MIDGE URE – Orchestrated

Full Score Meets Contemporary Classic

Musical success is seldom measured in time spans of more than a few years. Yet, by the time Midge Ure’s first solo single ‘If I Was’ went to No.1 in the UK Top 40 (way back in 1985), he had already lived a myriad of musical experiences and contributed to some notable collaborations (all within a ten-year professional career). Slik, Rich Kids, Thin Lizzy, Visage, Ultravox and, of course the most illustrious one-off group in musical history, Band Aid, were all buoyed by the guiding hand of his renowned musical navigation. All things considered Midge Ure is, without a doubt, a master of reinvention; traditional songcrafting always a mainstay. Hence of course why his long-awaited and much anticipated 2017 release, Orchestrated, may be a surprise to many. Yet it’s perhaps merely an extension to his current field of vision, one that we’ve come to expect from a musician with such a marked creative passion.

The last acoustic-based tour proved that it had taken Midge at least 25 years to find a set of musicians who could finally give the Ultravox songs that he’d been attacking solo for countless tours prior, the treatment and justice they deserved (no mean feat by any stretch). And it was a couple of young guys, aka India Electric Company, who pulled the task off admirably; with an obvious flair for traditional instrumentation, morphed with superb musicianship. Hats off to them, it worked. And solo acoustic is just one of the guises in which Midge has presented the music of Ultravox over the years. All things considered, and with Midge being the visionary he is, does the release of Orchestrated go that much against the grain? Absolutely not. And not only that, the music of Ultravox is already so perfectly constructed – in such a way – that it almost begs to be given an alter ego; that carefully articulated orchestral presentation. Absolutely.

Looking back, Ultravox have always showcased a virtuosity that has taken them on a gradual, yet decisive journey, and one which would extend some way beyond the archetypal pop formula. With distinct classical touches clearly evident throughout much of their electronically diverse catalogue, and perfectly balanced against a unique distribution of tone and colour, perhaps a purely orchestral-based outline was a natural progression for the existing works. In fact, consider the rich tapestries that feature in their compositions – instrumentals with cinematic impact and atmosphere – and it all slots into perfect peripheral vision. You only have to take an Ultravox song of choice to know the template was indeed already there.

While Midge didn’t quite pull off his fray into the world of Popstar to Operastar in 2011, no thanks to Katherine Jenkins, the choreographed arrangements for this latest incarnation of songs that feature on Orchestrated do attempt to guide things back towards the traditional and the organic, with such arrangements courtesy of renowned composer, pianist and master of soundtrack, Ty Unwin. Orchestrated, then, according to Midge: “took eighteen months to make, but a lifetime of work to achieve,” and features versions of Ultravox favourites set alongside classics from Midge Ure’s own solo back catalogue.

The overture, of sorts, to this whole piece then is ‘Hymn’, providing the perfect exposition with its vast ranges of sound, timbre, dynamics and instrumental colour. Instantly it’s clear – certainly with this particular track – that Ultravox has stood firm as a model for such vivid reimagining of the music. ‘Hymn”s pace and drama are perfect – it’s as majestic as you could possibly imagine… and more. Giving plenty of contrast, the low octave piano enhancement we hear is a fitting touch – you heard it in live synth format, and here it emerges as a natural figure. The introduction to ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ almost represents the most gentle, free-flowing stream. Purest of them all, and rippled with sadness, its naked piano most definitely weeping for memories that are gripped by loneliness; the understated lower register strings that bring the track to its close are emotively touching. It’s those subtle embellishments that really make a difference throughout.

It’s easy to imagine the grandiose backdrop of the Scottish isles – not least, those videos that accompanied much of the music back in the day – when listening to many of the featured tracks here. And naturally, both ‘Man Of Two Worlds’ with its atmospheric female backing vocal and gentle piano outro) and ‘Lament’, really are back on their homeland, creating a definite island and traditional type feel. And, with the latter, where the peat embers once glowed, there are flash floods of intricate detail, rising like native wildflowers, out from the remote and otherworldly expansive layering of strings.

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‘Ordinary Man’ lends its moment. It’s deep, contemplative and affectionate, while ‘Death In The Afternoon’ has a ghostly ethereal choral preamble; and so much presence, you can almost see condensation from cold breath on the windowpane. There’s the crackle of static before the track kicks in; persistent rhythmic cellos underpinning, while lively violins and responsive keys provide ornamentation and drama, shifting the track into more sunlit areas and interspersed by a melodic layer of wind accompaniment. Once again, it’s subtle… yet massively effective.

That said, while the aforementioned tracks are without a doubt standout, what’s slightly surprising about this release is that the orchestral sounds are blended, on occasion, with electronic beats – some a carefully-crafted take on the original sounds (think ‘Vienna’, with its famed introductory impact, ‘The Voice’ and ‘If I Was’). Sadly, however, with all three of these tracks, the softened beats that sometimes lack dynamic, seem to drive this portion of the album towards a synthetic and smooth-sounding sequence. To that end, and at those specific points, it’s as if the album isn’t always sure of its identity; reaching out and feeling for the occasional familiar ground in terms of its effect-driven guitar blends (‘Vienna’), reaching for the next part of the puzzle, while taking a snapshot of those original beats and reproducing them in more condensed, easy-listener friendly form.

Where the guitar instrumentation, and thus, contemporary take, really does work – and blends to perfection – is on ‘Fragile’. The album’s majestic closing movement is almost Queen/Gilmour-esque in personality, all fading to reveal a faint echo of ‘Your Name’ with its marked pulse (a subtle footprint from ‘Rage in Eden’ that you could almost miss).

It was always hard to determine whether Orchestrated was merely going to be a reworked version of classics or the sophisticated classical and larger than life reconstruction of both traditional and contemporary identity. Musically, it showcases a good backdrop upon which Midge sets his stunning voice. Touching, soothing, intimate, healing and even haunting, it’s never sounded better.

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. Representation of the originals is pretty much spot on, down to every tiny punctuating element you can think of – quite remarkable, really. Though, finally, it’s hard not to imagine this being some great symphonic masterpiece, had Billy Currie put his stamp on it. As it stands, the album – for some part – doesn’t quite move away from the contemporary pop arena (certainly when considering its lighter weight beats, systematically blended electric guitars and, not least, arrangements like ‘If I Was’). In other words: it’s good, and it certainly has its moments. But, with input from the likes of Currie it could have been taken to a new level of spectacular. Wishful thinking indeed.

For certain, on listening to a mostly laid-back Orchestrated (think festive period, snow falling outside, mince pies and malt to warm your spirits while enjoying serious contemplation), it’ll have you digging out your Ultravox albums and giving them a good old blast out loud. But, if nothing else, it might grow on you… if it hasn’t done so already.


Orchestrated by Midge Ure is out now on BMG.

http://www.midgeure.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Midge-Ure/275159919205373
https://twitter.com/midgeure1


BILLY CURRIE – Balletic Transcend

The iconic musician takes us on a magical journey…

Balletic Transcend is the new studio album from Ultravox’s Billy Currie; the ninth installment from his notable instrumental solo catalogue and a mature work of multifaceted character that has found its way from the depths of the darkest, distant, yet most beautiful Isles. A seasonal storm of graceful vitality, with special emphasis on plenty of woody, traditional flavours, not least emerging from the spicy aroma of his rich violin tones.

Although the contrast is very evident, from lively beat drives, swirling wave formations to spacey trance, the themic essentials are very obvious throughout and go some way to bind this contemporary album of epic fantasy-meets-psychological thriller.

The title track, ‘Balletic Transcend’, flourishes with its beauty, but hauntingly so, given its stunning peaks and split personality. It breaks to an uncanny silence, marking the way to lots of piano decay – very carillons à musique and a perfect passage to the stark, eerie landscape of ‘Springboard Activist’, a subtle piece with earthy violin motifs and sparkly piano.

‘Grandiloquent’ is one of those hugely melodic tracks, not untypical of Ultravox and set against a more up-tempo contemporary sounding beat. The harmonious feel cuts to welcome more decorative aspects – reminiscent of Visage’s ‘Mind of a Toy’ intro. ‘Dip’, one of the key tracks here, is a hint as to what might have appeared had the Rage In Eden album been written today, and under the scrutiny of Conny Plank. The layering and atmospherics are all there, giving dramatic impulse with heavily weighted synths and accompanying piano that morphs with meditative strings of pure Celtic feel – delicate interludes allowing the dark watercolours of the music to build. In complete contrast, ‘Back To The Head’ exhibits a modern dance feel to begin with but its dazzling jump takes it from humble to the racy sensationalist.

‘Jump Spin’ has the listener lost in the depths of a mist-laden forest, with solo violin and viola layers creating an atmospheric ascent towards a twilight afterglow. It’s a very intimate piece that has such clarity of articulation, that you can almost visually witness the manipulation of the strings – a definite showpiece of the album in terms of sound and technique. Along the lines of the likes of ‘Stand Like A Balance’ and ‘Why Do You Hang On Me?’, which demonstrate similar feel and isolation in the moment, but differ in that ‘Jump Spin’ is curiously set inside its own dialect and gains lively excitement from the fast paced beat that takes over at given intervals. If Kurt Cobain had played a violin, he’d have done something bordering on the distorted feast of strings that we hear here, plenty of angst, blending the end of the track – eventually derailing and leaving just the echoes from within a dark tunnel.

Both ‘Unbounded’ – with its most expressive, tearful strings and ‘Pothole Pirouette’ present the attractiveness of styles heard on previous albums such as Still Movement and Stand Up & Walk; very serene and spacious with plenty of rolling soundscapes. A deeply matured, earthy toned viola creates the basic mood for ‘A Feint Idea’, followed by a tide of fast flowing notes on the piano, before the waves finally break and crash with more piano offering the basis of exploration. ‘Etoile’, along with ‘Dip’, is something special. Dark set against light, with intense, soundtrack like, heavy chords, lifted with light washes of swirly synths. Again, very Ultravox styled, with traces of the recent ‘7/8′, ‘Astradyne’ and also ‘Monument’. It’s essentially the perfect closing track; a grand finale that leaves the listener ready to seek out more.

