Outernet, London, 18 May 2023: dressed in wide-legged trousers and a sparkly blue bodysuit, Alison Goldfrapp casts a glamorous shadow across a room pulsing with positive energy. The songs are powerful, upbeat and euphoric and the audience response is as if you are experiencing collective rapture.
As she sings tracks from her back catalogue like ‘Ride A White Horse’ and the indomitable glam stomp of ‘Strict Machine’, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a show in support of a new album by Goldfrapp, the duo she formed with multi-instrumentalist Will Gregory. After all, Gregory rarely ever performed on stage, so it’s not like his absence is anything other than normal.
Except that this isn’t a show in support of a new Goldfrapp album. This show is on the back of ‘The Love Invention’, Alison Goldfrapp’s debut solo album. It is an album filled with loved-up, high energy moments that arrives, resplendently, some thirty years after her voice first made an appearance on tracks by Tricky, Orbital, Plaid and Dreadzone. It places her at the centre of modern, yet utterly reverential, disco songs, an almost complete departure from the territory she occupied with Gregory.
“It’s a record I’ve wanted to make for a very long time,” she confesses, while wearing oversized sunglasses and sipping a large mid-morning coffee in her kitchen. “I figured that if I didn’t do it now, I’d probably never get on with it.”
Although Goldfrapp – the duo – were no strangers to upbeat, dancefloor-ready tracks, they never made a whole album of such material. Across seven albums, their focus was broad, moving effortlessly between widescreen, textural beauty through to moments of wild, electro-glam extravagance, as well as most points in between. Trying to define their style was an elusive, endlessly surprising exercise, and just as you thought you had them pinned down, they’d return with a vastly different sound. Each album felt like a reaction to the one that preceded it, yet each one was identifiably, uniquely, undeniably, wonderfully Goldfrapp in its sound.
Yet for all the diverse territory they effortlessly occupied, they never made an album as unashamedly euphoric as ‘The Love Invention’. The strings on their debut, 2000’s ‘Felt Mountain’, were deeply reverential to classic 1970s disco and they covered Baccara’s ‘Yes Sir’ for the B-side of ‘Twist’, but the closest they got to an all-out rhythm-based collection was ‘Head First’, a 2010 album that featured some of the most resolutely high-energy songs they’d written by that point – proof, if needed, that they could turn their hands to any style they wanted.
“We actually had several attempts at one point to make this type of album, but being in a duo is always about compromise,” says Goldfrapp, the solo artist. “Both Will and I have certain skillsets that lend themselves to particular things and because of that, in order to do certain other things, other people need to be involved.”
Goldfrapp also attributes the fact that the idea of an album like ‘The Love Invention’ sat on the shelf for so long was because of a lack of time. “Whenever we recorded a new Goldfrapp album, Will and I have always done it in a slightly old-fashioned way,” she says. “You made an album, and then you went on tour, and then you went back in the studio and made another album, and then went on tour and so on. So that meant all of my time was Goldfrapp, and because he didn’t tour with me, Will was always doing other projects and things when I was out on the road. For me, that meant when I finished being on tour, in order to write a load of new material, I went back in the studio with Will. And that’s how it worked. That’s just how we worked together.”
There is no trace of bitterness in Goldfrapp’s voice when she says this. Though it sounds like a bit of a treadmill, she insists that with only a few exceptions, she loved all of it. It’s simply the way it was, the way she and Will worked together, and the way that artists, labels and the industry expected things to be done. With today’s dramatically changed music landscape, that created the time and space available to work on what became ‘The Love Invention’.
“Nowadays you can just put stuff out,” she says. “I see this as being a much healthier, more sustainable way of doing things.
‘The Love Invention’ was recorded with Richard X, a producer with an enviable understanding of the politics of dancing. He was no stranger to Goldfrapp’s music, having worked on ‘Alive’ and remixing ‘Rocket’ from ‘Head First’, but he was new to Alison Goldfrapp.
