Darkwave electronic outfit Dicepeople seem keen to explore collaborative work in recent times, with their Moi Saint release being a particular highlight.
Their work with Manchester-based collective The Brooklyn Foundation has also produced dividends. As our earlier review noted, the reworking of Dicepeople’s 2011 composition ‘Control’ put the song into a new perspective with its focus on recent political dramas. The reworked version opts for a more punchy dancefloor vibe with some frenetic percussion. A new vocal element from The Brooklyn Foundation lends the new arrangement some pointed lyrical commentary (“inside your golden tower/you stop this world from turning”).
‘Control’ also features on a new dedicated EP release from Dicepeople/The Brooklyn Foundation which includes ‘Love Parasite’. Here, the collaborative effort tackles a cover version of a 1980 song by Fad Gadget.
The stage name for Frank Tovey, Fad Gadget was an experimental electronic musician who was part of Mute’s original stable of artists. Best known for his 1980 single ‘Ricky’s Hand’, Fad Gadget also employed unusual performance art in his live shows, including theatrical outfits and even covering himself in shaving cream.
His experimental approach to electronic music marked him out as a pioneer of the genre – an element that’s reflected in many of the contemporary electronic acts of today. ‘Love Parasite’ originally appeared on his 1982 album Under The Flag (a release that also features the talents of Alison Moyet and John Fryer).
The Brooklyn Foundation’s take on ‘Love Parasite’ offers up a bassy synth workout and serves as a faithful cover of the original. Meanwhile, the EP also boasts a remix by Dicepeople (the Vampire Stripper Re-Vox Remix) which features a more sensual vocal from Dicepeople’s Zmora.
Dicepeople’s approach, which is the version used for the video above, has a mesmerising quality with dreamlike synth sounds pulsing away on a sexually-charged workout. Or as Dicepeole themselves describe it: “a sensual, grinding feast of visceral visuals and sonic seduction”. Meanwhile, the alluring video also features Atashi Tada and Nera Kimera on pole dancing duties.
As ever, the Synthetic City music festival keeps things ambitious with an all-day event boasting 11 acts. The 2018 affair offered up a range of styles and approaches, while also throwing a nod to the more diverse ends of the electronic music world. Once again, host and promoter Johnny Normal has managed to pull together a live bill that promised some heavy hitters, but also threw some wild cards into the mix.
Despite some teething problems with the timing of the performances, there was a palpable air of anticipation in the pub end of The Water Rats (the venue of choice once again for the event). Conversations between a variety of musicians, promoters, bloggers and assorted figures managed to touch on some intriguing topics over the course of the evening. Whether or not acts should employ an element of performance art into proceedings proved to be one of the most engaging debates (the general consensus being “Yes”, although as it was mostly members of anarchic outfit LegPuppy arguing the case, it was a foregone conclusion!).
As ever, the reliable Mr Rob Harvey (Synth City) slotted in some perfect DJ setlists around the stage performances. In fact, over the course of a very long day he seemed to offer up a concise history of electronic music for the gathering crowd.
Kicking things off on stage, Tenedle offered up a solid performance which merged a Eurocentric taste of electropop with subtle guitar elements. Keen to get an atmosphere going, Dimitri Niccolai (aka Tenedle) encourages some audience participation through clapping. Niccolai’s vocals deliver a laid-back warmth across a foundation of busy electronic elements. It’s an approach which lends songs such as ‘Stranger In My Own Tongue’ and ‘Sentenced To Death’ (from Tenedle’s polished album Traumsender) an easy appeal.
Tenedle’s performance is also given an additional attraction with the addition of guest singer (and radio presenter) Bridget Gray, whose own vocal talents give songs such as ‘Sparkle’ a particular impact.
The combined talents of Erik Stein and Jon Boux come together under the banner of Cult With No Name. Although on stage they present a lounge quality to their performance – with Boux effortlessly tickling the ivories and Stein presenting a stoic confidence on stage – there’s a potent energy to tunes such as ‘Wasted’.
Subtle synths slide in and out of ‘Swept Away’, a tune with perhaps a timely political note in its lyrics (“Inside this rain-soaked mess/lies the president elect”). A buzzier collage of electronics comes with ‘Everything Lasts An Age’ (“for people celebrating their 18th birthday today”), a pulsing collage of electronic effects through which Stein’s vocals soar. Meanwhile, there’s a slow-burning power to ‘When I Was A Girl’ with its layers of synths and choral effects.
Straddling the gap between the UK and Denmark, Ian Harling and Martin Nyrup form the nucleus of electronic outfit Perpacity. The duo have attracted acclaim for their recorded output in times past, including their 2016 album Arise, and have their eye on a forthcoming new studio album The Order Of Now on the horizon. On stage, Perpacity offer up some serviceable synthpop, including the sturdy power of new single ‘Rule The Day’.
By now, there’s a busy, thriving crowd filling the venue. The merchandise stall is doing brisk business and artists still waiting to grace the stage are discussing plans and ideas for the future. A few funny stories come out of the various conversations, including a drama with a can of Pringles concerning Derek Anthony Williams (Defsynth, Jan Doyle Band) and an intriguing suggestion for YouTube called The Glowstick Challenge which is probably best left in the bar of The Water Rats…
Meanwhile, on stage, things take a heavier direction with the strident tones of La Lune Noire. There’s a thumping presence to the duo’s live show, with Sven Vogelezang’s muscular percussion and Victor Verzijl’s dynamic vocal delivery offering a trip into darkwave territory.
The Circuit Symphony brought a dazzling laser show with them for their stage performance. Joined by Ladywolfe onstage, there’s some nice nods to Jean-Michel Jarre in the mix which delivered tunes care of some E-mu Emax strings, LinnDrum and PolySix elements. ‘Warrior’ in particular had a potency to its clean lines, while the effective laser light show gave the stage an amazing backdrop.
Later, the duo of Palais Ideal deliver a raw energy to proceedings with a little gothic flavouring whipped up in their gritty post-punk tunes.
Johnny Normal, taking time out as host for the evening, also takes a turn on the stage. A particularly powerful ‘Miss Razorblade’ is one of his set’s highlights, along with a robust cover of OMD classic ‘Enola Gay’. One of tonight’s performers (in the form of Mr Strange) also joins Johnny on stage for a strapping live performance of ‘Let Nothing Take Your Pride’.
For his own stage show, Mr Strange provides it loud and heavy. There’s a sleazy electro-rock delivery for tunes such as ‘Disco Bitch’ and a song inspired by the late great Pete Burns (“I want to do it like Pete Burns/My gender you can’t discern”).
Berlyn Trilogy can always be relied upon to present a solid live show and tonight is no exception. An effectively bassy ‘Tokyo Rooftops’ wins over the crowd very early, followed by a languid ‘Rain’. Things go darker for the emphatic tones of ‘The Drone’, with James and Simon alternating vocal duties. Faye, meanwhile, has switched out her trusty bass to take on keyboard duties.
A dynamic rendition of ‘Synthetic Love’ also features in the setlist, but the trio also have a treat for the Synthetic City audience with the unveiling of new song ‘Simone Nicole’. A siren-like intro opens up the new outing, which also employs a lighter melodic touch against repetitive brass sounds. The contrast between lighter and darker elements suggests an evolution of Berlyn Trilogy’s sound and is a nice touch to their live show. Meanwhile, the trio close the set out with another new number ‘Domus Aurea’ which has a more classic Berlyn Trilogy feel to it with its sombre lyrics (“building my empire/on poison and desire”).
Once LegPuppy take to the stage, it’s a fair bet that something surprising or disturbing (or possibly both) will happen. Tonight’s performance features an ensemble cast (including stellar singer Voi Vang) who just about manage to fit on stage. The announcement that their ranks would also include a new dancer had people peering to discern her in the line-up, but in fact the new ‘dancer’ was stage-left in rollers and night dress ironing LegPuppy merchandise (because why not).
