Tag: Rob Dean (Page 1 of 2)

ROB DEAN: The Quiet Life Interview

Although JAPAN had something of a shaky start with their first two albums ‘Adolescent Sex’ and ‘Obscure Alternatives’ in 1978, the seeds of an more electronically assisted direction were sown on the Giorgio Moroder produced single ‘Life In Tokyo’ in early 1979.

Now acknowledged as the bridge between growly funk-rock JAPAN and the more familiar, mannered and artier version of the group recognised by most today, ‘Life In Tokyo’ was a key interim milestone in their career as the first recording that the band were happy with.

The classic quintet line-up of JAPAN with David Sylvian, Mick Karn, Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Rob Dean had found enormous success in the country of Japan as well as having more moderate but significant sales in Holland and Canada. So their German-owned label Ariola Hansa persevered, while manager Simon Napier-Bell was still convinced he had group of future stars on his hands.

For their third album ‘Quiet Life’, front man David Sylvian adopted a more crooning baritone style of singing. Meanwhile Mick Karn’s distinctively fluid fretless bass was pushed right up to the front, intricately complemented in the rhythm section by drummer Steve Jansen. Taking in a more atmospheric European approach compared to their earlier work, guitarist Rob Dean and keyboardist Richard Barbieri provided the exquisite textural backdrop.

Produced by John Punter who had worked on ROXY MUSIC’s ‘Country Life’, JAPAN had found a willing conspirator in the studio who not only believed in them, but who they got on well with on a personal level. The Englishman loved the band so much, he even went to tour with them to mix their live sound. But as the quintet embraced synthesizers, sequencers, E-Bows, muzak and orchestrations, some critics accused JAPAN of being a lavish Roxy rip-off.

‘Quiet Life’ was issued in December 1979 in Holland, Japan and Germany before being given a UK release in January 1980.

Although the album peaked at No72 in the UK, it was a major step forward as a quality timeless work that all five members of the band were collectively satisfied with.

Despite their melancholic outlook on life and their detached demeanour, the public eventually caught up with JAPAN when their style was embraced by the New Romantic movement, with the title song even belatedly becoming a UK hit when released as a single in September 1981.

‘Quiet Life’ consolidated JAPAN’s success in Japan itself, reaching the Top30. Their audience also expanded in Europe, pointing them in the right direction and towards Virgin Records who released the albums ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ and ‘Tin Drum’ before the band finally disbanded in late 1982 after their biggest ever concert tour which took in the UK, Europe and the Far East.

With a new remaster of ‘Quiet Life’ by Miles Showell at Abbey Road and boxed set due, Rob Dean kindly gave an eye witness account into the making of an album that still stands up 41 years after its UK release.

Between the ‘Obscure Alternatives’ and ‘Quiet Life’ albums, JAPAN were in a state of transition from the growly glam funk of ‘Adolescent Sex’ to the mannered artful combo people remember them for today. How conscious had this been as David Sylvian’s voice completely changed, while Mick Karn came to the jazzy fore with his fretless bass playing and your own guitar style moved from rock to something more textural?

Well I think a band owes it to itself (and its audience) to evolve and grow. The first album was basically a band in its infancy attempting to make a cohesive record with a large list of original songs that had been accrued up to that point. The second was a band more accustomed to playing as a live unit and finding its identity with its newest material.

There is always I think an indication of the direction a band will take somewhere from one album to the next. For ‘Adolescent Sex’, it was ‘Communist China’, for ‘Obscure Alternatives’ it was ‘The Tenant’. It all comes down to influences and what the band was generally listening to moving forward.

By the time of creating the material for ‘Quiet Life’, it was KRAFTWERK, Eno, Moroder, Peter Gabriel and Bowie of course to name a few. So to answer your question, I think we all felt that ‘Quiet Life’ had to be drastically different to what preceded it and the band as musicians were finding their own respective voices. Clearly Mick’s approach to bass and David’s change in vocal style were strong motivators in this. For myself (and Steve and Rich I’m sure), it felt like a logical progression also.

Photo by Patrick Lichfield

‘European Son’ (which didn’t actually get an official release until 1980 on the Japanese edition of ‘I Second That Emotion’) and ‘Life In Tokyo’ were two songs recorded in that interim period but both are quite different to the majority of the material on the ‘Quiet Life’ album, how was it finding your feet as a band with a new direction?

Obviously ‘Life In Tokyo’ was seen as a “one off” with Giorgio Moroder at the helm. Had it been a big hit as was hoped by all involved at the time, then perhaps it would have been a logical step to have him produce the third album. If he had, then I’m pretty sure it would be quite different. For one thing, he pushed for co-rights on tracks that he produced.

‘European Son’ was in some ways a song that would suggest that Giorgio wasn’t needed to create an electro-disco song. The reason it didn’t get released until much later was purely because it was never totally finished. Live, we played it in a few different incarnations but I did not record any part I was happy with on it, and that is mainly why. I was concerned foremost about not creating ‘Life In Tokyo version II’. So that one was a bit of a struggle.

As far as “finding your feet with a new direction”, the notion doesn’t really enter into it. You don’t really think about it, other than creating parts for songs that you feel fit and that you are all happy with just as you always do.

Can you remember your thoughts when the band were presented with the songs for ‘Quiet Life’?

Most were presented in the rehearsal studio as they always had been, with David playing a chord structure on guitar and us all starting to build from that. I do remember clearly that he and Rich had been working from home on the germ of an idea which was the song ‘Alien’ (which was at one time going to be the album title, until we learned that Ridley Scott’s film of the same name was due for release!) and in this embryonic stage, it was very different – a slow, brooding, somewhat uncompromising piece. I guess we all felt it wasn’t working and so it was shelved and resurrected in a far more palatable form later on.

In terms of arrangement, what was discussed between the band members? What was the dynamic at the time?

