2017 – The Year In Review

2017 has been an eventful year in the world of electronic music, particularly here in the UK which saw some of the classic acts back in action. But it also saw the emergence of some talented contemporary electronic acts as well. Here’s TEC’s review of the year along with our contributor’s lists of songs and albums that they rated in 2017…


2017 started off in a strange place for The Electricity Club as it found itself in a position to discard the accumulated baggage of many years and give the site a ‘soft reboot’. With an agenda that was focussed purely on music, it was a foundation that provided a sturdy structure for the months ahead.

January saw Austra make a triumphant return with their third studio album Future Politics. Along with lead single ‘Utopia’, the album was a reflection of our times as we entered into a turbulent period in global politics. TEC’s review summed up the album as “…a more intimate and personal approach than previous outings”.

TEC favourites Lola Dutronic also made a welcome return, first with a sequel to their classic ‘Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead’ (now updated to reflect some of the losses music suffered in 2016 such as Lemmy, David Bowie and Prince). We interviewed Lola Dutronic to get some gain some insight into how the globally distant pair produce their music. The duo also managed to bookend the year with a further release when they released the wonderful ‘My Name Is Lola’.

Vitalic came back with the stunning Voyager album. Pascal Arbez’s crunchy flavour of muscular beats and hook-laden melodies was present and correct on his new outing. Tracks such as ‘Waiting For The Stars’ suggested an unabashed nod to Arbez’s favourite ’70s and ’80s songs with a Moroder-esque beat driving this squelchy and engaging electropop wonder. Meanwhile, ‘Sweet Cigarette’ offered up a homage to The Normal’s ‘Warm Leatherette’.

TEC’s Lost Album series delivered some eclectic choices from the vaults for consideration. This included U96’s Replugged, Kon Kan’s Syntonic and Gary Numan’s 1994 album Sacrifice, a release which Barry Page suggested held the keys to the future: “Whilst the album often suffers from its use of some rather unimaginative and repetitive drum loops, the album put Numan firmly back on track.”

Sweden’s Sailor And I, meanwhile, offered up brooding, glacial pop on debut album The Invention Of Loneliness. TEC also spoke to musician Alexander Sjödin, the brains behind the outfit, who summed up his methods thus: “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”.

In March, Goldfrapp returned to the fold with new album Silver Eye. While it was a serviceable outing of the glam synth workings that the duo had traded on previously, it was also bereft of many surprises or challenges. A return to Felt Mountain glories seems overdue.

Throughout the year, we were won over by a whole host of emerging electronic acts that caught our attention. This included the “ruptured melodies” of Jupiter-C (a duo championed by the likes of Clint Mansell). The “multi-utility music” of Liverpool’s Lo Five drew our focus to the wonders of the Patterned Air label. Elsewhere, the electro-acoustic sounds of Autorotation provided their own charm while the crunchy qualities of Cotton Wolf also suggested an act worth keeping an eye on.

With the 8th March traditionally being International Women’s Day, we thought it was time to add a twist to it by suggesting an International Women In Electronic Music Day. While the commentary of the likes of Lauren Mayberry (Chvrches) and Claire Boucher (Grimes) had blazed the trail for a level playing field for women, it was still depressing to see tone-deaf blog articles that were essentially ‘Birds With Synths’ being offered up as support.

One of our choices for that esteemed list, Hannah Peel, managed to deliver two albums of note in 2017. The personal journey of Awake But Always Dreaming (inspired by her family’s encounter with dementia) and also the magical world of Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia – an album which our review summed up as “a testament to Hannah Peel’s seemingly endless abilities to craft new and intriguing ideas out of the ether. It’s a cosmic journey that delivers.”

Hopes were high that Basildon’s finest could deliver a solid return to form with their 14th studio album Spirit. But the album divided critics and fans alike on a release which TEC’s review summed up succinctly: “…as impressive as it is lyrically, it’s an often challenging and unsettling listen that doesn’t quite meet up to its billing as “the most energized Depeche Mode album in years.””

Despite the controversy, Depeche Mode still managed to put on their biggest ever UK show, with over 80,000 attendees at London Stadium in June this year.

Elsewhere, another of the old guard was also facing a productive year. Marc Almond released new compilation album Hits And Pieces, which spanned his extensive career from Soft Cell through to his more recent solo work. Although not as comprehensive as 2016’s Trials Of Eyeliner, TEC’s review suggested “…the new compilation offers a more concise selection of music that still manages to cover Almond’s extensive musical career in fine style”.

April saw TEC looking at the dark wave delights of Dicepeople, whose ‘Synthetic’ offered up “brooding gothic synth melodies against a burbling electronic background”. But their cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Strangelove’ showed the outfit could also deliver muscular electropop that still retained their own unique style. Speaking to Dicepeople’s Matt Brock in an exclusive interview, TEC discovered the band’s strong cinematic touchstone. “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).”

Marnie released her follow-up to 2013’s Crystal World in the form of Strange Words And Weird Wars. The album demonstrated the Ladytron member’s knack for tunes, which our review summed up as “…a solid album of contemporary electropop that listeners will find intelligent, engaging and yet also fun. Strange Words And Weird Wars is a continuing demonstration on why Marnie is one of electronic music’s most precious assets”.

The emerging generation of electronic artists kept producing new acts of interest throughout 2017. Pixx (who cropped up on our radar after supporting Austra) released The Age Of Anxiety, which our review described as “an album that offers up a combination of smart pop tunes married with thoughtful lyrics”. Hannah Rodgers, the talent behind Pixx, also addressed the surge of nostalgia and retro acts with a philosophical quote: “There are a lot of people who are just trying to recreate things that have already been done, because they’re almost scared of the way modern music sounds, but we do have technology now that allows us to make quite insane-sounding music. And… we are in 2017”.

Kelly Lee Owens was another emerging artist who released her eponymous debut this year. The TEC review summed it up: “At heart an electronic album, the tracks contained within dart between ambient soundscapes and beat-driven compositions”.

AIVIS, a new act that had come to TEC’s attention via The Pansentient League’s Jer White, delivered their debut album Constellate. As with acts such as Lola Dutronic, AIVIS consists of a duo located in separate countries – in this case Aidan from Scotland and Travis based in Ohio. Their use of harmonies and warm synths led us to conclude that “Constellate is a smooth collection of subtle electropop”.

Irish outfit Tiny Magnetic Pets had a good year in which they released a new album and went on to support OMD. The 3-piece unit had made their UK and European live debut back in 2015 championed by Johnny Normal. Now in 2017 they brought new release Deluxe/Debris to bear. TEC’s review gave the album an honest appraisal: “They’ve got the chops to push the envelope, but there are times on this album where, arguably, the band appear happier playing from a safe position. When they introduce their more experimental side, or opt for a more dynamic approach, Tiny Magnetic Pets shine brightest”.

Voi Vang’s powerful voice and dancepop sensibilities made her one of the star turns of 2017. Meanwhile, Twist Helix woke us up with their “dramatic tunes and big, euphoric vocal melodies”. Our Teclist reviews also had good things to say about Elektrisk Gønner, OSHH and Russian outfit Oddity.

Elsewhere, the classic synthpop acts still had a strong showing this year. Erasure released the downbeat World Be Gone, a more reflective album that was heavily influenced by the troubling political climate (a persistent theme for many other releases this year). OMD returned with the follow-up to 2013’s English Electric with The Punishment Of Luxury. The album wore its Kraftwerk influences on its sleeve for a lot of the tracks, while the title number offered a commentary on commercial culture.

