Tag: Sparks (Page 1 of 7)

THE ELECTRONIC LEGACY OF 1979

While 1979 saw a post-punk revolution with new wave and ska emerge as energetic expressions of youth with the likes of JOY DIVISION, XTC, THE SPECIALS and MADNESS, maturer acts with power pop sensibilities such as BLONDIE and THE POLICE dominated the UK charts.

But the synthesizer had become a new tool of creativity for those who weren’t interested in learning chords on a guitar and preferred to use one finger, thanks to its new found affordability with refined technology from Japan. While electronics had been present in disco, progressive rock and esoteric avant garde forms, following seminal records in 1978 such as ‘Warm Leatherette’ b/w ‘TVOD’ by THE NORMAL and ‘Being Boiled’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE, a new DIY artpop form was developing that would eventually take on KRAFTWERK at their own game.

Among those fledgling electronic acts who released their debut singles in 1979 on independent labels were OMD with ‘Electricity’ on Factory Records and FAD GADGET with ‘Back To Nature’ on Mute Records. Meanwhile on another independent Rough Trade, CABARET VOLTAIRE achieved a wider breakthrough with ‘Nag Nag Nag’, the standalone single accompanying their first album ‘Mix-Up’.

Having experimented with synths on ‘Low’ released in 1977, David Bowie had gone to see THE HUMAN LEAGUE at The Nashville in late 1978 and hailed them as “the future of rock ‘n’ roll”. Alas it was TUBEWAY ARMY fronted by Gary Numan who beat THE HUMAN LEAGUE to the top of the UK singles charts in Summer 1979 with Are Friends Electric?’. However, just a few weeks earlier, SPARKS had taken the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ into the UK Top20. But however history is perceived, a revolution had begun that would lead to the dawn of “synthpop” in 1980.

Here are 20 albums which ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK sees as contributing to the electronic legacy of 1979. They are listed in alphabetical order with a restriction of one album per artist moniker, meaning Gary Numan and Edgar Froese appear twice…


ASHRA Correlations

As ASHRA, Manuel Göttsching released what many consider to be his first ambient masterpiece ‘New Age Of Earth’. On 1978’s ‘Blackouts’, he expanded the line-up to include drumming synthesist Harald Grosskopf and guitarist Lutz Ulbrich which continued on ‘Correlations’. Despite being more rock-oriented, it featured sequenced electronics with ‘Club Cannibal’ almost entering Jean-Michel Jarre territory.

‘Correlations’ is still available via Spalax Music

https://www.electricityclub.co.uk/manuel-gottsching-1952-2022/


PETER BAUMANN Trans Harmonic Nights

Although he had released ‘Romance ‘76’ while still a member of TANGERINE DREAM, Peter Baumann’s first solo album after departing the band was something of an interim record before venturing into electronic pop with ‘Repeat Repeat’. Mostly shorter instrumental compositions using mysterious melodies and occasional vocoder textures, ‘Trans Harmonic Nights’ remains something of an underrated electronic gem.

‘Trans Harmonic Nights’ is still available via Cherry Red Records

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/trans-harmonic-nights-remastered-edition/


EDGAR FROESE Stuntman

With TANGERINE DREAM taking a misstep with ‘Cyclone’ and perhaps prompted by the success of Jean-Michel Jarre’s electronic symphonies, on his fifth solo album ‘Stuntman’, Edgar Froese was at his most accessible with strong synth melodies, particularly on the title track. Elsewhere, new ages resonances were starting to develop while on ‘Drunk Mozart In The Desert’, there was atmospherics coupled with a rhythmic bounce.

‘Stuntman’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://www.edgarfroese.de/


GINA X PERFORMANCE Nice Mover

Produced and co-written by Zeus B Held, the debut album by androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground. Cult club favourite ‘No GDM’ was written in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp while other highlights included the detached vocoder assisted robotic soul of the title song and the feisty gender statement ‘Be A Boy’.

Available on the album ‘Nice Mover + Voyeur’ via Les Disques du Crepuscule

http://www.ltmrecordings.com/gina_x.html


GIORGIO E=MC²

With Giorgio Moroder acquiring Roland’s new System 700 and an MC8 Micro-composer to control it, ‘E=MC2’ was touted as the first “electronic live-to-digital” album. This allowed for an uptempo funkiness previously unheard on sequencer based music to come into play. With the electronically treated vocals and euphoric energy of the marvellous ‘What A Night’, the sound of DAFT PUNK was inadvertently being invented!

‘E=MC²’ is still available via Repertoire Records

https://www.giorgiomoroder.com/


STEVE HILLAGE Rainbow Dome Musick

As a member of GONG and solo artist, Steve Hillage had a love of German experimental music and ventured into ambient with long standing partner Miquette Giraudy. Recorded for the Rainbow Dome at the ‘Festival For Mind-Body-Spirit’ at London’s Olympia, these two lengthy Moog and ARP assisted tracks each had a beautifully spacey vibe to induce total relaxation with a colourful sound spectrum.

