GLITBITER is the musical vehicle of Los Angeles-based musician and vocalist Florence Bullock.
Classically trained with a love of esteemed songwriter Jimmy Webb, she describes her style as “Dreamy synthwave for the dark soul”.
One of her forays into the North American synthwave scene included her contribution to BETAMAXX’s ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’ album on ‘Skyhigh’, with the song’s vibrato treated vocal stabs on the coda being a particular delight. There was also a cameo in the video for another BETAMAXX track ‘Never Sleep Again’ which was fronted by gothwavers VANDAL MOON.
Meanwhile, when PARALLELS celebrated the 10 year anniversary of their debut album ‘Visionaries’ with some specially commissioned remixes, GLITBITER’s sparking rework of the song ‘Vienna’ was the best of the bunch. More recently, she joined DEAD ASTRONAUTS for the recently released ‘Silhouettes’ album with ‘Thorns’ being one of the highlights.
Having issued a promising three track EP ‘Short Stories’ in 2017, GLITBITER has taken the next step with a six song mini-album called ‘Glass & Steel’. This title is an appropriate pointer to its contents and the first thing instantly noticeable is the leap in sonic progression compared with her earlier work.
The melancholic folk-laden opener ‘Out of the Wasteland’ adopts a slow swing template and recalls Scotland’s WITCH OF THE VALE or Sweden’s Karin My but enhanced by speedy arpeggios and prominent synthbass drones. More four-to-the-floor with a driving bass triplet, ‘Turn’ gallops into the sunset with a rich display of vocal prowess.
Featuring a soaring sweeping synth solo that is a total delight, ‘Blade’ reveals an angelic crystalline quality to a more archetypical synthwave template although GLITERBITER puts her own stamp on the form, learning lessons from her association with BETAMAXX.
Much more ringy in tone, ‘Girl In A Storm’ applies an interesting use of stuttering rhythm at its start before embarking on its syncopated journey while swathed in folky overtones.
With a meaty rhythmic construction that doesn’t overbear, ‘Follower’ pulsates wonderfully while also providing space to breathe for the gloriously emotive vocals. ‘Glass & Steel’ ends with ‘Fights & Fears’, a lush set piece that includes bright and bent synth passages to take the listener into another zone.
With all the songs written, produced, performed and primarily mixed by GLITBITER except for ‘Turn’ and ‘Follower’ by Mike Balboa, ‘Glass & Steel’ is an impressive debut long form release that avoids most of the synthwave clichés to showcase GLITBITER as an electronic talent for the future.
Dark without being doomy and eschewing the shoegaze distortion or tune aversion that mars the majority of dreampop, ‘Glass & Steel’ provides an appealing feminine air to the synth form with a few traditional elements for that crucial facet of musicality.
Phoenix-based VIOLET CHOIR comprise of Mickey Louise and Jesse Pangburn who met at college while studying jazz.
Previously indie rock combo THE PROWLING KIND and dream popsters MRCH, the output from their previous guises appeared in the soundtracks of ‘The Twilight Zone’, ‘Search Party’, ‘13 Reasons Why’, ‘Shameless’ and’ The Vampire Diaries’.
On ‘Reactions’, their 2017 debut album as MRCH, the duo fully embraced a more electronic sound to the point that it was more or less fully sequenced.
Inspired by the likes of independent artists like COMPUTER MAGIC aka DANZ CM and the synthwave breakthrough, there came a change of style with a change of name. So VIOLET CHOIR was born. Their self-titled EP makes use of a Prophet 08, some Moog via the Matriarch and Minitaur, plus Ableton soft synths simulating DX7 bell sounds. Meanwhile a live kit and drum machines sit in tandem alongside occasional electric guitar and bass.
Moody and percussive without resorting to synthwave clichés, ‘Don’t Come Around’ recalls the feel of KLEERUP’s ‘Nothing Left To Die For’ with Jenny Wilson. Nurtured on jazz and rock, Mickey Louise’s voice comes over rich and airy over an appealing electronic pop song that doesn’t sound as long as its five and a half minutes length might suggest.
Although adopting more of a post-punk template with live bass and guitar, ‘Tonight’ still has plenty of synths to add texture including a surprising jazzier twirl and a particularly piercing but melodic sound reminiscent of the sparkly feminine new wave vibe of PARALLELS or CHROMATICS.
