Friday Night Tune: Preacher Man – Green Velvet – Relief Records

I’ve been waiting all week for a big box of records to arrive. It turns out it’s pretty important to have records to listen to if you want to actually review them: 30 second samples on Juno aren’t enough, it seems. That’s life.

It turns out I needn’t have worried. I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last month or so trawling through my collection, You Tube and the recollections of other sad old House-heads to prove a point to myself that I can no longer even remember. I had meant to do a regular series of posts like this since I started the blog, but always held off because it’s too easy to fall into the nostalgia trap. In a sense I feel like one of those boring old rockers, greying hair tied back into an appalling pony-tail, adamant that ‘Smoke On The Water’ was the best record of all time and determined to believe that there has been no good music released since 1971. The problem is compounded by the very nature of House and Techno – forward momentum has always been part of the ethos and looking backwards frowned upon, which is exactly as it should be with a form of music that could not possibly have existed until only a handful of decades ago.

But over the last couple of years the number of releases harking back to a barely remembered ‘Golden Age’ has continued to grow. There have been homages to Acid House so perfect in their replication of a sound that came into being through necessity, innovation and the technology on hand that they are all but indistinguishable – except for the fact that they are cleaner, somehow more hollow: like reproductions for a particularly dull museum. There has been a surge of the misnamed ‘Jacking House’ genre that seems to be beloved by people who would wet themselves in terror if a DJ played a proper, full on Jack track, And there is a sense of the forward momentum petering out, of an astounding musical explosion growing cold as the shock-waves settle and die.

Well, balls to that. Instead of casting backward glances and failing to see the possibilities, lets raid the past for the things that mattered: attitude and exhilaration rather than postures and clothes. And lets start off this occasional series (It’ll be on Saturday if I’m drunk,) with one of the best: Green Velvet’s ass kicking Preacher Man.

Released nearly 20 years ago now, it doesn’t sound like it’s aged at all. That legendary sample of Aretha Franklin’s father, real life preacher C.L, going mental over the most primal and playful of beats remains as potent and dance floor destroying as it ever did, the bass and synths stabs and chimes growing harder and harder as CL gets more and more furious, more and more righteous..and by the time the percussion kicks into life a couple of minutes in it’s got you just where it wants you. It’s a terrifying, loose limbed beast of a tune that our familiarity, like the devil with C.L, has no power over. This wasn’t Chicago House we had ever heard before – hell, this wasn’t Chicago House: This is Chicago Techno in all it’s romping, crazed glory. This is what a Jack track sounds like. Goddamn Hallelujah!

Next time one of those dainty bearded, skinny jeans wearing house producers sits down in front of Ableton to cook up a limp version of Acid House or whatever current genre is trending, I want them to remember one thing, one lesson of genuine wisdom that C.L himself gives up in the opening seconds of ‘Preacherman’ – “Now, You have to watch out when Folks are playing House.” Wise words. Lets try and live by them.

Roland Aira – Return of the King?

Human beings have a strange relationship with expectations, and that strangeness tends to be amplified where specialist interest, fueled by the global Speakers Corner of the internet, latches on. Even before Japanese giant Roland had officially announced the existence of this new range of gear a couple of weeks ago at the annual NAMM conference in California, those expectations had gone toxic. Rumours abounded that various stars of the electronic music firmament such as A Guy Called Gerald and Hardfloor had been approached by representatives of the Synth company and shown…something. Was it a brand new take on the TB 303 or the TR 808? Could it possibly be that Roland had, at last, listened to the hordes who had been demanding they make a return to the vintage analogue boxes that came to define the sound of so many classic records? That must be the answer, the hordes told themselves, surely Roland had bowed to the wisdom of the masses at last? Surely the answer was ‘yes’?

Well, it appears the answer was ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. Through the yapping storm of the hordes vocal excitement there were calmer voices pointing out that it was incredibly unlikely that Roland had gone back to their roots, and time and time again it was pointed out that Roland is first and foremost a company that heavily tailors it’s production and it’s marketing to what was perhaps unfairly labeled the ‘Keyboardist in the Church Band’ – or working performers who were gigging on a regular bases rather that bleary eyed studio-rats losing entire night of sleep to microscopically tweaking snare sounds and running reversed acid lines through saturated reverb just to see whether it would create something worth resampling. The calmer voices were closer to the truth: NAMM revealed that Roland had no intention to recreate it’s famous analogue lines – not in real terms anyway – and, instead, they brought to the conference several new machines that were very different to what most people imagined.