Balletic Transcend in some ways takes a step beyond anything Billy has explored before in the solo context. A magical and pivotal collection of signature sound blends, although if it were a whiskey, it would be a fine single malt that has spent many years maturing in cask, and while it’s very shadowy and edgy in places, with remote and desolate expanse, it can be a bright little guiding journey; one that shall always reference back to the intricate virtuosity of the composer.


Balletic Transcend is available as a download through the usual digital outlets and on CD via Amazon On-Demand

http://www.billycurrie.com/
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Billy-Currie/124950034330891

Live Photo by Jus Forrest.


Lost Albums: BILLY CURRIE – Accidental Poetry Of The Structure

Billy Currie delivers dark edged experimental work…

Billy Currie’s prime association has always been as one of the main men of the synthesizer. Think strikingly cutting solos that could carve effortlessly into the strongest of rock formations; fiery, distinguished and beyond the conventional. Being no stranger to individual output, Accidental Poetry Of The Structure is Billy’s seventh studio album and to mirror Billy’s vast body of solo work, is the flip-side to that golden Ultravox coin. Still drawing upon the many refinements in his playing, this time we’re driven to a more diverse area on his creative map

The flag to mark that transition was first raised back in 1988, with the release of Billy’s solo debut, Transportation. A long time had since passed and the themes contained throughout Accidental Poetry Of The Structure effortlessly draw upon those bygone decades, progressing his sound signature towards that of beautiful music and manifesting as an avant-garde collection of instrumentals, with a strong sense of free-flowing melodic transitions.

When Accidental Poetry Of The Structure first appeared in 2006, it would be a physical CD release on Billy’s Puzzle label, with an accompanying eight-page booklet staging a classy collection of moody black and white photography. As sufficiently absorbing in its design was the package, the cleverly constructed title itself was enough to instill a veritable amount of silent intrigue. Of the title, Billy quotes on his website: “The title Accidental Poetry Of The Structure is about the creative process of composing the music. When I write I usually have two or three ideas on the go. Differing colours and emotions. It is only when I work on the structure that the sparks start to fly and accidental to this process of structuralizing the piece, the musical ideas come to life and speak! The poetry of music is accidental to this creative structural activity”.

The journey into the articulate minimalism of this release begins with delicate piano sounds introducing the title track, with a subtle addition to the round, shortly followed by an immediate sensation of drama, courtesy of a familiar Apple loop, before lively beats are introduced. Later we would hear this to become the structural framework for the omnipotent ‘Satellite’ – a track that appears on the latest (2012) Ultravox album, Brilliant.

Throughout the whole album, the top end piano notes are a prominent stylistic feature; one that gently engages plenty of haunting ambience, particularly evident during ‘Williams Mix’ – a track that Billy had quoted to be quite German in influence with a nod to the legendary producer Conny Plank, ‘Skips Of A Chopped Head’, and also ‘Krakow’. The unsettling and dramatically tense pathway to ‘Skips Of A Chopped Head’ is a cousin to the high-pitched strings that initiate ‘Empty Stage Mantra’ from ‘Refine’, before it takes on a dub step feel that is encased in paranoia. ‘Krakow’ duly manages to preserve a mysterious context with a strong essence of searching.

Edging away from some of the more foreboding exhibits and towards compositions containing basic characters of gaiety, are ‘Idee Fixe Movement Three’ and ‘Matsang River’. The former contains passages of lively and lustful runs, while the latter is wonderfully buoyant and flows as nicely as the title suggests. ‘Matsang River’ was actually borne out of those final notes completing the famed ARP Odyssey solo from ‘On Broadway’, the live version that Billy performed with Gary Numan.

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‘Folly Brook’ is consistent with its delicate violin sounds; a tentative magical charm building during its onward course. Compassion’ is a blanket of idyllic peace, if not slightly solitary, while the similarly-paced ‘Listening To Strength’ concludes the work and generates a very open and spacious feeling, populated yet again with those highly emotive strings that induce melancholic overtones

Not surprisingly, the ever-evolving sound textures that blend into Accidental Poetry Of The Structure would expand upon the delicate theme of 2005’s Still Movement – another of Mr Currie’s signature albums. Additionally, we could say it was the calm before the storm; Billy’s last solo album before the high-octane adrenalin of the Ultravox reunion. Such a reunion by no means closed any creative channels however, and in August 2009, Billy’s eigth studio album Refine was a joy to behold.

What makes the potential great for future compositions is the wide sampling of ideas, coupled with the development of specific areas that Billy has previously explored in the solo context. There’s the expressive strength of ‘Unearthed’, where the contemporary symphonic reigns, and then there’s the electro-charged ‘Push’; whose touches, in part, sound more aligned with various Ultravox styles (see ‘Theremin’, ‘Step Forward’ or ‘Kissing The Shame’.)

Accidental Poetry Of The Structure is a mature effort that employs simplicity as virtuosity and hybrids of dark edged experimentation, contrasted against sublimely tranquil melodic fibres. A superbly accurate title, representing an equally impressive collection of sensual and evocative compositions.


Accidental Poetry Of The Structure is still available as a download from the usual digital outlets such as Amazon and iTunes.

Billy Currie’s new solo album Balletic Transcend is due for release in October 2013.

Ultravox play the following dates opening for Simple Minds in 2013:
Glasgow Hydro (27th November), Manchester Arena (28th November), Birmigham National Indoor Arena (29th November), London O2 Arena (30th November)

http://www.billycurrie.com/
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Billy-Currie/124950034330891
http://www.ultravox.org.uk/


JOHN FOXX Gives Evidence

Unique Interplay – The Pleasures of Electricity

There has never been a more extraordinary time for John Foxx. He remains an innovator of hard electro composition; illuminated by retro frameworks and technological genius. A somewhat purist pairing that multiplies to the sum of futuristic enlightenment. It’s a definition that’s never been more evident than it is right now. And that is by no means a bad thing. John Foxx & The Maths have not only delivered noteworthy contributions in the form of Interplay, The Shape Of Things and now Evidence – all combining to form a labyrinth of weaving sonic elements, 2013 sees them joining OMD as special guests on their forthcoming English Electric Tour.

Many will of course note John Foxx for his role as the original Ultravox frontman, where punk morphed into the electronic, appearing on 1977’s self-titled Ultravox! as well as Ha!-Ha!-Ha! (1977) and Systems Of Romance (1978), before eventually leaving the band in 1979 and achieving minor chart success under his own steam with his first solo single ‘Underpass’. Metamatic was the enigmatic template that launched John Foxx’s solo career; a body of work that has spanned a total output of 26 studio albums to date. Since those days, he has touched his peers with his unique, understated influence and is held in high esteem by a good number of mainstream artists – so much so, Foxx is a musician that will always flag up on the radar of all those who cherish the tingle-flooded moments of technological electromagnetic art form.

A lot happened over the years, including Foxx taking a hiatus from the music industry – in danger of disappearing off the grid altogether. Still, in recent times, far from being the hidden man, his analogue synthesizer roots have become a mainstay, sometimes positioned alongside the haunting Evidence of traditional instrumentation, courtesy of violinist Hannah Peel. And with John Foxx & The Maths going on to win Best Electro Act of 2011 at the Artrocker Magazine Awards of that year, he continues to receive huge critical acclaim.

His strengths remain palpable – evident to this day in the form of Sci-fi vocal work built around experimental electronics, positively charged to deliver a pioneering mix of innovatively fashioned beat maps and cinematic imagery – staggeringly confident and self-aware. The Electricity Club talks to the man himself as he reveals modern music’s finest hour and not least his making of the world’s first post-digital band.


Evidence is the latest release from John Foxx & The Maths, produced by yourself and Benge. What are the important factors from a production point of view with a new record?

Benge and his synths…

You’ve likened Benge to Conny Plank in the past?

He’s the same animal, it must be some sort of stray international gene; same intelligence, perception, patience and haircut. A no-mercy attitude to getting sounds. Complete psychoerotic involvement with technology and art. Also endearingly capable of being daft as a brush and utterly sensible, all at the same time.

There’s a cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Have a Cigar’ on Evidence – how did that come about?

By accident, like most good things. Mojo asked us to choose a track to cover for a project they were doing. It provided an excuse to go electro-psychedelic again, but with archaic material. Always loved The Floyd from the around the 60’s. They were the Brit Velvets then – experimental, edgy, unpredictable, and chemically efflorescent. Wonderful. The premise of ‘Have A Cigar’ is daft, really. Hip band whinges about massive success – truly of another era. We did it with utter respect and irony.

Of course, there are no men with cigars any more. They have Apple logos burnt into their foreheads instead – and they do not offer you a bite of the fruit. It’s the Garden Of Eden in reverse. Wait outside in the rain. No, you can’t come in. Take this Mac and bugger off. I guess we’re all Cybersurfs now. Get back to your workstation.

The John Foxx & The Maths projects – how have they been different to each other and what boundaries do you feel you’ve pushed?

Our own, mostly. Trying to honour whatever arrives with long-term involvement, good and bad, without falling prey to nostalgia or too much knowingness, complacency, desire to please or self-delusion…

Who am I trying to kid? – All completely impossible. Of course we fell for the lot and came out reasonably well by guidance from Malins – he’s the guide dog. Nips your ankles when you’re heading for the busy road.

When looking to put together an album length narrative, what inspires your lyrics?

Mostly observing your own frailty and inadequacy. Plus wandering around the streets, bumping into things and watching all the little momentary dramas and comedies.

I tend to do a lot of listening in to conversations in pubs and trains, Glimpsing other lives in lighted windows as you pass by – 5pm in winter, when the lights are just going on. If you have enough cheek to make random, seemingly senseless connections, you find they occasionally turn out to be seriously apt… or not.

And how have those concepts matured over the years?

Increase in urgency – I can see the other side of the hill, now.

You’ve been successful in portraying a very individual style along with a distinguished sound – one that utilizes vintage sounds and technology taking on that a degree of purity, yet manages to sound fresh and current. For you, what is the essential ingredient that morphs the two?

