Wednesday, 25 February 2015

GLASGOW ENDLESS TWO - GLASGOW'S ELECTRONIC MUSIC REVOLUTION CONTINUES

In July 2013 ( http://almostpredictablealmost1.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/glasgow-endless-glasgows-electronic.html ) I took a look at four local bands who I'd just discovered were playing electronic music in Glasgow. This was a fairly new concept to me as, to my knowledge at the time, the Glasgow music scene didn't feature much, if any electronic music. Since I wrote that piece however, things have changed significantly, driven by a combination of the global success of Chvrches and the city's continually innovative and inspiring music scene. I felt that it was something well worth revisiting and so caught up with five bands to find out what they think of the current scene.

I spoke to a mix of bands, some established (Machines In Heaven, Atom Tree), some making their mark (Apache Darling) and some new and hotly tipped (The Insomniac Project, Happy Meals) and the general feeling was the same throughout - the electronic music scene in Glasgow is as buoyant as it ever has been, and that is an exceptionally good thing. Once you've read this piece, do check out the bands it contains, but don't stop there; seek out as many others as you can from the industrial turned sleek electro pop sounds of Analog Angel to the perfect machine pop of Twissted to the cinematic electronics of Malmo. Glasgow is currently covering all bases. Even as I wrote that sentence, the likes of Errors and Turtle sprang to mind for example. There is so much going on that it's almost impossible to fully cover and that's a rather beautiful thing. Even this week, I've profiled two new bands in Tongues and Kloe and it's only a matter of time until I find more. Anyway, enough rambling - let's chat to the bands.

1. MACHINES IN HEAVEN

Machines In Heaven
As regular readers will know, one band I have been particularly taken with is Machines In Heaven. They debut release, the superb Glasgow Jihad e.p. was followed by 2014's debut album bordersbreakdown displayed a mix of electronica that sounded like it came from a seasoned band, not a debutant. The band's Hindu Milk e.p, which like bordersbreakdown was released on Glasgow's superb Hotgem label, rounded off 2014 in superb style with the band coming moving more towards electronics in a sublime way. I asked them how things had progressed for them since Glasgow Jihad:

MiH: "A marked change is that we're playing less gigs but bigger ones, for example, The Art School Mental Health Scotland show and The Pleasance in Edinburgh. We've done sessions for Radio Scotland and pulse FM and even popped our London cherry."

APA: Do you see Hindu Milk as a progression from bordersbreakdown? 

MiH: "Very much. It's the first time the three of us have written songs together so that explains the different sound. There are three distinctive styles on there too but having said that we are maintaining the loose set of 'rules' we developed for borders - epic but melodic sound, huge outdo, a subtle blend of all our tastes. There are also more vocals and synths though we're not ditching the guitars in any way."

APA: What do you think of the current Glasgow electronic scene? Has it changed much since we last spoke?

MiH: "If anything it's got even stronger. We've been commenting recently that it's hard to find new guitar bands because everyone is doing an electro 2 or 3 piece. We don't try to sound like a particular scene though. We just do the thing we're doing, and people say we sound different so we're happy with that. Glasgow's a victim of its own success- there's so much happening every weekend it's hard to get people to come to your gigs!"



Machines In Heaven really are one to watch and 2015 is going to be a huge year for them. As well as their Glasgow gigs (next up March 13th at The Old Hairdressers) they are going to play a small English tour, will hopefully pop up at festivals on both sides of the border and will start to narrow down their 50 or so demos for their second album which will hopefully arrive towards the middle of the year. Keep an eye on the Machines.




2. ATOM TREE
Machines' labelmates, Atom Tree, are a band I mentioned towards the tail end of my July 2013 article. Like Machines, their profile has risen hugely since then and their Clouds e.p. at the end of 2014 was a superb release. I asked Shaun, the band's founding member how the last 18 months had gone for the band:

Atom Tree
AT: "The last 18 months have been fantastic. I finally found a singer and got play some of the best festivals in Scotland, as well as having two e.p's out. It feels liked we've played a lot of gigs in the last 18 months and I'm looking forward to writing new music"

APA: What about the current electronic scene in Glasgow? How do you see that?

AT: "From the bands we've played with, there is a lot of talent out there. Sad City is one that sticks out. I've played with him twice and his live shows are spectacular. The Simple Things festival in 2014 really highlighted the quality of Glaswegian electronic music as well as the quality of electronic music that Glasgow attracts."

