Synthfest UK 2018

This Saturday just gone, I went to Synthfest UK 2018

It’s an annual gathering both of makers of electronic gear and the end users – like a big trade show but with a way more personal touch.

Here’s a little vid I made:

As you can see from the vid, there’s a huge range of stuff to look at but, more importantly, you can twiddle with it all!

When I was a kid and when huge music shops like Turnkey still existed as bricks and mortar emporia, I used to go to London specifically to try out synths that you would never see up in Derby.

Going round Synthfest always reminds me of that feeling. Where the hell do I start? I just want to play and patch EVERYTHING but there simply isn’t enough time. It’s equal parts joy and frustration. 

And then there’s the makers. How wonderful it is to go up to the person who built something you own and give them  actual feedback. Every maker I met was as super-enthusiastic as the punters. They were all proud of their shiny metal babies and loved hearing how we used them. 

There’s only one criticism of Synthfest I can make ~ it’s a very white, middle-aged, male event. It’d be lovely to see more younger people, more female geeks wandering about and the same goes for black and Asian noisemakers. This lack of diversity isn’t specifically because Synthfest excludes groups; it’s more that it just replicates the existing biases within the music scene. What we have to do is actively combat those barriers to entry, to reach out to people who may not feel they’re invited or that it’s for them. After all, how much of contemporary music isn’t electronic? 5%? Less?

I think we could start to address this by tweaking the program to be more inclusive and more attractive to different groups of people.

Anyway, polemic over, here’s my gallery of pics from the day:

Synthfest UK 2018

If you’re an electro music geek, whether you’re a builder or a player or both, please do check out the next Synthfest. I think you’ll love it. 

Wolfgang Flür

Forgot to say…

When I did a promo tour for EMI Germany, I asked them if it was possible for them to introduce me to any of Kraftwerk, my fave ever band (they were on EMI too).

Well, I ended up having a lovely dinner with the EMI Germany peeps and Mr. Wolfgang Flür (seen drumming on the right here).

He was totally lovely, didn’t mind my outrageous fanboying at all. We talked about synths and electronic music, Stockhausen and Bauhaus.

One of the best nights of my life. <3

Michael Nesmith, Country Rock & (The) Eagles

I just watched the long doc on the Eagles which was fascinating, in the way that all rock docs are.

You have the origin story, some kids sparking off each other, loving the music. Then they get success and become addled by the drugs and the sex and then, inevitably, along comes Mr. Creative Differences. Which, in the Eagles’ case includes hilarious recordings of them about to have a punch up on stage, in the middle of a bloody gig!

I’m glad they had Linda Ronstadt in there and gave her due credit. Too often, female artists get whitewashed out of rock history or relegated to the role of muse. I wonder if the Eagles would even had formed if Frey and Henley hadn’t toured in her band?

What made me a little sad is zero mention of Michael Nesmith. I hate the way that no-one talks about Nez as one of the originators of country rock. Ronstadt covered Nez’ ‘Different Drum’ way back in ‘67, with the Stone Poneys. If the doc could mention Gram Parsons, it really should have mentioned how important Nesmith was on that early scene. ‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’ was released in 1968, Nesmith wrote ‘Different Drum’ in 1965! There’s no way Henley and Frey were unaware of Nez’ post-Monkee solo country albums.

Otherwsie, how could you have ‘Midnight Flyer’ which is basically the Eagles ripping-off Nez’ ‘Nevada Fighter’ three years after it was released?

Reminds me of ‘Moi Lolita’ by Alizee and a certain ‘90s one-hit wonder…

Indiepop Fanzines From The Early ’90s

So, I finally had time to take some pics of the fanzines I have left from the earliest days of White Town and indiepopness around then. Possibly a couple are from ’89 but the rest are def early ’90s.

They’re amazing. The hard work and love popkids used to pour into making these is overwhelming now. No DTP, word processors, it was all Pritt Stick and Letraset! 

Have a look at the gallery on Flickr:

Anorak City

Japan – ‘Quiet Life’

As I was driving home from visiting my Mum (still feels weird that it’s just her, that my Dad isn’t there), Japan’s ‘Quiet Life’ came on in my car.

It was the long, 4.52 version, not the single edit. It’s a perfect pop single. The introductory arpeggiator over the drone note is lovely and spooky. Then the drums come in and they move and groove along with the bass and guitar chord strums.

Yes, the bass. Mick Karn’s fantastically ornate bass playing is the foundation of Japan. They’re all brilliant musicans and Sylvian was (and is) a truly gifted singer but as soon as you hear Karn, sliding all over the shop, then you know Japan is here. I can’t believe it’s already five years since he died.

Maybe I connected with this track tonight driving home because of my Dad’s death in April. I’ve been going back to a lot of music I loved as a kid, trying, I guess, to work out who I am as much as how I am.

Then, in the middle drop down, the bass goes. It’s just drums, synths and Sylvian. The sense of space here is enormous and when the bass comes back in, it’s such a rush, we’ve been in withdrawal.

The song ends as it starts, stark drums and synths with a sense of something fading into the distance. Like when you’re on a train and, for a while, a car matches speed alongside before a turn of the road takes it away from you and you’ll never see it again.

I’m enormously lucky in that I’ve had one hit record. 99.999% of musicians work their entire lives for zero reward or recognition. Then we have the bands that come and go and are then marginalised in the re-written histories of decades. Bands like Japan.

In our social media version of the ‘80s, mostly promoted by people who weren’t born until the ‘90s, I feel that Japan are unjustly forgotten. When I first saw ‘Quiet Life’ on TOTP, it was shocking, I was absolutely riveted to the telly. Obviously, I was only a kid so I was so in awe of these men, so elegant, so effortlessly fucking cool. The opposite of teenage me, so blubberous and unfuckingcool. As I grew older and delved into their catalogue, I found so much more than yet-another throwaway New Romantic band.

If you’re unaware of Japan, please take the time to check out all their albums, to see how they progressed from their punk roots into something wildly experimental, unafraid to lose any fanbase they’d built up in previous incarnations. Yes, that’s hard to believe now when every band’s “new” album is carefully vetted to be not too challenging, not too different to the previous ones. Let’s give the punters more of the same!

Japan didn’t do that. They carved their own giddy, joyous path through pop music, going where they wanted stealing and inventing what they needed as and when they needed it.

A great band, in any era.

Le Mystere De Voix Bulgares

I haven’t posted any Voix Bulgares for a while. And I do love them so! Their harmonies, their crazy interval leaping. The way the major sections break out like sunshine through clouds.

My parents always say they sound Indian but the truth is they sound Indo-European, which is hardly surprising considering they way language and culture ebbs and flows across Asia and Europe (or, as I call it, West Asia). The rhythmic bit at the end sounds so Indian my Dad always starts clapping along, bless him.

This next track is probably my favourite ever female lead vocal:

If I ever find a woman who loves this music as much as I do, I will propose. If they get it. If it makes their soul ache like mine does.

And now, I can’t leave this without the closest Brit equivalent I’ve ever heard:

4AD label-mates to Voix Bulgares, This Mortal Coil (which was basically a 4AD supergroup). Of course, SCOTTISH.

And now we’re back to TMC, we’re in firm goth territory and possible soundtrack music for your upcoming spoopy Halloween.