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The way Goose see it, there’s no point repeating yourself. They’d already done the noisy dance-music-with-rock-attitude thing on their 2006 debut, Bring It On. Upon its release, the barking synths, shouty vocals and red-line energy levels chimed with the Justice/Ed Banger scene. In Benelux - that’s Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg - it established them as a major name. In the wake of Bring It On they released a string of killer remixes, including I Know Kung Fu by Shitdisco and She’s My Man by Scissor Sisters. At the same time a series of incendiary gigs established them as a serious live proposition. In 2008, they headlined the dance tent at the Pukkelpop festival, a slot occupied by Pendulum this year. “It was really special to feel so welcome,” says frontman Mickael Karkousse talking about the latter. “The energy level a big crowd can give you is mindblowing. It feels like you could go on and on without sleeping. I can imagine it becomes an addiction.”
But not so addictive that Goose were prepared to do it all over again on Synrise. “Making the first album we wanted to get out of our hometown, travel, see the world and party for most of the week,” says guitarist Dave Martijn. “That’s what Bring It On reflects: an uptempo, happy, hands-in-the-air experience. The thing is, everyone is doing that now. I think people expected us to make an even harder record this time round, but we tried a few songs like that and it just didn’t do anything for us.” Karkousse adds: “It was like buying the same car, but a better one. And we wanted to try something different.” Very different, it turns out.
On Synrise the band look to '70s space disco such as Automat and '80s movie soundtracks, names such as Philip Glass, Giorgio Moroder and Vangelis. The end result is more than the sum of these parts: it’s an album of dance tunes with pop song structures. It opens with the title track, Synrise, a jet streaming soundscape of Moroder-like synth arpeggios that build and build to a guest appearance from Peaches, who hums the hook. The gravelly vocals and menacing digital bass on Words could be easily be a vintage Chemical Brothers track, while the spiralling atmospheres on In Cars combine that trance influence with some Klaxons-style vocals. Meanwhile, lead single Can’t Stop Me Now starts with a snarling riff, then silvery strings slide in and the track lifts off into effortlessly cool but unmistakably pop territory. It’s hugely varied, epic stuff, clubby, yet poppy, starting bright and ending dark. The cherry on top is the artwork, which is designed by Storm Thorgerson, the man responsible for Pink Floyd’s iconic Dark Side Of The Moon cover.
The band — Mickael Karkousse (vocals/synth), Dave Martijn (guitar/synth), Tom Coghe (bass/synth) and Bert Libeert (drums) — started working on Synrise in early 2009. It was recorded in the oldest studio in Belgium, Jet Studios in Brussels. Artists who’ve worked there previously include The Rolling Stones and Edith Piaf. One of the main attractions was a room designed to function as a natural echo chamber. “This time we really wanted to record as much as we could live,” says Karkousse. “That’s why we needed a big live room with a good sound. Live drums, live synths. We did it all really old school.” The pair are keen to emphasise that nothing has been cut’n’pasted from one part of a song to another, as is standard practice on dance tracks these days. Martijn explains why: “When an old analogue synth is building up a sound, if you cut into that, it sounds really unnatural. Everything in dance music these days is so cut up with Ableton, with effects on everything and loads of plug-ins. We wanted to get away from all that.”
Doing it the old fashioned way was all about being honest. “I don’t think fans care how an album is made,” says Karkousse. “But it was about being honest with ourselves. It was a challenge to ourselves to record the album as live as possible. Like how Depeche Mode would have done it on Speak & Spell.” To keep themselves on the straight and narrow they listened to a cassette of Depeche Mode’s 1981 debut in the car on the way to the studio. Although the retro approach was difficult, it proved fruitful. “It was definitely harder doing it this way, but it took us to a higher level, both in terms of understanding our instruments and making music in general,” says Martijn. Karkousse adds: “Sometimes it’s hard to be honest. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing.” But sometimes you just have to be truthful with yourself or there’s no point.
As it happens, early ’90s trance is enjoying a renaissance among UK DJs such as Joe & Will Ask, but that’s not where Goose were coming from on a track such as In Cars. Bring It On was all about fun, which is why it was written predominantly in major keys. This time they wanted to make an album with more emotional depth, hence in was written entirely in minor keys, as most trance is. “The reason we did that was because minor keys have a lot of feeling,” explains Karkousse. “But the album isn’t written in a sad minor, it’s a minor with hope. There’s a little party minor in it that gives it that trance feel.”
Meanwhile, the soundtrack vibe was an echo from the band’s youth. “When I was growing up, artists like Moroder, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, Goblin or even Philip Glass provided the soundtrack to the life of a six-year-old kid through movie scores,” says Karkousse. “It’s only now that we’ve realized who those artists are. As we discovered more of their work we got more into them. So the next step to us was to take these memories and turn them into an album. That’s why the album opens with Synrise, which was the first track that reflected that direction. It sets the tone of what is to come. In some ways the album is like a soundtrack for a movie that doesn’t exist.”
Asked if they are worried about alienating existing fans with the new direction, Karkousse says no. “With Synrise it is clear that we have made a dance/electronic album,” he says. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean we are to be put in just one scene. We like to see ourselves in our own level and everybody is free to join us. We don’t think people care about scenes that much anymore. Even in primary school I remember being asked: Are you into rock or pop? Back then Guns N’ Roses stood for rock and Michael Jackson was pop. Today I wouldn’t know what rock is anymore. There are so many crossover acts and collaborations between artists that it is hard to think in terms of scenes. If music is like a house with a lot of rooms and behind each door lives a specific genre, each room used to be for one crowd only. But today all the doors are wide open and you are free to walk in and out as you please.”
Having recorded the album live, Goose are looking forward to playing it live too, although this time it will be a different show. “The Bring It On tours were really kicking. It was all about fun. This album is about more than fun,” says Karkousse. “There’s one rule for us and that is to play well,” continues Martijn. “If you don’t have that then there’s no basis for anything else.” Karkousse wraps up the thread. “That’s already something special though. A lot of bands nowadays are a guy on a laptop and a singer and that’s the show. We’re about playing live. This album is the starting point for the next two years.”
The band’s final thought is this: “Synrise feels like a new start to us. We’re proud that we’ve written an album with a specific vision that’s coherent. It has one story and works as a whole. Writing an album is the hardest thing because of all the possible options and directions. Sometimes you want to leave it all behind and go into an other direction, but you can’t do it, because you have made a commitment. We stuck with it and now we’re gonna enjoy touring and writing songs away from a bigger concept. Maybe we will take on other projects, do some production and mixes for artists that we like. We have some lined up right now, and as for the rest... Let’s see what the future brings.”
Anyway you look at it, it’s going to be bright.
Words: Christopher Cottingham