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.



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



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



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


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



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

Lost Albums : KON KAN Syntonic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you feel about Syntonic these days?

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

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

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

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

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

How did you end up working on the Syntonic album?

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

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

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

Do you have any particular favourite tracks?

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

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

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

Was the video fun to make?

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

What was Barry like to work with?

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

Were you surprised that Syntonic wasn’t a hit?

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

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

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

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

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

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



Text and Interviews by Barry Page

KON KAN Move To Move

Exploring the history of a dance classic

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

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

There once was a time

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

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

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

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

It’s just a matter of time

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

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

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

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

The need to hide away

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

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

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

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

Move To Move

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

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

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

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

Kon Kan on tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning the pages of history

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

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

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

Heading to LA

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

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

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

Pardon me

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

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


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

Text and interviews by Barry Page.

Photos, courtesy of Barry Harris and Kevin Wynne.

TASTY FISH : 30 Lost Songs of the CD Era

By no means a comprehensive list, here is a snapshot of electronic music from between 1990 to 1999 featuring 30 near-hits, minor hits, flops and oddities.
Not all of these were released in the UK, with many treasures emanating from other European territories in a period when the guitar returned with a vengeance through Grunge and Britpop.

BEAT CLUB featuring Bernard Sumner Security (1990)

This was the first ever release on Rob’s Records; the ‘Rob’ in question being the late Rob Gretton, famed manager of New Order. The Miami duo, comprising members Ony Rodriguez and Mirey Valls, had originally released the house music staple, ‘Security’, on Atlantic Records in 1988 before signing with Gretton’s fledgling label. Bernard Sumner’s additional remix and production saw an overhaul of the original version, with the addition of his crucial vocal contribution giving it a predictably New Order-esque sheen. Other notable acts signed to Gretton’s label were A Certain Ratio and fellow Mancunians Sub Sub who scored a huge hit with ‘Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)’. Sumner had ties with both bands, and guested on the latter’s more guitar-oriented ‘This Time I Ain’t Wrong’ single… Sub Sub would of course metamorphose as indie act Doves.

Available on the CD single ‘Security’ via Rob’s Records


KON KAN Liberty (1990)

The brainchild of vastly talented Canadian DJ, remixer and musician, Barry Harris, Kon Kan burst onto the scene in 1989 with the award-winning New Order-esque international hit ‘I Beg Your Pardon’. Subsequent singles such as the Pet Shop Boys-influenced ‘Harry Houdini’ failed to dent the UK charts. ‘Liberty’, the lead-off single from their excellent second album Syntonic, also sank without a trace upon its release in the autumn of 1990. By this time, Kon Kan was effectively a solo vehicle for Harris, following lead singer Kevin Wynne’s departure after the Move To Move album. Liberty is a brilliant pop song showcasing both Harris’ deadpan vocal delivery and his strong melodic sensibilities. Background vocals were courtesy of Debbe Cole whose CV includes Malcolm McClaren’s brilliant Stephen Hague-produced hit single ‘Madam Butterfly’ from 1984. Kon Kan released a third and final album Vida! in 1993 but, once again, it was not successful.

Available on the CD album Syntonic via Atlantic Records


CICERO featuring SYLVIA MASON-JAMES Live For Today (1991)

Whilst there was no single from the Pet Shop Boys in 1992, the spectre of messrs Tennant and Lowe loomed large on ‘Love Is Everywhere’, a top 20 hit for Scottish artist Cicero who had signed to their Spaghetti Records label the previous year (you may recall that the song is essentially Pet Shop Boys with bagpipes!). Cicero’s only album Future Boy, despite heralding a strong contribution from the Pet Shop Boys, unfortunately didn’t emulate this success, despite containing a number of worthy tracks. His final – and arguably greatest – collaboration with Tennant and Lowe was ‘Live For Today’, taken from the soundtrack of the 1992 film, The Crying Game. Backing vocals were provided by Sylvia Mason-James who had sung on Jimmy Nail’s insipid number one hit, ‘Ain’t No Doubt’. Whilst Boy George had earned a hit single from the same film, the same fate wouldn’t befall Cicero and he soon faded from public attentions. He would later reappear in the mid-1990s with some uninspiring dance tracks, including a terrible cover of Soft Cell’s ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’.

