WARMER MIXTAPES #902 | by Jack Duckworth [Soft Riot] of Savage Furs, Primes, Winning, Radio Berlin, A Luna Red, The Measure, Heavy Party and Forgotten
1. Jawbox | Dreamless
In London, as with around the world and in the general Music Industry, there has been a revival of Grunge, particularly amongst young 20-somethings who weren't young enough to be there the first time around as well as older folks who listened to that Music in their seminal years. I never got attached to the majority of that Sound, especially the comet tail that was it's more public years of massive airplay on MTV and Radio. Maybe In Utero being one of the few exceptions. People who don't know me might think I'm perpetually listening to anything Synth-related from the Golden Era of Synth-Pop, but that's not the case. I loved a lot of 90s Alternative Guitar Music, but most people, especially in the UK and Europe don't really know about it. And back in the day when I was listening to that Music Grunge for the most part was considered Mainstream garbage. Not to say there wasn't bad stuff, but I was listening to a lot of more extreme Noisy Hardcore to the more Experimental, on-the-fringe Alternative/Post-Punk stuff on labels like Kill Rock Stars, Cargo, Gravity, Troubleman, Art Monk Construction, Dischord and so on. The latter is home to Fugazi, whom most people are aware of and were and are an absolute favourite of mine. But there were other bands who put out great Music and somewhat forgotten as time moves on. This is some way illustrates my theory that in the early/mid 90s the UK and US were very different in terms of what people listened to in terms of Alternative Guitar Music, but that's a different tangent altogether… Jawbox is one of those bands and I put them on this list as I've been revisiting all of their albums lately. They put out four albums, two on Dischord and then, being one of the two bands (the other being the amazing Shudder To Think) on that label to be picked up by a Major Label in that whole Alternative signing frenzy of the 90s, put out two more on Atlantic/Tag. I discovered them in my teens when checking out a lot of the bands on the Dischord label and found a connection with them instantly. I remember the long walk home from School, playing the first two albums in my yellow Sony Walkman often. Their Music employed a lot of sophisticated Guitar Interplay, Textures, Chord Structures and in their later albums, varying Time Signatures. Within this their songs still contained a lot of Melody and Emotion in the dissonance as well as a good sense of Flow. And, despite J. Robbins' Lyrics being somewhat Abstract, there's many times where they form these very poignant and insightful phrases and are evident of someone who appears to be well-versed in the History of Poetry. Jawbox touched the edge of the circle that all the big Alt bands were in at the time, even opening for bands like Stone Temple Pilots, but likely went over most people's heads as their Music had a certain Refinement and Complexity to it that was likely overshadowed by the angst-y stage antics of STP's Scott Weiland. They also looked quite different for the Music of the 90s Alternative era, being quite clean cut. Nowadays one could mistake some of their unlabelled Press shots for some brooding Post-Punk or Minimal Synth band. This was in contrast to the look of bleached unkempt hair and soiled plaid shirts mostly associated with the time. Oh, and in some cases jester hats — ugh. It's likely a weird connection to make, but Jawbox to me carried some things I can't entirely pinpoint from the vibe of Factory Records (they do a great cover of Something Must Break) into a 90s Post-Hardcore Sound, especially on their second album Novelty (another JD reference I think) which had a colder, more distant Sound than their most popular album, For Your Own Special Sweetheart, that I found appealing. It was even produced by an Englishman Iain Burgess who had done recordings with Big Black, Naked Raygun and a number of other Chicago bands around that time, getting them one step closer to that Manchester connection that I somehow have made. Anyway, my track from that album is Dreamless, which is the song from that album that most people who listen to the band know and it's a great track.
2. Keluar | Cleo
There is a lot of good Music going on in the general Synth/Wave/Post-Punk Underground at the moment and I could probably fill a good list with favourite tracks by artists close to home like Mild Peril, A Terrible Splendour, Női Kabát and Lebanon Hanover to further afield like Xeno & Oaklander, Agent Side Grinder and so on. I've chosen Keluar as it's the track I've been listening to most lately, mainly as I'm working on a remix for their track Cleo and need to play it back on repeat for reference. Oh, yeah, and it's good too. I first saw Sid from Keluar play in Schwefelgelb a number of years back and Alison I knew from London and her stint playing in Linea Aspera. When this new project started up Sid was interested in getting feedback on the Dave Smith Tetra Synth, which I use. I gave it a thumbs up and he subsequently acquired one. When I final heard the initial recordings, the Sounds they were getting from that Synth were fantastic, especially on this track, which have an Asian influence feel that reminds me a bit of Richard Barbieri from Japan's work on Tin Drum. Alison's Vocals work really well over this Sound they've established and from what I've heard from the EP they've definitely got a good thing going. Keluar have just released an EP on Desire so anyone interested should direct themselves there.
