Friday Night Tune: Paul Mac – Outerspace Obsessive

One of the aspects of the 90’s which tends to get overlooked nowadays was the fact that it was the heyday of the house and techno compilation album. If I was to do nothing more in Friday Night Tunes from this point on than cover music and artists that I first heard in some comp or other, I would have enough material for another 20 years. Going through my record collection recently, I was startled by how many of them I owned. Some – many – were awful; cheap attempts to cash in on a passing fad or milk a few quid out of a movement that retained its best music for proper 12″ releases. Many others though were brilliant, and a handful attained an importance far beyond the quality of the music contained within.

One of the first compilations to achieve a real level of fame was probably ‘Techno! The New Dance Sound Of Detroit’, a compendium of motor city music put together in 1988 for a Virgin sub label by a northern soul DJ that even now looks amazingly prescient. There are the obvious heroes in May, Atkins and Saunderson, a clutch of names all but vanished from the history (A Tongue and D Groove, Mia Hesterly) and others (Blake Baxter, Eddie Fowlkes and Shake Shakir) who were massively important to the original sound, but overshadowed by the Belleville Three and somewhat unknown on this side of the pond. It also represented the first real use of the term ‘techno’. For that alone its fame is probably assured.

In Britain there had already been a run of compilations on the back of the acid house revolution. Often they represented the cheesiest end of the spectrum, and many of comps that were dedicated to the original American artists regurgitated the same tunes over and over. Find anyone with a number of these albums and I guarantee they’ll have Acid Tracks by Phuture on nearly every one. But even then you took a punt. It was always possible you’d end up with something special hidden away amongst the obvious tunes.

By the early nineties they were coming thick and fast, and improving in quality as the burgeoning scenes began to evolve, splinter into differing genres and spiral away into their own worlds. Warp’s Artificial Intelligence comp is still one of the best techno albums ever released, a solid, clever primer for what would eventually be called IDM. Artificial Intelligence was matched, perhaps bettered, by New Electronica’s run of albums. These remain a high point of the compilation game, bringing together an amazing collection of artists from Detroit luminaries to prime exponents of ambient and experimental weirdness, and everything in between, from a time before the rules were codified. They’re still worth it. Check them out.

My favourites (at least in terms of how often they got played) were the peerless label samplers put out by Tresor which brought together the cream of US and European techno and showed ever more clearly as the series advanced that the flow of information was not just a one way street, that the US greats were as willing to learn as they were to teach. The X-mix comps were an education as well, albeit of a slightly different sort. Originally a series of mix CDs, they were each accompanied by a vinyl release of unmixed tracks. They were every bit as important to our education as the purer compilations, providing a sort of snapshot of each DJs work, throwing light on the workings of their mystery cult.

The one I probably played most of all was from a Kickin’ Records series called Techno Nations. I only ever owned one of these, the 6th volume, but it was spectacular. Dial by Clark, Lights by Space DJs, Black Sea by Drexciya and a host of others – it was an incredible document of a particular point in techno’s history. The Paul Mac tune, Outerspace Obsessive, remains one of my favourites. Subtly subversive, it blends haunting, evocative Detroitisms with a grittier edge. It’s a beautiful, golden moment in time, endlessly flowing and always just on the edge of breaking apart. I might well have never picked up on it had it not been for this compilation.

And that was probably the best thing about compilations. They provided a way into an artists work, a means of getting an idea, a feel for what they did, without having to splurge on expensive 12″s. I suspect one of the reasons their day has all but past is that it’s so easy to do that now. Anyone can go online and buy a single track. It’s even easier to simply head to Youtube and check out everything a producer’s ever done. In the space of a few years the need and the space for compilations and samplers has been diminished except as something for sad, old obsessives like us who still enjoy owning a well curated collection of tracks, put together with a love of the music, and an understanding of their place in the greater scheme of things. Everything changes, maybe not always for the best. I’m just glad I got the chance. I doubt I would have learned half as much without them.

Review: Privacy – Human Resource Exploitation Manual (Lobster Theremin)

Privacy – Human Resource Exploitation Manual (Lobster Theremin)

I’m not sure why, but I suddenly seem to have more unplayed Lobster Theremin records than I have spare time, which is a real shame considering the amount of fun I know they contain. Somewhere around the spring time, LT went into overdrive and started throwing out records at a dizzying rate. It’s either a sign of rude health or utter madness. I’m not sure which. All I know is that most of them will be class – at least I would know that if I could get caught up.

