Omaha Nebraska isn’t really a place normally associated with electronic music. Known more for its flat lands, it has however, given America one of the best electro-dance, punk, indie-wave bands in the form of THE FAINT.
Formed originally in 1995 by skateboarding buddies, Todd Fink, his brother Clark Baechle, and Joel Petersen, along with Conor Oberst started a rock based band called Norman Bailer. Shortly after, Conor left and the other three continued to release singles under the new name The Faint, along with a CD called Media but to no major attention. Not fully satisfied with the whole “rock” thing, they discovered the joy and appeal of keyboards, made a change in their sound, and in 1999 released their first electronic piece called Blank-Wave Arcade, an album filled with more pop and dance influenced numbers. This was also the time Jacob Theile came on board, later being joined by Dapose who helped finalize the band’s line up.
2001’s ‘Danse Macabre’ would become an instant hit with the teenage crowd who saw both the lyrics and danceable rhythms as an escape method. At this point, the band was not only becoming an underground success but also becoming a well known name for live performances that were not just favored for the music but for the artsy side of the band’s visions. When Wet from Birth was released in 2004, it broke into the top 100 albums chart in the US and the band toured not only stateside but also worldwide. The last album released was 2008’s Fascination, an album written, recorded and produced entirely by the band on their own, newly formed record label. Possibly their most diversified, “it’s an extension of all of us” said Petersen. There were more tours, culminating in a co-headlining tour with Ladytron in 2009 before the band went back home. Now, a year later, they were returning to indulge us once more, only this time, the stage was entirely theirs.
The excitement and anticipation started well before the band ever stepped foot on stage. From the moment of arrival, there had stood on stage tall contours covered in garbage bag looking tarps but it wasn’t until the second band ended and the crew came out that the coverings were removed and we were introduced to the multitude of mannequins. All dressed in matching black suit coats and with shiny, mosaic like plastered bodies, they had various degrees of facial features, some with heads and glowing eyes, others in obscure shapes. One such mannequin was placed high on the rack of side speakers who, eyes aglow, pointed down at the band with a mixture of a surprised and almost accusatory look. Two more, Frankenstein posed, surrounded drummer Clark but perhaps the star was the model-like poised leader who held up Jacobs keyboards. Once scattered ever so cleverly, it lent for a humorously eerie feel that a later arriving camera women could only describe as “what the…..?”
Finally the Morse code like flashing of a crewman’s small flashlight signaled the lights down and after an unexpected and disappointing show cancellation the night before due to venue flooding, it was great to see tonight starting off with an electrifying bang in the shape of ‘Mirror Error’. Screeching, high pitched sirens met seconds later by the distinctive dance beat that is The Faint got the crowd instantly moving. This was followed by ‘Dropkick the Punk’, a head bashing, fist punching, hardcore punk song that showcased the edgier, angry side of the band’s music. It also started what would be one of the most entertaining things to watch… Jacob’s dancing. Tall, skinny and as flexible as a gymnast, his flailing body would bounce, spin and twist like a pretzel but most impressive were the moments when, with what seemed like effortless speed and range, he’d buckle down, extend backward and touch the floor behind him, then ricochet back up to return to the keys as if nothing had just happened . Not a presence you see every day but then again, The Faint isn’t your ordinary band and with a reputation for unforgettable live shows, this was just a drop in the bucket.
‘Agenda Suicide<'s mixture of rapid guitar and warping key chords reminiscent of early Duran Duran but with a more urgent feel continued the craziness as the crowd began to rip up the floor. Computerized, mutated vocals from Todd sung through a second microphone gave 'The Conductor', a song a bit more characteristic of their earlier rock influences, a uniqueness of it's own while in contrast, 'Southern Bells In London Sing' brought about a bit softer, more melodic and orchestral side of the band with its dominant string sectioned arrangements.
Todd, dressed almost entirely in black with eyes darkened by liner, frolicked around the stage to pulsating sounds, truly enjoying the moment and releasing jubilant smiles which were at times in contrast to a number of the songs foreboding, dark lyrics; one such song being 'Take Me to the Hospital'. Arguably one of the bands funkiest songs, it's deep, stomach throbbing beats and groovy synthesized vibes helped to cover up the songs somewhat disturbing subject. Leave it to Todd and Co. to make it acceptable to get down to the spellings of HOSPITAL and BLOOD.
With Jacob dedicating it to the now imprisoned Lindsey Lohan, ‘Get Seduced’ was a great one for the pounding bassline of Joel. Covered by schizophrenic electrolyzed noise, it was just another in an array of songs that saw Joel and Jacob bopping their heads so hard it was surprising they didn’t fly off! And by the time the band hit their much loved ‘Paranoiattack’, a digitalizing, bass dripping number, the crowd was revving up for the ultimate rave. Taking over for Todd in the “Paranoia” shouting match, the crowds enthusiasm escalated and was not going to let the band walking off for a quick break stop the mode.
Returning with a three song encore that began with ‘The Geeks Were Right’, a more guitar charged number, the heat hit a blistering level and once the band broke into the infectiously frenzied, pure electro ‘Glass Danse’, all caution was thrown out the door. Friends and strangers alike were thrashing this way and that and it seemed hundreds were now one big, sweaty, cohesive bouncing ball. The sporadic lights, and the band reveling in the fervor just intensified the atmosphere and lead into the appropriate final song. ‘I Disappear'< saw more than the band eventually doing just that but gone also was the often experienced animosity of people smashing their way around or up front. Everyone was just raving to the max, together putting aside any worries or concerns of life and instead immersing themselves in one final freak out before the lights came back on and it was back to reality. Looking around, there were a multitude of faces with "OMG" or "what the heck just happened?" expressions, mainly because many around me, including the rest of my clan, had never had the pleasure of experiencing a Faint show before. But no doubt, they won't forget and will be well prepared for the next time!