‘Rainbow Dome Musick’ is still available via Virgin Records

http://www.stevehillage.com/


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Reproduction

With a manifesto of “synthesizers and vocals only”, the debut album by THE HUMAN LEAGUE included ‘Empire State Human’, ‘Circus Of Death’, ‘Almost Medieval’, ‘Blind Youth’ and a stark cover of ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’. Produced by Colin Thurston, while ‘Reproduction’ was not a commercial success, Philip Oakey, Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware gained valuable experience that would progress their careers.

‘Reproduction’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://www.electricityclub.co.uk/martyn-ware-the-reproduction-travelogue-interview/


JAPAN Quiet Life

Although considered a 1980 album, the third JAPAN long player was actually released late 1979 in Japan, Canada, Holland and Germany. Featuring the sequencer-driven title song as well as the rockier ‘Halloween’ and a cover of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND’s ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, despite Roxy rip-off accusations, it was a major artistic step forward as a quality timeless work embracing synths, muzak and orchestrations.

‘Quiet Life’ is still available via BMG

https://www.electricityclub.co.uk/rob-dean-the-quiet-life-interview/


GARY NUMAN The Pleasure Principle

Devoid of guitar but using a flesh-and-blood rhythm section, Gary Numan realised his dream of producing a new form, machine rock. Synths were fed through guitar effects pedals to add a more sinister metallic tone and while there was sombre isolation communicated on all the songs, there was a catchy melodic sensibility to songs such as ‘Cars’, ‘Metal’, ‘Films’, ‘Engineers’ and ‘M.E.’ which turned Numan into the first synthesizer pop star.

‘The Pleasure Principle’ is still available via Beggars Banquet

https://garynuman.com/


ROBERT RENTAL & THOMAS LEER The Bridge

Originally released on THROBBING GRISTLE’s Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ album saw Scottish duo Thomas Leer and Robert Rental trading vocal and instrumental duties using early affordable synths such as the EDP Wasp. Comprising of a side of five songs and a side with four ambient instrumentals, ‘Day Breaks, Night Heals’ and ‘Monochrome Days’ both showcased an avant pop sensibility. Robert Rental sadly passed away in 2000.

‘The Bridge’ is still available via Mute Artists

https://www.electricityclub.co.uk/story-of-thomas-leer-robert-rental/


ROEDELIUS Selbstportrait

Best known as a member of CLUSTER with the late Dieter Moebius and working with Brian Eno on two albums, ‘Selbstportrait’ was Hans-Joachim Roedelius’ third solo long player. This was a “self-portrait” reflecting the gentle introspective ambience of the record. Something of a sister record to the 1977’s marvellous ‘Sowiesoso’, it was more accessible than CLUSTER’s own structurally minimal ‘Grosses Wasser’ also issued in 1979.

‘Selbstportrait’ is still available via Bureau B

https://www.roedelius.com/


KLAUS SCHULZE Dune

After the ambitious double opus ‘X’ which also incorporated strings in a record comprising of “Six Musical Biographies” in honour of figures including philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and ‘Dune’ author Frank Herbert, Klaus Schulze conceived an actual album called ‘Dune’. Something of a diversion, ‘Shadows of Ignorance’ featured the eccentric poetry of Arthur Brown while the experimental ambient title track made use of cello.

‘Dune’ is still available via Bureau B

https://klaus-schulze.com/


SIMPLE MINDS Real To Real Cacophony

Stronger than their debut LP ‘Life In A Day’, SIMPLE MINDS started experimenting with more electronics and a very European austere on its swift follow-up ‘Real To Real Cacophony’ with the title song presenting their take on KRAFTWERK’s ‘Radio-Activity’. Underground and pulsating through on ‘Changeling’, that breakthrough single and ‘Premonition’ really were a sign of things to come in their dark avant disco templates.

‘Real To Real Cacophony’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://www.simpleminds.com/


SPARKS No1 In Heaven

Following the inspirational success of ‘I Feel Love’, SPARKS were put in contact with its producer Giorgio Moroder who had aspirations to work with a band. The resultant album saw Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto fitting well with the pulsing electronic disco template. ‘The No1 Song In Heaven’ hit the UK Top 20 a few months before ‘Are Friends Electric?’ while the follow-up ‘Beat The Clock’ got into the Top 10.

‘No1 In Heaven’ is still available via Lil Beethoven Records

http://www.allsparks.com/


TANGERINE DREAM Force Majeure

Still feeling the void left by the departure of Pete Baumann, following the vocal experiment of ‘Cyclone’, Edgar Froese and Christopher Franke opted to retain drummer in Klaus Krüger. While there was also increased guitar and piano usage, the title song and ‘Thru Metamorphic Rocks’ utilised pulsing sequencer passages to signal the future Hollywood direction that TANGERINE DREAM would head in.

‘Force Majeure’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://www.tangerinedreammusic.com/


TELEX Looking For Saint Tropez

The ethos of Belgian trio TELEX was “making something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. ‘Looking For Saint Tropez’ contained ‘Moscow Diskow’ which took the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow by adding a funkier groove. Also included were funereal robotic covers of ‘Rock Around The Clock’ which was a UK Top40 hit and Plastic Bertrand’s ‘Ça Plane Pour Moi’ as well as their deadpan debut single ‘Twist A Saint Tropez’.

