Best Of The Represses Volume 2

2014 might well have been a watershed year in terms of the amount of re-releases coming our way, but now, as we are about to hit the second half of 2015, interesting stuff is beginning to happen in house and techno’s own little heritage industry. At long last we’re beginning to get some genuinely interesting material stuck out on wax and digi, and one of the biggest news stories of the last week wasn’t Resident Advisor’s slightly weird item about what shirts Dixon has been photographed wearing (an RA attempt to cream off some of Mixmag’s cheese?), nor was it the, errr, fanfare for Zac Efron’s new movie about EDM and hippy techno-bollocks gibberish. The big news item as far as the peanut gallery goes this week was that Dekmantel will soon be re-releasing Fatima Yamaha’s What’s A Girl To Do?, the ten-year old tune by Bas Bron which is apparently changing hands for over £100 on Discogs.

Whether or not it’s entirely healthy that this sort of thing should be exciting people far more than stories about brand new records, I can’t say. What I can say is that here is volume two in my irregular series of micro reviews. As last time there is no other criteria except for the fact that I like these a lot and I think you should too.

IBM – Kill Bill (Interdimensional Transmissions)

Jamal Moss has been chewing my brain open all week long with his phenomenally demented The Faces Of Drums record with Steve Poindexter so it’s little surprise that this re-release has been battering its way into my conciousness too. Best known for his work as Hieroglyphic Being, his other guise, IBM, is even more unhinged and raw. Kill Bill itself is almost indescribable. Part freaky house work out, part cosmic death march that comes across like Ennio Morricone doing messed up acid this is dark side experimentalism of the highest order. Backed with an edit of Black Sunday, which hails from a similar part of the psyche as Kill Bill, and the rattling, broken machine bark of Manicheanism, this is a starving pitbull of a record let loose amongst the scene’s fat house pigeons. Buy it now or don’t come crying to me when you have to wait another decade for a re-release.

Boyd Jarvis – Stomp (Echovolt)

Kudos to Echovolt for getting this release together. Apparently taken from the original tapes that had been lying around in New York for 30 years, this is one of those re-releases that transcends music and enters proper historical document territory. Apparently the original instrumental version for Jarvis and Tommy Regisford’s The Music Got Me, which first hit in 1983, Stomp is one of the missing links between house and disco. Deep, soulful and epic, it still sounds absolutely vital today. Backed with the loose disco shuffle of In The Jungle and the wriggly grooves of Piano Track, this is music that takes it time to do what it’s got to do, and melts your heart and mind while it does it.

Gesloten Cirkel – Gesloten Cirkel (Murder Capital)

Decades younger than the Jarvis one above, having been released for the first time in 2009, this début by the anonymous Russian producer is still a welcome little belter of a record to get on wax if you missed it that first time. Perhaps not as brilliant as last year’s album, it’s nevertheless a potent release which is wonderfully strong in the old techno ethos of ‘If at first you can’t quite get your point across with technical ability, hit it all with funk and see what happens’. Every tune brings something fresh to the table, but for me the stand out cut is Swedish Woman, a sweep of orchestral electroid drama that moves itself along with the stately shuffle of its bruised riff and melodic spikes that sound as if they were stolen from the soundtrack to some brutal and forgotten 1970’s Euro-cop show. My top choice if you are the getaway driver for a bank heist in Munich and need something special to get you fired up.

Friday Night Tune: Underground Resistance – First Intergalactic Baptist Church.

As anyone who follows me on Twitter probably knows already, during the week I got this thing into my head about something I called ‘Hellfire Gospel Techno’. As far as I know, it hasn’t been copywrited by Beatport yet (although give it time and I’m sure it will be), and I’m not even entirely sure I know what it means. It was just a phrase that popped into my head one day when I was feeling a little bit bored.

