Unsigned Act – Blue Swan (and Subculture)

With this blog and the radio shows that came before it, I have always tried to keep some space available for unsigned artists, but honestly giving them the chance to be written about or to appear on an actual radio station yields surprisingly poor results. In the end, I only ever covered two unsigned acts on my old radio show Music for the Masses (2004-2005), one of whom was Blue Swan.

I must have contacted them via email, and wrote the following…

The duo consists of Henrik Jürgensen, 31, the vocalist and a soon-to-be qualified accountant, and Kasper Lauest, 30, who is the producer and also a psychologist (in the band?) They have been producing music since late 1999, when they met on the first Pet Shop Boys internet forum at Dotmusic, discovering by chance that they had gone to the same high school, one class apart, so they decided to meet up.

They listened to each other’s music, and both liked what they heard. When they heard about the Pet Shop Boys fan tribute project Attribute, they decided to record a cover of A New Life. They liked the result, so continued working together. They continue the story:

Last August, we released our first “virtual” album Sinister But Fragile. The track Black Widow was supposed to have been recorded by a famous Danish artist for her international debut album, but the deal fell through.

They are situated around Copenhagen, Denmark. All of their songs are recorded in their home studio in Kasper’s house. They write their songs together, sometimes in collaboration with Kasper’s younger brother Jakob.

The track Black Widow was done as an instrumental entitled Brutal, written by Kasper and his brother. When Henrik heard it, he absolutely loved it and wrote the lyrics and melody line on top of it. All synth sounds on Black Widow were made using an Access Virus C, while the beat was programmed using Reason 2.5.

Their virtual album Sinister But Fragile can be heard and downloaded in its entirety for free at (a website which no longer exists).

Their favourite band is the Pet Shop Boys, and Kasper’s favourite TV show is 24.

If you’re wondering, the other unsigned act we featured on the show was Subculture, but my only notes for them read as follows:

  • “Trash pop”
  • New Order
  • The Human League
  • David Bowie
  • OMD
  • Suede
  • Ladytron

Ross (vocals), Mace (synth), Matt (guitar), and Julia (bass).

You can read our most recent feature on Blue Swan here. If you’re unsigned and want some coverage, please get in touch using the form on the “Are You Unsigned” page.

Artist of the Week – Massive Attack

Many moons ago, I had a radio show, which included an Artist of the Week feature, in which I gave some history on the act. I’m including them here because I think they give an interesting perspective, but watch out for any errors or omissions in this piece.

The Massive Attack story goes all the way back to 1983, when the Wild Bunch DJ collective was formed. Based in Bristol and showcasing varied musical styles and genres, they soon started to draw huge crowds. When the Wild Bunch came to an end in 1987, two of its members, Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles and Grant “Daddy G” Marshall teamed up with a graffiti artist Robert del Naja, more commonly known as 3D, and formed Massive Attack.

Working with another former Wild Bunch member Nellee Hooper, who has since gone on to huge success as a producer, and was at the time also working with Soul II Soul, they released their first singles Any Love and Daydreaming in 1990.

They soon saw the success they deserved, with Unfinished Sympathy and Safe from Harm both becoming huge hits and propelling the Blue Lines album towards the right end of the charts.

The first album saw great marketing difficulties because of their name, and possible links between it and the first Iraq war, so they dropped half of their name and temporarily became Massive. For various reasons the US tour that followed was something of a disaster, and they disappeared into the studio for three years.

Their comeback Protection is just as essential an album as the first, and, in chart terms at least, was more successful. It brought them three further hit singles: SlyProtection, and Karmacoma, and the remix album No Protection, although rather bizarre, was also a substantial hit.

Following another break, this time of four years, with only the one-off single Risingson to show for it, they returned in 1998 with their third album Mezzanine and three further hit singles, Teardrop, Angel, and Inertia Creeps.

One member down, they returned in early 2003 with their fourth album, 100th Window. Probably their darkest offering to date, it crept in at the top of the charts and quickly disappeared without a trace, with only one hit single and one non-charting single to show for it. More recently, they made a brief visit back to the charts at the end of last year with the soundtrack to the Luc Besson film Danny the Dog.

Artist of the Week – Erasure

Here’s another old Artist of the Week feature from my old radio show. It probably wasn’t researched very well, and so may contain plagiarism, errors, and omissions. My sincere apologies if so.

The story begins way back in 1981, when Vince Clarke was briefly a member of the gods of electronica Depeche Mode. After the first album, musical differences forced him out of the band, leaving just as their popularity was growing. Following this, he and Alison Moyet formed Yazoo, who saw huge success during their brief but stormy reign over the charts between 1982 and 1983.

After their split, Vince joined with producer Eric Radcliffe to form a group called The Assembly, where the intention was that they would produce tracks with different singers. After one huge hit, Never Never, and one flop, they called it a day.

It was during the auditions for The Assembly project [I’m going to add my own “citation needed” tag here] that Vince first came across singer Andy Bell. They started working together, and had soon completed the first album Wonderland. However, for whatever reason, the debut was never a substantial hit, and only yielded one minor hit single, so it wasn’t until the second album The Circus came out that they were propelled to the top end of the charts by the universal hit Sometimes.

