Not all of these were released in the UK, with many treasures emanating from other European territories in a period when the guitar returned with a vengeance through Grunge and Britpop.
BEAT CLUB featuring BERNARD SUMNER Security (1990)
This was the first ever release on Rob’s Records; the Rob in question being the late Rob Gretton, famed manager of NEW ORDER. The Miami duo, comprising members Ony Rodriguez and Mirey Valls, had originally released the house music staple, Security, on Atlantic Records in 1988 before signing with Gretton’s fledgling label. Bernard Sumner’s additional remix and production saw an overhaul of the original version, with the addition of his crucial vocal contribution giving it a predictably NEW ORDER-esque sheen.
Other notable acts signed to Gretton’s label were A CERTAIN RATIO and fellow Mancunians SUB SUB who scored a huge hit with Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use). Sumner had ties with both bands, and guested on the latter’s more guitar-oriented ‘This Time I Ain’t Wrong single’… SUB SUB would of course metamorphose as indie act DOVES. BP
Available on the CD single ‘Security’ via Rob’s Records
KON KAN Liberty (1990)
The brainchild of vastly talented Canadian DJ, remixer and musician, Barry Harris, KON KAN burst onto the scene in 1989 with the award-winning NEW ORDER-esque international hit ‘I Beg Your Pardon’. Subsequent singles such as the PET SHOP BOYS-influenced ‘Harry Houdini’ failed to dent the UK charts. ‘Liberty’, the lead-off single from their excellent second album Syntonic, also sank without a trace upon its release in the autumn of 1990.
By this time, KON KAN was a solo vehicle for Harris, following lead singer Kevin Wynne’s departure after the Move To Move album. ‘Liberty’ is a brilliant pop song showcasing both Harris’ deadpan vocal delivery and his strong melodic sensibilities. Background vocals were courtesy of Debbe Cole whose CV includes MALCOLM McCLAREN’s brilliant Stephen Hague-produced hit single ‘Madam Butterfly’ from 1984. KON KAN released a third and final album ‘Vida!’ in 1993 but, once again, it was not successful. BP
Available on the CD album ‘Syntonic’ via Atlantic Records
CICERO featuring SYLVIA MASON-JAMES Live For Today (1991)
Whilst there was no single from the PET SHOP BOYS in 1992, the spectre of messrs Tennant and Lowe loomed large on ‘Love Is Everywhere’, a top 20 hit for Scottish artist CICERO who had signed to their Spaghetti Records label the previous year (you may recall that the song is essentially PET SHOP BOYS with bagpipes!). CICERO’s only album ‘Future Boy’, despite heralding a strong contribution from the PET SHOP BOYS, unfortunately didn’t emulate this success, despite containing a number of worthy tracks.
His final – and arguably greatest – collaboration with Tennant and Lowe was Live For Today, taken from the soundtrack of the 1992 film, ‘The Crying Game’. Backing vocals were provided by Sylvia Mason-James who had sung on Jimmy Nail’s insipid number one hit, ‘Ain’t No Doubt’. Whilst BOY GEORGE had earned a hit single from the same film, the same fate wouldn’t befall CICERO and he soon faded from public attentions. He would later reappear in the mid-1990s with some uninspiring dance tracks, including a terrible cover of SOFT CELL’s ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’. BP
Available on the CD single ‘Live For Today’ via Spaghetti Records
THE OTHER TWO Tasty Fish (1991)
Following the career-best Technique album in 1989, NEW ORDER’s four members would all work on side projects. Bernard Sumner had formed ELECTRONIC with musical journeyman Johnny Marr; Peter Hook had tentatively started his REVENGE project, while Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris eventually formed the appropriately, but rather lazily named THE OTHER TWO. With Factory Records teetering on the brink, their one and only single on the label was released in October 1991.
Amusingly titled ‘Tasty Fish’ after a Fish and Chip shop near Stockport, this catchy electropop single, boasting a surprisingly assured vocal from Gilbert sounded terrific on the radio. The single disappointingly stalled at no. 41. The collapse of Factory Records meant a lengthy delay for THE OTHER TWO’s debut album, which eventually surfaced late 1993, prefaced by the fine single ‘Selfish’. Their second album ‘Super Highways’ was released in 1999. BP
Available on the CD album ‘And You’ via LTM Records
REVENGE State Of Shock (1991)
REVENGE were formed by Peter Hook in the wake of an enforced hiatus from NEW ORDER. This brilliant 6-minute plus track, originally from the ‘Gun World Porn’ EP, is quite simply one of the best tracks that NEW ORDER never recorded! From the deadpan vocals to the distinctive melodic basslines, ‘State Of Shock’ exemplified all that was good about NEW ORDER. Sadly, the latter’s next three albums would only contain flashes of the brilliance that made them such a creative and inspirational force in the 1980s.