‘Looking For Saint Tropez’ is still available via Mute Artists

https://www.facebook.com/ThisIsTelex


THROBBING GRISTLE 20 Jazz Funk Greats

The title and the group photo on Beachy Head were tongue-in-cheek statements but THROBBING GRISTLE were still deathly uncompromising as shown by ‘Persuasion’. However, there were glints of light with the glorious cascading instrumental ‘Walkabout’ and mutant disco lento of ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ as Cosey Fanni Tutti’s whispered vocals competed with synthetic whip-crack and drill noises!

‘20 Jazz Funk Greats’ is still available via Mute Artists

https://www.throbbing-gristle.com/


TUBEWAY ARMY Replicas

Whereas the TUBEWAY ARMY debut featured punk tunes with added synth, ‘Replicas’ would see the Philip K Dick inspired dystopian vision of Gary Numan paired with appropriate electronic sounds as the main melodic component on the now classic UK No1 ‘Are Friends Electric?’. But the earlier singles ‘Down In The Park’ and the lengthy instrumental ‘I Nearly Married A Human’ pointed to a future guitar-free follow-up.

‘Replicas’ is still available via Beggars Banquet

https://www.electricityclub.co.uk/beginners-guide-gary-numan/


VANGELIS China

Although VANGELIS had never been to China at the time the album was recorded, he had developed a passionate fascination for its people, culture and vast landscape, noting a connection between ethnic Greek and Chinese music. Using traditional elements alongside his synthesizers, the centrepieces were the majestic ‘Chung Kuo’ and the meditative pentatonic piece ‘The Tao Of Love’. ‘China’ remains an underrated record in his canon.

‘China’ is still available via Universal Music

https://elsew.com/


YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA Solid State Survivor

The second and best YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album featured an embarrassment of riches.  It included the glorious Technopop of ‘Rydeen’, the mighty citypop of ‘Technopolis’, the moodier ‘Castalia’ and the Cossack romp of ‘Absolute Ego Dance’.  But it was the iconic ‘Behind The Mask’ originally composed for Seiko which was later covered by Greg Phillinganes, Eric Clapton and Michael Jackson.

‘Solid State Survivor’ is still available via Sony Music Direct

http://www.ymo.org/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
1 January 2024

THE ELECTRONIC LEGACY OF 1980

David Bowie had famously dropped in to see THE HUMAN LEAGUE at The Nashville in late 1978 and hailed them as “the future of rock ‘n’ roll”.

But it was TUBEWAY ARMY fronted by Gary Numan who beat THE HUMAN LEAGUE to the top of the UK singles charts in Summer 1979 with Are Friends Electric?’ while just a few weeks earlier, SPARKS had been become willing conspirators with Giorgio Moroder on ‘The No1 Song In Heaven’ to effectively invent the synth duo.

Although it was the dawn of synth, 1980 was a transitional time when the synth was still the exception rather than the rule. The landscape was changing and the seed of what became the New Romantic movement had been planted.

Following the critical mauling he received for his 1979 album ‘Lodger’ but aware of his burgeoning influence in these futuristic sounds, Bowie headed down to The Blitz with RCA assistant and club regular Jacqueline Bucknell to cast extras including the late Steve Strange for the video of his new single ‘Ashes To Ashes’. It hit the top of UK charts and confirmed that once again “There’s old wave. There’s new wave. And there’s David Bowie…”

While Bowie’s was not an electronic artist in the way some of the next generation of artists had declared themselves, he couldn’t resist a sly dig at the acts that he’d inspired, using the line “same old thing in brand new drag” on the track ‘Teenage Wildlife’ from his next album ‘Scary Monsters’. And he was eventually to beat previous winner Gary Numan to the year’s ‘Best Male Singer’ accolade at the BBC endorsed British Rock & Pop Awards.

Belatedly looking back to 42 years ago before automatic stations came, here are 20 albums which ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK sees as contributing to the electronic legacy of 1980. They are listed in alphabetical order with a restriction of one album per act.


BUGGLES The Age Of Plastic

Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes met while working with Tina Charles and her producer Biddu. Together they would go on to form BUGGLES and score a No1 with ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. From the parent album ‘The Age Of Plastic’, ‘Astroboy’ developed on the duo’s sonic adventures while ‘The Plastic Age’ and ‘Clean Clean’ provided further if minor hits. Horn would go on become a top record producer.

‘The Age Of Plastic’ is still available via Island Records / Universal Music

https://twitter.com/Trevor_Horn_


DALEK I Compass Kum’Pas

Before OMD, the electronic duo on The Wirral was DALEK I LOVE YOU. However, by the time their debut album ‘Compass Kum’pas’ was released, OMD were having hits and keyboards man Dave Hughes had left to join their live band. Although Alan Gill’s vocals could polarise opinion, ‘Destiny’ was their most immediate song with a precise percussive appeal while ‘The World’ was eccentric and retro-futuristic.

