Tag: The Weeknd

THE WEEKND Less Than Zero

After ‘Blinding Lights’ and ‘Save Your Tears’, THE WEEKND have done it again and reminded the mainstream of the emotive beauty that can come from classic synthpop with ‘Less Than Zero’.

‘Less Than Zero’ has been co-produced and co-written by Swedes Max Martin and Oscar Holter; the ubiquitous Martin is the man behind hits by Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Britney Spears but Holter was formally a member of industrial act NECRO FACILITY. Studio hands from a darker electronic background getting involved in pop is not unusual with Dave “Rave” Olgilvie from SKINNY PUPPY having helmed the final mixes of Carly Rae Jepsen.

Taken off the new album ‘Dawn FM’, ‘Less Than Zero’ itself sounds not unlike Michael Jackson produced by Tony Mansfield. The cross of catchy hooks, glorious counter-melodies and acoustic strums are reminiscent of Mansfield’s own combo NEW MUSIK who had UK hits with ‘Living By Numbers’, ‘This World Of Water’ and ‘Sanctuary’ in 1980; Tony Mansfield himself later when on to produce most of A-HA’s debut album ‘Hunting High & Low’.

The lush tones of ‘Less Than Zero’ even recall Cliff Richard’s appealing Alan Tarney produced synth period and of course, Tarney also went on to work with A-HA on a number of their biggest hits including ‘Take On Me’, ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’, ‘Cry Wolf’ and ‘Stay On These Roads’.

Over pop history, mainstream acts going through a period of synthpop or at least doing a synth-driven song or two has been a rock ‘n’ roll rite of passage. While the likes of Cliff Richard, Robert Palmer, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Leonard Cohen and even Neil Young have entered the mysterious world of electronics in the past, with the assistance of that renowned Nordic melancholy and folk tradition, Abel Tesfaye appears to be enjoying his synthpop adventures as THE WEEKND more than most.

In ‘Less Than Zero’, he has created more magnificent earworm magic that harks back to the tradition of A-HA and others who came before them. No kids, the synth was not invented by Ryan Gosling in 2011 for the film ‘Drive’ ?


‘Less Than Zero’ is from the album ‘Dawn FM’ released by XO / Republic Records

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
15th January 2022

2021 End Of Year Review

As the world steadily emerged from a painful pandemic that put many lives on hold, nostalgia appeared to be the commodity most in demand as the music industry took steps to recover.

No matter which era, anything musically from the past was more desirable that anything that reminded the public of the past 20 or so months. The first escape destination in the summer for many restricted to staying on their own shores were the established retro festivals.

Meanwhile television provided an array of documentaries ranging from chart rundowns of past decades and informative classic song analysis on Channel 5 to Dylan Jones’ look at ‘Music’s Greatest Decade’ on BBC2 and Sky Arts’ ‘Blitzed’ with all the usual suspects such as Boy George, Philip Sallon, Marilyn, Gary Kemp and Rusty Egan.

SPARKS had their own comprehensive if slightly overlong film ‘The SPARKS Brothers’ directed by Edgar Wright, but the Maels’ musical ‘Annette’ starring Adam Driver was a step too far. Meanwhile the acclaimed ‘Sisters With Transistors’ presented the largely untold story of electronic music’s female pioneers.

It was big business for 40th anniversary live celebrations from the likes of HEAVEN 17, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD and SOFT CELL, while other veterans such as NEW ORDER and ERASURE returned to the live circuit with the biggest indoor headlining shows of their career.

Meanwhile for 2022, Midge Ure announced an extensive ‘Voices & Visions’ tour to present material from the 1981-82 phase of ULTRAVOX.

Also next year and all being well, GOLDFRAPP will finally get their belated 20th Anniversary tour for their marvellous debut ‘Felt Mountain’ underway while there are rescheduled ‘Greatest Hits’ live presentations for PET SHOP BOYS and SIMPLE MINDS.

Always money for old rope, but also giving audiences who missed them at their pioneering height an opportunity to catch up, ‘best of’ collections were issued by YELLO and TELEX while JAPAN had their 1979 breakthrough album ‘Quiet Life’ given the lavish boxed set treatment. Meanwhile, while many labels were still doing their best to kill off CD, there was the puzzling wide scale return of the compact cassette, a poor quality carrier even at the zenith of its popularity.

“Reissue! Repackage! Repackage! Re-evaluate the songs! Double-pack with a photograph, extra track and a tacky badge!” a disgraced Northern English philosopher once bemoaned.

