‘This World Is Ours’ is the sophomore album from FORM, following up 2018’s debut offering ‘Defiance + Entropy’.
The trio comprise singer Mark Bebb of SHELTER, Keith Trigwell of DEPECHE MODE tribute band THE DEVOUT and producer Rob Dust, whose studio prowess can be heard on works by dark European electronic acts such as DE/VISION, MESH and TORUL.
With songs written by Trigwell and Bebb, ‘This World Is Ours’ uses the one word song title aesthetic like Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle’, COCTEAU TWINS ‘Treasure’ and ULTRAVOX’s ‘Brilliant’ did.
Beginning with a short but epic untitled gothic instrumental swathed in the spirit of Gary Numan, the album starts proper with the type of industrial Schaffel anthem done many times by MESH; ‘You’ is accomplished although it is unfortunate that Bebb sings of being “predictable”. Whatever, this template continues to be favoured by acts aspiring to join the Amphi circuit and will remain popular with their crowds for years to come.
The opening salvo is followed by a pair of sombre complex ballads in ‘Here’ and ‘Succumb’ which will need an appropriate frame of mind to digest. Meanwhile the brooding ‘Extinction’ does build steadily but could have done with gathering more momentum in its progress. But the rhythmic ‘Glitter’ utilises cracking glam claps and grabs the bull by the horns with an electronic pop tune that THE HUMAN LEAGUE used to be so good at; a fabulous whirring synth solo from Trigwell in the style of Billy Currie is also a nice touch.
‘Glitter’ is followed by another instrumental interlude that takes its cue from DEPECHE MODE before they became a tedious blues influenced pseudo-rock combo… but FORM, please give these things titles in future because it is extremely annoying for reviewers that these worthy pieces have no identity or point of reference!
Battening down the hatches in the face of adversity, ‘Protector’ is another ballad but in waltz time, while ‘Hazed’ plays on the propulsive Schaffel thing again with Bebb hitting falsetto as it attempts to emulate ‘Strict Machine’ by GOLDFRAPP. The speedy thrust of ‘Viva’ is like a goth ERASURE doing ‘I Feel Love’ and the closest the album gets towards the more sparkly template of SHELTER, but ‘Athenian’ deals with toxic relationships with some suitably sharp backing.
A four-to-the-floor dance anthem in ‘World’ closes the album on an optimistic note after all the intensity and could be considered FORM’s own electro take on the ethos of ‘I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing’. But has the album ended? No… and a final untitled instrumental sourced from the DEPECHE MODE B-side ‘Christmas Island’ sneaks in to present a reality check.
FORM have produced a worthy second album and if you enjoyed ‘Defiance + Entropy’, then ‘This World Is Ours’ is a natural progression that will also be appreciated. Followers of DE/VISION, MESH, TORUL, MACHINISTA and BEBORN BETON might find this musical statement on the fragility of the world up their dark alley as well.
There is nothing like the other side of life. As a companion to its favourite 25 Classic Synth B-sides, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK presents a listing looking at the 21st Century equivalent.
B-sides often take on a cult following, provoking discussions among fans about why they might have missed inclusion on the parent album.
On why artists occasionally overlook a track when it is clearly good enough, Richard Silverthorn of MESH said “Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees”.
Then there are the occasional abstract studio experiments which often fail but occasionally work and the occasional cover versions which don’t always find favour with some listeners but are infinitely more preferable over pointless remixes of the A-side!
But how is a modern B-side been defined? There is a wider definition now due to digital and streaming formats, so they can include flipsides of vinyl, bonus tracks on CD singles and non-album tracks released as part of a download single or EP bundle. Despite all this, the term “B-side”, like “album” and “video”, still remains.
So for the purposes of this listing as before with the 25 Classic Synth B-sides, B-sides featured on the original issue of a full length album, or subsequently included on a new one are NOT included. However, those added as bonus tracks on later reissues, deluxe editions or compilations are permitted. Rules are good, rules help control the fun! 😉
So with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, presented in date and then alphabetical order within, these are ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 25 Synth B-Sides Of The 21st Century…
LADYTRON Oops Oh My (2003)
LADYTRON surprised their audiences during live shows in support of the ‘Light & Magic’ album by closing with a feisty synthpunk cover of TWEET’s ‘Oops Oh My’. Co-written by Missy Elliot, the Timbaland produced original with a DEVO sample had been a hip-hop favourite but the aggressive Riot Grrrl styled take on this risqué song about self-love with lyrics like “There goes my skirt, droppin at my feet” added a rockier edge to their sound.
Available on the LADYTRON single ‘Evil’ via Telstar Records
“This was written in response to the Iraq War” said Sarah Blackwood aka Client B, “I remember endless discussions with Toast Hawaii boss Fletch about whether it was the right decision and with heavy hearts, watching endless shelling and firefighting, from the 24 hour news coverage on far flung European hotel TVs. It was the first time I had felt that disconnection and frustration with my home country, the ‘not in my name’ ringing loudly in my ears. Bit late to the party but that’s the story of my life.”
Available on the CLIENT single ‘Here & Now’ via Toast Hawaii / Mute Records
The eloquence and surreal atmospheres of the first GOLDFRAPP album ‘Felt Mountain’ may have taken a back seat on its follow-up ‘Black Cherry’ but the experimentation continued on the B-sides of the album’s singles. ‘White Soft Rope’ combined the unsettling imagery of bondage with a chorus sung a school choir, but ‘Gone To Earth’ was even more otherworldly. The reverberating bassline combined with swirling synths and dreamy glides while Alison’s alternate cosmic language startled with a spacey hypnotism.
