Category Archives: Blog

Edinburgh Science Fiction Book Group – 10 Year Anniversary

The Edinburgh Science Fiction Book Group first met 10 years ago this month. Started by Joe Gordon (who now writes the blog for Forbidden Planet but at the time was a bookseller at Waterstone’s), the group’s remit is this:

We take it in turns to select books to discuss, with regulars getting a month each to pick out a book. The criteria is pretty flexible – we take in traditional SF, modern and classic, horror, fantasy, graphic novels and slipstream/speculative fiction works which may not be considered SF&F by many but do contain some SF elements. The main aspect really required in a choice is that it contains elements that will generate some discussion.

I joined in 2006 for the discussion of Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe Of Heaven. My first pick was a couple of months later, when I chose Under The Skin by Michel Faber. Since then, the dozen or so of us have read and discussed over 100 books, including:

  • Old-school classics by Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Aldous Huxley, H.G. Wells, John Wyndham;
  • Golden age classics by Alfred Bester, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Roger Zelazny, Philip K Dick, Olaf Stapledon;
  • Fantasy and New Weird by China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Gene Wolfe, Jeff VanderMeer, Diana Wynne Jones, George RR Martin, Lauren Beukes;
  • Hard SF by Greg Egan, Alastair Reynolds, Iain M Banks, Vernor Vinge, Kim Stanley Robinson, Hannu Rajaniemi, Greg Bear;
  • Contemporary SF by William Gibson, Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow, Ken MacLeod, Chris Beckett, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Tony Ballantyne, Hugh Howey, Tim Maughan, Paolo Bacigalupi;
  • Literary SF by Haruki Murakami, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Michael Chabon, Kazuo Ishiguro, Cormac McCarthy, Nick Harkaway;

For the 10th anniversary we had a little party and a survey to vote for our all-time favourite book group book and to highlight any particularly memorable books or book discussions.


Once all the votes were counted, the top three favourites were revealed to be the following:

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

This one (or four) book probably prompted the most chat, especially when we discussed “Books You Loved That Everyone Seemed to Hate.” Obviously there was a lot of love for this, although I must confess it wasn’t for me.

In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield

I was especially pleased to see this one ranking so highly, as it was one of my own choices. I did worry that it would be a little bit far from the “robots & spaceships” choices I was known for, but as Kay said at the party:

There can’t be many SF groups that would enthusiastically contemplate a book about royal French mermaids. But we did, and most of us enjoyed it too! 

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

This fantastic and fantastical novel topped our poll, and it was one of the very few books I’ve given a 5-out-of-5 rating on Goodreads. Its post-war take on English folklore and legend wonderfully captured our imaginations


The Edinburgh Science Fiction Book Group meet at 7pm on the last Tuesday of every month at Henderson’s, where we find a table (and I find a glass of wine) then spend an hour or so discussing the month’s book pick.

Feel free to drop me a line if you fancy coming along, or check out our new blog!

My Ten Favorite Albums of the 1980s

Bus to France, 1984. Human League T-Shirt on my chest, French girl on my lap…

The 1980s is the most important decade for me, musically speaking. It’s when I was a teenager so – as I’m sure is true for you too – music from my teens will always have an extra special resonance to me. Unlike my best of the 1970s list, pretty much all of the albums below I heard at the time of release.

So many great albums dropped in the 1980s, but there’s only room for a dozen or so of them here. So sorry to exclude some other favourites of mine from the 1980s: albums from synthpop and new wave acts like Soft Cell, Gary Numan, Duran Duran, Japan, Ultravox, OMD, Eurythmics, Erasure, Joy Division, New Order. I was also very into the indie scene, listening to lots of music from The Cure, The Smiths, The Soup Dragons, Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie, Shop Assistants… by the end of the decade I was into acid house, new beat, the Madchester thing and dub reggae.

I really tried to keep the following picks down to just ten albums, but in the end I just couldn’t limit myself that much. So here are my ten(ish) favourite albums of the 1980s!