The boosted market for deluxe boxed sets and the repackaging of classic albums in coloured vinyl meant that the major corporations such as Universal, Sony and Warners hogged the pressing plants, leaving independent artists with lead times of nearly a year for delivery if they were lucky.

But there was new music in 2021. Having achieved the milestone of four decades as a recording act, DURAN DURAN worked with Giorgio Moroder on the appropriately titled ‘Future Past’ while not far behind, BLANCMANGE took a ‘Commercial Break’ and FIAT LUX explored ‘Twisted Culture’. David Cicero made his belated return to music with a mature second album that was about ‘Today’ as Steven Jones & Logan Sky focussed on the monochromatic mood of ‘European Lovers’. Continuing the European theme but towards the former Eastern Bloc, Mark Reeder gave a reminder that he was once declared ‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ and fellow Mancunians UNE became inspired by the ‘Spomenik’ monoliths commissioned by Marshal Tito in the former Yugoslavia.

For those who preferred to immerse themselves in the darker present, Gary Numan presented ‘Intruder’, a poignant concept album produced by Ade Fenton about Mother Earth creating a virus to teach mankind a lesson! Meanwhile ITALOCONNECTION, the project of Italo veterans Fred Ventura and Paolo Gozzetti teamed up with French superstar Etienne Daho to tell the story of ‘Virus X’! The video of the year came from UNIFY SEPARATE whose motivation message to ‘Embrace The Fear’ despite the uncertainty reflected the thoughts of many.

Despite the general appetite for nostalgia, there was some excellent new music released from less established artists with the album of the year coming from Jorja Chalmers and her ‘Midnight Train’ released on Italians Do It Better. The critical acclaim for the UK based Aussie’s second long playing solo offering made up for the disbandment of the label’s biggest act CHROMATICS, as it went into its most prolific release schedule in its history with albums by GLÜME, JOON, DLINA VOLNY and LOVE OBJECT as well as its own self-titled compilation of in-house Madonna covers.

As Kat Von D teamed up with Dan Haigh of GUNSHIP for her debut solo record ‘Love Made Me Do It’, acts like DANZ CM, CLASS ACTRESS, GLITBITER, PRIMO THE ALIEN, PARALLELS, KANGA, R.MISSING, I AM SNOW ANGEL, XENO & OAKLANDER, HELIX and DAWN TO DAWN showed that North America was still the creative hub as far as electronically derived pop songs went.

Attracting a lot of attention in 2021 were NATION OF LANGUAGE, who with their catchy blend of angst, melody and motorik beats welcomed synths as family in their evolving sound while also providing the song of the year in ‘This Fractured Mind’, reflecting the anxieties of these strange times. At the other end of the spectrum, DIAMOND FIELD went full pop with an optimistic multi-vocalist collection that captured the spirit of early MTV while BUNNY X looked back on their high school days with ‘Young & In Love’.

ACTORS delivered their most synthy album yet while as LEATHERS, they keyboardist Shannon Hamment went the full hog for her debut solo effort ‘Reckless’. FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY released a new album and some of that ‘Mechanical Soul’ was brought by their Rhys Fulber into his productions this year for AESTHETIC PERFECTION.

In Europe, long playing debuts came from PISTON DAMP and WE ARE REPLICA while NORTHERN LITE released their first album completely in German and FRAGRANCE. presented their second album ‘Salt Air’. There was also the welcome return of SIN COS TAN, KID KASIO, GUSGUS, MARVA VON THEO, TINY MAGNETIC PETS and MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY.

Featuring second generation members of NEW ORDER and SECTION 25, SEA FEVER released their eclectic debut ‘Folding Lines’ as fellow Mancunian LONELADY added sequencers and drum machines to her post-punk funk template. But Glasgow’s CHVRCHES disappointed with their fourth long player ‘Screen Violence’ by opting to sound like every other tired hipster band infesting the land.

The most promising artist to breakthrough in 2021 was Hattie Cooke whose application of traditional songwriting nous to self-production and arrangement techniques using comparatively basic tools such as GarageBand found a wider audience via her third album ‘Bliss Land’. In all, it was a strong year for female synth-friendly artists with impressive albums from Karin My, Laura Dre, Alina Valentina, Robin Hatch and Catherine Moan while comparative veterans like Fifi Rong, Alice Hubble, Brigitte Handley and Alison Lewis as ZANIAS maintained their cult popularity.