Amongst REVENGE’s members was David Potts who would be retained for Hooky’s next side project MONACO. BP
Available on the CD album ‘One True Passion’ (v2.0) via LTM Records
WOLFSHEIM The Sparrows & The Nightingales (1991)
A truly classic synthpop single. Named after a character in F Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’, electronic duo WOLFSHEIM scored a hit in their native Germany with memorable debut single, ‘The Sparrows and the Nightingales’. Combining a strong synth melody with Peter Heppner’s poetic lyrics, this was one of the standout singles in 1991. Between 1992 and 2003 WOLFSHEIM would release five studio albums.
An acrimonious split saw the Hamburg duo of Heppner and Markus Reinhardt end up in court over the rights to the name. Heppner finally released his debut album, appropriately titled ‘Solo’, in 2008. Interestingly, his distinctive vocals would later end up on a recording with compatriot NENA of ’99 Red Balloons’ fame. BP
Available on the CD album ‘No Happy View’ via Strange Ways Records
NEIL ARTHUR One Day, One Time (1992)
By the time of disappointing third album, ‘Believe You Me’, the BLANCMANGE brand had run its (third) course. Whilst there was still a market for synth duos in the mid-1980s (see PET SHOP BOYS and ERASURE), Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe decided to call it a day. Luscombe would eventually release an album with side project WEST INDIA COMPANY with regular BLANCMANGE collaborator Pandit Dinesh, called Music From New Demons in 1989.
Arthur, meanwhile went solo and released the engaging ‘One Day, One Time’ single in 1992. The single is not a radical departure from the BLANCMANGE’s musical template; in fact, the track features David Rhodes, their regular session guitarist. It is also notable in that it features programming from renowned music producer (and former Blow Monkeys keyboardist!) Marius de Vries. The next, rather pedestrian single ‘I Love I Hate’ didn’t trouble the charts. Arthur and Luscombe reunited for the well received ‘Blanc Burn ‘album in 2011. BP
Available on the CD album ‘Suitcase’ via Chrysalis Records
RECOIL Faith Healer (1992)
RECOIL is the brainchild of Alan Wilder, who left DEPECHE MODE on his 36th birthday in 1995, following the exhausting ‘Devotional’ tour. He had released his first RECOIL recordings in 1986. ‘Faith Healer’, a cover version of a track by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, was from RECOIL’s second album ‘Bloodline’ in 1992. The album gave some pointers as to the direction that DM would undertake on their next album, ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’, which would herald a harder-edged and rawer sound than that of its predecessor, ‘Violator’.
On ‘Bloodline’, Wilder was utilising outside vocalists such as MOBY and CURVE’s Toni Halliday to complement his experimental, electro-industrial productions. ‘Faith Healer’ was no exception in that it featured Mute label mate Douglas McCarthy of NITZER EBB. The pair had already been acquainted during the sessions for NITZER EBB’s 1991 album ‘Ebbhead’ which Wilder had produced. BP
Available on the CD album ‘Selected’ via Mute Records
S.P.O.C.K. Never Trust A Klingon (1992)
With The Next Generation still being broadcast to hoards of devoted Trekkies in the early 1990s, the ‘Star Trek’ franchise was showing no signs of abating. In 1992, a Star Trek-loving synthpop act named S.P.O.C.K. (Star Pilot On Channel K) scored an unlikely hit in Germany with ‘Never Trust A Klingon’. The quirky Swedish band were originally called MR SPOCK but an official approach to Paramount Pictures for the rights to the name resulted in the response “that’ll be expensive, guys!”
Slightly clunky, musically, but lyrically hilarious, ‘Never Trust A Klingon’, still sounds great today. It is also notable for its sampled dialogue of Captain James T. Kirk in ‘Star Trek III – The Search For Spock’ memorably declaring: “Klingon bastard! You killed my son!” Parent album Five Year Mission and subsequent albums such as ‘Alien Worlds’ haven’t aged as well, with the novelty wearing thin fairly quickly…although there’s plenty for Trekkies to enjoy, with the likes of ‘Mr Spock’s Brain’, ‘Trouble With Tribbles’ and ‘Dr McCoy’ amongst their electro-goth repertoire. BP
Available on the CD album Five Year Mission via Energy Rekords
DE/VISION Dinner Without Grace (1993)
Still relatively unknown in the UK, DE/VISION are one of the finest and most prolific electronic bands to have emerged in the last 25 years. Hailing from Darmstadt in Germany, they were formed in 1988 with members Steffen Keth and Thomas Adam the mainstays of the band. While there is some merit to some cruel claims that the band are mere DEPECHE MODE copycats, particularly when you hear some of the early recordings (collected on 1995’s ‘Antiquity’), the band’s sound has evolved over the years.
