Tag: Underworld (Page 1 of 2)

2019 End Of Year Review

2019 was a year of 40th Anniversaries, celebrating the synth becoming the sound of pop when ‘Are Friends Electric?’ reached No1 in the UK chart in 1979.

While GARY NUMAN opted for ‘(R)evolution’ and two of his former sidemen RRussell Bell and Chris Payne ventured solo for the first time, OMD offered a 7 disc ‘Souvenir’ featuring a whole album of quality unreleased material to accompany a concert tour to celebrate four decades in the business. That was contrary to DEPECHE MODE who merely plonked 14 albums into a boxed set in a move where the ‘Everything Counts’ lyric “the grabbing hands grab all they can” became more and more ironic… MIDGE URE partied like it was 1980 with the music of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX, while SIMPLE MINDS announced an arena tour for 2020 so that their audience could show Jim Kerr their hands again.

HEAVEN 17 announced some special showcases of the early material of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and got a particularly warm reception opening on tour for SQUEEZE as a trailer ahead of their own ‘Greatest Hits’ jaunt next year.

Celebrating 20 years in music, there was the welcome return of LADYTRON with a self-titled comeback album, while Swedish evergreens LUSTANS LAKEJER performed the ‘Åkersberga’ album for its 20th Anniversary and similarly GOLDFRAPP announced a series of shows in honour of their magnificent cinematic debut ‘Felt Mountain’.

Cult favourites FIAT LUX made their intimate live comeback in a church in Bradford and released their debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ 37 years after their first single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’.

As a result, their fans were also treated to ‘Ark Of Embers’, the long player that Polydor Records shelved in 1985 when the band were on the cusp of a breakthrough but ended with a commercial breakdown.

Modern prog exponents Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson got back together as NO-MAN for their dual suite electronic concept record ‘Love You To Bits’, but an even more ambitious undertaking came from UNDERWORLD with their boxed set ‘Drift Series 1’.

Also making live returns were one-time PET SHOP BOYS protégé CICERO with a charity gig in his hometown of Livingston, WHITE DOOR with JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM at Synth Wave Live 3, ARTHUR & MARTHA and Mute Records veterans KOMPUTER.

After a short hiatus, the mighty KITE sold-out three gigs at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan and ended the year performing at an opera house, while GIORGIO MORODER embarked on his first ever concert tour where his songs were the stars.

Although their long-awaited-as-yet-untitled third album was still to materialise, VILE ELECTRODES went back on the road in Europe with APOPTYGMA BERZERK and THE INVINCIBLE SPIRIT. Meanwhile, Chinese techno-rock sextet STOLEN opened for NEW ORDER on their Autumn European tour and EMIKA performed in a series of Planetariums.

Despite the fall of The Berlin Wall 30 years ago, there were more evident swipes to the right than there had been for a long time, with the concept of Brexit Electro becoming a rather unpleasant reality. So in these more sinister times, the need for classic uplifting electronic pop was higher than ever.

To that end, three superb debut albums fitted the bill. While KNIGHT$ offered quality Britalo on ‘Dollars & Cents’, the suave presence of OLLIE WRIDE took a more MTV friendly direction with ‘Thanks In Advance’.

But for those wanting something more home produced, the eccentric Northern electronic pop of the brilliantly named INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP continued the artistic lineage of THE HUMAN LEAGUE.

QUIETER THAN SPIDERS finally released their wonderful debut album ‘Signs Of Life’ which was naturally more understated and Denmark had some worthy synthpop representation with SOFTWAVE producing an enjoyably catchy debut long player in ‘Game On’.

On the shadier side of electronic pop, BOY HARSHER achieved a wider breakthrough with their impressive ‘Careful’ long player but as a result, the duo acquired a contemporary hipster element to their fanbase who seemed to lack manners and self-awareness as they romped around gigs without a care for anyone around them. But with tongues-in-cheeks, SPRAY continued to amuse with their witty prankelectro on ‘Failure Is Inevitable’.