In 2021, sometimes words were very unnecessary and there were fine instrumental synth albums from BETAMAXX, WAVESHAPER, КЛЕТ and Richard Barbieri, with a Mercury nomination received by Hannah Peel for ‘Fir Wave’. But for those who preferred Italo Noir, popwave, post-punk techno and progressive pop, Tobias Bernstrup, Michael Oakley, Eric Random and Steven Wilson delivered the goods respectively.

With ‘The Never Ending’ being billed as the final FM ATTACK album and PERTURBATOR incorrectly paraphrased by Metal Hammer in a controversial “synthwave is dead” declaration, the community got itself in a pickle by simultaneously attacking THE WEEKND for “stealing from synthwave”, yet wanting to ride on the coat tails of Abel Tesfaye, misguidedly sensing an opportunity to snare new fans for their own music projects.

With THE WEEKND’s most recent single ‘Take My Breath’, there was the outcry over the use of a four note arpeggio allegedly sampled from MAKEUP & VANITY SET’s ‘The Last City’. But as one online observer put it, “Wow, an arpeggiated minor chord. Hate to break it to you but you might want to check out what Giorgio Moroder was doing 50 years ago. We’re ALL just rippin’ him off if that’s how you think creativity works”. Another added “If a four note minor key arpeggiated chord can go to court on the basis of copyright law, we are in for a hell of a few years my synthy friends”. It outlined once again that there are some who are still under the impression that music using synths was invented by Ryan Gosling in 2011 for ‘Drive’ soundtrack ??

There were also belated complaints that 2019’s A-HA inspired ‘Blinding Lights’ had a simple melody and needed five writers to realise it… but then, so did UTRAVOX’s ‘Slow Motion’ and DURAN DURAN’s ‘Rio’! Collaboration, whether in bands, with producers or even outsiders has always been a key aspect of the compositional process. If it is THAT simple, do it yourself! As Andy McCluskey of OMD said on ‘Synth Britannia’ in 2009 about the pioneering era when Ryan Gosling was still in nappies: “The number of people who thought that the equipment wrote the song for you: ‘well anybody can do it with the equipment you’ve got!’ “F*** OFF!!”

Over the last two years, THE WEEKND has become the biggest mainstream pop act on the planet, thanks to spectacles such as the impressive gothic theatre of the Super Bowl LV half time showcase while in a special performance on the BRITS, there was a charming presentation of the ERASURE-ish ‘Save Your Tears’ where he played air synth in a moment relatable to many. But everything is ultimately down to catchy songs, regardless of synth usage.

So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK would like to present a hypothetical case to consider… if someone uses the arpeggio function with a sparkling patch from a Juno 6 synth in a recording, does Cyndi Lauper sue for infringing the copyright of ‘All Through The Night’ or the original songwriter Jules Shear or even the Roland Corporation themselves as they created it? More than one producer has suggested that THE WEEKND’s soundbite came from a hardware preset or more than likely, a software sample pack, of which there are now many.

However, sample culture had hit another new low when Tracklib marketed a package as “A real game-changer for sample based music. Now everyone can afford to clear samples” with rapper and producer Erick Sermon declaring “Yo, this is incredible. They’re trying to put creativity back into music again. By having samples you can actually pay for and afford”.

Err creativity? How about writing your own songs and playing or even programming YOUR OWN instrumentation??!?

One sampling enthusiast even declared “I might go as far as to say you don’t really like dance music if you’ve got a problem with adding a beat to a huge (even instantly recognizable) sample”… well guess what? ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK LOATHES IT!!! ?

In 2021, music promotion became a bit strange with publicists at all levels keen more than ever to have their clients’ press releases just cut ‘n’ pasted onto online platforms, but very reluctant to allow albums to be reviewed in advance in the event of a potential negative prognosis.

While cut ‘n’ paste journalism has been a disease that has always afflicted online media, in a sad sign of the times, one long established international website moved to a “pay to get your press release featured” business model.

The emergence of reaction vloggers was another bizarre development while the “Mention your favourite artist and see if they respond to you” posts on social media only added more wood to the dumbing down bonfire already existing within audience engagement.

It was as if the wider public was no longer interested in more in-depth analysis while many artists turned their publicity into a reliance on others doing “big ups” via Twitter and Facebook. But then, if artists are being successfully crowdfunded with subscriptions via Patreon, Kickstarter, Bandcamp and the like, do they need a media intermediary any longer as they are dealing direct with their fanbases?