‘Dinner Without Grace’ with its infectious tune, fluid bassline, and lyrics that recall latterday GARY NUMAN, was a fine single typifying the band’s sound from their formative years. Eleven studio albums into their career they still continue to deliver consistently appealing synthpop, something DEPECHE MODE have, arguably, only managed to do in fits and bursts since their 1990 peak. BP
Available on the CD album ‘World Without End’ via Strange Ways Records
CAMOUFLAGE In Your Ivory Tower (1993)
Despite having international hits with ‘The Great Commandment’ and ‘Love Is A Shield’, founder member Oliver Kreyssig left CAMOUFLAGE in 1990 and the remaining duo of Marcus Meyn and Heiko Maile went all conventional with their third album ‘Meanwhile’. Despite production by Colin Thurston, this inevitably alienated their fanbase. The next album ‘Bodega Bohemia’ was a return to their DEPECHE MODE inspired electronic roots but was only released in Germany.
The closing track ‘In Your Ivory Tower’ clocked in at nearly nine minutes. Proceeding at an almost funereal pace, a punchy rhythmical snap plus added the moody textural and vocal stylings of ‘Tin Drum’-era JAPAN completed the epic musical journey. CML
Available on the CD album ‘Bodega Bohemia’ via Universal Music Germany
ELEGANT MACHINERY Hard to Handle (1993)
ELEGANT MACHINERY were part of a burgeoning scene of Swedish synthpop acts to emerge in the 1990s (see also COVENANT, S.P.O.C.K. and PAGE). This single from their second album typified their early 1980s electronic influences, the band citing DEPECHE MODE, YAZOO and THE HUMAN LEAGUE as their main sources of inspiration. But it’s the former of this triumvirate of Synth Britannia masters that engrain themselves most in the music of ELEGANT MACHINERY, with a typically cynical Gore-ish lyric cutting through.
The band originally split after three albums in 1999, before reforming in 2005. They released another album, titled ‘A Soft Exchange’ in 2008 before breaking up part way into the production of a fifth album. Member Richard Jomshof was elected as a Swedish MP in 2010. BP
Available on the CD album ‘Shattered Grounds’ via Energy Rekords
ELEKTRIC MUSIC TV (1993)
“In press the key, and watch TV”… you can just picture Messrs Hütter and Schneider from KRAFTWERK kicking themselves having not thought of such a simplistic couplet, one which certainly wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an album such as ‘Computer World’. Having become disillusioned with the working practices of his former employers, KARL BARTOS left KRAFTWERK in 1990 and formed ELEKTRIC MUSIC with Lothar Manteuffel.
The first fruits of this collaboration were via NME’s ‘Ruby Trax’ compilation and a risible, vocoder-heavy cover version of The Equals’ ‘Baby Come Back’. But it was ‘TV’ that really stood out, with its simple lyrics underpinned by a wonderful melody that proved that Bartos really was the creative equal of his Kling Klang compatriots. Bartos had, of course, already proven himself as a competent vocalist on ‘The Telephone Call’. BP
Available on the CD album ‘Esperanto’ via SPV Records
BRIAN ENO Fractal Zoom (1993)
With hints of his artful electronic experiments on U2’s Zooropa, the best track from the disappointing ‘Nerve Net’ album percolated with processed percussion and filtered voice textures. As was usual with several songs that Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno had been involved in (like DAVID BOWIE’s ‘Sound & Vision’ and his own ‘Taking Tiger Mountain’), the vocals only appeared halfway through to increase build and tension.
The album was met with comparative apathy and it would be 2005 before Eno attempted another vocal album with the beautiful ‘Another Day On Earth’. CML
Available on the CD Album ‘Nerve Net’ via All Saints Records
SVEN VÄTH L’Esperanza (1993)
Possibly Germany’s answer to MOBY, Väth is a Frankfurt based DJ who has produced a large catalogue of work since his career started in 1982. Mixmag rated his album ‘Accident In Paradise’ one of the Top 50 dance albums of all time. From that, this synthpopped remix of its most accessible track ‘L’Esperanza’ recalled SPACE’s ‘Magic Fly’ and hinted at the tranquillity of a swim with dolphins as captured in the sedate promo video. The melodies sang despite the tune being totally instrumental while the groove drove along without being intrusive. CML
Available on the CD Single ‘L’Esperanza’ via Eye Q/WEA Records
2WO THIRD3 Hear Me Calling (1993)
‘Hear Me Calling’ captured the spirit of early ultrapop DEPECHE MODE and even had CULTURE CLUB backing singer Helen Terry thrown into the mix of this infectiously catchy number. Although a publicly a trio, there was a silent fourth songwriting member who was represented by a cartoon character called Biff in the band’s promotional material. Biff was actually Richard Stannard who has since written songs for KYLIE MINOGUE, LITTLE BOOTS, MARINA & THE DIAMONDS and SPICE GIRLS.
He now also has an imprint on Sony Music called Major Label whose biggest success has been HURTS. CML
Available on the CD Single ‘Hear Me Calling’ via Epic Records
ULTRAVOX Systems Of Love (1993)
Following the ULTRAVOX split in 1987, Billy Currie released a brace of solo albums before forming a new version of his former band in 1992 with vocalist Tony Fenelle. Could they repeat the success of his predecessors whilst simultaneously banishing the memory of 1986’s decidedly naff ‘U-Vox’ opus?! Sadly, the answer was an emphatic NO! A reasonably faithful re-recording of ‘Vienna’ was followed in 1993 by an album of original material. ‘Revelation’, despite its bold title, was actually nothing of the sort.
