Tag: Synth Britannia (Page 2 of 2)

Missing In Action: MIRRORS

Broken By Silence

In 2013, it would appear electronic pop music is as popular as ever with classic acts such as OMD, PET SHOP BOYS and KARL BARTOS producing some of their best work since their heyday. And with them come many new acts who have been inspired by the innovators.

But one comment often keeps being repeated whenever ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK discusses particularly the new all-male synth acts on the scene with its colleagues and friends: “They’re not MIRRORS!”

Founded by James New (lead vocals and synthesizer) and Ally Young (synthesizer and backing vocals) in 2008, the pair were soon joined by James ‘Tate’ Arguile (synthesizer) and then Josef Page (electronic percussion) a few months later.

New and Arguile had actually been members of one-time indie hopefuls MUMM-RA who were signed to Columbia Records and had supported THE KILLERS in 2007; their best known song ‘She’s Got You High’ was used in a Waitrose advert and an episode of ‘The Inbetweeners’.

In 2009, MIRRORS released two self-produced singles ‘Look At Me’ and ‘Into The Heart’which showcased an updated post-punk electronic sound. With New’s majestic vocals over their surreal, cinematic atmospheres, MIRRORS designated their music pop noir. After a few false starts image wise, MIRRORS settled on a look based around 20th Century European Modernism.

mirrors13_earlyJames New told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “We were fed up with how everything looked around us and we were definitely fed up with this celebration of scruffy indie rock music”. Relocating to Brighton, they impressed with their live shows locally and were eventually signed by FAT BOY SLIM’s label Skint Records with a tour supporting DELPHIC following not long after.

The quartet had a distinct vision and after aborted sessions with noted producers Richard X and Ed Bueller, their debut album was recorded and self-produced in a rural Sussex farmhouse before being mixed in New York by Jonathan Kreinik of DFA fame.

The resultant long player ‘Lights & Offerings’ was a wonderfully cohesive, seamless body of work that expressed the hopes and fears of young manhood. Following the philosophy of the Bauhaus movement’s founder Walter Gropius in uniting art and technology, the album crucially possessed an intelligent balance between precise electronic beats and emotive vintage synthesizer melodies.

James New had certainly kept his promise when he described the album as a collection of “really great pop songs” that contained “very densely produced, heavily layered, emotional, soulful electronic music”. Epic tracks such as ‘Fear Of Drowning’, ‘Somewhere Strange’ and the sub-11 minute ‘Secrets’ showed depth and ambition while there was accessible but cerebral synthpop in ‘Searching In The Wilderness’, ‘Hide & Seek’ and ‘Ways To An End’. And to show off their versatility, there was the beautiful electro cover of cult Country and Western number ‘Something On Your Mind’

Despite delivering a fine debut album, MIRRORS didn’t get the recognition they deserved. There were several possible reasons for this. By the start of 2011, there appeared to be a synthpop backlash following the success of LA ROUX, LITTLE BOOTS and even LADY GAGA during 2009-2010.

Certainly the music press only seemed to embrace bands with a rogue electronic element if there was an obvious guitar backdrop (see THE KILLERS, LCD SOUNDSYSTEM and WHITE LIES).

mirrorsBut ultimately, they wanted combos with beards, guitars and preferably no synthesizers at all (see KINGS OF LEON and MUMFORD & SONS!)

It would be fair to say that MIRRORS probably also suffered from being compared to HURTS, particularly in Germany, the one market where MIRRORS were expected to prosper and the only country where the quartet undertook a full headline tour.

HURTS’ ‘Wonderful Life’ had been a No2 hit there and while the arthouse monochromatics of both acts indicated they each had a common goal to subvert the perception that bands needed to wear jeans and be hairy in order to attain any kind of credibility, musically the two acts were kilometres apart.

HURTS were more TAKE THAT and SAVAGE GARDEN cleverly dressed as ULTRAVOX, while MIRRORS really were the illegitimate offspring of OMD and DEPECHE MODE! But even the European public didn’t quite see it like that and certainly HURTS were able to attain more promotional momentum thanks to the weight of the Sony Corporation behind them!

While it could be expected that the real music brigade would be resistant to MIRRORS and their thoughtful aspirations, there was a surprising refusal to accept them within the electronic community itself. Electronic music didn’t die post-grunge but had mutated into numerous sub-genres and cottage industries.

