Tag: Powernerd

A Short Conversation with DANA JEAN PHOENIX

Photo by Hayley Stewart

It has been a tough 2020 for everyone, but one of the shining escapist highpoints has been ‘Megawave’, the most recent album from Toronto synthwave siren Dana Jean Phoenix.

Recorded in partnership with Viennese electro-rockers POWERNERD, ‘Megawave’ expands on their previous collaborations over a full-length DJPNRD work, lending a thematic consistency that has perhaps not been captured on her previous releases.

Futuristic, danceable and fun, ‘Megawave’ has been just the intergalactic tonic that this planet has needed. Dana Jean Phoenix kindly took time out to talk about the making of the album and the new ‘Cobra Kai’ inspired promo video for the slinky title song.

How did you first come together with POWERNERD?

Powernerd Paddy initially reached out to me to collaborate on the song ‘Flame’ from POWERNERD’s album ‘Testosterossa’. We played live together in Vienna, and continued collaborating on tracks for my album ‘PixelDust’ and their album ‘Far From Human’. It’s always such a wicked time whenever we collab and play live together.

In terms of creative dynamic and chemistry, what was the process with regards writing and recording?

We initially talked about what vibe we wanted for the album. Paddy would send me tracks and I’d get to work on the vocals. I felt I could lose my inhibitions more at the microphone because Paddy was so game to try anything. Then, we’d touch base about each track to see what tweaks or additions were needed. It was a very fun, exciting, and reciprocal exchange back and forth.

You’ve played live across the world over the past few years, had that been a factor in the eventual sound of the ‘Megawave’ album? It’s a quite joyous record!

Thanks, and absolutely! For me, capturing the energy of live synthwave shows I’ve played was important in creating these songs. I’ve been fortunate enough to tour Europe, Canada, and the US a few times, and it’s afforded me the opportunity to see which songs really resonate with an audience in real time.

It’s also allowed me to discover things about myself as a performer and what kind of music feels most exciting and joyful to play and share with others.

How did it feel to be making a cohesive album artistically as a body of work as it would be fair to say that in the past because you’ve worked with lots of different producers, your previous albums have been more collections of songs?

I really enjoyed this approach. I often like the different moods and perspectives that emerge from working with various producers and their unique styles. With Paddy, he’s quite prolific and versatile and there’s always an edge and playfulness to his ideas. It always felt fresh and it kept me inspired to try new things, all while keeping cohesiveness and a good flow throughout.

Photo by Hayley Stewart

Although you concentrated on lyrics and vocals on this album, you got your keytar out a couple of tracks on the album?

Performing with my keytar, Jareth, is the best. When I play the keytar, it feels like I’m donning a superhero cape – some other side of me emerges, particularly during a solo moment. I’m sure guitar players can relate. So, it was fun to jam on solos for ‘Figure Me Out’ and for ‘Fight These Robots’. Jan-Friedrich Conrad played some absolutely killer key solos on ‘Sunrise Stance’ and ‘Living Rent Free’ and Paddy’s guitar solo on ‘Figure Me Out’ is pure fire.

So what is ‘Figure Me Out’ about, or is the answer in the question? That choosing a different cassette intro is also a nice variation on what has maybe now become an overused idea 😉

I was really into solving Rubik’s cubes at the time, and the song for me is about likening the complexities of a relationship to the world’s most famous 3D puzzle. The process of finding solutions (or learning algorithms) can be extremely frustrating and requires patience, consistency, and understanding. Sometimes it can feel like you’re taking several steps backward in gaining clarity, but perseverance, belief in yourself, and allowing yourself to see from a different perspective can carry you through.

I love the cassette intro – a sort of subtle way to set the listener up for a nice easy-going synthwave album, and then bam, the opening beat of ‘Figure Me Out’ is like a sucker punch. It lets the listener know they’re in for a fun and funky ride.

The ‘Figure Me Out’ lyric video with you doing the Rubicks Cube was such a great concept, a lesson to many as to what can be done with presenting a visual aspect to music, how did you put it together?

The director of the video, PHATT al, suggested I solve a Rubik’s cube as the lyrics of the song floated across the screen. I loved that idea and thought it would be so cool to have Powernerd Paddy and I interact too, (despite me being in Toronto, and him in Vienna). The most fun was sending Paddy a matching cube to make it look like we were sharing the same one 😉 It’s a really well directed video and a fun way to introduce the first single of the album.