‘Paranoid’ elicits a neurotic theme through its dance-beat rhythms. Elsewhere, ‘Selfie Stick’ maintains its brooding, sinister menace as part of LegPuppy’s consistent live numbers. To drive the point home, LegPuppy’s Darren proceeds to smash an actual selfie stick on stage, which results in some worried looks in the audience.
Meanwhile, tracks such as ‘Running Through A Field Of Wheat’ take on a spacey vibe. The combination of LegPuppy’s Claire and Voi Vang on vocals for some tunes provides the electropunk outfit with an effective harmonising quality that’s tough to beat.
Closing out this year’s Synthetic City event is the darkpop trio of Dicepeople, who can always be relied upon to deliver a heavy yet engaging live performance. Taking position stage centre, Zmora Monika bobs back and forth in a striking outfit that’s given a final flourish by a pair of wings arcing out from her back. Meanwhile, fellow members Matt and Rafael earnestly focus on their work stations either side.
The stage is almost total darkness with only the strobe-like lights lighting up the audience in time to the darkwave rhythms. In particular, a robust version of ‘Control’ is delivered with an effectively powerful vocal from Zmora. It seems like a perfect way to close out another successful electronic festival.
As TEC has said previously, Synthetic City represents an important element of the electronic music calendar that help to promote interest and growth in the grassroots scene. In a period in which there are so many new artists often struggling to find a platform for their music, Johnny Normal and his dedicated team are providing a valuable service.
Pointed political commentary with a darkwave style…
Recent years have seen the world navigating some choppy political waters. The advent of the Trump administration in the US as well as the UK’s issues with Brexit being two major impacts on the global political landscape. As ever, music offers up both reflections and commentary on modern culture which can take a variety of forms. Diverse acts such as Austra, Erasure and Depeche Mode have all offered up recent albums which provide their own perspective on the current climate.
Dicepeople, who are rapidly becoming one of the busiest electronic acts in the UK, have recently collaborated with Manchester-based collective The Brooklyn Foundation to produce a new arrangement of ‘Control’. Originally a track on Dicepeople’s 2011 album It Gets Darker, the new Trump 45 arrangement has given the composition a more political focus, in this case a timely critique of the US presidency.
The reworked version opts for a more punchy dancefloor vibe with some frenetic percussion, coupled with an hypnotic visual aspect care of the semi-abstract video. A new vocal element from The Brooklyn Foundation lends the new arrangement some pointed lyrical commentary (“inside your golden tower/you stop this world from turning”).
This collaboration with The Brooklyn Foundation follows hot on the heels of Dicepeople’s excellent team-up with Moi Saint on ‘Shallow Under Skin’ (see previous TEC review). Dicepeople have been on a roll recently, with the thumping cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Strangelove’ (for Vol II of the UnMute tribute album) and the cyberpunk aesthetic of 2017’s ‘Synthetic‘.
As a tune, ‘Control’ perhaps sums up the mood of many: “Come in 45 your time is up”.
March promises a stellar billing for the annual Synth City Festival…
The Synthetic City Electronic Music Festival remains one of the most vital events of the year. Its combination of global acts lends the all-day event an intriguing and broad perspective on the many colours of the synth pop palette.
Hosted by Johnny Normal, an electronic music artist in his own right and also a well-known radio host, Synthetic City is an outing that manages to combine established artists alongside emerging acts. Once again, Synthetic City will be taking place at Water Rats in London on Saturday 24th March.
The 2018 line-up offers a strong list of contenders suggesting a packed day of electropop goodness. DJ duties for the event will be handled by Rob Harvey. Currently presenting a show for Phoenix 98FM, Rob presents the weekly Synth City show Tuesdays from 8pm.
Dicepeople have been putting out their own brand of dark electronic pop since 2013. Consisting of Matt Brock (musician, songwriter and producer) and Rafael Filomeno (visual artist), the outfit have recently taken on board new vocalist Zmora and continue to dazzle audiences with their compelling live performances.
Their 2017 EP Synthetic was a stand-out moment, while the outfit also delivered a stunning cover version of Depeche Mode classic ‘Strangelove’. More recently, their team-up with Moi Saint produced the stunning ‘Shallow Under Skin’.
Staying themselves as “retro-futurist romantics”, Berlyn Trilogy offer up a darker approach to synthpop with some gothic elements weaved throughout their material.
Consisting of James Beswick, Simon Rowe and Faye Williams, Berlyn Trilogy showed their electropop chops on 2014 album A Perfect Stranger which delivered the percussive pop of ‘Synthetic Love’, the rolling moodiness of ‘Departed’ and the epic tones of ‘The Drone’.
Berlyn Trilogy proved one of the highlights at the 2017 Silicon Dreams event in Liverpool and their appearance at Synthetic City is a perfect opportunity to catch the darkpop trio in action.
There’s such a diverse number of ideas and influences in the music of LegPuppy that they’re difficult to pin down to any one niche. Combining dark electronic beats with a raw energy and a punk attitude, the outfit also add in a cheeky element to their lyrics referencing pop culture and social commentary.
The 4-piece outfit, which consists of Darren Laurence, Claire Jones, Pups and Hugo Bamboo, originally came together by accident when someone at a house party asked Darren and Claire if they were in a band.
‘Post-punk electronic balladeers’ Cult With No Name, comprise the East London duo of Erik Stein and Jon Boux. Their first two studio albums Paper Wraps Rock and Careful What You Wish For were met with critical acclaim. Blaine L. Reininger of genre-transcending legends Tuxedomoon collaborated on their second album (on the stunning ‘You Know Me Better Than I Know Myself’).
In 2014, inspired by their track ‘As Below’, German filmmaker Peter Braatz commissioned the band to produce a soundtrack for his documentary Blue Velvet Revisited (Filmed entirely in 1985 on set during the making of David Lynch’s masterpiece). 2017 saw Cult With No Name return to songwriting with the magnificent Heir Of The Dog. Featuring the supporting cast of Tuxedomoon members and the talents of Kelli Ali, it saw the band explore touches of Americana, from disco to gospel to blues. The album includes ‘No News’, one of their most remarkable piano ballads to date, as featured over the closing credits of Blue Velvet Revisited.
In addition to their studio albums, the band have appeared on several compilations and have frequently collaborated with minimal techno artist Doudou Malicious. Erik Stein has also acted in several short films made by electronic music pioneer John Foxx as well as the 2011 short film Sonus, produced by Ridley Scott Associates, and Gustav (2012) which is on permanent display at Bletchley Park. The band collaborated with Kelli Ali, co-writing and performing on two songs for her 2013 solo album, Band Of Angels.
Straddling between the UK and Denmark, Ian Harling and Martin Nyrup form the nucleus of electronic outfit Perpacity. Each has over 20+ years of musical experience, ranging from writing music and live performance to studio work and music production. Their debut album The Sinner Inclination arrived in 2015 and the band have since issued some well-received singles. Their 2016 album Arise also received critical acclaim.
Perpacity released new single ’Rule The Day’ this March ahead of their forthcoming new album release The Order Of Now, due out later in 2018.
Consisting of John Edwards and Richard van Kruysdijk, Palais Ideal draw inspiration from the likes of The Cure, New Order, Joy Division and Sisters Of Mercy. The result is a mix that the outfit suggest offers “fragments of post-punk, new wave and goth”.
Their new album No Signal offers a showcase of their blend of romanticism and stark modernism, including the driving tones of ‘Crossfade/Dissolve’ and a raw cover of classic Iggy Pop number ‘Funtime’.
Mr. Strange is the titular singer/songwriter of a four-piece electro-rock outfit from the Isle Of Wight. From the goth/drum n bass stylings of first album Sounds From The Asylum through to 2015’s uncompromising The Bible Of Electric Pornography, Mr Strange has carved out an intriguing musical path.
Inspired by such eclectic influences as Gary Numan, IAMX, David Bowie, Lady Gaga, Tom Waits and Insane Clown Posse, Mr Strange offers up a truly unique live show.
