Tag: Tobias Bernstrup

TOBIAS BERNSTRUP Petrichor

Following up 2018’s ‘Technophobic’ album, Tobias Bernstrup presents his long awaited sixth long player ‘Petrichor’ on the German independent label Nadanna Records.

A collection of intelligent political and historical observations set to music, the striking Swedish performance artist refines his “Italo Noir” template across eleven tracks, blurring the lines between electronic disco, synthpop, goth and post-punk.

The opening track ‘Maledicta’ provides a moody but melodic instrumental overture to set the scene.

But the superb club-friendly ‘Private Eye’ takes a look at the surveillance society in the spirit of TRANS-X with a throbbing starkness to hammer home the sinister voyeur narrative. Interestingly, an equally danceable if less frantic cousin ‘Stranger’ talks of a “stranger on the screen”, “disposable love” and a “devil in disguise”. It outlines how in the modern world, people care more about internet influencers and conspiracy theorists than family and friends, but Bernstrup himself is actually referring to online dating.

Like OMD, Tobias Bernstrup has regularly highlighted the darker aspects of technological innovation and ‘Challenger’ is thematically reminiscent ‘Enola Gay’ in presenting a tragedy in the form of a pop song with a clever dual meaning; it even uses a processed recording of Ronald Reagan’s “touch the face of God” address to the nation after the disaster for its ending. Meanwhile rather hauntingly and actually lyrically inspired by the very topic covered in ‘Enola Gay’, Bernstrup quotes J Robert Oppenheimer on ‘I Am Become’.

The start of the second half is crashingly punctuated by ‘Loderunner’, a strident instrumental statement with occasional vocoder phrasing.

The rhythmic dash of ‘Heartbeat’ is superb, chugging in triplets and orchestra stabs for a full Hi-NRG effect; a cover version of the Los Angeles rockers RED7 number from Michael Mann’s cult movie ‘Manhunter’, Bernstrup’s beautifully pulsating treatment offers a big improvement on the original. However, although ‘Staring’ does the full Italo with brassy synths stabbing away, it paradoxically captures the spectre of solitude to encapsulate the Noirish ethos of Bernstrup.

Continuing this theme, the steadfast ‘Petrichor’ title song utilises the pitched up choir samples as its tool of expression while ‘Into Oblivion’ is more swirly Eurodance while on the same lyrical gist. The Jan Hammer-inspired ‘Only One’ closes and reinforces Bernstrup’s outsider status as a purveyor of “Italo Noir”; melodic yet vocally more in common with Goth and EBM, it makes the Swede quite unique.

A worthy and enjoyable follow-up to ‘Technophobic’ using the vintage digital rhythms of the Oberheim DMX and LinnDrum as its heart alongside Korg PolySix basslines and Roland JX-8P pads, ‘Petrichor’ is as Bernstrup himself puts it, “a Film Noir in cold blue and pink light that you can dance to”.


‘Petrichor’ is released by Nadanna Records on 20th August 2021 in CD with 7 bonus tracks and 18 track digital editions, limited black or transparent magenta vinyl LP with lyric inner sleeve, A3 poster + numbered postcard available in October

The CD can be ordered from https://www.poponaut.de/tobias-bernstrup-petrichor-limited-edition-p-20549.html

http://www.bernstrup.com/

https://www.facebook.com/TOBIASBERNSTRUPOfficial/

https://twitter.com/tobiasbernstrup

https://www.instagram.com/tobiasbernstrup/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
18th August 2021

TOBIAS BERNSTRUP Interview

Gothenburg-born Tobias Bernstrup is a performance and visual artist with five officially released albums to his name, as well as numerous video installations, collaborative exhibitions, interactive works and gaming projects.

Following up 2018’s ‘Technophobic’ long player, his sixth album ‘Petrichor’ refines his Italo Noir template with intelligent political and historical observations like “a Film Noir in cold blue and pink light that you can dance to”.

With his striking stage persona, Bernstrup is an intriguing androgynous figure who speaks for the outsider, raising questions about society’s representation of identity in his gender-crossing live performances and visual presentation.

