Ever since the Canadian budget household gadget firm K-Tel diversified into the territory of compilation albums with ‘25 Country Hits’ in 1966, various artists compendiums have been a major part of the music industry fabric.
In particular, curated various artists albums based on a theme, be they around a record label roster, sub-genre or lifestyle experience, such as ‘Methods Of Dance’, ‘Modern Dance’, ‘Some Bizarre Album’, ‘Retro:Active’, ‘This Is Not The 80s’ or ‘Electri_City’ have been enthusiastically received with the opportunity to discover new artists or obtain rare material.
‘Trans-Global Excess Volume 1’ is the first compilation by Specchio Uomo, the independent label run by James Knights of SCARLET SOHO and KNIGHT$ fame specialising in Italo, nu disco and synthpop. He said “It’s a celebration of the independent spirit and the free movement that brought us all together in the first place” containing “music by friends we’ve met on the road and at shows over the years”.
Any good compilation has several star names to draw a potential audience in, but also features a wealth of quality material largely unknown to a wider audience and this one importantly manages to have both.
It begins in an energetic fashion with ‘You Can’t Get Fooled By Love’ by the rebooted BOYTRONIC featuring original frontman Holger Wobker and James Knights himself, the ANT PEOPLE remix providing some tribal enhancement on its bed of sparkly arpeggio-laden Europop. Presented as a Dark Italo mix courtesy of Jens Plöger of RUN:, the German producer takes PYSCHE’s 1987 single ‘Uncivilized’ into territory which isn’t actually that far off BOYTRONIC.
Meanwhile ITALOCONNECTION’s ‘Now Or Never’ is naturally a more modern twist on the classic Italo form by Fred Ventura, but it really does party likes it is 1987! A comparatively new name but with experienced intuition behind it, ‘Discoboom’ is by SNS SENSATION, the solo vehicle of Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK; his throbbing Moroder-esque attack, laced with some unexpected heavy metal guitar, could easily be mistaken for his duo with Ali Renault.
‘Soldiers Of Love’ by ITALOVE will conjure sunny nostalgia with visions of perms and mullets despite being a demo from 2012, while ‘If There Was No Gravity’ by THE HOOLIGAN takes the collection into jazz flavoured citypop territory and Vienna’s BROKEN EGO provides some whimsical electropop with ‘When The Lights Go Out’.
Another interesting inclusion is the moody electro of LAKESIDE X with ‘Wonder’ which first appeared in 2012 when the Czech combo performed as part of a RECOIL event when Alan Wilder visited Prague for a showing of his concert film ‘A Strange Hour In Budapest’.
But the highlights on ‘Trans-Global Excess Volume 1’ come from three unknown acts. Best of all is the crashing beats and attitude of PLASMASCHWARZ with ‘Mein Kopf’. Cut from a not dissimilar cloth, ‘Stingray’ by CAPITAL X is a bit feistier, but Düsseldorf husband and wife duo MÄNGELEXEMPLAR offer some wonderfully cool Teutonic detachment.
‘Trans-Global Excess Volume 1’ is a diverse collection; the galloping rock of BROKEN LINKS and the spiky snarl of CONTINENTAL LIAISON might confuse KNIGHT$ fans, but they will be far happier with a slice of girly popwave entitled ‘Drifting’ from Roxi Drive which contains the now almost obligatory sax solo and the future disco of KOMPUTER KID’s ‘Summer Again’.
The most poignant track on ‘Trans-Global Excess Volume 1’ comes with the previously unreleased ‘So Agitated’, a chiptune-inspired number by TRADEMARK, a trio comprising Oliver Horton, Stuart Meads and Paul Soulsby who opened for THE HUMAN LEAGUE in 2004. Stuart Meads sadly passed away in 2013 and although there was a final self-titled album in 2014, the inclusion as a fitting tribute.
Featuring 17 eclectic tracks, ‘Trans-Global Excess Volume 1’ has something for most electronic pop fans and in PLASMASCHWARZ, MÄNGELEXEMPLAR and CAPITAL X, it showcases some promising talent for the future. If you are a fan of KNIGHT$, SCARLET SOHO, BOYTRONIC, ITALOCONNECTION or HEARTBREAK, then there is a good chance that you will like a fair portion of this.