Oliver Davis and Samantha Adams form The Circuit Symphony, an outfit that draws from a wealth of influences from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. They teamed up with blues guitarist legend Bernie Marsden for the single ‘Christmas 1974’.
The Circuit Symphony have produced/remixed and programmed for artists such as OMD, Howard Jones and Take That and have received credits for work with The Human League, Steve Wilson, Ultravox, Howard Jones and more.
Dimitri Niccolai is a songwriter, producer, performer and writer who operates under the name Tenedle.
Formerly a member of new wave outfit Laughing Silence, Tenedle has since pursued a solo career, clocking up 6 album releases. Although he originally hails from Italy, Tenedle now bases himself in Holland.
More recently, Tenedle has focused on new studio album Traumsender.
Tenedle’s performance at Synthetic City 2018 will also feature the vocal talents of Bridget Gray who will be appearing as a special guest.
Host and performer for Synthetic City 2018, Johnny Normal gravitates between presenting his weekly radio show for Radio Warwickshire (where he’s interviewed the likes of Gary Numan, Martyn Ware and Adam Ant) as well as writing and performing as an electronic musician in his own right.
In the past, Johnny has performed alongside the likes of Adam Ant, Edward Tudor-Pole, Blancmange, Altered Images, Deviant UK, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Nash The Slash and Wolfgang Flür among others.
His 2017 effort ‘Let Nothing Take Your Pride’ (penned under the banner of The Rude Awakening and featuring Brooke Calder) offered a rallying call for those that have been beaten down.
A collaborative affair delivering sinister delights…
Dicepeople have crafted their own particular take on dark electronic music in recent years, leaning towards a more electropop direction on the back of releases such as ‘Synthetic’. But they’ve still retained an interest in the broodier side of electronica, as evidenced in their new collaborative release with Moi Saint.
The Shallow Under Skin EP also sees a new release on Syndicol Music, a record label set up by Charlie Dawe (Ventenner) in 2017 – and the new home for both Dicepeople and Moi Saint. This collaboration combines the talents of both parties, with Dicepeople providing the muscular electronic elements, while Moi Saint delivers a mesmerising vocal that gravitates between the ethereal and the sinister.
Although Moi Saint counts the usual suspects in her list of influences, including the likes of Numan, Depeche Mode and Coil, she’s still managed to construct her own particular sound and style. With a vocal style that apparently draws from a broad base (everyone from Courtney Love to Trent Reznor), Moi Saint’s 2017 EP The New Moon demonstrated an ability to combine an dreamlike vocal quality with a thumping electronic foundation.
On this new EP, title track ‘Shallow Under Skin’ features a disquieting quality for this gothic composition with Moi Saint’s siren-like delivery revolving around themes of shallowness (“Your words were empty shells/I don’t need any of this shit”).
Meanwhile, ‘Fallen Down’ erupts with a staccato intro and offers a more stripped-down affair. Its stark electronic percussion providing the foundation for Moi Saint’s ghostly vocals.
The EP also features remixes of both tracks, including input from Microchip Junky (who gave a sterling performance at 2017’s Electro Punk Party event). Microchip Junky’s Lack Of Depth mix of ‘Shallow Under Skin’ disassembles the original, placing Moi Saint’s vocals front and centre. It manages to give the track a harsher quality, the industrial sounds that pepper the mix suggesting it’s been given the remix treatment by a team of car manufacturing robots.
Elsewhere, Deflexity gets to grips with a prowling electronic miasma for his take on ‘Fallen Down’. At the same time, there’s a nice use of space slotted in here and there which gives the whole affair a broader canvas to work on.
Shallow Under Skin kicks 2018 off with an accomplished slice of dark electronic delights, but also helps to establish Syndicol’s chops as a electronic music label worth keeping an eye on.
Shallow Under Skin is out 22nd January on Syndicol Music.
2017 has been an eventful year in the world of electronic music, particularly here in the UK which saw some of the classic acts back in action. But it also saw the emergence of some talented contemporary electronic acts as well. Here’s TEC’s review of the year along with our contributor’s lists of songs and albums that they rated in 2017…
2017 started off in a strange place for The Electricity Club as it found itself in a position to discard the accumulated baggage of many years and give the site a ‘soft reboot’. With an agenda that was focussed purely on music, it was a foundation that provided a sturdy structure for the months ahead.
January saw Austra make a triumphant return with their third studio album Future Politics. Along with lead single ‘Utopia’, the album was a reflection of our times as we entered into a turbulent period in global politics. TEC’s review summed up the album as “…a more intimate and personal approach than previous outings”.
TEC favourites Lola Dutronic also made a welcome return, first with a sequel to their classic ‘Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead’ (now updated to reflect some of the losses music suffered in 2016 such as Lemmy, David Bowie and Prince). We interviewed Lola Dutronic to get some gain some insight into how the globally distant pair produce their music. The duo also managed to bookend the year with a further release when they released the wonderful ‘My Name Is Lola’.
Vitalic came back with the stunning Voyager album. Pascal Arbez’s crunchy flavour of muscular beats and hook-laden melodies was present and correct on his new outing. Tracks such as ‘Waiting For The Stars’ suggested an unabashed nod to Arbez’s favourite ’70s and ’80s songs with a Moroder-esque beat driving this squelchy and engaging electropop wonder. Meanwhile, ‘Sweet Cigarette’ offered up a homage to The Normal’s ‘Warm Leatherette’.
TEC’s Lost Album series delivered some eclectic choices from the vaults for consideration. This included U96’s Replugged, Kon Kan’s Syntonic and Gary Numan’s 1994 album Sacrifice, a release which Barry Page suggested held the keys to the future: “Whilst the album often suffers from its use of some rather unimaginative and repetitive drum loops, the album put Numan firmly back on track.”
Sweden’s Sailor And I, meanwhile, offered up brooding, glacial pop on debut album The Invention Of Loneliness. TEC also spoke to musician Alexander Sjödin, the brains behind the outfit, who summed up his methods thus: “I use music as a kind of meditation. I get into this mood where I turn everything else off and just run as far as I can every time”.
In March, Goldfrapp returned to the fold with new album Silver Eye. While it was a serviceable outing of the glam synth workings that the duo had traded on previously, it was also bereft of many surprises or challenges. A return to Felt Mountain glories seems overdue.
Throughout the year, we were won over by a whole host of emerging electronic acts that caught our attention. This included the “ruptured melodies” of Jupiter-C (a duo championed by the likes of Clint Mansell). The “multi-utility music” of Liverpool’s Lo Five drew our focus to the wonders of the Patterned Air label. Elsewhere, the electro-acoustic sounds of Autorotation provided their own charm while the crunchy qualities of Cotton Wolf also suggested an act worth keeping an eye on.
With the 8th March traditionally being International Women’s Day, we thought it was time to add a twist to it by suggesting an International Women In Electronic Music Day. While the commentary of the likes of Lauren Mayberry (Chvrches) and Claire Boucher (Grimes) had blazed the trail for a level playing field for women, it was still depressing to see tone-deaf blog articles that were essentially ‘Birds With Synths’ being offered up as support.
One of our choices for that esteemed list, Hannah Peel, managed to deliver two albums of note in 2017. The personal journey of Awake But Always Dreaming (inspired by her family’s encounter with dementia) and also the magical world of Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia – an album which our review summed up as “a testament to Hannah Peel’s seemingly endless abilities to craft new and intriguing ideas out of the ether. It’s a cosmic journey that delivers.”
Hopes were high that Basildon’s finest could deliver a solid return to form with their 14th studio album Spirit. But the album divided critics and fans alike on a release which TEC’s review summed up succinctly: “…as impressive as it is lyrically, it’s an often challenging and unsettling listen that doesn’t quite meet up to its billing as “the most energized Depeche Mode album in years.””
Despite the controversy, Depeche Mode still managed to put on their biggest ever UK show, with over 80,000 attendees at London Stadium in June this year.
