The vehicle of Berlin-based Canadian musician Oliver Blair, RADIO WOLF’s new ‘Night Light’ EP aims to invoke a “cinema of the mind”.
Blair’s CV has included a stint in New Wave trio HOTEL MOTEL with Italians Do It better signing Jorja Chalmers and guesting as a guitarist with CLIENT under his KINDLE moniker. More recently, he collaborated with fellow Canadians PARALLELS to produce songs for the Sci-Fi movie ‘Proximity’, the directorial debut of Emmy Award-winning visual effects artist Eric Demeusy.
The debut RADIO WOLF EP ‘Rock N Roll Forever’ came out in 2017 and featured an illustrious cast of vocalists including Sarah Blackwood of DUBSTAR and former SNEAKERS PIMPS’ singer Kelli Ali as well as PARALLELS’ Holly Dodson and HOTEL MOTEL front woman Marika Gauci. But ‘Night Light’ is very different; for starters, it is entirely instrumental and constructed exclusively during the late hours of the night.
Blair says he felt an “inner glow” of inspiration while composing and producing these tracks. Having “scored to picture” on the award winning soundtrack to ‘Proximity’, the pieces of music on ‘Night Light’ are more contemplative “mind-pictures”.
Music for insomniacs, ‘Sleepless’ naturally plays on a grainy ambience, with sonic clusters and sweeps building inside an aural cocoon. But ‘The Lost Tape’ comes with bells in a dawn temple with atmospheric six string texturing in the vein of Robin Guthrie, reminiscent of the COCTEAU TWINS instrumentalist’s 2007 album ‘Before The Day Breaks’ with the late Harold Budd.
The haunting synth dominated beauty of ‘On-Screen Death’ recalls the floating passages Moby’s ‘Hotel Ambient’ while imagining a nocturnal journey in rainfall, the ‘Night Light’ title track takes in the influence of synthwave with sombre bass pulses, a minimal drum sample framework and a sparing FM friendly guitar intervention.
Primarily electronic and possessing the sort of musicality that can be expected from Blair, ‘Night Light’ provides an immersive snapshot into his synaesthesia and imagination to score without pictures.
The ‘Night Light’ EP is released digitally on the usual platforms
“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-Michel 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 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
“A young NASA JPL scientist is abducted by extra-terrestrials, but when no one believes his story, he becomes obsessed with finding proof, which leads him on a journey of discovery.”
That is the tagline for Sci-Fi thriller ‘Proximity’, the directorial debut of Emmy Award-winning visual effects artist Eric Demeusy, best known for his work on ‘Stranger Things’, ‘Tron Legacy’ and ‘Game Of Thrones’.
The film stars Ryan Masson who was in another Sci-Fi thriller ‘Involution’ and its cast also includes Highdee Kuan, Shaw Jones, Christian Prentice and Don Scribner. While the main orchestral soundtrack is scored by Jermaine Stegall, the songs have been provided by RADIO WOLF and PARALLELS, respectively the musical vehicles of Canadians Oliver Blair and Holly Dodson.
While Dodson has already released three albums as PARALLELS, Blair’s CV has included a stint with British New Wave trio HOTEL MOTEL (Italians Do It better signing Jorja Chalmers was a bandmate), guesting as a guitarist with CLIENT under his KINDLE moniker and playing keyboards with PARALLELS.
The debut RADIO WOLF EP ‘Rock N Roll Forever’ came out in 2017 and featured an illustrious cast of vocalists including Sarah Blackwood, Kelli Ali and HOTEL MOTEL singer Marika Gauci as well as Dodson herself. So developing the creative union between them was only natural.
Commissioned by Demeusy to come up with some sinister otherworldly songs counterpointed by a romantic celestial air for ‘Proximity’, Blair looked to Dodson to be their voice. “We fused celestial sounding electronica with the intimacy of the human voice and organic live guitar, having faith that our music would cohere to the film’s dual sense of otherworldliness and humanity” said Blair.