Privacy’s second release for the label, though, was one I wanted to make time for. His début on LT, last year’s Hypertext, was the real deal even though I shamefully neglected it on its release. For a label that can pride itself on providing the listener with a pretty good cross-section of contemporary house, techno and electronica Hypertext stood out with its mash up of Chicago beats, cold brewed electroid madness and skittish, downbeat funk. If there was a criticism to be made, it’s that it didn’t always seem to hang together as convincingly as it could, occasionally feeling like a couple of very different records on the same bit of wax; it felt like a sampler of his undoubted skills rather than a complete statement.

Human Resource Exploitation Manual definitely rectifies that feeling across three tracks which slide from icy electro-noir to beat driven electronica and on to furious, borderline, techno-bass. Elecctro is a bit of a crossroad at the moment, with a swing towards a greater amount of experimentalism than has been heard over the last few years, and Human Resource captures this changing mood. The difference here is that the tunes tend to be more meaty and urgent at heart, piling grooves into the space between the humping bass lines and noise.

The results are a tightly orchestrated, deeply symphonic assault on the genre which takes in touches of Rother and Kratwerkian movement whilst owing something to the sounds of some of his heavier label-mates. The two pure electro pieces here – Constant Transient and Apex Predator hail from different ends of the spectrum; the first a slowly building, swirling xeno-call of frosty sophistication replete with stabs of crystalline synths and dripping with acid, the second an out-and-out killer. Fast moving, bass heavy, balls to the wall mayhem reminiscent of the Miami Bass shenanigans from the likes of Dynamix II except less direct. Apex Predator is somehow more menacing. And there’s something gloriously, defiantly old-school about it that puts it at odds with a lot of modern electro, making it somehow more organic and brutal.

I guarantee that Apex Predator will be the one getting hammered in your nearest Friday night sweat pit from now until kingdom come (if they have any sense), but I suspect repeated listens will show Code to be the real eye-opener with its nasty, broken slo-mo bleeped up rave vibes. Twisted right the way around, it chews at the brain like proper alien hardcore should.

Given that LT are currently developing out into a number of sub labels, I wonder if we could petition for an out-and-out electro imprint? Given quality like this it’s a sure-fire winner, even if I do risk falling ever further behind in my listening. That’s a dangerous chance I’m willing to take.

Special Broadcast – ’69 DJs’ Side B

Took me longer than I intended to get this up. I’ve been exploring hosting options because I really don’t want to give Soundcloud money, although that’s turning out to be the best of a bad lot. Until I get around to giving them the cash I’ve taken down the first part of the Mystec Radio show tape to make room. I’ll have that back up as soon as I can, hopefully.

Anyway, the important information I need to give out is that this mix is labelled as Side B, but is actually the A side. Blame me, it’s my fault. I got the wrong one up first and stupidly never noticed until someone else pointed it out. Duhhh. Not that the order really matters. This side is still a doozy.

Positively identified as being by Rubadub and 69’s one and only Wilba Sandieson, and taken from another radio show (the Rubadub one this time.) It dates from 1996. More great tunes running from electro to Detroit techno, to dub techno and onwards. It’s another great example of the sort of music one could expect at one of the best techno clubs in Britain in an era where the music had still to be locked into genre apartheid. As I said before, this tape – along with one or two others – was a vital part of our education in what techno could be. It blurs the lines, moving between sounds that might not have always seem that they have much in common except for the fact they are kindred spirits, and they’re all as funky as hell.

Again, no track listing. If anyone feels like having a go, feel free. I reckon it might be a hard job, seeing as how Wilba is a pretty mean selector of underground tunes, and had a full shop of records to call upon.

Anyways, here’s the mix:

Friday Night Tune: Anthony Rother – Redlight District.

We’re only a few weeks away from December now, and any dreams I had for 2015 becoming the big year of the electro resurgence are beginning to fade away into the lengthening shadows. Mind you, although I think it’s a bit of a shame the same old shit – boring, chunky disco-y house masquerading as something underground, and directionless techno – continues to dominate despite many more interesting takes on the same themes, I can’t deny that there has been a lot of great electro this year from a variety of sources. The big wave may not have broken, but there was a proper swell, and I hope it continues to grow in strength.

See, I think there is something happening out there. Aside from the great new electro currently being released, there has been a small, but noticeable amount of classic material finally making its way onto new presses. It’s next to nothing, of course, compared to house’s regurgitation of its own past, but it’s important, not only because some of that music represents a watershed moment in electronica, one where the futurist promise of the movement really began to propagate new forms that lived and died on their own terms, but because they remain a testament to the singular fact that even if you borrow liberally from the past, you don’t have to sound like you’re living in it.

