Review: FunkinEven & Jay Daniel- Apron 13 (Apron)

Apron Records’ head honcho Steven Julien has hit us with some good stuff over the last while. Aside from very strong offerings from the likes of Greg Beato, Seven Davis Jr and Adam Feingold, as well as solo releases under his FunkinEven guise, he’s also linked up with some of the hottest Young Gunslingers from the other side of the pond like Delroy Edwards and Kyle Hall (under the FunkinEvil banner), revelling with them in some of the grittiest, acid soaked House to come out of London for a very, very long time.

Where, on first listen, the bulk of FunkinEven releases would seem to stand tall in the midst of the current mayhem of blood soaked, lo-fi insanity, there has never been any camouflaging the fact that his tastes run to more than basic Acid House and Techno. There has long been the rich tang of funk and soul and disco in his work (and the work of those he champions) that bucks the contemporary trend for simple noise music that seems to be permeating the scene at the moment. In Jay Daniel, The young Detroit prodigy and Kyle Hall’s regular partner in crime at the Motor City’s monthly Fundamentals night, he has a real kindred spirit. Daniel’s own brand of grainy House grooves (most recently realised on his Karmatic Equations Double EP for Hall’s Wild Oats label) has the rough bump of modern rollers, but the body of classic texture where both the lineage of his own home city as well as Chicago’s second golden age are strong.

Apron’s 13th release is a story of contrast, as might be naturally expected from any temporary partnership, however similar the two producers tastes would seem to be: contrasts from the artists involved, contrast to their previous work and also between the two tracks presented here. Whether this is a simple split EP between the two or a more involved collaborative effort, I don’t know. Really, though, I doubt it matters.

Discipline is the quicker of the two, in velocity and eagerness to please. It’s a wobbly worker, but deceptively sharp and it demands you pay attention to the way it switches its stance here and there, swapping kicks around and pulling the floor out from under you. Sunrise blasts of ragged synths blare their way into your consciousness but never drag attention away from the wonderful, grunting bass line that kicks and grinds like an Acid House Bootsy Collins on a trip to the moon. Intriguingly, it has the same flush of Psychedelic kitsch that made the last record by the Maghreban such a joy to listen to. It lacks the rush of 50’s skull music that marks the Maghreban’s darkly reflective territory, but there is the similar feel of an internal journey that is less about the destination and more about the ride itself.

As a companion piece, Abyss is about as far as you can get from Discipline. A brutalized end-of-day trip, almost a shadow without a body, it hangs suspended by its own internalized angst. It’s a Drexciyan odyssey written on a bleak Monday in winter. Peels and stabs of raw sound disorient and the ratchet snaps of the verbed percussion curve around the event horizon that forms the tune’s heart. It’s hardly easy, but its an adventurous and cinematic work that bears repeated listens.

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Friday Night Tune: Jeff Mills – Sugar is Sweeter

Well, it was going to happen sooner or later, wasn’t it? When I choose a track to feature in these Friday night posts I try to think of things that aren’t too familiar to most people – hardcore sorts excepted due to the fact they tend to know every tune inside out. The bulk of the tracks are those that mean something to me in some way. Occasionally they’re something that no one else seems to give a hoot about, but often they are examples of the type of music that has come to define House and Techno to me in some way, both definable or otherwise.

There are a number of producers I haven’t featured because, well, it has seemed too easy to include them. I could probably spend every Friday night over the next year documenting the impact Underground Resistance, Rob Hood or Aux 88 had on me and I probably will get around to them at some point. But, seeing as how Jeff Mills will be playing here in Glasgow this Sunday at the Last Big Weekend Festival (see here for details), I thought it might be the time to cover one of my favourite tracks by one of the true innovators and greats of Techno.

Sugar Is Sweeter is not a typical Mills track. Released in 1997, the ‘Our Man In Havana’ EP comes more or less in the middle of a run of recordings perhaps unmatched in Techno where it seemed that he was releasing a bona fide classic record every few weeks for about five solid years. The EP itself is less furious than the bulk of his other material from the period, more pronouncedly focussed on grooves than the rawer, heavier machine funk that epitomizes much of his work but Sugar Is Sweeter goes even further into a territory where the sound reflects a moment of growth and discovery.

