Review: Drexciya – Black Sea/Wavejumper (Clone Aqualung)

I normally avoid reviewing re-releases and represses for the simple reason that with so much great new music being released every week I don’t feel any particular urge to talk about the hundredth version of an ancient Trax classic to be thrown out on wax yet again. Aside from anything else, originals (even original represses) can be had from Discogs – or any shop with a half decent classic house section – for a couple of quid. Most of these reissues are of well known tunes anyway, largely stuff most people have, or are buying again to fill up the remaining gaps in a collection. Where we enter more interesting ground is when the material being put back out there was difficult to find in the first place, or simply unavailable for years and at the mercy of the second-hand market.

The output of Drexciya probably fell into both of those places and it’s good to see so much new interest in one of the most important partnerships in electronic music. I’ll admit I’ve largely skipped the bulk of the – admittedly excellent – reissue series from both Tresor and Clone over the last couple of years, but that is mostly down to having a big bunch of this stuff from the first time around. It is tempting though, especially since the strength of the remastering work and the inclusion of unreleased material certainly sweetens the deal.

You probably don’t need me to tell you anything about Drexciya, so I won’t. Suffice to say that even after all these years, Drexciya’s music still sounds like the soundtrack to an incredible and alien alternate reality. They redefined both techno and electro, fusing the two together with their own fully realized philosophy, into something with imagination and attitude. Nobody sounded like them before, nobody has since.

Clone’s special Aqualung sub label (reserved for the lone output of Gerald Donald, and soon to be featuring his Der Zyklus album) brings together two of the best and most well known tracks. Black Sea from the ‘Journey Home’ EP, and Wavejumper from ‘Aquatic Invasion’ are both simply insane examples of what Drexciya did. Black Sea is a searing techno track , white-hot with a mournful fury and the tightest of grooves, Wavejumper a buckling electro killer, arrogant and funky, and always feeling like it would be about to clatter to pieces if it wasn’t for the titanium thread of stone cold purpose that runs through it. The third track, the unreleased Unknown Journey XI, a jacking, acidic, electro jacker, would probably be a stand out on another record. Here, though, the competition is unbelievably, stupidly high. It’s a good tune, but it’s clutching at coat tails.

Both of the two main tracks are released as alternate mixes. I’ll be honest: if anything, we’re talking about evolution rather than revolution. These aren’t remixes and for the most part it’s the remastering that helps the tunes the most. Black Sea is slightly longer and maybe a breath slower than before, although neither take anything away from the ride. The rebalancing of the mix seems to have had the most effect with the lower end. The kicks always seemed tough but fragile before but here they punch through stronger than ever. Likewise the bass propels the tune with even more clarity than before, firming up the spine and allowing that war cry of a riff to really howl. I’ve been over this with a FLAC of the original mix for comparison and, aside from the longer running time, there aren’t any major changes to the arrangement that I can tell, but it sounds better, more vibrant. I’d go as far to say this should probably be seen as the definitive version now.

Wavejumper is, I think, slightly shorter but tighter than ever. Clone say that it’s a ‘different mix (without the infamous skip)’ and that’s good enough for me. Again, to be honest, I think you will be hard pushed to notice any real difference. The sound is fuller, less top heavy than I seem to remember it. I don’t have a copy of my own to compare it to any more, but it does the same lean and mean job it always has, it just sounds even leaner and meaner.

The real question isn’t how different or otherwise they sound to the original arrangements, but how much value you put in owning two of the deadliest tunes in history back to back on a brand new piece of wax? Fair enough if you already have them from times long past, but even those with the original releases should take a closer look. The clarity of the new mixes, especially on Wavejumper which just seems even more of a snarling pitbull of a tune than it used to, are worth it. And if you are new to Drexciya, and looking for a way in to the huge mass of back catalogue suddenly available, well this should be your doorway into a world you won’t be able to escape from.

Friday Night Tune: Gkahn – Poet #3

I’ve probably banged on about it far too many times already, but I’ve always been interested in the ways house and techno – in themselves largely products of specifics times, places and influences – have been seeded into lands distant from where they originated and blossomed into something new, something replete with the tastes and attitudes of their new hosts. In some senses it is the ultimate irony – that this music, created and played on machines, should have such a wickedly organic, perhaps even Darwinian, way of evolving.

Of course, take a single piece of music in isolation and one tune sounds like it could have come from anywhere. What makes things interesting is when you look closer at the music of each city or country as part of a larger whole. We all know what Detroit techno sounds like (and there is little doubt that when it comes to Detroit, even listening to a tune on its own, without knowing anything about its producer, nine times out of ten you could probably guess where it hails from), but we could also say the same thing these days about German techno, or British, or even Italian and Spanish. Each and every scene feeds back into itself, and has always done so, sharpening and shaping the music through common influences, perhaps even beliefs and their meanings. One of these common bonds, and one that should be obvious but seems to be overlooked, is the role labels play in shaping the sound.

