Friday, 28 February 2014

The Ten Best: Prologue


Munich based label Prologue are at the forefront of contemporary techno. They have built a back catalog of some of the most forward thinking and influential techno of recent memory, that ranges from the tribalisms of Dino Sabatini to the dark minimalism of Milton Bradley and the effervescent kaleidoscope of work that Donato Dozzy & Neel have produced as Voices from the Lake. The sound that Prologue have become known for has it roots in the much discussed but little known Italian scene, with legendary acidic pioneers such as Lory D and Leo Anibaldi has touchstones. Since the label's inception in 2008 their roster of artists have become truly international with artists from America (Mike Parker), Sweden (Abdulla Rashim) and Finland (Samuli Kemppi), showing that psychedelia in techno can be universal. The hit to miss ratio of their full lengths is without peer, and their 12" schedule consistently breaks new ground, showcasing new directions and forms in techno.

 

The Prologue sound fits in loosely with the minimalist, forward thinking production that has become a hallmark of modern techno. Inspired by collectives like Sandwell District who forged a path of cold, post-punk inspired darkness with a clinical and pointillist approach to found design, Prologue takes the base root idea but drenches it in an organic, warmer sound that begs to be heard blasting out in strange, lost mountain forest. Like Sandwell District who's manifesto was to update the classic, harder techno sound of the 90s, Prologue updates the trippier, heady vibes of people like Emmanual Top, Heiko Laux and Consumed era Plastikman. 2009 was their breakout year that was highlighted when RA editor Todd Burns profiled them as part of their label of the month feature. In 2012 the full length by Donato Dozzy & Neel Voices From The Lake topped many end of year charts that cemented their reputation as one of the most important labels of the time. Now in 2014 with the rise and abundance of a noise influenced, heavier sound tipped by producers like AnD and Karenn, Prologue's calm and considered approach seems even more refreshing and vital. In this feature, I run down 10 of the best cuts from a label that is full of potential highlights.

10. Echologist - Head On (2013) The Mechanics Of Joy   




For an artist that has become known for dub-tech, inward looking productions, Head On is surprisingly hard territory. The opening track of Echologist's debut release for Prologue leaves all sense of Chain Reaction idealizing at the door and replaces it with a peak time dance floor banger. Heavy subs beg you to turn your speakers up to ear damaging volumes and synths that sound like an artificial forest after dark, it's a bold new direction from Moeller. Complete with kicks that avoid a metronomic  4x4 beat, it's an impressive tune that manages to fit in with the Prologue sound but still retains a sense of individuality that sounds like nothing else in their catalog.

9. Lena Deen - Sleep Don't Come Easy (2012) Sleep Don't Come Easy


One of the most sonically isolated tunes that Prologue have ever released, Sleep Don't Come Easy is an interesting curiosity. The song starts off pleasingly enough with deep, heady drones and tension building hats. Then seemingly out of nowhere a breakbeat comes in. It's a startling, unexpected moment that sounds like a cross-pollination between a Dozzy and a Burial tune. Choral voices that were restrained in the back enter the foreground and turn the beat underneath into something more grandiose. As the opening track on Lena Deen's debut release, it leaves little doubt that this girl has a promising career ahead of her and one to watch for the future.

8. Cassegrain - Hyena (2012) Coptic


The third cut by British duo Cassegrain on their second release for Prologue explores how the territory between beats can be just as effective in peak time floor damage. A kick that hits every other beat and sounds like it comes straight out of a Kangding Ray tune is combined with short bursts of sub bass that make the song sound like it's traveling in slow motion. Complete with whistles, chirping crickets, noises that sounds like marbles rolling, stepping hats and warbling background drones, this tune is one of the finest that Cassegrain has ever produced and a near perfect distillation of what makes the duo so great.

7. Milton Bradley - Somewhere Beyond My Illusion (2010) The Unheard Voice From Outer Space


For a label that has become known for restrained minimalism, being one of the most stripped down songs in their discography is no small feat. Bridging the gap between ambient music and techno, Milton Bradley creates a dark and looming atmosphere that is almost militaristic in it's conservatism. Stripping back everything to their bare essentials, he creates an cosmic void of destroyed spaceships and broken stars. Apocalyptic drones are paired with a drenched, bass heavy kicks that combine to produce an effect of claustrophobic weightlessness. Sounding like Mundus Subterraneus era Lightwave but with a beat, if you ever feel yourself leaning towards the dark side, this is the perfect soundtrack to your twisted fantasies.

6. Claudio PRC - Nur (2013) L Synthesis


Claudio PRC is one of the finest artists to gain a following through Prologue. He specializes in producing psychedelic, heady techno that's at the darker end of the spectrum. Unlike a lot of producers who tread similar ground, he always leaves a sense of levity and playfulness in his tunes. The first half of Nur could easily have a similar vibe to the previous Milton Bradley tune were it not for the bounce and groove that he adds in the bass line and acidic synth washes over the top that sound like a beefed up version of Burn era Function. The majority of the song builds tension until finally over 4 minute in, we get the hat that moves the song along to it's final chapter. It's a daring move to leave the percussive higher frequencies until near the end of the song but one that adds context to the starkness of the first half.

5. Dino Sabatini - Ceto (2010) Daughter of Phorsys Recall  

 
Dino Sabatini has become known for tribalistic, poly-rhythmic techno that combines psychoactive sounds with bouncing, stepping beats. That this 2012 album got overshadowed a bit by the Voices From The Lake album was always a bit unfair as I've thought those albums are two sides of the same coin. They both explored the emotional quality that repetition and slow building music can have when used effectively. But whereas Dozzy & Neel aimed for an introspective, organic path, Sabatini went further down the rabbit hole into darker liminal grounds. This cut of his earlier 12" is prophetic of the sound he would develop. Sounding like something Pangaea might play in his recent sets full of 'bouncy' techno, it's a thrilling, heart racing journey from start to finish that would wreck any open minded crowd willing to completely immerse themselves.

