As many take their first steps into the outside world, with the prospect of interacting with others again, anxieties that have developed over the past 15 months will no doubt linger for a while…
But for Scottish Swedish duo UNIFY SEPARATE, formally known as US, it is time to ‘Embrace The Fear’.
Vocalist Andrew Montgomery said: “The basic idea for ‘Embrace the Fear’ actually dates to a little while before the pandemic, but I must have had my Mystic Meg hat on when I came up with the lyrics because it seems to resonate with what we have been through!”
While the theme is relatable to lockdown, ‘Embrace The Fear’ touches on the more general existential crises that afflict many as they navigate a life crossroads. “It’s about that general feeling of seeming to be a bit trapped by life / circumstances and wanting to break out of that – something that we have all been feeling for the past year and a bit, for sure” continued Montgomery, “Musically, Leo is channelling a bit of NEW ORDER and DAFT PUNK here, especially with the very driving live bass. It suits the intensity of the song, I think.”
But despite the air of unease and the grittier disposition, as with most of UNIFY SEPARATE’s output, there is light at the end of the tunnel; “If it can provide a bit of hope and inspiration for people as we tread warily back into the normal world, then that’s humbling, and so much the better”.
Acting as the perfect symbolism for ‘Embrace The Fear’ is a fairground… after all, where else entertains and terrifies people in equal measures! “We really got lucky with the video!” remembered the one-time front man of indie band GENEVA, “The cinematographer, Tobias Andersson, is a great friend of ours and has collaborated on the video for ‘Dying on the Vine’. His fiancée works at the famous Gröna Lund funfair in Stockholm, and it just seemed like too good an opportunity not to ask politely, especially seeing as the park was not yet open and only actually opened up on June 1st.”
With the 140 year old theme park acting as the backdrop, the scene was set: “At the time of filming, it still had that eerie dystopian future emptiness that really suits the sentiments behind the track. Our mate Rasmus Lindgren was the perfect guy for the lead role, and we’re really happy with how it turned out.”
And as Lindgren embraces finds freedom in thrills and dance despite his nervousness, Andrew Montgomery and Leo Josefsson clear up after him while donned in their protective overalls. A soaring song that at times touches on MUSE’s ‘Uprising’ (or ‘White Wedding’ by Billy Idol depending on your age!) and makes the most out of Montgomery’s emotive falsetto, ‘Embrace The Fear’ offers cautious optimism within a wholly fitting audio visual statement.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to UNIFY SEPARATE
“You and me v tomorrow, living off joy and sorrow and the dreaming in our eyes, we keep our dreams alive…”
If there was a musical duo who visually symbolise the dystopian paranoia of the world pandemic crisis, then it is the protective boiler suit donning UNIFY SEPARATE.
Formally known as US, the Scottish Swedish pairing of Andrew Montgomery from GENEVA and Leo Josefsson of LOWE impressed with their 2019 debut album ‘First Contact’ which successfully combined the soaring vocal aspects of Britpop with the melodic melancholy of Nordic synth.
UNIFY SEPARATE have released their first single of 2020, the magnificently striking statement of ‘Solitude & I’. Like DEPECHE MODE meeting MUSE before building with some mighty synth arpeggios, it morphs from a drum ‘n’ bass lilt into a blistering mutant attack.
The tense self-directed video filmed by Tobias Andersson looks like it could be a scene from ‘The Crazies’ or ‘Chernobyl’. It sees our heroes on decontamination duty, driving their Gothically modified Toyota Celica called Angelica to a desolate forest quarry. Resigned to the disaster that has occurred, it all acts as poignant symbolism that the world is running out of time…
From the new album is due out in mid-2021, ‘Solitude & I’ is a natural progression of the Stockholm-based duo’s material on ‘First Contact’ with 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 is UNIFY SEPARATE’s in-your-face manifesto on never giving up on your dreams.
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.
2019 was good for new music. The first two thirds of the year was particularly strong for up-and-coming talent, while a number of veterans returned to making music with synths for the first time in many years.
Inevitably, the quality of new releases couldn’t be sustained and things tailed off during the Autumn period as artists shifted their focus towards the live arena.
The launch of debut full-length releases by relative newcomers has tended to focus towards the winter in order to pitch to the deluge of tastemaker polls that are now prevalent both in mainstream and online media.
