Review: Head Front Panel – HFP #9 (Head Front Panel)

This ninth release of otherwise anonymous 12″s on Tabernacle offshoot Head Front Panel brings both an apparent end to the run and the news that Phantom Planet Outlaws member John Heckle is the producer responsible. Although it makes sonic sense given Heckle’s releases elsewhere (on Mathematics in particular) I imagine there are still a few people clinging to the hope and belief that the music represented some secret stash of material by Jeff Mills. It’s easy to understand why given the nature of the series; The cataclysm scale techno, huge engulfing beats and raw funk hearkened back to the golden age of the mid nineties and the furious yet emotive music being created then by the likes of Mills himself, Underground Resistance and a handful of others.

Not that The HFP series should be viewed as exercises in nostalgia. Contemporary techno seems to have reached a bit of cross roads at the moments with one group of producers increasingly toying with extremes of noise at the expense of structure or beats, and another group continually polishing an ever more mannered creation that seems to take its lead from profoundly non electronic influences. Head Front Panel seems disinterested in such philosophical problems, choosing instead to lay down hard grooves that glow with sweat and excitement.

Essentially the series cuts out the crap, takes it back to basics and shows us what the original point of the music was. Whether HFP #9 is the best of the run is open to debate – there have been killer tunes on perhaps every record, with the 4th and 5th releases being particularly special – but it differs slightly from the rest by expanding upon a sense of playfulness and atmosphere that haven’t always been readily apparent on some of the other releases.

The A side is dominated by the opener. Fattened on a diet of Transmat and Metroplex it is one of the few tunes I’ve heard recently that could be happily described as High-tech funk. The joyful stamp of the gritty kicks underpinning the misty pads and the acid squirts. Any criticisms about the obviousness of the influences dissipate as soon as you hear exactly how genuine it is, and the way it reminds you that for all the contemporary posturing in techno, it remains still a visceral music that relies less on the brain than the heart and soul to make an emotional connection.

Its companion cools the warmth with a low down prowler, coiled taut in form and mood. It rises slowly into an increasingly unsettling air of nervous energy. Detached and icy it is the foil to the opener’s smiles and energy; the flip side to the blaze of sunlight.

The final tune is perhaps where the lessons learned across the series all come together. Slowed, skittish and alien it flutters over the collapsing rhythms and the murmer of 303s. There is too much techno out there that tries too deepen itself by smothering the mood with the thickest pads it can find. This tune knocks that approach out the way straight off. Its deepness comes from the interplay of the elements, the way they wind around and over each other and drawing in, pulling each other tight so that only the groove can escape. Downplayed as much as downbeat it’s a subtle, twisting creature to bring an end to a great series of records.

I hope it doesn’t.