Review: Paranoid London – We Come To Rock (Paranoid London)

Paranoid London’s slow, dirty and acidic march through the dingy lanes of the underground has won them plenty of friends over the last couple of years. While their sound is resolutely based on a framework laid down by the likes of Phuture and other acid house gods all those years ago, and doesn’t really overly bother itself about whether or not it caters to explicitly modern tastes, it has gained an extra – and interesting – element from the way the music itself tends to be a very contemporary treatment of the genre: heavier, darker perhaps, and certainly more biting.

Their first release since last year’s album takes this further, furnishing us with not quite remixes, not quite cover versions of a pair of classic electro tracks. The first reinterprets the Imperial Brother’s 1984 electro-rap classic We Come To Rock, With the B-side working over Fantasy Three’s The Buck Stops Here. And while any attempt to cover another artist’s work is an endeavour not without its pitfalls, Paranoid London have mostly managed to pull it off.

Part of the reason the two tunes work well here is that they have obvious ignored the obvious temptation to allow too much in the way of homage to creep into the music (well, largely), instead choosing to rework the tracks into something perhaps more palatable to modern dancefloors than the rough n ready nature of the original material. We Come To Rock immediately sheds the break beats, replacing them with a straight 4/4 beat and playing up a weighty, jacking feel which amplifies the duo’s acidic tastes. The bassline, such a highpoint of the original recording, is stretched out, becoming tougher and more daunting, pumping out the swaggering mood and actually coming closer to sounding like something Pierre or Spanky would have created. The vocal samples, detached from their true context but still containing something of their organic funk, are occasionally over played but serve to accent the tracks deep, prowling, energy.

In many ways Buck Stoppin’ remains closer to its source than We Come To Rock does. While, as with the A-side, it culls heavily the original tune’s rap, it feels slightly less detached, and even though it obviously misses The Buck Stops Here’s complete vocal and verbal rhythms the samples on offer seem less dispassionate and detached, and are bedded into the rest of the track with more completeness. But perhaps because it is essentially a straighter transfer of the original tune’s mood and verve, it feels slightly less successful than We Come To Rock, offering as it does less opportunity for Paranoid London to bring their own brand of midnight mayhem to the proceedings, the very thing that added such vitality to the other track.

Paranoid London’s raid on a pair of such well-loved gems is to be applauded, but things here work best when they allow space for their own dark magic to work. While neither tune is probably as vital as some of the stonkers in their back catalogue – contemporary classics such as Eating Glue, or the still amazing Paris Dub 1 – both are likeable and bring something subtly fresh to a scene that often seems to dive into the past for no other reason than a bit of distraction. With a bit of luck We Come To Rock might kick-start some history pillaging in a new direction and remind people there was more to the past than disco. Oh well, I can dream.

Labels that Changed My World – Plus 8

plus 8 logo

While Richie Hawtin may continue to draw the ire of black clad techno bores everywhere long after the jokes about floppy fringes, sake, and lilac scarves began to get old, you’d have to be a special sort of nut to believe that the vaguely cartoonish figure he has grown into over the last ten years or so revokes his importance to electronica. Sure, his current productions may not be at the same level of his older material, but the fact remains that he and school friend John Acquaviva were responsible for a marked change in techno and how we perceived it. And a lot of that is down to the label the two of them formed way back at the start of the nineties.

Although Plus 8 were formed a hair’s breadth away from Detroit, just across the border in Windsor, Ontario, and have always been counted in amongst the other labels of the Detroit Second Wave such as Underground Resistance, 430 West or Planet E, they never really seemed to share much common ground other than physical proximity. Paradoxically, this was at its truest in the early days when Hawtin and Acquaviva’s ties to the Detroit Scene were at their strongest. At that time the label’s output was largely their own material, under the Cybersonik guise (a collaboration between the two label heads) or Hawtin’s FUSE project.

Cybersonik remains perhaps the hardest material either artist ever produced – full bore, heavy techno which still seems to have its head not in the silicon coated clouds of Detroit’s high-tech soul, but in the depths of a more European take on the genre; harsher, faster, and more regimented, it paid homage to the sounds drifting out of the Netherlands and Germany, a sound which took the basic framework and injected a far more stomping attitude. FUSE, in comparison, felt closer to their spiritual and almost-physical home, while retaining something of the Sturm Und Drang which Cybersonik evoked. Both projects though, lived up to the ethos embodied in the label’s name: the maximum upward pitch available on a Technics deck.

