Review: Will Azada & Alex Falk – The Illuminati Traqckx (CGI Records)

Atlanta label CGI have, in the space of about three years, gone from being an interesting but hardly vital stable to one of a handful of indispensable US labels currently doing the business. Their first half-bag of records pushed a sound that was occasionally harder and expansive but mostly lighter, bouncier, and bigger than the bulk of the techno and house of the time, favouring as it did a kookier acid fun house energy over anything more serious or contemplative. More recently though, as techno has dug a bigger hole for itself in search of deepness, CGI have again sidestepped the rest of them and began to propagate a sound which mixes grooves and rawness with an experimental veneer. The results, particularly over the last three or four releases, and taking in music from Golden Donna, Twins, and Black Suede, have been some of the most gloriously rude and proper techno 12s of the last couple of years.

Proper Trax boss Azada joins Alex Falk for a double A side, the first music either of them (under their own names at least) has released on CGI for a while. Azada’s side takes his slicker minimal leaning and roughs it up. Flutterbutt opens like a tribal version of Plastikman before tightening itself down into a driving, dirty techno that would be right at home in the peak time sweat-a-thon of a really grimy warehouse. It’s purely functional but climbs relentlessly for its entire length. Illuminati Traqckx delves further into the night and although it starts pretty much where the last track finished, it opens up nicely and swaps the building energy for some hypnotic chords, adding warmth and serenity to the crackling lunacy underneath.

Alex Falk’s last record for CGI, The Justin Beiber sampling funk of GF, unfairly slipped under many radars but seems to have become better known since. Hopefully it won’t take people as long to pick up on his two tracks here. The first, MR1, perhaps represents his best work to date. Deceptively heavy, it pushes itself forward with a potent, ever fluctuating riff that locks down the vibe right away. Frayed by distorted edges, and chewed at by charging, high floating toms, it actually hides a lightness of touch, and disguises a mesmerizing, dreamy quality behind the urgency and froth of static. BLAZEIT takes a lot longer to get going before it delivers some shadowy Millsian voodoo techno. While it at first seems to be riding off to Loopy Banger territory, Falk cleverly centers the track’s potency in the groove rather than in the sound, negating dense frequency with an airiness that lets the funk take control.

While I’m not sure this is as buy-on-sight as CGI’s last handful of records, it’s worth more than a couple of quick glances. For both producers it’s probably their best work so far, and an evolution of their talents, especially in Falk’s case. If you haven’t picked up on their names so far (or the label for that matter) this is a pretty solid place to get involved. Dirty techno with heart, soul, and funk.

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Reviews: Adesse Versions – That’s What Friends Are For (Numbers); DABJ Allstars Volume 2 (Dixon Avenue Basement Jams)

Adesse Versions – That’s What Friends Are For (Numbers)

I almost let Adesse Versions go right by me, which is strange because I’ve bought pretty much all the records. I think perhaps I had the music of Kevin Gorman pegged wrongly, holding out on it because it felt a little too slick and big club ready to really work on me; solid house music with the edge, the threat, softened up. When I listen back, though, the truth is a long way from there and I think it’s more likely it’s taken my ears awhile to tune themselves to Adesse Version’s mix of subtle electronics, slender acid spirit, and a million other tiny little influences that have made their mark in the music.

Beyond that, Gorman is one of the few producers kicking out vocal tunes which refuse to fall towards either kitchnes or cold experimentalism. Why I din’t work that one out sooner is a mystery, because Pressure, way back on the first record, was one of the real vocal killers of recent years, and one that thrilled and haunted you in equal measures. Last year’s Pride cemented this rare gift, it’s strutting heat almost surpassing Pressure’s subtler seduction.

Adesse Version’s third release for Numbers lands with That’s What Friends Are For leading the way. The tune strips everything down to a booming deepness, lacerated by a slo-mo acid growl and wickedly twisted story telling, and filling in the gaps with some of Green Velvet’s malicious energy. And while it’s in a different realm from Pressure and Pride’s anthemic glimmer, it tugs at the feet with just as much glee. In the Sticks brings things back to ground with a long unwind of colour and frequency on the back of a slowly building groove that’s just about as deadly as That’s What Friends… Prowling madness.

