Tag: Starcluster

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 30 SONGS OF 2016

Overall, 2016 was not a vintage year…

But there were plenty of quality songs on offer throughout the year and a number were significantly outstanding. Rounding down to a final 30 songs is always difficult and among the acts in the initial shortlist were ADAM IS A GIRL, BRIAN ENO, DELERIUM, EMIKA, KALEIDA, LADYHAWKE, METROLAND, PRESENCE OF MIND, REIN, FIFI RONG, SPRAY, WHITE LIES and the now disbanded ANALOG ANGEL.

After much deliberation and with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, here are ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 30 Songs of 2016 in alphabetical order…


APOPTYGMA BERZERK Rhein Klang

Futurepop veteran Stephan Groth certainly put his head on the line releasing an instrumental Sci-Fi concept album as an APOPTYGMA BERZERK long player. But with influences like KRAFTWERK, TANGERINE DREAM and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, ‘Exit Popularity Contest’ was an undoubted artistic success and perhaps what ‘MG’ should have sounded like. Full of Groth’s electronic lifeblood, ‘Rhein Klang’ was a wonderful oscillating slice of synth motorik in tribute to NEU!

Available on the album ‘Exit Popularity Contest’ via Hard: Drive

http://www.theapboffice.com/


JOHAN BAECKSTROM Like Before

JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM has been involved in electronic music for several decades, but it wasn’t until 1994 that he gained recognition as part of DAILY PLANET with vocalist Jarmo Ollila. His first album ‘Like Before’ in 2015 drew favourable comparisons to Vince Clarke. A competent vocalist himself, the long player’s title song got a standalone release in 2016 and instantly recalled the glory days of ERASURE with its precise, yet emotive synthpop with a message to “swim the oceans like before”.

Available on the album ‘Like Before’ via Progress Productions

https://www.facebook.com/bstrommusic/


BEYOND THE WIZARD’S SLEEVE Diagram Girl

BEYOND THE WIZZARD’S SLEEVE Diagram GirlPossibly one of the songs of 2016, BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE’s ‘Diagram Girl’ was the work of Erol Alkan and Richard Norris, formally of THE GRID. Featuring the unisex vocals of HANNAH PEEL, a deeper pitch shift provided a psychedelic out-of-this-world feel which bizarrely fitted in alongside the songstress’ dreamily breathy tones. Meanwhile the pulsing electronic soundtrack had surreal echoes of OMD, in particular their lesser known minor hit ‘Secret’.

Available on the album ‘The Soft Bounce’ via Phantasy Sound

https://www.facebook.com/beyondthewizardssleeve/


BLACK NEEDLE NOISE featuring KENDRA FROST Warning Sign

It can be tricky keeping up with the prolific studio legend John Fryer. Following the critical success of his projects MURICIDAE and SILVER GHOST SHIMMER, BLACK NEEDLE NOISE employed a flexible lead vocal policy and did away with the idea of albums or EPs, focussing on just single songs. Magically breathy, ‘Warning Sign’ employed the soaring vocals of Kendra Frost from KITE BASE against a spacious backdrop of synths, beats and guitars for a brooding sonic amalgam.

Available as a download single via https://blackneedlenoise.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/BlackNeedleNoise/

https://www.facebook.com/kitebasemusic/


CIRCUIT3 Hundred Hands

With the sort of mighty Linn Drum engine room that would make Martyn Ware proud and punctuated with some rugged lead synth, ‘Hundred Hands’ was the best track on CIRCUIT3’s debut album. The work of Dublin based musician Peter Fitzpatrick, he even dropped in hints of KRAFTWERK’s ‘Showroom Dummies’ by way of a musical tribute. The parent album ‘siliconchipsuperstar’ was classic styled synthpop made by someone weaned on classic synthpop.

Available on the album ‘siliconchipsuperstar’ via https://circuit3.bandcamp.com/

http://www.circuit3.com/


RUSTY EGAN PRESENTS Thank You

rusty-egan-presents-wttdfThe elegiac ‘Thank You’ utilised some ‘Endless Endless’ vocodered stylings over layers of sweeping synthetic strings and a gentle metronomic pulse. A list of RUSTY EGAN’s musical heroes and associated beneficiaries in no particular order, this tone poem was a touching acknowledgement of electronic music’s marvellous history. A simple yet highly effective idea, the beauty is in its realisation. Appropriately, it ends with a touchingly poignant “VISAGE… thank you”.

Available on the album ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ via Black Mosaic from
http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/rusty-egan-welcome-to-the-dancefloor

http://rustyegan.net/


JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS A Man & A Woman

A previously unreleased song for a compilation of Foxx’s song based work in the new millennium, ‘A Man & A Woman’ was a surprise in that it was less rigid than previous JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS recordings. Featuring some enchanting whispers from the seemingly ubiquitous HANNAH PEEL, it was an interesting departure that even featured some subtle acoustic guitar flourishes. Foxx’s work is still under-appreciated, so for many ‘21st Century: A Man, A Woman And A City’ provided an opportunity to catch up.

Available on the album ’21st Century: A Man, A Woman And A City’ via Metamatic Records

http://www.metamatic.com/


ANI GLASS Y Ddawns

Ani Glass - Y Ddawns (photo by Rhodri Brooks)Welsh songstress ANI GLASS served her apprenticeship with girl groups GENIE QUEEN and THE PIPETTES and worked with Andy McCluskey and Martin Rushent respectively along the way. ‘Y Ddawns’ (‘The Dance’) was a wonderfully exhilarating pop art adventure. Swathed in synths and driven by a metronomic beat, it was a declaration of hope, deeply voiced in the verse with a gorgeous soaring resonance in the chorus, about “finding solace and meaning in music, dance, art and culture”.