Photo by Johnny Jewel

Italians Do It Better kept things in house as CHROMATICS unexpectedly unleashed their first album for six years in ‘Closer To Grey’ and embarked on a world tour. Main support was DESIRE and accompanied on keyboards by HEAVEN singer Aja, the pair took things literally during their cover version of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ with a girl-on-girl kiss in front of head honcho Johnny Jewel.

Other ITIB acts on the tour dependent on territory included DOUBLE MIXTE, IN MIRRORS and KRAKÓW LOVES ADANA. But the best work to appear from the stable came from JORJA CHALMERS who became ‘Human Again’.

There were a variety of inventive eclectic works from FAKE TEAK, MAPS, FINLAY SHAKESPEARE, ULTRAMARINE, TYCHO, THE GOLDEN FILTER, FRAGRANCE. and FADER. Meanwhile VON KONOW, SOMEONE WHO ISN’T ME and JAKUZI all explored themes of equality while BOYTRONIC preferred ‘The Robot Treatment’.

But expressing themselves on the smoother side of proceedings were CULT WITH NO NAME and notably SHOOK who looked east towards the legend of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA.

Dark minimalism reigned in the work of FRAGILE SELF and WE ARE REPLICA while no less dark but not so aggressive, WITCH OF THE VALE cemented their position with a well-received opening slot at Infest.

Touring in Europe with OMD and MIDGE URE, TINY MAGNETIC PETS unleashed two EPs ‘The Politburo Disko’ and ‘Girl In A White Dress’ as fellow Dubliner CIRCUIT3 got political and discussed ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’.

2019 was a year of electronic instrumental offerings galore from NEULAND, RICARDO AUTOBAHN, EKKOES, M83, RELIEF, FEMMEPOP and OBLONG, although ERIC RANDOM’s dystopian offering ‘Wire Me Up’ added vocoder while BRIAN ENO celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing ‘For All Mankind’.

The King of Glum Rock LLOYD COLE surprised all with an electronic pop album called ‘Guesswork’ just as PET SHOP BOYS set an ‘Agenda’. HOWARD JONES released his most synthy work for years in ‘Transform’ and while CHINA CRISIS acted as his well-received support on the UK leg of his 35th Anniversary tour, their front man GARY DALY ventured solo with ‘Gone From Here’.

Among the year’s best new talents were IMI, KARIN MYGRETAGEISTE and ALICE HUBBLE with their beautifully crafted avant pop.

And with the media traction of artists such as GEORGIA, REIN, JENNIFER TOUCH, SUI ZHEN, THE HEARING, IONNALEE, PLASMIC, ZAMILSKA, IOANNA GIKA, SPELLLING, KANGA, FIFI RONG and I AM SNOW ANGEL, the profile of women in electronic music was stronger than ever in 2019.

Sweden continued to produce quality electronic pop with enjoyable releases from the likes of MACHINISTA, PAGE, COVENANT, OBSESSION OF TIME and LIZETTE LIZETTE. One of the most interesting acts to emerge from the region was US featuring the now Stockholm-domiciled Andrew Montgomery from GENEVA and Leo Josefsson of LOWE, with the catalyst of this unlikely union coming from a shared love of the late country legend Glen Campbell. Meanwhile, veteran trio DAYBEHAVIOR made the best album of their career ‘Based On A True Story’.

However, Canada again gave the Swedes a good run for their money as ELECTRIC YOUTH and FM ATTACK released new material while with more of a post-punk slant, ACTORS impressed audiences who preferred a post-post-punk edge alongside their synths.

DANA JEAN PHOENIX though showed herself to be one of the best solo synth performers on the live circuit, but artistically the best of the lot was MECHA MAIKO who had two major releases ‘Okiya’ and ‘Let’s!’.

