Paris, London and now Berlin, performance artist Valerie Renay has worn many hats and not just the ones on stage.
Incorporating theatre, music, dance, acting, film, photography and much more, Renay first found fame in NOBLESSE OBLIGE, an abstract Weimer cabaret tinged duo with German producer Sebastian Lee Philipp.
The pair opened for IAMX in 2011 on the ‘Volatile Times’ tour.
Their last album ‘Affair Of The Heart’ in 2013 played with dark electro Chanson, featuring a musical tribute to Mata Hari and a lengthy funereal deadpan cover of THE EAGLES’ ‘Hotel California’ which highlighted the chilling subtext of the lyrics to its macabre conclusion!
Exuding flamboyance, Renay has since released a solo record ‘Your Own Shadow’ that was an amazingly fluid and harmonious adventure in a departure from her work with NOBLESSE OBLIGE. From it, the exhilarating ‘Speed Of Blue’ was co-written with Ian Pickering whose notable musical contributions have included ‘6 Underground’ and ‘Spin Spin Sugar’ with SNEAKER PIMPS.
Presenting a palette of guitars, synths, vintage drum machines and her effervescent personality, Valerie Renay is a captivating live performer where literally anything can happen including invites to join her onstage!
With a new video for her song ‘Melancholia’ from ‘Your Own Shadow’ now public, Valerie Renay kindly chatted from Berlin about her solo career to date and more.
What inspired you to become a performer?
I like to create my own world. My world has a soundtrack, an aesthetic, everyday poetry, everyday fantasy, a choreography, a smell, a taste. As a performer you are able to share your world, it’s a great privilege!
Do you dream in French, German or English?
I mostly dream in English because I mostly think in English, after more than 10 years living in Berlin, I still don’t speak much German, I start thinking and dreaming in French when I read more French books or watch French films.
I have now lived outside of France longer than in France, I don’t feel I have roots in a particular country but I surely left my heart in London.
You released your first solo single ‘Living In Germany’ in 2016…
‘Living In Germany’ was an ironic take on life in Berlin. It started as a drunken challenge with a friend. I said I could write a Punk song without really knowing how to play any instruments, when I left the bar at 4am, I went home and wrote this song in 5 minutes.
It gave me a taste for writing solo and exploring new territories. I started developing my production skills further, and taught myself how to play instruments better at the same time as I was writing songs. Everything had to happen simultaneously, I had no time to waste.
Your debut solo album ‘Your Own Shadow’ developed organically by being road tested in front of live audiences around the world, that is an interesting approach…
I’m impatient. I come up with a new idea for a song and before it’s finished, I already want to share it with an audience. I often play early versions of songs, unfinished, sometimes lyrics are missing or half the chorus, it doesn’t matter. I’m excited to share something new and try it live. I often find new parts for songs while playing them live. This is how the album was written. For me, songs are never finished, they’re evolving constantly with a life of their own.
Despite the daunting prospect of creating solo, you retain your sense of humour and outgoing personality, has this been an important quality to complete the task?
I’m in love with life. I take every opportunity to dance and jump around my flat (mostly naked) listening to loud music. You can’t take yourself too seriously. The whole point of life is finding pleasure in each moment. Making music solo is challenging, empowering and really exciting! An intense face to face with yourself.
Which are your own favourite tracks on ‘Your Own Shadow’ and why?
The album is a journey, just like a concert. Each song is like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, it makes sense in the context of the album.
But each song is also an individual moment in time, like a slice of life. ‘Speed Of Blue’ is special because it was the first track I wrote.
I posted the demo as an instrumental and on my Soundcloud page, when Ian Pickering heard it. He offered to write lyrics and a vocal melody for it. It’s the only collaboration on the album and feels very strong.
At your recent London solo show, you confessed that you are still learning, what did you mean by that? 😉
You never stop learning, it’s part of the creative process. As an artist, you have endless possibilities to explore. I am very curious by nature and get really excited to learn new instruments and understand new technology. I can spend a whole week, night and day, reading the manual of a vintage drum machine. It’s very rewarding!
You continue to act and appeared in the DAF video for ‘Die Sprache Der Liebe’, how was the experience?
Acting is my first love! I love the thrill of performing live more than anything in the world. It represents the essence of ‘Here & Now’! Being fully present! Being fully in the moment!
The exchange of energy you experience with a live audience could never be recorded and can never be twice the same. Being on stage is like an intensified version of life. Pure adrenaline.
It was great fun to appear in the DAF video, sadly I didn’t get to meet the band as our shooting dates were different. Obviously playing a Dominatrix in a DAF video is a job to kill for and I’m very happy they offered me the part!
You have an interesting story about how you met Bernard Sumner for the first time in London?
Ahaha yes, it was a long time ago and a bit too personal to share here. It was a beautiful chance meeting which I will never forget, somewhere near Tottenham Court Road. We ended up in the club Heaven, definitely a night to remember.
What are you own career highlights so far, whether solo or with NOBLESSE OBLIGE?
My solo career is still young but playing in South Africa was an incredible experience, the crowd was so beautiful and loving. Pop Kultur Festival in Berlin was very rewarding too. More recently my concert at Stockholm Museum of Modern Art was very special.