With both musicians heavily influenced by classic synthpop and new wave, it is perhaps not surprising that the resultant seven songs are being released by Lakeshore Records, home to the ‘Stranger Things’ soundtrack and the recent offering by KID MOXIE for the Greek film ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need To Have A Serious Talk’.
Opener ‘Break The Silence’ does what it says on the tin and comes over like ELECTRIC YOUTH but with much more bite thanks to its use of Holly Dodson’s more power diva capabilities and Oliver Blair’s guitar; it all stays on the right side of an AOR electronica hybrid if very close to its border.
Meanwhile ‘Pure Lies’ adopts the atmospheres of the ‘Twin Peaks’ theme ‘Falling’ and makes good use of lush vocal samples for its eerie dream-like state while reimagining it being covered by CHVRCHES. Speaking of the Glaswegian trio, ‘Let Me In’ could be Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty with a sense of gothic foreboding rather than their usual Taylor Swift gone electro approach.
“Scored to picture”, the mini-album’s lead single ‘Lost Angel’ tells of a “Dark vision of Paradise” and lyrically captures the spirit of the ‘Proximity’ story while accompanied by some beautifully ringing synthetic chimes doubled with bursts of pitch shifted vocals. Hauntingly compelling, ‘Contact’ is a superbly widescreen ballad and if it wasn’t in a Sci-Fi film, it could so easily have been in chosen for a love scene in a Brat Pack movie from back in the day.
‘Journeys End’ is a rather fine tribute to ‘Space Oddity’ with Dodson sounding particularly angelic while fabulous synth melodies and complimentary live drumming by Nick Dodson enhance what is probably the mini-album’s highlight. Concluding Proximity’, ‘Homecoming’ adds some scratchy funk with a new wave twist to proceedings to provide a sparkly optimistic ending.
More than happy with these seven songs, Eric Demeusy said: “Oliver and Holly were a joy to work with; totally fresh and collaborative in spirit. Their songcraft talents and sophisticated production values created just the right sonic emotion for various sequences of the movie. I’d work with them again in a minute.”
‘Proximity’ will be embraced by the synthwave fraternity thanks to its association with Lakeshore Records, but its pop sensibilities and accompanying narratives will appeal to a wider audience. These are heartfelt songs possessing musicality and atmosphere that will certainly appeal to anyone who has enjoyed the previous releases by PARALLELS or RADIO WOLF.
From her early single ‘My Mistake’ and its use on an advertisement for Mercedes-Benz to support slots with DE/VISION and ERASURE to her own joint headlining tours of North America with Canada’s PARALLELS, the rise of NINA to become The Queen Of Synthwave has been remarkable.
The German-born songstress has successfully straddled the line between synthwave and synthpop, thanks to her exquisite retro-fusion of New Wave and electronic pop
Following her debut album ‘Sleepwalking’, NINA has created its eagerly awaited follow-up ‘Synthian’ with producers Oscillian, Richard X, Till Wild and Ricky Wilde putting their stamp on a number of tracks.
Although NINA’s popwave is still more than evident, this new record unveils a darker aesthetic and an air of cyber-expressionism. NINA spoke from her home city of Berlin about her continuing musical adventures.
Guessing by the title ‘Synthian’, it doesn’t sound like you’ve gone rockabilly or anything, how would you describe the album? It is a natural progression from ‘Sleepwalking’?
I see ‘Synthian’ as the bigger and bolder sister of ‘Sleepwalking’. It’s more mature and daring. ‘Synthian’ also explores the depths of love, desire, spirituality, the duality of the human condition. Unity vs Isolation.
‘Sleepwalking’ was a long time coming for many reasons but if you include the touring you’ve been doing, ‘Synthian’ has been a comparatively swift follow-up?
Yes, we’ve been super busy touring the US and Canada twice and playing shows all over the world, so I guess two years isn’t all that long. We actually wanted to release ‘Synthian’ early in 2020, but had to keep pushing it back for various reasons, which was a little frustrating but we’re finally getting it out there.
They often say that a debut album documents a whole life while a second album is sometimes a snapshot of less than a year?
