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.

 

 

 

 

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Review: Versalife – Nova Prospekt (Trust)

Boris Bunnik re-activates his Versalife project for an outing on Austria’s Trust, and while Nova Prospekt is full of trademark pulses of sonic, cosmic, radiation, and wide, rainy sweeps of atmospherics there is, here and there, a slightly less recognizable steeliness at work underneath a lot of the material.

Versalife remains one of the big electro projects that people from outwith the scene are probably familiar with. It’s not all that surprising; beyond Bunnik’s work as the well-known Conforce, Versalife’s music draws from a pool of sounds and influences which are hardly exclusive to electro, and as a result it feels hybrid in its creation – electro beats, certainly, and a bit of techno’s grunt as well as something less tangible, less immediately obvious.

Here that intangible quality works its way between the notes and into the fabric of the music. Echoes Of A Resonant Cascade hooks deliberately lopsided beats of glass with fragments of shimmering light. It does so with subtle nods to the rainy textures once so common to the expansive horizons of earlier IDM. It lends the tune a downbeat mood, one which is never far from the surface across the whole EP.

Part of that comes from an air of quiet experimentalism which informs much of the music, and heavily supported by Bunnik’s love of expansive synths and pads. They build and roll like clouds in Autumn, changing shape and meaning as they unfurl. Occasionally they overstep their mark. Nova Prospekt itself fills the empty space between the chiming bassline with drifting and silvery pads, but they draw the nascent groove away from the bass, which hints at deep, prowling, funk, and aims the tune towards the sky instead of letting it get its feel dirty in the dance.

2 A Spacts finds a remedy for this gentle intrusion by shifting itself a bit more, shortening the time available for introspection while keeping open wide avenues for the atmospherics to paint their pictures. There is a vibe of proto-rave here; not frenetic nor posturing, just a simple sense of self which adds a bite to the drums and propels it along with a greater purpose. The closer, Exosuit is a compressed, nervy, twist of electronics on a spine of clattering beats. It’s sparseness a counterpoint to the rest of the EP, and it cleverly retools the overarching mood, turning the shining highs into shadow-filled depths.

Do I love Nova Prospekt? I’m not sure I do. But I’m not sure it’s a record which is supposed to elicit love. It’s so measured, so precise in its tonal shifts and use of swirling, frosty, synths that it instead demands respect for something that falls beyond the usual remit of dance music as a whole. In this it is once again evocative of early IDM, and the sense that the electronics, the man-machine, could be pushed further than the framework allowed, if they could avoid becoming trapped in a newer structure of orthodoxy.

When Nova Prospekt does come into its own, though, such as on the fuzzy and funky Echoes Of A Resonant Cascade, or Exosuit’s tight emptiness, all of those structures come together, the grooves informing the structure, the structure guiding the grooves. As parts of electro continue to deepen themselves, its worth stopping here for a moment to witness the fact that balance can give the music something that transcends trends and draw heavily on a tradition of electronic sounds which served to unlock worlds as much as moods.

Best Of The Represses September/October 2018

Yeah, I’ve been on holiday, and I’m not kidding when I tell you getting the motivation to write about music again has been a real pain. Still here we are so let’s see what we’ve got! A slim couple of months, looks like, but not as bad as it could have been. It’s probably going to be a little on the light side now until Christmas really raises its head. Oh well. Them’s the breaks. Here’s some class to beat back the lengthening nights.

Fastgraph: Systematic and ../../ – Klakson

While it may be easy to slag off the repress game there does at least seem to be an unspoken acknowledgement that there is an awful lot of music out there which deserves an extra few moments in the light. Electro has, all things considered, benefited more than most other genres from this mindset and it continues to bestow sounds upon us that were otherwise lost to the Hounds of Discogs.

Frank De Groodt has been back in the frame recently thanks to re-releases and new material under his excellent Sonar Base guise. For some of us, though, it’s his work as Fastgraph which reverberates as his definitive sonic statement. The two reissued EPs here, 2001’s Systematic, and 2002’s ../../ fill an interesting niche in the history of electro in the way that they both effortlessly create a sound which remains entirely their own. It would have been easy for Fastgraph – as a lot of producers did – to look to the dominant sonic signatures of the era for inspiration; after all,it was a world coming off the back of not only Detroit electro, but the cooler forms of Rotherian fuelled European electro-noir.

