20 YEARS of - Electronic Sound


20 YEARS of - Electronic Sound
20 YEARS of
T E S T D E P T . A S I A N D U B F O U N D A T I O N .
G W E N N O . T H E G R I D . C O C T E A U T W I N S .
U N I T S . B E N G E . L U K E A B B O T T . M O R P H .
Editor: Push
Deputy Editor: Mark Roland
Commissioning Editor: Neil Mason
Graphic Designer: Giuliana Tammaro
Sub Editor: Rosie Morgan
Sales & Marketing: Yvette Chivers
Contributors: Andrew Holmes, Anthony Thornton, Ben Willmott, Bethan Cole,
Carl Griffin, Chris Roberts, Cosmo Godfree, Danny Turner, David Stubbs,
Ed Walker, Emma R Garwood, Fat Roland, Finlay Milligan, Grace Lake,
Heidegger Smith, Jack Dangers, Jason Bradbury, Jools Stone, Kieran Wyatt,
Kris Needs, Luke Sanger, Mark Baker, Martin James, Mat Smith, Neil Kulkarni,
Ngaire Ruth, Patrick Nicholson, Paul Thompson, Simon Price, Stephen Bennett,
Stephen Dalton, Steve Appleton, Tom Violence, Velimir Ilic, Wedaeli Chibelushi
Published by PAM Communications Limited
© Electronic Sound 2015. No part of this magazine may be used or reproduced in any way without the prior
written consent of the publisher. We may occasionally use material we believe has been placed in the public
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of something published by us, we will be happy to make the correct acknowledgement. All information
is believed to be correct at the time of publication and we cannot accept responsibility for any errors
or inaccuracies there may be in that information.
With thanks to our Patrons:
Mark Fordyce, Gino Olivieri, Darren Norton, Mat Knox
to the
Electronic Sound
music club
One minute we’re sat in coats, hats and gloves, the next it’s baking hot and we’re
down to shorts and T-shirts. But enough about the British summer…
Seriously, though, where does the time go? With our new monthly deadlines, each
issue is coming at us at a fair old lick. It seems like only yesterday that we were
telling you all about the joys of last month’s full-to-bursting Electronic Sound and
here we are again with another one.
But as cleverer people than us say, time and tide waits for no man – not even Mike
Paradinas. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since his Planet Mu imprint
served up its first tentative offering in the shape of μ-Ziq’s ‘Salsa With Mesquite’
12-inch. We celebrate the anniversary with Mr P, who gives us a fascinating insight
into being the boss of one of electronic music’s most vibrant, quirky and downright
essential labels.
Elsewhere, it’s a pretty internationally sourced issue, even if we do say so
ourselves. We hit the road to catch Kraftwerk’s appearance at the start of this
year’s Tour de France to play... yup, you’ve guessed it, ‘Tour De France’. We also
interview 80s American synthpunk legends Units, talk to east London’s Asian Dub
Foundation about their new album and their soundtrack to George Lucas’ ‘THX
1138’, and pop over to Welsh Wales to meet Cardiff-based sci-fi freak Gwenno.
But that’s just the features. We’ve got a packed front section too, with Test Dept
remembering their steadfast support of the UK miners’ strike in the mid-80s,
ambient house pioneer Richard Norris on the making of The Grid’s ‘Floatation’,
and Robin Guthrie from the Cocteau Twins chatting through his influences. Oh,
and let’s not forget our in-depth reviews of this month’s essential album releases,
including John Foxx, The Chemical Brothers and Little Boots.
And if that’s not enough for you, we’ve also just launched a brand-new website,
which you can find at electronicsound.co.uk. All of which is probably a little too
much synthy goodness than is strictly healthy! Oh well...
Electronically yours,
Push and Mark
Have they, we wondered,
ever played ‘Autobahn’
on a motorway? Or ‘Trans
Europe Express’ on a train?
And then the phone rang.
“They’re playing ‘Tour De
France Soundtracks’ where?
We’re on our way.”
Hard as it is to believe,
Mike Paradinas’ consistently
brilliant record label is 20
years old. We mull over the
role of the modern label
boss with Mr P and offer up
our Top 20 essential Planet
Mu releases
We’re hitting the means
streets of Cardiff to meet
the supremely talented
Gwenno Saunders, who
has served up an album
inspired by a 1970s Welsh
sci-fi novel and sung almost
entirely in Welsh
When you’re an American
punk outfit who uses synths
instead of guitars, you’re
sure to one day be fêted as
groundbreaking. We salute
the groundbreaking Units and
all who sailed in her
East London’s ADF return
with a new album and a new
live soundtrack for George
Lucas’ seminal ‘THX 1138’
ROLAND ORCHESTRA and plenty more besides… TECH
We’re heading to Ulmeå in
Sweden to hook up with
the wandering international
electronic music expo – and
hand out a few Electronic
Sound awards just for good
This ain’t no ordinary
Stylophone, this is the supercharged STYLOPHONE 350S.
Yes indeedy. Our man Dave
gets under the bonnet
There’s something a bit
special about this muchloved ROLAND SYSTEM
100 MODEL 101. Jealous?
We sure are
In need of a full monty
Elka Synthex emulator? Boy,
are you in luck. This little
lovely starts where the Mini
Syn’X left off
There’s software compressors and
there’s software compressors like
this bad boy, which is based on the
broadcast kit of choice of German
radio stations
Save yourself an awful lot
of money and get a free
limited edition seven-inch by
Wolfgang Flür & Jack Dangers
BENGE is usually packing
some fabulous analogue kit
when we see him – and it
was no exception when we
snapped him at London’s
Barbican Centre
It was a very different time
when acts like TEST DEPT
prowled the land. Graham
Cunnington revisits
the band’s extraordinary
benefit concert in support
of the 1984-85 miners’
Need an injection of fine
new music? Our specially
trained staff are at your
service. Say hello to
Wonky electronic superhero
LUKE ABBOTT serves up a
60-second video portrait
from the comfort of his
You’re unlikely to hear a
band as strikingly unique
but what makes co-founder
asked him and we’re still
none the wiser
Our esteemed columnist will
be appearing at this year’s
quite worried about it
We’ve got a shovel and
we’re gonna use it. This
month’s classic lost album
is MORPH’s early 90s opus
It’s not all about collecting
records for our Jack. Nope.
Occasionally it’s about
books that help him collect
more records, such as HUGH
DAVIS’ epic 1968 tome,
‘International Electronic
Music Catalog’
SNARES’ ‘My So-Called
Life’ cover, right? Some
sort of severed bird head
hell. With telegraph poles.
What does it all mean? We
have the answers. Sort of
Please be upstanding…
No, actually, don’t. Lie
down, stretch out, take the
weight off and let RICHARD
NORRIS tell you how THE
GRID’s ambient house classic
‘Floatation’ came about
The Barbican, London
10 July 2015
Billed as a “living exhibition”, the hugely ambitious ‘Station To
Station: A 30 Day Happening’ staged an impressive takeover at
London’s Barbican Centre, unfurling a bewildering daily cast of
leading international and UK artists from the worlds of music,
film, dance, contemporary art and graphic design.
Among the throng, a week-long residency from Warp Records’
excellent LoneLady, during which she developed music and
visuals inspired by the Barbican’s architecture and monolithic
concrete forms with a little help from her friends Wrangler, who
loaned her this impressive looking Moog-format modular synth.
“It’s actually quite a modern system, but it’s based on a design
from the 1960s,” offers Benge, Wrangler’s keeper of synths,
when quizzed about the kit. “It uses the same format that
Moog introduced and is a mixture of modules from synthesizer.
com, Club Of The Knobs, Synthetic Sound Labs and Cynthia.
Anecdotes? What, like one falling over in the studio and killing
someone? No, I’ve never had that yet.”
Benge’s solo work on Expanding Records is now available to
download for the first time. For more information, visit
It’s September 1984 and UK industrial pioneers
TEST DEPT are flexing their political muscles as they
throw their musical weight behind the increasingly
bitter miners’ strike, beginning with a now legendary
benefit concert in south London...
“What we were doing and saying back then has turned out
to be very prescient of where we are now,” says Test Dept’s
Graham Cunnington. “But what’s going on today has far
exceeded what we were thinking. We couldn’t have believed
that technology would encourage people to be compliant in
their own surveillance in the way that social media has made
Having been subjected to phone tapping and restrictions of
movement by a government trying to suppress his involvement
in strike activity, this is something Graham Cunnington knows
plenty about.
Rising out of the ravaged, industry-scarred topography of
south London at the start of the 1980s, Test Dept found
inspiration in the abundance of scrapyards and disused factory
sites that littered the banks of the Thames, creating noise
using whatever they could find on the junk heaps. Test Dept’s
live performances were less gigs and more full-on physical
attacks, taking place in abandoned spaces and publicised using
underground means and word of mouth. They were often shut
down by the police. When they did get to play a full set, their
shows would feature evocative visuals and films, as well as
the furious pummelling of whatever found instrument had the
misfortune to fall under the band’s hammers.
“We were always political, but we weren’t aligned to anything
in particular,” says Cunnington of Test Dept’s early years. “The
trigger for us becoming more directly involved in politics
was the Falklands War. Margaret Thatcher manipulated that
nationalistic fervour for her own ends, right from the start of
the war up to the miners’ strike.”
The UK miners’ strike of 1984-85 would prove to be not only
Test Dept’s political calling, but the event that ushered in an
unprecedented dismantling of Britain’s industrial heritage.
Cunnington and his bandmates quickly found themselves
inextricably embroiled in the plight of the miners. While other
musicians who supported the strike invited miners to speak and
rattle buckets at gigs, Test Dept went much further, committing
themselves fully to the cause, the people and the struggle,
beginning with a benefit concert in south London in September
“Pat Brown, who was in the Deptford Labour Party at the time,
was putting on this benefit at the Albany arts centre, but all
the bands he’d earmarked to play had pulled out,” recalls
Cunnington. “Jack Balchin, who was our sound guy and who
worked in Deptford and Lewisham teaching music to young
kids, said we should do it. He went up to Pat and said, ‘I’ve
got the band for you’. Pat had never heard of us, but he said
OK, and because we were used to putting on our own shows,
we said we’d organise the whole thing. We also said we should
have some direct involvement with the mining community, not
just do a benefit and send the money out. We really thought
there should be some crossover.”
That crossover would take the form of the South Wales Striking
Miners Choir, who performed on stage with Test Dept at the
Deptford Albany gig.
“Jack Balchin had always loved Welsh choirs,” explains
Cunnington. “He thought it would be great to have a striking
Welsh miners’ choir, so Pat started making some enquiries. It
proved really difficult, though. A lot of the miners’ choirs were
made up of lots of different parts of the community. Some
would be for the strikes, some would be against, and there was
never any question of people putting their differences aside.
Eventually, Pat dialled up Keith Bufton. He was a miner from
Crynant in South Wales, and he pulled a choir together from
different groups in Crynant, Glyneath and Onyllwyn.”
While most members of the newly-formed choir knew each
other, they’d never sung together before. They ended up
rehearsing their songs on the bus to London. For many of the
men, it was also the first time they’d been to the capital.
“Some of them were quite worried,” says Cunnington. “Deptford
was a vibrant community, but like a lot of post-industrial
London it was suffering from the decimation of its industry. It
was quite an intimidating place.”
On top of that, the choir had never heard Test Dept’s music
before and had no idea what to expect.
“Looking back, it must have been very, very surreal for them,”
notes Cunnington. “They’d possibly heard about some of our
early gigs, so they were probably expecting a punk band. They
must have been quite shocked when they saw us and heard
us play, but the emotion, the attitude, the intensity, and the
whole meaning and intention of the concert was immediately
understandable to everyone. We weren’t just weird people
playing loud music. They also recognised the world of industry
that we channelled.
“We totally transformed the venue,” he continues. “We always
used visuals at our concerts, we always had three screens,
but at the Albany we had an extra screen at the back and we
surrounded the room with images of the cause. The crowd at
the Albany was made up of so many different people, from
our sort of alternative crowd to people supporting the miners’
cause to locals and all sorts. The feeling of support and
solidarity that night was really quite overwhelming.”
Following on from the Deptford gig, Test Dept toured the UK,
playing with other miners’ choirs and with colliery bands.
“Most people absolutely got the spirit of the gigs and how they
were raising money for the miners,” says Cunnington. “Looking
back now, those two completely different cultures coming
together was really quite startling. It helped to fuse people
together, and the anger, pain and emotion of the time was
reflected through the music and the miners voices. Every single
place we went to, every venue we played at, in pit villages
and miners’ welfare clubs all over the country, what we were
doing was immediately recognised and understood by those
communities. It was completely intuitive.”
working people defending their livelihoods and an antiTest Dept forged many important connections during the tour. industrialist, power-hungry regime.
One such bond was formed with Alan Sutcliffe, a Kent miner
and activist who first spoke at a gig in Brighton. Sutcliffe’s
“Looking back, it was a pivotal moment,” he concludes.
powerful, emotive voice can be heard on ‘Shoulder To
“Even at the time, we knew the miners’ strike would change
Shoulder’, the 1985 album Test Dept subsequently recorded
history, and that’s exactly what happened. Our efforts to
with the South Wales Striking Miners’ Choir and which
raise money and raise awareness of the strikes, starting with
the Albany show, became an absolute imperative. We really
represents an audio document of the band’s participation
in the miners’ strike. Sutcliffe went on to work with Test
had no choice but to be involved.”
Dept on several more albums, as well as performing at their
much-praised Ministry Of Power cross-cultural events.
‘Total State Machine’, a book documenting the
Three decades on, Graham Cunnington views the unrest of
history of Test Dept, and the ‘Shoulder To Shoulder’ album
the 1980s as a modern-day civil war that was fought on the
are both available from PC-Press. For more information,
picket lines and on the streets, a conflict between hardgo to www.pc-press.co.uk
We’ve got our finger on it
This issue, we’re getting ourselves in a right old tizzy
about Italian experimentalists NIAGARA, Tasmanian
electro-popster IN THIS MODE, wayward analogue dude
who are good pals with LCD Soundsystem
Cerebral and experimental electroheads
WHO they?
Turin duo Niagara are making waves
(and the basis for some stellar puns). The
Italian twosome consists of Davide Tomat
and Gabriele Ottino, seasoned musicians
with an impressive collaborative record.
They’ve both been members of rock
band NAMB and improvisational group
Gemini Excerpt. Their latest effort melds
electronic music with conventionally
disparate genres. Dubbed “popstars in
waiting”, Niagara are set for big things.
They’re near impossible to Google for
obvious reasons, but once you pinpoint
Niagara online, there’s a lot to scroll
through. Soundcloud, for instance,
reveals links with Liars and Fennesz.
In fact, their upcoming release, the
‘Vanillacola Re-Bottled’ three-tracker, is
their ‘Vanillacola’ single plus two remixes
by Fennesz and XIII.
Alongside desserts and sports cars, Italy
can now add self-reflexive, psychedelic
electro-pop to its export catalogue.
They would need more adjectives too, as
Niagara’s two albums also feature EDM,
folk music, eastern melodies and a whole
lot more.
Too convoluted? Almost, but Niagara
keep it focused with unifying themes.
Their latest album, ‘Don’t Take It
Personally’, dissects “the ongoing
struggle to balance our desire to develop
and exploit technology against the need
to make technology more sympathetic to
nature”. Very meta. Niagara are also very good to their
fans, sharing recording experiments and
pictures via Facebook and Vine. And if
that’s not enough, you can see them
performing in the flesh, although you’d
have to be pretty dedicated because
they’re only touring Italy this summer.
Bring us back a sports car!
‘Vanillacola Re-Bottled’ is released on
Old school knob twiddling from down under
Andreas Kuepper, aka Tasmanian devil
of electronica In This Mode, who makes
some seriously catchy old school electropop with a 90s stadium synth twist and a
dark, almost gothic vibe. He’s a man on a
mission, and that mission is big, big sounds
that do big, big things.
WHY in this mode?
Because Kuepper’s music is bursting at
the seams with deep bass and infectious
keyboard riffs. Taking influences from
pretty much all of the old guard – Numan,
Visage, Ultravox, and (yes, you’ve guessed
it) Depeche Mode, to name just a few –
Kuepper’s tracks are about getting the feet
tapping and those nostalgic juices flowing,
combined with some existential thinking
that informs his lyrics and the philosophy
behind his music-making. ‘Lunasea’, his
first album, is an instrumental exploration
of the stages of the moon through
electronica, while ‘The Untitled 1’ dwells
on the artist’s battle with his own ego.
after all. So far, Kuepper has produced
10 albums and there’s much more to
come. He’s currently only playing live in
Australia, but thanks to the wonders of the
internet you can find a glut of tracks on
Kuepper’s Soundcloud page, plus there’s
the new video to ‘Spiral’ via YouTube.
Check out the retro stylings on ‘New Wave
Revolution’, or the dark and edgy ‘Ride’, In
This Mode’s most recent album.
We’d say it’s high time attention was
paid to Mr Kuepper. There’s plenty of In
This Mode to get your teeth stuck into,
‘Ride’ is out now on SJE Records
Rodney Cromwell
Synthpop with a heavy dose of nostalgia
WHO he?
Rodney Cromwell is a London-based
recording artist who makes a delightful
lo-fi synthpop racket with a pile of old
analogue kit and a deep appreciation of
classic outfits such as Kraftwerk, OMD,
New Order and the like. You love him
already, right? Wait until you hear this
WHY rodney cromwell?
That’s a very good question on many
levels. You see, his name isn’t actually
Rodney Cromwell and he makes no
attempt to pretend otherwise. This is one
Adam Cresswell, formerly of early 2000s
John Peel favoured folktronica outfit
Saloon and, more recently, half of Arthur
& Martha alongside singer Alice Hubley,
who pops up on Rodders’ joyous debut
album, ‘Age Of Anxiety’.
The loose plan, it appears, was for
this album to be Arthur & Martha’s
sophomore offering. Seems Adam
couldn’t really be fagged, preferring
aloofness over leaving the house and
social media ubiquity, and Rodney
Cromwell was the result of the parting
of ways. Says here that ‘Age Of Anxiety’
is an album “for fans of Factory Records,
80s coldwave, and those four guys
from Düsseldorf who thought they were
Sounds good, but is it any cop? Course it
is. Choice cuts include the frantic Modelike ‘One Two Seven’, the magnificent,
early New Order-ish, seven-minute ‘Black
Dog’, and the Kraftwerkian ‘Barry Was An
Arms Dealer’, not that Düsseldorf’s finest
ever had a song title that good.
‘Age Of Anxiety’ is out now on Happy
NYC gone LA duo fill up with funky fuel
Brooklyn female twosome Busy Gangnes
and Melissa Livaudais. After decamping
to Sunset Boulevard for the winter,
they are just about to serve up a pretty
satisfying old school electro-pop thrum
of a new album. Think The Human
League with New Order’s drum machine
fronted by Kim Wilde and you’re almost
WHY telepathe?
There’s a list. Isn’t there always a list?
Their debut long-player, ‘Dance Mother’,
was described as an “evil R&B and 4AD
slow dance”. They’ve been remixed by
LCD Soundsystem and produced by TV
On The Radio’s Dave Sitek. They played
live support to Julian Casablancas and
Vampire Weekend.
2007, and then clearly got a shift on to
get their first full-length out. So that’ll
be 2009’s ‘Dance Mother’.
Well worth a little listen then, yes?
Telepathe’s second album, which is
called ‘Destroyer’, is a leap and a bound
on from their debut, sounding altogether
brighter, poppier, funkier. But then there
has been some water under the bridge...
Clearly striking while the iron is hot,
we’re pleased to report that the
sophomore album is well worth the wait.
Check especially the furiously euphoric
electro-fuelled ‘Onyx’ and the delightful
silver-tongued closer, ‘Fuck You Up’.
To say ‘Destroyer’ has been a long time
coming is a bit like saying £1,000 for
a bag of crisps is a bit steep. Telepathe
debuted with the ‘Farewell Forest’ EP in
2006, followed it up with the ‘Sinister
Militia’ single (remixed by said LCD) in
‘Destroyer’ is released on the band’s
own BZML label
LUKE ABBOTT, producer of some of the finest wonky electronic music around,
breaks all the rules for our one-minute video portrait... while we run through his
vital statistics
NAME: Luke Abbott
HOME CITY: Norwich, UK
FIRST RELEASE: You can’t argue with
a debut called ‘B,B,B,B,B,B,B,B,B,B’,
backed with ‘Buckinghamshire’s Rubbish,
Let’s Go Home’. It’s as brutal as it sounds
sure. It varies depending where you look.
We’re going with the Amazon variant.
The artwork features 16 lower case b’s.
Take your pick
ON? It came out on the legendary Output
Records, once home to the likes of LCD
Soundsystem and Fridge. Unfortunately,
it was the last thing released by the
label, which shut down shortly after
Luke’s debut. We don’t think this had
anything to do with Luke’s record
2010’s ‘Holkham Drones’ album.
It includes the haunting and
transcendentally beautiful ‘Brazil’
commissioned by film director Guy Myhill
to provide the music for the movie ‘The
Goob’, which has been released as an
album called ‘Music For A Flat Landscape’
Best Music Award at the Stockholm Film
Festival. Yay Luke Abbott!
Subscribe to
Electronic Sound
to find out more
ROBIN GUTHRIE blazed trails as one third of the truly
unique COCTEAU TWINS. Now he blows the doors off
our regular feature where all he has to talk about are
his influences. Still, what did we expect from a man
whose music has always defied description?
Interview: NGAIRE RUTH
I’ve always recorded a lot of the Cocteau Twins’ music in
different places and then gone back to my home base to
work on it. It’s so easy to do that now. I recently worked with
a band in Peru and then used a thumb drive to bring home
the recordings to finish them. Some of ‘Milk And Kisses’ [the
Cocteaus’ 1996 album] was recorded sitting by my window with
a view of the Atlantic Ocean in Brittany, which is where I live.
I once wrote music while crossing the US by rail. I wrote all the
music on the train and then performed it when we arrived on
the West Coast 10 days later.
I often go off and create my own little mobile studio
somewhere for a week or so because I get really inspired by
moving about and doing things in different places. I’ve been
working with the Australian band Heligoland in a lighthouse in
France. I made my ‘Sunflower Stories’ EP sitting in a field full
of sunflowers. I try to keep my life interesting and not worry
about music or being a pop star. I leave that to the youngsters.
particularly attached to those bands scene-wise, they were
just the kind of things we were listening to – Nick Cave, Joy
Division, edgy stuff like that. I can’t listen to more than about
10 seconds of it now without putting my fingers in my ears.
I started listening to music in the 1970s, essentially pop
groups like T-Rex and Roxy Music. I was never into rock
music like Pink Floyd. I didn’t have long hair or a big stack of
Genesis albums. My older brother did and that was probably
the reason I hated all that. I was much more into the Phil
Spector sound. I liked huge pop records – The Ronettes,
The Shangri-Las – and I went through a phase of listening
to Motown. I didn’t have the means to reproduce that
sound completely because I didn’t have live musicians and
orchestras, but I did have effects pedals to make a big sound
with where that mixture came from.
Then punk rock and post-punk came along. I had a lot of
respect for The Birthday Party in the 1980s. I admired them
because they were making beautiful but noisy music. John
Peel introduced them to me, by which I mean I first heard
them sitting next to a wireless in Scotland. We had none
of this internet or download stuff, just the wireless and the
weekly music journals, NME and Melody Maker, which used
to get to Scotland by the weekend. The Cocteaus didn’t feel
I tried to use that punk rock and post-punk energy alongside
a big wall of sound. It was always going to be very restrictive
and at first I didn’t make the records I envisioned. But it
was very exciting when we got the opportunity to make a
record with the grown-ups in a recording studio. For the first
Cocteau Twins sessions, the guys just put the mikes against
our amps and recorded it. By the second album, ‘Head Over
Heels’ in 1983, I’d learned how to make the sound I wanted
in the studio. For me, that was ground zero, although I always
thought the record didn’t sound as
good it did live.