Available on the CD single ‘Live For Today’ via Spaghetti Records


THE OTHER TWO Tasty Fish (1991)

Following the career-best Technique album in 1989, New Order’s four members would all work on side projects. Bernard Sumner had formed Electronic with musical journeyman Johnny Marr; Peter Hook had tentatively started his Revenge project, while Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris eventually formed the appropriately, but rather lazily named The Other Two With Factory Records teetering on the brink, their one and only single on the label was released in October 1991. Amusingly titled ‘Tasty Fish’ after a Fish and Chip shop near Stockport, this catchy electropop single, boasting a surprisingly assured vocal from Gilbert sounded terrific on the radio. The single disappointingly stalled at no. 41. The collapse of Factory Records meant a lengthy delay for The Other Two’s debut album, which eventually surfaced late 1993, prefaced by the fine single ‘Selfish’. Their second album Super Highways was released in 1999.

Available on the CD album And You via LTM Records


REVENGE State Of Shock (1991)

Revenge were formed by Peter Hook in the wake of an enforced hiatus from New Order. This brilliant 6-minute plus track, originally from the Gun World Porn EP, is quite simply one of the best tracks that New Order never recorded! From the deadpan vocals to the distinctive melodic basslines, ‘State Of Shock’ exemplified all that was good about New Order. Sadly, the latter’s next three albums would only contain flashes of the brilliance that made them such a creative and inspirational force in the 1980s. Amongst Revenge’s members was David Potts who would be retained for Hooky’s next side project Monaco.

Available on the CD album One True Passion (v2.0) via LTM Records


WOLFSHEIM The Sparrows & The Nightingales (1991)

A truly classic synthpop single. Named after a character in F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, electronic duo Wolfsheim scored a hit in their native Germany with memorable debut single, ‘The Sparrows and the Nightingales’. Combining a strong synth melody with Peter Heppner’s poetic lyrics, this was one of the standout singles in 1991. Between 1992 and 2003 Wolfsheim would release five studio albums before an acrimonious split saw the Hamburg duo of Heppner and Markus Reinhardt end up in court over the rights to the name. Heppner finally released his debut album, appropriately titled Solo, in 2008. Interestingly, his distinctive vocals would later end up on a recording with compatriot Nena of ’99 Red Balloons’ fame.

Available on the CD album No Happy View via Strange Ways Records


NEIL ARTHUR One Day, One Time (1992)

By the time of disappointing third album, Believe You Me, the Blancmange brand had run its (third) course. Whilst there was still a market for synth duos in the mid-1980s (see Pet Shop Boys and Erasure), Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe decided to call it a day. Luscombe would eventually release an album with side project West India Company with regular Blancmange collaborator Pandit Dinesh, called Music From New Demons in 1989. Arthur, meanwhile went solo and released the engaging ‘One Day, One Time’ single in 1992. The single is not a radical departure from the Blancmange’s musical template; in fact, the track features David Rhodes, their regular session guitarist. It is also notable in that it features programming from renowned music producer (and former Blow Monkeys keyboardist!) Marius de Vries. The next, rather pedestrian single ‘I Love I Hate’ didn’t trouble the charts. Arthur and Luscombe reunited for the well received Blanc Burn album in 2011.

Available on the CD album Suitcase via Chrysalis Records


RECOIL Faith Healer (1992)

Recoil is the brainchild of Alan Wilder, who left Depeche Mode on his 36th birthday in 1995, following the exhausting Devotional tour. He had released his first Recoil recordings in 1986. ‘Faith Healer’, a cover version of a track by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, was from Recoil’s second album Bloodline in 1992. The album gave some pointers as to the direction that DM would undertake on their next album, Songs of Faith and Devotion, which would herald a harder-edged and rawer sound than that of its predecessor, Violator. On Bloodline, Wilder was utilising outside vocalists such as Moby and Curve’s Toni Halliday to complement his experimental, electro-industrial productions. ‘Faith Healer’ was no exception in that it featured Mute label mate Douglas McCarthy of Nitzer Ebb. The pair had already been acquainted during the sessions for Nitzer Ebb’s 1991 album Ebbhead which Wilder had produced.

