Archives for posts with tag: Night School Records

Many of us can’t travel far at the moment, particularly to exotic destinations in far off countries. All we have is our imaginations to travel with. Take a trip to nowhere with “This New Heaven” by Fine Place.

Dystopia is a location of the mind, although it’s usually a place our mind tries to take us away from. I’m guilty of referring to a lot of futuristic, synth based music as sounding ‘dystopian’ (as in a music that one may expect to hear in the soundtrack to some sci-fi film or ‘cyber-punk’ book about an imaginary future dystopia). But when the chorus of a song includes the word “dystopia” I’m probably on safe ground with this one.

The visual reference for my personal Dystopia is usually fuelled by ancient memories of train journeys to and from Edinburgh past the Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemical plant with flare offs lighting up misty winter evenings or nights like a scene from the Bladerunner movie. It has always struck me as incongruous that this was the setting our beloved Cocteau Twins grew up in, and developed their extraordinary musical imaginations in, before escaping from the town in the 1980s. The thing about a lot of music I think about as being ‘dystopian’ is that it is a soundtrack to travelling/ escaping from that real or imaginary dystopia, often with the distraction and/or beauty of the music providing hope of sorts or a kind of relief or escape. If every vision of Dystopia comes with a desire to escape, then every escape journey needs a soundtrack.

Scottish band Simple Minds – in their brief imperious 1980-81 phase between Empires and Dance and Sons and Fascination/ Sister Feelings Call – imagined the cool synth+guitar strange-dancing-in-baggy-pants future we could have had. But it turned out we didn’t deserve that future, so we got the one we have now. At the time their icy cool light industrial motorik funk was the perfect soundtrack to travelling through and beyond the at times dystopian landscapes of industrial Britain.

On the title track of the upcoming album by Fine Place called “This New Heaven” there’s an echo of the kind of shimmering synth and delay guitar background sounds that made those three Simple Minds albums so evocative to me. It’s all a bit lower tech and DIY and all the better for it as the relentless beat propels the song on its journey, background sounds and eerie reverb-washed vocals in tow.

Fine Place is a duo of Frankie Rose (Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts, Dum Dum Girls) and Matthew Hord (Running, Pop. 1280, Brandy), based in Brooklyn, NYC. Their first album “This New Heaven” is: “nocturnal, electronic pop music that charts a way out the post-global, cyberpunk dystopian environment it was crafted in.”

While Fine Place are not from Scotland, their album is being released on Glasgow based label Night School Records, where it joins many other soundtracks to escaping your personal Dystopia which have been released on that fine label by artists like Molly Nilsson, Ela Orleans, etc. I’m a sucker for dystopian synth pop at the best of times, and this first track sounds really good, so take my pre-order money already.

Grangemouth, Scotland

Free Love 2020

Time for a home detention isolation bubble dance party, courtesy of Glasgow duo Free Love. Here’s the pulsing ecstasy of “Bones” from their appropriately-named 2019 mini-album “Extreme Dance Anthems”:

Free Love were formerly known as Happy Meals. Free Love is a better name, particularly when the duo set out their manifesto of love-fuelled exploratory hedonism:

“The music is about physicality and the metaphysical – it is about a recontextualisation of the ineffable as a centre point of existence which in turn influences how we engage with everything around us. A celebration of the unquantifiable, unspeakable, indivisible EXPERIENCE as the throne from which all ideas are derived. Even though the world is fucked- we are here.”

The Glasgow-based duo of Suzanne Rodden and Lewis Cook (also of The Cosmic Dead) started Happy Meals at Glasgow’s creative hub The Green Door Store. Their first album as Happy Meals was Apéro (2014) and it’s also an excellent destination, so please do check that out as well as their more recent Free Love rave output.

