British techno always owed a debt to the classic American pioneers – hell, what country with a techno heritage doesn’t? But in Britain producers have always seemed drawn to rework it to take their own situations into account. Just as home-grown British acid House seemed somehow more unhinged, more open to weird and exciting influences (acid bhangra anyone?) British techno has always had an affinity with the more melancholy side of Detroit techno, and the idea of machines creating symphonies, mixing them with up with the attitudes and the keenness of vision that has always been a hallmark of the music of these islands.
Sheffield based producer John Shima’s new EP, Prototype, for BOE Recordings is a record that carries that debt proudly, and continues in the fine tradition of beautiful music being created in the tired light of former industrialized cities. And beautiful it is. Combining an ear for haunting melody that recalls early nineties techno at its best, with an understanding of the way in which a little bit of grunt can transform and give life to those magical sounds, Prototype is rich with the sort of deep soulfulness that seems to be often missing nowadays.
It’s not just those US vibes that make the record, of course, and it’s those extra touches that keep it well out of the current round of ‘heritage’ electronica we seem to be in the middle of. Each of the three beat tracks on offer are brought to life with a smartness and verve that’s just as in keeping with certain strands of more local techno that have their roots in IDM, sleek dark side house and even the littlest touch of wonky experimentalism than with US producers of a certain vintage.
Prototype itself even pushes off with a vibe that is evocative of artists such as John Convex in his straighter and funkier moments. It’s the same refraction of bump and fizz, except with a tightness of groove, played out in the sweep of the pads and the buckling flair of the lead. It has the feel of a proper big room number, but with a sweetness and airiness that keeps it shy of such pretensions. Transducer on the flip is cut from a similar cloth, but builds the melodies out of many parts, melding the tune into a gloriously high-tech funk number. It’s a night-time drive, always moving, nodding it’s head to Model 500’s playfulness and grit and bringing the whole together with the slightest trace of acid bubbling away under the surface.
True Distance, a vinyl only exclusive, is a slowly unfurling ambient piece. Portentous, but scattered in its energy at first until the occasional spike of percussion and drum pull it all together. It never entirely sheds its slight haziness, but remains, for all that, a pretty and downbeat finale that’s as much about emotion as it is sound.
The highlight, though, is Ancient Skies. Jacking and cheeky, it’s all about the loopy roll of its groove and some wild electronics that sounds as if they’re about ready to split for a party humans aren’t invited to. It’s the most fun number on a release thick with ideas and majestic frequencies. It cuts out some of the machine blues that made Prototype and Transducer so gorgeous, but replaces them with a simple in-your-face sassiness that just feels pitch perfect.