I remember we were in a cab on our way to a first meeting with John Punter and David Sylvian mentioned for the first time using orchestration on a couple of tracks. This was a surprise, but not in any way a negative one. It felt right, considering the songs that we were creating and their more epic scope. As far as general arrangements, we all knew when we were onto something that worked I’d say. We were all very positive about what we were doing and where the new material was going.

How crucial was producer John Punter in the realisation of the ‘Quiet Life’ album?

When we met John Punter, we all hit it off straight away. His warmth and enthusiasm was infectious and from our first meeting, we had nothing but positive thoughts about the forthcoming album sessions.

He made the entire experience a relaxed and enjoyable one for everyone involved, and I think that comes across in what was produced.

John Punter co-produced ROXY MUSIC’s ‘Country Life’ but apparently Bryan Ferry wasn’t too impressed about him working with JAPAN?

He told us that he bumped into Bryan Ferry at AIR later on and was berated for working with us. Whether in jest or not, I can’t say. I guess Bryan Ferry must have thought we were invading his territory or something.

What was it like to work at AIR Studios in terms of atmosphere, environment and equipment? Was Richard Barbieri quite lost in the range of keyboards and synthesizers that were available there for example?

AIR had a wonderful atmosphere. The four studio complex meant there were always interesting artists to brush shoulders with and converse with upstairs in the cafe and pool table area. It was impeccably run and a very positive environment to work in. The studios themselves were all state-of-the art. Despite what you might think, there were not banks of musical equipment to be used other than grand pianos, though. Any instruments other than our own would be rented from outside.

It was cool to go to the nearby pub for a break and be sharing a pint with the likes of Chris Thomas, and John Cale… yes, even David Sylvian went to the pub! I think it helped that John Punter was so well-known and liked around AIR.

THE PRETENDERS were there recording their debut album. Chrissie Hynde was very nice to us but the rest were kind of jerks. One day we arrived at the studio and the guitarist, James Honeyman-Scott had left us a bag full of cheap make up. He thought it was funny. We caught him giggling with his band mates about it, like kids playing a prank in the playground…

Would you be recording the songs one by one, or would there be several things going on at once depending on mood and ideas?

Generally the aim would be to get a definitive take of the drums first, then bass, and so on. Some days would be designated for a particular song and some for a particular instrument, it varied. If there was a problem with one, we would move onto another.

The title track was pivotal and is now held up as an iconic electronic pop single. Can you remember how the song developed and how everyone worked their parts in, because it does sound very much like a joint effort where everyone is firing on all cylinders?

‘Quiet Life’ was pretty much totally realised in our dingy rehearsal room in Willesden. I think the bass part was very integral to how the song developed. As was expected, Mick and Steve worked very tightly together. Sometimes we left them to work on their parts for a while and then added to that. I think the sequencer was part of the strong foundation too. The E-Bow solo was improvised in the studio, but the rest of the guitar parts were already established.

‘Fall In Love With Me’ featured a blistering E-Bowed lead line from yourself, how did you find adapting to this technique, had it opened up a whole new world for you?

Well actually, there is no E-Bow on that track. The verse guitar part is distorted fuzz guitar. But I was however very happy to discover the E-Bow. For a while, I was endeavouring to create thick sustained lead lines with mixed results. Invariably when recorded, they would sound trebly and thin when placed into a track. The E-Bow eliminated this. It was as if it was made for me.

Both ‘Fall In Love With Me’ and ‘Halloween’ had these fading endings to when the band stops playing, had there been any debates as to whether to have them like “live band endings” at full volume or were the fades intentional as a concept?

Some songs are created to end and others not. When recorded, those didn’t have distinct endings but kind of kept steaming ahead. In the mixing stage, the idea of long fades seemed appropriate for both. It just so happened that they just about made it to the end of the takes! And within the context of the album, they worked in respect to the start of the next track. In the case of ‘Fall In Love With Me’, it’s just one of those driving, insistent rhythms that as a musician you are enjoying so much you don’t want it to end, so a fade eliminates that conundrum. Plus, John Punter loved a long fade!

Although lyrically, many of the songs on ‘Quiet Life’ have this doomed romantic demeanour about them, ‘Halloween’ was about the Cold War aftermath of Berlin and the rockiest track on the album? It screams rather like the film of the same name…

Well I think the title conjures up darkness and menace and therefore there needs to be some urgency to the guitars too. A scream seemed appropriate. Even the auto-wah guitar figure in the middle section tied with the synth emphasizes that.

‘Alien’ allowed to you play at being Robert Fripp, had he become a big influence on you by this time? Who were the other guitarists you may have looked to for inspiration on the ‘Quiet Life’ album?

When you have a new toy, you naturally want to play with it! In this case there were two, the E-Bow and my new Gibson RD Artist guitar with its Moog designed active electronics which proved to be a match made in heaven for me. Both very instrumental in the new sounds I was creating. My strongest influences then were naturally Fripp, but also John McGeoch (I was a huge MAGAZINE fan), Ricky Gardiner, Carlos Alomar and Earl Slick.

You didn’t play on the en Français piano mood piece ‘Despair’, so what happens when you are told that your contribution is not required for a track?

I saw ‘Despair’ as something of a companion piece to ‘The Tenant’ from ‘Obscure Alternatives’. I wasn’t instructed to not play on it, it was my own decision. I am always of the mind that if it is not essentially necessary, then why contribute? I didn’t want to play some cursory E-Bow if the piece didn’t require it and that’s how I felt in this case.

Often when I wasn’t needed, I would be reading quietly in a corner somewhere or perhaps playing Space Invaders upstairs. Sometimes if it was anticipated that this would be a lengthy period, then I would catch a film matinee.

In the case of ‘Despair’, there was a bit of labour over Mick’s efforts in trying to play bowed double bass on it. Although he was unquestionably a talented multi-instrumentalist, in this case it defeated him and an outside session player was brought in. Memorably Kate Bush was in Studio 1 and invited to listen to a mix of it by Jon Jacobs, the tape op who had worked with her on ‘Never For Ever’. She sat cross-legged on the floor while we all sat around quietly and when it was over, in typical KB fashion she said “Oh wow, it’s so big, isn’t it?”