Both artists operate electronic music machines and sing but it’s the dominating Franco-Scottish vocals of Suzanne Rodden that gives the album their exotic blissed out humanity. The music is a fun combination of many electronic music styles and dance music sub-genres. There’s a bit or Euro-Disco/ Italo-Disco cheese, some arpeggiated Kosmiche synth broodiness, and a variety of Trance/ House/ Techno grooves.

I came across a Happy Meals track (the New Order-esque “Le Voyage” below) last night on a sampler CD the fine staff at Monorail Music in Glasgow gave me on a visit there a couple of years ago, which led to discovering the more recent Free Love output.

While in lockdown I’ve been trying to maintain some normal life consumer habits, which included very occasional online record purchases from UK mailorder sellers like Monorail Music and Norman Records as well as regular visits to local Dunedin store Relics Music – which I have attempted to maintain by website purchases. A big part of staying sane in lockdown is optimism and visualizing things getting back to (new) normal. That means having the cultural institutions like independent record stores (and favourite cafes and food suppliers) we have taken for granted as still being there for our mental wellbeing once this current situation improves.


Manuela Iwansson

Glasgow-based independent record label Night School Records is reliably unpredictable. One of its latest releases is a perfectly out-of-character 7″ single by Swedish musician Manuela Iwansson, the A-side of which is called “Strangers on a Train”:

When I say “out-of-character” it’s not really, because “out-of-character” is totally in-character for Night School Records. It’s not that the label is all over the place, and lacking any kind of thematic or genre focus. The opposite is true. It’s just its done in such an unpredictable way.  You don’t realise how connected the music the label releases is until you get past the sound and think more about what it represents and the people making it.

OK, that’s too much isolation-induced over-thinking for a Sunday. Why not just enjoy a dystopian post-punk, gothic synth-pop power-chord banger and dance like no-one is watching?

Iwansson‘s background was as vocalist in now-defunct Swedish punk group Terrible Feelings. Her current solo sound “harnesses the doomed romance of early 80s post-punk with a leather-bound flourish of late-70s hard-as-nails rock music.”

“Strangers on a Train” takes the guitar and bass tones and textures of The Cure’s first couple of albums as a starting point, then mixes in some Big Hair & leather trench-coat 80’s synth-pop plus power-chord stadium rock (in a Bonnie Tyler kind of way), and cooks up a ridiculously loveable dark anthem to loneliness and paranoia. And the other side “Blank Surface” does much the same, but differently. It all adds up to something a lot better than the music it pays homage to.

As Night School proclaims: “Rock n Roll is dead, good riddance; we’re creatures of the night.”


Molly NilssonHere’s another from the Night School Records catalogue. As with yesterday’s post of a track from the Sorrow LP re-issue “Whiskey Sour” here is a track from a double LP re-issue of a 2008 Molly Nilsson album called “These Things Take Time”

Nilsson is a Swedish musician based in Berlin. Her minimal “DIY ’til I die” synth pop has an extensive catalogue which can be explored on her website Dark Skies Association.

“Whisky Sour” is a slice-of-life wry observation about… well, waiting in a bar, and all the discomfort, thoughts, memories and reflections this involves. It carries a similar kind of dark fatalistic humour of The Magnetic Fields reflecting on the human condition – Nillson’s morose commentary unfolding like a short story over this hiss and chime of a simple melody from a budget keyboard.

The album is an expansive collection of DIY Casio-tone synth-pop. It was repressed on vinyl – a limited 500 copies – for Record Store Day 2018, and appears to be sold out now. However… there is always the unlimited edition digital download…

SorrowSorrow – a folk-pop group formed by former Strawberry Switchblade member Rose McDowall with her then-husband Robert Lee – existed between 1993 and 2001, releasing two albums an EP. “Ruby Tears” is from Sorrow’s 1st (1993) album “Under The Yew Possessed” just re-issued on LP by Glasgow’s Night School Records.

