Lost Albums : KON KAN Syntonic

In 1989 Canadian act Kon Kan scored a huge international hit with “I Beg Your Pardon”, an innovative composite of synthpop influences (New Order and Pet Shop Boys in particular) and samples (notably, country star Lynn Anderson’s ‘Rose Garden’). Whilst the duo’s follow-up singles and parent album, Move to Move, didn’t fare as well, Atlantic Records were impressed enough to bankroll a second album.

Buoyed by enthusiastic live audiences the previous year, and newly invigorated by his Juno Award for ‘I Beg Your Pardon’, Barry Harris decided to record the follow-up on his own; thus ending his creative association with singer Kevin Wynne. This wasn’t a great surprise, since it had originally been Harris’s intention to utilise Kon Kan as a solo vehicle. Singing in a slightly deeper register to Wynne, he had already proven himself an effective vocalist, singing the lead on two of Move to Move’s tracks (‘Am I In Love’ plus the title track). With the aid of executive producer Marc Nathan, who had brought Kon Kan to the attention of Atlantic Records, an ensemble of talented musicians and producers were assembled to cut the record at various transatlantic locations.

Syntonic, whilst retaining much of its predecessor’s influences and sample-laden ideas, was less hurried and indeed a more focused and assured collection of songs (many of these were co-written by Bob Mitchell, who had been retained after the Move to Move sessions). I asked Barry how much creative control he had on the new opus:-

Barry Harris: “I had quite a bit of creative control but this time felt more like 50/50 with the record company. I felt like I had to produce a Top 40 hit. It was a totally different experience, but quite fun as well. I learned a lot from different producers, this time working in New York and London – a very exciting time.”

One of the key producers on Syntonic was John Luongo, who was a legendary figure from the disco era, remixing tracks by the likes of The Jacksons, Dan Hartman and KC and the Sunshine Band. In synth circles, Luongo is known both as a producer (Blancmange) and a remixer (Visage and Cabaret Voltaire). I asked Barry and Marc how the prolific producer and remixer got involved on Syntonic:-

Barry Harris: “Marc Nathan hooked us up. At first I wasn’t totally aware of who John Luongo was, and I certainly should have! He was a great guy, and we had a great time working together. I learned a *lot* from him too!”

Marc Nathan: “John Luongo was a well respected dance music producer who I had met a few times, and certainly admired – his resume speaks for itself. And, while we were acquaintances up to the point of the making of Syntonic, I am pleased to say that over 20 years later we are actually good friends, and I have nothing but great memories of his working with us on that project.”

The first single to be released from the album was the Luongo-produced ‘Liberty’, the first of many co-writes with jobbing songwriter Bob Mitchell. Boasting a strong lead vocal (with terrific support by jobbing session singer Debbe Cole) and a veritable smorgasbord of choral presets, Latino and Italo-house influences, this brilliant pop song set the standard for the rest of the album.

Almost a statement of intent about his solo aspirations, the single’s sleeve featured a striking, bold image of Harris wearing a Kon Kan hat (a promotional gimmick that had been in circulation since the ‘Puss N’ Boots’ video), ‘Liberty’ was released in November 1990 but was sadly not a hit. It was certainly a low-key UK single, heralding virtually no press attention upon its release (this writer only discovered the single by accident at a record fair!).

Another notable Luongo production was the excellent second single, ‘(Could’ve Said) I Told You So’ which was closer in format to ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ than its predecessor, and perhaps should have been considered as the album’s lead-off single. It cleverly contrasted the humorous chorus of Jimmy Soul’s US number 1 hit from 1963, ‘If You Wanna Be Happy’, with a bittersweet lyric. The female lead vocal was this time supplied by Luongo’s wife, Joy Winter, who had cut a record (‘Frantic Romantic’) that year with both Luongo and legendary Freestyle producer, Lewis Martineé at the helm. Session vocalist Gordon Grody helped to recreate Jimmy Soul’s memorable chorus (interestingly, he would later become a vocal coach for Lady Gaga). An undoubted highlight of the album (barring the saxophonic blemishes!), Harris is less enthused with the results these days:-

Barry Harris: “‘If You Wanna Be Happy’ was Marc Nathan’s idea, to write a new song around that chorus. I was up for the challenge at the time and this is what I came up with. In hindsight I’m not really happy with it (no pun intended). I feel I made something way too pop and feel that I totally lost my way with this one – I wasn’t true to myself at all. I’d say it’s one of my weaker creations. Oh well…c’est la vie!”

Marc Nathan: “It’s funny that it was apparently ‘my idea’. I’m not sure exactly how that happened, but I do know I was a huge fan of Kid Creole and the Coconuts, and they had done a rather lackluster cover of that song, and I knew it was certainly a memorable tune, so yes, I guess I suggested it to Barry and he came up with ‘(Could’ve Said) I Told You So’.”


Another highlight was ‘Time’ (again, produced by Luongo), which was similar in format to ‘(Could’ve Said) I Told You So’, with a synth motif that was once again comparable to Spagna’s ‘Call Me’. Interposed – and equally effectively – this time was a track by Juno Award-winning Canadian rock band Trooper called ‘We’re Here For A Good Time (Not A Long Time)’ which perfectly complemented the reflective verses.

Arguably, the centrepiece of the album (and not just because it was sequenced in the middle of the album) was an excellent 6-minute plus version of ‘Victim’, which had originally been cut by Candi Staton in 1978. The song’s composer was Dave Crawford, who had also penned both Linda Lyndell’s ‘Whatta Man’ (later popularised by both Salt-n-Pepa and En Vogue) and Staton’s massive hit ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ (a drug-dependant Crawford, forced to sell his songs on the cheap for quick cash, fell on hard times in the 1980s and died in tragic circumstances). The Kon Kan version of ‘Victim’ (a duet with compatriot Carole Pope), replete with various samples, whistles and hip-hop breaks (the ubiquitous ‘Amen break’), had other interesting origins, as Barry Harris recalls:

Barry Harris: “This was an idea of Marc Nathan’s for me to produce a duet between alternative Canadian rocker, Carole Pope, and Tim Curry. I went to LA the day after we won the Canadian Juno in [the] spring of ’90 and started recording with Carole and Tim (they already knew each other). It turned out the record company didn’t care for Tim’s voice, which surprised me because I thought it was fine – it was Tim Curry sounding like Tim Curry. But we shelved the whole idea and I continued writing new Kon Kan songs. Towards the end of the making of Syntonic later that summer I suggested why don’t I just sing it instead of Tim and salvage the production (which I still liked) and have John Luongo mix it and make it a Kon Kan record… which is what we did!”

Also on board for the production of the album were both Martyn Phillips (who had produced The Beloved’s Happiness album that year, and would later helm Erasure’s excellent Chorus album) and Paul Robb, a member of Minnesota band, Information Society. Up until this point INSOC’s career had been running almost parallel to Kon Kan’s, with both bands having recently enjoyed huge hit singles on the Billboard chart (in INSOC’s case it was ‘What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)’ which contained various Star Trek samples). Both acts were crafting Freestyle-infused synth-pop, so Robb’s involvement on Syntonic certainly made sense, as Marc Nathan confirms:

Marc Nathan: “I knew Paul Robb a bit as well and just thought it made sense to try to hook him up with Barry, as they were both pretty creative synthetically. Both INSOC and Kon Kan had bizarrely huge careers in Brazil. [It] just seemed to be a natural fit.”

