Tag: Spray (Page 1 of 2)

2022 END OF YEAR REVIEW

Photo by Tapio Normall

It was hoped to be a year of positive electricity but with the oddball burst of negative waves, 2022 was summed up by the title of its best album.

The product of Finnish duo SIN COS TAN, ‘Living In Fear’ captured the anxieties of living with The Bear Next Door in a post-pandemic world. With billionaires taking over social media with the intent of allowing the extreme right wing an increased voice, it was as if the lessons of Trump and Bolsonaro had not been learned.

‘The Wolves Are Returning’ warned xPROPAGANDA on a track from their excellent album ‘The Heart Is Strange’, the message coming from two Germans whose grandparents’ generation “did nothing” and had made the mistake of opening up the door to the Nazis was extremely poignant.

It was as if The Cold War had never ended; the poetry of one who has escaped ethnic genocide and been separated from next of kin as a refugee has substance. So for Alanas Chosnau on his second album with Mark Reeder, this was ‘Life Everywhere’ and provided a deeper statement on life during wartime. Meanwhile China’s STOLEN presented their ‘Eroded Creation’ and explained ‘Why We Follow’.

Battles both worldwide and personal were being reflected in music everywhere with ‘War’ by I SPEAK MACHINE being another example. Things did not get much cheerier with Rodney Cromwell whose long-awaited second long player ‘Memory Box’ provided commentary on a sadly post-truth world, the so-called “alternative facts” as Donald Trump’s extremely dim advisor Kellyanne Conway liked to put it.

The decade so far has not been a barrel of laughs and the likes of UNIFY SEPARATE, BOY HARSHER, O+HER, NNHMN, VANDAL MOON and ADULT. captured the zeitgeist of the past 3 years.

Meanwhile, MECHA MAIKO maintained it was still ‘NOT OK’, I AM SNOW ANGEL felt it was now a ‘Lost World’ and Swedish duo SALLY SHAPIRO made their comeback by reflecting on ‘Sad Cities’.

As sardonic as ever, DUBSTAR presented their second collection of kitchen sink dramas since they reconfigured as a duo with ‘Two’ and reunited with producer Stephen Hague for their most acclaimed record since their 1995 debut ‘Disgraceful’.

On a more optimistic note, Italians Do It Better brought their cinematic world to London with headline shows by DESIRE and MOTHERMARY who each had new long form releases to air, while shyness was nice for the most promising breakthrough act of the year Gemma Cullingford who got all ‘Tongue Tied’ on her second long player. Meanwhile DAWN TO DAWN, ULTRAFLEX and H/P offered electronically escapist solutions to the year,

But KID MOXIE was happy to ‘Shine’ with the best video of 2022 while CZARINA got mystical with ‘Arcana’, Karin Park looked back at her ‘Private Collection’ and Patricia Wolf explored ambience on ‘See-Through’. Other female talent that shone brightly in 2022 included Norway’s SEA CHANGE, Sweden’s Hanna Rua, Alina Valentina from The Netherlands, Mexican Valentina Moretti and Anglo-French avant songstress Julia-Sophie but sister / brother duos MINIMAL SCHLAGER and SPRAY proved siblings could continue to work well together in synth.

40 years after the release of their debut album ‘Happy Families’, BLANCMANGE returned home to London Records for a ‘Private View’ while mainman Neil Arthur was keeping himself busy with FADER too. Having being shelved for 30 years, the second ELECTRIBE 101 album ‘Electribal Soul’ finally saw the light of day. And some 39 years after it was first conceived, the lost Warren Cann and Hans Zimmer opus ‘Spies’ was released in a new 21st Century recording by the HELDEN Project’s lead vocalist Zaine Griff.

Although PET SHOP BOYS celebrated their career with the magnificent ‘Dreamworld’ tour for the best live event of 2022 and joined SOFT CELL in the ‘Purple Zone’, Marc Almond and David Ball presented the disclaimer ‘*Happiness Not Included’ before announcing that they would be performing at a run of outdoor events in 2023 despite having stated their 2018 O2 extravaganza would be their last.

Also having declared a final album in 2014, RÖYKSOPP returned with the triple volumed ‘Profound Mysteries’ that featured Susanne Sundfør and Alison Goldfrapp.

Veterans Howard Jones, William Orbit, Jean-Michel Jarre and Wolfgang Flür as well as long-standing Nordic combos LUSTANS LAKEJER and A-HA released new albums but while the quality across the releases was mixed, fans were loyal and happy. After various trials and tribulations, TEARS FOR FEARS returned with ‘The Tipping Point’ and erased memories of the lacklustre 2004 comeback ‘Everybody Loves A Happy Ending’, but the duo were unable to capitalise when the majority of the UK concert tour of stately homes was cancelled due to an unfortunate accident that befell Curt Smith.

Creating a dehumanised technologically dependent Sci-Fi world, DIE KRUPPS opted for more machine than metal under their EBM pseudonym DIE ROBO SAPIENS. With NASA making its first steps back to the moon with the Artemis project, fittingly Italian producer EUGENE spent ‘Seven Years In Space’ and Ireland’s CIRCUIT3 looked back at space travel’s past on ‘Technology For The Youth’. Back on earth, THE WEEKND was still being accused of stealing from synthwave while coming up with the song of the year in ‘Less Than Zero’. In the meantime, having infuriated audiences by saying “f*ck that ‘synthwave’ stuff as u name it” in 2018, KAVINSKY was ‘Reborn’ with a second album that had much less of the wave and expanded into broader electronically generated templates with the occasional funkier overtones.

Celebrating ‘40 Years Of Hits’ on a sell-out arena tour and issuing a new album ‘Direction Of The Heart’ which featured a guest appearance by Russell Mael of SPARKS on the single ‘Traffic’ with the obligatory ‘Acoustic Mix’, as the excellent book ‘Themes For Great Cities’ by Graeme Thomson highlighted, the best years of SIMPLE MINDS are now well behind them. They are a poor facsimile of the great band they once were and as a special Summer concert in Edinburgh in honour of ‘New Gold Dream’ proved, Jim Kerr and Co can’t even play their best album properly.

Music-related books continued to be popular with Martyn Ware and Karl Bartos respectively writing their memoirs ‘Electronically Yours Vol1’ and ‘The Sound Of The Machine’. In a wider historical context, that crucial 1978-1983 period where electronic pop was more or less invented got documented in the encyclopaedic ‘Listening To The Music The Machines Make’ by Richard Evans.

2022 saw several prominent figures depart for the jukebox in the sky; Vangelis, Manuel Göttsching, Angelo Badalamenti, Julee Cruise, Dave Smith, Herb Deutsch, Terry Hall, Robert Marlow and Andy Fletcher will be sadly missed but ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was particularly devasted by the passing of German electronic legend Klaus Schulze only 4 days after he gave a rare interview to the site.

Meanwhile Dave Gahan and Martin Gore announced yet another tour of underwhelming arena shows plonked into stadiums for an as-yet-unfinished album that at least had a title ‘Momento Mori’. Ticketscalper took advantage with so-called dynamic pricing (or legalised touting) as hapless Devotees were fleeced thousands of dollars in North America… all this just to see a continually ungrateful frontman (who didn’t even sing is own words on a DEPECHE MODE song until 2005) gesture with a microphone in the air on a catwalk rather than actually singing on it and to possibly hear a pre-1985 song performed that will inevitably ruined by The Drumhead and The Noodler!

As Juls Garat of Massachusetts goth band PILGRIMS OF YEARNING observed via social media: “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”. With the lack of curiosity amongst audiences who were content with nostalgia and the like, it was a difficult year for independent acts.

There is no easy answer and as the old saying goes, you can take a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink. But one promoter that did hit on an innovative idea was Duskwaves who came up with afternoon synth gigs. Hosted at various locations in the South East of England with the aim of drumming up daytime weekend business at venues, events started at 2.00pm and ended by 6.00pm to allow for an easy journey home or possibly dinner afterwards. Artists such as YOUNG EMPRESS, INFRA VIOLET, STRIKE EAGLE and AUW joined in the family friendly fun and while the concept was unusual, with classic synth audiences not getting any younger, it has potential.

While the worldwide situation remains uncomfortable and unsettling, for The Cold War generation, it all seemed strangely familiar. As Jori Hulkkonen of SIN COS TAN said in an interview with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK recently: “It feels kind of comfortable to be back in that same state of mind that you grew up in!! It’s like you grew up in not a nice place, but you get 20-30 years out of it and then you get drawn back into The Cold War state of mind. It’s where I come from and there’s nothing good about it, but somehow feels very familiar so you can handle it in a different way”.

The Cold War inspired songs such as ‘Enola Gay’, ‘Fireside Favourite’, ‘All Stood Still’, ‘Let’s All Make A Bomb’, ‘I Melt With You’, ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ and ‘Five Minutes To Midnight’ which encapsulated the nuclear paranoia of the times. So if the current tensions go on any longer, how will artistic expression be affected and driven?

But as Synthesizer Patel actor Sanjeev Kohli wittily remarked of the UK’s 41 day Prime Minister aka Mad Lizzie following her successful leadership bid: “Liz Truss has now been trusted with the nuclear button. I honestly wouldn’t trust her with the bossanova button on a broken Yamaha keyboard”.

In a year which saw the bizarre scenario of a black vicar worshipping Enoch Powell on the repulsive gammon TV channel GB News and the truth about Tory PPE scandals becoming clearer, Richy Sunak, Ugly Patel, Cruella Braverman and Krazi Kwarteng continued to be the ultimate race traitors in their Westminster tribute band A FLOCK OF SIEG HEILS. Failing to look in the mirror, their role as collaborators was all as part of a wider self-serving mission to help keep the whites Reich and line the pockets of their already loaded banker mates instead of paying nurses a fair wage. Nurses are for life and not just for Covid. So what did happen to that £350 million promised for the NHS by that pompous lying posh boy Boris Johnson if Brexit happened? As Tim Burgess of THE CHARLATANS summed it all up rather succinctly on Twitter: “Worth remembering that the real enemy travels by private jet, not by dinghy” ✊😉


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 2022 playlist ‘Stay Negative To Be Positive’ playlist can be listened to at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4Mw0Fn10yNZQcrGzod98MM


Text by Chi Ming Lai
22nd December 2022

Vintage Synth Trumps with SPRAY

Sibling duo SPRAY continue their adventures in the subversion of pop with their new ‘Untitled Covers Project’.

