Short Reviews Featuring Levon Vincent, Paranoid London, and Phantom Planet Outlaws.

Levon Vincent: NYC-Berlin Dialogues (Novel Sound)

Novel Sound have developed an intriguing policy of not telling anyone about their releases until the record is virtually in your hand. I can’t say I’ve got a strong view on it one way or the other, but it does make for some hairy acquisition fun. Regardless of whether this is mastermind planning or something altogether more lax I don’t know, but this is Levon Vincent’s third solo of the year, and follows on from the frankly unhinged acid/tubular bells mentalism of Birds. Birds seems to have done the Marmite thing a wee bit – you either love it or loathe it – but I’ll happily admit that I loved the craziness of it, not least for the way it felt like Vincent going off a tangent which took him out of his comfort zone a bit. NYC-Berlin Dialogues is a deeper take on house than the last record, kicking it up in a more regular Vincent style. Well, kicking it up might be pushing it a little. NYC tootles around nicely, seemingly content to wobble a bit without really getting up a head of steam. It’s pretty and unassuming, but slight and lacking very much to get your teeth into. Berlin is better, more lively, unfolding as it does like the theme from some slightly bonkers and long forgotten 1970s US cop show preformed on a cheap sampler and a stolen Casio keyboard, and locking into an unexpectedly tight and hypnotic groove. Those reasons alone should be enough to love it, even before it alights on some particularly moody textures towards the end. No clips, so check it out in the usual places.

Paranoid London: Give Me The (Paranoid London)

Paranoid London head back to their regular territory after We Come To Rock’s excursion into old school electro. Surely by now you know what to expect: Gritty, slightly grotty and menacing deep acid house filtered through a bed of gravel and broken concrete. And while you may marvel at how much leverage anyone can still get out of some dirty beats and a warbling 303, it won’t stop you from enjoying it like the first time you heard it. This is the secret of Paranoid London’s sound; it rubs itself up against that bit of your brain which switches on when acid house kicks in and doesn’t let go. Neither of the tracks are going to convince you that the future is coming, but that doesn’t really matter, seeing as they both burn with a darkside intensity which recalls the much missed Armando at his scariest. Both tunes are primal and effective but if I had to choose, Give Me The just skanks it over Our Man Though due to the rib shattering bass and the vocal snap which guides everything down a sticky river of acid madness as the 303 gets a bit tasty.

Phantom Planet Outlaws – Muscles From Outer Space (Boss Tracks)

For reasons which elude me, Liverpool based techno super groups are in short supply. Luckily we have one – The Phantom Planet Outlaws, consisting of John Heckle, Mark Forshaw and Binny – and this first release in three years provides a dose of brain splattered techno of the sort we don’t seem to get too much of these days. Part of what makes it so welcome is that, obvious old school influences of a Djax and Millsy sort aside, it doles out a furious take on the genre in which humour, warmth, and grooves are front and centre without every detracting from the fact that these are some serious tunes which’ll be as deadly as you’d expect from a gang like this. The one full-fat PPO tune, Muscles From Outerspace, is a big, heavy slab of acid techno which buckles reality nicely. Heckle’s entry, Hybrid 1, cuts the forward momentum ever so slightly with a jacking piece of slightly discordant future-lounge, a world away from most of his recent releases under his own name but also alien enough from his Head Front Panel work to provide another glimpse of his individualist musical thinking. Forshaw’s tune, the stomping Flashback is a lovingly scuzzed up ankle-breaker uniting a brilliantly proto-techno flair with a housey nous. It swarms you with touches of the sort of 90s bangers which entire nights used to be built around, and condenses them into a sweaty anthemic treat. Binny finishes things off nicely with The Return by dragging everything into the shadows for a doing with a piece of corkscrewing acid-nasty that’s as thrilling as it is warped. This isn’t techno to be loved, it’s techno to be used and abused. Make sure you do.

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Friday Night Tune: DJ Valium – Whiskas

I hate losing records. For various dull reasons I’m a bit obsessive and freaky about the things I have an interest in, and where for most people the discovery that a record appears to have disappeared may lead to a shrug or half-hearted search, for me it usually means tearing the entire flat apart looking for it. It’s not just records that bring out this behaviour in me; I once almost irrevocably damaged the relationship with my partner over a lost hoover attachment. Don’t ask. It still rankles.

