Best of the Represses Volume 1 – First In An Occasional Series

Sorry for no updates through the week. I’ve been enjoying a few days off and generally ignoring house and techno in exchange for birdsong and silence. It’s been good and it’s afforded me a rare opportunity to think about a couple of things, mainly the modern cult of the rerelease.

According to research done by the University of Made-Up-Facts, nearly 65% of all house and techno releases are either represses of stuff you probably own already, or wish you did. In the same way that TV companies work on the assumption that nobody on earth ever uses Sky+, TIVO or any form of recording device, hence the need to exhaustively rerun shows you probably haven’t even finished watching yet, there seems to be a belief that records and music which are otherwise easily obtainable via Discogs, second hand shops or from countless CD or Digital compilations will always be ignored over fresh copies. Maybe that’s true, and it’s certainly looks like a good deal if you’ve ever seen the prices for some stuff on Discogs. A few labels even go above and beyond the call of duty (and quick buck grabbing), furnishing us with remastered versions that have been pressed onto better wax or by re-releasing stuff that was virtually impossible to get the first time around. This is where it all gets interesting.

Well, if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them. So here, in what is likely to be a very occasional series of bite sized reviews, is a round up of a handful of rereleases that might be of interest to some of you. I haven’t looked through Discogs but I’m assuming that almost all the originals will be available via the marketplace. Some of these will be familliar to you, others maybe not so much. The only thing they have in common is that I like them and think they’re worth having. Here goes….

E-Dancer – Speaker Punishing (KMS)

I’ll just come right out and state this: If you don’t have any E-dancer records in your stack you are a chump. One of several guises belonging to Kevin ‘Master Reese’ Saunderson, E-Dancer represents some of the best music to ever come out of Detroit, and a whole bunch of it have been Glasgow staples since the year dot. Originally released on Incognito Records way back in 1991, it’s brought back here on Saunderson’s own KMS in all its remastered glory. Never as incendiary as Velocity Funk or Pump The Move, Speaker Punishing has a more subtle but still banging flavour that’s heavy with some fine old school ravey break beats and messy with barely restrained big room madness. Backed by two mixes of Feel The Mood (including a killer version by Marty Hardy) this’ll tear strips of some of the young pretenders who are kicking around just now, and it’ll more than tide you over until the all but inevitable Velocity Funk/World of Deep repress lands.

Der Zyklus – Untitled (Frustrated Funk/Clone)

A repress of an earlier repress of cuts taken from a couple of different sources (I think), this is a pretty good primer into the fierce electro funk sounds of former Drexciyan warrior Gerald Donald ahead of the arrival of the remastered version of the Biometry LP which should be arriving any day now on Aqualung. Sure, Donald has had more guises over the years than it’s actually possible to count, but almost each of them has given us stunning music that have constantly revealed another facet of Donald’s utter genius, and this record is no exception. Just go and buy it, and get the album too when it gets here. It might be nearly 15 years since the Drexciyan project came to its end, but their flame of invention and imagination is undiminished.

326 – Falling (Muzique Records)

One of the real, REAL proper, honest to God gems of utter Chicago greatness. Released originally way back in 1989 on the much missed Armando Gallup’s Muzique records Falling is one of those truly jacking tracks that combines grooves, melody and fun with a heads down, get sweaty vibe. Backed with Under The Cherry Tree and Just Like Heaven, themselves almost perfect slabs of Chi-town brilliance, the real keepers here are the mixes of Falling by Mike Dunn and Armando himself. All are excellent but my money is on Mike’s mix on the A side. Jesus, it still burns everything it touches. Buy it and marvel how any tune can be so tight whilst threatening to fall apart with every flick of the hats.

So, sports fans, that’s your lot for today. I actually enjoyed that so volume 2 will definitely be back at some point in the near future. I’ve got a pile more to get through, but I would love to hear any suggestions I might have missed. Let me know and get involved.

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Friday Night Tune: Blawan – Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage

It’s been a couple of years since Blawan’s Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage was first released, and I still don’t quite understand why so many people seemed to take an instant dislike to it. Of course, I suspect that the main reason it got certain sections of the peanut gallery gnashing their teeth is simply that an awful lot of other people really, really liked it and, as we all know, anything that is popular with more than three people and isn’t twenty years old automatically has to be labelled the work of Satan, fit only to be played in the sort of seedy provincial discotheque that keeps itself going through Ladies nights, 50p shots and casual violence.

