Friday Night Tune: Subject No. 001 – Black Lives

It’s turning out to be a bit of a DJ Bone week around here. With a podcast last Monday on Resident Advisor coming on the back of his new 12″ on Don’t Be Afraid – under his Differ-Ent guise – and the re-emergence of an old Peel session reminding us all what an utterly, mindblowingly good DJ he is (seriously, it’s insane. Hear it here), it felt like time to give this phenomenal tune a run out. I was actually planning to give a rest to classic Detroit techno but this, this is something else.

DJ Bone’s Subject Detroit label was a bit of a late comer when it emerged in 1998, although it was to be a while more before the label really got going. We talked last week about the phenomenal number of Detroit labels back in the past and one more might not have made a ripple had it not been for the quality of the music. Mainly a vehicle for DJ Bone’s own work, the label still brought a number of genuinely classic records to the worlds attention. Juan Atkin’s ‘Future Past’ and Aaron-Carl’s ‘Tears’ are up there with some of the finest techno records of all time, and Scottish artist Stephen Brown’s pair of releases (the Subject Scotland series) still remain up there amongst his best work.

But is was DJ Bone, releasing the ‘Unleashed EP’ as Subject No. 001 who set the tone. United as the four tunes are by a common energy they still feel like different parts of a puzzle, each bringing some new facet of DJ Bone’s tastes to the listener. The dreamy porpoising synths and rattling drums of Feel or the cloud riding, light speed elegance of Imagery are both as beautiful as they are hard; capturing the essence of Detroit techno both tunes render it down into its purest form and inject it straight into the muscle of DJ Bone’s midnight creations. Adowaya , which brings the record to a close, is a surge of rhythms and percussion lightened by the rusted, water stained and playful melody, and the cheeky bursts of whistles.

Black Lives is a compressed cyclone of emotion. The hardest tune on the record it is also the most serious. Stripped down and fierce it burns with an aggression that the other tunes don’t have. At it’s heart, behind the cold voice intoning ‘Black Lives’ and above the vast kicks or the patter of the perc lies that mammoth mechanical snarl. Dominant and hypnotic, it sounds like industrial machinery coming to life. It softens for a moment near the end, bring a second to catch your breath before it drags you back in again. A howl of rage and funk that has hardly softened in all these years.

Review: The Goat Project – 12 Hours Out (The Goat Project)

Part of what makes electronica so interesting – and one of the things that arguably separates it from the bulk of contemporary and popular music – is that it has largely been created with a true feeling of egalitarianism. I’ve always been interested in the fact that the post punk ethos of Do It Yourself found its greatest proponents not in noisy guitar bands passing through an Indy rite of passage before signing to a major label, but in people like you and me locked away in a back room somewhere cooking up beats and soundscapes on cheap, second-hand gear or a DAW on a laptop.

This egalitarianism is what I like about Band Camp, the music retail site that aims to cut out as many of the middle men as possible and allow the artists greater contact with the record buyer as well as a larger chunk of the profits. Some people have claimed that the current ease of getting material out there means that we no longer have any form of quality control, that it is becoming harder to find that one special sound in the furious cacophony of background noise. I have sympathy for this stance; Although I think most of us have learned to filter out much of the white noise, you can miss the good stuff if you’re not careful. Even so, music at this level and of this sort is very much a meritocracy, and I believe that the good stuff always finds a way to get heard. Even if it’s reviewed on a tiny blog months after its release.

’12 Hours Out’ by Yorkshire outfit The Goat Project is a record that probably wouldn’t have existed if left to the traditional record industry, which would have been a shame. Whilst ambient at core, it moves beyond that starting point to bring in elements of jazz, IDM, hip hop and modern classical. At times disorientating and even occasionally uncomfortable, there is a genuine emotional heart to this collection of eight tunes that warms the usually frigid genre tropes nicely.

At its weakest points, such as on the torn, half speed stomp of Glass Horizon , or the slight Langsett, there is a feeling of too much thought being given to the emotional impact. Langsett in particular seems too willing to be dressed up like the other kids, doing little more than playing up to what we expect. While some of the other shorter pieces might seem similar on first listen there is a magic that soon peeps through, the ethereal Homecoming, for example, carrying a similar sense of faraway wonder that Thomas Konas managed on Novaya Zemlya. The different approach (synth scape versus refined field recordings) still rendering a feel of wintry dislocation.

