Berlin-based musician and DJ Luca Venezia, better known as CURSES, presents ‘Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’, his second curated compilation exploring the darker side of club music though the decades. The first volume had been a lockdown inspired exploration of his own record collection.
Released by Eskimo Recordings and featuring 49 tracks, the music is split into three distinct chapters with more than half being previously unreleased; “Many of these songs come from friends close of mine, or artists I perform with and tour with a lot, whose music and craft I admire and champion.” Luca Venezia told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the set, “We are all making a very niche style of music, and everyone is approaching it in their own unique way, it is only natural we migrate to be friends and share the stage together… like a primal instinct.”
Conceived with his ideal night out in mind, compiling such an compilation was not without its headaches; “Fortunately with the help of Eskimo and N.E.W.S., the licensing team are an absolute powerhouse” recalled Venezia, “It wasn’t easy, especially the older material, like Malcolm McLaren’s ‘Madame Butterfly’… and yes, there was SO much music I wanted but couldn’t get the rights to. Not because the artists said no, but because it was impossible to find WHO owned the rights now. Members in bands split up, some pass away, some vanish… it’s a puzzle at times to license the 80s underground electronic gems”.
Chapter 1 contains the pioneering acts of the past that were occasionally signed to major labels and even flirted with the mainstream pop charts. The set opens with ‘Distant Dreams Pt 2’, a wonderful suitably obscure 1980 B-side from THROBBING GRISTLE, while another lesser known gem comes from BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE with ‘The Big V’, the instrumental variant of the 1986 single ‘V. Thirteen’.
The first name likely to be recalled when dark club music comes to mind, especially to Taylor Swift fans, are CABARET VOLTAIRE and they fit like a glove on this compendium with ‘Blue Heat’ from ‘Micro-Phonies’, as do Dutch band CLAN OF XYMOX with ‘Obsession’, an excellent example of classic electro-goth disco.
Of course, NITZER EBB are present and correct with ‘Hearts & Minds’ while DAF stand firm with their declaration as ‘Brothers’ in their appealing but less heralded English language disco phase.
Collecting superb tracks from various acclaimed cult acts, ‘The Murder Of Love’ by PROPAGANDA and the I Dream Of Jeanne Mix of ‘Modigliani (Lost In Your Eyes)’ by BOOK OF LOVE demonstrate how the developing digital technology enabled powerful sampled sounds effectively at the flick of a switch. However, best of all are former SOFT CELL backing singers VICIOUS PINK who really should have had a huge worldwide hit with the brilliant Tony Mansfield produced ‘Cccan’t You See’
Chapter 2 moves the night on starting with ‘Voloczny’, an unreleased song from back in day by BOYTRONIC towards the present with modern day electronic producers such as Jennifer Touch and Kris Baha. In a new 2023 version, THE KVB come over like THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN with synths on ‘Still Warm’ while YEARS OF DENIAL capture plenty of stark menace on ‘It Sucks.
Canadian wife-and-husband duo ESSAIE PAS provide enigmatic prose en Français over a cascade of pulsing synths on ‘Retox’ while Berlin-based trio DINA SUMMER update the gothic disco template on ‘Darkness’. Affirming the international cast of ‘Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’, Spain’s DAME AREA go on a heavier industrial club excursion via ‘Buon Cittadino’ but on the opposite side of the coin and Atlantic, DESIRE offer enigmatic coyness on ‘Love Races On’ outside of their Italians Do It Better stable.
Chapter 3 is the part of the night you probably should go home but don’t… a wilder, harder and more aggressive energy is here if you so desire. There is naturally a Dark Remix of ‘Machina’ from BOY HARSHER with guest vocals by Mariana Saldaña. But utilising tense triplets and brassy melodramatic stabs, CURSES revamps J.W.B. HITS THE BEAT’s ‘Body On Body’. CURSES returns to remix NUOVO TESTAMENTO’s ‘Heartbeat’ and there is an enjoyable instrumental in ‘Non Fiction’ by SILENT SERVANT.
Two of the best tracks come via Australia; ‘Burning Eyes’ is a Hi-NRG romp with wispy voice ad-libs courtesy of NEU-ROMANCER and ZANIAS’ ‘Tryptamine Palace’ is a tremendous textural dance track. ANDI VS RANDOLPH & MORTIMER make their presence felt with big beats on ‘Formidable Truths’ while Michel Amato aka THE HACKER does not disappoint with the previously unreleased ‘Monopoly’. To end, Greek synth duo PARADOX OBSCUR make a beefy contribution in ‘Evo-Devo’ that recalls French art pop duo LES RITA MISOUKO.
On the spiritual and musical thread that helped make this cohesive collection, Luca Venezia surmised: “Every artist involved has their own personal and unique take on the timeless love affair between human and machine. All the music on ‘DEUX’ also embraces the punk and DIY raw energy of live music into electronic music; artists LIKE YEARS OF DENIAL, BOY HARSHER, NUOVO TESTAMENTO, NITZER EBB, BOYTRONIC and DINA SUMMER are all good examples of how the music is very personal, verse chorus verse song-based concert music, yet can also be DJ’d in a club at 4am in a dusty thriving warehouse rave.”
Music from the past and present can sit comfortably together in the same place and ‘Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’ proves it.
With thanks to Luca Venezia and Mirren Thomson at Eclectica
Producer, keyboardist and composer Andy Richards may not be as widely known as his mentor Trevor Horn, but listeners have certainly heard his work as a significant number his contributions appear on singles that reached No1.
Born in 1952, Richards studied piano, classical organ piano and composition at The Royal College Of Music and The Royal Academy Of Music. After graduating, he taught music at South Cheshire College and began playing in various local bands before in 1977, he joined the folk-rockers THE STRAWBS who were best known for their hit ‘Part Of The Union’.
