INTERVIEW: Billie Ray Martin speaks!

Billie Ray Martin is the modern soul singer behind Electribe 101. With a voice in the same vein as Marlena Shaw, Beth Gibbons and Donna Summer, the bands synth pop dance anthems were the soundtrack to many house party in the early 1990’s.

Fast forward 30 odd years Demon Music Group are releasing some of the bands hallowed back catalogue for re-examination. Gigslutz caught up with Billie for an exclusive interview to talk about her upbringing, Electribe 101 and whats she’s up to now:

Hi Billie, how are you?

Hi! I’m alright. Or not bad. Or worried about 100 things I have to do to finish my new albums. Take your pick.

Can you please tell me about about your upbringing?

I was born and raised on the edge of Hamburg’s red-light district. My family are/were harbour workers, ‘entertainment ladies’ and music lovers. My mother had looked after The Beatles and the reason she stayed on working at the red light district was because she wanted to be around music. It was a colourful and wonderful upbringing. I was raised by my grandparents. Our walks would be in Hamburg’s beautiful park right on our street, or down the Reeperbahn, looking at shops and neon signs of glamourous ladies, and shopping in incredibly interesting shops. There was a famous shop called Harry’s harbour bazar, sadly Gentriefied away and no longer existing, where our shopping routine included buying seashells, fishing nets, anything seamen would bring from around the world and, I kid you not, even shrunken heads. This was normal for me and so mysterious and I was always in awe. Picking up my grandfather from work as a crane driver from the old River Tunnel was just incredible. If you don’t know the tunnel look up the alter Elbtunnel online. One of my new videos will have a video with footage of this tunnel. So, I was surrounded by history and there was the smell of the sea, of oil and ships.

What was the first music you can remember hearing?

Whatever was on the radio, plus my grandmothers Beatles and Elvis records. Radio meant German Schlager and also international hits from Europe and USA.

What was the first grown up/serious music you can remember hearing?

Really what I was describing. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones which were either my grans, or my father visited once and brought his Stones record. My gran also had the old heavy vinyl albums of 1940’s music. Incredible stuff.

Who influenced you to start singing?

I started when I was 2 years old. No joke. I just hummed and hummed and sang and sang, whatever it was. I then started singing kids songs and at age five told my gran to record me on the tape machine and send my tape off to the singer I most loved then. Later I guess Bowie and Elton John changed my world. After that the electronic groups. But honestly to this day every five minutes I discover something new that changes my world and I plan another album to record that might be inspired by whatever I heard. It’s always been like that.

When did you first perform infront of an audience?

Probably around age 17 or so, singing in Berlin.

How about composing your own songs, how did this come to fruition?

I worked with a songwriter in Berlin and formed a duo called The Idiot Cards. He would hum melodies onto tapes and I would write lyrics. Simultaneiously I formed the soul group Billie and the Deep and wrote lyrics and melodies. First efforts really.

Were you in any bands, that you could expound on, that you were in before Electribe 101?

First was was The Reel Dreamers. Synths with inbuilt drum machines. Bat shit crazy electronic noise, with Black and Decker drilling machines and synths, and vocals. Tape loops, backwards stuff, mental.

I have the tapes. An acquired taste and not for the faint at heart. We did one gig where I sang ‘The End’ in the style of Nico and insulted the audience.

The Idiot Cards. I still have all our demo tapes. Some of that was really good. More ‘The Smiths’ meet Aretha or something.

Billie and the Deep became huge in Berlin overnight, literally after our first gig. It was amazing but short lived. I went to London shortly after our first success. A soul revival group. A three-piece girl group with a full band as backing. It’s on bandcamp.

How did Electribe 101 form?

See below.

How did the advert in Melody Maker come about? Was this just an idea that you had or a planned career move?

Just an idea I had as I was really really trying to get going with my plan to combine soulful sounds with electronic music.

How did the compositions for Electribe 101 come about? Did someone have an idea for a song and youd work out the songs further in the studio?