Nathan Cooper who was in THE MODERN said: “The inspiration came from ROXY MUSIC’s ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ which was about a blow up doll, we took that a step further and Model# 426 is about some kind of sex droid!! ‘Model #426’ was always the song that would get the audience talking because singer Emma would open a trunk on stage and lead a gimp out on a collar into the bemused looking audience!! I think it was actually that stunt that got us signed to Universal!”.
Interpolating KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND’s ‘That’s The Way (I Like It), the self-produced ‘Party Song’ was naturally a throbbing disco driven affair outshone the horrendous Diane Warren penned ballad ‘Numb’ which comprised the main act. Lyrically inspired by the classic Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter fronted Campari adverts that, it began life as a dance cover of NIRVANA’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ suggested by Elton John and intended as a single for a new PET SHOP BOYS ‘Greatest Hits’!!
Originally the B-side of ‘Numb’, now available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Format’ via EMI Music
‘Japanese Kiss’ was from the debut release on Happy Robots from Alice Hubley and Adam Cresswell. “This was the first track I wrote for ARTHUR & MARTHA” he recalled, “mostly recorded in the bedsit I’d moved into after splitting up with my girlfriend. I was absorbed in self-pity, comforting myself with Japanese-horror movies and the company of my ARP Quartet, Moog Rogue and the DR-55. Living my best life!”; 11 years later as Rodney Cromwell, Cresswell did a NEW ORDER inspired ‘KW1’ remix.
Available on the ARTHUR & MARTHA single ‘Autovia’ via Happy Robots
Basing its title on the well-known NEW ORDER tune, as with a number of the B-sides listed here, ‘Bizarre Love Duo’ outshone the main act ‘Ghost’. It all began with a pitch shifted groan sample repeated with hypnotic effect over some squelchy backing. But during the second half, the track built itself to a fabulous but abstract electrodisco number with a marvellously catchy refrain. While not quite a song and not quite an experiment, ‘Bizarre Love Duo’ was enjoyable tune in the MARSHEAUX canon.
Originally the B-side of ‘Ghost’, now available on the MARSHEAUX album ‘E-Bay Queen Is Dead’ via Undo Records
A cover of a cover, namely SHOCK’s take on THE GLITTER BAND’s 1974 Top5 hit; playing the role of the Latin lothario in response to the Annie song ‘Anthonio’, Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK and now SNS SENSATION remembered: “Richard X produced this version of ‘Angel Face’ as a side B in his single ‘Annie’. I sang both sides, which kind of shows two sides of Anthonio’s personality in a way. It was a fantastic experience – Richard is a great guy and über pro, so really a win-win.”
Available on the ANTHONIO single ‘Annie’ via Pleasure Masters
“Positive and negative can only attract” sang Victoria Hesketh on the bouncy ‘Catch 22’, a lesser known LITTLE BOOTS track which initially only appeared on the 7 inch single of ‘Earthquake’ in the UK. Gloriously synthpoppy, in hindsight along with other songs that did not make it onto the final tracklisting of her debut album ‘Hands’, it highlighted a possible direction that could have been taken, but which was ultimately watered down for wider acceptance after she was named BBC Sound Of 2009.
Originally the B-side of the single ‘Earthquake’, now available on the LITTLE BOOTS deluxe album ‘Hands’ via On Repeat Records
Continuing a great tradition among the synthpop acts of the past, VILLA NAH had ‘Benny’s Burning’ and ‘Daylight’ as part of their B-side armoury as well as the brilliant debut album ‘Origin’. Highlighting the inherent talent of Juho Paolosmaa and Tomi Hyyppä, ‘Benny’s Burning’ was a smoother and more atmospheric side of VILLA NAH compared with the uptempo technopop impressions of its A-side ‘Rainmaker’. The Helsinki duo later opened for OMD during the UK leg of 2010’s ‘History Of Modern’ tour.
Available on the VILLA NAH single ‘Rainmaker’ via Keys Of Life
Produced by Vince Clarke, ‘Never Let You Down’ was free of the many autotune treatments that Frankmusik had applied when helming the disappointing ‘Tomorrow’s World’ album in his attempts to make ERASURE sound more modern and contemporary. As a result, that heartfelt soul often associated with Andy Bell made its presence felt over a glorious galloping synthpop tune in the classic ERASURE vein, especially during the middle eight section in Spanish.
In their short career, MIRRORS left not only a great album in ‘Lights & Offerings’ but a body of wonderful B-sides too. Any number of them are worthy of mention but the nod goes to ‘Fall By Another Name’ as it was accessible enough to have been an A-side. Not as dense as MIRRORS’ usual pop noir hence its likely relegation to flipside, the bright pulsing melodies and James New’s Dave Gahan impression made this sound rather like a quality outtake from DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Speak & Spell’.
While the A-side was a faithful cover version of Peter Schilling’s anthemic ‘Major Tom’, ‘Dead Air Einz’ was a self-composed song by APOPTYGMA BERZERK mainman Stephan Groth that was eagerly welcomed at the time, thanks to it being his first original new track for four years. Utilising distorted radio broadcasts in its backdrop, it also featured some Korg MS20 from Jon Erik Martinsen and was something of a grower with its steadfast drum machine shuffle.
Available on the APOPTYGMA BERZERK single ‘Major Tom’ via Pitch Black Drive Productions
Making their initial impression with the mighty ‘Lies’ in 2012, Glasgow trio CHVRCHES actually became the mainstream saviours of synthpop that LITTLE BOOTS and LA ROUX had promised but ultimately failed to deliver on. ‘Now Is Not The Time’ was a fantastic midtempo tune with a great chorus that like ‘The Mother We Share’ sounded like Taylor Swift gone electro. However, it got relegated to B-side status despite being superior to several songs on their debut long player ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’.