After THE STRAWBS split up in 1980, Richards became a session musician and in 1983 played keyboards for the heavy metal band DEMON who were signed to Clay Records, a Stoke-based independent record label. It had been established by Mike ‘Clay’ Stone who had been a champion of punk, taking early photographs of Gary Numan which appeared on the first TUBEWAY ARMY releases before later signing DISCHARGE and THE LURKERS to Clay.
It was via Clay Records that Andy Richards was to get his big break. Stone invited Richards to produce the debut of local synthpop trio WHITE DOOR who had morphed out of the prog band GRACE. Mixed at Sarm East Studios, the engineer was Julian Mendelsohn who was also working with Trevor Horn on the YES album ‘90125’.
With recommendations from Mendelsohn, Richards was then contacted by both. Although he auditioned for YES, he chose to work with Trevor Horn in October 1983; his first job was to play keyboards on the FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD cover of ‘Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey’ and subsequently the eventual single version of ‘Relax’ which featured Richards’ European sounding Roland Jupiter 8 chords while another key element he provided was the huge orgasmic sound at the song’s climax!
Working as part Trevor Horn’s dream team that included engineer Stephen Lipson and Fairlight programmer JJ Jeczalik, the world became Richards’ oyster with significant roles on the notable ZTT albums ‘Welcome to the Pleasure Dome’, ‘A Secret Wish’ and ‘Slave to the Rhythm’.
A master of the Roland Jupiter 8, Roland MC4 Micro-composer, PPG and Oberheim DMX, Richards became in demand as musician, programmer and producer, thanks to his astute investment in the Fairlight Series III in 1984; this was a particularly useful production tool as the artists he worked with could easily understand its concept easily as all its 16 tracks and their relationship in real time could be seen on screen at once.
Having dipped his toe into the world of cinema in 1986 with ‘Biggles: Adventures in Time’, the bulk of Richards’ more recent work has been in mixing film scores from his own Out of Eden digital complex, including ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’, ‘Ali G Indahouse’, ‘Johnny English’, ‘Shaun of the Dead’, ‘The Last King of Scotland’, ‘Hannibal Rising’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘Frankenweenie’. He has more recently been working on his first solo project entitled ‘This Time… An Imaginary Soundtrack’
Perhaps something of an unsung hero in music, here are 18 tracks that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has selected from the vast career of Andy Richards with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, assembled in chronological order…
WHITE DOOR Jerusalem (1983)
With shades of ALPHAVILLE who Andy Richards would later work with, the beautiful choir boy synthpop of ‘Jerusalem’ was one of the highlights of the ‘Windows’ album. “We would turn up at Andy’s house with very basic demos and spend long days with him on his mini grand piano working out the arrangements and programming…” said WHITE DOOR singer Mac Austin about the releationship with their producer.
Available on the WHITE DOOR album ‘Windows’ via Cherry Red Records
‘Dr Mabuse’ was the impressionistic masterpiece slated that was the debut single by PROPAGANDA, at the time a Düsseldorf-based five piece. Produced by Trevor Horn in the days before MIDI, Richards’ work involved spending days in the studio connecting up two Roland Jupiter 8s, two Roland MC4 Micro-composers, three Oberheim DMXs and a Roland TR808 to JJ Jeczalik’s Fairlight Series II.
As FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’s eagerly awaited follow-up to ‘Relax, ‘Two Tribes’ sent the Cold War paranoia of the times into overdrive. Richards’ blistering bassline sequence was programmed multiple times with differing feels, eventually settling on a hard PPG bass sample doubled with a slightly softer sequence from a Synclavier. The end result acted as a leadline and tribal powerhouse.
Available on the FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD album ‘Bang!’ via Salvo
GEORGE MICHAEL Careless Whisper – Full length version (1984)
Although George Michael’s debut solo single was characterised by a fluid sax solo by Steve Gregory, when the WHAM! singer opted to produce ‘Careless Whisper’ himself after an abortive session with Jerry Wexler, he invited to Richards to overdub a chilling string synth intro and voice samples using a PPG Waveterm A. It would become the third No1 of 1984 on which Richards performed.
THE ADVENTURES Send My Heart – Extended remix (1984)
Belfast’s THE ADVENTURES were one of the first bands to be managed by pop Svengali Simon Fuller and on the back of FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’s success came remix and session work for Richards. His extended remix of the sprightly ‘Send My Heart’ included additional keyboard flourishes, a new voice sample solo section and drum breakdowns while keeping the song intact.
‘Kiss Me’ had been originally released by Stephen Duffy’s band TIN TIN in 1982. Reissued in several incarnations, the Fairlight heavy hit version was produced by Nicholas Froome and JJ Jeczalik who brought Richards in along with Danny Schogger to provide musicality to the various sample derived gimmicks used. Duffy would later become the writing partner of Robbie Williams and ‘Kiss Me’ would be covered in 2006.
Germany’s TRIO became known worldwide for their novelty song ‘Da Da Da’. Much more aggressive than their big hit, the expletive laden sexually charged ‘Ready For You’ was a co-production by Richards and JJ Jeczalik alongside Klaus Voormann, the noted musician who also worked on all the TRIO albums as well as with Lou Reed and was the graphic designer of THE BEATLES ‘Revolver’.
Not the familiar groovy Go-Go hit single version that became Grace Jones’ signature tune, but a more aggressive take with big beats, rumbles and swoops actually designated “5. SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM” on the same titled album, Andy Richards’ distinct chord interventions can be heard in the brassy synth stabs. The song had been originally demoed by FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD in an uptempo fashion.
Although effectively a solo Terri Nunn track produced by Giorgio Moroder, ‘Take My Breath Away’ was issued as a BERLIN single and became a worldwide hit. The sultry art rock follow-up ‘You Don’t Know’ was primarily produced by Richards but the band were unhappy with their sojourn in London for their new album and scrapped their recordings with him, bar this.
Credited with “Keyboards, Computers” for the first song of Nik Kershaw’s self-produced third album, the title track saw Richards’ Fairlight Series III programming take a central role emulating LEVEL 42’s Mark King style of bass playing. A cautionary warning about mass-produced run-of-the-mill pop music, ‘Radio Musicola’ also featured a brass section and Iva Davies of ICEHOUSE on backing vocals.
