On their most recent 2021 album ‘European Lovers’, Steven Jones and Logan Sky affirmed their passion for Mittel Europa.
International travelling front man Steven Jones was teamed up with Logan Sky by the late Steve Strange after the keyboardist was involved in the rebooted version of VISAGE which recorded the 2013 ‘Hearts & Knives’ long player.
‘Sacred Figures’ is the sixth album from the duo and its 12 tracks are augmented by guitar from Richard Barbieri collaborator Jan Linton and sax from Gary Barnacle who worked with SOFT CELL and VISAGE.
Opening with ‘Come Back Tonight’, incessant synth lines draw the listener in as Jones offers his mannered agitated baritone that declares it is “neue romantische” business as usual and when the bleeping and bubbling lines make their presence felt, it adds another layer.
‘This Silence, Our Tragedy’ sparkles Germanically and as Jones offers his spoken word in the verse, Sky presents his cool synth interventions as if The Cold War never ended. Echoing the tense atmosphere of the world right now, things are sweetened by Gary Barnacle’s soprano sax for a hopeful effect.
Jones sermons the congregation in ‘Thalia’s Room’ while ‘Burn It Down’, ‘Sacred Figures’, ‘Kabbalistic’ and ‘Opium no.17’ are characteristic of the duo’s mood music of previous works although the latter adds exotic texturing. ‘Into Dust’ takes digital sounds and upping of pace into almost rave territory although it is sombre and no hands in the air experience.
But ‘This Intensity’ makes use of a classic Linn Drum backbone with a bubbling sequence adding energy although the promise is unfulfilled. ‘Dharma Wanderers’ ventures into lento electronic funk but is unconvincing and in the other direction, ‘Radiation’ goes into virtual ambience where “We sung the hymn to Zeus and the smoke rose into the blue…”
As with its predecessor ‘European Lovers’, there are some really good moments, but the focus on mood is again challenging over such a long body of work. But if you are already a fan of the moody Eurocentric art pop overtures of Steven Jones and Logan Sky, ‘Sacred Figures’ will be highly satisfactory.
With their passion for Mittel Europa, Steven Jones and Logan Sky now have several EPs and four long players of their mannered pop noir to their name, the most recent of which was ‘European Lovers’.
Front man Steven Jones is often inspired by his passion for international travel and the inherent history it uncovers, while Logan Sky was involved in the rebooted VISAGE which delivered the ‘Hearts & Knives’ album in 2013.
The pair were introduced to each other by Steve Strange and the aura of the late Blitz Club figurehead’s neu romance looms strongly in their music. Conjuring up images of mysterious shadows and enigmatic romances, ‘European Lovers’ harks back to a Europe after the rain with an emphasis on monochromatic mood.
Steven Jones spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, with the occasional technical interjection from Logan Sky about their love for Europe…
How did you become fascinated by the nostalgic Eurocentric romanticism that colours your music?
Steven: As a child growing up in a kind of northern suburbia, I felt that I had a kind of fantasy for Scandinavia and European cities like Stockholm and places like Berlin, in my mind they represented a sort of bohemian artistic freedom and I assumed or kind of believed that everybody who lived in these amazing European cities was far more stylish, sexy, free minded, freewheeling than anybody that lived in the bleak northern suburbia that I grew up in.
So I crystallised a lot of my fantasies around the these locations and I imagined mysterious travel via ships and night trains and occasionally flights. It was a kind of world of romantic potential, freedom, style, glamour… it felt like a place to which I could escape. So I had a kind of dream of Europe and then when I was 16 I went on a German exchange scheme to Düsseldorf and it was a very beautiful experience.
It was the spring, very sunny and I felt in my naivety I had met all these stylish and sexy people that were living in this European life and somehow that experience confirmed that my fantasy was in fact reality. So, I really felt then that the dream of freedom in this kind of dazzling fashionable stylish and sexy Europe was a reachable dream and that you could escape from airstrip one, as I thought of the UK. So, yes, I’m drawn to that kind of chic melancholic vibe.
You were introduced to each other by Steve Strange?
