Friday Night Tune: Hardfloor – The Life We Chose (ERP Remix)

I think this is the second or third time I’ve written about Hardfloor and remixes. I’m not sure what it is about this perennial German duo – still the Status Quo of acid techno – that makes their music so fitting as either the remixer or the remixee, but for a very long time now these shadowy arts have been an important part of their myth.

Of course, in the early days when they were very much the flavour of the month. On the back of Acperience’s vast, genre defining success, their was a queue for their services that stretched all the way from the deepest underground to the very top of the charts. The last time we visited it was to hear their reworking of Rising High Collective’s Fever Called Love, a tune that still remains one of my all time favourites, not least for the way it combines a searing, peak time vocal with some truly funky acid drenched mayhem. That tune, though, was just a single facet of their skill, and remains less well known than some of their other success – undeservedly; the remixes of Mory Kante’s Yeke Yeke, or Robert Armani’s Circus Bells are both far better known, yet both lack the fluid grace and soul of Fever Called Love. Perhaps the difference is that Fever… lends itself to a remix better, having never been as famous in the first place as either of those two monsters.

The flip side is Hardfloor’s own work being remixed. Surely a worrying proposition for any artist. I call them the Status Quo of acid techno only slightly in jest. Like the ancient denim armoured rock act, Hardfloor have become synonymous with a style which is easy to ape yet hard to copy, and at its heart – for all the hundreds of 303s employed on each record – is a relatively simple formula. Sometimes harder in tone, sometimes lighter, but always recognizably Hardfloor – a form of acid that for all its techno leanings is very much of the early European acid house scene. When the synths roll in, the chords are big, and the mood of hands in the air abandon and joy is often painted in with the widest brush, and part of the fun it that it’s often so knowingly naive; primary colours accented by clever gradients and shading. Various artists, from Surgeon to Armando, have tried their hand at remixing the masters over the years, but very few reworkings have been that great. It’s like they just miss the point slightly.

Interestingly, the best of their remixes have been down to electro producers, and the slim body of tunes which have landed in the hands of the break beat contingent seem to have a better time of capturing something of Hardfloor’s tone. Egyptian Lover, Boris Divider, Morphology and a few others have a great success redefining the music. I suspect that the reasons for this are simple. While those mentioned primary colours, the big shapes and the big sounds, are important, the electro brigade have understood the shifting tones and moods of the acid storm, the way they inform – sometimes almost invisibly – Hardfloor’s music. Electro, especially the electro of the last 20 years, has often made such unsteady landscape its home. It’s a natural partnership even though, at first glance, it might not seem it.

My favourite remix of a Hardfloor track – hell, one of my favourite remixes by anyone – is ERP’s reworking of The Life We Chose. It perhaps helps a little bit that the original track is rather atypical of Hardfloor, with its loose breakbeats, deepened, darkened synths, and bubbling, tightly restrained 303s.

But the remix takes all that and stretches it out to the horizon. This goes beyond what a remix is expected to do and utterly redefines the scope of the track. It’s a vast burst of light; grainy and flooded with almost too much contrast, with the 303s pushing up and away, rudely framing the beats as they suck away at your oxygen. But neither the breaks nor the curling acid lines are the point, as wonderful, as precise as they are. No, what makes the tune so heartlessly beguiling is the growing cloud banks of the synths, like a gathering storm on the very edge of the world. Ancient, tired even, but endlessly swirling with mournful, beautiful, majesty. It’s so effective it moves the track beyond any discussion of genre or remixing, deepness or groove. It simply is.

Review: Simoncino – Gherkin Tape EP (Unknown To The Unknown)

I always enjoy alighting on planet UTTU, mainly because even if you have a pretty good idea what you’re going to get, often times it turns out you don’t. The ability of the label to mix it up, to slide releases between twisted ghetto-tech, raved up breakbeat, stinging electro and all stops between while holding on to a peculiarly British feeling of gurning, strobe stained, acid house lunacy has long been a source of joy around here. Even more than that, their choice of artists, from big hitters like Stingray or Legowelt to less well-known nutters like Anil Aras or Mall Grab, has always brought together a mix of producers who share something of that same mental vibe, regardless of how different their sonic shenanigans are.

