❉ Ange Chan meets the synthwave duo and checks out debut album ‘Enough Fears’.
It’s rare that a band comes along who makes you sit up and take notice, but Scenius are one such phenomena. Comprised of producer Steve Whitfield (The Cure, The Mission, Jane Weaver) and singer Fabrice Nau, Scenius release their debut album on MMXX Records on 4 December. Having previously released four singles in 2020 to critical acclaim, they have experienced extensive radio plays, bring this new talent to a new audience.
The album is entitled Enough Fears and draws on inspiration from synth pioneers such as early Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, Eno, New Order as well as modern contemporaries such as LCD Soundsystem and Boards of Canada. The duo strived to make an album that is based firmly in 2020, reflecting the feel of this very different year for all of us. They are on a mission to perpetuate the art of making electronic music out of the darker elements of synthpop, reflecting the dark element of this year, by using vintage synths and rhythmic drum machines.
The album is an 11-track delivery of a combination of soulful vintage synths, pulsating basslines, pounding electronic beats and catchy vocals wrapped up in dark synthwave and you can hear the influences of those bands who inspire them. The opening track Make it Shiny is an accomplished track which reminiscent of both early and later Depeche Mode, mixing modern sounds with the more classic. It’s a great opening track to this 11-track delight. Progressing onto Some of Your Nights and the mood is slightly different with staccato electro beats and more focus on the vocals, with strong Numan-esque synth intermissions.
Wild and Wooly draws on the influences of darker Depeche and The Cure with contrasting stark vocals laid over the top of the rich basslines and melodies. Less than Dreams is heavy on the analogue synths to great effect, emerging into a multi-layer of rich synthpop melodies, drawing in the New Order influences with great aplomb. Enough Fears is the title track and draws in those influences once more, it then segues into the completely contrasting track Held which is a virtual electronic ocean, with waves upon waves of seascape sounds, which left me feeling calm through its meditative instrumental melody and softly sung vocal intermissions. It’s an ethereal track which reminds me of Falling by Julee Cruise and has the same haunting sensibility about it.
Superposes by contrast yet again is a softly pounding track; think CHVRCHES which this song very much puts me in mind of with its ‘accessible to all’ pop sensibility. Cookie Cutter is another complex song of multi-layered sounds skilfully melded together forming an electronic segment of delightfulness. Line Our Bones is another example in which its influences are apparent; this time it’s very New Order-eque with its strong vocals and mellifluous bassline. Stark Relief returns to the synth capability of the band with softly sung lyrics over those captivating multi-layered synth sounds. The album ends with the more upbeat track Darkest Lines which ends somewhat abruptly without warning. Is this a metaphor of ‘To be continued’ perhaps…? Or an abrupt punctuation reflecting the transient nature of all things? Either way it is an interesting way to close an album.
We Are Cult caught up with the band to ask them about the album and some questions about their modus operandii.
How did the band come together?
Steve: I’d recorded Fabrice’s band The Drift many years ago and we got on really well and stayed in touch. Last year Fabrice came over to England and popped in to see me. I showed him my studio and when he got back home, he sent an email asking if I still wrote music with my vintage analogue synths and would I be interested to try and write with him.
Fabrice: A few weeks later I received a first bunch of tracks that I thought were really inspiring. I instantly felt it was a really cool position I was finding myself in, one I had never been in actually, where I’m basically just a fan of the music I receive and hear, and all I have to do is to enhance its soul and catchiness with vocals. Once we had done the first song there was a burst of creativity and within a few months we realised that we had enough songs to think of an album.
Who are your influences, both classic and modern artists?
Steve: When I first got into music I was into punk/post-punk and Kraftwerk, so noisy guitar and synths bands have both been a massive influence on me. I would say early classic electronic bands like Kraftwerk, early Human League, John Foxx’s Ultravox as well as guitar bands like Joy Division and The Cure. I really like what LCD Soundsystem and Boards Of Canada have done; they both did their own thing.