But records do have a tendency to wander. From the wrong records going into the wrong DJs bag in the busy, dark, confines of a club’s DJ booth to light fingered bastards taking advantage in the messy chaos of an after-party. That’s where I think my copy of DJ Valium’s Valium EP went missing. Likely I wasn’t even playing; I probably dumped my bag in the hallway whilst I renewed my acquaintance with Mr Buckfast.

Still, these days it isn’t as near to being the end of the world as it used to be. Discogs, obviously, is the medicine that fixes all ailments and it only took me about five minutes to track down a new, still sealed copy. In its own little way it was a profound relief; this is one of those records that, for some of us, has moved beyond simply being a classic – it has become part of our heritage.

And if that sounds an extreme way of thinking about it, you have to try to see it from our perspective. Glasgow is an odd city when it comes to its love of electronica, and one can never be entirely certain that what cuts the mustard elsewhere it going to manage it here. It’s not that we’re better, that our taste in music is more exquisitely fine tuned (although, obviously, it is). It is, in fact, a distillation of different factors which range from the traditionally short length of the average club nights to the city’s industrial harshness reflected in its night-time decadence, to the impact that the town’s one time large number of dance music shops had on its relatively small population.

The Valium EP nicely draws together a period of time in the mid nineties when people were really begin to step out a wee bit from their safe zones towards stuff that was maybe a little bit more unhinged. It was Valium’s first release on Gary Martin’s insane Teknotika label; an imprint that hailed from Detroit but never, ever sounded like it. Teknotika was always looser, gathering together trace elements of disco, house, weird-edged experimentalism, kitsch, and something I can still only really describe as ‘cosmic tribal’. The music tended to be fast, dense and life affirmingly off-the-wall. It was perfect for Glaswegians.

The tunes of this EP were probably the first contact many of us really had with the label, with perhaps the exception of the phenomenal anthem Universal Love, and it was long one of those records you loved even if you had no idea who it was by, or what the tracks were called. I’ve always thought that a true test of quality. Knowing the artist colours your view, even if you don’t think it does, and confirmation bias can have a negative effect whether we mean it to or not.

In a slight break with tradition I haven’t chosen my favourite cut from the release. That honour goes to the thunderous, seething Running In October, a tune with a bassline which still makes me shudder. The tune I’ve gone for, Whiskas, is here because of, well, consensus I guess. It was the tune that delivered every time it was played, bonding together people on the dancefloor, and in grubby flats afterwards. It still sounds like very little I’ve ever heard; a brew of humour and beats, recalling something disco without sounding anything like it. It was, and remains, a true Glasgow – and even more importantly, Paisley – anthem. Gaun yersel, big Man.

Reviews: DJ Overdose – Don’t Get Burned (Computer Controlled)

For most of us 2016 has been a manky quilt patched up with turds and sown together with the purest threads of misery. It has been the King Suck, and the near future doesn’t seem to have much in the looks department when it comes to a noticeable improvement. For DJ Overdose, though, it hasn’t been a bad year at all when it comes to music. A kicker of an EP on Berceuse Heroique, a spiffing cross-job with electro legend DJ Technician, and some demented grooves with Cliff Lothar as The Groupies have been the impressive stand outs in a busy twelve months, and now he delivers another switch-footed change of direction here with Don’t Get Burned.

While Overdose is probably better known right now for his keen sense of electro mayhem, he’s rarely been a purist and its something he takes full advantage of here. While it would be pushing it to describe this as a ghetto house record, the core of the music certainly owes a little something to the genre’s raucous nature. Personally, I always find it an interesting direction to head in. For some reason, despite the massive interest in labels like Dance Mania, we haven’t had much in the way of a ghetto house revival. I suspect that there is something in the explosive beats combined with the nature of so much of its lyrical content which has led producers away from going too far down that road. Certainly, listening to some of those old record does occasionally feel like a document of a very different time.