Despite making some good music in 2019 with their ‘Destroyer’ two-parter, the “too cool for school” demeanour of TR/ST might have impressed hipsters, but left a lot to be desired. A diva-ish attitude of entitlement was also noticed by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to be disappointingly prevalent in several fledgling acts.

Synthwave increased its profile further with the film ‘The Rise Of The Synths’ narrated by none other than John Carpenter. MICHAEL OAKLEY released his debut album ‘Introspect’, BETAMAXX was ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’, COM TRUISE came up with a ‘Persuasion System’ and NEW ARCADES were ‘Returning Home’.

Scene veteran FUTURECOP! collaborated with PARALLELS, COMPUTER MAGIC and NINA prior to a hiatus for the foreseeable future, while there were promising new talents emerging in the shape of POLYCHROME, PRIZM, BUNNY X and RIDER.

However, several of the sub-genre’s artists needed to rethink their live presentations which notably underwhelmed with their static motions and lack of engagement.

While promoters such as Outland developed on their solid foundations, others attempted to get too big too soon like the musical equivalent of a penis extension, leaving fans disappointed and artists unpaid. Attempting to turnover more than 10 acts during in a day with a quarter of an hour changeover has always been an odious task at best, but to try 15?!? One hopes the headliners were well paid despite having to go on at midnight when most of their supporters went home so as not to miss the last train…

Now at times, it was as if a major collective midlife crisis had hit independent electronic music in the UK during 2019. It was not unlike how “born again bikers” have become a major road safety risk, thanks to 40somethings who only managed Cycling Proficiency in Junior School suddenly jumping onto 500cc Honda CMX500 Rebel motorcycles, thinking they were Valentino Rossi.

Something similar was occurring in music as a variety of posturing delusional synth owners indulged in a remix frenzy and visions of grandeur, forgetting that ability and talent were paramount. This attitude led to a number of poorly attended events where attendees were able to be counted on one hand, thanks to clueless fans of said combos unwisely panning their video footage around the venue.

Playing at 3:15pm in an empty venue is NOT performing at a ‘major’ electronic festival… “I’ll be more selective with the gigs I agree to in the UK” one of these acts haplessly bemoaned, “I’ve played to too many empty rooms!” – well, could that have been because they are not very good?

Bands who had blown their chance by not showing willingness to open for name acts during holiday periods, while making unwise comments on their national TV debut about their lack of interest in registering for PRS, said they were going to split a year in advance, but not before releasing an EP and playing a farewell show in an attempt to finally get validation for their art. Was this a shining example of Schrodinger’s Band?

Of course, the worst culprits were those who had an internet radio show or put on gigs themselves so that they could actually perform, because otherwise external promotors were only interested in them opening at 6.15pm after a ticket deal buy on for a five band bill. Humility wouldn’t have gone amiss in all these cases.

It’s a funny old world, but as ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK comes up to concluding its tenth year as an influential platform that has written extensively about not one or two or three or four BUT five acts prior to them being selected to open on tour for OMD, luckily the gulf between good and bad music is more distinct than ever. It will be interesting to see if the high standard of electronic pop will be maintained or whether the influx of poor quality artists will contaminate the bloodline.

So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK ends the decade with a complimentary comment by a punter after attending two of its live events: “You don’t put on sh*t do you…”

May the supreme talent rise and shine… you know who you are 😉


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2019

PAUL BODDY

Best Album: UNDERWORLD Drift Series 1
Best Song: MOLINA Venus
Best Gig: RAMMSTEIN at Milton Keynes MK Bowl
Best Video: SCALPING Chamber
Most Promising New Act: SCALPING


IAN FERGUSON

Best Album: NO-MAN Love You To Bits
Best Song: NO-MAN Love You To Shreds
Best Gig: RAMMSTEIN at Stadion Slaski Chorzow
Best Video: RAMMSTEIN Deutschland
Most Promising New Act: IMI