Photo by Patrick Lichfield

The ‘Quiet Life’ album includes a reinterpretation of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND’s ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ but that wasn’t originally recorded during these sessions, but appears to originate from the same time as ‘European Son’ at DJM Studios? How did the decision to do a cover get made? Did you like the song yourself?

I was of course familiar with the song from THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. I had seen Nico live a couple of times and loved her voice, too. As a band, it was not unusual for us to take someone else’s song and adapt it and this was no exception. I personally was very happy with how it turned out. I think we changed it up sufficiently to put our mark on it. It was way better than Ferry’s rather average version, which came much later, I might add!

The ‘Quiet Life’ album was notable for the use of an orchestra on ‘In Vogue’ and ‘The Other Side Of Life’. The end results were quite beautiful but how was the challenge for the band of integrating your parts into this classical template?

In both cases, the band tracks were complete (except the finished vocal which would be added last). So it was not a case of us adapting to the orchestral arrangements but the exact reverse. Ann O’Dell was given a rough mix of both to write her score around.

So in the case of ‘The Other Side Of Life’, for instance, I think the already recorded instruments would have influenced the feel and approach that Ann O’Dell took with the score. The orchestra played off the syncopation of the bass and drums in the long instrumental outro quite noticeably too.

It is on record that ‘Quiet Life’ was the first album that all five band members were totally satisfied with… in an album of great moments, do you have a particular favourite moment?

I think it was actually standing in the studio while the orchestra were playing on ‘The Other Side Of Life’. Listening to an orchestra playing live to the music you helped create is a real buzz, I can tell you. It took those tracks to an entirely other level. I almost got a stiffy! As a track it was a new high mark of maturity for us.

The instrumental ‘A Foreign Place’ was recorded during the album sessions and shelved, although it came out as a B-side in 1981. Was there any other material that you worked on like ‘Can’t Get Enough’?

Like what? We never had a song with that title! But to answer your question, the band were always very low on unreleased material. Basically what was recorded was officially released… eventually.

The ‘Quiet Life’ album cover photo session with Fin Costello saw the band captured behind glass, yet the finished artwork only had David Sylvian on the front! A sign?

The original concept for the cover when it was still titled ‘Alien’ was of five fold-out panels with each panel a photo of each of us with our own concept. I don’t think there was ever any doubt that David’s would be the front panel. I’m sure that’s what Simon Napier-Bell and Hansa had in mind. Plus from ‘Obscure Alternatives’ onwards, Fin Costello was always putting him front and centre. By that point, it was already a given so no surprise to anyone.

So you had this great album in the can but the UK label doesn’t want to release any singles off it, not even the magnificent ‘Quiet Life’ title song, and a cover version of ‘I Second That Emotion’ was released instead. Was this a Simon Napier-Bell intervention? What did the band think?

I wouldn’t say it was SNB’s doing. As a creative entity where the band was concerned, he was a bit of a non-starter and by that time, his input was somewhat minimal. All he could do was suggest and that mostly fell on deaf ears. I’m sure it was Hansa being desperate after the lack of success with ‘Life In Tokyo’ which must have seemed like a no-brainer. By that point they were panicking and really had next to no idea how to market us.

So a song that people ought to be familiar was all they had to relate to (despite rumours to the contrary, the song was our choice, however). After all, they were all BONEY M and Amii Stewart. They didn’t have a clue. And I think us being associated with that label didn’t help our credibility either.

‘Quiet Life’ was undoubtedly JAPAN’s breakthrough record, how did you feel when the album was embraced by the New Romantic movement and then the title song was a belated hit single in 1981?

Unfortunately having left and living in California by that time, I was as you can imagine somewhat removed from that. Still, you always have to believe in yourself and it wasn’t a surprise. It was, of course, well-deserved and definitely not before time. I was proud to have been a part of it. It would have been nice to have performed just once on ‘Top Of The Pops’ but I still have enough good memories of that time to keep with me.

What are your thoughts on the ‘Quiet Life’ album now with this deluxe reissue, does it still trigger any emotions 40 years on?

For many many years, anything that referred to those times felt like I was talking about a different person. Of course recently, I’ve been recording again and so I’ve grown to be more comfortable with that period of my life and in a small way, I have been assisting BMG with this reissue. I just want it to be the best it can under the circumstances and something the fans will appreciate. To me at this time, it’s all about the fans and their continued support. It’s something I am very proud of. Six people working towards the same goal. A time of great adventure, creativity and happiness. I’ll stop now. There’s something in my eye…

Of course, this era of JAPAN have their legacy, most notably in the form of DURAN DURAN, do have you any thoughts? 😉

I like to think that without us, there might not be a TALK TALK… but why does everyone keep referring to a character played by the actor Milo O’Shea in ‘Barbarella’? I don’t get it…


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Rob Dean

‘Quiet Life’ is reissued by BMG on 5th March 2021 as a 3CD+LP Abbey Road half-speed remastered deluxe edition boxed set featuring the original album and non-album tracks ‘Life In Tokyo’, ‘European Son’, ‘I Second That Emotion’ and ‘A Foreign Place’, as well as the full 1980 ‘Live at Budokan’ concert

Pre-order direct from Burning Shed at https://burningshed.com/artists/japan-artist

The official JAPAN store at https://japan.tmstor.es/ offers an exclusive bonus ‘Life In Tokyo’ CD EP with pre-orders of the bundle only

http://www.nightporter.co.uk/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Fin Costello except where credited
19th January 2021

ROBERT DEAN & MARTIN BIRKE Triptych+

A triptych is defined as “a set of three associated artistic, literary, or musical works intended to be appreciated together”.

Described as “An engaging mixture of dark atmospherics, pulsating electronics and imaginative textural guitar”, ‘Triptych+’ is the expanded mini-album from Robert Dean and Martin Birke.

