Former KRAFTWERK percussionist Wolfgang Flür needs no introduction.
But the German music project U96 is still best known in the UK for a 1991 techno rework of the theme to the Second World War film epic ‘Das Boot’ composed by Klaus Doldinger.
Formed by DJ Alex Christensen, U96 also included a production team named MATIZ comprising Ingo Hauss, Helmut Hoinkis, and Hayo Lewerentz. U96 were to go on to have a number of Europop oriented hits including ‘Love See No Colour’ featuring Ingo Hauss on lead vocals.
After that, the story got confusing with Alex Christensen returning as U96 in 2006 without MATIZ. Then after a stint reviving BOYTRONIC with James Knights for the ‘Jewel’ album in 2017, Ingo Hauss and Hayo Lewerentz did a 2018 ‘Reboot’ of U96 without Christensen and Hoinkis.
One track featuring on the corresponding long player was ‘Zukunftsmusik’ (translated as “future music”) featuring guest vocals by Wolfgang Flür. Stark and Teutonic with robotic vocoder aesthetics and Flür’s distinctive vocal, the union was equal to ‘Activity Of Sound’, Flür’s collaboration with iEUROPEAN from 2014.
This ultimately planted the seed for this ‘Transhuman’ collaborative double album and ‘Zukunftsmusik’ reappears in an altered ‘Radiophonique’ edit which luckily is not that drastically different from the original version.
A three way musical partnership with a number of melodies created using computer algorithms, the album’s theme is the transformation of people through technology and its interference on Planet Earth. The opening title salvo ‘Transhuman’ is a marvellous slice of technopop with self-referencing namechecks, rich in klassische elektronische Musik that will forever be associated with Kling Klang.
More metronomic, ‘Hamburg – Düsseldorf’ is a trancier club excursion with the title phrase repeated using various vocal source techniques. ‘Specimen’ though is less impressive in its quest for atmospheric techno, but ‘Clone’ is more energetic and threatening although this really could be any instrumental European dance track from the last 30 years.
‘To The Limit’ recalls the Bernard Sumner / Johnny Marr side project ELECTRONIC and the hypnotic bassline from the track ‘Freefall’ and then partly morphs into some of the ‘Electronica’ adventures of Jean-Michel Jarre within the more dance DJ end of the spectrum and BOYZ NOISE’s ‘The Time Machine’ in particular.
‘Zufallswelt’ meaning “random world” takes a less frantic approach which adopts some Far Eastern flavours. Flür returns on lead vocals for ‘Planet In Fever’ and although cut from a similar cloth to ‘Zukunftsmusik’, it is perhaps not as fully realised although the overall sound design is an aural pleasure.
Speaking of which, ‘Shifted Reality’ is very pretty with the sparking ambience of its arpeggios while ‘Kreiselkompass’ is a pleasing second cousin, although again less fulfilled.
Meanwhile ‘Data Landscape’ provides a satisfying percussive tempo to the KOMPUTER pop proceedings and ‘Transhumanist’ is moodier with its sampled grunt but still melodic, glistening away within its crispy backdrop.
‘Sexersizer’ attempts to get saucy with a synthetic female voice asking the listener to “just call my number – you have the choice” over a hard throbbing house bassline, but it doesn’t really get to the point. Similarly ‘Maschinenraum’ utilises a sombre-paced sequencer engine room but the end result is more incidental.
Closing ‘Transhuman’, Ingo Hauss takes the lead vocals on ‘Let Yourself Go’ and it is the Europop U96 of old and anyone who ever danced to ‘Love See No Colour’ in a Hanover disco back in 1993 will adore this one. And if once wasn’t enough, a modern EDM remix by BEATSOLE of ‘Let Yourself Go’ complete with drops comes as an enjoyable bonus, although it sticks out like a sore thumb.
At sixteen tracks, this is a long record and when ‘Transhuman’ excels, it does it very well. But it is stylistically a mixed bag. But does this matter in these days of playlists, when a rather good eight track album can be knocked up with a running order of one’s own choosing?
This is a welcome collaboration between two generations of electronic music but in an attempt to appeal to two quite different audiences, despite the spiritual connection, listeners may find themselves needing to take sides.
Covering a wide variety of niches, KRAFTWERK and U96 fans will find their favourite moments but some careful curation and fewer tracks may have made this collection a more rounded experience.
‘Transhuman’ is released on 4th September 2020 by Radikal Records / UNLTD Recordings as a double red vinyl LP, CD and download
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrates its tenth birthday and it really has been synthly the best.
At the HEAVEN 17 aftershow party for their triumphant gig at The Magna Science Park on 6th March 2010, following chats with Glenn Gregory, Martyn Ware, Paul Humphreys and Claudia Brücken, interview opportunities opened up. It was obvious there was gap waiting to be filled for a quality web publication that featured the best in new and classic electronic pop without having to lower itself to using the dreaded “80s” label.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was it and became reality on 15th March 2010. Electronic pop music didn’t start in that Thatcher decade and certainly didn’t end there either. So there was even an editorial diktat which banned ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s writers from using the lazy”80s” term as a reference. Tellingly, several PR representatives said that one of the site’s main appeals was that it avoided the whole nostalgia bent that had been presented by both virtual and physical media.
At the time, kooky female fronted keyboard based pop like LA ROUX, LITTLE BOOTS, LADYHAWKE, LADY GAGA and MARINA & THE DIAMONDS were among those touted as being the future at the time. But it proved to be something of a red herring, as those acts evolved back into what they actually were, conventional pop acts.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK preferred the sort of innovative synthpop as outlined in BBC4’s Synth Britannia documentary.