‘Y Ddawns’ is available as a download single from https://aniglass.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/aniglasscymru/


THE HEARING Kabeldon

Helsinki-based Ringa Manner has been making crystalline sine waves as THE HEARING. Her second album ‘Adrian’ boasted the sub-eight minute epic ‘Kabeldon’. A outstanding electronic work with an affinity to Norwegian songstress SUSANNE SUNDFØR, there were also bows to DAVID BOWIE’s ‘I’m Deranged’ when the mad cascading piano kicked in alongside the frantic drum ‘n’ bass and steadily building cacophony of noise. Then, when it appeared all over, the song mutated into an eloquent Nordic dubstep ballad!

Available on the album ‘Adrian’ via Solina Records

https://www.facebook.com/Ringasofi/


I AM SNOW ANGEL Losing Face

I AM SNOW ANGEL DesertThe project of Julie Kathryn, the haunting tension of ‘Losing Face’ accentuates a variety of electronic and organic colours. A muted chop’ n’ chuck provides the percussive backbone while an eerie soundscape is steadily configured as Kathryn succumbs to lust. “You’re different when you’re on top of me… how I hate the state I’m in” she paradoxically reflects, as bubbling detuned synth swirls and acoustic guitar penetrate the foreboding atmosphere in the vein of ‘Felt Mountain’ era GOLDFRAPP.

Available on the EP ‘Desert’ via I Am Snow Angel

http://iamsnowangel.com/


JEAN-MICHEL JARRE & CYNDI LAUPER Swipe To The Right

Jarre-electronica2After decades of composing lengthy synth symphonies, there must have been times when the France maestro must have just wanted to do a four minute pop tune. This JEAN-MICHEL JARRE managed in a quirky collaboration with Brooklyn’s CYNDI LAUPER. No stranger to electronic forms, particularly with her under rated ‘Bring Ya To The Brink’ album of 2007, ‘Swipe To The Right’ had big bass riffs galore for a great poptastic exploration, while reflecting on the use of Tinder in modern relationships.

Available on the album ‘Electronica 2: The Heart Of Noise’ via Columbia / Sony Music

http://jeanmicheljarre.com/

http://www.cyndilauper.com/


KID MOXIE Still High

KID MOXIE Perfect ShadowKID MOXIE is Elena Charbila, the Greek born singer and actress who likes to make music with friends. Working best in collaboration, her well-received album ‘1888’ showed she had blossomed and displayed an inventive maturity following the gutter pop of her early releases. From her best body of work yet in ‘Perfect Shadow’, the seductive ‘Still High’ was gloriously cinematic synthpop with a touch of maiden iciness that affirmed this artistic progression.

Available on the mini-album ‘Perfect Shadow’ is via West One Music Group

http://www.facebook.com/kidmoxie


LIEBE The Box

One-time label mates of MARSHEAUX, LIEBE are the electro disco duo comprising of George Begas and Dimos Zachariadis who could be considered the Greek PET SHOP BOYS. Sitting on that difficult bridge between pastiche and post-modern, their romantic disco friendly sound mines Europop while adding the vocal drawl of Jarvis Cocker. The magnificent JEAN-MICHEL JARRE goes Italo disco of ’The Box’ was the highlight of their wonderfully escapist pop album ‘Revolution Of Love’.

Available on the album ‘Revolution Of Love’ via Emerald & Doreen Recordings

http://www.liebe.gr


MARSHEAUX Burning

Marsheaux-Ath.Lon_Cover1500Recorded in London and Athens, a new approach saw MARSHEAUX’s trademark wispiness blended in with a subtle tone of aggression. The opening song on ‘Ath.Lon’, the album title of which was derived from the cities of Athens and London, ‘Burning’ was a harsh but sexy slice of synth expressionism. While clearly referencing darker electronica forms with its hypnotising percussive motif, it crucially maintained the essence of a good tune.

Available on the album ‘Ath.Lon’ via Undo Records

http://www.marsheaux.com/


MESH The Fixer

MESH-Looking-SkywardWith their new album ‘Looking Skyward’, MESH alleviated any fears that they might not be able to sustain the artistic momentum seeded by 2013’s ‘Automation Baby’. Despite the lyrically negative nature of ‘The Fixer’, a driving bass triplet attached to a solid four-to-the-floor beat and an anthemic topline shed a light of optimism amongst the gloom. MESH have firmly carved their own niche and any disillusioned DEPECHE MODE fans should consider joining the fold immediately…

Available on the album ‘Looking Skyward’ via Dependent Records

http://www.mesh.co.uk/


METROLAND Man / Machine

In August 2015, METROLAND’s sound engineer and close friend Louis Zachert, aka Passenger L, passed away. The Brussels based duo recorded ‘Things Will Never Sound The Same Again’, a musical eulogy created from scratch as their way of paying homage to their fellow passenger. The uplifting ’Music / Machine’ with its Jarre-esque melodies started as a METROLAND remix of MUSICOCOON, a project involving Louis and his friend Philippe Malemprée. Kindly donated, its presence is in honour of Louis as the last piece of music he ever worked on.