Available on the CHVRCHES single ‘Recover’ via Virgin Records
In a pattern similar to the ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ boxed set only track ‘Oh Well’, the best song from ‘Delta Machine’ sessions was left out of the main act. ‘All That’s Mine’ featured a tightly sequenced backbone, electronically derived rhythms and a gloomy Eurocentric austere, all the perfect ingredients for a classic DM tune! While it was no doubt rejected for not fitting into the faux blues aspirations of modern DEPECHE MODE, it made up for the dreary notions of the A-side ‘Heaven’ which were more like hell…
Originally the B-side of the single ‘Heaven’, now available on the DEPECHE MODE deluxe album ‘Delta Machine’ via Columbia Records
OMD’s twelfth album ‘English Electric’ was notable for combining conceptual art pieces alongside supreme electronic pop in a manner reminiscent of their fourth long player ‘Dazzle Ships’ and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Radio-Activity’. Although four of these concepts made it onto the final running order of the album, one that didn’t was ‘Time Burns’, a intriguing sound collage comprising of clock movements, chimes and digital watch alarms over rumbles of sub-bass and profound computer generated speech.
Originally the B-side of the single ‘The Future Will Be Silent’, now available on the OMD EP ‘Night Café’ via BMG
A stomping electro disco number produced by Mark Reeder and Micha Adam, Elizabeth Morphew’s cooing Bush-like howls and breathy euphoria are a total delight to the ears while the mighty cavernous sound provided the heat! However, ‘United’ has ended up as the B-side. Reeder said ”I saw a piece posted on ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about QUEEN OF HEARTS and I was curious. I really liked Elizabeth’s voice from the moment I heard the first couple of tracks.”
Originally the B-side of ‘Secret’, now available on the QUEEN OF HEARTS deluxe album ‘Cocoon’ via Night Moves
With an alluringly haunting vocal from Anais Neon, the eerily stark ‘Little Death Capsule’ saw VILE ELECTRODES tell the story of early space travel when these primitive craft were sent out of the earth’s atmosphere effectively sitting on inter-continental ballistic missiles, with burning up also a possibility on return. With pulsing instrumentation from Martin Swan, it featured the sort of sterling analogue treatments that would make KRAFTWERK and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA proud.
A touching tribute to Messrs Clarke, Gore, Hütter and Schneider with hints of YAZOO’s ‘In My Room’, Johan Baeckström said of ‘Synth Is Not Dead’: “I guess I just wanted to reflect on the fact that there still IS a synthpop scene with some really great bands, both old and new. In another way, the song is sort of my ‘thank you’ to some of the artists that inspired me for several decades – some of them are mentioned in the lyrics, but far from all of course”.
Available on the JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM single ‘Come With Me via Progress Productions
METROLAND (We Need) Machines Without Romance (2015)
METROLAND’s second album ‘Triadic Ballet’ was a triumphant electronic celebration of the Bauhaus, art movement led by Walter Gropius. Gropius theorized about uniting art and technology and on the B-side of its launch single ‘Zeppelin’, METROLAND worked towards the 21st Century interpretation of that goal. Now imagine if Gary Numan had actually joined KRAFTWERK in 1979? Then the brilliantly uptempo ‘(We Need) Machines Without Romance’ would have surely been the result.
Originally the B-side of ‘Zeppelin’, now available on the METROLAND boxed set ’12×12′ via Alfa Matrix
Of the superbly rousing ‘Paper Thin’, Richard Silverthorn of MESH recalled: “Mark Hockings presented me with a demo at the time we were writing material for ‘Looking Skyward’. On first listen, I wasn’t too sure about the track as I thought it didn’t really fit with the overall feeling of the album so it kind of got shelved. The record company asked ‘what about the B-side?’ so Mark suggested ‘Paper Thin’ again. The bassline, drums and many other lines were changed and the new version came to life.”
After SCARLET SOHO, James Knights busied himself with a new Britalo inspired solo project. With hints of NEW ORDER’s ‘Subculture’ and found on KNIGHT$ debut EP ‘What’s Your Poison?’, he said “’So Cold’ is the second or third song I wrote as KNIGHT$. It’s a little darker than my other material, and the only song I’ve recorded using a marxophone (a fretless zither which I borrowed from my friend Alun Davies). It didn’t make it onto my debut album, but it’s still a song the audience enjoy, as do I.”
PSYCHE co-founder Darrin Huss said of ‘Truth Or Consequence’: “It started out under the title ‘Life On Trial’ and was about the Bradley Manning (now Chelsea) situation. It’s about the NSA surveillance, whistleblowers, etc. It’s also about the confusion between what is Truth, and what are the consequences of telling it, living it? Do we have safety in numbers? etc. It’s all in the lyrics. It’s a very PSYCHE song with even a nod to ‘The Brain Collapses’ with our use of that song’s drum machine the Oberheim DMX.”
That Marc Almond and Dave Ball reunited for a farewell gig and new material was a pleasant surprise. The frustration and anger expressed in ‘Guilty (Cos I Say You Are)’ with the lines “I can denounce you just because I can, I didn’t have the life I wanted, I didn’t do the things I dreamed” saw SOFT CELL continue where they left of in 2003. With dark resonances like ‘The Omen’ gone disco, its eerie gothique countered the celebratory electro-soul of A-side ‘Northern Lights’
INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP Another Brick In The Wall – Remoaner mix (2019)
Inheriting the mantle of THE HUMAN LEAGUE in the modern synthpop stakes, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP impressed with their self-titled debut album. With the single release of ‘The Ballad Of Remedy Wilson’ was a timely Remoaner mix of PINK FLOYD’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ sung in German that made a bold musical and political statement. Headteacher Adrian Flanagan said: “I hope that statement is ‘I hate PINK FLOYD but love KRAFTWERK’ and / or – ‘I hate you but love the EU’”.
