Review: Kurt Y. Gödel – Axiomatic System (YUYAY Records)

In a few recent discussion I’ve had the subject of electro seems to have come up more often than it used to. For whatever reason, electro remains a bit of an outsider in relation to the gang of cool and popular genres. My big hope for 2015 was that we would finally get something of a revival, especially on the back of last year’s small avalanche of Drexciyan (and related spin-off) represses. So far it hasn’t really materialised.

It’s not that there isn’t a lot of good electro out there just now – there certainly is – but it just doesn’t get the love it deserves. I won’t go into why this is. I have my theories and I’m sure you do too. One thing is noticeable, though, and that’s the way the good and current electro seems to be keeping to the shadows. It’s a bit weird the way a genre that had such an utterly profound influence on the evolution of electronic music seems to have gone so deeply underground (we’ll not talk about ‘electro-house’, which is neither), but I suppose it safe-guards it from becoming a victim of its own success.

‘Axiomatic Systems’ by German outfit Kurt Y. Gödel is a generally interesting take on the sound, and one that combines elements of 70’s and 80’s synth based experimentalism, Kraftwerk-esque chords and refined acid with the traditional electro rattle. There are other touches here and there – strains of that Drexciyan feel linger in the more nuanced moments, Gestloten Cirkel’s grunt apparent in some of the less icy phrases, and a strong sense of an attempt at something more expansive than simple dancefloor fare pervades it all.

It’s not perfect. Several of the 10 tracks are allowed to slacken into a place where the light catches the influences a little too brightly; tracks like Chord Memory, or Oblivious Traveller straddle a fine line between very retro and a little too old fashioned. Others, like Cascades, mix pummeling breaks with slender synth-work and squirted acid lines that don’t go together quite as well as they maybe could; the breaks too distracting, the 303s too messy to gel with the quite beautiful and stark melodies that haunt the upper registers.

The album works far better in those moments where restraint is shown favour over indulgence. 57 Square Acid takes the drama of acid and ties it into a subtle frame of techno and gently weaving synths that lend the piece a melancholy, autumnal feel. Distortion To Nowhere and Tape Rider gleefully poison the bass with grit, easing off on the hazy beauty and allowing the tunes to snarl. Both are a pair of belters; Distortion To Nowhere refusing to let man and machine tell it how to do its stalking, repressive and biting thing. Tape Rider simply explodes with the vicious yet dispassionate potency of early Aux 88.

But for me, the highlight is Sunlight Faders, a track that takes a few long moments to find its place before the golden blaze of the playful and almost poppy riff flares into life. The 303’s are pitched just right – like strange pets that nip at the tune’s heels as it shimmeys along. A dusky tune, pregnant with all the possibility that sundown in the city affords, it’s a little piece of late night Motor City moodiness by way of Germany.

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Friday Night Tune: DCC – Horton’s Groove

It’s pretty easy to take the piss out of Richie Hawtin these days. The silly haircuts, the silk scarves, the frolicking around in kiddies paddling pools with mates, the sake, the increasingly bland music and the painfully obvious attempts to rebrand himself as some sort of cool big brother to EDM have resulted in Hawtin being viewed by many as an embodiment of everything that is Wrong and Bad in electronic music. Go on, admit it: you probably agree. What’s more, you’ve probably used his current status of Pantomime Dame of Berlin to excuse yourself when you’ve muttered the all but inevitable ‘I never liked him anyway’.

Whatever Hawtin is nowadays, or whatever he might morph into somewhere further down the road, only someone with the narrowest tastes, or a profound lack of knowledge of electronic music history could discount the role he has played in its evolution. The mythology is, of course, just that; placed squarely amongst the likes of Underground Resistance and Carl Craig as part of the second wave of Detroit techno, Hawtin always seemed Detroit by a quirk of geography more than anything else. An English kid transplanted to the Canadian town of Windsor just a stone’s throw away from the Motor city, his music never seemed particularly close to that of his immediate peers.

Beyond his own musical output, though, it was the Plus 8 record label, started with school friend John Acquaviva that had a truly lasting impact on the direction electronic music would take throughout the nineties. It provided an outlet for some great tunes from the likes of Ian Pooley, Kenny Larkin, Sysex and Vapourspace. It’s ethos of a partly raw, partly playful acid techno sound shaped so much of what came later, and elements of it even predicted the rise of tech-house and minimal long before those genres existed, let alone became anodyne and formulaic. It was an incredibly progressive label in so many ways; a hotbed of invention and a production line for a number of records that no self respecting DJ would dream of leaving the house without.

Plus 8’s sub label, Definitive, was often the more straight up housey of the two. Check out some of those old records by the likes of Omegaman or Chuck Phulasoul and listen to the way they give releases by labels like Guidance a run for their money. Still acid at heart, they hail back to a time when the underground was capable of putting out big, big tunes without feeling guilty or without accusations of selling out.

