TINY MAGNETIC PETS have a new album but it’s not ‘The Point Of Collapse’ which has been discussed for a number of years, tracks from which having been showcased live as well.
The Dublin trio of Paula Gilmer, Seán Quinn and Eugene Somers have surprised all with a collection of new material recorded during the 2020 lockdown under the title of ‘Blue Wave’. Following the current trend for eight track albums and recorded at locations called The Yellow Room, The Red Room and The Green Room, the self-produced work has been mixed by Charles ‘Chicky’ Reeves, best known for his live work with OMD and Claudia Brücken.
As Gary Numan did with ‘Dead Son Rising’ before the work-in-progress ‘Splinter’ and Bryan Ferry did with ‘Taxi’ before ‘Horoscope’ which mutated into ‘Mamouna’, ‘Blue Wave’ acts as an interim prelude to ‘The Point Of Collapse’ and moves away from TINY MAGNETIC PETS previous preference for EPs like their most recent body of work ‘Girl In A White Dress’; in many respects, it could be seen as two EPs released simultaneously.
It begins superbly with ‘Testcard Freaks (& Modular Geeks)’ which is all catchy mechanical beats with detuned synths and swirls, offset by Gilmer’s fabulous vocal that kisses the machine and Seán Quinn’s unexpected indie guitar.
Staccato synthbass, distorted guitar and Eugene Somers’ ominous drum mantra come together to shape ‘City Sleeps Tonight’, reflecting the solitude of confinement although Gilmer reassures everyone that “It’s alright!” before ‘Drowning In Indigo’ provides a wonderful atmospheric set piece with an understated electronic template affirming “nothing is rose tinted”.
Seán Quinn duets on ‘Broken Record’ as its solemn tone heads on an epic Eastern European journey. Meanwhile Paula Gilmer takes on synthesizers herself for ‘Rear View Mirror’ although the track is dominated by the piano of Seamus Quinn in a continuation of that Eastern European theme. A musical twist comes on ‘Automation’ which is almost industrial as TINY MAGNETIC PETS aim for the more Gothic-inclined stages of the Amphi Festival.
At over 12 minutes, ‘Blue Wave (Parts I-III)’ is a development of the cosmic prog-inspired heart of TINY MAGNETIC PETS that revealed itself on ‘Semaphore’ from the ‘Deluxe/Debris’ album.
The middle section enters a classic German electronic pop zone sweetened by the understated effected guitar textures that SIMPLE MINDS were once so good at, complementing the swathes of synths as the closing third drifts off into an esoteric cacophony of processed sound passages. Appropriately ‘Blue Wave’ ends with another duet in ‘Mid-Atlantic Drift’ that echoes Brian Eno as a nostalgic nod to Seán Quinn’s younger days within the EG family as a member of DUBH CHAPTER.
For an album recorded largely in isolation and remotely, ‘Blue Wave’ does capture a unified feel and is very immediate. It acts as a worthy follow-up to ‘Deluxe / Debris’, so until ‘The Point Of Collapse’ eventually goes public, there is something this in the meantime…
With their two most recent albums ‘Heir Of The Dog’ and ‘Mediaburn’, CULT WITH NO NAME have consolidated their position as “post-punk balladeers”.
The duo comprising the suave figure of crooner Erik Stein and the understated ivory virtuoso of Jon Boux issued their first album ‘Paper Wraps Rock’ in 2007. What CULT WITH NO NAME have never been short of is mood, but their artistic progression has included more expansive and electronic arrangements.
In the middle of writing and recoding the next CULT WITH NO NAME album, Erik Stein took time out to chat about their most recent works and also the conundrum of practical packaging for compact discs.
Both ‘Heir Of The Dog’ and ‘Media Burn’ appear to have gained wider traction than previous CULT WITH NO NAME, why do you think that might be?
I guess so. A lot of that will have had to do with the success of ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’, the soundtrack for the David Lynch documentary we recorded with TUXEDOMOON and John Foxx.
The wonderful thing about ‘BVR’ is that it has had at least four lives. Originally, the soundtrack was due to be released alongside the film, but delays to the film meant it was released a whole year beforehand in 2015. So, we had tonnes of press for the soundtrack, followed by another tonne of press for the film when it came out a year later.
The film had a really long life, touring festivals around the world for a year or two. Then, just as that started to fall away, The Criterion Collection reissued ‘Blue Velvet’ on Blu-Ray (inexplicably only Region 1) and included ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’ as the main extra at David Lynch’s own request. And then, just as the publicity from that started to fall away, HBO Italy licensed one of the tracks from it (‘Lumberton’) for their series ‘The New Pope’, starring Jude Law and John Malkovich. Spotify plays went through the roof, not that that ever amounts to anything apart from some nice graphs.
All of this has helped keep our profile quite high, which is so important given that we don’t perform live particularly often.
That’s not a conscious decision, by the way, it’s just when faced with spending a day working on music or emailing promoters, I know which I’d choose. Being relentlessly focused on recording has helped us at least be prolific, which also helps.
Would it be fair to say ‘Heir Of The Dog’ and ‘Mediaburn’ are companion albums musically?
Personally, I don’t see them that way, but if people do that’s fine of course. We actually see ‘Heir Of The Dog’ as our ‘Americana’ album. As well as having a wonderful black American singer Sirena Riley perform on it, there are a few nods stylistically. ‘Rosabelle, Believe’ is kind of disco, ‘I Don’t Fear The Reaper (Just Don’t Want To Meet Her)’ is kind of blues, ‘Of California’ is kind of gospel, and ‘All I Have is Yours (Including You)’ is kind of croonerish. All in their peculiar semi-electronic way. As an album, I think the tracks hang together better than any other album we’ve done.
