Tag: Soft Cell (Page 1 of 11)

THE ELECTRONIC LEGAGY OF 1984

1984 saw FM synthesis, sampling and computer controlled systems taking a more dominant role in not just electronic music making but within mainstream pop as well.

The ubiquity of the Yamaha DX7 with its realistic sounds and the dominance digital drum machines meant that inventive electronic sound design would take a backseat. This meant that the otherworldly fascination that had come with Synth Britannia was now something of a distant memory. But despite the popularity of the Emulator at this time for its factory disk derived symphonic strings, brass and choirs, the Roland Jupiter 8 remained the main analogue synth for the likes of THE BLUE NILE and TALK TALK as well as Howard Jones.

While Trevor Horn and his team were well equipped with all the state of the art equipment money could buy for the ZTT releases of THE ART OF NOISE and FRANKIE GOES HOLLYWOOD, OMD and HEAVEN 17 were among those who purchased the Fairlight Series II. SOFT CELL and Gary Numan chose the PPG system while THE HUMAN LEAGUE opted for the Synclavier II.

However, despite all the high tech, the most disappointing record of the year was undoubtedly ‘Hysteria’, THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s lukewarm follow-up to ‘Dare’ which departed from the supreme synthpop formula of its predecessor. ‘Dare’ producer Martin Rushent had left the troubled sessions following disagreements with the band but as the recording continued to be prolonged, his replacement Chris Thomas soon followed him through the door.  Hugh Padgham who had worked with Phil Collins on his key hit recordings was drafted in to finish the record.

Although the excellent ‘Louise’ saw the estranged couple from ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ cross paths again a few years on, the laudable attempt at political observation and guitar-driven dynamics ‘The Lebanon’ confused fans. Meanwhile the remainder of the album was underwhelming, with the reworked version of ‘I Love You Too Much’ sounding a poor shadow of the dynamic Martin Rushent original which had premiered on the Canadian ‘Fascination! EP in 1983.

Those pop acts who had topped the UK charts in 1983 like CULTURE CLUB and SPANDAU BALLET also suffered from lacklustre follow-ups and were superseded by the rise of WHAM! Despite the absence of a new studio album, DURAN DURAN managed to score a No1 with ‘The Reflex’ and a No2 with ‘The Wild Boys’, both in a creative union with Nile Rodgers while making an impact in 1984 was Nik Kershaw.

The split of YAZOO the previous year led to Alison Moyet issuing her first solo album ‘Alf’ but the new Vince Clarke project THE ASSEMBLY lasted just one single ‘Never Never’ featuring the vocals of Feargal Sharkey. Comparatively quiet in 1984, NEW ORDER released their most commercial single yet in ‘Thieves Like Us’.

With bands like A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS and U2 having achieved success in North America with a more rock derived template, the lure of the Yankee Dollar steered SIMPLE MINDS towards that less artful bombastic direction with the ultimately flawed ‘Sparkle In The Rain’. The purer synthesizer sound was now less desirable in terms of Trans-Atlantic marketability and pressure was put on acts to use more guitar and live drums, something that would become even more prominent in 1985.

So until then, here are 20 albums selected by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK seen as contributing to the electronic legacy of 1984. Listed in alphabetical order, there is a restriction of one album per artist moniker


ALPHAVILLE Forever Young

Fronted by Marian Gold, German trio ALPHAVILLE broke through in the UK with a Zeus B Held remix of ‘Big In Japan’ and while that particular version is not included on the ‘Forever Young’ album, the original mix held its own alongside songs like ‘Sound Like A Melody’ and ‘Fallen Angel’. Meanwhile, the poignant title song has since become an evergreen anthem borrowed by the likes of THE KILLERS and JAY-Z!

‘Forever Young’ is still available via Warner Music

https://www.alphaville.earth/


THE ART OF NOISE Who’s Afraid Of?

From the off, THE ART OF NOISE were rattling cages. ‘Beat Box’ was the track which scared KRAFTWERK enough for them to delay the release of their ‘Technopop’ album and rework it as the underwhelming ‘Electric Cafe’. The crazy staccato sample cacophony of ‘Close (To The Edit)’ which was later borrowed by THE PRODIGY for ‘Firestarter’ still sounds as fresh and mad as ever while ‘Moments In Love’ heralded a new age in mood music.

‘Who’s Afraid Of?’ is still available via ZTT

https://www.facebook.com/artofnoiseofficial/


BLANCMANGE Mange Tout

On the back of hit singles in ‘Blind Vision’, ‘That’s Love That It Is’ and ‘Don’t Tell Me’, the brilliantly titled second BLANCMANGE album ‘Mange Tout’ became their biggest seller. Another surprise came with a melodramatic cover of ABBA’s ‘The Day Before You Came’; considered an odd but daring decision at the time, it was something of a cultural prophecy with ABBA now fully reabsorbed into mainstream popular culture.

‘Mange Tout’ is still available via Edsel Records

http://www.blancmange.co.uk/


THE BLUE NILE A Walk Across The Rooftops

Glum Scottish trio THE BLUE NILE had an innovative deal with Linn, the Glasgow-based high quality Hi-Fi manufacturer where their crisply produced debut ‘A Walk Across The Rooftops’ as used by dealers to demonstrate the sonic range of their products. ‘Tinseltown In The Rain’ and ‘Stay’ got BBC Radio1 airplay and while they were not hits, the artful album became a favourite among the cognoscenti and other musicians.

‘A Walk Across the Rooftops’ is still available via Confetti Records

https://www.facebook.com/TheBlueNileOfficial


BRONSKI BEAT The Age Of Consent

When BRONSKI BEAT first appeared, they were nothing short of startling, thanks to their look, melodic synth sound and Jimmy Somerville’s lonely earth shattering falsetto. ‘The Age Of Consent’ used their position as openly gay performers to make important statements such as ‘Smalltown Boy’, ‘Why’ and ‘Need A Man Blues’ as well as the anti-consumerist ‘Junk’ and the self-explanatory protest song ‘No More War’.

‘The Age Of Consent’ is still available via London Records

https://www.facebook.com/officialjimmysomerville


CABARET VOLTAIRE Micro-Phonies

Featuring the blissful ‘Sensoria’, the second Some Bizzare long playing adventure of CABARET VOLTAIRE saw Stephen Mallinder and Richard H Kirk at possibly their most accessible yet while still remaining alternative. With a Fairlight CMI now taking over from the previous tape experiments alongside the punchy rhythmic backdrop, tracks like ‘Do Right’ and ‘Slammer’ exemplified their alternative club direction.

‘Micro-Phonies’ is still available via Mute Artists

https://mute.com/artists/cabaret-voltaire


DEAD OR ALIVE Sophisticated Boom Boom

With Pete Burns now looking more and more like Gina X, it was no big surprise that her producer Zeus B Held was helming DEAD OR ALIVE’s electronic disco direction. An energetic cover of KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND’s ‘That’s The Way’ was the hit breakthrough but there was also mighty sequencer dance tunes such as ‘Misty Circles’ and ‘What I Want’, as well as the Morrissey fronting ABBA serenity of ‘Far Too Hard’.

‘Sophisticated Boom Boom’ is still available via Cherry Pop

https://www.discogs.com/artist/46720-Dead-Or-Alive


DEPECHE MODE Some Great Reward

Despite more adult songs with S&M metaphors about capitalism and doubts about religion, ‘Some Great Reward’ was the last innocent DEPECHE MODE album. With Gareth Jones now taking on a co-production role with Daniel Miller, the sampling experimentation was honed into the powerful metallic pop of ‘Something To Do’, ‘Master & Servant’, ‘If You Want’ and ‘Blasphemous Rumours’ while there was also the sensitive piano ballad ‘Somebody’.

‘Some Great Reward’ is still available via Sony Music

https://www.depechemode.com/


FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD Welcome To The Pleasure Dome

The Trevor Horn produced ‘Welcome To The Pleasure Dome’ was a double album that should have been edited down to a single record but that would have missed the point. Featuring three supreme UK No1 singles in ‘Relax’, ‘Two Tribes’ and ‘The Power Of Love’, FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD had their place cemented in musical history, regardless of the radio bannings and controversial marketing stunts.

‘Welcome To The Pleasure Dome’ is still available via ZTT

https://www.hollyjohnson.com/


MANUEL GÖTTSCHING E2-E4

Best known for his work as ASHRA and the album ‘New Age Of Earth’ in particular, Manuel Göttsching improvised an extended piece based around an understated Prophet 10 sequence and a gentle but hypnotic backbone as something to listen to on his recently purchased Walkman for an upcoming flight. Influenced by minimalist trailblazers Steve Reich and Philip Glass, the end result was the hour long suite ‘E2-E4’.