Did we really do that? If you have to blame anything – it’s simple excitement, allied to foolish pride. Dash of self-delusion and vanity… immature desire to impress, together with a naïve compulsion to communicate. Basic equipment for any aspiring artist.

You’ve produced a large body of work over the years, in collaboration with some very interesting younger musicians – who would you most like to collaborate with in the future and why?

Beautiful, desirable and intelligent women – because they may not otherwise wish to collaborate with me.

What do you think inspired musicians to use electronics and synths to create their music rather than guitars?

They make interesting noises that other instruments can’t make.

Did any particular soundtrack styled compositions that were perhaps born out of the experimental use of synthesizers ever influence you?

Oh yes.

Is it true you established some interest in the Acid House music scene?

Absolutely; modern music’s finest hour. Sound turned into a Luscious Liquid Language.

How and why did this catch your attention?

I first heard acid at James Pinker’s house in Vauxhall around 1988. It was all on cassette then – the 12 inch versions hadn’t arrived. Recognised the DNA instantly and got right on board. Psychedelic electronic dance music made by 808/909/303. Out of the speakers came these beautiful, multicoloured, 3D, feathered snake monsters of sheer sonic beauty. How could you not subscribe? You’d have to be daft, deaf and dim.

Can you give us some insight of your favourite albums and have they influenced your music in anyway?

I’ll try to be brief.
Neu! 75 was a big one – they had European Punk Electro down years before the rest of the world got there. ‘Isi’ is the track. Gorgeous.

Phaedra by Tangerine Dream was another – Psychedelia under the floorboards. Grabs your ankles with chilly hands before you can get into bed.

All Conny Plank’s recordings of Kraftwerk – he invented the sound. Genius meets vision. The future got realized and Conny recorded it all. No Conny would have meant no German scene and therefore modern music would now have a totally different shape. Kraftwerk would have joined The Shadows.

Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder – When ‘I Feel Love’ first swayed out of the speakers, I thought Kraftwerk had got a black woman singer – total ecstatic, genius combination – and a pulse that replaced the one in your heart.

The Velvet Underground – Lou Reed stole Dylan’s entire 1968 New York routine and mixed it up with Warhol, suicidal model girls, drugs, distortion and feedback. Nick Kent was one of the first Brits to spot what was going on and wrote about it all with flair and accuracy. It will never die or age.

Harold Budd & Brian Eno The Pearl – Purity and intelligence moving in entirely the opposite direction to everything else. We had to build an entirely new weather system to accommodate this particular stream.

Switched On Bach – Great slabs of Inevitable Music from WENDY CARLOS. First illustration of the power of Modular Logic.

Dark Side Of The Moon – Complete world in a bit of vinyl. Like the Sistine Chapel, it’s too expensive to build on this scale anymore. The era has gone and we don’t have the craftsmen.

Thomas Tallis – True British, transcendent incandescence. I went to Rome, heard ‘Palastrina’, brought it back here and exceeded it all. Incredible. Play ‘Spem In Alium’ loud at night. Luminous structures multiply in the room. You can walk around in it.

Keith Jarrett – ’70s Live European Concerts. Brought the delight of improvisation – and the simple complexity of piano lyricism without Jazz cliché – to life, in public, all over the world. I’m endlessly grateful for that. Only bit I didn’t like was the gratuitous ivory thumping at the end.

You’ve always made a huge effort to take analogue synths out as part of your stage show and sound. How important is that aspect to you given the soft versions that are now available? Is it a purist thing?

Yes. We are Purist, Puritan – Puritanical. And now the world’s first post-digital band. These instruments absolutely do sound unique and different. Visually, they also inspire confidence and announce your intentions. They are capable of destabilizing all materials, from large concrete and steel structure to the synapses of cockroaches. You can also hide behind them. We recently recruited Professor Stephen Dawkins as Head of Certainty, to do an Ayatollah Tour of stadiums and bookshops. With his PR skills, our rise will be inexorable…

What piece of equipment excites you most and why?

I dare not reply.

I think many would find it an interesting collaboration if you were to team up with any of your ex-band mates from Ultravox on a track and/or project. I have to ask if you’ve ever had the urge or inclination to do so?

Oh yes – Rob Simon and I will make an album soon. He’s the best guitarist I’ve ever heard – and I’ve heard them all.

What can you recall as the most significant from the early days with Ultravox? And have any of those experiences in particular brought you to the place you are now?

The effect of working in a band as it begins to wake up to the fact that it’s a swarm organism and beginning to play in concert with itself. That’s always brief moment, but a peak experience for any participant. Of course, you later realize the chemistry is easily shattered and utterly non-retrievable…

Was there a point within your various works where you had felt that you’d found your ultimate voice, or communicated something significant?

Several times. Mostly you’re kidding yourself. Still, I guess it supplies a reasonably honourable motive for continuing…

Jonathan Barnbrook made some amazing animated projections at the Roundhouse show back in 2010 – how much input do you have with regards the visual aspects? Is there a typical brief?

Agreed – I hate to admit but it’s all Jonathan – I’m constantly astounded at his inventiveness and accuracy. He’s a first rate image maker. Those visuals actually expand the songs. Exponentialism of the first order.

Karborn, too – he does great visuals and we work together all the time.

Some people are capable of making the material bigger – often you see how inappropriate imagery will diminish the songs. We are fortunate to have found people who do the opposite.

In recent times, synthpop has continued to make its mark given some of the high-impact releases that have emerged in recent times. Are there any recent releases in the genre that stand out for you?

Oh, lots of it. I find I particularly enjoy lots of those abstracted synthbleep moments you find even in the most generic dance records. The downside is lots of bands are sticking a temporary synth bit on while the fashion’s going. Decorative, not structural.

I especially love the way Skrillex makes everyone jump in the taste trials at the moment – Bart Simpson got a computer. America calls it Dubstep, that’s a misnomer – nowt to do with it – more like nice, cheap rave with Big Lights and all possible generic elements pasted together. What I like about it is – it’s completely independent of our intricate tribal snobbery – great whoosh of fresh air in the dark cathedral of UK/Europa taste.

You’re touring the UK with OMD this spring. How did this come about?

We’re seizing an opportunity to expand our audience on the back of someone else’s success.

What approach are you likely to take with the shows?

Head on. Lights Off. No Mercy.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to John Foxx.

Special thanks to Steve Malins at Random PR. Header photo by Ed Fielding.

Evidence is released by Metamatic Records and available now as a CD and download

John Foxx & The Maths play as special guests of OMD on their 2013 English Electric UK tour which includes:

Margate Winter Gardens (28th April), Birmingham Symphony Hall (29th April), Nottingham Royal Centre (1st May), Ipswich Regent Theatre (2nd May), London Roundhouse (3rd May), Bristol Colston Hall (5th May), Oxford New Theatre (6th May), Sheffield City Hall (8th May), Leeds Academy (9th May), Manchester Academy (10th May), Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (12th May), Gateshead Sage (13th May), Liverpool Empire (14th May)

John Foxx & The Maths play a headline show at Brighton’s Concorde 2 on 7th June with support from Vile Electrodes. Tickets can be purchased from the Concorde 2 online box office.

John Foxx & The Maths also play The Playground Festival at London’s Brixton Academy on 8th June with Gary Numan and a host of DJ guests including ex-Kraftwerk percussionist Wolfgang Flür. A special offer for Foxx and Numan fans offering a discounted ticket of £27.50 is available for a limited period at: https://www.trackitdown.net/event/the-playground-festival-gary-numan-special-offer/401.html

http://www.johnfoxxandthemaths.com/

http://www.metamatic.com/


Alles Klar – On Tour With ULTRAVOX

Now in the fourth year of their widely documented reunion, Ultravox know no boundaries. When it came to the next jigsaw sequence in Ultravox history, the unveiling of their 2012 studio album Brilliant, with a European tour to follow, was an impressive gesture of intent. With input from both Billy Currie and Warren Cann, The Electricity Club discusses the European electronic tradition, the heart of which was beating in Cologne at the beginning of the 1960s. We look at the German pioneers, and how they would potentially impact on the creative nucleus of classic-era Ultravox


Electrification


Ultravox were amongst the innovators of British electropop that started to edge their way into the mainstream just over three decades ago. However, some aspects of their unique brand of British New Wave would sit more comfortably alongside the dark shadows of an imposing location, somewhere in Germany. And, considering the new electro Europeans had already been unleashing offerings that were born out of that very hotbed for heavy industry (take the likes of Neu! and Kraftwerk as fine examples), it would appear that Ultravox would follow them nicely, complete with abstract lyrics and a graphic stance.

Germany is, of course, where the first seeds were planted with regard to experimental electronic music. For the German main-players, styled expression was the soundtrack – one that would elicit freedom and present music in different forms. A hit back at the social problems and a diverse contrast to what was considered the norm. It started as early as 1968 with a band known as Organisation, who would later change their name to Kraftwerk in 1970. Subsequently, towards the back end of the 1970s, many artists in the UK were taking their cue and experimenting with the synthewsizer and thus, citing bands such as Kraftwerk as their primary influence when it came to manipulating their new found signatures. The German pioneers could almost be a Power Station full of raw materials that would get broken down and used later – and in many varied forms.

Shortly over thirty years later, the rise of the album Brilliant – and subsequent tour – proved that Ultravox never lost their way musically. They would eventually shift direction, but the impact of those early German influences (particularly throughout their former years) was more than just a mere paperweight.

Uncovering Brilliance – Europe 2012


Ultravox never did things by halves. Although their initial UK show consisted of two sets, the band announced that they would be foregoing a support act in favour of playing for longer. They did just that, their full show consisting of a twenty seven song set divided by a twenty-minute interval. Playing live is what they do best – “Ultravox never came across on record,” states Warren Cann.

The set would go through its natural evolution process that encompassed a couple of minor tweaks, including some re-ordering of encores. “It was actually the merchandising guy that pointed it out,” Warren Cann tells The Electricity Club, referring to when original encore ‘Contact’ swapped places with ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’. “He said people were less likely to buy a tee-shirt on the way out if they were leaving on a low.” It was later omitted from the set completely by the time the show got to Europe. And there lies the challenge in putting together a set: “Imagine four guys with a paint brush”.