Meanwhile, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s portfolio expanded swiftly with key personalities such as Rusty Egan, Sarah Blackwood, Richard James Burgess, Warren Cann, Chris Payne, Thomas Dolby, John Foxx, Andy McCluskey, Neil Arthur, Alan Wilder, Mark Reeder, Gary Langan, Jori Hulkkonen, Howard Jones, Mira Aroyo, Sarah Nixey and Hannah Peel among those giving interviews to the site during its first two years.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has always prided itself in asking the questions that have never usually been asked, but which fans want to know the answers to. And it was with this reputation for intelligent and well researched interviewing that in March 2011, the site was granted its biggest coup yet.
Speaking to Stephen Morris of the then-on hiatus NEW ORDER, the drummer cryptically hinted during the ensuing chat that Manchester’s finest would return by saying “I never say never really”.
And that is exactly what happened in Autumn of that year and the band have been there since, as popular as ever and still making great music with the release of ‘Music Complete’ in 2015.
Monday 21st March 2011 was an interesting day that partied like it was 1981 when it saw the release of albums by DURAN DURAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS. Also in 2011, Mute Records celebrated their influential legacy with a weekender also at London’s Roundhouse which culminated in ERASURE, YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY performing in the same set.
Despite the ‘Brilliant’ return of ULTRAVOX, 2012 paled in comparison after such a fruitful year and several acts who were featured probably would not have gained as much coverage in more competitive periods. With pressure from outsiders as to what was hot and what was not, this was the only time ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK felt it was obliged to support a domestic scene.
But realising acts like HURTS and STRANGERS were actually just jumping on an apparent synth bandwagon and possessing more style than substance, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK decided to change tact and only featured acts it felt truly passionate about, even if it meant upsetting the wider synth community. The reasoning being that just because a band uses a synthesizer doesn’t mean it is good.
During this time, MIRRORS sadly disbanded while VILLA NAH mutated into SIN COS TAN. But the year did see the launch of CHVRCHES who stood out from the crowd with their opening gambit ‘Lies’.
With their Taylor Swift gone electro template, Lauren Mayberry and Co managed to engage an audience who didn’t know or care what a Moog Voyager was, to listen to synthpop!
2013 turned out to be one of the best years for electronic pop since its Synth Britannia heyday. What ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK achieved during this year would take up a whole article in itself… there were high profile interviews with Alison Moyet, Gary Numan and Karl Bartos while OMD released the album of the decade in ‘English Electric’. PET SHOP BOYS made up for their ‘Elysium’ misstep with ‘Electric’ while there was finally a third volume in BEF’s ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’ covers series.
Although 2014 started tremendously with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK being invited to meet Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür in Cologne, the year suffered next to quality of 2013.
The interviews continued, particularly with key figures from the Synth Britannia era including Midge Ure and the often forgotten man of the period Jo Callis who was a key member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE during their imperial phase.
But the year saw grandeurs of delusion at their highest. There was the clueless Alt-Fest debacle which saw the organisers play Fantasy Festival with no cash to underwrite the infrastructure to enable it to actually happen!
Sadly today, there are still egotistic chancers organising events with zero budget and the money from ticket sales being fleeced to fund their holidays. But these artificial factors are rarely considered and so long as there are lower league artists desperate to play for nowt and a misguided enhancement in profile that is often on a platform that provides minimal exposure anyway, then the confidence tricks will continue.
2015 saw the local emergence of Rodney Cromwell and Gwenno, while the majestic Swedish duo KITE proved that they were the best synth act in Europe with the ‘VI’ EP and their impressive live show.
It was also the year when ERASURE front man Andy Bell gave his first interview to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to offer some revealing insights.
Making something of a comeback after a recorded absence of nearly eight years, Jean-Michel Jarre presented his ambitious two volume ‘Electronica’ project which saw collaborations with a varied pool of musicians including Pete Townsend, Lang Lang, John Carpenter, Vince Clarke, Hans Zimmer, Cyndi Lauper, Sebastien Tellier and Gary Numan.
VILLA NAH returned in 2016, as did YELLO with Fifi Rong as one of their guest vocalists while APOPTYGMA BERZERK went instrumental and entered the ‘Exit Popularity Contest’. Riding on the profile generated from their ‘A Broken Frame’ covers album, MARSHEAUX released their biggest-selling long player to date, a two city concept in ‘Ath.Lon’. This was also the year that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK first became acquainted with the analogue synthesizer heaven of Johan Baeckström, a modern day Vince Clarke if ever there was one.
However DEPECHE MODE unleashed their most dire record yet in ‘Spirit’, a dreary exercise in faux activism bereft of tunes. Salt was rubbed into the wound when they merely plonked an underwhelming arena show into a stadium for their summer London show.
The trend was to continue later in 2019 as DEPECHE MODE just plonked 14 albums into a boxed set, while OMD offered an album of quality unreleased material in their ‘Souvenir’ package.
And with DEPECHE MODE’s sad descent into a third rate pseudo-rock combo during the last 15 years to appease that ghastly mainstream American institution called The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame with guitars and drums, Dave Gahan in particular with his ungrateful dismissal of the pioneering synth-based material with which he made his fortune with, now has what he has always coveted.
And don’t get ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK started on the 2019 Moog Innovation Award being given to Martin Gore, a real insult to true synth pioneers if ever there was one, including Daniel Miller, Vince Clarke and Alan Wilder, the three men who actually did the electronic donkey work on those imperial phase DEPECHE MODE albums! Gore may have been a very good songwriter during that time, but a synth innovator? Oh come on!?!
With regards Synth Britannia veterans, new albums in 2017 from Richard Barbieri and Steve Jansen saw a revived interest in JAPAN, the band with which they made their name.
Despite releasing their final album ‘Tin Drum’ in 1981, as a later conversation with one-time guitarist Rob Dean proved, cumulatively from related article views, JAPAN became the most popular act on ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK.
The return of SOFT CELL dominated 2018 with a lavish boxed set that was not just comprised of previously released long players, new songs, new books, a BBC documentary and a spectacular farewell show at London’s O2 Arena.
EMIKA was ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ and Swedish songstress IONNALEE showcased one of the best value-for-money live presentations in town, with a show that surreal imagined Kate Bush at a rave!
