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.

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.