Wee Reviews – Posthuman and Marquis Hawkes.

The snow has gone, and the clouds are doing interesting things beneath patches of blue sky. The trees are beginning to blossom and while the black dog isn’t exactly back in his kennel he’s at least napping in the sun. Well, mostly. Sorry I haven’t been around: stuff and that. On the plus side there’s a pile of records and what-nots sitting here beside me. On the down side there is a pile of records and what-nots sitting here beside me. Let’s see what we have….

Posthuman – The Damocles Syndicate (Shipwrec)

Posthuman take their squelchy, acidy, wobble across the sea to Dutch label Shipwrec with this two tracker. It’s a good fit, seeing as how both parties have a skill for retooling older sounds until they have a more contemporary feel. While it’s maybe not as gloriously messy and dark as the last Posthuman release we covered (last year’s Preach on DABJ), The Damocles Syndicate still delivers a heavy and stinging burst of future-acid.

The Damocles Syndicate moves itself with a slow swagger, knowing it doesn’t have to shift itself for anyone. It’s a slow, grand, unfurling of biting 303s and drums barely held together by a rumour of velocity as it peels itself apart to reveal the twisted, de-constructed, rave entity at its core. Netflix and Kill accelerates the party into a kinked bop and holds the acidic overtures at arm’s length while the tune builds itself silly before letting the bass burrow into your head. A very nice addition to a genre that sometimes struggles with invention these days. Smart, deep, and heavy, this is next-gen acid with its eyes open to the rest of the world.

Marquis Hawkes – The Return Of Marquis Hawks (Dixon Avenue Basement Jams)

It’s been an eternity since Marquis Hawkes last dropped anything on DABJs, which is a shame because his four previous on the label are still amongst his (and the label’s, in fact) best. In the invtervening period there have been controversies about cultural appropriation, a handful of records under his Juxta Position handle, and a slew of Hawkes releases across several other imprints that never quite seemed to reach the same level of heat as he managed with the Dixon Avenue gang.

While I don’t think The Return… is up there with Cabrini Green, or Higher Forces At Work, it’s still a pretty banging and convincing slice of noisy house, drawing on the spirit of Dance Mania and Relief – which always scores extra points around here.

In particular, Rush Hour Traffic and Bodywork draw on a strong, tracky, mid nineties Chicagoan spirit to add heft to the tunes’ acceleration. Rush Hour Traffic is a pure bred, peak time hammer of tongue-in-cheek funk and slapping drums which carries off a slightly knowing attitude with aplomb. Bodywork is less in-you-face about itself, but deepens the same basic formula, adding the tang of a big-room jacker to the mix.

It’s the slower and understated Moonmin that steals the limelight though. Deeper but wider in scope than the relatively straight up tunes which form the rest of the EP, the track curls around some truly grimy bass and drums, and feels as if it gets looser and looser as the track goes on. It strips out the house colour from elsewhere and draws the curtains, leaving only the suggestion of dawn breaking over the rest of us as it gets on with the night’s heavy business.

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Best Of The Represses. April 2018: The Vision – Spectral Nomad (Metroplex)

Only the one this month. Just because.

Vision – Spectral Nomad (Metroplex)

After what seems like an eternity lingering on the edge of a re-release, Metroplex have finally managed to get this absolute corker back in to circulation. Originally released in 1996, Spectral Nomad came in the middle of what might still be Robert Hood’s greatest period. Aside from the way in which he continued to tighten and amplify the sophisticated, utterly stripped down grooves of the minimalist techno he had begun with Internal Empire two years before, he was also taking his first steps into a wider, less constrained world with his looser, thicker, Floorplan material as well as creating the deeper, Basic Channel infused sounds of Monobox. All three bore a striking family resemblance – a focus on sharpening the funk, and removing everything except the bones, the muscle, and the sinew – which was already apparent as something inherently Hoodian above whatever else the individual projects might bring with them. Where his old partner in crime, Jeff Mills, shared much of Hood’s basic ethos he used it as the foundation of a larger, more sweeping sound. Even the tightest of Jeff Mills’ tunes seem to reach outwards and upwards until they envelop the listener and the dancer. With Hood there is no such release; Everything is either movement or energy and every other element is jettisoned. The music turns in on itself.

