An Interview With LOLA DUTRONIC

Life with Lola…

As Lola Dutronic, the Toronto/Düsseldorf electronic duo of Richard Citroen and Stephanie B have carved out an impressive career of engaging pop tunes. Originally conceived by Richard Citroen to combine his love of ‘60s French pop with modern electronic music, Lola Dutronic’s music pulls together a talent for melody, witty lyrics and a captivating vocal style to form a catalogue of electronic pop with a unique sense of charm.

Their 2015 album Lost In Translation presented the band at their best, particularly with their scathing commentary on modern cultural conceits such as reality TV and social networking.

Lola Dutronic have certainly been prolific this year. They kicked things off with a sequel to their 2012 song ‘Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead’. The tune’s blackly humorous lyrics about how musicians appear to enjoy their best attention only once they’re dead got a contemporary update in the form of ‘Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead (The Sequel)’.

The pair followed this up with their take on ‘Male Stripper’ (with Man2Man) and they’ve just released their newest single ‘My Name Is Lola’.

Their latest outing continues the duo’s talents for crafting accessible electronic pop with engaging melodies. Essentially a love letter to Berlin, ‘My Name Is Lola’ is a track that Richard Citroen describes as “a bit of a departure from our usual ‘Wall Of Sound’ approach, we’ve taken on some of Alle Farben & Robin Schulz’s colours”.

Originally, the pair had planned to record the lyrics in Stephanie’s native German. But translating Richard’s English lyrics proved unworkable, so they left it alone. “We did manage to include German shout-outs to all our favourite Berlin haunts!” adds Richard.

The Electricity Club spoke to both Richard Citroen and Stephanie B on life in Lola Dutronic. Ich bin Lola!


What are the pros and cons of working when the pair of you are in separate countries?

Richard: Apart from the technical marvel of recording over the interwebs, about the only pro I can think of is the time difference. I’m a morning person and Steph’s a night owl, so when we record together, it’s lunchtime at my end and early evening at hers, so that works out well for both of us.

Cons are that it’s hard to capitalize on any local interest and it’s very difficult to organize live shows – mostly because of the expense involved – although we have managed it a time or two with our friend and unofficial 3rd member, Dirk Krause filling in for me on the European dates.

Stephanie: Richard already said it all – yes, finally being a night owl comes in quite handy!

How does the process of writing new songs start?

Stephanie: As Richard is the mastermind behind the project and writes pretty much everything, I come in rather late in the process. When he has finished a couple of songs, he sends them to me with a guide vocal and some notes, and then I start recording my parts.

Richard: Once we’ve sorted out the keys properly, Steph then adds her vocals and her sometimes amazingly elaborate harmonies and sends them back to me, where I mix the whole thing.

We usually Skype each other before going for a take to sort out what kind of mood to go for etc., but the harmonies are always a total surprise.

It’s not 100% foolproof. We’ve binned a number of songs that haven’t worked out properly, but I’d say our hits to misses ratio is about 80%.

Lola Dutronic has moved on quite a bit from the early days of covering French pop. How do you view Lola Dutronic today in terms of what defines the sound of the outfit? Or is it a continually evolving process?

Richard: It’s a definitely an evolving process.

I liked doing the French pop thing, mostly because I love the sound of the language, but it started to get old, and a friend of mine came up to me at a gig in 2007 and called us “adult contemporary” and I thought to myself, “I’m not having that!”, so I started to rethink the whole thing. So much so that the next time we played live, the same guy congratulated us on our “raw sound”. A bit of splash and buzz and four-on-the-floor can work wonders, you know?

Whenever I’ve revisited some of our early albums, I’m struck by how dirgey a lot of it is, which was quite surprising, since it didn’t seem so at the time, but nowadays we’ve definitely got a much more Eurodisco sound than we ever used to.

Of course a lot of that has to do with Stephanie being German… which is a language I’d like to utilize a bit more in the future.

I think it’s really important to move forward to the best of your ability, and while it’s an easy trap to live in your own particular bubble, I do try to stay on top of what’s happening in the charts. Of course for all I know our next record might end up sounding like The Chainsmokers, although somehow I doubt it.

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“All my friends will tell you that I’m a bit of a wise-ass and I thought it might be nice to get some of that into the songs”

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There’s a very particular sense of humour to some of Lola Dutronic’s songs, I’m thinking in particular of songs such as ‘Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead’ and ‘Go Fuck Yourself’. Are you ever worried about any negative response your songs will provoke?

Richard: I initially started writing songs like that because, apart from the fact that I’d gotten fed up with writing “Moon & June” type lyrics, I wanted to get some of my own personality into the songs. All my friends will tell you that I’m a bit of a wise-ass and I thought it might be nice to get some of that into the songs. People don’t seem to mind, and if they do, apart from the usual tiresome online haters, they’ve certainly kept it to themselves.

Stephanie: Richard is a hell of a storyteller, not only in his lyrics, but also in real life. It is always very enjoyable hanging out with him, and I’m glad his very particular sense of humor, as you put it, finds its way into his songs. I guess people who cannot relate to it, simply choose something else to listen to.

Was it a strange experience revisiting ‘Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead’?

Richard: Slightly strange, yes. For years, whenever a high profile musician died, we’d get people suggesting that we add a verse about them. People like Lou Reed etc., but we didn’t think it was such a good idea. This continued right up until the end of last year and still we resisted, but the final straw was George Michael dying at Christmas. All of sudden a couple of artists that I know and respect got in touch and suggested that it might not be such a bad idea after all, so I thought, screw it, let’s do it!