Elsewhere, another of the old guard was also facing a productive year. Marc Almond released new compilation album Hits And Pieces, which spanned his extensive career from Soft Cell through to his more recent solo work. Although not as comprehensive as 2016’s Trials Of Eyeliner, TEC’s review suggested “…the new compilation offers a more concise selection of music that still manages to cover Almond’s extensive musical career in fine style”.
April saw TEC looking at the dark wave delights of Dicepeople, whose ‘Synthetic’ offered up “brooding gothic synth melodies against a burbling electronic background”. But their cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Strangelove’ showed the outfit could also deliver muscular electropop that still retained their own unique style. Speaking to Dicepeople’s Matt Brock in an exclusive interview, TEC discovered the band’s strong cinematic touchstone. “Cronenberg’s Videodrome is another huge influence for us with its exploration of very dark themes involving control, voyeurism and the nature of reality as shown via layers of screens (a recurring theme in Dicepeople).”
Marnie released her follow-up to 2013’s Crystal World in the form of Strange Words And Weird Wars. The album demonstrated the Ladytron member’s knack for tunes, which our review summed up as “…a solid album of contemporary electropop that listeners will find intelligent, engaging and yet also fun. Strange Words And Weird Wars is a continuing demonstration on why Marnie is one of electronic music’s most precious assets”.
The emerging generation of electronic artists kept producing new acts of interest throughout 2017. Pixx (who cropped up on our radar after supporting Austra) released The Age Of Anxiety, which our review described as “an album that offers up a combination of smart pop tunes married with thoughtful lyrics”. Hannah Rodgers, the talent behind Pixx, also addressed the surge of nostalgia and retro acts with a philosophical quote: “There are a lot of people who are just trying to recreate things that have already been done, because they’re almost scared of the way modern music sounds, but we do have technology now that allows us to make quite insane-sounding music. And… we are in 2017”.
Kelly Lee Owens was another emerging artist who released her eponymous debut this year. The TEC review summed it up: “At heart an electronic album, the tracks contained within dart between ambient soundscapes and beat-driven compositions”.
AIVIS, a new act that had come to TEC’s attention via The Pansentient League’s Jer White, delivered their debut album Constellate. As with acts such as Lola Dutronic, AIVIS consists of a duo located in separate countries – in this case Aidan from Scotland and Travis based in Ohio. Their use of harmonies and warm synths led us to conclude that “Constellate is a smooth collection of subtle electropop”.
Irish outfit Tiny Magnetic Pets had a good year in which they released a new album and went on to support OMD. The 3-piece unit had made their UK and European live debut back in 2015 championed by Johnny Normal. Now in 2017 they brought new release Deluxe/Debris to bear. TEC’s review gave the album an honest appraisal: “They’ve got the chops to push the envelope, but there are times on this album where, arguably, the band appear happier playing from a safe position. When they introduce their more experimental side, or opt for a more dynamic approach, Tiny Magnetic Pets shine brightest”.
Voi Vang’s powerful voice and dancepop sensibilities made her one of the star turns of 2017. Meanwhile, Twist Helix woke us up with their “dramatic tunes and big, euphoric vocal melodies”. Our Teclist reviews also had good things to say about Elektrisk Gønner, OSHH and Russian outfit Oddity.
Elsewhere, the classic synthpop acts still had a strong showing this year. Erasure released the downbeat World Be Gone, a more reflective album that was heavily influenced by the troubling political climate (a persistent theme for many other releases this year). OMD returned with the follow-up to 2013’s English Electric with The Punishment Of Luxury. The album wore its Kraftwerk influences on its sleeve for a lot of the tracks, while the title number offered a commentary on commercial culture.
German pioneers Kraftwerk brought their 3D experience back to the UK and TEC’s Rob Rumbell offered his thoughts on their Nottingham concert: “…sensory overload… which left you awe-inspired and breathless”.
Blancmange presented a superb compilation of their first three albums titled The Blanc Tapes which we summed up as “the perfect archive for Blancmange’s often-overlooked musical legacy.” Neil Arthur also delivered new studio album Unfurnished Rooms, which prompted an honest critique from TEC’s Imogen Bebb: “whilst as an album it isn’t always easy to listen to, it makes for a welcome new chapter in Blancmange’s ongoing story”.
Howard Jones also went down the compilation route with the comprehensive Best 1983-2017 which the TEC review suggested: “this 3-CD set will have a special appeal not only to loyal Howard Jones fans, but also perhaps a new audience keen to experience the appeal of this pioneering electronic musician”.
While there were bright moments in the year, the music scene also saw tragedy in 2017 with the loss of Can’s Holger Czukay, trance DJ Robert Miles and Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi.
Barry Page provided some long-form features which took the focus to Norway’s a-ha, particularly the side projects that the likes of Morten Harket and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy have embarked on.
Speaking of a-ha, although the idea of an acoustic album by an electronic act seemed absurd, it was a concept that the Norwegian outfit embraced for Summer Solstice. The breath-taking arrangements for classics such as ‘Take On Me’ and ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ proved that a-ha still had the chops to surprise people.
Meanwhile, Midge Ure’s own orchestral-inspired approach for Ultravox and his solo numbers resulted in the release of Orchestrated later in the year. TEC’s Jus Forrest summed things up: “As an album, Orchestrated is diverse enough to pique interest. It’s contemporary enough to be relevant, and there’s enough classic tracks to reach out to fans”.
The soulful tones of Fifi Rong returned, this time with a bolder electronic sound on ‘The Same Road’. TEC’s review concluded that the new song “…demonstrates that Fifi Rong is capable of adding plenty more colours to her musical palette”.
Kasson Crooker, formerly of Freezepop, also provided some gems throughout 2017. There was the Gishiki album released under his Symbion Project banner – a release that we summed up as “one of the standout electronica releases of the year.” Meanwhile, he launched new outing ELYXR which was designed to be a collaborative project introducing different singers for each subsequent release. This included the warmth of ‘Engine’ as well as the punchier (and lyrically timely!) ‘Godspeed’.
2017 also delivered a diverse selection of electronic music events that showcased a multi-line-up of diverse acts. May saw Synth Club Presents, which included the ever-excellent Vile Electrodes as well as the sultry delights of The Frixion and the energetic pop of Knight$.
Meanwhile, July delivered one of the bigger events of the year with Liverpool’s Silicon Dreams. Combining established artists with newer acts, this year’s event pulled together an all-star schedule featuring Parralox, Avec Sans, Future Perfect, Berlyn Trilogy, Caroline McLavy and Voi Vang. As TEC’s review stated: “The 2017 incarnation of Silicon Dreams serves not only as an evening of entertainment, but also as an example of the importance of grassroots electronic music events. By showcasing both up-and-coming talents alongside more established acts, it’s an event which demonstrates a legacy in action”.
August presented the Electro Punk Party which offered up some of the more alternative acts on the scene. This included Dicepeople, Microchip Junky, Hot Gothic, the dark surf guitar of Pink Diamond Revue and the anarchistic LegPuppy. In fact, LegPuppy demonstrated an impressive schedule of live performances throughout the year as well as releasing songs such as the wry observations of ‘Selfie Stick’ and dance-orientated ‘Running Through A Field Of Wheat’.
The regular Synthetic City event returned, this time at Water Rats in King’s Cross. The evening brought with it some superb performances from the likes of Hot Pink Abuse, Eden, The Lunchbox Surrender, Train To Spain and Parralox (marking their second UK live show this year). The weird and wonderful Mr Vast topped things off and the whole affair was superbly organised by Johnny Normal.
Susanne Sundfør, who released the superb Ten Love Songs album back in 2015, brought a much more challenging release in the form of Music For People In Trouble. The album weaved in acoustic touches, spoken word segments and often unsettling soundscapes. But the epic ‘Mountaineers’, featuring the distinctive voice of John Grant, had an almost physical presence with its hypnotic tones.
The mighty Sparks returned with new album Hippopotamus and delivered a superb live performance in London back in October. The same month, the 22rpm electronic music festival took place. Showcased by record label Bit Phalanx, the event featured the likes of Scanner, Derek Piotr, Digitonal, Coppe and a truly stunning performance from Valgeir Sigurðsson.