Of course, The Electricity Club is unable to include everything in its 30 SONGS OF 2019, so worthy mentions go to SHOOK, CIRCUIT 3, KANGA, FRAGILE SELF, NINA, THE HEARING, JAKUZI, TR/ST, SPELLLING, I AM SNOW ANGEL, PET SHOP BOYS, NO-MAN, RIDER, TINY MAGNETIC PETS, FRAGRANCE. and T.O.Y. for their output this year.
As per usual with a restriction of one song per artist moniker and presented in alphabetical order, these are ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 30 SONGS OF 2019…
APOPTYGMA BERZERK A Battle For The Crown
Over the 25 years since his debut album ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ , Stephan Groth has straddled EBM, synthpop, futurepop, alternative rock and more recently instrumentals with APOPTYGMA BERZERK. For his first new material since 2016’s ‘Exit Popularity Contest’, the upcoming EP ‘Nein Danke!’ sees a return to the synthpop / new wave format. Part of a teaser single, ‘A Battle For The Crown’ offered a suitably matted austere but crucially did not forget the hooks or the melodies.
Stark Massachusetts duo BOY HARSHER formed through an urgent need to produce and consume, so Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller utilised their minimal electronics and intense mindset to create a compelling narrative of deterioration. ‘LA’ featured a wonderfully incongruous mix of icy string synths and orchestra stabs for an enticing display of mutant electronic disco, all brilliantly sinister thanks to its varied use of effects and Matthews’ mournful demeanour.
Available on the album ‘Careful’ via Nude Club Records
Jorja Chalmers is the sax and keys player for Bryan Ferry but while it was recorded in her boss’ studio, her first solo album ‘Human Again’ exuded a more sombre filmic disposition. Conceived and sketched in hotel rooms during the come down from playing to packed theatres around the world. ‘She Made Him Love Again’ was a song where Chalmers’ breathy vocals possessed a gorgeous forlorn allure and when the icy string machine and deep sax joined in, proceedings lifted to another level.
Available on the album ‘Human Again’ via Italians Do It Better
Lloyd Cole had recorded an experimental electronic album ‘Selected Studies Vol 1’ with Hans-Joachim Roedelius of CLUSTER in 2013, while there was also a solo instrumental collection entitled ‘1D Electronics 2012-2014’. But he put all of that modular knowhow into a song based format with the charming synthy single ‘Violins’ which saw him turn into OMD! However the King of Glum Rock didn’t totally alienate his main fan base, with guitars making their presence felt in amongst all the machinery at the halfway point.
CHINA CRISIS have been an unlikely influence on acts such as VILLA NAH and MIRRORS, but while these days their synthwork is less pronounced, front man and keyboardist Gary Daly took the plunge with a full length solo record entitled ‘Gone From Here’. The wonderful first single ‘I Work Alone’ acted as both a statement of intent and an affirmation in self-belief. A lovely whimsical piece of Casiotone folktronica, Daly said “it’s very much ‘Neon Lights’ meets ‘Autobahn’”
With a range of tempo variation, ‘Based On A True Story’ was the undoubtedly the best album of Swedish trio DAYBEHAVIOR’s long if sporadic career. Including a number of more danceable numbers to counterpoint the more laid back aspects of their cinematic sound without losing any of their exquisite aesthetics, one of the best examples could be heard in the fabulous Europop number ‘Driving In My Car’. It was just one part of a priceless collection of quality Scandipop.
Available on the album ‘Based On A True Story’ via Graplur
Nearly four decades is a long time to wait for a debut album, but with Wakefield’s FIAT LUX, it was been worth it. Recalling BLACK and CHINA CRISIS, the guarded optimism of ‘We Can Change The World’ provided a call to action in these turbulent times within an uptempo setting dressed with bubbling synths and rousing dual vocals sweetened by smooth sax. Steve Wright and David P Crickmore honoured their late band mate Ian Nelson in the best way possible with their recorded and live return.
Georgia Barnes is the daughter of LEFTFIELD’s Neil Barnes and the former drummer for Kate Tempest. Although her eponymous debut album possessed a more urban DIY feel, her sound has recently moved into more accessible electronic pop territory. From upcoming second album ‘Seeking Thrills’, the gloriously throbbing workout of ‘About Work The Dancefloor’ took its lead from ROBYN with its rousing Scandipop sheen, offset by a creepy distorted vocal refrain.