Available on the album on the album ‘Things Will Never Sound The Same Again’ via Alfa Matrix

http://www.metrolandmusic.com/


NIGHT CLUB Pray

night-club-requiem-for-romanceBuoyed by the acclaim of their EP trilogy and their power as a live act, NIGHT CLUB experimented with a more aggressive synth rock disco sound for their debut long player ‘Requiem For Romance’. Playing around with a range of unsettling vocal pitch shifts and religious imagery for the sinister overtones of ‘Pray’, Emily Kavanaugh and Mark Brooks have more than substantiated their position as one of North America’s best independent electronic pop duos.

Available on the album ‘Requiem For Romance’ via Gato Blanco from http://nightclubband.com/album/requiem-for-romance

http://nightclubband.com/


HANNAH PEEL All That Matters

HANNAH PEEL Awake But Always DreamingIt’s been a busy year for HANNAH PEEL; layered with staccato voice samples and uplifting bursts of symphonic strings, the driving arpeggio laden ‘All That Matters’ was her calling card, not just as her most synthpop offering yet but also as a mantra to live in the moment. The opening track of her second album ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’, her very personal musical journey themed around memory and the effects of dementia was a startling artistic triumph.

Available on the album ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’ My Own Pleasure

http://www.hannahpeel.com


PET SHOP BOYS The Dictator Decides

petshopboys-superNever mind their age, PET SHOP BOYS are still ‘The Pop Kids’ and ‘Twenty-something’ ones at that. But on the moodier ‘The Dictator Decides’, there comes one of those politically laced introspective numbers in the vein of ‘My October Symphony’ and ‘Don Juan’ that Tennant and Lowe always do so well. As Tennant deadpans “if you get rid of me, we can all be free”, the song provides an amusing surreal narrative of a tyrannical politician bored of his outright power and wanting to live a normal life.

Available on the album ‘Super’ via x2

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


PSYCHE Ring The Bells

From the Cold War Night Life curated ‘Heresy: A Tribute To Rational Youth’, one of the highlights from the collection is PSYCHE’s take on ‘Ring The Bells’ from appropriately, RATIONAL YOUTH’s ‘Cold War Night Life’ debut. The clattering 808 beat and elegantly haunting sweeps combined with Darrin Huss’ mournful vocal provide an atmospheric reworking that betters the original and reflects the decades long kinship between RATIONAL YOUTH and PSYCHE.

Available on the album ‘Heresy: A Tribute To Rational Youth’ (V/A) via Cold War Night Life from http://www.stormingthebase.com/various-heresy-a-tribute-to-rational-youth-3lp-vinyl-2cd/

http://www.psyche-hq.de/


SARAH P. I’d Go

SARAH P FreeGreek electropop goddess SARAH P. started her music career as the frontwoman of KEEP SHELLY IN ATHENS. With ‘I’d Go’ she said: “Most of the people do not get that this song is not as happy as it sounds at a first listen”. In her own words she confesses: “I’m a childish woman and nobody can stop me from being one” and adds “If there’s anything I stand for with all my heart is the ‘Go be you’ motto!” – her full length debut long player ‘Who Am I?’ is eagerly awaited.

Available on the mini-album ‘Free’ via EraseRestart

http://sarahpofficial.com/


SILENT WAVE War

SILENT WAVE WarEnigmatic Gothenburg electronic trio SILENT WAVE possess the hauntronica hallmarks of fellow Swedes THE KNIFE. ‘War’ is a reminder of how that sibling duo once combined tunes with their experimentation. With a suitably dark Nordic vibe, it could easily have come off ‘Silent Shout’ and while the template is undoubtedly derivative, ‘War’ is extremely well executed.

Available on the download single ‘War’ via Silence Records

https://www.facebook.com/silentwaveofficial/


STARCLUSTER & MARC ALMOND To Have & Have Not

starcluster-marc-almond-silver-city-rideWith his career spanning 10 CD box set ‘Trials Of Eyeliner: Anthology 1979-2016’, the last thing anyone expected from MARC ALMOND this year was an electronic pop album. Almond first recorded with Anglo German production duo STARCLUSTER in 2008. A great cover version, ‘To Have & Have Not’ was originally recorded by RONNY and retains the stern manner of the former Parisian model, while giving this slice of modern Weimar Cabaret a new lease of life.

Available on the album ‘Silver City Ride’ via Closing the Circle / Private Records

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


TINY MAGNETIC PETS Not Giving In

An appearance at the 2015 ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE in Düsseldorf reinforced TINY MAGNETIC PETS’ reputation as an intriguing live act by winning over figures such as Rusty Egan and Andy McCluskey. The soulful ‘Not Giving In’ makes the most of Paula Gilmer’s enticingly wispy voice. With detuned pulses contrasting the digital chimes and staccato voice samples, an unusual stuttering reggae inflected beat enhances the atmosphere.

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

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


TRAIN TO SPAIN Believe In Love

TRAIN TO SPAIN Believe In LoveHighly exuberant and featuring a poptastic four chord progression, ‘Believe In Love’ was TRAIN TO SPAIN’s first recording to feature producer Lars Netzel aka NOT LARS as a full-time member. It developed on the promise of songs like ‘Passion’ from their debut album ‘What it’s All About’ released in 2015 and significantly gave more space within Jonas Rasmusson’s classic synthpop framework for lead singer Helena Wigeborn to exude her charm in. But it seems TRAIN TO SPAIN are back to a duo again…

Available on the download single ‘Believe In Love’ via Subculture Records

http://www.traintospain.se/


TRENTEMØLLER River In Me

TRENTEMØLLER River In Me‘River In Me’ was an unusual TRENTEMØLLER recording in that Jehnny Beth from SAVAGES actually came to his home studio in Copenhagen to lay down her vocals. The end result possessed a Gothic intensity, yet was vibrant and melodic with Beth’s Siouxsie-like tones complimenting the hybrid synth laced soundscape. While some complained that ‘River In Me’ was not as dark as the Dane’s previous work, it was his most immediate offering yet with a fine balance of accessibility and mood.