The Sound Of Arrows brought out their newest album since 2011’s Voyage. Stay Free offered a much more grounded approach to electropop than the dreamy moods of their previous release, but still managed to deliver some cinematic pop moments. Their pop-up shop to promote the album was also a nice touch!
PledgeMusic has proved to be a vital lifeline for many artists in recent years. It’s a funding option which delivered for everyone from Ultravox to OMD. Gary Numan used the platform to fund his 21st studio album Savage (Songs From A Broken World) which provoked critical praise and which Jus Forrest suggested delivered “a flawless production of intrigue; a soundtrack that brings together the atmospheric, the lonely, the eerie and, in places, the added drama of colourful crescendo”.
Empathy Test, an electronic duo from London, also chose the PledgeMusic route and achieved such success that they decided to release not just one, but two albums together. The stunning Losing Touch and Safe From Harm revealed a band that could combine mood and melancholy in an impressive collection of songs. TEC’s conclusion that compositions such as ‘Bare My Soul’ demonstrated a band capable of delivery that was both “mythical and melodious”, also showed the heights that contemporary electropop can ascend to.
As the year drew to its conclusion, there were still some gems to pop up on the radar. Canadian sleazy synth specialist TR/ST teased us with ‘Destroyer’, a nocturnal affair that (along with the year’s earlier release ‘Bicep’) paved the way for a new album due in 2018.
Scanner, who had delivered a stunning performance at the 22rpm event, also unleashed The Great Crater, an album of mood and often brooding unease. Our review’s final conclusion was that “The end result is less listening to a body of work and more being immersed into a physical experience”.
As the winter months drew to a close, we took a look at Parralox’s latest release ‘Electric Nights’, which proved to be a euphoric floor-stomper. Meanwhile, Norway served up Take All The Land, the debut solo album by Simen Lyngroth which TEC’s review summed up as a “beautifully well-crafted and intimate album”.
Perhaps one theme that 2017 demonstrated time and time again is that electronic music continues to evolve and thrive, particularly at the grassroots level where emerging acts are less focused on being a pastiche of the bands of 40 years ago. Instead, there’s a fresh and dynamic scene which has seen a genre looking to the future rather than the past.
This doesn’t scribble over the achievements of decades of previous electronic acts. That history and legacy continues to exist, but perhaps the idea that acts don’t need to be beholden to the classic acts is a concept that younger artists are more willing to entertain.
If 2017 proved anything it was that the field of electronic music is a broad one. A lot of songs grabbed our attention across 12 months of intriguing, captivating and often challenging music. While many classic synthpop acts proved that they could still hold their own, the next generation of electronic artists also demonstrated that they could craft unique tunes that didn’t rely on the past.
Here are 25 songs that are not presented in any particular order, but as whole were the standout tunes for The Electricity Club in 2017.
GARY NUMAN – My Name Is Ruin
The release of Gary Numan’s 21st studio album Savage (Songs From A Broken World) marked the synthpop pioneer’s highest charting album since Telekon back in 1980. This latest body of work transmited a thoughtful concept, centred around the modern-day issues that would seemingly put into question the survival of the planet.
‘My Name Is Ruin’ was the first single to emerge from the album. It gives Numan himself something to be especially proud of, given his daughter, Persia, provides the unique backing vocals on the track. The results – an eclectic mix of the angelic-like choral tapestry set against robust dance-driven beats.
VITALIC (ft. David Shaw and The Beat) – Waiting for the Stars
There’s a robust quality about the electronic tunes contained on this latest release by Vitalic, which appeared to signal a strong start for electronic music in 2017.
Vitalic, aka Pascal Arbez, had been operating since the late 1990s as an underground artist, but achieved a larger profile with the release of his debut album OK Cowboy in 2005. New album Voyager draws from a wealth of influences, including nods to the likes of Giorgio Moroder and Cerrone. Certainly, standout track ‘Waiting For The Stars’ is an unabashed nod to Arbez’s favourite ’70s and ’80s songs, which in places is deliberately out of tune. Featuring vocals from David Shaw, there’s a Moroder-esque beat driving this squelchy and engaging electropop wonder.
Many of the releases of 2017 seemed to reflect a troubling period in contemporary culture, particularly with politics providing a turbulent backdrop. Austra were one of those outfits and the release of their album Future Politics offered up some thoughtful insight into troubled times.
The familiar bassy synth tones that Austra’s Katie Stelmanis has crafted as part of the classic Austra sound provided the foundations for ‘Utopia’. This rumination on the “collective depression”, that Stelmanis suggests is a result of city living, has strong hooks and melodies as some smart percussive frills keep the song moving along.
London-based duo Empathy Test took us by surprise this year with each successive song. On ‘Bare My Soul’, the soaring melodies and heartfelt lyrics have a particular power that manages to undo all those tired old tropes about synthpop being cold and unemotional in one song.
The lyrics offer up brief vignettes, each of which manage to elicit the idea of something being both “tragic and beautiful”. At the same time, there’s a subtle building up of layers of electronic elements that culminates in a powerful delivery that’s both mythical and melodious.
One of Canada’s electronic music gems re-emerged earlier this year with a new song and talk of a new album. ‘Bicep’ delivered the trademark sleazy synths and unsettling sounds that made TR/ST (aka Robert Alfons) such a captivating act over the course of 2 previous albums.
‘Destroyer’ shows a departure of sorts here for Alfons, with a much more restrained composition. It’s a more nocturnal affair peppered with reedy intermissions, although Alfons’ grimy vocals are present and correct. The video itself is produced by, and stars, choreographer Ryan Heffington (Sia, Lykke Li, Florence and the Machine, Arcade Fire). It charts a journey through a late night streetscape which is interspersed with oddly unsettling choreography.
Culled from their 2017 album The Punishment Of Luxury, ‘La Mitrailleuse’ takes its inspiration from a painting by the artist CRW Nevinson (regarded as one of the most famous war artists of World War I). Nevinson was deeply affected by what he saw in France during World War I, which had a profound effect on the paintings that he produced at the time. This included the 1915 work La Mitrailleuse, which translates from the French as “the machine gun”.
In the hands of OMD, ‘La Mitrailleuse’ is composed of a mesmerising droning intro which leads to a rhythm track designed to emulate explosions and, in particular, machine-gun fire. Meanwhile, Andy McCluskey intones “Bend your body to the will of the machine”. It’s the perfect companion to Nevinson’s work which sees the style of the soliders rendered in angular shapes, suggesting a merging of man and machine – a theme carried over in the video, which again features the distinctive style of Henning M. Lederer, who previously worked on videos for OMD’s English Electric album.
While the success of her 2015 album Ten Love Songs managed to raise the profile of Norwegian musician Susanne Sundfør, new album Music For People In Trouble took Sundfør back to her singer-songwriter roots. Although the album boasts some fine electronic flourishes, there’s also more nods to jazz and traditional instrumentation.
The album’s crowning achievement is clearly the epic ‘Mountaineers’ which starts with the basso profundo voice of John Grant. Here, Grant’s sonorous delivery echoes from the depths with its lines about “Jumbo jets spiralling down like vultures of the stars”. It’s suggestive of the type of composition that This Mortal Coil were noted for with the emphasis on the voice to provide an compelling hypnotic effect.
When Sundfør comes in, the song suggests a coming to the light from a great darkness, a sudden revelation (“What it means/Now I know”) and builds to a choral symphony that takes the breath away.
Released in March this year, Depeche Mode’s 14th studio album Spirit has proven to be one of the most divisive collections of new songs in their 37-year career. A sonically-challenging (and often unsettling) listen, the album has certainly divided fans; many of whom haven’t gotten over the fact that Alan Wilder left the band 22 years ago. By contrast, most music critics were united in their affection for the new album, praising the band for their aggressive and new approach, and also for Martin Gore’s politically-charged wordplay.