Synthpop was still very much in vogue at the start of the decade. While the careers of classic Synth Britannia acts Duran Duran and The Human League were faltering somewhat (see Liberty and Romantic?, respectively) the likes of New Order, The Beloved and Depeche Mode continued to fly the electronic flag and enjoyed big hits that year. Meanwhile, dance music was consolidating its position as one of the most popular genres of music – Killer (Adamski) and The Power (Snap!) were amongst the year’s best sellers. Sample-based cuts also continued to be popular, with ‘Dub Be Good To Me’ (Beats International) and ‘Ice Ice Baby’ (Vanilla Ice) reaching the top of the charts. But seemingly this wasn’t a market that Atlantic appeared to be focusing its attentions on, with a roster of artists that included the likes of Mike and the Mechanics, Alannah Myles, Bette Midler, Genesis and Skid Row. Another artist who had seemingly disappeared off Atlantic’s radar was the precociously talented Debbie Gibson who had scored some massive transatlantic hits between 1987 and 1989. Her third album Anything Is Possible (released around the same time as Syntonic) was something of a flop in comparison to its two predecessors (Out Of The Blue and Electric Youth). Both Anything Is Possible and Syntonic seemingly sank in the midst of a saturated Christmas market.

How disappointed were you with the relative failure of Syntonic and its singles?

Barry Harris: “Well, ya win some, ya lose some. It’s hard to analyse what went wrong this time and easy to finger point and be bitter. Of course I was for a little bit, but am also very grateful I got to experience what I had from ’88-91. It was really an amazing time overall!”

Marc Nathan: “Well, naturally I was very disappointed. I didn’t want to be associated with *all* one-hit wonders (I had signed Linear, King Missile and Terry Tate as well and all had crashed and burned in various stages, but all had massive hits in their formats at radio – pop, alternative and urban), and I was so close to Barry as a friend as well, that I just hoped he’d break out of the pack. ‘Liberty’ sure sounded great to me!”

How do you feel about Syntonic these days?

Barry Harris: “There are some elements I like. Perhaps my favourite song is ‘My Camera’. I still love a song with somewhat clever lyrics or a clever concept. I think Bob and I came up with an interesting concept here, which is basically daydreaming whatever you want, but if you could take a picture of it, it could suddenly be ‘tangible’. I just thought it was a little Rod Serling-ish.”

“I like the optimism in ‘Time’ and am very happy I wrote a song with lyrics I truly believe. Many of my friends had died of AIDS by ’91 and it was my reaction to that time in my life – simply enjoy yourself as much as possible while you are on this earth! Like Monty Python would say or perhaps sing, ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!’”

Marc Nathan: “Most of those songs have faded over time, but I have to admit, I have a jukebox running in my head constantly, and songs like ‘Liberty’, ‘Time’, and ‘(Could’ve Said)…’ all come up in one way or another. Sometimes I hear them as they were recorded and sometimes I hear the funny shit that went on in the studio when they were being put together. John Luongo and I had a running joke about the disgusting fantasy beverage, liver tea…

“Also, I have to say that I am just blessed to have been able to marry Barry to Carole Pope, a Canadian legend, for that duet on Candi Staton’s ‘Victim.’ That’s perhaps my all-time favourite disco record, and both Barry and Carole did everything they could to update it and make it their own. Massive failure on some level, but I’m still proud nonetheless.”


Many of the track’s strong backing vocals were supplied by a well-experienced session singer named Debbe Cole. Cole had previously plied her trade on early, pioneering hip-hop albums such as Deuce (Kurtis Blow), and also influential Freestyle classics like Shannon’s ‘Let the Music Play’. However, she is perhaps best remembered for her classy vocal on Malcolm McClaren’s pop/opera epic, ‘Madam Butterfly’. Interestingly, this memorable top twenty hit was the first major production by an up-and-coming US producer named Stephen Hague, whose next significant project would be Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark Crush album (Hague would, of course, later garner acclaim helming records by the likes of New Order, Pet Shop Boys and Dubstar). Debbe also became heavily involved with the promotion of the ‘Liberty’ single, and also the subsequent tour in Brazil, where Kon Kan continued to be extremely popular. Debbe was kind enough to tell The Electricity Club about her work on the album, as well as other projects.

How did you end up working on the Syntonic album?

Debbe Cole: “With Marc Nathan’s search on to assist Barry in finding a vocalist, he contacted New York DJ Johnny Dynell for recommendations [NB: Dynell’s memorable ‘Jam Hot’ single was sampled by Beats International on their Number One hit, ‘Dub Be Good To Me’ in 1990– Ed]. I’d worked with Dynell years before on a show by Gabriel Rotello (‘Downtown Dukes and Divas’) at the Limelight in New York City. Johnny referred me, I showed up at the studio and watched something very cool happen!”

How much did you know about Kon Kan before the Syntonic sessions?

Debbe Cole: “Actually, my familiarity with Kon Kan wasn’t until I went back and listened to previous works. Loved ‘em… just never caught who the artist was!”

Do you have any particular favourite tracks?

Debbe Cole: “’These Boots Are Made For Walking’! We became quite animated on stage with that, and the [other] hits he’d already made. ‘Liberty’ of course -. [it] has a beautiful and deeply sentimental spot in my life. It was one of the songs that my mother loved immediately and requested hearing fairly frequently.”

‘Liberty’ was produced by John Luongo who you’d of course worked with before. Was this someone you particularly enjoyed working with?

Debbe Cole: “John and I spoke just today! There’s such a mutual admiration society between John, myself and [my] brother, Khris Kellow. We’d done a lot of work together (dance related) and we’ve stayed close friends, along our separate journeys.”

Was the video fun to make?

Debbe Cole: “I didn’t lie, per se, when I was asked if I skated… I didn’t bother to say how bad I was! So I was handed a pretty dress that looked like a Marie Antoinette and Vivienne Westwood creation – oh my God I am totally busted! Glad I wasn’t asked if I’d driven a race car!! Absolutely the best time though.”

What was Barry like to work with?

Debbe Cole: “Intimidating at first – he had it *so* together and knew exactly what he needed from me. After not too long, things began to click, and I was extremely proud of this work with Barry. And that comprehension translated well live – we had a ball on stage for sure!”

Were you surprised that Syntonic wasn’t a hit?

Debbe Cole: “At the time, my glow from Barry’s reception on the Brazilian tour took me by such a pleasant surprise [that] I’d never really thought of it as not being a hit. [However, after] returning to the reality of USA radio cynicism and tidy little pockets that everyone must fit into, I was made painfully aware this project wasn’t given its deserving shot.”

You contributed a memorable vocal to Malcolm McLaren’s incredible single, ‘Madam Butterfly’, which was produced by Stephen Hague – what was it like working with both McLaren and Hague?