Initially released on Bandcamp in 2019, its four tracks explore the more soundscape-inclined directions of notable guitarists like Manuel Göttsching, Michael Brook and in particular Robert Fripp.

Robert Dean is best known as having been a member of JAPAN who played guitar on all their albums up to ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ before moving on to work with Gary Numan and Sinead O’Connor. In a particularly rejuvenated return to music, this reissue of ‘Triptych+’ comes just a few months after the release of ‘Dimensions’, the debut long player from his more song-based project LIGHT OF DAY.

Meanwhile, Martin Birke is a former drummer turned electronic musician who as GENRE PEAK has worked with Dean’s former bandmates Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Mick Karn, as well as avant garde trumpeter Jon Hassell who collaborated with David Sylvian on ‘Brilliant Trees’ and ‘Words With The Shaman’.

Dean is a noted exponent of E-bow, a hand-held battery powered device patented in 1978 that opened up the possibilities of the electric guitar. By vibrating a string to create infinite sustain and high harmonics similar to feedback, the E-bow challenged players into introducing new techniques and inventive ideas while using the traditional six string.

‘Locust Storm’ captures its title with a flock of E-bowed echo locks over deep drones before steadily morphing into an understated percussive presence reminiscent of FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON ambient offshoot AMORPHOUS ANDROGYNOUS.

Continuing the use of repeats, ‘Amber Field’ is superb with the captivating soundscape reminiscent Robert Fripp’s work with Brian Eno on 2004’s ‘The Equatorial Stars’ and its crisp minimalist structure also recalling ‘Drawn From Life’, Eno’s earlier collaboration with J Peter Schwalm.

Based around an electronic sequence, ‘Avigation’ is gently rhythmic with Dean’s virtuoso passages providing bite as Birke builds his patterns before a pulsing synth bass leads into a tense section which is all the more urgent in its realisation.

Over 11 minutes, ‘Guidance Is Internal’ is the addition to the original ‘Triptych’ that sees layers of infinite sustain over an icy plate of hypnotic shimmer that moves into an otherworldly drift suddenly woken by a synthetic noise mantra at its climax.

At around 31 minutes in length, ‘Triptych+’ is an intriguing set of aural sculptures and sound paintings. Fitting nicely into the catalogue of experimental instrumental adventures by former JAPAN members, it will find favour with listeners who enjoy an occasional trek into the world of imaginary spaces and environmental escapism.


‘Triptych+’ is released by Last Word Music on 14th August 2020 and available on CD from Burning Shed at https://burningshed.com/store/lastwordmusic/robert-dean-and-martin-birke_triptych-plus_cd or Bandcamp at https://robertdeanmartinbirke.bandcamp.com/releases where downloads are available as well

https://www.facebook.com/lastwordmusiclabel


Text by Chi Ming Lai
10th August 2020, 3rd September 2020

LIGHT OF DAY Interview

LIGHT OF DAY is the new musical vehicle of one-time JAPAN member Rob Dean in partnership with Costa Rican singer / songwriter Isaac Moraga.

With his skilled fretwork, Rob Dean featured prominently on JAPAN’s first four albums ‘Adolescent Sex’, ‘Obscure Alternatives’, ‘Quiet Life’ and ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ as well as the standalone Giorgio Moroder produced single ‘Life In Tokyo’.

After stints working with Gary Numan, Sinéad O’Connor and ABC while moving between the US, the UK, and Australia, he eventually settled for a more idyllic life in Costa Rica, becoming a respected ornithologist and illustrator.

The debut LIGHT OF DAY album is the eclectic ‘Dimensions’ and marks Rob Dean’s return to music after more than 20 years. The self-produced record was conceived over a two year period and features ambient guitar-based soundscapes, deep expansive song structures, melodic rock and perhaps not surprisingly, the rhythmic flavours of the Central American surroundings it was made in.

Having given one of the site’s most popular interviews in its history reminiscing about his time in JAPAN, Rob Dean kindly chatted about LIGHT OF DAY and the making of ‘Dimensions’…

What was the catalyst for LIGHT OF DAY and how did its style emerge?

Originally Isaac came to me, (I knew him through a friend), and asked me to produce an album for him.

I agreed, without really knowing what I was letting myself in for and from the start, I approached it with a good deal of trepidation as it had been so long since I had done any work of any degree of intensity in a recording studio. But the idea nonetheless intrigued me enough to stick with it and after a couple of false starts, we entered the studio.

As preparation, Isaac played some vague themes on guitar for me one afternoon at my house. It wasn’t very developed at all, little more than a series of musical themes but I liked his ideas and it made me more animated about the project. I also didn’t want to have very much planned before starting the recordings. I always did work best with more or less a clean slate.

Anyway, once in the studio it soon became clear that it was going to be a project for the both of us and ideas came flooding out. Straight away concepts were formed and the old comfort I gained from being in the recording studio environment came flooding back. We wanted a series of tracks that evolved, some circular, others arriving at an entirely different end. We wouldn’t concentrate on standard song structures either. Ultimately, we wanted it to be a positive journey for the listener.

How would you describe the creative dynamic with Isaac Moraga and how it compares with the other combos that you have been part of?

Working alongside Isaac is probably the easiest partnership I’ve ever had. Our ideas, although ostensibly coming from different places really had the same aims and whichever ideas we came up with, the other understood and went along with. It was quite uncanny, considering we really didn’t know each other that well. The majority of my past experiences in the studio, with a few exceptions, were either working with strong-minded people who had their own agenda (which I was required to comply with, of course), or equally strong egos that lacked direction (yes, you know who you are!). I’m happy to say that this in comparison was a walk in the park.

The album seems infused with the feel of bands like TOY MATINEE and JELLYFISH with an almost pop/prog approach to the arrangements. Were there any particular influences that you brought to the project? And how did these differ from Isaac’s?

I’m not familiar with the first band you mention, but I loved the first JELLYFISH album. There are certainly pop elements and prog elements. Personally there’s 50-odd years of influences swimming about in my brain and some inevitably surfaced at some point during these recordings.

