Tag: White Door (Page 1 of 3)

A Beginner’s Guide To ANDY RICHARDS

Photo by Lizzy Ellis

Producer, keyboardist and composer Andy Richards may not be as widely known as his mentor Trevor Horn, but listeners have certainly heard his work as a significant number his contributions appear on singles that reached No1.

Born in 1952, Richards studied piano, classical organ piano and composition at The Royal College Of Music and The Royal Academy Of Music. After graduating, he taught music at South Cheshire College and began playing in various local bands before in 1977, he joined the folk-rockers THE STRAWBS who were best known for their hit ‘Part Of The Union’.

After THE STRAWBS split up in 1980, Richards became a session musician and in 1983 played keyboards for the heavy metal band DEMON who were signed to Clay Records, a Stoke-based independent record label. It had been established by Mike ‘Clay’ Stone who had been a champion of punk, taking early photographs of Gary Numan which appeared on the first TUBEWAY ARMY releases before later signing DISCHARGE and THE LURKERS to Clay.

It was via Clay Records that Andy Richards was to get his big break. Stone invited Richards to produce the debut of local synthpop trio WHITE DOOR who had morphed out of the prog band GRACE. Mixed at Sarm East Studios, the engineer was Julian Mendelsohn who was also working with Trevor Horn on the YES album ‘90125’.

With recommendations from Mendelsohn, Richards was then contacted by both. Although he auditioned for YES, he chose to work with Trevor Horn in October 1983; his first job was to play keyboards on the FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD cover of ‘Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey’ and subsequently the eventual single version of ‘Relax’ which featured Richards’ European sounding Roland Jupiter 8 chords while another key element he provided was the huge orgasmic sound at the song’s climax!

Working as part Trevor Horn’s dream team that included engineer Stephen Lipson and Fairlight programmer JJ Jeczalik, the world became Richards’ oyster with significant roles on the notable ZTT albums ‘Welcome to the Pleasure Dome’, ‘A Secret Wish’ and ‘Slave to the Rhythm’.

A master of the Roland Jupiter 8, Roland MC4 Micro-composer, PPG and Oberheim DMX, Richards became in demand as musician, programmer and producer, thanks to his astute investment in the Fairlight Series III in 1984; this was a particularly useful production tool as the artists he worked with could easily understand its concept easily as all its 16 tracks and their relationship in real time could be seen on screen at once.

Having dipped his toe into the world of cinema in 1986 with ‘Biggles: Adventures in Time’, the bulk of Richards’ more recent work has been in mixing film scores from his own Out of Eden digital complex, including ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’, ‘Ali G Indahouse’, ‘Johnny English’, ‘Shaun of the Dead’, ‘The Last King of Scotland’, ‘Hannibal Rising’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘Frankenweenie’. He has more recently been working on his first solo project entitled ‘This Time… An Imaginary Soundtrack’

Perhaps something of an unsung hero in music, here are 18 tracks that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has selected from the vast career of Andy Richards with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, assembled in chronological order…


WHITE DOOR Jerusalem (1983)

With shades of ALPHAVILLE who Andy Richards would later work with, the beautiful choir boy synthpop of ‘Jerusalem’ was one of the highlights of the ‘Windows’ album. “We would turn up at Andy’s house with very basic demos and spend long days with him on his mini grand piano working out the arrangements and programming…” said WHITE DOOR singer Mac Austin about the releationship with their producer.

Available on the WHITE DOOR album ‘Windows’ via Cherry Red Records

https://www.facebook.com/whitedoorband


PROPAGANDA Dr Mabuse (1984)

‘Dr Mabuse’ was the impressionistic masterpiece slated that was the debut single by PROPAGANDA, at the time a Düsseldorf-based five piece. Produced by Trevor Horn in the days before MIDI, Richards’ work involved spending days in the studio connecting up two Roland Jupiter 8s, two Roland MC4 Micro-composers, three Oberheim DMXs and a Roland TR808 to JJ Jeczalik’s Fairlight Series II.

Available on the PROPAGANDA album ‘A Secret Wish’ via Salvo

https://www.xpropaganda.co.uk/


FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD Two Tribes (1984)

As FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’s eagerly awaited follow-up to ‘Relax, ‘Two Tribes’ sent the Cold War paranoia of the times into overdrive. Richards’ blistering bassline sequence was programmed multiple times with differing feels, eventually settling on a hard PPG bass sample doubled with a slightly softer sequence from a Synclavier. The end result acted as a leadline and tribal powerhouse.

