While Karin My has been providing backing vocals or playing cello for acts such as TWICE A MAN, CARBON BASED LIFEFORMS, FAKE MOSS and MACHINISTA over the last ten years, it was only in 2019 that she stepped out to the front to showcase her traditionally derived electronic songs with the haunting spectre of ‘The Silence’.
Although coming from a more traditional music background, her first experience of electronic music came when a friend of her mother gave her the five imperial phase KRAFTWERK albums.
The Swedish chanteuse and self-taught musician’s interest in electronic music broadened as the snowball effect rolled on and she met a variety of personalities from the Swedish scene. As a result, her own folk-laden compositions slowly evolved as beautiful synth sounds and technologically modelled approximations of more organic textures like harp and flute complimented their inherent melancholy.
There’s a forlorn abandonment in the captivating voice of Karin My and it is not difficult to imagine her singing alone out in the habit of the Scandinavian landscape. ‘Silence Amygdala’ is her debut solo long player, a part concept album with a narrative based on a long-forgotten diary and poems contained within it. While reading the diary re-exposes the pains of the past, it soon becomes time to burn it and move on.
Assisting Karin My realise her story in music is D. Kaufeldt, a producer from a more surprising industrial metal background, but who shared with her, a common love of folk and dark synthpop. While machines such as the Korg Mono/Poly, Roland SH09, Roland RS09 and Korg PS3200 form the backbone, the stark presence of a kantele from the Baltic box zither family provides an authentic twist.
Harking back to the days when writing on paper was the norm rather than using Messenger via smart phone, opening song ‘Letter’ is heartfelt and lonesome, although subtle backing vocals are provided by Dan Söderqvist of TWICE A MAN. But the track takes an unexpected diversion when a prominent four-to-the-floor rhythm enters the room and while this is not EBM by any imagination, this is quite boisterous for anyone familiar with Karin My’s recent run of solo singles. Despite the uptempo template, the construction is not incongruous but it is a slight red herring for the rest of the album.
Despite the melancholic chill, ‘Winter Tree’ has a gorgeous sparkle with glimmers of hope, although Karin My’s eerie delivery is reinforced with an extra ghostly atmosphere courtesy of D. Kaufeldt’s profound responses.
Despite dealing with imminent loss, the previously released ‘Time To Go’ has many melodic points of access in the tradition of ABBA and a heartfelt middle eight vocal ad-lib. Touching on the aftermath, the ‘Games Of Thrones’ fantasy drama air of ‘Autumn’ sees Karin My emotively “disappearing on a cold empty floor” while looking for the sun in layers with orchestration and subtle metallic percussion.
A steadfast drum machine propels ‘Loop’ while sweeping symphonic melodies in the vein of ULTRAVOX accompany the despairing resignation. The addition of a sombre computer generated female speech at its close with exclamations such as “identification- procedure – quote – hyphen – perform – display – go to – loop – full stop – execute” adds to the unsettlement.
Beginning with a music box and kantele, ‘The Silence’ remains beautifully sad, evoking abandonment as a cold spectre of darkness looms. Meanwhile, the dramatic waltz of ‘Stray From The Path’ shows an affinity with Scotland’s WITCH OF THE VALE in its use of traditional pagan modes and melodies, accentuated by drones.
On the Olympian ‘World From Orbit’, the Vangelis-inspired overtures soundtrack Karin My’s silent wishes to exist far from the harsh realities of life. Indeed, it is a number that floats like heaven in the manner of a Nordic Enya.
A sprightly piece compared with the other tracks on the album, the appropriately titled ‘Coming Up For Air’ surprises with a heavier if steadfast beat while there are synthetic choir stabs to back up the crystalline pulses and sweeping moods.
But a surprise comes with a largely acoustic cover of VNV NATION’s ‘Homeward’ which completely flips its original futurepop vision on its head. Although it sees Karin My return to folkie busker roots, it somehow fits in with the album’s aesthetic and narrative like an interlude before the finale. And that comes with the building tension of the ‘Silence Amygdala’ title song. Captured as a funereal waltz, strings, synths and percussion blend for a solemn but cathartic conclusion with reflections of space, heaven and a last breath…
‘Silence Amygdala’ is a melancholic affair embroiled in sadness that also uses silence as a tool to penetrate the noise. An unusual sound in synth with the nearest comparison possibly being Susanne Sundfør, there is also a Vangelis meets Stina Nordenstam quality reminiscent of when that esteemed pair worked together on ‘Ask The Mountains’.