We’ve had an ocean’s worth of Drexicya repressed over the last couple of years – although a few more of those proper original 12″s would be great – and I’ve wanted to see Aux 88 and other artists from the Direct Beat roster get a bit more time in the sun, but recently I’ve been paying a bit of attention to the darkened European end of the genre. It’s one that was almost more symphonic in nature than the bulk of the Detroit stuff, more in keeping with the same sort of wintry, almost introspective feel that’s been present in other European arts all along the post-war period. It has little in common with that technicolour 70’s New York summer vibe a lot of older, classic, original electro has. In a sense, it’s electro-noir, a soundtrack to the concrete grey of northern European nights; bleak and tired, and very familiar to a lot of us.

Anthony Rother was always a master of this, of capturing the glamour of the empty sleaze and bringing out the rarest glimpse of colour in a world that was emerging from its decade long anxiety. While his more recent work has perhaps less to recommend it, his earliest run of releases always felt shaped by an urban environment locked into a perpetual dusk, and the music slowly emerged as a more nihilistic counterweight to producers like I-F working on the other side of the border.

Redlight District, his third EP, is probably his best work, along with the brilliant Sex With Machines album. It also has that rare distinction of containing not one, but two stone cold killers within it, for Destroy Him My Robots with its icy, nervous melody provided the true blueprint for so much electro that was to appear in the last years of the 90s.

Redlight District itself is just about as cold as electro ever got, and about as far from the day-glo optimism of so much modern house as you can imagine. From the vicious yet utterly dispassionate vocals, to the frigidity of it’s growling bass and the chill edge of the precise, razor like percussion the whole thing is a testament to what happens when you pay attention to the bits of the world you aren’t supposed to notice. Repress this please. Repress this now.

Review: Brown Irvin – Tone/Bay Fog (Motion Ward)

Brown Irvin – Tone (Motion Ward)

The slow roll of the outsider house fog seems to have parted somewhat over the last few months, with many of its producers either splitting in a more obviously housey direction, or crossing the line into a far more experimental landscape of techno tinged electronica. As a movement (even if it was only one in the minds of a few scribes here and there) it was probably never going to last longer than a few months; there was always something of a disconnect in the way it all hung together. Not that this was a negative, far from it. The disparate approaches of the host of producers that came under its virtual banner was one of the things that made it so interesting, just as it was the very thing that assured its short half-life.

What it all represented was an interesting break from the tight traditions of ‘proper’ house – a genre that is famously supposed to be about liberty and freedom but seems to increasingly be conservative in its thinking and its approach, and ever more in debt to its own past. While it would be inaccurate to say that outsider house was a new beginning, it did at least look beyond the mid eighties for its inspiration and drew on ideas that were less to do with party music and more to do with mood and sound. Perhaps more importantly, though, it allowed us access to the work of producers who didn’t seem to fit in with their house peers, and who brought with them different concepts of what the music could sound like.

Brown Irvin might be new to house and techno, but the LA native has been around for a while as AshTreJinkins, a DJ and producer of experimental hip hop. Interestingly, especially in conjunction with the release of this record on new label Motion Ward, is that his previous music shares a commonality with the shattered sonicisms that have begun to rise to prominence within electronica over the last couple of years. It’s a good match.

Tone/Bay Fog, then, is a pretty tight statement of intent from an artist moving into a new world. Elements of it are familiar enough, and bear a passing resemblance to the dusky explorations of Patricia, say, or Mooodcut. Much is in the murk and depth of the two tunes, especially Tone, a focussed, maudlin groove that takes time to build out of the smog that seems to envelope it at the start. It moves with an economy of motion, at least at first, taking its time to layer in the little touches below the gentle curve of the synths, and drawing on the ricochet claps to lend the smallest colouring of urgency until it comes to life. It’s a definite winner, and one that adds warmth and low slung funk to a musical form that often relies a little too much on its approach over emotional connection.

Bay Fog is more fractured and less quick with its pleasures. Even so, a couple of listens reveal a sparkling sonic landscape that fluctuates in mood and light, and pushed by a dervish of percussion until it takes off. While not the equal of Tone’s calm introspective journey, it doesn’t need to be, rendering instead a snapshot of colour and constant motion.

It’s a strong début, and one that is in turn recognizable and refreshingly individual. If Brown Irvin is thinking about a permanent shift in direction from his past musical life, I think there will be plenty of ears turned his way. Excellent.