‘Mediaburn’, on the other hand, is a bit more all over the place musically, but is lyrically much more thematic, not that most people pay attention to lyrics. There’s no deliberate link between the two. We tend to treat every single song completely independently from the last, sometimes to a fault. For the next album we’re trying to make more of a conscious effort to use consistent sounds.
I interviewed Paul Humphreys of OMD in his home studio once and I always remember him saying that you should start an album with a palette of sounds to draw from and restrict yourself to it. You can really hear that on OMD albums. Take ‘Junk Culture’ as an example. That album has a sound totally unique to it in terms of OMD’s discography. The problem is, I get very easily distracted. Luckily Jon Boux (the other half of CWNN) is much more consistent with his sound choices although much more freehand in how it applies it (a good thing).
You had the usual supporting cast of Kelli Ali and the guys from TUXEDOMOON on board as well?
I recently sent Kelli Ali the tracks for the next album and she loves it, so will be adding stuff to that too.
She really is like a third member of CWNN now and always so wonderful to hear her say such nice things about us.
I don’t want CWNN’s sound to get too ‘typecast’ but Kelli’s voice really does add something special and we complement each other well. We’ve also been helping with her excellent ‘Ghostdriver’ film and album, including some attempts at acting from yours truly. ‘Ghostdriver’ is genuinely a superb album.
With Steven Brown and Blaine L Reininger from TUXEDOMOON, I’m partly still indulging the musical fantasy of having some of my musical heroes play on our albums. It’s ridiculous really, I mean they’re friends now and we’ve recorded and released a very successful album together. Of course, that’s not to take away the vitally important contributions they make. Blaine’s violin on ‘By Air Or By Sea’ on ‘Mediaburn’ makes that track what it is. It’s funny, I’m so close to the TUXEDOMOON story now that I sometimes forget how amazing and influential their records still are and just how big a fan I was in my 20s.
‘Heir Of The Dog’ contains two distinct types of songs, the CWNN signature piano ballads and more obviously midtempo electronic pop?
We’re just carrying on a tradition from the very first album, although each album has probably got a little more electronic than the last. That’s partly to do with confidence in the technology, if I’m honest.
The piano ‘ballads‘ (none are actual ballads) are still crucially important. It’s all too easy to surrender and make a record of only electronic ‘pop’.
I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, but the extreme restrictions of piano + voice, or whatever you choose, can push you to be more creative. It certainly helps us stand out, in the quietest kind of way. It’s also worth noting that two piano ballads ‘You Know Me Better Than I Know Myself’ and ‘Swept Away’ are in the top five most popular CWNN tracks. A lot of people say ‘Swept Away’ is the best song we’ve ever written.
‘Rosabelle, Believe’ fell into that latter category, how did that come together?
Musically, it’s dead simple. I had the main riff on guitar, transposed that to synths and it went from there. It’s only three chords. Steven Brown’s sax is great on it too. It was an obvious track for him to perform on.
Lyrically, it’s an interesting one. I have quite a big interest in magic. Not occultism (I’ve really tried, but no), but the actual artistry of magic… slight of hand, chopping people in leotards in half, making things disappear, that sort of thing. Harry Houdini famously spent the final few years of his life trying to reveal mediums as fakes. He even offered up rewards for anyone that could demonstrate to him it was real. Then Houdini famously got punched in the stomach, which ultimately lead to his early death.
On his deathbed he made a pact with his wife Bess to carry on this work. He told her that if a medium claimed they were in contact with him in the afterlife during a séance that he would have a code word for her, which was ‘Rosabelle, Believe’ (‘Rosabelle’ being the name of a song they used to sing to each other). And there you have it.
Interestingly, Bess did eventually claim that a medium had successfully contacted Houdini, but it turned out it was an inside job to get and split the reward money. A sad end, really.
What was the idea behind ‘Yves Klein’s Blues’, wasn’t he the guy who did the exhibition ‘The Void’ which was an empty art gallery?
The music for this was a demo that Kelli had developed for her fantastic ‘Bands of Angels’ album, which we co-wrote two songs for. We loved the piece, so took the vocal and created the backing around it. It has a real COCTEAU TWINS feel to it, I think.
The title was me trying to be too clever, as usual. As ‘Heir of the Dog’ was our Americana album, I wanted a track called ‘Something, Something Blues’, like a tongue in cheek reference to Robert Johnson. As the track was just three chords, that fitted nicely with the concept too. Yves Klein did indeed create ‘The Void’ exhibition amongst many other things, but is most famous for patenting ‘International Klein Blue’, his own distinctive blue pigment. Calling the track ‘Yves Klein’s Blues’ was a pun that I just couldn’t resist.
One of the highlights of ‘Heir Of the Dog’ is ‘All I Have Is Yours (Including You)’ which has a real classic pop feel about it, but you still haven’t performed it live yet?
I know, I know. It’s a quite a long track though. For us to perform it would have to be a concert with a longer setlist time. I keep meaning to note down all the CWNN songs we have yet to perform live. There’s a whole lot of them. I’m really pleased you like it. I think it’s quite different to any other song in our catalogue.
From ‘Mediaburn’, ‘Blind Dogs For The Guides’ is a fantastic title for a song…
Thanks. The song title came first. I like it when that happens, and you can see that with bands like SPARKS. I mean, they have some of the greatest song titles in music history. I’m always aiming for that. Jon did some fantastically morose piano on this. Lyrically, it’s simply about not being able to trust what you read online.
No one knows what is real or fake anymore. To believe everything you hear is obviously ridiculous, but to dismiss everything equally dangerous and irresponsible. Is it better to be misinformed or uninformed? Answers on a postcard, please.
There’s more wordplay with ‘Fake Nudes’… despite the internet being a leveller and seemingly connecting more people, over the years it seems to have created some strange isolation bubbles don’t you think?
