A debut album is an opportunity to relaunch and reach a wider audience, but with the kudos that the long playing format accords.
‘To Hell & Back’ sees THE FRIXION include the best material from their first 2017 EP ‘If U Ever Wonder’ plus some of the singles that have emerged since.
Reworking them with the assistance of Tim Dorney from REPUBLICA on selected tracks to hone a refreshed body of work, it has all been achieved without detracting from the essence of the originals, with the red vinyl version in particular, coming over as a sharp eight song collection.
For the duo of Gene Serene and Lloyd Price, life has been tearfully traumatic personally in the past few years, but from sadness and loss often comes great art. ‘To Hell and Back’ is a solemn if driving disco statement, but it comes with hope and a fightback. ‘Deceive a Believer’ displays an unashamed musicality with a brooding futuristic mood that will satisfy the ears of pop and Synth Britannia connoisseurs alike. ‘We Walk A Line’ gothically swings like a mighty electro-COCTEAU TWINS, a magical track that is actually about magic.
Taking on a more fierce gothic stance, ‘I Cannot Play These Games’ sees Serene move on from all the dramas while featuring Roi Robertson from MECHANICAL CABARET in the middle eight to compliment the silky tones of Gene Serene, the emotive ‘Cry, Cry, Cry’ touches on the theme of separation. The brilliant ‘We Should Be Dancing’ throws an optimistic curveball and showcases the duo’s love of Prince and yes, it’s robo-funky and even throws in a synthetic brass section!
It goes all dramatically moody with ‘From Dusk ‘Til Dawn’, Lloyd Price’s wobbling bass synth and minor key mode lifted by a great chorus, coming over like Kylie Minogue if she had taken her Nick Cave phase to the next level.
The neo-orchestrated ‘What We Gonna Do?’ asks that important question and with an almost funereal pace, makes the closing statement while leaving an open book. So what will happen next?
Featuring a variety of tempo and signature settings, ‘To Hell & Back’ combines classic retro-futuristic backing with vintage Weimer cabaret overtones and ultimately what LITTLE BOOTS could have sounded like but never actually did.
Going along with the current trend for eight track albums, the red vinyl version achieves its objective to make as direct an impact as possible in the manner of Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ or SIMPLE MINDS ‘Once Upon A Time’. But for those who like extras, the double CD package adds ‘Magic’, ‘If U Ever Wonder’ and a new zingy makeover of ‘Heartbroke Disco’ as well as previously issued covers of Prince’s ‘Under The Cherry Moon’ and Howard Jones’ ‘What Is Love?’. However, the remixes detract from the prime statement of focussing on THE FRIXION, adding little value to the overall package when a single CD of songs might have been better advised.
While the vinyl tracklisting is a fine 40 minute statement that outlines THE FRIXION’s strengths, the expanded 11 track version of the main act plus the two covers present a considered musicality both vocally and instrumentally that sets the duo apart from many British independent acts.
Having endured going ‘To Hell & Back’, THE FRIXION have presented one of their most dynamically sounding pieces of work yet in ‘Cry, Cry, Cry’.
For the duo of Gene Serene and Lloyd Price, life has been tearfully traumatic personally but from sadness and loss often comes great art. Not a cover of the ROXY MUSIC song, ‘Cry, Cry, Cry’ comes by the forthcoming debut album from THE FRXION called ‘To Hell & Back’.
Already adept at sound design and soloing, Price’s finely-tuned synthesizer knowhow and production is boosted by mastering from Tim Downey, he of REPUBLICA fame.
In a video put together by the camera of Lars Karich with additional filming by Ariel Electron and Carol Harris, an existential tension is captured to accompany the emotive sentiment of ‘Cry, Cry, Cry’. Lyrically touching on the very relevant topic of separation, the middle eight features the voice of Roi Robertson from MECHANICAL CABARET to compliment the silky tones of Ms Serene.
Gene Serene emerged from Berlin’s club scene and was the voice of S’EXPRESS’ 2008 single ‘Stupid Little Girls’ while Lloyd Price has collaborated with SIGUE SIGUE SPUTNIK’s Martin Degville and been a member of MASSIVE EGO; so are both very experienced hands.