From a musical point of view, I liked the idea of revisiting the track so that I could incorporate some of the production techniques I’d developed over the last couple of years and finally mix it properly.

Stephanie: From the technical side, yes. Once I finish a song, it is finished, and that can even go so far that I even forget the lyrics again, unless I prepare for a performance, because of course I don’t listen to my own stuff day in day out. So re-recording a song that had been already finished a couple of years ago was something new, and I wonder what will happen when we play it live in the future, now that I have so many verses to choose from!

Were there any artists that you considered, but didn’t make the cut for the new versions of ‘Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead’?

Richard: I thought about including Carrie Fisher because pretty much everybody loved her, but she was a film star and I wanted to stick to musicians.

Greg Lake was a possibility, but despite his epic talent and the fact that ELP is what got me interested in synths in the first place, he always irritated me on a personal level, so he was out.

However, I did manage to include a little nod to Keith Emerson in the synth break. Too bad nobody’s noticed yet!

Since I wrote the first version very quickly, I wanted to do the same with this version, but if I’d taken a little more time I would have probably re-written the George Michael verse and not gone for the cheap joke, because even though a lot of his music was a bit too middle-of-the-road for my liking, I loved George Michael. However, I stand by the Prince lines, which everybody seems to like.

Do you think that the ever-changing landscape of the music industry makes it increasingly difficult for new bands?

Richard: We’ve got what I like to think is some sort of profile, but we get asked to perform for free all the time, so I can’t even imagine what it must be like for new bands just starting out.

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“It’s getting to the point that only people that come from money can afford to get in the game”

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Certainly those pay-to-play multi-band bills with a half dozen bands seemingly chosen at random is no way to go.

I’m not the first person to suggest this I’m sure, but given what people seem to expect in the way of production values on stage now and the high costs involved for even the simplest shows, it’s getting to the point that only people that come from money can afford to get in the game. Now this is fine when it’s someone who is actually talented like Lana Del Rey, but the day is coming when it’s going to be someone with no discernible talent buying their way onto a label and into the charts.

Stephanie: I think what makes it hard for new bands is that there is such A LOT OF music around. There are not only a few big idols, but hundreds of thousands of artists competing for the audience’s attention on the different music outlets, and many of them are actually good! So you get new music offered each day, narrowing the attention span for each artist, album or song down more and more. I myself discover new bands through Spotify playlists each day, and the albums I have saved are now so numerous that I can’t listen to them all anymore. Many of these artists are self produced, and I guess that also many or most of them cannot make a living from releasing their music and playing shows. Recording at home has become very affordable, and musicians are producing great stuff all by themselves, but in the end they HAVE to, as it has become even harder to MAKE money with your music in a field with so many others to compete with.

What are your thoughts on crowdfunding schemes for music, such as PledgeMusic and Kickstarter?

Richard: We’d start one tomorrow morning [to] finance a tour, but I’m afraid we’d probably only raise not much more than a tenner, but I think it’s a cool thing if you actually need it. However, I think that it’s a disgrace that they allow Amanda Palmer anywhere near it. She certainly doesn’t need the money.

Stephanie: If you know who your fans are and how to address them, crowdfunding can be a very good tool for you. But if you have 100 Facebook fans and are hoping that you can attract new fans by a crowdfunding campaign, because somebody “discovers” you between all the other Kickstarter projects and is convinced by your music to give you money, forget it. You need loyal fans who will buy your CD anyway, because they will help you producing it by giving you the money in advance. Otherwise, you risk your image with a crowdfunding campaign that did not raise the money you needed.

I have no problem with Amanda Palmer doing crowdfunding, she does not take anything away from any other artist, and rather gave an example to us how it needs to be done.

Lost In Translation features some quite scathing critiques on social networking and the phenomenon of reality TV. Do these reflect your own thoughts on these aspects of modern life?

Richard: ‘Reality TV’ is a song I co-wrote with my friend Manoush, who is a cult-film actress and singer in Germany, so most of the lyrics are hers. However I certainly agree with the sentiments, as it’s a mystery to me why anyone would watch people like the Kardashians. They don’t seem to do anything, and we’re watching them not do it.

As for social networking, well it’s really taken over everyone’s lives hasn’t it? I’m itching to pick up my phone right now! It is weird how it’s brought people both closer together and further apart at the same time. Certainly it’s not doing the greeting card industry any favours, is it? I wish people happy birthday on Facebook all the time, but I can’t remember the last time I sent anyone an actual card in the mail.

Stephanie: Yes, WHY do people watch the Kardashians – I also don’t get it. But although I don’t “get” many of the trends out there these days, and it has always been that way, I guess from time to time one also needs to get vocal about it. My own social media use is pretty limited to Facebook, but I only log in there once a week or so, I have less than 100 friends there, and Facebook surely is not how I stay in touch with them.

I see most social media outlets as useful tools for (self) promotion rather than a way to connect with my friends.

What does the future hold for Lola Dutronic?

Richard: No idea. Just keep going and hope somebody notices… although I think we’d both love to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest. I’m British and Stephanie’s German, so why not?


Outside of the joint interview, we also quizzed Lola Dutronic’s team individually to explore the band’s history and the equipment they use. Richard Citroen reflects on past and muses on the elements that make Lola Dutronic work – and also his thoughts on the late Marty Thau. The former New York Dolls manager, who also worked with Suicide, was an important figure in Lola Dutronic’s history when the band signed to his newly revived Red Star record label in 2010…

What originally inspired you to do such unique versions of classic French pop songs?