Everything I’ve done from being a teenager to now has been
a continuous line. I’ve never reinvented myself or followed
a new fad. The music I make now seems a little more
mature than when I was a teenager because that’s what the
experience of life does to you – working, travelling, children
– but there is no record, book, film, or particular person that’s
been a standout influence on me where I can say, “I did this
because they did that”.
Books mean more to me now because I’ve started to make
a lot of instrumental music. But at the time of the Cocteau
Twins, we weren’t directly taking influences and trying to
reproduce them, and we were trying tokeep away from every
type of new music. I hated how people would have a style
and then change themselves a little bit for the next record,
based on what was fashionable. I liked what we did and I
figured we could do it our way, so we didn’t need to do that.
We were very much fans of 4AD Records and wanted to be on
the label, although we’ve never been fans of all the bands on
the roster. We came to London from Grangemouth in Scotland
and took our cassette tape to the 4AD office. You cannot
believe how young and confident we were. Liz was 17 and I was
19. Our contemporaries at 4AD were five or six years older than
us and we saw them as grown-ups. It’s because you haven’t
experienced failure. We were young and driven and very naive.
How lucky we were that, just by chance, they listened to that
tape and thought, “Wow, this is good”. I think I’d put the
number of the telephone box down the road from my house on
the tape.
The Cocteau Twins often get compared to bands from the
shoegazing movement, but we were never part of that. I was
really pushing the electronic idea, which was limited at the
time. A lot of electronic processing didn’t exist back then,
so it was literally, “What happens if we plug this thing into
that thing?”. I was using equipment that wasn’t designed for
what I was doing. I was using guitars as the input as opposed
to using keyboards. And I wasn’t just happy to put my guitar
through one effects pedal, I’d put it through loads of effects
pedals. But I had this idea and I wanted to take it further and
further. I very much grew up listening to records and getting
ideas.In my diary entries, it’s clear this is how I wanted to see
myself, sketching out how something was done on the fly,
most of it in public view, not going away and hiding. I was
learning on the job.
I’ve been doing music for films for a few years, which I like
because then I become part of a story-telling team, making
music that is functional as opposed to completely selfindulgent. I still feel like an outsider looking in, though. If I go
to the Cannes Film Festival, then I just go home to Brittany.
I don’t belong in that world at all, but that’s usually where
and when I get to see the finished film. I like all sorts of
movies, but I tend to get asked to work more with indie filmmakers because my music is not so mainstream. My favourite
soundtrack is one I made for a Spanish film with a Mexican
director called ‘3:19’.
Reissues of the Cocteau Twins’ ‘The Pink Opaque’ album
and ‘Tiny Dynamine’/‘Echoes In A Shallow Bay’ EPs are
out now on 4AD. For details of Robin Guthrie’s more
recent work, visit www.robinguthrie.com
Our erstwhile columnist has been
let out to play. He’s treading the
boards at the EDINBURGH FRINGE.
Brace yourselves because he’s
fretting. And when he frets, there’s
generally Windowlene involved
Illustration: STEVE APPLETON
It’s 3.02am and I’m sitting in three-dayold pants jabbing my food-encrusted
laptop as if I’m expecting it to squeak.
The words flutter onto the page like
Alphabetti Spaghetti out of a bazooka.
Above my computer, I’ve pinned photos of
great writers: William Shakespeare, that
Austen woman, my neighbour’s dog, who
once did a poo in the shape of a letter E.
I wipe a bit of bolognese off the screen.
I’ve no idea what semi-colons do, so I
write 15 in a row for good measure.
you think about it, half of The KLF grew
up in Dumfries and Galloway, which pretty
much makes Scotland the spiritual home
of techno. So Edinburgh, here I come.
I’m penning a show for the Edinburgh
Fringe. The theme is electronic music. I’m
going to waffle about techno for an hour
and hope I don’t get bottled. This seemed
like a good idea when I pitched the show
to the promoters. “It’ll be like the Goon
Show for the ecstasy generation,” I slurred
while downing another cocktail made
from Windowlene and cheese. “If we give
you a show, will you come down from our
roof?” they said. And that was it. The deal
was done.
Meanwhile, it’s 3.05am, William
Shakespeare’s glaring down at me, and
I look again at my laptop screen. It just
says the word “trousers”. In bold italics.
About 70 times. I try to think of a second
word. Come on brain, where are the
words? What’s that long one with all the
vowels? As it happens, writing a Fringe
show is difficult. Which means I’m going
to be bottled off by a gang of ketaminefaced happy hardcore kids, aren’t I?
There are many things about Scotland I
love. There used to be a phenomenon
in British record shops where the further
north you travelled, the fewer drum ’n’
bass records you’d notice. The music of
gritty London tower blocks faded away
as you approached the English-Scottish
border to be replaced by the anthems
of happy hardcore: the sound of pilledup Glaswegian bedsits, record covers all
yellow smileys and block capitals. And if
My show is called ‘Kraftwerk Badger
Spaceship’. You can google it if you want.
If you do come along and you get to
meet me, make sure you offer the secret
Electronic Sound handshake. You know,
the one that involves several winks, a
pirouette, and half a pound of lard.
I swig my cocktail of delicious cleaning
fluid, then bash in a load more semicolons. Sorted.
Fat Roland performs ‘Kraftwerk Badger
Spaceship’ (yes, it really is called that)
at Laughing Horse at The Cellar Monkey,
15 Argyle Place, Edinburgh EH9, from
6 to 19 August. The shows start at
5pm are are described by the Official
Fringe Bumph as “one idiot’s battle with
electronic music”
It’s the 90s and New York techno duo MORPH
have slipped out their ‘Stormwatch’ album almost
unnoticed. Very much time for a reassessment
we think
Are you an early 90s electronic music geek?
Here’s a marker pen. Draw a line across the
decade that avoids the mainstream. No, you can’t
use a ruler.
Maybe you scrawled a path though the warehouse
grump of Autechre, Richard H Kirk’s celestial
dalliance with Warp, Sun Electric’s thoughtful
techno, or the shuddering energy of a nascent CJ
Bolland. Well done. Now give me back my marker
What you perhaps missed,
and let me circle it for
you, was a collaboration
between Damon Wild and
Dennis Ferrer. Wild had
carved his name on New
York’s house scene and
Ferrer, now a Grammynominated Dido remixer,
was fluent in the language
of hip hop. Both were
techno lovers, but their
outsider perspective made
‘Stormwatch’, their 1994
album under the name
Morph, sound like it had
travelled a wilderness
blistered from strange
The early 90s was a
screaming cavalcade of novelty dance hits – 2
Unlimited, Doop, Scatman flipping John. No
wonder true clubbing fans preferred their
producers dour and miserablist. That extended
to the sleeve artwork too. I wasn’t the most
educated record buyer back then. I discovered
Sabres Of Paradise because I loved the graffiti
cover of ‘Theme’, not necessarily because I was
aware of Andrew Weatherall’s genius.
The wilfully anonymous ‘Stormwatch’ cover,
scaffolding mirrored into quadrants, spoke
of its industrial trance and cold, geometric
transmissions. I could hear the music inside the
sleeve just from looking at the design. I skipped
the needle from track to track in Manchester’s
Piccadilly Records to hear shades of Orbital and
all the portent and grandeur I’d come to expect
from Autechre. This acidic techno was nasty, but
oozing with emotion. Listen to ‘Our Future’, its
rattling snares a bold swell of energy, anger and
I thought I had spotted
the next big thing in
techno, but the sands
of time have obscured
the significance of
‘Stormwatch’. In the
US, the album launched
Damon Wild’s Synewave
Records, which went on
to release material from
the likes of Joey Beltram,
Jeff Mills and The Advent.
But in the UK, where
they were signed to
New Electronica, Morph
changed very little, maybe
because the electronic
scene was already several
steps ahead. Certainly,
the band’s UK labelmates Scanner and As One
are more likely to stick in an ageing technohead’s
If you feel like an outsider, though, here’s an
album that demands to be heard. Underline this
in bold marker pen strokes: Morph’s ‘Stormwatch’
is a true classic worthy of any modern playlist.
Every electronic music collector needs a decent
reference book and HUGH DAVIES’ ‘International
Electronic Music Catalog’ from 1968 is one of the best.
Inevitably, though, you also need others…
Hugh Davies was an English composer of electronic music who
was part of Stockhausen’s live ensemble in the mid-1960s.
Davies didn’t make that many records, maybe six in total, and
he died in 2005. He was mostly interested in manipulating
sound, so he would mic up conventional instruments and
process the results, making them sound different, rather than
starting with electronics.
Davies’ most significant contribution to electronic music
is probably his 1968 book, ‘International Electronic Music
Catalog’. It lists every major studio in the world that was
making electronic music at the time, along with a discography
from each place. Most of the book is given over to the
composers who worked in the various studios, when they
worked there and the titles of the pieces they produced. He
also lists what each piece was composed for, whether it was for
a film, a ballet, a radio broadcast or whatever.
Labels like SubRosa and Finders Keepers have often searched
through Davies’ book to find out what was recorded in private
studios and then get in touch with the owners to see if they
have a stash of tapes in the attic they might want to put out.
The book also has a section dedicated to tapes. In those days,
some of the studios had tape services, where you could buy
or rent copies of electronic compositions that were performed
with multiple tape machines. Those are particularly obscure
because they were never meant for release.
Hugh Davies’ good work was built on by several subsequent
publications. ‘The International Electronic Music Discography’
by Miroslaw Kondracki, Marta Stankiewicz and Frits C Weiland
updates the information to 1979 but, as the title suggests,
it just lists records, not studios or tape services. There’s also
‘International Documentation Of Electroacoustic Music’ by
Folkmar Hein and Thomas Seelig from 1996, which was very
late for people being interested in this kind of thing, although
many have since got back into it again. It’s got everything in
it, every studio that ever existed, every piece ever recorded
in them, every record ever released, and there’s even a studio
list in the back. Both of these two books were published in
Germany with very long German titles.
Another book, ‘Inventionen’ by Golo Föllmer, Roland Frank
and Folkmar Hein from 1992, is a documentation of electronic
music in Europe. I like it because it’s not only about the
composers, it’s also about the equipment the studios had.
So if somewhere had a Tempophon, an early tape-based
transposing/time stretch device, it would be listed in there.
When it goes down to that kind of detail for studios that don’t
actually exist any more, it begs the question, how the fuck did
they do it?
Half of these places weren’t even open at the
time ‘Inventionen’ was written, never mind
now. The book tells you the phone number
of the studio, when it was established, how
many works were done there, the name of
the engineer. It doesn’t matter how new
or old the studio. I’ve used it myself a
few times when I’ve tried to get hold of
various pieces of gear, but I’ve never had
any luck. I remember trying a studio in
Bourges in France. They had an EMS
Vocoder, the big one, but they’d already
closed down and sold everything by the
time I got to them.
Finally, a quick mention for two English books, the two
volumes of Peter Forrest’s ‘The A-Z Of Analogue Synthesisers’.
These are solely about synths and they’re much less academic,
but I find I’m always going back to them. The trouble is they’re
pretty hard to get hold of now. Like a lot of this stuff, to be
All record sleeves have hidden meanings to do with the occult. Take VENETIAN SNARES’
‘My So-Called Life’. Our (dark) arts correspondent FAT ROLAND reports
One day, the telegraph
poles will rise up and fight
the pylons, with both using
humans as fleshy swords.
Something to look
forward to, then
Chosen to recall
the great blues
of music history:
The Moody Blues,
‘Blue Monday’, the
boy band Blue,
Paul McCartney’s
varicose veins
Venetian Snares
is a leading
breakcore artist.
In other words, he
sounds like barrel
of furious babies
being kicked
down a hill
An Amazon delivery drone.
Contains one copy of ’50
Shades Of Grey’. GPS kaput.
Hopelessly lost
And that’s why Mr Snares
lost his job in the aviary.
Geddit?!?!?!? Oh, suit yerself
A metaphor for how our
brains are communication
devices and/or a useful
perch for bored sparrows
Birds like Venetian Snares.
They appreciate the harsh
rhythmic experimentalism.
Apart from crows, whose
tastes stopped in 1979,
which is why they’re such a
bore at parties
This is how we entertained
ourselves in the olden days,
remember. We replaced
our heads with telegraph
poles. “Hey everyone, I’m a
telegraph pole!”. Sigh. Those
were the days
Currently telecommunicating
at a rate of 17,000 PPI calls
per minute
Design notes: ‘Pigeon
Street’ meets ‘Hamlet’. But
in a bad way
Shirt: BHS £12.95.
Braces: model’s own.
For more autumn
looks, visit our website,
Adopt this severed bird’s
head now for only £6.99
a month. Your valuable
donation could help other
bits of animals live a better
life, such as cow’s knees,
badger’s faces and the
eyebrows of wasps
This is my jam. No, really.
It’s jam. And it’s mine. Don’t
lick my jam. STOP LICKING
Venetian Snares chose
this cover as a statement.
And that statement is:
Fluffy kittens. Sunny
meadows. Smiling babies.
Seriously, he could have
chosen anything for this
cover. Anything. But no, it
had to be a portrait of my
strange neighbour Geoff
“Frank, there’s
something different
about your face. Have
you shaved? No, wait.
You’ve lost weight. No,
This red smudge is the blood
of a thousand Westlife fans,
who accidentally streamed
the wrong album
This is where Danger
Mouse lives. Penfold
moved out. He lives with
Dogtanian now. Long
Poleus, the
natural world’s
most endangered
species. Predators
include the Great
Red Postboxior,
the Flickerus
Streetlampoid and
the Lesser Spotted
Rave pants baggy enough to
allow movement for bogling,
thrusting and the Macarena
“And I says to Maude, I says, ‘Do I wear sandals?’
and she says, ‘LOL, no you don’t want to look
weird’, and I says, ‘OMG, you’re right, it’ll soooo
clash with the bird head…’”
subscribe and save money each month
RICHARD NORRIS tells the story of the 1990 ambient
house classic and explains how its roots lie in the cult
‘Jack The Tab’ album
Interview: NEIL MASON
I was in bands when I was kid. Like everyone from that era, I
liked listening to John Peel and I liked the DIY idea, the idea
that you could just get up and get on with it. When I was about
14, I was in a band called The Innocent Vicars and we did a
Buzzcocks/Undertones type single that got played on John Peel.
I think it was, and still is, about enthusiasm over anything else.
After college, I started working at a record label called BamCaruso. It was run by Phil Smee, a graphic designer who had
this insane passion for psychedelic records, and a guy called
Cally [Martin Callomon], who went on to manage Julian Cope,
among many other things. As a fresh-faced teenager, it was
quite an education because they both had an enormous music
Bam-Caruso published a magazine called ‘Strange Things Are
Happening’ and I was sent to interview Genesis P-Orridge from
Psychic TV, who was really into what we were doing. It was the
first time I’d ever met him and he was saying, “Have you heard
of acid house?”. I hadn’t, but I thought the idea of putting
psychedelia and dance music together was fantastic. “Right,”
he said. “Let’s go and make a record next weekend.” So that’s
what we did.
I met Genesis at this tiny studio in Chiswick. There were about
12 of us there and between us we made an album, ‘Jack The
Tab – Acid Tablets Volume One’. The tracks were credited to
different artists, like a compilation album, but it was all done
by this group of people. Gen had brought Dave Ball along and
that was the first time we worked together. I remember Gen
had various rules, like we weren’t allowed to spend more than
an hour on a track, including writing and mixing. For quite a
while after that, I thought all tracks should only take an hour
to make.
Although the album was recorded in September 1987, it
didn’t get released until the following April, by which time we
actually knew what acid house was, which we didn’t when we
were in the studio. People are often confused because there’s
no Roland 303 on ‘Jack The Tab’, but that’s because it was just
our idea of what psychedelic dance music could sound like.
When the album came out, it got a bit of press and did quite
well. Cally from Bam-Caruso had started working as an A&R
man at Warners by then, so I gave him a copy. He loved it
and said he could get us a deal. He wanted me and Gen to
make more strange records like ‘Jack The Tab’, only more
dance-oriented. Unfortunately, Gen got cold feet and bailed
out. I thought, “That’s it, I’m not going to get my record deal!”,
but Cally and I then came with the idea of me working with
different producers to make an album of dance music from
around the world. But then Mark Kamins did his ‘United House
Nations’ album, so that was the end of that idea.
The first person I’d thought about working with on that project
was Dave Ball. The track we’d recorded together for ‘Jack The
Tab’ seemed to work really well, so we just carried on and
started making what turned out to be The Grid’s first album.
This was late 1988 and I’d been going out to acid clubs like
Shoom and was writing about it all for the NME, so the record
was much more informed by dance music.
I used to go to the NME offices to take them the Bam-Caruso
records, but while I was there I kept saying, “You’ve got to
write about acid house”. It took nine months for them to agree.
I remember Steven Wells saying, “Nah, we’re not writing about
that, it’s rubbish, it just sounds like bad Gary Numan”. I’d
tell him, “You’re going to miss this generation’s punk rock”. I
badgered them so much that in the end they just gave in and
said, “Alright, you do it then”.
I’d kind of heard about Ibiza, but it wasn’t that well known
outside of the scene, so I said to the NME editor, “You’ve
got to send me and my girlfriend to Ibiza for two weeks to
find out about this new music”. I could have said anywhere,
Torremolinos or Benidorm, but amazingly he said, “Brilliant,
let’s do it”. That was the summer of 1989, so going there had
an impact on The Grid’s ‘Floatation’. The basic idea of the track
was to make a slower record you could play on the beach in
the open air.
When Dave Ball and I had finished the album, Cally said, “Can
you just do one more track?”. Begrudgingly, we ended up back
in the studio a couple of weeks later to record the track that
would become ‘Floatation’ and Dave was saying, “Let’s try and
do something that sounds like the end title credits of a film”.
He’s obsessed with John Barry and was always playing these
two Barry-esque chords, but they didn’t resolve, they needed
another chord, so between us we got the chords together. So
although Ibiza was in the air, it was actually more about John
We asked Andrew Weatherall to remix the track and it was
one of his earliest remixes, either the second or third mix he
did. I’d met Weatherall through clubbing. In fact, when me and
Genesis P-Orridge went to Shoom for the first time, the very
first person we saw there was Weatherall, who proudly showed
us his Psychic TV tattoo. Gen was very pleased about that. I
think he thought he was the king of acid house!
The final version of ‘Floatation’ was an 11-minute instrumental
which people seemed to really like, so we thought we’d put
some words to it and make it a single. We got our friend
Sasha, who we’d also met at Shoom, to come down and do
a bit of breathy, sub Gainsbourg vocals. I’ve still got the DAT
of us doing it. You can hear me and Sasha in the booth and
Weatherall in the control room, and we’re basically making the
words up as we go along. It probably took about five minutes.
There are a few samples on the record, various bits and pieces
and a little film dialogue, which you absolutely wouldn’t get
away with nowadays. Most of it, like the clarinet and all the
keyboards and the drums, was ours, but Andrew Weatherall did
put a bit of Stone Roses on it at the end. The original mix was
done at Battery Studios in west London and the Roses were in
the studio next door, so he borrowed a copy of their album for
a loop. From what I heard, Ian Brown gave it his blessing.
There was a big buzz when the single came out. I remember
going to shops in Soho and there’d be signs in the window
saying, “No copies of ‘Floatation’ left”. It didn’t massively chart,
though, and I think the fact it didn’t crack the Top 40 was one
of the reasons our days were numbered at Warners. They were
used to people like Simply Red getting high chart positions, so
this strange, left-field band born out of ‘Jack The Tab’ wasn’t
quite doing it for them. In the end, I think ‘Floatation’ was
more influential than it was successful,
but I’m happy with that.
The Grid have a new EP, the first release on the official Moog
record label, out in the autumn. ‘Leviathan’, an album with
Robert Fripp, is out on DGC early next year
Start blowing up the birthday party balloons. PLANET MU is 20 years
old. That’s 20 years as one of the most consistently innovative and
interesting electronic music labels in the world. And MIKE PARADINAS,
full-time company boss and sometime μ-ZIQ man, is celebrating in
style. Well, he would be if he had the time
“We could just get rid of the Internet, couldn’t we?” muses Mike
Paradinas. “Well, we can’t, that was just a joke, but imagine
how much money a record label could make without it. I like
to think that in a parallel universe, something different has
happened to the music industry.”
Mike Paradinas heads up Planet Mu, the label he founded 20
years ago, and he’s reflecting on the current state of things.
Much has changed in two decades and record companies are
running the risk of being a vestigial relic of an earlier time;
technology has conspired against the humble record label as
a means of getting music to the listening public, squeezing
profit margins exponentially and spawning ever more creative
attempts by surviving labels to extract cash from the wallets of
willing punters.
So for all its intended irony, it’s not hard to have some
sympathy with Paradinas when he talks about switching off the
Still, 20 years in business, however tough it might have been,
is something to celebrate. Planet Mu has lasted longer than
most marriages and the majority of life sentences. During
that two decade stretch, Paradinas has released innovative
records from a huge array of artists and been at the forefront of
some of electronic music’s most interesting scenes. Ironically,
given his comment above, he’s also pioneered the use of the
internet’s many technological advances to the benefit of his
The mid-1990s was when electronica went overground.
Musicians and producers who had been slogging away since
the early rave days suddenly found themselves getting the sort
of profile they had previously only dreamed of. The big record
companies started eyeing the talent pool hungrily.
As μ-Ziq, a name synonymous with the micro scene of leftof-centre electronic music that also included Aphex Twin and
Autechre, Mike Paradinas was one such artist fêted by a major
label. In his case it was Virgin, via the Hut imprint.
“I’d remixed several tracks for The Auteurs,” Paradinas explains.
“Hut had put six of them on an album which did really well in
the States, so they were quite anxious to release my stuff after
Having previously put out material on Rephlex, Warp and Clear,
Paradinas signed to Hut in 1994. In an effort to differentiate
his work from the rest of the Hut roster – which consisted of
the likes of The Verve and Embrace – and to utilise different
specialist distributors, the Planet Mu label was created as a
vehicle for Paradinas’ μ-Ziq work. His first Planet Mu release
was the landmark 1995 ‘Salsa With Mesquite’ 12-inch, followed
in 1997 by the ‘Lunatic Harness’ LP.
“Hut were a lot more hands-off than many major labels,” he
says. “I had only good experiences with them, especially with
Dave Boyd, who was my A&R man at Virgin and who headed
up Hut, and having a label to release my music through really
got my imagination going. I genuinely thought that if I had an
imprint, then perhaps I could release records by other people.
But the answer was no, I couldn’t.”
His recollection is followed by a dry laugh, casually masking
what must have been a major disappointment for him back
then. Persistence, however, paid off.
“Eventually they relented and I released a compilation called
‘Mealtime’, which had 10 other artists as well as me on there.
Aphex Twin was on it. It was a compilation of drill ’n’ bass,
which I think was what we called it then. It was meant to be
an introduction to Planet Mu, but it was the only non-μ-Ziq
release in the Virgin era.”
‘Mealtime’ nevertheless highlighted Mike Paradinas’ skill in
recognising talent, something that has served him well in the
years since.
“Most of the people on that album have gone on to bigger
and better things,” he says, clearly proud of how ‘Mealtime’
showcased his curatorial chops.
Paradinas took complete control of Planet Mu in 1998, marking
the start of his label as a fully independent operation. Far from
there being a bust-up or some sort of complex boardroom coup,
the move was altogether more casual, disappointingly involving
neither fists nor teams of sharp-suited lawyers.
“There wasn’t even really a separation,” he notes. “They just
said I could use the name how I liked. I guess Planet Mu wasn’t
a sub-label of Virgin as such. It was just something they put on
my stuff for a while and I was actually still effectively signed to
Virgin. When I released ‘Royal Astronomy’ in 1999 it came out
on Hut, not Planet Mu.”