Meanwhile, the chunky fuzz and deeper treated vocal counterpoints on ‘Dream About It’ offer a slightly gothic dimension to a slice of precision disco lento, with its dynamic highs and lows projecting in the manner of THE GOLDEN FILTER.
Maintaining that “life is strange”, the sombre root note bass and strident keyboard arpeggio patterns make ‘Friend Song’ the most archetypical synthwave styled offering on the EP, with the breezily wispy vocals contributing to an enjoyable chorus uplift.
The electroclash-derived ‘Kids On Sunset’ adopts a dominant bass triplet for a galloping rhythmic sway that becomes more addictive as it approaches the dancefloor. The presence of the coy feline allure of COMPUTER MAGIC with her track ‘Fuzz’ in particular and the much missed Texan duo ELEVEN:ELEVEN are strong.
This debut EP is not your run-of-the-mill synthwave-by-numbers and by bringing their experience from other genres, VIOLET CHOIR have largely avoided the usual musical catchphrases that can haunt modern electronic pop. What stands out are the songs and the musicality. Time will see Mickey Louise and Jesse Pangburn fully realise the promise on show here.
Originally released in November 2019, ‘Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years’ collected together exclusive tracks from the world of synthwave and electronic pop.
Curated by Aaron Vehling, founder of Vehlinggo, the 17 tracks presented the musical ethos of the Brooklyn-based website, podcast and multimedia platform. Having been issued digitally, ‘Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years’ is now available on CD with a slight adjustment in running order to reflect Vehling’s vision of an imaginary film soundtrack.
Any good compilation contains promising talents alongside established names and this is certainly the case here.
The reconfigured tracklisting begins in a cool stylish fashion with ANORAAK’s ‘Panarea’, a funky nu-disco instrumental. Retrospective references surface with Canada’s PARALLELS on ‘The Magic Hour’, an exquisite slice of synthesized new wave that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a classic Brat Pack movie.
Remaining in Canada which has become the creative centrepoint for much of the best modern synth music, Ryan Gosling favourites FM ATTACK offer more of their trademark atmospheric electronic disco on ‘Paradise’.
The mood changes though with the appealing girly Italopop of New Yorkers BUNNY X and their ‘Revolving Doors’.
Now THE MIDNIGHT have become possibly the biggest synthwave crossover act with their sax assisted AOR but their appeal still baffles some observers; ‘Sometimes She Smiles’ does not change things and sounds not unlike busker balladeer PASSENGER but constructed using VSTs.
But with the pacey ‘Rage Of Honor’, proceedings are rocked up by LE MATOS although the backbone is still predominantly electronic. With a track entitled ‘Hi-NRG’, BETAMAXX begins proceedings with a cowbell frenzy but the speedy arpeggios soon join in for a Giorgio Moroder homage complete with digital chimes.
The shiny electro continues with the Sweden’s Johan Agebjörn and ‘Have You Ever Been In Love?’; using robotic vocal treatments like FM ATTACK, because this is a dub version of the track, the featured vocal of Tom Hooker, the voice behind many of the hits for famed Italo star Den Harrow, only comes in phrases which proves to be frustrating; the solution is to track down the original mix of the song from the ‘Videoman’ soundtrack.
MAETHELVIN cuts a solid funk groove on ‘Dance Through The Night’ aided by a LinnDrum derived pattern but maintains a chilly air, while from the Italians Do It Better stable, the previously unreleased Johnny Jewel produced ‘Gold’ by IN MIRRORS builds on some staccato tension.
The throbbing ‘Girl On Video’ from FORGOTTEN ILLUSIONS is loaded with hooks and big synthetic drum fills but while it is passable 4/4 synthwave fare, it is overlong and may have benefitted from being constructed around a 6/8 Schaffel to give it more bite.
A self-confessed “21st Century ’80s” artist DIAMOND FIELD takes the delightful Dana Jean Phoenix into an interesting direction on ‘Freedom Pass’ by producing something that comes over like THE GO-GO’S gone synthpop. It recalls when Jane Wiedlin was working with PET SHOP BOYS producer Stephen Hague after the group first disbanded.