Although SCARLET SOHO went into hiatus after the release of their third album ‘In Cold Blood’ in 2015, interest in them has been rejuvenated thanks to the success of front man James Knights and his Britalo focussed exploits with his solo vehicle KNIGHT$.
Two tracks on ‘In Cold Blood’, ‘Two Steps From Heartache’ and ‘Gigolo’ were effectively blueprints for KNIGHT$ and are usually mainstays of his live set. But although SCARLET SOHO began with a more post-punk sound dominated by guitars, there was always a pop element throughout their career despite the darkness and that is evident on their new updated retrospective compilation ‘Programmed To Perfection – Best Of & Rarities’.
At the start of the 21st Century, electronic pop was making something of a resurgence with the likes of LADYTRON, GOLDFRAPP and THE KNIFE proving that “synthesizer” was not a dirty word. Alongside them were bands such as THE FAINT, THE KILLERS and THE BRAVERY who all had synths as a rogue element within their conventional instrumentation. There were also emergent acts such as IAMX, THE MODERN, PROTOCOL, DELAYS and BOY KILLS BOY, and it is perhaps in this group that SCARLET SOHO slotted in.
Comprising the nucleus of James Knights and Amy Brown aka Scarlet with Lee Kinrade on guitar and augmented by a drum machine, SCARLET SOHO’s debut release was the ‘Ruthless Animation’ EP in 2001. This led to support slots for THE FAINT and DELAYS, attracting the attention of the latter’s producer Justin Callaway to record their debut album ‘Divisions Of Decency’ issued in 2004 by Human Recordings. The excellent trio of ‘Skin Trade’, ‘Disconnected’ and ‘Modern Radio’ from ‘Divisions Of Decency’ were slabs of fuzzy machine rock in the vein of THE FAINT.
Meanwhile taking a slight diversion, ‘Programmed To Perfection’ came over like Alvin Stardust fronting SWEET produced by THE RAH BAND!
With Stuart Key replacing Nick Haynes who joined the SCARLET SOHO after the departure of Lee Kinrade, it would be 2009 before ‘Divisions Of Decency’ was followed up by ‘Warpaint’, released by Major Records, the German label who had issued albums by IAMX and LADYTRON.
Included on this collection, the galloping disco sequences and gritty determination of ‘I Dare’ signalled a significant progression towards the dancefloor and this was further affirmed by ‘Analogue Dialogue (Kill The Beat)’ which imagined Giorgio Moroder going indie and collaborating with THE KILLERS.
Reflecting some of their contemporaries, ‘Speak Your Mind’ was a rousing slice of synth indie in the vein of THE BRAVERY with a magnificent whirring keys solo, while ‘Is Growing Up The Best That We Can Do?’ was almost a Numan-esque take on PROTOCOL. But it is ‘Lights Out London’ which stands out from ‘Warpaint’ with a frantic electro-goth vibe up there with IAMX who SCARLET SOHO were to tour with extensively in Europe.
Released in 2015, ‘In Cold Blood’ was the third and so far final album by SCARLET SOHO. Despite the six year gap between long players, much of what became ‘In Cold Blood’ had been released in advance on the EPs ‘When The Lights Go Out’, ‘Solo KO’ and ‘Two Steps From Heartache’.
The self-produced and self-released ‘In Cold Blood’ looked set to be SCARLET SOHO’s breakthrough as it heralded a greater interest in electronic pop with fewer guitars in evidence. Much more immediate than any of their previous work, although the material appeared to be less angsty and fraught, it was still a gloomy album lyrically.
‘When The Lights Go Out’ demonstrated more of a disco sound while ‘What You Need’ even flirted with synthwave as showcased on the ‘Drive’ soundtrack by KAVINSKY and COLLEGE. However, the sombre ‘Solo KO’ showed that SCARLET SOHO had not totally vacated their dark aesthetic, but leaving a lyrical signal of what was to come.
