Review: People At Work: In The Office (Talahachi)

In a certain light it’s possible to see this latest volume of Talahachi’s run of eclectic samplers as something of a companion piece to the Boe Recordings offering we reviewed the other night. Both explore the more musical end of the techno spectrum where melody and shade is preferred over heavy beats and noise, both trade on an expansive use of tone and texture, and both are replete with artists for whom the sounds of classic Detroit, IDM, and early 90s electronica are still as relevant as any contemporary influences.

If anything, People At Work moves slightly further from the dancefloor than Halal Prepared did, and although there are definite moments (the two Stephen Lopkin tracks in particular – more on that in a minute) that work a deep and affecting groove, the emphasis is on deep, dreamy music that captures the essence of a strand of electronica that has been in short supply. This year has really been one of rediscovery, and a desire to rework older blueprints into newer designs. The resurgence of IDM influenced techno – although never as barren a field as some others – has been an interesting, if slightly understated, break from the host of acid, classically sounding house and one note bangers currently infesting the scene.

People At Work is at its best when the rhythms and the moods are in alignment, the wash of synths and the carefully crafted melodies and frills backed up by something more solid. In a sense this is entirely in keeping with what we have been talking about because when you look back, one of the striking facets of 90’s IDM and ambient techno was that their magic was predicated as much on carefully crafted grooves as complex sonic worlds, even though that tends to be forgotten a lot of the time nowadays. It’s a theme that surfaces repeatedly here. On Invitation Au Voyage’s ethereal Radian, for example, the quiet dusky swell of the synths harness the collapsing and lazy break beat to emphasise the deep wave of mood. On John Hill’s Hyvern the melodies are backed with the muted chatter of percussion and the bubble of a housey bass which lends it the feel of a quiet, internalized rave; subtle Balearic chills echoing the warm nothingness of being lost in a long moment of simple reflection.

I’ve been a fan of Stephen Lopkin’s work for a while now, taking particular delight in the way he moulds his first wave Detroit influences into something complex and modern. The brace of graceful, warm-funked movers on offer here don’t disappoint. Part of his spell weaving comes from the fact that he wears his tastes on his sleeve and yet never leaves you entirely sure what the starting point is. Both Dos and Terms And Condition Apply push the beats further forward, allowing a certain amount of cheek and rowdiness to colour the delicate weaves of his synths and pads. Terms And Conditions is possibly the pick of the two for the way it adds the chirp of a 303 to the mix to play off the melodies. It’s quite beautiful, and memorable for the way it simply burrows into your brain.

I’ve occasionally found previous Talahachie volumes a little light on any actual oomph; an emphasis on swirl and glitter doesn’t always come off when the beats are controlled or a mite on the glacial side. That’s just me, though, and in People At Work: In The Office there is a sense of the fragile fabrics of sound being fitted to a more organic body to a more interesting effect than previously. A classy addition to the new wave of deeper techno that’s beginning to find its feet.

Review: Halal Prepared Volume 4 (Boe Recordings)

Now into its fourth volume, Boe Recordings run of Halal Prepared samplers continues to weave an intriguing mix of woozy, late night spells along side tougher jams. Although, for my money, the second volume, featuring Anaxander and Arnaldo along side label head Ben Boe, remains a stand out release on the label, there have been plenty of other wee gems scattered throughout the series.

While volume 4 may feel a quieter entry into the collection, working its tricks with subtlety more often than not, that’s not to suggest that there isn’t a great deal of invention on offer. The four tracks are united by common themes; the reworking of classic techno sounds in particular, where the four producers seem to have a common centre of gravity, is something that is familiar enough to fans of the label, but here they duck the obvious motifs, stretching the sounds into something fresher. Occasionally serene, sometimes fragile and often compelling in their unfolding journeys they echo each others vibe, even if the approached remains unique to the various artists.

As for the artists themselves, three-quarters of them are newcomers – to myself at least – with John Shima the only well kent name on the listing. Shima’s entry here, the crystalline groove of Thought Wave, sees the Sheffield based producers working his usual Detroit inspired magic but interspersing it with darker hues that suggest it wouldn’t be out-of-place amongst the glimmer and shade of those knock out early nineties New Electronica compilations. Likewise, Jane Fitz’s and Dom Ahtuam’s Invisible Menders project follows a similar path the with shuffling odyssey of Fifth Time Lucky where IDM textures touch off against something more organic and instinctive, allowing the musical shapes to bloom into a gossamer weave that veils an introverted mood with slowly building funk.