However, it wasn’t all bad in the media with ‘Electronically Yours With Martyn Ware’ providing insightful artist interviews and the largely entertaining ‘Beyond Synth’ podcast celebrating its 300th show. Due to their own music commitments, Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness were less prolific with their discussion show ‘The Album Years’ but it was still refreshing for commentators to be able to say that a record was sh*t when it actually was, rather than conform to the modern day adage that all music is good but not always to the listener’s taste!  And while various programmes came and went, other such as ‘Operating//Generating’, ‘KZL Live’ and ‘Absynth’ came to prominence.

Post-pandemic, interesting if uncertain times are ahead within the music industry. But as live performance returns, while the mainstream is likely to hit the crowd walking, will there be enough cost effective venues to host independent artists? Things have been tough but for some, but things might be about to get even tougher.

However, music was what got many through the last 18 months and as times are still uncertain, music in its live variant will help to get everyone through the next year and a half and beyond.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s year in music is gathered in its 2021 Playlist – Missing U at
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4rlJgJhiGkOw8q2JcunJfw


Text by Chi Ming Lai
17th December 2021

CLASS ACTRESS Sense Memory

Brooklyn’s CLASS ACTRESS was originally conceived as a synth driven alternative pop trio comprising of Elizabeth Harper, Mark Richardson and Scott Rosenthal, producing the debut ‘Journal Of Ardency’ EP and 2011’s ‘Rapproacher’ album.

After the band dissolved, the now solo Harper adopted CLASS ACTRESS as a nom de théâtre, issuing a mini-album ‘Movies’ in 2015; this six track collection had Giorgio Moroder as an executive producer and featured the ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ aping ‘High On Love’, the Jam & Lewis tribute ‘The Limit’ and the synthwave flavoured ‘More Than You’.

But since then, there has been silence. A brand new single ‘Dark Dopamine Ceremony’ broke the disquiet in late 2020 and created anticipation among CLASS ACTRESS’ fanbase. Then Elizabeth Harper surprised all by reuniting with original member Mark Richardson and releasing a new EP ‘Sense Memory’ which featured three cover versions that highlighted the diverse interests that occupy her musical headspace.

Using a gorgeously nonchalant delivery, THE SMITHS ‘Ask’ kept some of its six string but was turned into dancey synth indie reminiscent of NATION OF LANGUAGE with the “buck-toothed girl from Luxembourg” now amusingly turned into a buxom one… ooh Matron! Take them away!

Meanwhile, self-referencing a previous CLASS ACTRESS single from 2011 in a cover of THE WEEKND, Harper maintained the expletives on ‘The Hills (Bring On The Weekend)’ and came over like a soprano MARINA & THE DIAMONDS entering the sinister climes of ‘Twin Peaks’!

Then MAZZY STAR’s husky contralto ballad ‘Fade Into You’ found its countrified feel wonderfully twisted by droning synths, rigid mechanical rhythms and an icy string machine.

But since its original release in March, ‘Sense Memory’ has been expanded with the new self-penned songs ‘Airwaves’ and ‘Saint Patrick’ to add even more value. The percussive ‘Saint Patrick’ features some infectious synth hooks while Harper’s richly passionate vocal over some strident keyboard work combine like Nerina Pallot fronting BOY HARSHER for a brilliant slice of modern electronic pop. More atmospheric, ‘Airwaves’ doesn’t disappoint either and is set around a bed of cascading synths and a hypnotic rhythmic backbone in a more rigid take on the airs and graces of CHROMATICS.

The expanded ‘Sense Memory’ heralds the welcome return of CLASS ACTRESS to continue developing on the talent that was first showcased on ‘Journal Of Ardency’ and once championed by Giorgio Moroder. With so many independent women now finding solace in synthesized self-expression such as MECHA MAIKO, DANZ CM and GLITBITER, Elizabeth Harper has found the perfect time to be making music again.


‘Sense Memory’ is released by Terrible Records, available as a download direct from https://terriblerecords.bandcamp.com/album/sense-memory

https://classactress.com/

https://twitter.com/CLASSACTRESS

https://www.instagram.com/classactress/

https://open.spotify.com/album/0ftgcEBGdn2LWCvP2RHxS4


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Benjy Russell
4th July 2021

2020 End Of Year Review

“It’s such a strange day, in such a lonely way” sang NEW ORDER on ‘Truth’ in 1981.

The coronavirus crisis of 2020 put the entire live music industry into limbo as concerts were postponed and tours rescheduled.