Sebastian and I made music and performed live around the world for about 13 years. We released four full length studio albums (about 50 songs), many remixes and cover songs as well. Our creative process was very personal and intimate, we never worked with a producer.
It was just the two of us. It is only natural that at some point, we felt like trying something different.
The highlights of NOBLESSE OBLIGE probably are receiving the Steppenwolf (Journalists’ Choice Awards) in Moscow from Artemy Troitsky (the Russian John Peel) and the concerts we played in Brazil.
Sebastian and I remain very supportive of each other’s work. We are scheduled to play a double bill concert with DIE WILDE JAGD (his new project) and myself solo at HAU2 Hebbel Am Ufer Berlin as soon as the Coronavirus bans are lifted.
We have also been booked for a NOBLESSE OBLIGE concert in Portugal in the autumn. Future live dates are uncertain at the moment due to the restrictions, but I’m hopeful we’ll get through this crisis soon, stronger and wiser.
So what are your future plans in music?
I am happy to release a new video for my song ‘Melancholia’. The style of it is very different to my other videos. It’s a hand held camera, one take, no editing, video. It creates a dreamy, almost surreal quality which adds to the ethereal atmosphere of the track sung in French.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Valerie Renay
When Valerie Renay of NOBLESSE OBLIGE decides to release a solo project, she creates “music for fast moving clouds”.
Conceived in a moment of deep transition, ‘Your Own Shadow’ is an amalgamation of organically developed raw sounds, haunting vocals and tribal inserts, enveloped in delicious synth and simplistic melodies.
Whilst walking the path alone can be challenging, Renay rises to the occasion with innate power and the need to discover her real self: “The desire to explore my own limits and share intimate sensations motivated me to write these songs. I started this solo project to exorcise private demons. Writing songs alone is such a beautiful but lonely path, you are faced with yourself, your own fear, your own doubts but also the incredible feeling that everything is possible and options are endless. The choice is yours, you’re the pilot flying that plane. I needed to get those songs out of my system because they inhabited me like unresolved, fragile tales that I wanted to share, to understand better who I am.”
The exhilarating ‘Speed Of Blue’ was penned by Ian Pickering of SNEAKER PIMPS and Renay delivers it with a poise and passion, which bubbles underneath, waiting to be expelled. Her vocal, styled on that of Ian Curtis brings gloom and hope at the same time, while ‘Sailor’ soothes with its bluesy textures à la John Fryer on his BLACK NEEDLE NOISE project.
‘Hollow’ releases deep sadness, in keeping with ‘Darkest Lake’, where deeply hidden vulnerabilities come to the surface. This closing song is beautifully ethereal and delicate, floating lightly with the unlimited weightlessness of filmic qualities.
In contrast, ‘Kick Again’ and ‘Rough & Ready’ border on rebellious harshness, which suits Renay’s love affair with extremities. ‘Melancholia’ is poetically bare and delivered with minimalistic messages in French, where the choice of tongue adds to the romantic feel of the finished product.
A very different proposition from her work with NOBLESSE OBLIGE, Renay’s first solo product is amazingly fluid and harmonious.
“‘Your Own Shadow’, the title of the album refers to the feeling you have when you don’t recognise yourself anymore because you are made to feel small, insignificant, empty and lost” she said, “You know this is not the real you… Somewhere the real you still has fire and power but your very existence feels so meaningless. You forget how to be standing on your own two feet.”
With this opus, Valerie Renay definitely stands on her own two feet with a triumphant message of sensually charged, cinematic deliveries superbly put together and executed. Way to go!
“The medium of reinterpretation” as HEAVEN 17 and BEF’s Martyn Ware once put it, is still very much present in the 21st Century.
There have been albums of cover versions from the likes of SIMPLE MINDS, ERASURE, MIDGE URE and CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN celebrating their influences, as well as numerous various artists collections paying tribute to particular acts.
However, a newish phenomenon of covering an entire album has appeared in more recent years, something which MARSHEAUX, BECKY BECKY and CIRCUIT 3 have attempted on works by DEPECHE MODE, THE KNIFE and YAZOO respectively.
On the other side of the coin in recognition of the cultural impact of the classic synth era, the Anti-Christ Superstar MARILYN MANSON covered SOFT CELL’s cover of ‘Tainted Love’ but added more shouting, while DAVID GRAY took their own ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ and turned it into a lengthy Dylan-esque ballad.
There has also been a trend for girl groups to cover songs from the period with GIRLS ALOUD, THE SATURDAYS and RED BLOODED WOMEN being among those introducing these numbers to a new younger audience.
So as a follow-up to the 25 Classic Synth Covers listing, here is a selection taken from reinterpretations recorded from 2000 to the present day, restricted to one song per artist moniker and presented in chronological order.
SCHNEIDER TM va KPTMICHIGAN The Light 3000 (2000)
Morrissey was once quoted as saying there was “nothing more repellent than the synthesizer”, but if THE SMITHS had gone electro, would they have sounded like this and Stephen Patrick thrown himself in front of that ten ton truck? Germany’s SCHNEIDER TM aka Dirk Dresselhaus reconstructed ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ to a series of minimal blips, blops and robotics to configure ‘The Light 3000’ with British producer KPTMICHIGAN.