Tim Smith’s Graphene slows things down further, but compensates with a dose of swing underneath the almost too effervescent melody. However, the drums are a little too precise, perhaps, to fit the wistful mood, and there is a sense of a great piece of jazzy techno on the edge of bubbling into life but never quite getting there. All the same, it retains a nagging playfulness that catches you, especially after the relative seriousness of the two previous tracks.

Of all the tracks here, though, It’s Toby Tobias’s Sword Art Arcade that exudes the most swagger, building up from a thick and jacking bass and stamping beats. Like Shima’s track, there is a feel of 91 revisited, but the delicate lattice-work of the synths, which lends a strangely trippy feel to the otherwise tough, acidy workout, pushes things in another direction from the one you might expect, and never lets the listener quite settle on familiar territory.

And it’s perhaps this bait and switch tactic that makes this volume such an interesting compilation. Too icy to be considered deep house, too obtuse yet other worldly to be run of the mill techno, Volume 4 walks a smart line between the precise electronica of the past and the jumbled mix of styles that makes so much contemporary music so fun.

Friday Night Tune: Prostitutes – Hate’s In The City

It’s the throwaway lines that sometimes bug you the most. Anyone can rage against a thought out polemic where points and arguments are marshalled with discipline towards whatever horizon the writer has in mind, but the one liners – often glibly spat out in the heat of whatever emotion its creator was experiencing and usually existing with a half-life of a single moment – have the weird ability to sucker punch you, to leave you reeling in the fog of unfinished business.

In this case it was a single line somewhere on the idiot-band of social media, itself a concept that seems to have been entirely created to de-evolve ideas to their most base levels; Not so much hanging a masterpiece in a gallery as throwing shit against a wall to see what sticks. The words in question were simple: ‘Electronic music is all about positivity, man!’. Sure, as a day-glo slogan to live your life by, it’s not even up there with something like ‘be excellent to people’ but it got me thinking.

Having come through all the pseudo-hippy crap that used to infest house and techno back in the dim past, all that guff about 126 BPM and heartbeats, and the rest of the claptrap that existed so people could pretend they believed in a higher philosophy when arguing the merits of electronica because some twat in a Suede T-shirt sniggered at them about how techno didn’t mean anything, I’ve long had a thing about spurious claims made in lazy defence of the music I love. That there is positivity in electronic music is true, but I suspect what our random philosopher was meaning here wasn’t the righteous anger of Underground Resistance, say, or the delicate sound blooms of warmth and mood that are found in a host of tunes, but something closer to the chemical camaraderie implied in the old gurned call of ‘are you on one matey?’

There’s nothing wrong with that, I guess, not on a fundamental level anyway. But electronica has evolved, and part of that evolution has come about because many producers are exploring beyond the traditional emotional ground that early house and techno set up in. These days for every tune that promises no more than another hands in the air good time shoogle, there will be another that burns with a malevolent energy, that swaggers with discontent and isn’t so much interested in making you feel good as it is in simply making you feel. And in an era where any emotion other than the simplistic binary of happy and/or sad is treated with suspicion, and where any attempt to embrace higher thought processes is hooted at with derision, it’s precisely these tunes that we ought to be embracing.

Beyond that, techno is enjoying a sort of rebirth just now, and a major reason for that is the injection of people into the scene who have no history in it. They lack those trained responses to the music, to the history and, importantly, to the ongoing conservation of 30-year-old ideas. There is a healthiness that only the outsiders can bring, whether they come from dubstep, from jazz, from punk rock or any other genre. Smashing down the doors of the closed shop of musical ideas should be – always be – one of the very thing house and techno should be embracing instead of convincing itself that another round of increasingly conservative sounding disco throwbacks represents a way forward.

2015 is going to be regarded as something of a watershed moment, I think, just as the dividing lines are being drawn between the factions. It is the year in which the most techno thing I have heard in a long, long time – Container’s astounding album – also sounded like it couldn’t give a damn what you think house or techno is, or was. Last year one of the real stand outs was Nouveauree by James Donadio’s Prostitutes project. It was a flare of an album; gone before you could register more than a ‘what the hell was that?’. It didn’t ‘bang’ or build itself on tightly focussed grooves aimed at the dancefloor. Instead it seethed, and dragged the listener through a murky world where ‘Happiness’ and ‘Euphoria’ were just words on a neon board shining themselves forever into a puddle on the sidewalk. The fact that it mostly retains the traditional 4/4 framework makes it feel all the more subversive.

Electronic music needs positivity, sure, but it also needs to be something more than Friday night escapism or whimsical sonic sculptures. It’s a big, bad world out there, and it’s about time we faced up to it. And that I am positive about.

Pattern Burst Special Broadcast Part 2! – Mystec FM Volume 1 Side B

Aaaaand We’re back. Sorry, I meant to have this up last night but I ended up listening to the football on the radio and then it got late….