“I can’t remember working with Richard X on ‘Head First’ because I didn’t actually meet him,” she admits. “He did his work on ‘Alive’ after we’d finished it, so I never met him. He’s amazing to work with, though. He’s incredible. What I love about him is that, apart from the obvious, which is that he’s a very talented musician, it’s his commitment to things, which is totally beyond. And when I say commitment, I mean that in a very broad sense, in that he’s really thorough and meticulous. I love that. He introduced me to a couple of music things that I hadn’t known about, so that was great as well.”
Another member of the ‘Love Invention’ team was James Greenwood, best known for his work with Erol Alkan, Richard Fearless and Daniel Avery, who engineered the sessions. “He brought a completely different way of working,” says Goldfrapp. “He’s a brilliant, brilliant musician and the most amazing bass player. He’s a very, very different species entirely, but that was great, because I think we all complemented each other really well.”
As its name suggests, ‘The Love Invention’ focuses its gaze on emotional and ultimately hopeful themes. Love, in all its myriad forms, is omnipresent in these songs. Where her previous lyrical concerns might have often veered into character portraits and mysterious, shrouded themes, ‘The Love Invention’ is a refreshingly positive listen in a world where it’s easy to find miserable, hateful things at every turn. In contrast, it’s hard not to come away from listening to ‘The Love Invention’ feeling uplifted.
“That was conscious,” admits Goldfrapp. “Very conscious. I wanted to do that. But then it was like, ‘How do you do that?’ I remember talking to James about this and saying, ‘How do you describe euphoria in a piece of music? Is it a chord sequence? Is it the way you arrange it? Is it the journey? What is it?’ Neither of us could quite pinpoint it. I think it’s probably a few different things that sort of sum together. I definitely wanted to try and make an album that did that.”
Goldfrapp describes making music from a very instinctive place, and that usually extends to her approach to writing lyrics. “I carry notebooks around, and I’ll make notes in my phone,” she says. “I often end up writing things in completely random places, and then forgetting where I put them. It’s usually something I’m reading, and I’ll scribble on the back of it and put it in my handbag, and then I’ll spend the next six months trying to remember what the fuck it was. Sometimes things happen really quick. I get very inspired by the music. As soon as it clicks and I feel like I know what this is about and what it feels like, then I’m off. At other times, of course, I’m slogging away for what seems like forever trying to think what the fuck something is. There’s no formula. It’s different every time.”
The last track on the album, the sensual and atmospheric ‘SLoFLo’, was the first song written and also, by Goldfrapp’s own admission, the one that’s closest to her work with Gregory.
“That was a little poem I’d written just walking down the street one day,” she explains. “I could hear it as a song, and so I knew how I wanted it to be. Sometimes things like that happen very quickly and very suddenly. But even though the birth of it was super quick, it took forever to do it. We did it right at the beginning, and then left it for ages and ages and ages, and then came back to it, and then left it for another six months and then came back to it right at the end. Even though I really wanted to include it, and I felt very passionate about it, I felt like I needed to focus all on the other things on the album which felt very new to me and the more unknown territory. ‘SLoFLo’ was territory I knew well, so it felt like the right way to approach it.”
Perhaps the most perfect example of that upbeat, positive tone comes on ‘In Electric Blue’. Here you find Goldfrapp with a sense of gratitude, almost as if the unseen figure she is directing the song toward has saved her from something, some emotionally turbulent episode in her life.
“It’s the story of someone’s past and feeling their presence and wanting to be only with their presence,” she explains. “It’s a sort of ghost story. I was reminiscing about that feeling of being a very excited teenager. I was also fantasising about driving around LA late at night in an open-top car. It was all merging with the idea of teen road movie love story set in the 80s, with a bit of sci-fi added in. There’s that brilliant bit in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive where they’re looking over the city, and I just love that moment in that film. I often have that reference in my mind – that idea of driving around Mulholland Drive and looking out over LA.”
