Reviews: Bill Converse – 7 of 9 (Texas Recordings Underground); New York Transit Authority – 4DC (Lobster Boy)

Bill Converse – 7 of 9 (Texas Recording Underground)

Converse is a veteran of long-standing in the Texan electronic scene but over the last year his name has begun to crop up in other places. Good thing too, because while Converse hasn’t exactly been a secret, it’s about time he started getting some real exposure. His first EP, the deconstructed and twisting lunacy of Warehouse Invocations on Dark Entries was a special debut which pulled apart acid, house, and techno only to remount with strange, lopsided grooves. Even better, his album for the same label took something of Hieroglyphic Being’s visionary approach to electronica and dipped it into a vat of synthy, experimental goodness.

He appears here on TX Connect’s young TRU label, turning in a sound that, while loosely connected with his previous releases, is both more open and wide ranging. While the overt coupling of experimentalism and convention takes a bit more of a back seat here, it actually works to the record’s advantage. What we have are a pair of deepened and eternally morphing prowlers which push and pull a more obviously house feel whilst remaining very much on the outside of what’s going on in the larger scene.

Here and there are touches of the sort of grainy otherworld which producers like Vester Koza have made their own, a sort of parallel dimension where everything lies at a tangent to where it should. Even so, both tracks refuse to enter into pure aesthetics and a subtly muscular energy helps propel them as it bleeds into the grooves. While 7 Of 9 itself unfurls with a loose, funky vibe which dips into brooding netherworld of swirling colours, it’s Ahead which really forces you to take notice with its scruffy evocation of exhausted, daybreak joy. A warm, slow-moving shuffler, it recalls something of the wonderfully frisky house Anthony Naples used to make while getting your hands waving with its lazy vitality. Delicious, sultry, and life affirming.

New York Transit Authority – 4DC (Lobster Boy)

Mensah Anderson’s work has, in the best tradition of British electronic music, made no short work of chewing up the distinctions and borders between genres. While his productions under his own name cuts between dubstep, bass, and more hip hop sounds, his releases as New York Track Authority have taken that nous and used it to inform a sound which takes in house and electro. He appears here for the fourth time on Lobster Boy with a double-headed blast.

The title track itself is a cracker. 4DC is a straight up and effective dance floor destroyer built of the purest garage beats and controlled by the insistence of the ringing, playground simple tones of the melody. There isn’t much to it; there doesn’t it need to be. It goes straight in for the kill and pulls off the hit with style and panache. The B side, Two Know feels less successful after 4DC’s compressed fun, stretching out a sultry house theme across 8 minutes, and playing a bit fast and loose with holding your interest. Still, it does manage to hold on, mostly by way of the deep, dropping bass and a fine breakdown which washes everything down with some tingling, energizing, and much needed warmth. Not a bad track in any way, but one that suffers from pedestrianizing the groove when it should have been let loose on the autobahn.

Friday Night Special: Who’s That Band?

This started out, all all the very best journalism of the 21st century seems to, as the result of a Twitter chat. The genesis was the publication of Resident Advisor’s list of the best electronic live acts of 2016. While their other chart, the infamous best DJ one, was pretty much every bit as predictably annoying as Nigel Farage appearing on Question Time, I realised that a lot of the live names were unknown to me. I pointed out that I wasn’t claiming this from a position of bohemian coolness, but that I genuinely hadn’t a scooby about who these people were. Thus a challenge was born: get familiar with some of them and see whether I could fathom out why they had been voted best-in-show. This could be tricky.

It doesn’t help that I’m not reporting from a manky club or festival. I’m sat on my arse watching Youtube and listening to Soundcloud trying to fathom all this out. Obviously I know some of them, even if I’m not sure in what context they are here. Is the Jeff Mills on the list a Jeff of sequencers and synths, or is it Jeff with a bucket of tunes and a 909? And yes, I think there is a difference. Why are Autechre only 39th out of 40? Can Rrose’s opening and closing of a fader over 8 minutes really be an exciting live proposition? Who cares? Well, not me. For we’re here for the alien names, the ones the great gangs of RA readers think are hot stuff. Here goes absolutely nothing.

