Review: Victor Valiant – V Is For Victor (Asking For Trouble)

V Is For Victor is the first collaboration between Keith Tenniswood – AKA Radioactive Man – and Freerotation resident Suade Bergemann, and from the off it feels a wider take on electro than we have recently been used to. Whether this is intentional or not I don’t know. Collaborations can take even the most singular musical vision of one of the participants away on a tangent, first time pairings even more so.

In some senses Victor Valiant echoes and learns from lessons presented by older music and artists, such as James Stinson and his work as The Other People Place. While V For Victor never departs traditional electro to anywhere near the same extent as Stinson did on Lifestyles Of The Laptop CafĂ©, it taps at a similar seam. The tunes on V For Victor exhibit a looseness and warmth, and an almost downtempo vibe, that is rare in the genre, and a little eye-opening when considering Radioactive Man’s recent canon of molten, mutant, stormers.

But more interesting is the soulfulness which sits at the heart of the record. It tugs on the direction of the tunes, and scoops out space for itself between the beats, lending the sense that this records true influences were to be found in crackly old funk and rare groove records rather than technobass or hip hop or rave.

Even the parts of the album which are very much ‘proper’ electro, like Anti-Flash, or Conway, tip their hats to the prevailing mood. Anti-Flash drags a slithery bassline through a complex street map of beats and rogue tones, occasionally putting you in mind of a fractured and tripped-out Boris Divider. Conway strips everything down to the beats and wobbly riff for the sort closed-eyes workout that could make itself at home at any point over the last 20 years while remaining very contemporary indeed. Its slowly building sense of malice, its snake-hipped movement, and its quiet restraint, mark it out as one to keep an ear on.

If we’re being entirely honest, though, it’s the other half of the album which elicits the most interest. Influences are opened up, rhythms loosened. On Dragonfly we’re shepherded down tight, midnight streets by jaggy, swaggering, acid funk, dipping into a bag of psychedelic fun as we go. Tanker further widens the gulf between V Is For Victors two parts with a jazzy, groove infused high-tech boogie that dances with the ghosts of genuine old-school electro while Mike Banks watches on.

Olympus is in another place entirely. Languid, dripping with little touches of colour, Olympus is a slender tune coiled around a massive, wandering, bass and coaxing shapes and textures into being. It falls somewhere between future-dub and some sort of deep-space noir dreamt up in the early 70s. Even the occasional flutter of vocodered lyrics drift into just the right place. Deep and genuinely woozy, it’s a highlight on an album that takes delight in stripping electro down and rebuilding it into something that feels as old as it sounds new.

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Detroit Techno World Cup Special!!!!

How the mighty have fallen…..

First off I’d like to apologise to anyone who isn’t football obsessed for today’s focus. Actually, no I wouldn’t. If you don’t like football, I’m sure there’s some dreary, drone based, support group you can join for the next month. The rest of us will hunker down and just love one of the greatest things in the world; it’s life in miniature, it’s tribalism and art and science and beauty all in one perfect package. It’s about hopes and dreams and possibility. Drama. Elation. Heartbreak. And no matter how much money is thrown at it, no matter haw far it seems to get from its original sound, meaning, and context, it never stops being wonderful. In short, football and Detroit techno are the same damn thing.

Ok, settle down sports fans, because here is the Detroit Techno World Cup XI. And my God that’s a line I never imagined I’d write.

Let’s get a wee bit technical: We’ve gone for a good, fairly modern 4-2-3-1 here. Consideration was given to a low block because some of our stars are getting on a bit and we couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t collapse with exhaustion as we tried to pull off the gegenpress or something equally knackering but exotic sounding. In the end though we decided just to rely on silky passing, chattering percussion, and sultry synths. That should do us, especially should we come up against teams like the well organised but rather dour and funkless Central European Techno All Stars. Some of you will probably be taking to Twitter to condemn me for leaving such luminaries as Theo Parish (neck injury from wearing a too-heavy jazz hat) or Gerald Donald (wanted to play for Germany as Heinrich Mueller), on the bench but I’m the manager and I’ve gone for the blend of veteran know-how and up-and-coming, blossoming skills that Detroit is known for.