German pioneers Kraftwerk brought their 3D experience back to the UK and TEC’s Rob Rumbell offered his thoughts on their Nottingham concert: “…sensory overload… which left you awe-inspired and breathless”.

Blancmange presented a superb compilation of their first three albums titled The Blanc Tapes which we summed up as “the perfect archive for Blancmange’s often-overlooked musical legacy.” Neil Arthur also delivered new studio album Unfurnished Rooms, which prompted an honest critique from TEC’s Imogen Bebb: “whilst as an album it isn’t always easy to listen to, it makes for a welcome new chapter in Blancmange’s ongoing story”.

Howard Jones also went down the compilation route with the comprehensive Best 1983-2017 which the TEC review suggested: “this 3-CD set will have a special appeal not only to loyal Howard Jones fans, but also perhaps a new audience keen to experience the appeal of this pioneering electronic musician”.

While there were bright moments in the year, the music scene also saw tragedy in 2017 with the loss of Can’s Holger Czukay, trance DJ Robert Miles and Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi.

Barry Page provided some long-form features which took the focus to Norway’s a-ha, particularly the side projects that the likes of Morten Harket and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy have embarked on.

Speaking of a-ha, although the idea of an acoustic album by an electronic act seemed absurd, it was a concept that the Norwegian outfit embraced for Summer Solstice. The breath-taking arrangements for classics such as ‘Take On Me’ and ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ proved that a-ha still had the chops to surprise people.

Meanwhile, Midge Ure’s own orchestral-inspired approach for Ultravox and his solo numbers resulted in the release of Orchestrated later in the year. TEC’s Jus Forrest summed things up: “As an album, Orchestrated is diverse enough to pique interest. It’s contemporary enough to be relevant, and there’s enough classic tracks to reach out to fans”.

The soulful tones of Fifi Rong returned, this time with a bolder electronic sound on ‘The Same Road’. TEC’s review concluded that the new song “…demonstrates that Fifi Rong is capable of adding plenty more colours to her musical palette”.

Kasson Crooker, formerly of Freezepop, also provided some gems throughout 2017. There was the Gishiki album released under his Symbion Project banner – a release that we summed up as “one of the standout electronica releases of the year.” Meanwhile, he launched new outing ELYXR which was designed to be a collaborative project introducing different singers for each subsequent release. This included the warmth of ‘Engine’ as well as the punchier (and lyrically timely!) ‘Godspeed’.

2017 also delivered a diverse selection of electronic music events that showcased a multi-line-up of diverse acts. May saw Synth Club Presents, which included the ever-excellent Vile Electrodes as well as the sultry delights of The Frixion and the energetic pop of Knight$.

Culled from their 2016 album Ath.Lon, in June Greek duo Marsheaux unveiled a new video for ‘Now You Are Mine’.

Meanwhile, July delivered one of the bigger events of the year with Liverpool’s Silicon Dreams. Combining established artists with newer acts, this year’s event pulled together an all-star schedule featuring Parralox, Avec Sans, Future Perfect, Berlyn Trilogy, Caroline McLavy and Voi Vang. As TEC’s review stated: “The 2017 incarnation of Silicon Dreams serves not only as an evening of entertainment, but also as an example of the importance of grassroots electronic music events. By showcasing both up-and-coming talents alongside more established acts, it’s an event which demonstrates a legacy in action”.

August presented the Electro Punk Party which offered up some of the more alternative acts on the scene. This included Dicepeople, Microchip Junky, Hot Gothic, the dark surf guitar of Pink Diamond Revue and the anarchistic LegPuppy. In fact, LegPuppy demonstrated an impressive schedule of live performances throughout the year as well as releasing songs such as the wry observations of ‘Selfie Stick’ and dance-orientated ‘Running Through A Field Of Wheat’.

The regular Synthetic City event returned, this time at Water Rats in King’s Cross. The evening brought with it some superb performances from the likes of Hot Pink Abuse, Eden, The Lunchbox Surrender, Train To Spain and Parralox (marking their second UK live show this year). The weird and wonderful Mr Vast topped things off and the whole affair was superbly organised by Johnny Normal.

Susanne Sundfør, who released the superb Ten Love Songs album back in 2015, brought a much more challenging release in the form of Music For People In Trouble. The album weaved in acoustic touches, spoken word segments and often unsettling soundscapes. But the epic ‘Mountaineers’, featuring the distinctive voice of John Grant, had an almost physical presence with its hypnotic tones.

The mighty Sparks returned with new album Hippopotamus and delivered a superb live performance in London back in October. The same month, the 22rpm electronic music festival took place. Showcased by record label Bit Phalanx, the event featured the likes of Scanner, Derek Piotr, Digitonal, Coppe and a truly stunning performance from Valgeir Sigurðsson.

The Sound Of Arrows brought out their newest album since 2011’s Voyage. Stay Free offered a much more grounded approach to electropop than the dreamy moods of their previous release, but still managed to deliver some cinematic pop moments. Their pop-up shop to promote the album was also a nice touch!

PledgeMusic has proved to be a vital lifeline for many artists in recent years. It’s a funding option which delivered for everyone from Ultravox to OMD. Gary Numan used the platform to fund his 21st studio album Savage (Songs From A Broken World) which provoked critical praise and which Jus Forrest suggested delivered “a flawless production of intrigue; a soundtrack that brings together the atmospheric, the lonely, the eerie and, in places, the added drama of colourful crescendo”.

Empathy Test, an electronic duo from London, also chose the PledgeMusic route and achieved such success that they decided to release not just one, but two albums together. The stunning Losing Touch and Safe From Harm revealed a band that could combine mood and melancholy in an impressive collection of songs. TEC’s conclusion that compositions such as ‘Bare My Soul’ demonstrated a band capable of delivery that was both “mythical and melodious”, also showed the heights that contemporary electropop can ascend to.

As the year drew to its conclusion, there were still some gems to pop up on the radar. Canadian sleazy synth specialist TR/ST teased us with ‘Destroyer’, a nocturnal affair that (along with the year’s earlier release ‘Bicep’) paved the way for a new album due in 2018.

Scanner, who had delivered a stunning performance at the 22rpm event, also unleashed The Great Crater, an album of mood and often brooding unease. Our review’s final conclusion was that “The end result is less listening to a body of work and more being immersed into a physical experience”.

Curxes brought us the hypnotic delights of ‘In Your Neighbourhood’, which paved the way for new album Gilded Cage.

As the winter months drew to a close, we took a look at Parralox’s latest release ‘Electric Nights’, which proved to be a euphoric floor-stomper. Meanwhile, Norway served up Take All The Land, the debut solo album by Simen Lyngroth which TEC’s review summed up as a “beautifully well-crafted and intimate album”.

Perhaps one theme that 2017 demonstrated time and time again is that electronic music continues to evolve and thrive, particularly at the grassroots level where emerging acts are less focused on being a pastiche of the bands of 40 years ago. Instead, there’s a fresh and dynamic scene which has seen a genre looking to the future rather than the past.

This doesn’t scribble over the achievements of decades of previous electronic acts. That history and legacy continues to exist, but perhaps the idea that acts don’t need to be beholden to the classic acts is a concept that younger artists are more willing to entertain.


CONTRIBUTOR’S LISTS

IMOGEN BEBB

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

OMD – The Punishment of Luxury
Gary Numan – My Name Is Ruin
Sparks – What The Hell Is It This Time?
Alphaville – Heartbreak City
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Never Alone

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

OMD – The Punishment of Luxury
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Deluxe/Debris
Blancmange – Unfurnished Rooms
Superdivorce – Action Figures
Brian Eno – Reflection

Favourite Event of 2017

OMD at Liverpool Empire in October.

