Following the acclaim for his accomplished and acclaimed third album ‘Infinity Mirror’, Ryan A James returns as MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY with his latest long form release ‘Bloods, Side A’.
MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY has been held in such high regard that Ryan A James has worked with notable artists such as RÖYKSOPP and IONNALEE. Having become a father, James’ perspective has changed and while shoegaze may have been an element to MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY in the past, the synthwave overtures of acts across the Atlantic like COM TRUISE, FM ATTACK and BETAMAXX have caught his attention.
But also having released a cover of Phil Collins’ ‘Another Day In Paradise’ in 2020, the MTV era of decades past has also figured. From ‘Infinity Mirror’, the song ‘Beta Blocker’ was a sign of his future musical direction, featuring a meaty programmed electronic bassline of the type adopted by PROPAGANDA and FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD.
Beginning with ’Pilot’ and accompanied by subtle stuttering beats, this is a short delightful instrumental that showcases the influence of both FM ATTACK and BETAMAXX. But the excellent ’Savannah’ springs a total surprise with a dreamier take on the sort of rhythmic new wave pop that adorned many a John Hughes or Jerry Bruckheimer movie montage and at times, it sounds as though it might morph into a track by expat Scot popwave exponent Michael Oakley.
Drawing from COM TRUISE, the moodier ’Gardener In A War’ features a great self-deprecating line about how “I’ll wash the petri dish for you”. Although it is more typically MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY in its introspective outlook and presentation, as its intensity is enhanced by a hypnotic cacophony of electronics, there are also unexpected Shakuhachi samples and programmed bass patterns with shades of Howard Jones.
Short but sweet, despite being less than a minute and a quarter, ’Our Silences’ gives room for a fabulous freeform synth solo before ’Ultra-Nightmare’ closes the A Side and sees the return of the Shakuhachi while the driving pulse journeys onto an expansive synthwave adventure with a sinister manipulated voice creeping back and forth to provoke a sense of unease.
With guitar seemingly absent, ‘Bloods, Side A’ acts as a fine pointer as to how MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY has evolved. While the sound remains melodic and reflective, Ryan A James has headed West and is now even more electronic than before; ‘Side B’ is now eagerly awaited to complete the set.
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.
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.
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
2019 was a year of 40th Anniversaries, celebrating the synth becoming the sound of pop when ‘Are Friends Electric?’ reached No1 in the UK chart in 1979.
While GARY NUMAN opted for ‘(R)evolution’ and two of his former sidemen RRussell Bell and Chris Payne ventured solo for the first time, OMD offered a 7 disc ‘Souvenir’ featuring a whole album of quality unreleased material to accompany a concert tour to celebrate four decades in the business. That was contrary to DEPECHE MODE who merely plonked 14 albums into a boxed set in a move where the ‘Everything Counts’ lyric “the grabbing hands grab all they can” became more and more ironic… MIDGE URE partied like it was 1980 with the music of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX, while SIMPLE MINDS announced an arena tour for 2020 so that their audience could show Jim Kerr their hands again.
HEAVEN 17 announced some special showcases of the early material of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and got a particularly warm reception opening on tour for SQUEEZE as a trailer ahead of their own ‘Greatest Hits’ jaunt next year.
Celebrating 20 years in music, there was the welcome return of LADYTRON with a self-titled comeback album, while Swedish evergreens LUSTANS LAKEJER performed the ‘Åkersberga’ album for its 20th Anniversary and similarly GOLDFRAPP announced a series of shows in honour of their magnificent cinematic debut ‘Felt Mountain’.
Cult favourites FIAT LUX made their intimate live comeback in a church in Bradford and released their debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ 37 years after their first single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’.
As a result, their fans were also treated to ‘Ark Of Embers’, the long player that Polydor Records shelved in 1985 when the band were on the cusp of a breakthrough but ended with a commercial breakdown.
Modern prog exponents Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson got back together as NO-MAN for their dual suite electronic concept record ‘Love You To Bits’, but an even more ambitious undertaking came from UNDERWORLD with their boxed set ‘Drift Series 1’.
After a short hiatus, the mighty KITE sold-out three gigs at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan and ended the year performing at an opera house, while GIORGIO MORODER embarked on his first ever concert tour where his songs were the stars.
Despite the fall of The Berlin Wall 30 years ago, there were more evident swipes to the right than there had been for a long time, with the concept of Brexit Electro becoming a rather unpleasant reality. So in these more sinister times, the need for classic uplifting electronic pop was higher than ever.