Absolutely. It’s really a myth that the internet brings people closer together if all it’s used for is to hide reality. People can use it to create whatever image of themselves they want to people to see. And we all do it, let’s face it. People can endlessly post things that make them appear as if they’re an outsider. Or they cannot be on social media altogether… to make themselves appear as if they’re an outsider.
‘Fake Nudes’ isn’t actually about any of that. It’s actually about the fake Melania Trump conspiracy. It’s very entertaining if you’ve not seen it. Some people believe her bodyguard doubles for her at times. I’m not a conspiracy theorist at all, but for a while I thought it might be true. I’m much less certain now though. By the way, the drum sounds on ‘Fake Nudes’ were totally inspired by ‘Scared Heart’ by OMD, which I think is an outstanding B-side.
With ‘Low On High’, you’re sort of going disco, what happened there? 😉
I’ve always thought of ‘Rosabelle, Believe’ as our disco number, but I see what you mean. In many ways these are companion pieces, both have Steven Brown on sax. It had never occurred to me before. The song really is just built around a weird chord progression I played one day on synth. It’s become one of the most popular tracks on the album, which we’d never have predicted. I guess the people want CWNN to go disco! It’s quite epic in places.
It’s another bizarre CWNN lyric, bear with me. I read an article that there was a global shortage of helium gas. It’s just something that would never occur to me as a thing to happen, and most people I imagine. It set off a million puns in my head about party balloons not inflating etc, although helium has very serious medical uses, of course.
There’s more to the story in that the same article talked about huge helium reserves being found in Tanzania. So that in turn set off thoughts about how ghastly Western mining corporations will be marching into the beautiful Tanzanian landscape and completing destroying it to extract their gas. I found an incredible clip of an indigenous Tanzanian tribe reciting the bible in their own language and thought, “that’s it! What could possibly demonstrate the Western colonisation of Africa to steal its resources better than an indigenous tribe reciting the bible?” So, that is the African voice you hear.
Oh, and a song about helium has got to be a party song, right?
Is the arty synth waltz of ‘Mona’ about the lady whose image hangs in in the Louvre?
It is, but in a peculiar way, which I will come on to. The origins of the song actually go back about 10 years. It was called ‘The World is Short Staffed’ at the time (very timely). We made an attempt at it a couple of years ago, but it didn’t really work. So, I completely rewrote the lyrics and we tried again from scratch. Got there in the end.
The lyrics are actually a bit surrealist or absurdist, depending on how you look at it. The Mona Lisa is an oil painting and, as all artists know, oil paintings never quite dry. So, the song proposes that the reason the Mona Lisa’s smile is so enigmatic is because her face is melting. When Da Vinci painted it 500 years ago, she was grinning from ear to ear and in another 500 years it will be a frown. I should add that I’m not seriously proposing this, but I liked it as a totally bonkers notion.
One thing that is peculiar about the ‘Mediaburn’ album is that there are so many songs in triple time; five of them. It’s highly unusual for most bands these days, and in particular electronic ones. I’m quietly a bit proud of that. That’s another reason OMD stand apart. They even had hits with their triple time songs.
The exotic mood of ‘All This Spite (Comes At A Price)’ masks a message that is far more sinister?
We deliberately tried to go ‘electronic Chris Isaak’ on this. I’m very pleased with how it came out and Kelli’s vocals are magnificent. There’s also a bass arpeggiator in it, which reminds me a bit of how Martin Rev from Suicide plays. Another influence.
The lyrics are about people that essentially say outrageous or ridiculous things for cash, Katie Hopkins, Milo Yiannopolous, Ann Coulter, Piers Morgan etc. They have quite literally made a career out of drawing attention to themselves in a way that earns them money. I genuinely don’t think they believe half the stuff they say, but they need to feed the beast.
One thing that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK liked was the packaging idea used for ‘Heir Of The Dog’ and ‘Mediaburn’ where the cardboard slipcase contained an alternative insert to put in a plastic jewel cases for those like us who prefer something more practical that doesn’t scratch the CD surface like those horrible vinyl replica sleeves that Mute favour and can fit in CD rack… had this been borne out of personal experience?
We always like to give people options, what can I say? I’m not a huge fan of digipacks, unless they have a nice booklet inside. The single panel digipacks you increasingly see totally sell people short, and having a package that doesn’t fit into a CD rack is highly annoying. I have well over 2000 CDs, I should know. There are some great examples, though. I’ve been massively impressed with Cherry Red’s reissue programme for THE RESIDENTS; double CD digis with a big thick booklet, loads of unseen photos, etc. Selling CDs is hard work these days, so you have to put the effort in, whatever it comes in.
I wouldn’t say that the packaging of our most recent albums is a direct attempt to right some packaging wrongs. In some ways, ours is impractical as it takes a bit of effort to actually get inside. I like packaging that you can pore over and explore. We all have memories as teenagers of buying records or CDs and looking at every detail of the cover while the album plays. I think including lyrics is important, as it’s one of the only incentives left for people to buy physical copies, sadly.
For these last few albums, we’ve been led by the brilliant Leigh from Disc-Phalanx. He really is a packaging genius. The “make your own jewel case” thing was entirely his doing. He’s recently done a whole load reissues for Björk, which speaks for itself. I was also pleased to throw some work his way as he did a bit of package design for the excellent James Nice at LTM.
You’ve been collaborating with TINY MAGNETIC PETS on their new album ‘Point Of Collapse’?
Love TINY MAGNETIC PETS! It was you of course that first introduced me to Sean Quinn. We get on great, though it’s impossible not to get on with them. There is also of course a very real mutual appreciation of the music we both make.
I think TMP really stand apart. I was really happy that they invited me to help write lyrics and melody for a song for their next album. It’s called ‘Cosmonaut’s Lullaby’, a duet with Paula.
I loved the track, so it wasn’t hard to write something and luckily they were very happy with what I did. I’m really looking forward to the album. We’ve done gigs together of course, we keep mentioning about doing a tour together. One day it might even happen. I am genuinely so, so happy to see TMP to achieve the success that they have, they truly deserve it.