That’s not to say there aren’t touches, but they point more to a common ancestry than to homage or creative pilfering. In fact, what is most noticeable now having been able to listen to both in totality for the first time in a very long time, is the way that they feel very much like the forerunners of a lot of the more subtle thematic variations on the genre we have come to take almost for granted nowadays. There is as much kindred energy and commonality with the IDM tangled work-outs labels such as CPU release or the spidery forms of Arcanoid as there is with the way in which the likes of Le Car, Ectomorph, or Andreas Bolz would take the tropes and sounds of the genre and make it utterly, uniquely their own.

Of the two EPs, I would have to give Systematic the nod over ../../ as the better of the pair – although in terms of quality you would be hard pushed to get a cigarette paper between them; both are immensely satisfying records. What swings it for me is the way Systematic feels the more complete, the four tunes unified by a sense of groove and an articulate aural nous which allows a particular vibe and narrative to run from one end of the record to the other. 3Des with its souped up hip hops beats, liquid metal bass, and vacuum frozen grace is a tight scamper across an outer moon. Systematic itself is alien beauty, urgent and earnest and a tune which puts me very much in mind of Third Electric at the effervescent, introspective best.

../../ is certainly looser in construction, and a tab more experimental in execution. Emotionally and tonally it is probably more playful and open than Systematic even though it does quite hit the same crystalline highs. Even so, no one listening to a tune such as ../../ can surely come away without feeling some tug at their heart from the way in which the track pulls at your soul. Squid punches up the contrast and builds a moody, crackling beast of fuzz and 4/4s, lending the EP a very different feel to that which lulled you in to begin with.

Shout out to Klakson for bringing these two back from the freezer. Maybe if we’re very lucky we might get a repress of 2007’s Evasive Manoeuvres as well. I hope so; that’s a record which very much completes a special trilogy. Even if we aren’t, there is more than enough quality on display across these two reissues to ward off all the tech-house the winter can throw at you. Get buying.

Electro Will Get You Through Times Of No Hope Better Than Hope Will Get You Through Times Of No Electro

Just sit down a minute and stop talking about Peggy Gau, The Aphex Twins, that Konstantin guy or whatever else is currently inhabiting the sordid and damp-ridden beachfront property that is your mind. Just hush a moment. Shut the hell up. That’s better.

It’s all shit, mates. All of it. Big room DJ’s who are spinning more lies than records, fat wads of cash circling their souls even as the final strands of their artistic integrity circle the plug hole; PR creatures who spend all their time trying to convince you that tech-house is, like vegetarian bacon, a tasty and viable alternative to the real thing; crowds of glo-stick wielding gonks who whap on about Burning-sodding-man and how 126 bpm is magically linked to the human heart beat; the swish, glistening, bawbags making a career out of who they know rather than what they know; and miserable old bastards in miserable old Transmat t-shirts who stand outside your favourite Twitter feeds raging impotently about it all like an ancient, incontinent hound dog barking in the middle of the night about a fox shitting in the garden. It’s all just shit.

Is Burning Man even a going concern anymore? Us ancient hound dogs have no idea.

See though, this is the thing: Out there, beyond the idiot parade of social media, the finger wagging fascist puritanism of populist politics, and the constant hum of substandard intellectualized excuses , are good things. There are good books. There are mountains and forests. There are deserts and oceans. There are curries. There are beers so cold that they freeze your throat on the hottest of days. There are dogs, and parrots, and bears, and manatees. There is electro.

I love electro. I always, always have. I can’t even remember first hearing it; so perfectly did it interface with my neural net it felt as if it had always been there. Only soul music comes close to eliciting the same response from me. I’ve mucked about with punk rock, and dallied with jungle. I’ve tussled with house and techno, but electro is the one I always come back to. Always.

Sometimes we need to kick ourselves a wee bit to bring the joy back. I’ve been doing that by listening to a huge chunk of electro recently, even more than normal. And I thought, for a change, I might just bash out a wee list of tunes that are doing the job on my jaded, fractured, heart. Maybe in the future I might do one of these about another of the major electronica food group. I might, or I might just do this again. None of these are in order – we’re not playing favourites here (well, not really); some are old – some are older than many of you probably are – and some are pretty much brand new. It’s obviously not an exhaustive list of tracks which I’m listening to just now, it’s just some words about some music. Nothing more. Sometimes that’s all we really need. Funny, isn’t it, how often we forget that. Let’s go!