THE BEATLES have been and always will be a strong influence for me as they are I know for Isaac too. Fripp and Eno soundscapes are a clear influence for me personally and the fact that TALK TALK are constantly on my home playlist, I would have to mention them too.

Over time I have ‘educated’ Isaac to a fair selection of stuff he wasn’t too aware of before. His own influences range from THE CURE and BJÖRK to 90s punk bands, the Argentinian band SODA STEREO and their leader Gustavo Cerati and Frank Zappa, which is where we meet some more common ground. So either way, you have two adventurous souls, both with strong pop sensibilities.

‘Dimensions’ is recorded using a band with live drums and percussion on most tracks, how did you find the process in the studio? Was the production quite straightforward?

As I said before, we really started with not much more than the bare bones of an idea for each track. The album was recorded in two blocks, over 6 months apart. There was an ‘organic’ feel to the entire project. Keyboards for instance, although we knew they would be quite an integral part of the album were the last to be added without a clear idea as to what they would be.

Most of the electric guitar parts were made up on the spot. So it was pretty much the same with the drums and bass, but everything came together remarkably quickly. I would say bass parts took longest mostly because we both had a pretty clear idea what we wanted and sometimes that was harder to explain.

The track ‘Find the Light’ started with live drums and bass guitar but later we opted to eschew these for a drum loop and synth bass.

Conversely ‘The Vastness’ revolves around a recorded drum loop which fades in and out which Isaac felt really strongly about from the beginning and I understood his vision.

There is, as to be expected, a Latin feel to a number of the grooves. How does playing with that rhythmic feel differ to the Asian and African drumming of Steve Jansen?

The only track that we consciously saw as having a Latin feel was ‘Still Time’ which we knew we wanted to evolve from a simple Peruvian Charrango motif into a full blown rock epic. The basic rhythm is a cumbia, a very popular Costa Rican dance rhythm. We really just wanted to turn that tradition upside down and on its head!

The track ‘Harlequin’s Carnival’ had been lying around since the 80s-something I’d recorded on 4-track with Roger Mason of MODELS and Numan fame (we were both in the short-lived ILLUSTRATED MAN). We decided to rework that, and the carnival aspect seemed to work with a somewhat Latin rhythm. It wasn’t really a conscious effort to make it this way.

As for difference in drumming styles, you just adapt to what the drummer and / or percussionist has to offer, I think. I would say invariably you find they deliver something you hadn’t really thought about. Whichever drummer I have worked with in the past or the present has brought something of themselves to the track and we were always open to try any of the musicians’ ideas.

Was there improvisation, especially the interlude pieces? 

Apart from the aforementioned ‘Harlequin’s Carnival’, everything was for the most part improvised from the germ of an original idea or two, arrangement-wise. We liked the idea of having fairly short instrumental ‘breathing spaces’ within the context of the album.

These would basically start with a simple guitar motif which we would improvise around. They would be pieces that really didn’t require vocal embellishments but would be strong on atmosphere and in their own way would be just as integral a part of the whole.

How did you come to work with Ed Buller on the remix of ‘Suddenly’?

I first met Ed when I was based in LA and he played keyboards for THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS. We became friends and later, in London we lived in the same Hackney neighbourhood and so we hung out socially a lot. I always liked his productions with SUEDE, so I asked him to mix for us. Originally we’d hoped he could mix several tracks but he was just too busy working with Hans Zimmer at the time. We’re just glad we got him to do the one. Perhaps on later projects we can find the time for him to do more – I certainly hope so.

‘Doll’ appears to have elements of THE BLUE NILE despite its quite lively percussive backdrop?

Yes, it does, somehow. Purely coincidental. I think it comes from respect. Again, all made up on the spot. Of all the tracks, this came together the quickest. The bass again, took the longest. In hindsight I would love to have recorded live strings on it but it was beyond our budget. It was incredible how Marco, the keyboard player and Pachi, the drummer instinctively knew what to play on this track. Even the mix just fell into place….

Much of the guitar work is textural, using E-Bow and loops?

Yes on most of the tracks there is an element of atmospheric guitar somewhere or the occasional loop. This, I think is one of the key factors which holds the album together and it’s also a strong part of me as a guitarist and arranger, I realise now. But, I think I should state that in no way do I see this as a ‘guitar album’. Yes, there are plenty of guitars, (since both Isaac and I play), but mostly as you say it’s textures rather than guitar solos and riffing. I want to make that clear!

How have you found attempts to develop the trusty six string technologically over the years from guitar synths, the SynthAxe and the keytar? What had been your experience of these?

In the early JAPAN days, I tried using a SynthAxe on one or two tracks of the debut album ’Adolescent Sex’.

I also tried to work with the Roland G303 at a later point. In those days, the triggering was less than great and I was not that happy with the results of either. I used a remote keyboard with Gary Numan in the US too – but under duress and as minimally as possible, I managed to limit it to just one performance of ‘Cars’ on the Merv Griffin show – don’t bother trying to find it, it’s not available, honest!

Over time, the concept of a guitar triggering synth sounds never really appealed. Now, with the advancement of effects technology, I honestly don’t see the need to use one. I think above all, it’s important for the guitar to retain its own voice, however heavily treated, which can thankfully be more varied than ever now.

What happened to the cover of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ that had been previewed? Why did you choose this one out of all of THE BEATLES catalogue?

Originally we were happy enough with our version of the song to include it on the album but with time restrictions, we couldn’t allow 13 tracks on the vinyl disc so we decided to take it off. It is available as a digital download at the moment, though. It’s possible we may release it in some other format in the future.

As a lifetime fan of THE BEATLES, it always seems natural for me to revisit their catalogue. I saw this as one of theirs that is most open to reinterpretation and I could envision it working within our album’s structure. I had a fair idea in my head what I wanted it to sound like. Above all, I have always maintained that with any recording of a cover version, you must do something else with it. I don’t see the point of doing a cover that sounds like the original and I think ours is different enough to meet that criteria. At least I hope so!

