Friday Night Tune: Vatican Shadows – Church Of All Images (Regis Version)

It’s a strange truth that dark times don’t tend to produce dark music. As a species we tend to reach upward when events try to pull us down, as if something locked deep within our genetics is always attempting to turn our face towards the sun instead of the shadow. Jazz grew strong despite the horrors of the early 20th century; a music alive with the euphoria of rhythm and movement and sound. The chaos and corruption of Vietnam led to the music of the counter-culture – a reactionary music, certainly, but one which dreamt of a better world.

Even punk, growing out of the exhaustion of a bruised and broken era, was ultimately positive; The nihilism worn like Sta Press gear bought from a shop on the Kings Road. It was life affirming music, played with pigeon chests pushed out, and three chords ringing in delight. And, of course, house music and techno and acid: birthed in the sudden collapses of the 80s, a glimmer of light below the ghoulish spectres of Reagan and Thatcher and mass unemployment – a fight back which began inside the mind, eschewing lyrical calls-to-arms in favour of wild frequency and beats rolling out wherever the outside world ceased to matter.

Dominic Fernow’s Vatican Shadows project, however, has always taken a different approach, one that seems to soundtrack the whirr and crackle of state and media apparatus. There is little emotion; It’s a dispassionate report from the edge of modern human experience. And somehow that makes describing it as dark music somewhat trite. It’s far more chilling than that.

See, the thing is, our world is dissolving. We can beat around the bush as much as we want on this one, but the fact is the jig is up. We have been screwed by our own hubris.

In some ways, there is a similar narrative here to what Pressure of Speech were doing more than 20 years back – an examination of a world that was only then beginning to come into true existence. Pressure Of Speech was about grainy, tiny, images culled from the CCTV’s which glared voyeuristically into the dead spots of British towns and cities – the empty lanes and desolate car parks. Observation, we were told, for our own good, for our own safety even though we knew, we knew, there wasn’t a chance in hell these cameras were for any other reason than making you behave.

With Church Of All Images even that new world is changed, remade from archive footage, from sneering, baiting, ledes. And from smoke and bone and blood. September the 11th saw to that, Even thought the first cracks appeared long before that day. Those acts, finally, irrevocably, took us down a different road.

This isn’t blurry video of a figure breaking into parked cars at the edge of a council estate any more. Nor even a CNN camera whiting out at the detonation of a nocturnal cruise missile strike. Instead the world has become cell phone footage of stumbling, screaming figures emerging from a shroud of masonry dust as buildings and worlds collapse, and the soulless visual feedback of a Predator drone as it harvests life. It is dangerous men in gucci body armour hunting on the downward crest of the 24 hour news cycle. This is the background hum of rallies full of the angry and the incurious bellowing ‘lock her up’ as a poisonous toad-king chuckles out his bigotry, of ancient belief wrapped up in the flags of Facebook and YouTube and Twitter. And, at its heart, as it always has been, it’s the breathless death-rattle of old, rich, powerful men sending everyone else to die for causes they can’t even bring themselves to believe in.

This is the heart of Church Of All Images. More than the madness, more than the dissonance, more than the seething, manufactured hate. It is the cynicism, and the distraction from reality, rather than reality itself, which leads us into this ultimately empty world. It is the narcissism of fundamentalism whether its old men and stone age religion, or young men stained by the corporations who’re destroying the world to rebuild it in their own image. I don’t think anyone comes closer to sound tracking this nihilism than Vatican Shadow, and I think that Regis’ version of Church Of All Images, Its relentless, breathless terror, its splintered beats, and its strange, terrible, beauty, which does it best of all.