‘Compass Kum’Pas’ is still available via Mercury Records

http://www.discogs.com/artist/Dalek+I


FAD GADGET Fireside Favourites

The success of the singles ‘Back To Nature’ and ‘Ricky’s Hand’ attracted a loyal fanbase, so a FAD GADGET album  ‘Fireside Favourites’ was eagerly anticipated. Developing on the minimal industrialism of the singles, the superb ‘Coitus Interruptus’ was a cynical commentary on casual relationships while offering his own brand of romantic macabre in the fear of the imminent nuclear apocalypse was the neo-title song ‘Fireside Favourite’.

‘Fireside Favourites’ is still available via Mute Records

https://mute.com/artists/fad-gadget


JOHN FOXX Metamatic

On the ULTRAVOX! eponymous debut,John Foxx announced “I want to be a machine”. On signing to Virgin Records as a solo artist, he virtually went the full hog with the seminal JG Ballard inspired ’Metamatic’. ‘Underpass’ and ‘No-One Driving’ were surprise hit singles that underlined the dystopian times while the fabulous ‘A New Kind Of Man’ and the deviant ‘He’s A Liquid’ were pure unadulterated Sci-Fi driven by the cold mechanics of a Roland Compurhythm.

‘Metamatic’ is still available via Metamatic Records

http://www.metamatic.com/


HARALD GROSSKOPF Synthesist

Having worked with Klaus Schulze and Manuel Göttsching, drummer turned keyboard player Harald Grosskopf took the plunge to go solo with the mind bending album ‘Synthesist’. A work comprising of eight instrumentals that blended a sonic tapestry of synthesizer soundscapes with drumming that provided colour as opposed to dominance, it musically followed in the exquisite tradition of his Berlin electronic friends.

‘Synthesist‘ is still available via by Bureau B

https://www.haraldgrosskopf.de/englisch/home.html


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Travelogue

With THE HUMAN LEAGUE learning lessons from their debut ‘Reproduction’, ‘Travelogue’ had more presence by creatively utilising the harsh screeching frequencies from overdriving their studio desk. ‘The Black Hit Of Space’ had its surreal Sci-Fi lyrics while ‘Dreams Of Leaving’ was a fantastically emotive slice of prog synth. There were glorious cover versions in ‘Only After Dark’ and ‘Gordon’s Gin’. While it was a breakthrough, all was not happy…

‘Travelogue’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://martynwareofficial.co.uk/


JAPAN Gentlemen Take Polaroids

Dropped by Ariola Hansa, JAPAN found a refuge at Virgin Records. The bossa nova driven ‘Swing’ explored exotic grooves while the haunting ‘Nightporter’ was the ultimate Erik Satie tribute. An interest in Japanese technopop produced the brilliant ‘Methods Of Dance’ and saw leader David Sylvian collaborate with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s Ryuichi Sakamoto on  ‘Taking Islands In Africa’.

‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ is still available via Virgin Records

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


JOY DIVISION Closer

While not strictly an electronic album in full, half of ‘Closer’ was dominated by polyphonic synthesizers. Featuring an ARP Omni and an early version of Simmons drums, ‘Isolation’ was the most electronic track JOY DIVISION ever recorded. On the second side, ‘Heart & Soul’, ‘The Eternal’ and ‘Decades’ provided the solemn but beautiful Gothic backdrop producer by Martin Hannett for Ian Curtis’ elaborate musical suicide note.

‘Closer’ is still available via Rhino

http://joydivisionofficial.com/


LA DÜSSELDORF Individuellos

LA DÜSSELDORF were fronted by the late Klaus Dinger of NEU! There was a greater presence of electronics and the first half of ‘Individuellos’was dominated by variations on ‘Menschen’, a grand statement sounding like a blueprint for Phil Lynott’s ‘Yellow Pearl’. ‘Dampfriemen’ was a quirky slice of synth oompah with comedic chants and a kazoo section while the piano laden ‘Das Yvönnchen’ provided a beautiful closer.

‘Individuellos’ is still available via Warner Germany

https://www.discogs.com/artist/152540-La-Düsseldorf


NEW MUSIK From A To B

Time has shown that Tony Mansfield and NEW MUSIK with their strummed guitar alongside pretty synth melodies were underrated. Featuring the hits ‘Living By Numbers’, ‘This World Of Water’ and ‘Sanctuary’ as well as ‘On Islands’ which was later covered by CAMOUFLAGE, the band were dismissed as a novelty act due to the silly voices in their songs. Mansfield went on to produce A-HA, NAKED EYES and VICIOUS PINK.

‘From A To B’ is still available via Lemon Records

https://www.new-musik.co.uk/


GARY NUMAN Telekon

The negative side of fame got into the psyche of Gary Numan and his new songs took on a more personal downbeat nature away from the Sci-Fi dystopia of his previous work. ‘This Wreckage’ and ‘Please Push No More’ summed up the self-doubt but while ‘Remind Me To Smile’ could have been a single, ‘Telekon’ suffered from not having the hit single ‘We Are Glass’ and ‘I Die: You Die’ included on the original LP release.