What are your own personal highlights from ‘Dimensions’?

The most successful tracks for me are ‘Dimensions, ’Doll’, ’Harlequin’s Carnival’, ’Naive’ and ‘Escape’ but I am genuinely proud of all of it. I figured after being away from ‘the scene’ for so long, I had something to prove. Hopefully the music bears this out.

‘Dimensions’ is being stocked by Burning Shed, the retail platform of Tim Bowness from NO-MAN, do you see him as a kindred spirit?

I don’t know Tim personally, but I’m very happy that he and Burning Shed agreed to handle our album. Yes I suppose in a way, he could be regarded as a kindred spirit. To a certain extent I do see similarities between our approach and his various projects, musically. I just see it as an ideal platform for us.

Does your day job influence your music in any ways?

Well, there are no tropical bird song recordings on it if that’s what you mean….! I don’t think it does other than a heightened consciousness about our environment due to where we both live, the air we breathe and how we interpret that through our music. ’Dimensions’, without getting deeply into it, is really about searching for answers and exploring possibilities. It’s definitely a journey, above all else. The natural world does play its part in some way, I suppose.

What are the long term plans for the project? Any live work, current situation depending?

It all depends how the album is received, certainly as far as the possibilities of live work are concerned. But right now, live work is a big question mark for all of us anyway, isn’t it?

All going well, I would only consider it in some form if the demand warrants it. Someone suggested we video a live show and post it online – that’s a reasonable option I suppose.

We did play one gig at an open air festival here in my home town last year which was an eye-opener in many ways. Like the album itself, it was something of an experiment. Other than that, we will consider more recording when the time seems right.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Rob Dean

‘Dimensions’ is released by LOD Recordings / Last Word Music, available as a translucent amber vinyl LP from https://burningshed.com/light-of-day_dimensions_amber-vinyl

The album is also available as a CD from https://burningshed.com/light-of-day_dimensions_cd

‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ can be obtained as a standalone download from LIGHT OF DAY’s Bandcamp at https://lightofdaycr.bandcamp.com/track/tomorrow-never-knows

https://www.facebook.com/groups/teamlightofday/

https://www.facebook.com/lastwordmusiclabel/

https://open.spotify.com/album/7xtFNlj9vApAmlMWuitAk7


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Interview by Chi Ming Lai and Ian Ferguson
3rd June 2020

10 Years of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK – ANOTHER ANNIVERSARY RETROSPECTIVE

Paul Boddy, freelance producer, musician and writer looks back on ten years of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK.

I had known Chi Ming Lai previously via another now defunct website which I used to contribute a variety of bootleg remixes of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and DEPECHE MODE. Once we were on each other’s radars and had moved on, I was very flattered when Chi asked me to start contributing to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK.

One of the first pieces I did was an interview with ADAMSKI in 2012. Looking back, this was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’d done and completely out of my comfort zone at the time. This was primarily because a) he was a bit of a musical hero of mine as a previous band I was in had covered ‘Killer’ and b) I was faced with the proposition of trying to interview the guy over the phone and then record it using a mobile digital recorder (untried technology for me).

Despite his mobile signal dipping in and out (as he was ambling around London at the time I interviewing him) and the batteries running out on my recorder half-way through, the interview went well and I got a huge sense of achievement once the piece had been transcribed and eventually published.

The main enjoyment I get from occasionally contributing to the site is the ability to interview bands and people within the scene, Chi has kindly put some interviews my way including WANG CHUNG, SHRIEKBACK, KOSHEEN, CHICANE, WRANGLER and CREEP SHOW as well as two of my own personal favourites John Foxx and Ulrich Schnauss. Having the platform to interact with these kind of artists is mind-blowing for me, especially the ones who I have admired and in some places influenced my own musical development. My other approach and contribution to the site is tracking down (some may call this stalking!) artists via social media and approaching them with a view to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK featuring them in its ‘Missing in Action’ series.

Although a bit hit and miss as some artists don’t always respond when messaged, it has borne fruit with many artists accepting and using the opportunity to reflect and look back on their tenure in the music industry.

In terms of the people I’m most proud of ‘snagging’ in this manner are Scott Simon (OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING), Dave ‘Dee’ Harris (FASHIØN), Jerome Froese (TANGERINE DREAM) and Rob Dean (JAPAN). Because of the big interviews already done on the site by Chi, I find that this gives a lot of traction when cold approaching these kind of artists.

However, the icing on the cake was when Chi and myself spent a glorious few hours in a Liverpool Street pub with Stephen Singleton and Mark White from ABC and VICE VERSA. Getting this interview was a long process which started when Stephen contacted me in 2015 with regards to reviewing the VICE VERSA box set; this led to linking up with Mark and after a long period of negotiation and Facebook messenger chats, a face to face interview in 2019 with lots of laughter.

For me this has definitely been my highlight of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and although the transcribing of the interview was one of the longest processes I’ve done (the guys LOVED to chat!), the sense of achievement upon completion was huge.

Moving away from the artists themselves and onto electronic synth music itself, Chi and myself have quite differing tastes in music, but with enough crossover that we can still happily work together. The material I favour tends to be male-fronted, often dance-inflected and also with elements of guitars thrown into the mix (see BATTLE TAPES, MAPS, MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY and SPLEEN UNITED).

If you are a reader of the site, you won’t be surprised to hear that along with the other ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK contributors, I continue to be disappointed with the lack of decent UK based synth acts and the exposure that so many second-rate bands continue to get. For a country that has such an amazing heritage of electronic music (like DEPECHE MODE, YAZOO, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, EURYTHMICS, OMD… I can go on), why is it that there are so few acts of quality which are continuing the tradition of these incredible acts?