Single ‘I Am Alive’ was a good indicator of what was to come; pleasant but uninspiring AOR that was permeating the airwaves at the time like LIVING IN A BOX. Indeed, its co-writer and producer, Rod Gammons, currently boasts a CV that includes David Hasselhoff! But the single’s B-side ‘Systems Of Love’ was much more palatable. With its NUMAN-esque metal rhythms, and a breathtaking 30-second instrumental break 3 minutes in, there were glimpses of the Currie magic. BP
Available on the CD album ‘Revelation’ via Puzzle Records
WILLIAM ORBIT featuring BETH ORTON Water From A Vine Leaf (1993)
WILLIAM ORBIT is perhaps best known for his club hit ‘Adagio for Strings’, as well as his creative production work with MADONNA and BLUR. He is also a highly respected remixer, with KRAFTWERK, OMD, ERASURE, DEPECHE MODE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and CAMOUFLAGE amongst his considerable list of clients. He was also the driving force behind BASSOMATIC, who had a top 10 hit with ‘Fascinating Rhythm’ in 1990.
‘Water from a Vine Leaf’ is an electro-ambient single from 1993, featuring Orbit’s trademark production and an understated vocal from a then relatively unknown BETH ORTON who went on to have a big hit with her acclaimed second album, Trailer Park. BP
Available on the CD album ‘The Best of Strange Cargos’ via IRS Records
ALPHAVILLE Fools (1994)
Much like A-HA, ALPHAVILLE’s sound had steadily strayed from their synthpop origins, becoming more guitar-oriented in the early to mid-1990s. And continuing with the comparisons with their Europop contemporaries, the vocal from Marian Gold on this single is decidedly Morten Harket-esque in its delivery. Whilst Gold’s plea to “keep on dancing” isn’t quite in keeping with this medium-paced, radio-friendly track, it’s still a fine single. The band are still active and released a new album, ‘Catching Rays On Giant’ in 2010. BP
Available on the CD album ‘Prostitute’ via WEA Records
A CERTAIN RATIO Shack Up – Electronic Remix (1994)
Arguably the cult band’s best known song, A CERTAIN RATIO’s original version of ‘Shack Up’ (actually a cover of an obscure track by BANBARRA in the mid-1970s) was originally released in 1980, but has manifested itself in a variety of versions since, notably by Norman Cook in 1990 and with ELECTRONIC (aka Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr) in 1994. The latter’s excellent production and remix of this iconic track retains the original track’s trademark funky guitar, but with a faster-paced, more synth-driven gloss.
Sumner also provided the highlight of ACR’s MCR album, remixing the excellent ‘Won’t Stop Loving You’. BP
Available on the CD single ‘Shack Up’ via Creation Records
INTERNATIONAL CHRYSIS Rebel Rebel (1994)
Five studio albums into their career, DEAD OR ALIVE went into semi-retirement in the early 1990s. Long-term members Pete Burns and Steve Coy would eventually resurface as INTERNATIONAL CHRYSIS (named after a transsexual performer who had died in 1990). Released on the PWL label, this one-off single was, appropriately, a high-energy version of DAVID BOWIE’s gender-bending 1974 single, ‘Rebel Rebel’, with an intro evoking ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN’s ‘The Cutter’.
Coincidentally (or not), this non-charting single was dedicated to Courtney Love who, of course, had befriended Ian McCulloch whilst living in Liverpool in the early 1980s. Rendering the project completely pointless, ‘Rebel Rebel’ and its b-side, ‘The Right Stuff’, both ended up on the next DEAD OR ALIVE album, ‘Nukleopatra’, in 1995. BP
Available on the DEAD OR ALIVE CD album ‘Nukleopatra’ via Epic Records
THE LISTENING POOL Meant To Be (1994)
Creatively washed up, and drained by their attempts to crack the US market, OMD split at the end of the 1980s. Whilst co-founder and singer Andy McCluskey pondered his next move, his former band colleagues Paul Humphreys, Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes resolved to record as a trio. McCluskey bought the rights to the OMD name and released what would become 1991’s ‘Sugar Tax’ album. Meanwhile, THE LISTENING POOL, for legal reasons, couldn’t release any material until McCluskey’s album was in the shops.