A breathy Euro disco classic made famous by sultry Spanish vocal duo BACCARA, Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory’s take on this cheesy but enjoyable disco standard came over like The Cheeky Girls at The Nuremburg rally! Now that’s a horrifying vision! All traces of ‘Yes Sir I Can Boogie’ apart from the original lyrics were rendered missing in action as the stern Ms Goldfrapp played the role of the thigh booted dominatrix on this highly original cover.
When BLACK BOX RECORDER went on hiatus, Sarah Nixey recorded a beautifully spacey cover of JAPAN’s Ghosts with INFANTJOY whose James Banbury became her main collaborator on her 2007 debut solo album ‘Sing Memory’. Meanwhile the duo’s other member was none other than ZTT conceptualist Paul Morley. A POPULUS remix appeared on the ‘With’ revisions album while MIDI-ed up and into the groove, Nixey later also recorded THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘The Black Hit Of Space’.
Of this mighty industrialised cover, Ralf Dörper said: “When I first heard ‘The Anvil’ (‘Der Amboss’) by VISAGE, I thought: “what a perfect song for DIE KRUPPS” – it just needed more sweat, more steel. And it was not before 2005 when DIE KRUPPS were asked to play a few 25-year anniversary shows that I remembered ‘Der Amboss’… and as I was a big CLIENT fan at that time, I thought it would be a good opportunity to ask Fräulein B for assistance in the vocal department”.
Available on a self-released CD single for the band’s 25th anniversary tour, currently unavailable
Comprising of Aggie Peterson and Per Martinsen, FROST have described their music as “upbeat space-pop”. Much of their own material like ‘Klong’, ‘Alphabet’ and ‘Sleepwalker’ exuded a perfect soundtrack for those long Nordic nights. Meanwhile their ultra-cool cover of OMD’s ‘Messages’ embraced that wintery atmosphere, while providing a pulsing backbone of icy synths to accompany Peterson’s alluringly nonchalant vocal.
In this “Pink Floyd Goes To Hollywood” styled rework, Claudia Brücken revisited her ZTT roots with this powerful and danceable version of Roger Waters’ commentary on music business hypocrisy. ‘Have A Cigar’ showed a turn of feistiness and aggression not normally associated with the usually more serene timbres of Claudia Brücken and Paul Humphreys’ ONETWO project. But by welcoming pleasure into the dome, they did a fine cover version.
Budapest’s BLACK NAIL CABARET began life as an all-female duo of Emese Illes-Arvai on vocals and Sophie Tarr on keyboards, with their first online offering being a darkwave cover of RIHANNA’s ‘Umbrella’. Already very synthy in the Barbadian starlet’s own version, it showcased their brooding form of electro which subsequently impressed enough to earn support slots with COVENANT, DE/VISION and CAMOUFLAGE while producing three albums of self-penned material so far.
Liverpudlian easy listening crooner Michael Holliday was the second person to have a UK No1 written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the first being Perry Como with ‘Magic Moments’. His second UK No1 penned by Earl Shuman and Mort Garson was a romantic guilty pleasure. CHINA CRISIS pledged their Scouse Honour with this jaunty synth / drum machine driven rendition of ‘Starry Eyed’ layered with reverbed synthbass warbles and harmonious vocals from Messrs Daly and Lundon.
LITTLE BOOTS gave a dynamically poptastic rendition of Giorgio Moroder and Freddie Mercury’s only collaboration from 1984, retaining its poignant melancholic quality while adding a vibrant and danceable electronic slant. The recreation of Richie Zito’s guitar solo on synths was wondrous as was the looser swirly groove. While Victoria Hesketh didn’t have the voice of Mercury, her wispy innocence added its own touching qualities to ‘Love Kills’.
Yuck, it’s Chris Martin and Co but didn’t Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe do well? Merging possibly COLDPLAY’s best song with the synth riff from their own Latino disco romp ‘Domino Dancing’, ‘Viva La Vida’ was turned into a stomping but still anthemic number which perhaps had more touches of affection than PET SHOP BOYS‘ marvellous but allegedly two fingers Hi-NRG rendition of U2’s ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’. So altogether now: “Woah-oh, ooh-ooah!”
No strangers to raiding the Bowie songbook having previously tackled ‘Fame’ in 1981, DURAN DURAN however blotted their copy book with their 1995 covers LP ‘Thank You’. They refound their stride with the return-to-form album ‘All You Need Is Now’ but just before that, this superb reinterpretation of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ reconnected them to their New Romantic roots with washes of Nick Rhodes’ swimmy Crumar string machine, held down by a danceable beatbox and John Taylor’s syncopated bass runs.
This frantically paced cover of controversial neofolk band DEATH IN JUNE was recorded for the LADYTRON ‘Best Of 00-10’ collection and purposely uncredited. The antithesis of the midtempo atmospherics of ‘Gravity The Seducer’, this cutting four-to-the-floor romp was the last of the quartet’s in-yer-face tracks in a wind down of the harder ‘Velocifero’ era. With the multi-ethnic combo subverting the meaning of ‘Little Black Angel’, it deliberately bore no resemblance to the acoustic laden original.
