Coming just one year after ‘Chrysalis’, ZANIAS returns with an adventurous new album called ‘Ecdysis’.
The solo vehicle of Alison Lewis who first came into public view as a member of acclaimed dark synth duo LINEA ASPERA, as the album title suggests, the music is the shedding an outer cuticular layer into a new self. Its origins emerged from the same sessions as the more song based material on 2023’s ‘Chrysalis’.
“I call it music from the same planet, just slightly different dimensions”,ZANIAS said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, “I made them with many of the same plugins and techniques, just took ‘Ecdysis’ a little further beyond the usual sound structures. I was producing so much music at the time, I wasn’t sure if it would be one long album or two, and then the tracks naturally divided themselves into two camps: the songs with words and the more abstract pieces with no words.”
Brooding and lyric-less, ‘Earthborn’ sets the scene with its other worldly voice texturing and manipulation in tongues. “I was thinking a lot about human evolution and prehistory” Lewis remembered, “I think ‘Earthborn’ was a bit of a soundtrack to how we arrived where we are today. Full of heavy emotion and conflict – hence the sounds of swords and ancient battles”.
Proceedings continue at a moodier tempo on the mantric ‘Mara’ which is heavily influenced by the abstract glossolalia of Lisa Gerrard. Upping to much more frantic pace, ‘Duneskipper’ brings the vocal pitch shifts into a wider deeper spectrum, enhancing the cinematic tension.
The vocal textures are pitched higher and vibratoed to a gentle pulse on the atmospheric Fourth World resonating ‘Acacia’ while the trance-laden ‘Bloodwood’ possesses an eerie quality that absorbs the senses in its cacophony of sound.
Referring to a small bilateral neuronal structure in the brain of vertebrates that can act as a critical node in chronic stress-related anxiety, ‘Habenula’ is like an angel calling to respond and calm while much more ominous, ‘Swim’ evokes slightly more unsettling resonances although ultimately it is escapist.
Bubbly sequences and prominent but minimal beats shape the ‘Ecdysis’ title piece to provide a brighter optimistic closer; embracing a wonderfully mysterious quality, there are hopeful sparkles amongst the strident rhythms.
Is this an instrumental record? Only in the sense of not being conventional songs but Alison Lewis has created an ecstatic language which its creator has said is “Best enjoyed on headphones in total darkness”. Constructed in a whirlwind during a period of adversity, the soothing quality of ‘Ecdysis’ is the sound of things that help make you feel ok when things aren’t ok…
‘Ecdysis’ is released on 16 February 2024 via Fleisch Records (worldwide) and Metropolis Records (North America), available in limited edition blue / white coloured vinyl LP variations, CD and digital formats direct from https://zanias.bandcamp.com/album/ecdysis
First coming into public view as the front woman of LINEA ASPERA, Alison Lewis returns as ZANIAS with ‘Ecdysis’, the follow-up to 2023’s acclaimed album ‘Chrysalis’. Something of a rebirth, whereas ‘Chrysalis’ gathered a body of dark brooding songs documenting moments of extreme psychological pain, ‘Ecdysis’ was inspired by the increased acuity for the beauty in her surroundings that were also triggered.
“Ecdysis” is defined as the act of shedding an outer cuticular layer and through the experience of her traumas, Alison Lewis has emerged from her former self with the sound of things that make her feel ok when things aren’t ok…
Immersing herself in the Australian rainforest alone at night with the vibrations of diverse and ancient life, her mindset drifted into a rediscovery of what joy is. ‘Ecdysis’ does away with language and song structures in favour of something more alien and sensual with the end result being an electronically-derived soundscape influenced by DEAD CAN DANCE and FEVER RAY.
Self-describing ‘Ecdysis’ as “The sound of a guardian angel” during a deeply healing process, Alison Lewis spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about its genesis, as well as her concerns for wider issues affecting the world…
Photo by Hidrico Rubens
Now you have had some distance, how do you look back on the making of ‘Chrysalis’ and that period?
It was difficult but I learned and grew so much, so there’s a touch of nostalgia there. The pandemic lockdowns weren’t quite over yet, so I had a stretch of time ahead of me that felt very free and open. I also had a bit more positivity about what the world might be like when the pandemic was ‘over’. I miss that.
