Echoes of Electronica Event at The Flapper, Birmingham

An evening that’s Fast-paced, fun, celebratory, emotional… and everything in-between

Walking through the heart of Birmingham’s vibrant Canal network – there’s a biting chill now present in the early evening air, yet our welcome at one of the city’s most iconic venues – The Flapper – couldn’t have been warmer. Tonight, the venue plays host to the Echoes of Electronica event, featuring Def Neon, Johnny Normal (of Synthetic Sunday radio show fame), topped off nicely with headliners, and Birmingham’s very own, Among the Echoes (ATE) whom are all set and ready to induct new followers into their very own granite-edged blend of electro-synth rock.

Back Through Time

While tonight’s proposed soundtrack delivers heavily laden journeys that merge into the darker edges of the earth, it also brings with it a different kind of weight. It comes in the form of what will be a heavy heart for many – attributed only to the limited life-span of the pub and the current plans to replace it with a modern 66-flat apartment building.

On entering The Flapper, one cannot help but embrace an almost living, breathing, treasure trove of memories. Such historical significance had long manifested the heart and soul of what we have come to identify as the dynamic live music scene, that Birmingham in particular, has always been noted for.

It’s implied that the venue itself was born in 1968 and that it became a hub for live music some 25 years ago. The bar area is adorned with posters of music icons from eons gone by. Combine such ambience with the gritty live room located downstairs, and you start to feel the warmth in the textures of that grainy mental picture. The Flapper is where many a band first rested their foot atop a stage monitor and hailed dedicated music fans to follow their progress up and through the ranks. They were made here, cutting their teeth, honing their skills while making a huge contribution to what has made Birmingham so relevant today – you only have to delve back through musical history in order to see how The Flapper, and other similar venues – some long since closed – made that possible. Music did indeed breed more music; the scene thrived, and stories set alongside their soundtracks that provoked poignant feelings in many, were woven through time. However, the threads became weaker with the loss of more and more venues.

There’s a brief high note in that Among the Echoes (ATE) will film their video for their latest single ‘The Fear Inside,’ right here tonight, yet the real fear inside is the disintegration of our cultured identity expressed through organic, live music, at intimate venues such as The Flapper.

Birmingham’s contribution to the music scene is not genre specific, however; Sir Simon Rattle, one of the most prolific British conductors of his generation, worked with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) for 18 years – a partnership that placed Birmingham firmly on the orchestral map.

Living in the Moment

Def Neon are just finishing up their set when we arrive; a loud warm-up call to the crowd prior to Johnny Normal, who brings home a beat-driven, dance-paced electro set, including his noteworthy ‘Alive’ track, that dutifully reminds us of the fragility of life itself. It’s immediately obvious that the support acts have the approval of tonight’s audience, which is always good to see.

In no time at all though, it’s enter Among the Echoes, with their energetic synthesized gothic storm of an opener that is ‘Freak,’ off 2014’s Fracture album. It’s enough to raise temperature levels – just a touch – and get the crowd moving. It’s incredibly catchy and coupled with some of the most densely moody synth sounds. There’s lashings of light and dark in this track and the good news is, its urgency doesn’t fail to come across in the live environment – it all starts here.

It’s been a good while since I was first introduced to the music of Among the Echoes and the gig tonight makes for easy recollection of that initial fizz of excitement that registered on my radar upon first hearing their material. Tonight, their on-stage presence is as vibrant as any in-cloud lightening discharges splintering across a night sky, and what is also true of the set tonight, is that it represents a good cross-section of ATE’s identity, but in the raw form often associated with the live environment, offering plenty of intimation for what lies ahead. And hereon in follows the alternative progressive ‘This is a Love Song!’ complete with spikey-styled guitar work and a strong template of space-defying beats; an audio setting that evokes an eerie surrealist vision. Then there’s ‘Hate,’ featuring an all too common blunt reality in its lyrics – add to that the undisguised angst in the music. By now, the audience are edging ever closer to the small stage, keen for more. And more they get. ATE hit out with prominent album classics; ‘Fracture’ delivers an upbeat synthetic wash that’s dreamily expressive – a suitably dark track with plenty of opaque undertones – all mirrored in Ian’s vocal. The filmic synthesized and dramatized ‘Breathe’ features later.

The live synth sounds continue to create essential emphasis towards the hair-raising atmospherics that fuel their signature sound; it’s steeped in anxiety, there’s plenty of sentiment, while alternate guitar tuning delivers that overall intensity and depth to the music. In fact, their overall sound wouldn’t be out of place on a Gary Numan record and all things considered, it’s no surprise then that ATE, by popular request, offer up such an authentic rendition of Numan’s ‘Pure.’

‘The Fear Inside’ brings us to ATE’s very latest offering and it features twice this evening, significant in that the video to accompany this recently released single is being filmed. Consequently, Ian encourages the audience to look to be having themselves some fun – and in this instance, nothing’s too much trouble. ‘The Fear Inside’ is a notable record, made up of suitably heavy riffage, swathes of eerie shadows, plenty of subtle embellishments from the keyboards, plus the kind of electro beat that means no one is standing still for long. The reprise is a grand finale, of sorts, until the next time that is.

Among the Echoes have definitely established their own model for a personified and uncompromising blend of synth rock. The intertextual elements of their songs work evocatively with arrangements that portray plenty of suspense, the result being a unique blend of dark gothic-inspired danceable anthems. And it’s easy to hear the influences as cited by keyboard player, Steve Turrell (see our interview). What’s also refreshing, is to witness that fun element – one that’s not lost on ATE – they don’t take themselves too seriously. When Ian’s not bantering with the crowd, or getting horrified at the thought of the band’s very own take on Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’ – which, incidentally, goes down very well and is closely followed up with the Human League’s ‘Being Boiled’ – he’s kindly requesting the audience sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Mesh’s Richard Broadhead, who got up on stage, happy to accept his cake and well, if you can have your cake and eat it then why the hell not?

Among the Echoes definitely possess a supreme entertainment factor and the live environment of course, is nothing new to them, given they’ve played support to the likes of Toyah, The Birthday Massacre and Cruxshadows, to name but a few.

Tonight, it’s been both immense fun and a pleasure; we’ve bathed in synthesized ambience and swooned over Wayne Page’s guitar sound; there’s a real friendly vibe in the venue, so much so, we don’t feel like we’re gate-crashing a private house party, and not least, we’ve become part of the legendary Flapper’s history – if not only briefly – but sadly, it’s not without the downsides that surround the controversy over the future of the venue itself.


All Things Echoes

Prior to the Echoes of Electronica event, Among the Echoes took time out to chat to The Electricity Club and reveal a little more about their darker selves.

Ian Wall (IW) – Steve Turrell (ST) – Wayne Page (WP).

TEC: Can you give us some background about how the band was formed and what your ultimate vision was at that time?

IW: The band formed in 2012 as a project to enable a few friends to write songs together and maybe demo a couple of tracks. Fairly quickly we had a number of completed tracks so agreed that we should consider playing a couple of gigs together to see what reaction we would get. Well the ATE beast was soon unleashed and world domination seemed the next logical step.

As a collective we didn’t have an ultimate vision – rather a passion for writing and recording the music we enjoyed ourselves and a hope that it would connect with others.

ST: As Ian says, we got together to write songs. Personally, I’d been looking for someone who could sing and write lyrics to the musical ideas that were buzzing around my head at that time and it just seemed to click.

TEC: ATE were born in Birmingham. There’s a lot of notable music history in Birmingham – from the days of the Rum Runner Club to Duran Duran and beyond. How do you feel about sharing a home with some of Birmingham’s notable history?

IW: Birmingham has a fantastic rich history, music being just one part of it. We have really enjoyed adding to that history by playing some of the great music venues around the city. We are thrilled that friends of the band from around the UK and Europe have travelled to our gigs and enjoyed this wonderful City of ours. Obviously, we have enjoyed taking ATE on the road around the UK too and are hopeful the invites to play across Europe come really soon – we are waiting by the phone!

TEC: You’ve recently released a new single ‘The Fear Inside’; can fans expect a new album in the near future? Can you tell us more about your plans?

IW: Well we have written lots of new material since we released the Fracture album and yes, we would really love to release another album. Personally, I think an album should be enjoyed and promoted for (at the very least) two years, even longer if it’s good enough! Are we overdue an album? Absolutely yes! However, it’s a costly process and we need to be sure that there is enough interest in releasing an album and that we are not just satisfying our own egos. If the demand is there, then yes, we will record an album.

TEC: How has your musical journey evolved so far? Is there an ultimate direction for the band?

IW: As I said previously – very fluid and to keep enjoying what we do. We have never wanted to fit into one set genre or try to please everyone, how boring would that be? The band would really like to play live across Europe and if we get to achieve that then we’ll be very happy. We’ve had the privilege to share the stage with some amazing bands over the last few years and made some wonderful memories. If the next year brings an album, more dates across the UK and some invites further afield.. We’ll be a happy band!

TEC: Out of the ATE catalogue, do the band have any personal favourites? And if so for what reasons?

IW: With most bands it is usually the new material that is your current favourite and in that respect we are generally the same. To be honest, I look back at some set lists from past gigs and can’t believe there are songs I thought we’d always play that don’t even get played at rehearsals. I wrote the lyrics to ‘Freak’ in about 20 mins and I have always been proud of them. For me, ‘Breathe’ is probably the track that just feels so natural and I enjoy performing it live.

