So, as usual, my policy is simple. Write about some records I liked over the year. That’s it. For a year in which I didn’t feel as if I bought very many, it turned out to have been a bumper crop. As you can guess, most of these are electro, so if that’s not your thing I can only apologise and get back to enjoying these crackers. Maybe next year will bring more house and techno records I liked. 2018 didn’t manage it very often, but I’m always hopeful. Extra big shout outs for the ones that I’ve run out of space to cover like Posthuman’s The Snake That Bites Twice (Craigie Knowes), Linkwood’s Fresh Gildans (Firecracker), Bass Junkie’s Low Frequency Fugitive (Bass Agenda), 214’s Exit 32 (Klakson), Svboda by Locked Club (Private Persons), Shadow Child and Mark Archer’s Non Stop (Super Rhythm Trax), Ludgate Squatter’s UK Steel (West End Communications), Binaural’s Mescla (Dream Ticket), Static by Contactless (Unknown To The Unknown) and a huge host of other bangers. It’s been an unexpectedly good year, music wise at least. Cheers to you all!
Ultradyne – Ocular Animus (Pi Gao Movement)
After the dissolution of Drexciya, there were very few electro acts who could claim to have been in possession of a similarly unique sound. There was Ectomorph, of course, (even with their links to Drexicya) and a tiny handful of others, but it was the Frank De Groodt led Ultradyne who looked the most likely to occupy the vacant throne. They’ve released some great music over the years, but something about them has always rubbed slightly against the accepted mores of the scene, keeping them locked, perhaps, in the strange purgatory of the open secret. No matter, Ocular Animus was their first release since 2015’s Return From The Abyss LP, and their first EP in 5 years. It was a belter of a record – as abrasive as it was pure, it delivered a hit of 100% thoroughbred Detroit electro of a sort you imagined was long gone from the earth. Suicude Relay, especially, was a tune in which to lose yourself. It was like being picked up by arms built from raw frequency and soul, and taken to another, very different, world.
Persona Non Grata – Mor Elian (Hypercolour)
Persona Non Grata was a record which emerged as if from nowhere and caught a few of us on the hop. At first I resisted because, AS WE ALL KNOW, if more than three people tell you a record is great they’re probably completely wrong and just saying it because everyone else is. It turned out they were right. This is a fine reworking of electro themes and motifs, one that takes a little from the genre’s varying sounds, and adds them into something billowing, warm, and alive. It’s a record which makes no pretensions about what it is, and draws a real sense of strength from that. Even better, it remains massively accessible without losing any of its foundational electro charms. Lovely and soulful in equal measure, with some killer grooves to seal the deal.
Historical Repeater – Scientific Calculator (Earwiggle)
A collaborative debut on Earwiggle for Solid Blake and CTRLS, Historical Repeater was one of the more interesting techno records released this year. Perhaps it was the blend of CTRL’s undeniable talent for twisting grooves out of scrap metal and bouncing electronics, and Solid Blake’s tastes for drawing strange lines out of broken, snapped, electro, that sent the release off in a very different direction than the one the bulk of techno chose to follow. There’s something about the way in which coaxes movement from disparate sounds which gives it a grubby, funky feel that feels very refreshing; At times hard, almost industrial, at others wiry and dementedly charming, it remembered that techno is dance music and pulled every trick in the book to make sure you remembered too.
ScanOne – E.Oneseven (Analogical Force)
For all the fierceness and complexity of its limb-snapping rhythms, for all the brutality lying just under the surface of the tunes, E.Oneseven has a surprisingly large amount in common with the producers cresting the current wave of heavily IDM indebted electro. There is a love of melody, and sharp, intuitive sound-scaping, which engulfs and enlarges the music, opening vistas not immediately apparent, that owes a debt to braindance and ambient. Even so,it’s the rhythms which really dominate, and provide movement, structure, and meaning. They shape everything else around them in an eruption of breaks, allowing the melodies to fall like ash over the ridges and furrows they form. Exhausting and euphoric.