These eleven songs are like dark fairy tales yet manage to be immensely accessible and enjoyable. ‘Silence Amygdala’ may require a certain mood and mindset to appreciate, but as a body of work, it is ultimately timeless.
Erin Hawthorne and Ryan Hawthorne are WITCH OF THE VALE, an unsettling electronic duo from the serene shores of Loch Lomond and the remote Outer Hebridean Isles.
Signing to Cleopatra Records, a well-known North American goth industrial imprint, they reissued a number of Gary Numan albums in the US at one time and are still the only label to have succeeded in officially licencing post-‘Autobahn’ material for a KRAFTWERK best of compilation in 1992 entitled ‘The Model’.
Like a mid-to-downtempo offering to Pagan spirits, ‘Commemorate’ combines misery with beauty, evoking confused but uplifting emotions of hope in an atmosphere where all is not quite as it should be… so real life then and very fitting with many isolated from the life they have previously known.
A debut album is effectively a relaunch, an opportunity to reach a wider audience but with the kudos that the long playing format accords. To that end, WITCH OF THE VALE have included the best material from their first three EPs and supplemented those eight tracks with four new songs and bookending instrumental themes. However, most of this previously released material has undergone some sonic fine tuning, but it’s all been fulfilled without altering the spiritual essence of the originals.
From their debut EP ‘The Way This Will End’, the unsettling ritualistic overtures and drone laden backdrop of ‘Fever’ and the textural rumbles of ‘Your Voice’ are threaded by an enticing high register gothique with folk inspired stylings. The poignant ‘The Way This Will End’ title song is included also, with a beautiful music box quality complimented by pensive strings that capture a wonderful melancholic airiness. It is all very sad but never depressing.
Of the new material featuring on this impressive debut, the ‘Commemorate’ title song provides the most intensely percussive flavour, throwing in industrial swoops and references to self-loathing in the manner of NINE INCH NAILS, but with a sinister feminine beauty. ‘Undressed’ sonically emulates any number of intros from Gary Numan’s apocalyptic ‘Savage’, although the soundscapes take a Nordic pop twist thanks to Erin Hawthorne’s treated delivery.
The brooding fatalistic doom of ‘Crash’ is offset by another angelic vocal that makes the words “I might be smiling but I hate you on the inside…” even more foreboding, while the clattering of a grandfather clock pendulum acts as a ghostly backbone to the eerily sparse ‘The Sky & The Sea’.
The rain swept ‘Death Dream’ maintains the solemn mood, while the four songs from the ‘Trust The Pain’ EP complete the commemorative picture. ‘Trust The Pain’ itself remains serene yet uncertain as ‘The Ghosts Won’t Know’ dresses gentle piano with a widescreen chill but with haunting harp-derived sounds for a divine celestial mood, ‘Suffocation’ displays an affinity with the understated Swedish songstress Karin My.
But as with its parent EP, WITCH OF THE VALE’s unusual gothic cover of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Gods & Monsters’ still stands out, transporting the gritty sleazy American original to the ominous location of ‘The Wicker Man’ for their most likely crossover recording.
Timeless and captivating, WITCH OF THE VALE offer something unusual with ‘Commemorate’ while connected to traditional, thereby producing something quite extraordinary and of another world.
In a short period of existence which has seen them open for ASSEMBLAGE 23, SOLAR FAKE, CLAN OF XYMOX and LINEA ASPERA as well as playing Infest 2019, their trajectory has been pointing up and the quality of this debut will ensure it will stay that way for a bit longer.
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.
As with another great lost synth act MIRRORS, much of the affection for LINEA ASPERA has come retrospectively.
But although Alison Lewis and Ryan Ambridge continued with other projects, with Lewis notably in KELUAR and most recently solo as ZANIAS, the seemingly unfinished business of LINEA ASPERA was greater than its sum of parts.
With BOY HARSHER gaining a wider public breakthrough during 2019, that LINEA ASPERA have reunited is timely as the starker underground mode of electro asserts its place in an increasingly dystopian world. Fans were treated to ‘Preservation Bias’, a collection of archive material and rarities, with the additional announcement of a 2020 European tour and new material.
A sell-out crowd and the usual bar breakout area in Electrowerkz closed off due to a wedding reception meant a good turnout for the opening act WITCH OF THE VALE.