Beginning with some female prose en Français, DEADLY AVENGER‘s ‘Your Phone Is Off The Hook, But You’re Not’ is reminiscent of the quirky French underground from which cult acts such as MATHEMATIQUES MODERNES and RUTH emerged. Meanwhile, the wonderful MECHA MAIKO contributes the arty ‘Selfless’ which stands out with its screechy backdrop before settling into an avant pop concoction that makes hypnotic use of her repeated “It’s alright” phrasing!
‘She Sees A Future’ from Lakeshore Records signing VH x RR perhaps has the most nostalgic references like THE LOVER SPEAKS meeting ANIMOTION, but proceedings are taken down a notch by the filmic vocodered mood piece that is METAVARI’s ‘Be What You See’.
But the best is saved until last with HIGHWAY SUPERSTAR and the gorgeously dreamy ‘Slow Motion’; featuring a fabulous vocal by Zoe Polanski, the end result comes across a bit like ELECTRIC YOUTH.
‘Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years’ does its job well of showcasing new and established international talent from an American perspective.
Coming from variants of electronic music that have been labelled as synthpop, Italo Disco, synthwave, nu-disco and French disco, what actually matters is whether the music is any good.
Considering this compilation contains largely of previously unreleased material with the baggage that can come with that knowledge, the majority of it is excellent. Listeners will of course have their own favourites, but there really is something for everyone who loves electronic pop with quality and substance.
“It’s such a strange day, in such a lonely way” sang NEW ORDER on ‘Truth’ in 1981.
The coronavirus crisis of 2020 put the entire live music industry into limbo as concerts were postponed and tours rescheduled.
The situation was affecting everyone with several musicians like Bernard Sumner, Andy McCluskey, John Taylor and Sarah Nixey publicly stating that they had contracted the virus. Even when all pupils returned to schools in the Autumn, there was a ban on indoor singing in English classrooms. It was an indication that out of all professional fields, the arts was going suffer the most.
To make up for the absence of live shows, online streamed events become popular. Two of the best live online gigs were by Swedish veterans LUSTANS LAKEJER from the KB in Malmö and Sinomatic techno-rockers STOLEN with Lockdown Live From Chengdu. Not strictly a lockdown show but available for all to view on SVT was a magnificent live presentation of KITE at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm recorded in late 2019 combining synthesizers, orchestra and choir, proving again why Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg are the best electronic duo in Europe.
Concluding his ‘Songs: From the Lemon Tree’ series, Bon Harris of NITZER EBB presented a wonderful set of four electonic cover versions including songs made famous by Joan Armatrading, Connie Francis and Diana Ross. Meanwhile among independent musicians, Dubliner CIRCUIT3 led the way with an innovative multi-camera effected approach to his home studio presentation and Karin My performed al fresco in a forest near Gothenburg.
Taking the initiative, ERASURE did a delightful virtual album launch party for their new album ‘The Neon’ on Facebook with Vince Clarke in New York and Andy Bell in London, talking about everything from shopping to classic synthpop tunes.
Other streamed forms of entertainment came via podcasts and among the best was ‘The Album Years’ presented by Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness. Their knowledgeable and forthright views on selected years in music were both informative and amusing. It was interesting to note that at the end of the 1976 episode, the pair nominated ‘Oxygène’ by Jean-Michael Jarre as the most important album of that year while for 1979, it was ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by Gary Numan.
Many artists who had scheduled releases in 2020 went through with them, although in some cases, there were the inevitable delays to physical product. But a few notable acts couldn’t help but abuse the situation, notably a certain combo from Basildon.
There were already “quality control issues” with the lavish ‘MODE’ 18 CD boxed set, but there was uproar even among the most hardcore Devotees with the ‘Spirits In The Forest’ release. The cardboard packaging was reported to be flimsy and prone to dents, while there was continuity errors galore as Dave Gahan rather cluelessly and selfishly wore different coloured outfits over the two nights in Berlin that the live footage was filmed under the direction of Anton Corbijn.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was an Anton Corbijn official illustrated history of DEPECHE MODE entitled ‘DM AC’ in the form of a coffee table photo book published by Taschen which retailed at €750; even though it was signed by Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher, the price tag was a mightily steep. The increasingly ironic words of “The grabbing hands grab all they can…” from ‘Everything Counts’ were not lost on people, who are people, after all!