With the imminent release of ‘Petrichor’, Tobias Bernstrup spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the making of the new album, collaborations, his artistic ethos and continuing motivations.

What was the genesis of your Italo Noir sound?

I grew up listening to Punk, Metal and Postpunk but always loved Italo Disco. When I started making electronic music after years of being a drummer, I knew that I wanted to make Italo inspired music with a darker more melancholic sound. I also wanted to create a darker image to this sound when designing performance costumes and sleeve art.

How would you describe the concept of your new album ‘Petrichor’ which means “a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather”?

The initial idea for the sleeve photo was to include raindrops or rain atmosphere. During the research, I came across reading about the Petrichor phenomenon.

I had several cinematic images in my head; the end scene of ‘Bladerunner’ or an episode of ‘Miami Vice’ when Sonny Crockett walks alone on a rainy street. I love how the rain enhances scents, colors and creates reflections.

The first single ‘Private Eye’ appears to be about the surveillance society?

The inspiration to the lyrics came from a Bitcoin Scam email that circulated. The emails say they hacked into your computer and recorded you visiting adult websites. They threaten to distribute the video to your friends and family within hours, unless you pay into their Bitcoin account.

Sweden has been at the forefront of cashless payment, but how do you feel that you can’t even buy bread or fruit without someone watching you? Does that make you ‘Technophobic’?

No, but I am aware. It is a new world order, if you don’t own a smartphone or have internet connection, you will be excluded from the society. It is so obvious when you see beggars asking for money and everyone replies I don’t have cash…

How do you look back on the ‘Technophobic’ album, the title song was particularly good?

The album had a quite coherent synthpop vibe throughout but a more cold, synthetic, metallic and modern sound than previous productions. On ‘Petrichor’, I wanted a warmer sound so I decided to mainly use old-school drum sounds like the Oberheim DMX, LinnDrum and typical 80s synthesizers.

Do you have any preferences for your electronic template, do you like hardware synths and drum machines or have you entered the world of software?

I work in between analog and digital tools. When it comes to playing and recording the physical touch of a hardware synth is superior. I often use Korg PolySix for basslines and Roland JX-8P for pads. When it comes to software instruments, mixing and plugins I always go for analog circuit emulation.

The music industry has changed a lot even since ‘Technophobic’, have you reconsidered your strategies as an artist about making albums and promotion?

I had a more open process when putting together the album. It started releasing a bunch of singles during the process to see where they landed.

That helped me writing and finalizing the remaining tracks.

In your opinion, is the album as a format still relevant in music consumption?

Yes I believe so, even though many people rather listen to single tracks and playlists. Listening to an album is like reading a book. If you have the patience to do this, it can be very rewarding. There has been a revival in making shorter albums again with 8-10 tracks. This is a good thing. it fits better with the pleasant vinyl LP format. And it’s difficult to make long albums with 14-18 and keep up the quality and interest. There are some exceptions. THE CURE’s double LP ‘Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’ is still such a great album without a dull moment. It has variety without being eclectic.

Looking back, aspects of 2015’s ‘Romanticism’ album explored some different directions compared to your earlier albums and more recent singles, particularly with the ballad ‘Dorian Gray’, the Latin moods of ‘Laterna Magica’ and the classic Eurodance of ‘Revolution’?

The song writing and recording process was very different during ‘Romanticism’. I worked during a focused period of 2 months in a studio with a very open and experimental mind set. At that time, it was important for my development to try something new.

The recent compilation ‘Trannies At Night’ gathered your earlier work before 2012, how do you see your development as an artist and do you have any favourite songs or memories from that period?

In the beginning there was more simplicity, but less production. Sometimes there was a more powerful and directness to it.

As I got more production skills, I have to make more effort in order to find that simplicity which makes a great song. Limiting your toolbox and arsenal of instruments is a good way of doing this.

What was the inspiration behind your most recent single ‘Only One’?

It a typical Bernstrup track, It started with that Jan Hammer-like bassline and the lead sound melody and those marimba sounds that I just love. It reminds me of Ken Laszlo’s ‘Tonight’ – one of my all-time favourite songs. Lyrics came naturally when just playing with words and vocal melody.

