I came across Richard and Kira a year ago when they were playing a support slot and battling sound and technical problems to a disinterested crowd. Despite that, the interesting noise they made stuck in my head, with that spark of something that makes a band memorable. A few track previews were later released online and their first single and video, ‘October Day’ was eventually released last… November.
Like the best bands, KirA’s music is an intelligent blend of the different influences each member brings to the writing table. So here comes electronic music and analogue synths, whipped up with a goodly portion of Massive Attack, Portishead and a smidgen of house and trance, thrown together into a very large bowl and lovingly blended to produce an album called Spark Of Curiosity. With the kind of intelligent, spacious production values one might associate with William Orbit, and vocals which remind a little bit of Dido (but are both more interesting and varied in delivery), this is a very mature album, made for grown-ups… What Kira’s sensuous, breathy vocal delivery might do to the minds of adolescent boys could make the mind boggle! KirA call their music ambient/alt/electro – and that’s not a bad description to start with.
‘Her Siren Calls’ kicks the album off and at first you might be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped into a retro electronic album, with a very Telekon-era Numan-esque synth swirl on the intro. But the song quickly moves beyond that arena with half spoken breathy vocal and minimal percussion. A good marker for the album; intimate vocals and shimmering harmonies plus some vaguely gothic guitar tones, synth lines and noises. And the production is just gorgeous – each sound fits perfectly into its own space. A slightly reworked ‘October Day’ follows and is a good indicator of what Kira are about… a beautiful, melancholy melody, strings, pads, insistent percussion, punctuated by interesting synth lines with Kira’s vocals – never shouty but still always clear – the captivating focal point. It’s easy to see how this song was getting some radio play.
‘Spark Of Curiosity’, as the title track, should stand out and doesn’t disappoint. It begins with a looped guitar motif and is more upbeat than the previous tracks. Driving, catchy, pulsing synth bass, benefiting from more guitar with some great harmony vocals. This sounds effortlessly memorable and strident, and would make a great single. ‘Healer’ builds slowly (it has time to, clocking in at over six minutes) – echoey synths with a repeating, insistent synth bass; building until the vocals finally make an appearance around the three minute mark. Again, the arrangement and production are very much the stars here – in less capable hands this could be an embarrassing mess; here it’s craftsmanship. Ethereal vocals swirl over the repeating beat, lines float in and out… and it’s gone: that six minute track really could’ve been longer.
‘Mischievous’ redefines breathy vocals, featuring vocals so intimate and close they could almost be being whispered in your ear. Backed by ethereal and spine tingling backing vocals, I dare you not to melt. Again, the vocals are complemented perfectly by the intelligent arrangement building up until the track bursts into life with crafted percussion and more of that lovely guitar.
‘Stand Up’ is the first of two tracks which wear their dance music influences a bit more openly, and is more conventional in structure – built as it is around a mid-paced dance beat and synth bass pattern reminiscent of early house, backed by a descending string backing. The other track is ‘Pure Delight’ – another dance track with a house beat but, this being KirA, the arrangement is more intelligent – breaking down here and there before reintroducing the beat, rather than being a constant four-to-the-floor trundle. Ultimately though, this is perhaps the least representative of the KirA sound overall and seems geared towards a more club environment.
‘Struggle To Survive’ is more reminiscent of ‘Healer’ or ‘Mischievous’, and we’re back to the more coldly beautiful, ambient synth swirl Kira featuring lovely multi tracked vocals and the strings back in perfect harmony with their surroundings. With the insistent drum pattern marching ever onwards, what sounds like a full string section dives in to see the track out to a neo-classical conclusion.
‘Within A Circle’ closes the album off with an instrumental – a low synth drones in the background while sustained and pizzicato strings play. A melancholic echoing piano echoes the string motif with odd ambient noises before choral voices are added, before… it ends, quite abruptly. An interesting and quite unexpected way to end the album.
While not perfect (‘Pure Delight’ for me is more formula than KirA, and the dance stuff is a little too clinical done to sound completely natural), ‘Spark Of Curiosity’ is a very strong and confident first album, with its own identity. A great album to listen to on headphones or on good speakers, just so you can appreciate the sheer quality of the production. That includes on the vocal, which as mentioned, is never loud but is never less than captivating – treated as it is with great care throughout, like every other sound used. A wonderful album.
KirA play the following live shows in the UK:
The Wunderbar, Midsomer Norton near Bath (4th April) – free entry and a 50 minute set from 9.00pm, please visit www.wunderbar.co.uk for more details
The Music Box, Salisbury (9th May) – free entry with stage time at 10.30pm
Dubs at the Park, Easthamstead Park, Bracknell (19th May) – stage time TBC
The Thunderbolt, Bristol (31st May) – free entry with stage time at 8.00pm
Having been a fan since they first appeared on a music technology magazine cover CD in the early 1990s, I lost sight of Mesh a bit after a few years… more down to my tastes changing than any decrease in quality on their part. The new single released recently ‘Born To Lie’ was very much a statement of intent… “we’re back now and THIS is how to write a single” and has had me scuttling back to catch up on the last couple of albums. And now arrives the new album, the first since 2009.