But Andy Fletcher did provide the most amusing and spot-on quote of the year; during DEPECHE MODE’s acceptance speech into that dinosaur institution The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, when Dave Gahan remarked to his bandmates that “I dunno what the hell I would have been doing if I didn’t find music to be quite honest…”, the banana eating handclapper dryly retorted “YOU’D HAVE BEEN STILL STEALING CARS DAVE!”
There were lots of great albums released in 2020 and Berlin appeared to be at the creative centre of them.
There was ‘LP II’ from LINEA ASPERA who made a welcome return after eight years in hiatus and the playful debut by ULTRAFLEX, a collaborative offering from Berlin-based Nordic artists SPECIAL-K and FARAO which was “an ode to exercise, loaded with sex metaphors badly disguised as sports descriptions” .
The DDR born Jennifer Touch told her story with ‘Behind The Wall’ and resident New Yorker DISCOVERY ZONE was on ‘Remote Control’, while Lithuania’s top pop singer Alanas Chosnau made ‘Children of Nature’, his first album in English with Mark Reeder, who himself has lived in the former walled city since 1978; their collected experiences from both sides of the Iron Curtain made for a great record with the political statement of ‘Heavy Rainfall’ being one of the best songs of 2020.
Synth-builder and artist Finlay Shakespeare presented the superb angst ridden long player ‘Solemnities’ with its opener ‘Occupation’ tackling the social injustice of unemployment. A most frightening future was captured in musical form by New York-resident Zachery Allan Starkey who saw his home become a ‘Fear City’, while WRANGLER got themselves into ‘A Situation’.
SPARKS discussed ‘The Existential Threat’ and ‘One For The Ages’ while pleading ‘Please Don’t F*ck Up My World’ on their eclectic 25th album ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’, just as NIGHT CLUB reflected what many were thinking on ‘Die Die Lullaby’ with ‘Miss Negativity’ looking to ‘Die In The Disco’ while riding the ‘Misery Go Round’.
ASSEMBLAGE 23 chose to ‘Mourn’ with one of its highlights ‘Confession’ illustrating what DEPECHE MODE could still be capable of, if they could still be bothered.
But it was not all doom and gloom musically in 2020. With the title ‘Pop Gossip’, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP did not need to do much explaining about the ethos of their second album and drum ‘n’ synth girl GEORGIA was happily ‘Seeking Thrills’.
Veterans returned and 34 years after their debut ‘Windows’, WHITE DOOR teamed up with the comparative youngster Johan Baeckström for ‘The Great Awakening’, while CODE made a surprise return with their second album ‘Ghost Ship’ after an absence 25 years.
‘The Secret Lives’ of German duo Zeus B Held and Mani Neumeier illustrated that septuagenarians just want to have fun. Along with Gina Kikoine, Zeus B Held was also awarded with Der Holger Czukay Preis für Popmusik der Stadt Köln in recognition of their pioneering work as GINA X PERFORMANCE whose ‘No GDM’ was a staple at The Blitz Club in Rusty Egan’s DJ sets.
Incidentally, Rusty Egan announced that Zaine Griff would be joining him with Numan cohorts Chris Payne and David Brooks in a live presentation of VISAGE material, although the announced dates were postponed, pending rescheduling for 2021.
Swiss trailblazers YELLO were on ‘Point’ and continuing their occasional creative collaboration with Chinese songstress Fifi Rong, while one time YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA collaborator Hideki Matsutake returned as LOGIC SYSTEM and released a new long player ‘Technasma’, his project’s first for 18 years.
It was four decades since John Foxx’s ‘Metamatic’ and Gary Numan’s ‘Telekon’, with the man born Gary Webb publishing ‘(R)evolution’, a new autobiography to supersede 1997’s ‘Praying To The Aliens’. Meanwhile, the former Dennis Leigh teamed up with former ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon plus his regular Maths collaborators Benge and Hannah Peel for the blistering art rock statement of ‘Howl’ as well as finally issuing his book of short stories ‘The Quiet Man’.
Back in 1980, it was not unusual for bands to release two albums in a calendar year as OMD did with their self-titled debut and ‘Organisation’, or JAPAN did with ‘Quiet Life’ and ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’.
It appeared to be a tradition that BLANCMANGE were adopting as Neil Arthur delivered the acclaimed ‘Mindset’ and an enjoyable outtakes collection ‘Waiting Room (Volume 1)’.