The Vision was an older project, and one which actually had far less sonically in common with what he would later begin to create. A pair of early EPs – Gyroscopic on Underground Resistance, and Toxin on Hardwax – are brilliant, but they lean closer to the harder European rave tinged sound that Underground Resistance were making (which is hardly a surprise given Hood’s history and former place in the collective). They sound raw as hell. Heavy too; laden with acidic, porpoising riffs, light bending bass, and collapsing beats they represent techno from a period where the fury of the music is wound up with a soulfulness that came directly from house, lending an emotional edge which cuts right through the fuzz and the snarls.

Spectral Nomad was the third of The Vision records, and the last. Brought back by Hood after a four-year lay-off it didn’t seem interested in revisiting anything except the name. Certainly there was a dirtier vibe than was usually found in Hood’s other work of the period, but the music was denser, less concerned by a need for an immediate, visceral, thrill. More importantly, it also feels less willing to trade space to outside influences for Hood’s own ideas. Spectral Nomad is a very pure record in that sense, and only occasionally does it nod its head to others: Spectral Nomad itself is one of the few moments on the record to cast back to Hood’s older tastes. Its exploratory, jazzy, atmosphere echoes a lot of Juan Atkin’s work, and although it is expertly marshalled by Hood into a swaggering bop, its heart lies in an older – and perhaps more playful – Detroit.

The core of the record though is dominated by Hood’s focus on the grooves. Explain The Style unfolds in classic style with the endless flank of a slowly growing, precision crafted riff sliding by and the mammoth heft of a single kick drum leading the way. It could easily fit into Internal Empire or Minimal Nation. But it builds imperceptibly until it brings wobbling non-melodies borrowed from Mills to the fore, and releases the tension with the tiniest crackles of percussion. Detroit: One Circle flares into being like the first tune’s malicious, spectral, twin; travelling exactly the same ground, it cuts out Explains… willingness to meander and instead deepens and darkens the journey, scratching out a new path with snapping percussion and a looser but more urgent groove. It may not be absolutely one of the greatest techno tunes to emerge from Detroit but it isn’t far off, and its influence has probably touched more people than you’d imagine. You can sense its presence behind the early work of a number of Motor City producers, chief amongst them DJ Bone, whose own taste for rolling, expansive, yet stop-on-a-dime tight tunes shows a genuine understanding of what Hood was trying to achieve here.

Modern & Ancient feels like the sole misstep on Spectral Nomad for the first few times you hear it. It doesn’t really have much in common with anything else on the record – nor, in fact, with much else Hood was creating at the time – and seems isolated when you try to put it into context with the rest. But the tune itself make busy with its stark positioning and strange sense of adventure, climbing high enough, showing enough of itself that you can gradually understand its place here. Probably not enough, though, to stop you noticing what it isn’t over what it is.

Spectral Nomad is not the definitive Detroit techno record, as some would have you believe, and it perhaps lacks a little of the magic that the very best of Rob Hood’s creations all have, but it is a definite piece of the puzzle and anyone seeking to understand how we got from their to here should try to get to know it. This was Hood in the middle of a transition, translating not only between his own eras, but those of Detroit. It is techno of a different sort; not minimalist but trimmed by the same knife, and possessed by a mesmeric charm that keeps everything guided on the sonic beliefs which shaped so much of his music. It seems cheap somehow to say it, as if it detracts from the power of the music, but Spectral Nomad is an important document; it’s not the whole story, but offers instead a major perspective on one of electronic music’s most seminal genres. It’s that important. That it happens to bang so very hard is just the icing on the cake.

Reviews – Automatic Tasty – Propaganda (Vortex Traks); Shawn Rudiman/Naeem/Hits Only – PGH Electro Volume 1 (Is/Was)

Towards the end of last year I started to suspect that electro’s latest resurgence had reached its high water mark, that it was finally beginning to roll back, taking with it not only the great swell of new artists and music, but the usual flotsam of chancers and bandwagon jumpers who usually float to the surface just as the tsunami begins to break. It’s a funny genre for that. I can’t think of many others which are so inextricably linked with a cycle of flood or drout. I was beginning to worry how long it would be before the next wave started its inexorable roll towards the beach head.

Automatic Tasty – Propaganda (Vortex Traks)

As it turned out, I was a little, tiny, bit premature. Now that the dark hump of the year has passed, things are beginning to get going again. There has been a real explosion of great electro in the last few weeks – much of it from expected locations, some from out of the blue. Particularly fun has been the way the newer music has been chaperoned by a great little run of interesting reissues (chief amongst them, personally speaking, Tresor’s re-release of the Scopex back catalogue.)