While Sorrow’s neo-folk stylings and spectral darkness (the name and also opening track “Die” set the tone) may be a change in direction from Strawberry Switchblade’s light sparkling pop there’s still a delicate pop heart to “Under the Yew Tree Possessed” built around McDowall’s 12-string guitar and clear voice and delivered with minimal percussion, washes of keyboards and melodica or flute.

The style here is reminiscent in some ways with the kind of airy reverb washed sounds created by Felt, a band with whom McDowall had recorded backing vocals for (their last album “Me and a Monkey on the Moon”). The track “Emptiness” is an example of this Felt like sound:


Helena Celle.jpgBeaming in from outer space, like a time-delayed broadcast from The Clangers planet 50 years ago, comes the malfunctioning dance music of “VR Addiction” .

“VR Addiction” is from an intriguing new release from Glasgow, Scotland based computer programmer Kay Logan under her current alias Helena Celle. The album – “If I Can’t Handle Me At My Best, Then You Don’t Deserve You At Your Worst” – is released through Glasgow experimental/ underground electronic/ Alt-Normal label Night School Records.

If lo-fi electronica is your thing then this is a hissing, buzzing, fidgeting world of virtual unicorns and code dragons. “Recorded exclusively using a faltering MC303, live in a room straight to consumer dictaphones” gives you an idea of how this audio performance art was made. It’s great. There’s a real sense of life, adventure, happenstance, and wonder in the music on the album, attributes which can be absent from more structured, genre-conforming electronic music.

Don’t know if this music is “questioning the hegemony of neo-liberal ideas and their intersection with capital, culture and social practises” as claimed in the explanatory notes. Are these satirical? It’s hard to tell with commentaries on experimental or conceptual art sometimes. Can it not just be adventurous fun with sound which allows each listener to apply their own thin veneer of reasoning to it as they see fit?

Ela Orleans 2016 “You Go Through Me” is the second track on Ela Orleans‘ new album “Circles of Upper and Lower Hell” – a 73 minute album loosely based on Dante’s Inferno but infused with deep personal experience.

It’s the perfect song to introduce an immersive concept album from the Glasgow-based electronic sound art composer and performer. Dark as the subject matter is, there is something sublime and surreal in hearing the voices of The Pastels’ Stephen and Katrina joining with Ela to sing lines like “abandon all hope, you who enter here.”  

That mix of breathtaking moments of beauty with soul-crushing darkness is the heart of a sometimes confronting, but rewarding album. Having now repeatedly abandoned hope upon entry to this album, hope is the one quality most restored by completion of this epic journey.

By unwelcome coincidence of recent events in the UK, the album’s hell-on-earth theme represents a perfectly dark melancholia for the times.

In Dante’s Inferno hell is depicted as nine circles of suffering located within the Earth; it is the “realm…of those who have rejected spiritual values by yielding to bestial appetites or violence, or by perverting their human intellect to fraud or malice against their fellowmen” according to American poet John Ciardi. Well, that pretty much sums up the current neo-liberal political and economic agenda, as well as post-‘BREXIT’/ ‘post-factual’ division in the no longer quite so United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, doesn’t it?

Unlike Ela’s previous (and excellent) album “Tumult in Clouds”  which often re-assembled and re-shaped samples into new music, “Circles of Upper and Lower Hell” is built upon the performance of synths drums, percussion and voices mostly, merging synth-pop, electronica, and experimental ambient sound art into an ambitious masterpiece.

There’s a lot to take in, and it’s an album that needs repeated headphone listens with concentrated effort.  The instrumentals have film soundtrack quality. Some are quiet, minimal and eery, suggesting ‘incidental music’ soundscapes, infused with a rumbling dread behind the beauty. Others are more grand adventures in sound textures and atmosphere.

The album may be ghostly, creepy, and claustrophobic at times, but ultimately the uplifting beauty of the melodies and Ela’s voice (singing and spoken/ whispered word) which accompany the listener throughout this turbulent journey inspire hope of redemption.