APA: What are your plans for 2015?

AT: "The plan is to get an album and tour ready. The album will probably feature 8 of the best songs I've written in the last year plus any new songs that spring up during the album writing sessions. I'm still working on the balance of instrumental to vocal tracks at the moment, so it will be a challenge but I'm looking forward to it."

There's no doubt that 2015 can be a huge year for Atom Tree. Check out Hold On below to hear how good they are



3. APACHE DARLING
One band who have really caught my attention this year are Apache Darling. The band comprise Stefanie Lawrence and Andrew Black and they play some of the most perfect synthpop you'll hear. They first came to the world's attention last year with the release of the magnificent More Than Me and quickly followed that with a residency at Glasgow's best electronic venue Broadcast. As well as all this they've managed to gather a lot of radio play from Radio 1 to 6 Music to XFM and success surely awaits them. Prior to their second release, the superb Firebird they found time to speak to me.


APA: An easy one to start - tell us about you influences.

Andrew: "I learned piano listening to the likes of Elton John and then became quite obsessed with David Bowie and Jean Michel Jarre which led me onto synthesizers. Hearing bands like OMD, ELO and Gary Numan blend electronics with classic pop set off something in my imagination"

Stefanie: "I grew up with 50's rock 'n' roll courtesy of my Dad and my singing teachers were the Beatles and Brenda Lee. My mum introduced me to the other musical decades and mu higher education came from Prince and Bowie."

APA: How do you see your music? You've used the hashtag #thenewpop on social media - what's that all about?

Stefanie: "I'm really driven by melody and hooks. #thenewpop represents the new era of the classic pop song. It's almost nostalgia - what we think a pop song should be"

Andrew: "There are two sides to it: mainstream bands will try and crowbar in synth sounds because it's popular whereas new bands can try and be too cool and dark and don't write songs you want to hear again and again. I think we have a good balance of ballsy analog synths and good catchy pop songs."


APA: What are the band's plans for 2015?

Andrew: "We've been blown away by the support we've had, particularly online. At this point we're concentrating on building our catalogue and fanbase."

Stefanie: "We've had a brilliant six months and it's only the beginning. We'll be putting our second single online soon (Firebird - released after this interview). It's so reassuring to see the support we've had considering we're unsigned and unknown."

APA: And finally, what do you think of Glasgow's electronic scene at the moment?

Andrew: "The trend right now is definitely leaning towards electronic. There's a flurry of great new bands who alcove under that umbrella and they're all doing pretty well. Where I think we stand out is that we're not afraid to call our music pop  and I think people always relate to that"

I certainly do. If Apache Darling's two releases thus far are a guide, the pop world could well have some new synthpop heroes on the way. 




4. THE INSOMNIAC PROJECT
Another band who have grabbed me recently are new kids on the scene The Insomniac Project. They are a 6 piece who play a lovely brand of hugely catchy electro pop. They have only released two tracks so far, Parallels and Shake Those Demon both of which bring to mind all sorts from disco to the popper end of the DFA spectrum to Hot Chip and beyond.  I had a chat to Andy from the band


APA: It's the influences question again - tell us about the band's inspirations:

TIP: "Myself and Gaz are pretty much influenced by anything DFA related from LCD to Holy Ghost! and beyond. We also take the indie side of our influences from the like of Bloc Party and mix that with the likes of The 2 Bears."

APA: And how would you describe your music? What's the #nosleepforthedreamers hashtag all about?

TIP: "We want to have a crisp, polished sound that lends it to a commercial feel, embracing our pop side. On stage though, we want it to be more dynamic. As there's six of us we're on top of each other and we feed off each other's energy. The hashtag was a tagline I first came up with when I came up with the idea for the group. It ties in with the band's name and with the idea of escapism, about using music as an escape from the mundanity of everyday life."

APA: What about Glasgow's current electronic scene - how do you see that?

TIP: "It's on the up. Obviously, Chvrches have done amazingly. Bands like Atom Tree and Apache Darling are barking up the same tree as us so hopefully we can all flourish this year."

APA; Talking of this year, what does 2015 have in store for you?

TIP: "Short term, hopefully a few more demos before our show at The Old Hairdressers on February 27th. We then plan on writing and releasing an e.p and we'd love to play shows with some more established acts.