But from China came STOLEN, one of the most exciting bands in years who were then later rewarded for their graft with a European tour opening for NEW ORDER.
2019 was the year when synthwave graduates Dana Jean Phoenix and Ollie Wride were coming into their own as live performers, while electronic disco maestro Giorgio Moroder embarked on a concert tour for the first time with his songs being the true stars of the show.
Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS gave his first interview to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to tie in with his solo album ‘Gone From Here’, while a pub lunch with Mark White and Stephen Singleton mutated into an extensive chat about their days in ABC. Lloyd Cole adopted a more synthesized template on ‘Guessworks’ and Britpop went synth as GENEVA’s Andrew Montgomery formed US with Leo Josefsson of Swedish trio LOWE.
If ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK does have a proudest achievement in its first ten years, then it is giving extensive early coverage to VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND, TINY MAGNETIC PETS and SOFTWAVE, six acts who were later invited to open on tour for OMD. Partly because of this success, some of those who were less talented felt aggrieved despite feeling an entitlement to be featured. If an act is good enough, the fact that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK hasn’t featured them should not matter, especially as other electronic and synth blogs are available. After taking its eye of the ball once before in 2012, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK maintained a trust of its own gut instinct.
Meanwhile, its stance has been tested by those shouting loudest who instantly champion what they perceive as the next big thing like sheep, without really looking ahead at a wider picture. However, TRAVIS on VSTs is just not ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s thing frankly…
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s participation in the annual ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE in Düsseldorf for on-stage interviews with Rusty Egan, Chris Payne, Mark Reeder and Zeus B Held was another high profile engagement to be proud of. Then there were six live events and five rounds of hosting ‘An Audience with Rusty Egan’ in one of the most unenviable but highly entertaining refereeing assignments in music 😉
Other highlights over the last ten years have included ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 2015 career retrospective on German trio CAMOUFLAGE being edited and used as booklet notes for the Universal Music sanctioned compilation CD ‘The Singles’.
As 2020 settles in, highly regarded artists within the electronic community continue to engage with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. Neil Arthur recently gave his seventh interview as BLANCMANGE and his tenth interview overall, taking into account his side projects FADER and NEAR FUTURE. Not far behind, Martyn Ware has also been a regular interviewee having spoken to the site on six occasions while Paul Humphreys has been interviewed no less than five times.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is still pushing the envelope, continuing to reflect the interests of people who love the Synth Britannia era and have a desire to hear new music seeded from that ilk.
2018 was a year of good songs rather than good albums, with many of long players not as consistent or as of high a standard as the bumper crop from the Class of ’17.
However, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had plenty of material to choose from for its 30 SONGS OF 2018 and for obvious reasons, cannot include everything that was in this year’s shortlist…
So worthy mentions go to ANI GLASS, BLACK NAIL CABARET, BRÜCKEN FROESE, DANA JEAN PHOENIX, DISQO VOLANTE, DUBSTAR, EKKOES, FAKE TEAK, FRAGRANCE, THE FRIXION, GUNSHIP, HILTIPOP, IAMX, LIZETTE LIZETTE, TRAIN TO SPAIN and WITCH OF THE VALE.
Interestingly, three graduates from the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ made it into the final list, thus highlighting the longevity of that particular vinyl showcase some 37 years on!
So with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, here are our 30 SONGS OF 2018 presented in alphabetical order…
AFTERHERE Breaking Rules
AFTERHERE is the brand new project of HEAVEN 17 singer Glenn Gregory and live keyboardist Berenice Scott, but with their roles reversed. Exploring their inner GOLDFRAPP but in a funkier vein, with groovy reminisces of ‘Twist’ and ‘Yes Sir’, the song seductively boasted a captivating sexually charged electronic energy. Berenice Scott said: “We always wanted to have a driving track on the album that you could hopefully move your feet to, party to… possibly get in a little trouble!”
Available on the AFTERHERE album ‘Addict’ via Manners McDade
While the Clarke was strong with this one, the first impression that came across with ‘Utopia’ was that things became a slight bit darker in the world of JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM. Despite that, there was a rousing chorus and percolating sequences to savour as he pointed out the futility of seeking that perfect future, when life has so much more on offer. “I wouldn´t describe the album as dark though” the DAILY PLANET synthesist helpfully added, “it´s absolutely a pop album.”
Available on the JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM album ‘Utopia’ via Progress Productions
For BLANCMANGE, ‘Distant Storm’ was rather unusual with its dance beat, reverberant Moog bassline and dreamy processed vocoder aesthetic. With a rousing, almost spiritual quality and elements of JAMES’ ‘Come Home’ creeping in for good measure, it displayed Neil Arthur’s comfort in working with producer Benge on effectively their third album together. “I wanted to sing it as though it was really detached with my voice being synthesized” he told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK.
Available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘Wanderlust’ via Blanc Check Records
Veteran Mansfield quartet B-MOVIE made their most electronic pop single to date with the chilling aesthetics of ‘Stalingrad’. Complete with an infectious synth melody, an eerie mezzo-soprano and using the crucial Second World War battle as a metaphor for a doomed relationship, it was possibly Steve Hovington, Paul Statham, Rick Holliday and Graham Boffey’s best song since their 21st Century reformation; appropriately, its B-side was called ‘Something Cold’…
Available on the B-MOVIE EP ‘Repetition’ via Loki Records
‘Get Out’ may have acted as a superb launch single, but starting off their ‘Love Is Dead’ album was the wonderful ‘Graffiti’. This was a classic kaleidoscopic CHVRCHES tune that punched the sky with some rousing vocals. It was also a supreme singalong showcasing Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Docherty in full bouncy Taylor mode. Despite the downcast lyrical demeanour on lost youth and the passing of time, this was still a grand pop statement.