I’d be fooling myself if I thought this sort of contempt was only found in techno. I’ve been involved in several other genres and styles over the years, and it’s been a theme that has run through all of them like a river of horse shit. More likely to manifest itself in the confines of the underground, where people worship at the temple of ‘Ours and Ours Alone’ it’s emblematic of a great many things, snobbery and more than a little bit of fear amongst them. The snobbery part has often gone hand in glove with any music that people have labelled difficult, the fear comes from thinking that if more people like it, it won’t be ‘Ours’ any more.

I understand it. I understand the tribalism, the need – unspoken or otherwise – to define oneself in ways that speak to an innate sense of individuality, that you can see the light when everybody else is stumbling around in the dark. To a certain extent I think this is probably healthy, although people are fooling themselves if they think that being part of the underground renders them safe from conformity. There are just as many conservative tendencies in the underground as anywhere else. It has its rules, its taboos. Hell, it even has its own uniforms.

Part of my problem with all of this comes from the mistaken belief that any form of popularity is a gateway to the crappy world of commercialism, and that idea fits in with the thought that allowing just anybody to hear this magical music is somehow wrong. A few months ago Surgeon opened in Birmingham for Lady Gaga – currently one of the biggest pop stars in the world. This wasn’t some gimmick. Gaga genuinely seemed to have an interest in sharing an artist she obviously rated with her predominately teenage female audience; cue the outrage from some people who thought Surgeon was somehow selling out, that if he was going to enter the Belly of the Beast he had better set everything to 11 and scare the hell out of everyone with some sort of obtuse and pointed ‘fuck you for listening’ statement. He didn’t. He used his platform to do what he has always done.

We are told by those with vested interests that one of the reasons EDM – a genuine example of an utterly commercialised musical void that’s as bad as the naysayers suggest – is great is that somewhere down the distant road one of the many millions of glow-stick wielding kiddies might stumble into a record shop and buy all the Morphosis records they can find. But isn’t it healthier, isn’t it cooler, and isn’t it so much more underground if a couple of those teenage Gaga fans had their minds blown by Tony doing his thing? Jesus, they’re going to remember that forever and it might just change their lives. Any scene will attract posers and fakers. They will not stick around. Those who will stick around will do so for a single reason – they love the music.

I love …Garage, and I couldn’t care less how many other people love it or how many others hate Blawan because he’s not ‘proper techno’ because he came from dubstep and probably hasn’t earned his stripes. I love it because it’s a great tune that makes me grin and want to dance every time I hear it. I love the way he’s taken that sample from a Fugee’s record and warped it into such a weird, disturbing statement of intent. I hope that some drunk 17-year-old in that seedy provincial disco hears it and has their brains melted. They won’t though; no provincial house ‘n’ handbag DJ would ever play it because, irony of ironies, it’s too damn underground.

If this twisted, brilliant and bonkers stomp really is ‘techno pop music’ as someone once suggested to me, then whenever Top Of The Pops returns to TV, it’s going to be bloody ace. Bring it on.

Review: John Shima – Prototype (BOE Recordings)

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.

Review: Raw M.T – Planet G (Unrelated Records)

This link up between French label Unrelated and Italian producer Raw M.T seems to have been on the edge of a release for what feels an eternity. With both sides having delivered special material in the past it always looked like a tasty marriage, especially when you consider their similar taste in the more frazzled end of the spectrum. Unrelated’s sole release before this was last years Rawer South Side 12″ by Early Sounds alumnus Leskin. It was a crumpled and funky record backed with a warped, breakbeat heavy Greg Beato remix that was very nearly the most bonkers and interesting thing I heard last year. Raw M.T will probably be most familiar to some of you for his La Duna 12″ on Lobster Theremin sub label, Mörk, and perhaps somewhat less obviously for his one track Record Store Day release (again for Lobster) under his Richard Harrow guise – and if you can still find a copy of that buy it on sight; it’s one of the most twisted acid bangers you’ll probably hear for a long time to come.

Planet G is a continuation of the sound Raw M.T has been building since his 2013 début release on Ukrainian label Wicked Bass. Ostensibly fitting into that large contemporary niche which is usually defined by adjectives such as ‘analogue’ and ‘deep’, Raw M.T has nevertheless managed to keep a step ahead and avoided most of the scene’s inherent clichés. Where too many of his peers have become willing to swap invention for simply roughing up their sounds with a bit of tape based fuzz and lazy touches and progressions, Raw M.T has combined a subtle musicality and an ear for moody melody with the drive of old school-house and techno, creating a hybrid sound that remains distinct.

