Reviews: Benoit B – Japonaiserie (Berceuse Heroique); Dawl and Sween – Rise Of The Humanoids (Klasse Wrecks)

Benoit B – Japonaiserie (Berceuse Heroique)

I’m not sure if Berceuse Heroique’s output has mellowed in recent months, or whether my usual base level of rage has been dialled significantly up to the point where anything other than skin-flayingly harsh electro and jungle has a difficult time getting in past my own on-board censor, but Japanaiserie really, kinda, feels very much like a departure of sorts from the label’s usual fare.

It’s not so much of a departure for Benoit B, however, with the producer having created a tapestry of work where subtle dynamics and strange angles collide in loose, ambienty house and IDM-ish workouts, and here the basic format is shifted towards the far east, its influences drawn from Japanese electronic music and art. The results are airy and gently mellow, barely breaking from below gossamer sheets of silk, and almost all of the seven tracks circle a central theme where the feel and mood of the influences are held tight.

It’s a pretty record; gentle touches of melody unfold unhurriedly over delicate mists of tone and form and it’s evocative of a more distant tradition and meaning (or, at the very least, a sympathetic western interpretation of them). Occasionally, such as on Electric Town, or the beatless Compression And Release it ventures beyond that remit, coaxing elements of 80’s synth-pop, or free roaming sound experimentalism, to come to the fore. For all the prettiness, though, it skirts here and there with the edges of pastiche, some of the more haunting moments arching towards a colder knowingness than was perhaps intended. It is not, I suspect, a record for the depths of winter, when you need more warmth than is delivered on a whispering breeze, but as the days lengthen into spring I imagine its languid sense of hope and serenity might find a more fitting backdrop.

Dawl and Sween – Rise Of The Humanoids (Klasse Wrecks)

The music that Klasse Wrecks champions has tended towards a very modern vision of a resolutely old-school sound where the genres which were once the soul and heart of the burgeoning scene – rave, acid, breakbeat – have been re-explored and old ideas subtly altered. Often there is a new emphasis on the playfulness of the original music, and other elements, such as melody, are given a more rounded role, perhaps becoming the focus itself. Occasionally there has been the feel that some of these new takes have lost something of the hunger and drive which were such important factors of the older sounds, as if a slight detachment has crept in where once things were inescapably in-your-face.

It’s a complaint which can be partly levelled at Rise Of The Humanoids, where a similar Klasse-wreckian taste for the bouncier elements of the old school is very much on show at the expense of some of the original, attendant, innocence. What holds the interest beyond the day-glo initial hit, though, are the threads of something a little deeper which unspool around the finely crafted rhythms.

It’s a vibe most evident on Blast Our Way Out where heavy, morose, pads weigh down on the bleeping machine stomp before a twisting, discordant lead tangles you up. Rise Of The Humanoid itself rolls in with sweeping acid breakbeat but heightens it, lightening the load but cooling the mood until cracks show in its sure-footed bullishness. All Systems Down cracks like a thundering battle-cry. It’s as much a nod to the exuberance of big-beat as to the pillars of a long forgotten underground, and is tempered with a popiness which is hard to quantify but which directs the music into a different direction than the one you might have expected.

Although Rise Of The Machines does suffer a bit where, as on Transmitting Noise, it focusses too heavily on the forms and shapes of the old-school, and misses something of the actual meaning, it still manages to bring something far more contemporary to the party. It’s a widening, I think, of the basic idea, and one where mood is allowed to shape the beats far more than would have happened in the past. The result is a record which is at its best when it keeps its distance from the things that made the older sounds so important for their own time, and instead uses the energy to empower its own, brand new, ideas.

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When a Thought Becomes You: Journeys With Techno

I was already into my thirties when I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. It really wasn’t much of a surprise. Even so, I had still spent several of the previous years bouncing between anti-depressants and psychologists before somebody finally suggested I might be on the spectrum. To be honest, I think it was an attempt to get me out of their office where, thanks to the infinitely dubious wonders of Seroxat (the medication I was on), I was probably sweating, swearing, and being insane at terrifying speed.

