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The ultimate discovery electric blue for me

July 23, 2015

I haven’t blogged much recently so am going to make up for it with a lengthy entry recapping how I’ve ended up almost about to release an album with not a guitar in sight.

On holiday I’m typing this poolside in proper pop star fashion 😉

Something happened during the autumn and winter of 2013.  I began listening again to the music that charted my teen years. It was predominantly synthesizer based pop and electronic music. I hadn’t stopped listening but suddenly I was focused again.

In 1982 I heard Yazoo’s “Only You” on pirate radio in Dublin and was hooked. That 3 minutes 10 seconds of pop perfection shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me as I had been listening to Depeche Mode, Human League and OMD the previous year thanks to a school friend who bought the records (my paper round limited my shopping to new guitar strings and only the occasional record or tape). Other synth-based acts such as Landscape, Buggles had caught my ear after Gary Numan kicked the doors in and blazed a path for others.  I loved them all but Yazoo captured my heart and mind. Other synth artists followed (Blancmange, Erasure, Heaven 17 et al.) and that was it I was gone in a stream of electrons, bleeps, beeps and thumps.

On November 7th 2013 I finally saw Gary Numan play live in a small Dublin venue. The guitar heavy show didn’t disappoint though it is still a regret that I haven’t witnessed one of Numan’s pure synth excursions. Two nights later I saw Depeche Mode in a larger venue and my synapses lit up with memories of seeing their Black Celebration tour in Dublin on April 2nd 1986.

The following week I bought a collection of “soft synths” for my recording studio. Soft synths are software representations of old synthesizers which allow musicians access to otherwise expensive and rare synthesizers.  I was lost again in a world of drum machine and Rolands, Moogs, Korgs, Casios, Oberheims, Yamahas.   I started writing synth based songs for the first time in almost 30 years.

On November 21st 2013 Blancmange were due to play a gig in Dublin but for reasons too dull to go into here the gig was moved to the prior night in another venue.  I was gutted as I couldn’t go due to being in Morocco for business. Flying in to Dublin Airport late that night I was spitting feathers about missing the gig.   However all was not lost…

In advance of the gig I had been in contact with a TV production company who were seeking “Dublin synth heads” from back-in-the-day to be interviewed for a documentary being produced about the Blancmange gig. They had never played Dublin and rather cleverly the production team decided to film the re-arranged gig and film some interviews too.

The stars also aligned when the girl who ran the Yazoo information service (Deb Danahay Mann) had arranged to travel with her husband Martin to Dublin for the Blancmange gig. I was delighted to finally meet the person behind all the letters and newsletters back in 1982-83. Although they too missed the re-arranged gig we headed over to the Sugar Club in Dublin where I was to  do my interview for the documentary.

blancmange

Award winning documentary by ditto.tv “You Keep Me Running Round And Round”

The documentary was finally premiered in July 2015 and should hopefully be on TV before year end.

my interview segment

my interview segment

In it I recalled my record hunting exploits and how I found the Mute label and all of the inspirations and influences from the early 1980s. I spoke also about making synth music (but that bit was cut). Interestingly the other interviewees mentioned the same places and similar memories.

peter neil deb

Deb Danahay Mann, Neil Arthur (Blancmange), Peter Fitzpatrick (Circuit3)

It triggered (pardon the pun) a lot of memories for me including those Saturday expeditions into Dublin city record hunting and staring at the shiny synths in the music shop wondering if I’d ever win the pools and buy one. Meeting Neil Arthur after the interview and sharing how their Top Of The Pops appearance with “Living On The Ceiling” was like aliens beaming into my living room made up for missing the rescheduled gig.

The same school friend who introduced me to the Human League, OMD, Fad Gadget asked me to drop over one day in 1981 and muck about with some tape recorders. I played guitar and he had ideas. We wrote songs about our school friends and teachers. The tapes were played to a small clique of people. This was important: belonging to a tribe or a gang remains defining adolescent experience. I fit in for a short while.

Real Estate 1985

Real Estate 1985

In late 1982 he had left school at 16 years of age while I continued on to senior cycle (and eventually university). He bought a used Tascam 4 Track Portastudio and a Moog Rogue monophonic synthesizer. Armed with a previously purchased Casio keyboard and my 6 & 12 string guitars we took on the world with our juvenile attempts at song writing. We called ourselves Real Estate and you can hear a little bit here. I knew how to construct a song but dear oh dear some of the efforts at writing pop classics are , like all juvenilia, difficult listening decades later.

I bought my first synth in early 1985 while working a supermarket night shift to save for university fees. It opened up a world of opportunity to me and we continued our song writing efforts. Like many friendships we drifted apart. I ended up playing synth in various guitar-based groups and gave up on the dream of being Dublin’s answer to Vince Clarke….

Although the 2013 Blancmange gig was, for me, a washout I spotted a Kraftwerk tribute show “The Robots” was playing in Dublin the following night so I dragged Deb and Martin along. That night I saw the support act Polydroid for the first time. Meeting the crowd, chatting with them and hearing this music I realised that the electronic synth scene I wanted was already here right under my nose.

Without a specific purpose in mind I kept writing and sketching songs that used familiar sounds. The recurring themes of surviving in a dystopian future, a city at night, danger in shadows and of course the human condition are a rich seam to mine.