Ricardo Autobahn and Jenny McLaren first terrorised the mainstream as members of THE CUBAN BOYS who topped John Peel’s Festive 50 with ‘Cognoscenti vs. Intelligentsia’ aka ‘The Hamster Dance’ and took on Cliff Richard’s ‘The Millennium Prayer’ in the race to be the 1999 Christmas No1, only to lose…

However, their main project was SPRAY, set up to ride on an anticipated resurgence in synthpop with two albums ‘Living In Neon’ and ‘Children Of A Laser God’ issued respectively in 2002 and 2007. Finding a home at US label Ninthwave Records, just about the only record company in the world at the time interested in anything synthy that even HEAVEN 17 signed to them for the release of ‘Before/After’ in 2005, as it turned out, no-one was interested in either SPRAY or HEAVEN 17. It was left to LA ROUX to cash-in on the synthpop revival with a No1 single in ‘Bulletproof’ in 2009 and a Grammy for ‘Best Dance Recording’.

SPRAY would not return until 2016’s ‘Enforced Fun’ and since then, they have been regularly releasing albums with the most recent being 2021’s ‘Ambiguous Poems About Death’. Since the start of 2022, the sister / brother pairing have been releasing a cover version per month to build a new collection of work. So far, there have been reinterpretations of THE DETROIT SPINNERS, BLINK182 and KISS as well as ‘Diamond Lights’, the surprise 1987 hit by England footballers Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle!

Over a game of Vintage Synth Trumps, Ricardo Autobahn and Jenny McLaren chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about dragging seemingly incongruous songs from yesteryear kicking and screaming into the SPRAY Universe and how electronic acts covering DEPECHE MODE is not a particularly good idea…

The first card is a Korg MS20, as used by BLANCMANGE on ‘Feel Me’…

Ricardo: I’ve always liked BLANCMANGE without ever being a big fan of them, they’re one of those bands, a bit like CHINA CRISIS. You can’t imagine them being someone’s favourite band. I always thought they had a great sense of rhythm and got World music into synthpop in a more authentic way than most people. I like Neil Arthur’s solo songs as well, I love ‘I Love I Hate’ which is fantastic.

LADYTRON used MS20s too and started around the same time as SPRAY back in 2000, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has always credited them as being the first of the newer wave of synthesizer bands, as opposed to electronic dance acts…

Ricardo: Of all the modern synth acts that aren’t EDM, LADYTRON seemed to be the most melodic and threw in the most over-the-top production gimmicks and things, people at the time seemed to think themselves too cool to use certain sounds whereas LADYTRON were happy to do what sounded great, that’s what I always liked about them. But what I always hated about them, which was something I hated about all synth acts of the 21st Century is that when THE CUBAN BOYS were kicking around, we tried to get people interested in SPRAY; we said to people that there was going to be this big synth revival but nobody listened to us or took us seriously… I was irate that other synth acts made it big in the mid-noughties other than SPRAY, one of them was LA ROUX! *laughs*

Jenny: Oh yes… *laughs*

Ricardo: I said to THE CUBAN BOYS’ manager that there was going to be this big synth revival coming but he poo-pooed it and laughed at me… he went on to manage LA ROUX, leaving us in his wake!

One of the things that struck me most about LADYTRON was girls were singing lead vocals on synthy stuff and it wasn’t a blokey thing anymore…

Jenny: Definitely, yeah, I think female voices always sound better generally on pop and electronic music, I enjoy a lot of rock music, men on that is fine, but the more women, the better as far as I’m concerned!

Yes, male voices just don’t grab me that much anymore on synth based music because it was done to death back in the day…

Ricardo: There a few things here; they all tried to sound like Dave Gahan, there was that synthpop voice which was sort of deep and nasal, and everybody wanted to be like DEPECHE MODE. But there is this thing about frequency response, if you’ve got your kick drum and bass drum in the low frequencies, you’ve got your doomy industrial DM synths in the mid-range, if you have a mid-range voice, then everything’s concentrated to those frequencies. BUT if you bring a female voice in on top of that, you’ll spread the spectrum.

Yes, in the old Synth Britannia days, you’ll have done that with a higher end synth melody which is WHY that era of music worked… like let’s swing it the other way, what about blokeys who sing falsetto? That to me is old hat now!

Ricardo: We are big SPARKS fans so we’ve got used to the falsetto but Russell Mael always realised it was a gimmick and his tonal quality changes left, right and centre from low to high. There was a period in late 80s pop when singing in falsetto was a by-word for “soul”, the worst offenders being BIG FUN in that ridiculous way! *laughs*

Jenny: It was just showing off… but one of my favourites with falsetto is Morten Harket from A-HA, he showed his range very much like Russell Mael; Morten and Russell know how to place certain types of singing in the music, how certain types of voices suit certain types of songs.

That’s a good point Jenny, Morten Harket, Russell Mael, Jimmy Somerville, Andy Bell, they knew how to do it, there was a degree of restraint, they knew where to place it, whereas others do that overblown thing…

Ricardo: This is WHY those singers you have mentioned were successful. Morten Harket knows which songs to sing high and which songs to sing low on, so you’ve covered the frequency range.

If you sing in the same frequency range in ALL your songs, regardless of what your music is doing, people will get sick of it very easily.

A good example is A-HA ‘Summer Moved On’, Morten Harket does a 21 second falsetto note in it, but it’s not the centrepiece on the bridge that it’s in, it’s there but it’s not pushed in your face, it’s not the dominant part…

Jenny: Yes, it just happens and then you go “OH MY WORD, THAT’S INCREDIBLE” but mixed in with the rest of the music, it’s perfect. It’s an example of it being done well.

Another card and it is a MemoryMoog…

Ricardo: I’ve never had a Moog, but I have been tinkering with VIEON’s Moog Grandmother recently. It was very atonal, I was noodling and he was tinkering away and I felt like I was in Karl Bartos’ book *laughs*

It was a beautiful moment of things melding together in a ray of light, this is the sort of thing that makes music great, analogue synths that sound robotic but there’s humans playing them and it was great fun, I must get one! But the synth wasn’t THAT special to be honest, it’s good synth but I didn’t think I was playing a Stradivarius, it was good but they’re all the same!

Has the iconography of Moog meant anything to you as synthpop purveyors?

Ricardo: It IS a cool name, if I was to buy one, it would be to look cool on stage. I bought one of those reissued Korg ARP Odysseys just because that Helvetica font looks really good on stage. We wrote the song ‘Félicette (Space Cat)’ on that.

Jenny: Yes, Moogs are the cool one…

This highlights how iconic these synth facias with “Moog” and “ARP” are from ‘Top Of The Pops’ because you have “Fairlight” on your live keyboard controller…

Ricardo: I tried to borrow a Fairlight from someone but they wouldn’t let me take it down from their loft, so next best thing, I customised my keyboard to look like a Fairlight… now who had done it before me???

Yes, it was Martin Gore who put “Fairlite” on a Casiotone MT-30…

Ricardo: I didn’t know that! I think it was inspired by Ron Mael from SPARKS who put “Ronald” instead of Roland on his keyboard… the thing about that is it gets across SPARKS’ sense of humour very easily. That’s why I loved SPARKS so much and why they are such an influence on SPRAY. They have a sense of humour that is sadly lacking in pop music these days, I don’t mean novelty acts or comedy bands but artists who include jokes and light hearted asides in their songs…

Jenny: …and write songs that aren’t necessarily about girls and boys and love and that, they talk about other interesting things that happen in the world.

Ricardo: Having Ronald in Roland font on his keyboard was a very good indicator that they were not just any old band.

Just out of interest, where do you stand on people wearing T-shirts of synths they don’t own, who are often those who complain about girls who wear T-shirts of bands they don’t listen to?

Ricardo: Oh it’s fine, it’s aspirational isn’t it! It’s like wearing a T-shirt with a Ferrari logo on it or British Leyland! *laughs*

Again, it’s like Ronald and Roland, it’s showing your personality, what you’re interested in, what you care about and what you maybe don’t care about. I’ve worn T-shirts with “Muzak” written on them, I don’t like Muzak a great deal but I love the concept of Muzak and I like the word and the font they use as well.

I bought an Akai T-shirt to wear ironically cos I have no Akai equipment, it just looked good…

Ricardo: We bought two Akai S5000s in 1999 with THE CUBAN BOYS and we made our entire album on them…

Jenny: Oh yes!

Ricardo: They were very basic, they didn’t have any external memory, we just used the floppy drive to load the samples and it was a massive thing. It cost about two and a half grand back then, I remember saying it was more expensive than the car I was driving at the time! We were using the Soundblaster 16 card in a PC to do the demos which was how the John Peel stuff was done, so to move to the Akai was mindblowing. But again to reference Karl Bartos, when you have a limitless horizon, your creativity suffers and that was a problem too because we didn’t have any boundaries to work with.

A point I’d like to bring in about the whole sampling issue in reference to Karl Bartos was he says in his book that ‘Numbers’ was inspired by the intro beat to ‘Do Ya Wanna Dance?’ by Cliff Richard, only he programmed his interpretation into his machine, got it slightly wrong and out came as ‘Numbers’. But today, you would actually sample the beat of inspiration wholesale, and that defeats the object of any actual artistic creativity, there’s no individual variation or happy accidents now… that’s why I struggled with the ethos of sampling, I find it difficult to have an emotional attachment although I can appreciate the technical innovation…

Ricardo: The thing about KRAFTWERK in the 70s was it sounded robotic but was done by humans but after ‘The Mix’, it sounded like computer demos more than anything. So yeah, the pre-digital era is clearly the best era. With things like THE ART OF NOISE in 1985, sampling was very exciting from a technical perspective, there was ‘19’ by Paul Hardcastle as well. I’m not sure anyone has actually had an emotional response to ‘Close (To The Edit)’ despite it being fantastic. But that 1985 sampling sound got tired very quickly and it became “that thing” as a loop on a record rather building a record out of bits.

SPRAY are songwriters at heart, but when you heard KRAFTWERK for the first time, what did you actually think?

Jenny: I liked ‘The Model’ and ‘Computer Love’, but I didn’t relate to it enough because it wasn’t vocally exciting cos I enjoy a singalong. I do love them but my formative music was more vocal-led.

This is the point I’m trying to get at, my sister and my cousin thought KRAFTWERK went on a bit and just kept repeating the same words, so I understand why girls aren’t into KRAFTWERK…

Jenny: It’s not because I’m a girl, I think people might find it boring… *laughs*

Ricardo: But then you’re not a fan of the 12 inch mix either generally…

Jenny: It’s very rare that I will listen to a song that’s more than four and a half minutes… I was shocked to learn that the tracks on more than half of FAITH NO MORE’s ‘The Real Thing’ are five minutes and over, I don’t think I’ve got the capacity for that! I like a nice snappy pop song, Eurovision style, three minutes, on-off-done!

