Three Quick Bursts of Reviews

It’s lovely out. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the park is full of drunk neds sans shirts who are slowly going a strange bright pink colour as the warm rays plough over their almost translucent Scottish skin. it is, in short, as summery as it ever gets around here and the fictional Joys Of Life are coming close to being a real thing. Conventional wisdom says that this is the time of year where we put away all of the loud grinders we were using to get us through the endless months of snow, rain, and darkness, and begin to unwind with some lighter, jazzy numbers. But conventional wisdom, my friends, is a dog; I’m no more likely to follow its fragile logic than I am to suggest to those taps-aff dafties in Kelvingrove park that they swap their bottles of Buckfast for something breezy and summery like a Beaujolais.

So, since I’ve been a lazy sod recently there’s been a bunch of stuff falling through the cracks, I thought we’d do a wee round-up of stuff that’s arrived in orbit over the last few months. Here’s three for starters.

West End Communications have made a place for themselves over the last few years with a slew of releases heavy with sticky, chewy, beats and a finely gnarly attitude. Their new record, the UK Steep EP by the brilliantly monikered Ludgate Squatter takes up the baton, points it straight forward like a lance, and runs like a bastard straight at your face. This is the sort of record you want to play to people who refer to monotonous, modern, slabs of boredom as ‘warehouse’. This collection of crumbling, brutal, yet oddly light-of-touch, tunery seems to be a heaving dose of cranky techno and electro when you first listen to it, but beyond the distortion and the huge beats, there are plenty of little trick, lots of misdirection to take you out of the shadows and into daylight. Every track comes with its own little world of dubious pleasures, but my pick is Believe which sounds like a broken bus engine starting an electro duo with a friendly chainsaw. The vinyl version comes with a free Bandcamp code, which is always appreciated. Always.

Luxus Varta’s Then We Fall on Brokntoys was a record I had high hopes for, but ultimately never entirely got it together with. A good artist on an increasingly interesting label, there just seemed to be too many moments on The We Fall which just lack enough escape velocity to become truly cosmic. There are plenty of interesting influences, mind you, and I could catch touches of Model 500 (and even Carl Craig sometimes); mostly a love of IDM seems to shine through which is a totally valid thing to bring to the party even if it sometimes leaves me a bit cold. Even so, there are still a couple of very class tunes on board – Lesis might take while to get itself going but once it does, it boils itself down to a thick swirl of shadow and glass. Understated and deceptively hard, it’s a great example of deepness done with mood instead of strings. Radion is light years away, a bopping burst of deep space disco forever riding the frequencies of a neutron star.

Ninja Scroll by RNXRX on Struments, on the otherhand, keeps the focus a little more towards electro’s primary heat sources – although maybe not as much as you might first expect. Harsh, fast, and pretty funky, Ninja Scroll is a decent bunch of jams, even if the use of Drexciya/Heinrich Mueller reverential track names started the alarm bells ringing a bit. Yeah fair enough, that stuff is definitely there but what keeps it from slipping towards anything like an homage is the way much of it is filtered through something tighter and more industrial, with the hard rolling beats providing a platform for some subtly wonky histrionics. Ninja Scroll itself has the warming daftness of the Young Gods in their Second Nature period (except with a better groove); High Rise wriggles down into the dirt, like some feral thing escaped from the Touchin’ Bass stable, and claws itself along, with a moody Boris Divider-esque energy. Despite what you would expect,And despite what you might presuppose, Drxcyan doesn’t float off towards Lardosa. It’s too whip-smart for that, propagating a dose of claustrophic, faintly eastern sounding, chaos. Yet another piece of the electro puzzle getting itself some moves from other places. Something is going on in the genre…..

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Best Of The Represses: May 2018

The increasingly ironically named Best Of The Represses comes to you from the far side of Record Store Day – the controversial annual event which at one time had the relatively good sense to shut you up with a handful of interesting re-releases. Nowadays the RSD schedules are mostly made up of the Big Label Crooks trying to convince you that yet another goddamned reissue of Pink Floyd’s widdly bollocks is a Good Thing. As far as our stuff goes, it increasingly feels like those sketches crapped out by shit comedy writers that know not even the most myopic of commissioning editors will allow them on normal TV, so they end up dumping them on Comic Relief instead because, y’know, it’s only charity and who really gives a fuck?

Anyways, what has this to do with the subject in hand? Probably nothing, but quite likely everything. The repress game is a dungeon of fairground mirrors where things are rarely quite as stupid or exciting as they look when you glance to the side. The only thing that still surprises me about any of it is my weird capacity to keep caring. And the only reason I keep caring is that, almost every month, some silent god picks me up and turns me around, pointing me in the direction of something of genuine worth. Mind you, if the mute omnipresent prick does that to me when the inevitable Sandwell District represses start appearing we’ll be having words. Let’s move it people; I’ve got places to be.

