Tag: Minimal Wave

Missing In Action: PORTRAY HEADS

PORTRAY HEADS were from Matsuyama in Japan and their music is largely unknown, apart from in the collections of die-hard minimal synth enthusiasts.

The musical core of PORTRAY HEADS were Tohru Tomita and Mikiharu Doi who had solo bedroom project called ONANIE BAZOOKA, while the band began with Ayumi Tokunaga on lead vocals.

They only ever had two releases in their day, with the foundations of their myth and legend in underground electronic music built around a superb debut single ‘Elaborate Dummy’, issued rather obscurely on flexi-disc in 1985 by the now defunct Kageroh Records.

PORTRAY HEADS deserve their place in the synth pantheon for ‘Elaborate Dummy’ if nothing else, an exquisitely European sounding tune that was almost Gallic in tone with pulsating synths and electronic crashes, augmented by a spacey cacophony of bleeps and swirls.

However, after ‘Elaborate Dummy’ was unleashed in Japan, Ayumi Tokunaga left PORTRAY HEADS and Yumi Ochi was recruited. Her more contralto delivery suited the reconfigured combo’s darker direction which they were heading in after the comparatively synthpop approach of ‘Elaborate Dummy’. Three tracks were released as the self-released cassette ‘Oratorio’ in 1986.

PORTRAY HEADS were based in a conservative and isolated city on an island many miles from the bright lights of Tokyo, so opportunities to perform live were rare and eventually they disbanded, never to be heard of again until now.

Minimal Wave Records and Bitter Lake Recordings together have compiled the five previously released tracks by PORTRAY HEADS and thanks to the two labels tracing Tohru Tomita, have appended them with demos featuring both Ayumi Tokunaga and Yumi Ochi (including five previously unheard songs) for a double vinyl LP collection.

It all begins naturally with ‘Elaborate Dummy’ and this cult classic is worth the purchase price alone, sounding better than ever, now remastered for solid vinyl and digital. But another jewel is ‘Watch Your Scope!’ which was the B-side and a perfect partner with its glorious arpeggios and analogue keys coming together in the quirky vein of MATHEMATICS MODERNES or VIENNA.

Following the departure of Ayumi Tokunaga, material from ‘Oratorio’ like ‘夢を夢に’ was more austere, thanks to Tohru Tomita’s use of bass guitar and the deeper tones of Yumi Ochi who opted for her vocal expression to be in Japanese. The highlight though was ‘浮かぶ·迷う·漂’う’, a fabulous exercise in art industrial coming over like IPPU DO meeting SPK during their Sinan Leong fronted phase.

Despite the title, ‘Industrial Eye’ was less so in approach, but still took on a doomy demeanour with an unsettlement that was undeniably less immediate than the Ayumi Tokunaga voiced period. Although eventually pressed on 7” vinyl, ‘Oratorio’ was more lo-fi, sounding like it was struggling to jump off its source tape and for many, this will be the appeal and charm listening in 2020, although others may find this aspect more challenging .

Appended with unreleased material featuring both vocalists, from the Ayumi Tokunaga period, the percolating ‘舞い上がれ’ still sounds French despite being in Japanese and although the electronic backdrop is appealing and exhibits potential, the live percussive clatter from fourth member Tatsuyuki Okiura proves to be a distraction. There’s also an Ayumi Tokunaga fronted demo of ‘Industrial Eye’ which adopts a higher pitched vocal range.

Meanwhile, ‘操り人形’ features a gloriously out-of-tune synth solo and the Middle Eastern flavoured ‘Generation Stor’ captures an interesting use of drum machine distortion on the kick to form a mutant bassline.

Although there are the typical octave shift driven dark disco experiments of the era, there were already indications of a move into the more leftfield territory of the Yumi Ochi phase, which is represented by three alternate versions of other tracks already on the compendium, all of which display the heavy melancholic resonances captured on ‘Oratorio’.

One noticeable observation is PORTRAY HEADS had much in common with the independent European electronic music from the Cold War era. After all, Japan had China, North Korea and the Soviet Union all within close proximity and those tensions were more than reflected.