Spanish label Semantica is a great example of this. Although Semantica boasts a roster of artists from all over Europe and the rest of the world, there is something about them that continues to represent the ethos that has come to define Spanish techno. The music is frequently hard, often fast and it tends towards a very pure and sometimes dry sound – compared, say, to here in Britain where a little bit of everything is stuck in the pot – but more often than not Spanish techno is brilliantly smart, clever even, with a great deal of attention to detail and sound design. So much so that even the harder end of the spectrum often feels as much an intellectual exercise as a physical work out. To fall back on that most overused of slogans, Spanish techno is as much a music of the mind as it is of the body.

Semantica is not the be-all-and-end-all of Spanish electronica of course, but I suspect that without the vision and talents of label head Svreca that particular scene may have gone in a different direction. At the very least I don’t think it would have become quite as important to contemporary techno as it now is. Even as Semantica has cast its net far from home it has remained true to a particular vision of electronic music regardless of whether it is putting out techno, electro, experimental work or, as here, wonderfully weird and alien acid-disco-aquatic groove funk.

Poet #3 by Gkahn, the ‘Mysterious disk jockey and producer’ from Asturias in northern Spain, is simply a warped, deeply funky journey through the hinterlands of sound and grooves. There is deceptively little to it, and what there is dominated by a huge, rubbery and winding bass line that prowls the beats like a hungry beast before slowly rising up and warbling its way into full acid mode with squeals and clatters galore. It’s considerably slower than a lot of Spanish techno (and even techno elsewhere on Semantica) but there is nothing gentle or pedestrian about it. In its own lazy, shuffling way, it’s as brutal a track as you will find. It lulls you into thinking it’s going to be a simple enough dubby groove but it quickly mugs you. It might be an exception to the rest of its scene contemporaries, but with its bitingly smart, acidic slo-mo funk, it’s the exception that proves the rule.

Review: Perfume Advert – Kappa Downs (Where To Now)

Perfume Advert’s last release, the dank, awkward brilliance that was ‘Tulpa’ on 1080P, was an album that took it’s time to burrow its way into your conciousness. Molasses slow and saturated with invention and ideas, ‘Tupla’ took the lo-fi house thing to a logical conclusion of sorts, taking a scalpel to the extraneous tissue that seemed to weigh down so much music within the genre. The result was a record that was both wistful and moving, layering its not inconsiderable grooves with the dust of a thousand long nights and short summers. Tunes like Rotted Out, with its half-speed machine funk roll, or Swamp Star with its feral lope, were scuffed gems that shone more and more with each listen.

‘Kappa Downs’, on Where To Now’s sub label Where2dance, retains much of its predecessor’s way with loose, understated grooves but really is a departure from ‘Tulpa’s’ fractured, world weary psalms. Where ‘Tulpa’ only rarely broke into something more direct, ‘Kappa Downs’ begins from a place where those same grooves are placed front and centre, allowing a much more obvious and lively dance floor aesthetic to emerge.

I say ‘lively’ but ‘Kappa Downs’ is hardly made up of prime time, big room bangers. The tunes are better marshalled perhaps, a tighter syncopation and a greater focus on vibe than mood, but they still haunt the periphery of the traditional floor. Beyond that, though, they exude the smoky, languid feel that is familiar to fans of labels like Mood Hut or Future Times, and they fit well within the current crop new wave house that is looming through the haze. The other difference is that ‘Kappa Downs’ feels a more deliberately polished release. Shorn of ‘Tulpa’s’ Grimy locks, the tunes here are free to see their way into a bigger world.

Fata is the embodiment of Perfume Advert’s new found chops. A long, dubby number, Fata never breaks into a sweat but still keeps itself moving on the back of a fat bass, the downbeat peels of synths and the thickened clack of the kicks. There is a playfulness at work too, which moves the tune from being a simple, deep groover into richer textures. The percussion, prominent and wriggly, dries the synths and keeps the momentum from slipping into a fugue state.

But while Fata is nice and deep, it doesn’t entirely hit the spot. The B-side, though, lifts things further. The Fens shuffles into life with gorgeous, classic chords chopping out the mood. Little touches of vocal add just the right frisson as does that understated yet punching bass. I find myself sticking the pitch up on it in order to squeeze every last drop of sleek funk out, but really there is no need. It’s pretty full of life as it is.