The years since the lockdowns ended have felt too intense and hectic, and watching all my friends burn out one after the other isn’t pleasant. And the pandemic didn’t even end as we’d hoped. Instead we continue to sicken and our governments have chosen a war-hungry path in which any facade of ‘caring’ about us is all but dissolved. Our world is so horrifyingly dysfunctional and we need to start doing something about that.
Which was the key track for you from ‘Chrysalis’?
I really can’t choose just one. The whole requires every piece to function in the way I intended, and no single track can carry the entire weight of what it meant to me.
Were the shows that came in the lead up to the release of ‘Chrysalis’ and after helping to get things out of your system?
Every performance was a little catharsis, yes. I was also relieved that the tracks didn’t lose their power over time, and some even gained more. When a track is fresh, I need to focus on remembering it, but after a dozen or so shows it’s committed to muscle memory so deeply that I have to make the performance a little wilder in order to keep myself focused and entertained. This tends to always lead to better results.
Photo by Tim Darin
Has having Laura Bailey as a band mate made things more enjoyable for you on the road?
Having Laura a part of the band has increased my enjoyment exponentially. I wouldn’t keep doing this alone, there’s almost no reward stepping off stage without someone there who shared it with you, and having to worry about too many things makes it impossible to let go and really allow the music to speak its full verse.
In what ways is ‘Ecdysis’ a companion record to ‘Chrysalis’?
I call it music from the same planet, just slightly different dimensions. I made them with many of the same plugins and techniques, just took ‘Ecdysis’ a little further beyond the usual sound structures. I was producing so much music at the time, I wasn’t sure if it would be one long album or two, and then the tracks naturally divided themselves into two camps: the songs with words and the more abstract pieces with no words.
Photo by Tim Darin
On ‘Ecdysis’, you do away with conventional song lyrics although the album is not instrumental, how did idea come to use glossolalia about?
Glossolalia is not new for me and has been a natural part of my singing style for as long as I’ve been a singer. Discovering Lisa Gerrard in my teenage years just gave me the confidence to actually practice it, and I used it on one of the earliest demos I ever recorded at age 15. The tracks on ‘Ecsysis’ just didn’t call for lyrics, and by remaining wordless they can convey feelings that defy language.
I’m often frustrated by the limitations of language, the least of which is the fact that we don’t all speak the same one. And even when we do speak the same one, our ability to convey meaning is still subject to infinite subjectivities and misunderstandings. It’s very lonely when you really think about it, realising that no one will ever fully feel what you feel. Music, however, is a method of conveying meaning that remains efficient and accurate, and I think that’s the key to its importance to us. Sharing music allows us to share emotions in a way that can’t be misinterpreted, especially when words aren’t involved. Words are messy.
You’ve mentioned Lisa Gerrard as an influence on your music before, what has impressed you most about her?
Her inimitable voice that never fails to make me cry when I hear it live.
Photo by John Rohrer
‘Earthborn’ sets the scene as the album opener and first single with a variety of operatic and processed vocals over a dramatic soundscape, what was its genesis?
I honestly can’t remember much about it. I was writing from a state of pretty rabid focus at the time. Experimenting with tonnes of samples, plugins, pitching my voice up and down and running it through loads of effects. I’d just sit down at my laptop every night and start something new and see what happened. I was working on about 20 tracks at once. There was no aim in any of it except to create something beautiful and dramatic to work through the potent emotions I was feeling at that time. I vaguely remember that I was thinking a lot about human evolution and prehistory, and I think ‘Earthborn’ was a bit of a soundtrack to how we arrived where we are today. Full of heavy emotion and conflict – hence the sounds of swords and ancient battles.
Photo by Tim Darin
What techniques and tools were you using to manipulate and process your voice to produce the textures heard on the album? Was there something that was a particular creative revelation to you?
Ableton 11’s warp function that allows you to alter the formant of a sound as you pitch it up and down was a pretty huge part of the sound. I also used a bit of Soundtoys’ Little Alterboy but found the Ableton algorithm led to a really nice alteration to my voice that didn’t need much else. I also used the Ableton Grain Delay a lot, and its pitch function. I could create different characters this way. I also used a lot of another granular delay plugin called Portal. I’m really hooked on that now, and Portal abuse has definitely become part of my signature. I use it on everything.
