Best Of The Represses – January 2017

Here we are at the fat end of 2017 with an entire year of new music to assail us, thrill us and more than likely annoy us a little bit too. I’ll be honest: On the whole I thought 2016 was a little bit on the dull side when it came to represses, although there were a few crackers and surprises buried under the piles of more obvious re-releases.

Now, I don’t know exactly what’s in store for 2017, but for those of us who enjoy a bit of electro nonsense it looks like we might be well served with a 2LP retrospective of Detroit’s excellent Le Car coming very soon, and a reissue of Drexciya’s final LP, Grava 4 coming in March. Even better, We will be finally getting a vinyl reissue of Other People Places Lifestyles Of The Laptop Cafe. For many this is something of a holy grail, representing – aside from the great music – the last work of Drexciyan hero James Stinson. Beyond electro, Derrick May’s seminal Transmat label is gearing up for a wee run of represses, which looks like including the label’s best ever release – the Ikon/Kao-tic Harmony doubler. I’m hoping if they do well Mr May might be tempted to start shunting out some of the Fragile back catalogue too. Also, following a press release from Submerge on the subjecet of increased issues with pressing and distribution, we are soon to get the Underground Resistance and Red Planet catalogue released as remastered digital files via Bandcamp. Lovely. All we need are for Metroplex to put out more of their classic records and we can all go to bed happy.

Ultradyne – Antarctica (Exterminador Records)

Anyone with a nervous disposition can look away now, for Detroit’s Ultradyne are not an outfit which caters for shrinking violets. Even by the once fierce standards of Detroit’s more militant acts, the music Ultradyne offer is fast, furious and hard. This is a reissue of their one and only album, originally available on their own Pi Gao Movement label all the way back in 1999, and it still feels tight with the nervous energy which characterised the last days of the second millennium. Even in its quieter, subtler, moments the tunes play host to riotous, seething bursts of sound which disorient and pound. It’s in the faster tunes that everything comes together though. Whether its breakneck, swirling techno, razor-sharp electroid hunter/killers, or rogue industrialized slabs of funk which defy such easy categorization, Antarctica is a singular vision, a snap shot of electronic music taken right on the very edge of sanity. Much, much recommended. Listen and learn.

The Exaltics – 10 Million Light Years (Solar One)

Solar One had a very good year last year, with some truly special records encompassing work from the likes of E.R.P, Gerald Donald and The Exaltics themselves, to say nothing of a pair of splendid samplers which included off-kilter hits of acid, techno and electro from a host of class acts. 10 Million Light Years is a special 10th anniversary reissue of the labels first ever release, and comes on splendidly weird dye injected coloured vinyl which goes a long way to offsetting the fact it’s a creepy 10″ (and yes, 10″ records are creepy. You know I’m right on this so don’t argue.) Encapsulating Drexciyan overtones, and blending them with something more overtly European 10 Million Light Years shifts its electro skeleton on its axis until it becomes a far more esoteric beast. Haunting rather than deep, stalking rather than either frosty or pounding, but never losing sight of the grooves which underpin it, the record remains a surprisingly accessible burst of sleek and future-proof funk powered by machines with alien DNA.

V/A – Stilleben 045 (Stilleben Records)

OK, so this is a bit of a cheat on my part. Originally out in 2014 as a digital only release, the vinyl version finally landed late last year and was promptly buried somewhere in my stack until I remembered it over the Christmas period. Apologies if you can no longer find it anywhere other than Discogs. Still, it’s certainly worth tracking down, even if it’s just to get you acquainted with a label which is slowly moving back into gear after a couple of quiet years. Various Artist samplers are, of course, all the rage just now in electro, but even by current standards this is something of an all-star release featuring two tracks from Swedish electro pioneer and Stilleben head honcho Luke Eargoggle (one with Weltwirtschaft), an absolutely fine, free funking groover from E.R.P and a storming, Detroit wired, midnight rambler from -=UHU=-. Each track digs into a different vibe and shows how wide open the genre can be.

Friday Night Tune: Vintage Future – Antimatter Premium Unleaded

Something has been troubling me for a little while. I’ve often commented on the speed at which electronic music reinvents itself, splintering off into different forms whenever some weird and subconscious collective consensus begins to assert that it has grown bored or jaded with the status quo. I’ll be honest: this strident aural Darwinism has always been one of the things I’ve loved most about electronica, and I’ve long been fascinated that a form of music that – in its major state at least – is primarily seen as party music should be so driven to constantly change itself.