A Copenhagen domiciled German, classically schooled Greta Louise Schenk teamed up with Norwegian producer FARAO to enter a dreamy synthpop universe. With its unusual rhythmic structure and chromatic overtones, ‘White’ could have been an art rock number? “I often wonder how this song came out of me” she said, “I actually wrote it on my Irish bouzouki, which may explain the chords. I was listening a lot to LANA DEL REY and it was quite a dark time in my life.”
Another project of Johnny Jewel, HEAVEN first came to wider attention with the ‘Lonesome Town’ EP. Fronted by the enigmatic allure of singer and keyboardist Aja, the brilliant ‘Truth Or Dare’ perhaps unsurprisingly sounded like CHROMATICS but with more synths and drum machine. While on tour as keyboardist with DESIRE, Aja took the title literally when they performed a cover of NEW ORDER’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ and Jewel watched nearby…
ALICE HUBBLE is the new solo project of Alice Hubley, previously best known for fronting ARTHUR & MARTHA and COSINES. Hubley’s synth earth mother demeanour came to the fore on the sub-OMD of ‘We Are Still Alone’. While the lilting bass and elegiac transistorised melody were glorious, when the synth strings responded in that ASHRA style, it became perfect avant pop with Hubley sadly resigning to herself that she “couldn’t find the way to make me better”.
Leeds based singer / songwriter IMI is gifted with a most glorious soprano but she applies that and her love of analogue synths to an intelligent avant pop aesthetic. ‘I Feel Alright’ with its sharp melodic call and ethereal voices headed into assertive optimism. This most promising young synth talent said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “This song was written after a few years of struggling with some personal issues and it was a celebration of finally feeling ok and feeling hopeful about the future.”
Hailing from Sheffield, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP and their world of academia would make “eccentric Northern electronic pop” compulsory on the curriculum. From their vibrant and accessible self-titled debut album, the bubbly ‘Love Girl’ was a luscious cross between DUBSTAR and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. Cosmic but catchy, their intelligent musical escapism has been just the tonic in these turbulent times. One of their manifesto statements is “Smile at the neon and the mirrorball”.
Producing his most synthpop work in ages, originally from the ‘Eddie The Eagle’ film sessions, Howard Jones said of ‘Hero In Your Eyes’: “I was really drawn to the part where his parents were amazing, continuing to believe in him when he was obviously not really very good at what he’d chosen to do, they kept supporting him. So him being a hero in their eyes always, that ‘I’ll be there for you’ feeling, I thought that it was something a lot of people could relate to”
Coming over like the love child of Richard Butler and Neil Tennant, KNIGHT$ made synthwaves with his sparkly Britalo on his energetic debut album ‘Dollars & Cents’. The Hi-NRG romp of ‘Hijack My Heart’ aped BRONSKI BEAT complete with a closing bursts of falsetto as the Winchester lad tightened his glitzy clubbing trousers to full effect and even dropped in a blistering synth solo to add to the fun. It was a highlight on one of the best albums of 2019.
LADYTRON produced their last offering ‘Gravity The Seducer’ in 2011. Their recent heavier self-titled reboot saw the quartet of Helen Marnie, Mira Aroyo, Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu entering the ‘Deadzone’. Unsettlingly percussive and full of tension but hitting the spot with the right dose of melodic elements intertwined with haunting grit and grime, LADYTRON were back with a sucker punch. All in all, it was a fantastic comeback.
LIZETTE LIZETTE is Lizette Nordahl, a gender neutral Swedish / Peruvian producer and performance artist whose first mini-album album ‘Queerbody’ was released 2017. The beautifully sad Nordic synth ballad ‘Computer Game’ was written in tribute to a departed friend. Showcasing Nordahl’s more emotive side, it was a quality that had not been obviously apparent in LIZETTE LIZETTE’s more danced-based recordings.
Reflecting gloomier times, ‘Anthropocene’ saw MACHINISTA produce their most consistent body of work yet. Vocalist John Lindqwister and instrumentalist Richard Flow took their time in a refinement of their anthemic signature sound and the addition of some conventionally flavoured twists. The title song took its lead from the dark electronic pop of Norway’s APOPTYGMA BERZERK and owed more than a debt to the haunting riff of ‘Burning Heretic’ in the ultimate sorcerer’s apprentice spell.