The ‘Ecdysis’ title song has this wonderfully eerie quality yet is sparkles and is quite strident rhythmically, was it straightforward to get this juxtaposition of contrasting moods?
I really can’t say, these tracks come together in such a whirlwind and my process is always just one of “does this sound good to me? …How about this? …How about this?”. I’m not aiming for anything, and a track is just done when I decide there’s no more I can think of to make it sound ‘better’.
Photo by Tim Darin
How are you finding the current climate as an independent artist and label manager, what with also the “who shouts loudest” attitude that is very prevalent on social media now?
It’s becoming a bit impossible. I’m not really sure how long I can keep doing this because the demands are so high. We can’t make enough money from touring to justify the extreme toll it takes on us physically, and Bandcamp sales are sliding ever downwards so making money off the music is only getting harder too. We’re entering a stage of capitalism that is just so completely useless that it’s also becoming hard to justify putting so much energy into existing this way at all.
Musicians aren’t the only ones having their labour exploited: literally everyone is. No one is doing ok anymore, not even those completely saturated with privilege who are creating the problem. I think the main issue is that they so often misinterpret their dissatisfaction to mean they don’t have enough, when in fact it’s due to having too much. I’m no billionaire but I still say that as someone with immense privilege for which I am very grateful, yet I’ve still noticed that it doesn’t actually feel good when so many others don’t have it. Humans aren’t built to live in societies that are so highly stratified. We are most comfortable when those around us are ‘in the same boat’.
So we’re in a situation now where those at the top are miserable and desperately digging our grave deeper as though that’ll heal their pain, and those at the bottom are left too exhausted to resist and are even more susceptible to misinformation because stress decreases activity in our pre-frontal cortex, which is the area of our brains responsible for critical thinking. It’s a recipe for imminent disaster if we don’t take action soon, and those of us with any shred of energy left are the ones who need to start taking responsibility. If you can afford to look away, you’re probably in a position to help the most.
We should all be mobilising to take back our power because way too much is at stake. Music is still vitally important of course as a fibre of social connection and a purveyor of hope, but I don’t think anyone’s job is more important than revolution at this point. I’m sick of watching livestreamed genocide and I’m sick of feeling like our planet is dying and no one cares. A better future is 100% possible if we make it happen.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Alison Lewis
Additional thanks to Dan Volohov at Discipline PR
‘Ecdysis’ is released on 16 February 2024 via Fleisch Records (worldwide) and Metropolis Records (North America), available in limited edition blue / white coloured vinyl LP variations, CD and digital formats from https://zanias.bandcamp.com/album/ecdysis
Following one of the most traumatic periods of her life which also led to one of her most artistically prolific, Alison Lewis is back as her solo alter-ego Zoe Zanias to present ‘Chrysalis’.
As the title of the album suggests, ‘Chrysalis’ is a rebirth. Her emotional catharsis to music is ever present, but there is also an emergent avant-pop sensibility providing hope, despite the dark times that the world finds itself with a new Cold War and environmental catastrophe looming.
Alison Lewis made her name as a member of the acclaimed minimal synth duo LINEA ASPERA with Ryan Ambridge. While they delivered an excellent comeback album ‘LPII’ in 2020, her focus has since been as ZANIAS with the most recent album ‘Unearthed’ emerging in 2021.
‘Chrysalis’ was seeded by a number of unfortunate events in Lewis’ life but using her own music as therapy, she has weaved a cocoon of hope from the despair. Song topics include the human condition, burnout, disillusionment, bereavement and the toxicity of capitalism. Written and recorded between her adopted home of Berlin and the rainforest of Queensland in Australia, despite the various foods for thought, this is the possibly the most accessible ZANIAS album yet.
The excellent ‘Simulation’ opens and is a bittersweet ode to Berlin where “This city is a fable, nowhere else to go. This city has enabled us all and it’s breaking my soul”. Despite the introspection as expressed by a hauntingly contralto vocal, the backdrop glistens. Capturing “a broken reality” where “everything’s shattering”, a joyful escapist euphoria counters those feelings.
The swaying avant pop of ‘Metrics’ is beat-centric, ghostly yet danceable with a catchy buzz. Meanwhile if Madonna had more gothic tendencies around her ‘Bedroom Stories’ period, the dark and ethereal ‘Burial’ might have been the end result. Its lush synth strings and voiced-derived layers points towards the “Global Pop” of PRAISE but is much deeper.