What’s been nagging at me is the possibility that things are cooling down, that the changes which once seemed to come on an almost weekly basis are happening further apart. Even more importantly, those alteration to the base DNA seem and feel smaller, less evolutionary. Of course, no movement can maintain forward momentum forever. Ideas gradually coalesce and fresh avenues of approach eventually show themselves to be cul-de-sacs.

That appears to be the case now. The major seismic aftershocks which spread out after the birthing of house and techno appear to have settled, to have grown less fierce. Where we once went from the original Chicago form to a myriad of mutated types which included acid, jungle, hardcore and a host of others, in a very short period of time, we seem to now be more interested in the slowing evolution of existent genres. A few weeks back Bandcamp ran an interesting round-up of lo-fi house. What stood out, regardless of how you feel about that particular strain, was that, essentially, it was detailing a scene which has been around for a few years now, and may even have already reached its peak, a scene which exists as a splinter of something larger. Once again, evolution rather than revolution.

Electronica has now, finally, reached a point where it can’t easily be dismissed as a niche musical form any more. This maturity manifests itself in various ways, many of them not entirely about the music itself. Fan bases grow and harden around specific scenes, and there is perhaps so much music now, spanning so many different genres, that people tend to follow specific threads instead of the whole ball of wool. It may also be true that it is easier now for the industry to settle on a few more commercially favourable flavours than take risks with something which shifts the paradigm too far from ‘what people want’.

Has the time when you felt as if you could wake up to an entirely new style of sound on what seemed to be a daily basis now past? Perhaps. I don’t think that major new forms such as drum & bass or dub step are going to be coming around as often any more. Perhaps, ultimately, this change may prove rewarding in a different way. We bitch and moan about the underground a lot these days, and the truth is that the underground is a radically different place from even a decade ago. But maybe there is a growing space for the underground to finally re-establish itself. Maybe it won’t exist as the hot bed of true musical invention it once was, but instead act as a mirror to the rest of electronica, become a Platonic ideal representing the very best and artistically important of electronic music always pushing to see how far it can take the vast mass of sound. Some will say that is what the underground has been all along, but I don’t think it was. Too often the underground was a hiding place for stuff which wasn’t good enough to be picked up elsewhere, almost as if there was kudos in failing to energise itself. When the scene was small, and niche, everything (even the very largest acts) could reasonably be described as underground. Not any more, though.

In some ways Vintage Future’s Antimatter Premium Unleaded represents a blast of invention from a time which has always had a similar feel to right now. When it was released back at the end of the nineties, it was a time when the rules were really beginning to become codified, when many records were beginning to share more than a few hallmarks in sound. Electro was slowly becoming dominated by the Detroit techno-bass sound and by the frostier European electro-noir and the underground filling up with music that, while full to the brim with the right sounds and moves, felt like brittle copies of the true originals.

Antimatter Premium Unleaded, though, seemed something different. From the Detroit styles it seemed to take just enough to inform what still feels like a thrillingly stark, almost empty shape, with a mean swagger which accented the fact it owed a debt to an older form of electro, something even closer to the genre’s roots. It eschewed much of techno-bass’s usual tones, and completely refused to have any truck with what was going on in Germany or Holland or the UK. At the heart of the tune is that huge bumping bass line which sounded like a pulse from deep space. It marshals the rest of the track with it pummelling, white-hot focus, and it drags not only the music, but the whole genre into the light and says ‘this is what we can do.’

I don’t think electronica is in a worse state now than it used to be. In fact, I think the opposite is true. But while there is more music than ever before, more people creating than ever before, we’ve lost something of the corrective blows to the system we used to get, the sound which forced us out of our happy zone and made us realise there is always more than we were aware of. We’ve reached electronica’s comfortable middle-age, and more than ever before we need something like Antimatter Premium Unleaded. We need something we can hold up and say ‘this is how we do it right’.

Review: ITPDWIP – Eye Can See The Light (In The End Of The Tunnel) (Lobster Theremin)

For a label as prolific as Lobster Theremin have been over the last few years, I have always been a little bit surprised that there has not been more of an attempt to get some decent electro out there, particularly as they have always seemed willing to support some properly freaky music. But, with the exception of a rather fine release by Privacy a while back, it has remained a decidedly blank space in their release schedules.

Yet a tweet at the start of the year that they had been sitting on a pile of electro but hadn’t yet let it out into the wild got my hopes up. While the genre is well served at the moment with a number of great specialist electro labels, there is always more room for more. Beyond that the fact that Lobster are beginning to twist themselves around to electro’s oddball charms is even more evidence that the genre is growing in strength.