‘E2-E4’ is still available via SpaMG.ART

https://www.manuel-goettsching.com


HEAVEN 17 How Men Are

The success of ‘The Luxury Gap’ brought money into HEAVEN 17 and this was reflected in the orchestrally assisted Fairlight jamboree of ‘How Men Are’. “I think it’s an underrated album and that was when we were probably in our most daring and creative phase” said Martyn Ware and that manifested itself on the sub-ten minute closer ‘And That’s No Lie’ and the outstanding Doomsday Clock referencing opener ‘Five Minutes To Midnight’.

‘How Men Are’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://www.heaven17.com/


JEAN-MICHEL JARRE Zoolook

Having been an early adopter of the Fairlight CMI on ‘Magnetic Fields’, Jean-Michel Jarre utilised it further to create an instrumental palette sampled from 25 spoken languages on ‘Zoolook’. It also saw the use of notable musicians including Marcus Miller, Yogi Horton, Adrian Belew and Laurie Anderson who lent her voice to the delightfully oddball ‘Diva’. The magnificent highlight was the 11 minute ‘Ethnicolour’.

‘Zoolook’ is still available via Sony Music

https://www.jeanmicheljarre.com/


HOWARD JONES Human’s Lib

‘Human’s Lib’ was the beginning of Howard Jones’ imperial phase, with four hit singles ‘New Song’, ‘What Is Love?’, ‘Hide And Seek’ and ‘Pearl In The Shell’ included on this immediate debut. But there was quality in the other songs with ‘Equality’ sounding like an arrangement blue print for A-HA’s ‘Take On Me’ and the title song about Ruth, David and Dennis touching on the complexities of love triangles!

‘Human’s Lib’ is still available via Cherry Red Records

http://www.howardjones.com/


GARY NUMAN Berserker

After the jazzier overtones of ‘Warriors’, ‘Berserker’ was conceived as “a science alternative album” by Gary Numan and therefore much more of an electronic proposition. Dominated by the PPG Wave system which had been the heartbeat of FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, ‘My Dying Machine’ pumped like ‘Relax’ while the rhythmic title song and the exotic ‘Cold Warning’ provided other highlights.

‘Berserker’ is still available via Eagle Records

https://garynuman.com/


OMD Junk Culture

With its embracement of calypso, reggae, indie and mainstream pop, ‘Junk Culture’ was perhaps even more experimental than ‘Dazzle Ships’ and took OMD outside of the Germanic sound laboratory they had emerged from. Known for two slightly inane hits, ‘Locomotion’ put them back into the UK Top5 while ‘Talking Loud & Clear’ only just missed out on the Top10. However, the best single from the album ‘Tesla Girls’ stalled at No21!

‘Junk Culture’ is still available via Universal Music

https://omd.uk.com/


SECTION 25 From The Hip

Co-produced by Bernard Sumner of NEW ORDER, ‘From The Hip’ followed founder member Larry Cassidy’s statement that “you can’t be a punk all your life”. Recruiting vocalist Jenny Ross and keyboardist Angela Cassidy, ‘Looking From A Hilltop’ with its clattering drum machine, pulsing hypnotism and ominous synth lines was the album’s standout while ‘Program For Light’ explored further electronic territory.

‘From The Hip’ is still available via Factory Benelux

https://www.section25.com/


SOFT CELL This Last Night In Sodom

If ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ was the difficult second SOFT CELL album, ‘This Last Night In Sodom’ was an even more challenging proposition with some tracks even mixed in mono! The thundering percussive cover of ‘Down In The Subway’ was a metaphor for Marc Almond’s mental state while ‘L’ Esqualita’ provided some fabulous gothic menace alongside the frenetic rush of ‘Soul Inside’, all aided by Dave Ball and his PPG Wave 2.2.

‘This Last Night In Sodom’ is still available via Some Bizzare

https://www.softcell.co.uk/


TALK TALK It’s My Life

Now a trio, the second TALK TALK album saw them work with producer Tim Friese-Greene who would also have a songwriting role alongside Mark Hollis. Still reliant on synthesizers for its aural template, the initial five song sequence from ‘Dum Dum Girl’ to ‘Tomorrow Started’ was superb, taking in the title song, the magnificent ‘Such A Shame’ and the emotive ballad ‘Renée’. It sold well in Europe but was largely ignored in the UK.

‘It’s My Life’ is still available via EMI Music

https://www.facebook.com/talktalkfans


THOMPSON TWINS Into The Gap

Following their breakthrough record ‘Quick Step & Side Kick’, ‘Into The Gap’ was the most commercially successful THOMPSON TWINS studio album, putting the quirky trio into the US Top10. With Tom Bailey now taking on a co-producer role alongside Alex Sadkin, it featured the megahits ‘Hold Me Now’ and ‘Doctor Doctor’ while the neo-title song ‘The Gap’ offered an Eastern flavoured take on ‘Trans-Europe Express’.

‘Into The Gap’ is still available via Edsel Records

http://www.thompsontwinstombailey.com/


ULTRAVOX Lament

With self-produced sessions in the Musicfest home studio of Midge Ure, there were more obviously programmed rhythm tracks than previously while tracks ranged from the earnest rock of ‘One Small Day’ to the sequencer-driven ‘White China’. The apocalyptic Michael Rother influenced ‘Dancing With Tears In My Tears’ that gave ULTRAVOX with their biggest hit since ‘Vienna’ although the Celtic overtures of ‘Man Of Two Worlds’ was the album’s best song.

‘Lament’ is still available via Chrysalis Records

http://www.ultravox.org.uk/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
24 February 2024

2023 END OF YEAR REVIEW

Photo by Jori Hulkkonen

Just as it looked like it would be safe to come out to play, there was uncertainty within the music industry again.

What had become the artists’ favourite platform thanks to its low commission and 0% Fridays, Bandcamp was taken over by Epic Games in 2022 but then following a move by employees to unionise, was sold to Songtradr who immediately dismissed half of its staff… in hindsight, despite its proclamation that this platform cared about the music, it looked like this had been yet another start-up by tech venture capitalists. Just as many acts dropped their own websites in favour of Facebook over a decade ago but were then trapped into sponsored posts to reach the majority of their own fanbase, online shops had been dropped for Bandcamp. So, things are back to square one as many consider a rebuild of their web presence.

Meanwhile, Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino made a controversial declaration that concert ticket prices were generally too low and that artists could easily “charge a bit more”. While THE CURE notably refused to do this and capped their face value tickets at $20 for their US tour, the Live Nation sister outlet Ticketmaster applied excessive booking extras of more than $20 per ticket for a “service fee”, “facility charge” and “order processing”! With dynamic pricing in place at a number of high profile events and so-called VIP tickets on the rise (which didn’t actually include a meet ‘n’ greet but only a nearby bar and a lanyard), fans had their “FOMO” anxieties triggered and simply paid up!

Photo by Chi Ming Lai

Another artist who kept ticket prices low was Midge Ure who embarked on the successful ‘Voices & Visions’ tour after a year’s delay due to uncertainties over the Covid situation in 2022. Complimented by a straightforward but very effective light show and material from his second and third long players with ULTRAVOX ‘Rage In Eden’ and ‘Quartet’, it was a triumph. He was rewarded with a 70th birthday show celebrating his career at The Royal Albert Hall, which despite its plush surroundings was also kept affordable.

Who says an artist has no control over retail pricing? But one band who were shamelessly happy to charge more for concert tickets, more for merchandise and more for physical releases were DEPECHE MODE. For their first album and tour since the passing of co-founder Andy Fletcher in 2022, the remaining members played the death card with ‘Momento Bori’ and managed to plonk an even more underwhelming arena show into the stadiums of the world… at least the ‘Global Spirit’ tour featured risers!

With renowned UK venues such as Printworks and Moles closing down, as had already been highlighted by Juls Garat of US goth band PILGRIMS OF YEARNING via social media in 2022: “If you’re spending a kidney on DEPECHE MODE tickets and not attending a local show this weekend, I don’t wanna see you complaining that there’s no scene, local venues or new music anymore”. However, one seemingly oblivious Devotee said about the inflated ticket prices: “Really don’t know what the issue is. Happily paid £108.00 for a DM ticket. Would have paid more!!”. And therein lays the problem… DEPECHE MODE played a date at Stadion Wankdorf in Bern and that said it all! As the man who Devotees call a genius once wrote: “Some great reward will be coming my way…”

Photo by Chi Ming Lai

As The Devotees wallowed in their collective misery during 2023, the Stockholm Syndrome was stronger than ever. On the Bratislava leg at the National Football Stadium, one of The Black Swarm commented to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “I was there… I must admit, a bit disappointed… but I still love them!!!”. It was business as usual for DEPECHE MODE, with “business” being the operative word. It was reported that so much money had been sucked out of the European alternative music market in particular that a number of acts had to schedule their planned tours to 2024, while others who had made good albums worthy of attention in 2023 got lost in the sea of DM propaganda on the web.