Available on the FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD album ‘Bang!’ via Salvo

https://www.frankiesay.com/


GEORGE MICHAEL Careless Whisper – Full length version (1984)

Although George Michael’s debut solo single was characterised by a fluid sax solo by Steve Gregory, when the WHAM! singer opted to produce ‘Careless Whisper’ himself after an abortive session with Jerry Wexler, he invited to Richards to overdub a chilling string synth intro and voice samples using a PPG Waveterm A. It would become the third No1 of 1984 on which Richards performed.

Available on the WHAM! album ‘Make In Big’ via Sony Music

https://www.frankiesay.com/


THE ADVENTURES Send My Heart – Extended remix (1984)

Belfast’s THE ADVENTURES were one of the first bands to be managed by pop Svengali Simon Fuller and on the back of FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’s success came remix and session work for Richards. His extended remix of the sprightly ‘Send My Heart’ included additional keyboard flourishes, a new voice sample solo section and drum breakdowns while keeping the song intact.

Available on THE ADVENTURES album ‘Theodore & Friends’ via Lemon Records

https://www.discogs.com/artist/219292-The-Adventures


STEPHEN ‘TIN TIN’ DUFFY Kiss Me (1985)

‘Kiss Me’ had been originally released by Stephen Duffy’s band TIN TIN in 1982. Reissued in several incarnations, the Fairlight heavy hit version was produced by Nicholas Froome and JJ Jeczalik who brought Richards in along with Danny Schogger to provide musicality to the various sample derived gimmicks used. Duffy would later become the writing partner of Robbie Williams and ‘Kiss Me’ would be covered in 2006.

Available on the STEPHEN DUFFY album ‘The Ups & Downs’ via Cherry Red Records

http://stephenduffy.com/


TRIO Ready For You (1985)

Germany’s TRIO became known worldwide for their novelty song ‘Da Da Da’. Much more aggressive than their big hit, the expletive laden sexually charged ‘Ready For You’ was a co-production by Richards and JJ Jeczalik alongside Klaus Voormann, the noted musician who also worked on all the TRIO albums as well as with Lou Reed and was the graphic designer of THE BEATLES ‘Revolver’.

Available on the TRIO album ‘Whats The Password’ via Mercury Records

http://www.stephan-remmler.de/


GRACE JONES SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM (1985)

Not the familiar groovy Go-Go hit single version that became Grace Jones’ signature tune, but a more aggressive take with big beats, rumbles and swoops actually designated “5. SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM” on the same titled album, Andy Richards’ distinct chord interventions can be heard in the brassy synth stabs. The song had been originally demoed by FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD in an uptempo fashion.

Available on the GRACE JONES album ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ via Island Records

https://www.gracejones.com/


BERLIN You Don’t Know (1986)

Although effectively a solo Terri Nunn track produced by Giorgio Moroder, ‘Take My Breath Away’ was issued as a BERLIN single and became a worldwide hit. The sultry art rock follow-up ‘You Don’t Know’ was primarily produced by Richards but the band were unhappy with their sojourn in London for their new album and scrapped their recordings with him, bar this.

Available on the BERLIN album ‘Best Of 1977 – 1988’ via Geffen Records

https://www.berlinpage.com/


NIK KERSHAW Radio Musicola (1986)

Credited with “Keyboards, Computers” for the first song of Nik Kershaw’s self-produced third album, the title track saw Richards’ Fairlight Series III programming take a central role emulating LEVEL 42’s Mark King style of bass playing. A cautionary warning about mass-produced run-of-the-mill pop music, ‘Radio Musicola’ also featured a brass section and  Iva Davies of ICEHOUSE on backing vocals.

Available on the NIK KERSHAW album ‘Essential’ via Universal Music

https://www.nikkershaw.net/


PET SHOP BOYS Heart – Single mix (1988)

Originally recorded with Shep Pettibone with Madonna in mind, having programmed the Fairlight on ‘Always On My Mind’, ‘It’s A Sin’ and ‘Rent’, Andy Richards was asked to produce a new version of ‘Heart’ in a classic disco vein for the ’Actually’ album. A re-edited version mixed by Julian Mendelsohn featuring extra wah-wah guitar by JJ Belle gave PET SHOP BOYS another UK No1 single.