Deep down it’s house music that flows through the label’s veins, and Simoncino’s Gherkin Tape EP rolls it right back to the late 80s with a hat tip to Larry Heard’s seminal Gherkin Jerks project. Such things can be occasionally fraught with worry – homage is one thing, replication is another – but Simoncino has long been a producer who gets the rhythms and feelings of early Chicago house and acid, and Gherkin Tape does a pretty good of conjuring up Heard’s rare, peerless, combination of jack and soul.

And it really is soul that’s the important word here. In Gherkin Tape itself it’s to be found in the way the gentle ache of the synths lies lightly on top of the weaving bass and the dirty, free roaming drums. The tune doesn’t so much move as tap itself forward, seeing what spaces it can fit into, and how far it can take the mix of so few obvious elements. Modern electronic music, even house, often feels that it needs to fill the quiet stretches with the unnecessary, as if often uncomfortable with its own simple idea. Here Simoncino delights in drawing the magic out of a tiny bag of tricks, and gives time to letting the tune wonder off on its own adventure.

Chicago and Dance Mania legend Houz Mon is enlisted on Gherkin Tape’s remix duties, and ably retools the slender, understated, track into a full-blown, primo grade acid banger that shifts and morphs with no regard whatsoever for the ankle breaking intensity of the curling, dirty, 303. It sometimes gets that you feel if you’ve heard one acid track in the course of the last few months, you’ve probably heard them all, but there’s something powerfully different in Houz Mon’s cut. It might be as old school as they come, but that fact alone, the full-blown, jacking fun of it makes it feel both familiar yet refreshing, like when that one mad mate you haven’t seen for an age descends out of nowhere with a rucksack full of Buckie. It’s a lesson in just how effective that classic acid blueprint still is when it’s bred from some genuine party DNA.

For me, though, it’s Din Sync that draws everything together. Trippy, cosmic house of a sort I haven’t heard in a long, long, time. It flies upwards and outwards with a deep and trancey energy, the kicks and the percussion working with piston-like efficiency as the synths and rounded acidic edges pull and coerce, drag and climb, towards the all too sudden end. It’s a beaut. Simultaneously old fashioned yet very modern it perfectly captures Larry Heard’s sense of futuristic groove. If your going to go back to the source, this is how it’s done. Excellent.

Review: HE/AT – Accident Waiting To Happen (HE/AT)

…Aaaand we’re back.

I’m a newcomer to Chris Finke’s He/aT project, even though it’s been intermittently running for a few years now. He’s probably better known under his own name or with his Bodyjack alias, in both cases propagating variations of a virile form of deep, rolling, techno which seems built to provide a snarl in the late, messy, period of an evening whilst still providing something in the way of a surprising left hook which helps set the music aside from the masses of techno ploughing otherwise similar furrows. Check out Bodyjack’s Cobra Effect EP for a good sample of this sort of unexpected tastiness, and enjoy the way the harder elements are coupled to a squashed up housey (and even ravey) energy.

While Accident Waiting To Happen is, in some ways, a more straightened release than Cobra Effect, it still refuses to be easily pigeon-holed ranging as it does between tight analytical building, raw electronic storms, and something altogether more classic and timeless. Running through it all, however, is Finke’s undoubted skill as a master builder. There is an art to creating a building track, one that climbs higher and higher in energy and sound, and Finke uses the form to effect time and time again here, focussing the funk into laser sharp patterns, lighting up the growing grooves.

It’s evident from the off, even in the skipping, rugged thrash of the title track where the Reese bass, heavy as a black hole, throws its dark light over the jagged percussion, and lends a dose of anxiety to a tune which is thick with a bleak, dreamlike atmosphere, accented by the deep blush of otherworldly synths. It’s Impossible To Describe The Smell Of A Wet Dog lifts a similar mood, but latches it to some searing drum patterns before gradually stripping away everything except the pounding, ceaseless rhythm. It’s heartfelt, moody techno; shimmering and tight, but most importantly, it has enough space for those banging drums to work their toxic magic.

