From his home in Los Angeles, Bon Harris of NITZER EBB has presented a series of streamed live performances under the title of ‘Songs From The Lemon Tree’.
Accompanied by his system comprising of an Octatrack MK2, Roland MC101 and two rows of 104 HP modular plus a vibraphone, Harris impressed all with his wonderfully compelling upper vocal range and unusual esoteric electronic covers.
He told Reflections Of Darkness: “I wanted to sing songs that were light-hearted and optimistic – outdoors among the trees in the sunshine…” – while predictably, much of the alternative music media focussed on ‘Compulsion’ by Brummie post-punk musician Joe Crow (which Martin Gore recorded for the 1989 ‘Counterfeit’ covers EP) in Episode 01 and the laid back jazz-tinged rework of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Ice Machine’ in Episode 02, it was the Episode 03 featuring an eclectic quartet of classic songs that was the most captivating.
Beginning with an emotive rendition of ‘Love & Affection’, the breakthrough hit of Joan Armatrading, the biggest surprise came with the eerie carousel ride of ‘My Happiness’; written in 1933 by Borney Bergantine, although the version with lyrics by Betty Peterson Blasco as performed by Harris was first published in 1947, it was made famous by Connie Francis in 1958 but was also notable as one of the two songs that Elvis Presley recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis as a gift to his mother.
Meanwhile, the introduction to Paul Weller’s ‘That’s Entertainment’ sounded as if it might drift into ‘But Not Tonight’, but the set ended with a marvellous thumping dance take on the 1970 Diana Ross hit ‘Remember Me’ which was one of several world famous songs including ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, ‘Reach Out & Touch (Somebody’s Hand)’ and ‘I’m Every Woman’ from the portfolio of husband and wife songwriting team Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson.
Reinterpretation is an artform and ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK always prefers a thoughtfully crafted genre crossing cover version any day of the week, over a tedious remix by the man on the street with a DAW. In his autobiography ‘Fast Forward: Confessions Of A Post-Punk Percussionist – Volume II’, Stephen Morris of NEW ORDER hit the nail on the head when he said “The worst of it for me was all the remixes. A VERY big thing in the 90s; I have never got to the end of most of them. I don’t think any of us have, to be honest.”
“Each of the songs from the three episodes have had a special place in my life and experience since I first heard them” said Harris. This love and affection has been quite obviously apparent in his arrangements and vocal delivery for ‘Songs From The Lemon Tree’, demonstrating his sympathetic understanding of the music and the quality of the songs.
This history of Mute Records and its esteemed founder Daniel Miller is more than well documented.
The lavish book ‘Mute: A Visual Document From 1978 – Tomorrow’ published in 2017 captured the iconic label’s visual aesthetic. Already a fan of German kosmische scene, Daniel Miller began taking an interest in synthesizers for making pop music after hearing KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’.
The advent of affordable synthesizers from Japan manufactured by the likes of Korg and Roland made it possible for him to adopt punk’s DIY ethic by buying a Korg 700s for the price of a guitar. That enabled him to make music using just one finger, instead of having to learn three chords.
Conceiving a punk single with electronics, he wrote and recorded ‘Warm Leatherette’ b/w ‘TVOD’ for a one-off independent single release in 1978. Miller’s sense of experimentation within a structured albeit avant pop context led to kindred spirits sending him tapes, thanks to him including his mother’s address “16 Decoy Avenue London NW 11 England” on the back of the MUTE 001 sleeve.
Mute Records’ first signing was a former art student Frank Tovey who released the macabre ‘Back To Nature’ as FAD GADGET in 1979 as MUTE 002 with Miller co-producing. It began establishing a good reputation for experimental electronic pop music. As well as running the label and working in the studio with his own roster of acts, Miller also produced and remixed other artists, although this became less frequent as Mute Records achieved more and more success.
If Daniel Miller had a characteristic sound during the pioneering years of Synth Britannia, then it was his use of the ARP 2600 driven by an ARP 1601 analogue sequencer, particularly for unique rhythmic templates obtained from the percussive capabilities of this versatile American synth.
Always keen to keep up-to-date with the latest technology, Miller’s later acquisitions included a Synclavier, PPG Wave 2, Emulator, Roland System 100M and Roland MC4 Micro-Composer. Many years later, Miller even bought the customised vocoder used on ‘Autobahn’ from the late Florian Schneider even though it was not in fully working order.
