Best Of The Represses May 2016

Another month, another slightly disappointing gang of represses. Even so, there are just about enough great returns to make you crack a smile. And with summer just around the corner, these three fizzing slabs of wax should be more than ample to kick off your sunny soundtrack. Get them in before the rain comes back.

Anthony Naples – RAD001 (Rubadub)

Although this only came out for the first time in 2013, it seems to have been around for a lot longer. The first release on Glasgow institution Rubadub’s own (still far too occasional) label saw Anthony Naples cement his reputation as a genuine new house talent. Although he’d already released the great Mad Disrespect 12″ on Mr Saturday Night, this one was better in every way, carrying within its grooves some utterly sublime tunes. While there are very few people who would argue that the music on offer is visionary, it does exactly what you always want it to by magnifying the mood before distilling it down to a pure hit of emotional hand-in-the-air gorgeousness in a way that only a tiny amount of house producers seem willing to do nowadays. Pick of the bunch is Ill Still – a marvel of slow grooving energy that fuels its movement with delight and wonder. Both Naples and Rubadub have moved on from here but it remains a genuine high water mark for both. House music as it should be.

VA – Detroit: Techno City (430 West)

The two Detroit: Techno City EPs are rightly hailed as classics, with each of them serving up some of the best tunage to emerge from under the 430 West banner. Unfortunately, that’s not what we get here. Instead, it seems like the weird licensing situation 430 West seem have landed themselves with strikes once again as the two original records are stripped down of tracks to the point this new press becomes a sort of ‘not quite best of’ compilation. In real terms it means we lose the brilliance of Missing Channel’s Deadly Spell, Optic Nerve’s class mix of Alien FM’s Infinity, and Unknown Forces’ Exposure. What is important to point out though is that while all of this might add up to a killer blow for anyone else, there are plenty of outright thrills still to be had, even if it’s a lot more Burden brothers-centric than it once was. Everyone will know the pair of Octave One belters on this, especially Eniac, but the real gems are the two Never On Sundays tracks, particularly the gorgeous, flute haunted shimmer of Memories Of You which still sends a chill down the spine in a way that few techno tracks can. Another tasty re-release from 430 West, the tragic cull of great tunes excepted.

G Strings – Land Of Dreams (Seventh Sign)

A real deep underground Chicago gem this one. Originally out at the beginning of the 90s, and reissued again a few years back, The Land Of Dreams exists in that realm between sleep and wakefulness. Slowly unfurling melodies, the wonkiest of synths and some proper rolling perc build as the records runs, delivering a gang of tripped out jackers that just hang there in their own twilight. First released on the very short-lived G Strings label there has long been a mystery as to who the producer is, although rumour has it that Ron Trent is the man with the sleepy magic in his eyes. Not that it matters; what’s important is that The Land Of Dreams remains, after more than a quarter of a century, one of the most blissful house records committed to vinyl. Even with our modern obsession with ‘deep’ music, this still sounds like a well of house delights which leads straight down to the soul.

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Review: Mike Parker and Haiku – Inkblots #3 (Inkblots)

Mike Parker and Haiku: Inkblots #3 – Inkblots

Mike Parker has long had certain marmite qualities. For his many fans, his careful take on electronica is the logical endpoint for a style of techno in which the orchestration of sounds are paramount. For others, this theoretical seeming approach often seems to leave the music sounding strangely dry and lacking in soul. In either case, he is undoubtedly the fulcrum of a scene which encompasses the likes of Developer, Rödhöd, and Truncate – each of them similar masters of precise movement.

Inkblots #3 is essentially a repress of a record from the end of last year that had such a limited release (50 copies) you could easily be forgiven if you missed it. The four tracks are split between Parker and label head Haiku, with both producers furnishing us with their take on a sound that trades on a particular strand of hypnotica – one that makes much of its clean lines and a certain economy of emotional rawness.

Of course, that does not tell the whole story even though it is a useful summation to keep in mind as the record unfolds. Parker’s two tunes, Luminescent Black and Vorticular Movement both make a virtue out of a sort of convention which is not so often heard anymore as techno fractured along evolutionary fault lines created by soaking up near three decades of influence and shifting tastes. While that suggests a certain old-fashioned approach, it isn’t that clear-cut; the simple fact is that both tunes are about as modern as you will find, relying on a sort of aural trickery very few people were doing ten years ago let alone right back at the Big Techno Bang. The music depends heavily not on its own totality, its own overall meaning or emotion, but on the technical details, the interplay of tiny, almost inaudible changes in frequency down in the sub strata.