The apparent ease with which Paradinas was able to take
ownership of Planet Mu was not without its early struggles,
though. He first signed a contract with an independent
distributor in 1997, but the company went into receivership. He
then set up a deal with SRD, which took another six months,
before Planet Mu released Jega’s ‘Type Xer0’ EP. Paradinas’
experience at Virgin and at several other independent imprints
helped him to decide what he wanted his label to be and how
it should be run.
“As an artist, you sit back and look at how these things work,”
he reflects. “You see how things can go right and how they
can go wrong, and you see how long it sometimes takes to get
paid – sometimes many, many years. So I knew how I wanted
to treat people and how I wanted to be treated.
“That said, I didn’t have a particular type of label in mind. I
was thinking more of something like Virgin Records, but you
never really know how things are going to work out. It’s turned
out to be more like Warp or Rephlex than a major label, but I
really didn’t want there to be too much of a focus on electronic
music. I wanted it to be quite eclectic, but I realised pretty
early on that when we do veer away from electronic music,
people aren’t so interested. I also thought that running a label
would be a good exit strategy for when μ-Ziq dried up.”
μ-Ziq releases did become less frequent and more sporadic as
Paradinas got stuck into running his nascent company, which
he initially did single-handedly. Turning down the volume on
μ-Ziq was not so much because of a lack of ideas, but more
because managing a label with no assistance meant he had
virtually no time to make music as well.
Hearing Paradinas using phrases culled from the corporate
lexicon like “exit strategy” is a little strange. On the one hand,
there’s this creative, relaxed and casual guy, with a humour so
dry it’s a lit match away from a major inferno; on the other,
there’s a shrewd entrepreneur running a successful business
and making commercial decisions, talking about profit and loss,
about marketing budgets and paying staff.
“It’s about balance,” he says. “You’ve got to think about what
the priorities are for creativeness. For the musician, it’s about
keeping happy. With a business, it’s to make sure we’re making
a profit. If Planet Mu makes a profit, the artist makes a profit,
because they’ve all got 50-50 deals with us.”
Artists, however, don’t always think about the bottom line.
“A lot of times, people want their sleeves to be embossed with
gold leaf or something with stickers all over it, a sticker on
the front and a sticker on the back, blah blah blah,” he laughs,
explaining where he has to put his foot down. “I’m just sort of
realistic. I’ll tell them that it’s going to eat up all their profits,
or eat up even more of the losses, depending on who it is.
But with decisions about the music, a lot of the time they’re
not thinking, mostly because they’re too close to their own
material. But then I’m the same. I can never work out what’s
my best stuff.”
For the first decade of Planet Mu, when Paradinas did
everything all by himself, he says he didn’t push the marketing
or the PR too much. That changed in 2008 when he began to
build a team. The label now consists of a handful of people
working for Paradinas, supporting him with press, A&R and
running the publishing arm. The end of the sole trader years
has also meant that he has returned to releasing μ-Ziq albums
“When it was just me, it was obviously a lot easier financially
because I didn’t pay myself,” he explains. “You can survive if
you do that. In the future, I suppose, if we ever need to make
changes just to survive, and if it came to it, it could just be
me again, and we could just make it into a Bandcamp label.
There’s always something you can do if you really want to
Risk departments in big firms talk about horizon scanning
– looking far into the distance to try to detect the emerging
technologies, demographic shifts or other significant changes
that might materially affect their business. In the music
industry, there are a number of examples of companies
dismissing the threat of modernity to their eternal disadvantage,
but Paradinas’ capacity to peer objectively down the road has
served him well.
“We’ve always tried to be a step ahead of what we think is
going to be happening in the future,” he says. “We were very
early to look at mp3s. I think the first mp3s on our site was
in 2000. We gave them away with downloadable artwork so
you could make up your own CD. And we’ve known for almost
10 years that the future is going to be all about streaming, so
we’ve been preparing for that too.”
For a whole array of reasons, not least perhaps easy access to
cheap technology and the spread of the internet, there’s more
music around now than ever before. Not that it’s all worth
listening to, of course.
“We still get sent lots of demos,” sighs Paradinas. “And the
demos we get sent are, on average, more derivative and
uninspired than the stuff we pick up on ourselves. We released
the John Wizards album a couple of years ago, and then we got
loads of afrobeat demos. We’re still getting a lot of footwork
stuff, just because we were one of the first labels to popularise
that in Europe. But we don’t want to hear a pale retread of
what we’ve already released; we want to hear people who have
their own musical ideas. You can tell when you listen to it if
something has personality and passion, and I think recognising
that is part of what running a label is about.”
In 2015, however, the very need for a record company seems
open to question.
“Of course I think about that sort of thing and it concerns
me, but I strongly believe there is a place for us,” declares
Paradinas. “I don’t know how other people feel about listening
to the amount of music that’s out there, but I think it’s pretty
overwhelming. I need certain filters to find good music. And
I think Planet Mu fulfils that function. The human brain likes
brands, otherwise companies wouldn’t set up brands and be
so protective of them. It’s a definite way for us to categorise
things, so if Planet Mu can be associated with good electronic
music then hopefully people will see it as a seal of approval,
a mark of trust. They know that if they pick up a Planet Mu
release, it’s going to be interesting.”
All of which being said, Paradinas is quick to assert that it
doesn’t always go according to plan.
“Some of the records we’ve released haven’t gone well,” he
concedes. “We put out a few Virus Syndicate records in the
mid-2000s and they lost quite a lot of money. Looking back,
it’s just because we spent so much on marketing, but I don’t
really regret it. The decision about what music to release hasn’t
changed, it’s just the amount you can spend on it. We can’t
go overboard with advances and putting up fly posters like we
did for one of the Virus Syndicate albums. Everyone’s thinking
about where they can cut costs these days.”
So what would Paradinas say were the highlights from Planet
Mu’s 20 years of releases? Does he have any personal favourite
Planet Mu records?
“I can’t choose really, but there are releases I’m especially proud
of, like DJ Nate’s ‘Da Trak Genious’ album from 2010. We
found his music on YouTube in 2008 or 2009, and it took a
long time, about a year, to find him and get a reply from him,
and then to get the tracks off him and release them. I think it
was a two year process to do that record.
“Kuedo’s ‘Severant’ album from 2011 is another one I’m very
proud of. Again it took a long time to come together, but it
became a classic record for me. Then there’s Venetian Snares,
the ‘Rossz Csillag Alatt Született’ album from 2005. That’s
another great album and that one came together really easily.
It seemed to fall into place in an order which told a story and it
sold well, as well as being really satisfying.”
Venetian Snares, aka Aaron Funk, has the distinction of getting
the opportunity – like Paradinas did many years before at Hut –
to set up a sub-label of his own. Timesig was launched in 2010,
chiefly as a vehicle for Funk’s own music.
As if to underline the point, he talks about a Venetian Snares
record which he played to a group of people over 70 years of
age when he was writing the press sheet, just to be able to see
what their reaction to it was.
“He wanted to release stuff that we didn’t, basically. But each
time we’ve put out a record of his, we’ve asked him if he wants
it on Timesig or Planet Mu, and he’s said Planet Mu the last
few times. I think if we ever do a Speed Dealer Moms album,
though, it might be on Timesig.”
“That’s something you’d wouldn’t normally do in most jobs,” he
rightly points out.
The wonderfully named Speed Dealer Moms are a trio of Funk,
Chris McDonald from SKM-ETR, and ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers
guitarist and electronic music convert John Frusciante.
“I keep asking Aaron to get an album together for me,” reveals
Paradinas. “I know he’s got hours of that material done.”
Does Mike Paradinas have any advice he’d like to offer anyone
who might be thinking about setting up a record label?
“Be rich,” is his quick response. “The longer answer is, if you
look at a lot of labels that are around now, some of them have
outside funding or are funded by independent wealth. And it’s
likely that a label starting now will struggle unless you can
pump money into it from time to time. But if you’ve got a
passion for it, go ahead and do it. You’ll soon find out whether
it’s selling or not and whether you can afford to do a second
release. It’s a good way of working out how to run a business
of any kind because it’s a simple model: you manufacture
something, you sell it, and either you’ve got enough profit to
do a second one or you haven’t. It’s really fucking simple!”
In spite of the headwinds, Paradinas maintains that running
Planet Mu is fantastic fun.
“I can’t imagine another job I’d rather do,” he insists. “I enjoy it
more than going on stage and playing my own stuff. I get really
nervous playing live or DJing. Running a label isn’t a piece of
piss, but it’s greatly enjoyable. There are so many different
parts to the job and you’re doing something different every day,
because you’re always dealing with different artists and each
one has different personalities and challenges.”
And the feedback?
“Everyone liked parts of it. Everyone liked the melodies but not
the rhythms.”
The future of Planet Mu certainly looks set to be as busy
and interesting as ever, with the recent second album from
footwork pioneer RP Boo and a new Venetian Snares longplayer in the works, which Paradinas says is being crafted using
modular synths. He talks about how analogue synths seem to
continually rotate back into vogue, something that’s happened
numerous times in the two decades that Planet Mu has been in
“Some people really enjoy the process of using that sort of
equipment,” he says. “If I had the opportunity, I probably would
as well. If I spent all my time working as a musician, then I
probably would have a bit more equipment. But I have very
little time when I make music and I find that using Logic and
a laptop allows me to maximise it. I really just enjoy having
everything in one place so I can quickly get my ideas out and
make music.”
For someone with a workload as heavy as Mike Paradinas, the
clock is always against them. And as if to prove the point,
Paradinas announces that he has to go. “Time is money,” he
says as he departs, reinforcing his credentials as a hard-working
label boss.
A 20th anniversary Planet Mu compilation, ‘μ20 (20 Years Of
Planet Mu)’, a triple CD box set of unreleased tracks with a
100-page book on the history of the label, will be released in
JUNE 1996
From 1995 to 1997, Planet Mu operated
as a subsidiary imprint of Virgin Records.
Essentially, it was a home for records by
μ-Ziq, Mike Paradinas’ most well known
alias. ‘In Pine Effect’ was the third μ-Ziq
album and the name of the game (of
course) is experimental electronica – raw
and distorted drum tracks with sticky
analogue melodies that oscillate between
haunting and playful. For the first few
years of its life, the Planet Mu sound was
simply the Paradinas sound.
Ace collaboration between Paradinas and
Richard D James. Not strictly a Planet Mu
release, but one that is difficult to miss
off this list. Unconfirmed, but the album
was allegedly cranked out over three
days on a diet of strong hallucinogens.
The wacky cover art is a good indicator
of the contents – two friends mucking
about and producing a cheesy lounge
music album for acid freaks, all jazzy
breaks and slowed down techno. The
most purely fun record either producer
has put their name to.
The compilation that ultimately led to
the formation of Planet Mu as we know
it today. Drum ’n’ bass is the guiding
theme, but the producers gathered
here use it as a jumping off point for
their own uniquely distorted visions.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the suits at Virgin
didn’t have a clue how to market it and
Paradinas made the decision to strike out
on his own.
To mark two decades of the
incomparable Planet Mu label, we
revisit the best releases from each
of their 20 years in business
JUNE 1998
APRIL 2000
MAY 1999
ZIQ001. The first independent Planet
Mu release and a damn good EP at that.
‘Pitbull’ is the best thing here – it can’t
make up its mind whether it wants to
be blunted hip hop or white knuckle
breakcore – but the other three tracks
do a lovely job of shuttling between drill
’n’ bass, skewed electro, and plaintive
Paradinas at the reins yet again. For a
good while, this was the highest selling
Planet Mu album. There’s a real funky
twist to many of these tracks and some
particularly pretty melodies, but more
importantly a sense of intensity and a
cohesion that lifts ‘Full Sunken Breaks’
above many of his other fine releases.
A surfeit of ideas works to the album’s
advantage – you’ve barely got your head
round one section before another bend
Another of Mike Paradinas’ many
production aliases, the Tusken Raiders
records saw him casting an eye towards
the dancefloor. The third and final
Raiders release before George Lucas’
lawyers got involved was the best of the
lot, offering two tear-out club tracks with
zero concessions to subtlety. Wobbly acid
basslines and a relentless jungle beat
make a strong case for the pairing of
drum ’n’ bass with electro.
JUNE 2001
MAY 2002
JULY 2003
Tetlow’s ‘Beauty Walks A Razor’s Edge’
album from the same year also comes
highly recommended, but this twotracker sums up the Planet Mu dichotomy
perfectly. ‘Cyrenic’ is a sparse, drifting
tune with a heavy-hearted piano line,
while ’And God Created Manchester’
possesses an equally beautiful melody
(this one a syrupy new age job) that’s
almost drowned out by thrashing
percussion. Very different on the surface
but with a surprising amount of common
ground – just how Paradinas treats his
label roster.
After Paradinas, Aaron Funk is the artist
most closely associated with Planet Mu.
Honestly, it wouldn’t have been too hard
to fill this whole list with Venetian Snares
records because Funk releases material
at a phenomenal rate, almost all of it
worth checking for. ‘Higgins’ stands out
for its range, mixing frenzied drill ’n’ bass
with a plethora of styles. It’s not an easy
listen, but it’s worth trying to unscramble
these 10 signals and there’s beauty
amidst the noise.
One of the most immediately striking
Planet Mu albums – and that’s really
saying something. It was conceived by
producer John Burton as an escape from
the outside world during a period of
serious agoraphobia following a violent
attack. Burton’s love of pure sound and
control of his palette is phenomenal. The
album jumps between genres, as glitchy
sketches nestle up against electro-folk
pop songs, but for such a seemingly
cluttered work, nothing feels accidental
or out of place.
JULY 2005
MARCH 2006
The recipe for ‘Full English Breakfest’?
Ludicrously fast breakbeats plus tough
ragga vocals plus hilariously incongruous
samples. No compromises. Children’s TV
themes sidling up next to Rage Against
The Machine. Happy hardcore for the
digital generation. This album is just such
a joy from start to finish, a riotous mess
of musical and pop culture references
underpinned by a devout belief in the
power of the Amen break.
A difficult pick, this. Virus Syndicate
and Venetian Snares both released
albums that would have been easy to
highlight. But ‘Degenerate’ is a modern
classic and it also signposts Planet Mu’s
emphasis for the next few years. Simply
put, Vex’d do dubstep better than most.
Sharper basslines, harder drums, and a
harshness drawn from dark industrial
records. Repeat listens strip away little
of the shock factor. It’s brutal without
being cartoonish and able to wreck a
dancefloor while folding in influences
that few dubstep producers were working
with at the time.
Widely acknowledged as one of the
greatest dubstep tracks ever released.
Strikingly brave in its simplicity, the
melody is barely there but so, so
affecting. The space feels like it extends
forever, like flailing around in a pitchblack room where the walls keep moving
further away. ‘Qawwali’ references a
style of South Asian devotional singing,
but you don’t need to know anything
about the Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sample
to let this one hit you. Just meditate on
the bass weight.
Slightly odd choice perhaps, but a
personal favourite. By this point,
dubstep’s borders had grown far beyond
Croydon. Parson found the sweet spot
between UK bass music and the chopped
and screwed hip hop of his native Texas.
The sample – Rich Boy’s ‘Throw Some
D’s’, a huge anthem from the previous
summer – is pitched down and slowed
to within an inch of its life. The result is
top class, proving that sometimes all you
need is one great idea and the skill to
execute it properly.
A focused and thorough exploration
of the fertile territory that lies at the
intersection of dubstep and industrial.
Not dissimilar to the sort of ground
that Vex’d were covering, but with the
aggression dialled down in favour of a
pervasive darkness. Some have written
about a doom metal influence – and
that certainly comes through in the
heavy distortion and sludgy bass riffs.
An underrated album that deserves
recognition as one of the best dubstep
While Planet Mu’s emphasis has always
been on boundary-pushing electronics,
they also do a neat line in retrospectives.
‘Gremlinz’ is a look back at half a decade
of grime, a time capsule that remains
fresh to this day. It’s evident why Terror
Danjah was singled out for this treatment
– his instrumentals sound just as good
without MCs, giving us a new context
in which to appreciate his programming
chops and funky purple synths (a clear
influence on Joker and the rest of the
Bristol scene).
JULY 2011
JUNE 2012
The first half of 2010 saw Planet Mu
releases from the likes of DJ Nate and
the late DJ Rashad, but this seminal
compilation made everyone sit up and
pay attention. For the next couple
of years, footwork dominated the
conversation, largely for its offbeat
drums and bold approach to sampling,
and Planet Mu were the label that helped
break it outside of Chicago. As a primer
for the genre, this collection is pretty
much unbeatable and gets to the heart
of footwork’s duality – simultaneously
avant-garde pop and fuel for high-octane
dance battles.
‘Bangs & Works’ opened the floodgates:
Planet Mu kept releasing great Chicago
stuff, but now others wanted in on the
action. From Addison Groove to Kuedo,
producers became entranced by the
rhythms of footwork. Machinedrum,
aka Travis Stewart, proved he was
no dilettante with this hypnotic fulllength, which combined the energy of
footwork with soft synth pads, ambient
textures, and wobbling post-dubstep
bass – essentially, a completely different
sound palette. Cut-up vocal samples still
abound, recalling Burial and giving the
album its heart.
Would you believe Kuedo used to
be one half of Vex’d? Not on this
evidence, which is a world away from
the aggression of that project. Kuedo’s
‘Severant’ album from 2011 is essential
listening by any standards, but this
dancefloor single from the same sessions
is just as good. The influence of Vangelis
looms large, with ‘Blade Runner’ synths
giving the track its main emphasis. This
is no mere retro rehash, however. The
drum patterns take this track to the next
level, shifting from footwork to jungle to
trap. It still sounds like the future.
MARCH 2013
‘Love & Devotion’ may look like an
outsider on this list, but Planet Mu have
never been afraid of electronic pop. This
collaboration between Mike Paradinas
and his wife Lara Rix-Martin shows the
couple as experts in classic romantic pop
refracted through the lens of modern
dance music. The album heavily features
the vocals of the late Nick Talbot, aka
Gravenhurst. Talbot was a master of
pairing romance and darkness, and
here his lyrics lean towards the related
concepts of death and memory, a perfect
foil for the dreamy melodies surrounding
his voice.
A cursory glance at the last few years
reveals the diversity of the Planet Mu
roster. They continue to build on their
rich history while adding new facets all
the time. Paradinas is highly skilled at
spotting artists who transcend their scene
– and Mr Mitch is no exception. ‘Parallel
Memories’ is grime hollowed out,
inverted and pared down until nothing
is left but a skeleton of cold synths. We
may be celebrating 20 years of Planet
Mu, but Paradinas shows no signs of
getting too comfortable.
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Last month, KRAFTWERK played ‘Tour De France’ live at the opening
stage of the world’s most famous cycle race – the first time they’ve done
so in the 30 years since the track was recorded. As their legion of fans find
themselves asking about almost everything the band do, “What took them
so flipping long?”
Pictures: CHRIS P KING
As a concept, Kraftwerk performing their ‘Tour De France Soundtracks’ album
in its entirety at the opening stage of the Tour de France itself sounds so
mind-bogglingly obvious you wonder why it’s taken them so long to do it.
Ralf Hütter and his associates played Manchester’s Velodrome back in 2009,
but amazingly this is the first time that Kraftwerk have made an official
live appearance at the world’s premier pro cycling event. Tonight, they will
perform one of their 3-D audio-visual extravaganzas as part of the Tour’s
Grand Départ celebrations at Utrecht’s Tivoli Vredenburg, the Dutch city’s
new, five-storied, angular wedge of a concert hall. The only thing that could
make it more conceptually perfect was if they’d managed to get the race to
start on their home turf of Düsseldorf instead of here in the Netherlands.
Like most things in Kraftwerk lore, the three-decade journey to get here has
been as arduous as the climb up Mont Ventoux. The song ‘Tour De France’,
which was originally intended for inclusion on the abandoned ‘Techno Pop’
album, has long served as an unofficial jingle to the famous cycle race. It
pays a serene tribute to the event’s legendary highs and lows – enduring
a flat tyre, regrouping with your peloton mates, finishing on the ChampsÉlysées – and marked something of a departure from the group’s previous
harder edged work, with its funky slap-bass and dreamy vibraphone scales,
augmented by sampling the percussive rasp of Florian Schneider’s bike chain.
Some 20 years later, in 2003, in another of the band’s bewilderingly
protracted manoeuvres, the ‘Tour De France Soundtracks’ album was
released to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Tour. Due to their extreme
perfectionism, however, it didn’t reach the shelves until weeks after the race
itself had wrapped.
As a record, ‘Tour De France Soundtracks’ is perhaps best approached
as precisely that, a suitably hypnotic soundtrack to an intensive cycling
workout rather than a compelling body of original material. When it was
released, after a 17-year hiatus in the Kraftwerk catalogue, a measure of
disappointment seemed inevitable. In the interim, the acid house revolution
had happened and dance music had promptly exploded and splintered into
hundreds of different sub-genres, many of which were quickly absorbed
into the mainstream. As a result, ‘Tour De France
Soundtracks’ sometimes sounds more like a diluted byproduct of the band’s own inspiration than the original
source from which so many burbling electro delights first
On the one hand, the title track is one of the most
perfectly realised pop songs Kraftwerk ever produced
(and their biggest UK hit since ‘The Model’, charting
twice). On the other, it’s a precursor of things to come –
Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider’s mounting obsession
with the saddle over the studio. According to Wolfgang
Flür’s lively memoir, ‘I Was A Robot’, their passion for
the sport over-rode their passion for music, slowing the
creative momentum and causing an irredeemable rift in
the group’s classic line-up.
Ralf and Florian took up serious cycling in 1978, but their
obsession piqued after the ‘Computer World’ tour of 1981.
The pair would take the night shift at their Kling Klang
studio, abandoning it by day to embark on epic workouts,
cycling up to 200km a day, and even jumping off the
tour bus early so they could complete the journey to a
venue by bike. Wolfgang Flür recalls them drooling over
cycling equipment catalogues in the studio and recounts
how they would commission specially tailored cycling
suits. He says they treated bicycle tyres with the sort of
reverence normally reserved for vintage wines, fussing
over their precise storage conditions.
For Ralf, cycling and music are perfect bedfellows.
“Cycling is like music,” he told The Guardian’s John Harris
in 2009. “It is always forward. It is free, it is outside, it
is the weather, it is the planet, it is energy. Cycling has
parallels with certain aspects of music.” Even a major
accident while crossing a dam on the Rhine in 1983
did little to dampen his ardour for the sport. Despite
fracturing his skull and ending up in a coma, Ralf was
keen to play down the impact: “It didn’t affect me,” he
told Harris. “I got a new head and I’m fine… I just forgot
my helmet and I was in hospital for three or four days.”
Ralf’s cycling regime is said to be a little calmer these
days. He apparently still manages to clock up “a couple
of thousand kilometres a year”, though.
It’s fair to say that Kraftwerk have coasted some in
the last few decades, gliding downhill with their hands
behind their heads. We have grown accustomed to glacial
intervals between albums, but at least they have stepped
up their performance profile in recent years, graduating
from occasional festival appearances to full tours. For UK
fans, this culminated in the frenzy that was their 2013
Tate Gallery residency playing Der Katalog, each of their
eight classic studio albums presented in full, which sold
out faster than a pumped up Lance Armstrong taking the
downhill stretch of La Mongie.
On the broiling streets of Utrecht, however, there’s not
much evidence of Kraftwerk mania, mainly because
today the city is as obsessed with competitive cycling
as Team Hütter is. Utrecht has been transformed for
le Grand Départ – from a smaller, more serene version
of nearby Amsterdam to something akin to Rio on the
There are thousands of cycling fans lining the race route,
some getting stuck into boozy makeshift picnics, others
scaling lamp posts, fences and poster towers for prime
views. A caravan of vehicles bizarrely shaped like giant
McCain oven chips and Vittel water bottles zip past at
breakneck speeds, flinging out promotional merchandise
and water cannoning the grateful crowd. Every shop in
the city sports some sort of two-wheeled window display
and even the dog statue in the Lepelenburg Park is
wrapped in a yellow jersey.
