20 January 2016
Originally airing this past Monday, January 18th on the Doncaster Electronic Foundation‘s weekly Monday night show, I was asked to provide a playlist of songs that I had some connection or personal engagement with. The playlist is likely a bit of an oddball mix of songs given that my musical interests when I was young were a bit unorthodox. Given that there’s a few “lost” gems in there including 90s synthesizer/post-hardcore band The VSS and their one album “Nervous Circuits”, some lesser known Canadian synth bands from back in the day as well as some tracks from projects I was involved in that have been dragged out of the vaults.
The show is now archived on MixCloud, which you can listen to below. I was asked to provide a bit of a back story on the tracks so my original texts for the playlist have been included here as well.
1&2. The VSS — “What Kind of Ticks?” / “Chemical In Chemistry” (1997)
When I was really young I was into random pieces of unconnected music: mainly little bits of synthpop here and there along with very odd pieces of classical/modern classical music like Stravinsky or Ligeti. Then when I was in my early teens I got into punk and hardcore music and by that really got into music. I was very involved in that scene that was spread through the underground in Canada and the US in the early to mid-90s.
As the 90s progressed bands active in the hardcore scene started revisiting old synthesisers and more “classic” post-punk. The VSS were a hardcore band from Denver, Colorado that after a series of very discordant hardcore 7” singles they released their one and only album “Nervous Circuits” in 1997. It was this amazing mix of hardcore and synthesisers: very Wagnerian and sci-fi in scope and one can hear elements of Gary Numan and Public Image in the mix. It was one of several similar records that got me back into synth music, synth pop, new wave, post-punk, etc. This is the only album I own on more than one format as for me it was an important record.
This is actually two tracks off the record but they’re meant to be listened to back to back to experience the full drama.
3. The Faint “Cars Pass In Cold Blood” (1999)
The Faint started around the same time as The VSS, and from the same general scene but The Faint got a lot more popular and could be credited with being an early band in the post-punk revival of the 2000s. This is off their second album “Blank-Wave Arcade” from 1999. I’ve had a chance to play with them several times back in the day and they are still one of the better live synth bands to this day.
4. Glass Candy “I Always Say Yes” (2006)
It’s hard to believe but this band have been around for almost 20 years at this point and I’ve followed them from early on. I bought one of their early 7”s in the late 90s in Portland, where they’re from and had a chance to see them in various pubs, house shows, etc before they really took off in the mid-2000s. Their earlier material was a lot more noisier and aggressive: sort of a distorted 70s NYC punk meets glam David Bowie through a no wave filter or something. This track is from when they transitioned out of that and started going down a more synth/italo disco route before their subsequent success and Johnny Jewel’s work with Ryan Gosling on the film “Drive”, etc.
5. Dangerous Boys Club “Electric” (2013)
This band has been around for several years and consists of a lot of members that were active in the same 90s hardcore scene as The VSS and The Faint, as well as have ties to more popular bands these days such as Chromatics, Glass Candy, Bestial Mouths, etc. Synth pop though a more experimental filter — maybe a bit of Suicide in there.
6. Radio Berlin “All Systems Go” (1998)
Radio Berlin was a post-punk band I was in from 1998 to 2005. This was the first more “synth oriented” band I was in. We put out a few albums and toured North America a lot. This was the first song we ever wrote and is arguably the most “new wave” sounding one we wrote and almost entirely instrumental. All these years later I still have an attachment to this track maybe as there’s a nostalgia for that time. “All Systems Go” was recorded for our first demo entirely on a Tascam 8-track recorder in our rehearsal space, which was a the basement room of a house our bass player was living in with my sister at the time.
7. Savage Furs “Satyricon” (2010)
Savage Furs were a short-lived London band I was in from 2009 to 2011 with my friends Del and Chris. We played around London but it folded after one year of live shows. We released one 12” — a weird mix of synth, new wave and experimental psychedelics. One thing I really loved about this group was Del’s lyrics, which were in a completely different universe than the typical material you would expect from a synth-oriented band, being more in line with Dali-esque surrealism than cold romanticism. This is a demo version from a track didn’t make the 12” and has more of an italo/synth vibe about it. Del runs the popular Futurismo label and Chris currently plays as Mild Peril.
8. Soft Riot “For Your Entertainment” (2015)
This is the first track from my new record that I’ve recently premiered a video for. I’m currently writing new material for a future release that I’ve been playing out live, some of which people will hear at DEF in February.
9. The Parachute Club “Middle Child” (1984)
This band was a perfect example of a “CanCon” band — relatively big in Canada in the 80s but likely unheard of elsewhere. My stepdad had this on cassette and would play this album quite regularly. This is arguably the most “synth pop” sounding track on the album and one I have a bit of a soft spot for.
10. Psyche “Black Panther” (1986)
The next few tracks shift to more Canadian music. In Canada our radio and TV is regulated so that 40% of the music content being played has to be Canadian so growing up a lot of the music that was big in Canada was unheard of anywhere else really. I did a mix on my site a few years ago that was all synth and postpunk from Canada: some obscure, some mainstream stuff. Psyche were from Edmonton and played a style of synth music that got very popular in Europe, where they still are playing some regularly to this day.
11. Images In Vogue “Educated Man” (1982)
Also written as “IIV”, Images In Vogue were a Vancouver synth band active from the late 70s until the late 80s. They were a frequent band at a club called Luvaffair, which was like Vancouver’s own version of the Blitz club maybe, opening for a lot of UK bands at the time that would play there. This is an early track of theirs. Their drummer, Cevin Key, would leave the band around 1984 to start Skinny Puppy.
