German born NINA took the synthpop world by storm, releasing her debut ‘Sleepwalking’ in 2018.
She lent one of her early songs ‘My Mistake’ to a Mercedes-Benz advert, alongside landing support slots with DE/VISION, ERASURE and others.
Clubbing together with Canada’s PARALLELS, she toured America, creating a wild audience eager to hear more from the gifted Berliner.
And so comes ‘Synthian’, not only superbly titled but also delivering a more mature, darker tone to NINA’s repertoire.
The songstress shares the achievement with her collaborator, Laura Fares aka LAU and producers of note such as Oscillian, Richard X, Till Wild and Ricky Wilde. As described by NINA, “‘Synthian’ is the bigger and bolder sister of ‘Sleepwalking’. It’s more mature and daring”.
Indeed the title track is very deep and brooding, with catchy poppy synth line, eloquently dispersed with acute guitar and a longing vocal, preparing the listener to be taken onto a retro journey with a difference. The following ‘Automatic Call’ picks up the tempo quite stunningly, arpeggiating away while carrying the wonderfully produced vocals, to achieve a perfect synth gem.
‘Runaway’ glides over the scales, entering the retro world with ease, showcasing that NINA at her best with some gentle help from Ricky Wilde. A big fan of Wilde’s sister, NINA loved collaborating with her talented brother: “Ricky comes up with the most beautiful melodies and harmonies. I loved working with him. He’s humble and patient”.
‘Unnoticed’ is a romantic cry for love from a lost soul, wrapped in a cosy electronic blanket of greatness, showcasing the German synthpop queen as the owner of the most incredible voice as well as one that can write mesmerising tunes.
‘The Calm Before The Storm’ continues the serene tempo, while ‘The Wire’ brings out those darker, harsher tones; it’s deliciously deep and expresses deeper thoughts.
“It’s about feeling disconnected from the world” she said, “Losing a sense of being human and having a deep desire for the human touch”. One may say the track was written to describe the world of today, where that loss of connection has become more apparent than ever; the synthy pandemic anthem, you could say.
The cute ‘Love Is Blind’ meanders around the retro musicality and layered vocals, while ‘Never Enough’ ushers further nostalgia leading into ‘Gave Up On Us’, whose mesmerising arpeggios are deliciously uplifting; it’s like going back in time, roller-skating along the promenade with a Walkman and pink bubble gum.
The closing and very apt ‘The Distance’, delves into NINA’s personal life, describing her experiences with a long distance relationship. “‘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”.
Indeed the later than anticipated release of the opus, couldn’t have landed at a better time. More placed than it ever would be, NINA wishes to bring some light and hope into the uncertainty of current situation, so difficult for many.
And if your wish was to “make people feel better through music and offer some kind of hope”, then you certainly did just that. A superb album.
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
As with her debut album ‘Sleepwalking’, NINA has created its eagerly awaited follow-up ‘Synthian’ with silent partner Laura Fares aka LAU, while producers Oscillian, Richard X, Till Wild and Ricky Wilde have also put 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.
What is the creative dynamic with Laura Fares aka LAU when you are writing?
We usually listen to a beat (mostly by the incredibly talented Oscillian) and throw out some ideas. It’s usually a lot of “blah blah’s” and “bluh bluh’s” before words start to unfold 😉
We often take words from my poems and turn them into lyrics. I then start recording the idea. 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 vocal 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 with LAU, ‘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!
At this point in time, you are due to open for OLLIE WRIDE in London, surely you two are destined to duet together sometime in the future? 😉
How do you know we haven’t already? 😉
Ollie is great! I have so much respect for him. Truly a one of a kind artist and all around human being.
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
BEF finally played the first of two special concerts featuring an impressive line-up of guest vocalists to celebrate the three volume high-tech covers series ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’ and in particular, the latest release subtitled ‘Dark’.
Announced on stage by its musical director Martyn Ware as “the last ever BEF concerts”, the production company made its live debut as part of a dual weekender with its most successful subsidiary HEAVEN 17 in Autumn 2011.
Taking place at The Roundhouse in London, it was a gloriously ambitious outing which included the likes of Sandie Shaw, Boy George, Kim Wilde and Midge Ure. Tonight’s show was in the slightly more intimate confines of Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
It provided an opportunity to showcase a number of songs that had not been aired at the last BEF show. It is always to their credit that the BEF / HEAVEN 17 umbrella always give value for money to their loyal followers by varying setlists, something which other acts from the Synth Britannia era who still tour could learn from.
Naturally, Glenn Gregory opened proceedings with a song that could be seen as 2013’s electronic music scene theme tune ‘It Was a Very Good Year’.
With its eerie HUMAN LEAGUE meets THE FUGEES breakbeat arrangement, it was a fine opening that reflected Martyn Ware’s electronic roots with his love of contemporary soul and classic songwriting.
