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Retro-Futuristic music is a way of life - An interview with CIRCUIT3

29 August 2022

Having emerged on the Irish music scene in, a lot has already been said and written about Dublin synthpop / synthwave artist CIRCUIT3. Die-hard fans of OMD, Pet Shop Boys, Thomas Dolby, New Order and Vangelis find themselves deeply familiar with this music, but the lyrical content and themes explored are somewhat ‘out there in the sense that the subject matter explores the universe, cosmic truths, high tech issues – this is futuristic in nature while being rooted in the musical underpinnings of the early 1980s. Peter Fitzpatrick aka CIRCUIT3 took some time out to speak about his new album Technology For The Youth.

If ever there was a sound that deserved the label retro-futuristic, this is it. Can you tell me a bit about your influences and inspirations?

I used to respond to the ‘influences question’ with a lazy two-word answer – Vince Clarke. As I’ve had to reflect a little more as a result of the promotional activity for and reviews of the new album, I understand myself a little more. I’d add non-electronic artists like XTC and The Beatles alongside obvious electronic artists such as Human League, Martyn Ware, Heaven 17, Thomas Dolby, Ultravox and perhaps less obvious modern artists like Hannah Peel, Xeno & Oaklander and Neil Arthur who releases as Blancmange, Fader and Near Future.

The common thread with those artists is songwriting, thoughtful arrangements, and innovative approaches to production. Stop for a moment and wonder what Yazoo and Erasure might have sounded like had Vince never bought a synth. The songs would still be there, and the classic pop arrangements too. Without a song, it’s rather self-indulgent and boring, don’t you think?

I’m inspired by whatever is going on around me and what my current obsession might be. During the writing of this new album, I kept stumbling across TV programs and written retrospectives about the space race. I trust my subconscious to bubble up these words and atmospheres. It hasn’t let me down yet.

I believe your next album will be out with AnalogueTrash, how did that come about and what are you looking forward to most about working with them? How did you work out the strategy for your lead singles and album (and tell us about both)?

Yes, I’m so pleased to be working with the AnalogueTrash team. Having released my first 2 albums on my own imprint, I knew it was time to partner with a label if I wanted to reach a larger audience. There were very few labels I was interested in working with, and fortunately, when Adrian (A&R at AnalogueTrash) heard the album he agreed with me that we should work together.

My interest in AnalogueTrash was as much around their demonstrated ability to get the music to an audience as their values and politics. I had met Adrian at a show I played in London back in 2016, where he was running video projections, and we got on great. I’m a fan of the artists on AnalogueTrash, and we share common political beliefs and values across topics such as diversity, inclusion, and sustainability and are pretty left-leaning I guess. In fact, I’m just back from a quick visit to Yorkshire, England, to meet Adrian and Mark from the label, and we had a great time.

Now that the album plans are locked, and we’re approaching (at the time we’re doing this interview) those first 2 singles, I’m looking forward to having lots of fun. If this isn’t enjoyable, what’s the point? I know the team (Adrian and Mark) have the experience and passion to get the releases heard and distributed. We’re going to look at live shows, which is great because this album really works well live alongside my video content. I adore performing these songs live.

The album Technology For The Youth brings together some of the hidden stories of the space race. We know all about the first man on the moon and the first man to orbit the earth. Many do not know about Ed Dwight, how he should have been the first Black African American in space and what was done to him. There are also the fantastical conspiracy theories of the Lost Cosmonauts and the juxtaposition of celebrating 50 years since the moon landings while a political shift to the right gave a platform to denial of science at a time when we needed science more than ever.

The decision on which songs to choose as singles was entirely mine, which was daunting, really. I’d have been happy for someone else to pick them, if I’m honest. I figured the first single should be pure synthpop and not leave behind my fan base while at the same time using earworms to bring in new listeners and fans. “Future Radio” is quite radio-friendly, and on headphones, I think it’s a cracking pop song, but it isn’t entirely representative of the album at 136 beats per minute the album would be exhausting! The second single “Overview Effect” reflects more of the space vibe – you can almost see the stars in between the sparse synths and the vocals. By the time the album is released mid-July the tracks we’re sharing will give everyone a sense of what they should expect: classic electronic pop songs with a human heart joined together by short instrumental pieces each sounding like the lost soundtrack to a space mission with a constant retro-futuristic feel.

You also secured the talents of Ricardo Autobahn (AKA John Matthews best known as Cuban Boys’ mastermind and one-half of Spray). What is the best aspect of bringing such musical visionaries in to reimagine your music? Are there any other artists involved who we should know about for your upcoming single and album?

No sooner was the ink dry on the deal with the label when I emailed John to ask if he’d do a remix of the first single (“Future Radio”). Anyone who has heard Spray and has heard the single will agree: that’s a perfect match.

For the second single (“Overview Effect”), I was very fortunate that Lloyd from The Frixon under his remix alter ego KeX/1 and Matt from Vieon agreed, at short notice, to do remixes, which both turned out so good. The KeX/1 remix sounds like Gary Numan’s recent material – I’m not kidding! I could see him and one of his daughters performing the track in that style.

The Vieon remix sounds like a classic European synthpop duo in a smokey French club in the early 1980s. I’ve done a few remixes myself and understand how it can take hours of procrastination and experimentation before you make headway. I think the biggest benefit of this reimagining of my songs is I can stand to listen to them again after hours of mixing! I get to hear these songs for the first time if you know what I mean.

Both singles feature Italian vocalist Alessia Turcato, who I found online. I heard her work and although it was a risk, I had a suspicion that her voice would complement mine and enhance the tracks she sang on. Coincidentally, both tracks Alessia is featured on are the singles. My suspicion was right: our voices blend so well. In addition, there is another singer Anastasia Badina and a gospel duo David and Tiffany Spencer who do backing vocals on the opening song “50 Years Ago”.

