Friday Night Tune: Golden Donna – Colditz

First of all, apologies for there being no Friday Night Tune last week. It had been a harsh 7 days and it needed a longer than normal recovery period. One of the knock ons of this was that there simply wasn’t a tune in my head for a bit. Sometimes I know well in advance what I’m going to talk about. Other times I have no idea until I sit down at the computer. Faced with an empty screen long after I should have finished last week I decided to cut my losses and go back to the source.

I spent part of the weekend rooting through my records. Aside from frequently wondering why so many of them were bad and lamenting the fact that so many of the good ones are scratched to buggery, I started to realise there are a lot of them I don’t know anywhere near as well as I should.

This has become more of a problem since I started buying vinyl again about five years ago. In the old days when the readies were not quite so ready there was a hard limit placed on the records I could buy. Probably because of that there was a bit more opportunity to get to know a record inside out. I’d mix the same records and the same tunes in and out of each other for hours, making the best out of a much more limited pool (although, it wasn’t really that limited). Nowadays, especially now I have a bit more available in the way of funds, I tend to buy more records more often. It’s a beginners mistake, isn’t it, having eyes that are bigger than your belly? And time is the real finite resource nowadays, which means I don’t get a chance to listen to some of these beauties as much as they deserve.

Very simply put I bought this record, the second release on Atlanta label CGI Records, a long while back when it first appeared, I listened to it a few times and lost it under a blizzard of newer records. It’s a split EP with Cc taking one side and Golden Donna taking the other. I gravitated towards the Cc stuff first, the hard jacking garage stomp of Shackles in particular. It’s not that I never listened to the two Golden Donna tracks, it’s just that the immediacy of the Cc tunes caught me and then I was gone.

But coming back to the record last weekend after all but forgetting it was there I stuck on Colditz and was properly demolished. It wasn’t the airy, housey tune I’d imagined on first listen. It was thunderous. The beats, infused by the rude strut of garage, are almost Ancient Methods in their controlled ferocity, like a hungry Doberman straining against its leash. That’s only the beginning, though. The heaviness is jerked in and out with the grinding bass playing off for the limelight against the grimy, swooping strings. The ricocheting vocal snap suddenly teleports you from an echoing expanse of melodic mid-western techno into the sweaty confines of Uk bass. It is the biggest tune on an EP of big tunes, riding high on an attitude that is part street smarts and part dream filled star child.

It’s probably a good thing I wrote nothing last week. The enforced need to actually spend time with a box of records paid off. There is suddenly so much to hear, and so much to relearn. Will I stop buying too many records? Probably not. Like they say, ‘a man’s aim must exceed his grasp, else what’s a record shop for?’. Robert Browning, there. He should know. He was well mental for banging acid. Aren’t we all?

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Review: Nocow – Zathdax (Roots United Records)

One of these days when – if – I have the free time, I might go back through all the reviews I’ve done and work out how many of those records were released on small, first time labels as compared to more established imprints. I think it might make for an interesting analysis. Of course, we all know that the true underground torch of house and techno has pretty much been carried by small and independent set ups, often releasing a handful of records before vanishing. I get a feeling though that this approach is in the ascendancy again. This is the second release this week by a small start-up label I’ve covered; Roots United are a St. Petersburg based collective of musicians and DJs, the label apparently sprouting out of the parties they run back home. To me that sounds just about as grass-roots as you can get.

Nocow, AKA Russian producer Aleksei Nikitin, isn’t so much of a newcomer, although the name might not be overly familiar. Over the course of the last few years he’s put out a number of records across a bunch of labels that have taken in many points of the electronic spectrum from ambient and down tempo to more upfront genres. What ties the material together, though, is Nocow’s awareness of the experimental nature of electronic music that often lies just below the surface. Anyone interested in checking out more of his work should track down a copy of his ‘Solus’ album of German label Fauxpas Musik or his ‘Yule’ EP on Styrax. They’re a good starting point and have plenty in common with this one.

‘Zathdax’ also shares much with the current trend for dusty analogue work outs that have come to dominate much of the underground, and there are a few little touches here and there reminiscent of the work of producers like Florian Kupfer. Not that this is simply a facsimile of a currently fashionable sound; one of the pleasures of ‘Zathdax’ is the way it manages to rework a left-field sound to feel even more left field with Nocow drawing on a set of influences that add a freshness to the formula. Whilst the bulk of the 6 tracks are composed of four to the floor techno, they’re refracted through a hazy murk of electronica and lit up with flares of garage, dubstep and even punk. Take the title track itself: Zathdax is carried along on a clipping beat with the weird, fun insouciance that water marks a lot of Studio Barnhus releases, but there is something in the way the stuttered vocal sample interplays with the drums that puts you in mind of a sort of slightly melancholy Blawan. Its understated feel almost disguises the tunes potency until it’s too late to stop yourself moving.

