It was vital to witness Soft Cell on their five night tour commemorating forty years of the outstanding album, Non Stop Erotic Cabaret. I jittered in-between my parents at the anticipation of Dave Ball and Marc Almond, waiting in my Computer World t-shirt for a performance that would stir much excitement for their Spring 2022 album, *Happiness Not Included.
The room scuttled with all kinds of wonderfully strange people, but not everyone had found their seat yet at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith and the saxophone was already beckoning. Marc emerged from a shadow and into a pink spotlight, gripping the mic stand, calming the chaos. He reached out to us, delivering ‘Torch’, clad in black and wearing shades. Dare we look into his eyes! As quick as everyone seated themselves, we were standing again, shouting, ‘Hold Me Hold Me Hold Me Hold Me Hold Me!’ No warm up needed for the energy of this crowd.
Dave sat powerfully at his podium of electronic kit, holding down the pounding beat of ‘Bruises On My Illusions’, one of their new singles that boasts the classic storytelling beauty of Soft Cell’s lyrics. We were teased by unreleased operatic sci-fi tales of dystopian existence and nostalgia. It was a surprise that we weren’t all slumped in our seats in a depression, but Dave was head deep in those drum machines, keeping us bouncing. Marc took a seat for ‘Heart Like Chernobyl’, performing as if talking to a lover across a bedroom, sharing the demons in his mind. I adore that song.
The slow groove of ‘Where The Heart Is’ exploded into the gentle chorus. We jumped with contrastingly forceful fists into the air. This touched Marc as he glanced back to Dave who looked up and smiled. Soft Cell are punk alive and well, manifested in the strong waving hands of the mostly middle-aged. More of the old hits brought the theatrical, danceable drama, releasing Marc to undo the cuffs of his shirt and spin into a turbulent vision of flailing black cloth, disappearing offstage with only his shades to be seen drowning in the murky blue.
Nothing could prepare us for the second act. The curtain rose with the yelling of ‘Frustration’. Non Stop Erotic Cabaret had begun. I was chuffed to hear all these brilliant quirky songs that we all moved in our space to. The screaming of ‘Sex Dwarf’. The compulsory sing along to ‘Tainted Love’. The seductive tales of youth and seedy nightlife told by the snaking flute and morphing synths. The sound seemed to seep out of the ceiling and intoxicate us. Erratic scenes colourfully played out on the screens behind. The effect was trance-like and the zig-zagging visuals perfectly accompanied the music. ‘Chip On My Shoulder’ brought a true climax of absolute joy. That square tone synth rose and fell like some crazy piston on a sugar rush. Who knows when we will get the opportunity to witness these songs again?
It feels important to note the lasting elegance and strength of Marc’s voice as it became time to ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ to the pretty pink flamingos flashing behind. A different kind of atmosphere diffused across the room like perfume as we formed one big solemn choir. Our voice sang louder than Marc’s. We reached out to him with open palms and hearts. He surrendered the chorus to us, standing like a flower, arms stretching out to display his beauty, soaking up our energy. He ripped off his glasses and flung both arms wide just as the most melancholic chords struck, like some grand finale of a tragic play in which the protagonist loses everything, yet gains all. A truly wonderful moment that I will forever relive.
Soft Cell’s new music gives us something to be ever-curious about. They must be so satisfied to know they are still producing works of interest for listeners and that Non Stop Erotic Cabaret is embraced with immortal excitement. What a fantastic gig. Soft Cell will always hold a very special place in many people’s hearts.
When Pink was dropped by his label in January following his outright support at the Trump rally, I began to wonder whether the things we associate with are beginning to become our defining attributes in a progressive but pressurising society, quick to erase the supposed wrong.
Ariel Pink’s record label, Mexican Summer, parted ways with the artist following his attendance at the pro-Trump rally that got 2021 off to such a brilliant start. They made it clear that they no longer wish to associate with Pink, due to the backlash from his own association with Trump. We are reminded of the cruel nature of music as a business, but of the rather crueler society of today. We might be increasingly progressive and intolerant of misconduct of all kinds in all environments, but to a point where pressure has began to provoke moral panic amongst organisations who are then forced to react out of the compression of unnecessary social outrage. We are eager to “cancel” industry icons out of fear of this social criticism. We are eager to remove anyone who doesn’t follow this new regime.