One of the most important members of the early Plus 8 family was Detroit native Kenny Larkin, a producer of massive talent who would go on to create some of the most memorable techno of the era. His early work on the label, the bouncing half house, half techno of We Shall Overcome in particular, sounds like the missing link between Chicago and Detroit, and it it’s own way pre-empted the second wave of Chicago house which was embodied by labels such as Relief. It’s a more playful take on Detroit techno, less inclined to the philosophical seriousness which often seemed to lie at the heart of the genre in its early days. Likewise, Jochem Paap, better known as Speedy J, lent Plus 8 their first real European connection with the Dutch artist signing on early with a series of 12″ which are still some of his best work. Although each of these artists is very different in sound, there is a common sense of purpose. In fact, this signature vibe was an important element of the early Plus 8 canon. Yes, the records were often hard, but they always kept the groove close, and helped redefine what techno meant as well as what it could be.

This facet became more important to the label as time went on. In 1992, chagrined by an episode in Rotterdam where Hawtin witnessed one of his Cybersonik tracks being played at plus 8 and used as the backing track for an anti-Semitic chant, the label began a deliberate move away from the harder tunage they had originally embraced. In some ways this was the true beginning of Plus 8, and over the next few years as the acts on the roster, as well as the styles of music the released, diversified, the label really began to find its place in the world.

Although Larkin gradually moved on from Plus 8, his place was filled by a host of new artist, each of them bringing something very different to the table. Sysex with their wonky techno, Fred Gianelli’s Kooky Scientist outfit with its warped proto tech-house (so different from what that genre would later become) or the deepening, darkening mood of Hawtin’s own Plastikman all pointed to a label which was just as obsessed in the future of electronic music than it was with the present. No mean feat in electronica where the music rarely looks beyond the immediacy of the dancefloor. Perhaps the most exciting of the lot was Vapourspace, a project which walked the line between the dancefloor and something far more experimental. The phrase ‘ambient techno’ is one which has been abused constantly over the last 25 years, yet here was a producer who simply understood it. Tunes like Vista Humana or Gravitational Arc of 10 brought together the different strands and wove them into a shimmering tapestry of sound which has rarely been bettered.

The label went semi-dormant in 1997 as Hawtin and Acquaviva found themselves drifting away into other commitments. Although it is still going, it mostly once again exists to provide an outlet for Hawtin’s own material, and new music by other producers has become less common, which is maybe not so bad a thing as the handful of newer releases since the 90s has rarely been at the same level. But then, that’s hardly surprising. When you stop and think of the records which came from the banner (either Plus 8 itself or its sub-labels like Probe) Plus 8 were at the forefront for a long, long time of what we think of as techno; The Wipe by Teste, an endless, pulsing, hypnotic force which sucks the light out of the sky, is still one of the most famous and loved tunes ever released. Add to that Speedy J’s Something For Your Mind, the crazed 909 mayhem of Plastikman’s Spastik, or LFO versus FUSE’s sublime and eternally funky Loop and you have a label which not only reflected the techo zeitgeist, but was largely responsible for it.

Just like they were the Detroit label who weren’t really Detroit, Plus 8 were the techno label who weren’t always really techno. They were too interested in the movement of the genres to be ever tied to one thing. They brought to techno a bit of hardcore’s stomp and house music’s colour, they challenged what we thought techno was. They made hard music accessible and gave lighter music the same importance as its more serious siblings. And although the DNA of what would eventually become tech-house or minimal was in its blood early on, Plus 8 often showed how lively and interesting these hybrid styles could be – long before they became the beige Beatport fodder they are now.

It’s hardly fair to damn the label because it’s not as good as it used to be. If we go down that path and strike labels from the Big Book of Holy Techno because they aren’t doing the same thing they used to, it’s going to make for some slim reading. We might not like where they end up, but that doesn’t mean we should stop paying attention to the road they took, especially in the case of a label like Plus 8 who helped build the sodding road in the first place. They didn’t just change my world, they changed everyone’s – and anyone who doesn’t think so needs to go through their record collection carefully and see how wrong they are.

Review: Lnrdcroy – Ooze City (Mood Hut)

It seems a strange thing to admit, but this is the first Mood Hut record I’ve ever reviewed here. I’ve not really got an explanation for this aside from the fact that their particular patented brand of slow and expansive house isn’t really something that’s captivated me in the same way it seems to have caught everyone else. I know, I know: I’m a philistine. What can I say? Not that there haven’t been releases I liked. On The Inner Plains by Titat Renat, for example, was a great mix of the label’s traditional sound with a cheekier, lighter vibe, and Cloudface’s excellent Devonian Garden took the deepness into a far more primal direction, lending the sound a thickness of groove I don’t often seem to get in Mood Hut releases.