But there was many a petty jealously embroiling as this band seemingly appeared out of nowhere and picked up on the distinctly European legacy that had been left behind back in the day to satisfy the synthobic territory of the USA with the advent of MTV. Comments like “Synth Britannia throwbacks”, “credit crunch KRAFTWERK” and “OMD tribute act” were among those banded about.

Then there was OMD’s drummer Mal Holmes’ amusing quip that “MIRRORS do OMD better than OMD do OMD…” – although complimentary, the comment may have inadvertently had an adverse effect.

It was known to have got up the backs of several OMD fans who felt that OMD could do no wrong, despite them delivering a disappointing comeback album in ‘History Of Modern’! Ultimately, it was as if some wanted MIRRORS to fail.

Of course, OMD were one of MIRRORS many influences. The invitation to support the band on their 2010 European tour proved to be a blessing and a curse. While opening for OMD put MIRRORS firmly in front of an audience who were most likely to embrace them, it also drew comparisons due to the shared musical and sartorial roots of both bands.

The tour was a great success and enabled MIRRORS to undertake a headlining sojourn of Deutschland but the decisions to accept invitations to open for OMD in June and September of 2011 may have been ill-advised in hindsight.

With MIRRORS also playing events such as Back To The Future – Tomorrow Is Today with GARY NUMAN and JOHN FOXX plus Godiva Festival with HEAVEN 17 and BLANCMANGE as well, MIRRORS were now being perceived as a Synth Britannia support act! James New later admitted: “I think we’ve made without realising it, maybe a record that was slightly more derivative than we hoped to make. We can be honest about that!”

This must have been preying on the band’s mind because prior to the Autumn batch of OMD dates and a slot at Bestival sharing the bill with SANTIGOLD and ONETWO, MIRRORS cancelled their appearances to “write new material”. Many followers of the band sensed all was not well and this was confirmed in a statement a few weeks later when Ally Young announced he was leaving.

The reason appeared to be good old fashioned musical differences; “We were coming to the point where writing the second record had begun. I felt like I’d taken it as far as I could perhaps emotionally as I wanted to” Young said in December 2012, “we were writing things that were good but I didn’t feel like I wanted to be part of it anymore. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at the point but I did know it wasn’t that!”

MIRRORS parted ways with Skint Records although a belated remix album ‘Deconstructed’ was issued before Christmas 2011. But it appeared as though MIRRORS were done and dusted.

Then at the start of 2012, the remaining threesome announced the release of an EP ‘This Year, Next Year, Sometime…?’ which featured two newly recorded songs ‘Dust’ and ‘Shooting Stars’; the remaining songs were various works-in-progress or demos.

While it appeared to be nothing more than a stop-gap, it showed that Messrs New, Arguile and Page were still determined to pursue their artistic ideals just as DEPECHE MODE had with ‘A Broken Frame’ back in 1982 after Vince Clarke left. Using a wider palette of possibilities including more prominent guitar and conventional bass, the sparser direction still retained their essential melodic components. It proved if nothing, that MIRRORS were in still business although between premises and working from home.

Meanwhile after producing an aborted second album for Britpop influenced rockers VIVA BROTHER, Ally Young teamed up with their singer Lee Newell to form LOVELIFE and uprooted to New York. While still very much synth and sample led, the duo developed a sound based more around R’n’B grooves which were very much influenced by their new urban surroundings. Appropriately enough, they toured North America supporting THE NEIGHBOURHOOD while their first two EPs ‘El Regreso’ and ‘The Fourth Floor’ were well received; from the former, the HARD-FI meets OMD template of ‘Brave Face’ was a particular highlight.

On the MIRRORS front, things have been slightly less clear. Although a single ‘Hourglass’ backed with the superb ‘Between Four Walls’ was issued via Bandcamp in Summer 2012, New and Arguile reformed MUMM-RA for a one-off show later that Autumn. Fast forward to April 2013 and MUMM-RA have released a new download only EP. Other than a low-key gig in the Czech Republic at the FIS Ski Flying World Cup in February 2013, MIRRORS have remained silent. However, it is understood the band’s management have been answering enquiries for live bookings from various parties in 2013, although none of these have actually come to fruition.

Meanwhile, New has contributed vocals to two songs with production duo FOTONOVELA, best known for their work with MARSHEAUX and co-writing the OMD song ‘Helen Of Troy’. The vibrant first song from the sessions was ‘Romeo & Juliet’ while the magnificent second number ‘Sorrow’ is still to be aired publically. Whatever happens, MIRRORS are greatly missed and one wonders what the reaction to ‘Lights & Offerings’ might have been had it been released in the more sympathetic climate of 2013, a year which has seen KRAFTWERK headline Latitude and synthpop trio CHVRCHES get signed to Virgin Records.