But there were surprises from the off…
First guest Andy Bell from ERASURE gave an emotive rendition of QUEEN’s ‘Love Of My Life’ in addition to his contribution to the impressively diverse ‘Dark’, KATE BUSH’s ‘Breathing’. Then one of the ‘Dark’ album’s best numbers ‘Don’t Wanna Know’ got its premiere courtesy of COMMUNARDS singer Sarah Jane-Morris.
The contrast of her deep blues with the blippy electronics came over like a darker gothic version of YAZOO. Slightly more laid back but no less dramatic, her version of ‘Family Affair’ also highlighted the funkier standpoints of the BEF sound.
HEAVEN 17’s contemporaries SCRITTI POLITTI’s Green Gartside and PROPAGANDA’s Claudia Brücken took their turns on the stage with Green reprising his raspy tones on ‘Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time’ and ‘I Don’t Know Why I Love You’. Meanwhile Claudia (who didn’t actually appear on the ‘Dark’ album as she was recording her own covers LP ‘The Lost Are Found’) gave a beautifully Germanic edged realisation of ‘The Look of Love’ that recalled ‘Felt Mountain’ era GOLDFRAPP and a finger-clickin’ good ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’.
But there were a trio of amazingly heartfelt performances; first Glenn Gregory performed ‘Party Fears Two’ which he first sung at this very same venue in 2007 for the Billy Mackenzie 50th Birthday Tribute Concert.
It was a fitting remembrance of the late vocalist from THE ASSOCIATES who sang on Volumes 1 and 2. Trained undertaker and singer/songwriter David J Roch gave his Moroder-esque spacey disco take of Bill Withers’ ‘Same Love’, one of the stand-out tracks on ‘Dark’.
However, the biggest surprise of the evening came when regular HEAVEN 17 / BEF live band member Berenice Scott stepped out from behind her keyboards for a dazzling cinematic rendition of BLONDIE’s ‘Picture This’.
Endearingly sung by “possibly the sexiest lady ever to have got behind a synthesizer”, the crowd was aghast with her vocal abilities; it came as such a surprise that it almost stole the show. The extremely modest Miss Scott though had actually ventured back to her keys before the lengthy song’s conclusion, so didn’t quite feel the full weight of applause that acknowledged her performance.
On the final stretch, The Swiss Family Wilde took to the stage with Kim joined by her niece Scarlett and brother Ricky for a Motown triple tribute. Beginning with the magnificent but little known Stevie Wonder composition ‘Every Time I See You I Go Wild’, the spine tingling industrial backdrop suited Ms Wilde’s vampish demeanour. Then it was a pair of Hitsville classics that featured on the first volume of ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’ series ‘There’s A Ghost in My House’ and ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’ which Kim had a hit with herself back in 1986.
With Tamla influences very much dominating this section of the show, it was appropriate that to finish was an extended workout of ‘Temptation’. Centred around the band’s two backing vocalists Billie Godfrey and Kelly Barnes, the pair had already demonstrated their power particularly on their respective interpretations of ‘Smalltown Boy’ and ‘Just Walk In My Shoes’. The spectacle of the pair engaged in a battle of the disco lung smiths was a wondrous delight
This evening of fun and frolics was a marvellous achievement on the part of Martyn Ware and the BEF band Asa Bennett, Julian Crampton and Berenice Scott for their abilities and professionalism in learning and playing so many songs for effectively a one-off event. It is a shame that there will be no more BEF events such as these but they are an extremely big logistical undertaking. But then again, for anyone who attended this or the Sheffield Academy show, or The Roundhouse back in 2011, these will be special memories to be cherished for a long time.
It Was A Very Good Year (featuring Glenn Gregory)
Breathing (featuring Andy Bell)
Love Of My Life (featuring Andy Bell)
Don’t Want to Know (featuring Sarah Jane Morris)
Family Affair (featuring Sarah Jane Morris)
Smalltown Boy (featuring Billie Godfrey)
Free (featuring Billie Godfrey)
Co-Pilot The Pilot (featuring Kelly Barnes)
Walk In My Shoes (featuring Kelly Barnes)
Party Fears Two (featuring Glenn Gregory)
Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time (featuring Green Gartside)
I Don’t Know Why I Love You (featuring Green Gartside)
Picture This (featuring Berenice Scott)
The Look Of Love (featuring Claudia Brücken)
These Boots Were Made For Walking (featuring Claudia Brücken)
Every Time I See You Go Wild (featuring Kim Wilde)
There’s A Ghost In My House (featuring Kim Wilde)
You Keep Me Hanging On (featuring Kim Wilde)
Boys Keep Swinging (featuring Glenn Gregory)
Temptation (featuring Glenn Gregory, Billie Godfrey and Kelly Barnes)