Review: Don’t DJ – Musique Acephale (Berceuse Heroique)

The last couple of weeks have given us a couple of pretty interesting albums to get our teeth into. The first of these, Eomac’s Bedouin Trax, blended ambient and techno with striking north African atmospherics to powerful effect. While the impulse wasn’t exactly new, it showed clearly that there was still life in the idea that electronic music can be experimental and soulful at the same time. That alone makes it worthy of your money in these increasingly musically conservative times.

Don’t DJ’s third long player, Musique Acephale strikes a similar balance between deep electronic excursions and hazy moods, and there are in fact plenty of other similarities between the two releases. While both artists are largely working from differing palettes of sounds, they border each other in terms of cinematic atmospherics where imagery and narrative are shuffled into place, creating worlds and feelings that lie somewhere beyond both the workaday world and the constrictions of clubland.

That makes it sound like Ye Olde Ambient Album, and yes that is certainly part of the attraction, particularly if that’s your bag. I often find myself fairly disinterested in a lot of the ambient stuff I hear – all too often it seems like an excuse to paint pretty, abstract pictures while claiming that they represent some hidden depths of meaning which are rarely actually present when you get past all the aural fluff. But when it does what it’s creators intend, it can be a truly ear opening experience.

Part of what allows Musique Acephale to buck the trend of underwhelming ambience lies in the fact that it is, for all the deft touches and atmospherics, a deeply restrained experience. tunes like Disparata 69 work from a limited box of tricks, fostering a sense not so much of minimal music, but skeletal. What remains within the subtle and bare framework of lilting, almost middle eastern tones, shephards the listener into creating for themselves the framework to add to the bones. Similar skill is deployed on Evolve, a less deliberately empty experience where gently swirling pads accent the ghostly rhythmic touches, once again allowing the listener to bring meaning to life by way of their own introspection.

It’s an approach that doesn’t always come off. A case in point, The Grey Shrine, simply hangs in its own emptiness, evoking something of the self-indulgent noodling that is a professional danger with a lot of more left field electronica.

But The Grey Shrine is not indicative of the rest of the album. And, in fact, some of the strongest work upon Musique Acephale are those which blend the internalized moods with far wider vistas. Evocations in Desert Ruins, Syrian Rue, and the cheeky, half-bop of Fall4 form a trilogy of sorts, united in a sense of time, and place which add bite to their shimmering sounds, and have you thinking of what somebody like Regis might have cooked up if he didn’t seem to be so techno angry all the darn time. That they are, along with the potent, twisting, Polyamory, the best things on the album isn’t chance; each of them offers a different glimpse of the same overarching vision. The rhythmic undercurrents, the tang of alien air, and the feel of unfamiliar heat upon the skin all bring together a vibe that is both deliciously unsettling and very welcoming to the point that Musique Acephale feels like a travelogue documenting a world that can’t really exist.

Restrained, refined, but not without a certain, important, muscularity, this is an album that may well, with a select handful of others, start to remind us that experiences are as important as ideas if we are to get something out of the music, especially if we are to wake up the mind and start thinking about what we are hearing.

Friday Night Tune: Jimi Tenor – Take Me Baby

For a long time now I’ve been wondering whether the value of influences isn’t so much in helping to shape and sculpt the music than to make the producers sound important in interviews. It’s always been an issue. Back in the early days there seemed to be an infinite line of bald techno people queuing up to describe the many ways in which their entire musical outlook had been irrevocably altered by a fearsome krautrock band from the late 70s who only ever released a single 12″, most of which ended up in landfill site outside Hamburg. In some senses it was a similar situation to all those post punks in the early 80s who all claimed that their lives had been turned by being present at the 100 Club for the Sex Pistols’ first gig even though the science involved in squeezing thirty or forty thousand people into a 300 capacity venue has never been empirically explained.

Nowadays we may have a wider range of influence claims on offer, but they tend to remain just as telling, especially when you pause to consider their uniformity. Is there a job application you have to fill in before you start producing electronic music? is claiming that your music incorporates elements of the free wheeling exploratory disco of Arthur Russell, for example, akin to saying you went to the right school? Is larging up your love for Sun Ra (especially if the only Sun Ra record you listened to is Headhunters) any more of a guide to your skills, taste and abilities than filling up the Personal Details section of the application form with a broadly fictionalized account of your Scuba-diving escapades, even though you only did it once, on a family holiday?