Australian duo CONFIDENCE MAN were a ray of sunshine in 2018 with their own brand of campy dork pop, being everything SCISSOR SISTERS should have been. ‘Don’t You Know I’m In A Band’ was an amusing satire on ego and sense of entitlement in the music industry. With an electro take on the groovy swoop of WAR’s ‘Low Rider’, a pitch shifted Sugar Bones came over like an inebriate Teddy Pendergrass while Janet Planet delightfully counterpointed in her alluring girly manner.
CREEP SHOW is the meeting of minds between eclectic singer / songwriter John Grant and the dark analogue electro of WRANGLER whose members comprise Stephen Mallinder, Benge and Phil Winter. On ‘Safe & Sound’, the quartet explored a spacious KRAFTWERK and GIORGIO MORODER hybrid to reveal gradually some wonderfully warm melodic synth textures to accompany Grant’s passionate lead croon. The project led to Benge also working on Grant’s ‘Love Is Magic’ album also released in 2018.
Driven by a meaty electronic bassline and metronomic backbone, the marvellous vocoder-laden ‘Comrades’ by RODNEY CROMWELL captured a really chilling Cold War atmosphere, bathed in an ensemble of sweeping synth oboes and cosmic string machines. “I ended up thumping at the MicroKorg and came up with the opening riff” he said. Rich with melody and a panoramic resonance, it surreally captured the sound of Moroder being played through a Soviet Foxtrot submarine intercom system.
With ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, EMIKA produced one of the best electronic albums of 2018. The record was a concept album of sorts, a musical reflection on generations of sadness within the Anglo-Czech musician’s family in her most personal statement yet. The pacey ‘Promises’ made the most of her lower and higher vocal registers, providing an eerie cascading harmonic with some rumbling dubby tension and booming stabs driving Eastwards with solemn spine tingling qualities.
Taking in more synthetic ambitions, FARAO’s second album ‘Pure-O’ was a playful bleep forward. While ‘The Ghost Ship’ saw Kari Jahnsen focussed on her forlorn little girl lost lyrics, the wonderfully uptempo ‘Marry Me’ offered an accessible PET SHOP BOYS flavour and romantic layers of vocals masking a deep scepticism of the institution of marriage, while the lush backing and chugging electronic backbone carried the air of her compatriot SUSANNE SUNDFØR.
Available on the FARAO album ‘Pure-O’ via Western Vinyl
Releasing their first new material in over three decades, FIAT LUX returned with the most splendid ‘It’s You’. As well as the bassline and harmony from David P Crickmore, the sax style was a fitting tribute to the sadly departed Ian Nelson. Singer Steve Wright said: “Lyrically, I hope, it expresses feelings that possibly everyone can relate to…” – their long awaited debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ is expected in 2019.
Available on the FIAT LUX single ‘It’s You’ via Splid Records
The ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ album was easily equal to Jonna Lee’s work with IAMAMIWHOAMI. Best of the set was possibly the marvellous closing number ‘Fold’. Featuring exotic cascading timbres and spacey pulsars, distorted string synths added tan appropriate chill as Lee’s passionate vocals completed the filmic vibe. Less mysterious, the IONNALEE transition was a triumph, especially with one of the best value-for-money live presentations of 2018.
Asking if “it is foolish to dream”, ‘Someday’ saw KATJA VON KASSEL questioning a moment of passionate haste. “The phrase ‘Someday’ just opened it all up and everything else just fell into place.” the chanteuse said. Capturing the beautiful melancholy of ASSOCIATES’ Billy Mackenzie, the doomed romantic tragedy of the sadly departed Scot was echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by CHRIS PAYNE’s hypnotic bassline and haunting vox humana treatment over a simple rhythmic loop.
Despite their age, LET’S EAT GRANDMA have a feisty but mature musical ambition, as successfully realised on ‘Donnie Darko’, an 11 minute tribute to the troubled teenager haunted by a monstrous rabbit-like figure. Utilising a sedate start before morphing into a wonderful movement of cascading electronics set to a metronomic beat, there were passionate reflections on the subject of human suffering. It all went a bit “batsh*t crazy” into a glorious synthony before calming to its conclusion!
Available on the LET’S EAT GRANDMA album ‘I’m All Ears’ via Transgressive Records
CHRIS LIEBING featuring POLLY SCATTERGOOD And All Went Dark
Noted techno exponent CHRIS LIEBING teamed up with Mute label mate POLLY SCATTERGOOD on a stark polyrhythmic number appropriately titled ‘And All Went Dark’. The brooding minimalist electronic piece with its eerily poetic spoken contribution from Miss Scattergood saw the Essex songstress haunted by a “dark shadow on my shoulder” and telling how “a sickness took hold early on”.
Available on the CHRIS LIEBING album ‘Burn Slow’ via Mute Artists
With the name transcending Toronto based Hayley Stewart’s fascination with Japanese culture, cyber space and a love of vintage synthesis, ‘Mad But Soft’ was her first album as MECHA MAIKO. The magically crystalline ‘False Memories’ could have been part of the ‘Stranger Things’ soundtrack. Uncomplicated on the surface yet multi-layered and airy, this day-glow pink neo-instrumental concoction was well-thought through and deliciously produced.
One-time RÖYSKSOPP collaborator Ryan A James continues to hone and develop his hybrid mix of luxuriant synthetics and subtle guitar textures as MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY. He said about the gorgeous electronic bubblebath of ‘Lafayette’: “It’s really a song about the end of a relationship, disguised as a song about Scientology, and how defectors of Scientology are disowned by their loved ones. The name comes from the religion’s founder Lafayette Ron Hubbard.”
Available on the MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY album ‘Infinity Mirror’ via Killing Moon Records
“Beware! It’s a scary world” and with their BRITNEY SPEARS fronting NINE INCH NAILS template, NIGHT CLUB took their sweet but sinister synth rock sound to its zenith with the title track of their second album. And when the children’s choir joined in the chorus to sing of demons everywhere, this was a musical trick or treat that no parent would want their offspring to be part of, the message being “they only love you if you swallow”!