Roland describes the Aira machine as running on ACB (Analogue Circuitry Behavior) engines which more or less means that they are digital boxes designed to ‘faithfully’ recreate the warmth and quirks of analogue circuitry. This is an idea that actually isn’t that new, but the fact that there has often been a disconnection between the theory and practice meant it has remained something of a holy grail. First reports, though, suggest that Roland have done a pretty good job and, coupled with some quite frankly impressive prices, means that they will probably be flying off the shelves when they finally arrive in the stores.

The full range consists of the VT-3, a vocal effect unit, the System-1, an interesting looking synth idea that will allow users to load what is essentially Roland based VSTS, and the two that most people were waiting for, the TR-8 drum machine and the TB-3, a modern take on the famous TB 303 bassline.

Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve only heard a handful of videos of the new gear in action. The TR-8 sounds pretty nice: a full, rounded and surprisingly analogue sound that more than recalls the 808 and the 909. Whether it is any better than a DAW loaded with samples of the aforementioned drum machines remains to be seen. One thing is certain, though, at 400 quid a pop, it’s going to be a much more attractive purchase than any of the competition: Elektron’s brand new RYTM analogue drum machine looks likely to be closer to £1500, and a second hand 808 is going to cost even more.

As for the TR-3, I have to admit to feeling a bit disappointed with what I’ve heard of it so far. I’ve listened to several videos of it doing screechy leads, but i’ve always loved the 303 when it gets down and dirty – there are very few synths that can do that snarling, grimy sounding low end thing so well. I’ll withhold my judgment for the time being. At less than £250 it might well be great buy but I’ve not heard anything that would get me away from my X0Xbox. If anyone can point me to a video that would change my mind, though, let me know – I’m more than willing to be wowed.

Ctrls – Movement EP – Token

Danish DJ and producer Troels Knudsen has been involved in music for a long time. In electronic terms he first came to the worlds attentions as part of the Drum n Bass act Pyro and the industrialized Techno outfit Northern Structures. More recently he’s been doing his own thing under the Ctrls moniker, forging a strong and singular identity across four Eps for Belgian label Token records, the home of several notable Techno luminaries such as Inigo Kennedy, Phase and Go Hiyama.

Although the label is probably better known for pushing the harder side of the Techno spectrum, Ctrls output sits at a slight angle to the rest. Over the span of his releases, he’s created and refined a sound that edges into the same territory as his label-mates, but – fittingly given his handle – never gives up control over his rich and potent sounds.

And sounds is what it’s all about here. There is a strand of Techno philosophy which holds that Techno is all about sound design. It’s not necessarily a view-point I agree with, but it’s difficult to fault in connection with whats on offer here. Movements three tracks are crisp and quick, often recalling previous moments in the genre’s evolution without ever sounding anything other than fresh.

The Opener, Shift is a lesson how to build, rising through a murky fog of electronic pulses and clangs, and chaperoned by razor-sharp hats, it’s kicks falling away time and again only to return to herd the rest of the tune to a distant point clearly seen by Knudsen’s eye for detail. The Second track Sweep explores similar country, except with a slight mechanical harshness added into it and a snapping bass line that puts one in mind of vintage Jeff Mills or Robert Hood. In fact, those two Detroit greats are brought to mind more than once during the track in the way the simple riff glitters and catches the light of the surprising funkiness, whilst being a sight more laidback about it than either of those two Motor City heroes.

It’s the closer, Stop that’s the best of the bunch, and it’s a very potent example of what Ctrls has become known for. It wouldn’t have sounded out-of-place on his earlier Interface EP from 2012, and in fact sounds like a bed fellow of that records Socket, which remains probably his best known tune. The difference is that where Socket was a ramrod straight banger, there is a looseness to Stop that ups the vibe considerably, the percussion seeming to coil and uncoil around the rhythm, like a metallic serpent, pulsing the tune in heartbeat long bursts.

