Friday Night Tune: Goldie – Inner City Life

Generally with electronic music, it’s easy to follow the threads of DNA right back to the slurry of the original gene pool. Even today, all these long, cold, years on, we can trace them from their beginnings, slender filaments of light illuminating the creation of the genres. We can see the paths from soul and disco, from jazz and rhythm and blues, from primitive experiments on archaic synthesizers and drum machines which sounded like a child beating a tin can against the future. And we can see the eras webbed together, common highways always running forwards from their yesterdays and into the big bang of house and techno and everything else, and onwards. What ever other data might be hidden away in the invisible flow, there will always be the knowledge of the ways in which A became B.

There are gradual changes; tiny, cellular alterations which provide the foundations for the next step. It took time for Detroit techno, for example, to morph from its earliest forms, to exchange its experiments with house for a wider approach, and to slowly tighten the sounds, adding weight and philosophies, until the musical style the mid 90s bore few surface similarities with what Juan Atkins and others had being doing more than a decade earlier. House, too, took time to evolve. From disco to acid, to the interplay with harder European forms which sharpened the music. A slow change, played out over a decade and a half, led outward to a larger world. What is worth pointing out though is that the beginnings of house, like techno, are recognizable to the outsider, to the stranger whose interest in the music may be no deeper than the aural wallpaper of a club on a Saturday night. They know the rules to this stuff, they understand – largely – where it came from, even if they don’t realise it or care. The DNA forms deep, scarlet, channels through the chromium surface, as visible as the sun on a bright day.

With Drum & Bass, however, it’s not always so easy follow the paths. It’s not because D&B appeared suddenly from a vacuum, an emergent organism born out nothing more than an act of sheer will. The roots are there, the DNA is there. D&B grew just as organically as the rest, shoots of growth rising out from hardcore’s fertile garden of Eden, and bringing with it rave, and breakbeat, dub and sound system culture. Like all the others, it is a child of many parents.

Yet what astonishes even now is the speed it grew; virtually fully realised in the womb it arrived as something almost complete. When placed in its original time, amongst the other electronic brats, it seemed almost alien. It felt like a profound break with the past. The other genres, as futuristic as they are, are continuations, variations on a theme. D&B, though, was a year zero, its history curtailed, its growth accelerated. And the xenomorphic nature of the sound, the flexing, razor-edged, tendrils of its breaks, the curling, twisting bass, the interface of raw fury with delicate beauty, separated it from the others who were still finding their way. It was that rarest of things: something genuinely new.

There will be many people who don’t like Inner City Life, that it doesn’t embody the right stance, the right ethos, to represent a genre. Maybe they’re right. After more than twenty years I’m still a tourist when it comes to Jungle, skirting the land and looking for a way in. I’m a lightweight who remains happy to hear what there is to hear. What I know about it all you could write on a stamp. Even so, I think of this tune as something defining, something that encapsulates all of what I’ve just written. It’s easy to be cynical now, so long after the start, but when you get back to it, what remains shocking about Inner City Life is how beyond almost everything else it seemed to be. I don’t just mean house and techno, yet to break away from the worlds they lived in, but against the backdrop of the larger musical world, the charts, the rock, the pop. The language we developed, all the concepts of underground or overground, were essentially meaningless because this was music which existed in a time and place entirely of its choosing, with little regard for what came before or what would come after.

The shockwaves contract, change becomes ever more gradual, and it might be that Drum and Bass will eventually be remembered as the last true explosion of invention within electronica. Techno was always supposed to be the embodiment of a science-fiction mindset as music, yet here was a sound that really was all that, and more. it didn’t wear it on its sleeve; it simply was. An echo from a far future. And whatever else might happen, within its rolling thunder it made it possible to remember that regardless of how important the past, we always need tomorrow too.

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Paul Blackford – Fireflies (Tokyo Electro Beat Recordings)

Paul Blackford – Fireflies (Tokyo Electo Beat Recordings)

Although he is perhaps better known for his straight-up electro work, Paul Blackford has long been one of a small pool of artists who seems equally happy exploring other sounds. In the wider world of contemporary electronica this usually means the artists move between house and techno – two genres where these days the differences in style are often unremarkable enough that eyelids are barely batted when a producers swaps one for the other; Let’s face it, the symbiotic relationship between the two rarely affords a specialist in one a true opportunity to spread their artistic wings.

