Polaroids is the second EP from the UK’s Steven Jones and Logan Sky. The two met through a mutual friend, the late Steve Strange from 80s synth pop legends Visage, with whom Sky has played keyboards with since 2010.
The new EP follows-on from where there duo’s 2015 debut EP Desire Lines left off but with more of a late-night and darker direction. Jones and Sky’s feet are firmly in the early-80s UK synthpop camp with influences from early Depeche Mode, OMD, Ultravox, Soft Cell and of course Visage. Sky handles the music production, predominantly using vintage hardware, while Jones writes and performs the vocals which are a mix of sung and spoken word.
Title track Polaroids has a half-time, electro-dub feel to it. It is brooding and reflective, with the lyrics “moments burnt in to polaroids” referring to a more glamorous life captured at an earlier point in time. The lo-fi video for the song, shot in London’s Soho, appropriating the atmosphere of the song. Additionally on the EP, Polaroids gets the remix treatment from Daygun and is taken in an uptempo vocal dub direction but still retains the broodiness of the original.
‘Hi-Rise New York’ is based on Jones’ experiences of visiting New York City with a visually-inspired narrative of observing his fast-paced surroundings. “We came here to play the game” Jones recites and it sounds like he’s been dropped into a video game on the “Manhattan Level”. The track is all spoken word which is most suitable for the subject matter. It would certainly make for a good music video.
‘Intersection’ floats along with a reflective mix of spoken and sung vocals. It’s no surprise the lyrics mention train stations as the song’ implies a feeling of being on a train, in both its rhythm and of observing life as it passes by.
‘The Now Crowd (Slow Exposure)’ is a fitting tribute to Visage’s Steve Strange and his legacy. It has an almost a slow-motion sense of feeling to it that helps it to convey the sentiment of the lyrics: “we are the now crowd, loud and in time, dancing endlessly, deep in desire”. It’s obvious Jones and Sky want to continue Strange’s legacy, in the present and into the future.
‘Fake’ starts with a subtle arpeggiation and Jones’ spoken word, decrying the falsity of religion: “You make us fake/your mantra’s money”. It makes heavy use of toms to add to the intimidatory poke at the mundaneness of life from organized religion to money and fame.
Overall, Polaroids gives you the authentic feeling of a cold and grey London in the early 80s with its fashion, taxi headlights reflecting on rainy nighttime streets sweeping by New Romantics en route to the next night club. The songs have a sense of space using minimal instrumentation, omitting what isn’t needed for a more concise sound. The EP emulates the sound of a musical point in time without being cheesy or ironic. Some parts remind me of the darker moments of Yazoo’s album Upstairs at Eric’s (albeit less shiner) and early Ultravox and OMD, or more precisely, that particular point in time.
Polaroids is not what you would call a straight-up “synthwave” album. The synthpop scene has been around for a very long time and while it shares some common ground with synthwave, the two scenes don’t always merge. Fans of synthwave aren’t invariably attracted by synth pop’s sometimes androgynous and sparse sound or its lyrically darker subject matter. At the same time, the two genres are becoming more compatible, with stylish synthpop now influencing a number of synthwave artists, especially when it comes to vocals. The embracing of styles makes for interesting results. With Steven Jones and Logan Sky we see the result of two artists that have a direct connection to one of the originators of synth pop creating new music and extending it out, not merely recreating it.
I had the opportunity to ask Logan Sky a few questions about Polaroids:
ABW: This is your second EP with vocalist Steven Jones. Do you consider yourselves a duo for these projects, as you both release music individually.
LS: We met through our mutual friend, Steve Strange, who suggested we work together on a new mix for his track ‘Burning Desire’. At the time I was really blown away with Steven’s ‘Strange Magic’ track, with its mesmeric melody and seductive video. So I remixed it. Steven and Donna Destri were so impressed that they re-cut the video to suit. We started working together immediately and ‘Falcon of the Dunes’ became our first collaboration that was put out on the [Jones & Destri’s] Strange Magic EP last year.
We were devastated when Steve Strange died in February, but we somehow found positivity to finish our Desire Lines EP and to perform at his funeral. This has formed a bond between us and we now work pro-actively and are always there for each other. We will perform live for the first time as a duo on January 23rd 2016 in Warrington [UK], supporting Heaven 17. We’ll probably put out another cassette EP and then hope to team up with a label that can put out a vinyl and then an album.
ABW: You use a lot of analog synths in your production. Was that the case here and do you think using hardware gives you more of a distinctive or authentic sound?
