Wakefield’s premier synth band Berlyn Trilogy are best described as a modern synthpop band with a classic edge. Since forming in 2012, this up and coming act have gigged extensively, supporting 80s icons like Blancmange and Toyah and continue to go from strength to strength. We caught up with synth player and founding member James to find out more about Berlyn Trilogy’s past, present and future.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves. What’s the story behind Berlyn Trilogy and how would you describe your sound?
It was spring 2012 in Wakefield, and like many artistic ideas, the seeds were sewn in a backstreet pub. The 3 original members, myself (James), Faye & Dorian knew of each other from other bands we were involved with, and discovered that we had similar tastes in synthpop music, and a desire to attempt to make our own music in the style we all loved. The bands we were involved with at the time weren’t really going anywhere, so we decided to begin a synth-based trio. Wakefield was dominated by indie guitar bands, so we were excited at the prospect of bringing something different to the city. Unlike many artistic ideas, this one didn’t die with the hangover! Some early song ideas and demos were shared via email, and we decided to try a live practice session a few months later. Amazingly it seemed to work, which inspired us to get cracking. We played live as much as we could over the next 2 years whilst simultaneously self-producing a debut ep and eventually getting Steve Whitfield on board to produce our debut Album, A Perfect Stranger, released in March 2014.
Over the 2 years we built up a loyal local following and somehow attracted fans from Russia, Poland and Germany. We enjoyed some great gigs, including support slots for Blancmange, Toyah and Tenek at the last Bedsitland in London. In summer 2014, our main singer/songwriter Dorian left the band, and we had a brief hiatus while Faye and I decided what to do. We were too proud of the work we’d put in to let things slide; neither of us could sing and we were inexperienced at writing from scratch, so we resolved to find a new member who could help us move forward. I thought of my old friend Simon; I knew he had a voice that would suit, and that he was highly knowledgeable in sound and recording technology, and thankfully he jumped at the chance. He quickly bought himself a synthesiser, and learned all the vocals and required synth parts to our current material really well, which allowed us to play live again. We re-recorded 2 songs with Simon that we had had originally recorded with Dorian just before he left, Wreckage of Love & Tokyo Rooftops and released last year. We have recently been refining our live set-up and have acquired the hardware & software needed to start recording new material, which we have begun to get our teeth into writing.
I would say our sound is song-based electronic music, with echoes of classic synthpop and darkwave, big melodies and chords layers of swirling atmospheric synths, a touch of industrial clatter and dance-y beats, propelled along by bass guitar and strict drum machines.
What motivates you and inspires your music, aesthetic and vibe?
We love playing live, so are highly motivated to make music that works in that environment; the opportunity to see people enjoying what we do, and taking on feedback, both good and bad, is priceless. We have played a lot of gigs where the venue and crowd are unfamiliar with our style of music; it is great motivation to change people’s initially cynical opinion, and attempt to prove that synth music can enjoyed by a wider audience, as well as our ‘scene’ fans. Of course, to get recognition from fellow musicians in the and bands in our genre who we admire is equally motivating and fulfilling!
In terms of our main musical/aesthetic inspiration, all 3 of us are huge fans of the classic ‘Synth Britannia’ and New Romantic era; staples such as The Human League, DM, Ultravox & Numan are there, but we also each bring our own individual vibes the party too; Faye loves Duran Duran & Japan, with heroes John Taylor and Mick Karn inspiring her basslines. Ladytron have been massively inspirational for me, and I also have a love of ebm and more industrial/darkwave sounds. Must also mention Nick Rhodes and Alan Wilder; they have god-like status. Simon is bringing a new influence to the mix, as he is inspired by more modern beat driven sounds from the trance and house, and an appreciation of 90’s dance music. The new material should be interesting! 🙂
For band aesthetic, we try to keep it clean and smart; we feel it is important to put some effort in to how we look on stage when we perform. We generally attempt to play on the aloof, cool synth player vibe! Yes, we like to wear black. With the occasional bit of red. Faye and I have been known to embrace the hairspray and eyeliner. Simon is yet to be persuaded…
How you do write your songs – what’s the process, – organic or do you have a structured approach?