Vancouver producer Leonard Campbell’s first release on his home town’s all conquering imprint has certainly been one of those records which has got the peanut gallery whispering. That’s hardly surprising. In his short career (very short – his first release was only back in 2014) Lnrdcroy has hardly put a foot wrong. His album, Much Less Normal strode all over ambient, house, techno and a whole mass of other more surprising influences, and made their unification sound like the most natural thing in the world. Beyond that, tunes like Do.ne or Sunrise Market have shown a rare flair for a sort of sleepy breakbeat brilliantly at odds with the current tastes for old school hardcore and rave.

Ooze City is almost a departure from his recent material, and feels at first as if a bit of the subtlety has been replaced by something altogether more battle hardened and direct. This altered attitude holds for large periods of the record; beats which in the past were liquid and free-floating have been reinforced with a steel core, and although the hazy psychedelia which has often been a cornerstone of Lnrdcroy’s sound is largely intact, here it haunts the periphery of a new focus which is tighter, spiralling and heavy.

There is also the feeling of heightened sonic exploration, and in the three tracks take something from the deeper, cosmic tripiness of early 90s techno. That they have all been given the space to do so is noticeable and important – the shortest tune on offer here clocks in at over eight minutes – and normally I would be concerned that free reign had been given to noodling. Here, though, they make full use of the time and space to conjure their magic. While Ooze City itself if perhaps the most conventional of bunch, opening with the vibe of a well bombed take on Hardfloor’s 303 infused visionary acid trance, it soon drops the acid into the background where it effectively begins to form the backbone to the slowly gathering mood of whispering pads which carry the tune’s meaning and ambition. The beats are clipped, focussed on the crisp, lively production to harass and harness the mood.

But as good as Ooze City is, it lacks something the other two tracks have in spades. The B side pushes things into a dense atmosphere where tribal drums tangle with a more ethereal take on house. Occasionally, as with Ooze, there is the sensation of being carried along on the wide wave of early 90s techno – but it’s a feeling which never last long; Lnrdcroy’s talent for texture and tone effortlessly reasserts it dominance over such easy influences.

Aquabus with its huge kicks and steel-cable bass is a long, heavenly builder that could have easily slipped into something ambling and less vital, but the bass snakes through the mood, keeping the groove tight no matter how often it feels likely to descend into messier, less effective territory. Its Kali Yuga, though, which best sums up the disparate touches and wide-screen visions at the heart of the record. Not a million miles from some of the long, languid and hypnotically trancey tracks which have cropped up on releases by the Bunker NY over the last couple of years, Kali Yuga rolls of with something of the memorable funk of Stacey Pullen’s long gone Bango project. This takes the tribal influences and puts them at the centre of the tune, weaving intricate rhythmic textures which are all but falling apart one minute, as tight and focussed as a machine the next. This is a belter of a tune – muscular in its groove, but delicate, thoughtful and haunting everywhere else. I’ll go out on a limb here and say this is not only one of the best things Leonard Campbell has done so far, but one of the best releases to have borne the Mood Hut name. A few more of this quality and they might even win over the last handful of doubters like me.

Friday Night Tune: Ectomorph – The Haunting

Anyone who has been reading this blog from the early days is probably aware of my shifting tastes and interests. As time has gone by I’ve fallen in love with some things and out of love with others – a fairly unplanned state of affairs which has in its own way provided an interesting document of not only where my head has been at over the last couple of years, but also where it’s going. From an entirely personal standpoint, that’s as important to me as any amount of reviews.

When I started way back at the beginning of 2014, I was growing interested in what we were calling outsider house. It was perhaps a slightly grandiose title for a sub-genre that quickly seemed to shed much of what made it feel different in the first place, and it seemed that in no time at all the movers and shakers had splintered away into sounds that weren’t too different from a lot of other stuff. Since then I’ve covered what I think is a fairly good cross-section of music that I don’t tend to see covered very often elsewhere. Essentially this boils down to a simple equation – if I like it I want to talk about it, regardless of genre or trends.

There are always going to be some constants. My love of acid house is life long, and I have a natural tendency to gravitate towards anyone who is trying to do something new or different within the genre. Detroit techno is always going to be there as is any techno which hits me with a snarling, dirty, funk (there doesn’t seem to be as much of this kicking around just now as I would like, but it’s there if you dig a bit).