Most Promising New Act

Superdivorce


JUS FORREST

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

Among the Echoes – Breathe
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Control Me
John Foxx and the Maths – Orphan Waltz
Gary Numan – My Name is Ruin
Gary Numan – Bed of Thorns

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

Jori Hulkkonen – Don’t Believe in Happiness
Gary Numan – Savage (Songs from a Broken World)
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Deluxe/Debris
Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia
Richard Barbieri – Planets + Persona

Most Promising New Act

Spaceprodigi


BARRY PAGE

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

OMD – Ghost Star
Waaktaar and Zoe – Mammoth
Depeche Mode – Cover Me
Simen Lyngroth – The Waves
Alexis Georgopoulos and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – The Marble Sky

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

Waaktaar and Zoe – World Of Trouble
Simen Lyngroth – Take All The Land
a-ha – MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice
Empathy Test – Losing Touch
Sparks – Hippopotamus

Favourite Event of 2017

Depeche Mode at London Stadium, June 2017

Most Promising New Act

Simen Lyngroth

Best reissue

China Crisis – Working With Fire and Steel


JER WHITE

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

Tiny Magnetic Pets – Semaphore
2raumwohnung – Lucky Lobster (Night Version)
Sylvan Esso – Die Young
Pixx – I Bow Down
Vitalic (ft. David Shaw and The Beat) – Waiting for the Stars

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

2raumwohnung – Nacht und Tag
The Moonlandingz – Interplanetary Class Classics
AIVIS – Constellate
Jupe Jupe – Lonely Creatures
Vitalic – Voyager

Favourite Event of 2017

Kraftwerk in 3D at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh.

Most Promising New Act

AIVIS


PAUL BROWNE

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

Susanne Sundfør – Mountaineers
Empathy Test – Bare My Soul
Austra – Utopia
TR/ST – Bicep
Curxes – In Your Neighbourhood

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

Empathy Test – Safe From Harm/Losing Touch
Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia
Austra – Future Politics
Susanne Sundfør – Music For People In Trouble
Sailor & I – The Invention Of Loneliness

Favourite Event of 2017

Synthetic City 2017

Most Promising New Act

Empathy Test


2017 – Albums Of The Year

This year saw a wealth of electronic music talent competing for the attention of the public. There was a good balance between classic acts that were still capable of crafting solid tunes – and also contemporary acts often taking electronic music in unusual and interesting directions.

Here are 15 albums that are not presented in any particular order (aside from our top choice), but as a whole were the standout long-players for The Electricity Club in 2017.


Album(s) Of The Year

EMPATHY TEST – Losing Touch/Safe From Harm

The blossoming of grassroots electronic acts in recent years has brought a lot of bright talent to the fore. London-based duo Empathy Test have attracted critical appraisal and also managed to smash their PledgeMusic goals to fund their debut albums.

The choice to release two albums rather than one was a topic that Empathy Test’s Isaac Howlett addressed in an interview with TEC earlier this year: “We… 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”.

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

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

TEC Review: Losing Touch/Safe From Harm


GARY NUMAN – Savage (Songs From A Broken World)

Without covering historic pastures, it’s fair to say that those who are familiar with Numan’s work in recent years will connect upon first listen. Savage is unmistakably modern-day Numan. Not only that, unsurprisingly, it has Ade Fenton DNA stamped all over it.

It’s a carefully calibrated mix; a formula that’s based on the sure-fire template previously witnessed on the highly acclaimed Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind), delivering a flawless production of intrigue; a soundtrack that brings together the atmospheric, the lonely, the eerie and, in places, the added drama of colourful crescendo. In summary, a sub-genre that’s more than suitable.

TEC Review: Savage (Songs From A Broken World)


HANNAH PEEL – Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia

Out of all the electronic music releases in 2017, Hannah Peel’s latest opus has to rank as one of the more intriguing albums to reach the ears of music enthusiasts.

Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia is a concept album of sorts that revolves around Peel’s alter ego of ‘Mary Casio’. Drawing from her influences of electronic pioneers Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, Peel’s back story for Mary Casio is as an elderly stargazing electronic musician. Her lifelong dream is to leave her mining town home of Barnsley in South Yorkshire and journey into space.

The album presents an aural journey of delights, its unusual approach to combining synths and brass managing to present something both accessible and unique. It’s also a testament to Hannah Peel’s seemingly endless abilities to craft new and intriguing ideas out of the ether. It’s a cosmic journey that delivers.

TEC Review: Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia


DEPECHE MODE – Spirit

For the majority of fans and critics choosing not to view Depeche Mode’s latest product through a Vince Clarke/Alan Wilder kaleidoscope, 14th studio album Spirit represented something of a return to form for the veteran synth-rockers. Whilst we weren’t as enthused about Spirit in our original review, there was still plenty to admire about one of the band’s most defining albums of recent years.

First single ‘Where’s The Revolution’ set out the band’s stall, exhibiting some more aggressive – and politically charged – wordplay. Despite its production flaws – ironed out during the Global Spirit shows in the summer – this was a serviceable enough slab of electro-blues. The more ambient ‘The Worst Crime’, meanwhile, spoke of “misinformation” and “misguided leaders” in a less cluttered arrangement. But perhaps the album’s definitive ‘call-to-arms’ statement was represented via the discordant and angry ‘Scum’, featuring some particularly vitriolic swipes from Gore.

Impressive album opener ‘Going Backwards’ had already provided a portent of what was to come, with main songwriter Martin Gore delivering some pretty harrowing lyrical concepts throughout. Gore himself sang the lead on ‘Eternal’, an ephemeral ballad in which the protagonist declares his eternal love in the midst of an apocalyptic horror. Elsewhere, Gahan consolidated his reputation as a more-than-capable songwriter with the Bowie-influenced ‘Cover Me’, while serviceable synth-pop arrived courtesy of ‘No More (This Is The Last Time)’ and ‘So Much Love’.

But, despite its high points, the album suffered from poor production and, disappointingly, featured tracks bordering on filler (see ‘Poison Heart’ and ‘Poorman’).

TEC Review: Spirit


AUSTRA – Future Politics

Many of the releases of 2017 seemed to reflect a troubling period in contemporary culture, particularly with politics providing a turbulent backdrop. Austra were one of those outfits and the release of their album Future Politics offered up some thoughtful insight into troubled times.

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

TEC Review: Future Politics


THE SOUND OF ARROWS – Stay Free

When The Sound Of Arrows appeared to disappear following the release of their 2011 debut album Voyage, it seemed like one of the brighter hopes for electronic music may have gone forever. Stefan Storm and Oskar Gullstrand had brought an optimistic element to their widescreen pop that immediately stood them apart from their contemporaries.

Stay Free is a very different affair to Voyage with a much more grounded sound than the magicpop of old – an evolution in The Sound Of Arrows sound that was hinted at in the earlier Kids Of The Apocalypse output. As Storm suggests: “It’s less conceptual than Voyage and a little more about having two feet on the ground, maybe gazing up at the sky rather than floating up into space this time.”

There’s always been a desire for the outfit to develop and grow rather than repeat themselves and Stay Free offers a solid collection of songs that stands proud against a busy modern music scene.

TEC Review: Stay Free


SUSANNE SUNDFØR – Music For People In Trouble

While the success of her 2015 album Ten Love Songs managed to raise the profile of Norwegian musician Susanne Sundfør, new album Music For People In Trouble took Sundfør back to her singer-songwriter roots. Although the album boasts some fine electronic flourishes, there’s also more nods to jazz and traditional instrumentation.