To that end, three superb debut albums fitted the bill. While KNIGHT$ offered quality Britalo on ‘Dollars & Cents’, the suave presence of OLLIE WRIDE took a more MTV friendly direction with ‘Thanks In Advance’.
But for those wanting something more home produced, the eccentric Northern electronic pop of the brilliantly named INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP continued the artistic lineage of THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
QUIETER THAN SPIDERS finally released their wonderful debut album ‘Signs Of Life’ which was naturally more understated and Denmark had some worthy synthpop representation with SOFTWAVE producing an enjoyably catchy debut long player in ‘Game On’.
On the shadier side of electronic pop, BOY HARSHER achieved a wider breakthrough with their impressive ‘Careful’ long player but as a result, the duo acquired a contemporary hipster element to their fanbase who seemed to lack manners and self-awareness as they romped around gigs without a care for anyone around them. But with tongues-in-cheeks, SPRAY continued to amuse with their witty prankelectro on ‘Failure Is Inevitable’.
Photo by Johnny Jewel
Italians Do It Better kept things in house as CHROMATICS unexpectedly unleashed their first album for six years in ‘Closer To Grey’ and embarked on a world tour. Main support was DESIRE and accompanied on keyboards by HEAVEN singer Aja, the pair took things literally during their cover version of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ with a girl-on-girl kiss in front of head honcho Johnny Jewel.
Other ITIB acts on the tour dependent on territory included DOUBLE MIXTE, IN MIRRORS and KRAKÓW LOVES ADANA. But the best work to appear from the stable came from JORJA CHALMERS who became ‘Human Again’.
Touring in Europe with OMD and MIDGE URE, TINY MAGNETIC PETS unleashed two EPs ‘The Politburo Disko’ and ‘Girl In A White Dress’ as fellow Dubliner CIRCUIT3 got political and discussed ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’.
The King of Glum Rock LLOYD COLE surprised all with an electronic pop album called ‘Guesswork’ just as PET SHOP BOYS set an ‘Agenda’. HOWARD JONES released his most synthy work for years in ‘Transform’ and while CHINA CRISIS acted as his well-received support on the UK leg of his 35th Anniversary tour, their front man GARY DALY ventured solo with ‘Gone From Here’.
Sweden continued to produce quality electronic pop with enjoyable releases from the likes of MACHINISTA, PAGE, COVENANT, OBSESSION OF TIME and LIZETTE LIZETTE. One of the most interesting acts to emerge from the region was US featuring the now Stockholm-domiciled Andrew Montgomery from GENEVA and Leo Josefsson of LOWE, with the catalyst of this unlikely union coming from a shared love of the late country legend Glen Campbell. Meanwhile, veteran trio DAYBEHAVIOR made the best album of their career ‘Based On A True Story’.
However, Canada again gave the Swedes a good run for their money as ELECTRIC YOUTH and FM ATTACK released new material while with more of a post-punk slant, ACTORS impressed audiences who preferred a post-post-punk edge alongside their synths.
DANA JEAN PHOENIX though showed herself to be one of the best solo synth performers on the live circuit, but artistically the best of the lot was MECHA MAIKO who had two major releases ‘Okiya’ and ‘Let’s!’.
Despite making some good music in 2019 with their ‘Destroyer’ two-parter, the “too cool for school” demeanour of TR/ST might have impressed hipsters, but left a lot to be desired. A diva-ish attitude of entitlement was also noticed by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to be disappointingly prevalent in several fledgling acts.
However, several of the sub-genre’s artists needed to rethink their live presentations which notably underwhelmed with their static motions and lack of engagement.
While promoters such as Outland developed on their solid foundations, others attempted to get too big too soon like the musical equivalent of a penis extension, leaving fans disappointed and artists unpaid. Attempting to turnover more than 10 acts during in a day with a quarter of an hour changeover has always been an odious task at best, but to try 15?!? One hopes the headliners were well paid despite having to go on at midnight when most of their supporters went home so as not to miss the last train…
Now at times, it was as if a major collective midlife crisis had hit independent electronic music in the UK during 2019. It was not unlike how “born again bikers” have become a major road safety risk, thanks to 40somethings who only managed Cycling Proficiency in Junior School suddenly jumping onto 500cc Honda CMX500 Rebel motorcycles, thinking they were Valentino Rossi.
Something similar was occurring in music as a variety of posturing delusional synth owners indulged in a remix frenzy and visions of grandeur, forgetting that ability and talent were paramount. This attitude led to a number of poorly attended events where attendees were able to be counted on one hand, thanks to clueless fans of said combos unwisely panning their video footage around the venue.