Available on the NIK KERSHAW album ‘Essential’ via Universal Music
Originally recorded with Shep Pettibone with Madonna in mind, having programmed the Fairlight on ‘Always On My Mind’, ‘It’s A Sin’ and ‘Rent’, Andy Richards was asked to produce a new version of ‘Heart’ in a classic disco vein for the ’Actually’ album. A re-edited version mixed by Julian Mendelsohn featuring extra wah-wah guitar by JJ Belle gave PET SHOP BOYS another UK No1 single.
Have achieved their breakthrough with the Thomas Dolby produced ‘Steve McQueen’, the East Anglian electronics boffin was unable to work on the entire follow-up album ‘From Langley Park to Memphis’ so other producers were sought. Richards did ‘Hey Manhattan’ but band leader Paddy McAloon later remarked “I’m dissatisfied with the way we realised it. It’s pretty but it’s a failure”.
Co-produced by Andy Richards and Steve Lovell with Dan Hartman, ‘Americanos’ was a catchy Latin tinged number complete with Mariachi horns that saw Holly Johnson achieve a second solo No4 hit. Despite being aspirational in tone, the former FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD singer provided an ironic observation of the widespread discrimination against the Hispanic community in the USA.
Available on the HOLLY JOHNSON album ‘Blast’ via Cherry Red Records
Outrageously catchy, ‘Pink Sunshine’ was the best single from the alternative rock band once known as WE’VE GOT A FUZZBOX & WE’RE GONNA USE IT!! Reinventing themselves as a sexy pop vocal group for their second album ‘Big Bang!’ produced by Andy Richards, their first hit came with the ‘Thunderbirds’ inspired ‘International Rescue’ while ‘Self’ featuring QUEEN’s Brian May provided a third.
Available on the FUZZBOX album ‘Big Bang!’ via Cherry Red Records
MALCOLM McLAREN & THE BOOTZILLA ORCHESTRA House Of The Blue Danube (1989)
In tribute to New York’s voguing scene, ‘Waltz Darling’ was Malcolm McLaren’s fourth album, fusing Johann Strauss with funk and house. It spawned the hit ‘Something’s Jumpin’ in Your Shirt’ but opening it was the mad if joyous instrumental ‘House of the Blue Danube’. Produced by Richards, it featured Bootsy Collins and Jeff Beck within a pumping “Frankie Say Strauss” backdrop.
Available on the MALCOLM McLAREN & THE BOOTZILLA ORCHESTRA album ‘Waltz Darling’ via Epic Records
Having played keyboards on Liza Minnelli’s ‘Results’ album with PET SHOP BOYS, for a similar project this time with Dusty Springfield, while Messrs Tennant and Lowe produced half the ‘Reputation’ album, Richards was assigned the title song written by Brian Spence. Although overshadowed by the hits ‘Nothing Has Been Proved’ and ‘In Private’, the end result was a production of equal quality.
Available on the DUSTY SPRINGFIELD album ‘Reputation’ via Cherry Red Records
By 1988, advances in computer technology and software had made the Fairlight redundant. But Richards was sticking with his warhorse, causing tensions when working with Andy McCluskey on his new solo OMD by recreating what was on the demos formulated on a MIDI-compatible Atari. But the elegiac ‘Sugar Tax’ album closer ‘All That Glitters’ managed to capture the OMD magic of old.
Available on the OMD album ‘Sugar Tax’ via Virgin Records
Produced by Andy Richards, ALPHAVILLE’s fifth album ‘Salvation’ came as the trio fragmented, leaving Marian Gold and Bernhard Lloyd to helm the ship. Energetic gothic dance music, ‘Wishful Thinking’ had a dramatic presence reminiscent of ‘Forever Young’, aided by a string arrangement by Anne Dudley which provided plenty of pomp and circumstance.
Available on the ALPHAVILLE album ‘Salvation’ via WEA Records
Wikipedia says “The lead vocalist in popular music is typically the member of a group or band whose voice is the most prominent melody in a performance where multiple voices may be heard”.
It also adds “The lead vocalist may also be called the main vocalist or lead singer. Especially in rock music, the lead singer or solo singer is often the front man or front woman”. A BBC Radio 4 parody series ‘Radio Active’ first made the joke in 1981 that “Ringo Starr isn’t the best drummer in THE BEATLES” and in a similar way, it could be said that Bernard Sumner is not the best singer in NEW ORDER.
However, the lead vocalist is considered the figurehead and often the character of a band so regardless of what is said publicly about democracy, a hierarchy inevitably ensues.
But what happens when another member of the band takes their turn at the front? In most cases, it is just a one-off although sometimes it becomes recurring feature over successive albums. These tracks can meet with varying degrees of success, but there have even been occasions where the second vocalist eventually becomes lead singer! However, there have been strange situations where a less vocally competent instrumentalist is unhappy about the attention that a singer is getting and insists on switching roles, thus ensuring that the band does not play to any of its strengths!
So taking things back to front and with a limit of one track per act, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK presents a list of 25 songs not sung by the lead vocalist in chronological, then alpnabetical order…
ULTRAVOX Mr X (1980)
Having been an idea that dated back to the John Foxx-era of ULTRAVOX just before his departure, the KRAFTWERK influenced robotic spy story of ‘Mr X’ was voiced by Warren Cann while Midge Ure was settling in as the band’s new lead vocalist. The track had begun as ‘Touch & Go’ and been premiered live. In a gentlemen’s agreement, keyboardist Billy Currie gave his melody of ‘He’s A Liquid’ in return for Foxx’s melody to ‘Touch & Go’, hence the structural similarity to ‘Mr X’.