‘Telekon’ is still available via Beggars Banquet

https://garynuman.com/


OMD Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark

OMD released two albums in 1980 but their self-titled debut captured Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys using the most basic equipment, the duo not even having a polyphonic synth at the time. With energetic post-punk synth numbers such as ‘Electricity’ and ‘Bunker Soldiers’, on the other side of the coin were ‘Almost’ and ‘The Messerschmitt Twins’. An early version of ‘Messages’ pointed to hit singles.

‘Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’ is still available via Virgin Records

http://www.omd.uk.com/


ROBERT PALMER Clues

Although rooted in the blues via his previous band VINEGAR JOE, Robert Palmer took an interest in synths having become a fan of Gary Numan. That led to two collaborations including a version of ‘I Dream Of Wires’ released before Numan’s own recording and the Eastern flavoured ‘Found You Now’. The electronic centrepiece was the beautifully world weary ‘Johnny & Mary’ while ‘Looking for Clues’ added synthy art funk to the mix.

‘Clues’ is still available via Island Records / Universal Music

http://www.robertpalmer.com/


SILICON TEENS Music For Parties

Following the acclaim for THE NORMAL, Daniel Miller undertook a new project SILICON TEENS as a fictitious synth group where rock ’n’ roll standards such as ‘Memphis Tennessee’, ‘Just Like Eddie’, ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ were enjoyably reinterpreted in a quirky synthpop style with Miller adding his deadpan monotone vocal. Frank Tovey aka FAD GADGET played the role of lead singer “Darryl” for videos and press.

‘Music For Parties’ is still available via Mute Records

https://mute.com/artists/silicon-teens


SIMPLE MINDS Empires & Dance

Tours opening for Gary Numan and Peter Gabriel took SIMPLE MINDS around Europe to experience Cold War tensions at closer hand. Their wired mood was captured on ‘Empires & Dance’. With its speedy Moroder-esque influence, ‘I Travel’ was a screeching futuristic frenzy and ‘Celebrate’ brought some industrial Schaffel to the party. ’30 Frames A Second’ took a trip down the autobahn but ‘Twist / Run / Repulsion’ messed with the headspace of listeners.

‘Empires & Dance’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://www.simpleminds.com/


SPARKS Terminal Jive

Following the Giorgio Moroder steered album ‘No1 In Heaven’, SPARKS were despatched by Virgin Records to record a swift follow-up. Although Moroder was still nominally at the helm, Harold Faltermeyer took the majority of production duties on ‘Terminal Jive’. ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll People In A Disco World’ seemed to reflect the confused direction but ‘When I’m With You’ was a massive hit single in France, leading to the Mael Brothers’ relocation.

‘Terminal Jive’ is still available via Repertoire Records

http://allsparks.com


TANGERINE DREAM Tangram

After experiments with vocals on ‘Cyclone’ and live drums on ‘Force Majeure’, with the recruitment on keyboards with Johannes Schmoelling to fill the difficult to fill void left by the departure of Peter Baumann, Edgar Froese and Christopher Franke got back on track, combining a more immediate sequencer drive with the melodic New Age resonances on the two part ‘Tangram’ set that would characterise TANGERINE DREAM’s later work.

‘Tangram’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://tangerinedreammusic.com/


TELEX Neurovision

The second TELEX album ‘Neurovision’ continued with the trio’s tradition of deadpan electronic covers and a gloriously metronomic take on ‘Dance To The Music’ showcased their penchant for mischievous subversion. But this mischief came to its head with their lampooning self-composed number ‘Euro-Vision’, a bouncy electropop tune which they actually entered for 1980 Eurovision Song Contest, coming seventeenth!

‘Neurovision’ is still available via Mute Artists

https://mutebank.co.uk/collections/telex


ULTRAVOX Vienna

Following the first VISAGE sessions, Midge Ure was invited to join Billy Currie, Chris Cross and Warren Cann in ULTRAVOX. Providing a sonic continuity from the John Foxx-led era was producer Conny Plank while the robotic spy story ‘Mr X’ voiced by Cann provided another link. Opening with the mighty instrumental ‘Astradyne’ and closing with the synthesized heavy metal of ‘All Stood Still’, the ‘Vienna’ album was a triumph.

‘Vienna’ is still available via Chrysalis Records

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


VISAGE Visage

Formed as a reaction to the shortage of new electronic dance music to play at The Blitz Club, ex-RICH KIDS members Midge Ure and Rusty Egan recruited its figurehead Steve Strange to front the project under the name of VISAGE. Billy Currie, Dave Formula, John McGeoch and Barry Adamson joined later and captured a synthesized European romanticism that boasted the German No1 ‘Fade To Grey’ as well as two other hits in ‘Mind Of A Toy’ and the eponymous title track.