As Andy mentioned there, the band play The Old Hairdressers in Glasgow on February 27th and it will no doubt be quite a show. 




5. HAPPY MEALS
The final band I caught up with are Happy Meals who released their debut album Apero on Glasgow's Night School Records last year. A mix of cosmic synth genius and analog disco joy, the album was one of my favourites of last year. Suzi from the band granted me an audience.


APA: Tell us about the history of Happy Meals?

HM: "Saturn's moons aligned with Neptune and the cosmic vibrations turned us to each other. We have grown up together and, in the last year, decided to start making music together. Apero is the culmination.

APA: How pleased were you with the album?

HM: "So pleased. We've made many new friends and have explored bright horizons thanks to the kindness of people who have liked the album. It's a real pleasure to know that people all around the world are listening to and enjoying our music. It's beyond our expectations."

APA: And what are your 2015 plans?

HM: "We're touring for two weeks at the start of April with our good friend Michael from Apostle. We'll also be putting our minds and hearts together for the next album starting in the summer."




CONCLUSION TIME AGAIN
At the moment, Glasgow has as vibrant an electronic scene as anywhere else I can think of. The five bands who I've interviewed all come from different ends of the electronic spectrum, but they all have in common their fantastic music. It's a real joy to have discovered these and bands and to keep discovering more every week. If you are from Glasgow, celebrate this scene and dive in. See the bands live, but their releases and be proud that the city is producing such a diverse range of outstanding music. If you'r not from here, come and see us and join in. You'll find all the electronic music you need.

Thanks very much to everyone for giving up their time to speak to me. All the links to the bands' Facebook and Twitter pages are found in the articles above

(c) Almost Predictable. Almost 2015. No part of this article is to be reproduced without the prior consent of the author.




SOME MARTIN GORE NEWS?

This afternoon, Martin's Facebook page was updated with this picture and the hashtag #MGxMG


What on earth is going on? New album? New single? Simply pictures of some new wires Martin has bought? Keep an eye on his Facebook page for more info

Monday, 23 February 2015

NEW BANDS 2015 NO 6 - KLOE

This new bands thing is getting out of hand there are so many that I'm struggling to keep up. My newest discovery is Kloe. Kloe is a Glasgow based singer/songwriter who produces rather gorgeous electronic music. Her debut track Grip was picked up by the likes of Zane Lowe, XFM and so on and rightly so. It's a beautifully melodic piece of synthpop which you really have to hear



Kloe is playing her first ever gig at the Garage in Glasgow on 28 February (see pic below for all info) and will follow that with an appearance Belladrum Festival in August with more shows and more music to hopefully come very soon


For more info, check out Kloe's Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/mynameiskloe?fref=ts ahd her Twitter page http://www.twitter.com/kloemusic

NEW BANDS 2015 NO.5 - TONGUES

It seems that every time I look at Twitter or Facebook, I discover a new Glasgow based electronic band and for someone who tries to cover that sort of thing, that's excellent. Last night I came across Tongues and, by a rather marvellous coincidence, they've released new track Anymore today. Tongues are described on their website (http://www.tonguesmusic.com/) as "Bold Synths, Deep Subs and Vocoders" which pretty much nails it. With definite echoes of the likes of early Hot Chip, Tongues' debut track, Colours In The Dark, introduces the band perfectly. It's an instantly memorable track and one that has rightly been praised by anyone who's heard it



The follow up, Anymore, is a sparser, more minimal affair that combines electronics, beats and a superb chorus to quite wonderful effect. It's something that I'd recommend you go and hear straight away.


Tongues' debut gig is on 12 April at Broadcast in Glasgow and it's definitely one to get along to. For more information, check out their website above or the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/tonguesmusic?fref=ts)


NEW ANALOG ANGEL SINGLE - YOUR BREATH

Glasgow's Analog Angel have a new single available as a free download from today. Premiered on Sunday 22 February on the Dave Charles show, Your Breath can be downloaded from Analog Angel's Bandcamp page here https://analog-angel.bandcamp.com/track/your-breath



The song is released ahead of the band's upcoming support slot on Covenant's UK tour. The tour stops at Glasgow (Classic Grand) on 3 March, Newcastle on 4 March, Birmingham on 5 March, Manchester on 6 March and London on 7 March before finishing up at Bristol on the 8th, Your Breath continues Analog Angel's transformation from their early industrial feel to a crisper electronic pop sound. The song displays their trademark mix of clean electronics and John Brown's powerful but melodic vocals to great effect. Go and grab it now and catch the band on tour near you shortly




Saturday, 21 February 2015

NEW BANDS 2015 NO 4 - KILL THE WAVES

Glasgow sextet Kill The Waves are another band rightly garnering much praise with their mix of electronics and guitars, producing a sound not unlike Radiohead and Arcade Fire clashing together and combining their more melodic moments. Their first offering on soundcloud was the immense Better Days which you can hear below. 