What was going through your head when you wrote ‘Fight These Robots’, was this harking back to your childhood and watching ‘Transformers’ cartoons?

To me, ‘Fight These Robots’ is a metaphor for resisting complacency and questioning the status quo. It’s arguing that societal change happens when people join forces and fight for the greater good collectively – a plea for togetherness, not divisiveness.

The ‘Transformers’ cartoons are definitely cool and all – but I gotta say, that ‘Metalhead’ episode of ‘Black Mirror’ definitely shook me. I was envisioning those shoulda-been-cute, but terrifying robot dogs while I was singing “dee da deee da doo dee doo”.

Was ‘Megawave’ both you and POWERNERD channelling some of those classic Jam & Lewis productions?

Personally, Jam & Lewis are always a part of the vibe I’m channelling. My obsession with them started when I saw them in Janet Jackson’s ‘Control’ music video and realized they were the producers for so many of her best songs. Then when I discovered THE TIME and realized they were in that band too – it cemented in my mind that they were the coolest dudes ever. Their music always makes me smile, and they have such an unapologetically signature sound.

How did the video concept come together? Are you a fan of ‘The Karate Kid’ and ‘Cobra Kai’?

Filip Vukcevic, the director, approached me with the idea of paying homage to ‘The Karate Kid’ and ‘Cobra Kai’, which was perfect, as I had just finished ‘Cobra Kai’ season 2 and totally loved it. It’s such a funny and well-executed spin-off of the movies. Filip is an amazing director who I also worked with on my ’Only For One Night’ video.

He has a real passion for storytelling, for going all out, and thinking outside the box. We had a great time planning, casting, and shooting.

I’m proud of how our nod to the ‘The Karate Kid’ turned out and it’s always an added bonus when a music video gives a song new context. I feel ‘Megawave’ video captures the young-love message of the song, but also makes it about finding strength in oneself.

‘Living Rent Free’ plays with some soft midnight funk?

If you’re talking sexy funk, then yes, that was mission number one with the album. ‘Living Rent Free’ was the first track Paddy and I created for the album. When he sent the instrumental, I was in the midst of rehearsals for a theatre production. On my lunch break, I remember waiting in line at a local coffee shop and listening to the instrumental for the first time on my headphones. I was very excited and couldn’t help but dance in line, as it was exactly the sound I had in mind for the album. We had talked for a few weeks about the vibe, and direction, and then Paddy delivered 1000% from the first track.

There’s a delicious dancey groove to ‘Sunrise Stance’ and some great synth solos, had it been a conscious decision to keep the ‘Megawave’ album quite lively and uptempo?

Oh yeah. Performing the songs live is always a consideration when creating an album, and it’s so fun to perform lively, up-tempo songs. Jan-Friedrich Conrad’s synth solo added such magic and captured the intensity and playfulness of the lyrics.

Saying that, ‘New Technology’ takes things down a bit and is more soulful, have you any particular influences in this area and what is the song itself about?

I was definitely feeling a Sylvia Striplin ‘You Can’t Turn Me Away’ energy, but in a falling in love with a cyborg kind of way. I was also listening to a ton of Jamiroquai’s album ‘The Return Of The Space Cowboy’ at the time, so that was definitely an influence.

It’s about that buzz and excitement you feel when you interact with someone on a similar frequency, and how technology allows us to connect with people we never had the opportunity to do so with before. The synthwave scene in general is a great example of likeminded people coming together because of technology.

You chose to bolster the album with remixes of ‘Figure Me Out’ and ‘Fight These Robots’? Was there any particular thinking behind this?

It’s always awesome to include more talented friends on the album. STRAPLOCKED and I collab’ed on the songs ‘All Day Heat’ and ‘Iron Fist’ and performed together at NEON Retrofest in Rhode Island. I love NEW ARCADES’ music and it was so great to hang out with them in London when we played an Outland show together in 2018, and again when I played an Outland show in London in 2019. Both artists did amazing remixes.

‘Moves Moves Moves’ is back on the dancefloor and closes ‘Megawave with more electro-funk vibes, how do you look back on the making of this album?

The making of this album occurred during a time of significant personal transition for me. In hindsight, I was on the precipice of having to make some really tough but necessary decisions in my life. Songs that make me want to dance really hit me, as they can offer pure joy and a way to celebrate good times, and also offer catharsis and a way to cope through trying times.

For me, the album is about self-discovery, empowerment, and remembering to spread joy and positivity, even in times of uncertainty. It’s also a love letter to collaboration, nostalgia, and good times.

