Ever since the Canadian budget household gadget firm K-Tel diversified into the territory of compilation albums with ‘25 Country Hits’ in 1966, various artists compendiums have been a major part of the music industry fabric.
In particular, curated various artists albums based on a theme, be they around a record label roster, sub-genre or lifestyle experience, such as ‘Methods Of Dance’, ‘Modern Dance’, ‘Some Bizarre Album’, ‘Retro:Active’, ‘This Is Not The 80s’ or ‘Electri_City’ have been enthusiastically received with the opportunity to discover new artists or obtain rare material.
‘Trans-Global Excess Volume 1’ is the first compilation by Specchio Uomo, the independent label run by James Knights of SCARLET SOHO and KNIGHT$ fame specialising in Italo, nu disco and synthpop. He said “It’s a celebration of the independent spirit and the free movement that brought us all together in the first place” containing “music by friends we’ve met on the road and at shows over the years”.
Any good compilation has several star names to draw a potential audience in, but also features a wealth of quality material largely unknown to a wider audience and this one importantly manages to have both.
It begins in an energetic fashion with ‘You Can’t Get Fooled By Love’ by the rebooted BOYTRONIC featuring original frontman Holger Wobker and James Knights himself, the ANT PEOPLE remix providing some tribal enhancement on its bed of sparkly arpeggio-laden Europop. Presented as a Dark Italo mix courtesy of Jens Plöger of RUN:, the German producer takes PYSCHE’s 1987 single ‘Uncivilized’ into territory which isn’t actually that far off BOYTRONIC.
Meanwhile ITALOCONNECTION’s ‘Now Or Never’ is naturally a more modern twist on the classic Italo form by Fred Ventura, but it really does party likes it is 1987! A comparatively new name but with experienced intuition behind it, ‘Discoboom’ is by SNS SENSATION, the solo vehicle of Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK; his throbbing Moroder-esque attack, laced with some unexpected heavy metal guitar, could easily be mistaken for his duo with Ali Renault.
‘Soldiers Of Love’ by ITALOVE will conjure sunny nostalgia with visions of perms and mullets despite being a demo from 2012, while ‘If There Was No Gravity’ by THE HOOLIGAN takes the collection into jazz flavoured citypop territory and Vienna’s BROKEN EGO provides some whimsical electropop with ‘When The Lights Go Out’.
Another interesting inclusion is the moody electro of LAKESIDE X with ‘Wonder’ which first appeared in 2012 when the Czech combo performed as part of a RECOIL event when Alan Wilder visited Prague for a showing of his concert film ‘A Strange Hour In Budapest’.
But the highlights on ‘Trans-Global Excess Volume 1’ come from three unknown acts. Best of all is the crashing beats and attitude of PLASMASCHWARZ with ‘Mein Kopf’. Cut from a not dissimilar cloth, ‘Stingray’ by CAPITAL X is a bit feistier, but Düsseldorf husband and wife duo MÄNGELEXEMPLAR offer some wonderfully cool Teutonic detachment.
‘Trans-Global Excess Volume 1’ is a diverse collection; the galloping rock of BROKEN LINKS and the spiky snarl of CONTINENTAL LIAISON might confuse KNIGHT$ fans, but they will be far happier with a slice of girly popwave entitled ‘Drifting’ from Roxi Drive which contains the now almost obligatory sax solo and the future disco of KOMPUTER KID’s ‘Summer Again’.
The most poignant track on ‘Trans-Global Excess Volume 1’ comes with the previously unreleased ‘So Agitated’, a chiptune-inspired number by TRADEMARK, a trio comprising Oliver Horton, Stuart Meads and Paul Soulsby who opened for THE HUMAN LEAGUE in 2004. Stuart Meads sadly passed away in 2013 and although there was a final self-titled album in 2014, the inclusion as a fitting tribute.