Richard: I was messing around on my computer doing some Moby-type tracks and one day I thought it would sound cool to have a French girl singing on it, so I sampled up some old Francoise Hardy records. They sounded cool and so I sent them to a label in Vancouver. They weren’t interested because of the licensing issues, but they did ask me to have a go a remixing Katrina & The Waves’ ‘Walking On Sunshine’ for them. Somewhere along the line I realized that the resulting dub-ish type track fit perfectly with Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Je Taime No Moi Plus’. The finished remix wasn’t releaseable for technical reasons, so I hit on the idea of redoing it with my singer Frankie Hart, who spoke French. While this newer version was much brighter and poppier than I had originally planned, Lola Dutronic was born!

Can you talk a little about what instruments and equipment you use in the studio?

I have a pretty minimal set-up that’s really starting to show it’s age.

The usual iMac, DAW (Acid Pro 6) and M-Audio interface with a couple of synths (MicroKorg & Yamaha EP340), plus a Fender Stratocaster and a little Vox amp, plus a couple of outboard FX units.

I’d love to get a Nord or some of the new Korgs & Rolands and maybe an Arturia synth.
Just something to broaden the palette a bit, although I must confess I’m not much of a gear head.

What do you think Marty Thau brought to Lola Dutronic that you still think is important today?

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“Marty taught me how to make a record properly and to think outside that little indie box”

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Marty taught me how to make a record properly and to think outside that little indie box. Having been associated with some proper hits in the past, he viewed everything through that prism. While he was under no illusions about the commercial viability of some of the acts on Red Star, we both agreed that if you don’t think your record is a hit, why should anyone else?

He also got me to appreciate the beauty of Suicide, who up until that point were only of historical interest to me.

What are your thoughts on the fact that Canada has been putting out some impressive bands and artists in recent years? Are there any that stand out particularly for you?

I’m assuming that you mean people like Austra and Pirate Coleure and while they’re cool, the one Canadian act that’s impressed me the most is The Weeknd. I work with a lot of local Toronto acts, rappers/singers mostly, and about 4-5 years ago, I started getting people asking me if I could make them sound like The Weeknd. And I’m like… Who? I’d never heard of him, so I checked him out online, and was really impressed. Some of his stuff was barking mad like the one where he does his thing over that Portishead machine gun track. I mean who does that?! Around the same time we both appeared in a round-up article of cool acts out of Canada, so I was happy about that, so I generally kept an eye on him.

I’m really pleased with his recent chart topping success. I hear him everywhere I go.


German-based singer and musician Stephanie B provides the mesmerising vocals for Lola Dutronic. Here, she reflects on her background in music and how her distinctive vocal style was developed for the band…

Can you talk a bit about your background and interest in music?

Stephanie: I have always rather been a verse-chorus-bridge kind of person, meaning I like straightforward pop tracks. However, I got kind of stuck in the ’60s. I like a lot of what comes from this time from Francoise Hardy, Frankie Valli, Jackson Five, Serge Gainsbourg, and also film music by the likes of Francis Lai, Lalo Schifrin and others, as well as a lot of Bossa Nova. Masterful use of songwriting skills and harmonies, and this underlying melancholy…

Today, I also listen to electropop acts as well as acoustic singer songwriters. And I kind of find pieces of all of this in Lola Dutronic.

You’ve got a very distinctive singing approach which certainly appears to reference that classic French style. Do you draw inspiration from any particular singers?

Well, I guess most has been said already with my previous answer. I have been inspired by certain music and singers, but when I joined forces with Richard, we developed the current style of Lola Dutronic together.

Germany has its own rich musical history, but are there any more recent German artists or bands that stand out for you?

I have to admit that I am not so in touch with what is really popular in Germany right now – it is male pop-rock with German lyrics and all sounds the same to me.

However, I recently liked the pretty successful female duo BOY, the not-so-successful-yet band JOCO and the hopefully soon-successful band HOLYGRAM.


The Electricity Club extends its warmest thanks to Richard Citroen and Stephanie B.

‘My Name Is Lola’ is out now.

https://geo.itunes.apple.com/us/album/my-name-is-lola-single/1310134654?mt=1&app=music
https://soundcloud.com/user-852942535/my-name-is-lola
http://loladutronic.bandcamp.com
https://twitter.com/LolaDutronic
https://www.facebook.com/lola.dutronic


EMPATHY TEST – Losing Touch/Safe From Harm

Evocative electropop from London’s finest…

The blossoming of grassroots electronic acts in recent years has brought a lot of bright talent to the fore. The contemporary music scene is a strange landscape these days, with many bands adapting to what is, in many ways, a post-record label world.

PledgeMusic is one of many options for artists to crowd fund their endeavours – an initiative that acts such as OMD, Ultravox and Gary Numan have embraced with success.

It’s an option that London-based duo Empathy Test also embarked on, initially with a view to funding their debut album. What both Isaac Howlett and Adam Relf (who form Empathy Test) couldn’t have predicted, however, is how successful their effort would prove to be.

Empathy Test managed to smash their initial PledgeMusic target and, during the process, took the decision to release not one, but two albums. “The new material was too different to the old to be on the same album,” commented Howlett in his recent Electricity Club interview. “We didn’t like the idea of a double album so we decided to create the album we should have put out in 2015 (Losing Touch) and the album we wanted to put out now (Safe From Harm), and release them both at once.”

Along the way, Adam Relf’s production skills had also developed substantially from Empathy Test’s early EP output. That provided an opportunity to remaster the older material.