Red Axes – Number 35

Never heard the name before, and here they are, nestled between Voiski and SNTS. A glance at their bio tells me they’re from Tel Aviv and used to be in a post-punk band. Ok. Youtube seems to have very little live stuff, but there are a few DJ sets which are all plod along in a fairly inoffensive but slightly boring way. Soul tearing acid this ain’t. Their own music echoes a similar vibe. I’m actually at the end of the second Youtube video before I realise it’s not the same track I started with. The one live video I find suggest there isn’t a world of difference between this and the DJ stuff. They also have a bit of a thing for dirty surf guitar. So did the Dead Kennedy’s, mind you, and it work out all right for them. Red Axes aren’t the Dead Kennedy’s. Let’s move on.

Premiesku – Number 21

Second in our game of Who Dat Band are Romanian Trio Premiesku, an act who, according to their bio, no one can stop the rise of. Well, quite. And they’ll be doing it with some fairly straight forward minimally house. This is no slight (ok, it is) as the stuff I’m hearing is thoroughly professional, deep, with some fairly decent grooves. It isn’t the most exciting music I’ve ever heard, but at least it’s definitely the sort of stuff you could pass 20 occasional minutes in room 2 with. Boy, do they like their long, deep, pulsing, bass lines. And squinky bits. Actually not that bad even if it is a bit tame.

Guti – Number 27

First disappointment is that this isn’t the former Real Madrid mid-fielder. Anyone hoping here for a techno/sporting personality interface had better stick to Steve Davis. Second disappointment is that judging from the live vid I’m watching of him, he seems to have nicked all his bass line from Premiesku in a remarkable musical meta-crime. Third disappointment is I’ve watched 40 minutes of this video and I think it’s still on the first track. No, wait, a bit of vocal just started. No, I’m wrong. It’s a Glaswegian shouting at him to change the fucking record. HAHAHAHA. It does however build a bit towards the end. You can tell because there are some tribally drums. Very serious (in the original sense of the word), deep, expansive, deep, and deep. Basically all the deep. The sort of producer who ‘takes you on a journey’ regardless of how you feel about it.

Agents Of Time – Number 17

This Italian trio’s bio states they have an old school flavour. If by that they mean they sound like a tribute act to the 80s that’s pretty accurate. I find myself liking them but I’m not sure if that’s because they sound quite different to all the minimal corporate house bollocks I’ve subjected myself to so far. Snare rolls, big maudlin descending chords and little flourishes of melody immediately stand out. Pretty trancey but not in that huge, bonkers, tortured 303 way. There is also an unmistakable love for early Euro house which is at least pleasingly different from an unmistakable love for aping the Beatport top ten. Charmingly rough around the edges, not afraid to get a bit of an IDM-ish wibble in there (which makes them at least a little bit subversive) and clearly enjoying hitting sounds off each other. I can see why people would pay to see them. Not bad at all.

David August – Number 8

I’m not sure how anyone can get to number 8 on a list like this and me not be aware of them. Actually, After listening I have my suspicions why that might be. Technically this really isn’t my thing, although it’s a lot of fun watching the Boiler room audience trying to figure out how they can dance to music as slow as this. This is a weird one as musically it’s lovely, meandering soundtracky stuff that seems determined to build worlds and drag you into its ethereal arms but it seems like its natural place is on a CD at home. It doesn’t half go for the hard sell at times though, occasionally thrusting you into a saccharine half-gloom of weaponized tastefulness and artful embarrassment. Still, those Boiler room dancer looking confused at the lack of anything resembling a pulse is worth it.

Conclusions? Do I feel ashamed not to have known any of these acts before? Hmm. This is a little portion of the listees music I listened to, and there is a definite theme that quickly began to develop. It’s interesting that the acts who I would pay to see are the older one, producers who are still very much predicated on techno, electro, and house DNA passed down through generations from a magical land of beats and grooves. It makes me feel very old. As for the others? I don’t know. A lot of it seems very safe, very pleasant, very non confrontational, and not the sort of thing that’s going to change your life. Importantly, a lot of it seems bland enough to appeal to the largest cross-section of the public. Did I learn anything at all? Nothing. Unfortunately, I suspect that’s the point.

Review: Peder Mannerfelt – Equality Now (Numbers)

It’s impossible to keep up with everything that happens in the exciting world of electronica, you know, and it seems I’ve missed out on the work of Peder Mannerfelt. Well, maybe not missed out, because I have been aware of his work in one way or another for a while, although fate has not conspired to bring me into more than passing contact with it. That probably won’t be enough to stop the mocking laughter of the Kids in the Know but such is life.