‘Visage’ is still available via Rubellan Remasters

https://www.therealvisage.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
29 December 2023

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

A SYNTH IS FOR LIFE & NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS…

As the Yule Tide season gets into full swing, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK presents a collection of modern seasonal tunes with a more artful slant…

With a song to play on each of the 25 days in December until Christmas, some are covers with a modern approach while others gather their thoughts and emotions into original compositions. But each has their own take on the holiday period, whether happy or sad or both.

Synths at Christmas are not entirely new; ‘Last Christmas’ by WHAM! was primarily made with a Roland Juno 60 while BAND AID’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas? was dominated by PPG Wave 2.2 with a percussive sample taken from ‘Memories Fade’ by TEARS FOR FEARS also being key to the intro.

However the traditional nature of Christmas often dictates traditional instrumentation in its songs, which means that Christmas synth songs are comparatively uncommon and a more recent phenomenon.

Whatever your plans whether with the family or in the studio, please remember, a synth is for life and not just for Christmas… may it bring you lots of cheer! The 25 songs are presented in yearly then alphabetical order within…


BE MUSIC Rocking Carol (1982)

A Be Music production given away as limited edition flexi-disc of 4400 given away at The Haçienda on Christmas Eve 1982, with the greeting “Merry Xmas From The Haçienda And Factory Records”, this was NEW ORDER covering the traditional Czech seasonal tune also known as ‘Jesus Sweetly Sleep’ and ‘We Will Rock You’ as a robotic electronic tone poem.

Available on the compilation album ‘Ghosts of Christmas Past (Remake)’ (V/A) via Les Disques du Crépuscule

https://www.neworder.com/


EURYTHMICS Winter Wonderland (1987)

Recorded as part of an album on behalf of Special Olympics that featured U2, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, Bryan Adams and Alison Moyet among others, EURYTHMICS’ glistening electronic take on romance during the winter season was cited by ASCAP as now the most played version of the song which was made famous by Darlene Love.

Available on the compilation album ‘A Very Special Christmas’ (V/A) via Universal Music

https://www.eurythmics.com/


S.P.O.C.K White Christmas (1992)

Originally recorded by S.P.O.C.K for Energy Rekords’ ‘Virtual X-Mas 92’ EP and then a bonus song on their 1995 compilation ‘A Piece Of The Action’, this cover of the Irving Berlin standard made famous by Bing Crosby was suitably melodramatic as the holiday season was celebrated in The Neutral Zone while under threat of an alien attack.

Available on the compilation album ‘Virtual 2020 X-Mas’ (V/A) via Energy Rekords

https://www.facebook.com/StarPilotOnChannelK/


SAINT ETIENNE Featuring TIM BURGESS I Was Born On Christmas Day (1993)

Delightfully catchy with a house-laden bounce, ‘I Was Born on Christmas Day’ was written in acknowledgement of band member Bob Stanley’s birthday for an EP ‘Xmas 93’. Featuring a duet between Sarah Cracknell and special guest vocals by Tim Burgess from THE CHARLATANS, the joyful narrative saw the couple elope, confusing some fans and press.

Available on the SAINT ETIENNE album ’A Glimpse Of Stocking’ via PIAS

http://www.saintetienne.com/


DEAD OR ALIVE Blue Christmas (2000)

Originally recorded as a sparse ballad for the B-side of 1990 single ‘Your Sweetness Is Your Weakness’, Pete Burns’ foray into the music for holiday season was given a dancier makeover in 2000 and in hindsight, now sounds like a stylistic blue print for PET SHOP BOYS ‘It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas’. The two would later work together on the excellent ‘Jack & Jill Party’ in 2004.

Available on the DEAD OR ALIVE album ‘Fragile’ via Demon Music Group

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


SALLY SHAPIRO Anorak Christmas (2006)

With their naïve wispiness, understated cinematics and disco beats, if there act who are ably suited to Christmas pop music, it is Swedish duo SALLY SHAPIRO. A cover of a song by fellow Swede Nixon, the lines “The first time that I saw your face on a cold December night, it was a Tuesday on a gig with a band that we both liked” captured an innocent romance and the aural warmth of the named apparel.

Available on the SALLY SHAPIRO album ‘Disco Romance’ via Paper Bag Records

https://www.facebook.com/shapirosally


PET SHOP BOYS It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas (2009)

Pet_Shop_Boys_-_ChristmasOriginally recorded in 1997 for an exclusive fan club single but remixed in 2009, ‘It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas’ was a suitably cynical offering. Famous for keeping THE POGUES ‘Farytale Of New York’ off the 1987 UK Christmas No1 spot with their cover of ‘Always On My Mind’, while this didn’t hit those commercial heights, it provided a very PET SHOP BOYS take on the madness of the festive season.

Available on the PET SHOP BOYS EP ‘Christmas’ via EMI Records

http://www.petshopboys.co.uk/


CHEW LIPS When You Wake Up (2010)

CHEW LIPS might have disbanded but in 2010, on the back of their only album ‘Unicorn’ and its subsequent tour, they were on a productive high. ‘When You Wake Up’ was a bonus tune recorded and given away as a Christmas gift to fans at the end of that very successful year. Delivered with lead singer Tigs’ usual feisty panache, listening back only highlights how much CHEW LIPS are missed.