ST: I love playing ‘Freak’, and lyrically, I think it’s Ian’s best. I’m afraid I get bored quite quickly and I’m quick in moving onto the next idea or tinkering with our older songs, much to the band’s annoyance! There are a couple of songs that are quite personal to me that I still love but rarely listen to. ‘Heart of a Machine’ was a song for my wife and ‘Flowers and Plastic Butterflies’, which is one of our very early songs, will always mean a lot to me.

WP: For me it would be our latest track ‘The Fear Inside.’ I just love that Celtic vibe (private band joke).

TEC: Can you give us some detail about the creation of your synth sounds – what you try to achieve with synths and what specialist equipment you use and/or prefer? It would be interesting to get a technical aspect on this element of your music.

IW: I’m interested to read what Steve answers!

WP: What Ian said!

ST: In the studio, I use Cubase to record. All the instruments are software, I love Omnisphere. It has some great sounds. Drums and percussion are usually Addictive Drums and Izotope iDrum. I also use Alchemy and a few Native Instruments synths.

I start with a basic drum beat and build the song from there. Obviously, I have an idea for a melody to start with and I just see where the mood takes me. I love to ‘layer’ sounds to try and achieve a big sound. With ATE, I’ve learnt to write from a more ‘Pop’ angle, even though we do still sound quite ‘dark’.

Live I use Roland FA06 and Gaia. The FA06 has the function to play the backing tracks and has great piano and choir sounds. The Gaia is just a great synth!

TEC: Do you have any big influences – both modern day and also historical? Your music is quite industrial sounding at times – any interest in krautrock at all?

IW: I just have a very eclectic taste in music. I must admit a lot of what we have written in the band evolves from sounds and bands that have influenced Steve. I just look for a platform to deliver the words that spin around in my head. I call Steve the “accidental genius” for having created so many great tunes for me to write to. Obviously I know it’s not accidental, however we must manage his ego!

ST: I love most music, but I guess my main influence is Gary Numan. Music that has a ‘dark’ edge will always be at the forefront. My ‘go to’ playlist will have Numan, The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, John Foxx, NIN to name but a few. Recent bands I’ve loved are Mr Kitty, Empathy Test, Celldweller, Hearts of Black Science & IAMX.

TEC: How do you think the use of synths has evolved over the decades?

ST: Wow, tough question. You can hear synths everywhere now. Bands that have historically been ‘anti’ synth use them all the time. The technology has advanced so quickly. You can write and record everything from your bedroom nowadays. Whole orchestral pieces can be written using software.

TEC: Sometimes during gigs you play with a live drummer but not always. Many fans think the live drum aspect adds a heavier edge to the music. Do you have a preference?

IW: I love playing with a live drummer. Unfortunately, the best drummer we have had in the band is our current guitarist – how did that happen? Fusing the electronics with live drums can sound immense, however if you don’t get it right it sounds .… erm, not so immense. Currently we play without a live drummer, however who knows what tomorrow will bring.

WP: With our music style, I don’t think a live drummer is really necessary. Our last couple of singles have been recorded with programmed drums, so our live performance is an honest reflection of them. I’ve seen Depeche Mode twice now and in my opinion, there was only one track that benefitted from having a live drummer.

TEC: What is the fundamental driver behind your songs and your lyrics – how does the writing process work for you? Do you have any significant influences?

IW: Influences can and should come from all directions. I absolutely love writing lyrics and I passionately believe that there should be a narrative in a song, especially if I am writing and singing it. Every day I see, hear, feel and live many emotions that I can put into a small story and deliver it through a song. To see a crowd singing my words back to me is priceless and something I hope I get to experience on many more occasions!

ST: Writing music is cathartic for me. At the end of a stressful day I can go to my tiny studio and create the music that I love. It’s not always good music, but I can just disappear into a world of sounds. That sounds a bit pretentious, but it’s the only way I can describe it. I create music that makes me excited. There’s nothing quite like coming up with a melody that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

WP: Is that synth porn Steve? And does Cybill Shepard still play her part in your mucky moments?

TEC: Some common debates include Analog v Digital. Vinyl v MP3. What’s your views/preference?

IW: While it’s being debated, it’s not being listened to. Just enjoy it all!

ST: Ditto what Ian has said. I listen to both MP3 and vinyl. Recording music, I will always favour digital. It makes the process so much easier.

WP: Analogue is an expensive way to record and requires a very skilled studio engineer/technician. Many music fans do not understand the variable methods for recording – it’s about their appreciation of the sound of the track and probably rightly so. I definitely prefer records to high definition sound, and believe a recording should be about the blending of sounds rather than being able to hear each individual component.

TEC: Tonight’s gig at the Flapper in Birmingham has something of an emotional attachment for the band – can you tell us why this venue is so important to you?

IW: We played our second ever gig at The Flapper and this show will be the tenth time we have played here. Far too many small venues are closing down and I shall shed a tear when we lose this venue to the developers this coming June. Whatever the politics behind the decisions to close venues, if we don’t support live music and the venues that give bands the stage on which to play their new music, then we can have no complaint when they are all gone.

It’s such a small cost to see bands play at these small venues, however the rewards to the bands, the venues, music lovers and the music scene is absolutely priceless.

TEC: What do you think the long-term impact on local music will be due to the loss of this venue – including bands such as ATE?

IW: Take all music that has shaped your life and imagine it never happened. All memories and emotions attached to it are all gone! All those bands started their careers playing at venues like The Flapper. ATE may not follow the path of some of those acts that have influenced us all, yet we have been very fortunate to share the music we write with so many amazing people, and made many new friends, heard some brilliant bands play live and hopefully influenced a few more people to follow their passion for music.

WP: I’ve been playing gigs at The Flapper for over 20 years (I know I don’t look old enough). Nothing replaced The Old Railway so The Flapper was the only venue of its kind left. It has been instrumental for supporting up and coming bands, but has also catered for generations of rock fans. It’s incredibly frustrating that more flats and apartments are being built instead of an investment supporting the Birmingham music scene, aka “The Home of Metal”.

TEC: What has been the biggest challenge for the band so far?

IW: Answering these questions! Seriously, probably far too many challenges to be honest. Whatever level you play at there are always people who work against you for their own gain. That said, you get out what you put in and we’ve had some great fun over the last few years. Would we like to achieve more? Yes. Would we still like to share our music to a bigger audience? Absolutely Yes!

ST: Trying to stop Ian talking so much!

TEC: What can fans expect at your gigs? What has been the best gig for you so far and why? Any unusual experiences while being part of a band?

IW: Expect us to give you a great performance. To absolutely love the privilege of standing on the stage. Turn up, have fun and stay for a drink with us after!

I think my best gig would be the first time we supported The Birthday Massacre in Birmingham in 2015. I just felt that the crowd totally engaged with us. Although we were there as one of the support bands, they totally embraced us, and I literally floated off the stage that night. I’m not sure about unusual, however there have been many surreal moments and I’ll be sure to mention them all when I write my book!

ST: For me, the tour with The Birthday Massacre was a blast. Especially the Birmingham gig. The tour had its challenges but was so much fun.


Words, interview and live photos by Jus Forrest.
The Electricity Club would like to thank Among the Echoes and Carol Canfer.

Among The Echoes play the London Cav Club, 18th May and support Jean Genie at Wolverhampton’s Robin 2 on the 21st July, with more gigs to be announced shortly. The single ‘The Fear Inside’ is out now.

http://amongtheechoes.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/amongechoes/
https://twitter.com/amongechoes


TWIST HELIX Interview

Newcastle’s power-pop trio drop by TEC HQ for a chat…

If there’s one sound that’s made us sit up and take notice of late, it’s the euphoric widescreen pop of Twist Helix. Based in Newcastle, the electropop outfit consists of Bea Garcia (vocals & keyboards), Michael Humble (bass) and James Walker (drums). Currently signed to Madrid-based record label Paul Back Music, Twist Helix have delivered a series of powerful single releases in the form of ‘Little Buildings’, ‘Pulse’ and ‘Ouseburn’.

Much of Twist Helix’s material weaves in lyrical themes that present social commentary on the changing landscape of Newcastle, particularly the decline of communities. These songs have been given an extra boost by the band’s dynamic live performances, which showcase the power of James Walker’s muscular percussion, Michael Humble’s driving bass and Bea Garcia’s dramatic vocals.

With new album Ouseburn in the pipeline, Twist Helix sat down with The Electricity Club to discuss their music and plans for the future…


How did Twist Helix spring into life?

Bea: The same way most things get started musically I suppose. James and I had known each other for some time and began songwriting together, for enjoyment. It went well, and we cut a demo of a track called ‘Flare’, which got picked up by our local BBC Introducing, one thing led to another and we put a band together.

What artists or bands do you think have had the strongest influence on Twist Helix?

Bea: I have always used M83 as a reference for my keyboard parts, but apart from that, anything classic synth pop really. James and I are both fans of the groups associated with La Movida Madrileña, Factory Records, Mute Records… Our only big difference really is I (correctly) think Violator is the best Depeche Mode album while James believes Playing the Angel is…

James, what drummers would you say have been a big influence on your style?