Warren explained that they would list all their songs and then each member would go through them to determine those out of the question and those that they’d like to do. He expounded additional factors, such as the need to consider the key of the song or whether Midge played too much keyboards or guitar in particular sections of the set . Therefore there was a need to judge the whole look and feel, in addition to enabling it to work musically.

Forging a set list from Brilliant was obviously new territory for the band this time around: “I think there are songs that we are not playing that we should be playing,” stated Warren when speaking of the tracks from Brilliant. But his preferences regarding the set didn’t stop there: “I’d like to play ‘Passionate Reply’, as well as a couple of Foxx-era tracks including ‘Slow Motion’,” he reveals, following the Leipzig gig (which saw the band return to a traditional one set show). “Playing two sets was weird,” adds Billy Currie. “I was glad to get back to the one set again in Germany”.


Dropping ‘Visions In Blue’, ‘Change’, and ‘White China’, they would apply a serious re-think about the running order; which saw new encores ‘The Thin Wall’ and ‘The Voice’ installed within a single set. It worked to the best of advantages, providing a refreshing experience, given the changes were somewhat unexpected. It stripped out formality and exposed a reinvigorated band that would mirror the majority of German audiences in their more intimate venues (in terms of energy that is). Warren also commented on how much they enjoyed the vibrancy of the European shows in comparison to the rather sedate British audiences. Billy added: “I have great memories of the UK concerts. The audiences tend to soak up the whole production scene when seated, and so can be quieter.”

Arguably, they were a different band on the continent and the cogs were well and truly oiled. “The Berlin, Cologne, Munich and Hamburg gigs were all great memories for me,” says Billy. “I think the band played well. In Germany we played large clubs where the audience stand for over two hours. I think they felt more full-on involved! The sound is much more basic in these clubs. More like a straightforward rock gig really… sorry, electronic rock gig. I enjoy both kinds. Unfortunately I am obscured by my own piano to the lower down standing club audience. That gets a bit tedious! I must take up the violin!”

Upon reaching Cologne, they were placed in what could almost feature as their spiritual home given the prominence of their iconic, early releases that were written and recorded there. Opening with the title track from their new album Brilliant, before stepping into their distinct blend of rock band persona for ‘New Europeans’, it was no surprise that they would continue to generate lashings of raw atmosphere that stemmed from those important changes made to the show configuration in Leipzig. This time it was non-stop power, which saw them step out from the industrial shadows and deliver all the raw materials they’d always been noted for, not least, the drama of their most famous ballad ‘Vienna’ – which incidentally had a certain magical appeal when witnessed at the Gasometer venue in Vienna.

There were rocked up versions of the hits ‘Hymn’ and ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’, these two tracks in particular exhibiting some subtle differences. For one, they had become more guitar orientated and the keyboard part on the verses of ‘DWTIME’ was difficult to extract at all the shows (although it’s as clear as a bell on the Hammersmith live recordings). Explosive breaks of synths and violin were still high on the agenda though. Take ‘Astradyne’ for example, and not least, the undercurrent of its uplifting piano melodies. Every show on the tour earned its own special place – Midge and Billy’s handshake onstage in Munich following ‘We Stand Alone’, and one dangerously intense synth solo, was another notable moment that induced masses of audience cheers.

There was no shortfall when it came to showcasing their new catalogue from Brilliant either. And, true to form, on each night they would deliver the grandest of finales: ‘The Voice’, which now has a more powerful piano sound behind it, saw all four members taking part in their legendary percussive workout before taking their bows and tossing their drumsticks into the audience. “I’ve really enjoyed playing these European shows,” remarked Warren after the Cologne gig.

In returning to Germany for their recent dates, it’s logical to ponder whether there is still an affinity to the country, with the band having worked on Systems Of Romance, Vienna and Rage in Eden there. Were there any surges of nostalgia for the band? “Yes! In Berlin,” says Billy. “I had a great view from my hotel window looking west towards Tiergarten. I knew I was looking towards Kufurstendamm, so in the early evening (we’d just flown in from Gothenburg), I walked the eight kilometers there through Tiergarten. I just wanted to be on the street of Kurfurstendamm again after so many years. In the 1970s we stayed there a few times while performing at the Kant Kino. This was when we drove through East Germany”. The ambience of the location must obviously have changed somewhat over the decades. “Berlin had a real pressure cooker vibe to it then. After the gig, we used to fall across the road into the many clubs. Most of them playing Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. Great memories.”

Berlin was an original centre of experimentation at the start of what would become Germany’s experimental period in terms of new music. Bowie had also acknowledged this, taking the decision to record Low and ‘Heroes’ at the city’s Hansa Studio by the Wall, back in ‘76/’77 respectively. Since the 1970s and the days of Kant Kino, Ultravox would return to Germany for subsequent tours. “As a nod to the 1980s, “I walked back past the Hotel Inter-Continental near the zoo,” says Billy. “We stayed there in 1982 when then-Vice President George Bush was in town. We flew into Berlin then. There were so many riot police and demonstrators that we found it very hard to even get to the gig! The hotel looked different. It looked free. Lots of space around it rather than walls and gun towers! It was dark when I walked back by the river.”

The Finer Threads

With abstract sounds – sometimes so shockingly stark, that they would blend into sonic soundscapes – the threads that form the basis of classic-era Ultravox’s landmarks are easy to identify. Ultravox! (with the “!”) were named so after Neu! and when it came to Ultravox continuing their significant journey, their albums Vienna and Rage in Eden (as well as the earlier Foxx-era Systems Of Romance) would flash the genius of legendary Cologne based producer, Conny Plank – providing a common pathway that was shared by both Neu! and La Düsseldorf .

With many of Ultravox’s early, non-commercial and more obscure album tracks would come misunderstanding; being deemed cold, grim and mechanical, by the many who would often misjudge their artistry. Yet something seems incredibly appropriate when considering such a description – take the influences of the time, and not least, the visual aspects of the work. With the darker qualities of their writing, they remained uncompromising – just as those who had gone before them had. They nurtured the creative nucleus that allowed the more daring elements to flow and they made no apologies for it.

Ultravox would ultimately embrace the synthesizer, yet they set themselves even further apart by mixing that distinct blend of rock band instrumentation with various electronic personas. The earlier German bands of the genre had strived to edge beyond the basic rock ‘n’ roll simplicities, but for Ultravox guitar instrumentation would creep back in with tracks such as ‘All Stood Still’ and ‘New Europeans’. The Vienna album as a whole appeared to be built upon those very foundations and would expand upon what had already drifted into our consciousness from Germany – for those who cared enough to listen. But not only that, they took things a step further with notable classical blends also, morphing it all with softer tinges of accessible pop, or theatrical ballad. What their clever integration of styles also did, was enable them to step ahead of their more progressive German cousins, forming a brand new musical identity. It was perhaps less freeform – in the progressive sense – but it still had an expressive edge, depending on which side of their personality you would choose to appraise.

Slightly later, the concept styling of Rage in Eden was a throb of darkening desire that would touch the air with its cold voice. ‘Stranger Within’ would give way to a thrilling ride that bore similar temperate tones to Neu! guitarist Michael Rother’s ‘Feuerland’. ‘Feuerland’ with its sinister contours, maintains a pace that strives towards anxiety-driven movements sharing that familiar pulse evident in ‘Stranger Within’. The Neu! track ‘E-Musik’ is a thought-provoking one. It would be the inspiration for live B-side ‘Face To Face’, with similarities that certainly exhibit that same sense of place. Consider its texture template – from building trippy guitar to distinctive rhythmic foundations. Tones from ‘Hallogallo’ could also be traced into ‘Face To Face’, but ‘E-Musik’ is particularly significant. Drummer Klaus Dinger exhibited a motorik style much like Apache Indian tribal motifs, which Warren Cann would essentially borrow, despite him having very much being exposed to traditional blues-rock platitude. “The first gig I ever saw was Jimmy Hendrix in Vancouver,” recalls Warren.

With regards to themes around tribal drum work, cosmic rockers Faust also did lots of experimentation in this area. Looking back to ‘E-Musik’, its rhythmic chant drives forth another interesting commentary when considering how these particular drum patterns also align, not only with the outro to ‘The Voice’ (and that famed live drum solo), but also ‘The Song (We Go)’ off 1982’s Quartet album. The infusion of howling wind mid-track is a distinct haunting touch that shifts towards the intro of ‘Reap The Wild Wind’, as heard on Monument The Soundtrack. When Neu! split, thankfully that didn’t mark the end of a great period of German music. Michael Rother would go solo while Klaus Dinger went on to form La Düsseldorf. Harking back to the days of The Blitz Club, DJ Rusty Egan would play ‘Viva’ by La Düsseldorf; it also featured in the soundtrack for the Boy George dramatisation Worried About the Boy.

Conny Plank would produce the first La Düsseldorf album as well as the first three Rother albums. Billy Currie mentioned in an interview with TEC back in May that ‘Astradyne’ was heavily influenced by La Düsseldorf, most probably by the twenty minute epic ‘Cha Cha 2000′ with its middle piano breakdown and epic synthphonics. The Rother track ‘Zyklodrom’ also appears to have a marked presence. There are synth washes that melt into an empty background and those that appear towards the latter part of ‘Astradyne’ are perhaps a miniscule nod to ‘Zyklodrom’. Sonically, it’s a fiery micro-symphony with gallant tones, as is ‘Astradyne’. The mid synth sections of ‘Passing Strangers’ are also closely aligned to ‘Cha Cha 2000’. They’re also witnessed more recently, creeping into play on ‘Live’ from Brilliant. Speaking of Rother, the track ‘Sonnenrad’ was the inspiration for ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ – Billy was given the Sterntaler album, from which it came, by Conny Plank. It’s certainly possible to feel how ‘DWTIME’ could emerge from the dampened down guitar progression that underpins ‘Sonnenrad’, while noting also the rhythmic dimensions. The intros could almost be one of the same, in terms of feel, tempo, pitch and structure.

