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

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

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


TOBIAS BERNSTRUP Private Eye

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

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

http://www.bernstrup.com/


BLANCMANGE Diagram

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

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

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


ALANAS CHOSNAU & MARK REEDER Heavy Rainfall

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

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

https://alanaschosnau.com/

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


GARY DALY 80s Electro 2

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

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

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


DUBSTAR Hygiene Strip (2020)

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

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

https://www.dubstarofficial.co/


ANI GLASS Ynys Araul (OMD Remix)

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

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

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


GLÜME Come Softly To Me

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

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

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


HILTIPOP Time

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

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

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


INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP The Tower

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

Available on the album ‘Pop Gossip’ via Desolate Spools

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


KID MOXIE Big In Japan

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

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

http://www.facebook.com/kidmoxie


KITE Teenage Bliss

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

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

https://www.facebook.com/KiteHQ


LASTLINGS Held Under

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

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

http://www.lastlings.com/


LINEA ASPERA Event Horizon

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

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

https://www.facebook.com/lineaaspera


NIGHT CLUB Die In The Disco

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

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

https://nightclubband.com/


NINA Where It Ends

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

Available on the digital EP ‘Control’ via Lakeshore Records

https://www.iloveninamusic.com/


PET SHOP BOYS Will-O-The-Wisp

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

Available on the album ‘Hotspot’ via x2 Recordings

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


PISTON DAMP Something in Me

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

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

https://www.pistondamp.com/


DANA JEAN PHOENIX & POWERNERD Fight These Robots

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

Available on the album ‘Megawave’ via Outland Recordings

http://www.facebook.com/danajeanphoenix

https://www.facebook.com/powernerdmusic


POLYCHROME Starts With A Kiss

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

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

http://soundofpolychrome.com/


FINLAY SHAKESPEARE Occupation

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

Available on the album ‘Solemnities’ via Editions Mego

http://finlayshakespeare.com/


EMILIE SIMON Cette Ombre

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

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

http://www.emiliesimon.com/


THE SMASHING PUMKINS Cyr

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

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

https://smashingpumpkins.com/


SNS SENSATION Small World

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

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

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


SPARKS One For The Ages

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

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

http://allsparks.com/


ZACHERY ALLAN STARKEY featuring BERNARD SUMNER Force

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

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

https://www.zacheryallanstarkey.com/


ULTRAFLEX Olympic Sweat

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

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

https://www.facebook.com/ultraflexband


UNIFY SEPARATE Solitude & I

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

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

http://www.unifyseparate.com


VANDAL MOON Suicidal City Girl

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

Available on the album ‘Black Kiss’ via Starfield Music

https://www.vandalmoon.com/


MARVA VON THEO Forever

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

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

https://marvavontheo.com


WHITE DOOR Resurrection

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

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

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


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


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th December 2020

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

WHITE DOOR Interview

Melodic synth trio WHITE DOOR released their only album ‘Windows’ in 1983.

But despite the title song being a Record Of The Week on Simon Bates’ BBC Radio1 show, it was unable to gain wider traction.

WHITE DOOR were to gain cult status over the years and one young fan was Swedish synthesist Johan Baeckström who later covered ’Jerusalem’ and ’School Days’ from ’Windows’ in 2015.

Although Baeckström has been unashamedly candid about the influence of Vince Clarke on his music, his sound and that of his other project DAILY PLANET has also been shaped by the Andy Richards produced songs of Mac Austin, Harry Davies and John Davies.

While Mac Austin and Harry Davies have continued to perform in their prog rock 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’.

Then, there was a live reunion in 2019 when Baeckström invited Austin and the Davies brothers to join him for renditions of ’Jerusalem’ and ’School Days’ at Synth Wave Live 3 in London.

So after 37 years, a long awaited second album from WHITE DOOR will emerge this April featuring eight new songs to follow-up ‘Windows’.

A four way collaboration between Mac Austin, John Davies, Harry Davies and Johan Baeckström, the newly confugured quartet present ‘The Great Awakening’. Three of the band kindly chatted to about their recorded return…

At what point did a new WHITE DOOR album become a realistic proposition?