Available on the CD album Selected via Mute Records


S.P.O.C.K. Never Trust A Klingon (1992)

With The Next Generation still being broadcast to hoards of devoted Trekkies in the early 1990s, the Star Trek franchise was showing no signs of abating. In 1992, a Star Trek-loving synthpop act named S.P.O.C.K. (Star Pilot On Channel K) scored an unlikely hit in Germany with ‘Never Trust A Klingon’. The quirky Swedish band were originally called Mr Spock but an official approach to Paramount Pictures for the rights to the name resulted in disappointment – in the words of their official biography, the response was a slightly condescending “that’ll be expensive, guys!” Slightly clunky, musically, but lyrically hilarious, ‘Never Trust A Klingon’, still sounds great today. It is also notable for its sampled dialogue of Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek III – The Search For Spock memorably declaring: “Klingon bastard! You killed my son!” Parent album Five Year Mission and subsequent albums such as Alien Worlds haven’t aged as well, with the novelty wearing thin fairly quickly… although there’s plenty for Trekkies to enjoy, with the likes of ‘Mr Spock’s Brain’, ‘Trouble With Tribbles’ and ‘Dr McCoy’ amongst their electro-goth repertoire.

Available on the CD album Five Year Mission via Energy Rekords


DE/VISION Dinner Without Grace (1993)

Still relatively unknown in the UK, De/Vision are one of the finest and most prolific electronic bands to have emerged in the last 25 years. Hailing from Darmstadt in Germany, they were formed in 1988 with members Steffen Keth and Thomas Adam the mainstays of the band. While there is some merit to some cruel claims that the band are mere Depeche Mode copycats, particularly when you hear some of the early recordings (collected on 1995’s Antiquity), the band’s sound has evolved over the years, encompassing a variety of electro genres. ‘Dinner Without Grace’ with its infectious tune, fluid bassline, and lyrics that recall latterday Gary Numan, was a fine single typifying the band’s sound from their formative years. Eleven studio albums into their career they still continue to deliver consistently appealing synthpop, something Depeche Mode have, arguably, only managed to do in fits and bursts since their 1990 peak.

Available on the CD album World Without End via Strange Ways Records


ELEGANT MACHINERY Hard to Handle (1993)

Elegant Machinery were part of a burgeoning scene of Swedish synthpop acts to emerge in the 1990s (see also Covenant, S.P.O.C.K. and Page). This single from their second album typified their early 1980s electronic influences, the band citing Depeche Mode, Yazoo and The Human League as their main sources of inspiration. But it’s the former of this triumvirate of Synth Britannia masters that engrain themselves most in the music of Elegant Machinery, with a typically cynical Gore-ish lyric cutting through the Some Great Reward-era electronics. The band originally split after three albums in 1999, before reforming in 2005. They released another album, titled A Soft Exchange in 2008 before breaking up part way into the production of a fifth album. Member Richard Jomshof was elected as a Swedish MP in 2010.

Available on the CD album Shattered Grounds via Energy Rekords



“In press the key, and watch TV”… you can just picture Messrs Hütter and Schneider from Kraftwerk kicking themselves having not thought of such a simplistic couplet, one which certainly wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an album such as Computer World. Having become disillusioned with the working practices of his former employers, Karl Bartos left Kraftwerk in 1990 and formed Elektric Music with Lothar Manteuffel. The first fruits of this collaboration were via NME’s Ruby Trax compilation and a risible, vocoder-heavy cover version of The Equals’ ‘Baby Come Back’. But it was ‘TV’ that really stood out, with its simple lyrics underpinned by a wonderful melody that proved that Bartos really was the creative equal of his Kling Klang compatriots. Bartos had, of course, already proven himself as a competent vocalist on lacklustre Electric Café’s standout cut, ‘The Telephone Call’. The parent album Esperanto was notable for the two collaborations with OMD’s Andy McCluskey on ‘Showbusiness’ and ‘Kissing The Machine’. The latter was certainly the perfect antidote for those disappointed with that year’s overproduced, and decidedly patchy OMD album, Liberator. Bartos would later collaborate with Electronic on their second album, Raise The Pressure, before committing career suicide dabbling with guitars on follow-up album, Electric Music. He is currently working on the follow-up to 2003’s back-to-form solo album, Communication.