Playing at 3:15pm in an empty venue is NOT performing at a ‘major’ electronic festival… “I’ll be more selective with the gigs I agree to in the UK” one of these acts haplessly bemoaned, “I’ve played to too many empty rooms!” – well, could that have been because they are not very good?
Bands who had blown their chance by not showing willingness to open for name acts during holiday periods, while making unwise comments on their national TV debut about their lack of interest in registering for PRS, said they were going to split a year in advance, but not before releasing an EP and playing a farewell show in an attempt to finally get validation for their art. Was this a shining example of Schrodinger’s Band?
Of course, the worst culprits were those who had an internet radio show or put on gigs themselves so that they could actually perform, because otherwise external promotors were only interested in them opening at 6.15pm after a ticket deal buy on for a five band bill. Humility wouldn’t have gone amiss in all these cases.
It’s a funny old world, but as ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK comes up to concluding its tenth year as an influential platform that has written extensively about not one or two or three or four BUT five acts prior to them being selected to open on tour for OMD, luckily the gulf between good and bad music is more distinct than ever. It will be interesting to see if the high standard of electronic pop will be maintained or whether the influx of poor quality artists will contaminate the bloodline.
So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK ends the decade with a complimentary comment by a punter after attending two of its live events: “You don’t put on sh*t do you…”
May the supreme talent rise and shine… you know who you are 😉
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2019
Although best known as the voice for FM-84, Ollie Wride has ventured solo with his recently released debut album ‘Thanks In Advance’, co-produced by Michael Oakley.
And while songs like ‘Running In The Night’ and ‘Wild Ones’ with FM-84 made him more widely known within Synthwave circles, ‘Thanks In Advance’ explores more dynamic synth-led territory with an FM rock flavour, particularly in songs like ‘The Driver’, ‘Miracle Mile’ and ‘Never Live Without You’, although there are more balladic numbers too like ‘Luna’.
A very immediate pop album with a suave presence and that classic MTV friendly feel, the positive acclaim for ‘Thanks In Advance’ has led to Wride announcing his first solo concert in London at Camden Assembly on Saturday 16th November 2019.
With only a few tickets remaining for the Outland hosted show, Ollie Wride talked about his career to date, both with FM-84 and solo, plus his future plans.
What led you to depart the UK for the USA, was it purely musical or was it more romantic, inspired by the films and TV shows of your youth?
Firstly, thank you so much for having me Chi and for your unwavering support. Just to clarify I am still a UK resident! I do however spend a large portion of my time stateside, predominantly due to work as well as some of my closest friends and colleagues are based there. You’ve got to go where the action is! As for being inspired by pop culture into taking the leap – doesn’t everyone at some point in their youth fantasise about getting on a Jumbo Jet and making for the West Coast to go and carve a career in Rock n Roll… or “tech” nowadays?
Who are your key musical influences? ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK can’t help hearing Lindsey Buckingham in your voice but we mean that as a compliment 😉
That’s a heavy compliment to drop, one that I shan’t take lightly. You’ve hit the nail on the head with Buckingham, we’re talking that kind of pedigree generally here. I’m transparent as far as the term “influence” goes, I wear them on my sleeve, I’m sure it would come as no surprise to some reeling off David Bowie, Bryan Ferry / Roxy, Peter Gabriel and QUEEN as key players. I could go on…
You’re best known as the voice of FM-84, the project of San Francisco-based Scotsman Col Bennett, how did that association come about?
The genesis stemmed from when I was first made aware of the retro wave genre by my long time friend and collaborator Josh Dally back in 2015. I don’t recall the precise ins and outs, but he was working with Jordy aka TIMECOP1983 on the ‘Reflections’ record which would later become ‘Let’s Talk’ and suggested I got involved.
I had just come out of a deal in LA, and being candid I was pretty jaded and burnt out… my only real concern was how was I going to make the next rent cheque, let alone get back in the saddle musically! However, Josh twisted my arm and Jordy and I quickly hit it off. ‘Wild Love’ was the result and reignited my enthusiasm.
Shortly after, I started to familiarise myself with the up and coming producers in the scene, one of whom happened to be Col (FM-84) and the ‘Los Angeles EP’, I quickly developed a large affinity with it. So much so, I paired one of my ideas to his instrumental ‘Out Of Time’ before we ever even spoke. The serendipity came when Col approached me to work on the record that would later be called ‘Atlas’, having heard ‘Wild Love’. It was only by chance that we were huge fans of one another’s work! The rest they say, is history…
So how would FM-84 tracks like ‘Running In The Night’ and ‘Wild Ones’ have evolved in the studio, and at which stage would you have been asked to get involved?