A technical hitch delayed the start but once ‘Crash’ began, the enigmatic married couple of Erin and Ryan Hawthorne got into their stride to impress the attentive crowd like they had done on the Friday afternoon of Infest 2019.
‘Trust The Pain’ drew on its haunting folk influences courtesy of Mrs Hawthorne’s finely-tuned soprano, while new songs ‘Death Dream’ and ‘The Sky & The Sea’ maintained the brooding mood. Aided by blocks of deep red light and smoke, the music box hypnotism of ‘The Way This Will End’ from their debut EP of the same name maintained their electronic pagan stance. But WITCH OF THE VALE’s cover of Lana Del Rey’s expletive laden ‘Gods & Monsters’ provided some percussive tension, before ending their set with the mantric rumble of ‘Fever’.
By the time LINEA ASPERA were ready to take the stage, Electrowerkz was rammed, such was the anticipation for their return. With the sultry but enigmatic Alison Lewis next to the stoic presence of Ryan Ambridge on his Roland SH09 and his minimal electronic programming, the pair combined for a magical lesson in captivating outsider pop.
Opening with the downcast ‘Preservation Bias’, the motorik pulse of ‘Eviction’ soon penetrated the mind as “to love is to lose” while driving the mutant dance. In line with Lewis’ previous academic studies, if anthropology was a type of music, then it would be like LINEA ASPERA.
Throughout the show, the tonal counterpoints between Lewis’ elegant gothique and Ambridge’s comparative brightness made for an enticing dynamic.
‘Syncretism’ with its frantic anxiety and elegance highlighted why LINEA ASPERA’s inventive arrangements of dark synthesized pop have been missed over the last few years. The cold stare of ‘Hinterland’ reflected its title, but as Lewis seductively murmured of how “we would never suffer again”, her desire for isolation and solitude was clear, communicating her discontent and anger without resorting to shouting.
Named after a major city of the Maya civilization in Belize and reflecting Lewis’ passion for archaeology, ‘Lamanai’ offered more Motorik moods with the bonus of some screeches and squelches from Ambridge. As per their sound, the stage show was minimal with smoke machines on overdrive and misty shades of blue light, but it provided an effective backdrop.
A new song ‘Equilibrium’ recalled American duo SOFT METALS with its looping techno hypnotism and may well become a LINEA ASPERA favourite of the future.
Meanwhile another new number with piercing arpeggios and a quietly pumping house backbone paid homage to THE KNIFE’s ‘Silent Shout’.
Welcomed home like a long lost friend, the brilliant ‘Synapse’ reminded the audience of Lewis’ interest in biology and the human condition, all to Ambridge’s metronomic beats and deliciously high register synths. Detached and alluringly nonchalant, the Australian singer paradoxically snarled “Don’t look at me” as she drew in the crowd.
With the appropriately titled ‘Reunion’ to close, with the lines “It was never revenge, it was self defense” … I swear it’s just a reflex, leaving bones in splinters all over your face” reflecting the sombre intensity of Lewis’ deep mind.
What LINEA ASPERA have successfully pulled off is to retain their cool mystique while widening their audience. It’s a lesson to the electronic music scene, because here less really has meant more.
It really is great to have Alison Lewis and Ryan Ambridge back together again.
LINEA ASPERA 2020 live dates:
Paris Tech Noire 3rd Anniversary (31st January), Den Haag Grauzone Festival (7th February), Rüsselsheim Kalte Sterne Festival 2020 (11th April), Oberhausen Kalte Sterne Festival (12th April), Malmö Inkonst (15th May), Copenhagen Spillestedet Stengade (16th May)
2019 was a year of 40th Anniversaries, celebrating the synth becoming the sound of pop when ‘Are Friends Electric?’ reached No1 in the UK chart in 1979.
While GARY NUMAN opted for ‘(R)evolution’ and two of his former sidemen RRussell Bell and Chris Payne ventured solo for the first time, OMD offered a 7 disc ‘Souvenir’ featuring a whole album of quality unreleased material to accompany a concert tour to celebrate four decades in the business. That was contrary to DEPECHE MODE who merely plonked 14 albums into a boxed set in a move where the ‘Everything Counts’ lyric “the grabbing hands grab all they can” became more and more ironic… MIDGE URE partied like it was 1980 with the music of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX, while SIMPLE MINDS announced an arena tour for 2020 so that their audience could show Jim Kerr their hands again.