Harry: Johan and Mac are best to answer that. But for me it is when we heard a first draft by Johan of a song we recorded on a phone.

Mac: I think the relationship evolved over time, Johan got in touch about covering ’School Days’ I think it was, then a while later I was asked to do a vocal for the DAILY PLANET album which was a real honour. In the meantime we were messaging about the music we were both doing and eventually Johan asked if we had thought of doing a second WD album and that was that.

So the WHITE DOOR line-up has been expanded?

Harry: We feel that the producer is an integral part of any band and Johan is both a song writer and a perfect producer for WHITE DOOR.

Without Johan’s input, this album would not have happened. He is also more photogenic than the rest of us.

Mac: Yes mate we are now a four piece, well it worked for THE BEATLES. Couldn’t be happier. Johan has given us so much, the music is massively richer from Johan’s presence.

The new line-up made a two song live debut at Electrowerkz in London in June 2019, how was that for you?

Mac: It was a great experience, meeting yourself Chi and the moment we met Johan for the first time. I really enjoyed the gig though I did cock up ’Jerusalem’, it was a real great couple of days.

Harry: It was very surreal for me, although my input to the performance was minimal, I was still very nervous.

Is having Johan in the band almost like fulfilling the role Andy Richards played in ‘Windows’?

Harry: Yes, and more so, Johan instantly identified himself with that genre of music of the 80s.

Mac: It is in a way because of his great technical ability and beautiful playing. but with Johan we also have his amazing vocals and writing skills which takes us on to a different level creatively

Were there any particular musical reference points you discussed and had in common?

Mac: The main reference point was we all loved ’Windows’ and wanted to build on that album and hearing Johan’s albums, we seemed to be very close in our writing and sound.

Although until we started to get the first drafts back from Johan, I did not know just how good this combination could be.

With remote working happening between England and Sweden, how was the creative dynamic?

Johan: We´re fortunate to live in an age where technology has made the world a lot smaller and with great tools for communication and transfer of different data. A lot of the tracks started with the guys in the UK sending me rough demos from which I could start my programming and pre-production work. Vocals and woodwinds were recorded in a studio in the UK and then sent to my studio in Sweden where I would add my backing vocals and finalize the production and mixing.

What synth toys were being brought into the production?

Johan: Most of the synths in my studio was used for this album but compared to my solo work, I’ve leaned a lot more on poly synths for this project, so the Roland Jupiter 6, Roland Juno 106 and Akai AX73 was used quite extensively on all the tracks and even the good old Yamaha DX7 was called for on a couple of the tracks. The most used mono synths were probably the Minimoog, the Korg Mono/Poly and the ARP Odyssey.

How was it to wear the WHITE DOOR hat, did you find yourselves slipping into GRACE or DAILY PLANET modes? Or is that irrelevant, that the WHITE DOOR chemistry is because it’s the four of you?

Johan: Well, for me the WHITE DOOR music has been a part of me since I was a teenager, and the WD sound has always been an inspiration in my other projects.

Having the opportunity to actually be part of making a follow-up album with these wonderful guys, is a blessing and I really wanted to do my best to maintain the WHITE DOOR sound and spirit in the production on this album – familiar, but still fresh.

Mac: For me as a vocalist, it’s the instrumentation that makes the difference. Johan was influenced by the ’Windows album’ and had covered ’School Days’ and ’Jerusalem’, so the WHITE DOOR sound was easy for him to reproduce. Our demos were very loose, giving him the opportunity from these ideas to create great sound tracks for the vocals. The way we work for WHITE DOOR is completely different than GRACE where the guitar and keyboard sound is very up front, with real drums making a much harder sound. I find with WD, the vocal melodies are much more intricate and easier to develop.

‘The Great Awakening’ and ‘Among The Mountains’ are quite grand titles, what are they touching on lyrically?

Harry: The two songs are intrinsically linked lyrically. In 2015, I was diagnosed with a life changing condition that left me very fatigued and dependant on blood transfusions. I loved hill and long distance walking especially in Scotland, which I found impossible to pursue, sometimes I found it difficult to walk across the road.