A fabulously optimistic closer to NINA’s debut album, ‘80s Girl’ came beaming over like some missing song from the film ‘Mannequin’. With big Simmons drums, sampled orchestra stabs and driving synthbass triplets, it was however delivered with subtlety and restraint so that it wasn’t a HEART or STARSHIP pastiche. Dedicated to her mother, it had a telling message of “don’t let the past hold you back”.
Perhaps best known as the alluring if slightly blunt chanteuse of BLACK BOX RECORDER, SARAH NIXEY released her best solo album to date in ‘Night Walks’, a quality record with air and presence, collecting everything she has ever been musically, all rolled into one. One of its key tracks was the delightful ‘Journey’, a glorious number of the type that Marc Almond has often been so good at, laced with crystalline synths and gorgeously breathy vocal tones à la Jane Birkin.
Available on the SARAH NIXEY album ‘Night Walks’ via Black Lead Records
The ‘Savage’ album turned out to be both an artistic and commercial vindication for GARY NUMAN. ‘It Will End Here’ from ‘The Fallen’ EP was a natural progression from that, exploring a heavy but melodic electronic sound without relying on the predictable backing of rock guitars. With and anthemic chorus and the apocalypse is looming over the aural desert, there was even a soaring vocal pitch shift up at the song’s conclusion which added an extra eerie vampiric quality.
NYXX is very much her own woman, like the Greek goddess of night she is named after, a figure of power and beauty with a Britney-like vocal presence that sweetly offsets some of her darker overtones. A collaboration with Daniel Graves of AESTHETIC PERFECTION who contributed a glorious evangelical middle eight, she said “It would not be what it is without him. I came in with a sketch of a song, a melody and lyric of another song… Daniel heard nuances in it and we built what is now ‘Voodoo’.”
Available on the NYXX single ‘Voodoo’ via Close To Human Music
Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko initially came together in PAGE releasing their first single ‘Dansande Man’ in 1983. Since then, the pair have parted and reunited on a number of occasions but the mission for the ‘Start’ EP was to party like it’s 1979 when GARY NUMAN was No1. ‘Nere För Räkning’ was an urgent slice of pulsing synthrock with a piercing vibratoed lead line akin to the keyboard interventions heard on ‘The Pleasure Principle’.
Available on the PAGE EP ‘Start’ via Energy Rekords
From Mission Viejo in California, PLASMIC describes herself as an “Orange County one-woman dervish” and in a vivid haze that’s pretty in pink, “your abused Barbie doll from childhood”. Combining J-Pop with CRYSTAL CASTLES and DEVO, the undoubted standout from her ‘Validation Nation’ EP was ‘Baby Machine’, an immensely catchy feminist electropop anthem utilising a mixture of vintage Casio and Yamaha sounds that challenged the expectations of women to bear children.
Championed by none other than Vince Clarke, REED & CAROLINE successfully combine tunes with electronic experimentation. The haunting ‘Entropy’ was a tribute to a departed friend and a fabulously touching GARY NUMAN homage to his ‘Dance’ period, in particular ‘Cry The Clock Said’. The hypnotic soundtrack of gentle preset rhythms and eerie electric piano, courtesy of a Buchla modular synth, was complimented by Schutz even adopting the phrasing of the man born Gary Anthony James Webb.
Weird and wonderful, ‘Red Moon Voyage’ was a ghostly 10 minute epic comprising of glitchy voices and varying rhythm constructions recorded especially for Halloween. Free of album concepts and the pop song format, this was FIFI RONG at her most adventurous yet, delightfully adding her native Mandarin language towards the third part. “Having a long journey means you can get very deep and lots of moods and transitions” she told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK
Marc Almond and Dave Ball were the boys who came back-back-BACK as SOFT CELL in 2018. ‘Northern Lights’ reminisced about their days at the Wigan Casino and recaptured the pop essence that led to the duo having five consecutive Top 10 hits! Despite the grittiness and energetics, the duo always had melody and that came back in abundance on their welcome recorded return. The darker B-Side ‘Guilty (‘Cos I Say You Are)’ affirmed that as a creative force, SOFT CELL still had it.
Chinese six-piece STOLEN are reckoned by Berlin-based producer Mark Reeder to be possibly the most exciting band he has seen since NEW ORDER. Certainly their debut album ‘Fragment’ was impressive and one of the best of 2018, with ‘Turn Black’ being one of the standout tracks. “I like the idea of mixing of rock with techno…” said growly lead vocalist Liang Yi to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, “we are very proud that we don’t sound like any of the other Chinese bands.”
Ingo Hauss and Hayo Lewerentz handed back the BOYTRONIC brand to Holger Wobker and returned to being U96, teaming up with former KRAFTWERK percussionist Wolfgang Flür for the best track by either party in recent years. Stark and Teutonic with stark robotic vocoder aesthetics, the union of two German musical heavyweights from different generations was equal to Flür’s ‘Activity Of Sound’ collaboration with Ireland’s iEUROPEAN.
Combining piano, synths, field recordings, drones, occasional beats, old string instruments and HILARY WOODS’ wonderfully forlorn voice in the vein of Julee Cruise, ‘Jesus Said’ questioned the existence of God. Described by the Irish songstress herself as “a song that seeks catharsis”, her child-like expression over the drifting synthesized tones and hypnotic drum machine to augment her beautiful piano playing gave ‘Jesus Said’ a gentle meditative quality.
Available on the HILARY WOODS album ‘Colt’ via Sacred Bones
Releasing their first album in 2010, it’s been a steady path of progression for TINY MAGNETIC PETS.
It was helped along by an endorsement from The Blitz Club’s legendary DJ Rusty Egan, where the Numan-eqsue ‘Control Me’ and the dreampop of ‘We Shine’ were regular staples of his Electronic Family Tree radio show. But when ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK introduced TINY MAGNETIC PETS to Andy McCluskey in Düsseldorf at the 2015 Electri_City_Conference , little did anyone realise what it would lead to.