SIMON HELM

Best Album: PAGE Fakta För Alla
Best Song: PAGE Fakta För Alla
Best Gig: LAU NAU at London Cafe OTO
Best Video: LAU NAU Amphipoda on Buchla 200 at EMS Stockholm
Most Promising New Act: THE HIDDEN MAN


CHI MING LAI

Best Album: KNIGHT$ Dollar & Cents
Best Song: OMD Don’t Go
Best Gig: KITE at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan
Best Video: NIGHT CLUB Your Addiction
Most Promising New Act: IMI


RICHARD PRICE

Best Album: KNIGHT$ Dollar & Cents
Best Song: OMD Don’t Go
Best Gig: MIDGE URE + RUSTY EGAN at The London Palladium
Best Video: IMI Margins
Most Promising New Act: PLASMIC


MONIKA IZABELA TRIGWELL

Best Album: MECHA MAIKO Let’s
Best Song: KANGA Burn
Best Gig: DANA JEAN PHOENIX, KALAX + LEBROCK at London Zigfrid von Underbelly
Best Video: IONNALEE Open Sea
Most Promising New Act: PRIZM


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Ian Ferguson
16th December 2019, updated 29th Janaury 2021

UNDERWORLD Live at Wembley Arena

UNDERWORLD have now (in a variety of incarnations) been in existence for nigh on 40 years and this Wembley show was their biggest UK arena performance to date.

It provided a fitting anniversary for an act that has continued to push the envelope of electronic music production. In an effort to make this less of an “ordinary” gig, the show had a heavy focus on the band’s ‘Drift Series’ set of tracks.

It saw an early 6.45pm start which would have caught out a few fans used to later kick-offs. The ‘Drift Series’ has seen UNDERWORLD releasing new material every week for a year and it’s a move which has revitalised the band and has seen them creating some of their most vital music in years.

In what was an innovative set-up, band member Rick Smith appeared within the middle of the arena alongside the sound and lighting desk and mixed a set of tracks from the ‘Drift’ project.

A separate central lighting rig temporarily turned Wembley Arena into a giant club and certainly provided a refreshing change from a support band starting off proceedings. Blue and purple spotlights bathed the arena in colour and by the end of the 75 minute set, the arena had started to fill with a few sporadic outbreaks of raving prior to UNDERWORLD’s main set.

With the Wembley crowd suitably warmed up, a short 1 minute multi-screened projection of drifting race cars (see what they did there?) preceded Karl Hyde and Rick Smith taking to the stage and launching into the oddly titled, but rather wonderful NEW ORDER-influenced ‘Listen to Their No’. The screens set either side and stretching behind the band projected hand drawn character animations perfectly in sync with the ‘Temptation’ style sequencer patterns and Hyde’s “magic’s never broken” hook provided an early earworm for the gig.

The anthemic ‘Two Months Off’ followed with its huge polysynth chords and in what has become an UNDERWORLD trademark, its title illuminated on the screen behind the band.

The band’s ‘Second Toughest in the Infants’ album was represented early on with the epic ‘Juanita: Kiteless: To Dream of Love’; red and green spotlights strafed the crowd and imagery of Rick Smith behind his mixing desk were streamed onto the side screens.

It took the appearance of ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’ tracks ‘Rez’ and ‘Cowgirl’ to truly lift the roof off of Wembley though; what is incredible about these two tracks is how original they were in comparison to many other dance tracks from that time. Both avoided the stereotypical “dance” sounds of the era and for that reason, both sounded remarkably fresh tonight considering being over 25 years old now.

It soon became apparent that this would be a career-spanning set, with tracks drawn from ‘Beaucoup Fish’, ‘Oblivion With Bells’, ‘Barking’ and their most recent (proper) album ‘Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future’.