THE DETROIT TECHNO WORLD CUP XI

1: Goal Keeper – ‘Magic’ Juan Aktins

The foundation of any team. The sturdy, eternal presence at the back. We need someone who is both reliable and inspirational, someone who can keep his shit together when the dainty-haired EDM lightweights are swarming towards him, someone who can pull off something remarkable even after he’s done bugger all of interest for ages. In short, we need Juan Atkins: Our goalkeeper. Our number one. Our Captain.

2: Left Full back – Mgun.

Defenders are a weird breed. Until recently full backs got about as much kudos from Proper Football Men as minimal techno semi-deities got from everyone else for playing empty, truncated sets in art galleries. All that’s changed; nowadays the position is about as important as you can get, and we’ve turned to up-n-coming techno don Mgun to lead the charge down the flank, ask those difficult questions from left field, and rampage around with his socks around his ankles, and a untucked t-shirt flapping in the breeze. Like his football, his tunes may sound a bit raw and unkept, but they disguise an innate understanding of just how far you can push the motor city sound before everything falls apart.

3: Right Back – Moodyman

We’ve got one full back bombing down the wing, so we’ve gone for a different sort of presence on the other flank. Someone who brings a calm sophistication to his game. Unhurried perhaps, and relying on brains over muscles even though he might occasionally slip an ankle cracker in there when you least expect it. Folks, who better than old Moodyman himself, Mr Kenny Dixon Jr. God, I can’t believe I’m writing this stuff.

5: Centreback (left) – Omar S

Oooh, central defenders are a difficult breed, aren’t they? Should they be there to clean up the mess, or lead from the back, building attacks from nothing and feeding passing up and out? Quite frankly I don’t know the answer but I suspect it’s a bit of both, so we’ve dragged in Omar S and his blend of bubbling housey grooves and techno snarl to hold the line and kick it forward. If the opposition reckon they can get past him they’ll in for a surprise. A player hitting his peak and a sure starter in the team for years to come.

6: Centreback (Right) – Suburban Knight.

With Omar S providing the light and the dark of the Beautiful Game’s defensive arts, let’s partner him with someone a bit different, someone who’s stripped down, precise talents afford him a laser guided focus when it comes to knowing just where to be, and when, and how much pressure to bring when he gets there. Why, that sounds an awful lot like either Milan legend Paolo Maldini or the music of James Pennington – aka Suburban Knight! That’s the defence done. On to midfield!

4: Defensive Midfielder – Mike Banks.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the true midfield general, the sort of player who is as comfortable putting in outrageously accurate passes as he is bringing a little bit of vigilante justice to the punks on the other team. He needs to be half sergeant major and half mob enforcer. Above all, though, he needs to know his shit inside out, and use his knowledge to see every possibility of every move. Who better than Underground Resistance’s Mike Banks, the man who virtually reinvented Detroit techno in the nineties, and turned it into something far harder, visceral, and relevant. Like a techno Andrea Pirlo, Patrick Viera, or Xavi He’s the beating heart of the team. He’s also our vice captain.

8: Central Midfielder – Seth Troxler

Ooop! I see this surprise inclusion into the starting XI is kicking up some heat from the old guard. Fair enough, but I think every team needs its Troxler, with cockiness hanging off the frame of his undoubted talent like a too-loud shirt draped over skinny shoulders. We might bleat on about Detroit techno and football in the same way – demanding it sticks to the philosophies it came from, but we all secretly love it when the twinkle-toed wonderkid slaps into the game, his talent buoying his arrogance, and getting in every ones face. With Banks beside him, keeping an eye, this should be the chance for our young star to shine. Christ, how many more of these do I have to write?

11: Inside left – Robert Hood

We don’t do wingers anymore. We want them to be more of a threat, spilling in from the wing, leaving space out on the flank for Mgun to bomb past. I think we need someone with pace someone who can change direction in a second, veering between cutting edge minimalist techno one moment and explosive, gospel tinged house the next. Someone who can shoot from deep in the underground and score hits in the bigger, wider, world. Well, that sounds like Robert Hood to me, titan of Detroit’s second wave, and our tricksy inside left. Good Grief. I’m so sorry for this.