The Man Who Makes Husbands Jealous, burns away some of the thick atmosphere with strobe lit acid. At first it feels like a miss hit, a less authoritative tune on a record which is otherwise never afraid to take control. But as the acid beds into the subtly off-centre groove, it begins to swirl and coalesce into something deliciously malicious which has made midnight its home.

Best of the lot is A Drama Out Of A Crisis which finally pares everything down to a pumping, deeply funky groove which looks to the minimalism of Robert Hood’s sublime mid 90’s work but adds a bit of swagger to round off the harsh edges. It’s a great, sweet, number; all jacking energy carefully clothing a deep heart. But aside from the obvious Hoodisms, it retains all of Finke’s way with the form, and he gives free rein here to simply letting the playful, bleeped out riff ride the back of the jacking beat, allowing a blaze of sweaty soulful energy to shine through. It’s a reminder, if one were needed, that all the carefully manipulated sounds and clever approaches of modern techno are worth little if you can’t get the groove going.

Review: Don’t DJ – Musique Acephale (Berceuse Heroique)

The last couple of weeks have given us a couple of pretty interesting albums to get our teeth into. The first of these, Eomac’s Bedouin Trax, blended ambient and techno with striking north African atmospherics to powerful effect. While the impulse wasn’t exactly new, it showed clearly that there was still life in the idea that electronic music can be experimental and soulful at the same time. That alone makes it worthy of your money in these increasingly musically conservative times.

Don’t DJ’s third long player, Musique Acephale strikes a similar balance between deep electronic excursions and hazy moods, and there are in fact plenty of other similarities between the two releases. While both artists are largely working from differing palettes of sounds, they border each other in terms of cinematic atmospherics where imagery and narrative are shuffled into place, creating worlds and feelings that lie somewhere beyond both the workaday world and the constrictions of clubland.

That makes it sound like Ye Olde Ambient Album, and yes that is certainly part of the attraction, particularly if that’s your bag. I often find myself fairly disinterested in a lot of the ambient stuff I hear – all too often it seems like an excuse to paint pretty, abstract pictures while claiming that they represent some hidden depths of meaning which are rarely actually present when you get past all the aural fluff. But when it does what it’s creators intend, it can be a truly ear opening experience.

Part of what allows Musique Acephale to buck the trend of underwhelming ambience lies in the fact that it is, for all the deft touches and atmospherics, a deeply restrained experience. tunes like Disparata 69 work from a limited box of tricks, fostering a sense not so much of minimal music, but skeletal. What remains within the subtle and bare framework of lilting, almost middle eastern tones, shephards the listener into creating for themselves the framework to add to the bones. Similar skill is deployed on Evolve, a less deliberately empty experience where gently swirling pads accent the ghostly rhythmic touches, once again allowing the listener to bring meaning to life by way of their own introspection.

It’s an approach that doesn’t always come off. A case in point, The Grey Shrine, simply hangs in its own emptiness, evoking something of the self-indulgent noodling that is a professional danger with a lot of more left field electronica.

But The Grey Shrine is not indicative of the rest of the album. And, in fact, some of the strongest work upon Musique Acephale are those which blend the internalized moods with far wider vistas. Evocations in Desert Ruins, Syrian Rue, and the cheeky, half-bop of Fall4 form a trilogy of sorts, united in a sense of time, and place which add bite to their shimmering sounds, and have you thinking of what somebody like Regis might have cooked up if he didn’t seem to be so techno angry all the darn time. That they are, along with the potent, twisting, Polyamory, the best things on the album isn’t chance; each of them offers a different glimpse of the same overarching vision. The rhythmic undercurrents, the tang of alien air, and the feel of unfamiliar heat upon the skin all bring together a vibe that is both deliciously unsettling and very welcoming to the point that Musique Acephale feels like a travelogue documenting a world that can’t really exist.

Restrained, refined, but not without a certain, important, muscularity, this is an album that may well, with a select handful of others, start to remind us that experiences are as important as ideas if we are to get something out of the music, especially if we are to wake up the mind and start thinking about what we are hearing.