Further albums followed, with The Innocents bringing more success, and, at the end of the 1980s, they turned away from their traditionally analogue sounds to produce Wild!, their second number one album, which also brought them four top twenty hit singles.

For 1991’s Chorus they returned to a very analogue sound to produce what is commonly thought to be their best album to date. Again, a further four huge hits ensued, and in mid-1992, they followed this with an obscure collection of cover versions which brought them their biggest hit to date, the huge summer smash Abba-esque EP.

Their return in 1994 with I Say I Say I Say brought them further hits, but by the mid-1990s, a combination of being overwhelmed by Britpop and spending too much time experimenting meant they were starting to lose their touch. This began in earnest with 1995’s eponymous album, which turned their previous sound on its head with ten-minute instrumentals and ambient tracks.

In 1997 they tried to get a foot back in the door with Cowboy, a collection of 3-minute pop songs, which were widely ignored by the record-buying public. In 2000, they tried to tap the remnants of the indie explosion with Loveboat, a predominantly acoustic guitar-based album, which barely even managed to scrape into the charts.

It was finally last year that they managed their comeback, through the all-too-popular medium of a cover versions album. The wittily titled but frankly awful Other People’s Songs managed to grab them a little bit of the limelight they deserve, and helped their second singles compilation into the top end of the charts.

So what now? Well, they’re still very analogue, and rumour suggests that they’ve now gone all electro on us, following recent successes from the likes of Röyksopp and Mirwais. The album is released on January 24th, preceded by the single Breathe on the 3rd.

Artist of the Week – The Future Sound of London

I’ve been publishing these old overviews of artists for a few weeks now. They’re from my former radio show Music for the Masses, which took place over a decade ago, and so they tend to be laden with hyperbole, as well as a few inaccuracies. Just so you know…

The Future Sound of London are Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans, undoubtedly one of the most influential and outstanding electronic acts of the last fifteen years [this was written in 2005], but sadly not especially well known.

In 1988, Brian embarked on a project for the Stakker graphics company. He created a track called Stakker Humanoid, which was accompanied by a mad video. Gaz got involved with the project and its accompanying album, featuring some eighties style vocal house.

The following three years resulted in Gaz and Brian’s partnershp growing, working under many different guises, and a lot of early techno and hardcore tracks. With Stakker Humanoid re-entering the chart in 1992, followed by the breakthrough ambient club track Papua New Guinea (the first full Future Sound of London release) they were getting more recognition. It was then reissued by Virgin, and literally stormed the charts, followed closely by the album Accelerator and further singles.

When their third studio album, the double CD epic Lifeforms was released in 1994, it was instantly celebrated as one of the greatest ambient/electronica albums of the nineties, featuring the huge hits Cascade and Lifeforms. This album was followed in 1995 with ISDN, a semi-live album which was performed live from their studio across the internet, using the then-new ISDN technologies to stream live over the net in the first event of its kind.

In 1996 they returned again, with a tale of urban decay and hell on earth entitled Dead Cities. A mixture of the flavours they included before and something new, this album was a huge success, including the smash hit We Have Explosive. Another ISDN world tour followed, ending with a John Peel session of even more new music. And then the stream of music came to an abrupt and unexpected end. Two 12″ records appeared with the EBV name on them – from Oil and Headstone Lane, on FSOL’s own record label.

Legend has it that after Dead Cities they realised that they were heading in the wrong direction. They were getting more noisy, beginning behind these sounds, making music they didn’t really want to make. They wanted to write more melody-based music. [I’m aware now that this paragraph doesn’t make a lot of sense. Sorry.]

And then in 2001, suddenly they reappeared almost as if they never left. Psychedelic DJ sets, countless Papua New Guinea remixes, an entirely new mini-album of reinterpretations of Papua New Guinea entitled Translations, and news of a new full-length album. This all faded away again until mid-2002, when The Isness was released, followed by a single release of The Mello Hippo Disco Show.

The Isness was reissued in January this year, in a double CD set, entitled The Isness & The Otherness.

Artist of the Week – Kraftwerk

I always find myself apologising for the hyperbole in these archive pieces, and honestly there are plenty this week too, but it’s not undeserved. Unusually, due to their lack of new releases, except for the last line, this one is still current too!

Kraftwerk are one of the most influential and important bands that have ever existed, without a doubt. Although they never made any particular impact on the charts, with the exception of The Model, they have come to be renowned for inventing practically every form of electronic music in existence, and they are now guaranteed sell-out tours and sizable hits the world over.

It all began way back in the late 1960s when Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider-Esleben, then music students in Düsseldorf, joined with two others to form The Organisation. The debut album Tone Float was released in Germany in 1969.

Following this, Ralf and Florian went off to form Kraftwerk, which translates into English as “power station”. The first three albums, now known as Kraftwerk 12, and Ralf and Florian are little known but have come to be widely referenced in the field of experimental music, being commonly cited as influences by the likes of David Bowie and Orbital.

Their fourth album as Kraftwerk introduced two new members: Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür, and became a worldwide hit and instant classic. 1975’s Autobahn has been universally praised as one of the most important albums ever recorded.