With Serene coming over like a Goth Kylie over Price’s classic retro-futuristic backing in a variety of tempo and signature settings, it’s ultimately it’s what LITTLE BOOTS could have sounded like but never did.
Following up their debut EP ‘If U Ever Wonder’ from 2017, ‘To Hell & Back’ will be a 12 track long player including the 2019 single ‘I Cannot Play These Games and the previously issued title song.
It is due out in October 2020 but until then, ‘Cry, Cry, Cry’ acts as a fine singular trailer in a bundle featuring three additional remixes.
THE FRIXION are British-born Berlin based singer / lyricist Gene Serene and producer Lloyd Price, best known as a collaborative partner of SIGUE SIGUE SPUTNIK’s Martin Degville and a member of MASSIVE EGO.
Coming togther as a duo in 2016, Serene and Price’s combined sound intuitively mined both classic synthpop and Weimar Cabaret for their impressive debut EP ‘If U Ever Wonder’.
Its five songs, including a cover of PRINCE’s ‘Under The Cherry Moon’, saw Serene coming over like a Goth Kylie over Price’s Numan-eqsue backing in a variety of tempo and signature settings; ultimately it’s what LITTLE BOOTS could have sounded like had she not had major label interference.
THE FRIXION’s new single ‘Deceive A Believer’ develops on that debut EP; with a crisp electronic production, it displays an unashamed musicality with a brooding futuristic mood that will satisfy the ears of pop and Synth Britannia connoisseurs alike.
With a short UK tour coming up, Gene Serene and Lloyd Price chatted about the artistic progression of THE FRIXION.
How did THE FRIXION become a thing?
Gene: PRINCE …we were both devastated when he passed over. Both Lloyd and I were posting the songs we could find on social media , I remember looking for a studio version of ‘Anna Stesia’, I think that’s when we started chatting – we are both massive fans, that’s how we connected… sad but true
What is the creative dynamic between the two of you?
Gene: It’s very interesting… Lloyd is much more dance and programmed based whereas I started off as a live musician, in writing I am more about arrangement and songwriting… he’s all about the synths and the noises, the rhythm, the moves and feel – I am about the lyrics, melodies and chord changes… it comes together nicely.
Lloyd: Yeah, I’m very much about the sounds and rhythms. I love to listen to other stuff and try to figure out how a certain sound was achieved. Then I’ll just bury my head in the kit and get inspired. Basically I’m the nerd.
As experienced hands, what do you each bring to the party that the other doesn’t?
Gene: Lloyd definitely is far more ahead of it all than I am… I find it hard to just “do it”, I have to wait for that magic moment when I “feel” it’s the right time – he’s much more in order than I… I make him break the mould, take risks and changes that may not be comfortable. In a lot of ways, we are worlds apart, and even live in different countries but we know 1+1=3 and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts… personally I wish Lloyd would get his axe out more – but it takes a little coaxing… I think his experience in making people move and my way of making people feel brings a “thing”.
Lloyd: Gene definitely brings a musicality to it that I could never achieve and don’t feel I’ve done in the past. As I mentioned, I’ll listen to something and that drives me immediately to jump to the kit and put something together. I’m very structured in how I work. I turn stuff around really quickly; that was a trick I learnt from my time working with Martin Degville. He was always like “have you got that demo finished yet???”, he was crazy to work with but taught me some really valuable lessons about working to tight deadlines. I actually owe Martin a lot.
The darkness with the brooding melodies on songs like ‘We Walk A Line’, that appears to be the Berlin influence taking its hold?
Gene: Actually it was a visit to Devils Den and Avebury that moved me to write that. Being very interested and involved in the more esoteric and magical things moved me to write that track, it’s about the alchemical marriage, though it has a very deep Berlin feel which Lloyd may have taken from his touring in Germany… I love that track – he did some lovely work on that musically – I didn’t want him to change a thing.