In 1993 their charming, but underwhelming debut single, ‘Oil For The Lamps Of China’ promptly bombed. The band’s organic sound was as far removed from OMD’s KRAFTWERK-inspired roots and was more akin to latter day CHINA CRISIS. Debut album, ‘Still Life’ was released to mixed reviews in 1994 and followed the same commercial fate as the single. It was a shame because it was a fine album. One of the album’s best tracks, the second single ‘Meant To Be’, retained much of OMD’s melodic charms. The band would soldier on for another couple of years before calling it a day part way into the recording of a second album. BP
Available on the CD album ‘Still Life’ via Telegraph Records/Fin Music
INTASTELLA The Night (1995)
Perhaps best described as a poor man’s SAINT ETIENNE, INTASTELLA had started life as indie band LAUGH before taking a more dance-oriented direction upon their formation in the early 1990s. ‘The Night’ was a highly enjoyable and respectful version of the 1975 hit by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, but it unfairly stiffed at no 60. Fellow Northern Soul enthusiasts SOFT CELL would later record a version of ‘The Night’ for their 2002 comeback album, ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’.
The duo had actually considered recording the song for their 1981 debut album, but opted for the lesser known ‘Tainted Love’ instead – in hindsight, the best decision they ever made! As for INTASTELLA, the Manchester–based combo would release three albums and a string of singles, but they were not successful. Singer Stella Grundy eventually turned to acting, and wrote and starred in a play about the troubled singer NICO. She is currently a drama coach. BP
Available on the CD album What You Gonna Do via MCA Records
ORBITAL Belfast/Wasted (1995)
Belfast was one of the key tracks from ORBITAL’s 1991 debut album but in 1995, their friend Grant Fulton added some grittily emotive vocals on the brothers Hartnoll’s seminal instrumental. Beginning with a sample of the choral piece ‘O Euchari’ sung by Emily Van Evera which was also used on THE BELOVED’s hit ‘The Sun Rising’ and deep detuned drones a la ‘Architecture & Morality’ period OMD, the result was a more complete melancholically resigned tune that simply chilled to the bone. CML
Available on the CD Single via The Best Of Volume EP (V/A) via London Records
JIMMY SOMERVILLE Heartbeat (1995)
Produced by Stephen Hague, Heartbeat had all the poptastic ingredients of Somerville’s trademark falsetto, HI-NRG dance beats and a singalong chorus but failed to ignite the imagination of the public. In the UK, it seemed people only liked his cover versions and it was Heartbeat’s follow-up, a rather pedestrian cover of SUSAN CADOGAN’s Hurts So Good that became his final chart hit. These days, Sommerville devotes his time to political activism. CML
Available on the CD Album Dare To Love via London Records
U96 Boot II (1995)
A restyling of Klaus Doldinger’s film theme, ‘Das Boot’ was a huge number one hit throughout Europe upon its 1991 release. Eventually hitting the top 20 in the summer of 1992, ‘Das Boot ‘sounds dated now with its cacophonous stabs of vocoder and muted beats. Whilst the debut album by U96 was largely built around the smash hit single ‘Das Boot’, follow-up album ‘Replugged’ from 1993 was a far more diverse album, with a range of electronic and ambient sounds. Third album, ‘Club Bizarre’ was a more dance-flavoured affair.
Taken from the latter album, the little-known sequel to ‘Das Boot’, cunningly titled Boot II was less immediate than its predecessor, but nonetheless engaging. ‘Boot II’ employed a characteristically cinematic intro, replete with trademark submarine noises, but was more frenetically paced.. ‘Boot II’ didn’t emulate the success of their debut techno anthem, but main man Alex Christensen limped on with further U96 material. BP
Available on the CD album ‘Club Bizarre ‘via Guppy Records
DENIM It Fell Off The Back Of A Lorry (1996)
In some respects FELT were the ultimate cult indie band of the 1980s, releasing an impressively prolific ten albums during their existence. The band’s slightly eccentric singer was Lawrence. Not only had he declined to declare his surname, but he’d also allegedly fired the band’s original drummer for having curly hair! Like SPARKS, they instilled a sense of humour into their music, delivering great titles such as ‘Let The Snakes Crinkle Their Heads To Death’.
Lawrence’s next project was DENIM who released their debut album, ‘Back In Denim’ in 1992. Amongst Lawrence’s admirers were PULP who invited DENIM to support them during their ‘Different Class’ tour in 1996. ‘It Fell Off The Back Of A Lorry’ employed a typically satirical lyric, but with the music moving in a more synth-flavoured direction. Somehow DENIM were bypassed by a generation obsessed with Britpop. Lawrence later formed GO KART MOZART; their second album bearing the sarcastic title, ‘Tearing Up The Album Chart’. BP
Available on the CD album ‘Denim On Ice’ via Echo Records
INAURA Soap Opera (1996)
Also known as the band that EMI swallowed up and promptly spat out, INAURA first came to attention when they supported THE HUMAN LEAGUE in 1995. Originally named POLOROID, they had been signed by EMI who had predicted big things for them; spending heavily on promotional videos and a Steve Osborne-produced album. Unfortunately they were lumped in with the ill-fated Romo scene of the mid-1990s and the signs looked ominous for the band when their ill advised, and rather grandiose, 8-minute PINK FLOYD-tinged debut single, ‘This Month’s Epic’ flopped.