Indeed the bridge to KNIGHT$ came with ‘Gigolo’, a song on ‘In Cold Blood’ that was so wonderfully poppy, Knights and Scarlet had initially felt it was not suitable for SCARLET SOHO and the glorious house-laden ‘Two Steps From Heartache’ which appears on the double set as a vocoder-assisted James Yuill remix with a more tightly incessant rhythmic base.
Any good retrospective set features rarities or unreleased songs and ‘Programmed To Perfection’ satisfies both requirements. Among the best of the bunch is ‘Into The Night’ in collaboration with Loic Rathscheck; recorded for the 2011 German film ‘Bauernfrühstück’; it features the “Classic meets Pop” singer Isgaard replicating the soprano from Ennio Morricone’s ‘Ecstasy Of Gold’ to strangely compliment the track’s intense electronic backdrop. The moody ‘Children Of The Sun’ with its European grandeur was written in the same sessions but didn’t get used, so is a welcome inclusion for SCARLET SOHO and KNIGHT$ completists alike.
Of the other rarities, there are remixes by !DISTAIN, TOKYOTRON and CANDIDE amongst others but the tracks that will attract most interest are the B-sides and previously unreleased demos.
‘Daylight’ is an electronic indie rock hybrid with a snarl that is very much of its time while ‘Pseudo Sushi’ is very guitar-driven, but ‘Useless Information’ will be a shock to some as it is almost heavy metal!
Then there is ‘Professionals’ from the ‘Two Steps From Heartache’ EP which was something of a dubstep experiment while off the ‘When The Lights Go Out’ EP, ‘Retail Therapy’ was an electro new wave hybrid that was more typically SCARLET SOHO.
‘Programmed To Perfection’ acts as a fine introduction to SCARLET SOHO, gathering them at their most accessible. For anyone who appreciates the shades donning solo persona of James Knights as KNIGHT$, it documents an interesting and significant part of the artistic journey that led to ‘Dollars & Cents’, one of the best albums of 2019.
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’”.
Compared on occasion to an electro Ian Dury and an urban Jona Lewie, Cambridge-based vocalist, producer and songwriter Theo Sayers was first spotted by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK opening for KNIGHT$ at his 2019 Halloween gig.
He released ‘My Nose Is A Little Runny’, a SLEAFORD MODS styled musical response to the worldwide lockdown crisis that concluded “sleazes cause diseases” back in March.
But his latest video goes back to a highlight from his debut ‘Ado Perma’ EP that came out back in July 2019.
‘Impatient’ charmingly comes over like Edwyn Collins fronting a lo-fi KRAFTWERK and in an enjoyable video directed by Rhys Votano, Sayers plays himself and a female alter-ego Dora. Inspired by an unfortunate cycling accident that he once had, he told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “The music video is a fun and colourful representation of the song’s retro synthpop flavours.”
Sayer’s first showcased his music under the moniker of BLACK TIBET with the exotic pop of ‘Venezuela’ in 2017, before releasing a more distinctly electronic single ‘Goddess’ under his own name in 2018.
Ranging in style from hip-hop to electro, from crooner to rap, from chilled grooves to dancey beats, Sayers’ streetwise take on life exudes witty humour and a playful sense of fun. But despite this, there is also a heartfelt side as expressed on the lounge reggae of ‘Belly Slaps’ from ‘Ado Perma’ which attracted support from BBC Introducing.
Continuing his kinship with KNIGHT$, Theo Sayers recently contributed a new glitchy remix of ‘Dollars & Cents’ from the Britalo exponent’s debut album of the same name.
Released in February 2015, ‘In Cold Blood’ was the third and so far final album by SCARLET SOHO.
A duo based in the south of England, James Knights and Scarlet had begun with a more post-punk sound dominated by guitars. Much of the material compiled on ‘In Cold Blood’ had been previously released on the EPs ‘When The Lights Go Out’, ‘Solo KO’ and ‘Two Steps From Heartache’, heralding a greater interest in electronic pop. Much more accessible than any of their previous work, ‘In Cold Blood’ looked set to be SCARLET SOHO’s breakthrough from the underground to a wider audience.