With glorious arpeggios and lush synth strings, ‘Lovelife’ is wonderfully trance, bolstered with bass guitar by live bandmate Laura Bailey aka NEU-ROMANCER while an array of pitch-shifted voice samples act as an abstract lead vocal before the actual one kicks in. With ominous tones reminiscent of THE CURE’s ‘A Forest’, ‘Closing’ uses a number of interesting vocal treatments which provide intensity over the snappy rhythmics.
In a departure, ‘Teatree’ features virtual strums and could be considered an eerie ZANIAS folk ballad while also taking a more sedate approach, ‘Departure’ projects a more atmospheric tone with rung textures and a white noise backbone. To close, the ‘Chrysalis’ title song goes for a full acoustic intro before beats and electronics make their presence felt as our heroine emerges from her sheltered state into her next stage of growth.
Evocative and captivating, ‘Chrysalis’ is the best Zoe Zanias long player to date. Alison Lewis remains independent and true to her art while providing a new found immersive immediacy that will help her music reach a wider audience. That balance is no easy feat to achieve but with some new approaches, she has managed it.
Following one of the most traumatic years of her life, Alison Lewis is back as ZANIAS to present more of her emotional catharsis to music.
The first fruit of labours is the excellent ‘Simulation’ which is a bittersweet ode to the Australian’s adopted home of Berlin where she “landed here at twenty-three”.
“This city is a fable, nowhere else to go. This city has enabled us all and it’s breaking my soul” she sighs. But as her vulnerable soul is bared, she counters with the view that “in a world so f*cking awry, let’s talk about our favourite ways to get high…”
From the forthcoming album ‘Chrysalis’, out soon on Lewis’ own Fleisch Records, ‘Simulation’ itself while is typically introspective and moody in that ZANIAS vein with a hauntingly contralto vocal. However it is also eminently danceable and occasionally sparkles instrumentally in a manner that is more akin to Lewis’ other project LINEA ASPERA with Ryan Ambridge.
All these contrasting feelings are captured on the superb visual accompaniment directed by Janis Reichert who was found by ZANIAS live bandmate Laura Bailey aka NEU-ROMANCER on an Italo party boat!
Accurately capturing the feeling expressed that “In a broken reality, everything’s shattering”, the eerie slo-mo effect was achieved by all concerned filming to ‘Simulation’ being speeded up to 138BPM. The end result captures a joyful escapist euphoria with the rave angels at the Untertage club cast as extras.
Alison Lewis has said she has made more music in a single period that any other time of her life and as well as the ‘Chrysalis’ album, there will be ZANIAS live dates which will include Europe, the UK and Canada. “I have soooo much to share” she said on her social media, “this is just the beginning…”
Southampton 1865 (14th February), Liverpool Quarry (15th February), Glasgow Ivory Blacks (16th February), Manchester Rebellion Club (18th February), London Lexington (19th February), London Camden Assembly Hall (17th March) – further information on these and other shows at https://swampbooking.com/zanias/
“It’s such a strange day, in such a lonely way” sang NEW ORDER on ‘Truth’ in 1981.
The coronavirus crisis of 2020 put the entire live music industry into limbo as concerts were postponed and tours rescheduled.
The situation was affecting everyone with several musicians like Bernard Sumner, Andy McCluskey, John Taylor and Sarah Nixey publicly stating that they had contracted the virus. Even when all pupils returned to schools in the Autumn, there was a ban on indoor singing in English classrooms. It was an indication that out of all professional fields, the arts was going suffer the most.
To make up for the absence of live shows, online streamed events become popular. Two of the best live online gigs were by Swedish veterans LUSTANS LAKEJER from the KB in Malmö and Sinomatic techno-rockers STOLEN with Lockdown Live From Chengdu. Not strictly a lockdown show but available for all to view on SVT was a magnificent live presentation of KITE at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm recorded in late 2019 combining synthesizers, orchestra and choir, proving again why Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg are the best electronic duo in Europe.
Concluding his ‘Songs: From the Lemon Tree’ series, Bon Harris of NITZER EBB presented a wonderful set of four electonic cover versions including songs made famous by Joan Armatrading, Connie Francis and Diana Ross. Meanwhile among independent musicians, Dubliner CIRCUIT3 led the way with an innovative multi-camera effected approach to his home studio presentation and Karin My performed al fresco in a forest near Gothenburg.