As good as the represses are, it’s been even more heartening to see a host of young labels going from strength to strength. Vortex Traks first appeared back in 2015 just as the scene began to climb and have pretty much been up at the front all through this revival. It seems not entirely believable, then, that the new release, Automatic Tasty’s Propaganda , is only their eighth.

It’s a delicate collection of tunes, is Propaganda, and one that rarely tries to work up a sweat when it can follow an ambling groove all the way through a pastel sunset. It’s a warm record; frazzly bursts of Heinrich Mueller-esque melody spiral over your head, occasionally tinting themselves with the slightest hint of italo, before falling languidly over the rhythms crisp hurry. While you can occasionally be forgiven for wondering if Automatic Tasty’s love for a particular era and style of electro is pushing things a little close to homage, you can’t knock the silvery, laid back energy which powers it. Particular stand outs are Man & His Value’s, joyfully soulful slo-mo bump where it pulses through endless depths of light, colour,and shadow, and Prying Eyes (See No Evil) with its shimmying, workshop altered, Drexcxiyan bop.

It took me a little while to get my head adjusted to it, having done little but listen to ultra fast techno bass over the last few months, but the change of pace and Propaganda’s determination to find its own path and speed quickly warmed me to it. It’s the perfect burst of subliminal heat and light for this weird, on-going winter.

Shawn Rudiman/Naeem/Hits Only – PGH Electro Volume 1 (Is/Was)

Shawn Rudiman’s place as hero of the Pittsburgh scene has been won over the last decade and a half with the help of some seriously class house and techno which rivals the best to emerge from the two big Mid West incubators. It’s interesting to see him push into electro – a genre in to which (as far as I know) he has dipped his toe a few times over his career without ever becoming fully immersed.

That changes here, along side relative newcomers Naeem and Hits Only, as he brings a pair of sinuous and lithe fast-movers to the record. Both tunes have a core of snapping techno powering the beats; Derelict evokes the static flecked growl of I-F’s bleak funk and winds it up with a paired down, ravey melody which flickers across the crunching beats with a flash of neon. Asimolar ties the clipped, tight, beats into a 303 speckled sound-scape that’s part old-school acid anthem and part Detroit. There’s something in its energy reminiscent of Black Dog at their more playful, or even LFO at their most expansive. It’s a seriously good tune.

Excellently, both Hits Only and Naeem pick up the gauntlet, both acts turning in quality grooves which easily rise to Rudiman’s challenge. Hits Only’s Trion 4 takes a more minimal route, pairing back on any frippery for a tune built from stamping breaks, a massive chord stab, and some razor sharpened 303 work. Naeem’s Facing Forward unspools right off into deep space. Both achingly subtle and actually demented, it fluctuates between those two extremes as it flares out beyond the edge of the heliosphere. It might actually be the pick of a ridiculously strong EP. I know it’s been out a little while, but I’ve been selfish in keeping it to myself. Go and make that right, right now.

The Maghreban – 01deas (R&S)

Let’s be honest about something right from the start: When I heard that The Maghreban was making an album I was a little uncertain about how it would go. Having been a fan of his music for a long while now I think I have a fairly good grasp of its qualities, and I suspected that the mix of wide-screen exploration and loose, hynpogogic, grooves might be a little rich for a longer playing project, as if such qualities were better in smaller doses.

Thinking it over, though, and you begin to wonder whether a LP might not actually be better suited to Ayman Rostom’s music than its usual 12″ home. Sometimes when a house or techno producer aims for an album there is an amplification of the basic influences and ideas which shape the music. It becomes harder to avoid noticing if they are stretched too thin. In this case you would hope that the extra leg room might allow for the music to blossom and flourish, and to allow the space for many of Rostom’s tastes to really mature and come into their own.

Even with the real estate offered with four sides of wax, though, 01DEAS is a busy album. Crowded with starting points, and tangled with divergent paths though a forest of influences, it’s easy to lose yourself at first in a maze of concepts and interpretations until, gradually, the lie of the land begins to make itself known. The hip hop, the house and the techno, the touches of dub and d&B, the woozy, broken, vocals and the taut, noirish, moods, all seem to lead off to different horizons and it takes time to follow them back to the point where they feed into the records central tones and atmospherics.

It’s not a dark record, although it has is moments in the shade, and much of it is illuminated with an excitement of how much fun all these different toys can be. It’s a simple joy in the way the snap of a sultry but wistful mover like Revenge where Rutendo Machiridza’s plaintive vocals light a torch above a wiry and buckling rhythm can emphasise a similar energy to Sham’s scatter beat drums and billowing Rhythim Is Rhythim pads.

