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In Praise of Vile Electrodes

Written By Juliet Harris

We all know that Hastings and St Leonards is home to a thriving music scene and has indeed recently been reported as being the best place for music in the country. Without it, The Stinger would not exist.

However, like many towns, this can often result in a leaning towards music based around guitars and other traditional instruments. Whither electronica? Is this destined to emerge from the big cities? Bands like the Human League and Heaven 17 soundtracked the decline of the once-proud steel industry in Sheffield and the tension of an environment based on past dreams of a better tomorrow being outpaced by a future that seemed to be moving too far, too fast and leaving many behind in the process. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (more of which later) and Ladytron in Liverpool, different generations of insurgent souls documenting the same problems, of grand electronic vision underlined by an all-too-human neurosis. 

But can this be relevant for Hastings and St Leonards? Of course - even whilst the town moves forward, this has not been without a dose of pre-millennial tension for good measure. In times that remain uncertain, the stresses and strains of electronica are as much a relevant soundtrack to our lives as the cyclical vignettes of any three-chord wonders.

So what is there for us Hastings and St Leonards androids dreaming of electric sheep?

Step forward Vile Electrodes. Formed by Anais Neon and Martin Swan after Neon arrived at Swan’s place of residence to be greeted by a room of...”plastic pianos”, a night exploring the Joy Of Synths (I know, sorry) eventually resulted in Vile Electrodes, taken from the lyric “vile electrodes wired to your brain”.

After earlier adventures, their 2013 debut full-length album “The Future Through A Lens” is a superbly realised piece of work. Like all brilliant albums, its two “halves” of music and lyrics combine to make a greater whole.

The title track which opens the album sets out its musical stall. Synths gradually build, layering upon each other, until we can picture the beautiful yet somehow fraught city of the future. The high notes soar, with the lower lines creeping insidiously through; implying that everything is not quite as it seems. This bursts open on “Drowned Cities”, heralding the arrival of Neon’s vocals. They and a rolling synth line (cleverly referenced by the lyric as “this relentless cycle of ebb and flow”) quicken the pace and the heart, “creeping and seeping into the cracks”. And heart is an apt expression to use - Neon’s immaculate vocal and immense poise would not have the power they do without the emotion of the story she is telling. As the song builds to a climax, the lyric openly acknowledges that this might be a story that has been told before, by different artists in different cities hide memories of memories... These drowned cities haunt my dreams”.

Having said this, Neon can be strident and powerful as well as overwhelmed and uncertain. “You need me more than I need you” opens Feed Your Addiction, underpinned by military rhythms that threaten to dissolve into a dystopian nightmare but instead swell into a disarmingly tuneful soundtrack to Neon’s disconcerting manifesto to “starve your of affection”. Empire Of Wolves kicks this on, with the military undertones evolving into “watching over conquered lands, we’re the strong ones now... surrender will get you nowhere”. Another monumental vocal by Neon backed with endlessly persuasive synth lines make it impossible to disagree. 

The album continues its thrilling journey - “Proximity” dazzles with its rotating prisms of sound whilst “After The Flood” thumps with a electronic heartbeat that somehow remains hauntingly human as Neon sings of how there is “no control at all” as panic and dread give way to a finale that manages to be as stirring as it is desolate. Damaged Software brings a very welcome crunch topped by some incredibly addictive loops, whilst The Leopard sweeps and soars. The frailty of this brave new electronic world is exposed on “Tore Myself To Pieces” with Neon sighing at the start that she “tore myself to pieces, ‘cause there’s nothing else to do” as the music races in front of her, nightmarishly relentless and ever-taunting even as Neon is “falling apart”. 

As good as “A Distance” and “Nothing” are, they merely serve as precursors to the album’s stunning conclusion, “Deep Red”. Its take of how love can bring the greatest pain, how “the feelings are strongest, when there’s more to lose” manages to be both a stately epic and incredibly moving - a neat microcosm of this album’a achievement.

As if this wasn’t enough, with well-received performances as prestige events such as Electricity Club, remix duties for aforementioned electro-royalty OMD and a recent appearance on a Radio 3 documentary talking to Matthew Sweet about the history of synthesisers, it is clear that Vile Electrodes will be shaping the future as much as they document it. 

So through the electronic lens, the future is bright. The future is VILE.

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