‘Running In The Night’ was the first song we wrote together, believe it or not! In that particular instance, Col had a pretty defined template that he had initially worked on with another writer, but to no avail. I took the instrumental and sat with it, reworking at the piano for about two weeks I recall.
Using the verse progression as a springboard, I had the chorus locked in pretty quickly after re-harmonising the chord structure to give it that sense of tension and urgency – it breathed a new lease of life into it I felt, although I was still unsure whether he’d go for it. Still, from there the verse lyric and melody soon emerged soon after. I handed the reins back to Col and he brought his production finesse, we’re lucky to have that song.
A similar scenario with ‘Wild Ones’, an instrumental bed was already established to work from and I was given freedom to rearrange / change the chord structure so I could develop into the song – this dynamic has continued throughout the majority of our work together.
The success of FM-84 and the album ‘Atlas’ had led to you touring the world with them, but what inspired you to do a solo album, has that always been on the cards?
Well, it’s important to highlight that I’m very fortunate to be a part of something that enjoys even a semblance of ’success’ or should I say gives enjoyment to lots of people, particularly in what is still widely considered as a niche market. So honestly, I had no aspirations to deviate from something that I had already invested so much of myself into…
I give 110% of myself to whatever project I am involved with at the time – when ‘Atlas’ took off and the response was so overwhelming, the only desire I had was to continue to build upon the work we had accomplished, making music that we love and inspires us first and foremost.
However, I am a workaholic and I detest prolonged periods of inactivity. I’ve been both marred by bad luck and great fortune, but managed to earn my crust as a writer and performer since I was 19, therefore I am always looking for the next song. Having pitched a few ideas for the next FM-84 record, it quickly became apparent that another thread was emerging, and one that was more in line with my direct influences, I wanted to pursue a concept I had in my head for many years, that occasionally seeps through in the FM-84 world but ultimately this required its own store front.
For ‘Thanks In Advance’, you’ve been working with another Scot in Michael Oakley… a coincidence or do you feel a spiritual affinity? Is there a secret stash of RUNRIG albums in your collection? 😉
Purely owing to Michael’s wonderful nature and sharpened skill set! Well, aside from us developing a great friendship, we share a commonality in that we love melody, sincerity and well-made records. We’ve been working pretty closely for the past year and a half on one another’s records. A sort of services trade if you will… he polished my productions / mixes and I gave him lyrics and melodies where he required. I feel we’ve developed a great understanding of what the other is searching for in our respective fields. Never treading on one another, but enhancing each other’s vision. If that makes sense?
Your solo work has a more synth rock edge compared with the smooth atmospherics of FM-84, especially on songs like ‘Never Live Without You’ and ‘Driver’, please take us through how those two songs came together?
This relates to what I mentioned earlier in that this is a solo record through and through. Turning the lens towards my direct influences and the records that I fell in love with as a kid having raided and studied my Dad’s record collection – like so many others did I’m sure. It’s not a conscious decision, more a natural environment for me.
’Never Live Without You’ was the second song I wrote for the record that was a clear front runner from the outset. I worked through 4 different versions before landing on what you can now hear… I wanted to channel the sentiment of Springsteen and Jeff Lynne, this pulsing rhythm combined with soaring vocal line.
’The Driver’ was the last track I wrote for the record, which emerged from a 32 bar guitar pluck that Chris Huggett sent me in passing. So simple, yet oozing with menace, glam and swagger. I felt so inspired by the riff, I frantically mocked up a demo comprised of verse and chorus, both lyrical concepts are referring to rediscovering or maintaining sense of self / vision. I seldom write that fast, generally that’s a pretty good barometer for a great succinct song.
How involved do you get in the instrumentation process?
Perhaps a common misconception about singers in general? But I’m involved from the ground upwards, I write, produce and arrange all of the material you hear on the record, as well as a lot of instrumentation and arrangement in FM-84, the majority of this I work on in my studio at home. I’m a total perfectionist and proud to be.
‘Miracle Mile’ sounds like it might have been inspired by a moonlit convertible drive? Was it?
That sounds wonderful, but I hate to disappoint, I gave up my car when the lease was up… 😉
I actually wrote the makings of it, when I was hard up, in LA living in an Extended Stay dive, between Ventura Blvd and the 101 for 5 months as part of the accommodation plan my then-label put me in.
Despite the musty marijuana that pervaded the air, cops turning up every other night to address domestic disturbances and an air conditioning unit that hadn’t been serviced since 1997, I didn’t mind it all that much, I convinced myself that I was living ’The American Dream’ or a rendition. The song is loosely a true story about the lengths we go to, in an attempt to find what we seek.
