Trans-European friends (from left to right): Michael Künzer, Keen K, and Fred Ventura
The German electronic outfit Alba are on a winning streak at the moment. They kicked it off late last year by releasing the sparkling, three-part powerhouse Philomena, and are now following it up with the emotionally electric torch-song, Without You.
Though the London-based member of the group, Roland Sebastian Faber has sat this particular release out as he works on his solo album, the other two members who are based in Germany — Michael Künzer and Keen K — have gained a singer, the legendary Fred Ventura.
A well-respected veteran of the italo scene, Fred Ventura started his music career in the late seventies playing drums with the Milanese new-wave band, State of Art. He went on to have a solo career through most of the eighties as a vocalist with a string of hits like “Love Theme from Flexxy Ball (You’ll Never Change No More)” and “Body Heat” with the group Fockewulf-190 that have come to be regarded as italo classics. In recent years, he has come back into the limelight outside of Italy through the work of I-F and Alden Tyrell.
Working with Fred Ventura marks a milestone in the history of the Aube label, as their first official release back in 2007 was another italo-styled track, Hold Me by Jupiter Black, that was built around lyrics provided by Ventura. After its release, it received great feedback from music journalists and fans alike; it was championed by I-F on his internet radio station, CBS, and was described by music journalist Lina Goldberg as one of Fred Ventura’s strongest songs.
For this new release, Flemming Dalum, the legendary Danish DJ, mentor and custodian (with a record collection numbering in the thousands) has given it the thumbs up for capturing an authentic italo sound, but without what he calls the cheesiness of italo. This is down to Ventura, who has the ability to handle dramatically over-the-top themes, like lost love and bitter seperations, with a poigancy that fits perfectly with moody synth-pop.
Künzer and Keen K are also very talented electronic musicians; they are able to recreate sounds from over twenty years ago, but never lose themselves in it with enough of their own musical inventions and signatures to keep it fresh.
They have also inherited the creative mantle of the Düsseldorf school of electronic music. They don’t put out a lot of music; but when they do, it is of a very high quality, with great technical skill hidden behind the vinyl. This particular release was recorded entirely on analogue equipment to get the sound outside of the computer box that most electronic music is often trapped in.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, one of the great features of Aube”s releases are their record sleeves, featuring original artwork by internationally reknowned artists like Emil Schult and Marc Brandenburg. The latest is a return to Syd Brak, who did there first release, Hold Me, and whose iconic airbrush art is instantly recognisable as a major feature of early eighties art.
Although CDs are certainly becoming a thing of the past, I still think that they are a great way for artists to collect their best work together and give themselves some posterity, rather than to be scattered to the four-winds of the internet. I hope that Alba one day collect the best tracks together onto a single album.
Without You is available as a limited edition 12″ and digital download through the Aube website, as well as the regular internet music outlets. (You can also download a preview from the soundcloud embed below)
Filed under:Music,Seja — posted by I J Wilson on January 17, 2011 @ 1:49 pm
AUSTRALIA HAS MANY TALENTED women paving their own way in an industry that is traditionally dominated by men. One of them, Seja Vogel, recently toured with Sarah Blasko, having gone out on a limb in 2010 to release her first solo album, We Have Secrets But Nobody Cares.
Seja grew up in Brisbane having migrated from Germany with her family when she was just eight years old. In her late teens, she and her brother Mirko formed Sekiden with their friend Simon Graydon, and had releases on Modular Recordings, Microindie, and Canadian label Boompa. This led to other projects for Seja, like touring and recording with Regurgitator for their 2006 album, Love and Paranoia.
But in 2009, Seja decided to go her own way, focussing on an album of her own. She spent a year locked in her bedroom with a stockpile of vintage synths; and after some mastering help from her brother, she emerged victorious with an amazing album that Sydney label, Rice is Nice, released March last year.
By July, she was the touring with Goldfrapp; a smart pairing up, in terms of sound and approach to music creation, as Goldfrapp are famously known for their use of vintage equipment.
However, Seja’s next big break came when Australian singer, Sarah Blasko, now living in the UK, chose Seja for the Australian leg of her album tour, As Day Follows Night.