Although we might as Techno fans decry the use of the term ‘DJ tool’ there is little doubt that this trio is designed with the dance floor in mind, but, in saying that, they retain a focus, craftmanship and vision that set them apart from the mass of Big-Room peak time identikit thumpers that have come to define a certain style of Techno over the last few years. Ctrls music might well, in some senses, be almost text-book Techno in terms of his palette of bangs and clanks, but whats interesting is how very few people are actually making music like this. And that’s where his strength lies – you might think you’ve heard it all before, but you really, really haven’t – and before you realise that, he’s taken you by surprise. Excellent stuff.

Does The Wax Still Work?

Does The Wax Still Work?
by singularscribe

When I first moved back to Glasgow in the mid Nineties there were, between where I lived just off Great Western Road, and the corner of University Avenue and Byres Road in the West End, five or six record shops. Less than five minutes walk from my front door was a place that specialized in second-hand dance music, and a Missing Records that also stocked a fair bit of vinyl. Once you rounded the corner onto Byres road itself there was Fopp – Probably the biggest selection of vinyl outside of Rubadub in the city center – the two Echo shops that dealt with indy and classic rock, and the wee place run by the guy from BMX bandits that was to be found above John Smiths the bookshop.

These days only Fopp is left, and it’s a shadow of what it once was. Much of the shop floor is a testament to the changes that have warped the music retail industry out of all recognition. Gone are the ranked racks of vinyl, replaced by masses of books, headphones and DVDs (themselves surely a product on the edge of oblivion) and although it still sells wax, you would be hard pressed to find any dance music except releases by the very biggest names like Daft Punk, the rest of the merchandise made up of a mix of big name Indy and Neil Young – in short the sort of stuff that was almost impossible to find on vinyl until a couple of years ago.

Many are the news items these days telling us that vinyl is making a comeback, that sales of wax are at their highest level in 15 years. But vinyl has never really disappeared: In dance music it retains the cachet it has always had. To a certain extent at least. And although digital formats have had their locust like effect on House and Techno too, it still seems that the most exciting music is still to be found on vinyl.

I’ll be honest: These days, I don’t have the space to set up a pair of Technics and a mixer. I DJ using software and a MIDI controller, and even though I continue to wish I was playing on a pair of decks I’m also aware of the benefits of this digital method, and it’s place within the greater scheme. I buy FLACS, I buy CDs and I buy records – a lot of records – and I archive the various non digital releases to WAV and then onto FLAC like a sad obsessive.

Aside from the way I listen to music, the way I buy it has changed too. I rarely get to buy music in an actual bricks and mortar store these days. I don’t even get into town to go to visit Rubadub that often, so I buy from a variety of online stores and pay the shipping premiums instead. It’s a costly way to do it, sure, but it’s a better choice than never buying anything.

Over the last couple of years, the relentless march of digital music has taken a bit of a battering. Low prices, piracy and an increased sense of disposability have contributed to falling digital sales and the upsurge of new labels that release on vinyl only – when they can find the space to have records pressed, that is, the plants themselves being full of creating fresh copies of Roxy Music albums – and once again we see people desperate to get their hands on White labels and what not, just like the old days. Even labels that were originally digital only are releasing on vinyl now, and, quite aside from all the hand stamped white labels available at the moment, there has been a bit of a renaissance in cover art and creating an over all package that feels like a joy to buy and own. Witness the likes of Trilogy Tapes, each release with a remarkable cover by label owner Will Bankhead, or some of the beautiful releases by Giegling or Anthony Parasole’s The Corner.

It could – and probably should be said – that only the music should matter, that the format and package are ephemeral to the importance of what they contain. Of course this is true, but it is a glib answer that fails to comprehend that joy you feel when you get a record home, when you open it, and when you play it for the first time: There is ritual to it that transcends the simple fact that you are simply placing a stylus on a black disk.

And the sound? Imperfections colour the emotional response and are as much a part of the package as the artwork or the smell. I’ve got some Acid House records from the 80s that are so crackly I could be listening to broadcasts from another era – and in a sense that’s exactly what they are. And there is the physical connection too – who hasn’t lifted a record from a deck at some time or other only to have that curious fuzz of static pass into your hands? it makes the record feel alive.