‘I’m A Believer’ embraces the influence of Hollywood-era Giorgio Moroder, do you have any favourite films of that period?
Thank you! It was certainly a modest attempt to evoke a sense of nightclubbing in that era. I assume you’re referring to ‘Scarface’ with the Moroder connection?
I’m a sucker for a Gangster picture for sure. ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Casino’, ‘The Godfather’… however specifically the early – mid 80s? ‘Bladerunner’, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, ‘Raging Bull’ spring to mind.
Any hopes and fears about how ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ might turn out?
I have a heck of a lot of time for Tom Cruise, simply irrepressible, I have every faith in ‘Top Gun’: Maverick’.
You do love a power ballad, as ‘The Rising Tide’, ‘Hold On’ and ‘Luna’ show but you largely manage to keep the AOR thing in check? There’s a flavour but not too much of it? Any thoughts?
I meant to take you to task on this! Haha! Do I? You can’t have light without shade in my view! I can see why to an extent, slow burners / lower tempo numbers seem to default into that category – however it is not intentionally so… I feel ‘Luna’ is the only true embodiment on the LP.
Simply as it was intended as an open letter about two lovers who meet over the internet on opposite sides of the world with contrasting lifestyles, in the face of adversity and external pressures they reconcile their feelings to try and realise a future.
As far as AOR goes… well, I don’t consciously steer towards or veer from anything stylistically. I approach each song from the stand point of, what is the message? Does it make me feel anything? Is it truthful? If those ingredients aren’t present then I think labels are irrelevant, the song will invariably not make the grade!
Which have been your own personal favourites from the album and why?
That’s like trying to select your favourite child? Perhaps it’s unspoken? 😉
Well, ‘The Driver’, ‘Miracle Mile’ are stand outs for me, but ’The Rising Tide’ is much more of a luscious contrast for me, untethering myself, a ROXY MUSIC homage come blue eyed gospel moment in the spirit of Peter Gabriel.
Without dissecting the message here, all I will say is lyrically the pen is turned directly on myself, an acknowledgement of the pitfalls and facing them with a grin come what may – vocally I went to town, it’s definitely not a “sit back and relax” moment, I’m giving everything I’ve got in the tank which is both liberating and a real challenge I put to myself, I’m really pleased with the result.
‘Thanks In Advance’ is almost made to be performed live, was that something that had been a consideration during its production?
That’s an excellent observation. Honestly it’s never a conscious decision until after the fact… Songwriting and the studio is the factory, the stage is the test track and I adore that environment, it’s a fight or walking a tight rope I feel to an extent. It’s a privilege to be able to do and have the responsibility to ensure you have it nailed. Although, initially at least, I seldom consider the challenges of delivering half of my songs live! They’re certainly a work out, but I do a huge amount of prep and rehearsal.
So how will your solo show in London this November differ from when people saw you fronting FM-84?
Well, it’s imperative to highlight that I am always myself… authentic and sincere, what you see is what you get up there – it is my job to entertain you for an hour and a half for the price of admission. Aside from the glossy veneer, I’m looking forward to showing more of my chops as far as playing live goes.
I teased this on the recent FM tour we just wrapped with rolling out the Keytar during our cover of TEARS FOR FEARS, this will be an extension – yes you’ll get the synths but it will be a live show, with real musicianship from real musicians, something that I am a huge advocate of and feel is lacking in the scene at least.
Synthwave, synthpop, popwave… do these terms and classifications matter, surely it’s all pop music? 😉
I am by no means an arbiter of other people’s tastes / views etc. I’m well aware, labels go with the territory, whilst I don’t shirk away from them and I’m grateful to be even considered a member of any ‘movement’ – it is my personal view that rather than rush to create so many different sub genres and factions – why don’t folks simply concentrate on the meat and potatoes here… creating the best possible music they can muster in the first place?
What’s next for you musically, either solo or with FM-84 or anything else?
It’s still early days for my debut LP, having only been released last week, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, exceeding my expectations… far more receptive than I expected truth be told. It’s a pretty daunting prospect stepping out of the spotlight of an entity that so many people love and may associate you with – so first things first, I am likely going to be performing a few select shows starting in the UK and US subject to the album’s trajectory of course! I already have tracks lined up for a possible second record… where they eventually land, we shall see.
FM-84 has been the main focus since I became a part, however it requires a huge team effort to see the second record across the line, so when the time is right and Col is ready, I will be there to play my part – if I’m still needed! In other news, I’m due to begin work with Michael Oakley on his follow up to ‘Introspect’ shortly, as well as working with a few of peers within the scene with a possibility of the long awaited duet on the cards! 😉
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Ollie Wride