I wish I could say that the diagnoses changed my life, but I can’t because it didn’t in any useful way. Having had it so late-on meant that I had already created a number of coping strategies, even though I still didn’t know what I was trying to cope with. By the time it finally arrived I could pretty much pass for sub-clinical, or – as one of my doctors described me with all the alleged riches of his profession’s bedside manner – as ‘almost normal’. There was a certain amount of relief to be taken from the fact that not everything was my fault, that there were certain patterns of behaviour which I had essentially little control over ( even if I could, though experience, mitigate many of the more extreme variances). But all of this was tempered with the knowledge that I wasn’t going to get ‘better’, that there was no pill or operation which was going to add to me the basic, fundamental, ability to be like everyone else.

In many ways I am lucky: my autism has never been too debilitating and, save for a handful of gold-medal winning public meltdowns, it has never been overly obvious. None of which is to say I haven’t struggled, sometimes quite profoundly, with the whole social interaction thing that is a hallmark of Asperger’s. I’ve spent a large part of my life feeling like an alien trapped inside a human’s body, never quite getting what comes naturally to everyone else. Not that the normality or naturalism of other people improves anything; While Aspies might well struggle with things like recognising irony, or the subtlety of language, it doesn’t exactly help that most of you neurotypicals are so ass-skinningly awful at both of them.

Back in the days when I was still going to clubs and DJing on a regular basis it could be a nightmare, possibly made worse by the fact I still had no idea what the issue was and tended to blame myself for every little bit of strange disconnection, every miscommunication. Christ knows how others saw me; intense and pretty weird, I expect, and prone to gabbling utter shite out of a need to do or say something. Luckily this was the nineties and virtually everyone else, in every single club, would be gabbling utter shite by two in the morning.

I struggled at parties too, not because I am shy, but because dealing with human beings I haven’t known for 20 years, who I know how to communicate with and who know how to communicate back, can be incredibly difficult to do. Theoretically I understand human interaction. In practical terms trying to pick up on every one of those little signals you lot take for granted is knackering.

The real problems came from crowds. I hate crowds. I know that I would make a lousy promoter because, almost without exception, I prefer an empty club to a full one. Crowds don’t scare me in and of themselves, but I struggle to cope with the flood of sensory data; the noise, the movement of the flock. Every attendant change to its attitude and stance feeds in on top of older data, building up until it reaches a point where it floods nerve endings and neural nets with white noise. I hate crowds because it is impossible to keep your eye on every thing and everyone without going insane, and sensory overload is painful. More than that, it is exhausting.

But the music…..Oh man, there was always the music. …..I’m still not sure whether my quick seduction by electronic beats was locked in from the start. Certainly there was something in the movement and sound which captivated me before I even understood it. There was a profound similarity, in my mind at least, with classical music; a sort of wider understanding of the world and the cosmos than one tended to find in, say, rock music with all of its pungent humanity. Not that I don’t listen to rock, of course. It has been, and remains, important to me. But its subconscious emphasis on things I don’t quite get has always forced a little distance between us.

Electronica opened up for me in a way rock music never did. Long before I had even heard of Asperger’s I was drawn to something in it that I couldn’t really find anywhere else. I think it was the machine in the ghost, rather than the ghost in the machine; there is a certain amount of unhumanity to electronic music, a sense that the tunes I love the most could be hymns by sentient AI, soul music by xenomorphs; tranmissions from a singularity beyond the edge of time and experience. The meaning placed on rhythms, on patterns (especially, for an apsie, the patterns), on pure sound, wired the response differently. It worked not only on the physical level, or the intellectual, but also drew meaning from somewhere that grew from pure imagination. The music seemed to arrive from the depths of a very different existence, and carried within itself the light of other ways of being. For someone who never quite seemed to connect with the world they were a godsend, and proof that music could be more than it was allowed to be. Proof, in fact, that I could be too.

