while in a special performance on the BRITS, there was a charming presentation of the ERASURE-ish ‘Save Your Tears’ where he played air synth in a moment relatable to many. But everything is ultimately down to catchy songs, regardless of synth usage.

So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK would like to present a hypothetical case to consider… if someone uses the arpeggio function with a sparkling patch from a Juno 6 synth in a recording, does Cyndi Lauper sue for infringing the copyright of ‘All Through The Night’ or the original songwriter Jules Shear or even the Roland Corporation themselves as they created it? More than one producer has suggested that THE WEEKND’s soundbite came from a hardware preset or more than likely, a software sample pack, of which there are now many.

However, sample culture had hit another new low when Tracklib marketed a package as “A real game-changer for sample based music. Now everyone can afford to clear samples” with rapper and producer Erick Sermon declaring “Yo, this is incredible. They’re trying to put creativity back into music again. By having samples you can actually pay for and afford”.

Err creativity? How about writing your own songs and playing or even programming YOUR OWN instrumentation??!?

One sampling enthusiast even declared “I might go as far as to say you don’t really like dance music if you’ve got a problem with adding a beat to a huge (even instantly recognizable) sample”… well guess what? ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK LOATHES IT!!! ?

In 2021, music promotion became a bit strange with publicists at all levels keen more than ever to have their clients’ press releases just cut ‘n’ pasted onto online platforms, but very reluctant to allow albums to be reviewed in advance in the event of a potential negative prognosis.

While cut ‘n’ paste journalism has been a disease that has always afflicted online media, in a sad sign of the times, one long established international website moved to a “pay to get your press release featured” business model.

The emergence of reaction vloggers was another bizarre development while the “Mention your favourite artist and see if they respond to you” posts on social media only added more wood to the dumbing down bonfire already existing within audience engagement.

It was as if the wider public was no longer interested in more in-depth analysis while many artists turned their publicity into a reliance on others doing “big ups” via Twitter and Facebook. But then, if artists are being successfully crowdfunded with subscriptions via Patreon, Kickstarter, Bandcamp and the like, do they need a media intermediary any longer as they are dealing direct with their fanbases?

However, it wasn’t all bad in the media with ‘Electronically Yours With Martyn Ware’ providing insightful artist interviews and the largely entertaining ‘Beyond Synth’ podcast celebrating its 300th show. Due to their own music commitments, Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness were less prolific with their discussion show ‘The Album Years’ but it was still refreshing for commentators to be able to say that a record was sh*t when it actually was, rather than conform to the modern day adage that all music is good but not always to the listener’s taste!  And while various programmes came and went, other such as ‘Operating//Generating’, ‘KZL Live’ and ‘Absynth’ came to prominence.

Post-pandemic, interesting if uncertain times are ahead within the music industry. But as live performance returns, while the mainstream is likely to hit the crowd walking, will there be enough cost effective venues to host independent artists? Things have been tough but for some, but things might be about to get even tougher.

However, music was what got many through the last 18 months and as times are still uncertain, music in its live variant will help to get everyone through the next year and a half and beyond.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s year in music is gathered in its 2021 Playlist – Missing U at
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4rlJgJhiGkOw8q2JcunJfw


Text by Chi Ming Lai
17th December 2021

« Older posts