While Miller’s production work with DEPECHE MODE over five albums naturally led American new wave acts like BOOK OF LOVE to seek his knowhow, indie band THE HOUSE OF LOVE were surprisingly curious enough to secure his services on their track ‘Safe’. Meanwhile, post-punk art rock combo WIRE saw him as a kindred spirit keen to explore new interesting ways of recording and worked with Miller in various guises.
While Daniel Miller stepped back from producing DEPECHE MODE in 1987 to concentrate on Mute Records, it was his mix with Phil Legg of the Flood produced ‘Enjoy The Silence’ that became the international hit single; Miller had felt the version that François Kevorkian had presented was too electronic.
While work had been going well with the French-born DJ’s mixes for the ‘Violator’ album, Miller’s instincts told him ‘Enjoy The Silence’ needed to be brought back slightly with a more organic vision. The song had already been transformed in the studio from a funereal ballad to an electronic disco number with house influences!
Although Mute Records was bought by EMI in 2002, Miller reached an agreement in 2010 to establish a second independently run record label under the name Mute Artists while the Mute Records name and rights to the label’s archive recordings remained under the control of EMI’s present owners Universal. More recently, Daniel Miller has been happily DJ-ing around the world playing largely techno sets for Berghain in Berlin, Sónar in Barcelona and IMS in Ibiza among others.
Meanwhile he has also occasionally given talks at events such as MoogFest. Red Bull Music Academy, LEAF and the Electri_City_Conference.
With a vast and varied portfolio to investigate, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK looks back at the creative career of Daniel Miller in music via eighteen of his productions and remixes, with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, presented in yearly, then alphabetical order.
THE NORMAL Warm Leatherette (1978)
Daniel Miller’s sense of experimentation and vision of the synth being the ultimate punk instrument requiring the use of just one finger led to him making his first record. Lyrically inspired by JG Ballard’s ‘Crash’ with its story around car collision symphorophilia, the dystopian ‘Warm Leatherette’ was based around two noisy notes and a twitchy rhythmic backbone that was menacing yet enthralling at the same time. It turned out to be something of a game changer.
Following the success of singles ‘Back To Nature’ and ‘Ricky’s Hand’, a FAD GADGET album was eagerly anticipated and it came with ‘Fireside Favourites’ which brought in a Korg Rhythm 55 drum machine, conventional instruments and various found objects alongside the synths. A four way production effort between Frank Tovey, Daniel Miller, Eric Radcliffe and John Fryer, the superb ‘Coitus Interruptus’ was a deeply cynical commentary on casual relationships.
Larry Least was a production pseudonym inspired by the producer, Rak Records mogul and ‘New Faces’ judge Mickey Most. This infectious solo single by Alex Fergusson featured Daniel Miller’s distinctive electronic footprint and his involvement helped the ALTERNATIVE TV guitarist transform from post-punk to more synthesized song experiments. With Fergusson forming PSYCHIC TV with Genesis P-Orridge, it wasn’t until 1992 that a white label only self-titled solo album was released.
Following THE NORMAL, Daniel Miller decided to undertake a new project where rock ’n’ roll standards like ‘Just Like Eddie’ and ‘Memphis Tennessee’ were reinterpreted in a synthpop style, using a fictitious group called SILICON TEENS as a front. While Miller sang like he had a clothes peg attached to his nose and produced the recordings as Larry Least, several actors hired to appear in videos and do press interviews, although lead vocalist ‘Darryl’ was played by Frank Tovey.
For a one-off single on Cherry Red Records, the dystopian minimal synth of ‘Music To Save The World By’ from the little known and somewaht reclusive Alan Burnham was produced by Daniel Miller at Blackwing Studios. He also worked on its B-side ‘Science Fiction’ which was just as haunting as the main act. Perhaps more organic thanks to the use of live drums by Cam Findlay, it took a leaf out of the quirky cult Wirral duo DALEK I LOVE YOU and their song ‘The World’ in particular.
The original ‘Metro MRX’ came from the SOFT CELL debut EP ‘Mutant Moments’ released in October 1980, but the sub-two minute Daniel Miller take of ‘Metro MRX’ for ‘Flexipop’ magazine borrowed the same synthetic rhythm track as DEPECHE MODE’s ‘New Life’ to accompany Almond’s snarls of “he’s a mutant!”. Miller also produced ‘A Man Can Get Lost’, ‘Persuasion’ and perhaps most significantly, the proto-house of ‘Memorabilia’ at those same Stage One recording sessions.