Lloyd: That track was originally a pretty ploddy 120 BPM 4/4 beat. It wasn’t working, so I stripped it back and gave it the 3/4 timing. Slowed it down… it was actually a demo for another project, but once the timing and tempo had changed, I just knew Gene would sound amazing on it. If it has a “Berlin influence” then it really is just an accident. I don’t generally go in for light-hearted pop music. I find the music that moves me most are the moodier sounds.
On the other side of the coin, ‘If U Ever Wonder’ is very pop?
Lloyd: Gene sent me over some music she’d done in the past. Immediately ‘If U Ever Wonder’ just stood out. I put a rough demo of it together and presented it to Gene to see if she’d like to work on it further. Although it does have a pop feel it still has that dark under current running through. It’s a gorgeous track.
Gene: That was written a lifetime ago – it fitted really well into our live set so I wrote to Andy Chatterley and asked if he minded me including it… although it was written in my twenties, I am a firm believer in “a good song is timeless”, it really works, and I think Lloyd has brought it to date perfectly. We had some amazing remixes on that single.
What is ‘From Dusk Til Dawn’ about and how did that come together during recording?
Gene: It’s about the elements, magic and taking charge of your world. It was our first track we ever did so one of the things I want to do is mix and remaster it again for the album. I wanted to inspire people to connect to nature and feel the world they live in rather than react to and live on it.
Lloyd: The music came together from that pulsating bassline. I’d just got a new analogue synth and that sound was the first thing I got out of it.
The demo had been sitting around a while and after chatting to Gene it was the first thing I sent to test the water. That track confirmed that we had something worth pursuing further.
You’ve recorded PRINCE and HOWARD JONES covers which is diverse to say the least?
Gene: We love both those artists. PRINCE was a hero… the HOWARD JONES track is both a classic, and an honour to have him give it the thumbs up. I don’t see too many more covers – though you never know we may slip them in every now and again, we are focusing on original material for the new album.
Lloyd: PRINCE had to be done. For me he was the best thing to come out of the 80s. I read he was inspired by GARY NUMAN around the ‘1999’ album period. If you listen to that album it really shows that he had an ear to what was going on in the UK and electronic music in general. PRINCE took elements of what was going on and stuffed it with sex and groove.
‘What is Love?’ is just a brilliant song. I heard it the other day and thought to myself that Gene would sound great on it. She proved me right. And Howard has given us his blessing too which made my day!
The debut EP came with a companion remix variant, what was the thinking behind this?
Gene: Let’s just say I wanted to give my publisher a chance to “exploit my catalogue” before we parted company, it wasn’t originally intentional to put them all on one CD – it just made sense at that time…
What will be your approach to playing live in the future?
Gene: We are still a new act and have only played two live shows, we have quite a lot of shows lined up for the first part of 2018. It’s gonna be good to hone that journey, we are working on video content to go with the tracks and hopefully explain a few of the questions asked here. It’s gonna have a lot of new material – more edge, I guess you’ll have to come to really experience its energy. That’s what it will have… more energy.
Lloyd: I definitely want to take us down an edgier path. As Gene said, we’ve not done too many shows right now so I think we’re in an enviable position that no one really knows what we’re about or what we’ll come up with.
What’s next for THE FRIXION?
Gene: We have been looking at the musical and visual journey as well as our live shows in the first part of the year, the next single should be out around March if not before, the album early June… there’s a lot of enthusiasm and we would love to secure some professional support so we can keep the focus on the music.
Currently we are looking at more dates – we would love to play some festivals this year and are looking at another show in Berlin, places like Tallin, Prague, Barcelona are on the radar… we both said we would love to play America too!
But really it’s early days, the focus right now for us is finishing the album… some tracks are still in the writing and production process and the best sound is where I am at….in these immediate times I think people forget how long these things take. I love the music we make – I think it’s quite unique and I want to give it the energy it deserves – things are really looking quite exciting for us – personally I cannot wait ‘til it’s mixed and mastered, then I can take my head out and project!