We are just beginning to find our feet with writing material with the new line-up, and at the moment it is very much a collaborative/team approach. We sit round Simon’s dining room table and put together a chord structure and discuss where we want the song to go in terms of theme, style and tempo. We then build the layers when we get together once a week in the practice room. We find the opportunity to bounce ideas off each other useful.
It does mean that the process is taking a bit longer than I hoped, but it also means we can all take ownership and pride in the results. I’m confident things will start to flow once we complete our first track together. The fact that we finally have a DAW and hardware capable of running it is also going to help! Right from the very beginning of BT, we assigned roles like a ‘regular’ rock band would; Faye takes care of all things bass, I concentrate more on drums/rhythm/arps and Simon (previously Dorian) would lead on melody and lead lines, with a bit of crossover if anyone comes up with a good idea outside of their duties. Lyrically, both Simon and myself are putting together ideas separate to the music, which we then adapt to fit the structure of the song.
From seeing you live in the past I know you’re a very hardware-centric live band. Tell us about your live set up.
This is very true. We dream (nightmare) of wires. It originated more from necessity really, than any design we had. We were quite naïve and inexperienced with regards to software when we started out, so we kept away from it. We basically hooked up every synth we owned to a drum machine. It was great fun, and we just replicated this live. In our early gigs, we were taking 2 synths each, a pair of drum/rhythm machines, bass and guitar. We had nothing in way of backing track. Setting up and stripping down was pretty hellish, and the cause of many frayed nerves. We have since streamlined things a little. In our current set-up; Faye has a Moog Little Phatty, a trusty Microkorg and her beloved Rickenbacker bass, Simon has a Roland XV3080 and takes care of the effects unit, and I am using a Novation KS4 and look after our Zoom R24 which runs our drum tracks, backing synths and sends out midi time-code. We have had backing vocals from Charlotte at some recent gigs, who also featured on our last release. We sub-mix everything on stage now, so we now just give the sound person a single stereo out. We have the set-up process down to a fine art now, so any promoters out there, no need to be scared of booking us!
Yorkshire seems to be a hub for cool electronic music at the moment with some great bands coming out the woodwork. Who are your ‘ones to watch’ from your local area?
Us Yorkshire lads and lasses are very well served when we want to catch some live electronic music; the range of events and enthusiasm of the promoters is terrific. We have the best electronic festival in the country, Infest, on our doorstep (my place of birth no-less!), we’ve had Resistanz, Doncaster Electronic Foundation put on some great nights, including giving UK debuts to bands such as Night Club and Sexy Suicide, there’s a very promising new night ‘Frequency’ in Sheffield, Carpe Noctum in Leeds regularly features electronic acts on the darker side, Projekt Nemesis and Bunker 13, both Leeds-based, provide fun industrial nights, and we’ve had a recent Beat:Cancer event in Leeds. Of course, it’s a quick 40 mins on the Transpennine Express to catch some AnalogueTrash events too!
In terms of bands, we have been the sole purveyors of synthpop in Wakefield for a while. Certainly West Yorkshire is not awash with electronic bands, unless there is a scene that has escaped me! Eqavox from Huddersfield is making some really cool chip-tune-esque stuff; he played with us a few years back and went down really well. I love the sound of Leeds-based Hands of Industry, with their DM inspired gloomy synths. And it’s always work catching a Zeitgeist Zero gig; a great live show infused with goth rock elements. If there are any upcoming West Yorkshire-based artists out there, please get in touch, we are interested in hosting some events of our own in the near future!
The South Yorkshire/Sheffield scene seems to be a bit more fruitful for upcoming artists. I caught a great new talent called Voi Vang at a DEF night in Doncaster the other week. I think she is a star of the future; amazing vocals and stage presence for someone so young.
Finally, what does the future hold for Berlyn Trilogy? Any news you can share with us?
Some long awaited new material! We are busy giving birth to new babies, one of which is nearing completion. We plan to get back in Steve Whitfield’s studio in the coming months to sprinkle some magic and hopefully release a single or perhaps a 3 or 4 track EP, before the end of the year. We have to thank our fans for their patience; it’s been a difficult road recently, but we are sure it has been worth it. We have been focused more on this than gigging recently, but we are keen to get back out there. We are super pleased to be playing at the Goth City Festival main event at Wharf Chambers in November, where you will get to hear some of the new material.
Photo by Drop D Photography.