Inside the Tivoli Vredenburg, of course, it’s a very
different story. Hilde and Jan have travelled from
Brussels, driving here straight after work. “I really hope
they play ‘Autobahn’ tonight – all 26 minutes of it,” says
Hilde. “I expect we’ll hear ‘Tour De France’ too,” adds
Jan. “Well, there may be a small riot if we don’t!” Greg
from Canada has been a fan since ‘The Man-Machine’,
but he didn’t realise the Tour de France charabanc was
in town until he arrived. I ask him why Kraftwerk and
cycling seem so entwined. “I think it’s the ultimate
synergy of man and machine moving forward in constant
motion,” he replies.
There is no support act and the red curtain rises at 8pm
sharp, revealing our robot rulers already in place behind
their neon-trimmed consoles. There’s no time for even a
cursory wave to the crowd as the speakers begin to belch
out a repeated pattern of distorted, excitably escalated
words – “eins, zwei, drei” – before that colossal beat
bounces into play.
Choosing ‘Numbers’ to open tonight’s set demonstrates
Ralf Hütter’s confidence in the Kraftwerk legacy.
The screen visuals stick with a flickering stream of
huge, calculator green, dot matrix numerals, but you
can practically see the light bulb pinging over Afrika
Bambaataa’s head at a South Bronx block party far,
far away in both place and time. ‘Numbers’ segues
effortlessly into a beefed up, dark and sinister incarnation
of ‘Computer World’, with its prophesy of shadowy
governmental and uber-corporations who “control the
data memory”.
While it is hard to see exactly what the band are doing
behind their identical consoles, their tunnel vision
expressions speak volumes and there are a few moments
when their improvisational roots – don’t forget that Ralf
and Florian first met on an improvised music course at
Düsseldorf ’s Conservatory – become evident in subtle
ways. Ralf looks impressively trim, if not quite perfectly
at ease in his black lycra ‘Tron’ bodysuit. At times, he
seems to resemble an older version of Future Islands’
Samuel T Herring, furrowing his brow at the young
whippersnapper’s more animated stage smarts. The rest
of the group are decked out identically, of course. You
don’t notice them much, but I think that’s the point.
Something that rarely gets explored in discussions
of Kraftwerk’s music is the pervasive sense of
melancholy many of their best tracks are steeped in.
Where ‘Computer Love’ has always sounded sweet
and optimistic on record, tonight it comes across as
heartbreakingly lonely, especially since a seemingly rather
vulnerable Ralf effectively serenades a young, handsome
vision of himself on the video screen. This genuinely
causes me to well up for a moment, not a reaction I ever
envisaged having at a Kraftwerk gig.
I occasionally forget that this is a 3-D concert and
abandon my glasses, keen to remove an unnecessary
barrier between myself and the band. They feel
surprisingly accessible in this well-designed venue. But
there’s no doubt the 3-D elements enhance certain
tracks, particularly ‘Autobahn’, which is animated
by a charming stop-motion cardboard cut-out style
visualisation, putting you behind the wheel of a cartoon
vintage VW.
After ‘Autobahn’ comes the first big surprise of the
evening. The 1990 reboot of ‘Radioactivity’ for ‘The Mix’
album saw the track undergo a drastic modernisation.
Once a naïve bit of wordplay, it’s now inconceivable
to hear it without the bellowing round of “Chernobyl,
Harrisburg and Hiroshima” that prefaces it, tipping the
song’s meaning into unambiguous environmentally
conscious territory. By 2015, “Hiroshima” has been
replaced by “Fukushima” and several verses tonight are
dispatched in Japanese, complete with projections of the
lyrics in Kanji.
Finally, a mere eight tracks in, we get to the ‘Tour De
France Soundtracks’ set, starting with a sampling of the
re-engineered ‘Tour De France’ suite. The vast majority
of the robo-vocals emanate from the electronics tonight,
but when Ralf takes to the mic himself to deliver the
laboured rhythmic exhalations that punctuate ‘Tour De
France’ itself, it’s a genuinely startling moment. This
seems to foreshadow the quirky ‘Elektro Kardiogramm’,
which comes a little later, with a cruel irony. Surely a
man of Ralf’s age is all too familiar with this particular
medical process, intense fitness regime notwithstanding.
‘Vitamin’, one of the more distinctive tracks from ‘Tour
De France Soundtracks’, sounds like a worried Pacman
ghost rattling about an abandoned washing machine
factory and we’re treated to a vivid stream of images, as
hundreds of multi-coloured tablets slowly cascade from
the rafters. A sly nod to our straight-laced übermensch’s
role in fostering house music and its attendant
associations with pharmaceuticals, perhaps? ‘Chrono’
meanwhile chugs by with all the excitement of a wet
weekend circling the Redditch ring road and ‘La Forme’
is a similarly punishing uphill slog, what with its sluggish
iteration of cycling-related words ending in “-tion”. It’s
certainly more expiration than inspiration.
It does serve to lay the track for one of the highlights
of the evening, though. The arrival of ‘Space Lab’ from
‘The Man-Machine’ truly is one of those pure stardust
moments of pristine, precision tooled magic. And as if
hearing the delicate, simmering modulations and plaintive
whistled melody were not enough, the screens show
pictures of the Tivoli Vredenburg’s Connect Four-like
circle clad exterior being eclipsed by a giant UFO.
Somehow I was expecting to hear the ‘Tour De France
Soundtracks’ album in sequence, with maybe a
smattering of crowd pleasers towards the end, but instead
Ralf wisely elects to bookend this central part of the set
with a bounty of perfect bound classics. By the time the
irresistibly jaunty chords of ‘The Model’ spring to life, the
previously circumspect audience spontaneously breaks
into a rhythmic clap and sing-along. The band pedal
through the fearsome beast that is ‘The Man-Machine’
before tunnelling into an urgent ‘Trans Europe Express’
and ‘Metal On Metal’, the brakes screeching to such a
deafening halt that you half expect the nose cone of an
ICE engine to rip through the backcloth and plough across
the stage.
With no waiting for that tiresome audience ego stroke,
the legendary Kraftwerk robots rise up for the encore.
An opening sequence of alarms, doops and mechanical
sproingles stutter to life to reveal the four Dusseldroids
in position. They do their disarming balletic thing, arms
aloft, imploring the audience to, well, do what
exactly? Join their ranks and take them for a waltz
around the auditorium? In fact, they move more than
their human counterparts. I swear I see Ralf Robot
nodding his head in time to the metronome march at
one point.
Soon after, their masters regroup behind their
terminals for a second encore, this time in greenlit bodysuits. Lady Gaga eat your meat-clad heart
out! They revisit ‘Tour De France Soundtracks’ with
‘Aerodynamik’ snaking its way in. Despite its chic
Francophonic chevrons, it still comes across like the
functional strain of trade fair stand muzak that you
might hear at Munich’s BMW Welt.
The night’s only new discovery for me is the
interstellar exploration vehicle that is ‘Planet Of
Visions’ from the ‘Minimum-Maximum’ live album.
Part of me takes a mischievous thrill in mishearing
the lyrics as “Detroit, Germany, we’re still the best”
like some playful boast reminding their progeny
who the Euro electro-daddies are, but the words are
actually the more inclusive “Detroit, Germany, we’re
so electric”. But let’s be honest here, the “newer”
tracks are mere practice laps for the unstoppable
juggernaut of closing behemoths – the triple whammy
of ‘Boing Boom Tschak’, ‘Techno Pop’ and ‘Musique
Non Stop’.
As the seismic girder blasts of the latter pummel
their way to a conclusion, the band members exit
the stage individually, each giving a modest bow,
leaving Ralf Hütter to issue a simple “Goodnight,
guten abend, geodenacht”. Save for that, there is
no glimmer of audience interaction whatsoever,
but somehow this makes sense. Anything more
exuberant would feel as creepy as their robots turning
sentient and chatting to fans in the post-gig crush.
While the closing triptych gets into its flow, the
visuals turn to intricate wire-frame CGIs of the music
workers communing with their consoles, faithfully
mirroring the stage reality and that of the audience’s
lives too no doubt, and Kraftwerk seem more
prescient than ever. It may have taken over 30 years
of time trials and endurance training, but tonight was
a barnstorming breakaway to brag about.
Kraftwerk will be taking their 3-D
show to Canada and the US in
September and October, returning
to Europe to play concerts in France
and Germany in November. A new
Kraftwerk album is expected... oh,
never mind
GWENNO hasn’t simply crafted a fantastic electropop album, one of the best you’ll hear all year.
She’s crafted a fantastic electro-pop album on which
every track is sung in Welsh
(apart from the one that’s in Cornish)
“We’d just moved back to Wales and had this epiphany
of wanting to make an exciting Welsh language
pop record,” says Gwenno Saunders, describing the
moment that it dawned on her and her producer
husband Rhys Edwards that they should make an
electro-pop album sung entirely in the Welsh language.
“It really was that simple.”
Wales has produced a lot of notable rock music
since the 1990s explosion of Manic Street Preachers,
Catatonia and Welsh language proselytisers Super
Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. But what
about pop? And electronic pop at that, supremely
melodic with an avant-garde, experimental taint?
I must admit that the last place I'd expect this sort
of stuff to surface was Wales. But Gwenno is here to
put me right. Apparently there’s a profusion of great
electro-pop coming out of Wales, much of which she
plays on her weekly Radio Cardiff show, ‘Cam O’r
Tywyllwch’ (’A Step Away From The Darkness’).
Gwenno’s debut album, ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ (‘The Last
Day’), sits at the pinnacle of this new movement.
It’s a strikingly sonorous record gilded with her
breathy, textured voice – think frosted glass – and the
tantalising curlicued vowels and seemingly obdurate
consonants of the gloriously idiosyncratic Welsh
language. Listening to it, I’m almost positing her as the
Welsh equivalent of a chic French chanteuse, the grain
of her voice (as Roland Barthes would have had it)
as cool and aerated as the soothing chic of Francoise
Hardy, Brigitte Bardot or Charlotte Gainsbourg.
The sound of these delicious linguistic ululations floats
over a backdrop that is pure retro futurism – bright
and gleaming and optimistic, yet with the fizz and
crackle of analogue synths. It’s no surprise that the
album’s influences include krautrock and Kraftwerk,
Broadcast, Joe Meek’s ‘I Hear A New World’ album,
and the early electronic pioneers Daphne Oram and
Delia Derbyshire. There are also hints of library music,
public information films of the 60s and 70s, and Ghost
Box Records, the cult imprint whose co-founder Jim
Jupp “is from Newport, South Wales”, as Gwenno
informs me.
So how did she and Rhys create this pristine electronic
sound with something of a sepia tint to it? Banks of
old and rare keyboards in the studio?
“We were trying to make this record with the little
we had,” explains Gwenno with a sigh. “We’ve got a
home studio, which is fantastic, but we don’t have
any old synths, so we spent hours and hours on the
computer, treating the samples we had and turning
them into something else. I can laugh about it now,
but we had this broken laptop, and the screen would
flick on and off all the time. You couldn’t play a track
all the way through. It was infuriating. A lot of it was
just down to patience. We were sat there for hours
and hours.”
She perks up as we begin talking about other Welsh
language artists. Malcolm Neon, a one-man post-punk
electronic project from Cardigan, is one of her more
recent discoveries. In the 1980s, he put out tracks on
his own Casetiau Neon label and later also on Fflach,
the respected Welsh new wave imprint. Most of his
music was only ever available on cassette.
“He looked like David Bowie and sounded like early
Human League,” says Gwenno. “I’ve actually covered
one of his tracks and we’re going to put it on the
"I think the in
highlights a l
that society is
bonus vinyl version of the album. It’s called ‘Nefoedd’,
which means ‘Heavenly’, and that’s interesting
because I am with Heavenly Records. I have to say
I was quite excited about covering a Malcolm Neon
The other Welsh electronic outfit she enthuses about,
Llwybr Llaethog, also started out in the 80s. Hailing
from Blaenau Festiniog in the mists of Snowdonia,
they're still around today, mixing electronica, dub,
punk and hip hop with left-wing political rhetoric.
The late John Peel was a big fan.
“They’ve been making futuristic dub sounds for 30
years and they do a lot of experimenting as well,”
says Gwenno. “They met at school in Blaenau, then
they moved to London together. When I was growing
up, they were one of the bands that made me prick
my ears up. They sounded inner city, which is not
what you expect from a Welsh language band. They
were certainly unique in that sense.”
Equally unique is the concept of Gwenno’s coruscating
debut album. The record is based around the 1976
dystopian sci-fi novel ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ by Welsh
language author and poet Owain Owain, which tells
the story of a bleak future where robots have taken
over the world and are turning all the humans into
clones by forcing them to take medication. Gwenno
discovered the novel through reading the now defunct
Babylon Wales blog.
“I think it was part of the Ghost Box blogging
scene,” she says. “They were these blogs all about
rediscovering old things, things that had been
forgotten in culture, and this particular one was
focused on Wales.”
When Babylon Wales blogger Anthony Brockway
uploaded the book cover of ‘Y Dydd Olaf’, it struck
a chord with Gwenno and she went to find it in her
local library.
“I’d been thinking a lot about dystopian futures and
getting into that kind of fiction for quite a while,”
she notes. “I’d been reading the standard stuff like
Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ and Owain Owain was
inspired by those kinds of books as well. When I read
‘Y Dydd Olaf’, I was like, ‘Oh, this was exactly what I
was looking for’.”
But Owain Owain wasn’t just known for his
pioneering use of the Welsh language in novels. It
seems he was ahead of his time in another way too.
“He actually predicted the internet revolution,” reveals
Gwenno. “He wrote a piece for a weekly Welsh
newspaper called Y Cymro [The Welshman] in which
he said that schools in the future would get all their
information from a computer and would then discuss
the ideas they found.”
The opening track of Gwenno’s album, ‘Chwyldro’
(‘Revolution’) is a celebration of radical and dramatic
changes – from the industrial revolution to the
French Revolution to the recent Welsh language
nternet really
ot Of the ways
s patriarchal"
revolution. She talks about Saunders Lewis and his
famous 1962 radio lecture, ‘Tynged Yr Iaith’ (‘Fate Of
The Language’), which was part of the BBC’s regional
output and referred to the crisis in the Welsh language
at the time. “It is only through revolutionary methods
that you can succeed,” declared Lewis and this was
the spark for the Welsh language movement that is
the basis for today’s Welsh language pop culture.
“Revolution is a loaded word, isn’t it?” offers Gwenno.
“A lot of the thinking for ‘Chwyldro’ came about from
walking around Cardiff. The city has lots of buildings
that are getting knocked down. The council and the
developers have been obsessed with creating new
office blocks, but they’re all generally quite empty
because nobody wants to be in them. At the same
time, I was also thinking about how so much of our
lives are on computer now, so it’s also about the
technological revolution.”
The result is a compelling call to arms. And with a
track like that opening her album, I can’t help but
wonder if she’s a bit of a leftie.
“Oh God, yes!” she answers forcefully. “With the
parents I have, there’s not a chance I’d be otherwise.
There has always been a very strong tradition of left
wing politics in South Wales – well, throughout Wales
really, but particularly in the industrial areas of the
country. When you come from a less economically
advantaged place, I think you’re more aware of
injustices and the need for changes.”
She’s on a roll now, so we talk about ‘Patriarchaeth’
(Patriarchy), a track that has Gwenno expounding
feminist ideology. “Patriarchaeth a dy enaid di tan
warchae,” she sings (“Patriarchy and your soul is under
siege”). I tell her I’m impressed that there is a word
for patriarchy in Welsh, indicating that the language is
adapting to the politics of modern times.
“You know, I think I’ve become more conscious of
sexism the older I’ve gotten,” notes Gwenno. “But I
also think the internet really highlights a lot of the
ways that society is patriarchal.”
With that, our conversation turns to whether Wales
has a particular problem with reactionary gender
roles. I ask her if this might be down to conservative
working class culture in the south and the historic
influence of the chapel.
“Yeah, there are a lot of traditionalists,” she says. “But
then if you think about the miners’ strike, for example,
that was a time when the women took charge of
running things in the community. And actually, I
do think it’s a global issue. Look at the reaction
to someone like Charlotte Church just opening her
mouth and having a really valid opinion. The knockdowns you get if you’re female is horrendous.”
Like Charlotte Church, Gwenno grew up in Cardiff in
the 1980s (she is 34 years old). Her parents are now
both translators, but when she was a child her father
worked for the BBC and her mother was a college
"we were never
going to be K aty
Perry. And I had all
these alternative
ideas any way"
“I grew up in Riverside, which was predominantly
a Somali and Bangladeshi area, so everyone was
different to us and that was great,” she says. “We
lived in a flat with lots of books around, but it was
also quite dark. I remember Cardiff at that time being
very, very grey and very, very empty. People were
leaving Cardiff until the early 90s.”
As a child, her mother spoke Welsh but father spoke
Cornish, so Gwenno is trilingual. In fact, the last song
on ‘Y Dydd Olaf’, ‘Amser’, is sung in Cornish. The word
means time and I note that it is the same word in
“There are huge similarities between Welsh and
Cornish,” explains Gwenno. “Welsh and Cornish are
from the same group of languages, they’re both Celtic,
and so is Breton
as well. So because I can speak Cornish, I can read
Breton road signs.”
There’s just enough time to speak about Gwenno’s
love of pop music. She is a former member of The
Pipettes, an indie pop band based in Brighton who
were signed to a major label. But listening to The
Pipettes’ music, I don’t think the group’s melodies
were as strong as those on ‘Y Dydd Olaf’.
“We were always a bit at odds with being on a major,”
says Gwenno. “But, you know, we were never going
to be Katy Perry. And I had all these alternative ideas
So what does she think of the current commercial pop
scene, as epitomised by the Radio 1 playlist?
“I actually quite enjoy listening to Radio 1,” she laughs.
“I think there’s a real dystopian feel to it. The songs
that get played on Radio 1 are all about love, ‘I want
you’ and ‘I need you’ and all this, but they sound like
robots. If you created a robot and you wanted it to
be emotional, that’s what it would be like. There’s
an emptiness to the music. In the ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ book,
everyone goes to a place called the House of the
Sunset, which is where they get cloned, and I imagine
if you were allowed to have a disco before that
happened, this would be the music you’d hear.”
With that in mind, does Radio 1 even matter any
more? After all, they’re almost certainly never going to
play the kind of brave and brilliant leftfield pop music
you will find on Gwenno’s ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ album.
“Things are so scattered now that I think you can
ignore the charts, even if you’re an 11-year-old,” she
says. “It’s just not so important in our lives any more.
It doesn’t represent the mass of people like it once
Instead, there are new discoveries to be made, like
Gwenno’s fabulously vivid retro futuristic pop tones.
Diolch yn fawr – thanks be – for that.
‘Y Dydd Olaf’ is out now on Heavenly
San Francisco, 1977. The punk explosion is peaking and UNITS are at the
forefront of the vibrant and dramatic American West Coast scene. But
these guys use synths not guitars. Throw in some weird and wonderful
performance art concepts and you’ve got one of the most unique electronic
bands ever. Units mainman Scott Ryser tells the tale
“I didn’t want a doctorate in electronic doodling.
I wanted a synth band that kicked ass!”
So says Scott Ryser, founder and mainstay of
American synthpunk trailblazers Units. The band,
who formed in San Francisco in 1977 and whose
other core members included Rachel Webber, Tim
Ennis and Brad Saunders, are perhaps best known for
their ‘Digital Simulation’ album, originally released in
1980 and now given a long-overdue reissue on the
Futurismo label.
Contemporaries of Devo, Suicide, Chrome and The
Screamers, and with a career running concurrent with
the synthpop explosion in the UK, even today Units’
music is as immediate and shocking as a two-bar
heater falling in a bathtub. They were way ahead
of their time, so it’s perhaps not surprising that their
application of punk principles using electronics rather
than guitars defies easy comparisons. There’s certainly
little across the field of contemporary electronica that
quite matches their serrated, confrontational style.
Arising from the world of performance art, they
were a punk band in the true sense of the word,
determined to break down the barriers between
performer and performed-to, sitting comfortably
alongside the likes of the Dead Kennedys as well
as Gary Numan. Artistically purposeful rather than
commercially opportunistic, they looked on as
the anger of punk slowly dissipated, co-opted and
codified by the record industry, and synth music
gradually became ubiquitous. Units were done by
1984, but in the 30-odd years since then they have
become legends and touchstones, revered and
remixed by the likes of Health, Erol Alkan and Todd
To mark the reissue of ‘Digital Stimulation’, we asked
Scott Ryser to tell us the Units story – and he does
so with remarkable eloquence, great enthusiasm and
very little prompting…
“I was sick of the endless repetition of the
guitar boy band formula. Guitar boy bands
had been the norm for over 25 years when we
started Units. And that was in 1977! So guitars
had become a negative symbol to me. They
represented ‘socially acceptable’ dissent for
young people.
“McCulture condoned rebelliousness with a great
marketing track record. As long as you held
a guitar and jumped around like an ape, you
could spout anti-Establishment poems while
selling tons of hamburgers, beer and T-shirts to
the Establishment. Somehow big business had
taken Woody Guthrie’s guitar from 1943, the
one on which he had written, ‘This machine
kills fascists’, and turned it into a symbol of sex,
fashion and entertainment.
“I wanted a synthesiser band, but I didn’t want a
Kraftwerk-type elevator music band. I wanted
a punk synthesiser band. And one of the crucial
elements of setting out to create a ‘synthpunk’
band wasn’t just the synths and the time and
place... It was also to create something that in
some way challenged preconceived notions of
the audience and performer relationship, and
preconceived ideas of what pop music and
performance should sound and look like.
“I wanted Units to be artsy, yet against the
formal institution of the museum and art world
acceptability at the time. Remember, we were
in a DIY scene, but not DIY after you have been
trained in an institution how to DIY. That’s
why the synthpunk bands fitted in so well with
the performance art scene in SF at the time.
Because in the mid and late 70s, performance
art was challenging preconceived notions of
institutional art.”
“Units started life in San Francisco in 1977 and
at that point we were a performance art group
organised by my pal Tim Ennis. We incorporated
music, dance, sound effects, film, poetry, and
signs with slogans on them that moved across
the room on motorised wires. Our pieces
included props like hot air balloons made from
garbage bags that we kept aloft with hair dryers.
At that time, we called ourselves the Normalcy
Roulette School of Performance.
“One of the members of our group, Ron Lance,
was stage manager at the Mabuhay Gardens, a
Filipino bar and restaurant on Broadway that had
started putting on punk rock shows. When we
went down there, we were blown away. Some of
these artists, great new bands like Devo and The
Screamers, were doing shows that were similar
to what our performance group was doing. Only
they were calling themselves ‘bands’ and they
had a place to perform! It was really a no-brainer
after that. We changed our name to Units and
started calling ourselves a band instead of a
performance group... and all of a sudden we had
shows up the ass.
“The ‘windows’ performance was in January
1979, when Rachel Webber included Units in a
show in the display windows of the JC Penneys
store in San Francisco. Rachel was going to the
SF Art Institute at the time and she and some of
her friends there collaborated on the installation.
She had painted the windows black, and then
proceeded to scrape the paint away from
the inside, slowly exposing Units playing our
synthesisers while a bunch of punks in bathing
suits danced in a mock beach party. Because of
all the television, radio and newspaper attention
it generated, I consider that event to be the
beginning of the relative success that followed.”
“The San Francisco art scene definitely had
more of an effect on the idea of Units than
any other contemporary music act. My musical
influences were from synthesiser players like
Walter Carlos, who later became Wendy Carlos.
In fact, there was a large group of pioneering
synthesiser players in the Bay Area at the time
who influenced me.