The end result was the charming Irish trio were invited to open for OMD on the UK leg of ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’ tour. However, the sojourn actually began at home in Dublin; “we had a massive crowd and following there” remembered singer Paula Gilmer, “the reaction was incredible”. But to get to this point, months of logistical planning and rehearsal had been required.
The band’s gear was kept streamlined as they were using nothing more than a 4 door hatchback with a flux capacitor on their UK jaunt. Also, the band had just 30 minutes each night to make their impression.
“When you do a tour like this” drummer Eugene Somers says, “you have to be aware of your time slot and that you’re on / you’re off! With this tour, it was going to be electronics all the way. The kit is basically an SPD-SX, you have to compromise”. It looks like a tea tray, but cranked up through OMD’s sound system, it is mighty.
On the keyboard front, synthesist Sean Quinn has had to strip it all down to a Roland XP10 workstation and a Novation which he enthuses as being “a fantastic workhorse of a synth, it’s quick and easy and has Moog sounds, ARPs, string machines”.
This set-up makes things easier at soundchecks which can be tedious and frustrating affairs. At the Cambridge Corn Exchange, things go reasonably well but Eugene is not happy about a slapback on his bass drum.
After a quick discussion with sound engineer Chicky Reeves, a solution is offered and accepted. Luckily as the band are using an electronic kit, the adjustment is much more straightforward. Eugene could be referred to as a colours drummer, much like OMD sticksman Stuart Kershaw and the pair bond well during the tour.
A bit of a reggae fan, Eugene is heavily influenced by Stewart Copeland and his subtle style adds power when appropriate. He is a drummer that actually enhances an electronic band, unlike the numbskull antics of Christian Eigner, the polarising drumhead for DEPECHE MODE.
For Paula, things are less complicated with her not needing to set-up or clear-up equipment; “Mine’s easiest” she laughs, “just the tambourine”. But she works closely with the band’s manager Una Fagan on the business side and as the pretty face of the band, she is the first to go and meet the public after TMP’s and OMD’s performances.
While the soundcheck is in progress, Una is liaising with OMD’s tour manager about catering arrangements while also completing PRS forms.
A vital source of income for live acts, some bands don’t even bother registering and it’s a testament to TINY MAGNETIC PETS’ professionalism that they have taken this aspect seriously. At dinner, the band sit with the crew and OMD’s Martin Cooper. Sean gets distracted by an amusing conversation that Eugene and the crew are having about embarrassing albums in their collections.
Earlier, Sean and Eugene had a fierce but friendly discussion in the dressing room about whether being a fan of YES and MUSE was mutually exclusive! Paula doesn’t get involved, saving her voice and disappearing into her own space in preparation for the show after having her salad.
TINY MAGNETIC PETS are treated well by OMD and their crew. However, this is not always been the case with support acts on tours with other major acts. One artist wasn’t spoken to by the headliner, while the crew blanked them on the tour bus. They were even asked to reduce the number of items they had for sale on the merchandise stand.
Luckily, there’s no such issues for TINY MAGNETIC PETS; Una chats with the merchandise personnel about positioning their items to the right of the stand next to a lobby area where Paula, Sean and Eugene can meet and greet new fans. “It couldn’t be better. We’re really at ease and totally enjoying it” says Paula while Eugene is very happy that “They’re treating us like kings and queens”.
There is enthusiasm after TINY MAGNETIC PETS’ set at Cambridge. It has gone well and Paula’s Irish charm has won over people. “We’ve been selling a lot of CDs and vinyl” says Sean, “that’s been a surprise” while Paula adds “People have said that they’re not too into support acts but are loving us which is so lovely to hear” – even those who have chosen not to make a purchase come over to offer their positive feedback to the band.
Eugene enjoys the aftershow banter too, noting: “It’s so good to meet the fans and in turn, give it back to us. That is a key factor. There are people finding us for the first time on the day and it’s lovely compliments we’re getting”.
Between sets, a chance meeting with Paul Humphreys on the stairs backstage results in a conversation about TMP’s set. As a fan of KRAFTWERK and LA DÜSSELDORF, the OMD synth man is quite taken with ‘Semaphore’, especially its extended instrumental section which echoes ‘Europe Endless’ and ‘Rheinita’.
If SAINT ETIENNE collaborated with KRAFTWERK, TINY MAGNETIC PETS would probably be that composite end result.
But at 10 minutes long, ‘Semaphore’ takes up a third of the allotted set time but “it was always going in and it was unanimous” according to Eugene; “Apart from anything else” enthuses Sean, “it’s just a lot of fun to play live, there has to be a certain edge when you’re playing live”. ‘Semaphore’ certainly seems to be the track making the biggest impression; “People always come up to us and ask ‘what was that last song?’” says Sean, “that’s fascinating”.
Social media has picked up for TINY MAGNETIC PETS so prompt reciprocal engagement is important to build support. Twitter acts as the most straightforward live platform, while Facebook takes a bit more effort and is usually looked at after the show at the hotel. “The comments have been great on Twitter and Facebook” confirms Sean.
Throughout the tour, the all-important likes and follows come in with ease, but it’s the actual comments and feedback which make gauging reaction much easier.
TINY MAGNETIC PETS make efforts to take selfies and provide a pictorial travelogue to connect with the audience and potential media outlets. This is one aspect they have good hang of and something that other acts in the same position as them can learn from. The band usually watch OMD perform although this can be dependent on how far Una’s car has had to be parked from the venue.
A keen dancer, Paula likes to see as much of OMD performance as possible, almost as a way of unwinding; “We have watched OMD every night, it’s an amazing show. ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’ and ‘What Have We Done’ are sounding fantastic live”. Meanwhile, Sean adds: “It’s wonderful hearing these records in a live setting. I love the new album”.