The last release by ITPDWIP, Post Love on Brokntoys was a record I liked more than loved. It was an interesting mix of wistful melodies and solid enough contemporary electro trappings which pitched itself somewhere between the classic end of the genre and somewhere on the border between IDM-ish noodling and a looser, poppier, vibe. It was enjoyable but never seemed to have quite enough to separate it from the crowd.

Eye Can See The Light (In The End Of The Tunnel) is a different beast, and one that quickly shirks off the constraints of the genre to deliver something which sets its sights further afield. The A side tends towards the more obviously electro, but does so with panache, especially on Blinded By The Light where a lightness of touch mixes with the beautifully understated, slightly wonky vocals to deliver something heavily infused with genuine soulfulness. It’s a playful, deceptively sleepy hit of high-tech jazz which rides a gently haphazard breakbeat into the clouds. The Jeremiah R Remix perhaps loses something of the original’s quiet invention but replaces it with more Drexciyan tones and overt grooves, and the sort of electrified percussion which gets everything wriggling whilst retaining much of the original’s smiles.

The B side pushes out on its own, removing the breaks from both tracks but mixing in a more pronounced sense of experimental adventure. On first listen both I Am Not Him and Outernet feel like they owe something to mid period Detroit’s fascination with creating melody and space out of the most disparate of elements, and Outernet in particular swims through the internal cosmos in a similar way to some of Kenny Larkin’s older material used to. Repeated listening both emphasises some of those touches, but also reveals the tracks to be looser, the orchestration more willing to open up and invite different energies into the proceedings. Both tunes are lovely; skanking rogue blasts of midnight sunlight flecking the electro ocean with wide-eyed funk. Outernet, the darker, heavier of the two, builds a thicker sense of drama, but it’s I Am Not Him which best encapsulates both the warmth and soul which lies at the heart of the record. Utilising much of the poppy vibe from the Brokntoys release, it simmers at just the right temperature, drawing out a strain of bleepy fun with which sentient machines run riot.

Whether or not forthcoming Lobster Theremin electro releases hit the same levels as Eye Can See The Light (In The End Of The Tunnel) remains to be seen. It can be a tricky vein to mine if you’re not 100% in love with it. But, based on the evidence here, we might be on to a very good thing, and any widening of the pool can only be good for all of us. Bring it on.

Review: 6D22 – Istar (Zeinkali)

It is sometimes easy to forget that for all the strains of fierce, dark music which dominate the current scene that techno itself was not always predicated on a desire to inflict fear upon the listener. Nor, it must be said, was it always about the micro-skills of sound generation over the sounds themselves. Occasionally these days there is a feeling that we have entered the age of the technician, where an obsession with the details has obscured everything else, usually to the detriment of two elements in particular: the groove and the mood.

Giorgio Luceri’s career so far has certainly leaned towards the last two elements, and on records for the likes of Mathematics, Fly By Night and others he has forged strains of house, techno, and rogue electronica which is heavily indebted to shade and atmospherics to create music which pulls on classic influences whilst remaining very much his own creation. This, the first release from new Georgian label Zeinkali, continues in a similar vein to his previous work on Mathematics where he conjured up wide open vistas that seemed to use elements of classical Detroit to colour a much looser sound.

And it’s these elements that make Istar such an interesting record. While it would be inaccurate to describe it in purely nostalgic terms, the heady clouds of moodiness certainly hark back to an era when techno itself was a far less constrained genre, one that made a great deal of the influences of its immediate family upon its sound. 11111111, for instance, buckles with a quiet energy which refracts something of the style of trance when it was fed by Balearic moonlight and before it solidified into the creature we know. The big thick and bouncy bass line stiffens the free-flowing, porpoising synths and scattergun cowbells to add a prowling, forward moving groove. 3T-283H0RUS works similar charms but is darker and slightly heavier, tapering towards a melodic melancholia, accented by loon samples which reinforce a munged-at-daybreak vibe.

If anything, in fact, this is the prevailing tone of the record, one of parties at the end of night where a quiet, warm exhaustion has replaced the peak time delirium. It’s a subtle record, and a fairly introspective one, but it’s also warm, welcoming. The way in which the bass provides more than a simple metronomic pulse, mixing with percussion which rarely knows its place and prefers to try its hand at shaping the moods and melodies, helps to draw out deeper, more exploratory colours.

Only Istar itself breaks away from the rest. On its own terms, its decent enough; a cracked beat and warbling 303s evoking a smokier, deeper vibe. What slightly disappoints, though, is that it jars in relation to the other tracks, relying on a more overtly hardfloor-esque style which is more strident and lacks the subtle glimmer which feeds the other tunes’ gossamer elegance. Perhaps elsewhere it would have been less noticeable, but here it stands out, its influences less carefully marshalled, its sense of self obscured.