Behind the quirky avant pop of MECHA MAIKO is the talented Canadian Hayley Stewart. ‘Apathy’ from her new album ‘Let’s!’ can only be described as delightfully nuts, with an inventive mix of a jazz swing Charleston vibe, frantic techno dance beats and vibrant synthpop hooks. It showed she was not afraid to blend seemingly incongruous influences to get an end result and with a slight sprinkling of Japanese instrumentation to close, the eclectic creative cycle was complete!
Swedish songstress Karin My sang with veteran combo TWICE A MAN on their poignant environmental catastrophe warning ‘High In The Clouds’ in 2105. Her solo single ‘The Silence’ was one of the first truly great songs of 2019. Swathed in beautiful synths and embroiled in that wonderful Scandinavian melancholy, her gorgeous vocals evoked a forlorn abandonment just as a wintery chill set in with the sad dilemma of whether to give up…
The mighty Italo Disco statement of ‘Left Behind’ came complete with obligatory orchestra stabs and a rousing chorus, gleefully fusing SAVAGE, RAF, PET SHOP BOYS and BEE GEES within a big Trevor Horn styled kitchen sink! But despite the fun laden octave shift frenzy, the lyrics were concerned with midlife reflection. Michael Oakley said: “the song is about me feeling like everyone around me was getting settled in their career, getting married and taking out a mortgage.”
Every now and then, the world needs a lively unpretentious synth instrumental record. With the second OBLONG album ‘The Sea At Night’, the trio of Benge, Dave Nice and Sid Stronarch delivered a collection of rustic electro-acoustic organically farmed electronica! With mood and pace, ‘Echolocation’ was a classic synth instrumental with its crystalline textures and charming slightly off-key blips, aurally reflecting the remote moorland location in Cornwall where it was recorded.
OMD began their recorded career with a KRAFTWERK homage and four decades on, they came full circle. A great grandchild of Klingklang and cousin of ‘Metroland’ from ‘English Electric’ but refined for BBC Radio 2 airplay, ‘Don’t Go’ captured the essence of OMD’s enduring electronic appeal. With crystalline synth melodies from Humphreys and a spirited vocal delivery from McCluskey attached to a hypnotic Synthanorma backdrop, OMD continue to produce quality avant pop tunes.
Feisty, fiery and on-message as “your abused Barbie doll from childhood”, Lauren Lusardi, better known as PLASMIC dropped yet another synth bomb with a vivid narrative on the fame game where women have to compromise and serve the male gaze to get to where they want. While pink is her colour, the rugged lo-fi cocoon of anxious sound penetrated the soul with a raging reminder that if “You wanna be famous?”, then really “Don’t be so f*cking brainless!”
Available on the single ‘Famous’ via CandyShop Recordings
“Beautiful melodies telling me terrible things” said a cartoon meme… with echoes of OMD, the life and death of the tragic Soyuz 1 cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was captured poignantly in this instrumental by QUIETER THAN SPIDERS from their brilliant debut album ‘Signs Of Life’; Yi Fan from the anonymous Chinese synth trio said: “we were moved by the human story behind it all together with the haunting backdrop of primitive space experimentation.”
Danish duo SOFTWAVE have been gaining momentum with endorsements from luminaries such as ex-members of THE HUMAN LEAGUE Jo Callis and Ian Burden, while improving enormously since their 2016 debut EP ‘Together Alone’. Punctuated by machines of ice, ‘No Need To Hide’ was undoubtedly Clarkean, celebrating positivity in possibly SOFTWAVE’s finest moment yet with one of those rousing Scandipop choruses and coming over not unlike Celine Dion fronting ERASURE.
The powerful electro R’N’B tinged ‘Way Out’ was the first English language taster from Beijing-born songstress’ ambitious new Anglo-Mandarin bilingual album project. Fifi Rong said of her concept: “I’m making a double album. One album in Chinese and the other in English. Not the typical type of translation type of bilingual album from one language to another… So the two albums are all individual songs interlinked in sounds, themes, vibes.”
