Austin Cesear/Stefan Jós – Opal Tapes

Eclecticism in electronic music is not a new phenomenon. In many ways it has been part and parcel of the scene for a long time. Over the years various artists have happily moved between the genres; some with great abandon, others merely flirting with new sounds. Recently there has been an explosion of well-known producers taking on new, anonymous handles in order to cloak their involvement in some new project or other. How successful this is, or whether it’s merely a device for creating attention I’ll leave up to you to decide.

Record labels themselves tended to be slightly more conservative. There were always exceptions, of course. Warp Records have always been unafraid to put out material only vaguely linked by anything as overt as genre or scene. It’s equally applicable in this day and age, when so many of the new arrivals seem to be determined by singular ideas about their identities. I can understand labels wanting to push only one sort of music. We live in a saturated age where conservatism is often a better guarantor of safety.

Stephen Bishop’s Opal Tapes, however, is probably the closest to that Warp ethos. Over the last few years they’ve put out some genuinely groundbreaking, crazy and inspirational stuff, much of it on cassette tapes, that most cranky (and, in my experience, fragile,) of formats. Nowadays these releases are backed up by digital downloads and the occasional vinyl release as well, but the lo-fi, DIY feel of tape persists.

And as for the material: Huerco S, IVVVO, Ford Foster, Yves De May have all released some dynamite stuff on Opal tracks recently, and the Body Issues album by Patricia was one of the best records of last year. All of them, as different from each other as is possible to get, have shown a delight in the purity of sound and creation that is so often lacking in much of the big room, dance floor orientated flood of contemporary House and Techno, and this new release, a split by Austin Cesear and Stefan Jós, fits right in.

I’ll happily admit that I’m a bit of an Austin Cesear fanboy, and the four tracks here pick up from where he left off from his recent record for Anthony Naples’ Proibito stable. Finely honed, lovingly shaped samples flutter and glide in the sonic breeze, sometimes so indistinct they threaten to vanish into the haze. There is nothing here as dance floor bound as One Year from the Proibito record, in fact, the closet to it, the whimsical 7HF9B…. only introduces the beat about two minutes in and even then it’s less an invitation to dance than a memory of rhythm that serves to accentuate the playfulness of the track. Cesear is fast shaping up to be a producer of real interest and talent, precisely because he so obviously understands and enjoys the sort of ambience that many others relegate to filler status on albums or B-sides. There is nothing Lo-fi or raw about his ability. Indeed, there is vast sophistication on show, and a keen ear for spotting grooves in places they should not exist.

Stefan Jós is an artist I know very little about. No, strike that – I know nothing about him at all. His half of the album is expansive and abstract; different in tone and feel to Cesear’s work, but born of a similar impulse. Of all the tracks on offer here, 04 is the most forward moving. Dubby tones and gorgeous, hypnotic synths underpinned by playful percussion that stroll towards its eventual conclusion. Beyond that, 05 elicits moods that most electronic music wouldn’t even try for. It’s ancient and impossibly deep; folk music from the future performed by ghosts. Across his five tracks there is a fine analogue fuzz – you can almost here the whirr of the tape, the sigh of transistors and the fizz of warm circuitry in some archaic modular synth creation. Machine music, the detractors still call it. Isn’t it interesting how human it sounds, especially here, enraptured with its own bruised, quiet beauty? I don’t know anything about Jós, but I think that might be about to change.

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