I have to mention Bowie and The Beatles as well, both could write classic songs while including such experimentation. I find that too many new electronic acts are too into the ‘Four on floor’ kick drum thing for me, and end up sounding like watered down dance music (which I did love in the ‘90s, especially Orbital).
Fabrice: I also got into music mainly through post-punk bands – which we usually rather call New-wave or Cold-wave in France. And although there’s lots of other stuff I like, these are definitely core influences in Scenius, cause they’re the ones Steve and I share. I mean, there’s some of my favourite records ever, like say The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, that are probably not much of an influence in Scenius.
Who do you consider to be your peers?
Steve: Since we’re a new band I’m not sure. I’ve tried to stay away from listening to a lot of new electronic bands so I don’t get influenced by any of them. We trying to stay true to our own vision of what we wanted Scenius to be.
Fabrice: Anyone who’s patiently crafting singular music with their own means in small rooms and then do their best to have the outside world listen to it.
What has occupied you during lockdown?
Fabrice: Scenius has been a very lockdown compatible band from the start cause we were already creating our songs without being in the same room anyway, thanks to constant emailing, file sharing and occasional video-calls. But I’d say lockdown has left us with more time to promote our music, as hanging around at night wasn’t an option anymore.
Steve: Releasing the four singles through this last spring and summer and finishing off the album.
And what are your plans for the future, after lockdown?
Steve: After the album is out the first thing to do is finish getting the live set ready. I’ve already started and have done a practise gig by myself at a rehearsal room to check out to see if it worked. I’d say we’re 95% of the way there to being ready to play live.
Fabrice: It’s a really exciting prospect to be able to be together at last and see how our songs work live. We’ve also already got quite a few new songs well on the way, so we’ll also be working on the second album.
Which synths do you use to achieve your music?
Steve: We made a conscious decision as we started writing to keep the instruments as analogue as possible and not to use any factory pre-set sounds. Which was made easier as my old synths don’t have any! So, most of the album has been made with my collection of old synths, a Moog Source, Korg MS20, Roland SH09 and my secret weapon a rare ARP Solus. Most of the drums have come from old analogue machines like the Roland 808 or have been made on my synths. We have used some virtual synths but not very often, and even then they’ve usually been put through the analogue synths.
Can you tell me what has been your proudest moment with the band to date?
Steve: Releasing the first single Glass Rain and getting such a positive response from the press, radio and most of all the people who got into the band. It’s very humbling when you get an amazing message of support from someone you don’t know from the other side of the world.
Fabrice: Same for me. This is definitely one of the good sides of today’s music business that you don’t need a powerful label for your music to reach people on the other side of the globe. It does take time though. As of now I’m afraid we’ve already spent more time on promoting our music than on creating it. Which is probably one of the not-so-good sides of it all!
I’d like to know which you prefer; live performances or studio work?
Fabrice: I’d say studio these days cause there’s so many great tools that are at your hands allowing you to really fiddle with sounds in a way that was impossible before – except if you could afford regular access to one of these big studios filled with expensive equipment.
Steve: Both! I find it impossible to pick one over the other. I love the attention to minute detail in the studio, I have spent my professional life working in studios for other bands, but I love the ‘living in the moment’ of gigs and interaction with a live audience.
Can you say where your largest fan base is in the world?
Steve: Probably at the moment it would be in the UK but we have fans scattered around the globe. If we could get them all together in one city it would be a hell of a gig!
Thanks guys. It’s been great talking to you and I wish you well with the album. I really like it and hope it takes you to the places you want to go. I’m looking forward to hearing more from Scenius and will look out for future releases.
Steve and Fabrice: Thanks Ange!
❉ SCENIUS: ‘Enough Fears’ (MMXX Records) is available from 4 December 2020. Full album on Soundcloud
❉ Ange Chan is a freelance writer, having produced two novels and six volumes of poetry. She was also prolific contributor in the anthology collection Me and the Starman (now available by Cult Ink on Amazon) and is a lifelong lover of music, having first been published in the 1980s music press. As well as being a frequent contributor to the pop culture website We Are Cult, she is also working on a long-standing project, her third novel Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots, which she wonders will ever get finished.