After two and half years, what remains is the music and it is only after some distance that there can be an objective reassessment. Thus ‘Lights & Offerings’, with its associated bonuses, remains an impressive body of work. OMD’s Andy McCluskey once said MIRRORS had the potential to become “the DURAN DURAN of modern synthpop”. Even if that prospect is to remain unfulfilled, it really would be shame if there was to be no more great music from MIRRORS.


‘Lights & Offerings’ is still available via Skint Records

The EP ‘This Year, Next Year, Sometime…?’ and single ‘Hourglass’ are available as downloads via Bandcamp from http://mirrorsofficial.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/theworldofmirrors

http://theworldofmirrors.blogspot.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
26th August 2013

GARY NUMAN Micromusic DVD

GARY NUMAN was one of the UK’s biggest stars. In the space of just two years he had amassed three number 1 albums; two number 1 singles and a huge legion of fans. However, his overnight success came at a price.

He was vilified by the UK press, and away from the spotlight he was beset by a lack of self-confidence. As a result, at the height of his fame in 1981, he announced his retirement from live shows.

To mark the occasion he staged a spectacular farewell concert over three nights at Wembley Arena. This farewell show is now available for the first time on DVD, with remastered sound and a new interview with Gary Numan. Watching the DVD, the first thing that strikes you is the sheer scale of the production.

By 1981 Numan had already established a reputation for his extravagant stage sets, and for these final concerts he was determined to go out in style. The Wembley stage featured huge towers of light panels; revolving pyramids and a remote-controlled car, all amid a sea of dry ice. According to his lighting designers at the time, the show took two months to construct and cost Numan around £150,000 to stage. Watching this DVD it’s easy to see why!

The two hour set mostly comprises material from his three classic albums: ‘Replicas’, ‘The Pleasure Principle’ and ‘Telekon’. As a body of work it is consistently impressive. The likes of ‘Cars’ and ‘Are Friends Electric?’ are here of course, but there are a number of album tracks that could just have easily been singles; eg ‘Metal’, ‘Films’, ‘I Dream of Wires’.

Numan now says that one his reasons for retiring from live shows was to hone his songwriting skills, but ironically many of his best songs had already been written! Numan himself is a great showman, prowling the stage, mouthing silent words, and gazing out from the stage with that distinctive alien stare. It is that look which is so mesmerising and has kept fans coming to his gigs after all these years.

In spite of his robotic detachment, this is at times an emotional show. Red roses and teddy bears are thrown onto the stage by adoring fans. Towards the end of the set Numan sits on the edge of the stage to sing ‘Please Push No More’ and his ice-cool composure visibly cracks. The lyrics “now it’s all over for sure” will bring a tear to the eye of any fan of this genre! At the end of the show, after a roof-raising ‘We Are Glass’, Numan poignantly says “this has been the greatest two years I’ve ever had, thank you”, and then he is gone; an icon bowing out long before his time.

Numan’s retirement from touring was, as it turned out, short lived and he was back on the road just over a year later. The ‘Micromusic’ DVD includes a fascinating present-day interview, in which Numan talks candidly about the farewell shows and his reasons for retiring. At the time, he says, it felt like the right thing to do as he found it hard to deal with the constant attention from the press and the fans. But at the very moment he left the stage, he knew he had made a huge mistake. To sum up, he now says of the show, “I’m really proud of it, but wish I’d never done it”.

Having watched the ‘Micromusic’ DVD, I caught up with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s Chi Ming Lai who was lucky enough to be at the final Wembley show back in 1981…

I really enjoyed watching this DVD but nothing can compare to being there! Tell us what it was like.

It was my second ever concert and it was jaw-dropping! It made such an impression on me that I can still remember moments from it distinctly. Even little things like guitarist RRussell Bell doing a Bez-like handclap dance during ‘M.E.’, TIK and TOK’s robot movements to ‘I Dream Of Wires’ and the male members of the audience wolf whistling when it appeared that one of the girls from SHOCK was topless during her routine to ‘Trois Gymnopedies’!

My particular highlights included ‘Everyday I Die’ when he shone a huge spotlight into the audience, his robot car in ‘Down In The Park’ (although it does look like a Gothic Sinclair C5 now!) and everyone singing along to ‘Please Push No More’.

But it really was all brilliant… even the moment when the band got out of synch with the ‘She’s Got Claws’ backing tape! It was a brand new song at the time so no-one really noticed, even though it sounded a bit odd!!

