Friday Night Tune: The Shamen – Ebeneezer Goode

For all the love I have for house, techno, and all the other members of the family, I find sometimes you need something else to get you through the day. I probably never gave The Shamen quite as much attention as they deserved at the time. Like a lot of people who obsess over niche music, I was an aural snob from an early age and the official charts were a strange and disorienting territory.

But the late eighties and the early nineties were a watershed time in all sorts of ways. The influence of music coming from somewhere other than the boardroom meant for the first time in a very long time there was room at the top for the sorts of freaks and weirdoes who rarely got a look in. House music and Madchester were a double pronged assault on the status quo, and although neither had a very long stay at such lofty heights, they had a profound effect in the sort of music which would later bleed into the mainstream from outside.

I doubt whether a band like The Shamen could exist at that level nowadays. Even if we ignore the fact that the charts as we knew them are long gone, fractured into countless pieces, there still probably wouldn’t be much room for The Shamen’s full-on blend of pop, techno, house and fecund, cosmic, psycho-sexual bobbins. They – perhaps unwittingly – capitalised on the sea change which took place in those weird days, when the KLF blew the bloody doors off with art-sound terrorist shenanigans, bands like 808 State, Orbital, Altern8 and Happy Mondays were on Top Of The Pops, and – sweetest of the sweet – the Jesus and Mary Chain could get to number bloody ten with a record which opened with the line ‘I wanna die just like Jesus Christ/I wanna die on a bed of spikes’. One Direction it ain’t.

Ebeneezer Goode was a controversial number one at the time, and listening to it now it seems even more incredible that it could have got there at all. No. Not incredible: Impossible. A tune with such overt drug references – For God’s sake a tune extolling the virtues of Ecstasy no less should never have got that far. Even then that is beside the point. Yes it certainly is a ditty about pills, except that, if you listened to anything the band said, it wasn’t, except it really was, except…except….

Except it was about far more than that. It represented the simple fact that something had changed in the British psyche. Thatcher was a year gone, people could smell the end of Tory rule (even though it would be another five years until they were cleared out), and the massive explosion of acid house hadn’t so much changed us, but drawn out something which had always been there. In the same way that punk had infected British life with new ways of looking at things, so too had acid house. Its influence seeped into fashion and art and music, and it reminded us that for all the ‘make do and mend’ mentality we were supposed to represent, the actual truth was we were always a people who liked to get blasted and go dancing, and more than even that, we liked to stick two fingers up at authority, to take the piss out of constraints and conventions. Essentially, we are a nation of Ebeneezer Goodes.

There are always going to be those who remain sniffy about The Shamen. Fair enough. But in Our Thing, where we obsess over misplaced notions of the underground and authenticity it is sometimes important – and perhaps a little humbling – to remember that for all the finely constructed slices of dystopian techno you have in your stack right now, it was a number one song featuring the refrain ‘Eazer good, Eezer good – E’s Ebeneezer Goode!’, carried along in a video starring a sweary Glaswegian in a cape with a little dog which really upset the apple cart. And looking around at the state of the world just now, I think I know which one we need more. LAVELY!!

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Best Of The Represses – March 2017

Drexciya – Grava 4 (Clone Aqualung)

It’s Drexciya. Don’t really know what else there is to say, so I’ll say it again: It’s Drexciya.

OK. Look. There are actual reasons why you should buy Grava 4, chief amongst them is that it really, really was the end of, well, I was going to say era but that makes it sound like the death of Britpop or something. It was the final gleaming of something which lent fresh meaning to a genre already growing lazy and formulaic despite being less than 15 years old. And although it perhaps lacks something of Drexciya’s early, rougher, musical journey, listening to it now is a profoundly exciting and unsettling experience which reminds you once again how much further Donald and Stinson had moved beyond everyone else. Whether it’s the sleek, soulful electro of 700 Million Light Years From Earth, the signal from deep space which is Cascading Celestial Giants, or the low slung, prowling, Powers Of The Deep this is Drexciyan electro refined and widened. There have been countless imitators but no one ever sounded like Drexciya because the moment you try to copy them, it just turns to dust. Just buy the album.