I feel like ‘Sleepwalking’ was definitely a reflection of a lot experiences I’ve made in my younger years, while ‘Synthian’ took all those memories, shook hands with it and created a new Universe.
‘The Calm Before The Storm’ could be described as being quintessential NINA, the title almost seems to be capturing your anxieties before the making of a new album, was it like that for you?
Yes, it’s like I knew what was coming before it happened. ‘The Calm Before The Storm’ is about feeling lost. Wanting to start over. ‘Synthian’ is definitely the beginning of new uncharted ideas.
How is the recording process for you?
I feel like something magical happens when you first record a song. It’s that fresh and undeniable emotional connection with a song you sometimes have; it can never be replicated. So we often stick with the original takes.
You’re working with Oscillian and Richard X again, how do their methods differ for you that provide enough creative incentive while also being comfortable in their environment?
Working with Richard X is super inspiring. He’s so focussed and I’ve always been a fan of his well-known collaborations with ERASURE, GOLDFRAPP, PET SHOP BOYS and NEW ORDER etc. I have huge respect for him and his “Black Melody”. He works very fast and is very easy to work with. I’ve written ‘Unnoticed’ with him in his home studio in London.
With Oscillian, I feel like I’ve found a friend. We really get each other. It’s like we circle around the same Celestial sphere. So writing and recording ‘Synthian’, ‘The Wire’ and ‘The Distance’ in his home studio in Sweden was comfortable and familiar.
How did Ricky Wilde become interested in working with you? Are you pleased with the end result?
This is actually a very sweet story. I was at THE MIDNIGHT’s gig in London and Ricky’s friend Lee approached me and said “You’re NINA right. My friend Ricky is a producer and loves your music. I think you should get together and write songs”. That’s it! We met up for a writing session just a few days after our first encounter.
Ricky comes up with the most beautiful melodies and harmonies. I loved working with him. He’s humble and patient. I’m very proud of the two songs we’ve written together, ‘Runaway’ and ‘Gave Up On Us’. They’re very catchy and uplifting. I’d love to meet his sister Kim one day and tell her what a huge inspiration she’s been for me growing up.
The opening title song has a real widescreen atmosphere that sets the scene, what is the song about?
‘Synthian’ is a love note to my fans for being so incredibly supportive. I gave them the nickname a while back and mentioned to Oscillian that we should write a song about / for them.
‘Automatic Call’ is a great uptempo tune that has got a lot of positive reaction?
Yes, ‘Automatic Call’ has been a very popular track. I really enjoy performing it live. I like how upbeat it is while the lyrics are rather gloomy in contrary.
‘The Distance’ is quite an apt title in these strange times?
‘The Distance’ is about a long distance relationship and how true love can span miles and beyond. It has a more cinematic approach; heavily inspired by the likes of M83 and WOODKID. It’s a very personal song. A lot of people are being apart from their loved ones right now and can probably relate.
What are your own favourite songs on the album?
It’s impossible to choose! I love them equally. I will say that there are standout moments. ‘The Distance’ is clearly very romantic, while ‘Synthian’ has a joyous spirit to it. ‘The Wire’ touches a darker side. It’s about feeling disconnected from the world. Losing a sense of being human and having a deep desire for the human touch. I really enjoy the darker synthwave vibes.
You’ve opted to make a bonus instrumental version of the album available again like you did with ‘Sleepwalking’? Are they reworked or the backing tracks that you vocalised over?
They’re the original instrumentals without my vocals.
Do you feel aggrieved that some listeners want your music but not necessarily your vocals?
Well, it’s all part of my creativity. All aspects of the songs honour my musical cosmos. It’s a mood thing. Either way, you’re hearing me. I love instrumental music and am particularly proud of the producers I work with. So, it’s cool to shed light on the intricate details of their arrangements. There’s allot of teamwork going on.
You’ve continued your collaborations with other artists like FUTURECOP! and MOONRUNNER83, are there any more on the way you can tell us about? Is there less pressure for these productions or more?
