Friday Night Tune: Ttrax – Weekend

Bloody hell, that was a long week. Snow, freezing weather, a sore back and an increasingly unpleasant working environment all added up to big, fat bulb of bastardry. I’m not the only one; I expect the one thing most of us have in common, regardless of who we are, what we are and where we are, is for the weekend to roll into view once again.

Weekends don’t carry the same promise that they used to for me. They’re not lessened in any way, but they have a different use, a different meaning now. I don’t spend my Friday or Saturday nights in clubs anymore – you hit a certain age, I think, and the attraction to darkness, dry ice, and weirdly sticky carpets drops off. I still go out – sometimes – I just have to choose my battles with more care than I once did. In actual fact this isn’t a major hardship. Yeah, I miss stuff I expect I would have loved, but I enjoy the occasions I do make a lot more, especially if the team are out in force (itself a rarity these days.)

I also think differently about how other people go about their weekends. Partly this change in thinking is down to being less up my own arse about how people who aren’t me choose to spend their own time. I hopefully understand what folks want from the Friday night in a way I never appreciated until I worked every hour of the week. Where I would have once lamented people choosing to throw money at some big name DJ playing in a colossal venue, I get that need now. I’ve heard people being slagged off for wanting to go and see big timers like Carl Cox, and being criticized because they don’t want to spend the few hours of freedom listening to the unlistenable, by attending some show of grinding noise that believes its own sense of self-importance elevates it above everyone else’s tastes.

The fact is that for most people Friday night isn’t about educating themselves musically. It’s about getting messy and having a laugh. It’s about having a few drinks, a dance and – hopefully -copping off with someone. It’s a method of dealing with the torrent of shit they put themselves through every week, and when they go out to a club, they don’t necessarily want to focus on musical sophistication, they want a sure thing, a safe pair of hands who will soundtrack a few hours of escapism. I suspect this is what those of us who are obsessive about the music tend forget all too easily, even when it’s probably what we ourselves need to do more often.

I’m not sure who Ttrax is. I think it’s mostly Tommy ‘Tom Tom’ Hamilton from Aux 88 but I can’t be positive. I’ve looked high and low but this is the only Ttrax tune I’ve ever been able to find, which is a real shame because it’s a gem. It comes from the very overlooked Technobass: The Mission compilation which was released on Direct Beat back in 1998. It’s a great compendium of that particular form of electro which blasted out of Detroit in the mid 90s and featured tunes from Electric Soul, Alien FM, and Aux 88 themselves amongst others. But as great as all the other trax are, Weekend is the real standout. It doesn’t sound like anything else to have ever come under the technobass umbrella. Instead it rides out as a superheated blast of mutant funk, melting your bad mood away with its sultry groove and an absolutely on point vocal from Courtney that just utterly perfectly sums up that feeling we all have whether we admit to it or not. In its own way, this is electro-house the way the idea of electro-house should be: hard yet graceful, and totally alive. It’s a shame that this was the only Ttrax track. I’d love to hear more jams like this.

It’s Friday night. It’s the weekend. Where’s the party at?

Review: DJ Overdose – Dead City (Berceuse Heroique)

Recent releases by Overdose have been up there with some of the most consistently exciting music of the last couple of years. Last year’s House Jam Freakier got, as far as I’m concerned, a weirdly subdued reaction from people I can only assume didn’t know their shit because it was a rocker, especially Vinca which was a dollop of scuzzy, dirty high-tech soul that had fallen off the space rocket and into the gutter. Likewise, Hero’s Gone Mental on L.I.E.S was a real eye opener, the title track a brilliant slab of phasing madness which took old school D&B and sloooooooowed it the hell down until it began to unravel at the edges.

Dead City propels itself in a different direction, and is an unexpected turn from both the producer and the label. That’s not to knock it, because there is a fair amount of quality shenanigans on offer, but it’s a record that seems slicker and maybe even quirkier than we are perhaps used to.

