Special Broadcast: DJ Brainstorm – Puffin’ and Pantin’ Side B

Here’s the second part of the Puffin’ and Pantin’ tape for your listening pleasure. For my money this one is even better than the first. It’s somehow darker and harder, and in its own way it epitomises the ethos of ‘dirty, nasty beats’ which informed so much of what Mystec tried to do, as well as being the thread, the common factor, which has pretty much drawn together all the house music I have loved over the years.

Just as the Club 69 tape – along with a couple of others – I put up a few weeks ago helped to define what I still, now, think of as quality techno, Puffin’ and Pantin’ helped me do the same thing with house music. The main difference between the two is that when I first heard the Club 69 one I already had a lot of techno under my belt so the general effect was a gentle nudging in a certain direction; I might not have known what a lot of the tunes were at the time (and I still don’t, in fact), but I was already very familiar with the music in a wider sense. Much the same is true for other tapes I had. Derrick May’s ‘Live at the Technodrome’, which is of a similar age to this one, contained a lot of music I knew to a greater or lesser extent, but what knocked me for six was the mixing. I don’t think I had ever heard someone do anything like that before. It was a revelation. Even now it takes my breath away.

When I first heard Puffin’ and Pantin’, though, I was pretty new to it all, house music especially. Even though I had heard more than a little acid house by that point, and a lot of techno (particularly from Detroit) what was lacking was some sort of context. Puffin’ and Pantin’ provided this in spades. I can’t claim that there was a road to Damascus style conversion there and then because the truth is it took me a little while to get what was going on. We always tend to put house and techno together, believing them to be two sides of the same coin when, in fact, this isn’t necessarily the case. This was house music of a sort I had never really been exposed to before. It seemed darker than the techno I had been listening to, darker and far more upfront about what it was. It seemed to swirl instead of stomp, and it took great delight in the raw physicality of the music. Eventually something in my head clicked and that was that. Even now, when I hear new house music, Puffin’ and Pantin’ is the yardstick I use to measure my response.

Anyway, here’s the mix. There isn’t a lot more to come from my archives I’m afraid. I have a single volume of Mystec FM to go, but I’ll maybe save that one for the holidays. Here’s Puffin’ and Pantin’ Side B. I hope you enjoy it.

Friday Night Tune: Carl Craig – Mind Of A Machine

I’ve been having one of those difficult weeks. I’m sure you know the sort. They tend to come with an extra thick dose of hassle spread over them, and regardless of how far off you can see them coming from, they still tend to take the breath away once they arrive. If I was the sort of person who believed in a deity, or a great spirit, or even just a vague notion of some overarching, if utterly arbitrary, sense of meaning I’d wonder if these weeks happen just so that we are made very certain of our place in the world. But I don’t. It just seems to be my turn for it again. I’m not sure it helps, especially since it looks like next week will be even worse.

As a species we have developed many coping strategies. Religion is obviously up there in the number one slot, with booze and drugs, and the delights of manually instigated chaos, close behind. Being the sort of fairly introspective chap who would usually crawl away into a corner and feel sorry for myself for a while, though, I’ve often found music helps soften the edges, even if it doesn’t entirely help to close the wounds over.

Carl Craig’s Landcruising album has been part of my coping mechanism for a long time, although I have to admit I don’t listen to it very often these days, at least not as a complete work. It’s one-third of what I’ve long considered my holy trinity of techno albums – the other two being Rob Hood’s Internal Empire, and Juan Atkin’s Deep Space. Each of them has provided a different function over the years. In Landcruising’s case, though, it has been a sort of sonic analgesic taken now and again to provide relief from the more painful effects of exposure to the modern world.

There is something endlessly comforting about the record. I’m not sure what. Perhaps it’s the way it’s themes seem to combine to create something fragile and haunting, or the way its sci-fi elements seem to have less to do with the high-concept end of the genre, and more to do with drawing out the wonder – and some of the shock – to be found in the profound changes that affect us all right now.