James: I suppose I have quite an angular playing style… drums is an odd instrument, it’s all about feel so I’ve always just tried to play what feels right to me. Stephen Morris (New Order, Joy Division), Ed Lay (Editors) and Matt Tong (Bloc Party) are all pretty angular players. I would probably say they’d be the most obvious influences in that respect.

Photo by Rob Irish

Recent songs seem to have a focus on Newcastle (‘Ouseburn’, ‘Little Buildings’) and the decline perhaps of communities and music scenes in general. It’s an issue that plagues many many music communities, but what inspired you to write about this in particular?

James: At heart we’re just music fans; avid gig goers. Losing venues hurts our city, its artists and everyone invested in its scene. The real catalyst was a series of closures of art spaces that started around 2016. One of the most noticeable losses in Newcastle was the closure of a community-ran venue called the Star & Shadow Cinema; the S&S was an amazing space, cinema, political bookstore… you name it, it had everything. Shortly after that the Northy Arms which hosted the DIY Massa Confusa Presents shows (what was the cornerstone of the NE punk scene) seemed to close almost overnight and it was a similar story for the North Wing which was one of the Evolution Emerging Festival venues. All the while the press was churning out articles saying Newcastle is hip, Ouseburn is trendy, and we were thinking… “well sure it is, but for how much longer”?

The music industry itself has been going through dramatic changes for a number of years. Bands these days are often acting as labels themselves by financing record releases via outlets such as PledgeMusic. What are your thoughts on the current music industry?

James: Anything that allows artists and small labels to sustain themselves or to punch above their weight can only be a good thing. I think one of the great things about the modern music landscape is the internet has created channels for distribution which would have been impossible 20 years ago.

I’m not denying music is a hard business. It’s rough and it’s not just difficult for the bands, it’s tough on everyone from labels to magazines, venues to promoters. So, everyone is looking for new ways to innovate, be sustainable and to get new music to the fans. Because that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.

Twist Helix straddles its sound between both a traditional rock sound and electropop, how would you describe Twist Helix’s sound yourself?

Bea: We’ve called ourselves everything under the sun and still haven’t quite got the genre right. Electronic-alt-pop, synth-pop, electro-pop, industrial pop, indie-electronic… none of them really fit, but does it matter? Not really. We’re friends who make a big joyous, uptempo racket. We smile when we play, and we don’t ever shy away or dial things down. We just play big bold songs we love. Because if a song feels good to play then for us, it’s a keeper… we’ll worry about the audience later, ha-ha!

As a band, you’ve carved out a reputation via Festival appearances and other live outings. How do you find Festival audiences respond to Twist Helix as an electronic outfit?

Bea: We generally go down pretty well at festivals. The synths definitely reap the benefit of a bigger sound system, leaving crowds a bit taken aback by how full we sound for such a compact group. And it’s amazing that it’s the same story here as in Spain. I remember we were mobbed after our set at Alacant Desperta Festival last year, which felt incredible. Probably one of our favourite gigs to date.

Photo by Paul Murray

The artwork for your songs have something of a dystopia theme – which is reflected in the lyrics to an extent. At the same time, your music has this uptempo euphoric feel to it. How do you reconcile these two distinct elements?

James: As much as Ouseburn (the album) is about the rise and fall of a place, the real subject and constant theme that runs through the work is the exploration of the impulse to create. ‘Creative energy’ and Art we believe to be intrinsically human and therefore valuable; it comes from and reaffirms our and its existence through the act of its making. It is therefore inevitably optimistic, regardless of intention.

Artwork by Trevor Storey

You’ve performed alongside acts such as Avec Sans. What did you learn from that particular duo?

James: Definitely the importance of stagecraft. This is a bit of an ongoing project for us but seeing their light show (which is incredible) really got us thinking – it was a total eye-opener.

Bea: The other thing we got from that night was just how much of a difference it is to work with a pair of artists who are nice; weird to say but it’s not always the case! We were playing a pretty cosy venue, and the shared ‘Green Room’ (for want of a better word) was essentially a kitchen that someone had put a sofa in. But they made light of it and watched our set, so we went home happy.

The Madrid-based record label Paul Back Music is your new home. How is that working out compared to the DIY route?

Photo by Paul Murray

Bea: Well it’s given James more impetus to practice his Spanish for one! But more importantly, it’s really expanded our network of support… helping us run our socials, calendars and all that other rock n’ roll admin that consumes about 80 percent of a band’s time. Basically, we feel happy that someone has our back now.

James: DIY was at best a liberating venture for us, with some discovery and innovation. But at its worst (which felt like most of the time) being DIY was a bit of a lonely experience and felt like climbing an MC Escher staircase to the promise of a glass ceiling.

A new album is on the horizon, how are things progressing on that?

Bea: I’m sure we’ll live to regret this once the clock starts ticking but because it’s the Electricity Club… yes, Ouseburn will be out this autumn.


The Electricity Club extends its warmest thanks to Twist Helix.

Title pic by Paul Murray.

https://www.twisthelix.com/
https://www.facebook.com/twisthelix
https://twisthelix.bandcamp.com/


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”

[/blockquote]

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.

[blockquote align=”right”]

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

[/blockquote]

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?

[blockquote align=”right”]

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

[/blockquote]

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 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?

[blockquote align=”right”]

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

[/blockquote]
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.
[blockquote align=”left”]

“It’s always difficult working out how to perform electronic music live, particularly when it’s as intricate and layered as ours”

[/blockquote]

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


Tears From A Stone – Exploring Paul Waaktaar-Savoy’s New Biography

‘Silence’ is golden

‘If you’ve got more to say, why wouldn’t you say it?’

Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, Berlin, 26 March 2015 (Press Conference to formally announce a-ha’s comeback and the release of a new album, Cast In Steel)

Traditionally, when ‘the quiet one’ from a-ha has had something to say, it has invariably been through his song lyrics.

While the other two members of the Norwegian band have been far more loquacious over the years, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy has done most of his talking through the pages of numerous well-thumbed notebooks.

While some musicians get worn down by playing the media game over time, for Waaktaar-Savoy there was barely a honeymoon period at all during which he was comfortable in that environment.

Take, for example, an interview on UK ‘Breakfast’ show Good Morning Britain in 1986, when interrogator Nick Owen asked ‘Are you OK’ because he ‘Hadn’t heard enough from [Paul]!’

A pattern had been set whereby singer Morten Harket and keyboardist Magne (then going by ‘Mags’) Furuholmen would spar with one another – and the interviewer(s) – while Paul shuffled uncomfortably alongside them.

Then again, when you have a back catalogue of songwriting credits like Waaktaar-Savoy does, do you need to give the public more?

Little appeared to have changed from that interview 31 years ago when a-ha visited Berlin again in September 2017 to promote the release of their MTV Unplugged Acoustic album (Summer Solstice) and subsequent extensive touring schedule.

Author and compatriot Jo Nesbo hosted the press conference and began proceedings by asking Paul: ‘How do you feel about being in the room on a scale from 1 to 10?’.

Paul, unsurprisingly, responded ‘1’, while Morten added, ‘It’s off the scale (for Paul)’.

For anyone still in any doubt, Waaktaar-Savoy doesn’t like doing interviews.

Which makes the publication of a biography – that involved writer Ørjan Nilsson undertaking several lengthy discussions with the musician – even more unlikely.

Yet here, in all its glory, comes Tårer fra en stein (Tears from a stone), published on 6 October, charting Waaktaar-Savoy’s rise to fame and exalted success not just with a-ha but Savoy and other side-projects.

The Electricity Club spoke to Nilsson about his role in what some may consider more like getting ‘blood from a stone’ in persuading Waaktaar-Savoy to open up for this long-awaited tome.


Firstly, is the book ghost-written – in the first person – or more biographical in the third-person?

Nilsson: The book is more biographical. It is based upon long interviews in four different cities (New York, Berlin, Hamburg and Oslo) over two years.

Many people have tried to persuade Paul Waaktaar-Savoy to put his thoughts into print (beyond song lyrics) but few have succeeded. Certainly, nobody has managed to get him to open up at such length – what is your secret?!

We (my publisher and I) contacted him in the fall of 2014 and told him what kind of book I wanted to write. Then we didn’t hear anything for half a year. Then, suddenly, he sent me an e-mail and asked if I could send him my first book, about Kings of Convenience’s iconic debut album (Quiet is the New Loud), and he liked it. Then we met one hot summer’s day in Oslo two years’ ago and discussed how we could try to dig deeper into his mindset around songs and songwriting.

It always helps to be passionate about the subject one writes about: how far does your interest in Paul’s music go, historically?

a-ha’s and Paul’s music played a significant role in my life since I was four years old. When the book was finished my editor wrote to me: ‘Congratulations. This is one of the most important things you’ve done in your life’. And it actually feels like that too. Paul, and a-ha as a trio, are among the few Norwegians that have reached far, far out of this country. Everybody knows the story behind their breakthrough, but I wanted to go into where the songs came from. What literature did Paul read in 1979? What films blow him away? Could his parents’ background say anything about the way he writes songs? What about the Norwegian landscape? I wanted to find out about that, for myself, and write about it so that it hopefully will be read as a cultural-historical document about a man that never spoke much but wrote songs that touched so many people in so many parts of the world.