Opening track ‘Just Leave Us Alone’ surprises a little with its rock guitar lead line…but the pulsing synths and chorus remind you who you’re listening to. Otherwise, it’s aggressive synths, heavy drums, mixed in with a fewer slower songs, all with epic chord changes…all the things you expect from a Mesh album. In fact the first few tracks are all “bang bang” – catchy hooks grabbing you by the collar and head butting the melodies into your brain, daring you to try and forget them. Takes some skill to write great melodies, never mind get the best from them. Finally on ‘This Is The Time’, the verse starts and you think… finally, this isn’t quite so immediate…then the chorus comes in and there you go, singing along again straight away… Perhaps Richard Silverthorn and Mark Hockings, who formed Mesh in 1991, have sold their souls to the devil in return for such a skill…
‘Born To Lie’ is here of course, with its harking back to the tribal, catchy Glitter Band drums and “heys” and in-yer-face synths. But of course, an album full of that would get a bit wearing and while ‘You Want What’s Owed to You’ ploughs a similar furrow to no little reward, there’s enough variety on Automation Baby to bring you back for many listens. Production values are incredibly high… pads shimmer, drums pound, lead synths squeal and squawk when they need to, Hockings’ vocals rise above everything… each sound has its space. ‘AB Incidental No.1’ is an instrumental and acts as a much needed come down after the opening salvo of energy before it. There is also ‘AB Incidental No.2’ later on, which, while more energetic, is far shorter and more like the little instrumental sketches Mesh have used in between songs before. The title track is everything a title track should be… catchy, epic, pounding… one of several instances where I was lost in the chorus, nodding away in time with the music…much to the bemusement of my fellow commuters on the train. Oh well… 🙂
I won’t mention every track by name but a stand out track is ‘You Couldn’t See This Coming’. An epic, beautiful slowie, accompanied by sparse, pulsing arpeggios, Hockings is on great form on lines such as “I need more time…to cross the ‘T’s and dry your eyes” …emotional and beautiful. The song builds until what sounds like the kitchen sink and a Morricone-conducted orchestra are thrown in on the next chorus to tug at those heart strings. Cliché? Maybe. But not one you find in synthpop very often and certainly not done this well. To their credit, a 6 minute ballad could have been a disaster… this is a mature, masterpiece arrangement.
Many bands peter out after one or two albums… Mesh’s material seems to get stronger. Once upon a time, they were seen as DM soundalikes. Hard to believe now – those days are very much long gone, as they developed their sound and matured as songwriters. If there is any justice at ALL, Mesh will eventually be rewarded for their perseverance and dogged determination to keep going over what is, by most standards, an extraordinarily long career. It would be nice to think Rich and Mark would be able to semi-retire to country piles and swimming pools in between the occasional album and Mesh would be a household name. Mesh are very much back and taking their place on the upper steps in the synthpop Pantheon once again.
Mesh play an extensive UK and European tour between March and April 2013.
Berlin Columbia Club (22 March), Erfurt HSD (23 March), Warsaw Progresja (24 March), Bristol The Fleece (30 March), Hamburg Markthalle (05 April), Gothenburg Brewhouse (6 April), Rostock M.A.U. Club (7 April), Hannover Musikzentrum (9 April), Cologne Live Music Hall (10 April), Bochum Matrix (12 April), Leipzig Werk II Festival (13 April), Munich Backstage (14 April), Vienna Szene (15 April), Strasbourg La Laiterie (16 April), Frankfurt Main Batschkapp (17 April), Newcastle Legends (19 April), Manchester Sound Control (20 April), London Islington O2 Academy (21 April)
Bristol date supported by Inertia.
Munich, Vienna and Frankfurt dates supported by Sinestar.
Newcastle, Manchester and London dates supported by De/Vision.
Over the past 35 years Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark have written songs covering a vast and eclectic range of topics, creating both catchy and poignant melodies to go with them.
These melodies often belie the serious issues which have been covered; ‘Enola Gay’ being the most well-known of this genre, however others such as ‘Genetic Engineering’ and ’88 Seconds In Greensboro’ have equally weighty topics. Other subjects would initially appear rather ‘strange’ to contemplate writing a song about e.g. telephone boxes in ‘Red Frame/White Light’ or an oil refinery as in ‘Stanlow’. Yet between them, Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey have somehow managed to produce in their writing and finished products some emotionally powerful songs, which have on the whole survived the test of time remaining fresh with the ability to still push the boundaries as to what sounds can be effectively used to create a ‘catchy pop tune’.
Having decided to reform in 2005, we were treated to a number of well received tours over the intervening years. 2010 heralded the release of new material in the form of an excellent album entitled History of Modern as well as an energising promotional tour. Now, with their eagerly anticipated 12th album English Electric due out on 8th April this year I had the opportunity to put some questions to Andy McCluskey about, amongst other things, touring and whether “a bunch of fifty year olds” can actually push the boundaries and expand musical tastes and parameters with English Electric.
Andy McCluskey said of ‘Enola Gay’ being played at the Olympics: “I never believe anything is going to happen in the music industry until it happens.” Well unsurprisingly similar thoughts were passing through my head whilst waiting for him to call me… Luckily just like ‘Enola Gay’ being played during the opening ceremony of the Olympics last year, my phone did in fact ring!
What influences your decisions regarding the geographic regions and specifically venues you choose to play when you’re planning a tour?
In terms of where we play and venues also to be honest, it’s largely influenced by the promoter, because ultimately they are the people who are taking the risk. We may want to play everywhere, we may have certain people around the world who want us to come and play here there and everywhere, but the reality of a concert is that some promoter has to take a chance on renting a venue, guaranteeing us some money, and hoping they can sell enough tickets, so when people throw their toys out of the pram because we’re not coming to their town or we haven’t played in Italy or we’ve not got to Australia… I understand their frustration. If I wanted to see my favourite band and they weren’t coming to England or to Liverpool, it would be frustrating, but there is a simple economic reality that we can only play where somebody thinks we can sell sufficient tickets to make it worth their while and then ultimately worth our while. We have a problem with America, you know we played twice in 2011 and we lost money on both tours. People want us to come and play again, but we have to really balance the books so they are, I hate to say it, they are the overriding concerns because you know we can go out on the road and it costs depending on what we are carrying in terms of production and crew it costs anywhere between £10 and £25 thousand pounds a day. So I would love to play all sorts of places around the world but I can’t do it and lose that kind of money on a daily basis. We just can’t do it so that unfortunately is the reality of the decision making process.
Can you give an overview of the preparations you make prior to touring? If there are any!?