You recently did a track with Jochen Oberlack for his EISBERG project called ‘Moby Dick’ which was a bit different?
Again, Jochen asked me and I really liked the track he sent. I really like his music in general, it’s kind of like a harder-edged RHEINGOLD (who I think are an underrated band anyway). Brilliantly produced. The lyrics and melody came quite quickly. He was happy, I was happy. Another great person.
Has the recent spate of collaborations including those with Rusty Egan brought new approaches into CULT WITH NO NAME?
They probably have, but not consciously as such. Rusty continues to be an amazing advocate for CWNN and we’re so grateful to him. I’ve met so many people though him that have also become friends. Rusty also introduced me to Paul Tunkin who has since become our publisher.
We’ve been asked to do a couple of remixes recently, one for Kelli Ali (‘Fear of London’, which has come out) and another for a band I Iove which should be out later in the year. That has been an interesting experience as it’s not something we’ve really done before. In both cases we went massively off track and turned them into something unrecognisable. There’s also another interesting collaboration in the works, but I can’t reveal anything just yet.
How is the new album coming along, will it be part of a trilogy with ‘Heir Of The Dog’ and ‘Mediaburn’ or conceptually something different altogether?
More of the same, but each album is better than the last, right? Not that all bands say that, of course. I would say, as mentioned earlier, that we’ve tried to stick to a few sounds that we use across several tracks, certainly drum sound wise.
Drums always take me the longest anyway, perhaps that’s why we have so many tracks with no drums at all. I’m determined to not overcrowd the tracks, so the production is a little bit more minimal (in an electronic sense). Some tracks on ‘Mediaburn’ nearly tipped me over the edge in terms of endlessly fiddling about and adding on layer upon layer. I was absolutely sick to death of some songs by the end.
With the new album, I’m trying to not overthink it too much…or over listen. It’s working, so far. The more consistent approach to production means that I think the songs are going to hang together conceptually really well. There really are some absolute corkers on this album, even if I do say so myself. There’s dark thumping electro, epic synth ballads, Arabic grooves… something for the whole family to enjoy.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Erik Stein
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrates its tenth birthday and it really has been synthly the best.
At the HEAVEN 17 aftershow party for their triumphant gig at The Magna Science Park on 6th March 2010, following chats with Glenn Gregory, Martyn Ware, Paul Humphreys and Claudia Brücken, interview opportunities opened up. It was obvious there was gap waiting to be filled for a quality web publication that featured the best in new and classic electronic pop without having to lower itself to using the dreaded “80s” label.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was it and became reality on 15th March 2010. Electronic pop music didn’t start in that Thatcher decade and certainly didn’t end there either. So there was even an editorial diktat which banned ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s writers from using the lazy”80s” term as a reference. Tellingly, several PR representatives said that one of the site’s main appeals was that it avoided the whole nostalgia bent that had been presented by both virtual and physical media.
At the time, kooky female fronted keyboard based pop like LA ROUX, LITTLE BOOTS, LADYHAWKE, LADY GAGA and MARINA & THE DIAMONDS were among those touted as being the future at the time. But it proved to be something of a red herring, as those acts evolved back into what they actually were, conventional pop acts.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK preferred the sort of innovative synthpop as outlined in BBC4’s Synth Britannia documentary.
Meanwhile, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s portfolio expanded swiftly with key personalities such as Rusty Egan, Sarah Blackwood, Richard James Burgess, Warren Cann, Chris Payne, Thomas Dolby, John Foxx, Andy McCluskey, Neil Arthur, Alan Wilder, Mark Reeder, Gary Langan, Jori Hulkkonen, Howard Jones, Mira Aroyo, Sarah Nixey and Hannah Peel among those giving interviews to the site during its first two years.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has always prided itself in asking the questions that have never usually been asked, but which fans want to know the answers to. And it was with this reputation for intelligent and well researched interviewing that in March 2011, the site was granted its biggest coup yet.
Speaking to Stephen Morris of the then-on hiatus NEW ORDER, the drummer cryptically hinted during the ensuing chat that Manchester’s finest would return by saying “I never say never really”.
And that is exactly what happened in Autumn of that year and the band have been there since, as popular as ever and still making great music with the release of ‘Music Complete’ in 2015.
Monday 21st March 2011 was an interesting day that partied like it was 1981 when it saw the release of albums by DURAN DURAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS. Also in 2011, Mute Records celebrated their influential legacy with a weekender also at London’s Roundhouse which culminated in ERASURE, YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY performing in the same set.
Despite the ‘Brilliant’ return of ULTRAVOX, 2012 paled in comparison after such a fruitful year and several acts who were featured probably would not have gained as much coverage in more competitive periods. With pressure from outsiders as to what was hot and what was not, this was the only time ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK felt it was obliged to support a domestic scene.
But realising acts like HURTS and STRANGERS were actually just jumping on an apparent synth bandwagon and possessing more style than substance, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK decided to change tact and only featured acts it felt truly passionate about, even if it meant upsetting the wider synth community. The reasoning being that just because a band uses a synthesizer doesn’t mean it is good.
During this time, MIRRORS sadly disbanded while VILLA NAH mutated into SIN COS TAN. But the year did see the launch of CHVRCHES who stood out from the crowd with their opening gambit ‘Lies’.
With their Taylor Swift gone electro template, Lauren Mayberry and Co managed to engage an audience who didn’t know or care what a Moog Voyager was, to listen to synthpop!
2013 turned out to be one of the best years for electronic pop since its Synth Britannia heyday. What ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK achieved during this year would take up a whole article in itself… there were high profile interviews with Alison Moyet, Gary Numan and Karl Bartos while OMD released the album of the decade in ‘English Electric’. PET SHOP BOYS made up for their ‘Elysium’ misstep with ‘Electric’ while there was finally a third volume in BEF’s ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’ covers series.
