Tag: Mecha Maiko (Page 1 of 4)

BETAMAXX Interview

BETAMAXX is the Pittsburgh-based musician and producer Nick Morey whose work is inspired and created by vintage synthesizers.

In acknowledgement of his artist moniker, the first BETAMAXX album was entitled ‘Lost Formats’; released in 2012, it became acknowledged as a trailblazing example of synthwave in the wake of the Ryan Gosling movie ‘Drive’ and its acclaimed soundtrack.

Meanwhile, his 2014 remix of TANGERINE DREAM’s ‘Love On A Real Train’ brought wider recognition and enhanced his reputation.

Despite a short publically announced hiatus in 2015 following ‘Plug & Play’, he returned refreshed after a profile boost with his track ‘Redlining 6th’ from 2013’s ‘Sophisticated Technology’ being included in the soundtrack of the Sci-Fi martial arts comedy featurette ‘Kung Fury’.

2017’s ‘Archaic Science’ was like he’d never been away, but it was 2019’s ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’ featuring vocals by VANDAL MOON, GLITBITER and MECHA MAIKO that realised the crossover potential that had been itching to get out since the first BETAMAXX releases.

Despite his zest for collaborations, having also previously worked with PERTURBATOR, ARCADE HIGH and PRIMO THE ALIEN, the new BETAMAXX record ‘Sarajevo’ is a much more reflective solo offering with no vocals or vocoder, a soundtrack to an imaginary film centred around the Bosnian city that hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics.

Nick Morey kindly chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about synths and stuff in his career as BETAMAXX.

What got you interested in making music with synthesizers and who were your influences?

Good question and kind of a long story. I attribute my initial interest to Madonna’s ‘Immaculate Collection’ which was given to me on cassette by my mother at a very young age. In my late teens, I heard the track ‘Eyes Without A Face’ by Billy Idol and was smitten by the sounds and melodies that I heard. I took a trip to my local CD store (Coconuts Music, which is long since defunct) and I asked the clerk about this song. He responded “Ahhh, that’s Billy Idol with that rich synthesizer sound…” which made me realize how the music was created and how much I loved music from the 80s.

Fast forward to 2010, a good friend of mine showed me some very early “synthwave” from artists like TESLA BOY, FM ATTACK, MITCH MURDER, GRUM and MIAMI NIGHTS 1984 and I was hooked immediately. At that point, I was committed to taking my shot at making this type of music. I had already had some DAW production skills making techno and other random electronic music. By early 2012, I purchased my first truly amazing synth – the Roland Juno 60, which I still own to this day.

How do you now look back on your 2012 debut album ‘Lost Formats’, that’s a great title?

Honestly, very fondly. I still pop it on now and again and feel the energy and excitement I had back then. It finally got the proper pressing it deserved a few years back, and has since sold out. I think it will be remembered as one of the classic early synthwave albums.

‘La Cabane Noir’ from 2013’s ‘Sophisticated Technology’ featured PERTURBATOR, how did that come about as it’s a lot less heavier than the material he’s become well-known for…

Wow, I haven’t thought about that in a long time.

James and I used to chat back in the day before he got huge. And, don’t get me wrong, I am super happy for him and I think he’s a super genuine and funny guy.

I believe I reached out and simply asked him to throw some parts on it and it ended up working out.

You retired in 2015 but then Gary Numan did so in 1981… what happened there? Are artists still very much vulnerable to burn out despite history having demonstrated that applying too much pressure on musicians can lead to all sorts of issues?

This is not the first time I’ve been asked this. 2015 was a really difficult year for me personally. If I would have met 2015 “me” now, I probably would have kicked my own ass. I attribute it to a low point in my life, but I don’t regret the decisions I’ve made. Artists can be fickle at times, as a good handful of artists get swallowed up in their own emotions. I’m glad to still be producing music.

‘Lost In A Dreamworld’ could be considered your breakthrough record in that it reached audiences outside of what could be considered the synthwave scene, why do you think it was able to crossover?

Generally speaking, I like mixing things up. I like to experiment and crossover genres, especially new wave, house, Italo and post-punk. I happened to connect with Blake Voss of VANDAL MOON through my good friend Shawn Ward from FM ATTACK, and became instant friends. ‘Never Sleep Again’ was proof of this, considering it’s not much like anything else I’ve ever created.

As well as VANDAL MOON, you worked with some diverse vocalists such as GLITBITER and MECHA MAIKO to achieve the variation in styles that were collected on ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’, what was the collaborative process like with each of them?

For these specific tracks, I started with various instrumental ideas and reached out to them to see if they were interested in working with me. Thankfully, all parties agreed and I let them essentially do whatever they wanted, stepping back from a creative control standpoint and letting them have fun and do their thing.

The ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’ instrumental could be considered a refinement of the synthwave form but do you think the term has become too restrictive artistically?

Yes, I do. I feel like that term gets thrown around quite loosely, and I don’t really feel like I fit into that category so much anymore, being that my sound has been more or less consistent over the years.

I haven’t found the urge to start writing polished, carbon copy radio pop with a grid, a palm tree and a sunset on my album cover.

‘Disco Dreamgirl’ does what it says on the tin, was the track’s muse a real person?

I’m not at liberty to say who that is! *laughs*

So after ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’, what inspired you to compose a largely downtempo instrumental concept album such as ‘Sarajevo’?

I was really itching for something new to create and a new style to dive into. I’ve been in love with BOARDS OF CANADA’s music since my early 20s and decided that I wanted to take a crack at writing in that style. I looked at the gear that I have and realized that was totally possible, if not for some hard work and experimentation. The first track I wrote was ‘Sarajevo’, the title track on the album. I had just purchased the reissue of the Sequential Circuits Prophet 10 which provided a lot of inspirational sounds right off the bat for this record.

But why the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, because for example, there have been two films ‘Cool Runnings’ and ‘Eddie The Eagle’ made about events at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics? It’s perhaps not an obvious subject, or is it?