Vorticular Movement benefits from this approach the most even though, paradoxically, it needs it least. While Luminescent Black finds itself in prime Parker territory, it doesn’t do much but go from one end to the other, eschewing drama for a stately, stout barrage of momentum that is all horizontal and little vertical. Vorticular Movement cuts out much of its predecessor’s superfluous thought processes and lowers itself towards the guts. There isn’t much here other than a kick and a grumpy throb of bass that wavers and wobbles but the effect is more dramatic, delivering a dose of the energy Luminescent Black was sorely in need of.

Haiku’s side of the record is looser, darker, and more brutal, working best as blasts of dense atmosphere. The Blood Splattered Bride, reminiscent of some of the more exploratory 4/4 to come out of LIES over the last couple of years, might be the more functional of the two, but gets the bit between its teeth early. It has some of the same preoccupation with the place of the tiny, tonal shifts that the Parker tunes do, but better sets them to into the music, using them far more overtly as a directional guide.

Showdown At The House Of Blues angles the tune at a deep internal space, stretching out hints of synths with odd wurlitzer colouring and filling them into the spaces between the solid bedrock of the almost tribal kicks. While it lacks something of a killer touch, seemingly happy enough at times to trade its bite for a (very effective) bark, it nevertheless conjures up a potent storm of psycho-electronica.

Friday Night Tune Holiday Special – Pick Of The Mixes

The evolution of DJing has been one long and incredibly hilarious sequence of beautiful mistakes, wanton stupidity and embarrassing shows of misplaced entitlement. It almost perfectly encapsulates Henry Kissinger’s old maxim that the reason student politics is taken so seriously is precisely because of how little it matters. Who would have thought that we would have reached a point in musical history where grown men and women are paid more money than the presidents of medium-sized European nations to play two records together at the same time – or, occasionally, have someone else do it for them whilst they look ‘tired and emotional’? I certainly didn’t. And yet, here we are.

DJing has a weird knack of mattering to people. Sometimes that can be fun, such as when it pisses musicians off. Many of them don’t understand why folks would rather watch some goofball playing other peoples tunes and hamming it up behind a pair of CDJs when they could be watching a bald head barely moving behind a bank of MIDI ports. It’s not just the synth botherers who get angsty – DJing even winds DJs up nowadays, particularly since all these new fangled methods of playing two tunes together at a matching speed has brought our music to its own ‘Dylan goes electric’ moment. Older DJs’ – the sort whose hands smell of a crust of wax and dust formed by literally days of fingering grotty boxes up in the sort of second-hand shops your mum gave all your grandda’s Jimmy Shand LPs to after he past away – often seem flummoxed and upset that other DJs no longer want to haul 300lb sacks of easily damaged and very expensive vinyl around with them any more.

Conversely, digital DJs seem strangely annoyed by vinyl DJs love of black disks and old-fashioned mixing techniques – a state of affairs which has led to the phrase ‘remixing on the fly’ being deployed by those who feel secretly furious and emasculated by not being able to manually beat-match. They also get really fucked off when you point out ‘remixing on the fly’ mean pressing a button to play a shite hi-hat sample over the sort of minimal nonsense even Ritchie Hawtin would laugh at. For many of these DJs, no matter what side of the line they hail from, it is frequently the format that seems to matter. Many of them don’t seem to even acknowledge the importance of music in what they do. Forget about them, friends, for they are divs.

Of course, there are other sorts of DJs, the ones who play great tunes in a manner which makes you go utterly mental and dream of being a DJ when you grow up. It doesn’t matter what format they play on. Often it doesn’t matter how good their technical skills are. They have the golden touch, the knack of playing the best music at the best time, and neither fashion nor bell-ends have a hold over them. They are why DJing is loved, why it is sometimes considered an art form. Lean closer, dear reader, for some of these DJs, the cream of the crop, are to be found below….

I’m going on holiday for a week or two, so Friday Night Tune (and everything else) will be taking a brief break. I’ve had to cut back on the blog writing a wee bit over recent weeks due to real world demands but, when I get back, it’ll be regular service resumed. In the meantime, and exactly like last time I went on holiday and needed some of my trademarked cheap and easy content, I’ve chosen some knock out mixes that I’ll be taking with me. This isn’t all of them, obviously, but represent a few of my current favourites. Listen to these, follow the artists, and reject the fakes. Special shout outs also to mixes by Marco Bernardi (his La Cheetah mix), Dez Williams (his In Disarray mix), Mark Forshaw (his own ace series) and a bunch of others for keeping me sane recently.