Is this book something you have wanted to do for a long time?

I’ve had the idea somewhere inside me for 5-6 years, but it became more realistic three years ago.

Many people warn against meeting one’s heroes. Are you glad you did on this occasion?

I thought a little bit about that, of course. But five minutes into our first talk I knew that this was the right thing to do. This IS one of the most important things I have ever done – and will ever do.

Did you go into the interviews with any preconceptions about what Paul would be like? Was he as you expected or were there some surprises?

One surprise; he’s a very funny guy.

It is probably true to say that Paul was hit the hardest when a-ha split in 2010 – the other two were keen to embark on new careers whereas Paul believed there was still more to come from a-ha. Does this come across in the book?

Yes, it does. Paul says in the book that he didn’t want to quit at all back in 2010, and that he wanted more a-ha.

Is it also fair to say that Paul is the most enthusiastic with what is going on now – the ‘MTV Unplugged’ concert and the many live concerts ahead, both acoustic and ‘plugged’?

We haven’t talked about that specifically, we ended our two years of interviews just in the start of the ‘Unplugged’ project.

You have also written about Kings of Convenience, so do you see the struggles that a-ha has had internally over the years as just something that happens in every/most bands?

I don’t want to have an opinion about a-ha’s struggles. Paul talks about it in the book but he also says that Morten and Magne are two of his closest friends.

Initially the book will only be available in Norwegian. Are there plans to translate it into other languages, including English?

There is some interest in other countries, and there will be news out on that in the not too distant future, but I’m afraid not English right now. But I really hope it will happen.

As a-ha lived in and enjoyed great success in England in the ‘80s/early ‘90s (and retain a strong fan-base there to this day), why do you think the English translation is not near the top of the list?

Hmm, do you mean from my perspective or from English publishers? I guess many potential publishers haven’t heard about the book yet but hopefully they will and the book will have a long life.

Is Paul excited about the book?

Yes, that’s my impression. But probably also a little bit worried. This book goes into details about big parts of his life, and goes into the core of what he does – writing songs. I know I would have been kind of nervous (in his position).

And you have recorded a Savoy song (‘Whalebone’) especially for the release of the book with your own band (Willow) – how exciting was that to do and what does Paul think of it?

I have confidence in my writing and wasn’t too afraid about what Paul would think when I sent him the first chapters [of the book] last summer, since he liked the Kings of Convenience book. But the singing – and the Willow cover-version: I was super nervous. But then we got really nice feedback from him; he told me that he loved it and the version almost gave him a Placebo-vibe. Willow is, by the way, a band that broke up 12 years ago, but we thought this was a great opportunity to get back together and do something, because I like the concept of a book-single (a limited edition 7″ vinyl featuring ‘Whalebone’ by Willow and ‘Manhattan Skyline’ by Kings of Convenience was included for those who pre-ordered through bidra.no).


And what more from Waaktaar-Savoy?

When a celebrity has a book out it is common to tour the media circuit hammering home the point.

Will this be the case on this occasion?

Let publisher Christer Falck clear that matter up: ‘Pål will not promote the book,” Falck clarified.

‘As he said: “I have said what is to be said. From now on, I will keep silent.”’

One suspects Paul’s notebooks will continue to vocalise his thoughts for many years to come.


Tårer fra en stein is available now, published by Falck Forlag (http://www.falckforlag.no/)

http://waaktaar.com/
https://www.facebook.com/waaktaarpal
https://soundcloud.com/waaktaarpal
https://twitter.com/WaaktaarZoe

a-ha.com
https://www.facebook.com/officialaha/

Greg Lansdowne is a freelance writer, who wrote a book on a-ha in 2016 called ‘Living A Fan’s Adventure Tale – a-ha in the eyes of the beholders’.

The Electricity Club extends its thanks to Ørjan Nilsson. Photo by Ivar Kvaal.


HANNAH PEEL In Conversation

Discussing Hannah Peel’s elderly alter ego…

Hannah Peel’s musical arc has chartered some intriguing landscapes over the years. Her original music box arrangements of classic songs by the likes of OMD, Soft Cell, New Order and Cocteau Twins gave her a very unique profile in the world of electronic music. But she also demonstrated that she was capable of collaborative ventures, notably with her band The Magnetic North as well as working alongside electronic music pioneers such as John Foxx.

Following the release of her critically-acclaimed 2016 album Awake But Always Dreaming (see TEC review), Hannah Peel has been busy crafting her third album which employs her elderly alter ego. In fact Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia has been a concept that Peel has been developing for some time, but it was a chance meeting with a brass ensemble that gave the project a new focus.

Commissioned for a musical project under the title of Tubular Brass (which was an adaptation of Mike Oldfield’s classic Tubular Bells), Peel saw the possibilities of combining electronic music and brass instruments. The result was a 7-piece movement that tracks the story of elderly stargazing electronic musician Mary Casio. Her lifelong dream is to leave her mining town home of Barnsley in South Yorkshire and journey into space via home-constructed, hand-made machines that ‘buzz and whirr’ alongside her ever-growing collection of antiquated analogue synths, which she started collecting ever since her father gave her a Casio keyboard as a child.

The first sampling of this project was the release of the haunting ‘Sunrise Through The Dusty Nebula’, a piece which breathes an oddly captivating sense of romance. Recorded in Barnsley, this and the other 6 segments that make up the Journey To Cassiopeia album combine to tell the story of Mary Casio’s journey to the stars.

As well as the forthcoming album, Peel has also embarked on a series of special showcase performances with the 29-piece brass ensemble. In July, this included a performance at London’s Southbank where audiences were treated to a small selection of Journey To Cassiopeia’s material.

Included with the performance was an on-stage interview with Hannah Peel in which she talked a little about the origins of Mary Casio, working with brass musicians and combining them with analogue synthesisers.


Here you are with a 29-piece ensemble. It must be really inspiring for you to have this kind of contact with all these instruments around you.

It’s been a wonderful collaboration and really amazing to work with everybody – and Sandy the conductor as well. It came from a kind of mishap of me posting something on Instagram – Electronic meets Brass – and then all of a sudden I’m writing a piece of music for these guys. So it’s been an amazing journey. That was two years ago and it’s just now starting to take off.

How much work has it taken from you actually writing the score to rehearsals, to fine-tuning, to maybe readjusting, to get it to this stage?

Around two years ago I was writing some tracks that I kind of just called Mary Casio because I liked the name – it’s my middle name, I never used to like it, I used to hate it – and I had Casio keyboards in there in the studio. If you’ve ever had one you know that when you press the beats to get the time going, the waltzes, and you get the kind of programmed chords in there. I used to pretend I was this character.

I shy away from my middle name, I don’t wear my glasses normally and so it felt quite nice to have this character. So it started off as an electronic piece and when the commission came I made more electronic tracks. I grew up playing brass bands, so it wasn’t like I didn’t know what a trombone sounded like or anything like that! So, when it came to actually putting the parts of the electronic into the brass arrangements, choosing actually which brass went where and which parts electronically – I should give away was actually the hardest because I didn’t want to give it all away, because I love some of the sounds that I’ve created with the Moogs and the Roland and things… So yeah, that was the process I suppose. Then we just gradually went through that and spoke to Sandy and he totally understood what I was getting at.

There’s a lot of bass in this piece – the lower register is really prominent. At one point backstage when you were doing the sub-bass and that went to, I think, the flugelhorn and the tubas, there was a bottle that started rattling on the table over there through the vibrations! So tell us about working in the lower register, of the richness of it?

Well I think it was really important because there was a trombone player and that, for me, gives me the sensation of what it feels like to be in the bottom end of the band. I love the feeling that you get when you’re surrounded by that sound and I felt that a lot of recordings don’t have that – especially with brass bands. I never get that sensation; it’s mostly cornet heavy – sorry cornets! And you get these amazing qualities, the oscillators and the resonances in the Moogs and things. So it felt like a really beautiful pairing to see what a tuba would sound like with the bass line.

The brass band tradition is obviously strong in the north of England. It’s an international, universal thing as well – there are brass bands in India, in Africa, there’s a great brass band tradition in New Orleans. But the brass band tradition in the north of England – and I think the way that you’ve tapped into it – has this melancholy aspect to it. Tell us more about that.

Yeah, it’s something you can’t replace. There’s just something when this combination of instruments play together, that it really does give you a sense of memory and nostalgia. That for me has always been a part of my work. Even in just electronic stuff, there’s always an element of that there. I don’t know whether it’s from growing up in Yorkshire and kind of yearning for Ireland where I was born, or just taking that sound and taking it to a new place, which I found really interesting. But it’s irreplaceable and it’s so beautiful to hear a brass band.

So, electronic music – some people might think that’s it’s very male-dominated, that’s the cliché of the boys in their bedrooms, as it were, but woman have made a real contribution to electronic music over the years, people like Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, and in the American jazz tradition as well, keyboard players like Patrice Rushen and Geri Allen who unfortunately just died. So women have been using electronics and electronic keyboards for a number of years, and they’ve really made a significant contribution. The PRS foundation has just launched the Oram award with Matthew Herbert. Tell us about the importance of women doing electronic music, and what advice would you give to young women who want to go into electronic music?