Once again, a long story… I’m a big enthusiast of brutalist architecture, specifically 80s and prior angular / geometrical style structures. I was looking at architecture online, and stumbled upon “Hotel Igman”, which you see in the cover of the album. I became intrigued about this building, and started reading more in depth about the history of it. I also was fascinated by the fact that, in modern times, it’s a completely bombed out shell of its former self. After I discovered the ‘84 Olympics, I was compelled to write something that I felt about it, and the various stories I have read about Sarajevo. It just seemed right to me and the music sort of poured out of me.

‘Igman’ is a key track as that hotel has becoming something of a symbol now in its derelict state?

Yes, I’d say so. I think it was an absolutely stunning piece of architecture then and even now. It drew me in immediately and needed to know the whole story. I’ve watched several YouTube videos of people exploring it. It blows my mind.

Had there been any particular archive photographs or videos that you imagined soundtracking, like your own film documentary on those Games for any of the tracks?

I kind of did a deep dive into loads of footage from the ‘84 Winter Olympics and was inspired by a ton of things that I saw, particularly Bill Johnson’s run, as well as Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean’s performances on ice.

How would you have constructed a track like ‘Downhill’ which celebrates Bill Johnson’s gold medal victory in the Downhill event?

I wanted at least one track that was suspenseful and intense. After watching some footage of downhill skiing in Sarajevo, I found the clip of Bill Johnson and could feel the excitement in the announcers’ voices. It was totally unintentional, but I felt that sample absolutely needed to be included in the intro of the song.

The ‘Sarajevo’ title track actually applies some dub echoing, what had been on your mind to shape the track in this manner?

Good question, this was also completely unintentional. The friends I’ve showed that to seem to all say it’s a very “industrial” track, but I guess I just don’t hear it that way. I wanted to lay something down that was really dark, ethereal, and heavy. The CMI sampler I used seemed to compliment the bridge of the song.

‘Ceremony’ closes the album with a slow waltz and it has this elegiac Arvo Pärt ‘Spiegel Im Spiegel’ feel about it?

Truth be told, I am not at all familiar with that artist, although I very much look forward to checking that out. I wanted to portrait a very emotional track with drifting (sliding in and out of tune) synths to give it an almost “unsettling” vibe. I think it’s kind of a beautiful track, and it would suit well in a specific movie scenario.

You have a fine collection of analog synthesizers, do you have any particular favourites?

Why thank you! Yes, I’ve been collecting for a number of years now. I’d say my Sequential Circuits Prophet 6 is to attribute to a lot of my sounds. It’s an extremely versatile synth with a lot of amazing real time features that are easy to get inspired by.

Sequential makes amazing products, which I would recommend to anyone in the market to buy a thick, meaty analogue synthesizer with useful features.

Is there a synth you desire and is there any particular reason?

Not to sound cliché, but I would love to own a real Jupiter 8 someday. Other than that, I’m actually really happy with the gear that I have. I feel like I honestly have too much, but that is usually good for when I’m bored with my main stuff, to switch out to and experiment with.

What do you think of these copycat synths that Behringer are making?

Honestly, not super into them right now. Behringer makes some quality basic musical products, but I’m not super sold on their synths. One of my best friends swears by their 808 clone, but I haven’t played with it yet. I was really disappointed with the Deepmind 12, unfortunately. Programming wasn’t very friendly and I didn’t care a lot for the sounds, it also sounded very thin to me. That all being said, I’ll always give them a chance. Some of their clones are super intriguing, but generally are not available for demos at retail stores.

How do you think synthesizer music is developing now?

I don’t feel it’s going in a great direction. Most artists now are focusing on the same equation to make it big. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but the bottom line is that I’m just not seeing a lot of artistry involved, and it’s more or less a “copy and paste” methodology and it seems to really work well for some people. I refuse to not put extremely serious though into what I put out, regardless of potential backlash.

You have both self-released and worked with record labels, do artists these days still need one? How do you see music distribution moving forward?

I feel that, if an artist can’t afford to press their own record and or tape or whatever, go for a label if they’re interested.

You have a strong relationship with Shawn Ward aka FM ATTACK and he has done some additional production on ‘Sarajevo’ as well as being your label boss at Starfield, but have the two of you considered doing a full album together as a joint effort?

Oh yeah, for sure. And I wouldn’t call him my boss in affiliation with Starfield, he’s one of my tightest homies. We confide in each other quite a bit and stay in contact regularly. I’m blessed to call Shawn a good friend of mine. Right now, it’s kind of hard to be able to do a fully collaborative album for the both of us, although that would be really rad to accomplish sometime down the road.

Your recent single with PRIMO THE ALIEN ‘Watch Me’ was a rather groovy concoction, is this an indicator of a future direction for you?

Hopefully! I really dig the groove of that track, and I think it succeeded in a lot of ways. I feel it’s a lot different from anything I had previously released, and it felt good to scratch that itch. I’m not the greatest into diving into “the funk” but I think I did right by ‘Watch Me’.

So will your next album be a pop / dance oriented one or would you like to develop the more ambient side of your music as showcased on ‘Sarajevo’?

Honestly, I really don’t know enough to tell you the next writing style I’m going to be focusing on. It will be interesting and heartfelt, whatever that may be. Lately I’ve been really enjoying the ambient stuff.

What’s next for you, what are your hope and fears for the future?

Looking forward to collaborating with friends and building something, whatever that may entail. I won’t be straying from producing music.

I would like to go on tour again soon, but I likely won’t be booking any dates this year due to the pandemic. I really miss traveling, seeing the world and meeting new friends.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to BETAMAXX

‘Sarajevo’, ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’ and most of the BETAMAXX back catalogue is available in various formats direct from https://betamaxxmusic.bandcamp.com/music

https://www.facebook.com/betamaxx80s/

https://twitter.com/betamaxx80s

https://www.instagram.com/betamaxx/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
19th May 2021

MICHAEL OAKLEY Odyssey

Two years in the making, ‘Odyssey’ is the second album from Michael Oakley.