What grinds my gears the most is the complete lack of emphasis on quality vocals that some UK synth bands have; for many it appears that once a synth backing track has been made, the process of adding vocals is treated as an afterthought. Very little attention is paid to crucial things like tuning / character / lyrics, all traits which have made vocalists such as Alison Moyet and Annie Lennox titans in their field. Whether this will improve and we will get another CHVRCHES or MIRRORS is doubtful, but I live in hope!

Although the original music that I write and produce (J-Pop / K-Pop) isn’t the kind of thing that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK would champion, it still features a lot of electronics and I have been fortunate to have had success with some major Japanese artists including ARASHI and E-GIRLS (who covered YMO’s ‘Rydeen’).

I continue to write and produce for this market which is great fun. I continue to enjoy performing live as well in various cover bands.

Signing off, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has been a wonderful platform for me and has enabled me to interact with many of my musical heroes and also review some of their work too, long may it continue…


Text by Paul Boddy
17th March 2020

10 Years of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK – STILL PUSHING THE ENVELOPE

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrates its tenth birthday and it really has been synthly the best.

At the HEAVEN 17 aftershow party for their triumphant gig at The Magna Science Park on 6th March 2010, following chats with Glenn Gregory, Martyn Ware, Paul Humphreys and Claudia Brücken, interview opportunities opened up. It was obvious there was gap waiting to be filled for a quality web publication that featured the best in new and classic electronic pop without having to lower itself to using the dreaded “80s” label.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was it and became reality on 15th March 2010. Electronic pop music didn’t start in that Thatcher decade and certainly didn’t end there either. So there was even an editorial diktat which banned ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s writers from using the lazy”80s” term as a reference. Tellingly, several PR representatives said that one of the site’s main appeals was that it avoided the whole nostalgia bent that had been presented by both virtual and physical media.

At the time, kooky female fronted keyboard based pop like LA ROUX, LITTLE BOOTS, LADYHAWKE, LADY GAGA and MARINA & THE DIAMONDS were among those touted as being the future at the time. But it proved to be something of a red herring, as those acts evolved back into what they actually were, conventional pop acts.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK preferred the sort of innovative synthpop as outlined in BBC4’s Synth Britannia documentary.

Wth the next generation of artists like MARSHEAUX, VILE ELECTRODES, VILLA NAH and MIRRORS more than fitting the bill, that ethos of featuring pop music using synthesizers stuck too.

Meanwhile, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s portfolio expanded swiftly with key personalities such as Rusty Egan, Sarah Blackwood, Richard James Burgess, Warren Cann, Chris Payne, Thomas Dolby, John Foxx, Andy McCluskey, Neil Arthur, Alan Wilder, Mark Reeder, Gary Langan, Jori Hulkkonen, Howard Jones, Mira Aroyo, Sarah Nixey and Hannah Peel among those giving interviews to the site during its first two years.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has always prided itself in asking the questions that have never usually been asked, but which fans want to know the answers to. And it was with this reputation for intelligent and well researched interviewing that in March 2011, the site was granted its biggest coup yet.

Speaking to Stephen Morris of the then-on hiatus NEW ORDER, the drummer cryptically hinted during the ensuing chat that Manchester’s finest would return by saying “I never say never really”.

And that is exactly what happened in Autumn of that year and the band have been there since, as popular as ever and still making great music with the release of ‘Music Complete’ in 2015.

Monday 21st March 2011 was an interesting day that partied like it was 1981 when it saw the release of albums by DURAN DURAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS. Also in 2011, Mute Records celebrated their influential legacy with a weekender also at London’s Roundhouse which culminated in ERASURE, YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY performing in the same set.

Despite the ‘Brilliant’ return of ULTRAVOX, 2012 paled in comparison after such a fruitful year and several acts who were featured probably would not have gained as much coverage in more competitive periods. With pressure from outsiders as to what was hot and what was not, this was the only time ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK felt it was obliged to support a domestic scene.

But realising acts like HURTS and STRANGERS were actually just jumping on an apparent synth bandwagon and possessing more style than substance, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK decided to change tact and only featured acts it felt truly passionate about, even if it meant upsetting the wider synth community. The reasoning being that just because a band uses a synthesizer doesn’t mean it is good.

During this time, MIRRORS sadly disbanded while VILLA NAH mutated into SIN COS TAN. But the year did see the launch of CHVRCHES who stood out from the crowd with their opening gambit ‘Lies’.

With their Taylor Swift gone electro template, Lauren Mayberry and Co managed to engage an audience who didn’t know or care what a Moog Voyager was, to listen to synthpop!

2013 turned out to be one of the best years for electronic pop since its Synth Britannia heyday. What ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK achieved during this year would take up a whole article in itself… there were high profile interviews with Alison Moyet, Gary Numan and Karl Bartos while OMD released the album of the decade in ‘English Electric’. PET SHOP BOYS made up for their ‘Elysium’ misstep with ‘Electric’ while there was finally a third volume in BEF’s ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’ covers series.

Although 2014 started tremendously with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK being invited to meet Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür in Cologne, the year suffered next to quality of 2013.

The interviews continued, particularly with key figures from the Synth Britannia era including Midge Ure and the often forgotten man of the period Jo Callis who was a key member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE during their imperial phase.

But the year saw grandeurs of delusion at their highest. There was the clueless Alt-Fest debacle which saw the organisers play Fantasy Festival with no cash to underwrite the infrastructure to enable it to actually happen!

Sadly today, there are still egotistic chancers organising events with zero budget and the money from ticket sales being fleeced to fund their holidays. But these artificial factors are rarely considered and so long as there are lower league artists desperate to play for nowt and a misguided enhancement in profile that is often on a platform that provides minimal exposure anyway, then the confidence tricks will continue.

2015 saw the local emergence of Rodney Cromwell and Gwenno, while the majestic Swedish duo KITE proved that they were the best synth act in Europe with the ‘VI’ EP and their impressive live show.

It was also the year when ERASURE front man Andy Bell gave his first interview to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to offer some revealing insights.