Available on the album ‘Vienna’ via Chrysalis Records
Although now known as a songwriter, Martin Gore had contributed an instrumental ‘Big Muff’ and one song with lyrics ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’ on DEPECHE MODE’s debut album. Written by Vince Clarke like most of ‘Speak & Spell’, ‘Any Second Now’ was a beautiful minimalist set piece that stood out amongst the dance friendly synthpop tunes and suited an understated tone of expression. And so began a tradition of Gore taking on DM’s ballads instead of front man Dave Gahan.
DRAMATIS were the former Gary Numan live band and while their only album to date ‘For Future Reference’ was musically virtuoso, the band’s Achilles’ heel was vocals. RRussell Bell and Denis Haines were the quartet’s main singers and Numan himself guested on DRAMATIS’ biggest hit ‘Love Needs No Disguise’, but the classically trained multi-instrumentalist Chris Payne found himself a reluctant vocalist on a song he had written called ‘Turn’; “I have never felt comfortable about my own voice” he clarified.
After the end of JOY DIVISION, Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris reconvened as NEW ORDER as a symbol of their fresh start while recruiting Gillian Gilbert on keyboards and guitar. Synths and drum machines were taking greater prominence but not entirely. While Sumner did the majority of the vocals on their debut album ‘Movement’, it was Hooky’s fraught delivery on ‘Doubts Even Here’ and words from The Bible spoken by Gilbert that provided the album’s most glorious moment.
Best known for the profound anti-war statement ‘The Last Film’ which entered the Top20 in 1983, KISSING THE PINK had Nick Whitecross as their lead singer. Produced by Colin Thurston, the baroque opera tinged ‘Watching Their Eyes’ saw saxophonist Josephine Wells provide a haunting impassioned vocal. Wells went on to play live with TEARS FOR FEARS but sadly, she was to later battle her own traumas as a survivor of the Marchioness boat disaster in 1989 which led to the deaths of 51 people.
Available on the album ‘Naked’ via Cherry Red Records
With his OMD success, Mike Howlett produced what turned out to be the most synth based CHINA CRISIS long player. Utilising Emulator strings and a pizzicato sample derived from plucking an acoustic guitar string close to the bridge, ‘Wishful Thinking’ was written and thus sung by guitarist Eddie Lundon. A sweetly textured, melodic pop single that deserved its hit status, lead singer Gary Daly responded with ‘Never Too Late’ but that song was shelved to eventual B-side status for sounding too similar.
Available on the album ‘Working With Fire & Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume 2’ via Caroline Records
While Roland Orzabal is more or less seen as TEARS FOR FEARS lead singer these days, that’s not how it was perceived at the start even though he sang their debut single ‘Suffer The Children’. Following three Top10 hit singles in a row prior to the release of their debut album ‘The Hurting’, Curt Smith was considered the face and the voice of the band. Orzabal was main songwriter and sang lead on the title track with a more angst-ridden take than was heard on the Smith-fronted singles; this was to become the band’s future dynamic.
Of Vince Clarke’s most polarising song since ‘What’s Your Name?’ for DEPECHE MODE, Alison Moyet said “That could have been the beginning of the end for us… in fact, no it wasn’t because Vince had already decided to leave. ‘Happy People’, I just tried singing it a couple of ways and I just hit him with ‘I can’t do this, you want it sung, you sing it yourself mate!’… so he sang it himself, fair play to him”. The song itself was an ironic send-up of middle aged political activists.
Multi-instrumentalist John Crawford had proved himself a capable if almost anonymous singer when duetting with BERLIN front woman Terri Nunn on their 1982 breakthrough track ‘Sex (I’m A…)’. But for the B-side of the 1984 Giorgio Moroder produced single ‘No More Words’, Crawford did a lead vocal turn on the Mike Howlett-helmed ‘Rumor Of Love’ which echoed Scott Walker and ended up as a bonus track on the original edition of the ‘Love Life’ album
Available on the album ‘Love Life’ via Rubellan Records
While Andy McCluskey was the lead singer of OMD, Paul Humphreys would see his less frequent vocalled tracks released as singles with ‘Souvenir’, ‘Secret’ and ‘Forever Live & Die’ becoming international hits. While their fifth ‘Junk Culture’ saw forays into brass sections, calypso and reggae, ‘Never Turn Away’ was a more traditional OMD ballad with Autumnal atmospheres but while it was a fine album track, it made little impression as a single release.
While Susanne Freytag was the original PROPAGANDA vocalist with her stark narrative style, she soon stepped back in favour of her friend and TOPOLINOS bandmate Claudia Brücken. While Freytag’s Germanic prose remained vital on songs such as ‘Doctor Mabuse’ and ‘P-Machinery’, her vocal style suited the lead role on ‘Dream With A Dream’, a 9 minute epic which put a mighty soundtrack to accompany an Edgar Allan Poe poem which was first published in 1849.
On the disappointing ‘Techno Pop’ née ‘Electric Café’ album, Karl Bartos gave assured performance in his only lead vocal for KRAFTWERK on ‘The Telephone Call’. While the assertive automated phone messages were a sharpened metaphor for female empowerment, band politics were at play when Ralf Hütter refused to let Bartos lip-synch his part on the accompanying monochromatic video although Wolfgang Flür got to mime a single phrase while cast in shadow.
“Passion and love and sex and money – Violence, religion, injustice and death” went the opening phrases of Chris Lowe’s debut lead vocal for PET SHOP BOYS. Dryly spoken rather than sung, the track was a celebration of an Italian fashion cult who were the anti-hipsters of the period and openly loved pop like DURAN DURAN. The middle eight featuring an ‘Entertainment Tonight’ interview saw Lowe deadpan: “I don’t like Country & Western. I don’t like rock music. I don’t like Rockabilly. I don’t like much, really, do I? But what I do like, I love passionately!”