Of course, electronica is no less human than rock, or jazz, or skiffle. It is made by people: some amazing, some twats; some creating for their career, others creating to get the taste of a long, hideous, working day out of their mouths, some because it is all they can do to not create. Electronica, like being somewhere on the spectrum, is humanity coming at things from a different twist. It rides a deeper, perhaps stranger, road than some of you are used to, but it seems to go to the same place. It’s my music in a way that it’ll never be yours, just as it’s your music in a way that it can never be mine. I like that, not least because it actually allows me to feel a bit closer to the great consensual hallucination which forms humanity, and you’ve no ideas how hard that sometimes is.

Best Of The Represses, Feb 2018

Damn it. I hate buying records at this time of year. It always feels like I’m doing it to get back at the long darkness. It sometimes feels as if producers and labels know that too, and dump their also-rans into the mixer, grinning like Tories because they know I’ll buy whatever they have. What’s the option, go without? Man, you haven’t been paying attention have you? You’re no collector; you’re no fan – just a chancer with rudimentary reading skills. Off with you, your Beatport account needs seeing to…

Represses seem deserving of your time round about now. There is something in the season which makes you want to dig up older sounds. What’s still slightly irritating is the way we seemed to hit peak flood after months of famine. There’s a bunch of good stuff about. I had wanted to write about the new Carl Finlow anthology that’s out now on Those That Knoe, but my copy hasn’t arrived yet. It’s stuck in a box somewhere, its serious electro muscles kept in check by the twin bastards of heavy-duty cardboard and a lazy postman. Expect words when it finally makes its appearance.

214 – Lyle At Dawn (Frustrated Funk)

214’s 2015 release on Frustrated Funk, Lyle At Dawn, has come around for a second pass, which is a good thing. Chris Roman’s take on electro has been an important touchstone in the genre’s current resurgence, and it’s one that has shown an impressive disregard for remaining loyal to any one facet of the modern sound. While I don’t quite love Lyle At Dawn as much as a couple of his later records – North Cascades in particular – it’s still pretty impressive in the way it loosens up stark, Rothian noir just enough to inject a dose of Metroplex era electro’s smart and fluid funk. Cut of the 12 is definitely the aurora-skimming Time For, where Autechre and Model 500 come together in the gloriously languid depths.

Future Sound Of London – Lifeforms (Virgin)

Next up is Future Sound Of London, who return to the land of the living with a quite frankly huge re-release of 1994’s Lifeforms. Remastered across 4 sides of glistening and weighty vinyl, it’s replete with a download code befitting the trendy nerd-about-town lifestyle you’ve all bought into, even though you all work in an office and cry yourselve’s to sleep. It’s a pretty nifty package – even if you quietly wonder why they didn’t just go the whole hog and do it as a 3×12″ just for the thrill of it like every other label is doing just now. I won’t bore you by banging on about what it sounds like because I imagine you’ve heard it. For a while, back there, it threatened to become techno’s own The Wall, which is a terrifying thought for anyone who hate Pink Floyd as much as I do. For the three of you who haven’t heard it, well, you can recreate it by chucking some rainforesty samples around on top of shuffling breakbeats for about six hours and getting some environmental studies students to pretend to be travellers while they sit in the corner and spraff about how ace fractals are. Welcome to 1994.

I’m joking! Well, mostly. In actual fact it’s not a bad record when it gets itself going, and it feels very much like the last document of a world of electronica which has all but passed out of sight now. Here and there are moments of genuine, mind bending beauty and complexity but, as a whole, it never felt quite as ground breaking as ISDN, nor as fun as Accelerator. Having said all that, the tune Lifeforms itself is a triple-headed ambient-techno monster, and up there as one of the best things FSOL ever did.

V/A – Scopex 90/00 (Tresor)

Last but very much not least is the startlingly mental and deeply impressive set of Scopex Records 12″s which have been repressed into an enormous retrospective set by Tresor. For those who don’t remember them – which is going to be most people, I expect – Scopex was a British electro label which flared into life at the end of the last millennium just long enough to furnish us with a tiny number of brilliant records. Tresor bring together the two releases by Simulant with the single Pollon release, and throw in a dinky little 7″ as well.