While Eric Radcliffe was holed up working with Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet on the first YAZOO album at Blackwing Studios on the night shift, during the day Daniel Miller was working with DEPECHE MODE on their second. With punchy Simmons Drum modules and a catchy melodic theme, ‘Nothing To Fear’ was a glorious instrumental statement from an important long player that made the most of Miller’s programming expertise to ensure an optimistic future for Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher.
When recording ‘Radio Silence’ for singular consumption, Thomas Morgan Dolby Robertson sought the assistance of Daniel Miller thanks to his track record with DEPECHE MODE. Bringing in his PPG Wave 2 and helping with the final mix, it was released as a single in early 1982 with an alternative rockier guitar driven version on the B-side which was favoured in the US. Both takes also featured the voice of Akiko Yano, who was married to Ryuichi Sakamoto at the time.
WIRE refugees, Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis had been working under the name DOME, so when a collaborative adventure with Miller was suggested, an anagram of that moniker and Mute resulted in DUET EMMO. Recorded at Blackwing Studios, ‘Or So It Seems’ was their debut offering, a slice of experimental pop shaped with grumbling synthesized bass, captivating electronics and textural harmonic guitar while Lewis’ haunting vocals provided the emotional centre, spooked by sombre bursts of brass.
Originally the B-side to ‘Only You’, ‘Situation’ was one of only three writing collaborations between Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke, as well as only being one of five YAZOO tracks that Daniel Miller co-produced with Eric Radcliffe. Clocking in at barely two minutes in its original form, it made its impact with some rousing blues based sequenced dance pop; it became a US club favourite when it was remixed by Francois Kevorkian who later worked with KRAFTWERK and DEPECHE MODE.
Following DAF’s Virgin album trilogy produced by Conny Plank, the duo borke up in a haze of sex, drugs and sequencer. Drummer and synthesist Robert Görl signed to Mute as a solo artist and began his account with the standalone single ‘Mit Dir’. Dark, brooding and magnificent, the song was co-produced by Daniel Miller and went on to become a favourite among the cognoscenti, reinterpreted for Prada commercials and covered by DJ HELL with STEREO MCs.
Polydor A&R man Malcolm Dunbar managed to gain Daniel Miller’s interest to help out on a HARD CORPS track that Martin Rushent had started. “It was an offer we could not refuse and ‘Respirer’ duly ended up being completed with Daniel producing” said the band’s Clive Pierce, “So now we had two of the best ‘electronic’ music producers in the UK both helping on our track”. Exquisitely Gallic, Polydor however released ‘Respirer’ in English as ‘To Breathe’ but it was not the hit that they were seeking.
Available as ‘Respirer’ on the HARD CORPS album ‘Metal & Flesh’ via Sub Culture Records
Chelmsford’s NITZER EBB were founded by school friends Douglas McCarthy, Bon Harris and Bon Harris. Originally produced by Pete Waterman associate Phil Harding, the ambiguous chants of “muscle and late, lies, lies, gold, gold” in ‘Join In The Chant’ encouraged exactly as the title suggested in the manner of a DAF body sculpture. Daniel Miller and Flood’s Gold! restructure took out the Balearic beats and pushed forward a more Teutonic industrial thrust complete with metallic tools to boot.
ERASURE Supernature – Daniel Miller & Phil Legg Remix (1990)
ERASURE were not shy about doing cover versions with ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ and ‘River Deep Mountain High’ having already been reinterpreted by this point. Andy Bell and Vince Clarke’s take on Marc Cerrone’s electronic disco landmark saw Daniel Miller and Phil Legg present this tight electro-dance remix extended to over seven minutes. Miller and Legg got together again for DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’ and it was their mix that became the ‘Violator’ album version and single release.
Available on the ERASURE deluxe album ‘Wild!’ via Mute Records
CHRIS & COSEY Synaesthesia – Daniel Miller Mix (1991)
After leaving industrial pioneers THROBBING GRISTLE, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti became a popular cult duo with their experimental pop utilising electronics, sampling, rhythms and even cornet alongside Cosey’s distinctive nonchalant vocals. Superbly sinister but beautiful metallic synthpop, ‘Synaesthesia’ exuded hints of PET SHOP BOYS ‘Euroboy’ but a good year before it. Meanwhile Daniel Miller’s brilliant rework took on a different groove to the harder bleepy house laden original.