His first album proper ‘Introspect’ mined the Toronto based Glaswegian’s love of NEW ORDER and PET SHOP BOYS, particularly their Italo disco-inspired classics while he also threw in the DX and Fairlight derived sounds of that danceable pop era in homage to producer Trevor Horn.

The record also saw Oakley work with Ollie Wride and Dana Jean Phoenix; the esteemed pair return for ‘Odyssey’.

All of the songs on ‘Odyssey’ bar the title instrumental have been co-written with Ollie Wride and having worked together on the Englishman’s own debut long player ‘Thanks In Advance’, the fruitful partnership has made a natural progression with artists such as ENIGMA, ACE OF BASE, THE TIME FREQUENCY, THE BELOVED and MOBY being reference points in a move away from the popwave nature of Michael Oakley’s sun-kissed debut release ‘California’.

The opening statement of the ‘Odyssey’ title track presents some ‘Blade Runner’ atmospheres in a sad but triumphant homage to ‘Rachel’s Song’ while meeting PINK FLOYD along the way. The rousing ‘Wake Up’ is a bit Steve Winwood with strummed acoustics used in a textural way for a TEARS FOR FEARS ‘Songs From The Big Chair’ vibe, indicating that classic MTV is still very much in Oakley’s mind. The saying goes that you can take the boy out of Glasgow but you can never take Glasgow out of the boy but more of that later!

THE TIME FREQUENCY inspired energetic pop of ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’ is relatable to now but actually harks back to Oakley’s rebellious youth in Glasgow. Our hero gets lost in vices and a rabbit hole of bad behaviour while seeking that inter-personal connection, but it all goes too far! A cry for help to a dance beat and maybe Oakley’s very own ‘True Faith’, Hayley Stewart aka Mecha Maiko gives the song a beautifully eerie ghostly feeling with her backing vocals

‘Babylon’ offers more strums while a sax comes courtesy of Jesse Molloy, best known for his work with THE MIDNIGHT. Like Robert Palmer meeting ENIGMA, it is a joyous shuffling number from Oakley about meeting his wife and alongside all the tropical bird sounds is a fantastic solo which is all synth.

The hopeful ‘Real Life’ also takes the tropical route with exotic percussion acting as the backbone while there is further sax sweetening and a joyous chorus of female voices which sounds as though everyone has had the time of their life 😉

The pint-sized Canadian powerhouse of Dana Jean Phoenix makes her presence felt on ‘Glasgow Song’, a big ballad duet which also has bagpipes and a rhythm sample from TEARS FOR FEARS. Reflecting on Oakley’s love / hate relationship with the city he grew up in, but ultimately concluding that home is always where the heart is, it is loud and proud.

The driving octave pulse of ‘Queen of Hearts’ offers some uptempo punch using that classic Linn Drum sound with Hayley Stewart making a more prominent harmony turn, but is that Ollie Wride who can be heard belting one out there too? Of course it is!!

However, the closer ‘When Stars Collide’ will polarise and reveals Oakley’s love of TAKE THAT. As far as songwriting goes, there is no embarrassment in taking a leaf out of Gary Barlow and Oakley has never been afraid of enthusing over what some might consider “guilty pleasures”.

Perhaps as a reaction to the stagnation and elitism found in some quarters of the synthwave community, Michael Oakley has focused on the songs rather than the any particular style for ‘Odyssey’.

A varied album, it will surprise those who embraced ‘California’ and ‘Introspect’ but the shift will more than likely open his talents as a writer and producer for much wider recognition.


‘Odyssey’ is released by NewRetroWave in a variety of vinyl LP, minidisc, cassette and CD formats as well as digital, available direct from https://newretrowave.bandcamp.com/album/odyssey

https://www.michael-oakley.com/

https://www.facebook.com/MichaelOakleyOfficial

https://twitter.com/MichaelOakleySW

https://www.instagram.com/michaeloakleyofficial/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Jon Simo and Brad A Kinnan
15th May 2021

Vintage Synth Trumps With MICHAEL OAKLEY

Canadian based Scottish singer / producer Michael Oakley first came to wider prominence with his debut mini-album release ‘California’ in 2017.

Like many of his fellow countrymen, he looked towards America and ‘California’ did as the title suggested, embraced a sun-kissed Trans-Atlantic vibe conjuring images of open-topped sports cars with his melodic synth-flavoured pop.

Embraced by the synthwave community, for his debut album proper ‘Introspect’, he signed to NewRetroWave Records in 2019. Utilising more Yamaha DX and Fairlight derived sounds to capture the spirit of producers such as Trevor Horn and Stephen Hague, one of the ‘Introspect’ highlights was the mighty Italo statement of ‘Left Behind’. The album also saw Oakley work with established artists such as Ollie Wride and Dana Jean Phoenix, with the associations continuing on his new soon-to-be-released album ‘Odyssey’.

Michael Oakley chatted about the making of the ‘Odyssey’ album with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK while playing a round of Vintage Synth Trumps.

And the first card is the Roland Jupiter 8, have you ever played one?

I haven’t played a Jupiter 8 but when I was a kid, there used to be a chain of music shops in the UK called Sound Control.

One day I was in, they happened to have a Jupiter 6 which I always felt was the nicer of the two sound-wise.

I’ve got a few Jupiter 8 plug-ins, I’ve got the Arturia one and the Roland Cloud VST which I’ve used on this album, although I like the sound of the Juno more.

You basically get two type of synthesizer; there’s the Japanese ones like Yamaha, Korg and Roland which have a very coloured, synthetically warm kind of sound and then American ones which I probably prefer because they have more of an idiosyncratic quality like those from Oberheim, Dave Smith, Sequential Circuits. I like the unstable ghostliness of those, they were a favourite of Ulrich Schnauss, that’s how he gets his sound. If I want warm character types of sounds, I would go for the Japanese synthesizers.

