Tag: La Roux (Page 2 of 2)

LA ROUX Trouble In Paradise

It was Autumn 2008 and the mainstream press were getting excited about the new prospects for 2009 who were female, electro and had a name beginning with an ‘L’!

Caroline Sullivan’s article in The Guardian ‘Slaves To Synth’ highlighted female fronted electro friendly acts such as LA ROUX, LITTLE BOOTS and LADYHAWKE. Each achieved varying degrees of popularity with LA ROUX fronted by the “falsetto from the ghetto” Elly Jackson being the most internationally successful of the trio with a Grammy for Best Dance Album among the accolades.

Since then, things have not been so good for The L-Word trio with regards their follow-up albums; LADYHAWKE was first off the block with ‘Anxiety’, a horribly recorded guitar driven opus lacking in tunes. Meanwhile, LITTLE BOOTS parted ways with 679 / Atlantic Records and self-released ‘Nocturnes’, a disappointing collection of club oriented numbers that lacked the synthpop nous of her debut ‘Hands’.

Over at Camp LA ROUX, their sophomore offering was delayed while Jackson’s proclamation that “I don’t want to make synth music for the rest of my f*cking life” signalled all was not well, as pressure built to record the follow-up. So with the album finally complete, is ‘Trouble In Paradise’ going to make it three duffers from The L-Word trio?

The signs have not been good for this appropriately titled follow-up.

Four years have passed with rumours of a whole album of work scrapped plus there has been the parting of ways with silent partner Ben Langmaid, a crucial cog in the synthesized authenticity of the ‘La Roux’ debut.

Songs such as ‘In For The Kill’, ‘Bulletproof’, ‘Tiger Lily’, ‘As If By Magic’ and ‘Cover My Eyes’ were all superb electronic pop numbers that paid tribute to HEAVEN 17, DEAD OR ALIVE, THE KNIFE, BLANCMANGE and YAZOO respectively.

“Beware of biting the hand that feeds” they always say and certainly, there have been parallels with how DUFFY went about her second long player. Drunk on the success of her debut ‘Rockferry’, the Welsh songstress ditched her manager and the songwriting / production lynchpins that were a key part of its success. DUFFY was then last spotted riding a bike in a Pepsi advert and left with several thousand CDs of ‘Endlessly’ under her bed!

Langmaid does work on six of the tracks so effectively, ‘Trouble In Paradise’ is a goodbye from him and a hello to the solo Elly, aided by new production sideman Ian Sherwin. Despite her proclamations in 2008 by Jackson that “girls look wicked playing synths”, unlike her rival Victoria Hesketh, she has never actually been seen or photographed wielding such as a device, her instrument of choice being guitar.

So how does Elly Jackson get on without Langmaid in the ranks? The first track made public ‘Let Me Down Gently’ could be a sign. Despite the potentially prophetic title, it’s actually not bad and starts a bit like HURTS… a lot more electronic than expected but with more guitar than on the debut, it features a false end and then launches into something more uptempo with ‘Spacer’ / ‘China Girl’ (both Nile Rodgers productions incidentally) rock guitar solos thrown in for good measure. The musical palette is expanded, but something does seem to be missing.

The first single proper ‘Uptight Downtown’ takes an obviously enjoyable CHIC influence and fuses it with a funky dash of TOM TOM CLUB. Despite reservations from some quarters, this is a fine calling card for the album. This stomping direction had actually been showcased a few years ago when Jackson presented her I Don’t Mince My Words mix of female pop duo WAR OF WORDS’ single ‘Battleground’. Interestingly, Langmaid worked separately on a more obviously synthy remix for the track ‘Panic’… so signs of a possible division have been around a while.

The TOM TOM CLUB fun continues with ‘Kiss & Not Tell’ but this time, crossed with AMAZULU while ‘Tropical Chancer’ explores the sunnier climes of the legendary Compass Point Studios via GRACE JONES’ ‘My Jamaican Guy’. Certainly Jackson voice is less shrill on these songs than on the ‘La Roux’ debut, but this simultaneously makes her less distinctive as well. Ditto the fatter production style; the sound on ‘La Roux’ may have been deliberately thin but it stood out. But the result is that Elly Jackson could now be any number of pop stars around at the mo.

‘Cruel Sexuality’ takes on a triplet synth bassline and grainier string machine tones but the moodier demeanour lacks impact. The pace is taken down further for the lush piano assisted ballad ‘Paradise Is You’. But while ‘Sexotheque’ has a quite provocative title, in reality it is a polite disco song that perhaps isn’t quite as strong as ‘Uptight Downtown’ but enjoyable just the same.

The more boisterous seven minute ‘Silent Partner’ (a passing comment on Langmaid perhaps?) features plenty of synths and comes over like a Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer movie montage sequence number that should satisfy those with more nostalgic tendencies.

‘Trouble In Paradise’ ends though with the disappointing ‘The Feeling’ which washes over in a sea of voice samples and frantic offbeat drum programming although stylistically, this one most closely resembles the “falsetto from the ghetto” sound of the first album.

Overall, the nine songs on ‘Trouble In Paradise’ are a more enjoyable listen than either of LITTLE BOOTS and LADYHAWKE’s second offerings. It is telling though however, that the songs which have the strongest musical elements like ‘Uptight Downtown’, ‘Kiss & Not Tell’, ‘Let Me Down Gently’, ‘Sexotheque’ and ‘Tropical Chancer’ are all co-authored by Ben Langmaid.

In an environment where CHVRCHES have stolen the classic synthpop thunder and the more generic pop is laden with EDM clichés, ‘Trouble In Paradise’ sits uneasily where it has no unique personality of its own. Ironically, it sounds more 80s than LA ROUX’s debut ever did!