Seja put together a band, consisting of singer and guitarist Kate Jacobson from the alt-country duo, Texas Tea, and Renae Collett from the now defunct, Gazoonga Attack, playing drums. She also reworked many of her electronic parts so that they could be performed live.
Then, over a four week period in October-November, the two bands set off on an epic twenty-two concerts (plus a few extra) across most of Australia’s major cities, including country towns in regional Australia.
For her Sydney show (and possibly for many of her others), she had to contend with a noisy audience, but sucessfully managed to capture their attention with her friendly personality (at one point joking that she was feeling spooked after realising that the head of an ornamental frog that she and other two had attached to their instruments for good luck, was missing!) The trio then powered through their set-list, impressing the audience with their regular switching of instruments and positions on stage, and successfully psyching them up for Sarah Blasko.
It’s not an easy thing for a solo artist who has built their studio album on overdubs and multiple instrument parts to go on tour, but Seja did a great job.
On the Road: Seja practicing in the back of a Castlemaine theatre with guitarist Kate Jacobson sitting on the stairs. (Photo courtesy of Kate)
SHE’LL GET TO YOU
ONE OF THE STRONGEST features of Seja’s music are her vocal harmonies, which she achieves by layering her voice over itself many times. This was a technique that Enya was famous for, sometimes overdubbing up to seventy times. One of the best songs of the album, ‘Sing Me The Song Like You Said’, has some of these pure vocal breaks, giving an already dramatic song, a greater tension.
‘Framed You in Fiction’ has guest vocals from Saul Jarvie of Melbourne band Microflora, a nice addition to the overall feel of the album which could best be described as “hopefully romantic with a slight grunge tinge.” Seja also taps into her German heritage with ”Wir Haben Geheimnesse’ which translated into English, forms part of the album title, We Have Secrets But Nobody Cares.
And then there is the flagship song of the album – ‘I’ll Get To You’ – which is one of the sweetest pop songs on record.
There is definitely more to Seja’s music than just a love of quirky synthesizers. She has been around long enough in the music scene to iron out her influences and develop her own sound. The simple repetitive melody of some of her songs have the quality of an English lullaby, while her vocals are like traditional Swedish folk harmonies. Her lyrics are also incredibly romantic.
I initally only expected to like a few of the songs on the album, having already heard ‘I’ll Get To You’ on a promo sampler; but buying the album, rather than picking the eyes out of what songs sounded best online, was one of the better things I did last year. Seja really does get to you.
IN HER OWN WORDS
Not long after Seja returned from her tour, I got in contact with her by email via her record label to ask her the following questions…
Who played what in your band? Was it a line-up that you created especially for the tour?
I play keyboards, guitar and sing. Kate Jacobson plays guitar, keys and sings bvs, and Renae Collett plays drums and keys. I picked them especially for their talent and general awesome-ness.
Was it difficult to convert your album sound into a live performance? (I think it sounded great!)
It was definitely a complicated thought process trying to cut down from the layers upon layers of synths and vocals on the album and pick the right parts to play. I also wanted to avoid playing too many songs to backing track to make the live show a little more ‘real’. I think it sounds pretty different live, but hopefully still good.
How did you become involved in music?
I sort of fell into it. I’ve always loved playing the piano and guitar, but never really wanted to be in a band because I was really shy. I started playing just for fun with my brother and his friend in our bedrooms while we were in high school, and that eventually turned into ‘Sekiden’. Then I suppose music just avalanched in my life.
Who would you consider to be your main musical influences?
I think growing up it was always my brother, and to a certain extent he still is a big influence on me and my music. (He produced my album) I am also very influenced by people like Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo and other people who are really into interesting pop music and analog synthesizers.
Is there a particular sound, or time in music (even if it is current) that you draw inspiration from?
I don’t think there is one particular time in music I draw inspiration from. I sort of find it in weird places like a certain guitar sound, or keyboard filter sweep, or the layers of vocals in an Enya song or something.
What is the appeal of vintage synthesizers? Do you have a favourite?