Featuring 17 eclectic tracks, ‘Trans-Global Excess Volume 1’ has something for most electronic pop fans and in PLASMASCHWARZ, MÄNGELEXEMPLAR and CAPITAL X, it showcases some promising talent for the future. If you are a fan of KNIGHT$, SCARLET SOHO, BOYTRONIC, ITALOCONNECTION or HEARTBREAK, then there is a good chance that you will like a fair portion of this.
The advent of synthwave as a genre has led to a number of interesting variants with the pop-oriented version of the form being led by international starlets such as DANA JEAN PHOENIX, NINA, and PARALLELS.
Looking to join their ranks with her recently released second album ‘Electric Heart’ is Britain’s very own ROXI DRIVE.
With her own take on the classic MTV friendly sound of Pat Benatar and Laura Brannigan, ‘Electric Heart’ sees Roxi rock out more openly compared with her debut long player ‘Strangers Of The Night’.
Add Brat Pack movies, paranormal comedies and horror films from the era into the mix and ROXI DRIVE evokes colourful images from the past with big hair, leather jackets, sexy jump suits and silk blouses to accompany her synth assisted rock-flavoured sound.
Roxi kindly took time out to chat about her ‘Electric Heart’ and why she loves to party like it’s 1985…
The first thing that has to be said is the cover art for ‘Electric Heart’ is very retro-authentic, had it been inspired by any particular images from back in the day and how did you get the look?
Thank you. Yes I went through 80s single and album covers to find inspiration. I love the whole 80s aesthetic so it was fun putting together the look. I’m very inspired by Pat Benatar and Laura Brannigan so I wanted something reminiscent of their vibe. My friend and band member Glen Jevon came over to mine with all his kit and we had a fun afternoon shooting lots of 80s poses and looks.
What inspired you to enter this world of synths and popwave as your background is in acting?
Well I’ve always loved music and singing. I sung on stage in various roles when I did musical theatre. I then joined a 40s style harmony girl band called THE MORELLAS which was good fun and we gigged up and down the country together.
I much prefer writing and recording than being in the acting game. I remember feeling a distinct lack of enthusiasm for a lot of the roles I was auditioning for. I have always been an 80s nerd so doing this really fulfils me and I have a lot of fun with it.
Is the rumoured Ryan Gosling obsession just legend or truth?
Haha! I think that rumour may have started with you Chi! I love the movie ‘Drive’ as much as the next synth head but not sure I’m obsessed with the guy as pretty as he is.
Who are your musical influences as far as you own music is concerned?
Ohhh too many to mention! I like to skip between slightly more rocky pop and the more funky pop. I love the pop rock chicks of the 80s, Pat Benatar, Laura Brannigan, Kim Wilde, Tuesday Knight and then the more funky pop artists like Nu Shooz, Cyndi Lauper, Meri D Marshal, Stacey Q and Aleshia. Favourite bands would be DEPECHE MODE, SIMPLE MINDS, TEARS FOR FEARS, BANANARAMA.
‘Run All Night’ started it all, how did the track come together and when did you become aware it was getting a positive response?
Yes ‘Run all Night’ basically began with a friend of mine James Secker sending my demo tape to SELLOREKT/LA DREAMS, who’s a producer in LA and he wanted to work with me which I was very excited about. He had already released it previously but felt it would work really well with vocals, so we got to work. It began with a full verse / chorus pattern and lots more lyrics but it wasn’t working, so we cut it down and created a chorus from one of the lines from the verse “Waiting in the dark” which worked well in the end. We were really pleased with the positive response and I knew then this was what I wanted to do.
Photo by Abstract Reality
Your first album ‘Strangers Of The Night’ was promising but it would be far to say it lacked aural cohesion due to the number of producers who worked on it; did you set out to do anything on ‘Electric Heart’ to get more of a sonic continuity?
You would think so, but actually I still worked with a number of producers on this album, although maybe the overall sound is more in sync than the previous album.
