Archive for May, 2009

Napster ten years on

Posted in Commentary on May 31, 2009 by softsynth

Has it really been ten years? Napster was launched by 19-year-old Shawn Fanning on June 1, 1999 and his programming coup, which allowed users to find MP3 files digitally via the internet changed the face of music forever.

This development was particularly significant to our shared genre as it opened the doors to a movement that had for decades lurked somewhat in the shadows, and for that we remember Fanning’s achievement.

While record companies and no small number of musical artists may curse the day Fanning delivered his revolutionary code, it created a new world for certain alternative artists that would previously have needed to depend on word of mouth and a solid tour schedule that would carry them as far as their finances allowed. Suddenly people could access songs by any band, anywhere in the world, no matter the resources available to that band. It was a true democratization of the music business.

Now, too many people have used the opportunity to pirate (or steal, choose your verb) music as a result of this new technology (I am certainly guilty of this from time to time, though perhaps as a result of my age and generational framing, I buy my music unless it’s something I already own in  different format or if it’s something I simply can’t get through conventional music-buying channels, though even with those parameters it’s an increasingly slippery slope), and this has created a huge dilemma for recording artists trying to make a living at their art; this can disproportionally affect lower profile or emerging artists, of which many (most!) electronic artists would be considered, but this larger ethical debate is for another thread. For now we are here to celebrate a program that has allowed someone like me, locked in Nova Scotia to access music by artists like Thermostatic, Marsheaux, or Diffusion from Sweden, Greece, or Belarus, respectively. It’s a social world now, more than ever and Napster played its role in making it so. We think the music world is overall, the better for it.

While Napster didn’t last long into the oughts and its lifecycle was a lot shorter than its influence would suggest (killed at the alter of the legal system), we still feel and celebrate its legacy today, so Softsynth raises a glass to Mr. Fanning, ten years on.

Marsheaux back with new single

Posted in News with tags , on May 30, 2009 by softsynth

Greek electropop duo Marsheaux are back with a new single less than two years after their most recent album, Peek-a-Boo. “Breakthrough” is available as of today as a digital download and is exactly what fans of the band will want/expect – straight ahead, well-crafted 80s-style electronic pop music. Worth picking up and a sign of great things to come from Greece’s finest.

 

 

 

 

 

Listen to Breakthrough:

Dave Gahan has tumor removed

Posted in News with tags , on May 29, 2009 by softsynth

Many followers of Depeche Mode have been concerned about the state of lead singer Dave Gahan’s health following several cancelled tour dates, rumours aplenty and a lack of real information or updates from official DM channels. Reuters is now reporting that Gahan underwent surgery to remove a “low grade malignant” tumor on his bladder and all seems well now. Following what seems like a shockingly short recovery time, the DM “Tour of the Universe” is scheduled to resume on June 8 in Leipzig, Germany. Best wishes to Gahan and the band.

Are we witnessing the next mainstream electronic wave?

Posted in Commentary with tags , , on May 28, 2009 by softsynth

Following on the theme explored in the post on the success of Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow” (and tip: don’t listen to the song right before work in the AM, lest you be hearing the song running through your head all god-damned day!), I continue to wonder about the growing sense that we are entering into another period of mainstreamization of electronic music. 

Electronic music occasionally witnesses the co-opting of its themes by a mainstream artist here and there but the last time it reached across genres onto the mainstream charts was in the early 90s, when everyone and their dog was recording a so-called “techno” album (never mind that few of these albums were anything of the kind – REM’s Up and The Cardigans’ Gran Turismo were not “techno” albums, despite the label given them by the mainstream press who seemed utterly befuddled by the movement at the time). Since then it’s been sporadic, but as is always the case, music has its natural ebbs and flows. One day it’s all boy bands, the next it’s country rock, next it’s roots rock and sometimes, occasionally, electronic music becomes in vogue. Continue reading

Micky Mike of Snowy Red passes on

Posted in News with tags , , on May 26, 2009 by softsynth

Softsynth was sad to learn of the passing of Micky Mike, lead singer and de facto alter ego of the Belgian electronic band Snowy Red at the age of 52. Snowy Red was a minimalist electro group that had its heyday in the early 80s and while not well known, were producing inventive, well produced electronic music in an earlier, less technologically-accessible era. Sad news indeed.

Listen to Euroshima:

Review: Northern Kind – Wired

Posted in Review with tags , on May 20, 2009 by softsynth

Northern Kind, love them or hate them, provide a valuable service to the electronic community. Almost alone among electronic bands they harken back to an earlier era with an unapologetic early-80s-style synth pop. Often compared (even on their own web site) to Yazoo (which I really don’t hear aside from a mild, passing tonal resemblance to Alison Moyet)Matt Culpin and Sarah Heeley have produced something that perfectly captures a feeling, an aura of days gone by without feeling derivative or cloying. 

They previously released the wildly uneven 53°North which had highlights, like the delightful “You Belong” and “On & On”, but also contained a troubling amount of forgettable filler. 

Wired, on the other hand is a far more consistent and enjoyable album. It was preceded by an EP that contained two songs featured on this album, and interestingly those tracks showed the two directions the album could have gone into. “Dirty Youth” is a very ordinary, album-filler song that leaves one cold, while “Into the Blue” is a lovely, rippling ballad that feels original, catchy and pretty all at the same time. It’s the latter set of reactions Softsynth feels while listening to Wired.

Admitedly, most of the tracks on the album are not ones you will necessarily remember, or be able to easily distinguish from each other (with the notable exception of the clever, inspired “Pop”), but it matters less than you’d think. The album, to a song is fun, peppy, and sparkles with an energy and creativity sorely lacking in so much of today’s electronic scene. Songs like “Electric to Me” is both original and at the same time could have been on the UK charts in 1984, with a great chorus that plays nicely with language syncopation; “Tranquil Eyes” is weird and all kinds of Autotuney, but not in a way that makes one want to claw one’s eyes out; “Un.Titled” is a trippy instrumental that reminds me of 80’s-era Erasure b-sides; “Goodbye” is a hard-charging “poor me, I’m going home” ode that sees Heeley’s voice soaring beautifully – on and on, not a bad song in the bunch and you can’t ask for much more than that. It’s not the deepest album you’ll by this year but it may just be among the most fun.

Bands we miss – Peach (Union)

Posted in Commentary with tags , , on May 17, 2009 by softsynth

This one is more a matter of a band who’s potential could have been really interesting more than what actually was. Peach (known as Peach Union in North America due to the frustrating Beat/English Beat, Bush/BushX, Yazoo/Yaz proprietory rule) was a UK electropop trio (Lisa Lamb, Paul Statham, and former member of Bomb the Bass and S’Express, Pascal Gabriel that produced one album, Audiopeach in 1997 on Mute Records (so often the way I discovered electronic music before the internet became so ubiquidous). It as a hard time to release this style of throwback synth pop what with the (re)rise of boy bands and their like during this time. It as one of the darkest periods for electronic music of any kind to be accepted by the masses. That said the lead-off single “On My Own”, a note-perfect confection was a hit, even in the US where it received some radio play before fading into the rafters. The album was more than this great song though. “Made in Vain”, the dance track “Sorrow Town”, and the lovely, languid ballad, “Hush” were touchpoints on this underrated album. 

Sadly the band broke up within a year of the album’s release and listening to it now makes me yearn for what could have been. They could have grown into a strong leader of the electronic scene once they had the chance to shake of some of the cliches that popped up a few times too often on the record and subsequent releases could have added much to the movement. A great loss that they didn’t last.

Watch: On My Own