Mind Of A Machine is perhaps not the best track on it (that accolade goes to A Wonderful Life, I think) but it remains a perfect few minutes of headphone escapism. While the idea of bringing together a sort of Kraftwerkian feel and applying classically Detroit strings to emphasise the movement and the beauty of the music was not new even when the album was first released twenty years ago, there are few examples I would rather listen to more. Even better, for me, is the way that Mind Of A Machine simply allows me to switch off that part of the brain where real world concerns are stored, to follow the trails the music forms as it flows down insanely complex and yet infinitely simple neural pathways into a vast, ever evolving artificial intelligence that’s somehow more human than anything organic.

It’s escapism, yes, and the problems that drive you into its arms are always there upon return. But for a few brief minutes, they don’t seem to matter so much. If this is all that music is capable of, it is still more than enough.

Review: Hesperius Draco – Northern Sages (Frigio Records)

I suppose it says a little about how narrow either my tastes or techno’s purview has become over the last few years that when I first listened to Northern Sages I wasn’t sure what the hell was going on. Sure, the experimental end of the scene often delivers music that by definition can be complex, strange and difficult to fathom, but more often than not we are dealing with the outpourings of an increasingly academic genre that sometimes feels it owes its existence more to sound laboratories and theory classes in quiet little colleges, and to the influence of modern classical composers, than it does to anything that grew organically out of clubs or the big Midwestern cities.

In fact, one of the reasons I was thrown during my first couple of listens is that Northern Sages isn’t quite the deeply experimental music I thought. While it is certainly a record that takes great pleasure in the thickness of its sound, its bucking of conventions, and its obvious interest in influences a little further flung than the last moody doof-doofer to come at you out of Berlin, its feet – if not its mind – are rooted on the dance floor.

Behind the heavy synth work, the whacked out reverb and the occasionally almost operatic touches are more familiar skeletons. Electro, EBM and deep, acid flecked techno all add heft to the flesh, providing muscle and structure to the more ornate textures. In actual fact, the reclamation of the futurist leanings of modern electro, and reworking it into a far more baroque affair is one of the interesting conceits of the record.

Tunes such as Mjolnir pitches itself somewhere between familiar electro styling and a somewhat more ponderous, almost doom-laden take. While it unfurls slowly, and cloaks much of the tune in a tangled weave of early eighties pomp, it retains a solid focus and drive that alleviates some of the drama of the top end and allowing a more playful mood to energise the piece. Tronitum Domini takes a different, albeit just as effective, route, and winds the groove into the fabric of the lavish, ever so slightly over the top, cinematic textures until it feels like John Carpenter soundtracking a Dario Argento movie. It’s a particularly rich atmosphere, gilded yet faded, and it works a powerful sense of portent above the cavernous beats.

The ideas aren’t quite as successful else where. ASI Kingdom, whilst a great piece of overwrought and gloriously mediaeval, imperious martial music feels a little like a curiosity amongst the tunes with more solid foundations. While it probably makes more of the themes implied in the records title, it doesn’t feel entirely at home here. Fenrir Eyes is perhaps the heaviest piece here, but suffers from being disjointed, as if there is some vital element missing that would complete it. The remix by Drvg Cvltvr flattens it and livens it up, however, spicing the proceedings generously with something approaching Tronitum Domini’s eerie coolness.

Northern Sages works best when the conceits and the ideas are allowed to collide and combine into new forms, or when its use of older forms are allowed to express themselves in new ways. Such an elaborate take on familiar genres is to be applauded even – perhaps especially – when the ideas seem a little too big, too grandiose, for their boots. And while its ostentatious methods are certainly likely to open a few eyes and ears, it’s the meat below them that ultimately keeps things fresh and interesting.

Special Broadcast: DJ Brainstorm – Puffin’ and Pantin’ Side A

Alright now, here is a real, proper treat. My collection of mix tapes is pretty small these days. I’ve lost far more than I have now to a combination of natural wastage (overplayed tapes wrapping themselves unsalvageably through the mechanisms of cheap-assed Walkmans being the most typical form of death), of loss, of – in a couple of occasions – theft. Once or twice they died in more dramatic circumstances; I had an absolute corker of a Richie Hawtin tape that died in a car crash for example.

