Review: Willie Burns and DJ Overdose – Sonny and Ricardo Give Good Advice (Unknown To The Unknown)

Willie Burns and DJ Overdose – Sonny and Ricardo Give Good Advice (Unknown To The Unknown)

A decade ago, even five years back, a record like this would probably have had the sneery and overly serious sections of the peanut gallery getting all preachy and whining about ‘ramifications’ and ‘responsibility’ and all sorts of shit which seems really important to the sort of slick and professional meedya sorts who want to make Our Thing Their Thing. Now, given the flood of high weirdness which is engulfing the world, and the way in which an ultra-orthdodox conservatism seems to have got it together with the genuinely, weaponized, bat-shit crazy, any tune that can lift a vocal snippet from (I’m assuming) Miami Vice and lash it to a proper old-school jack track like this ends the day sounding like a victory anthem.

Anyways, that’s kind of setting a high bar I guess, but the beauty of this is that the music comes up to snuff. The B-side, firstly, is packed with about a million locked grooves – something which seldom makes good on the promise but works pretty darn brilliantly here. Veering between squirts of acid and rumbling toms they’re light years away from the smear of hi-hat samples so beloved of the ‘I don’t DJ – I remix on the fly’ gang in their Hitler Youth haircuts. Almost worth the price of admission on their own so numerous and excellent are they.

The main attractions though are the two slammers on the A-side, dirty ripped-up throwbacks to the dingiest of club nights. Sonically they evoke the messy chaos of the sort of house music which remained resolutely under-the-radar during the genre’s original hey-day, taking the basic formula and swirling in a dose of gleeful nihilism to the mix, creating something which was the flip-side to the Second Summer of Love’s bright and shining accession. The first one up rolls straight in with that fecund ‘Take Drugs’ sample leading the way before unleashing the demonic toms which rule over everything. The unfolding darkness is held off with a belt of acidic bass and its chirpier top-ended buddy, lending the tune not only a demented smile, but a mean dose of slanted funk.

The following beat mix is exactly what you both expect and need. Shorn of the original’s acid accoutrements, it gets back to basics – or, to be precise, back to even more basic basics. It simply sinks it rhythmic fangs into your feet and shakes you around, letting the toms and rimshots take turns in banging your brains to mush.

It’s in this absolute disregard for anything beyond the simple, scuzzy nature of the tunes that the music finds it’s soul. The soundtrack to a crusty infested squat somewhere on the edge of the early nineties it may well be, but that’s just layers on the vibe. Tunes trying to hark back to a more honest, less slick time may well be ten a penny nowadays, but very few wear their hearts on their sleeves like this. Huge, filthy tunes that stick two fingers up to an increasingly homogenized scene. The antithesis. And the antidote. Turn it up on election day and make a point.

Review: Jerome Hill – Toybox Part 1 (Don’t)

Jerome Hill – Toybox Part 1 (Don’t)

Glasgow’s spring time weather is notoriously fickle, and the last few weeks have been no different as it veers between blue skies and torrential rain. This was unexpected though.

I sat down a few days ago to listen to Toy Box Part 1 and take notes. As I did it was still dry, and motes of dust fluttered in the beams of sunlight. It didn’t last. Almost as soon as the needle touched the first grooves of the record, things began to change. Suddenly, as Egg Roll’s moody beats lashed the office, the light beyond my window began to fade. No, that’s not right; it didn’t fade, it was like the light was being sucked out of the day as a cloud as black as a Tory front bencher’s soul billowed and loomed above the flats on the other side of the lane, blotting out the sky and throwing everything into terrifyingly sharp relief.

The temperature plummeted but the humidity grew oppressive, matching the tune’s wicked jack; as perfectly in sync as any laptop DJ hero. Egg Roll ended and Skez Princess’s razor-sharp breaks crackled through the room, scattering outward and hacking at the growing storm. Down came the rain. Jesus, down came the rain; thick, almost metallic sheets built from drops as fat and heavy as rivets, smacking into the tired, hot, earth and reaching back up as Skez Princess’s beats and dark matter bass filled what little room was left within the claustrophobic atmosphere.

It didn’t let up with the B-side. I know slowed the raucous energy but replaced it with a seedy intent which curled around the sound of the raindrops exploding against the roof and the glass of the window, the music and the elements conjoining, building a snarling symphony which hummed and shimmered in the thick, dead air. Mono Skank, I prayed, might slacken the damaging thirst of whatever malicious and forgotten demon had been let loose on heaven’s decks but it wasn’t to be. The tune’s proto-industrial bass line thrummed and buckled this way and that, prowling at the edge of my increasingly questionable reality. For a moment, as the beats peeled back, as the music quieted itself in preparation for the final stomp I thought I glimpsed mean old faces in the rain, laughing and gurning. And then the grooves were alive again, pumping in competition with the busy sky.