I particularly wanted more of an authentic vibe with the tracks and was keen to explore the rockier pop stuff with the electric guitars as I’ve always loved that sound. So a lot of the producers I worked with already had that sound or were more than capable of producing it.
So with a song like ‘Dangerous’, what would be the creative dynamic on that?
‘Dangerous’ was a track JUNO DREAMS produced and it was already pretty much in the bag, production wise. He needed a singer to write and record a melody for it and I got to work. I was very excited to work with him. That track came out better than I think either of us expected. I’ve had a lot of great response on that one, it’s quite an empowering track and I like to think makes you feel like you’re in the 80s soundtrack to your life when listening to it. The lyrics were actually based on one of my favourite 80s horror movies ‘Fright Night’. You’ll see in there the reference to mirrors knowing all the secrets and lies.
‘Breathe You’ has some great synth passages while vocally it’s quite wispily emotive, what is it about?
Yes another one I based on a favourite 80s movie, this time ‘Starman’ by John Carpenter. I always loved this film and the lyrics were about this extra-terrestrial ‘man’ having to go back home but also having to leave this woman that he’s fallen in love with. He can’t stay on Earth because he literally can’t breathe and won’t survive. Every time I see that film I cry so it was nice to write about it in the lyrics.
You’re getting to play out a lot more of your Pat Benatar fantasies on tracks like ‘Breakdown’, ‘Lost In the Game’ and ‘Video Fantasy’?
Yes absolutely! She’s such an inspiration of mine and her performances are so powerful. Her music really lifts the mood. I really wanted tracks like this on the album.
Were you ever a hairbrush in the mirror kind of girl when you were a teenager?
I’m sure I did stand in front of my mirror with a hairbrush. I was always performing in some way, if it was in the school choir, or school plays, or local theatre group. I remember begging my teacher when I was about 10 if I could stand in front of the class and sing ‘Eternal Flame’ by THE BANGLES. I guess the 80s influence was written in the stars even then.
Photo by Abstract Reality
How do you prefer to record your voice? Are you a one take type of girl or is comping better with regards the end product?
Mostly comping. I rarely get a whole song in one take and I would never be happy with that. I’ll do several takes and decide on the right ones.
‘Hot Night’ is a real fist in the air moment like it could have come off a Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckenheimer film, was Bonnie Tyler in the house?
Haha she may have been when Diane Warren wrote it. It was originally sung by Laura Brannigan for the ‘Ghostbusters’ soundtrack and I’ve always loved it.
Why did you opt to include two versions of ‘Electricity’?
I wanted a different spin on it and I really love DIAMOND FIELD’s style of taking a song and reworking it as opposed to remixing it and creating almost an acoustic version which stands well alone as a different song entirely. I didn’t want a typical remix, I wanted it to sound very different.
Which are you own favourite songs on ‘Electric Heart’ and why?
‘All My Dreams’ is a beautiful song written by a wonderful musician called KIDBURN. We both loved working together and it turned out our voices had a really nice synergy. ‘Breakdown’ and ‘Video Fantasy’ are real foot stomping feel good tunes. ‘Electricity’ is really good fun to sing on stage.
Do you feel an affinity with the other synthwave girls like NINA, PARALLELS and DANA JEAN PHOENIX like sisters in arms?
Yes, I love those artists and lots of other female artists doing the retro thing. I’ve always been drawn to female vocalists. I love listening to them sing and it’s so wonderful that we all support each other. Everyone has their own style and vibe which I love.
How are you finding handling social media and marketing your music to an audience? What have been the pros and cons?
I was used to it to a certain extent when I was an actress. It can be tough to have to constantly find content to put out. We don’t get paid for social media posts, we just have to hope that we sell more music or reach out to a wider audience. The pros are most defiantly being able to interact with so many people all over the world. I’ve had the nicest support from people and the kindest of messages about how my music has made people feel or helped them in some way and that means everything to me. Makes it all worthwhile.
