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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Glass Candy, Desire Headline Solyanka

For a man who takes his name from a song by 1970s New York guitar legends Television, Johnny Jewel seems to have little time to watch TV. As the songwriting force driving at least four different groups (Chromatics, Glass Candy, Farah and his latest project, Desire), the co-owner of American hipster “Italo-disco” label Italians Do It Better and an avid collector of vintage synthesizers and drum machines, he stays busy.

This Friday, Glass Candy, Desire and DJ Mike Simonetti, who owns the label with Jewel, will see if Solyanka can rise to the challenge of who can actually “do it better” — Italian-Americans or Russians. At least Jewel can say he’s prepared.

“Hang on, I need to turn my tape recorder off,” he said on a recent Sunday from his Montreal studio, where he was busy putting the final touches on a few things for the European tour that his bands were to embark on two days later. “I’m working on some final mixes for the live beats and editing some of the songs. Me and Ida [No, vocalist for Glass Candy] are also working on new songs … we like to tour with the songs first because they change so much.”

Until recently, Jewel’s studio in Portland, Oregon, was a hive of slick, synth-laden activity for the film-noir soundtrack stylings of Chromatics and the Donna Summer worship of Glass Candy. As if that wasn’t enough, Jewel recently moved to Montreal and formed Desire with singer Megan Louise, who sings in both French and English over simple pop songs that bring to mind a slew of teen movies from the ’80s.

“For me, it’s all based on what the different vocalists, their mood, what their voice communicates to me, and I write music that suits … there’s never a doubt in my mind that they’re totally different projects,” Jewel said about his musical relationship with three different female vocalists. “For the outsider, I understand there are similar themes and production values. It’s kind of crazy to be working on so much stuff all the time … but there’s no Glass Candy song that could ever satisfy me the way a Desire song can.”

While there are similarities between all the projects, working with three different singers (Ruth Radelet of Chromatics rounds out Jewel’s “Charlie’s Angels” of modern electro-pop vocalists, so to speak) does make a huge difference. And the underlying theme between them all is actually buried in the decades-old circuitry of Jewel’s synthesizer collection, which he was able to snap up on the cheap before such dusty relics became coveted eBay items.

“I’ve been using the same equipment since when I was living in Texas [in the 1990s]; me and my girl at the time were on a road trip through the South, and we spent like two weeks going to all these pawnshops and buying electronics,” Jewel explained. “Back then, the idea of a vintage synth was as ridiculous as buying a vintage laptop. I got most of my keyboards for like $10 or $20.”

Even though such instruments had their technological limitations, Jewel and his various band mates embraced the idea of those limits and the possibilities for human error. At Solyanka, only Desire will be using a live drummer while Glass Candy, which consists solely of Jewel and No, will see Jewel manning one of his vintage synths and a CD-DJ player loaded with different mixes of the group’s repertoire that he can choose at random.

“Ida doesn’t know which ones I’m gonna use, so I might throw her off and she might throw me off,” Jewel said. “We also don’t practice at all, that’s how we make it more interesting and exciting for us. With one hand I can loop parts of songs and cue different parts and bring parts back. There’s more possibilities for me to make mistakes, and I often do.”

Glass Candy, Desire and Mike Simonetti play at 11 p.m. Oct. 30 at club Solyanka. 11 Ulitsa Solyanka. Metro Kitai-Gorod.