Debbe Cole: “I loved working with him and Walter [Turbitt]. They knew exactly how to rein in Malcolm’s ‘organised rambling’ and make powerful sense of it! I’d previously worked with Malcolm in New York on ‘Eiffel Tower’ and he phoned me way after that to do the title track in Boston… still not fully aware of his fame or past endeavours. We all worked very hard to get it just right: Him explaining this young girl’s pregnant plight with a sailor (well worth all the hours tweaking my understanding of her character) and to observe his process being kind of translated by Stephen. Cio Cio San: my first shot at acting – thanks Mac!”

You’ve also featured on numerous Latin freestyle recordings (Shannon, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, Marc Anthony etc). Was this a genre of music that you were particularly fond of?

Debbe Cole: “I am, to this day, a fanatical freestyle female! [I’m] losing track of how many Latin hip-hop/freestyle songs I’ve sung on and been ‘ghost lead’ to. I was simply working my ass off, allowing the producers to feed me the old “just put a reference lead vocal down for the artist to hear” and winding up hearing my frickin’ voice on the radio, mixed higher than the horrid attempt at singing tucked underneath by the so-called artist! A good weave and some tits… forget it if these girls could sing or not (mostly not!)! Getting money of course meant a lot to me, but the rush of being known and respected in that community balanced out getting duped somehow. Throughout it all [I] made many friends that remained in my life. It gave me and my spirit lots of fierce memories and tons of lessons learnt.”


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Barry Harris, Marc Nathan and Debbe Cole

https://www.facebook.com/konkanofficial/

www.discogs.com/artist/Kon+Kan

Text and Interviews by Barry Page

LOLA DUTRONIC Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead

Electropopsters LOLA DUTRONIC return with a sequel to one of their most classic tunes…

Lola Dutronic was conceived by Richard Citroen to combine his love of 60s French pop with modern electronic music. Now teamed with Germany-based singer Stephanie B, the Canada-based composer served up perhaps Lola Dutronic’s finest moment to date in the shape of 2015’s Lost In Translation album (see review here).

Prior to that, back in 2012, the global-spanning duo of Lola Dutronic knocked out a release titled ‘Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead’, an irreverent song which namechecked some of the greats in music history who had sadly passed away (and which also featured backing vocals by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth).

Now Lola Dutronic have returned with a sequel to the classic – with a revised list of ‘guests’ thanks to 2016’s devastating cull of musicians. “Our friends and fans have been urging us to update it for ages, but we’ve always said ‘no’” suggest the dynamic duo, “However, 2016 was such a pig of a year, with so many of our heroes dying, we couldn’t say no any longer, so here it is!”

Recorded and mixed over the Christmas period, the new version has mentions for Lemmy, David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen (that well-known synthpop artist). As with the original, the witty lyrics might offend some, but any tune that takes a pop at the likes of Ted Nugent is a winner in our book…


Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead : The Sequel is available via iTunes and Bandcamp.

https://www.facebook.com/LOLA-DUTRONIC-80232595392/
http://loladutronic.bandcamp.com


GIRL ONE AND THE GREASE GUNS The Strange Little Lines That Humans Draw In The Dust

The enigmatic outfit return with a compilation of electropop wonders…

It was a pleasant surprise when a series of electrically charged 7″ vinyl singles first started appearing in 2013 from the curiously named Girl One And The Grease Guns.

There’s more than an element of mystery surrounding the electronic outfit, which consisted of Sissy Space Echo, Warren Betamax, Charles Bronson Burner, Bruce LeeFax (with occasional assistance from John Cassette-vetes), although they were true to their manifesto of “causing confusion with a mixture of pure synth pop and more experimental electronic sounds”.

While each single offered up a different face of electronic music, there were elements that glued the whole affair together. There’s certainly a love for ’60s girl groups at large on much of Girl One’s output along with a ‘garage punk’ aesthetic that lends the music a raw, energetic quality.

Now new compilation release The Strange Little Lines That Humans Draw In The Dust gathers together the various tracks from those vinyl releases, alongside a few rarities, to catalogue the band’s releases to date.

Tracks such as ‘Hitting The Brick Wall’ with its rhythmic percussion and electric organ melodies have a charm that’s hard to ignore, while the lyrics deal with themes of frustration and despair. Meanwhile, the lush melodies of ‘Jessica 6’ are a direct nod to those Phil Spector productions of the 1960s. Taking its title from the character played by Jenny Agutter in the 1976 science fiction film Logan’s Run, ‘Jessica 6’ is a short and sweet pop tune that’s one of the album’s standout moments.

‘The Creep Circus’ is a step in another direction. With its unsettling lyrics built around a tune sampled from ’70s children show Picture Box, there’s something perturbing about the track that pulls from an uncertain nostalgia. Elsewhere, the bizarrely-titled ‘Bring On The Dancing Horse Meat’ has a hypnotic electronic rhythm for the first part of the track, which then switches gear to an OMD-esque choral refrain for the final half.

Jumping into more experimental waters, ‘(Here Come The) Catastrophe Machines’ is an electro-trash workout with discordant static and harshly rendered electronics. ‘The Nightmare Room’ weaves in the screeching tones of an ’80s computer game loading screen against a minimal electronic percussion (with a pop song attached). Then there’s the oddly disturbing tones of ‘A Steel Cat In A Glass Jar’ which words alone can’t adequately describe.

For all the intriguing experimental electronic efforts, there’s an equal abundance of electropop numbers, such as the buzzy brilliance of ‘Veronica’ and the superb high energy pop of ‘The Shatterproof Man’, which again offers up a ’60s girl group sensibility against a tune that’s full of synth hooks and charm.

‘No Longer Spellbound’ offers more of a dreampop composition with its breathy vocals, an approach also employed on ‘Minimal Effort’ with its shoegaze sensibilities. ‘Bashed, Beaten And Broken (Trip The Switch)’ gives us more of that garage electro sound with an emphatically delivered vocal that calls to mind ‘lost’ synthpop outfit Indians In Moscow.

There’s a lot packed in on this particular compilation that offers up a selection box of electronic confectionery, some of which might present a challenge to the casual listener. Either way, the enigmatic nature of Girl One And The Grease Guns is enough to bolster interest and broadens the musical spectrum of your average electronic music enthusiast.


The Strange Little Lines That Humans Draw In The Dust is available now via Squirrel Records.

http://www.squirrelrecords.co.uk


Introducing FRAGRANCE

Keeping it dark with new French electronic act FRAGRANCE…

If you like your synthpop dark and melancholic, then you could do worse than dialing up Fragrance, a French outfit fielded by Paris-based musician Matthieu Roche.

There’s certainly an element of the sleazy synths of TR/ST working as an influence here with a similarly brooding electronic collage of sound. But Roche has also covered Depeche Mode in the past, with a particularly dreamy take on ‘Photographic’.