“It’s interesting that at the same time the
synthpunk thing was happening in SF, you had
The League Of Automatic Music Composers
working on experimental electronic music across
the Bay at Mills College in Oakland. There was
also an American experimental music tradition,
as represented by fellow Californians John
Cage, Henry Cowell and Terry Riley, among
others. Terry Riley studied at San Francisco State
University, which was the university I went to.”
“It was actually really hard to buy our
synthesisers and our other equipment.
They were very expensive and we were
a bunch of poor kids. I bought the first
Minimoog that came into Don Wehr’s
Music City in San Francisco in early 1972.
The people at Moog wrote the Minimoog
serial numbers on them with a Sharpie pen
back then. Mine is 1342. I had to sell my
pick-up truck and use my paltry savings in
order to buy it.
“Tim Ennis got his Arp Odyssey when about
10 friends chipped in and bought it for him
as a present. Rachel Webber went through
a few synthesisers before getting a Moog
Source. By then, Moog were selling them
to us wholesale. I did a lot of modifying
on my Minimoog, which I still have. I put
in an extra output jack, added an infinite
sustain switch, and added a couple of
other switches that I honestly don’t even
remember what they do anymore. I also
ran it through a Sequential Circuits Model
800 Sequencer that was an incredible pain
in the ass to programme live before each
show – once unplugged, it lost everything –
and an Echoplex tape machine.”
“It wasn’t a confrontational situation between
the guitar fans and the synth fans in the West
Coast punk scene when it started, because we
were actually all anti-rock. We jammed with a
lot with people from other bands… Dare I say it,
we even jammed with guitar players. So while
it’s true that Units were the first punk band to
perform in SF using just synths, nobody in the
scene at that time seemed to raise an eyebrow
over it.
“Had we started playing shows in any other city,
I do think that people probably would have
been pissed at us and thrown bottles at us. But
because this was San Francisco – pre-AIDS,
openly gay, lots of sex, lots of drugs, a place
where there were plenty of people doing much
weirder things than we were – the audiences
didn’t seem to react to us any differently than
they reacted to anyone else.
“On top of that, when we performed we often
distracted people from focusing on the synths.
For example, the first time we played with the
Dead Kennedys, we put this big movie screen
we’d made from the metal hood of a Cadillac
car on the stage. We set our synths to play a
factory drone sound all by themselves, then we
projected images of hated politicians, irritating
authority figures, products from obnoxious
adverts and the like onto the car hood, and then
beat the hell out of the hood with lifesize guitars
we’d cut out of plywood. We made the guitars
so they would shatter on impact. Pieces went
flying into the audience and people then threw
them back up at the projections… We were lucky
nobody got hurt or sued us.
“That night, Jello Biafra from the DKs was diving
into the crowd and they stripped him... He
ended up finishing the show naked. I honestly
don’t think anybody in the audience that night
woke up the next day thinking, ‘The DKs play
guitars and Units play synths’.”
“I liked the music of all the UK synthesiser
bands we played with, although I didn’t consider
any of them synthpunk. I especially liked The
Psychedelic Furs’ music and they didn’t even
play synths. I probably got to know Andy and
Paul from Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
the best. They’re really nice guys and they even
let me play on some of their gear. They were
one of only a few bands that had a Mellotron
back then. Although we never shared a stage
with Bill Nelson, he did produce two albums of
ours and we lived with him for at least a month.
Great guy. Although he’s known for playing
guitar, he’s an excellent synthesiser player as
well. He’s also a great drummer.”
“I definitely felt overshadowed, but I never
thought it was unfair. I loved Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted
Love’, The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’,
Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’... All of a sudden,
there was lots of really great synthesiser music
on the Top 40 radio shows. To this day, I still
love listening to those songs. But making a Top
40 pop song was never what Units had set out
to do. We had set out to make performance art.
So luckily, it never bothered me.”
“By around 1981, we were getting pretty
popular, but we felt like our culture had
absorbed the rebellion and dissent of punk
music and was selling it back to the masses as
fashion and entertainment. Punk was dead at
that point, as far as I was concerned. People
just wanted entertainment. So I thought,
‘What the fuck… I have this popular synthesiser
band and I’m already touring with really
popular synthesiser bands from the UK… We’ve
just been signed to Epic Records… So why not
try and write some synthpoppy hit like the rest
of them and make some fast cash?’
“But in the end, I just couldn’t do it. It was
like pretending to be Elvis Presley and singing
karaoke! It didn’t inspire me and it wasn’t fun.
It didn’t help when the head of A&R from the
record label flew out to the UK, where we
were recording, and had us sit down and listen
to Michael Jackson’s new album, and said,
‘Can’t you sound more like this?’.”
“I feel like it was genuinely futuristic in the sense
that we set out to make music that hadn’t been
made before. I also think our lyrics anticipated
social media relationships and technical
addiction. As far as I’m concerned, it anticipated
more of what was happening in the 2000s
rather than the 1980s.”
“Back in 1977, I would have never thought in my
wildest dreams that the current electronica scene
would exist like it does now. As for the ‘original
synthpunk spirit’ and whether that is missing in
EDM, sure it is. EDM is often performed by some
lone dude with a computer in front of a large
anonymous crowd.
“But I still really like EDM for other reasons.
First off, I love how many of the new electronic
musicians are constantly trying to push the
envelope of creating new sounds and beats. I
love the idea of remixes, of taking the status
quo and mixing it up in your own way... It’s kind
of like sound graffiti. And what could be better
than a huge room full of people dancing to
synthesiser music? It’s a dream come true.”
‘Digital Stimulation’ is out now on Futurismo
Not content with delivering a thumpingly good new album, ASIAN DUB FOUNDATION have also penned
a superb live score for George Lucas’ dystopian sci-fi classic ‘THX 1138’. “Our default position is to do the
opposite of what most bands do,” says ADF main man Steve “Chandrasonic” Savale. And then some
It can hardly have escaped your notice that this
summer marks the 20th anniversary of the Battle of
Britpop, when Blur and Oasis raced each other to the
top of the singles charts. It was a deeply conservative
time for indie rock, when white guitar bands draped
themselves in the Union Flag and recreated a karaoke
theme park version of the swinging 60s.
But of course, the real story of British pop in the
mid-90s was much more rich and complex than
all the nostalgic broadsheet pieces and rose-tinted
reunion shows suggest. The most exciting artists of
the era were multicultural, forward-thinking, sonically
challenging and heavily electronic. They were more
interested in forging the future than wallowing in the
past. And leading the vanguard, all guns blazing, were
Asian Dub Foundation.
It was 20 years ago that ADF released their debut
album, ‘Facts And Fictions’, exploding out of east
London with a fissile fusion of punky electronica,
reggae, hip hop, bhangra and drum ’n’ bass. They
attracted some famous fans, from Primal Scream
to Radiohead, the Beastie Boys to David Bowie.
And they have continued to move forward ever
since, expanding their multicultural mash-up sound.
Innovators, not imitators.
“I think you’d be hard pushed to find an album before
1995 which is live bass, post-punk guitar, jungle beats
and a jungle MC,” says the band’s musical driving
force, Steve “Chandrasonic” Savale. “The drum ’n’ bass
scene at the time was very different to what we were
doing. Roni Size was excellent stuff, but more that
sophisticated jazz thing. ADF was definitely more of a
link between the jump-up jungle and the punk tempo.
Public Image were a huge influence on us. We had
that whole post-punk thing, but we also had the dub
and jungle and electronic thing as well.”
Steve Savale has found time to talk in the middle of
a frenetic summer schedule for Asian Dub Foundation.
The band are fresh from premiering their latest live
film score, for the cult sci-fi thriller ‘THX 1138’, and
are currently hopping around European festivals
promoting their new album, ‘More Signal More Noise’.
Co-produced by On-U Sound legend Adrian Sherwood,
the album was first released in embryonic form in
2013 as ‘The Signal And The Noise’. Re-recorded as
a more muscular version following a long tour, the
reboot is a kaleidoscopic, dynamic, euphoric affair.
“Personally, it’s where I’ve always wanted to be with
the band,” Savale declares. “I really think we’ve got
there this time with that kind of left-field rock ’n’
roll dub-dance hybrid. Something clicked with ‘More
Signal More Noise’ and it is absolutely the closest
we’ve got to the live vibe, because in a way it was
done live. We had started gigging these tracks, and
of course they changed and developed. They became
wilder, more joyous, with elements of delirium. You
can’t get that in the studio, but it’s such an important
part of what we do.”
violence, indigenous land rights, asylum laws, police
brutality and other prickly topics. But Savale is wary
of ADF being branded a political band, a label he
considers too lazy and simplistic.
“I’m an educationalist, not a political activist,” he
insists. “It’s true we have been involved in political
campaigns, but that doesn’t have to define our whole
thing. Obviously, we are more political than most
bands, but if you dismiss us as just political, that
means we don’t have a right to enter the popular
medium. Our problem is, we could release an album
of us cutting our toenails and people would call it
ADF have now been active for more than two decades,
their musical gene pool periodically refreshed by
Social and political themes are a key part of ADF’s
new recruits plus ex-members who leave and then
creative DNA. The collective grew out of Community
rejoin. One significant recent addition is flute-playing
Music, a series of workshops on electronic music held
beatboxer Nathan “Flutebox” Lee, who has also
in deprived areas of east London by band co-founders
performed with The Prodigy. The secret of the group’s
Aniruddha Das (aka Doctor Das) and John Pandit
longevity, according to Savale, is a kind of wilfully
(Pandit G). One track on the new album, ‘Radio
Bubblegum’, is a dub-driven attack on the contentunorthodox anti-careerism.
free hollowness, ageism and racism of contemporary
pop playlists. Another, ‘Get Lost Bashar’, mixes fierce
“Our default position is to do the opposite of what
glitchy electronics with rousing chants from Syrian
most bands do,” he laughs.
poet Ibrahim Qashoush, who was murdered in 2011 for
speaking out against Syria’s ruling Assad regime.
ADF have certainly pushed their creative ambitions
beyond most conventional musicians. Besides
On previous albums, the group have turned their
their live film scores, they have also made TV
lyrical firepower on British imperialism, domestic
documentaries, composed a drum ’n’ bass opera, and
worked with multiple collaborators, including Chuck D
and Sinead O’Connor.
“I’ve got a weird form of artistic synaesthesia,” Savale
says. “I actually think that TV, film, music and books
are all the same thing. So I can compare a Radiohead
album with an episode of ‘The Wire’ because to me
it’s the same. If you ask me what’s the best album of
the 2000s, I would say ‘The Wire’ box set!”
The debut feature film by ‘Star Wars’ director George
Lucas, ‘THX 1138’ is a dystopian future-noir fable
that has gathered a cult reputation since its lowkey release in 1971, especially among electronic
musicians. ADF’s live score for ‘THX 1138’, which was
first performed at London’s Barbican Centre in June
with a full UK tour to follow in October, completes
the band’s loose trilogy of politically charged thrillers
about rebel uprisings against oppressive state power.
“There are two main criteria for doing a soundtrack,”
Savale explains. “Is it a film we like and does it make
sense with ADF? But the other main thing is, is there
space in it for a live band to play? A space where you
can fit in a live score and still get to appreciate the
film. Because mostly we kind of back the film, but
then we leap in at certain points, so it has to allow us
to do that. There’s a million movies we would like to
do soundtracks for, but very few where it’s actually
possible, where the space and the dynamics are there.”
ADF’s first foray into film scores was ‘La Haine’, a
powerful 1995 protest drama directed by Mathieu
Kassovitz about police brutality and racial tension
in the multicultural ghettos that encircle Paris. The
band initially performed their live soundtrack in 2001
and have done so multiple times since. Most recently,
they revived it for a special event at the notorious
Broadwater Farm estate in north London in 2012 at
the request of Fabien Riggall, the founder of Secret
Cinema, who had seen the 2001 show and credits it
for helping to inspire his immersive film screenings.
“‘La Haine’ was perfect,” says Savale. “There isn’t
actually a soundtrack to ‘La Haine’. There’s no
incidental music. People think there’s a hip hop
soundtrack, but there isn’t, just four or five musical
moments where Kassovitz turns the dialogue down
and plays a Barry White or a Bob Marley track. So we
could just leap in there and do our own thing. There
are also lots of great set-piece riot and fight scenes,
which are perfect for a live band.”
ADF’s next film score project was for Gillo
Pontecorvo’s 1966 classic ‘The Battle Of Algiers’, a
monochrome documentary-style recreation of the
fierce guerrilla war that ended French colonialism in
Algeria. The movie earned three Oscar nominations
and huge critical acclaim, but proved highly
controversial in France, where it was banned for five
“We actually turned that down at first,” Savale recalls.
“‘The Battle Of Algiers’ has an Ennio Morricone
soundtrack, so the idea of working over that was like
sacrilege. We had to have our arms twisted, but it
did work. The film has some torture scenes and we
played our score at the Brighton Dome the same day
that the Abu Ghraib pictures came out. You could see
the parallels.”
With ‘THX 1138’, ADF get to indulge the sci-fi side of
their music to full effect. Directed by Lucas, produced
by Francis Ford Coppola, and co-written by Coppola’s
regular editor and sound designer Walter Murch, the
film depicts a totalitarian techno-future where all
citizens have shaven heads and alpha-numerical ID
codes instead of names. Sex is banned and strict
government control is enforced via mandatory
sedative drugs, constant video surveillance, robot
policemen and a creepy state religion. Even though
this paranoid thriller is firmly rooted in Nixon-era
America, it is full of striking contemporary echoes.
“That is the amazing thing about the vision of ‘THX’,”
Savale nods. “It’s even got prophetic qualities. The
enforced drug implementation, the surveillance
of people in their most intimate moments, the
fundamentalist religion. Lucas and Murch basically
took every major societal element of the times
and amplified it 100 times. So in ‘THX’, there is
a fundamentalist religion, society is a theocracy,
consumerism is wild, entertainment is deeply sadistic.
There is a Jesus figure telling you to buy, buy, buy.
That certainly prophesied the 80s and 90s for me.”
The original score to ‘THX 1138’ in an avant-classical
collage of sinister moans and drones, analogue
electronica and lyrical lounge jazz. It was composed
by soundtrack legend Lalo Schifrin, famous for his
funky ‘Mission: Impossible’ and ‘Dirty Harry’ themes.
Incredibly, Schifrin, Lucas and Murch all gave ADF their
personal blessings for this re-scoring project. Murch
even attended the Barbican premiere and called it one
of the best nights of his life.
“This is the man who did the sound for ‘Apocalypse
Now’ and ‘The Godfather’!” Savale laughs
incredulously. “I think we did something right there.
And musically this is way in advance of the other
two soundtracks we’ve done. We had to have really
great musicians like Nathan ‘Flutebox’ Lee to handle
the orchestral stuff. There is a lot of flute on the
original score, because in a way the flute represents
the feminine. The narrative really does hinge on
the woman. She is the inspiration for change, to
undermine the totalitarian oppressive state. It’s a
female energy.”
Not all of Asian Dub Foundation’s eclectic multimedia
experiments have been quite as successful as their
film scores. In 2006, the band accepted a commission
from the English National Opera to compose ‘Gaddafi:
A Living Myth’, a punky drum ’n’ bass musical that
received almost the same brutal treatment from critics “We are such a technologically orientated group,” he
says. “But technology breaks down and doesn’t get
as the Libyan dictator would suffer five years later
replaced. So it’s a bit hard to recreate some of that
at the hands of a bloodthirsty mob. Even so, Savale
stuff, you have to rethink it. We would probably do it
recalls the project as an educational experience.
if we got the right offer, but the idea of working really
Travelling to Egypt and Libya for research, he visited
hard on something from the past doesn’t excite me
one of Gaddafi’s sons, whose private garden zoo
that much.”
included a black panther and a white tiger.
“It’s a shame,” Savale sighs. “A lot of the elements
really worked, like the music and the video. It was the
more operatic stuff that didn’t work. If I did it again, I
would do it with a live band, just a few actors and a
bit of video. I learned a lot from that, actually. It took
me down a peg.”
After the upcoming ‘THX’ tour, ADF are keen to find
further candidates for their live film scores, but they
are hoping to integrate the soundtracks into their
normal shows instead of keeping the two separate.
The band have also had offers to play some of their
older albums in full, but Steve Savale is not quite
ready for the Britpop nostalgia circus just yet.
That’s the Asian Dub Foundation philosophy in a
nutshell. Who wants to live in the past when the
future is still ripe for the taking?
‘More Signal More Noise’ is out now on ADF
Communications/Believe Recordings. ADF perform
their live soundtrack to George Lucas’ ‘THX 1138’
at dates across the UK in October. For more
information, visit asiandubfoundation.com
The musical legacy of ‘THX 1138’
A young George Lucas directed ‘THX 1138’ fresh from
film school, six years before launching his mega-dollar
‘Star Wars’ empire. Based on his 1967 student short
‘Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB’, it stars Robert
Duvall, Maggie McOmie and Donald Pleasence as
drone workers in a nightmarish future society under
constant high-tech surveillance and compulsory mindcontrol drugs.
Besides Lalo Schifrin’s electro-orchestral score, the
original soundtrack features a constant background
buzz of disembodied radio chatter, sinister machine
voices and pitch-shifted telephone dial tones. An
avant-garde piece of musique concrete in its own
right, Walter Murch’s innovative sound design
has since been sampled by a wealth of electronic
musicians, including Orbital, Nine Inch Nails, The
Shamen, Meat Beat Manifesto, Laibach and UNKLE.
Featuring white-clad, shaven-headed citizens and
gleaming silver police robots, the film’s striking visuals
were later edited into Peter Gabriel’s ‘I Have The
Touch’ video, and faithfully recreated in the promo
clips for Queen’s ‘Calling All Girls’ and Gang Starr’s
‘You Know My Steez’. More recently, the shimmering
sunset finale of Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’ video is
modelled on the celebrated closing shots of ‘THX
An international, travelling electronic music expo that
shows off increasingly inventive uses of musical tech?
Sounds just the ticket. We joined forces with MTF to
present Electronic Sound’s Pick Of The Festival Awards
with a little help from 808 State’s Graham Massey
Music Tech Fest describes itself as “the festival of music
ideas” and on its travels has stopped off in places as diverse
as Paris, Berlin, Boston and Wellington, while the next
event in September is in Ljubljana, Slovenia. MTF blurs the
audience/performer line, encouraging people to showcase
their creative musical uses of technology from all over
the world. As a result, it’s a fascinating smorgasbord of
ideas, some wild and wacky, some with serious real-world
applications, and all points between.
We’re proud to be associated with MTF via the Electronic
Sound Pick Of The Festival Awards. Winners of the award at
the most recent event in Ulmeå, Sweden were chosen by 808
State’s Graham Massey who handed over the handsome blue
vinyl disc to Spanish performance artist/cello abuser David
Fernández and Vahakn Matossian and the Human Instrument
Project. We spoke to both winners to find out more about
their projects.
David Fernández
Getting subversive
with a cello
A man plays a cello. On stage with him is the cello’s
huge flight case onto which are mapped video images.
Like a mini version of Amon Tobin’s ISAM shows, it
explodes with light, appearing to almost writhe with it.
The cello itself, already missing several of its sections,
explodes in the player’s hands. The performer is Berlinbased David Fernández, a Spanish dancer, actor and selftaught cellist.
With his ‘Ecce Cello’ performances he’s on a mission
to, erm, fuck shit up. Take his website for example. Its
Facebook icon gives you the finger and the Twitter bird
is lying on its back, dead. In the main image (at the time
of writing at least, he changes it regularly), Fernández
is naked on a bed, a cut-out head of Bach covering his
genitals, with a woman dressed like a fetish pantomime
dame. The headline? “Fuck New Age”.
“The picture is me with Rossy de Palma, she’s an actress
from Pedro Almodovar’s films,” explains Fernández. “I
made a performance with ‘Ecce Cello’ in the suite of a
hotel and she collaborated with me, we ended up like
that on the bed.”
And the “fuck new age” quote?
“Musically speaking I come from punk and hip hop,” he
says. “I can’t stand new age hippy bullshit, it’s just a bad
Everything he does seems to have an edge of madness
to it. The cover of his album ‘Pocket Rhapsody’, for
example, features Fernández wearing some sort of
helmet which, on closer inspection, appears to be made
of cassette tapes.
“This is a piece I made some years ago,” he explains.
“I used all the tapes that I had as a child and teenager,
that’s all the music I grew up with. All my influences and
…as a helmet? Nice. It looks great.
Fernández integrates iPhones and iPads into his
performances, not just as technology that enable him
to loop and process his cello playing and voice (he
certainly does that), but as interactive video props. He
straps them onto his head while other people’s faces
are displayed on the screen, or he attaches one to his
wrist and it runs a video of a different hand. It’s head
spinning stuff, all delivered with an intensity that is part
stand-up comedian, part punk iconoclast, inspired by,
but simultaneously rejecting, classical music. It’s entirely
experimental and hugely entertaining.
“I’m addicted to classical and baroque music, but also
to its opposite: technology and digital age,” he says. “I
needed to create my own ‘classical music’, and I come
from a background of theatre so I built it using all things
which are part of me.”
‘Ecce Cello’, then, is an expression of Fernández’s creative
life so far, 20 years of performing and researching.
“I don’t have an academic background,” he says. “I
learned playing in the streets, listening to concerts,
watching videos, practicing 12 hours a day alone at
home. I don’t need the permission of a conservatory or
to hire an orchestra to do classical music. Technology has
changed the rules.”
He pauses and then delivers his final, typically rebellious,
“Let’s beat it!”
watch the video
Vahakn Matossian
Radical synth
Vahakn Matossian and the Human Instrument Project
picked up a Music Tech Fest Electronic Sound Award for
their novel synthesiser interfaces, which use electroconductive paint to create pads that can be played by
people with limited movement. Human Instruments is
a collaboration between Matossian and Rolf Gehlhaar.
Gehlhaar was Stockhausen’s assistant for three years
in the late 1960s and is now Professor in Experimental
Music at Coventry University, and technical director of
the British Paraorchestra, the world’s first professional
ensemble of disabled musicians.
Rolf is also Vahakn’s dad. He sounds like a patient sort,
able to cope with a little boy who would smash his plates
as soon as he’d eaten his food (which only stopped when
plastic plates were introduced at mealtimes).
“I’ve been breaking things all my life,” laughs Vahakn,
“testing them to their extremes and discovering the guts.
When I was seven my father brought home an industrial
photocopier and a pile of screwdrivers for me and my
brother to tear apart.”
He grew up surrounded by his father’s devices from
his work in interactive musical installations, and his
destructive tendencies led inevitably towards the
creative, and he took the Wood, Metal, Ceramics and
Plastics BA at Brighton University, before focussing more
on musical devices at the Royal College Of Art.
“It’s not just about cool sounds and gizmos,” he says.
“It’s important to remember that as soon as a person can
‘expect’ a new function and rely on it securely, they can
create and think freely within these new rules to form
new realisations and feelings. It’s black magic really.
Just with the shroud of mystery removed – but still one
thousand billion per cent magic.”
Vahakn’s father had developed an “ultrasonic ranging
system” called SOUND = SPACE in the late 80s, which
could convert body movements into sounds, and that led
to him creating a head-mounted device for the wellknown trumpeter Clarence Adoo who had lost the use of
his limbs in a car accident in 1995. Adoo was involved in
the setting up of the Paraorchestra with the conductor
Charles Hazelwoood, and Vahakn and his father became
involved on the technical side.
“The Paraorchestra family is a serious, serious crew,” says
Vahakn. “Inspiring. Beautiful. Hardcore. Genius. Genuine.
Loving. Compassionate. Driven. Hungry. Respectful. I
would do anything for them.”
The Human Instrument Project is a result of the work
with the Paraorchestra and they hope to make the
devices available for purchase, but at the moment each
device is a one-off.