Over the next ten years, they would go on to record classic after classic, with Radio-Activity in 1976, Trans-Europe Express in 1977, the classic The Man-Machine in 1978, and Computer World  in 1981. It was at the start of the 1980s that they reached their chart pinnacle with The Model hitting number one in the UK.

In 1983, they recorded the cycling anthem Tour de France, but it was shortly after this that Hütter suffered a serious cycling accident, putting the recording of their next album way behind schedule. Eventually released in 1986, Electric Café just about scraped into the bottom end of the UK Charts.

In 1991, they returned, remixing many of their classic albums for the fantastic The Mix, and then they spend most of the 1990s locked away in their studio, occasionally resurfacing with rumours of reissues or a new album, and towards the end of the 1990s, a couple of tours as well.

Eventually, they reappeared last year [2003] with Tour de France Soundtracks. Widely criticised for being “more of the same”, it still managed a respectable UK chart placing, and is a good album nonetheless.

Finally, rumours still abound of a series of reissues of the original albums. Promos are now available, but there is still no news when they will appear in the shops.

Artist of the Week – Saint Etienne

You might recall that a few weeks ago I was re-running an old radio feature, the Artist of the Week, when as part of my radio show Music for the Masses, I would give a bit of history on an act. Let’s pick that up again with Saint Etienne. As always, apologies for any inaccuracies or omissions.

Saint Etienne are a group with a very unusual background. Before I mention anything else, I should perhaps make it clear: yes, they are named after the French football team, which probably makes them unique in one sense. However, their almost unrivalled technique of moulding modern beats to sixties melodies and beautiful songs makes them completely with parallel.

In the early 1990s, as acid house was in its wane, childhood friends Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs worked with a number of guest vocalists on several tracks which scraped the lower reaches of the charts. The best known of these is their cover of Neil Young‘s Only Love Can Break Your Heart, which just broke into the Top 40 in 1991. For the first album Foxbase Alpha, they tracked down a more permanent vocalist, who still remains with them to this day, Sarah Cracknell.

With their first two albums, they scored further minor hits and started to make a name for themselves, but they did not manage to break the top end of the UK charts until 1993’s sublime collaboration with The Charlatans‘ Tim Burgess I Was Born on Christmas Day. The subsequent third album Tiger Bay reached the Top 10 and yielded several substantial hits, including Pale Movie and Like a Motorway.

They followed this in 1995 with a compilation of the singles so far, which was heralded by their biggest single to date, the Motiv8-produced He’s on the Phone, before taking three years to rethink their strategy.

Unfortunately recent albums have failed to give them the success they no doubt deserve. 1998’s Good Humor brought us the fantastic singles Sylvie and The Bad Photographer; 2000’s Sound of Water barely broke the Top 40; and their most recent album Finisterre, released nearly two years ago, failed to make any substantial impact despite being one of their best albums to date.

However, that does not mark the end for Saint Etienne. They are currently in the studio polishing off their seventh full-length album, due for release early next year [in fact Tales from Turnpike House was released in summer 2005, roughly eighteen months after this was written], and just last week released another retrospective compilation for the American market, which included a couple of new tracks as well.

Astoundingly, they have now released nearly 200 tracks, hardly any of which will fail to grasp the listener with their strong imagery and beautiful songwriting.

Artist of the Week – Air

Time now for another artist of the week, plucked straight out of the archives. As always, apologies in advance if any of this is plagiarised, or if it contains any inaccuracies.

Air are Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin, from Versailles. Together with Étienne de Crécy and Alex Gopher, who would both go on to carve out musical careers for themselves, they started making music in the early 1990s. The first Air single Modular Mix was released late in 1995, and within very little time they were a huge underground act in France, and were carving a name out for themselves in the UK as well. The British release of Modular Mix peaked at number 177 in 1996.

Their first proper studio album Moon Safari was released in 1998, and, with the help of hits such as Sexy Boy and Kelly Watch the Stars, catapulted them into the top end of the UK charts.

After spending the following year touring, they returned at the start of 2000 with the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola‘s The Virgin Suicides, which gave them their third hit album and their fourth UK top 75 single with the beautiful Playground Love.

The second studio album 10,000 Hz Legend was released in 2001, and sadly has come to be seen as a bit of a mistake. It ditched the pure electronic sounds and turned instead to more traditional rock sounds, featuring various guest artists including Beck. However, it was still a substantial hit in the UK, and its remix companion Everybody Hertz also scraped onto the charts.

Last year saw the release of possibly their most bizarre project to date, an audio book entitled City Reading, and featuring their music, accompanying Alessandro Baricco‘s surreal stories. A very entertaining idea, but of course, not that easy to listen to!

Their most recent album Talkie Walkie was released in January this year, and the only single to be released so far in the UK is Alpha Beta Gaga, from the Orange adverts, which was a minor hit. The album is absolutely stunning, though, and features several fantastic tracks. As well as potentially huge singles such as Cherry Blossom Girl and Another Day, there’s another soundtrack piece from Sofia Coppola‘s latest film Lost in Translation, and many more great tracks.