Tag: Soft Metals (Page 1 of 2)

25 FAVOURITE SYNTH INSTRUMENTALS Of The 21ST CENTURY

Today, electronic instrumental music is everywhere, but often in the form of tedious dance tracks with no tunes all over Beatport and social media.

Luckily, there are still exponents of the classic synth instrumental, and thanks to the rise of the Synthwave sub-genre, there is currently a sympathetic environment for more esoteric and melodic musical offerings.

The key to a good instrumental is it either has to be very melodic to make up for the lack of vocals or very unobtrusive so that while the music is interesting enough to be listened to, it can also be ignored. Thus a Eurorack modular tutorial cannot credibly count as a valid release… 😉

As a follow-up to TEC’s 25 SYNTH INSTRUMENTALS Of The CLASSIC ERA, with a limit of one track per artist, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK presents its 25 FAVOURITE SYNTH INSTRUMENTALS Of The 21ST CENTURY in chronological and then alphabetical order…


SYSTEM F Insolation (2000)

While Dutch producer Ferry Corsten hit paydirt with club hits such as ‘Out Of The Blue’ and ‘Cry’ as SYSTEM F, the debut album pointed towards the Trance’s link to electronic pop. As well as a collaboration with Marc Almond entitled ‘Soul On Soul’, the long player included the beautifully majestic classic instrumental ‘Insolation’ which took a breather from the usual four-to-the floor format.

Available on the album ‘Out Of The Blue’ via Premier

http://www.ferrycorsten.com/


PPK ResuRection – Perfecto Edit (2001)

PPK were a Russian trance duo comprising of  Sergei Pimenov and Alexander Polyakov. The original melody of ‘ResuRection’ came from Eduard Artemyev’s synthesized theme from the epic 1979 Soviet movie ‘Siberiade’ which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. Easily mistaken for JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, the thrusting seven minute ‘Perfecto Edit’ in particular was like an exuberant rocket launch set to music.

Originally released by Perfecto Records, currently unavailable

http://promodj.com/ppk


LADYTRON Turn It On (2002)

With a piercing synthphonic riff, scat vocoder, robotic bass and a rigid programmed beat, ‘Turn It On’ saw LADYTRON take a bleep forward with an attempt at a KRAFTWERK track for the 21st Century via Liverpool, Glasgow and Sofia. But as it headed towards its final third, it detoured back to Liverpool and turned into ‘Electricity’ in a cheeky homage to Merseyside’s original electronic trailblazers OMD.

Available on the album ‘Light & Magic’ via Telstar

http://www.ladytron.com/


FROST Klong (2003)

A Norwegian electronic duo consisting of Aggie Peterson and Per Martinsen, FROST released their second album ‘Melodica’ to a positive response, thanks to some production assistance by RÖYKSOPP on two tracks. The beautiful Arctic serenity of ‘Klong’ featuring local trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær alongside layers of gorgeous crystalline synths was one of the album’s highlights that easily outdid anything by GROOVE ARMADA and didn’t rely on using samples either.

Available on the album ‘Melodica’ via Frost World Recordings

https://frostnorway.com/


MYLO Emotion 96.8 (2004)

‘Destroy Rock & Roll’ was the well-received debut album by Scottish DJ Myles MacInnes that alongside DAFT PUNK and BASEMENT JAXX, summed up the sample laden dance music that was prevalent at the time. Produced on a computer in his own bedroo, the album’s best track however was the more downtempo, MOBY-esque richness of ‘Emotion 96.8’ with its beautiful sweeping synth melodies and unobtrusive rhythm structure. A follow-up to the long player has yet to appear.

Available on the album ‘Destroy Rock & Roll’ via Breastfed

http://www.mylo.tv/


ORBITAL Pants (2004)

With a hypnotic Motorik rhythm, pulsating bleeps and spacey whirs driving a moodier template along the lines of cult German experimentalists EMAK, Phil and Paul Hartnoll continued their primarily instrumental template on their ‘Blue Album’, although SPARKS contributed vocals to a totally unrelated track called ‘Acid Pants’. The brothers split shortly after the long player’s release, but returned in 2009 to play The Big Chill Festival.

Available on the album ‘Blue Album’ via Orbital Music

http://orbitalofficial.com/


MOBY Homeward Angel (2005)

From ‘Hymn’ to ‘First Cool Hive’ to ‘A Seated Night’, the man born Richard Melville Hall is a master of the instrumental. The solemn ‘Homeward Angel’ closed MOBY’s comparatively conventional and sample-less ‘Hotel’ album with a solemn yet uplifting slice of mood music that in retrospect, was incongruous with the main act. However, since leaving Mute in 2008, his more recent self-released albums such as ‘Destroyed’ and ‘Innocents’ have displayed this more esoteric quality.

Available on the album ‘Hotel’ via Mute Records

http://moby.com/


RÖYKSOPP Alpha Male (2005)

A ten minute instrumental epic, ‘Alpha Male’ came from RÖYKSOPP’s under rated second long player, one that moved away from the chill-out climes of ‘Melody AM’ into much darker sonic territory. The track’s lengthy ambient intro was interrupted by a mighty metronomic beat and the sort of progressive synth overtures that would have made JEAN-MICHEL JARRE proud.

Available on the album ‘The Understanding’ via Wall Of Sound Records

http://royksopp.com/


JOHN FOXX Kurfurstdendam (2006)

Since his musical return in 1997 with ‘Shifting City’, JOHN FOXX has practically had albums coming out of his ears in song-based, ambient and soundtrack formats, both solo and in collaboration with other artists. The spacey mechanical Schaffel of ‘Kurfurstdendam’ came from an imaginary soundtrack he called ‘Tiny Colour Movies’, inspired by a friend’s birthday screening of a private film collection comprising of random surveillance clips and offcuts from Hollywood.