Largely, it’s the two cuts of Sorry To Disappoint which provide the departure from the recent Overdose sound. The producer himself has a lifelong love of hiphop, and it’s a vibe strongly on show here. His own mix of Sorry To Disappoint is a thickly sleek low-riding summer jam built of stripped down yet rugged beats that marshal the warm swirls of hazy, dusky melody around to excellent effect. At least at first, because as it unfolds it slowly begins to warp, taking on stranger hues from murky vocoded vox, and tricking out the low-rider with little snaps of Dutch electro trickery, drawing out moods and spinning the listener back on themselves. OB Ignett’s mix seems at first to stay well within the boundaries of the original, straying only a little from its slow bop, and only ratcheting the tempo upwards a little with a more insistent 4/4. And then without warning it begins to climb, stretching and mashing the tune until it redefines itself as a deep and exploratory house burner with some wicked bass. It’s a classy take on the art of the remix, to stamp your own personality on it without losing sight of the original funk.

The title track feels almost incidental to the hazy grooves of Sorry To Disappoint, blitzing the listener with wild frequencies and crunching drums. It takes a while to sort out the shards of sounds, interrupted as they are by an occasional randomness that borders on musical free-association. But even as you try to make sense of it, the grooves are bubbling up from underneath, latching onto the wild pitches and coiling around the slow, almost ambling, yet heavy breaks, turning into the rawer, moody flipside of Sorry To Disappoint’s tough, yet hazy energy.

I’ve always thought April was a deceptive month – fooling you into thinking that Summer is only just around the corner even while the late snow freezes your nuts off. There is a similar trick played here. It lulls you into thinking that it’s all about the warmth, a sort of west coast Saturday night cruise. When you get down to it though, there is a darker undercurrent – one that provides the mettle to the record’s winsome funk. It might be the poppiest thing that we’ve had from either Overdose or Berceuse Heroique – and there is something deliciously subversive about that, way more than any amount of contemporary noise can manage. Messing with your expectations and your head with some proper old school grooves.

Friday Night Tune: Dopplereffekt – Infophysix

I hadn’t heard this in years, and it might have been even longer if I hadn’t heard it in a supermarket recently. Yeah, I’m serious. The ability to customise ringtones has been less of a blessing than its inventors probably imagined. Everyone has been stuck on a train, in a lift or some other freaky, claustrophobic space totally at the mercy of whatever cacophony of wank some self defined ‘wacky’ soul has decided to subject us too. For years it was that bloody frog thing chirping out its inane, insane bollocks to everyone cursed by having to maneuver around modern life. The idea that you could use music took off slowly. It wasn’t easy at first, and even now it’s probably quicker to throw a few quid at someone to do your thinking for you. Personally, I’m sure I annoyed a few people when I had Didgeridoo by the Aphex Twin on my phone. I certainly scared more than a couple of pensioners with that one.

But hearing Infophysix uncoil across the aisles from someone’s smart phone was a real moment of unexpected excitement. Not so much for the weird location, but because I was suddenly reminded of how much I love this track, and Dopplereffekt’s music in general. For those of you who don’t know the history, Dopplereffekt was the (at first) side project of Drexciya’s Gerald Donald, and were a band almost as era defining in their own way as Drexciya had been. While the main act were heavy in their take on Afrofuturism, and their own alternate reality, Dopplereffekt were wired on themes of science, mixed into a far tighter Kraftwerkian step than was common at the time. More robotic than Drexciya, perhaps more intellectual in the music’s meanings than the bulk of the far more up-front techno bass that was doing the rounds, Dopplereffekt were – perhaps paradoxically – a breath of fresh air in the way they seemed to mine electronica’s past. They were, to coin a phrase, less Afrofuturistic than retrofuturistic.