With your new album ‘Odyssey’, what would you say was your approach this time round compared with ‘Introspect’?

When I started ‘California’, I just wanted to make the kind of music that I liked, it was a very open modus operandi. Whereas ‘Introspect’, I had this thing about not repeating the same steps that I’d taken, I never like to do that. So I made ‘Introspect’ a tribute to the more synthpop sounding stuff I liked as a kid such as NEW ORDER and PET SHOP BOYS or Italo disco. But also, the synthwave sound was already starting to become very plagiarised with copycat acts and I didn’t want to be part of that. It felt like the right time because I’d just signed a deal with NewRetroWave. So I wanted to do something special as the label was paying for things, there was more hands on the wheel and ultimately more pressure.

So fast forward to ‘Odyssey’, I sat with this for a little while and I decided I wanted to move into more 90s territory. I think there’s three type of people who listen to synthwave, there’s 80s aficionados who might be more middle of the road with it, then there’s metal fans who like the darkwavey guitar-based stuff and then other camp which I come from is the trance fans who like 90s dance music.

Synthwave uses a lot of dance production techniques, that’s what makes it sound modern. I was inspired by GEORGE MICHAEL, ENIGMA, ACE OF BASE, HADDAWAY, THE BELOVED and MOBY’s ‘Play’ album, all that type of stuff! It’s weird, you have these potential things but you end up looking back and think “it’s not really like HADDAWAY is it?” *laughs*

So it’s been written over 2 years, the longest I’ve taken to write an album and I only wanted to do it when I felt like it. So it’s a Tapas menu of different things and they don’t sound like each other.

I hate it when an album has two songs which sound the same, that bores me. I liked to be presented as a listener of an album with different tempos, styles, moods and themes, it feels like you’re on a journey.

You’re co-writing with Ollie Wride?

All of the songs on this album with the exception of the intro track are co-written with Ollie Wride. We started to work with each other on ‘Introspect’ and I was working on his album ‘Thanks in Advance’, we just have a great partnership when we write together.

For me, Ollie is the best songwriter within the scene and if you get the opportunity to work with someone like that, you step back a little bit and take counsel from them in the process, I trust him.

We talk a lot; on ‘Glasgow Song’, I was on a Skype call with him telling him what the song was about, my life in Glasgow while I was growing up and sent him over ideas, a whole monologue, like a letter about it all.

I sent some lyrics that I had and he worked with that to carve it into something really magical. I do write lyrics and I did on ‘California’ but I don’t necessarily feel I enjoy writing lyrics. I had it planted in my head who I wanted to work with on this album, writing with Ollie was my priority. He’s my brother, we’re great friends now as a result of all of this.

When you work with somebody else in that co-writing situation, it stops you from being self-indulgent. It’s easy for me to write about my life but you can end up with a very myopic “ME-ME-ME” view and you write in a way that isn’t open for others to make it their own experience. The songs I don’t really relate to are the ones which have been written in a way that are from a very selfish viewpoint. The songs which are a little bit more ambiguously open-ended, they’re the ones where I see myself in the song.

Oh the next card, and it’s an ARP Odyssey…

I’ve never played an ARP Odyssey but recently, I downloaded Daniel Miller’s sample pack full of drum sounds for Ableton created on his ARP 2600 which was previously owned by Elton John! I’m looking ahead to what I want to do next, and I’m conceiving all of the drums being made on analogue synthesizers so I’m collecting sounds for that.

Vince Clarke also did a sample pack, he is the king for that, especially on the ‘Chorus’ album and the ‘Abba-esque’ EP, those type of drums which don’t sound drum machiney!

What sort of an album would you have made in 1981?

I would probably be somewhere between PINK FLOYD and VISAGE!! I would definitely have done something a bit like Jean-Michael and THE HUMAN LEAGUE with the direction they were going in from ‘Travelogue’ to ‘Dare’.

You make a statement with the ‘Odyssey’ title track that something different is coming with that ‘Rachel’s Song’ homage meeting PINK FLOYD acoustic guitar!

Yeah, you’re probably right… I did a similar vibe on ‘Introspect’ with an intro track as a way of saying “here’s the album… it’s sad but triumphant”. There’s definitely a ‘Blade Runner’ thing going on and later in the track, there’s a Vangelis CS80 brassy thing, I love a lot of his mid-80s stuff like ‘The Mask’ and there’s one that he did called ‘City’ which is all Korg M1, it’s amazing!

‘Is There Anybody Out There?’ is an uptempo dance number but reflected on your youth in Glasgow, like a cry for help?

Absolutely, it’s about the lack of connection and looking for it, the way you get lost in vices in order to look for that connection. For me specifically, that story is in the 90s, I was in my mid-teens and got myself into drug culture, it was a big thing where I came from and with the older boys who I hung about with, you went down that rabbit hole of smoking weed and taking ecstasy, that song is about getting into that. At the end of the song, it’s then a cry for help to get me out of this because I’d taken it too far.

It’s interesting because I had done a version of that track and sent it to a good friend of mine, Jon Campbell from THE TIME FRQUENCY who had a string of Top10 hits. He said “this mix sounds great but it’s too much like me! Gimme a week, I’m gonna do you a mix, I don’t normally do this but I love the song”. So he sent me a mix and it captures a certain magic, so that’s the one I use for album… he quipped “my mix sounds like you!” *laughs*

‘Is There Anybody Out There?’ is very relatable to now…

Yeah, it’s got many layers and relatable to people at home, not being able to socialise or connect, that genuine experience.

Having Hayley Stewart aka Mecha Maiko on backing vocals gives the song an eerie feeling to too?