With Douglas J McCarthy fronting NITZER EBB, the singing abilities of instrumentalist Bon Harris only came to the fore with his ‘Songs From the Lemon Tree’ lockdown live streams of solo covers often tinged with falsetto. But on the ‘That Total Age’ album, he had shouted his way through ‘Let Beauty Loose’, a typical slice of frantically paced EBM. Acting as a supersub in late 2021, Harris stood in for a hospitalised McCarthy at two NITZER EBB shows in Palm Beach and Toronto.
Originally from Philadelphia, BOOK OF LOVE were started by school friends Susan Ottaviano and Ted Ottaviano who were not actually related. Jade Lee and Lauren Roselli Johnson joined later on and the quartet were invited to support DEPECHE MODE on two US tours while their single ‘I Touch Roses’ was reissued in a Daniel Miller remix. Although Susan Ottaviano was lead vocalist, Ted Ottaviano impressed on ‘With A Little Love’ from their second album ‘Lullaby’ which was co-produced by Flood.
German trio CAMOUFLAGE named themselves after a YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA track and threw their love of DEPECHE MODE into the mix. While Marcus Meyn was lead singer and the voice of hits like ‘The Great Commandment’, on their second album ‘Methods Of Silence’, both instrumentalists Heiko Maile and Oliver Kreyssig did a vocal turn, with the latter’s ‘Sooner Than We Think’ considered worthy enough to merit inclusion on their first two Best Of compilations ‘We Stroke The Flames’ and ‘Rewind – The Best Of 95-87’.
Despite Kevin Wynne being the voice on KON KAN’s sample heavy NEW ORDER inspired international hit ‘I Beg Your Pardon’, he was a hired hand as the mastermind behind the project was Canadian producer Barry Harris. The surprise success led to interest in an album for which Wynne did most of the vocals for, while also being involved in its promotion. However, Harris took the lead on the album’s title track which came out as a 12″ club mix. For the next two KON KAN albums ‘Syntonic’ and ‘Vida!’, Wynne was not recalled.
Although the front man and sole remaining founder member, Phil Oakey has often cited Susanne Sulley as the best singer in THE HUMAN LEAGUE. While she famously did a verse on the UK and US No1 ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ as well as various solo phrases on ‘(Keep Feeling) Fascination’ and ‘Heart Like A Wheel’, she didn’t get a lead vocal turn until ‘One Man In My Heart’. The format of the song fitted right in with the rise of female fronted trios like DUBSTAR, SAINT ETIENNE and PEACH.
Having been slated for their 1995 covers album ‘Thank You’, DURAN DURAN were in a state of turmoil by 1997; Simon Le Bon was experiencing writer’s block while John Taylor was suffering from depression. This state of affairs led to Nick Rhodes working more closely with guitarist Warren Cuccurullo and the keyboardist taking a spoken word lead on the title track of the ‘Medazzaland’ album. Taylor left halfway through recording the parent long player while the end product was only released in the US, resulting in the end of the band’s tenure with EMI.
With a template similar to PROPAGANDA, LADYTRON had a singing vocalist in Helen Marnie while Mira Aroyo provided stark spoken prose in her native Bulgarian. While the latter had been an enticing subplot to ‘Discotraxx’ on the debut album ‘604’, Aroyo took the deadpan lead on the fierce ‘True Mathematics’ which opened their next album ‘Light & Magic’. Owing a debt to THE NORMAL’s ‘Warm Leatherette’, it premiered a much harder LADYTRON sound.
KID MOXIE Medium Pleasure – Marsheaux remix (2009)
KID MOXIE actually began as a duo comprising of Elena Charbila and Erica Zabowski, recording an EP ‘Human Stereo’ and album ‘Selector’. Although Charbila took the majority of the lead vocals in her airy continental style, Zabowski adopted more of a snarl on ‘Medium Pleasure’ with a lyric attacking cultural and artistic mediocrity. By the time ‘Selector’ was released, the pair had already parted but thanks to a physical CD release on Undo Records, the track was boosted by a remix from MARSHEAUX
Available on the album ‘Selector’ via Undo Records
Forming in 1988 and releasing their debut long player ‘World Without End’ in 1994, German duo DE/VISION have been a mainstay in Europe for enthusiasts of darker electronic climes. Comprising of Steffen Keth on vocals and Thomas Adam on synths, their vast majority of their songs have been sung in English. For their 2012 album ‘Rockets & Swords’, there was a surprise in the penultimate song ‘Kamikaze’ which was not only voiced by Adam but also in Deutsch.
The Anglo-German ensemble TWINS NATALIA comprised of Marc Schaffer, Steve Lippert, synth wizard Dave Hewson and singers Sharon Abbott and Julie Ruler, with the latter three from cult combo POEME ELECTRONIQUE. Touchingly melancholic with classic Weimar Cabaret melodies and vibrant Kling Klang interplay, their music conjured memories of holiday romances. But the uptempo ‘I Avoid Strangers’ featured Hewson on vocals, possessing a paranoia that suited the song perfectly.
Available on the album ‘The Destiny Room’ via Anna Logue Records
The two Martin Doherty vocalled tracks on ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ polarised opinion and his voice made an appearance again on the synth driven funk of ‘High Enough To Carry You Over’ for CHVRCHES second album ‘Every Open Eye’. While nowhere near as accomplished as main vocalist Lauren Mayberry, by taking on a more Americanised drawl in the vein of MISTER MISTER, this was a big improvement on the stoner vibe of his two singing attempts on the debut long player.
The project of Norwegian Stephan Groth, APOPTYGMA BERZERK went Deutsch on the ‘Nein Danke!’ EP while displaying a prominent “NEWWAVESYNTHPOP” legend on its artwork. ‘Nearest’ saw Stephan’s live bandmate and brother Jonas step into the limelight on a chilled electronic ballad ‘Nearest’ that possessed the same ethereal qualities as the best known APOP track ‘Kathy’s Song’. Jonas Groth has since stepped fully up to the front in his own synthpop duo PISTON DAMP.
As PROPAGANDA, die klassik quartett of Claudia Brücken, Susanne Freytag, Ralf Dörper and Michael Mertens dubbed “ABBA in hell” released their only album together ‘A Secret Wish’ in 1985 on ZTT.