I wouldn’t be here without the help and guidance of so many key people I’ve worked with, which includes Stu and Brett of Outland Recordings. I’m quite chuffed (see what I did there?) to have the album on their label.

You recently did a song called ‘Freedom Pass’ for the ‘Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years’ compilation with DIAMOND FIELD, is he someone you would like to do more work with?

Of course! Working with DIAMOND FIELD on ‘Freedom Pass’ allowed me to explore a different sound in the retro scene. I really dig the pure beachy / summery feel but with a more pop / rock edge in that song. It was fun to sing about being independent while also embracing my super girly side. DIAMOND FIELD is a really great guy to work with, and so super talented.

Have you been back to the studio yet? Is there anything on the horizon?

There’s been so much to digest and unpack this year – some pretty heavy questions about what the future holds, and how we can best move forward with more kindness, understanding, and more time for reflection. I’ve been writing and journaling quite a lot lately and jamming on some ideas for new material. I’m really excited to hunker down in the New Year to take those ideas off the page – and hopefully, when safe to do, onto the stage.

With everything going on, what are your own hopes and fears for the future?

My hope is that we all get to experience and share music together under one roof again someday soon.

My fear is that it may take a little longer than we initially anticipated. I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of a scene that fans continue to engage and support with so much enthusiasm online.

This past year has shown me that despite difficult times, the human spirit is incredibly resilient. With that knowledge, now more than ever, I feel optimistic about the future and the day we can all come together again.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Dana Jean Phoenix

Additional thanks to Stuart McLaren at Outland

‘Megawave’ is released by Outland Recordings, available as a violet coloured vinyl LP, CD, cassette or download from https://danajeanphoenix.bandcamp.com/album/megawave

Dana Jean Phoenix plays Retrowave D’Luxe at The Dome in London Tufnell Park on Saturday 24th July 2021 – tickets available in advance direct from https://www.wegottickets.com/event/504216

https://danajphoenix.com/

http://www.facebook.com/danajeanphoenix

http://twitter.com/danajeanphoenix

http://instagram.com/danajeanphoenix


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
2nd January 2021

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 30 SONGS OF 2020

Despite the worldwide pandemic crisis, the music industry did its best and soldiered on.

Many artists who had scheduled releases in 2020 went through with them, but other artists used the lockdown situation as creative tension and were particularly productive while stuck at home, to compensate for being unable to perform live shows.

Electronic music has always had an emotional link in particular with isolation and solitary working, so the advances in computerised recording technology meant that a number of musicians could function as before.

Worthy mentions for 2020 include AaRON, ASSEMBLAGE 23, COSAQUITOS EN GLOBO, DESIRE, DISCOVERY ZONE, FIAT LUX, JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS, GEISTE, NEW ORDER, NEW SPELL, PAGE, WITCH OF THE VALE, ZIMBRU and 808 DOT POP, while one of the most popular synthpop songs of the year was ‘Blinding Lights’ by THE WEEKND which actually slipped out almost under the radar at the back end of 2019.

A special acknowledgement also goes to ‘Future Shock’ by Marc Collin featuring Clara Luciani which came from his independently produced film ‘Le Choc Du Futur’, but only became more widely known when the fictional story of an aspiring female synth musician set in 1978 was released internationally on DVD this year.

But at the end of the day, only 30 songs could be selected as a snapshot of the calendar year. So here are ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s songs of 2020, presented as usual alphabetically by act with a restriction of one song per artist moniker.


TOBIAS BERNSTRUP Private Eye

Tobias Bernstrup is an electronic musician and performance artist from Gothenburg who combines sci-fi, performance art and gothic noir for a striking persona that has been exhibited at art galleries in Sweden. The club-friendly Italo flavoured ‘Private Eye’ looked at the surveillance society with hints of TRANS-X who Bernstrup collaborated with on a new version of his song ‘Videodrome’ in 2018. Already a veteran of several albums, a follow-up to his last long player ‘Technophobic’ is in the works.

Available on the digital single ‘Private Eye’ via Tonight Records

http://www.bernstrup.com/


BLANCMANGE Diagram

The ninth full length BLANCMANGE long player of new material since their return in 2011 with ‘Blanc Burn’, Neil Arthur’s dark ‘Mindset’ is only reflecting what many are thinking in these strange times. Thus strange pop music is just the tonic and the highlight of this collection was the marvellous KRAFTWERK meets FAITHLESS concoction of the mutant electronic disco of ‘Diagram’. In his sharp Northern lilt, our hero repeating himself like a preacher on how “I want transparency” only adds to the sinister dance.

