Friday Night Tune: Lil’ Louis – French Kiss (Diamond Records)

Lil’ Louis was probably the first big name house producer I ever became familiar with, and my introduction wasn’t through a local club or DJ, or through catching him on radio in the dead hours of the night. Nor did I first come across him in the pages of the music press. My first experience of Lil’ Louis was from sitting on the sofa on a Saturday morning, watching TV.

British music television had always been pretty bad but by the late eighties it was slowly beginning to change. This was partly due, I think, to the way in which by the middle of the decade MTV had become such a huge and important entity. Its clout was such that even staid, dull, British stations could smell the advertising revenue, and there was a an understanding that music could be trusted to formats that didn’t just echo Top Of The Pops or The Old Grey Whistle Test. Sure, there had been shows like The Tube way back at the start of the eighties, but usually if you wanted access to the music you actually liked, you had to look elsewhere.

The first place I ever heard Lil’ Louis was one the long running Chart Show, a very MTV mix of endless videos and little else. What marked this show out from the others is that it didn’t just concentrate on the top ten, it included charts culled from various genres, which seemed to appear randomly depending on whether the relevant researcher had managed to do their job that week. Being the late 80s we mostly watched it for the indy charts, a Saturday morning tradition which grew in importance as punk, grunge and shoegazing became bigger and bigger. It seems strange that the quality of an entire weekend could be defined by whether or not you got to see a 90 second slice of a video by The Boo Radleys or Ride (Actually, it was rarely a video – often there were none and the track was played over a still publicity shot of the particular bands looking moody), but we were easily pleased back then. Occasionally, very occasionally, you might get My Bloody Valentine or Mudhoney – that was like winning the lottery.

In those early days, before we had started our love affair with weird, bleepy music, the dance charts were suffered more than enjoyed. Most of the music was pretty much as you would expect, and a lot of it would have been ignored as often used it as an excuse for sneaking away to smoke fags and jabber about Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Who were shite. For some reason, though, French Kiss stuck in the brain. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was the video, full of toys, colour and (not so) subliminal imagery. A lot of it was the tune itself. It was so very different from everything else we were hearing. Repetitive, mechanical, but very much full of life and soul. It was starkly separated from almost everything else on the show. We hated it. And yet, every time it was on it was listened to. It was beginning to make its way into our brains and that first, utterly important, change to our neural networks was under way.

When, a couple of years later, I really began to get into electronica, it was a tune that kept cropping up. It would appear on mixes by people like Derrick May, a huge and long time supporter of the tune, and somebody who still plays it today. It would appear through the strobes and dry ice in many of the clubs I started going to, usually to major effect, and once I started playing out myself it was a tune I abused far more often than I should have.

Interestingly it remains one of those house tunes which achieved complete and genuine cross over between the underground and the mainstream. That’s something you cannot say for a lot of true, authentic Chicago house which still often appears to be regarded as a curiosity by the music world. I can’t claim I loved everything Lil’ Louis ever did – once I began to immerse myself in the music my tastes quickly ran off at a tangent – but I’ll take this tune all the way down with me. It was the key which unlocked other doors, doors I never really knew existed until I came to them. You probably never forget your first loves – even the ones you try to disguise by pulling their pigtails and pretending you just don’t want to know. Thank God for that, otherwise I might still be listening to Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and be a stranger to a larger, odder, and much more colourful world. And they say that television is bad for you…

Best Of The Represses – November 2016

Ho, ho, ho, etc. Despite evidence otherwise, I love Christmas. It means I get to start worrying about my end of year charts which means having to not only try to remember which records I bough, but whether I actually liked any of them. Luckily all those lovely producers and labels out there make it slightly easier by simply refusing to release anything I’d like to buy until after new year when people might have some spare cash to spend on wax. Bah humbug, here’s my last round-up of the best represses for this God awful year.