Originally released as a free download

https://www.facebook.com/CHEWLiPS/


HURTS All I Want For Christmas Is New Year’s Day (2010)

Hurts-christmasWith their TAKE THAT dressed as ULTRAVOX template, Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson turned their attentions to memories of “the worst Christmas of our lives”. In true Bros Go To Bavaria style, despite the mournful start, ‘All I Want For Christmas Is New Year’s Day’ transformed itself into a hopeful anthem with a big chorus and lashings of tubular bells.

Available on the HURTS album  ‘Happiness’ via Major Label / RCA

http://www.informationhurts.com/


LOLA DUTRONIC Another Christmas Without Snow (2010)

Lola Dutronic-Christmas without snowIn the UK, a wet Christmas is always more likely,  but LOLA DUTRONIC’s ‘Another Christmas Without Snow’ resonated with its melancholic yet pretty demeanour. The project of Canadian producer Richard Citroen and using a flexible roster of wispy female vocalists, the tones of Lola Dee came over all dreamy like SAINT ETIENNE and conveyed the season’s mixed emotions.

Available on LOLA DUTRONIC single ‘(Another) Christmas Without Snow’ via Lola Dutronic

https://www.facebook.com/LOLA-DUTRONIC-80232595392/


ERASURE Gaudete (2013)

ERASURE GaudeteAndy Bell and Vince Clarke’s version of this traditional Ecclesiastical Latin carol continued an ERASURE tradition that had begun with ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ for the CD edition of the ‘Crackers International’ EP in 1988. With a precise electronic backbeat, ‘Gaudete’ was taken from its 16th Century origins and thrown into the new millennium with a cheeky ‘Ice Machine’ reference for good measure.

Available on the ERASURE album ‘Snow Globe’ via Mute Artists

http://www.erasureinfo.com/


HYPERBUBBLE A Synthesizer for Christmas (2013)

HYPERBUBBLE A Synthesizer for ChristmasWhether it was a Casio, Yamaha or Roland, everyone wanted ‘A Synthesizer For Christmas’. Texan couple HYPERBUBBLE took that enduring memory and turned it into a delightful synthpop ditty that could resonate with electronic geeks from 8 to 80 the world over. Short but sweet, it was another joyous “cartoon automaton symphony” from Jess and Jeff.

Available on the HYPERBUBBLE single ‘A Synthesizer For Christmas’ via Socket Sounds

http://www.hyperbubble.net/


VILE ELECTRODES The Ghosts Of Christmas (2013)

VILE ELECTRODES The Ghosts Of ChristmasIf ‘Twin Peaks’ met ‘Leader Of The Pack’ under the mistletoe, it would sound like this. Possibly the best Christmas tune of the last 10 or so years, VILE ELECTRODES’ harrowing tale of a departed loved one is strangely enticing, with the beautifully haunting echoes of Julee Cruise’s ‘The Nightingale’ lingering over the frozen lake.

Available on the ILE ELECTRODES EP ‘The Ghosts Of Christmas’ via Vile Electrodes

http://www.vileelectrodes.com/


HANNAH PEEL Find Peace (2014)

HANNAH PEEL Find Peace‘Find Peace’ was a Christmas song longing for the cold but merry winters of yesteryear under the modern day spectre of global warming, armed conflict and political tension. The off-kilter analogue buzzing and almost random sequences made for a striking listen as a frantic percussive death rattle and an emotive synth drone take hold to provide an appropriate backdrop for the eerie but beautiful voice of Hannah Peel.

Available on the HANNAH PEEL single ‘Find Peace’ via Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club

http://www.hannahpeel.com/


MARSHEAUX We Met Bernard Sumner At A Christmas Party Last Night (2015)

GHOSTS-OF-CHRISTMAS-PAST-twi158cd‘We Met Bernard Sumner At A Christmas Party Last Night’ was a wonderfully whispery synthpop number that was classic MARSHEAUX. The lyrics were constructed from the song and album titles of NEW ORDER to provide an imaginary narrative on Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou surreally bumping into the Manchester combo’s lead singer at a Yule Tide function.

Available on the album ‘Ghost Of Christmas Past (Remake)’ (V/A) via Les Disques du Crépuscule

http://www.marsheaux.com


SPARKS Christmas Without A Prayer (2015)

SPARKS Christmas Without A PrayerOn 1974’s ‘Kimono My House’ album, the Mael brothers recorded a song called ‘Thank God It’s Not Christmas’, a typically perverse SPARKS romp that had nothing to do as such with the holiday season. After their FFS collaboration, Russell and Ron ended the year with ‘Christmas Without A Prayer’, a fitting offering which also amusingly outlined that albums by WINGS were actually unwanted gifts.