‘Beaucoup Fish’ was represented most with the glitchy ‘Jumbo’, the ‘I Feel Love’ bassline aping ‘King of Snake’ and discordant piano anthem ‘Push Upstairs’. Obviously an UNDERWORLD gig wouldn’t be complete without ‘Born Slippy (Nuxx)’ and the Wembley crowd was hit by a blinding array of multi-coloured lasers as the almost tribal kick drum piledrived through a ten minute version of the track.

The gig climaxed with the almost poppy ‘Always Loved a Film’ from ‘Barking’ and a banging ‘Moaner’ from ‘Beaucoup Fish’. ‘Moaner’ provided an absolute audio-visual blitzkreig of a finisher, with a curtain of lasers synchronised to the screeching synth riff of the track and Hyde’s stream of consciousness lyrics weaving through it. At the end, the house lights came up and a clearly emotional Hyde addressed the crowd with “…this has been the most extraordinary year, thank you for taking part and joining us in this journey! You’re beautiful!”.

Special mention must be made with regards to the Astro sound system used at the show; it was one of the most sonically impressive arena PA rigs which ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has ever experienced and certainly contributed massively to the experience.

Criticisms? Only that ‘Dirty Epic’ wasn’t given an airing and that there will always be questions as to what exactly Rick Smith actually does behind his huge mixing desk. However, the UNDERWORLD ‘live’ show has always been this way (even in the Darren Emerson era) with Smith seemingly adding effects and mixing backing track stems with no particular played elements and more of a live dub aesthetic throughout.

These nitpicks aside, there seems to be no signs of UNDERWORLD stopping and the ‘Drift Series’ has seen them creatively re-born and reaffirming them as one of the most exhilarating sounding live electronic bands in the country. Miss them at your peril…


Special thanks to Josh Cooper at 9PR

‘DRIFT Series 1’ is released by Caroline International as a 7 CDs + 1 Blu-ray boxed set featuring an 80 page book, a ‘Sampler Edition’ is also available as a single CD

http://www.underworldlive.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Underworld/

https://twitter.com/underworldlive

https://www.instagram.com/underworld/


Text and Photos by Paul Boddy
12th December 2019

UNDERWORLD Drift Series 1

The start of November saw the official release of a huge body of work by UNDERWORLD that functions more like a musical diary than a premeditated set of album tracks.

‘Drift Series 1’ first started to take shape a year ago to the release date with the track ‘Another Silent Way’ and a statement from UNDERWORLD that “Drift is the opposite of ‘normal’ or ‘usual’ practice; we’ll do this until we’re dust.”

With the intention of producing freely downloadable new work on a week to week basis, ‘Drift Series 1’ is an epic and in places daunting collection.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has reviewed the ‘Sampler Edition’ which scratches the surface of a package that comprises 7 CDs, 1 Blu-ray, and an 80 page exclusive book documenting the whole ‘Drift’ journey from conception to conclusion in interviews with Rick Smith and Karl Hyde from the band and design collective Tomato’s Simon Taylor.

Opener on the sampler is ‘Appleshine’, a collaboration with Aussie experimental jazz outfit THE NECKS, but here present in a very condensed version, the original 48(!) minute version is available on the full box-set. ‘Appleshine’ is a blissed out, open hi-hat driven piece which evokes early UNDERWORLD, flitting between two chords with a floating melodic vocal from Hyde and the addition of sporadic live sax arpeggios which work seamlessly on the piece.

The excellent ‘This Must Be Drum Street’ starts with the kind of sequenced bassline that worked so well for German TB303 meisters HARDFLOOR before a key change and filter opening propels the track straight into Giorgio Moroder territory; additional textures of synth and another Hyde vocal contribute to another strong track which dissolves in layers of delayed vocals at the end.

After a short glitchy synth intro, ‘Listen to Their No’ takes no prisoners by quickly bursting into a glorious NEW ORDER ‘Temptation’ styled sequencer part. Featuring one of Hyde’s most commercial hooky vocal lines, “there’s no-one, no-one, no-one playing” and “magic’s never broken” are soon lodged as earworms after only one listen.