You sing of a “stranger on the screen”, “disposable love” and a “devil in disguise” on ‘Stranger’, it’s strange that in this modern world, some people care more about influencers online who they’ve never met rather than those near them like family and friends?

Interesting thought. Well, the lyrics could describe someone being disconnected from reality. The initial idea was to write from the perspective of someone having an addiction to online dating in a dangerous self-destructive and abusive way.

Is ‘Challenger’ referring to the 1986 space shuttle tragedy?

Yes, I remembered that day as a teenager. During the production of the new album, I watched a couple of rocket launches. Technology and space exploration has always interested me. The Challenger disaster was a very tragic one as there had been warnings from engineers about the dangers of launching posed by the low temperatures of that January morning.

There is a more instrumental template on ‘Loderunner’ rather than using full lyrics?

The original idea for this track dates back to 2002 or 2004. I wrote an instrumental track for one of my art exhibitions that was an interactive video game piece. The musical theme itself was inspired by the musical score for the 1998 video game ‘Unreal’ composed by Alexander Brandon & Michiel van den Bos. The title refers to a C64 computer game.

You have quoted J Robert Oppenheimer on ‘I Am Become’?

Yes, the words are slightly rearranged but from a TV interview were Oppenheimer recalls the reactions after watching the Trinity nuclear bomb test. The dangers and dark sides of technological inventions is a theme that I often return to. With every new invention a new catastrophe is invented.

Which songs are your own highlights from ‘Petrichor’?

‘Only One’ has the perfect Bernstrup sound and has the perfect walking tempo when listing in headphones. ‘Petrichor’ delivers a very nice atmosphere and I love that Fairlight CMI flute sound. ‘Loderunner’ has that energetic drive and mood you can find in a great video game.

It’s interesting that as a performance artist, you haven’t produced many videos recently to accompany your own songs, is there any particular reason?

At the moment music videos are not that important to me anymore. But that can change of course.

How do you balance between your art exhibits and your music?

They often go hand in hand. During the work with exhibitions I often stick to a theme that leaks into my music writing process as ideas for song lyrics or visuals.

You have collaborated in the past with SARALUNDEN and TRANS-X while APOPTYGMA BERZERK, COVENANT and ITALOCONNECTION have done remixes, are there any more interesting partnerships happening?

I wrote lyrics and did vocals for a track on the new ITALOCONNECTION LP ‘Midnight Confessions Vol1’.

It’s a song called ‘Rainbow Warrior’ that brings up LGBT rights and environmental activism mentioning historical dates of events – the sinking of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in 1985 and the Stonewall riots in 1969.

In 2017 on ‘Utopia’, you asked “where are you now?”, so what are your hopes and fears for the future?

After the Covid outbreak, we have hopefully learned that nothing should be taken for granted, that “we are so fragile”.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Tobias Bernstrup

Special thanks to Marc Schaffer at Nadanna Records

‘Petrichor’ is released by Nadanna Records on 20th August 2021 in CD with 7 bonus tracks and 18 track digital editions, limited black or transparent magenta vinyl LP with lyric inner sleeve, A3 poster + numbered postcard available in October

The CD can be pre-ordered from https://www.poponaut.de/tobias-bernstrup-petrichor-limited-edition-p-20549.html

http://www.bernstrup.com/

https://www.facebook.com/TOBIASBERNSTRUPOfficial/

https://twitter.com/tobiasbernstrup

https://www.instagram.com/tobiasbernstrup/

https://open.spotify.com/artist/7qMxLMZgfIeZloY2EjWiPt


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
28th July 2021

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 30 SONGS OF 2020

Despite the worldwide pandemic crisis, the music industry did its best and soldiered on.

Many artists who had scheduled releases in 2020 went through with them, but other artists used the lockdown situation as creative tension and were particularly productive while stuck at home, to compensate for being unable to perform live shows.

Electronic music has always had an emotional link in particular with isolation and solitary working, so the advances in computerised recording technology meant that a number of musicians could function as before.

