Franck Vigroux & Matthew Bourne – Radioactivity (2015)


Radioland: Radio-Activity Revisited is available on vinyl, limited to just 1,000 copies for the world in a deluxe gatefold sleeve with a CD included. The CD release is limited to 2,000 copies and is packaged in a hardback 20-page book. Both include liner notes by David Stubbs, author of Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany and photographs and visuals from the project.

“For me, there is a great nostalgia and melancholy about this album,” says Franck Vigroux, the composer and sound artist who, along with Perrier Jazz award-winning pianist and composer Matthew Bourne and installation artist Antoine Schmitt, is responsible for the Radioland project. Earlier in 2015, they reimagined Kraftwerk’s 1975 masterpiece Radio-Activity live on the 40th anniversary of its release, using a formidable barrage of analogue equipment and live visual imagery. “I first heard the record when I was a kid in the 70s – it provided the jingle for a really famous radio show in France – the track ‘Radio-Activity’ was a big hit. But only later did I realise that this album was more than that – it’s a great pop concept album about this idea of “radio-aktivität” – not just the atomic power but the idea of communication.”

Radio-Activity was a hit in France but elsewhere was less immediately well received than its predecessor Autobahn or its successor, 1977’s Trans-Europe Express. Perhaps its provocative title, mistakenly thought to celebrate nuclear power, alienated 1970s audiences. It nestles undeservedly in the shadows of Kraftwerk’s other towering achievements. The advantage of that is that today it sounds pristine, relatively unfamiliar. Its unearthly sound and signal pulses evoke the historical dawn of electro-pop lighting up the horizon, as an increasingly moribund guitar-dominated era drew to a close, supplanted by something brighter, hoving in like a metal craft from a newly founded European space agency. Listening to it 40 years on, it’s as if the future is once again yet to arrive.

“It’s so slick, that level of cleanliness,” says Bourne of the Kraftwerk original. “These days, we have better, cleaner ways of capturing electronic sound but considering they recorded it to tape, it was incredibly clean – the lack of hiss, the silence, is astonishing.”

Schmitt, responsible for the visuals, recalls, “All this music from Germany was my introduction to electronic music. Before that I had been a hard rock fan. I listened to Tangerine Dream, Can – in many ways, this is a tribute to that era.”

Bourne pays his own tribute to Schmitt and the non-musical but key role he plays in Radioland. “His visuals are integral to the performance,” he says. At first glance, this graphic bombardment reminds of the multi-media experience of Kraftwerk’s own recent shows, but Schmitt’s visuals are abstract, clean and modernistic, very much a product of our own, technologically high speed era.

Vigroux and Bourne briefly considered faithfully replicating the original Radio-Activity, whose structural perfection feels hard to improve upon, before almost instantly dismissing the idea. Says Matt, “One problem is the instrumentation Kraftwerk used, things like the Vako Orchestron, of which there are only 75 in the world costing ten grand each, or vocoders which nowadays would cost £12,000.”

“I thought, no, we don’t want to do it like this,” adds Vigroux. “Why do this? So in the end, we kept the melodies, we kept the main element but then treated it in more of a jazz way.”

Jazz is apt. In the end, there are parallels between the way Radioland uses Kraftwerk’s original as a jumping off point musically and the journey John Coltrane undertakes on his version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic show tune ‘My Favourite Things’. “Some of the sounds are associated with the original but a lot aren’t,” explains Matt. So, while the melodies and rhythms of the original album are briefly referenced, this is not so much a cover version as a discovery version, a launchpad for analogue and digital exploits that is far truer to the spirit of Kraftwerk than mere duplication. After all, it was Kraftwerk who constructed the grid from which myriad adventures in electronic music, from techno to IDM, house to EDM, have proceeded. This album is an homage to their vast influence. “They are the most sampled band in the world alongside James Brown,” says Vigroux. “The influence is huge, there is no question. Everywhere, all of the sounds of today.”

And so, Radioland weaves its own, highly individual mesh of electronics, including blizzards of analogue, antique futurist percussive patterns, rewired melodies, processed versions of sounds recently discovered in space by NASA, short and longwave radio samples, including snatches of R&B and hip-hop, whose synthetic tones find their ancestry in Kraftwerk, hurricanes of modulated electronics, vocoders ebbing and throbbing; it’s like the detritus of 40 light years of electropop all colliding at once. However, Vigroux and Bourne come from a background in improvisation that enables them to master all these forces unleashed, occasionally dropping back into periods of near-silence, Stockhausen-esque moments of eerie free floating, in which all that’s audible is the sound of the universe breathing. From this suspension, a voice like an ancient synthpop soothsayer intones the words: “Ferne, Ferne… Radiosterne.”

The three men work off each other throughout the performance, each challenging and prompting the others to explore the electric soundworld that lies beyond mere presets. “Franck was constantly urging me to dig lot deeper than I would have done by myself,” says Bourne. “As for Antoine, the music would have been very different if he hadn’t been there. He didn’t make the sounds but we wouldn’t have made the sounds we did if he hadn’t been in the room.”

The result is a meditation on Radio-Activity that does not exceed it but expands on it, draws out its implications, marvels out how far we have travelled in sound since 1975, and how far ahead of our time Kraftwerk were. Radioland is a unique electronic experience; to listen to it is to immerse yourself in a kind of awe.