I choose these two artists not because I have anything against their music – Arthur Russel is alright, just not really my thing, and I’ve always been more Son House than Sun Ra in musical outlook – but because there is something dreadfully predictable in their choice by so many people as the prime instigators of their musical evolution. That there are people out there who live and breathe the work of both artists is absolutely true and utterly correct; both are incredibly important proponents of their respective genres who managed in many ways to actually transcend those self-same genres. But the massive explosion of people claiming a life time affinity with them points to the sad and basic fact that there is some epic fibbing going on.

I’ve always shrugged when I’ve heard the tales of borderline obsession people have with esoteric industrial bands or noise artists who existed more as an ideal than a real act, particularly when it comes to techno. I’ve known a fair amount of techno people over the years, both producers and DJs, and the simple truth is the music many of these people had in their collections tended to be as daft, random and fickle as the rest of us. How many techno bods REALLY bought some incredibly influential krautrock LP the first time they went into a record store clutching pocket-money in their sweaty palms? how many actually bought INXS’s first album?

We lie about our tastes. We all do. We do it because most of us don’t like looking the oddball amongst the cool kids. This is especially prevalent in Our Thing where the politics, the taste in clothes and the nights out might seem wild and branding free but the influences, the music we all claim to listen to, remains subject to a conservatism which is difficult to shake. Often times we even believe our own bullshitting. It’s difficult to admit that we don’t always enjoy the stuff we tell ourselves we love.

The real problem though, and the real danger of this form of conservatism in the music is when it feeds into a desire to create sounds which conforms to those mythical paradigms we convince ourselves exist. Suddenly we have a thousand records all stealing the same influences from the same sources. In a sense, this is what killed electronic music for me back in the early years of the millennium – going into record stores and finding hundreds of records which were all copies of each other because all the music the producers listened to was exactly the same. Failure to expand our tastes is one thing, but failure to admit our real tastes is just as dangerous. I’d rather a techno producer come out and admit they don’t enjoy Jeff Mills, say, and do something different that bang out replication after replication because it’s what might sell. You know what? The new stuff might or might not sell, but until we hear it we aren’t ever going to know.

I doubt Jimi Tenor has ever been kept up at night trying to make sure his listening corresponded to current trends, and this is a guy who has always had one large foot permanently rooted in the avant-garde. In many ways Tenor is the embodiment of the idea that the really individual musical talents are those who remain true to their own musical vision, taking what they need or like from other sources but folding it, warping it until it because part of them. Take Me Baby has always been an incredibly individualised shot of techno brilliance because it screws so successfully with conventions and expectations. It is a rave era shot of sleazy, irreverent easy listening, powered by energy generated by walking the line between cheeky, cheesy, convention and breathless experimentalism. I often claim a tune sounds like nothing else but it’s really true in this case. It’s brilliant, and it’s brilliant because although a thousand influences have fed into Tenor’s mind, the music sounds like it could only, ever, have come from him.

What can I say? I’ve had more than enough of conservatives this week. Stop listening to stuff because you feel you have to and start listening to stuff because it makes you happy, or sad, or angry or daft. Let’s do it, just this once, and see what happens.

Reviews: Ged – Dry River (Third Ear); Zennor/Andy Mac – Rosevale II (Deep Street)

Ged – Dry River (Third Ear)

I’ve always veered away from Third Ear releases in the past for a mix of reasons which led me to believe they were possibly a little on the big roomy, Mixmag side of life for my exquisitely sculpted underground tastes (you know, 150BPM breakbeats and the sounds of panicking) but there was something in the snippets of Dry River which dragged me in regardless.