On the 4th of December 2010, on the third of 3 sell-out shows at the Oslo Spektrum in Norway, the curtain will finally fall on a-ha’s glittering 25-year career.
Undoubtedly a sad day in the calendar, but this hugely talented trio will be bowing out on a high note. Last year, in Foot of the Mountain, they released one of their finest albums, proving it was possible to be both contemporary and retro. This year, fans have been rather spoilt: Comprehensive 2-CD remasters of their first two albums (Hunting High and Low and Scoundrel Days), an updated version of Jan Omdahl’s insightful book The Swing of Things, a brand new single, and now this compilation album.
25 is actually a-ha’s third compilation album, following 1991’s Headlines and Deadlines and The Definitive Singles 1984-2004, but this is easily the most comprehensive, and it has been lovingly put together by reissue specialists Rhino Records. The only gripe I have is the band’s chunky new logo on the aquatic cover, but this doesn’t detract from what is a highly recommended retrospective.
Across the two discs, every remastered track (including some rare radio edits and mixes of singles) has been presented in chronological order, with the exception of ‘The Blood that Moves the Body’ – this remix was used to further promote Headlines and Deadlines in 1992, and appears here for the first time in album format. Fan (and band) favourites ‘The Blue Sky’, ‘The Swing of Things’, ‘There’s Never a Forever Thing’ and ‘Slender Frame’ have also been added, giving further weight to the claim that a-ha were more than just a singles act.
Each of a-ha’s nine studio albums are well represented here, allowing listeners to trace their musical development. It took a few albums for a-ha to shrug off their poster-boy image, but below the surface of their catchy, intricate melodies lies a melancholic depth that has won them many admirers over the years, including bands such as Keane and Coldplay. In the early ’90s the band moved away from their trademark pop sound, and their ’60s influences (The Beatles and The Doors, in particular) were certainly more prevalent. By 1993’s Memorial Beach, guitars were at the forefront of the instrumentation and the material steered more towards the American market.
Fast forward to the new millennium and the end of a-ha’s `seven-year-itch’, and the newly focused trio were a slightly more democratic affair; less reliant on the creative tension between Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen, and utilizing more of Morten Harket’s lighter material. There were, arguably, mixed results over three albums and, by 2005’s deceptively-titled Analogue album, they were once again flirting with a rockier sound.
In 2009 a-ha went back to basics with the solid, 10-track Foot of the Mountain, which played to the three-piece’s strengths, with all the material being penned by Waaktaar-Savoy and Furuholmen. Final single, ‘Butterfly, Butterfly (The Last Hurrah)’, does admittedly sound like a hold-off from those final album sessions. However, it is a fitting finale, bringing a-ha full circle with a catchy synth-pop tune that has Harket declaring “These stained glass wings could only take you so far.”
For many it’s the end of an era, but there is still much to look forward to from each of this loveable band’s component parts. As Harket remarked on the end of a-ha: “It turns into a positive thing – the three of us are still around.” A capable songwriter in his own right, he has to date released four solo albums (two sung in his native language), while Furuholmen has recorded two solo albums, composed film soundtracks, and carved out a successful career as an artist in tandem with his musical commitments. Waaktaar-Savoy, a vastly talented and prolific musician and songwriter, has already released 6 albums (including one compilation) with his side-project Savoy since 1996, and a new album is reported to be in the works.
And so the finest band to emerge from the Synth Britannia era return. It is the first studio album since 1986’s The Pacific Age to feature the classic line-up of Andy McCluskey, Paul Humphreys, Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes. The original 4-piece split acrimoniously in 1989, following the platinum-selling retrospective, The Best of OMD, the previous year. McCluskey resurrected the brand to varying degrees of success in the 1990s, while Humphreys, Cooper and Holmes formed the ill-fated band, The Listening Pool, after failing in a bid to use the OMD name. Krautrock aficionados McCluskey and Humphreys, the electronic pioneers of such groundbreaking albums as Architecture and Morality and Dazzle Ships, announced their reunion at a fan gathering in 2005 and consolidated this with successful tours between 2007 and 2009.
Sadly, no matter how the marketing team dress this up (in an eye-catching bright orange sleeve supposedly designed by long time cohort Peter Saville) it is, basically, another McCluskey solo album with some overdubs and a few songwriting contributions from Humphreys, a busy man in his own right with OneTwo, a project he formed with Claudia Brucken of Propaganda fame. The contributions from Cooper and Holmes are difficult to fathom in anything other than names on the sleeve credits whilst, somewhat tellingly, there are no vocals from Humphreys.
Many of the tracks had been demoed by McCluskey following his foray into the world of girl group songwriting for the likes of Atomic Kitten and Genie Queen. The current single, ‘If You Want It’, seems to be a hold-off from this particular period. It was co-written by the girls’ (and McCluskey’s) vocal coach Tracey Carmen who’d had a hand in the Kittens’ ‘Be With You’. It is permeated with lyrical clichés, while its musical template is unashamedly deeply rooted on the last OMD hit single, ‘Walking On The Milky Way’, from 1996’s Universal. It is an odd choice for a comeback single, but one that seems to suggest that the band’s PR are targeting other markets aside from the lucrative nostalgia circuits.
The obvious choice for a single is ‘Sister Marie Says’, a close relative of ‘Enola Gay’ that was part-written in 1981 and later recorded during the Universal sessions in the mid-90s. It was premiered at the previously mentioned fan event and dusted off by McCluskey for inclusion on the new album – it certainly improves on the original demo and brings the classic OMD sound up to date.