The situation was affecting everyone with several musicians like Bernard Sumner, Andy McCluskey, John Taylor and Sarah Nixey publicly stating that they had contracted the virus. Even when all pupils returned to schools in the Autumn, there was a ban on indoor singing in English classrooms. It was an indication that out of all professional fields, the arts was going suffer the most.

To make up for the absence of live shows, online streamed events become popular. Two of the best live online gigs were by Swedish veterans LUSTANS LAKEJER from the KB in Malmö and Sinomatic techno-rockers STOLEN with Lockdown Live From Chengdu. Not strictly a lockdown show but available for all to view on SVT was a magnificent live presentation of KITE at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm recorded in late 2019 combining synthesizers, orchestra and choir, proving again why Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg are the best electronic duo in Europe.

Concluding his ‘Songs: From the Lemon Tree’ series, Bon Harris of NITZER EBB presented a wonderful set of four electonic cover versions including songs made famous by Joan Armatrading, Connie Francis and Diana Ross. Meanwhile among independent musicians, Dubliner CIRCUIT3 led the way with an innovative multi-camera effected approach to his home studio presentation and Karin My performed al fresco in a forest near Gothenburg.

Taking the initiative, ERASURE did a delightful virtual album launch party for their new album ‘The Neon’ on Facebook with Vince Clarke in New York and Andy Bell in London, talking about everything from shopping to classic synthpop tunes.

Demonstrating a possible new model for the future, Midge Ure launched his subscription based ‘Backstage Lockdown Club’ which included intimate live performances and specials guests like Glenn Gregory and Howard Jones.

Other streamed forms of entertainment came via podcasts and among the best was ‘The Album Years’ presented by Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness. Their knowledgeable and forthright views on selected years in music were both informative and amusing. It was interesting to note that at the end of the 1976 episode, the pair nominated ‘Oxygène’ by Jean-Michel Jarre as the most important album of that year while for 1979, it was ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by Gary Numan.

Many artists who had scheduled releases in 2020 went through with them, although in some cases, there were the inevitable delays to physical product. But a few notable acts couldn’t help but abuse the situation, notably a certain combo from Basildon.

There were already “quality control issues” with the lavish ‘MODE’ 18 CD boxed set, but there was uproar even among the most hardcore Devotees with the ‘Spirits In The Forest’ release. The cardboard packaging was reported to be flimsy and prone to dents, while there was continuity errors galore as Dave Gahan rather cluelessly and selfishly wore different coloured outfits over the two nights in Berlin that the live footage was filmed under the direction of Anton Corbijn.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was an Anton Corbijn official illustrated history of DEPECHE MODE entitled ‘DM AC’ in the form of a coffee table photo book published by Taschen which retailed at €750; even though it was signed by Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher, the price tag was a mightily steep. The increasingly ironic words of “The grabbing hands grab all they can…” from ‘Everything Counts’ were not lost on people, who are people, after all!

But Andy Fletcher did provide the most amusing and spot-on quote of the year; during DEPECHE MODE’s acceptance speech into that dinosaur institution The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, when Dave Gahan remarked to his bandmates that “I dunno what the hell I would have been doing if I didn’t find music to be quite honest…”, the banana eating handclapper dryly retorted “YOU’D HAVE BEEN STILL STEALING CARS DAVE!”

There were lots of great albums released in 2020 and Berlin appeared to be at the creative centre of them.

There was ‘LP II’ from LINEA ASPERA who made a welcome return after eight years in hiatus and  the playful debut by ULTRAFLEX, a collaborative offering from Berlin-based Nordic artists SPECIAL-K and FARAO which was “an ode to exercise, loaded with sex metaphors badly disguised as sports descriptions” .

The DDR born Jennifer Touch told her story with ‘Behind The Wall’ and resident New Yorker DISCOVERY ZONE was on ‘Remote Control’, while Lithuania’s top pop singer Alanas Chosnau made ‘Children of Nature’, his first album in English with Mark Reeder, who himself has lived in the former walled city since 1978; their collected experiences from both sides of the Iron Curtain made for a great record with the political statement of ‘Heavy Rainfall’ being one of the best songs of 2020.

Synth-builder and artist Finlay Shakespeare presented the superb angst ridden long player ‘Solemnities’ with its opener ‘Occupation’ tackling the social injustice of unemployment. A most frightening future was captured in musical form by New York-resident Zachery Allan Starkey who saw his home become a ‘Fear City’, while WRANGLER got themselves into ‘A Situation’.

