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.

THE RUDE AWAKENING – Your Wetness is My Weakness

Sinful synth-fuelled pop

With a packed schedule of roles and projects, it’s a wonder that electronic musician, promoter and radio host Johnny Normal can find the time to add something new to the mix.

2017 saw the debut of his latest musical venture, titled The Rude Awakening. ‘Let Nothing Take Your Pride’ emerged as an anthem for all those who have come under fire in life (and which also became one of TEC’s Songs Of The Year). Its defiant tones seems to be a timely response for a man who had battled some major hurdles in recent years (Johnny had spent much of 2014 hospitalised in a coma), but also reflected on the need for anyone to fight their corner.

The Rude Awakening also appeared to be shaping up as a venture not too dissimilar to ELYXR’s approach to musical collaborations. As with Kasson Crooker’s series of releases, Johnny Normal seems keen to bring onboard other talents from the electronic music scene to give each outing by The Rude Awakening a unique profile.


For ‘Let Nothing Take Your Pride’, that meant Brooke Calder’s vocal skills was brought onboard. But for The Rude Awakening’s latest release, the talents of Bridget Gray (Destination) were employed.

‘Your Wetness is My Weakness’ is threaded with strong sexual themes – a 21st Century love song that explores the boundaries of relationships through role-play and fantasy. On that basis then, it’s perhaps not surprising that elements of the new tune seem to reflect some of the sleazy synth territory that Soft Cell managed to dominate in years past.

Certainly the lyrical content doesn’t seem to shy away from fairly blunt expressions of sexual abandon with Mr Normal painting a very explicit image (“Approaching me with confidence she kneels before my feet/And sucks me with an energy that makes me feel complete”). Meanwhile, there’s a sensual backing vocal element from Bridget Gray weaving in and out of a sultry electronic miasma.

The result is a sinful hymn on the pleasures of the flesh hammered out on leather-clad electronics. There’s also a suitably slick production care of both Johnny Normal and Mr Strange.

Along for the ride are some sterling remixes which take the song into new territories. This includes a typically brash Parralox reworking where the whole affair is given an engaging workout that suggests a combo of Giorgio Moroder and Pet Shop Boys.

Your Wetness is My Weakness is out now on Pink Dolphin Music. Available from iTunes, Amazon and most digital outlets.

The Rude Awakening will be performing live at the forthcoming Synthetic City Reloaded event at The Water Rats, Kings Cross London on 22nd September. Also at Massive Ego & Friends on 15th December at Water Rats (full details on the TEC Calendar page).


Glitchy dreampop delights await…

Under the guise of Pinklogik, electronic musician Jules Straw has been producing her own blend of tunes since 2006, chalking up an impressive catalogue of releases since her debut album Mosaic Electro.

The Bristol-based artist released her latest album offering earlier this month in the form of Glint. The new album presents a curious mix of electronica and dreampop that bounces between opaque instrumentals and alluring vocal tracks. Although there is a nod to the more ambient side of the electronic spectrum, the album also boasts an array of gems that deliver a depth and enchantment that at times is quite beguiling.

Glint by Pinklogik

Much of Glint operates on a subtle power with rhythmic beats slotted into busy electronic percussion. The glitchy electronics on tracks such as ‘The Vision’ give it a low-fi pop appeal and Straw’s vocals have a clean and direct approach (“And your choices/they speak voices”).

The instrumental outings also present a few surprises, particularly on the blissful beats of ‘Pangolin’. Elsewhere, ‘Grand Water Trine’ offers a nod to trip hop while maintaining a more contemplative air.

Meanwhile, tracks such as ‘Glasshouse’ have a mesmerising beauty about them, while also showing a deft hand for melody and rhythm. Similarly, the wistful ‘Lost’ has a sense of loss and regret and the idea of the departure of a loved one throwing your life into confusion (“I can’t let you go/your exit froze me”). Warm synth melodies work away in the background while more empathic electronic elements give the whole affair a sturdier frame. Then there’s the marching beats of ‘Big Truths’, revealing a more robust quality to Pinklogik’s talents.

Glitch techniques are utilised on the likes of ‘False Data’, which offers up a machine-like rhythm to the composition. For the album’s final outing, ‘Sparks May Fly’, soft choral effects are dropped into place on a track which also utilises some light vocoder approaches on the vocals.

Glint is an album that adopts reflective musings that offer a dreamy escape for the willing listener. It’s also an album that also boasts a smooth production quality with a polish that makes every track pop.