LS: There’s a distinct difference between, say, the VST Korg Polysix and the real thing which is a lot grittier, but only mono. I’m lucky to have found some great outboard chorus and stereo delays that transform this mono signal into something quite beautiful, with less clarity than VSTs but with more character and the hardware ‘noise’ really does add an atmosphere, a kind of ‘breathing presence’. VSTs may be lush, with fantastic stereo width but they feel too shiny and inherently too ‘plastic’ and dead to me.
Most tracks feature a [Roland] Juno-106 arpeggiation and it also is used for soft pad sounds. I prefer using one of my vintage string machines, such as the Siel Cruise or Crumar Trilogy for harsher string sounds. The title track Polaroids was put together by Steven using loops, many of which I then converted using the Juno-106 and the Yamaha CS20, to add the character we were after.
For further ‘authenticity’ we’ve chosen to release on cassette, which, along with vinyl, would have been the way that music was consumed in the early 80s. I’ve noticed that a few of my favourite synthwave artists, such as Right Knider and OGRE actually sound slightly better on cassette. The levels are more consistent, with less harsh high end, which gives a more rounded listening experience.
ABW: Your music fits the early ‘80s electropop/synthpop mould. Is that a conscious decision? Obviously having played in Steve Strange’s Visage those influences would be right at home.
LS: The sounds that fueled my youth: Japan, Human League, Visage, Ultravox, Depeche Mode and OMD were always on my Hi-Fi and when I started making music and playing in a band we had more of a Duran / A-ha sound with real guitar and drums. Ever since there’s always been a strong spirit of all these electronic pioneers within my sounds because they reside in my soul. I also liked Adam & The Ants and early next year I’ll be receiving some coaching from the drummer, Dave Barbe, so hopefully you’ll see some developments in my beats in 2016!
ABW: Darker, European contemporary vocal synthpop has been popular for sometime. How do you think it fits with newer genres such as synthwave which often focus on instrumental music and American influences. How do you think the genres mix and are you seeing this happening?
LS: The vocals of dark European pop tend to focus on alienation, lost love and the evils of mass media and capitalism. The vocals are generally male and there are often as many women listening to these bands as men. Synthwave, however draws on late 70s horror and 80s low budget straight-to-VHS American movies which, musically and artistically, draws in a predominantly male audience. It’s not all dark though, and vocal synthwave has also resulted in some truly glorious and uplifting music, for example Duett’s 'Borderline' or Sferro’s collaborations.
I think that we are genre-mixing on Polaroids. We have the Polysix basslines of synthwave, haunting synth and string pads, but there is an atmosphere of, say, London or New York in the sounds and the vocals move effortlessly between darkness and positivity. Each track is a mindful meditation on modernity, anchored more within the real world than a fictitious synthwave space.
ABW: I understand you are in the process of a full-length album. Is that project a collaboration with Steven or will it be solo project?
LS: I had planned to finish my solo album, but really wasn’t in the right place emotionally. Instead I have found great comfort in my collaborations including finishing off the last ever VISAGE album. I have also worked with Japanese singer, RIS, to produce a fantastic track called ‘Everything, Endlessly, Everywhere’ and with Robert Pereno (ex SHOCK) on three tracks that we performed in an art gallery in Greenwich and in Soho. Steven Jones & I have some plans for a development in our sound and this is where we will focus our energies into 2016 – the solo album will have to wait!
ABW: If you had the chance to play in another 80s band, who would it be and why?
LS: VISAGE are one of my top 5 bands of all time, so I’m truly honoured for the last 5 years for all of those special memories with Steve Barnacle, Robin Simon (ex-Ultravox), Lauren DuVal and Steve Strange. We travelled all over England and around Sweden, Germany, Slovakia finishing the tour with a performance with the 45 piece Prague Synthosymphonic orchestra! The outdoor performance was on the side of a mountain, minus seven centigrade with snow falling around the stage! Steve and Lauren were only wearing John Galliano evening wear and Lauren’s feet were exposed through her six inch heels. At the end of the performance there were pyrotechnics and fireworks, but Lauren was crying with frostbite that she had to be carried off stage and I think some hunk also lifted Steve over the slush to the taxi!
Then in March 2014, we jetted off to Japan for two sell-out performances in Tokyo! The response from the fans was phenomenal and we made some good friends along the way. Because of these unique memories, I can’t really picture myself in another 80s band, but I’d relish the chance to produce a few tracks for Duran Duran to return the favour.. since Nick Rhodes produced the band I was in, back in 2002!
Steven Jones & Logan Sky's Polaroids comes very highly recommended from Synthetix.FM and you can find it on Chop Chop Records Bandcamp page here, where it is also available on limited edition cassette.