Available on the album ‘Mindset’ is released by Blanc Check

http://www.blancmange.co.uk/


ALANAS CHOSNAU & MARK REEDER Heavy Rainfall

From ‘Children of Nature’, the excellent first album by Mark Reeder and Alanas Chosnau, ‘Heavy Rainfall’ was a song seemingly having an environmental reference but actually reflecting on the world’s increasingly disturbing political climate. Like a grooving NEW ORDER disco number with Reeder’s rhythm guitar syncopating off an exquisite range of electronic patterns while some spacey magic flies within the exquisite soundscape. Chosnau solemnly announces the storm warning, yet his message to hang on remains positive as light is seen at the end of the tunnel.

Available on the album ‘Children of Nature’ via https://markreeder.bandcamp.com/album/children-of-nature

https://alanaschosnau.com/

https://www.facebook.com/markreeder.mfs/


GARY DALY 80s Electro 2

‘Luna Landings’, the second solo offering from Gary Daly was the next best thing to a CHINA CRISIS instrumental album but then it sort of was, comprising of various demos and sketches that Daly originally recorded on his TEAC and Tascam Portastudios between 1981 to 1987. A highly enjoyable record that channelled a laid back demeanour to aid relaxation and escape, despite the age of the recordings, the air and hiss from the incumbent machinery added an endearingly earthy quality to proceedings. One of the highlights ‘80s Electro 2’ did exactly as the title suggested.

Available on the album ‘Luna Landings’ via https://www.musicglue.com/gary-daly/products/luna-landings-cd

https://www.instagram.com/garydalymusic/


DUBSTAR Hygiene Strip (2020)

Hygiene strips are now common place as reminders of social distancing, so a gesture of solidarity with fellow humans, DUBSTAR presented this poignant song at the height of the 2020 UK lockdown. Working with Stephen Hague and DUBSTAR who co-produced their hits ‘Not So Manic Now’ and ‘Stars’, the writing and recording was completed remotely. There was a forlorn presence in Sarah Blackwood’s vocal but also the subtle lifting air of PET SHOP BOYS to offer some hope in the haze of melancholy.

Available on the digital single ‘Hygiene Strip’ via Northern Writes

https://www.dubstarofficial.co/


ANI GLASS Ynys Araul (OMD Remix)

With her long-awaited debut album ‘Mirores’, ANI GLASS had the honour of being shortlisted for Welsh Music Prize. An observational electronic travelogue based around the idea of movement and progress in her hometown of Cardiff, one of the highlights was the Euro-disco of ‘Ynys Araul’. Rich in traditional melody with a lovely high vocal register while offering a pop sensibility and a wonderful triplet bassline, it was given a subtle remix by her one-time mentor Andy McCluskey who she had worked with as a Mk2 member of GENIE QUEEN.

Available on the digital single ‘Ynys Araul’ via  https://aniglass.bandcamp.com/album/ynys-araul

https://www.facebook.com/aniglasscymru/


GLÜME Come Softly To Me

From the Italians Do It Better stable, home to CHROMATICS and DESIRE, the mysterious but glamourous GLÜME offered this lovely eerie ‘Twin Peaks’ styled cover of ‘Come Softly To Me’. More chilling and metronomic than the almost acapella song written and made famous by THE FLEETWOODS in 1958, the original vocal hook was transferred to synth. Her version captured the innocence of forgotten yesterdays in the pursuit of today with its hypnotic arrangement and her lush but tragic Marilyn Monroe meets Julee Cruise delivery.

Available on the digital single ‘Come Softly To Me’ via Italians Do It Better

https://www.instagram.com/babyglume/


HILTIPOP Time

HILTIPOP might be a new name in electronic pop but the man behind it is something of a veteran. Magnus Johansson’s best known project internationally has been ALISON, but he began working on solo material and launched HILTIPOP with a triumphant early afternoon slot at Electronic Summer 2015. It would be 2018 before his first release ‘The Pattern’. Johansson’s sombre darker-tinged pop style fused is evident on ‘Time’, with a sample of SIMPLE MINDS ‘Theme For Great Cities’ thrown into a dynamic squelch fest.