Available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Smash – The Singles 1985 – 2020’ via EMI Music

https://www.petshopboys.co.uk/


PREFAB SPROUT Hey Manhattan (1988)

Have achieved their breakthrough with the Thomas Dolby produced ‘Steve McQueen’, the East Anglian electronics boffin was unable to work on the entire follow-up album ‘From Langley Park to Memphis’ so other producers were sought. Richards did ‘Hey Manhattan’ but band leader Paddy McAloon later remarked “I’m dissatisfied with the way we realised it. It’s pretty but it’s a failure”.

Available on the PREFAB SPROUT album ‘From Langley Park To Memphis’ via Sony Music

https://www.sproutology.co.uk/


HOLLY JOHNSON Americanos (1989)

Co-produced by Andy Richards and Steve Lovell with Dan Hartman, ‘Americanos’ was a catchy Latin tinged number complete with Mariachi horns that saw Holly Johnson achieve a second solo No4 hit. Despite being aspirational in tone, the former FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD singer provided an ironic observation of the widespread discrimination against the Hispanic community in the USA.

Available on the HOLLY JOHNSON album ‘Blast’ via Cherry Red Records

https://www.hollyjohnson.com/


FUZZBOX Pink Sunshine (1989)

Outrageously catchy, ‘Pink Sunshine’ was the best single from the alternative rock band once known as WE’VE GOT A FUZZBOX & WE’RE GONNA USE IT!! Reinventing themselves as a sexy pop vocal group for their second album ‘Big Bang!’ produced by Andy Richards, their first hit came with the ‘Thunderbirds’ inspired ‘International Rescue’ while ‘Self’ featuring QUEEN’s Brian May provided a third.

Available on the FUZZBOX album ‘Big Bang!’ via Cherry Red Records

https://www.facebook.com/OfficialFuzzbox


MALCOLM McLAREN & THE BOOTZILLA ORCHESTRA House Of The Blue Danube (1989)

In tribute to New York’s voguing scene, ‘Waltz Darling’ was Malcolm McLaren’s fourth album, fusing Johann Strauss with funk and house. It spawned the hit ‘Something’s Jumpin’ in Your Shirt’ but opening it was the mad if joyous instrumental ‘House of the Blue Danube’. Produced by Richards, it featured Bootsy Collins and Jeff Beck within a pumping “Frankie Say Strauss” backdrop.

Available on the MALCOLM McLAREN & THE BOOTZILLA ORCHESTRA album ‘Waltz Darling’ via Epic Records

https://www.malcolmmclaren.com/


DUSTY SPRINGFIELD Reputation (1990)

Having played keyboards on Liza Minnelli’s ‘Results’ album with PET SHOP BOYS, for a similar project this time with Dusty Springfield, while Messrs Tennant and Lowe produced half the ‘Reputation’ album, Richards was assigned the title song written by Brian Spence. Although overshadowed by the hits ‘Nothing Has Been Proved’ and ‘In Private’, the end result was a production of equal quality.

Available on the DUSTY SPRINGFIELD album ‘Reputation’ via Cherry Red Records

https://www.dustyspringfield.co.uk/


OMD All That Glitters (1991)

By 1988, advances in computer technology and software had made the Fairlight redundant. But Richards was sticking with his warhorse, causing tensions when working with Andy McCluskey on his new solo OMD by recreating what was on the demos formulated on a MIDI-compatible Atari. But the elegiac ‘Sugar Tax’ album closer ‘All That Glitters’ managed to capture the OMD magic of old.

Available on the OMD album ‘Sugar Tax’ via Virgin Records

http://www.omd.uk.com/


ALPHAVILLE Wishful Thinking (1997)

Produced by Andy Richards, ALPHAVILLE’s fifth album ‘Salvation’ came as the trio fragmented, leaving Marian Gold and Bernhard Lloyd to helm the ship. Energetic gothic dance music, ‘Wishful Thinking’ had a dramatic presence reminiscent of ‘Forever Young’, aided by a string arrangement by Anne Dudley which provided plenty of pomp and circumstance.

