Our pick of the modular artists – some of them recognisable names, but most of them new – that you need to know about

Suki Sou

Travelling alone from Macau to a Berkshire boarding school at the age of eight, Suki Sou arrived in the UK with only an English dictionary for company. Now settled in the Peak District, she has become Hope Valley’s resident modular maestro, and her 2023 album, ‘Notes On Listening’, is a fresh take on the minimalist glories of Terry Riley and Laurie Spiegel.


Loula Yorke

Butley Creek, anyone? Yorke’s 2019 album, ‘YSMYSMYSM’, is a wholly uncompromising evocation of the East Anglian river’s contrasting charms, from teeming birdlife to clanking foundries. Yorke’s approach is authentically agricultural too – her “Innalog” and “TREE-S80” synths are both housed in tree trunks hollowed out with chainsaws and chisels.


Philippe Petit

“We live in a world of wreckage, some of which still functions beautifully.” Seems life in Chamonix is a decidedly mixed bag, but modular veteran Petit is making the best of things. His new album, ‘A Reassuring Elsewhere’, is splendidly playful, combining an unmistakeable EMS Synthi A with percussion forged from clothes pegs and tissue paper.


Andrew Ostler

‘Four Drones For Saxophone And Modular Synthesizer’? You can’t fault Edinburgh-based Ostler for accuracy or, indeed, his seamless melding of electronic and acoustic elements on this hypnotic 2022 album. Ostler is also the man behind the Expert Sleepers company, designers of plugins and Eurorack hardware since 2002.


Vicky Clarke

photo: annie feng

After winning the 2020 Oram Award, Manchester’s Vicky Clarke was inspired to form Sonamb, a musical exploration of “machine addiction, broken radio transmissions and algorithmic sleep territories”. Her 2022 debut album, ‘Sleepstates’, is an affecting collage of fractured synths and skittering beats. Sweet dreams, everyone.


Russell E L Butler

A mainstay of the New York club scene, Bermuda-born Russell Ellington Langton Butler brings their self-described perspective as a “non-binary, queer, black immigrant” to gloriously gritty, beat-fuelled modular workouts. Check out their brace of excellent ‘Emotional Bangers Only’ albums – in Butler’s own words, songs about “depression, PTSD, delivery food and revolutionary action”.


Nikmis

The moniker? Just William Simkin’s surname, spelled backwards. But is Simkin really, as has been claimed, a time-travelling 17th century harpsichord maestro? Probably not, but this eccentric Canadian pours his love of Igor Stravinsky and Isao Tomita into some of the most melodic, feelgood music around. Proof? ‘Depends On Much’ – easily the finest modular ukulele album of 2023.


Field Lines Cartographer

He’s based in Lancaster, but Mark Burford certainly gets around. 2020’s ‘The Spectral Isle’ is a somnolent wander across the mythical island of Hy-Brasil, reputedly the home of giant black rabbits. But the masterpiece is 2022’s ‘Dreamtides’, the result of a lingering nightmare about the “triangular tides” of a surreal, pixellated coastline.


Polypores

In the absence of a regular bus service from Preston, Stephen James Buckley rides waves of modular experimentation to hallucinatory magical kingdoms. While 2020’s ‘Azure’ is a blissful voyage to a mythical underwater paradise, 2023’s ‘Praedormitium’ is an exploration of the fuzzy netherworld between wakefulness and sleep. All this and the finest musical moustache since Live Aid-era Freddie Mercury.


Ian Boddy

In early 1980s Newcastle, Boddy discovered an arts centre filled with analogue synths. His debut album, ‘The Climb’, was glorious synth-funk, recorded using a Fairlight CMI that would have bought an entire street in Fenham, and since then he’s been a goliath of the underground electronic scene. A reputation cemented by the legacy of his DiN label – founded in 1999 and still going strong.


The Utopia Strong

Six-times world snooker champion Steve Davis gets the press, but The Utopia Strong are a trio, and a power trio at that. From Gong and Coil respectively come Kavus Torabi and Michael J York, adding proggy muscle to Davis’ modular swoops. Both 2019’s self-titled debut album and 2022’s ‘International Treasure’ are uplifting exercises in cosmic kosmische.


Craven Faults

Who is Craven Faults? Holed up in a secret West Yorkshire studio, this shadowy figure creates hypnotic synth homages to the unforgiving local moors and the impact of human endeavour upon them, from windswept megaliths to abandoned mills. His latest LP ‘Standers’ is a compelling, drone-fuelled survey of a landscape that offers bleakness and beauty in equal measure.