Available on the album ‘Tiny Colour Movies’ via Metamatic Records

http://www.metamatic.com/


SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN Space-Elevator (2007)

Few acts actually genuinely sound like their name… SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN, which translates as “the last man in space”, is the solo project of Swedish synthpop trailblazer Eddie Bengtsson, he of PAGE and S.P.O.C.K fame. The frantic ‘Space-Elevator’ with its swimmy string synths and Sci-Fi derived melody acted as an effective Moroder-esque interlude on his excellent sixth album ‘Tredje Våningen’.

Available on the album ‘Tredje Våningen’ via Energy Rekords

http://www.moonbasealpha.space/


TENEK Ice Fields (2007)

Borrowing the distinctive bassline from SIMPLE MINDS’ 1981 single ‘Love Song’, the British duo put together this lively danceable instrumental for their debut TENEK EP. With a modern mechanical groove coupled to their trademark synth rock, the almost funky ‘Ice Fields’ became an early live favourite, although the duo have focussed on more song based adventures for their three albums to date, ‘Stateless’, ‘On The Wire’ and ‘Smoke & Mirrors’.

Available on ‘EP1+’ via https://tenek.bandcamp.com/album/ep1

http://www.tenek.co.uk/


KLEERUP Hero (2008)

In 2007, Andreas Kleerup, producer and one-time drummer for THE MEAT BOYS, undertook his first mainstream collaboration with fellow Swede ROBYN. The success of ‘With Every Heartbeat’ led to the recording of his self-titled debut album which featured a number of brilliant instrumentals. ‘Hero’ was its perfect start and with a solid bassline and strong choral timbres, it had the vibe of how OMD might have sounded if they had formed in the 21st Century.

Available on the album ‘Kleerup’ via EMI Music

http://kleerup.net/


DAFT PUNK Tron Legacy – End Titles (2010)

While most of the ‘Tron Legacy’ soundtrack album was arranged and orchestrated by Joseph Trapanese, DAFT PUNK’s spiky electronics and drum machine were kept in alongside the epic strings for the end titles of the sequel to the 1982 movie ‘Tron’. There were nods to Wendy Carlos who composed the score to the original film, with Thomas Bangalter focusing on the heroic themes while Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo was more inclined to generating the darker elements.

Available on the soundtrack album ‘Tron Legacy’ via Walt Disney Records

https://www.daftpunk.com/


047 Kanpai! (2011)

Forming in 2001, Swedish duo 047 began their chiptune experiments thought a mutual appreciation of vintage video games. But after their debut long player, Peter Engström and Sebastian Rutgersson began to incorporate melodic song based elements and vocals into their music. The end results led to the impressive second album ‘Elva’, but they celebrated their chiptune influenced roots with the jolly YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA salute of ‘Kanpai!’

Available on the album ‘Elva’ via Killing Music

http://www.047.se/


MARSHEAUX Now & Never (2012)

‘The E-Bay Queen Is Dead’ was collection of rarities from the MARSHEAUX archives. While Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou have done a fair number of cover versions in their time, they are not really known for doing instrumentals. But the electro-boppy ‘Now & Never’ was a very promising wordless demo that Vince Clarke would have approved of; as one of his former DEPECHE MODE colleagues once sang: “words are very unnecessary…”

Available on the album ‘The E-Bay Queen Is Dead’ via Undo Records

http://marsheaux.com/


SOFT METALS Hourglass (2012)

Fusing Detroit techno with more European experimental forms, Patricia Hall and Ian Hicks’ second SOFT METALS album ‘Lenses’ featured the fabulous instrumental ‘Hourglass’. As Hall put it: “I really wanted to write lyrics for that one, but was never quite satisfied with what I came up with. I decided it would be better to let that one be an instrumental. I think it holds up on its own. It’s nice to give the listener a chance to interpret its meaning on its own rather than direct them with words”.

Available on the album ‘Lenses’ via Captured Tracks

https://www.facebook.com/SOFTMETALS/


VILE ELECTRODES The future through a lens (2013)

Anais Neon and Martin Swan’s tribute to ‘Assault On Precinct 13’, ‘The future through a lens’ was a moody but booming instrumental that began their excellent debut longer player of the same name, which later netted a Schallewelle Award for ‘Best International Album’ in 2014. With their vast array of analogue synthesizers and exquisite taste for sound textures, it won’t be too surprising if VILE ELECTRODES aren’t offered some soundtrack opportunities in the near future.

Available on the album ‘The future through a lens’ via
https://vileelectrodes.bandcamp.com/album/the-future-through-a-lens

http://www.vileelectrodes.com/


TODD TERJE Delorean Dynamite (2014)

Although making his name within EDM circles, the Norwegian producer born Todd Olsen paid a musical tribute to ‘Back To The Future’ and its futuristic gull-wing doored Delorean DMC-12 car with this suitably driving Synthwave instrumental. Unlike other so-called dance producers, Terje is conversant with electronic music history and possesses a wry sense of humour, as evidenced by the witty wordplay of track titles like ‘Inspector Norse’ and his own DJ moniker.

Available on the album ‘It’s Album Time’ via Olsen Records

http://toddterje.com/


BLANCMANGE Cistern (2015)

After the first phase of BLANCMANGE, Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe worked within the TV and film industry, scoring soundtracks and incidental music. Although best known for his voice, Neil Arthur’s instrumentals have been a continual form of expression. The brilliant ‘Cistern’ comes over like an imaginary Bond Theme for a retro-futuristic world. The wordless wonder that is the parent album ‘Nil By Mouth’ is an unsung masterpiece.

Available on the album ‘Nil By Mouth’ via Blanc Check

http://www.blancmange.co.uk


RODNEY CROMWELL Baby Robot (2015)

Adam Cresswell’s sombre vocals and the darker lyrical themes on his debut RODNEY CROMWELL album ‘Age Of Anxiety’ took a breather with the bright and breezy ‘Baby Robot’. With sweet synthesizer melodies, pretty glints of glockenspiel and a bouncy beatbox, the instrumental was inspired by birth of his son. “Yes, ‘Baby Robot’ is the one track on the album that’s 100% upbeat as it is about the experience of being a father” he gleefully said.