Mono Skank ended and, almost as soon as the last burst of bass had scraped itself into silence, the elemental percussion of the rain stopped. Stopped dead, as if the clouds no longer had any interest in flooding the world. I sat there for a moment, shaky and uncertain, before hoisting myself from the chair and walking over to the window. Above the smeared glass there were already patches of blue widening in the bruised evening sky. The light was returning, soft and forgiving, brightening the colours of the springtime with warmth. And I thought “if this is what it does to the weather, just imagine what it would do to you in the depths of a Friday night”. Primordial hardcore fuelled burners, fully recommended by the rain-gods themselves.

Review: Hodge and Peder – All My Love (Peder Mannerfelt Productions)

I’ve written this damn thing about 30 times now, and each and every attempt falls apart on the second paragraph. I started arse-over-tit by beginning with some conclusions that could only be borne out with some primo-grade reality bending, and now I’ve decided that honesty is the best policy. I know: you don’t get this sort of thing in the Wire, do you? It’s amateur hour around here.

So, at the risk of seeming a little off, here’s what you need to know: Hodge and Peder’s first collaboration pretty much came out of nowhere and did a number on my brain. I had meant to draw cunning and sophisticated allusions to hardcore and rave culture, to avoiding homage and smash ‘n’ grab nostalgia runs back to the early 90’s but the fact is that all of this sort of thing just slides off the music as if it’s wearing teflon armour. Yes, the tunes are coloured with a certain hue of day-glo insanity but All My Love isn’t really a nod to the current (and admittedly welcome) trend for snarling, compressed, rave bombs from yesteryear. There is a lot more going on here than that.

If I was trying hard to stick to that theme, I suppose I could describe All My Love as less of a reworking of classic genre influences, and more of a re-imagining. While certain tones and ways of movement will be familiar to anyone who has a passing interest in these genres, the way the music rises up is very modern and absolutely without any interest in revisiting the past as you might know it. There are moments it bolts away from all your preconceptions entirely, veering close to a sort of mayhem that KLF once described as ‘stadium house’. At other times it evokes the heavy swirl of the sort of dirty, acrid, techno which seems to be very much in decline these days, a form of techno which simply does not give a toss what you think about it, a form of techno which exists for the sole purpose of making you dance and shout and sweat.

Bird Chant on the flip hits all those switches almost from the start, stumbling on its beats like it’s been shot up with vodka and gravel and hasn’t washed in a month. It pulls hard on the feet, channelling itself by means of a riff so huge and heavy it has its own gravity well. And while the riff dominates proceedings, little, equally fierce textures spiral around it, congealing and feeding the brutal movement. Inside the Rain is a necessary palette cleanser, a mind-wash of fractals and pinches of disorienting dreams which seethes and surges downward, drawing the light away until the shadows billow.

But All My Love itself is the king in this broken place. It’s immense – a summation of darskide vibe. The hardcore leanings are at their most obvious here, but Hodge and Peder compress them, and keep compressing them until the breaks take on an almost tribal shape before being blasted further by hoover bass. The vocal ties it together, bonding the explosive martial kicks with a demented, majestic, anxiety. Unbelievably, wonderfully, nasty and one of the stand out moments of the year so far. Hardcore for the 21st century. And the 31st. Yas.

Review: Radioactive Man – Luxury Sky Garden (Asking For Trouble)

While Keith Tenniswood’s place in British electronic music history has been assured by his time as one half of legendary duo Two Lone Swordsmen, his work under the Radioactive Man guise has perhaps been every bit as vital. Moving between electro, breakbeat, dub and ever more wide-ranging tastes, the Radioactive Man sound has long offered an important counterpoint to a generation of producers who increasingly work in a specific direction, and trawl through a well-used box of influences. While the appeal of casting the musical net wide has been discovered by certain members of the young team over the last couple of years, Radioactive Man remains one of a very small handful for whom virtually no style is off the table when it comes to colouring his sounds.

Luxury Sky Garden, his first LP since 2012, is ostensibly an electro album, but while it certainly does the genre side of things with rare skill, bringing it with it a number of electro bangers which are up there with the best you’ll hear this year (or any other) there is much more going on than simply delving into scene. It’s a far wider experience than you might at first either expect or appreciate, and this isn’t solely down to influences. The reason, I suspect, is the way it hangs together, both in little and often forgotten details like the running order, and in the way the tunes are constructed. There is, in short, an experience on offer here, one that goes somewhat beyond the usual electronic attitude to the long play format with each track offering an important balance for what comes before and after. In isolation each tune works well – often brilliantly so – but together they inform the whole.

Musically it’s a step apart from what else is going on just now. The electro brings in energy not only from older forms of the genre, but also something of the cheeky, experimental nature which peppered techno in the 90s. The result, far from accenting Luxury Sky Garden with an old school vibe, burnishes everything with a sheen of individualism which illuminates the sounds with a loose, joyful playfulness which is a mile away from a lot of the gritty, clenched jaw seriousness so often on offer elsewhere.

