Best Of The Represses – August 2015 Edition.

In his 1922 poem, The Wasteland, TS Eliot claimed that April was the cruellest month. While it’s a doozy of an opening line, the old bugger obviously never had to go techno hunting through the slim pickings of late summer because if he had, he’d know it is August that’s the worst. It’s that time of year when everyone sane is off on holiday, drinking beer and listening to the football; doing everything, in fact, except putting fresh records out.

Well, it’s maybe not quite that bad, and there are still more than a few goodies getting kicked into the stores at the moment, even if the frequency is a little down. Strangely, though, the impressive thirst of the repress industry seems to have been slaked somewhat over these last few weeks, with only a few slivers of the past dropping out of the time warp into our grubby hands. Lucky for us they’re not bad, not bad at all. So without further ado let’s get down to this months business. Usual terms and conditions apply.

Octave One – Octivation (430 West)

Presented in its promo version instead of the original, commercial release (meaning that There And Beyond is replaced by Sonic Fusion),The Octivation EP is one of the real early gems from Detroit outfit Octave One. A house-ier sound than the more outright techno of their later work, Octivation remains both an important document charting the transition from the early motor city sound to its all-conquering mid nineties peak and a collection of killer techno tunes infused with emotion, sophistication and soul. While most of the heads will gravitate to the classic brilliance of Nicolette’s subtle, bleepy, Detroit funkathon, anyone in search of something even more haunting and deep should check out Paradise, a sultry, emotive trip across the boundary between house and techno that evokes the sound and vibe of very early Blake Baxter. Excellent, moody and classic.

Psychik Warriors Ov Gaia – 1989 (Sacred Summits)

Maybe not a true repress seeing as it was originally released on tape instead of vinyl, this re-release of the Dutch act’s d├ębut is a blend of techno, rave, acid, trance, EBM and God knows what else, all wrapped up in tribally threads. To say they don’t make ’em like this any more would be the understatement of the year. A crueller mind than mine might even go as far to suggest that, after this, not even Psyckik Warriors made ’em like this again. As a snapshot of a certain point in time and space, 1989 is pretty much unmatched; deep head music, marbled with attitude, gleeful experimentation and a sense that, musically, almost anything was possible is aided by the muscular flexing of the tunes. While all four tracks drip with invention, it’s probably the 14 minute work out of War Chant that stands out as the big moment on the release. An epic builder of titanic proportions, War Chant channels industrial nous into a cracked techno framework that defies convention. Either get it now or be prepared to spunk 100 notes on the original tape when you realise you were wrong to wait.

Mike Dunn – So Let It Be Houze! (Westbrook Records Chicago)

Yeah, I know: represses of original acid house records are so common these days that there are as yet undiscovered Amazonian tribes using them as currency, but I’ll always make room here for a Mike Dunn re-release. Let’s face it, the guy is a gold-plated, 100% legend who was responsible for some of the best music from the genre even if he never got a tenth of the recognition he deserved. Although this one has been repressed before, I think this is a newly remastered version. So for that alone it’s worth picking up even if you already have a dozen copies. I won’t say much about the music because at the very least you should know the Video Clash refracting brilliance of Magic Feet better than your family (and if you don’t, you’d better get moving to rectify that sad state of affairs). Hell, all three tracks should be beyond familiar. A trio of pumping, burning grooves with some of the bendiest 303s ever committed to vinyl. You know what they sound like. You know what to do. Go do it.

Friday Night Tune: Underworld – Rez

Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for all the trees. This is especially true with underground music where, increasingly, people seem to judge a record’s worth on a host of factors beyond the only one that should actually matter – is the tune any good or not. We seem to put stock in many weird factors now. How far is the sound design being pushed; does it fall into the correct speed bracket; are the samples too obvious/not obvious enough; is it too difficult to play in a deep house set; does it go out of its way to be as non-commercial as possible; will too many people have heard it; will too many people have even heard of it…