I suppose going back to Mary Casio as this character, I think when I started to learn about Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram and their stories they became role models for me to look up to because there isn’t that many. And I think it’s important that people young should find role models to have; something to pin on your walls and say “I want to do that”.

But when I found out about their life stories and what they went through and the fact that Delia really wasn’t kind of discovered until she’d passed away and they found all the tapes in her attic. So Mary Casio became a bit of a nod to that world of forgotten memories and people that maybe pass under our radar. We’re surrounded by digital things and get blasted with things all the time. Sometimes it’s just easier to follow mainstream music because you don’t want to have the hassle of looking further. But Mary was somebody that I felt maybe hadn’t ever left her home. She’d stayed in Barnsley for the whole of her life and she was this kind of pioneer and she had these electronic instruments in her back garden and a telescope, and she would stargaze and she would have this dream of going to Cassiopeia.

So in her eighties, she decides that she’s going to go, she’s going to leave Earth and for the first time leave her hometown and travel to space. I think that was a nod for me to……we shouldn’t be forgetting people and not even electronic people, but everything, even old people really. It’s very sad – a lot of people get forgotten. So that was my nod to those people that I see as role models.

What about the voice at the end of the piece?

That’s an actual recording of my grandfather in 1927 in Manchester Cathedral and he’s singing a piece by Handel. He was one of the first voice sopranos to be recorded and he was 13 at the time. The story is that he made this recording and the wax hadn’t set properly so the record label came back and said “Oh we want to record it again” and I think the day after, his voice had broken!

It’s all about the timing isn’t it?!

I knew about it but I never had a copy or anything, so ripped it off YouTube and that’s what you’re hearing. So it became a part of her journey because that’s the last piece. So this is 3 pieces out of 7, so normally it’s 40 minutes long. And I chose the kind of pieces that I felt tell the story the most.

So the second piece is called ‘Sunrise Through The Dusty Nebula” and it’s after she’s left Earth and you go to that kind of plateau where everything just goes silent and then she looks behind her and sees the sun coming up over the Earth and all the people that she’s left behind. And then we go to ‘Life Is On The Horizon’, which is a little bit further along, and at the very end she reaches ‘The Planet Of Passed Souls’. I didn’t write a piece called ‘Cassiopeia’ – I kind of left it to us to decide whether she makes it there or not.

So in my mind it was like she went to a planet where it sounds like the wind and the rain and that’s the sample of in my caravan on a stormy night. And she goes to this planet and then through the wind and the rain, these voices and this music box, and obviously someone from her past comes singing through the clouds to remind her. So I suppose in a way it kind of represents whether she makes it or not – is this just all a figment of her imagination? Is she dreaming, and the beauty of us being able to dream and go there, or is it that this is her final last breath as she passes into another life… or another realm, shall we say?


Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia is released on 22nd September and can be pre-ordered via https://hannahpeel.tmstor.es/

Hannah Peel has several live shows lined up for this year including:
5th Aug Edinburgh Festival, 12the Aug LeeFest Music Festival, Edenbridge, 23rd Sept Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 30th Sept, The Arc Concert Hall, Stockton-on-Tees, 21st Oct, Barnsley Civic Theatre, Barnsley.

Ticket details: http://www.hannahpeel.com/live/. Please see the Electricity Club Event Calendar for details on these performances as well as other upcoming concerts.

http://www.hannahpeel.com/
https://www.facebook.com/HannahPeelMusic
https://twitter.com/Hanpeel

Special thanks to Barry Page.


An Interview With FUTURE PERFECT

Electropop outfit Future Perfect share some insight into their darkpop delights…

Future Perfect have carved out their own niche in the world of electronic music via the brooding dancepop of ‘Hunter’, ‘Paradise’ and more recently ‘Fall’ – culled from their 2015 album After The Fall.

Consisting of Simon Owen and Rebecca Owen, Future Perfect have managed to combine darkpop perfection with a talent for melody and intriguing lyrical composition. Their 2010 album Dirty Little Secrets was packed with solid tunes and made for an impressive debut.

Future Perfect have also become a regular fixture on the electronic live scene and are due to make an appearance at the Silicon Dreams Festival this July. Simon Owen kindly took time out from preparing for the event to chat to The Electricity Club.


How would you describe Future Perfect’s evolution of sound?

Future Perfect’s sound has evolved greatly over the years. We actually started in 2009, so since then I’ve learned so much and with the increased availability of software synths there’s so much we can do nowadays. Plus, back then, we were still learning how to write songs.

A lot of the first album came from the leftovers of previous bands that we’d both been part of, plus I didn’t have as much equipment. I was mainly using Garageband, a few softsynths and a few bits of hardware that I had. The results of this became Dirty Little Secrets.

For the “difficult” second album, times were very very different indeed. We had both split up from our respective marriages and we were starting a relationship together. The issues surrounding all of this turmoil would go on to inform what would become Escape, which was quite an appropriate title considering our circumstances at the time. Plus, I was also taking vocal lessons to help add to our sound and to express what I was also writing songs about.

We originally received a small amount of flak for the new change in direction. We were vilified in certain quarters and lost a small percentage of our fanbase in the UK. But for what we lost at home, we gained in multiple other regions and the album also got us signed to Conzoom.

We were also thinking that the guy keyboard player and female vocalist thing had been done to death and was becoming a cliché.

I was listening to a lot of European EBM/Futurepop at the time as it really appealed to my musical sensibilities. Neither of us came from that Synth Britannia thing from the early ‘80s or had any exposure to it – and I in particular only got into electronic music around 1986 when I discovered Jean-Michel Jarre and then the Acid House/Rave/Dance Music explosion between 88-92. Prior to that, I was into everything else but electronica.

A lot of the above informed our 3rd album, After The Fall, which has a much harder feel to it and has a lot of dance music influences.

We like to shake things up between albums to keep ourselves interested and not to repeat ourselves too much. We also like each album to have its own concept or theme.

To put it in a nutshell, our sound is a mixture of Pet Shop Boys songwriting style mixed with a bit of Joy Division lyrical gloom mixed with a bit of Apoptygma Bezerk/Eisfabrik – and a bit of Jean-Michel Jarre for good measure. We’d classify ourselves as “Dark Dance” and have now crafted our own distinctive sound of catchy grooves, dance beats added to soundscape synths and layered male/female vocals. That’s Future Perfect’s sound.

You’ve augmented your lineup with the addition of Noel Canney. How does his input fit into the Future Perfect dynamic?

With regards to Noel, he’s an amazing guy. Extremely talented and has had success in his own field of Dance Music. The original idea was to have Noel playing with us in a live capacity as this would take the pressure off us both during performing. However, as he lives in Northern Ireland, this was found to be completely impractical. Noel’s contribution now is as a collaborator. He occasionally sends us over some rough incomplete demos/ideas. I take those ideas and then develop them and write a song/arrangement around them.

Examples of this are ‘Fall’ and a track from our new album called ‘Rip’, both of which are completely amazing tracks and we can’t thank him enough for his contributions and remixes.

What is Future Perfect’s typical live gear setup?

Our usual live setup consists of the good old Roland JP8000, which is still extremely versatile and sounds amazingly epic. I also bring the Access Virus C and occasionally, my EMU Emulator 2, and though it weighs a ton, it looks great onstage. I also have an onstage mixer which contains a built in Minidisc player which contains the backing sequences. I’ve had a few misses in the past with my Macbook Pro almost being smashed when taking it out live. As it’s the real heart of my studio, it’s probably wise to leave it at home.

Rebecca plays the Akai Miniak on stage as it’s a very versatile synth and I got it for pennies. Sounds great and was super cheap.

Like Parralox, you’re signed with Conzoom. Has that made a big difference to Future Perfect’s profile?

Being on Conzoom has definitely opened more doors for us that we could have ever thought possible. To have a good label behind you is essential if you really want to have more widespread exposure. We have a great relationship with Ingo Moller and allows us complete artistic freedom with the music – and that also includes the artwork.

Conzoom promotes our albums through multiple blogs, magazines and websites worldwide. We signed for a 3-album deal where we retain all digital rights and Conzoom manufactures the CDs and we take a share of those to sell as a wish. This co-operation deal suits us perfectly. Since signing with them, both albums we have put out on Conzoom have charted in the European Alternative Music charts and have been at least top 3 on the Poponaut sales charts.

Do you think music festivals such as Silicon Dreams are an important component for the electronic music scene?

I think it’s absolutely essential for the UK to have its own electronic music festivals. Events like Silicon Dreams in Liverpool and what Analoguetrash are doing in Manchester are fantastic and helps to promote the genre. I personally think that it’s been in the domain of the South for far too long and to have people promoting electronica in the North will bring more awareness to what’s on the underground electronic scene up here.

I think one of the problems electronic music has is that it’s still pigeonholed with the ‘80s. If you tell someone that you make music with synthesisers, a lot people still say “Oh, like the ‘80s? “!!!! Not withstanding the fact 95% of modern pop music is made with synths, either software or hardware or both and usually on a Macbook Pro! This typical view can be a hindrance to the scene if it wants to attract a younger audience.

