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.