35 years on, PORTRAY HEADS deserve recognition for their creative efforts alongside the big city projects like YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA and their Alfa Records cohorts in the development of Japanese electronic pop. For their opening salvo of ‘Elaborate Dummy’ and ‘Watch Your Scope!’, PORTRAY HEADS are up there with the best of post-punk synth.

This release by Minimal Wave and Bitter Lake Recordings goes some way in providing another part of the jigsaw. While the sound quality is variable and actually got worse as the band moved into a form of proto-darkwave, what was not in doubt is their electronic punk spirit, even though it was short-lived.

‘Portray Heads’ is released by Minimal Wave and Bitter Lake Recordings as a double vinyl LP direct from https://minimalwave.com/articles/article/portray-heads-portray-heads-2lp

Also double vinyl LP and download available from https://portrayheads.bandcamp.com/album/portray-heads

Text by Chi Ming Lai
22nd October 2020

An Interview with Alex Machairas from IN TRANCE 95

Fans of emerging and re-emerging synth music genres like cold wave and minimal synth no doubt have found their favourite French, Italian or of course German obcurity. A band, a song, a year, a sound.

But for every cleanly picked bone, there still remains to be explored hidden depths.

This is part of the cold/minimal wave movement’s charm: that sense of discovery, the notion that you have stumbled upon an unmined sonic seam, and can bring some brilliant and sadly forgotten genius to light once more.

In this way, many great artists have resumed careers after gaps of thirty or so years. The enthusiasm of fans has resurrected dormant careers of artists the world then gratefully re-embraces.

It’s a success story of passion and merit, where underground remains underground – very few of these bands or artists enjoyed major labels or superstar lifestyles first time around.

Some bands have disappeared and remain a beloved enigma. Some sounds are only now being discovered.

The new wave and post-punk scene of Greece is one of the new (wave) frontiers currently being joyfully explored, and heavyweights of the scene IN TRANCE 95 are deservedly getting some fresh attention.

The period between 1988 and 1992 saw this band concocting some sterling proto-dance music, somewhere between the robotic concoctions of CABARET VOLTAIRE, the body music of NITZER EBB or FRONT 242 and the groove of Arthur Baker, with a slice of synthpop melody gluing it together. At their best, IT 95 were as good as any of their better known contemporaries with early hit ‘Desire To Desire’ rivalling the early synthpop period MINISTRY for infectious industrial groove.

With only one album ‘Code Of Obsession’ to their name, IN TRANCE 95 are about to release a new album ‘Shapes In New Geometry’ having issued a collection of unreleased material entitled ‘Cities Of Steel & Neon’ on the scene-defining label Minimal Wave Records and made a video for new song ‘Wave (Are We Alone)’ in 2011. IT95’s Alex Machairas talked about the past – and the future.

Tell us about the earliest days of the band: what brought you together?

It was a random encounter between two complete strangers at a BLAINE L REININGER gig in Athens in May 1988. We found that we had a common interest in creating music made entirely with synthesizers. We quickly moved what we each had together in Nik Veliotis, the other half of IT 95’s basement studio, and started spending countless hours together writing, experimenting and rehearsing.

This became IT 95’s studio – which we named Airdawn because we often finished our sessions at the crack of dawn.

Why were you interested in making synth-based music? That’s an aesthetic that seems more associated with post punk acts here in the UK…

We had just turned 18, and both grew up with post punk, new wave and synth pop, but it was definitely synthesizer sounds that fascinated us. At that time in Athens, bands that used synths and drum machines exclusively were rare to nonexistent.

What equipment were you using? It was the early days of computer based sampling – were you a part of that?

We had no computer back then, our instrumentation was very simple: a four track tape, a CS01, a heavenly Boss DD2 delay, a TR606 drum machine, Mattel Synsonics and a nasty Yamaha Portasound! That was it! Sometimes we could borrow a Roland TR909. Our set up presented us with many limitations (we had no sequencer for one) but on the other hand it made us resourceful.

We overcame the lack of a sequencer by using the delay pedal for bass-lines and since we had no reverb we added white noise to snares, things like that. All done by hand and recorded to tape. It really shaped our sound and we still use these techniques today! Later on we got the chance to use more synths and drum machines as well as computers and samplers. But our preferred sound is the early lo-fi one for sure.