The band have signed to Glasgow's ace label Bloc+Music and their debut album The One That Could Have Been, which I can't wait to hear, will be released on that label on 20 April 2015. To tide you over until then, head to their soundcloud pages to download new track Vow (listen below) and go to The Skinny's site to see the video (HERE)

There is surely an exciting future ahead for Kill The Waves and I can't wait to hear their album. Keep an eye out for any gigs they have coming up too as if they can translate their recorded sound to the live arena, it will be something well worth hearing.


Kill The Waves Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/killthewavesofficial?fref=ts
Bloc+Music Facebook https://www.facebook.com/blocmusicglasgow?fref=ts

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

MARNIE - CRYSTAL WORLD

For someone who professes to write about as much Glasgow based or related electronic music as possible, I've no real excuse for not picking up on Helen Marnie's ace debut album Crystal World until now. I love Ladytron, bought the RSD 12" of The Hunter, but somehow overlooked the album until this week. It was released in June 2103 for God's sake! Thankfully, I've now put that right and, since the weekend, haven't stopped playing it. If you're a fan of electropop, synthpop or whatever you want to call it, you really should give this album a go.

The album opens with the brilliant The Hunter (video below) which is a pulsing electropop song which, inevitably I guess, brings to mind Ladytron albeit a Ladytron not frightened to put a pop sheen on things. As with most of the tracks on here, the song has a ridiculously catchy chorus and it's a really strong start to the album. It's topped however by track 2, We Are The Sea, which is as good an electronic song as I've heard in years. Chvrches have rightly had much praise over the last couple of years but We Are The Sea is as good if not better as anything on The Bones Of What You Believe. The chorus again is the key here - it's stunning. If you try one song from the album, try this one. Two tracks in and you're hooked and Hearts On Fire keeps you there. A moodier slice of synthpop than the openers, it brings to mind Pet Shop Boys more mournful moments like Kings Cross or Behaviour which is certainly no bad thing. I will stop going on about choruses at some point as it's probably boring you now but once again, the chorus here is brilliant. Helen's ear for melody and the way her voice mixes with the electronics throughout really makes this album stand out and the opening three tracks are as good as any opening to an album as I've heard in a long time. Next up, Violet Affair has a 60's feel to it, mixing a French pop style with a slight psychedelic feel to great effect before The Wind Breezes On, slows the pace with a slice of moodier electronics that still retains a pop like feel quite marvelously.


Sugarland is a really cool track; it focuses more on beats and has a more driving, pulsing feel to it than anything on here bar The Hunter. The different styles of song used throughout all work which is something worth noting. Nothing stands out in a bad way or seems out of place. High Road returns to the pop theme, sounding like an updated version of Yazoo, producing a perfect slice of synthpop, before Laura then transforms the mood again. It's a really interesting track, layered with different vocal effects and reminiscent in places of Goldfrapp's quieter moments. The penultimate track Submariner is one of the album's standouts. A nearly 8 minute long electronic pop masterclass, the song is a superb example of how good electronic music can be when it's kept clean and simple and its extended outro brings to mind the poppier side of Vince Clarke's more experimental moments. We then end on Gold, a brilliant end to a brilliant album, a track that once again has one of those choruses that you can't help but fall in love with.


Like I said at the outset, I've no idea at all how I missed out on this album when it was released. It really is a gem of an album and it's one that anyone who has even a passing interest in electronic pop should hear. There may be easy comparisons to be made with Ladytron or Chvrches but doing so misses the point. This album stands on its own and, if you do want to compare it to The Bones Of What You Believe, then it is at the very least the equal of that and is deserving of as much attention as that album has had. Go and check this out right now.

Crystal World is available from Les Disques Du Crepuscule ( http://lesdisquesducrepuscule.com/ ) and on download.




