A Sum of Two Particles
Saturday 7 August 2004 (Michael Bugeja - The Malta Independent)
In a scenario dictated by an abundance of rock, punk and metal bands, the presence of ‘electronic’ acts is a rare sight, yet Antoine and Claire, the two halves that form Particle Blue have managed to attract a following among young audiences enamored of all things left of centre.
Meeting up with Claire Tonna and Antoine Vella brought back a flood of memories from my DJ-ing days at the original Coconut Grove, when Antoine used to ask for (mostly) Goth music and Claire used to make me laugh by putting on a Maltese-Aussie accent that would have everyone around in fits. Claire is as bubbly as ever, a complete opposite to Antoine, who is quite reserved and, well, quiet most of the time. It’s a classic example of opposites attracting each other, but I’m still curious as to how it affects their relationship, which, besides musically, is also romantically linked. Today, perhaps at Claire’s insistence, Antoine is more forthcoming than I was expecting, so I direct the first question, the obligatory “how did Particle Blue come together”, at him.
Probably sick of answering this question, Antoine matter-of-factly tells me that they were already dating to start with, but were spending a lot of time at home instead of going out. With both of them having a solid musical background, it wasn’t long before the time spent indoors turned into experimental music sessions, and over time, Antoine’s electronic doodlings and Claire’s half-strung melodies began to evolve into a more cohesive blend, sparking off Particle Blue, which originally was intended solely as a project. Projects, I get to know further on in the interview, are a popular pastime with this couple, and they have also remixed songs for other artists, written music for a website, and are currently working on a ‘well-being’ soundtrack. And that’s besides the regular gigs they perform as part of Claire’s father’s band, dishing out those good old classic hits around Malta’s top hotels. Clearly then, electronic music is not the only dish on the Particle Blue menu, but it is a primary ingredient.
From their gig at Sinners, I got the impression that Particle Blue’s music is informed and inspired by the electronic wave of the 80s, which, considering their boy-girl line-up may well suggest comparisons to a certain Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet, aka Yazoo. Claire’s beaming reaction to my comment reveals that they take this as quite a compliment. Antoine admits that he has a soft spot for the 80s, particularly the synth music that was the core of the New Romantic/New Wave movement. “In a way”, adds Claire, “the original idea for the project was to create a cross between The Carpenters’ chemistry and electronically-infused music. But as we felt the music kept evolving, we decided to go with its flow – via MP3.com - and all the way to Generation Hope”.
Generation Hope, incidentally, is Particle Blue’s debut album. Before you go thinking they are some idealistic purveyors of an unattainable Utopia, the title is actually a (quite contrasting) combination of a George W. Bush quote and a Manic Street Preachers album title. It kicks off with the transcendent Weekend, a bass-slapped slow burner that immediately sets the mood for what is to follow. Interacting with the rhythmic mesh of sounds, Claire’s deep voice proves to be a dominant factor and an integral part of the duo’s overall sound. The next track, Clouds, takes the sonic blend to another level, adding a somewhat glacial element to the music that would qualify it for any Balearic chill out playlist. Similarly, Summer Day is lethargically sublime, and once the lyrics sink in, it’s actually quite intriguing how effective songs about every day life can be. This after all, is what Claire admits is her major inspiration, but not her only one.
One of Particle Blue’s primary concepts is to incorporate other artists in their work, which is why Generation Hope features so many collaborations. Of these, one cannot but notice the fundamental dub excursion Hypnotic (featuring Mind’s Eye Dub); Autumn Leaves Beach (featuring Martha) and 7:30, featuring Lumiere frontman Mario Vella. Each of these collaborations brings out a new aspect in Particle Blue’s work, highlighting their musical flexibility. But they don’t forget to employ their experimental inclinations either and these surface in quite a few places, including an instrumental with Andre Laurenti narrating one of his poems over the music. Clearly, there are lots of ideas lurking inside Particle Blue’s debut, colourfully enhanced with some curious song titles here and there. Inside all of the diversity however, the featured songs still possess that connecting spark that makes Generation Hope an album, and not just a compilation.