After three albums on the Swedish independent label Memento Materia, Bristol trio MESH were on the cusp of a wider breakthrough.
Formed in 1991, Mark Hockings, Richard Silverthorn and Neil Taylor had attained cult success in Europe, first with their debut ‘Fragile’ released in 1994 which was then followed up with ‘In This Place Forever’ and ‘The Point At Which It Falls Apart’. Then as is now, Germany embraced the sound of MESH and it was Sony Music via their Home Records subsidiary in Hamburg who offered the band their major label opportunity.
Released in 2002, ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ strengthened MESH’s position within European alternative music circles although it fell short of the mainstream profile that was perhaps anticipated, with a German album chart high of No63 proving to be a disappointment at the time.
But it proved to be an important record and MESH were later picked up by Königskinder Schallplatten who put out ‘We Collide’ in 2006. This kickstarted an imperial phase for what was to become the now-familiar duo line-up of Hockings and Silverthorn with the Dependent Records released long players ‘A Perfect Solution’, ‘Automation Baby’ and ‘Looking Skyward’ which reached No12 in Germany, their best international album chart position yet.
While songs from ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ such as ‘Leave You Nothing’, ‘Friends Like These’, ‘Firefly’ and ‘Little Missile’ continue to take turns for inclusion in the more recent MESH live sets, unlike other releases in their back catalogue, ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ has not been readily available for several years. This has largely been due to the collapse of Home Records, thus elevating the album to lost and rare status, with the CD now being offered for quite high prices on eBay and Amazon.
Richard Silverthorn kindly took time out to reflect on MESH’s brief sojourn with a major record label and his memories of making ‘Who Watches Over Me?’.
At this point in MESH’s career, had there been a conscious decision to move on after three albums with Memento Materia?
I think we reached a level where we were getting more and more gig offers and the media were starting to take an interest in what we were doing. The demand on our time was becoming difficult and trying to fulfil our commitments became increasingly harder for us.
I remember we talked to our manager/label guy at the time and said “If we are going to take this to the next level we will have to give up our jobs, we need a major deal”. Our relationship was always a good one with Memento Materia but we needed to make that change and try and move forward.
How did Home Record, a German subsidiary of Sony Music, become interested in signing MESH?
Around the same time DJ Mark ‘Oh (a well-known DJ / pop act in Europe) approached us as he was quite a fan of our music and asked if Mark would do vocals on a collaboration idea he had.
The idea was a cover of the BLANCMANGE track ‘Waves’ but done with a full orchestra and electronic elements. We liked the idea but wanted it to be “Mark ‘Oh and MESH” not just featuring Mark Hockings as guest vocalist. He managed to get the London Session Orchestra to record the track and Mark added his vocal. I also did a remix of the track for the single CD.
This all caught the attention of his record label Orbit Records. They were quite well established in the dance / electronic scene with a few major hits under their belts. They were really excited about the collaboration and wanted us to co-write an album with Mark ‘Oh and on the back of this they wanted to offer us a record deal.
They had just became partners with Sony Music and wanted to branch out into more alternative music so started Home Records to run alongside their dance label Orbit Records. Unfortunately the album idea with Mark ‘Oh never happened, although a few tracks were written with that in mind. They subsequently ended up becoming part of our next album.
What did Home Records offer that perhaps hadn’t been available to you before?
Well certainly the money played a big part in the change. We were given enough money to give up our day jobs which gave us enough time to fully concentrate on music full time.
The backing of a major label was also a huge change for us. It all felt very real after this signing. We actually went to Sony’s HQ in Berlin to sign the contract.
The rooms were filled with gold discs and pictures of their artists, at that time Michael Jackson, Shakira etc. We suddenly found ourselves talking about TV appearances, radio plays and pluggers etc something we’d never really experienced.
Did you have to accept more A&R feedback on works-in-progress than maybe you would have done in the past?
No, luckily for us we still kept creative control over everything as they trusted us and the direction we wanted to take it. They knew we had a strong following and they wanted to expand on that.
The only real stipulation they had was they wanted it mixed by someone else to achieve that polished professional sound. This was something very new for us as up until that point, we’d done everything ourselves.
They suggested Peter Schmidt or BlackPete as he was sometimes known as. He was a known German engineer who worked at Berlin’s Hansa Studio and had worked on U2 ‘Achtung Baby’ and DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Black Celebration’ along with Gareth Jones.
With major label support, did you, Mark and Neil change your approaches in any way? What was your creative dynamic at the time?
Not really in the way we write, but we certainly felt a need to up our game especially with single choices. Maybe a little pressure for something a little more immediate and radio friendly. The track we had in mind was ‘Crash’ as it was kind of danceable and quite mainstream, but that soon changed after the 9/11 terrorist attack which happened around this time. Although the lyrics had nothing to do with that, we thought people could misunderstand and possibly interpret them that way. The track everyone seemed to lean towards was ‘Leave You Nothing’ so this became the first single.
Was your gear set-up still quite reliant on hardware?
Yes, it was pretty much all hardware synths, we had just spent a big chunk of our advance on new equipment to get inspiration. A Roland XP-30 (fully expanded with dance cards) played a big role on this album. A lot of the drum loops and sounds came from this keyboard, although we painstakingly chopped them up to make them less recognisable to the presets.