Lloyd: Taking it out live is important for me now, trying tracks out live to work out what works best and what we should focus on for a great album. We’ve got a very busy schedule in 2018. We’ve got more in the pipeline too. And in all of that we’re writing and recording. It’s going to be a busy first six months in 2018.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to THE FRIXION
“The medium of reinterpretation” as HEAVEN 17 and BEF’s Martyn Ware once put it, is still very much present in the 21st Century.
There have been albums of cover versions from the likes of SIMPLE MINDS, ERASURE, MIDGE URE and CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN celebrating their influences, as well as numerous various artists collections paying tribute to particular acts.
However, a newish phenomenon of covering an entire album has appeared in more recent years, something which MARSHEAUX, BECKY BECKY and CIRCUIT 3 have attempted on works by DEPECHE MODE, THE KNIFE and YAZOO respectively.
On the other side of the coin in recognition of the cultural impact of the classic synth era, the Anti-Christ Superstar MARILYN MANSON covered SOFT CELL’s cover of ‘Tainted Love’ but added more shouting, while DAVID GRAY took their own ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ and turned it into a lengthy Dylan-esque ballad.
There has also been a trend for girl groups to cover songs from the period with GIRLS ALOUD, THE SATURDAYS and RED BLOODED WOMEN being among those introducing these numbers to a new younger audience.
So as a follow-up to the 25 Classic Synth Covers listing, here is ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s selection taken from reinterpretations recorded from 2000 to the present day, restricted to one song per artist moniker and presented in chronological order.
SCHNEIDER TM va KPTMICHIGAN The Light 3000 (2000)
Morrissey was once quoted as saying there was “nothing more repellent than the synthesizer”, but if THE SMITHS had gone electro, would they have sounded like this and Stephen Patrick thrown himself in front of that ten ton truck? Germany’s SCHNEIDER TM aka Dirk Dresselhaus reconstructed ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ to a series of minimal blips, blops and robotics to configure ‘The Light 3000’ with British producer KPTMICHIGAN.
A breathy Euro disco classic made famous by sultry Spanish vocal duo BACCARA, Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory’s take on this cheesy but enjoyable disco standard came over like The Cheeky Girls at The Nuremburg rally! Now that’s a horrifying vision! All traces of ‘Yes Sir I Can Boogie’ apart from the original lyrics were rendered missing in action as the stern Ms Goldfrapp played the role of the thigh booted dominatrix on this highly original cover.
When BLACK BOX RECORDER went on hiatus, Sarah Nixey recorded a beautifully spacey cover of JAPAN’s Ghosts with INFANTJOY whose James Banbury became her main collaborator on her 2007 debut solo album ‘Sing Memory’. Meanwhile the duo’s other member was none other than ZTT conceptualist Paul Morley. A POPULUS remix appeared on the ‘With’ revisions album while MIDI-ed up and into the groove, Nixey later also recorded THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘The Black Hit Of Space’.
Of this mighty industrialised cover, Ralf Dörper said: “When I first heard ‘The Anvil’ (‘Der Amboss’) by VISAGE, I thought: “what a perfect song for DIE KRUPPS” – it just needed more sweat, more steel. And it was not before 2005 when DIE KRUPPS were asked to play a few 25-year anniversary shows that I remembered ‘Der Amboss’… and as I was a big CLIENT fan at that time, I thought it would be a good opportunity to ask Fräulein B for assistance in the vocal department”.
Available on a self-released CD single for the band’s 25th anniversary tour, currently unavailable
Comprising of Aggie Peterson and Per Martinsen, FROST have described their music as “upbeat space-pop”. Much of their own material like ‘Klong’, ‘Alphabet’ and ‘Sleepwalker’ exuded a perfect soundtrack for those long Nordic nights. Meanwhile their ultra-cool cover of OMD’s ‘Messages’ embraced that wintery atmosphere, while providing a pulsing backbone of icy synths to accompany Peterson’s alluringly nonchalant vocal.
In this “Pink Floyd Goes To Hollywood” styled rework, Claudia Brücken revisited her ZTT roots with this powerful and danceable version of Roger Waters’ commentary on music business hypocrisy. ‘Have A Cigar’ showed a turn of feistiness and aggression not normally associated with the usually more serene timbres of Claudia Brücken and Paul Humphreys’ ONETWO project. But by welcoming pleasure into the dome, they did a fine cover version.