‘The Eternal’ from ‘Closer’, the final album by JOY DIVISION, was one of the most fragile, funereal collages of beauty ever committed to vinyl. But in 2011, Brighton based songstress GAZELLE TWIN reworked this cult classic and made it even more haunting! Replacing the piano motif with eerily chilling synth and holding it together within an echoing sonic cathedral, she paid due respect to the song while adding her own understated operatic stylings.
On their only album ‘Lights & Offerings’, MIRRORS revealed an interesting musical diversion with this haunting take of a rootsy country number originally recorded by Karen Dalton. Written by the late Dino Valenti of psychedelic rockers QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE, ‘Something On Your Mind’ was a touching ballad with its tortured yearning suiting the quartet’s pop noir aspirations. Ally Young said: “It was very nice for us to be able to apply our aesthetic to someone else’s song.”
Indie stoners THE XX had a minimalist approach to their sound which Andy McCluskey said was “really quite impressive”. This bareness made their material quite well suited for reworking in the style of classic OMD. ‘VCR’ had Paul Humphreys taking charge of the synths while McCluskey dusted off his bass guitar and concentrated on vocals. McCluskey added: “People go ‘how did OMD influence THE XX?’… but have you listened to ‘4-Neu’? Have you listened to some of the really simple, stripped down B-sides?”
Available on the EP ‘History Of Modern (Part I)’ via Blue Noise
As I SPEAK MACHINE, Tara Busch has been known for her haunting and occasionally downright bizarre live covers of songs as diverse as ‘Cars’, ‘Our House’, ‘The Sound Of Silence’ and ‘Ticket To Ride’. For a JOHN FOXX tribute EP which also featured GAZELLE TWIN, she turned ‘My Sex’, the closing number from the debut ULTRAVOX! long player, into a cacophony of wailing soprano and dystopian synths that was more than suitable for a horror flick.
Available on the EP ‘Exponentialism’ (V/A) via Metamatic Records
French theatrical performer Valerie Renay and German producer Sebastian Lee Philipp are NOBLESSE OBLIGE. Together, they specialise in a brand of abstract Weimer cabaret tinged with a dose of electro Chanson. Their lengthy funereal deadpan cover of THE EAGLES’ ‘Hotel California’ highlighted the chilling subtext of the lyrics to its macabre conclusion! The synthesizer substitution of the original’s iconic twin guitar solo could be seen as total genius or sacrilege!
I AM SNOW ANGEL is the project of Brooklyn based producer Julie Kathryn; her debut album ‘Crocodile’ was a lush sounding affair and could easily be mistaken as a product of Scandinavia were it not for her distinctly Trans-Atlantic drawl. Already full of surprises, to close the long player, out popped a countrified drum ‘n’ bass take of BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN’s ‘I’m On Fire’! Quite what The Boss would have made of it, no-one is sure but it was quietly subversive and it certainly delivered the unexpected.
Reinterpreting any Bowie number is fraught with the possibility of negative feedback and MACHINISTA’s take on ‘Heroes’ set tongues wagging. Recorded as the duo’s calling card when experienced Swedish musicians John Lindqwister and Richard Flow first came together, electronic pulses combined with assorted synthetic textures which when amalgamated with Lindqwister’s spirited vocal, produced a respectful and yes, good version of an iconic song.
Comprising of frisky vocalist Emily Kavanaugh and moody producer Mark Brooks, NIGHT CLUB simply cut to the chase with their enjoyable electronic cover of INXS’ ‘Need You Tonight’. Here, the familiar guitar riff was amusingly transposed into a series of synth stabs before mutating into a mutant Morse code. It wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll but we liked it! Purists were horrified, but history has proved the best cover versions always do a spot of genre and instrumentation hopping.
The MARSHEAUX reworking of DEPECHE MODE’s second album ‘A Broken Frame’ shed new light on Martin Gore’s first long form adventure as songwriter and affirmed that numbers such as ‘My Secret Garden’ and ‘The Sun & The Rainfall’ were just great songs. But ‘Monument’ was an example of a cover outstripping the original and given additional political resonance with the economic situation close to home that the Greek synth maidens found themselves living in at the time of its recording.
Needing to be heard to be believed, this rather inventive and charming cover of THE CURE’s ‘Close To Me’ by Belgium’s favourite passengers METROLAND utilised a selection of male and female computer voice generators to provide the lead vocal, in a move likely to upset the majority of real music purists. Meanwhile, the hidden melodies shone much more brightly than in the goth-laden original, thanks to its wonderful and clever electronic arrangement.
One of DAILY PLANET’s main inspirations was cult UK synth trio WHITE DOOR, who released just one album ‘Windows’ in 1983. So when their chief synthesist Johan Baeckström was needing tracks to include on his ‘Like Before’ EP, the almost choir boy overtures of ‘Jerusalem’ was a natural choice for a cover version. Of course, this was not the first time Baeckström had mined the WHITE DOOR back catalogue as the more halcyon ‘School Days’ adorned the flip of his debut solo single ‘Come With Me’.