Surgeon

For almost 30 years, Birmingham’s Anthony Child has been seasoning his love of Detroit techno with distinctly British grit. His 1997 album, ‘Basictonalvocabulary’, was the breakthrough, but he’s still going strong, releasing modular explorations under his own name and beat-heavy workouts under the Surgeon banner.


Meg Mulhearn

North Carolina “genre agnostic” musician Mulhearn is precisely 50 per cent of droney duo Spectral Habitat. But she also goes it alone, and 2022’s ‘Archetypes’ is an ongoing modular project to reflect the personality characteristics of the 12 zodiac signs. She’s done seven so far, and typically impatient Librans will be reassured to know they’re next on the list.


Caterina Barbieri

In 2019, the giddying arpeggios of Caterina Barbieri’s breakthrough fourth album, ‘Ecstatic Computation’, earned… well, ecstatic reviews. Its sister album, ‘Myuthafoo’ – recorded at the same time but held back until this year – feels more darkly intense, combining slick grooves with epic Vangelis swirls.


Scanner

Since 1991, Robin Rimbaud has been the electronic glue holding together a giddying array of artistic ventures, collaborating with everyone from Bryan Ferry to London’s Royal Ballet. Beginners could do worse than investigate ‘The Magician’s Hat’, three self-compiled samplers of a wonderfully vast and diverse back catalogue.


Alessandro Cortini

Day job? Keyboard player with Nine Inch Nails. Downtime? Co-creator of the semi-modular Strega, a rune-coated synth used as the basis for Cortini’s acclaimed 2021 album, ‘Scuro Chiaro’. The title translates as ‘Dark Light’ and “strega” itself means “witch”… both perfect associations for a work of such magical minimalism.


Sunroof

Thirty-eight years after collaborating on Depeche Mode’s ‘Construction Time Again’, Gareth Jones and Daniel Miller finally released their debut Sunroof album, ‘Electronic Music Improvisations Vol 1’. Created organically on Eurorack modules, it was swiftly followed by ‘Electronic Music Improvisations Vol 2’, another collection of minimalist spontaneity from these twin titans of the British electronic scene.


Hélène Vogelsinger

Combining haunting vocals with euphoric modular workouts, Vogelsinger evokes “forgotten places, escaped from our radars”. Her 2020 album, ‘Contemplation’, began the journey, and 2021’s ‘Reminiscence’ feels like a milestone, a touchingly cinematic celebration of neglected landscapes beneath forbidding skies.


M Geddes Gengras

In 1911, Ishi – the last known member of the Native American Yahi people – emerged from the remote Californian wilderness, having had no previous contact with modern-day America. M Geddes Gengras’ breakthrough 2014 album ‘Ishi’ was a wistful, modular exploration of this supremely moving story, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg for the prolific New York synthesist.


Brett Naucke

Cheeky vino, anyone? Naucke’s 2023 album ‘Cast A Double Shadow’ was specifically produced to accompany Conjured In Shadows, “a carbonic macerated nouveau wine from the 2022 harvest”. Although, we daresay it’s just as potent an experience if you listen to this elegiac and immersive ambient collection with a can of Special Brew and a jar of pickled onions.


Omri Cohen

Cohen began his career with beautifully sparse piano recitals, but has since constructed both an impressive Eurorack set-up and a reputation for combining modular ambience with organic instrumentation. He certainly plays a mean flute. Meanwhile, 2023’s ‘XPND EP’ is a jaunty workout on his spanking new X-Pan Module.


Koova

Anyone pining for the hollows of rural Essex could do worse than investigate Gavin “Koova” Pykerman’s excellent new album, ‘Explorer 183’. From ‘Whitney Green’ to ‘Shellow Bowells’, it’s a heartfelt ramble through the sleepy villages of this underappreciated county – and named, of course, after the Ordnance Survey map for Chelmsford and The Rodings.


Richard Devine

He’s based in Atlanta, and he’s made soundscapes for Sony, BMW, Google and – curiously – the University of Huddersfield. The piece, titled ‘Recursion Constructors’, is a giddying, chattering conversation for Eurorack, with Devine citing inspiration from the late 1960s work of Morton Subotnick.