‘Brilliant Yes That Would Be’ dispenses with the signature UNDERWORLD 4/4 drums, goes downtempo and evokes TANGERINE DREAM’s soundtrack work with spacious PWM analogue Juno chords.

‘S T A R (Rebel Tech)’ is an alternative mix of the weekly version which surfaced on September 12th. The original was a delirious mash-up of ‘Born Slippy’ era UNDERWORLD and the drum pattern/vocal patterns from KRAFTWERK’s ‘Numbers’, this mix is (arguably) not quite as strong but still features Hyde’s trademark stream of consciousness lyrics which first surfaced on their groundbreaking ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’ album. “David Bowie, Mary Shelley, Nye Bevan and Tom Jones” all get a namecheck in a track which is unmistakably UNDERWORLD and still showcases how an electronic band can still remain unique after being in the business for almost four decades.

The mantra-like nine minute sampler closer ‘Custard Speedtalk’ deploys the kind of piano motif that Trent Reznor has so effectively utilised on his soundtrack work alongside some jazzy breakbeats.

After a mid-point break, some beautifully understated guitar joins the piano and live drums to create the effect of a live UNDERWORLD jamming together and works quite exquisitely.

For a band that’s been around in one incarnation or another for nigh on forty years, ‘Drift Series 1’ is an absolutely superb collection. The production and release of new music every week has patently been a liberating process for Hyde and Smith and it’s hard to imagine many acts being able to sustain this work rate at this level of quality.

‘Drift Series 1’ is an innovative mould-breaking way of releasing music and it highlights UNDERWORLD as a band which is still at the forefront of electronic music and very much at the top of their game – highly recommended.


‘DRIFT Series 1’ is released by Caroline International as a 7 CDs + 1 Blu-ray boxed set featuring an 80 page book, a ‘Sampler Edition’ is also available as a single CD

http://www.underworldlive.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Underworld/

https://twitter.com/underworldlive

https://www.instagram.com/underworld/


Text by Paul Boddy
4th November 2019

UNDERWORLD & IGGY POP Teatime Dub Encounters

IGGY POP’s 2016 ‘Post Pop Depression’ album was seen by many as his swansong with an also mooted retirement from the live arena because his failing eyesight meant that he had become unable to see the edge of the stage.

But in a surprising twist, dance legends UNDERWORLD have coaxed the 71 year old out of retirement and collaborated on the quintessentially British sounding ‘Teatime Dub Encounters’ EP. Comprising of four tracks, the EP clocks in at a lengthy 27 minutes and opens with ‘Bells & Circles’.

An epic piece based around live drum loop samples and an entertaining rant from Pop revolving around “…the golden days of air travel”, topics taken in along the way include being able to smoke on a plane, whether the air stewardess was hot or not and doing copious amounts of drugs on the fold out table in front of the passenger.

In typical UNDERWORLD style, the musicality of the track is slow building with layers gradually added with subtle strings, Hammond organ stabs and a “sunlight on my wings” semi-chorus hook in the end section. Rick Smith’s daughter Esme Bronwen-Smith provides backing vocals on the latter and features elsewhere on the EP.

Second track ‘Trapped’ sees a surprisingly SUICIDE / DAF-influenced synth bass sequence make an appearance with a sung vocal by Pop and further backing by Esme Bronwen-Smith. Lyrically ‘Trapped’ gives a world-weary Pop another chance to climb on his soapbox and rant: “I’m trapped, I’m trapped and I’ll never get out no more”.

The song also touches on that moment when you (or your kids) grow up, get a mortgage and become pinned down into an inescapable lifestyle with commitments that make you a slave to “the man”.

Maybe vocally ‘Trapped’ recalls FOO FIGHTERS ‘All My Life’ a little too much, but the underpinning synth bass is wonderfully hypnotic and carries the track throughout.