While the tune rides in on a set of colossal kicks, it is the fluid, melancholy chords of the riff that actually dominate and set the tone. The riff is a departure from his usual fare. Downbeat, pensive even, it provides an emotional connection that is almost jarring despite its subtlety. It rises and falls over and over again for almost the entire length of the track, barely altering the pattern formed in the first bar, and yet it imbues the piece with a distant warmth that echoes the potent electronic soul of Mill’s immediate musical forefathers. In many ways it is far closer to the feel of Model 500 than to anything else Mills had done before and would not do again for many years. In fact, it is almost an embodiment of the midnight Techno-Soul once proselyted by Carl Craig.

And yet it is unmistakably Jeff Mills. The rough-house clatter of the rimshots, the hiss and scratch of the percussion are all hallmarks of his sound and his style. Here they are restrained, supporting instead of directing and allowing the momentum of the synths to carry the listener onward. This is the Mills formula reworked; the firestorm compressed into live giving warmth. Not so much memorable as unforgettable. True magic from the Wizard himself.

Review: Patricia – Side Piece EP (Spectral Sound)

Even falling back on such stillborn yet fashionable labels as ‘Outsider House’ or ‘Wonky Techno’ the output of Patricia is all but impossible to place, which means that anyone coming to the music of Brooklyn based Max Ravitz are going to have to think for themselves for a change, rather than rely on what some old sod like me tells them to think. Yes, there are definite strands of thought and sound that echo what is to be found in the work of Huerco S, say, or Ravitz’s stable-mates on Opal Tapes, but for the most part Patricia exists purely on its own terms, seemingly indifferent to even the most kindred of music trends.

The Side Piece EP, on Ghostly International offshoot Spectral Sound, counts as the first real material from Ravitz under the Patricia banner since last years mind-blowing Body Issues LP on Opal Tapes. Since then there have been a smattering of remixes and a release on the world eating L.I.E.S as Inhalents (with Jahiliyya Fields) but little from the main act itself.

Side Piece, I want to point out right now, is not a continuation of the singularity stretched protean grooves of Body Issues. Well, not entirely. Where that album was an expansive yet introspective trip through collapsing hinterlands of sound and texture, Side Piece is distinctly more focussed, as if there have been new ways of doing things introduced during those sessions with the likes of Fields. Anyone who witnessed Patricia’s set on The Boiler Room a few months back and marvelled at the way those blurred sounds were re-engineered into snarling, rough hewed jackers will find Side Piece a record alive with newly discovered possibilities. It shifts itself in ways that would have seemed alien in its predecessor, out-of-place amongst the oceanic swell of ferric soaked synths.

Drip Dawn manages a rare trick in being both upfront, stomping House and utterly bonkers at the same time. Propelled by a woozy, seasick riff, the thing hangs together below an alkaline spray of static and pounds along like a demented central European fairy tale where the goblin gets the girl that’s been set to music. If half the tracks on Body Issues could be seen as the embodiment of a grand aural gesture which attempted to retool the symphonic nature of Techno, then Drip Dawn is an opportunity to screw with the conventions of straight up club ready House Its charm lies in how far it goes before the weirdness gets a grip.

Hulderhusan comes closer to both Body Issues tones and those of classic Techno, the lush solar flare riding pads even recalling the Aphex Twin in his glory days. The beats, though, are snarling pit bulls that thrive on their vicious abrasiveness. It is angry music, though with much beauty, but with an underlying simplicity that catches you as the tune draws to a close, letting in a welter of diffuse bass that fades away into the ether a moment before it overpowers you.

Foie Gras is perhaps the most accessible of the four tunes here, and may well be the best. It pitches down the speed, introducing a slinkiness accentuated by fluttering hi-hats and a bopping bass before a crawling acid line slowly eats its way through any resistance. It has the feel of classic acid Techno but, like so much else on the record, that vibe is only an echo in the distance and the most superficial of colouring on Patricia’s torn canvas.

JTC’s I-94 Lick mix of Drip Dawn undertakes a fairly unenviable task in moulding the originals slanted grind into something more recognizably Housey. That it is mostly a success says much of the remixers art, but amongst the other three broken-eyed children it looks something of a distant cousin. Nevertheless it polishes the raw material and introduces a wonderfully off-kilter lead that matches the originals demented meanderings whilst never loosing sight of the floor. A euphoric builder for a club sinking in a radioactive swamp.