Forming in 2016, seasoned vocalist Gene Serene and producer Lloyd Price’s combined sound delightfully borrowed from both classic synthpop and Weimar Cabaret on THE FRIXION’s self-titled EP debut. From it, a tribute to The Purple One came with this touching take of his ‘Under The Cherry Moon’, highlighting PRINCE’s often hidden spiritual connection to European pop forms and recalling ‘The Rhythm Divine’, YELLO’s epic collaboration with Shirley Bassey.
Moody electronic duo KALEIDA first came to wider attention opening for RÓISÍN MURPHY in 2015. Covers have always been part of Christina Wood and Cicely Goulder’s repertoire with ‘A Forest’ and ‘Take Me To The River’ being among them. KALEIDA’s sparse rendition of NENA’s ‘99 Luftballons’ earned kudos for being very different and was included in the soundtrack of the Cold War spy drama ‘Atomic Blonde’, hauntingly highlighting the currently relevant nuclear apocalypse warning in the lyric.
In one of the most productive years ever for electronic pop music, it has been extremely difficult to whittle down the list to 30 songs.
The standard has been extremely high and songs which would have made the listing in previous years have been left off. This has meant the controversial omission of DEPECHE MODE.
Despite being as popular as ever, grossing over $99 million during the ‘Delta Machine’ tour, once a shortlist for 2013 was drawn, the competition was so stiff that nothing from the album even scraped in!
Yes, 2013 has been that good and wonderful songs by the likes of KELLI ALI, ELEVEN:ELEVEN, GAZELLE TWIN, GHOST CAPSULES, GOLDFRAPP, HANNAH PEEL, IAMX, KOVAK, MOBY, NIGHT ENGINE, NINE INCH NAILS, SAY LOU LOU, and SOFT METALS have just missed inclusion too!
So the songs on this alphabetical list have been released in physical formats, or digitally as purchasable or free downloads during the calendar year with a limit of one song per artist moniker.
ADULT. Idle (Second Thoughts)
The new ADULT. album ‘The Way Things Fall’ was fittingly described by one observer as “a snuff film version of Speak & Spell”. The fears of relationships and the outside world have very much fuelled the dystopian demeanour of ADULT. While still retaining their distinctive edge, their mutant love songs have a magnetic charm. This was particularly evident on the fabulous single ‘Idle (Second Thoughts)’, a vibrant electro hybrid of GINA X PERFORMANCE and SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES which showcased a strange blend of menace and melody.
Available on the album ‘The Way Things Fall’ via Ghostly International
Moving away from the industrial battleground in which they made their name, ANALOG ANGEL began the year with the enjoyably immediate ‘We Won’t Walk Away’, a laudable tribute to OMD’s classic ‘Organisation’ era. Complete with primary chord structures, one-fingered melodies and motorik rhythm programming, there was even a hint of the dulcet tones of Andy McCluskey in John Brown’s vocal. But just one thing though… Paul Humphreys wants his Prophet 5 back 😉
Available on the download EP ‘Pride’ via Carbon 12 Records
‘Without A Trace Of Emotion’ saw KARL BARTOS conversing with his showroom dummy Herr Karl and confronting his demons as an ex-member of the world’s most iconic electronic group. The most straightforward pop song on the ‘Off The Record’ album, its autobiographical resignation was not unlike ‘Life’ from ‘Communication’. But whereas his former colleague Wolfgang Flür vented his spleen in book form with ‘I Was A Robot’, Bartos took a more ironic musical approach with the line “I wish I could remix my life to another beat”, a wry reference to ‘The Mix’ project which drove him to madness and out of Kling Klang!
Available on the album ‘Off The Record’ via Bureau B
The concept of BEF’s ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Vol3 – Dark’ is dark interpretations of perceivably upbeat songs using a variety of guest vocalists. One of the beauties of this type of project is how seemingly incongruous elements are fused together for a blissful whole. Here, melodramatic Sheffield singer/songwriter DAVID J ROCH tackles BILL WITHERS’ ‘Same Love’ via Martyn Ware’s wonderful arrangement blending a neo-acapella intro into a meaty electro-disco tune with spacey whistles and haunting invader games like GIORGIO MORODER producing SPACE’s ‘Magic Fly’.
Available on the album ‘Music of Quality & Distinction Vol3 – Dark’ via Wall Of Sound
Co-written by Swedish electro songstress KARIN PARK, Norway’s Eurovision Song Contest 2013 entry came fourth. ‘I Feed You My Love’ was like ROBYN and KELLY CLARKSON fronting ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’ era DEPECHE MODE. In fact, its performer MARGARET BERGER came second in the 2004 series of Norwegian Idol so the description was quite apt. The on-paper incongruous outcome was leftfield by Eurovision standards but perhaps not entirely shockingly, it got nul points from the United Kingdom; it summed up mainstream tastes in the UK and the country’s general Euro scepticism if nothing else!
The saviours of synthpop had an amazing year with sold out club shows and five dates supporting DEPECHE MODE in Europe. CHVRCHES‘ most accessible track ‘The Mother We Share’ was synthpop perfection with the concept of TAYLOR SWIFT gone electro having uprooted to Berlin. It deservedly scooped Popjustice’s Twenty Quid Music Prize for best UK single. Despite its wonderfully catchy chorus, it was not wholly bubblegum with its plethora of futuristic sounds and strange noises! Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty delivered on their promise with an impressive debut album ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’, save the two incongruous indie synth numbers sung by Doherty!