Ariel is right that Mexican Summer ‘succumbed to cancel culture’. Yes, it was definitely something to comprehend when hearing about Ariel as well as John Maus at the rally when the violent facts about the event later surfaced, but after taking time to understand their actions, it emerged that neither of them engaged in any rioting. There’s no doubt that many fans were enraged, selling all their merchandise in a bid to strip their identities of Pink and Trump. This notion is valid. Being offended by someone’s views is understandable as we all have our individual values and beliefs by which we live our lives. But if this is a taste of where the industry is heading, towards a filtered reality where only politically and perfectly correct music-makers are allowed the opportunity to succeed, then life will stale.
Mexican Summer were ‘getting a lot of heat and a lot of backlash’ according to Pink. He has obviously lost support which will become financially apparent for the label, but as a result, Pink is left with none of the rights to his music, with all his works now being held hostage by the label. The fact that it has come to this raises serious questions about how society is operating. Something is just wrong. This heat and backlash, this eagerness of activists who make it their absolute goal to pull the plug on people, is an ugly thing. This powerful hate runs through their quick thumbs and is absorbed by the media in countless articles. It’s a very scary thing. It has gone past being admirably progressive to join forces to speak out against the supposed wrong in the world, as something to be proud of in a global community. It is now erasing more good than bad with a process that works like sea bottom trawling.
The media assumes. The media doesn’t take time to understand. The media facilitates this dangerous cancel culture narrative. Everyone saw the violence at the rally and associated Pink with the same after hearing he was at the siege. Despite his presence at the rally being peaceful, articles and articles rolled out and began to create Pink’s defining attribute: his support for Trump with the violent Capitol association. All of a sudden, everything else contributing to Ariel’s worth as an artist and a music-maker is completely discounted. Most of these people writing about Pink have no idea who he even is, but it’s big news because he’s a celebrity making his political views apparent. These views are unfavored and now he is sought to be disposed of by the people driving the heat. Cancel culture continues.
If this is the way people are dealt with, maybe artists should complete a set of questions before signing to labels or trying to be successful, questions that make sure you’re on the “right” side of every major debate of today. This might prevent you from a good old cancelling further down the line when people decide that, actually no, we cannot like you anymore. But that idea is of course ridiculous and would be a total surrender to the real problem. You shouldn’t be afraid of saying the “wrong” thing, scared that society will completely abandon you, like some emotionally abusive partner who adores you one minute and then kicks you out if you use the wrong tone the next.
Freedom of expression and diversity of opinion are just as important in the music business as anywhere else. Having a status as someone in the spotlight doesn’t take away your status as a human being. Yes, you should be prepared for criticism, but what they don’t prepare you for nowadays is the hate that is spat out everywhere on the web. We are in a digital age that facilitates this behaviour, allowing communities of people to come together and create an ugly, overwhelming online presence like no other. Simon Reynolds put it brilliantly in a 2014 feature for Pitchfork, when he spoke of the ‘numbed exhaustion’ experienced with the media, when ‘layers of speculation upon conjecture upon speculation’ build and build. This horrible virtual weight becomes a dark and heavy cloud over the targeted, eventually pouring down the bitter taste of cancel culture. If these digital voices become the collective gatekeeper to what thrives and what doesn’t we are clamping an anxious vice around creativity, stifling freedom and breeding fear.
Ariel Pink has enriched my life. Not with his political choices… but with his fantastic music, without which my existence and many others’ would be less meaningful. As an independent music maker, I have been inspired by the delightful spontaneity of Pink’s music that has always kept me curious about why we enjoy the music that we do. I will never know why ‘Fright Night (Nevermore)’ is one of the coolest songs ever, or why the poor sound quality of ‘Loverboy’ only enhances it’s wild, intense emotion, or why ‘Santa’s In The Closet’ appears to make no sense, yet I still understand the song purely from the feel of it. But it also doesn’t matter. Ariel Pink will be a constant musical mystery to me, like many of the artists we love. This music is just engrained into us. We connect with it because it suddenly feels important in a way that we cannot pinpoint. It is part of our identities. He is part of my identity. If that means by cancel culture standards that I am now a Trump supporter and might as well have been at the riot, then let that be, because I know why I associate with Ariel, because his music is fricking great and it brings happiness into my life. There are many ways we interpret music and fall in love with it. I identify with how his music makes me feel alive.
