More Little Reviews: Head Front Panel and Struction. Oh Yes!

There are still pure hunnerds of records in that stack. I thought I had knocked some respect into the gangly bastard, but it keeps growing. So here are some more short reviews as I try to clear the decks before I start having to think about all the Christmas time lists. They’re hard enough to write, let me tell you, without a bunch of unlistened to 12″s hanging over your head.

Head Front Panel: #11, #12 (Head Front Panel)

First up is the double dunt of John Heckle’s Head Front Panel project 12″‘s which appeared a couple of weeks ago in a high-speed ram raid affair and only available direct from the label, the releases made sweeter by the fact the series was supposed to have ended at #10.5 last year Those who missed getting these two from the label should be able to get them either right now or very shortly from the usual suspects. I tend to not bother too much about limited, quickly gone, releases, but I’ll always make an exception for Head Front Panel’s take on techno.

Let’s not waste too much time on a lot of descriptive prose, though: If you know the score, you know the sound, and the fact is that Heckle’s take on harder techno is both subtly old school and thoroughly forward looking. The mix of bleeps, blasts, weaving grooves and battering drums remind you of how far a lot of techno has fallen, while not so gently reproaching you for not having enough faith in how great in can still be. While the stripped down weirdo funk of #6 and the brutally cute Detroitish patterns of #9 remain my favourites in the series, both #11 and #12 are well up there with exactly the sort of molten, driving, reality twisting techno we’ve come to expect. And I’ll tell you what, that last track on #12 is destined to be a major, major, major floor shaker in the very near future if you haven’t already lost your mind to it without knowing what it was. Buy On Sight.

Struction – Gefuge (R&S)

I have to admit that I haven’t really followed R&S very carefully over the last few years, but it’s always interesting to see what the hugely influential labels of the 90’s are up to nowadays. Most of them have gone the way of the Dodo, or are reduced to being mere shadows of themselves. Some, like Warp, have burst out of the electronica ghetto (to a greater or lesser extent) and don’t seem to do much that gets me going whilst maintaining an impressive enough presence in the world at large.

Like Warp, R&S have embraced bigger names and bigger concepts here and there whilst keeping a foot (both feet, plus legs, actually) in that bubbly, fecund electronic broth we love so much. Struction is a relative newcomer, with a single split EP on Ilian Tapes to his name. The peanut gallery suggests Struction is actually a well-known name playing dressy-up, which I’m happy to let slide if true because we haven’t had one of these mystery artists things in a while, and it allows me to again start the rumour it’s Phil Collins. You read it hear first.

Gefuge isn’t bad at all. It sometimes feels like it’s trying too hard to emulate that era of cold, glittering, IDM infused techno, leaving itself a little open to the nagging suspicion you’ve heard a little too much of it before. Generally though it’s a fairly tight affair, comprising surprisingly raw beats and with a rather sophisticated sense of the ethereal. Ai is a particular high-point, with the gentle lunacy of its slowly unwinding polyrhythms fighting for ear-time with some of the deepest, thickest, and most aquatic synths I’ve heard in a while. The stand out though is Kreen, which explores the empty corridors of a broken down rave rocket left to hang forever in the gravity well of a distant star. And while the tunes certainly do hark back at times to a simpler, possibly more refined techno-age, it still manages to sound fresher than a lot of the competition.

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Quick Words On A Whole Big Mess Of Records.

I’ve got this stack of records I haven’t really got around to reviewing yet because it’s winter and I’m tired and in a mood. It’s a pretty big stack though, and looking at it is beginning to make me feel guilty. As a record junkie I keep buying more of them…and more, and more. There comes a point, usually when your knocking the damn things around every time you move your chair, or your chair is in fact a bunch of records, that you begin to wish you could have found a healthier obsession. Stamps would be good. They don’t take up much space or melt when you leave them near a radiator. Nice and quiet, stamps. Lovely things. Anyway, in a slight change to what I normally do I’m just going to sling through some of these and see what happens.