Weaving it all together, the pre-show music at the 2012 Ultravox gigs featured Rother’s ‘Flammende Herzen’ and ‘Karussell’, plus La Düsseldorf’s ‘Time’ and ‘Silver Cloud’. ‘Silver Cloud’ has a sharp synth overlay that brushes against those of ‘One Small Day’ and even drives a slight Celtic atmosphere. ‘Karussell’ however is probably the most Ultravox sounding adventure, purely due to its star bright synth motifs. But Ultravox sounding or not, such a playlist of music would give their recent shows a more potent European scent – a fitting touch.

Reflecting on what was special to him as a musician regarding this post-Neu! axis and how it influenced the direction of Ultravox, Billy Currie tells The Electricity Club: “I wasn’t influenced by them that much, but I heard the string atmosphere of Kraftwerk’s Radio-Activity and never looked back. Certainly, the strings do bear distinct alignment with the live version of ‘Mr X’, especially when the synths layer up for the outro; hugely atmospheric reveries that swell into that plethora of electric blue mist. “I heard Neu!’s ‘Hallogallo’,“ he adds. “It has ethereal synth playing ninths over a bass end that oscillates your lower stomach. That was in Conny’s studio. What a moment!”

With reference to influence revealing itself in Brilliant, Billy explains: “On ‘Rise’, there is a ninth interval in the verse (Neu!), plus simple left hand pad triads (La Düsseldorf). The subtle difference is that the triads are not that simple because the pads I do have an octave on the top so they sound a bit fuller. Possibly more classical than La Düsseldorf.” It is a thought that influences may be exchanged both ways. Ultravox may have either knowingly or unknowingly assimilated elements on to their albums and visa versa. “I think La Düsseldorf were equally influenced by us.” says Billy. “We wrote ‘I Can’t Stay Long’ and ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ in 1975 and 1977 respectively… I say!”

Billy once quoted in an interview with Beatmag circa 2006 that the solo at the end of ‘The Voice’ was very German and that also, ‘Williams Mix’ on his solo album Accidental Poetry Of The Structure is “quite German, with a definite nod to Conny Plank.” But then that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Neu!’s ‘Leb Wohl’, with its soft piano timbres could make its acquaintance with much of Billy’s solo work. ‘The Voice’ of course displays one of those renowned fiery solos, and it’s quite possible that various trademarks were exchanged between Ultravox and Neu! when it came to such a free-form improvisation formula.

Futuristic Presence

Working with producer Stephen Lipson, the band would deliver an album that looked forward rather than back, and much of that can be put down to technological advances. In a recent interview with GForce Software, Billy spoke of his decision to avoid the use of the VSM on the Brilliant album (the VSM having the ability to replicate the Elka Rhapsody 610), in an effort to avoid over blowing certain vintage elements. There’s no harm in some of the key fundamentals that do remain – Billy’s ARP Odyssey soloing for one. An absolute favourite, and still very much possible on stage, thanks to the Oddity software instrument. The onslaught of the laptop-based studio also makes the logistics of writing and recording easier, so who knows with regards to possible future material?

When asked about the talk that’s been circulating recently regarding a possible US tour, Warren wasn’t overly optimistic about the reality of this actually happening. With regard to his views on their impact as a band in the States, he said: “It was down to the record company.”

The release of Brilliant did indeed put the band’s signature back on the parchment, certainly within Europe, but whether that scroll reaches further afield remains to be seen. Ultravox would remain a cult band in the States, but the fact that 2013 will see Midge Ure take his solo show across the waters, extending to both the States and Australia, is certainly a mark of optimism.

To conclude, the impact of the Ultravox sound can always be found and/or referenced – not a bad thing. Author Simon Reynolds, in his book Energy Flash quotes Adam Lee Miller of Adult: “I always get a kick when people say the first techno record was Cybotron’s ‘Alleys of Your Mind’. To me, it was just a New Wave record. It sounds particularly close to ‘Mr X’ by Ultravox.”


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The Electricity Club gives its warmest and grateful thanks to Warren Cann and Billy Currie.

Special thanks also to friends of The Electricity Club throughout Europe for their hospitality and kindness.

Brilliant is released on CD and double clear vinyl by Eden Recordings/EMI Music.

Ultravox 2012 Tour – Live at Hammersmith Apollo is released as a 2CD set by Live Here Now.

http://www.Ultravoxbrilliant.com/

http://www.billycurrie.com/

http://www.facebook.com/warren.cann.10

Banner Design by Toni Hearn.


ULTRAVOX – Brilliant

“Radiate and shine – to light your path to glory…”

As far as new studio album releases go, the collaborative talents of the classic line-up of Ultravox, featuring Midge Ure, Billy Currie, Chris Cross and Warren Cann, have been somewhat buried for twenty-eight years. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case. They’re back, stepping boldly into the spotlight with Brilliant, their new studio album, recorded in Canada, Los Angeles and the UK.

As an album, Brilliant is a contemporary sound art for 2012, yet it’s etched with those deep, idiosyncratic electro sound pictures you’d expect – all contrasted with some moderately rocked-up guitar interchanges. It’s very much punctuated throughout with Chris’ familiar synthesized bass foundation; one that, in this instance, anchors the record to the band’s definitive roots. In addition, there are moments that show the lighter flashes of upbeat popular accessibility that we’ve witnessed on past commercial successes. Lyrically, it’s a poetic narrative, very much gesturing towards the emotional and most certainly reflected back within the musical elements – occasionally in the form of some chilling harmonic sweeps, but mainly with the monochrome cinematic moments of mood magic that Ultravox do so well. There’s an array of treated vocal experiments from Midge – as such giving the album its modern gloss.

‘Live’ is the powerfully outspoken opener, with a fiery mantra, bright melodic contours, interesting shifts in key and not least an intensely powerful drum sound. The piano runs very much mirror the lively motifs of ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’, and the track hosts a similar soaring chorus. The mood magic arrives with overdriven guitar riffs eventually dissolving beautifully to form a simple, yet moving atmospheric break, still underpinned by Warren’s drums; but crossing the map into a modern edged bright and intensely catchy synth hook. A potential tour anthem, very much setting the standard here on in; any pre-held misconceptions about a record that might be lacking some meat on the bones are instantly cast aside. ‘Flow’ outwardly pushes aspects that invade the perimeters of a regular Midge Ure solo effort, albeit with an Ultravox-styled charismatic instrumental break. But it’s the current single, and title track,’Brilliant’, that radiates a glow that’s so unmistakably Ultravox. It’s a luminous construction, articulated by those previous melodic concepts that were so prominent in the past; intensified with a euphoric synth tapestry that goes some way to create an intoxicating nostalgic touch.

But it doesn’t stop there. For the old-school fundamentalists, ‘Change’ is most likely to be one of the highlights of the album. It’s a lusty gathering of reflective imagery : a large-scale tone painting that not only resonates deeply, but filters through electro regions that range from Kraftwerk’s ‘The Model’ to Visage’s ‘Fade To Grey’ – such clever orientation, guided by Billy’s provocative ARP Odyssey lines. Following the mid section, a gracious piano run loans its spine-tingling enchantment, giving way to gentle counter-melodic ripples that become enclosed within the existing deep waves of metallic synth back-story. Nocturnal and intensely European. An absolute classic.

Bringing about a bold rhythmic transformation is the anthemic ‘Rise’. A track that’s sure to become another staple within the newly invigorated Ultravox catalogue; an unbreakable structure consisting of an electro-centric haven, styled with an updated metrical drive that can still kick back to retro. There’s that immense percussive persuasion at work, decorated with one of Midge’s signature elevating vocal melodies. Animated movements slowly become draped in the virtuosity of a saw-tooth Odyssey break. Add to that even more characteristic layers and we have the scents of all those original outbursts, plus enough infectious charm to remind us how we all got here. In complete contrast, like black against white, the haunting reveries of ‘Remembering’ reveal themselves. Backtracking through the echoing corridors of life; later bringing with it some up to date, yet very average laid back pop overtones.

‘Hello’ hails a more traditional rhythmic drive, drenched with eastern-tinged guitar power that’s set against a delicate piano melody. The atmospheric breakout of futuristic vocal is bathed in chilly washes of synth before the elements later develop into an artful web of guitar and hard-edged Odyssey sounds – each taking a lead, pushing and steering towards the vision of a somewhat elegant masquerade. The meandering static of ‘One’ with its melancholy tones, edges it’s way forward and brings a gradual building of echo-like timeline around a strong percussive framework. There’s even a brief moment of chime-like lift.

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For huge dramatic tension however, it has to be ‘Fall’, delivering a scene setting prelude before velvet like vocals align themselves against the abstract backdrop. It’s also decorated with bell like chimes; such gentler moments echoing a close cousin to ‘Lament’. Intrepid weighty synths suddenly swing into action, creating unrelenting depths of cathedral-esque chords. There’s a moment as it edges back to the subdued with an unforgettable Celtic twist of violin melody, but in the main, it’s a multilayered sound, building like thunderclouds; think strength, and a depth of atmospherics laden with textured guitars and fluttering piano motifs – all of which leave in its wake the swirling mists of the ‘Vienna’ video. Keeping the progression dark, despite its upbeat tempo, is ‘Lie’ – another standout track, given that it’s not only drenched in pure synth richness, but completed with emotional guitar work. A shimmering uplift that is simple in concept.

The quick ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ style step of ‘Satellite’ has superb vocal/guitar interplay; a subtle layering of vocal that drives depth on the verses and meets the sinister guitar crossfire by way of answer – very evocative. The dazzling, yet subtle swift keyboard movements lift the choruses and there’s a sprightly bridge to the most impressive string break. If an instrument could have an example of a particularly striking moment in its lifetime then this would most definitely be it. So alive, the strings draw breath. Smouldering longingly with thickening timbres, before the organic tone of its smoky lows slip back to mirror the melodic line of the track – now reaching sweet heights. A dramatic closure, fleshed out with guitars – an atmosphere that undoubtedly delivers moments from eden. Another showstopper.