Glint is out now.


The opening night of a-ha’s 31-date Electric Summer tour yielded plenty of surprises, as Barry Page discovered…

The home of Kent County Cricket Club, the Spitfire ground has been doubling up as a music venue since Elton John brought his Red Piano tour to the beautiful, historic city of Canterbury in June 2006. Twelve years later, three acts synonymous with pop music’s greatest decade – the 1980s – played to a largely enthusiastic crowd on a balmy spring day.

Since his return to the pop music fray in 2014, following a lengthy absence, 62-year old Tom Bailey has become something of a permanent fixture on the festival circuit, delighting fans and nostalgia-hungry crowds with a selection of hits culled from the back catalogue of his former band, the Thompson Twins. A warm-up concert at SUB89 in Reading in August 2014 – which this writer was lucky enough to be present at – marked the start of a journey that will culminate with the release of his first ever solo album, Science Fiction, next month. “It’s exciting,” he says, “because rediscovering the ability to play live and write pop music has been part of a personal transformation. I started off full of fear and all sorts of ‘oh no I can’t do that, and I can’t do that’. But, little by little, I’ve rediscovered that it’s okay. It’s fun and it’s really interesting.”

Boasting outstanding cuts such as ‘Ship Of Fools’, ‘If You Need Someone’ and 2016’s comeback single, ‘Come So Far’, Science Fiction is a fine album that fans of his former band will undoubtedly be pleased with. Also included on the PledgeMusic-funded new album is a track titled, somewhat prophetically, ‘Bring Back Yesterday’, a title that seems to perfectly encapsulate the nostalgic mood of the Kent crowd who, rightly or wrongly, expect to hear the hits. As Bailey told The Guide in 2016, “You’re known for your best work so it would be foolish for me to walk out to a crowd and say, ‘Here are ten songs I wrote last week’. You have to earn permission for that.”

During their mid-80s heyday, which included a memorable performance at Live Aid with Madonna on backing vocals, the Thompson Twins racked up a slew of hit singles. Sadly, the lowly 45-minute slot ensures that Bailey and his fabulous all-female band – which includes Emily Dolan Davies, a former member of The Darkness – can’t play them all. But the allocation is lengthy enough to remind the crowd that the Thompson Twins produced some truly classic pop singles in their pomp, including ‘Hold Me Now’, ‘Doctor! Doctor!’, ‘You Take Me Up’ and their first Top 10 hit, ‘Love On Your Side’, which still raises a smile with its clever interpolation of 1982’s ‘In The Name Of Love’. The arrangements are largely true to the studio recordings, but US hit ‘King For A Day’ is presented in a slightly slower, bossa nova style; replete with lyrical tweaks (“Diamond rings/ And all that bling”). The visuals feature a combination of graphics and lyrics, and the band also daringly throw in the Latin America-inspired current single, ‘What Kind Of World’, which includes some infectious Cuban vocal samples. The band endure some software problems which results in some occasionally off-key vocals, but overall it’s a very enjoyable set that is well received by the sun-baked crowd.

Equally adept on both the festival circuit and indoor venues are synth-pop pioneers Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, who had actually once supported the Thompson Twins on a lengthy US jaunt – The Tour Of Future Days – in late 1985/early 1986.

Since the band’s official reformation in 2005, OMD have enjoyed something of a career renaissance; rivalled only by that of Gary Numan’s. As the social media reaction will later attest, the band win a plethora of new admirers after an outstanding 70-minute, hits-packed set.

“Tonight, Matthew, we’re gonna be a Blues Brothers tribute band,” declares singer and bassist Andy McCluskey, before launching into their first Top 10 hit, ‘Enola Gay’. By the time of the band’s arrival on stage – which is still facing the glare of a powerful early evening sun – the throng has significantly swelled, and the well-rehearsed band feed off the energy and enthusiasm of the audience. Some early sound problems are eradicated once a fresh microphone has been installed for set perennial ‘Tesla Girls’, but a confident and jovial McCluskey is undeterred as he cajoles the crowd into pogoing along to ‘History Of Modern (Part One)’, a highly energetic live favourite that’s essentially about the end of mankind (“Everyone you love/ Everyone you hate/ All will be erased and replaced”).