SPARKS discussed ‘The Existential Threat’ and ‘One For The Ages’ while pleading ‘Please Don’t F*ck Up My World’ on their eclectic 25th album ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’, just as NIGHT CLUB reflected what many were thinking on ‘Die Die Lullaby’ with ‘Miss Negativity’ looking to ‘Die In The Disco’ while riding the ‘Misery Go Round’.

ASSEMBLAGE 23 chose to ‘Mourn’ with one of its highlights ‘Confession’ illustrating what DEPECHE MODE could still be capable of, if they could still be bothered.

But it was not all doom and gloom musically in 2020. With the title ‘Pop Gossip’, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP did not need to do much explaining about the ethos of their second album and drum ‘n’ synth girl GEORGIA was happily ‘Seeking Thrills’.

Veterans returned and 34 years after their debut ‘Windows’, WHITE DOOR teamed up with the comparative youngster Johan Baeckström for ‘The Great Awakening’, while CODE made a surprise return with their second album ‘Ghost Ship’ after an absence 25 years.

‘The Secret Lives’ of German duo Zeus B Held and Mani Neumeier illustrated that septuagenarians just want to have fun. Along with Gina Kikoine, Zeus B Held was also awarded with Der Holger Czukay Preis für Popmusik der Stadt Köln in recognition of their pioneering work as GINA X PERFORMANCE whose ‘No GDM’ was a staple at The Blitz Club in Rusty Egan’s DJ sets.

Incidentally, Rusty Egan announced that Zaine Griff would be joining him with Numan cohorts Chris Payne and David Brooks in a live presentation of VISAGE material, although the announced dates were postponed, pending rescheduling for 2021.

Swiss trailblazers YELLO were on ‘Point’ and continuing their occasional creative collaboration with Chinese songstress Fifi Rong, while one time YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA collaborator Hideki Matsutake returned as LOGIC SYSTEM and released a new long player ‘Technasma’, his project’s first for 18 years.

It was four decades since John Foxx’s ‘Metamatic’ and Gary Numan’s ‘Telekon’, with the man born Gary Webb publishing ‘(R)evolution’, a new autobiography to supersede 1997’s ‘Praying To The Aliens’. Meanwhile, the former Dennis Leigh teamed up with former ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon plus his regular Maths collaborators Benge and Hannah Peel for the blistering art rock statement of ‘Howl’ as well as finally issuing his book of short stories ‘The Quiet Man’.

2020 saw a lot of 40th anniversaries for a number of key albums including ‘Vienna’ by ULTRAVOX, ‘Travelogue’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE and ‘Closer’ by JOY DIVISION.

Back in 1980, it was not unusual for bands to release two albums in a calendar year as OMD did with their self-titled debut and ‘Organisation’, or JAPAN did with ‘Quiet Life’ and ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’.

It appeared to be a tradition that BLANCMANGE were adopting as Neil Arthur delivered the acclaimed ‘Mindset’ and an enjoyable outtakes collection ‘Waiting Room (Volume 1)’.

PET SHOP BOYS and CERRONE proved they still liked to dance to disco because they don’t like rock, but the year’s biggest surprise came with THE SMASHING PUMPKINS whose single ‘Cyr’ crossed the templates of classic DEPECHE MODE with DURAN DURAN.

Interestingly, Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS and Michael Rother of NEU! used sketches recorded many moons ago to inspire their 2020 solo creations, proving that if something is a good idea, it will still make sense years later. Veteran Tonmeister Gareth Jones released his debut solo album ‘ELECTROGENETIC’ having first come to prominence as the studio engineer on ‘Metamatic’ back in 1980, but Jah Wobble was as prolific as ever, issuing his ninth album in four years, as well as a run of download singles over lockdown.

ANI GLASS had her debut long player ‘Mirores’ shortlisted for Welsh Music Prize and OMD remixed her song ‘Ynys Araul’ along the way, while SARAH P. was ‘Plotting Revolutions’. NINA and a returning ANNIE vied to be the Queen Of Synthwave with their respective albums ‘Synthian’ and ‘Dark Hearts’, although Canadian synth songstress DANA JEAN PHOENIX presented her most complete and consistent body of work yet in ‘Megawave’, a joint album with POWERNERD.

RADIO WOLF & PARALLELS contributed to the soundtrack of the film ‘Proximity’ released on Lakeshore Records and from the same label, KID MOXIE made her first contribution to the movie world with the score to ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need To Have A Serious Talk’ that also featured a stark cover of ALPHAVILLE’s ‘Big In Japan’. Meanwhile gothwavers VANDAL MOON made their most electronic album yet in ‘Black Kiss’ and POLYCHROME got in on the kissing act too with their new single ‘Starts With A Kiss’.