Available on the album ‘Fixion’ via In My Room

http://www.anderstrentemoller.com/


VILE ELECTRODES The Vanished Past

vile-electrodes-in-the-shadows-of-monumentsIt’s the avant pop approach reminiscent of early OMD that sets VILE ELECTRODES apart from and makes them so captivating. ‘The Vanished Past’ is a potent successor to the drama of ‘Deep Red’, complete with a mighty drum cacophony à la OMD’s ‘Navigation’. Bleak and wonderful, “not everything is as it seems” as a forlorn stranger joins in. As the seven minute adventure unfolds like a lost OMD epic, that stranger begins to sound like a certain George Andrew McCluskey!

Available on the album ‘In The Shadows Of Monuments’ via http://vileelectrodes.bigcartel.com/

http://www.vileelectrodes.com/


VILLA NAH Stranger

villa-nah_ultimaFrom their superb second album ‘Ultima’, ‘Stranger’ was a brilliant return for VILLA NAH after a five year absence. Front man Juho Paalosmaa said: “‘Stranger’ is a play on words; how somebody you’ve known can turn stranger over the span of time… and end up as a complete stranger in the process. I don’t think it’s a track I would’ve written as a 20 year old. It requires some years of age and experience to really understand how time can change people, including yourself.”

Available on the album ‘Ultima’ via Solina Records

https://www.facebook.com/villanah/


WRANGLER Stupid

If CABARET VOLTAIRE had hijacked Compass Point Studios in The Bahamas while TALKING HEADS were recording ‘Speaking In Tongues’, the end result might have ended up sounding a bit like this. ‘Stupid’ sees Stephen Mallinder in warped falsetto mode over a hypnotic sequence of menacing synths from Benge and Phil Winter. The track’s rhythmic heart creates an almost robotic, yet electro-funk feel for one of the undoubted highlights on WRANGLER‘s ‘White Glue’ album.

Available on the album ‘White Glue’ via MemeTune

https://www.facebook.com/mallinderbengewinter/


YELLO Electrified II

Despite 37 years of making music together, the distinctive sound of YELLO remains intriguing and distinctly European and the new album ‘Toy’ delighted fans. On the superb ‘Electrified II’ (the original version appeared on Boris Blank’s boxed set of the same name), Dieter Meier has his mind blown by the velvet voice of Malia. As she exclaims “Life’s a bitch and I’m no witch”, this could be Shirley Bassey indulging in some seductive energetic electro-cabaret.

Available on the album ‘Toy’ via Polydor / Universal Music

http://yello.com


Text by Chi Ming Lai
8th December 2016

STARCLUSTER & MARC ALMOND Silver City Ride

starcluster-marc-almond-silver-city-rideWith summer concerts accompanied by The Leeds College of Music Orchestra and Choir plus the recent release of his career spanning 10 CD box set ‘Trials Of Eyeliner: Anthology 1979-2016’, the last thing anyone expected from MARC ALMOND to close the year was an electronic pop album.

But this is exactly what has happened with ‘Silver City Ride’, a collection of ten songs recorded in collaboration with STARCLUSTER featuring Almond’s most synth laden body of work since SOFT CELL.

Flashback to 1981; following their appearance on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ and a surprise No1 in a cover of the Northern Soul favourite ‘Tainted Love’, SOFT CELL were generally considered to have more artistic potential than DEPECHE MODE. But despite the success of the debut long player ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’, the duo imploded with Almond eventually going solo while musical partner Dave Ball formed THE GRID.

But while SOFT CELL ended after just three albums, they made an impact in the pop landscape. Their template was borrowed by PET SHOP BOYS, who softened it and made it less threatening to achieve great international success. So the notion that SOFT CELL could have been huge is not far-fetched.

marc-almond-blueWhile electronic pop was how MARC ALMOND made his name, his solo career has been more traditional instrumentally with only the occasional foray into technological enhancement, most notably with his cover of ‘Jacky’ produced by Trevor Horn in 1991.

But in 2008, Almond recorded ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ with STARCLUSTER, an Anglo German production duo comprising of Roland Faber and Kai Ludeling.

The song itself was an octave shifting dance anthem in the vein of GIORGIO MORODER with a sweeping VANGELIS rooted synth solo thrown in too; a beefed up remix of the track is included on ‘Silver City Ride’ and actually improves on the original.

The album begins with the joyous triplet driven experience of the title track. The wonderful ‘Pixelated’ is more mysterious and could even be seen as Almond’s tribute to JOHN FOXX. The ivory shaped ‘Avatar’ takes on an introspective mood while the spritely drum machine jaunt of ‘The City Cries’ squelches marvellously, punctuated by sparking synth vibrato and Almond’s passionate energetics.