‘Among the Mountains’ is about mourning that loss. As time went by my condition was deteriorating both physically and mentally. A search began for a stem cell donor. A possible donor was found and was given an appointment with a leading transplant specialist. You can imagine my elation and excitement to get my life back. That is where ’The Great Awakening’ came from. John was going through a very at a difficult time and that influenced him with the chord structure. In the end, the donor was not suitable but with an amazing support team I am off the transfusions and doing ok.

’Beautiful Girl’ has something of a classic WHITE DOOR feel, what was its genesis?

Johan: It´s funny that you say that – the seed to this song was actually a chord progression and melody that Jarmo and I was working on for DAILY PLANET, over 20 years ago. I remember that we talked about how this chorus almost felt like a mix between WHITE DOOR and A-HA.

I sent it over to Mac to see if he, Harry and John could do something with it. After a while, I got a demo back with the complete song structure that you hear on the album today, with an even stronger melody line in the chorus as well as brand new, killer verses.

Mac: When Johan sent over the music demo, John played the chords and I just started to sing along with lyrics from a song idea I had years ago that seemed to fit this music. We worked out the structure and I finished the lyric and sent our demo back to Johan for him see what or if he could do anything with it. The rest is history as they say.

What are your own favourite tracks from the album?

Harry: Of course ‘Mountains’ and ‘Awakening’ mean such a lot to me, but I love ‘Beautiful Girl’, it’s a wonderful song for making babies to and the lyrics take me back to the 70s and watching the girls dancing around their handbags. But if I’m doing the housework, ‘Simply Magnificent’ takes some beating.

Mac: For me it depends on the mood I’m in, they are all very strong and I think ’Beautiful Girl’ has a great hook; ’Among The Mountains’ and ’The Great Awakening’ mean a lot because of the incredible moving lyric by Harry which moves me every time I hear them. ’Lullaby’ was written years ago to help my two girls to feel safe in the beds. I’m not sure it worked but they both love it. ’Angel Of Tomorrow’ is a great song to sing I love it.

Johan: I can´t really say one song is more of a favourite than the other, but the first one I started working on was ’Lullaby’, which I got a demo of from Mac in a very early stage of the project and I fell in love with it right away. I could instantly hear in my head what it should sound like, production wise, and I must say I am very happy with how it turned out. That, track made me realise that ”I think we can actually do this – bring WHITE DOOR back to life again”, so this makes ’Lullaby’ a bit special to me, I guess.

Music is an ageless artform? Discuss! 😉

Harry: I would like someone else to start that.

Mac: For me, most music records moments in time, whether it be country, folk, punk, prog, blues, even classical, they capture those moments with lyrical poetry and music to not only relate the stories but lay an emotional thread with the style of music. I believe it will always be the case.

What next? Any thoughts about playing live together for a full WHITE DOOR set?

Harry: Love to, barring problems with corona virus and the ‘B’ word, we have started to discuss a set list. Be interesting to get feedback to help us decide on tracks maybe.

Mac: I would love that, I am so proud of this music it would really work in a live situation.

Johan: Yes, that is certainly in the scope when the world has come back to some sort of normal again. Watch the WHITE DOOR facebook page for info.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to WHITE DOOR

‘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


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
2nd April  2020

Vintage Synth Trumps with JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM

With a pair of excellent albums ‘Like Before’ and ‘Utopia’ now under his belt, Swedish synthesist JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM has more than established his solo credentials.

Best known as a member of DAILY PLANET, Baeckström had been making plans to return to music on his own prior to an unexpected reunion of the acclaimed duo in 2014 with the appropriately titled ‘Two’. Since then, Baeckström has maintained a solo career in parallel with DAILY PLANET.

DAILY PLANET’s most recent album ‘Play Rewind Repeat’ saw a guest vocal from Mac Austin of WHITE DOOR on the sublime tune ‘Heaven’.

Baeckström had already covered two WHITE DOOR songs ‘School Days’ and ‘Jerusalem’ for B-sides, so it was not entirely a surprise when it was announced that he would be joining WHITE DOOR for the recording of their long awaited follow-up to the 1983 long player ‘Windows’.

From his studio utopia via the wonders of online communication, Baeckström challenged ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to a round of Vintage Synth Trumps and told a few interesting stories about his fabulous collection of electronic keyboards and much more.