This cultural quirk has been present for a long, long time. In all honesty it isn’t something that is particular to house and techno and, in fact, it’s possible that it is worse in other genres. Even so, it seems to be on the increase. I remember having a conversations a long time ago with someone who was adamant that should Ned’s Atomic Dustbin ever got a top ten hit, they would stop buying the records. There wasn’t any danger of that – Ned’s Atomic Dustbin were the sort of awful early nineties indie rock band much-loved by Melody Maker who made a career out of skirting with major success without ever actually finding it, but I still found it strange someone could stop loving a band because other people wanted to love them too. Slowly, though, I did come to appreciate that the feeling of being part of something special, something that masses of other people weren’t into, had an importance all of its own. It’s like being part of a gang, and there isn’t really a whole lot wrong with it.

If the nineties are to be regarded as a golden age for electronic music, part of the reasoning must surely be because of the way that the divisions between the electronic underground and the mainstream were less rigidly defined than now. More specifically, there were a number of fairly major acts – regulars to a greater or lesser extent on Top Of The Pops, and frequently covered in the non specialist press – who enjoyed not only commercial and critical success, but were often well-regarded by the sort of people who would only have picked up a copy of the NME if they had run out of toilet paper.

Orbital, 808 State, The Prodigy and others may not have enjoyed top ten hit after top ten hit, but they reached a level of commercial success that has probably only been eclipsed by modern EDM leviathans. The difference is the EDM mob lack any form of artistic credibility. Bands like 808 State were full of it.

Away from the commercial side of things, though, it was the music that really sealed their places. Although it was unlikely you would hear any of these acts played back by some deep underground DJ, it wasn’t impossible. The important thing to keep in mind, I think, is that these guys were probably all listening to the same tunes you were, they cared and loved about the music as much as any hardcore house or techno fan, and that loved filtered its way back into the sounds they made. It was a remarkably rich period of musical crossover, and more subversive than anything that came along afterwards. And that’s even without factoring the KLF’s fecund art-terrorism into the equation.

Underworld were another one of these acts. Propelled into the mainstream via an appearance on the Trainspotting soundtrack, they had a knack of combining elements of authentic underground music together into a poppy whole that seemed to capture the moment. Although possibly never as loved as the above bands, they still had their fair share of fans on the other side of the lines.

A major reason for this was Rez. Even now, having not really listened to it for many, many years, it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. A great tune from a relatively mainstream act, yes, but it is a tune that could never have existed if Underworld had been a typical pop group put together by committee, or a rock band pushed into fresh pastures in order to boost sales. The slow swirl of sound, twisting around its centre and building onwards and upwards as the drums began their growing assault before the whole thing rushed, off its tits, to its euphoric rapture was a distillation of much of what house and acid and techno meant at the time. It felt like a snapshot of wild nights, of a sense of community with people you didn’t know before, of – yes, being part of a gang because the rest of the world didn’t get it. It remains a majestic piece of music and one that is still at home in the depths of a club as it would have been on radio.

Yes, the irony is that many other people who weren’t part of the gang really did get it too. But that sort of just makes it better. And it answers that one important question resoundingly: Is the music any good? Yes, yes it is. For a long moment it felt as if the music we loved and cared about was going to win, to trump all the bollocks than filled the airwaves. Listening to this again, it still does.

Review: Shady P, The Friend and Adult Supervision – Godless Contemporary Meat Sacks of Virtue (Heated Heads)

The second record of the week is another one that hails from the nascent Detroit sludge scene care of a British label. Monday’s Speaker For The Dead by Shady P on Clan Destine Trax was a pretty good slab of noise, but perhaps a bit of a straight hitter that veered far closer to being ‘normal’ techno than you may have been given to expect following the write ups of the scene so far. Even so, there were enough scabby little bumps and lumps bulging out of the sound to convince us that it sprang from a musical mind that probably wasn’t going to be listing much in the way of sleek, big room techno as a major influence.

