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Blackest Ever Black’s Synth Hero mix

Kiran Sande of Berlin-based label Blackest Ever Black mixes together an hour of his most influential electronic music pioneers

Inspired by SF novelists J.G Ballard and Phillip K Dick, the occult, C64 computers, Tarkovsky films and pre-war melancholic holidays on the British seaside, this mix by Blackest Ever Black – premiered last night on my Synth Hero radio show – showcases some of the electronic pioneers who have influenced label founder Kiran Sande. From Plastikman and John Foxx to lesser-known cult cuts by Serge Bulot, John Surman, and Caroline K, it’s a typically dark journey from an imprint renowned for partying in the shadows. Here, Sande explains the deeper meaning behind each of his synthy selections.

PLASTIKMAN – “PASSAGE (OUT)” (from CONSUMED, M-NUS/NOVAMUTE, 1998) (0:00-03:05)

“Bleak, brooding techno science fiction. It’s not a desperately original piece of music; on the contrary, it’s pretty generic - I own probably three dozen records that sound almost exactly like this, and I’ll probably buy a few more before I die. It must have to do with nostalgia…As anyone who grew up in the ‘80s or ‘90s will instinctively grasp, this is basically pure “Terminator music”, and it awakens in me the same excitement I felt as a twelve or thirteen-year-old romping around the grotty old Lazerquest off Spring Bank in Hull, pretending to be Michael Biehn or, even more improbably, Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

ROBERT RICH & B. LUSTMORD – “ELEMENTAL TRIGGER” (from STALKER, FATHOM, 1995) (03:05-08:27)

“A touchstone of the genre regrettably known as “dark ambient”, Lustmord and Robert Rich’s 1995 album Stalker, from which this track is taken, is a tribute to Tarkovsky’s film of the same name, and certainly captures something of its essence…atavistic dread, unseen forces, lots of mud. If ever you want to be reminded how small your are, and how little of the world you comprehend, listen to this.”

MOUNT VERNON ARTS LAB – “THE VAUXHALL LABYRINTH” (from THE SEANCE AT HOBBS LANE, VIA SATELLITE, 2001) (08:27-13:42)

“I never get bored of Mount Vernon Arts Lab’s The Seance at Hobbs Lane album… it’s a perfectly camp, totally unsettling, Quatermass-inspired palimpsest of occult London which connects ancient nameless evil and Victorian-cum-Edwardian decadence to a haunted present-day. The electronics here have an almost mechanical, steampunk feel - the sound of an infernal engine that definitely doesn’t have your best interests at heart.”

SMACKOS – “UNBEARABLE SADNESS OF DIMENSIONS” (from COMPUTER DAY, STRANGE LIFE, 2007) (13:42-16:10)

“Impeccable synthsploitation, if you will, from Danny Wolfers aka Legowelt. The CD-Rs he made under numerous aliases and self-released on his own Strange Life label between 2004-12 are essential...It’s not just the music, but the concepts: each release has its own tongue-in-cheek little pulp fiction attached to it, like the synopsis of a half-remembered TV movie or C64 game from your youth. This track is from Computer Day, credited to ‘1985. Somewhere in a not so populated area of the USA, a lonely man decides to buy a computer… a dark and tragic story unfolds… as he starts to programme a computer-game called ‘Forest of Doom’, people start disappearing from his small town…’”

“It's the sound of an infernal engine that definitely doesn’t have your best interests at heart” – Kiran Sande

WHITEHOUSE – “TO DIE” (from TWICE IS NOT ENOUGH, SUSAN LAWLY, 1992) (16:10-19:33)

“Churning, oozing, ultra-repetitive analogue electronics coupled with William Bennett’s sneer: a winning combination. ‘To Die’ is off Twice Is Not Enough, an album from my favourite period, and incarnation, of Whitehouse: when their music was more seedily insinuating than explicitly aggressive or confrontational. It’s atmospheric, dare I say almost psychedelic, but still utterly brutal and unforgiving.” 