PET SHOP BOYS and CERRONE proved they still liked to dance to disco because they don’t like rock, but the year’s biggest surprise came with THE SMASHING PUMPKINS whose single ‘Cyr’ crossed the templates of classic DEPECHE MODE with DURAN DURAN.
Interestingly, Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS and Michael Rother of NEU! used sketches recorded many moons ago to inspire their 2020 solo creations, proving that if something is a good idea, it will still make sense years later. Veteran Tonmeister Gareth Jones released his debut solo album ‘ELECTROGENETIC’ having first come to prominence as the studio engineer on ‘Metamatic’ back in 1980, but Jah Wobble was as prolific as ever, issuing his ninth album in four years, as well as a run of download singles over lockdown.
ANI GLASS had her debut long player ‘Mirores’ shortlisted for Welsh Music Prize and OMD remixed her song ‘Ynys Araul’ along the way, while SARAH P. was ‘Plotting Revolutions’. NINA and a returning ANNIE vied to be the Queen Of Synthwave with their respective albums ‘Synthian’ and ‘Dark Hearts’, although Canadian synth songstress DANA JEAN PHOENIX presented her most complete and consistent body of work yet in ‘Megawave’, a joint album with POWERNERD.
RADIO WOLF & PARALLELS contributed to the soundtrack of the film ‘Proximity’ released on Lakeshore Records and from the same label, KID MOXIE made her first contribution to the movie world with the score to ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need To Have A Serious Talk’ that also featured a stark cover of ALPHAVILLE’s ‘Big In Japan’. Meanwhile gothwavers VANDAL MOON made their most electronic album yet in ‘Black Kiss’ and POLYCHROME got in on the kissing act too with their new single ‘Starts With A Kiss’.
It would be fair to say in recent times that the most interesting and best realised electronic pop has come from outside of the UK; the likes of TWICE A MAN and COSAQUITOS EN GLOBO explored the darker side of life, although TRAIN TO SPAIN used the dancefloor as their mode of expression, 808 DOT POP developed on the robopop of parent band METROLAND and ZIMBRU preferred disco art pop.
In Scandinavia, there was the welcome return of UNIFY SEPARATE (formally US) and HILTIPOP aka Magnus Johansson of ALISON who finally released some music in his own right; once he started, he didn’t stop with 9 releases and counting in 2020! APOPTYGMA BERZERK released ‘Nein Danke!’, their self-proclaimed return to “New Wave Synthpop” and out of that set-up sprang the very promising PISTON DAMP.
Within the PAGE camp, Eddie Bengtsson continued his Numan fixation on the ‘Under Mitt Skinn’ EP although his musical partner Marina Schiptjenko teamed up with LUSTANS LAKEJER bassist Julian Brandt to ride the Synth Riviera for a delightful second helping of their electro crooner concept cheekily titled ‘For Beautiful People Only’.
Over in Germany, U96 teamed up Wolfgang Flür while RENARD, the solo vehicle of Markus Reinhardt from WOLFSHEIM teamed with Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE and Sarah Blackwood of DUBSTAR. DUBSTAR themselves released a striking corona crisis statement entitled ‘Hygiene Strip’ which saw reconfigured duo reunited with producer Stephen Hague. Meanwhile another poignant song on the topic ‘Small World’ came from SNS SENSATION, the new project by Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK. In lockdown, TINY MAGNETIC PETS recorded an entire album which they called ‘Blue Wave’.
Of course, 2020 was not full of joy, even without the pandemic, as the music world sadly lost Florian Schneider, Gabi Delgado-Lopez, Chris Huggett, Andrew Weatherall, Matthew Seligman, Dave Greenfield, Rupert Hine, Tom Wolgers, Harold Budd and Ennio Morricone.
An introspective tone was reflected the music of female fronted acts such as and ZANIAS, PURITY RING, WE ARE REPLICA, KALEIDA, LASTLINGS, NEW SPELL, WITCH OF THE VALE, REIN, BLACK NAIL CABARET, GLÜME, GEISTE THE FRIXION, FEMMEPOP and SCINTII. However, countering this, the optimism of RIDER, ROXI DRIVE and NEW RO presented a much brighter, hopeful take on life and the future.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrated 10 years as a platform and affirming the site’s intuition about synth talent in anticipation of them achieving greater things, SOFTWAVE opened for OMD on the Scandinavia leg of their ‘Souvenir’ tour. The Danish duo became the sixth act which the site had written about to have become part of a tradition that has included VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND and TINY MAGNETIC PETS.