The Alan Parsons Project – Eye in the Sky (1982)

I hardly ever saw my uncle Roger, but his contribution to my “musical awakening” was immeasurable. As a young teenager I went to stay with my grandparents in Kent for a short holiday, and as I arrived my uncle Roger was just packing up to leave for a new life in West Africa. Although a would-be writer he’d found himself working in casinos and as an impressionable young boy and James Bond fan this seemed to me like the most glamourous job anyone could ever have. I stood in silent admiration as he packed his things, and watched as he threw a few cassettes from a huge pile into a bag. “You can keep any of these if you like, I don’t have room for them all,” he said. I looked at the biggest collection of music I’d ever seen and was ecstatic: what an incredible gift! I spent the rest of the holiday going through them all, hearing for the first time albums from bands I’d never heard of like Ultravox, Visage, Shakatak, The Human League and The Alan Parsons Project.

From the opening recursion of Sirius through to the brilliant title track and the military drumming at the end of Children Of The Moon, Eye in the Sky is an immersive sequenced experience like nothing I’d ever heard before. There is one lame track on here (the AOR of You’re Gonna Get Your Fingers Burned) but the rest of this album is so good I can excuse that one blip. Closing song Old And Wise is one of the most emotional and touching songs I’ve ever heard. It always kinda chokes me up, even back then as a wide-eyed young lad with a future ahead of him I knew this song had to be there for the final curtain.


Human League – Travelogue (1980)

I can’t remember exactly when I first heard Travelogue – it was after I’d heard Dare and Love and Dancing though. Actually yes: It was while waiting for Hysteria to come out that I delved back into the League’s past only to discover they’d effectively been a completely different band. I didn’t know what to make of it at first: there were no girls, no glamour, no pop. But the sci-fi themes of The Black Hit of Space lured me in, the inexorability of Life Kills kept me going, and Dreams of Leaving instantly became (and remains) one of my all-time favourite Human League songs.



Human League – Dare (1981) / Love and Dancing (1982)

My love for the music of The Human League started with Love and Dancing and three decades later I’m still dancing. It was Love and Dancing by the League Unlimited Orchestra (aka Martin Rushent and The Human League) that changed the way I saw music. Listening to it with my new Walkman, this League remix album completely blew me away. Of course I’d heard Dare, but (I’m slightly ashamed to say now) it hadn’t really excited me much. Perhaps this was because I was getting obsessed with Kraftwerk and still mistrusted any vocals that weren’t obviously made by robots. But Love and Dancing was something else: it was different, it was completely different because it was the same songs I knew already – but re-produced to make them into something better. It brought the synthesizers out to the foreground and highlighted all those wonderfully sequenced nuances and previously hidden synths. From the drum machine break half-way through Hard Times to the all echo effects in Don’t You Want Me – a song that was now over 7 minutes long! I loved the stereo positioning effects added near the end of Love Action: it gave me goose-bumps every time. I must have played that section to everyone I knew at least a hundred times. I soon discovered that much of Love and Dancing had already been released on 12 inch singles. Up until then I’d only bought LPs, as I considered singles poor value for (pocket) money. I could get the same songs on an LP and a twelve inch just looked like a single but in a bigger (and more expensive) cover so what was the point? But Love and Dancing showed me that a song could be changed into something quite different: it could have long instrumental bits where you can hear the synthesizers and drum machines, it could have weird sci-fi special effects, it could be extended!


Yazoo – Upstairs at Eric’s (1982)

Whenever someone says to me that electronic music is “just pushing buttons” and has no soul, I usually play them some Yazoo to set them straight. I got into Yazoo just as You and Me Both came out and loved every single track I heard (even Happy People!) But as the years have rolled by, I’ve found that I listen to Upstairs at Eric’s a lot more. With Yazoo, Alison Moyet’s vocals provide the perfect humanity to Vince Clarke’s synthetics, and this could not be clearer than on the 2008 remaster of this album. Many times now I’ve come home from a long day at work, poured myself some cognac, dimmed the lights and cranked this album up on the stereo. I close the curtains then dance about badly, singing along poorly (this is one of the few albums where I know all the lyrics). I’ll skip I Before E of course, then turn up the volume even more for my two favourites: Midnight and In My Room.

I saw Vince and Alf live for their reunion tour in 2008. As they came on to the stage, the electro-queen sitting next to me leapt up and shouted “Oh Alf you’re divine! We love you!” I couldn’t have agreed more.