I’ve been going through various non electronic genres recently – a wee bit of rap, some old delta blues and a fair amount of soul. I got into a whole bunch of this stuff for the first time when I was about 13 or 14, and in many ways delta blues and soul were my first musical loves. I wasn’t particularly trainspottery about it; I certainly couldn’t sit you down and take you through the early history of rare Atlantic records 7″s, for instance, but at the end of eighties before I started paying attention to acid house, and before I got obsessed by hardcore punk rock, I was as big a fan of Motown as it was probably possible for a fairly weird and awkward Highland kid to be.

At that point in time, when the nostalgia industry really began to get onboard with the idea of a 60s revival, I found myself following the threads from the likes of the Beatles, The Stones and Hendrix (especially the Stones and Hendrix) back towards the music that had such an influence on them – Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf tapes were bought and listened to so often they got chewed up, and from there those threads lead even further back, reaching all the way to the 20s and the 30s with blues men like Robert Johson or Blind Willie Johnston or the sublime Skip James. And although the sounds of the big Motown artists were as far from those of the early delta kings as Kyle Hall is from Otis Reading, there was a kindred energy and emotion that tied the whole thing together.

Part of what prompted me to look back was a sense that a lot of the house and techno I’ve been listening to seems to place its emphasis not on the emotional content (or some form of ‘spirituality’ if you like. It’s actually a word I dislike, but there you go) but on other elements. Sound design, such a huge and important part of modern electronic music, is often an overly intellectualized activity that seldom seems to leave much room for gut feeling. It often seems a very internalized way of working, and one with which it can be easy to lose sight of a bigger picture. It’s hard to get to fussy about this though. After all the sounds, the frequencies, are what makes house and especially techno so exciting.

I’ve got a hunger for electronica that makes me feel like I do when I listen to something like Hendrix’s Monterrey cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s Killing Floor, or Skip James’ Crow Jane or Smokey Robinson’s Tracks of My Tears – music that seems redirected onto the record from somewhere outwith ourselves from beyond simple genre games, constructs and clichés.

Sure, I know it’s not exactly a rarity in electronica. Of course it isn’t. And I know there are still acts who are doing exactly this sort of thing. My pick tonight, though, is a pretty literal interpretation from Underground Resistance – a band who still have a far greater claim to the title of ‘Hellfire Gospel Techno’ than perhaps anyone else. First Intergalactic Baptist Church hails from the double Turning Point EP. It was an interesting and often overlooked part of their work. The record is full of these deeply soulful touches – even more than their work usually is, and the natural rage that UR often channelled into their music is used here to accentuate a gloriously incendiary piece of full on proper techno evangelism that owes far more to soul, gospel and Funkadelic than is usually found in the scene these days. It just burns, and it seethes with funk. From the rolling bass, the brilliant yet ever so slightly downplayed vocals to the long, tight grooves of a church organ going for broke this is a silicone based saviour of the highest, highest order. Let it wash all over you like a baptism in sound. Praise be.

Review: Perseus Traxx – The Magic Garden (Titanic City)

I was really really late coming to the work of Nigel Rogers. I think my introduction to him was via his release as Operator Tracey (a split with Perseus Traxx, in fact) a couple of years back; the excellent Derrick May sampling, line-in-the-sand moment of Nothing To Do With Us – where Dezza rages against EDM over a wonky and intense acidic work out – got used by me to hammer home the point in more than a couple of conversations for a long while afterwards. It took me a while to click onto the fact that Operator Tracey and Perseus Traxx were one and the same. I can be a bit slow at times.

Most of you who are far more on the ball don’t need a run down on Rogers’ back catalogue from me. Suffice to say he’s popped up with super human frequency on a whole bunch of proper underground labels over the years, and although his sound has been refined here and there, he’s remained true to a type of playful yet often beautiful form of acid that mixes Detroit, British house and a certain amount of Dutch grit into something that feels contemporary and unique.