‘Trouble In Paradise’ is released by Polydor / Universal Records

LA ROUX’s tour of the British Isles includes: Glasgow O2 ABC (5th Nov), Leeds Metropolitan University (7th Nov), Birmingham The Institute (8th Nov), Bristol O2 Academy(10th Nov), Norwich UEA (14th Nov), Oxford O2 Academy (15th Nov), Manchester Ritz (16th Nov), Belfast Limelight (19th Nov), Dublin Academy (20th Nov),



Text by Chi Ming Lai
21st July 2014


BLANCMANGE came to prominence in 1982 towards the end of the second generation of Synth Britannia. Mute Records’ Daniel Miller affectionately referred to them as “the maiden aunts of electronic music”.

Comprising of Lancastrian singer/guitarist Neil Arthur and synthesist/programmer Stephen Luscombe from Middlesex, they met at Harrow College where the pair had played in various bands separately.

They developed a mutual admiration for each other’s artistic sensibilities including a shared interest in KRAFTWERK. Luscombe had previously been a member of the PORTSMOUTH SINFONIA, an orchestral combo who were noted for not actually having had formal training to play their instruments. One of its former members was Brian Eno who invited them to play on the lovely ‘Put A Straw Under Baby’ from his second solo album ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)’.

The fruit of Arthur and Luscombe’s first collaboration was the instrumental Sad Day. The duo released their first EP ‘Irene & Mavis’ on Blaah Music in 1980 before ‘Sad Day’ was chosen by Futurist DJ Stevo for inclusion on his influential ‘Some Bizzare Album’ which also showcased DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, THE THE and B-MOVIE in early 1981. Following support slots with JAPAN, GRACE JONES, DEPECHE MODE and NASH THE SLASH, they were signed to London Records which allowed them to make their first synth purchase, a Roland Jupiter 8.

In Autumn 1982, they released their now classic album ‘Happy Families’ which featured the Middle Eastern tinged hit single ‘Living On The Ceiling’. Fusing the rhythmic dash of TALKING HEADS with the intensity of JOY DIVISION plus the melodic framework of OMD and YAZOO on top, Arthur and Luscombe won critical admiration and respectable sales for their debut. ‘I Can’t Explain’ remains one of the most blistering album openers of the era!

Further success came with the singles ‘Blind Vision’ and ‘Don’t Tell Me’ from the brilliantly titled second album ‘Mange Tout’ which became their biggest seller. Although never a pure synthesizer act from the beginning, with Peter Gabriel and JAPAN guitarist David Rhodes often featuring prominently, ‘Mange Tout’ found BLANCMANGE experimenting with brass, strings and even acapella.

However, it was the Indian influences of Pandit Dinesh on tablas and Deepak Khazauchi on sitar who had both given ‘Living On The Ceiling’ its alluring flavour that came furthest to the fore. Another surprise came with their brilliant cover of ABBA’s ‘The Day Before You Came’. This was considered an odd but daring decision in 1984 as the Super Swedes had not yet possessed the gravitas they would eventually acquire.

In that respect, BLANCMANGE’s ‘Mange Tout’ was a cultural prophecy… modern contemporary pop is now full of both the ABBA and ‘Bollywood’ sound! Despite this, the lukewarm reception for third album ‘Believe You Me’ in 1985 led to BLANCMANGE calling it a day in 1986. In 1989, Luscombe released the album ‘From New Demons’ under the name THE WEST INDIA COMPANY collaborating with a variety of guest musicians while Arthur released a solo album ‘Suitcase’ in 1994.

Both have since continued in careers working on film and TV soundtracks. Since 2006, with their back catalogue being reissued and with their synthfluence being acknowledged by acts like LA ROUX and HOT CHIP, Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe have been steadily gearing up for BLANCMANGE’s return.

With their profile enhanced in 2010 by FAITHLESS’ reworking of ‘Feel Me’, their brand new album ‘Blanc Burn’ is released this March and supported by a British tour. The new songs see Arthur and Luscombe retain their quirkily poetic eccentricity, but within a modern setting.

While ‘The Western’ features elements that represent what some will consider the sound of classic BLANCMANGE, ‘Blanc Burn’ sees some much darker electronic overtones as Arthur reflects on a range of unusual subjects such as drinking coffee, waiting for public transport outside Woolworths and dentures. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK spent a thoroughly entertaining hour chatting to Neil Arthur in his studio during a break in rehearsals about BLANCMANGE’s imminent come back and their musical legacy.

How are the rehearsals going?

Rehearsals are going fine like preparation and sorting sounds out, remembering lines! It’s been quite funny because I wanted to find out a couple of the keyboards we used, so somebody suggested we googled and we ended up watching one of our performances which was quite interesting Anyway, we got to the bit where we saw the keyboard I needed to reference! *laughs*

What was the catalyst for you to record a new album as BLANCMANGE?

We remained friends all the way through. We did our last gig at the Royal Albert Hall and I didn’t want to carry on doing what we were doing. And Stephen didn’t either. To retain a friendship, we had to split up really because friendship was more important than what was going on for us in the band.

We kept in contact through the years and from time to time, we were asked about getting back together. We’ve always said “no” but we never really asked each other either if we wanted to do it. A few years ago, we were in the same room and we asked the question… and we both said “yes” when it came to whether we should write some more stuff together. We never really rushed into it but we started doing stuff.

We both do film/TV stuff so in between, Stephen would come round to my studio and we put down some ideas. That gathered momentum and we finished more than an album but we chose 11 songs for it. Whether the others will see the light of day, I don’t know but we have 11 that we decided to include on an album and there’s a spare track which will be going on iTunes.

Your brand new album ‘Blanc Burn’ appears to be a much darker proposition than how perhaps some people would remember you from BLANCMANGE’s hit singles. How would you describe the sound of it?