3. Scritti Politti | Absolute
I've recently gotten into the extended Bigar Edit of this track, and in a farther reaching sense gotten into Scritti Politti. It's weird as when I was listening to a lot of Synth Music 10 or 15 years ago I never really bothered to check it out — I have no idea why as I was aware of them. But in more recent times I've gotten really into Cupid & Psyche 85 and especially this track. The Drum Production is the standout thing for me oddly enough. It has a similar Sound to the Drums used on Let's Dance by Bowie: it was quite treated as a lot of Drum Production was done around that time, but there was still a resounding crack in the snare and everything sounded still punchy and urgent. With the Synths there's a lot of Cool Counterpoint going on and Green's voice is quite airy, sitting softly over the Music.
4. U.S. Maple | Bumps And Guys
I have a reoccurring obsession with this band that pops up maybe once or twice a year where I re-listen to all of their albums. For the record, they sound very far removed from anything Soft Riot-related on surface level, but they are big influence on the Music I do, mainly in terms of Tension and Restraint, Vocal Delivery and a number of countless other things I'm likely not aware of. The track I Wanna Lay Down NXT 2 U of my first record No Longer Stranger is perhaps the most obvious, where part of the Composition Process was incorporating the Sound of U.S. Maple's album Talker into an Electronic format. I think the moment I realised their genius was when I saw them play Live back in Vancouver back in 2002 when they were touring on the back of their album Acre Thrills. When most people listen to U.S. Maple it is likely they'll think Fuck, these guys cannot play music at all. Get a day job... Or something like that. There is an unfounded rumour told to me by a friend that, when they were touring with the Indie band Pavement, that audience members were overheard to say about U.S. Maple's set: Don't make fun of them!, insinuating that they thought the band members were Mentally Handicapped. I cannot verify the truth in this story, but it adds to the myth of the band, who has a singer that at a time had a penchant for wearing white gloves while performing. Anyway, it was one of the best surprise shows I've seen. All the Guitar Sounds people would think was Bad Playing were played almost Note for Note Live, unveiling what is actually Stellar Musicianship. Their Vocalist Al Johnson is like watching some intense Method Actor cast as an oddball character in a Lynch film. There is something about the Elasticity and Tension in the Music that is a refreshing listen from Pop, Song-Structure and 4/4 Metronomic Time on a constant basis. The band is now broken up, but there's a number of new projects, including Dead Rider, that are well worth checking out. Bumps And Guys is the Opener from their third album Talker, which I consider their darkest album, although that's relative. The track illustrates well the meanderings and aimless Guitar noodlings that build up, collide and fall apart with a Primal Power, sort of like the clichés of Rock And Roll crumbling like an old piece of clay — or something like that…
5. Mathew Jonson | Marionette
If anyone says that Modern Techno isn't Emotional should probably listen to this track to see if their opinion is swayed. I'm not a fan of everything Mathew Jonson has done, as his work varies, but this track is exceptional and conjures a lot of images for me — strangely enough one being a ballerina dancing in a snowy forest late one evening. Surreal Imagery aside it's starts off with this bubbling, Spacious Arpeggiating Synth that adds Layers of slightly detuned Pad swells lines that morph throughout the 11 minute track. There's a certain Velocity that makes you feel like you're constantly falling forward into that feeling, especially later on in the track when things pick up Momentum. Mathew Jonson fits into the Continual Timeline of Vancouver Electronic Music, most obviously starting with bands like Skinny Puppy, Images In Vogue and Moev through until now: encompassing a broader range of Artists including Industrial, Post-Punk, Synth/Wave and more Techno/Electronic stuff. Having come from more of the Punk/Indie scene, I wasn't really familiar with what was going on in Vancouver's Techno/Electronic community until my last couple of years that I was living there. I was more familiar with Synth-based Music coming from the Indie or Industrial/Goth scenes. My partner and I around that time would get commissioned to provide Visuals for a number of parties at a venue there called Open Studios, which would run until the wee hours of the morning. There I saw and heard a lot of good Artists play and met a lot of people that I had never really crossed paths with in Vancouver at the time.