7: Wide right – Jay Daniel

With Dixon Jr rolling up behind and keeping shop, our wide right has the opportunity to run riot between the flank and the box. Who better than one of Detroit’s next generation brats, Jay Daniel. Bringing a refreshingly unrestrained sense of what’s possible, the unpredictability of his tunes, and the way they blur meaning between techno, house and something altogether looser, should allow him break down even the most stubborn defence.

10: Attacking Playmaker – Jeff Mills

The most special of all positions, the home of Maradona, of Totti, of Zola. Unbelievable players all. But our number ten shares a kindred spirit with a player of a slightly different sort. Like Messi, Mills reads the world through strange angles, seeing lines and shapes where no one else can. Whether it’s the directness of his earlier work, or the expansive vistas of his more recent, Mills reads the game with alien eyes. If Mike Banks is the beating heart of the team, Mills is the soul.

9; Centre Forward – Derrick May

Tricky one. Do we go for the sophisticated talent of a Carl Craig type? What about the snarling, emotive brilliance of a Claude Young or Alan Oldham sort? All good, as would be Kevin Saunderson’s never-ending, snake hipped, movement and dribbling. But let’s face it, We have to have our star, our prima dona, our brilliant confusion of talent and ego, our talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo: Yes, sports fans, it has to be Derrick May.

Subs,

Theo Parrish, Kyle Hall, Claude Young, Keith Tucker, Gigi Galaxy, Daniel Bell, and K Hand.

Well, that’s that. I reckon they’re good for the semi finals at least. What do you think, readers? Actually, please don’t tell me. Let’s just forget I ever wrote this, yeah? Cheers. I’ll get some reviews up soon.

Best of the Represses. June 2018

By the look of the shops, electronic music is about to hit that mid-year crappy zone where everyone pisses off to play at some terrible festival or other and pretend they’re some synth-nerd version of Jimi at Monterey while simultaneously tweeting about how awesome they and all their friends are, and how DJ How-Are-You-Still-Alive is totally awesome/sweet/killing it (delete as applicable.) Even worse, everyone who works at the Ministry of Represses are on their way to becoming infatuated with their own summer brilliance, and have decided to take a three month sabbatical so they can concentrate on curating an instagram thingie of their warm weather selfies. They’ve left a pile of tawdry, beige disco, re-releases to be pumped back out to us and absconded with anything remotely interesting, including the long rumoured but never confirmed version of Jimi playing Monterey with a bloody great bank of modular synths. I’m lead to believe it sounds great but that Mitch Mitchell gets a little lairy when Jimi tries to sync him with a Moog.

That’s the state of it. Before I go and suck down a nearly frozen six-pack of watery, imported lager, here’s this month’s ricochetting treats.

Edward – Into A Better Place (Giegling)

Not a label I ever really went for, even before last year’s wee sexism rammy, I’ve tended to walk away to the side whenever the team have started barking off on one about their stuff. They’re used to it: I did it for shitting ages when Mood Hut were being pronounced Lords Of Everything, and I’ll run backwards to escape any warm words about the latest psy-trance revival, so they quickly twigged that Giegling’s trademarked brand of tech-house dressed as something flighty did not float my boat. Aren’t the sleeves nice, though?

I know, I know. It’s not all like that, and the handful of releases by Edward on the label are mostly all ‘not like that’. It’s not really a surprise he’s been one of Giegling’s real breakouts alongside the Trumprinz/Prince Of Denmark double feature. Across his back catalogue Edward has shown a fairly consistent looseness when it comes to interpreting a particular strand of in-vogue techno, and the result is something livelier, fuller, and rawer than many of his contemporaries.

Into A Better Place isn’t a bad album at all, and although it occasionally dips into unremarkable techyhousey wobbleabouts like Yes, or At Ease, it provides quite a lot of evidence of a producer at his happiest when bringing a bit of funk to the left-field. Let’s Go is a frazzled, joyously playful, little mystery both overexposed and full of contrast. Skating Beats sticks a winding, subtle, Detroit groove under some ancient, creaking, Chicago heat until things take off.