Whilst it’s a sprightly McCluskey who largely provides OMD’s focal point, keyboardist Paul Humphreys is also afforded a turn in the spotlight as he arrives centre stage for a run-through of the band’s final UK hit of the 1980s, ‘(Forever) Live And Die’.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played at a cricket pitch before… with or without pads,” announces McCluskey, before launching into ‘If You Leave’, the huge US hit that formed part of the soundtrack for the classic Pretty In Pink movie. It’s become something of a divisive song amongst OMD’s fans since its release in 1986, but there’s no denying the quality of 58-year old McCluskey’s vocal and Martin Cooper’s saxophone solo on this mid-set number. Such is the band’s proficiency, one concert-goer flippantly suggests that the band are miming!

A longstanding part of OMD’s live set over the years has been what McCluskey has termed the ‘pastoral section’, frontloaded with a triple header of Top 5 hits from 1981’s classic album, Architecture And Morality, which still remains the pinnacle of their career. On the Humphreys-sung ‘Souvenir’, McCluskey takes a now-customary wander around the stage as he picks out the simple bass notes, while ‘Joan Of Arc’ and ‘Maid Of Orleans’ showcase the considerable talents of drummer Stuart Kershaw, an often overlooked figure in the history of OMD, despite having co-written some fabulous songs over the years. Since stepping into the breach following the unfortunate departure of original drummer, Malcolm Holmes, Kershaw has added a fresh dynamic and, with his powerful drumming, has become an integral part of the band’s live set-up.

‘Talking Loud And Clear’, which Duran Duran’s John Taylor once described as having a ‘nursery rhyme’ feel, gives McCluskey something of a breather after a typically frenetic workout during the climax of ‘Maid Of Orleans’. There’s a slightly clumsy end to the track and a few quizzical looks between members, but no-one seems to notice. “We must be doing something right,” announces McCluskey. “There’s no queue at the Prosecco tent!”

When the band’s original line-up disbanded at the end of the 80s, McCluskey embarked on a solo journey; utilizing the OMD moniker, but with mixed results. The excellent Universal album proved to be that particular era’s swansong, but it produced one bona fide classic single in ‘Walking On The Milky Way’, which the Canterbury crowd are treated to. In concert the band haven’t quite been able to replicate the magic of the studio recording and the lack of the Hannah Clive backing vocal sample further exposes its frailties, but it’s well received by a crowd who are clearly receptive to the song’s nostalgic tones.

Whilst the set leans heavily on the hits, the band indulge the crowd with the title track of last year’s critically-acclaimed 13th studio album, The Punishment Of Luxury. Whilst some of the lyrics are questionable (“Can I have my cheque please, Sir?”), the track boasts a memorable Kraftwerkian melody, and the “hey! hey! hey!”s provide another opportunity for the audience to interact.

There’s a return to the hits with the Caribbean-flavoured ‘Locomotion’ and a double-header of singles from 1991’s Sugar Tax album, ‘Pandora’s Box’ and ‘Sailing On The Seven Seas’, while the band’s oldest song, ‘Electricity’, rounds the set off in style.

It’s now almost 40 years since Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark formed – something the band will commemorate with some special shows in the autumn – and this rapturously received set certainly consolidated their reputation as one of the finest live acts around at the moment.

“It’s a huge privilege to be able to go out and play in front of enthusiastic audiences 30 years down the line – not a lot of artists get that opportunity” – Magne Furuholmen

It’s been almost four months since a-ha completed their MTV Unplugged tour at the O2 arena. The process of reimagining key songs from their vast back catalogue has clearly reenergised the Norwegian trio, and much of the new set list on the opening night of the Electric Summer tour expands on this approach. “You have to reinvent things,” Pål Waaktaar recently told The Yorkshire Post. “It has to feel fresh, so even the ones we always play, you try to give them a different spin or really bring it back to the way it was at the core.” Certainly, it would be so easy for the band at this stage in their career to run through perfunctory versions of their hits, but they deserve credit for continuing to challenge themselves musically. Sections of the Canterbury crowd are not so receptive to some of the new arrangements, and the band are understandably rusty after a four-month break away from the live stage, but it’s nevertheless a fine set, with some intriguing twists and turns.

By the time the band appear at 8:30, the temperature has noticeably dipped. Featuring the same line-up as the MTV Unplugged tour – sans multi-instrumentalist Lars Horntveth – the band launch into ‘Cry Wolf’. Morten Harket endures some problems with his in-ear monitors, a sight that his audiences are well used to witnessing. “It’s about trying to hear what I’m doing myself,” he once told the Norwegian journalist, Jan Omdahl. “And because I use the voice over such a large spectrum – not only high and low – but also in intonation and levels of sensitivity, it demands a lot. It’s a shitty job for the soundman to work with me.”