Monday, 16 February 2015

ELECTRONIC INSPIRATIONS 3 - KRAFTWERK.

Normally, this Electronic Inspirations section features a specific album by a specific band and it had been my intention to write something about The Mix by Kraftwerk, but BBC Four's recent, mainly dreadful Pop Art show prompted me to change my usual approach. Instead of that programme being a glorious history of arguably the most influential band of all time, it was instead a Paul Morley narrated half arsed history with the occasional chink of light (Pocket Calculator live from 1981, Francois Kervorkian's undiluted love for the band) and was ultimately hugely disappointing. I'm not going to pretend that this piece will be anything like the definitive history of Kraftwerk of course. Instead, it's a look back at the band's musical history with some of my own, no doubt questionable views thrown in. As electronic inspirations go, only electricity itself has influenced electronic more than Ralf and co.


BEFORE MEN WERE MACHINES - THE EARLY YEARS

It's easy to skip over pre-Autobahn Kraftwerk, partly because many people simply don't know about that era and partly because any electronic music articles tend to start at Autobahn and work from there. Kraftwerk's formative years are important though, as the experimentation they group displayed then lead to the electronic experiments they became famous for. Florian Schneider and Ralf Hutter had met as students and had played in a group called Organisation whose only release was Tone Float (RCA 1969), which was produced like all good German albums of the time by Conny Plank and was a sprawling mix of prog like tracks. It's by no means essential listening, but there are some nice moments in tracks like Tone Float and Rhythm Salad. Ralf and Florian soon left Organisation and formed Kraftwerk.


It wasn't the classic line up at this stage and a number of musicians were involved including, rather wonderfully, Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger who went on to form Neu! a band that deserves a blog of its own as they are quite marvellous. Florian remained the only constant member of the band at this stage as even Ralf took time out when he returned to University. Two albums of more prog like jams were released in 1970 and 1972 as Kraftwerk  and  Kraftwerk 2. From the first album, it's certainly worth checking out Ruckzuck and Megaherz. They're fairly unrecognisable from Kraftwerk today but they do contain hints of what the band would become. Here's Ruckzuck live on West German in 1970 in front of an audience of German hipsters of the time. Some of them even seem to be enjoying it.


Kraftwerk 2 is the better of these two albums. The artwork shows that Kraftwerk were always conscious of how their image came across, as it mirrors Kraftwerk 1's road cone art, differentiating itself by having a green rather than a red cone. 


This album was also written entirely by Ralf and Florian and features some great tracks such as Klingklang (so good they named a studio after it) and Harmonika. There are electronic percussive effects galore throughout the album and many "real" sounds are treated and manipulated. Here's Klingklang:



1973's Ralf and Florian followed Kraftwerk2 and contains far more electronics again, with synthesizers and, notably, the vocoder playing a key role. The album contains six tracks similar in sound to the b-side tracks from Autobahn, with Elektrisches Roulette and Ananas Symphonie my personal faves. Wolfgang Flur and his knitting needles playing tin foil drum machine had joined by this stage, moving the band closer to their best known incarnation. 


Here's the band on groovy West German tv show Aspekte from the time, with Ralf still looking like a young Michael Stipe and Florian like an accountant who's walked into the wrong room


So far so good but not that outstanding. Things were shortly about to change.

AUTOBAHN

What is there to say that hasn't already been said about 1974's Autobahn? It's the album that made people notice Kraftwerk, the album that is essentially responsible for anything produced thereafter with a synthesizer on it, an edit of the title track rather bizarrely gave Kraftwerk a hit on both sides of the Atlantic and so on and so on. It's so much more than the title track alone however. Certainly, Autobahn the song is an outstanding piece of work that is a think of such unspeakable genius that my words alone would never do it justice. If you haven't heard it already (and if that is the case what on earth are you doing reading this?) remedy that instantly. It invents at least four genres of electronic music over its 22 minutes 47 seconds and if you don't immediately burst into tears with joy at the sheer beauty of Ralf's "Jetzt schalten wir ja das Radio an/Auf dem Lautsprecher klingt es dan" immediately followed by the radio singing (singing! Ok it's a vocoder) "Wir fah'rn auf der Autobahn"  at  14 minutes 13 seconds in then your soul has been removed. It is utterly impossible to overstate the importance of this song.