Songwise, the set list was a perfect example of Numan in his prime. All his best stuff got played that night and there was the live premiere of ‘Complex’ too. But even before it all started, the atmosphere on the floor area was electric, people were already standing up and there was a big surge to the front. Unfortunately, I was stuck in the upper tier so the show was a lot more detached at our end… people didn’t feel able to get up and dance until the encore and we were pretty envious of all the fans below.

The stage set looks immense. How impressive was it in real life? Have you seen anything to top it since?

The stage set was fantastic, I mean it was enormous. For the era, it was massive! There was the ‘Teletour’ towers set, the panels of the ‘Touring Principle’ tilted over on either sides of the stage and a new flying saucer rig hanging above. The footage on ‘Micromusic’ captures it quite well but you really had to have been there, although at no point do you actually see the whole stage set. I honestly don’t think I’ve personally seen anything like this in terms of stage hardware as opposed to LED screens until MUSE’s ‘Haarp’ show at Wembley Stadium in 2007.

It’s also been said that this show was really loud! In the interview on the DVD, Numan claims that low frequency speakers were installed under the floorboards of the arena, so that the venue literally shook when the low notes were played! Is this something you remember? Has your hearing recovered yet?

I don’t remembering it being really loud but it certainly wasn’t quiet. I guess I was too far away from the stage to have really felt the sound as much as those on the floor. The OMD concert I’d been to a few months before was bloody loud though, the bass was really thumping on my chest there and my ears rang for two days!

At certain points in the show, Numan seems quite emotional. Was it an emotional occasion for you?

I definitely remember having a lump in my throat during ‘Please Push No More’ and I could see he was a bit choked… it’s more apparent if you watch the DVD. The performance seemed to say it all, especially when he changed some of the lyrics to suit the occasion. It made me realise what a great song it was having not given it the time of day before.

But GARY NUMAN will always mean something to me; I wouldn’t have got into electronic pop music without him. Yes, it was around before and DAVID BOWIE will say that he nicked all his ideas but Numan was of our generation, our very own hero. I’m a fan of Bowie, but he will never mean as much to me as Numan because it was ‘Are Friends Electric?’ in ’79, not ‘Starman’ in ’72 that I saw on ‘Top Of the Pops’ at that special moment in my life when I was ready to discover something for myself. There really is a unique innocence that gets you following your favourite artists. So for that reason, I can understand why synthpop fans a few years younger than me revere HOWARD JONES!! *laughs*

I finally got to meet GARY NUMAN in 2002 and had my photo taken with him… I have to say, I was absolutely thrilled!

At the time, did you believe that this would really be his last live show?

All us Numanoids really did think Numan was going to pack it in for good so there was definitely an air at Wembley that the fans were going to give him the biggest send-off possible.

And it was all very sad when it all ended, but then I got back to school and remembered this group JAPAN being mentioned by Numan in his interviews at the time. So after hearing their brilliant ‘Quiet Life’, I transferred all my energies getting into them! Teenagers can be terribly fickle I’m afraid!

In hindsight, I personally think Numan may have returned to the stage too soon after retiring. It was just over a year after Wembley that he did those low-key ‘I Assassin’ club gigs in America.

And then, he did that big ‘Warriors’ comeback tour in ’83. There hadn’t been enough time for people to miss Numan or for the critics to realise just how important he’d been to whole synthesizer thing.

It probably didn’t help that Numan appeared to lose his musical direction after those Wembley concerts. It’s understandable really because he was only 23.

‘Dance’ was interesting, but was probably the wrong album at the wrong time and it outstayed its welcome by at least 20 minutes! ‘I Assassin’ had some great stuff on it, but was patchy. And I never liked ‘Warriors’ at all, I still don’t!

He seemed to have got some of it back together for 1985’s ‘The Fury’ but then he got into that funk / rock thing! From what I can understand from reading his ‘Praying To The Aliens’ autobiography, he didn’t find himself musically again until 1994’s ‘Sacrifice’. Whilst I can’t say I’m a big fan of his new darker material, I still take an interest in his stuff and go to the classic album gigs. But the Andy Gray remix of ‘Prayer To The Unborn’ has to be the best thing he’s done in this heavier incarnation and it’s up there with his greatest songs.


‘Micromusic’ is released on DVD by Mortal

https://garynuman.com

https://www.facebook.com/GaryNumanOfficial/

https://twitter.com/numanofficial


Text and Interview by Steve Gray
11th June 2010

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