A NordLead 2 and an Access Virus B along with all our previous analogue gear was the palette of sounds we used. Sampling was taken care of by two Emax II’s and an Emu Esi32. Sampling was a major part of how we wrote and programmed at the time. Many hours of drum sampling and looping to create the rhythm sections / tracks.
‘Who Watches Over Me?’ was recorded in Bristol, but then it was mixed in Hamburg, did that environment help you to focus more on the final product?
The original plan was to write and record in our studio and take it somewhere locally to mix it. Initially, we tried at The Channel House studio in Bristol (owned by Toni Size) who had an SSL desk but the chemistry just wasn’t there with us and the guys we were working there.
The label suggested Home Studios in the centre of Hamburg. This had a Protools setup and a 96 channel SSL console.
It was previously known as Chateau Du Pape, DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’ was mixed there along with ‘Herzeleid’ by RAMMSTEIN and many other artists like NENA used it too.
We spent 3 weeks locked in there with Peter Schmidt and it was a breath of fresh air for us. It was the first time we could sit back and actually listen, rather than be engrossed in the programming side of things.
All-in-all, it was a fantastic experience and our fussball (table football) skills improved enormously. The album was mastered within days of finishing the mixing. We flew straight from Hamburg to Belgium to master it with Ronald Prent at Galaxy an outstanding purpose built studio.
‘Firefly’ was a fine opener that can be seen as classic MESH, how did it come together?
Initially it was just an instrumental track but Mark came up with a lyric idea for it. Mark and I lived very close to a supermarket in Bristol where an act of arson had taken place. Firefighter Fleur Lombard lost her life that day. She was the first ever female firefighter to lose her life in the line of duty in the UK. The lyrics are a twisted perspective through the eyes of the guy who caused the atrocity.
Would it be fair to say ‘Leave You Nothing’ was a bit reminiscent of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘It’s No Good’?
I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone refer to that track as sounding similar before but now you come to mention it… haha I don’t know, does it?
What was ‘Little Missile’ referring to? That brought a slight drum ‘n’ bass influence in?
‘Little Missile’ for me was more about that piano line, but we added this erratic “drum n bass” type loop which fitted really well so we just went with it. The structure of that song is all over the place but somehow seems to work and became a fan favourite.
The original title for the album was going to be ‘Stop Breathe’, a line taken from that song but the label had their concerns because the German people have problems pronouncing “th” in Breathe so we changed it last minute to ‘Who Watches Over Me?’.
The titles were quite pained from ‘Razorwire’ and ‘I Can’t Imagine How It Hurts’ to ‘Retaliation’ and ‘The Trouble We’re In’, how were things personally within the MESH camp at the time?
Weirdly, it was probably the most relaxed period in our history. We had signed “the major deal” and were in a very focused mindset. Mark’s lyrics have always had a very dark side to them which I’ve always thought was the appeal.
‘Who Watches Over Me?’ included ‘Friends Like These’ which has now taken on a life of its own and has become something of a MESH signature tune?
Yes. we released it as a single and we done a bizarre video for it on a farm in Berlin with a load of scantily clad girls an old Opel Kadett and a load of garden Gnomes… don’t ask…
Live, it became an anthem for us, probably helped by the fact we used to secretly take pictures of people entering the gig and their pictures would appear on the huge screens behind us during that track.
It was almost like us saying “thank you” to those who followed us and came to the shows. From then on it’s become the fans’ song, they own it now.
Which are your own personal favourite songs and memories from ‘Who Watches Over Me?’?
So many songs for different reasons. The making of this album was an exciting period for us. Personally I like ‘The Trouble We’re In’ although I seem to remember we were all really ill at the time of recording that song. We were all together in the studio for weeks on end so we’d all managed to catch this hideous flu like virus and you can really hear it in Mark’s vocal when you know that, but it just conjures up those long days for me listening to it now.
We were doing loads of odd sampling in my parents’ garage, dropping tools and bashing different things to create the percussion on that track. Layered up multiple takes of us clapping at the end to create a gospel type feel as it fades out. It just brings back up all those memories. Also, the time we spent at Home Studios was an amazing adventure. We stayed in three different hotels over a three week period and got to know Hamburg like a second home.
Looking back, how was ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ received in Europe when it was released?
From our existing fanbase, it was received with open arms and the reviews in all the dark scene magazines were excellent. I think our only gripe was with Sony. We had what we thought was a great album, everyone knew it was something special but we were such a small fish at Sony and I think their focus was on their bigger artists.
They got it into all the mainstream music outlets and had it featured on a lot of the listening posts but the publicity wasn’t great. We did get a review and interview in Rolling Stone magazine which was quite an achievement. The album did actually chart in the top 100 which was something for us, but with more of a push from them I think it could have broken down more barriers for us than it did but…
But things were not all well at Home Records and apart from MESH, one of the other casualties was Karl Bartos of KRAFTWERK, so what happened from your point of view?
Maybe it was the fact it was a new market for them as they were essentially a dance label with Sony Columbia’s backing, so I think they may have struggled with a strategy in this genre and trying to break into the mainstream. We were covered in all the usual magazines and media (which we had before) and limited amounts of radio play, but breaking new ground and establishing yourself was difficult to maintain.
We actually did a show case gig at the launch of the label in Hamburg and Karl Bartos was our support. Unbelievable the godfather of electronic music supporting us???! I think he may have suffered the same fate as us. I think their hearts were in it, but maybe that last piece of the puzzle for opening new doors was missing. Our time with them was amazing and a real eye opener to the real world of the music business that not many people get to experience. As a label they were really cool guys and great people to work with.
While ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ did not achieve a British breakthrough, the overall momentum got Gareth Jones interested enough to work with you?
Yes, Gareth was originally earmarked to do ‘Who Watches Over Me?’, but we felt the DEPECHE MODE connection which he was synonymous with wasn’t good for us so we initially turned it down.
When we started on ‘We Collide’, his name came up again and we thought “yeah what the hell” and that was another exciting chapter…
Having had the major label experience and been with Dependent since 2009 for ‘A Perfect Solution’, what would you say to artists now about whether to sign on the dotted line?
That’s a tricky one really. In all honesty, I think being on a small enthusiastic label is better than signing with a major label that has big artists to deal with. The money and experience was fantastic but I’m not so sure it’s like that these days. There certainly isn’t the money anymore and I think maybe a more internet based label with streaming and social media experience is a better option nowadays.
How do you think ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ sits within the MESH portfolio now as four albums have come since?
I personally think it sits there just right. It was a huge step forward for us and it’s all documented in that album. It still sounds like us as we had creative control but maybe it’s more professionally polished.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Richard Silverthorn
Over the last 10 years, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has been a voice for the discerning enthusiast of electronic pop.
With a balancing act of featuring the classic pioneers of the past alongside the emergent new talent for the future, the site has become well known for its interviews and reviews.
It asks the questions people have always wanted to ask while celebrating the continuing development of the synthesizer in popular music.
All this while holding to account those who deliver below expectations, assuring the listener that if they are perhaps not hearing the genius that some devoted fans are declaring, then ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is there to assist in affirming or denying that assessment.
But when artists do deliver, they tend to build a strong relationship with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. So with the site celebrating its first 10 years, presented here are greetings and messages from some people who you might know…
Rusty Egan, VISAGE
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is 10 years old with the synth knowledge of a 50 year old. If I can’t remember something electronic I don’t Google, I visit ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK!
Glenn Gregory, HEAVEN 17
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and its wonderful leader Chi is like the League Of Super Heroes for Electronic Music. Our future is safe in his hands.
I have been involved in electronic music making for 40 years, yet one half hour conversation with Chi makes me realise how little I know. From then to now, he’s knows!
Neil Arthur, BLANCMANGE
Chi has been brilliantly supportive of BLANCMANGE, for which I am very grateful. We’ve always managed to have a good laugh during our interviews, as he would ask me about the darkness and gloom lying within a given BLANCMANGE song! I look forward to our next chat.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has a very important place and a role to play, in spreading the news of electronic music, new and old, far and wide. Here’s to the next ten years. Well done and good luck.
Gary Daly, CHINA CRISIS
Thanks for all your wonderful support Chi, so glad someone has taken the time to ask some great questions…
Sarah Blackwood, DUBSTAR
I love the website. It’s a treasure trove of informative articles, both a very readable historical archive and a forward looking platform for encouraging new talent. In what can be traditionally and lazily categorised as a very male dominated scene, Chi encourages great music regardless of gender and I enjoy the updated Spotify playlist if I’m ever stuck for what to listen to whilst running.
As regards interviews, it’s always enjoyable – Chi is a bit too easy to talk to and his passion for music and synth geekery shines through – heaven forbid you try sneaking a (cleared) sample past him, he will spot it!
Is it 10 years already? Happy birthday ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK!
Chris Payne, DRAMATIS
With 18,000 likes and 12,000 Facebook followers; ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK under the guidance of its purveyor Chi Ming Lai, has become the leading place for the Electronic Music fan. Intelligent, well written and well researched journalism with a great team of writers presenting an array of brilliant fascinating new acts (and some older ones as well!), hopefully it will continue for at least another 10 years.
Tracy Howe, RATIONAL YOUTH
Congratulations to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK on ten years of brilliant reporting of, and support to, the electronic pop scene. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is the authoritative publication “of record” for fans and makers of synthpop alike and is the international rallying point and HQ for our music. We look forward to many more years of in-depth interviews and probing articles, all in the beautifully written style. Happy birthday ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK!
Mark White, ABC + VICE VERSA
Chi Ming Lai and Paul Boddy are two of the most learned, nay, erudite music journalists I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, a rare experience indeed to be quizzed by a pair who know their onions. And unusual integrity. Chi promised me if we asked, he would turn off the tape recorder and it would never appear in print. And has been true to his word. This has literally never happened in my career. Also these two chaps are bloody good fun. I laughed til I cried. Go see the movie!
Rob Dean, JAPAN
10 years of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK? Only one for me (yes, I know…), but it’s heartening to know that Chi and the crew have created a site so cutting edge for us die-hard fans of electronica. Having read the highly entertaining VICE VERSA chaps interview, I was delighted to be asked to do my own, confident that the questions would be thoughtful and intelligent and yes, a little bit probing too. Here’s to the next 10 and thank you!
Richard Silverthorn, MESH
On several occasions I have done interviews for ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. Every time I felt like they actually cared about the music and scene and put some educated thought into the questions. It’s good to feel that enthusiasm.
Tom Shear, ASSEMBLAGE 23
Congratulations on 10 years of covering and supporting the scene! Here’s to another 10 and beyond…
Sophie Sarigiannidou, MARSHEAUX
I first met Chi at Sparrowhawk Hotel, Burnley in November 2000 for an OMD convention. It took me 13 hours to reach by train to Burnley from London due to bad weather. I saw him playing live (!!!!) with his covers band THE MESSERSCHMITT TWINS, they were having their time of their life, dancing and singing, so so happy! Us too of course!! From that moment on we became friends. Then he supported our band MARSHEAUX from the very early beginning and I thank him a lot for that!