Haunting Almond yet again, it’s a great cover version that takes the limelight on ‘Silver City Ride’. ‘To Have & Have Not’ was written by Peter Godwin and his ‘Criminal World’ was famously covered by DAVID BOWIE in 1983. Originally recorded by androgynous New Romantic fashion icon RONNY, it retains the stern manner of the former Parisian model, while giving this slice of modern Weimar Cabaret a boost in profile, something that it has always deserved.

starcluster1‘The Shallows’ is a sub-PET SHOP BOYS excursion, before the ‘Chase’ rendering atmospheres of ‘I Don’t Kiss’ take the pace down. But a reinterpretation of the contemporary choir boy ballad ‘Always With You’ takes Almond into ENYA territory and is a curio likely to polarise listeners. Whatever, Faber and Ludeling do an excellent job in its construction.

The final track ‘Get Closer’ is another cover, this time of the cult Italo disco tune recorded by VALERIE DORE. The pulsing backing track is pristine and while Almond’s voice is layered in treatments that may upset purists, it ultimately shows his willingness to experiment with a modern electronica aesthetic.

Dressed in its Metropolis inspired artwork designed by Emil Schult, while ‘Silver City Ride’ is a synthpop record with classic Eurocentric leanings, it is most certainly not a ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ tribute. The album is far too clean and smooth to be that and some might even say it lacks the grit and glitter of SOFT CELL.

starcluster-marc-almondBut to hear MARC ALMOND’s voice again alongside vintage synthesizers is pure joy. And for that reason alone, ‘Silver City Ride’ is a welcome addition to the Almond catalogue that will delight fans of his more electronic based work.

‘Silver City Ride’ uses the following equipment: Minimoog, Moog MG1, Moog Voyager, Roland Jupiter 4, Roland Jupiter 8, Roland SH2, Roland System 100M, Roland SH101, Roland Juno 60, Roland JD800, Roland TR808, Roland CR78, Roland CR8000, Oberheim Matrix 1000, MFB Synth II, Roland MKS 30/50/70/80, Ensoniq ESQ1, ARP Odyssey, ARP Avatar, ARP Solina, Sequential Prophet 5, Sequential Pro-One, Korg Mono/Poly, Korg Poly 61, Korg Rhythm 55, Korg MS20, Linn Drum II, Eurorack Modular


‘Silver City Ride’ is released on vinyl LP by Closing the Circle/Private Records, available as a download from https://priv4te.bandcamp.com/album/silver-city-ride

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

https://www.facebook.com/MarcAlmondOfficial

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Marc-Almonds-fan/14000869265


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Ange Chan
19th November 2016, updated 3rd January 2017

A Beginner’s Guide To MARC ALMOND

Photo by Mike Owen

Although electronic pop only forms a part of MARC ALMOND’s repertoire, he is forever associated with SOFT CELL’s recording of ‘Tainted Love’, possibly the first true crossover record from the Synth Britannia era.

A fan of T-REX and DAVID BOWIE, Southport-born Almond started attending Leeds Polytechnic in 1979 to study Fine Art.

One fellow student there in the year above was Frank Tovey, soon to become FAD GADGET.

Specialising in performance art, Almond met Dave Ball, a seasoned clubber who explored his artistic musings through the new medium of affordable synthesizers from Japan. Together, they formed SOFT CELL. Their first product was the self-released ‘Mutant Moments’ EP in 1980.

It came to the attention of DJ Stevo Pearce, who had been compiling futurist charts for the music papers Record Mirror and Sounds, which covered the new wave of home grown electronic music that had emerged after the success of GARY NUMAN.

Stevo gathered a number of these acts for the independently produced ‘Some Bizzare Album’ compilation in 1981. SOFT CELL appeared alongside young hopefuls such as DEPECHE MODE, BLANCMANGE, B-MOVIE and THE THE. With DEPECHE MODE opting for Mute and BLANCMANGE eventually heading for London, Stevo signed B-MOVIE, THE THE and SOFT CELL to his Some Bizzare label and began courting the major record companies for a licencing arrangement.

Photo by Paul Cox

Phonogram had been particularly desperate to sign B-MOVIE in order to compete and SPANDAU BALLET and DURAN DURAN. Legend has it that Stevo sent his demands to their A&R chief Roger Ames on a cassette carried by a teddy bear dressed as Robin Hood; it stipulated that SOFT CELL had to be part of the deal!

Produced by Daniel Miller, SOFT CELL’s first recording for Phonogram was ‘Memorabilia’. While not a hit, it was critically acclaimed and become a cult club favourite.

However, the encore of their live set was the one to capture the public’s imagination. A cover of ‘Tainted Love’, it reached No1 in the UK, Germany, Australia and Canada while also eventually entering the US Top 10.

Written by Ed Cobb, ‘Tainted Love’ was originally recorded by Gloria Jones and became a Wigan Casino favourite on the Northern Soul scene. As a fan of that scene, David Ball knew the song and took it into haunting electronic torch territory. Segued with a Motown cover ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ on the extended version, it was to become one of Sire Records’ biggest selling 12 inch singles in America. But it was to be a double edged sword as the coupling of two covers made SOFT CELL minimal money, despite the record selling millions.

The follow-up ‘Bedsitter’ proved SOFT CELL could have a hit single with their own material. Amusingly after the release of the ‘Some Bizarre Album’, a disgruntled rival musician had poked fun at Almond and told him: “You couldn’t make a decent dance record if you tried”.

However, the disgruntled rival musician faded into obscurity and gig no-shows with his deluded combo, while ‘Bedsitter’ made it three decent dance records in a row for SOFT CELL following the club popularity of both ‘Memorabilia’ and ‘Tainted Love’. Thus began a run of hit singles that ensured Almond and Ball would be Top 40 chart fixtures for the next three years.