Light and fluffy *laughs*

No, just I don’t know whether it’s dark. The thing is, once something becomes commercially successful, it crosses a line. I mean, ‘God’s Kitchen’ isn’t exactly a light song, ‘I’ve Seen The Word’ isn’t exactly light… “I’ve seen people laughing in churchyards, screaming and shouting in my backyard”! Those were the two sides of our first single. ‘Feel Me’ isn’t exactly the lightest… “Feel Me now, feel the pain”! I think what happens because of exposure, the songs start to change and the commercial success gives them a slightly different perspective on them. For example, on ‘Mange Tout’, the opening track of the B-side is called ‘Murder’!

There’s no formula to the way we go about it, a lot of it is hit and miss. Some of the stuff sticks and we go with it. I write the lyrics anyway and we do the music largely together and it’s interesting how stuff comes out. Some days, a song will come out like ‘I’m Having A Coffee’. That comes across as a light song, a description of a mundane day not doing anything but what it is about is a guy who is very frustrated; it might be about sex for example or he might be thinking about a relationship that’s not right but he’s doing all these other things. But as for it being dark, to me it’s no lighter than anything that’s been before like ‘God’s Kitchen’ yet the record company at the time decided “what a great idea for a single”… fine, thanks very much! *laughs*

We been rehearsing and I’ve been trying particularly to get my head round the lyrics of ‘I Can’t Explain’… the song was written way before we had a record deal and it’s quite interesting singing it now. Many years later, I’m 52 now and I can’t still bloody explain! *laughs*

Every day you learn something and every day I know a little bit less. I’m absolutely certain of that!

And how has your songwriting approach differed this time round? Are you still using guitar or are you composing with a computer?

It varies but I still, here you go… *kerrangs guitar*, that is absolutely everywhere with me! It’s a Yamaha I bought off a mate and I strum that all the time. I’m not very good on it, I just love playing it! I don’t think anybody else likes hearing it but best to get it out the system *laughs*

I don’t consider myself to be a musician in that sense, but I can bash a few chords out on guitar and I know enough chords, possibly three in a sequence, to be able to get my head round structuring a song. Because of the way Stephen and I did our music together starting off with tape loops, Tupperware for drums, home-made bits and pieces of noise making machines, I’ve just continued that really but obviously adopted a way that allows me to express myself.

My tool has also incorporated computerisation of music and I love it. I always have a computer here or start messing around with a keyboard plugged into it, I use Logic now. I might start around with a melody that I’ve carried in my head while I’ve been out on a run or a walk with the dog. I have a notepad, an iPhone I can sing ideas into, sometimes they come out sounding like the monster in ‘Young Frankenstein’!

Your vocal style has changed. There’s less of the bellowing voice of the past or the “Cash meets Presley in cyber-space” as Stephen described it. And there’s electronic voice treatments like on the Eno-esque ‘Radio Therapy’?

25 years have passed, but I quite liked the idea of understated and I thought that might be an interesting way to approach some of the vocals. That was a conscious decision to understate. If the lyric is carrying it and the melody is enough, I don’t need to ram it home anymore. I’ve done the full-on ‘Blind Vision’ and ‘That’s Love, That It Is’ screaming years ago and I didn’t really want to do that. The nearest I come to it is possibly on ‘The Western’ and I did one on another song ‘Don’t Let These Days’. I did a very hard vocal on that and I decided I actually wanted the understated one. That is an area where obviously I ask Stephen and he’ll listen to the performance and everything but he trusts me on that as I trust him very much on other things.

I’ve had a hysterical day, I’m doing some music for a film and there’s been all these other things going on. I thought I’d take a break today and practice on my own and I couldn’t remember one of the lyrics. So I went to look at it and on this new album ‘Blanc Burn’, for the first time in the booklet, all the lyrics are there. So I thought I’d look at the lyrics and one of the lyrics is wrong… and that’s my fault! There’s a line missing! It’s this song ‘Drive Me’ that we’re going to be doing live and I was wondering why there was five lines in the first verse and four in the second one. I thought “that’s wrong”! Of course I came to a blanc stop, as opposed to a blanc mange, and I’d missed out them lyrics on it!

‘Starf*cker’ is the most striking track on the album, you sound almost like Shaun Ryder and quite sinister. What’s the background behind this one?

I almost went for a straight blast at singing but I quite like the distortion we put on it. I just treated the voice like it was another instrument. It’s just a series of observations really and I wonder from time to time whether we know more about what goes on in the virtual world than we do in the real world. There are outpourings of grief for people who we don’t know anything about apart from what information was said. We watch soap operas and they can be great entertainment but people know more about what’s going on in a soap opera that what’s going on in their street.

The poor old lady up the street or the person down the road that needs a bit of a helping hand, people don’t know each other anymore and I was just thinking about the breakdown since Thatcher really; the breakdown of our society, that community. And then I looked at it as a personal thing imagining a scenario where somebody cared more about people they didn’t know and how they were kind of awe struck. And there seems to be an awful lot of that going on. I’m sure we’ll need one of those ‘parental guidance’ things now which I think from BLANCMANGE is quite funny considering what the cover’s like!

So, like many people, I write a story based on imagination; where can we go with that, like ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?’ by Philip K Dick… I only have to do it for a little while as it’s only a short song. But I’d been thinking about this idea for a while and I put all these ideas down of one person not really noticing the strength of friendship.

You famously announced “I’ve just been shopping” on ‘Kind’ and ‘Blanc Burn’ starts with a track called ‘By The Bus Stop @ Woolies’. Are you the sort of person that’s always in need of retail therapy?