Available on the album ‘Age Of Anxiety’ via https://happyrobotsrecords.bandcamp.com/

http://www.happyrobots.co.uk/


DARKNESS FALLS Thunder Roads (2015)

While Danish duo DARKNESS FALLS are better known for their melancholic Nordic vocals and neo-gothic overtones on songs like ‘The Void’, the dark synthy instrumental ‘Thunder Roads’ proved to be one of the most striking tracks on their second album ‘Dance & Cry’. With a punchy drum machine mantra and menacing reverberant sequence, it was augmented by guitar screeches and sombre six string basslines reminiscent of JOY DIVISION and THE CURE.

Available on the album ‘Dance & Cry’ via Fake Diamond Records

http://darknessfallsmusic.com/


JEAN-MICHEL JARRE & BOYZ NOISE The Time Machine (2015)

JEAN-MICHEL JARRE’s first album for since ‘Teo & Tea’ in 2007 was a two volume opus entitled ‘Electronica’; it features collaborations with a number of synth pioneers and modern day dance artists including BOYZ NOISE aka Berlin DJ Alexander Ridha. This climactic track took on a new life as the set closer on the French synth maestro’s ‘Electronica’ world tour, with a lasered 3D visual feast that required no special glasses! BUT BEWARE OF FLASHING IMAGES! 😉

Available on the album ‘Electronica 1 – The Time Machine’ via Columbia Records

http://jeanmicheljarre.com/


JOHN CARPENTER Utopian Façade (2016)

The horror film king recorded his ‘Lost Themes’ series in collaboration with his son Cody and his godson Daniel Davies as standalone pieces, without the pressure of having to put the music to moving images. The second volume was completed on a tighter schedule to accompany a world concert tour and thus replicated some of the challenging moods in his soundtrack work with tracks like ‘Utopian Façade’ recalling his classic movie soundscapes.

Available on the album ‘Lost Themes II’ via Sacred Bones

http://www.theofficialjohncarpenter.com/


KYLE DIXON & MICHAEL STEIN Stranger Things (2016)

Dixon and Stein are members of the Texan group SURVIVE and their accompanying music to ‘Stranger Things’, a cross between ‘ET’, ‘The Goonies’ and ‘Alien’, sent electronic music fans into online meltdown with its use of vintage analogue synths. With a soundtrack influenced by the horror flicks of Dario Argento and of course John Carpenter, the one minute opening title music to the acclaimed drama series said all that was needed to be said in its brooding dissonant tones.

Available on the soundtrack album ‘Stranger Things – Volume 1’ via Invada Records

https://www.facebook.com/survivesurvive/


TINY MAGNETIC PETS Klangfarben (2016)

As would be expected from a title like ‘Klangfarben’, this vibrant instrumental from Dublin trio TINY MAGNETIC PETS is an enjoyable homage to Germanic music forms, with a loose percussive feel that still maintains that vital degree of Motorik. A word meaning “soundcolour”, it refers to a technique whereby a musical line is split between several instruments, rather than assigning it to just one instrument, thereby adding timbre and texture to proceedings.

Available on the EP ‘The NATO Alphabet EP’ via https://tinymagneticpets.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Tiny-Magnetic-Pets-69597715797/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
25th April 2017

SOFT METALS Live in London

2014-05-27 22.11.44SOFT METALS delightfully impressed with their debut London gig at The Shacklewell Arms in Daltson. 

The LA based duo have felt an affinity with Europe since their ‘The Cold World Melts’ EP released in 2010. Indeed, the title of one the tracks ‘Métaux Mous’ (French for “Soft Metals”) summed up their enthralling angelic mix of Detroit techno fused with minimal European synth forms as influenced by the likes of THROBBING GRISTLE and its offshoot CHRIS & COSEY.

And that’s not forgetting to mention the style of singer Patricia Hall with its nods to fashion icons such as Françoise Hardy. SOFT METALS made further in-roads with their first self-titled full length album in 2011 and its naturally progressive follow-up ‘Lenses’ released last year.

2014-05-27 21.42.04For this European tour, instrumentalist Ian Hicks’ arsenal of vintage synths and drum machines was simplified to feature a more straightforward, modern but still analogue set-up that was obviously easier to carry but no less punchy.

Meanwhile, as well as providing her innocent reverbed vocals, Patricia Hall had a Dave Smith Mopho x4 at her disposal instead of her usual Juno60 and added some icy string machine sections to the bright and danceable electronic sketches that came forth.

SOFT METALS’ repeating rhythms, incessant blips and uplifting arpeggios on tracks such as ‘Voices’, ‘Lenses’ and ‘Always’ were powerful and crisp although occasionally, Patricia Hall’s vocals did struggle to be heard.

But this did not hinder her flirtatious enthusiasm as she occasionally ventured toward her studious musical partner in the engine room, clearly enjoying her first time performing in London. ‘Psychic Driving’ and ‘When I Look Into Your Eyes’ allowed for some dreamy breathers in the middle amongst all the frantic action but it was the final part of the set that stole the show.

2014-05-27 21.41.00The wonderful ‘Tell Me’ totally mesmerised the audience into a trance, the detuned bursts providing a arty counterpoint to the dance while the sexy ‘In the Air’ provided a euphoric climax with Ian Hicks controlling the various pulsing layers to provide the dynamic highs and lows for a perfectly hypnotic finish.

But there was more as the good looking couple threw in a brilliantly alluring club friendly version of THROBBING GRISTLE’s ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ as a bonus.