HEAVEN 17 announced some special showcases of the early material of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and got a particularly warm reception opening on tour for SQUEEZE as a trailer ahead of their own ‘Greatest Hits’ jaunt next year.
Celebrating 20 years in music, there was the welcome return of LADYTRON with a self-titled comeback album, while Swedish evergreens LUSTANS LAKEJER performed the ‘Åkersberga’ album for its 20th Anniversary and similarly GOLDFRAPP announced a series of shows in honour of their magnificent cinematic debut ‘Felt Mountain’.
Cult favourites FIAT LUX made their intimate live comeback in a church in Bradford and released their debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ 37 years after their first single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’.
As a result, their fans were also treated to ‘Ark Of Embers’, the long player that Polydor Records shelved in 1985 when the band were on the cusp of a breakthrough but ended with a commercial breakdown.
Modern prog exponents Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson got back together as NO-MAN for their dual suite electronic concept record ‘Love You To Bits’, but an even more ambitious undertaking came from UNDERWORLD with their boxed set ‘Drift Series 1’.
After a short hiatus, the mighty KITE sold-out three gigs at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan and ended the year performing at an opera house, while GIORGIO MORODER embarked on his first ever concert tour where his songs were the stars.
Despite the fall of The Berlin Wall 30 years ago, there were more evident swipes to the right than there had been for a long time, with the concept of Brexit Electro becoming a rather unpleasant reality. So in these more sinister times, the need for classic uplifting electronic pop was higher than ever.
To that end, three superb debut albums fitted the bill. While KNIGHT$ offered quality Britalo on ‘Dollars & Cents’, the suave presence of OLLIE WRIDE took a more MTV friendly direction with ‘Thanks In Advance’.
But for those wanting something more home produced, the eccentric Northern electronic pop of the brilliantly named INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP continued the artistic lineage of THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
QUIETER THAN SPIDERS finally released their wonderful debut album ‘Signs Of Life’ which was naturally more understated and Denmark had some worthy synthpop representation with SOFTWAVE producing an enjoyably catchy debut long player in ‘Game On’.
On the shadier side of electronic pop, BOY HARSHER achieved a wider breakthrough with their impressive ‘Careful’ long player but as a result, the duo acquired a contemporary hipster element to their fanbase who seemed to lack manners and self-awareness as they romped around gigs without a care for anyone around them. But with tongues-in-cheeks, SPRAY continued to amuse with their witty prankelectro on ‘Failure Is Inevitable’.
Photo by Johnny Jewel
Italians Do It Better kept things in house as CHROMATICS unexpectedly unleashed their first album for six years in ‘Closer To Grey’ and embarked on a world tour. Main support was DESIRE and accompanied on keyboards by HEAVEN singer Aja, the pair took things literally during their cover version of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ with a girl-on-girl kiss in front of head honcho Johnny Jewel.
Other ITIB acts on the tour dependent on territory included DOUBLE MIXTE, IN MIRRORS and KRAKÓW LOVES ADANA. But the best work to appear from the stable came from JORJA CHALMERS who became ‘Human Again’.
Touring in Europe with OMD and MIDGE URE, TINY MAGNETIC PETS unleashed two EPs ‘The Politburo Disko’ and ‘Girl In A White Dress’ as fellow Dubliner CIRCUIT3 got political and discussed ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’.
The King of Glum Rock LLOYD COLE surprised all with an electronic pop album called ‘Guesswork’ just as PET SHOP BOYS set an ‘Agenda’. HOWARD JONES released his most synthy work for years in ‘Transform’ and while CHINA CRISIS acted as his well-received support on the UK leg of his 35th Anniversary tour, their front man GARY DALY ventured solo with ‘Gone From Here’.
Sweden continued to produce quality electronic pop with enjoyable releases from the likes of MACHINISTA, PAGE, COVENANT, OBSESSION OF TIME and LIZETTE LIZETTE. One of the most interesting acts to emerge from the region was US featuring the now Stockholm-domiciled Andrew Montgomery from GENEVA and Leo Josefsson of LOWE, with the catalyst of this unlikely union coming from a shared love of the late country legend Glen Campbell. Meanwhile, veteran trio DAYBEHAVIOR made the best album of their career ‘Based On A True Story’.
However, Canada again gave the Swedes a good run for their money as ELECTRIC YOUTH and FM ATTACK released new material while with more of a post-punk slant, ACTORS impressed audiences who preferred a post-post-punk edge alongside their synths.