However, it was not to be and the album was unable to gain momentum in a year when NEW ORDER made their recorded return with ‘Music Complete’ and ‘Every Open Eye’ maintained the standing of CHVRCHES as the UK’s leading act in modern synthpop.
But one thing that ‘In Cold Blood’ did do was plant the seed of KNIGHT$, the shades donning solo persona of James Knights; he released the lively Britalo flavoured ‘Dollars & Cents’ in 2019, one of the best albums of that year.
James Knights and Scarlet got together again to reminisce about the making of ‘In Cold Blood’ and how it is a lost jewel awaiting rediscovery.
As SCARLET SOHO prepared to record ‘In Cold Blood’, it had been ten years since your debut album ‘Divisions Of Decency’, how had you changed as a band?
Scarlet: As a band we’d changed a lot in a decade. I was 16 when we started gigging and we never stopped touring in all of those years.
Studio time had previously been very fraught, lacking momentum, with James and myself trying to squeeze as much as we could into scattered time frames – often using different producers, studios, techniques, and both operating on very little sleep.
We had always wanted to release more songs in that decade between albums, but enjoyed touring more, so prioritised that.
We had streamlined things a lot by the time we wanted to record ‘In Cold Blood’ and had a better idea of how we wanted an album to sound as a whole. I think it came out pretty well!
Compared with songs like ‘Speak Your Mind’ and ‘Cyclone’ on the second album ‘Warpaint’ and ‘We Must Destroy’ from ‘Divisions Of Decency’, ‘In Cold Blood’ on the whole seems to be less angsty and fraught, was there a conscious decision to make a more positive statement?
Scarlet: I think it was quite a natural thing for the sound to change by the time we wrote ‘In Cold Blood’. The songs have always reflected where James and I were at, which I think is often quite a surprise to people that don’t ‘get’ electronic music, and deem it to be something cold and calculated.
Over the years our circumstances had changed, my lifestyle was considerably less chaotic at this point, and we were comfortable with being a duo. We were willingly accepting help from additional musicians for live performances, rather than trying to incorporate a rolling cast of (albeit very talented) third members as we had done previously.
Lyrically it’s a pretty gloomy album, but musically it’s something else, which I think also says a lot about where we were both at.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, we had both grown up quite a lot and I think this album shows a real progression in songwriting, with James really coming into his own. I think the positivity comes from that confidence.
The title song ‘In Cold Blood’ had the opening line “You shot me down” but signalled the album’s intention of more focussed use of electronic instrumentation and less guitars?
Scarlet: SCARLET SOHO started out as a band with three guitars and a drum machine – three! It was a mess, and over the years we shedded a lot of that, with both James and myself only playing guitars on a couple of songs by ‘In Cold Blood’. Prior to Soho we were both in punk bands and by this point, guitars and amps were starting to feel like baggage – both physically and mentally.
We were both getting more out of a well-produced snappy snare and rib-rattling bass synth than a scrappy guitar sound careering around a venue. The latter also being a pain to shift around on flights and in cars. We wanted to strip things back to what we essentially needed, and could really allow to shine. James’ vocal being one of those things. Starting a song with purely that, felt like a call to arms.
‘When The Lights Go Out’ demonstrated more of a pop disco sound? How did this come about?
Scarlet: I really wish I had an answer to this. James and I both love 70s and 80s disco, and it felt brave to incorporate this into a SCARLET SOHO track. I feel like it’s a true representation of the SCARLET SOHO sound, and always sounded fantastic live whatever it was nestled up against in the setlist. But I truly have no recollection of how it came about. In my head it was birthed as a fully formed song. Perhaps it was…?
‘What You Need’ has THIS pulsing electronic bassline that some would now call synthwave, had things like the ‘Drive’ soundtrack or anything like that been an interest at this point? And what was going on with the speeded up ending?
Scarlet: ‘What You Need’ is one of my favourites. I’m a bit of a film buff, and enjoyed ‘Drive’ and the like, but I’m not sure James had seen it. We’d always been into KAVINSKY, but I’ve never twigged that as an influence to this song. The speeded up ending was some studio fun that we thought would translate well to a sweaty club when we toured it. It did.
