Review: S Olbricht – Trancess (Proto Sites)

Hungarian Producer Stephen Olbricht crops up here on Proto Sites after well-regarded outings for, amongst others, Lobster Theremin and Opal Tapes. The taste for scuffed up, experimental house and techno seems to be on the wane after a couple of seasons of ascendancy, so it’s nice to know that there are still some people out there who have yet to swap freewheeling sonic adventures for jazzy flute loops and nice shoes.

Trancess is very much a record of two parts with a divide between the beatless examinations of pure sound and the more conventional material. Not that the latter is really that conventional, being too acerbic to ever be described as dance floor orientated. Both halves, though, are united in thick, rich textures of frequency. In those tracks where the rare drums and percussion make their presence felt, they find themselves marshalled into duty of accentuating the ethereal rhythms that are provided by the complex interplay of all the other elements. In the occasional moments where the grooves take precedence, such as with the opener On or Onlon, they materialise as weird-boy skanks; angular and rusty they wrap themselves around ghostly yet very defined sound sculptures before breaking lazily away onto strange tangents.

Perhaps more importantly, where ambient pieces are often slight, ephemeral additions to a record, and frequently suffer from being constructed with the same mind-set that would create dance tracks (imagine writing a stage play using exactly the same tricks and structures of a novel), here they live up to their billing with a powerful sense of place both external and internalized. They are, in fact, the point of the record, and are weighty with mood and environment.

It’s not an easy record. Reminiscent here and there of other masters of sonic tapestries like Patricia or Imre Kiss (who helps out here on Lacertid), and at times an overly stark attempt to reduce the music down to a point where nothing other than the atmospherics remain, it manages to sound like the antitheses of so much that is currently doing the rounds within the underground. Not an easy record, no, but one that remains an interesting reminder that sonic exploration does not always have to set its sights on the dance floor in order to define the reasons for its own existence.

Best Of The Represses – June Edition

This irregular column is going to be irregular no more. I’ll be doing a round-up of my favourite represses and re-releases towards the end of each month now so if old gems are your thing you can stop by around the time pay-day hits for a bit of guidance on where to sling your cash. As always it is going to be stuff I like and think deserves to be in your collection. Obviously, some of the records I’ll cover will have been available in digital formats all along, but this column will entirely concentrate on the wax (maybe an occasional CD) because otherwise calling it ‘Best Of The Represses’ will be look a bit silly. And to celebrate brand new all singing, all dancing addition to the Pattern Burst empire, we’re going to kick off with a bit of a Detroit special. Oh yes we are.

Robert Hood – Minimal Nation (M PLant)

It’s almost impossible to overstate how massively important Hood’s Minimal Nation was to the development of techno. As with his former UR comrade in arms Jeff Mills, Hood has found himself emulated thousands of times over the years and yet few people have ever managed to approach the stunning power of his music. I’m aware that I’m repeating myself here, but I think it needs to be said once again: What makes this so special is that Hood has taken a scalpel to the music and gone at it with surgical precision until every ounce of fat and every single non-essential element is gone and what’s left is techno music paired down to nothing more that a collection of stark and furious grooves. Now available in a brilliant triple 12″ with an included CD, this is one record I would describe as pretty much essential if you have even the slightest interest in just what techno can do.

And one more thing: If anyone still thinks Berlin minimal has anything to do with this they should seek medical help. That’s like blaming Exile On Main Street for Primal Scream’s Give Out But Don’t Give Up.

Scan 7 – Black Moon Rising (Cratesavers Muzik)

A couple of close friends on mine are on record as claiming that Black Moon Rising is one of the very best tunes to come out of Detroit. To be honest, it’s quite hard to disagree as it is an utter peach of a track. Re-released on Scan 7 main man Trackmaster Lou Robinson’s own Cratesavers Muzik Label (originally it was on Underground Resistance), and now backed by You Have The Right and it’s remixes by Aaron Carl and Jay Denham, Black Moon Rising remains a slinky, dance floor destroying tune of high drama and surprisingly subtle power, the tight alien melody singing its heart out over those whip cracking snares and an epic upwards bass. Quirky and very funky, this is a master work by a Detroit act who never got quite the adulation they deserved. The B-side and it’s two extra mixes are pretty tasty too, but it would have been nice to have the rest of the original EP present and correct. Still, that’s what Discogs is for. Don’t know if it’s been remastered. It sounds it to me. But then I’m breaking in some new needles so even the most muck encrusted 12″ I own sound remastered at the moment.