Available on the CHRIS & COSEY single ‘Synaesthesia’ via Conspiracy International
SUNROOF! was Daniel Miller’s occasional project with Gareth Jones who he first worked with on DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Construction Time Again’ album. Exploring their love of Kosmische, it was perhaps no surprise that they covered the symbolic NEU! track ‘Hero’. Given more of a pulsing electronic treatment, the alluringly detached vocals came from Alison Conway who has part of the Mute family having been part of AC MARIAS, a project which also featured Bruce Gilbert of WIRE and Barry Adamson of MAGAZINE.
POPPY & THE JEZEBELS Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out! – Richard X Meets Larry Least Mix (2012)
POPPY & THE JEZEBELS were a school band based in Birmingham signed to Mute Song. ‘Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out!’ was superbly playful girly synthpop with the ‘Isolation’ bassline borrowed from JOY DIVISION bouncing around in electronic form while sinister Maggie Thatcher voice samples echoed. Originally produced by Richard X, Larry Least came out of retirement when the girls persuaded Miller to remix the track using his trusty Korg 700s synth.
WRANGLER Theme From Wrangler – Daniel Miller rework (2016)
The brief from WRANGLER to remixers of tracks from their album ‘LA Spark’ was simple: “We provide some basic stems from a track selected by you from our debut album ‘LA Spark’ and you add whatever sounds you like – the only rule being that you use just one analogue modular synthesiser system of your choice.” Sweetened by flanged string machine, Daniel Miller provided a gliding rumbling bassline over a metronomic kick on his rework of ‘Theme from Wrangler’.
Deep into his love of EBM, the Toronto based Gord Clement, known as NTTX, has made a comeback to follow up his first EP, ‘Objective’.
Known to the die-hard fans of DEPECHE MODE for his infamous cover of ‘New Dress’, with its beefed up, stomp beats and a politically charged change of lyrics (this time it’s Princess Kate, with an adequate video for good measure), the Canadian, formerly the singer and songwriter of ATOMZERO, ushers in some more heavy sounds on newly released ‘Of Beauty & Chaos’.
Since his departure from ATOMZERO, Clement has been utilising his strong vocal over some FRONT 242 inspired tunes, and the present offering is a good example of his harsher ear teasers.
The opening ‘Move Dark’ brings out the Doc Martens and isn’t at all suitable for the gentle synth lover. ‘Prey’ continues with a further dose of the “to be used responsibly” on the dance floor; it has some interesting elements to it, similar to the following ‘True’, which bears more refined concepts, along with almost vintage electronica in the choruses.
The EP’s gem however, is the slower tempo ‘Earth’. A synth ballad of sorts, not shying from a gentle guitar, it’s almost like AND ONE on ‘Virgin Superstar’. It’s as if Clement spent a month at a German retreat with Steve Naghavi, the latter playing the role of the master.
Enter ROTERSAND on the rework of ‘Falls Beautiful’. Clement’s voice on this one feels more redirected and manly, and it raises in line with the upward feel of the track. NITZER EBB-y in places, PRODIGY-like in others, this truly is a fascinating mix of what can be achieved when working outside of the otherwise laborious EBM genre.
Clearly loving his covers, the closing rework of the FM rock biggie ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ begs the question as to “why?”
Not the classiest of renditions, because the SURVIVOR’s version can’t be beaten, certainly not when bumped up to the industrial status, but clearly Clement had some fun there.
If you love your EBM, you’ll love this, but the feeling persists that NTTX may be a little more than an industrial monkey; the clear examples being ‘Earth’ and ‘Falls Beautiful’.
A very strong vocal presence and some interesting ideas place the man from Toronto well above many, and perhaps on the next outing, the audiences will hear something spectacular. After all, the Canadians have a long history with the good old synth…
Paul Rein is Sweden’s pioneer of Italo disco, no less, and had been quite popular in his country, as well as writing for world renowned artists like Christina Aguilera or Jessica Simpson.
But his daughter Joanna certainly got her musical bug, when the electronica loving dad took her to see KRAFTWERK at the age of thirteen. Joanna Reinikainen never quite fitted into her peer group and discovered that the love of harsher sounds was what she’s all about. NITZER EBB’s stomping EBM beats are what has been inspiring her own direction, however her true start was providing vocals for THE OPERATING TRACKS’ ‘Testify’.
Actively trying not to be classified into a particular genre, Reinikanen released her first ‘Rein’ EP, which hit the Swedish market with a bang and creating quite a stir, thanks to strong melodies and some powerful lyrical content.