DANA JEAN PHOENIX though showed herself to be one of the best solo synth performers on the live circuit, but artistically the best of the lot was MECHA MAIKO who had two major releases ‘Okiya’ and ‘Let’s!’.
Despite making some good music in 2019 with their ‘Destroyer’ two-parter, the “too cool for school” demeanour of TR/ST might have impressed hipsters, but left a lot to be desired. A diva-ish attitude of entitlement was also noticed by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to be disappointingly prevalent in several fledgling acts.
However, several of the sub-genre’s artists needed to rethink their live presentations which notably underwhelmed with their static motions and lack of engagement.
While promoters such as Outland developed on their solid foundations, others attempted to get too big too soon like the musical equivalent of a penis extension, leaving fans disappointed and artists unpaid. Attempting to turnover more than 10 acts during in a day with a quarter of an hour changeover has always been an odious task at best, but to try 15?!? One hopes the headliners were well paid despite having to go on at midnight when most of their supporters went home so as not to miss the last train…
Now at times, it was as if a major collective midlife crisis had hit independent electronic music in the UK during 2019. It was not unlike how “born again bikers” have become a major road safety risk, thanks to 40somethings who only managed Cycling Proficiency in Junior School suddenly jumping onto 500cc Honda CMX500 Rebel motorcycles, thinking they were Valentino Rossi.
Something similar was occurring in music as a variety of posturing delusional synth owners indulged in a remix frenzy and visions of grandeur, forgetting that ability and talent were paramount. This attitude led to a number of poorly attended events where attendees were able to be counted on one hand, thanks to clueless fans of said combos unwisely panning their video footage around the venue.
Playing at 3:15pm in an empty venue is NOT performing at a ‘major’ electronic festival… “I’ll be more selective with the gigs I agree to in the UK” one of these acts haplessly bemoaned, “I’ve played to too many empty rooms!” – well, could that have been because they are not very good?
Bands who had blown their chance by not showing willingness to open for name acts during holiday periods, while making unwise comments on their national TV debut about their lack of interest in registering for PRS, said they were going to split a year in advance, but not before releasing an EP and playing a farewell show in an attempt to finally get validation for their art. Was this a shining example of Schrodinger’s Band?
Of course, the worst culprits were those who had an internet radio show or put on gigs themselves so that they could actually perform, because otherwise external promotors were only interested in them opening at 6.15pm after a ticket deal buy on for a five band bill. Humility wouldn’t have gone amiss in all these cases.
It’s a funny old world, but as ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK comes up to concluding its tenth year as an influential platform that has written extensively about not one or two or three or four BUT five acts prior to them being selected to open on tour for OMD, luckily the gulf between good and bad music is more distinct than ever. It will be interesting to see if the high standard of electronic pop will be maintained or whether the influx of poor quality artists will contaminate the bloodline.
So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK ends the decade with a complimentary comment by a punter after attending two of its live events: “You don’t put on sh*t do you…”
May the supreme talent rise and shine… you know who you are 😉
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2019
2019 was good for new music. The first two thirds of the year was particularly strong for up-and-coming talent, while a number of veterans returned to making music with synths for the first time in many years.
Inevitably, the quality of new releases couldn’t be sustained and things tailed off during the Autumn period as artists shifted their focus towards the live arena.
The launch of debut full-length releases by relative newcomers has tended to focus towards the winter in order to pitch to the deluge of tastemaker polls that are now prevalent both in mainstream and online media.
Of course, The Electricity Club is unable to include everything in its 30 SONGS OF 2019, so worthy mentions go to SHOOK, CIRCUIT 3, KANGA, FRAGILE SELF, NINA, THE HEARING, JAKUZI, TR/ST, SPELLLING, I AM SNOW ANGEL, PET SHOP BOYS, NO-MAN, RIDER, TINY MAGNETIC PETS, FRAGRANCE. and T.O.Y. for their output this year.
As per usual with a restriction of one song per artist moniker and presented in alphabetical order, these are ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 30 SONGS OF 2019…
APOPTYGMA BERZERK A Battle For The Crown
Over the 25 years since his debut album ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ , Stephan Groth has straddled EBM, synthpop, futurepop, alternative rock and more recently instrumentals with APOPTYGMA BERZERK. For his first new material since 2016’s ‘Exit Popularity Contest’, the upcoming EP ‘Nein Danke!’ sees a return to the synthpop / new wave format. Part of a teaser single, ‘A Battle For The Crown’ offered a suitably matted austere but crucially did not forget the hooks or the melodies.