Albums first. I’ve laid off buying LPs a bit this year as I rarely give them the time the cost deserves, but I recently picked up Pangaea’s In Drum Play (Hessle Audio), and I’m glad I did because its pretty bloody good. I sometimes fear techno records from the gang who kicked across from dubstep and bass into techno because the techno sometimes feels a wee bit flat and by-the-numbers. Not that this is an issue here as Kevin McAuley digs deep into his bassy bag of tricks to furnish everything with a gleefully grubby sheen. While occasional tunes such as Rotor Soap are fine enough in a relatively conventional way, the album comes alive on the weaving experimentalism of DNA, More Is More To Burn’s oddball skank and the furious, constantly morphing, breakbeat sharpened brilliance of One By One. An excellent example of where modern British Electronica is going. Comes with a digi code as well, which is always, always welcome.

My second album purchase was Convextion’s 2845 (A.R.T.Less). Yeah, I know, even your mum was going on about it. Part of the hype was no doubt down to the fact that finding a copy was harder than winning the lottery. Eventually I got my dirty hands on one, which was great and all, but if you didn’t it looks like a wee repress is coming at the start of next month (if they aren’t already in the usual stores right now). Is it worth the trouble of landing a copy though? Well, yeah mostly. While it maybe doesn’t quite live up to the hype which emanated from all quarters, it’s a lovely slab of deep space techno which pushes its more drifting, cosmic tendencies into a slightly more muscular framework than you would perhaps expect and actually comes out sounding far less ethereal than some of Convextion’s stuff under his E.R.P alter ego. There are moments here and there (such as on Distant Transmission, for instance, or Saline Moon) where the influence of classic Detroit’s take on similar themes is as inescapable as the gravity of a neutron star, but that’s hardly a failing. Best album cover of the year too; if that isn’t a Cobra Mk3 from Elite I’m a Martian. Also comes with a (slightly more convoluted) DL code, and the digi is available from Bandcamp if that’s your laudable thing.

As for 12″s, there have been more than I would like to admit. A bunch of them are reissues of older electro stuff so we’ll just skip them for the time being and see what else there is. Zeta Reticula’s EP 5 got a buy largely because it’s on Billy Nasty’s brilliant Electrix label. Zeta Reticula is, of course, the more dub techno/electro-y alter ego of Slovenian DJ and producer Umek who, I find, usually elicits some sort of reaction from people. You either love his stuff or loathe it. This EP brings out a bit of both feelings in me. Side A is pretty good; a pair of pummelling electro tunes bordering on techno-bass, both of which howl out at the sort of velocities that’ll give you a nose bleed. The B side reverts to slower, dubby 4/4 tracks which are both weirdly clean sounding, lacking enough fogginess to cover up the fact that not very much is happening in a not very interesting way. But then, I’m not a dub fan so they might be brilliant. Worth it for the electro stuff, though. Puts me in mind of some of the stuff The Advent’s done for the same label.

Joy Orbison gets back together with his long-standing collaborator Boddika for another installment of their SunkLo series. SUNKLOFYV (SunkLo) is an interesting release, occasionally sounding as if it has simply been left to get on with inventing itself, it refracts several strands of electronica with a fine intensity. More Moan, for example, puts me in mind of a lighter, pleasingly off the wall, take on Ancient Methods trademarked morphic stomp – swapping out the heaving weightiness for a touch of humour and sunlight. My favourite here, though, is the opener, Severed Seven, which hits things up like a sentient AI tasked with remixing Beltram’s Energy Flash and doing so with the addition of much clattering noise, and emancipated 303s.

Last but absolutely not least is Dez Williams with Ever Decreasing Circles (Earwiggle). Williams immediately deviates from his usual electro tastes for four tracks of massively dirty, crumbing and scary techno replete with bowel softening bass and enough distortion to take all the skin off your fingers. Occasionally driving downwards towards the sort of place which makes you wish for something lighter, like Bathoray or Hellbastard, here and there he eases back, opening the tunes up and allowing the beats to suddenly ripple off in different directions. while it’s not his best release of the year, it’ll probably scare enough memories of what else he’s done out of your skull that it really doesn’t matter. Nice, in a not very nice way. You know what I mean.

