2019 – The Year In Review

A year in electronic music…

2019 proved to be a hectic year for electronic music with new acts emerging, old acts releasing new material, a wealth of music events and some intriguing crossovers. Here, TEC looks back on 12 months of wired wonders….


With 2018 barely behind us, there was praise for the debut album from The Rude Awakening (feat. Bridget Gray). Kaleidoscope was a release that writer Jus Forrest summed up succinctly: “As an album, Kaleidoscope is definitely one of contrasts and it takes a certain amount of artistic courage to come up with something this ambitious, and for it to actually be good”

Ladytron had gone through a gruelling situation with PledgeMusic as the crowdfunding initiative floundered while the Liverpool outfit’s involvement was still active. Despite this, they delivered an eponymously titled studio album which our review concluded: “Ladytron serves as a testament to the electropop outfit’s willingness to embrace change, while still staying faithful to their electronic roots.”

Perhaps one of 2019’s biggest, and most welcome, surprises was the return of Northern Kind. Matt Culpin and Sarah Heeley reunited to offer up ‘lip Service’, a composition that we suggested was “a finely tuned slice of dancepop perfection.”

It wasn’t all UK-centric action, however. In March we cast an eye over Japanese cyberpunk outfit PSYDOLL and their series of Machine Kingdom EPs. In particular, the driving electronic rhythm underlying ‘Hector’ offered one of Psydoll’s best moments, batting between guitar riffs and Nekoi’s clipped vocal delivery.

March also presented some intriguing releases from grassroots acts, including Brutalist Architecture in the Sun. Dean Clarke’s “analogue synths and post-punk beats” outfit saw him collaborate with vocalist Cye Thomas for Monochrome Beach. “If you like your analogue synths and coldwave wonders” TEC’s review concluded, “then Brutalist Architecture in the Sun will serve you in fine style.”

Originally hailing from Italy, but now based in Holland, Tenedle (aka Dimitri Niccolai) became a regular at the Synthetic City music events here in the UK. Traumsender, Niccolai’s latest album, was one that our review summed up as one that “…doesn’t strictly conform to the ideas of what electronic music should be. Instead, Niccolai is happy to keep his musical options always open. Synths sit alongside piano, guitar, brass and strings to paint an earthy, vital sound.”

TEC favourites Symbion Project, a musical project via Seattle-based musician and composer Kasson Crooker, released the Backscatter album. This slice of electronica was one that struck a chord at TEC HQ: “As a Symbion Project album, it serves up a remarkable collection of electronic compositions that have a haunting, melancholic resonance.”

Hailing from the Netherlands, Heliophile is a synthpop project masterminded by Gijs van Ouwerkerk. ‘Melding Of The Minds’ was a new offering for 2019, a polished slice of synth-pop built around tight percussion and captivating synth melodies.

In April, BOO – Battery Operated Orchestra returned with Snared, an album of remixes based on their Cold War-inspired album Snare (see TEC review previously). Boasting contributions from Chicky and Coco, Matt Culpin, Jan Doyle Band and preston.outatime, our review said “Snared does a superb job of presenting BOO’s songs through the lens of a variety of talents. Each manages to bring their own vision to bear on the Cold War classic.”

Hannah Peel teamed up with poet Will Burns on the album Chalk Hill Blue, which was pitched as “electronic ruralism”. Meanwhile, Girl One And The Grease Guns offered up Transmissions From The Glass Factory – an album of garage synth-pop meets 60s girl groups.

Coming some five years after 2014 album Joyland, TR/ST announced a 2-part album titled The Destroyer, which saw Robert Alfons reunited with original collaborator Maya Postepski (Austra, Princess Century). While the album delivered some fine sleazy synth outings, it was the bittersweet pop stylings of ‘Gone’ that really sold the album.

The flamboyant KNIGHT$ served up debut album Dollars & Cents, which presented a selection of energetic pop. Our review summed it up as an “unashamedly bold love for 80s pop anthems and Italo Disco” adding “it’s an electro outfit challenging its listeners to a dance-off on the disco floor.”

April also saw the Artefaktor Live 3 event take place in London. This ambitious festival featured 15 acts, mixing up talent from the UK, Germany, France, Sweden and the USA. This including EKKOES, Vogon PoetryLegPuppy, Rodney Cromwell, Morgan King, Cult With No Name, Nature Of Wires, Roxi Drive, Graflex, Sombre Moon, e-bit, Aux animaux, Static Shore, AstroVoyager and Empathy Test.