Heaven 17 – The Luxury Gap (1983)

I wrote a story in high school that began “I was thirty-seven, she was seventeen” then went on to (poorly) detail a break-up between my two protagonists. In typical melodramatic and over-the-top style, I ended the story with the twist that she’d left him to date the man’s son (whom I’d failed to mention at any point leading up this “revelation”) and with the father walking off to the bathroom to commit suicide as a result (I think the last line was something like “He knew where there was a large bottle of Paracetamol.”) My English teacher somehow loved my story and decided to read it out for the whole class to hear, much to my growing horror. I was petrified that someone would shout out “You copied that from Heaven 17!” but fortunately I was new to this school and the kids there didn’t really know me. Although not compulsory, they all wore school uniform. I’d walked in a few weeks earlier wearing baggy blue trousers, a Walkman and a Howard Jones T-shirt. These kids wouldn’t know Heaven 17 from Level 42, they all seemed to be stuck on bands like Dio and AC/DC and had missed the electronic revolution completely.

I love all Heaven 17’s albums up to Pleasure One, but The Luxury Gap is probably the most consistent. It’s certainly the one that raised the band from “copy from a friend” to “buy on day of release including all the 12” singles.” Heaven 17 are touring this album this year so I’m really looking forward to hearing it all live for the first time.


Propaganda – A Secret Wish (1985)

That summer in 1984 was an amazing time for music. The Human League had just released Hysteria – an album I played on a daily basis all through the summer – and Frankie Goes to Hollywood were ruling the charts and minds of teens like me. I became obsessed with everything ZTT and was soon hooked on Propaganda. My love of all things electronic and German was at its height, so it was inevitable that I’d fall in love the Germanic voice of Miss Claudia Brücken. For nearly 30 years A Secret Wish has remained one of my all-time favourite albums. It takes time to reveal its secrets: this is a record that rewards repeat plays as intricate detail is teased out. Maybe it’s the Dr. Mabuse references but there’s definitely something hypnotic and slightly disturbing about this album. For several years I was convinced there were parallels with the sci-fi series Babylon 5, but perhaps that was just the dream within the dream…

I met Claudia recently at a Heaven 17 after-party. I usually make a point of not meeting my heroes, but in this instance I just had to make an exception. Completely star-struck, all I could manage was “I think you’re wonderful, thank you for making such amazing music!” to which she kindly thanked me back. My wish fulfilled.


Associates – Perhaps (1985)

My student days in Edinburgh were typical for any student back then: full of sex and drugs and C86 indie music. By the start of 1989 I was half-way through my degree course, trying to study but frequently distracted by the debauched delights the city had to offer. I had a gay landlord who’d treat me to nice meals and access to his record collection, but that was an unrequited love. He had a friend who I came to idolize, a singer and musician who introduced me to some amazing music. His own hero then was Billy MacKenzie, the local lad who’d made himself a star with the band The Associates. The Perhaps album had come out a couple of years earlier but I’d missed it at the time (too much The Smiths and New Order). I soon learned that Human League alumni Martyn Ware and Martin Rushent were involved in the making of Perhaps, and it wasn’t long before this became my most-played album for months. These days it’s Sulk that’s gets all the acclaim, but for me Perhaps will always be the better album and worth every penny Warners paid for it. Billy’s voice is absolutely incredible here, and songs like Breakfast still have the emotional punch now as they did back then. I bought the cassette version which I still have, as it has instrumental and extended versions that still haven’t been released on CD or MP3.

That summer I went home to stay with my parents in Ayr for the holidays. My mum was working for astrologer Lynne Ewart, who also had a show on local radio station West Sound. Always one to try to share my musical discoveries, I persuaded Lynne to play my latest favourite record. I lent her my 10” vinyl copy of The Associate’s Take Me To The Girl and asked her to play the opening track. She duly played the song live on air, but unfortunately at 33 RPM instead of 45! She probably still correctly thinks Billy MacKenzie had a unique voice, but alas for all the wrong reasons.