But the album switches gear for compositions such as ‘The Sound Of War’. Here, it’s the sound of birdsong and rivers that open up a multi-part composition while Sundfør delivers some often grim words (“Leave all that you were/‘Cause you won’t need it where you’re going tonight”). There’s a more mournful quality to ‘No One Believes In Love Anymore’ as the title certainly implies with its thoughts cast on the topic of doomed romance.

‘The Golden Age’ features stunning immersive synth arpeggios and Sundfør’s mesmerising voice (“I wake from a dream/to be in another dream”). But the album’s crowning achievement is clearly the epic ‘Mountaineers’ which starts with the basso profundo voice of John Grant. Here, Grant’s sonorous delivery echoes from the depths. When Sundfør comes in, the song suggests a coming to the light from a great darkness, a sudden revelation and builds to a choral symphony that takes the breath away.

TEC Review: Music For People In Trouble


MARNIE Strange Words And Weird Wars

The release of the Crystal World album in 2013 demonstrated that Helen Marnie continued to display a talent for good electronic music, even while Ladytron were on an extended hiatus. Strange Words And Weird Wars features material penned over a 2-year period and showed a marked direction for the pop end of the scale.

The pulsing beats of ‘Alphabet Block’ was a good example – a track that Marnie herself described as “shoe-gaze electropop”. Similarly, ‘Bloom’ invites the listener to throw shapes on the dancefloor. “I’m in trouble again/in a no man’s land we’ll bloom” suggests Marnie on a track that boasts strong vocal melodies. Meanwhile, ‘G.I.R.L.S.’ with its cheerleading chants offers up one of the strongest tracks on the album. Equally, ‘Electric Youth’ invites the listener to reflect on nights of teenage abandon on a track that has a bright, airy quality to it.

The album ends on a high note with the rhythmic wonder that’s ‘Heartbreak Kid’, its bass-heavy arpeggios setting the scene for the emotional punch in the vocal delivery. But it’s the melodic flourishes and arrangement that gives this track the polished pop that’s such a central theme to the album as a whole.

TEC Review: Strange Words And Weird Wars


SAILOR & I – The Invention Of Loneliness

Swedish electronic musician Alexander Sjödin caught everyone’s attention in 2017 under the moniker Sailor & I. Debut album The Invention Of Loneliness bounced between icy pop and beats-driven electronica…

‘Chameleon’ has a subtle power to it that can take a few spins to appreciate. There’s a dark piano melody over which Sjödin’s yearning vocal offers hints of change or transformation. Meanwhile, a gradually-building slab of stark electronics gives the track a dark pop appeal. ‘Fire On the Moon’ utilises a lot of elements to arrive at the big, cinematic sound of the final composition. There’s a warmer feel on ‘Supervisions’ with its use of tribal chants and driving bassy synths.

The Invention Of Loneliness is an album that adopts a range of styles that include both the glacial pop of the likes of ‘Chameleon’, as well as more instrumental compositions such as ‘Supervisions’. There’s also a competent sense of production on this release that gives the material a vital humanity next to the icy thematic tunes.

TEC Review: The Invention Of Loneliness


VITALIC – Voyager

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

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

But Voyager also features an appreciation for classic synthpop too. Written as a tribute to ‘Warm Leatherette’ by The Normal, ‘Sweet Cigarette’ features similarly deadpan lyrics against machine-like rhythms. There’s also a wealth of hooks and melodies all over ‘Use It Or Lose It’. Elsewhere, ‘Nozomi’ takes its inspiration from the Japanese shinkansen trains. As a result, there’s a constant sense of movement at play driven by the relentless rhythms and the oddly off-kilter synths.

Those that are fans of contemporary electropop will not be disappointed by the contents of Voyager – it’s also a demonstration that decent electronic music can cross many boundaries.

TEC Review: Voyager


PIXX – The Age Of Anxiety

The themes on The Age Of Anxiety, not surprisingly, touch on elements of anxiety – a condition that Hannah Rodgers (aka Pixx) endured from a young age. In particular, she suffered from insomnia caused by persistent nightmares. Songs such as the bassy ‘A Big Cloud To Float Upon’ refer back to her being in primary school age 9 and watching the clock slowly count down. Every ‘tick’ represented one step closer to the dreaded time when she’d have to go to sleep.

Meanwhile, ‘Waterslides’ (which is one of the album’s finest moments) was inspired by an odd nightmare of being trapped in a waterpark surrounded by faceless figures. The song itself is structured around plucked melodies steering the listener to the engaging chorus: “Don’t follow me into my dreams you don’t belong here”. But the album boasts many gems, including the seductive charms of ‘Your Delight’ – an immersive dreampop world which entices the listener to be drawn in by its mesmerising melodies.

The Age Of Anxiety is an album that offers up a combination of smart pop tunes married with thoughtful lyrics, which at the same time presents an evolution of electronic music that suggests there’s still horizons to reach for.

TEC Review: The Age Of Anxiety


A-HA – MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice

It was something of a surprise when a-ha announced plans to release a live acoustic album, having resisted such offers for a number of years. The band had of course performed many of their songs in more pared-down versions during their career, but never on this scale. Further credence was added to the project with its subsequent MTV branding and, in the spirit of the original format, several guest artists were introduced during the shows (notably Ian McCulloch and Alison Moyet). Several locations were touted, but the band settled for Giske, a remote Norwegian island.

The subsequent MTV Unplugged – Summer Solstice album was released in an array of visual and audio formats. The double CD version was a fine document of the two-day event, featuring stripped down versions of classic hits, alongside deep cuts and rarely-played songs. The band also performed two new songs (‘This Is Our Home’ and ‘Break In The Clouds’).

The band was also able to tap into its progressive rock past with a stunning version of ‘Sox Of The Fox’. Aka ‘The Vacant’, the song had originally appeared on the rare album Fakkeltog by Bridges, a Doors-inspired band that included Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen.

Arguably the biggest surprise of the show was the version of ‘Take On Me’, presented in a fresh, ballad-like arrangement. It created a huge online reaction, and the band eventually released a studio version of the track in December.

Whilst some of the arrangements are a little leaden and plodding, it’s a largely crowd-pleasing set, and a fine addition to the band’s impressive catalogue.

TEC Review: MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice


GIRL ONE AND THE GREASE GUNS – Night Of The Living Electrical Appliances

Proving that there was life beyond a series of eclectic 7″ singles (neatly compiled on the album The Strange Little Lines That Humans Draw In The Dust), Girl One And The Grease Guns returned with their first proper album earlier this year.

Stating that the material on Night Of The Living Electrical Appliances was aiming to be “pure electro-pop with more experimental, darker sounding tracks”, the outfit have delivered an album that certainly boasts pop elements on tracks such as ‘He’s A Replicant’, ‘She’s A Calculator’ and ‘Emergency (Dial 999)’. But their more experimental side is evident on the likes of ‘Telegraph Street’, ‘Mute Your Gums’ and the eerie album closer ‘(She Sits) In The Freezer’.

As ever, the enigmatic outfit’s love for ’60s girl groups, combined with a ‘garage punk’ aesthetic, delivers an album whose raw energy weaves a particular magic on the listener’s ears.

TEC Review: Night Of The Living Electrical Appliances


KELLY LEE OWENS Kelly Lee Owens

Perhaps the most striking thing about the debut album from Kelly Lee Owens is its fractured nature. At heart an electronic album, the tracks contained within dart between ambient soundscapes and beat-driven compositions. It’s not a million miles away from the the sounds crafted by the likes of Japanese musician Sapphire Slows in its mesmerising electronics.