With the likes of TRUST, FEATHERS, AUSTRA, GRIMES, NIGHT CLUB, I AM SNOW ANGEL and ELEVEN: ELEVEN proving that North America is currently the proving ground for new, quality electronic pop music, SOFT METALS more than confirmed that they were part of this elite group with this first London performance.


The albums ‘Soft Metals’ and ‘Lenses’ are released by Captured Tracks and available in CD, vinyl and download formats

https://www.facebook.com/softmetals

http://metauxmous.tumblr.com

http://soundcloud.com/soft-metals

http://capturedtracks.com/artists/softmetals/


Text and Photos by Chi Ming Lai
2nd June 2014

End Of Year Review 2013

The Correct Use Of VCOs

The year started appropriately enough with an electronic number ‘2013’ by Belgian duo METROLAND.

For the first six or seven months of 2013, it proved to be one of the most productive periods in electronic pop music. Not since the Autumn of 1981 when had so many significant releases coincided. It was strangely quality and quantity, a rare occurance in modern times for music, especially of the synth propelled variety.

That time saw THE HUMAN LEAGUE ‘Dare’, GARY NUMAN ‘Dance’, ULTRAVOX ‘Rage In Eden’, DEPECHE MODE ‘Speak & Spell’, SOFT CELL ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’, HEAVEN 17 ‘Penthouse & Pavement’, SIMPLE MINDS ‘Sons & Fascination’, NEW ORDER ‘Movement’, JAPAN ‘Tin Drum’ and OMD ‘Architecture & Morality’ all coming out within weeks of each other!

Interestingly from that list, only JAPAN and SOFT CELL are missing as currently performing entities although MARC ALMOND himself made a number of concert and theatrical appearances during the year.

OMD got back to their Kling Klang roots with their best album in 30 years entitled ‘English Electric’. Although enthusiasts of the band’s pioneering work were satisfied, fans of OMD’s pop phase were confused as to why Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys had recorded an electronic album influenced by KRAFTWERK! This was an indicator of how the band have mutated and been perceived over the years.

But that was nothing compared with DEPECHE MODE whose single ‘Soothe My Soul’ was remixed by ZZ TOP’s Billy F Gibbons… although recognisably reworked, listeners could barely notice the join, thus fully confirming DM’s development into the world’s premiere stadium electro blues combo. Their album ‘Delta Machine’ was a big improvement on 2009’s ‘Sounds Of The Universe’, but it was no ‘English Electric’.

Among the other evergreens with new long players in 2013 were PET SHOP BOYS, ALISON MOYET and BEF.

Messrs Tennant and Lowe finally worked with the ubiquitous Stuart Price to produce an album that was ‘Electric’ by name and electric by nature.

Meanwhile Moyet found her most musically compatible partner since Vince Clarke in Guy Sigsworth for the stunning return to form of ‘the minutes’.

Over at BEF, Martyn Ware assembled his most impressive cast of guest vocalists yet including ERASURE’s Andy Bell and CULTURE CLUB’s Boy George for the third volume of the ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’ covers series; subtitled ‘Dark’, it featured some of Ware’s most starkly electronic work since he was in THE HUMAN LEAGUE.

Another welcome return came from electronic disco pioneer GIORGIO MORODER. The icon is now 73 years old yet with his stomping track ‘Racer’, he proved could mix it with all the young pretenders. Indeed, his autobiographical contribution to DAFT PUNK’s tribute ‘Giorgio By Moroder’ reflected the respect and admiration he holds within the dance world.

Although only a few years younger, KRAFTWERK’s Ralf Hütter showed no real signs of moving his iconic brand forward despite the 3D spectacle of ‘Der Katalog 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8’ live retrospectives in Düsseldorf, London, Tokyo and Sydney.

With the various hosting art spaces still seeing their ticketing systems collapse, was this really just an elaborate publicity stunt? After all, how many heritage acts get on the news for sending websites into meltdown?

It certainly didn’t do KRAFTWERK any harm as a headlining slot at Latitude Festival and its resultant BBC TV coverage proved. However, new material was still not forthcoming but such is the demand that several unscrupulous eBay dealers in Russia were passing off CD-Rs of three tracks from METROLAND’s 2012 album ‘Mind The Gap’ as KRAFTWERK demos!

Meanwhile, former colleague KARL BARTOS exorcised his Kling Klang ghost with ‘Off The Record’, a collection of his unreleased KRAFTWERK-era compositions which made a fine companion to OMD’s ‘English Electric’; his upcoming 2014 world tour is eagerly anticipated.

visage2013

Photo by David Levine

ULTRAVOX opened for SIMPLE MINDS but with Midge Ure spending most of the year doing the rounds with solo acoustic gigs, their synth lynchpin Billy Currie released his ninth solo offering ‘Balletic Transcend’.

Meanwhile in a revival of a project that both had been involved in, a fragmented VISAGE unleashed their first album in nearly 30 years to a mixed reception.

With just Steve Strange remaining from the original line-up, ‘Hearts & Knives’ was essentially a solo project.

There were heated exchanges on social networks between Strange and his estranged Blitz Club partner Rusty Egan about misappropriated royalties and the validity of the reconfigured brand. Whatever, the raw video recording of the new VISAGE performing ‘Fade To Grey’ live at London’s Hoxton Bar and Kitchen stood as possibly the most embarrassing moment of the year.

Artists who made their name during Electroclash such as ADULT. and MISS KITTIN made welcome returns in 2013 while also from that era, LADYTRON’s Helen Marnie released her first solo offering ‘Crystal World’ crowd funded via Pledge Music.

It was a novel but effective way of securing a promotional budget that involved fans in the process by offering exclusive updates and an opportunity to purchase exclusive memorabilia. In MARNIE’s case, items on sale ranged from hand written lyric sheets to her Mini-Cooper and a bikini!

Meanwhile, former SNEAKER PIMPS sparring partners IAMX and KELLI ALI also went down the Pledge Music route, pointing the way forward to a music industry future without interference from record label middle men. But the failure of several crowd funding campaigns proved the model was not for everyone.