Almond though was looking at a life outside of SOFT CELL, having already been involved in THE IMMACULATE CONSUMPTIVE with Jim Foetus, Lydia Lunch and Nick Cave. So he formed MARC & THE MAMBAS, a loose collective that at various times included Matt Johnson, Anni Hogan, Martin McCarrick, Billy McGee, Audrey Riley, Anne Stephenson, Lee Jenkinson and Dave Ball’s wife Gini.

It set the tone for the artist that he would eventually become. Almond was certainly channelling his venom with aplomb, especially on delightful ditties like ‘Catch A Fallen Star’. However, it was an indication that Almond’s drug fuelled paranoia was getting to him… he later threatened a Record Mirror journalist Jim Reid while brandishing a whip, for the scribe’s slating of his Mambas opus and temporarily retired!

Photo by Andrew Catlin

The pressure and criticism that came from the success of SOFT CELL was proving too much for Almond, as he went into a well-documented public meltdown. The duo turned into SUICIDE and strove to drive away what was left of their pop oriented audience.

Those that remained would become The Gutter Hearts, Almond’s fan club who Boy George had generally described as “people who wear black and hate their parents”. The duo disbanded in Spring 1984 just as the third album ‘This Last Night in Sodom’ hit the shelves. Almond’s first solo album ‘Vermin in Ermine’ released in late 1984 and embraced a classic European cabaret style with almost exclusively traditional instrumentation, often with dynamic orchestral arrangements.

There was a one-off collaboration with BRONSKI BEAT in 1985 but continuing in the orchestrated vein, Almond unexpectedly hit No1 again in 1989 with ‘Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart’, a spirited cover with the late Gene Pitney. But despite the recognition as an artist in his own right, the spectre of SOFT CELL continued to haunt Almond.

“Synthesizers and the bands or artists that used them weren’t taken seriously at first especially by so-called serious music critics. They were ridiculed…” he remembered in a recent interview with Advocate. But with the success of Acid House and the rave scene, electronic music was now being re-evaluated.

So in 1991, Almond re-voiced a number of SOFT CELL’s best loved numbers for the ‘Memorabilia – The Singles’ collection. He also began collaborating again with Dave Ball, who was now having success with his new musical partner Richard Norris in the dance oriented combo THE GRID. The results ended up on 1991’s ‘Tenement Symphony’, possibly the most mainstream recording of Almond’s career.

The follow-up ‘Fantastic Star’ should have been the record to consolidate Almond’s position as a pop artiste. But instead, it got lost in record company politics; while Almond remains dissatisfied with the overall album, it did lead to him working with guitarist Neal X of SIGUE SIGUE SPUTNIK fame, who today continues to be his right hand man.

Looking back, SOFT CELL were probably ahead of their time. Between 1981 and 1982, they were actually a much stronger proposition than the fledgling DEPECHE MODE. Ultimately, the duo set the blueprint as the proto-PET SHOP BOYS. And although far grittier both musically and lyrically, they also smoothed the path for acts like ERASURE. Almond once said that for an artist to be “truly subversive”, they had to have “access to the mainstream” and subvert he did. So when Almond and Ball came back in 2001 for a full SOFT CELL reunion, there was a welcome acknowledgement of their ground breaking legacy.

In 1993, Almond toured Russia at the invitation of the British Consul and began of his love affair with the nation’s folk songs which continues to this day. But in October 2004, Almond was seriously injured in a motorbike accident near St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Photo by Mike Owen

He began a slow recovery but remained determined to get back on stage and into the studio. 2007 saw Almond return with ‘Stardom Road’, a covers album including songs made famous by Dusty, Sinatra and Bowie. The concept had largely been prompted by him being unable to write new material since his accident.

But in 2010, Almond released ‘Varieté’ his first studio album of self-written material since 2001. It was a move towards more vintage theatrics and paved the way for his future projects like ‘Pop’pea’ and ‘Ten Plagues – A Song Cycle’.

Immersing himself in a variety of work since then, Almond recently re-entered the pop sphere with ‘The Velvet Trail’. Meanwhile his current crowd-funded venture is an interpretation of Joris-Karl Huysman’s ‘À Rebours’, scored by Othon with lyrics by poet Jeremy Reed and set for release later this year.

So with such a vast and diverse career, what would a Beginner’s Guide to MARC ALMOND look like? Primarily focussing on his electronic, or at least, technologically assisted work and with a restriction of one song per album or project, here are ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s twenty choices…


SOFT CELL The Girl With The Patent Leather Face (1981)

With Almond credited with “vocals/ effects / energetics”, ‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’ was one of the stand-outs from the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ showcase. Creepy and unsettling, Almond told the JG Ballard inspired story of a ”two-faced baby” who “tampers with machinery so other beauties crash their cars”. Ball’s gloriously out of tune Korg synths were a fine example of how electronics were maintaining Punk’s ethics of do-it-yourself minimalism.

Available on the compilation ‘Some Bizzare Album’ (V/A) via Some Bizzare Records


SOFT CELL Say Hello, Wave Goodbye (1981)

SOFT CELL’s fine debut album was recorded and mixed in the more liberal setting of New York. It captured the edginess of minimal synth arrangements while married to an actual tune. With a magnificent arrangement by Ball that allowed Almond to indulge in his Scott Walker aspirations, ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ is possibly SOFT CELL’s crowning achievement. Certainly, the line “We’re strangers meeting for the first time, OK?” has become one of the most memorable of the era…

Available on the SOFT CELL album ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ via Phonogram Records


SOFT CELL Torch – 12 Inch Version (1982)

Punctuated by John Gatchell’s flugelhorn, ‘Torch’ came in the middle of SOFT CELL’s imperial pop phase and the eight minute version was a piece de resistance. By now, Almond and Ball had got heavily into MDMA while partying on the New York club scene. They were introduced to the drug by the singing dealer Cindy Ecstasy, who soon featured on several SOFT CELL recordings! In an amusing spoken middle section, her nonchalant off-key vocal counterpointed Almond’s fabulously forlorn romanticism.