Stark Massachusetts duo BOY HARSHER formed through an urgent need to produce and consume, so Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller utilised their minimal electronics and intense mindset to create a compelling narrative of deterioration. ‘LA’ featured a wonderfully incongruous mix of icy string synths and orchestra stabs for an enticing display of mutant electronic disco, all brilliantly sinister thanks to its varied use of effects and Matthews’ mournful demeanour.
Available on the album ‘Careful’ via Nude Club Records
Jorja Chalmers is the sax and keys player for Bryan Ferry but while it was recorded in her boss’ studio, her first solo album ‘Human Again’ exuded a more sombre filmic disposition. Conceived and sketched in hotel rooms during the come down from playing to packed theatres around the world. ‘She Made Him Love Again’ was a song where Chalmers’ breathy vocals possessed a gorgeous forlorn allure and when the icy string machine and deep sax joined in, proceedings lifted to another level.
Available on the album ‘Human Again’ via Italians Do It Better
Lloyd Cole had recorded an experimental electronic album ‘Selected Studies Vol 1’ with Hans-Joachim Roedelius of CLUSTER in 2013, while there was also a solo instrumental collection entitled ‘1D Electronics 2012-2014’. But he put all of that modular knowhow into a song based format with the charming synthy single ‘Violins’ which saw him turn into OMD! However the King of Glum Rock didn’t totally alienate his main fan base, with guitars making their presence felt in amongst all the machinery at the halfway point.
CHINA CRISIS have been an unlikely influence on acts such as VILLA NAH and MIRRORS, but while these days their synthwork is less pronounced, front man and keyboardist Gary Daly took the plunge with a full length solo record entitled ‘Gone From Here’. The wonderful first single ‘I Work Alone’ acted as both a statement of intent and an affirmation in self-belief. A lovely whimsical piece of Casiotone folktronica, Daly said “it’s very much ‘Neon Lights’ meets ‘Autobahn’”
With a range of tempo variation, ‘Based On A True Story’ was the undoubtedly the best album of Swedish trio DAYBEHAVIOR’s long if sporadic career. Including a number of more danceable numbers to counterpoint the more laid back aspects of their cinematic sound without losing any of their exquisite aesthetics, one of the best examples could be heard in the fabulous Europop number ‘Driving In My Car’. It was just one part of a priceless collection of quality Scandipop.
Available on the album ‘Based On A True Story’ via Graplur
Nearly four decades is a long time to wait for a debut album, but with Wakefield’s FIAT LUX, it was been worth it. Recalling BLACK and CHINA CRISIS, the guarded optimism of ‘We Can Change The World’ provided a call to action in these turbulent times within an uptempo setting dressed with bubbling synths and rousing dual vocals sweetened by smooth sax. Steve Wright and David P Crickmore honoured their late band mate Ian Nelson in the best way possible with their recorded and live return.
Georgia Barnes is the daughter of LEFTFIELD’s Neil Barnes and the former drummer for Kate Tempest. Although her eponymous debut album possessed a more urban DIY feel, her sound has recently moved into more accessible electronic pop territory. From upcoming second album ‘Seeking Thrills’, the gloriously throbbing workout of ‘About Work The Dancefloor’ took its lead from ROBYN with its rousing Scandipop sheen, offset by a creepy distorted vocal refrain.
A Copenhagen domiciled German, classically schooled Greta Louise Schenk teamed up with Norwegian producer FARAO to enter a dreamy synthpop universe. With its unusual rhythmic structure and chromatic overtones, ‘White’ could have been an art rock number? “I often wonder how this song came out of me” she said, “I actually wrote it on my Irish bouzouki, which may explain the chords. I was listening a lot to LANA DEL REY and it was quite a dark time in my life.”
Another project of Johnny Jewel, HEAVEN first came to wider attention with the ‘Lonesome Town’ EP. Fronted by the enigmatic allure of singer and keyboardist Aja, the brilliant ‘Truth Or Dare’ perhaps unsurprisingly sounded like CHROMATICS but with more synths and drum machine. While on tour as keyboardist with DESIRE, Aja took the title literally when they performed a cover of NEW ORDER’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ and Jewel watched nearby…
ALICE HUBBLE is the new solo project of Alice Hubley, previously best known for fronting ARTHUR & MARTHA and COSINES. Hubley’s synth earth mother demeanour came to the fore on the sub-OMD of ‘We Are Still Alone’. While the lilting bass and elegiac transistorised melody were glorious, when the synth strings responded in that ASHRA style, it became perfect avant pop with Hubley sadly resigning to herself that she “couldn’t find the way to make me better”.