And so to the rest of the 13-track album: On opener ‘New Babies: New Toys’, OMD are fast out of the traps with a New Order-esque track that mirrors the aggressive nature of earlier tracks such as ‘Bunker Soldiers’. It also sees McCluskey strapping on his bass for the first time since 1985’s Crush. It is a fantastic opening track. Sadly the momentum is lost with the single, but quickly restored with part one of the two album title tracks, which builds upon some of the lyrical themes of the ‘Universal’ single. Originally titled ‘The Big Bang Theory’, it is an enjoyable track that marries the band’s trademark choral effects with a memorable synth refrain (and, intentionally or not, a melody lift from James’ 1992 hit ‘Ring The Bells’). Indeed there are other positives on this album. Two of Humphreys’ co-writes, ‘Green’ and ‘New Holy Ground’ rank alongside some of the duo’s best work. The latter was written and recorded in a few hours as a potential B-side and echoes ‘The Avenue’ (the brilliant B-side of 1984’s top 5 hit, ‘Locomotion’). It is a reminder of how McCluskey’s melancholia used to be the perfect counterfoil to Humphreys’ intricate, yet simple, melodies… before the financial allure of America caused the band to implode.
OMD purists will be confused when they hear the beautiful ‘New Holy Ground’ alongside the likes of ‘Pulse’, an embarrassing attempt at a dancefloor filler which contains breathy, spoken word vocals from McCluskey. And then there is ‘Sometimes’, which sounds like a Moby tribute track, but with a piercing, wailing vocal from former Listening Pool backing vocalist, Jennifer John . Thankfully fans were spared when ‘Save Me’, a mash up of ‘Messages’ and Aretha Franklin’s ‘Save Me’, was dropped from the album.
The new album lacks the lyrical focus of Universal and both the musical ambition and creative urgency of the first four albums. McCluskey is far too reliant on samples, particularly towards the end of the album, and there are mixed results. There is a distinct lack of musical invention on the Moroder-esque ‘The Future, The Past and Forever After’, another track retrieved from the ’90s vaults (originally titled ‘Wheels of Steel’). The acknowledged Kraftwerk influence is prevalent on at least two songs: album closer, ‘The Right Side?’, is a satisfying 8-minute workout that mirrors elements of Kraftwerk’s ‘Europe Endless’ (and samples fellow KlinkKlang enthusiasts Komputer), while ‘RFWK’ (Ralf, Florian, Wolfgang, Karl) is a touching love letter to McCluskey’s boyhood heroes. Elsewhere, ‘Bondage of Fate’, another lyrical highlight of the album, subtly incorporates elements of Hannah Peel’s ‘Organ Song’.
All in all, it’s a disjointed effort, one that is clearly designed to reintroduce the brand, clear the decks and pave the way for the next OMD album proper. To label it as a cohesive body of work in the ilk of Architecture and Morality was a foolish ploy on the part of the band’s marketing strategists and will leave many fans – this one included – disappointed.
HOWARD JONES is often thought of as the one man musical mastermind of synth-pop but when looked at fully, he’s so much more than that.
His journey started in the early ’80s when his infectiously catchy and optimistic ‘New Song’ emerged onto the radio waves. He quickly grabbed the eyes, ears, and hearts of the electronic world partly due to his energetic and elaborate one man stage shows, originally including the talent of mime artist Jed Hoile. But also, there was his knack for writing passionate, sincere, and often uplifting lyrics heard in such numbers as ‘Life In One Day’, ‘Nothing to Fear’, and ‘Everlasting Love’. His first two albums, Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action went to UK’s album charts at numbers one and two respectively and Howard was also one of only a few UK artists to “cross the pond” into the American charts, enjoying success from hits not only off his first two albums, but also from a remix EP for American release only called Action Replay, which gave him his biggest hit ‘No One Is To Blame’. He was even voted Keyboard Player of the Year in 1986 by Rolling Stone magazine.
But the ’90s found a change in the music scene and, never being one to slow down, Howard transitioned quite nicely, expanding his reputation. He first released In the Running which generated the single ‘Lift Me Up’ before leaving Warner/Elektra and starting up his own independent record label called Dtox Records where he put out two more albums; ‘Working in the Backroom’ and also ‘People’, a favourite of long standing fans. He continued to tour worldwide, at times with a full band that included his brother Martin on bass, and also for the first time acoustically which really allowed him to shine both as a superb pianist and also as a continually influential and emotional songwriter. Both were met with much acclaim.
The last 10 years has found Howard continuing with his advancements which include such feats as the Top of the Pops European tour, performing in Ringo Star’s All Starr Band, and a 20th Anniversary Tour in London. More albums have emerged including Revolution Of The Heart, the ever moving and personal Piano Songs (For Friends and Loved Ones) and his most recent release, Ordinary Heroes. In keeping with the times, he even conquered the world of podcasts when his song ‘Building Our Own Future’ broke records by debuting at #1 and remaining there for 3 weeks. Through the years and inevitable changes, he never lost touch with what was important and continued to maintain the same initial appeal of quality music matched with distinctive lyrics that fans and critics alike can relate to.
During a Friday afternoon, he was gracious enough to stop and talk via a transatlantic phone call with The Electricity Club’s American correspondent Lori Tarchala about all that is Howard.
First off, I know you’re really busy with your new album and the touring and stuff so I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. I’ve been a fan so this is a personal honor! So can we talk about what you’ve been up to lately?
Well this year there’s a focus on the end of the year November 6th. I’m doing the first two albums Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action in their entirety. And that’s good; I’ve never done that before.
Yes, I was going to ask you about that. It sounds exciting. I was wondering what kind of layout you’ll be using? Are you going to be using all the old Moog Prodigys, Pro-Ones, the whole circular set up and things like that?
Well what’s happening is it’s the first time that I’ve been able to have access to the multi-tracks of those two albums because I managed to do a deal with Warner Brothers to actually license my material so I’ll be able to access the original sequences and as I said strip off the multi-tracks so we can really replicate those first two albums really accurately. It’s a big project that we’ve started to get all the material together and I’ve had some of my old synthesizers repaired. But I’m not going to do it in a totally retro way; I mean new technology and a bit of old technology together. I don’t want to be sort of recreating the ’80s exactly because, for a start, it’s too dangerous! laughs
So it’s gonna be very, very modern technology and a bit of the old stuff to get the sounds to work. And also, we are going to have a big sort of visual element to the show as well which is being done by my friend Steve W Tayler so it’s going to be quite, um, I almost want to say a sort of art based event. Ultimately that’s the kind of thing that I’d like to be doing the whole time instead of really focusing on that show. But then there’s other gigs with the band, I’m doing an acoustic tour in September with Duncan Sheik so yeah, there’s loads going on but the most exciting is probably that show in November.