Despite increased ticket prices at all levels, gig etiquette declined to the worst possible standards with the constant chatter and bad manners among some attendees. Surely if you have paid upwards of £30 or more for a show, you might want to pay more attention and enjoy it? ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has never seen it this bad in the 43 years it has been going to concerts, but this entitled arrogance to talk extremely loudly about total bollocks is a undoubted legacy of Brexit and Covid which in combination has normalised a lack of social graces in gathered environments… and when challenged, these total numbskulls become aggressive, pitifully unaware that they are ruining the evening of those around them.

Meanwhile, there was another undesirable element who only go to gigs to post selfies and badly distorted footage on their socials… these were often the sort of people who actually hated the band back in the day, but after 40+ years realised they like the song on the Vitality or Waitrose advert so are sudddenly giving it the big “I AM” about being a fan… but BECAUSE they are only there for one song, they then treat the rest of the gig like they were out with their mates in the pub! 🤬

Photo by Chi Ming Lai

The best live shows of the year came from PET SHOP BOYS and DURAN DURAN with their arena extravaganzas full of hits, classic fan favourites and great staging. Among the album celebrations, CHINA CRISIS ran through their second long player ‘Working With Fire & Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume 2’ on tour to celebrate its 40th anniversary and founder bassist Peter Hook took the first NEW ORDER compilation ‘Substance’ out on the road to coincide with its expanded 4CD reissue.

“Sweden’s best kept pop secret” KITE impressed with an imitate headliner for their debut London gig and later at Cologne’s Amphi Festival to a much larger crowd, while the return of Ollie Wride to the London stage at The Scala illustrated why he has potential to be the next synthwave artist to crossover into the mainstream.

Photo by Ed Miles

‘Time’s Arrow’, LADYTRON’s second album since their return from hiatus proved to be something of a disappointment while fairing slightly better with its anti-Brexit sentiments, ‘Bauhaus Staircase’ was touted as the final album from OMD; now kissing the strict machine, having previously been supportive of new electronic pop via ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK championed acts MIRRORS, VILLA NAH, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND, TINY MAGNETIC PETS and SOFTWAVE, their choice of art glam hipsters WALT DISCO as opening act on the UK leg of the 2024 tour was symbolic of the general poor state of modern synthpop ie pop music using synths, particularly within the narrow-mindset of Brexit Britain.

Although the UK was continuing to party like it was 1933, the incendiary language that Cruella Braverman was using was so extreme that she was even dismissed from fronting the Conservative Party new wave covers band A FLOCK OF SIEG HEILS… as a trio of poets from South Yorkshire once said: “BROTHERS! SISTERS! WE DON’T NEED THIS FASCIST GROOVE THANG!”

Reflecting a wider issue, 2023 also saw ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK publish its fewest number of ‘Introducing…’ new artist articles since its inception in 2010 with only Brigitte Bardini and Madeleine Goldstein featured. There were a number of possible reasons…

Photo by Bella Salvatore

“The technology leads the art form and it always has” said veteran producer Steve Lillywhite on a recent Rockonteurs podcast, “if the technology allows you to reference other people’s records… you WILL do that!”. This was summed up by an Apple Mac advert featuring sample-based British pop singer PinkPantheress demonstrating how to have a hit by appropriating a topline from Kelly Rowland and plonking it into GarageBand before processing her voice through AutoTune and nabbing the intro of ‘Gold’ by SPANDAU BALLET… you said it yourself Miss Walker, IT SOUNDS LIKE GARBAGE!

While the accessibility, usability and sound quality of modern tech has totally democratised music making, as another veteran producer Stephen Hague put it to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK “it’s made it far too easy”, with the end result being familiarity and imitation rather than innovation. Now that an acceptable sound is able to be obtained fairly quickly on software such as GarageBand, the level of songwriting has generally declined in many genres. Artists abstain from putting in the hard work towards the actual songcraft because they think their track is already great, as it sounds like someone they’ve based it on!

However, the misuse of “synth” as a description reached a new nadir in 2023. There were those using “synth” or “synthwave” in their brand identity who proudly revealed via their Spotify Wrapped that their Top Genre was actually rock or made bizarre comments like “What I like most about synthwave is the guitar solos”. Meanwhile one artist declared they were synthpop because they had spent their youth “listening to too much Madonna”! But synth music as an enduring form is ultimately doomed when social media platforms using “Synthpop” in their idents think that guitar-based bands like BIG COUNTRY and COCTEAU TWINS are part of it, or compile acoustic playlists!! 🤦‍♂️

“Synth” has now somehow become is a general term for any retro-flavoured pop with an element of shiny artifice whether synthesizers have been used or not! These artists and “content creators” are now too young to understand what “synth” in music actually once meant and probably think the term is short for “synthetic” as in clothes and hair products, as opposed to “synthesizer”.

That said, 2023 was not all bad and there was a lot of excellent music. The song of the year was by the unlikely synth hero in glum rocker Lloyd Cole; while guitars made a more prominent but limited return on his album ‘On Pain’ following 2019’s electronically-dominated ‘Guesswork’, the standout song ‘The Idiot’ saw him provide a touching narrative on the relationship between David Bowie and Iggy Pop as they relocated to Berlin in 1976.

Swedish veterans PAGE took the Numanisation of their poptronica to its zenith by bringing in former imperial phase Numan band members Chris Payne and RRussell Bell on their new album ‘En Ny Våg’. Across the Öresund Bridge, Danish synthpop couple SOFTWAVE showed the world the ‘things we’ve done’.

Photo by George Tripodakis

Another music veteran Ricky Wilde teamed up with NINA to reveal their ‘Scala Hearts’; full of classic pop references and a modern sheen, this was the record Wilde had wanted to make for a few years but hadn’t been able to with his sister Kim. Its creative drive showed and this was also the best long player that NINA had been part of since she launched her solo career in 2011. In a busy year, NINA also found time to satisfy many a red blooded fantasy by collaborating with Kid Moxie on the ‘Lust’ EP released by Italians Do It Better.

The Finns were strong too, with Jaakko Eino Kalavi and Jori Hulkkonen producing two of the best albums of 2023. The former’s eclectic ‘Chaos Magic’ featured Alma Jodorowsky, Mr Silla and Jimi Tenor as special guests while the latter’s ‘There Is Light Hidden In These Shadows’ brought in John Grant, Ralf Dörper, Jake Shears, Jon Marsh, Juho Paalosmaa and Tiga.

While maintaining his front man role in MESH, Mark Hockings presented his solo project BLACKCARBURNING in long playing form and was ‘Watching Sleepers’. Also going it alone, Alison Goldfrapp squarely hit the dancefloor via ’The Love Invention’ with Kylie Minogue’s similarly glitzy ‘Tension’ as its companion. But with ACTORS still busy touring the world, the planned long playing debut from LEATHERS was yet to emerge but there were two new singles in the interim.

METROLAND and side project 808 DOT POP ambitiously released albums in five different formats with exclusive tracks on each between them simultaneously, in a move that had not been seen since 1978 when all four members of KISS released solo records on the same day. Much more discretely, ITALOCONNECTION came up with ‘Nordisko’ which comprised of Nordic pop disco covers. More ambient experiments were served by John Foxx, Vince Clarke, Patricia Wolf, Johan Agebjörn and the late Ryuichi Sakamoto, while putting those ethereal textures into song was Hinako Omori with her appropriately named second album ‘stillness, softness…’

Germany’s BEBORN BETON offered bleak commentary on the state of the planet with ‘Darkness Falls Again’ but encouraged everyone to be dancers in the dark while Chinese band STOLEN highlighted this ‘Eroded Creation’. Within their ‘Circle Of Doom’, NNHMN had pressing matters closer to home while ZANIAS emerged from her ‘Chrysalis’. FERAL FIVE confronted and worked with AI to declare ‘Truth Is The New Gold’ and Finlay Shakespeare tapped into his ‘Illusion + Memory’.

Photo by Tim Darin

Among the promising emergent acts with debut EPs were NEU-ROMANCER and DIE SEXUAL while German solo artists Jennifer Touch and Laura Dre added to their long playing portfolios, as did OHNOTHING and BUNNY X. Fronted by respectively by John Grant and Neil Arthur, CREEP SHOW and THE REMAINDER outlined the benefits of collaboration while CAUSEWAY joined forces with R. MISSING for the single ‘Wear The Night Out’.

Despite having plied their trade for over 50 years, SPARKS continued to be as eccentric as ever and even had Cate Blanchett appear in the video for ‘The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte’. With ‘*Happiness now completed’ and Dave Ball returning to the live fold after a period of serious illness, SOFT CELL effectively issued another new album featuring a significant number of previously unreleased tracks including covers of Giorgio Moroder and X-RAY SPEX to provide a much more satisfying listening experience than the parent ‘*Happiness not included’ record. Then there was the unexpected recorded return of CLASSIX NOUVEAUX with their ‘Battle Cry’.

Veteran acts who ceased active operations many years ago got worthy boxed set treatments; TELEX provided ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK with the funniest interview of the year in support of their self-titled retrospective on Mute while LANDSCAPE were comprehensively catalogued by Cooking Vinyl. Not to be left out, the trusty Cherry Red via their Lemon imprint showcased how underrated NEW MUSIK and their leader Tony Mansfield were, especially with the latter’s sound clearly audible in today’s pop acts such as THE WEEKND.