In fact there is a strong feeling of invention throughout. 4 AM is as subtle and pretty as the brightening of a dawn sky, while James Mason’s Eye fractures samples and jazzy frills over the top of a laid back and meandering groove. It is in Submarine Hum, though, that I think the record best brings its various touches together. A long trip into deep space, it softens its slow breaks with the interplay of airy textures. Building and growing, it eventually passes through a burst of aggression, of dissolute frequency that collides against the listener before it departs, weaving slowly back into the aether.

Ambient electronica is a hard furrow to plough, I think. It is easy to fall into cliché or, even worse, create homage to the ghost of the past. While The Goat Project are occasional victims of their own musical nous there is plenty here that owes everything to their interpretation of the emotion of frequency, coupled with an understanding of how music moves and breathes. From Band Camp only. Link in the clips above. Put some money in, I want to hear what they do next.

Review: Phil Moffa – Attempt No Landing (The Corner)

Anthony Parasole’s label, The Corner, spent much of 2014 cannily moving out of the shadows of other, better known New York techno outfits and into a place where the light could shine more brightly on the smart and fluid sounds that have come to define the label’s output. Although The Corner have always felt closer to the ethos of Adam X’s Sonic Groove Records than to either L.I.E.S, or New Jersey’s host of deeper labels, there has perhaps been a slight – and perhaps condescending – attitude of dumping them all together under one banner. The fact is that The Corner have always felt more classically inclined than L.I.E.S and more fiery than Strength, say, or Underground Quality. It shows in the material and the artists. Big tunes from the likes of Fred P, Tom Dicicco and Marcel Dettmann; pressure point techno that frequently owes as much to Berlin as it does the land of its birth.

‘Attempt No Landing’ is Moffa’s first solo release for the label following a pair of previous collaborations with Parasole. Moffa is a bit of a serial collaborator – a joint release with Seth Troxler is forthcoming – and as such it has been a little bit difficult to gauge exactly where his own tastes and talents truly lie. A pair of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them 12″ last year pointed to an artist capable of deftly bringing various techno tropes to a more experimental sound but they lacked the fun and drive of 2013’s ‘Night Gallery’ EP with DJ Spider on Plan B, a truly great record for anyone wanting to get to know either artists music.

While ‘Attempt No landing’ probably can’t be said to contain anything as gloriously funky as Midnight Never Ends from ‘Night Gallery’, it does retain the swing from that release, coupled to a far more functional, dancefloor orientated vibe. Hard techno is, I think, in something of a bind just now with very little poking its head above the herd of sub-Millsian bangers and with little to alleviate the stun grenade feel of too much going on in too small a space. ‘Attempt No Landing’ sidesteps such issues with a paired back production style that recalls vintage Rob Hood (perhaps Hood’s earliest Floorplan gear is an even better comparison) which allows the music’s inherent drama the room to explode.

It’s not quite an even record. The A sides single track, Magnetic, is bottom heavy; the booming, cavernous kick stealing something from finely nervous atmosphere created by the one note lead and darkened pads. The percussion gives it plenty of momentum but little funk, which is OK given its feel of pumping end-game tunage but it feels rather like it’s the destination that matters more than the journey. Mind you, it’s sometimes difficult to come to critical conclusions of stuff like this. I imagine under the strobes even I might have to concede that functional techno is sometimes functional for a good reason.

The B-side, though, is where the record really comes together. Both tracks remain as hard as Magnetic but benefit from an increased dose of groove. They also retain that same bare, tight production which allows the tunes to open up. Molecular is a lop sided builder which mainlines the ghost of Surgeon’s Magneze in spirit if not exactly in sound, inhabiting a similar crunched up mindset. By the time the riff makes its presence felt the tune is already clawing at the ceiling.

The highlight is Ignition which is also the lightest and most open of the three. Cutting back slightly on the full on techno feel it accentuates the tight roll of the bass and locks everything down into the groove. More than just techno in fact; subtle touches of house and perhaps even old trance sparkle as the lead catches the light. No less prime time than it’s siblings its potency comes from its willingness to loosen its hips and throw off some of the record’s focus. An interesting and unexpectedly funky release on a label really beginning to find its feet.

Friday Night Tune: Erotek – I Shall Tek Thee

One of the things that tends to be forgotten about Detroit is that it wasn’t just the music which was important. That the great list of people who made techno and electronic music what it is today is top-heavy with Detroit names is undeniable, but there are other aspects to the phenomenon.

I was actually looking for another tune tonight, but got sidetracked on the Discogs Metroplex page. It’s easily done, and I’m sure you have done it yourself. You log on to check something or other and before you know it you’ve spent an hour following threads and joining dots until you’re light years from where you were to begin with. Tonight I ended up trawling not so much through the music, but the record labels that put many of those Detroit names on the map.