We just throw ourselves on the stage the day before and have a little rehearsal, say there, that’ll do!! There’s several elements. There’s decisions about what songs we’re going to play, particularly when we have a new album we are now about to release our 12th album, so what songs do you play and what songs do you not play? And again there’s 90% of the audience want us to play the hits, that’s the reality of it, the other 10% rabidly want us to play all the B-sides and the album tracks and ‘Love and Violence’ and their favourites. I get it, you know, if I go to see Roxy Music I’d love them to play ‘The Bogus Man’ and ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ and tracks like that, but most of the audience want to hear the singles. That’s what they have paid their money for, so, again it’s another one of those horrible compromises that you have to make which are based upon the reality of the situation. So there’s that decision to make.
And I guess there’s a compromise between the ones the four of you would like to play does that come in to it?
Well there are elements because we’re four different human beings with different tastes, although we are all in the same band. Yes there are different people who enjoy certain songs more than others to be honest, I’m not going to tell you which…
I guess the other important one is remembering all the words!!
Well I’m still working on that as you probably know! Malcolm and I have to get fit. I mean it’s a very different gig really, Malcolm and I have to be physically fit and Paul and Martin, their concert is much more just specifically technical they have to play the right notes. There’s all the budgeting, there’s all getting the crew…
Have you used generally the same crew over the years or is it a different crew?
We have generally been quite conservative and stick to people that we know and like. They’re not always available, because of course when we’re not on the road they have to make a living by going out with other bands, sometimes those other bands’ tours clash with ours, so we’ve got a group of people from whom we choose one of each type of crew member we like. Ideally we’d use the same people all the time.
How has your preparation for touring changed over the years for the band do you think?
The technical side of it has altered greatly, in so much as the equipment that we utilise is very different now, particularly the keyboards, we no longer use the four track tape machine, we’ve got pro-tools running off laptops for the backing tracks and sequencers and things so. That’s great because that’s much more efficient and also in the old days we’d make up a backing track go into rehearsal rooms or get down to production rehearsal rooms and somebody would go… “Oh the bass is too loud… the bottom end is not bassy enough, or it’s too bassy…” OK go back to the studio, re-record it, change it, you know, splice it back into the tape again. Whereas now on the pro-tools you go “OK what do you want me to do to it?”… So I’ll take some of the bottom end out and I’ll save it. “Is that how you want it?” Great sorted. Saved. The flexibility is wonderful. The keyboards that Paul and Martin use are wonderful machines, but they’re very complicated so it’s slow to play. There’s an awful lot of programming goes in. We actually have our first rehearsal on 28th January, we’re going to spend five days working on the new songs, and Malcolm and I know that it’s going to be five days when we’re going to be twiddling our thumbs, because the keyboard boys will just be fiddling with their sounds.
I bet it’s been steep learning curves with all the technology has it… or maybe not so much for you!?
Well you know on stage I’m singing and playing the bass, that hasn’t changed an awful lot, (laughs)
…Nor’s the dancing!!
Well the dancing has actually been reeled in, from the way it was in the 90’s. It got more exaggerated in the 90’s than it was in the 80’s. I have actually analysed myself, and I had a different style in the 80’s to the one I had in the 90’s and I’ve got a different style now.
From a casual observer I wouldn’t say it’s that obvious, maybe you’re just being very… err… I don’t know…
Well my left knee certainly knows it’s done far too much.
How is it?
At the moment its pretty good, but then that’s because I’ve had a rather lazy physical three months in the run up to the end of the year because I was concentrating on getting the album finished. Now I’ve started going back to the gym 3 days a week on Monday, today’s my day off, I’ll be going tomorrow night, also I’ll be cycling more and more. That is part of the problem, by the time I’ve got myself fit to tour my knee is already complaining. So I will be off to see my pet knee doctor for a cortisone injection at the end of March.
…getting back on track… With regards to riders, so in the early years you were asking I assume for more alcohol and junk food, is it more now coffee and fruit?!! Are there any specific riders you’ve asked for or, what’s the most outrageous or adventurous riders you as a band or other bands you have worked with have requested?
Erm…we’ve all heard the stories about, you know, ‘I want MM’s with the blue ones taken out, blah blah blah. We’ve never, never been silly or extravagant with riders. Basically the rider is usually put in by the caterers who you carry on tour and effectively it comes out of your money, it comes out of some of the money the promoters are giving you, so effectively you’re spending your own money, so there’s no point in being silly and extravagant and wasting stuff. I wouldn’t say we have more or less alcohol actually, we have a few beers that usually go to guests or are left at the end of the night for the crew to put on their bus, a lot of water and just some snacks, but again you see, we very often have catering at the venue anyway, so we don’t really need the snacks. I will often eat things after I come off stage, sometimes after the sound check there isn’t a lot of time before the gig, so I don’t really want to have a heavy dinner less than 2 and a half – 3 hours before the gig, so I’m often starving when I come off stage…
Yeah I’m not surprised…
Yeah but, no there’s nothing… we did go through you know We went through a phase I think in the early years of just being decadent. Our one concession to rock and roll decadence was that we wanted a bottle of Champagne, just so that we could say “We get a bottle of Champagne every night”. I can remember we were playing in some absolute dump in Austin Texas, a corrugated iron club, and there was a knock on the door and in comes Sting, and we get talking to him and he looks on the dressing table and he goes “Bloody hell you’ve got Champagne on your rider you decadent bastards!” and he was taking the piss out of us, you know, and just at that moment there’s a following knock on the door and this bouncer puts his head in and goes “Ah, Mr Sting your limo’s here”. We just went “Yeah Champagne, fuck off limo!” (laughs). No we never, we will usually have, I think there’s we rotate it, We usually have I think a bottle of vodka, a bottle of gin or a bottle of rum, you know, one on a different night, no we don’t, we’re not particularly heavy drinkers in the dressing room.
So who in the band is renowned for being the practical joker?
Do you know what? We’re terribly dull on the road, the band tend not to be the jokers, I mean the biggest jokes are usually played by the crew on the band on the last night of the tour, I mean, there have been a myriad of those over the years that have been highly amusing and sometimes irritating, but I wouldn’t say that we’ve ever really bothered much with practical jokes. We sound terribly boring don’t we? No extravagant rider, no practical jokes. The Weir brothers used to be quite entertaining, that was usually for their rather mad and extreme behaviour rather than practical joking.