6. Bauhaus | Of Lillies And Remains
There was a period in my Youth where I was immersing myself in all the Classic Post-Punk records as I was discovering them: Gary Numan, Joy Division, The Cure, Siouxsie And The Banshees and Bauhaus as well as the lesser known stuff like Section 25, Josef K, The Associates and so on. And although that was seemingly a long time ago I continue to listen to most of those records, although some of those have aged better with me. One would think Bauhaus would age less well compared to, say, Joy Division, although the latter I rarely listen to nowadays for a number of reasons — but I think Bauhaus for me has a lasting appeal that's more than the reputation and surface aesthetics they're known for. They're all great Musicians for a start. David J's Bass lines pull out some good licks from the School of Dub, Reggae and Funk and Daniel Ash's Guitar Sounds and Rhythms still stand out as varied and unique. I think Peter Murphy's sense of Humour is actually more of a plus to me nowadays than ever — a playful use of Delivery and Lyrics that actually make them (gasp) fun to listen to. Although I do enjoy many of their hits, Of Lillies And Remains is an album track from Mask that I usually bust out on the occasions that I DJ. It's danceable, has a good baseline, Minimal Guitar accenting the Rhythm and a bizarre trade of Vocals between Peter Murphy and *I think* David J. The Lyrics of this song I understand were the results of some sort of Surreal Writing Game. I'd need more details to verify this though!
7. György Ligeti | Requiem: I. Introitus, Sostenuto (Performed by Barbara Hannigan, Virpi Räisänen-Midth, Maîtrise de Radio France with Sofi Jeanin, Choeur De Radio France with Michel Tranchant, Orchestre Philharmonique De Radio France, Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen)
Despite a listener having enough extreme Metal, Noisy Punk and Doom-laden Synthesiser Music recordings to fill a legion of soot-coated Viking warships to give one a sense of Fright, one of the spine-chilling pieces of Music I've heard is Hungarian Composer György Ligeti's Requiem: I. Introitus, Sostenuto. This still stays true from when I first heard it when I was very young. Most people will know Ligeti's work through the Soundtrack to Kubrick's Film 2001: Space Odyssey. When I was young I was really keen to see this film. I have no idea why. I think I was attracted to the fact that it was Science Fiction and the Composition of the Frames and the Visuals really struck me, although being at a young age I would have never articulated it as that. I finally got to see it as we rented it on VHS when we were visiting our father, who lived on a cabin on a lake surrounded by woods in an area called Sproat Lake. It was dark and all you could see were dark shapes out the windows and the expanse of Wilderness. Right from the offset when the Apes gather around the Monolith and one of Ligeti's pieces fades in I could feel the shivers shocking my spine. It was an intensely Disturbing piece of Music, but I found it really addictive to listen to. As the Night progress by, father and my sister had ducked off to bed and I was stuck alone watching the remainder of the Film, including the Stargate sequence. I was freaking myself out and totally enjoying it. It was incredible that all of this could be done without Gore, Suspense or cheap thrills. It was all done in the Psychedelic Visuals and the Music. On a more Analytical listen I enjoy the dense masses of thick Sound in his pieces using Choral and Instrumental Micropolyphony. Sometimes I'll try to concentrate really hard and pick out the individual Melodic Passages in this mass, but it's very difficult. How does one even write that sort of Music? There's a technique and things seem to move along in a meditated way. I imagine it takes a lot of Theory to write! With Soft Riot I, in my own way, apply this technique to some Synth tracks, built on Semi-Tones to add an unsettling sense of Dread, even if it's behind what can be heard as a Melodic Passage. As a footnote, Ligeti's Musica Ricercata also has a similar feel, but with a completely different Composition. It's basically just a really simple Piano line separated by a Semi-Tone over several Octaves with lots of empty space around it. If you haven't heard it before, think again for if you've watched Eyes Wide Shut - it's the Music that accompanies Tom Cruise's character as he is followed down the street by the man in the distance. As a footnote, György is pronounced sort of like Jyerj for the Anglophones. I've learned a bit of Hungarian due to some very great Hungarian people I've met in my life over the last couple of years.
