Best Of The Represses March 2018

I think the title of this column is occasionally a bit misleading. Not tonight, though.

Timenet – Dishwasher (Frame Of Mind)

Now, this is an example of someone really, really, digging back and returning with something unexpected. The original was released in 1992 as a white label by the members of the short-lived techno outfit Ubik, and that’s about all I know of it. Judging from the fact that the same PR blurb is out there on about 100 record store sites, I’d say that’s about all most seem to know about it which is pretty cool and interesting because it’s not often we get something genuinely obscure popping up as a repress at the moment.

Musically it’s very much of its time with its mix of Acid, techno, and rave, lending it the distinctive UK sound of the early nineties. While Dishwasher feels far more classically Chicago – mainly because it’s an homage of sorts to Mr Finger’s Washing Machine – the other tracks cram in a good dose of messy, day-glo, fun alongside some wobbly grooves. On The Move comes straight out of a dingy club at the wrong end of the high street with its baggy T-shirt stained with sweat and dry ice; ravey stabs and grinning daftness do something similar to the inside of its mind. DX Moods is the pick though, with its low-slung, electro tinged, moodiness eventually bursting into a smiling, fractal, sunrise.

Aux 88 – Technology (Direct Beat)

Although not the highest ranking record in my personal ‘Direct Beat represses I need right now’ list, not least because Technology is one of the tracks on last month’s repress of Bass Magnetic, this is still an important one to get back out seeing as it represents not only the first ever release on Direct Beat but – I might be wrong about this – also the first appearance of Aux 88.

While Technology feels a little rough and ready compared to some of their later, slicker, work It remains a great tune and one which helped to define the entire techno bass sound with its blend of electro, house, and soulful Detroit techno. But where techno bass – as a whole – eventually began to suffer from a little too much in the way of cookie-cutter sounds and off-the-shelf attitude, Technology remains wonderfully alive to the possibilities. Even better is the Rhythm mix which swaps the fluid breaks for a stomping 4/4 beat, head-rushing energy, and connects the Detroit sounds of the early 90s with something altogether more up-front and explosive. This Direct Beat Classics thing is beginning to shape up very nicely.

k Alexi Shelby – All For Lee-Sah (Transmat)

One of a very small band of producers whose work truly crossed the – mostly imaginary – boundaries between Chicago and Detroit, K-Alexi could always be counted on to deliver the sort of utter banger that everyone knew even though they lived in the ‘secret weapon’ category. This repress of his Early Transmat release – the first proper repress we’ve had from the label in a long while – brilliantly sums up that rare duality with three tunes that you’ll have heard plenty of times even though you didn’t know who made them.

My Medusa is probably the most familiar, particularity as its wonky, eternally optimistic, skank has been out on a couple of other relatively recent represses, but the other two tunes bring very different facets of K-Alexi’s sound to the fore. Vertigo is one of the dirtiest, funkiest, acid tracks ever released. It’s a tune so pungent you’ll be catching it at the edge of your senses for weeks. All For Lee-Sah is just a work of near genius. A swirling, compressed, storm of emotion and mood it floods over a stone cold groove which gradually winds itself up into some brilliantly subtle acidic funk. Bring the strobes for this one.


Carl Finlow – A Selection Of Works Part 1 (For Those That Knoe)

Whether the strangely fertile nature of UK electronic music helped to crowd it out, or the deeper, harder, louder sounds of the genre emanating from the states or the continent were more in vogue, or whether it was simply a little bit out of phase with what else was going on I don’t know, but British electro always seemed to have a harder time convincing the wider world of its merits than it should have. Where other home-grown takes on particular genres shone, UK electro languished in the shadows, getting plenty of kudos from those who gave serious consideration to the real thing, but remaining a curiosity to most.

The climate has changed though. The last couple of years have obviously been good ones for electro, and while a lot of the newly lit limelight has tended to fall mostly on the newer members of the gang, there has been a quiet revaluation of the old team, and a sense of energies surging. Perhaps, then, it’s the right time to re-evaluate the work of the producers who built the scene and helped shape a sound which in its own way is as important to the history and growth of modern electro as techno bass or European noir.

Which brings us to Carl Finlow, an artist who has been right at the hard edge of the genre for nearly a quarter of a century. Along side the likes of Ed Upton, Phil Bolland, Dez Williams, and a small handful of others, Finlow has helped to define an electro sound that’s both incredibly potent in its own right, but remains subtly different from the sounds emanating from elsewhere. And given the fact his career has covered so much ground,from the initial bang in the 90s right up to now, the concept of a retrospective of his work is an intriguing proposition. The reality of A Selection Of Works Part 1 is just as intriguing. Much of the focus falls on his work as Silicon Scally – the guise he remains best known for – and is largely drawn from releases hailing from the early of the Millennium, including tunes which only ever appeared as extras on CDs.

This is electro of a particular sort. In some ways it’s a forerunner of the deeper shades which have been so prevalent recently, but where a lot of contemporary electro makes it point by travelling through a heavy atmosphere of thick, symphonic, and patiently curated moods, Finlow creates horizons in the sound, and builds the means to reach them through a sonic world where the accent is on the grooves and a sparse, locked down, cerebral energy. A lot of UK electro in the 90’s felt as if it was reaching back a little bit, still in love with the moves of an older school. This isn’t the case here; this is forward-looking music, accelerating onwards and drawing on a greater wealth of influences. The stunning, empty, and evocative Pace, for example, doesn’t even feel like electro so much as a blend of darkly billowing trip-hop and noirish story telling. It’s as modern as anything you’d find on a Brokntoys record.

And although the three different projects which the record draws from – there are a pair of tracks here under Finlow’s own name, and a single tune from his excellent Voice Stealer work – pitch and pull in differing directions, this mix of the physical and the mental, and of a deep sense of experimentalism informing the nature of the music rather than being its point, remains central to them all. The Silicon Scally material, however, perhaps benefits the most. Tunes such as moonax and Dark Matter are lithe, prowling creatures, but little bursts of light, fragments of melody and movement, temper the forward momentum with purpose and adventure. The one Voice Stealer track, the wonderfully downbeat yet optimistic Unintensional, reverses this, using the slow, skipping beats to add a sparkling warmth to the languid torpor.

It would have been nice to have had more Voice Stealer work on offer, but I’m sure the follow-up volume will rectify that. The track listing has been put together with an ear for music that means something to Finlow and For Those That Knoe label-head Ben and, as such, probably can’t be regarded as a definitive snap-shot of Finlow’s career. But given how much material there is in the archives, and over how years and styles it falls (way back to the straight up house he made with Ralph Lawson and Dominic Capello, and the Wulf-N-Bear work with Lawson, again, and Huggy) there are really few more sensible ways that this could have been done. I have a slight preference for some of the looser, heavier sounds from his releases on Device or Electrix for example, but that’s just me, and there is no doubt that A Selection Of Works Part 1 is an incredibly useful guide to the work of one of the outstanding pillars of the scene even if it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. The nature of the tunes makes it as vital for those of us who think we’re entirely familiar with Finlow’s work just as much as it will be for those who are looking for a way in, not only to his own history, but to the wider past of British electro. Very much to seeing what volume 2 is going to bring.

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.


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.