Marina (sans Diamonds) offered up new album Love + Fear. TEC’s conclusion? “Love + Fear is a more intimate album that diverts from Marina’s previous work in a way that might disappoint those that appreciate her more obvious pop bangers. But as a musician and composer, she’s clearly not interested in merely filing the serial numbers off of previous outings…”

In May, Howard Jones returned with Transform, an album that writer Imogen Bebb concluded: “…serves predominantly as a joyful reminder why Howard Jones’s music- and indeed, synth pop in its rawest form – still holds an endearing honesty and simplicity that is so easy for fans old and new to appreciate.”

Icelandic duo East of My Youth gave us the icy pop perfection of ‘By Blue’, while Empathy Test came back with a new composition – “‘Empty-Handed’ has an urgent energy that also has an evocative quality capable of touching the heart as well as the head.”

Enigmatic electro-post-punk outfit LegPuppy returned with new album Non Disclosure Agreement. It seemed to be a darker direction from previous efforts, but also boasted the mesmerising ‘Tears’ with a superb vocal from Voi Vang. But the chugging rhythms of ‘Nominate 10’ gave us the fast-clipped lyrical style of LegPuppy chief Darren Laurence. Here, some suitably satirical jibes on social media addiction exposed the compulsion for online banality.

2019 also served up a diverse selection of electronic music delights, including the aforementioned PSYDOLL in Camden. Meanwhile, all day electro pop festival Synthetic City returned with a line-up that featured Twist Helix, Heliophile, Tenedle, The Distant Minds, Brutalist Architecture in the Sun, Ooberfuse, Subject:2, The Livelong June and The Rude Awakening. Summing up the event, TEC said: “Johnny Normal and the team have tirelessly pursed this dedication to electronic music, which has resulted in audiences discovering some amazing talents not only from the UK scene, but also from across Europe. For some acts struggling to achieve recognition, this remains a vital and valuable service.”

There was also some intriguing soundtrack work with distinctly electronic foundations. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein worked their magic over season 3 of cult TV hit Stranger Things, while techno pop legend Ryuichi Sakamoto lent his talents to an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.

Seattle-based outfit Static Shore appeared on our radar back in 2018 on the back of ‘Sun In My Wake’. New album Panikon represented their latest collection of compositions which, while employing a few different approaches, embody Static Shore’s signature elements of chilled beats and lush vocals.

Spray returned with the excellent Failure Is Inevitable, an album which had a superb sense of wit and also sharp, polished electronic pop. Another returning TEC favourite was Ooberfuse with the bittersweet breezy ‘Call my Name’.

V-Sor,X delivered one of the year’s surprise delights via the Reformer album. Crunchy electronics, vocal samples and some distorted guitar offered a spiky, raw vibe.

Meanwhile, the summer also saw Kasson Crooker (Symbion Project, Freezepop) other vehicle ELYXR launch the captivating Eternal Life Eternal Youth album which included contributions from Kurt Harland Larson (Information Society), Katrina Kope (Purr Gato) and Color Theory’s Brian Hazard.

Outside of his contribution to BOO’s Snared album, preston.outatime (aka Preston Parris) also released his own album Coplanar. The tracks bounced between synth pulses, baroque aspects and some pastel elements to deliver one of the year’s more intriguing releases.

The ever-reliable Lola Dutronic gave us ‘Sounds Like An Anthem’ (which, unusually, was actually written on a ukulele of all things), continuing the international duo’s talent for smart, engaging pop.

July also gave us the return of the Silicon Dreams Festival, which this year boasted possibly its best line-up with Berlyn Trilogy, OVVLS, The Rude Awakening, Electronica, Caroline McLavy, Twist Helix, Armada Named Sound, Sinestar and Northern Kind performing live. TEC’s Jer White summed the event up: “For true fans of synthpop, Silicon Dreams remains the place to be: great music, great venue, proper friends.”

In August we took a Look at Modus, the long-gestating album from Nature Of Wires. It was one of 2019’s highlights via the subtle rhythms of ‘Madame Serena’ or the sweeping synths of ‘First Light’.

Modus is perhaps a good example of why Nature Of Wires are held in such high regard in the electronic music community” we mused, “As an album, it delivers an effective collection of powerful tunes which, as Watts suggests, offers “Our final farewell to our younger years” while also clearing the path for the music of the future.”

Immerse, an album by Cyberwaste (the musical brainchild of musician and producer Ashlinn Nash) also arrived in the summer. Our conclusion?Immerse is an album that seems to slot into an intriguing middle ground between trip-hop and the more esoteric end of electronica. The mesmerising results reveal a talent for both composition and production whose aural delights seem to get better with each subsequent play.”