Although 2014 started tremendously with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK being invited to meet Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür in Cologne, the year suffered next to quality of 2013.
The interviews continued, particularly with key figures from the Synth Britannia era including Midge Ure and the often forgotten man of the period Jo Callis who was a key member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE during their imperial phase.
But the year saw grandeurs of delusion at their highest. There was the clueless Alt-Fest debacle which saw the organisers play Fantasy Festival with no cash to underwrite the infrastructure to enable it to actually happen!
Sadly today, there are still egotistic chancers organising events with zero budget and the money from ticket sales being fleeced to fund their holidays. But these artificial factors are rarely considered and so long as there are lower league artists desperate to play for nowt and a misguided enhancement in profile that is often on a platform that provides minimal exposure anyway, then the confidence tricks will continue.
2015 saw the local emergence of Rodney Cromwell and Gwenno, while the majestic Swedish duo KITE proved that they were the best synth act in Europe with the ‘VI’ EP and their impressive live show.
It was also the year when ERASURE front man Andy Bell gave his first interview to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to offer some revealing insights.
Making something of a comeback after a recorded absence of nearly eight years, Jean-Michel Jarre presented his ambitious two volume ‘Electronica’ project which saw collaborations with a varied pool of musicians including Pete Townsend, Lang Lang, John Carpenter, Vince Clarke, Hans Zimmer, Cyndi Lauper, Sebastien Tellier and Gary Numan.
VILLA NAH returned in 2016, as did YELLO with Fifi Rong as one of their guest vocalists while APOPTYGMA BERZERK went instrumental and entered the ‘Exit Popularity Contest’. Riding on the profile generated from their ‘A Broken Frame’ covers album, MARSHEAUX released their biggest-selling long player to date, a two city concept in ‘Ath.Lon’. This was also the year that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK first became acquainted with the analogue synthesizer heaven of Johan Baeckström, a modern day Vince Clarke if ever there was one.
However DEPECHE MODE unleashed their most dire record yet in ‘Spirit’, a dreary exercise in faux activism bereft of tunes. Salt was rubbed into the wound when they merely plonked an underwhelming arena show into a stadium for their summer London show.
The trend was to continue later in 2019 as DEPECHE MODE just plonked 14 albums into a boxed set, while OMD offered an album of quality unreleased material in their ‘Souvenir’ package.
And with DEPECHE MODE’s sad descent into a third rate pseudo-rock combo during the last 15 years to appease that ghastly mainstream American institution called The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame with guitars and drums, Dave Gahan in particular with his ungrateful dismissal of the pioneering synth-based material with which he made his fortune with, now has what he has always coveted.
And don’t get ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK started on the 2019 Moog Innovation Award being given to Martin Gore, a real insult to true synth pioneers if ever there was one, including Daniel Miller, Vince Clarke and Alan Wilder, the three men who actually did the electronic donkey work on those imperial phase DEPECHE MODE albums! Gore may have been a very good songwriter during that time, but a synth innovator? Oh come on!?!
With regards Synth Britannia veterans, new albums in 2017 from Richard Barbieri and Steve Jansen saw a revived interest in JAPAN, the band with which they made their name.
Despite releasing their final album ‘Tin Drum’ in 1981, as a later conversation with one-time guitarist Rob Dean proved, cumulatively from related article views, JAPAN became the most popular act on ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK.
The return of SOFT CELL dominated 2018 with a lavish boxed set that was not just comprised of previously released long players, new songs, new books, a BBC documentary and a spectacular farewell show at London’s O2 Arena.
EMIKA was ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ and Swedish songstress IONNALEE showcased one of the best value-for-money live presentations in town, with a show that surreal imagined Kate Bush at a rave!
But from China came STOLEN, one of the most exciting bands in years who were then later rewarded for their graft with a European tour opening for NEW ORDER.
2019 was the year when synthwave graduates Dana Jean Phoenix and Ollie Wride were coming into their own as live performers, while electronic disco maestro Giorgio Moroder embarked on a concert tour for the first time with his songs being the true stars of the show.
Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS gave his first interview to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to tie in with his solo album ‘Gone From Here’, while a pub lunch with Mark White and Stephen Singleton mutated into an extensive chat about their days in ABC. Lloyd Cole adopted a more synthesized template on ‘Guessworks’ and Britpop went synth as GENEVA’s Andrew Montgomery formed US with Leo Josefsson of Swedish trio LOWE.
If ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK does have a proudest achievement in its first ten years, then it is giving extensive early coverage to VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND, TINY MAGNETIC PETS and SOFTWAVE, six acts who were later invited to open on tour for OMD. Partly because of this success, some of those who were less talented felt aggrieved despite feeling an entitlement to be featured. If an act is good enough, the fact that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK hasn’t featured them should not matter, especially as other electronic and synth blogs are available. After taking its eye of the ball once before in 2012, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK maintained a trust of its own gut instinct.
Meanwhile, its stance has been tested by those shouting loudest who instantly champion what they perceive as the next big thing like sheep, without really looking ahead at a wider picture. However, TRAVIS on VSTs is just not ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s thing frankly…
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s participation in the annual ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE in Düsseldorf for on-stage interviews with Rusty Egan, Chris Payne, Mark Reeder and Zeus B Held was another high profile engagement to be proud of. Then there were six live events and five rounds of hosting ‘An Audience with Rusty Egan’ in one of the most unenviable but highly entertaining refereeing assignments in music 😉
Other highlights over the last ten years have included ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 2015 career retrospective on German trio CAMOUFLAGE being edited and used as booklet notes for the Universal Music sanctioned compilation CD ‘The Singles’.