Steven: Yes that’s true. I used to speak to Steve a lot on the phone and many times he would mention this person called Logan Sky and he would insist that I should connect with Logan Sky and have a conversation with Logan Sky, that was a thing for Steve. He was coming from the perspective of doing something which he had always done which was to connect people. The wheel of destiny turns and I did connect with Logan with the idea of doing a cover of ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ with Steve Strange and also another track, ‘Burning Desire’… but neither came to fruition, for various reasons.. but hey, it’s karma.
Finally I think where we really got going was that I had recorded a track called ‘Strange Magic’ with Donna Destri, a sort of moody 80s electronic thing and then I think that caught Logan’s eye and he said he wanted to remix it and away we go. So ‘Strange Magic’ was really the first Steven Jones & Logan Sky release. But yes you are right… Steve Strange… it was his idea all along and I think he’d be very happy about it now, because in his honour, we’ve done a load of stuff.
What were the first songs you wrote together that helped you realise there was definitely a creative chemistry?
Steven: After ‘Strange Magic’, Logan sent me some demos and I think one of them was ‘Desire Lines’ and I did a vocal for it with my lyric and another ‘Falcon of the Dunes’. So then I felt I could easily find a place for myself in in the soundscape of Logan Sky. These were pointing me in the right direction and why wouldn’t we because of course I’ve been recording electronic music for years prior we share a kind of aesthetic both sonically and visually and that would be just a question of you know finally recording something together. So I think you know that was always going to happen and certainly Steve was always going to make that happen, so you know it happened.
How would you describe your dynamic, do you have set roles?
Steven: The dynamic is intriguing and creative. We have a process and usually we will begin on some ideas or demos and there might be a sense of a theme. On ’European Lovers’ we had a conversation about doing some sort of European sounding pop album.
‘The Visitors’ by ABBA also came up in our conversation; I love that album and have always had a kind of yen for recording an album like it because I think it kind of encapsulates how I feel about life. Dark, cold, bleak… with a hook!
There are roles and there is also a space where we move outside the roles and certainly we’ve never said this is your role and this is my role but, y’know, it’s there in the subtext…
You’ve been quite prolific with three albums in four years as well as various EPs and collaborations including with Steve Strange, how do you look back on your work prior to ‘European Lovers’?
Steven: I think I’ve always had the sense that you have to move quite fast. I’m not the kind of person that wants to overcook anything and I’ve always operated from a perspective of being quite urgent in terms of putting stuff into the world because from my perspective the results of your creative process needs to be in the world soon as it can be and that’s the creative expression. I’m really interested in the creative process from the idea to the final recording and then when it lives in the world I don’t pay too much attention to it again… because by then I’m moving forward to the next thing and there’s always the next thing… something else to express.
I’m quite proud of all of our recordings and have the sense that we have created a catalogue of material and I do think that something is expressed through that… a kind of vision of the world and of life that stands in its own space, not a pastiche synthwave space where people recycle old ideas.
Which particular bodies of work stand up for each of you now?
The ‘Corrupt State’ collaboration with Steve Strange was a great sense of completion for me because I felt an affinity with Steve, his predicaments, his aesthetic, his view of the world and also because my family is Welsh and I’m also called Stephen. People used to call me Steve Strange when I was at school, so it was karmic in the echo chamber of my life… kismet.
‘European Lovers’ captures a monochromatic mood, had it been influenced by any particular films or cities or stories?
Steven: I was watching ‘Alphaville’ and that’s a kind of French dystopia and I liked that its futuristic but it’s really retro. But I’m more often influenced by books than films. ‘European Lovers’ arises out of where we’re at now, which is a sort of separation, dislocation… everything feeling off-kilter, unstable, uncertain. But I feel like that anyway so it’s entirely possible that even if we were living in the most stable of times, my mind would come up with something like ‘European Lovers’.
So cities… hmm… it’s a kind of chilly dystopian European city of our dreams, an amalgamation perhaps of Berlin, Paris, Stockholm and Düsseldorf! But you can decode it for yourself…
Musically, who were you inspired by on this album and had there been any new influences compared to your previous releases?