Worthy mentions for 2020 include AaRON, ASSEMBLAGE 23, COSAQUITOS EN GLOBO, DESIRE, DISCOVERY ZONE, FIAT LUX, JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS, GEISTE, NEW ORDER, NEW SPELL, PAGE, WITCH OF THE VALE, ZIMBRU and 808 DOT POP, while one of the most popular synthpop songs of the year was ‘Blinding Lights’ by THE WEEKND which actually slipped out almost under the radar at the back end of 2019.

A special acknowledgement also goes to ‘Future Shock’ by Marc Collin featuring Clara Luciani which came from his independently produced film ‘Le Choc Du Futur’, but only became more widely known when the fictional story of an aspiring female synth musician set in 1978 was released internationally on DVD this year.

But at the end of the day, only 30 songs could be selected as a snapshot of the calendar year. So here are ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s songs of 2020, presented as usual alphabetically by act with a restriction of one song per artist moniker.


TOBIAS BERNSTRUP Private Eye

Tobias Bernstrup is an electronic musician and performance artist from Gothenburg who combines sci-fi, performance art and gothic noir for a striking persona that has been exhibited at art galleries in Sweden. The club-friendly Italo flavoured ‘Private Eye’ looked at the surveillance society with hints of TRANS-X who Bernstrup collaborated with on a new version of his song ‘Videodrome’ in 2018. Already a veteran of several albums, a follow-up to his last long player ‘Technophobic’ is in the works.

Available on the digital single ‘Private Eye’ via Tonight Records

http://www.bernstrup.com/


BLANCMANGE Diagram

The ninth full length BLANCMANGE long player of new material since their return in 2011 with ‘Blanc Burn’, Neil Arthur’s dark ‘Mindset’ is only reflecting what many are thinking in these strange times. Thus strange pop music is just the tonic and the highlight of this collection was the marvellous KRAFTWERK meets FAITHLESS concoction of the mutant electronic disco of ‘Diagram’. In his sharp Northern lilt, our hero repeating himself like a preacher on how “I want transparency” only adds to the sinister dance.

Available on the album ‘Mindset’ is released by Blanc Check

http://www.blancmange.co.uk/


ALANAS CHOSNAU & MARK REEDER Heavy Rainfall

From ‘Children of Nature’, the excellent first album by Mark Reeder and Alanas Chosnau, ‘Heavy Rainfall’ was a song seemingly having an environmental reference but actually reflecting on the world’s increasingly disturbing political climate. Like a grooving NEW ORDER disco number with Reeder’s rhythm guitar syncopating off an exquisite range of electronic patterns while some spacey magic flies within the exquisite soundscape. Chosnau solemnly announces the storm warning, yet his message to hang on remains positive as light is seen at the end of the tunnel.

Available on the album ‘Children of Nature’ via https://markreeder.bandcamp.com/album/children-of-nature

https://alanaschosnau.com/

https://www.facebook.com/markreeder.mfs/


GARY DALY 80s Electro 2

‘Luna Landings’, the second solo offering from Gary Daly was the next best thing to a CHINA CRISIS instrumental album but then it sort of was, comprising of various demos and sketches that Daly originally recorded on his TEAC and Tascam Portastudios between 1981 to 1987. A highly enjoyable record that channelled a laid back demeanour to aid relaxation and escape, despite the age of the recordings, the air and hiss from the incumbent machinery added an endearingly earthy quality to proceedings. One of the highlights ‘80s Electro 2’ did exactly as the title suggested.

Available on the album ‘Luna Landings’ via https://www.musicglue.com/gary-daly/products/luna-landings-cd

https://www.instagram.com/garydalymusic/


DUBSTAR Hygiene Strip (2020)

Hygiene strips are now common place as reminders of social distancing, so a gesture of solidarity with fellow humans, DUBSTAR presented this poignant song at the height of the 2020 UK lockdown. Working with Stephen Hague and DUBSTAR who co-produced their hits ‘Not So Manic Now’ and ‘Stars’, the writing and recording was completed remotely. There was a forlorn presence in Sarah Blackwood’s vocal but also the subtle lifting air of PET SHOP BOYS to offer some hope in the haze of melancholy.