Despite Fragrance being lauded by some outlets as pursuing an ’80s approach to electronic music, instead there’s something very contemporary about Roche’s take on composition and style here. It can always be a tough line to balance, but there’s much more at work here than any of the tiresome 6,432 Depeche Mode soundalikes at large today…

Fragrance have now released the EP Dust & Disorders, which features 5 tracks that delve into a world of darkwave decadence, but Roche manages to have a flair for melodic flourishes and mood that keeps things interesting.

On ‘Care For The Proof’ the influence of TR/ST looms large with a vocal approach that’s culled from “Goth Eeyore” Robert Alfons’ own brooding lyrical delivery. Meanwhile, random synths hammer out notes through a dark atmospheric soup.

‘Lust For Lights’ threatens to be a straight-up synthpop number. which at times sounds like a lost Marsheaux tune. It’s certainly one of the EP’s finest moments with a driving rhythmn that’s sunk into a swirling dreamscape of electronic effects. Similarly, ‘Through The Wall’ is built up from a repeating synth motif with swathes of indistinct lyrics.

There’s a more darker approach on the weighty ‘Collapse’ with its bass-infused synth melodies. Meanwhile, EP closer ‘Postcards’ adopts a brighter tone with its echoing melodies and minimalist electronic percussion.

Fragrance offers up a polished set of songs (mastered by Hélène de Thoury from Hante. and Minuit Machine) that’s going to appeal to fans of the darker side of the synthpop spectrum. As a new artist, it’s going to be interesting to see where Roche takes this particular project next.


Download it for free (pay-what-you-want) on Bandcamp :
https://fragrancemusic.bandcamp.com/album/dust-disorders-ep

Stream it on Soundcloud :
https://soundcloud.com/thisisfragrance/sets/dust-disorders-ep
facebook.com/thisisfragrance
https://twitter.com/Fragrance_Fra

OMD’s New Studio Album Details

OMD’s 2013 album English Electric was hailed as a successful outing for the classic synthpop outfit.

However, there were concerns that the band might be in danger of calling it a day following its release.

In an interview back in 2013, Paul Humphreys remarked on the dilemma that he and Andy McCluskey faced: “We said to each other ‘I don’t think we can do this again’”. At last year’s Electri_City book talk in Liverpool, Andy remarked that after writing songs for nearly 40 years it was becoming difficult to find something new to write about.

At the same time, there were other issues facing the band in the wake of the post-reformation release History Of Modern. Andy had previously made it very clear that the reformation of OMD wouldn’t simply consist of nostalgia performances and that unless there was some artistic engine prompting the band to move forward, there would be little point in continuing. “…Paul and I sat down and said “OK, we don’t want to be a nostalgic heritage act. Nor, however, is it sufficient for us to just write a nice collection of songs in the style of OMD.”

In fact much of the ‘engine’ that drove the production of English Electric was a desire to explore what the future sounded like. But having now explored that idea, the question of whether or not the band should or indeed could continue was a valid one.

Luckily, ideas and sketches for a potential followup soon began to emerge. Although much of those details were sparse, a picture has begun to form about what OMD’s new album – now titled The Punishment Of Luxury – would be like.

In a special feature, our sister site Messages explores The Punishment Of Luxury. [Messages]

VITALIC Voyager

French electronic magician VITALIC returns with a solid collection of tunes…

There’s a robust quality about the electronic tunes contained on this latest release by Vitalic which appears to signal a strong start for electronic music in 2017.

Vitalic, aka Pascal Arbez, had been operating since the late 1990s as an underground artist, but achieved a larger profile with the release of his debut album OK Cowboy in 2005.

Vitalic’s crunchy flavour of muscular beats and melodies was unashamedly electronic and effortlessly straddled several genres at once. From the metallic beats and synthetic vocals of ‘My Friend Dario’ to the synthy goodness of ‘Poison Lips’ from his 2009 album Flashmob (which also appeared in cult film Dredd) there’s a consistent talent for good, solid electronic music.

Along the way, Vitalic has also chalked up a reputation for remix magic. In fact one of TEC’s favourite tunes from 2009 was Vitalic’s remix of Heartbreak’s ‘We’re Back’.

It’s probably not that surprising that Arbez should have ended up rubbing shoulders with the likes of The Hacker and Miss Kittin during his formative years. It’s Miss Kittin who also makes an appearance here on the track ‘Hans Is Driving’, a languid slice of electronica with vocoder effects and sounds like Air meets Kraftwerk.

New Vitalic album Voyager draws from a wealth of influences, including nods to the likes of Giorgio Moroder and Cerrone. Certainly, standout track ‘Waiting For The Stars’ is an unabashed nod to Arbez’s favourite ’70s and ’80s songs, which in places is deliberately out of tune. Featuring vocals from David Shaw, there’s a Moroder-esque beat driving this squelchy and engaging electropop wonder.

There’s also a wealth of hooks and melodies all over ‘Use It Or Lose It’ which also features a vocal turn by Mark Kerr (Maestro). ‘Eternity’ on the other hand is a much more stately affair with its sombre beats and rhythms sounding like they’ve been immersed in aspic.

BUY NOW

AMAZON

Vitalic are probably one of the acts that are likely to again ignite the debate over whether or not electronic dance music can also sit alongside synthpop proper. Some parties dismiss many contemporary electronic music acts on this basis, but in their eagerness to turn away, perhaps fail to grasp that electronic music is a broad spectrum of shades and colours.

Certainly the likes of Röyksopp (who dabble in similar waters to Vitalic) are helping to break down such barriers. It’s something that outfits like Kleerup and Japan’s Capsule have also been doing for a while. As always, it’s good tunes that will win an audience over.

To be fair, we’re also up to our ears in dance music that’s become bland and generic and on that basis, it’s always a pleasure when acts such as Vitalic rock up with an album that sets the standard.

But Voyager also features an appreciation for classic synthpop too. Written as a tribute to ‘Warm Leatherette’ by The Normal, ‘Sweet Cigarette’ features similarly deadpan lyrics against machine-like rhythms.

Elsewhere, ‘Nozomi’ (which in Japanese means ‘wish’) takes its inspiration from the Japanese shinkansen trains. As a result, there’s a constant sense of movement at play driven by the relentless rhythms and the oddly off-kilter synths here.

There’s more bleeping goodness evident on the cosmic disco of ‘Lightspeed’ while album closer ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’ (actually a cover of a Supertramp song) is a simple yet evocative tune perfect to close proceedings.

Those that are fans of contemporary electropop will not be disappointed by the contents of Voyager. It’s clear that the album is already a strong contender for Album of the Year lists, but it’s also a demonstration that decent electronic music can cross many boundaries.

<hr /

http://www.vitalic.org
https://www.facebook.com/vitalicofficial/

HOWARD JONES Interview

HOWARD JONES is one of the more well-known electronic artists to emerge out of the classic synthpop era. The catchy upbeat single ‘New Song’ guaranteed Howard plenty of radio airplay and this success was mirrored in his first two albums Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action.