Depeche Mode – Black Celebration (1986)

My best friend at school was a kid called Fergus. Despite initially having similar tastes, by the time we started 2nd year in high school Ferg had gotten heavily into metal and rock music (especially Status Quo and Rainbow). I hated that stuff but had been mining his siblings for music whenever I went round to his house. From Ferg’s sisters I got copies of Duran Duran albums and from his older brother I got OMD and Depeche Mode. Depeche I really took to, they seemed to have a synthpop drive but a goth heart and this perfectly suited my blossoming teenage angst. Also my parents were horrified by Martin Gore on TOTP so that was a bonus. Most kids thought Ferg’s big brother was a bit of a square, but with such cool music tastes I always secretly admired him. Ferg said “he was always a little darker than me” and I think that came through in their relative music tastes too.

I lost touch with Fergus after high school and hadn’t seen him in decades. I finally tracked him down via his YouTube channel, just a few months before he was tragically killed in a motorbike accident. We exchanged a bunch of long emails, reminiscing about school days and all the good times we’d had together, exchanging old photos and having a laugh at our 80s hair and clothes. It was clear that I’d been going New Romantic and he was all blue jeans and demin. “It was just a matter of time before I became an outlaw,” he said. It turned out that we’d both been living in the same city in France in the early 1990s. Ferg said he’d heard I was there, so he kept an eye open for “a chap with a New Romantic hairstyle, blondey highlights and baggy trousers with elasticated bottoms.” We were both at the same Oasis gig and didn’t realize it. I’m so glad we finally had a chance to chat again one last time. It’s good to celebrate the past sometimes, as I guess the future must always be black eventually.


This Mortal Coil – Filigree & Shadow (1986)

My first weeks in higher education were accompanied by a soundtrack of This Mortal Coil. I’d been following 4AD releases for a year or two and just had to buy this on the back of Song to the Siren and my love of Colourbox and The Cocteau Twins. Something about Filigree & Shadow affected me deeply, it caressed my goth heart and stirred feelings of melancholy that had no business being in any teenage head. The echo and reverb all spoke of something lost and fading, but it seemed that somebody had to try hard to remember it all and I thought I was up for the job. Many nights I would slip in and out of dreams with this album still playing on my headphones. I was enthralled by Tarantula; chilled to the bone by Come Here My Love. Filigree & Shadow was an indie-pop opera where the performers were all ghosts of long-dead angels. It remains an incredibly powerful double-album, but I’m far less reckless these days so always take the necessary precautions before I put it on.


Yello – One Second (1987)

Yello had always been there in the background throughout my 1980s, but it wasn’t until the early 90s that I really got into them seriously. The albums One Second, Flag, and Baby have become my triple-Yello-delight, and it’s probably no coincidence that my favourite singer Billy MacKenzie sung on all of them. That’s not to denigrate the genius of Herr Blank and Meier: their masterful touch and wonderful sense of humour is what makes Yello one of the best electronic acts of all time. Their fusion of a South American style with a synthpop rhythm is pure class: there’s nobody else quite like Yello. One Second is my most-played Yello album, and it always puts me in mind of a certain older woman. We’d put the album on and pour ourselves some red wine, then she’d  dance about the room, showing off her Salsa skills and teasing me with her feather boa… We had lot of fun together and Yello was the perfect soundtrack.



The The – Mind Bomb (1989)

My mind was pretty much bombed throughout 1989 as I struggled to cope with the stress of sitting exams for my degree, my parent’s divorce, and increasing alienation from my long-term girlfriend. This album from The The arrived at the perfect time for me and became my most-played piece of vinyl for that year and a good few years afterwards too. I was already a fan of The The (I had both Soul Mining and Infected on cassette) but Mind Bomb was an altogether different beast. Dave Palmer’s drums were much more to the fore and the album was a lot less electronic-y than previously. But the songs and the lyrics and album art and production are all so magnificent that I became completely absorbed in this album. Johnny Marr and Sinéad O’Connor add some celebrity glamour to the proceedings, but this is Matt Johnson’s album and I think it’s the best thing he’s ever done.