Fireflies is a useful reminder, perhaps, that the world of electronic music remains a larger one than we typically tend to be aware of. Partly the blame for that is down to the way in which the music is packaged to us these days. Packaged and consumed; the increasing compartmentalization, the way in which we are often steered down particular routes based on the prison of our buying habits and basic tastes tend to lock us quickly into specific sonic interests. It is not only producers who find themselves failing to branch out. We, the listener, are just as culpable. And it can be hard to escape even the most obvious traps. We like what we know. It speedily defines us, and sometimes even the most educated of palates can be the ones with rarefied and limited tastes.

What we have here is perhaps a little difficult to quantify for anyone coming at it from the modern world’s searing electronic strains, and unused to such a departure. Downtempo, sleepy, and warm may go some way to covering Fireflies but they don’t come close to capturing the essential spirit. It is, in some ways, reminiscent of an earlier time, an era when electronic music lacked a lot of the self-awareness it now wears like armour. Perhaps self-absorption is a better way to put that.

There is a gentle and adventuring energy at the heart of Fireflies, and a certain amount of purity, which provides direction for the bitter-sweet melodies which fuel and heat the music. Latitude unfolds and engulfs with the delicacy of IDM at it’s most meaningful, that crossroads it occasionally reached between its attempts to distance itself from the sweat and thunder of the club and its desire to be thought of as ‘proper’ music where it reached towards a fleeting sense of grandeur. It’s a pretty tune, wide-eyed and alive to the interplay between rhythm and melody. Moonlight evokes a similar vibe, but stretches it outwards, gilding the tune with quivering, soulful, light. Fireflies itself is more introspective, shading itself with deepening mood.

Syndicate is perhaps the best of the collection. On the surface it doesn’t deviate too far from the rest of the tunes, but it instates a noticeably darker hue; moodier and perhaps even heavier, it fluctuates between the simple beauty of the rest of the release and something more solid. There is a genuine wistfulness at its heart which lends it a maturity and slight cynicism which elevates the little touches and half-melodies, and gives the track a sense of movement perhaps lacking elsewhere.

Mostly, though, Fireflies is built on variations of a theme. While the music is gorgeously realised, the emotional depth of Syndicate amplifies it’s contrasts with the slighter moments and the beats, well formed though they are, sometimes lack a little bit of bite which might have tightened up the moods and pushed the music onwards towards a more colourful horizon.

Even so, it feels like a departure from contemporary electronica’s increasingly work-a-day styling. And while it occasionally feels a little uncertain of moving beyond beautiful and slightly hazy sketches to something more emotionally sure of itself, it remains a release of rare subtlety and warmth.

Posthuman Ft Josh Caffe – Preach (Dixon Avenue Basement Jams)

Posthuman Ft Josh Caffe – Preach (Dixon Avenue Basement Jams)

After a few releases where DABJ seemed to be moving on into new pastures the label reverts to something close to the sound they first started out championing. Posthuman’s first release for the Glasgow label has already drawn comparisons to Paranoid London’s deep and haunted acidic skank, and there are certainly elements common to both which bring out the best of the little silver box’s history without delving too far into the mire of homage.

Where Preach departs from its peer’s music is in its mix of the dirty and the sensual. The 303s are more restrained, playing a central role in forming the prowling grooves without ever dominating the otherwise stripped down and lean tunes, and the extra leg room is spent in allowing the fine, rubbery, rhythms and perc a moment in the sun.