I’m actually a little surprised his new EP, Equality Now, has found a home on Numbers. Even for a label that takes an obvious delight in throwing regular left turns into their release schedule, Equality Now blazes off towards an oddly angled silicone horizon all of its own. That makes it sound like its right out there, and although that is a definite attraction of the music, the fact is that it has a certain energy which will be familiar to anyone who have taken an interest in the newer sounds coming out of the various British scenes just now where moods, genres, and meanings are taken apart and rebuilt into something that is both recognizable yet new.

This is something of a theme throughout Equality Now. Whether intentional or not, I don’t know, but there is sure feel of things being opened up and screwed with, like a kid with a remote control car who wants to see whether or not he can make it go faster, or drive underwater. The title track, perhaps the most conventionally dancefloor-ish track on offer here, booms with the jacking menace of a stripped down Green Velvet. The rogue snares accent that vibe right enough, but beyond and below that there is a surging emptiness which holds the energy playfully below the threshold for full take off, allowing the mood to stretch out and get right inside your head.

This sense of taut control continues into Breaking Pattern, but while the tune loses an element of Equality Now’s bleak and dispassionate charm, it replaces it with an edge of experimentalism which ripples with esoteric machinic rhythms and grooves. Tunes predicated on little more than textured rhythms and beats tend to lose themselves along the way more often than not, as if removing an over arching organic guidance slices away their meaning. Here the beats are very much in control, growing ever more bolshy and subtly bruising. The wiry screech of the pads adds a nervousness to the groove’s hypnotic roll, like being locked in a trance that’s slowly going wrong. It’s a fascinating and ever so slightly scary re-imagining of an old staple. In some senses the tune can be almost viewed as a tool, at least it might be if it didn’t assert its independence from techno convention so strongly.

By the time you reach Rules, Ropes and Strings you’ll be in mental sweats, and be ready for what starts off as something slighter and chilled. Whether you’ll still feel like that at the end is debatable. Its softer edges, its rivulets of colour and slowly warping texture, its single ringing chord, may at first lull you into a false sense of security, but the same sense of disorientation as the other two tunes underpins everything here. Its haunting in exactly the right way; nothing slight about it. The down tempo mood accents a profoundly dreamlike quality where shapes and shadows slowly, seductively, run riot.

Review: Morphology – Frozen State (Vortex Traks)

One of the very few things that has kept me relatively sane during 2016’s endlessly craptactular horror show is the way in which electro has begun, finally, to reassert itself on a scene increasingly dependant on the conventional. While it is true that electro ‘never went away’ and has always bubbled away under the well-sailed surface, you would have to be pretty disingenuous to pretend that the genre’s current popularity isn’t beginning to take it into new arenas. Personally speaking, as someone who has been very much into it for a very long time, I think 2016 has been at least as important, if not more so, than its previous mid nineties high water mark, particularly when you factor in the way that the music is now truly embracing new and differing facets of sound, textures, and themes which are allowing it to grow and evolve.

Morphology’s take on this evolution has frequently aimed itself towards a deepening and darkening of the genre. That in itself is nothing new, being a strand in the scene which runs back some 20+ years. But where Morphology perhaps differ is that their music hasn’t gone down a one way street. As internalized as some of their tunes feel, and as claustrophobic, there has always been a mix of competing emotions which help elevate the sound beyond the basic patterns. Frequently Morphology break away from pure electro, bringing the wider soundscapes and philosophies of IDM in to play, and making corrections in texture and meaning with the help of ambient flourishes. Cinematic is often a word bandied around with such music, but here is feels pretty fitting.

Frozen State itself is an interesting choice of title for the EP. While a certain iciness has often been central to Morphology’s sound, it is less prominent across this release. Where in the past there were blasts of winter, things have been warmed up. An acidic energy infuses the four tracks here, ratcheting up the grooves and providing a springboard into the swirling darkness. On occasions, such as in the depths of Linear Fractures the bubbling lines of the 303s entwine with the frigid crackle of the percussion, recalling for a moment the pulse of old material by The Martian. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the themes of space exploration encased in the track titles, this nod to alien techno informs a lot of music, and the way it kicks and buckles in zero gravity.