The first card is the Roland Jupiter 8, so what have been your experiences with this?

I have almost none, I don’t think I’ve ever played one. I’ve seen them and it’s an important icon synth, that Howard Jones cover of ‘New Song’ with the Jupiter 8 made a huge impact and made me think synthesizers looked cool.

But I always thought the Jupiter 6 looked better, it had a nicer design with a better colour scheme, I have one of those and that’s one of my favourites. I know what a Jupiter 8 sounds like, I’ve heard a million demos and it’s on lots of records, it defined the early / mid 80s polysynth sound.

So how close can you get a Jupiter 6 to sound like a Jupiter 8 aesthetically?

I think they are quite different because the Jupiter 8 to me sounds a bit softer and lush. The Jupiter 6 can be lush as well but it’s got a sharper edge to it, which suits my music better as it’s quite percussive and detailed; it’s warm but not as warm as the Jupiter 8. The Jupiter 6 can do harsh, crispy sounds which you can´t really do on the Jupiter 8 because of the multiband filter on the 6, for example.

Which recordings of yours are quite dominated by the Jupiter 6?

When I bought it, the first thing I did to try it was a cover of WHITE DOOR ‘School Days’! It turned out quite nice and I released it as a B-side as you know. Everything on that is the Jupiter 6, also a DAILY PLANET song on the ‘Play Rewind Repeat’ album called ‘Drown’, everything is the Jupiter 6 except for the bass which is a Pro-One.

You mentioned about how you saw the cover for Howard Jones ‘New Song’ when you were younger, but at the time of DAILY PLANET’s first album, you had very long hair… often that’s not a fashion requisite associated with synths? *laughs*

I probably didn’t want to be like everyone else, I started to grow my hair long when I was 14 years old, at first I had “synthpop” hair with everything standing straight up! Then I grew the hair from the neck like Nik Kershaw and then I grew it all very long, I think it was down to my waist at its longest!

Were you a rocker?

I had a time in a rock band when I was 16-17, more a pop rock band like TOTO! I’m not ashamed of it! *laughs*

It was good music, I feel stronger about this now when I heard Daniel Miller in an interview and he admitted he was a big fan of TOTO! If he can admit it, I can!

Of course, Daniel Miller had quite long hair when he started making music with synths…

… it’s the interest on TOTO that does it! *laughs*

So saving money on hair conditioner has enabled you to buy more synths? *laughs*

That is true! *laughs*

Next card, it’s the ARP Odyssey…

I have the reissue from Korg and I use it quite extensively. It’s the same as with the Jupiter 6, it has a sharp edge to it and this Korg one has all three filter types that it was released with. The first is a two-pole filter which is very crispy and has a lot of higher frequencies coming through. It can do everything from bass to percussion.

So when you buy a synth, are you influenced by the bands they are associated with?

I’m sure I am… for example to me, the Jupiter 8 IS Howard Jones and the Pro-One IS Vince Clarke, he basically built an album around that synth.

The Odyssey I know Billy Currie of ULTRAVOX used it a lot but so did KRAFTWERK. So yes, to a certain extent.

Do you use the mini-keyboard on the Korg ARP Odyssey reissue or do you MIDI up another full-sized keyboard to it?

I have very few modules, most of my synthesizers have keyboards because when I create sounds and write music, I like to play the instrument I’m programming. So for that, mini-keys are fine but I would probably not bring it out to play live, I would miss a few notes here and there because it’s too small. I would have preferred a full sized keyboard but this was not an option on this reissue by Korg and I’m not prepared to cough up the money for an original one, or the FS version of the reissue.

Was the acquisition of so many synths what led to you building a new studio, or was it to allow for expansion possibilities in the future?

We actually bought a new house so we moved, and one of the rooms in the basement of this house was everything I needed to build a studio, it just needed a new floor, some paint and acoustic panels. The old one was getting a bit cramped so it’s nice to have a bigger studio and in this one, I can have a lounge with a sofa and table, so it’s a much nicer working environment.

The next card is the Korg 800DV…

It’s a good looking one with lots of wood on the sides, but I have no relation to it.

You said your B-side ‘Synth Is Not Dead’ was sort of tongue-in-cheek?