Andrew Montgomery, best known as the vocalist of GENEVA who scored hits with ‘Into The Blue’ and ‘Best Regrets’ in 1997, teamed up with Leo Josefsson of Stockholm trio LOWE to form the electronic duo US. If Jeff Buckley had dumped his Fender Telecaster for a Korg MS20, then that is the dark anthemic sound of US. ‘Voyager’ went all spacey avant trance in a wonderful cross-pollination of styles that came over a bit like MUSE at Gatecrasher.
It was a big year for WITCH OF THE VALE as their highly spirited otherworldly sound, deeply rooted in Celtic folklore and Wiccan beliefs, found a sympathetic audience at Infest 2019. The eponymous track from their second EP introduced serene, yet uncertain feelings channelled via clear but eerie vocals over the croon from a raven. This angelic ballad put all the fears to sleep and demonstrated how Erin and Ryan Hawthorne sound are like nothing else within the world of modern electronica.
Although best known as the lead vocalist for FM-84 on ‘Running In The Night’, Ollie Wride unleashed his debut solo album in 2019. The Driver’ put into dynamic realisation as to what SIMPLE MINDS might have sounded like had Moroder-graduate Keith Forsey produced the 1985 ‘Once Upon A Time’ album instead of Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain. The superb grouchy synth rock saw the Brighton boy successfully pull off a cross between Jim Kerr and Billy Idol!
What happens when you cross anthemic Scottish indie with cinematic Swedish synth? You get US…
US are the unlikely union of Andrew Montgomery from GENEVA and Leo Josefsson of LOWE. Their impressive debut album ‘First Contact’ is a rousing collection of eleven epic songs, each exuding a unique Celtic Scandinavian air with Montgomery taking centre stage with his magnificent three octave vocal set to Josefsson’s spacey electronic soundscapes.
An album of two halves with guitars and drums also occasionally making their presence felt, ‘First Contact’ is a well-crafted debut record, expressing broken dreams and midlife sorrows with a sublime cinematic quality. Meanwhile with their live presentation, the striking visual spectacle puts the duo up there with KITE in terms of ambition.
While GENEVA recently reformed and LOWE have been on hiatus, for Montgomery and Josefsson, US is presently their main creative outlet. The pair chatted about their ‘First Contact’, producing “The soundtrack to the movie of your life” and much more.
The two of you have had not insubstantial profiles in your previous bands GENEVA and LOWE which produced very different types of music from each other, but how did US all come together?
Andrew: It’s indirectly the fault of the late, great Glen Campbell (RIP). Both of us were at a barbecue held by a mutual friend in the Stockholm suburbs in May 2015, just a few months after I moved to Stockholm. We were all making merry and I got up to sing along to ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ (as you do). Leo heard me sing and afterwards asked if I wanted to try writing a song with him. He said something like “I think my sound and your voice would work well together”, and it proved to be true, as we wrote our first song in just a couple of hours just a few weeks later. The song is called ‘Everything Is Leading Up To This’ and it’s included as a bonus track on the Bandcamp album page.
When you were discussing directions, were each of you pleasantly surprised by some of each other’s tastes where you found a commonality?
Andrew: I was surprised that Leo wasn’t an aficionado of Glen Campbell 😉
Actually, even if Leo was coming from a ‘synthpop’ background and me from indie-guitar band origins, what we both had in common right away was a love of drama and packing as much emotion as possible into the structure of a pop song, and that works whether it happens to be guitar-based or synth-based. And I don’t recall that we discussed a huge amount of influences at first. It was more just getting into Leo’s studio and start writing.
It had to be epic, it had to be filmic and the finer details just arrived organically. Though it’s fair to say that I probably badger Leo more about possible influences / ideas that I hear; I’m quite mercurial in that respect, as I constantly churn my way through mini-musical obsessions.
One week ambient electronic, the next week melodic techno, the week after that Tibetan nose flute orchestras…
I’m certainly roving far from my indie background these days, and have been mainly listening to electronic music for most of the past decade.
Leo: Andrew constantly tries to persuade me to introduce nose flutes when we write new songs, but to date I’ve been able to resist.
Some artists like to impose restrictions to aid their creativity, are there any “no-nos” in US?
Leo: Perhaps you mean “no-nose”? Apart from that I would find it most improbable that we would end up writing “schlager festival tracks”, but I wouldn’t rule anything out at this point.
Andrew: I think it’s more about what we should be, rather than not be, and that’s original, heartfelt, filmic and engaging.
Do you have defined roles with regards songwriting and production or does it overlap?