Elsewhere the heady warp of classic IDM figures to a greater or lesser degree. The sultry synths and pads on Solstice, for instance, push the atmospherics of mid nineties ambient techno into a shimmering and housey frame, adding a proper resolve and focus to the mood. Other tracks, like Ayenward or Levee, are more straight forward, predicating the grooves on muddy drums and grunts of bass with subtle melodies and motifs left free to work on the mood.

My favourite though is Round Dax, which is built around a welter of popping post punk bass, a chopped vocal and a squirty, playful melody that’s so cheeky it’ll be figuring in my own mixes for a few months yet.

Largely club ready techno, the real joy of ‘Zathdax’ is to be found in the way it seems to take delight in subtly playing with the formula. Although I’d be hard pushed to claim that it is as experimental as some of genres it references there is little doubt that it works best in its more off-the-wall moments. A solid record of feet grabbing grooves, there’s more than enough here to elevate it beyond the mass of join-the-dots ‘analogue’ work outs currently doing the rounds. It’s limited to 300 copies so you’d better be quick.

Review: Ross From Friends – Alex Brown EP (Breaker Breaker Recordings)

It’s been a heavy couple of weeks, all things considered. Life gets like that sometimes and music is one of those weapons that can usually ease the sharpness of the moment, or a lot of moments all coming together like a cat o’ nine tails and flaying your hopes along with your hide. There have been a whole bunch of new records to sink our teeth into lately – new albums by Levon Vincent and Anthony Naples chief amongst them. But while those albums are pretty darn good my mood has been entirely too fragile too really get on board with them yet. It’s February in Britain. It is the dictionary definition of a miserable time. And while the rain, snow, hail and various real world bastards take it in turns to lay me low, I found myself reaching for this one instead.

I know nothing about Ross From Friends other than what is to be found here on ‘Alex Brown’, his début on new label Breaker Breaker. There are a glut of producers out there just now doing big things and making sampling an integral part of their sound on a scale we haven’t really heard in a long time. Not many of them seem as willing to get gleefully abusive with the source material though, throwing out an old school blast that is warm and fun and layering the sounds on top some proper dancefloor grooves like this. There is enough here to tie it in with a handful of other producers – think along the lines of the stuff Delroy Edwards has been releasing on his Gene’s Liquor imprint: seriously damaging house cuts heady with blasts of disco and soul and jazz. There is also something to the sound which is a kindred spirit to Herva’s brand of weirdly free roaming electronica, although Ross From Friends brings a tighter groove, less likely to have you wondering what exactly it was you just heard.

Beyond that, the similarities are pretty much superficial. The three rockets on ‘Alex Brown’ are built from the ground up to do real damage in your favourite little sweat box, although I’m going to go right ahead and suggest that your proper Resident Advisor certified, po faced, beardy techno jocks probably aren’t going to be keeping this in their box for long. This is the anti-Berlin. Thank God for that.

Sometimes a little awkward in the pacing, and dropping occasional moments that feel a little bit like montages rather than a unified whole, there is still more than enough here to get the smiles going and enough invention keep you noticing something new on repeated listens. Golf School is the most direct of the three with its big disco soaked vibe slinking towards a clattering finale; sultry yet innocently playful, it just wants to dance its little socks off.

The other two are by turns darker and more experimental. Ridley Schött is a compressed Lo-fi burner that gradually flares into a booze fuelled rave dream, the samples flailing and whipping against the ominous bass and crump of the drums. Biz pushes past that. It’s long opening segment prowling and percussive before it changes tact, lets the haze of background noise come forward and settles into a jazzy groove that hints of the long summer nights to come.

Like I said, it’s a little uneven, but with so many ideas packed onto the wax that’s more than understandable. An undeniably fun record that experiments on conventions and should furnish you with a little something extra to deal with the worst the world and the winter can throw at you.

Review: Ben Boe – Leagues To Light Years (BOE Recordings)

Despite BOE Recordings now being in their 8th year of existence,’Leagues To Light Years’ has the distinction of being label head Ben Boe’s first solo release. There have been a handful of tracks and remixes here and there but nothing that gave us more than the briefest glimpse of Boe’s personal talents and tastes. In a scene largely dominated by labels that began life as applications of techno’s much vaunted DIY ethos or even as stylish vanity projects, there is something a little bit heroic about a label owner who seems largely content to stay in the background and let his stable of artists get at it instead. And although I’m happy to concede that it’s much more common than it once was (particularly amongst British labels, interestingly,) it still awakens a certain amount of curiosity.

Still, with a network of producers that includes Kris Wadsworth, Perseus Traxx and Anaxander, BOE Recordings haven’t really had to rely on home base for some great material, which makes Boe’s belated début on his own label even more interesting. Given the label’s core philosophy of releasing underground music influenced by Detroit and Chicago, it’s no surprise that ‘Leagues To Light Years’ gives a heavy nod to classic US house and techno. In saying that though, none of the three tracks are slavish in their devotion. The influences may be common enough but they are delivered with a lightness of touch that pleasingly adds to their understated feel.