Ricardo: When we were doing THE CUBAN BOYS, we had very little interest in the project, we were more interested in getting SPRAY away. While we were having great success in the charts and EMI were happy, we were more about the pop songs that SPRAY were doing.

Weirdly, I’m in that zone, I find the whole 12 inch mix thing tedious, yes I’ve got a lot of 12 inch singles but only for the bonus B-sides… so back on the subject of songs, what inspired you to do a covers album?

Jenny: What was it that kicked it off?

Ricardo: We had these cover versions we’d recorded over the years but never released, mainly because we can’t be bothered to do all that licensing business! So it’s always just easier to put out original stuff on platforms. But then we did a Halloween cover for a radio show last year, ‘Come Back Haunted’ by NINE INCH NAILS for our friend Terri MacDonald’s ‘Cabinets Of Curiosities’ podcast… it was so easy to do so we thought, why not do a few more and this gimmicky idea of one per month was partly to keep our focus through the year and partly because it’s a good way to get stuff out without overloading people. There’s no real need for a new SPRAY album just yet *laughs*

Jenny: It’s keeps us posting stuff, especially for our ‘SPRAY Social Mondays’ doing little things to keep us in the public eye… public yeah, the three people who follow us… *laughs*

…and who come to ALL your shows! *laughs*

Ricardo: God love ‘em! *laughs*

Jenny: It gives them something to look forward to each month and other people then get into the idea…

Ricardo: It’s the classic situation, as much as PET SHOP BOYS put out an album and four singles over a year, that’s just not like that anymore, it’s all about content and driving the algorithm or what have you. So we thought this was a fun idea to make sure nobody forgets us! *laughs*

So how does one choose a suitable song to arrange in an electronic pop aesthetic, one that is not a bloody DEPECHE MODE cover? *laughs*

Ricardo: It’s all very accidental apart from when we did THE OFFSPRING ‘Self-Esteem’ for the SPRAY live show, this was a few years ago. We did it because the chords are real Europop major chords, it sounds absolutely fantastic as a HI-NRG record.

Jenny: We deliberately don’t try and find electronic records to cover, we try and find things that we think might sound good as an electronic poppy record, would you agree?

Ricardo: I would agree but also we are arrogant enough to believe we can make anything sound good, so sometimes we will find something that is bloody atrocious because if we can’t make it worse, we’ve got to make it better! *laughs*

Having listened to the cover versions so far, what has been particularly interesting about the majority of the choices is they have a degree of familiarity but at the same time, they sound new, which is quite a difficult thing to pull off… a good example would be ‘The Rubberband Man’?

Jenny: It was in ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’, I didn’t know it and you suggested it… so it’s one of those that’s in people’s consciousness but not overly, so it’s something we can remind people of very gently.

Ricardo: It’s 70s funk which we’re not into at all but it’s got those really pronounced dramatic chords in the chorus which are really poppy, which you can always tell will work in a synthy style.

So when you are recording a cover or any song for that matter, do you do the quality control yourselves or do you have some trusted confidantes who you will run things by?

Ricardo: NO! We never have trusted confidantes, if you do that, you’ll never release anything! We care, it’s all that matters, if anybody else likes it, then that’s a bonus as they used to say in the NME in 1991! *laughs*

I’ll do a basic arrangement of a track, then Jenny will record a vocal and then I’ll build something around it. So we get away from the original straight away, we try to forget what the original sounded like if we can…

Is there a danger in forgetting the original that you could leave out what was good about it in the first place? For example, this British independent electronic artist did a cover of ‘Blue Monday’ recently, so mistake No1, he picked an electronic song. Then he tried to change the familiar elements of it, so the rhythm structure lost its funk as it become a straight four. Thing is, despite it being mechanical, NEW ORDER’s ‘Blue Monday’ has a weird groove because of the way Bernard Sumner sequenced those off-notes that just sat there. So this cover now has no groove and because he did away with the familiar hooks, he made up his own, which were frankly not very good!

Jenny: Yes, you want to put your own spin on a cover version, you have to give it a different feel, otherwise there is no point at all. With FAITH NO MORE’s ‘We Care A Lot’, it features a rap so it has no tune whatsoever so I did try to give it a more melodic slant. It was trying to change it a little but not change it, just add to it. You can change little bits and add little quirks, like I sing with an English accent so a lot of the American things we do, there’s a different thing straight away.

My funny FAITH NO MORE story, well it may not be funny to you, is when I first heard ‘Midlife Crisis’, I thought the verse was in German! I was confused, for years I thought they were from Germany! *laughs*

Jenny: If you can’t place immediately where a band is from, I think that can only be a good thing! *laughs*

How did ‘That’s What I Want’ by Lil Nas X come to be selected?

Ricardo: I love it when I hear something I like on Radio1 because it means I’m not old yet, Ava Max is also great, it’s refreshing and I sometimes think SPRAY can still have a hit if we sound like Ava Max these days but we haven’t quite managed that yet!

Jenny: She’s fab!

Ricardo: Covering Lil Nas X proves that we still listen to pop radio…

Jenny: It’s R ‘n’ B but quite poppy, he’s quite genre busting, that ‘Old Town Road’ when he sampled Miley Cyrus’ dad, I didn’t really like it so I didn’t really appreciate him until he was doing the pop stuff. His videos are incredible, he’s very risqué shall we say…

So here’s another card, a Korg 900PS, do you use Korg?

Ricardo: I bought a Korg Wavestate just before lockdown, it’s like a John Shuttleworth keyboard but made by NASA! You can do your one-fingered accompaniment, drums on one key, bassline on another. The idea was that we’d be able to do a whole show on this one synthesizer with no backing tracks. It would be the closest thing to SPRAY Unplugged, but with just one plug! If you open it up, there’s nothing more than a raspberry pie in there *laughs*

You have covered some more familiar tunes for the project, one of which is KISS ‘I Was Made For Loving You’…

Jenny: What a song!

Ricardo: Anybody that says they don’t like rock music, listen to that! That’s my kind of rock, DISCO ROCK!

It’s not really a typical KISS track though is it? But perfect for an electronic pop cover! I first knew the song from German band QUEEN OF JAPAN’s electroclash version which appeared on a TOO MANY DJS mix CD…

Ricardo: I wish KISS had done more songs like that, I always think this of bands who have a hit with an unrepresentative song, why not write a load more songs in that style? They could have a hit factory! KISS never really had hits in Britain until the late 80s…

Yeah, they had a hit with ‘God Gave Rock & Roll To You’, which funnily enough was a cover…

Ricardo: ARGENT wasn’t it, it was bloody terrible! *laughs*

Jenny: That was the one from ‘Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey’…

You’ve done a sparse reinterpretation of BLINK 182 ‘All The Small Things’…

Ricardo: This is one of Jenny’s favourites from yesteryear with her being the rock fan…

Jenny: I do like a lot of rock and as I mentioned earlier, it’s more difficult to do an electronic pop cover of electronic pop songs and make then your own. ‘All The Small Things’ is pop punk and its fast, so to slow it down like that, you have be careful not to do that twee girl with ukulele thing like a John Lewis ad, but you can do that and do it well, so that you can hear the song itself rather than all the fireworks.

Ricardo: We first recorded ‘All The Small Things’ about 20 years ago as a demo or the first SPRAY album and forgot about it. One day it turned up on the hard drive, we took the vocal acapella and experimented around it to see what we could come up with, but in the end, we had to re-record the vocal due to the earphone bleed! Using the vocal first and then shaping the music second was why it’s such an unusual cover.

Jenny: I think it came out really well, it’s one of my favourites so far.

Bringing Karl Bartos back into the conversation, he did a rather radical speeded up vocodered electronic cover of Eddy Grant’s ‘Baby Come Back’ as ELEKTRIC MUSIC…

Ricardo: I remember at the time being very excited at this because ‘The Mix’ was in 1991 and Karl Bartos had left by then, but then in 1992, the NME charity cover compilation ‘Ruby Trax’ came out and ‘Baby Come Back’ was Herr Bartos’ comeback on that. However, it was pretty awful… c’mon Karl, spend more than an hour on it please! It clears up why KRAFTWERK were so unproductive, they couldn’t be bothered really, they were too picky! They spent a week writing ‘Electric Café’ and 5 years mixing it! *laughs*

‘Gentle On My Mind’, as made famous by your late friend Glen Campbell, what did you think of Gil Trythall’s radical Moog modular version for ‘Switch On Nashville’ from 1972?

Ricardo: That reminds me of what I said earlier that of that roboticness but with a human feel, I do like 16ths and stuff as heard on ‘No1 Song In Heaven’, I think it’s marvellous, you can hear humans playing but it’s still technical.

Now Glen Campbell did quite a few Jimmy Webb songs, you have covered ‘The Highwayman’ before…

Jenny: Yes, we’ve done it live and it’s gone down incredibly well…

Ricardo: Originally in 2003-2004, we were going to record it as SPRAY featuring Glen Campbell. But it never came to pass because I don’t think he quite understood what we wanted him to do, which was record vocal and send it to us. My previous recording session with him to do ‘Rhinestine Cowboy’, I flew over to his house and I think he assumed that was what I was going to do this time! *laughs*

So will ‘The Highwayman’ come out on this cover project?

Ricardo: It’s on the Bandcamp download version of ‘Children Of A Laser God’.

What else is on the cards with these covers?

Jenny: There’s five more to come… one is ‘Love Rears Its Ugly Head’ by LIVING COLOUR, it’s very funky and jazzy, we have yet to get it finished but about a month ago, it came on in the car and I was like “oh my God, we need to do this…”

Ricardo: This should be a successful one cos I hate the original! I always say that about earnest American rock. So after Jenny sends her vocal back and I get my hands on it, it should be a little bit more interesting to get away from the original.

Jenny: I think the vocal will sound very different…

What about the other ones?

Ricardo: We’ll probably put out that NINE INCH NAILS one, ‘Come Back Haunted’ to tie in with Halloween but ‘Born To Be Alive’, the old Patrick Hernandez disco record is in the running. We started it a few years ago but never finished it, but I did get a guitarist to play the riff for me so as it’s on file, we may as well use it.

Did you know who programmed the Roland System 100 sequence on ‘Born To Be Alive’? To give you a clue, an electronic music fan, you’ll probably guess the band he was because they were connected to SPARKS!