Lisa Bella Donna

In her Appalachian mountain studio, Lisa Bella Donna is surrounded by Moogs. She’s also an ambassador for the company, and headlined Moogmentum, the grand opening of The Bob Moog Foundation’s “Moogseum”. So can you guess the main instrument of her stunning new album, ‘Early Atmospheres’? That’s right, the banjo. Not really.


Look Mum No Computer

Sam Battle founded a museum of obsolete musical technology in Ramsgate, once built a giant synthesiser entirely from Lego, and records psychedelic synthpop bangers as if they’re going out of fashion. Which obviously they never will. Check out ‘Time Is Not A Healer It​’​s A Fuel for Resentment’ – it’s perfect.


Bitchin’ Bajas

From Chicago come Cooper Crain, Rob Frye and Daniel Quinlivan, boasting mesmeric new age tinkles, wry humour and a track record of collaborating with Bonnie “Prince” Billy – their excellent joint album, 2016’s ‘Epic Jammers And Fortunate Little Ditties’, was inspired by the latter’s 30-year collection of fortune cookie mottos. Check out last year’s hypnotic ‘Bajascillators’ too.


Hainbach

The uber-prolific Hainbach is based in Berlin, but his 2023 album, ‘Voice Magnetic’, is a touching, shimmering evocation of his childhood in the Black Forest, combining gentle, modular pulses with affecting field recordings. As the man himself says, “You can hear the outside bleeding in”.


JakoJako

Berliner Sibel Koçer is both a DJ renowned for her banging techno sets, and a producer with a penchant for heart-slowing ambience. Her 2022 debut album, ‘Metamorphose’, falls into the latter category, a delightful collection of soothing modular melodies from this self-confessed “Ableton kid”.


Digital Moss

He’s a member of Russian post-rock band I Am Waiting For You Last Summer, but Evgenii Popov’s work as Digital Moss is pure modular experimentalism, evoking “a dystopian world of near future, where hope glows dimly among the dust and ash-clad skyscrapers”. A vision perfectly encapsulated on ‘Heder’, the standout single from 2021.


Karenn

Arthur Cayzer and Jamie Roberts are Pariah and Blahwan. Except when they’re making hardcore metal as Persher, and splendidly wonky techno as Karenn. Check out 2023’s ‘Everything Is Curly’, an album boasting the most dancefloor-friendly lute since Leonardo Da Vinci’s infamous DJ set at the 1515 Bologna Social.


Modgeist

The name suggests he rides a Lambretta around the streets of Clacton, but he’s actually a French Eurorack enthusiast with an interest in the esoteric. His latest release, ‘Arcanes’, feels darkly magical – an album on which, he claims, “the lunar shadows of a magician, an empress and the Evil One are pressing in”. Sounds more like Eastbourne to us.


Luke Sanger

“An imaginary journey into a mysterious time, where the pagan-dominated Wuffingas dynasty ruled the Kingdom of the East Angles.” Give that man his own BBC Four documentary! Sanger is fascinated by the distant history of his native Norfolk, and his 2023 album, ‘Fool’s Fayre’, boasts Buchla melodies with a decidedly medieval feel.


Paperbark

Paperbark? An invasive tree not hugely popular with the United States Department of Agriculture. The gentle ambience created by this Minneapolis composer is considerably more welcome, though. The latest release, ‘Breathable Changes’, is a soothing collection featuring a Buchla system – an album of hushed forests with the occasional fleeting shadow.


Jas Shaw

He found fame with Simian Mobile Disco, but Shaw has since thrown himself into some intriguing solo experiments. His 2019 album, ‘Exquisite Cops’, is a collection of disparate techno workouts that somehow sounds seamless, and 2021’s three-part ‘Sollbruchstelle’ collection is beautifully reflective.


Lyonel Bauchet

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s 1921 book ‘Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus’ probed the connections between language and our perceptions of reality. The prolific Bauchet’s 2023 musical homage, ‘Tractatus Lyra-Organismus’, employs gritty beats and cinematic swirls to evoke the book’s seven main propositions. “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent?” Thankfully, he’s not.


D’Voxx

Where David Bowie failed, D’Voxx succeeded, gaining permission from the Orwell estate to turn George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece ‘1984’ into a harrowing concept album. Nino Auricchio and Paul Borg duly combine Orwell’s prose with haunting soundscapes to create a dark sequel to their somewhat more upbeat 2019 debut, ‘Télégraphe’.