Featuring the hit singles ‘Dr Mabuse’, ‘Duel’ and ‘P: Machinery’, ‘A Secret Wish’ was highly regarded with admirers including Martin Gore, John Taylor, Jim Kerr and Quincy Jones. PROPAGANDA had emerged from Düsseldorf’s post-punk art scene which had often gathered at the Ratinger Hof pub on Ratinger Straße.
Previously, Brücken and Freytag had been in an all-girl group called TOPOLINOS who appeared on the compilation ‘Partysnäks’ in 1982; their track ‘Mustafa’ became a favourite of the late John Peel who played it on his late night BBC Radio1 show.
But “x” marks the spot and with it, Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag have rebooted the esteemed brand as xPROPAGANDA with ‘A Secret Wish’ producer Stephen Lipson helming for an excellent collection of all-new material entitled ‘The Heart Is Strange’.
As another hope feeds another dream, during a break from live rehearsals for the upcoming London showcase of ‘The Heart Is Strange’, Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag kindly talked to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the album’s creative genesis and realisation.
Over the past few years, you have worked together on the ‘This Happened’ shows and the song ‘Sweet Sense (Of) Liberation’ on the ‘Beginn’ album with Jerome Froese, but when did the impetus to do a project together come about?
Susanne: It started in 2018 when we played ‘A Secret Wish’ at The Garage and we thought we needed some new material. We had been thinking about this for a long time and thought it would be nice to have some new songs to expand our repertoire a bit.
Photo by Jimmy King
How do you look back the reception for those shows at The Garage?
Claudia: Amazing, it was just incredible that people from all over the world came, from Japan, America, Mexico and Europe. It was fantastic to see and you could feel it while we were performing. It was great to be working with Stephen Lipson and Luís Jardim in the band and it worked so well. During rehearsals back then, we already thought it would be nice to have new material.
You initially launched yourselves as D:UEL and did gigs under that name but how was it decided to settle on being called xPROPAGANDA?
Claudia: At some point, we thought we would call ourselves after a song we’d done but we questioned it. For that moment, we thought it would do, but we thought we should maybe find a different name…
Susanne: …and find an arrangement with Ralf and Michael to be able to call ourselves xPROPAGANDA. But this took us some time to negotiate; that’s why went under D:UEL.
What are you own favourite recollections of making ‘A Secret Wish’?
Claudia: Mine is being in Sarm West in this amazing atmosphere in Basing Street, surrounded by really creative people. There were three studios, Bob Marley recorded there in the 70s, and it had an incredible vibe. At that point, ZTT were in the same building so it felt really electrifying.
What was it like to meet David Sylvian, did either of you have a crush on him?
Claudia: We were real admirers of him and his work but we weren’t star struck or anything, we took it in our stride…
Susanne: … I loved JAPAN so I think I was a little bit! *laughs*
Photo by Jimmy King
Given your history and the fact that he was in the xPROPAGANDA live band, was it a no brainer that Stephen Lipson would be involved in ‘The Heart Is Strange’?
Claudia: It seemed so obvious as he did ‘A Secret Wish’… both Susanne and I had this sentiment that we wished there had been another album after that with our involvement. Throughout the years, Stephen said “Girls, if you ever want to do something, I’m here”
Susanne: He’s a very busy guy working with Hans Zimmer on films so it took a bit of time…
Claudia: …but then at some point, it was the right time. But the dynamic didn’t change too much because for us, the Stephen then and the Stephen now, although we have all changed in some ways, it was all so easy. We had common ground, shared experiences and stories to tell, so we are still the same people.
Another name on ‘The Heart Is Strange’ is John Owen Williams who produced the Claudia solo album ‘Where Else…’
Claudia: John lives locally to me as does Stephen, I worked with him so well on the ‘Where Else…’ album that I thought it would be good to work on melodies and lyrics with him again. He was really open, it was just a natural process, it’s good to have someone to throw ideas to, but not as a band member as such.
Did you consciously decide to incorporate some classic ZTT references into ‘The Heart Is Strange’? I’m thinking of trumpets and proggy guitars alongside the crafted electronic backdrop etc…
Claudia: That’s Stephen’s production style so I guess it would naturally resemble that, because that was the sound. It’s just what comes out of us, it wasn’t like “oh, we need to make sure it sounds like PROPAGANDA”.
Photo by Kai Freytag
The opener ‘The Night’ does not disappoint with a dancey cacophony of sequenced digitised bass and percolating percussive colours, it does have that classic widescreen Lipson sound…
Claudia: On this, we collaborated with Pete Murray who is a producer friend of Stephen. We asked Stephen if he had any ideas flying around in his library which he shared with us. So we picked a few as a starting point. I wanted to make a kind of poem or prayer, and then the whole idea came about, it’s a three parter. When Covid came, we would continue to develop things by file sharing but luckily, we had all the vocal parts already recorded. Stephen then worked his magic.
There’s quite a long intro ‘The Night’ before the vocal comes in which adds to the tension, it’s something that is missing from a lot music now, that anticipation…
Claudia: I’m really happy you say that because I like music to breathe and take you on a journey… a lot of songs these days are just designed for radio and they put on lot into that three and a half minute timeframe. I like things when they are stretched.
‘Beauty Is The Truth’ is more aggressive with the two of you sparring?
Claudia: We are just having a dialogue aren’t we? Susanne says something, then I say the opposite to prove her point, it’s very much a play and it’s inspired by John Keats, the romantic poet. It’s challenging romanticism as well. It has lots of different layers, like about fake news and warning people to be alert and be careful.
Susanne: For me, it also deals with social media and all this beauty culture, especially all these teenage girls and the image they want to present which is not real.
Photo by Kai Freytag
Photo by Kai FreytagHow you feel about social media, both in the context as artists and as mothers?
Claudia: I think it’s terribly addictive in how you are drawn to it, it’s a bit insane really how many hours people spend on it.