Despite the return of Q, the jury was still out on whether music magazines are still desirable aside from their CD and vinyl artefacts. Meanwhile, music-based social media dumbed down its engagement to cut ‘n’ paste Wikipedia snippets accompanying archive photos or artwork, pointless 26th anniversary posts and non-significant birthday celebrations to attract likes. Comments from the public such as “My favourite album… I wish I still had it!” and saying “Happy Birthday” when the platform wasn’t even connected to the artist concerned only highlighted further the continuing inane nature of online interaction. And this was without those irritating “POV” reels and reaction videos on TikTok and Instagram which were unfortunately prevalent!

The less said about the right wing gammon infested sh*t show that Twitter has become, the better but on the new Threads platform intended to take it on, PENDULUM’s El Hornet remarked “omg threads is full of music industry self help w*nkers making lists about things nobody asked abort! ABORT!” 🤣

With such platforms also seemingly centred around the exposure of flesh with photos “just for fun” be the subject a golfer, gamer, painter, baker, comedian, hairdresser, photographer, psychologist, racing driver, book reviewer, poet, dating coach or Lego enthusiast, is it any wonder that several music artists resorted to setting up OnlyFans accounts to sell nude photos!

With pun totally intended, in this challenging climate for exposure, some acts simply got a bit too big for their boots and were unbearably conceited on their socials with their bragging and frivolous chatter to appease a needy flock who hung onto their every word, desperate to be seen to be “friends” of wannabe stars while crowdfunding towards their spa weekenders and vet bills for their cat… it was therefore ironic that one of these acts declared “Music isn’t a competition!” when it appeared that another band might be taking away some of their limelight! Well, stop acting like it’s a 24 hour edition of ‘The Apprentice’ then!!! 🙄

On the other side of the coin, one too cool for school band took a strange attitude to promotion by refusing to accept questions about their influences while trying to come over like total originals. Despite their inspirations being blatant and obvious to hear, they had a misguided self-belief that they were somehow speaking a new language! But everybody knows they started out by purchasing the sheet music to ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ from a New York thrift store! 😆

A few years ago, a lone British artist was complained about the lack of press attention for their new admittedly good album, but then proceeded not to answer emails containing interview pitches. Artists need to engage, no matter how much they say they hate doing promotion, they can’t have it both ways. The days of RADIOHEAD not doing interviews to promote a new album and letting the music speak for itself are long gone…

With the world now making up for lost time since 2020, it would be fair to say that 2023 has been something of a strange year!


Text by Chi Ming Lai
18 December 2023

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 30 SONGS OF 2023

Making up for lost time and revenue since 2020, the music industry really went to town on their various income streams in 2023…

Albums were being released in multiple coloured vinyl editions with the same content, sometimes as many as eight versions… while this helped in inflating physical chart positions for marketing purposes, it also gave an incorrect perception of success. As Stephen Morris from NEW ORDER once remarked to Smash Hits back in 1983: “If you believe in the charts, then you may as well believe in fairies…”

With Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino declaring that concert ticket prices were generally too low and that artists could easily “charge a bit more”, this was exactly what quite a few did and there was a noticeable price hike observed across all levels over the year.

But what about the music? This year’s song listing was quite straightforward to compile, with a smaller shortlist compared to previous years with DURAN DURAN, KITE, PISTON DAMP, LEATHERS, DELERIUM and LADYTRON missing the final 30.

Just a note that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has never compiled an albums list, due to long form releases now having a much longer gestation period than in the past. Therefore, songs are a much better representation of the music from a calendar year. If you like the song, then check out the parent album or EP if applicable via your chosen music platform…

Selected from tracks available on the usual online retail platforms with a restriction of one song per artist moniker (so yes NINA, John Grant,  Finlay Shakespeare and Laura Bailey each appear twice but in different combinations), here are the ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 30 SONGS OF 2023 listed in alphabetical order…


BRIGITTE BARDINI Start A Fire

Hailing from Melbourne in Australia, Brigitte Bardini is the latest artist to embrace her dark side having begun as an acoustic singer songwriter. Moving away from the dreampop and shoegaze of her earlier material, ‘Start A Fire’ captured an alluring gothique on top of a gritty dance tempo while simultaneously haunting and melodic. The stylised rage was sinister stuff but aurally and visually absorbing.

Available on the BRIGITTE BARDINI single ‘Start A Fire’ via Ruby Valley Records

https://www.facebook.com/BrigitteBardiniMusic


BEBORN BETON Dancer In The Dark

Not a rework of Bruce Springsteen, the brilliant ‘Dancer In The Dark’ saw BEBORN BETON managing to out Camouflage CAMOUFLAGE with an infectious pop sensibility that more than likely came from front man and lyric writer Stefan Netschio’s love of DURAN DURAN. With another Cold War looming as if The Berlin Wall never fell, ‘Dancer In The Dark’ was a message to remain positive in the face of adversity.

Available on the BEBORN BETON album ‘Darkness Falls Again’ via Dependent Records

https://www.bebornbeton.com/


BLACKCARBURNING The Mirror

A product of lockdown, BLACKCARBURNING is the solo vehicle of Mark Hockings with the lead singer of MESH taking on multiple roles including programming and production. The spikey throbbing energy of ‘The Mirror’ provided a dark disco highlight away from the parent band’s template. “I’m just generally a fan of arpeggiated bass lines” he said, “I don’t think you can go far wrong with a repetitive sequence and a Roland drum machine”.

Available on the BLACKCARBURNING album ‘Watching Sleepers’ via COP International

https://blackcarburning.com/


LLOYD COLE The Idiot

With Lloyd Cole “excited to still be finding new methods, new perspectives, new sounds”, the standout song ‘The Idiot’ from his Chris Hughes’ produced album ‘On Pain’ gave a touching synth-laden narrative on the relationship between David Bowie and Iggy Pop as they relocated to Berlin in 1976 in an imagined conversation as the pair escaped their narcotic dependency while cycling to the studio and discothèque.

Available on the LLOYD COLE album ‘On Pain’ via earMUSIC

https://www.lloydcole.com/


CREEP SHOW The Bellows

A supergroup comprising of John Grant and the trio WRANGLER comprising of Stephen Mallinder, Ben Benge Edwards and Phil Winter, CREEP SHOW released their acclaimed debut album ‘Mr Dynamite’ in 2018. Utilising a punchy backing track, ‘The Bellows’ was like a blippy PET SHOP BOYS with layers of treated and vocodered vocals before being countered by enticing Middle Eastern resonances in the synth solo.

Available on the CREEP SHOW album ‘Yawning Abyss’ via Bella Union

http://creepshowmusic.com


DAWN TO DAWN Seventh Floor

Their first new track from DAWN TO DAWN since their 2022 debut album ‘Postcards From The Sun To The Moon’, the Montreal trio of solo artist Tess Roby with THE BEAT ESCAPE’s Adam Ohr and Patrick Lee conjured images of headlights on night drives with the shimmering story of love and lust that was ‘Seventh Floor’. With dreamy synthscapes and hypnotic drum machine, this was a wonderfully understated dance number.

Available on the DAWN TO DAWN digital single ‘Seventh Floor’ via SSURROUNDSS

https://www.facebook.com/dawntodawnmusic


FERAL FIVE Silver Sky

Creating their own “Feraltropolis”, the palette of tools on ‘Truth Is The New Gold’ saw FERAL FIVE use traditional instruments, electronica and AI voicing in a quirky but accessible fashion for a commentary on today’s strangely dystopian post-truth world. Exploring the theme of light pollution, the fine squelch laden ‘Silver Sky’ saw great vocals and backing reminiscent of INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP and DUBSTAR meeting GOLDFRAPP.

Available on the FERAL FIVE album ‘Truth Is The New Gold’ via Reckless Yes

https://www.feralfive.com/


FRAGRANCE. Much More Like A Wave – M!R!M Remix

Matthieu Roche is the enigmatic Parisian behind FRAGRANCE. whose debut ‘Dust & Disorders’ was expanded in 2023 with five new tracks. The first remix from it came in the shape of an excellent ‘Much More Like A Wave’ rework by London-based Italian producer M!R!M. “I love his take on the song” said Roche, “I always felt that the chorus of this song could work as an anthem and he definitely achieved that with his remix”

Available on the FRAGRANCE. digital single ‘Much More Like A Wave – M!R!M Remix’ via Sugarcane Recordings

https://www.facebook.com/thisisfragrance/


GLÜME Dangerous Blue

Following the acclaim for her debut ‘The Internet’ and her first liev appearences, the second Glüme album ‘Main Character’ with high profile guests such as Sean Ono Lennon and Rufus Wainwright was set to elevate her to the next level. However, things did not quite work out that way with health and financial concerns by the end of the year. ‘Dangerous Blue’ was one of the sparkling highlights despite its cooing melancholy.