As 2020 settles in, highly regarded artists within the electronic community continue to engage with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. Neil Arthur recently gave his seventh interview as BLANCMANGE and his tenth interview overall, taking into account his side projects FADER and NEAR FUTURE. Not far behind, Martyn Ware has also been a regular interviewee having spoken to the site on six occasions while Paul Humphreys has been interviewed no less than five times.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is still pushing the envelope, continuing to reflect the interests of people who love the Synth Britannia era and have a desire to hear new music seeded from that ilk.
Over the last 10 years, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has been a voice for the discerning enthusiast of electronic pop.
With a balancing act of featuring the classic pioneers of the past alongside the emergent new talent for the future, the site has become well known for its interviews and reviews.
It asks the questions people have always wanted to ask while celebrating the continuing development of the synthesizer in popular music.
All this while holding to account those who deliver below expectations, assuring the listener that if they are perhaps not hearing the genius that some devoted fans are declaring, then ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is there to assist in affirming or denying that assessment.
But when artists do deliver, they tend to build a strong relationship with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. So with the site celebrating its first 10 years, presented here are greetings and messages from some people who you might know…
Rusty Egan, VISAGE
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is 10 years old with the synth knowledge of a 50 year old. If I can’t remember something electronic I don’t Google, I visit ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK!
Glenn Gregory, HEAVEN 17
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and its wonderful leader Chi is like the League Of Super Heroes for Electronic Music. Our future is safe in his hands.
I have been involved in electronic music making for 40 years, yet one half hour conversation with Chi makes me realise how little I know. From then to now, he’s knows!
Neil Arthur, BLANCMANGE
Chi has been brilliantly supportive of BLANCMANGE, for which I am very grateful. We’ve always managed to have a good laugh during our interviews, as he would ask me about the darkness and gloom lying within a given BLANCMANGE song! I look forward to our next chat.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has a very important place and a role to play, in spreading the news of electronic music, new and old, far and wide. Here’s to the next ten years. Well done and good luck.
Gary Daly, CHINA CRISIS
Thanks for all your wonderful support Chi, so glad someone has taken the time to ask some great questions…
Sarah Blackwood, DUBSTAR
I love the website. It’s a treasure trove of informative articles, both a very readable historical archive and a forward looking platform for encouraging new talent. In what can be traditionally and lazily categorised as a very male dominated scene, Chi encourages great music regardless of gender and I enjoy the updated Spotify playlist if I’m ever stuck for what to listen to whilst running.
As regards interviews, it’s always enjoyable – Chi is a bit too easy to talk to and his passion for music and synth geekery shines through – heaven forbid you try sneaking a (cleared) sample past him, he will spot it!
Is it 10 years already? Happy birthday ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK!
Chris Payne, DRAMATIS
With 18,000 likes and 12,000 Facebook followers; ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK under the guidance of its purveyor Chi Ming Lai, has become the leading place for the Electronic Music fan. Intelligent, well written and well researched journalism with a great team of writers presenting an array of brilliant fascinating new acts (and some older ones as well!), hopefully it will continue for at least another 10 years.
Tracy Howe, RATIONAL YOUTH
Congratulations to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK on ten years of brilliant reporting of, and support to, the electronic pop scene. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is the authoritative publication “of record” for fans and makers of synthpop alike and is the international rallying point and HQ for our music. We look forward to many more years of in-depth interviews and probing articles, all in the beautifully written style. Happy birthday ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK!
Mark White, ABC + VICE VERSA
Chi Ming Lai and Paul Boddy are two of the most learned, nay, erudite music journalists I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, a rare experience indeed to be quizzed by a pair who know their onions. And unusual integrity. Chi promised me if we asked, he would turn off the tape recorder and it would never appear in print. And has been true to his word. This has literally never happened in my career. Also these two chaps are bloody good fun. I laughed til I cried. Go see the movie!
Rob Dean, JAPAN
10 years of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK? Only one for me (yes, I know…), but it’s heartening to know that Chi and the crew have created a site so cutting edge for us die-hard fans of electronica. Having read the highly entertaining VICE VERSA chaps interview, I was delighted to be asked to do my own, confident that the questions would be thoughtful and intelligent and yes, a little bit probing too. Here’s to the next 10 and thank you!
Richard Silverthorn, MESH
On several occasions I have done interviews for ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. Every time I felt like they actually cared about the music and scene and put some educated thought into the questions. It’s good to feel that enthusiasm.
Tom Shear, ASSEMBLAGE 23
Congratulations on 10 years of covering and supporting the scene! Here’s to another 10 and beyond…
Sophie Sarigiannidou, MARSHEAUX
I first met Chi at Sparrowhawk Hotel, Burnley in November 2000 for an OMD convention. It took me 13 hours to reach by train to Burnley from London due to bad weather. I saw him playing live (!!!!) with his covers band THE MESSERSCHMITT TWINS, they were having their time of their life, dancing and singing, so so happy! Us too of course!! From that moment on we became friends. Then he supported our band MARSHEAUX from the very early beginning and I thank him a lot for that!
It’s always great having Chi asking questions for interviews. We as a band had our best interviews with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK! We spent a lot of hours talking about the history of electronic music and the future of synthpop. My favourite articles are the “Beginners Guide To…” series, you have a lot to learn from these pages!!! Happy Anniversary Chi, we’ve indeed had 10 amazing years with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. I hope and wish the next 10 to be even better.
Erik Stein, CULT WITH NO NAME
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK elected not to review earlier CWNN albums, so we just had to keep making better and better records until they would finally relent. They finally gave in from album number 7 onwards, and it was well worth the wait. The writing was spot on and not a single DEPECHE MODE reference in sight.
Mark Reeder, MFS BERLIN
Congratulations and a very Happy 10th Birthday! Over the past 10 years, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has developed into becoming the leading website for all kinds of electronic synthpop music. It has become a familiar friend, because it is something I can personally identify with, as it is maintained by fans, for fans.