That’s true, I did it for fun which is why it wasn’t put on any album. On the other hand, I think it turned out quite nice so that’s why it came out as a B-side digitally. And thanks to you, some people seem to like it! *laughs*

Next card… oh, here’s an Octave Kitten!

I remember the Octave Cat was a competitor to the ARP Odyssey, I think John Davies from WHITE DOOR still has a Kitten, he used that on the demos for the ‘Windows’ album.

You mentioned the Octave Cat was a competitor to the ARP Odyssey, it had basically the same circuit design!

Yeah, it was a rip-off! That was the Behringer of its day! *laughs*

I think it’s quite interesting how there is so much litigation with song copyright now, but in the synthesizer world, copying is common, even back in the day. Like the circuitry for the Simmons SDS-V was based on the ARP 2600… any thoughts on this modern day cloning thing like with Behringer?

I’m having a hard time with this cloning of everything. If you take the Simmons example, if it’s a total rip-off, then that’s not a nice thing to do because there was probably some patent, but on the other hand, that was a drum module so it’s different from a synthesizer, so perhaps that doesn’t matter.

What Behringer is doing, I suppose it’s positive for people to buy synthesizers which are now largely unobtainable. I mean if you want to buy a vintage Minimoog, it costs a fortune, something like £4000 but a Behringer clone, which from what I heard sounds quite close, is what £250? *laughs*

On the other hand, it’s not their products, they “stole” it! But the patents are free, it’s nothing illegal, it just comes down to ethics and morals. Everyone has to make their own decision as to whether to support it or not, but I can see myself buying Behringer. I haven’t yet but if they do release an Oberheim OBX-a clone and it sounds as it should, I can’t see myself resisting! *laughs*

Talking of American synths, the next one is the Prophet 5…

That’s an icon, probably the one that has meant the most as far as how synthesizers look and behave today. The Minimoog was the first, but the Prophet 5 with its architecture, memories and five octave keyboard, the sound of it was amazing. Now you can get the new Prophets which sound pretty much the same and can do much more, so it’s still relevant after all these years.

I’ve never had one myself, I played it once or twice. I don’t think I would get one now as they are so expensive and I have the Prophet 08, and if I want to come even close to that sound, I can get the Prophet 6. It’s a beautiful instrument to look at as well, it’s a fantastic design in my eyes.

The next card is the Pro-One, tell us about your relationship with it…

I haven’t had my one for too long, I bought it in 2014 and I still can’t understand why I didn’t get one sooner, I should have had one in the 80s. It’s probably my favourite synth, at least my favourite monosynth. It sounds amazing and has superfast envelopes which make perfect bass and percussion sounds, sharp blips and blops, y’know *laughs*

It’s got a great modulation matrix, if you compare it with the Minimoog for example, you can do much more with a Pro-One. It’s always a reward to programme it because whatever you do, it sounds great. But the build quality is so-so, it’s quite plastic and the knobs are a bit flimsy, it’s not built like a tank, it’s more like a Trabant! *laughs*

It’s interesting that you mention the build quality of synths, a lot of these machines are quite fragile and not built to be taken on the road. But one vintage synth which is still around now that tends to end up on stage is the Roland Juno 60. Why do you think that one has been able to survive the years better than any others?

I think the reason the Juno 60 still gets used on stage is because it is quite stable as it uses DCOs. With a Jupiter 6 or Jupiter 8, temperatures can mess up the tuning. It was built very solidly, they seem to stand the test of time and it’s not like the Juno 106 which has these chips which go bad after 30 years. I’ve used my Juno106 live a few times, it’s no problem but you’re right, you see the Juno 60 more.

Another card, it’s a Korg Trident…

Oh! I had one! It’s quite a strange synth, because it’s three machines in one, a polysynth, a string machine and a brass machine, which you could combine. It had very fat sounds coming from it, it was huge and looked very powerful, I loved the way it looked. I got it very cheap after the first DAILY PLANET album ‘The Tide’, but I never used it on any records as it had no MIDI; as I sequence everything, MIDI is quite important for me.