The leading pair of tracks, Preach and Temptation, square themselves up in classic territory; a core of stone-cold funkiness moves them more into house territory than pure acid, partly through the way they make wonderful use of Josh Caffe’s sleepy vocals, allowing his voice to bloom and blossom across the empty expanse above the marshalling 303s growling and precise assault. Preach is the more compressed of the two, a tight yet flighty number which ties its acid down into something with an almost tribal ruffle to it, and shifts its arse with an energy sadly rare in a lot of modern house. It’s a mad wee groover, working over feet and ears almost equally. Temptation loosens up a bit, but spirals upwards and outwards with Caffe’s vox accenting the proceedings and directing your attention like a ringmaster in a particularly funky circus before the introduction of some scarlet, shimmering synths opens an unnoticed gateway and the whole thing just spills out, expanding into every nook and cranny previously untouched.

Last tune, Exit Drums (Extended Mix) shimmeys in a touch of experimentation, which pulls apart the foundations of the previous tunes with a 303 which curls and flickers around the wonky, scattered throw of the beats. It remains acid house, but only just, and breaks open the music to allow a sense of playful misadventure not always evident in such a rigorously curated genre. The other two tracks with – probably rightfully – will draw most of the interest and the plaudits, but it’s Exit Drums that will likely reward both many, many listens, and DJs willing to kick beyond the typical will find its cheeky pop a smart move out to a brilliantly alien tangent. A potent record which reworks many classic elements into something deeply modern. It turns in some of not only the fiercest, darkest, acid grooves of the moment, but adds to it a flare of clever sensuality which provides a sharp edge not often found in contemporary acid.

Mesak – Kirot (Vortex Traks)

Mesak has been kicking around for a long while now, but I have to go ahead and admit that our paths haven’t crossed too often. I’m not sure why; checking out his back catalogue over on the Font Of All Knowledge (Discogs) shows a producer with an ear for the slightly off-on-a-tangent electro I tend to lap up. The occasional interface – a single track on the first Vortex Traks release, and the excellent Deep In My Mind split with Mono Junk on DUM – managed to show me differing shades of his work while holding on to something interesting and a little alien.

Kirot extends that feel, and does so by avoiding several of the major sonic themes so popular within the scene just now. The abyssal depths, IDM tinting and blood and thunder banging might well be noticeable by their absence, but they are replaced by something both older and more fluid.

That might not be your first reaction on hearing Kirot, and certainly the riot of colour with splashes out during the loose, scattered opener Spirit Ahoy is suggestive of a more deconstructed take on the genre, one that builds itself out of shards of Nintendo-esque sound and slow changes of tone where the tune travels from something upfront to a cooler, more muted approach. Such moves imbue the tune with depth rather than deepness, especially coupled with the flares of Two Lone Swordsmen style melodies and synths.

In fact, it’s in this that Kirot shows itself most clearly; a sort of remembrance of an era when electronic music was unabashedly, well, electronic, and was pushed to see how far it could go in splicing the artificial with the organic. Occasional this vibes gets a bit ahead of itself. Kiero, as an example, takes too long to establish some sense of itself amongst the vaguely random noises even if it does pull it out the bag somewhat towards the end as it begins to straighten itself out and make use of the multitude of wonkiness that almost buries it.

But this is a rare enough overstepping and shouldn’t detract from the generally pretty nice vibe the record sets out towards. Max Toisto, at the end, comes closest to setting its stall out as a burst of fairly conventional, contemporary, electro, but it avoids such a fate by means of its scruffy playfulness. Yes, you’ve certainly heard similar, but the way in which it evokes the flavour of dirty, crumbling, techno (and even the faintest tang of early Plastikman) locks down its energy to a different sphere entirely.

The standout here, though, is probably Vietti, a woozy, half-speed exploration of space and tone which starts out small and compressed, barely shining any light into the shadows in the corners, but slowly winds itself up into a ruffled and studied piece of porpoising weirdo-funk which shimmers with odd grandeur before diving out of sight.

I have a slight worry that Kirot stands a little too outside the gang to be picked up by the people who would benefit the most from hearing it, those who might find a little epiphany of sorts in Kirot’s wonderful asymmetry and joyful, playful, reworking of the genre’s basics. There is nothing here to scare off the legion of new electro fans; it’s not deliberately harsh (actually not harsh at all) or wilfully obtuse. What it is, though, is certain of its vision, displaying enough steel in its individualist streak that it won’t back down it its mission to expand upon electro’s themes.