Available on the album ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ via Virgin Records
ELECTRONIC CIRCUS are led by Chris Payne, the keyboard and viola virtuoso who was a member of GARY NUMAN’s band between 1979 to 89 and featured prominently on the Top10 single ‘Complex’. He notably co-wrote ‘Fade To Grey’ which became a huge international hit for VISAGE. With his adopted home surroundings very much the backbone of ‘Roundabout’, the track itself possessed a sexy and authentic Gallic charm, courtesy of Chris’ wife Dominique. The exquisite, almost naïve vocals over the most incessant synth riff either had listeners dancing with delight or irritated to the point of submission… the seemingly banal words were actually a very clever metaphor for midlife!
Available as a download single via Coverdrive Records
It had to happen and the world found its female DEPECHE MODE! Led by vocalist / songwriter / programmer Anastasia Dimou, the sound was probably more like post-apocalyptic BANGLES or BELINDA CARLISLE with gothic overtones in hindsight. The first single ‘Land Of The Innocent’ was a wondrous epic based around the arpeggio of ‘Ice Machine’ and driven by a hard incessant beat. Possessing an industrial gloom with an enlightening pop sensibility, it was what LADYTRON would have sounded like if they had formed in a Texan desert rather than spectre of Merseyside!!
Not content with producing MARSHEAUX and collaborating with OMD on ‘Helen Of Troy’, Greek production duo FOTONOVELA unveiled a new sophomore opus which was more song based using a number of prominent international vocalists. One of the numbers ‘Our Sorrow’ featured the majestic voice of James New from the missing-in-action MIRRORS. The string synth laden ditty was in the vein of classic OMD and with the South Coast combo calling it a day in 2013, this was a fitting way to depart The Hall Of Mirrors.
Available on the album ‘A Ton Of Love’ via Undo Records
JOHN FOXX and JORI HULKKONEN had worked together previously but never before on a body of work with a conceptual theme. Their latest collaboration took on a grainier downtempo template and the lead track ‘Evangeline’was all the more beautiful for it. Full of depth, coupled with an anthemic chorus and vibrant exchange of character throughout, this rousing yet soothingly futuristic number was quite otherworldly. The title of the parent EP said it all…
Available on the EP ‘European Splendour’ via Sugarcane Records
Nobody really knows for sure who are GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS but names like Sissy Space Echo, Warren Betamax, Charles Bronson Burner and Bruce LeeFax are commensurate with their manifesto “to thrive on causing confusion with a mixture of pure synth pop and more experimental electronic sounds”. ‘Jessica 6’ is a tribute to the cult Sci-Fi favourite ‘Logan’s Run’. The eerie post-punk cacophony laced with icy Yamaha string machine makes it the perfect belated choice for the soundtrack. Add in a frantic reverbed backbeat and it all comes over like THE PIPETTES fronting collaboration between JOY DIVISION and OMD.
Available as a download single via Squirrel Records
From a long player with distinctly orchestrated and acoustic overtones, ‘Thea’ was the most overtly electronic song on ‘Tales Of Us’. Alison Goldfrapp’s vocal soared angelically, surrounded by very subtle synthetic dance textures and layers of percussive craft. While the beat was mechanical, it didn’t sound out of place on the very organic parent album.
Available on the album ‘Tales Of Us’ via Mute Records
KID MOXIE is the musical vehicle of Los Angeles based Elena Charbila. Her first full length album ‘Selector’ was bolstered by a MARSHEAUX remix of its best song ‘Medium Pleasure’. Always sounding her best when adopting a breathy continental vocal style, Elena Charbila recorded possibly her best song yet as KID MOXIE with ‘The Bailor’, a dreamy and sexy tunes that glistened in the Aegean Sea. The Wayfarer remix of the song was also issued later in the year in aid of The David Lynch Foundation .
LADYTRON’s Helen Marnie released her long awaited debut solo album ‘Crystal World’ in the summer. Recorded in Iceland, it suitably captured the island’s beautifully relaxed but volatile atmosphere. Its opening track ‘The Hunter’ was a tremendous calling card and the vibrant electropop single that LADYTRON never quite got round to releasing. Very pretty and delectably glacial, the tune was vocally and musically expansive like an Arctic escapist fantasy, melancholic but free of doom.
Available on the album ‘Crystal World’ via Les Disques Du Crespuscle
MARSHEAUX’s fourth album ‘Inhale’ had been a long time coming. And it appeared as though the Greek financial crisis had loomed heavy over its making, resulting in moodier, midtempo numbers taking centre stage. ‘August Day’ though was a grower, developing on the maturer outlook apparent on the album’s concept, with a hint of CHVRCHES’ steadier paced output. Less immediate but overwhelmingly dreamy, it captured the senses after multiple listens.
MESH’s founders Mark Hockings and Richard Silverthorn know their audience so the lattice of danceable electro-rock continued on their best album yet ‘Automation Baby’. But the beautiful ‘The Way I Feel’ showed a more sensitive side with hints of Ennio Morricone. Shaped by acoustic guitar and string machine washes, the atmospheric maturity that MESH were now showcasing was a welcome surprise.