Yes, I had a call with her and Dana Jean Phoenix to be part of the album as I wanted a very female centric backing harmony sound to it like PET SHOP BOYS have on their early album ‘Please’. I always feel that contrast of a male lead vocal with female backing vocals adds a certain flavour. NEW ORDER did it on ‘World’ as well, it’s more poignant, it makes more of an impact on records, especially with guys like Neil Tennant or Neil Tennant who are not the greatest singers. So Hayley brings that ghostly ethereal sound which is why I used her on ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’.

I didn’t ask Dana to be on that track because she sounds better on stuff like ‘Babylon’ and ‘Glasgow Song’ because she has the more diva soulful voice, in your face whereas Hayley is more textural so she’s more prominent on ‘Queen Of Hearts’. They are both just incredible singers.

The video for ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’ has bits that are like ‘Addicted To Love’ for the synthwave generation, is that one girl or twins?

Haha, that’s the magic of television! We filmed that at Neon Demon studios in Toronto, the girl we hired Murphy, and we said to her ‘Addicted To Love’ as a reference and also MGMT ‘Little Dark Age. So we had a split screen with two Murphy’s who were different, one with a keytar and one with a keyboard plus there are some other scenes. She was fantastic, it was filmed over an 8 hour day and she spent most of the time getting done in make-up by Amy Harper, and she was a one-take wonder! Cool, next!

Our next card is a Korg 800DV…

Out of all the Korg synthesizers, the one I liked most was the M1. I know it’s not analogue per-se, but it was a great workstation. They were still selling that synth 10 years on because it was so good, it was the first that was famous for the presets. You had the classic M1 piano that was on all those house records like BLACK BOX ‘Ride On Time’ and “Universe” was the other one, a gorgeous choir patch with fluttery things in the background. I’ve used a lot of M1 sounds on the new album.

I used to own a Wavestation which was really nice too… Korg have done some nice stuff, I see Behringer have released their reimagined version of the PolySix; the PolySix is that classic synthwave based sound you hear on all those records that everyone is chugging out, it’s like “let’s get a TR707 and a PolySix bass and away we go!” *laughs*

There’s ‘Glasgow Song’, a big ballad duet with Dana Jean Phoenix that also has bagpipes and a TEARS FOR FEARS rhythm sample from ‘Shout’?

I definitely took a nod to TEARS FOR FEARS for that 100%, all of those sounds are Fairlight samples… I tracked them down and recreated it. When you listen to ‘Shout’, it’s in B flat but that actual sounds are pitched wrong! I know it works in the track but I pitch-shifted those agogô sounds to B flat and be in tune with the track, it was just an interesting realisation! I went for that same effect, even right down to the panning.

Are the bagpipes real?

Yes, I reached out to a genuine Scottish piper, Lorne MacDougall and told him I didn’t want it too crazy so that it didn’t sound like a tourist walking in Edinburgh! What you hear is what he played, he layered that up with 14 different takes and I mixed it all in to sound like a bagpipe band. I must say, that was the only decision where it could go either way, it was either going work or be really sh*t!

It’s an obnoxious instrument and very on the nose, in your face, loud and proud. Was definitely a hard one to tame. I did have some issues in the production to make it fit in the track, but I managed to find the right balance with military drums and guitar supporting. I’m glad I persevered because it packs an emotional punch which really hits the message about how home is where the heart is, no matter what you think of where you come from. You have a love / hate relationship with the place but home is always where the heart is.

‘Queen of Hearts’ offers some more uptempo fare and uses what sounds like a classic Linn Drum Computer?

Those drum sounds are from a company called F9 Audio, it’s this guy James Wiltshire of FREEMASONS who makes incredible sample packs, it was from one called Grid Trilogy. They worked so well, they have a retro sound but they’re dancey as well. The problem with a lot of retro sounds is they don’t have the low end that you want when you do dance music, the kick doesn’t have the punch which you need in a club. These drums were cutting but had the right low end.

So you were after a meatier version of the Linn sound?

Oh yeah, the pack was done so that the drums could be dropped into Ableton as the hits were done individually and you can see the processing he’s done on it, I didn’t have to do anything to them myself as he had made them sound so good. It was probably the only time when I’ve been using drum samples that I didn’t really need to do anything apart from EQ the group to tame the highs, but they were perfect.

Another card, the Octave Kitten…the same company made the Voyetra which NEW ORDER and EURYTHMICS used…

I like the Voyetra, and I know one of the presets was used on ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, the little “dit-dit, dah-dah, dit-dit” that sounds like a banjo! I have the plug-in version and I only bought it because I know Ulrich Schnauss uses it. I did nearly buy a Behringer Cat, but I bought their Pro-1 which I eventually sold to get a Deep Mind 12.

The Behringer Deep Mind 12 is their version of a Juno 106 but I think it’s better, it sounds like one but offers way more options for the unison mode for one of the oscillators in the effects section, just some of the routing options as well.

It’s been called a “Juno 106 on steroids” and even though I haven’t used it much yet, I’m gonna keep it for my live show and I will find a use for it. I mostly stay in the box when I’m recording, 95% of the time. The only synthesizers that I use for recording are an Ensoniq VFX, a MR rack and a TS10, nothing sounds like the Ensoniq range, they are the most gorgeous sounds, out this world bell tones and really ethereal pads.

‘Wake Up’ is a bit Steve Winwood? Had it been more intention to have more guitar on the album, like strummed acoustics?

I definitely wanted more acoustic guitar and electric but used in a textural way, not in a heavy blazing way. It adds a certain contrast to the synths. There’s a lot of guitar on ‘Wake Up’, that’s John Kunkel, while Derek Elliotson (who I record my vocals with) played acoustic guitar. It gave it more of a TEARS FOR FEARS ‘Songs From The Big Chair’ vibe, I just go with whatever works.

Was it a reaction to what’s going on in synthwave?

I love the synthwave scene, they’re been very amazing to me and adopted me where everywhere else, the door was closed. I’m very grateful for them rolling out the red carpet for me but my criticism of the scene comes from me wanting to protect it. It’s wonderful because of the original songs, that’s the thing and they’re dressed up in retro clothing.