“Right now we are happy to do custom builds for those
interested in playing or owning them,” he explains. “We
are in search of test players. All the devices we develop
and produce are stepping stones on a path from which
we learn a great deal. Learning by doing. The goals
are set high but are quite simple in essence: to create
an instrument as good as or better than any other
found in a traditional orchestra; to create a hands free
music production device and DAW controller as good
as or better than those commercially available. With
expression. Expression is the key. The most important
thing. To be able to repeat one’s self indefinitely, but
with deliberate alteration. To play in the manner in which
you intend. To discover beauty through experimentation.”
watch the video
The STYLOPHONE 350S is what happens when a regular ol’ Stylophone gets bitten
by a radioactive spider and becomes a superhero Stylophone with superpowers!
Unfortunately the 350S wasn’t a very robust superhero and was prone to breaking
almost as soon as you got it out of the box, which is why, according to Ben Jarvis,
the son of the machine’s inventor, Brian Jarvis, there are only two or three hundred
working examples left in the world.
But not to worry, because Synthesiser Dave is here to fix it! And he will also mod it
so that it doesn’t need those ruinously expensive nine-volt battery blocks, but will
take eight AAs and last forever. All this and light-controlled wah-wah? You bet!
watch the video
The stories are coming in thick and fast about your
beloved machines. If you have a lovable old synth,
snap a few pics, tell us all about and send it all to
[email protected] with ‘Readers’ Synths’
as the subject line
Owner: Paul Williams
Where: Surrey, UK
Year Purchased: 1980
Amount Paid: £199
“My Roland System 100, Model 101 originally belonged to my
mate Alan Heller, who purchased it in 1978 from ABC Music, in
either Esher or Kingston. Alan used it exhaustively for a couple
of years, then hankered for something new so he bought an
SH5 from Throbbing Gristle. Naturally he needed to raise a few
quid for this so I stepped in with a wad of hard-earned paper
round money and took the Model 101 off his hands for £199.
“That was 35 years ago and the synth has been a staple part
of my set up ever since. In the early days, this consisted of
the Model 101, a cassette recorder and some ideas. Much like
the fledgling Human League, I did everything using that synth.
There really wasn’t any limit in my mind, the synth could create
all the sounds I needed. The nuances of the sounds, and the
depth to which I understood them, was not something I have
had with any other synth. In 2010, feeling a bit nostalgic, I
decided that I wanted to record some tracks using only the
Model 101, just like I had back in 1980. While the results of
these rose-tinted recordings may not be the greatest synth
works ever made, the process was like having a creative enema.
I would thoroughly recommend a good tech cleansing every
now and then to free your imagination.
“I love the manual and brochure that came with the 101. The
brochure teased you with pictures of the other units in the
System 100 and I really wanted the full set. I still do, but
the prices they go for now means this remains a dream. The
manual had all these wonderful patches, attempting to
replicate real instruments as synths did back then. It also
had two songs that you could recreate using these patches,
one of them from an unmentionable glam rocker who clearly
influenced the Human League. And finally, on the last page
of the brochure there is this brilliant statement entitled ‘The
Last Word’. ‘In your experimenting, if you find some wild sound
you’d like to share with us, please send it along; we’d be very
glad to receive it’. I found many wild sounds but, alas, never
did share them with Roland.”
A software compressor lifted from the broadcast
kit of German radio stations?
Yes please
Czech developers Audified have emulated the vintage German broadcast
compressor/limiter from the 60s. At the time, the design was the fastest tube
compressor ever built and manufacturing continued until 1980. Although the
original design was intended for use in broadcasting systems, like many of these
early valve compressors it found its way into studios around Europe to be used as
a final mastering compressor for vinyl cutting lathes.
Visually, the plug-in looks good, with clearly laid out and tasteful graphics to
bring out the vintage flavour. In general, this is the kind of plug-in that agrees
with me both aesthetically and in functionality. I like simple controls on any
software, as I find sticking every bell and whistle on just because you can puts me
off and I get stuck thinking, “What does this do? What does that do?”. A focused
layout forces you to concentrate on certain parameters to get the job done. Also
it helps if the device sounds good and thankfully, this really does.
In addition to the original design, Audified have actually added a couple of
carefully selected features to bring it in line with modern production techniques,
namely an input and output gain control, a VU meter and selectable sidechaining. All of which are definitely useful additions while not detracting from the
intended purpose – to add some vintage vibe to your track.
The compressor mode has a low threshold setting and gently rises in ratio, which
gives a really smooth soft-knee response and sounds great on a full mix. I also
tried it on some analogue synths and drum tracks and it brings out some nice
harmonics on my Minimoog and glues drums together effectively too. The limiter
mode retains the smoothness, but with higher ratio and threshold settings, great
for subtle peak levelling.
Overall, this is simply one of those plug-ins that sounds great whatever you put
it on. Even at extreme settings and when slamming the input, I couldn’t hear any
noticeable digital artifacts, so it’s a big thumbs up here for Audified.
The Audified U73b Compressor is $149.
For more information visit shop.audified.com
Syn’X 2
The fully fledged Elka Synthex
emulator starts where the miniSyn’X
left off
The Elka Synthex is the sometimes forgotten big beast of the analogue
synthesiser world. It’s revered for its sound, despite featuring those digitally
controlled oscillators (DCOs) that many purists would consider persona non grata.
The going rate of the original hardware is now at Greek-like borrowing levels,
so the release of the Syn’X 2, XILS-Lab’s second virtual iteration of the classic
synthesiser, is particularly welcome. The Syn’X 2 is a more sophisticated version
of the company’s own miniSyn’X (which we reviewed in our June issue), adding
quite a few new layering and modulation parameters to those found on the less
expensive sibling and thus making it a much more capable synthesiser.
The Syn’X 2 is available in all the usual formats and requires an iLok or eLicenser,
so installation was trouble-free. As you might expect, the Syn’X 2 features most
of the parameters you’d find on the original, though the actual layout is different
and, in Easy edit mode it behaves pretty much like the Elka machine, complete
with splits and layers, oscillator cross modulation and sync, and the unique (for its
time) multimode filter. The chorus on the Synthex is especially distinctive and the
Syn’X 2’s effort manages to emulate it with a decent degree of realism.
In Advanced mode, XILS-Lab have chosen to expand the original’s capabilities in
several ways. Most striking is that you can layer up to eight virtual Synthexes to
create sounds that will probably break your ears, and then spread these across
two physical keyboards (the sounds, not your ears). Switching between the two
modes is seamless and the Syn’X 2 features sensible patch storage and selection
with the ability to audition edited sounds against the original. There’s also a
guitar mode, which caters for the six-string players among you. The on-board
polyphonic sequencer is pretty nifty and can be used to create a kind of pseudo
wave synthesiser, and in fact, the Advanced mode allows the Syn’X 2 to generate
sounds that are well beyond the capabilities of the original hardware.
Sonically, the Syn’X 2 hits what was distinctive about the original Synthex right
on the head while expanding the features in sensible ways. Listening back to
recordings of Syn’X and the Synthex itself, the differences are actually less than
you might imagine. It definitely has its own sonic signature when compared to my
other virtual (and real) synths, so if you’re after the flavour of what the original
did for Jean Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream, you’ll definitely get that from the
Syn’X 2. But if it’s the real Synthex experience you’re after, you’ll have to MIDI up
a joystick controller…
The Syn’X 2 is €169. For more information visit xils-lab.com
sweat of strangers.
‘Born In The Echoes’ will prompt a
similar reaction. ‘Sometimes I Feel So
Deserted’ starts with a throbbing ‘Hey
Boy Hey Girl’-style hook and you think
for a second that this might be Chemsby-numbers, but then they drop in hot
shards of weirdness by way of an outthere vocal and phased drum loops that
cut straight to the quick. Cue arenas
around the world packed with mentalist
throngs scrabbling around in desperation
trying to find their minds. And that’s just
the opener.
Born In The Echoes
They’re heavy and they’re
our brothers. Fraternal dancefloor
funk from the big beat survivors
Quality over quantity, that’s the name of
the game.
The Chemical Brothers – Tom and Ed
to their families and friends, but let’s
call them the Chems – can hardly be
accused of rush-releasing their albums.
This is the duo’s first long-player in five
years, an age in music and a veritable
eternity in the faddish world of clubland.
But the 1,825-day wait has been more
than worth it, with ‘Born In The Echoes’
offering 11 new cuts that showcase their
widescreen tastes and eclectic approach
to sound production.
The Chems may have initially been
associated with the “big beat” scene –
the breakbeat/hip hop fusion that broke
out in the mid-90s – but what they
actually do best are just plain old beats
that are bigger than most. Their records
are tough and muscular, designed to be
rinsed out at high volume in basement
parties where you dance with abandon
and don’t mind being soaked in the
The instrumental ‘Reflexion’ is probably
the biggest “choon” on the album, all
hi-octane organ stabs, tsunami-scale
bass and massive, massive kick drums.
It’s also a tantric teaser of a track,
constantly threatening to explode into
a shower of orgiastic rave delight but
pulling back from the moment of climax,
keeping a tight rein on any over-thetop cheesy histrionics. That said, those
aforementioned dancefloor mentalists
will love it.
There are a handful of introspective
diversions in the shape of the spectral
‘Taste Of Honey’, the epic washes of
‘Radiate’ and the title track itself, which
is a hook-up with Welsh singer Cate Le
Bon. The Chems have always been big
on collaborations and this album boasts a
bunch more: Q-Tip, St Vincent, Beck and
Ali Love all lend their not inconsiderable
vocal talents.
Q-Tip in particular has past form with
the pair – collaborating on their Grammywinning 2005 stomper ‘Galvanize’ – and
on ‘Go’, the lead single here, he delivers
more of his super-smooth patter as he
proclaims, “Everybody goin’ out of they
skins / Everybody jumpin’ out of they
mind” over a joyous synth armageddon.
Beck shines too with his contribution to
‘Wide Open’, a moody closer about the
end of a relationship bathed in back-tothe-future grooves.
Tom and Ed have always said that their
music is best experienced in a live
environment, and indeed their gigs are
fantastic exhibitions of noise, smoke,
strobes and plain old crazy. But ‘Born In
The Echoes’ works just as well on the
music player of your choice and ensures
their return will be greeted with rapture.
and early 1990s, sharing the same aura
of confidence and control as Madonna
or Janet Jackson at that time. The first
single from the album, ‘Better In The
Morning’, is probably the best Madonna
hit Madonna has never recorded. It
comes complete with a video that
subversively parodies the technology and
the yuppie styles of almost 30 years ago.
Working Girl
Victoria Hesketh takes inspiration
from the ‘Working Girl’ film to rail
against corporate sexism
“It’s so hard for a working girl,” sings
Little Boots, aka Victoria Hesketh,
on the title track of her third longplayer. This poignant and somewhat
self-doubting line comes over a darkly
euphoric transaction between the worlds
of pop and the dancefloor, with Hesketh
sounding like Billie Ray Martin or Alison
Goldfrapp at their most evocative. But
while this is a pop record, certainly, the
sheen and the tone sets it a world apart
from throwaway chart-fodder.
Even the production on the edgy
‘Heroine’ and the housey ‘Paradise’ links
back to that fertile crossover period
at the end of the 1980s. ‘The Game’
meanwhile nods squarely in the direction
of the relaxed vibe of Soul II Soul, with
lyrics about breaking chains yet still
having to work within the restrictions
of the machine. The similarly businessminded Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ may have
been influenced by the same musical era,
but ‘Working Girl’ captures the essence
of the crossover dance-pop of that time
in a much more qualified and successful
On the face of it, this is a bold statement
that rails against a male-dominated
executive world. But although Hesketh,
the newly-installed CEO of her label,
is standing up for a greater sense of
long-overdue equality on ‘Working Girl’,
there’s also a coded sense of reality
not quite keeping pace with that ideal
of fairness. The relaxed ‘No Pressure’
contains the lyric, “Everything is possible
/ You just need a miracle”, suggesting
you can believe all you want in thinking
and aiming big, but it might be for
nothing. ‘Help’ visits the same territory,
singing about trying to escape a fastflowing current while being weighed
down by pockets full of stones.
These are powerful metaphors for
struggle, expertly delivered through the
medium of pop songs. The most overt
exploration of the theme comes in the
hypnotic ‘Business Pleasure’, which
leads with fizzing synths indicating the
urgent flow of ideas, data and trades.
The song takes that corporate feel and
fuses it with a depiction of a woman,
like Tess McGill, battling to thrive in a
cold, aggressive and unsupportive city
– such are the challenges of trying to
break through the glass ceiling to assert
equality. It’s simple and effective. It’s
also sadly still accurate.
The other half of the lyric quoted at the
start of this review is, “You’ve come so
far for a working girl”, and that line sums
up ‘Working Girl’ far better than anything
a music critic might say. It’s a line rooted
in Victoria Hesketh’s persistence and
industrious, individualistic attitude to
success in a market that usually seeks to
mould singers into sellable, uniform pop
The starting point for ‘Working Girl’
comes from Little Boots running her
own record label and becoming fixated
on strong female role models and most
particularly high-flying businesswomen,
beginning with Melanie Griffith’s
portrayal of Tess McGill in the 1988 film
from which Hesketh has borrowed the
title for this album. It’s no surprise, when
you take genre-defining characters like
McGill as your inspiration, that ‘Working
Girl’ has a defiant and determined mood.
Stylistically, ‘Working Girl’ etches a line
back to the pop music of the late 1980s
Pic: Tim Saccenti
movement, air travel, Warhol, The
Beatles, two World Wars, Kraftwerk,
electronic music, rock ’n’ roll, nuclear
weapons, Bowie, JG Ballard, Kubrick et al
was reaching its winter years, but what
did remain of it gave us the European
Union, the reunification of Germany,
the end of the Cold War, hip hop, acid
house and the internet. Somehow, these
ideas are bound up in the music of John
Foxx, with its images of technology,
pre- and post-war European grandeur,
the Brutalist concrete architecture of
London’s reconstruction, the endlessness
and fragility of cities.
20th Century: The Noise
A magical mystery tour
through one of electronic music’s
most impressive back catalogues
The hardcore fans will open this
retrospective collection and head straight
to ‘Musique Electron’. It’s a previously
unreleased instrumental that will please
those who
forever associate John Foxx with the
delicate and evocative clinking of the
Roland CR-78 drum machine.
‘Musique Electron’ is pretty, that’s for
sure, but ‘20th Century: The Noise’
features a wealth of interesting material
elsewhere for the more casual listener to
get their teeth into. This is a fascinating
journey through a singular and eccentric
solo career that has weaved between
minimal electronics and 1960s British
psychedelia and several other unexpected
sonic destinations in between over the
past 35 years.
It’s a testament to the quality of work
that Foxx was producing in his little
synth garrett post-Ultravox that ‘20th
Century’, the track that opens this set,
was relegated to a B-side.Fast and
punk-ish, its message is one of urgency.
The century that gave us the Bauhaus
Take, for example, the synthesiser
replicating what might be the howl of
an air-raid siren throughout ‘Underpass’.
It haunts the whole track, just as the
London of the 1970s was still haunted
by its recent history. Back then, it was
a place pocked-marked with bomb
sites, the giddy flirtation with freedom
and fun it had briefly enjoyed in the
previous decade abruptly shut off by
the increasingly grim reality of British
daily grind. Foxx’s music is perhaps
the psychological outcome of a life
lived through that transition, at first
celebrating and reflecting the city and its
bleak modernity, then retreating from it.
The heart-lifting ‘Miles Away’ (Are those
real drums? Why yes, they are) with
its lovely line, “I’m watching summer
through an English rain”, signals the
shift in Foxx’s trajectory towards more
romantic and lush territory, daydreaming
away from the concrete-hued ennui
for which he’s best known towards the
positively rural (or at least out into that
archetypal British psychedelic location,
the garden). By 1983, Foxx was allowing
his many varied influences full throat,
mining the awakening of his teenage
years in the 1960s for inspiration. He
co-opts The Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never
Knows’ and chunks of the ‘Sgt Pepper’s
Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album in
‘Endlessly’, going on to channel both Eno
and Ferry in the Roxy Music-esque ‘The
Hidden Man’.
‘20th Century: The Noise’ then skips a
decade and a half, landing at a couple of
tracks from his 1997 collaboration with
Louis Gordon, ‘Shifting City’, where you
can hear Foxx adopting the tightened
breakbeat sounds of drum ’n’ bass, fused
with lush psychedelia and the minimal
synth of ‘Metamatic’ in ‘The Noise’. The
Beatles are again strongly referenced in
‘Through My Sleeping’, which is nothing
less than a love note to George Harrison’s
All in all, it’s an extraordinary and much
misunderstood back catalogue, evidence
of a restless and creative mind that has
never really been able to conform to the
expectations of the music industry. A
follow-up to this compilation is due next
year and there’s little doubt that Foxx’s
21st century selections will make for
equally compelling listening.
of a synthesiser so low you’ll think the
stereo’s broken, it’s not long before we’re
hurtling full throttle into ‘Reversible’, a
pummelling, no nonsense stomper that
makes you feel like you’re falling through
a time vortex while being beaten about
the face with a large brick. It’s bracing
gear – taut, smart and propulsive.
Sounds For The Mute
Heavy Dutch techno to exercise
your grey cells courtesy of the Dave
Clarke protégé
Even for those who have an enduring
love of techno, the prospect of a fulllength album of the stuff often evokes
feelings of trepidation as readily as it
does excitement. Many of the most
talented of DJ-producers, able to hold a
packed dancefloor in the palm of their
hand with speaker-destroying club hits
as easily as making breakfast, have come
a cropper when trying to translate their
talents into the long-form format.
Dutchman Mr Jones – aka the
marvellously named Jonas Uittenbosch
– is the latest new pretender looking
to buck the trend. He’s gained the
requisite underground buzz as well as
an endorsement from Dave Clarke, that
most pernickety member of the old
who was so impressed with his oeuvre
that he’s collaborated with him on
several remixes and one-off tracks
under the Unsubscribe moniker. So
expectations for ‘Sounds For The Mute’
are high.
Starting with a creeping, necrotising hum
Enjoyable sure, but so far, so standard.
It’s not until the quite startling ‘The
Truth About Robots’ arrives that you
stand up and take notice. Centred
around a mind-scrambling vocal loop,
Uittenbosch takes techno’s penchant for
repetition to the extreme, the sample
decaying and degenerating over an ever
more fragmented and interlocking set of
drum patterns. The result is the kind of
perplexing psychedelic storm that marks
out the very best of the genre as truly
boundary pushing music, rather than
the formulaic cul-de-sac it can so often
While nothing else here quite matches
that, the second half of the album
continues to draw out some of the
same themes of rhythm, alienation and
the conundrum of man’s increasingly
symbiotic relationship with technology.
These ideas are as old as techno itself,
of course, but Uittenbosch manages to
make them sound fresh and thrilling in a
way that’s surprising. ’Til It’s Done’ and
‘Us Vs Them’ show an equally adept take
on the dronier, bleepier end of things,
before ‘Continuous Sounds’ finishes the
set off with a more traditional approach
to the whole enterprise.
Clocking in at a relatively restrained 52
minutes, ‘Sounds For The Mute’ is in
no danger of troubling the pop charts,
and if you’ve always hated techno this
release is not going to change your
mind. However, it would be a shame if
Mr Jones remained solely in the techno
ghetto, as what he has produced here
is an intelligent, carefully crafted and
compelling record, fusing bombastic
dancefloor nous with real ambition.
encountered Schnitzler on arriving in
Hamburg in 1979 and attending a lecture
in which the great man explained how
the ideas of the artist Joseph Beuys
could be applied to music. The lecture
was an epiphany for Fehlmann and this is
his tribute to Schnitzler: a carefully and
sympathetically sequenced selection of
his proto-synthpop.
Kollektion 5: Conrad Schnitzler
Our favourite German label serves
up two excellent tributes to a
pioneer of Deutsche electronica
Conrad Schnitzler, who died in 2011,
was a conspicuous lump of concrete
on the often green and fertile plains
of krautrock. He detested the hippy
tendencies of the era in which he grew
up and was an outsider musically.
Despite being a luminary of the Zodiak
Free Arts Lab in Berlin and an early
Tangerine Dream member, in many ways
he heralded the more brutalist German
electronic scene of the late 70s and
Schnitzler’s early 1980s output, his socalled “white” period, is the subject of
the latest Bureau B ‘Kollektion’ album,
which this time is compiled by Thomas
Fehlmann, once of Palais Schaumburg
and now of The Orb. Fehlmann first
While up on the surface of planet pop in
the 80s, all manner of faces and poseurs
were making their name with diluted and
colourised versions of ideas initiated by
the likes of Schnitzler, he himself was
toiling as if in an underground lab amid
metal clamps and tubes and bubbling
liquids. The sense of pure, obsessive
experimentalism is palpable on tracks
such as ‘Contempora 11’ and ‘Con 3.3’.
He was anticipating a later era in which
techno was more about the product than
the personality, though in fairness he was
a rather large personality himself and
not averse to striking some spectacular
poses, not least while out on the streets
making field recordings.
Fehlmann has put together a marvellous
collection. Other highlights include the
Kraftwerkian parody of ‘Tanze Im Regen’
and ‘Fata Morgana’, which takes its title
from the Herzog film of the same name,
the nearest German cinema came to a
pure “krautrock” experience in its looped,
picaresque style. ‘Komm Mit Nach
Berlin’ meanwhile conveys the sense of
the album as a whole – a tour around
an alternative sonic U-Bahn in one of
the key German (and indeed global)
electronic urban hubs.
‘Con-Struct’ is also a tribute to
Schnitzler, part of a series initiated by
M=minimal label head Jens Strüver.
Here, however, the idea is not merely
to present Schnitzler’s finished works,
but to trawl through his bequeathed
archive of unique synth sounds and
invite other musicians to remix them. In
this instance, it’s the turn of Pyrolator,
aka Kurt Dahlke, formerly of DAF and
Der Plan, two groups whose work was
influenced or at least prefigured by
Pyrolator’s stated objective is for his
remixes to show how Schnitzler was a
pioneer of classic Berlin techno music
and this he does on tracks like ‘389-8’,
which grimly foreshadows the postunification deep electronic pulse of the
city, and the stalking, arpeggiated ‘2895’. ‘296-16’ is more sinister still, with its
roving searchlights, sirens and sequencer
rotorblades, while ‘289-9’ is a bubbling
analogue river of dark ambient music.
There’s also the playful zip-doodling of
‘316-16’, which illustrates (as does the
picture of Schnitzler on the back of the
album) that Schnitzler always approached
his work with a twinkle in his eye.
You feel Conrad Schnitzler would have
approved of Pyrolator’s project as much
as Thomas Fehlmann’s, gratified that the
world eventually turned his way and that
his lonely work in painstakingly dragging
one of the hulking cornerstones of
techno into place was not in vain.
be known as Charlie from Busted – also
features and there are remixes from the
likes of Carpenter Brut, Makeup And
Vanity Set and Miami Nights 1984.
A strong and exciting debut
careering headlong into the wacky
world of 80s synthwave
There’s that bit in ‘Back To The Future’
where Doc and Marty first test the time
travelling capabilities of the DeLorean.
It speeds towards them, crackling and
fizzling before disappearing in front
of their eyes, while Doc screams in
excitement, “I told you Marty, 88 miles
per hour!”.
Gunship seem to be emulating the
DeLorean as they jump fiercely onto
the synthwave scene, joining in with its
wacky celebrations of the soundtracks to
80s movies, TV shows and video games.
Consisting of Dan Haigh, Alex Westaway
and Alex Gingell, this is quite a departure
from Haigh and Westaway’s usual rock
outfit, Fightstar. They’ve swapped their
guitars for synths and their moody, posthardcore outlook for one that’s full of
neon purples and blues.
The trio have also enlisted some first
class help in the synthwave genre,
most notably from John Capenter, the
godfather of freaky cult classics, who
lends some guest vocals. Fightstar
frontman Charlie Simpson – forever to
The first track, ‘The Mountain’, sets the
tone of the album and starts our journey,
dark and brooding, building like the slow
rumble of an engine before blasting into
a crescendo of gorgeous fluorescent
synths. Lyrics such as “Come close / Girl
/ Shiver in my arms” weave romance into
the night-time car trip and this theme
continues into ‘Revel In Your Time’, a
groovy track with bassy arpeggios flitting
in and out. The nostalgia is ripe here –
it’s all very 80s disco with the girl you
fancy, even getting a few “ooh-oohs” in.