Friday Night Tune: Rhythim Is Rhythim – Kao-tic Harmony

While the rest of the world slides towards the pit it seems to have taken such a liking to, I’ve been trying to steer myself away from going the same way. It’s not always easy, especially these days when prime idiocy is never more than a button press away (often whether you want it or not), but I think it pays to occasionally remember that not everything is quite as dark as it looks. Sometimes even music can light up the way, a glimmer above the smog.

Techno isn’t the most political of music, at least not overtly. I think we all know that. Despite a few laudable attempts, and a number of chosen causes, any politics in electronic music seems to lie far more in the realm of the individual than the collective. Even in the early days, when there were sound systems preaching vaguely political manifestos, it was never going to be a rival to Red Wedge. Hell, even rock music is more apolitical than it was. And like rock music, electronica hasn’t so much grown up as grown out; it’s become a broad church where the underground rubs shoulders with careerism and business, and anything with a strong political identity looks like the weird kid in a class full of peppy, preppy jocks. Occasionally that annoys me, but not today. Today I’m just sort of relieved. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I just need something which cuts the world out.

I think everybody has a fall back tune; a simple piece of music which resets the psychological alarm, even if it’s only for the duration of the track. I don’t listen to Kao-tic Harmony very often any more, and the last time I heard it in its entirety was last year (a year ago today, in fact) in the aftermath of the mass murders in Paris. Back then, when the sickening realisation of what was happening in France was taking hold, alongside the mounting anger at being told by internet fuckwits we weren’t allowed to feel anything unless we hadn’t also explicitly commented on other, non-European, outrages (despite the fact that, when you checked, none of those bastards had either), I found the best course of action was simply to listen to music and escape from it all for a little while.

The B side of Kao-tic Harmony, the peerless Ikon was the first Friday Night Tune I ever wrote, and like Ikon, Kao-tik Harmony was one of the first pieces of techno that convinced me that the genre was more than just bang thud bang thud bang. It’s not that I was slow on the uptake, more that for anyone growing up a long way from glowing centre of the electronic galaxy, it was easy to misinterpret what you were seeing, and hearing, from across all that distance. Joining the dots, building an understanding, is not so easy when all those dots are obscured by the dust clouds of mediocre music which came my way via television or radio. The miracle isn’t that it took me so long to start getting it. The miracle is that I got it at all.

And Kao-tic Harmony has always been there, somewhere in the background. I remember Spike Milligan writing about coming across one of his old jazz records years after the war. Almost everything else in his collection had been destroyed in the blitz, except this one record. And when, on the rare occasion, he listened to it, he had to walk for miles to rid himself of the memories it brought up. While Kao-tic Harmony doesn’t quite have the same effect on me (yet) I can relate. For me it’s become a piece of music that, while free of day-to-day connotations, carries memories and emotions through the years. Some of them good, some of them not so much, but all of them vital. Something in its fragility and beauty is relentless and enthralling, able to cut out the frequencies of everything else and transport you somewhere else altogether. It’s why I don’t listen to it very often these days. It’s too valuable a resource to waste on the daily grind.

Review: Echoplex – The Detroit Walkout (ARTS)

Echoplex – The Detroit Walkout (ARTS)

One of the side effects of contemporary techno’s attempts to push itself into a cul-de-sac of heavy noise, identikit beats, and ever more oppressive mood is that it has led to an opposite reaction where a certain amount of lightness, of warmth, and swing takes the place of overworked and overwrought sound design. For some reason, it’s often described as ‘deep’ but I’m not sure it is. In the case of The Detroit Walkout Echoplex utilizes what by my count is his 4000th record to propagate the idea that all of these factors still have not only an important place in the music, but a vital one. You would expect that from Echoplex, of course. As a veteran producer he has long created music which owes more than a little something to Detroit’s familiar blend of drive and soul. Even in his harder work there has often been a careful understanding of shade and subtlety, and the way in which they can colour the groove.