Originally released on Definitive’s, um, definitive compilation ‘Acid House For All’, Horton’s Groove was the work of Jochem Paap, an artist whose own career mirrors Hawtin’s in many ways. Best known, of course, for his Speedy J guise, Paap was one of the original stars of Plus 8, and one of the early European producers to really take an fairly American sound and rework it into something new. He now may well have gone down a similar path as his long time friend into a fairly humdrum musical cul-de-sac, but you can’t really doubt his pedigree.

Horton’s Groove even by Definitive’s standards, is a bit of an oddball. It is, however, a perfect Friday Night Tune, and pitched somewhere between house music, funk and something altogether weirder. It is almost impossible to categorize it. A shambling, deeply tripped out and dubby number it’s beauty and fun lies in the way it sounds like the product of an unhinged jam session between live musicians and a mad eyed, bass playing acid robot from a twisted future where techno won the war. Better still there is something to it reminiscent of Weatherall produced Primal Scream or even the Happy Mondays. All it lacks are Shaun Ryder’s gutter messiah vocals.

It’s also a reminder that great music or artistic contributions don’t stop being great just because you don’t like the person responsible any more. And that, my too-cool-for-school friends, remains true no matter how many stupid haircuts are involved.

Review: Call Super – Fluenka’s Shelf (Nous)

Currently munching its way through the same platter of kudos and chips that Mood Hut were enjoying a year or so ago, Greek Label Nous have come a hell of a long way very quickly on the back of a series of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them releases that some cynics might suggest owes as much to the relative scarcity of the pressing runs as it does to the quality of the music within.

Their second release of the year features Call Super, one of Britain’s more interesting contemporary techno talents and an artist who has often been willing to colour his music with elements from a wide range of influences. Last Autumn’s album, ‘Suzi Ecto’, took this approach and ran with it, furnishing us with a record that refined his sound and added a super 8 flicker to proceedings that widened its scope from cosmic dance floor etchings into something more full-bodied that rewarded repeated listening.

Whether ‘Fluenka’s Shelf’ is quite as brilliantly realised as the album is probably by the by. While there are similar strands and ideas present in both, the new 12″ rolls much closer to current new wave house than the album’s beautifully abstracted vistas. It is also, like the album, a record that bears repeated listening, but that may be more down a need to prime your ears properly for it more than anything else.

Fluenka’s Shelf itself doesn’t give itself up easily or willingly; there is so much going on that you’re going to need a couple of other pairs of ears set up around the room at irregular intervals to catch the little touches and nuances. That’s not a bad thing, however, and it’s refreshing to actually hear a tune that makes you work a bit to get on board. One thing that is unavoidable is the presence of a stone cold groove that’s grown out of the snaking bass and a drum track so deep lying it’s reduced to a suggestion than anything more physical. Not actually so much a busy tune as one where the ideas come in roving gangs, it’s worth setting aside the full 11 minutes for some quality time with your stupidly expensive headphones.

From Which I fell isn’t quite so effective, eschewing the previous track’s landscape of otherworldy jungles for something far closer to current vistas. It’s a nice, deep and wonky piece of modern house but let’s be honest: how many tracks these days aren’t? Even so, it’s difficult not to like it as it unfolds on the back of that ambling, sleepy eyed riff that yawns into being a couple of minutes in. It’s a warm tune, full of daft grins, but one that ultimately doesn’t quite do as much as you’d like. It’s subtler, perhaps, and less adventurous. Which is a shame because there is something in it you just want to come to life.

Not so much a mixed bag as a bit uneven, ‘Fluenka’s Shelf’ still has more than enough in it to show why Call Super is held in such high regard. While It’s maybe not quite up to the same level as either the album or his stand out turn as Ondo Fudd on last year’s Trilogy Tapes release, There is plenty here – within the first track in particular – to set your ears working hard.

Review: Ascion – BSR11 (Black Sun Records)

Hard techno is a form of electronica that sometimes gets a bit of unfair criticism from people – myself included – but often it is a genre which doesn’t go out of its way to challenge many of the preconceptions about the music. Its reputation for humourlessness and overt masculinity is largely justified, and while the image it projects of a type of shaven headed, all male, no-girls-allowed gurn-fest is often amplified in the minds of people who would more likely cross the street to avoid it, I don’t think there are too many who would deny that it’s a scene which refuses to make allowances. You either accept it on its own terms or you don’t. There is little lee-way.

Which is probably a bit of a shame, not least for the fact that hard techno is a genre devoted to a level of experimentalism and cerebralism not often seen elsewhere these days. Of course, like other genres you tend to have to dig away a little bit to get there. But once you get past the strata of one dimensional bangers and the muddy layer of material composed of decaying 1995 era Mills, there are some real diamonds to be collected.

Italian producer Pasquale Ascione, co-owner of REPITCH recordings and 3TH surfaces here on Black Sun, a label that has long been responsible for bringing us proper techno from a host of well kent names such as AnD, Sunil Sharpe and Blawan. It’s a good fit; Ascion’s entry into their stable has furnished us with a record that feels accessible while not giving so much as an inch of ground.