Available on the ALPHAVILLE album ‘Salvation’ via WEA Records

https://www.alphaville.earth/


More information on Andy Richards and ‘This Time… An Imaginary Soundtrack’ can be found at http://www.andyrichards.com/

The June 1988 Music Technology article ‘Programmer’s Protocol’ on Andy Richards was a key reference and can be read via the mu:zines music magazine archive at http://www.muzines.co.uk/articles/programmers-protocol/1104


Text by Chi Ming Lai
28 August 2023

THE ELECTRONIC LEGACY OF 1983

In addition to albums, several standalone singles were to be key to 1983 for those with a preference for the synthesized form.

NEW ORDER’s ‘Blue Monday’ and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Tour De France’ became iconic works while the David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto collaboration ‘Forbidden Colours’ not only bravely tackled a topic during a period when gay pop stars and media personalities still felt unable to openly come out, but also reinforced the value of a movie tie-in.

Sampling was no longer the preserve of wealthy musicians and their Fairlights as the cheaper but still expensive Emulator became more widely available. Meanwhile the Roland Jupiter-6, Prophet 600, the Roland TR-909 and Roland MSQ-700 became the first instruments available with MIDI. Digital synthesis became affordable via the astonishingly affordable Yamaha DX7, although it proved to be a nightmare to programme. As a result, the music world fell into a preset trap overnight with the sound of simulated slap bass, flute and harmonica appearing on almost every pop record for the next few years…

But synthesizers and electronic sounds ceased being a desired texture as the huge success of David Bowie with his ‘Let’s Dance’ album meant every band would soon add a brass section to their line-up. SPANDAU BALLET, who perhaps may have triggered pop’s brass aspirations back in 1981 with ‘Chant No1’, went all smaltzy with ‘True’ and this coincided with the rise of pseudo-soul pop such as WHAM! and CULTURE CLUB. Meanwhile, in alternative circles, bands like THE SMITHS were spearheading the backlash with their frontman Morrissey declaring “there was nothing more repellent than the synthesizer…”

However, the old guard from Synth Britannia soldiered on and continued to experiment while acts who perhaps were not electronically-minded at their heart could see the benefits of embracing the developing technology, such as having more streamlined line-ups and dispensing with drummers.

However, a sign of the confusing artistic mindsets of the period came with Gary Numan’s ‘Warriors’ album and its dreadful artwork with our hero looking like Mad Max after a visit to the hair salon, but annoyed that his mulleted mane had been dyed the wrong colour.

Things had looked promising for his return to the UK live stage after retiring in 1981, but he fell out with producer Bill Nelson during the recording sessions.

With the embracement of jazz funk influences and sax solos appearing whether they were really needed or not, the result was a well-played if confused record that was the beginning of a creative confidence crisis that would afflict Numan for at least another decade.

So here are 20 albums selected by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK as contributing to the electronic legacy of 1983. Listed in alphabetical order, there is a restriction of one album per artist moniker where beyond this place, the rains are falling hard…


CABARET VOLTAIRE The Crackdown

After the departure of founder member Chris Watson, the remaining duo of Richard H Kirk and Stephen Mallinder became seduced by the sequenced adventures of NEW ORDER and electronic dance music emerging from New York clubs like Danceteria. Signing to Some Bizzare and licensed to Virgin Records, ‘The Crackdown’ was produced by Flood and featured contributions from Dave Ball of SOFT CELL on the title song and ‘Animation’. Meanwhile the stark single ‘Just Fascination’ helped the album become CABARET VOLTAIRE’s highest ever UK chart entry at No31.

‘The Crackdown’ is still available via Mute Artists

https://mute.com/artists/cabaret-voltaire


CHINA CRISIS Working With Fire & Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume 2

Produced by Mike Howlett, ‘Working With Fire & Steel’ allowed CHINA CRISIS to deliver a more cohesive album following the four producers who steered their debut ‘Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms’! Best known for the brilliant Emulator laced hit single ‘Wishful Thinking’, the album is much more than that with melancholic synth melodies and woodwind counterpoints over a combination of real and programmed rhythm sections, from feistier numbers such as ‘Animals In Jungles’ to more atmospheric set pieces like ‘Here Comes A Raincloud’ and ‘The Soul Awakening’.