Available on the album ‘Automation Baby’ via Dependent
MONARCHY’s ‘Disintegration’ featured the sexy burlesque queen DITA VON TEESE on vocals. With its vampish disco crashing into elements of GIORGIO MORODER, it sounded like the SCISSOR SISTERS gone right and even threw in a few VISAGE frequency warbles! ‘Disintegration’ was a rather excellent, stomping floor filler of the first degree with some hook laden energy and cooing feline appeal.
GIORGIO MORODER is now 73 years old but is as vital as ever having produced the dance track of the year! Commissioned by Google Chrome for their online game ‘Racer’, the piano line was like ULTRAVOX reworked for Studio 54 while the whirring synths and trancey elements made it come over like history of modern electronic dance music squashed into 4 minutes. But as these ideas were mostly borrowed from Da Maestro himself, it was now his time to grab it all back. Moroder easily rivalled any young hopeful with a set of double decks and a laptop.
ALISON MOYET made a return to the electronic experimentation that made her famous as one half of YAZOO on her new album ‘the minutes’. With contemporary synthesized backing over a powerful rhythm construction and stuttering guitar textures courtesy of new collaborator Guy Sigsworth, Moyet’s deep emotional vocal resonated on ‘Changeling’ with a confidence and energy that dispelled the public’s perception of her as just a jazz singer!
Available on the album ‘the minutes’ via Cooking Vinyl.
Positively feline but dysfunctionally dark like Britney gone emo, NIGHT CLUB‘s cutely subversive ‘Poisonous’ based itself, like STEFY’s lost 2007 single ‘Chelsea’, around the riff of ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’. This superb slice of catchy electronic pop from the LA combo of Emily Kavanaugh and Mark Brooks roused with a huge crossover potential while possessing a sinister edge.
Available on the download EP ‘Love Casualty’ via Gato Blanco
NOBLESSE OBLIGE are French theatrical performer Valerie Renay and German producer Sebastian Lee Philipp who specialise in a brand of abstract Weimer cabaret tinged with a dose of electro Chanson. NOBLESSE OBLIGE’s lengthy funereal deadpan cover of THE EAGLES’ ‘Hotel California’ highlights the chilling subtext of the lyrics to its macabre conclusion! The synthesizer interpretation of the original song’s iconic twin guitar solo will either be seen as total genius or sacrilege!
Available on the album ‘Affair Of The Heart’ via Repo Records
‘Who Are You?’ is one of those great uptempo anthemic songs in the vein of ‘Listen To My Voice’ from 2000’s ‘Pure’ that confirms when GARY NUMAN hits the target, he hits bulls-eye! Written for a film about a musician with schizophrenic personality, it fitted well with the parent album ‘Splinter’ and its ‘Songs From A Broken Mind’. The album wasn’t just one-dimensional riff monsters and the varied material was some of Numan’s best work for years.
Available on the album ‘Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)’ via Mortal Records / Cooking Vinyl
The standard of ‘English Electric’ was so high that any one of its song based tracks could have made the list. But ‘Stay With Me’ just gets the nod as the album’s hidden gem. The first Paul Humphreys lead vocal for OMD since 1986’s ‘Forever Live & Die’, the song was originally demoed as ‘Idea 3’ and voiced by Andy McCluskey. Ever the master of melody and inspired by events around him, Humphreys reworked it into a more straightforward love song but added a beautiful cinematic resonance. Indeed, it comes over a bit like ‘Love Theme From St Elmo’s Fire’ meets ‘Souvenir’ with subtle lashings of white noise!
“Incandescent…”; yes the hypnotic ‘Fluorescent’ was basically a buzzy dancefloor makeover of ‘Fade To Grey’ with the chilling Polymoog string preset from VISAGE’s original remaining in the mix while waves of synth sirens attacked it like a Martian invasion. The parent album was ‘Electric’ by name and electric by nature, and easily the PET SHOP BOYS‘ best body of work since ‘Very’. It more than made up for 2012’s lame duck ‘Elysium’…
Available on the album ‘Electric’ via X2 / Kobalt Records
A stomping electro disco number produced by Mark Reeder who previously has remixed JOHN FOXX, DEPECHE MODE and PET SHOP BOYS, QUEEN OF HEARTS‘ cooing Bush-like howls and breathy euphoria are a total delight to the ears while the mighty cavernous sound provides the heat! Yet ‘United’ has ended up as the B-side of the less satisfactory ‘Secret’. However, if songs like this are being seen as outtakes, this is all a good sign for her debut album in 2014 which is eagerly awaited…
Available on the download EP ‘Secret’ via Night Moves
Originally, written by Saffron with noted producer Andy Gray, ‘Christiana Obey’ had been doing the airplay rounds in 2012 but finally secured a formal release to coincide with REPUBLICA’s touring comeback this year. With its suitably big chorus, Saffron was on good anthemic form while a meaty remix from TENEK enhanced the song even further and made it ready to go!