Partly, I suspect this accessibility comes from the way the beats on the record do not feel like markers ticking off the seconds until the next breakdown or wall of sound. Although they remain heavy, a thick welter of bass, they are re-imagined as something else. It is tempting at first to think of them as relegated to tonal duties; providing a stern background against which the subtler textures can make their presence felt. But I’m not sure that this is really the case. You only have to note their cyclic and deeply organic nature on Ulm, say, to realise that the rhythm provides far more. They swell throughout the track, growing stronger as each pulse of the music is completed, and in fact it is the whispy pads that guide you towards their rising tide. Even the percussion, so often perfunctory in techno, blends in with this rolling thunder, accenting the kicks, and lending them a razor edge.

It is a trick repeated on Hiutax, where the experiment is extended into borderline tribal territory. The loose stepping beats, with their percussive chaperone, are textured with the gentlest touches of reverb giving the track a weirdly detached and distant feel that is further emphasised by the woozy nature of the pads and the strangely discordant ringing textures that haunt the background. It’s wonderfully effective, a collision of emotions and memories; a party on the very edge of the event horizon.

On the other tracks, Junkers and 1999_JH51, there is a lesser sense of this weirding, otherly atmosphere. Junkers, with its acidic snarl, is perceptibly straighter even though the beats remain skewed. But it works just as well, especially as the refusal to let the track drift into pounding, 4/4 normality allows a festering sense of dread and panic to settle into place; it’s like taking a wrong turn into a bad part of town and not realising it until it’s too late. There is something in it that reminds me of Claude Young in his excellent Djax Upbeats phase; brawn refined by genuine brains.

1999_JH51 is just as stark as the other tracks, but perhaps lacking a bit of their vitality. The beats are just a little bit too pronounced after their fine usage elsewhere, the synths and sci-fi effects a little too prominant. Even so, it unfolds with a similar sense of restrained violence, a radioactive bloom slowly settling over the city, turning the listener away from the open and into the depths of the shadows for protection. A fine EP, then, where the threat and the promise converge.

Friday Night Tune: Ege Bam Yasi With Finiflex – I Want More (Malcolm Egg Mixegg)

Glasgow transforms in the sunshine.

Unlike Edinburgh, where the high and indisputable beauty of the city seems at its most pronounced under the austere light of a crisp winter sun, Glasgow needs a touch of cloudless warmth before it comes to life. It’s not one of the most gorgeous places in the world, Glasgow. It’s never going to hold a candle to Venice or Vienna or Florence. In the cold rain and smirr of a west coast winter it seems to contract; drawing into itself, turtling up, waiting out the worst of the season until the first timid touches of spring begin to restore it to itself.

On a day like today when the temperature rises at long, long last (as long as you stay out of the shadows where winter is still waiting to cut you) it begins to feel like a great place again. The crowds are lining the Kelvin outside the Inn Deep pub, and filling the wee hill side in Kelvingrove park where new arrivals and old salts gather in the light to laugh off hangovers and curse the bloody bongo players. Along Great Western Road and Woodlands Road and Sauchiehall Street everyone seems to be smiling and laughing.

The buildings too, many still tarred by the grimy air of generations of hard industry now long gone begin to lose something of their hunched and tired attitude; the sunlight, the warmth returns to them something of the grand character they must have had back in the old days when Glasgow’s ships built the Empire and it revelled in its role as a dynamo of the Industrial Revolution. It feels as though some great, unseen cosmic force has thrown the On switch.

Like my closest friends and I, Ege Bam Yasi is a Highland Boy gone south. An Invernessian (as far as I know) long relocated to Edinburgh, The egg obsessed acid house nut was one of the very first Scottish house artists I was ever aware of. Back then, and still in the Highlands, I found electronic music to be as exotic as it was esoteric. House and Techno came from Detroit or Chicago – distant places and little more than ghosts on the horizon caused by a trick of atmospherics, and the stuff that filtered up to us from England felt little closer. Stories of warehouses and raves in the hinterlands somewhere off the M25 were never anything more than that. The only connection we had was with the music. The rest of it, the lifestyle, the clubs, the personalities and the legends were so far away as to be fictional. Scottish electronic music of the time was massively defined and dominated by one thing – Happy Hardcore, A genre that held little for anyone in love with Detroit’s gloriously futuristic stylings.

Simply put, Ege Bam Yasi showed that you didn’t need to be from the Mid West or Brighton or London to get involved. He wasn’t the only one, as it turned out, but you never really forget those early lessons that teach you something important about the world and your place in it. I won’t lie and say that the music of Ege Bam Yasi woke me up to a vital truth about myself and everything else. He didn’t, but he certainly had a role in showing me we could be a part of it all.

I Want More is a tune that seems to have always been there at the back of my mind, and it’s one that always seem to come to the fore on a day like this. There is something springlike about it. It’s a funny little groove, optimistic and sunny at first but growing into something all encompassing as that great synthline rises and rises and rises over the rest of the track. The 303s, when they whip into place, push it onwards to somewhere bathed in the light of a great smiley faced acid sun.

Eggceptional and Eggshilarating, it’s like the season turned into frequency. Eggcellent stuff.