The title track aside, however, there are four other tracks on the album which all feature on the b-side. The stand out is Kometenmelodie 2 which is a jaunty electro pop masterpiece but the other tracks (Kometenmelodie 1, Mitternacht and Morgenspaziergang) are all certainly worth hearing too. They are fairly experimental in places and even use real instruments but they all work. Autobahn is the first properly complete Kraftwerk album and you shouldn't just listen to the title track alone.






RADIOACTIVITY


Radioactivity (1975) is my favourite Kraftwerk album. It's the first one to feature the classic Ralf Hutter/Florian Schneider/Karl Bartos/Wolfgang Flur and was the first that was solely produced by Ralf and Florian. It was also the first to be recorded at the band's own studios, Kling Klang. The album sounds like it has been beamed in from another planet and time and is, I think, wholly electronic. Thematically, it focuses on nuclear power, radioactivity and radios, with the band seemingly caught between deciding which one of the two radio themes to lead with. Opener, Geiger Counter is just what you'd expect it to be and it leads into the title track, Radioactivity. This song never fails to amaze me. I remember listening to it at school just after The Mix was released and being amazed at the difference in mood between the original version and its remixed cousin. It's a beautiful track underpinned by a choral effect that surely wasn't possible in 1975? Breathtaking.


The whole album contains such moments, from Radioland's mournful but gorgeous evocation of a golden age of radio, to The Voice Of Energy's terrifying electrical transmitter barking at you in a scary robot voice. Closing track, the puntastic Ohm Sweet Ohm is marvellous. It starts off with the vocoder singing the title and builds through what sound like the kind of pre set rhythm tracks you'd get on keyboards in the 1980's to a closing electro pop finale. As I mentioned above, the whole album sounds like it was created on another planet and is so far ahead of its time that you can't quite believe what you're hearing. After Autobahn's success and given the three albums that were to come, Radioactivity is often, wrongly overlooked, other than getting mentioned as the album that David Bowie became obsessed with, leading to the likes of Low and Heroes. For me, it's the first Kraftwerk mission statement and the first evidence that Kraftwerk were doing something that no other band had even contemplated.


TRANS EUROPE EXPRESS

It's hard not to lapse into clich├ęs when talking about Trans Europe Express. Its influence is well known, from the Human League to Afrika Bambaataa, and it's the first of a run of three albums that are recognised as the bedrocks of electronic music. Oddly, whilst I adore much of it, I find tracks like Showroom Dummies and  The Hall Of Mirrors seem a bit out of place given the album's theme of travel. Opener Europe Endless is simply beautiful, a 9 minute 40 second track that immediately seats you on the train sung of in the title track and zooms you through the European countryside. The part where Ralf sings "Life is timeless" to which the vocoder responds "Europe Endless" is so heartbreakingly lovely that it never fails to give me the shivers. The two tracks I mentioned above follow, before we board Trans Europe Express and set off on a remarkable musical journey.


There is nothing about the song that isn't perfect. It chugs along like an actual train and sings of Vienna, Dusseldorf and, superbly, meeting Iggy Pop and David Bowie. It's honestly incredible. As the song ends it mutates into Metal On Metal where Kraftwerk decide to invent industrial music given that Trans Europe Express had already invented every other genre. Franz Schubert follows, using the arpeggiated part from Europe Endless as its base, before we end on Endless Endless, a simple vocodered piece that rounds everything off wonderfully. Another thing to note is the artwork (German cover below) which is brilliant. Look at them - 4 blokes in suits who are responsible for everything that is good in music.


As I said at the outset, it's all too obvious how influential this album is, but it is one that is still worth revisiting. For something recorded in 1977, you hear the sound of modern music all over it.

THE MAN MACHINE

For 1978's masterpiece, the band further developed the notion of machines taking over the world by becoming machines themselves. The Man Machine is an immaculate album that is probably the defining Kraftwerk piece. Everything, from the stunning artwork to the minimal precise electronics throughout the album, is perfect. It really is an astonishing album that deserves repeated listens. The synth class of 77-82 from Vince Clarke to Martin Gore to Steve Strange to Soft Cell and beyond were listening and taking notes. It kicks off with The Robots, a 6 minute plus masterclass in electronic music. Despite it being a song about actually being a robot, the song is far from a detached, icy futurist piece. As with all Kraftwerk's takes on technology, travel and radios/radioactivity, there is a real beauty to be found within the song.