On a more cheerful note, S.P.O.C.K beamed down to Slimelight in London before lockdown for their first British live performance in 17 years. Meanwhile on the same night, LAU NAU and VILE ELECTRODES did modular sets at Cecil Sharp House, the spiritual home of English traditional music.
At that event, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK took delight in curating a DJ set comprising of John Cage’s 4’33” in variations by DEPECHE MODE, GOLDFRAPP, ERASURE, NEW ORDER and THE NORMAL from Mute’s Stumm433 boxed set. This defiant act of silence even caused a curious Jonathan Barnbrook to raise an eyebrow, this from the man who designed the artwork with the white square on David Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’ 😉
The final live event that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK attended before the March lockdown was an informative lecture at Queen Mary University in London presented by noted cultural scholar Dr Uwe Schütte, in support of his book ‘KRAFTWERK Future Music From Germany’.
Also attending was Rusty Egan who held court at the reception afterwards by having a debate with another musician about the state of UK synth music. He then loudly beckoned ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK over and mentioned how the site was only interested acts that scored “9 out of 10” before admitting that a number of acts he supported only scored “6 out of 10”, with his reasoning being that if acts aren’t supported, then there will be no synth acts existing at all. After a decade in existence, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK remains proud that it is still extremely selective.
In 2020, the notion of reviews being needed to achieve a promotional profile underwent an existential crisis among media platforms. With streaming now being the main method of music consumption, why would anyone want to read a blog for an opinion about an album when they can just hit ‘play’ and hear the thing for themselves on Spotify, Amazon, Tidal or Bandcamp?
The sound of classic synthpop does live on happily in today’s mainstream via singles by THE WEEKND, DUA LIPA and even STEPS! In that respect, the trailblazing kings and queens of Synth Britannia from four decades ago did their job rather well.
From SUGABABES mashing-up ‘Are Friends Electric?’ for ‘Freak Like Me’ in 2002 to ‘Blinding Lights’ borrowing a bit of A-HA in 2020, the sound of synth is still strong.
It is up to any potential successors to live up to that high standard of Synth Britannia, which was as much down to the quality of the songwriting, as much as it was to do with the sound of the synthesizer. It is a fact that many overlook and if aspiring musicians could pay more attention to the song, instead of making the synthesizer the excuse for the song, then classic electronic pop music may still be around for a little longer and continue to evolve.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2020
While now established as a modern synthpop force in a similar vein to CHVRCHES, AVEC SANS and DANA JEAN PHOENIX, the story of PARALLELS actually began in 2008 while their debut album ‘Visionaries’ came out in 2010.
Fronted by Holly Dodson, PARALLELS at the time was a partnership with Cameron Findlay who had toured previously as the drummer for CRYSTAL CASTLES, while Joey Kehoe later joined as a live keyboardist. One of the Visionaries’ tracks ‘Dry Blood’ was used in the soundtrack for the 2012 film ‘Curfew directed by Shawn Christensen which won an Oscar for ‘Best Live Action Short Film’.
PARALLELS later achieved a wider worldwide breakthrough with their third album ‘Metropolis’ in 2016 with support from The Blitz Club legend Rusty Egan; a North American tour with NINA followed in 2018 after a successful premiere of the pairing at Zigfrid Von Underbelly in London.
Since then, there have been a number of notable collaborations, the most recent being on the soundtrack to the film ‘Proximity’ with RADIO WOLF aka PARALLELS live bandmate Oliver Blair whose previous credits have included CLIENT and KELLI ALI.
‘Visionaries’ has been reissued to celebrate its tenth anniversary in a double album edition featuring a remaster of the original and a bonus collection of special remixes from the likes of ANORAAK, MECHA MAIKO, GLITBITER, BETAMAXX, GHOSTHOUSE and many more from the synthwave community.
Despite being a decade old, ‘Visionaries’ has a lovely innocent charm about it, with Dodson finding her voice amongst a palette of catchy synth hooks, tight electronic sequences and live drums.
Deserving re-evaluation and discovery by those who may have missed it first time round, ‘Visionaries’ is a must for modern synthpop connoisseurs seeking a bridge to synthwave.