Andrew: It does overlap, simply because we are open to each other’s ideas. And also because Leo in particular can play the instruments, produce, come up with lyrics and sing, so he has an ear for melody that has come in handy.
For example, in the chorus of ‘Technicolor’, which for a while was a little bit stuck with the melody / lyrics that now occur in the middle eight (the bit about “now and then I’ve found…” etc).
Leo came up with this defiant “I see the world…” chorus that is a perfect counterpoint to my rather agonised verses, a sort of ‘fukitall’ vibe that is almost saying to the subject of the song “your loss” after the initial “whys?” of the verses.
I do tend to write most of the lyrics and most of the melodies though, as I’m into doing that and work hard on it. I also suggest little tweaks here and there to songs that Leo then (patiently) translates into something more concrete and makes the change. One example was the change to a four-to-the-floor beat for ‘The Stars That Arc Across the Sky’. We’d been wrestling with the arrangement of that one for some time, and once that clicked, Leo was able to work his magic.
What about differences in the Scottish and Swedish ways of thinking? Have there been any amusing moments while writing and recording?
Leo: I’m kind of a “flatliner”, meaning I can control my temper. Sometimes, Andrew cannot. I just laugh at him, and buy him some candy and everything will be ok within minutes. Sometimes when we’re out clubbing, Andrew is confronted by Swedish drunk manners and responds rather robustly (which I’m not used to), that can be very entertaining and frightening at times. 🙂
At the same time I must give him credit, because most Swedes don’t react even if someone has been very rude to them.
Andrew: I think Leo does very well to: 1) Decipher my accent when I lapse into Glaswegian-dialect English and 2) Follow my rather idiosyncratic Swedish (we probably spend about 65-70 per cent of the time talking in Swedish).
‘Till The Dying of the Light’ has that glorious Nordic Noir quality, how did that come together as your first single?
Andrew: Thanks. Glad you like it! We’re proud of that one too. I think (and Leo can correct me if I’m wrong), there was a keyboard improvisation that I came up with the verses to. I have a picture in my mind’s eye of US writing the chorus and me coming up with the melody… it was spur-of-the-moment as it often is. But I seem to recall me Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ being an image at the back of my head, crossed with relationship travails. I have to credit Leo alone for the Nordic Noir production – he did a great job, and maybe there was a little ‘Blade Runner’ creeping in there too?
Leo: I think this was my first intention to take US into the “synth domain” after a few months of experimenting with different sounds and genres. I instantly felt that the song needed that suit, and it was instantly clear that it would work out perfectly.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK described ‘Voyager’ as being like “MUSE at Gatecrasher”, but what did you have in mind when you were recording it?
Leo: I think you’re on point there, even though I was more diving into the world of Jean-Michel Jarre and spent a few days getting the arpeggios right. Turned out to be worthwhile if I may say so. The song went through many different stages before ending up the way you can hear now… there’s another version called ‘To The End Of The World’ that is more live band-based and is a result of an early idea I had for the track that I just couldn’t leave unfinished.
Andrew: I LOVE that description! Thank you! I just recall Leo being really happy with this brilliant synth arpeggio he had come up with and me asking for a bit of time to go away and do it justice in terms of melody and lyrics. It just felt very spacey and, as with a lot of Leo’s musical ideas, it had a visual aspect that made me think of Voyager (or its ‘Star Trek’ equivalent V’ger) and deep-space travel. Then there’s the sentiment of thinking that the past is behind you but something coming back to remind you of those darker times. The impulse to travel to the end of the word to avoid it is strong, I can tell you…
‘The Stars That Arc Across the Sky’ and ‘In Denial’ are quite guitar driven anthems which are perhaps not that far off U2, was that intentional?
Andrew: Leo had been talking about getting more guitar into some of the songs, and it seemed to really work with both of those. I see where you’re coming from with U2, though I must admit that I hear late 70s / early 80s ROXY MUSIC in the former’s guitar arrangements and PULP in the latter.
Leo: Throughout the work with ‘First Contact’ (although it wasn’t until 2018 that we decided to make an album), I had this stubborn idea that our first musical period would be totally electronic. But working with a few of the songs, live drums, guitars and electric bass (no, not nose flute) kept raising their heads and I had to surrender and open up to a bigger sound palette.