The thing about Dopplereffekt’s music, particularly back then, and especially in comparison with what Drexciya and the technobass crowd were doing, was that it always felt lighter and more playful. Well, maybe not always, but there was a certain attitude on display when it came to tracks like Pornoactress, Scientist or Speak and Spell which was very much at odds with the over serious nature of a lot of techno and electro of the time. Other tunes, such as Sterilization or Superior Race may have been a little more brutal with their themes but the music – replete with those mentioned Kraftwerkian influences subtly altered for contemporary usage, and with an extra dose of Donald’s trademark funk – tended to push worries about context to the side. Even if you understood them in the first place.

Infophysix is perhaps an even rarer thing, and of all the electronic music to come out of Detroit I can’t think of many tunes which were more poppy. It’s a summery track, breezy and immediate in its effect. The only other tune I can remember being as straight up fun is Drexciya’s Sea Snake, another track with builds itself up with a happy-go-lucky atmosphere. Infophysix is a slightly different beast, though. While it seems warm and flighty, it’s a potent brew of skyward melodies and scattering beats which carries a wistfulness not often found in electro, often a colder, less organic genre than most. Even more astounding to me is that I still think after all these years if you had dropped a diva’s warble over the top, you may well have had a major hit there.

Dopplereffekt have been frustratingly quiet in recent years, although a scattering of releases since 2013 have given rise to hope something – anything – might begin to happen again. Electro itself is hitting a high it hasn’t come close to equalling since the 90s, and with interest in Gerald Donald’s various guises, in the work of his partner James Stintson, and in Drexciya, perhaps at a greater level than it has ever been, maybe now is the time to show the young pretenders how the old master rolls.

Special Feature: My Life In Clubs – Semtek (Don’t Be Afraid)

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Don’t Be Afraid has emerged in the last couple of years, alongside the likes of Hessle Audio, Numbers, Berceuse Heroique and Livity Sound, as one of a handful of contemporary labels to continue in the grand British electronic tradition of refusing to allow themselves to be pigeon-holed into one particular sound. Seemingly never happier than when they’re mixing things up, they’ve recently brought us a pair of excellent DJ Bone 12″s (under his Differ-ent guise), some morphic experimentalism from the always exciting Herva, and the brilliant debut album from Detroit alumnus Mgun amongst plenty of other quality moments. And we’ve got label head Semtek right here to share some of his favourite clubbing memories ahead of the label’s May-day party with the Front Left Life collective.

The DBA-FLL party on May Day will, in the best traditions of the London party scene, be held at a secret location which will only be revealed to ticket holders on the day of the event. Get involved in the mystery right now for a ten spot. For booking and more information check out their FB page right here , then head over here to get your grubby little hands on one of the fast dwindling tickets.

Ok, folks, It’s over to Semtek!

James Lavelle @ That’s How It Is, London 1996

Keb Darge DJing at Bar Rumba nightclub London.

Keb Darge DJing at Bar Rumba nightclub London.

We had heard of Bar Rumba from visiting record shops in Soho like Fat Cat and Mr. Bongo, and one Bank Holiday during the summer of 1996 we found ourselves there after a long day wandering around the Notting Hill Carnival. It so happened that at the time Gilles Peterson was running his popular Monday night session. James Lavelle was playing a mixture of ambient drum & bass and instrumental hip hop and there was practically nobody there. I recall trying to hide my jacket behind the chairs by the dancefloor because we didn’t know what a cloakroom was. It attracted some odd looks. We didn’t drink anything at the expensive bar and we didn’t need to – at that age the experience was so new to us that the pure adrenaline was plenty to keep us dancing. It was the first time I heard Peshay – The Real Thing which appeared on Headz 2.