OMD, in the middle of their 40th Anniversary celebrations, offered up a 40th single to coincide. ‘Don’t Go’ was a song summed up in the TEC review: “The steady rhythms and machine-like delivery… have distinct Kraftwerk influences that will please those who like their synth-pop cut from the classic style.”

The same month, TEC premiered ‘How Much I Love You’ from Spoken word artist Equinox (A contributor to the BOO remix album). While we considered this track to perhaps be a world away from synth-pop, “its engaging moods are likely to occupy your head long after you’ve stop listening to it.”

The “post-punk electronic balladeers” Cult With No Name returned with the excellent Media Burn album. “…a stylish collection of lounge pop perfection that also offers some pertinent commentary on modern culture” was our conclusion.

Electric Youth gave us new album Memory Emotion, a worthy successor to Innerworld we concluded “which, while it keeps on familiar territory, manages (ironically perhaps) to be a much more reflective outing than its 2014 predecessor”.

Our Teclist feature also put forward some engaging choices in October. This included the twilight quality of David Anderson Kirk’s ‘Doubt’ (feat CMB’s Casey Desmond), the slow pop appeal of ‘Monster’ from Swedish outfit Andersson & Pettersson and the haunting melodies of ‘Moonlight’ from Unknown Land (which combines talents from Chile and Australia).

Teclist also unearthed Tin Gun, a mystery 3-piece outfit that put forward a debut song with Pete Steer (Tenek, Sinestar) on vocals. ‘We Are Not Your Enemy’ features burbling layered synths and the euphoric draw of the chorus/title. As a song, it works its magic in a stealthy fashion and the end result is a gritty engaging slice of alternative synth-pop.

From Finland, Ten After Dawn gave us ‘Club’ – a curious combination of energetic melodies and a darker rhythmic body. Meanwhile, Cologne’s Box and the Twins took a more gothic direction for their song ‘The First Dream’.

Parralox returned with new studio album Genesis, which our review praised, noting “a wide variety of sounds, including the euphoric pop on ‘System of Pleasure’ or the more mechanised mood of ‘Robots of the World Unite’ with its vocoder-enhanced vocals.”

The long-awaited Quieter Than Spiders album Signs Of Life debuted – and what an album it was. In the TEC review we praised the synth-pop slickness: “It’s a masterpiece of mood and arrangement which keeps things simple, yet smart.”

November proved to be a busy month, which included an interview with Nature of Wires chief Gary Watts. Quizzed on NoW’s distinctive sound, he mused: “That’s a tricky one. I think the Numan influence is quite prominent. It’s generally quite thumpy and because pretty much everything is in a minor key it has that dark edge to it, but then a lot of other bands could say the same.”

2019 also saw the sad passing of many artists and musicians, including Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis, Keith Flint, Scott Walker and Gershon Kingsley, who was responsible for composing ‘Popcorn’, the early electronic instrumental that later became a hit when it was rerecorded by Hot Butter in 1972.

KNIGHT$ gave use some spooky fun at Halloween with a live outing that included guest slots for Roxy Drive and Theo Sayers.

Showcasing their 1985 album Hunting High And Low, Norway’s a-ha put on a superb show at London’s Royal Albert Hall. “It’s difficult not to acknowledge the impressive musical legacy of a-ha” our review suggested, “judging by even the brief catalogue of songs displayed live here tonight. While some of their contemporaries might labour at bringing a vitality to their own three-decade old songs, there’s some sort of spark in a-ha’s performance tonight which suggests a band half its age.

One of the year’s more unusual events was actually sparked by someone wanting to stage something special for their husband’s 50th birthday. Being based in the US didn’t faze Jamelle Bejarano, who managed to put together something very special for husband John. That gift turned out to be three of John’s favourite bands in live performance, which in this instance was Future Perfect, Northern Kind and Johan Baeckström. The result was an amazing electronic evening featuring some superb performances from all three acts.

On the live front, Marina returned to London on the back of her Love + Fear album for a live show. “As she’s demonstrated to her London fanbase tonight” TEC concluded, “she’s also still more than capable of commanding the stage in a live environment.”

Meanwhile, Empathy Test staged a homecoming gig after their American tour at Islington’s O2 Academy. Along for the ride were Nature Of Wires, rock outfit This Is Radio Silence, and Joy Division tribute Transmission. Empathy Test’s performance (with new keyboardist Oliver Marson) went down a storm with some superb live takes on classics such as ‘Bare My Soul’, ‘Vampire Town’ and ‘Seeing Stars’ up against newer cuts like ‘Holy Rivers’ and ‘Empty Handed’.