Whilst the set leans heavily on the band’s singles, deep cuts such as ‘The Weight Of The Wind’ get a much welcome airing, as does Magne Furuholmen’s ‘This Is Our Home’, a beautiful new song which was debuted during last summer’s shows in Giske.

Other tracks that haven’t been played for several years include ‘The Blood That Moves The Body’ and ‘Minor Earth Major Sky’, which boasts a more electronic foundation than its studio counterpart. But perhaps the biggest surprise of the set is the inclusion of ‘Train Of Thought’. Not the version of the band’s third Top 10 hit that most people are used to, but an arrangement that’s closer to the original demo recorded at John Ratcliff’s Rendezvous studio circa 1983; replete with alternative lyrics and a distinctive guitar riff that was later used on ‘Cold River’ (see 1990’s East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon).

Elsewhere, ‘Manhattan Skyline’ is presented in a more stripped-back arrangement and boasts a more ambient introduction. Towards the end of the song, as Harket gazes admiringly at Waaktaar’s guitar playing – which is excellent throughout – he misses his vocal cue; a sign perhaps of some opening show nerves.

Set mainstay, ‘Stay On These Roads’, features a lovely cello solo and some fabulous organ flourishes, while ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ includes a sneaky snatch of The Doors’ ‘Riders On The Storm’ in the song’s dramatic climax.

The crowd are a little subdued throughout, and there are some audible moans and groans about Harket’s apparent failure to interact with the crowd in the same way as OMD’s loquacious singer had done in the previous set – it’s a criticism that has followed him around for years. “I’ve never been uncomfortable being a frontman,” he told The Guardian in 2016. “I’ve always known that to be my position, but I’m not a showman. I’m not an entertainer, I’m an engager.” Furuholmen remains the band’s onstage spokesman, and he manages to rouse the crowd for a finale that includes the band’s only UK No.1 hit, ‘The Sun Always Shines On T.V.’, and James Bond theme, ‘The Living Daylights’.

Since its inception in a Manglerud nursery school basement in 1981, transatlantic hit ‘Take On Me’ has seen many changes, culminating in a beautiful ballad arrangement premiered last year. This time round, the band return to the version most people are familiar with, but with some funkier guitar elements. It’s the final number of the evening and, despite some of the criticisms – with one disgruntled fan even claiming that they have lost the plot – the band have delivered once again.

Tom Bailey set list: Love On Your Side / What Kind Of World / You Take Me Up / King For A Day / Lies / Lay Your Hands On Me / Doctor! Doctor! / Hold Me Now

OMD set list: Enola Gay / Messages / Tesla Girls / History Of Modern (Part One) / (Forever) Live And Die / If You Leave / Souvenir / Joan Of Arc / Maid Of Orleans (The Waltz Joan Of Arc) / Talking Loud And Clear / Walking On The Milky Way / The Punishment Of Luxury / Locomotion / Pandora’s Box / Sailing On The Seven Seas / Electricity

a-ha set list: Cry Wolf / The Blood That Moves The Body / Minor Earth Major Sky / Lifelines / The Weight Of The Wind / Crying In The Rain / Foot Of The Mountain / Analogue (All I Want) / Train Of Thought / Stay On These Roads / This Is Our Home / Manhattan Skyline / Hunting High And Low / I’ve Been Losing You / The Sun Always Shines On T.V. / Scoundrel Days / The Living Daylights / Take On Me

All photographs by Barry Page

Special thanks to Sara Page


Ethereal electronica..

Ambient outfit Marconi Union are probably best known for their soothing composition ‘Weightless’, a piece whose genesis arrived after consultation with a sound therapist. The finished work was considered “the most relaxing tune ever” (to the point where people were advised not to listen to it while driving!).

The 3-piece electronic band have been in operation since 2003’s Under Wires and Searchlights album, which marked their debut. Since then, Jamie Crossley, Duncan Meadows and Richard Talbot have steadily built up a profile for textured, instrumental music.

The announcement that Marconi Union were performing possibly their only concert this year generated enough interest for a sold out event. The fact that the band had also invited Digitonal and Fire_Sign along as support just added the icing to this particular cake. Selecting St Pancras Old Church as the venue of choice also gave the event a suitably dignified backdrop.

