Best Of The Represses – June 2016

….In which the scribe grins stupidly at a bona fide classic, stomps along with a pair of hard steppin’ sparklers, and wonders where all the other represses are hiding….

Biosphere – Patashnik (Biophon Norway)

A long while back I wrote a piece where I discussed in passing my favourite techno albums. For reasons I can’t remember now I failed to mention Biosphere’s Patashnik, a LP I think comes as close to any I’ve heard to being perfect. Born in that weird era when it seemed that anything which wasn’t blistering 4/4 techno was described as ‘ambient’, Patashnik interpreted the basic premise of the genre in the most willful and individual of ways. This wasn’t a record of dull, floaty, wallpaper, nor was it one that regarded lower forms of techno as something to be avoided. Instead it simply, quietly, rewrote the rules on what ambient techno could and should be capable of doing. Famously recorded north of the Artic circle in the depths of winter, it wraps the music in a shroud of intensity which lends even its most gentle and fleeting of moments a strange aura that has rarely been bettered. It’s also a surprisingly hard album and the beats, when they come, serve to further underpin and accent its subtler qualities of dreaminess and disconnection. One of the truly important albums of 90s techno. Buy it now, put on your headphones, and lose yourself in a sonic world like few others.

DJ Deeon – Deeon Does Deeon (Numbers)

Anyone who knows the Numbers lads knows that ghetto house forms one of their genuine loves, and the music of DJ Deeon in particular has long been a hallmark of their parties. Deeon first came to prominence on the (in)famous Dance Mania label way back in the 90s, but seemed to have disappeared from most people’s radars until Numbers made it their duty to help launch his renaissance. The four tracks here come from various, older releases, and while they tend to avoid many of the hallmarks that the Dance Mania – and ghetto house – became known for, they’re some of the strongest tunes to come out of Chicago in the nineites. Raw as hell, but shot through with a sleek and wild funk, they jack in a way that most modern house can only dream of. 2 B Free remains one of the great Chi-town tunes of any era, but it’s Freak Like Me which carries the vibe best here – a pulsing, fiery groove laden monster of scatter-shot drums, crunching bass and loose, plaintive vocals. If you missed it when it fist came out a couple of years back, you have no excuse now. Serious and fun, they don’t do it like this anymore.

Oliver Ho – Awakening The Sentient (Blueprint)

Oliver Ho’s more recent work, either with the more exporatory sounds of Broken English Club or the straight up techy-house sound of Raudive, have tended to draw focus away from the sheer potent energy of much of his earlier work. That’s a shame because in an era in which techno was so heavily defined by sub-Millsian appropriation or looped to the point of inanity stompy bollocks, Ho was one of the very few producers working in the harder edge of the spectrum who seemed to remember that the funk and the fury were not mutually exclusive. Awakening The Sentient, released as part of the celebrations for Blueprints 20th anniversary, may not represent the very best of his work, but it is still a powerful reminder of the sort of hard yet liquid racket he was capable of. As inventive and fierce as anything by Ruskin, Slater or Surgeon, Awakening The Sentient shows Ho more than deserves a place at the top table along side of the rest of the British techno royalty, and is a timely reminder that Brit-techno, at its best, was always about more than simply handing out a peak time pummeling. Hopefully there will be more reissues on the way. It’s about damn time.

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Review: Morphology – Lack Of Light (Abstract Forms)

Morphology – Lack Of Light (Abstract Forms)

I’m slowly beginning to get my head around the possibility that the current hunger for deeper sounds isn’t the passing fad I once thought it was and might instead be indicative of something, err, deeper. What exactly that might be I don’t know. What I do know is that the move towards similar sounds in electro has occasionally left me in two minds – still enjoying it, but worrying that some of the elements which separate the genre and make it what it is have been jettisoned, smoothing it down until it seems little different to an awful lot of the beige techno out there at the moment.

Lack Of Light from Morphology gave me similar cause for concern on my first couple of listens. Needlessly, as it turn out. While the EP is certainly up there with some of the deeper electro records that have come my way over the last year or two, it quickly dispatches with all the fashionable pretensions, the grand vistas and the sweeping symphonic statements; the carefully measured beats. Instead, Lack Of Light delivers a darkened, internalized experience where the moods are locked away in spaces that daylight seldom reaches. It’s not so much a deep record, in fact, as an icy one; an EP that feels and sounds distant and unreachable, but also haunting.

This works both in and against its favour. On Amphidiscosa, perhaps the most mellow material on the record, the tune opens out enough to allow its emotional heart a little more room. It’s a decidedly pretty number, with a silvery riff and plaintive leads, but it dreaminess puts it at odds with the frostiness it otherwise displays, and with the rest of the EPs more substantial, elemental, nature. Turbidite Sequence goes the other way, and carves out a thoroughly abstract piece that shears away anything Amphidiscosa’s pensive energy, replacing it instead with an angular, robotic dunt, relying on the spectral pads to offer some sense of depth.