Available on the SOFT CELL album ‘The Twelve Inch Singles’ via Phonogram Records


MARC & THE MAMBAS Untitled (1982)

The MARC & THE MAMBAS project had begun with a limited edition mail order only 12 inch release featuring ‘Sleaze’ and ‘Fun City’. With a revolving door cast of collaborators away from a traditional band format, it was rare that all the members of the collective would perform on the same recording. ‘Untitled’ was a co-write with THE THE’s Matt Johnson that had distinct European overtones. With its Roland TR808 backbone and melodic chorus, ‘Untitled’ could have easily been mistaken for a SOFT CELL song.

Available on the MARC & THE MAMBAS album ‘Untitled’ via Phonogram Records


SOFT CELL Forever The Same (1983)

John Gatchell returned, this time with his trumpet on ‘Forever The Same’ from the appropriately titled difficult second album ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’. However, Phonogram’s proposal for it to be a single release was vetoed for the less immediate ‘Numbers’. Not becoming the hit the label was hoping for, in a bid to hype it up the charts, the 12 inch was twinned with a free copy of ‘Tainted Love’. Dismayed, this incident set off an already edgy Almond and Stevo to trash the record company’s offices in a destructive rage!

Available on the SOFT CELL album ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ via Phonogram Records


MARC & THE MAMBAS Torment (1983)

Co-written with SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES’ Steve Severin, the precise digital drum machine and eerie organ stabs of ‘Torment’ were offset by the gorgeous Bohemian string arrangements and the chromatic allure of Almond’s dramatic refrains. Co-produced by a young Flood, ‘Torment & Toreros’ had been an adventurous double album indulgence, but the tracklisting could have easily been streamlined into a more cohesive single long player.

Available on the MARC & THE MAMBAS album ‘Torment & Toreros’ via Phonogram Records


SOFT CELL Down In The Subway (1984)

If ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ was SOFT CELL’s difficult second long player, ‘This Last Night In Sodom’ was an even more challenging proposition; the duo’s final hit in their first phase was this thundering percussive cover of ‘Down In The Subway’, an obscure Northern Soul song by Jack Hammer was, undoubtedly a metaphor for Almond’s mental breakdown.

Available on the SOFT CELL album ‘This Last Night In Sodom’ via Phonogram Records


MARC ALMOND Tenderness Is A Weakness (1984)

Adopting a back-to-basics approach as a reaction to SOFT CELL, Almond produced many fine songs in his trilogy of albums with THE WILLING SINGERS comprising of musicians who had been involved in ‘Torment & Toreros’. Free of the mechanical limitations of SOFT CELL, he was more melodramatic than ever before. Produced by Mike Hedges who worked with ASSOCIATES and SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, ‘Tenderness Is A Weakness’ was a remarkably passionate song, regardless of genre.

Available on the MARC ALMOND album ‘Vermine In Ermine’ via Phonogram Records


MARC ALMOND These My Dreams Are Yours (1988)

While Almond was continuing on his path of orchestrated European cabaret torch songs, an electronic element was starting to creep back in, particularly in the club remixes of ‘Tears Run Rings’ and ‘Bittersweet’. A pulsating electronic bassline formed the backbone of the emotive ‘These My Dreams Are Yours’, a song which owed its existence to ‘No Regrets’, made famous by Scott Walker in 1976. Featuring the vocals of Victoria Wilson-James, this string laden drama showed Almond was opening up to technology again.

Available on the MARC ALMOND album ‘The Stars We Are’ via EMI Records


MARC ALMOND Madame La Luna (1990)

Produced by Bob Kraushaar who had worked with PROPAGANDA, ACT and PET SHOP BOYS, the success of the ‘The Stars We Are’ meant its follow-up ‘Enchanted’ was allowed a bigger recording budget by EMI. The ethos behind pop production in this CD age was “bigger is better” and the epic album opener ‘Madame De La Luna’ was a fine example of the marvellous fusion between the Fairlight CMI programmed by co-producer Gary Maughan and the cinematic orchestrations of Billy McGee.

Available on the MARC ALMOND album ‘Enchanted’ via EMI Records


MARC ALMOND Meet Me In My Dream (1991)

While ‘Tenement Symphony’ is best remembered for the mighty Trevor Horn produced covers ‘Jacky’ and ‘The Days Of Pearly Spencer’, it also hosted a writing reunion with Dave Ball. The magnificent ‘My Hand Over My Heart’ was given an epic reworking by Mr Horn and closed the collection. But starting the album was the more minimal, but no less emotive ‘Meet Me In My Dream’. A classic SOFT CELL song in all but name, it was a reminder of the undeniable magic that Ball and Almond together possessed.

Available on the MARC ALMOND album ‘Tenement Symphony’ via WEA Records


MARC ALMOND Brilliant Creatures (1996)

The original ‘Fantastic Star’ album sessions had seen Almond reunited with Mike Thorne who had produced SOFT CELL’s first two albums. But at Mercury Records behest, numerous other studio personnel were brought in. It also led to managerial strife which eventually ended his relationship with Stevo. Produced by Martyn Ware, who was fresh from steering ERASURE’s ‘I Say I Say I Say’ album, ‘Brilliant Creatures’ reflected the uptempo club friendly electronic pop of the times.