Taking the initiative, ERASURE did a delightful virtual album launch party for their new album ‘The Neon’ on Facebook with Vince Clarke in New York and Andy Bell in London, talking about everything from shopping to classic synthpop tunes.
Other streamed forms of entertainment came via podcasts and among the best was ‘The Album Years’ presented by Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness. Their knowledgeable and forthright views on selected years in music were both informative and amusing. It was interesting to note that at the end of the 1976 episode, the pair nominated ‘Oxygène’ by Jean-Michel Jarre as the most important album of that year while for 1979, it was ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by Gary Numan.
Many artists who had scheduled releases in 2020 went through with them, although in some cases, there were the inevitable delays to physical product. But a few notable acts couldn’t help but abuse the situation, notably a certain combo from Basildon.
There were already “quality control issues” with the lavish ‘MODE’ 18 CD boxed set, but there was uproar even among the most hardcore Devotees with the ‘Spirits In The Forest’ release. The cardboard packaging was reported to be flimsy and prone to dents, while there was continuity errors galore as Dave Gahan rather cluelessly and selfishly wore different coloured outfits over the two nights in Berlin that the live footage was filmed under the direction of Anton Corbijn.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was an Anton Corbijn official illustrated history of DEPECHE MODE entitled ‘DM AC’ in the form of a coffee table photo book published by Taschen which retailed at €750; even though it was signed by Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher, the price tag was a mightily steep. The increasingly ironic words of “The grabbing hands grab all they can…” from ‘Everything Counts’ were not lost on people, who are people, after all!
But Andy Fletcher did provide the most amusing and spot-on quote of the year; during DEPECHE MODE’s acceptance speech into that dinosaur institution The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, when Dave Gahan remarked to his bandmates that “I dunno what the hell I would have been doing if I didn’t find music to be quite honest…”, the banana eating handclapper dryly retorted “YOU’D HAVE BEEN STILL STEALING CARS DAVE!”
There were lots of great albums released in 2020 and Berlin appeared to be at the creative centre of them.
There was ‘LP II’ from LINEA ASPERA who made a welcome return after eight years in hiatus and the playful debut by ULTRAFLEX, a collaborative offering from Berlin-based Nordic artists SPECIAL-K and FARAO which was “an ode to exercise, loaded with sex metaphors badly disguised as sports descriptions” .
The DDR born Jennifer Touch told her story with ‘Behind The Wall’ and resident New Yorker DISCOVERY ZONE was on ‘Remote Control’, while Lithuania’s top pop singer Alanas Chosnau made ‘Children of Nature’, his first album in English with Mark Reeder, who himself has lived in the former walled city since 1978; their collected experiences from both sides of the Iron Curtain made for a great record with the political statement of ‘Heavy Rainfall’ being one of the best songs of 2020.
Synth-builder and artist Finlay Shakespeare presented the superb angst ridden long player ‘Solemnities’ with its opener ‘Occupation’ tackling the social injustice of unemployment. A most frightening future was captured in musical form by New York-resident Zachery Allan Starkey who saw his home become a ‘Fear City’, while WRANGLER got themselves into ‘A Situation’.
SPARKS discussed ‘The Existential Threat’ and ‘One For The Ages’ while pleading ‘Please Don’t F*ck Up My World’ on their eclectic 25th album ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’, just as NIGHT CLUB reflected what many were thinking on ‘Die Die Lullaby’ with ‘Miss Negativity’ looking to ‘Die In The Disco’ while riding the ‘Misery Go Round’.
ASSEMBLAGE 23 chose to ‘Mourn’ with one of its highlights ‘Confession’ illustrating what DEPECHE MODE could still be capable of, if they could still be bothered.
But it was not all doom and gloom musically in 2020. With the title ‘Pop Gossip’, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP did not need to do much explaining about the ethos of their second album and drum ‘n’ synth girl GEORGIA was happily ‘Seeking Thrills’.
Veterans returned and 34 years after their debut ‘Windows’, WHITE DOOR teamed up with the comparative youngster Johan Baeckström for ‘The Great Awakening’, while CODE made a surprise return with their second album ‘Ghost Ship’ after an absence 25 years.