It would be fair to say in recent times that the most interesting and best realised electronic pop has come from outside of the UK; the likes of TWICE A MAN explored the darker side of life, although TRAIN TO SPAIN used the dancefloor as their mode of expression, 808 DOT POP developed on the robopop of parent band METROLAND and ZIMBRU preferred disco art pop.

In Scandinavia, there was the welcome return of UNIFY SEPARATE (formally US) and HILTIPOP aka Magnus Johansson of ALISON who finally released some music in his own right; once he started, he didn’t stop with 9 releases and counting in 2020! APOPTYGMA BERZERK released ‘Nein Danke!’, their self-proclaimed return to “New Wave Synthpop” and out of that set-up sprang the very promising PISTON DAMP.

Within the PAGE camp, Eddie Bengtsson continued his Numan fixation on the ‘Under Mitt Skinn’ EP although his musical partner Marina Schiptjenko teamed up with LUSTANS LAKEJER bassist Julian Brandt to ride the Synth Riviera for a delightful second helping of their electro crooner concept cheekily titled ‘For Beautiful People Only’.

Over in Germany, U96 teamed up Wolfgang Flür while RENARD, the solo vehicle of Markus Reinhardt from WOLFSHEIM teamed with Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE and Sarah Blackwood of DUBSTAR. DUBSTAR themselves released a striking corona crisis statement entitled ‘Hygiene Strip’ which saw reconfigured duo reunited with producer Stephen Hague. Meanwhile another poignant song on the topic ‘Small World’ came from SNS SENSATION, the new project by Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK. In lockdown, TINY MAGNETIC PETS recorded an entire album which they called ‘Blue Wave’.

Of course, 2020 was not full of joy, even without the pandemic, as the music world sadly lost Florian Schneider, Gabi Delgado-Lopez, Chris Huggett, Andrew Weatherall, Matthew Seligman, Dave Greenfield, Rupert Hine, Tom Wolgers, Harold Budd and Ennio Morricone.

An introspective tone was reflected the music of female fronted acts such as and ZANIAS, PURITY RING, WE ARE REPLICA, KALEIDA, LASTLINGS, NEW SPELL, WITCH OF THE VALE, REIN, BLACK NAIL CABARET, GLÜME, GEISTE THE FRIXION, FEMMEPOP and SCINTII. However, countering this, the optimism of RIDER, ROXI DRIVE and NEW RO presented a much brighter, hopeful take on life and the future.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrated 10 years as a platform and affirming the site’s intuition about synth talent in anticipation of them achieving greater things, SOFTWAVE opened for OMD on the Scandinavia leg of their ‘Souvenir’ tour. The Danish duo became the sixth act which the site had written about to have become part of a tradition that has included VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND and TINY MAGNETIC PETS.

On a more cheerful note, S.P.O.C.K beamed down to Slimelight in London before lockdown for their first British live performance in 17 years. Meanwhile on the same night, LAU NAU and VILE ELECTRODES did modular sets at Cecil Sharp House, the spiritual home of English traditional music.

At that event, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK took delight in curating a DJ set comprising of John Cage’s 4’33” in variations by DEPECHE MODE, GOLDFRAPP, ERASURE, NEW ORDER and THE NORMAL from Mute’s Stumm433 boxed set. This defiant act of silence even caused a curious Jonathan Barnbrook to raise an eyebrow, this from the man who designed the artwork with the white square on David Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’ 😉

The final live event that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK attended before the March lockdown was an informative lecture at Queen Mary University in London presented by noted cultural scholar Dr Uwe Schütte, in support of his book ‘KRAFTWERK Future Music From Germany’.

Also attending was Rusty Egan who held court at the reception afterwards by having a debate with another musician about the state of UK synth music. He then loudly beckoned ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK over and mentioned how the site was only interested acts that scored “9 out of 10” before admitting that a number of acts he supported only scored “6 out of 10”, with his reasoning being that if acts aren’t supported, then there will be no synth acts existing at all. After a decade in existence, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK remains proud that it is still extremely selective.

In 2020, the notion of reviews being needed to achieve a promotional profile underwent an existential crisis among media platforms. With streaming now being the main method of music consumption, why would anyone want to read a blog for an opinion about an album when they can just hit ‘play’ and hear the thing for themselves on Spotify, Amazon, Tidal or Bandcamp?