DABJ Allstars Volume 2 (Dixon Avenue Basement Jams)

Volume 1 of the DABJ Allstars, released way back in 2013, introduced us to TX Connect and CT Tracks, and was the strongest reflexion yet of how exciting the label was beginning to look. Fast forward three years and volume two arrives after an impressive start to 2016. The new addition ties label regular Denis Sulta in with newcomer Fear-E- and sees CT Trax return for their first outing since volume 1.

Just like the first one, DABJ Allstars Vol 2 is just about as strong a snapshot of modern undeground house as you can get. Sulta kicks us off with a blast of cut-upped jacking mayhem, simultaneously mainlining messy Dance Mania ghetto, sharpened rave stabs and day-glo happy house vibes. CT Trax makes you wonder why their hasn’t been more, especially after Redline on the first record was such a beauty. Here they deliver a pair of killers. Toxic starts with some tight, wondering acid that mixes an old school sound with a new school brashness . Walk For Me is potent blast of gnarly, stalking fury that twists in an early nineties feel to the bedlam, and draws on a similar well of acid techno as some of the early Plus 8 stuff.

Although many will come for the Sulta track, it’s the newcomer who really makes you sit up and take notice. Fear-E- brings a monster in Candi’s Quatra. It’s a proper head turner, and one that never quite stays where you think it is. Pushing from a strobing slice of garagey jack towards some deliciously off-tangent cosmic sense-scrambling, it nicely captures a sense of stomping, late night abandon tightened up with dense atmosphere. While the last Casio Royale record remains the highpoint in a ridiculously good year for DABJ so far, this more than holds its own. Dirty, seedy and jacking from one of the few remaining bastions of true underground house.

Friday Night Tune: Aril Brikha – Groove La’ Chord

Boy, I rinsed this.

There are a number of tracks which can transport me back the occasional session spent in the booth of the wee club underneath Yang on Queen Street in Glasgow. Pissing off a bouncer by telling him I’d stopped before, like a wee prick, kicking out Derrick May’s Strings of Life; letting things unspool into the endless dark beauty of Human NT by Random Noise Generation; delightedly discovering that Floorplan’s Burner will mix in and out of anything you like; And realising that DJ Funk’s Run (UK) becomes the greatest tune ever at a certain time of night. Aril Brikha’s Groove La’ Chord was one of these too.

I wasn’t then, nor am I now, a particularly great DJ. I suspect I don’t have the patience to be as obsessive as I should be, and I certainly don’t have enough desire to be the centre of attention to want to ever do it on a regular basis, particularly since that seems to be a far more useful talent for a DJ to have nowadays. Nowadays I’ll spend an age messing with the EQ, trying different approaches and actually practicing. Back then I was like a chimp with a toy and if it didn’t work first time the answer was always to smash it and see what happened. Subtly was rare unless I stumbled into it whilst on my way somewhere else and couldn’t get out again. I would have had all those DJ academics with their carefully weighted words and guidelines for ‘the aspiring warm up DJ’ running for the hills. I was a shit DJ then, and I’m a shit DJ now, but at least now I’m the only one who has to suffer.

Put me on later, though, when the mood more closely matched my limited ‘one speed fits all’ skill set (match it, mix it, get as far as way as possible, quick as you can, before it goes tits up) and it was better, especially if I’d been in the place long enough to soak up enough of the atmosphere to begin to understand a bit of what was going on and get the vibe. It also helped that I genuinely cared and loved about the music. In that I was hardly a rarity of course but there have always been technically gifted DJs who seemed little interesting in what they were playing. They were a million times more professional than I could ever hope of being, but their sets always seemed lacking soul.