The gauzy ambience of opening track ‘S.O’ manages to drop the listener into a warm, immersive cocoon. ‘Arthur’ (a tribute to avant-garde composer Arthur Russell) opens with a soundscape of birdsong and nature sounds. Later, it weaves in subliminal beats combined with a breathy, indistinct vocal. Meanwhile, ‘Anxi.’ (featuring Norwegian artist Jenny Hval) is an intriguing dreamlike composition featuring an amalgamation of dreampop, spoken lyrics and glitchy electronica.

Kelly Lee Owens, as an album, drew critical praise from a range of commentators this year. Owens is clearly someone with a voice and with an interest in exploration. Her debut album provides an intriguing foundation, but it’s what comes next that’s going to convince us to continue exploring with her.

Further reading: Kelly Lee Owens


LO FIVE – When It’s Time To Let Go

Wirral-based electronic musician Neil Grant (aka Lo Five) describes debut release When It’s Time To Let Go as “deep landscape electronics” and “an album of wild spaces and intimate rooms”. It’s an apt description for an album of reflective reveries that both challenges and surprises the listener.

Peppered throughout with evocative chimes that suggest some lost ice cream van song, there’s also a plethora of natural sounds weaved into the mix. Compositions such as ’Sabre Contusion’ have a raw electronic component combined with a fractured production. There’s a more reflective element to ‘Machinations of the World’ with its rainfall effects and soothing tones. While ’Leave You Alone’ offers up haunting qualities with a dub-like approach to synth tunes.

Closing track ‘The Emergence Of Something Familiar’ has a suitable downbeat finality to it with its stark piano and nocturnal atmosphere.

Lo Five presents a sound that’s quite tough to easily categorise. When It’s Time To Let Go throws up plenty of challenging compositions, yet at the same time has the comforting allure of the familiar.

Further reading: When It’s Time To Let Go


HANNAH PEEL – Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia

A cosmic journey of aural delights…

Out of all the electronic music releases in 2017, Hannah Peel’s latest opus has to rank as one of the more intriguing albums to reach the ears of music enthusiasts. Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia takes a sharp left from her previous album Awake But Always Dreaming (see TEC’s review here), an album that drew on her own family experiences with dementia, and presents a cosmic journey relayed in 7 movements that are composed from analogue synths and brass band arrangements.

The result is a concept album of sorts that revolves around Peel’s alter ego of ‘Mary Casio’. Drawing from her influences of electronic pioneers Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, Peel’s back story for Mary Casio is as an elderly stargazing electronic musician. 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.

Ironically, Journey To Cassiopeia is actually bereft of Casios, although there’s a choice number of classic synths in action on the album, including that sturdy workhorse the Juno-60 (favoured in times past by everyone from Howard Jones to Enya) and a Korg Mono/Poly. Meanwhile, the brass orchestra (conducted by Sandy Smith) offers a complimentary organic sound to the whole affair.

As a result, the album boasts a very warm feel overall and is perhaps a great argument against the idea that electronic music can be both cold and lacking in a human touch. Take the opening track ‘Goodbye Earth’, which begins with the electronics front and centre, before building up to the seamless inclusion of brass. It concludes with a composition that has a big, broad sound that touches on the cinematic.

Following on from this, the brass arrangements take a more central role on the engaging ‘Sunrise Through The Dusty Nebula’. There’s a quiet beauty in this composition with the chord changes and brass lending the track a certain romance. It’s a composition that fires the imagination to suggest the idea of drifting through space.

Peel has made no secret of her love for the German school of electronic music, particularly Cluster (their 1974 album Zuckerzeit apparently being a particular favourite), which has led to a homage of sorts on ‘Deep Space Cluster’. Here, a repeating tuba refrain drives the composition forward while a rumbling percussion picks up the pace as the track advances.

There’s an eerie quality to ‘Andromeda M31’ as fragments of radio transmissions appear to drift in and out. Meanwhile, brooding brass and synths give the whole thing a slightly unsettling quality to begin with. As the track swells however, a mesmerising airy synth sound begins to weave its way in (which suggests to these ears a nod to Brian Eno). The track closes out with some psychedelic percussive beats, which somehow when projected against the hypnotic synths paints a piece of music that covers a cosmic canvas.

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With Mary Casio now deep in space, the cosmic sounds of ‘Life Is On The Horizon’ appear. This offers up a more reflective moment with wistful synth notes slowly plucked in the ether. Meanwhile, a lone flugelhorn lends the piece a quiet melancholia, suggesting a sense of isolation and loneliness. Meanwhile, there’s a more driving refrain to ’Archid Orange Dwarf’, its repeating melodic synth gradually taken up by the brass players.

Mary Casio’s journey reaches an end of sorts on ‘Planet Of Passed Souls’, which kicks off with a hymnal quality in the organ sounds of its opening bars. Then the track opens out with big brass stabs peppering the composition, giving it a sense of space and grandeur. Later, Peel’s trademark music box comes into play for an charming moment of reflection as a simple melody plays.

The piece closes out with a recording of a choirboy singing. In fact this is actually Peel’s grandfather, recorded at age 13 in Manchester Cathedral in 1927. The use of this recording lends the whole thing an oddly haunting quality, but at the same time seems a fitting piece to close proceedings on.

Peel is apparently happy for Mary Casio’s journey to not reach a tidy conclusion. Thus, it’s left to the listener to wonder if she actually made it to Cassiopeia or if in fact the whole journey was simply in her head as she dreams at home in Barnsley.

Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia is an album that serves as an aural journey of delights, its unusual approach to combining synths and brass managing to present something both accessible and unique. It’s also a testament to Hannah Peel’s seemingly endless abilities to craft new and intriguing ideas out of the ether. It’s a cosmic journey that delivers.


Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia is out now on My Own Pleasure.

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


AUTUMN NEW RELEASES

A look at some of autumn’s forthcoming electronic music releases…

2017 has already shaped up to be a good year for record releases with a combination of classic artists and contemporary bands putting out some sterling new albums. As a revised version of our earlier feature, here’s a rundown of some of the autumn releases that might be of interest for the electronic music enthusiast…


BLANCMANGE – Unfurnished Rooms

The reformation of Blancmange, and the subsequent release of 2011 album Blanc Burn, came as a surprise (particularly to those fans of traditional English desserts). The synthpop outfit had recorded one of the most highly regarded electronic music albums of the 1980s with the release of their debut album Happy Families (That album was subsequently reissued this year as part of the retrospective Blanc Tapes).

Neil Arthur has since continued to both tour and release new material under the Blancmange banner, with the last release being the 2016 album Commuter 23. Unfurnished Rooms, which was written and recorded by Neil Arthur and co-produced by Benge (Wrangler/John Foxx & The Maths), sees an album of songs written by Arthur, while Benge added percussion and layers of synths. One of the new tracks, ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’, also features John Grant (who also contributed to Susanne Sundfør’s latest album) on piano and backing vocals.

Unfurnished Rooms is due for release on 22nd September, 2017.

More info:
http://www.blancmange.co.uk/


HANNAH PEEL – Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia Hannah Peel

‘Mary Casio’ is a side project that composer and musician Hannah Peel has been cultivating for some time. When a brass band commissioned Peel for a new musical project, she felt that her Mary Casio alter ego was the best face to put on it.

Drawing from her influences of electronic pioneers Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, Peel’s back story for Mary Casio is as an elderly stargazing electronic musician. Her lifelong dream is to leave her South Yorkshire home and journey into space. The resulting musical adventures, which combine brass and analogue synths, is surprisingly atmospheric and shows a whole new side of Peel’s talents.

Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia is released 22nd September.