 4. Iori - Lapis 3 (2011) Lapis  


Whereas Sabatini works with the ritualistic side of voodoo techno, Iori has always dealt at the psychedelic, mind expanding end. Often he deals in pure sound, exploring how the relationship between different timbrel qualities can create feelings of disassociation and mind expansion. All ranges of frequencies are perfectly in harmony. Techno often explores darkness in a cosmic and apocalyptic environment but this one feels like you're diving deep underwater to that place at the bottom of the ocean where sunlight doesn't even reach. It warbles, bubbles, pops, squeaks, wobbles, fizzes and bounces to create a feeling of suffocating floating. With an unexpectedly stepping beat, I'm reminded slightly of Shackleton's more aggressive tunes but influenced more by Tangerine Dream than Muslimgauze. It's also worth noting another tune on this release, Lapis 2 that has a similar feeling of drifting but with a straighter, four to the floor beat underneath.

3. Mike Parker - FWD (Donato Dozzy Mix) (2012) Subterranean Liquid  


What is the  nature of techno? What are it's intrinsic qualities that separate it from other forms of music?  I think that Donato Dozzy and Mike Parker has solved that question better than any essay or book could. This is the distilled essence of techno. When you strip everything back and you leave yourself with only the base structure of techno music, this is what you get. A kick and a sound. This tune is a pure and unadulterated response to meaning within music. Anyone who's ever heard it on a proper system knows the singular effect it can have. It can make a room sound like the air is breaking and thinning with a mastery over the timbrel quality of sound that both Dozzy and Parker have become famous for.

2. Cio D'or - Goldbrokat (2009) Die Faser, Pt. 1

Techno music has never been famous for heart on your sleeve emotional out pourings, even less for decelerations of romance. All this makes the 4th minute of this song even more spine tingling. The song starts off in traditional but accomplished fashion, with an eyes down, voodoo approach to techno that has become so associated with Prologue. After a few minutes the beat goes away and something wonderful happens. Pianos suddenly emerge from the darkness and wash over the song, completely altering the vibe of the tune and showing a level of emotional dexterity in a genre that can too often be cold and sterile. It's a similar trick that old jungle and hardcore tunes used by bringing in female vocals and cheesy pianos that rippled flutters of pleasure through blissed out crowds. Simon Reynolds postulated that the vocals in old hardcore tunes were love poems to ecstasy and that feeling of overwhelming happiness experienced on the drug. This song I think is an ode to that similar feeling but one that's not drug induced, but love induced. As anyone who's been madly in love and had it reciprocated, you'll know how physically overpowering it can be. A healthy, natural rush of serotonin. I don't know if Cio D'or had any of these feelings in mind but that this song has got me thinking about these things is indicative of the power that the second half of this song exudes. One of the true highlights of the past decade in techno music.

1. Voices From The Lake - S.T. (VFTL Rework) (2012) Voices From The Lake  


The song where the melody breaks.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Mixman


Kangding Ray - Secret Thirteen Mix 108
There are various ways to approach a mix. A collection of unreleased material and dubs is a great way to get the listener count in. A showcase for your approach in a club can be the equivalent of a business card, showing punters what they can expect when they hear you play out. Or you can take a more considered, home listening approach and create a mix for people to put on in the background while going about their monotonous, grinding daily chores. Kangding Ray seems to come from a completely different world with one of the most eclectic and eye grabbing track lists you'll see all year. As a brief example that's indicative of the whole mix, the first three tracks goes from African music to the voodoo sounds of Rrose straight into a cut from Bristollian collective Young Echo. The rest of the mix goes through Jon Hassell, Marcel Dettmann, Autechre, and even fits in time for the wail of Drake. It's unlikely you'll here a mix like this for a while.

Kowton - Ilian Tape Podcast Series 010
Kangding Ray's mix approached eclecticism through contrast and difference, Kowton instead looks for similarity. Kowton and the Livity Sound crew have honed a unique take on British dance music that is as indebted to house and techno as it is to soundsystem culture. His mix for the Ilian Tape Podcast Series highlights this by opening with a classic cut from Baby Ford and then proceeding to delve into UK Funky, a L.I.E.S tune and new cuts from himself, A Made Up Sound and Pearson Sound. What's impressive about this mix is that Kowton chooses cuts from a variety of different scenes and places them together into an aesthetic that perfectly fits with the Livity sound. It's also worth checking out this mix just to hear A Made Up Sound's wicked mix of Velez.

Mr Mitch - Dummy Mix 199
I'm by no means an expert on Grime and it's history so I'm not going to try and discuss how Mr. Mitch fits in with that legacy. However, what he and a lot of the current instrumental grime producers have been doing over the past couple years has been something that I've really connected with. This mix featuring tunes from Murlo, Rabit, himself and plenty others. It's a fantastic journey through what was described brilliantly in a recent Quietus interview as 'Grime in Zero-G'.

Peter Van Hoesen - Curle 25 (Continuous Mix)
Back in the grand old days of 2010, techno's own Peter Van Hoesen mixed the 50th mnml ssgs podcast that shined a light on the slower, housier side of his record bag. It's this ground that he treads for this mix celebrating the Curle025 label compilation. While it's a little more beefed up than the ssgs mix, it still shows a more reserved side to Van Hoesen, who's sets can be some of the most intense things you'll here in a club (His 4 and hour recorded mix at Berghain is one of my all time favorites). This one is an hour of classy, expertly curated house, techno and electro featuring Conforce, E.R.P some exclusive edits from the man himself.