Available on the GLÜME album ‘Main Character’ via Italians Do It Better

https://www.instagram.com/babyglume/


MADELINE GOLDSTEIN Seed of Doubt

Formally of synth-tinged Portland band FRINGE CLASS, Madeline Goldstein presented her best single yet in ‘Seed Of Doubt’ to launch her ‘Other World’ EP. With a wider narrative on “the restlessness of alienation and isolation, the longing to move, to feel power, and to flee”, ‘Seed Of Doubt’ was a brooding slice of gothwave in a manner tinged with some ghostly allure thanks to a haunting soprano delivery.

Available on the self-released MADELINE GOLDSTEIN EP ‘Other World’

https://www.instagram.com/madelinegoldstein_/


JORI HULKKONEN featuring JOHN GRANT I’m Going To Hell

“For my 50th birthday I wanted to do something a bit special” said Jori Hulkkonen, “however, the list of realistic projects quickly narrowed down on yet another album. I did manage to invite some friends and heroes to be featured on it, though.” The album assembled an impressive supporting cast; displaying his love of PET SHOP BOYS, hearing John Grant with his rich baritone on a house-driven pop track like ‘I’m Going To Hell’ was pure joy.

Available on the JORI HULKKONEN album ‘There Is Light Hidden In These Shadows’ via Blanco & Tinto Recordings

http://www.jorihulkkonen.com


ITALOCONNECTION featuring JAIA SOWDEN On The Radio

ITALOCONNECTION’s long player ‘Nordisko’ came with a twist by paying tribute to pop from the Nordic region via a collection of cover versions. Written by Jay-Jay Johanson, his marvellous 2002 tune ‘On The Radio’ was given an airy feminine disco makeover featuring Jaia Sowden on vocals. With absorbent sequences and glistening keys, it was a fine disco friendly shapeshift from the artpop original.

Available on the ITALOCONNECTION album ‘Nordisko’ via Mordisco / Blanco Y Negro

https://www.facebook.com/italoconnection


JAAKKO EINO KALEVI The Chamber Of Love

Athens-based Finn Jaakko Eino Kalevi sought to find beauty in the chaotic nature of the everyday on his new double album ‘Chaos Magic’. One of its many highlights ‘The Chamber Of Love’ bore a resemblance to WHAM! “I wrote the song before I ever heard ‘Everything She Wants’ but the arrangement was different” the Finn said, “I love ‘Everything She Wants’ so I arranged this song sounding more like that. It is more electronic now…”

Available on the JAAKKO EINO KALEVI album ‘Chaos Magic’ via Weird World / Domino Recording Co

https://www.jaakkoeinokalevi.com/


KID MOXIE & NINA Lust

When artists are mutual fans, it can lead to collaborative possibilities and even ‘Lust’. KID MOXIE and NINA teamed up via Italians Do It Better to capture a seductive film-noir tension within a fantasy world with the EP launched by a cover of ‘Waiting For The Night’, a song made famous by Jennifer Lopez. With a cool air of enigmatic mystery, the downtempo synthwave treatment on ‘Lust’ exuded a sensual anticipation of consummation in their duet.

Available on the KID MOXIE & NINA EP ‘Lust’ via Italians Do It Better

http://www.facebook.com/kidmoxie

https://www.iloveninamusic.com/


KNIGHT$ What Planet Did You Come From?

The first new music from KNIGHT$ since 2021, the vibrant hook-laden Eurobeat of ‘What Planet Did You Come From? (Baby)’ threw in the kitchen sink with synth, sax and vocoder. With shades of Patrick Cowley’s work for Sylvester and Bobby Orlando’s Divine productions, it affirmed that James Knights’ Britalo was just the tonic in these difficult times despite highlighting existential issues closer to home.

Available on the KNIGHT$ EP ‘$auna Mu$ik’ via Specchio Uomo

http://knights101.com/


NATION OF LANGUAGE I Will Never Learn

From their third album ‘Strange Disciple’ themed around “toxic infatuation”, the fittingly titled ‘I Will Never Learn’ summed up life’s trials and tribulations in a wonderful example of why NATION OF LANGUAGE appeal so much in their glorious mix of synths, live bass, sequencers and electronic percussion. A haunting girly falsetto howl provided a beautiful touch alongside their usual NEW ORDER, OMD and ULTRAVOX influences.

Available on the NATION OF LANGUAGE album ‘Strange Disciple’ via PIAS

https://www.nationoflanguage.com/


NEU-ROMANCER Burning Eyes

Having impressed with her first NEU-ROMANCER EP ‘Neue Romantika’ earlier in 2023 while touring the world with ZANIAS, Berlin-based Australian Laura Bailey ended the year with the cowbell heavy Hi-NRG romp ‘Burning Eyes’ on CURSES’ enjoyable album ‘Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’ compilation. It made use of both her vocal and bass prowess which were less prominent on her largely instrumental debut release.

Available on the compilation album ‘Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’ (V/A) via Eskimo Recordings

https://www.facebook.com/neu.romacer.music/


NNHMN Soldier of Beauty

As NNHMN, wife and husband “non-humans” Lee Margot and Michal Laudarg have been encapsulating these unsettling times in music. Adapting their dark electronic body style with more varied dance elements on their appropriately titled ‘Circle of Doom’ album, courtesy of a particularly hypnotic bassline, the wonderful serene glory of ‘Soldier of Beauty’ gave the viewpoint that the only honest thing to fight for is peace.

Available on the NNHMN album ‘Circle of Doom’ via Young and Cold Records

https://www.nnhmn.com


OMD Look At You Now

Derived from a Paul Humphreys demo with the working title of ‘Zimmer Frame for Andy’, this came bursting with the usual OMD hooks and was perhaps only missing a Paul Humphreys lead vocal. Lyrics such as “When the energy is gone and the feeling is just wrong” and “The power in your hand is pouring out like sand” pointed towards the ‘Bauhaus Staircase’ album’s political themes on the blind stupidity of Brexit.

Available on the OMD album ‘Bauhaus Staircase’ via 100% Records

https://omd.uk.com/


PAGE Det Här Är Mitt Sätt

Although the ‘En Ny Våg’ album title song took the PAGE “Numanisation” process to its zenith by featuring Chris Payne, outstripping it was the excellent jaunty robopop of ‘Det Här Är Mitt Sätt’. Within its four chord progression, there were catchy riffs and some fabulous vintage Moog soloing in what was originally conceived as a homage to ‘Fade To Grey’, song which Payne co-wrote.

Available on the PAGE album ‘En Ny Våg’ via Energy Rekords

https://www.facebook.com/PageElektroniskPop


THE REMAINDER Broken Manhole Cover

As well as Neil Arthur, THE REMAINDER also comprises Liam Hutton and Finlay Shakespeare, both members of the live BLANCMANGE family. The excellent dance friendly ‘Broken Manhole Cover’ recalled LCD SOUNDSYSTEM and it was all intentional as Neil Arthur told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK “you’ll hear me singing via a gated tremolo FX the words ‘LCD SOUNDSYSTEM’ most of the way through the song.”

Available on THE REMAINDER album ‘Evensong’ via by Blanc Check Ltd

http://www.blancmange.co.uk/

https://www.liamhutton.co.uk/

http://finlayshakespeare.com/


R. MISSING All Alone With Seas

Fronted by enigmatic Sharon Shy, having released enough singles this year to make up an album, R. MISSING are in danger of falling under the radar with the bubbly electronic pop noir of ‘All Alone With Seas’ almost passing by unnoticed despite being one of their best songs of late. A long playing release, while old fashioned and not playing the modern streaming algorithms, may provide the focal point that the New York-based duo deserve.

Available on the R. MISSING single ‘All Alone With Seas’ via Terminal Echo

https://rmissing.com/


SALLY SHAPIRO Rent

Covered by acts as diverse CARTER THE UNSTOBBALE SEX MACHINE and Liza Minnelli, the latest interpretation of PET SHOP BOYS stark narrative of a kept woman came via this wispy account by Swedish duo SALLY SHAPIRO. Keeping the original theme of relationship dependency close to its heart but offering an icier Nordic vision from a female perspective, Neil Tennant said “We’ve heard it! The chorus in particular sounds good”.

Available on the SALLY SHAPIRO single ‘Rent’ via Italians Do It Better

https://www.facebook.com/shapirosally


DIE SEXUAL Bound, I Rise

From out of the shadows to under the strobe lights, DIE SEXUAL are the Los Angeles-based wife-and-husband duo of Rosselinni and Anton Floriano, the latter part of BLACK LIGHT ODYSSEY who remixed the DEPECHE MODE bonus track ‘Oh Well’. Their dark electronic influences examine themes of domination and submission with the seductive ‘Bound, I Rise’ seeing the bottom switch to the top in a hypnotic EBM friendly stomper.