Steven: There’s always the sense of wanting to be fresh or to arrive at a new place but our influences are always going to be in the area of VISAGE or JAPAN or I’d like to be Bryan Ferry. My aspiration would be to mesh together the old influences and then find a spark of something which is vital now and I think that comes from what you’re seeking to express and I think it comes from peeling back the layers to find the thing that isn’t the pose.
Do I think that lyrically I have exposed aspects of myself in the lyrics of this album? Yes I do… unlike earlier albums that were less of me and more of the pose. We are using all of our influences to create a fresh alchemy.
The ‘European Lovers’ title song bookends the album in two distinct versions, had this been intended as part of the concept?
Steven: ‘European Lovers’ opens the album because it is the opening statement and it is an expression of fracturing and separation. It’s asking “what are we doing?” and “where is the meaning?”. The postscript might be the endpoint of that particular night train journey and it might be the starting point for a new exploration… It’s kind of bleak and I think it leaves the listener with a question I think it’s intended to feel uneasing…
‘Sons Of Hallucination’ with its female French voice recalls VISAGE, how did the track come together?
Steven: Logan sent me very atmospheric backing track and I was struck by its cinematic qualities and it felt to me like the theme tune to a grainy black and white European art house movie full of darkness and sex.
‘Fade to Grey’ is a genuine iconic classic and its beauty does lie in that combination of synths and French spoken bits and I always thought it would be great at some point to do something like that.
So it was just happenstance really that I happened to be about to teach yoga and a woman who was coming into my class on regular basis came into the reception where I was standing before teaching and she was speaking in a French accent and I just said right then off the top of my head would you like to record your voice and she said ‘yes’! Lyrically it all came together pretty quickly and with Charlotte Condemine’s vocals on the demo it all just felt right.
‘When The Night Falls’ is infectious electro that is comparatively abstract as well compared to the other material?
Steven: I think Logan’s demo might have been called ‘When The Night Falls In’ and I recorded the spoken lyric to that right off the top of my head just influenced by the mood of the track and I kind of liked it. It’s just a total subconscious moment. It feels a bit psychotic… it’s sinister… it has a kind of seductive element to it.. It seems to imply a seduction but it has a kind of very dark vibe to it.
It can be as abstract as the listener wants it to be. I love that it’s totally improvised there’s something naked about it. It hasn’t been overworked with loads of takes. Perhaps it implies some aspects of my shadow emerging… discuss…
In terms of production and instrumentation, is there much hardware used or is it very much in the box? Do you have any favourite vintage synths that you used on the record?
Logan: My long-term go to vintage synths are the Korg Polysix, Juno 106, Siel Cruise and the Yamaha CS20 which I under estimated for very many years until I discovered its real warmth. Sometimes I used the Polymoog and ARP Odyssey but they’ve been sold.
I also sometimes use the Korg Mono/Poly, the Crumar Trilogy and Yamaha SS30 vintage strings which I believe ULTRAVOX used on most of their classics. When I moved to Hamburg last summer, I only really had space in the car for a Korg MS-20 and R3, plus a newer Behringer Model D and a DeepMind 6 which I’ve used to embellish and fill in most of the gaps on the ‘European Lovers’ album. Of course there’s a couple of soft synths… the FM7 because it’s easier to use than the DX7 and the CS80 for its fantastic sounds.
So who is ‘The Girl On The 8:45’?
Steven: It’s a lyric written by Mr Kevin O’Dowd (Boy George’s brother) so he would know specifically who the girl is. I see this as a sort of description of what happens when you regularly see somebody who is a stranger and you never meet them and you imbue them with a load of qualities which they may or may not have.
So there’s a sort of projection taking place and I think it’s an interesting process so you can see somebody and because you don’t speak to them, you have no real insight into their character who they are and then you project onto them a fantasy personality. And then sometimes that narrative becomes more real than the person themself. The more you see the person but you never get to know them and they begin to inhabit that fantasy space and I think it’s useful to interrogate who the fantasy is… what qualities?
So ‘The Girl On The 8:45’ is the answer to all our questions. She’s the solution to all our problems. She’s the romantic, erotic focus, the Deus Ex-machina, the being that will rescue us from the mundane repetitions of our lives. She’s something like that and she may well be that but of course she might not be.