Best Of The Represses – September 2017

Alright. Let’s get down to brass tacks. Firstly, anyone who missed the last lot of Frustrated Funk represses (I don’t know how you could – there were pure hunnerds of them) can now, once again, attempt to pick up some fine, fine, fine electro from the likes of Plant 43, ERP, Lost Trax, Cybonix and others. ERP’s Pith and Cybonix Make This Party Live are particularly fine records. Do us all a favour and pick them up. I won’t tell you again, you nuts. Strictly Rhythm’s attempts to out repress Trax sees them bringing Phuture’s ace Rise From Your Grave back from the dead. All the cuts are pretty sweet, but my choice is the brilliant ‘wild pitch’ mix which’ll still roll over any floor like a ghost train of pure funk. New Yorican Soul’s The Nervous Track also seems to be doing the rounds again, which is nice as I’ve got a soft spot for it, especially the Ballsy mix. That the veg, folks, now on to the meat!

Ross 154 – Fragments (Applied Rhythmic Technology)

Released originally all the way back at the dawn of time in 1993, Ross 154’s lovely Fragments makes a remastered return to the living world. In many ways it was a record well ahead of its time. While some people have described it as IDM, I’ve personally never been sure that’s the right way to go. While a lot of other ambient tinged records of the era were certainly no slouches in flavouring the sonic broth with muscle cut from other genres, Fragments remains a bit unusual in the depth and breadth of its influences. Sure, the crimson-sky flickers of the actual ambient fragments remain as delightfully hazy as ever, but what stands out now is how freaky modern the complete, ‘proper’ tracks sound as they pull through broken electronica, dinky, ravey warmers, almost Ninja Tune style experimentalism, and slow burning groove-outs. Stand out for me has always been Mayflower, a tune where the subtlest – and cleverest – of melodies informs some ultra-fine, silky, funk and sounds as if it has stopped just for a moment in Detroit to ask directions to deep space.

DJ Stingray 313 – Cognition (Lower Parts)

OK, not that old really. It’s, what, a couple of years? If you don’t have it already, though, you really should take this opportunity to land it. What’s always interesting about Stingray is that his take on electro really doesn’t sound like anyone elses. Even after all these years. Yes, there are still touches here and there which reminds you of his eternal links to Drexciya, but he long ago phase-shifted past that and into a realm entirely of his own creation. This EP captures him at his peak; less opaque than some of his material occasionally is, it’s a wonderful testament to the scope of the genre, ranging as it does from floor shaking 4/4 fired tracks like Acetylcholine to Dendrite‘s fractured, ghostly, footwork toned workout. The best track though remains Kon001’s remarkable remix of ErbB4 which takes the lush techno-soul of the original and wraps it in shadows and colour, and just the tiniest, almost visible, shades of ancient Model 500. It’s a thing of genuine, stunning beauty. It was my tune of the year a while back, and listening to it again, it still bloody well is.

Syncom Data – Den Haag EP (Syncom Data)

I don’t know why, but something about Syncom Data has never really filled the wings of the wider world For those in the know, though, both the band and the label have long been held has purveyors of some very fine music which maintain a brilliant ability to provide particularly singular takes of well-known genres be they minimial, acid, electro, dub, or just about anything that takes their fancy.

The Den Haag EP first appeared on the label about 13 years ago, and the prices of an original were beginning to head towards idiot-land on Discogs. Thank God for the repress as this is a stonker. I don’t even know how you’d describe it properly – a sort of acidy belt of wonky electro which simply couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks it is. Stuff like this – entirely headstrong, and original in both take and execution – doesn’t come along very often. It is a very Glasgow record (being the sort of thing I would expect to hear in certain clubs here) and I can’t really think of higher praise than that. From Abenteuer Im Abendschein’s spooky, freaky deaky skank to Den Haag’s machine funk which sounds entirely created from broken radios and a knackered washing machine this is a record which does a job on both the feet and the brain, and will leave your ears wondering what just happened. Superb, cheeky, and deadly serious.