Of the three tracks here, the first is the perfect embodiment of this sound. A hefty, low slung stomp that owes as much to Phuture’s tight yet cavernous rhythms as it does to anything hailing from todays ‘dusty house’ gang, it allows a shadowy acid vibe to chirp out a trancey and cosmic motif which pushes it towards the delicate synthwork and the spectral melody. Although there are elements which are suggestive of a couple of other acts – NGLY and Person Of Interest from the L.I.E.S stable come to mind – the usual gutter-funk leanings are replaced by a more rugged and even tribal feel. The second track is a more laid back affair – drifting pads and some great percussion ply more dreamlike, hazy business before the shunt of the gravelly bass and understated stabs lock into a cold groove that holds on tight. If anything, it has even more drive, despite barely nudging into high gear.

German producer Florian Kupfer provides remix duties on the second tune, and it’s a pretty good choice. Kupfer has that rare distinction of being a scene poster boy who creates music every bit as good as the talking heads claim. He is, of course, a bit of a kindred spirit here, and that shows in his mix, which takes the laidback fizz of the original and morphs it into a sleek and trippy broadside that works hard to drag the beauty down into the mud. It’s a fallen angel of a tune, reinventing itself as a creature of dread. You probably all know how I feel about unnecessary remixes but this one does the job and then some. It’s almost worth it on its own. It’s great, then, that the two purely Raw M.T tracks match Kupfer every inch of the way, and entirely on their own terms. Another classy record from a real emerging talent.

Review: Vester Koza – Prisn (Maslo)

One of the reasons I’ve been a fan of Vester Koza since his first appearance back in 2012 was that he seemed to come out of nowhere in possession of an almost complete artistic vision. His arrival coincided with the sudden explosion of the lo-fi house scene – a genre that promised much but has since descended into formulaic noise – and Koza found himself placed out on the periphery of it regardless of the fact that his music had little in common with what everyone else seemed to be doing.

And what music it was. Created out of a fluidity of grooves and a deepness that owed more to mood and emotion than clichéd chords, and pulled taut with a thread of individualism that marked him out as a producer who knew his own mind, the three previous records skirted around contemporary styles with a rare élan that drew on dub techno, sharp sound design and subtle trance-like atmospherics (trance, as in shamanistic rather than tie-dyed and gurning) to build murky, empty and haunting worlds out of shadow. Even now I think his self titled début was one of the strongest first releases I’ve heard in many years, and it’s follow-up a year later confirmed he was no one-shot. I didn’t love the third record quite as much, I have to admit. Something seemed to have intruded into Koza’s private world, and the music felt less wild; calmed by exposure to the herd. It had its merits, especially on the B-side, but neither tune reached the same heights as Transit from the debut, or Beauty from Out Of The Blue.

Paradoxically, Prisn has shed the crowded feel of Maslo 3, but also shorn off a lot of what was so special in the first place. That makes it sound like I’m going to be harsh about Prisn, and I probably would be if the record had turned into a pale imitation of what we know Koza is capable off. The thing is, it’s a very different type of beast. Although I probably wouldn’t go as far as to claim that this is a reinvention, there is little doubt that the focus has shifted from dubby and skittish grooves into something far more abstract. As icy and alien as his work has often been up until this point, there has always been a bud of warmth somewhere in its midst. Prisn is a bleaker experience, even more downbeat than before. At times it is almost seems a flat-lining emotional journey, tired out and world-weary. It is for the most part an unsettling experience, but one that sits in stark contrast to the legions of increasingly dull house and techno that’s clogging up the scene’s musical arteries.

Importantly, it is also a record that is, at times, deeply beautiful and reflective. BIND_DREAM_SERVICE recalls the desolate and aching isolation of Biosphere at their best. It stumbles over its infrequent beats, picked up into the loving embrace from the gorgeous pads. GET_INTENT, and DECIVEID are both slower pitched and darker, heavier even. GET_INTENT in particular is a slo-mo industrial throb that departs entirely from Koza’s normal sound; breathless and unkempt, it’s kept in check by an overarching sense of something sentient and machine like watching over it.

Only OPT_iCAL_IN revisits familiar ground. A warmer, dubbier sound, it feels slightly out-of-place amongst the other tracks’ fractured ambience. It doesn’t put both feet in the past, though, retaining Prisn’s darker mood and locking it over a groove that thickens over the tune’s length until it warps into a chilled, hypnotic house ride that owes as much to the point where club music collides with the trippier end of rave and ambient techno as it does with Koza’s vacuum sealed world. Prisn may not return to Koza’s own immediate past, but his determination to do things his own way is undiminished.