Not that Overdose goes for the Dance Mania jugular. This isn’t a collection of raw dick-suck tunes, leaning as it does more towards the fiery, furious, house of prime DJ Deeon. Rather, the feel of the DM sound provides a base for a much wider interpretation of house, one that takes influences from all over the place and uses them to infuse the music with something that, despite its punch and heft, renders everything strangely more accessible to outsiders than Overdose’s tight and singular vision sometimes does.

Three of the tracks, reuse the same vocal sample, opening with the excellent jacking energy of Blue Flame which refracts a similar energy to the sort Unknown To The Unknown have been pushing – a sort of very modern take on banging house which pulls at hazy memories of rave and European acid as well as their US forms. It is a proper warehouse tune in the older, better sense of the term. Warehouse seems to have come to mean something cavernous, ponderous, monolithic and quite boring. This isn’t any of those things: it’s a huge, thumping, spiralling epic, coated in imaginary colours, where thick washes of cosmic synths roll away over the concrete beats. It’s exactly what a warehouse tune should be. At least in my demented mind. The other tracks which reuse the sample don’t stray too far from the original but still provide differing feels and moods; Bare Bonus as the name suggests, strips the track down to its most functional parts, turning in a romping, heavy slice of mugging music where the beats take centre stage along with the vox. Work Is Work lightens the shades without removing the intensity, fracturing, and stretching the groove and moving it towards something that carries a kernel of old school electro and dusting it up with some beautifully unhinged melody. This isn’t three remixes, though. Rather, it’s the same tune glimpsed in different light, at different times.

Only Acid Lovely breaks away completely, with a hefty slab of industrialised electro-acid which rolls like a future take on classic Dutch tunage, mixing static charged breaks with swirling acid mayhem. It should just about thaw you out on these frozen winter nights. DJ Overdose finishing the year even higher than he began.

More Little Reviews Featuring Bruce And Ioannis Savaidis

Another week, another Bristol release. OK, in actual fact this one came out a few weeks back but I’m still clearing the stack and finding things I’d actually forgotten about. That’s not really on in this case because Bristol lad Bruce has tapped into a rich vein of form this year and has become pretty difficult to avoid for long.

Not that you’d want to. I’m Alright Mate (Timedance)is another left field and thoroughly individual take on a techno sound which owes almost as much as to an exploration of themes and internalized mood as it does to raw sound. His last release, The Trouble With Wilderness on Idle Hands evoked an aura of deep melancholy, dripping with a rainy ambience, and bringing everything together with an understated sense of melodic invention. While I’m Alright Mate steps away from the previous record’s cold dreaminess, and gives the proceedings a bit of a boot up the arse, it remains very much in hock to Bruce’s increasingly sophisticated sense of emotional space and distance. The title track itself might well be a shifting slice of 4/4, but those pretensions serve more as a climbing frame so that the unsettling threads of growling mood and snakelike grooves can climb up there and tie your poor brain in knots, rather than allowing the tune to cater to the dance floor.

Post Rave Wrestle on the flip is even more demented, hitting things up with a deliciously broken piece of utterly deconstructed bonkers rave which kind of makes me think of Andy Weatherall getting lost and worried inside his own dreams. Somewhere out in the wilds there’s a communist era Czech cartoon that needs this as it’s soundtrack. This is techno that generally doesn’t give a damn, and that means it very techno. Disturbingly lush.

While it would be pretty wrong to suggest that Ioannis Savaidis’ NSA Trusted Networks on Lower Parts hails from a similar part of the psyche as the Bruce record, I think it shares a border. Primarily unfolding as a collection of ambient pieces, it nevertheless contains much that stretches it away from the more chin-scratching locales. I don’t have a great track record with ambient stuff. Most of the ambient I’ve ever given a stuff about has, in fact, pretty much been normal techno with wibbly bits. I don’t think I’ve got the patience for it, if I’m honest, and secretly think it appeals to the same people who love to tell me David Foster Wallace was a genius. I get nervous when there are no drums, and start fretting about how droney the drone sounds are. What can I say? I’m a barbarian.