11073913_826405927425403_4088805073507213893_o

logo design by Alison O’Leary Fitzpatrick

More song sketches were done. Some even made it to completion and ready to share with anyone who would listen. A name was needed. An identity. Something that echo’d the synth world and was in some way unique. If I was to share this music it couldn’t be under my real name. In fact the less “me” the better.  An online chat with my sometime songwriting partner Dan Prendiville led to riffing around with some words and Circuit3 was born.

Creating these songs was more fun than I had had in a studio for a long time. I wasn’t comparing myself to any other writer or musician and found it easy to decide on the sounds I wanted. The freedom to edit at will and experiment with sounds that were “authentic” meant I could turn up the volume and enjoy what I had made.

Sometime in May or June 2014 I shared some work-in-progress on SoundCloud and the feedback was more than I had ever hoped for. Friends began sharing the songs on social media and complete strangers commented on, shared the songs and “followed” me on SoundCloud.

I was aware of an upcoming gig which was the latest in a series of “Night Of The Machines” events featuring live electronic music. I had planned to go but out of the blue someone suggested I should make a pitch to play. It wasn’t part of the plan (because there was no plan) but I threw in my song demos.  Since I was doing everything under the “Circuit3” name the show organizer didn’t know it was ‘me’ which is what I had hoped.  I was asked if I could put together a set and lo-and-behold I was finally playing a live synthpop gig. I , uh I mean Circuit3 played three songs that night and the feedback and encouragement was uplifting. I cannot overstate the value of encouragement by friends, strangers and new-friends. When you’re going over a track for the millionth time and asking yourself if anyone even wants to hear this shit… it helps to hear that yes there is an audience out there.

Night Of The Machines IV.   Promo flyer by 1129 Design

Night Of The Machines IV. Promo flyer by 1129 Design

Circuit3 live at Night of the Machines IV.  July 10th 2014

Circuit3 live at Night of the Machines IV. July 10th 2014

At subsequent electronic club nights I was introduced to some folk as “this is the fella Circuit3” which usually led to very ego-expanding compliments on what I had been posting on SoundCloud.

At the root of it all has to be a song. Traditional verses choruses and middle 8 sections. However with such a huge daresay infinite palette of sounds available I quickly  came to the conclusion that I needed to apply limits or I would drown in a sea of possibility.  One of the reasons Clarke’s songs in Yazoo are described as genius in their simplicity is because they had to be simple: the hardware available at the time meant he had to make every note count.  Circuit3 has limited himself to a subset of synths and drum machines that would have been available to the teenage Circuit3.   I also learned to refer to myself in the third person… the joke never gets old. Ask Circuit3 … he’s still laughing.

So what’s next?

I’ve almost completed an album. It will be titled siliconchipsuperstar and will be a vinyl release. A lead track “New Man” has been shared on Spotify and iTunes. Three videos are now being edited following a one-hour guerrilla video shoot at the Draiocht Theatre in Dublin. Yesterday I listened to the tracks recorded thus far and will be remixing a couple before writing one more song for the album.

siliconchipsuperstar will not be available on streaming websites or digital music stores such as iTunes. There are a couple of reasons for taking this position: firstly I want the album experience to be as it used to be when you open up the package and there is a 12-inch size cover to look at and you have to book time with yourself to take out the disc and play it. Digital releases have no tangible ‘value’ once bought and feel like candyfloss when what you really want is a full meal. I discussed the vinyl vs digital release strategy with Heaven17 and Human League founder Martyn Ware who is taking a similar approach with upcoming and recent Heaven17 releases. CLANG!!! yes that was the sound of a name being dropped. It was a 10 minute chat but I’m going to use it 🙂

There will be a CD or download supplied with the vinyl album. So for people with no record player they will of course be able to listen and can put the album cover in a frame if they so wish.

There is no return for me as a recording artist if I put the entire album up on streaming sites. I believe fans of this type of music will buy the releases. They’re usually more clued in to the realities of  releasing music as a physical product. This is not completely about the money though I would like to see some of the not inconsiderable costs recovered and maybe even a little profit to put into the next release. We live in an age where an artist can retain ownership of their work, release it on physical media and retain control over distribution.  I like that.

You might well ask why then is that song “New Man” up there on Spotify. Well streaming sites have their uses and in order to get featured on blogs and reviews you need to have a presence in the shop window. I’ll put some individual songs up on Spotify but not entire albums.

So what or who does Circuit3 sound like?

I find that question really difficult to answer. I know what my influences are but that doesn’t mean I sound like those artists.  Vocally I have been compared to Midge Ure at times. I’m willing to go along with that 🙂  The songs borrow from the same pop structures we are familiar with from many artists.   I’d like to think the sound of Circuit3 fits in with Depeche Mode (Black Celebration/Some Great Reward era), Ultravox (Vienna album) and a hint of John Foxx.  I guess I had better come up with something a bit more precise before the album is released. There’s nothing more infuriating for publications to get a press release proclaiming the next Yazoo when they sound nothing like Vince & Alf.

I played some tracks to a friend and successful, respected songwriter a few days ago. He said he could hear that I was passionate about the sound and it came across in the vocal. He said the sounds were the real thing and I was capturing the feeling I had hoped to achieve.   So I guess that means, for now, Circuit3 sounds like me.

Watch this space… there are plans afoot….11169727_839843126081683_8483014393221779379_o

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