So what’s the most memorable one that’s been played then?
Because Malcolm is by the very nature of his job stationary he usually gets picked on so… there’s been some simple classics like when he goes off stage at the end of the last song and towels off before coming on for the encore, he will come on in the darkness and he will start to play his drums and he will hit the snare drum and somebody’s put a load of flour on it so that he’s covered in a cloud of flour. My particular favourite was in the old days he had a round top stool, now he has more like a big bicycle seat, they would put an inch of raised black gaffer tape around the top of the stool, and they would mix black paint into cold rice pudding to make it look black and they’d fill the top of his stool with black rice pudding, cold rice pudding, so again he’d come out and sit on it and he couldn’t do anything about moving cause we’d start the song… (laughs)
and were you, were the rest of you party to this?
No, no, the crew don’t tell you anything (laughs) so we had no idea what had happened until we got off stage.
He covers it up very well then…
Well you know what? The show must go on.
What sorts of things do you as a band look for in a support act for OMD?
Primarily we like to have a band that we actually like their music and them as people, but of course you generally don’t know if you’re gonna like them as people until you’ve met them, and you don’t normally meet them until the first gig. Yes it’s the music really, I mean, there have been occasions when the promoters, you know they’ve been cut a deal with the record company to try to get a band on tour with another band and so we’ve been asked by promoters “Will you take such and such a band?” or the agents have said “Will you take such and such a band and we’ll reduce our commission or something”. It’s been nice; we’ve specifically asked China Crisis, we’ve specifically asked Mirrors. Gone are the days where you know, people are offering you money to come and support you, so ideally we usually choose somebody we like the music of. At the moment Paul and I are arguing about the support band on this tour…
I was just going to say is this one sorted for this tour or not
Mmm it actually isn’t, no we’ve got several candidates and we’re kind of umming and ahhing about the various credentials of them, but erm… it’ll have to be done soon.
So you’re sort of thinking of trying to get somebody to support the whole tour, or is it going to be different for UK and Europe?
At the moment it’s looking like we’re gonna have one band throughout the UK and we may go to local bands in the European countries.
So are there any rituals you go through prior to going on stage?
Are you going to share any of them or not?
Erm… Well I can’t tell you about slaughtering the 47 virgins and drinking their blood!!!!… There are a few – I generally, actually Malcolm and I generally have a shower before we go on stage it kind of warms us up and loosens us up and we invariably have a shower when we come off stage. I am usually the last one out of the dressing room, that’s a ritual and I have a ritual with the other 3 where I shake each ones hand and say “Have a good one” and I go round in a clockwise direction, and nobody can break that circle as I shake each hand. If somebody comes across me or goes around I have to start again, that is a little sort of ritual and then the other 3 all have their own where they all shake hands together after I’ve shaken their hands, so there are some little traditions, yes.
And they haven’t changed over the years then?
Yeah, they have these traditions, we didn’t have them in the 80’s, they only started more recently. We’ve only once gone on stage in the last 5 years without doing that tho’ and the gig wasn’t a bad gig. We played in Miami in the Autumn of 2011, and we were in the dressing room and in fact, I think Malcolm was in the bathroom, and Paul turned to me and he said “Is that the intro tape?” and I went “Oh yeah” someone started the intro tape, (laughs) and we were all still in the dressing room not ready at all, we went screaming down the stairs. So yeah… but no… generally we are out of the dressing room and standing by the side of the stage before the lights go down.
So with regard to the History of Modern album, you have said “I’m very happy with History of Modern considering it was a ‘cleaning of the decks’ a clearing of the decks album, and called it a ‘John the Baptist’ album… it’s the one that speaks of the one who will come after!” I’m intrigued by that, can you tell me a bit more?
I think that we were aware of the fact that when you haven’t worked for a long time and you suddenly sort of get back in the car and try to fire up the engine and start driving again it takes a little time to really hit your stride. We were happy with the collection of songs; I thought they were a very good collection of songs…
I did too.
Thank you… But we were also aware we are a band that you know …how can I put this?… we are one of the very few bands who because of our history, because of the intellectual content and commitment that we have had over the years, that there is a certain section of our audience who cherish that commitment to intelligence and endeavour to do something different…
Yeah, your speaking to one of them I’m afraid…
That’s OK. We are very glad and honoured to have people who took our music as seriously as we took it ourselves. But it is something of erm… frankly it’s a strange burden that most bands don’t have, that not only do you have to write a very good song, but it has to stand up to intellectual and historical context criticism…and in a sense it’s nice that we have that because we’ve created that for ourselves because of what we have done in the past, but I know why History of Modern didn’t tick everybody’s boxes, they weren’t listening to it as… As a collection of songs it was I think excellent. Was it Architecture and Morality or Dazzle Ships all over again? – No it wasn’t…
Yeah, but then you don’t want to do the same thing over again do you?
You know what I mean – was it pushing the boundaries? Was it expanding musical tastes and parameters? but then again can a bunch of fifty year olds actually do that?
And do you really want to do that though when you’re just trying to make a sort of an album that is a… comeback album? So you know, I think maybe people were expecting too much if they’re trying to keep comparing it with…
Well listen, the vast majority of people really liked that album because they were quite content with some really, really good songs in the styles of OMD. I mean if I have a criticism of History of Modern it’s that it… By comparison I think English Electric is much more of a homogenised album because essentially, baring ‘Kissing The Machine’, all of the songs have been written and created in the last few years all together so they hold together as a body of work from a particular period and ‘Kissing The Machine’ has been completely re-worked by Paul.
I was wondering how that had been changed.
I think there’s going to be further news released about that either tomorrow or Monday just to clarify ‘Kissing The Machine’ is a complete re-working of the track, it’s not a re-mix or re-hash apart from the vocal melody and the synth melody everything else has been replaced.
I was going to say how much has been kept or is it just… the lyrics I guess?
Virtually none…The Lyrics, vocal melody and synth melody are the same, they’ve been redone but they are the same vocal melody and same synth melody, the same sound, cause we’ve got the same synth, but everything else has been completely re… well the whole thing has been completely re- recorded, but only two elements will remain the same as they were originally.