As a result, Losing Touch essentially collates much of the band’s earlier songs, while Safe From Harm embraces the band’s newer output, which showcases a more confident hand at songwriting. In fact the two sleeves put side-by-side are designed to illustrate this, with the image on Losing Touch facing backwards, while Safe From Harm faces forward.

The band also generously opted to donate 5% of pre-goal and 10% of post-goal money from their PledgeMusic campaign to Mind, the charity that provides support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem and campaigns to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.

Losing Touch, to begin with, is more than just a simple collation of EP tracks. The material on this album has been reworked and honed into solid electropop that takes on Empathy Test’s particular talent for brooding melancholia.

The album opens with a strong number in the shape of ‘Kirrilee’, its slow, tumbling percussive rhythms accommodate a narrative that captures a moment in time and, perhaps, a reflection on the fleetness of youth (“We’re only a short while here, to be, ourselves”).

‘Where I Find Myself’, meanwhile, gets fleshed out more here than on its original incarnation. Its muted electronic percussion sets off sparks in the dark against lyrical themes of loneliness and solitude.

The eloquent tones of ’Last Night On Earth’ follow, although it’s the subtle tones of ‘Holding On’ (originally released on their 2014 EP Throwing Stones) that presents one of the album’s finest moments. It’s a slow-burning slice of effective synthpop with a captivating turn of phrase (“slowly disappearing out of view/holding on to you”).

The track ‘Throwing Stones’ itself presents a glacial pop gem. It’s another of the album’s standout tracks, particularly with the engaging synth melodies that revolve around the chorus of the track. The moody ‘Losing Touch’, which was essentially the first track to put Empathy Test on the map back in 2014, presents themes of lost loves and first loves (“It’s always been you”).

‘Demons’, on the other hand, throws a nod to dark electro with its empathic synth lines. There’s an icy charm threaded through the track with its stealthy synth melodies.

An impressive use of range on Howlett’s vocals is the highlight on ‘Siamese’, whose organic drum sounds give this number a much earthier sound. Elsewhere, ‘Sleep’ is an introspective piece that also suggests elements of The Sound Of Arrows. It’s sparse percussion gives the composition a sense of fragility, while also delivering another fine pop moment.

Losing Touch’s final track ‘Here Is the Place’ provides a fitting sense of closure to the album. It’s got a meaty drum sound that provides an intriguing backdrop for lyrics that revolve around finality and closure.

While the second album, Safe From Harm still dabbles in the twilight moods of the material on Losing Touch, at the same time it shows a band willing to give their music a much broader world to live in. There’s a more dynamic quality to the tracks here that shows Howlett and Relf grasping a much more confident approach to composing songs.

For instance, the soaring melodies of ‘Bare My Soul’, with its heartfelt lyrics, provides a perfect example of this new confidence. The narrative at the heart of the song, with its brief vignettes about people’s lives, is the sort of lyric that Lloyd Cole would kill for. At the same time, there’s a subtle building up of layers of electronic elements that culminates in a powerful delivery that’s both mythical and melodious.

Meanwhile, ‘Everything Will Work Out’ has a plaintive quality, its lush use of synths conveying a 3am atmosphere. The lyrics deal with love and loss (“Here I go, another romantic on overflow/I locked you out but you won’t go”). Or, as summed up by singer Isaac Howlett: “Lyrically, it’s about hooking up with your ex and then waking up in the morning and realising you’re not going to get back together, but it’s okay; it’s for the best.” It’s an evocative track that, as TEC’s review remarked previously, only someone lacking any empathy could fail to appreciate.

‘Trampoline’ has a hymnal quality to it, a simpler composition featuring lyrics that leave little ambiguity (“white powder, speaks louder”). Elsewhere, there’s a Nordic quality to the twilight melodies on ’Seeing Stars’, its wintery charms echoed in its lyrics (“Everything we do is falling snowflakes”).

‘By My Side’ is a smooth slice of warm synthpop with a polished production that, as mentioned in our previous review, offers up a cinematic panorama of electronic goodness. There’s a fragility at the heart of Empathy Test’s material here, which also employs a subtle and understated production that delivers songs that speak of sorrow and longing.

The album’s title track offers a velvet pop moment with some wistful synth melodies. While washes of echo give ‘All It Takes’ a series of moments that appear to be frozen in aspic. It’s lyrics touch on the budding of love (“This is the beginning of something magical/And all it gives, and all it takes away”) and it’s a effective slice of warm pop for the album’s final third.

There’s brooding synth tones and beats weaved into the composition that’s ‘Burroughs & Bukowski’ that suggests the likes of Electric Youth. While the tune has a literary bent, the song’s title is actually much more personal, as Howlett comments: “William S. Burroughs and Charles Bukowski are two of my favourite writers, but they were also the names of two goldfish I had when I was living in Brighton.”

If there’s one thing that emerges from Empathy Test’s material, its the chemistry between Howlett and Relf that allows them to compose songs that sound so polished and captivating. Here, there’s a sense of mood and melancholy that’s as heartfelt as it is unique. Adam Relf has also done a stunning job in not only crafting a smooth, engaging production for the albums, but the sleeve designs show that he’s got some artistic chops into the bargain.

On Losing Touch and Safe From Harm, Empathy Test have delivered not one, but two of the finest albums of the year. Standing as a testament to the heights that contemporary electropop can ascend to, Empathy Test suggests that the genre is in safe hands for the future.