Nitzer Ebb – Belief (1989)

I’d had an earlier brush with DAF but nothing could have prepared me for Nitzer Ebb live at The Venue in Edinburgh, February 1989. I saw many bands at The Venue (I think the last one was Coldplay back in March 2000) but of all the hundreds of gigs I’ve been to, that show from Nitzer Ebb was the most epic. I hadn’t even heard of them before and so had no idea what to expect: a friend (the one who gave me The Associates) said come along to a gig, he had tickets and thought I’d like it. We arrived and through the smoke I saw two drummers, all sweat and muscle, take their positions standing either side and just batter the fuck out of their drum kits. The music was electronic but this was no synthpop: it had an edge and menace new to me and I was completely captivated. The audience were totally losing it, we all joined in the chant even though I hadn’t heard any of the songs before – it was just that kind of show. I bought Belief the next day and played it every night for weeks. I heard tiny echoes of Depeche Mode but other than that this was an alien sound. So much of it didn’t seem to fit, synth lines that shouldn’t have worked but they just did. For many of my synthpop friends this was a step too far, but me – I totally loved it. This album led me on to discover Front 242, Front Line Assembly, Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM and a whole heap of other electro-industrial bands I got into in the 1990s. And Flood – the producer of Belief – went on to work on what’s probably my favourite album of the 1990s. But more of that soon…


My Ten Favorite Albums of the 1970s

Me and my sister, 1978

I was born in 1968 – the year the Beatles released the White Album and White Noise recorded An Electric Storm. On the day of my birth, Mary Hopkin topped the UK charts with Those Were The Days.

My first record was a Magic Roundabout album (which melted a few days later because I’d left it in the car window one hot summers day. I could still listen to it on my little record player, but it was even more surreal as the voices were all slow-fast-slow and sounded particularly demonic). My first pop single was a second-hand copy of A Hard Day’s Night, given to me by an older kid called Alan who lived next door. I used to go round to his house and we’d listen to Beatles albums then turn out the lights and put on the Jaws soundtrack. I loved the Beatles so much that I spent all my spare pocket money buying their early albums and begged the grown ups for copies of Beatles records I didn’t have (thanks Mrs. C for The White Album! Thanks Auntie T for Sgt. Pepper!) In my first year at high school I got an A+ in music for my project on The Beatles, where I pasted in photocopies of pictures from my Beatles books and wrote such useful anecdotes as “George Harrison hated shaving” and “Paul McCartney used to be my favorite Beatle but now I like George.

In the UK, popular music of the 1970s included prog rock, heavy metal, glam rock, punk. In the second half of the decade electronic pop music finally arrived. In my household I heard a lot of Rock & Roll, Country & Western and soundtrack music (usually from some Clint Eastwood movie or another). From about 1977 onwards I started listening to my own music: so here for my indulgence (and hopefully your enjoyment) are my Top 10 favorite albums from the 1970s!


ABBA – ABBA: The Album (1977)

I used to live in a Scottish town called Penicuik, previously known for its paper mills but when I was there that had all long gone. It had a small cinema that showed Saturday matinees, and it’s there that I saw ABBA: The Movie. I went back the next week to see it again. And again. I completely fell in love with the music, Agnetha Fältskog and lycra catsuits. I bought ABBA: The Album on cassette and played it to death. I’d lay on the living room floor near the stereo, position a speaker either side of me, put this album on then close my eyes and just float away to the beauty and brilliance it contained. Opening song Eagle was frequently my favourite, but Take a Chance on Me, The Name of the Game, and especially Thank You for the Music were and still are some of my favourite songs of all time.



Jeff Wayne – Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds (1978)

The closing theatrics of ABBA: The Album perhaps prepared me for another album I played to death when I was a little boy. Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds totally blew me away, I think I fell off my chair when I first heard The Eve Of The War and those opening strings kicked in. My Mum would say things like “Oh, that’s David Esssex” and tell me how much she loved Richard Burton who’d been in her favorite film (Cleopatra). But I hadn’t really heard of any of the stars on this album: for me it was simply an awesome sci-fi musical that sent Martian chills up and down my young spine. I’d sit and pore over the fabulous illustrations inside the gatefold sleeve for hours, something you sadly can’t do in these streaming days.


Sky — Sky (1979)

Herbie Flowers played on The War of the Worlds album and he was on bass (and tuba) duties when I saw Sky at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh in 1982. It was a local kid with a speech impediment who got me into Sky: I think his parents were classical music fans and Sky were a kind of gateway band for him to please his folks while indulging in a little bit of light rock. This was my first “proper” concert and the music and setting had quite a lasting impression on me. I’m still not a massive fan of classical music, but I do have some favourite composers and pieces and many of them I can trace back to this band. Hearing Sky really opened my ears up to the range of possible music and for that I’ll always be grateful to young Donald.