You’re bound to get loads of criticism over that aren’t you!!!?
We’ll have some people who’ll say it’s not as good as the original, I mean you can’t win – this is the one thing you realise you know, if you stick your head above the trench you get shot at!!!
Exactly. So how, was the process of writing English Electric compared to writing the other albums? How’s it been?
Well it was more like the old days when we spent time together in the studio bouncing ideas off each other’s heads, and working together, you know Paul spent a lot more time in Liverpool. He’d come to my house on Monday, we’d go into my studio every day, we’d come home and you know have something to eat. He was living in my spare room in my attic, the self-contained apartment at the top of my house, and it was great, much more so than History of Modern, You know Paul was… Paul has been more involved in this album, which I think is also going to be something that people will be able to hear.
Ah right. That’s good. So… ‘Metroland’ is due to be the next single… it’s a longish single is it?
No, there’ll be an edit; there’s a four minute edit. The full track is 7 and a half minutes long.
So how did that come to be the first single?
Everybody loves it! And also it’s a statement, it’s very minimal, very electronic, you know, it’s not ‘If You Want It’, you know ‘Dresden’ is the logical pop song, we just decided that we wanted to make more of a statement of intent. I think ‘Metroland’ says more about what’s on the album than ‘Dresden’ does. ‘Dresden’ would be like the ‘Enola Gay’ on Organisation kind of like the only possible single on it kind of thing.
So what’s the statement you’re hoping this will achieve?
Well, possibly in the same way that we’ve released ‘Decimal’ early that it’s just letting people know that there’s an overriding feeling on this which is that its more minimal, more electronic, more intellectual, if you like, a lot more conceptual stuff on it and I’ve already been quoted as saying that you know that there’s an overriding kind of view that the future that we anticipated has not arrived.
You’ve also mentioned ….I think you’ve said “The overarching feel tends to be a sense of loss, of melancholia…” Was this the original intention for the feel of English Electric or did it just evolve within the process of writing the songs?
In terms of the feel and the lyrics you often don’t normally start out knowing exactly how an album is going to feel. It does tend to take on a life of its own; you know it’s an accumulation of just however it turned out. The one thing is you start on the journey but you don’t know exactly where it’s going to take you. I think it does reflect, intellectually it reflects a lot of the thoughts that have been going on, I mean Paul and I have been asking ourselves about the passage of time, how things have changed in our lives, how things have changed in the world, how we’ve gone from you know, we grew up in the post war euphoria of ‘science is going to make everything right’ and we’ve all realised it hasn’t quite turned out that way and also as well it’s been an incredibly difficult year for me the last two years… and I think that’s reflected in a lot of the lyrics.
So anyway I think you’ve previously mentioned about ‘The Great White Silence’ and ‘Thank You’ they’ve obviously not made it onto the album…
‘The Great White Silence’ will be an extra track somewhere a B-side or an iTunes track or something like that. And probably there will be two other tracks that will be appearing that will be ‘No Man’s Land’ and a song called ‘Artillery’. ‘Thank You’ is not going to be heard this time round.
So there might be another time round then?
You never know… People seem to think we’re treating this as our last ever album.
Yeah, well things can be read that way can’t they so…
Well you never know -I mean we intended to stop after Architecture and Morality, that’s what ‘Of All the Things We’ve Made’ was supposed to be an epitaph, that was in 1981…so umm…
I’m glad you didn’t.
So am I… I have to say that ultimately we write music for ourselves, it’s our own conversation with ourselves, and its often quite cathartic but I think the songs that are often the most emotionally cathartic often register with other people… It’s one of the great delights that I find is my ultimate bonus when somebody takes the time to say, “What you did was important to me, it helped me”.
For me, just going slightly off track, some of it… it’s the raw emotion that comes through and that just touches you doesn’t it?
I hope it does because I’m endeavouring to convey it. I mean, I think that that’s one of the things we quite quickly chose to do. We didn’t want to be sort of robot voices, singing about electronics and the future. Ours was an emotional response even to the intellectual things and the theories we were expounding and writing about, but there’s a couple of extremely raw songs on this album. I think a lot of people will understand the sentiments of songs like ‘Final Song’ and ‘Night Café’ probably.
I look forward to hearing them then. I was surfing around trying to find out stuff about you that I wasn’t aware of and came up against you’ve been an Ivor Novello award nominated songwriter in the past-Is that right?
Indeed I’ve been nominated for 3 and I haven’t won any of them!!! (laughs)
So what were they for?
Paul and I were nominated for ‘If You Leave’ actually, for international sales, but we were beaten by something else – but I can’t remember what it was now…and I got two nominations for ‘Whole Again’…and I won neither!!! I was up for international sales again, and that I lost out to Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’, because that was even bigger than ‘Whole Again’. I always seem to be in categories which are specifically monitored so I can’t really complain cause it’s not like I can say the panel was bent judged against me. The other one was Biggest Selling Record of the Year, again it was the second one, because that Hearsay track beat it, so there you go, anyway it was written by Betty Boo so I got to talk to her… The Ivor Novellos are an incredible award ceremony, they are more so than any of the other things. They are a celebration of the songwriters art, so there’s less music industry politics involved in it and I’ve always enjoyed going to the Ivors, it’s a fabulous, fabulous thing… To be in the room with so many other incredible song writers is just a complete honour, to look around the room and go oh my God there’s Benny and Bjorn… There’s you know Blur, there’s U2, there’s so and so, there’s bloody hell there’s Paul McCartney and Elton John and I got to meet Steve Harley for the first time in person in my life at the Ivor Novellos – He was my hero as a kid.
So it must have been quite a proud time when you’re nominated for these -so which was the better thing for you The Ivor Novellos or having ‘Enola Gay’ played at the Olympics?
Why would you say that?