One of the most important constants in my life for more than twenty years has been electro. For all the talk from myself and other people about the electro renaissance the fact is that electro never went away. Sure, there were lean years – too many lean years – and the harder edged material that I fell in love with way back still seems to be very much in the minority under the flood of more delicately arranged and orchestrated deeper tunes. But its all good, and I still think that almost anything can be improved by sticking a break beat on it.

Trying to work out why a particular style or genre resonates with you can be a hard task, but with electro I think it has to do with the way it sounds like I imagine electronic music is supposed to sound. Far from being a style predicated on abstracts I’ve always found that in matters of emotion it seems to work better than almost anything else. The tough music is properly tough, and when it goes down the tight, claustrophobic, compressed route it sends chills up my spine. Electro is the music I hear when I read something like Neuromancer, a soundtrack that fluctuates between down and dirty street level mayhem (and occasionally terror) and something altogether more grainy and cinematic. With all music we tend to draw on our own experiences, our own tastes and beliefs, to make sense of what we hear, and electro feeds into my warped world view better than anything else. When I watch a show like Mr Robot, it at times feels like a visualization of electro; taut, nervy and dark, almost paranoiac, but not without its moments of colour or sweeping panoramic art.

There is something about the music of Ectomorph which has always latched onto that line of thinking. Aside from the name – and its a perfect name for any electro band – the music is the epitome of a form of electronica that contains all the qualities which makes it so important to me. Equal parts emotion, malice, and playfulness; powerful and heady, sometimes brooding, sometimes wistful, it hangs in the space where the chaotic, shambling song of flesh and blood comes up against the cool, sterile and unnatural symmetry of the machines’ symphony. And no matter which of these dual natures is in ascendancy, it is always underpinned, controlled, and brought into existence by the fluid and pulsing energy of the groove.

And this is at the heart of my love for electro: that nature, and the vision of a cybernetic thing stalking the boundaries between what we are and what we could be. House and techno are important to me – life changing in fact – but electro will always be the ghost in my machine.

Review: Second Storey – Bismuth (Houndstooth)

Sometimes when I hear claims that a producer is straddling the lines between various genres I get a strange tingle of worry. Part of that is probably a hangover from the sort of thinking that gives us adages like ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ and all the other fun, doom laden epithet we enjoy flinging around when the devil is in us. Whatever the reasons, it’s probably deeply churlish of me, and the fact is that modern British electronic music has, perhaps more than almost any other national scene, got where it has largely because there has always been a fantastic refusal to stay in one place, and a serious, almost pathological, desire to chuck as many different influences into the pot just for the hell of it.

While Alec Storey’s first release on Houndstooth since last year’s One Sound/Layer Lock 12″ arrives with such claims already in place, promises of music which draws on electro, bass, and IDM for sustenance, the exciting thing isn’t that the sounds here nod between the various genres with abandon. Rather, there is a steadfast refusal to duck too far towards any one sonic theme and Bismuth is at its best when it’s seeking out a commonality of mood and energy rather than anything as simplistic as tones and chord changes.

In fact, while the record may indeed be rooted in UK Bass (like IDM, an increasingly meaningless catch-all term) for much of its heft, it never ceases to throw shadows under the grainy light of classic electro. Not only electro, to be truthful, for there are flecks of vintage Detroit techno here and there, and more than just traces of the joyful experimentalism once so prevalent in electronica in the years following acid house’s rise where big dollops of ravey energy were worked into the sound.

But through it all, Second Storey never let’s go of something that is entirely of his own making. While the influences are bold, they are relegated to the grunt work instead of being held up as the heroes there often made out to be elsewhere. Opener Bismuth carries a vibe that is recognizable enough, but it’s refracted through the claustrophobic atmospherics, ably assisted by the taut, lashing drums and snaking melodic touches which feed into little motifs which saturated the tight groove with bittersweet and fragile aura. Vapour Valve in turn, carries less of its brethren’s clarity, but makes up for it once it gets going with a vintage slice of silicon funk, endlessly ducking and rising, until it eventually seems to fracture away in its own wide-eyed lunacy.

Even when the music leans more towards the purer end of his sound, as on the compressed, no-nonsense Grand Rapid, or is stretching things out to a delirious degree across Helicat’s shattered vistas, it’s all underpinned by the feeling that Second Storey understands it isn’t the eclecticism of his tastes that gives the music life, but the fact that underneath the aural costumes and theatrics the energy all comes from the same place. UK music is in rude health just now, but Bismuth stands out in particular as a record which encapsulates much of what makes the scene not only so exciting, but vital too. This is proper mutant funk.