This is an astounding set. Really, it’s phenomenal. Tresor deserve every bit of praise you can muster for putting this out. I’ve a suspicion this’ll really only be picked up by the hardcore electro geeks (scratch that – the hardcore electro geeks with deep wallets; it’s a pricey set) but it deserves to be owned by everyone. The music on offer here is fantastic, rolling between angular Drexicyan melodies, housey funk, and grainy, expansive, atmospherics. Even in the moments where it fuels itself with old-school vibes, it still like the soundtrack to a future you’ll spend dancing in the eye of the cyborg. This is a stunning collection, and if you have even the most passing interest in the genre, you should hunt a copy down. Do it soon, though. I suspect that unless Tresor keep pumping out new copies this repress might soon be going for the same sort of stupid money as the originals do. You have been warned.

Four Years

No wonder I’m tired.

Here we are, four years on with just over 500 posts in the tank, and I still have little idea what I’m trying to achieve. Sometimes I wonder whether the nature of the subject makes writing about it redundant, or that the fierce evolutionary speed of the music turns any attempt at documenting it into a smear of words across time’s windscreen.

It’s lucky for me, then, that the music remains as exciting, infuriating, weird, and life affirming, as it always has. It’s heading towards thirty years since I first heard acid house – a late night blast of high strangeness on the radio (I can’t remember where, maybe the John Peel Show). That first dose was beyond my understanding back then; it hovered irritatingly in my mind for days, but never came close enough for me to begin to make sense of it. I didn’t realise that it was already working itself deep inside, rewriting the code and preparing me for when I really started to get onboard. A couple of years later when I first started taking my first tentative steps into a larger and brighter sonic world, I was primed.

Electronic music is the music of my generation. Not only my generation, obviously, but when we love something that consumes us it’s natural to feel possessive about it. I still – mostly – feel like that, and I find I can be more precious about it than I perhaps once was. I think this is a reaction to the ephemera which seems to have built up around electronica over the years. A calcification of nonsense and bollocks which has crusted over the actual point of it all and makes getting to the good stuff underneath just a little bit more difficult than it used to be. And when you dig on through you and finally get your hands on the stuff that matters to you it’s difficult to loosen your grip.

None of that shit matters. It never has. It’s always been there, even though the rose-tinted memories of the old team would have you think differently. Going to a club to listen to loud, banging, music is much the same now as 20 years ago (and the floors are just as sticky); there were more than a few whining, overpaid DJs back then too, and plenty of music that deserved to be lost to a bin fire. Old bastards like me can spin the prose about what a golden age it was, but it was a golden age because we were there and living through it, experiencing it all for the first time, believing it could never be bettered. But it’s the experience that’s the important bit, not whether it could be bettered, because it can and should.

The fact is that I am frequently blown away by music I hear now. And that fact is often chaperoned by the odd sense of incompleteness I feel when hearing old music that I once loved sound lost to the years. I’m sometimes surprised by some of the stuff which is returned to this insane future, amazed by strands of the electronic DNA which seemed an evolutionary dead-end only for them to bloom into new and crazy shapes. Occasionally I don’t get it, and feel confused why you would bother to dig up sounds – which weren’t even that great then – when there is so much good music now. But it is perhaps one of the fundamental truths of the present that the past is now as malleable as the future.

So, yeah, I still don’t know what I’m trying to achieve, but I expect the answer is up there in all the mad toss I just wrote. I’ve tailed off the blog a bit in recent months due to the outside world and the slight suspicion I keep repeating myself, but spring is coming, and energy levels increasing. Let’s hope there’s some good music too. Thanks for reading, across four bizarre years in the life of this alien machine music. I’ve stuck up four tunes from the last four years that wormed their way into my brain and never escaped. If there are four tunes in the next four years that I’ll love as much I’ll be happy.