Autechre: Incunabula, Amber, Tri Repetae (Warp)

God have mercy on my heretical soul, but I wasn’t entirely the biggest fan of Autechre when they first appeared. Actually, I was late coming to even that opinion about them. My money always seemed to be marked for something else, which meant there are some rather obvious gaps in my collection. That’s a shame because, as the years have gone by, I’ve grown far fonder of their sound, and become a bit apologetic about the way in which they were so unfairly pigeon-holed into the IDM ghetto by people (me included) who didn’t pay close enough attention. Regardless of that, Amber was a long time favourite of mine; a classic example of the fall-back album which would be dragged out late at night, on rainy Sundays, or any time I needed a dose of rueful alien sound-scaping. The other two albums I hadn’t heard in their entirety for a very long time and had forgotten exactly how effectively reality twisting they are, translating from genuine, empty horizon ambient, to tough techno, to spikey electro infused sound-forms to rolling, jazzy interludes and everything in between. I think Autechre are at their best with the slightly more barking material such as Incunabula’s Eggshell or the broken, hi-tech soul of Tri Repetae’s gleaming, majestic Eutow because they touch against more familiar sounds and show so clearly how far techno can go in the hands of people who simply don’t care about genre. The three, quite lovely, vinyl represses are about as brilliant as you would expect from Autechre and Warp, and also come with download codes for both the albums and a live set. I reckon Santa is going to be emptying a lot of these out of his sack come the 25th.

Ovatow: In Loving Memory of Juvenile Jay (Harbour City Sorrow)

Frustrated Funk seem to be ending a pretty good year with a little burst of represses – which is a very, very good thing as they are one of the most consistently brilliant electro labels on the planet just now and some of their back catalogue is up there with the finest to appear in the genre. We’ve had ERP’s Pith on the main label, and on the offshoot Harbour City Sorrow we have Duplex’s Below The Photic Zone and this cracker, In Loving Memory of Juvenile Jay by Frustrated Funk’s label head Kren under his Ovatow guise. It might only be three years old, but it’s the sort of electro record that deserves to be heard by a larger audience. I know that despite the huge impact the genre has had this year it can still be a tough sell. It’s frequently an awkward, strange music which doesn’t sit well with lots of the boring, by the numbers 4/4 yawnfests kicking around just now, but this should really be picked up by everyone. While Visitation Dub III is a fabulously weird, wild, and utterly de-constructed take on dub (leaving sod all for traditionalists to poke at) the pair of true electro tunes on here are near perfect examples of how haunting and powerful the genre can be. While there are trace elements of influences like Dopplereffekt, Rother and other giants, both tunes breathe fresh life into their takes, refracting their spiky energy into something nervously cinematic and full of contrast. I still marvel about quite how much beauty and drama Kren managed to get into their compact frames. More of this please. Much, much more.

Photek – Natural Born Killa (Metalheadz)

Well, shit. I was never a huge junglist. None of us really were up here, at least not in the circles I was in. But at least I can say that I certainly have a few stone cold D&B classics kicking around the house for which I put down to rare outbreaks of very good taste holding hands with even rarer open-mindedness. Like a lot of others up this way, however, I was infatuated with Photek for a while. I’m not sure what it was about his music that got in there under our techno-shields, but there was something about his warped and sophisticated take on the genre, mixed in with uber-geeky influences, which seemed to open the door for us a bit. Having said that, I’ve lost nearly all contact with that scene over the intervening years and have no idea what’s good in it any more. Still, I’m delighted to see the seminal Metalheadz are re-releasing some of their legendary crackers from the deep past, and this one is pretty high up there. Whilst I would be lying if I said it was my favourite Photek record, I lost myself plenty of times to Conciousness and the peerless The Rain. It’s still a lovely, primal blast of future dancefloor after all these years. I know this blog tends heavily towards other genres, but it’s Christmas. Go on, have a punt on this. Open your wallet and open your mind. Both will thank you.

Short Reviews Featuring Levon Vincent, Paranoid London, and Phantom Planet Outlaws.

Levon Vincent: NYC-Berlin Dialogues (Novel Sound)

Novel Sound have developed an intriguing policy of not telling anyone about their releases until the record is virtually in your hand. I can’t say I’ve got a strong view on it one way or the other, but it does make for some hairy acquisition fun. Regardless of whether this is mastermind planning or something altogether more lax I don’t know, but this is Levon Vincent’s third solo of the year, and follows on from the frankly unhinged acid/tubular bells mentalism of Birds. Birds seems to have done the Marmite thing a wee bit – you either love it or loathe it – but I’ll happily admit that I loved the craziness of it, not least for the way it felt like Vincent going off a tangent which took him out of his comfort zone a bit. NYC-Berlin Dialogues is a deeper take on house than the last record, kicking it up in a more regular Vincent style. Well, kicking it up might be pushing it a little. NYC tootles around nicely, seemingly content to wobble a bit without really getting up a head of steam. It’s pretty and unassuming, but slight and lacking very much to get your teeth into. Berlin is better, more lively, unfolding as it does like the theme from some slightly bonkers and long forgotten 1970s US cop show preformed on a cheap sampler and a stolen Casio keyboard, and locking into an unexpectedly tight and hypnotic groove. Those reasons alone should be enough to love it, even before it alights on some particularly moody textures towards the end. No clips, so check it out in the usual places.

