Given that Ilian Tape have been in existence now for the better part of a decade, one of the most surprising things about them remains the fact that they seem to be something of an open secret within the community. They do their own thing, not really affected by the swings and trends of the scene, releasing material that refuses to be easily placed – some it straight up dancefloor fare, some of it inhabiting the frequency washed borderlands of experimentalism – and they appear to relish bringing onboard producers who likewise refuse to be beholden to more common tastes.
A case could be made that the label is part of a small and rather select group that includes the likes of Giegling and The Trilogy Tapes: Small and fiercely independent set ups who have crafted some downright fascinating and vital music without too much glare from self-proclaimed movers and shakers within the scene. One does not have to look much further than the recent release by Skee Mask for evidence of this; a record shimmering with the golden glow of classic techno but using those influences to create something compelling, modern and experimental.
While co-founder Marco Zenker’s new release, ‘2626’ doesn’t quite hit the same radical heights as Skee Mask, he similarly crafts something that seems to stand a little away in contemporary terms. While ‘2626’ is, primarily, functional club music the bulk of which would work well as builders tools, there is a distinct feel of Zenker playing with expectations and pushing conventions to one side.
Such a theme is there from the outset with Geezin, a track which may well take a few listens to fully involve the listener in its workings. It does not seem to go anywhere at first. The whole of its length feels, to fresh ears, like a long tease designed to set you up for a rush that never quite comes. Rewind it a couple of times, though and certain elements begin to make sense, especially the delicious and strangely affecting synth that controls the pace without ever dominating. The drums used sparingly, accenting a surprisingly delicate arrangement with fractional breakbeats, aren’t allowed to overawe the tapestry of pads. It won’t, I’m sure, be for everyone; perhaps too skittish for the banger brigade and too muscular for those hunting ambient pastures. But its beauty lies in its breathless orchestral workings rather than in dedication to a particular mindset.
Splifer, then, comes as something of a wrench, dragging the listener back into a crowded world of movement and industry on the back of a rolling kick and tightly syncopated percussion. Like Geezin, it takes a little while to get going and form up into some finely pulsing techno that eventually opens into a wide arena of sound courtesy of the wash of some distant pads and a buckling little riff that put me in mind of Aubrey or Mark Ambrose. Little touches offset what could otherwise turn into muggy heaviness and lend the tune an airy and ever so slightly detached vibe.
Darai, a companion piece of sorts to Splifer, delivers a hands-in-the-air borderline jacker designed to bring prime time explosions to an already incendiary situation but, unfortunately, fails to bring any of the warmth or alien charm of it predecessors. It’s a simple tune, which is no crime in itself. But it rolls like a five-minute long, pitched down Drumcell track; workman-like and monotone it’ll have its place as a tool, but seems brutish and basic compared to the subtle accents to be found elsewhere on the EP.
Lubiana, however, reaffirms the inventiveness of 2626 with a snapping burst of voodoo funk. The sparkling synths display a lightness of touch and grace as they dive and fold over the thunder of the drums. Some clever work on the claps – dragging into reverse and throwing them forward again – adds a burst and crackle to the movement. It’s an exploratory ride, part old school techno, part equally old rave, that has been re-imagined as a shamanistic journey under summer rain. a keen and ambitious ending to an EP of stomping visions.