But unfortunately like when a band like OASIS came along, for every OASIS there’s a CAST or a SUPERGRASS,. So for every act like THE MIDNIGHT, there’s a truckload of people who are just copying that sound and it doesn’t add anything new. It frustrating because it’s hurting the scene and the good music in not being listened to in favour of the spam posting of all this other stuff which are literally low-bar entry productions. It’s like when someone listens to TIMECOP1983 or THE MIDNIGHT, and they do the equivalent of drawing a stick man trying to be a Van Gogh, that is just sh*t! *laughs*

I would always encourage musicians to carve their own identity and never follow trends, because if there is a large contingent of people copying other people’s sounds, that in one way is good because you will stand out when you come out with something new.. whether or not that will be appreciated is another completely different matter. I think some of my choices have definitely been reactionary to the scene and I’ve avoided clichés, I never use the same presets twice in my music, I’m very careful about that.

‘Babylon’ features more strums and sax, what’s doing the solo?

The sax is Jesse Molloy who plays on THE MIDNIGHT’s records, but there’s a lot more tropical sounds on ‘Babylon’ like if Robert Palmer did a track with ENIGMA! *laughs*

The solo is all synths, I actually dug into the Roland JV1080 for that, especially the flute and Taj Mahal presets, to picture being in The Hanging Gardens Of Babylon. It’s about meeting my wife, there’s a lot of songs about her on the album. In biblical terms, Babylon was the first civilisation next to heaven, this is the closest to heaven you can get, it feels like Babylon being in this relationship.

The music is very mysterious and even the intro was a nod to the start of FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD ‘Welcome To the Pleasure Dome’, all these bird sounds and being in paradise. *laughs*

The final card and it’s a Prophet 5!

Yes, I would love to own one but for now, I’ll just have to make to with Arturia! There are some Prophet sounds on ‘Babylon’, it has that gorgeous pad sound. It was what I was saying that you can hear the difference between a Prophet 5 pad sound and a Jupiter 8, you hear that creamy, unstable oscillation like ‘In The Air Tonight’ by Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel ‘Mercy Street’, the records are endless… oh the Prophet is the ultimate pad sound 🙂


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Michael Oakley

‘Is There Anybody Out There?’ is available now via the usual digital platforms

‘Odyssey’ is released by NewRetroWave on 14th May 2021 in a variety of vinyl LP, minidisc, cassette and CD formats as well as digital, available direct from https://newretrowave.bandcamp.com/album/odyssey

https://www.michael-oakley.com/

https://www.facebook.com/MichaelOakleyOfficial

https://twitter.com/MichaelOakleySW

https://www.instagram.com/michaeloakleyofficial/

Vintage Synth Trumps is a card game by GForce that features 52 classic synthesizers


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Jon Simo and Brad A Kinnan
7th May 2021

VEHLINGGO PRESENTS: 5 Years

Originally released in November 2019, ‘Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years’ collected together exclusive tracks from the world of synthwave and electronic pop.

Curated by Aaron Vehling, founder of Vehlinggo, the 17 tracks presented the musical ethos of the Brooklyn-based website, podcast and multimedia platform. Having been issued digitally, ‘Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years’ is now available on CD with a slight adjustment in running order to reflect Vehling’s vision of an imaginary film soundtrack.

Any good compilation contains promising talents alongside established names and this is certainly the case here.

The reconfigured tracklisting begins in a cool stylish fashion with ANORAAK’s ‘Panarea’, a funky nu-disco instrumental. Retrospective references surface with Canada’s PARALLELS on ‘The Magic Hour’, an exquisite slice of synthesized new wave that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a classic Brat Pack movie.

Remaining in Canada which has become the creative centrepoint for much of the best modern synth music, Ryan Gosling favourites FM ATTACK offer more of their trademark atmospheric electronic disco on ‘Paradise’.

The mood changes though with the appealing girly Italopop of New Yorkers BUNNY X and their ‘Revolving Doors’.

Now THE MIDNIGHT have become possibly the biggest synthwave crossover act with their sax assisted AOR but their appeal still baffles some observers; ‘Sometimes She Smiles’ does not change things and sounds not unlike busker balladeer PASSENGER but constructed using VSTs.

But with the pacey ‘Rage Of Honor’, proceedings are rocked up by LE MATOS although the backbone is still predominantly electronic. With a track entitled ‘Hi-NRG’, BETAMAXX begins proceedings with a cowbell frenzy but the speedy arpeggios soon join in for a Giorgio Moroder homage complete with digital chimes.

The shiny electro continues with the Sweden’s Johan Agebjörn and ‘Have You Ever Been In Love?’; using robotic vocal treatments like FM ATTACK, because this is a dub version of the track, the featured vocal of Tom Hooker, the voice behind many of the hits for famed Italo star Den Harrow, only comes in phrases which proves to be frustrating; the solution is to track down the original mix of the song from the ‘Videoman’ soundtrack.

MAETHELVIN cuts a solid funk groove on ‘Dance Through The Night’ aided by a LinnDrum derived pattern but maintains a chilly air, while from the Italians Do It Better stable, the previously unreleased Johnny Jewel produced ‘Gold’ by IN MIRRORS builds on some staccato tension.

The throbbing ‘Girl On Video’ from FORGOTTEN ILLUSIONS is loaded with hooks and big synthetic drum fills but while it is passable 4/4 synthwave fare, it is overlong and may have benefitted from being constructed around a 6/8 Schaffel to give it more bite.

A self-confessed “21st Century ’80s” artist, DIAMOND FIELD takes the delightful Dana Jean Phoenix into an interesting direction on ‘Freedom Pass’ by producing something that comes over like THE GO-GO’S gone synthpop. It recalls when Jane Wiedlin was working with PET SHOP BOYS producer Stephen Hague after the group first disbanded.