‘Working With Fire & Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume 2’ is still available via Caroline International

https://www.facebook.com/chinacrisisofficial


DEPECHE MODE Construction Time Again

The first album featuring Alan Wilder as a full member as well as Gareth Jones as “Tonmeister”, ‘Construction Time Again’ saw DEPECHE MODE move away from pure synthpop to experiment with found object sampling via the Emulator. Mixed at Hansa Studios in West Berlin, the end result was a socially conscious record featuring Cold War paranoia on ‘Two Minute Warning’, environmental concerns on ’The Landscape Is Changing’ and the now ironic anti-capitalist statements ‘More Than A Party’, ‘Pipeline’ and ‘Everything Counts’!

‘Construction Time Again’ is still available via Sony Music

https://www.depechemode.com/


DURAN DURAN Seven & The Ragged Tiger

DURAN DURAN may have eventually yielded a 1984 No1 single in a Nile Rodgers remix of ‘The Reflex’ but overall, ‘Seven & The Ragged Tiger’ was perhaps an over produced disappointment in the shadow of Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’. Recorded in France and Australia, tensions between band members and with producer Ian Little led to the ubiquitous Alex Sadkin to be brought in. Despite this, the album featured highlights such as the punchy ‘Shadows On Your Side’, the JAPAN inspired instrumental ‘Tiger Tiger’ and the often forgotten single ‘New Moon On Monday’.

‘Seven & The Ragged Tiger’ is still available via EMI Music

https://duranduran.com/


ENDGAMES Building Beauty

The success of ABC and HEAVEN 17 heralded a new age of technologically enhanced blue-eyed soul. One band with aspirations in that field were Glasgow’s ENDGAMES. Featuring original SIMPLE MINDS drummer Brian McGee, ‘Universe Won’t Mind’, ‘Desire’ and the German No21 hit hit ‘Waiting For Another Chance’ were among the standouts. Meanwhile ‘Love Cares’ was like a funky CHINA CRISIS walking into the recording sessions of ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ and by pure coincidence, singer David Rudden had a passing resemblance to Gary Daly!

‘Building Beauty’ was originally released on Virgin Records, currently unavailable

https://www.discogs.com/artist/50709-Endgames


BRIAN ENO Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks

Recorded as a soundtrack to a documentary film about the Apollo Missions to the moon, Brian Eno wanted to convey the feelings of space travel and weightlessness as a reaction to the uptempo, manner of space travel presented by most TV programmes and news reels of the day with their fast cuts and speeded up images. Although based around a Yamaha DX7, the album was quite varied instrumentally featuring Daniel Lanois’ countrified six string elements on its best known track ‘Deep Blue Day’, as well as ‘Silver Morning’ and ‘Weightless’.

‘Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks’ is still available via Virgin / EMI Records

http://www.brian-eno.net


EURYTHMICS Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)

The first of two EURYTHMICS albums in 1983, after their German-inspired debut ‘In The Garden’, Annie Lennox and David A Stewart explored the synthesizer and acquired a Movement Drum Computer to live up to their moniker. Recorded in their newly equipped 8 track home studio in London’s Chalk Farm, ‘Love Is A Stranger’ was the breakthrough although not a hit first time round. Despite its hopeless nihilism, the title song went global but the album had other notable songs such as ‘I Could Give You (A Mirror)’, ‘I’ve Got An Angel’ and the brilliant forgotten single ‘The Walk’.

‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ is still available via RCA

https://www.eurythmics.com/


JOHN FOXX The Golden Section

John Foxx had envisioned ‘The Golden Section’ as “a roots check” with a psychedelic electronic rock flavour. This came to a head on a revised ‘Endlessy’ which captured an accessible uptempo euphoria. With folk laden overtones, ‘Ghosts On Water’ was one of the album’s highlights along with the powerful opener ‘My Wild Love’. But away from these influences, ‘Twilight’s Last Gleaming’ was a glorious haunting closer. Foxx himself later remarked the album was a mistake as he tried to “fit too many favourite things together”.

‘The Golden Section’ is still available via Edsel Records

http://www.metamatic.com/


PAUL HAIG Rhythm Of Life

Produced by Alex Sadkin, ‘Rhythm Of Life’ was the one and only attempt by Paul Haig to crack the pop mainstream away from the frantic guitar driven angst of his previous band JOSEF K. Highly percussive and lifted by some sub-ASSOCIATES rhythm guitar and big layered synth riffs, ‘Never Give Up (Party Party)’ showed great promise while ‘Heaven Sent’ was a superb reimagination of SIMPLE MINDS’ ‘I Travel’ for the New York dancefloor. ‘Justice’ was full of tense drama and contained a fabulously freeform synth solo but a lack of hits failed to ignite wider interest in the album.