Available on the digital EP ‘The Man’ via Hoyt Burton Records

https://soundcloud.com/sem-hilti-johansson


INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP The Tower

After an excellent self-titled debut album, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP brought more of their danceable synthy togetherness to home discos with ‘Pop Gossip’. With a sardonic twist and perhaps referring to the soap opera that is the status of HRH Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, the brilliantly uptempo album closer ‘The Tower’ amusingly imagines Queen Elizabeth II telling her Beefeaters to “Take them to The Tower, it’s a beautiful day, take them away!” like a future scene from series 8 of ‘The Crown’!

Available on the album ‘Pop Gossip’ via Desolate Spools

https://www.facebook.com/internationalteachersofpop/


KID MOXIE Big In Japan

Unwittingly reflecting the pandemic crisis, KID MOXIE composed the soundtrack to a film ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need to Have a Serious Talk’. The plot centred around a womanizer who finds out he is a carrier of a sexually transmitted virus, lethal only to women! She said of ‘Big In Japan’: “It didn’t feel right to necessarily use drums because I did want to take a departure from the ALPHAVILLE original. There was already a strong rhythm element with the synth bass and it takes it to a different place by having a woman sing it.”

Available on the album ‘Not to Be Unpleasant, But We Need to Have a Serious Talk’ via Lakeshore Records

http://www.facebook.com/kidmoxie


KITE Teenage Bliss

Exploring the innocence of ‘Teenage Bliss’, the most recent singular offering from KITE was co-produced by Benjamin John Power, best known as Scared Bones artist BLANCK MASS. The dynamic uptempo combination was wonderfully hymn-like, with Stenemo telling his congregation that “Teenage bliss, there ain’t no consequences in your life and you don’t know what tragedy is” before the bittersweet revelation that “In the end, no-one wins!” as “life is not like your first kiss…”

Available on the digital single ‘Teenage Bliss’ via Astronaut Recordings

https://www.facebook.com/KiteHQ


LASTLINGS Held Under

Recalling melodic 21st Century dance-friendly acts like San Francisco’s ANDAIN, LASTLINGS are a Japanese Australian sibling duo comprising of Amy and Josh Dowdle whose debut album title ‘First Contact’ was a reference to the thrill and despair of notable life milestones like first love and first heartbreak. Capturing the anxiety of growing up and the unknown of adult independence, the ethereal electronic drama of ‘Held Under’ was one of its highlights, using subtle house influences while maximising a hauntingly treated layers of female voice.

Available on the album ‘First Contact’ via Rose Avenue Records

http://www.lastlings.com/


LINEA ASPERA Event Horizon

LINEA ASPERA released their self-titled debut album in 2012. A collection of dark but danceable electronic pop, before any new listeners had an opportunity to discover and savour them, the duo had already disbanded in 2013. The duo reunited in 2019 and on the superb ‘Event Horizon’, the cutting synthesized hooks, disco drum box rhythms and supreme vocals confirmed how LINEA ASPERA have become such a highly rated and beloved duo and why their magnificent melodic melancholy had been so missed over the past few years.

Available on the album ‘LP II’ from https://lineaaspera.bandcamp.com/album/linea-aspera-lp-ii

https://www.facebook.com/lineaaspera


NIGHT CLUB Die In The Disco

In a typically NIGHT CLUB twist, the duo found their perfect co-conspirator in former SKINNY PUPPY member Dave “Rave” Ogilvie who mixed Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2011 worldwide smash hit ‘Call Me Maybe’. ‘Die In The Disco’ set the ‘Die Die Lullaby’ album off with a slice of throbbing HI-NRG disco, donning its hat to Giorgio Moroder and Bobby Orlando before asking to “take me to a place I can dance” and an unsettling ghostly pitch-shifted voice exclaims that ”This is my party and I will die if I want to…”

Available on the album ‘Die Die Lullaby’ via Gato Blanco

https://nightclubband.com/


NINA Where It Ends

Much has changed for NINA. First the German songstress made some life changes and moved back to Berlin just as the world went into lockdown. ‘Runaway’ from this year’s ‘Synthian’ album declared she “searching for a way out”. So it was only natural that any new material would be influenced by the uncertainty and sombre realities of what was happening around her. The self-explanatory ‘Where It Ends’ made something of a sombre statement with the introspective tones of DE/VISION in building towards a steadfast gothic schwing and penetrating synth solo.