Available on the CD album Esperanto via SPV Records


ULTRAVOX Systems Of Love (1993)

Following the Ultravox split in 1987, Billy Currie released a brace of solo albums before forming a new version of his former band in 1992 with vocalist Tony Fenelle. Could they repeat the success of his predecessors whilst simultaneously banishing the memory of 1986’s decidedly naff U-Vox opus?! Sadly, the answer was an emphatic NO! A reasonably faithful re-recording of ‘Vienna’ was followed in 1993 by an album of original material. Revelation, despite its bold title, was actually nothing of the sort. Single ‘I Am Alive’ was a good indicator of what was to come; pleasant but uninspiring AOR that was permeating the airwaves at the time like Living In A Box. Indeed, its co-writer and producer, Rod Gammons, currently boasts a CV that includes David Hasselhoff! But the single’s B-side ‘Systems Of Love’ was much more palatable. With its Numan-esque metal rhythms, and a breathtaking 30-second instrumental break 3 minutes in, there were glimpses of the Currie magic. But these moments were few and far between on an album lacking in both inspiration and invention. Fenelle’s tenure was as shortlived and he was replaced by Sam Blue for 1994’s Ingenuity album, which was even worse than its predecessor! Of course, the classic Midge Ure-fronted line-up of Ultravox has since reformed.

Available on the CD album Revelation via Puzzle Records


WILLIAM ORBIT featuring BETH ORTON Water From A Vine Leaf (1993)

William Orbit is perhaps best known for his club hit ‘Barber’s Adagio for Strings’, as well as his creative production work with Madonna and Blur. He is also a highly respected remixer, with Kraftwerk, OMD, Erasure, Depeche Mode, The Human League and Camouflage amongst his considerable list of clients. He was also the driving force behind Bassomatic, who had a top 10 hit with ‘Fascinating Rhythm’ in 1990. ‘Water from a Vine Leaf’ is an electro-ambient single from 1993, featuring Orbit’s trademark production and an understated vocal from a then relatively unknown Beth Orton who went on to have a big hit with her acclaimed second album, Trailer Park.

Available on the CD album The Best of Strange Cargos via IRS Records


ALPHAVILLE Fools (1994)

Much like A-Ha, Alphaville’s sound had steadily strayed from their synthpop origins, becoming more guitar-oriented in the early to mid-1990s. And continuing with the comparisons with their Europop contemporaries, the vocal from Marian Gold on this single is decidedly Morten Harket-esque in its delivery. Whilst Gold’s plea to “keep on dancing” isn’t quite in keeping with this medium-paced, radio-friendly track, it’s still a fine single. The band are still active and released a new album, Catching Rays On Giant in 2010.

Available on the CD album Prostitute via WEA Records


A CERTAIN RATIO Shack Up – Electronic Remix (1994)

Arguably the cult band’s best known song, A Certain Ratio’s original version of ‘Shack Up’ (actually a cover of an obscure track by Banbarra in the mid-1970s) was originally released in 1980 but has manifested itself in a variety of versions since, notably by Norman Cook in 1990 and with Electronic (aka Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr) in 1994. The latter’s excellent production and remix of this iconic track retains the original track’s trademark funky guitar, but with a faster-paced, more synth-driven gloss. Sumner also provided the highlight of ACR’s MCR album, remixing the excellent ‘Won’t Stop Loving You’.

Available on the CD single Shack Up via MCA Records



Five studio albums into their career, Dead Or Alive went into semi-retirement in the early 1990s. Long-term members Pete Burns and Steve Coy would eventually resurface as International Chrysis (named after a transsexual performer who had died in 1990). Released on the PWL label, this one-off single was, appropriately, a high-energy version of David Bowie’s gender-bending 1974 single, ‘Rebel Rebel’, with an intro evoking Echo And The Bunnymen’s ‘The Cutter’. Coincidentally (or not), this non-charting single was dedicated to Courtney Love who, of course, had befriended Ian McCulloch whilst living in Liverpool in the early 1980s. Rendering the project completely pointless, ‘Rebel Rebel’ and its B-side, ‘The Right Stuff’, both ended up on the next Dead Or Alive album, Nukleopatra, in 1995.