Godless Contemporary Meat Sacks of Virtue is a different proposition. Bleaker, murkier and even less likely to spark a party into paroxysms of hand waving and whooping, Meat Sacks shares a musical space with some of the more blurred and chaotic moments that occasionally spill out of labels like The Trilogy Tapes or Opal Tapes. What separates them is that it lacks something of the sense of wilful experimentation that is often a hallmark of those labels, or at least experimentation in the normal sense. What we have here is a collection of very tight grooves delivered in a warped and nightmarish way. They wobble and boil, stumble over themselves and generally make a musical nuisance with their manky, slo-mo approach. On the first few listens they’re difficult to get a handle on, but underneath the surface noise these tracks burn with a definite angry funk that catches you unaware. Once that happens, their great skanking arcs become unavoidable.

The two Shady P tracks immediately aim for different vibes from those on his Clan Destine release, really having only that EPs All Night Long in common. This pair of creeping, crawling no-fi work outs are molasses slow and black as midnight. Constantly ready to dissolve into nothingness they’re held together by the scrape of brutally effective percussion that latches onto the space between the freewheeling anarchy of the beats. Of the two, Puckerphobic raises its head into more conventional territory (sort of), rendering a vision of acid house so fundamentally evil and cold you can imagine it sitting in a darkened room watching the ‘Here’s Johnny!’ scene from The Shining over and over on a tiny television with messed up sound. It’s a corker, and one that slowly screws itself into your brain with a sleazy swagger.

The Friend and Adult Supervision’s Behind The Circle K (Useless) is a barren wasteland of samples and crunching drums that slowly builds itself to a level of brutality that should be at odds with the raw funk that drips through the gaps but isn’t. There have been plenty of tracks over the last couple of years, under various banners, that have attempted to redefine dance music as something altogether rawer and nastier. Circle K succeeds where they failed because it is a killer piece of madness that builds itself up from a dirty, foot-switching groove into a proper weapon of fouled up electronics and broken rhythms.

Whether this is a more accurate representation of sludge than the Clan Destine release I don’t know. I don’t really care, if I’m honest. Let’s leave labels and genres for those who are genuinely bothered about them. What I do know is that Godless Contemporary Meat Sacks of Virtue has that authentic feel of proper, gritty down-low street music that so much modern techno either lacks or deliberately avoids, and that in itself makes it more vital than most of the sounds currently kicking around. A dirty gem dug from the mire. Buy now before it’s gone.

Review: Shady P – Speaker For The Dead (Clan Destine Trax)

Aside from all the new age house, the rebooted dark side rave, and the various spangly shades of future garage, one of the growing buzzes this year comes from the weird mogadon stomp of Detroit’s sludge scene. When the first couple of records from the scene’s corner-stone label, How To Kill, arrived in Casa Scribe a couple of years back now I was not, I admit, overly bowled over even if the music did have something. Odd half speed electroid styling, records pressed so that they could be played at both 33 and 45 and a sense that everything was on the verge of falling apart had me wondering exactly what was going on. Still, there were undeniable grooves bubbling away under the muck; there was enough to warrant a second look.

Since then, sludge has become a cause celebre in some places, with an increasing number of scribbling bods getting carried away with its raw charms. This is all well and good, but a part of me wonders whether sludge would be getting the same level of attention had it come out of Manchester or Rome or Rotterdam. Has the fact it hails from Detroit lent sludge a certain bespoke authenticity it doesn’t altogether deserve? Perhaps, yes. Certainly there is plenty of music out there currently that bears more than a passing resemblance but has garnered little of the kudos.

In the end, though, it’s always better to let the music do the talking. In the case of Speaker For The Dead, that’s easy enough to do. Shady P, co-founder of How To Kill delivers four tracks that immediately fuck with sludge’s conventions, delivering something that is perhaps noticeably lighter in tone than one would expect from the scene’s media coverage. The more mucky end of the sludge spectrum is kept in check, the grooves allowed more space to roam which, in turn, allows the funk to come to the fore.

But even given that it is a more pronounced and straight up techno record than you might expect, it’s not like we’re dealing with Chris Liebing or anything. Speaker For The Dead remains as sleazy and dirty example of gutter techno as you could hope for. Even its most conventional track, the clattering and ever so slightly Millsian A Man In Reverse is a grimy banger that rides on thick spreads of bass and quirky, nervy fills and noise that ramps up the tension. It’s one real failing, I think, is that it does sail so close to the common place. It’s not a bad tune, in fact it’s a very good one, but its very familiarity dulls its impact slightly.