Follow-up single, the rather more immediate and less pretentious ‘Soap Opera’, sounding like NINE INCH NAILS fronting DURAN DURAN, emulated its predecessor’s fate. An album, ‘One Million Smiles’, had been earmarked for release on February 1997 but was cruelly pulled from the schedule after this latest setback. The album was eventually picked up by Org Records in 1998 but by then it was too late. BP
Available on the CD single ‘Soap Opera’ via EMI Records
KOMPUTER Valentina Tereshkova (1996)
On this EP by KOMPUTER, members Simon Leonard and David Baker tookplagiarism to new levels. Seemingly plugging a void created by their Kling Klang counterparts (10 years had lapsed since KRAFTWERK’s last album of original material, ‘Electric Café’), KOMPUTER released an interesting EP in 1996. The best of the 4 tracks is an ode to the Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova who famously became the first woman in space; its simple biographical lyrics underscored by a distinctly ‘Model’-esque tapestry of sounds.
Closing EP track ‘Oh Synthesizer’, meanwhile, is a virtual re-writing of ‘Neon Lights’! Incredibly, Leonard and Baker have been recording together for nearly 30 years under various guises. The duo originally began life as experimental synthpop act I START COUNTING and later became the more experimental, dance-oriented act FORTRAN 5 before returning to their KRAFTWERK-inspired roots with KOMPUTER. BP
Available on the CD EP ‘Komputer’ via Mute Records
ORLANDO Just For A Second (1996)
In November 1995, Melody Maker announced the arrival of a new scene of, ostensibly, New Romantic revivalists, with its bold headline declaring, “ROMO – The Future Pop Explosion!” Part of this short-lived ‘Romantic Modernist’ scene were the likes of ORLANDO, PLASTIC FANTASTIC and SEXUS. The former were Dickon Edwards and Tim Chipping. They combined stylish, synthesized dance-pop with a love of the classic songwriting tradition.
In some ways, they could be seen as the forerunners of TAKE THAT’s current electronic direction as steered by the ubiquitous Stuart Price. ‘Just For A Second’ was their best song, with elements of PET SHOP BOYS euphoric flavour as reimagined by the boy bands of the day, combined with an emotive lyrical backbone. CML
Available on the CD Album Passive Soul via Blanco Y Negro Records
OUTTA CONTROL Sinful Wishes (1996)
After virtually retiring the KON KAN name in 1993, veritable musical chameleon Barry Harris began to explore new outlets for his considerable talents. Following the ‘Hi-Energy House album’ under the pseudonym TOP KAT in 1994, he formed OUTTA CONTROL with keyboardist Rachid Wehbi and vocalist Kimberley Wetmore. Utilising a Eurodance template that was synonymous with HADDAWAY, SNAP! and CULTURE BEAT, the trio released a string of little-known singles and one self-titled album.
One of these singles was ‘Sinful Wishes’, a song that Harris had originally recorded with KON KAN in 1993 but one that hadn’t quite met its full potential. The new version, employing a full Eurodance makeover, provided quite a contrast with Kimberley Wetmore belting out Harris’ sexually-charged lyrics in style. The parent album also afforded Harris a chance to indulge in some of his disco influences with GIORGIO MORODER and DONNA SUMMER’s 1979 collaboration ‘Our Love’ faithfully covered with Wetmore on vocals. Meanwhile Harris sang the lead on an interesting cover of ‘Together in Electric Dreams’, which was also a single. Harris later formed a highly successful partnership with DJ Chris Cox as THUNDERPUSS, producing a plethora of highly rated dance remixes for the likes of MADONNA, CHRISTINA AGUILERA and WHITNEY HOUSTON. BP
Available on the CD album ‘Outta Control’ via Interhit Records, currently unavailable
PEACH On My Own (1996)
Electropop trio PEACH (or PEACH UNION in the US) comprised jazz singer Lisa Lamb, Paul Statham (a former member of B-MOVIE) and writer/producer Pascal Gabriel. Originally released in 1996, their immaculately-produced debut single, On My Own was reminiscent of SAINT ETIENNE, but with a definite BELINDA CARLISLE-esque lilt. Its use in the Gwyneth Paltrow film, Sliding Doors, led to the single being re-released and subsequently hitting the top 40 of the US Billboard chart.
Unfortunately, the transatlantic success wasn’t replicated in the UK, with the single stalling at no. 69 in 1998. The trio recorded one album, Audiopeach, before disbanding. Statham has since become a prolific writer and producer, and has worked with the likes of SOPHIE ELLIS-BAXTOR, KYLIE MINOGUE, SARAH NIXEY and CHEW LIPS. Gabriel continues his career as a successful producer. BP
Available on the CD album Audiopeach via Mute Records
SEXUS The Official End Of It All (1996)
Mancunian duo SEXUS were also part of the short lived so-called Romo movement. Signed by ZTT, vocalist David Savage and instrumentalist Paul Southern released their second single,’The Official End Of It All’ in 1996. Best described as ABC-meets-PET SHOP BOYS, this fine single (like so many from the ill-fated scene) failed to chart, despite lavish praise from both Melody Maker and Smash Hits, and extensive radio play.