Ganymede is the more open of the three, riding in on the subtle crunch of the kicks amid the occasionally tumbling tom. Beyond the jacking of the first couple of bars the tune soon blossoms into a rising piece of high-tech funk the likes of which we don’t hear enough of any more. By turns warm and sleepy it propels itself onwards and upwards on the back of some classy, wobbly 313 bass towards the sunbeams of synths which light up each element that falls away, fluttering back to earth, and illuminating the tune’s heart.

DEEeeP-r is somewhat denser. What it lacks of Ganymede’s symphony of light, though, it makes up for with a throbbing real-world groove that builds itself up from the gloriously old school bassline; always shifting, never settling, the bass rides the snap of the percussion, the wispy pads and the smudged vox like it was born to it. It puts me in mind of Gemini at his loosest – and that’s never a bad thing.

Atomic Fuzz comes as a vinyl only extra, which is a laudable enough idea even if it seems a bit unfair to keep it exclusive given it’s quality. It’s the most ambitious of the three tracks and swaps the wide vistas of the US influences for something much closer to the moodiness and blending of styles that remains a hallmark of British electronica even now. The interplay of the break beat and the icy pads suggests IDM, but the roll of the perc and the heavy tech-steppy warp of the bass push it beyond that and into a twilight where touches of drum n bass and garage sparkle in the half-light. It is quite possibly the best thing here and more than enough reason to get your hands on the vinyl rather than just settling for a digi.

Whatever reason Boe has had for holding off on his début doesn’t matter now. The joy of the two main studies is undeniable, but it is Atomic Fuzz, with it’s serious understanding of the flow and mood of something beyond the classic (and yet fun) influences that lodges in the heart and mind. Tasteful rather than raucous it’s a strong record that gets inside the fabric of high-tech, soulful funk. With a bit of luck we won’t have to wait another eight years for the follow up.

Friday Night Tune: Peter Van Hoesen – Axis Mundi

Although I generally have no regrets from the long sabbatical I took from electronic music in the early years of this century, there are a few things which continue to niggle. The jaded feeling I had probably soured me against some pretty decent music, leaving me unwilling to give a lot of stuff more than a cursory glance before finding some little element in it that stuck out a little too much. When you get to the point where you’re looking for excuses not to listen to something, it’s probably better to knock it on the head for a bit. Leave it well alone.

On the whole, I’m glad I did. The love eventually came back. I was able to throw myself back into it again with perhaps even more fervour than I had the first time around. But it took a while, and in that time entire eras past. Detroit and Chicago, once so important, seemed to diminish slightly; still providing the world with incredible music and artists but perhaps not with the same influence. Berlin rose to take the place it always threatened to – the centre of a continental (and increasingly, global) scene. And the hard, route one bangers of the early millennium were slowly replaced by minimal tunes that seemed an overly mannered reaction to its own immediate past.

It turns out, though, that I missed quite a bit of good stuff while I was away. I’ve done my best to catch up, and I’m mostly there, but now and again I stumble over things that I simply didn’t take onboard either then or once I got back into it all. Peter Van Hoesen’s career is still not something I pay enough attention too. He really started out a ways back when I was busy ignoring everything. I’m still discovering a lot of his work. In truth I tend to enjoy his occasional Sendai project with Yves De Mey more than his solo work, the sharp neuropunk feel of Sendai fitting in neatly with that technological/social Chiban night city disconnection that burned into my imagination the first time I read William Gibson. I don’t know whether the name ‘Sendai’ is a nod to the powerful, cutting edge cyberspace decks Case uses in the Sprawl Trilogy, but it fits so well I don’t really care.

This track, Van Hoesen’s own Axis Mundi, emerged as I was feeling my way back into things again. I had already learned a lot, but it was a mix for MNML SSGS by Spanish producer Svreca that introduced me to Van Hoesen properly with Axis Mundi buried away somewhere in the 4 hour long set. Strangely enough it also kind of represents several different things which came to prominence in my down time: Put out as part of a sampler for one of the Berghain mix CDs and published by Ostgut Ton I don’t think I could have found a piece of music that represented so many changes to the scene in the years I was absent, the mammoth contemporary importance of these two Berlin institutions amongst them.

The tune itself is deep, pure bred trance; hypnotic and captivating, its power lies not in minute alterations spread out over an eternity but in an ever changing blizzard of frequency that always threatens a disorientating white out but never actually leaves you blind. But even if it did you could always follow the concrete heartbeat of the kick drum back to safety; the drive of the drum is the immoveable object to the tune’s irresistible force.

I’ve sometimes felt a bit like a guy who has woken from a coma and wondered what the hell happened to everything, what brought about so many changes. But there are always constants, good music being one of them. And good music will always be there even if you aren’t. Sometimes you need to close your ears for a while to realise that. I’m glad I did, but I’m even more glad I started listening again.