No! Two separate things actually. ‘Kind’, which funnily enough was going to be a single at one point and then we went with ‘Waves’ and we scrapped the idea of taking another single off the album, I used to come into the studio and no matter where we were, I’d always have a plastic bag with me. I might just have a sandwich in it, I might have brought something from home but I never really had a bag like some people might have a manbag.

So one day I came in to do my lyrics and in my plastic bag, there would have been a banana, some water and my lyrics. I could see the others looking in there and I just said “I’ve just been shopping”! It was no more and no less than that really! It was a bit of an ad lib. Stevie Lange and Joy Yates did those marvellous backing vocals.

Are there any interesting stories behind any of the other songs?

We started writing all these bits and pieces, and we had this track which we couldn’t figure out where it was going to go… at one point it was called ‘Right To The Top’. I thought “no, we can’t have that” and it remained instrumental for a long time and kept getting put to the back.

And then I was thinking about all the things we used to do and the weird thing is, I don’t particularly like harking back, I really like the idea of looking forward. But as you move on in years, you’re absolutely aware that you end up having a little bit more behind you than you have in front! *laughs*

So there is a lot to kind of gather from. I think you can get some of that and propel yourself forward because everything seems to be recycled. There’s a massive resurgence and interest in electronic music from an era we were involved in. I went to see LA ROUX as a guest and I went backstage to say hello and they were like “we really like this song, we really like that song… can you tell us what you used on this one?” I’m there with my lad and a mate, and after he said “I thought when you went backstage, you were meant to tell them how much you like them but they were saying they liked your stuff!” *laughs*

That was really lovely and I take it as a compliment. They like some of that music from period and we’re one of them. And like with FAITHLESS, they contacted us and said “we’d love to do a re-recording of Feel Me”. And off they went, they sent us the rough mixes and asked if they decided to use the original vocal, where they could get it from. Again, very flattered and they did a fantastic job of it.

So how did ‘Drive Me’ emerge?

We ended up with this track ‘Right To The Top’ but I started writing these lyrics for ‘Drive Me’. I was just reminiscing, images that conjured up words that meant a lot to me and immediately this image came to my head of this guy who was into David Bowie. There used to be clubs for appreciators of ROXY MUSIC and Bowie, I used to go round there.

People used to dress like the person they liked so you’d get five Bryan Ferry’s smoking St Moritz in the white tuxedo! And then on the other side of the room, you’d get three Bowies of different stages… you’d have Ziggy, Thin White Duke etc. I thought this was fantastic and I started thinking these things and I just wanted imagery. This idea of “Did you do this? Did you do that?”, the line I’d missed today went “Did you really meet him? Does he have a moustache?” because one of the guys who was dressed as David Bowie had all the make-up on but being a true Northerner, kept his moustache! *laughs*

In the second verse, I remember nights out in Blackburn running the gauntlet of what was called The Barbary Coast. It meant an awful lot to me but it was a terrifying place. It was a time of fast learning, you had to be fast on your feet. And the idea of the precinct after dark and the girls with the Alabaster legs on concrete, I just got into this whole thing. And the curry in the pint glass, the lyrics were from the alternative name which was ‘Pint Of Curry’. So I moved on immediately and go back to nights out where you’ve got sodium lights, and they’re not working properly and the bizarre light that they don’t give.

It’s been really nice to get these things down and references to restaurants that don’t exist anymore, it’s a clear reference to ROXY MUSIC… you know where Quaglino’s Place or Mable’s is from don’t you? *sings* “DO THE STRAND LOVE”! I’ve changed it slightly but I’m sure there’s no copyright on using the name of a restaurant in a song! *laughs*

Photo by Paul Slattery

‘Sad Day’ was the first BLANCMANGE composition and it featured on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’? Did you borrow the bassline from Brian Eno’s ‘The Fat Lady Of Limbourg’.

No! I know it very well that song, but it never even crossed my mind actually. Yeah, I can… the bassline starts in A I think! *plays synth*

I played the bass and the slide guitar, Stephen did the keys. The bass is a Wasp synthesizer! It was the thing we borrowed the most because it was portable and you could run it on batteries. We begged, stealed, borrowed and made!

Anyway, I can remember the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ got lovely reviews and we got a special mention for this instrumental track. We were just completely gobsmacked to have a track on an album and people said the melody sounded like an ambient version of ‘Ode To Joy’ and I was like “what?”, it never even crossed my mind, it was just a melody *laughs*

Along the way, you met Martyn Ware. How important was he in helping you out in the early days?

He was absolutely fantastic, he was brilliant. He put us up in Sheffield, we recorded four songs over a weekend. Our publisher Cherry Red financed us to give us a leg up and Martyn helped us out. He produced the demos which helped us get the deal with London.

It still took a while but we got there eventually, so thank you very much to Martyn Ware. While we were there, he played us ‘Fascist Groove Thang’ and I can remember him waxing lyrical about this sophisticated guitar playing. That was quite interesting.

Like with HEAVEN 17, one of the things that defined the earlier BLANCMANGE sound was the way you used the Linn Drum Computer… it was very busy, frantic and dynamic. How did you discover it?

Simply, it was there and there were quite a few buttons you could press! On the original ‘Sad Day’, the rhythm unit is a Minipops through an echo delay and when we re-recorded it, and I’ve got to say I prefer the version on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’, there was an opportunity to use slightly more sophisticated technology. ‘Happy Families’ producer Mike Howlett introduced us to the Linn Drum so we just learned how to use it. It was a bit of a beast really, but it offered a larger range of sounds than a lot of programmable drum machines. It wasn’t long before we got the Roland TR808 on stuff as well, I’ve still got it!

What influenced your programmed percussion template particularly? Was it TALKING HEADS’ ‘Remain In Light’?