There seems to be a lot happening in both the Dublin music scene and electronic music at the moment, at least from the outside, do you feel like you are in the right place at the right time?

There’s always a lot happening in Dublin, but most of it couldn’t be further from what I’m doing. In Dublin, it’s mostly guitar bands or bands trading on the electronic label, but they’re really a guitar, backing track, and a singer doing an approximation of pop music. Ireland has always had outsiders creating electronic music. We cannot get arrested here yet as soon as we step off the island, we find an audience. It has always been that way for creatives and artists here. The island is too small, and the rules dictate that you must not color outside the lines. Let’s put it this way: it’s easier for me to play shows in London and Seattle than in Dublin. I’ve spoken at length in the past about this, so I’m probably already on the naughty list for saying it out loud: there’s so much beige that gets fawned over, then when a truly innovative artist like Cathal Coughlan passes away we get radio presenters comparing Fontaines DC to Fatima Mansions which is at best laughable and at worse an insult to his memory. We only love our artists when they’re dead.

Between co-producer Sean Barron, remixing by Rodney Cromwell, mastering by Richard Dowling, and co-writer Brian McCloskey, you have managed to gather a rather cool team around you, can you tell me what it is like to work with such luminaries?

I have such great friends and yeah, the team is just brilliant. I trust them. Sean is one of the most undervalued producers here. I suggest checking out his work as iEuropean. He’s responsible for the only decent thing Wolfgang Fleur has released since Kraftwerk (2016’s Activity Of Sound). We’ve just done one track (“Future Radio”) together, and I have been discussing with him how we can get our act together to do more. I’d love that very much. Rodney Cromwell is an awful person, really. All those things I say about loving his music and appreciating the support he has given me are lies. That’s a joke by the way. We share a common political view, and he has as little time for bullshit as I do. I’d like to be as hip as Rodney. He’s got a really identifiable sound. Brian and I have co-written a track on each Circuit3 LP and it always ends up being a single. I only got to know Brian because of his Smash Hits blog Like Punk Never Happened so I’m a bit of a fan and I guessed he’d love synthpop. We’ve already written another EP of songs that aren’t anything like what we’ve done before. Richard is my trusted pair of ears and has become a good mate – we often bump into each other at gigs. When you find a good mastering engineer you hold them close. I’m always happy when someone wants to work with me but as any artist will tell you: collaborations don’t always work out. I’ve tried writing and recording with a number of artists and it doesn’t always work. Not that its’ anyone’s fault. Just goes that way.

Especially given the absence of a live scene for the past few years, many bands have found it challenging to promote themselves and their music, but I see you’re now finally playing some live shows after all those lockdowns. How is that going and how are folks responding to your new music?

Ok I’ll admit it now: as an artist, I didn’t miss the live scene. Electronic artists are somehow ignored in Dublin so not a lot changed for me. The last show I played before the pandemic was in Seattle, and the one before that in London. What did change though, was I had the opportunity to realize my dream to broadcast around the world. I set up multiple video cameras in my studio and began doing livestream shows which was fun, terrifying and satisfying all in equal measures. Some shows had a few hundred viewers and the online chat for each was great in keeping people connected. I didn’t realise just how much people were enjoying the shows until I took a break. All that said: I started playing actual live shows again this year and thoroughly enjoyed showing off the new songs on a stage in London. I’m going to keep both types of audience engagement going: online and in-person.

Having performed most of these new songs live, they’ve been road-tested to use an old music business term. That’s something that I haven’t experienced before: releasing an album of songs where the fans have already heard some of them. Those who have heard previews have commented that Technology For The Youth is a really ambitious step up from my previous albums

I am currently working with Shauna McLarnon from Shameless Promotion PR, which has been both rewarding and insightful. I love that many, many people all over the world are now hearing about Circuit3 and the new album because my hope is that people will ultimately hear it. Otherwise what’s the point? I wanted to grow my audience and I know nothing about PR. Shauna has worked with a number of artists I admire and absolutely gets what I’m trying to do. She’s my trusted advisor in that respect.

There is an obvious fascination with technology running through the music, has that always been there, or is it just a useful subject for such music?

Technology has empowered me and others. I wasn’t fortunate to grow up in a home where music was understood or affordable. My earliest attempts to learn an instrument relied on cheap or borrowed instruments. Even if we’d been able to buy a piano, where would we have put it and who was going to pay for lessons? I’m an average guitar player on a good day so without technology, I cannot make this music. Music aside, I’ve always adored consumer technology. I’m somewhat of an early adopter of some things like electric vehicles, handheld computers, and mobile/cell phones.

The album title Technology For The Youth is borrowed from a Soviet magazine of the same name which appealed to me when I spotted it in a book of Soviet art . I’d have loved that magazine as a child who read science fiction like 2000AD and watched TV such as Blakes 7, UFO, Star Trek. That’s what attracted me to electronic music in the late 1970s – it was the sound of the future. It still is.

Finally, where next for Circuit3?

So many things I want to do and so few hours to do them in. I’m planning a livestream concert later this summer when I’ll play the album in full online. Of course everyone will have a front row VIP seat and you’re all invited to the after-show party.

The actual album release is keeping me busy with interviews. Soon as I get back from my holiday, I’ll be working on the next release to follow this album and preparing for live gigs. There’s one track I’ll be doing with a friend and legendary electronic music pioneer.

I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to play another show in Seattle early in 2023. Later in 2022, there will be live shows in the UK and a big hometown electronic show here in Dublin too. I’ve enjoyed making the instrumental tracks on this album so I’m interested in exploring that a little more. Can we slow down time a little so that I can get cracking on all of that?

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