The Magic Garden continues in that direction but there are a couple of differences. Firstly, the sound is a little heavier than Perseus Traxx normal fare, the acid jacked up a few notches adding a muscularity to the music that hasn’t always been present in the past. Secondly the tunes don’t feel quite as claustrophobic and internalised. Instead they are far more in your face; never quite pounding, they are just fiercer, and the quieter moments accentuate the roar all the more eloquently. It’s perhaps not quite as expected, then, but it works pretty well and feeds adrenaline into an already pretty special formula.

Nymph Of The North and Gaia’s Diamond Blade are two peas in a pod, both full of golden Detroit synths that tumble over the drums. Nymph is a big tune; a futuristic midnight discoid belter and soulful odyssey that pares down the acid in favour of breathless melody and sweeping movement. It’s high-tech soul by way of the rain-soaked north. Gaia adds the burrowing 303s back into, putting them right into action amongst stark, descending riffs and smash n grab toms while the pads squeeze at your nerves, getting the whole thing worked up into a dark lather of metallic shadows. Not quite as potent as Nymph, the extra frisson of tension nevertheless keeps the beatdown taut and effective.

Tension is well named. seeming at first to be a straight ahead acid banger, it throws subtly cloudy synths over the top of the maelstrom, adding a flare of drama to the proceedings which keeps you off guard as the 303s spool up for their final assault on your brain. Such acid attacks are as ubiquitous as ever, but Perseus Traxx is one of the modern masters of the sound, creating symphonies with that little silver box, coaxing grand vistas from its repertoire.

Thoughts, finally, pitches the speed down slightly but creates a very odd world of its own, as if Dance Mania had been formed by swamp dwellers with a penchant for twisted funk. Echoing, off kilter and hazed with a mist of vocal sneers, it rides a jacking acid bass all the way down into the deep marsh, laughing as it goes. Warped acid house that’ll scar the brain and bruise the feet. Which is, all things considered, exactly as it should be.

Review: Luca Lozano and DJ Fett Burger – Hands of Doom 2 (Klasse Recordings)

Luca Lozano and Fett Burger’s first volume of Hands of Doom was a smasher of a record which took hold of that proto-rave framework and knocked it around until it fitted contemporary moods. Although its influences were pretty obvious, it still felt very modern, with little touches and a depth of production that perhaps softened those originally far rawer edges just a little bit but added a tight groove all of their own. This second volume pretty much kicks of where the first one ended, and is the forerunner of an album that’s to be released on Lozano’s own Graffiti Tapes label in the hopefully near future.

Actually, it’s probably wrong to say that this is simply picking up where the last one stopped. Although both records have a similar vibe and obviously come from the same place in terms of influence, Hands of Doom 2 is harder to pin down, taking its ideas from a wider section of the old and new schools. SignalRod prowls the no man’s land that lies bewtween rave and the drum & bass which grew out of it. The beats are classic – rough but tight, shifting under the pop of the snares and electrifying percussion; the rising chords that shuffle sleepily throughout the track, though, are from the same dreamland that Doc Scott and Bukem inhabited in their more introspective moments. But there are just enough other moves within the music to halt it from ever becoming too respectful of the past. The bleeps that soak through the synths, melting into a weirdly exhilarating and discordant lather are as playful as the beats are heavy.

Telegronn immediately subvert the entire approach by drowning us in some finely crafted, and very funky, house which latches a collapsing, ravey riff to the wild bucking sub bass that’ll turn your stomach to liquid. It’s a jacker without the slightest touch of Chicago, coming across as a paean to sweaty, strobe and dry ice filled nights in the sort of early nineties superclubs where the underground was once not only welcomed but encouraged. It just pumps out sass and warmth; unpretentious but compelling.

Best of the lot is Dybla – a warped half-breed that flicks memories of jungle, rave, house and God knows what else into your face with gleeful abandon. Time stretched vocal snips and that Loon sample from Sueno Latino (which used to be so ubiquitous) duke it out over a bass so rubbery you could use it as a trampoline; the whole thing wraps itself up with a gloriously understated but still potent latin feel that’ll leave you feeling every bit as touched as it obviously is.