‘I See Big’ see things take a downtempo turn, again based around spoken word, but this time in a more reflective manner with Pop ruminating on past friendships (both positive and negative) over a backing which features Krautrock elements, a hazy synth part and backwards guitar. The closing ‘Get Your Shirt’ musically references GOLDFRAPP, especially with Bronwen-Smith’s vocal part and Pop refers to the song as “a good old rock’n’roll moan about ripoffs”.

With their independent appearances on the original iconic ‘Trainspotting’ film soundtrack, the two acts here are inextricably linked and there’s something brilliant about them finally collaborating. The deal breaker with ‘Teatime Dub Encounters’ is whether you happen to be a fan of IGGY POP’s vocal; one could either find it totally sublime or completely irritating depending upon your standpoint.

Musically though, this is interesting territory for both UNDERWORLD and IGGY POP; the EP has plenty to keep fans of electronic music happy, especially with the stripped-down Germanic synth-based groove of ‘Trapped’. On paper this collaboration shouldn’t really work, but in the main it succeeds wonderfully and will hopefully lead to further joint works between these two godfathers of their respective genres.


‘Teatime Dub Encounters’ is released by Caroline International in vinyl EP, CD and digital formats

http://www.underworldlive.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Underworld/

http://iggypop.com/

https://www.facebook.com/iggypop/


Text by Paul Boddy
5th August 2018

THE PRESETS Hi Viz

Along with artists such as GRAFTON PRIMARY, CUT COPY and VAN SHE, THE PRESETS were part of the first wave of early millennial Antipodean electronic artists to start having global success.

Formed of Julian Hamilton (vocals and synths) and Kim Moyes (drums and synths), their earlier material combined a stripped back synth-punk aesthetic with rousing anthemic songs such as ‘Are You The One?’ and ‘Down, Down, Down’, but also counterpointed with more introspective-sounding tracks such as the NEW ORDER-inspired ‘Girl & The Sea’.

However, the debut 2005 album ‘Beams’ which featured those aforementioned songs was a hit and miss affair, relying on the singles and the band’s growing live reputation to carry it.

The follow-up ‘Apocalypso’ was a far more consistent-sounding work and arguably their strongest to date; featuring the melodic synthpop of ‘This Boy’s In Love’ and the surprisingly politically-charged ‘All My People’, it showed that the duo’s songs could work over an entire album. Further UK dates with acts such as LADYHAWKE, HEARTBREAK and SOULWAX helped to solidify the acts’ momentum and reputation as an electronic band to be reckoned with.

After a four year hiatus, the band returned with ‘Pacifica’ which was preceded by the UNDERWORLD-inspired ‘Youth In Trouble’ and the quirky, almost sea-shanty electro-singalong ‘Ghosts’. The album revealed itself as a softer maturer piece of work, with most of the spikier edges of its predecessors rounded off on tracks such as ‘Cool’ and ‘Fall’.

The 2014 stop-gap singles ‘Goodbye Future’ and ‘No Fun’ saw a partial return to their earlier sound, but also introduced more of a House Music slant, especially the latter with its almost early Acid House-style pitched down vocal effects.

Activity in THE PRESETS camp started to ramp up again at the end of 2017 with the release of a trilogy of singles which all feature on the new album ‘Hi Viz’. Opener ‘Knuckles’ (named after Sonic The Hedgehog’s brother) starts off in a similar bleepy 8 bit fashion to YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s iconic ‘Computer Game’. Throwing a hell of a lot of styles into the mix, from live horns to half-time R’n’B drums, ‘Knuckles’ is not really representative of ‘Hi Viz’ as a whole, but provides an intriguing overture to it.

First single ‘Do What You Want’ is potentially classic-sounding material, but is partially let down by its over-repetitive vocal hook which makes you wish for a more instrumental-based re-edit without the title in it so much. This is a real shame as the song itself is excellent and showcases a return to the band’s earlier driving synthpunk sound. ‘Martini’ and ‘Beethoven’ are uptempo, and initially throwaway-sounding tracks, the latter which oddly has you wondering whether it is going to morph into the EURYTHMICS song of the same name.