Boy, I rinsed this. I don’t think it left my bag from the day I bought it until the last time I played. Groove La’ Chord is maybe a tune whose place in the lists of all time great techno tracks has perhaps suffered from the curse of over familiarity. Interestingly, I don’t think it was over exposure to the record itself that was responsible for this, rather it came down to the records that followed it, by a host of producers, which shamelessly aped its style.

And style it has. Rarely has there been a techno record that so completely lives in the moment. There’s really not much there. A beat that kicks with just the right heft, some dirty percussion and a bass that buries itself so low you are barely aware of it until you hear it bursting out on a big system. None of those are reasons for why it keeps you coming back, nor why it was so copied. Nah, the real reasons are those gorgeous shards of radioactive light that pass for chords and the way they endlessly turn themselves over and over and over. Critics have called this a one trick pony. Yeah, it is. But what a trick!

Ok, so I’m maybe not quite as bad a DJ as I’m claiming here, but if I was removed from the records I love, I couldn’t do it. I just don’t have enough interest in DJing as an end in itself to want to bother. But give me those records and I’ll have a go because I want to do them justice. And shit DJ or not, I had the sense to play this. I couldn’t have sucked too badly.

Review: MGUN – Gentium (Don’t Be Afraid)

Of all the elements within Manuel Gonzales’ musical output over the last few years perhaps one of the most important has been that it rarely conforms to whatever romanticized notion of Detroit techno is currently in vogue. There are, of course, plenty of nods and touches resplendent of his native city – as a former member of Underground Resistance’s live band and a sometimes collaborator with Kyle Hall how could there not be – but the overwhelming sense has often been of a producer at his happiest and at his best when he gives free reign to his own unique sound, shaped as it is by an understanding that perhaps the greatest gift a musical heritage can give you – should give you – is the springboard to go beyond it.

It’s also interesting that Mgun’s best work has been furnished across a number of British labels and UK-based partnerships that fit him like a glove. The Trilogy Tapes and Berceuse Heroique come to mind, but his longest and most successful home has been with Ben Semtek’s Don’t Be Afraid where he has formed one of the most exciting takes on modern techno in recent years. It’s a sound that has a strong camaraderie with a profoundly British form of electronic experimentalism, but one that seldom forgets Detroit techno’s greatest lesson is that without soul at the heart of the music, the grooves go nowhere.

Gentium, his first album, represents Mgun’s reemergence after a near two-year period of radio silence. Although many of his sonic fingerprints are apparent, particularly in the directness that comes from his favoured production method of jamming on hardware, there is a greater breadth to the music, and a subtlety that hasn’t always been obvious previously. This isn’t to suggest that he has followed a lot of the techno of recent times in trading snap and flare for something deeper. Gentium certainly does have those moments but even when they come to the fore, such as on the sleepy-eyed opener Pok, they unfurl as touches of grace and warmth hanging in purposeful space, lengthening and stretching out into fragments of gilded melody which recall Drexciya’s lighter and more playful moments. Don’t Hurt Yourself, in comparison, doesn’t so much deepen as submerge the music in a tidal flood of echo and grit where the rare touches of light that penetrate the depth take on an alien quality.

Both of those tracks are good examples of Gentium’s defining mood, which is largely downbeat in nature but with enough optimism to keep it floating in the right place. There is, in fact, a similarity here to the vibes of Hall and Jay Daniel, particularly in Half Past 3’s scratchy moonlit funk or Bed and Breakfast’s tight groove. They work the housier end of the sound, but hang their sense of rough fun on loose experimentalist touches knowing well that any attempt to siphon off the energy which comes from that vital collision would weaken the magic with over familiar conventions. When Mgun lets himself go completely though, such as on the fantastic Veyra, things move up to another level entirely. Veyra is that rarest of things: a slice of freakish, odd angled funk that warps and redefines itself endlessly without ever failing to do the job. It’s both snaked hipped and utterly robotic, an absolute treasure of a tune which will be turning up in a hundred and one mixes over the nest few months.