Ricardo: It’s not TELEX is it?

Yeah, Dan Lacksman from TELEX!

Ricardo: I had no idea! Right, we’re definitely doing that then! Now, I want to do a cover of my favourite Italo disco song which is ‘The Different Story’ by Peter Schilling, It was produced by Michael Cretu aka ENIGMA. But we can’t do it because every time we try, it sounds either exactly the same as the original or to my ears, slightly worse!

I think Italo disco covers wouldn’t work as SPRAY are spiritually not that far removed from the form, it would be like you doing PET SHOP BOYS covers although Jenny singing would give it a twist…

Jenny: That would be the only thing though wouldn’t it? But we’d like to do ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ live, but that would be something we wouldn’t want to replicate unless we could do it properly.

Ricardo: So my three favourite songs are ‘The Different Story’, ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ and ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’, over the years I’ve tried to cover all of those but it just doesn’t work…

Jenny: There’s no point! *laughs*

Another card, and it’s an EMS Polysynthi, described by Vince Clarke as the worst sounding synth ever made…

Ricardo: Didn’t Jean-Michel Jarre use an EMS? I like the colours on it…

Yeah, it’s the best thing about it, tried one at college, no matter what knob you twiddle, it still sounded rubbish!

Ricardo: It’s cool, it would look good on stage and that’s why I’d get one! *laughs*

So why have you covered Chas & Dave’s ‘Ain’t No Pleasing You?’

Ricardo: Someone suggested it as a joke but we did it anyway…

Jenny: I think it was Terri MacDonald…

Ricardo: On her ‘Cabinets Of Curiosities’ podcast, she had a SPRAY Song of the Week, these little internet radio shows that spring up out of nowhere, some are quite good so we associate ourselves with them like Terri’s.

Jenny: I miss her show, it was very good.

Ricardo: So she suggested Chas & Dave, we changed the rhythm to 4/4 and it worked out ok.

Football songs, so why ‘Diamond Lights’ and not ‘Ole Ola’ or ‘World In Motion’ or ‘Top Of The World’ which was utter rubbish despite being co-written by Johnny Marr? *laughs*

Ricardo: All football songs are terrible, including ‘World In Motion’ , yes it’s the best football song but it’s the worst NEW ORDER record, the lyrics are appalling !

Jenny: But ‘Diamond Lights’ is fabulous…

Ricardo: It’s such a strange record to have been made in the first place, that why I’ve always liked it, it was released on Radio Shack!

So it was connected to Ian Levine?

Ricardo: He wasn’t involved but it’s a late 80s gay disco record by two footballers, there was only the most oblique reference to football in the lyrics, what a strange thing to be a success. They were called Glenn & Chris, but Hoddle & Waddle would have made a better moniker…

This isn’t really a football record as such as it’s not about winning or beating someone, this is more Ant & Dec as opposed to PJ & Duncan; it was never as good when PJ was with Harvey cos the stuff was really gloomy and miserable…

Ricardo: I used to have a really big collection of Ant & Dec and PJ & Duncan CD singles, they used to sell them dead cheap for 99p! I sold them as a job lot on eBay and some bloke came round in a Range Rover and took them off my hands, good times! Back to ‘Diamond Lights’, we did it totally straight, there’s no irony involved, we covered it as a fantastic pop song.

Jenny: Oooh, I’ve only just seen it but Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle have commented on Twitter about it.

Ricardo: Them both commenting leads me to believe that they have been talking about it behind the scenes.

Jenny: But I think you sent it to them it to them *laughs*

So your process? When you decide to do say ‘Diamond Lights’, are you sourcing sheet music or working it out by ear?

Ricardo: I play by ear, I use my hands, but I play by ear! You work out the chords, programme them into FruityLoops and then forget about the original and start tinkering like you are writing an original song.

What advice would you give to electronic acts that are looking to do cover versions as an extra string to their bow or for publicity or whatever?

Ricardo: Well, nobody wants our advice, after 20 years, I couldn’t really offer any… but if I was to, gimmickry is not a dirty word. Do something that is not in your usual style but turn it into your usual style.

Jenny: I think that’s pretty much what I would say, but also, don’t listen to us because we don’t know what we’re doing! *laughs*

Final card, the Oberheim Matrix 12…

Ricardo: What a great name, if there wasn’t already a synth called the Oberheim Expander, I would name an album that, it’s such a glorious collection of syllables. I’ve a plug-in called OPX which is a knock-off of the Oberheim OBX and got all the VAN HALEN presets, it’s got RUSH and the ‘Tom Sawyer’ bass, and the ‘Love Beat’ organ which was used by THE SPACE BROTHERS in the dance hit ‘Shine’.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to SPRAY

Updated at monthly intervals, ‘Untitled Covers Project’ is available as a free download from all good newsagents and directly from
https://spray.bandcamp.com/album/untitled-covers-project

http://www.spraynet.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/spraynet/

https://twitter.com/spraypopmusic

https://www.instagram.com/spraypopmusic/

Vintage Synth Trumps is a card game by GForce that features 52 classic synthesizers

https://www.juno.co.uk/products/gforce-software-vintage-synth-trumps-2-playing/637937-01/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
23rd August 2022

RICARDO AUTOBAHN Interview

With something of a reputation as a musical prankster with his projects THE CUBAN BOYS, POUND SHOP BOYS and many more, Ricardo Autobahn is one of the more entertaining and irreverent characters in an industry that spends far too much time stating its self-importance.

A 2006 Eurovision entry with rapper Daz Sampson, along with producing a cowpunk-techno reworking of ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ featuring the late country legend Glen Campbell have only reinforced this image.

Even his longest running vehicle SPRAY, an electronic pop duo with his sister Jenny McLaren, has its tongue firmly in its cheek. But while known as a purveyor of pranklectro, an intricate instrumental album from Ricardo Autobahn in 2019 called ‘Check The Gyroscopes’ came as something of a pleasant surprise.

But not done with ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, there will soon be yet another version with his involvement, this time with Texan electro artpunk duo HYPERBUBBLE. Ricardo Autobahn joined in a fun conversation about his career, his recent role as the silent partner of Hacker T Dog and  the state of the synth nation…

You celebrated the 20th Anniversary of THE CUBAN BOYS ‘Cognoscenti vs. Intelligentsia’ aka “The Hamsterdance Song”, did you honestly think you’d still be making music two decades on?

I’m not sure. We did sign one of those famous million pound eight album recording contracts, which would have technically tied us into churning out product for decades but happily we almost immediately went down the dumper and left the label.

Actually I don’t think I did think I’d be making music still – I remember my dream was always to have one big hit and live off the royalties. Which didn’t really quite happen with “Hamsterdance” cos most of the money went to Roger Miller. And he’s dead!

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK recently did a Various Artists compilation album listings article and two of the albums ‘Electricity 2’ and ‘Robopop Volume 1’ featured SPRAY. What was that early 21st Century period like being in a synthpop act?

Hard work trying to convince people electronic pop music (as opposed to dance music) was commercially viable. I think we were ahead of our time, or more accurately twenty years behind our time. Whisper it, but there is an 80s influence to our music, and during our time with THE CUBAN BOYS from 1999-2001, we were constantly trying to get a deal for SPRAY because (as we kept telling important people) the 80s revival was just around the corner. Synthpop would come back.

It nearly came off, the EMI demos went on to be remixed and finished as ‘Living In Neon’, but people just laughed at us for even thinking synthpop was going to return and find a fanbase with the record buying public. Those same people went on to great success a decade later with the likes of LA ROUX.

Ah the music industry, as forward thinking as ever…

Anyway, once ‘Living In Neon’ came out, we never really felt part of any scene because we never played live back then, and we were still doing behind-the-scenes production stuff on pop – so our day to day existence was very basic major label stuff. SPRAY was always our labour of love, our passion project – so when odd little things happened like our version of ‘You Spin Me Round’ turning up in ‘Desperate Housewives’, it was genuinely more gratifying than finding out something we’d worked on was No1 in Spain.

Slowing down a song to an inch of its life while wailing accompanied by an acoustic guitar does NOT make it better… DISCUSS!

It is a perfect thumbnail of the absolute bottom-feeding desperation of the music industry. One MOR singer songwriter has moderate success slowing a song down and it’s all claws to the pump to copy the idea and grind it down beyond reason for years and years.

I don’t think people really like them either; it’s just this perpetual cycle of them existing in a void that’s been created, because nobody comes up with any other ideas. Conversely, speeding up a song and adding orch hits always improves it though.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was criticised for giving more airtime to synth covers of songs like ‘Witchita Lineman’ and ‘Gentle On My Mind’ which were made famous by Glen Campbell than modern day synth covers of DEPECHE MODE, ERASURE and ULTRAVOX… but there really is no point in doing a synth cover of a synth song is there?

There is not. Cover versions serve one purpose and one purpose only and that is to annoy fans of the original. Doing respectful covers is a waste of time.

So when as Daz & Rikki, you approached Glen Campbell to do a cover of ‘Rhinestone Campbell’, did he take much persuading to join in?

We’d demoed the song in spring 2002 and immediately had a bidding war, signing with BMG in May. The problem was re-recording the chorus to clear it. We tried various options including the ‘Stars In Their Eyes’ route, and at some point somebody important said “why don’t we just ask Glen?”.

Now I wasn’t party to the ins and outs of the conversations, but I was told one Thursday that we’d asked him and we were flying to Arizona to record it the next Tuesday so he must have been keen. He loved the idea though, I think he really really enjoyed it – these mad pasty-faced jet-lagged Mancunians turning up at his house with a DAT – to the extent we recorded a second never-finished single later in the summer, and I was talking with him for a couple of years about a duet with Jenny on a SPRAY version of his song ‘The Highwayman’.

Whilst we were in his studio, he said they’d been thinking of doing a similar idea themselves about modernizing ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, and was fascinated by how we’d put it together. We shared a lot of our haphazard production techniques, I remember he absolutely loved the kick drum we’d put on it.

After it came out and was a big hit, I got a call from a country music magazine (I forget which) who said there’d been “a lot of interest” from their readers and could I give some info about the release and the recording. So I did happily and when the magazine came out, the “interest” turned out to be a load of angry letters from furious Glen Campbell fans ripping us to shreds! *laughs*

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s favourite Glen Campbell story is now he and Alice Cooper were caught by a speed camera driving to a golf course, what was your favourite memory during your time with him?

(By the time) we got to Phoenix and rented a convertible Camaro at the airport and drove to his gated-community mansion with the roof down in midsummer Arizona temperatures.