Of course, Ariel isn’t the only one to be affected by cancel culture but there have also been many times where people’s more obviously serious actions have been rightly called out. But the process still isn’t a fair trial and there will never be a judge. The backlash gets out of hand and authoritative forces crumble under the pressure, like Mexican Summer have. Some people luckily aren’t vulnerable enough to experience the full consequences of cancel culture. When J.K. Rowling shared her view about transgender women, many were offended by her opinion and she was sought to be torn be down on Twitter. However, she is too rich and in too comfortable a position to experience the devastation that someone in a more vulnerable place can experience. We could look at our Prime Minister and his trail of unsavoury comments and see someone apparently immune to cancel culture. Powerless people will continue to suffer most.
I ask us to consider our actions before we seek to cause irreparable damage to those who don’t deserve it, ridding our lives of life forces like Ariel, who bring many, much joy and fulfilment. I am sure, however, that this will not be the end of him.
Throughout our lives, we encounter a few artists who collide with us like meteorites, redirecting us on a completely different path of musical interest. Their influence rages continuously as if that honeymoon period of excited listening won’t ever end. You never forget coming into contact with them and will always remember having them on repeat for months as they became wedged into your heart. They change you and they make you.
In September 2018, John Maus struck me. Autumn’s gentle spirit glided in and there he emerged in my recommended artists on a streaming platform, that we can pretend, wasn’t Spotify. Many shared in my new musical discovery when I played him so loud through my earphones during a lesson at college, that the whole class could hear his sparkly, electronic tones seeping from my chair. The stares of twenty classmates awoke me from this deep sleep. I wore a similar startled look that travelled from my ears to my heart.
I never thought my favourite artist would be a modern one having been raised on Eighties Synthpop. I was the six year old on my dad’s shoulders at a Pet Shop Boys concert and the classmate blessing my fellow nine-year-olds with an a Capella rendition of ‘Take On Me’. Slightly cringe. Buddy Holly came to my attention when I was eleven, along with the wonderful decade that is The Fifties. The Cure was the first group to disrupt my entire world aged sixteen. I cried for a whole week over Robert Smith, too embarrassed to share the reason for my intense outbursts with my family. It all sounds very silly, but that’s the power of music for you. Post Punk feeds my miserable soul and Punk riles it up. But upon the discovery of Maus and his electronic magic, I turned another corner in life. For the first time, I felt completely inspired to write music of a similar style, straight off the back of this newfound obsession.
Anxiety ravaged my entire 2018. An intense and toxically entwined first relationship ate me from the inside out. When things ended that Autumn, it was the synth-driven energy and thunderous voice of Maus to slowly drag me through the aftermath, after which I had completely evolved in order to overcome my fears. He fell on my ears with purpose. It was a galactic transportation through colourful sound, a race around Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road, running on the fuel of passionate, jittering youth. A frenzy of ticking tempos and ambling basslines, of desperation and nostalgia. His simple drum beats were easy trains for my heart to catch and ride away on. I dreamt of my own trains, developed at my own hands. My music.
His electronic style cannot be labelled, but merely described. Often harking back to the feel of Synthpop that emerged in the early Eighties, his vintage synthesiser sound makes you dream, but with a greater intensity that haunts you for longer. So raw yet of such perfectly polished structure. My heart found refuge in his weeping keyboards and the comforting vibrations of his deep voice. All these notions were to be amplified when I watched videos of Maus performing live.
He roars down the mic, throwing mighty gestures into the distance and engaging in the hysterical, filling each lyrical gap with melodic screams. What I saw in the recordings seemed to be an exorcism of the chaos in his mind. He was letting everything go and taking me with him. Messages reverberated around my head as the wistful delay on his voice became an endless echo. I just felt a new strength. I was witnessing the energy I would use to break away from the anxiety that was pinning me down and constantly drilling into my sick stomach. In a way that is kindred to Maus, my release through music is so strong a sensation that it evokes a similar liberation of my soul with that microphone in my hand. If I had not seen these clips of him at a time where I was aching to burst out of myself, then I do not know how I would have approached performing live.