Available on the MARC ALMOND album ‘Fantastic Star’ via Mercury Records


MARC ALMOND & SIOUXSIE SIOUX Threat Of Love (1999)

Under new manager Vicki Wickham who had looked after Dusty Springfield, Almond signed to Echo Records in 1998, but almost straight away, record company politics intervened. The eventual album ‘Open All Night’ was issued on Almond’s own Blue Star label and a more downbeat electronic based excursion than he had previously attempted. A feisty trip-hop electro fusion with the Queen of Goth, ‘Threat Of Love’ was orchestrated with an amorous, but sinister Middle Eastern tone.

Available on the MARC ALMOND album ‘Open All Night’ via Blue Star


SYSTEM F featuring MARC ALMOND Soul On Soul (2001)

Ferry Corsten had a huge international hit in 1999 with ‘Out Of The Blue’ under his SYSTEM F moniker. It highlighted the spiritual connection between synthpop and trance. So substantiating the link further, the Rotterdam based producer recruited Almond to guest on the blinding ‘Soul On Soul’. It was a spirited, club friendly workout, with Almond giving an exuberant performance over the frantic dance beats and swirling arpeggios.

Available on the SYSTEM F album ‘Out Of The Blue’ via Tsunami Records


MARC ALMOND Glorious (2001)

Despite the parallel SOFT CELL reunion, Almond recorded another solo album ‘Stranger Things’. ‘Glorious’ was an appropriately titled electronic torch ballad that combined his unique vocal histrionics with a big sound production that had not been heard since his work with Trevor Horn for ‘Tenement Symphony’. Icelandic producer Jóhann Jóhannsson did a fine job with the song’s widescreen dynamics, adding some vintage ARP Odyssey textures along the way as well.

Available on the album ‘Stranger Things’ via Strike Force Entertainment / Cherry Red Records


SOFT CELL Desperate (2002)

Almond and Ball’s comeback album ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ saw a return to the kitchen sink dramas that the pair were famous for. The launch single ‘Monoculture’ was an attack on modern society’s acceptance of the bland. And with ‘Desperate’, reality talent shows were where Almond chose to vent his spleen. Narrating the thoughts of a young hopeful seeking fame and fortune at whatever cost, with its Bond Theme styled brass inflections, ‘Desperate’ was a great example of the satirical social commentary.

Available on the SOFT CELL album ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ via Cooking Vinyl


T-TOTAL featuring MARC ALMOND Baby’s On Fire (2005)

A danced up cover of Brian Eno’s cult favourite from ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’, Almond always saw himself as a fan of the ROXY MUSIC synth dandy, rather than the more suave singer Bryan Ferry. He relished the opportunity to cover one of his favourite songs and saw the collaborative adventure as a good way to ease himself back into the recording process after his accident in 2004. This reworking still retains much of the mad swirling spirit of the original, while updating the song for a new audience.

Available on the T-TOTAL featuring MARC ALMOND single ‘Baby’s On Fire’ via Pure Mint


STARCLUSTER featuring MARC ALMOND Smoke & Mirrors (2008)

Following his ‘Stardom Road’ covers project, Almond continued with his one-off collaborations. Maintaining his varied portfolio and willingness to try different styles, ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ was a Hi-NRG octave shifting dance anthem in the vein of Giorgio Moroder. Produced under the auspices of Anglo-German duo Roland Faber and Kai Ludeling, there was even a sweeping VANGELIS rooted synth solo thrown in for good measure towards the conclusion.

Available on the STARCLUSTER album ‘Silver City Ride’ via Private Records


MARC ALMOND Worship Me Now (2014)

With a buzzing cacophony of synths, ‘Worship Me Now’ was Almond’s most overtly electronic work in quite a while. Written by PULP’s Jarvis Cocker, it saw Almond having fun with interpreting the lyrics and sending himself up with the passion of his own classic torch songs. Apart from suggesting the female backing vocals, he had very little to do with the track other that sing, preferring to leave himself in the competent hands of producers Jason Buckle and Tris Penna.

Available on the MARC ALMOND album ‘The Dancing Marquis’ via Strike Force Entertainment / Cherry Red Records


MARC ALMOND Bad To Me (2015)

With the aftermath of his accident and acknowledged as a fine interpreter of other people’s songs, it was understandable that Almond was content with just being able to perform and record. But when producer Chris Braid heard Almond had say “the songwriting muse had all but left me”, he spun into action and sent Almond a number of songs that successfully re-inspired the tainted soul. ‘Bad To Me’ was a wonderfully glitzy, Schaffel stomper that announced Almond’s welcome return to the mainstream.

Available on the MARC ALMOND album ‘The Velvet Trail’ via Strike Force Entertainment / Cherry Red Records


For further information on MARC ALMOND, please visit: http://www.marcalmond.co.uk/

The limited edition cloth bound photo book ‘Marc Almond’ published by First Third is available from http://www.firstthirdbooks.com/books/marc-almond-2/

https://www.facebook.com/MarcAlmondOfficial

https://www.youtube.com/user/MarcAlmondOfficial/videos

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Marc-Almonds-fan/14000869265

http://www.softcell.co.uk


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Ange Chan
26th August 2015, updated 21st February 2018