Available on the digital single ‘Hygiene Strip’ via Northern Writes

https://www.dubstarofficial.co/


ANI GLASS Ynys Araul (OMD Remix)

With her long-awaited debut album ‘Mirores’, ANI GLASS had the honour of being shortlisted for Welsh Music Prize. An observational electronic travelogue based around the idea of movement and progress in her hometown of Cardiff, one of the highlights was the Euro-disco of ‘Ynys Araul’. Rich in traditional melody with a lovely high vocal register while offering a pop sensibility and a wonderful triplet bassline, it was given a subtle remix by her one-time mentor Andy McCluskey who she had worked with as a Mk2 member of GENIE QUEEN.

Available on the digital single ‘Ynys Araul’ via  https://aniglass.bandcamp.com/album/ynys-araul

https://www.facebook.com/aniglasscymru/


GLÜME Come Softly To Me

From the Italians Do It Better stable, home to CHROMATICS and DESIRE, the mysterious but glamourous GLÜME offered this lovely eerie ‘Twin Peaks’ styled cover of ‘Come Softly To Me’. More chilling and metronomic than the almost acapella song written and made famous by THE FLEETWOODS in 1958, the original vocal hook was transferred to synth. Her version captured the innocence of forgotten yesterdays in the pursuit of today with its hypnotic arrangement and her lush but tragic Marilyn Monroe meets Julee Cruise delivery.

Available on the digital single ‘Come Softly To Me’ via Italians Do It Better

https://www.instagram.com/babyglume/


HILTIPOP Time

HILTIPOP might be a new name in electronic pop but the man behind it is something of a veteran. Magnus Johansson’s best known project internationally has been ALISON, but he began working on solo material and launched HILTIPOP with a triumphant early afternoon slot at Electronic Summer 2015. It would be 2018 before his first release ‘The Pattern’. Johansson’s sombre darker-tinged pop style fused is evident on ‘Time’, with a sample of SIMPLE MINDS ‘Theme For Great Cities’ thrown into a dynamic squelch fest.

Available on the digital EP ‘The Man’ via Hoyt Burton Records

https://soundcloud.com/sem-hilti-johansson


INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP The Tower

After an excellent self-titled debut album, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP brought more of their danceable synthy togetherness to home discos with ‘Pop Gossip’. With a sardonic twist and perhaps referring to the soap opera that is the status of HRH Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, the brilliantly uptempo album closer ‘The Tower’ amusingly imagines Queen Elizabeth II telling her Beefeaters to “Take them to The Tower, it’s a beautiful day, take them away!” like a future scene from series 8 of ‘The Crown’!

Available on the album ‘Pop Gossip’ via Desolate Spools

https://www.facebook.com/internationalteachersofpop/


KID MOXIE Big In Japan

Unwittingly reflecting the pandemic crisis, KID MOXIE composed the soundtrack to a film ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need to Have a Serious Talk’. The plot centred around a womanizer who finds out he is a carrier of a sexually transmitted virus, lethal only to women! She said of ‘Big In Japan’: “It didn’t feel right to necessarily use drums because I did want to take a departure from the ALPHAVILLE original. There was already a strong rhythm element with the synth bass and it takes it to a different place by having a woman sing it.”

Available on the album ‘Not to Be Unpleasant, But We Need to Have a Serious Talk’ via Lakeshore Records

http://www.facebook.com/kidmoxie


KITE Teenage Bliss

Exploring the innocence of ‘Teenage Bliss’, the most recent singular offering from KITE was co-produced by Benjamin John Power, best known as Scared Bones artist BLANCK MASS. The dynamic uptempo combination was wonderfully hymn-like, with Stenemo telling his congregation that “Teenage bliss, there ain’t no consequences in your life and you don’t know what tragedy is” before the bittersweet revelation that “In the end, no-one wins!” as “life is not like your first kiss…”

Available on the digital single ‘Teenage Bliss’ via Astronaut Recordings

https://www.facebook.com/KiteHQ


LASTLINGS Held Under

Recalling melodic 21st Century dance-friendly acts like San Francisco’s ANDAIN, LASTLINGS are a Japanese Australian sibling duo comprising of Amy and Josh Dowdle whose debut album title ‘First Contact’ was a reference to the thrill and despair of notable life milestones like first love and first heartbreak. Capturing the anxiety of growing up and the unknown of adult independence, the ethereal electronic drama of ‘Held Under’ was one of its highlights, using subtle house influences while maximising a hauntingly treated layers of female voice.