I’m aware of that reference. Stephen and I do like TALKING HEADS but there wasn’t a conscious effort to emulate anything. I love ‘Remain In Light’ but it’s programming by non-drummers! So some of the bits and noises we’ve got going in there, they’re programmed by us two. I think for example if you’d worked with a drummer at that time, they may have programmed drums slightly differently. We just went “well, whatever… if we detune, let’s do this to it”! We used the Linn Drum for many things. We could also use it for triggering the pulse on, for example, ‘I’ve Seen The Word’… we had the output and connected it to a Korg MS20 and I doubled it with a guitar.

‘Happy Families’ is a great debut album, how do you personally think it stands up now?

I don’t sit around and listen to it, but I’m quite proud of it. But I would have been proud if we had only had ‘God’s Kitchen’ out and they hadn’t given us the album deal! *laughs*

But one person who didn’t like it was Julian Cope. What did you think when he said it was hearing ‘Happy Families’ that set him off on his rant against the music industry and his period of madness?

He did, yes! You’re entitled to your opinion, I thought it was quite funny actually. I also remember some of the return comments in letters pages of the music press. Funnily enough, I really liked THE TEARDROP EXPLODES and I used to go and see them a lot. It’s nice to have people like your music but better than sitting on the fence! I liked all that skating around the floor he did! Funny thing is, we ended up being managed by the same company for a while, so we did used to bump into each other! And I’m a bit bigger than him! *laughs*

You had even greater success with ‘Mange Tout’. You were working a lot with New York dance producer John Luongo but already moving away from that synth duo sound with the acapella, brass and strings plus more tablas and sitar. What was the critical pressure like on an act such as yourselves who only could have come into being with the advances in technology?

It’s interesting that because that acapella track ‘See The Train’ was 23 of my voices I think it was. That was initially done on a little Tascam 4 track where I kept bouncing everything down just like we used to do in the old days but technology allowed me to do it more and more without losing as much quality… mind you, for some people it might have been better if I’d lost it. We were really allowed to do what we wanted on the album I’ve got say. But there were a time when it was mentioned that us playing in America where we might have to play behind a cage if we carried on not using a drummer! *laughs*

But no, when it came to the album, it was our decision. John introduced us to The Uptown Horns; when you hear them and you combine that with, for example on ‘Blind Vision’, the Roland JX-8P brass that’s on it as well, that’s a nice combination. I wouldn’t have thought of putting slap bass on it, John said “you’ve got a nice bass on it, what about offsetting it with this?”… we said “oh, lets have a go at it, let’s have a listen”.

With Dinesh Pandit and Deepak Khazauchi, we did a recording of ‘Living On The Ceiling’ without tablas or sitar and our manager said he’d been working with these Indian musicians. We’d always had an interest in Indian music and I know Stephen used to listen to a lot of local radio when he was living out in West London. It was a genuine interest in what was going on. It was such an exotic sound, it was just better for me than playing guitar when I heard Deepak and Dinesh.

So we went in the studio, they added sitar over my guitar part and we added percussion, it was just fantastic and absolutely brilliant! Dinesh is coming on tour with us, he’s worked with Stephen on all the film and TV stuff too.

There was lots of pressure but I don’t recall pressure to conform or make ourselves into a more conventional band. On ‘Mange Tout’, we had a fantastic time putting that album together. It was such a good time… with the third album Believe You Me, it wasn’t!

Photo by Paul Slattery

You were also one of the first to publically embrace ABBA with your cover of ‘The Day Before You Came’.

It was an ABBA cover for ABBA *laughs*

Can you remember why it was a comparatively more recent ABBA track you chose, rather than one of the older ones? And did Bjorn and Benny ever tell you what they thought of it?

They loved it and sent us a letter to confirm their feelings about it. They gave us the rights to use all their video footage, anything… and we did when we made the video. And one of the reasons we chose the song initially was it wasn’t a ‘Waterloo’ or a ‘Mamma Mia’… I mean it wasn’t a particularly successful song in terms of ABBA. It didn’t matter to us whether it was successful to us and we loved the song.

We liked the idea of me singing these lyrics which are obviously from a woman’s point of view. And I turned it round a bit, changed a few lyrics and added a bit of ‘Coronation Street’ where there was meant to be a ‘Dallas’ reference, we had a bit of fun with it. A lot of people have done covers of ABBA since then, I don’t know if anyone did one before? I’ve always loved ABBA and Stephen would say the same thing. ABBA gets played at lot in our house now… just down the road from CAPTAIN BEEFHEART! *laughs*

Do you ever feel like you were cultural prophets now all this Bollywood and ABBA influence is everywhere in popular culture?

Nope! I can talk for a long time, but I’ll just say no to that! *chuckles*

How do you feel about the new generation of electropop acts like LA ROUX, HOT CHIP and VILLA NAH who have elements of the BLANCMANGE sound?

Oh, VILLA NAH… fantastic! Yes, I love them! If they are referencing us, and those that I know have, I’m very flattered. Things come round and they’ve all added massively to it.

Are there any of the newer acts that you particularly like?

I could name so many acts, I love electronic music! I would say James Yuill is absolutely wonderful, I love his work; Damian Lazarus, absolutely fantastic, I really enjoy his stuff; there’s ROYKSOPP with the angle they’re coming in at; Matthew Dear; CASIOTONE FOR THE PAINFULLY ALONE; PHOENIX; I love some of GOLD PANDA’s stuff at the moment… you’re gonna have to stop me here, I absorb it and love listening to it! It excites me and gives me ideas. And they’ll move on and do something completely new. I’m all excited for in a very difficult world, there’s some very exciting music around. I’m forever listening.

What are your hopes and plans for this next phase of BLANCMANGE?