The Britpop era was not particularly known for its use of electronics but two acts who did indulge, REPUBLICA and DUBSTAR, made formal comebacks on the live circuit in 2013.

mesh-webSeeded from around the same time, Bristol’s MESH made possibly their best album yet in ‘Automation Baby’. Celebrating 30 years in the business, techno icon WESTBAM assembled a diverse cast including IGGY POP, LIL’ WAYNE, THE STRANGLERS’ Hugh Cornwall, NEW ORDER’s Bernard Sumner and THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS’ Richard Butler for an intriguing set called ‘Götterstrasse’. It was the surprise electronic release of the year.

There were also sophomore albums from LITTLE BOOTS, HURTS and AUSTRA which all drew muted responses from fans following their well received debuts; the promising spark had been present in all three acts appeared to have faded although each album had strong highlights. But there were impressive debuts in 2013 by GHOST CAPSULES, COLLINS and MODOVAR; and all this happened before the summer had started!

On the more guitar driven end of the spectrum, NIGHT ENGINE pursued an art rock aesthetic that would have made Berlin-era DAVID BOWIE proud. And of course, The Dame himself returned with ‘The Next Day’ headed by the touchingly reflective ‘Where Are We Now?’.

Adopting a more post-punk attitude, GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS showed how battered synths, clanky guitars and motorik drums could still come together in perfect harmony while maintaining an air of mystery.

Meanwhile, WHITE LIES continued their New wave odyssey into how THE TEARDROP EXPLODES would have sounded had Julian Cope not got upset by BLANCMANGE’s ‘Happy Families’; they even borrowed a snatch of ‘Fade To Grey’ for the title track of their third album ‘Big TV’. This was despite the mainstream music media’s attempt to downplay their use of synths although the band countered that by declaring TEARS FOR FEARS, TALK TALK and THE BLUE NILE as kindred spirits rather than INTERPOL or EDITORS.

The second half of the year brought the much anticipated debut from CHVRCHES entitled ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’. The trio have moved the goalposts as far as modern synthpop is concerned but they were not without their flaws such as the inexplicable decision to use dreary indie-styled male lead vocals on a pair of tracks.

But despite this, with sold out club tours, gigs supporting DEPECHE MODE in Europe and the might of Virgin Records behind them, world domination surely beckons and with it, a new raised profile for the synthesizer overall.

Virgin Records themselves celebrated 40 years in the business with a series of London concerts and its legacy in electronic music was represented by CHVRCHES, HEAVEN 17, SCRITTI POLITTI and SIMPLE MINDS. Although the label is now owned by the Universal Corporation (having been under the control of EMI since 1992), its colourful history remains associated with the championing of new and unconventional music forms during its fledgling years.

And in a diversion from music, one-time Virgin signee THOMAS DOLBY produced and directed ‘The Invisible Lighthouse’, a documentary on a monument local to his childhood home. In a novel style of presentation, the film went on a tour accompanied by a live narration and soundtrack from TMDR with some of his songs dispersed in between.

GARY NUMAN’s long delayed ‘Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)’ finally became a reality. A move to LA relaxed him to the point where he was posting his holiday photos on Twitter!

Musically though, he was as intense as ever but luckily, ‘Splinter’ was not the one dimensional riff monster that had been threatened and contained some of his best work in over ten years. Interestingly NINE INCH NAILS, who have been a major influence on Numan and vice versa, also returned after a period of absence with ‘Hesitation Marks’.

Over at Mute, there was another Sorcerer versus Apprentice battle when GOLDFRAPP and POLLY SCATTERGOOD both released new records in the same month. Now no longer on Mute but very much still part of the extended family, MOBY released the impressive ‘Innocents’ which didn’t tinker too much with his well established formula and included a great collaboration with Wayne Coyne of FLAMING LIPS that sounded like GARY NUMAN in a Pentecostal church!

In 2013, North America appeared to be turning into a new haven for synth talent. There was LA pop duo NIGHT CLUB while also based in the region, SOFT METALS continued their Detroit Techno inspired progression with ‘Lenses’. Slightly eastwards, Texan based FEATHERS made an impressive statement with their debut long player ‘If All Now Here’; a European tour supporting DEPECHE MODE in January 2014 was fine recognition of their talent.

Fellow Texans ELEVEN:ELEVEN finally got their debut album ‘Through The Veil’ out too. New Yorkers HOLY GHOST! sprung the enjoyable electronic disco of ‘Dynamics’ while also from the area, AU REVOIR SIMONE returned with their fourth album ‘Move In Spectrums’ after an extended break.

But one slow burning combo were Canada’s TR/ST; led by the enigmatic and moody Robert Alfons, at times he sounded like a young LEONARD COHEN updating the sleazy demeanour of SOFT CELL. They toured extensively and garnered some more well deserved attention for their grower of a debut ‘Trst’ which actually came out back in January 2012!

However, all the good work was undone by a ticket lottery fiasco for an end of year London gig in which unsuccessful applicants were not notified until three hours before the concert, this despite communications to the contrary telling people to arrive at the door with ID. In this ever more challenging music industry, artists have to be innovative with promotion. But restricting availability and tricking fans into what was effectively a marketing scam for a larger London concert in May 2014 only alienated audiences.

Like in previous years, Europe was again a centre of creativity. Athens based synth maidens MARSHEAUX were back with their maturer fourth album ‘Inhale’.

Meanwhile, their production team FOTONOVELA gathered DUBSTAR’s Sarah Blackwood, MIRRORS’ James New, KID MOXIE and SECTION 25’s Bethany Cassidy for ‘A Ton Of Love’ while riding on a crest of a wave from ‘Helen Of Troy’, their acclaimed collaboration with OMD.

The song ‘Our Sorrow’ featuring James New turned out to be particularly poignant as after a year of minimal activity, MIRRORS called it a day.