Neither are bad tunes, but neither do they mount a charge at the boundaries of the genre which are now commonplace. And while the other two tracks on the EP are certainly birthed from the same sonic experience, they wear it better, convince more, and move with a purpose Amphidiscosa and Turbidite Sequence never quite realise despite their artistry.

Hydrothermal Vent, in particular, shrugs off any need to prove itself and simply furnishes a groove that is entirely based in low riding, shimmering funk, the beats immediately coming to the fore to alternately strengthen and tear the tight weave of bass and pads above them. Further accented by rivulets of bleeps that tie the vibe into one of late-night, brain tightening adventure, it retains a vertigo inducing mix of distance and claustrophobia. Luminescent Organism continues with this blend of disorienting, engulfing energy, but builds a palpable sense of anxiety from guttural squawks and little growls which echo around the mean tempered bass. There is also a measure of restraint apparent in both tunes; they steal back from overly obvious influences, and keep in check the temptation to layer on the heavy ‘dark’ vibe which could so easily tip into parody or self-reverence.

The problem with a lot of ‘deep’ electronica is that it tends to rob the listener of a sense of emotional connection, which is at real odds with what it is essentially trying to do. It is a reasonable but not entirely desirable side effect of a style that all too frequently tries to wow itself with the quality of its sound design, and it seems to be increasingly rare to find producers who, understanding the weirdness of that sort of cognitive dissonance, refuse to allow the emotional centre of the music to be upstaged by the warbling frequencies. While there are moments on Lack of Light which do not entirely come together as perfectly as you might like, when they do they foster an atmospheric trip which is up there with the best. Further still, Morphology have shown themselves once again to be of a vanishingly small band of producers who understand that ‘mood music’, and emotions can be more than flowery colouring: it can also be sharp, unsettling, and provoking. A qualified success, yes, but one where the flaws accent the depth of the ideas on offer.

Friday Night Tune: Kraftwerk – Trans Europe Express

Whoops.

I’m sitting here this morning trying to take in the results of the EU referendum and finding myself almost unable to do so. More than that, though, I find myself unwilling to think about it, about all the vast implications for the future, for right now. For everyone and everything. In the short-term there is the terrible and horrible thrill of witnessing the pound plummet towards the value of a Vietnamese dong, and the strange sensation that we have been robbed of the pleasure that should have been so delicious in watching David Cameron resign, but in the long-term…

I suspect Britain won’t vanish into a long night the way many people on the Remain side suggested. The economy will slowly repair itself the way it always does and everything will muddle on without much on the surface looking different. But the surface isn’t where the problems are. It’s not where the sickness will take hold. The idea that this was about economics (and many of the arguments put forward by both side were heavily weighed towards that) was just, outright, nonsense. This was about much more than that. It was, simply put, about relationships.

In our thing, in music generally and electronic music in particular, these relationships are particularly important. The flood of ideas from one national scene to another has made house and techno what it is. It is why it is so special. The cross-pollination has yielded so many weird and wonderful strains it is near impossible to count them all. No, I don’t expect the flood to stop, but the flow will be altered in as yet uncertain ways, and only the most optimistic of people would say it’ll be for the better.

The creative industries will suffer massively from all this as funding from various European arts councils vanishes. That won’t get replaced in any meaningful way by whatever Tory government comes into power next. We’ve just had a campaign that was largely based on anti-intellectualism and the concept of ‘experts’ being the enemy of ‘ordinary, decent, hardworking people’. And because artists, writers, and musicians all fall into the ‘too clever by half’ category, you can all but guarantee any cash that should have been available for the arts will instead be spent on a 500 foot high statue of Queen Victoria made out of corgis and Union Jack bunting.

I’m not doing a good job of putting this into words. I think it’s going to take me months to process it all. So, I’ll just leave you with Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express instead. Why? Well, that should be obvious: It’s because I couldn’t find a tune called Believing The Lies From A Circus Of Cunts, that’s why.

Review: JMS Khosah/Brassfoot – NCA002 (NCA)

While the arguments never seem to end over whether vinyl or digital should get the crown as electronica’s most useful format that unloved child of necessity, the tape cassette, has slowly been making a belated comeback. Only recently appropriated by those in possession of twattish beards and a misplaced allegiance to the importance of obscurity (and how much of a gonk do you have to be to think that tapes were ever obscure?) they’ve begun to land in far more capable and creative hands, where their practicality and expediency offers the format wars something other than digital’s emptiness or vinyl’s gift wrapped pomp.