Back in 2010, Howard had released a new album (Ordinary Heroes) and was set to embark on a new tour playing both Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action in their entirety (which TEC reviewed here). Lori Tarchala caught up with Howard at the time for this fascinating window on the electronic artist’s world. An Interview With Howard Jones

KON KAN Move To Move

Exploring the history of a dance classic

A huge transatlantic hit in 1989, Kon Kan’s ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ was something of an embryonic mash-up, cleverly fusing classic country with contemporary dance music.

With the help of some of the key figures in the act’s history – including the original duo of Barry Harris and Kevin Wynne – Barry Page takes an in-depth look at the history of the band, including the making of their classic, award-winning single and its parent album, Move To Move.


There once was a time

Inspired by DJ-turned-recording-artists such as Simon Harris, Tim Simenon (Bomb The Bass) and Mark Moore (S’Express), Barry Harris conceived Kon Kan in 1988. The name was derived from the term ‘Can Con’ (Canadian Content), a rule that specified that Canadian radio’s playlists had to include at least 30% Canadian music. Harris was an experienced musician, having learnt guitar, bass and piano during his formative years. However, it was after hitting the discos in the late 1970s that he was inspired to become a DJ; starting off in college radio, before progressing to the gay and straight clubs of Toronto in the early-to-mid 1980s.

‘I Beg Your Pardon’ was inspired both by Pet Shop Boys’ synth-pop makeover of the country song ‘Always On My Mind’ and an increasingly prevalent use of sampling in the mid-to-late 1980s; from early Chicago house music pioneers such as Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley through to later exponents such as Todd Terry, Coldcut and M/A/R/R/S, whose highly influential hit, ‘Pump Up The Volume’, became something of a defining anthem for the sampling genre. Elsewhere, hip-hop acts such as Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys were plundering the James Brown back catalogue – notably, ‘Funky Drummer’ and ‘Funky President’ – for beats and pieces.

‘I Beg Your Pardon’ was originally recorded using an Atari computer and an E-mu SP-12 drum machine, and incorporated a slightly lo-resolution sample of Lynn Anderson’s worldwide hit, ‘Rose Garden’, which had been cut up into four pieces to fit the rhythm (hence the stuttering vocal effect). The driving synth-pop track – which strongly resembled New Order – was punctuated with samples of disco tracks such as ‘Get Up And Boogie’ (Silver Convention) and ‘Disco Nights (Rock Freak)’ (GQ), and also contained hints of Chic’s ‘Le Freak, Spagna’s Italo-Disco hit ‘Call Me’ and even Elmer Bernstein’s theme from The Magnificent Seven!

Harris drafted in a fresh-faced, 22-year old session singer named Kevin Wynne to deliver a deliberately monotone vocal that would not only complement the autobiographical, end-of-relationship narrative, but also offer a contrast to Anderson’s sprightly vocal. “When Barry and I first met, I was a few years removed from a band that I formed with my best friend in High School,” recalls Kevin Wynne. “We were a 3-piece electro-pop act that got together back in ’82 and were called En Vogue [not to be confused with the R&B act with the same name – TEC]. We did covers of the early electro stuff out of the UK – for instance, all of Depeche Mode’s Speak And Spell and A Broken Frame tracks, Yazoo, Heaven 17, Blancmange, Spandau Ballet, etc. When I first started forming my tastes, I couldn’t get enough of the British imports of the late ’70s and early ’80s. I would spend hours in the local import record store looking to get my hands on anything new. I started with punk and spent the next several years loving the growth and change that always came mostly from the UK – Echo & The Bunnymen, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Depeche Mode, Classix Nouveaux, Duran Duran, New Order… the list goes on and on.”

It’s just a matter of time

Produced and mixed by Harris, ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ was originally released in June 1988 by Toronto’s now defunct independent label, Revolving Records. The single was housed in a plain white cover and a striking sticker bearing the band’s name in big red letters was placed – apparently by Harris himself – at the top of the sleeve. “I insisted that the sticker firstly be huge so it could stand out in any record store rack,” Harris recalled on Facebook. “Then I also insisted that the sticker be placed below the opening of the jacket so it would easily be seen in a club DJ’s record crate.” Initial sales were slow, however, and the track was seemingly too obscure to receive any significant radio exposure. But fate was about to intervene with the arrival of a New York-based Atlantic Records employee – and radio promoter – named Marc Nathan, who had previously worked with the likes of Todd Rundgren and Robert Plant. Whilst holidaying in Toronto he heard ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ in a dance club and immediately knew the track had the potential to become a hit single. He excitedly approached the DJ booth to find out what the song was, and was surprised to discover that its creator was also the DJ. “It was the most immediate reaction to a song I had never heard – within a club context – to that point in my life (I was 33),” recalls Nathan. “Barry was actually DJ’ing and spinning his own record at the time, so for me it was ‘one-stop shopping’. I got to hear it, find out what it was, and meet the artist all at the same time! There was a record store around the corner from the club that specialized in 12″ vinyl. Barry had pressed ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ on a local label, and I bought six or seven copies of it to bring back to New York. I gave one to my direct boss, one to the president of the company, and mailed four of them out to stations I had a close relationship with. Two of those stations were the Top 40s in Houston, Texas (KKBQ and KRBE) and both added the record [to their playlists].”

It was received particularly enthusiastically in Houston and, despite some initial scepticism, it was eventually picked up by Atlantic Records (according to Harris, the band had also been very close to signing with Vendetta Records, a subsidiary of A&M). Their first job was to organise the sample clearance with CBS for Lynn Anderson’s ‘Rose Garden’. “At the time I was still a promotion man for Atlantic (I later segued into A&R), so at the time I had nothing to do with the preparation for US release other than getting it ready to go on the radio,” says Nathan. “Between the legal department, the A&R department, and the management (Kushnick/Passick), it got worked out. To this day I don’t know what the actual arrangement was!”

With the legalities sorted out, the record company then persuaded Harris to re-recruit singer Kevin Wynne (who had initially been paid a flat fee for his vocal), allowing them to market Kon Kan as a duo – with his boyish good looks, Wynne was perfect frontman fodder. Harris had originally envisioned Kon Kan as a one-off solo vehicle, but eventually warmed to the idea. Wynne picks up the story: “It was a few months after we recorded [‘I Beg Your Pardon’] that I got a call from Tom Gerenscer (owner of the basement studio that we recorded in, and also the keyboard player in En Vogue). He told me to stop by because he had a copy of my record. My first reaction was, ‘What record?!’ I truly had forgotten about the session! After that day, everything started snowballing.”

The single was eventually re-released by Atlantic towards the end of 1988 and quickly took off, as Wynne recalls: “It [fast became] a local club hit. Toronto radio station CFNY were playing it steadily, and then we started to hear about pockets in the US where we were charting. Houston, Texas, of all places, was mad about Kon Kan. The real surprise was in how this thing took off the way it did!” True to the times, it was released in an array of formats and versions (the instrumental mix, notably, recalled vintage OMD, with its charming choral flourishes). Boosted by a cheap-looking, but effective promo video, the single eventually climbed to No.15 in the Billboard chart, but its popularity also spread further afield. It hit the Top 5 in several countries, including the UK, and it later earned the duo a well deserved Juno award – the equivalent of a Grammy in Canada – for Best Dance Recording in 1990.