From their Berlin HQ, NOBLESSE OBLIGE delivered an ‘Affair Of The Heart’ with its stark funereal cover of ‘Hotel California’ while Slovenian trio TORUL impressed audiences opening for MESH. Still fiercely independent and uncompromising, THE KNIFE divided opinion with their performance art presentation of their experimental double opus ‘Shaking The Habitual’. From Demark, TRENTEMØLLER delivered his third album ‘Lost’, an adventurous blend of real and electronic instruments that more than proved his suitability as a future prospective DEPECHE MODE producer.

With the critical acclaim still resonant for her 2012 album ‘Highwire Poetry’, KARIN PARK continued to tour the world but found time to co-write Norway’s Eurovision entry ‘I Feed You My Love’. Sung by MARGARET BERGER and leftfield by pure pop standards, it came a respectable fourth but predictably, the UK gave it nul points! Following their wonderful eponymous debut album in 2012, SIN COS TAN swiftly followed it up with the more organic but still synth friendly ‘Afterlife’.

Never one to sit still, the duo’s JORI HULKKONEN also released an EP ‘European Splendour’ with JOHN FOXX which sounded every bit as good as its title. Foxx didn’t sit still either and collaborated with THE BELBURY CIRCLE while also curating a covers EP of his own songs featuring GAZELLE TWIN and I SPEAK MACHINE.

Back in the UK, ANALOG ANGEL, AUTOMATIC WRITINGF.O.X, GAPTOOTH and MAPS flew the flag for the domestic scene.

But best of the local crew though were VILE ELECTRODES; they snagged a prestigious support tour with OMD in Germany where the local crowds connected with Anais Neon and Martin Swan’s analogue electricity and opened for JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS in Brighton on their return. Their long awaited debut LP ‘The future through a lens’ did not disappoint and from it, the closer ‘Deep Red’ was easily the best OMD song that Humphreys and McCluskey never recorded.

As with last year, attempts were made within the industry to centralise electronic pop and dance music. But as the cancellation of the Playground Festival due to poor ticket sales proved, the two factions do not mix. Scheduled to appear on the Saturday, despite the technological influence of GARY NUMAN, JOHN FOXX and WOLFGANG FLÜR on the dance scene, the fans of those artists generally loathe the lifestyle and attitude of club culture.

Most just want to see the headline act and go home… the idea of paying an extra premium on the ticket price for a couple of DJs tagged on the see out the early hours of the morning simply doesn’t appeal! And those who are there for the DJs and larging it certainly aren’t interested in live bands. The sooner promoters and record labels realise that electronic pop and dance music are NOT the same thing, the better. That said, it was a difficult time for live events generally with a number of name acts playing to half full venues.

Elsewhere, the music press were on the backfoot with rumours that the once mighty Q Magazine and NME were in trouble. But lazy journalism and lack of adventure by both were as much to blame as any proliferation of the internet or smart technology. That aside, 2013 was a superb year where the music spoke for itself. Many of the veterans gave the best up-and-coming artists a real run for their money.

And while the amount of new electronic music was at an all time high and the finest exponents rewarded with assorted high-profile opportunities as a result, a number of lesser accomplished acts suffered from the comparison with the best.

MARNIE said: “I think it’s great that electronic music is on a high right now but it’s so saturated as well. Everyone’s going it’s great cos it’s electronic and I’m like ‘I’m not so sure’… but there’s lots of good stuff”.

In fact, the standard was so high in 2013 that some of the acts who ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK featured in 2012 probably wouldn’t have got a look in this year. From those who sounded like the middling bands featured on the Janice Long Show circa 1985 to 21st Century synthpop reincarnations of HUE & CRY, the volume of music available in many ways made it quite easy to distinguish the excellent from the pleasant but ordinary material that was, as the dreaded ‘Say Nothing Auntie Of Landfill Indie’ Jo Whiley would say, “alright”!

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK accepts the continuing mission to maintain a degree of quality control in 2014 as it has done since its inception.

As @TheRobMo put it on Twitter: “gatekeepers / tastemakers… it’s what we go to you for”. Meanwhile on the site’s Facebook, regular reader Brian O’Malley correctly added: “Not all synth music is great, and not all guitar music is rubbish”.

But the final word on 2013 must go to BEF and Glenn Gregory (or HEAVEN 17 if you prefer) via their electronic cover of an Ervin Drake song made famous by Ol’ Blue Eyes:

“And it poured sweet and clear… it was a very good year”


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2013

PAUL BODDY

Best Album: MAPS Vicissitude
Best Song: MAPS Built To Last (Free School Remix)
Best Gig: ALISON MOYET at London Royal Festival Hall
Best Video: HOLY GHOST! Dumb Disco Ideas
Most Promising New Act: JUVENILES


KAREN BUXTON

Best Album: VILE ELECTRODES The future through a lens
Best Song: HURTS Someone to Die For
Best Gig: OMD + VILE ELECTRODES at Leipzig Haus Auensee
Best Video: OMD Night Cafe
Most Promising New Act: MARTYN BAILEY


DEB DANAHAY

Best Album: GARY NUMAN Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)
Best Song: COVENANT Last Dance
Best Gig: GAZELLE TWIN at London Roundhouse Studio Theatre
Best Video: TRUST Bulbform
Most Promising New Act: TRUST


STEVE GRAY

Best Album: CHVRCHES The Bones Of What You Believe
Best Song: MARGARET BERGER I Feed You My Love
Best Gig: BAS 2013
Best Video: IAMX I Come With Knives
Most Promising New Act: TORUL


CHI MING LAI

Best Album: OMD English Electric
Best Song: FOTONOVELA feat MIRRORS Our Sorrow
Best Gig: OMD + VILE ELECTRODES at Cologne E-Werk
Best Video: FEATHERS Land Of The Innocent
Most Promising New Act: FEATHERS


SOPHIE NILSSON

Best Album: ALISON MOYET the minutes
Best Song: SPACEBUOY Breathe
Best Gig: DEPECHE MODE at Copenhagen Parken
Best Video: DEPECHE MODE Soothe My Soul
Most Promising New Act: CHVRCHES


RICHARD PRICE

Best Album: PET SHOP BOYS Electric
Best Song: OMD Dresden
Best Gig: KARIN PARK at The Lexington
Best Video: MONARCHY featuring DITA VON TEESE Disintegration
Most Promising New Act: CHVRCHES


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th December 2013

SOFT METALS Interview

Making sine waves on their extensive tour of North America at the moment are LA based duo SOFT METALS.