Weight & Treble - Electronique 233
Up and coming Italian duo Weight & Treble have recorded the newest Electronique podcast and it's a brilliant collection of synth music, old dub techno and early electronic experiments. The best ambient and beatless mixes manage to put together collections of sounds that perfectly balance and compliment each other. Weight & Treble attain this by curating a selection of idiosyncratic and odd sounds that progressively get heavier until it ends on a surprisingly banging Daphne Oram tune. If you want a mix that surprises and challenges, this is one for you.

DJ TLR - Electronic Explorations 204 'Jungle Mix'
If his guest mix on the Hessle Audio show wasn't enough to proof that TLR's taste are far broader than the kind of weird house & disco that his label Creme Organisation has become synonymous for, here's an 80 minute jungle mix to silence any doubts. The newest installment of Rob Booth's seminal Electroc Explorations podcast series shows the Dutch label boss in top form with a selection that someone like Randall would be proud of. With breakbeats coming back into fashion, this is a excellent mix for someone to get introduced to the history of those sounds.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Broke


Smallville and their associated artists have been churning out quaint deep house cuts for years, honing a unique approach to house music that's as much influence by classic German labels like Dial and Playhouse as they are by people like Theo Parrish and Mike Huckaby. It's this fusion of restrained German minimalism and Detroit soul that has so warmed people to their sound. RVDS' amazing release of sweet, introspective acidic house Moon On Milky Way was one of the highlights of last year, and they've already started 2014 with a fantastic album by STL that I previously discussed here. One of the most prominent artists related to this label is Christopher Rau who's released two albums on the Hamburg based label. He's built a career out of roughed up, soulful house music that's as satisfying for home listening as it is for a sweaty packed club. He starts 2014 off with a release for the young Office label, marking their third release.

Listening to Christopher Rau's release Broke you wouldn't think it's the middle of winter. As I'm writing this the weather is breaking through the number 453 bus outside my window and pouring into my lounge, smothering me with delicious sunlight vibes. I'm halfway through the first cut Mehris Groove and I'm starting to think bees are swarming around my imaginary Pimms. It has a metronomic bounce and tough drum track that completely locks you in, using similar techniques of repetition and hypnotism that most techno capitalizes on. It's got similar vibe to the harder edged tunes that someone like Motor City Drum Ensemble has been putting out. A surprisingly upfront main chord breaks into a jazzy lick half way through in a way that changes the feel of the beat underneath, turning the song into a swirling roller. It's a stand out moment and one that shows the level of understanding that Rau has over house rhythms. The other two cuts on the release go into stranger territory. Title track Broke is a chugging number with licks that threatens to break into something bigger but instead stays restrained to the background. Complete with Parrish-ian hats and a deep, encompassing bass, it shows a more introspective side to Rau's work. The last cut Im Sumpf is a muddy, organic number with distant vocal samples and synthetic bird cries that's a more than satisfying closer to this release.


Monday, 24 February 2014

Black Light Spiral


The influence of Jack Dunning aka Untold over British dance music of the past few years is hard to deny. Creator of some of the most twisted and forward thinking beats of recent memory and head of the influential Hemlock imprint, his legacy is already imprinted in bass warped stone. Tunes like Anaconda and Stop What You’re Doing showed how the slogged dirge of dubstep could have the same rhythmic complexity as old hardcore and jungle (an influence that his guest appearance on the Hessle Audio show last October made crystal). Recently he’s joined the path of people like Blawan and Pariah in leaving the ‘nuum aside and traveling down a twilight road of phat, heavy techno that pounds your body and soul in the same way that Liquid Room era mills used to. Being the patriot that he is, Dunning’s new music isn’t looking overseas for inspiration but aligning himself to a British music lineage that has roots further north. His recent start up Pennyroyal has showcased artists from the harder edge of techno, with ear bleeding noise influenced releases from people like Boner M and ex-junglist J Tijn. All this makes the lead up to Black Light Spiral rather exciting because it feels like Dunning could head in any musical direction for his first full length effort. What we've got is as surprising as it is satisfying.

Before I get on to the rest of the album I want to talk briefly about the state of contemporary techno and it’s position between the past and the future. For a music that’s de facto faceless and theme-less, it seems remarkable that after nearly three decades since the music was originated, it’s as popular and widely talked about as it’s ever been. The Berghain manifesto of ‘true techno music’ that once seemed so fresh has descended into cliches of sub-standard, reverb heavy beats that seem all too hollow outside the infamous, cavernous walls. The clinical, high definition minimal sound pioneered by Robert Henke and late 90s Plastikman has entered into an inverse curve of popularity versus creativity. The music seems split now between the introspective, emotional sound pushed by labels such as Prologue, the dirty distortions of neo-noise techno found in the deep underbelly of Boomkat and the modern-IDM of people like Answer Code Request, Ingio Kennedy and Kangding Ray.  Untold enters this war-in-the-machine state at a pivotal time. As an artist who has a proven track record as a producer, and a widely disparate and eclectic range of musical influences, what can Dunning add to the genre at a time when a strong voice is so sorely needed?

The first thing that’s noticeable is the lack of traditional club friendly material. Doubles is the only tune that could be considered a reasonably easy song to drop in a set, but even this one isn't conventional by any means. Dunning’s take on techno is similar to how he approached dubstep and grime influenced music. He takes musical ideas and conventions that are synonymous with the genre, but choose specific details and pushes them to the complete extreme. Turn of the millennium grime has rhythms that managed to both tighten the chest and bop the head. Anaconda took these two aspects of the music and took them to breaking point. Doubles is a similar response to hard techno with a kick that morphs and folds into the heavy sub bass pulsing underneath. The drum and the bass become two parts of the same sound in an illusion of sonic metamorphosis. A rampant disregard for traditional techno mechanics is a continuing trend throughout Black Light Spiral. 