Ged is the alias of Resident Advisor scribbler Dan Petry, and as a first leap from producer of words to a producer of music, it’s got plenty going for it. At times it veers a little into the territory where electronic music collides with the sort of big, sweeping concept sound which used to guarantee a spot of harassment by Jools Holland on the telly. Opening track Permission is particularly slick with that vibe; the beats, orchestrated to within an inch of their lives, slap their percussion around as the vocal snares any lingering emotion which hasn’t been knocked silly by the marshalled fierceness. Not bad, but it often has you wondering when Bjork is going to show up for a bit of a squawk. Follow up, Disappear, is a blunter blow of relatively old school electro furnished with enough nous and flaring darkside touches to put it right out there as a proper slab of dancefloor nasty, while Garmonbozia whiles its time away with sleek memories of old school ambient breakbeat. Only the Vinyl edit of Len fails to get anything going, settling instead for an endless build up to nowhere in particular.

While it’s not quite what I was expecting (not that I really knew what to expect) it’s a nice enough record, particularly when it’s allowed a bit of respite from its own idea of what it’s trying to be. It achieves this nicely on Disappear, a genuine belter which works all the better for losing the weighty sonic pretence that is evident elsewhere. More like that, please, and we’ve got ourselves a deal.

Zennor/Andy Mac – Rosevale II (Deep Street)

More Bristol beats? It always looked like such a quiet place. The sort of town a man could walk down the street untroubled by thoughts of mutant funk and hissing high hats. Not any more, though. Which is incredibly lucky for us because it’s turned into a sort of electronica ground zero, a place to find proof in the idea that British music is often at its very strongest when found in smaller, independent local scenes.

Last time I caught Andy Mac and Pev’s Zennor project, they were furnishing Will Bankhead’s Trilogy Tapes with the brilliant Never In Doubt, a record which kicked out some of the finest, deep, cosmic house from the last couple of years. Here they dive downwards, retaining the deepness but draping it over a far more dubby frame.

Rosevale II is a slab of classic dub techno which rolls pretty much in the direction you would expect. It’s dub techno, you get what you pays for. But while I’ve never been the world’s number one dub fan, I’ll make an exception for this because while it wobbles itself down a well wobbled path, it does so with enough suggestion of something different happening underneath that it holds the attention. That ‘something’ is to be found in the crystalline sheen up top, where the synths hint at a sort of cinematic adventurism not usually evident in the genre. This upending of the usual formula holds a strong sense of mood, time and space which, in turn, feeds back into the more conventional shenanigans underneath, elevating them above standard expectations.

The B-side is devoted to an Andy Mac solo cut. It kicks the place open with the sort of heaving beats which steal all the oxygen from the room before starting a slow descent into the depths. While it cuts out all the dub present in Rovevalle II, it holds onto the same strange, dreamlike quality and angles it against the wind, using it to guide you along some frozen, seldom sailed currents until the slight and gentle groove slowlys rise to thaw everything out. Wistful and charmingly disarming. A quiet and unassuming little gem of a record by a pair of Bristol stalwarts.

Best Of The Represses – September 2016

It’s gone ten and I’m still sitting at the bar in the little tavern on the corner of Atkins and Mills, nursing a rum while I listen to the cold, fat, rain crackle down on the sidewalk beyond the filthy windows. I light another cigarette – a Hawtin’s Special Blend, fresh off the boat from Germany. Nothing but the best for old Ma Scribe’s little boy.

The barman waves good night to the dive’s only other customer as I drain my drink. “Refresh that for you?” he says, pointing at my glass. I shrug. Sure, why not? More booze might just help.
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” he asks as he pours my shot.
“Don’t think so.” I take a sip. A bigger sip than I meant.
“Sure I do,” he pushes on. “You’re the guy who wrote that thing about nostalgia killing music, aren’t you?”
“You read that, huh?” I drain my glass and tap it, but he doesn’t seem to see. Goes on talking and busying himself with something or other behind the bar.
“Yeah, I read it. It was Ok, but, you know, I think about a million other people have said it, haven’t they? I mean, It’s kind of a cliché; Everyone knows that music depends on its own past for inspiration.”
“That’s uh, that’s not really entirely what I was trying to say..” He’s not listening.
“Besides, I like all the old stuff that you can buy now. It’s great for me. I’m too young to have heard it the first time around. I think it’s great you can get it all again. I was in this record store? The one on Dettmann Street, beside the Klock tower? Bought this great record, Acid Tracks by a band called Phuture. The guy in the store said it was awesome. Have you heard of it?”
“No, I’ll, ah, I’ll have to check it out.”
“You should.” The barman looks blank for a second. “I haven’t listened to it yet, though. I think I need to get a record player or something first.”
“Can I get another rum?”
“Sure, ” He says. As he pours he asks “So, what you writing next?”
“I’ve gotta write a thing about the best represses of September.”
“The best represses?” He raises an eyebrow. “After that last thing you wrote? Doesn’t that make you a bit of a hypocrite?”