Sueno Latino With Manuel Gottsching Performing E2 E4 (Dance Floor Corporation)

I loved Sueno Latino way back when, but I’m a little more ambivalent about it nowadays. Perhaps that’s because I heard it so many times. I don’t know. It’s still a great tune, and one of those big numbers which no box of records is probably complete without, even though that begs the questions of why you wouldn’t already have it. Ah, but such logic is not for fans of the repress…

Anyway, I guess the track you favour is tied into the era you first heard it. For me that obviously means the take by Big Derrick May, and his version probably remains the best known, at least to those of us who were kicking around in clubs when techno and house really, really began to explode. The three other version here are all pretty good, each of them providing the tune with different qualities and different angles. But no matter what mix does it for you the best, all of them rely on the tune’s undoubted daybreak warmth and light for their soul and emotional centre. Aside from Dezza’s take, my personal favourite here is probably the Winter mix – a loose, freeroaming and gigglingly lopsided slice of happy-go-lucky simplicity and sunshine. As fine an example of all that was good about Balearic house as you’ll find. And as an added bonus every track comes with a free aviary of loons. Much loonacy in fact. Ho Ho!

ERP – Lunar Ruins ( Harbour City Sorrow)

Fact – if it hadn’t been for electro labels, the state of represses in 2017 would be shocking. They have collectively done us proud so far, which is a damn sight more than I can say for the rest of the ill-bred family. Frustrated Funk offshoot Harbour City Sorrow have been doing some particularly impressive work recently when it comes to reprints, and the return of this 2011 release by ERP is especially welcome, seeing as – by even his unusually high standards – it’s a pretty damn fine record.

ERPs’s track record when it comes to deep, engulfing electro is well known, but this is something else. Title track Lunar Ruins, and Into The Distance are both spectacular bursts of deadly yet soulful alien-machine music, organic but disciplined and so deep that your feet will never touch the bottom. But the real stand out here, I think, is Mimosa Canopy, where the breaks are replaced with a tight, grooving 4/4 that acts as a springboard for some of the most gorgeous bassy noodlings you will have heard in quite some time. It’s a track which touches on the stellar themes of Juan Atkins, Drexciya and a host of others, but emerges from the wormhole as something exquisitely, uniquely, fresh.

Event: Loop Presents B12, John Shima @ Dina, Sheffield – 1st April 2017

Alright troops. I don’t often carry event listing these days seeing as how I rarely leave the house and tend to forget there is a larger world out there, and I rarely stray far from Glasgow when I do but, seeing as there has been a wee bit of Sheffield – Glasgow traffic over the years I thought I’d get this one out there.

It’s not the Weegie connection which is important here, but the chance to hear legendary techno and electronica outfit B12 playing their seminal album Electro Soma in a live environment.

Released on Warp in 1993, Electro Soma remains a seminal moment in both early British techno and the burgeoning IDM scene. Even after all these years it’s more than still up there with the likes of Autechre’s Amber, and Black Dog’s Spanners, and is still a high water mark on Warp’s catalogue. Time to get reacquainted and get yourself down. It’s a true stunner.

Also on duty is John Shima who we’ve covered here once or twice and is currently out there as part of the Emerald City EP on Verdant along side Plant 43, Leigh Dickson, and Mihail P. The boy’s a good ‘un, and his deep, travelling, Detroit influenced sound should be a great counterpoint to B12’s cosmic explorations.

Support from local jocks Info And Neil Martin rounds off what looks like a proper treat of a night. Converge on Dina @ 32 Cambridge Street, Sheffield S1 4HP (handily behind Lewis’) on Saturday night for the answer to all your techno dreams. Early kick aff at 8pm through to 3AM. Tickets a ten spot in advance or 12 on the door, But I’d get them early. I can’t see many being left behind for this one. Advance tickets can be had from HERE so get on it before it’s too late. Lovely.