I just think they sound and look amazing. And a lot of them are very unpredictable which is exciting. My favourite live synth is the Roland SH101 because it is incredibly versatile, simple, small, robust. And you can always tell its an SH101 when you hear it. I like that it has such a familiar sound.
Can you tell me a little bit about your vocal overlaying technique?
I love vocal harmonies and choirs, but I have never written scores or really understood the theory behind the notes. So I just sing a melody or harmony and then one by one, find notes around them that sound good. I never start off with a plan, it just sort of falls into place.
What are you favourite songs on your album?
At the moment I really like ‘Sing me the song like you said’. It has about 15 layers of keyboards at the end alone. And I played them with about 5 different analog synths. Which is exciting.
I’m thinking about your song Wir Haben Geheimnisse – do you have German heritage?
Yes I am German. I moved over to Australia with my family when I was 8.
Will you continue working as a solo artist?
I’d definitely like to continue doing this for a while. It’s really fun.
How important is your audience? Do you feel that it is something that is growing over time? Is it difficult to maintain?
I feel so lucky that anyone likes what I do. I know its not a given so I appreciate anyone who will listen to my songs. I never think too much about how many of them there are or how I must maintain interest.
I know it shouldn’t matter, but are you in a different position being a female artist? Do you think that it is a good time for female artists in Australia at the moment (i.e the success of Sarah Blasko, Clare Bowditch, etc.)
I think as much as ‘times are changing’ etc, there is still a certain view of women in music that is different. I played a show recently with my friends Otouto from Melbourne, (who are absolutely amazing, gifted singers and musicians) and someone came up to us afterwards and said ‘its really good that you girls are giving it a go’. He probably didn’t mean for it to sound quite as patronising as it came across to us, but that pretty much sums up a lot of peoples attitude. Having said that, people like Sarah Blasko and Clare Bowditch are definitely helping by being smart and talented front women.
Entertainment industries are like cartels, impossible to crack, unless you are young and attractive, and have the requisite talents — you can sing in key, and dance in time. You also have to be starry-eyed enough not to see the machine at play.
But sometimes a real talent makes it through: Joe Jackson, a singer-songwriter from the late seventies, who had the hit ‘Is She Really Going Out with Him?’ grew up in England, and drew on the wisdom of supportive parents, for strength and inspiration in his music career.
It was his 1982 album, Night and Day, that brought him into the spotlight of the Gods. The album was a tribute to Cole Porter and the Gershwin brothers, and the art-deco elegance of 1920s New York.
Disco was in its dying day in the early eighties. However with the song ‘Steppin’ Out’, Joe had restored some of its magic — and a bit more — with its simple, fast-paced bassline, and his crystal clear chords and voice soaring over it like a bird.
The actual music video played a vital part of the song, with it’s glamorous footage of blinking lights and yellow cabs, capturing the Big Apple’s nightlife and the excitement of staying in up-market hotels.
Thanks to Richard for helping me identify Steppin’ Out – it’s a song that has haunted me for years!
The noble Prophet-5 synthesizer (picture courtesy of synthgear.com)
Igloo Magazine is an online magazine dedicated to the more unusual areas of electronic music: italo-disco, synth-pop, new wave, detroit techno, abstract and experimental genres, covering obscure labels and artists from around the world, and describing itself as ”focusing on electronic music that is unique and under-represented.”
In its tenth year — quite a feat for any website, especially one covering music, they have kept track of releases and profiled labels like Anna Logue, Das Drehmont and Aube, Belgium’s Flexx and New York’s Minimal Wave, as well as bigger labels like Warp and Environ; reviewed a range of international artists, from Australia’s Snog and Oren Ambarchi to Sweden’s Prins Thomas, Holland’s Novamen, and the Finnish experimental artist Mika Vaino. Igloo Magazine has also introduced its readers to new genres like chiptunes (way back in 2001), IDM and doombient, and has covered landmarks in the music industry like the demise of music retailing chains, netlabels and the impact of the ipod.
The strength of Igloo is its range of contributors, all with specialist knowledge, overlapping to create an expansive guide to interesting music. One of the greatest problems of the internet is its lack of original material; most of it is information repeated ad infinitum, pinched from traditional news websites, especially news about entertainment, music and movies.