I’m working with a few different producers and artists right now, all to be revealed soon. And I’ve recently started to collaborate with RADIO WOLF, who I became friends with while on tour with PARALLELS in 2018 and 2019. He’s a very talented producer, songwriter and musician and I’m so excited to share our creation with everyone soon. It’s very New Wave / Rock ’n’ Roll.
I’m always exploring new territories in music, I like thinking big and beyond. Collaborations are definitely something I really enjoy. I am also working on material that is very personal and individual. There may be a ‘lone wolf’ NINA record down the road. Anything is possible, that’s how I roll!
So has the lockdown made you more creative or more reflective? What are your hopes for the future?
It’s made me both! I’m making use of the time I have and being very productive. My heart goes out to everyone who is going through a tough time. I hope I can make people feel better through music and offer some kind of hope. Uncertainty is always scary, but we will prevail if we stick together in spirit. Until then, we have ‘The Distance’. We’ll make it through and it won’t break our hearts!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to NINA
Born in Halifax, Sarah Blackwood has been a most striking vocal and visual presence since 1995 when DUBSTAR hit the UK singles charts with ‘Not So Manic Now’, a cover of an obscure and at the time unreleased song by Wakefield band BRICK SUPPLY.
Sarah Blackwood studied Spatial Design at Newcastle University and it was while living in the city that she met Chris Wilkie and Steve Hillier, joining DUBSTAR as their striking lead singer.
Scoring hits under the auspices of OMD, PET SHOP BOYS, ERASURE and NEW ORDER producer Stephen Hague, kitchen sink dramas like ‘Stars’, ‘No More Talk’ and ‘I Will Be Your Girlfriend’ appealed to both electronic music and indie audiences.
DUBSTAR bridged the gap between Synth Britannia and Britpop, opening for ERASURE while also simultaneously being label mates with BLUR, JESUS JONES and SHAMPOO. But after three albums ‘Disgraceful’ ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Make It Better’ on Food Records, with worsening band relations, management tensions and waning audience interest, DUBSTAR disbanded.
In 2002, Blackwood joined multi-instrumentalist Kate Holmes in female synthpop duo TECHNIQUE after original singer Xan Tyler was unavailable for a European tour opening for DEPECHE MODE in Europe. The support slot was a success and led to the pair forming crucial friendships that would help their relaunch as a brand new project.
Morphing into CLIENT and releasing their self-titled debut album in 2003, they initially shunned using their real names, choosing to be mysteriously referred to as Client A and Client B in a ‘1984’ inspired Orwellian twist. Interest in their mysterious allure coincided with the emergence of acts like LADYTRON, MISS KITTIN, BLACK BOX RECORDER and GOLDFRAPP.
A favourite act of Karl Bartos who they opened for at his London ULU gig in 2003, CLIENT became a popular cult draw in Europe and released a further three albums ‘City’, ‘Heartland’ and ‘Command’ before Blackwood officially departed in late 2010, coinciding with a reunion of DUBSTAR.
But despite a well-received 2013 comeback concert at The Lexington in London, things went quiet until Summer 2018 when Blackwood and Wilkie announced they had recorded a new DUBSTAR album as a duo entitled ‘One’. Released in Autumn 2018, it was well-received and considered by some observers to be one of the best albums of the year.
Although best known as the front woman of DUBSTAR and CLIENT, Sarah Blackwood has always been open to collaboration and has lent her charming voice to a number of recordings helmed by artists from Germany, Greece and Canada as well as the UK. Also adept in the art of reinterpretation, among the artists she has covered are TUBEWAY ARMY, PET SHOP BOYS, ADAM & THE ANTS, VISAGE, NEW ORDER, DEPECHE MODE and THE SMITHS.
By way of a Beginner’s Guide to her work, here are eighteen recordings highlighting the varied musical portfolio of Sarah Blackwood, presented in chronological order with a restriction of one track per album project.
DUBSTAR The Day I See You Again (1995)
From DUBSTAR’s debut long player, ‘The Day I See You Again’ featured the immortal line “If the man you’ve grown to be is more Morrison than Morrissey”. Blackwood captured a deeply Northern English cynicism which actually transferred abroad, with the song’s American producer Stephen Hague dusting the tune off for German songstress Claudia Brücken to cover on her reinterpretations album ‘The Lost Are Found’.