Listening to ‘Gigolo’ now, it sounds like the start of KNIGHT$, especially in the rousing warning chorus, do you have any thoughts in hindsight?
James: I can remember us thinking the song was a bit too “pop” to be on a SCARLET SOHO album. We deliberated over this for a little while before deciding to be brave and put it on the LP. It’s possible the reaction to this song gave me some extra confidence to create KNIGHT$ in the end, subliminally at least. Maybe it should’ve been a single!
Despite the melancholic words, ‘Two Steps From Heartache’ is another track that blueprints KNIGHT$ and is a tune you still perform, what was your mindset at the time of writing and recording? And is the middle eight from Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ being borrowed here, particularly Guy Pratt’s bass guitar solo?
James: Now I’m going to have to go back to ‘Like A Prayer’ and check this Guy Pratt thing! I think it was a little bit inspired from Stuart Key’s time in the band and some of his music we’d listen to on the road. This song was our attempt to infuse house music somehow. It has the pulsing brass line and hallmarks like that, but in the end it still sounds very Soho.
‘This Town Is Mine’ appears to channel your inner Marc Almond?
James: I’m not a huge fan of slow songs, but now and then we would work on one or two in our spare time.
I appreciate the compliment, because somehow this ended up being one of my favourite and best studio vocals.
You get the vocoder out on ‘Make The Final’ for a bit of robotic Italo, what had this been inspired by?
Scarlet: We’ve always loved a vocoder. Pretty much every Soho demo has a vocoded part on it at some point! There’s something sinister about a human voice that you can control and manipulate, and somehow it still ends up sounding fun.
It’s also a great way of putting BVs into a track without me having to sing. James has a huge vocal range, so reducing his voice down to something more simplistic is something we both got a kick out of.
That song was inspired by the Olympics and ‘Chariots Of Fire’ and Vangelis. Big sports fans! Would love to hear ‘Make The Final’ soundtracking some televised athletics in a parallel universe.
‘2015’ is primarily instrumental and points towards synthwave… these days, you have a toe in that scene as KNIGHT$ but you didn’t fully head in that direction, could you have done?
James: It’s not for me to say really, but probably not. There’s a bit more to my music than just that.
The final track ‘Solo KO’ is comparatively darker in aesthetic and sombre, but were you sending out a signal with the title and the lyrics “with nothing left to do and still so much to prove”?
There’s a mystery piano ballad following a gap after the end of ‘Solo KO’; this long last track with two songs several minutes apart thing was very much the fashion in the CD era, but could be annoying! Why not just have it as two tracks? *laughs*
James: I vaguely remember that hidden ballad not really being in our thoughts when putting the tracklist together. It didn’t really fit with the other 9 songs! So when we compiled the 9, we found the album was much shorter than expected!
Adding the hidden ballad was a good way to give a little extra, but we didn’t want to mess with the flow of the other 9 tracks. I hope that makes sense!
SCARLET SOHO seemed to on the cusp of a breakthrough with support slots for IAMX and KOSHEEN that were well received, but it didn’t happen, had that precipitated tensions within further?
James: No, we had some of our best times during this period and enjoyed the ride! At times, we were a little bloody minded, especially when interested parties wanted to speak to us about management and so on, but somehow talking to them often brought us closer together. After all, we were right and they were wrong!
So when did SCARLET SOHO end and how did KNIGHT$ begin?
James: SCARLET SOHO never really ended as such, but after 15 years, we needed to take a break for sure. Our final London show was February 2015. I started writing for KNIGHT$ in early 2016, after almost a year of inactivity. I started to miss singing and writing more than I thought I would!
‘In Cold Blood’ stands up as a good album five years on, which can’t be said of some records, how do you look back on it all now?
Scarlet: Thank you! I hope it continues to have a place in people’s hearts and record collections in the next 5 years 🙂
James: Compared to our other records, it’s the one that never really got promoted and toured. We cancelled the ‘In Cold Blood’ tour through illness, so there is a feeling that some of our best work went unheard, but it’s always nice to hear that people like the album. I think it could be our best.
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