The need to hide away

Whilst there were obvious promotional duties to fulfil, the pressure was also on Kon Kan to deliver an album to capitalize on the single’s huge success. “Of course there was a lot of pressure,” confirms Harris, “though at the time I had no idea just how far ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ was really going to go – remember, hindsight is 20/20. We had to finish an LP. We got asked to do ‘Top of the Pops’ while in LA but had to finish the LP, so I was forced to turn down that offer – something I now regret. It would be amazing to see something like that now on YouTube!”

“We worked with a very talented bunch of people on Move To Move,” recalls Wynne. “Everyone involved, including myself, had creative input on some level. I contributed lyrics in a few spots, but this was primarily Barry’s baby.” Aside from contributing lyrics, Wynne performed lead vocals on six of the album’s nine cuts, but it was Harris who sang lead on the two ballads. ‘Am I In Love’ was a Sade-influenced slice of sophisti-pop, while the album’s title cut, ‘Move To Move’, had been co-written by renowned songwriter Jon Lind (who had previously co-penned both Madonna’s ‘Crazy For You’ and Earth, Wind and Fire’s ‘Boogie Wonderland’). “I did originally sing and record ‘Am I In Love’,” adds Wynne. “And there’s even a version somewhere of my vocals on ‘I Can’t Answer That’. But, for one reason or another, the tracks weren’t working with my vocals. Barry had done a great job with ‘Move To Move’ and we decided he was better suited for ‘Am I In Love’ as well.”

Aside from Jon Lind, Harris was introduced to other songwriters, too. These included Dennis Matkosky, whose songs had been featured in films such as Flashdance, and Bob Mitchell (a name that would become familiar to fans of Kon Kan over the next few years). “When we first met, [Bob Mitchell’s] biggest success was ‘The Flame’ by Cheap Trick [a Billboard number one hit in 1988 – TEC]. I can’t remember exactly how I met Bob – I think it was perhaps through our publishers. I do remember where, though – it was in LA. I liked Bob immediately because he got me being more dance and European-influenced. No-one in the US that I worked with really understood what that influence meant. I think his publisher flew him in to write with me… I really liked his creativity and originality. He challenged me, took my ideas to a different place and l loved that. We got along well immediately and I learned quite a bit from him!”

In addition there was an excellent cover version of ‘Bite The Bullet’ (which had originally been recorded by the band’s compatriots, They Never Sleep, in 1987) and some Cameo-influenced funk in ‘I Can’t Answer That’. Whilst Harris was seemingly unbound by formulaic constraints, there was an inevitable retread of the ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ cover/original blueprint included for good measure: The idea for ‘Puss N’ Boots/These Boots (Are Made For Walking)’ came to Harris whilst out jogging through Hollywood Boulevard in LA. Since it wasn’t possible to employ Nancy Sinatra herself to redo her famous vocal for the project, a soundalike was brought in to recreate the part. New York rapper BX Style Bob – a member of Ice T’s Rhyme Syndicate – contributed the song’s rap, and recreated elements of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ were added to the mix. (Interestingly, many hip-hop acts, such as the Beastie Boys, had sampled the same band’s track, ‘When The Levee Breaks’, which in those days was almost as ubiquitous a loop as James Brown’s ‘Funky Drummer’).

Move To Move


The Move To Move album was eventually released in May 1989, and its sleeve was created by Mick Haggerty, who had completed design work on albums such as Once Upon A Time (Simple Minds), The Pacific Age (OMD) and Never Let Me Down (David Bowie). The album itself was a diverse collection of tracks, showcasing a number of clear influences; including funk (Cameo), hip-hop (Grandmaster Flash), New Wave (Blondie) and rock (Led Zeppelin). There was also a number of synth-pop influences such as New Order, Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys, as Harris confirms: “All of these UK acts influenced me on the Move To Move LP. Erasure would have been an influence – even Kraftwerk – but also a few American ones as well.” And, testament to his earlier career as a DJ, there was of course a strong undercurrent of dance music running through the album. Indeed, there was a veritable onslaught of dance acts permeating the charts whilst ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ was steadily making its ascent to the UK Top 5 in the spring of 1989. Amongst these acts were the highly influential Soul II Soul, a Marshall Jefferson-produced Ten City, Coldcut, The Beatmasters and De La Soul, who were bringing their own blend of humour and beats to the hip-hop scene.

Another highlight of the album was the quirky ‘Glue And Fire’, best described as Coldcut being fronted by New Order’s Bernard Sumner! In fact, much of the album had been mixed by Alan Meyerson, whose clients had included New Order (these days he is more known for his film score mixing).

Whilst ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ was an undoubted masterpiece in editing, the album’s epic opening track is equally deserving of plaudits. ‘Harry Houdini’ boasted an incredible 3-minute intro – pretentiously titled ‘Arts’ In D Minor’ – which recalled the previous year’s Pet Shop Boys classic, ‘Domino Dancing’. Lifted from the duo’s third studio album, Introspective, this Top 10 hit had been produced by Lewis Martineé, a name synonymous with the freestyle genre of music (see Shannon, Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, Exposé et al), and something of a huge influence on Harris. An edited version was released as the second single but failed to chart on both sides of the Atlantic.

‘Puss N’ Boots’ fared slightly better, peaking at No.58 on the Billboard chart, and earning the duo another Juno award nomination for Best Dance Recording (Jane Child’s ‘Don’t Wanna Fall In Love’ won the award in March 1991). However, fourth single ‘Move To Move’ failed to chart, and Kon Kan were on the verge of becoming relegated to the annals of one-hit wonderdom. “It was a bit disappointing, but not altogether surprising,” says Wynne. “I think I knew from the start that we didn’t have another ‘Beg’ on that album – it was a very tough act to follow!”

Kon Kan on tour

Whilst future hits eluded Kon Kan, as a live act they enjoyed considerable success in US and Asian territories during the tail end of 1989.

“I’ll always remember the fall of ’89 for a number of what you might call ‘near misses’, recalls Wynne. “After spending a few days in San Francisco – the most amazing city in North America – we flew out to Phoenix on a Monday afternoon. The next day, as I was relaxing in my hotel room getting ready for a show, I turned on the TV to watch a World Series game. It was the day the earthquake struck – the area immediately around the hotel we had just left was devastated!

“We had a little time off between Phoenix and our next show in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Barry went back to Toronto [and tour manager] Skip Gildersleeve and I went straight to San Juan for a week’s holiday. A couple [of] days before we got there, Hurricane Hugo made a real mess of the island – another close call! Skip and I almost lost our rented Jeep that week when we tried to drive on the beach too close to high tide. Luckily, a tow truck came along and saved us!

“We were in Houston, Texas, when there was a massive explosion at an oil refinery. It rocked the city like an earthquake. Luckily for us, we were on the other side of the city!