Susanne: As mothers, I am glad my two children are grown-up and that I don’t have teenage daughters. I see friends with teenage daughters where they can quickly get into this wanting the miration from others, looking at the clicks and struggling with themselves… it’s sad to see and I know somebody in Sweden where use of computers in schools started earlier than in Germany. But the amount of anorexia in school girls in Sweden is so high and my friend sees the direct link as being the age when they start using computers or are given mobile devices. I thought it was interesting, I never saw this connection with the age that children are introduced to computers…
Claudia: …and there’s this obsession with self-image…
Susanne: …and that’s what starts it, they become 11-12-13 and there’s this peer pressure to appear beautiful on social media.
Social media brings the fans a step closer to the artist than back in the day when they would have been more on a pedestal…
Susanne: For me, it’s really stressful, I’m happy if I don’t have to look at it. But you also need it because this is the modern way of advertising yourself and your product so…
Claudia: …it’s a double edged sword *laughs*
‘Only Human’ offers a mid-album breather?
Claudia: We felt a bit odd and vulnerable at that point of writing, it was thinking “hey, we’re all human”, all this uncertainty that’s going on…
Susanne: …it was Covid related.
Is ‘Don’t (You Mess with Me)’ something of a female empowerment song, given some of the challenges in your creative past?
Claudia: Yes, it is! *laughs*
Susanne: It is also about personal lives, being angry and female empowerment.
Claudia: It’s being fed up, we went to Stephen’s studio and he said “I’ve started this riff” and we were really impressed. So instead of what we came in for, we concentrated on this…
Susanne: ….it happened very quickly…
Claudia: …and we just wrote it on the spot basically! By the end of the session, we had finished the song and recorded it. At the time, it was cathartic for all of us, this burst of energy got captured. This is something that doesn’t happen that often. But I think we were all in this p*ssed off mood and that drove it *laughs*
There’s an exotic mystical swirl in ‘No Ordinary Girl’ with a knowing “Don’t be a fool!”, where did this combination come from?
Susanne: We were joking around with references to ‘A Secret Wish’ *laughs*
Claudia: We were thinking of sinister things that Susanne should say in contrast to the vocal melody so that came up *laughs*
Photo by Jimmy King
The melody is quite Eastern?
Susanne: It is, it’s a little bit strange, the things I am saying are a bit…
Claudia: …disturbed! But I think the melody sounds a bit French and filmic. I also really like the string steps, those figures at the end, I think that was Pete Murray with his beautiful keyboard playing. But it also has something exotic so that was me following the sound. I thought it would be nice to have a torch song on the album.
So are you dictating ideas and sketches to your phone now?
Claudia: All the time, a melody just pops into your head and you can immediately sing it. I’ve got about 1000 voice recordings on my phone, I just capture things.
Is it generally through vocal melodies that you write your musical ideas or do you have a mini-keyboard or software on a device?
Claudia: It’s pretty much in my head… or I will hear some nice chords somewhere and I will use that for referencing.
From the bounce of the track, the vocals from the two of you and a magnificent sax solo from Terry Edwards, ‘The Wolves Are Returning’ with its narrative on the rise of new far right using Brothers Grimm imagery really gels with a big expansive sound, it’s my favourite on the album…
Claudia: That’s so great that you say that, I think it’s so mad that there is such a long saxophone solo, it’s really bold to do that in a song these days! When I heard it, I thought “I love that!”, it’s so unexpected.
I love the confusion the sax causes, its processed so it sounds like a guitar but towards the end of the solo, the intonation is such that you are thinking “that’s not a guitar!” *laughs*
Claudia: That’s what I like about Stephen’s production, he just keeps messing and makes bold choices.
Susanne: It’s such a mad sax solo, it really fits the song.
Susanne’s son Alex also did some programming on The Wolves Are Returning’?
Susanne: Yes, he was working on some basslines and other things. We had talked about getting some different elements in there. One was Terry Edwards and the other was Alex; he lives in Berlin so that weird vibe came in. I was working with him on a few things so we looked at something we could integrate.
Claudia: Stephen is very open to ideas from others, he has this experimental mind which is great to have for creativity.
I’ve always felt the best producers are the ones who have progressive rock sensibilities, like Trevor Horn, Stephen Lipson, Mike Howlett, Zeus B Held and Conny Plank, they dare to apply this stuff to pop music…
Claudia: Yes, I like the mixing of genres so that you’re not this or that, I don’t have a purist mind, neither has Susanne or Stephen. A good song is a good song and you can style it in any way.
The closer ‘Ribbons of Steel’ could be considered the follow-up to ‘Dream Within A Dream’?
Susanne: The ‘Ribbons of Steel’ are a reference to barbed wire, it was inspired by The Berlin Wall. When it was built in the 60s, it just divided the people and the streets. So it’s about two people, one is in the East and one is in the West, who are unable to see each other again.
Claudia: There’s this loss of contact, this feeling of not knowing and having a lot of unanswered questions, it’s a story about the unknown, being plagued by uncertainty.
That feeling resonates with current world events…
Susanne: I was thinking that.
Was there the fascination for Berlin in Düsseldorf back in the day like there was for people in the UK and the US?
Claudia: In the 80s, definitely. The Berlin club scene in particular, it was completely mad… I remember going to clubs there and it was like WOW!
Susanne: Also, in Düsseldorf, places had to close at 1.00am but in Berlin, they were open all night. I remember being in an amazing discotheque and somebody opened the door and there was this really strange light coming in, not realising it was daylight! It was fascinating but it was quite dark, being in the Eastern Bloc…
Claudia: …but that is what made it so special.
Susanne: Of course, Berlin was full of students and people who didn’t want to go in the army so they brought a whole different culture to the place.
How are rehearsals going to present ‘The Heart Is Strange’ live alongside songs from ‘A Secret Wish’, who is in the band?