Available on the Dead Or Alive CD album Nukleopatra



Creatively washed up, and drained by their attempts to crack the US market, OMD split at the end of the 1980s. Whilst co-founder and singer Andy McCluskey pondered his next move, his former band colleagues Paul Humphreys, Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes resolved to record as a trio. McCluskey bought the rights to the OMD name and released what would become 1991’s Sugar Tax album. Meanwhile, The Listening Pool, for legal reasons, couldn’t release any material until McCluskey’s album was in the shops. In 1993 their charming, but underwhelming debut single, ‘Oil For The Lamps Of China’ promptly bombed. The band’s organic sound was as far removed from OMD’s Kraftwerk-inspired roots and was more akin to latter day China Crisis. Debut album, Still Life was released to mixed reviews in 1994 and followed the same commercial fate as the single. It was a shame because it was a fine album. One of the album’s best tracks, the second single ‘Meant To Be’, retained much of OMD’s melodic charms. The band would soldier on for another couple of years before calling it a day part way into the recording of a second album.

Available on the CD album Still Life via Telegraph Records/Fin Music


INTASTELLA The Night (1995)

Perhaps best described as a poor man’s Saint Etienne, Intastella had started life as indie band Laugh before taking a more dance-oriented direction upon their formation in the early 1990s. ‘The Night’ was a highly enjoyable and respectful version of the 1975 hit by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, but it unfairly stiffed at no 60. Fellow Northern Soul enthusiasts Soft Cell would later record a version of ‘The Night’ for their 2002 comeback album, Cruelty Without Beauty. The duo had actually considered recording the song for their 1981 debut album, but opted for the lesser known ‘Tainted Love’ instead – in hindsight, the best decision they ever made! As for Intastella, the Manchester–based combo would release three albums and a string of singles, but they were not successful. Singer Stella Grundy eventually turned to acting, and wrote and starred in a play about the troubled singer Nico. She is currently a drama coach.

Available on the CD album What You Gonna Do via MCA Records


U96 Boot II (1995)

A restyling of Klaus Doldinger’s film theme, Das Boot was a huge number one hit throughout Europe upon its 1991 release. Eventually hitting the top 20 in the summer of 1992, ‘Das Boot’ sounds dated now with its cacophonous stabs of vocoder and muted beats. Whilst the debut album by U96 was largely built around the smash hit single ‘Das Boot’, follow-up album Replugged from 1993 was a far more diverse album, with a range of electronic and ambient sounds. Third album, Club Bizarre was a more dance-flavoured affair. Taken from the latter album, the little-known sequel to Das Boot, cunningly titled Boot II was less immediate than its predecessor, but nonetheless engaging. Boot II employed a characteristically cinematic intro, replete with trademark submarine noises, but was more frenetically paced.. Boot II didn’t emulate the success of their debut techno anthem, but main man Alex Christensen limped on with further U96 material (including further versions of ‘Das Boot’). He has also represented Germany during the 2009 Eurovision contest performing his co-written ‘Miss Kiss Kiss Bang’ track with Oscar Loya. They finished 20th.

Available on the CD album Club Bizarre via Guppy Records


DENIM It Fell Off The Back Of A Lorry (1996)

In some respects Felt were the ultimate cult indie band of the 1980s, releasing an impressively prolific ten albums during their existence. The band’s slightly eccentric singer was Lawrence. Not only had he declined to declare his surname, but he’d also allegedly fired the band’s original drummer for having curly hair! Like Sparks, they instilled a sense of humour into their music, delivering great titles such as ‘Let The Snakes Crinkle Their Heads To Death!’ Lawrence’s next project was Denim who released their debut album, Back In Denim in 1992. Amongst Lawrence’s admirers were Pulp who invited Denim to support them during their Different Class tour in 1996. ‘It Fell Off The Back Of A Lorry’ employed a typically satirical lyric, but with the music moving in a more synth-flavoured direction (also check out the hilarious instrumental B-side ‘Snake Bite’). Somehow Denim were bypassed by a generation obsessed with Britpop. Lawrence later formed Go Kart Mozart; their second album bearing the sarcastic title, Tearing Up The Album Chart.