NCA002, the second cassette only release from Brassfoot and JMS Khosah, takes rare advantage of the format to deliver something that, while not-quite-album and not-quite-mix, seems to push out past the usual borders that are so common in house and techno today. The music itself, gritty, snarling, disorientating, and alive, seems to naturally echo those little quirks inherent in tape, the overdriven warmth, the flutter, that were so often in the past viewed as defects.

The artists have a common centre point, a shared gravity around which their ideas and skills seem to flow from, but their methods and the end results are very different. JMS Khosah’s side is by far the most straight up, delivering a near half hour showcase of deep, crunching house, and searing, proper ass kicking electro. I don’t know much about Khosah other than what I’ve heard on these tapes and some soundcloud snippets, but the tunes on offer here – pitched somewhere between Apron’s in-house lo-fi grooves and the soulful psychedelic bump usually heard from the likes of Jay Daniel or Kyle Hall – are absolutely on-point: fluid, functional funk that leads in one directions before starry pads, snapping claps or uncoiling basslines descend from nowhere to take you elsewhere. I don’t know whether Khosah is someone well-known going under another handle, but if he isn’t somebody please get him signed up. This is too damn good not to be out there in front of a wider crowd.

Brassfoot’s side is a different experience, and one given over to dark, wounding ambience and a masterful sense of foreboding which is every bit as tight and controlled as Khosah’s more lively grooves. When the beats do come they’re industrialized, puncturing the nervous atmosphere with serrated edges and brutal experimentalism. And although the mood morphs towards the end, with the introduction of some low slung beats, it still retains much of the weight, the sense of the pressure growing. And yet, it doesn’t roll like that; it can be a harsh listen, but there are flecks of humour here and there, little touches that draw out the colour and add movement to the static. In some hands it could have been monochrome and punishing, but with Brassfoot it catches itself between the depths and the sky. Two side of lo-fi heavy weight funk. Well worth digging your tape deck out for.

Review: Microlith – Dance With Me EP (CPU)

I’ve caught whispers that have been drifting in from the fringe about something called minimal electro a few times recently. While I’m not really sure what it means, or what would differentiate it from all the stripped down electro records that have made such a mark on the scene over the last 20 odd years, it’s an interesting pointer to the genre’s increasing popularity; after all, it tends only to be when a scene has reached a certain level of saturation that it begins to fragment into ever smaller parts.

Not that you could really describe Microlith’s Dance With Me EP as minimal. What the record has in common with minimal, or deep, or any other offshoot of electro which comes armed with a snazzy prefix, is that it benefits from the blossoming of electro’s influences and interests over the last couple of years. As much as I love the genre – and, by God, I do love it – only the most diehard fan would argue that, historically, it hasn’t always been the most outward looking scene, with many producers over the years preferring to Del Boy themselves at the shadier end of the electronica market, selling tunes with more than a passing resemblance to Drexciya or Kraftwerk, rather than embrace new pastures and new horizons.

Dance With Me, composed of choice cuts taken from the same named album, doesn’t really push on into the future either; we’re not talking about electro 2500AD here. What it does attempt, though, sounds fresh, upfront, and excitingly modern even though the primary influences are locked into electronica’s heritage. And it uses those influences well, neatly sidestepping both the Kraft-ciyan cycle and the deeper sounds that seem to be dominating at the moment.

Which isn’t to say that it isn’t deep. it is, properly so in fact. What it might lack in drawn out cosmic pads, carefully unobtrusive beats and a burgeoning sense of its own form so common elsewhere at the moment, it more makes up for in the interplay of beautiful and playful melodies and their marriage to a rich, expanding musicality. In many ways, it’s in this tight and orchestrated approach that those influences shine through. There is more than a little of early IDM to the sound – a sound which itself grew out of a desire to create something other than flat-footed dancefloor techno – and it angles itself with a similar subtlety and meaning.

It goes beyond this, though. Bouncy Castle and Dance With Me itself might venture closest to the border between modern electro and the likes of Autechre or – perhaps even more fittingly – classic Spanners era Black Dog, but they give themselves enough leeway to avoid the over familiar. Both tunes reverberate with a joyous, gentle energy that’s as much acid house as IDM, and accent the mood with golden little riffs of synth and chirping melody. Dance With Me in particular with its happy-go-lucky charm simply echoes with the delights of its loose, curious motifs and shimmering chords.

There are other facets, particularly on the B-side where the vibe tightens and contrasts increase, with both Rain Dance and Leave Now adding little touches of synth-pop to the mix. While Leave Now occasionally seems to dip in its energy levels, feeling at times a little fragile and uncertain, Rain Dance closes things off with a beguiling trip to the stars, rolling out on endless moonlit strings and a sense of quiet adventure. Dreamlike, haunting, and happy – Dance With Me is electro growing up and taking it first step into a wider world.