Holly Dodson kindly chatted from her home in Toronto about the start of her journey as PARALLELS and the making of the ‘Visionaries’ album.
Having grown up in a music family, was making an album always inevitable for you?
It was definitely encouraged! I was a really shy kid though, so it took me a while to build up the confidence to even say I wanted to learn how to record. Since the mid-70s, my parents were running an indie label and studio out of their basement so I was always in a studio environment growing up… so it would have been difficult to not get the music bug.
But before ‘Visionaries’, you released a solo album called ‘The Carousel’ in 2009; how do you look back on that and what made you opt for the more New Wave concept of PARALLELS for your next record?
When my Dad learned that I had been writing songs, he said the first thing I should do is learn how to build a production, learn how to program and arrange… basically learn my way around the studio so that I could be self-sufficient and record my ideas. He’s got a really DIY sensibility so he instilled that in me from early on. So making ‘The Carousel’ record was my first foray into producing my own records. At that time, I was hugely inspired by KATE BUSH, BAT FOR LASHES, DEPECHE MODE and JONI MITCHELL.
‘Visionaries’ was a collaboration between myself and drummer Cam Findlay and when we were writing that album, we were listening to a lot of NEW ORDER and JOY DIVISION… hugely inspired by New Wave so it inevitably spilled into our songwriting.
‘Visionaries’ had a distinct synthpop direction as heralded by the album opener ‘Find The Fire’, what interested you in synths?
Yeah, my main instrument was piano so I knew how to navigate around a keyboard. There were a collection of vintage synths in my Dad’s studio – Roland D-50, D-70, Yamaha DX-7 so there were always synths to play with growing up.
I love how colourful synths sounds are and how you can really customize these crazy sound waves, turning electricity into a song.
Had there been any particular acts like liked who you referenced to formulate your sound?
PETER GABRIEL, KATE BUSH, DM, NEW ORDER… asking “what would Kate do?” often gets me out of a production rut haha.
PARALLELS is widely accepted as your musical vehicle today, but at the time of ‘Visionaries’, was there more of a democratic band dynamic in place?
Yeah, like I had mentioned previously, ’Visionaries’ was a collaboration so Cam would make up demos and then I’d write topline, and we’d complete them together at my Dad’s studio. We tracked drums there as well! That ‘Visionaries’ era was pretty crazy for us, we were learning the industry – managing ourselves – figuring out who we were as artists etc, and it took a toll on Cam and I’s relationship so we ended up parting ways. He started a solo project and I continued on with PARALLELS… obviously 😉
‘Dry Blood’ has a real chill about it with those great synth strings, haunting choir samples and prominent vocoders, what was on your mind when you made it?
Cam had come to me with that track and I immediately thought it was a cool entity. I think it was one of the first tracks he had written. He didn’t really have lyrics for it so for the ‘Visionaries’ album I wrote some vocals and we put live drums on it which gave a bit more depth to the track. I was super into gothic literature at that time so… to precede your next question, the Goth girl was emerging…
On ‘Nightmares’ you sang about “the taste of blood in my mouth”, has there always been a Goth girl waiting to escape from you?
Yes. There still is ha! I was always into the supernatural and witchy things so discovering the original goths of the Romantic era opened up that world to me… I was reading Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, William & Coleridge – huge nerd over here, still am.
In terms of equipment, were you using hardware or software synths? Did you have any favourites?
We were working with a PolySix, Juno 60, Prophet, Waldorf Blofeld, Roland D-50, D-70 so ‘Visionaries’ features those.
‘Magnetics’ brought a pulsating NEW ORDER feel to proceedings? Have you always been a fan?
NEW ORDER was a huge inspiration throughout the whole album – I used to have jam sessions in my basement in high school, and some of my friends who would come to those jams (Cam included) turned me onto their stuff.
Meanwhile, ‘Counterparts’ explored the other side of NEW ORDER with a driving bass guitar?
Yeah, and very fast. We tend to play that one at the end of the set when the adrenaline is going haha. I think it was just bringing the whole scope of our inspirations in, and some songs call for different things so the chorus-y bass guitar adds a different colour to it. We were mixing a lot of electronic with live elements through the whole album.
The live drums took a breather and you got a drum machine out for ‘Vienna’, what was this song inspired by, as apart from ‘Dry Blood’, it’s probably the one that is the most different to the others on ‘Visionaries’?