DJ Bone for Hessle Audio @ Fabric, London 2014

We signed DJ Bone as Differ-Ent during 2014 and shortly afterwards it was announced he was touring the UK, with a major date at Fabric for the Hessle Audio night its centerpiece. Fabric has experienced a mix of press over the years but, despite the inevitable drawbacks of its superclub status, it would be impossible to write any history of London nightlife without mentioning it. The Hessle Audio Friday night at Fabric was an adventurous residency, and frequently you would find them sharing a bill with drum and bass promotions like Metalheadz. It was a happy mixture of UK music free from the limitations of the club’s Saturday night programming. I recall turning up on the night and wandering into the Metalheadz room where Om Unit was playing Capone – Paradise, a personal favourite from the Hardleaders label, before proceeding to the main arena where Levon Vincent’s Impressions Of A Rainstorm was dropping. Bone’s set had been pushed back to 4am in order that the club could be drained of those perhaps less interested in the music than in the drinking, and the effect was that by the time he played it really did feel like a room full of friends with Bone at the controls cutting between his own Latin-tinged brand of techno and the classic sound of Detroit. I recall emerging into the sunlight with Clerkenwell silent and brooding on a Saturday, reflecting that however hard anybody tries, the experience of spending the night out dancing to techno in the center of London will never quite be matched.

The Last Night Of Metalheadz @ Bluenote, London 1998

Clubbers at the Blue Note nightclub in Hoxton Square, London, UK

Clubbers at the Blue Note nightclub in Hoxton Square, London, UK

People talk about Metalheadz as being some sort of musical education but that’s an exaggeration. It was just a really good party with great music in the type of venue which East London used to be well-known for. At the time Hoxton Square was effectively a beacon of cultural activity in an otherwise dead area. There were a few record labels on Curtain Road, such as Pacific Records, and there was an excellent cinema on the square itself but otherwise it was a wasteland. We had been regulars at Metalheadz throughout the later part of ‘96 and the early part of ’97 so much that we knew the door and bar staff by name. Goldie’s innovation was attracting a young hip London crowd to drum n bass who had been put off by more lively but also more dangerous events like Roast. Given the choice I would give up having been to Metalheadz entirely to have gone once to Roast or AWOL at the Paradise but we were too young at the time they were active. The thick smoke and sweat dripping off the ceiling on the last night meant that you couldn’t really tell who was playing but I recall Watching Windows (Gnarly Mix) almost demolishing the place whilst Mark and Clayton from TOV / Renegade Hardware stood by the decks discussing business as if none of it was happening.

Reclaim The Beach @ The Thames, London 2004

At some point in the mid-noughties a group of enterprising young types decided that it would be a good idea to throw a party on the river Thames during low tide in front of the South Bank Centre. It’s odd to think that this was ever possible as in today’s climate of conservative fear and mistrust a party like this would probably end up on the front of the Daily Mail. The premise of the party was that a bar and soundsystem would be set up as the tide went out and the dancefloor would expand outwards, then as the tide came back in the dancefloor would recede with the speakers and bar eventually being hoisted back onto dry land. Miraculously nobody ever died at any of these parties but that wasn’t for want of trying: on this occasion we decided it would be fun to climb up inside Waterloo bridge using a crate to make our way from the edge of the water to the bottom of a service ladder which extends down one of the near struts. We succeeded in reaching the top of the strut where we were able to turn on and off the lights inside the bridge – something approaching but perhaps not achieving total control of London and its infrastructure. Needless to say we spent far too long doing this and failed to anticipate the fast receding tide and our diminishing sobriety. Even this near death experience does not redeem the fact Mylo – Drop The Pressure was playing when we returned to dry land, but sometimes the least important aspect of a party is the music.