Veyra’s lunatic abandon aside there is a balancing act on Gentium between the experimental and a more straight ahead approach and it doesn’t always come off. Past Due sounds a collection of loosely linked ideas without common ground, and with too much prominence given to the sullen bass at the expense of the shimmering but overly fragile melody up top. Nobs simply kicks against itself, never allowing anything else to intrude into it’s closed off world. These occasional miss hits can be forgiven though because the album remains, above all, a brilliantly honest one and the blemishes serve to accent how good the rest of it remains. That it is this good is a testament to a musical vision that rarely tips its hat to the transience of faddish scenes and trends, and instead fiercely guards its creator’s deeply individualistic talents. And when you consider how rare that is becoming in modern techno, you realise quite how special Gentium might turn out to be.

Friday Night Tune: Metasplice – Buoyant Slight

When I was about 18 or 19 I read a couple of interviews where the subjects in question banged on about Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. I was bowled over by their love for this album. I had to listen to it. Imagine my excitement when I got my hands on a copy a couple of months later. Imagine my surprise when instead of hearing astounding music I heard a recording of what seemed to be a bunch of self-indulgent old hippies having a practice session whilst shit faced. It wasn’t the transcendent experience I thought I had been promised. It was, however, an eye opener.

The lesson wasn’t exactly profound. At the time I was mostly annoyed about wasting about fifteen notes on a damp squib when I expected a rocket (and I say this knowing full well in how much esteem that record is held in by some people) but it was a useful reminder that just because something lacks convention, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’ll be worth the effort. On the back of this and a few other similar experiences I began to suspect that although you can learn to admire certain types of music, it’s another thing to love it if it’s something you just don’t feel.

Luckily I learned pretty quickly that this was not entirely true. Some music has an immediate impact on the individual listener and some will never do anything other than irritate. But some music just needs the time to work its magic. When I first heard Drexciya I just didn’t get it. It’s not that I disliked them, but any impression they made was lessened by everything else I was hearing around them. Eventually, through repeated exposure to them, people I respected constantly talking about them, and – perhaps most importantly – hearing them played with enough space and context for the music to do its thing, I fell in love with them. I can’t imagine not loving Drexciya now.

It should be easier, given modern technology and the Internet, to come to conclusions quicker than in the past but I’m not sure it is. the ubiquitous minute long audio clip would have been ten times longer than I needed to know that Captain Beefheart pushed all the wrong buttons, but what about Drexciya? I wonder. Chances are I would a minute of airtime would have done nothing other than lead me to missing out on an important part of my life. At the very least it would have taken me far longer. I also wonder how much great music I’ve avoided because of initial reactions to a short clip?

Not too much, I hope. I’ve a pretty good network going these days; a healthy mix of friends and acquaintances who know their shit, stumbling over stuff online, and recommendations from record store bods keeps me good. Mostly this is no different from the way it’s always been. It’s just faster now, and possibly more complete. Metasplice’s Topographical Interference EP was one I bough unheard, having had a couple of people talk it up to me. For a long while I suspected it was going down the Beefheart road – harsh electronics that seemed to do nothing more than loop back pointlessly on themselves, full of their own cleverness. Unpleasant and self-indulgent.

But then, I’m not sure why, I stuck it on one afternoon and something clicked. I’d listened to it a few times but perhaps had never given it enough space. I could hear the way that everything came together. The grooves I had though non-existent were there, coaxed out from the noise until they came to the forefront. And the noise itself separated into different elements, each falling into their proper place.

We only have a few short years of hanging around on this rock, and there isn’t enough time to listen to shit music. There’s barely enough time to listen to all the good stuff. But sometimes it pays to put prejudice aside and just listen. Even if it the music really is shit, you’ll be one up on where you were before. I told you the lesson wasn’t exactly profound, didn’t I? As for Trout Mask Replica I’ve tried a couple of times over the years to see whether I could fathom what I was supposed to be missing. Nope, it’s still a bunch of wank, folks, but at least I know for sure.