Safe From Harm and Losing Touch are due for release on 17th November. Ordering details via https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/empathy-test-album

Empathy Test will be holding a launch party with support from Nina at Zigfrid von Underbelly on 25th November (ticket details).

Empathy Test are also performing at the Electric Dreams Weekender (alongside The Human League, A Flock of Seagulls, Howard Jones, Thomas Dolby, Avec Sans and others) on 1st-4th December Details via: https://www.facebook.com/events/513692095639972/

Soundcloud.com/EmpathyTest
Facebook.com/EmpathyTest
EmpathyTest.com
https://twitter.com/empathytest


OMD + TINY MAGNETIC PETS Live at Guildford

OMD return to Guildford after a lengthy absence

The last time Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark performed in Guildford was in June 1985 at the Civic Hall, prior to the release of their sixth studio album. In fact, this particular stop on the Crush tour was only the third time they had played in the large Surrey town; the first time as support to Gary Numan back in October 1979. The Civic Hall has since been demolished, and replaced on the same site by the impressive G Live venue; the scene of a largely triumphant 11th stop on the band’s 18-date UK tour.

Tiny Magnetic Pets

Support arrives courtesy of three-piece electronic act Tiny Magnetic Pets who deliver an impressive half-hour set that exhibits their array of electronic influences; largely pitched between David Bowie’s experimental late ’70s period and the more melodic inflections of acts such as Kraftwerk. Indeed, the Dublin-based trio have been picking up some very favourable attentions in Germany, with former Kling Klang resident Wolfgang Flür featuring on their second full-length album Deluxe/Debris. But it’s OMD’s Andy McCluskey who can be credited with adding the Irish band to the bill; a further endorsement of the band’s proliferating synth-pop credentials.

The Pets’ 7-track set largely draws from this well-received album, with their attractive singer Paula Gilmer providing the primary focal point; confidently straddling the stage as keyboardist Sean Quinn studiously unravels a broad palette of electronics. Percussionist Eugene Somers, meanwhile, cuts an equally engaging figure; providing some impressively taut rhythms. Gilmer possesses both an engaging personality and an appealingly pure voice, and the relaxed Saturday night crowd respond positively.

Highlights include the captivating ‘We Shine’ (from 2015’s Stalingrad EP) which, pleasingly, sounds like a Yazoo/Visage mash-up. And then there’s the epic set-closer ‘Semaphore’. The band recently told The Irish Times: “We hit the stage like a rock band. People expect politeness, but that isn’t us – you have to rock it out when you go on stage.” The performance of ‘Semaphore’ certainly displays an exciting degree of showmanship, as well as acting as a summary of the band’s multitude of influences; bristling with Die Mensch-Maschine electronics, the foreboding noir of early Human League, and the more abstract leanings of Neu! It’s an enjoyable set and 30 minutes soon pass… as good a sign as any of a decent support act.


Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark

“As a band we still have a lot of energy to tour the world, but for obvious reasons we can’t play everything, so what we choose to play each night is always a constant dilemma” – Paul Humphreys

With such a rich and varied back catalogue to choose from, the dilemma of putting together an OMD set list must get increasingly difficult; particularly in view of the fact that some of their more recent output has being favourably compared with the best of their earlier work. Tonight’s set list features a deft selection of hit singles, deep cuts and newer songs.

By the time OMD’s set is announced with an ephemeral, yet effective, introductory track (a hybrid of two of their latest album’s more abstract pieces, ‘Art Eats Art’ and ‘La Mitrailleuse’), capacity in the standing area has swelled to near-capacity. There’s a relaxed vibe amongst the audience, who can almost sense that something special is going to happen.

Whilst The Punishment Of Luxury doesn’t quite tick all the boxes in the same way that its predecessor English Electric did in 2013, the album has given the band their highest chart placing since 1991’s Sugar Tax, and attracted some of the best reviews of their career. So it’s not a great surprise that the band possess the confidence to kick the set off with two six-minute-plus numbers. Singer Andy McCluskey stands with his back to the audience as the brooding melancholia of ‘Ghost Star’ begins proceedings, slowly building from its La Düsseldorf-meets-‘Stanlow’ foundations. It’s an unusual starting point, but it works. It’s followed by the more uptempo – and playful – ‘Isotype’. Bursting with Kraftwerkian melody, it offers a welcome contrast to the set opener’s more melancholic tones.

McCluskey straps on his bass guitar for a double-header of set staples ‘Messages’ and ‘Tesla Girls’, the latter the source of much amusement – both on and off stage – as keyboardist Paul Humphreys fluffs some of his backing vocals (“He started singing different words at the end!” a bemused McCluskey tells the crowd). The band recover for the 3-chord (C-G-F) tour-de-force that is ‘History Of Modern (Part One)’, and McCluskey invites the crowd to pogo along to a song that’s essentially about the end of the world. One of the highlights from the band’s 2010 comeback album of the same name, it’s no surprise that it’s become something of a regular set fixture in recent years.

‘One More Time’ is another 3-chord affair (G-C-D) that offers the band another opportunity to showcase their new album (thankfully we’re spared the rather gimmicky ‘Robot Man’). On record it’s somewhat stilted and formulaic – like Arcade Fire at their most pedestrian – but it works brilliantly in a live setting, with Humphreys’ glistening synth work particularly impressing.

One of the interesting facets of this tour is the set list vote, which offers fans the opportunity to vote for a song to be played from a choice of three. Tonight we’re offered ‘The New Stone Age’ and ‘She’s Leaving’ from Architecture & Morality and ‘Pandora’s Box’, the band’s last Top Ten hit (in 1991). McCluskey tells us it’s a close vote, with 8 points separating third from first place… but it’s ‘She’s Leaving’ that wins through (by a single vote).