“In November, we were off to Southeast Asia for six weeks and visited several countries. One night, as I’m watching the news in my hotel room in Jakarta, Indonesia, the headline story is of a coup taking place in the Philippines. Well, Manila just happened to be our next stop on the tour…in two days! I immediately called Skip into my room and just stood there pointing at the TV saying, ‘um, I don’t want to go there!’. So he gets right on the phone with the people from the label in Jakarta, who in turn contact our people in the Philippines [and] they say, ‘Don’t worry, this kind of thing happens here all the time – things will settle in a day or so, and we can go ahead with the schedule.’ That’s not how it went! It turned out to be a very dangerous situation and our trip there was cancelled. The good news was that we ended up with a few extra days in Jakarta, with a little time off, so I took advantage and hit the golf course!

“Overall, it was the trip of a lifetime, and I ended up going back to that part of the world several times over the next few years.”

Joining Wynne and Harris on tour was Torontonian singer Kim Esty, who explains how she got the job of backing singer: “I was signed to indie label Power Records, and had a few singles already out at the time that were making some noise – a little buzz, if you will. Barry knew a mutual promoter that was associated with the label, and was in need for a back-up singer for the South East Asian tour. So we met – I think it was at the Tasmian Bar, downtown Toronto – and hit it off right away!

“It definitely was a surreal experience, especially for me. When we would walk off the plane, hundreds of kids were welcoming us at the airport. They would be in hysterics seeing Barry and Kevin, handing us gifts [and] notes. Many of the shows would stand out due to the energy and [the] love the audience had for Barry and Kevin – it was very sweet. A few shows were very restricted. I think it was in Malaysia where we were instructed not to dance, touch any of the audiences’ hands; also not to encourage the crowd to clap, scream, participate with us in any form, due to their rules. I just remember doing the show and it was a complete different energy from any previous show – all the kids sitting like well behaved children, some in a buffalo stance, some with hands perfectly placed on their laps, and also I remember seeing security guards near the doors. It was different, especially because we loved to interact with the kids during the shows.

“I loved singing the hit, ‘I Beg Your Pardon’. The crowd went insane when the first few chords played – very exciting! It’s really surreal being on stage singing a song everyone knows and loves! It was such a great time in my life and I’m so grateful Barry gave me the opportunity – he taught me so much about the industry, about ‘always look like you’re a star’. The tour was definitely a defining period in my life where being on stage, singing hit songs was something I longed for! Plus being spoiled staying at 5-star hotels, dinners every night with so many interesting music executives. I felt like a million bucks and I was just the back-up singer!”

Turning the pages of history

The huge international success of ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ was enough to persuade Atlantic Records to bankroll a second Kon Kan album. However, by the time the duo had picked up their Juno Award in March 1990 for Best Dance Recording, Harris had already decided to record the follow-up on his own. This wasn’t a great surprise, since it had originally been Harris’s intention to utilise Kon Kan as a solo vehicle, and he had already proven himself as an effective lead vocalist on the Move To Move album. There was a bit of disappointment,” confirms Wynne. “I felt that we may have had some good music still ahead of us as a duo. That said, I was happy to move on with other things at the time. Barry and I came from two very different places, and it worked in that short window. There were never any long-term discussions – we just ‘rolled with it’. I had thoughts of a solo career at the time, and hooked up with a Toronto indie label to record some stuff. All that ended up coming out of it was one single [‘Last Chance’] that the world never heard, but to this day it remains – to me – the best work I ever did. I worked on it with my best friend that I mentioned earlier… I’ve never been too far removed from the music industry. Right after Kon Kan I was in the Club business for a few years. I then moved into the business of design, packaging and manufacturing of CDs and DVDs. That evolved into graphic design and print, which is where I am today. Over the years I still get the odd opportunity to sing. In fact, a few years ago I got together with a few friends from the High School days and we put a set together for a friend’s 40th birthday party – it was the most fun I’d had in years! We contemplated taking it further, but that never came to pass.”

Harris worked on the follow-up to Move To Move with a number of producers, including John Luongo, a legendary figure from the disco era. Unfortunately, both the excellent 1990 album, Syntonic, and its lead-off single, ‘Liberty’, were not hits, and Harris was quietly dropped by the label (see our separate Lost Albums feature for a detailed account of this period). Avuncular A&R man, Marc Nathan (who had been fired by Atlantic in April 1991 following an altercation with the record company’s president), stayed loyal to Harris and, in his new role with management company Between the Ears, helped to secure a new deal for Kon Kan with Hypnotic, a subsidiary of A&M Records. Vida!… eventually appeared in 1993, but was only released in Canada…a clear sign of how far Kon Kan had fallen since their 1989 heyday. Lacking the big budget of a major recording label, it was a considerably more organic album than its two predecessors. Combining rockier tracks with more dance-orientated material, it was something of a mixed bag, and much of Kon Kan’s trademark sound had disappeared by this time. Gone were the samples and freestyle flourishes and, significantly, gone too were the ‘songs within songs’ that had made their name. On board for the songwriting ride once again was Bob Mitchell, and the pair once again produced some interesting, if not altogether stimulating, material. Lead-off single ‘Sinful Wishes’, inspired in part by the New Order classic, ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, was a traditional-sounding Kon Kan track, albeit with a rockier production (there was, however, a dance mix included on the album for contrast). Another highlight was the reggae-tinged second single ‘S.O.L.’, which featured local musician Crash Morgan on vocals. (Tragically, Morgan’s life was cut short after suffering a heart attack on stage whilst performing with Canadian rock band, Big Sugar, in 1995).

Other highlights on the album included a contemplative ‘January Man’ (which featured Coney Hatch guitarist Carl Dixon on mandolin) and ‘Mr Fleming’, which included a typically engaging lyric. Not so memorable were an unnecessary retread of ‘Move To Move’ and a rather pedestrian run-through of David Bowie’ ‘Moonage Daydream’, both as far removed from Kon Kan’s electronic/dance sound as you could imagine. The most electronic track was reserved for the end of the album, with epic instrumental closing track, ‘When Hope Is Gone’, seemingly bringing the act’s career full circle; almost like a companion piece to ‘Arts’ In D Minor’. These days the album is a highly sought-after collector’s item, with some copies changing hands for over £100.

Heading to LA

Having devoted five years of his life to Kon Kan, Barry Harris returned to his house music roots and formed Top Kat in 1994, a collaboration with fellow DJ and Canadian compatriot, Terry “TK” Kelly. A series of independently released singles and an album, Hi-Energy House, followed, which included a revisit of ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ titled ‘Pardon Me/Rose Garden’. Following this short-lasting project, Harris turned his attention to the burgeoning Eurodance market that had spawned the likes of Culture Beat, Snap, Haddaway and 2 Unlimited. Featuring Kimberley Wetmore on vocals and Rachid Wehbi on keyboards, Outta Control released a self-titled album in 1996, and the Kon Kan brand was utilised once again on a version of ‘Sinful Wishes’ from the Vida!… album.