Jean Michel Jarre – Oxygène (1976) / Équinoxe (1978)

My introduction to electronic music was probably courtesy of a 7″ copy of Radiophonic Workshop’s Doctor Who (the theme From The BBC TV Series) in 1980. I was particularly impressed by the B-side, an instrumental called The Astronaut by Peter Howell. Then one day, I was sitting in the family room listening to my Beatles records when my mum came home with a new double LP. One look at the cover and I was intrigued: what in Earth is that? The record was Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygène/Équinoxe and it was to change my life. I’d never heard anything like it before; it left me awed, amazed, and above all breathless. Where did those sounds come from? Those beautiful, eerie, alien noises that ebbed and flowed and didn’t even have a singer on it! I think I played that record all evening until I was sent to bed. I got up early the next day and raced downstairs: yep, still there, I hadn’t dreamt it. Both these albums are as amazing and listenable now as they were back then.


David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)

I first heard Bowie in the early 1980s, thanks to my friend Stuart (who also introduced me to Kraftwerk). He had the Hunky Dory album which we would listen to in his parent’s lounge while eating our supper of bacon rolls and mugs of tea. I didn’t have supper at my house and I didn’t have any David Bowie records either. That soon changed of course, and out of all his albums I still find Ziggy Stardust to be an absolute masterpiece. Every single song is superb: from the apocalyptic sci-fi opener Five Years to the cosmic hopefulness of Starman, the balls-to-the-wall rock of Hang On To Yourself and the final, majestic Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide. Wonderful.



Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express (1977) / The Man Machine (1978)

My most-listened to cassette for many months when I was a young teenager was a C90 copy that had Trans-Europe Express on one side and The Man Machine on the other. Following Jarre, Kraftwerk were my second great electronic love. I was there at the dawn of the personal computer age, living in the future in 1981, staying late at school to program their sole Commodore PET and listening to Kraftwerk on my Walkman on the bus home. I don’t really have many good memories of my school days but this is definitely one of them. These two albums are completely timeless and still sound as good today as they did back then. I always heard them together so for me they are one long, glorious electrified journey.



Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977)

It wasn’t until the mid 1980s that I discovered punk, and that was through comedy punk band The Toy Dolls. I then worked backwards from Pete Shelley to the Buzzcocks and eventually got to listen to this, the definitive punk album. Extract the surrounding palaver and what remains is a fantastic record, full of kicking tunes and smart, wry lyrics that I expect many listeners at the time completely missed the point of. It’s perhaps a cliché to say it now but this album IS full of energy and spittle; a product of its time but still, alas, remarkably relevant today.




The Clash – London Calling (1979)

In another musical reversal that was typical of my youth, I only got into The Clash through Big Audio Dynamite. I’d heard White Riot b/w 1977 before so was a bit surprised to find how “non-punky” London Calling was. At the time I’d also started listening to a lot of dub reggae so felt right at home with London Calling’s fusion of styles. I never got to see The Clash play live, but I got to hear all about it. A couple of years after I graduated I got a job as a junior technical writer with computer company Digital Equipment. My boss was Judy Parsons, an incredibly energetic, slightly lanky but seriously intelligent woman who it turned out had been the drummer in 80s girl-band The Belle Stars. I was in awe of her tales (and, I think, of Judy in general: absolutely the coolest person I’ve ever worked for). The Belle Stars had supported The Clash on tour one time and so Judy had some amazing on-the-road stories of The Clash and sex and drugs and rock and roll. Actually come to think of it, there apparently wasn’t much sex but certainly a lot of the other!


Pink Floyd – The Wall (1979)

I remember liking Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 when it came out, but it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that I heard the full album for the first time. I’d borrowed the album from a friend and promptly left it on the bus on the way home – oops! So I bought him a replacement copy and of course gave it a listen first. I’d expected some kind of heavy rock album (I used to confuse Pink Floyd with Led Zeppelin) so was quite surprised at how nuanced and gentle it was. Then I put it on a few more times and started to listen to the lyrics properly, and this was when the whole concept of it all finally clicked.