Jesus, I think, Everyone’s a God-damned critic. I finish my drink, leave a tip, and grab my jacket. Then I head back out into the cold, wet, night.

Underground Resistance – World 2 World (Underground Resistance)

While UR’s little run of represses haven’t exactly gone unnoticed, they don’t seem to have received anywhere near as much publicity as they deserve. That might be due to them all selling out pretty much the instant they arrive on shelves, which is exactly what the way it should be. They have yet to really get in amongst their genuine classics yet, (as far as I know – I might have just been busy during the three seconds they were available) but we have one now in the shape of World 2 World. Oh my, this is the sort of record the word ‘classic’ was invented for.

You could start wars over discussion about which record is the greatest to come out of Detroit. And unlike most wars, it would be one worth fighting. Some will point to releases by Drexicya. Others to Mills, or May or Atkins. All would be equally valid. I don’t know whether World 2 World is the very best of the very best, but if it isn’t it comes pretty damn close.

Musically, this is pretty much the pinnacle of early UR. Released in 1992, it shows a lighter touch than an awful lot of techno from the period – even including UR’s own stuff. Whether it’s the dusky, ravey brilliance of Greater Than Yourself, the warm, wobbly funk of Cosmic Traveller or Amazon’s astounding explosion of stomping, epic,invention this is really one record everyone should own. For me, the highlight is Jupiter Jazz – a collision of High Tech Soul, house and sleepy rave which features that piano riff. Utterly captivating. This is why we have represses. Buy two copies if you can get them: one to listen too, the other to preach with.

Electronome – No Landscape (Murder Capital)

The Bunker/Viewlexx/Murder Capital triumvirate have been in rude health over the last year or so, throwing out some unbelievable re-releases from their back catalogue(s). Once again they hit the mark with this repress of the 1995 debut of Electronome, a brain-wrecking dose of pretty much full on electro mayhem that still sounds frighteningly unhinged 21 years later. While a lot of European electro of the period was nodding its head to towards the colder styling of producers such as Anthony Rother, No Landscape is proof that not everything was willing to go in that direction.

This, instead, is a fine example of what was beginning to happen in the Netherlands. While the second track draws on Kraftwerk and older, more restrained forms of the genre do to its work, the other three tunes are as mad as a sack full of angry mongoose. Distorted, breakneck in speed, and volcanic in intent, they take no prisoners, mainly because they’ve probably run you over before they even knew you were there. If you play any of these tunes in one of your new fangled discotheques today, do me a favour and take a selfie of yourself in front of all the panicked faces. Then put it on a T-shirt. Yep. This record puts me in that sort of mood. Outstanding psychopathic beats from out Dutch brethren.

Friday Night Tune: X-ile – I Wanna (Vocal Mix)

Regular readers might be aware that a lot of the recent flood of represses have left me a little bit cold. Particularly galling has been the re-releases of old 430 West material, the Detroit imprint owned by the Burden brothers of Octave One fame. While it’s thrilling to see so much of the classic Octave One stuff back in circulation, the sheen has been taken off it slightly due to the knowledge that the music to be found on 430 West’s sub label Direct Beat appears to be off-limits dues to licensing issues.

This is a blow for all sorts of reasons. Personally speaking, Direct Beat were one of the labels who taught me what electronic music could be. It was vastly different, almost alien, to much of what comprised electronica in the 90s. Where a lot of British electro at the time continued to have a fascination for what could be described as classic forms of the genre, reaching back to the mid 80s and before, and the sounds from the continent were becoming more experimental, swapping out much of the genre’s original warmth for a clinical coldness, the electro of Detroit took everything around it from techno, acid house, funk and soul, and rolled it together into a brand new, futuristic, whole. Tunes like tonight’s choice, X-ile’s amazing I Wanna, were the epitome of that fusion. Streetwise, lightening fast and fearsomely sensual, even playfully sexual. It was a tune which thundered with an attitude you just didn’t get in European techno or electro, and barely found in house. I would love to see it get a re-release, even though I’ve got a pristine original copy. Why? Everyone deserves the chance to own it. Don’t they?