Cream of the crop is Hectatic’s breakbeat workout which weaves between billowing ambience and driving energy. Although it never allows itself to pitch into outright fury, it still manages to storm on with an unexpected, and perfectly weighted, meanness.

Posatronix – Danz EP (Direct Beat Classics)

It says a lot about the depth and quality of Direct Beat’s back catalogue that the three represses so far can be absolutely brilliant and still not come close to representing the label at their very best. Hopefully we’ll get some of the real monsters on their way sooner rather than later, but even so we cannot be disappointed by what we’ve received so far.

Posatronix represents quite a leap forward through the collection. Where the first two represses (the Bass Magnetic double EP, and Technology) are from the very earliest days of the label in 1993, Danz shifts four years along the timeline, and drops into an era where Detroit’s take on electro was fully in control, with Auxx 88, Underground Resistance, Drexciya, and many others, almost at their peak.

Even so, Danz shines with its own merits. Everything from the gritty, pitched down vocals which stain the tunes like dirty rainwater, to the high-riding and clipped beats and broiling bass lines is Posatronix at his best. Danz itself is the eternal dancer, sharing a filthy energy with the work of fellow Direct Beat alumni X-ile and filling the corners with one of the most liquid and damaging bass lines in the genre. 142BPM is sharper, more old school> it’s perhaps the less adventurous of the three, very much playing tail-end-charlie when it comes to invention and sheer force of will, but it does a fine enough job as a straight up driver to get the feet going.

Night Vision is a real techno-bass classic. The rolling, acidic, riff and growling vocals bring out the thunder, while the mesmerizing, whistling top ties it all down with a taut vibe that informs the rest of the tune with an infectious, and surprisingly nervy, atmosphere. This run of DB returns has been one of my highlights of the year so far. It better never stop.

Review: DL-MS – Exit Ghost (Trust)

DL-MS – Exit Ghost (Trust)

Quieter year so far for DJ Glow’s Trust label, but it looks as if they’re getting into their stride now with a new release by DL-MS, a follow-up to last year’s Rogue Intent and one that in a wonderful display of synchronicity shares its title with a fine novel by the very recently departed Philip Roth. I demand more electronic music with literary pretensions – it’s the way forward for sure.

And Exit Ghost itself is pretty forward leaning, which is interesting because the general feel of the music is very much old school. The electro is textured not only with the now ubiquitous filaments of IDM, but something weightier and more alien: a luminosity which recalls the wide open spaces of classic ambient techno, where the tripiness of the journey is carried by the fluidity of the grooves and the beats.

Both Tides and Honokida have that dichotomy at the heart of their DNA. Honokida in particular dives into a deep well of electronica, retrieving the movement of ancient Detroit from the sediment at the bottom, and using it to inform a gliding, haunting, paean where the thick, serpentine bassline winds around mournful pads and little touches reminiscent of Rhythim Is Rhythim at their most visionary. Tides is dirtier; less interested in the clouds it keeps itself rooting through the undergrowth, propelling itself with tricks borrowed from tech-step and a quiet, subtle sense of exploration. Yet both tracks share a common aspect regardless of how high they climb or how low they dig, a strength of mood and an understanding of the way influences interplay with each other to create something new.

Of the flip side’s two tunes, Exit Ghost is perhaps the less immediately intimate but the one more likely to draw you back time and again to explore its layered mysteries. There’s something about it – the aggressively up-front yet entirely louche weave of its groove, or the growing rush as the chopped down, pulsing bass grows in importance, which keeps it always slightly beyond the familiar. By the time the tune brings the different parts of itself together, it has already dialled down into a midnight land-cruise, all shadows and glints of sodium light. As much D&B and Carl Craig as it is recognizably electro, Exit Ghost is proof that the genre is changing, altering itself for the future (something I hope to shed a few words about sometime soon). Perhaps in unfortunate comparison to its immediate sibling, Terminal Din A feels disjointed and less complete, particularly for the first couple of minutes – although that is soon offset by an unexpected warmth which slowly morphs into a gentle wistfulness that finally gives the tune the meaning it was missing.