This song was very escapist for me, dreaming of travelling to places I’d never been before and being in big open air, with open arms wandering fields like Julie Andrews haha. We were really into ‘Games Without Frontiers’ as well, so I think production-wise that played a part.
‘Midnight Voices’ has this fabulous futuristic disco vibe like Giorgio Moroder which still stands up?
Thank you! Huge fan of Giorgio Moroder – we were also super into Italo Disco as well so this song always reminds me of that influence.
‘Shadow Hearts’ is cut from not too dissimilar a cloth but one thing that is noticeable on that and ‘Ultralight’ is that the album manages to capture a lively percussive template in amongst all the synths and sequencers, not always an easy thing to do in a studio environment?
The live drums definitely add an edge to it, and a more human energy. Cam was a drummer so it was sort of a given. The demos were usually made with programmed drums and then we had recorded live drums for the final album versions. We kept certain elements of the programmed drums if it fit the song – like ‘Reservoir’ has a programmed kick and some hi-hat, and ‘Ultralight’ a bit of drum machine percussion. But yeah, ‘Visionaries’ doesn’t have a super polished sound which I prefer anyway – it was all about performing as tight as we could.
In what way do you think your voice has changed over the years in the way you use it?
I’ve definitely become more confident and found more fulfilment in singing; I was always insecure about my voice so I used to double track it. But I don’t really do that anymore – after years of soul searching and embracing what I have to offer… telling my inner-critic to go away ha. Singing started to become a sanctuary for me when I was recording the ‘Metropolis’ record.
How do you look back on ‘Visionaries’, what are your favourite songs and are there any you would do differently in hindsight?
It was such a formative time, and a whirlwind! It was the first time that people really listened to my music, so I’m so grateful for that. It’s hard to pick a favourite from the album but I think my favourites are ‘Counterparts’, ‘Reservoir’ and ‘City Of Stars’. And no I wouldn’t do anything differently, everything happened how it was supposed to 🙂
The new remixes you have commissioned to accompany this remaster appear to be from The Synthwave All-Stars, do you feel you have now found “your people” after ten years?
Agreed! I’m so grateful that they were a part of it – I envisioned it to be a compilation of artists who have somehow factored into this musical journey, both old and new friends… from the VALERIE COLLECTIVE to MORGAN WILLIS, who I just recently collaborated with. I finally connected with BETAMAXX in real life last year but it felt like we had known each other forever. And yeah I think it does take time to make friends in this music world because a lot of people come and go and everyone is doing their own thing. But it does feel like there’s a greater sense of community these days, it’s amazing how small the music world really is.
‘XII’ came after ‘Visionaries’, what were the most valuable experiences that came from recording your debut that you were able to put into the second PARALLELS album?
Giving yourself room to grow, inviting inspiration find you, staying curious and letting the magic happen. That’s ultimately why I felt called to evolve PARALLELS and keep it going.
I think a lot of artists get too precious about the first thing they create and in my opinion, the first record is the easiest in some ways.
It’s been nearly four years since the third PARALLELS album ‘Metropolis’ but you have been collaborating with FUTURECOP! and RADIO WOLF, so how have these experiences been for you in terms of your continued musical development?
It’s definitely helped me get some perspective and it feels like coming home now that I’m working on a new PARALLELS record. It felt like the right time to collaborate because I felt like I needed a break from ‘myself’ haha. Working with other artists helps bring inspiration out of you that you didn’t know you had. I also worked with MORGAN WILLIS, DIGITAL SHADES and CHRIS HUGGETT during that time.
Is there anyone you would love to collaborate with?
To be honest, I’ve done so much collaborating in the past while it feels right to just get in my little world again. But if Kate called…
What are your future plans, obviously depending on the world situation?
Oh right – the world situation! Haha…well we had tour plans for RADIO WOLF and I’s ‘Proximity’ soundtrack that have been put on the back burner, and another tour with MECHA MAIKO and BETAMAXX, some EU/UK dates… but alas. I’m cautiously hopeful we’ll be able to make up for it next year. So right now I’m back in my little world knee deep in writing a new record and building a Patreon community to share the progress with and stay connected.
Thanks so much for the chat – love to all at ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK give its warmest thanks to Holly Dodson