Review: Ford Foster – Managed Expectations (Midnight Shift)

Ford Foster – Managed Expectations (Midnight Shift)

Somewhere along the road it seemed as if techno had decided that what it really, really wanted to do was stop getting munged, grow up enough to put ‘sensible electronica’ on its CV, and attempt to distance itself from its own enjoyably messy past.

Now, this is alright if you’re the sort of person who believes what techno needs to be doing is to be taken seriously by preening gonks who describe holding a party as ‘curating an event’, the ballsacks. You know the types: they all dress like the comedy existentialists in Tony Hancock’s The Rebel, all strange haircuts and black turtlenecks. This attitude has slowly begun to permeate a lot of the actual music, rather than just the scene it festers in. Those kicks which sound like the oxygen being sucked out of the atmosphere, the reliance on tonal shifts so small they’re only appreciable on an atomic level; The entire replacement of a dancefloor ethos with chin stroking.

Since when did it become acceptable to be boring? Techno is increasingly becoming like the sort of hard rock which is only ever listened to by guitar nerds not because they like the music, but because it features their favourite guitars, and any music which is enjoyed only by people who get a stiffy when discussing cable ties is pretty fucking tragic.

But the most heinous crime in modern techno is the utter lack of interest in anything remotely approaching a groove, that most fundamental of elements. Luckily for us, for all my over the top, ranty pronouncements, there have been a few traces recently of a kickback against the weighty seriousness, the cod intellectualism. Last week we had Kalla’s acid drenched, warehouse smashing Enter The Sponk on DABJ, and over the last year we’ve seen the likes of Tinfoil, Casio Royale and others slowly begin to bring techno back to a place where it can stretch out and do what it’s best at. Ford Foster has long been one of this crowd.

One of the things I like best about Managed Expectations is the way that Foster’s concept of techno is as informed by house as it is by anything more bone shaking. While there is an element to it which could be described as a throwback to a simpler, dafter time, the basic truth is that techno was always at its most lively when it was stealing colours and ideas from other strands of electronic music. And with Foster, his obvious loves for the more explosive edge of house – the Dance Mania, the Relief Records end of things – are used to fatten the funk, to provide the basic techno skeleton with the rude flesh.

Not that it ever descends into aping someone like DJ Funk or Tim Harper. In fact, beyond that there is a vein of smart experimentalism which lies just beneath the surface and helps distribute the grooves to new places, places which might actually surprise anyone who has paid attention to his work over the last few years. The tunes remain strong, raucous, but there is a certain laid back and diffuse energy which runs through the music, accenting the funk, carrying the usual madness in a slightly different direction.

Opener, Reputations perhaps runs closer to some of those aforementioned influences than the rest – a crackling, beat heavy runabout that veers into Relief era reductionism but pins a nervy vibe to the proceedings with a taut, whispery pad. Hold It In is the tightest tune here; predicated on a prowling bass it cuts out all the unnecessary to provide a focussed booster shot of darkened, midnight jacking.

And it says a lot about the music that Chicago legend Mike Dunn’s mix of Decisions – a gleeful burst of ambling cosmic acid, and as groove-licious as you could hope for from a bona-fide acid legend – doesn’t steal the thunder from the original, itself a wide-angled slice of sunshine drenched trippiness which double dunts the simple melody with the bass and soaks everything in nicely skewed strings, and rolls along with a similar vibe to some of the Detroit young guns have been throwing out over the last wee while.

If you’re looking for dark, Nordic, techno-angst, well, you’ve come to the wrong shop. For the rest of us, though, the boundless warmth, the countless grooves and the infestation of grins should be more than enough to seal the deal. Old school funk with new school threads. So good.