A brace of lead vocals from Humphreys (on ‘(Forever) Live And Die’ and ‘Souvenir’) allows McCluskey some respite before the show’s “pastoral” section, which features both ‘Joan Of Arc’ singles and some excellent drumming from Stuart Kershaw on both tracks. McCluskey may not quite dance like an “electrocuted aardvark” these days, but his seemingly boundless energy is impressive as he cavorts the stage during the finale of ‘Maid Of Orleans’. “Just a little tip for you,” he tells the crowd. “Don’t try that in front of your teenage kids!”

As a contemporary version of ‘Time Zones’ blasts through the sound system, the four members of the band venture front of stage for a special version of the classic b-side ‘Of All The Things We’ve Made’ (later revamped on 1983’s Dazzle Ships), with Kershaw pounding a single drum. For the purists in the audience, who favour the band’s pre-Junk Culture output, it’s a moment to savour.

Somewhat disappointingly, previous album English Electric doesn’t get a look in as the band integrate newer songs into the set. We get the band’s rather bland new single ‘What Have We Done’ (Humphreys’ touching lament about putting his dog to sleep) and, later in the set, there’s the Kraftwerk-fuelled title track, ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’, featuring some slightly clumsy observations about modern consumerism. The crowd love it, though, and gleefully join in with the “hey! hey! hey!”s.

It’s a crowd-pleasing array of hits that close the main set, including the Caribbean-flavoured ‘Locomotion’ (a single that has divided fan opinion over the years). Martin Cooper, always a steady and reliable presence on stage, performs note-perfect saxophone parts on ‘So In Love’, as well as a wonderful keyboard solo on ‘Sailing On The Seven Seas’, the song that kick-started OMD’s ‘solo years’ in the 1990s. The set ends with a rapturously-received ‘Enola Gay’.

The band soon return for a decidedly curious encore. On record, ‘Walking On The Milky Way’ is a wonderfully produced slice of Beatles-flavoured meditation on growing up, but it doesn’t quite work in a live capacity, and the absence of the Hannah Clive vocal sample doesn’t help. But, the run-through of OMD’s last significant hit receives an enthusiastic response as McCluskey stoops to a recumbent position on the stage. “I’m still twenty-four in my head,” he reassures the crowd. “But my knees are telling me I’m fifty-bloody-eight!” Fortunately there’s some respite as McCluskey reverts to bass-playing duties for ‘Secret’ and Humphreys’ fourth lead vocal of the night. And there’s just enough fuel in the tank for a typically energetic version of ‘Electricity’, the band’s “oldest and fastest” song.

I’ve seen OMD perform many times over the years, but rarely have I seen them so relaxed and confident on stage. Whilst the absence of charismatic drummer Mal Holmes – due to health issues – is still felt amongst many fans, in Stuart Kershaw they have a more-than-able deputy who adds a fresh (and powerful) dynamic to the band’s live sound. It’s the sight of a reenergised band enjoying a well-deserved career renaissance, and long may it continue.


OMD set list: Ghost Star / Isotype / Messages / Tesla Girls / History Of Modern (Part One) / One More Time / She’s Leaving / (Forever) Live And Die / Souvenir /Joan Of Arc / Maid Of Orleans (The Waltz Joan Of Arc) / Time Zones/Of All The Things We’ve Made / What Have We Done / So In Love / Locomotion / The Punishment Of Luxury / Sailing On The Seven Seas / Enola Gay / Walking On The Milky Way / Secret / Electricity

Tiny Magnetic Pets set list: All Yesterday’s Tomorrows / Shortwaves / Not Giving In / Never Alone / We Shine / Here Comes The Noise / Semaphore


OMD are currently on a UK and European tour. Dates as follows:

UK
Nov 15 Bexhill – De La Warr Pavillion, Nov 17 Manchester – Acacdemy, Nov 18 York – Barbican, Nov 19 Glasgow – Royal Concert Hall, Nov 21 Birmingham – Symphony Hall, Nov 22 Gateshead – Sage.

EUROPE
Nov 25 Erfut – Traum Hits Festival, Nov 26 Hamburg – Grosse Freoheit, Nov 28 Berlin – Huxleys, Nov 29 Leipzig – Haus Auenesse, Nov 30 Munich – Tonhalle, Dec 02 Offenback – Stadhalle, Dec 03 Dusseldorf – Mitsuibishi Electric Hall, Dec 05 Tilburg 013, Dec 06 Antwerp – De Roma, Dec 08 Lausanne – Les Docks.

http://www.omd.uk.com
http://www.omd-messages.co.uk

All photographs, courtesy of Marija Buljeta Photography

www.marijabuljeta.com
www.altvenger.com

Many thanks to Marija Buljeta and Sara Page.


SAPPHIRE SLOWS – Time

The ethereal tones of Sapphire Slows return…

Japan has enjoyed a storied legacy of electronic music that stretches back decades. From iconic acts such as Yellow Magic Orchestra through to contemporary acts such as Perfume, Japanese music has always managed to craft its own identity when it comes to things electronic.

In recent years, the country has seen a rise in grassroots acts that have toiled away in their bedrooms to produce subtle, engaging music. This is particularly true of the artists on the Cuz Me Pain label, a group of Tokyo-based electronic acts that included Jesse Ruins and The Beauty.