Human League – Reproduction (1979)

This is minimal cold wave synthpop with a dystopian science fiction setting. Light years away from Don’t You Want Me, Reproduction is essentially a goth-punk album with synthesizers instead of guitars. And I think it’s a masterpiece. My cassette copy of this was dangerously stretched by the time I bought it on CD, I loved this album so much. From its tick-tock metronomic fade-in to its cacophonous ending, Reproduction is packed with incredible, spooky, powerful songs and is an often overlooked classic in the electronic pop world.

To be continued


My Favorites of 2011

Here’s an end-of-year list of my favorite movies, TV shows, books and games from 2011. I’ve added links to Spotify where soundtracks are available. Happy New Year!


My Favorite Movies of 2011


My Favorite TV Shows of 2011


My Favorite Books of 2011

  • The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
  • Sea of Ghosts by Alan Campbell
  • Finch by Jeff VanderMeer
  • The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • A Snowball in Hell by Christopher Brookmyre
  • The Technician by Neal Asher
  • Kraken by China Miéville


My Favorite Games of 2011


My Music: The First 15,607 Days

My first record player looked a bit like this

We both heard the same beat in the beginning, but where did you go from there? Perhaps you discovered one or two favorite styles then settled back to explore similar bands. Some of my friends have stayed  hovering around one genre since the day I met them, never venturing out to try something different or perhaps checking out a track or two but then scurrying back to the familiarity of the soundtrack of their youth.

I’m a bit like that too of course. I started early with the genre called synthpop and have come full circle again all these years later. But along the way I’ve listened to and enjoyed a good selection of musical styles; a decent range I hope, so that I’m able to say “eclectic” and mean it and be able to find some common ground with other music fans, no matter what they’re in to.

So here’s my personal timeline of tastewith Spotify links! – showing the main genres I’ve been into through the years and the main bands that kick-started the interest.


Baby Steps (mid to late 1970s)

ABBA: My first pop crush


Primary Numbers (early 1980s)

HUMAN LEAGUE: My favorite band


Higher Schooling (mid 1980s)

JOY DIVISION: I started with New Order then worked backwards


Student Sensations (mid to late 1980s)


Wheels of Industry (early 1990s)


Lessons From An Older Lover (early to mid 1990s)


The Euro Beat (mid to late 1990s)

DIVINE COMEDY: I met Neil Hannon in a supermarket in Dublin


The Current State (early 2000s)

THE KNIFE: A return to Sweden...


Note that in this list of My Music, the groups that got me hooked on a particular style are not necessarily the best or most known in their genre, but they’re the ones that opened up the musical box for me and remain closest to my heart.

Welcome to the Pansentient League

Welcome to the Pansentient League – a blog about Spotify! Thanks for stopping by: we hope you enjoy the site. Here you’ll find Spotify features, news and reviews, interviews, hints and tips… everything you need to help you get the most out of Spotify.


I’m Jer and I’ve been blogging about Spotify since early 2009. It all started with my Spotify-Powered CD Collection – I’d taken some photos of my CDs and made a webpage where you could click on a CD to open and play the album in Spotify. A bit geeky I know, but the idea sorta went viral so I decided to carry on learning and writing about Spotify. I’ve not looked back since!


The Spotify Community

The Spotify community has grown tremendously since those early days. There are now nearly 200 Spotify Resources including websites, blogs, apps, tools and other neat services. New ones pop up every week, so there’s always something to write about here. Last year we ran The Spotties: the first ever Spotify Community Site Awards. That was great fun and really showed off the diversity and talent of people who’d become hooked on Spotify.


WARNING: May Contain Synthpop

Although I listen to a huge range of bands, my favorite type of music is synthpop. Remember The Human League? Depeche Mode? La Roux? That kind of thing. As Vince out of The Mighty Boosh said: “Everything before The Human League was just tuning up.” So as well as all the Spotify features you’ll also find some reviews, features and interviews about synthpop and electro music here at the Pansentient League. The synth scene has become pretty big these last couple of years, and there’s so much of it on Spotify that I can’t resist covering it here too. My apologies if you’re Strictly Guitars 😉


Spotify Ltd.

There have been some big changes at Spotify recently, what with the new listening restrictions for free users, the introduction of an MP3 download store, and the launch in America.

I don’t work for Spotify but I’ve gotten to know some of the guys there over the years. What strikes me most is their passion for the music and dedication to making Spotify even better. Just wait till you see what’s coming next!