More info:
http://smarturl.it/syjioe
http://www.hannahpeel.com
https://www.facebook.com/pg/HannahPeelMusic


EMPATHY TEST – Losing Touch/Safe From Harm

The atmospheric synthpop produced by combo Empathy Test offers a refreshing and original change from many of their contemporaries. Latest release ‘By My Side’ showed a smooth slice of warm synthpop with a polished production that offered up a cinematic panorama of electronic goodness (as our review explained).

A series of releases, including 2016 double A-side single ‘Demons’/’Seeing Stars’ was followed this year by ‘By My Side’. A third single release, ‘Bare My Soul’, was released in April, followed by a PledgeMusic campaign to fund the release of their long-awaited debut album. But discovering they had a wealth of material, Empathy Test have now opted to release 2 albums, titled Safe From Harm and Losing Touch.

Losing Touch/Safe From Harm are scheduled for release 17th November.

More info:
https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/empathy-test-album
Soundcloud.com/EmpathyTest
Facebook.com/EmpathyTest
EmpathyTest.com


A-HA – MTV Unplugged – Summer Solstice

Norwegian synthpop outfit a-ha can’t decide whether to retire or not (as 2015’s Cast In Steel album demonstrated). But now they’re releasing an album culled from live acoustic concerts that took place in June.

Earlier this year, Morten Harket commented, “The band is finally coming together for live acoustic recordings of a wide selection of our songs! As we speak, there is palpable growing excitement about this in the group. We had wonderful moments with the fans during our last tour, and as a fourth member of the band you certainly have had an influence on our commitment to this. I really look forward to it all!”

Filmed and recorded in Norway, the album draws from two shows and features not only two new songs in the form of ‘This Is Our Home’ and ‘A Break In The Clouds’, but also an old song taken from the pre-a-ha outfit Bridges. Guests on the album include Alison Moyet, Ian McCulloch and Lissie.

In early 2018, a-ha will take this special acoustic set on the road. Magne, Morten and Paul will be joined by a handpicked ensemble of musicians to embellish and reinvent the classics, as well as present new material in acoustic arrangements.

MTV Unplugged – Summer Solstice, which will debut as as album, DVD and broadcast, are scheduled for release on 6th October.

More info:
https://lnk.to/aha-unplugged
http://a-ha.com/news/articles/acoustic-evening/


THE SOUND OF ARROWS – Stay Free

The release of their debut album Voyage in 2012 established Swedish electronic duo The Sound Of Arrows as purveyors of smooth dreampop synth.

Their second album Stay Free has been eagerly awaited and was heralded by the unveiling of new song ‘Beautiful Life’ back in March. The song continues the electronic outfit’s talent for cinematic pop, but there’s also a more organic element with big string arrangements prominent in the mix. It suggests that Oskar Gullstrand and Stefan Storm (aka The Sound Of Arrows) haven’t lost their touch for stylish synthpop.

Stay Free is due for release on 27th October.

More info:
http://www.thesoundofarrows.com


NULL + VOID – Cryosleep


Depeche Mode and Dave Gahan collaborator, Kurt Uenala, will be releasing a full length album under his Null + Void alias soon called Cryosleep.

The album is said to be inspired by retro sci-fi, electronic innovators, and classic new wave. Lead single ‘Asphalt World’ is apparently “built on Detroit electro’s mechanical bounce and has a sinister glint in its eyes”.

The album will see guest vocals from Dave Gahan as well as guest vocals from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Big Pink, and Light Asylum.
More info:
http://kurtuenala.com
https://www.facebook.com/nullandvoidmusik/

Cryosleep release date TBC


FREEZEPOP

US synthpop outfit Freezepop have embarked on the crowdfunding route to launch their 5th studio album. Raising over $88,000 via Kickstarter, the Boston-based group have also added on goodies such as bonus albums, vinyl releases, cover version requests, comic strip and even a sandwich (overseas customers will unfortunately have to make do with a picture of a sandwich…).

The new album follows on from 2007’s Future Future Future Perfect, which featured the crunchy dynamics of ‘Less Talk More Rokk’ and the wistful ‘Thought Balloon’. Details of the new release have yet to be confirmed, although on the topic of the potential songs, the band suggests they’re “deeply awesome”.

More info:
http://www.freezepop.net
http://www.kickstartfreezepop.com/

Album details and release date TBC


U96 – Reboot


German electronic act U96 are best remembered for ‘Das Boot’ (a techno styling of Klaus Doldinger’s 1981 film theme) and Eurodance hits such as ‘Love Sees No Colour’ and ‘Love Religion.’

U96 will shortly release their seventh album, Reboot, the follow-up to 2015’s The Dark Matter EP. Tracks include the excellent ‘Monkeys’, which was previewed last year, and a collaboration with former Kraftwerk percussionist Wolfgang Flür.

Release date TBC.

More info:
https://www.facebook.com/U96reboot/


DAYBEHAVIOUR – Based On A True Story

3-piece synthpop outfit Daybehaviour caught our attention with the 2003 release ‘The Sweetness of My Pain’ and TEC also reviewed their third album release Follow That Car! in 2012. Their talent for melody and classy, sophisticated dreampop was front and centre on the tracks featured on that album.

The Stockholm-based outfit have been working on their fourth album titled Based On A True Story for a while. The first song to be taken from the album was the stylish pop appeal of ‘Change’, which appeared in 2015. The group have provided updates on the album’s development recently and they appear to be getting close to a release date.

Release date TBC.

More info:
https://www.facebook.com/DayBehavior/
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCx1KaWdnouVOq2TmLEfbaZw
http://www.daybehavior.com/


Outside of the albove, there’s also new releases mooted by TR/ST, Princess Century (aka Austra’s Maya Postepski) and Electric Youth.


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.


HANNAH PEEL and The Romance Of The Telescope

A journey into space with Hannah Peel’s elderly alter ego

Hannah Peel’s musical arc continues to ascend in unusual and intriguing directions as news of her third album appears on the horizon. Having already captivated audiences with her 2016 album Awake But Always Dreaming, an album that drew on her own family experiences with dementia (see TEC review here), Peel has wasted little time in shaping up album No. 3 in the form of Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia.

‘Mary Casio’ is a side project that Peel has been cultivating for some time. When a brass band commissioned Peel for a new musical project, she felt that her Mary Casio alter ego was the best face to put on it.

Drawing from her influences of electronic pioneers Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, Peel’s back story for Mary Casio is as an elderly stargazing electronic musician. 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.

This combination of brass and analogue synths was originally premiered in Manchester in 2016 as Tubular Brass, which featured a performance of Mike Oldfield’s classic album performed live with a 28-piece brass band.

Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia will see Peel embark on a record described as a “seven-movement odyssey composed for analogue synthesisers and full, traditional 29-piece colliery brass band”. If the idea of such disparate sounds strikes you as bizarre, then the lead track ‘Sunrise Through The Dusty Nebula’ might convince you otherwise. There’s an engaging quality to the quiet beauty in this composition. The brass instrumentation lends the track a certain romance, with chord changes that captivate the imagination.

The tracks on the album were recorded live on location in Barnsley with a complete brass ensemble and the collaboration of Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio team. The result is an emotional journey through 7 tracks, including a sample taken from a 1928 recording of Peel’s own choirboy grandfather. Through tracks with titles such as ‘Goodbye Earth’, ‘Deep Space Cluster’ and ‘The Planet Of Passed Souls’, Peel charts a story that may be Mary Casio’s actual journey, or simply a fantasy conjured up in her head.

Either way, Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia is sounding like one of the more intriguing albums that 2017 has to offer – and also suggests Hannah Peel’s own musical journey is bound for the stars.