This is especially apparent on the first handful of tracks, which swing between the laid back jazz funk fuelled breaks and riffs of Steve Chop, the rich, meandering grooves of the R&B tinged Deep Space Habitat, and Ism Schism’s gravelly, dirty, wobble. Each of these tracks draws a thicker mood than you would first expect though; little frills of melody, of lovelorn pads, direct emotions here and there, but seldom to quite the places you expect.

By the time the harder edged tunes move in a little of the sunny optimism has departed. Bonnet Bee ramps up a nervous intensity, matched and controlled by a rubbery, mournful bass. Sonic Portal humanizes smart machine abstracts and juxtaposes them with bounding grooves and grimy experimentalism, creating something which feels like old Ninja Tunes material on speed and steroids.

The clever movement between sunny and cloudy isn’t as pronounced as I may make it sound. Rather, the album takes its time to adjust, layering the listener with subtle changes of atmospherics and varying its angles of attack. Jommtones jacks things up close to the end, nodding its head towards not only full-bore Detroit bass but Dopplereffekt’s considered, lab-grown sounds, dropping you onto a speedway orbiting a distant star and pushing you towards a finishing line composed of silicon. Serving Suggestion, right at the end loops back; holding onto the velocity, the clouds part revealing a sunset full of contrasts between the sharp electro and an almost Balearic spirit.

Luxury Sky Garden is not so much full of contrasts as compliments of texture and vibe. It’s not so much interested in exploring electro’s past, nor – for that matter – its future, but in discovering just how far the sounds can go and, in doing so, opening up a world of possibilities. Graceful, playful, and full of grooves. One of the best albums of the year so far.

Little Reviews: Affinity #2 (Affin Records) and M_Step’s Cold Dust (Trust)

V/A – Affinity #2 (Affin Records)

Joachim Spieth’s label Affin is now a decade into its existence, and continuing to provide a profoundly contemporary and continental vision of techno that specialises in the sort of deep, aquatic sound which has been in ascension for a while now. The three tracks, taken from Spieth himself, label regular Reggy Van Oers and Glaswegian artist Deepbass, draw on this take on techno.

While each of them bring their own ideas to the table, there is a unity of form here, a foundation which is built not so much from grooves but from hypnotic movement created from the weave of sonic textures and the interplay of the thick moods on offer. Van Oers’ offering, the misty Place Of Offering is shadowy and faint, a kaleidoscope of pads and fluttering emotions which are almost transluscent. The beats, concrete and pronounced, marshal effectively but never inject the tune with life. Instead, it is the complexity, and almost rhythmic nature of the synths, which carry things forward. Speith’s entry, Shadows, is in some senses a similar proposition. The difference here is that the synths create a drifting, cloudy, and melodic world of darkened hues and glistening tones where the simple roll of the kicks underpins the surging elemental nature of the tune’s ghostly wash.

Deepbass’s Affinity is a more straight up affair in some ways. Both heavier and lithe, less concerned with the finely worked details, it drags straight away into a tight, rolling and deeply hypnotic builder which nods its head to the deep, wonky, techno of the past while warming up the snapping beats with a spring of weathered funk, gradually letting the few, well worked sounds take more and more limelight until it climbs into the night.

M_Step – Cold Dust (Trust)

M_Step’s début on DJ Glow’s Trust label seems to have been on its way for a while now, but the long wait hasn’t been in vain. Here in 2017, with electro seemingly beginning to drip out of every space, Cold Step’s arrival has been made even more welcome by the way in which is has circumvented by a noticeable margin a lot of what’s been going down in the scene, instead delivering up some electro which comes at us from a definite tangent.

While a lot of the current sounds in the genre seemed to have recently been involved in a competition to see just how deep they can go, Cold Dust instead furnishes us with some slower, moodier grooves that buck the trend. Any pretensions of deepness are speedily replaced with a keen ear for not only crisp, low slung beats, but a sort of angelic energy which takes its lead from early Detroit’s more soulful moments.

Opener Xylograph carries a bumping vibe from the off, carving out little rivulets of funk from lazy-stepping breaks and tightening everything up with some loose, rollicking bass and glissading pads which lend the tune a sleepy-eyed swagger. Cold Dust itself replaces the breaks with a cantering 4/4, catching a sodium-light glimmer full of little touches and flickering chord progressions which builds it into something shining with burnished melody and quiet, nervous drama.

The stand out though is Annabelle. It combines Cold Dust’s midnight moodiness with brusque, brisk, breaks and slivers of high, heavenly strings along side a growling acid bass which recalls something of Boris Divider’s more serene moments. Towards the end, when little drifting petals of Rhythim is Rhythim-esque melody alight, the tune breaks through to become genuine high-tech soul. Superb. And a not so gentle reminder that all the careful sound design in the world won’t bring the deepness if you forget the emotion. A great début on a great label.