Digitonal opened the evening’s musical delights with an impressive performance. Andrew Dobson has been ploughing his own particular brand of electronic music since the 1990s. There’s a serene beauty to much of Digitonal’s cinematic electronica, which takes on fresh qualities for live performances as witnessed at the 22rpm event earlier in the year (see TEC review).

As at 22rpm, Andrew is joined on stage by Dom Graveson to combine widescreen visuals with relaxing ambient elements that tonight revolve around a circular motif. Throughout the set, titles appear on the screen to give each piece a suitable theme.

Things start slowly with a low ambience broken only by sporadic bursts of electronic chatter (actually sampled computer noises from the film Alien). A slow tracking shot of a brightly lit forest appears as an indistinct ghostly vocal drifts back and forth. A profound message states: ‘A Very Easy Place To Disappear’ before segueing into a static seascape shot accompanied by a melancholic tone and soft clarinet elements.

As the soundtrack itself slowly evolves, so too do the visual projections, mesmerising the audience with starscapes and planets. A hymnal organ beats a steady refrain as dub-like effects drop in and out. Striking images of spacecraft fill the screen as the music takes on an evocative quality. There’s a sense of isolation delivered through a series of blighted landscape shots with subtle choral elements accompanying the music.

The space theme continues with a simple title: ‘Into The Infinite’ accompanied by an extreme camera zoom out to a galaxy-wide perspective. There’s a more bass-heavy foundation for the music at this point, peppered by odd electronic percussive effects. This also includes live clarinet work that lends a welcome organic element to the piece.

Fire_Sign first cropped up on TEC’s radar back in 2017 With their song ‘Sweet Oblivion’. The London-based duo of Chris Stickland and Sarah Glayzer draw from a rich well of influences that includes Zero 7, Dusty Springfield, Massive Attack and Björk.

Labelling their music as “Doomtronica”, the result is a very lush, warm approach to electronic music. Tonight, there’s an intriguing mix of dub beats and bluesy vocals set against abstract visual projections.

As with Digitonal’s set, some of Fire_Sign’s set appears to segue from one track to the next. In one instance, Sarah opts for a brief cover version of ‘Wicked Game’, which comes across as if rendered by This Mortal Coil.

Elsewhere, slow industrial beats battle against subtle isolated synth melodies for a new song ‘Shadows’ which sees its live debut tonight. “Cross my heart and hope to live” offers Sarah in a soulful vocal delivery.

While the other acts tonight opt for an instrumental approach, the inclusion of Fire_Sign’s vocal dynamics gives the evening a nice contrast to the more ambient outfits.

With a brief break between acts, its then time for Marconi Union themselves to take to the stage. Their set selects compositions from across the lengthy history of the outfit, including from their debut Under Wires and Searchlights album.

‘Weightless (Part 5)’ offers a shimmering soundscape that adds on a throbbing bass foundation. Meanwhile, ghostly electronic elements dart back and forth.

There’s touches of Brian Eno on later pieces which also incorporate dub effects and warm synth elements in places. Meanwhile, oddly evocative projections which appear to be culled from some lost film library run in tandem with the immersive music.

On ‘Abandoned/In Silence’, the outfit are joined by Digitonal to lend some clarinet talents to the piece. Here, a sober piano melody meets warmer synths.

A repetitive slightly isolated beat accompanies ‘Flying (In Crimson Skies)’ augmented by primal beats. Later, there’s more spacey beats and rhythms with whispery vocals.

The final track, ‘Sleeper’, has a more fragmented quality to it with slightly incoherent vocal elements. A steady rhythm is added to the composition building up to a busy layered composition with staccato percussion.

In the darkened confines of St Pancras Old Church, the music seems to have a natural home. For those enthusiasts of the more ambient side of electronica, this evening provided a perfect showcase of some of the talents the scene has to offer.

LEGPUPPY – Meds and Beer

There’s no need to fear…

Electronic anarchists LegPuppy have plenty to say on themes such as narcissism, social media addiction, paranoia and identity theft. Their album You Should Be Paranoid tackled such diverse topics (and more besides) earlier in the year, while also utilising an intriguing mix of music styles.

But on stage is where LegPuppy really come into their own. Their legendary live shows introduce an element of performance art that can be either witty, disturbing or engaging – even a combination of all 3.

Among the arsenal of tunes that the outfit rely on for many of their live shows is the emphatic ‘Meds And Beer’, particularly because it offers up an opportunity for the audience to join in.