12. Sur Une Plage “The Right Drug” (2015)
Released last year, this band contains a good friend of mine and former Radio Berlin drummer Josh Wells, who also plays in the well-known psych-rock band Black Mountain. This whole album has a classic synth pop feel with great production. I’ve opted to choose a slower track from the album as I like the feel of this one, especially the very resonant bass synthesizer line.
13. Sally Dige “Hard To Please” (2015)
I left Vancouver around eight years ago now and since then the city has an incredible synth and post-punk scene that could easily rival any notable European city for output. The scene there is very healthy and there’s a lot of new bands to choose from but in this case I’ve opted for Sally Dige, who now lives in Berlin. This was released last year on the Glaswegian label Night School.
14. Ubre Blanca “The Quarry” (2015)
And tying together the previous track, Ubre Blanca are a “horror synth” band from Glasgow on the Giallo Disco label. Glasgow is another city that has a very healthy music scene, especially with more synth-based bands and I always get a great reception playing there. Many good bands and clubs: Hausfrau, Den Haan, Kaspar Hauser, Optimo, Seconds, Apostille as well as the old classics like Simple Minds, Josef K and the list goes on.
15. N?i Kabát “Industry” (2013)
Continuing on with a selection of newer bands I’m into, there’s a lot to choose from but I thought I’d pick a small cross-section I’ve had some dealings with. Noi Kabát are essentially an English band with members in London (Jonas) and Vienna (Dee) with whom I’ve toured with three times in Europe now. I think a main strength of their music is not just their sound design but also their leaning towards less conventional chord structures which are absent from a lot of synth bands these dates who tend not to stray to far from the obvious minor chord-based chord progressions. This is hinted at in the chorus of this track which was a centre piece to the 2013 tour I did with them on a 7” single that’s now well sold out. The band is now a two piece with original synth player Owen Pratt now playing with Uncanny Valley, with whom I did a tour with them and Hausfrau a couple of months ago.
16. Schwefelgelb “Irgendwo Vereint” (2013)
Schwefelgelb are a two piece electronic project from Berlin who are quite popular in Europe. My friend Sid plays in the band and I’ve seen them transition from a more synthpunk/EBM sound to something that’s a bit more angular and techno sounding. They are a great example of a “less is more” sounding production — more miminal but sounding absolutely huge in a live show scenario. They’re a good example for a lot of electronic bands out there that overload their productions with unnecessary layers that can easily weaken impact on record and when playing live. Until recently Sid used to play in Keluar as well.
17. I/II (Split Personalities) “Statues” (2014)
This is a track by Croatian synth artist/man-on-the-scene Ivan Antunovic who splits his time between Zagreb and Vienna. He’s a great guy and a fantastic artist and runs the Half Releases label. This is his last release under the “I/II” moniker, now playing as “Iv/An”. The 12” is called “Earthquakes Usually Come Around At Night” and this is a nice, almost Motown sounding minimal synth track that has a nice, warm Soft Cell feel.
18. This Is The Bridge “Manifesto” (2015)
A solo project of UK synth artist Richard Anderson, who has in the past put out stuff on Ivan’s Half Releases label. Richard’s style has a lot of similar inspirations to early output like bands like Human League and Cabaret Voltaire but sounding like it’s own thing. This Is The Bridge focuses on a Ballardian vision of modern life than opting for the easy routes of “pop gold” or what is an easy score on the dance floor. His recordings have very interesting production, great atmosphere and the guy is absolutely prolific, often putting out two albums a year, or so it seems!
19. Paradox Sequenz “Nicht Konform” (2015)
Sebastian Wagner of Paradox Sequenz is a Münich-based synth artist with whom I played with him opening for Robert Görl at the 2014 edition of Gothic Pogo in Leipzig. There’s a healthy scene in the southern part of Germany for new wave and minimal synth and this an example of some of the stuff coming out of that part of the world at this time and it’s nicely into the the traditional of synth music and Neue Deutsche Welle.
20. The November Group “Work That Dream” (1985)
European-influenced, androgynous and intelligent synth/post-punk from Boston MA (USA) headed by songwriters/vocalists Ann Prim and Kearney Kirby, I’ve really picked up on The November Group‘s back catalogue over the last year, which is all really good. This is off a later recording of theirs, their earlier material sounding more post-punk. I first heard heard them through a friend of mine, Jon Lyman from Milwaukee WI who used to send me mix tapes and CDs in the post after meeting him at a show in Minneapolis in the summer of 2000. Highly underrated.
21. Saâda Bonaire “The Facts” (1984)
Another hidden gem from around the same time period, Saâda Bonaire were a collective of musicians from Bremen fronted by singers Stefanie Lange and Claudia Hossfield and a number of musicians, a number who were Turkish immigrants new to the city at the time. This one and old self-titled album they put out is a varied amount of strong, synth-funk based material with a more androgynous female vocal style that sits alongside artists like Gina X, Ronny or Cristina.
22. Ein-st-ein “Varsavia” (1983)
I love italo disco, especially the more melancholic, atmospheric output of the genre. There’s so much great italo to choose from but I settled on this one by Ein-st-ein, which either myself or Lyle will through in our DJ sets as a “last track of the night”. A very dreamy and European sound. Aside from what people might pick out as what they think are obvious choices for what they think influences my sound, I think italo disco works it’s way into the Soft Riot sound here and there for sure.