Following a one-off single (‘I Can’t Take The Heartbreak’) with Killer Bunnies in 1997, Harris moved to LA in 1998 and formed what would become a fruitful remix/production partnership with Chris Cox, collectively known as Thunderpuss. Between 1998 and 2004 the prolific duo remixed/produced songs for the likes of Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, Eurythmics, Donna Summer, Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson, with numerous tracks hitting the top spot on Billboard’s dance chart. Concurrent to his remixing activities, Harris also resumed his DJ’ing career, securing regular employment in prestigious clubs in New York, LA, San Francisco and other major cities. He was also a popular draw at various Circuit parties around the world, and particularly successful on a Japanese tour in 2000.

Harris emerged from a lengthy break from the music industry in 2011, and jamming sessions with long time friend, Antony Cook (who had played on Vida!…), led to the formation of the more rock-orientated Sick Seconds in 2012. With Harris on lead vocals, a strong 8-track album was released the following year, and once again featured material co-written by Bob Mitchell. Something of a cathartic exercise for Harris, ‘The Bus’ saw him reflecting on his musical journey and being ‘lost in a land of make believe’, ‘Headin’ to LA’ was imbued with reminiscences about his Thunderpuss days and West Coast adventures, while ‘She Couldn’t Help Herself’ paid tribute to a close friend who had sadly succumbed to depression.

Pardon me


The popularity of ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ shows no sign of abating, and countless versions of the act’s signature song have been issued since its original release. “I’m often asked if Kon Kan will ever perform again,” Wynne told us in 2012, “and over the years I’ve always had the same answer: ‘Ya never know!’ It’s not something Barry and I have ever talked about, but I’m sure he gets asked the same thing.” Somewhat surprisingly, less than 18 months later, Kon Kan announced their reformation in June 2013, with a view to producing some original material. This never materialised, but the duo did produce some brand new versions of ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ – complete with new vocals – to commemorate the song’s 25th anniversary. With Harris resuming his dual career as a DJ and remixer in recent years, the future of Kon Kan looks uncertain. However, Harris and Wynne did unite for an informative radio interview in January 2017 and, with the 30th anniversary of Move To Move fast approaching, there could well be further opportunities to ‘come along and share the good times’.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Barry Harris, Kevin Wynne, Marc Nathan and Kim Esty.

www.facebook.com/konkanofficial/

This article was originally published in February 2012 and updated in August 2018.

Text and interviews by Barry Page.

Photos, courtesy of Barry Harris and Kevin Wynne.


AUSTRA Future Politics

AUSTRA return with a topical third outing…

Offering a statement on the themes and approach of Austra’s latest album Future Politics, Katie Stelmanis suggests “a commitment to replace the approaching dystopia. Not just hope in the future, but the idea that everyone is required to help write it, and the boundaries of what it can look like are both fascinating and endless. It’s not about ‘being political,’ it’s about reaching beyond boundaries, in every single field.”

It’s a timely concept with last year marking a particularly turbulent year in politics in the US (Future Politics is released the same day that Trump takes office) and other assorted political turmoil springing up around the globe. But Austra’s new album encompasses not just the politics of the title but also touches on themes of the environment, the human condition and the idea that a Utopian ideal is achievable.

So how do these weighty topics stack up against the composition of the album’s songs themselves? At this stage, many bands and artists could be forgiven for exhausting their individual creative wells. Austra are now on album No. 3 which ramps up the pressure to deliver a worthy successor to both Feel It Break and Olympia.

Opening track ‘We Were Alive’ has a dreamlike fugue to it and also a curious sadness that sets the tone for the album proper. There’s an intimacy here in Stelmanis’ queries on whether there’s “a cure for apathy” while sweeping strings underpin the composition as a whole.

Meanwhile, title track ‘Future Politics’ has a throbbing disco beat accompanying ruminations on a dystopic world. “I’m never coming back here” suggests the lyrics, which also offer some hope in later lines such as “I’m looking for something to rise up above”. Meanwhile, the song title is hammered out in a repetitive manner against the slightly disconcerting rhythms.

The familiar bassy synth tones that Stelmanis has crafted as part of the classic Austra sound provide the foundations for ‘Utopia’. This rumination on the “collective depression”, that Stelmanis suggests is a result of city living, has strong hooks and melodies as some smart percussive frills keep the song moving along.

Stelmanis’ operatic background really gets a workout on ‘I’m A Monster’ which opens with a minimal arrangement focusing on mesmerising vocals. An ethereal refrain is ladled out: “I don’t feel nothing anymore” as subtle electronic washes weave in and out of the song.

BUY NOW

AMAZON

Similarly, there’s a simplicity to the arrangement of ‘I Love You More Than You Love Yourself’ which is augmented by some well executed melodic lifts.

The writing and recording of Austra’s 2013 album Olympia saw Stelmanis and the expanded Austra team assemble in the studio for a group effort. For Future Politics, Katie opted to write the album as a solo endeavour. As she described at her recent London showcase performance: “It was something that I wanted to do it all myself because I wanted to be in control of all parts of it and I also just wanted to be able to get really deep with it”.

It was an approach that Stelmanis had also adopted after having to deal with both the pressures of time and money in working in a studio (as well as the pressures of third parties in the studio trying to foist their own concepts onto the recordings).

As a result, there’s more of a personal touch to the songs on Future Politics, as evidenced in the hypnotic tones of songs such as ‘Gaia’. “The physical world is the only world” becomes something of a mantra throughout the composition, echoing environmental concerns.

‘Freepower’ has a casual, languid aspect to it. Elsewhere, ‘Beyond A Mortal’ dips back into a deep dreamscape while ‘Deep Thought’ offers an interlude of sorts (it’s the brief piece that’s heard on the start of the ‘Utopia’ video) with its electronic glissandos.

Closing track ’43’ has a slightly more ominous feel to it, inspired by a particularly harrowing event in Mexico in which 43 students were abducted. This incident had a particular effect on Stelmanis when she visited the country during the writing of the album. “…I wrote this song from the perspective of a mother singing about her lost son. And I felt it was also relevant in terms of the lot of the police brutality stuff that we’re dealing with in the US and Canada and I think here too”.

Casual Austra fans might be a bit glum that the baroque pop elements that the previous albums held so strong are less evident here. Electronic music enthusiasts will perhaps find Austra adding further colours to the particular musical palette that the Canadian outfit have carefully crafted since 2011’s Feel It Break. Certainly Future Politics offers up a more intimate and personal approach than previous outings, but as an album it still offers up rewards from patient listening.


Future Politics is released 20th January 2017 on the Domino label. The album is available to pre-order on Amazon.

www.austramusic.com


30 Lost Songs Of The CD Era

Recovered from the archives – and restored to the original version penned by writer Barry Page – Tasty Fish : 30 Lost Songs Of The CD Era presents a list of tunes that may have escaped your attention on their first release.

By no means a comprehensive list, here is a snapshot of electronic music from between 1990 to 1999 featuring 30 near-hits, minor hits, flops and oddities.

Not all of these were released in the UK, with many treasures emanating from other European territories in a period when the guitar returned with a vengeance through Grunge and Britpop.

Featuring songs by Kon Kan, The Other Two, Revenge, Neil Arthur, De/Vision, Ultravox, A Certain Ratio, Les Rythmes Digitales and more! [more inside]