Having more electronic music festivals will certainly bring an awareness of what’s happening on the different UK scenes. It seems that each region has it’s own particular take on the genre. I’ve found some southern-based bands to be more retro in their approach, taking elements from bands of the ‘80s and marrying it with a slick modern production style. Whereas the more Northern-based bands like ourselves and Promenade Cinema seem to be a bit more edgy and harsher in our sound. Not unlike the late ‘70s/early ‘80s when you had the original Human League, Cabaret Voltaire and OMD in the North and you had Gary Numan and early Depeche Mode in London. It’s the same genre, all worthwhile, but a different take on it

What does the future hold for Future Perfect?

We have quite a few gigs lined up for the year, Silicon Dreams included, and we’re in the middle of writing our 4th album.

We would really like to get out into the European circuit as well as at home as our sound is now more in the Futurepop/EBM genre as well as at home. We still have passion for music and playing live and I personally would like to get into soundtrack work in the future and we’ve both expressed an interest in writing for other people as well as ourselves. If someone had asked us back in 2009 if we’d still be making music as a duo and we’d both be married to each other in 2017, we’d have said that they were mad, but here we are…..


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Simon Owen.

Future Perfect are performing at Silicon Dreams on 8th July 2017 at Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room (tickets via http://silicondreams.org.uk/).

http://www.futureperfect.org.uk
http://www.facebook.com/futureperfect1
https://futureperfect1.bandcamp.com

http://www.conzoomrecords.com


An Interview With PARRALOX

Parralox’s John von Ahlen provides some insight into the electronic outfit’s extensive career…

Based in Melbourne, Australian electropop outfit Parralox came to life in 2008. Their debut album Electricity achieved critical acclaim and paved the way for an impressive catalogue of energetic electronic pop releases, which has led to their 10th studio album Subculture.

Collaborations with the likes of Ian Burden, Ade Fenton and Marcella Detroit have all been part of the Parralox story. Meanwhile, the striking visual style and branding of the outfit is masterminded by Parralox founder John von Ahlen, giving Parralox one of the most distinctive looks of any electronic band.

Parralox are due to perform at the Silicon Dreams event this July, an electronic music festival which will pull together 6 different acts for a stunning showcase of electronic music talent.

John von Ahlen kindly set aside time from his punishing work schedule to field some questions from The Electricity Club…


Parralox have been one of the most prolific electronic music acts of recent years. Overseeing the sleeve design and videos for all the releases, remix projects, plus your stint as a radio host, how do manage to fit it all in?

Good question, I sometimes wonder the same myself! To be honest, this last year has been very challenging in terms of time management. I’ve decided to take a break from Neon Nights (my radio show) in the next grid, which means a break from August to December this year, and I’ll come back to the show in January 2018. The radio show is a large time commitment, due to the insane amount of work I put into it, such as the graphic design work that goes into the show. I approach it the same way I approach Parralox, insofar as that everything needs to be branded and planned to within an inch of its life haha!! So if you look at the web page for Neon Nights you’ll see that each show has a unique theme and cover art to go along with it.

So all of this happens in addition to my regular work in Subterrane Studio, which is focused on Parralox, but also with remixing and producing other artists. I kind of feel like I’m reaching the same point a decade ago, before I started Parralox, when I was operating Subterrane Recording Studio as my sole source of income. I was just working on so many other projects, that they took focus from what I really loved doing – my own electronic music!

To give you an example, the next single for Parralox is ‘Electric Nights’ feat Johanna, and it should have been released at the start of 2017. We have all the remixes ready, all the artwork is done. The only thing holding up the release is the film clip. We shot the film clip last year at the same time we did the photo shoot at Nik Pate’s studio, but I haven’t had the time to finish editing it. I spent the first three months of this year renovating a few of my investment properties, so that took a large chunk out of my production schedule. It’s going to take at least another month to finish the ‘Electric Nights’ film clip, and then Parralox will be back on track!

The real secret to how I work is this… when you love what you do, it’s never work! I pretty much work on Parralox 7 days a week. Even on the weekends (when I should be taking time off!!) I’ll be answering emails or updating the website and social media. But I’m not a robot, I do go on holidays sometimes!

How would you describe Parralox’s evolution of sound since your formation back in 2008?

I guess it’s a little like a tumbleweed that bounces across the countryside, and passes through many different towns along the way. We don’t stay with any one specific style for too long, but there is a common thread throughout all our music. The only way I know how to describe our sound is “electronic music”, “synthpop” or “electropop”. While we don’t have exactly the same sound as we did when we started in 2008, I guess maybe the sound has matured a little.

The first album Electricity was definitely a catharsis for me, a distillation of all my music ideas and inspirations. The latest album Subculture has a more stylised approach, in that I took a dual approach of Italodisco and then ’90s pop. I borrowed from The Human League and designated half the tracks as Red, and the other half as Blue. So you can see the first half of the album has a commercial ’90s sound and feel, while the second half is straight up Italodisco / Synthpop.

I never really think about what the “Parralox Sound” is. The reality is that our sound will always be driven by what is influencing me at that time. Meaning it’s a mix of my musical heroes from the ’80s and also the latest club sounds I’m hearing. That’s really the key to the Parralox sound, having one foot firmly stuck in the ’80s, while the other is always listening to the latest sounds and club tracks. I have zero interest in commercial pop music, and don’t listen to the radio or watch TV.

Is there one Parralox track over your impressive catalogue which you feel stands as the outfit’s signature song?

Well, I have my own opinions on what is the definitive song for Parralox, but I have to go by the feedback I receive from the public, most of which seem to think that ‘Sharper Than A Knife’ is our signature track. I guess that’s what really exposed us to a larger audience, thanks to the press we got from Perez Hilton (thanks Perez!!).

Parralox has led you to working with an impressive range of collaborators. Are there any singers or musicians that you’re keen to work with in the future?

OMG, don’t ask me those sorts of questions haha! I have a VERY long list of people I’d like to work with. I’ve already approached a few to record on the next Parralox album, and so pending time commitments (and a dash of luck) the next album is going to be mind-blowing.

What is Parralox’s typical live gear setup?

The entire sequence runs from my laptop, which runs Cubase and a shitload of VSTi’s. So what you hear on stage is exactly the same as what you’d hear if we were in the studio. Of course you need to take a few parts out to allow for some live playing. I try and mix it up and change the mix and create a new arrangement for the song, so people get to hear a new interpretation. But some songs I’m very careful to leave as close as possible to the original version, based on the feedback I get from our fans.

I usually have at least 2 or 3 synths on stage with me, plus or minus a drum machine. I always get Johanna (or whoever is performing with Parralox at the time) to play a few keyboard parts as well while I’m singing. I also spend a lot of time on the visuals and so the fans will always be treated to a lovely video projection at the same time. Parralox doesn’t have a massive live budget, so we do what we can to make the show look impressive for the audience.

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Do you think music festivals such as Silicon Dreams are an important component for the electronic music scene?

Absolutely. It’s an amazing showcase of the varying styles of electronic music that are out there. Most other genres all have their own festivals and legions of fans, and those events are generally run quite professionally and give great exposure to the acts involved. I think it’s really important for events such as these to be happening, because people need to have the opportunity to experience what real electronic music and synthpop is all about.

There’s plenty of manufactured and soulless music in the Top 40, and that’s fine for the masses. But events such as this really highlight how unique electronic music really is. Parralox has performed at many Electronic Music Festivals over the years, and every single one of them has been a real privilege to be part of, both as a performing band and then as an audience member when we get to see the other bands play!

It’s also important for the continuation of this genre of music. I’m so grateful that we have promoters out there who genuinely care for the music (and the bands) and selflessly work to further the exposure of electronic music.

What does the future hold for Parralox?

I can say that it’s a shame that I only have one lifetime, because there are so many things to do, and I know I’ll never get everything done! In the short term, we will be releasing ‘Electric Nights’ feat Johanna Gervin in the next month or so, and then the follow up single to that will be ‘Paradise’ feat Marcella Detroit! Then there will be a third single taken from Subculture, most likely at the end of the year or start of the next. As always we have our annual Holiday EP/Album coming up. The next one is Holiday ’17 and I’ve already recorded a few tracks for that.

I have a huge backlog of remixes I’m slowly working my way through. I’m also producing 2 local Australian artists, one of them is Peter Wilson, and the other is an emerging new talent – Venus Virgin Tomarz. I also dabble in a bit of video production work (apart from directing all the Parralox film clips) and have done promo videos for Julia Fordham and Basia Trzetrzelewska’s album reissues, and the new trailer for Damage Control’s album.

Then of course there’s the next Parralox album that I’ve already begun writing. We are also looking at releasing some sort of 10 year Box Set for Parralox, in conjunction with conzoom Records, Ingo and I have been floating ideas for exactly what to include in it. So yeah… there’s so much to do. I’m always bursting with ideas for Parralox, it’s a wonderful feeling.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to John von Ahlen.

Parralox are performing in the UK at the following events: Silicon Dreams on 8th July 2017 at Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room (tickets via http://silicondreams.org.uk/). Synthetic City London 9th September 2017 (Tickets via www.johnnynormal.net).

www.parralox.com
http://silicondreams.org.uk

https://parralox.bandcamp.com
https://soundcloud.com/parralox

https://www.facebook.com/parralox
https://twitter.com/parralox

http://www.conzoomrecords.com


An Interview With SAILOR & I

The brooding, glacial pop of Swedish artist Alexander Sjödin, aka Sailor & I, had originally captured the attention of the electronic music scene via the glacial pop perfection of tracks such as ‘Black Swan’ and ‘Chameleon’.