Photo by Marlie Centawer-Green
Guest musicians Gary Barnacle and Jan Linton feature on the album, when working with such accomplished musicians, do you just let them get on it and improvise or do you give a distinct brief?
Steven: I think that the whole Gary Barnacle thing was really amazing because he’s played on so many 80s and 90s records and so it’s fascinating that every time you hear a kind of amazing saxophone on something it might well be him.
I had this experience of synchronicity when Gary contacted me to say he had played on Sandie Shaw’s version of ’Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?’ (the Lloyd Cole thing) that I had been obsessed with for years and which I had recently posted on social media. I never knew! It’s an honour to have Gary on our tracks and he certainly brings a special magic to those songs. for sure… it’s transcendent. Jan Linton brings a kind of texture and darkness that has really evolved our sound.
No, we don’t give a distinct brief. My view is to let the players play and see what they do. I’m never particularly controlling about how things should be. I’m kind of disconnected from what happens to the music once it’s released and so for me, it’s all about the process and encouraging playfulness and dynamism.
You have covered ‘Café Europe’ by FATAL CHARM, a quite obscure act who opened for ULTRAVOX and OMD in 1980, how did you discover them and have they heard your reinterpretation?
Steven: Logan sent me that. I had never heard of FATAL CHARM although the lyrics to ‘Cafe Europe’ is absolutely right up my street and perfectly on the money now. It was a challenge because the original song and the girl singing has a very high voice and so I did actually start by singing it and I could sing it. But in my exploration of my own voice and my struggle to not sound like a choir boy or singing curate, I thought it would be better to do it as a spoken thing and I think that was the right decision. Lyrically and atmospherically, it encapsulates what we feel now in our European fantasy which darkens by the day.
Which are your own favourite tracks and remixes on the ‘European Lovers’ package?
Steven: Well, I love the title track and we could argue that ‘Lovers & Losers’ is the best song that we’ve written and recorded. I think it’s almost perfect actually. ‘Like A Ghost’ has a very personal resonance for me and that is maybe one of my most exposed lyrics. It describes direct experience and feels like it is an authentic expression lyrically and so I’m quite proud of that.
I’m really satisfied with the whole album. I think it crystallises all of the things that we have been endeavouring to achieve in our music and aesthetic in terms of its mood, and I also get the feeling that other people think that too. I experience it as one complete artistic statement. God forbid I should sound pretentious!
There’s a distinct visual aesthetic to ‘European Lovers’, how important is the presentation in terms of artwork and videos to you?
Steven: When I’m listening to music and buying records, I’ve always loved the art and I’ve always loved the visual interpretation of the sound. I’m really old school with the idea of a liking and wanting an album and the art reflecting the theme. So we do discuss it seriously.
Logan spends lots of time editing videos, which I see as more of an ephemeral thing although they live online forever. Whereas the album art is essential.
Also, it can be puzzling to be confronted with your own image a lot, so now I tend to disconnect and avoid that to an extent. So the ‘European Lovers’ artwork has a symbolic message and that’s up to you to decode.
It’s been 40 years since The Blitz Club closed, what did think of the Sky Arts ‘Blitzed’ documentary and the spate of programmes particularly on Channel5 that have been celebrating the era? Do you ever wish as Bryan Ferry suggested that you were in ‘Another Time, Another Place’?
Steven: Let’s see… I’d like to be Bryan Ferry… I’m channelling Bryan Ferry… *laughs*
Do I wish I was at the Blitz? No… I think nostalgia is dangerous and there something artificial in it. I think that we are always where we are and I don’t ever wish that I was in the past. If I feel good about what we’ve done, Logan and I creatively, and if I see that as a body of work. Then a body of work is of the now and could only have happened because of all of the forces that have constellated around it.
I don’t want to be kind of a person that is performing something that happened 40 years ago and while I do think it’s culturally resonant and really fascinating and it has left us with tremendous music, great songs and fantastic cultural memories, I’m here now baby and I won’t be preserved in aspic!
With everything going on, what are your hopes and fears for the future?