Beginning with some female prose en Français, DEADLY AVENGER‘s ‘Your Phone Is Off The Hook, But You’re Not’ is reminiscent of the quirky French underground from which cult acts such as MATHEMATIQUES MODERNES and RUTH emerged. Meanwhile, the wonderful MECHA MAIKO contributes the arty ‘Selfless’ which stands out with its screechy backdrop before settling into an avant pop concoction that makes hypnotic use of her repeated “It’s alright” phrasing!

‘She Sees A Future’ from Lakeshore Records signing VH x RR perhaps has the most nostalgic references like THE LOVER SPEAKS meeting ANIMOTION, but proceedings are taken down a notch by the filmic vocodered mood piece that is METAVARI’s ‘Be What You See’.

But the best is saved until last with HIGHWAY SUPERSTAR and the gorgeously dreamy ‘Slow Motion’; featuring a fabulous vocal by Zoe Polanski, the end result comes across a bit like ELECTRIC YOUTH.

‘Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years’ does its job well of showcasing new and established international talent from an American perspective.

Coming from variants of electronic music that have been labelled as synthpop, Italo Disco, synthwave, nu-disco and French disco, what actually matters is whether the music is any good.

Considering this compilation contains largely of previously unreleased material with the baggage that can come with that knowledge, the majority of it is excellent. Listeners will of course have their own favourites, but there really is something for everyone who loves electronic pop with quality and substance.


‘Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years’ is released as a limited edition CD in a packaged in a six-panel wallet with artists’ notes on 1st March 2021 while the digital album is available now direct from https://vehlinggopresents.com/album/vehlinggo-presents-5-years

https://vehlinggo.com/presents-liner-notes/

https://twitter.com/vehlinggo

https://www.instagram.com/vehlinggo/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
5th February 2021

VANDAL MOON Interview

With a sound seeded from post-punk, goth and new wave, VANDAL MOON are shaped as much by their use of drum machines and synthesizers as much as guitars and the inevitable deep baritone vocals.

Comprising of Blake Voss and Jeremy Einsiedler, the Santa Cruz duo opened their account with the self-released ‘Dreamless’ in 2013.

Their most recent long player ‘Black Kiss’ is their most electronic work yet, although the sound of THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS and THE SISTERS OF MERCY permeates throughout, perhaps not unsurprisingly as the two are linked by John Ashton who was the guitarist for the classic line-up of the former and an early producer of the latter.

In 2018 for the release of the ‘Wild Insane’ album, VANDAL MOON signed to Starfield Music, the record label of Shawn Ward, best known for his work as FM ATTACK. It is perhaps Ward who can be credited for championing VANDAL MOON to the wider synth community. Meanwhile notable collaborations with BETAMAXX and MECHA MAIKO have cemented that association further.

But despite their influences like THE CURE and DEPECHE MODE, Blake Voss and Jeremy Einsiedler have presented their own take on a classic approach with the potential to connect with wider tribes and enclaves. Front man Blake Voss talked about the rise of VANDAL MOON.

Who were the bands that inspired VANDAL MOON?

I was born right around the time THE SEX PISTOLS broke in the UK. So, by the time I was cognisant of what was going on around me, new wave was all over the radio. EURYTHMICS, TEARS FOR FEARS, BLONDIE… those were the bands of my early childhood. At the same time, my Dad’s record collection was filled with everything from Lou Reed to PINK FLOYD. Oddly enough, VANDAL MOON was initially envisioned as a sort of electronic-psychedelic project, and I think my childhood experiences, and imagination turned it into what it is now.

Had the use of synthesizers and drum machines in VANDAL MOON been more out of necessity to keep the creative process as a duo, or had you been like a conventional rock band previously?

Jeremy is my best friend. He and I have been playing music together since the late 90s, in all kinds of different bands. Noise bands, punk bands, acid folk… everything. We both loved the sh*t out of math rock, and all those post-rock bands of the early 2000s that nobody talks about anymore.

Typically, he played the drums and I played guitar and sang. But the synths and drum machines came into play because of our mutual love of the soundtrack to the movie ‘Drive’. That movie really affected us both in a profound way. It did that for many people.

Of course, the original European definition of goth which was doomy but melodic has mutated over the years into this American take which is more like dark metal, any thoughts?

I don’t know much about dark metal, but I love goth music and goth culture. I’m not a goth and I don’t pretend to make strictly goth music, but we have a lot of fans from the subculture. I’ve never met nicer, more thoughtful people. I’m just happy to have been accepted by some of them. And I love them back.

How do you look back on the first three VANDAL MOON albums and how you’ve developed?

We’ve moved in a lot of different directions as a band. THE BEATLES sort of set that precedent for pop music; never doing the same thing for too long. Eventually they became a corporation more than anything, but we all learned the same lessons from them.

Art isn’t about being born fully formed from the head of Zeus or something. It’s a journey and a process. It’s about leaving a beautiful mess behind you and letting the kids sort it all out.

Oh yeah, and being a celebrity sucks. THE BEATLES taught us that as well.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK first heard of VANDAL MOON though collaborations with FM ATTACK and then MECHA MAIKO and BETAMAXX, so how did this synthwave association begin and has it expanded your audience?

I didn’t even know the synthwave community existed until a gentleman by the name of Axel from Neon Vice Magazine reached out to me around 2013. From there it just snowballed. The synthwave kids embraced me as an artist, and that was so heart-warming.

Because of that, I’ve been fortunate enough work with some artists who have forged a place for themselves in the history books. Shawn, Haley and Nick are all legends in their own right. These are people who have created something from nothing. Back when MTV mattered, they would have been featured on ‘120 Minutes’ or something. They deserve to be celebrated. History will not forget them, and neither will I.

You have described ‘Black Kiss’ as your most electronic record yet, had you been looking to evolve in this direction or did the acceptance by the synthwave community accelerate this and give you the confidence to make more of an artistic jump?