Anyway, this is the B side of last night’s first encounter. Taped during Mystec’s radio show on Glasgow’s Sub City Radio. Last night was DJ Oral, tonight the wheels of steel are in the hands of Adam – AKA DJ Goodhand – who was Mystec’s other original resident and is now probably better known to the troops for his adventures as part of the Glasgow/London Numbers collective, which is good because Mystec is very much a part of that club’s DNA.

I should have pointed out that although these tapes represent a fairly complete snapshot of the various shows, they are not entirely complete. The original broadcasts were about two hours, if I’m remembering correctly, but were recorded on whatever was available, usually C-90 cassettes. Apologies for the way they slam in and cut out at the end, but as I said last night they are presented ‘as is’.

I’ve also just realised that Soundcloud’s free account is limited to 180 minutes of upload space. I’ll have to get my skates on and worked something out because that just ain’t gonna last long. I’m aiming to get the next tape up sometime over the next couple of weeks. Not sure which one yet. Stay tuned!

Mystec FM Volume 1 Side B

So here is Side B, featuring a very young DJ Goodhand. Like last night it is a slightly different vibe from what you would get at the club. It’s also quite different from DJ Oral’s side last night. A bit darker, a bit more acidy and a bit more housey. Some great tunes here. Enjoy.

Pattern Burst Special Broadcast: Mystec FM Volume One – 25.2.1997

At long last I’ve finally figured out how to get music from my ancient and crumbling twin tape deck and into my much more modern computer. It took a little bit of doing, and a little bit of mucking around, but it’s finally underway.

I have several large bags of ancient tapes. Most of them are old commercially released albums by a variety of bands, some electronic most not (how much is a tape of Veruka Salt’s d├ębut worth, I wonder? Three pence, I expect) but a small number of them were stored as archive material in a rare act of forward thinking by the younger me. Most of these are old practice tapes of me DJing, and although they run in quality from alright to bloody terrible, they are hopefully of no interest to anyone except me. The remainder, the ones we are going to focus on, represent several recordings of the short-lived Mystec FM radio show on Glasgow’s Sub City Radio.

There are three of these tapes in total, of 90 minutes each. There are another couple of tapes I think might interest people out there, including the (in)famous Puffin’ And Pantin’ – a mix by DJ Brainstorm of Pure fame. Altogether I’ve managed to find 5 tapes in all – a vanishingly small number. There were several others, including the peerless Sacred Beats, but they seem to have gone walkabout over the years and I don’t know where they are now. I hold out hope that there is at least one more bag hidden away somewhere that I have yet to find, but the chances are that it was dumped by mistake when I did the flat up back in 2007.

So here’s the deal: These tapes are presented as is. That means they will be recorded from my tape deck to the computer and into Audigy as WAVs before being converted to 320 MP3s. There won’t be any fancy editing or mucking around with settings. They are simply the outpourings of my tape player. The plan is to link to them on Soundcloud, but, given how squirrelly SC’s detection software is these days, that might need to change. I’ll keep looking at various options and post any changes to these posts if and when needed. I’ll try to post each of them as separate A and B sides over the next few weeks as I’m able to. I won’t be posting any track listings for them, and none are present anyway. If anyone feels the need, go for it. Some are easy, others maybe not.

The sound quality of the various tapes runs from surprisingly good to, well, unsurprisingly average. Please bear in mind that the youngest of them dates from mid 97 and the oldest from about 93 or 94 so they are pretty old. Quite frankly it’s a miracle they play as well as they do.

Mystec FM Volume One – 25.2.1997 (Side A)

This represents the earliest of my recordings of the short-lived Mystec FM on Glasgow University’s Sub City radio station, and dates from the 25th of Feb, 97. The station continues to run today, and still plays house and techno. At the time some of the shows, if not all of them, were recorded in a spare flat at Murano Street student village in the Maryhill area of the city. As far as I can remember, the show ran from late 96 to about mid 97, starting as cover for DJ Dribbler who was off somewhere else. The music is courtesy of Kara – aka DJ Oral – the original Mystec resident, and it represents a slightly different vibe than what you would get at the full-on club night. At this time Club Mystec was playing at the Sub Club on Thursday nights once a month. At the end of the summer it would move into King Tut’s Wah Wah hut for a Sunday afternoon session. To my knowledge it is still the only techno collective to have been allowed to play in Glasgow’s famous Indy venue. I would imagine that it’s our fault that claim to fame still stands. I don’t think it went down too well….

Oh yeah, words and gibberish by the one and only Nok La Rok.

Anyway, here’s the first link.

I’ll try and get Side B up either tonight or tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes. Any problems or comments let me know.