Spacelab follows and it's rhythms and beats are frankly astounding. The more threatening sounding, but still beautifully melodic, Metropolis is next before we reach the Kraftwerk go pop sounds of The Model. Now, you all know this track and it's as good an example of electropop as you'll find anywhere else, but too many people still think this is the only thing Kraftwerk have ever done and that's something that needs sorted out! Part of this may be due to the track's success in 1982 when it became a UK number one for the band having initially appeared as the b-side to Computer World. Anyway, The Model  is obviously a great track but it's a little incongruous on The Man Machine.


The album's final two tracks are works of ten out of ten, 100%, unquestionable supreme majesty. Neon Lights is one of the most beautiful electronic music tracks that there has ever been. It lasts over 9 minutes but even that seems too short. A remarkable track. By the way, NEVER listen to Simple Minds cover of it - your ears will never recover. The song was released as a single and came on a luminous vinyl 12" which I have and believe me its a great thing (see below). The album ends on the title track which could well be the most robotically precise piece of music ever. It's slightly spooky ("The Man Machine/Semi Human Being") but by this point Ralf and co actually considered themselves to be machines so fair enough. The track opened the show at the only Kraftwerk gig I've seen (Glasgow 2004) and I have no shame in saying that I had tears in my eyes. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. 



COMPUTER WORLD

It could be said that Computer World (1981) is Kraftwerk's most influential album. It certainly is in a three way tussle with Trans Europe Express and The Man Machine  in terms of influence on specific genres and artists. With this album, Kraftwerk essentially invented the internet, so thanks to them you're reading this.


The album begins with a bang with Computer World,  a track that predicts how the man would end up spying on us all ("Interpol, Deutsche Bank/FBI and Scotland Yard")  before Pocket Calculator takes us off into a world where music is made on something the size of a calculator. Reading this on a phone with a number of music apps on it are you? For the world tour, the band rather marvellously all had calculator type machines on which to play the track (see below). Track 3 of the album is one of the greatest things anyone has ever done. Numbers is such a bewilderingly incredible piece of electronic music that my words are insufficent to describe it. If you don't know it go and listen now, but believe me, when you hear it you'll realise you know it and you know hundreds of tracks influenced by it. Computer World 2 then leads us into Computer Love a song that predicts internet dating and, despite that, sounds majestic. Finally, Home Computer and It's More Fun To Compute talk about the sort of things that we all know take for granted whilst, musically, still sounding like a future that hasn't yet happened. 




Computer World is one album that everyone must own, such is its impact on modern music. 


TOUR DE FRANCE and ELECTRIC CAFE

All good things must come to an end and it's perhaps no surprise that Kraftwerk couldn't keep us their astonishing 74-81 run. Post their 1981 tour, the band started work on an album rumoured to be called Techno Pop which doubtless would have carried on in the manner we had all become accustomed to. Sadly, Ralf had a bike accident, so the album was put on hold. A standalone single called Tour De France was released in 1983 and, as Autobahn resembled the feel of driving, Tour De France gives the impression, both rhythmically and with its sounds, of being on a bike. All well and good, but it's not what one would call a great Kraftwerk track.


In addition to Ralf taking time out to recover, the band also became concerned with the quality of the tracks demoed for Techno Pop and so, over the next couple of years, they spent time re-recording and editing them. This led to a lengthy gap between albums with Electric Cafe not appearing until December 1986.


The album itself isn't great. There are some fine Kraftwerk moments, notably Techno Pop and Musique Non Stop, the latter of which is still a key feature of their live shows but the rest of the album suffers from a blandness that Kraftwerk had never suffered from before. Some of the sounds even sound a little like preset sounds which is surely not the case. Sex Object is possibly the band's low point and whilst The Telephone Call has a traditionally wonderful melody, it never really takes off. It's a shame and I guess that Kraftwerk perhaps suffer from having released four near perfect albums prior to this one. One positive is that their crystal ball was still working, as the title track Electric Cafe basically invents internet cafes.

THE MIX

The Mix (1991) was my entry to Kraftwerk and I still love it to this day. Wolfgang Flur had left the band after Electric Cafe and between that album and The Mix the band gave Kling Klang a makeover and decided that, instead of a greatest hits album, they would remix the highlights of their career for a new generation of fans, one of whom was me. 