DJ Overdose – Freaks On The Floor (Side A) For Berceuse Heroique

Berceuse Heroique’s mad as a box of badgers podcast series will be coming to an end in June after a run in which they seemed to have stuck a new mix out every few hours. If there was a theme, it was insanity, and if there was a house sound it was that same insanity made frequency. Of the many brilliant entries, the mixes by Gramcry and DJ Persuasion are proper stand outs, as is this one from Dutch electro mentalist DJ Overdose. Slamming through electro, Miami Bass, hip house and what seem to be every bit of Class-A electronic filth released over the last 30 years, this is a proper monster of a mix. Go and listen. And then wash your hands.

DJ Bone…Attacks! DJ Bone Live In Detroit 1998

It’s funny that DJ Bone is finally beginning to get the recognition he so thoroughly deserves when his reputation for many years has been so solid. One of the finest DJs to ever come from Detroit, this mix is just about the perfect example of exactly how to find soul, beauty, and emotion in a box of hard techno records you’re playing at light speed. Bone is one of the true greats, and if this mix doesn’t convince you of that you are probably dead inside.

Helena Hauff – Phormix Podcast #40

Hauff’s upwards trajectory has looked like a moonshot recently. The Golden Pudel resident started making her name as a producer with snarling and funky releases on Panzerkreuze and Werk Disks, and her debut album, Discrete Desires burned every mind it touched with its mix of jackbeat, EBM, acid and stuff that doesn’t even have a proper name. But it’s the DJing which made Hauff’s reputation as one of the most thrillingly original jockeys around, and this superb podcast brilliantly showcases her skills and taste with an hour of hard, fluid, and mutant electroid funk.

DJ Stingray – Dekmantel Podcast

What can I say about Stingray that I haven’t already said? Always a brilliant DJ, he seems to have taken his undoubted chops to a new level recently. He alights on Dekmantel’s great and increasingly vital podcast series with a mix which takes in some real classic electro along side some newer bangers. Herva, ERP’s sublime remix of Hardfloor, Dexter and all else flow from that incendiary opening shot of Drexciya’s Wavejumper. Hard, on point, and a lesson in brutal no-bullshit funk.

Derrick May Live In London 1993

OK, from my end it doesn’t seem like the embedded player works, but just click on it and listen to it on its own page. If you don’t – and this is something I don’t say lightly – it’s your loss. Nearly 25 years later this remains my favourite mix of all time. I can’t even imagine where my tastes, or my interests, would have gone if I hadn’t heard it. While it might be overegging the pudding to say it changed my life, it certainly had a profound effect. Simply put, this is Derrick May DJing in London, with a box of cracking records, at the top of his game and absolutely going for it in a mix that takes in Jam and Spoon, The Martian, Lil Louis, Robert Hood and Green Velvet. The way he turns all of the takes of Lil Louis Music Takes You Away into a demented megamix still turns my brains to mush. The best. The very, very, very best.

Review: Social Service – SS1 (Motion Ward)

Although it seems that hazy, worn down house has taken a bit of a battering over the last year or so, it hasn’t entirely vanished altogether. While there has been a recent burst in techno which delights in rave and breakbeat, and a resurgence of house which swaps out introspection for far more hedonistic thrills, there are still one or two acts out there who are sticking to their guns when it comes to more subtle creations.

LA producer Social Service debuts on Motion Ward with the label’s inaugural vinyl release, following on from last year’s tape by Brown Irvin. There is a theme emerging here in terms of Motion Ward’s sound, and it’s one that leans heavily towards a dusky, late night vibe which trades on loose grooves and looser melodies. Social Service’s take on this theme is one that fits in pretty well, but it’s also one that takes it time to get going. Although SS1 does eventually build into some fine, rather frayed, funk, it begins slowly and tips its hat a little too often at the sort of jagged yet muffled shadow play the likes of Patricia have made their own.

I can’t really fault this too much. I’m a pretty big fan of the likes of Patricia or Florian Kupfer myself. But while closely following the surface noise is one thing, you need to have an internal logic all of your own to provide something unique, and although the first tracks of SS1 flow convincingly enough, they lack much on the way of what you would hope are Social Service’s own fingerprints. Starlight is pretty enough, with its glinting, stretched out pads, but it never forms up, always remaining indistinct and unable to fully convince. Chamber explores a similarly charming netherworld, but stretches itself too thin over it’s near ten minute running time, its laconic percussion always threatening to take a breather and let the rest of the tune go on ahead. The biggest problem is that it seems unsure whether it wants to be a far traveling, hypnotic number, or something more concise and cute. In the end it doesn’t really get onboard for either destination.