The duo would soon fall out with ZTT who had, apparently, remixed their next single, ‘How Do You Kiss?’ behind their backs. Both this single and parent Trevor Horn-produced album, ‘The Boyfriend Olympics’, were subsequently shelved and SEXUS disappeared. They re-emerged as PSYCHODELICATES and released an album, ‘Go Adventuring’, in 2002. Paul Southern later became a novelist. BP
Available on the CD single ‘The Official End Of It All’ via ZTT Records
YAMO Stereomatic (1997)
Once amusingly described by OMD’s Andy McCluskey as the “Julio Iglesias of electronic music”, Wolfgang Flür had left KRAFTWERK in 1987. According to his insightful autobiography, ‘I Was A Robot’ published in 2000, he had received an offer to join his fellow Kling Klang compatriot, KARL BARTOS, in ELEKTRIC MUSIC, but decided to begin his own music journey. This culminated in the release of the debut YAMO single ‘Stereomatic’ in 1997, described as “a homage to the invention of the stereotone”.
Displaying a wealth of musical invention that had been missing from his former employers’ recent material, parent album ‘Time Pie’ was a bold and diverse album, containing a wealth of electronics, samples and ambient textures; its undoubted highlight being the superb 7-minute epic ‘Guiding Ray’ with its enchanting melody, simplistic phrasing, and driving, NEU!-esque beat. BP
Available on the CD album Time Pie via EMI Electrola
TIN TIN OUT featuring TONY HADLEY Dance With Me (1997)
Dance duo TIN TIN OUT recruited SPANDAU BALLET’s front man to sing on this very synth flavoured pop tune thus proving that the man once dubbed Foghorn by Smash Hits was ideally suited to European electro disco as showcased on ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’ afterall. However, Da Ballet’s songwriter Gary Kemp was a really a soulboy and Hadley had ambitions to be Frank Sinatra thus resulting in the pop MOR sound that was more representative of the Islington quintet’s body of work. This particular ‘Dance With Me’ is not to be confused with Hadley’s own song of the same name from his 1997 eponymous album which also featured lame covers of DURAN DURAN’s ‘Save A Prayer’ and BLACK’s ‘Wonderful Life’! CML
Available on the CD ‘Album Always’ via VC Records
THE LANTERNS High Rise Town (1998)
THE LANTERNS were two sisters, Sylvia and Gina Rae with songwriter Jim Sutherland who released only one album ‘Illuminate Yer Heid’. Hailing from Edinburgh and accents intact, they eschewed the trendy trip-hop of the time with a much dancier, uptempo template. Deep but accessible, ‘High Rise Town’ was a catchy synthesized pop tune with a defiantly aspirational groove. Jim Sutherland has since become a successful producer and composer, winning a Creative Scotland award in 2006. CML
Available on the CD Album ‘Luminate Yer Heid’ via Columbia Records
MESH Trust You (1998)
MESH are one of modern electronic pop’s best kept secrets. Formed in 1991, Mark Hocking, Richard Silverthorn and Neil Taylor have been cruelly referred to as ‘De-MESH Mode’ but this is overtstating the point. While using a similar Eurocentric industrialised synth feel, one thing that MESH have that DM have largely lost since the departure of Alan Wilder is a dynamic production fused to a hidden knack for tunes. In 1998, they put together this marvellously rousing bittersweet anthem to ask the target of their despair: “why do you hate so much?”. CML
Available on the CD Single ‘Trust You’ via Momento Materia Sweden
SIMPLE MINDS Androgyny (1998)
SIMPLE MINDS got rarely listened to by their original electronic fanbase from 1986 due to their stadium rock aspirations but every now and then, they proved there could be occasions when they returned to their artrock inventiveness. This incongruous synth instrumental from the plodding ‘Neapolis’ album is superbly motorik, recalling EMAK’s ‘Filmmusik’ and a fine tribute to the best tradition of NEU! As Jim Kerr did not feature on this, there was no reason for him to spoil it by bellowing out: “SHOW ME YOUR HANDS!” CML
Available on the CD album ‘Neapolis’ via EMI Records
ADD N TO (X) featuring ALISON GOLDFRAPP Revenge Of The Black Regent (1999)
ADD N TO (X) consisted of Barry Smith, Ann Shenton and Steven Claydon. They specialised in an unorthodox, occasionally discordant form of Sci-Fi electronica using vintage equipment at a time when no-one would touch analogue machinery with a barge pole. The starkly sinister ‘Revenge Of The Black Regent’ with its detuned synth strings and buzzy bee effects featured Alison Goldfrapp’s warbling gibberish over some tense, militaristic drumming. The result was wholly unsettling to the Nth degree. Ann Shenton now runs White Label Music where THE HORN THE HUNT are one of her signings. CML
Available on the CD album ‘Avant Hard’ via Mute Records
DOT ALLISON Mr Voyeur (1999)
It is difficult to pin down Ms Allison’s varied sound…one minute it’s chillout, then come down folk or classic pop and on occasions, full blown electronica as with ‘Mr Voyeur’. This practically lifts the octave Minimoog line from GARY NUMAN’s ‘Metal’ lock, stock and smokin’ synth while melting it into a rhythm that grooves despite its machine manifestations. The B-side of her second solo single ‘Close Your Eyes’, it flopped thus rendering the need for Mr Numan to call his lawyers to be totally unnecessary! CML
Available on the CD Single Close Your Eyes via Heavenly Records
THE ALL SEEING I featuring PHIL OAKEY 1st Man in Space (1999)
In between the release of THE HUMAN LEAGUE albums Octopus and Secrets, Phil Oakey released this rather quirky collaboration with fellow Sheffield electronic act THE ALL SEEING I in 1999. The trio had already secured a top ten hit with ‘Walk Like A Panther’ (featuring crooner Tony Christie) and ‘1st Man In Space’ was a minor top 30 hit in September.