My music is intense. It bears all. I weep passion and the emotion in my synthesisers do the same. I too employ simple but addictive drum beats that enable a sad dance, whilst bearing the same aching, forehead-splitting frown. I have purpose when delivering my message. I’m rough around the edges, but it’s real. DIY sound is promising. I haven’t been passed around a number of producers only to be diluted by their dabbling. My sound feels old but I’m only just beginning. Not everyone likes John Maus. Not everyone is going to like me and that is absolutely fine. I learned how important it was to burst out and just be myself.
‘My Whole World’s Coming Apart’ was his main song to pull me from the depths. The sheer title conveys just how crippling anxiety takes over. He cries, ‘this is my nightmare’. Upon hearing it I would be grounded with the feeling that it too was my nightmare, but the final lyric employing to just ‘wait until tomorrow’ gave me that reminder of hope that this feeling wouldn’t last. I would fill up with erratic, burning energy but find I could jump onto his running train and chase the tempo of the music, channeling my anxiety through it.
‘Heaven Is Real’ is my top Maus track. ‘You don’t have to run away from love anymore’.
Writing about John Maus is a total joy. As much as I do not wish my love for him to be tainted by recent news of his attendance with Ariel Pink at the US Capitol riot, supporting the ridiculous Trump, I inevitably feel a change. The community of fans are in understandable uproar, selling his merchandise and separating themselves from him completely. But I must separate the music from the artist, for all humans have their own beliefs. This is life. Some say that if you still listen to the music, you’re condoning the behaviour. Just stream them on Spotify instead if you feel so strongly and I can guarantee they won’t see any revenue.
This is about music, the art form we all interpret in our individual ways. Maus has made me grow as a person and an artist. This positivity has completely enriched my life. I thank him.
Tom Houston is a wonderful breath of fresh air, and his recently released new single only continues his flow of writing successes. He gifts us beautiful tales wrapped in gentle melodies, told by a voice so full of time passed, yet so full of Spring’s youth. ‘I Am The River #33’ is just one of the brilliant new tracks from his upcoming album, Gap In The Fence, on which Tom reunites with musician friends with whom he recorded his first album back in 1987, which makes me smile. That’s the effect that Tom and his music has.
This track is quite special. Conversations of drifting piano, twinkling guitar and gliding cello produce a sweet melancholy, graced by the angelic tones of Mary Erskine’s vocals accompanying Tom’s emotional presence. The rhyme runs through…..’I am the river and the river is me’. With these words, Tom embodies the empowering connection of the Maori tribe of Whanganui, New Zealand, to their ancestral river that flows through the mountains. It is so treasured a presence, that legislation passed, recognising the natural wonder as a living being with the rights of a living person. These sentiments beat through the heart of this song. Great inspiration makes for great music.
If I wasn’t introduced to this Scottish artist, then I would never had happened upon the song, Lilias, from Tom’s first solo album, Filling In The Cracks. It is one of the loveliest songs I’ve heard. Thank you!
You can access more of Tom’s work at https://www.tomhouston.org/. Wait eagerly in anticipation for his upcoming album which will be released in October, but dive into ‘I Am The River #33’ now:
It’s always interesting when bands take a complete turn with their sound. It makes you wonder whether they found inspiration in a new style, or just got really bored with playing the same instruments….. With My Octopus Mind and their new track, ‘Buy My Book’, I get a feeling that it is the former.
After getting a taste of the experimental and conceptual approach to this single, I would say a darker feel is forecast for this Bristol band’s upcoming album, ‘Faulty at Source’. We love a bit of gloom.
‘Buy My Book’ boasts the use of double bass-laced balkan rhythms to keep your ears on their toes and your heart guessing which beat to nod your head to. Sparks of guitar fly out from underneath the feverish splashing of drums in a system of digital funk. It’s very She Wants Revenge. Frontman Liam’s distorted voice conjures up a sense of disintegration with its electronic droning, as his subversive style of writing mocks the world of self-help books, Youtube gurus and how the topic of trying to ‘fix’ oneself has featured in his life.
This track is accompanied by an amusing self-created lockdown music video that you can experience here on Youtube: https://youtu.be/w6o4HqFct9M. Stream the track and indulge……
Northern Irish experimental Hip-Hop artist, YINYANG, has just dropped her debut single, ‘Black Mamba’, a playfully powerful track full of wicked bouncing youth. This woman shows no mercy in displaying the limitless energy of female empowerment and has already received much praise having had the track awarded the title of ‘Best Song in the World’ from Across The Line with BBC Radio Ulster.