Hope to get through the tour! *laughs*

We’ll see how it goes with the album really. I’m quite happy doing what I do. It’s lovely having a chat with you and that people are interested in what we’ve done. I don’t expect for one minute to change anything. It’s nice to be able to express yourself and maybe do another one. And carry on listening… I mean, the other thing is, what influences you? That whole thing! Everyday, it doesn’t matter. It’s not just to do with just music, it’s everything! Some of it you can’t help being influenced because you can’t get away from certain things that you don’t particularly want to see, but they still have an influence. Absorbing is quite an interesting thing, so to get some of that stuff out of your system, it’s nice as well isn’t it? *laughs*

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Neil Arthur

Special thanks to Stuart Kirkham at 9PR

‘Blanc Burn’ is released on 7th March 2011 by Proper Records

BLANCMANGE’s 2011 UK tour dates include: Glasgow 02 ABC (6th March), Manchester Academy 2 (7th March), Sheffield 02 Academy 2 (8th March), Liverpool 02 Academy (10th March), Birmingham 02 Academy 2 (11th March), Brighton Concorde 2 (12th March), Cambridge Junction (14th March), London Koko (15th March)



Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
12th February 2011


The Year Of Transistors

“Synthesizers can be explored and explored, and the music that can be made with electronic instruments is infinite in its breadth. KRAFTWERK may have said ‘we are the robots’, but anyone need only listen to Trans-Europe Express and compare it to most of the turgid, boring guitar-based rock that has been produced over the last 30 years to realise that electronic music can be deeply emotional. And anyone who says electronic music is not real music is just too simple-minded for our patience I’m afraid!MIRRORS

2010 saw the return of the male synthpop act, smart boys with their toys and their nods towards the classic era of Synth Britannia.

Leading the way were VILLA NAH and MIRRORS who both fused quality songs with vintage sounds and crisp contemporary percussive frameworks. The two units were obviously pressing the right buttons as both opened as special guests to OMD. As a continued sign of their undoubted potential, both were also were invited to support THE HUMAN LEAGUE; an opportunity which unfortunately neither act was able to fulfil due to prior scheduling commitments.

Coming from Finland, VILLA NAH released one of the best long players of the year in ‘Origin’, while closer to home, Brighton-based MIRRORS’ forthcoming album ‘Lights And Offerings’ is likely to be one of the musical highlights of 2011.

Meanwhile HURTS, the enigmatic Mancunian duo who many predicted for major success in 2010, rattled the cages of the style over substance brigade.

Whilst the cinematic grandeur displayed in their best songs like ‘Wonderful Life’, ‘Stay’ and ‘Sunday’ was simply outstanding, they did occasionally walk a fine line with their milder paced material, sounding occasionally like TAKE THAT backed by ULTRAVOX. Despite confusing some listeners, their album ‘Happiness’ was an enormous grower and their live shows won over many new fans, especially on the continent where artful intelligence is a highly regarded attribute.

Interestingly, TAKE THAT themselves released their album ‘Progress’ with Stuart Price aka LES RYTHMES DIGITALES at the producer’s helm.

Featuring a strong electronic flavour, there was also a song called ‘Eight Letters’ based on ‘Vienna’ which resulted in the rather unusual credit ‘written by Barlow / Donald / Orange / Owen / Williams / Ure / Cross / Cann / Currie’!

Attracting cult followings in 2010 were DELPHIC and CHEW LIPS. DELPHIC captured the Factory Records aesthetic of the mutant disco pioneered by NEW ORDER and A CERTAIN RATIO, but were unable to attract mainstream recognition probably due to their reliance on grooves and jams rather than actual songs… they can only get better with time.

CHEW LIPS are YEAH YEAH YEAHS with synths and while they had several brilliant numbers in their cannon, not all were included on their rather short debut album ‘Unicorn’. This didn’t allow them to play to their strengths on record although this was fully exploited in their live show. Again, they will learn.

And not wishing to get wholly involved in the main skirmish, THE SOUND OF ARROWS maintained a low profile while recording their debut album in London but delivered some impressive concert showcases of their lush Nordic musicality. Their optimistic and aspirational ‘Disney meets Brokeback Mountain’ tone may be the fresh approach to electropop in 2011.

Kookiness was the order of the day with the raven haired beauties MARINA & THE DIAMONDS and EMILIE SIMON. Marina Lambrini Diamandis kept the spirit of SPARKS alive with some fe-Mael intuition on her superb debut ‘The Family Jewels’ while EMILIE SIMON crossed the channel for some ‘one girl and her synth’ shows to fill the gap left by the absence of LITTLE BOOTS in 2010.

As could have been expected after the promotional lash of last year, Victoria Hesketh took a break before starting work on her new album. Hertfordshire’s SUNDAY GIRL could be the next lady-in-waiting providing she can expand on the very promising material like All The Songs and Stop Hey! that was premiered in the latter part of the year.

Meanwhile LA ROUX toured the world and recorded a ‘Stones cover ‘Under Your Thumb’ for the ‘Sidetracked’ influences DJ mix compilation before giving old mate SKREAM the iTunes bonus track Saviour for a dubstep rework as Finally and guesting with CHROMEO. However, Elly Jackson appears to have forgotten that No.1 rule of not biting the hand that feeds you by exclaiming “… I don’t want to make synth music for the rest of my f*cking life!” and declaring the electropop genre “over”!

In the battle of Synth Britannia, OMD released their first collection of new material for 14 years while THE HUMAN LEAGUE delayed their full album return until 2011. THE HUMAN LEAGUE have the backing of electronic music guru Mark Jones’ Wall Of Sound label and thus far have played a ‘less is more’ approach.

Despite not having an official website until this year, some clever viral marketing sent interest in their single ‘Night People’ sky high and provided good business for their now almost traditional Christmas UK tour.