It was interesting to observe that even off duty, Paula is recognised by well-wishers who come up to her during the show to compliment her on the band’s performance and her fine voice.
But she is an experienced and charismatic performer who connects well with people; “When we’re performing” she confirmed, “we like to build it up so we started with the slow, chilled back stuff and build up to the climax. We’re pushing a lot of the new stuff and it’s going down a treat”.
Their new album ‘Deluxe/Debris’ builds on the momentum of ‘The NATO Alphabet’ EP from 2016 and fittingly features ex-KRAFTWERK percussionst Wolfgang Flür on two songs ‘Radio On’ and ‘Never Alone’ with the latter, an enticing highlight of the Cambridge set.
The album has been released by Happy Robots Records, a small independent label run by Adam Cresswell.
He’d enjoyed the first album and got chatting with the band online over a shared ability to quote ‘Spinal Tap’. “They were friendly, professional and seemed to be actual music fans, which is essential in my opinion” he remembered, “so at their next London gig, I stumbled over to the lads at the bar, and asked ‘who is putting out your next album?’. And it just fell into place. I had no idea Wolfgang was going to be on the album or that they would get the OMD tour, but clearly somebody up there likes me”.
But what was been selling more, vinyl or CD?: “The plan was always to put the album out on vinyl” said the label boss, “Although expensive, it was worth it for aesthetic reasons alone. On LP it looks, sounds and feels like a classic synth pop record. It was fan pressure that talked me into pressing a CD, and on tour the CD has been selling more and that is totally understandable – you can’t stick an LP in your back pocket. But no-one anticipated the numbers we would sell and that we would be repressing before we’d hit the halfway point. The LP is still selling nicely online too”.
As the tour progresses, TINY MAGNETIC PETS continue to impress. At Southampton Guild Hall, Lorraine Brown of My Music Passion observed: “it was really special to see TMP perform on a big stage to an audience of thousands. Their set went down incredibly well and, given that I was sat on the balcony, I could see the audience were well and truly engaged and seeing so many of the audience members congratulate them on the performance afterwards was a joy”.
Meanwhile in London, their longest standing champion Rusty Egan expressed his delight: “I was very pleased to see TINY MAGNETIC PETS who proved to me and the OMD audience at the Roundhouse that their simple melodic synthpop songs with a great vocalist are winning new fans”; he was also very pleased “they also thanked me for my small part in their success”.
‘Nuntius’ star Mr Normall also reported that: “TINY MAGNETIC PETS managed to fill the floor at the Roundhouse from the start of their set and that doesn’t happen too often with support bands. I believe all the audience were not there just to see Paula on stage but the band has gained a new following with their second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’ and the gig at the Roundhouse proved that the increased popularity is rightfully earned”.
In Guildford, Chris Payne who played in GARY NUMAN’s band comes backstage to give his best wishes to TINY MAGNETIC PETS.
It is also the first time he has seen Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys since OMD opened for Numan on ‘The Touring Principle’ in 1979.
With the reunion came hearty recollections of on tour practical jokes, like when Chris sabotaged Winston The Tape Recorder on the final night at Hammersmith Odeon and how Andy still owes him a fiver!
By the time the tour reaches Glasgow and its notoriously hard-to-please crowd, it was clear the band had hit their stride. Ian Ferguson of local synthpop duo RAINLAND noted that “everyone seated around me were asking the name of the support and were impressed both by the performance and that I was on their guest list…”
As the tour reaches its end via Birmingham and Gateshead, TINY MAGNETIC PETS don’t want to go home and even have a jokey photo taken of them trying to stowaway in the back of OMD’s truck.
Undoubtedly, the last four weeks have been a success. What happens next is up to them, but whatever TINY MAGNETIC PETS do now, there are undoubtedly more people interested than there were before.
And it’s to OMD’s credit that they give new electronic acts an opportunity to play on a big stage with them.
OMD’s Andy McCluskey said: “Musically we are much more the sons of Düsseldorf than we are the sons of Liverpool. KRAFTWERK, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF were so much more influential on us than THE BEATLES”.
Meanwhile ULTRAVOX’s Chris Cross adds: “Personally I would have loved to have been in a band like LA DÜSSELDORF” – First published in German during the Spring of 2015, Rudi Esch’s ‘ELECTRI_CITY – Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf’ gave a fascinating insider’s account of the Germany’s influential post-war music scene which was centred around the city of Düsseldorf. The original book spawned an English language edition ‘ELECTRI_CITY – The Düsseldorf School of Electronic Music’, two compilation albums released on Grönland Records and an annual music conference.
The third event in the series will take place on FRIDAY 27TH and SATURDAY 28TH OCTOBER 2017.
Rudi Esch came to prominence as the bassist of industrial trailblazers DIE KRUPPS whom he joined in 1988, but prior to that, he was in DIE ENGEL DES HERRN with the mercurial Klaus Dinger of NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF fame.
The book takes an unusual format in that it features a series of parabites, pieced together from over fifty exclusive interviews, to tell the story of The Düsseldorf School and its cultural significance.
This makes the text easily digestible and is certainly a preferred layout compared to the more tedious documents that have been published about musik von die Bundesrepublik over the last few years.
Interviewees include Michael Rother, Klaus Dinger, Wolfgang Flür, Daniel Miller, Paul Humphreys, Andy McCluskey, Martyn Ware, Glenn Gregory, Chris Cross, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Giorgio Moroder and Rusty Egan who gives one of the funniest quotes: “To me, the Germans made cars and rockets. Mercedes and Messerschmitt were the names I knew before KRAFTWERK”.
“Düsseldorf is the capital of electronic music” says Esch, as he gives an account of how the Düsseldorf electronic scene developed from 1970 to 1986 with acts like KRAFTWERK, LA DÜSSELDORF, DER PLAN, LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, RIECHMANN, RHEINGOLD, PROPAGANDA, DAF and NEU!