Available on the digital EP ‘Control’ via Lakeshore Records

https://www.iloveninamusic.com/


PET SHOP BOYS Will-O-The-Wisp

A ghostly light seen by travellers at night that refers to ignis fatuus or “foolish fire”, the astute intelligence of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe saw Medieval folk mythology referenced for ‘Will-O-The-Wisp, a fabulous PET SHOP BOYS dance tune with catchy hooks and a dry monologue. From the third of a trilogy of long players produced by Stuart Price and recorded in Berlin’s renowned Hansa Studios, the duo’s fourteen album ‘Hotspot’ maintained the duo’s position as exemplary English songsmiths.

Available on the album ‘Hotspot’ via x2 Recordings

http://www.petshopboys.co.uk/


PISTON DAMP Something in Me

PISTON DAMP are a new electronic pop duo based in Norway comprising of Jonas Groth and Truls Sønsterud. ‘Something In Me’ is what APOPTYGMA BERZERK or AESTHETIC PERFECTION would sound like if they were in full synthpop mode. Catchy, bubbly, melodic and rhythmic with an emotively spirited vocal, when Jonas Groth hits falsetto, it provides a most gloriously optimistic lift that is reminiscent of APOP’s more immediate work, perhaps unsurprisingly given that he is part of their live line-up in support of his brother Stephan.

Available on the digital single ‘Something In Me’ via Sub Culture Records

https://www.pistondamp.com/


DANA JEAN PHOENIX & POWERNERD Fight These Robots

Recording a collaborative album with Austria’s POWERNERD, the joyous result ‘Megawave’ was Canadian synth starlet Dean Jean Phoenix’s most sonically consistent body of work yet, reflecting her powerhouse stage persona in recorded form fully for the first time. A fun and dynamic collection, the album’s highlight ‘Fight These Robots’ was a classic funky Sci-Fi number with a dose of girly cheekiness and a reflection of a childhood watching ‘Transformers’ cartoons.

Available on the album ‘Megawave’ via Outland Recordings

http://www.facebook.com/danajeanphoenix

https://www.facebook.com/powernerdmusic


POLYCHROME Starts With A Kiss

Having described themselves as “Slacker synth-wave refuseniks”, POLYCHROME and their brand of filmic dreamwave as showcased on their self-titled 2018 debut album found favour with TV producers and advertising agencies around the world, particularly ‘Final Kiss’. Continuing the kissing theme, their recorded return Starts With A Kiss’ featured an unexpected but fitting guitar solo from Bjorn Agren of RAZORLIGHT but made extra special by the dreamy voice of Vicky Harrison who said “we’d finished with a kiss, so now wanted to start with one”.

Available on the digital single ‘Starts With A Kiss’ via Outland Recordings

http://soundofpolychrome.com/


FINLAY SHAKESPEARE Occupation

For Bristol-based Finlay Shakespeare, his interest in synths came from his parents’ record collection, with music from the likes of KRAFTWERK, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JAPAN. His second album ‘Solemnities’ was a more focussed progression from his debut ‘Domestic Economy’, making the most of a crystal clear modular synth sound coupled to his claustrophobic anxious vocals. The superb ‘Occupation’ was a metronomic squelch fest about social injustice with our hero conducting a raucous avant noise experiment in song with penetrating noise percussion and icy string machines.

Available on the album ‘Solemnities’ via Editions Mego

http://finlayshakespeare.com/


EMILIE SIMON Cette Ombre

With her arty but catchy electronic pop, Emilie Simon studied at the Sorbonne and her only release primarily English release was ‘The Big Machine’ in 2009. Using Martian invaders as a metaphor to the world pandemic, she felt the need to express her feelings on the ‘Mars on Earth 2020’ EP. The best track from it was the powerful ‘Cette Ombre (This Shadow)’ on which she summised “Planet Earth is under attack. Faced with an unknown invader, humanity is experiencing an unprecedented shift. What will remain of it?”

Available on the digital EP ‘Mars On Earth 2020’ via Vegetal

http://www.emiliesimon.com/


THE SMASHING PUMKINS Cyr

Now adding a “THE” to prefix their name, SMASHING PUMPKINS surprised many with a splendid synth friendly single entitled ‘Cyr’. With hooks very reminiscent of ‘Enjoy The Silence’, Billy Corgan & Co went synthpop with much of the track being of an electronic bent, particularly the synthetic bass. Not only that but ‘Cyr’ was also quite catchy in an almost DURAN DURAN vein! It was magnificent surprise that only highlighted the hopelessness of the more recent material from DEPECHE MODE.

