In an unexpected rendezvous at a 1985 concert, two budding Swiss musicians, Ralf Aerne and Reto Caduff, were inspired to establish Séance. Their innovation placed them in the vanguard of the burgeoning synth and electro scene in Switzerland, akin to the styles of luminaries such as Yello and Grauzone.
“In our early days, there were only a few Swiss bands playing this kind of music,” recalls Aerne.
Séance’s distinctive resonance drew packed audiences, initially captivating Switzerland and subsequently extending their influence to venues in France and Denmark. Their track, Blue Dolphin Blue, addressing the perplexing beach strandings of dolphins and whales, resonated deeply with a younger audience. Underpinned by an insistent rhythm and chime-like synth notes, its verses poignantly criticize humanity’s indifference.
Time, however, would eventually scatter the pair. Reto Caduff journeyed to the US, immersing himself in the world of music videos and documentaries. Ralf Aerne, on the other hand, inaugurated Audioklinik in Zurich, a haven for analogue synthesizer enthusiasts, before taking up residence in southern France. The two drifted, both from the limelight and, to some extent, from one another.
Yet, after a three-decade hiatus, 2019 marked a serendipitous reunion for the Swiss pair. With both returning to their homeland, Aerne felt the familiar tug of musical creation once more.
“It felt like I was rediscovering something with it that had been missing for a long time,” he says.
It was clear to him that he wanted to pick up where he had last left off: so he got in touch with Caduff to make music together again. In 2020, the reunited band released the album “Where We Came From,” produced by David M. Allen, who has already worked with Depeche Mode, Sisters of Mercy and The Cure, and whom Reto Caduff met while working on a documentary film. “Where We Came From” testifies to a great desire to play – so the duo’s characteristic electro sound is paired with other styles and influences in places – and reflects on the relationship between the past and the present.
It is a testament to the bands creativity that Séance is hard to pigeonhole or compare to other bands, they have carved out a niche that is clearly influenced by postpunk and synthpop, yet not defined by it.
“Especially technically, of course, a lot has changed in the last decades,” says Ralf Aerne, who notes that now their music can be heard globally online and that computers can be used live without the long loading times of 80s floppy discs.
“But we still produce most of our sounds with analogue synths,” says Aerne.
Following their return to the music scene with the 2020 full length album Where We Came From, Reto Caduff and Ralf Aerne have etched another intriguing chapter in their storied history with the release of their follow-up record, Dark Flow.
As its evocative title suggests, the album echoes the pulsating rhythms and moody harmonies reminiscent of 80s synth-pop, harkening back to the duo’s earliest influences.
In Aerne’s reflections, one can discern a sentiment: recurring motifs, akin to the underlying threads of culture, tend to resurface or metamorphose at a leisurely, almost imperceptible rhythm. This is palpable in the thematic symmetry of Séance’s oeuvre, both past and contemporary. The album commences with the invigorating Follow The Leader, a piece that evokes memories of Depeche Mode’s early dalliances, replete with melancholic synth intricacies. Swiftly succeeding this is Le Max, a radiant, brisk number punctuated by an exhilarating interlude.
The title track, Dark Flow follows, a solemn, almost phantasmal lament adorned with spectral synthesizer touches. Subsequently, Stargazing guides listeners through a nocturnal expanse, its melody imbued with cosmic undertones that pay homage to darkwave nuances. Rounding off this auditory journey is Bubbles, a track whose cadence may be more deliberate, but which carries with it a spirited, anthem-like refrain.
No No Future embarks on a path reminiscent of Devo’s distinctive flair, punctuated by vivid synthesizer embellishments. Meanwhile, Amour Fou — a moniker echoing the French phrase for impassioned love — is a more tempestuous composition, its vocals leaving an indelible mark on the listener. Next comes Zoonosis, a stomping synthpop track with percussion emulating a military tattoo. Too Heavy To Fly treads familiar Depeche Mode ground, crowned by a chorus that bursts forth with anthem-like vigour.
The final song Carnivore, a standout from Dark Flow, broaches a subject similar to their earlier hit, Blue Dolphin Blue. It challenges the prevailing assumption of human primacy over other creatures. “Blood mars the grip of the carnivore,” Aerne intones, occasionally punctuated by the haunting cry of wolves. Carnivore masterfully navigates the synth soundscape, resurrecting what made the 80s and early 90s indelible: the blend of poignant, atmospheric melodies with rhythms that beckon listeners to dance in dimly lit venues wreathed in mist.
Séance’s Dark Flow is available on digital, vinyl, CD, and cassette.