ESB – Market (2015)


ESB (formerly Elektronische Staubband) is a project by the three musicians Yann Tiersen, Lionel Laquerrière and Thomas Poli. The three analogue synthesizer aficionados joined forces 2010, played several festivals and released their first single in 2013. Finding time between their myriad other music projects in 2014 the trio finally had a short window to record the debut album. Convening at Tiersen’s studio, each member chose two weapons from his analogue armoury and plugged in for ten days of intense, immersive, cosmic jamming. ARPs glide. Korgs drone. Moogs throb. Electricity breathes life into the strange, tangled melodies. Common influences swirl around. Michael Bundt to Tim Hecker, Klaus Schulze to Fennesz, Popol Vuh to Loscil, Kraftwerk to Fuck Buttons, Delia Derbyshire to Grouper, Neu! to Follakzoid. Accidents are appreciated. Unexpected meeting are welcome. The finished songs giving a cracked, kaleidoscopic view of some exotic retro-futuristic world.

Cabaret Voltaire – Neuron Factory (1992)

Re-emerging with a much more original sound after their 1990 house album, Kirk} and Mallinder for the most part rely on abstract electro-inspired ambient-techno with extended voice-over samples for Plasticity. It certainly wasn’t the first time CV had remade themselves without losing elements of their past work (even re-sampling a passage originally recorded over ten years earlier on &”Soul Vine [70 Billion People), and {Plasticity was an excellent reworking of the house blueprint into the growing fringe of techno not necessarily produced for the dancefloor. The tribal flourishes of &”Deep Time” and the obvious signal track &”Inside the Electronic Revolution” showcase the duo as continuing visionaries. John Bush, Rovi

Dan Friel – Life (Pt. 1) (2015)


Dan Friel creates intense, colorful and intricate instrumentals that, for all their complexity, are melodic pop songs. Equally at home in the DIY scene and the contemporary art world, Friel has been at the forefront of a movement of musicians who create dance music with a clear affinity for the extremes of noise and metal, eschewing the traditional dance clubs and adhering to the ethics of the underground. On his sophomore Thrill Jockey album Life, Friel uses his surprisingly small arsenal of gear to distort and maneuver his beloved Yamaha Portasound into an expansive sound that is incredibly varied in tone and texture. This toy keyboard, his first instrument, is manipulated beyond recognition to create songs that are frenzied and epic. Life also has moments that are incredibly sweet, idyllic, and fragile – sentiments that make perfect sense coming from a new father whose instrument of choice is his childhood keyboard.

Life was written and recorded by Friel at his home studios in Brooklyn and was mixed by Jonathan Schenke (Parquet Courts, Liturgy). “Lullaby (for Wolf)” revolves around a dreamy melody Friel sang to his newborn son, and the inspiration for “Sleep Deprivation” should be well known to any new parent. “Lungs” and “Bender” share crushing bass lines that far exceed the range of most computer speakers, their punishing heaviness akin to a demolition scene from Godzilla or a bad turn in a video game. The deliciously addictive melody shared by “Life (Pt. 1)” and “Life (Pt. 2),” is carried by a noisy and churning beat that eventually swallows it entirely early in Life “(Pt. 2).” With his cover of Joanna Gruesome’s “Jamie (Luvver),” Friel betrays his punk roots in the beloved band Parts & Labor. All throughout Life, Friel exploits his intentionally simple set-up to ever surprising effect, using simple electronics to mirror the sounds of guitars, drums, and harmonicas. It is an irresistible and genre-bending collection of underground anthems.

Mick Finesse – For Every Positive Action, There Must Be Objection (2015)

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The techno album is a curious thing, often difficult to get right too eclectic and it stops being techno; too workmanlike and it loses the narrative focus that an album requires. Into this lion’s den steps Mick Finesse. With two EPs for Perc Trax and another for Broken20 already under his belt, the Denver, Colorado DJ/producer raises his game for his first long-form opus, ‘The Glamour of Despondency’. What’s notable on first listen is the unity of purpose and vision that straddles the album. A grubby surface provides texture throughout, in line with the Broken20 SOP of releasing any music that sounds faulty, noisy or otherwise dishevelled, while there’s enough heft and drive to provide genuine impetus. ‘A Premonition Of Pretension’ is a story in two parts, opening with faraway voice samples and intricate sound design before a knocking rhythmic pattern begins to reveal Mick’s true dancefloor colours, even if they’re partially hidden from view at first. Those colours are blaring from the off in ‘However Comma’, where brittle slow-mo funk swings atop fizzing, volatile ground noise. That pace is increased further with ‘For Every Positive Action, There Must Be Objection’. Distorted kicks make Finesse’s chest-rattling intentions clear from the off, but strangely disconnected harmonies lift matters above the corporeal. The beatless interlude ‘In Yearning For Aversion’ acts as an aural sorbet, clearing the palate, before ‘The Glamour Of Despondency’ crashes through the door with another trademark off-kilter kick pattern. Squashed amen snares provide wriggle room from the unremitting meter, but the bass drum is the unabashed star of the show here, positioned front and centre. However, ‘The Glamour of Despondency’ isn’t without its tender moments. The opening minutes of ‘Drowning In Contentment With No Hope In Sight’ are blessed with intricacy and playfulness that develop into a softly jacking underbelly, if such a thing can be said to exist, while ‘Regret, As It Occurs’, for all its overdriven elements, has the otherwordly melodic queasiness of vintage IDM. Overall, Finesse’s achievement is in creating a cogent sound world where severity and warmth can co-exist, often uttered in the same breath. The immediacy in its composition be…