Most of the key tracks are here from The Robots to Autobahn to Radioactivity and beyond. The latter features new lyrics which leave you in no doubt that it's a song about the fear of nuclear disaster and Autobahn is rebooted with the sounds of Formula 1 cars. Pleasingly, it still features the singing radio in the middle. One notable omission is Numbers although that may be due to the fact that the original still doesn't sound dated.

THE 21st CENTURY

Since The Mix there hasn't been a great deal of Kraftwerk activity, at least in terms of new material. A standalone single, Expo 2000 came out in, yes you've guessed it, 2000 and that was followed in 2003 by Tour De France Soundtracks which continued Ralf's obsession with cycling and that race itself. The album is decent enough with Elektro Kardiogramm and the wonderful Vitamin the highlights. 



The band hit the road (how un-Kraftwerk does that sound?) and played numerous shows including the tear inducing Glasgow one I mentioned earlier. The set was a mix of the album and greatest hits and was thrilling from beginning to end with the appearance of the robots being a highlight. It's all captured on the live album and dvd Minimum Maximum which is well worth a listen and look.



The band were then silent until 2009. In 2004, Ralf talked about the band transferring all their files from their master tapes to new formats for remastering and reissuing and indeed a promotional boxset of remastered albums did appear in 2004. The actual reissues didn't turn up until 2009 however with the release of The Catalogue which contained remastered versions of Autobahn, Radioactivity, Trans Europe Express, The Man Machine, Computer World, Electric Cafe (now renamed Technopop and somehow better for it), The Mix and Tour De France Soundtracks (now renamed Tour De France). The sound throughout was better and crisper and the albums had newly designed sleeves. It's a great package and one that's certainly worth having. As for the pre Autobahn albums, rumours abound of reissues but there is no news yet. Here's hoping.


Since The Catalogue the band have certainly been busy, almost constantly touring. Sadly, Florian left in 2008, leaving Ralf as the only original member. The band are still blowing audiences minds live with their 3-D show and, purely selfishly, I hope they continue to do that, as I've still not seen it yet.

ENDLESS ENDLESS

As I've banged on about above, it's not possible to overstate how influential Kraftwerk have been and continue to be. Without them, we wouldn't have Bowie's Berlin phase, Depeche Mode, New Order, Detroit techno or Howard Jones. Well, the last one would actually be a great thing, but I'd rather have a world in which Kraftwerk exist with Howard Jones in it, than one where Kraftwerk didn't exist at all. I guess that anyone reading this knows about Kraftwerk and owns plenty of Kraftwerk so tonight, go home, put on your favourite Kraftwerk album, enjoy it and give thanks to Ralf and the boys. We owe them a lot.


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

HOT CHIP ANNOUNCE NEW SINGLE AND ALBUM

Hooray! Hot Chip are back. This morning, they've announced a new single, Huarache Lights, and a new album Why Make Sense? which is released on Domino Records on May 18th. There is also a small UK tour prior to that with dates in Glasgow, Manchester and London. Here's the video for Huarache Lights which is, unsurprisingly brilliant


The album will be available on vinyl, deluxe double vinyl with bonus ep, cd, deluxe cd and download. If Huarache Lights is anything to go by, it's going to be huge. The tracklist is:

1. Huarache Lights
2. Love Is The Future
3. Cry For You
4. Started Right
5. White Wine And Fried Chicken
6. Dark Night
7. Easy To Get
8. Need You Now
9. So Much Further To Go
10. Why Make Sense?
11. Burning Up
12. Separate
13. Move With Me
14. Re-Harmonize



Keep an eye on http://dominorecordco.com/whymakesense/ for all information about the album.


Hot Chip Twitter https://twitter.com/Hot_Chip



Monday, 9 February 2015

APACHE DARLING - FIREBIRD

Glasgow's newest synth stars Apache Darling have released a new track Firebird, one which I can't stop playing at the moment. The track follows last year's More Than Me and offers a different sound to that song. Firebird is a slower, less obviously pop track but still manages to provide a chorus that is impossible to forget once heard and manages to embrace all that is good about synth pop. It's a great song and one that again confirms how much promise this band has. Trust me, one listen and you'll be hooked - click play below....





For more information on Apache Darling, check out their website here or their Facebook page here and look out for the forthcoming Glasgow Electronic Too blog on here which features an exclusive interview with them.