Sapphire Slows (aka Kinuko Hiramatsu) was also part of that loose collective. She popped up on the radar via releases such as her 2012 EP True Breath and 2013 debut album Allegoria. Hiramatsu displayed a talent for crafting oddly evocative compositions that employed minimal beats and her own ghostly vocals.

At times, Hiramatsu has been beset by doubts on her achievements, unsure on precisely which direction she should be heading in. “I was getting pegged as a ‘female/bedroom/weird pop’ producer and singer” she told the Japan Times recently,”…it’s not like I objected to the terms, but they create a real bias. It feels like you aren’t being judged on your own merits.”

These concerns perhaps explain why there’s been such a gap between Hiramatsu’s debut album and new release Time. The tracks were recorded in Tokyo across a 2 year period, between 2014-2016, with Hiramatsu taking her time to polish the final work. Issued via the London-based label Kaleidoscope, Time is a 7 track mini-album created as “a monument to the pleasures and pains of change, growth and development”. As with previous releases, Time is imbued with a dream-like atmosphere for the most part – a shadowy series of soundscapes that are picked out here and there by Hiramatsu’s ethereal vocals.

There’s a delicate quality to the album’s opening track ‘Confession’ with a warm, immersive atmosphere. It’s a composition peppered with bright spots of electronic sounds.

Instrumental piece ’Haunts You’, meanwhile, is founded on a prowling brooding synth base. Across this, electronic melodies flit in and out evoking an odd moody piece that recalls the redolent tunes of Boards Of Canada.

While there’s a wealth of artists who work in the field of minimal electronic music, Sapphire Slows has always been able to stand on her own with her compositions. The tracks on Time continue this talent for bringing forth a particular mood or atmosphere, while also delivering a few surprises along the way. ‘The Edge Of My Land’, for example, offers a more bolder approach with bassy synth tones offset by crystalline melodies. Elsewhere, ‘Piece Of You’ offers burbling synths and mesmerising vocals.

The album’s title track, which closes proceedings, is a more murky affair with a shoegaze sensibility and hazy, hypnotic vocals.

Time is a perfect showcase to introduce people to the darkly ambient experience that makes up Sapphire Slows. While many people will prefer their electronic music to be more bangers than brooding beats, Time offers an opportunity to change gear and switch to a more contemplative mood. In the fast-paced world of contemporary music, that’s perhaps a good thing.


Time is out now on Kaleidoscope.

Sapphire Slows performs tonight at The Waiting Room in London alongside Moonbow and Polly Moneaux. Details via: https://www.facebook.com/events/1960699320855284/

https://soundcloud.com/sapphire-slows
https://www.facebook.com/Sapphire-Slows-166948386703427/
http://www.k-is-for-kaleidoscope.com/


EMPATHY TEST Interview

Catching up with one of electropop’s rapidly rising outfits…

Empathy Test consists of childhood friends Isaac Howlett and Adam Relf. Formed in 2013, the London-based duo established themselves through a series of EP releases, including 2014’s Losing Touch and Throwing Stones. In 2015 they performed to a 1,000+ audience at the Wave-Gotik-Treffen Festival in Germany. They’ve also performed alongside the likes of Mesh and VNV Nation in times past. Their live outings also see their lineup augmented by Christina Lopez (drums) and Sam Winter-Quick (keyboards).

The band have enjoyed a broad range of coverage from the likes of BBC Introducing, XFM, Clash, PopMatters and Idolator (They were also featured in an article for Metro about bands to check out if you loved the Stranger Things soundtrack). As a result, the electropop outfit have enjoyed a rapid growth in fans interested in their evocative take on electronic music.

Launching a successful PledgeMusic campaign, Empathy Test expanded their original goal of funding their debut album release with a plan to release two albums instead of one. As a result, Safe From Harm and Losing Touch are on track for release on 17th November, alongside a launch party in London towards the end of the month.

Isaac Howlett kindly took time off from Empathy Test’s busy schedule to chat to The Electricity Club about the band’s beginnings, the state of the current electronic music scene and their plans following the launch of their debut albums…


How did the pair of you first get involved in music?

A long time ago now. We were both very creative kids, always drawing comic books, writing stories, building tree houses and recording our own radio shows. Whatever we thought of. Music was the natural progression after we had tried everything else. We taught ourselves to play guitar and started writing music in our teens. Adam began recording compositions on his PlayStation, while I was using a four track mini-disc recorder I bought off a kid from school.

Were there any particular artists at the time that you felt particularly influenced by?

We were listening to bands like Radiohead, Placebo, Pulp, Blur and Oasis – all the Britpop bands that arrived in the ’90s. It seems strange to say it now, but at one point I knew every single word of Oasis’s (What’s The Story) Morning Glory. Those bands made it feel like anyone could write songs and be in a band. I never forgave Noel Gallagher when he said the ‘Sally’ in ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ wasn’t real though. Suddenly, I realised all his lyrics were nonsense.

Why did you decide to use PledgeMusic to fund this project and what are your thoughts on how Empathy Test have done on it?

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“I’d kind of decided a record label was pointless unless they could do something we couldn’t”

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We saw bands we know, like Avec Sans and DE/VISION doing it and thought, that’s the way to release an album. I’d kind of decided a record label was pointless unless they could do something we couldn’t. You end up paying for everything yourself anyway – they just give you the money up front, then take a big cut of the profit.

So if you can crowd fund the money, you might as well do it yourself, and keep the profit. It worked out immensely well and the campaign has been more successful than either of us could have imagined. 600% more, in fact.

At what point did you decide to do 2 albums rather than 1?