Of those I have left – a combination of those bought in record stores back in the day, taped off the radio or, like this one, handed on across many people from the source – Puffin’ and Pantin’, alongside the Club 69/Rubadub tape I put up a few weeks ago, one of the real, genuine treasures. I’ll talk more about why it’s so special to me when I put the B-side up in the near future (probably next week or one after. With so few left I have this need to ration them out), so in the meantime I’ll limit myself to the few facts I know about it.

My copy of Puffin’ and Pantin’ has been in my collection since the mid nineties, probably 94, 95 or so – pre-dating my move to Glasgow by a couple of years. The mix itself is courtesy of DJ Brainstorm, the main mover of Edinburgh’s legendary Pure alongside JD Twitch. I only ever made it to Pure at its Edinburgh home on one occasion, towards the end of its time (although I did get to a few of their big parties at the Barrowlands in Glasgow) so I’m probably not the best person to talk about it, but there is a pretty good write-up on the place, and what it all meant, right here.

As for the mix. Well, it’s just silly how good it still is. Sultry, deep and acidic, and a world away from so much of the safe, bland house that defines the scene these days, it bubbles with the dirty, nasty energy that the title defines. When I first heard it, so many of the tracks were exotic and mysterious. Nowadays I know many of them like the back of my hand. DHS, Ralphi Rosario, DJ Pierre and the Yeastie Girls all make their presence felt – ignore the momentary interlude during You Suck – Julie, you know what I’m talking about…

My copy of the tape is over 20 years old, and was God knows how many generations old when I got my hand on it. The mix itself was recorded pre-95 I think, and might even date from as far back as 92 or 93. The sound quality, therefore, is pretty much as you would expect. I have made no attempt to freshen it up. In its own way the quality and the tape hiss have become almost as important to me over the years as the music, part of the package, the fabric, and the memories. It’s a fairly quiet recording, so bang the volume of your favourite player up and let it rip.

Please enjoy it. It’s a monster. Oh yeah, one more thing to say. If you like the A side, wait until you hear other one….

Here’s the link:

Review: Steven Simpson – ND (10 Pills Mate)

A few of those in the know had been talking this record up recently on the usual channels, but being the sort of curmudgeonly old sod who reckons all too often that hype seldom delivers I was set to make the big pass in favour of some totally screwy little number on an imprint that mostly exists in the mind of its creator. You know the sort of thing. The online clips of ND suggested solid enough acidic shenanigans in a Chi-town style but if there’s one thing we all have plenty of, it’s exactly that, right? Still, it nagged at me as some music does, and I’ve learned enough to know that judging a record by its Soundcloud chunks is liable to end it tears. So here it is.

My first impressions were pretty accurate, at least in some aspects. The influences are undeniably Chicago – plump ribbons of 303s billowing over nicely saturated kicks and chattering percussion – and it remains an effective sound even after all these years. In truth though only the first track, Untitled Acid is allowed to sink deep into Armando-esque grooves. That it manages this with aplomb whilst avoiding the easy trap of sounding too much like an homage is a job well done.

That’s really just the start, though. The real strength of the record is in the way it combines such a classical approach to acid house with something of the grittier vibe that marks the work of the outsider/analogue gang who’ve been doing to rounds over the last couple of years. Such a thing isn’t entirely uncommon these days of course; Patricia has been doing something similar for a while, in fact, although in his case there is less emphasis on the Chicago sound and more on rawer electronic exploration.

Simpson works both ends of the spectrum with the other two tracks. ND itself winds slowly into life with bouncing bass thickened toms, applying gloss with synths so subtle they remain a suggestion of colour rather than a sound, and gently washing the tune with the tiniest hints of melody and life until it gently begins to wind itself towards the acid which drops into being and alters the whole tone. Chicagoacid opens with the same approach but bathes it in a drifting tidal wash of silvery chords, keeping the thick bass as the one steadying rock in a sea of shifting aquatic goodness. It’s so deep, and so warm, it just wraps you up in its grooves and transports you from one end to the other.

While it’s certainly impressive for any young, new producer (and Simpson is certainly young) to have such a solid understanding of the sounds of old Chicago tunage, it’s even more impressive – and rarer – for them to have got to grips with the actual vibe and grooves, and the point of it all. Even better is the way he’s at home enough with acid’s history and meaning to be screwing and playing around with the preconceptions on his first release. Power to him. One to look out for in the future.