And now follows EP number two, entitled ‘Freedoom’. The heralding single ‘C.A.P.I.T.A.L.I.S.M.’ only shares its title with ROTERSAND’s last album, even though the tendencies could be similar. Shouted out and angry, forward and right-in-your-face is what REIN goes for here.
Accompanied by the rather poignant video, showcasing all the wrongs connected with modern law, human rights, poverty, war and above all, how “we are the slaves of money”, it’s all wrapped up around a heavy EBM beat as a manifestation of youthful rebellion. It definitely isn’t an encrypted political statement; REIN goes for the throat.
‘Misfit’ is equally fight inducing, but far more musical while ‘(You Call It) Democracy’ calls for the “change of our system” with deliberate tempo changes, depicting the delusional distribution of wealth in the world. ‘Bruises’ introduces more personal lyrics, starting off fairly lightly, but soon developing into the foot stomping EBM with pronounced bass and not-so-crooning synth.
The closing track, ‘Nasty Woman’, written with Nina Mariah Donovan, is a feminist manifesto against the lack of equality. It’s neither retiring, nor is it subtle. If anyone needed the issues spelt out, it certainly happens here. All interlaced with bass heavy synth providing the canvas for the shouted out words, the very last lyric hits the American president with a proclamation that “our pussies aren’t for grabbing”.
If you like subtle, you’re not going to enjoy REIN; she’s definitely not for the shy, retiring type. Unlike the forefathers of synth, with DEPECHE MODE, ERASURE, OMD and PET SHOP BOYS, all going for a more encrypted political messages, REIN spells it out, not worried of being misunderstood or pillared. It’s a bit of a “if you don’t like it, f**k off” kind of message, all loaded with explosive synth, boots to the floor rhythm.
If you love straightforwardness and heavy EBM, you’re in for a treat.
Paul Rein, your daughter certainly is a rebel!
‘Freedoom’ is released by Playground Music and available via the usual digital platforms
Sub Culture Records is a Norwegian label founded by Per Aksel Lundgreen, whose motto goes “what you call culture, we call crap”…
Their artists have included MARTYN BAILEY, TRAIN TO SPAIN, former YELLO member CARLOS PERÓN, iEUROPEAN, DELAYSCAPE, SLEEP MUSEUM, MACHINISTA and TECHNOMANCER, to name but a few.
The label is no stranger to compilations, having just unveiled their latest, ‘The Best TECHNOMANCER & ANGST POP Remixes’ featuring a plethora of artists reworked in a Per Aksel Lundgreen approved manner.
The man himself has a long history within electronica genre, having co-founded YAZOO inspired covers act CHINESE DETECTIVES and played with APOPTYGMA BERZERK, while promoting many synth related acts and running his own project CRONOS TITAN.
ANGST POP is his own moniker too, and many remixes on the compilation have been mastered by Lundgreen as well. Indeed, a multitude of known and adored synth acts have been featured here. ROBERT MARLOW’s ‘Smile’ opens the collection, followed by excellent take on DIE KRUPPS’ ‘Robo Sapien’, with metallic, EBM loaded beats perfect for feet stomping and head bobbing. NITZER EBB had to be present here as well, with a superb version of ‘Once You Say’.
Lundgreen’s brother from a different mother, Stephan Groth aka APOPTYGMA BERZERK, finds his place here with ‘Major Tom’; a cover of PETER SCHILLING’s nod towards Bowie, it’s here wrapped up in a melodic candy.
‘Darkest Hour’ by ANNE CLARK is a true highlight, strong, arty and full of attitude.
SHATOO, an act in which Per is also involved are featured here a few times with ‘Dangertown’, ‘Floodlights’, ‘Nothing That I Wouldn’t Do’ and ‘One Night Love’, the latter undoubtedly fit for Eurovision.
Meanwhile, ‘Som Ett Skal’ from PAGE is very ethereal and ear pleasing, while TOUCHING THE VOID dazzle with ‘Obsession’. TECHNOMANCER’s own ‘Electronic Warfare’ clashes with ANGST POP’s ‘Ødipus Rex 2012’ and SPEKTRALISED continue to ‘Learn & Teach’. CARLOS PERÓN closes this remix album with a bang on his ‘Der Komtur’.
While Lundgreen muses about releasing a single with TECHNOMANCER, he has been heavily concentrating on the production and remix work for other artists. He’d love to take CRONUS TITAN to Germany and his dream is to write a movie soundtrack under the same moniker. Until then, we have this extensive remix album to fall back on.