DEUX FILLES – “THE DRAW OF A ROOM” (from SILENCE & WISDOM, PAPIER MACHE, 1982) (1933-21:17)

“A nice little keyboard vignette from Deux Filles, which was Simon Fisher Turner and Colin Lloyd Tucker masquerading as a pair of mysterious French teenagers, with a melody that puts me in mind of melancholy pre-war holidays by the English seaside, or rather some imagined idea of them. I’m not sure how much synth with a capital ’S’ there is on this - I think it might actually just be an electric piano and a ton of reverb and tape delay. But I only realised that after I’d finished the mix, so you’ll have to forgive me… ”

[interlude 21:17-21:34]

JOHN SURMAN – “PIPERSPOOL” (from ROAD TO SAINT IVES, ECM, 1990) (21:34-26:30)

“Surman is a veteran British jazzman unusually attuned to the musical and mystical properties of synthesizers. The dialogue between his reed/woodwind parts (especially bass clarinet) and his repetitive keyboard sequences is honestly one of the most lovely things you’ll ever encounter. There’s something completely out-of-time about about it, the way the acoustic and the synthetic are enmeshed. When I first heard this piece of music it didn’t feel like I was discovering it, it felt like I was returning to it, like I’d known it all my life.”

JOHN FOXX – “CATHEDRAL OCEANS VII” (from CATHEDRAL OCEANS, METAMATIC ABSTRACT DIVISION, 1997) (26:30-31:28)

“John Foxx is best known for the brittle, angular synth-pop of Metamatic, but he's a master of aqueous ambience too. With its massed vocals inspired by the church choir music of his youth, this is an album more about reverb than anything else, but regal synthesiser pads do play a prominent role. It was partly inspired by JG Ballard’s The Drowned World, and to me it’s the sound not just of London submerged, but of London empty - I recommend listening to it while walking around Moorgate or Monument at 7am on a Saturday.”

“It’s the sound not just of London submerged, but of London empty – I recommend listening to it while walking around Moorgate or Monument at 7am on a Saturday” – Kiran Sande

IN SYNC – “WARM” (from STORM/WARM, IRDIAL DISCS, 1992) (31:28-40:27)

“The only other techno track in this selection. A deep-blue comedown classic, one of my all time top 10 records, produced by Lee Purkis in 1992. It's a rare instance of a British producer taking the essence of Detroit techno and really running with it, and making it his own…there’s a patience and slow-burn to this track which I think is quite remarkable, it totally captures the strange sensitivities and temporal distortions of the morning after the night before. You have to wait a long, long time for the pay-off, but if you're in the zone when it does finally arrive, you'll surely gasp.”

[interlude - 40:27-40:58]+

SERGE BULOT – “ECHOS” (from LES LEGENDES DE BROCELIANDE, SONIMAGE, 1981) (40:58-44:05)

“Written and performed by a French library musician - although I’m pretty sure it’s not actually a library record - the album this track is taken off has been much blogged about and fawned over online during the past decade, but still no one has reissued it. Last year I gave up waiting and forked out for an original. No regrets, and listening to ‘Echos’ you can understand why. This is isn’t even the best track on the album! Really quite magical.”

SPECTRUM – “THE STARS ARE SO FAR (HOW DOES IT FEEL?)” (from FOREVER ALIEN, SPACE AGE, 1997) (44:05-50:49)

“No one would bat an eyelid now, but in the 90s I was certainly intrigued by the idea of a drone continuum that included, in Pete Kember's estimation, not only The Velvet Underground and LaMonte Young but also Delia Derbyshire and Thomas Koner. This Spectrum track, one of his poppier post-Spacemen 3 offerings, is from an album called Forever Alien, and I think that title comes close to summing up my feelings about synths: it doesn’t matter how much music changes, or how much it stays the same; synths to me will always sound other.” 

ELPH vs COIL – “DARK START” (from WORSHIP THE GLITCH, ESKATON, 1995) (50:49-54:53)

“I couldn’t do this without including something by Coil. I don’t really know what to say about this piece, or how Coil have influenced, and continue to influence, my perception of music, synthesized otherwise…Let's just say it goes far beyond any summary that I'm capable of.”

CAROLINE K – “TRACKING WITH CLOSE-UPS” (from NOW WAIT FOR LAST YEAR, EARTHLY DELIGHTS, 1987) (54:53-END)

“We finish as we began: with some hard SF, this time by the late Caroline K, who was in Nocturnal Emissions and cut this one solo album in 1987. It was inspired by a Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, but it's not the paranoid mind-fuck you might expect... on the contrary it has a stately, if eerie, feel; futuristic, but in a very British, Autumnal sort of way. It seems like a nice place to leave you.”

Check out the rest of the SYNTH HERO shows here