A wry stab at corporate culture with an electro punk aesthetic, it’s a track that’s finally been granted a proper release. An ode to the daily grind of office life (“I’m in a meeting about a meeting”), ‘Meds And Beer’ runs like a checklist of corporate buzzwords and cliches. The “Spreadsheet/PowerPoint” mantra runs throughout, alongside a chugging rhythm and a composition that’s focussed on a monotone vocal.

As with the likes of ‘Selfie Stick’, the arrival of ‘Meds And Beer’ is its own timely anthem for the 9-to-5 routine.

Meanwhile, the video for the song features weary commuting, inspired dance routines, heavy drinking – and exceptional PowerPoint tips. Team LegPuppy offer up the perfect prescription for the post-work blues.

A heady mix of sarcasm, commentary and attitude, ‘Meds And Beer’ is a raw workout of frustration likely to resonate with corporate culture. Schedule your meeting today.

Meds and Beer is out now.


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SHE’S GOT CLAWS – Synthetic Emotion (Rewired)

Artificial love finds a way…

The starkly resonant electronic tunes of She’s Got Claws made a significant impact with the release of new album War Torn earlier this year.

But it wasn’t just The Electricity Club who were acknowledging the talents of this female electronic musician and composer. OMD’s Andy McCluskey had also championed her work previously, commenting on Synthetic Emotion at the time: “The tracks ‘I Die for You’ and ‘Hurt Beat’ are two of the best modern electronic songs you will ever hear”. Meanwhile, iconic electronic musician Chris Payne was equally impressed and signed her to his publishing company.

Back in 2015, She’s Got Claws released the Synthetic Emotion EP. The compositions on this release offered a concept exploring themes of synthetic love, or as She’s Got Claws explains: “a beautiful electronic love story from the robot’s point of view and how she deals with human emotion”.

Fresh from the release of War Torn, the tracks on this early EP have been remastered along with new artwork for a timely reissue. Timely, because the ideas of artificial intelligence and advances in robotic technology are reflected in a culture increasingly fascinated with the concept.

Science fiction has, of course, been the foundation for a lot of these ideas, from the idea of artificial life developing human traits, as with the character of Data in Star Trek The Next Generation, through to erasing the line between the artificial and the human completely – a concept explored in the anime series (and recent western adaptation) Ghost In The Shell.

More recently, the weighty moral issues associated with AI and synthetic lifeforms have been the staple of the TV show Westworld. A visually stylish TV series, it’s an intriguing (and often brutal) window on the possible evolution of artificial intelligence.

Many of these ideas are also being reflected in real life technology. Google is busily conducting research that advances the use of AI in a variety of different fields. Meanwhile, companies such as Boston Dynamics are developing eerily familiar robots that are increasingly more and more like their science fiction counterparts.

Synthetic Emotion riffs on these ideas, while also delivering 4 tracks of shrewdly composed electronica.

‘I Die For You’, which opens the EP, looks at the creation of an artificial human-like robot. As she grows and learns, she sings to her creator. The staccato rhythms on the track combined with the treated vocal effects give this song an oddly evocative feel. The sultry vocal delivery on the chorus offers up curiously effective yearnings of synthetic love (“Hold me close you’re my maker/I would die for you”).

There’s a colder, more mechanical feel to ‘Hurt Beat’. Here, the lyrical elements deal with loss and the burden of emotions (“If this is really love/then why do I feel blue?”). As our artificial human has to contend with the death of her creator, the song adopts engaging electronic melodies that throw a nod to classic electronic outfits such as Kraftwerk.

Inspired by her creator’s work, our robot protagonist explores the idea of creating her own companion. ‘Manchine’ offers an electronic reverie on crafting her creator’s likeness in an artificial form. The machine-like rhythms blend in with some captivating synth stylings, giving a polished sheen to the whole affair.

The closing track ‘Utopia’ posits thoughts on the future of mankind as a race of artificial lifeforms. Here, there’s a robust, buzzy sensibility to the tunes on a busy layered composition. Synthetic melodies zip back and forth on a song that throws a nod to dancepop in its execution.

Synthetic Emotion is a perfect companion piece to War Torn, offering a similar raw quality to the electronic compositions within. As both a concept and a collection of songs it also offers a further demonstration of the talents that She’s Got Claws has to offer.

Synthetic Emotion (Rewired) is out now on iTunes, Amazon and streamed on Spotify and Apple Music.