Textasy – Dallas Gun Club (Craigie Knowes)

Yeah, I know. It only came out for the first time in January or something, but it’s here for two reasons: 1, it got repressed (look at the title of the column. Sometimes it’s accurate); 2, I really like it.

Textasy haven’t been around that long, but even though there are less than half a dozen releases under the name, pretty much every one has been a corking example of Texan electro (which, personally speaking, is a genre name I can get behind). This one sets its stall out a bit of a ways from the rest, and uses the electro as a base for some sweaty, ravey, shenanigans. It’s genuinely great – a rough-housing blast of dirty great breaks, stinking huge rave stabs, and nasty piano rolls.

It’s magnificent. You can almost imagine it as the soundtrack behind one of those old photos of a light-house eyed scally giving it some big fish, little fish action while his mouth blows on an imaginary whistle as he not-so-gently unspools his sanity into a farmer’s field beyond the slowly massing ranks of the Old Bill come to murder the fun. It’s so good I don’t even know what that last sentence meant. It’s virtually impossible to pick a stand out track, but if you forced me, I’d suggest you start with the warped, piano led nonsense of Eternal Gurn (Manik Piano Edit) and work backwards until your brain dissolves.

Sonar Bass – Dark Matter (Deeptrax)

Like some sort of moody knobber I totally forgot to flag up the first of this very welcome and very overdue run of Frank De Groodt’s Sonar Bass represses when it arrived just before Christmas. It was a great thing – a new release of the eternally brilliant Sonar Bases 4 – 10. It was a brilliant mix of lithe, experimental, techno, and shimmering, warped, electro from a time when the phantom powers were beginning to set the rules in stone. Dark Matter, released nearly a decade after that first explosion, is smart enough to avoid major changes to the foundations even though it shifts everything around.

It’s the ways it plays fast and loose with elements of electro, Berlinny techno, and Detroit aesthetics that makes it such a blast. Occasionally it puts you in mind of De Groodt’s other project, the brilliant Fastgraph, at other moments you can hear the proto-molecules of a very modern strand of techno DNA being put into place, long before other less imaginative sound-smiths began to get it all wrong.

But what makes it so strong is that for all its experimental endeavours it remains a potent collection of grooves, even if they are sometimes so alien you might actually need half a dozen legs and some tentacles to really appreciate them. It’s an album that might seem dark, but that’s only because the intermittent bursts of light and gamma radiation have probably left you momentarily blinded. A proper trip through the wormhole, this one. Hopefully we’ll get some of those Fastgraph monsters coming this ways soon as well.

Wee Reviews – Posthuman and Marquis Hawkes.

The snow has gone, and the clouds are doing interesting things beneath patches of blue sky. The trees are beginning to blossom and while the black dog isn’t exactly back in his kennel he’s at least napping in the sun. Well, mostly. Sorry I haven’t been around: stuff and that. On the plus side there’s a pile of records and what-nots sitting here beside me. On the down side there is a pile of records and what-nots sitting here beside me. Let’s see what we have….

Posthuman – The Damocles Syndicate (Shipwrec)

Posthuman take their squelchy, acidy, wobble across the sea to Dutch label Shipwrec with this two tracker. It’s a good fit, seeing as how both parties have a skill for retooling older sounds until they have a more contemporary feel. While it’s maybe not as gloriously messy and dark as the last Posthuman release we covered (last year’s Preach on DABJ), The Damocles Syndicate still delivers a heavy and stinging burst of future-acid.

The Damocles Syndicate moves itself with a slow swagger, knowing it doesn’t have to shift itself for anyone. It’s a slow, grand, unfurling of biting 303s and drums barely held together by a rumour of velocity as it peels itself apart to reveal the twisted, de-constructed, rave entity at its core. Netflix and Kill accelerates the party into a kinked bop and holds the acidic overtures at arm’s length while the tune builds itself silly before letting the bass burrow into your head. A very nice addition to a genre that sometimes struggles with invention these days. Smart, deep, and heavy, this is next-gen acid with its eyes open to the rest of the world.

Marquis Hawkes – The Return Of Marquis Hawks (Dixon Avenue Basement Jams)

It’s been an eternity since Marquis Hawkes last dropped anything on DABJs, which is a shame because his four previous on the label are still amongst his (and the label’s, in fact) best. In the invtervening period there have been controversies about cultural appropriation, a handful of records under his Juxta Position handle, and a slew of Hawkes releases across several other imprints that never quite seemed to reach the same level of heat as he managed with the Dixon Avenue gang.

While I don’t think The Return… is up there with Cabrini Green, or Higher Forces At Work, it’s still a pretty banging and convincing slice of noisy house, drawing on the spirit of Dance Mania and Relief – which always scores extra points around here.