But is my desire to see the music of Direct Beat back out there again based in altruism, or is it simply the selfish wishes of someone who wants the past to be back in the spotlight? This is the age-old problem with the concept of reissues. Let’s face it: any scene which constantly plunders its own past is not a healthy one, and electronic music at the moment appears to be locked into a deep regression trip. At least on the surface. Whether it’s boring disco themed house music, techno wearing Jeff Mill’s old clothes, or the regurgitation of material from some tape of 70s drone nonsense which was dull beyond belief even at the time, it’s all symptomatic of music’s oldest disease – nostalgia.

The weird thing is, nostalgia is usually a desire for things that are no longer commonly available. 20 years ago, a lead nipple from one of the dozens of utterly interchangeable Britpop bands proclaimed that one of the reasons ‘the kids’ were out buying Beatles CDs, and making music that sounded like it had been sent across a fax machine from the 70s, was because ‘they didn’t hear it the first time around’. This strength of this argument could only last as long as it took to go into a record shop or switch on a radio at which point you would be floored by the fact that you didn’t have to have been around in 1967 to hear the music because ALL of those bands were still the biggest sellers decades later, and continuing to garner radio play which dwarfed that of almost all contemporary bands put together. The music of the past was inescapable in the present. Hell, several of the biggest major labels barely had an A&R man between them by the time the 80s were in full swing because they understood that what people wanted was the past, stuck out in a fresh format. For ever.

The argument is even less true nowadays. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, it seems to be almost impossible now for music to exist anywhere than the present. If it’s not on Spotify, it’ll be on Youtube. Can’t find that B side on Youtube, hit it up on Discogs and get it 3 days later. Old music, and the availability of old music, is now, perhaps more than ever before, beginning to look like the entire reason for the existence of the music industry. And it’s killing the future.

Everyone and their mother got handwavingly excited last year at the news that vinyl sales had reached their highest point since about 1996. Everybody assumed this meant we would soon be sailing into tomorrow on an ocean of wax. But as has been widely reported in the last week, vinyl sales are already down 10% on last year, and those figures from 2015 were themselves, in actual fact, the sort of numbers that, had you presented them to the industry back in, say, 1974, would have been responsible for an epidemic of record execs leaping out of 25th floor windows. That’s right – from a historical perspective they sucked, they were just awful.

See here for the story – and just check the graph at the bottom for a comparison.

It gets worse. 60% of all those vinyl sales were Pink Floyd and the Beatles. It was the major labels selling us the same crap once again. The result of this was the pressing plants were strangled by the demand to print up material everybody had a dozen times over, or could be had from Discogs for next to nothing such was their ubiquity. Because of this, smaller labels, indy labels, our labels found themselves unable to get records out there. And slowly they began to starve. From the perspective of a scene like ours, which is one of the few where vinyl, because of its unique relationship with our weirdo culture, is still important, it has become a question of survival.

I’m not entirely against the idea of reissues. Jeez, I’ve bought enough of them I’d be a hypocrite if I was. The comedian Bill Hicks once said that if you were a struggling actor just starting out, then allowances could be made if you did an advert for cash. The same wasn’t true if you were a big star. Likewise, if a reissue is actually putting out something rare, or groundbreaking, or if it means that the original artist might finally make a few bucks from their work (unfortunately not rare in Our Thing – you only have to listen to the stories of some of those old Chicago heroes to understand that) then fine, power to you, I hope you sell a million of them and get the kudos you originally deserved. But another copy of Dark Side Of The Moon? Get the hell out of here.

The best of both worlds would be for more reissues on digital formats. Clean, remastered and easily available. Hunt down the originals in their original form afterwards. Some labels do this already, of course, and it will become more and more common as the pressing plants get constipated with Queen gatefolds. Other than that, support new music like never before. Buy every new release you can because if you don’t then the good guys will fold and everything will be nostalgia. And a future with only Pink Floyd for company sounds like my idea of hell.