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:
1st July New Music Biennial & BBC Radio 3: Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia, Hull. 2nd July Solo Show at FRÜIT, Hull. 8th July Bluedot Festival: Mary Casio & Tubular Bells, Cheshire East. 9th July New Music Biennial Southbank: Mary Casio – Journey to Cassiopeia, London. 29th July WOMAD Festival: Hannah Peel & Tubular Brass, Malmesbury.

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


INTERNATIONAL WOMEN IN ELECTRONIC MUSIC DAY

On International Women’s Day, a showcase for those women who work in the world of electronic music…

International Women’s Day, which falls on 8th March each year, has become an opportunity to not only recognise the achievement of women throughout history, but to also raise awareness of issues such as gender equality, violence, women in science & technology and to promote the aspirations of girls and women worldwide.

On the basis that women have made a significant impact on the world of electronic music across decades, with people such as Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Bebe Barron, Wendy Carlos and Laurie Anderson being pioneers in their own distinct ways, we thought that we’d celebrate in our way with an International Women In Electronic Music Day.

It’s not always been an easy time for women in music and even today there are challenges and problems that have made the path difficult for some musicians. Lauren Maybery of Chvrches has spoken at length about the rise in misogyny, particularly in online commentary. Equally, Claire Boucher of Grimes fame has had to address issues within the world of music production (which ironically led to some misinformed writers to conclude that Boucher was flying a flag for militancy). It’s also something that Katie Stelmanis of Austra has addressed more recently.

To celebrate the contributions that women have made to electronic music, we thought it made sense to flag up some of the musicians, composers and singers that TEC has championed in the past. This selection is by no means definite and certainly isn’t designed to present a complete picture of women in electronic music, but is purely a sampling of the broad range of electronic music that women are active in.


Princess Chelsea

If there’s one particular star on the electronic music scene that’s been on the ascendant in recent years, it’s New Zealand’s Princess Chelsea. Scoring a cult hit with the indie charms of ‘The Cigarette Duet’, her 2011 album Lil’ Golden Book also demonstrated a fine talent for wistful electronica and tales of growing up in Auckland.

Her 2015 album The Great Cybernetic Depression cranked the electronic elements up to ’11’ and showcased songs that had a much more raw and personal edge. There was also a concept album approach which La Chelsea herself described as: “it represents a personal and societal depression due to social change triggered by technology.”


Hannah Peel

The varied musical career of Hannah Peel has presented a musician and composer with a particular ability to craft evocative melodies and compelling lyrics. Her most recent release Awake But Always Dreaming was assembled from the singer’s own encounter with the debilitating effects of dementia in her own family.

‘All That Matters’ combined fine electronic pop elements with a sweeping, uplifting quality to it. Released as a single, the track employs a combination of synth hooks and strings measured against Peel’s haunting vocal.


Marsheaux

Hailing from Greece, Marsheaux combine the ethereal vocal style of Sophie Sarigiannidou and Marianthi Melitsi with distinctive percussive rhythms and unashamedly electronic melodies. Their 2003 debut album E-Bay Queen and 2006 release Peekaboo demonstrated both an ability for original synthpop married with a smart choice of cover versions (such as The Lightning Seeds’ ‘Pure’ and New Order’s ‘Regret’).

Their most recent release was Ath.Lon although, arguably, it was their phenomenal 2009 album Lumineux Noir that set the bar. That album demonstrated a clear linear progression from their early material through to the bold, impulsive electronic masterpiece that few contemporaryacts have managed to emulate.


Kid Moxie

Originally from Greece, but now resident in LA, Kid Moxie is the musical moniker of Elena Charbila. Kid Moxie’s music is a blend of powerful beats, pop sweetness and haunting melodies. She’s collaborated with the likes of Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalamenti and Clint Mansell and more recently released the excellent Perfect Shadow EP.


Susanne Sundfør

Susanne Sundfør’s musical career set a particularly high standard with the release of her 2015 album Ten Love Songs. The Norwegian musician’s glacial landscapes of electronic melancholy had a very particular personal touch and it’s small wonder that the album received critical acclaim.


Austra

Katie Stelmanis was another Canadian musician who made an impact in the world of electronic music on the back of several releases by Austra. From 2011’s Feel It Break through to the most recent album Future Politics, Stelmanis has brought to bear not only a stellar talent for tunes, but on the latest release a more pronounced commentary on politics.

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


Grimes

The phenomenal success of her previous album Visions clearly caused something of a dilemma for Claire Boucher. The album had, in many ways, been a gear change from her earlier work in opening up the often cryptic soundscapes that had been the trademark sound of Grimes previous.

But Art Angels delivered a much more commercial vehicle for Grimes that could have swayed fans had it not been for the quality of the material on the album. Grimes goes electropop for ‘Kill V. Maim’ with its harsh percussion and insistent bass beat, sounding as if Hooky had dropped by the studio for a session. Again, it’s a fine example of the natural evolution of the Grimes sound. “I’m only a man/do what I can” intones Boucher on one of the more memorable tracks on the album.


Marina And The Diamonds

Marina Diamandis has consistently produced top tunes under the guise of Marina And The Diamonds, but also manages to switch gear on every subsequent release. The intimate Froot was an example of the talent that the Welsh musician can bring to bear.

‘Forget’ was one of Froot’s hidden gems with catchy hooks and a euphoric chorus. It’s lyrical themes of regret and moving forward utilise Marina’s smart wordplay as she regrets the times spent chasing rabbits when “I was born to be the tortoise/I was born to walk alone”.


Polly Scattergood

There’s a good combo of the ethereal with the more intense part of the electropop spectrum in dark pop chanteuse Polly Scattergood’s material. Her 2013 album Arrows received critical acclaim and Scattergood describes herself as a storyteller: “I write about emotions and moments, not all are biographical”.

More recently Scattergood lent her vocal talents to a reworked version of ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’.


Christine And The Queens

French outfit Christine And The Queens managed to make an impact in 2016 via the subtle electropop touches of album Chaleur Humaine. Founder Héloïse Letissier, who has described Christine And The Queens’ sound as “freakpop”, managed to bring a Gallic charm to electronic music alongside visually arresting choreography for live shows. Huge in France, Christine And The Queens gained a broader audience through a 2015 US tour with Marina And The Diamonds.

2016 brought us the UK release of ‘Tilted’ whose oddly effective ‘reversed’ melodies and engaging beats helped pave the way for Chaleur Humaine. ‘Tilted’ represents an approach that slips easily into accessible commercial pop, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a catalogue of work that features an intriguing talent at work.


Princess Century

Occasionally on percussion duties for Austra (and formerly part of TR/ST), Maya Postepski has also carved out her own singular electronic music path under the guise of Princess Century.

Dipping into “minimalist cosmic disco psychedelia” as well as the “weird Krauty EDM vibe” of recent material, there’s something oddly compelling about Postepski’s unique electronic explorations.


Lola Dutronic

The trans-global duo of Lola Dutronic have been pushing out quality electronic music since 2004. From adaptations of 60s French pop through to musings on modern pop culture, the outfit’s finest moment to date is arguably their 2015 album Lost In Translation album.

One of the strongest components of Lola Dutronic is the sultry vocals of Germany-based singer Stephanie B – here working wonders on a sequel to one of their best songs.


Goldfrapp

The collaborative duo of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have charted an intriguing career arc following on from debut release Felt Mountain in 2000. It included dips into ‘folktronica’ evidenced on 2008’s Seventh Tree and the synth optimism of Head First in 2010. Meanwhile, 2013’s Tales of Us was considered by some outlets as a return to form (as the phrase goes).