Yeah I actually have a ticket for that so I’m looking forward to it.
Oh great, oh great.
Could we possibly expect to see Jed on stage?
Um, well, y’know perhaps that may occur. I don’t know…well I DO know actually but I’m not going to tell you laughs
Riiiiight, surprise and suspense, that’s ok laughs. You also did a show recently with Mark Jones / Back to the Phuture and you’re gonna be playing the Bestival Festival this summer. How did that come about?
Well, there’s been a campaign with people from Bestival to get me to play and there’s one guy who actually wrote a song and put it up on YouTube. And the song was about me playing the festival so there’s been quite a bit of pressure from the fans laughs
I guess so if they’re going to write about you, you HAVE to do it!
So it should be great, yeah I’m really looking forward to it.
Great, well do you do a lot of festivals?
No, I don’t. I don’t do festivals! I mean I do sort of outdoor events during the summer but not types where people can go camping and stuff so this is kind of a rare thing for me.
Will you be camping?
I won’t be, no but my kids apparently are going to camp for the weekend.
Oh wonderful, ok well that will be fun, a whole family outing for you guys.
No one can argue how impressive it was for you to come out as a one man act in the ’80s, that’s a lot of courage on your part. Your big UK live break came when you were supporting China Crisis on their 1983 tour. Eye witnesses tell me because I obviously wasn’t there that you pretty much blew out the headlining act. Do you remember anything about that tour, like how the audience was reacting or having any kind of feeling that this was the start of a big thing; something was going to happen for you?
Yeah it was a big break for me to get that tour as the opener for China Crisis. I remember we were piled into a transit van and staying in the local bed and breakfasts on that tour and it was… I just started to get a bit of airplay on Radio One and so one of the weird things it does is every gig kind of builds and builds so that in the end it was getting a bit out of hand cause China Crisis, y’know I was going down better than them, and they were one of my favorite bands laughs so I didn’t feel good about that. But then again, yeah, we definitely got the sense that something was really taking off and I particularly remember when we got to Glasgow, it just went…the audience went MAD! So I really thought that I kind of got it right. It was going to happen then.
Wow that’s amazing! It must have been a great feeling for you.
Yeah it was because up until then I’d really not done any proper tours. I’d done clubs in London, I played the Marquee and, I mean I did about 250 gigs a year but I was playing pubs and grotty clubs all over the place. But not a proper tour so it was very exciting doing that really.
So you have a new album called Ordinary Heroes. It’s got great reviews so congratulations. I’ve listened to it a number of times, I really enjoy it. You’ve done so many styles between synthesized electro, to acoustic, to full band sounds. But this album you set up a couple rules; no synthesizers, and another one; one track of each instrument used only.
So in terms of the song it definitely makes them shine, it sounds more whole, it’s much clearer but what prompted that? What made you decide to do something like that?
I think it was because I had this bunch of songs that were quite intimate, heartfelt and it’s really about the lyrics I found and the emotion of the song so I wanted the production to be very straightforward and clear and very honest. And that’s really how we did it but also when you give yourself a set of limitations, you have to be resourceful and creative in doing that and I really enjoyed the fact that you couldn’t use any extra parts to solve problems with the tracks.
Everything had to be done and planned on its own so the way that everything sort of fit together; I’d planned that before I actually recorded every one. So to me this album was very much about how the pieces are arranged and how they make a jigsaw together. So I started off with the piano and before there were drums over, it was just piano and vocals and then everything moved around that. So that was the approach and I really enjoyed the process of doing that.
Well from a lyrical stand point, the album’s really quite striking. There’s a lot of numbers that stand out lyrically. I know ‘Soon You’ll Go’ is one that I think a lot of people… I personally was getting teary eyed and I’m single, I don’t have a daughter but it’s so touching the way you wrote these things. With songs like that that are so personal and meaning to you and your family, how do you present them to your family?
Well, it’s just the same way as to everyone else. It’s the same process. I mean when I actually sang the song to Mila for the first time, I got the same reaction that people get when they hear the song. I mean she was very, really moved and so was I. And I just feel that that’s what music should do. That’s what all artists should have, an impact. Otherwise, what’s the point of it? It should be something that unlocks feelings that you can’t access normally and I just think that music has the power to do that so if you are a musician that’s what you should be aiming for to try and have that kind of um…y’know, deep effect on people.
Yeah it definitely did. I’m sure especially for this album in particular like you said, it’s very personal so I think it’s kind of neat that you did it that style because it really does make the songs, at least from my stand point, stand out. So like Andy McCluskey of OMD, you’ve written also for modern girl groups, ‘Blue’ by Sugababes in your case. How did you find this whole experience and what do you think of the whole American Idol/X-Factor culture of finding new musical talent?
Um, well I don’t do this very often but I was asked to work with Sugababes and earlier on I was a big fan of theirs right from the beginning so they came down to the house and I really wanted to work with them and work with their talent and not impose one of my songs on them. I wanted to write with them and work with them and I think THAT track is the most representative of them on that whole album and I feel really proud about that. I just believe that when you work with creative people you’ve got to let them go and let them feel free to be who they are and that’s the whole process and it was really great working with them.
COMPLETELY the opposite to the whole Pop Idol and X-Factor thing which is basically what they do is they exploit people and turn them into automatons which is basically saying that you all have to sound like Whitney Houston!!?! I mean don’t try and be original, don’t try and be like who you are, copy some historical singer from the past. And I find that ABSOLUTELY a disaster to music and I really wish that there would be much more of a nurturing culture that would nurture original talent and don’t try and make people become clones. So I don’t have very strong feelings about it. chuckles
Hmm, yeah, American Idol; I mean obviously I don’t watch Pop Idol but it’s the same thing and I’ve noticed the same thing in terms of especially the girl vocals they do, they all want that kind of loud, screamy sound and you get someone who’s maybe more melodic or a little bit laid back and nobody wants them. They want a particular…they want to model them into their corporate idea of what’s popular so that’s interesting.