Steven: That’s quite a question. Hope that we can get out of this and I hope that the getting out of it to a good place and to something which is recognisably the ‘old normal’ you know. I’m really hoping that my fears won’t happen, of being stuck in sort of some kind of twilight zone for years to come, endlessly circulating these issues of virus restriction control.
This landscape to me is profoundly unhealthy pathologically, so my fear would be that we get culturally stuck. We all need to collectively work out a way of not getting stuck and stop buying into flagrant propaganda and to perhaps see that there are forces in operation which would probably not acting in our interests.
Some of my fatalism can be felt in our album. I think we should be stoical, autonomous beings, sovereign of our own minds. We could conceivably argue that going through a thing like this is a karmic gift because it’s had a huge impact on everybody and we have been fortunate to have ringside seats in something so crazy! We’ve got the ringside seats, let’s make the most of them!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Steven Jones and Logan Sky
Steven Jones and Logan Sky were introduced to each other by their mutual friend Steve Strange.
The late VISAGE front man and Blitz Club figurehead had been working with Logan Sky in the rebooted version of that band which returned with the ‘Hearts & Knives’ album in 2013. As if born into the wrong era, Steven Jones’ neu romance lyrics with their slight dystopian edge have often been inspired by a fascination for international travel and the inherent history it uncovers. Having released their debut full length long player ‘Hans und Lieselotte’ in 2018, further albums ‘The Electric Eye’ and ‘Rotating Angels’ followed in quick succession.
And now the duo present their fourth in three years. As the title track, ‘European Lovers’ bookends the album, the opening variant pulsating the mood while sweetened by soothing sax from the ever dependable Gary Barnacle who himself played with VISAGE and SOFT CELL. Steven Jones ably delivers the fractured mannered baritone that could be seen to be deriving from anyone one of Scott Walker, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry or Midge Ure. Meanwhile the closing postscript provided a hypnotic arpeggio and Polymoog vox humana to accompanying a spoken word take on ‘European Lovers’.
Lost in the rainy streets of Mittel Europa, Jones ponders his ‘Survival’ over tinkling ivories like Ferry on ‘A Song For Europe’ where “the dream of dying is the dream of living”. But the album paces up with ‘When The Night Falls In’, an infectious syncopated electro set-piece accented by the occasional burst of synthetic toms.
Echoing ‘Fade To Grey’, Charlotte Condemine provides an alluring Gallic monologue to the wonderful ‘Sons of Hallucination’. Meanwhile Jones borrows some phrasing from ‘Wishing Well’, the 1987 hit by Terence Trent D’Arby which was produced by Martyn Ware of HEAVEN 17. It’s a curious mix that is ultimately satisfying for the headphones of any passing New Europeans. And when the soprano sax comes in, it all becomes reminiscent of BLACK if Colin Verncombe had into VISAGE.
‘Awaken From The Dream’ utilises an electric piano for a short intermission while the exquisite synth tones of ‘The Girl On The 8.45’ captures an inevitably doomed romance in a tale of unrequited love for a beautiful stranger on the daily commute.
With an ear for obscure jewels, a tense offbeat squelch shapes ‘Cafe Europe’, an excellent cover of a song by FATAL CHARM who supported ULTRAVOX and OMD back in 1980; the cult Nottingham duo too had a fascination inter-continental travel and their Midge Ure-produced single ‘Paris’ captured the days before The Channel Tunnel.
Both projecting a stark austere, the bubbling melancholy of ‘Lovers & Losers’ and spy drama chill of ‘All Her Things Are Gone’ mine an era of long overcoats when The Third Man could walk in at any moment. And although ‘Like A Ghost’ uses a largely similar drumless template to ‘All Her Things Are Gone’, its subtle congas provide an atmospheric backbone alongside the virtual muted guitar loop. As the penultimate statement to the main act, the mournful piano ballad ‘Past & Future Lives’ recalls CULT WITH NO NAME.
For those who opt for the CD, there are three bonus tracks and assorted remixes of ‘Lovers & Losers’ including a brooding one from American gothwavers VANDAL MOON. ‘The Shape Of Darkness’ does what it says on the tin as another electric piano spoken word piece accompanied by an eerie falsetto backing vocal, while ‘Politics & Gesture’ is a rather sombre observation on the state of the nation.