This chaotic creation is full of heavy beat and chunky bass vibration. You are led around the YINYANG house of haunted design as she sheds her old skin and presents fresh confidence with her devilish lyrical delivery.
A very cool tune to indulge in.
This strong debut only increases the anticipation for more. Lauren Hannan, the creator behind the YINYANG project, hopes to release an album soon, with even more tunage to get excited about. Stream this track now:
Our Man In The Field, also known as Alexander Ellis, takes influence for his music from the world he has experienced on his travels. His gentle voice is accompanied by a brilliant band of pedal steel guitar, banjo, upright bass and drums, from which the sweet-sounding tones of alt-Americana and Caledonian Soul smoothly flow.
‘Thin (I Used To Be Bulletproof)’ is an emotionally retrospective track, intimately delivered by the soulful tones of both man and instrument. Ellis reflects on the change in his life, realising how time can be unintentionally spent living in dullness and wants us to know that there is always time left to take a risk to reclaim a happiness once had.
This new single is the first from Our Man In The Field’s debut album, ‘The Company of Strangers’, which is due to be released this September. Stream the new single from this London-based artist now:
Priestgate are the wonderful five-piece Indie band hailing from Driffield, East Yorkshire. The group capture some beautifully powerful sentiments and set them free in this refreshing new single, ‘NOW’. It is a must to experience.
There is a brilliant togetherness about this band and it’s so energy inducing to feel the instruments really run wild with each other in this euphoric track. Priestgate communicates the understanding message of us as growing and learning human beings as they reflect on their youth. The wrenching emotion of the vocal over the track’s naturally heavenly sound makes for a more affecting adventure through the layers of this song.
The heavy influence of bands like RIDE, The Cure and Slowdive are delightfully evident in the dreamy pedal drenched guitar, soaring melodies and drums that crash with purpose. The passion of ‘NOW’ and the poignancy of their cried out lyrics projects this new single above the rest.
I feel something special about Priestgate. Stream ‘NOW’……now!
Molly Nilsson is a unique and resolute songwriter and what she has to say is always clearly expressed in her tunes. Her electronic music is very DIY, which is incredibly inspiring. She has her own record label, ‘Dark Skies Association’, for which she records all her music by herself. I was very lucky to watch her perform in London in February 2019 when she walked into the toilets and her luminous orange hair caused me to let out an audible ‘woahhhh’ as I told her which toilets were free…. I was very happy to advise an idol of mine in such a time of need.
‘I Hope You Die’ is a song of pure devotion. It is a poetic ode of absolute loyalty in the face of anything. Molly entwines all kinds of love in this powerful Synthpop ballad full of spirit. You’ve never felt a kick drum and snare beat through your heart so strong as when the chorus ignites and you just have to dance. It’s heavenly gloom.
I always get emotional listening to this track. The abstract nature of Molly’s lyrics will really put a smile on your face and remind you of that one person you will always stand by. Dive deeper into her discography and indulge in an exciting new world.
‘Sometimes we win, but sometimes we lose our dreams, but I always wear the colours of your team.’
Your musical dose of the absurd has arrived in the form of an epic track from the multi-talented Worcestershire band, ELECTRIC RAPTOR. ‘Operation Tony’ is a spicy blend of many genres, fused together by the energy of a six-piece band and their comical taste of humour.
This new single is accompanied by a brilliant live action video to illustrate the wacky events that unfold in a crazy Sci-fi tale. ‘Operation Tony’ tells the story of a group of intergalactic bounty hunters on a strange rescue mission. It is the first of their dark comedy web series, ‘The Space Morons’, to which new episodes with new accompanying songs will be added.
Shifting tempos tell a suspenseful story with roaring vocals and crashing drums in a big metal mash up. The jazzy midsection seductively whispers in, transporting our ears to a different groove with electric piano. The sounds of shred guitar and contrasting buoyant trumpet dance with each other as the scene of excitement concludes. It is quite a ride. Watch the video here now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDpDMsQC7H0.
There’s a hell of a lot more on the way from Electric Raptor as they hope to bring their untypically conducted music to the crowds, post pandemic. It’s great to know that there is such unique creativity so close to home. Listen to the track now on all streaming platforms! electricraptor.bandcamp.com