Well there’s been a recent resurge if you will of electronic bands; people like Hurts and Mirrors, Little Boots and that type of thing. Most if not all are citing various acts from the ’80s as influences so what do you think of this new generation of electro music makers and how do you feel about being part of it in terms of setting a stage for them to stand on?
Well I quite like La Roux, I really liked her album but you do hear a lot of ’80s influence these days and I’m certain because these kids, they grew up with their parents listening to that music so it’s got this sort of appeal to them. I don’t know what to say, again I think that it’s important that if you’re gonna embrace electronic music that you try and do something new with it and don’t just recreate sounds from the past.
I mean because the whole electro movement really didn’t come from any reference point from the past, it was like “oh wow, we’ve got some new kits to play and we’ve got new sounds to work with, let’s do something different” and that applied not only to music but to the fashion and the way that people, like for instance this year I’m playing my first festival this year, I mean you didn’t play festivals because that’s what old farts did! laughs
So I think that if bands are going to embrace it, then take it somewhere new, please take it somewhere new don’t just listen to your favorite album and just do the same as them but take it on. I think it’s so important to be able to do that.
Yeah, because you don’t wanna be, I mean the ’80s were wonderful, that’s when I was growing up but like you said…there is a different era now so you don’t want to be compared to…
Yeah, I mean, put it this way. If I was a band and I started out now and somebody said to me “oh that sounds just like the ’80s” I would go…I’D GO MAD! I’d want to like trash their gear. You know what I mean? I’d say “I want to sound like now, NOW laughs and not 30 years ago!” I wouldn’t take it as a badge of honour if somebody said to me you sound like the ’80s and I was a new artist!
You’d have to start all over again, trash the album and do it all over. It would not be good.
So who are you listening to these days? Whether it be electronic or otherwise, who are some of the artists that you like?
I’m a big fan of BT when he’s in his fully electronic mode. But also I’m very much into English sort of folk and the English folk singers. I’m a big fan of Laura Marling and the artists that she associates herself with like Mumford And Sons. But my absolute favorite is Laura Marling, she’s the most original and the most talented I think. And she’s a poet as well. So that’s my favorites at the moment.
Would you ever consider collaborating with her? Has there ever been a thought of that?
Well I mean, I go to her gigs and we hang out a bit but I don’t think she needs to collaborate with anybody laughs. I think people should do what they do on their own. Because that’s what’s great about being an artist is that original voice. I know it’s all great all this talk of collaborating with people but really, I mean isn’t it just a marketing tool these days to do that? It gets motivated by a real love of getting together to do something great.
Laura Marling doesn’t need anybody to do that, she’s got such an original voice, that’s what I want to hear. I don’t want to hear it with someone else watering it down laughs. I want to keep the original voice, that’s what I like.
Things have changed greatly in terms of the technology that’s available in making music, especially electronic music. What do you see as the pros and cons of what things used to be and how they are now?
I suppose in the early days things were more limited when I started out. I didn’t need a computer to sequence things because they weren’t really invented to do that. So it was very, sort of primitive really. You had trinkets coming from drum machines and arpeggio pulses coming from drum machines and you had to work within the limitations of the gear. And that produced a particular sound and it was difficult to work with live and it was a struggle but it did produce a very, very original approach to how you did live gigs.
And now, things are so much more stable and they’re so much more accurate, and you can use the laptop to give a much more secure sound. So it’s not quite so by the seat of your pants kind of thing laughs And I suppose in a way the edginess of not knowing if your gear is going to work or not that night, it lends something to the performance that you can’t really get any other way laughs. I think that I’ve done my time of stuff going through breakdown and collapsible gear going down in the middle of a show.
Yeah, I just went and saw; I don’t know if you’re familiar with a band called Covenant but they’re electronic and they have a lot of things programmed and half way through one of their songs, like you said, everything just stopped. But from a fan’s standpoint, the lead singer started just doing acappella and it was actually special and it was probably one of the highlights of the show. Obviously THEY didn’t want that to happen but from our stand point it was really neat. Hopefully that won’t happen though!
Yes, that used to happen to me on a regular basis and I’d have to invent ways of getting out of it but y’know, you do. That’s how you develop confidence as a performer is when you have to deal with it when it goes wrong.
Right. Make sure you get some good jokes on line in case you need that.
So you’ve done a lot, you’ve accomplished a lot of things. I was reading about the things that were personal goals and dreams that you got to do, like your acoustic shows at Edinburgh Fringe Festival and then being able to perform Emerson Lake & Palmer’s ‘Karnevil 9’ which I know you said was really the reason you became who you are and what you are today. What do you still want to accomplish? Is there a particular dream or something that hasn’t happened yet?
I just think my thing is to keep carrying on and keep evolving and I think that’s the hard thing to do is to keep doing new things and challenging yourself. I mean I’ve played Madison Square Gardens and I’ve done all the big things at Wembley and I do know a lot of people but I think the hard thing to do is to keep going and keep trying to be innovative and original and to just keep on and not be distracted. I think that’s the hardest thing because a lot of people kind of give up. They become ex-musicians and things but as I said, I don’t want to do that. I wanna be kicking and screaming right up to the end! chuckles
Ok, well you’re definitely, with all your changes you’re definitely still going.
So I have one more question, this is a free for all so you can take it however you want it’s the final question. Tell me something about Howard Jones we don’t already know.