Laurent Garnier @ Last Night Of The End, London 2009

Dancefloor at Trash The End night club London

Dancefloor at Trash The End night club London

As dubstep was emerging between 2003 and 2009, the sound of house and techno became notably awful with both minimal and electro having been wrung-dry for ideas by unscrupulous producers. It was easy at that time to forget that 4/4 music had ever sounded any good, despite some of the more interesting noises that were starting to come out of Detroit and Leipzig. When The End announced it was closing few were surprised, with London’s recession economy surviving solely on the ongoing buoyancy of the property market. In a way though, this presented a unique opportunity to look back on the best of the noughties and simultaneously exorcise some of its musical demons. Laurent Garnier headlined the final night with the bill otherwise filled by residents like Mr. C, and Layo & Bushwacka. I had never seen Garnier play and what I had heard about his sets – that he played jazzy jungle sometimes alongside French electronic classics – hadn’t predisposed me to him but on the night itself it was the perfect reminder of why dance music is great. I recall a bunch of hardened Essex gangsters handing out pills to the crowd whilst The Chase played out at 10am on the Sunday morning with Danny Rampling going crazy on the dancefloor next to us. Although he did eventually ruin the whole thing by playing half an hour of DJ Marky tunes, it also felt like a timely nod to the importance of d’n’b for the venue so all is forgiven.

Review: Primary Node – My Part In This Downfall (Acroplane)

As a centre for electronic music Belfast continues to impress. Like Glasgow, Sheffield and Leeds, Belfast is fast turning into one of those hard wee towns that you can count on for some proper quality techno shenanigans, furnishing us with music that is refreshingly removed in attitude and style from the big cities like London and Berlin. In many ways, the output of these smaller and, perhaps, more inclusive electronica communities, are where the underground really shines.

My Part In This Downfall, seemingly the debut release by Irish Duo Primary Node, is perhaps symbolic of this. It’s not an album which gives much quarter, nor does it pander to the current received wisdom that states in forging techno,the overriding aim must be to always get deeper. That said, My Part… stays well away from full on techno bobbins, preferring instead to blend a sound that mixes IDM, electro, and ambient touches with more straight up methods.

Part of what is interesting here is the way that it feels resolutely old-school, harking back to an era when techno, as an art form, had yet to become as heavily codified as it is today. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t have it’s share of bangers. Sainted, for example, nods its head more than once at the sort of thing which used to be Surgeon’s bread and butter; a vigorous 4/4 goading on a swelter of morphing tones puts it right out there towards that end of the firmament. Or at least it seems to on first listen. The fact is that there is a lot going on beyond providing simple dancefloor fodder, with rogue frequencies smashing into each other with the intensity of particles in the Hadron Collider. Akras’ sleek, thickly acidic fun lays its mood squarely on the heritage of a generation of early nineties throbbers, translating itself from the here and now into the sort of sharp footed beats Djax used to specialize in.

Even these tracks though, which are easier to place somewhere within techno’s long history, rarely allow themselves to succumb too much to their heritage. When I say that it feels old-school, what I really mean is that the album’s approach to its sound is far more open to experimentalism than you tend to find nowadays, that it is far more interested in seeing what roads the sound lead you down. While there are elements of old Rephlex style sounds here and there, My Part… probably has more in common with the individualistic take on electronica by such artists as Container, particularly with the way in which many of the tunes draw their strength and energy not from the repetition of a small collection of sounds, carefully worked unto death, but mostly in the intricacy of their rhythms, and the way they coil around the rest of the music.

GNXN bucks out serious heat with a deadly combination of a rubbery funky acid line, and a beat that starts of fractured before pulling itself together here and there. HX comes very close to beating out a similar furious step as Container attained on his last album, and the whole track is one long, glorious explosion of rhythmic invention with little to get in the way of the magic being worked. It also pulls at the same sort of flare for dark side hi-jinx we’ve begun to see from a slew of producers like Bruce and Gramcry – mutant techno that is far more informed by shards of jungle and dubstep than anything blatted out by Berghain. Central Control, however, is up there with some of the finest electro I’ve heard in a while – a scintillating burst of evolving mechanical mayhem that weaves in an out of reality.

It’s not a warm album, and not one that is aimed at easy peak time functionality. Those are not drawbacks, but it will require a bit of brain tuning before you get right in there. And while I think that there are a couple too many short, loose, ambient interludes, and that they detract slightly from the albums overall pulse, they still provide just enough of a pause before you’re dragged back into the madness again. As debuts go, this is pretty impressive stuff.