Paranoid London: Give Me The (Paranoid London)

Paranoid London head back to their regular territory after We Come To Rock’s excursion into old school electro. Surely by now you know what to expect: Gritty, slightly grotty and menacing deep acid house filtered through a bed of gravel and broken concrete. And while you may marvel at how much leverage anyone can still get out of some dirty beats and a warbling 303, it won’t stop you from enjoying it like the first time you heard it. This is the secret of Paranoid London’s sound; it rubs itself up against that bit of your brain which switches on when acid house kicks in and doesn’t let go. Neither of the tracks are going to convince you that the future is coming, but that doesn’t really matter, seeing as they both burn with a darkside intensity which recalls the much missed Armando at his scariest. Both tunes are primal and effective but if I had to choose, Give Me The just skanks it over Our Man Though due to the rib shattering bass and the vocal snap which guides everything down a sticky river of acid madness as the 303 gets a bit tasty.

Phantom Planet Outlaws – Muscles From Outer Space (Boss Tracks)

For reasons which elude me, Liverpool based techno super groups are in short supply. Luckily we have one – The Phantom Planet Outlaws, consisting of John Heckle, Mark Forshaw and Binny – and this first release in three years provides a dose of brain splattered techno of the sort we don’t seem to get too much of these days. Part of what makes it so welcome is that, obvious old school influences of a Djax and Millsy sort aside, it doles out a furious take on the genre in which humour, warmth, and grooves are front and centre without every detracting from the fact that these are some serious tunes which’ll be as deadly as you’d expect from a gang like this. The one full-fat PPO tune, Muscles From Outerspace, is a big, heavy slab of acid techno which buckles reality nicely. Heckle’s entry, Hybrid 1, cuts the forward momentum ever so slightly with a jacking piece of slightly discordant future-lounge, a world away from most of his recent releases under his own name but also alien enough from his Head Front Panel work to provide another glimpse of his individualist musical thinking. Forshaw’s tune, the stomping Flashback is a lovingly scuzzed up ankle-breaker uniting a brilliantly proto-techno flair with a housey nous. It swarms you with touches of the sort of 90s bangers which entire nights used to be built around, and condenses them into a sweaty anthemic treat. Binny finishes things off nicely with The Return by dragging everything into the shadows for a doing with a piece of corkscrewing acid-nasty that’s as thrilling as it is warped. This isn’t techno to be loved, it’s techno to be used and abused. Make sure you do.

Friday Night Tune: DJ Valium – Whiskas

I hate losing records. For various dull reasons I’m a bit obsessive and freaky about the things I have an interest in, and where for most people the discovery that a record appears to have disappeared may lead to a shrug or half-hearted search, for me it usually means tearing the entire flat apart looking for it. It’s not just records that bring out this behaviour in me; I once almost irrevocably damaged the relationship with my partner over a lost hoover attachment. Don’t ask. It still rankles.

But records do have a tendency to wander. From the wrong records going into the wrong DJs bag in the busy, dark, confines of a club’s DJ booth to light fingered bastards taking advantage in the messy chaos of an after-party. That’s where I think my copy of DJ Valium’s Valium EP went missing. Likely I wasn’t even playing; I probably dumped my bag in the hallway whilst I renewed my acquaintance with Mr Buckfast.

Still, these days it isn’t as near to being the end of the world as it used to be. Discogs, obviously, is the medicine that fixes all ailments and it only took me about five minutes to track down a new, still sealed copy. In its own little way it was a profound relief; this is one of those records that, for some of us, has moved beyond simply being a classic – it has become part of our heritage.

And if that sounds an extreme way of thinking about it, you have to try to see it from our perspective. Glasgow is an odd city when it comes to its love of electronica, and one can never be entirely certain that what cuts the mustard elsewhere it going to manage it here. It’s not that we’re better, that our taste in music is more exquisitely fine tuned (although, obviously, it is). It is, in fact, a distillation of different factors which range from the traditionally short length of the average club nights to the city’s industrial harshness reflected in its night-time decadence, to the impact that the town’s one time large number of dance music shops had on its relatively small population.