Um…… I think people know most things about me, I Twitter so ah let’s see, something people don’t know about me…….um…..ah….laughs
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to throw you a curveball laughs
Yeah, yeah, well I um….um….yeah I don’t have one really. I do tell people most things that I do so…ah….hmmm….yeah I can’t think of anything really. Not that people don’t know already!
Any secrets about a song, hidden stories about a song or any tour stories?
The ballroom at Bletchley Park is a very intimate and opulent room, with its gilded ceiling and linen fold wood panelling. The grandest of the rooms there, so a fitting venue for such a special event for just 100 very lucky people.
Andy and Paul took to the stage which was back dropped by a red velvet curtain. Andy said that he was going to interview Paul about his computer geekness, then they would do some Q&A and then play a couple of old tracks, a couple of new tracks from the forthcoming album History Of Modern (the first studio album for 14 years) and a couple of old tracks.
So the interviewing began and we found out the basic history behind the band, they went to the same school (but in different years), the fact that they both had to do ‘miming’ in recorder class as neither were very good (said it gave them good miming capabilities for TOTP performances), Paul said that his music teacher put on his report that he had ‘no musical aptitude’ and that he had kept that report to this day.
Andy told us about how they got their first synth (Korg Micro Preset) from his Mum’s Kays catalogue and paid £7.76 a week (said they are still paying it off!). Paul said he used to experiment with electronics and would tell elderly relatives that their old radios etc were broken (when they weren’t) just so he could take them apart and steal the bits!
The chemistry between Andy and Paul was electric and you could tell that they were both really enjoying the evening. It was all very relaxed, and there were some good laughs especially when Paul let slip that he had sold some of their old equipment for 4 grand and hadn’t told Andy.
Before they started playing, Andy said that they had a problem with the mixing desk, but that the great thing about attending a Vintage Computer Festival was that everything was laying about, and the evening was saved as someone had a spare Behringer in the back of their car!
We waited patiently to hear the ‘exclusive’ first play premieres of 2 new tracks that we’d heard snippets of from outside when the sound check was being done, the following set was performed:- ‘Maid Of Orleans’, ‘Souvenir (Moby Remix)’, ‘History Of Modern (Part I)’, ‘Green’, ‘Electricity’, ‘Enola Gay’.
The new tracks, ‘History Of Modern (Part I)’ and ‘Green’, are so new that Andy had the lyrics written down, and screwed up the paper after performing. ‘HOM (Part I)’ has a killer synth riff that has echos of Kraftwerk ‘Europe Endless’ and is already sounding immense live, ‘Green’ made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. With its Jon & Vangelis mid-tempo style, this carries all the angst/emotion that Andy’s voice does so well. If both of these tracks are representative of the new album, then we are in for something very special indeed.
The audience erupted after both of these which prompted an encore of them both again (Andy retrieving and hastily unscrewing the lyrics sheet). For these encores we were allowed to stand and dance, so got treated to ‘Electricity’ again as a closure. I think that the audience reaction to the new tracks stunned Andy, whose parting words were to tell the ‘forum doubters’ about tonight, in response to some negative comments that had been made on the official forum about the new material.
In the bar after you could tell that both Andy & Paul had really enjoyed themselves.
We even got some snippets of info about the new album, the performed track ‘History Of Modern (Part I)’ is about the Big Bang Theory, Andy got Peter Saville to ask a scientific friend if the theory behind the track was correct, and on the answer, Andy said a little bit of ‘artistic licence’ has been used with the lyrics. A track called ‘RFWK’ is named after members of Kraftwerk, and the closing track on the album ‘The Right Side?’ is the longest track OMD have ever produced, coming in at over 8 minutes.
Many thanks to Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys from OMD for one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities, and also to Simon Hewitt and his team at VCF for all the organisation.
History Of Modern is released on September 20th 2010.
It can be said THE GOLDEN FILTER are a bit of a hybrid band. Lead singer Penelope Trappes is originally from Lismore Australia while keyboardist, programmer and drummer Stephen Hindman called the USA and more specifically, Ohio his home. But despite counter polars of the earth, opposites attracted and they formed what can be described as an electro-pop, nu-disco band dubbed The Golden Filter. From mid 2008 to present, they have released a number of singles including ‘Solid Gold’ and ‘Thunderbird’ along with remixing songs by the likes of Little Boots and Cut Copy. All of this has culminated with Voluspa; their debut album released April of this year.
Touring to promote this eleven track beauty, they visited Chicago at a small, intimate venue called The Empty Bottle. Armed with additional drummer William Kuehn, they hit the ground running by opening up with ‘Favorite Things’. It’s virtually impossible to not find one self bopping to this funky, hypnotic number and as Penelope inserted “Chicago” as one of her favorite things, the crowd ate it up.
Next came the first album single ‘Hide Me’, a catchy song with back keyboards reminiscent of early Depeche Mode. Shortly after, there was the Middle Eastern flair of ‘Dance Around the Fire’. Clothed in all black mini shorts, laced filled top and neck draped scarf, Penelope broke out her tambourine and as she sexily danced around the stage, it seemed the close proximity to the crowd was not at all an issue.
And the dancing continued when, with a request for us to “shake it”, the band served up ‘Solid Gold’, another one of their upbeat, disco-esque gems. All along the stage was lit by only two of six available spot lights but for this song an extra light turned on by Penelope was present and despite her long side bangs that often masked her face, we were able to catch views of all three members in action.
But as if Stephen and Penelope weren’t enough on their own, William’s presence allowed a constant live drum for the times Stephen was knob turning and it was when they were both in synch like with the intriguing Stardust that the band was their strongest. At one point, with four drumsticks striking an eruptive beat in unison, I swear it felt like they were literally shaking the walls of this tiny club! It was a definite, dramatic ending that left us wanting more.
And more is what they brought when they returned a few brief moments later with ‘Imaginary’ and then an interesting rendition of The White Stripes’ ‘The Hardest Button to Button’. Their ability to take an alternative rock song and successfully make it electro-dance is proof that they have what it takes to hold their heads high and ride this new wave of electronic acts that has been surfacing over the past two years. Sadly under one hour, the show was a short but definitely sweet one.