Thank You For The Music

Please have a look around this site (the More on Spotify Page might be a good place to start). I’d love to hear what you think about the blog and about Spotify: feel free to email me or tweet me with any questions, comments or requests. You can subscribe to Pansentient League email or RSS updates and of course we also have a Facebook page.

Finally, respect to all the amazingly talented artists who’ve given us such wonderful music and who let us enjoy it on Spotify. My life and probably yours too would be a lot duller without them. So in the words of Sweden’s other greatest export: Thank You For The Music.


Jer White, Edinburgh Scotland, July 2011.

New Blog Design: Pansentient League v4.0

This blog has grown quite a bit over the past couple of years, so I decided it was finally time to make a few changes and refresh the design. Pansentient League v4.0 is now skinned with a new WordPress theme called Freshlife from Theme Junkie. I liked the clean, fresh look of this theme and there are a heap of new under-the-hood features to hopefully make the blog more engaging and easier to navigate.

Here’s a quick tour of what’s new and what’s where:

  • At the top you’ll still find the popular NEW ON SPOTIFY and SPOTIFY RESOURCES pages. The MORE ON SPOTIFY page has had an update (if you’re new to Spotify, this is a great place to start!) and there’s now a dedicated page for my own SPOTIFY PLAYLISTS.
  • In the right-hand column of every page you’ll find buttons to jump to Pansentient League pages on Quora (the question-and-answer site where I sometimes contribute to Spotify questions), Twitter, Facebook and an email subscription service.
  • The right-hand column also features a new tabbed area with quick-links to the site’s most popular pages (Popular = posts with the most comments, Hot = most-viewed posts) and below that you’ll find the Spotify News Twitter stream (collecting tweets from the 20 best Spotify tweeters) and a Facebook widget.
  • Every post now uses the DISQUS comment system (thanks to everyone who helped me test it out!)
  • At the bottom you’ll find a wee bio and mugshot of Yours Truly, my recent tweets, and a peek into what books and music I’ve been enjoying recently.
  • Finally, bottom-right is a special area reserved for Friends of the League: a blogroll of websites run by friends and people whose dedication and passion I particularly admire.

I hope you like the changes – please let us know if you find any bugs, glitches, or have any suggestions!


A Few Site Stats

In the past four months this website has received:

  • Nearly 90,000 page views
  • Over 33,000 unique visitors, with an average time-on-site at just under two minutes
  • Visits increase of 30% compared to the same period last year
  • 41% of traffic came from Search Engines; 30% from Referring Sites
  • Nearly 44,000 visits came from 128 countries

Compared to the same period last year, traffic from the Netherlands is up 750% and from the USA by 84%


Thanks for visiting The Pansentient League!


New Blog Comment System

This blog’s comment system has been taking a bit of a hammering of late, so I’ve installed DISQUS to hopefully make things a bit easier. The comments are now at the end of each post rather than down the side, giving them much more room and improving the readability of some of the excellent longer comments posted recently (Tom Aspinall’s comment here is a stream-of-conciousness classic!).

If you have a spare moment, please add a quick comment to this post to help me test it all out e.g. just say hello or let us know what you’ve been listening to recently. Thanks!

All New Interactive “New On Spotify” Page

We are pleased to announce a completely new New On Spotify page, hosted here on The Pansentient League! The New On Spotify page lists new-release albums and singles added to Spotify over the last 7 days, all contained in an easy-to-search database. To use, select your country then search for a genre or artist, or simply browse using the Next Page button. Give it a go, or read on for more details.

Continue reading

Spotify On The Web

The Pansentient League’s Spotify Resources Page now lists all known Spotify-related websites, apps, tools and plug-ins: that’s 165 resources and counting! The list is now fully searchable and sortable: enter a search term for an instant update (for example, enter “spanish” to list all sites in Spanish, or “playlist” to list all playlist sharing sites). Click a heading to sort by date, category etc. or click the arrows at the bottom to cycle through the pages. Remember to let us know if you have any additions or updates!

We’ve also added a new More On Spotify page that lists our Top 10 Recommended Spotify Sites and includes some quick links to some of the most popular pages on

Finally, the site’s had a bit of a clean-up with new styling and tweaked layout ahead of some big changes coming this way soon: watch this space!

Continue reading