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PICKS: Experimental Synth Music

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PICKS: Experimental Synth Music

To close off 2017, our resident Kenny Mulligan picks some of his favourite experimental synth-wave. No chosen era, just 10 tracks that take you to another place via electronics.



Polyphonic Size - Nagasaki Mon Amour (Sandwich Records, 1980)

Belgian New Wave band Polyphonic Size were founded in 1979 by the Stranglers' Bassist, Jean Jacques Burnel. Nagasaki Mon Amour was of the band's defining moments, due to its throbbing bass, French spoken word, and its strange sweeping spaced out blasts of the synthesizer. The band were key experimentalists in the minimal synth scene ever since their debut album 'Live For Each Moment/Vivre Pour Chaque', which included tracks based on George Orwell's classic novel, 1984. They can still be found  working their sound at French and Belgian festivals.

The Normal - T.V.O.D (Mute Records, 1978)

The Normal was a name used by Daniel Miller, an English film director, musician and creator of the seminal UK record label, Mute Records. Miller was disillusioned by the fact that you needed to learn three chords to be in a punk band, so he decided to purchase a synthesiser. His thinking was that you only needed to learn to press one key on a synthesiser! The minimalistic release 'T.V.O.D./Warm Leatherette' was made in his house using only KorG mini700s and recorded onto a TEAC 4 track tape, influenced by J.G.Ballard's novell 'Crash' after Daniel split with his girlfriend. Very strange but powerful...

Click Click - Stay Out The Water (Rorschach Testing Product, 1985)

Click Click are a British Post-Punk/EBM band who were formed in 1982 under "mind altering substances" and crafted their sound after listening to artists such as Brian Eno and Cabaret Voltaire. Breaking up in 1990 due to creative differences, they then reformed briefly in 1997 only to break up again due to the same "differences" after the release of a seriously instrumental album, Shadowblack (on the OffBeat label). In 2004 they had a vinyl release on Adam X's NYC-based label Sonic Groove. Stay Out The Water is a great track that sounds like a cross between New Wave Synth and a touch of David Byrne's vocals.

Cabaret Voltaire - DV Decay 3 live at Sheffield Lyceum (1982)

ALL HAIL THE CABS. Where would be without this great band, who constantly pushed the envelope right under the door of electronica. Fans of the three members of Cabaret Voltaire (Richard H. Kirk, Stephen Mallinder & Chris Watson) will argue for eternity over favourite tracks...but for me, this short 3.25 min live recording sums them up. Their back catalogue is stunning, rich, diverse and very influential to many electronic artists in the dance music industry. Today, they still can be heard playing the odd live show and are pushing a new project, WRANGLER, which Stephen Mallinder has taken on. There really seems to be no stopping these innovators yet. 

TO LISTEN - SEE SPOTIFY PLAYLIST LINK AT TOP OF ARTICLE.

Throbbing Gristle - Discipline (Fetish Records, 1981)

Discipline may be Throbbing Gristle's most infamous song. First played at the S036 Club in Berlin, it was at first entirely improvised, based upon a topic suggestion given by Cosey Fanni Tutti before the show. The song is driven by a minimal, pulsating drumbeat, over which Genesis P-Orridge would declaim lyrics surrounding the concept of discipline, slowly introducing other musical elements, such as electric bass and walls of guitar or synth noise. After Berlin, it was played at nearly every TG show up to the group's demise. Often it would range in length from eight to twelve minutes, although it could be stretched out to be much longer.

Pan Sonic - Keskeisvoima (2004)

Pan Sonic are an experimental, electronic glitch/ambient/techno outfit, hailing from Finland. They formed in 1993 under the name Panasonic, which they were then forced to change after the electronic giants threatened them with legal action. Their first release in 1993 was an experimental techno EP on the Finnish label, Sahko. Sighting themselves as a "noise" band, their music and live "sound performances" are  enough to scare your grandmother to death. The band have played at many art installations and museums, though most bizarrely, one highlight was in London with armored police and riot vans waiting outside the performance on a 5k watt sound system. In 2017, Mika Vanio, one of the band's long standing original members, sadly passed away - the posthumous 8 track album REAT was released shortly after his death. Feel the power of Pan Sonic.

TO LISTEN - SEE SPOTIFY PLAYLIST LINK AT TOP OF ARTICLE.

Clark - Herzog (Warp Records, 2006)

Chris Clark originally set out under the name Chris From St Albans, after having built up all his own homemade primitive equipment. In 2000, he did a live show while studying music at Bristol university and caught the eyes and ears of the Warp Record label who signed him up immediately - his solo album  Clarence Park was released soon after. After a few albums that were of techno/ambient leanings, he  shortened his name to Clark and released one of his finest experimental records on Warp, called 'Body Riddle', the album which this track 'Herzog' is taken from. He often experiments with forms of degradation, distortion and decay, dmploying techniques such as re-recording samples and field-recordings in different environments. Describing it himself..."what I tend to do is just jam stuff through as many boxes as I can, until everything sort of bleeds into itself and all its surrounding parts". Still signed to Warp, he continues to push the boundaries with his sound experiments.

Snowy Red - Euroshima (Wardance) (Dirty Dance, 1982)

A bit of an obscure Belgian one...the original Snowy Red was the one-man electronic band of the former Chainsaw bassist, Micky Mike, who died in 2009. Although this track was made in 1981, it got especially popular during the Belgian New Beat explosion in the late 80s. After disappearing for years, Micky Mike/Snowy Red later resurfaced at the Belgian Independent Music Festival...as a duo with Micky Mike and a guitarist...this was the last time this minimal synth band were ever seen to play!

Tangerine Dream - Ricochet (Part One) (Virgin Virgin, 1975)

Tangerine dream are the kings of early experimental electronica for me. I'm not sure if some of the artists in this playlist thus far, would have been making the tracks they did without these guys...along with Kraftwerk and the early "Berlin-School" Krautrock Scene. Formed in 1967 by the late Edgra Froese, Tangerine Dream   had 12 members during their career with every one of them either being involved in early experimental music or going on to further their careers in it. Synth Legends such as Peter Baumann, Ulrichh Schnauss & Christopher Franke all have a part to play in the multi-layering and trance-inducing psychedelic music we hear today on the dancefloor. Ricochet was their first ever live album recorded LIVE in 2 parts - one in France and the other in Fairfield Halls in Croydon of all places! This takes you to a different place as does most of their music. Innovators!

Chris & Cosey - Driving Blind (Rough Trade, 1984)

Both members of the undeniably groundbreaking underground experimentalists, Throbbing Gristle. 

Chris Carter & Cosey Fanni Tutti continued as a duo when TG broke up in 1981. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the duo worked with a number of independent labels such as  Netwerk (Canada) & Play It Again Sam (Belgium).

They are one of the best kept secrets of the post-punk/electro music scenes in the UK.