Available on the album ‘Cyr’ via Sumerian Records / Warner Music Group

https://smashingpumpkins.com/


SNS SENSATION Small World

If there was a song that captures the claustrophobic solitude of lockdown isolation, then it was the appropriately titled ‘Small World’ by SNS SENSATION, the new musical vehicle of Sebastian Muravchik, best known as the charismatic front man of HEARTBREAK. A song about self-isolation during the pandemic crisis, ‘Small World’ was a throbbing electronic number with icy rhythms, marrying the elegance of minimal synth with the melodic presence of Italo disco, reminiscent of VISAGE’s ‘I’m Still Searching’ and PET SHOP BOYS ‘Miserabilsm’.

Available on the download single ‘Small World’ via https://wearesns.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/wearesns/


SPARKS One For The Ages

Less than three years after ‘Hippopotamus’, SPARKS offered ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’. As idiosyncratic as ever, if there was a key track, then it was the glorious ‘One For The Ages’; with a narrative about craving artistic longevity, the lines “As I write my tome every single night, my eyes show the strain of computer light but I’m pressing on” captured the lot of the creative mind. Already very synthy, the Mael Brothers probably could have made it even synthier!

Available on the album ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’ via BMG

http://allsparks.com/


ZACHERY ALLAN STARKEY featuring BERNARD SUMNER Force

With two albums ‘DIY’ and ‘Hard Power’ already under his belt, since opening for NEW ORDER on the ‘Music Complete’ tour in 2016, Zachery Allan Starkey has been working hard on observational concept album ‘Fear City’. ‘Force’ was a powerful collaboration with Bernard Sumner featuring his signature Italo-influenced sequencing style. Starkey’s impassioned authentic vocals were a rallying call to the people with the daunting prospect of Donald Trump being re-elected on the horizon. Thankfully, the message on jointly produced track was heeded.

Available on the album ‘Fear City’ via https://zasmusic.bandcamp.com/album/fear-city-album

https://www.zacheryallanstarkey.com/


ULTRAFLEX Olympic Sweat

ULTRAFLEX are a new Norwegian Icelandic duo based in Berlin who describe themselves as “The new teen sensation” with an interest in Soviet disco, athleisure and weirdo boogie. However, Kari Jahnsen and Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir are perhaps better known by their solo monikers FARAO and SPECIAL-K respectively. ‘Olympic Sweat’ was uplifting disco lento with an organic heart, a pretty tune with an expansive sweeping resonance that was reminiscent of SIN COS TAN, PET SHOP BOYS and NEW ORDER, but with a feminine twist.

Available on the album ‘Visions Of Ultraflex’ via Street Pulse Records

https://www.facebook.com/ultraflexband


UNIFY SEPARATE Solitude & I

If there was a musical duo who visually symbolise the dystopian paranoia of the world pandemic crisis, then it is UNIFY SEPARATE, formally known as US. ‘Solitude & I’ was a natural progression of the material on ‘First Contact’ with Andrew Montgomery not letting up with his Jeff Buckley inspired vocal delivery, reflecting the isolation and uncertain future many are currently feeling as “There’s nobody out there, no-one but you and I”. Anthemic, uplifting and optimistic, it was a message to all about never giving up on your dreams.

Available on the digital single ‘Solitude & I’ via https://unifyseparate.bandcamp.com/

http://www.unifyseparate.com


VANDAL MOON Suicidal City Girl

Capturing a dystopian outlook on life with an appealing electronic sensibility, ‘Black Kiss’ was the best VANDAL MOON album yet. With a sound seeded from post-punk, goth and new wave, they are shaped as much by their use of drum machines and synthesizers as much as guitars and the inevitable deep baritone vocals. The superb electro-gothic aesthetics of ‘Suicidal City Girl’ recalled the enthralling tension of THE DANSE SOCIETY and a highlight of a record with many highlights.

Available on the album ‘Black Kiss’ via Starfield Music

https://www.vandalmoon.com/


MARVA VON THEO Forever

On ‘Forever’, Greek dark synth songstress Marva Von Theo channelled the frantic tone of ‘River In Me’, the Anders Trentemøller’s collaboration with Jenny Vee of SAVAGES, into a great atmospheric art pop statement on redemption and eternity. A track from her upcoming second album ‘Afterglow’, with determined vocals and punchy beats, ‘Forever’ demonstrated, along with its singular follow-up ‘Ruins’, a significant artistic progression since her promising but unfulfilled debut long player ‘Dream Within A Dream’.