R Beny

“Music made of light and fog” is how Californian Austin Cairns – aka R Beny – describes his latest opus, 2020’s self-released ‘Natural Fiction’. It’s an album steeped in melancholy, with tinkling piano and pedal steel guitar offering shards of hope amid waves of dark ambience.


Oora

“I imagined a journey into the depths of an ocean,” says Federico “Oora” Chiesa of his beautifully sparse work, ‘The Mavis EP’. “A rendezvous with a creature…” The Italian producer’s melodic approach to modular composition would charm even the most foul-tempered of undersea beasties.


DSR Lines

He’s Antwerp producer David Edren, pressing his classic ARP 2500 and Buchla 200 synths into service to produce ambient recordings with a vintage feel. New album ‘Relativiteit Van De Omgeving’ is apparently representative of a chain of miniature terrariums, their glass cases showcasing everything from “misty meadows and moonlit gardens to cosmic vistas of asteroid showers”.


Atomatrix

From downtown Lima come Alfredo Aliaga and Moisés Cachay, whose 2023 EP ‘Suite Sauvage’ is perhaps the most intriguing Peruvian import since Paddington Bear. A four-movement exercise in minimalism, it’s inspired by the career of visual artist Valeria Ghezzi, aiming to capture the “sensations, textures, and impressions” of her equally stark and striking work.


Attowatt

A unit of power, equal to 10-18 watts. We suspect this enigmatic German producer cranks his studio speakers up a little louder than that, with his 2023 album, ‘Scripts,’ comprising 17 splendidly disorientating sections of a one-take modular epic. From nerve-shredding beats to fluttering ambience, it’s an album of restless delights.


Igor Dyachenko

Have you put the recycling out yet? Don’t be surprised to find Berlin producer Igor Dyachenko lurking around the bins. His 2022 album, ‘Objects’, creates immersive atmospheres from “experimental frequencies deemed defects”. In a nutshell, he makes music from his mistakes – and it sounds great.


Elin Piel

Elin Piel is a Swedish producer creating moods with a touchingly personal slant. Her new album, ‘Retina’, is a tribute to her baby son Franke, who was diagnosed with a rare eye cancer in 2022. It’s a suitably affecting work – one that Piel herself acknowledges was part of the grieving process.


IDRA

“A conversation between two entities. Unable to exist without each other. Creating a magical bond.” That’s how Milanese sound designer Francesca Pavesi describes her 2022 album, ‘Duet’, a calming collection of beatific modular ambience. She’s a trained trumpeter and brings the precision of her classical background to what she lovingly describes as “sound carpets”.


Benedict Mortimer

‘Biholomorphia’? Apparently, “a bijective holomorphic function whose inverse is also holomorphic”. Don’t ask us, we still count on our fingers. Thankfully, Benedict Mortimer’s EP of the same title is easier to describe – it’s a hypnotic collection for the Spacecraft granular synth, a gizmo developed with Mortimer’s regular collaborator (and astrophysicist) Mark Watt.


Troy

From The Hague comes Troy, with a gritty techno sound honed across three beat-filled EPs – ‘Klockworks 21’, ‘Klockworks 29’ and the newly released ‘Klockworks 36’. The third of these is a post-lockdown celebration intended – in the words of the man himself – “to capture the momentum of an energy burst that needs to get out”.


London Modular Alliance

They call themselves “a collective that lies somewhere between a shop and a cult”. Their Hackney Wick store opened in 2012, and since then Gavin Pykerman, Simon Lynch and Phil Ventre have been relentless ambassadors for all things twiddly. Their 2021 album, ‘Portable Sanctuary’, was an almighty fusing of pounding beats with sinister ambience.


Sam Hostettler

Can we use the word “languid” here? London-based Sam Hostettler’s 2018 EP ‘Opaline’ showcased a beautifully unhurried style with hints of Tangerine Dream, and his most recent single – 2020’s ‘Yesterday Or Forever’ – was similarly serene. We’d love to hear more, but… well, we guess there’s no panic.


La Leif

Alongside longtime collaborator Jens L Thomsen, Francine Perry produces pounding techno as ORKA. But her solo work as La Leif feels more abstract. Her 2015 debut EP ‘The Nest’ was an ethereal homage to the weird landscapes of Sussex. The 2018 follow-up, ‘Violet’, felt more darkly urban and coincided with her scooping the prestigious Oram Award.

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