Experimental electronic curios…

Perhaps one of the most compelling mysteries of the current electronic music scene is the resurgence of interest in the humble cassette. For those of a certain age, it likely conjures memories of rewinding cassettes with the aid of a handy pencil – or attempting to retrieve tape that had decided to wrap itself around the heads of your Binatone cassette deck.

There was still a certain charm to cassettes, mainly encapsulated in the portability of music (in an era before iPods, this was essential). Plus, the vital art of the mixtape was something that became the secret language between friends – and potential love interests.

With the uplift in the interest in vinyl releases in recent years, it seems almost predictable that cassettes would follow on. This is despite the practical issues associated with cassettes and their use. Aside from the inability to jump to the tunes of your choice, the ability to play cassettes can only be achieved by having a cassette deck to begin with. In an era where CD players are being considered obsolete, this is no small issue.

Chiefly, cassette releases appear to be the reserve of small record labels (although larger outfits are still happy to play with the medium, including electropop pioneers OMD who released The Punishment Of Luxury on cassette in 2017). Many of these labels cultivate these releases so they’re as much artefacts as they are a music format. As with vinyl, it gives cassettes a certain kudos when measured against ephemeral downloads and digital releases.

Scottish label The Dark Outside occupies a more left-field position in this market that seems tailor-made for the unusual. The concept was originally designed as a site-specific 24 hour radio broadcast that performed sounds and music in a place where nobody might hear in the darkest place in Scotland. Or as the TDO team explain it: “On a Saturday in October 2012, 24 hours of music that nobody (or next-to-nobody) had ever heard was broadcast in The Galloway Forest to an audience that consisted mostly of goats, deer, bats, red kites, red squirrels and a handful of brave souls who made the journey into the forest to listen”.

Among the early contributors to this intriguing concept were a few well-established names in the electronic music community, including Martyn Ware, Scanner, TVO, Factory Floor, Blancmange, Imogen Heap and Gazelle Twin.

Although the concept included the idea that the broadcast tracks would be immediately deleted after broadcast, the idea that some of these tracks should be preserved for posterity led to the idea of producing limited edition cassettes (there are no digital releases of any of the tracks available).

The tape releases have blossomed into an ongoing archive that feature a wide variety of electronic music alongside some truly unusual compositions. Volume 3 of Music From The Dark Outside is a case in point. Featuring tracks from Curxes, Near Future and Machines in Heaven among others.

Machines In Heaven’s contribution, ‘Last Days of the Trams part III’, is a minimalist composition whose melancholic drone has an oddly mesmerising effect. By the time the solemn vocal element comes in, the whole piece takes on a hymnal quality that has a curious beauty to it.

Curxes sprang back into life recently with the 2017 release of new album Gilded Cage. Here, Roberta Fidora presents a demo track titled ‘Melt You Down’, a sober composition of brooding synths opening into a collage of clashing electronics and vague vocals.

Near Future is a collaboration between Blancmange’s Neil Arthur and Brighton-based musician Jez Bernholz (also co-founder of Anti Ghost Moon Ray art collective that spawned Gazelle Twin). Their contribution, ‘Dark 6’, offers a fractured slice of electronica with indistinct vocals.

Among the other curiosities featured on this release is the haunting tones of ‘The Archer’, an early Grimes-like tune from Versic. Elsewhere, ‘The Neverending Restaurant’ from Doomed Nudes lays down stark beats beneath an obscure vocal element.

On the more experimental side, the contribution from Me, Claudius ‘Benson and Hedges’ is purely George Benson’s ‘Give Me The Night’ overlaid with jarring drill noises. If you can get to the end of this without developing a migraine, then you’re a star.

Closing things out, Quatroconnection’s ‘Baria II’ is a melancholic reverie that also incorporates elements of birdsong.

The cassette also features worthy efforts from the likes of Alt Twin (cosmic spacey vibes), Yaki_Pony (sepulchral electronica) and Stephanie Merchak’s ‘Temporary Malfunction’ (glitchy electronics).

Wrapping things up, the design aesthetic is modelled on the classic BBC logo (often making them hard to discern from the real thing at first).

While the listening process is not always a comfortable one, there’s more than enough winners on the cassette to invite further exploration and other offerings are available from the TDO website. Meanwhile the debate on music formats, from vinyl to cassette and downloads, will no doubt continue for some time yet.