Available on DIE SEXUAL EP ‘Bound’ via A System Exclusive / Hush Ltd.

https://www.facebook.com/diesex


FINLAY SHAKESPEARE Ready Ready

“It’s an absolute rip off of OMD’s ‘2nd Thought’!” admitted Finlay Shakespeare of his glorious ‘Illusion + Memory’ album highlight ‘Ready Ready’. Almost Motorik in presence with a wonderfully pulsing drive and gorgeous synth tones, our hero doesn’t refrain from thoughts about “feeling at home through just a voice on the shortwave, when in fact you don’t know where you are and you could be in the crosshairs at any time and place.”

Available on the FINLAY SHAKESPEARE album ‘Illusion + Memory’ via Alter

http://finlayshakespeare.com/


SIERRA Stronger

Parisian producer Annelise Morel has been quietly impressing audiences over the past few years as SIERRA with her brand of intriguing darkwave. After several EP releases, her debut album ‘A Story Of Anger’ was a major artistic leap forward. Including collaborations with Carpenter Brut and HEALTH, the standout track was her autobiographical statement ‘Stronger’.

Available on the SIERRA album ‘A Story Of Anger’ via Universal Music

https://www.facebook.com/sierra.synthmusic


SOFT CELL The Day The World Turned Day-Glo

Always adept at doing covers having had hits with ‘Tainted Love’ and ‘What’, SOFT CELL presented a brilliant electro tribute to Poly Styrene with ‘The Day The World Turned Day-Glo’. Taking a musical leaf out of ‘Sex Dwarf’ with Dave Ball making his syndrums and synths sound so menacing yet accessible, while Marc Almond delivers a vocal recalling the anguish of ‘Martin’ with sleazy sax passages resonating with the dystopian lyrics.

Available on the SOFT CELL album ‘*Happiness now completed’ via BMG

http://www.softcell.co.uk


SOFTWAVE Taking Life For Granted

Despite its positive pop sound, the reflective lyrics on the second SOFTWAVE album ‘things we’ve done’ highlighted the challenges of living in a modern world full of dualities. ‘Taking Life For Granted’ saw the Danish duo of Catrine Christensen and Jerry Olsen go all ABBA-esque with someone “lacking gratitude” under attack, although the rousing chorus and a particularly joyous instrumental break gave the infinite hope.

Available on the SOFTWAVE album ‘things we’ve done’ via Electro Shock Records

http://www.softwavemusic.com/


RICKY WILDE X NINA Lovers On A Beach

A fabulous cover of the Italo flavoured Kim Wilde B-side to ‘The Second Time’ from 1984, the throbbing ‘Lovers On A Beach’ is NINA sounding sexier than ever before. Ricky Wilde said “I just thought there was a little bit more that it needed that I maybe wanted to add back in the day”. With sharp spikey edges boosting the trancey template, he provided a superb extended end section that paid homage to Giorgio Moroder in the best way possible.

Available on the RICKY WILDE X NINA album ‘Scala Hearts’ via New Retro Wave

https://twitter.com/Wildericky

https://www.iloveninamusic.com/


ZANIAS Lovelife

Following one of the most traumatic periods of her life, Alison Lewis returned as her solo alter-ego Zoe Zanias to present ‘Chrysalis’.  As the title suggests, it was a rebirth. With glorious arpeggios and lush synth strings, ‘Lovelife’ was bolstered with bass guitar by live bandmate Laura Bailey aka NEU-ROMANCER while an array of pitch-shifted voice samples acted as an abstract lead vocal before the actual one kicked in.

Available on the ZANIAS album ‘Chrysalis’ via Fleisch

https://www.facebook.com/zoe.zanias/


A selection of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s favourite music of 2023 featuring 230+ tracks has been compiled for its ‘Initial After Brilliance’ playlist


Text by Chi Ming Lai
7 December 2023

SOFT CELL *Happiness now completed

2022’s ‘*Happiness not included’ was SOFT CELL’s first album of new material since ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ which hit the shops 20 years before.

Seeded by a reunion following their original 1984 disbandment, after a difficult album campaign for ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ which front man Marc Almond later described as “a terrible mistake”, he and instrumental partner Dave Ball became estranged for many years . That was until a 2018 reunion show at London’s O2 Arena; although this was intended to be a formal retirement party for the Northern electronic soul duo, their “synthesis of sunshine and shadow” could not be denied or resisted.

“Dave and I were transformed by each other” said Almond and like a chemical reaction, there was a second joyous recorded reunion. Although it stated clearly on the tin ‘*Happiness not included’, such was the rejuvenation that although 12 songs ended up on the album, there was enough unused songs, cover versions, bonuses, B-sides and extended mixes to compile two new collections for a ‘Happiness…’ trilogy.

Produced as with the parent album by Philip Larsen, ‘*Happiness now extended’ presents the original ‘*Happiness not included’ album as traditional 12” versions to encapsulate the early clubbing spirit and imperial phase of SOFT CELL. With many of the tracks conceived as longer works, the title song, ‘Nighthawks’ and ‘Tranquiliser’ particularly benefit from this treatment.

But ‘*Happiness now completed’ is effectively a new album, featuring a significant number of previously unreleased tracks as well as reworkings of several other recordings that did not feature in the main act. Among the best tracks are two cover versions , ‘First Hand Experience In Second Hand Love’ which was originally on Giorgio Moroder’s pioneering 1977 album ‘From Here To Eternity’ which spawned a Top 20 hit single of the same name and X RAY SPEX ‘The Day The World Turned Day-Glo’, a No23 UK hit in 1978.

With ‘Tainted Love’, ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’, ‘What’, ‘You Only Live Twice’, ‘Down In The Subway’ and ‘The Night’ in their portfolio already, SOFT CELL have a good track record with covers and ‘First Hand Experience In Second Hand Love’ locks into a fine spacious electronic groove, complete with vocoder to make a fine SOFT CELL dance track in its own right.

Meanwhile in a brilliant metronomic electro tribute to Poly Styrene, ‘The Day The World Turned Day-Glo’ takes a musical leaf out of ‘Sex Dwarf’ with Ball making his syndrums and synths sound so menacing yet accessible, while Almond delivers a vocal recalling the anguish of ‘Martin’ with sleazy sax passages from Gary Barnacle resonating with the dystopian lyrics.

‘Back To Nature’ is an improved version with a new vocal of the FAD GADGET cover that originally came from the ‘Magick Mutants’ bonus EP in the 2019 book, ‘To Show You I’ve Been There’. While it is a nice tribute “For Frank” Tovey who was a fellow art student at Leeds Polytechnic, it perhaps does not shine as brightly as ‘The Day The World Turned Day-Glo’ or ‘First Hand Experience In Second Hand Love’

Of the self-compositions, one of the highlights is ‘Murder Your Darlings’ where the minimal template of vintage chattering Roland drum machine and pulsating electronics allows the spirit of SOFT CELL to come across best. But in an unexpected twist, the windswept tones of ULTRAVOX add another icy dimension. ‘Jukebox Head’ also follows this sparser template although in a more frantic fashion as it buzzes and blips before amusingly threatening to drift into ‘Sometimes When We Touch’, the 1977 ballad hit by Dan Hill…

The ‘Bruises On All My Illusions’ B-side ‘Vapourise’ is a superb inclusion and really should have made it onto the parent album along with several other songs; ‘Quiet Rebellion’ comes over as an obvious outtake from the original ‘*Happiness not included’ album while the previously issued ‘Strange Kinda Dance’ does as it suggests in its dark electro-disco and heavier beats. More steadfast and filmic, ‘Defiant’ provides the drama.

Originally part of the 8 GB USB stick sold at the London O2 show in 2018, the nocturnal motorik YOLO thrill that is ‘Night & The City’ is updated for 2023 while in a similar energetic vein, ‘Gemini Lounge’ sees Dave Ball take a leaf out of the Vince Clarke book of sequencing as the rhythmic tension builds.

Born of desire, ‘You Kill Me’ offers a bouncy Gene Pitney flavour and a great line in “cyanide on a rollercoaster ride” as well as “sha-dup” backing vocals. Then in a re-recording of the song from ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ reworked with brass for that classic downtown pop feel, ‘Last Chance’ presents the follow-up to ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ like Tony Hatch meeting SOFT CELL.

Various radio edits of songs such as ‘Nostalgia Machine’ and ‘Bruises On All My Illusions’ plus a take on ‘*Happiness not lncluded’ featuring Gary Barnacle on sax are also among the extras but Cellmates will be fascinated by the original SOFT CELL only version of ‘Purple Zone’ which is a far more restrained production than the more familiar PET SHOP BOYS kitchen sink rework.

Happiness gets completed with the “dirty disco” Chris & Cosey remix of ‘Nighthawks’ which Dave Ball recently declared his favourite third party remix of the current era of SOFT CELL; “it doesn’t bear much resemblance to the original” he said, “but it still sounds fantastic.”