It takes until the grittier fun of Late Feeling for things to really start coming together. Darker hued, more playful, and aided by the stern jack of a coiled, robotic bass which gives the tune a distinct and essential focus, the record begins to come to life. It’s a great tune; flighty, airy, yet with more groove and heart than both of the first two tunes put together. Stolen brings SS1 out of its shell still further. Bigger, brasher, and with the more cosmic touches relegated to support duties it shifts itself with new-found confidence. It doesn’t really hit the same mark as Late Feeling, but its a rather different beast, eschewing the former’s almost proto-acidic adventures for something more akin to 80s high-concept pop which, at times, even seems to roll the ghost of Talking Heads into the mix. Hex, the closer, is a beatless foray into deep space lunacy, hanging far above the other tunes and constantly morphing, bubbling away with its own sense of delighted strangeness.

It’s a record that works better as it warms to its themes, but even the first two tracks will get plenty of airtime from certain parts of the scene. The truth is, though, that it is in the later trinity of tracks that Social Service finds something to call his own. Perhaps more importantly it is in these tracks, in Late Feeling and Stolen especially, we can glimpse something really worth building upon.

Friday Night Tune: Robert Hood – Who Taught You Math

Every so often, if you are lucky, you get to experience something which changes your perception of music. Sometimes it’s a subtle thing; a slow reinterpretation of how you process the music, its place within the greater scheme, or your relationship with it. Other times it hits you with the force of a jack hammer, forever, irrevocably, altering your tastes.

I was only vaguely aware of Robert Hood when I first heard his solo work. The name was familiar – I knew he’s been involved in Underground Resistance, and a handful of projects with Jeff Mills, but that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge. Both Mills and Mike Banks occupied a far bigger space in my musical knowledge at the time. Hood remained a far more shadowy figure, one out on the fringes of my techno understanding. I had heard that he was doing ‘minimalist’ techno, but that term meant nothing to me in a musical sense. I hadn’t really been one for exploring grand traditions of the avant-garde. I was – and I remain – a fairly simple creature. I like watching war movies when I’m hung over. I like listening to the football on a Saturday afternoon, and I tend to like music that connects with me on an emotional, visceral level rather than anything requiring too much thought. The last thing I wanted was some difficult concept getting in the way of my Friday night decadence.

It was an idiot worry. I got my hands on a copy of Hood’s Internal Empire and got a great deal of that inverted musical snobbery knocked out of me on the first listen. Well, perhaps the second or third listen because the truth was I had little idea what I had just heard, and in actual fact it scared me a little. Some of his slightly later material (Minimal Nation, or the Movable Parts stuff) would take this basic minimalist framework and refine it, distill it, even further, but Internal Empire was the master-key which forever unlocked a new way of understanding what techno could be.

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll argue until the day I die that Hood’s take on minimalist techno has little to do with what later became minimal, and even less to do with the latter’s further incarnation as something that veered closer to tech-house than anything coming from Detroit. Hood’s sound ( and I know I’ve also said this before) was breathtakingly naked; He took a scalpel to the music, and left nothing but furious grooves wired together with a tiny handful of the most essential components. In some ways it was less about being minimal than creating a sound that was the embodiment of a straight-edge ethos – but one that was transplanted into the fabric of the music rather than providing a code to live your life by.

Of course, Hood’s music evolved as time passed. His emerging Floorplan material was far more conventional than the abstract sounds released under his own name, and it seems to be something he has become interested in pursuing more and more, fusing gospel and disco touches to the basic framework. As for his harder material, it has evolved also; sometimes growing harder, others more introspective. And that’s the thing about Hood which remains important. You might not particularly like some of the directions he has chosen over the last 25 year, but you can never accuse him of standing still, of trading on past glories. And that’s not something you can say about a lot of the old guard.

I’ve not gone for one of those original minimalist tracks tonight, surprisingly. Who Taught You Math, from 2002’s Shonky In The Hood is a criminally underrated Hood tune – one of his very finest in fact. But it isn’t the stripped down, abstracted assassin of old. While it has elements in common with his previous form, it reworks the groove to do something very different. It becomes a piece of deep space dancehall, gliding weightlessly, and transforming into joyous machine soul. It is one of the funkiest, warmest and most playful tracks Hood ever released, and while it aims itself towards the future, the melody is as pure a paean to Detroit techno’s unique blend of beauty, muscle, and history as you will ever find. It is, I think, one of the last of the truly great tracks to emerge from Detroit’s period of techno dominance. Sit back and listen to the Master Builder work.