Friday Night Tune: E-Dancer – Velocity Funk

The last year or so has been an interesting time for techno and house. Interesting and a little strange. For a while it seemed as if we were getting increasingly locked into a deeper mood, one where the beats were congealing at a fairly pedestrian speed, and the only available texture was ‘fluffy’. I’m still not sure whether the current taste for safe, fairly undemanding house and techno, and the ongoing renaissance of disco, is simply indicative of the sort of nostalgia you get when you live in interesting times or whether it points to something deeper in electronica’s subconscious, but I’m really beginning to hope we snap out of it soon.

And, in fact, the evidence is that we are. There has been a slow increase in the amount of dirty, gutteral techno recently; music that mainlines a lot of old second wave Chicago energy along with techno’s stomp, often showering the whole lot in acid. While its easy to point at much of this stuff and accuse it of digging through the past just as much as any chunky disco infused house tune currently doing the rounds, it at least suggests that someone out there is getting itchy feet.

The resurgent interest in hardcore is an even more interesting one. Although there have been a number of records recently that exhume a lot of the old school ravey flavour, the majority of them have taken the basic sound and refitted it. Often this mean slowing it down by quite a bit. Usually when this sort of thing happens the music loses a lot of its impact, but with hardcore it tends to accent the heaviness, slowly morphing the music from homage into something new. It’s the kind of useful pillaging of influence I can get behind, and far more interesting than simply xeroxing the past.

But what I’m really hoping for is to see more producers willing to delve into different areas of sound and mood. At the moment there seems to be a surfeit of artists who only mine particular strands of electronica. I’ve touched on this before, wondering whether the way things now means that many people are unwilling to mix it up too much, that because fan bases seem to harden around a particular style the various acts don’t want to move too far away. In effect, electronica’s is growing compartmentalized.

Many of my own favourite producers were those whose work covered a lot of ground, who were always ready to jump between vibes as and when the mood took them. If you look at the work of an artist like Eddie Fowlkes, for instance, you can see a musical mind capable of moving between a deep, luxuriously rich sound where the gap between techno and house is almost imperceptible, and the scintillating, room-melting lunacy of a track like 420 Low, one of the harder tunes to emerge from Detroit. Underground Resistance’s Mike Banks is a similar figure. Responsible for atomic belters such as Punisher or The Seawolf, he also pushed the concept of hi-tech soul, that fundamentally Detroit movement encapsulated in the jazzy, soulful grooves of Jupiter Jazz or Journey Of The Dragons.

The point here isn’t that these producers were going where the market, and the fans dictated, but rather they were allowing full reign to their sense of expression, letting the full sweep of their creative skills the chance to bear fruit.

Perhaps more than any other Detroit producer Kevin Saunderson was a master of this. Known originally on this side of the Atlantic as Inner City – a project which although overtly commercial still combined the poppiness with the nous of a resolutely underground producer – and equally renowned in the darker, sweatier, corners of the globe for music released as Tronic, Reece, and a gang of other names, it was his work as E-Dancer which got me.

I’ve written about the other side of the record tonight’s tune comes from before, the cosmic brilliance of World Of Deep, and I still don’t know which side of this 12″ is my favourite. What I always loved about it though is the way it captures two very different sides of Saunderson’s music. World Of Deep is a glimpse of heaven; every bit as soulful as anything Mike Banks or Fowlkes did, it remains in many ways the epitome of Detroit’s fusion of body and soul. Velocity Funk though? Velocity Funk lays waste.

Aside from the fact it’s one of those tunes which Glasgow seemed to take as its own, it retains the power to shock. it isn’t just that, though, nor is it simply about the explosive rave energy it folds into its techno. There is, for all it’s heaviness, and speed, a lightness of touch and humour which propels it just as much as the slamming beats, paired so ably with the screaming vocal sample which slices the skin open and buries itself inside your head.

Many artists may have allowed themselves to cross the divide of moods and styles but few have done it on a single two-track 12″. Even fewer have pulled it off. Insane. And sublime.