Dunning attempts to fuse together his previously mentioned influences (jungle, dubstep, grime, techno, noise etc) to create an end product that feels like it could break into anyone of those genres at any point. Sing A Love Song has a deranged vocal sample and a bass that sounds like it's been re-sampled through a distorted tape and then over-driven to 11. The song constantly seems like it's going to break into a rave monster but  instead holds the tension and gives off a paranoia that seems reminiscent of ‘93 darkside before it developed into the gangster rude boy swing of jungle. Elsewhere, album opener 5 Wheels begins proceedings with sirens that are like the coming of post-apocalyptic ghosts complete with fluorescent whistles and rave air horns. Drop It On the One has heavy drones that cut through the tune in missile-esque fashion before dropping into the inevitable explosion that comes near the end of the track, with a gun fingers transition into Kevin Drumm inspired noise. This tune is one of the most successful on the album and is evidence of Untold's experience in sound design curating. 


All these are admittedly great tunes but a full length album needs a mix up of themes and emotions. Luckily, Dunning shows his range with the album’s calmest point, Wet Wool. Traveling in reverse like an extended rewind, it preps the listener for the final half of the album. The only real flat note is the 7 minute Hobthrush which that’s the only tune that’s verges towards pastiche. It’s reminiscent of a diluted and under-produced version of Surgeon's tune Radiance but it’s a worthy experiment and shows how Dunning is still interested in exploring rhythmic complexities within electronic music. The album ends on a high point as you get to the the final track Ion. This cut is proof that the albums strengths lie in his mastery of sound design and taste for balancing eclectic sounds and influences to produce a product that feels very much of the now in the post-everything musical landscape. The lasting impression of this album is how he’s brought in classic ‘nuum signifier's (junglists horns, rudeboy culture, wall shaking bass) into techno and noise music. It's a signal of a new step in Dunning's career that's a move away from the dancefloor into something more cerebral. It's time to stop looking back at tunes like Anaconda and look forward to whichever avenue Untold chooses to wander down.

Ruffhouse


As a born and bred Englishman, it's impossible to escape the looming influence of drum and bass on youth culture. Often the gateway for pimpled faced schoolboys into club culture, it's long been a British institution that's somewhere between David Attenborough and anti-immigration rhetoric. There was a dark point in the mid 00s where it seemed like nothing interesting was happening at 170+ (although under the surface people like Breakage and Paradox were flying the flag for late jungle experimentalism). Then people like ASC, dBridge and Instra:mental came along and brought a mini revolution with the Autonomic sound and the rest, as some say, is history. There has been plenty written about the artistic resurgence of drum and bass so I won't add to that noise, but there's one act that has really impressed me recently.


Hardwax approved Ruffhouse is a trio of producers from Bristol that have carved a niche of deep, stripped back, tribal drum and bass. They produce dark, rolling tunes that all seem like a variation of a base idea, exploring the possibilites within set artistic boundaries. There's a comparison to be made with someone like techno's own Mike Parker. Both specialize in minimalistic, dark beats that are layered with psychedelic sounds over the top that given the right setting, can become completely immersive. There are echos of old Prototype tunes but filtered through the post-Autonomic landscape with a penchant for acute sound design. For a great introduction, I recommend this live recording as hearing these sounds mixed together gives a broader understanding of what these guys are trying to do. This sound is one that perfectly fits with some of the more psychedelic, headfuck ends of the dance spectrum, and if you're into labels like Prologue and Fullpanda, this is definitely one to check out if you want to hear something a bit different.


Friday, 21 February 2014

Mixologist


natural/electronic.system - Clubberia 043 

This ones a few years old but I've probably listen to this more than anything else this week. Natural/Electronic.system are a duo from Napoli that specializes in the kind of psychedelic dance that the Italians have become known for. What we have here is a 2009 recording from their performance at Labyrinth and it's a special one. A collection of deep, hypnotics grooves that flirts smoothly from house into techno and back again, joining the dots in a unique and organic way.

Samuel Kerridge  - 20 Minute Live Set

 
A Fallen Empire was one of my favorite albums of last year so you can imagine how far my pupils dilated when I saw a short preview of what a live Samuel Kerridge performance is going to sound like on the Fabric soundcloud. Kerridge is one of the most interesting artists to traverse the noise/techno landscape that has become inimitable recently. Over the first 10 minutes he brings the beats in and out of focus until the 11th ,when all hell breaks loose with something that sounds like a distorted, fucked up Dino Sabatini tune.

Floating Points  - You're A Melody #2



Floating Points in one of those DJs where you would do incredibly naughty things to get even a tenth of their record collection. When you see him live or listen to a mix, you know as a certainty that you're going to hear things from the musical spectrum that you've never heard before and probably will never hear again. As the name suggests, this is the second long form set of obscure soul that was recorded live at the London institution Plastic People. One to soundtrack a lazy hungover Sunday.

Galcher Lustwerk - Boiler Room


Lustwerk's Blowing Up The Workshop mix quite rightly got a ridiculous amount of press and critical acclaim last year, topping the RA's mix of the year poll. It was a unique hour of silicious house grooves that added a bit of romance to the house scene of the present. This recording of his New York Boiler room is a fine selection of leftfield house, ghetto bangers and Lustwerk's own tunes. Look at all those hats in that room, all those beanies.