Sjödin describes Sailor & I’s signature sound as “orchestras, analog synths, drums and vocals”, which is a nice summing up of the content of his debut album The Invention Of Loneliness (which we reviewed earlier this year).

Now with the release of the latest single from the album, in the shape of the moody rhythms and smooth synth melodies of ‘Rivers’ (which has also been remixed by Paul Woolford) and new live dates on the way, Alexander Sjödin took time out to chat to The Electricity Club about his music.

This included some conversation about favourite albums, which for the Swedish musician includes Spirit Of Eden by Talk Talk, Blood On The Tracks by Bob Dylan and Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. Those choices of music perhaps illustrate what a broad canvas Sjödin draws from for his own compositions.

“I think it’s nice to have this diversity. A good album is always been well worked. Not like polished, but really engineered in an emotional way – and that’s tricky because sometimes you’re working with a gang of people who doesn’t see things the same way. So for me to record everything myself, most of the stuff is quite easy because I only have myself to like fight: ‘is this good? Is this talking to me?’”

On that basis, TEC delved into Sailor & I’s past, present and possible future…


Your childhood musical interests, which included the likes of Beastie Boys and Kiss, are quite diverse. Was there any particular band or artist that you feel had a direct bearing on the sound you’ve crafted as Sailor And I?

I had a lot of artists that were influencing me. Everything from Led Zeppelin to The Beatles. I listened a lot to The Beatles from when I was 10-years-old. I had periods where I only listened to music from the ’60s. I listened a lot to Jimi Hendrix. Especially guitarists because I started as a guitarist. I listened a lot to hard rock, like I was really into Iron Maiden, AC/DC. I had a few years when I would only listen to jazz music. I began listening quite intensely to Chet Baker because I love his melodies. He played such as simple way of bebop, almost minimalistic. His songs were so melodic. So I started to repeat his solos, but on guitar. That was a great way for me to understand how to keep things simple, melody-wise. Even if the chord changes – a bit crazy, like in jazz – you can always keep the melody going.

I remember when I began listening to Joni Mitchell, it was really like a big moment for me because Joni Mitchell, she had the melodies and she had her stories, like her divorce, the things she went through over 30 years. But especially the records from the ’70s are my favourite, Hejira, Court And Spark – she made a lot of great records. There were so focused on her vocals and melodies, but still the music was quiet complex. I think many people would find it quite hard to try and learn her songs because it’s quite complex. She’d detune the guitar in a certain way and made her own style. Even if you’re just listening in the background, it could sound like any singer/songwriter, but it’s so complex. So I’ve always been in love with the mix of this complexity of the musicality and the simpleness of telling a story with a melody.

It’s certainly a broad base of influences with very different sounds. So it’s less that you’re listening to these artists for the songs directly, more that you’re picking up how they arrange them and how they’re produced?

Yeah, but I think when I began composing my own music, I was very focused on melodies and lyrics and I never saw myself as a future producer. I’d heard so much, like: “You’re only a guitarist” or “you’re only the guy that writes the lyrics”. Because I came from a classical school context where everyone was the first instrument they learned in school! And then I just thought “OK, I’m not a producer, I’m a songwriter and I play guitar”.

Then back in 2006, I think, we began playing our songs together with friends. We formed a band, mostly to be able to try out our songs in a band context and we ended up just playing my songs and we didn’t have singers. I began to sing the songs and everyone was like “No, you can’t sing – we need to find a singer”. We never found a singer, so we just kept going with me singing and we never could find a producer who was willing to do it for the kind of budget we had It’s quite difficult when you’re starting out. Even if you have a few great songs, because we had quite good songs at the time, like ‘Turn Around’ and ‘Tough Love’ – they were all written a few years before that. ‘Turn Around’ was written 2002 and released 2014, exactly the same melody and lyrics. It was just a different kind of costume in terms of production.

So I began playing around with laptops and synths and tried to dress up the songs in a way that felt this is how I like the music to sound and, after a few years, it just felt like I’d found my own way of dressing songs. I just had to learn how to produce it.

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“I wanted to develop all the time and when people began to remix my songs I started to learn electronic music”

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Your sound has changed quite radically from the more orchestral arrangements on early tracks, such as ‘Tough Love’. Can you describe how the more recent sound of Sailor & I has changed over the years?

One reason was I kind of got tired of the orchestra sound. I wanted to develop all the time and when people began to remix my songs I started to learn electronic music. Because I was never interested in electronic music. All my friends were and I was always like, ‘No, it’s just boring beats, it’s the same thing every time. There’s no melodies, there’s no stories, it’s just for people who are high or drunk’. That’s because I never experienced good electronic music, in terms of the qualities I was looking for.

So when the remixes of my songs began to be played, I was getting bookings suddenly to techno festivals. So I showed up like the first time, it was actually in Istanbul, then I realised, like “Oh my God, I don’t know how to perform these songs in this context!”. There’s a DJ before me and after me and I’m going in here with strings and a completely different tempo than everything else. So I began playing around with how I could present my songs in a different way. And when I did it, I also began to be influenced by electronic music because I was surrounded by electronic music all the time when I played the show – or people I began to work with. Because quite early on I got the DJ guys who had released my music begin to ask me if could produce for them, record synths. At first I was like “Oh I can’t play synths” and I realised, of course I could play synths because I know theory and I’ve played all instruments all my life – and the DJ guys don’t even know what an instrument is! They don’t even know how the strings are working together! So then I got the confidence to say “OK, I can do this”. It’s just about… do what I really like. Listening to what I think is good. Just don’t care about what anyone else thinks. It’s not important.

A lot of your compositions bring in a wide range of sounds and also genres. ‘Flickering Lights’, for instance, was an attempt to bring together classical, house and electronica. Where does the songwriting process for you typically start?

A few years ago I was always starting out with a guitar and a melody and I wouldn’t want to start recording anything before the melody and lyrics were perfect in my mind. But then when I began playing around with synthesisers and beats and loops, things I created, then I found that the easy part for me was melodies and lyrics. So once I had an interesting vibe in a track I could just put that on and – Bang. So most of the time I do the vocals last. I focus on getting a nice vibe and then have the melodic structure and then I can just write and record the topline and then arrange it and then the song’s done.

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“Once I had an interesting vibe in a track I could just put that on and – Bang”

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So ‘Flickering Lights’ It’s basically just two parts, it’s two different chord changes. One that goes down and one that goes up. It took me very little time to produce the track because I had a piano I recorded and then I just added a few extra layers, like the arpeggios. Then I wanted to build it like crazy so I just had an old Prophet 1 synth, which I played around with the filters to make these strange sounds. So I just recorded it two times straight through and cut up the different parts that I liked and arranged it.

But some of the other songs, like ‘Black Swan’, I knew instantly that this is strong material, because I felt something when I recorded it. That topline took me maybe 5 minutes. Because I think Keith Richards said something like “All the songs are already written, you just have to pick them down, write them on paper” and I think that’s very true because the things we create… it’s something we already know, but we’re maybe haven’t been putting them into words before. But they’re already there in your mind somewhere.

So another question should be when do you decide a song is finished?

One way a song is finished as soon as you have a chord change and melody that creates a vibe, not matter how you produce it. Then it’s a song, people will recognise it. But the problem is, when is a production finished? And then it would be when it’s mastered, because then you can’t do so many changes. Because you don’t get the master on multitracks, you can’t cut into it. Then it’s more about arrangement. But I think a song is never finished, in some ways because a song can have many different lives, it can appear in different ways and that’s what I love about music, it’s never finished.

The tracks on The Invention Of Loneliness have this diversity of sound, so it makes for an interesting listening experience.

I was actually a bit nervous that the tracks were too different, like in the sounds I was using. Because I have never released or produced an album before. Once it was done and I listened through it as an album and not just as songs, it really made sense to me.

Much of your material can use what appears to be complex arrangements. Was it difficult to adapt this for live performances?

No, it’s very easy. Because most of the time when I play live I have like 8 tracks, I use Ableton, then I have 8 different tracks, like mixing tracks, where I make loops of different stems from the songs. Then I can live mix how the song would develop in terms of build up or build out or different parts of the songs that could come in and come out. It’s actually quite a good way to learn a song because once you’ve played around with it, that way you really know the strength, how you would feel it, in a certain way when you put certain things up in the mix. To make it euphoric, for example, I can just take these parts out and then put them in at once.

Your cover version of Joy Division’s ‘Disorder’ was quite radical. Why did you decide to cover that track in particular?

I had seen the documentary. That was when I really understood Joy Division, his songwriting and what he was going through. Before it was like, Joy Division was just a brand, like a brand for craziness, this dysfunctional person. Just like a brand, like Coca-Cola or something. But then I really understood Ian Curtis’ aura, at least I got a relation to it so I could connect to it – and then I really loved that song and melody and the lyrics. But I heard it differently because it was so up-tempo.