‘*Happiness Now Completed’ is a worthy supplement that contains some excellent tracks to provide an appendix to this phase of SOFT CELL, but what next? “I’ve always said that I’m up for new Soft Cell music if Dave has the tunes” says Marc Almond. Meanwhile Dave Ball said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “I’ve been getting some new rough ideas for backing tracks for SOFT CELL, should there be another album. Marc seems to want to do another one and I do. I hope there may be another SOFT CELL album but you’re going to have to wait a while…”

It looks like they might well say hello again 😉


‘*Happiness now completed’ released on 28 July 2023 via BMG as a CD + download, available from https://www.softcell.co.uk/product/happiness-now-completed-cd

The companion limited edition black double vinyl album ‘*Happiness now extended’ with download key is also out on the same day, available from https://www.softcell.co.uk/product/happiness-now-extended-double-black-vinyl

http://www.softcell.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/softcellband/

https://twitter.com/softcellhq

https://www.instagram.com/softcellhq/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Andrew Whitton
25 July 2023

25 FAVOURITE MUSIC BOOKS

Factory Records impresario and Granada TV presenter Tony Wilson once said: “When forced to pick between truth and legend, print the legend.”

Books about the trials and tribulations of the music industry come in all shapes, sizes and angles. The approach can be tricky… should they be personal accounts, encyclopaedic histories, stories based on real life but with some spin, or just snapshots of an era?

In recent years, autobiographies and memoirs have become very popular as money for old rope in the absence of physical music sales. These can range from being informative and hilarious to extremely bitter, with others coming over very dull in an attempt not to upset anybody. Meanwhile others feature so many falsehoods that they may as well be placed in the ‘Fiction’ section.

One less appealing format that has been gaining increasing prevalence is the fan memory compendium; this could be seen as a lazy and cheaper way of producing a publication as followers compete to be seen as the biggest fan. Meanwhile others, notably members of lower league bands, try to make out they were massive fans in the first place with recollections that are actually veiled attempts to promote their own music.

When writing a music book, it helps to actually read and research a few beforehand. In addition, when deciding whether a point is worthy of inclusion, the viewpoint of the reader must always be taken into consideration as they hypothetically ponder “so what?”. 

The 21st Century ubiquity of social media has proved that not everyone can string a coherent sentence together.  But where that may seem a barrier, a ghost writer can be the subject’s best friend and a number of the books listed here have taken that route.

Not a best of list, here are 25 music books that have become the personal favourites of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK listed in yearly and then alphabetical order by title.


DEPECHE MODE: BLACK CELEBRATION Steve Malins (1999)

Steve Malins’ biography features interviews with Alan Wilder, Daniel Miller and Flood. Offering assessment on the unusual band dynamic, one story that highlights things were going south is the debauched cricket match between DEPECHE MODE and OMD during the 1988 US tour. The continually underappreciated Wilder declares how he proudly bowled out Andy McCluskey whom he intensely disliked. Meanwhile Dave Gahan hovered up a line of coke before going into bat and was inevitably out for a golden duck!

‘Black Celebration’ was originally published by Andre Deutsch Ltd with 2001, 2005 + 2013 updated editions

https://www.depechemode.com/


TAINTED LIFE Marc Almond (1999)

This is a frank but humorous autobiography by the SOFT CELL frontman about living life with art school aspirations but suddenly thrust into becoming a pop star and having false tabloid stories written about him in a homophobic world. Attempting to rebuild a career having signed to Warners in 1991, in a reality check, he is told by MD Rob Dickens that the world does not need another Marc Almond album and suggests recording a Trevor Horn produced cover of Jacques Brel’s ‘Jacky’ as made famous by Scott Walker…

‘Tainted Life’ was originally published by Pan Books

http://www.marcalmond.co.uk/


I WAS A ROBOT Wolfgang Flür (2000)

‘I Was A Robot’ was the controversial autobiographical exposé of the KRAFTWERK machine combined with Wolfgang Flür’s partying exploits. However, as his account of OMD coming backstage to meet the band after the Liverpool Empire gig in 1975 has since proved to be false while his musical contribution to KRAFTWERK recordings has been shown to have been minimal, although entertaining, parts of this book should be taken with a pinch of salt.

‘I Was A Robot’ was originally published by Omnibus Press with 2003 + 2017 revised editions

https://www.facebook.com/WolfgangFlur1


THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF CLASSIC 80s POP Jonathan Blythe (2002)

Written in the irreverent vein of classic Neil Tennant-era Smash Hits, the best quote in this amusing book is about DURAN DURAN: “You will have surely have wondered why the girl you fancied seemed far more interested in a slightly porky bloke with bleached-blond hair and a foppish name. The compilation ‘Decade’ contains the 80s hits, but if you want a more comprehensive overview, go for the other one ‘Greatest’. You can usually find them both in the ‘CDs for £5.99’ section, to be honest”

‘The Encyclopaedia Of Classic 80s Pop’ was originally published by Allison & Busby

https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/1172733.The_Encyclopaedia_Of_Classic_80s_Pop


24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE Tony Wilson (2002)

Given the Factory Records catalogue number FAC 424 and subtitled “What The Sleeve Notes Never Tell You”, this account of the Manchester independent label is centred around Wilson’s noted ego where the narrative reads as enjoyable spin rather than factual stories about the label, its bands and The Haçienda. His alleged legendary quote that ”The musicians own everything. The company owns nothing. All our bands have the freedom to f**k off” was to prove to be his downfall…

’24 Hour Party People’ was originally published by Macmillan

https://factoryrecords.org/


NEW ROMANTICS: THE LOOK Dave Rimmer (2003)

Smash Hits writer and author of ‘Like Punk Never Happened…’ Dave Rimmer takes a look at the flamboyant New Romantics via The Blitz Club playlists and profiles of SPANDAU BALLET, VISAGE, DURAN DURAN, SOFT CELL, DEPECHE MODE, KRAFTWERK and DAF. The Myth of Berlin and Futurism are also discussed and there are plenty of glossy photos that encapsulate its spirit.

‘The Look’ was originally published by Omnibus Press

https://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Writer/dave-rimmer/


IF I WAS Midge Ure (2004)

With dry humour, this is a sincere and honest account by Midge Ure of his career which included being a teen pop idol with SLIK who had their own Look-In magazine comic strip. As well as accounts of his success with ULTRAVOX and VISAGE and as a solo artist, there is also his darker descent into alcoholism in the wake of low sales. Our hero is candid about the occasionally tense dynamics with his colleagues, while an insight into VISAGE’s original contract with Polydor makes very interesting reading.

‘If I Was’ was originally published by Virgin Books with 2011 revised edition

http://www.midgeure.co.uk/


PET SHOP BOYS, CATALOGUE Philip Hoare & Chris Heath (2006)

This is a superbly presented visual retrospective of PET SHOP BOYS up to ‘Battleship Potemkin’ featuring artwork, video stills, stage sets and other artefacts accompanied by insightful commentary. There is also a chronology included as well as an interview with Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe who again steals the show with the quip “We still are grumpy, actually”!

‘Catalogue’ was originally published by Thames and Hudson Ltd

https://www.petshopboys.co.uk/


BRIAN ENO: ON SOME FARAWAY BEACH David Sheppard (2008)

Credited with taking David Bowie into “a whole new school of pretension” with The Berlin Trilogy, this authorised biography on Brian Eno traces his career beginning as a self-confessed non-musician with ROXY MUSIC twisting knobs on a VCS3 to producing U2. In between, he makes synthesizers go bong, popularises ambient music, develops Oblique Strategies with artist Peter Schmidt and gets his head around programming the Yamaha DX7. But the biggest revelation in the book? “Eno was shagging more women than Ferry”!

‘On Some Faraway Beach’ was originally published by Orion

http://www.enoweb.co.uk/


SPARKS: No1 SONG IN HEAVEN Dave Thompson (2009)

An enjoyable unauthorised biography of SPARKS, Ron and Russell Mael’s endearingly witty contributions to this book come from the author’s interviews with the brothers conducted between 1985-2009. There are also press cuttings, an expansive discography and a collector’s guide alongside quotes from former backing band members. But while the stories of the various albums are detailed, those wanting gossip on personal lives will be disappointed.

‘No1 Song In Heaven’ was originally published by Cherry Red Books

http://allsparks.com/


GARY NUMAN: BACK STAGE Stephen Roper (2012)

‘A Book Of Reflections’, long time Numanoid Stephen Roper gives a comprehensive account of the imperial years of Gary Numan from 1979 to 1981 via a series of interviews and memories from band members Chris Payne, RRussell Bell and the late Cedric Sharpley as well as the man himself. OMD’s Andy McCluskey, SIMPLE MINDS’ Jim Kerr and Nash The Slash give the viewpoint of the support acts while there are also additional observations from John Foxx, Richard Jobson and Jerry Casale.