The Martian – Cosmic Movement/Star Dancer (Red Planet)

Bit of a strange one this. I’ve been very reliably informed that this isn’t a repress, but a very limited reissue of some rediscovered back stock. When I say limited I mean Limited so if you want it, you’re going to have to be pretty damn quick. It’s up on a couple of shops at the moment so get moving. This is probably the best 12″ by the mysterious Martian (long thought to be Mike Banks despite his protests that it was actually a friend of his. I don’t know, and I kind of like all the wee Detroit myths anyway so even if I did know I wouldn’t say), and it’s simply a pair of absolute monsters. From Cosmic Movement’s heavy, trippy acid drenched journey across the face of a singularity, to Star Dancer’s trancey crescendo’s and alien cries over the surface of a gas giant, this is Detroit’s infatuation with xeno vistas taken to the final frontier. Fierce music with an ear for melody and symphony it’s redolant of a time when there was still new ground to be broken, and unique music was commonplace. Go get it now before it’s too late.

Friday Night Tune: Claude Young – Wind Up

Within electronic music the concept of ‘deep’ has always been one of the most elastic of traits, a quality that flutters on the breeze of meaning, at the mercy of the ebb and flow of whatever taste are in ascension at the time. Within house music, ‘deep’ as an end in itself, as the recognizable point of the music, probably came into being with the work of luminaries such as Larry Heard and later artists like Pepe Braddock or Ludovik Navarre. Each brought their own ideas to the mix, adding something – often almost indefinable – that reworked the meaning of what it was house could be.

Other forms of electronic music had their own deep revolutions. I’ve always thought it was profoundly noticeable within electro, particularly within the strains that emerged from Europe in the nineties where the stripped down, icy sound of producers like Anthony Rother seemed to take something of the cavernous emptiness of dub techno and feed it back over the original blueprint and the stark flow of Kraftwerk. In techno Plastikman pre-dated even electro’s new styling. The album Sheet One simply hangs in a vacuum of its own creation, the point of the music being not the 303s or the 909s, but the silence that surrounds them and the suggestion that there are forms out there within that silence that, unseen and almost unheard, are influencing how it all went together.

Gradually, though, as time has passed I’ve come to realise that the idea of deepness within electronic music is misleading. I suspect it may even be a dead end. There has been a massive move towards deep over the last couple of years both within mainstream and underground electronic music, and to me a lot of it feels as if it is missing the point. Sure, there are chord structures that ape Heard or Braddock, there are pulses of dub basslines which carve their way through the nothingness, and there are the echoed 303s blipping themselves against the wash of the vacuum, but this is all so much surface noise. It has always been a truism within music – and the thing that separates the genuine greats from everyone else – that the music is often the easy thing to emulate. What is more difficult, and the thing that seems to be so often ignored, is an attempt to understand the centre of the music, that place where all movement originates. In short, what is so often lacking is soul.

Soul is the great leveller. Without it all the jazzy fifths, all the crumbling drums and all the thick pads are just playing at it. It isn’t just deep house or techno that needs soul, of course. Dubstep or garage or acid or jazz or rock or any other music that lacks soul is bound to never be anything more than just a facsimile of an idea.

Claude Young’s Wind Up, a track from his Acid Wash Conflict EP on 7th City, has for me always captured a sense of soulfulness which feeds back into the music and creates an atmosphere, and an emotional state that does not require the traditional toolbox of ‘deep’ in order to feel it. At first listen it doesn’t sound as if that is one of the moods on offer. These days, when so much deep house and techno seems at pains to slow down the speed to glacial extremes, Wind Up feels thrillingly individualist, perhaps even combative, with its flying, forward momentum. But the speed of the beat brings everything together. The rhythm track – its kicks and its percussion, and the fills that border on becoming a melody of their own – brings a tautness and sense of drama that, while evocative of Ikon by May, or 8th Wander by Stacey Pullen, burns with a fire of its own. And for all its velocity it moves with a lightness that belays its weight.

It is the sythns, though, that add the true layer of emotion. Young wrote this whilst living in Edinburgh far from his native Detroit (the track is even named after a record shop in the city), and I’ve long had an image of him haunting the edge of the Meadows on a driech east coast morning with those magical, simple and descending chords already in his mind. But then, they are as full of the glimmer of Detroit’s heritage as it’s possible to be.

Through it all, it is the soul that shines. And that is the important thing. When we talk about the ways in which music is deep, let us remember what we are really saying is that is built on emotion and soul, and that without them, without that invisible core to guide the music and to provide meaning, all the perfectly planned sounds in the world are just patterns in a sequencer, no matter how correct the influences. This is deep, this is soul. High-tech and alive.