I initially brought some songs, incl. Talking with Myself. After that, we sort of had to find out way and figure out if we could even write our own songs together. The second single was supposed to be Lipstick on My lover and we didn’t have a clue how we would go about writing a follow up to ‘Talking’. I suggested playing ‘Talking’ backwards and we ended up with the melody to ‘Oh please don’t leave me now baby’ etc. Then we built the song from there. ‘Fever’ was a instrumental backing demo I had called ‘The Spell’ and I wrote the lyrics and melody to ‘Fever’ on top of that. After that we kind of got the hang of it and songs really happened in different ways. Of course the skill Roberto brought to the table, coming up with chord progressions, was the main thing I needed, but also Joe’s Kraftwerky hooks etc., which gave it something so unique. Les’ basslines… just amazing what they did.

Did you gig much before releasing any material?

Talking With Myself was a hit when we started gigging

Do you have any favourite gigs that you played?

I have fond memories of supporting Erasure at Milton Keynes Bowl. But also the gig at Dingwalls and Town and Country club were so great.

How did you sign to Mercury records?

Talking With Myself had been a white label and created a lot of interest out there. The pirates were playing it and the radio stations were asking about it. Brian from the group knew the A&R man at Mercury and were signed instantly.

How was it decided to release Talking To Myself as the first single?

That was the song that was already creating the waves.

What are your memories of writing and recording Electribal Memories?

I don’t remember all that much, except what I described above. We would mostly work together, and the guys would do the mixes live on the desk. No recall in those days so all done live and built around the vocal, not built around bass and drums etc. , like some dance producers think it should be done. They had incredible intuition and always served the vocal. I would be there and moan about this and that and we would then decide which mix was best etc. I remember for Heading for the Night vocals we were somewhere like Olympic studio, for some reason, but mostly we were at the studio in Birmingham.

What was it like appearing on Top Of The Pops?

It was fun. It was kind of strange because, looking at these performances now, I was so confident and didn’t care. I just wanted to show what I could do like a child, quite innocent. I think that’s why these appearances come across well. We didn’t think much about it. I thought miming was weird though.

What do you remember the reaction from the press to the album at the time? I remember you appeared a lot in the weekly music papers of the time.

Yes, to be hailed as the next big thing isn’t to be sniffed at.

I just rode the wave of all the interest that people had in us and I appreciated it very much. But again, I was young, and I just wanted to get my message out, so I didn’t analyse it much initinally.

Fast forward to 2024 Demon Music Group are releasing the album on various formats, how did this come about?

I had wanted to do this for a long time. Universal Music was not helpful to say the least. Demon are much better at this stuff so kudos to them. They are doing a fabulous job.

Were Joe Stevens, Les Fleming, Rob Cimarosti and Brian Nordhoff involved with the release?


When was the last time you were in contact with any of them?

I spoke to Brian a few years ago.

Will you be doing any gigs or signings in support of the release?

Don’t think so.

Are still writing music now?

Hello?! What do you think I’m doing. Working in a library?

Are you releasing your own material at present?

I’ve recorded three albums. The label for all future releases is Gezeitenraum records. I need a few more months for finalizing mixing of the albums. It’s going to be the most important work I’ve ever done. Each album has a theme and subject matter. One is about my childhood in the Hamburg Red Light District, gentrification, homelessness, growing up and trying to make sense of the way it has been destroyed, changed. And trying to find some sort of meaning in it all. There are some ambient style songs with atmospheric guitars but also fast jazzy songs and some electronic soul songs too. Then there is an album inspired by French film soundtracks of the 1970’s. It’s totally whacky and contains my compositions as well as cover versions of Brel and Aznavour. The third is an album of poems put to music. There is a fourth which will be recorded asap.

Finally, whats on your turntable at present? 

This is what I listen to


Electribe 101’s back catalogue can be purchased via Demon Music Group 

Matt Mead

Matt Mead

Freelance writer who likes anything with heart and soul