IAN BURDEN – Hey Hey Ho Hum

Ian Burden offers themes of unity, optimism and honesty…

The release of Ian Burden’s debut album Hey Hey Ho Hum was prompted by unusual circumstances.

An accumulation of vintage synthesisers in his attic led to a decision to test them out and see if they could be passed on to other people to make use of. In the process of testing the equipment out, Burden began experimenting with riffs and chords and felt inspired enough to start recording these musical sketches. The end result formed the tracks that appear on Hey Hey Ho Hum.

Ian Burden’s early years seemed predisposed to an electronic music career. Growing up, he had an interest in the German school of music, listening to bands such as Can, Neu!, Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. Burden was fortunate to indulge this new interest in electronic music in a practical manner when his school acquired a VCS3, which he later learned to program.

After moving to Sheffield to study at university, his musical interests resulted in the formation of his first band Graph. When Graph split, Burden was recruited into the next incarnation of iconic synthpop outfit The Human League. This proved to be fertile ground for Burden for both his skills in performing and also composing. Among the tracks that he helped co-write were classics such as ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’, ‘Love Action (I Believe In Love)’ and ‘Mirror Man’.

After several years of service in The Human League, Burden decided to call it a day. In the post-League period he worked on a select number of collaborative projects, including the 1990 album Loot! which experimented with digital sampling. In more recent times, Burden has lent his bass talents to Australian synthpop outfit Parralox.

Many of the synths that feature on Hey Hey Ho Hum saw service in The Human League, which lends a sense of continuity to the album. Despite this, the album veers more in a prog rock direction than a synthpop one. With lyrical themes of life in the English countryside (where Burden now lives) there’s very much an organic feel to the music, summed up in the lead single for the album ‘Let The Devil Drown’.

While Burden could have employed a singer for the material he composed, it seemed simpler to keep the project in-house. At a press conference for the album, he was quizzed on whether the decision to sing on the album was a natural response. “No because I don’t think of myself as a singer. I had to get the ideas down and then when I listened back, I thought “It’ll do”. No one has come along and said it’s terrible – yet!”

Burden certainly acknowledges the German school of electronic music, yet Hey Hey Ho Hum pulls its style and influences from other sources. Citing Aladdin Sane-era Bowie and pre-Dark Side Of The Moon Pink Floyd as an early window for the young Ian Burden on experimental approaches, it’s clear that the musician and composer holds these influences in high regard.

“The first music that really got a hook into me was David Bowie and particularly Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane” suggests Burden, “And around that time, someone lent me a Pink Floyd album called Meddle. I’d never heard of them, but I listened to it and I was fascinated, because it was a standard rock band line-up of drums, bass, guitar, piano, organ and vocals. But somehow, they were pulling all these extraordinary sounds out of that standard line-up. I think because it’s their music, because it’s such a slow pace, with a lot of space in it, I kind of noticed what was going on, how they were experimenting with it. Then I’d go back and listen to David Bowie, particularly the Aladdin Sane album, I realised there was a huge amount of experimentation in that as well. I’m not sure how things fall into categories, but if Pink Floyd was prog rock, then I would have said that David Bowie was as well”.

The material on Hey Hey Ho Hum certainly throws more than a nod at Pink Floyd in places. There’s a warmth and a confident ear for composition on the tracks on display here, at times recalling the more bucolic outings by the likes of Dave Greenslade.

Burden’s vocals often have a breathy intensity to them which works to good form on lead single ‘Let The Devil Drown’. There’s also some surprising dynamism to tracks such as ‘Hanging Around’, ironic considering its a tune whose themes revolve around indolence.

‘Another Day’ opts for a more reggae-inspired rhythmic outing while ‘Big Big World’ has some Oldfield-esque guitar work in among its busy layers. There’s also a sense of optimism and hope weaved into the tracks on the album, particularly on the percussive rhythms of ‘Stay In Tune’.

The foundations for financing Hey Hey Ho Hum was crafted, like many albums these days, through PledgeMusic (an outlet that’s served the likes of OMD, Gary Numan, Erasure and Empathy Test well in the past). It’s perhaps a confident sign that both veteran musicians and contemporary artists can find common ground for financing and producing music.

Hey Hey Ho Hum occupies a very distinct field that might present an acquired taste for those coming in from an appreciation for the more synthpop end of the spectrum. But Burden has a flourish for composition and producing interesting sounds from a diverse set of instruments. Inquisitive listeners will find their explorations yielding some satisfying results.