01DEAS has some of its best moments in tunes like these, or in the tight, sunlit, funk of Mike’s Afro where all the elements come together under a focus of mood and tension.
Crime Jazz is looser, more typically Maghreban it its de-constructed jazz and effervescent alien kitsch, like a xeno John Barry let loose. Strings pulls at a drifting house number until it comes apart in the hands, and puts it back together with an inside made of AFX bass and a skin of broken blues.

It’s an intriguing record in the way it finds common ground in the midst of such an expanse of ideas. Occasionally it drifts a little too far to the outer reaches, worrying a little too much about direction than the destination, but there is usually something there, a burst of spectral dialogue, or a sudden wash of synths, to show you the way back, and when it works itself up into its handful of true grooves, it’s very, very good indeed. Fittingly for a record which draws on so many sources, 01DEAS is an album of evolution and anyone expecting the same as the 12″s spread over a larger canvas will find themselves challenged, perhaps, by the way the same ideas have been pared down until they better fit a much more rounded, and exciting, whole. This is The Maghreban with excess stripped out and a new, clearer, vision showing the way forward.

Best Of The Represses March 2018

I think the title of this column is occasionally a bit misleading. Not tonight, though.

Timenet – Dishwasher (Frame Of Mind)

Now, this is an example of someone really, really, digging back and returning with something unexpected. The original was released in 1992 as a white label by the members of the short-lived techno outfit Ubik, and that’s about all I know of it. Judging from the fact that the same PR blurb is out there on about 100 record store sites, I’d say that’s about all most seem to know about it which is pretty cool and interesting because it’s not often we get something genuinely obscure popping up as a repress at the moment.

Musically it’s very much of its time with its mix of Acid, techno, and rave, lending it the distinctive UK sound of the early nineties. While Dishwasher feels far more classically Chicago – mainly because it’s an homage of sorts to Mr Finger’s Washing Machine – the other tracks cram in a good dose of messy, day-glo, fun alongside some wobbly grooves. On The Move comes straight out of a dingy club at the wrong end of the high street with its baggy T-shirt stained with sweat and dry ice; ravey stabs and grinning daftness do something similar to the inside of its mind. DX Moods is the pick though, with its low-slung, electro tinged, moodiness eventually bursting into a smiling, fractal, sunrise.

Aux 88 – Technology (Direct Beat)

Although not the highest ranking record in my personal ‘Direct Beat represses I need right now’ list, not least because Technology is one of the tracks on last month’s repress of Bass Magnetic, this is still an important one to get back out seeing as it represents not only the first ever release on Direct Beat but – I might be wrong about this – also the first appearance of Aux 88.

While Technology feels a little rough and ready compared to some of their later, slicker, work It remains a great tune and one which helped to define the entire techno bass sound with its blend of electro, house, and soulful Detroit techno. But where techno bass – as a whole – eventually began to suffer from a little too much in the way of cookie-cutter sounds and off-the-shelf attitude, Technology remains wonderfully alive to the possibilities. Even better is the Rhythm mix which swaps the fluid breaks for a stomping 4/4 beat, head-rushing energy, and connects the Detroit sounds of the early 90s with something altogether more up-front and explosive. This Direct Beat Classics thing is beginning to shape up very nicely.

k Alexi Shelby – All For Lee-Sah (Transmat)

One of a very small band of producers whose work truly crossed the – mostly imaginary – boundaries between Chicago and Detroit, K-Alexi could always be counted on to deliver the sort of utter banger that everyone knew even though they lived in the ‘secret weapon’ category. This repress of his Early Transmat release – the first proper repress we’ve had from the label in a long while – brilliantly sums up that rare duality with three tunes that you’ll have heard plenty of times even though you didn’t know who made them.

My Medusa is probably the most familiar, particularity as its wonky, eternally optimistic, skank has been out on a couple of other relatively recent represses, but the other two tunes bring very different facets of K-Alexi’s sound to the fore. Vertigo is one of the dirtiest, funkiest, acid tracks ever released. It’s a tune so pungent you’ll be catching it at the edge of your senses for weeks. All For Lee-Sah is just a work of near genius. A swirling, compressed, storm of emotion and mood it floods over a stone cold groove which gradually winds itself up into some brilliantly subtle acidic funk. Bring the strobes for this one.