Through it all the fact remains that records are important to the scene. When I DJd I went through periods of hating records – they were heavy, easily damaged and could be a bugger to find the right place to drop the needle on in the dry ice drenched darkness of a club, and I disagree with much of snobbery to be found in those who huffily proclaim themselves vinyl only DJs – as if that matters to the people dancing to your set in any way what so ever. I also remain hesitant to declare the current surge of new labels to be a new Golden Age – the real world keeps pushing the price of records up and up and there will come a point where it is no longer practical to create them – but it is heartening to see them, and the joy they can bring, being discovered by a new generation.

And for me? I’m glad I started buying them again despite my protestations that it would never happen. Imperfect and fragile as they are, they still call to me as sweetly as they always have. Now, if you will excuse me, I’ve got a Jared Wilson EP that needs my undivided attention….

…For the fifteenth time.

Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania -1986-1997 – Strut

Given the ubiquity of recent classic Acid House Compilations, it’s occasionally difficult to remember that the music coming out of Chicago from the late Eighties onwards was not always limited to the 303 and various drum machines, as fun and important as those records are. And while those old Acid records are undeniably fun and incredibly important to the history of House and electronic music in general, they don’t tell the whole story.

In fact, whilst the big Chicago labels like Trax and DJ International have continued to hold their place in the sun after all these years, and others like Cajmere’s Relief Records provided most of the blue print for todays bumper crop of slightly soulful, slightly jacking retro-house, it’s Dance Mania that was really pushing its own way through musical history.

There isn’t space here for a full recap of the legendary label – and those interested should buy the record and read the copious and illuminating sleeve notes – suffice to say that Dance Mania’s almost unique fusion of in-yer-face rhythms, Gangster Rap inspired lyrics and wonky, almost atonal synths were more or less entirely responsible for the carnage wrought across European dance-floors in the late nineties and early 2000s by what came to be known as Ghetto-House. And although The label itself faded from its popularity in due course, it left its undoubted legacy in the work of such artists as Delroy Edwards, newer Chicago styles like Footwork and Juke and in the need of huge DJs like Nina Kravizt to proselytize on its behalf at every opportunity. The thing is, she’s right to do so.

The album itself is a two parter: The first covers the labels earlier period, where the material on offer is slightly straighter, more in keeping with what other labels were doing in the late eighties. Some of the tunes – Hercules’ 7 Ways, for instance, or House Nation by The Housemaster Boys, are up there with the best material of Chi-town luminaries like DJ Pierre or Marshal Jefferson, and are every bit as well-known. They keep the velocity down and the groove up, and are perfect examples of feel and mood transmitted through man and machine. In the lush strings of Crazy Wild by Club style, it’s easy to hear and understand the musical knowledge (often forgotten now,) that once flowed between Chicago and Detroit.

For most people, though, it’ll be the second disk that holds much of the real treasure. The names on the track listing reads like a who’s who for some of the most banging music to ever come out of the States. Parris Mitchel, Robert Armani, Paul Johnson, are all present, as are artist who are still inspiring the scene today, like DJs Funk and Deeon. Tunes like Johnson’s Feel My MF Bass or Black Women by Jammin’ The House Gerald are almost the ideal Ghetto House trackks, combining genuinely Jacking beats with a gritty rawness and a playful nastiness designed to get the gangbangers following the girls onto the dance floor. Others, like Armani’s Ambulance are beyond the line and well into Techno territory, rivalling the stripped down and viciously functional stylings of New York Techno greats Adam X and Frankie Bones.

The one glaring omission is the lack of any material by Lil Louis who apparently wouldn’t allow Strut to license any of music. It’s a shame that the man behind French Kiss isn’t present, but, on the other hand, it allows the other artists room that they might otherwise not have had.

Although available on CD and digital, it’s worth tracking down the awesome vinyl release: two lovely slabs of wax, in a gate fold cover laden with all the notes geeky European trainspotters could ever want, and it comes complete with the full CD as well so you don’t even have to dirty the vinyl with the rough grasp of a stylus. The only problem might be tracking one down, although those kind folks at Vinyl Solution still had copies in stock a few days ago – link in our blog roll to the side. Good luck!