And, at first, I’ll admit that NSA Trusted Networks had me thinking of the old music for schools programs from the early 80s. In fact, that isn’t really meant as a slight because the thing ..Trusted Networks shares with that earlier styling lies not in the sounds, but in a certain form of orchestration – something I often find to be missing from a lot of ambient music. Without it, it becomes a marsh, a swamp of aimlessness which is fine enough for brief interludes but patience-testing over the longer distance.

Beyond that, the four tunes offered up here cross over from pure ambient to steal facets of IDM’s depth and synthwave’s use of percussive melody, and indeed NSA Trusted Networks shares a great deal of DNA with synthwave’s retro-aimed feeling of place and time. Thematically too, it isn’t that far removed. This is a record of slowly billowing alien sounds, the singing of the wind across lakes of liquid heavy metals, the slow erosion of exo-worlds. But those images are to fool you, because they exist only in the minds of those trapped by the constraints of the modern world. They’re prison fantasies of freedom because, under the pastel hues and winding melodies, there is the feint but unmistakable sense of everything being slightly off-kilter; a nervous paranoia which porpoises through the half-light of the pads and incandescent percussive touches and, paradoxically, reaches its most unsettling point on the otherwise gentle title track right at the end.

Uneasy listening is seldom so easy on the ears. Although I still find myself praying for a hand clap, or break of snares, even I can appreciate that the complexity of emotion and themes is seldom as straight forward as I pretend. Somehow I don’t think Savaidis needed to be taught that.

Friday Night Tune: Lex Loofah – Freaky Deaky

I don’t know when I first heard Freaky Deaky. It was probably some time in the mid nineties, long before house music had begun to devour its own past. I can’t imagine the younger me was a huge fan of it at first. It caresses the very edges of cheesiness with an abandon that would have offended the remarkably ridiculous musical morals I had back then before I started loosening up and enjoying stuff for what it was rather than what I thought it should aspire to be.

It wasn’t just this one tune that was affected by my younger daftness. I was very much a musical snob when it came to electronic music. And, like a lot of musical snobs, I overlooked all sorts of brilliant music in favour of complete bobbins because the bobbins ticked the correct boxes. I imagine the entire reason I ever bought this record in the first place was because it was on Warp, and came in one of their older, famous, sleeves. The fact is I had a terrible dislike of a lot of house for a long time; well, not that long a time, but when you’re younger the brain is easily fooled.

House music didn’t seem to have the drama of techno. It seemed like a lighter, less serious alternative. Looking back, I find this a weird state to have been in, partly because it was an attitude I tended to loathe when it came to other genres. I hated the dead-end puritanism of a lot of punk and hardcore; I disliked most forms of metal I heard because a lot of the fans just seemed to listen to it because of the odd kudos they seemed to feel it gave them. Latterly, I came to dislike the same attitude in techno – the very same attitude I displayed for so long. It took me a long time to realise that Detroit wasn’t the be all and end all of techno, and almost as long to figure out there was much more to house than the Relief, Dance Mania and acid stuff I was religious about.

It took a long time to start getting it, and that itself was a process which was more to do with growing up than with anything more artistically eye opening. To paraphrase Churchill, anyone under the age of 30 who isn’t a musical snob has no heart, but anyone over the age of 30 who is still a musical snob is probably a wee bit mental. Since then I’ve had arguments with classical music fans because I dispute their belief that all other music is inferior, and I’ve been slated by hardcore punk fanbois because I’d rather listen to The Jam, The Clash, or The Buzzcocks than some gurning nipple with a badly tuned guitar. Most importantly, I’m still head over heals in love with house regardless of the fact there are many things about the current scene I don’t quite enjoy.

How anyone could dislike Freaky Deaky is beyond me. I imagine, deep down I probably knew that, even though I convinced myself otherwise. No, it’s probably not the greatest tune ever written, and it still sounds a bit prone to tickling the fromage. But, you know what? As soon as that massive bass kicks in on top of the driving hammer-and-tongs percussion, none of that matters. It simply gives back what you give it. And if you come at it with smiles and a lack of preconceptions, you’ll be friends for life.