Friday Night Tune: Jimi Tenor – Take Me Baby

For a long time now I’ve been wondering whether the value of influences isn’t so much in helping to shape and sculpt the music than to make the producers sound important in interviews. It’s always been an issue. Back in the early days there seemed to be an infinite line of bald techno people queuing up to describe the many ways in which their entire musical outlook had been irrevocably altered by a fearsome krautrock band from the late 70s who only ever released a single 12″, most of which ended up in landfill site outside Hamburg. In some senses it was a similar situation to all those post punks in the early 80s who all claimed that their lives had been turned by being present at the 100 Club for the Sex Pistols’ first gig even though the science involved in squeezing thirty or forty thousand people into a 300 capacity venue has never been empirically explained.

Nowadays we may have a wider range of influence claims on offer, but they tend to remain just as telling, especially when you pause to consider their uniformity. Is there a job application you have to fill in before you start producing electronic music? is claiming that your music incorporates elements of the free wheeling exploratory disco of Arthur Russell, for example, akin to saying you went to the right school? Is larging up your love for Sun Ra (especially if the only Sun Ra record you listened to is Headhunters) any more of a guide to your skills, taste and abilities than filling up the Personal Details section of the application form with a broadly fictionalized account of your Scuba-diving escapades, even though you only did it once, on a family holiday?

I choose these two artists not because I have anything against their music – Arthur Russel is alright, just not really my thing, and I’ve always been more Son House than Sun Ra in musical outlook – but because there is something dreadfully predictable in their choice by so many people as the prime instigators of their musical evolution. That there are people out there who live and breathe the work of both artists is absolutely true and utterly correct; both are incredibly important proponents of their respective genres who managed in many ways to actually transcend those self-same genres. But the massive explosion of people claiming a life time affinity with them points to the sad and basic fact that there is some epic fibbing going on.

I’ve always shrugged when I’ve heard the tales of borderline obsession people have with esoteric industrial bands or noise artists who existed more as an ideal than a real act, particularly when it comes to techno. I’ve known a fair amount of techno people over the years, both producers and DJs, and the simple truth is the music many of these people had in their collections tended to be as daft, random and fickle as the rest of us. How many techno bods REALLY bought some incredibly influential krautrock LP the first time they went into a record store clutching pocket-money in their sweaty palms? how many actually bought INXS’s first album?

We lie about our tastes. We all do. We do it because most of us don’t like looking the oddball amongst the cool kids. This is especially prevalent in Our Thing where the politics, the taste in clothes and the nights out might seem wild and branding free but the influences, the music we all claim to listen to, remains subject to a conservatism which is difficult to shake. Often times we even believe our own bullshitting. It’s difficult to admit that we don’t always enjoy the stuff we tell ourselves we love.

The real problem though, and the real danger of this form of conservatism in the music is when it feeds into a desire to create sounds which conforms to those mythical paradigms we convince ourselves exist. Suddenly we have a thousand records all stealing the same influences from the same sources. In a sense, this is what killed electronic music for me back in the early years of the millennium – going into record stores and finding hundreds of records which were all copies of each other because all the music the producers listened to was exactly the same. Failure to expand our tastes is one thing, but failure to admit our real tastes is just as dangerous. I’d rather a techno producer come out and admit they don’t enjoy Jeff Mills, say, and do something different that bang out replication after replication because it’s what might sell. You know what? The new stuff might or might not sell, but until we hear it we aren’t ever going to know.

I doubt Jimi Tenor has ever been kept up at night trying to make sure his listening corresponded to current trends, and this is a guy who has always had one large foot permanently rooted in the avant-garde. In many ways Tenor is the embodiment of the idea that the really individual musical talents are those who remain true to their own musical vision, taking what they need or like from other sources but folding it, warping it until it because part of them. Take Me Baby has always been an incredibly individualised shot of techno brilliance because it screws so successfully with conventions and expectations. It is a rave era shot of sleazy, irreverent easy listening, powered by energy generated by walking the line between cheeky, cheesy, convention and breathless experimentalism. I often claim a tune sounds like nothing else but it’s really true in this case. It’s brilliant, and it’s brilliant because although a thousand influences have fed into Tenor’s mind, the music sounds like it could only, ever, have come from him.

What can I say? I’ve had more than enough of conservatives this week. Stop listening to stuff because you feel you have to and start listening to stuff because it makes you happy, or sad, or angry or daft. Let’s do it, just this once, and see what happens.