Meanwhile ‘Another Hallucination’ exhibits a threatening throb at the start of a darker alternate take of ‘Sons Of Hallucination’ that allows more room for Gary Barnacle’s soprano sax, with Jones offering another spoken interpretation alongside the feminine prose en Français.
‘European Lovers’ is exactly as it suggests and harks back to a Europe after the rain, conjuring up images of mysterious shadows and enigmatic romances.
An authentic accomplished collection, it contains some terrific moments, although its emphasis on monochromatic mood is perhaps a challenge over so many tracks.
However, what Steven Jones and Logan Sky have is a genuine understated passion for the heritage of their influences, very much the antithesis to the genre hopping style over substance posing of HURTS and la faux sincérité of other duos that could be mentioned.
2018 saw Jean Michel Jarre celebrate 50 years in the business and whether the world really needed another of his compilations, ‘Planet Jarre’ was probably one of the better collected representations of his work for casual admirers.
But not standing still and releasing his fourth new album in three years, ‘Equinoxe Infinity’ continued the story as the French Maestro tuned 70.
SOFT CELL made a totally unexpected return for a huge one-off farewell gig at London’s O2 Arena; and with it came a boxed set, the ‘Northern Lights’ single and other new recordings which have raised hopes for a new album.
From the same era, FIAT LUX announced plans for their debut album ‘Save Symmetry’ with an excellent lead track ‘It’s You’, while B-MOVIE came up with their most synth-propelled single yet in ‘Stalingrad’.
But one act who actually did comeback with a brand new album in 2018 were DUBSTAR; now a duo of Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie, as ‘One’ they reminded audiences as to why they were the acceptable face of Britpop with their bridge to Synth Britannia.
IONNALEE finally released her debut opus ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ and her tour which included choice cuts from IAMAMIWHOAMI, proved to be one of the best value-for-money live experiences in 2018, one that was even endorsed by Welsh songstress Charlotte Church.
CHVRCHES offered up their third album ‘Love Is Dead’ and continued their role as international flagwavers for quality synthpop, while EMIKA presented her best album yet in ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, an exquisite electronic record with a Bohemian aura.
JOHN GRANT was on an artistic roll both solo and in partnership with WRANGLER as CREEP SHOW with two new albums. However, he was beaten by Neil Arthur who managed three albums over a 12 month period as NEAR FUTURE and BLANCMANGE including ‘Wanderlust’, possibly the latter’s best body of work in its 21st Century incarnation.
It was a busy year for Steve Jansen with a new solo ambient work ‘Corridor’, the well-received vinyl reissue of JAPAN’s two Virgin-era studio albums and his epic, more organically flavoured band project EXIT NORTH with their debut long player ‘Book Of Romance & Dust’.
Sarah Nixey went on some ‘Night Walks’ for her best solo album yet, a wonderful collection of everything she had ever been musically all wonderfully rolled into one.
Meanwhile Tracey Thorn went back to the ‘Dancefloor’ with her ‘Record’ which content wise was right up there with some of Alison Moyet’s electronica output from the last five years.
Hungary’s BLACK NAIL CABARET offered some noirish ‘Pseudopop’ and promising Norwich youngsters LET’S EAT GRANDMA got more deeply into electronica without losing any of their angsty teenage exuberance on their second album ‘I’m All Ears’.
Less intense and more dreamy were GLASSHOUSE, the new duo fronted by former TECHNIQUE singer Xan Tyler.
While the new HEAVEN 17 album ‘Not For Public Broadcast’ is still to be finished, Glenn Gregory teamed by with live keyboardist Berenice Scott as AFTERHERE. Their long-time friend Claudia Brücken performed as xPROPAGANDA with Susanne Freytag and partnered up with one-time TANGERINE DREAM member Jerome Froese, releasing the ‘Beginn’ album in the process.
Highly appealing were a number of quirky Japanese influenced female artists from around the globe including COMPUTER MAGIC, MECHA MAIKO and PLASMIC. But there were also a number of acts with Far Eastern heritage like STOLEN, FIFI RONG, DISQO VOLANTE and SHOOK who continued to make a worthy impression with their recorded output in 2018.