NEW ORDER have separate electronic and guitar-based tracks, so are you thinking US can fit into this multi-faceted template?
Andrew: We are both fans of NEW ORDER and I think that’s a good idea you have there!
Leo: Again, you’re on point. NEW ORDER has been a great influence and I hope we can do the idea of guitars and electronics justice.
‘Mute’ is particularly poignant, was it inspired by real events?
Andrew: It’s actually a cover of a 90s-era song by STAKKA BO, so we had no lyrical inspiration there. Leo knows Johan Renck, one half of STAKKA BO and now an acclaimed director whose work includes the last two Bowie videos (‘Blackstar’ and ‘Lazarus’), and the MUST WATCH ‘Chernobyl’, which after having seen four of the five episodes is the greatest series I’ve ever seen.
‘Technicolor’ is quite unusual compared with the other tracks on ‘First Contact’ with its Schaffel backbone?
Leo: Originally I experimented with mixing Schaffel parts with straight quantised parts which was very interesting at first, but the song felt a bit more interesting and progressive keeping it “schaffeling” all the way through and that’s how it ended up.
There is a surreal blues tone to ‘The Healer’?
Andrew: Wow, you are very descriptive! I really like your insights, Chi. It felt like it was a sort of downbeat blues-based song when we first came up with it. We left it to the side for a bit but came back to it because it had something that Leo felt he could develop further. The lyrics are a bit stream-of-consciousness, but that often hints at a deeper truth, though in this case I’m not sure I care to explore that further…
Is the visual aspect important to US with the videos and the ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ scientist imagery?
Leo: I think we’re both into sci-fi movies and futuristic aesthetics and it felt like a natural way to place US into that world. We try to write timeless music and we hope people keep discovering it for many years to come.
You’ve have gone out live, what has the reaction been and what sort of people are US appealing to from the audiences you’ve met?
Andrew: There are fans of both of our bands, people who like electronic music, people we know and people who like to investigate new music.
Leo: The live part is very important to US, and I think we have been a very positive and unexpected pleasure for people that have had no idea about our music beforehand.
So what are the current statuses of GENEVA and LOWE? Is US a long-term project?
Andrew: GENEVA has actually reformed, and we’ll be playing four dates at the StarShaped Festival at the end of August and into September. That’s a wee bit of a nostalgia fest, but it’s actually opening the way for GENEVA to do some writing and we’ll see where it goes, which is great. But I live in Stockholm and my life is here, so it’ll have to fit around that. And can I just say if Leo ever decided to park US, I would be devastated! I’ve been waiting to make music like this all my life, and Leo is the perfect creative foil for me as well as a good friend. I hope we can do a lot more live work to promote this album (limited funds and day jobs currently intervene), and then work on more US music.
Leo: LOWE has never officially split up, you could say it’s on a long-term vacation. It would be great to pick it up some day, even though US is the priority right now.
How do look back on your times with the bands you made your names in?
Andrew: Time tints the glasses a bit, gives them a bit of rosy nostalgia. I’m really proud of GENEVA, and your first band is always really special. That’s why it’s great to be doing something with that project again. But it wasn’t always easy with record company politics, commercial expectations and the pressures of trying to make it work under a very harsh spotlight. Overall it was an amazing but also challenging experience for me, I must say. And I’m grateful for the musical path it set me on, that continues to this day with US.
Leo: Since we started LOWE in 2003, we have been touring all over the world and I’m very thankful (and full of nostalgia) to the fact that I’ve seen places I would never see otherwise. It’s been great to get to know other cultures and music scenes, especially in Eastern Europe where I’ve made many good friends.
Overall, how has the response to ‘First Contact’ been, was it what you hoped for?
Andrew: We’re really happy to have released the album after four years of development. That reviewers like you guys at ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK like it makes US even happier! There have been some lovely reviews and good feedback, and I think it’ll prove to be a grower, word-of-mouth thing. Please just spread the word, as it’s difficult to reach as many people as we’d like without the backing of a full-time organisation or promotion. We’ll continue to promote it in the months ahead.
What’s next for you both, either as US or with other projects?
Andrew: I mentioned the GENEVA project. US plans to play live more after the summer, and see where we can go next with this hugely enjoyable musical adventure.
Leo: I’m personally high on the US-vibe right now and have already ideas for new tracks. I have no doubt this is just the beginning.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to US