En route, we got out the old gigantic camcorder to film the journey as a travelogue. With some inevitability, we put the Rikki & Daz demo on the CD player and I stood up and lip-synched along, much like Kylie in that ‘Top Of The Pops’ video for ‘I Should Be So Lucky’.

Literally within ten seconds, we heard the sirens of a police car and to our excitement we were pulled over. The officer asked us what the HELL DID WE THINK WE WERE DOING and Daz – in his best Northern English accent – explained we weren’t from round here and didn’t know the rules. We were sent on our way.

Anyway, my top Glen Anecdote came during a break in recording in the studio at his home. He said “Hey, Rikki, come and look at this!” and showed me into an anteroom where dozens and dozens of guitars were lined up against the walls. It was a great sight and he picked one out and told me to have a go. Now I’m no guitarist but I wanted to show willing, so I clanged out a few atonal chords from ‘Shaddap Your Face’ or something and handed it back to the revelation that “that was Elvis’ guitar”!*laughs*

Is your co-write ‘Teenage Life’ for Daz Sampson as the UK’s 2006 Eurovision entry possibly your most subversive moment?

There are a lot more reasons than this to be sad that John Peel died before his time in 2004, but I would have loved him to come to Greece with us for the Eurovision. He was a big fan of the contest, and the idea that somebody who had topped the Festive 50 was representing the UK would have no doubt appealed.

Imagine the BBC documentary we could have made. I think the fact that an indiepop Maida Vale veteran went to Eurovision was, at the time, equally annoying for both Peel fans and Eurovision fans. P*ssing off everybody, that’s what I like!*laughs*

What did you think of Will Ferrell’s film ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’?

I thought it was a lot of rubbish, but that Will Ferrell kind of mainstream facsimile-of-comedy-via-overacting doesn’t appeal to me anyway. It’s not aimed at me. I actually abandoned it after half an hour when the only thing even approaching comedy was Ferrell saying “ding dong” in an accent.

Should the UK treat the contest with more respect like Sweden does, like they had LUSTANS LAKEJER, their equivalent of DURAN DURAN, in the running to represent them in 2007?

The UK should either treat the contest as something to be taken seriously with a proper selection procedure of decent young writers and credible acts, or as a full-on full-fat extravaganza and spend loads of money on absurd gimmicks and get me and Daz to write all the songs. The halfway house of ‘X Factor’ rejects singing never-used ONE DIRECTION album tracks makes no sense as it appeals to no-one and doesn’t inspire enough passion to vote. At least if you enter something that’s massively hated, logic dictates it will be equally massively loved.

What was your Euro-vision, as it were?

With ‘Teenage Life’, we’d originally demoed it with BLAZIN’ SQUAD the year before and my mix of that was going to be slightly grimy and dusty, with some soot-faced urchins singing the chorus rather than the slick showbiz performance you saw at Eurovision. I think if it had been more like that, it might have sparked a bit more inspiration with the voters.

We fell a bit between two stools, balancing a glossy performance with a weird (for Eurovision) rhythm and rap. I do remember getting home on the Monday after the show and watching the video recording and thinking despite everything that happened that whole chaotic weekend, it was still a really good song.

I think had LORDI not entered that year and had the Lithuanian singers doing ‘We Are The Winners’ not been there, our gimmick might have been more successful. But we were out-gimmicked by the kings of the gimmick.

Hahaha! When LORDE first emerged and got radio play, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK thought “Bloody hell, their sound has changed!”… anyway as THEATTERY SQUASH, you made ‘Devo Was Right About Everything’ and even got it remixed by DEVO members Robert and Gerald Casale… so were they??

We put George W Bush on the artwork for the single and the fact that he looks comparatively statesmanlike now sort of spoils the joke somewhat.

What was the idea behind POUND SHOP BOYS, a move towards ultimate pop supremacy?

My colleague and associate Phil Fletcher – the man behind TV’s Hacker T Dog – is a big fan of the PET SHOP BOYS like myself. When he was a kid he had a cassette of TV themes and told me that as a youth he’d always thought ‘Fireman Sam’ would sound great sung by the PET SHOP BOYS but could never really explain why he thought that.

Having a studio to hand, we are able to take throwaway ideas that most people would treat as a passing thought and actually do it. It took a day and we had a good laugh especially when my girlfriend of the time came up with the “it’s Pontypandemonium!” hook.

You completed this POUND SHOP BOYS plan with a video…

Oh we never plan anything; we made a video for ‘Fireman Sam’ almost by accident when we did some silly lip-synching against a white wall on our iPhones and threw every effect we could find in Final Cut Pro at it. Genuinely, we spent 10 minutes filming that and it became this great thing. Radcliffe and Maconie even played it on BBC 6Music a few times.

Since then we’ve appeared on stage with THE GRUMBLEWEEDS and THE KRANKIES and our version of ‘The Banana Splits Theme’ saw us on NBC news across the States with the original actors who portrayed the Splits. The point is, if we do become ultimate pop supremacists, it will be by accident.

You play keyboards with HELEN LOVE, what’s happening there at the moment?

New album out in October. We were supposed to be playing Paris Popfest in September before all the Corona kicked off, but hopefully 2021 will see us back on the international touring scene.

You released an instrumental solo album ‘Check The Gyroscopes’ in 2019 and some might say they were surprised that it was a serious record, do you tire of being considered a musical prankster?

My first love was always instrumental synth music from Jean Michel Jarre or THE ART OF NOISE and I’ve always favoured stuff that shows a good sense of fun now and then – TANGERINE DREAM, even Mike Oldfield at times – as opposed to the po-facedness of yer Vangelises.

It’s the same with non-instrumental, I’ve always enjoyed people like SPARKS and YELLO and always just endured people like DEPECHE MODE and various clones down the years. So I hope there’s a lightness and jollity to the instrumental stuff I do – I’ve done four albums over the years and it’s always been pure self-indulgence.

Saying that, you’ve done a reinterpretation of ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ with CBBC’s Hacker T Dog… he described you as his “second favourite music producer from yesteryear” so what was he like to deal with, does he have any dark secrets or diva-like tendencies like George and Zippy from ‘Rainbow’ did?

I will say he’s an incredibly lazy dog. We’ve just filmed a new video in Wigan where Hacker is from – he regularly celebrates and mentions the town so that if he’s ever asked to do any location filming he doesn’t have to go too far and can be home in time for Coronation Street. I asked him why he didn’t move to Salford and stayed in Wigan, and he said “because all my stuff’s there”.

‘Q’ magazine recently announced it was folding, but it did disappear up its own backside! Are we missing the irreverence of early ‘Q’ and imperial phase ‘Smash Hits’ in music journalism? It’s like you can’t make fun of an artist or highlight their shortcomings anymore without someone jumping on social media going “HOW DARE YOU? THEY’RE A LEGEND?” in a time when the word ‘legend’ is seriously overused…

I can’t express it any better than that. The best kind of artists – pop or otherwise – are those that don’t take themselves too seriously, or at least take their sense of humour seriously. But everything’s so BRIT School-honed nowadays there’s nothing to make fun of.

‘Q’ was pretty good in the 90s, a rich feast of thoughtful and interesting articles and had that Tom Hibbert irreverence and lack of respect. But like all print media, it suffered at the hands of the internet – half the joy of ‘Q’ was finding out what was coming out, reading their impressions of what forthcoming albums were like. When you’re renowned for your refreshing and wordy music reviews, you don’t want something like Spotify coming along to make them obsolete. Why read a music review when you can just listen to it to see if you like it?

SPRAY’s ‘We Gotta Get Haircuts!’ became quite relevant during lockdown, was it time to mullet over?

If we had any sense we’d have written a song called ‘We Gotta Get Haircuts’ that was actually about getting a haircut, and made a video with loads of people getting haircuts, and we’d probably have got on ‘The One Show’ or something.

But no, we had to make it a really oblique song about failing rockers in the twilight of their career, and an observation on how cool music always sounds exactly like unfashionable music if you take the stylists out of the equation! *laughs*

How do you see the UK synth scene at the moment, it would seem that some socially inept promoters trying to get in on the act for not entirely genuine reasons?

We consider ourselves part of no scene, and if anything SPRAY are the hands across the world bringing people together. We’re not saying we’re better than religion, but we are.

We’re not synthpop, we’re not indiepop, but we’re also both of those and we’re probably other things too.

To that end we had actually booked a few punk venues to play in November before Covid-19 hit, perhaps it’s for the best those won’t happen now.

Is a Darwin-esque period of evolution required now or should listeners have more empathy and support any kind of synth music whatever the quality, so that it still continues to exist?

I do like the general support and positivity synth music gets across the “scene”, I’m not massively into synthwave for example, but I do appreciate the way it’s dipping it’s toe in the real world where normal people are getting to hear it. Essentially, I need people to curate the synthwave highlights for me, which is where radio comes in.

Anyone that follows your Twitter will be amused by your live commentary on ‘Top Of The Pops’ re-runs and various nostalgic radio shows. Was the phenomenon of pop really much better in the past or are people like us are just grumpy old men???

This goes back to the irreverence of pop and I do quite like to treat sacred cows with the lack of respect they deserve. I don’t always mean it. I once said I was glad David Bowie was dead because of ‘Dancing In The Street’, and I didn’t get banned so it must have successfully come across as a joke. Maybe my brand of iconoclasm is getting a bit tired and I should be more positive for ‘Top Of The Pops’ as it lumbers into the 90s. Like and subscribe, readers, @ricardoautobahn on all portals, please RT for awareness.

You do lose touch with pop music, I listen to Radio1 a lot in the car and like most of it but have no idea who the artists are. The charts are always the charts, you remember the good and bad and forget the mediocre. That said, it’s always a relief more than anything when an artist comes along who you can still go bonkers for even at this age, and that artist this year is Ava Max. Who is fantastic. I’d like there to still be a weekly TV pop show that I can make fun of on Twitter…

Of course, the new SPRAY video for ‘Chump For Your Love’ is a homage to ITV’s ‘The Chart Show’…

‘Chump For My Love’, we felt we needed to plug 2019’s ‘Failure Is Inevitable’ album a bit more, so gave it an electronic overhaul and went down to Crosby Beach in February, before the lockdown. We figured if we got 20 or 30 minutes of quick footage, we could make a nice low-budget arty video, but we got so cold after about 10 minutes, we came home again.

Adding some captions was a fun way to try and distract from the lack of footage, and it soon became apparent we could have a bit of a laugh with it. It’s a good way of getting people to watch all the way through rather than just tailing off after a minute like most of our stats seem to indicate *laughs*

As a grumpy old man who has had his 15 minutes of fame, should grumpy old men by their nature still be trying to make that last gasp at validation?