The couple met through a mutual love of art and music, releasing their first EP ‘The Cold World Melts’ in 2010. Fusing Detroit techno and elements of acid house with European experimental forms, Patricia Hall and Ian Hicks have just released ‘Lenses’.

It’s the follow-up to their well received eponymous debut album, through notable Brooklyn indie label Captured Tracks. Over an arsenal of cool vintage synths and classic analogue drum machines, SOFT METALS’ repeating rhythms and incessant arpeggios at times recall ORBITAL, particularly with tracks featuring female vocalists such as ‘Funny Break’.

They have an accessibly minimalistic sound with Hall’s pretty vocals reminiscent of DOT ALLISON’s flirtatious aura combined with ASTRUD GILBERTO’s innocent vulnerability as brilliantly showcased on ‘Voices’, ‘Do You Remember?’ and ‘Psychic Driving’. The result is a sexy ice maiden allure over bright hypnotic electronic sketches that comes over exquisitely Métaux Mous.

Compared with other North American duos, they are maybe a bit shinier than CRYSTAL CASTLES and perhaps have a more accessible sound than XENO & OAKLANDER. But that’s not to say SOFT METALS don’t have much weightier influences as their affectionate cover of THROBBING GRISTLE’s ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ proves.

In the midst of a busy touring schedule, SOFT METALS were kind enough to took time out to chat to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK…

How did you arrive at using vintage synthesizers for your sound?

Ian: It is the sound of a lot of music that I like; software instruments don’t sound the same. If you want a specific sound, you have to get the instrument. The tactical interface, the limitations of the machines and the quirks of the individual interfaces inspire sounds that you might have otherwise not discovered.

Which particular synths are your favourites and what is it about them that you like?

Ian: I like the Pro-One. It has the 2 track step sequencer which is good for sketching out simple melodies and basslines. It also has very extensive modulation capabilities which can result in near modular sounding tones. I also like the Mono/Poly. It has a really nice SSM filter which is really smooth and silky sounding. Having 4 oscillators that can have different wave shapes and octaves can result in complex tones. If you couple that with the arppegiator, it creates a very hypnotic soundscape.

Patricia: My favorite synth to play is the Juno 60. It’s a great synth for live performances since it has patch memory and the layout is very user friendly. Its tones are a big part of the SOFT METALS sound.

You appear to have quite European influences in your sound with the rhythmical template locked in more American dance forms?

Ian: We draw a lot of or inspiration from early Detroit techno from artists such as DREXCIYA, CARL CRAIG, etc. We continue to be influenced by early Warp records releases and early industrial/underground synth music like THROBBING GRISTLE, CHRIS & COSEY and LIAISONS DANGEREUSES.

What is the creative dynamic between the two of you when writing and recording?

Ian: Usually we start a recording session with a jam. That could come from a beat and a bassline. It usually begins with the 808 and Pro-One. We try to keep it pretty simple, maybe adding an additional melodic line from the JX-3P or Juno 60. Patricia will take the raw form of the jam and work in vocals. Once a solid vocal idea is in place, we edit, arrange, and add flourishes to the song.

With EDM being so popular in the US plus the more underground scenes like in New York with XENO & OAKLANDER, Wierd Records and the Minimal Wave label, do you feel an affinity with any of the movements or tribes?

Ian: Yes, we played at Weird Records night a few years ago. We are big fans of XENO & OAKLANDER, Weird Records and the Minimal Wave label.

SOFT METALS have a quite warm sound despite the chills as it were…

Patricia: The dark / cold place that our music comes from is a mysterious place inside your psyche rather than a dystopian outside world. We are more interested in psychedelia and exploring the stratification of consciousness. It’s an adventure of the mind and perception. A feeling of caution and reluctance is there, but it’s never cold or unfeeling. There are moments of love, beauty, doubt, sadness, ecstasy, and fear, and curiosity in our music. Our music is about intimacy with yourself, the person you love, a feeling of wonder and the weight of life. Some people say that synthesizers can’t convey emotions like traditional instruments, but I disagree. I hear my emotions reflected in synthetic tones.

How do you look back on your first album back in 2011?

Patricia: I was really proud of us when we made our debut album and I am really proud of our new album ‘Lenses’. SOFT METALS is about learning and growing and dancing and feeling. We give our best to our music and as time goes on, I think we get better and better at what we do. Each recording is a snapshot into out lives, feelings, and skill level at the time. It’s exciting for us to see the evolution.

‘Lenses’ appears to be a natural progression from your debut, how do you see it?

Patricia: I agree. It is a natural progression. Our music comes about very organically. It’s a reflection of what we are feeling and thinking at the time. It’s a pure expression.

You’re experimenting more with tuning, both synthetically and vocally on this album?

Patricia: On the song ‘Lenses’, the bassline and the lead melody are a shallow experiment with bi-tonality. We were inspired by DREXCIYA with that one. They play with that dynamic a lot and we love it. This is also a device employed by Darius Milhaud who has been an inspirational figure in composition for Ian for a long time. We wanted to try it out.

‘Hourglass’ is a rather fabulous instrumental. How do you decide whether a track should have a vocal or not as you have done a fair number?