The Valium EP nicely draws together a period of time in the mid nineties when people were really begin to step out a wee bit from their safe zones towards stuff that was maybe a little bit more unhinged. It was Valium’s first release on Gary Martin’s insane Teknotika label; an imprint that hailed from Detroit but never, ever sounded like it. Teknotika was always looser, gathering together trace elements of disco, house, weird-edged experimentalism, kitsch, and something I can still only really describe as ‘cosmic tribal’. The music tended to be fast, dense and life affirmingly off-the-wall. It was perfect for Glaswegians.

The tunes of this EP were probably the first contact many of us really had with the label, with perhaps the exception of the phenomenal anthem Universal Love, and it was long one of those records you loved even if you had no idea who it was by, or what the tracks were called. I’ve always thought that a true test of quality. Knowing the artist colours your view, even if you don’t think it does, and confirmation bias can have a negative effect whether we mean it to or not.

In a slight break with tradition I haven’t chosen my favourite cut from the release. That honour goes to the thunderous, seething Running In October, a tune with a bassline which still makes me shudder. The tune I’ve gone for, Whiskas, is here because of, well, consensus I guess. It was the tune that delivered every time it was played, bonding together people on the dancefloor, and in grubby flats afterwards. It still sounds like very little I’ve ever heard; a brew of humour and beats, recalling something disco without sounding anything like it. It was, and remains, a true Glasgow – and even more importantly, Paisley – anthem. Gaun yersel, big Man.

Reviews: DJ Overdose – Don’t Get Burned (Computer Controlled)

For most of us 2016 has been a manky quilt patched up with turds and sown together with the purest threads of misery. It has been the King Suck, and the near future doesn’t seem to have much in the looks department when it comes to a noticeable improvement. For DJ Overdose, though, it hasn’t been a bad year at all when it comes to music. A kicker of an EP on Berceuse Heroique, a spiffing cross-job with electro legend DJ Technician, and some demented grooves with Cliff Lothar as The Groupies have been the impressive stand outs in a busy twelve months, and now he delivers another switch-footed change of direction here with Don’t Get Burned.

While Overdose is probably better known right now for his keen sense of electro mayhem, he’s rarely been a purist and its something he takes full advantage of here. While it would be pushing it to describe this as a ghetto house record, the core of the music certainly owes a little something to the genre’s raucous nature. Personally, I always find it an interesting direction to head in. For some reason, despite the massive interest in labels like Dance Mania, we haven’t had much in the way of a ghetto house revival. I suspect that there is something in the explosive beats combined with the nature of so much of its lyrical content which has led producers away from going too far down that road. Certainly, listening to some of those old record does occasionally feel like a document of a very different time.

Not that Overdose goes for the Dance Mania jugular. This isn’t a collection of raw dick-suck tunes, leaning as it does more towards the fiery, furious, house of prime DJ Deeon. Rather, the feel of the DM sound provides a base for a much wider interpretation of house, one that takes influences from all over the place and uses them to infuse the music with something that, despite its punch and heft, renders everything strangely more accessible to outsiders than Overdose’s tight and singular vision sometimes does.

Three of the tracks, reuse the same vocal sample, opening with the excellent jacking energy of Blue Flame which refracts a similar energy to the sort Unknown To The Unknown have been pushing – a sort of very modern take on banging house which pulls at hazy memories of rave and European acid as well as their US forms. It is a proper warehouse tune in the older, better sense of the term. Warehouse seems to have come to mean something cavernous, ponderous, monolithic and quite boring. This isn’t any of those things: it’s a huge, thumping, spiralling epic, coated in imaginary colours, where thick washes of cosmic synths roll away over the concrete beats. It’s exactly what a warehouse tune should be. At least in my demented mind. The other tracks which reuse the sample don’t stray too far from the original but still provide differing feels and moods; Bare Bonus as the name suggests, strips the track down to its most functional parts, turning in a romping, heavy slice of mugging music where the beats take centre stage along with the vox. Work Is Work lightens the shades without removing the intensity, fracturing, and stretching the groove and moving it towards something that carries a kernel of old school electro and dusting it up with some beautifully unhinged melody. This isn’t three remixes, though. Rather, it’s the same tune glimpsed in different light, at different times.

Only Acid Lovely breaks away completely, with a hefty slab of industrialised electro-acid which rolls like a future take on classic Dutch tunage, mixing static charged breaks with swirling acid mayhem. It should just about thaw you out on these frozen winter nights. DJ Overdose finishing the year even higher than he began.