Budapest’s BLACK NAIL CABARET began life as an all-female duo of Emese Illes-Arvai on vocals and Sophie Tarr on keyboards, with their first online offering being a darkwave cover of RIHANNA’s ‘Umbrella’. Already very synthy in the Barbadian starlet’s own version, it showcased their brooding form of electro which subsequently impressed enough to earn support slots with COVENANT, DE/VISION and CAMOUFLAGE while producing three albums of self-penned material so far.
Liverpudlian easy listening crooner Michael Holliday was the second person to have a UK No1 written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the first being Perry Como with ‘Magic Moments’. His second UK No1 penned by Earl Shuman and Mort Garson was a romantic guilty pleasure. CHINA CRISIS pledged their Scouse Honour with this jaunty synth / drum machine driven rendition of ‘Starry Eyed’ layered with reverbed synthbass warbles and harmonious vocals from Messrs Daly and Lundon.
LITTLE BOOTS gave a dynamically poptastic rendition of Giorgio Moroder and Freddie Mercury’s only collaboration from 1984, retaining its poignant melancholic quality while adding a vibrant and danceable electronic slant. The recreation of Richie Zito’s guitar solo on synths was wondrous as was the looser swirly groove. While Blackpool-born Victoria Hesketh didn’t have the voice of Mercury, her wispy innocence added its own touching qualities to ‘Love Kills’.
Yuck, it’s Chris Martin and Co but didn’t Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe do well? Merging possibly COLDPLAY’s best song with the synth riff from their own Latino disco romp ‘Domino Dancing’, ‘Viva La Vida’ was turned into a stomping but still anthemic number which perhaps had more touches of affection than PET SHOP BOYS‘ marvellous but allegedly two fingers Hi-NRG rendition of U2’s ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’. So altogether now: “Woah-oh, ooh-ooah!”
No strangers to raiding the Bowie songbook having previously tackled ‘Fame’ in 1981, DURAN DURAN however blotted their copy book with their 1995 covers LP ‘Thank You’. They refound their stride with the return-to-form album ‘All You Need Is Now’ but just before that, this superb reinterpretation of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ reconnected them to their New Romantic roots with washes of Nick Rhodes’ swimmy Crumar string machine, held down by a danceable beatbox and John Taylor’s syncopated bass runs.
This frantically paced cover of controversial neofolk band DEATH IN JUNE was recorded for the LADYTRON ‘Best Of 00-10’ collection and purposely uncredited. The antithesis of the midtempo atmospherics of ‘Gravity The Seducer’, this cutting four-to-the-floor romp was the last of the quartet’s in-yer-face tracks in a wind down of the harder ‘Velocifero’ era. With the multi-ethnic combo subverting the meaning of ‘Little Black Angel’, it deliberately bore no resemblance to the acoustic laden original.
‘The Eternal’ from ‘Closer’, the final album by JOY DIVISION, was one of the most fragile, funereal collages of beauty ever committed to vinyl. But in 2011, the mysterious Brighton based songstress GAZELLE TWIN reworked this cult classic and made it even more haunting! Replacing the piano motif with eerily chilling synth and holding it together within an echoing sonic cathedral, she paid due respect to the song while adding her own understated operatic stylings.
On their only album ‘Lights & Offerings’, MIRRORS revealed an interesting musical diversion with this haunting take of a rootsy country number originally recorded by Karen Dalton. Written by the late Dino Valenti of psychedelic rockers QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE, ‘Something On Your Mind’ was a touching ballad with its tortured yearning suiting the quartet’s pop noir aspirations. Ally Young said: “It was very nice for us to be able to apply our aesthetic to someone else’s song.”
Indie stoners THE XX had a minimalist approach to their sound which Andy McCluskey said was “really quite impressive”. This bareness made their material quite well suited for reworking in the style of classic OMD. ‘VCR’ had Paul Humphreys taking charge of the synths while McCluskey dusted off his bass guitar and concentrated on vocals. McCluskey added: “People go ‘how did OMD influence THE XX?’… but have you listened to ‘4-Neu’? Have you listened to some of the really simple, stripped down B-sides?”