Once I get that validation, I will stop. I’m unceasingly grumpy due to the fact my various smash hits are so forgotten, they don’t even crop up as questions on Ken Bruce’s Popmaster – once I’ve had my BBC4 documentary, I’ll stop banging on about it! *laughs*

What are the upcoming plans in the SPRAY camp and any other projects you’re allowed to talk about?

I bought one of those Behringer 303 knockoffs before lockdown and have written a lot of spontaneous acid-esque backing tracks.

We’ve got loads of wacky ideas floating for these, when we finally get around to getting together and recording them it’ll be a quick, spiky, spontaneous SPRAY album and the world will be delighted. SPRAY and the POUND SHOP BOYS will get back on the road in 2021.

What have been your own career highlights?

Although it never got shown in the end outside of BBC Prime (?), filming ‘Top Of The Pops’ was the greatest three minutes. Doing your first Pops is exactly like you’d expect it to be. This dreamlike state of posing and trying to drink in the moment.

It wasn’t a great performance because the idea we’d had was for it to be a performance art piece (a la PET SHOP BOYS when they did ‘Can You Forgive Her’), with John Peel centre-stage covered in cobwebs. He couldn’t do it in the end so they just wheeled in as many synths as they could find out of storage. They still used the cobwebs though.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Ricardo Autobahn

‘Check The Gyroscopes’ is available as a digital album direct from https://spray.bandcamp.com/album/check-the-gyroscopes

The SPRAY EP ‘Offerings From The Algorithm’ is available from https://spray.bandcamp.com/album/offerings-from-the-algorithm

A selection of POUND SHOP BOYS releases in physical and digital formats can be obtained at https://poundshopboys.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/ricardoautobahn

https://twitter.com/ricardoautobahn

https://www.instagram.com/ricardo_autobahn/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
16th August 2020

The Electronic Legacy of VARIOUS ARTISTS

So come on, whose first album was a various artists compilation?

They were the biggest sellers for a decade and had dominated the UK album charts so much so that they were given their own!

In 1966, the Canadian budget household gadget firm K-Tel diversified into the territory of compilation albums with ‘25 Country Hits’; it was a surprise success and this comparatively new idea of collecting a number of artists onto an album based around a single theme was expanded further.

K-Tel negotiated directly with artists and labels for the rights to reproduce the original recordings, but where this was not possible, the company would contract “one or more of the original artists” to make a new recording for the compilation, under the premise that the public generally could not tell the difference between a re-recording and the original.

However, UK budget label Pickwick Records via their Hallmark imprint went one step further in 1968 by producing compilations of the latest hits but as rush-recorded soundalike cover versions under the title ‘Top Of The Pops’ which had nothing to do whatsoever with the BBC TV show; it was all perfectly legal thanks to an oversight by the corporation on trademark.

Purchasers unknowingly got treated to unique interpretations of ‘Autobahn’ and ‘The Model’ by anonymous session musicians who quite obviously had only learnt the song ten minutes before entering the studio. Although demand for such records had dimmed by 1981, acts such as SOFT CELL were still unable to escape with ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ hilariously reduced to geezer pub rock! The singer was revealed to be one Martin Jay who a few years earlier had treated the world to his cloak and dagger take on ‘Are Friends Electric?’.

The albums from K-Tel attempted to cram as many songs as possible onto the 12 inch vinyl format. In order to accommodate this philosophy within its physical limitations, many of the tracks were faded out early or came in unusual and often clumsy edits. But even these versions were sought after by loyal fans, thus making the records they came from valued collector’s items.

The various artists compilation album changed forever in 1983 when Virgin and EMI joined forces to produce the ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ series which at the last count had reached ‘Now 106’ and spawned numerous spin-offs and even cable TV channels. In 1984, Sony BMG and Warner Music joined in the action with the ‘Hits’ series, but such was the domination in the UK of these types of albums that in 1989, they were given their own chart and excluded from the main one!

For electronic pop, ‘Machines’ released by Virgin Records in 1980 was one of the first attempts to gather music using synthesizers into one place, but the entry point for many new fans was 1981’s ‘Modern Dance’ on K-Tel. This well-thought out collection saw youngsters saving up their pocket money for their first record purchase or asking Santa to put it into their Christmas stocking, thanks to Radio1 DJ Peter Powell declaring that ‘Modern Dance’ was “The best of total danceability, the sounds of modern dance, on one LP!”.

As with greatest hits albums, what makes a great various artists compilation is a seamless listening experience where possible, or at least more killer than filler. However the continuous DJ mix was a particular irritant running through compilations for a period and rarely worked with classic material or recordings not specifically aimed at the clubland.

Staying within theme on a compilation though is VERY important and straying just slightly can spoil a whole concept, especially if it has been outlined in the title. Soul Jazz Records’ lushly packaged ‘Deutsche Elektronische Musik’ sets over two volumes contained a wide range of freeform experimental works from Germany, but occasionally forgot about the Trade Descriptions Act implications of its title. Meanwhile, ‘Reward’ by post-punk trip-poppers THE TEARDROP EXPLODES had a regular place on collections such as ‘Club For Heroes’, ‘New Romantic Classics’, ‘It’s Electric’ and ‘Our Friends Electric’ despite being brass dominated.

But the nadir came with ‘Synth Pop’, a 3CD collection by Sony Music in 2015 which totally missed the point by featuring AZTEC CAMERA and HAIRCUT 100!??! Now while the inclusion of IMAGINATION’s ‘Body Talk’ with its iconic Moog bassline could be justified, the set highlighted just how much the modern day definition of “synth pop” had become particularly blurred…

Although some listeners just want endless hits on various artists compilations, others want to be informed and introduced to some lesser-known or rare songs. However, this latter approach can meet with mixed results.

For example, Cherry Red’s ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ and the Trevor Jackson’s ‘Metal Dance’ series were historically fascinating, but not always easy collections to listen to in one sitting. With some of the music close to being unlistenable, it could be akin to studying a hefty text book… highly educational but not always entirely fun!

So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK takes a personal look at the electronic legacy of various artists via 20 notable compilation albums, each with valid reasons for their inclusion, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order within. Yes, several songs reoccur over a number of these releases, but perhaps that is more an indication of their timeless nature. These were tunes that were dismissed by the press and wider public back in the day, but are now considered classic and part of the cultural heritage.


MACHINES (1980)

Having seen the future and signed THE HUMAN LEAGUE as well as OMD through their Dindisc subsidiary, Virgin Records issued a long playing showcase of acts that used synthesizers as their primary instrumentation. Among the outsiders were TUBEWAY ARMY, FAD GADGET, SILICON TEENS and DALEK I LOVE YOU. XTC’s B-side ‘The Somnambulist’ appeared to be incongruous, but was from their synth experimentation period.

‘Machines’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Machines/master/59149


METHODS OF DANCE (1981)

This compilation been the idea of David Sylvian, hence why it was named after the JAPAN song although their contribution would be ‘The Art Of Parties’. Virgin presented their embarrassment of riches including BEF, DEVO, DAF, SIMPLE MINDS and MAGAZINE while the primary selling point was a special dub edit of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Do Or Die’ as a trailer to ‘Love & Dancing’. The cassette had more tracks including John Foxx and the actual undanceable ‘Methods Of Dance’ song!

‘Methods Of Dance’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Methods-Of-Dance/master/43926


MODERN DANCE (1981)

1981 was when the sound of electronic pop was virtually everywhere, so ‘Modern Dance’ was perfect synthchronicity. Featuring the stellar cast of OMD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HEAVEN 17, JAPAN, DEPECHE MODE, SIMPLE MINDS, VISAGE, LANDSCAPE, FASHION and THE CURE as well as John Foxx and Gary Numan, an indicator of how supreme this compilation was came with the fact that its most obscure track ‘A World Without Love’ by THE NEWS was rather good!

‘Modern Dance’ was released by K-Tel Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Modern-Dance/release/504872


SOME BIZZARE ALBUM (1981)

Stevo Pearce’s compendium of new Futurist acts has gone into folklore, having launched the careers of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE and B-MOVIE. Several of acts who didn’t make it were also superb. THE FAST SET’s cover of Marc Bolan’s ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ was enjoyable electro-macabre while the rousing ‘Tidal Flow’ by ILLUSTRATION is one of the great lost songs of the era.

‘Some Bizzare Album’ was released by Some Bizzare

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Some-Bizzare-Album/master/2754


CLUB FOR HEROES (1992)

It took a few years to realise just how good the music from the New Romantic era was. This compilation was named after one of Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s club nights. Featuring DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET, ULTRAVOX, VISAGE, SOFT CELL and JAPAN, others who also got into the party were YAZOO, ABC, TALK TALK and CLASSIX NOUVEAUX while most welcome were ICEHOUSE with their eponymous single.

‘Club For Heroes’ was released by Telstar Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Club-For-Heroes/master/120444


IT’S ELECTRIC (1994)

Gathering “Classic Hits From An Electric Era” including the full length ‘Blue Monday’ from NEW ORDER, ‘It’s Electric’ was largely, a more purist synth collection than ‘Club For Heroes’. Alongside the usual suspects were A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, TEARS FOR FEARS, BRONSKI BEAT, KRAFTWERK, EURYTHMICS, BRONSKI BEAT and ERASURE. However, this collection featured the album version of ‘Tainted Love’ instead of the single, a mistake that would be repeated again and again.

‘It’s Electric’ was released by Dino Entertainment

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Its-Electric-Classic-Hits-From-An-Electric-Era/master/37974


DAWN OF ELECTRONICA (2000)

Celebrating “a music synonymous with futurism”, ‘Dawn Of Electronica’ included the album version of ‘From Here To Eternity’ by Giorgio Moroder and the Some Bizzare version of ‘Remembrance Day’ by B-MOVIE. With the likes of DAF, SUICIDE, ASSOCIATES, CABARET VOLTAIRE, PROPAGANDA, THE ART OF NOISE and YELLO alongside TUBEWAY ARMY, ULTRAVOX, JAPAN and SOFT CELL, this compilation was something a bit different to what had come before.