Forthcoming album Silver Eye has been in development for some time and appears to be cast firmly in an electronic mold.


Marnie

Better known as being part of electropop outfit Ladytron, Helen Marnie has been keen to pursue a solo path in recent years, which led to 2013’s Crystal World album.

Marnie’s distinctive vocal style leaps out from any tune that she puts her hand to. With the reveal of new song ‘Alphabet Block’, she also announced details of a follow-up to Crystal World in the shape of the forthcoming Strange Words And Weird Wars. The official stance on the album is “soul crushing synths are wonderfully accented by hook-laden choruses as Marnie boldly explores up-tempo electro dream-pop”. Which we certainly can’t argue with.


Fifi Rong

Originally hailing from Bejing, Fifi Rong’s beguiling music encompasses a broad range of influences, including electronica, dub and hip hop. It’s a sound that’s continued to captivate both the music press and fans alike since her 2013 debut ‘Over You’. Or as Fifi herself once put it: “It’s a very individual and intimate language that I speak, with unfiltered and naked feelings of my own, for those who want to join me and listen to something real.”

‘Future Never Comes’ gives her sultry vocals a cinematic soundscape. “’Future Never Comes’ is by far the most epic-sounding track I’ve made” says Fifi, “with a lyrical theme going back to my initial breakthrough of the fear for pursuing my dream and answering my calling. Making this track as a collaboration feels like taking a glorious vacation away from being immersed building my own island.”


Learn more about International Women’s Day via www.internationalwomensday.com


HANNAH PEEL Awake But Always Dreaming

A haunting reverie on memory and loss…

Hannah Peel’s particular musical trajectory has traveled an interesting path over the years which has led the musician and composer to cover a diverse amount of roles, projects and collaborations.

For most people, she first popped up on the radar on the back of her music box compositions in which she adapted the charming melodies of the devices to cast some classic songs in a new light. The result of her endeavours was the 2010 EP Rebox, featuring music box covers of songs including ‘Tainted Love’, ‘Blue Monday’ and OMD’s ‘Electricity’.

Her debut album The Broken Wave emerged in 2011 and received a good response from critics and public alike. But Peel was also keen to continue broadening her musical horizons, which included collaborative work, such as being part of psychogeographic outfit The Magnetic North as well as performing with John Foxx And The Maths.

2016 marked a busy year for Peel, which included composing under her new alter ego Mary Casio with an experimental piece combining analogue electronics and a 28-piece colliery brass band. Plus, The Magnetic North released their critically acclaimed follow up album Prospect Of Skelmersdale.

Awake But Always Dreaming marks the latest Hannah Peel release, an album that draws on her own family experiences with dementia. It’s a release that drew positive reviews, but was also an album that had taken a long time to assemble as the musician took her time in exploring an emotive theme that ultimately formed a deeply personal body of work.

Initially inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Peel’s second album had begun to come together around the same time as her 2011 debut album. The Italian writer’s 1972 book featured a selection of prose poems that revolved around the theme of imaginary cities, a concept that Peel developed an obsession about and initially drafted an album outline that would feature music that connected to all of these fictional locations.

But it was on a visit to her grandmother that steered the Hannah Peel into a different direction. The tragic grip of dementia meant that her grandmother had no idea who her grandaughter was – an incident that became the basis for the song ‘Conversations’. Peel looked into the statistics behind dementia and was struck by the fact that 850,000 people have the illness in the UK (with two-thirds of that number being women). From this, the album took on a different concept that looked at the experience of someone having the illness and attempting to imagine how that person inhabited their world.

Despite this grim thematic sweep to the album, Awake But Always Dreaming has songs that have an uplifting feel to them, such as the electropop wonder that is ‘All That Matters’. Released as a single, the track employs a combination of synth hooks and strings measured against Peel’s haunting vocal.

‘Standing On The Roof Of The World’, meanwhile, features distorted synths, guitars and odd sounds to create a sense of detachment. Samples of traffic recordings pepper the composition that’s ‘Tenderly’, which was apparently inspired by Peel’s long journeys by car following performances and rehearsals. There’s a sense of lugubriousness to this track in which melancholic strings invite a mood of reflection.

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Looking to her inspirations from the world of cinema scores, ‘Don’t Take It Out On Me’ had actually begun life as composition from a theatre production that Peel had been working on. The song’s clocklike rhythms echo the fragility of memory with an hypnotic quality reflected in the repetition of the song’s title.

Elsewhere, the dreamlike soundscape of ‘Invisible City’ offers a reverie on the strength of memory and how it builds our worlds around us. “I built this city around my body” suggests the delicate vocals, “these walls they hold me like you once did, like you once did.”

There’s a brooding quality to ‘Octavia’, which is one of the tracks that harken back to the original inspiration of imaginary cities. Wind instruments and synths collide on this evocative composition that has a sense of theatre and imminent danger. Calvino’s fictional Octavia was suspended over a deep ravine, the city’s denizens always aware that they could fall in at any moment. It also refers to the balance that memory has when confronted with decay and the idea that over time it may likewise drop into an abyss.

The disorientating sounds that make up ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’ deliver an uncertain atmosphere and a discordant dreamlike fugue. Meanwhile, the vocals take on a brittle nature that’s at odds with the music around it: “Will you catch me if I fall?”

The loss of memory is a central theme to the fragile tones of ‘Conversations’, a composition that’s built around a stark piano melody and an event starker vocal from Peel. Indistinct washes of conversation weave in and out of a track that has a particular sadness to it.

‘Foreverest’ has a skittering quality to it which suggests the rapid passage of time, while Peel’s isolated vocals float over this fractured landscape of sound. Finally, album closer ‘Cars In The Garden’ sees a return to Peel’s music box compositions. In this case, it’s a cover of a Paul Buchanan (The Blue Nile) song that also feature guest vocals from Hayden Thorpe. As with much of the material on the album, it’s a delicate tune whose music box melody lends a curious nursery rhyme quality to it.

Awake But Always Dreaming offers a very personal collection of songs for Hannah Peel that rightly drew a lot of critical acclaim. It’s an exploration of memory and time and the ever-present danger of how fragile these things are. Many of these compositions have a haunting quality to them that will remain with the listener – and invites reflection on their own sense of memory and self.



Awake But Always Dreaming is out now.

Hannah Peel has a series of UK live dates scheduled including:

24-March-17 NORWICH – NORWICH ARTS CENTRE
https://norwichartscentre.co.uk/events/hark-presents-hannah-peel/

01-April-17 LIVERPOOL – THRESHOLD FESTIVAL
https://www.skiddle.com/festivals/threshold-festival/

03-April-17 BIRMINGHAM – THE SUNFLOWER LOUNGE
http://birminghampromoters.com/Events/hannah-peel/
RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/173650193133881/

04-April-17 CAMBRIDGE – THE PORTLAND ARMS
http://www.wegottickets.com/greenmind/event/389232

05-April-17 BRIGHTON – THE PRINCE ALBERT
http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/266411
RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/1654550301506223/

12-April-17 LONDON – OSLO HACKNEY
http://www.alttickets.com/hannah-peel-tickets
NO BOOKING FEE: https://www.facebook.com/events/748188905329582/

30-April-17 SALFORD – ST.PHILIP’S CHURCH
http://www.soundsfromtheothercity.com/tickets/

05-May-2017 COVENTRY CATHEDRAL
http://thetinmusicandarts.org.uk/events/deliaphonic/
A celebration for Delia Derbyshire’s 80th birthday

Please see the Electricity Club Event Calendar for details on these performances as well as other upcoming concerts.

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