Available on the EP ‘History Of Modern (Part I)’ via Blue Noise
As I SPEAK MACHINE, Tara Busch has been known for her haunting and occasionally downright bizarre live covers of songs as diverse as ‘Cars’, ‘Our House’, ‘The Sound Of Silence’ and ‘Ticket To Ride’. For a JOHN FOXX tribute EP which also featured GAZELLE TWIN, she turned ‘My Sex’, the closing number from the debut ULTRAVOX! long player, into a cacophony of wailing soprano and dystopian synths that was more than suitable for a horror flick.
Available on the EP ‘Exponentialism’ (V/A) via Metamatic Records
French theatrical performer Valerie Renay and German producer Sebastian Lee Philipp are NOBLESSE OBLIGE. Together, they specialise in a brand of abstract Weimer cabaret tinged with a dose of electro Chanson. Their lengthy funereal deadpan cover of THE EAGLES’ ‘Hotel California’ highlighted the chilling subtext of the lyrics to its macabre conclusion! The synthesizer substitution of the original’s iconic twin guitar solo could be seen as total genius or sacrilege!
I AM SNOW ANGEL is the project of Brooklyn based producer Julie Kathryn; her debut album ‘Crocodile’ was a lush sounding affair and could easily be mistaken as a product of Scandinavia were it not for her distinctly Trans-Atlantic drawl. Already full of surprises, to close the long player, out popped a countrified drum ‘n’ bass take of BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN’s ‘I’m On Fire’! Quite what The Boss would have made of it, no-one is sure but it was quietly subversive and it certainly delivered the unexpected.
Reinterpreting any Bowie number is fraught with the possibility of negative feedback and MACHINISTA’s take on ‘Heroes’ set tongues wagging. Recorded as the duo’s calling card when experienced Swedish musicians John Lindqwister and Richard Flow first came together, electronic pulses combined with assorted synthetic textures which when amalgamated with Lindqwister’s spirited vocal, produced a respectful and yes, good version of an iconic song.
Comprising of frisky vocalist Emily Kavanaugh and moody producer Mark Brooks, NIGHT CLUB simply cut to the chase with their enjoyable electronic cover of INXS’ ‘Need You Tonight’. Here, the familiar guitar riff was amusingly transposed into a series of synth stabs before mutating into a mutant Morse code. It wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll but we liked it! Purists were horrified, but history has proved the best cover versions always do a spot of genre and instrumentation hopping.
The MARSHEAUX reworking of DEPECHE MODE’s second album ‘A Broken Frame’ shed new light on Martin Gore’s first long form adventure as songwriter and affirmed that numbers such as ‘My Secret Garden’ and ‘The Sun & The Rainfall’ were just great songs. But ‘Monument’ was an example of a cover outstripping the original and given additional political resonance with the economic situation close to home that the Greek synth maidens found themselves living in at the time of its recording.
Needing to be heard to be believed, this rather inventive and charming cover of THE CURE’s ‘Close To Me’ by Belgium’s favourite passengers METROLAND utilised a selection of male and female computer voice generators to provide the lead vocal, in a move likely to upset the majority of real music purists. Meanwhile, the hidden melodies shone much more brightly than in the goth-laden original, thanks to its wonderful and clever electronic arrangement.
One of DAILY PLANET’s main inspirations was cult UK synth trio WHITE DOOR, who released just one album ‘Windows’ in 1983. So when their chief synthesist Johan Baeckström was needing tracks to include on his ‘Like Before’ EP, the almost choir boy overtures of ‘Jerusalem’ was a natural choice for a cover version. Of course, this was not the first time Baeckström had mined the WHITE DOOR back catalogue as the more halcyon ‘School Days’ adorned the flip of his debut solo single ‘Come With Me’.