Like ‘Broken’ on Depeche Mode’s previous album Delta Machine, singer Dave Gahan once again provided the album’s best track in ‘Cover Me’, a slow-building, other-worldly electro-ballad with a Bowie-inspired lyric: “It’s about a person who travels to another planet only to find that, much to his dismay, it’s exactly the same as earth” Gahan explained to Rolling Stone magazine. Featuring some sinister electronics and a beautiful coda that recalled ‘Clean’ from 1990’s career peak Violator, this was space-aged synth rock at its finest.
As Lola Dutronic, the Toronto/Düsseldorf electronic duo of Richard Citroen and Stephanie B have carved out an impressive career of engaging pop tunes. They jumped back in earlier in the year with a sequel to one of their best known tunes ‘Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead, but it was their love letter to Berlin later in 2017 that stood out for us.
Continuing the duo’s talents for crafting accessible electronic pop with engaging melodies, ‘My Name Is Lola’ is a track that Richard Citroen describes as “a bit of a departure from our usual ‘Wall Of Sound’ approach, we’ve taken on some of Alle Farben & Robin Schulz’s colours”. It’s a quirky pop tune that’s a lot of fun and includes shout-outs to all of the duo’s favourite Berlin haunts.
Dicepeople, an electronic outfit from London, had a very busy year with several live performances and also a muscular cover version of Depeche Mode’s ‘Strangelove’. The group have an emphasis on strong visuals as part of their live shows and they draw inspiration from the likes of Depeche Mode, John Carpenter, Siouxsie Sioux, Front 242 and all points inbetween.
‘Synthetic’ is pretty much on-point with its brooding gothic synth melodies against a burbling electronic background. Atashi Tada’s vocal lead is tweaked and distorted and lends the whole affair a cyberpunk aesthetic.
Electro punk outfit LegPuppy have a knack for cultural commentary. Take ‘Selfie Stick’, which the 4-piece outfit released earlier this year. There’s a brooding quality to the song; a prowling tonal mood with cynical synths that provides the foundation for a lyrical dragging on Instagram culture (“Instagram that pic/Snapchat me a vid/I’ll show you my dick”). It’s a timely theme in a world where people are measured on the number of followers they have on Twitter or the belief that 17,000 ‘Likes’ can provide a fig-leaf of sorts for an empty, shallow soul.
Or as LegPuppy themselves put it: “Welcome to the Age of Narcissism where our future leaders are more interested in how many likes their stupid selfie gets on social media. Where their heroes and inspirations are Reality TV stars.”
ELYXR (feat Naoko of Princess Problems) – Godspeed
Seattle-based electronic musician/producer Kasson Crooker put together a new project for 2017 which sought to include his particular take on electronic music with a diverse range of singers.
‘Godspeed’ marked one of these releases, with the vocals coming care of Naoko Takamoto (Princess Problems). There’s a raw energy at work on a busy composition that also seems to elicit a sense of unease. Despite this, there’s a kinetic quality to the electronic melodies threaded through the piece. Conceived before Trump’s US victory, ‘Godspeed’ was penned as a reverie on the concerns such a presidency would bring. Lyrics such as “gather up your belongings/’cause he’s coming” pretty much seals the deal.
When Curxes first made their presence known several years back, they brought with them a very different approach to electronic music that presented one of the more captivating acts on the scene. Pulling from a variety of influences, the Curxes unique sound of stark pop ran through songs such as ‘The Constructor’ and ’Creatures’.
Describing themselves as “a decorative set of bones, channeling the ghosts of Discothéques past”, Curxes were a perfect fit for the first Electricity Club event staged in 2011. But it was a journey that also saw them later remixing the likes of Chvrches on the Scottish trio’s 2013 Recover EP.
‘In Your Neighbourhood’ (taken from new album Gilded Cage) shows Roberta Fidora opting for a much more languid style of singing combined with a warm, engaging layer of electronics. Meanwhile, the video is a strange amalgamation of a lost children’s puppet show and a TV repair shop.
‘Beautiful Life’ marked the welcome return of Swedish synthpop outfit The Sound Of Arrows in 2017. It’s a composition that continues the electronic duo’s talent for cinematic pop, but there’s also a more organic element with big string arrangements prominent in the mix. “Turn up the music and bring down the rain” suggests the dreampop lyrics atop subtle synth rhythms. Meanwhile, the track is given plenty of epic sweeps courtesy of the strings section.
The band later released new album Stay Free, presenting a more grounded take on the classic Sound Of Arrows formula.
Taking her name from a nickname associated with her grandmother, Hannah Rodgers embarked on her musical career as Pixx in 2015. A former Brit School student (where the likes of Adele and Amy Winehouse had their roots), Rodgers signed to the 4AD label at the impossibly young age of 19.
Debut album The Age Of Anxiety, presented a collection of songs that offer up electronic music that’s both accessible, yet also has a sense of quirkiness and charm. ‘I Bow Down’, for instance, starts from simple foundations before building an insistent beat that works its magic. The video, with its strange visuals, also keeps things interesting.
The soulful, beguiling style of Fifi Rong has been winning over both the press and the public for many years via releases such as Next Pursuit and Future Never Comes. It’s an impressive catalogue that also suggested that the London-based musician had carved out her niche and was happy with heading in that particular musical direction.
However, her new release ‘The Same Road’ sees Fifi do a left turn with a tune that’s distinctly more electropop-orientated than previous outings. Here, the lush soundscapes are put to one side for a cleaner, sharper approach to song arrangement. Electronic melodies echo through the song, augmented by Fifi’s familiar mesmerising vocals. At the same time, this is a tune crafted in the form of contemporary electronic music, rather than as a pastiche of ‘80s synthpop, which is always a bonus.
By bringing onboard the mixing talents of Max Dingel, who previously worked with the likes of Goldfrapp (as well as White Lies and Muse), the dynamic qualities of ‘The Same Road’ presents an engaging number that’s likely to surprise long-term Fifi Rong enthusiasts.
With much of the attention this year centred around a-ha’s new acoustic project, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy’s collaborative album with singer Zoe Gnecco, World Of Trouble, passed by almost unnoticed earlier this year. Which was a shame because this was as good as – if not better than – a-ha’s last studio album Cast In Steel. In fact, one such track, ‘Open Face’, almost made it on to a-ha’s 2015 comeback album, but was overlooked in favour of inferior cuts such as ‘Door Ajar’.
Released as a single in April this year ‘Open Face’ is certainly the most electronic track on the New York-based duo’s album, and boasts some fine Kraftwerkian synth work from Kurt Uenela, who has also collaborated with Dave Gahan on some of Depeche Mode’s recent releases (including this year’s Spirit).
THE RUDE AWAKENING (feat Brooke Calder) – Let Nothing Take Your Pride
When he’s not promoting the likes of the Synth City event electronic music event, Johnny Normal also spends time on writing and composing under his own steam.
Under the banner of The Rude Awakening, which sees Johnny bringing onboard the talents of Brooke Calder (Lolly Pop, A*O*A, POP INC), new release ‘Let Nothing Take Your Pride’ offers a reflection of our times in its themes. There’s a defiant tone to the track which deals with anyone who’s come under fire from life: “Struggling with your conscience I try to make you see/but all around your friends surround taking a piece of me”. Revolving around themes of resilience and fighting your corner, the song could be said to be a rallying call for those that have been beaten down.
The track (which also saw its live premiere at September’s Synth City event) draws from the classic synthpop template with an anthemic pop approach peppered with synthetic brass stabs. With some polished backing vocals by long-time friend and collaborator Brooke Calder, ‘Let Nothing Take Your Pride’ presents an electropop tune with some whack.
Johanna Gervin once again demonstrates that she’s one of the finest voices in the world of electropop with her vital vocals on ‘Electric Nights’.
It’s a euphoric floor-stomper crafted in the style that only Parralox can pull off. ‘Electric Nights’ also comes with a suitably dynamic video packed with visual delights. It’s an explosion of primary colours and effects that lends the whole affair a dayglo sheen. The composition actually dates back to 2002, back when Roxy was part of the Parralox line-up (she also co-wrote the song). The tune was submitted to the Australian Independent Music Awards – and apparently won Best Dance song in 2003, but plans to release it seemed to get delayed due to Parralox’s hectic schedule.