It’s just a buzz to think that 20% of the people on the planet have just heard your song right there and then and, live. It was incredible; you know I never believe anything is going to happen in the music industry until it happens. I had been asked if I would sanction it and I said yes and I thought they’re never going to use it, even though I know Danny Boyle is a fan, I just thought they’ll never use it and the fact that they actually used it sort of pretty much right up at the front of the whole music section and it wasn’t just in the 80s synthpop section was really cool. I mean my phone just exploded (laughs), the number of people who texted me and called me you know…
So… erm… it hasn’t caused any consternation between you and Paul that it was that one that was played?
No. I think he’s written some beautiful songs, I think ‘Enola Gay’ was just up tempo and extremely catchy and a lot of people already knew it anyway so it was a logical choice, but no, had it been ‘Souvenir’ I would have been very happy for Paul in the same way I’m sure he’s happy for me, and listen I might have written it but it’s an Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark song.
Yeah, although erm the topic of it was a bit erm… not suspect but dodgy I suppose for something like this?
Not suspect but dodgy, yeah, yeah, I won’t throw the bacon at him I’ll throw the pork instead!!! I was wondering whether they would use any of the lyrics and unsurprisingly they didn’t. I did wonder if the Japanese had known what it was about whether they would have you know decided not to march in. It was erm…yeah I mean again interesting lyrical choice, but then to be honest Danny Boyle, there were a few interesting songs in there that were quite interesting choices if you knew what the song was about and this is always one of the interesting things about how things get absorbed into general culture, is that at the time people might go “Oh, that’s a radically different song”, or “Ooh that lyric, ooh are they allowed to say that on the radio?” and then after a period of time when the specific cultural context is no longer remembered, then it just falls into ‘is it a tune?’ category and that’s in the same way as ‘Tainted Love’ and ‘Come on Eileen’ and ‘Baby Love’ and you know, ‘I want to hold Your Hand’, nobody knows anymore about what people thought about them when they first heard them on the radio. If you play it at a party people just go ‘JUNE’ and get up and dance so…
So can you describe a typical day in the life of Andy McCluskey?
It’s entirely dependent upon which section of my life I’m involved in. I mean at the moment I’m very much wearing my ‘pop star as business man’ hat. I spend the whole day wading through over 100 emails, lots of phone calls, “Yes we’re going to do that, no I don’t want it that colour – can we change this? What does Paul think about that? How much publishing are we going to give up on this?” Talking to lawyers, talking to managers. Agreeing to do different interviews and setting up schedules. So I have spent my whole day today from 8am until 6pm when I bailed out and had a sit down. No I lie, actually 7pm. I went and had a sit down and actually fell asleep at 7pm watching Time Team. So I did 11 hours sat in my kitchen with my laptop and my phone. On tour it’s completely different – I will sleep as much as I can, I will go to the odd museum and I will save my energy for the stage. Christmas time I had my ‘pop star’ hat off and had my ‘Dad’ hat on and I was being parent to my two youngest kids and doing that, so it’s all different. There’s days when I’m down at the super market and washing the car just like anybody else’s day… and then there’s other days, that’s the amazing thing… I could be on stage in front of 20,000 at Rewind, and then the next day I’m at Sainsburys…
Down with a bump!
Not down with a bump, I can go easily between the two it doesn’t bother me at all – That’s just the way my life is – Its nice I love all the variety, I think more than anything else it’s the variety I really enjoy, I love traveling as well. I’ve always loved traveling that’s been one of the great bonuses as well. As well as people telling me the music has meant something to them, but the traveling has been a great bonus.
The actual process of travelling, is that enjoyable or is it the…?
No, that’s generally bloody horrible, particularly airports and airplanes I’m not a huge fan of long- haul flights at all. It was great to play in America again, it was great to be back in New York, I mean, the song ‘Night Café’ was really inspired by me – I flew into New York all on my own for two days before we played Toronto back 2 years ago, and it was the first time I’d been in New York in 19 years.
So did you make the most of it? Or was it jet lag…
No cause I literally had one day and it was -11 degrees (laughs)… But really my head just exploded into thoughts about being in New York in the past and how I felt, you know I was actually sitting in a restaurant up on the Upper West side in the darkness and I was just thinking about Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting, and that’s where the inspiration for the song came from. There’s actually reference to 8 other Hopper paintings in the lyrics, but I bet nobody fuck spots them all!!!
You never know there’s going to be someone trying to spot them…
Mmm it’ll be like a little treasure hunt for people.
A little forum… forum… err…
Yeah, I’m sure that’ll be a thread on the Forum, somebody will be going ‘No, no, that’s not a title’.
You’ve just got the world wide publishing deal with BMG, how you think that will affect OMD as a band and the record sales.
I hope it’s going to be very positive for us and for them. We did everything independently last time and we signed 13 different deals, we actually signed to BMG for publishing of History of Modern, but the record distribution side of it was 13 separate deals with 13 different distribution companies…
That must have been a nightmare to manage wasn’t it?
Tell me about it, yeah, so this is different. Basically the record industry has been looking for the last 10 years for a new model, a new business model. This is the new business model; this is major record company, but not acting as a major record company. This is major record company acting as intellectual property owner, who don’t have a great big office block with 300 people in it, to pay the overheads of. They have an office with a small group of people in, and they sign you for a short term and they employ independent people to work on that project for as long as they need to and then the contract terminates, so they don’t have the massive overheads and they just take on each project as it comes and they design a bespoke budget and marketing plan for each artist and each album as it comes. It’s a new concept and we’re very excited to be one of the guinea pigs. Ideally it’s going to combine the best of both worlds, we have the size of the weight and the clout of a major record company and the money they can put up front to guarantee all of these, you know distribution and marketing deals and promotion companies, but individually, territory by territory they say “Well, these are the people that we would like to work with, what do you think?” And we go “Yes we like them, we worked with them on the last album, actually we’ve got some really great radio promotion people can we work with them instead?” And so they will tailor-make a custom deal for you in each territory. Instead of when I was signed to Virgin, or when OMD from day one were signed to Virgin and just because Virgin in London like the album and like you and think they are going to sell lots, it doesn’t mean that Virgin in Italy want to even release the bloody thing, and that’s the dilemma of being on a label across the whole world is you never could control what territory by territory people wanted to do, so this is an opportunity to hopefully strike a balance between the best of both worlds.