The A side in particular takes these themes and the music’s new-found heat to pack a lot of energy into the tunes. Frozen State draws on familiar vibes, a charging, slanted groove where bass twists in and out of the shadows below a tight, fast breakbeat. It’s thoroughly modern electro, using changes of energy and direction to foster an atmosphere of dance floor meanness without recourse to aural aggression. The best electro has always pulled similar tricks, using weaves of sound and tone to unsettle and build. Morphology nail it here. Polar Wander, in comparison, is heavier, a micron slower, and wrapped up with ghostly pads and thick with a juicy bass. Even so, it avoids an overt dark side vibe and gets its head down instead, morphing itself into a deadly plateaux of acid electro.

Of all the tracks though, only the wistful, playful and haunting Europa opens itself fully to those older IDM influences. It makes a symphony out of clanking noises, a party out of gentle machines doing their own thing. It slightness shouldn’t mark it out as lightweight however. Once you get down into its circuits there is a beautiful, other-worldly sense of drama here, which, in actual fact, is true for the rest of the EP as well. More evidence that Morphology are leading the genre by example. A great ending to their year.

Friday Night Tune: Lil’ Louis – French Kiss (Diamond Records)

Lil’ Louis was probably the first big name house producer I ever became familiar with, and my introduction wasn’t through a local club or DJ, or through catching him on radio in the dead hours of the night. Nor did I first come across him in the pages of the music press. My first experience of Lil’ Louis was from sitting on the sofa on a Saturday morning, watching TV.

British music television had always been pretty bad but by the late eighties it was slowly beginning to change. This was partly due, I think, to the way in which by the middle of the decade MTV had become such a huge and important entity. Its clout was such that even staid, dull, British stations could smell the advertising revenue, and there was a an understanding that music could be trusted to formats that didn’t just echo Top Of The Pops or The Old Grey Whistle Test. Sure, there had been shows like The Tube way back at the start of the eighties, but usually if you wanted access to the music you actually liked, you had to look elsewhere.

The first place I ever heard Lil’ Louis was one the long running Chart Show, a very MTV mix of endless videos and little else. What marked this show out from the others is that it didn’t just concentrate on the top ten, it included charts culled from various genres, which seemed to appear randomly depending on whether the relevant researcher had managed to do their job that week. Being the late 80s we mostly watched it for the indy charts, a Saturday morning tradition which grew in importance as punk, grunge and shoegazing became bigger and bigger. It seems strange that the quality of an entire weekend could be defined by whether or not you got to see a 90 second slice of a video by The Boo Radleys or Ride (Actually, it was rarely a video – often there were none and the track was played over a still publicity shot of the particular bands looking moody), but we were easily pleased back then. Occasionally, very occasionally, you might get My Bloody Valentine or Mudhoney – that was like winning the lottery.

In those early days, before we had started our love affair with weird, bleepy music, the dance charts were suffered more than enjoyed. Most of the music was pretty much as you would expect, and a lot of it would have been ignored as often used it as an excuse for sneaking away to smoke fags and jabber about Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Who were shite. For some reason, though, French Kiss stuck in the brain. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was the video, full of toys, colour and (not so) subliminal imagery. A lot of it was the tune itself. It was so very different from everything else we were hearing. Repetitive, mechanical, but very much full of life and soul. It was starkly separated from almost everything else on the show. We hated it. And yet, every time it was on it was listened to. It was beginning to make its way into our brains and that first, utterly important, change to our neural networks was under way.

When, a couple of years later, I really began to get into electronica, it was a tune that kept cropping up. It would appear on mixes by people like Derrick May, a huge and long time supporter of the tune, and somebody who still plays it today. It would appear through the strobes and dry ice in many of the clubs I started going to, usually to major effect, and once I started playing out myself it was a tune I abused far more often than I should have.

Interestingly it remains one of those house tunes which achieved complete and genuine cross over between the underground and the mainstream. That’s something you cannot say for a lot of true, authentic Chicago house which still often appears to be regarded as a curiosity by the music world. I can’t claim I loved everything Lil’ Louis ever did – once I began to immerse myself in the music my tastes quickly ran off at a tangent – but I’ll take this tune all the way down with me. It was the key which unlocked other doors, doors I never really knew existed until I came to them. You probably never forget your first loves – even the ones you try to disguise by pulling their pigtails and pretending you just don’t want to know. Thank God for that, otherwise I might still be listening to Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and be a stranger to a larger, odder, and much more colourful world. And they say that television is bad for you…