‘Rhythm Of Life’ is still available via Les Disques Du Crépuscule

http://www.paulhaig.com/


HEAVEN 17 The Luxury Gap

After the critical and artistic success of ‘Penthouse & Pavement’, the second album ‘The Luxury Gap’ was HEAVEN 17 aiming to be incredibly popular. With a Roland MC4 Micro-composer and Linn Drum driving their System 100s and Jupiter 4, there were Top 5 hits in ‘Temptation’ and ‘Come Live With Me’. Still experimenting, ‘Lady Ice & Mr Hex’ was a surreal marriage of synthesizers with jazz while with the used of a Roland TB303 Bassline prominently on ‘Let Me Go’ pre-dated acid house.

Available on the album ‘The Luxury Gap’ via Virgin Records

https://www.heaven17.com/


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Fascination!

Trying to follow-up ‘Dare’ proved to be a fractious experience with producer Martin Rushent leaving the sessions after creative conflicts with various members of THE HUMAN LEAGUE. The few completed tracks were issued on a North American mini-album and showed what could have been. While included were the ‘Love Action’ B-side ‘Hard Times’, the catchy title single and the electro-Tamla of ‘Mirror Man’, they were topped by ‘You Remind Me Of Gold’ and Rushent’s mix of ‘I Love You too Much’. The eventual ‘Hysteria’ album in 1984 was underwhelming, undoubtedly missing Rushent’s touch.

‘Fascination!’ is still available as part of the boxed set ‘The Virgin Years’ via Virgin Records

https://www.thehumanleague.co.uk/


NAKED EYES Burning Bridges

Pete Byrne and Rob Fisher were NAKED EYES and while their Simmons heavy Bacharach & David cover of ‘Always Something There To Remind Me’ didn’t trouble the UK Top 40, it reached No8 in the US. Produced by Tony Mansfield of NEW MUSIK, the eponymous debut album used a Fairlight, Synclavier 2, PPG Wave 2.2, Emulator, OBX-a and Prophet 5. Not another Bacharach & David cover, a further US hit came with ‘Promises Promises’. Rob Fisher later had UK hits with Simon Climie but sadly passed away in 1999 while Peter Byrne continues performing as NAKED EYES.

‘Burning Bridges’ is still available as ‘Naked Eyes’ via Chrysalis Records

https://www.nakedeyesmusic.com/


NEW ORDER Power, Corruption & Lies

Using sequencer-like effects on interim singles ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ and ‘Temptation’ had set NEW ORDER on a new path and while there were still guitar driven songs such as ‘Age Of Consent’ and ‘Leave Me Alone’, hybrids such as ‘The Village’ and ‘Ultraviolence’ utilised a pulsing electronic backbone. ‘Your Silent Face’, dubbed the “KRAFTWERK one”, was the ultimate romantic homage to Kling Klang but strangely, the track that seeded it all ‘586’ lost its menace in its third recorded incarnation with non-album single ‘Blue Monday’ being the superior development.

‘Power, Corruption & Lies’ is still available via Warner Music

http://www.neworder.com/


OMD Dazzle Ships

A brave sonic exploration of Cold War tensions and economic corruption, ‘Dazzle Ships’ was not what Virgin Records expected from OMD after three Top5 hits. Of its two singles, the jangly ‘Genetic Engineering’ was only a minor hit while the scathing attack on TV evangelism ‘Telegraph’ failed to get into the Top40. Although it featured some of the band’s best songs like ‘The Romance Of The Telescope’, ‘International’ and ‘Radio Waves’, ‘Dazzle Ships’ sold poorly on release but it has since been re-evaluated as a landmark work of the period.

‘Dazzle Ships’ is still available via Virgin Records

http://www.omd.uk.com


SOFT CELL The Art Of Falling Apart

Pop stardom did not suit SOFT CELL so there was no option but for former artschool students Marc Almond and Dave Ball to self-destruct. The imploding disposition of ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ title song couldn’t have soundtracked a mental breakdown any better. Despite the sinister romp of ‘Baby Doll’ and the explicit ode to promiscuity ‘Numbers’, ‘Forever The Same’ and ‘Loving You Hating Me’ could have been a singles, while ‘Where The Heart Is’ and ‘Kitchen Sink Drama’ featured highly relatable domestic narratives.

‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ is still available via Mercury Records

http://www.softcell.co.uk


TEARS FOR FEARS The Hurting

With a magnificent combination of synth, preset rhythms and conventional instruments, ‘Mad World’ had set the scene for TEARS FOR FEARS’ debut album ‘The Hurting’. But it disappointed some who had followed the band from the start, as not only had all four singles to date been included but also two B-sides. But the majority had been reworked while the fraught tensions of the title song and ‘Memories Fade’ found favour amongst the new material. The re-recorded ‘Pale Shelter’ became a hit on second time of asking too.

‘The Hurting’ is still available via Mercury Records

https://tearsforfears.com/


THOMPSON TWINS Quick Step & Side Kick

Having slimmed down to a trio, the Alex Sadkin produced ‘Quick Step & Side Kick’ was the third THOMPSON TWINS album. Although ‘Love On Your Side’ was to be the breakthrough hit with the catchy but potentially annoying ‘We Are Detective’ following, the exotic funky non-hit ‘Lies’ deserved greater recognition while ‘Judy Do’ gloriously borrowed from Lou Reed’s ‘Satellite Of Love’. This was all without the Grace Jones cameo on frankly bonkers ‘Watching’ and the rousing ‘If You Were There’.

‘Quick Step & Side Kick’ is still available via Edsel Records

http://www.thompsontwinstombailey.co.uk/


WHITE DOOR Windows

Hailing from Stoke-on-Trent, WHITE DOOR formed from the ashes of prog rock combo GRACE. Led by the sensitive vocal presence of Mac Austin, he backed by the Davies brothers Harry and John on synths. Produced by a young Andy Richards, ‘Windows’ saw its title song get BBC Radio1 airplay. Even better was the beautiful choir boy synthpop of ‘Jerusalem’ which was later covered by Swedish synthesist Johan Baeckström, along with another album track ‘School Days’. Baeckström was to later join the trio for their 2020 long playing comeback ‘The Great Awakening’.

‘Windows’ is still available as a CD from Cherry Red Records

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


YAZOO You & Me Both

Despite the success of ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’, all was not well in the YAZOO camp so by the time of ‘You & Me Both’, Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet were laying down their parts separately. ‘Ode To Boy’, one of only three songwriting collaborations the pair did was rescued from B-side obscurity while ‘Nobody’s Diary’ was the mighty swansong single. The album contained Moyet’s poignant anti-war statement ‘Mr Blue’ but in the Vince Clarke voiced ‘Happy People’, he came up with his most polarising composition since ‘What’s Your Name?’.

‘You & Me Both’ is still available via Mute Records

https://yazooinfo.com/


YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA Naughty Boys

As a reaction to the over-seriousness of their previous two albums, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA lightened up considerably for their fifth full-length album ‘Naughty Boys’. The most commercial record of their career, this was highlighted by the joyous lead single ‘Kimi Ni Mune Kyun’. But while ‘Opened My Eyes’ could have been any Western synthpop act of the period, ‘Lotus Love’ revealed some unexpected psychedelic overtones and ‘Kai-Koh’ showed that the trio had not lost their ear for exotic electronically generated timbres.

‘Naughty Boys’ is still available via Sony Music

http://www.ymo.org/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
19th January 2023

2020 END OF YEAR REVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2020

PAUL BODDY

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


IAN FERGUSON

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


SIMON HELM

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


CHI MING LAI

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


MONIKA IZABELA TRIGWELL

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


Text by Chi Ming Lai
21st December 2020

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, 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

WHITE DOOR The Great Awakening

If there is one person who has probably sparked the realisation of a long-awaited second WHITE DOOR album, then it has to be the synth Superswede Johan Baeckström.

A solo artist in his own right but also a member of synth duo DAILY PLANET, the young Johan Baeckström was a fan of the first WHITE DOOR album ’Windows’ released in 1983.

When he needed B-sides for the singles from his own 2015 solo debut ’Like Before, he covered ’Jerusalem’ and ’School Days’.