So I just began to sing it and play piano. It was so obvious, this is a beautiful melody. I hadn’t heard a cover that goes like that, so I just wanted to make it really icy and cold, like the Manchester winter – like in the film. So I thought it was a great song. It deserved to be recorded.

You titled your album The Invention Of Loneliness, what does that title say to you?

It’s complex to explain, because in one way it’s about me being like forced into making music to find myself and it’s quite a lonely process because I can only find the core of what I’m seeking by turning off everything around me. So that journey is quite lonely and it’s like every time I do it, I invent myself again to be able to find myself. Because it could be quite scary to be that open that I am exploring the deep emotional sides of my inner life. So I use music as a kind of meditation. I get into this mood where I turn everything else off and just run as far as I can every time.

I think you’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you often use your music as a form of escapism. Do you think that’s changed in you over the years?

Yeah. It has. Because at first I was very insecure. Like “Can I do this? Is this right? Is this wrong?” and it’s quite far from how I work when I’m not a musician, because I’ve always been open-minded. I was left by my biological mother when I was 6-months-old at an orphanage. I was adopted when I was 1-year-old and then, when I was 7, my adopted parents divorced. So my life has been constantly changing, my playground’s been changing all the time.
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“I use music as a kind of meditation. I get into this mood where I turn everything else off and just run as far as I can every time”

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So I’ve been really learning to be flexible in that way. But as a musician, when I was studying music, I kept the teachers away from me. I just took the pieces I liked from what I could learn, what they could teach me. Like different chords and understanding harmonies or stuff like that that I knew that I could use in a fun way. But then you get to a point where you need to take everything you’ve learned and mature. I guess that’s something that really helped me to feel secure.

And of course its still a process because making music is… you’re trying to solve a puzzle of many different things that comes to your mind, trying to understand what made you feel a certain way, where does this come from? Is this something that scares me? Then you need to turn toward yourself and be honest.

What’s next for Sailor & I?

I have a lot of things planned. I was actually going to release another album, but then I decided – together with the label – at the last minute that, let’s do this album first. Because I didn’t have an electronic album when we signed the contract with Skint. But then suddenly I have an electronic album. So I said “Can’t we just start putting out the electronic album? Because that’s where I am right now” and people would expect me to release ‘Tough Love’ and ‘Turnaround’ and those songs and I would rather not release them on the debut album because I’d already released them. It’s not where I am right now. And I had made the other album, almost 60% ready, so it was just a matter of completing, choosing the tracks because I have a lot of songs ready to be released. It’s like my obstacle is more about choosing what to release [and] when. To make my mind up, where I am at right now musically.

So right now I feel the next album would be a mix of this electronic thing I have with more acoustic drums and guitar. Less club-orientated, but still very electronic. It would work in a club, but not as much as this album. Then I would like to make the album I already started as the third album. Then the 4th album would be more… less elements, just a few instruments.

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So you’re really planning quite far ahead then.

Yeah, I hope to have 4 albums released within 3 years. But it depends. It needs to make sense to release an album. You don’t put it out just to be the guy putting out the most albums in the shortest time. I’ve been waiting so long for releasing albums, so I think it’s more about letting the people who are now beginning to explore me as an artist, to also let them be part of the journey. I don’t want to put out 4 albums otherwise. But the plan is to release the next album, maybe this fall or next year. But there will be an album out very soon.

What are your thoughts on the current electronic music scene and are there any contemporary bands or artists that you like?

I really like James Blake, especially as a live performer. I think he’s really great. I like the more experimental guys like Jon Hopkins and Max Richter and things like that.

But there is a lot of great music, a lot of guys who make interesting music. It’s funny because in the electronic scene, I find they’re not so mature as musicians, so sometimes they do really great things, but they didn’t really understand what they were doing. It’s quite hard for those guys to develop because they’re so focused on playing, so they don’t really have the time to develop as producers. So for me I would like to keep focusing on making music and take that into performing, not the opposite. And that’s tricky nowadays because you make money on performing, that’s like the main way to pay your bills – and that’s something you need to do every month! [laughs]

I might be naive but I think if you do something that’s different enough from what other people do, even if it’s not the trend at the moment, you make music, you tell a story and it connects with people, there’ll always be a market for that. And now we have the world as a market. It’s enough to be smaller, but you need to travel more of course to make everyone satisfied because eventually people want to hear you play.


The Electricity Club extends its thanks to Alexander Sjödin.

‘Rivers’ is available now to download/stream.

The album The Invention Of Loneliness is out now on Skint.

Sailor & I performs at The Great Escape 19th May (Tickets: http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/feature/thegreatescape/) and Leeds Town Hall 28th May (Tickets: http://www.seetickets.com/event/world-island/leeds-town-hall/1079165?src=c72e31dec18b0af2329b992ede88583c).

http://sailorandi.se/
facebook.com/sailorandi
twitter.com/sailorandi
https://soundcloud.com/sailorandi


An Interview With MATT BROCK of DICEPEOPLE

Delving into the darkwave secrets of one of London’s electropop delights…

The release of their Synthetic EP caught our ears recently, but DICEPEOPLE have been putting out their own brand of dark electronic pop since 2013. Consisting of Matt Brock (musician, songwriter and producer), Atashi Tada (vocalist) and Rafael Filomeno (visual artist), the outfit have also dazzled audiences with their compelling live performances.

Dicepeople have a special gig in London coming up this month when they perform at Electrowerkz alongside Das Fluff and Healthy Junkies. Matt Brock kindly took time out to chat to The Electricity Club about the inspirations behind Dicepeople’s concept and also about their particular approach to live performances…


There’s a cinematic quality to much of your music and you cite the likes of David Lynch and David Cronenberg as influences. Are there any films in particular which sum up the ethos of Dicepeople for you?

I’m often told that Dicepeople music feels like the soundtrack to something, and indeed I aim to create an intense filmic atmosphere in our songs. Rafael (our visual artist) and I are heavily influenced by cinema for our sounds, visuals and concepts. Lynch’s Lost Highway is a fantastic example of a film fusing strong imagery with sound and music to create an extremely immersive experience. Cronenberg’s Videodrome is another huge influence for us with its exploration of very dark themes involving control, voyeurism and the nature of reality as shown via layers of screens (a recurring theme in Dicepeople).

How important are the visual aspects of your shows?

Visual projections tend to be an “add on” for many bands, and often that works well and there’s nothing wrong with that, but for Dicepeople the visual aspects are a core part of what we do. We rarely do a performance without the visuals, and for our live shows just as much planning goes into the visuals as the music. We aim to bring together a true audiovisual show featuring synchronised music and images, with us as mysterious characters onstage summoning up the immersive music and images through the smoke and darkness. We also like to dress onstage in various interesting ways to further enhance the experience and put on the best show we can for the audience.

Are there significant technical challenges in prepping for performances?

Incorporating the visual aspects definitely makes things a lot more complex, as we need to figure out what kind of imagery to fit with the music and how best to sync the two together. In addition to the regular rehearsals which most bands require, we also need a significant amount of time to work through the technical aspects and test that it all works together as intended. It adds many variables to the live environment, which are also highly dependent on the location since each venue is different, so getting everything set up for our live performances can be quite challenging. Many venues provide screens and projectors we can use, but quite a few don’t, so in those situations we need to factor in setting up our own screens and projector. It’s good to have these challenges, and we always learn something new each time.

What sort of gear setup does the band employ for live shows?

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For a while on the musical side I broke down each song into individual clips onto twelve tracks in Ableton, then I used Launchpad controllers to basically control the entire arrangement in real time, which allowed us to restructure each song on the fly. It was a very interesting way of doing things, but I ended up missing the performance side so now I use a controller keyboard to play musical parts and trigger samples.

Before a gig I spend quite a bit of time creating the backing tracks specially, which are often quite different to the original versions of the songs. These backing tracks are triggered in Ableton along with MIDI sequences and the live keyboard parts, which in turn I can process in different ways using my controller keyboard. Rafael uses Resolume with a MIDI controller on the video side, with his laptop connected to the projector. We generally set up an ethernet network onstage so we can transmit MIDI data back and forth to synchronise audio and video parts.

I also program the sequences for our stage lights in Ableton which are converted into DMX data using various plugins and sent over ethernet to the DMX controller to trigger the lights as needed. When Atashi Tada is performing vocals with us, she uses her own microphone and multi-effects box, so her side of things is relatively straightforward.

What are your immediate plans for the future of Dicepeople?

We’re trying out a new visual concept at our Electrowerkz show on the 22nd. I won’t give away what it is, but we’ve been posting some clues on our Facebook page! We’re working hard on that now and I hope it’ll be a really interesting performance which the audience will love. We’ll be looking to incorporate some of these ideas into future performances.

There are discussions in the works for future shows involving some other really great artists, and we’re working on a new album which will hopefully be out later this year. We’ve also recorded a cover of a Depeche Mode track for an upcoming compilation of Mute Records cover versions. It’s been a very busy year so far with the release of the Synthetic EP and video, plus various London gigs, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of things slowing down!



Dicepeople will be performing live at Electrowerkz on Saturday 22nd April alongside Das Fluff and Healthy Junkies.

Tickets available via http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/272919

http://dicepeople.com

https://dicepeople.bandcamp.com/track/synthetic

http://www.facebook.com/dicepeople

http://twitter.com/dicepeople