‘Dawn Of Electronica’ was released by Demon Music Group

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Dawn-Of-Electronica-Uncut/release/577680


ELECTRIC DREAMS (2002)

Like ‘Teenage Kicks’ for punk and new wave, there are far too many compilations named ‘Electric Dreams’. This 2CD affair from Virgin Records comprised of 38 “synth pop classics”. This was a compilation combining trailblazing analogue electro and the advent of digital sampling that actually worked. From ‘The Model’ and ‘Electricity’ to ‘Relax’ and ‘19’, with ‘We Are Glass’, ‘Yellow Pearl, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ and ‘Absolute’ in between, this was one of the best releases of its type.

‘Electric Dreams’ was released by Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Electric-Dreams/release/322736


THIS IS HARDCORE (2002)

God Made Me Hardcore was a label set-up by Andy Chatterley and Richard Norris for electroclash tracks they had involvement in. ‘This Is Hardcore’ included some striking covers; THE DROYDS and MOON UNIT contributed SQUEEZE’s ‘Take Me I’m Yours’ and DEVO’s ‘Whip It’ respectively, while there was also a brilliant posh boy mash-up ‘Assault On The West End Girls’ by MUGATU. Siobhan Fahey of SHAKESPEAR’S SISTER and Irish combo RIVIERA also featured.

‘This Is Hardcore’ was released by God Made Me Hardcore

https://www.discogs.com/release/289143-Various-This-Is-Hardcore


THIS IS NOT THE 80s (2002)

Subtitled “A Nu-Wave Electro Compilation”, this brought out the electro in Electroclash with gloriously klanky drum machines in abundance. The undoubted star was Miss Kittin with four tracks including the mighty scene anthem ‘You & Us’ with Michael Amato aka THE HACKER; meanwhile the man himself and Anthony Rother each had three contributions. FPU, DOPPLEREFFEKT and ADULT. were among those bringing the sound of electronic pop into the 21st Century.

‘This Is Not The 80s’ was released by Incredible / Sony Music

https://www.discogs.com/Various-This-Is-Not-The-80s-A-Nu-Wave-Electro-Compilation/master/375573


THIS IS TECH-POP (2002)

Compiled by Ministry Of Sound, ‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was a representative snapshot of the start of the 21st Century, although “Tech-Pop or Electroclash or Synth-Core or Neu-Electro” legend highlighted dance music’s daft obsession with categorisation. The music from LADYTRON, FISCHERSPOONER, TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS, FC KAHUNA, WALDORF, SOVIET, FELIX DA HOUSECAT and GREEN VELVET was excellent but DJ mixing the tracks together clouded the listening experience.

‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was released by Ministry Of Sound

https://www.discogs.com/Various-This-Is-Tech-Pop/release/50649


ELECTRICITY 2 An Electronic Pop Sampler (2003)

‘Electricity 2’ came at a time when the only platform for UK and Irish synth acts seemed to be Ninthwave Records in the USA. It featured HEAVEN 17’s first new song for six years in ‘Hands Up To Heaven’ as well as material by WHITE TOWN, SPRAY and EMPIRE STATE HUMAN. Highlights included ‘The Machines’ by MASQ which sounded like a bizarre Gaelic synthpop take on Gary Numan and the comical ‘Alan Cumming’ by TURD FERGUSON which sent up MISS KITTIN & THE HACKER.

‘Electricity 2’ was released by Ninthwave Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Electricity-2-An-Electronic-Pop-Sampler/release/730718


ROBOPOP Volume 1 (2003)

Compiled by Wayne Clements of Essex duo MACONDO, ‘Robopop’ was possibly the closest thing to the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ in the 21st Century. Heading the line-up were CLIENT and MY ROBOT FRIEND while Mute stalwarts KOMPUTER contributed ‘My Private Train’. The stand-outs though were machine funksters ALPINE STARS, irreverent retro-poppers BAXENDALE and VIC TWENTY featuring Piney Gir with a delicious synth cover of Lynsey de Paul’s ‘Sugar Me’.

‘Robopop Volume 1’ was released by Lucky Pierre Recordings

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Robopop-Volume-I/release/296881


RETRO:ACTIVE 5 (2006)

Compiled by Alex Hush, now of U2 and ERASURE remixers DAYBREAKERS, ‘Retro:Active 5’ gathered 12 classic 12 inch extended versions into a listenable programme. A-HA and THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS led the way with BLANCMANGE and DEAD OR ALIVE in support, but the biggest selling points were the ultra-rare ‘Love Cascade’ from LEISURE PROCESS and ‘More To Lose’ by SEONA DANCING, the duo fronted by Ricky Gervais.

‘Retro:Active 5’ was released by Hi-Bias Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-RetroActive5-Rare-Remixed/release/719639


ROBOPOP The Return (2006)

For ‘Robopop The Return’, Wayne Clements was joined by production duo MANHATTAN CLIQUE. Described as “Essential Electro Pop”, it was a much higher profile release than its predecessor with GOLDFRAPP, THE KNIFE, TIGA and DRAGONETTE all on board. Also present were THE MODERN relaunching as MATINEE CLUB while HUSKI, FORMATIC, LORRAINE and SOHO DOLLS were among the worthy lesser-known inclusions.

‘Robopop – The Return’ was released by Planet Clique / Lucky Pierre

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Manhattan-Clique-Robopop-The-Return/release/1410368


CHILLTRONICA A Definition No1 (2008)

A downtempo compilation by BLANK & JONES, the most exquisite tracks featured female vocalists with Sarah Nixey just pipping the highlight honours on her cover of JAPAN’s ‘Ghosts’ with INFANTJOY over Claudia Brücken on the hosting DJ duo’s ‘Don’t Stop’. Meanwhile, ‘Ghost Trains’ by Erlend Øye was a livelier number that worked alongside chilled out tracks by THE GRID, BLISS, MARCONI UNION, SPOOKY and DEPECHE MODE.

‘Chilltronica – A Definition No1’ was released by Soundcolours

https://www.discogs.com/Blank-Jones-Chilltronica-A-Definition-No1/release/1714901


ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf (2016)

Tying in with the book about Düsseldorf’s music heritage, ‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2’ gathered the more accessible elements of Deutsche Elektronische Musik, Kosmische and Neue Deutsche Welle. With RIECHMANN, DER PLAN, DIE KRUPPS, LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, RHEINGOLD, DAF, LA DÜSSELDORF, NEU! and pre-PROPAGANDA girl group TOPLINOS, this two volume collection was like a journey of discovery with the benefit of a local tour guide.

‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 – Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf’ was released by Grönland Records

https://www.discogs.com/Various-ELECTRI_CITY-1_2/release/8919263


NEW ORDER Presents Be Music (2017)

Be Music was the moniker which NEW ORDER used to cover studio production work by all four members of the band. This boxed set gathered these varied recordings which involved them, with notable solo tracks from Marcel King, Paul Haig and Winston Tong alongside those of 52ND STREET, SECTION 25, THE BEAT CLUB, SHARK VEGAS and AD INFINITUM’s cover of ‘Telstar’ which many believed was NEW ORDER in disguise but actually only featured Peter Hook.

‘NEW ORDER Presents Be Music’ was released by Factory Benelux

https://www.factorybenelux.com/new_order_presents_be_music_fbn60.html


ELECTRICAL LANGUAGE Independent British Synth Pop 78-84 (2019)

The 4CD ‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ did as it said on the tin and with a far more accessible template, was all the better for it. With THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, THE NORMAL and FAD GADGET included to draw in the more cautious consumer, purchasers were treated to a plethora of wonderful lesser known acts like FIAT LUX, BOX OF TOYS, LORI & THE CHAMELEONS, PASSION POLKA, TESTCARD F, EDDIE & SUNSHINE and JUPITER RED. Meanwhile, the best novelty item was a Schaffel driven cover of Alvin Stardust’s ‘My Coo Ca Choo’ by BEASTS IN CAGES; half of the band went on to form HARD CORPS!

‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ was released by Cherry Red Records

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/electrical-language-independent-british-synth-pop-78-84-various-artists-4cd-48pp-bookpack/


THE TEARS OF TECHNOLOGY (2020)

Compiled by Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley of SAINT ETIENNE, ‘The Tears Of Technology’ gathered a heartfelt suite of music. OMD’s ‘Sealand’ sat alongside synthy diversions by THE TEARDROP EXPLODES and THE PALE FOUNTAINS, with the Merseyside connection extended to CARE and CHINA CRISIS. Scotland got also got a look in with Paul Haig and Thomas Leer. The rare ‘Direct Lines’ by Chris Payne’s ELECTRONIC CIRCUS found itself a place too.

‘The Tears Of Technology’ was released by Ace Records

https://acerecords.co.uk/bob-stanley-pete-wiggs-present-the-tears-of-technology-1


Text by Chi Ming Lai
2nd August 2020, updated 9th December 2022

2019 END OF YEAR REVIEW

2019 was a year of 40th Anniversaries, celebrating the synth becoming the sound of pop when ‘Are Friends Electric?’ reached No1 in the UK chart in 1979.

While GARY NUMAN opted for ‘(R)evolution’ and two of his former sidemen RRussell Bell and Chris Payne ventured solo for the first time, OMD offered a 7 disc ‘Souvenir’ featuring a whole album of quality unreleased material to accompany a concert tour to celebrate four decades in the business. That was contrary to DEPECHE MODE who merely plonked 14 albums into a boxed set in a move where the ‘Everything Counts’ lyric “the grabbing hands grab all they can” became more and more ironic… MIDGE URE partied like it was 1980 with the music of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX, while SIMPLE MINDS announced an arena tour for 2020 so that their audience could show Jim Kerr their hands again.

HEAVEN 17 announced some special showcases of the early material of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and got a particularly warm reception opening on tour for SQUEEZE as a trailer ahead of their own ‘Greatest Hits’ jaunt next year.

Celebrating 20 years in music, there was the welcome return of LADYTRON with a self-titled comeback album, while Swedish evergreens LUSTANS LAKEJER performed the ‘Åkersberga’ album for its 20th Anniversary and similarly GOLDFRAPP announced a series of shows in honour of their magnificent cinematic debut ‘Felt Mountain’.

Cult favourites FIAT LUX made their intimate live comeback in a church in Bradford and released their debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ 37 years after their first single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’.

As a result, their fans were also treated to ‘Ark Of Embers’, the long player that Polydor Records shelved in 1985 when the band were on the cusp of a breakthrough but ended with a commercial breakdown.

Modern prog exponents Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson got back together as NO-MAN for their dual suite electronic concept record ‘Love You To Bits’, but an even more ambitious undertaking came from UNDERWORLD with their boxed set ‘Drift Series 1’.

Also making live returns were one-time PET SHOP BOYS protégé CICERO with a charity gig in his hometown of Livingston, WHITE DOOR with JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM at Synth Wave Live 3, ARTHUR & MARTHA and Mute Records veterans KOMPUTER.