In those early days, the choice of instrumentation was dictated by money. Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider-Esleben both came from affluent millionaire families, with the latter’s father a prominent architect who oversaw the redesign of the Cologne-Bonn Airport.
As expensive as synthesizers were back then, the more avant-garde types tended to prefer EMS equipment as it did not come with a keyboard, while those who liked melody opted for the Minimoog.
KRAFTWERK of course bought both! But as former member Ebehard Kranemann remembers “KRAFTWERK was not about the money, it was about the music”.
And with his Farfisa organ and its preset rhythm accompaniment, Hütter became fascinated with mechanical percussive templates and goaded their then-drummer Klaus Dinger with his proclamation that it was “the fastest drummer in the world”.
Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother were working class boys, which influenced their pursuit of a more organic approach and ultimately led to them flying the KRAFTWERK nest to form NEU! While Rother had the talent and an easy going manner, Dinger had ambition and his forthright tendencies did not win him many friends. “With Klaus, you never knew if he would give you a headbutt or an invitation to dinner…” says Wolfgang Flür, “…all in all, I didn’t like him”.
Dinger was explosive, confrontational and unpredictable. In KRAFTWERK, while Hütter and Schneider had their neon lit signs with their first names in blue, he wanted one with ‘Klaus’ in red! When Colgate offered to pay a substantial amount of money to use LA DÜSSELDORF’s hit ‘Rheinita’ in a TV advert, he declined. There was also the incident of him breaking journalist Konrad Schalensick’s nose following a negative review of their second album ‘Viva’.
The signs were there from the start, with Dinger playing rhythmic guitar alongside Rother’s melodic interplay, not satisfied with just being the drummer. So without Conny Plank to act as buffer and referee, NEU! would never have lasted for three albums. The silent partner in NEU! who recognised talent and created an atmosphere for musicians to experiment, Plank was without doubt a factor in the second side of ‘Neu! 2’ being filled with speeded up and slowed down variations of a previously issued single.
The thorny issue of KRAFTWERK’s treatment of Conny Plank is discussed in the book; “I don’t know where KRAFTWERK would be today if it wasn’t for Conny” says Hans Lampe, assistant to Plank and later to become a member of LA DÜSSELDORF.
However, Plank did accept 5000 Deutschmarks (a lot of money in 1974!) which bought him out of the co-producer credit on ‘Autobahn’ after it was licensed and edited for release by Capitol Records in America.
Another discussion point is Karl Bartos‘ contribution to KRAFTWERK as he wrote many of the melodies as ‘the kraftsman’. According to Michael Mertens of PROPAGANDA who was a conservatoire classmate: “Karl understood that to make popular music, you had to retain some degree of naivety”.
Classical music education played an important role and it appeared in the most unlikely of places. DAF’s Robert Görl had much in common with Karl Bartos and Michael Mertens, although Görl says: “Wir wollten lieber mit Maschinen arbeiten. We always preferred working with machines”.
During the post-punk period, just as Liverpool had Eric’s, Manchester had The Factory and London had The Blitz, Düsseldorf had a creative centre emerge around Die Ratinger Hof.
Affordable synths from Japan such as the Korg MS20 were a game changer for younger bands like DAF and DIE KRUPPS as they found their sound. However, there was an important distinction between synths and keyboards as Kurt Dahlke of DER PLAN and PYROLATOR explains: “I insist that I am never credited as a keyboardist on records. A keyboard player is some kind of all-round entertainer, sat at his keyboard using various presets. I insist on synthesizer”.
While KRAFTWERK were a reaction to the Americanisation of popular culture in Germany, the next generation of more forthright and aggressive acts like DIE KRUPPS and DAF were a reaction to KRAFTWERK.
Jürgen Engler mentions “I hadn’t bought a single KRAFTWERK album” while Gabi Delgado comments that “To me, KRAFTWERK were sounding too boring, too beautiful, too sedate and too sterile” and even adds “Sequencers and Moroder. That was more important for electronic music than the entire legacy of KRAFTWERK, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF”.
DAF’s preference for a militaristic aesthetic caused controversy and confused observers, but from the off, they were out to shock. They attracted a following which Gabi Delgado hated; his parents had escaped from the Fascist Franco regime in Spain. However, their early sequencer guru Chrislo Haas was less bothered and flirted with the ideology as a fashion statement.
Their manager Bob Giddens reckons “DAF kind of overdid it later on with their hyper-Germaness” and as they hit the peak of their success, Ralf Dörper reckons they disappeared in a haze of “Sex, drugs and sequencer”. Haas eventually left DAF and went on to form alternative club favourites LIAISONS DANGEREUSES in a charged partnership with Beate Bartel of MANIA D.
Of course, all this is only a small part of the story. The visionaries, technicians and eccentrics who played their part like the late Gunter Körber (A&R for Metronome and Brain Records who later founded the Sky label that issued key albums by Michael Rother and Wolfgang Riechmann), inventor Werner Lambertz and Florian Schneider’s sister Claudia also give their takes on the scene.
The book appropriately ends its coverage in 1986, when KRAFTWERK’s ‘Electric Café’ disappointed many and led to the departure of Messrs Flür, Bartos and eventually Schneider.
But fast forward to 2017 and Düsseldorf has come to terms with one of its biggest cultural exports and is now happy to celebrate the city’s influence on musicians and artists all over the world.
However, the final word has to go to the departed Klaus Dinger: “A lot of people may have helped themselves to the stuff we developed, and then made big bucks abroad. But nevertheless I’d go as far as saying: this was only ever possible in D-U-S, my home town Düsseldorf”.
The ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE takes place in Düsseldorf on FRIDAY 27TH and SATURDAY 28TH OCTOBER 2017 featuring ANNE CLARK, ROBERT GÖRL, STRÖME, ARCTIC SUNRISE, ELECTRONIC CIRCUS and KATJA VON KASSEL – for further information, please visit http://www.electricity-conference.com/