Available on the SPARKS single ‘Christmas Without A Prayer’ via Lil’ Beethoven Records

http://www.allsparks.com/


VICE VERSA Little Drum Machine Boy (2015)

“A twisted cover of a cover of a cover”, this synth laden reinterpretation of the tune based on a traditional Czech carol made famous by a bizarre but highly enjoyable version by David Bowie and Bing Crosby, saw former ABC stalwarts Mark White and Stephen Singleton reconvene as  VICE VERSA to wax lyrical about 303s, 808s, 909s and a “shiny new Roland toy”. It was a fabulous combination of sleigh bells, squelching arpeggios and of course, drum machines…

Available as a free download via Soundclod

https://www.facebook.com/Vice-Versa-Electrogenesis-806726912703189/


ASSEMBLAGE 23 December (2016)

When you’ve had enough of Christmas shopping and the in-laws, there’s probably nothing better to let off steam than a bit of ASSEMBLAGE 23. While not exactly seasonal, Tom Shear’s Futurepop discoscape captured many of the mixed emotions endemic with the final month of the year, all “Silent and alone, trying to make sense”.

Available on the ASSEMBLAGE 23 album ‘Endure’ via Metropolis

https://www.assemblage23.com


SIN COS TAN Dead By X-Mas (2016)

A cover of Finnish metal glamsters HANOI ROCKS, this take on ‘Dead By X-Mas’ from the nocturnal synth duo SIN COS TAN aka Juho Paalosmaa and Jori Hulkkonen came over a bit like Billy Idol gone electro, but with an elegiac twist. Bizarrely in 2006, the former William Broad issued his own collection of seasonal themed tunes entitled ‘Happy Holidays’ … it’s a nice day for a ‘White Christmas!

Available as a free download via Soundcloud

https://www.facebook.com/homeofsincostan/


FERAL FIVE I Want U (2017)

With female empowerment lyrics like “I don’t need any money or a new handbag, I just need a kind of thing I’ve never had, who says you have to have some shabby gifts”, FERAL FIVE attacked tacky commercialism in a sonic cacophony of crunchy bass guitar, big beats, sparkling electronics and chilling string machines for an alternative take on festivities.

Available on the FERAL FIVE single ‘I Want U’ via Primitive Light Recordings

https://www.feralfive.com/


CIRCUIT3 I Believe In Father Christmas (2018)

Made famous by Greg Lake, CIRCUIT3 used analogue synths such as a Sequential Pro-One, Roland JX10, Korg Wavestation and Moog Sub37 to add an eerie chill to the already cynical song protesting at the commercialisation of Christmas. The lyricist was Peter Sinfield who later wrote the words to BUCKS FIZZ’s No1 ‘The Land Of Make Believe’ which warned against the evils of Thatcherism.

Available on the CIRCUIT 3 single ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’ via Diode Records

http://www.circuit3.com/


WAVESHAPER Walking In The Air (2020)

Written by Howard Blake for the 1982 animated film ‘The Snowman’ which later added a cameo intro by David Bowie, ‘Walking In The Air’ became a hit for Aled Jones although the original version was actually sung by choir boy Peter Auty. Tom Andersson is the Swedish synthesist and retro gamer known as WAVESHAPER and his symphonic instrumental synthwave cover was both respectful and beautiful.

Available as a free download via Soundcloud

https://www.facebook.com/Waveshaperofficial


RODNEY CROMWELL Cold Christmas (2022)

If ACTORS did Christmas songs, then it would have probably sounded like this gothic motorik number from the ever cheerful Rodney Cromwell. Written for by Cherryade Records’ ‘A Very Cherry Christmas’ compilation, its chilling ARP synth strings and driving bass guitar was in total antithesis to Cliff Richard with bleak observational lyrics “like ‘Eleanor Rigby’ turbo-charged for 2022”.

Available on the RODNEY CROMWELL single ‘Cold Christmas’ via Happy Robots Records

https://www.facebook.com/rodneycromwellartist


SOFTWAVE featuring Barney Ashton-Bullock Will It Ever Be Christmas Again? (2022)

Presented as “Probably the first synthpop Christmas song in Danish music history”, SOFTWAVE provided a hopeful message to hold back on overindulgence. ‘Andy Bell Is Torsten’ writer Barney Ashton-Bullock made a cameo as Santa Claus to remind everyone that “Self-service, doesn’t mean self, self, self…” and that joy comes from being able to give to others.

Available on the SOFTWAVE single ‘Will It Ever Be Christmas Again?’ via Softwave

http://www.softwavemusic.com


GEMMA CULLINGFORD In The Bleak Midwinter (2023)

Something of a tradition having covered ‘Walking In The Air’, ‘Lonely This Christmas’ and ‘Deck The Halls’ in previous years, Gemma Cullingford took Christina Rossetti’s poem and Gustav Holst’s musical arrangement of ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ into darker and colder electro dance territory, reflecting today’s divided world in a cost of living crisis.

Available on the GEMMA CULLINGFORD single ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ via Elmo Records

https://www.gemmacullingford.co.uk/


A further varied collection of seasonal synth based tunes compiled by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK can be listened to at: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7vIIjZkGd3cVOSarUPvX85


Text by Chi Ming Lai
2 December 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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