Pearson Sound - Solid Steel Radio Show 21/2/2014



Whereas Kennedy's RA mix was an introspective rolling selection of sub bass heavy steppers, this mix is shows a rougher and noisier side of his collection. The interesting aspect about him as a DJ and to a certain extent, the rest of the Hessle crew, is that they manage to tred the fine line between dance floor approachability and chin scratching IDM. Never do the beats feel too complex or testing, yet there never seems to be a standard 4x4 route. Using both expert selection and sequencing, Kennedy manages to turn rhythmically complex beats into muscle twisting stormers. Apparently this one has plenty of unreleased dubs so put your train spotting anorak on to get a preview of where the future is heading for Pearson Sound.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Music From Memory


There's been a plethora of boutique reissue labels over the past few years. It seems that everyday there's a new record being remembered on taste makers such as Boomkat. Press statements like 'A forgotten synth classic made by an obscure Greek composer and his wife's lover from 1981 pressed on hand stamped, 180g, rainbow coloured wax that's been remastered by sonic pixies' has become common language in record shops and the terribly hip. Amongst all this it takes something special for a label to stand out in this noise of heavy vinyl and revisionist memory. Nonetheless there has been a few that have risen above the crowd. What's important, it seems, is for a label to have just as much a sonic aesthetic and identity as if it were releasing new music. Minimal Wave has constantly being on point bringing attention to a selection of genuinely amazing 'wave' associated forgotten classics.  Das Kabinette, The Dadacomputer and their excellent Minimal Wave Tapes compilations have all been highlights worth checking out. A branch of Editions Mego called Recollections GRM have also been of the best with heavy curating on early electronic music from important, experimental musicians such as Bernard Parmegiani and Luc Ferrari. These labels have forged a unique idea of the music that they want to release and how they want to present it that has transferred semantically to the point where it wouldn't be silly to say a Minimal Wave-eque record or a GRM-esque record (although you should never actually say that to anyone in real life conversation).


The Dutch label Music From Memory have only released two records so far. Their first one was released in April of last year and the second at the arse end of 2013 or the start of 2014 depending on your chosen retailer. It might seem unfair to place this label in the same territory as the two previously mentioned greats as they haven't had a proper chance yet to showcase their consistency. However, if the two compilations they have released is anything to go by, expect big things in the future from them. They have already created for themselves an individual sound and aesthetic that has coherency, from the sounds to the presentation. The music seems both incredibly old and contemporary, especially when compared with the blossoming synth and bedroom pop music that have been ubiquitous over the last decade. Leon Lowman's Liquid Diamonds is a charming collection of surf and ocean inspired synth funk that seems to out chillwave (remember that?) artists like Washed Out and Ducktails. Their recent release by Gigi Mason entitled The Word Love is an amorous wash of heady ambiance and new age that would easily fit in with the discographies of people like Oneothrix Point Never and Pulse Emitter. While the noun bandwagon and the verb jumping could dismissively be used by a lazy commentator, this music and what this label is doing is genuinely adding something to the current scene by shining on a light on two forgotten artists and presenting them in a way that could only be described as cared for. I'm excited to see where this label goes next and if you're at all interested in this style of music, so should you.


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Earworm


When I started to write this post I originally had it in the same format as I did last time. But as the amount of music that I wanted to talk about just started getting bigger and bigger, I decided it would be easier to split it into different sections under some frankly brilliant and google worthy headlines. In no way am I trying to create the next outsider house or post-dubstep or catgaze or melon wave. They're purely functional phrases; a necessary evil that you should never use or say to anyone (You'll sound ridiculous). As I started to categorise the different music that have been doing it for me, I started to realize that this method was indicative of a wider journalistic issue at the moment. There are hundreds of micro-scenes and micro-genres and a lot of them are purely fictional creations of a journalist that are purely imagined for an easy headline. In Sophie's World the Dad thought his imaginary creatures into being, and in a similar way journalists are all too quick to lump music together that have come from completely disparate parts of the world and place them together under a two word header. Outsider house, for example, was originally a tongue-firmly-in-cheek-term created by Ben UFO that he has since distanced himself from (sensible man). It has now become a much abused part of the lexicon. When looked at Hardwax, for example, that phrase lumps together labels as wide and disparate as Perlon, Trilogy Tapes, Sahko, Smallville, Rush Hour, Idle Hands, Morphine and plenty others. How can some of the most well respected and popular underground house labels be defined as outsider? So in the spirit of this wonderful nonsense, I present to you 3 catchy headers and plenty of lovely music. 
Anthropological Trippers

Afterhours - Lowlife [Not Not Fun]



Not Not Fun has consistently been one of the most interesting labels of the past few years, releasing a diverse range of music from some of the most interesting contempoary artists. A recent release by Afterhours is indicative of the eclecticism of the label as a whole. Lowlife is a fantastic 6 tracker that takes the best from trip hop, African music and the more leftfield strains of house. The opening track sounds like something from Confield era Autechtre but fused with pianos and acoustic drums. Sixty-Forty could easily of come from a Portishead song while Lovesick sounds like a twisted Black Coffee song. The second half delves in ambient soundscapes, slo-mo house and another trip hop number that is is more Paris than Bristol. This eclecticism makes the album sounds less like an artist expressing their musical individuality but more like an expression of their taste. Lowlife is less a concrete musical statement and more a 30 minute sonic anthropological experiment.

Georgia - Like Comment [Meakusma]


In a similar vein as the Afterhours album, Like Comment is a blistering fusion of IDM, Shangaan and Talabotian house. Being released on a label that has previously showcased people like Terrence Dixon and Madteo should shine a  light on what to expect from Georgia's sophomore release. Disparate music is brought together in a way that feels like a proper sonic fusion that takes the intrinsic structural elemets of each genre rather than just the superficial toppings. Haya, for example, has African-esque percussion and rhythms, a synthetic choir and a End of the Game style guitars that when combined together creates one the most breath-taking tunes on the album as each element is brought in and out of focus in an almost free-form way.