At a different extreme is ‘Hotel (Suite 23)’. “I’ve got a bit of a passion for hotels,” admits Goldfrapp. “Or rather, I have a real love-hate relationship with them. I love the anonymity of them, and the kind of excitement you can feel going to a hotel. Quite often I give myself a pseudonym just for fun, because why not? Like, ‘Who am I going to be tonight?’ I like going to them on my own as much as I like going to them with somebody. I love airports for similar reasons. It’s that sort of transience.
“With ‘Hotel (Suite 23)’, it was the idea of the hotel as the lover,” she continues. “It was me and the hotel, sharing a night together and indulging in the weird loneliness of the hotel, while simultaneously finding it quite arousing. Also, I have a thing about number 23. I took myself off to Vienna for a weekend and I got room 23. I had an amazing weekend, which I’ve put down to the fact that I had room 23. There are lots of theories about the number 23. I’m quite into numbers, actually, and their symbolism and meanings. There’s quite a lot of nerdy things here. For example, I was quite specific with Richard about the tempos and not changing the tempo from 130bpm, because 13 is also a significant number for me.
The song that surrender itself completely to the persuasive, semi-erotic temptations of the dance floor is ‘Gatto Gelato’, built from an insistent rhythm, sinewy synths and understated, cryptic vocals.
“Richard X gave came up with that as the working title,” says Goldfrapp. “We talked about Italo-disco and how that was something that I really like. I’ve always been quite drawn to that sort of Euro-pop and Euro-disco sound. I grew up with a lot of it, and I did a cover of ‘Physical’, the Olivia Newton-John song, just to prove my badge of honour to that. Rich explained to me that ‘Gatto Gelato’ is what the Italian DJs call their white label tracks and we thought it was fun to keep the working title as the name for the track.”
Though you’d never detect it in her performance at Outernet, Goldfrapp admits to having been a little anxious about the show.
“I definitely feel a sense of relief having done the first show now,” she says. “The first show is always very daunting, especially when it’s in London. I always get very nervous when it’s London.”
While her set was mostly focused on ‘The Love Invention’, songs from the Goldfrapp (duo) back catalogue made celebrated appearances. One of these was ‘Rocket’ from ‘Head First’, an upbeat Euro-dance banger that seemed perfectly suited to the surrounding tracks from ‘The Love Invention’. It’s a song that Goldfrapp has often had a difficult relationship with.
“I felt quite weird about performing it in the past because I’ve got mixed feelings toward ‘Head First’, even though I really liked some of the songs,” she admits. “I was never quite satisfied about the production. I’ve heard ‘Rocket’ in various situations over the years. One time, I remember walking down a road, and all these builders were playing it on their building site. So I stood there, watching them, and that made me feel a little weird. I don’t know why. Maybe it was just hearing in such a completely different context that seemed so sort of random or unfamiliar, but it made me like it more. For the Outernet show, we did a little revamp of it and gave it a more fun element and a bigger sound. Richard helped with that, and we referenced the remix that he did when it was released. So while I felt awkward about singing the song in the past, after the rebrand, I’m feeling good about it.”
Goldfrapp has always been a captivating live performer, and the songs on ‘The Love Invention’ really seemed to come alive in new and vital ways when they were performed in a club-style setting. Sublime, uplifting and overwhelmingly positive, it was no surprise that they received the loved-up, euphoric reaction they did. A long time coming the album might well have been, but it was totally worth the wait.
“You get to a certain point in your life,” concludes Goldfrapp with a sip of her coffee. “You go, ‘How am I going to spend this next era?’ I’m 57. In dog years, that’s about 300 years old. So yeah, it was definitely time to get the fuck on with it.”
Alison Goldfrapp’s UK tour begins on 9th July at Somerset House in London. For more information, click here. Catch Alison Goldfrapp at the following 2024 shows:
23 Manchester O2 Victoria Warehouse
24 Glasgow Barrowland
26 Leeds O2 Academy
27 Birmingham O2 Academy
29 Bristol O2 Academy
1 London Roundhouse
Words: Mat Smith
Photography: Mat Maitland