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Best Of The Represses – November 2018: Marguerita Recordings Special

V/A – Marguerita 1, 2, 3 (Clone West Coast)

The big repress news around here is probably the forthcoming re-releases of The Kilohertz EP and the Elektroworld LP by that electro super-group of yore, Elecktroids. While their exact line-up has always been one of those weird open secrets the scene seems to get it panties into a right old bunch about (and it was mostly the Drexciyan lads anyway), you can’t really take anything away from Clone’s public service reissue. Well, you can a tiny bit because Elecktroworld has been available in digital format for blooming yonks. But it’ll be nice to get our hands on Kilohertz again, and I guess for those of who value actual, proper, hold-it-in-your-hands-and-weep physical authenticity (and let’s be honest, most of us are in that particular club) it’ll be just lovely to get the album without paying some Discogs weirdo seven large for the privilege. Musically they’re both pretty important records, so we’ll have a little proper looky when they finally turn up.

It’s fitting that the Elecktroids material should reappear on one of the many Clone sub-labels. There have been a few outfits over the last couple of years who have made good on reissuing classic electro, some of them pulling out all the stops to secure licenses from a host of genuine underground beauties which seemed to have escaped everyone else’s attention. In Clone’s case they’ve built a reputation as an archivist of sorts for the billion-odd reissues of material from Drexciya/Gerald Donald/James Stinson, but they have also seen fit to repress music from other, perhaps less well-known sources, some of which occupies particular and important places in the history of the genre.

There have been reissues of material from the likes of Unit Moebius, the inventively fecund Dutch outfit who were a major influence on an entire constellation of European electro producers; last year saw Clone releasing a beautiful and absolutely essential retrospective of Le Car, the Detroit art-electro collective, and this year we’ve had re-releases of both parts of Detroit In Effect’s The Men You’ll Never See, which ranks up there with some of the best-in-show since the start of the millennium. And while it’s certainly true that there have – perhaps – been others who have delved further into the muddy past of the underground’s history and returned with rarer or even brighter diamonds, Clone reissues have allowed the strange jigsaw of this particular end of electronica to look far more complete than it could have been, and that’s before we even discuss the way they have continued to fly the flag for a huge amount of contemporary electro.

Their latest venture into the world of classic electro is perhaps even more interesting. Marguerita Recordings was a brilliant outfit operated by Ben Spaander – AKA Cosmic Force – which rocked out of Amsterdam from the start of the millennium until about five years ago. I’m unsure whether it’s still a going concern, although if it was I don’t suppose there would be a need for another label to license their stuff. They had a great run though, with a catalogue of extraordinary music, much of it from Spaander himself under a number of pseudonyms, or collaborations between himself and Edo Edens (who also recorded for the label as E8) and a small handful of other like-minded individuals. Beyond their own music, there were releases from a number of genuine luminaries such as Detroit In Effect, Dexter, and a mix CD by none other than DJ Stingray (who has played the hell out of a lot of the Marguerita tracks over the years). They even released a notable series of sampler EPs under the 030303 name which boasted an extravagant collection of big-name producers, with the likes of Mike Dredd, Neil Landstrumm, Legowelt, Like A Tim, Ceephax Acid Crew, and Luke Vibert all featuring. Now, by anyone’s standards that’s a special gang to feature on your label.

The three records of material Clone have reissued, though, keeps it in the family. There isn’t anything here by the more famous producers, but that isn’t a problem in the slightest because what we get is some of the most insane electro to emerge over the last twenty years. While a lot of the electro we’ve had from the Netherlands over the decades has been special, the Marguerita stuff seemed to take pride in being out there, following its own weird path into the future. Having said that, the links and influences on their own material and that of the US always seemed more pronounced than you tended to find with that of, say I-F’s Viewlexx/Murder Capital releases. Where the Viewlexx records are scratchier, and as in love with italo, disco, and a host of heavier (and often non overtly electronic) sounds as they are with electro, Marguerita Recordings championed a creation which was bouncier, brasher, and purer.

What we get here is essentially a collection of tracks culled from the earliest releases on the label, with Spaander, Edens, and their closest collaborators appearing under a number of guises, with the bulk of the tunes drawn from Eden’s work as E8, or from the single EP the pair released as Doubledutch. There are also a couple of other tunes featured from their work as Proskool, and a single track by Ototax which may or may not be its first time released anywhere – even with the aid of Discogs my old brain can’t seem to place it in a prior release.