It’s not perfect. Occasionally it feels a little bit too knowing, the vibe a little bit too nuanced and precise, the production, like the first record, a little bit too clean and lacking the genuine rawness that made a lot of this music so much fun the first time around. But that is really just nit-picking, and it never sets out to sound like a time capsule anyway, which is a lesson a lot of other producers could do with learning. What it succeeds in is filtering the mischief of those genres that still remain weirdly overlooked back into the underground where they belong, and it’s a whole lot more enjoyable than listening to yet another modern and anaemic Strictly Rhythm rip-off. It bodes well for the album. More of this please.

Friday Night Tune: Anthony Naples – Ill Still

I’ve never been entirely sure what people think it is I listen to when I say I like house music. If I’m honest, this used to be a harder sell. Back in the old days, when the only real exposure most people got to electronic music were the stories in the perennially outraged Red Tops about The Evils Of Acid House – or in response to a bunch of crusties tooling around and listening to Spiral Tribe in a farmer’s field deep in some Tory enclave – there was so much manufactured dislike that any attempt at explanation or distinction tended to go out the window.

That was then, though, and I guess most people are a bit more open to the music that they once were. It’s still difficult getting the point across, though, and it doesn’t help that most house fans themselves don’t even seem to have much in the way of consensus. None of it is helped by the constant shit-drizzle of watery genres foisted upon everyone by stores like Beatport, although perhaps it is easier to see stuff like Yacht house or Electro house or God knows what else as the result of some sort of commercial Tourettes Syndrome – another jumble of sounds and vague terms spat out into the faces of unsuspecting wanabee DJs.

The best policy is surely not to care. We had all that stuff before – the studied explanations of what for most of us is closer to a way of life than a musical taste that were met with a shrug, or ‘oh, is it disco you like?.’ it’s probably easier just to play something instead. Hell, if nothing else, at least you’ll have something decent to listen to.

What would you play someone? Would it be a twenty year old Larry Heard track, full of warmth and hazy emotion? Something harder and more jacking, a tune from Relief Records back catalogue or Dance Mania? Maybe you’d just chuck on whatever pallid ‘deep house’ number is camping up at the top of the Beatport charts, limply pretending it’s got something to do with anything vital?

I think I would have once played them Preacher Man by Green Velvet, or some potent, acidic snarler by Mike Dunn. I probably still would if I was in a particular sort of mood. I think, though, Anthony Naples’ Ill Still might get the point – and the meaning – across a little bit better.

I’ve been a fan of Naples for a while now, and I’ve reviewed a couple of his records in the past. What I’ve always loved, though, are those tunes he comes up with that seem so effortlessly alive, as if they are reducing house music down to their most important parts before channelling them back to the outside world. His earliest pair of releases, The Mad Disrespect EP on Mister Saturday Night, and his eponymous record on Glasgow’s Rubadub, were just magical. His work since then has been great, no doubt about that, but it’s this brace that just nail a certain vibe.

There is nothing particularly cutting edge about Ill Still ; it’ll never rival the intense, burning newness those old Poindexter or Mike Dunn records had the first time I heard them, knowing that I’d finally found something that had eluded me without me ever realising it. Nor will it smash me around the head with a blunt instrument forged from it’s own cleverness like a number of other contemporary house records I can think of. What it is though is a glorious, sun-kissed explosion of joy. It’s a hands in the air moment of purest technicolour fun tempered by the slightest shadow of melancholy. If techno can be viewed as an abstraction of emotions and intellect and everything in between then house music is the opposite: there is nothing abstract in it – it is a visceral burst of that same emotion and intellect – it pushes outwards instead of in. and while I don’t know if Ill Still is the perfect example of this, of house music and what it really is, I reckon it’s pretty damn close.