With Oakey having recently penned the lyric “Keep your cornflakes in your freezers” (see ‘Night People’) you could easily be forgiven for thinking that he had also provided the lyrics for ‘1st Man in Space’, but it was in fact PULP’s Jarvis Cocker (again the Sheffield connection is prevalent here), bemoaning the lack of Golden Nuggets and whingeing about milk carton packaging! BP
Available on the CD single ‘1st Man In Space’ on FFRR Records
LES RYTHMES DIGITALES featuring NIK KERSHAW Sometimes (1999)
It had been ten years since NIK KERSHAW had last recorded an album the diminutive singer and guitarist having spent a decade writing and producing songs for the likes of LET LOOSE and of course, CHESNEY HAWKES who had enjoyed a huge number one hit with ‘The One and Only’ in 1991. All this was about to change with the imminent release of his excellent album, ’15 Minutes’, in the spring of 1999. Meanwhile, a certain Jacques Lu Cont was about to release a second album under the name of LES RYTHMES DIGITALES.
Lu Cont was of course Stuart Price who is these days more renowned for his writing and production work for the likes of MADONNA, KYLIE MINOGUE, THE KILLERS and TAKE THAT. Price’s impressive collaboration with NIK KERSHAW, the catchy, effervescent ‘Sometimes’, had been heavily influenced by THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Love Action (I Believe In Love)’. During press interviews at the time, Price insisted that Kershaw had always been his singer of choice for the project, with PHIL OAKEY too obvious an option. BP
Available on the CD album ‘Darkdancer’ via Wall Of Sound
TECHNIQUE You & Me (1999)
The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Kate Holmes, TECHNIQUE’s superb ‘You & Me’ was produced by Stephen Hague and while not a hit in the UK, was massively popular in the Far East via a cover version by Chinese songstress COCO LEE. Originally released on Creation Records, Kate Holmes just happened to be the wife of Alan McGee, hence their rather incongruous inclusion on a roster normally consisting of guitar bands! TECHNIQUE had been booked to support DEPECHE MODE in Europe when singer Xan Tyler went AWOL.
DUBSTAR’s Sarah Blackwood was recruited to replace her and the duo eventually morphed into CLIENT. Sarah Blackwood left CLIENT in 2010 and ironically, was replaced by a returning Tyler! CML
Available on the CD ‘Pop Philosophy’ via PopTones
VNV NATION Standing (1999)
This truly stunning, electro-industrial single is typical of the VNV (Victory Not Vengeance) sound, categorised as ‘futurepop’ by their singer Ronan Harris and employs a trance-like quality that hypnotically captivates the listener. The award-winning single was number one in Germany’s DAC (alternative) chart for an impressive 8 weeks. Currently based in Germany, the duo hail from Dublin and the UK, and have released 8 studio albums since 1995. Like MUSE, they weave classical music influences into their electronic soundscapes, while much of their music is complemented by intelligent and profound lyrics. BP
Available on the CD album Burning Empires via Dependent Records
YOUNGER YOUNGER 28s Karaoke Queen (1999)
One of the B-sides from the ‘Next Big Thing’ single, the best line of the superbly comedic ‘Karaoke Queen’ is: “He is a Karaoke Queen, he’s not gay or straight, he’s in between!”. Telling the lurid tale of singer John Northern spurning the offer of a threesome with a bisexual DJ while his girlfriend accepts, the sardonic drawl combined with the cheery girl-next-door bridge gives an amusing account of this gritty boy meets girl and boy lust story. Like THE HUMAN LEAGUE meets YMCA! CML
Available on the CD Single Next Big Thing via V2 Records
Original Text by Barry Page
Additional Material by Chi Ming Lai
3rd May 2012