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Taking inspiration from library music, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and the soundtracks to vintage children's television shows, Plone stood out from their electronic music contemporaries when they emerged in the late '90s; when they resurfaced decades later, they remained singular. Their playful melodies and spooky yet mischievous atmospheres were distinct from the vast majority of their more serious Warp labelmates, and their innocence made them unique within Birmingham, England's retro-futuristic scene. After issuing a handful of EPs and 1999's cult classic full-length For Beginner Piano, Plone disappeared almost as soon as they arrived. However, their mystique and acclaim only grew while they were gone, and their aesthetic was a key influence on the look and sound of the label Ghost Box in the 2000s and beyond. It was only fitting that the label released Plone's 2020 album Puzzlewood, which proved the group's music was as strange and sweetly witty as ever. Plone's beginnings date back to late 1994, when Mark Cancellara and Michael Johnston began experimenting with old drum machines and analogue synths. Soon after, Mike "Billy" Bainbridge, a housemate of Johnston's, bought a keyboard and joined the group. Naming themselves after an imaginary cartoonlike sound, Plone began supporting likeminded groups such as Pram and Broadcast at gigs in London and their native Birmingham in 1996. Following these live dates, the Wurlitzer Jukebox label -- which had also released music by Pram and Broadcast -- approached the group to record a single for them. The results were Plone's 1997 debut EP Press a Key/Electric Beauty Parlour, which earned praise from John Peel. In 1998, Plone signed to Warp, contributing the track "Plaything" to that June's WAP 100: We Are Reasonable People compilation. They released their second EP Plock that September, and Melody Maker named it their 1998 Single of the Year. To make their debut album, Plone continued to build their arsenal of vintage gear and took inspiration from sources ranging from John Barry to the Beach Boys. Arriving in September 1999, For Beginner Piano expanded the trio's sound and earned widespread critical acclaim. Plone began work on demos intended for their second album, but they were shelved following the 2001 death of Warp co-founder Rob Mitchell, who had signed the band to the label. Eventually, the members of Plone went their separate ways. Bainbridge played with Broadcast on their Ha Ha Sound tour, then joined forces with former Broadcast member Tim Felton (also of Hintermass) as Seeland, a similarly inspired project that issued a handful of singles and EPs as well as a pair of albums, 2009's Tomorrow Today and 2010's How to Live. Johnston began making music as Mike in Mono in 2002; later, he worked with ZX Spectrum Orchestra, whose albums include 2008's Basic Programming, and the Modified Toy Orchestra, who released Toygopop in 2008 and Plastic Planet in 2011. Though the demos for their lost album surfaced online, nothing more was heard from Plone until 2020, when the group -- now the duo of Bainbridge and Johnston -- released their official second album Puzzlewood. Arriving that April on Ghost Box (home to Hintermass and many other similarly inspired groups), the album featured a brighter, more varied sound than Plone's previous releases and consisted of nearly two decades' worth of recordings.
© Heather Phares /TiVo
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