It’s a theme of sorts, although other tunes coax grooves out of a deeper mash of sound. Where Pavlov’s Bitch and EDM Is A Poor Attempt At Appropriation run similar patterns to A Man In Reverse , they cloak themselves in a taut and anxious energy tempered by a slight cheekiness, especially on EDM… which quickly rolls into a long, fluid number that draws you in with its flickering synths. Pavlov’s Bitch stalks a similar hinterland. The playfulness is more malicious, though, draping its techno framework with rags of white noise.

The strongest note here is All Night Long, a smasher of buckling free running frequency and bruised bass where the beats seem to run into themselves with the gleeful abandon of moshers. It’s just a great piece of nasty, darkside skank, bordering on a sort of filthy old school acid techno vibe that doesn’t rear its head so much anymore. It’s the heaviest thing on the EP by a mile, and it works so well precisely because it eschews a lot of what went before it, replacing elements with a welter of barely restrained noise.

Whether or not Speaker For The Dead answers my question on the Detroit link adding a certain amount of unjustified hype is difficult to say. Perhaps it is better to ask whether given the quality of the music on offer, it matters at all. That is a fairly unequivocal ‘no’. As for the music itself, Speaker For The Dead has it’s moments, many of them in fact, with All Night Long and Pavlov’s Bitch being particularly demented highlights, and it doesn’t matter at all where they call home.

Review: Ekman – Aphasia (The Trilogy Tapes)

Dutch producer Ekman has been around for a few years now but it is only recently that his abilities have really begun to match up with an undoubtedly warped and creative musical mind. Over the last eighteen months in particular he is finally living up to the promise his work has long hinted at. Releases for Berceause Heroique and Panzerkreuze have furnished us with different facets of his skills, but it is with The Trilogy Tapes that he seems to have really embraced something special. Last year’s Entropy was a bomb that blew out a number of old expectations, redefining ideas many had that he was simply another talented proponent of a particular Dutch acidic electro sound which owes much (possibly everything) to Murder Capital. Those elements were undeniably there – how could they not be – but the crooked beats fell upon different ground; wider vistas expanded further with an ear for velvety and ghostly soundscaping which gave space for the rare violence of his grooves to break away from their claustrophobic leanings and really ratchet the music into a sort of oddly cinematic netherworld that some of that old Rephlex material used to be at home in.

In many ways, Aphasia feels like a continuation of Entropy’s bleak yet beautiful energy. There are aspects of it that loom larger; the acidic component is beefed up, the beats even more prone to crumbling away into different shapes without a moment’s notice. Yet through it all runs a very similar focus. It’s main port of call is still the electro that has come to define Ekman, but it is a form of the genre that has very little in common with what else is happening in the scene at the moment. Take Rook for example, where the weird whoop of the distorted and talismanic 303 recalls not so much the current fascination with autumnal and spectral movements that has so captivated a lot of European electro, but the heavy vacuum of early Plastikman or AFX where the mounting sense of dread is further accented by the pads tightening like skeletal fingers around you. I Only Hit You ‘Cause I love You resets the mood, cutting out that dark beauty and pressing the same elements in a buckling acid belter. It could almost be a par for the course stomp but Ekman manages to inject just the right amount of looseness to keep its predatory leanings to the fore.

Undoubtedly, though, it will be Aphasia itself that gets the most plays. Under the murk and the grime is a proper groove machine pumped up with an injection of searing funk that is brought to the fore by a strange and welcome popiness courtesy of the demure vocal snips that makes you wonder what disco would have sounded like had it been invented right now by machines. And while it is closer in sound and spirit to the likes of I-F and other godfathers of the Dutch scene than anything else on the record, it moves with a freedom that is entirely of Ekman’s creation. He’s really beginning to find a unique sound whilst helping electro redefine itself for a new age. An accomplished and classy release. Nice one.