Both identical in tempo, they segue into each other, the former has a square wave House bass with vocal samples and a blippy lead riff with Hamilton intoning the virtues of said drink. At 2’40 secs a gorgeous PSBs-style chord change arrives and saves the track from being overly repetitive and monophonic sounding. ‘Beethoven’ (which amusingly ends with a Mozart sample) conceptually owes a debt to EURYTHMICS, but is ultimately is its own entity revolving around a tough electronic bass riff, it’s one of the filler tracks here.

‘Downtown Shutdown’ completely throws out THE PRESETS rulebook; featuring guitars, live bass and vocals from The St Paul’s Lutheran Church Choir (which comprises of refugees and young people from places like Burundi, DR Congo and South Sudan who are now living in Victoria). A feel-good hybrid of BLONDIE’s ‘Rapture’, TALKING HEADS and splashes of KRAFTWERK, ‘Downtown Shutdown’ is the kind of track which if put out by BRUNO MARS or PHARRELL WILLIAMS would undoubtedly be a huge multi-million selling global smash. Present here in a more extended format than the single, it showcases more of the electronic elements of the track and is a definite highlight of ‘Hi Viz’.

In a new move for THE PRESETS, there are several other collaborations on ‘Hi Viz’; ‘Out of Your Mind’ features the vocals of Sydney’s ALISON WONDERLAND (who THE PRESETS remixed earlier this year). It’s a killer hybrid of Acid House and Hip Hop with a side-serving of THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS plus some wicked drum programming thrown in for good measure.

‘Tools Down’ which features Jake Shears from THE SCISSOR SISTERS is a bit of a go-nowhere track that again segues into the subsequent one ‘Feel Alone’. Thankfully ‘Feel Alone’ harks back to the sound of ‘Apocalypso’ whilst lyrically recalling 90s dance (in that it only has a single vocal hook); ‘Feel Alone’ brings a welcome dose of melody and chord changes to the ‘Hi Viz’ party.

‘Brains’ provides a short percussive bridging piece, its Afro-vibe takes its cues from LEFTFIELD’s classic ‘Leftism’ album and leads into ‘Are You Here?’ which features Britpop revivalists DMA’s. Revolving around the kick/snare pattern from ‘Trans Europe Express’, DMA’s singer Tommy O’Dell provides a wonderfully rhythmic vocal which takes him out of his musical comfort zone in a similar way to when Noel Gallagher guested with THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS on ‘Let Forever Be’.

Second single ‘14U&14ME’ is a bit of a curveball, starting off with some Trance-style arpeggiator and VANGELIS synth in its moody intro. The song then revisits the hard FM bass sound from ‘My People’ to great effect and only misses a second use of the intro to help (again) make the track feel a little less repetitive.

Rather than finishing the album in introspective mode, ‘Hi Viz’ finishes with a real banger in the form of ‘Until The Dark’ which shows that a one finger synth bass line can really work. After being joined by a multi-layered sequencer riff and splashy 909 open hats, the track has a monumental breakdown half-way through with ‘Ghosts n Stuff’ style organ and glitch treated live drums before kicking back in again.

This is undoubtedly THE PRESETS’ party album, it’s shamelessly unafraid to take risks and try out new sonic territories and in the main succeeds brilliantly.

There are a couple of fillers here, but the overall mash-up of classic clubby dance, heavy influence of THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS and a modern twist has provided the band with what is arguably their strongest work yet.

‘Hi Viz’ grabs you by the scruff of your neck, drags you onto the dancefloor and rarely lets go over its 52 minutes – highly recommended.


‘Hi Viz’ is released by Modular Recordings as a CD, vinyl LP and download

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Text by Paul Boddy
1st June 2018

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