When the first volume of Vortex Traks series of samplers came out last winter, it just about beat the avalanche of compilation 12″s which had begun to roll down the steep slopes of Mount Electro. But while Vol 1 contained some interesting enough material, and featured some decent enough names, the overal feeling was that it tried a little too hard to keep fingers in different pies, as if it was perhaps worried that going full tilt for an EP built entirely on the abstract fun of electro might be a bit much for the label’s first time release. The result was a record which swung between that genre and music which leaned closer to deep, acidy, but straight up house and techno,. While nice enough, it wasn’t entirely what you wanted from a record billed as electro. Or, at least, not if you are a miserable old bastard like me.
Whether deliberately or otherwise, Vortex Traks Volume 2 is a tighter, more logical representation of a sound which has moved back into the public eye after a long period of lingering in the shadows, and there is less of a sense of deviation from the prime material into other areas of electronica (which suits me just nicely thank you very much). Even so, this isn’t a four tracker of light speed beats and growling noises, as each of the tunes works over different facets of a common sound. The four acts on offer range from up-and-comers, to underground stalwarts, to current crossover poster-boys. It’s an exemplary mix of talents which does a stand up job of revealing just how much scope exists within this one genre alone without having to break off into other areas of exploration.
32, by Morphology, and Caffeine Sleep by Mr Velcro Fastener are both just about what you might expect from them – which really isn’t a slight because both tracks are pretty special. 32, firstly, hovers in the claustrophobic, internalized space which Morphology have long since made their own. Many producers try to do dark and come off with material which is really little more than a cartoonish approximation. Morphology’s great gift is to understand that darkness can only exist with light, that it’s the gradation of shade which lends the music its bleak beauty. Here the pads ripple with loss and yearning, and accent the sunbursts of almost cheerful melodies which flare out from behind them. Mr Velcro Fastener head off in an utterly different direction with a tune which incorporates elements of far more classical electro to create something far wider, looser and cheekier. It positively drips with late night funk, diving gracefully with a verve that almost borders on pop but tempering it with little shards of almost IDM-ish Sheffield steel.
Kan3da’s Dancing Data is tighter and more introspective, heavy with pensive strings and flowing breakbeats, but the melody is upfront and intelligent, playing prettily off the thick, stepping bass. It rises here and there into huge washes of sound, before ebbing away and letting the emotion take control once again. And while its groove may not be the most electrifying of those on offer across the record, it haunts the higher registers, getting into your head with clever tones and shifts.
Moonglade Temal by the Guide Girls is possibly the standout track, possibly because I know nothing whatsoever about the act and therefore didn’t know what to expect. It’s head and feet are firmly rooted in the 90’s, recalling IDM and the refined experimentalism of artists like Autechre or Matthew Herbert. It’s a loose, bubbling tune, riding an ambling breakbeat towards dawn. It feels slight at first, as if it’s burned out its meaning in the first few bars, but it slowly warps through its length, letting sunlight in between the faint acid blips and endlessly shifting pads, until it rises out of itself as a subtle, ghostlike paean to a form of electro which isn’t often seen anymore, or a contemporary form of braindance where the ambient touches are the point.
As good as the first release in the series was, this is better in almost every way, not least because each of the tunes offer something striking and memorable from a genre which can, at times, be obtuse and mercurial. It’s a solid and very useful reminder of not only where electro is in 2016, but also where it’s been and where it’s going. Here’s to Volume 3.