“I’m recording this because this could be
the last thing I ever say,” declares John
Carpenter, his voice sounding pained
through the scratchy radio transmission.
And so the tone shifts for ‘Tech Noir’,
the clear standout, a slow track that
somehow manages to be both dystopian
and emotional. It wouldn’t feel out of
place in one of Carpenter’s own films.
“It was all for love,” coos Charlie from
Busted, not wanting to be outshone.
‘Shadow Fury’ and ‘Pink Mist’ are
equally melancholic and yet also postapocalyptic, but the pace quickens
slightly for ‘The Hegemon’, the sonics
bubbling against the wahs until it fades
into silence. From there, the DeLorean
speeds into ‘Fly For Your Life’, a
cinematic nitro-boost with an uplifting
tempo at odds with the darkness earlier
on the album. As the climatic ‘Maximum
Black’ rumbles in, this feels like the
track we’ve been building towards.
We’ve reached the end of our journey,
the booming drum machines rippling up
from under the erratic arpeggios, the
synthesisers whining to a haunting close.
An outstanding debut, Gunship have
achieved exactly what they set out to:
a gripping, complex release that swirls
romance, fear, hope and the nuclear
apocalypse into a vivid story that keeps
us dancing and grooving. Doc was happy
with 88, but Gunship hit 100mph and
more, leaving blazing tyre marks on the
80s synthwave scene.
Synonymous with – and in many ways
defining of – the hauntology genre, the
label attracts almost religious levels of
devotion from some quarters, for whom
their touchstone references conjure so
Other Channels
The Séance At Hobs Lane
A brace of timely reissues from the
cult hauntology label’s catalogue of
As a precursor to Ghost Box Records’
10th anniversary celebrations in the
autumn, which will include a muchneeded compilation of this slavishly
revered label’s output to date, this
remastered pair of vinyl-only releases
(download codes accompany, of course)
serve as a well-timed reminder of the
surprising broadness of this most British
of imprints.
Founded a decade ago by then
30-somethings Jim Jupp and Julian
House, like-minded best mates since
school, Ghost Box’s nature is singularly
idiosyncratic, aesthetically stunning and
musically uncompromising. Importantly,
though, their brand of retro-futurism is
eminently accessible and, particularly
with regard to The Advisory Circle’s work,
cerebrally playful and wildly inventive.
Those references encompass a great deal,
but often, though certainly not always,
they grapple with our half-remembered
and misremembered recent 20th
century past. There are nods to library
music and the Radiophonic Workshop’s
wonky incidental soundtracks, public
information films and long-expired
short-wave radio broadcasts, as well as
wyrd kids’ TV series like ‘Children Of The
Stones’ and ‘The Owl Service’, with their
attendant pointers to our deeply buried
yet stubbornly cherished folklore and
prehistory. All this and more is wrapped
in warmly evocative analogue synth
hooks, which at times bring to mind
Boards Of Canada, Air, and even JeanMichel Jarre.
‘Other Channels’ is a perfect example
of this. In many ways, it’s early Ghost
Box canned, so it’s an ideal entrée for
the uninitiated. It was label stalwart
Jon Brooks’ first full-length release as
The Advisory Circle and tracks like ‘Civil
Defence Is Common Sense’, ‘Hocusing
For Beginners’ and ‘Mogadon Coffee
Morning’ flummox and delight in equal
measures, setting moments of surreal
daftness against summery pastoral
keyboard tones awash with well-judged
wistfulness. Evocative liner notes by
writer and broadcaster Ken Hollings set
the music in an environment of Cold War
paranoia, crystallising much of what we
connect with when tuned in to this most
brilliantly realised album.
The juxtaposing of a very British kind
of mundanity alongside the fantastic is
another oft-visited Ghost Box theme
and this provides the context for the
Mount Vernon Arts Lab reissue, the ‘Hobs
Lane’ of the title being the fictional
tube station where the action of Nigel
Kneale’s cult 1958 BBC sci-fi series
‘Quatermass And The Pit’ takes place. A
darker and more challenging proposition
than ‘Other Channels’, ‘The Séance At
Hobs Lane’ is the work of avant-garde
musician Drew Mulholland, latterly
also composer-in-residence at Glasgow
University’s department of Geography
and Earth Sciences.
Mulholland has help from a cast of
big-hitting collaborators, including
Portishead’s Adrian Utley, Belle &
Sebastian’s Isobel Campbell and Add N To
(X)’s Barry 7, and the result is a master
study in psychogeographical electronic
composition, immersing the listener in
murky, eerily resonant subterranean
nether-worlds. A live performance of
this substantial piece has recently been
commissioned and it’s hoped that the
ensemble of musicians originally involved
will participate in the event, which will
most likely be in Glasgow. And it will
no doubt form a rather impressive focal
point for Mulholland’s contribution to
the ever-intriguing story of this most
outstanding of labels.
good. Gwenno Saunders’ ‘Y Dydd
Olaf’ (‘The Last Day’) is entirely Welsh
(except when it’s Cornish), a bold move
reflecting recurring themes of defiance
and rebellion. It opens with ‘Chwyldro’
(‘Revolution’), followed by ‘Patriarchaeth’
(which hardly needs translating).
“Patriarchaeth a dy enaid di tan warchae”
(“Patriarchy and your soul is under
siege”) sings Gwenno dispassionately,
over a fantastically funky one-finger
synth bass and pleasing off-key drones.
Y Dydd Olaf
Welsh language sci-fi inspired
politically charged krautpop – what’s
not to like?
Synth bells like sonar pings herald a
coasting loop of drums and Fender bass.
A detached double-tracked female voice
floats in the firmament, guiding us
through an undersea/outerspace/innerself
synthscape. Opaque swooshes fly by,
sonic debris echoes into endlessness.
The voice fans out into sumptuous
harmonies, taking up the intro bell’s
tune. We’re travelling in a synthetic
future-that-wasn’t, crafted in 1970s
Germany, co-opted and glammed up in
2015 Cardiff by Gwenno Saunders, lately
of arch indie-ists The Pipettes.
Until 1970, pop was sung in Foreign as
well as English. Aznavour and Mouskouri
emoted incomprehensibly in British
homes and The Beatles recorded in four
languages, until rock declared English
cool and Foreign officially ridiculous.
Shocking Blue, Abba and the Scorpions
went fully Anglo. The Who told their
Paris crowd, “We’d like to speak in
French, but we didn’t go to school”.
Forty years on and Welsh is okay.
Gorky’s, Furries – Welsh is sounding
The title of the album is lifted from
Welsh writer Owain Owain’s 1976 novel
in which robots clone humans and,
intentionally or not, Gwenno’s voice
has an android ring to it. For non-Welsh
listeners, the language adds to the
alien effect. She sounds soothing, but
there is an ironic Stalinism in lines like
“Llawenhawn ym mharhad llwyddiannus
ein gormeswyr gogoneddus” (“Let us
rejoice in the continuing success of our
glorious tyrants”). Sometimes you wish
she would crack and spill some emotion,
but in vain.
That said, she does carry some beautiful
melodies, although the real soul here is
in the tunes, the widescreen sound, the
lovely indistinct details at the edges.
And besides being Welsh, there’s plenty
of German sentiment. On ‘Chwyldro’,
there’s the line, “Byw’r gorffennol ar
dy gyfrifiadur / Ond sdim ar ôl o’r hen
adeiladau” (“Living the past on your
computer / Whilst there’s nothing left
of the old buildings”), but the past is
present here in the form of analogue
synths and rhythms gifted by Kraftwerk,
Neu! and Can. It’s a world previously
mined by Stereolab, but this is less
studious or kitsch, more joyous and
expansive. Gwenno mixes her influences
on her own terms and we’re not just
in 70s Europe. These songs also recall
wide-eyed American pop, with hints
of Tom Tom Club, The Go-Gos, even
There are unpredictable touches too,
particularly in some of the intros, which
could stand as little abstract pieces of
their own. There’s a nice moment in
‘Sisial Y Môr’ (‘The Whispering Sea’)
when an unsynced soft horn synth
arpeggiator starts looping, apparently
in conflict with the rest of the tune, but
it goes on anyway. The start of ‘Stwff’
(’Stuff’) meanwhile recalls The Beatles’
‘Revolution 9’. Then in comes that
rhythm again.
All in all, ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ is a confident and
playful production. It feels like there’s
a glorious pop record struggling out of
the retro grooves. But in the closer,
‘Amser’ (Cornish for ‘Time’), as another
opaque soundscape brings in another
giant bassline, Gwenno sticks to the
programme. And so we climb on once
again and head into weightlessness.
remains unknown to the wider electronic
community is beyond astonishing. It’s
actually close on criminal.
The Geometry Of Night
Andrew Lagowski’s ambient
techno classic from the mid-90s
gets reissued with a brand-new
companion recording
In a parallel universe out there
somewhere, Ralf Hütter is a booking
clerk for Rail Europe, Dave Gahan drives
a forklift at the Homebase warehouse
in Romford, and Hartnoll & Hartnoll are
the best solicitors in Leamington Spa.
Some say they’re the best in the whole
of the West Midlands. Andrew Lagowski,
meanwhile, is one of the most successful
electronic music artists of all time.
By rights, Andrew Lagowski should be
one of the most successful electronic
music artists of all time in this universe
too. He’s been doing his thing for more
than 30 years, starting out as half of
cult darkwave outfit Nagamatzu in the
mid-80s and subsequently releasing
solo albums as S.E.T.I., Legion and plain
old Lagowski. He’s never made a pop
record, his interest is largely in what you
might term ambient techno, but his work
has always been of the highest quality
– rich, sophisticated, precise, detailed,
expressive, evocative, experimental yet
very listenable – and the fact that he
Some of Lagowski’s most interesting
output has been as S.E.T.I., a project
named after a real organisation called
Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life (yes, they
do exactly what you’d imagine they do),
and this reissue of ‘The Geometry Of
Night’ is about as good as it gets. The
album originally came out in 1996 (the
second of what has now been more than
a dozen S.E.T.I. releases), but you really
wouldn’t know it from the impeccable,
crystalline production. The way that the
sounds here fill the room is a testament
to Lagowski’s sonic design skills.
Three tracks sum up what you should
expect from ‘The Geometry Of Night’.
One is the deceptively dreamy and
ultimately unsettling ‘Fire Night’, which
features a lengthy sample of a team
of CNN journalists reporting live from
Baghdad as they witness the opening
barrage of the US bombing campaign on
the Iraqi capital during the First Gulf War.
Strange to think that America and it’s
allies are still conducting nightly bombing
raids on Iraq almost 25 years later. The
second track is the glitchy and dubby
techno sound of ‘FL13’, which wouldn’t
have seemed out of place on Warp’s
‘Artificial Intelligence’ compilation earlier
in the decade, but also acts as a marker
for where techno would be heading
in the 21st century. The third is ‘Mare
Crisium’, a track constructed from layers
of vocal harmonies that spiral slowly
round and round and round some more in
a seemingly endless celestial swirl. It’s a
startlingly beautiful piece.
There’s plenty more to recommend
elsewhere and also on the bonus
CD that comes as part of the reissue
package. This additional disc is entitled
‘Companion’, but it’s not a compilation
of out-takes or remixes or the like,
instead it’s a collection of entirely
new tracks recorded just a few months
ago apparently using the Arpeggiated
Stardust Method (no, haven’t the
foggiest). It’s a lot darker, heavier and
more obviously outer spacey than ‘The
Geometry Of Night’ in its themes – in
many ways it seems more of a sister
album to S.E.T.I.’s ‘Final Trajectory’ from
last year – but it’s fascinating stuff and
will ensure that newcomers to Andrew
Lagowski’s work get a good grasp on
what he’s all about.
If you are one of those newcomers, you
need to get on to this straight away.
There really is no time to waste. You’ve
got an awful lot of catching up to do.
gently oscillates, but it’s all about
Alexander’s pipes. When he opens right
up, as he does here, it sounds like Bros.
Bros! Which is a little too 80s raw.
If you look at the 80s revival scene in
the round, by rights Years & Years should
be feeding on pastures much lower down
the commercial music mountain. But
here they are, front and centre, limelight
turned up to 11, with music that’d barely
have grazed elbows in the 80s let alone
the charts. So what gives? Listening to
the whole album, that thing we couldn’t
put our finger on? Put our finger on it,
haven’t we.
Chart toppers turn in a
pop-fuelled debut with a
twist of... oh, what is it?
When we first set ears on London threepiece Years & Years, we immediately
liked the jaunty cut of their jib, but we
couldn’t quite put a finger on why.
Tipped for big things, keyboarding
frontman Olly Alexander, basser Mikey
Goldsworthy and synthesist Emre
Turkmen (ably assisted by live drummer
Dylan Bell) picked up the BBC’s Sound
of 2015 award, not to mention a far
more prestigious Electronic Sound 50 For
2015 nod. Six months later, whomph,
a Number One single in the shape of
‘King’. Being your usual narrow-minded
music hack, I am of course immune to
the Number One hits. Curses.
Listening to ‘Communion’, Years & Years’
debut album, you can really start to
unpick the appeal. They clearly aren’t
your usual mainstream fodder. Theirs is a
sound that harks back to the borderlands
of the 80s and the sort of outfits you’d
all but forgotten – The Lotus Eaters, The
Fixx, Fiction Factory, Leisure Process...
That said, the opener, ‘Foundation’, is
a head-scratcher. A slow, moody synth
What they’ve done is crashed borderland
80s into early 90s rave. And what a
brew. Think SL2’s ‘Way In My Brain’,
Bassheads’ ‘Is There Anybody Out
There?’, Bizarre Inc’s ‘Playing With
Knives’, K-Klass’ ‘Rhythm Is A Mystery’,
mix it with that pop-synth tinge, et voila.
It’s proper, this. Their references are spot
on. The result is a tune-fuelled, bigselling outfit with the sort of substance
that makes people with decent hearing
listen up. The long and short of it is
you’ll need a heart made of old string
and bird shit not to like the deep, warm
thrum and rich, stabby synths that are
wall to wall throughout. No wonder their
record label were eager to get this one
out of the traps.
‘Real’ is a true pop dazzler and ‘Shine’,
their second Number One, is one of those
songs you’re sure you’ve heard before,
such is the infection. You don’t so much
hear it as catch it. ‘Worship’ is a total
sing-along hands-in-the-air anthem. Of
the whole lot, ‘Desire’ is perhaps the
standout by a nose. It’s clear why this
is the track that grabbed everyone’s
attention late last year and started the
ball rolling.
For the most part, ‘Communion’ is a
euphoric grin of a record. And now
the penny has dropped, we know why.
Choppy synth at night? Ravers’ delight.
Years & Years, we salute you.
Thrown down at the same breakneck
speed as their much-venerated previous
long-players, ‘Austerity Dogs’ and ‘Divide
And Exit’, Williamson and sidekick
Andrew Fearn don’t do tinkering. ‘Key
Markets’ offers more of the same spleenventing bluster, touching on themes
close to Williamson’s heart: character
assassination, delusions of grandeur, and
the pointlessness of politics.
Key Markets
A surprisingly soft, sweet and
emotionally uplifting third album
from the Nottingham duo. And if
you believe that...
“Sleaford Mods, Sleaford Mods, Sleaford,
Sleaford, Sleaford Mods,” chants an
expectant, belligerent crowd at the
start of ‘Key Markets’ and it feels like
something’s about to kick off. But then
the third album proper by the titular
Nottingham punk-hop duo is reason to
get excited. Very excited.
Sleaford Mods’ latest is named after the
Grantham supermarket that frontman
Jason Williamson’s mother took him to
as a child, a humdrum place where he
“drank Coke in a plastic orange cup”
surrounded by “bright yellow points of
sale and large black foam letters”. The
new album, he says, is “the continuation
of the day-to-day and how we see it
– the un-incredible landscape”. That
“day-to-day” ethos is fundamentally
at the core of what the Sleafords do
– a gritty, spittle-flecked invective
on what Williamson describes as “the
disorientation of modern existence”.
Fearn presses the buttons, his sparse
laptop beats, loops and nagging, lowslung basslines providing an essential
backdrop to Williamson’s relentless
jabber, hurled indiscriminately into the
ether. The latter calls a spade a spade,
pulling no punches, spewing out bile and
fury as he goes: half-sung, half-spoken
tirades are splattered with expletives like
a Tourette’s afflicted John Cooper Clarke
on speed. The social messages are often
serious, of course, albeit delivered in an
irreverent tone, but there are countless
hilarious moments where you can’t help
but piss yourself laughing.
It’s tempting to bracket Williamson
alongside shouty punk figureheads such
as Biafra or Rotten, but to tag Sleaford
Mods as just modern-day punks would
be doing them a disservice. In truth, they
sound like no one else; reflecting the
restlessness of the disaffected masses
on ‘Cunt Make It Up’ (“Am I being
unintelligent? / I don’t care / It’s a war,
you bastards”), Jason Williamson rages
at the system, spitting out incendiary
epithets like grenades.
And so it continues. ‘Face To Faces’
is a feral, rat-a-tat-tat stream of
consciousness, crackling with pent-up
fury; ‘Bronx In A Six’ finds him full of
gobby, indiscriminate attitude (“I couldn’t
give a shit what you think about me,
cunt”); and on ‘Rupert Trousers’, wit goes
hand-in-hand with anger (“Idiots visiting
submerged villages in £200 wellies /
Spitting out fine cheese made by that
tool from Blur / Even the drummer’s an
MP / Fuck off, you cunt, sir”). Wonderful.
Uncompromising, thrilling, resonant,
seriously compelling: they’re having
a real moment. Recent collaborations
with The Prodigy and Leftfield are a
further indication of Sleaford Mods’
burgeoning prominence and Andrew
Fearn’s electronic fusion solo project
EXTNDDNTWRK has legs too. It’ll be
interesting to see how those ideas might
feed into future Sleaford work. The
bubble will inevitably burst at some
point, but three incredible albums in,
with an increasingly diverse audience
lapping up everything they do, there’s
thankfully little sign of that happening
anytime soon.
field ambient folder. There are clear
echoes of the chilly rather than chilled
electronics of Autechre and Aphex, with
perhaps a twist of the post-industrial
sensibilities of Kevin Martin’s 1994
‘Isolationism’ compilation and the sonic
purity of Pete Namlook’s Fax label
Post-punk stalwart Graham
Dowdall continues his electronaut
Graham “Dids” Dowdall, a former
member of Mancunian art terrorists
and Morrissey faves Ludus, has chalked
up collaborations with luminaries like
Nico and John Cale and now resides
among the ranks of recently revitalised
cult experimentalists Pere Ubu. Those
are impeccable post-punk credentials,
you’d have to agree. But there’s
precious little evidence of them in his
solo electronic work under the Gagarin
banner. It’s almost as if a lifetime spent
making jagged, discordant rock music
requires a powerful antidote, namely
the construction of serene, soothing
The accompanying blurb for ‘Aoticp’, the
latest in a succession of Gagarin albums,
claims Dowdall makes “instrumental
electronica that doesn’t adhere to any
particular scene or style”. That may
well be true – at least there’s not much
in the way of slavish adherence to
traditional dance music genres here.
But equally, and despite the fact he
probably won’t like us doing so, you’d
have to place this squarely in the left-
In other words, if those reference points
are your kind of music, then you’re in
for a treat, as Gagarin is more than
capable of reaching the lofty heights of
the very best that this most horizontal
of musical movements has to offer. He’s
also got the versatility to keep your
attention over the 11 tracks contained
on ‘Aoticp’, shifting moods like weather
moving over rugged countryside.
Its extremities are its true highlights.
‘Homeservice’, for example, layers
background ambience and understated
interference to create an unsettling,
restless piece, which immediately
transports you and keeps you enthralled
throughout, despite on the surface not
doing very much at all. The thuggish
drum machine thumps and caustic pops
and crackles of ‘Bakelite’, on the other
hand, are all action, built around a few
exultant rave stabs possibly half-inched
from Orbital’s tour van the last time
they were parked up outside an arena,
but really put through the drill ‘n’ bass
This couldn’t be further from the
sweeter, more melodically simple
moments on ‘Aoticp’. The album’s
opener, ‘Ammil’, is intriguing enough
to keep you listening, but operates
on a mere handful of interweaving
chords, a couple of frisky polyrhythmic
counterpoints and the occasional note
soaring majestically above the mix. It’s
not too clever for its own good and is
a highly effective overture. Likewise,
‘Hilversumi’ starts out sounding like a
mouse running up and down the studio
keyboard when the DAT machine was
left on record after hours, but is steadily
drawn into focus aided by austere,
phasing synth strings. The result is as
atmospheric and emotionally turbulent
as one of Mike Paradinas’ finest tracks.
If you thought this end of the electronic
music spectrum reached its creative
peak in the mid-90s and stopped
moving forward shortly afterwards, then
Gagarin’s esoteric sound palate and deft
hand at crafting a melody will prove you
very, very wrong. Ladies and gentlemen,
we are floating in space once again.
In 1985, amid this portentous Orwellian
backdrop of civil unrest and social and
economic paranoia, Test Dept recorded
‘Shoulder To Shoulder’ with the South
Wales Striking Miners Choir, led by Keith
Bufton. All the profits from the album
and from a number of awareness-raising
live performances throughout the UK
went to support the strike.
Shoulder To Shoulder
Industrial music, solidarity, political
struggle – this timely reissue of the
landmark collaboration has it all
Whether or not it feels like it, this
album is an historical artefact from
another century. For those too young to
remember the 1984-85 miners’ strike
in the UK, it will perhaps stand as a
curiously arresting corollary to some
of the things they learnt at school. For
others, it will represent something far
more significant and re-open neural
pathways to long-suppressed memories
of a tragically barbarous time.
It was a period when phrases like
“police brutality” and “state control”
were common parlance, but they
were neutralised by a government
who dismissed them as the alarmist
propaganda of a Soviet-allied enemy
within; a notion perpetuated by a rightwing media that seemed mobilised as if
the nation was at war. Which, of course,
it was – with itself and its old paradigms
in a battle of the great British divide.
On the surface, the collaboration
appears as incongruous as any. But
these seemingly disparate entities had
plenty in common given Test Dept’s
formative years as London dockers,
inhabitants of a declining industrial
landscape soundtracked by the heavy
drum and clatter of metal on metal; a
sound reiterated in their uncompromising
percussive compositions. Let’s not forget
that industrial music was big at the
time too (see Germany’s Einstürzende
Neubauten and Aussies SPK) and owed
much to experimental forebears like
krautrock mavericks Faust, whose
explorations with found objects and
materials – cement mixers, riveters, scrap
metal and the like – predated the scene
by more than a decade.
As Test Dept’s Angus Farquhar put it in
a diary entry reproduced in the stunning
new book ‘Total State Machine’ (PCPress): “There is an untold power in
mixing together two musics of such
seemingly diverse backgrounds”. And
so Welsh male voice standards like
‘Myfanwy’ and ‘Stouthearted Men’ are
juxtaposed against intense, turbulent
bursts of Test Dept in full flow, and on
one track, ‘Comrades’, they perform
together to thrilling effect. The choir’s
contributions are heartbreakingly
poignant, perhaps carrying even more
pathos with the passage of time, such
is the almost overwhelming force of
humanity in their songs.
Then there are the spoken word
passages, including a recording of a
stirring public speech by Kent Miners’
Union figurehead Alan Sutcliffe: “Now
they’ve come for the miners! Now
they’ve come for the NUM! Now they’ve
come for the trade union movement!
You’ve got to get off your arse to help
us!”. This emotionally charged oration
thrillingly segues into a blistering aural
barrage of Test Dept at their most
percussively furious, encapsulating
everything that makes ‘Shoulder To
Shoulder’ so great – and that in turn
makes it so much more than any
straightforward nostalgic hit of agitprop.