There was a lot of discussion about what songs would go on the albums and what songs wouldn’t. We also felt that the new material was too different to the old to be on the same album. We didn’t like the idea of a double album so we decided to create the album we should have put out in 2015 (Losing Touch) and the album we wanted to put out now (Safe From Harm), and release them both at once. Adam’s production skills have improved immensely since we started out, so it was also a chance to remaster all the old tracks and give them a proper CD and vinyl LP release.

Were there any odd or unusual reward ideas that you considered for this campaign?

Not really. We’re both really busy, live an hour away from each other and don’t meet up that regularly, so even signed items are a bit of a chore. And to be honest, it’s all about the music at this point. People just wanted an album. We gave them two, and a single. Maybe next time we’ll get more creative. It’s not like we needed to.

You’re including the early EP tracks on the albums. Are you reworking them in any fashion or are you happy with the versions as they are?

They’re mostly just remastered, with subtle changes most people won’t even notice. We were wary of doing “a George Lucas”! Adam extended ‘Where I Find Myself’ because he felt it needed something extra. I asked him to do the same with ‘Last Night On Earth’ because it’s really popular and really short, but he didn’t. I think it was because he doesn’t like it much. He doesn’t really do anything he doesn’t want to.

One of the tracks on the album Safe From Harm is titled ‘Burroughs & Bukowski’. Does literature have a particular influence on the lyrics for some songs?

Yeah, definitely. I devoured books when I was growing up, and studied literature at university, where I did a lot less reading! William S. Burroughs and Charles Bukowski are two of my favourite writers, but they were also the names of two goldfish I had when I was living in Brighton. So there’s a bit of a double entendre there, in the lyrics “I’m on my way back home / Burroughs and Bukowski”. The song is about choosing a different life, being the one who goes home alone, and finding solace in books. There’s also a blatant Shakespeare quote in another new track, ‘Firelight’. “I am a man. More sinned against than sinning” is straight out of King Lear.

How did Christina and Sam become part of the Empathy Test team?

Before the first European tour we did with Mesh in 2016, our first drummer, Casey, decided things were getting too serious and he wasn’t prepared to put in the amount of time the band was starting to demand. Which is fair enough. The thing is, Adam then decided he also couldn’t give up two weeks of his life to focus on just one thing. So we decided to put together a new live band which could operate with or without Adam, to give him the freedom to only do the shows he wants.

Playing live and touring isn’t for everyone. I love it! We put out an advert and met Chrisy, and Jacob, who played keys for us for about six months. Before the second Mesh tour, Jacob decided he wanted to focus on his own music, so we found ourselves having to recruit a new keyboard player very quickly. Sam was recommended by a friend and turned out to be the perfect replacement, although his living in Bristol slightly complicates things.
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“It’s always difficult working out how to perform electronic music live, particularly when it’s as intricate and layered as ours”

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Did you find the transition to live performances an easy one? Or were there issues in getting the songs into a live setting?

It took us a while to get on stage. It’s always difficult working out how to perform electronic music live, particularly when it’s as intricate and layered as ours. There’s a lot of drones in our tracks; phrases and sounds that come in and loop for long periods of time. To have everything live you’d need a lot of people playing very simple things, over and over. You could trigger them all using Ableton but then it’s like, what’s the point? So a lot of stuff ended up on the laptop. But visually that’s not very exciting.

We added a live drummer to boost the energy and Chrisy’s suggestion to use a hybrid acoustic and electronic kit has made a huge difference. Chrisy’s incredibly talented and proactive, we’re really lucky to have her. She’s also been designing a DMX light show for us, which will make an appearance at our London album launch at Zigfrid von Underbelly on 25th November and on our German headline tour in December.

What are your thoughts on the contemporary electronic music scene and are there any artists that stand out for you?

It seems like most music around at the moment is electronic. There’s so many different genres, all borrowing from each other. The market’s kind of saturated. I’m sure journalists are getting the press release for our albums and thinking, “oh great, another synth band”. It’s got to that point. We’re doing our best to grow beyond genres. You should definitely check out Furniteur and Waterbaby, who have both remixed our latest single, ‘Everything Will Work Out’. Far and away my favourites though, are Papertwin. To me, they’re next level.

What’s next for Empathy Test?

We’re already thinking about album number three. The good thing about Adam being not as into the live side of things is that he stays focused on making new music. It’s very easy to get caught up with the gigging, touring and releasing and forget the creative side of things. I played him a song I’d been working on recently and he messaged me the next day to say it was excellent and that I should finish it. That’s a good sign – last time that happened the result was ‘Seeing Stars’, which quickly became our second most popular track, after ‘Losing Touch’ of course.

We’ve got the London album launch on 25th November, then Electric Dreams Weekender with The Human League on 2nd December, then our headline German tour in December. Chrisy and I are also currently booking us a UK tour for March 2018. Then we’re going to Russia with DE/VISION in April. It’s all happening!


The Electricity Club extends its thanks to Isaac Howlett.

Safe From Harm and Losing Touch are due for release on 17th November. Ordering details via https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/empathy-test-album

Empathy Test will be holding a launch party with support from Nina at Zigfrid von Underbelly on 25th November (ticket details).

Empathy Test are also performing at the Electric Dreams Weekender (alongside The Human League, A Flock of Seagulls, Howard Jones, Thomas Dolby, Avec Sans and others) on 1st-4th December Details via: https://www.facebook.com/events/513692095639972/

Soundcloud.com/EmpathyTest
Facebook.com/EmpathyTest
EmpathyTest.com
https://twitter.com/empathytest