Someone offered to trade it with me for a Roland D20!! It was not great but at least it had MIDI, so I traded it! I think you’d get £80 for a D20 today whereas a Trident gets £2500 so it wasn’t my best decision! I regret it still today, I wish I still had it and have been looking for one. Perhaps Behringer can clone one for me *laughs*

So synths that don’t get used much get traded in?

Not today, but back then I had no money. I could have installed a MIDI kit for the Trident but would have cost me £300 which I didn’t have because I was young and unemployed.

So the only thing that made sense was to trade it for something I could use. A few of my synthesizers are not used very much but I don’t trade.

Saying that I did trade a Micro-Korg which I had not used for three years, although it was on ‘Synth Is Not Dead’ for the vocoder, that was probably the only time I recorded with it. I posted up on a Swedish synth forum and got offered a Roland JV1080 and P330 piano module, now I haven’t used them for two years, it’s probably time to trade those as well!

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK can’t imagine you using piano sounds much, but is that a possible direction for the future?

On the new WHITE DOOR album, there are a few piano sounds while on my latest album ‘Utopia’, they are on the cover song I did ‘Into The 80s’, there’s a CP70 type sound low in the background of the middle. But you won’t hear anything like CHICAGO piano! *laughs*

OK, the next card which will lead an interesting discussion, it’s the Moog Prodigy…

I’ve never had one but I’m told it’s great, it’s pretty much a slimmed down Minimoog with two oscillators instead of three, everything from Moog is great in different ways, because the newer ones are not the same as the older ones, but if I had to choose, the older Moogs are the ones that sound the best, Howard Jones, Vince Clarke and DEPECHE MODE use it…

Now this is where we’re going with the conversation. So the Moog Prodigy was the one that Fletch was “seen” with in early DEPECHE MODE videos and TV appearances, he later moved onto the Moog Source. So did you have any feelings or thoughts about Martin Gore getting the Moog Innovation Award?

I saw you had a rant about that! I best be quiet about it *laughs*

I actually don’t have an opinion. Exactly what that award is meant to represent, I’m not sure…

That’s ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s point, Martin Gore was never seen with Moogs, we could understand Gary Numan getting the award. We don’t question his ability as a songwriter during the imperial phase of DEPECHE MODE, but he was NEVER the synth innovator in the group, so we struggled with the title of that award; if it was a Moog Songwriter award, it would be different. The synth innovators in DEPECHE MODE were Vince Clarke first, and then Alan Wilder…

I agree, those Martin Gore song demos that leaked out, it’s not synthesizer virtuoso stuff so he is not the innovator, sound wise. He was a genius with his songwriting and one of the best there ever was, so what the hell? He can have an award just for the songs. But as an innovator, Alan Wilder would deserve it more, but more so Vince.

You recently covered DEPECHE MODE ‘It Doesn’t Matter Two’? Why that song and particularly a Martin Gore voiced one?

That is one of my all-time favourite songs and this will make me sound cocky, but the arrangement on the original is a shame, it’s such a great song but it’s got this silly “bop-boop-bop-boop” arrrangement. They could have done so much more with it. I guess I don’t like that kind of vocal sampling which they built it around. So my cover is what I wanted it to sound like, it’s an amazing song… that shows you how good it is if I can keep listening to it even though I didn’t like the original arrangement and production.

Did you do ‘It Doesn’t Matter Two’ because your voice is more Martin Gore’s key than Dave Gahan’s?

No, but you’re right, I’m more in his key than Dave’s, I just love the song and had this idea for a new arrangement, I think it turned out quite nice. I was asked to do a DM cover for a Swedish podcast called ‘Blå Måndag’, so I decided to do this one since it´s been one where, after a few beers, me and my friends use to singalong and do harmonies to by the piano!

And the next card is a Korg MS20…

Another classic! I have the reissue, it was one of the first I bought when I started rebuilding my collection back in 2013, I’d sold everything I had back in the 90s to go to software. After that, I got a Prophet 08 and a Moog Little Phatty. I still use it a lot but less with this recent album, probably because I had more synthesizers to choose from.