While OMD’s ‘History of Modern’ album had several outstanding tracks worthy of comparison with past glories, it was confusingly launched with an Aretha Franklin mash-up that wasn’t on the final tracklisting and a nauseating Britpop pastiche as lead single. Ironically one of the statements made in its sleeve notes was “Modern is not… Oasis”!

It was as if audiences who had traditionally been sceptical of the whole synthesizer axis were now being targeted.

However, electronic pop’s spiritual homeland of Germany welcomed OMD back like one of their own and respectable business for ‘History of Modern’ was generated.

A-HA though are proof that consistently high quality new material is still a possiblity 25 years after your commercial heyday with the focus of their final album ‘Foot Of The Mountain’ very much on their synthesizer roots. In late 2010, they bid farewell with a final tour and a superb double CD compilation called ’25’ which featured not only their hits but the best of their much under valued album tracks.

Among the acts celebrating their legacies, HEAVEN 17 enhanced their reputation no-end by participating in a brilliant BBC6 Music collaboration with “the falsetto from the ghetto” LA ROUX.

And if that wasn’t enough, they had not one but two BBC TV programmes featuring their highly regarded album ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ including their triumphant Sheffield Magna gig.

HOWARD JONES didn’t look a day older, proving that a vegetarian diet and a clean living spirituality was the key to eternal youth! He played ‘Human’s Lib’ and ‘Dream Into Action’ in full for the first time at Indigo2.

Former sparring partners ULTRAVOX and JOHN FOXX played very different types of live shows in 2010. ULTRAVOX almost went back to basics with the retrospective ‘Return To Eden 2’ tour while JOHN FOXX curated an audio/visual extravaganza at the Short Circuit Festival featuring a deluge of analogue synths and some new material to a mixed reception.

DEPECHE MODE completed their ‘Tour Of The Universe’ and capped it all with a special show at the Royal Albert Hall for The Teenage Cancer Trust where Alan Wilder was reunited with the band for the first time in 16 years during the encore of ‘Somebody’.

It was an emotional night for many including the band. Does this lay out the foundations for, if not a reunion, at least some future work together?

GOLDFRAPP returned with ‘Head First’, a mid-Atlantic AOR styled electronic romp that had echoes of ABBA, LAURA BRANIGAN and OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN. Some found it uninspiring but what could not be denied was the catchiness of the tunes. Given time, it will become a future guilty pleasure.

Meanwhile LADYTRON prepared a career spanning compilation Ladytron ’00-10′ to reinforce their reputation as one of the key electronic based acts of the last decade but they began the year contributing a pair of excellent bonus tracks to CHRISTINA AGUILERA’s album ‘Bionic’ in ‘Birds Of Prey’ and ‘Little Dreamer’.

Swedish songstress ROBYN continued her feisty independent spirit by releasing her ‘Body Talk’ trilogy and the excellent single ‘Dancing On My Own’, while both LADY GAGA and KYLIE kept electronically produced pop in the mainstream consciousness.

Across the water, New York’s THE GOLDEN FILTER added a crisp vibe to the electronic dancefloor via some dreamy Scandinavian influences and frantic tribal percussion while their neighbours THE HUNDRED IN THE HANDS brought a mechanised twist to new wave on their self-titled debut. And for the perfect after party soundtrack in the Big Apple, ARP provided some gorgeous modern day ambience with the album ‘The Soft Wave’.

Meanwhile, another North American based duo LOLA DUTRONIC relaunched their brand of dreamy Gallic flavoured electro-lounge pop with the ‘Musique’ EP.

Elsewhere internationally, the vivacious SHH became the latest in a line of Argentine musicians basing themselves in London for an assault on the UK and European market while Texans HYPERBUBBLE brought their own ‘bionic bubblepunk’ with the impressive ‘Candy Apple Daydreams’. MARSHEAUX had a quiet year, only releasing a cover of BILLY IDOL’s Eyes Without a Face for an Amnesty International compilation.

Promising newcomers VILE ELECTRODES steadily gained fans on the London club circuit with their mix of fetish porn and analogue synths while following some line-up changes, THE VANITY CLAUSE finally released their first album ‘Fractured’.

And the quirky Sheffield based duo THE CHANTEUSE & THE CLAW unleashed a superb debut single in ‘Are You One?’.

Overall in 2010, the spark generated by the new generation of synthesizer acts and the willingness of others to incorporate more electronic sounds into their work accounted for yet another productive year with the heritage acts also getting the cultural recognition they fully deserved. Ever supportive, The Guardian even featured a piece on the older incarnation entitled Forgive Us Our Synths which interestingly was almost two years after their prophetic Slaves To Synth article hit the public consciousness.

There were more quality albums and live shows of interest to the electro fan than in many years past with acts such as MIRRORS, VILLA NAH and HURTS fulfilling the role of worthy successors to the classic Synth Britanniageneration. Hopefully, other acts will be following in their footsteps. In fact, despite being ignored by the BBC Sound Of 2011 and New To Q listings which appear to have been locked into some evil parallel universe where good taste does not seem to reside, “… fey, gay, pseudo-intellectual synth b*llocks” still rules!