Susanne: It’s going well, it’s quite a big thing to present the new songs and everything, it’s huge. It’s a lot of work and we have lots of great musicians, it will be exciting!
Claudia: It’s going to be a nine piece band this time, Stephen is joining us in the band, along with Luís Jardim again. There’s also David Rainger who played a lot of guitar on the new album plus James Watson and Philip Larsen on keyboards and the drummer Paul Jones. Rehearsals are going great. We’re doing all the songs from ‘The Heart Is Strange’ and a big chunk of ‘A Secret Wish’.
Will there be any more xPROPAGANDA shows after this May date in London?
Susanne: Yes, there are gigs in Germany in November which have just been announced.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag
Special thanks to Stuart Kirkham
‘The Heart is Strange’ is released by ZTT on 20th May 2022 as in CD, 2CD, vinyl LP, red vinyl LP, Bluray audio and digital formats
xPROPAGANDA perform at The Garage in London on 24th May 2022
The ‘Secret Strange Thinking’ 2022 tour of Germany and The Netherlands includes:
Berlin Columbia Theater (2nd November), München Schlachthof (4th November), Frankfurt Nachtleben (5th November), Bochum Zeche (6th November), Hamburg Kent Club (8th November), Zoetermeer De Boerderij (10th November)
The legend of German quartet PROPAGANDA was etched into the psyche of the music cognoscenti with the 1985 release of ‘A Secret Wish’ on ZTT, a classic of the electronic era which heralded the advent of sampling and digital synthesis.
Among its fans were Martin Gore, John Taylor and Jim Kerr; over the years, ‘A Secret Wish’ has grown in stature with its influence felt on Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’, produced by Quincy Jones. Meanwhile, the foursome of Claudia Brücken, Susanne Freytag, Ralf Dörper and Michael Mertens dubbed “ABBA in hell” were a forerunner of acts such as LADYTRON.
But it all ended acrimoniously and despite attempts to reform PROPAGANDA over the last 30 years, they have all come to nought, although the quartet performed together at the Trevor Horn celebratory concert for The Prince’s Trust in 2004, while Freytag and Dörper joined Brücken for her career retrospective show at The Scala in 2011.
More recently, Brücken and Freytag have teamed up with Stephen J Lipson, producer of ‘A Secret Wish’ and had introduced their new project as D:UEL – so it was a surprise when it was announced that the pair would be playing two London shows performing ‘A Secret Wish’ as xPROPAGANDA in 2018.
‘The Heart Is Strange’ is the first fruit of labour from xPROPAGANDA; with that classic widescreen Lipson sound, the impressive opener ‘The Night’ does not disappoint with a dancey cacophony of sequenced digitised bass, crashing beats and sweeping synthetic strings. Additional brass flourishes, orchestrated bursts and percolating percussive colours permeate over multi-minute intro before Claudia Brücken delivers a fabulous vocal.
The spacious metronomic template of ‘Chasing Utopia’ hypnotically builds with the addition of guitars from the pleasuredome and snappy live drums as Susanne Freytag provides a spoken harmony next to Brücken before an alluring German monologue and a flugelhorn solo. Although tapping with rimshot before packing a punch, ‘Beauty Is The Truth’ is more aggressive with Freytag sparring with Brücken as their contrasting styles provide the tension over the buzzy trance-laden air.
‘Only Human’ is less pacey, crossing six string strums with electronics, acting almost as a mid-album breather. However, ‘Don’t (You Mess with Me)’ provides a synthetic rock edge and a piano motif that could have come straight from the Gary Numan playbook but the end result actually comes over like ABBA although not quite in hell but more a jungle full of tigers. With an exotic swirl ‘No Ordinary Girl’ heads towards the Mystical East and is bolstered by some heavy guitar and choppy strings plus a reference to the past with a knowing “Don’t be a fool!”
A warning on the rise of the extreme right wing using Brothers Grimm imagery, ‘The Wolves Are Returning’ is back to classic Lipson. It’s a bouncy driving number with another superb vocal from Brücken, an enticing middle eight phrase from Freytag and a magnificent sax solo from Terry Edwards, processed to the point of sounding like a guitar. Over 9 minutes, the cinematic closer ‘Ribbons of Steel’ provides a fitting atmospheric backdrop to showcase Susanne Freytag’s poetry. With references to The Cold War that are equally applicable to today’s world events, it’s a starker 21st Century follow-up to ‘Dream Within A Dream’ declaring “I never heard The Division Bell… I’m trapped on the wrong side, or is it the right side”.
As Brücken and Freytag summarised: “We always thought it was a shame that an album as distinctive and acclaimed as ‘A Secret Wish’ seemed destined to be a one-off. It certainly meant a lot to us, and it never seemed right that the story stopped there. Working again with Stephen Lipson and means that we can turn our dreams about what the ZTT follow up to ‘A Secret Wish’ would sound like into a reality. The reality is ‘The Heart is Strange’”.
While the distinct pop approach of ‘The Heart Is Strange’ perhaps is missing the gothic industrial spike of Ralf Dörper and the classically schooled eccentricity of Michael Mertens that added some of the character to ‘A Secret Wish’, where it does not disappoint is vocally and sonically; fans of PROPAGANDA and ZTT will relish and savour this thoughtfully crafted work.
Surpassing both the Brücken-less PROPAGANDA long player ‘1234’ and ACT’s ‘Laughter, Tears & Rage’, ‘The Heart Is Strange’ can be considered a worthy follow-up to ‘A Secret Wish’.
‘The Heart is Strange’ is released by ZTT on 20th May 2022 as in CD, 2CD, vinyl LP, red vinyl LP, Bluray audio and digital formats
xPROPAGANDA perform at The Garage in London on 24th May 2022
The ‘Secretstrange’ 2022 tour of Germany includes:
Berlin Columbia Theater (2nd November), München Schlachthof (4th November), Frankfurt Nachtleben (5th November), Bochum Zeche (6th November), Hamburg Kent Club (8th November)