Forming in 2016, seasoned vocalist Gene Serene and producer Lloyd Price’s combined sound delightfully borrowed from both classic synthpop and Weimar Cabaret on THE FRIXION’s self-titled EP debut. From it, a tribute to The Purple One came with this touching take of his ‘Under The Cherry Moon’, highlighting PRINCE’s often hidden spiritual connection to European pop forms and recalling ‘The Rhythm Divine’, YELLO’s epic collaboration with Shirley Bassey.
Moody electronic duo KALEIDA first came to wider attention opening for RÓISÍN MURPHY in 2015. Covers have always been part of Christina Wood and Cicely Goulder’s repertoire with ‘A Forest’ and ‘Take Me To The River’ being among them. KALEIDA’s sparse rendition of NENA’s ‘99 Luftballons’ earned kudos for being very different and was included in the soundtrack of the Cold War spy drama ‘Atomic Blonde’, hauntingly highlighting the currently relevant nuclear apocalypse warning in the lyric.
The world found itself in a rather antagonistic and divisive state this year, as if none of the lessons from the 20th Century’s noted conflicts and stand-offs had been learnt.
Subtle political messages came with several releases; honorary Berliner Mark Reeder used the former divided city as symbolism to warn of the dangers of isolationism on his collaborative album ‘Mauerstadt’. Meanwhile noted Francophile Chris Payne issued the ELECTRONIC CIRCUS EP ‘Direct Lines’ with its poignant warning of nuclear apocalypse in its title song. The message was to unite and through music as one of the best platforms.
After a slow start to 2017, there was a bumper crop of new music from a number of established artists. NINE INCH NAILS and Gary Numan refound their mojo with their respective ‘Add Violence’ and ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ releases, with the latter recording his best body of work since his imperial heyday.
But the first quarter of the year was hamstrung by the anticipation for the 14th DEPECHE MODE long player ‘Spirit’, with other labels and artists aware that much of their potential audience’s hard earned disposable income was being directed towards the Basildon combo’s impending album and world tour.
Yet again, reaction levels seemed strangely muted as ‘Spirit’ was another creative disappointment, despite its angry politicised demeanour.
Rumours abounded that the band cut the album’s scheduled recording sessions by 4 weeks. This inherent “that’ll do” attitude continued on the ‘Global Spirit’ jaunt when the band insulted their loyal audience by doing nothing more than plonking an arena show into a stadium for the summer outdoor leg.
Despite protestations from some Devotees of their dissatisfaction with this open-air presentation, they were content to be short-changed again as they excitedly flocked to the second set of European arena dates with the generally expressed excuse that “it will be so much better indoors”.
By this Autumn sojourn, only three songs from ‘Spirit’ were left in the set, thus indicating that the dire record had no longevity and was something of a lemon.
Suspicions were finally confirmed at the ‘Mute: A Visual Document’ Q&A featuring Daniel Miller and Anton Corbijn, when the esteemed photographer and visual director confessed he did not like the album which he did the artwork for… see, it’s not just ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 😉
Devotees are quick to say all criticism of DEPECHE MODE is unfair, but the band can’t help but make themselves easy targets time and time again. But why should the band care? The cash is coming, the cash is coming…
The Wirral lads demonstrated what the word spirit actually meant on their opus ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’, while the former class mate of Messrs Gore and Fletcher demonstrated what a soulful, blues-influenced electronic record should sound like with ‘Other’.
As Tony Hadley departed SPANDAU BALLET and Midge Ure got all ‘Orchestrated’ in the wake of ULTRAVOX’s demise, the ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ album directed by Rusty Egan, to which they contributed, became a physical reality in 2017.
Now if DM plonked an arena show into the world’s stadiums, KRAFTWERK put a huge show into a theatre. The publicity stunt of 2012, when Tate Modern’s online ticket system broke down due to demand for their eight album live residency, did its job when the Kling Klang Quartett sold out an extensive UK tour for their 3D concert spectacular.
No less impressive, SOULWAX wowed audiences with their spectacular percussion heavy ‘From Deewee’ show and gave a big lesson to DEPECHE MODE as to how to actually use live drums correctly within an electronic context.