In particular, Rush Hour Traffic and Bodywork draw on a strong, tracky, mid nineties Chicagoan spirit to add heft to the tunes’ acceleration. Rush Hour Traffic is a pure bred, peak time hammer of tongue-in-cheek funk and slapping drums which carries off a slightly knowing attitude with aplomb. Bodywork is less in-you-face about itself, but deepens the same basic formula, adding the tang of a big-room jacker to the mix.

It’s the slower and understated Moonmin that steals the limelight though. Deeper but wider in scope than the relatively straight up tunes which form the rest of the EP, the track curls around some truly grimy bass and drums, and feels as if it gets looser and looser as the track goes on. It strips out the house colour from elsewhere and draws the curtains, leaving only the suggestion of dawn breaking over the rest of us as it gets on with the night’s heavy business.

Best Of The Represses. April 2018: The Vision – Spectral Nomad (Metroplex)

Only the one this month. Just because.

Vision – Spectral Nomad (Metroplex)

After what seems like an eternity lingering on the edge of a re-release, Metroplex have finally managed to get this absolute corker back in to circulation. Originally released in 1996, Spectral Nomad came in the middle of what might still be Robert Hood’s greatest period. Aside from the way in which he continued to tighten and amplify the sophisticated, utterly stripped down grooves of the minimalist techno he had begun with Internal Empire two years before, he was also taking his first steps into a wider, less constrained world with his looser, thicker, Floorplan material as well as creating the deeper, Basic Channel infused sounds of Monobox. All three bore a striking family resemblance – a focus on sharpening the funk, and removing everything except the bones, the muscle, and the sinew – which was already apparent as something inherently Hoodian above whatever else the individual projects might bring with them. Where his old partner in crime, Jeff Mills, shared much of Hood’s basic ethos he used it as the foundation of a larger, more sweeping sound. Even the tightest of Jeff Mills’ tunes seem to reach outwards and upwards until they envelop the listener and the dancer. With Hood there is no such release; Everything is either movement or energy and every other element is jettisoned. The music turns in on itself.

The Vision was an older project, and one which actually had far less sonically in common with what he would later begin to create. A pair of early EPs – Gyroscopic on Underground Resistance, and Toxin on Hardwax – are brilliant, but they lean closer to the harder European rave tinged sound that Underground Resistance were making (which is hardly a surprise given Hood’s history and former place in the collective). They sound raw as hell. Heavy too; laden with acidic, porpoising riffs, light bending bass, and collapsing beats they represent techno from a period where the fury of the music is wound up with a soulfulness that came directly from house, lending an emotional edge which cuts right through the fuzz and the snarls.

Spectral Nomad was the third of The Vision records, and the last. Brought back by Hood after a four-year lay-off it didn’t seem interested in revisiting anything except the name. Certainly there was a dirtier vibe than was usually found in Hood’s other work of the period, but the music was denser, less concerned by a need for an immediate, visceral, thrill. More importantly, it also feels less willing to trade space to outside influences for Hood’s own ideas. Spectral Nomad is a very pure record in that sense, and only occasionally does it nod its head to others: Spectral Nomad itself is one of the few moments on the record to cast back to Hood’s older tastes. Its exploratory, jazzy, atmosphere echoes a lot of Juan Atkin’s work, and although it is expertly marshalled by Hood into a swaggering bop, its heart lies in an older – and perhaps more playful – Detroit.

The core of the record though is dominated by Hood’s focus on the grooves. Explain The Style unfolds in classic style with the endless flank of a slowly growing, precision crafted riff sliding by and the mammoth heft of a single kick drum leading the way. It could easily fit into Internal Empire or Minimal Nation. But it builds imperceptibly until it brings wobbling non-melodies borrowed from Mills to the fore, and releases the tension with the tiniest crackles of percussion. Detroit: One Circle flares into being like the first tune’s malicious, spectral, twin; travelling exactly the same ground, it cuts out Explains… willingness to meander and instead deepens and darkens the journey, scratching out a new path with snapping percussion and a looser but more urgent groove. It may not be absolutely one of the greatest techno tunes to emerge from Detroit but it isn’t far off, and its influence has probably touched more people than you’d imagine. You can sense its presence behind the early work of a number of Motor City producers, chief amongst them DJ Bone, whose own taste for rolling, expansive, yet stop-on-a-dime tight tunes shows a genuine understanding of what Hood was trying to achieve here.

Modern & Ancient feels like the sole misstep on Spectral Nomad for the first few times you hear it. It doesn’t really have much in common with anything else on the record – nor, in fact, with much else Hood was creating at the time – and seems isolated when you try to put it into context with the rest. But the tune itself make busy with its stark positioning and strange sense of adventure, climbing high enough, showing enough of itself that you can gradually understand its place here. Probably not enough, though, to stop you noticing what it isn’t over what it is.