How have you been finding performing live? What’s it like compared with acting in a play?
I was bricking it when I first started. Simply because although I’ve been in a band or in plays, I’ve not stood up alone with no one by my side sharing the load. I have found the more shows I’ve performed, the more confident I’m getting and like anything else, it’s a learning experience and my show is building all the time. I now have an awesome drummer called Matt and a keytar player in Glen, so we now have a really nice dynamic on stage as a band. I feel like I can relax and let loose a bit more.
What’s next for you, lockdown depending of course? Are there any hopes and fears with regards doing music?
Yeah it’s a shame as I had some nice shows booked this year. I’ll continue more writing and recording. I’ll soon be releasing a horror track to promote an 80s horror novel David Irons has written called ‘Polybius’. Based on an urban myth about a killer arcade game in the 80s, so that will be released shortly.
I’m working with a couple of other producers on possible side projects. I’ll probably continue to keep varying my style. I don’t like to get stuck in a box. I’ll do what feels right and what I enjoy. I’m filming some live performances at home, so me and the guys can pretend we are on stage from our homes.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives is warmest thanks to ROXI DRIVE
Halloween might be the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remember the dead, but KNIGHT$ kept things alive and kicking at The Roadtrip & The Workshop in London’s Hoxton.
For James Knights, it’s been a very busy year with albums released as KNIGHT$ and with BOYTRONIC, a UK tour opening for A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS plus assorted European gigs and notable music industry figures knocking on his door, taking an interest in his progress.
Getting through setbacks such as the collapse of Pledge Music, James Knights has shown resilience and strength of character, both much needed skill sets in music. He has also maintaned a down-to-earth demeanour free of ego and delusion, the latter two characteristics now being far too normal in modern society.
But to begin proceedings was Cambridge’s Theo Sayers who released his most recent EP ‘Ado Perma’ last July. Dressed in a similar skeleton costume to the one that his younger self adorned the cover of that said EP, he presented his unusual brand of English hip-hop, like an urban Jona Lewie. Exuding humour and a sense of fun, the set also included his streetwise take on PRINCE’s ‘When Doves Cry’.
Next came the up-and-coming synthwave starlet Roxy Drive, a girl with a self-confessed crush on Ryan Gosling and a voice not far off Pat Benatar. Her debut album ‘Strangers Of The Night’ released in 2018 showed promise and tonight, she aired a number of its highlights as well as premiering some new material.
Accompanied by an electronic percussionist, among the set highlights were the energetic neon drenched first single ‘Run All Night (Chase This Dream)’ and the more recent ‘Dangerous’ from the upcoming album ‘Electric Heart’. The latter showcased a refined development of her MTV friendly sound. She certainly looked the part and her live persona can only grow stronger as she gains more live experience.
For headliner KNIGHT$, it was to be an evening of celebration of ‘Dollars & Cents’, a contender for best electronic pop album of 2019 if ever there was one. Apart from the NEW ORDER derived electronic disco drive of ‘So Cool’, the set was largely drawn from the long player.
Accompanied by the alluring presence of Nina Casey and Jasmine Brady, both on keyboards, James Knights gave yet another of his charismatic performances bursting with energy and enthusiasm.
From the Eurobeat thrust of ‘What We Leave Behind’ and the heavenly pop ‘Playin It Cool’ to the amorous ‘Gelato’ and the snappy ‘Alligator’, Knights was hitting that perfect beat, entering the audience and somehow managing to avoid getting mic feedback. Engaging the audience masterfully, Knights asked everyone who had travelled the furthest to be at the gig. At first, it looked like it was Claudia and Tiffany, both from Berlin. But the undoubted winner was Ana who had ventured all the way from New York.