I have to admit I’d never really thought about it before, but there are nearly as many famous Detroit record labels as there are producers. What is also worth noting is how many of those labels, especially in the earlier days, each pushed variations of the local techno that went on to heavily inform so much of what came after. Transmat, KMS, Planet E, 430 West, Direct Beat, Underground Resistance, Submerge and a host of others all championed music – both local and foreign – that affected various genres and scenes across the world in different but profound ways.

My favourite was probably always Juan Atkin’s Metroplex. With its output falling somewhere between Transmat’s raw yet symphonic machine soul and the harder UR strains, Metroplex’s net always seemed to be cast breathtakingly wide; even a quick glance of the aforementioned Discogs page will show a label that pushed techno, house, rap, garage and electro. The last of these was the heartbeat of the label, with Atkin’s early Model 500 material heavily indebted to electro’s groove and affording opportunities to other producers who were already fusing the genre’s stark clatter to other tones.

Strangely, given the label’s electro leanings, Metroplex was never as involved in the acidic techno-bass (or electro-funk or whatever) scene that became so important to UR and integral (read:total) part of Direct Beat. And yet, the handful of techno-bass releases that came from Metroplex are up there amongst the best.

I Shall Tek Thee by Erotek was part of a split 12″, the other tune being the slightly less battering Lock It Down by Atkin’s and Derrick Mays’s occasional X-Ray project. Erotek, who also released on Direct Beat under his real name of Dre Brown, took the basic formula and dragged out the raw aggression that lies at the heart of most techno-bass. The tune is frighteningly fast – somewhere well over 140 BPM – and brusque. Except for a brief wash of velveteen synths near the end the tune is a snarl of tight drums and a hissing 303 which back up the threat implied by the dispassionate and mechanical vocals. It manages to be both archetypal techno-bass and somehow different at the same time. Interesting to realise that it sounds even harder today than it did at when first released.

Metroplex are apparently back in business again for the first time in a while. I have a feeling that there is going to be a big electro revival this year. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get some of these genuine classics repressed? Given the current climate for returning to the past, perhaps it’s time we actually gave some proper respect to the labels who recreated our world, and not only the producers? Because without the first, as much as with the second, the music would just not be the same.

Review: Todd Osborn – Over and Over (7777 Recordings)

Osbornover

Where Todd Osborn’s first release for Jared Wilson’s 7777 Recordings, last year’s 303/909 12″, promised much with its pair of big, housey tunes, it ultimately never came quite up to snuff. While you can’t fault the ideas at the heart of that record, there was a vague feeling that it stopped short of being as fiery as it could have been; as if the concept had gotten lost somewhere in the production.

Over and Over, though, is a different proposition. Moving away from the purist, 80s inflected house vibe of 303/909 has placed the veteran producer in a place where he can bring other elements to bear. Osborn has a long history of involvement in Drum & Bass so it would seem only natural that he has looked towards that end of the spectrum for influences.

It’s not that he has fused jungle and house together, of course. The results are subtler than that and, really, it’s those sounds from the orbit of D&B that provide the launch pad. Textures from the more explosive end of house, rave, and garage are applied liberally and help to create a strength and depth to the music that, curiously, brings out a similarity of sorts with some of the material label head Wilson has been creating recently.

The two original tracks take differing starting points. Throwdown is closest to 303/909 in spirit but benefits by sounding more fully realised. Ostensibly a straight up house tune, it warps itself with its gleefully ravey touches and vibe. The cheeky ring of the riff, and the grubby bump of the kicks and the bass actually bring a touch of some of Detroit’s lighter moments to it too; Eddie Fowlkes, say, washed over by the thrum of strobes.

Over & Over, though is the highlight of the record. Mainlining the sounds of garage, it crawls in with scratchy synths and a prowling bass before sparking to life with clattering breaks, the bass climbing and angling back on itself. It’s a darkened, claustrophobic track that revels in a heady mix of breathless decadence and the surprisingly pummelling energy that belays the fact the tune barely hits 123 BPM. The whole thing is brought together with a so simple vocal snip that echoes with the track’s sultry chill.

The MRSK remix of Over & Over wisely avoids the original’s shadowy, airless landscape and reinvents it as an acidy banger with a huge, filthy 303 and rising synths that owe more than a little to early Hardfloor. It’s a good move; the tumble-down drums and the honk of the acid line melding well with the fluttering and cinematic tones of the original synths, and drawing out a trancey feel that is occasionally evident elsewhere on the 12″ but upstaged by more upfront touches.

No clips for this one, I’m afraid, but I’m sure Juno or someone will have ’em up.