Available on the DUBSTAR album ‘Disgraceful’ via Food / EMI Records
One of the B-sides to ‘No More Talk’ and co-written by the late Charles Aznavour, ‘La Bohème’ became the Frenchman’s signature song, telling the tale of a painter recalling his younger years in the Parisian bohemian suburb of Montmartre, hungry yet happy. Blackwood gave a superb interpretation which suited its icy electronic relocation to West Yorkshire.
Available on the DUBSTAR CD single ‘No More Talk’ via Food / EMI Records
DUBSTAR featuring GARY NUMAN Redirected Mail (2000)
Having covered TUBEWAY ARMY’s ‘Everyday I Die’ for the ‘Random’ tribute album, it was now Blackwood’s turn to duet with Gary Numan himself, albeit remotely. “I was in Manchester when we recorded ‘Redirected Mail’” she said, “but Steve and Chris actually went down to Gary’s and sat and had ham and chips with him. They had a right laugh and had a really good time.”
Signing to Mute Records via Andy Fletcher’s Toast Hawaii, CLIENT’s mission statement of “satisfaction guaranteed” also included a striking Cold War chic. “We didn’t know what to wear on tour with DEPECHE MODE” said Blackwood knowing they would be performing in front of partisan Devotees, “if they threw anything at us, we wanted it to be something that was sort of disposable so we thought of the uniforms!”
Available on the CLIENT album ‘Client’ via Toast Hawaii
For their second album, CLIENT got more ambitious by featuring guest vocalists including DEPECHE MODE’s Martin Gore. It was instigated by Blackwood writing him a letter: “Martin had this newly set-up studio and recorded himself. The thing is, when we mixed the two vocals together, that was a moment! I didn’t know how it was going to work but when you heard it, it was like ‘woo!’…it was a bit spine tingling really!”
Available on the CLIENT album ‘City’ via Toast Hawaii
Of this mighty industrialised cover, Ralf Dörper said: “When I first heard ‘Der Amboss’ by VISAGE, I thought ‘what a perfect song for DIE KRUPPS’ – it just needed more sweat, more steel. When DIE KRUPPS were asked to play a few 25-year anniversary shows that I remembered ‘Der Amboss’… and as I was a big CLIENT fan at that time, I thought it would be a good opportunity to ask Fräulein B for assistance in the vocal department”.
To beef up their concert sound, CLIENT expanded to a trio to include bassist Emily Mann aka Client E and exuded an electronic body presence that powerfully complimented Blackwood’s stoic stage persona as Client B. Occasionally and fittingly, they would be joined on drums by Robert Görl from Industrial Godfathers DAF and together they would end the set with their seminal EBM classic ‘Der Mussolini’.
Originally on the self-released CLIENT album ‘Live In Porto’, currently unavailable
Of Greek female duo MARSHEAUX, Blackwood said: “They sort of copied us but it was the biggest form of flattery because they’re such lovely girls! It’s nice to think I’ve inspired something”. So when the two parties toured Germany together in 2008, it was a most appropriate pairing. On their remix of ‘It’s Not Over’, some Hellenic shine was added to the original’s more dystopian demeanour with additional Eurocentric riffage.
Described as “one of my favourite Northern folk songs” and arranged by Chris Wilkie on acoustic guitar, this live solo performance of this NEW ORDER evergreen was part of a set that included versions of CLIENT and DUBSTAR songs as well as THE SMITHS ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’. “I just think a good song will work if you can do it acoustically” Blackwood would later remark.
Originally on the CLIENT B EP ‘Acoustic At The Club Bar & Dining’, currently unavailable
Having tackled new wave pop like ‘White Wedding’ and ‘Xerox’, CLIENT took a diversion and covered Curtis Mayfield’s soultastic ‘Make Me Believe In You’. Co-produced by KILLING JOKE’s Youth who added a more rhythmic energy, things were danced up with an icy edge coming from his frenetic guitar work. This approach more than suited their fourth album’s “brazenly bossy” title of ‘Command’.