LNS – Recons one (LNS)
Recons One is another example of a growing – and welcome – breed of electro producers who are creating a sound which takes influences from a wider range than we might have seen in the past. Above the crisp, playful, breaks you can sense everything from classic Detroit techno to Autechre to bleep, all helping to create a wide, shining, and expansive sound. In the ambient pieces, there is the same attention to detail, and a curious pragmatism which anchors the music under familiar stars. Occasionally a little more restrained than it needs to be, Recons One remains a beguiling and smart record.
LA-4A – Slackline (CPU)
I love CPU. One of the main movers in electro over the last couple of years, they have done more than most to keep it in the public consciousness, even though they seem to frequently wonder off into territory that’s a bit cold, clinical, or experimental for my basic tastes. And then they release an EP like Slackline and it all makes a weird kind of sense. As with the label itself, it’s not entirely accurate to describe Slackline as electro. It’s certainly there, rubbing its sweat all over the furniture, but it’s marshalled by rogue elements of garage, and the off-kilter freedom of the very early IDM movement. There’s also a vibe familiar from breeds of mid nineties techno which skirted between genres, often pushing between the walls as they felt like it. Creased is superb tune, rising and falling as it tries to hang onto an early morning trance.
Textasy – Dallas Gun Club (Craigie Knowes)
I could have filled a large part of this list with any number of Craigie Knowes releases. The records by Carl Finlow, Posthuman, and Derrick Car in particular were damn fine. But it was Dallas Gun Club, from the very start of the year, which gets the nod. Why? Because it’s insane. The recent trend for rave and breakbeat has had an impact of sorts, but without creating anything amazing. What’s great about Textasy’s approach to much the same with is that he de-emphasises some of the more outlandish, noddyish, elements and accents the breaks and the way they play off the sharp little touches and spikes of melody and mood which made up a lot of the underlying tension of rave. The results are torrents of vibrant colour and electric, peak time moments. A stand out record on a brilliant label.
D. Tiffany – Feel U (Planet Euphorique)
It’s not always easy to feel charmed by a record, but that’s exactly what Feel U manages. There is something about its chirpy nature that should irritate, should drive you into the stack to find something darker and fierce. It doesn’t though. It invites you in, occupying you with its wriggling little grooves and the nagging suspicion somebody forgot to tell D Tiffany that electro was supposed to be abstract and unapproachable, just like all those gonks with arm loads of dry,’moody’ techno told you it was. But while Feel U was one of the most joyous records of the year, that doesn’t detract from the fine emotional depths it also managed to create, tingeing the happiness with something wistful, half-remembered and – at times – almost mournful.
Kosh – Null 212 (Casa Voyager)
I hate using the term ‘break out’ because it all it usually means is ‘was too small for me to care about before.’ I’m happy to use it in Casa Voyager’s case, though, because they came out of nowhere with a bunch of great EPs, and I’m even more delighted to use it about Kosh because this one is going to be going places next year. I’ve no doubts about that whatsoever. Null 212 is a bit of an outlier in the way it evokes the sounds of genuinely classic electro: this is a record which takes pleasure in drawing its influences from much further back than Drexciya or Aux 88. You can hear Cybotron in this, and the Egyptian Lover. The beats are scratchy and strutting, the bass spiky and slippy, and the overall mood is of a record absolutely determined to deliver a particular breed of hazy, laid back electro funk of a sort we all need much, much more of. A gem of old school threads woven into brand new togs.
Bitstream – Switch Holo (Frustrated Funk)
It might have been a very quiet year for electro powerhouse Frustrated Funk, but they did still manage to deliver to great records. The first of those was a repress of ancient and fantastic material by Spesimen, the second was Bitstream’s Switch Holo, their first record in a decade. It’s a corker. Dark, cracking with malignant energy, it frequently feels as if everything is about to crumble around the disorienting grooves and abrupt changes of direction. But then you start paying attention to the odd, controlling, non-human intelligence that lies underneath at all, keeping it in check, and it all begins to make so much sense. Rampant, sketchy, alien funk that’s having a ball and simply doesn’t care whether you are too.