Review: Stellar OM Source – Nite-Glo (RVNG Intl)

Stellar OM Source – Nite-Glo (RVNG Intl)

On the surface of it electronica’s relationship with the Roland 303 is pretty cut and dried, but that hasn’t stopped contemporary music having a little bit of an issue with the silver box’s heritage. In recent years there has been something of a division between producers looking to ape classic acid and those seeking to breathe new life into a sound that has become symbolic. within the latter group, perhaps best exemplified by the like of Tin Man, the 303 has found itself used as a proper lead instrument, its wild potency tamed as people have sought to utilise it in a much more musical way. Results are varied – occasionally worthy, more often dull. The 303 seems like one of those jungle animals that simply loses the will to live once it is in captivity. My own favourite record of acid reinvention from the last few years is Bass Clef’s Raven Yr Own World on Pan. What made that such a brilliant release was that Bass Clef got two things right – he understood that it’s the contexts the 303 can be used in that makes it such an important tool, and that a lot of its charm lies in the fact that in order to get the best out of it, you have to play to its warped, xenomorphic and uniquely cheeky sound rather than try to treat it like just another sound box.

Stellar OM Source’s Nite-Glo may not be quite as experimental as Raven Yr Own World, being a much straighter (relatively) and dance floor oriented release, but it’s still a far more interesting take on contemporary acid than most. Partly this is because the tunes would remain every bit as exciting without the acid if it were not there. They seem built from the ground up to hang on the grooves rather than the 303 lines, giving them a deeply funky quality that pushes them away from the feel of either of the two primary contemporary camps.

Although there are plenty of squawks, warbles and burbles spread over the record, they often come from strange directions and slathered with effects that accentuate the 303’s ubiquitous weirdness. There is a new life breathed into the acid, and a new direction that doesn’t obscure the rest of the music but complements it instead, even when it becomes the focus. The tracks themselves are wild canvases of expressionist colour, slipping between Den Haag electro styling, as on Sure, and the eruptions of shimmering, golden Carl Craig chords and Detroit flourishes which kick Never into the clouds.

The ideas come in gangs, cutting quickly between concepts and changing directions when you least expect it with little frills that enliven passages with a lightness and sense of adventure. Even on the opener, Sudden, which builds upon a deeper, bouncier bass, the music suddenly veers from the feel of classic acid; sunbursts of echoed vox explode over the top and pull it away until it becomes a cruising slice of evening funk, part day-glo rave, part experimental machine disco.

All told Nite-Glo is a lush and imaginative record that doesn’t so much rework acid as rethink it’s setting and meaning. The result is a release that captures the fun of acid whilst freeing it from the need to sound like the past and all without pretending that the things that make the 303 so brilliant are the very things that should be avoided. Get acidic.

Review: DJ Spider/Grey People – Service Elevator (Public System Recordings)

DJ Spider/Grey People – Service Elevator (Public System Recordings)

New French/Australian label Public System Recordings kick off their vinyl only shenanigans courtesy of a split between New York’s master of stark electronic funk DJ Spider and Nashville producer Grey People, last seen on Atlanta’s CGI. As statements of intent go it’s a pretty strong one, with the two side of the record serving up some deep and crackling numbers that move between claustrophobic graveyard shift grooves, rolling jazz tinged funk and concentrated, Detroit-ish acid.

The work of DJ Spider is no doubt familiar to most of you, and yet he seems to be one of that select group of well-regarded secrets who continue to provide the genuine underground with authenticity and purpose. I don’t know why he isn’t bigger than he is; the volume – and the quality – of his output is nearly unmatched. His two tracks here are about as different as it’s possible to get. Both are inventive – especially Demon Seed that sounds as if it was recorded in a sinking, burning ship and prowls at the edge of a haunting psychological dreamland. Mind Fields erupts in a flare of jazzy drums and a slick, repeated synth motif that is punctured by shards of raw and spiky sound that lacerate the meanderings of the tune, the duality adding an anxious edge that refuses to allow you to settle too comfortably into the fat rhythms. It’s a precise and perfectly judged weapon that’s as understated as it is dangerous.

Grey People match up pretty well, especially on Deep Friday which equals the tautness of Spider’s brace and stalks a similar path to Demon Seed. It’s a more angular tune, the crumpled beat marching us forward and the chimes counting off the distance from the point of safety while vents of white noise sound like creatures hiding just out of eyesight. Too Much Relevance is one of the few nods to straighter dance floors on the record, and even then it’s a nod coming from a twisted head. In its wonky use of a 303 it’s reminiscent of some of Claude Young’s old Djax material, but the interplay between the burgeoning acid and the grumbling bass marks out a territory all of its own. Pitch it up for best effect, and use it to peak into some proper messy and nasty prime time chaos.

A good start from a new label, and one that happily suggests that there is still room in the underground for music that refuses to either play up to the memories of 20-year-old bangers, lighten the mood to the point of meaninglessness, or wander off down the well trod path of route one techno. Shadowy and fierce, experimental and funky, just as it should be. This we like.