The Future Sounds of Electro

Bintus - Live* & Locked [Power Vacuum]


Released at the arse end of 2013 this album by Bintus is one of the most lively and heart-racing albums of recent memory. To put it simply, this album fucking bangs. Paring the aggressiveness of classic electro by people like Anthony Rother  and Billy Nasty with the kind of rolling garage-techno steppers of Pangaea or Radial, this album is a half hour ball of messy, dirty sweaty fun that manages to sound as cheeky as it does angry. Techno and electro has a reputation for being ultra-serious music for serious men wearing serious black t shirts but often the very best versions of this music have had a little wink or smile. To use an extremely obvious and overused example, listen to The Bells again and don't tell me a little smile comes to your face when you realise he's using fucking church bells in an otherwise dirty and distorted techno banger. Live* & Locked functions in a similar way. He uses similar sounds as famously ultra serious techno heads such as Perc and AnD but subverts and twists them through rhythmic invention to create something that sounds as brutal as it does saucy . Take Giza Plateaux for example. This is a tune that wouldn't seem out of place on Hessle or Hemlock that combines the more harder edge sounds of those labels through someone like Joe's idiosyncratic universe.

Elitechnique - Intrusion Part II [Clone Loft Supreme]


While Live* & Locked was fun by design, Intrusion Part II feels fun by purpose. A sequel to last year's effort, Elitetechnique's brilliant release shows it's true colour on the first track. Love Triangle is a joyous HI-NRG disco tune complete with congas, singing men and Funkadelic synths. This release is a bubblegum mixture of cheesy Italo-Disco, spindly electro and synth-funk that also has surprising moments of moments of emotional resonance on tunes like the closing number Fin. A slow jazz funk influenced cut that verges into kitsch-lounge music, it finishes the album on a moment of emotional clarity and honesty that succeeds where most people would fail attempting this musical equivalent of a maroon velvet cushion with prawn cocktail stains hidden in the corner.

 Morphology - Identity Component [Zyntax Motorcity]


On a more serious tip, Identity Component is Morphology's sophomore album that continues their path of dubby, pointillist Drexciyan electro. From the first two tunes it's clear that these dudes mean business. Magnetosphere is a fast paced electro thriller with an acidic bassline, frantic percussion and dub chords. It sounds like a darker, rougher take on NRSB-11's aluminum critique on contemporary capitalism with last year's album Commodified. This sound is continued throughout the album until we get to the penultimate Inertial Motion that in my mind is the most beautiful tune on this release. Starting off with an extremely delicate rhythm and washed out chords, the sub bass is suddenly brought in and moves the song forward. Two thirds of the way through a a synthetic string pattern comes in that left this listener breathless. It's reminiscent of a similar moment half way through Peverelist's seminal Rolling With The Punches when the main high frequency melody that has been playing throughout the song is suddenly taking over by a pulsating synth that completely changes the whole vibe of the tune.

Fractured Techno

 Hound Scales - Sabbath Lillie Hawks [White Asega]


Hound Scales is an artist that is normally affiliated with the Brooklyn based label Fifth Wall that was recently featured in RA's excellent Label of the Month series. They've become associated with an interesting middle ground between house and techno that verges towards the rougher, edgier side of each spectrum. Starting off 2014 on the rising label White Asega, Sabbath Lillie Hawks is a fantastic 4 tracker that develops on this sound pushed by people like Divvorce and Metrist as well as the aforementioned Hound Scales. The opening track Odile could easily fit in with the rougher, industrial side of techno but has a funkier, more soulful side that a lot of that music lacks. A distorted, metronomic main groove is juxtaposed by wailing soul samples that would be a breah of fresh air in the darkest of sets. Howard Hugesian is a more direct tune that has a certain bounce that was explored by Kamikaze Space Programme on their self titled 12" from last year. On the flip, Thinner sounds like a darker, distant cousin of an Akufen-eque stepper that's paired with an admirable remix by Forward Strategy Group. Hound Scales and the Fifth Wall crew are definatly ones to watch out for over the coming year.

L'estasi Dell'oro - Iscariotic Lips [Macro]


It's far too much of a journalistic cliche to say that a piece of music takes you on a  journey, but sometimes music can become exploratory and otherworldly. L'estasi Dell'oro have been pursuing a completely baffling and unique path and have only added to it with this release on Stefan Goldmann's Macro imprint. Their 2013 was ridiculously on point and topped by a 15 minute Unit Moebius Anonymous vs. Shitcluster Remix that had ludicrously over distorted drums, blistering noise and a deranged pitched down voice demanding us to enjoy ourselves. Iscariotic Lips is superficially quieter and more reserved than that tune, but this is deceiving because underneath it's a whole lot stranger. This release leaves the impression of what a rougher, disheveled Ricardo Villalobos might sound like. Iscariotic Lips isn't a million miles away from something like Africolaps but goes much further down the rabbit hole. Reverse & Repair wouldn't sound out of place on labels like Trilogy Tapes or L.I.E.S, it's screeching violins in wicked harmony with the distorted drums.
  