It’s always great having Chi asking questions for interviews. We as a band had our best interviews with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK! We spent a lot of hours talking about the history of electronic music and the future of synthpop. My favourite articles are the “Beginners Guide To…” series, you have a lot to learn from these pages!!! Happy Anniversary Chi, we’ve indeed had 10 amazing years with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. I hope and wish the next 10 to be even better.
Erik Stein, CULT WITH NO NAME
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK elected not to review earlier CWNN albums, so we just had to keep making better and better records until they would finally relent. They finally gave in from album number 7 onwards, and it was well worth the wait. The writing was spot on and not a single DEPECHE MODE reference in sight.
Mark Reeder, MFS BERLIN
Congratulations and a very Happy 10th Birthday! Over the past 10 years, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has developed into becoming the leading website for all kinds of electronic synthpop music. It has become a familiar friend, because it is something I can personally identify with, as it is maintained by fans, for fans.
However, it is not only commendable, but can also be quite critical too, and that is a rare balancing act in the contemporary media world.
It has been a great source of regular electronic music information. I have discovered and re-discovered many wonderful electronic artists, and regularly devour the in-depth interviews and features.
Through ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, I have been introduced to and worked with some of the wonderful artists presented on your pages, such as QUEEN OF HEARTS or MARSHEAUX and in return, it has supported my work, my label and my artists too, and I thank them for that! We can all celebrate ten years of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and together, look forward to the next 10 years of inspiring electronic music.
Per Aksel Lundgreen, SUB CULTURE RECORDS
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is a highly knowledgeable and very passionate site! They are digging out rarities from the past as well as exploring and discovering new acts, giving them attention and writing about them often before anybody else around have even heard of them.
This makes ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK a very interesting page to follow, as their in-depth stories about older bands “missing in action” as well as the latest stuff “in the scene” gets perfectly mixed together, giving you all you want basically in a one-stop-site for everything electronic. I also love the way they give attention to unsigned / self-released bands and small indie-labels, giving everybody a fair chance as long as the music is good enough. Congrats on the 10th Anniversary, well deserved!
Jane Caley aka Anais Neon, VILE ELECTRODES
When VILE ELECTRODES were just starting out, we heard through the Facebook grapevine about a new electronic music blog called ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. We had a London gig coming up, and had recently made a promo video for our song ‘Deep Red’, so we dropped them an email about both, not expecting to hear back, since we were virtually unknown.
However it transpired they really liked our sound, likening us to “Client B born and raised in the Home Counties fronting Dindisc-era ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK”.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK subsequently gave this very description to Andy McCluskey, which piqued his interest such that he checked out our music. We were invited to tour Germany with OMD as a direct result!
George Geranios, UNDO RECORDS
Chi is a really rare quality of a man. He is passionate about music which is so obvious of course while reading ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. Through our mutual love for OMD, we discovered that we have the same musical taste. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK helped us promote all of Undo Records projects and finally we ended collaborating and releasing this brilliant double CD compilation! Chi, I wish you health and to continue writing the best music texts in the industry!!
Adam Cresswell, HAPPY ROBOTS RECORDS
Some people say ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK doesn’t support the scene but I’ve not found that to be the case; having been a part of two gigs and the recent CD, I know how much blood, sweat and tears they put into what they do. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK might get a few people’s back-up, but they know their stuff when it comes to synth-driven music and I’m massively grateful that they have supported so many Happy Robots artists since 2010.
Stuart McLaren, OUTLAND
It’s no secret that the burgeoning new synthwave genre shares a common history with the great synthesizer acts and pioneers of the 80s, like Dolby, Jones, Luscombe, Wilder, Daly et al who created new soundscapes with what we now define as vintage synths.
These sounds are brought back to life by pioneers in their own right like FM ATTACK, GUNSHIP, ESPEN KRAFT and BETAMAXX to name a few.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and Chi Ming Lai have always been at the forefront of championing, interviewing and reviewing the luminaries of this great instrument past to present, and are likely to remain the de facto voice of the synth scene well into the future… we agree on one thing and that is FM-84’s singer Ollie Wride is deffo one to watch as a star for the future!
Paula Gilmer, TINY MAGNETIC PETS
Happy Birthday ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. thank you for your support. You never fail to impress with your encyclopedic knowledge of synthpop. Here’s looking forward to 10 more!
Mr Normall, NUNTIUS
I’ve been following most of my favourite artists since they were brand new and often this means it’s a period of 30+ years, yet when reading articles and interviews by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, I have learned every time something new about of my favourites.
Following ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK have made me pay attention to several new acts that I would likely know nothing about if they hadn’t appeared on the page.
Catrine Christensen, SOFTWAVE
An outstanding magazine supporting new and upcoming artists whom they choose carefully as they have great taste of music regarding to their huge knowledge within the synthpop genre, when it comes to their writing and promotion – there’s no one like them. Happy birthday 😘
Elena Charbila, KID MOXIE
Happy 10th birthday ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK! Your love and commitment to the synth community is unparalleled and your support has meant a lot to me on a professional but also on a personal level. Here’s to the next 10 years! 😘
Alexander Hofman aka Android, S.P.O.C.K
I’m a fan of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK for several reasons. You showed up when I perceived the majority of the electronic scene had turned more and more harsh; as much as I can appreciate an occasional emotional outburst, I’m a happy guy and thus I’m into pop – ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK showed, and still shows me that there’s still electronic pop music being made. Good electronic pop! Which makes me glad, as I find the greater part of the generally popular darker scene to be of lower musical quality.