If you haven’t heard of the Swedish band COVENANT you have been missing out on what can arguably be called one of the most ingenious, enduring, and addictive EBM bands in existence.
Since teenagers, lead singer and songwriter Eskil Simonsson, keyboardist and main lyricist Joakim Montelius, and computer/keyboardist Clas Nachmanson had shared not only a love of electronic music but of science and philosophy. Their passion is what eventually drove them to form Covenant, the band name they chose to describe their mutual, spiritual bond of brotherhood. From their first single, ‘Replicant’ in 1992, to the present, Covenant has delivered unstoppable electronic dance and industrial tracks laced with heart on sleeve lyrics spread over 6 albums. In 2007, Clas left the band, and a new member, Daniel Myer of Haujobb, came on board joining not only for live performances but also the creation of music for the bands forthcoming new album effectively titled Modern Ruin.
The promised new album prompted a second “teaser” tour, this time of Canada and Northeastern America, with Chicago as the third of 8 consecutive nights. It had been 3 and a half years since Covenant’s last Chicago show and the consent in the house was that of overdue excitement and anticipation. When the few lights supplied to the stage finally went down, we were introduced to a roughly 4 minute long, somewhat ominous musical interlude. hen Daniel arrived on stage giving us another 3 minutes of assorted sounds before Joakim and finally Eskil made their appearance. From the cheers of the crowd, it was obvious their presence had been missed. The band took off into ‘Stalker’, a dark, crushing number that is reminiscent of Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb, who inspired Covenant in the first place. And it didn’t stop there. Songs like ‘Call the Ships to Port’, with its techno rave and catchy melodies, and ‘Bullet’, a song with thought provoking concepts of time and existence, were delivered with blazing honesty as Eskil sang and intensely paced the floor, often stopping to pose intently before bowing to the crowd.
Daniel, with his live drums, brought a new element and added dimension to an already solid ‘Ritual Noise’. But it was during ‘The Men’ that things completely exploded, his energetic batter evoking a pounding urgency that only the dead wouldn’t feel.
During all of this stood Joakim, dark glasses casting a mysterious shade as he bestowed upon us a myriad of rhythms, beats and sounds from his beloved Nord Modular GX2. But often his cool figure would break into fervent yells of distorted words, even flying out from behind his keyboard to dispel them onto the crowd, particularly during the classic ‘Feedback’, and more intensely on tribal beating, static-filled ‘Babel’.
For a brief moment, things slowed down. The achingly beautiful ‘Invisible’ and ‘Silent’, with its deep brooding undertones overlapped by lush strings, was accented by Eskil’s deep, soft voice lending to the songs melancholy nature. All along he had displayed a presence that captivated and spoke of sovereignty, yet he was also able to connect with the crowd in a way not often seen by lead singers. With his intent gaze, penetrating eye contact, and enthusiastic nature he appeared to be equally human as the rest of us and as he continued through the journey of ’20hz’ and the promise of ‘Brave New World’, no one could question the joy or complete satisfaction that was behind his closed eyes and relished smile.
Two new songs were added into the mix. ‘Dynamo Clock’, appropriately named for its heart-pounding, clock-ticking beats, and the bittersweet ‘If I Would Give My Soul’, with its age old question of loves boundaries, both fit in nicely with the bands trademark of emotional lyrics matched with endless dance beats and gave a welcome glimpse of the greatness to come when Modern Ruin finally gets released.
But the shows highlight had to be the stark and powerful performance of ‘We Stand Alone’. Its almost militant marching core and heavily layered whirling keys saw Eskil, at times, become statuesque as he fisted the air, a demanding presence that he shared with the crowd who gladly joined in when handed the mic. It was a great contrast to the flip side of gracious, humble and sincere appreciation that came out during his multitude of thanks to the crowd and as the song closed, a harmonizing moment between Eskil and Daniel that eventually became acapello solidified the camaraderie the band is so well known for.
Covenant’s pulsating performance continued to mesmerize and it was very easy to get immersed in the alluring surge of the music, reveling in the energy of the room, the band, the pure ecstasy of it all. As the band returned for a much demanded encore, culminating in club favorites Like ‘Tears in Rain’ and ‘Dead Stars’, there wasn’t a body in the house that wasn’t moving. Hundreds of feet hitting the floor only added to the throbbing beat. When it was over and Joakim, Daniel, and Eskil each offered one final display of gratitude before departing, there was no doubt of our own gratitude for the night they gave. And as the crowd dispersed, it was clear we collectively all shared the amazing, electrifying and accelerating moments that is Covenant. For those two hours, we stood anything but alone!
In the tradition of some of Manchester’s finest, here are the ‘new’ young men of Delphic, who continued their meteoric rise with a second date in Manchester in as many months. Last time it was at Sankeys, this time at The Ritz and its sticky sprung floor. A 16 point neon star adorned the ceiling of The Ritz, by the end of the night it wasn’t the only star visible.
Delphic have a great, multi-instrumental stage presentation featuring a good mix of synths, guitars, bass and electronic percussion accompanied by a funky live drummer. In some ways, they are like A Certain Ratio gone right! Consisting of James Cook, Matt Cocksedge and Richard Boardman, one of their mottos is “the guitar is dead, long live the guitar”.
But electronics are also a main ingredient. Synths man Rick Boardman said to the BBC earlier this year: “This is going to sound really cool, as if I’ve made it up, and the rest of the band hate me for this, but I have very cool parents. My first musical memory was getting a little Casio keyboard and playing ‘The Model’ by Kraftwerk on it. That was the first thing I learnt.”
Fusing techno club beats with accessible electro pop and guitars, if there is a harder working current live act, I would like to see it. A simple stage set with slanted neon tubing reminiscent of early OMD styling, flickered into life with the concert opener ‘Clarion Call’, the tubing changed red for the next track “Red Lights”, the rest of the stage lighting creating a magnificent visual feast.