8. Primadonna | Flashing On The Floor (Vocal)
Although I've been listening to songs that fit into the Italo Electro genre for a long time, I never really fully realised that all those songs I had heard fit as a Collective Movement, utilising similar Stylistic Trademarks until within the last five years. With many years of listening to Synth Pop you'd hear tracks by Fancy along with Dead Or Alive, or tie in Giorgio Moroder's work with Sparks or Phil Oakey. When I was living back in Vancouver a good friend of mine, Michelle Matzke, was one of the only people spinning that stuff in clubs (in Vancouver for goodness sake!) around ten years ago. Within the first few years of living in London there were a few key people who had based Club nights around this Sound. Clubs like Computer Blue and Future Brain were on the scene for a bit, the latter organised and curated by my now good friend Chris Gilbert of Mild Peril. It was at those places, as well as many clubs I went to following those where I heard more and more amazing tracks that would fit into this genre. Some were more Upbeat and followed the Disco template it morphed from quite closely. Others had more crossover into Synth Pop and had a very dreamy, Melancholic feel. Many of these tracks had incredible Synthesiser work in them, from Sounds to Programming and I have to say that over time it's influenced the way I write synth music. I at times even consciously have some Italo-sounding phrases in my Music to brighten it up a bit, adding what I think is a good contrast to a lot of the more dissonant, Sinister Tones that I tend to make. Flashing On The Floor recently has got stuck in my head as the main Synth passages are pretty catching. It's also a track that I think has a good Mix of Trademark Epic Synth lines, Chord changes and that bit of Melancholy that can make the genre really good.
9. DBC | Tranzilvania
Tranzilvania is the final track from this band, Dangerous Boys Club (abbreviated to DBC), from their recently released album Pris on Dias Records. To someone freshly acquainted to this band it fits well within the current crop of Cold Wave bands out there and for those in the know might be obsessed about their previous bands rather than DBC. For me, I think the whole trajectory of this group of Musicians is interesting and relevant; old and current output as one. As members of such bands like Antioch Arrow, Get Hustle, Silentist and a host of others I've been fans of over the last 15 or so years, it interests me on their approach to DBC, which is a lot more Pop oriented than their other projects, which were very out there, Experimental and likely polarising. I call it writing Pop through the back door, where the approach is from a background where the Musicians have a complex and oddball collection of Influences and create something that's more accessible than the contributing parts. My approach is quite similar, having played in a host of Weird-Sounding bands in the past and trying to train your brain to write something as simple as a straight-ahead 4/4 Drum Beat that isn't riddled with Drum fills can be a bit of a task sometimes! Anyway, DBC's Sound fits well into the dark Synth stuff going out there, but also it's quite Psychedelic at the same time, and you can hear elements of Suicide, Pulp and a bit of that early Mute Records catalogue in there. And about this song: there is some really Organic Sounding Synth work going on. It by all means isn't an instantly accessible Synth-Pop track, but I like how the Sound goes in the direction of Tones and Dynamics that quickly morph into one another like the Visuals of a Graph Chart, rather than Pulses or Spikes on a Metronomic Grid, which a lot of Electronic Music tends to follow.
10. Second Layer | Fixation
With some records the Cover Art pulls you in even before you've heard the Music and this is the case with Second Layer's album World Of Rubber. A side project of two guys from the English Post-Punk band The Sound, this record is now highly sought after, but hard to find. I bought my copy in the late 90s, not even knowing who they were. That was back in the day when I was going to all the dingiest corners of Vancouver's forgotten Charity Shops, digging through record crates that would be at the back of the building with all the musty old books. It was the right time and place where you could find three Classic Kraftwerk records for under a dollar, because no-one gave a shit at the time. On one afternoon I came across this record and not knowing the band I knew the Music was likely going to be good. The Artwork was black and silver ink, framed in these cold, Mechanical shapes. In the centre were these two highly posterised busts of Androgynous Mannequins and the words Second Layer and World Of Rubber in a Sci-Fi, 70s Panton style Font. The whole look reminded me a bit of the Video Collage sequences from the Film THX 1138. It was a good find so I bought it for like one or two dollars and took it home to listen. The Music was fantastic! Anyone familiar with The Sound and it's frontman, Adrian Borland, will recognise his jagged yet at times Minimal Post-Punk Guitar Sound layered overtop of Paranoid Baselines and a simple, Minimal Drum Machine. The whole album has this grey, Ballard-esque quality about it. A great sense of Unease. Fixation is arguably the single off of the album with a slightly more Upbeat, Iggy Pop sort of feel. This is still one of my favourite records even now.