Electro is changing, and not even in the ways we might have expected a couple of years ago. There is a new-found confidence in exploring other influences and Exit Ghost is a fine example of this blossoming ethos. There will be a few strange directions taken on this new journey, you can be sure of that, but if some of the destinations are as interesting as this, it’ll be worth it. I don’t know whether Big Phil Roth would have been a fan of new-generation electro but I like to think he would have allowed his feet a wee shuffle to Exit Ghost even while he said something beautifully, perfectly, cutting about it.

Three Quick Bursts of Reviews

It’s lovely out. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the park is full of drunk neds sans shirts who are slowly going a strange bright pink colour as the warm rays plough over their almost translucent Scottish skin. it is, in short, as summery as it ever gets around here and the fictional Joys Of Life are coming close to being a real thing. Conventional wisdom says that this is the time of year where we put away all of the loud grinders we were using to get us through the endless months of snow, rain, and darkness, and begin to unwind with some lighter, jazzy numbers. But conventional wisdom, my friends, is a dog; I’m no more likely to follow its fragile logic than I am to suggest to those taps-aff dafties in Kelvingrove park that they swap their bottles of Buckfast for something breezy and summery like a Beaujolais.

So, since I’ve been a lazy sod recently there’s been a bunch of stuff falling through the cracks, I thought we’d do a wee round-up of stuff that’s arrived in orbit over the last few months. Here’s three for starters.

West End Communications have made a place for themselves over the last few years with a slew of releases heavy with sticky, chewy, beats and a finely gnarly attitude. Their new record, the UK Steep EP by the brilliantly monikered Ludgate Squatter takes up the baton, points it straight forward like a lance, and runs like a bastard straight at your face. This is the sort of record you want to play to people who refer to monotonous, modern, slabs of boredom as ‘warehouse’. This collection of crumbling, brutal, yet oddly light-of-touch, tunery seems to be a heaving dose of cranky techno and electro when you first listen to it, but beyond the distortion and the huge beats, there are plenty of little trick, lots of misdirection to take you out of the shadows and into daylight. Every track comes with its own little world of dubious pleasures, but my pick is Believe which sounds like a broken bus engine starting an electro duo with a friendly chainsaw. The vinyl version comes with a free Bandcamp code, which is always appreciated. Always.

Luxus Varta’s Then We Fall on Brokntoys was a record I had high hopes for, but ultimately never entirely got it together with. A good artist on an increasingly interesting label, there just seemed to be too many moments on The We Fall which just lack enough escape velocity to become truly cosmic. There are plenty of interesting influences, mind you, and I could catch touches of Model 500 (and even Carl Craig sometimes); mostly a love of IDM seems to shine through which is a totally valid thing to bring to the party even if it sometimes leaves me a bit cold. Even so, there are still a couple of very class tunes on board – Lesis might take while to get itself going but once it does, it boils itself down to a thick swirl of shadow and glass. Understated and deceptively hard, it’s a great example of deepness done with mood instead of strings. Radion is light years away, a bopping burst of deep space disco forever riding the frequencies of a neutron star.

Ninja Scroll by RNXRX on Struments, on the otherhand, keeps the focus a little more towards electro’s primary heat sources – although maybe not as much as you might first expect. Harsh, fast, and pretty funky, Ninja Scroll is a decent bunch of jams, even if the use of Drexciya/Heinrich Mueller reverential track names started the alarm bells ringing a bit. Yeah fair enough, that stuff is definitely there but what keeps it from slipping towards anything like an homage is the way much of it is filtered through something tighter and more industrial, with the hard rolling beats providing a platform for some subtly wonky histrionics. Ninja Scroll itself has the warming daftness of the Young Gods in their Second Nature period (except with a better groove); High Rise wriggles down into the dirt, like some feral thing escaped from the Touchin’ Bass stable, and claws itself along, with a moody Boris Divider-esque energy. Despite what you would expect,And despite what you might presuppose, Drxcyan doesn’t float off towards Lardosa. It’s too whip-smart for that, propagating a dose of claustrophic, faintly eastern sounding, chaos. Yet another piece of the electro puzzle getting itself some moves from other places. Something is going on in the genre…..