Mute Artists were busy with releases from ERASURE, LAIBACH and ADULT. but it was GOLDFRAPP’s ‘Silver Eye’ that stole the show from that stable. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM returned after seven years with their ‘American Dream’ and it was worth the wait, with the most consistent and electronic record that James Murphy’s ensemble has delivered in their career.
2017 was a year that saw acts who were part of the sine wave of Synth Britannia but unable to sustain or attain mainstream success like BLUE ZOO, B-MOVIE, FIAT LUX and WHITE DOOR welcomed back as heroes, with their talent belatedly recognised.
Across the Baltic Sea, Finnish producer Jori Hulkkonen released his 20th album ‘Don’t Believe In Happiness’ while nearby in Russia, a duo named VEiiLA showcased an unusual hybrid of techno, opera and synthpop and ROSEMARY LOVES A BLACKBERRY offered a ‘❤’.
One of the year’s discussion points was whether Synthwave was just synthpop dressed with sunglasses and neon signs but whatever, Stateside based Scots but Michael Oakley and FM-84 made a good impression with their retro-flavoured electronic tunes.
Canada’s PURITY RING infuriated some of their fanbase by working with KATY PERRY on three tracks for her album ‘Witness’. AESTHETIC PERFECTION’s new singles only policy was paying dividends and the Electro Mix of ‘Rhythm + Control’, which featured the promising newcomer NYXX, was one of the best tracks of 2017.
Female solo artists had strong presence in 2017 as FEVER RAY made an unexpected return, ZOLA JESUS produced her best work to date in ‘Okovi’ and Hannah Peel embarked on an ambitious synth / brass ‘Journey to Cassiopeia’. Meanwhile, SARAH P. asked ‘Who Am I’ and MARNIE found ‘Strange Words & Weird Wars’ as ANI GLASS and NINA both continued on their promising developmental path.
Respectively, Ireland and Scotland did their bit, with TINY MAGNETIC PETS and their aural mix of SAINT ETIENNE and KRAFTWERK successfully touring with OMD in support of their excellent second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’, while formed out of the ashes of ANALOG ANGEL, RAINLAND wowed audiences opening for ASSEMBLAGE 23.
Despite getting a positive response, both iEUROPEAN and SOL FLARE parted ways while on the opposite side of the coin, Belgian passengers METROLAND celebrated five years in the business with the lavish ‘12×12’ boxed set
Overall in 2017, it was artists of a more mature disposition who held their heads high and delivered, as some newer acts went out of their way to test the patience of audiences by drowning them in sleep while coming over like TRAVIS on VSTs.
With dominance of media by the three major labels, recognition was tricky with new quality traditional synthpop not generally be championed by the mainstream press. With Spotify now 20% owned by those three majors, casual listeners to the Swedish streaming platform were literally told what to like, as with commercial radio playlists.
It is without doubt that streaming and downloading has created a far less knowledgeable music audience than in previous eras, so Rusty Egan’s recent online petition to request platforms to display songwriting and production credits was timely; credit where credit is due as they say…
While ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK does not dismiss Spotify totally and sees it as another tool, it should not be considered the be all and end all, in the same way vinyl is not the saviour of the music industry and in physics terms, cannot handle the same dynamic range as CD.
Music is not as emotionally valued as it was before… that’s not being old and nostalgic, that is reality. It can still be enjoyed with or without a physical purchase, but for artists to be motivated to produce work that can connect and be treasured, that is another matter entirely.
However, many acts proved that with Bandcamp, the record company middle man can be eliminated. It is therefore up to the listener to be more astute, to make more effort and to make informed choices. And maybe that listener has to seek out reliable independent media for guidance.
However, as with the shake-up within the music industry over the last ten years, that can only be a good thing for the true synthpop enthusiast. And as it comes close to completing its 8th year on the web, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK maintains its position of not actually promoting new acts or supporting any scene, but merely to write about the music it likes and occasionally stuff it doesn’t… people can make their own mind up about whether to invest money or time in albums or gigs.
Yes, things ARE harder for the listener and the musician, but the effort is worthwhile 😉