Patricia: I really wanted to write lyrics for that one, but was never quite satisfied with what I came up with. I decided it would be better to let that one be an instrumental. I think it holds up on its own. It’s nice to give the listener a chance to interpret its meaning on its own rather than direct them with words.

It was quite a brave move to put a lengthier ambient track such as ‘Interobserver’ on the album?

Patricia: The first inspirations of SOFT METALS are the improvised sessions we do together. We don’t want to get too far removed from what breathed life into SOFT METALS.

Over your two albums, which of your tracks have been your favourites and why?

Ian: I like the mood of ‘No Turning Back’. I was really happy with how the drums ended up sounding on that song.

On ‘Lenses’, I like its simplicity and off-kilter feeling. It feels like it’s not quite right, but that’s what makes it engaging. ‘Celestial Call’ was recorded all in one take with no overdubs. I loved how it turned out.

Patricia: ‘Psychic Driving’ has probably been the best showcase of my voice in a song and when I perform it well at a show, it seems to transfix and captivate the audience. The melodies and tones are beautiful. ‘In the Air’ is my favorite SOFT METALS song to dance to. We have been getting a great response from the audience with that one. ‘Always’ is a lot of fun to me, too. I love its spaced out vibe.

You are a well presented duo… is the visual aspect of SOFT METALS important? Will you utilise video more in the future?

Patricia: Yes, we have been taking a DVD of original video art created by our friends Eva Aguila and Brock Fansler on tour with us to be projected at our shows. It looks amazing. We shot 3 music videos for this album and will be in the videos which is a new for us.

You’re embarking on a very extensive tour of North America at the moment. How are you finding it and does being a couple make it easier, or more challenging?

Patricia: So far the tour has been going very well. We are currently driving through Wyoming in what seems to be the middle of nowhere. The shows have been a lot of fun. I think we needed to do an extensive tour. Previous to this, we only felt comfortable with the studio environment which made live performances come off stiff. We have shaken off our inhibitions and have become more adaptable to various environments. I’m having a lot of fun and I’m not tired yet. Every show has been different, but that’s a good thing. Being a couple makes it feel like we are on holiday.

What next for SOFT METALS. Have you any plans to come to Europe?

Patricia: We definitely want to come to Europe.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to SOFT METALS

Special thanks also to Sara Casella at Captured Tracks

The albums ‘Soft Metals’ and ‘Lenses’ are released by Captured Tracks and available in CD, vinyl and download formats

They undertake an extensive tour of the USA and Canada throughout August and early September. Please visit https://www.facebook.com/softmetals for more details

http://soundcloud.com/soft-metals

http://capturedtracks.com/artists/softmetals/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
17th August 2013

SOFT METALS Lenses

Los Angeles based duo SOFT METALS’ debut album was a promising collection of danceable bubbly electronics, with one foot in the squelch ‘n’ bleep framework of ORBITAL and the other in more experimental climes such as THROBBING GRISTLE.

Wonderful tracks like ‘Eyes Closed’, ‘Psychic Driving’, ‘Do You Remember?’ and ‘Voices’ showcased Patricia Hall angelically vulnerable voice over Ian Hicks’ inventive vintage synth and drum machine interplay. However, some of the album’s other tracks were slightly on the repetitive side so for their second album ‘Lenses’, the tracklisting has been rationalised to eight key musical constituents in just 37 minutes.

Layered with reverbed sequences and driven by the snap of analogue rhythm composers, ‘Lenses’ continues where ‘Soft Metals’ left off and visually, the artwork follows the continuity of its predescessor as if to indicate this. Like Astrud Gilberto gone electro with CHRIS & COSEY at the production helm, the ‘Lenses’ title track sets the scene and is vibrant yet dreamy. The wonderful launch single ‘Tell Me’ is one of the duo’s trademark adventures in hypnotism like earlier single ‘Voices’ but adds some unsettling bursts of portamento for an aural twist.

Easing off the tempo slightly with a strange, almost electro-reggae beat, ‘When I Look Into Your Eyes’ is sexily morbid with Patricia Hall exclaiming “I wonder how it ends?” when “I die and he dies, we all die!”. Following that, ‘No Turning Back’ builds with pulsing arpeggios but swathed in a bare, eerie atmosphere, it retains the ice maiden quality prevalent throughout the SOFT METALS sound.

SOFT METALS are adept as instrumentals as ‘Celestial Call’ from the debut and their ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ tribute ‘Implanted Visions’ have proved. ‘Hourglass’ allows Hall to take a breather and this beautiful wordless wonder sections nicely with some fabulous harmonic oscillations. This vibrancy continues on ‘In The Air’, another metallically tingly and danceable tune that harks back to the days of acid house.

Also, complimented by that hard acid squelch, ‘On A Cloud’ does what it says on the tin and ventures into neo-ambient territory despite its lively tempo construction. But ‘Interobserver’ goes the full hog with a lengthy surrealistic journey that throws in the spectre of cosmic legend KLAUS SCHULZE. It’s all very brave but quite whether it belongs on an album of songs though is debatable.

But overall, where SOFT METALS will appeal over other girl / boy duos is that their approach is quite visceral. How many times is does it seem XENO & OAKLANDER are deliberately singing off-key, that CRYSTAL CASTLES are being as difficult as possible by piling on the distortion or that TOMORROW’S WORLD won’t up the tempo in case it’s seen as uncool?

With their Eurocentric influences, shadowy techno template and altered state of escapism, SOFT METALS make the best of what they’ve got and run with it.

Between their first two albums, Ian Hicks and Patricia Hall have showed their potential and proved they can produce some excellent work.

When they push all the right buttons, SOFT METALS are quite superb.


‘Lenses’ is available now on Captured Tracks as a CD, blue vinyl and download

https://www.facebook.com/softmetals

http://soundcloud.com/soft-metals

http://capturedtracks.com/artists/softmetals/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Suzy Poling
15th July 2013

« Older posts