When I make a record, I imagine it in very abstract terms. To my imagination, this record wanted to be more angular and dark. A primarily electronic pallet was the best way for me to elaborate on that vision. I’ve written literally hundreds of songs on guitars, so it felt good to write this album on synthesizers. It gives it a different vibe. But who knows, maybe I’ll do something weird like a ‘VANDAL MOON: Unplugged’ album next. Or maybe a synthesizer style punk record. Who knows!

How would describe the creative dynamic within VANDAL MOON?

Much of the time, I’m alone in my studio, just f*cking around until something decent emerges. For every album, I write maybe 50 or 60 songs, and pick the best 10 or whatever. When I die, you can rummage through all my hard drives and release bullsh*t demos to your heart’s content. Jeremy and I get together a lot at his place, and drink vodka until we’re screaming at 2am and creeping the neighbours out. It’s a good way to let off some steam. A lot of songs come out of that process as well.

‘Wicked World’ does that epic gothic thing like FIELDS OF THE NEPHILM, did you know ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was in the same class at school as The Neph’s drummer Nod but he was into jazz funk then!?! Were there any genres of music you explored before settling where you are now?

I’ve listened to and made all kinds of music. I listen to hip-hop, math rock, Turkish psych music… you name it. I’ve done soundtracks for documentaries where I’m playing a dumbek drum and a melodica and just chanting. I’ll play any instrument. I might play it sh*ttily, but I’ll play it nonetheless. I just love making music. F*ck everything else. I’m determined to succeed at creation. The rest is just happenstance.

‘Hurt’ really plays on making THE SISTERS OF MERCY’s template more synthy, had that been intentional?

I don’t intentionally model any of my songs after particular artists. The bands I liken us to, for PR purposes, are just based upon what people tell me we sound like. The thing I love about this project is that people struggle to pigeonhole us. VANDAL MOON sounds like a lot of different things, but we don’t fit neatly into any one genre. That means we’re doing something unique. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.

The moody gothwave of ‘We Are Electric’ sees you collaborate with FM ATTACK again, Shawn Ward really loves his dark musical side doesn’t he?

Shawn is the warmest, most enthusiastic and supportive person I know. He invited me out to this home in Mazatlan and we made a bunch of songs together for this last album ‘New World’. He’s my friend first and foremost. And yes, he loves dark music.

He understands how to create something dark that touches people’s hearts in a way that is multi-faceted, and not just like “oh me, I’m angry, boo hoo”. That’s because he is a special soul, and talented as hell. We’ll probably make a full-length FM ATTACK // VANDAL MOON album together at some point. It’ll be like THE GLOVE or something.

You’re not afraid to play with post-punk disco templates as ‘Suicidal City Girl’ shows? What had this been influenced by?

I think I was listening to a lot of Sally Dige when I made that song. You can hear it in there. Sally is so talented. I hope I get to work with her one day. She’s a real artist in the lifestyle sense.

Her life is art and art is her life. At least from what I can see. She draws, paints, makes music and film. She’s what we all aspire to. I was supposed to get my ass out to Berlin to do a music video with her, but it never happened.

‘Robot Lover’ is like DEPECHE MODE meeting THE MISSION, how did this track come together?

That’s a lovely compliment, thank you. This is one of those songs that Jeremy and I wrote together at his house. I think I wrote the bass line and Jeremy came up with the chords. Jeremy came up with the idea for me to sing higher during the verse line “we are enslaved for life, our pain is real”. And I think that’s what really pushed the song forward. It’s a very futurist song.

The apocalyptic gothic trance of ‘No Future’ no doubt surprised your fans, but how has the reception been on the whole to ‘Black Kiss’, has anyone said you are “betraying your goth roots”?

To hell with anyone who tells me I’m betraying my roots. The first CD I ever purchased with my own money was LL Cool J’s ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’, just based upon the power of the album art, so what the fuck do they know about my roots? I put ‘No Future’ last on the album because I felt like it was just a really nice closer. It’s aggressive, but in a more EDM kind of way. Of course, it’s not EDM. Nobody knows what it is, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s a really fun song to perform, and it’s very powerful at loud volumes. It’s a song dedicated to dystopia, and also to John Lydon. Thank you for everything, John. We love you.

How have European audiences taken to VANDAL MOON, will some of the directions taken on ‘Black Kiss’ make that more palatable for the future?

We live in interesting times. We have followers from all over the world. We get an extreme amount of support from Brazil and the rest of South America. But in the end, we’re all humans who hurt and laugh and love.

I don’t give too much credence to where our audience is from, but rather I try to embrace their love and acceptance and express gratitude back towards them as individuals. I don’t know if ‘Black Kiss’ will connect more with European audiences, but I believe it will connect with those who listen with open hearts.

The ‘Black Kiss’ album title does rather capture the zeitgeist, any thoughts?

I don’t groom my music to pump people up or bring them down, like Coca-Cola or something. I just follow my instincts and make songs based upon how I’m feeling at that moment. As a result, I think it sort of follows the emotional ups and downs of my human experience, which people can innately relate to.

I don’t want to make any commentary on what this album is or isn’t in terms of emotional content, because I want listeners to create their own experience and connections. The world is f*cked up, but it’s also filled with beauty.

The worldwide lockdown has made it difficult for everyone to make plans, but are there anymore collaborations planned for the future, or live appearances?

I’m working on a remix album with a bunch of insane artists that I won’t name here. But rest assured, it’s packed with talent. All 10 songs from ‘Black Kiss’ will be remixed by 10 different artists. I can’t wait. I also have like 3 different, full on collaborations that are in the works, which I think will surprise people.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Blake Voss

‘Black Kiss’ is released by Starfield Music as a white vinyl LP, cassette or download, available along with the rest of the VANDAL MOON back catalogue direct from https://vandalmoon.bandcamp.com/

https://www.vandalmoon.com/

https://www.facebook.com/vandalm00n/

https://twitter.com/VandalMoon

https://www.instagram.com/vandalm00n/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
17th June 2020

« Older posts