November also served up the second instalment from TR/ST which the TEC review was honest about: “This second instalment perhaps doesn’t quite deliver on the same level as The Destroyer – Part One, but it still boasts some fine moments and continues to establish TR/ST as one of the more unusual, yet compelling electronic acts in the contemporary music scene.”

We looked at the latest Beat: Cancer compilation album which boasted a line-up that included Promenade Cinema, Vain Machine, Nature Of Wires, Bein-E and Mouth Of The Void. We praised White Xmas Lies, the latest solo offering from Magne Furuholmen (a-ha).

The same month, we sat down with Nature Of Wires’ Gary Watts to discuss the electronic outfit’s distinctive sound: “I think the Numan influence is quite prominent. It’s generally quite thumpy and because pretty much everything is in a minor key it has that dark edge to it, but then a lot of other bands could say the same…”

OMD celebrated their 40th Anniversary in style, first with the release of the Souvenir box set and compilation and also an extensive tour. TEC was on hand to witness their London outing which we concluded “All things considered, it’s a set that strikes an effective balance.”

In December, we looked at the stunning soundtrack to the HBO TV series Watchmen, which came courtesy of seasoned hands Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

We also spoke to Artefaktor’s Renato Moyssén on the challenges of the upcoming Artefaktor Live 4 event.

On that note, we bid farewell to 2019, but 2019 is already shaping up to be a similarly packed year of good music. Stick around with The Electricity Club as we bring you more news, reviews and interviews in the year ahead!


CONTRIBUTOR’S LISTS

PAUL BROWNE

Top 5 Songs Of 2019

TR/ST – Gone
Northern Kind – Lip Service
Tin Gun – We Are Not Your enemy
Fragrance. – So Typical
Quieter Than Spiders – The Land Of Lost Content
LegPuppy – Nominate 10

Top 5 Albums Of 2019

Nature of Wires – Modus
TR/ST – The Destroyer – Part 1
V-SOR,X – Reformer
Spray – Failure Is Inevitable
Cult With No Name – Mediaburn

Favourite Event of 2019

a-ha – Hunting High And Low live in London

Best Reissue

Brian Eno – Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks

Most Promising New Act

Tin Gun


IMOGEN BEBB

Top 5 Songs Of 2019

Dials – MiG 15
Don’t Go – OMD
Your Girlfriend – Blossoms
Hungry Child – Hot Chip
Deadzone – Ladytron

Top Five Albums 2019

A Bath Full of Ecstasy – Hot Chip
No Geography – Chemical Brothers
Ladytron – Ladytron
Transform – Howard Jones
Five – White Lies

Favourite Event 2019

OMD at Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion, 17/11/19

Most Promising New Act

MiG 15

Best Reissue

Psurroundabout Ride – Dukes of Stratosphear


JER WHITE

Top 5 Songs Of 2019

Empty Handed – Empathy Test
Body Like That – Pixel Grip
System of Pleasure – Parralox
Try – Nature Of Wires
The Feeling – Northern Kind

Top 5 Albums Of 2019

International Teachers Of Pop – International Teachers Of Pop
Iron Curtain. Velvet Glove. – Harmjoy
In Stereo – Bananarama
Only Things We Love – Blaqk Audio
Stockholm – Red Sleeping Beauty

Favourite Event of 2019

Midge Ure + Rusty Egan, Vienna tour at the Glasgow Barrowlands

Best Reissue

The Chemical Brothers – Surrender (20th Anniversary Edition)

Most Promising New Act

Pixel Grip


JUS FORREST

Top 5 Songs Of 2019

Lord and master ft Rude Awakening – Marble House
OMD – Don’t Go
Unknown Land – Moonlight
Tin Gun – We Are Not Your enemy
On My Own – Electric Youth

Top 5 Albums Of 2019

David Anderson Kirk – Doubt
Rude Awakening – Kaleidoscope
Nature of Wires – Modus
TR/ST – The Destroyer – Part 1
Ten After Dawn – Club

Favourite Event of 2019

Midge Ure & Rusty Egan at York

Most Promising New Act

Tin Gun


BARRY PAGE

Favourite Event of 2019

a-ha – Hunting High And Low live in London

Best Reissue

Souvenir – OMD Box Set


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Paul Browne

After studying electronic music at Goldsmiths College in London, Paul spent his formative years indulging in fanzine culture before branching out to graphic and web design in later years via his Arc23 outlet.

Responsible for the creation of the original Official OMD Website, Paul also spent over 10 years administrating the site. As well as providing sleeve notes for many of the OMD reissues, he also provided design concepts for sleeve art and tour promotions.

He ran the Julian Cope-focused Screaming Secrets for many years and also administers Virginia Astley's official website.

Outlets and publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go and Wavegirl.
Paul Browne
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