Igloo Magazine is a rare bird in that it is has a high editorial standard (you’ll rarely find a typo), articles are well-thought out and researched, and discretion is used in the material they choose to review. Think of Wire Magazine, but on a shoestring budget.
Filed under:Music,Records — posted by I J Wilson on October 16, 2009 @ 9:58 pm
Something old, something new: a couple of synth-disco classics, John Carpenter’s The End and Italian group Automat–along with new entries to the field, Radio Cosmos’ second compilation Synthesize Me, and Jupiter Black and Fred Ventura’s Hold Me on the Aube Label
Journalists have been talking for years now about how the internet has changed the music industry. One of the most recognised changes has been the massive drop in CD sales as a result of internet downloading. However, there has also been many small positive changes in the way people consume music. One of them has been the growth of independent labels focusing on vinyl only releases. These labels are pouring their own money into producing elaborately designed records with original artwork and releasing them in limited runs, usually no more than a 1000.
One of these labels, Radio Cosmos based in France, recently put out their third compilation LP, Synthetic Memento, a follow up to their 2008 release Synthesize Me and SynthStation in 2007. It is hard to believe that only 300-500 copies were ever pressed of these records. They feature original sci-fi artwork by comic artist Gil Formosa, and original tracks, some of which are stunning. These are the kind of releases that quickly become collectors items.
At the other end of the design scale is UK-based label Dissident Distribution, releasing music in a similar vein, but with minimal features: single-sided 12” discs, white sleeves, and a black and white label - and none of them available as a digital download.
Dissident also have a remarkable non-presence on the internet: their only point of contact is an email address on the record label. But like Radio Cosmos, they only press a small number of records at a time - 100-200 - and so far, most of them have sold out.
Although dance music and more underground genres like punk never moved too far from vinyl releases, a lot of others did for a good part of the nineties. Vinyl only seemed to creep back in with the lounge-music scene in the mid-1990s, when labels like Crippled Dick Hot Wax began sifting through stock-music libraries for obscure movie music, issuing what they found on vinyl compilations for DJs and collectors.
But the actual large-scale re-emergence of vinyl over the past three years probably has a lot more to do with the younger generation’s taste in music collecting, than anything else. Perhaps disillusioned with the ephemeral nature of mp3s and wav files, they have become interested in vinyl.
And a couple of things have helped to give this momentum.
Firstly, there is tonnes of old records out there circulating in second-hand stores, record fairs, op-shops, and garage sales that can be picked up cheaply, allowing listeners to easily build a music library for themselves. Secondly, vinyl itself is an attractive medium (rarely will you see a CD stuck up on a wall as a decorative feature), and its large sleeves showcasing original artwork and liner notes make record collecting a pleasurable past-time.
This trend has encouraged the major record labels to start releasing vinyl again - certainly not on the same scale as a few decades ago, but enough to keep people happy. Though vinyl sales reached their lowest point in 2006, with each year since, the number of sales have significantly increased.*
Another major change to music is how transient the formats have become. A piece of music is no longer linked to a dedicated shell like a CD or a record, and can end up on any number of storage devices. For many artists, this can be quite discouraging: they spend so much time making the music that they don’t want to just throw it away on a nondescript format.
Despite its limitations - easily scratched, hard to transfer to other formats, and awkward to play (compared to computer files) - vinyl has a great lastability: people are still finding and collecting discs from the 1930s, making it appealing to artists in the same way that acid-free paper is to authors.
Vinyl has made a comeback through the work of dedicated labels, collectors, and the artists themselves, and at the moment is helping to redress the balance lost with the decline of the CD - a balance between the resourcefulness and immediacy of internet downloads, and the sense of pride that comes with owning a material object like a record.
And these small runs are a brilliant model for the future: don’t make more than you need, which leaves the possibility for represses, and saves resources. And in both social and economic terms, this is the way to go.
*According to the RIAA 2008 Year-End Shipment
Dissident Distribution’s no-frills labelling and Flexx’s colourful centrepieces by Belgian designer TineZ