BRUCE WOOLLEY & POLLY SCATTERGOOD (with The Radio Science Orchestra) – Video Killed the Radio Star
When it comes to pop tunes, there’s a select few that manage to be immediately recognisable regardless of whatever decade they were recorded in. So the iconic opening bars of The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ have been so impressed on popular culture that it’s difficult to imagine that there’s anyone unfamiliar with the tune anywhere on the planet.
The song was reimagined earlier this year care of one of the tune’s original composers – Bruce Wooley – in collaboration with dark pop chanteuse Polly Scattergood. The new version (which carries the subtitle of ‘Dark Star’) opts for a radical deconstructed adaptation of the song in conjunction with the Radio Science Orchestra (a project established by Bruce Wooley). As a result, Polly Scattergood’s laconic vocals in tandem with the orchestral arrangement lend the song an intriguingly evocative sound that still manages to lose none of the original composition’s power.
The release of 2013’s Crystal World album demonstrated that Helen Marnie continued to display a talent for good electronic music, even while Ladytron were on an extended hiatus.
Drawing comparisons with the likes of Ladyhawke and Goldfrapp, Marnie’s latest album Strange Words And Weird Wars has opted for a much more electronic palette on this release, which also throws a nod or two to synthwave. ‘G.I.R.L.S’, with its cheerleading chants, offers up one of the strongest tracks on the album. It’s Pop with a capital ‘P’.
There’s an energy to Twist Helix that definitely leaves an impression. Hailing from Newcastle, Twist Helix consists of singer and synth player Bea, bassist Michael and drummer James.
New release ‘Little Buildings’ (taken from forthcoming album Ouseburn) has a solid sound to it which is helped by their willingness to embrace a variety of instrumentation, including guitar and live drums. The result is a robust tune which is topped off with Bea’s powerful vocals.
Simen Lyngroth is a Norwegian singer-songwriter with a distinctively soft and crystalline voice, who is currently enjoying a dual career; as both a member of folk-pop trio Ask and as a solo artist exhibiting more electronic influences.
Awash with snowcapped melancholia, debut solo album Take All The Land is strongly influenced by Radiohead and features a number of fine jazz-infused electro-ballads. Arguably, one of the album’s most immediate and commercial cuts was ‘The Waves’, and it was duly released as a single in October. Deviating from the formula slightly with its use of programmed electronics, this was a standout track from one of this year’s most exciting new releases.
Swedish electronic musician Alexander Sjödin caught everyone’s attention in 2017 under the moniker Sailor & I. Debut album The Invention Of Loneliness bounced between icy pop and beats-driven electronica…
Nestling among the tracks on the album, ‘Chameleon’ has a subtle power to it that can take a few spins to appreciate. There’s a dark piano melody over which Sjödin’s yearning vocal offers hints of change or transformation. Meanwhile, a gradually-building slab of stark electronics gives the track a dark pop appeal.
As one of the artists performing at last summer’s Silicon Dreams event, Voi Vang made an impression as someone to watch.
‘Mirror’ demonstrates her knack for dancepop with an electronic flavour. The track starts out with a plaintive piano melody before transforming into a much more dynamic outing. Bouncing between pop and EDM elements, there’s a captivating use of rhythms and melodies to produce a powerful dance floor filler. It’s also a track that reveals Voi Vang’s impressive vocal range, which has a punchy, direct power that sits in tandem with the driving electronic beats.
This year has seen a broad variety of multi-band line-ups for electronic music events. Getting the right balance on the selected artists can be a tough trick to pull off, but the Electro Punk Party, staged at The Water Rats in London’s Kings Cross, was going to do its best to present an evening of fine music for the discerning electronic music audience.
As ever, the logistics of running these events bring with it some technical problems. It’s perhaps the bane of the electronic musician that sometimes even the littlest things can bring everything to a dead halt. But aside from some minor issues (and a slightly later start), it was full steam ahead once things got going.
Microchip Junky first emerged on the music scene in 2012. Citing such diverse influences as Fad Gadget, Nitzer Ebb, Depeche Mode, The Buzzcocks and Wire, his music straddles a peculiar line between the electronic and a more industrial approach.
Much of Microchip Junky’s set tonight combines throbbing electronic percussion against sampled dialogue or simple empathic words. There’s a certain rawness to the material which often dips its toe into sleazier synth territory, including a sex-themed number that actually samples whiplashes. All of which is married to some very odd visuals (including an unsettling video of what appears to be jerking mannequins striding through a cityscape).
Yet there’s an odd accessibility to Microchip Junky’s material that somehow runs counterpoint to the idea that the first support act on should (by tradition) be the worst. The inclusion of a completely left field choice of cover song (‘Jilted John’) seals the deal, but he’s then joined on stage by LegPuppy for ‘Swagger’ which ramps the punk attitude up to 9 with a tune whose core conceit is that everyone should “Fuck off!!”.
Next up is Pink Diamond Revue, an outfit that features mannequin Acid Dol taking stage centre. While one of his associates casually dresses Acid Dol throughout the set (also tossing golf balls and toilet roll at random), guitarist Tim Lane strikes a menacing presence on stage. There’s a dark surf guitar element to Pink Diamond Revue, which is given emphasis by live drums (the operator of which looks disturbingly similar to Henry Rollins).
Without any decent musical foundation, this cabaret approach would be tough to pull off. But there’s a vitality and energy that Pink Diamond Revue bring to the stage that works a subtle magic on the audience. While B-Movie footage and samples spool away in the background, it’s Lane’s solid guitar work that draws the focus. Often coming across like something culled from the Repo Man soundtrack, one of tonight’s attendees perhaps more accurately suggested that Pink Diamond Revue would slot right in to a David Lynch film.
Tunes such as ‘At The Discotheque’ even give it a vocodered Kraftwerkian feel at times. Meanwhile, ‘Weird Love’ mashes up the theme to The Persuaders with the ghosts of lost guitars.
All of the acts tonight bring their own visual flair along with a sense of theatre. But when LegPuppy take to the stage, that sense of spectacle shifts up a gear. When frontman Darren casually says that they “Can’t start without the clown”, there’s a few worried looks around the audience. Is the evening going to turn into an impromptu scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie?
When said clown arrives, and the music kicks off, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be an ordinary music performance. Categorising LegPuppy’s music would be a tough thing to sum up simply (its apparently been labelled ‘Serial Killer Step’ by some). There’s a dark electro element at play here, but at the same time there’s a brash, cheeky line in lyrics that suggests a nod to the likes of Ian Dury.
‘Selfie Stick’ (a forthcoming release) takes a timely dig at Instagram culture. The disconcerting dreamlike tones of ‘She’s Lost Her Soul’ offers up a commentary on London’s disappearing club and venue culture, with shoutouts to the likes of the Astoria, The Marquee and other classic venues (see the mini-documentary online here).
Throughout LegPuppy’s set, the clown stalks the stage – and also the audience. Meanwhile, a man with a broom starts sweeping the front of the stage. Because at this point why not?
Things get darker for Dicepeople’s set on a stage that’s picked out only by the head mounted lights of members Matt and Rafael. Meanwhile, a black and white video collage of nuclear tests and other stark images unfolds behind them.
Dicepeople’s seductive brand of dark electro unfolds slowly with singer Atashi Tada taking a striking position stage centre. The staccato rhythms of ‘Synthetic’ gives the track a live rendering that has a particular punch to it. But it’s the cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Strangelove’ that perhaps delivers Dicepeople’s finest moment of the night. It’s a big, gothic moment that sees Atashi’s vocals soaring and gets an enthusiastic response from the crowd.
Meanwhile, between the bands, DJs Andrew Maley and Rob Santos ably take care of DJ duties with a suitable soundtrack (including choice tunes from the likes of TR/ST and Hurts).