Moreover, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK writes in an amazingly happy tone – remember, I’m a happy guy, so it’s right up my alley. Add the fact that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK regularly publishes interesting articles, using intelligent and varied vocabulary, shows enormous knowledge and interest of the theme, the style, the scene – and I’m hooked. Thanks for being around – keep up the good work, it’s much needed! And congratulations – let’s grab a beer again! 🍻
Ian Ferguson, founder member of RAINLAND, one-time member of ANALOG ANGEL and occasional contributor looks back from both sides of the fence at ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK
It’s appropriate that a 10th anniversary is celebrated with tin or aluminium given the current state of the UK electronic scene (spoiler, there is no ‘scene’, just folk making scenes) as when looking for gold, you are more likely to dig up an old mouldy dog food can than a nugget of rare and precious metal.
Like the UK industrial scene before it, this loose of collection of folk making noise is slowly eating itself alive in the pursuit of success that was never going to be attainable in first place.
Seriously, the number of grown adults acting as though they are members of a million selling act rather than one that can’t fill a phone box would be hilarious if it wasn’t so toxic in the way it manifests itself, but more of that later..
So what of my last decade as a fan of electronic music, a contributor to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and someone that has thrown out a few releases of my own in that time? Highlights and lowlights abound and here are a few of them…
‘Electronic music, what like 80s stuff…?’
The last decade has been in turns brilliant and infuriating for a fan of synth music. The re-emergence of some of my favourite bands producing music of a similar quality to their releases from the height of their fame has been particularly gratifying. The number of excellent new bands that have come through in this time has also been a joy to behold. This is due primarily to the real advances in technology which has allowed anyone with a laptop and a few plugins to make music.
These tools also mean that bands can now play live easier than ever, not needing to haul a van load of keyboards around to replicate their sound. Still however we see folk ‘jazz hands-ing’ live, thinking dressing up in age-inappropriate clothing and dancing around like you are holding in a wee is a live performance… news just in, it’s not…
This of course means you have to wade through tonnes of chaff to find the wheat and ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has been invaluable in doing a lot of the ‘leg work’ in this task.
The best releases of the last decade would fill a number of Op Ed pieces but standouts include the ‘English Electric’ and ‘The Punishment of Luxury’ albums by OMD, which show that if you stick with what you know the quality will shine through, the ULTRAVOX album ‘Brilliant’ and numerous KITE EPs.
The aforementioned ‘scene’ featured a number of standout releases from the likes of VILE ELECTRODES, ASSEMBLAGE 23 and MESH who let the music do the talking and reaped suitable rewards. These bands and a number of others all show how to conduct yourself in a professional way without fermenting what basically amounts to a hate campaign against those that don’t subscribe to your narrow view of how things are done.
The childishness of certain corners that house a handful of bands and hangers on from the UK has been one aspect of the last 10 years that I personally could do without. These self-proclaimed ‘scene’ gatekeepers have actually done themselves more damage than good.
It’s funny that they think they are all in a self-supporting community when any one of them would throw the others under the bus (a tour one, you can come on-board if you sell 30 tickets to each show, then you can pretend you are an in-demand support) given the chance of a gig with a named act or coverage on this site. This petulance has escalated more recently to thinly veiled racism and this needs to be stomped out, preferably by a big pair of New Rock boots. They need to grow up and concentrate on producing decent music and not poorly thought through opinions.
‘I prefer rogues to imbeciles, because sometimes they take a rest…’ Alexandre Dumas
I have been writing for ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK for around half of its existence and I have had the chance to meet some of my heroes thanks to this association. Highlights include bumping into Imogen Heap who on hearing I had written the ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK review of her ‘Sparks’ album, thanked me for my kind words and asked for a selfie (a proper fan boy moment), recommending soft synths to Martyn Ware and Green Gartside, chatting with John Foxx and seeing quotes from my reviews being used in NO-MAN promotional ads.
You only need to look at the people that give up time to speak to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and the PR people that approach ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK for coverage to understand how highly the site, and by extension site founder Chi Ming Lai, is held by the people in the know in the industry. From NEW ORDER to OMD, BLANCMANGE to Midge Ure, various members of JAPAN to HEAVEN 17 all have spoken openly at length about their careers giving insight to the people behind the music we all love.
And what other site can discuss an obscure electronic release by a leading light of the UK Prog movement one minute and chat with Synthesizer Patel the next without missing a beat or it appearing to jar?
‘You’re still in a band… Aren’t you a bit old for that behaviour…?’
I have come back to music this last decade after a considerable time out from writing and performing. I am sure there are a number of folk that wish I had stayed ‘retired’ and I accept that though I will be setting up a website soon called The Electrikery Club to let them all know why they are wrong, I am right and to give some much needed exposure to my mate Colin’s magnum opus recorded on a VL-Tone on his mum’s old Bush tape recorder…
Since returning to the fray, I have toured with some well-known names, played some big festivals both in the UK and further afield (actual festivals, not vanity gigs with 38 bands on the bill in a pub in Peckham), seen folk do questionable things with chicken nuggets and on more than one occasion, almost killed a well-known electronic percussionist and filthy hippy (who may or may not be my son…)
I have spent way way too long listening to subtle mixes of the same song, locked in windowless rooms with my musical compatriot Derek MacDonald and eaten considerably more motorway service station sarnies than is healthy. And you know what, I wouldn’t change one bloody minute of it.
I would even do Glastonbury again with Keith Trigwell and that included watching him dancing and let’s be honest, nobody wants that…
When a week is a long time in politics, a decade publishing music related guff on the web is an eternity… ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has been around for 10 years and I get the feeling this is really just the start of the journey. Stay on-board, it’s been and will continue to be one hell of a ride