Spectral Nomad is not the definitive Detroit techno record, as some would have you believe, and it perhaps lacks a little of the magic that the very best of Rob Hood’s creations all have, but it is a definite piece of the puzzle and anyone seeking to understand how we got from their to here should try to get to know it. This was Hood in the middle of a transition, translating not only between his own eras, but those of Detroit. It is techno of a different sort; not minimalist but trimmed by the same knife, and possessed by a mesmeric charm that keeps everything guided on the sonic beliefs which shaped so much of his music. It seems cheap somehow to say it, as if it detracts from the power of the music, but Spectral Nomad is an important document; it’s not the whole story, but offers instead a major perspective on one of electronic music’s most seminal genres. It’s that important. That it happens to bang so very hard is just the icing on the cake.

Reviews – Automatic Tasty – Propaganda (Vortex Traks); Shawn Rudiman/Naeem/Hits Only – PGH Electro Volume 1 (Is/Was)

Towards the end of last year I started to suspect that electro’s latest resurgence had reached its high water mark, that it was finally beginning to roll back, taking with it not only the great swell of new artists and music, but the usual flotsam of chancers and bandwagon jumpers who usually float to the surface just as the tsunami begins to break. It’s a funny genre for that. I can’t think of many others which are so inextricably linked with a cycle of flood or drout. I was beginning to worry how long it would be before the next wave started its inexorable roll towards the beach head.

Automatic Tasty – Propaganda (Vortex Traks)

As it turned out, I was a little, tiny, bit premature. Now that the dark hump of the year has passed, things are beginning to get going again. There has been a real explosion of great electro in the last few weeks – much of it from expected locations, some from out of the blue. Particularly fun has been the way the newer music has been chaperoned by a great little run of interesting reissues (chief amongst them, personally speaking, Tresor’s re-release of the Scopex back catalogue.)

As good as the represses are, it’s been even more heartening to see a host of young labels going from strength to strength. Vortex Traks first appeared back in 2015 just as the scene began to climb and have pretty much been up at the front all through this revival. It seems not entirely believable, then, that the new release, Automatic Tasty’s Propaganda , is only their eighth.

It’s a delicate collection of tunes, is Propaganda, and one that rarely tries to work up a sweat when it can follow an ambling groove all the way through a pastel sunset. It’s a warm record; frazzly bursts of Heinrich Mueller-esque melody spiral over your head, occasionally tinting themselves with the slightest hint of italo, before falling languidly over the rhythms crisp hurry. While you can occasionally be forgiven for wondering if Automatic Tasty’s love for a particular era and style of electro is pushing things a little close to homage, you can’t knock the silvery, laid back energy which powers it. Particular stand outs are Man & His Value’s, joyfully soulful slo-mo bump where it pulses through endless depths of light, colour,and shadow, and Prying Eyes (See No Evil) with its shimmying, workshop altered, Drexcxiyan bop.

It took me a little while to get my head adjusted to it, having done little but listen to ultra fast techno bass over the last few months, but the change of pace and Propaganda’s determination to find its own path and speed quickly warmed me to it. It’s the perfect burst of subliminal heat and light for this weird, on-going winter.

Shawn Rudiman/Naeem/Hits Only – PGH Electro Volume 1 (Is/Was)

Shawn Rudiman’s place as hero of the Pittsburgh scene has been won over the last decade and a half with the help of some seriously class house and techno which rivals the best to emerge from the two big Mid West incubators. It’s interesting to see him push into electro – a genre in to which (as far as I know) he has dipped his toe a few times over his career without ever becoming fully immersed.

That changes here, along side relative newcomers Naeem and Hits Only, as he brings a pair of sinuous and lithe fast-movers to the record. Both tunes have a core of snapping techno powering the beats; Derelict evokes the static flecked growl of I-F’s bleak funk and winds it up with a paired down, ravey melody which flickers across the crunching beats with a flash of neon. Asimolar ties the clipped, tight, beats into a 303 speckled sound-scape that’s part old-school acid anthem and part Detroit. There’s something in its energy reminiscent of Black Dog at their more playful, or even LFO at their most expansive. It’s a seriously good tune.

Excellently, both Hits Only and Naeem pick up the gauntlet, both acts turning in quality grooves which easily rise to Rudiman’s challenge. Hits Only’s Trion 4 takes a more minimal route, pairing back on any frippery for a tune built from stamping breaks, a massive chord stab, and some razor sharpened 303 work. Naeem’s Facing Forward unspools right off into deep space. Both achingly subtle and actually demented, it fluctuates between those two extremes as it flares out beyond the edge of the heliosphere. It might actually be the pick of a ridiculously strong EP. I know it’s been out a little while, but I’ve been selfish in keeping it to myself. Go and make that right, right now.