Available on the CD album Denim On Ice via Echo Records


INAURA Soap Opera (1996)

Also known as the band that EMI swallowed up and promptly spat out, Inaura first came to attention when they supported The Human League in 1995. Originally named Poloroid, they had been signed by EMI who had predicted big things for them; spending heavily on promotional videos and a Steve Osborne-produced album. Unfortunately they were lumped in with the ill-fated Romo scene of the mid-1990s and the signs looked ominous for the band when their ill advised, and rather grandiose, 8-minute Pink Floyd-tinged debut single, ‘This Month’s Epic’ flopped – it was no ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and garnered little radio play. Follow-up single, the rather more immediate and less pretentious ‘Soap Opera’, sounding like Nine Inch Nails fronting Duran Duran, emulated its predecessor’s fate. An album, One Million Smiles, had been earmarked for release on February 1997 but was cruelly pulled from the schedule after this latest setback. The album was eventually picked up by Org Records in 1998 but by then it was too late.

Available on the CD single Soap Opera via EMI Records


KOMPUTER Valentina Tereshkova (1996)

Oscar Wilde once declared, “Talent borrows, genius steals” but this is ridiculous! On this EP by Komputer, members Simon Leonard and David Baker have taken plagiarism to new levels. Seemingly plugging a void created by their Kling Klang counterparts (10 years had lapsed since Kraftwerk’s last album of original material, Electric Café), Komputer released an interesting EP in 1996. The best of the 4 tracks is an ode to the Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova who famously became the first woman in space; its simple biographical lyrics underscored by a distinctly “Model”-esque tapestry of sounds. Closing EP track ‘Oh Synthesizer’, meanwhile, is a virtual re-writing of ‘Neon Lights’! Incredibly, Leonard and Baker have been recording together for nearly 30 years under various guises. The duo originally began life as experimental synthpop act I Start Counting and later became the more experimental, dance-oriented act Fortran 5 before returning to their Kraftwerk-inspired roots with Komputer. Some of their best recordings have recently been remastered by Mute Records for this year’s Konnecting compilation.

Available on the CD EP Komputer via Mute Records


OUTTA CONTROL Sinful Wishes (1996)

After virtually retiring the Kon Kan name in 1993, veritable musical chameleon Barry Harris began to explore new outlets for his considerable talents. Following the Hi-Energy House album under the pseudonym Top Kat in 1994, he formed Outta Control with keyboardist Rachid Wehbi and vocalist Kimberley Wetmore. Utilising a Eurodance template that was synonymous with Haddaway, Snap! and Culture beat, the trio released a string of little-known singles and one self-titled album. One of these singles was ‘Sinful Wishes’, a song that Harris had originally recorded with Kon Kan in 1993 but one that hadn’t quite met its full potential. The new version, employing a full Eurodance makeover, provided quite a contrast with Kimberley Wetmore belting out Harris’ sexually-charged lyrics in style. The parent album also afforded Harris a chance to indulge in some of his disco influences with Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer’s 1979 collaboration ‘Our Love’ faithfully covered with Wetmore on vocals. Meanwhile Harris sang the lead on an interesting cover of ‘Together in Electric Dreams’, which was also a single. Harris later formed a highly successful partnership with DJ Chris Cox as Thunderpuss, producing a plethora of highly rated dance remixes for the likes of Madonna, Christina Aguilera and Whitney Houston.

Available on the CD album Outta Control via Interhit Records, currently unavailable


PEACH On My Own (1996)

Electropop trio Peach (or Peach Union in the US) comprised jazz singer Lisa Lamb, Paul Statham (a former member of B-Movie) and writer/producer Pascal Gabriel. Originally released in 1996, their immaculately-produced debut single, ‘On My Own’ was reminiscent of Saint Etienne, but with a definite Belinda Carlisle-esque lilt. Its use in the Gwyneth Paltrow film, Sliding Doors, led to the single being re-released and subsequently hitting the top 40 of the US Billboard chart. Unfortunately, the transatlantic success wasn’t replicated in the UK, with the single stalling at no. 69 in 1998. The trio recorded one album, Audiopeach, before disbanding. Statham has since become a prolific writer and producer, and has worked with the likes of Sophie Ellis-Baxtor, Kylie Minogue, Sarah Nixey and Chew Lips. Gabriel continues his career as a successful producer.