‘The Secret Lives’ of German duo Zeus B Held and Mani Neumeier illustrated that septuagenarians just want to have fun. Along with Gina Kikoine, Zeus B Held was also awarded with Der Holger Czukay Preis für Popmusik der Stadt Köln in recognition of their pioneering work as GINA X PERFORMANCE whose ‘No GDM’ was a staple at The Blitz Club in Rusty Egan’s DJ sets.
Incidentally, Rusty Egan announced that Zaine Griff would be joining him with Numan cohorts Chris Payne and David Brooks in a live presentation of VISAGE material, although the announced dates were postponed, pending rescheduling for 2021.
Swiss trailblazers YELLO were on ‘Point’ and continuing their occasional creative collaboration with Chinese songstress Fifi Rong, while one time YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA collaborator Hideki Matsutake returned as LOGIC SYSTEM and released a new long player ‘Technasma’, his project’s first for 18 years.
It was four decades since John Foxx’s ‘Metamatic’ and Gary Numan’s ‘Telekon’, with the man born Gary Webb publishing ‘(R)evolution’, a new autobiography to supersede 1997’s ‘Praying To The Aliens’. Meanwhile, the former Dennis Leigh teamed up with former ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon plus his regular Maths collaborators Benge and Hannah Peel for the blistering art rock statement of ‘Howl’ as well as finally issuing his book of short stories ‘The Quiet Man’.
Back in 1980, it was not unusual for bands to release two albums in a calendar year as OMD did with their self-titled debut and ‘Organisation’, or JAPAN did with ‘Quiet Life’ and ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’.
It appeared to be a tradition that BLANCMANGE were adopting as Neil Arthur delivered the acclaimed ‘Mindset’ and an enjoyable outtakes collection ‘Waiting Room (Volume 1)’.
PET SHOP BOYS and CERRONE proved they still liked to dance to disco because they don’t like rock, but the year’s biggest surprise came with THE SMASHING PUMPKINS whose single ‘Cyr’ crossed the templates of classic DEPECHE MODE with DURAN DURAN.
Interestingly, Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS and Michael Rother of NEU! used sketches recorded many moons ago to inspire their 2020 solo creations, proving that if something is a good idea, it will still make sense years later. Veteran Tonmeister Gareth Jones released his debut solo album ‘ELECTROGENETIC’ having first come to prominence as the studio engineer on ‘Metamatic’ back in 1980, but Jah Wobble was as prolific as ever, issuing his ninth album in four years, as well as a run of download singles over lockdown.
ANI GLASS had her debut long player ‘Mirores’ shortlisted for Welsh Music Prize and OMD remixed her song ‘Ynys Araul’ along the way, while SARAH P. was ‘Plotting Revolutions’. NINA and a returning ANNIE vied to be the Queen Of Synthwave with their respective albums ‘Synthian’ and ‘Dark Hearts’, although Canadian synth songstress DANA JEAN PHOENIX presented her most complete and consistent body of work yet in ‘Megawave’, a joint album with POWERNERD.
RADIO WOLF & PARALLELS contributed to the soundtrack of the film ‘Proximity’ released on Lakeshore Records and from the same label, KID MOXIE made her first contribution to the movie world with the score to ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need To Have A Serious Talk’ that also featured a stark cover of ALPHAVILLE’s ‘Big In Japan’. Meanwhile gothwavers VANDAL MOON made their most electronic album yet in ‘Black Kiss’ and POLYCHROME got in on the kissing act too with their new single ‘Starts With A Kiss’.
It would be fair to say in recent times that the most interesting and best realised electronic pop has come from outside of the UK; the likes of TWICE A MAN explored the darker side of life, although TRAIN TO SPAIN used the dancefloor as their mode of expression, 808 DOT POP developed on the robopop of parent band METROLAND and ZIMBRU preferred disco art pop.
In Scandinavia, there was the welcome return of UNIFY SEPARATE (formally US) and HILTIPOP aka Magnus Johansson of ALISON who finally released some music in his own right; once he started, he didn’t stop with 9 releases and counting in 2020! APOPTYGMA BERZERK released ‘Nein Danke!’, their self-proclaimed return to “New Wave Synthpop” and out of that set-up sprang the very promising PISTON DAMP.