Creep Pop is in some ways closer to the pioneering spirit of the album than the other two tracks here. It maintains a similar aquatic charm but adds the subtlest touches of grunt to the drive. The bass rises forward in the mix pushing the tune into a hypnotic, very late night work out. Occasional clatters of perc snap you back and forth, drawing you back to the great washes of sound that dominate the groove. It feels just that little bit more pronounced; house music on the edge of trance. It’s a beguiling end to a strong EP that brings out a different side of Perfume Advert’s work.

Event: La Cheetah and EzUp Present Jimmy Edgar @ La Cheetah Club, Queen Street Glasgow, 11.4.15

lacheetedgar

La Cheetah and EzUp join together to bring a genuine, 100% legend to Glasgow’s favourite disco-pit in the shape of Detroit born Jimmy Edgar, a man with an illustrious back catalogue spread across Warp, Hotflush, Semantica and his own Ultramajic. Expect a set as dripping with funky as all hell house, techno and snapping machine jams as La Cheetah’s seriously sweaty dance floor can take – and probably a bit beyond too. And in honour of the occasion they’ve only gone and secured a 4AM licence!

Support from La Cheetah residents Wardy and Dom. It will be a belter of a night as Glasgow tries to pretend that the summer has arrived. Tickets a ten spot from Good Old Resident Advisor. The festivities begin at 11pm right there on Queen Street. Have a pint upstairs at Max’s. You’ll need a glass to carry your melted mind around in later on…

Dress 2 sweat.

Review: Stingray313 & Mariska Neerman – EP002 (Bleep43)

With only two EPs to their name, London based label Bleep43 haven’t perhaps been the most prominent stable in the world since their formation in 2010. Although their club night and a series of excellent podcasts (to be found on SoundCloud) provide more information on their tastes and ethos, the actual music has been a bit thin on the ground. Given the quality of both of the records so far this is a bit of a shame. The first EP, featuring tracks from ERP, Oprhan, and label founders Jo Johnson and Plant43 was an impressive snap shot of modern electro informed by the influence of the sort of wide ranging mid nineties techno that was once the purview of labels like Warp. It was a record of chilly brilliance, full of little melodic touches that suggested the importance of home alone headphone trip outs as much as dancefloor functionality.

This second release, coming a mere three years later, is a split between Detroit legend Stingray313 and Belgian artist Mariska Neerman. Stingray313 needs no introduction but it’s worth saying anyway. One time DJ for Detroit electro wizards Drexciya, Stingray has gone on to become one of the best DJs in the world. Perhaps as importantly, however, he remains part of a curiously small circle whose skills on the decks are more than matched by his ability in the studio as he continues to drag electro from its increasingly disant roots and into the future. Neerman’s name is probably not so well known. The two tracks on offer here represent – as far as I can tell – her proper début, although she has worked with Stingray previously on his Urban Tribe project.

Stingray’s opening contribution, BSL Level 4, takes electro as its starting point but quickly morphs into something else. Amongst the static bursts of the synths, there are trace elements – more than that actually – of the sort of tight, heavy snap that was once a part of the drum n bass tech-step genre, and in fact the tune carries a similar wide-screen, darkened thrill. Claustrophobic yet fractured, BSL Level 4 is held together not so much by the metronomic swing of its beats, but by the grand sweep of the pads that momentarily drift in three-quarters of the way through. They redirect the clatter, shaping it long after they have receded. The reverberating bleeps and touches keep your balance off but your guard up. Heavy and very atmospheric. Nudge Theory is more typically Stingray – a tight, jacking belter far beyond the sort of velocity most modern DJs understand and feel at home with. It’s the stand out of the two; dripping with heavenly synths that wash off the excessively caustic sting of the razor-wire percussion while the bass is reduced down to a lean and pumping minimum, only slapping into life when it is most needed.

Neerman’s tracks are worlds away. less electro in both concept and delivery, they are downbeat and haunting. Carved largely from the interplay between melody, fills and emotion they are thick with the sort of dreamy Detroit-ish flair found in music by the likes of Aaron Carl, and worked over with a very European nous. As with the first EP, there is lot here that is reminiscent of Warp or – perhaps unsurprisingly – R&S; a sort of highly cerebral take on techno. Atê is the more jacking of the two, a fast drifting adventure down empty midnight boulevards, directed by tight peels of melody and synths and a bass that rolls away into the distance. Alpha Draconis picks up where Atê leaves off, but is more mournful, more serious, less inclined to show a flash of smile. It’s deep and lush and very beautiful, and a wonderfully realised tune of the sort I didn’t think got made any more.

An excellent EP, and one that intriguingly shows that similar sources needn’t end as identical music, which is a lesson that so often needs to be learned over and over. Stingrays tracks are as great, thumping and inventive as always, but it is Neerman who has provided the real eye openers here. I hope we hear more from her – and Bleep43 – in the future.