Although Baeckström has been unashamedly candid about the influence of Vince Clarke on his music, his musicality was also been shaped by the small catalogue of songs by Mac Austin, Harry Davies and John Davies.

While Mac Austin and Harry Davies have continued to perform in their prog combo GRACE over the years, Baeckström sowed the seeds of a WHITE DOOR reunion when he and DAILY PLANET bandmate Jarmo Olilia invited Austin to provide lead vocals on ‘Heaven Opened’ on their 2017 album ‘Play Rewind Repeat’.

That sparked a WHITE DOOR reunion and as a newly confugured quartet, Mac Austin, John Davies, Harry Davies and Johan Baeckström now present ’The Great Awakening’. Baeckström gives the pulsing Vince Clarke-isms a breather and swaps it for the more polyphonically formed keyboard interventions of his other heroes like Howard Jones.

A joyous tune that sets the scene, the exotic sophistication of ’Among The Mountains’ possesses the soaring windscreen poise of A-HA with a flawless vocal from Mac Austin while the soundscape is sweetened by flute, providing an interesting timbral contrast.

Acknowledging the theme of ’Get Carter’ but with a more brassy flair, ’Resurrection’ surprises with a bouncy Giorgio Moroder inspired stomp and the lift of a rousing chorus. Meanwhile Mac Austin manages to sound like a cross between Morten Harket and Chris De Burgh over some beautifully symphonic synth and subtle slapped bass in a guest appearance from Baeckström’s son Simon.

’Soundtrack Of Our Lives’ captures the joys of spring, with the English folk austere that was very much part of WHITE DOOR’s make-up playing a key role with the harmonious vocal arrangement.

A sparkling production with space for all the elements to shine, there’s even a few classic Linn Drum sounds thrown in too. Yes, they are more recollections of A-HA although of course, the ’Windows’ album came out a year before ’Hunting High & Low’.

Holding down the steadier mood with a synth arpeggio, the richly layered ’Lullaby’ makes what appears to be a simple arrangement sound grand and complex in a cleverly configured traditional tune that steadily builds and surprises with a burst of saxophone in the final third which also glistens ivory-wise in the manner of Howard Jones.

Beginning with a slightly stuttering rhythm, ’Angel Of Tomorrow’ bursts into life with a spacey buoyant pomp that captures an air of Vangelis.

An elated majestic tone ensues as staring mortality in the face, ’The Great Awakening’ celebrates an embracment of life and second chances with a range of complex synth motifs. All wondefully complimenting one another, it is akin to a casade of church bells ringing on a Sunday morning.

The spritely ’Simply Magnificent’ does as the title suggests and is pure sequenced synthpop in the vein of early ALPHAVILLE, the distant transistor radio ending acting a nice tribute to bygone listening experiences.

Ending the album, ’Beautiful Girl’ is classic WHITE DOOR and a song which Harry Davies describes as ”a wonderful song for making babies to”. Vocally like a modern hymn with patterns of hooky chimes, there’s even a surprising lilt of sax that suits the electronic backdrop, with a gorgeous sweeping polysynth conclusion that CHINA CRISIS would be proud of, recalling the feel of their appropriately titled tune ‘The Soul Awakening’.

Hopeful, mature and joyous, ’The Great Awakening’ grandly blows away the attempted sensitive synth overtures of the young pretenders almost half their age. It is twilight magic provided by the sorcerers and their apprenctice. Nearly four decades on, WHITE DOOR have again passed the test with commendation.

Of his role in ’The Great Awakening’, Johan Baeckström said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: ”I really wanted to do my best to maintain the WHITE DOOR sound and spirit in the production on this album”.

Mission accomplished ?

’The Great Awakening’ uses the following synthesizers: Roland Jupiter 6, Roland Juno 106, Akai AX73, Minimoog, Korg Mono/Poly and ARP Odyssey


’The Great Awakening’ is released by Progress Productions on 17th April 2020, pre-order download from https://whitedoor.bandcamp.com/album/the-great-awakening

Pre-order CD or white vinyl LP from Progress Productions at https://mailchi.mp/9e7025e1bf26/whitedoor

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

https://twitter.com/Bstrommusic

https://open.spotify.com/album/3bU49HHzLHxEDQAeVpEROJ?si=ZwnqbshNQ-CB6C2P85HH9Q


Text by Chi Ming Lai
15th April 2020, updated 17th April 2020

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