‘Back Stage’ was originally published independently with revised 2017 eBook edition available from https://back-stage.dpdcart.com/cart/view#/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-rRuX6k___Y4ZkTHwQg–Q


IN THE PLEASURE GROOVE: LOVE, DEATH & DURAN DURAN John Taylor (2012)

This autobiography traces the story of how a nervous bespectacled Brummie lad called Nigel became an international sex symbol as John Taylor, bassist of DURAN DURAN; “Now, I had only to wink in a girl’s direction in a hotel lobby, backstage or at a record company party, and have company until the morning” he recalls. As outrageous and debauched as some of these anecdotes of sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are, it would have been very difficult for anyone thrust into this position aged 21 to have acted any differently.

‘In The Pleasure Groove’ was originally published by Sphere

http://www.duranduran.com/


MAD WORLD Lori Majeski & Jonathan Bernstein (2014)

‘Mad World’ delves into the spirit, the politics and the heartache behind some of the greatest songs in popular culture with an American MTV viewpoint courtesy of enthusiastic Duranie Lori Majewski, balanced by the critique of Glaswegian Jonathan Bernstein. The contrasting dynamic ensures a celebration of the era while simultaneously pulling no punches with Bernstein lobbing hand grenades in the direction of KAJAGOOGOO and THOMPSON TWINS!

‘Mad World’ was originally published by Abrams Image

https://www.facebook.com/madworldthebook


JAPAN: A FOREIGN PLACE Anthony Reynolds (2015)

With the co-operation of Richard Barbieri, Steve Jansen and Rob Dean, this book is the first of its kind about the influential enigma that was JAPAN. With detailed accounts by band members and controversial manager Simon Napier-Bell among others, notably absent is David Sylvian who appears via archive interviews while the late Mick Karn is quoted from his own autobiography ‘Japan & Self Existence’.

‘A Foreign Place’ was originally published by Burning Shed

http://nightporter.co.uk/


ELECTRI_CITY: THE DÜSSELDORF SCHOOL OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC Rudi Esch (2016)

First published in German in 2015, this history gives a fascinating insider’s account of The Düsseldorf School and its cultural significance via interview quotes. Contributors on the home side include Wolfgang Flür, Robert Görl, Gabi Delgado, Hans Lampe, Ralf Dörper and Susanne Freytag, while the Brits they influenced feature Andy McCluskey, Martyn Ware, Dave Ball and Daniel Miller among their number. As Robert Görl says: “Wir wollten lieber mit Maschinen arbeiten… We always preferred working with machines”.

‘Electri_City’ was originally published by Omnibus Press

https://www.facebook.com/Electri.city.Esch


LET’S MAKE LOTS OF MONEY Tom Watkins with Matthew Lindsay (2016)

Subtitled “Secrets of a Rich, Fat, Gay, Lucky Bastard”, this is the autobiography of the late Tom Watkins, the Svengali who managed PET SHOP BOYS, BROS and EAST 17. “A big man with a loud voice” said Neil Tennant, but he had a bolshy ability to extract favourable deals including a rumoured 20% commission on gross income while always asking “What would Edna in Huddersfield think?”. Later becoming disillusioned with the pop industry, he describes ‘The X Factor’ as being like “a Nuremberg Rally on pink drugs”

‘Let’s Make Lots Of Money’ was originally published by Virgin Books

https://www.electricityclub.co.uk/tom-watkins-lets-make-lots-of-money/


SUBSTANCE: INSIDE NEW ORDER Peter Hook (2016)

An informative in-depth look inside NEW ORDER, this huge memoir running to over 750 pages by Peter Hook was informative but not unsurprisingly tinged with bitterness and anger. But if you want to know where the band played on 9 April 1985, it’s here! There are track-by-track rundowns of each NEW ORDER album (apart from ’Republic’) and if you’ve always wanted to find out which sequencer was used on ‘True Faith’ or what Hooky’s Top16 bass cab messages are, then look no further!

‘Substance’ was originally published by Simon & Schuster

https://www.facebook.com/peterhookandthelight/


RECORD PLAY PAUSE + FAST FORWARD: Stephen Morris (2019 + 2020)

Effectively a lengthy book divided into two parts, Volume I of Stephen Morris’ memoir demonstrated his abilities as an engaging storyteller blessed with an entertaining dry wit, able to convey his growing up in an amusing and relatable manner. In the NEW ORDER dominated Volume II, readers cannot help but laugh out loud when our hero discovers that the 10 mile shooting range of his newly acquired ex-British Army Abbot FV433 self-propelled gun will make Bernard Sumner’s house in Alderley Edge an easy target!

‘Record Play Pause Rewind’ + ‘Fast Forward’ were originally published by Constable

https://twitter.com/stephenpdmorris


ELECTRONIC BOY: MY LIFE IN & OUT OF SOFT CELL Dave Ball (2020)

The quiet half of SOFT CELL, Dave Ball attended the same Blackpool school as Chris Lowe from PET SHOP BOYS but they never met. There was obviously something in the sea and the accounts of the Northern Soul scene point towards how that influence, along with the affordability of synthesizers, was to seed a long and successful music career which later included THE GRID. The Electronic Boy is honest about his various demons, but there is also humour and an equipment list appendix plus plenty of technical talk.

‘Electronic Boy’ was originally published by Omnibus Press

https://www.facebook.com/daveballofficial


ADVENTURES IN MODERN RECORDING Trevor Horn (2022)

Chaptered around 23 significant pieces of music in the life of Trevor Horn, the producer provides an insight into the making of his greatest moments. Music industry politics are discussed, notably with his ZTT signings FRANKIE GOES HOLLYWOOD, PROPAGANDA and THE ART OF NOISE. Among the revelations are getting bassist Mark Lickley fired from ABC but in all, this is a fun read with lots of name dropping… so imagine sitting in a van with Grace Jones and Jackie Chan that has no seat belts!

‘Adventures In Modern Recording’ was originally published by Nine Eight

https://www.facebook.com/trevorhornofficial


ELECTRONICALLY YOURS Vol1 Martyn Ware (2022)

An autobiography that covers up to the end of 1992, a quarter of the book is brilliantly devoted to a track-by-track analysis of every released recording that Martyn Ware was involved in by THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HEAVEN 17 and BEF. Politics looms within ‘Electronically Yours Vol1’ but without this socially conscientious drive , there would be no ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ or ‘The Luxury Gap’. With the recent passing of Tina Turner, Ware’s accounts of working with her now have added poignancy.

‘Electronically Yours Vol1’ was originally published by Constable

https://martynwareofficial.co.uk/


LISTENING TO THE MUSIC THE MACHINES MAKE Richard Evans (2022)

Focussing on “inventing electronic pop”, ‘Listening To The Music The Machines Make’ tells the story of the Synth Britannia generation by referencing archive material rather than via new interviews with the protagonists of the period. The end result is a more accurate picture of how synthesized forms were derided by a hostile music press back in the day, contrasting the rose tinted view projected by some cultural observers and fans today. But over 40 years on, this music has won the fight with many of the acts still performing today.

‘Listening To The Music The Machines Make’ was originally published by Omnibus Press

https://inventingelectronicpop.com/


THE SOUND OF THE MACHINE: MY LIFE IN KRAFTWERK & BEYOND Karl Bartos (2022)

A detailed autobiography of Karl Bartos about his time in KRAFTWERK and more, his optimistic disposition is a key aspect of this story. But although rising to the ranks of co-writer for ‘The Man Machine’ album, some members were more equal than others as Ralf Hütter bagged himself 50% of the publishing for the lyrics of ‘Spacelab’ and ‘Metropolis’ despite those tracks containing one word, thus reducing Bartos’ musical share! Bitterness is largely absent from this book, but it is no “sex, synths und schlagzeug” romp either.

‘The Sound Of The Machine’ was originally published by Omnibus Press

http://www.karlbartos.com/


THEMES FOR GREAT CITIES: A NEW HISTORY OF SIMPLE MINDS Graeme Thompson (2022)

Featuring new interviews with original members Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill, Mick MacNeil and Derek Forbes, this biography focuses on the SIMPLE MINDS era of 1979-1985 when they were at their imperial and imaginative best. So where did it all go wrong? The book reveals what ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has thought since buying the album in 1984 and that Jim Kerr himself now confirms… the second half of ‘Sparkle In The Rain’ is not particularly good! So who agrees? “LET ME SEE YOUR HANDS!”

‘Themes For Great Cities’ was originally published by Constable

https://www.simpleminds.com/


CONFORM TO DEFORM: THE WEIRD & WONDERFUL WORLD OF SOME BIZZARE Wesley Doyle (2023)

The story of Some Bizzare was always going to be a grand undertaking but Wesley Doyle managed to assemble Marc Almond, Dave Ball, Matt Johnson, Daniel Miller, Steve Hovington, Neil Arthur, JG Thirlwell, Stephen Mallinder, Anni Hogan, Stevo Pearce and his long suffering personal assistant Jane Rolink to document the rise and fall of the label that got into bed with the majors. Opting for a chronological quotes narrative, the book captures the personality of the characters involved and the tensions between them.

Conform To Deform’ was originally published by Jawbone Press

https://twitter.com/WesleyDoyleUK


Text by Chi Ming Lai
13 June 2023

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