Mark Du Mosch - Bay 25 [Dekmental]


I've always thought that Mark Du Mosch has been one of the most undervalued artists producing this kind of fashionable, weird house music. His releases for Moustache and Tabernacle have been some of the highlights of the recent times and he carries on that high standard for the amazing Dutch label Dekmental. Sharing similar sounds with the recent Ondo Fudd release for Trilogy Tapes, this is in a completely different class to most of that kind of music and shows a subtlety and understanding of the music that most lack. Both Bay 25 and Living Up are brilliant explorations of noisey house music and are complimented with a remix by critics darling Gesloten Cirkel.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

301c Symphony



There's an amazing scene in Apichatpong Weerasethakul's seminimal film Uncle Boonmee where a dead man appears in a forest as a black, gorilla like spirit. His red eyes are the only recognizable feature on his otherwise completely silhouetted body. As a viewer it feels like you are only seeing a small glimpse of him, a fragment in a moment that feels extremely frangible. This transience is is juxtaposed by the resilience and abundance of the jungle behind. Neil Mcdonald' as Lord of the Isles seems to work in a similar way to this striking image. The backgrounds to his music (the percussion, organic samples etc) feel unchanging and robust but the music in front (the melodies and synth washes) feel completely of the moment and fleeting. You feel like you are only hearing a small part of a much grander whole. Sounds are brought in and out without much regard for progression that makes the songs sound like they are gliding. They bring you into a universe that is so easy to feel lost in. His work shares similar ground with house-trippers like Juju & Jurdash and Vakula, but while there work has a lightness that demands to be heard in a open and grand space, Mcdonald's work feels more immersive and insular.



Over the past few years he has released a steady stream of excellent 12"s on labels like Unthank and Mule. He starts 2014 off with one of his best yet. 301c Symphony is a 5 track EP released on the Munich based label Permanent Vacation. It's a continuation of his idiosyncratic take on hazy house and disco with room for a lovely bit of ambiance at the end. The title track starts off beatless with a cavenous bassline that seems to flicker around itself. As the song progresses, utilitarian percussion maintains a steady beat while an almost free form collection of sounds unfold and undulate over the top. Co2o has a shuffle like rhythm that sounds like trees shaking in the wind while acid patterns and angelic strings float in and out. Fyne is the most dub influenced song of the release, with a reverb soaked piano taking the centre stage for most of the song. Horizon Effect seems to outdo John Talabot at being John Talabot, treading the same slo-mo disco ground but in a more subtle and engrossing way. The closer Western Electric is one of Mcdonald's most openly emotional tunes and perhaps the most stunning cut on this release. 3 minutes of bird song, crashing waves, unblemished strings, synth arpeggios and upfront piano manage to provide a fitting ending.  This whole release feels like a futuristic, tropical garden party when Asia has eventually fulfilled it's potential and taking over the majority of the western world and filled it with tigers, palm trees and opiates.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Electronic Love

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, thought I'd run down some of my favorite electronic lurrrve songs to warm the cockles of your romantic raver's hearts. In a genre that is stereotyped as cold and artificial, there's a surprising amount of amorous beats that would smooth over even the most hostile and violent of candle lit restaurant dinners.

The Other People Place - It's Your Love


An electro classic with a bassline that would soften even most robotic heart. James Stinson was never more at his most open and vulnerable then in this song.13 years on and it still sounds like it comes from the future.

Cio D'or - Goldbrokat

Techno has never been one to show it's heart that often, but when it does it can rival even the most heartfelt Al Green song. This isn't an obvious love song, but when those pianos come in half way through who can deny the romance in that.

 Head High - It's A Love Thing (Piano Invasion)


Shed has always been one never too hesitant to show his heart. This classic by him is more of an ecstasy soaked sonnet to rave's early history than a love letter to that special someone.

Dntel - Dream Of Evan And Chan (Superpitcher Kompakt rmx)


A twee, post-millennial heartache. This tune shows all the potential in what minimal could and should of been.

Mr & Mrs Dale - It's You (New York - London Mix)


A classic house tune with a sumptuous bassline. That deadpan vocal delivery is one of the sexiest things in house music.

N.O.I.A - True Love


A cheesy Italo Disco classic. The way the main vocalist manages to caress her voice around the word love is spine tingling. My true luuuuurve.....

Kristine Blond - Love Shy (Tuff Jam's Classic Vocal)


A garage classic that manages to channel all the traditions of female garage vocalists into one gooey, mushy love anthem that sounds like audio candy.

Los Angeles T.F - Magical Body


A Tropical disco sonnet for the latin lovers.

Casco - Cybernetic Love


A love poem for two robots in the 25th century.

Levon Vincent - I Owe You Everything


Levon Vincent at his most sincere and heart breaking with a breath taking vocal. How auto tune should be used.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Timid Ocean Drawings


I'm a big fan of Dasha Rush and her imprint Fullpanda who set a consistently high standard for futuristic, experimental techno. She's starting 2014 on that same bar with her new release Timid Ocean Drawings. Destined to be released on the Dutch Label Deep Sound Channel that has previously seen releases from Tripeo and Milton Bradley's acid techno project Alien Rain, her new work seems like the perfect fit for this up and coming label. The a side Ocean Shy is an angelic piece of ambience that serve as an emotional closer, leaving a crowd to go home with misty eyes. When techno producers create more leftfield works, it seems the norm that they carry on techno's intrinsic crepuscular qualities into washes of dusky soundscapes. So it's interesting to see a producer take the more hypnotic, trance side of techno and reframe that through Hecker-esque lens. On the flip, Ocean Sharp carries on where Ocean Shy left off but reframes the mood for the dance floor. Similar to the flashes of light that appeared in Marcel Fengler's 2013 album Fokus, this is a refreshing piece of techno would shine above a set of dark, brooding techno and would twist the minds of an open minded 4am audience. Lets hope both Dasha Rush and Deep Sound Channel carry on this high quality throughout the rest of year.