So hopefully the marketing will be a bit more specific?
We shall see. You have to realise though Kathryn that the music industry has changed. We are not The Killers, or Coldplay, or Rihanna, we don’t sell millions, we don’t expect to, we can’t make a video that costs £200,000, we can’t employ people who can get us onto every TV show and ‘A’ listed every radio show…
Would you want that though?
Well… Yes I think we’ve done a great album and I want the bloody world to hear it, but the reality is, we can’t do it, you know I thought that the videos for ‘If You Want It’ and ‘Sister Marie Says’, and ‘History of Modern (Part I)’ were extremely good for the budgets. Were they great… well ‘History of Modern’ was a great video by Bo, anyway that’s a separate issue, but the other two were exceptionally good videos for £5,000, but were they great videos?… maybe not, but you know the video for ‘Walking on the Milky Way’ cost £250,000, you know, so it cost 50 times more than the video for ‘Sister Marie Says’, that’s something we just can’t expect to have anymore. But people complain, “Why haven’t you done this?” and “Why aren’t you doing that?” and “You’re not on the radio” and “I couldn’t buy it in such and such…” It’s like well I’m sorry, I wish we were everywhere and I wish we sold millions and I wish we were on the radio all the time, but it’s just the way it is you know.
So just going back to English Electric, and going back to something you mentioned previously calling it a “definitive statement” there has been loads of discussion that this could be your final album if that was the case would you think it would be the end to OMD touring?… or do you not want to say?
I don’t know. When I say it’s a definitive statement, both Paul and I believe it’s an incredibly strong statement, this is a very strong album; I don’t think we’re deluding ourselves. I would never say it’s better than Dazzle Ships or Architecture and Morality but I think it stands on its own two feet next to them. It’s been a very hard album to make for a number of reasons, I think both Paul and I feel this album has been torn out and I think we’re feeling exhausted and raw at the moment… so maybe at the end of the year we’ll go “That was great, we loved it lets do it again” or maybe we’ll go “Phew couldn’t do that again”.
The passage of time diminishes the pain doesn’t it? Or so they say…
I’m not a woman I’ve never given birth to a human, but I’ve given birth to albums and they are painful but with the passage of time you’re usually glad that you’ve done it.
I also just have to ask the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra… is it likely to happen again or… I know there’s been talk…
I hope so. We tried to make it happen this year, for various reasons we couldn’t, but the RLPO definitely want to work with us again and we definitely want to work with them. Actually the problem was venue, we were trying to get it to happen this year but there was a problem with the venue but both parties want to make it happen. I would say that whatever happens with full OMD touring and whatever happens with OMD making records in the future I would say that the chances of us in the next two years of doing something else with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra are very high. I enjoyed it…
I’ll have to ask you one last question, cause you’ve been fantastically patient with me. One of my daughters was wondering what is your favourite OMD track? I know it probably changes over time.
Well I think even though the new album is very raw, there’s two tracks on this album, which currently because they’re brand new, so I haven’t heard them for 30 years, 20 years or 10 years, I think there are two tracks on this album which I will hold close to my heart for years and years to come. ‘Final Song’, ‘Final Song’ is absolutely beautiful and totally heart rendering I think…
Sounds quite a personal one?
It is. And strangely enough the one song that is sort of unheralded, nobody’s talking about yet because they haven’t heard the album. But Paul and I and management and the English label all just think it’s the best song on the album, one called ‘Our System’ and its very unusual and very beautiful, that’s all I’ll say and it’s about the difference and the contrast between, the beauty and affection of the instruments that we send into space, like the interplanetary probes, because the Voyager probes have now left our system, they’ve gone out into broader space. So it’s contrasting that perfection with the imperfections of the humans here on the planet.
Right. So just something fairly bog standard, nothing very deep or meaningful quite fluffy…?
The usual OMD bog standard (laughs) Right now I would touch on those which of course is horrible for me to say. …Well I think it’s common knowledge that ‘Romance of the Telescope’ has always been my favourite song, but I found myself listening to some of our old albums recently and I’ve become a huge fan of 2nd Thought – another bloody miserable song.
Interview by Kathryn Hooper
14th March 2013 Note: This interview was conducted prior to the announcements regarding ‘Metroland’ and ‘Kissing The Machine’. This interview originaly featured on the Messages website.
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?
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.
Iconic musician returns with an album of distinction
Fresh from the ashes dawns a new day – The Next Day, Bowie’s long-awaited and widely unexpected first release in a decade, following the unveiling of his comeback single ‘Where Are We Now?’
Initially creeping into our consciousness in 1969 with ‘Space Oddity’, the Starman would shape 1970s rock as if he were himself a master sculptor of distinction. Yet he has been heralded a man of many faces and The Next Day sees every nuance of each previous decade filtering through in the form of immensely distinctive pop hooks and veritable amounts of retro modernism. Expressionist by nature, the album manages to reference, however oblique, every milestone in Bowie’s career. If there is any downside to pinpoint however, it has to be the drum sound, which appears to lack dynamics throughout.
In reflection, Bowie’s own artistic mystique would deliver the flamboyant Ziggy Stardust, and he would later join the likes of Kraftwerk and Brian Eno in championing the experimental European; thrusting upon the pop world a whole new cultural matrix. There is of course the flip side to the coin and much later Bowie would loan himself to become a renowned stadium performer – edging away from the darker experimental shadows and climbing aboard a more commercial vehicle. The clever thing about The Next Day is that it’s all so perfectly in keeping with some of his more original and eclectic art pop aesthetic – whichever segment of the spectrum you choose to compare it to.
The opening tracks provide those bold statements that were perhaps very much needed to win our immediate confidence, including an opener that is altogether punchy – styled guitar with a synthesized twist that exhibits plenty of raunchy persistence, and has the necessary grit throughout to colour it to a Bowie-styled strangeness and charm. The quirky resemblance continues with ‘Dirty Boys’, it’s somewhat dissonant and twisted personality taking it somewhere in the direction of Public Image Ltd, while morphing to a classic tuneful Bowie for the chorus. It fades, giving way to smouldering sax and subdued guitar questioning.