Available on the EP ‘Christiana Obey’ via Republica Music
POLLY SCATTERGOOD made her debut in 2009 with a self-titled album released on the iconic Mute Records. With key influences such as BJORK and KATE BUSH, it combined jubilant experimental pop with her innocent, affected vocals. From her second album ‘Arrows’, ‘Wanderlust’ realised her potential with a slice of deliciously wired avant pop in the GOLDFRAPP vein, although closer scrutiny revealed it to be more like electronic COCTEAU TWINS with that rousing air of fragility.
The Finnish duo of Juho Paalosmaa and Jori Hulkkonen swiftly followed up their acclaimed eponymous debut of 2012 with ‘Afterlife’. Hulkkonen told The Electricity Club back in 2011 that it was being a fan of PET SHOP BOYS that inspired him to make music. ‘Moonstruck’ is a fine melancholic beat ballad in the Tennant/Lowe tradition where Paalosmaa’s emotive lost boy demeanour blends wonderfully with the sweeping drifts and building swathes of synth strings. It is also possibly the best song of its type that Neil and Chris never recorded.
Available on the album ‘Afterlife’ via Solina Records
Like ‘Twin Peaks’ meets ORBITAL, ‘Damaged Software’ was an enticing piece of electro from Anais Neon and Martin Swan which affirmed their status as Britain’s premiere independent synth duo. With a tour supporting OMD in Germany where they encountered the likes of Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür backstage, their vile adventure of meeting former KRAFTWERK members continued when they shared the bill with Michael Rother at Elektrofest. Three years in the making, the parent album ‘The future through a lens’ was well worth the wait.
Techno DJ WESTBAM celebrated 30 years in the music business with an intriguing mature collection of songs under the title of ‘Götterstrasse’. While the theme of the album centred on the joy and euphoria of underground nightlife, the album’s magnificent launch single ‘You Need The Drugs’ was not actually a celebration of illicit substance use. Voiced brilliantly by THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS’ Richard Butler, WESTBAM himself said it was “the first explicit electronic appeal AGAINST the use of drugs with a clear message: drugs are a bore!”. From a brilliant album that also featured vocalists as diverse as Iggy Pop, Bernard Sumner, Brian Molko, Lil’ Wayne and Kanye West, ‘Götterstrasse’ was the surprise electronic release of the year.
Available on the album ‘Götterstrasse’ via Warner Music Germany
NOBLESSE OBLIGE are French theatrical performer Valerie Renay and German producer Sebastian Lee Philipp, who released their debut album ‘Privilege Entails Responsibility’ in 2006.
Their name is French for “nobility obliges” and basing themselves in Berlin from 2008, the duo issued two further albums ‘In Exile’ and ‘Malady’. MARK REEDER loved their track ‘Duel’ from the former and included his Shot At the Crack of Dawn Remix on the 2011 ‘Five Point One’ collection alongside his reworks of highly regarded luminaries such as DEPECHE MODE and JOHN FOXX.
Around this time, NOBLESSE OBLIGE came to the attention of Chris Corner who invited them to support IAMX on the European leg of the ‘Volatile Times’ tour. Their abstract Weimer cabaret combined with a dose of electro Chanson impressed and this month sees the release of their fourth album ‘Affair Of The Heart’ recorded at Corner’s countryside studio near Berlin. Renay and Philipp have said the long player is “a romantic journey in the classic sense of the term. Our study of human passion from its most uplifting to its gloomiest…”
It all harks back to a time when EURYTHMICS actually meant “European rhythms” and not “sell out to the ‘States”. The lead single from the album ‘Runaway’ is a superb electronic ditty complimented by Renay and Philipp harmonising over Eurodisco arpeggios and danceable beats recalling ‘Some Great Reward’ era DEPECHE MODE. And to contuine the IAMX connection further, its accompanying video has been directed by Chris Corner…
‘Affair Of The Heart’ features several other highlights which combine the artful romantic sensibilites of HURTS and VISAGE with the sinister ambiguous sexual overtones of SOFT CELL.
New single ‘Mata Hari’ captures this tension marvellously by telling the story of the Dutch exotic dancer and femme fatale who was accused of spying for Germany during the First World War and subsequently executed by the French.
Meanwhile, ‘Burn’ with its pulsing synths and uptempo clattering percussion sees Renay vocalise in a higher register to provide a eurphoric lift to a track that will undoubtely go down well at Gothic discos.
‘Break Your Heart’ is a close relative to ‘Runaway’ but while not quite hitting the same heights, is just as enjoyable. ‘Vagabonde’ is more minimal and squelchy though but full of Gallic charm as Renay sexily oozes in her mother tongue.
It’s not all dancefloor material though as ‘Chasing Shadows’ explores more organic textures in more esoteric surroundings. And if that wasn’t enough, there is NOBLESSE OBLIGE’s funereal deadpan cover of THE EAGLES’ ‘Hotel California’ in which the chilling subtext of the lyrics is now fully enhanced to its murderous conclusion!
With this latest opus, NOBLESSE OBLIGE “hope that this energy and emotion are felt by the outsiders, and will entice them into our world”. Despite a second half lull, ‘Affair Of The Heart’ certainly is as accessible and accomplished as any of the impressive electronic based albums that have appeared in 2013.