The Last Big Weekend – Richmond Park, Glasgow – August 30th/31st

big weekend

Most festivals are a bit hit and miss when you look at them. A couple of young uns on the way up, a couple of old uns on the way down and a whole bunch of filler with the sort of names NME journos go mental about. God help us all.

Well, The East End Social, in conjunction with Optimo and Numbers have got a line up to kill for here across their two-day extravaganza in Richmond park this weekend. Saturday brings us a proper mix, from alternative rap in the form of Edinburgh outfit Youngfathers to grand old men of indy, The Wedding Present (Always does you good to see proper Indy heroes like the Wedding Present still killing it after all these years) to Fuck Buttons to James Holden to weegie post-rock legends Mogwai. See the above flyer for more details.

But it is the Sunday line up we are interested in here, being the sort of people who are drawn to bangs and bleeps and what nots. And what a line up it is. Sophie, fresh from annoying the living heck out of those suede headed Resident Advisor sorts with his Dance-pop anthem Lemonade, Glaswegian psycho-groove deviants Golden Teacher, James Murphy, Hudson Mohawk, the Optimo boys and Numbers lynch-pins Spencer and Jackmaster.

And to top it all off, the man himself, the one and only Jeff Mills. Cor. If that doesn’t get your heart beating I don’t know what will. I hear Boston are recording a new album. Probably best you wait for them to tour. Jeff Mills! Jackmaster! All of them!

Tickets are £70 quid for the weekend or £38.50 for one day. Not much for a mess of proper talent, and there aren’t any Sultans of Ping FC NME crap anywhere on the board. Job Done. Get yourself down there. Even I’m going. I’ll be the one looking for a nice sit down by the time night falls. Tickets available from Tickets Scotland up until opening. No camping on site. I’m not sure waking up in the duck pond the next day counts as camping but you had probably best play it safe all the same.

Friday Night Tune – The Martian: Particle Shower

This is the third or fourth time I have tried to write about Particle Shower for my Friday night piece. Each and every time I’ve attempted it I’ve ended up scrapping it in favour of something else. I have no idea what my hang up is with this record. It doesn’t matter, it’s now become something of a fixation. Maybe I’m just scared people won’t see what I see in it. Maybe I’m scared that they will. Lets go for it and see what happens.

The Martian was one of the first acts I remember where the anonymous nature of the producer seemed to interest people. Partly, this was due to the suspicion many people had that the producer was, in fact, Mike Banks of Underground Resistance. looking back, the evidence was scant; Bank’s distributed The Martian’s label, Red Planet, via Submerge, and there were definite similarities of sound that were highly suggestive of at least a collaboration between Banks and someone else.

It never really mattered. Nowadays when half the producers making Techno or House seem to do so whilst wearing a disguise that seems to have no greater purpose than to drum up interest in records that might not be terribly exciting on their own merits there seems little point in debating who The Martian really was. It doesn’t matter who it was, only the music is important, and it’s lucky that his work, particularly the early releases, have stood the test of time so well.

Particle Shower was always my favourite of a run of tunes that included some real high-grade material. Voice of Grandmother may have been the High Tech Soul record that neither Model 500 or Underground Resistance wrote, and Star Dancer the galactic anthem of a funk based alien nation, but it was Particle Shower that best caught the sense of movement and energy and warmth that was the hallmark of the second wave of Detroit Techno.

It takes a while to get going, the snapping beats building their way into a ferocious groove before the most pumping synths in Techno history simply materialize on top of the track and send it all spiralling towards the sun at light speed. Those synths….collapsing in on themselves over and over again, always on the verge of falling apart utterly and taking the tune with it but always righting themselves as the crackle and whine of circuitry keeps everything bound together. The whole thing is as tight as can be, except when the storm momentarily subsides and that…what is it, a xylophone?…kicks in and introduces a sense of space and playfulness to what it one of the hardest and funkiest few minutes in Techno history.

Nowadays, when so much Techno seems bent on a long self-reflective voyage up its own arse, its important to remember that the music doesn’t have to be absorbed by its own profound cleverness. Experimentation doesn’t mean elitism. It can give the producer the chance to articulate emotions instead of ego, and it can set fire to the body as well as the mind. Maybe we need to go back to the Red Planet and see for ourselves once again.