What is evident today, is that we’re not likely to see Bowie reaching for the stars vocally – yet he does not sound at all aged. Presently, Bowie has obviously become more attuned to the laid-back, smoother tones – perhaps more refined and sometimes subdued – which rather suits his quietly contemplating reflection back through his past.
The third track, ‘The Stars Are Out Tonight’, features a tried and tested method of steady acoustic guitar rhythm that carries and lifts the track. The lead guitar riff is immensely catchy and thick in texture, with definite spells of magic. It makes for a joyful journey that craves its destination, supplemented with gentle layers of backing vocal. Etching a more sinister feel, is the very atmospheric ‘Love Is Lost’ – it’s the gothic novel frozen in the past, with a dark church-like organ overlay set against chugging bass rhythm, eclectic guitar sounds and a vocal that is naked against the driven pulse of the beat. It is at this point that ‘Where Are We Now?’ turns the album on its head. A ballad of soulful melancholy, it provides the slow burner on the album – a lonely period of enchantment. With piano to guide it to the edge of delicate slumber, it’s a definite like for those who crave a graceful, peaceful meander…or so it seems. That is until the rhythm introduces some variation of the more lively variety midway, eventually building to a rhythmic crescendo with each instrument adding its weight.
Returning to the more familiar packaged parcel is the ever so slightly commercial-sounding ‘Valentine’s Day’ – nothing particularly remarkable here, but it does have a lustful guitar melody that portrays multiple voices.
The eclectic outburst of ‘If You Can See Me’ is an alarming action thriller with enough twists and turns to ensure a dash of mayhem – bright splashes of colour, blurred vision and the wind in your face, plus a definite brush with seventies progressive which paves the way for ‘I’d Rather Be High’. This has one of the most memorable hooks on the album, weaving all the way through the track with an air of dominance. ‘Boss Of Me’ pulses with an intro that sports gritty grunge-styled guitars. There’s a familiar stab of sax evident and the mid-section opens up to reveal some element of freedom.
The drum intro to ‘Dancing Out In Space’ conjures Phil Collins’ ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ – not a good sign. However, there’s an interesting synth overlay that’s very expressive, adding an essential intrigue (although in context with the rest of the track, it remains quite cloaked). Giving way to yet another eccentric anthem, ‘How Does The Grass Grow’ strangely presents itself as a cross between ‘Mary’ by Supergrass and Eric Clapton’s ‘Who Do You Love’. Having said that, there’s a surprising twist in there that removes it from such comparisons altogether, and finally it turns to a burst of rockmania before surrendering to the more spacey sweeps of universal energies.
The unrepentant ‘You Will Set The World On Fire’ introduces itself as a 1970s quick-stepping, punk-styled anthem. And, with its unfaltering amounts of angst-driven energy, you’d be forgiven for buying the line. On this occasion the guitar solo burns pretty damn hot, but is extinguished later with the contrast of ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’, a laid-back ballad with the added dressing of theatrical backing vocals. But, back on theme – certainly in terms of title – is ‘Heat’, the intro giving way to an eerie space-like excursion that is accompanied by a fretless bass with ghostly quality. Sinister in atmosphere, it’s enriched vocally, with a string arrangement that adds a striking menace – enough to pull against the calm of the gentle acoustic guitar backing. A waypoint that is not only diverse, but has years of undergrowth that will choke any bright florals that threaten to bloom.
So, after approx 53 minutes running time, is there anything new here? Absolutely not, but Bowie has his own way of doing things. His sound bears his unique signature, an art form that’s referenced by many and unmistakable to most. Which makes The Next Day a tangled popular classic wrapped in a decadent outer packing, but containing that same otherworldly feel – possessed by grit-laded guitars, raunchy sax and playful beats. A confident approach to the welcoming horizon on which the die has certainly been cast.
Hailing from Glasgow and formed in 2009, Analog Angel have developed a devoted following on the basis of their previous two releases, Dischord (2009), and The Thin Line (2011) and supported such luminaries as VNV Nation and Assemblage 23.
December saw them return with ‘We Won’t Walk Away’, a driving, radio friendly tune from the harder edge of the synth pop spectrum. Many listening have suggested it has more than a hint of OMD… the melody does have a tinge of ‘Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)’ about it, perhaps.
Well that tune was the advance party, blazing the trail for this EP, just released. ‘Not Alone’ is indicative of the content… gorgeous analogue sounding synths and distorted sounds arranged imaginatively – each sound contributing something, not there to just fill a space. ‘Let It Show’ is powered by heavy resonating synth bass punctuating and driving the song forward while John Brown’s voice rides over the top. Which brings me to the refreshingly “naked” and natural sounding vocals – not laden with double tracking, smothered in reverb nor autotuned to death – creating a very human contrast to the generally analogue sounding synths and making Analog Angel that bit different. It actually just sounds like someone singing. Which is refreshing. And no dubstep style bleeps and noises plastered everywhere to try and sound “current” either.
‘The Temple’ starts with dramatic piano and synth bass before bursting into life and turning into fast paced octave-basslined synth pop featuring 90s Techno synths this time. ‘They Don’t Understand’ again features the big synth bass and killer melody and is my favourite on the EP. Less is more, as they say – when you have good ideas you don’t need to throw in the kitchen sink to impress. ‘Eternal’ again is synth bass driven and has a relentless quality about it, constant chattering rhythm pattern driving on the bass behind the vocals. ‘Feel Me’ clocks in at just under 7 minutes and finishes things off nicely – again with big bass and catchy hooks in a sparse arrangement. The best compliment I can pay is that it doesn’t feel too long.
With such a low price (£3.50) for 7 tracks totalling over 35 minutes – longer than many albums before CDs came along – one might be forgiven for thinking quality control might have been given the day off. Definitely not the case here.