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings Of 2010


Best Album: TENEK On The Wire
Best Song: HURTS Unspoken
Best Gig: DEPECHE MODE at London Royal Albert Hall
Best Video: MIRRORS Ways To An End
Most Promising New Act: MIRRORS


Best Album: VILLA NAH Origin
Best Song: MIRRORS Ways To An End
Best Gig: HEAVEN 17 at Sheffield Magna
Best Video: HURTS Wonderful Life
Most Promising New Act: THE SOUND OF ARROWS


Best Album: HURTS Happiness
Best Song: OMD History Of Modern (Part I)
Best Gig: THE HUMAN LEAGUE + HEAVEN 17 at Galway Festival
Best Video: HURTS Stay
Most Promising New Act: MIRRORS


Best Album: PAGE Nu
Best Song: POLAROID MILITIA Astana My Hero
Best Gig: PAGE at Gothenburg Synthklubben
Best Video: VILE ELECTRODES Deep Red
Most Promising New Act: THE GIRL & THE ROBOT

Text by Chi Ming Lai
28th December 2010

LA ROUX + HEAVEN 17 BBC6 Music Back To The Phuture Live Session

Following on from LITTLE BOOTS’ appearance with Gary Numan last December, February saw Mark Jones’ ‘Back To The Phuture’ collective arrange yet another memorable collaboration at the BBC Maida Vale Studios with a special performance by LA ROUX and HEAVEN 17.

Connecting the dots on electronic music, the endorsement of the UK’s two leading exponents of this modern-era has recognised their true synthesized credentials.

Steve Lamacq was on hand as compere this evening and while Mark Jones played the pre-show music consisting of vintage ANIMOTION, OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING, DEPECHE MODE and HUMAN LEAGUE to set the scene.

Tonight, HEAVEN 17’s nucleus of Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware are joined as usual by the lovely Billie Godfrey and the vivacious Me’sha Bryan on backing vocals plus Asa Bennett doubling on guitar / programming and Joel Farland on electronic drums. Meanwhile, LA ROUX feature their live line-up of Elly, Mikey, Mickey and Will sans silent writing / production partner Ben Langmaid.

‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’ opens proceedings and still resonates as it powerfully fills the BBC Maida Vale Studio. Ironically, this song was banned by the BBC when it was released as a single in 1981 due to its “Ronald Reagan – Fascist God” baiting lyrical content. And here were HEAVEN 17, finally getting to play it for Auntie with Glenn Gregory standing by his original observation!

‘Geisha Boys & Temple Girls’ is next and sounds more like the ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ version in preparation for the tour which will see this seminal album played live for the first time in its entirety. Gregory and Ware’s favourite HEAVEN 17 song ‘Let Me Go’ closes the first part of the show with the squelchy Roland TB303 bassline that pre-dated acid house by five years taking prominence. What’s noticed is although this is basically an electro-funk song, it’s actually quite difficult to dance to!

LA ROUX then take to the stage and start their section with the fierce growl of ‘Tigerlily’, still one of the best tracks on the eponymous debut album. Next, the beautiful gospel tinged ‘Cover My Eyes’ with Ms Godfrey and Ms Bryan joining the band to assist on backing vocals. It great to hear another one of the highlights from the album performed live. For the end of the LA ROUX ‘solo’ set, the crowd are treated to a spirited rendition of ‘Bulletproof’. The sound is wonderfully crisp and crunchy within Maida Vale.

Elly and Glenn get together for the first collaboration and are an amusing sight to see. Elly’s trademark quiff has now got so big that standing next to Big Glenn, she’s almost as tall-tall-tall! They try to surprise us but after some light hearted deliberation about the size of lyric sheets, Big Glenn forgets to come in on the first verse of ‘In For The Kill’.

But the second take is magnificent with Big Glenn taking the lead vocal while Elly does her wailing interludes and angelic middle eight. Any scepticism that may still linger about the connection between LA ROUX, BEF and therefore early HUMAN LEAGUE can now be totally quashed. ‘In For The Kill’ is a quite obvious musical homage to that sound.

During the show’s interview, Glenn Gregory is asked by Steve Lamacq about how he first heard about LA ROUX when Elly interjects “when someone told him we were copying them!” Glenn then jokes that HEAVEN 17’s first contact with Elly was via lawyers! When Lamacq asks Ware about the incumbent technology around the studio, Ware proudly shows off his Korg 770S which was his first synth and is still being used today. “£350 in 1977 and it was buy that or a second hand car! I still have the synth but I still can’t drive!” said Martyn. “HE STILL CAN’T PLAY THAT!” retorted Big Glenn, pointing at the Korg with a glint in his eye!

The evening is filled with good spirited humour throughout that even brings smiles to the usually straight faced Sister Elly. During a break in recording, Steve Lamacq suggests to LA ROUX’s electronic percussionist Will that he must be good at ‘Rockband’ only for him to reply that he’s “cr*p” at it while Martyn Ware gleefully tells everyone that Glenn Gregory only got 78% doing ‘Temptation’ on ‘SingStar’!

Speaking of which, the HEAVEN 17 song they decide to collaborate on is probably a bit obvious but ‘Temptation’ is pulled off superbly. Elly may not have a natural soul voice like Carol Kenyon on the single or Billie Godfrey on the current live version but she can certainly hit those high notes in this classic. The audience cheered with approval mid-song as Big Glenn smiled and looked on in awe.

The cover version they attempt is again an obvious choice as the two acts explained their reasoning. Glenn Gregory suggested Terence Trent D’Arby’s ‘Sign Your Name’ as the original was produced by Martyn Ware, so there was already a HEAVEN 17 connection. But independently, Elly also thought of it as it was the inspiration for her own ‘Cover My Eyes’. So et voila, the combined ten piece band launch into a great uptempo electro-bossa nova reworking.

Elly Jackson looked extremely comfortable and relaxed performing with HEAVEN 17. This was a fantastic and unique night uniting two generations of the synthesizer. The BBC said in their press release: “Three decades ago HEAVEN 17 were instrumental in the popularisation of electronic music in the UK, and over the last year LA ROUX have come to prominence as one of today’s leading electro torchbearers. In bringing these artists together, BBC6 Music illustrates the lineage and influence of the genre from the 1970s through to the present day”.

It’s things like this and the LITTLE BOOTS / Gary Numan session that makes this whole licence fee worthwhile.




Text by Chi Ming Lai
10th April 2010

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