Available on the digital single ‘Forever’ via Marva Von Theo

https://marvavontheo.com


WHITE DOOR Resurrection

Melodic synth trio WHITE DOOR released their only album ‘Windows’ in 1983 but despite BBC Radio1 airplay, were unable to gain wider traction. WHITE DOOR gained cult status and one young fan was Swedish synthesist Johan Baeckström who joined the band for their return. Acknowledging the theme of ’Get Carter’ but with a more brassy flair, ’Resurrection’ surprised with a bouncy Moroder-inspired stomp while Mac Austin managed to sound like a cross between Morten Harket and Chris De Burgh around some beautifully symphonic synth.

Available on the album ‘The Great Awakening’ via Progress Productions

https://www.facebook.com/whitedoorband/


A broader selection of music from the year is gathered in ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 2020 Vision playlist at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/75LrsXIgakcoP03WYtDsLZ


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th December 2020

DANA JEAN PHOENIX & POWERNERD Megawave

The Canadian princess of slinky synthwave DANA JEAN PHOENIX has grabbed the attention of not just her homegrown fans, having established herself as the top retro female artist.

She toured extensively throughout Europe last annum after the release of her superb long player ‘Pixeldust’.

The tiny powerhouse is a rocket on stage and her live performances have you dancing from the onset, thanks to Phoenix’s fabulous persona and her ability to get the audiences moving, nurtured over the years on the musical theatre stage.

Having collaborated with many artists within the genre, the slinky pursuer of endless possibilities joins forces with Vienna-based POWERNERD. The POWERNERD guys are rather elusive, describing their product as “synthwave with heavy metal vocals”, which sounds hard to fathom and whets the appetite even more.

‘Megawave’ is the baby of this unlikely collaboration, seeing the Toronto princess lend her sweet vocal to create something uniquely enchanting. The title track establishes the tone of this sunny record, with a classic easy listening tune, good enough to fall in love to, with the retro offerings the dainty singer is well known for.

Next she’s fighting robots, oh yes, but she doesn’t want to do it by herself. ‘Fight These Robots’ is a classic funky number with a dose of girly cheekiness, while ‘Living Rent Free’ introduces more electronica, still holding on to the retro themes, blossoming into a perfect summer’s day song.

‘Sunrise Stance’ gets one up and dancing, Dana style, it’s bouncy, cool and glossy; leg warmers off, hair down and neon lycra mini dress on.

Thanks to the wonders of ‘New Technology’, Phoenix and co create an extraordinary synth ballad. But it’s ‘Moves Moves Moves’ that lures you back into the arcade and out again to the disco. The electrifying twister beams with musicality and craziness of the long gone era, creating nostalgic nod to the bygones.

‘Figure Me Out’ presents itself twice, first as a grand synthylicious piece, then remixed by NEW ARCADES. The latter is deliciously current, being scrumptiously old worldly, no cloud in the sky, sun beaming high and Dana’s in her element.

However, it’s the glorious arpeggios of ‘Fight These Robots’, this time remixed by STRAPLOCKED that shines most brightly on the new offering. This version is punchy, straight to the point and very wholesome.

Phoenix has previously worked with POWERNERD who produced ‘Only One For One Night’, as well as STRAPLOCKED who helped her with ‘Iron Fist’. Collaborations are plenty in the world of synthwave, which the Toronto artist fully appreciates.

She’s also glad for the fact of not having been born in the midst of the synthpop era, as she feels she’s got more musical freedom in the world of today.

“I’m actually so glad to be here and now. as awesome as the 80s were” she said, “there were huge barriers of entry for artists who weren’t willing to have record companies dictate their sound and image.”

Nobody dictates what DANA JEAN PHOENIX does, she’s her own boss and does extremely well for it.


‘Megawave’ is released on 24th April 2020 by Outland Recordings as a CD, transparent violet vinyl LP or download, available from https://danajeanphoenix.bandcamp.com/album/megawave

https://danajphoenix.com/

http://www.facebook.com/danajeanphoenix

http://twitter.com/danajeanphoenix

http://instagram.com/danajeanphoenix

https://www.facebook.com/pwrnrdmusic/

https://twitter.com/powernerdband

https://www.instagram.com/powernerd_official/

https://open.spotify.com/album/3ft0lmyttvgoCrja0jAI0Q


Text by Monika Izabela Trigwell
17th April 2020, updated 23rd October 2020