And – oh, mate – this is a holy trinity of vinyl. While it’s perhaps fair to suggest that the quality is a little uneven here and there, there are so many riches on offer that you simply won’t notice or care. While there are a couple of tunes, such as E8’s H20, you wish had made the cut (hopefully Clone have held a bit back for a further release), nobody in their right mind could really object to the curation; and there is a simple thrill in having such utter monsters as Doubledutch’s Launch Detected or the compressed, nasty, brilliance of E8’s Micropacer 1 causing mayhem within earshot of each other.

Aside from these two giants the records provide a pretty good snapshot where the label’s head was at in its early days, and pleasingly indicates just why so many big names were lining up to work with them. This is electro which burns white-hot. Even the tunes which aren’t balls-to-the-wall mental, such as Proskool’s Hit $ Run, display a sleek and dirty sense of groove and fun which is worlds away from the dryness a lot of contemporary electro seems to find itself specializing in.

This is electro written to be played loud. Sometimes stripped down, acidic, and wonky – as on the single Ototax track Voices Of The Universe, at other times heavy-loaded and brutal, there is such a crowd of lunatic mindsets at play there can be little wonder they utilized so many pseudonyms.

Look, it’s getting late, and this piece is getting long, so I’ll finished by saying the obvious: go and buy all three right now. Clone deserve all your praise for these completely unexpected treats, and even though we’ve become a bit spoiled for choice with quality electro represses, these stand out as particularly fine examples of how unhinged, how massive, and how downright exciting it can be when it finds itself in the hands of people who are fuelled by nothing more than their own demented sense of what the music is, and what it can do.

Review: No Data Available- The Night EP (Null+Void)

 

There are so many electro labels now its becoming difficult to keep an ear on them all. Not that this is much of a problem when it comes to Null+Void, however. For a label with such an, err, economical release schedule – that’s four releases in nearly four years – it’s impressive that they’ve managed to nail their colours to a particularly virulent strain of electro so successfully. Each record has been a departure from the prevalent trends in the genre; eschewing the braindancey/synthwavey stuff that keeps fouling up the nets, they’re instead pushing a sound which has its feet in a very British take on the scene, and mixing in a blast of old-school grooves just to make sure.

No Data Available’s d├ębut on the label pushes all of those buttons right from the off, and it’s just so damn more-ish.  The Night EP is a record which draws energy from a whole bunch of sources, but never lets that interfere with a very strong sense of self.

And what a sense of self it is. This is music that takes liberties with the electro of Detroit and New York, as well as the wonderfully pungent UK homegrown, and delivers something which absolutely hits it. You can hear it in the opener, Yes Mate, where huge, solid steal beats punctuate the drizzle soaked moodiness of the synths before the growling, dirty, bass snaps in to assert itself. It’s a corker of a tune: completely in your face and yet strangely downbeat. It pulses with a hi-tech, grimy, energy but keeps it’s eyes skyward.

This duality is revisited several times as the record unfolds. Oh Now Really is heavier than it’s forerunner, but simpler. Everything comes second to the massive wave of bass that unwinds through the track, and yet the spiral of lines which haunt the open space above the wall of low-frequency constrict the moods, shrinking everything down to more human vistas. Traitor takes it further: A squirt of acid and a collapsing ravey piano riff slap the tune down into a particularly day-glo stained time and place, locking the grooves down into something more frantic and debauched without losing sight of the warm and wonderful roll and slide of the beats. By the time The Night slowly thickens into being, allowing the snapping pace to boil away into darkness, you are aware that this is a record which does it right. It knows where it’s come from and it knows where it’s going.

There is an element to modern electro which plays up far too much to the lazy idea that it is abstract, that it is difficult to dance too. This is a record that doesn’t play nice with those kind of thoughts. Quite frankly, if you can’t get your feet moving to this, alongside your brain, you’re all done with dance music. Belter.