+11. Swing Kids | Line #1
There were plenty of other songs from that early 90s San Diego Hardcore/Post-Punk scene that I could have chose (from bands like Drive Like Jehu, Clikatat Ikatowi, etc.) but I chose Line #1 by Swing Kids as it was from the first new and current (at the time) Vinyl Record that I had ever bought; their debut 7", Disease. This came out in early 1995, so I was 15 at the time. Any Music I had other than that was a few Vinyl records from older bands from the 70s or 80s. Any newer, current Punk/Hardcore Music I had was on either CD or Cassette, especially the latter as the majority of Local bands on Vancouver Island, where I'm from, only really released Music in the Demo Cassette format. I bought Disease I think from a small basement distro run by an older kid called Jamie. He played in a Hardcore band called SCP with a group of guys that were two grades above us in High School. When I saw all those records in his distro I felt like I had stumbled into some vast Underworld of Music that you could only get at Hardcore shows in legion halls or buried deep in pages of Underground zines. In hindsight I think his distro was probably just enough to fill two milk crates, but it was exciting for me at the time nonetheless. Swing Kids were a bit more entrenched, a more straight-ahead variation of the San Diego Sound unlike their more Arty, crazier sounding peers like Antioch Arrow or Jehu, but they still packed a punch. When the track picks up into a thundering thrash beat right after the initial Intro I still get a bit of a sense of Whiplash when Justin's Vocals kick in and it fires forward at a deadly pace. The Recording Quality is good too: everything it clear and punchy, but not Overproduced unlike the majority of Punk and Hardcore coming out these days. When should a Punk band ever be Over-Produced anyway?
+12. Rush | Between The Wheels
I think I've put the line in the sand with this one as a lot of people don't really like them, especially those who listen to more Alternative Music, but 1) I do like them, but for a different Time period and 2) they actually had a major role in my Formative Music Years and more so than a lot of other Artists. When my mom left my dad in the mid/late 80s, my mom then started seeing a guy called Jim, with whom see is still with today. He was a guy about 10 years younger than she from Ontario. In hindsight it seemed he grew up on a lot of bands that were likely getting a lot of airplay on Toronto Radio at the time like Kim Mitchell, Rough Trade, Saga, The Parachute Club and of course, Rush. At the time Jim drove a late 70s Pontiac Firebird and I remember bombing down the remote highways of the North end of Vancouver Island with the Rush albums Grace Under Pressure and Power Windows likely overheating in the car's Cassette deck. Since those records were my introduction to Rush, I've always viewed them as more of a sophisticated 80s Pop band, more akin to Peter Gabriel, 80s Yes or Canada's own Gowan than the 70s stuff about Computer-savvy wizards and dogs in the snow. Both records show a good display of Synthesiser Production and, even though there's still a number of ridiculous Guitar Solos, I think the strong points of Alex Lifeson's Guitar Playing is his restraint, often just adding Textures of chiming Guitar Chords over the Rhythm Section or Synth work. Between The Wheels is the final track from Grace Under Pressure and I think is my favourite track from this period. The Offbeat Synth stabs are ominous and Lifeson's Guitar, although still too glossy for some, has these Post-Punk elements to it that I think of. I admit I'm a bit biased about this era, but I was an impressionable young one when I was introduced to these records.
+13. Fad Gadget | Fireside Favourite
Fad Gadget always had an appeal that was different than a lot of his contemporaries due to the sense of Humour that lay under his Music. From this album there are a number of songs as a whole that I like better, but, as for the Lyrical Narrative of the song, it's pretty brilliant. The contrast of the Jazz-y Synth shuffle and a story about couple getting hot and bothered in midst of a Nuclear Explosion is fantastic. And I think that one of the aspects of Frank Tovey's long-lasting appeal is his Humour, as well as his unique Mix of Synth, Post-Punk, Pop and Industrial Music. It's a shame he past away as young as he did and I would be curious to hear what he might be coming up with today in light of the resurgence of that sort of Sound in the Underground.