For Ultravox, Brilliant marks out a fundamentally structured pathway to an enriched repertoire, flaunting at times the tonal residue and decay of Rage In Eden. But it’s ‘Contact’ that heralds the pianissimo ending, if you like, and completes the work; in much the same way as ‘Your Name (Has Slipped My Mind Again)’ affects the contours of Rage In Eden. It’s got that intimate vocal. The expressive bass guides the immense sense of loneliness here, while the violin and guitar weep gently within their own space. It almost certainly swings the compass back towards the starting point, which in this case isn’t ‘The Voice’. But ‘Live’, just as uplifting, holds the same portion of contrast. And while some may not consider the band to be breaking new territory, that isn’t strictly speaking the case.

Brilliant presents a re-invigorated Ultravox; a band that are happy to tread familiar boards, yet are self-assured enough to step forwards onto additional floor space in terms of tapping into modernistic post-production tweaks. You’ll hear it all here. The result: not just Brilliant, but both a brilliant and new beginning.


Brilliant is released by EMI Records on 28th May 2012.

Special thanks to Rusty Egan and Ingrid Heckl.


Ultravox tour the UK and Europe in Autumn 2012. Dates include:
Bristol Colston Hall (21st September), Oxford New Theatre (22nd September), Portsmouth Guildhall (23rd September), Nottingham Royal Concert Hall (25th September), Birmingham Symphony Hall (26th September), London Hammersmith Apollo (27th September), Guildford G-Live (29th September), Manchester Palace Theatre (30th September), Southend Cliffs Pavillion (2nd October), Ipswich Regent (3rd October), Sheffield City Hall (4th October), Blackpool Opera House (6th October), Glasgow Clyde Audiotorium (7th October), Gateshead The Sage (8th October), Hamburg Docks (14th October), Oslo Rockefeller (21st October), Berlin Columbiahalle (25th October), Mainz Phoenixhalle (26th October), Leipzig Haus Auensee (27th October), München Kesselhaus (29th October), Memmingen Stadthalle (3rd November), Milan Alcatraz (5th Novermber), Köln E-Werk (7th November), Bielefeld Ringlokschuppen (8th November)

www.Ultravox.org.uk
www.midgeure.com
www.billycurrie.com
www.rememberingeden.co.uk
http://Ultravox.npage.de/
www.midgeure.eu


An Interview With BILLY CURRIE

The True Transmission

Billy Currie is a classically trained, multi-talented instrumentalist / composer. With a serious musical background, he was once offered a place at London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Music back in 1969.

He opted not to go; the prospect of regimented training and academics being promptly traded for a more creative and experimental outlook. He didn’t go far wrong and since then, he’s worked with Tubeway Army and subsequently toured with Gary Numan’s band in 1979. He was also a member of Visage (a studio-based project fronted by New Romantic icon Steve Strange), and co-wrote the smash hit single ‘Fade to Grey’ with Chris Payne and Midge Ure. Now a long-standing member (since 1974) of the new wave electronic rock/pop synth pioneers Ultravox, Billy has long since been associated with the technical side of song crafting. Without a doubt he is Ultravox’s very own virtuoso of counterpoint and melody, and famed for delivering sounds of radical contrast; all of which seem to hold that air of suggestive spontaneity.

Billy is typically noted for his trademark soloing, which in the main, was created using his ARP Odyssey synthesizer. His profound blends of some of the most harmonious and expressive sounds, have not only helped establish him as a player with a unique charismatic edge, and one of unprecedented musical sophistication, but have also brought a somewhat striking shade to the colourful threads that were interwoven to form the music of Ultravox.

As a violinist, Billy would create a stylish, yet subtle classical inflection that still manages to leave a glaze all of its own, some three decades-plus later. On an instrument that perhaps lends itself more to virtuosity than others, he has also given scope to some of the most meaningful and unique aspects of Ultravox compositions, when considering the eloquent melodic violin sequences contained within the vast majority of their earlier material. Alongside his sharp soloing however, be it on violin or synthesizers, there’s also the alto voicing of his viola playing, often understated and played legato – adding yet another dynamic to his sound.

To date, Billy has eight solo albums to his credit. Each exhibits many distinct and individual stylistic features, ranging from the exhilarating and worldly Transportation (Billy’s 1988 solo debut), to the organic violin/viola sounds that constitute Stand Up & Walk. The most diverse of all, perhaps, emerges from the dynamic, intricate orchestration that leaps off the score to form Unearthed – showcasing snapshots of the lively symphonic, all set against contemporary vision, with definite impressionist elements that arguably go a little way to trigger a reminder to the French composer Maurice Ravel. Other works include Accidental Poetry Of The Structure, a delicately voiced dialogue forming an impressive collection of sensual and evocative compositions. There’s the heavily weighted, emotionally charged, upbeat synthesizer sounds hailing as Push, and not least, the wonderful minimalistic expanse that is Still Movement – to mention but a few.

Following the reformation of Ultravox in 2009 for their critically acclaimed Return To Eden tour, there was more to follow in 2010, which saw them stage their show not only in Britain, but also in Europe and Scandinavia. In the space of just two years, fans have been privileged with the release of the Return To Eden DVD (filmed live at the London Roundhouse in 2009) and also 2011’s Moments From Eden EP (recorded live during the German leg of the Return to Eden Part 2 tour.). However, the best and most celebrated news would come in January 2011 with the announcement of a brand new Ultravox album in the making. Fast forward to May 2012 and the album is here. The album entitled Brilliant is ready to hit the streets with Billy lately citing his favourite track was ‘Live’.

Just very recently, Billy stated on his website that he was also working on his next solo output. The Electricity Club caught up with him to talk about his vast body of work and not least, the new Ultravox album.


The news regarding the new Ultravox album only became public knowledge in January 2011 and was a tremendous surprise for fans – when did a new Ultravox record become a very real possibility for the four of you?

It was July 2010. We had a meeting and decided YES!

New music is something you seem to have set your sights on fairly early on, picking up from previous interviews since the live reunion?

That’s correct, I discussed it with Midge and Chris as early as May 2009. They were not very interested then. We all got more serious about it while doing the 2010 Return To Eden Part 2 tour and in Sweden for the festivals, we spent the travelling time discussing how we would go about it. I have a great memory of Chris driving me and Warren all the way across Sweden to Varberg. We talked a lot. Beautiful country, especially in August. We usually went there in winter.

After putting out so much solo material, how did you find working with a full band again?

I was anxious at first. When we went over to Canada the first time in September 2010, we did not bring ideas with us to work on. I thought that was good. We all felt the same way. We had to start from scratch.

I brought a couple of very basic ideas just to fall back on if we got a NOTHING HAPPENING AT ALL moment. One became ‘Rise’. The band put such a great rhythm to it that I had to take my average idea off and do something better. Midge helped. It was a simple pattern of chords. A few 2nd inversions though. That’s an influence from my solo work. It’s just the bass playing the 5th of the chord.

How would you describe the tone of Brilliant?

It’s sounding bright and positive. It sounds like we are having a good time.

Stephen Lipson is an excellent choice as producer. What extra qualities has he brought to the album?

Mostly energy! He has lots of it! He is very organised as well. We mixed it together. He is very good with drums and the bass synth. He would work tirelessly on them. He never forgot the whole picture though. His sounds are powerful and direct. He responded very well to the mid-tempo tracks. With ‘Hello’, he helped us virtually rewrite it in the studio!

And with ‘Remembering’, he told us to go away and rewrite it! He does not take any prisoners. It was good that he knew how far to get involved. He knew not to start doing any writing himself. That was our business! We had a good laugh as well!

Violin is your first instrument and you are a left-hander that learned to play right-handed (violin/viola). Did this present any barriers during your early years when learning the instrument?

It did at the very beginning. It seemed so unnatural. It began to mean that I was much quicker making the notes, higher positions and generally faster. More head stuff. I loved the note number-crunching part of music like sight reading. My bowing with the right arm, which really should be the leader and creator, lagged behind a bit in power. My bowing got better when I was at Music College. My teacher likened the movement to animals and reptiles jumping to catch prey which I understood. Natural Instinct!

Did you feel any inclination over the years to become a concert violinist or involved in anyway with symphony productions?

Yes, that is what I intended to do. On viola, I led the viola section in the orchestra for four years, playing symphonies and all sorts of modern stuff. I loved the string orchestra as well.

You are a classically trained pianist. But what first attracted you to the synthesizer?

When I was in a band, I found that hiring a string synth like an Elka Rhapsody could put the track in a different world. A new world! So when I got the chance to buy an ARP synthesizer in 1977, it was to further that quest. It also cut like a chainsaw. It was nice to be heard. It was exciting to make my own softer sounds that would help the song by lifting it. I enjoyed making counter melodies to the vocals. Weird sounds could completely change the feel of a track.

Was it love at first sight with the ARP Odyssey? What made it so special for you compared with say, the Minimoog?

I just liked that honky mad sound. The LFO was in a good position for me. Just moving a slider up and down, forward and back. It felt right. The Minimoog was all knobs, it did not seem as agile. They were both incredibly spacey to use. Very different though. They were abstract times. You came, eventually, to a sound, used it and never got it back again quite the same way. A Minimoog that had to have the panel upright did not look cool for me but it had to be up to play it properly though. The ARP had a lighter keyboard action which I preferred.

Chris Cross had a Minimoog which obviously suited his role in the band and Warren Cann bought his Roland TR77. Was there a particular moment or influence as to when Ultravox Mk1 decided to utilise more electronics?

Our electronic sound started to creep in while making the Ha! Ha! Ha! album. My ARP, Warren playing more fours-on-the-floor like in ‘The Man Who Dies Every Day’, John Foxx’s vocals painting pictures, high synth helping with the pictures and Chris with the repetitive, still, bass guitar at that time, and robotic parts. In 1977, recording ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ was a milestone.

You’ve mentioned in the past that when you were asked to join Visage, you had ideas stockpiled from before Systems Of Romance, “things that John Foxx and I argued about that we didn’t use”. So what songs on that first Visage album started off as Ultravox ideas?

‘Mind Of A Toy’ and ‘Tar’. Another became ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ by Ultravox and one was used as the melody on ‘Kissing The Shame’ by me on Push.

When the Vienna album was released, ‘Astradyne’ was the perfect opener and a glorious statement of intent. How was the track conceived, especially with all that interplay and the way the final section starts on that unexpected lift?