The highlight of the record though, 0938342-226, takes all those Balearic touches and moves them into an arena of their own. The interplay between that style and the techno leanings is even more gloriously muddied and it recalls the winding, adventuring mix of house and trance that once made Jam and Spoon such a treat. Like that long gone and much missed duo it takes you for a trip over starlit, midnight oceans of nothingness, carrying you upwards until you can no longer see the distant surface. It’s the way the simple elements come together to create something complex yet easy to understand which makes it so good, and the weaving, Detroit strings tug at the heart and feet in equal measure.

It’s a record lacking much of electronica’s current pretension and need to impress. While that might certainly make it sound unfashionable to certain scenes, it’s actually its strength. Instead, it concerns itself with creating worlds which could never be accessed through any other means, and filling them with hints of something even greater. As far as I’m concerned, that’s more techno than all the black t-shirts in the world.

Review: Various Artists – Mechatronica 002 (Mechatronica)

It might be another year but electro’s fascination with the various artist sampler format shows little interest in stopping. In the next few weeks we have VAs from the likes of Libertine, Stilleben, Brokntoys and Cultivated Electronics on their way, and you can put money on more of them appearing as the next 12 months progress. It’s a fine enough way of doing it, even more so when you consider that the burgeoning interest in the genre will probably benefit in the long term as more people with scant knowledge of the scene come onboard and find a pile of records offering a quick lesson in what’s out there. It’s not always the easiest genre to get into, remaining as it does rather more esoteric than either house or techno, so anything which allows new blood an inroad is to be welcomed.

Although this is only Berlin label Mechatronica’s second ever release, what is already becoming very clear is that they certainly have a taste and an ear for some fine electro. Their first record brought together some real scene veterans in the form of Luke Eargoggle, Sync 24, and UHU and this second collection carries a roster every bit as impressive with Dez Williams, Fleck E.S.C, and Umwelt signing on for all manner of breakbeaty shenanigans.

Where a noticeable amount of the new electro in 2016 was either trying to redefining deepness, or refracting the colder glare of synthwave or IDM into a more modern brightness, Mechatronica’s second release eschews such careful approaches for four tunes which operate on a far more joyfully instinctual level. Even though the beats rarely accelerate towards the light bending speed that is so common at the harder end of the genre, each piece brings a sense of disparate artists operating at the sharp edge of the current scene, and paying more attention to grooves and grunt than to carefully constructed atmospherics. And that’s pretty much how we like it around here.

First up are a pair of relative newcomers. It’s possible that I’ve heard work by either Dmitry Distant or Igors Vorobjovs without being aware of it, but their entry here, the tight, jacking thunder of Cold Scape stands on its own feet. It pulls at the same chunk of the brain as classic Metroplex does, and indeed mainlines a similar vibe to Model 500’s more militant moments. But rather than simply dump a pile of nostalgia on us, it pushes beyond the realm of homage. The sound is thicker than Model 500, and swarms with micro touches; the robotic, rolling hypnotism of the bassline vying for your attentions with washes of chilled pads which bind the machine grooves to something looser and iridescent. As debuts go this is a kicker. I can’t wait to hear a full release.

Dez Williams tune, the stalking, hacking Only Way I know is far calmer than much of the work he turned in towards the end of last year without losing touch of his trademark sense of compressed funk. The track pitches somewhere between hip hop and classic electro, but tears down much of the building work, only to work it back up into a slowly unfolding slice of industrialized moodiness which force feeds the machines with some malicious, darkside, rave energy. Nowhere near as bleeding ears hard as a lot of that recent work, it’s actually more effective for it. One to play when things are getting messy; a thought, in fact, which might sum up the record.

It might be particularly true of the other pair of tracks, Umwelt’s Mankind Origin and Fleck E.S.C’s Dimmer Set Up. I’m corralling them here together because they share a pulse with each other, particularly in the way they both trawl through electro’s more or less recent past to provide building blocks of sound and attitude. Although both tunes (and the Umwelt one in particular) owe a debt to Electro-noir, neither fixate on that approach. They are far too messy for a start, swapping cold and clinical tones for static bursts of percussion and condensed, repressed, sonic malice. On Mankind Origin this meanness accents the frosty top end, clawing it away from its precision engineering until it becomes bleaker, creepier, dragged in the dirt. On Dimmer Set Up Fleck E.S.C unleashes barely restrained acidic elements under the spectral, Rother-esque lead lines until it morphs into a jacking creature of the night, with its beats snapping at the future. As good a snapshot of contemporary electro as you could wish with Mechatronica pushing the madness into the new year. Excellent.