However, it is not only commendable, but can also be quite critical too, and that is a rare balancing act in the contemporary media world.
It has been a great source of regular electronic music information. I have discovered and re-discovered many wonderful electronic artists, and regularly devour the in-depth interviews and features.
Through ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, I have been introduced to and worked with some of the wonderful artists presented on your pages, such as QUEEN OF HEARTS or MARSHEAUX and in return, it has supported my work, my label and my artists too, and I thank them for that! We can all celebrate ten years of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and together, look forward to the next 10 years of inspiring electronic music.
Per Aksel Lundgreen, SUB CULTURE RECORDS
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is a highly knowledgeable and very passionate site! They are digging out rarities from the past as well as exploring and discovering new acts, giving them attention and writing about them often before anybody else around have even heard of them.
This makes ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK a very interesting page to follow, as their in-depth stories about older bands “missing in action” as well as the latest stuff “in the scene” gets perfectly mixed together, giving you all you want basically in a one-stop-site for everything electronic. I also love the way they give attention to unsigned / self-released bands and small indie-labels, giving everybody a fair chance as long as the music is good enough. Congrats on the 10th Anniversary, well deserved!
Jane Caley aka Anais Neon, VILE ELECTRODES
When VILE ELECTRODES were just starting out, we heard through the Facebook grapevine about a new electronic music blog called ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. We had a London gig coming up, and had recently made a promo video for our song ‘Deep Red’, so we dropped them an email about both, not expecting to hear back, since we were virtually unknown.
However it transpired they really liked our sound, likening us to “Client B born and raised in the Home Counties fronting Dindisc-era ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK”.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK subsequently gave this very description to Andy McCluskey, which piqued his interest such that he checked out our music. We were invited to tour Germany with OMD as a direct result!
George Geranios, UNDO RECORDS
Chi is a really rare quality of a man. He is passionate about music which is so obvious of course while reading ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. Through our mutual love for OMD, we discovered that we have the same musical taste. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK helped us promote all of Undo Records projects and finally we ended collaborating and releasing this brilliant double CD compilation! Chi, I wish you health and to continue writing the best music texts in the industry!!
Adam Cresswell, HAPPY ROBOTS RECORDS
Some people say ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK doesn’t support the scene but I’ve not found that to be the case; having been a part of two gigs and the recent CD, I know how much blood, sweat and tears they put into what they do. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK might get a few people’s back-up, but they know their stuff when it comes to synth-driven music and I’m massively grateful that they have supported so many Happy Robots artists since 2010.
Stuart McLaren, OUTLAND
It’s no secret that the burgeoning new synthwave genre shares a common history with the great synthesizer acts and pioneers of the 80s, like Dolby, Jones, Luscombe, Wilder, Daly et al who created new soundscapes with what we now define as vintage synths.
These sounds are brought back to life by pioneers in their own right like FM ATTACK, GUNSHIP, ESPEN KRAFT and BETAMAXX to name a few.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and Chi Ming Lai have always been at the forefront of championing, interviewing and reviewing the luminaries of this great instrument past to present, and are likely to remain the de facto voice of the synth scene well into the future… we agree on one thing and that is FM-84’s singer Ollie Wride is deffo one to watch as a star for the future!
Paula Gilmer, TINY MAGNETIC PETS
Happy Birthday ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. thank you for your support. You never fail to impress with your encyclopedic knowledge of synthpop. Here’s looking forward to 10 more!
Mr Normall, NUNTIUS
I’ve been following most of my favourite artists since they were brand new and often this means it’s a period of 30+ years, yet when reading articles and interviews by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, I have learned every time something new about of my favourites.
Following ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK have made me pay attention to several new acts that I would likely know nothing about if they hadn’t appeared on the page.
Catrine Christensen, SOFTWAVE
An outstanding magazine supporting new and upcoming artists whom they choose carefully as they have great taste of music regarding to their huge knowledge within the synthpop genre, when it comes to their writing and promotion – there’s no one like them. Happy birthday 😘
Elena Charbila, KID MOXIE
Happy 10th birthday ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK! Your love and commitment to the synth community is unparalleled and your support has meant a lot to me on a professional but also on a personal level. Here’s to the next 10 years! 😘
Alexander Hofman aka Android, S.P.O.C.K
I’m a fan of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK for several reasons. You showed up when I perceived the majority of the electronic scene had turned more and more harsh; as much as I can appreciate an occasional emotional outburst, I’m a happy guy and thus I’m into pop – ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK showed, and still shows me that there’s still electronic pop music being made. Good electronic pop! Which makes me glad, as I find the greater part of the generally popular darker scene to be of lower musical quality.
Moreover, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK writes in an amazingly happy tone – remember, I’m a happy guy, so it’s right up my alley. Add the fact that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK regularly publishes interesting articles, using intelligent and varied vocabulary, shows enormous knowledge and interest of the theme, the style, the scene – and I’m hooked. Thanks for being around – keep up the good work, it’s much needed! And congratulations – let’s grab a beer again! 🍻
For Midge Ure, it would be an understatement to say that ‘The 1980 Tour’ has been a success.
Focussing on the VISAGE and ULTRAVOX material that was released in what could be considered as the Year Zero in the synthesizer career of Midge Ure, he has been thrilling audiences what they have long desired… solo live renditions of some of best electronic pop of the Synth Britannia era, with the diminutive Glaswegian playing electric guitar AND synths!
After 40 years, these songs have, as Ure sang on the 1984 ULTRAVOX single ‘Love’s Great Adventure’, “stood the test of time” and unsurprisingly, ‘The 1980 Tour’ has been extended to Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and this second leg in the UK.
Accompanying Midge Ure on the first leg of the UK tour which began in October 2019 had been his old RICH KIDS band mate Rusty Egan with his support set of monologues and memories from the New Romantic era. Disillusioned in 1978 with rock and noting that electronic music from the likes of KRAFTWERK, SPACE and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA was on the ascendency, the pair had formed VISAGE.