The brilliant ‘Hijack My Heart’ saw Knights tightening his trousers slightly, although the ceiling was so low at the intimate club venue, it did restrain his usual mic stand swinging antics. However, a pair of covers were thrown in. While PET SHOP BOYS ‘Heart has been a regular staple of the KNIGHT$ live set, there was a supervise inclusion of ‘The Never Ending Story’, a song that has come to prominence again thanks to its inclusion in ‘Stranger Things 3’.
By his own admission “unrehearsed”, with the assistance of a lyric sheet Knights embarked on a fun if slightly shambolic duet with Roxi Drive on the Giorgio Moroder produced classic, but no-one really minded as Roxi held her own and everyone else joined in.
Ending the evening with the album title song and new single, the catchy ‘Dollars & Cents’ captured the essence of the sparkly Britalo that Knights has well and truly mastered.
What a year it has been for the Winchester lad; after years treading the boards with SCARLET SOHO and knocking on the door several times, James Knights has finally found his sound and vocation as KNIGHT$.
With a European Union flag hung at the back of the stage in defiance, KNIGHT$ is just the escapist tonic in these bizarre times and a shining example how much better things are when people are united through music and more.
KNIGHT$ ‘Dollars & Cents’ released by Specchio Uomo is available in various formats as well as the new single including remixes by ITALOCONNECTION + THE HIDDEN MAN from https://knights101.bandcamp.com/album/
When is synthwave not synthwave? When it’s synthpop of course and much of the best synthwave is actually pop.
While a lot of synthwave appears to be just formless meandering instrumentals made by gamer boys with a Lamborghini fixation, the majority of the best exponents have been female and tune-based like NINA, MECHA MAIKO and DANA JEAN PHOENIX. Looking to join that roll of honour is ROXI DRIVE, a talented West London born singer / songwriter and actor with a crush on Ryan Gosling who confesses to “Living my Neon dreams one song at a time” and her debut album ‘Strangers Of The Night’ being “A collaboration of pure synth fusion”.
It imagines a world where Madonna Louise Ciccone and Pat Benatar get immersed in the wonders of the synthesizer and doesn’t forget the songs either. Opening number ‘Run All Night (Chase This Dream)’ pulses the night away like a maniac with a neon lit vocal, while the breathy ‘Falling’ recalls the synthpop of THE FRIXION with its various hooks and counter melodies.
The enjoyable ‘Walking Out Of Love’ borrows from the guilty pleasure of classic Italo disco complete with a Moroderesque vo-coda although whether the variable equalisation on the drums is deliberate or not, it makes for a highly frustrating listen. Production quality also blights ‘Call Me Tomorrow?’ which is a delightful ditty that would have sounded even better with a more sympathetic widescreen mix.
The ‘Strangers Of The Night’ titled song verges into AOR like much of the current crop of synthwave and doesn’t work, but much better is the more synthetically charged pop of ‘All Night Long’.
The energetic new wave of ‘Synthicide’ sees a pacier electronic take on ‘Words’ by MISSING PERSONS and might have made it into a John Hughes film if it had been released in 1985, but as it’s a STACEY Q cover, maybe that’s why! Meanwhile ‘See It In Your Eyes’ interludes with a funkier vibe to contrast the album.
‘Behind The Mask’ takes proceedings to a moodier level in a manner not dissimilar to KIRLIAN CAMERA and would go down a treat with the Amphi crowd before ‘Stay With Me’, a marvellous ‘Drive’ influenced ballad with a touch of ELECTRIC YOUTH concludes ‘Strangers Of The Night’.
While a promising and varied record, some of its production is unable to fully exploit the potential of the material, with an inconsistent sound that lacks clarity.
Meanwhile, some of the vocal effects are also perhaps too overbearing at times in an attempt to get things heard over the busy backing; seven producers of varying experiences appear to have been credited on the album which could account for this.
While much of this long player could have been more sonically accomplished, what ROXI DRIVE has proved with ‘Strangers Of The Night’ is she can write songs. Coupled with the right studio team, she could be up there in the future with the best of the current crop of independent synth-based artists.