It’s good for noise effects, it’s got a great filter for bass and percussion sounds like on ‘Nobody’s Friend’ from the second DAILY PLANET album and ‘Talking In My Sleep’ on my first solo album. However, the envelopes are too slow for really good snappy bass and percussion. I think the Pro-One has a better low-end and has more powerful oscillators. With the MS20, I use the ring modulator a lot for metallic sounds, I used it for hi-hat type sounds.

How did you find your first ever UK gig at Synth Wave Live 3?

It was nice, the people who were there were very dedicated. I was very thankful for all who came to see the show.

It also saw you on stage with WHITE DOOR, you’ve joined the band now and there is a new album?

I hadn’t met the WHITE DOOR guys before, they’re really nice chaps and to have them do the show with me was a bit surreal as I was listening to them when I was a teenager. It was hard to imagine then I would be on stage with them! It was good but we hadn’t rehearsed so it probably could have been a more perfect performance, but I think people enjoyed it and we had a really fun time.

WHITE DOOR sprung from a prog rock band called GRACE who they still perform as, and a live video that came from a recent festival was fascinating, they were doing this track called ‘The Poet’ which started like WHITE DOOR, then mutated into GENESIS and before you knew it, it had turned into JETHRO TULL! *laughs*

Yes, there is the same “melody language” (as we say in Sweden) with WHITE DOOR and GRACE, although they are very different bands.

I would think that a lot of the way WHITE DOOR turned out is partly thanks to producer Andy Richards who later worked with FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD and OMD, he was the machine wizard. The demos for the ‘Windows’ album were electronic and John Davies had synthesizers but there was also guitars and real bass.

How is the WHITE DOOR album coming along?

It’s coming along nicely, it’s been a slow process but we almost have enough material for an album. I’ve played a few tracks to close friends who love WHITE DOOR and they say it sounds like WHITE DOOR. Now that’s important, when DAILY PLANET reunited in 2014, my plan was that we should not try something too modern, what people wanted was DAILY PLANET to sound like DAILY PLANET. The same approach is what I’m doing with WHITE DOOR although it will sound fresh and be better sounding because of the technology, but there will be a clear connection to the old stuff.

The final card is an ARP 2600…

I’ve never had one, my first connection with it was one of those early software emulations in the early noughties. It’s been used by a lot of artists that inspired me, Daniel Miller’s kick drum on the ‘Speak & Spell’ and ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’ is amazing, plus they also did the “voice” of R2-D2 with it!

But my friend Daniel Bergfalk who mixed my solo albums and joins me on stage sometimes, actually has two of TTSH clones and I’ve played a lot with that, it’s basically the same. It’s amazing and I will probably get one someday, but not an original and that would now cost the same as a car! Probably a TTSH although there are rumours that Behringer will be doing a clone!*laughs*

You’re performing at Pop+Synth Festival in Copenhagen this November with SOFTWAVE, TRAIN TO SPAIN and OCTOLAB?

I’ve never played in Denmark before so it’s gonna be great to enter a new market live.

Why do you think Denmark seemingly has not had an interest in electronic pop in the way neighbours like Sweden, Norway and Finland have?

There never has been, all the acts I know from Denmark are rock like GASOLIN’ but then, there’s not such a big music scene there at all, I can’t even think of many Danish bands in any genre…

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK knows one and that’s LUKAS GRAHAM, f***ing hate that song ‘7 Years’! Such inane childish lyrics! *laughs*

I don’t know them! It sounds horrible!

Oh and there’s TRENTEMØLLER who has been featured on ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK…

TRENTEMØLLER is Danish? I thought he was Norwegian! *laughs*


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM

‘Like Before’ and ‘Utopia’ are released by Progress Productions in CD and digital formats, downloads available direct from https://johanbaeckstrom.bandcamp.com/

JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM plays the ‘Pop+Synth Festival’ at Krudttønden in Copenhagen on Saturday 2nd November 2019, also performing are SOFTWAVE, TRAIN TO SPAIN, OCTOLAB plus many more acts, tickets available from https://billetto.dk/e/pop-synth-festival-billetter-365508

https://www.facebook.com/bstrommusic/

https://twitter.com/bstrommusic

https://www.instagram.com/johanbaeckstrom/

Vintage Synth Trumps is a card game by GForce that features 52 classic synthesizers


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
31st August 2019

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