After a short hiatus, the mighty KITE sold-out three gigs at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan and ended the year performing at an opera house, while GIORGIO MORODER embarked on his first ever concert tour where his songs were the stars.

Although their long-awaited-as-yet-untitled third album was still to materialise, VILE ELECTRODES went back on the road in Europe with APOPTYGMA BERZERK and THE INVINCIBLE SPIRIT. Meanwhile, Chinese techno-rock sextet STOLEN opened for NEW ORDER on their Autumn European tour and EMIKA performed in a series of Planetariums.

Despite the fall of The Berlin Wall 30 years ago, there were more evident swipes to the right than there had been for a long time, with the concept of Brexit Electro becoming a rather unpleasant reality. So in these more sinister times, the need for classic uplifting electronic pop was higher than ever.

To that end, three superb debut albums fitted the bill. While KNIGHT$ offered quality Britalo on ‘Dollars & Cents’, the suave presence of OLLIE WRIDE took a more MTV friendly direction with ‘Thanks In Advance’.

But for those wanting something more home produced, the eccentric Northern electronic pop of the brilliantly named INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP continued the artistic lineage of THE HUMAN LEAGUE.

QUIETER THAN SPIDERS finally released their wonderful debut album ‘Signs Of Life’ which was naturally more understated and Denmark had some worthy synthpop representation with SOFTWAVE producing an enjoyably catchy debut long player in ‘Game On’.

On the shadier side of electronic pop, BOY HARSHER achieved a wider breakthrough with their impressive ‘Careful’ long player but as a result, the duo acquired a contemporary hipster element to their fanbase who seemed to lack manners and self-awareness as they romped around gigs without a care for anyone around them. But with tongues-in-cheeks, SPRAY continued to amuse with their witty prankelectro on ‘Failure Is Inevitable’.

Photo by Johnny Jewel

Italians Do It Better kept things in house as CHROMATICS unexpectedly unleashed their first album for six years in ‘Closer To Grey’ and embarked on a world tour. Main support was DESIRE and accompanied on keyboards by HEAVEN singer Aja, the pair took things literally during their cover version of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ with a girl-on-girl kiss in front of head honcho Johnny Jewel.

Other ITIB acts on the tour dependent on territory included DOUBLE MIXTE, IN MIRRORS and KRAKÓW LOVES ADANA. But the best work to appear from the stable came from JORJA CHALMERS who became ‘Human Again’.

There were a variety of inventive eclectic works from FAKE TEAK, MAPS, FINLAY SHAKESPEARE, ULTRAMARINE, TYCHO, THE GOLDEN FILTER, FRAGRANCE. and FADER. Meanwhile VON KONOW, SOMEONE WHO ISN’T ME and JAKUZI all explored themes of equality while BOYTRONIC preferred ‘The Robot Treatment’.

But expressing themselves on the smoother side of proceedings were CULT WITH NO NAME and notably SHOOK who looked east towards the legend of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA.

Dark minimalism reigned in the work of FRAGILE SELF and WE ARE REPLICA while no less dark but not so aggressive, WITCH OF THE VALE cemented their position with a well-received opening slot at Infest.

Touring in Europe with OMD and MIDGE URE, TINY MAGNETIC PETS unleashed two EPs ‘The Politburo Disko’ and ‘Girl In A White Dress’ as fellow Dubliner CIRCUIT3 got political and discussed ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’.

2019 was a year of electronic instrumental offerings galore from NEULAND, RICARDO AUTOBAHN, EKKOES, M83, RELIEF, FEMMEPOP and OBLONG, although ERIC RANDOM’s dystopian offering ‘Wire Me Up’ added vocoder while BRIAN ENO celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing ‘For All Mankind’.

The King of Glum Rock LLOYD COLE surprised all with an electronic pop album called ‘Guesswork’ just as PET SHOP BOYS set an ‘Agenda’. HOWARD JONES released his most synthy work for years in ‘Transform’ and while CHINA CRISIS acted as his well-received support on the UK leg of his 35th Anniversary tour, their front man GARY DALY ventured solo with ‘Gone From Here’.

Among the year’s best new talents were IMI, KARIN MYGRETAGEISTE and ALICE HUBBLE with their beautifully crafted avant pop.

And with the media traction of artists such as GEORGIA, REIN, JENNIFER TOUCH, SUI ZHEN, THE HEARING, IONNALEE, PLASMIC, ZAMILSKA, IOANNA GIKA, SPELLLING, KANGA, FIFI RONG and I AM SNOW ANGEL, the profile of women in electronic music was stronger than ever in 2019.

Sweden continued to produce quality electronic pop with enjoyable releases from the likes of MACHINISTA, PAGE, COVENANT, OBSESSION OF TIME and LIZETTE LIZETTE. One of the most interesting acts to emerge from the region was US featuring the now Stockholm-domiciled Andrew Montgomery from GENEVA and Leo Josefsson of LOWE, with the catalyst of this unlikely union coming from a shared love of the late country legend Glen Campbell. Meanwhile, veteran trio DAYBEHAVIOR made the best album of their career ‘Based On A True Story’.

However, Canada again gave the Swedes a good run for their money as ELECTRIC YOUTH and FM ATTACK released new material while with more of a post-punk slant, ACTORS impressed audiences who preferred a post-post-punk edge alongside their synths.

DANA JEAN PHOENIX though showed herself to be one of the best solo synth performers on the live circuit, but artistically the best of the lot was MECHA MAIKO who had two major releases ‘Okiya’ and ‘Let’s!’.

Despite making some good music in 2019 with their ‘Destroyer’ two-parter, the “too cool for school” demeanour of TR/ST might have impressed hipsters, but left a lot to be desired. A diva-ish attitude of entitlement was also noticed by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to be disappointingly prevalent in several fledgling acts.

Synthwave increased its profile further with the film ‘The Rise Of The Synths’ narrated by none other than John Carpenter. MICHAEL OAKLEY released his debut album ‘Introspect’, BETAMAXX was ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’, COM TRUISE came up with a ‘Persuasion System’ and NEW ARCADES were ‘Returning Home’.

Scene veteran FUTURECOP! collaborated with PARALLELS, COMPUTER MAGIC and NINA prior to a hiatus for the foreseeable future, while there were promising new talents emerging in the shape of POLYCHROME, PRIZM, BUNNY X and RIDER.

However, several of the sub-genre’s artists needed to rethink their live presentations which notably underwhelmed with their static motions and lack of engagement.

While promoters such as Outland developed on their solid foundations, others attempted to get too big too soon like the musical equivalent of a penis extension, leaving fans disappointed and artists unpaid. Attempting to turnover more than 10 acts during in a day with a quarter of an hour changeover has always been an odious task at best, but to try 15?!? One hopes the headliners were well paid despite having to go on at midnight when most of their supporters went home so as not to miss the last train…

Now at times, it was as if a major collective midlife crisis had hit independent electronic music in the UK during 2019. It was not unlike how “born again bikers” have become a major road safety risk, thanks to 40somethings who only managed Cycling Proficiency in Junior School suddenly jumping onto 500cc Honda CMX500 Rebel motorcycles, thinking they were Valentino Rossi.

Something similar was occurring in music as a variety of posturing delusional synth owners indulged in a remix frenzy and visions of grandeur, forgetting that ability and talent were paramount. This attitude led to a number of poorly attended events where attendees were able to be counted on one hand, thanks to clueless fans of said combos unwisely panning their video footage around the venue.

Playing at 3:15pm in an empty venue is NOT performing at a ‘major’ electronic festival… “I’ll be more selective with the gigs I agree to in the UK” one of these acts haplessly bemoaned, “I’ve played to too many empty rooms!” – well, could that have been because they are not very good?

Bands who had blown their chance by not showing willingness to open for name acts during holiday periods, while making unwise comments on their national TV debut about their lack of interest in registering for PRS, said they were going to split a year in advance, but not before releasing an EP and playing a farewell show in an attempt to finally get validation for their art. Was this a shining example of Schrodinger’s Band?

Of course, the worst culprits were those who had an internet radio show or put on gigs themselves so that they could actually perform, because otherwise external promotors were only interested in them opening at 6.15pm after a ticket deal buy on for a five band bill. Humility wouldn’t have gone amiss in all these cases.

It’s a funny old world, but as ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK comes up to concluding its tenth year as an influential platform that has written extensively about not one or two or three or four BUT five acts prior to them being selected to open on tour for OMD, luckily the gulf between good and bad music is more distinct than ever. It will be interesting to see if the high standard of electronic pop will be maintained or whether the influx of poor quality artists will contaminate the bloodline.

So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK ends the decade with a complimentary comment by a punter after attending two of its live events: “You don’t put on sh*t do you…”

May the supreme talent rise and shine… you know who you are 😉


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2019

PAUL BODDY

Best Album: UNDERWORLD Drift Series 1
Best Song: MOLINA Venus
Best Gig: RAMMSTEIN at Milton Keynes MK Bowl
Best Video: SCALPING Chamber
Most Promising New Act: SCALPING


IAN FERGUSON

Best Album: NO-MAN Love You To Bits
Best Song: NO-MAN Love You To Shreds
Best Gig: RAMMSTEIN at Stadion Slaski Chorzow
Best Video: RAMMSTEIN Deutschland
Most Promising New Act: IMI


SIMON HELM

Best Album: PAGE Fakta För Alla
Best Song: PAGE Fakta För Alla
Best Gig: LAU NAU at London Cafe OTO
Best Video: LAU NAU Amphipoda on Buchla 200 at EMS Stockholm
Most Promising New Act: THE HIDDEN MAN


CHI MING LAI

Best Album: KNIGHT$ Dollar & Cents
Best Song: OMD Don’t Go
Best Gig: KITE at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan
Best Video: NIGHT CLUB Your Addiction
Most Promising New Act: IMI


RICHARD PRICE

Best Album: KNIGHT$ Dollar & Cents
Best Song: OMD Don’t Go
Best Gig: MIDGE URE + RUSTY EGAN at The London Palladium
Best Video: IMI Margins
Most Promising New Act: PLASMIC


MONIKA IZABELA TRIGWELL

Best Album: MECHA MAIKO Let’s
Best Song: KANGA Burn
Best Gig: DANA JEAN PHOENIX, KALAX + LEBROCK at London Zigfrid von Underbelly
Best Video: IONNALEE Open Sea
Most Promising New Act: PRIZM


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Ian Ferguson
16th December 2019, updated 29th Janaury 2021

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