This had been partly to make up for the shortfall in UK synth music at the time, so that Egan had some homegrown material he could play down at The Blitz Club where he had been holding Bowie-themed nights with Steve Strange, the venue’s face and gatekeeper who was to become VISAGE’s flamboyant front man.
And it was via keyboard virtuoso Billy Currie becoming involved in the VISAGE project that Ure was then invited to join ULTRAVOX and the rest was history.
Thus the early work of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX can be seen as one single creative thread for Midge Ure.
With Rusty Egan otherwise engaged in his own VISAGE 1980 x 2020 live presentation with ‘Fade To Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne and Zaine Griff set to debut at W-Festival, it was Dublin electronic trio TINY MAGNETIC PETS (who had been the opener on the German dates of the ‘1980’ tour) to begin proceedings at the Royal & Derngate.
A rather plush entertainment space in the centre of Northampton, the helpful staff were all dressed like members of the Gary Numan band circa 1979, coincidentally the time when Billy Currie was a member prior to the launch of the Midge Ure fronted ULTRAVOX.
TINY MAGNETIC PETS certainly did as their name suggested as glamourous singer Paula Gilmer magnetised the crowd who were actually quite lively for a Monday night, clapping and swaying along to songs such as ‘Shortwaves’, ‘Not Giving In’ and ‘Falling Apart In Slow Motion’ with polite enthusiasm.
One song that stood out was a rousing symphonic new number called ‘Echoes’ which will be on the new TINY MAGNETIC PETS upcoming new album ‘The Point Of Collapse’. Literally echoing ULTRAVOX, it caught people’s attention.
Ending the set with ‘Semaphore’, Eugene Somers’ synthetic beats and Sean Quinn’s ‘Europe Endless’ inspired synth passages certainly surprised and satisfied an audience who had not been expecting to hear a Germanic flavoured Irish support band on the bill.
Backing by Cole Stacey on bass + synths, Joseph O’Keefe on synths, piano + violin and Russell Field on electronic drums, Midge Ure took to the stage quite early in the evening and opened with an instrumental rendition of ‘Yellow Pearl’, the iconic ‘Top Of The Pops’ theme tune from 1981 which he composed with Phil Lynott but had been originally slated for VISAGE.
Heading straight into the ‘Visage’, its call for “New styles, new shapes, new moulds” recalled how much of a cultural impact the New Romantics had, with the daily BBC TV ‘Nationwide’ news magazine presented by Jon Snow even commenting at the time that the movement’s members predicted it likely to have a bigger impact than punk… oh how right they were!
Also from the first VISAGE album, ‘Blocks On Blocks’ recalled Cold War tensions and The Berlin Wall, before leading into the NEU! inspired romp of ‘The Dancer’.
Earlier in the evening, the audience had been treated to the beautiful resonances of ‘Flammende Herzen’, the debut solo album by NEU! guitarist Michael Rother who was a significant influence on the sound of ULTRAVOX.
Recollections of The Winter Of Discontent came with a superb rendition of a vocoder assisted ‘In The Year 2525’, the Zager & Evans cover that was demoed by Midge Ure, Rusty Egan and Steve Strange and offered to EMI as VISAGE who then turned it down… ooops!! Harking back to VISAGE, there was a rendition of ‘Glorious’, a new tune written with Rusty Egan and Chris Payne with its inherent anthemic qualities showing that Ure has lost none of his prowess.
After ‘Mind Of A Toy’, Ure joked about how 50% of concert audiences did not want to be there, having been dragged along by significant other halves and were likely to only know two songs. With ‘Fade To Grey’ probably being one of them, he launched into a full-blown synthesized performance which initiated that first chorus singalong of the night.
Performing the whole of ULTRAVOX’s breakthrough ‘Vienna’ album in order, there were welcome airings for ‘Private Lives’ and ‘Western Promise’. Meanwhile the absence of Warren Cann was neatly managed with ‘Mr X’ being vocalled on vocoder to highlight its KRAFTWERK roots.
‘Passing Strangers’ and ‘New Europeans’ saw Ure having fun playing the guitar hero although the latter’s lyric about how “his modern world revolves around the synthesizer’s song” is still relevant forty years on.
The biggest cheer was naturally reserved for the title track which has become something of a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for The Blitz Club generation; for its recording, co-producer Conny Plank had engineered its weary sound by imagining an old man at a piano in a desolate theatre who had been playing the same tune for forty years, which was eerily ironic!
While ‘Vienna’ didn’t get people dancing, the crowd finally got on their feet for ‘All Stood Still’, proving that in the world of Synth Britannia at least, nothing goes down better live than an uptempo tune about a nuclear holocaust…
For the encore, Midge Ure dusted off ‘Passionate Reply’, the excellent B-side to the ‘Vienna’ single; but as good as it was, its presence was a little lost with the crowd craving some hit singles. It may have been better positioned as an interlude before ‘Astradyne’, but everyone got what they wanted with ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’. Notably a re-configuring of ‘Sonnenrad’ by Michael Rother, ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ was yet another song about a nuclear holocaust.
Now while it might have been a depressing subject to revive, these songs emerged from the spectre of ‘Protect & Survive’, when Mutually Assured Destruction haunted the minds of the population. But with climate change now very much a reality, it was very fitting.
There came relief from all the apocalyptic anxiety with the escapist quasi-religious pomp of ‘The Voice’ and ‘Hymn’ to end the evening on a rousing optimistic high, aided by the untutored vocals of a mass audience choir!
‘The 1980 Tour’ has been all about a body of great songs that were the product of an aspirational cinematic era which came was a reaction to the grimness of the incumbent sociol-political environment. It’s perhaps no surprise or coincidence that this era of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX is resonating again not just with the public, but with the man who was a key contributor to that music.