It is hard to remember now. Midge started with that strong melody, Chris’ bass was also a very strong feature. I played a piano counter melody behind. The track was so strong that we felt at ease to lengthen it with a long textural piano bit that is sort of bell-like with the metronomic bass drum beats and the violin tremolo solo. We even start it with the spacey piano bit. Midge came up with that final section lift taking it out of the long ARP solo. I double it! It is a very good strong keyboard part. I used to say at the time: “Only a guitarist could come up with that!” I meant that as a good thing!

It is very celebratory at the end. Definitely some La Düsseldorf entering the rehearsal studio.

The ARP Odyssey was as good as gone by Lament. But Ultravox were early adopters of digital synths with the PPG Wave 2.2, Yamaha GS1 and DX7…

I loved the PPG. It was hard to programme though. I loved that glassy sound. It could also be crisp and metallic! I changed from turning a knob or a slider to moving numbers or letter increments in a window. A bit like getting your money from the HOLE IN THE WALL at the bank, not a very expressive action.

How were you finding the transformation from analogue synthesis as a player and how it was affecting your creativity?

It was tedious! The DX7… I had a rack of eight, it was good for ending all creativity and causing a severe headache! Good sound though when stacked up. With MIDI, I found myself mixing the more boring DX7 sounds with Oberheim or PPG. That was fun. All my synths seemed to be connected by a MIDI cable, like a washing line, round the studio. I could have five or six different synths linked together to get one sound. That got a bit silly though.

You have worked with soft synths for a good while now and seem quite happy to do so. But at what point did you decide to get the ARP Odyssey fixed up for use on the latest album.

It was a couple of months before the tour. I used it on my Still Movement album on the track ‘Deflect Downward’. I use it on my solo albums occasionally.

Are you able to tell us on how many tracks the Odyssey appears on the new album?

Four tracks…

What was the most disappointing synth that you’ve used, the one that didn’t quite meet up to expectations and why?

Prophet T8. I got it thinking it would be a competitor to the Yamaha CS80 but the action was always far too heavy. It was the only other synth that had a totally polyphonic touch-sensitive keyboard. It was about £4000… a bargain!

You mentioned on a recent update that you have played violin on the new album – something that has always been a big part of the Ultravox sound. Can we expect some immensely atmospheric violin passages similar to those that were prominent on the likes of Vienna and Rage in Eden?

There is a rhythmic violin on ‘Flow’. The rest are solos. One violin part is adding atmosphere behind the vocals.

The Quartet and Lament albums had less obvious violin parts than the previous albums. Were there any particular reasons for that?

No, but Systems Of Romance had no violin on. Sometimes, keyboards are so consuming, especially when there are lots of very interesting changes going on in technology. There certainly was in 1982 to ’84. To flag up your question about the change from analogue to digital, that was what was going on then. I sort of forgot about the violin.

You must be very proud having just completed the first new Ultravox album for many years. Are there any particular highlights for you?

I love the atmosphere of ‘Lie’, the chord changes of ‘Live’, and the simplicity of ‘Change’ and ‘Contact’.

Apart from the fact yourself, Midge Ure, Chris Cross and Warren Cann have all written and recorded material – in your opinion, what makes this latest offering a standout Ultravox record?

It is very positive!

You have mentioned that you are working on a new solo record. Based on the superior quality of 2006’s Accidental Poetry Of The Structure and 2009’s Refine, that is another wonderful piece of news. How far are you with it, and have you incorporated any new influences picked up from perhaps working with Ultravox once again?

I have got eight tracks going now. Working with Ultravox has encouraged me to get out my fiddle but I also thought: “Why not get my viola out as well!” It is quite a dramatic track with impOSCar sounds. Not too fancy. Mostly the violin and viola are in octaves. There’s some very strange violin on another. One violin is straight, the other is very effected! One track is very up with a tempo of 130 BPM.

I’m using Nexus, that is a synth that I used on Ultravox’s ‘Live’ (in the middle solo section) and ‘Remembering’. That could very well be an influence from writing with Ultravox. The album will be released realistically early next year.

Your first solo album was Transportation in 1988 but why was that released before the material you were working on which ended up as Keys & The Fiddle?

I started a solo album in early 1983. I expelled much energy but then decided to shelve the music. I had just come off the eight month Ultravox Quartet tour and we were soon to start the Lament album. Visage was breaking up. I had to keep an eye on my energy. I worked with Steve Howe on a couple of the tracks so when I started work on Transportation in 1987, I got in touch with Steve again as I loved working with him! Keys & The Fiddle was an album that Rob Ayling at Voiceprint wanted me to do in 2001. It was a process of putting out all the music I had in the vaults. So to speak!

Your solo work is primarily instrumental – how do you find your titles?

They come according to the nature of the finished piece.

So what’s coming up that you’re able to tell us about?

There’s the British and European tour with Ultravox. We may be venturing out further in the New Year. I cannot say where yet as nothing is definitely booked.

If you had to take just one of your instruments to a desert island with you, which one would it be and why?

My viola. I sometimes hate playing it. It’s so big and hard to get round if I am out of practise. I love the look and smell of it!


The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Billy Currie.

The album Brilliant is released by EMI Records on 28th May 2012.

Ultravox tour the UK in Autumn 2012. Dates include:

Bristol Colston Hall (21st September), Oxford New Theatre (22nd September), Portsmouth Guildhall (23rd September), Nottingham Royal Concert Hall (25th September), Birmingham Symphony Hall (26th September), London Hammersmith Apollo (27th September), Guildford G-Live (29th September), Manchester Palace Theatre (30th September), Southend Cliffs Pavillion (2nd October), Ipswich Regent (3rd October), Sheffield City Hall (4th October), Blackpool Opera House (6th October), Glasgow Clyde Audiotorium (7th October), Gateshead The Sage (8th October)

www.billycurrie.com
www.Ultravoxbrilliant.com
www.Ultravox.org.uk

Interview and live photos by Jus Forrest.
Banner by Toni Hearn.


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

www.discogs.com/artist/Beat+Club,+The


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

www.discogs.com/artist/Kon+Kan


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

www.discogs.com/artist/Cicero


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

http://theothertwo.co.uk/


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

www.peterhook.co.uk


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

www.wolfsheim.de


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

www.blancmange.co.uk


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

www.recoil.co.uk


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

www.myspace.com/spockorbit


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

www.devision-music.de


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

www.elegantmachinery.se


ELEKTRIC MUSIC TV (1993)


“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

www.karlbartos.com


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

www.ultravox.org.uk


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

www.williamorbit.com


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

www.alphaville.info


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

http://acrmcr.com/


INTERNATIONAL CHRYSIS Rebel Rebel (1994)


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

www.deadoralive.net


THE LISTENING POOL Meant To Be (1994)

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

http://thelisteningpool.finmusic.co.uk


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

www.myspace.com/intastellaovrdrive


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

www.myspace.com/alexchristensenu96


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

www.myspace.com/denimonice


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

www.discogs.com/artist/Inaura


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

http://mute.com/artists/komputer



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

www.discogs.com/artist/Outta+Control


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

www.inspiracy.com/peach


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

www.discogs.com/artist/Sexus


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

www.yamomusic.de


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

www.discogs.com/artist/All+Seeing+I,+The


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

www.myspace.com/lesrythmesdigitales0


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

www.vnvnation.com


Text by Barry Page
3rd May 2012

EVERGREEN Why Synth Britannia Still Rules

Featuring Duran Duran, John Foxx, Gary Numan and Ultravox

The Synthpop Phenomenon Re-emerges

Some three decades ago witnessed fine electrical currents of post-punk experimental playback; an all-new generation of musicians who pumped new blood into the heart of pop culture, embracing the synthesizer as a creative art form and blended to give an alternative voice to our musical youth.

In recent times, the synthpop boom that we came to identify with, has since re-presented itself in the form of several high impact releases from those original innovators of the genre. The Electricity Club investigates the possible contributing factors behind the mainstay of the synthpop phenomenon, as it continues its refined, yet hugely contrasted take on musical fashion.

“The mid-70s synth based music created for films and soundtracks like Dr Who, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Blade Runner, Serpico, Music For Airports plus Moebius, Cluster, Can, Neu! and Kraftwerk inspired musicians to use electronics and synths to create their music, rather than guitars. The sounds available were also inspiring lyrics such as ‘I’m In Love With A German Film Star’, or ‘The Man Who Dies Every Day’. Songs were written in the third person in a film noir style or even as a soundtrack.” – Rusty Egan (Visage)


Duran Duran


Circa 1978 saw the formation of British band Duran Duran. Initially given the harsh cold shoulder by the British music press, they soon refused to disperse quietly and promptly exploded into the ranks of worldwide pop mainstream, earning an equally enthusiastic cross section of devoted followers. At one time, it seemed that there wasn’t anyone who didn’t have a soft spot for at least one member of the trendsetting five – and don’t say you never thought about those luxury yachts or the scenic Sri Lanka coast line; the songs delivered everything short of actually being on location. Such was the strength of the new era that heralded the pop video.

The waters often brought exhilarating sun-soaked excitement, but later, as the years marched on, the ocean had at times been reported as choppy, with a distant darkness looming on the horizon. It’s been a somewhat long voyage for them since; it wasn’t all cocktails and supermodels but thankfully, nobody got washed up.

2011 dawned, and unfolded to become what was clearly a year of definition for Duran Duran, not least down to the incredible success of their All You Need Is Now album. The once ‘ever so pretty boys’ had exceeded way beyond pin-up friendly, and matured into a tight unit that would put out some fine examples of decadent song crafting. They showed us how to take that tentative step over the strict boundaries that are so often put in place by some box-ticking social architect, one who seemingly goes on to define each genre and supposed fan model. They delivered an arena tour which would take the wind right out of 2011’s sails, and they proved their music gave birth to more than just a nostalgia trip for the over-indulgent recycled teenager.