What brought you back together? What had you both been doing in the meantime?

We have missed the band. And we have missed working with one another more than we even knew.

It was difficult to reform for many years as we have moved away from each other. There was never a fight and the strange thing is that we were best of friends too.

Our very last recording in the late 1991 kind of burnt us out and we took a break that ended up longer than we expected. After that we met a few times by chance but nothing happened.

Nik focused on his solo and other projects while I continued for some years with IT 95 mainly as a live act and some recordings that were never released (however some of these tracks are being reworked now for our future releases).

In April 2010, we were offered the chance to open for RECOIL in Athens. So it was thanks to Alan Wilder that we got back in the studio together again. And of course Minimal Wave Records’ Veronica Vasicka played an instrumental role, as her interest and support gave further enthusiasm to those first recording sessions that took place after the reunion gig.

Tell us about writing new music now, and how you feel about your early music.

Looking back now, our early work seems like a nostalgic photograph, but at the same time we are really happy that it has an audience now! We feel that our new tracks take the sound further, incorporating all the different influences and sonic adventures we experienced in the last two decades. We still love the analogue feel and in a way our sound is the same in terms of being as ‘dirty’ as it was back then, but it is also different in terms of taking it more to extremes.

With your new album Shapes In New Geometry, what instruments or software have you used? What is your music writing process?

It’s a combination of old and new technology. We are still using old analogue equipment but the difference is that there is no 4-track Fostex anymore but a computer.

It is really amazing that we still use the Yamaha CS01 synth from 1982. We have four of those in the studio, one of which is circuit bent. We are also still using the Boss digital delay pedal. We have used the Roland TR606 and CR-78 drum machines, and a Korg Micro-Preset.

When we first started recording again there was an explosion of tracks, we were happy to work together again and the writing process is as it has always been. We both do everything, recording, writing parts, lyrics whatever even when not in the studio each of us works on his own and then we go back working together. It is not a democratic duo, it is a completely anarchic duo that somehow it works and we just keep it at that!

What is your favourite synthesiser of all time and why?

The CS01 synth is the IN TRANCE 95 synth without a doubt. It probably seems less impressive, and of course there is a whole world of analogue, modulars, you name it – but this little wonder has always worked for us.

We have used and owned many synths through the years but we went back to our first love, the CS01. It easily proves that you can be creative with the most minimal set up, especially now that it is so easy to get lost in the endless possibilities of the new technology.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Alex Machairas

‘Cities Of Steel & Neon’ is currently available as a vinyl LP and download via Minimal Wave Records. ‘Shapes In New Geometry’ is set for release in 2012




Text and Interview by Nix Lowrey
18th May 2012

IT95 Wave (Are We Alone)

Following remixing OMD’s ‘If You Want It’, Athens minimal electro duo IT95 return with the stark number ‘Wave (Are We Alone)’.

As IN TRANCE 95, Alex Machairas and Nik Veliotis first got together in 1988 and with their debut single ‘Desire To Desire’ became one of first Greek acts to succeed using primarily electronic instrumentation within a song format.

Their 1990 debut album ‘Code Of Obsession’ remains a cult favourite within Europe.

After a period during which Nik left to undertake other projects and Alex continued in various guises including a subtle change of name to ITENEF, a full reformation took place when they were invited by Alan Wilder to open RECOIL’s Athens gig in April 2010.

The original line-up as IT95 has now been augmented on stage by Magdalena Sverlander and Anna Athanasouli on synths while their return with ‘Wave (Are We Alone)’ displays hints of DEPECHE MODE and CABARET VOLTAIRE.

Dressed in black and decisively monophonic, ‘Wave (Are We Alone)’ creeps along like a mutant electronic soundtrack in the vein of John Carpenter’s ‘Assault On Precinct 13’. The interrogation room styled promo video directed by George Katsanakis just adds to its sinister chill.

The reunion has led to the recording of a brand new album ‘Abovearth’ plus a re-mastering of their early tapes for a collection entitled ‘Cities Of Steel & Neon’. Both will be released by New York label Minimal Wave Records in 2011. There will be also short European tour planned for the latter part of the year.



Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by George Katsanakis
20th January 2011