Importantly and pleasingly, those markers are present here on The Detroit Walkout, and the mix of velocity with rich, constantly altering form and quiet beauty tempers the work with a fragile sunniness which opens the tunes up and lets the ideas and vibes spill right into the funk. It isn’t that the music on offer is soft or featherweight in comparison to a lot of what is going on else where, nor are the tracks particularly happy-go-lucky or hands in the air numbers. Instead they are deepened, fast, rollers which work themselves upwards with rippling synths and expressive percussion, and instead of filling space with vacuum, they fill it with warmth. And while their genesis is certainly Detroit, they refract the vibe through far hazier European air.

While a tune like Meanwhile exudes a slick, downbeat moodiness, the carnivale qualities of the perc add a life to it which could have been consumed by its head down trippiness, adding a strange but wonderful life to its groove. This tight, slightly slanted funk is carried over into the fractured dreaminess of Unclear, but falls away on Shut Off, a pretty enough slice of fast, floaty, prime time techno but a tune lacking a similarly off-kilter charm which renders it far more formulaic.

The EP fully hits it mark on the last track. No_Mo locks down the groove with its blindingly fast beats, but twists away everything else until it’s left with a gloriously bright, glimmering blast of disorientation; one minute rising towards the sun, the next diving towards the depths. It’s like Aubrey, Jeff Mills, and DJ Bone going at each other in an infinitely compressed space. Techno on the event horizon.

Review: Duplex – Dark Synthesis (DPX Recordings)

Review: Duplex – Dark Synthesis (DPX Recordings)

It took my work-stained brain about 20 minutes to figure out that the record played from the inside out instead of the other, normal, way. I’m not usually that slow, but being knackered certainly has its effects. Besides, I can’t think of another 12″ I’ve bought in a very, very long time that screws with you on such a fundamental level. It used to be, well, not exactly common, but frequent enough that it wasn’t really a surprise, especially if you were buying records pressed by Detroit’s National Sound Corporation, an outfit who delighted in messing with conventions in all sorts of ways.

Anyway, enough of the format trickery. Dark Synthesis represents the return of the Dutch duo with their first solo EP in about three years. There seems to be a wee bit of Duplexyness in the air just now, as there’s also a repress of their Below The Photic Zone EP on Harbour City Sorrow kicking around, so maybe they’re getting up a head of steam once again. I hope so, having always had a liking for their very Detroit-ish blend of electro and high-tech soul.

Let’s say this right now: Dark Synthesis feels outwardly quite different from a lot of their previous work where a certain amount of techno toughness was tempered by a sincere fragility and melodic width; even their very earliest material on Djax wove a sort of bleak beauty into the alien beats, and always felt as if it was looking beyond the dancefloor, eyes firmly fixed on the stars.

Not that should detract from what’s on offer here, even though it’s a slender release. The original track, backed by an Alden Tyrell remix, immediately jabs in a different direction. It’s harder than anything I can remember them doing before (although I’m no expert on them so I’m maybe misremembering), mostly due to the presence of a huge, dirty bass and grimy percussion. It also features a sample from Reese’s Funky Funk Funk, or so I’m told. Fair enough, I’m pretty dreadful about noticing such things, but the tunes does heave itself around in a similar way to Kevin Saunderson’s early, life affirming rave filtering energy so I won’t discount it. Interestingly, the record Funky Funk Funk comes from, Inside Out, also runs, err, inside out. Aside from that, though, Dark Synthesis is a pure knockaround, at times fuelling itself with a sort of bouncy big beat thrill, at others breaking away into tight, strobe lit fantasy, and carrying with it something that puts you in mind of a strain of early 90s house and techno which would burst around in different directions from one bar to the next.

The remix, from Tyrell, straightens out the tune in many ways, but instantly adds kinks of its own, mainly in the form of the far more tribally percussion which shepherds the music into a very different direction. Less cheekily in your face, more serious and dangerous, it reworks Dark Synthesis until it becomes a pulsing builder, constantly jacking itself upwards. Again, though, it captures an earlier vibe, one that recalls an era when tunes were allowed to cause dancefloor mayhem without worrying about anything else. I reckon it would do the same job now, and it certainly hits itself up as the sort of particularly hefty tool that’ll get things sweaty at a certain time of night.