The fact that some of the most
challengingly intense passages belonging
to Test Dept come over like a baton
charge to the eardrums is really quite
appropriate. They convey righteous
anger; an aural confrontation with
complacency and selfish indifference.
After all, the only thing these stouthearted men wanted to do was work. But
we all know how the endgame played
out for them.
during the moments when teenage
optimism is knowingly referenced with
a shrewdness that only someone with a
record collection that still includes discs
with neon airbrushed, soft-focus cover
art could evoke.
A far likelier explanation, however, is
that the wilfully self-contained Parker
decided – even as far back as when
he was touring ‘Lonerism’ – to issue
a statement of intent to ward off the
Kevin Parker’s super-slick third
album kicks out the 60s jams and
trips instead on the 80s
Cannily timed just as summer seems set,
the new Tame Impala bounds over the
high-voltage perimeter fence with all the
alert, wide-eyed freshness of a sugarhigh Bambi. Musical polymath and Aussie
phenomenon Kevin Parker has left the
rest of the 21st century’s future-psych
explorers trailing in his wake since 2012’s
‘Lonerism’, as 80 million-plus Spotify
plays attest, but some of his record
label’s hyperbole suggests a significant
progression from that astonishing
And they’re right, although the most
apparent progression is one that
eschews the loopy psych-rock elements
of ‘Lonerism’ and replaces them with
something that sounds far more geared
to the mainstream. This shouldn’t
be a surprise given Parker’s obvious
singularity, but somehow it is.
So the reaction to ‘Currents’ should
prove interesting, as it’s difficult not to
imagine many commentators wondering
out loud whether the big time is being
consciously gunned for here. Especially
The first track that hits as the biggest
departure, the one that is sure to leave
the stoners and day-trippers wondering
whether Parker is their friend after all,
is ‘The Moment’. Its finger-snapping,
uptempo soul is way smoother and more
commercially-oriented than anything
Parker has done so far. The bouncily
reverbed, synth-treated vocal chorus
sounds as sweetly blue-eyed as anything
a Hall & Oates-aping Pharrell Williams
could have dreamed up.
‘Yes I’m Changing’ states the title of the
fourth track in – and it’s impossible to
The simple, faux-ethereal synth organ
chords unashamedly reference the 80s
with their last dance vibes and even
recall a certain Bryan Adams song
that “enjoyed” an interminable stay at
Number One back in the day. It’s a long
way from anything on Tame Impala’s
2010 debut, ‘Innerspeaker’, that’s for
and almost as far from any of the joyful
lysergic kaleidoscopy that made the
predecessor to ‘Currents’ such a rollicking
great listen.
There is still much psych-washed,
exhilarating beauty to behold here,
though the hues and emphases are a lot
subtler. Both the propulsive, bass drum
driven ‘Reality In Motion’ and the robotic,
nutty, spoken word vocoder of ‘Past Life’,
with its swirling keyboards and soaring
backing vocals, engage in a way that
devotees who’ve been in from the start
will appreciate.
But it’s the outstanding ‘Let It Happen’
that really sticks. Slick, synth heavy and
running at just under eight minutes, it’s
a quietly epic and exploratory beauty,
lyrically ambiguous yet somehow
sanguine, and the tantalising openness
is hinted at and revisited several
times elsewhere, particularly on the
equally brilliant ‘Cause I’m A Man’. Its
downtempo introspection and irresistible
chorus melody (“Cause I’m a man,
woman / I’ll never be as strong as you”)
is high-order, r&b-inclined modern
synthpop as much as anything else and it
sounds like a hit.
If ‘Currents’ does end up delivering
the sizeable pay cheque that Parker
could have only ever dreamed of when
he was sealed in his Fremantle home
studio putting the finishing touches to
‘Innerspeaker’ five years ago, then who
knows what he might deliver next time
around? Really, who knows?
I needed to cure the Korg disease!”
Stunning neo-classical grand piano
three-hander led by octogenarian
krautrock master Roedelius
Two decades after co-founding the
seminal krautrock outfit Kluster – then
Cluster, now Qluster – although not
before recording as Harmonia with Neu!’s
Michael Rother and collaborating with the
likes of Brian Eno and Tangerine Dreamer
Peter Baumann, Hans-Joachim Roedelius
realised he’d grown tired of his oncebeloved synths and organs. He reckoned
they’d even started to take a toll on his
“You know, after nearly 20 years of
exploring with electronic sound, I realised
I’d got bored of it,” he told Electronic
Sound in January 2015. “I’ll tell you
something else too. It kind of made me
ill. I’d done so much experimentation on
my Korg MS-20 that I’d found out how
bad music can sometimes sound. There
was something about the vibrations in
the depths of my sonic experiments that
got inside me – and not in a good way.”
The cure came in the form of a piano
recital he attended in Vienna around
1980. “I felt like I’d had my first true
encounter with the beautiful sound of
the piano,” he said. “It was the medicine
So Roedelius sold his synths and took
up the piano, starting again with
the instrument he’d last played as a
schoolboy in East Germany just after the
war. Five years later, he gave his first
full concert on a Steinway at London’s
Bloomsbury Theatre. Many people have
spoken to him about the recordings
he made after that time, telling him
they’d felt somehow healed by those
wonderfully organic and meditative
compositions. And so it will surely be
with Qluster’s ‘Tasten’, a collection of
glorious, immersive, introspectively
elliptic and delicately poised pieces.
There are nine tracks on ‘Tasten’, but
differentiating them in a sense seems
somehow academic, working as they
do in very close unison, nocturnelike, in the true classical sense. But
while nocturne may well be the most
applicable word, there’s a quality of
stillness here that also evokes the
mellifluous light of an early summer
morning, particularly on ‘Il Campanile’
(‘The Bell Tower’). It brilliantly apes the
sound of distant ringing bells in a manner
that recalls both Claude Debussy and
Erik Satie, the latter the acknowledged
progenitor of the neo-classical style, such
is the beguilingly unconventional manner
in which the keyboards are played; part
percussive, part caressed in a way that
never grates or startles.
Roedelius’ last piano release as
Qluster was 2012’s ‘Antworten’, which
featured the unique and subtle tones
of singing bowls during several wellchosen sequences. This time round,
the elements are restricted to three
Steinways, the other two pianos being
played by Onnen Bock, with whom
Roedelius formed this third incarnation
of the group in 2010, and Armin Metz.
The trio explore the depth and potential
of these grandest of instruments with an
astonishing verve balanced by a lightness
of touch so typical of Herr Roedelius’
approach ever since that first keyboard
epiphany 35 years back.
‘Tasten’ is a stunning, hypnotic album. It
will hopefully introduce many of those
who may be aware of the enormous
Roedelius legacy, but unfamiliar with
his more recent work, to this minimally
modern, refreshingly unfussy branch of
Pic: Stefan Maria Rother
The Pink Opaque Tiny Dynamine/
Echoes In A Shallow Bay
We’re heading back three decades
for these classic reissues from the
Scottish spangle makers
It’s safe to say it’s still the case that
no one sounds quite like the Cocteau
Twins. Maybe it’s because their records
are literally inimitable or maybe it’s
clear that anyone attempting to replicate
that icy guitar, hollow bass and tight
percussion, coupled with Elizabeth
Fraser’s groundbreaking voice, would fail
to come anywhere close. Either way, so
unique and unparalleled is their style that
they hardly need any introduction.
Following the 2014 represses of ‘Blue
Bell Knoll’ and ‘Heaven Or Las Vegas’,
these two reissues from 4AD are a
glance back to the Cocteau Twins’ earlier
years. ‘Tiny Dynamine’/‘Echoes In A
Shallow Bay’ collects together two EPs
that were originally released just weeks
apart in November 1985, while ‘The Pink
Opaque’, a compilation of what could be
called the band’s juvenilia, was their first
US release in 1986.
The combined EPs show both the
darkness and the playfulness in the
Cocteaus’ music. There’s something of
Bauhaus about the brooding bass work
and there’s even a touch of prog to the
guitar line on ‘Plain Tiger’ (only a touch,
though), while tracks like ‘Melonella’
demonstrate just how mischievous
Fraser could be with her voice. Even
in this stage of their development,
the Cocteaus’ sound is rich and full of
excitement. The EPs make for heady
listening, taking you on a dizzying ride
through some exquisite instrumentation
guided by the reassuring presence
of Fraser’s indecipherable lyrics – an
encounter made even more intense by
having all eight tracks from the two
releases back to back for the first time.
While ‘Tiny Dynamine’/‘Echoes In A
Shallow Bay’ is a treat for the long-time
Cocteaus fan, ‘The Pink Opaque’, as was
originally intended, provides an excellent
initiation for new listeners. Opening with
the breathtaking ‘The Spangle Maker’,
this compilation immerses you at the
deep end of pre-1986 Cocteaus. There’s
‘Millimillenary’, Simon Raymonde’s first
outing with Robin Guthrie and Fraser, and
‘Wax And Wane’ from their debut album
‘Garlands’, as well as cult favourites
‘Pearly Dewdrops’ Drop’ and ‘AikeaGuinea’, both of which are still incredible
Some of the material featured on ‘The
Pink Opaque’ demonstrates an edgier
side to the band that might not fit with
the sound that generally comes to mind
when thinking about the Cocteaus,
but the occasional heavier guitar work
provides a delicate balance for those
other truly celestial songs. Again, this
record is an intense emotional experience
that will make you shiver, shudder,
Considering how many of their
contemporaries have found new homes
in the hearts of today’s music lovers,
it’s odd that the Cocteau Twins have not
been granted quite the same recognition.
This set of reissues might not catch the
attention of the young and hip right
away, but with the continuing popularity
of weird, ululating female vocals – see
the enduring love for Kate Bush, or
Róisín Murphy, or even Grimes – it might
just be the moment for a Cocteau Twins
renaissance. ‘The Pink Opaque’ and ‘Tiny
Dynamine’/‘Echoes In A Shallow Bay’ are
the perfect opportunity to revisit a band
like no other. Or to discover them for the
first time.
That flute is bonkers, though. It sounds
bonkers and the band even describe
it as “mad flute”. It belongs to Nathan
“Flutebox” Lee. In short, the man is a
leading proponent of beatboxing... while
playing a flute. Like either of those
skills aren’t quite enough on their own.
It is actually surprisingly entertaining
watching him do it. YouTube is your
friend here, people. “Nathan’s like the
Jimi Hendrix of the flute,” claims ADF
mainstay Chandrasonic and who are we
to argue?
More Signal More Noise
The return of a band who always
do things their own way... Hold on,
they’ve got a flute
Sit someone down, anyone, and play
them a couple of Asian Dub Foundation’s
umpteen long-players. Pick, say, ‘Rafi’s
Revenge’ from 1998 and perhaps the
Adrian Sherwood-produced ‘Enemy Of
The Enemy’ from 2003. Both are shining
examples of the sort of blind fury and
booming basslines this lot can whip up.
And that’s not to mention the plenty you
get to think about lyrically.
So play your people those albums and
then ask them what instrument they
would least expect to hear on an ADF
record? We are 16 seconds into ‘Zig Zag
Nation’, the opening cut of ‘More Signal
More Noise’, when it happens. A flute. A
FLUTE. We were not expecting that.
But then ADF are a band who always
have, always will, do things their own
way. And precisely because they’re ADF,
you’ll forgive them almost anything.
And with Adrian Sherwood back at the
controls for this outing, the forgiveness
goes double.
We’ve seen very regular ADF releases
since 1995’s ‘Fact And Fictions’ debut,
but ‘More Signal More Noise’ marks the
return of original members Dr Das on
bass and Rocky Singh on drums. Vocalist
Ghetto Priest also gets in on the reunion
for the first time in a decade. Recorded
in three days and mixed in the same
amount of time, the album has a fresh
vibrancy about it, a boys-are-back-intown completeness.
taut ADF rhythms. On ‘Blade Ragga’, it
stabs all jaggedy and swirls, like a soloing
guitar, only more like a nightingale.
There it is again on ‘Radio Bubblegum’, a
song whose chorus we’ve not been able
to shake for days.
It’s not just about the flute, of course.
‘The Signal And The Noise’ is a ferocious
bhangra racket, ‘Samira’ has the brilliant
Adrian Sherwood at his finest echo-andreply best, carving out a delicious mellow
groove, and ‘Stand Up’ is dub reggae
east London style. ‘Hovering’ is that
long-awaited bhangra/flute crossover
and ‘Flyover 2015’ is trademark ADF,
unpacking the synths and high-speed
ragga MCing over full tilt breaks.
So while the whole ADF with a flute
thing offers up plenty of cheap Jethro
Tull gags, it is still ADF. It’s their wont,
always has been, always will be. Are we
the richer for hearing it? We are. We
always are.
The flute dances over those unmissable
standards, things rapidly moved off in
a wholly other direction with an aria
to John Cage’s landmark tape work
‘Fontana Mix’, on which Krog’s naked
voice was sliced up and layered on top
of itself over and over. The result was
something between a William Burroughs
record and an oblique Yoko Ono Fluxus
Don’t Just Sing: An Anthology
A new compilation of one of the
world’s best experimental vocalists
– but is there enough electronica?
Something of a hero in Scandinavia,
Norway’s Karin Krog remains criminally
under-appreciated elsewhere. As
evidenced on the new Light In The
Attic compilation ‘Don’t Just Sing: An
Anthology 1963-1999’, Krog was (and
indeed remains) a versatile performer.
Her voice was the perfect complement
to esteemed collaborators like Dexter
Gordon, Jan Garbarek, Bill Evans and
Archie Shepp, always delivering a
commanding and captivating presence
as a leader but never allowing that to
dominate over the various players she
had assembled.
During a career that started in the
early 1960s, Krog also delivered some
calculated and ambitious forays into a
little explored frontier territory between
jazz and musique concrète alongside
traditional vocal jazz. These experiments
were best showcased on the album
‘Different Days, Different Ways’, which
featured tracks from 1972 to 1974. While
it partly offered obligatory earthy jazz
The more extreme ideas of ‘Different
Days, Different Ways’ are sadly omitted
from this compilation, but a hint of
the inventiveness can be found on the
layered, cut-up vocals of the brief ‘As A
Wife Has A Cow’ and ‘Glissando’, which
sees traditional jazz tropes subjected to
savage studio treatment. The previously
unreleased ‘Images In Glass’ also has
an ambitious and amorphous breadth,
taking in haiku-like utterances, ethereal
electronic textures and recordings of
shattering panes. By its conclusion,
it sounds like something Can’s Irmin
Schmidt could have delivered for a longburied German film score.
Another of the highlights here is
‘Just Holding On’ from Krog’s 1986
album ‘Freestyle’, recorded with her
husband and frequent collaborator, the
saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist
John Surman. It was an almost entirely
electronic record, relying on synth brass
sounds and ambient textures instead of
sonic trickery and manipulation. Much
tamer, certainly, and often somewhat
twee, the better moments on ‘Freestyle’
bore similarities to AC Marias’ ‘One Of
Our Girls (Has Gone Missing)’ from the
same era.
Like many surveys of artists who have
embraced eclecticism in their careers,
‘Don’t Just Sing’ feels a little uneven.
It would have been better to have split
this into two distinct discs, one focused
on Krog’s core vocal jazz tracks and the
other dealing with the more adventurous
side of her output. As it stands, it
leaves those looking for her extreme
experiments vaguely thwarted, while
anyone interested in her traditional work
will most likely wind up skipping the
weird stuff.
In Remembrance
An avant-classical piano suite from
the multi-talented performance
Delia Gonzalez’s previous album for
DFA was the 2005 analogue synth
project ‘Days Of Mars’ with long term
collaborator Gavin Russom, which
yielded remixes from Carl Craig and Baby
Ford. In stark contrast to that work, ‘In
Remembrance’ is an altogether more
classically artistic endeavour, but this is
perhaps fitting for someone who is as
involved with performance art as she is
with music.
Scored almost entirely for piano, ‘In
Remembrance’ is both beautiful and
subdued. The 30-minute work was
originally created to accompany a series
of four films of graceful ballet dancers. It
was first performed at the Galleria Fonti
in Naples in 2010 and then at similar
gallery locations in Cologne and Zurich in
2012. By the time the show transferred
to Manhattan’s Clocktower Gallery
in 2013, Gonzalez’s music had been
replaced by electronic interpretations
by Bryce Hackford and Alice Cohen,
both of whom operate in similar multidisciplinary scenes as Gonzalez.
This release eschews the Hackford and
Cohen versions and presents the four
compositions as layered piano pieces.
Only the third track, ‘III’, seems to
betray the involvement of any obvious
electronic intervention, thanks to a bed
of elusive atmospherics and a vague
semblance of a rhythm underpinning
Gonzalez’s note clusters and melodies.
By contrast, ‘IV’ displays a dramatic,
repetitive urgency, a more grandiose
and dynamic quality compared to the
levity and intrigue offered elsewhere.
The association with dance brings to
mind John Cage’s frequent work with the
Merce Cunningham Dance Company, but
even with out of place notes, discordance
and faltering passages, Gonzalez’s
pretty articulation here belongs more
appropriately to the Erik Satie school of
melodic possibility.
It would have been good to hear
the Clocktower Gallery versions, but
instead ‘In Remembrance’ is padded
out with remixes by Bryce Hackford.
Unfortunately, these initially subject
Gonzalez to murky ambient revisions,
turning her distinctive piano sections into
watery textures with foundations built
from a minimal techno pulse. It’s always
interesting to hear something moved so
far from its initial state, but Hackford’s
first couple of mixes suffer from forcing
the music onto a predictable grid.
Still, at least hearing these treatments
makes you begin to fully appreciate the
live and organic quality of Gonzalez’s
performances earlier in the collection.
Hackford’s basic conceit is to sequence
his remixes with a DJ’s sensibility so
that they rise out of ephemerality to
something much more concrete, while
still retaining the feel of being in a
clinically white-washed gallery space.
The most successful is perhaps ‘Remix
III’, which builds across its 11 minutes to
a robust acid hybrid featuring copious
manic filtering alongside unchanging
loops of Gonzalez’s notes. This being
the obligatory euphoric high peak of
his set, Hackford’s ‘Remix IV’ takes the
expressive playing of the original and
makes that the centrepiece of a classic
deep house cut, offering a laid-back
conclusion to proceedings.
Indeed, his love affair with Roland even
extends to him co-authoring ‘R Is For
Roland’, a book focusing on 23 pieces
of gear made available by the legendary
Japanese manufacturer between 1973
and 1987. Again, much of this technology
features on ‘Dinsync’, which sees Matlak
sidestep his usual dub-tinged dancefloor
explorations to conjure up a set of
stealthy, often short, hardware-driven
electronica pieces.
Roland synth obsessive Michael
Matlak presents a nihilist analogue
‘Dinsync’ is a leap into the unknown for
The Analog Roland Orchestra. Despite
the sophisticated alias, TARO is actually
the work of lone wolf Michael Matlak, a
31-year-old synth freak originally from
Poland, now living in Berlin. Although
he studied violin for a decade, there
is no discernible orchestral element to
be found here. Instead, Matlak relies
entirely on his collection of vintage
Roland Corporation synths – an obsession
that began many moons ago with the
purchase of a TR-606 drum machine.
“I am not a big fan of software,” Matlak
once claimed, but you’d never know
it from this: ‘Dinsync’ sounds like any
other modern electronic record made
in the box. That’s an impressive feat
considering these tracks were stitched
together using over 30 different synths
and drum machines collected by Matlak
over the years.
Despite citing jazz keyboardist Bob
James and Moog pioneer Mort Garson as
inspirations, Matlak’s more contemporary
interests lie in Chicago house and
Detroit techno, most notably in artists
such as Legowelt and Laurent Garnier.
That said, this album shows far more
reverence to the glacial, warped melt of
Boards Of Canada, whose influence is
unmistakeable. ‘Weird Vibrations’ and
‘Burned Earth’ in particular pay homage.
Naturally, with so many analogue
currents coursing through its veins and
married to Matlak’s conceptual “end
of days” theme, there’s a somewhat
desolate feel to much of the music
here. This is no more apparent than on
the introspective opener, ‘If…Then’, a
brief and melancholic track that blends
shimmering ambiences with reverberating
distortion. The two-minute instrumental
‘Really’ provides equally moody
Elsewhere, the record takes great joy
in tormenting the listener, as bubbling
basslines anchor syncopated tones and
fermented keyboard overlays. The timestretched vocals of ‘Safe!’ are genuinely
unsettling. They shiver ghoulishly as if
trapped, ‘Videodrome’ style, on a platter
of crushed skulls, while the scrunched
beats and rudimentary space echoes
emit hopeful frequency waves, perhaps
pleading for extra-terrestrial assistance.
Although ‘Dinsync’ is only 30 minutes
long, Michael Matlak does a great
job of dusting down and polishing up
the contents of his Roland workshop
to deliver a haunting exercise in
contemporary dystopia. Considering the
tools at his disposal, the album couldn’t
possibly have sounded less telluric, but
its murky analogue patina is so effective
you may need to scrub yourself down
with bleach afterwards.
The album opens up with a wonky,
skeletal beat, a super-brief introduction
called ‘Imagination’, so it’s track two
that kicks off proceedings in earnest.
‘Freedom’ swirls with synth bells and
spiralling arpeggios, before a shuffling
breakbeat enters to drive it along, giving
it the air of a classic 69-era Carl Craig
production remade by a vintage period
Shut Up & Dance.
A funk-filled debut from the
new kid on the Ninja Tune block
From the chilled output of label founders
Coldcut to the revolutionary rap of Roots
Manuva and Young Fathers, there’s
always an element of funk at play on
Ninja Tune releases. But the debut album
by Houston-born Seven Davis Jr goes
way beyond an element of funk. Funk,
in its most literal form, is at the very
core of this often downright irresistible
Davis, if that’s the correct abbreviation,
was raised on Prince and Stevie Wonder.
And it shows – in the bump and grind
of every groove he’s produced and the
deep vocals he lavishes on top. But
he also cut his music making skills
in the defiantly left-field skool of LA
electronica, meaning that this is anything
but a traditional take on the f-word. In
fact, ‘Universes’ straddles genres with
nonchalant ease, from eccentric-sounding
soulful house to hip hop beats given the
same quirky, non-puritan reinvention
that Luke Vibert specialises in. The
results may not slip easily into one
category or another, but they certainly
have a distinctive, unifying flavour from
start to finish.
‘Sunday Morning’ sees the first
appearance of Davis’ distinctive voice
and on the surface it seems more
conventional, propelled by some Princelike guitar flicking and a looping vocal
refrain: “Bet you never had a love like
this before”. It doesn’t play by the wellworn rules of house music, though,
jumping sections where you least expect
it, stopping and starting and adding a
wonderfully bonkers synth solo that
is both disorientating and thoroughly
enjoyable. ‘Everybody Too Cool’, with its
falsetto vocals and backing harmonies,
has the hallmark of a Parliament or
Funkadelic extravaganza, only hitched to
a thudding rock beat and still retaining a
chaotic vibe.
‘Good Vibes’, an unashamedly
exhilarating house workout featuring
guest singer Julio Bashmore, is probably
the clearest candidate here for summer
anthem status. It will no doubt be
compared to Daft Punk, but the more
clued-up among you will notice it has
more in common with the knockedup spontaneity of ‘Spinal Scratch’ or a
host of other Thomas Bangalter solo
efforts. The album’s true centrepiece,
however, is ‘Fighters’, its production
stripped down to the barest elements – a
single snare, the tiniest of grooves, ultra
sparse instrumentation – to give Davis
the space to deliver a heartfelt vocal
performance apparently ruminating on
the recent racial violence sweeping parts
of America.
Combining unlikely influences and
spanning a plethora of moods, ‘Universes’
is definitely ambitious enough to deserve
its interstellar title. An accomplished
debut for sure, fans of all things maverick
and rule breaking should watch this
space with interest.
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