"The major consideration for Are Sounds Electrik? is that the music has to come first, the imagery is always second."
Anthony McGuinness, Are Sounds Electrik? Founder
Next year will be the 40th anniversary of the launch of MTV. Launched in August 1981, MTV aptly chose Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles as their first featured music video. Video never did kill the radio star, online radio stations and music streaming services have never been more popular. However, in the world of music videos, arguably it’s no longer MTV leading the charge, it’s YouTube.
With so many of us discovering new music through YouTube, it’s no surprise that record labels and music publishers work hard to develop their own YouTube channels to help promote their artists and reach new listeners via their music videos, live performances, and interviews. Yet, despite sizeable advertising budgets and teams of social media experts, many independent record labels and music publishers haven’t been able to achieve the same loyal following of pioneering electronic music YouTube channel Are Sounds Electrik?.
Are Sounds Electrik? is the brainchild of Music and Video Producer, Anthony McGuinness. Founded in 2010, his channel features a magical array of electronic and new wave music from its earliest days right up to brand new releases - even featuring music by unsigned artists. However, what makes this channel unique is that each track is brought to life through the innovative video production wizardry of McGuinness.
We caught up with Anthony McGuinness to get the story behind his success.
Are Sounds Electrik? is a huge success. What first inspired you to create your own channel?
“I'm a frustrated DJ at heart. I was knocked back a few times in 2003 when I tried to tout my wares as a DJ in a London. I remember there was a new electro night in a rundown West End pub, the promoter asked me to come back for a trial spin. I rushed out and bought loads of records and CDs, practised my DJ skills only to return to the venue two weeks later to discover it had been moved to a larger location and was now a runaway success. Hundreds of clubbers lined the block and Adamski was now DJing! I went home. But a year later YouTube arrived, and I got involved right from the start and by 2010 Are Sounds Electrik? was born.”
Electronic and New Wave music is clearly something you’re passionate about. Where did that influence come from and who are your favorite artists?
“I have to hold up my older brother as my first music influencer. I remember coming home from school in 1979 to hear him playing Down in the Park by Tubeway Army. I was immediately hooked. He regularly bought loads of new records, so I was immersed in all kinds of sounds from a young age. People like Giorgio Moroder, Bauhaus, Bowie, Kraftwerk, early Human League, Our Daughter’s Wedding, John Foxx, YMO etc. But my biggest enjoyment was listening to Gary Numan. I was a real ‘Numanoid’ for sure. If I had to pick one Numan song that still blows me away today it's 'Films' from The Pleasure Principle. It's so dramatic and the synth line just cut right though you. Wonderful.”
There’s clearly a lot of thought that goes into how you marry up your music selection with the right video footage. Can you tell me about the process you go through?
“The major consideration for Are Sounds Electrik? is that the music has to come first, the imagery is always second. Matching up the two is the hardest part because there has to be some sympathy between them. I'm a bit of an internet addict so I'm always coming across footage that I think will work with a particular track and it’s a labour of love editing it all together.
Several of your videos have had over a million views in the past. What was the first moment you realized you had created something important in the Electronic Music scene?
“My first 'big' video was Spacer Woman by Charlie. I edited it using a very basic Windows movie editor, capturing bits of footage from the 1970's animation film Fantastic Planet. It was all very primitive on my part. The whole process just took a few hours but now the video has over 5 million views. I received a nice email from the artist thanking me for promoting the song and their track has now been re-released on vinyl. “
You seem to draw a lot of influence from Science Fiction to create your videos, why is that?
“If there was ever a genre of film that best matched electronic music it has to be Sci Fi. Electronic music has that 'future' feel about it and most Sci Fi films are set in the future so that's why they work so well together. I prefer footage from the 1960s and 70s. There is something attractive about the analogue age attempting to represent the future. Old soviet Sci Fi films are just the best for clunky tape machines and rocket machinery footage.”
As well as producing videos for other artists, you also write and produce electronic music yourself.
“Yes, I have a few of my own tracks under the name 'Shock Electrik'. I bought a DAW editing suite a few years ago as I wanted to make my own music. I used to write songs for a band I was in in 1981 so I knew I had the ability. It just took me 40 years to get back into it. I’ll be releasing some new tracks in the Spring of 2021. It will be a digital album rather than my usual individually released tracks. The sound will be in the dark minimalistic synth vein like my track Dark Attraction.”
The late 70s / early 80s was an important period for electronic and new wave music. It must have been an amazing experience to have been in a band during that time.
“The band I was in was called 'Blak Filtiare' - our attempt at sounding like Depeche Mode. We were all from a small town called Letchworth in Hertfordshire. When we started dressing up like Gary Numan the drummer left so I bought a tiny programmable drum machine and a second-hand ‘Octave Cat’ synthesizer which never came with a case so I had to haul it about to gigs in a great big 1950s suitcase.”
And, what happened to Blak Filtiare?
“We did a few gigs and a demo which we took to various record labels. I remember Virgin Records didn't like our synthesiser sounds because they said it was 'old hat'. I reminded them that Kraftwerk's The Model was number one at the time! The band broke up after that, but I still have fond memories of robot dancing and trying to pitch the analogue synths mid song in front of a curious audience.”
So many musicians have had bad experiences with A&R people but now, ironically, you’re now helping launch unsigned artists yourself.
“Yes, it’s a surprise how many Music Producers contact me asking for promo opportunities and, when I listen to their music, I can't believe how good they are and with no record contracts. It's always a pleasure using the channel to promote others and their music.”
You also do some collaboration work with some of the more established artists featured on your channel.
“Yes, I have been involved with the great musician Rodrigo Passannanti on a track he was working on called Neon Lover. I have a habit of wanting to 'pad' tracks out a bit so I also do that occasionally for people like Costa Rican artist Rompiste Mis Floresif.”
I imagine you get lots of requests from electronic music artists who want to collaborate with you, but if you could collaborate with any artist, who would that be?
“I think my dream artist to work with would be John Foxx. I met him once after a London gig we chatted for about 5 minutes after which I was a nervous wreck.”
Are Sounds Electrik? continues to go from strength to strength. What are your plans to expand on this success?
“Who knows where ASE will go next? I have always relied on my own judgment and tastes when considering what to upload to the channel. So, I’ll just keep on doing what I do. People from all over the world seem to like it. If I’m lucky, one day there might be a club where the people lining the streets to get in want to hear ‘me’ spin the records this time.”
MTV capitalized on the magic that is created from combining great music with great videos, but it’s arguably an outdated model. We no longer live in a world where we want corporate record labels, radio presenters or tv stations to decide what new music we hear.
The power of YouTube is that it lets us personalize our music discovery experience through subscribing to the channels created by those who are passionate about the genres we love.
This is the story behind the success of Are Sounds Electrik?. It’s a channel created from a passion for electronic music and vintage sci-fi - not money or whether an artist is old or new or has a recording contract or not. Through a love of combining great music with great videos, channels like Are Sounds Electrik? are creating their own global independent music scene, leaving the traditional corporate music industry behind them.