Springtime



If you needed some cheering up in this dreary and soaked winter that seems to have the whole country blaming everyone and everything bar the actual weather, Mumdance is right here to add a ridiculous grin to your miserable fucking faces. Released on DJ Haus' excellent Unknown to the Unknown imprint, both tracks of these featured on Mumdance's Twists & Turns mixtape last year. The a side and title track is a joyous slice of electro influenced grime that sounds like Rustie at his most restrained. Candy synths push the song along with smooth sub bass twists and turns underneath. Sounding like a Sabre song filtered through the hardcore continuum, only the most bitter hearted Brit would fail to be left without guiltless ripples of glee running throughout their heart and soul. The b side seems to filter through the same emotions but instead of using electro's chiseled beat this is more like a jungle roller. With similar seratonin synths, a battered pinch of a main melody and water droplets this is a great deal more weird than plenty of professed 'outsider house' tunes that seem to be omnipresent at the moment. Let's hope the rain stops soon so we can all go back to having lots of fun.


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Vibes Ltd


As both a music lover and a nascent blogger, the topic of originality within music has always been of interest to me. Is innovation and individuality more or as important as the sonic quality and emotional response in the listener? My natural instinct is to say that originality is the most important characteristic to be aware of and to critically judge it. What's the point in listening to second rate copies of a 20 year old stylistic niche? With regards to musical statements and releases that are aiming for a higher sense of artistic value, I think that point is valid and true. Music as an album or with a higher concept behind it should aim for innovation and to entice feelings of awe in the listener as all great art should. But I think with the dance 12" that shouldn't be the first priority.

The majority of dance music is at it's simplest, functional. That isn't to say that functionality is a bad thing and I don't mean that in a derogatory or reductionist way. This is music made for clubs, on bass heavy system that are meant to make you dance your arse off at silly hours of the day. The best dance music succeeds in it's function as dance music. When you're listening to a guy spin (unless you're an acne ridden train spotter), you're focusing more on the selection, sequencing and the haptic feeling of the music rather than the year it was produced or the abundance of the particular style of music. To hear a whole set of played out classics or generic RA chart toppers is incredibly tiresome granted. But that's more down to being jaded with individual tunes rather than a specific style of music. The originality of the music or it's place within dance chronology isn't what matters, it's whether the tune flipping kills. So when it comes to functional dance music, the sonic quality is a lot more important than whether the music could be the next Trout Mask Replica.

The Danish Vibes Ltd vinyl only series are very much in the vain of classic Nervous and Emotive releases and under a double blind test could easily be misconstrued as something from the 1990s house scene. They're beautifully produced and pressed, and feature some of the finest deep house of recent years. The second tune on their most recent release Vol. 5 has an effervescent vocal track that drifts in and out as reverberating acid pads sparkle around the beat. The A1 of Vol. 1 features a classic female lead saying 'don't make me wait' as a killer bass line seems to bounce and push the song forward. But the real masterpiece is to be the B2 of Vol. 3. It features a spine tingling pad that washes in out while a banging hat pattern floats on top. The whole song seems to glide over it's six minutes. These releases aren't particularly ground breaking, but they would get a crowd absolutely bouncing and raise the hair on the back of my neck like all my favorite music does.


Mix Me Up


Ben UFO  - Rinse FM 6th February 
I love Ben UFO. It's no secret that he's a fucking brilliant DJ with selections that are wet dreams for any proper heads. His and Pearson Sound's weekly Hessle Show on Rinse have long been one of the mot exciting weekly events in dance music. Each week they manage to russle up something new and surprising playing house, techno, grime, electro, reggae and plenty of leftfield weird shit that leaves you gagging for ids. This recent one is no exception. Billed as a warm up for their vinyl only party in Leeds, this one is another fantastic selection of contemporary dance music that should be heard by anyone with an interest in this music.


Bill Kouligas & Mat Dryhurst - Berlin Community Radio
If the crowd attendance at the recent Boiler Room V&A takeover is anything to go by, PAN seems to be the go to fashionable experimental label at the moment. Which would only be a fatuous problem if it weren't for the consistently high quality of music put out by the Berlin based Label. This mix by label head Kouligas and Dryhurst is a collection of sound art, noise, synth music and the weirder ends of dance music is a great showcase of what the label is doing at the moment.

Eric Cloutier - Live on Studio-R 12.26.13
Eric Cloutier is one of my favorite DJ's and one that seems to sum up what I want to do with this blog. His mixes seem to fuse the dark, holistic house of New York producers like Fred P and Levon Vincent with the more psychedelic techno of Dozzy, Milton Bradley etc. This is a mix of those kind of sounds mixed seamlessly over the course of the two hours.

Norman Nodge - Slam Rado 70
Everyone in the world seems to know about Berghain now. Sex and drugged filled stories dominate any conversation about the Berlin club.. Even Rolling Stone got on it and recently published an admirable article that completely missed the point. Of course all of those myths are wild hyperbole that seem to forget what actually makes the club so great. The music and the residents. To put it simply, Berghain is a great club that plays hosts to some of the best contemporary DJs around on a wicked system with an open minded crowd. But it's their residents that makes it really special. Norman Nodge often is left behind in people's imagination after people like Dettmann, Klock and Fengler. But I've always thought that Nodge personifies the imagined Berghain sound ore than any other resident. People like Dettmann and Klock are great techno selectors yes, but they inflict their sets with a groove, often playing darker house tracks and other leftfield oddities. But Nodge has this flat, industrial metronomic way of mixing that seems more at home in the clubs cavernous, sweat drenched walls that pretty much anyone else.This set is a great example of that style and should hopefully remind people that Berghain isn't some romanticized sex drug haven, but a club with fucking great DJs that play fucking great music.

Chris Ssg - A Colourful Storm 40
A delightful mix of modern synth and older ambience with some unexpected left turns throughout. Any mix that has something from Jon Hassell's seminal album Dream Theory in Malaya is defiantly worth a bit of introspection over a herbal tea, particularly on these rainy, stormy days over here.