Heavy synth rock duo NIGHT CLUB presented their ‘Scary World’ on the back of tours opening for COMBICHRIST and A PERFECT CIRCLE while also from across the pond, NYXX and SINOSA both showcased their alluring potential.
At the poppier end of the spectrum, Holger Wobker used Pledge Music to relaunch BOYTRONIC with their most recent vocal incumbent James Knights in an unexpected twist to once again prove the old adage to “never say never” as far as the music industry is concerned.
Meanwhile, Chris Payne co-wrote and co-produced the excellent ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP with KATJA VON KASSEL while also revealing plans for an autobiography and opening for his old boss…
The surprise album of the year was Chris Catrer with his ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’ while using a not dissimilar concept with their second album ‘Hello Science’, REED & CAROLINE took their folk laden synthpop out on a US tour opening for ERASURE.
Steven Jones & Logan Sky harked back to the days when Gary Numan and OMD would release two albums in one year by offering ‘Hans Und Lieselotte’ and ‘The Electric Eye’ in 2016. Those veteran acts themselves celebrated their 40th anniversaries by going orchestral, something which SIMPLE MINDS also did when they opted to re-record ‘Alive & Kicking’ for the ’80s Symphonic’ collection although Jim Kerr forgot how a third of the song went!
With SIMPLE MINDS also performing a horrible and barely recognisable ‘Promised You A Miracle’ during BBC’s ‘The Biggest Weekend’, making up for the live joke that his former band have become was one-time bassist Derek Forbes with the album ‘Broken Hearted City’ as ZANTi with Anni Hogan of MARC & THE MAMBAS fame.
Other former members of high-profile bands were busy too with Ian Burden, formally of THE HUMAN LEAGUE returning with the Floydian ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ while A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS reformed briefly for an orchestral re-run of their catalogue.
With the release of their second album ‘Kinetik’, EKKOES handed over THE HUMAN LEAGUE support baton to SHELTER who came up with their best body of work yet in the more introspective shades of ‘Soar’
That darker approach manifested itself on singer Mark Bebb’s side project FORM with Keith Trigwell of SPEAK & SPELL whose debut long player ‘defiance + entropy’ also came out in 2018.
Having been championed by RÖYSKSOPP, Wales’ MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY returned with ‘Infinity Mirror’ while riding on the well-deserved momentum from opening for OMD, Ireland’s TINY MAGNETIC PETS embarked on their first headlining tour.
NINA’s long awaited debut album ‘Sleepwalking’ was a fine hybrid of synthpop and the currently fashionable Synthwave aesthetic; her live double billing with Canadian synthpopsters PARALLELS was one of the hottest tickets of the year.
However, the endless AOR excesses, moonlight sax breaks and highly unimaginative band monikers using numbers between 80 to 89 affixed to an archaic technology reference, illustrated by yet another neon sunset, VCR grid and Lamborghini, were becoming tiresome.
As Synthwave cynics, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s touch paper was being lit big time! The whole point of the synthesizer’s role during the Second British Invasion of the US was to fight against the insipid overtures of AOR like TOTO, CHICAGO and JOURNEY, NOT to make music coated with its horrid stench as THE MIDNIGHT did in 2018 with their long player ‘Kids’.
But there was naivety within some quarters too; electronic music did not begin in 2011 with ‘Drive’, an above average film with a good if slightly over rated soundtrack. However, its cultural influence has led to a plethora of meandering tracks made by gamer boys which sounded like someone had forgotten to sing on them; perhaps they should have gone back to 1978 and listened to GIORGIO MORODER’s ‘Midnight Express Theme’ to find out how this type of instrumental music should be done?
Many of the newer artists influenced by Synth Britannia that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has featured have sometimes been accused of being stuck in the past, but a fair number of Synthwave acts were really taking the soggy biscuit with their retro-obsession.
Rock band MUSE’s use of glowing artwork by Kyle Lambert of ‘Stranger Things’ fame on their eighth album ‘Simulation Theory’ sent sections of the Synthwave community into meltdown. There were cries that they had “stolen the aesthetics and concept” and how “it’s not relevant to their sound”!
