"This Is Not The 80s!"...

Pleads Julz from Winchester's Capital X as she investigates the slow-to-rise popularity of the local electro scene. It seems the message to venues and promoters out there is a collective: "Could do better!"

You’re handed a flyer for a gig at your local music venue. OK, it’s on a Saturday, good. Doors open at 8, good; time for a beer down the pub first. Oh, it’s an electro night. You don’t want to go now, do you? Probably another load of those awful 80s, goth rip-off bands, right? Maybe not. Never before (except perhaps during the 80s) has the UK been able to boast so many good quality, electronically influenced artists. You may be surprised to find that an awful lot of them are right under your noses, here in the South. And before you turn those noses up at the thought of it, be sure to note that the scene is incredibly diverse, with many different styles exploding all over the place all of the time: there is almost certainly something for everyone. A great number of talented and hardworking bands are not getting the recognition they deserve and a lot of serious gig-goers and music fanatics are missing out on some real treats. Electro has somehow gotten a bad name for itself – one that it doesn’t deserve – so I am making a temporary move from musician to journalist to put the record straight. Newsflash: electro does not have to be boring. It does not have to be static or stagnant, staged or pretentious. Its influences are wide and range from dance, hip-hop, drum and bass, metal and yes, the 80s – of course bands like Kraftwerk and Soft Cell come into it, they started the whole thing. But they are not the be all and end all. Take bands like Primal Scream: they are electronic for the most part and do they sound like the 80s? No. They prove that electro can have as much balls as rock n' roll. Enter the south’s electro veterans, Scarlet Soho. Pulsing with energy and driven by a desire to perform energetically to the masses, the ‘Soho lie at the epicentre of the southern electro scene. They have toured the UK extensively to promote their own music, as well as offering a place to play for other electro acts from all over the UK (and abroad), in the form of their own club night, theheld at the Railway Inn in Winchester. Guest artists since the club’s beginning in 2001 have included SS themselves, Surferosa (from Norway), Trauma Pet, Sub-culture, Capital X, Kelli Ali (ex-Sneaker Pimps), Trademark (Human League 2004 tour support), White Town (of no. 1 single “Your Woman” fame) and so many more. The club’s success is obvious and has had a definite impact on the local scene, as SS singer Jim Knights acknowledges: “With club DJ favourites like Primal Scream’s 'Swastika Eyes', The Faint’s 'Agenda Suicide' and Death in Vegas’ 'Dirge', we started to notice something really happening with a regular crowd coming to the nights and eventually bands forming by the week”. When asked why he thinks some people may be put off by the thought of electro music in general, he had this to say: “People usually seem put off for many reasons. Sometimes they think that the bands are just revisiting the 80s electro era. Some people think that the instruments are not being played manually and many say electro bands lack edge in their music. In some cases all these statements are true, but there are some gems out there… just give it a chance. I sometimes feel it's the nearest thing you'll get to a real entertaining performance”. And if you want a good performance, be sure to check out Scarlet Soho when they return to the live circuit in 2006. They’ll blow your head off. In the mean time, if you aren’t near Winchester, rest assured it’s not the only place to get an electro fix. Neighbouring towns have recently dabbled in the darker side of electronics with events such as the Neophile nights (held at venues in Southampton as well as Winchester) and the more industrial-focused and recently deceased Dark Trix in Basingstoke. Fresh faces are always appearing, one of which is the creator of Reading’s Electrocious club night, Andrew. So what can punters expect from his nights? “My DJs can play whatever, provided it has an electronic basis to it and sounds filthy. The music policy for Electrocious is, 'Imagine you're in the future. America doesn't exist so everything seems very European. You're really horny but all you can find are robots...' Seriously, that's actually what I tell them. Whether they ever listen is another matter”. More exciting than the prospect of dancing to the ‘latest hits’ for the 100th time, I think you’ll agree. Like the Pink Flamingo, Electrocious also features new and exciting live acts. These are billed mainly on recommendation from Line Out records.Owner of this electro-based label, Bob Barker, notes how, “a few people still assume that electronic music has not moved on for a decade and just consists of inhuman bleepings”. By going to Pink Flamingo or Electrocious it quickly becomes apparent that these naysayers are wrong but, as Andrew himself is aware, we have to be careful about the very word ‘electro’: “Lots of people think they know what electro is. The word gets splattered about the place like so much unwanted colour on the canvas". He’s right. In fact it often indicates nothing much at all and can be somewhat misleading. Discontented with the broadness of the term, bands have begun to invent their own styles in order to get away from this loosely used, non-representative language: electroclash; synthpop; disco-punk; dance-punk; electro noir; thrash-disco; digital hardcore and synth-rock are just a few. All too often the word ‘electro’ is used by promoters to bracket most synth-based bands. There is another general term you may have come across - ‘electronica’, commonly referring to more dance-based or experimental acts. It is no more definitive than ‘electro’, as Olly from Southampton’s ‘electronica-based’ Subgiant explains: “Subgiant's origins are dub, and we've taken on board a lot of influence from the breaks scene, trance and electro, and ended up somewhere in the middle. We do often use the word 'electronica'. I like it for one reason; it doesn't really say what you do, other than that you are likely to have a lot of undisclosed electronic boxes on stage!". Sadly, it seems that promoters also get confused with these words being bandied about. If you’re an ‘electro’ act and reading this, you may have experienced some difficulties in getting shows. “In the early days of Subgiant this was a real problem, small venues just didn't understand live electronica,” says Olly. This is still an issue. My own band recently played alongside Newcastle’s Turnbull A.Cs in London: they are far from Southern, but I think Alan from the band speaks for us all when he says, “We’re sick to death of playing gigs with indie bands, acoustic bands, Coldplay wannabe bands and the like. We want to play with bands who aren't afraid to step away from what's accepted as ‘the way to do it’ i.e. with a drummer and singer”. Calling all promoters: this view appears to be widespread. So get your thinking caps on before you book us: electronic shows are the way forward. You could end up with a great night full of quality acts, with not a single drum kit in sight. There are so many bands I haven’t got room to mention here, and much more ranting I’d like to do, because there is so much going on. But all I can say now is whoever you are, whatever your musical taste get out there and get stuck into some electronic delights. Check out the links in this article for tour dates and record releases, go to some shows and have a good time. I can’t promise a revolution (I’m not the NME, after all) but you might just find something you like. In any case, for goodness sake, make sure you don’t miss out!

Want more?

Turnbull ACS recommend: The Guessmen from Newcastle. They won the Diesel-u-Music award in the electronic category a few years ago.

Subgiant recommend: The Cuban Brothers.

Andrew Electrocious recommends: More Gary Numan!

Bob @ Line Out recommends: Trauma Pet, Scarlet Soho, Reincarnationfish, and Faetal.

Paula @ The Fly Wessex recommends:
Ishkur.com. An Electronic Music Bible and something she, along with a million fans and journalists alike, have been referring to for years. His 'guide to electronic music' is a hand-held journey through every imaginable leccy genre you care to think of, and a million more besides.

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