Available on the album ‘First Contact’ via Rose Avenue Records

http://www.lastlings.com/


LINEA ASPERA Event Horizon

LINEA ASPERA released their self-titled debut album in 2012. A collection of dark but danceable electronic pop, before any new listeners had an opportunity to discover and savour them, the duo had already disbanded in 2013. The duo reunited in 2019 and on the superb ‘Event Horizon’, the cutting synthesized hooks, disco drum box rhythms and supreme vocals confirmed how LINEA ASPERA have become such a highly rated and beloved duo and why their magnificent melodic melancholy had been so missed over the past few years.

Available on the album ‘LP II’ from https://lineaaspera.bandcamp.com/album/linea-aspera-lp-ii

https://www.facebook.com/lineaaspera


NIGHT CLUB Die In The Disco

In a typically NIGHT CLUB twist, the duo found their perfect co-conspirator in former SKINNY PUPPY member Dave “Rave” Ogilvie who mixed Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2011 worldwide smash hit ‘Call Me Maybe’. ‘Die In The Disco’ set the ‘Die Die Lullaby’ album off with a slice of throbbing HI-NRG disco, donning its hat to Giorgio Moroder and Bobby Orlando before asking to “take me to a place I can dance” and an unsettling ghostly pitch-shifted voice exclaims that ”This is my party and I will die if I want to…”

Available on the album ‘Die Die Lullaby’ via Gato Blanco

https://nightclubband.com/


NINA Where It Ends

Much has changed for NINA. First the German songstress made some life changes and moved back to Berlin just as the world went into lockdown. ‘Runaway’ from this year’s ‘Synthian’ album declared she “searching for a way out”. So it was only natural that any new material would be influenced by the uncertainty and sombre realities of what was happening around her. The self-explanatory ‘Where It Ends’ made something of a sombre statement with the introspective tones of DE/VISION in building towards a steadfast gothic schwing and penetrating synth solo.

Available on the digital EP ‘Control’ via Lakeshore Records

https://www.iloveninamusic.com/


PET SHOP BOYS Will-O-The-Wisp

A ghostly light seen by travellers at night that refers to ignis fatuus or “foolish fire”, the astute intelligence of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe saw Medieval folk mythology referenced for ‘Will-O-The-Wisp, a fabulous PET SHOP BOYS dance tune with catchy hooks and a dry monologue. From the third of a trilogy of long players produced by Stuart Price and recorded in Berlin’s renowned Hansa Studios, the duo’s fourteen album ‘Hotspot’ maintained the duo’s position as exemplary English songsmiths.

Available on the album ‘Hotspot’ via x2 Recordings

http://www.petshopboys.co.uk/


PISTON DAMP Something in Me

PISTON DAMP are a new electronic pop duo based in Norway comprising of Jonas Groth and Truls Sønsterud. ‘Something In Me’ is what APOPTYGMA BERZERK or AESTHETIC PERFECTION would sound like if they were in full synthpop mode. Catchy, bubbly, melodic and rhythmic with an emotively spirited vocal, when Jonas Groth hits falsetto, it provides a most gloriously optimistic lift that is reminiscent of APOP’s more immediate work, perhaps unsurprisingly given that he is part of their live line-up in support of his brother Stephan.

Available on the digital single ‘Something In Me’ via Sub Culture Records

https://www.pistondamp.com/


DANA JEAN PHOENIX & POWERNERD Fight These Robots

Recording a collaborative album with Austria’s POWERNERD, the joyous result ‘Megawave’ was Canadian synth starlet Dean Jean Phoenix’s most sonically consistent body of work yet, reflecting her powerhouse stage persona in recorded form fully for the first time. A fun and dynamic collection, the album’s highlight ‘Fight These Robots’ was a classic funky Sci-Fi number with a dose of girly cheekiness and a reflection of a childhood watching ‘Transformers’ cartoons.