Available on the CD album Audiopeach via Mute Records


SEXUS The Official End Of It All (1996)

Mancunian duo Sexus were also part of the short lived so-called Romo movement. Signed by ZTT, vocalist David Savage and instrumentalist Paul Southern released their second single, ‘The Official End Of It All’ in 1996. Best described as ABC-meets-Pet Shop Boys, this fine single (like so many from the ill-fated scene) failed to chart, despite lavish praise from both Melody Maker and Smash Hits, and extensive radio play. The duo would soon fall out with ZTT who had, apparently, remixed their next single, ‘How Do You Kiss?’ behind their backs. Both this single and parent Trevor Horn-produced album, The Boyfriend Olympics, were subsequently shelved and SEXUS disappeared. They re-emerged as Psychodelicates and released an album, Go Adventuring, in 2002. Paul Southern later became a novelist.

Available on the CD single The Official End Of It All via ZTT Records


YAMO Stereomatic (1997)

Once amusingly described by OMD’s Andy McCluskey as the “Julio Iglesias of electronic music”, Wolfgang Flür had left Kraftwerk in 1987. According to his insightful autobiography, I Was A Robot published in 2000, he had received an offer to join his fellow Kling Klang compatriot, Karl Bartos, in Elektric Music, but decided to begin his own music journey. This culminated in the release of the debut Yamo single ‘Stereomatic’ in 1997, described as “a homage to the invention of the stereotone”. Displaying a wealth of musical invention that had been missing from his former employers’ recent material (see The Mix), parent album Time Pie was a bold and diverse album, containing a wealth of electronics, samples and ambient textures; its undoubted highlight being the superb 7-minute epic ‘Guiding Ray’ with its enchanting melody, simplistic phrasing, and driving, NEU!-esque beat.

Available on the CD album Time Pie via EMI Electrola


THE ALL SEEING I (featuring Phil Oakey) 1st Man in Space (1999)

In between the release of The Human League albums Octopus and Secrets, Phil Oakey released this rather quirky collaboration with fellow Sheffield electronic act The All Seeing I in 1999. The trio had already secured a top ten hit with ‘Walk Like A Panther’ (featuring crooner Tony Christie) and ‘1st Man In Space’ was a minor top 30 hit in September. With Oakey having recently penned the lyric “Keep your cornflakes in your freezers” (see ‘Night People’) you could easily be forgiven for thinking that he had also provided the lyrics for ‘1st Man in Space’, but it was in fact Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker (again the Sheffield connection is prevalent here), bemoaning the lack of Golden Nuggets and whingeing about milk carton packaging!

Available on the CD single 1st Man In Space on FFRR Records


LES RYTHMES DIGITALES featuring NIK KERSHAW Sometimes (1999)

It had been ten years since Nik Kershaw had last recorded an album (The Works), the diminutive singer and guitarist having spent a decade writing and producing songs for the likes of Let Loose and of course, Chesney Hawkes who had enjoyed a huge number one hit with ‘The One and Only’ in 1991. All this was about to change with the imminent release of his excellent album, 15 Minutes, in the spring of 1999. Meanwhile, a certain Jacques Lu Cont was about to release a second album under the name of Les Rythmes Digitales. Lu Cont was of course Stuart Price who is these days more renowned for his writing and production work for the likes of Madonna, Kylie Minogue, The Killers and Take That. Price’s impressive collaboration with Nik Kershaw, the catchy, effervescent ‘Sometimes’, had been heavily influenced by The Human League’s ‘Love Action (I Believe In Love)’. During press interviews at the time, Price insisted that Kershaw had always been his singer of choice for the project, with Phil Oakey too obvious an option. Price (or should I say Lu Cont?!) has recently brought the Les Rythmes Digitales brand out of retirement.

Available on the CD album Darkdancer via Wall Of Sound


VNV NATION Standing (1999)

This truly stunning, electro-industrial single is typical of the VNV (Victory Not Vengeance) sound, categorised as “futurepop” by their singer Ronan Harris and employs a trance-like quality that hypnotically captivates the listener. The award-winning single was number one in Germany’s DAC (alternative) chart for an impressive 8 weeks. Currently based in Germany, the duo hail from Dublin and the UK, and have released 8 studio albums since 1995. Like Muse they weave classical music influences into their electronic soundscapes, while much of their music is complemented by intelligent and profound lyrics.

Available on the CD album Burning Empires via Dependent Records


Text by Barry Page
3rd May 2012