The sound of classic synthpop does live on happily in today’s mainstream via singles by THE WEEKND, DUA LIPA and even STEPS! In that respect, the trailblazing kings and queens of Synth Britannia from four decades ago did their job rather well.

From SUGABABES mashing-up ‘Are Friends Electric?’ for ‘Freak Like Me’ in 2002 to ‘Blinding Lights’ borrowing a bit of A-HA in 2020, the sound of synth is still strong.

It is up to any potential successors to live up to that high standard of Synth Britannia, which was as much down to the quality of the songwriting, as much as it was to do with the sound of the synthesizer. It is a fact that many overlook and if aspiring musicians could pay more attention to the song, instead of making the synthesizer the excuse for the song, then classic electronic pop music may still be around for a little longer and continue to evolve.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2020

PAUL BODDY

Best Album: LOGIC SYSTEM Technasma
Best Song: NEW ORDER Be A Rebel
Best Gig / Live Stream: NICOLAS GODIN at London Rough Trade
Best Video: POLLY SCATTERGOOD Snowburden
Most Promising New Act: RUE OBERKAMPF


IAN FERGUSON

Best Album: ASSEMBLAGE 23 Mourn
Best Song: DUBSTAR I Can See You Outside
Best Gig / Live Stream: WITCH OF THE VALE online Unplugged Live for SAY Women
Best Video: STEVEN WILSON Personal Shopper
Most Promising New Act: LASTLINGS


SIMON HELM

Best Album: LINEA ASPERA LPII
Best Song: PAGE Blutest Du?
Best Gig / Live Stream: LAU NAU + VILE ELECTRODES at Cecil Sharp House
Best Video: STRIKKLAND Dance Like A God
Most Promising New Act: INDEPENDENT STATE


CHI MING LAI

Best Album: LINEA ASPERA LPII
Best Song: ALANAS CHOSNAU & MARK REEDER Heavy Rainfall
Best Gig / Live Stream: LUSTANS LAKEJER online at Malmö KB
Best Video: ULTRAFLEX Olympic Sweat
Most Promising New Act: LASTLINGS


MONIKA IZABELA TRIGWELL

Best Album: ERASURE The Neon
Best Song: DUBSTAR Hygiene Strip
Best Gig / Live Stream: IŻOL Koncert online at Ziemi Rybnickiej
Best Video: PET SHOP BOYS Monkey Business
Most Promising New Act: MENTRIX


Text by Chi Ming Lai
21st December 2020

THE WEEKND Blinding Lights

Canada does it again, using a bit of help from Sweden, with THE WEEKND’s new single ‘Blinding Lights’ owing more than a small debt to the supreme Nordic synthpop of A-HA and in particular, the classic ‘Take On Me’.

Noted for his dark wave R ‘n’ B and already a veteran of three albums, THE WEEKND is the musical vehicle of Abel Makkonen Tesfaye.

The Toronto-born soulful pop exponent has also won three Grammy Awards Grammy including two in the ‘Best Urban Contemporary Album’ category for ‘Beauty Behind the Madness’ and ‘Starboy’. Not shy about collaborating with the electronic dance world, the ‘Starboy’ title song was co-written and co-produced with DAFT PUNK, giving the French duo their first chart topping single, while later there was ‘I Feel It Coming’ which recalled Michael Jackson. There have also been three collaborations ‘I Was Never There’, ‘Hurt You’ and ‘Lost In The Fire’ with the French techno DJ GESAFFELSTEIN.

However, ‘Blinding Lights’ sees THE WEEKND working with noted Swedish pop supremo Max Martin, best known for his work with Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. The song itself premiered as part of a Mercedes-Benz commercial aired on German TV, resulting in yet another No1 for Tesfaye in a number of European territories.

Directed by Anton Tammi, the ‘Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas’ inspired video to ‘Blinding Lights’ adds a strong visual dimension that channels Tesfaye’s lyrical urgency about rekindling a broken relationship, but sees him confused by the dazzling temptations of fast cars and fast women.

Following where the story left off in the video for the previous single ‘Heartless’ and with product placement by Mercedes-Benz, Tesfaye looks positively relieved that his hallucinated misadventure has just left him bloodied and bruised.


‘Blinding Lights’’ is released as a digital single by XO

https://www.theweeknd.com

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https://twitter.com/theweeknd

https://www.instagram.com/theweeknd


Text by Chi Ming Lai
27th January 2020