Leeds based singer / songwriter IMI is gifted with a most glorious soprano but she applies that and her love of analogue synths to an intelligent avant pop aesthetic. ‘I Feel Alright’ with its sharp melodic call and ethereal voices headed into assertive optimism. This most promising young synth talent said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “This song was written after a few years of struggling with some personal issues and it was a celebration of finally feeling ok and feeling hopeful about the future.”
Hailing from Sheffield, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP and their world of academia would make “eccentric Northern electronic pop” compulsory on the curriculum. From their vibrant and accessible self-titled debut album, the bubbly ‘Love Girl’ was a luscious cross between DUBSTAR and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. Cosmic but catchy, their intelligent musical escapism has been just the tonic in these turbulent times. One of their manifesto statements is “Smile at the neon and the mirrorball”.
Producing his most synthpop work in ages, originally from the ‘Eddie The Eagle’ film sessions, Howard Jones said of ‘Hero In Your Eyes’: “I was really drawn to the part where his parents were amazing, continuing to believe in him when he was obviously not really very good at what he’d chosen to do, they kept supporting him. So him being a hero in their eyes always, that ‘I’ll be there for you’ feeling, I thought that it was something a lot of people could relate to”
Coming over like the love child of Richard Butler and Neil Tennant, KNIGHT$ made synthwaves with his sparkly Britalo on his energetic debut album ‘Dollars & Cents’. The Hi-NRG romp of ‘Hijack My Heart’ aped BRONSKI BEAT complete with a closing bursts of falsetto as the Winchester lad tightened his glitzy clubbing trousers to full effect and even dropped in a blistering synth solo to add to the fun. It was a highlight on one of the best albums of 2019.
LADYTRON produced their last offering ‘Gravity The Seducer’ in 2011. Their recent heavier self-titled reboot saw the quartet of Helen Marnie, Mira Aroyo, Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu entering the ‘Deadzone’. Unsettlingly percussive and full of tension but hitting the spot with the right dose of melodic elements intertwined with haunting grit and grime, LADYTRON were back with a sucker punch. All in all, it was a fantastic comeback.
LIZETTE LIZETTE is Lizette Nordahl, a gender neutral Swedish / Peruvian producer and performance artist whose first mini-album album ‘Queerbody’ was released 2017. The beautifully sad Nordic synth ballad ‘Computer Game’ was written in tribute to a departed friend. Showcasing Nordahl’s more emotive side, it was a quality that had not been obviously apparent in LIZETTE LIZETTE’s more danced-based recordings.
Reflecting gloomier times, ‘Anthropocene’ saw MACHINISTA produce their most consistent body of work yet. Vocalist John Lindqwister and instrumentalist Richard Flow took their time in a refinement of their anthemic signature sound and the addition of some conventionally flavoured twists. The title song took its lead from the dark electronic pop of Norway’s APOPTYGMA BERZERK and owed more than a debt to the haunting riff of ‘Burning Heretic’ in the ultimate sorcerer’s apprentice spell.
Behind the quirky avant pop of MECHA MAIKO is the talented Canadian Hayley Stewart. ‘Apathy’ from her new album ‘Let’s!’ can only be described as delightfully nuts, with an inventive mix of a jazz swing Charleston vibe, frantic techno dance beats and vibrant synthpop hooks. It showed she was not afraid to blend seemingly incongruous influences to get an end result and with a slight sprinkling of Japanese instrumentation to close, the eclectic creative cycle was complete!
Swedish songstress Karin My sang with veteran combo TWICE A MAN on their poignant environmental catastrophe warning ‘High In The Clouds’ in 2105. Her solo single ‘The Silence’ was one of the first truly great songs of 2019. Swathed in beautiful synths and embroiled in that wonderful Scandinavian melancholy, her gorgeous vocals evoked a forlorn abandonment just as a wintery chill set in with the sad dilemma of whether to give up…
The mighty Italo Disco statement of ‘Left Behind’ came complete with obligatory orchestra stabs and a rousing chorus, gleefully fusing SAVAGE, RAF, PET SHOP BOYS and BEE GEES within a big Trevor Horn styled kitchen sink! But despite the fun laden octave shift frenzy, the lyrics were concerned with midlife reflection. Michael Oakley said: “the song is about me feeling like everyone around me was getting settled in their career, getting married and taking out a mortgage.”