Available on the album ‘Megawave’ via Outland Recordings

http://www.facebook.com/danajeanphoenix

https://www.facebook.com/powernerdmusic


POLYCHROME Starts With A Kiss

Having described themselves as “Slacker synth-wave refuseniks”, POLYCHROME and their brand of filmic dreamwave as showcased on their self-titled 2018 debut album found favour with TV producers and advertising agencies around the world, particularly ‘Final Kiss’. Continuing the kissing theme, their recorded return Starts With A Kiss’ featured an unexpected but fitting guitar solo from Bjorn Agren of RAZORLIGHT but made extra special by the dreamy voice of Vicky Harrison who said “we’d finished with a kiss, so now wanted to start with one”.

Available on the digital single ‘Starts With A Kiss’ via Outland Recordings

http://soundofpolychrome.com/


FINLAY SHAKESPEARE Occupation

For Bristol-based Finlay Shakespeare, his interest in synths came from his parents’ record collection, with music from the likes of KRAFTWERK, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JAPAN. His second album ‘Solemnities’ was a more focussed progression from his debut ‘Domestic Economy’, making the most of a crystal clear modular synth sound coupled to his claustrophobic anxious vocals. The superb ‘Occupation’ was a metronomic squelch fest about social injustice with our hero conducting a raucous avant noise experiment in song with penetrating noise percussion and icy string machines.

Available on the album ‘Solemnities’ via Editions Mego

http://finlayshakespeare.com/


EMILIE SIMON Cette Ombre

With her arty but catchy electronic pop, Emilie Simon studied at the Sorbonne and her only release primarily English release was ‘The Big Machine’ in 2009. Using Martian invaders as a metaphor to the world pandemic, she felt the need to express her feelings on the ‘Mars on Earth 2020’ EP. The best track from it was the powerful ‘Cette Ombre (This Shadow)’ on which she summised “Planet Earth is under attack. Faced with an unknown invader, humanity is experiencing an unprecedented shift. What will remain of it?”

Available on the digital EP ‘Mars On Earth 2020’ via Vegetal

http://www.emiliesimon.com/


THE SMASHING PUMKINS Cyr

Now adding a “THE” to prefix their name, SMASHING PUMPKINS surprised many with a splendid synth friendly single entitled ‘Cyr’. With hooks very reminiscent of ‘Enjoy The Silence’, Billy Corgan & Co went synthpop with much of the track being of an electronic bent, particularly the synthetic bass. Not only that but ‘Cyr’ was also quite catchy in an almost DURAN DURAN vein! It was magnificent surprise that only highlighted the hopelessness of the more recent material from DEPECHE MODE.

Available on the album ‘Cyr’ via Sumerian Records / Warner Music Group

https://smashingpumpkins.com/


SNS SENSATION Small World

If there was a song that captures the claustrophobic solitude of lockdown isolation, then it was the appropriately titled ‘Small World’ by SNS SENSATION, the new musical vehicle of Sebastian Muravchik, best known as the charismatic front man of HEARTBREAK. A song about self-isolation during the pandemic crisis, ‘Small World’ was a throbbing electronic number with icy rhythms, marrying the elegance of minimal synth with the melodic presence of Italo disco, reminiscent of VISAGE’s ‘I’m Still Searching’ and PET SHOP BOYS ‘Miserabilsm’.

Available on the download single ‘Small World’ via https://wearesns.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/wearesns/


SPARKS One For The Ages

Less than three years after ‘Hippopotamus’, SPARKS offered ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’. As idiosyncratic as ever, if there was a key track, then it was the glorious ‘One For The Ages’; with a narrative about craving artistic longevity, the lines “As I write my tome every single night, my eyes show the strain of computer light but I’m pressing on” captured the lot of the creative mind. Already very synthy, the Mael Brothers probably could have made it even synthier!