The vocodered intro to ‘Doubt’ drew the crowd into a frenzy and tracks flowed seamlessly together with little chance for a breather or introductions. The quite beautiful Pet Shop Boys inspired “Submission” slightly slowed down proceedings, while ‘Halcyon’ suddenly took the gig to the next level, probably the purest ‘pop’ song on the album. This is an instant classic and the sprung dance floor had its work cut out, the crowd went wild and rightly so. We were all getting very sweaty by now.
The set played like a greatest hits gig…that just showed the high quality of every track from their debut album Acolyte. The repeated “let’s do something real” lyrics from ‘This Momentary’ surely summed up the night while the brilliant soon-to-be re-released ‘Counterpoint’ with its New Order meets Orbital sound went down a storm.
A rare live outing for ‘Remain’ started the two track encore, finishing with the euphoric ‘Acolyte’, a complete ‘hands in the air’ clubbing experience. The audience left on a high, I had a broad grin on my face, knowing I had seen a very special group on a very special night.
This was my first Delphic gig and it’s safe to say, it won’t be my last.
So why is a review of Muse showing up on this, an electropop dominated website? They’re not exactly pop but have elements of the same catchy melodies that sit firmly in your brain; not fully electronic but indulge in lush keyboards and symphonic sounds that at times can compete with bands the likes of Visage, Human League and New Order.
Look past the guitars and drums, if dissected and inspected one can find electronic components in just about every Muse song. They themselves have admitted to influences that range from Queen with Matt Bellamy’s obvious singing style and vocal range to Ultravox, both in keyboard melodies of ‘Apocalypse Please’ and the slow yet climatic build up/tear down ‘Butterflies and Hurricanes’ that is so trademark to ‘Vienna’ and ‘Visions in Blue’.
Muse came together in their teens with one intent; to make great music. Guitarist/pianist/singer/songwriter Matt Bellamy, drummer Dominic Howard and bassist Chris Wolstenholme would eventually conquer the UK and Europe with sold out shows at Wembley Stadium and headlining slots at prestigious festivals. In America it wasn’t so easy. Their earlier albums failed to make much of a dent in the music market despite the quality of their contents. It was even suggested for their second album that Matt lessen the falsettos and re-record a song’the band refused!
However, with Warner Brothers signing the band in 2003, slowly their music began to play in underground formats such as collage radio stations. They would eventually grow from club bookings to more impressive ventures that included a 2007 headlining slot at Chicago’s Lollapalooza. But not until the tour backing their fifth album The Resistance would Muse be able to claim world domination. Selling out Chicago’s United Center, a venue bigger than London’s O2 in literally 3 minutes was proof to even the deadpan non-enthusiasts that Muse’s time in America had finally arrived.
My main influences in music contain all the synth greats: OMD, Depeche Mode, Blancmange, yet I also have an ear for many more musical realms, Muse seeming to fall into one of those. But in reality, this wasn’t going to just be a rock concert but a celebration of the collision of sound, the fuse of old with new, all the sounds I grew up with plus more.
Before Muse even set foot on stage there was an obvious excitement in the air. Known for their brilliant stage shows, the stakes were high that night so how were they ever going to match the spectacle of their last tour, let alone top it? Very easily, or at least that’s how they made it appear.
Three tall ‘skyscrapers’ stood ominously on the stage. Images of white male figures came out and began to ascend up a staircase that was being projected onto the skyscrapers. One after another, white men climbed, perhaps symbolic of Muse’s struggle to make it to the top in America? But if so, then the conclusion which was to see man after man eventually fall down the staircase must be the crumble of the critics and doubters. Cloth coverings also fell to reveal Matt, Dominic and Chris, all standing high in their own scraper letting lose into ‘Uprising’, a song that right away displays their attachment to the electronic world with it’s eerie synth melody conjuring up images of old black and white horror movies. The roar of the crowd became deafening as green lasers cut the air.
Their set list consisted of both new material and older songs that encompassed all but their first album. Matt had a superstar air to him that was, in a lesser sense, Dave Gahan-like. Dominic played his drums with the exuberance of a 10-year-old all the while riding his merry-go-round of a platform, and Chris stood tall, calm, casually pumping his head up and down to the beat.
But if all these electronic components mentioned earlier are in Muse, how then were they projected if a keyboard isn’t a main ingredient of the founding members? Behind the scenes was the mystery man Morgan Nicholls, a knob turning, key punching electrician who produces the beloved clinks, pings and ‘whamphs’ that electropop is so well known for.
And they were often in full force. Moments like ‘Starlight’, with its beautifully simplistic melody that one can argue calls out OMD, were matched by others such as ‘New Born’ and ‘United States of Eurasia’ which found Matt rise up in the scraper to play his brightly illuminated grand piano with the mastery of a man having years of classical training. And it was at these moments one can imagine the 31 year old listening back in the day to Joy Division or Duran Duran.
The light show, choked full of lasers, strobe lights and various videos displayed onto the scrapers added to the already heart-pounding urgency exuberated from hits like ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Map of the Problematique’ which with its ‘Enjoy The Silence’ lines would give any electro-induced rave a run for its money. Even a bit of humour was displayed when, let loose from the dizzying height of the third balcony, big eye ‘balls’ were released during ‘Plug In Baby’. There was no doubt who was in control here.
Muse had definitely risen to the occasion, did the unthinkable and raised the bar yet another notch in the ‘mind-blowing show’ category. It was without a doubt a night to remember and a vision one won’t be getting the pleasure to experience again anytime soon. It’s been said, and without a question, shown that there is a recent resurge in the electronic music camp. So to know that a stadium act like Muse was impacted, and in essence, continues to play with the same knobs, the same technologies that legends like Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys as well as newcomers like La Roux and Little Boots proves they belong with the rest of the greats that The Electricity Club prides itself in indulging.
Consider them the ‘combo package’, the best of both worlds.