Every now and then, the world needs a lively unpretentious synth instrumental record. With the second OBLONG album ‘The Sea At Night’, the trio of Benge, Dave Nice and Sid Stronarch delivered a collection of rustic electro-acoustic organically farmed electronica! With mood and pace, ‘Echolocation’ was a classic synth instrumental with its crystalline textures and charming slightly off-key blips, aurally reflecting the remote moorland location in Cornwall where it was recorded.
OMD began their recorded career with a KRAFTWERK homage and four decades on, they came full circle. A great grandchild of Klingklang and cousin of ‘Metroland’ from ‘English Electric’ but refined for BBC Radio 2 airplay, ‘Don’t Go’ captured the essence of OMD’s enduring electronic appeal. With crystalline synth melodies from Humphreys and a spirited vocal delivery from McCluskey attached to a hypnotic Synthanorma backdrop, OMD continue to produce quality avant pop tunes.
Feisty, fiery and on-message as “your abused Barbie doll from childhood”, Lauren Lusardi, better known as PLASMIC dropped yet another synth bomb with a vivid narrative on the fame game where women have to compromise and serve the male gaze to get to where they want. While pink is her colour, the rugged lo-fi cocoon of anxious sound penetrated the soul with a raging reminder that if “You wanna be famous?”, then really “Don’t be so f*cking brainless!”
Available on the single ‘Famous’ via CandyShop Recordings
“Beautiful melodies telling me terrible things” said a cartoon meme… with echoes of OMD, the life and death of the tragic Soyuz 1 cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was captured poignantly in this instrumental by QUIETER THAN SPIDERS from their brilliant debut album ‘Signs Of Life’; Yi Fan from the anonymous Chinese synth trio said: “we were moved by the human story behind it all together with the haunting backdrop of primitive space experimentation.”
Danish duo SOFTWAVE have been gaining momentum with endorsements from luminaries such as ex-members of THE HUMAN LEAGUE Jo Callis and Ian Burden, while improving enormously since their 2016 debut EP ‘Together Alone’. Punctuated by machines of ice, ‘No Need To Hide’ was undoubtedly Clarkean, celebrating positivity in possibly SOFTWAVE’s finest moment yet with one of those rousing Scandipop choruses and coming over not unlike Celine Dion fronting ERASURE.
The powerful electro R’N’B tinged ‘Way Out’ was the first English language taster from Beijing-born songstress’ ambitious new Anglo-Mandarin bilingual album project. Fifi Rong said of her concept: “I’m making a double album. One album in Chinese and the other in English. Not the typical type of translation type of bilingual album from one language to another… So the two albums are all individual songs interlinked in sounds, themes, vibes.”
Andrew Montgomery, best known as the vocalist of GENEVA who scored hits with ‘Into The Blue’ and ‘Best Regrets’ in 1997, teamed up with Leo Josefsson of Stockholm trio LOWE to form the electronic duo US. If Jeff Buckley had dumped his Fender Telecaster for a Korg MS20, then that is the dark anthemic sound of US. ‘Voyager’ went all spacey avant trance in a wonderful cross-pollination of styles that came over a bit like MUSE at Gatecrasher.
It was a big year for WITCH OF THE VALE as their highly spirited otherworldly sound, deeply rooted in Celtic folklore and Wiccan beliefs, found a sympathetic audience at Infest 2019. The eponymous track from their second EP introduced serene, yet uncertain feelings channelled via clear but eerie vocals over the croon from a raven. This angelic ballad put all the fears to sleep and demonstrated how Erin and Ryan Hawthorne sound are like nothing else within the world of modern electronica.
Although best known as the lead vocalist for FM-84 on ‘Running In The Night’, Ollie Wride unleashed his debut solo album in 2019. The Driver’ put into dynamic realisation as to what SIMPLE MINDS might have sounded like had Moroder-graduate Keith Forsey produced the 1985 ‘Once Upon A Time’ album instead of Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain. The superb grouchy synth rock saw the Brighton boy successfully pull off a cross between Jim Kerr and Billy Idol!