But WHAM! had Peter Saville designed sleeves and never sounded like NEW ORDER or OMD, while electropop diva LA ROUX used a visual stylisation for ‘In For The Kill’ that has since been claimed by Synthwavers as their own, despite it being from 2009 when Ryan Gosling was peddling graveyard indie rock in DEAD MAN’S BONES 😉
This was one of the bigger ironies of 2018, especially as MUSE have always used synths! One of Matt Bellamy and co’s biggest musical inspirations is ULTRAVOX, indicating the trio probably have a better understanding of the fusion between the synthesizer, rock and classical music, as proven by the ‘Simulation Theory’ bookends ‘Algorithm’ and ‘The Void’, than any static laptop exponent with a Jan Hammer fixation.
It is interesting to note today how electronic music has split into so many factions, but there’s still the assumed generalisation that it is all one thing and that synthpop fans must also like Synthwave, Deep House, EDM, Industrial and those tedious beach chill-out remixes.
Back in the day and even now, some fans of THE HUMAN LEAGUE didn’t like OMD, DEPECHE MODE fans only liked DEPECHE MODE and rock fans had a token favourite electronic band.
Out of all the acts from the Synth Britannia era, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had very little time for THOMPSON TWINS despite their huge international success, but their leader Tom Bailey’s 2018 solo recorded return ‘Science Fiction’ was warmly received by many.
Just as COLDPLAY and SNOW PATROL fans don’t all embrace ELBOW, it is ok to have preferences and to say so. Not liking the music of an artist does not make you a bad person, but liking everything does not make you a better person either… in fact, it shows you probably have no discerning taste! In 2002, SOFT CELL warned of a ‘Monoculture’, and if there is no taste differentiation in art and music, it will spell the end of cultural enhancement.
The duo of Steven Jones and Logan Sky have been a busy twosome this year.
January saw their unusual offering of ‘Hans Und Lieselotte’ with some peculiar sounding tunes. And now it’s followed this annum by opus number two ‘The Electric Eye’.
Jones met Sky through Steve Strange, both having been associated with the late star. Sky established himself within the electronica circles thanks to his synth skills for VISAGE and working with Nick Rhodes while Jones has been around, sharing his love of yoga and singing.
The pair worked together on various EPs and the long player ‘Corrupt State’, which featured Strange before his untimely passing. While ‘Hans Und Lieselotte’ was filled with more experimental offerings, ‘The Electric Eye’ is deliciously musical and very electronic.
What ‘Violet Alert’ opens with, is exactly what Sky is superb at; the correlation between being a classically trained pianist who turned into a synth wizard, and sees himself as an “inventor”.
PET SHOP BOYS with a twist is what ‘Voltage’ is, a little bit of vintage, tangled, untangled, mixed and remixed: a perfect synth track. The title song could have been VISAGE meets SOFT CELL, oh it’s scrumptious, if simplistically delivered, but who needs unnecessary dilutions?
‘Time Paths’ rejects the norm, vintage style, a notion that prevails into the synthylicious ‘No Way Out’ with a minimalistic approach, where old is mixed with new. It’s almost as if Daniel Miller redid THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Travelogue’.
The ominous ‘Black Clouds’ gather over to witness the super gritty ‘Okan’s Run’, while the dazzling beauty of ‘Solid Crystal Core’ cannot be denied. ‘Carousel’ brings certain demureness into the mix, leading into ‘Christmas In The Machine’.
With just a simple beautiful piano, devoid of pretty much any other instrumentation except for an occasional synth, it’s a classic in itself. The sampled heartbeat could suggest DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Somebody’ connotations, and that’s where the twosome excel.
The best is clearly left for last with the immensely powerful ‘Blood Moon’, with its lush dirty synth and sci-fi plug-ins; a truly vintage piece.
Who’d have thought Steven Jones and Logan Sky would return this quickly and with such a little gem. The love and knowhow of electronica shines through each and single track and the two keep the vintage new and fresh. If you’re looking into a superb way to end this musical year, than look no further.