Within the PAGE camp, Eddie Bengtsson continued his Numan fixation on the ‘Under Mitt Skinn’ EP although his musical partner Marina Schiptjenko teamed up with LUSTANS LAKEJER bassist Julian Brandt to ride the Synth Riviera for a delightful second helping of their electro crooner concept cheekily titled ‘For Beautiful People Only’.
Over in Germany, U96 teamed up Wolfgang Flür while RENARD, the solo vehicle of Markus Reinhardt from WOLFSHEIM teamed with Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE and Sarah Blackwood of DUBSTAR. DUBSTAR themselves released a striking corona crisis statement entitled ‘Hygiene Strip’ which saw reconfigured duo reunited with producer Stephen Hague. Meanwhile another poignant song on the topic ‘Small World’ came from SNS SENSATION, the new project by Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK. In lockdown, TINY MAGNETIC PETS recorded an entire album which they called ‘Blue Wave’.
Of course, 2020 was not full of joy, even without the pandemic, as the music world sadly lost Florian Schneider, Gabi Delgado-Lopez, Chris Huggett, Andrew Weatherall, Matthew Seligman, Dave Greenfield, Rupert Hine, Tom Wolgers, Harold Budd and Ennio Morricone.
An introspective tone was reflected the music of female fronted acts such as and ZANIAS, PURITY RING, WE ARE REPLICA, KALEIDA, LASTLINGS, NEW SPELL, WITCH OF THE VALE, REIN, BLACK NAIL CABARET, GLÜME, GEISTE THE FRIXION, FEMMEPOP and SCINTII. However, countering this, the optimism of RIDER, ROXI DRIVE and NEW RO presented a much brighter, hopeful take on life and the future.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrated 10 years as a platform and affirming the site’s intuition about synth talent in anticipation of them achieving greater things, SOFTWAVE opened for OMD on the Scandinavia leg of their ‘Souvenir’ tour. The Danish duo became the sixth act which the site had written about to have become part of a tradition that has included VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND and TINY MAGNETIC PETS.
On a more cheerful note, S.P.O.C.K beamed down to Slimelight in London before lockdown for their first British live performance in 17 years. Meanwhile on the same night, LAU NAU and VILE ELECTRODES did modular sets at Cecil Sharp House, the spiritual home of English traditional music.
At that event, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK took delight in curating a DJ set comprising of John Cage’s 4’33” in variations by DEPECHE MODE, GOLDFRAPP, ERASURE, NEW ORDER and THE NORMAL from Mute’s Stumm433 boxed set. This defiant act of silence even caused a curious Jonathan Barnbrook to raise an eyebrow, this from the man who designed the artwork with the white square on David Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’ 😉
The final live event that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK attended before the March lockdown was an informative lecture at Queen Mary University in London presented by noted cultural scholar Dr Uwe Schütte, in support of his book ‘KRAFTWERK Future Music From Germany’.
Also attending was Rusty Egan who held court at the reception afterwards by having a debate with another musician about the state of UK synth music. He then loudly beckoned ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK over and mentioned how the site was only interested acts that scored “9 out of 10” before admitting that a number of acts he supported only scored “6 out of 10”, with his reasoning being that if acts aren’t supported, then there will be no synth acts existing at all. After a decade in existence, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK remains proud that it is still extremely selective.
In 2020, the notion of reviews being needed to achieve a promotional profile underwent an existential crisis among media platforms. With streaming now being the main method of music consumption, why would anyone want to read a blog for an opinion about an album when they can just hit ‘play’ and hear the thing for themselves on Spotify, Amazon, Tidal or Bandcamp?
The sound of classic synthpop does live on happily in today’s mainstream via singles by THE WEEKND, DUA LIPA and even STEPS! In that respect, the trailblazing kings and queens of Synth Britannia from four decades ago did their job rather well.
From SUGABABES mashing-up ‘Are Friends Electric?’ for ‘Freak Like Me’ in 2002 to ‘Blinding Lights’ borrowing a bit of A-HA in 2020, the sound of synth is still strong.
It is up to any potential successors to live up to that high standard of Synth Britannia, which was as much down to the quality of the songwriting, as much as it was to do with the sound of the synthesizer. It is a fact that many overlook and if aspiring musicians could pay more attention to the song, instead of making the synthesizer the excuse for the song, then classic electronic pop music may still be around for a little longer and continue to evolve.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2020