Available on the CLIENT album ‘Command’ via Out Of Line
DUBSTAR I’m In Love With A German Film Star (2010)
Although Blackwood was still in CLIENT, the newly reformed DUBSTAR were invited to submit a cover as part of a project for Amnesty International Catalunya. While songs by the late Kirsty MacColl were considered, the trio settled on this 1981 cult classic made famous by THE PASSIONS. While there was to be an emotional reunion concert in Spring 2013, the DUBSTAR’s reformation as a trio was not to last…
Originally on the compilation album ‘Peace’ (V/A) via Amnesty International, currently unavailable
WILLIAM ORBIT featuring SARAH BLACKWOOD White Night (2010)
When things had become uncertain within CLIENT, Blackwood took time out to work on a Rico Conning penned track for William Orbit’s album ‘My Oracle Lives Uptown’ which dated back to their TORCH SONG days. More accessible than some of CLIENT’s offerings but more electronic than DUBSTAR, although her version did not appear on the final tracklisting, her take was a free download.
Originally available as a free download, currently unavailable
SOMAN featuring SARAH BLACKWOOD Blue Monday (2010)
No stranger to cover versions, Blackwood was invited to add her suitably forlorn voice to German producer Kolja Trelle’s version of NEW ORDER’s signature tune. Stephen Hague always felt that Bernard Sumner and Sarah Blackwood would make a perfect duetting partnership so imagine if she had had sung on ‘Tutti Frutti’ instead of Elly Jackson of LA ROUX?
Available on the SOMAN album ‘Noistyle’ via Trisol Music Group
FOTONOVELA featuring SARAH BLACKWOOD Justice (2013)
The concept of FOTONOVELA’s sophomore offering ‘A Ton Of Love’ was to produce a supreme electronic record featuring vocalists from all stages of classic synthpop. The duo recruited Sarah Blackwood and Halifax’s own Queen of electro took FOTONOVELA onto a cloudier but enjoyable hitchhike through the North West of England with the very personal ‘Justice’.
KOISHII & HUSH featuring SARAH BLACKWOOD Rules & Lies (2015)
Blackwood collaborated with progressive house duo KOISHII & HUSH. “Sarah was one of the vocalists we had always wanted to work with. We managed to get in touch with her” said Alex Hush, “She was quite keen on the project and after that initial meeting, we sent Sarah a rough backing track which she wrote and recorded vocals for. We then did some tweaks and additional production on ‘Rules & Lies’ and are thrilled with the final version”.
Available on the KOSHII & HUSH single ‘Rules & Lies’ via Grammaton Recordings
VILE ELECTRODES featuring SARAH BLACKWOOD Captivity In Symmetry (2016)
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK initially described VILE ELECTRODES as “Client B born and raised in the Home Counties fronting Dindisc-era OMD”, so a duet with Anais Neon was perhaps inevitable. Blackwood added a nonchalant almost-spoken vocal to a variation of the gorgeous ‘Twin Peaks’ flavoured ‘Captive In Symmetry’ as part of a bonus CD on their second album ‘In The Shadows Of Monuments’.
RADIO WOLF featuring SARAH BLACKWOOD Rock ‘n’ Roll Forever (2017)
RADIO WOLF is Canadian musician and producer Oliver Blair who remixed ‘It’s Now Over’ and ‘Can You Feel’ under his KINDLE moniker as well as playing guitar on ‘Command’. Now performing with PARALLELS as well as recording in his own right, his debut EP combining electronic music with rock ‘n’ roll featured a stellar cast of female vocalists including Sarah Blackwood on the title song.
Just when it looked like that was it over for DUBSTAR, Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with ‘One’. While Wilkie took on prime songwriting duties, the classic bittersweet aura remained, albeit within a more organic setting. Produced by Youth, the most electronic number was the gorgeous ‘Locked Inside’ with elements of KRAFTWERK creeping in and even TEARS FOR FEARS.
Available on the DUBSTAR album ‘One’ via Northern Writes