Commercial commentary with an electropop style

This month sees a new outing from synthpop outfit Information Society and The Electricity Club is proud to premiere the video for ‘Nothing Prevails’.

The 1980s managed to spin up a variety of synthpop outfits that established a classic period in electronic music. But while the UK had cultivated many iconic acts over that influential decade, the US had established its own scene with its own unique voice, a voice paved by new wave acts such as Devo and more dedicated synthpop outfits, such as Our Daughter’s Wedding.

1982 saw the emergence of Information Society, a group originally formed in Minnesota that featured Kurt Harland Larson, Paul Robb, and James Cassidy. Information Society took inspiration for their name from Ingsoc, the fictional government that featured in George Orwell’s novel 1984. But it’s a name that also took on a prescient nature, pointing to the computer-dominated future that modern pop culture was evolving into.

Paul Robb drew from hip-hop and house influences, lending these musical styles to the fledgling Information Society (aka InSoc). Indeed, as an outfit InSoc are often difficult to pigeonhole in any clearly defined genre. They’ve embraced synthpop, techno, dance – and all points in-between – over their extensive musical career.

Their 1985 debut ‘Running’ became a club favourite, its combination of electro beats and synthpop established InSoc’s particular template. By this point, the outfit had relocated to New York and signed to the Tommy Boy label. Tommy Boy has chalked up a number of classic artists on its roster over the years (including Afrika Bambaataa, De La Soul, 808 State and Queen Latifah). Plus, its previous association as a subsidiary of Warners also offered a broader distribution network than most independent labels.

It’s a network that certainly benefited the day-glo pop appeal of InSoc’s 1998 release ‘What’s on Your Mind (Pure Energy)’. The single utilised samples from Star Trek – a coup that had been pulled off thanks to the efforts of InSoc fan Adam Nimoy, son of Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy. The single proved to be a big hit in the US, spending 25 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. But InSoc also later proved themselves with further chart hits in the form of ‘Walking Away’ and ‘Think’.

Over the years, Robb has dabbled in other musical ventures, including being one half of trip-hop duo Brother Sun Sister Moon. He also provided keyboard work (and co-production for 2 tracks) on Kon Kan’s 1990 album Syntonic. Robb has also established himself as a notable TV and film composer outside of his personal music ventures.

Meanwhile, outside of Information Society, Kurt Harland Larson ventured into the audio side of video games, including work for the likes of Electronic Arts and Crystal Dynamics. He’s since taken on the mantle of audio lead at Nihilistic Software, a game studio based in Novato, California. Earlier this year, Larson also lent his vocal talents to one of ELYXR’s releases – in this case the smooth synthpop stylings of ‘Strange Stubborn Proud’.

Information Society’s latest release ‘Nothing Prevails’ presents a thumping electropop workout with strident vocals (German fans should note that a German language version of the video is also available). This release is also significant as it marks Information Society’s first original release on the Tommy Boy label after 25 years (although the label did issue a remix release in 2014).

Taking on a timely theme, the press release suggests that the band are offering up some commentary of contemporary culture. “On the new tune, InSoc sends a chilling message of anti-materialism and self-evaluation in a society dominated by possession and instant-gratification.” Lyrically, the song offers some very blunt thoughts on commercialism (Don’t be fooled by what you have/Nothing prevails and nothing lasts) and wraps the whole thing up in an energetic, if sobering, number that’s laced with meaty percussive stabs and melodies.


Gothic pop from Wakefield’s finest…

It’s often the case that many contemporary electronic outfits seem to be content to rehash the sounds of the 80s. They hold the classic synthpop period in such reverence that the idea of music going beyond that benchmark seems inconceivable. Not to rain down on the obvious audience out there for such music, but at times it seems as if it’s probably overdue perhaps for its own genre. It’s become such a default setting that when bands rock up wearing their influences on their sleeve, yet somehow building beyond the restrictions of their inspirations, it’s not only a surprise but also a refreshing change of pace.

Wakefield synthpop outfit Berlyn Trilogy do interesting things with these tropes of classic synth and, as a result, have managed to stand out as one of the finest synthpop outfits of the modern era. The release of their 2014 album A Perfect Stranger, for example, presented a collection of solid synthpop that boasted the percussive pop of ‘Synthetic Love’ and the epic tones of ‘The Drone’.

Flowers Fall by Berlyn Trilogy

They’re also more than capable of holding their own in a live setting. The Wakefield trio have previously commanded the stage at events including Silicon Dreams and Synthetic City. Their easy going chemistry on stage lending the band a charm that never undermines their ability to belt out a good tune.

Although the outfit has seen some changes from their initial lineup (original member Dorian Cramm has since gone on to form the equally excellent Promenade Cinema), the current team of James Beswick, Simon Rowe and Faye Williams have wasted little time in demonstrating that they’re a synthpop outfit with some chops.

Their new EP Flowers Fall is no exception, offering darkpop delights that also have a gothic sensibility weaved into the mix. Here, rich textured backdrops present the perfect stage for potent slices of synth-fuelled perfection. There’s nods to the influence of the likes of The Human League, Ultravox and Depeche Mode seeded throughout, but Berlyn Trilogy are an outfit whose voice is wholly unique.

The lyrical content for many Berlyn Trilogy tunes also tend to veer to weighty and unusual influences. The tracks on Flowers Fall being no exception. It’s not often that synthpop outfits pen songs inspired by vast palaces from the period of Ancient Rome, but ‘Domus Aurea’ does just that. Meanwhile, ‘Simone (Nicole)’ takes inspiration from the story of French resistance fighter Simone Segouin.

The idea of weaving in such solemn themes into synthpop tunes could, in the hands of lesser talents, be a ponderous affair that borders on the pretentious. But Berlyn Trilogy have a confidence in the delivery of their music that lends these compositions with exactly the weight they require.

Certainly, the muscular power of opening track ‘Domus Aurea’ gives the EP an immediate impact. This muscular electropop workout boast burbling synth beds that provide a solid foundation for the in-your-face percussive synth tones. Meanwhile, the vocals have a power all their own (“I build my empire on poison and desire (compulsion, corruption; your strategy)/Don’t question my morality, my deftly woven strategy”).

Evocative sirens open up ‘Simone (Nicole)’ for a number that combines sweeping synths with confident electronic melodies. Its lyrical themes, inspired by the aforementioned World War II heroine, have a profundity that lends this outing its own particular nobility (“You’re the heroine of liberty/Effortless style and dignity”).

Conversely, ‘Rain’ offers a more sedate outing in comparison – its driving percussive bass nevertheless giving the track its own impressive power.

Meanwhile, the EP also offers up a generous number of remixes, including contributions by Nature of Wires, Destination, Fourth Engine, Real Experts and Parralox. The Jarre-eseque electropop that Destination lend to ‘Simone (Nicole)’ stands out in particular. But Fourth Engine’s emphasis on the burbling synths that drive ‘Domus Aurea’ and Nature of Wire’s machine-like workout for the same track are also solid remixes.

Flowers Fall is out now.