Available on the album ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’ via BMG

http://allsparks.com/


ZACHERY ALLAN STARKEY featuring BERNARD SUMNER Force

With two albums ‘DIY’ and ‘Hard Power’ already under his belt, since opening for NEW ORDER on the ‘Music Complete’ tour in 2016, Zachery Allan Starkey has been working hard on observational concept album ‘Fear City’. ‘Force’ was a powerful collaboration with Bernard Sumner featuring his signature Italo-influenced sequencing style. Starkey’s impassioned authentic vocals were a rallying call to the people with the daunting prospect of Donald Trump being re-elected on the horizon. Thankfully, the message on jointly produced track was heeded.

Available on the album ‘Fear City’ via https://zasmusic.bandcamp.com/album/fear-city-album

https://www.zacheryallanstarkey.com/


ULTRAFLEX Olympic Sweat

ULTRAFLEX are a new Norwegian Icelandic duo based in Berlin who describe themselves as “The new teen sensation” with an interest in Soviet disco, athleisure and weirdo boogie. However, Kari Jahnsen and Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir are perhaps better known by their solo monikers FARAO and SPECIAL-K respectively. ‘Olympic Sweat’ was uplifting disco lento with an organic heart, a pretty tune with an expansive sweeping resonance that was reminiscent of SIN COS TAN, PET SHOP BOYS and NEW ORDER, but with a feminine twist.

Available on the album ‘Visions Of Ultraflex’ via Street Pulse Records

https://www.facebook.com/ultraflexband


UNIFY SEPARATE Solitude & I

If there was a musical duo who visually symbolise the dystopian paranoia of the world pandemic crisis, then it is UNIFY SEPARATE, formally known as US. ‘Solitude & I’ was a natural progression of the material on ‘First Contact’ with Andrew Montgomery not letting up with his Jeff Buckley inspired vocal delivery, reflecting the isolation and uncertain future many are currently feeling as “There’s nobody out there, no-one but you and I”. Anthemic, uplifting and optimistic, it was a message to all about never giving up on your dreams.

Available on the digital single ‘Solitude & I’ via https://unifyseparate.bandcamp.com/

http://www.unifyseparate.com


VANDAL MOON Suicidal City Girl

Capturing a dystopian outlook on life with an appealing electronic sensibility, ‘Black Kiss’ was the best VANDAL MOON album yet. With a sound seeded from post-punk, goth and new wave, they are shaped as much by their use of drum machines and synthesizers as much as guitars and the inevitable deep baritone vocals. The superb electro-gothic aesthetics of ‘Suicidal City Girl’ recalled the enthralling tension of THE DANSE SOCIETY and a highlight of a record with many highlights.

Available on the album ‘Black Kiss’ via Starfield Music

https://www.vandalmoon.com/


MARVA VON THEO Forever

On ‘Forever’, Greek dark synth songstress Marva Von Theo channelled the frantic tone of ‘River In Me’, the Anders Trentemøller’s collaboration with Jenny Vee of SAVAGES, into a great atmospheric art pop statement on redemption and eternity. A track from her upcoming second album ‘Afterglow’, with determined vocals and punchy beats, ‘Forever’ demonstrated, along with its singular follow-up ‘Ruins’, a significant artistic progression since her promising but unfulfilled debut long player ‘Dream Within A Dream’.

Available on the digital single ‘Forever’ via Marva Von Theo

https://marvavontheo.com


WHITE DOOR Resurrection

Melodic synth trio WHITE DOOR released their only album ‘Windows’ in 1983 but despite BBC Radio1 airplay, were unable to gain wider traction. WHITE DOOR gained cult status and one young fan was Swedish synthesist Johan Baeckström who joined the band for their return. Acknowledging the theme of ’Get Carter’ but with a more brassy flair, ’Resurrection’ surprised with a bouncy Moroder-inspired stomp while Mac Austin managed to sound like a cross between Morten Harket and Chris De Burgh around some beautifully symphonic synth.

Available on the album ‘The Great Awakening’ via Progress Productions

https://www.facebook.com/whitedoorband/


A broader selection of music from the year is gathered in ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 2020 Vision playlist at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/75LrsXIgakcoP03WYtDsLZ


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th December 2020