HOTGOTHIC’s odd combo of MicroKorg-playing Cocaine Katy, guitarist Dr Jacket and wideboy vocalist Malibu Stacy looks like they’ve all walked in from different bands. But there’s an attitude and an ear for bold melodies that makes the whole thing work.
Often, the lyrics get straight to the point: “Big dollars pay for my wife’s tits” states Stacy on ‘Big Dollars’, even as he’s blurring the lines between the stage and the audience by wandering back and forth. Meanwhile, ‘Safe As Houses’ has big percussive drum fills, while ‘Trump Card’ lends a timely political element to the performance. There’s a frenetic collage of electronic sound making up ‘Drug Problems’, which ends with Stacy writhing on the floor in front of the audience.
Every band on stage for the Electro Punk Party have their own distinct style and approach, all very different from each other. But the element that ties them all together is a theatrical approach to live performances. A far cry perhaps from gigs where everything is taken a bit too seriously and the study of what gear the bands are using is somehow more important that the actual tunes.
There’s a dynamism at work here which suggests that electronic music isn’t quite the staid music genre that it often gets painted as. There’s also an attitude and a swagger that slots in perfectly with the ‘Punk’ tag, yet steers clear of any footfalls into pastiche.
These are all bands and artists that it’s worth your while seeing if you favour spectacle in your live performances. The tunes aren’t too shabby either.
Delving into the darkwave secrets of one of London’s electropop delights…
The release of their Synthetic EP caught our ears recently, but DICEPEOPLE have been putting out their own brand of dark electronic pop since 2013. Consisting of Matt Brock (musician, songwriter and producer), Atashi Tada (vocalist) and Rafael Filomeno (visual artist), the outfit have also dazzled audiences with their compelling live performances.
Dicepeople have a special gig in London coming up this month when they perform at Electrowerkz alongside Das Fluff and Healthy Junkies. Matt Brock kindly took time out to chat to The Electricity Club about the inspirations behind Dicepeople’s concept and also about their particular approach to live performances…
There’s a cinematic quality to much of your music and you cite the likes of David Lynch and David Cronenberg as influences. Are there any films in particular which sum up the ethos of Dicepeople for you?
I’m often told that Dicepeople music feels like the soundtrack to something, and indeed I aim to create an intense filmic atmosphere in our songs. Rafael (our visual artist) and I are heavily influenced by cinema for our sounds, visuals and concepts. Lynch’s Lost Highway is a fantastic example of a film fusing strong imagery with sound and music to create an extremely immersive experience. Cronenberg’s Videodrome is another huge influence for us with its exploration of very dark themes involving control, voyeurism and the nature of reality as shown via layers of screens (a recurring theme in Dicepeople).
How important are the visual aspects of your shows?
Visual projections tend to be an “add on” for many bands, and often that works well and there’s nothing wrong with that, but for Dicepeople the visual aspects are a core part of what we do. We rarely do a performance without the visuals, and for our live shows just as much planning goes into the visuals as the music. We aim to bring together a true audiovisual show featuring synchronised music and images, with us as mysterious characters onstage summoning up the immersive music and images through the smoke and darkness. We also like to dress onstage in various interesting ways to further enhance the experience and put on the best show we can for the audience.
Are there significant technical challenges in prepping for performances?
Incorporating the visual aspects definitely makes things a lot more complex, as we need to figure out what kind of imagery to fit with the music and how best to sync the two together. In addition to the regular rehearsals which most bands require, we also need a significant amount of time to work through the technical aspects and test that it all works together as intended. It adds many variables to the live environment, which are also highly dependent on the location since each venue is different, so getting everything set up for our live performances can be quite challenging. Many venues provide screens and projectors we can use, but quite a few don’t, so in those situations we need to factor in setting up our own screens and projector. It’s good to have these challenges, and we always learn something new each time.
What sort of gear setup does the band employ for live shows?
For a while on the musical side I broke down each song into individual clips onto twelve tracks in Ableton, then I used Launchpad controllers to basically control the entire arrangement in real time, which allowed us to restructure each song on the fly. It was a very interesting way of doing things, but I ended up missing the performance side so now I use a controller keyboard to play musical parts and trigger samples.
Before a gig I spend quite a bit of time creating the backing tracks specially, which are often quite different to the original versions of the songs. These backing tracks are triggered in Ableton along with MIDI sequences and the live keyboard parts, which in turn I can process in different ways using my controller keyboard. Rafael uses Resolume with a MIDI controller on the video side, with his laptop connected to the projector. We generally set up an ethernet network onstage so we can transmit MIDI data back and forth to synchronise audio and video parts.
I also program the sequences for our stage lights in Ableton which are converted into DMX data using various plugins and sent over ethernet to the DMX controller to trigger the lights as needed. When Atashi Tada is performing vocals with us, she uses her own microphone and multi-effects box, so her side of things is relatively straightforward.
What are your immediate plans for the future of Dicepeople?
We’re trying out a new visual concept at our Electrowerkz show on the 22nd. I won’t give away what it is, but we’ve been posting some clues on our Facebook page! We’re working hard on that now and I hope it’ll be a really interesting performance which the audience will love. We’ll be looking to incorporate some of these ideas into future performances.
There are discussions in the works for future shows involving some other really great artists, and we’re working on a new album which will hopefully be out later this year. We’ve also recorded a cover of a Depeche Mode track for an upcoming compilation of Mute Records cover versions. It’s been a very busy year so far with the release of the Synthetic EP and video, plus various London gigs, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of things slowing down!
Dicepeople will be performing live at Electrowerkz on Saturday 22nd April alongside Das Fluff and Healthy Junkies.
A selection of electronic goodness care of DICEPEOPLE, AUTOROTATION and LITTLE SLEEPS…
As part of a new feature, The Electricity Club will be sampling a few select artists and bands and presenting them to you with a brief write-up of what they’re all about. We’ll often be mixing it up with dips into many different flavours of electronic music to see what tunes grab your fancy. This week, TEC is casting an eye over everything from dark pop to love affairs with foxes. What more could the discerning listener need?
The darkwave genre has always been a busy scene with a metric ton of bands and artists plying their wares. Dicepeople, an electronic outfit from London, consists of Matt Brock (musician, songwriter and producer), Atashi Tada (vocalist) and Rafael Filomeno (visual artist).
As a combo, Dicepople have been on the scene since 2013. The group have an emphasis on strong visuals as part of their live shows and they draw inspiration from the likes of Depeche Mode, John Carpenter, Siouxsie Sioux, Front 242 and all points inbetween.
‘Synthetic’ is pretty much on-point with its brooding gothic synth melodies against a burbling electronic background. Atashi Tada’s vocal lead is tweaked and distorted and lends the whole affair a cyberpunk aesthetic.
Along with a selection of remixes by the likes of Ventenner and Little Death Machine, ‘Synthetic’ is going to appeal to synthpop enthusiasts who like their tunes to wander into darker territories.
Billing themselves as an “experimental electro-acoustic band”, London-based Autorotation offer up this intriguing little gem of a tune. ‘Swamped’ bats between minamilistic electronic percussion and an evocative vocal care of Robyn Sellman.
Any band getting a thumbs-up from OMD’s Andy McCluskey is worth taking a look at and Liverpool-based Little Sleeps certainly deliver more than a few rewards.
Big Awake was the duo’s first EP release and apparently details a love affair with “foxes, houses, bears, tigers and broken romances”. ‘Fox Spirit’ weaves together a hypnotic vocal with a raw electronic percussive beat, suggesting the likes of Curxes. ‘Bone Shaker’ is a glittering pop moment while ‘ A Kiss’ has a glitchy melodic appeal all its own.
This EP arrived back in 2013, so we’re a little late in shining a light on Little Sleeps, who describe themselves as “inspired by the geometrical shapes that plague our minds and fall out of us like nervous tics”. The outfit appear to have gone radio silent recently, which is a shame as the tracks here suggest they’ve much more to offer.