Making something of a comeback after a recorded absence of nearly eight years, Jean-Michel Jarre presented his ambitious two volume ‘Electronica’ project which saw collaborations with a varied pool of musicians including Pete Townsend, Lang Lang, John Carpenter, Vince Clarke, Hans Zimmer, Cyndi Lauper, Sebastien Tellier and Gary Numan.

VILLA NAH returned in 2016, as did YELLO with Fifi Rong as one of their guest vocalists while APOPTYGMA BERZERK went instrumental and entered the ‘Exit Popularity Contest’. Riding on the profile generated from their ‘A Broken Frame’ covers album, MARSHEAUX released their biggest-selling long player to date, a two city concept in ‘Ath.Lon’. This was also the year that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK first became acquainted with the analogue synthesizer heaven of Johan Baeckström, a modern day Vince Clarke if ever there was one.

2017 saw a bumper crop of great albums from the likes of I SPEAK MACHINE, LCD SOUNDSYSTEM, SOULWAX, IAMX, GOLDFRAPP and DAILY PLANET, while veterans such as Alison Moyet and Gary Numan produced their best work of the 21st Century.

However DEPECHE MODE unleashed their most dire record yet in ‘Spirit’, a dreary exercise in faux activism bereft of tunes. Salt was rubbed into the wound when they merely plonked an underwhelming arena show into a stadium for their summer London show.

The trend was to continue later in 2019 as DEPECHE MODE just plonked 14 albums into a boxed set, while OMD offered an album of quality unreleased material in their ‘Souvenir’ package.

And with DEPECHE MODE’s sad descent into a third rate pseudo-rock combo during the last 15 years to appease that ghastly mainstream American institution called The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame with guitars and drums, Dave Gahan in particular with his ungrateful dismissal of the pioneering synth-based material with which he made his fortune with, now has what he has always coveted.

And don’t get ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK started on the 2019 Moog Innovation Award being given to Martin Gore, a real insult to true synth pioneers if ever there was one, including Daniel Miller, Vince Clarke and Alan Wilder, the three men who actually did the electronic donkey work on those imperial phase DEPECHE MODE albums! Gore may have been a very good songwriter during that time, but a synth innovator? Oh come on!?!

With regards Synth Britannia veterans, new albums in 2017 from Richard Barbieri and Steve Jansen saw a revived interest in JAPAN, the band with which they made their name.

Despite releasing their final album ‘Tin Drum’ in 1981, as a later conversation with one-time guitarist Rob Dean proved, cumulatively from related article views, JAPAN became the most popular act on ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK.

The return of SOFT CELL dominated 2018 with a lavish boxed set that was not just comprised of previously released long players, new songs, new books, a BBC documentary and a spectacular farewell show at London’s O2 Arena.

Meanwhile, adopting a much lower profile were LADYTRON with their comeback and an eventual eponymous sixth album. A Non Stop Electronic Cabaret saw Canadian veterans RATIONAL YOUTH play their first ever UK gig alongside PAGE and PSYCHE, but coming out of Brooklyn to tour with ERASURE was REED & CAROLINE.

EMIKA was ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ and Swedish songstress IONNALEE showcased one of the best value-for-money live presentations in town, with a show that surreal imagined Kate Bush at a rave!

But from China came STOLEN, one of the most exciting bands in years who were then later rewarded for their graft with a European tour opening for NEW ORDER.

2019 was the year when synthwave graduates Dana Jean Phoenix and Ollie Wride were coming into their own as live performers, while electronic disco maestro Giorgio Moroder embarked on a concert tour for the first time with his songs being the true stars of the show.

Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS gave his first interview to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to tie in with his solo album ‘Gone From Here’, while a pub lunch with Mark White and Stephen Singleton mutated into an extensive chat about their days in ABC. Lloyd Cole adopted a more synthesized template on ‘Guessworks’ and Britpop went synth as GENEVA’s Andrew Montgomery formed US with Leo Josefsson of Swedish trio LOWE.

If ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK does have a proudest achievement in its first ten years, then it is giving extensive early coverage to VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND, TINY MAGNETIC PETS and SOFTWAVE, six acts who were later invited to open on tour for OMD. Partly because of this success, some of those who were less talented felt aggrieved despite feeling an entitlement to be featured. If an act is good enough, the fact that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK hasn’t featured them should not matter, especially as other electronic and synth blogs are available. After taking its eye of the ball once before in 2012, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK maintained a trust of its own gut instinct.

Meanwhile, its stance has been tested by those shouting loudest who instantly champion what they perceive as the next big thing like sheep, without really looking ahead at a wider picture. However, TRAVIS on VSTs is just not ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s thing frankly…

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s participation in the annual ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE in Düsseldorf for on-stage interviews with Rusty Egan, Chris Payne, Mark Reeder and Zeus B Held was another high profile engagement to be proud of. Then there were six live events and five rounds of hosting ‘An Audience with Rusty Egan’ in one of the most unenviable but highly entertaining refereeing assignments in music 😉

Other highlights over the last ten years have included ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 2015 career retrospective on German trio CAMOUFLAGE being edited and used as booklet notes for the Universal Music sanctioned compilation CD ‘The Singles’.

As 2020 settles in, highly regarded artists within the electronic community continue to engage with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. Neil Arthur recently gave his seventh interview as BLANCMANGE and his tenth interview overall, taking into account his side projects FADER and NEAR FUTURE. Not far behind, Martyn Ware has also been a regular interviewee having spoken to the site on six occasions while Paul Humphreys has been interviewed no less than five times.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is still pushing the envelope, continuing to reflect the interests of people who love the Synth Britannia era and have a desire to hear new music seeded from that ilk.

With artists like ANI GLASS, IMI, KNIGHT$, NINA, MECHA MAIKO, GEISTE and PLASMIC among those on the cusp of a wider breakthrough, there is still more excellent music still to be created, discovered and savoured.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to everyone who has taken the time read any article on the site over the last ten years, it is greatly appreciated.


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Image Design by Volker Maass
16th March 2020, updated 29th Janaury 2021

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