Filling the large arenas worldwide is no mean feat by any stretch of the imagination. But not only that, their biggest strength, it would seem, now lies with new material; perhaps another phenomenon that escapes the general rulebook. ‘All You Need Is Now’ and ‘Blame the Machines’ are present-day cuts that unexpectedly merged so seamlessly when they were played live alongside the older staples. It’s as if there were merely years, rather than decades, between them. Technically, their sense of beat and overall rhythmic agility was nothing short of impressive; a winning formula that underpins so very tightly. Another key defining ingredient: think intricate and creative percussive embellishments drawn together with John Taylor’s funk-driven, precise bass. Their latest single, ‘Girl Panic!’, proves the point entirely; pumping out the adrenalin with its energetic Latino groove and striking percussive character. This perhaps goes some way to demonstrate exactly why they are a band that has reinvented themselves, only to emerge way ahead of the game yet again.

With the ‘Girl Panic’ video boasting nearly five million hits in just a short time and which sees the industry’s most respected supermodels feature, Duran Duran are without a doubt heading back into vogue as we bring in 2012. Granted, it’s not always been plain sailing for the Duran boys, but for now, this particular machine is free of blame and heading in the right direction.

“What happens with music is, it’s cyclical. It’s getting more like the fashion industry in that in some seasons certain beats sound right—then next season it changes. Right now we have all converged on what we were doing quite early on—merging dance beats with rock music and electronics—it seems to feel right. Fresh and vibrant again…” – Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran) via vanityfair.com


John Foxx

“John Foxx? Class cannot be erased.” – John Taylor (Duran Duran).

John Foxx, as an artist, portrays complete contrast against the massive PR machine that has carried the likes of Duran Duran through the course of the decades. Still, John Foxx & The Maths went on to win ‘Best Electro Act of 2011’ at the recent Artrocker Magazine Awards, and Interplay continues to receive huge critical acclaim.

‘Understated’ is a word that very much defines the original Ultravox front man, and that is where the thrill lies – a larger than life creation that somehow emerges from stripped down, hard electro compositions, leaving only a superbly pure attack of synth magic. Nothing is diluted in the slightest, there’s a brave thrust of analogue technology ­the appeal being that, yes, John Foxx is a purist. Not afraid to go against the grain; forgotten is the immaculate sequencing or the perfect production music and in comes a lovable retro feel that embraces futuristic trance. An untamed edge that once again surrounds itself by the common denominator of high class musicianship – given the ripened skills of Benge, Serafina Steer and not least, violinist extraordinaire Hannah Peel.

“Everyone should own the first three Ultravox albums with John Foxx…” – Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran)


Gary Numan


Gary Numan, recently graced with the honour of picking up 2011’s Artrocker Legend Award, has been a long-standing pioneer of electronic music, being amongst the first to hit commercial highs since his 1979 breakthrough album Replicas.

An innovator with a distinct sense of individualism, he’s consistently maintained control over his sound. His latest release Dead Son Rising has shifted successfully into contrasting areas of his former identity; a shining experimentation en route to the dark, often metallic soundtrack that leans towards a science-fictional entrée, with some tracks even slanting in the direction of industrial rock anthems. Without doubt, Gary Numan has endeavored to create new dimensions with his unique blends that drive the synthesizer towards fresh pasture, while maintaining artistic vision; an optimistic outlook rather than repetitive recycling of formulae ­such that can only ensure additional longevity of our beloved Synth Britannia.

“…Gary Numan has a devoted lifelong fan base for his crafted songs and appeals to the iPod more than the dance floor. He just sticks to what he is good at and delivers and that requires a strong will and talent…” – Rusty Egan (Visage).


Ultravox


It seems Ultravox have always been noted for their significant step into the mainstream, following the appointment of Midge Ure as front man. They scored strong hit-making ingredients that would give them more than just a brief flirtation with Top Of The Pops. Hits such as ‘Vienna’ and ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ have become anchored mainstays; providing a point of identity for even the most casual of listeners, and hit on by many a radio station to this day.

“The group’s big success probably came from a dynamic between the members at the time of that success. When the members changed, the dynamic wasn’t there. Happens with most groups. But not all.” – Simon Napier-Bell (Ultravox manager, 1992-94)

Essentially very much a live band, their musical virtuosity took them beyond the quintessential pop record. With a clever combination of subtle classical inflections set against the integration of electronic percussion – not to mention some of the most expressive synth solos ever encountered – the fruits of experimentation were definitely on their side and ultimately set them apart as a band. Consider the growth of the pop video; Ultravox embraced visual artistic form. From great stage sets to iconic videos, such futuristic visuals bound tightly to touch emotions and create strong ambience, and produced a very dramatic and theatrical aspect that has endured a lasting effect, now synonymous with the band.

Today, Ultravox, remain a true synergy, showing strength in the fact that the band as a whole, have always presented an entity that is much greater than the sum of its parts. And now, nearly four years after reforming, they are about to release their first album featuring the classic line-up, in twenty eight years.

“I await with bated breath for Ultravox’s album. I believe they have retained their own sound and style. Midge has written many solo songs that I believe would have been amazing in the hands of Billy and co. They need each other and together they are truly amazing.” – Rusty Egan (Visage)

At this moment in time, it’s no surprise that Ultravox’s planned release has been one of the most debated throughout various online fan communities. Their foundations of course, were always rooted much deeper than mainstream medley and indefinitely provided the means to grow, which is why 2012 presents such an interesting and exhilarating prospect for both the band and fans alike. So, what can we anticipate from the forthcoming record?

“If Ultravox have strong songs (as I believe they do), Billy’s piano and ARP, Midge’s guitars and vocals, along with that amazing Moog synth bass and power drumming from Warren Cann , I can only expect an Ultravox who will carry on where they left off…as we saw with the Return To Eden tour.” – Rusty Egan (Visage)


In terms of what to expect, thanks to Midge Ure’s Twitter presence, there is evidence that the creative juices really are simmering nicely. January 2011 saw the band cocooned somewhere deep within the winter wilderness of Canada, equipped with Macbooks and guitars while Billy cradled what looked to be (and don’t quote me) his Frank Georg Rost viola. Without any whisper of a doubt, it looked promising. Shortly afterwards, Midge, Billy and Chris made their way to Los Angeles and we were subsequently furnished with more pictorial treasures – this time the mighty Warren Cann was caught tracking his drums at Studio City Sound. It was later revealed that the band would work with award-winning producer Steve Lipson; he produced Propaganda’s A Secret Wish as well as albums by Simple Minds and Annie Lennox. During this time, one particularly thrilling piece of news was the fact that Billy had dug out his old ARP Odyssey and got it fixed up ready for use on some tracks. Given his distinct ARP soloing sound had in some ways been the very essence of Ultravox in their heyday, such news would do nothing to contain the anticipation bubbling amongst the fans.

“It’s got Ultravox’s DNA all over it…” Midge Ure quoting record producer Chris Hughes’ comments on the new Ultravox material in a recent interview with Rockerrazzi

Throughout 2011, any sustained periods of silence were hard going for fans. However, anxious rumblings were promptly traded for excitement once again when cheeky audio teasers were released via Midge’s Twitter account. The tiniest insight into what was to come, yet perhaps too miniscule to portray any of the architectonic character we may have become accustomed to looking for. That said, the first audio snapshot still sent enthusiasm ratings into red with its style of electro rhythmic drive and a percussive persuasion that conjured a hypnotic reverie, decorated with an elevating vocal. There was more to come and the next sample was an obscure object of desire, roughly mapped against the likes of Lament. Definitely the ambient impressionist of the three we heard, with its evocative sense of space weaving a dose of relaxation. The final offering, on the visual side, was rather amusing and featured an upside down video. Click track aside, this short insight was a luminous construction, articulated by those previous melodic concepts that were so prominent in the past; intensified with a euphoric synth tapestry that went some way to create an intoxicating nostalgic touch, before edging towards a change in tonal direction. All short, but most definitely exploited in the most charming way.

Following the reunion tours of 2009/10, there was a time when we were very unsure as to what the next chapter would be as far as Ultravox were concerned, but that uncertainty now appears to be a thing of the past. It would seem the Ultravox revolution is definitely still growing, and let’s hope that when we finally turn that page, the fruits ripen and we experience the full bloom, not least in our headphones.


Conclusion

As far as the evergreens of Synth Britannia go, we can certainly underpin a no compromise creative policy as a common denominator when it comes to their pioneering stature as heritage acts, coupled with a slice of current production technique. Yet in their own contrasting ways, Duran Duran, John Foxx, Gary Numan and Ultravox are each able to offer something that is so uniquely identifiable with their own brands. They are soon to be joined by Visage who are currently in the demo stages with regards to working on a record, with the participation of Steve Strange and Rusty Egan plus contributions from Midge Ure (Ultravox), Mick MacNeil (Simple Minds), Chris Payne (Gary Numan/Dramatis), Dave Formula (Magazine) and Robin Simon (John Foxx/Ultravox).

“Duran have worked with the best current producers, as has Madonna. They write great songs and Nick Rhodes adds great synth hooks – the producers can take this and deliver a Duran record with all the right sounds. John Foxx has delivered a classic John Foxx album – by that I mean he has his own style and it’s still unique. I am a lifelong fan.” – Rusty Egan (Visage)

The rebirth of such finely tuned legacy brings forth a refreshing take on the shaping of our popular music culture ­ certainly with the likes of Duran Duran, yet, more importantly, all play a pivotal role in the anchoring of synthpop. All too often, in this day and age, the ranks of reality TV have perhaps driven pop music towards the world of auto-tuned, over produced landfill, conveniently disguised as a karaoke freak show at best.

Long may Synth Britannia ‘waive the rules’ by ruling the waves.


Special thanks to Rusty Egan, Simon Napier-Bell and Gerard Franklin of Frequency Media.

Duran Duran All You Need Is Now is released by Tape Modern.

John Foxx & The Maths Interplay is released by Metamatic Records

Gary Numan Dead Son Rising is released by Mortal Records.

Ultravox’s new album is to be released in 2012.

www.DuranDuran.com
http://blog.johnfoxxandthemaths.com/
www.numan.co.uk
www.Ultravox.org.uk
www.Visage.cc
www.theblitzclub.com
www.rememberingeden.co.uk

Live photos by Jus Forrest. John Foxx photo by Ed Fielding.