❉ The Dublin-based trio takes you to the dancefloor with synthpop legend Vince Clarke.
Regular readers of We Are Cult who share our passion for electronica and synthpop will be familiar with Tiny Magnetic Pets, the Dublin-based synth band who first appeared on this site when our resident synth queen Ange Chan talked with the band about their 2017 album Deluxe/Debris, and more recently when Ange previewed their current album The Blue Wave.
For those not in the know, Tiny Magnetic Pets consist of Paula Gilmer on vocals and synthesiser, Sean Quinn on synthesisers, vocals and guitar and Eugene Somers on drums. This musically agile trio has a dancefloor-friendly sound that bears traces of synthpop pioneers such as Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, OMD and Pet Shop Boys, the harder-edged sounds of bands like DAF, Front 242 and Die Krupps, and contemporaries such as Chvrches, Fisherspooner and Goldfrapp. All this filtered through the band’s “pure pop” sensibility (think Erasure meets Saint Etienne and you’re halfway there) that takes that amalgam of influences to create a sound that’s familiar yet fresh and forward-looking, complete with twenty-first century lyrical concerns that reflect modern life.
Cited by Chris Payne (Gary Numan sideman and co-writer of Visage’s Fade To Grey) as “one to watch” and praised by legendary DJ and founding member of Visage Rusty Egan for their “their simple melodic synthpop songs”, Tiny Magnetic Pets have made a name for themselves on the scene, collaborating with Wolfgang Flur of Kraftwerk, supporting NEU! founder member Michael Rother, performing alongside The Human League and Killing Joke at Belgium’s W Festival and touring extensively with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Midge Ure, as well as headlining two of their own successful tours of the UK in 2018 and 2019.
Exciting plans for 2020 to continue their touring success story and ride the wave of their growing live audience were halted by the global lockdowns in response to the pandemic, but the band kept working in their own studios, emerging ‘virtually’ in January 2021 with The Blue Wave, a collection of songs that Ange Chan declared as “‘the Pets’ most personal and reflective album”, drawing on their widest range of influences yet, with Ange detecting echoes of Roxy Music, Kate Bush and Blondie and describing the album as “full of surprises”.
The Blue Wave is also their most multi-faceted album, as Ange highlighted the ‘night and day’ change of mood between the albums’ A- and B-sides, contrasting the first side’s “themes of lockdown monotony, empty city streets, uncertainty and fear” with side two as “a love letter to Düsseldorf where the life-affirming exuberance of Krautrock kept the band’s collective nose above the surface during these difficult times.”
One of the stand-out tracks of The Blue Wave is Automation, a hard-hitting track inviting favourable comparisons with Trent Reznor and Gary Numan, sweetened by Paula Gilmer’s breathy vocals sitting on top of its mechanical percussive beat and pulsing rhythms, and it’s this track which has been selected as The Blue Wave’s debut single, in the form of an EP boasting three new, exclusive remixes.
From the title and into the lyrics, Automation is electronic pop at its most radical – in the original meaning of the word, “to the roots”. From the earliest days of synthpop and its antecedents, when Ultravox’s John Foxx sang I Want To Be A Machine, a foundational theme of the genre has been that of man vs machine, man becoming machine, man being replaced my machine. Pure pulp sci-fi, but (like all sci-fi) a reflection of our own contemporary concerns as Western society has become increasingly technologically-dependent, and just as technology has evolved with each generation, each successive movement of electropop has ‘upgraded’ accordingly to reflect on this relationship.
In this century, virtually every aspect of our daily life is an integration of the synthetic and the organic, social networks are a minefield of cohesion and division, connection and alienation, and the creation and distribution of services is becoming more and more AI-dominated (There’s an app for that!). Automation neatly alludes to all of these concerns (“10 million followers already”) and synth wizard Vince Clarke (Yazoo, Depeche Mode, Erasure) has been invited by Tiny Magnetic Pets to reinterpret Automation as the lead-off track from this new EP. It is, as the kids say, a bop – refashioning the song into Hi-NRG disco pop full of glittering, winking retro-electro spangles and (unsurprisingly) sonic echoes of Erasure’s most recent work and glimmers of Donna Summer-era Giorgio Moroder. If the Pets’ original album version was clearly fashioned for live shows, Vince’s remix is aimed squarely at the dancefloor.
The shamelessly retro-flavoured Nick Reach Up remix brings the Summer/Moroder accents of Clarke’s remix front and centre, cutting the lyrical content to the bare minimum and adding a four on the floor beat, disco synth string stabs, and a distinctly old-school house/techno vibe. Ain’t nothing guilty about this pleasure.
The penultimate track, Workings Of A Madman’s Northern Tundra remix, takes you off the dancefloor and sits you down into the chillout lounge to slip into something more ambient, while still remaining true to the song’s ethos with Paula’s vocals given an icy, robotic, phased and distorted treatment, cold as Antarctica.
The EP concludes with the original, album version of the track, which will hopefully seduce new listeners into investigating the delights of The Blue Wave. But don’t panic! The machines haven’t taken over yet – Tiny Magnetic Pets demonstrate that while electropop still has a cold, austere image, it’s about the message as much as the medium, and all human life is here.
❉ Tiny Magnetic Pets – ‘Automation’ EP released 21 May 2021 on Vitamin C Records (Cat. No: VITEP 05 /VIT12 05). You can find all their music on Bandcamp: https://tinymagneticpets.bandcamp.com
❉ James Gent is the editor of pop culture webzine We Are Cult, and has previously contributed to volumes such such as 1001 TV Shows You Must Watch Before You Die, Blakes Heaven: Maximum Fan Power, You and 42: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Douglas Adams and Scarred For Life Volume Two: Television in the 1980s. He is the co-editor of Me And The Starman (Cult Ink), available to buy from Amazon, RRP £11.99. UK: https://amzn.to/30ZE8KE | US: bit.ly/starmanUSA ISBN: 9798664990546.
With thanks to Ange Chan and Una Fagan.