Berverly Hills 808303: The American Lie (from the Dealers and Lies EP) – Reference Analogue Audio

You might not realise it, but acid electro is a bugger to do right. Often times it sounds as if the 303 has been drugged and dragged along for whatever sorry excuse for an adventure the sad producer has mistaken for a Grand Artistic Statement. This isn’t one of those occasions. This is acid electro done correctly. How can we tell? Because it’s a huge, godless slab of nasty, scabby music which’ll steal your wallet and spend every penny you have on drinks for the doyens of the mankiest bar in the mankiest port city it can find while you reel and weep in the gutter it left you in. Fucking yes.

Sekter.17: Communications Breakdown (from Exterminate. Populate. Procreate) – Twilight 76

Sekter.17 was an occasional side project, along with DJ Dick Nixon, of DJ Godfather who, back in the nineties, would occasionally take time out of his busy day job of writing incredibly fast tunes about ladies bottoms, shagging, and that sort of thing, to do something a bit less naughty. I’ve only got a couple of Sekter.17 EPs, but this one is a proper classic. And although every track in it can justifiably fight its way to the top of the pile, I’ve always had a thing for this one. Something about its ageless old-school style floats my boat. It’s also got a proper old-fashioned breakdown and dodgy robot voice that handily says ‘Breakdown! B,b,breakdown!’ during the breakdown just in case you weren’t sure.

Ovatow: A Thought (from In Loving Memory of Juvenile Ray) – Harbour City Sorrow

We get a lot of electro these days that either thinks its IDM circa 1991, or is receiving EU grant money to explore the greater depths of, uh, deepness. The problem is that a lot of it brings neither a tune or a groove to the party and lounges around on the one comfy sofa whilst wanging on about music with words you suspect it doesn’t really understand. This lovely tune is the opposite of all that. There isn’t really much to it but what there is really does draw a straight line from IDM to now, all while keeping a cheeky little groove boiling away under one of the simplest and most haunting melodies to appear in electro for years. A special sort of tune.

X-ile: I Wanna (from the I Wanna EP) – Direct Beat.

An all too short-lived project from LaToya Vaughn and Aux 88’s former manager Marnita Harris (I think, anyway…), X-ile produced the grand total of two EPs that I know of which is a real shame because both were absolutely belting. What made them stand out was the way they took technobass and simply slipped it a little to the side by simply adding a little more in the way of vocals than you tended to get on electro tracks back then. This is a genuine classic – slick, fast, and exhibiting an understanding of fluid funk that even their Detroit peers rarely came close to. The lyric might be suggestive, but they’re nowhere near as dirty as that strutting bass.

Go Nuclear: Machine Learning (from Descent Into Darkness/Machine Learning EP) – Bass Agenda

Go Nuclear has no where near enough material in circulation yet to make many big predictions about his future…oh, actually: that’s balls. Go Nuclear is operating up there at the top of the pile just now, along side Detroit’s Filthiest and a select handful of others. This is a great tune. It’s stark and busy, evoking memories of Aux 88, Audiotech and other gods of the genre without slipping down into the mud of homage. I’ve been listening to this a lot recently. You should too. It’s a perfect example of electro that understands how grooves and soul link together to create that almost mythic ‘deepness’ that many aspire too but few ever reach.

Keith Tucker: Brace Yourself (from the Brace Yourself double EP) – Electrocord

One of my very favourite tunes of all time. I thought I had lost my copy of this until I recently found it hiding in the wrong sleeve – Your parents were right, kiddies! LOOK AFTER YOUR RECORDS! Every bloody thing about Brace Yourself screams electro; the robotic, experiment recording vocals, the perfect, tight, and utterly pared down beats, and the metronomic bass which kicks you in the heart and feet with every bar. There is no flab, nothing that does not need to be there. This is a flash of pure electro genius whipping out across the empty void.

Drexciya: Andreaen Sand Dunes (from Neptune’s Lair) – Tresor

Every single day brings a different answer to the question ‘what’s my favourite Drexciya track?’ Today it’s this beauty. Andreaen Sand Dunes is a track I’ve been listening to a lot recently for some reason, possibly because it seems to be the one bona-fide Drexciyan classic which resides in the ‘oh yeah! That one!’ pile. I don’t know why that is. This is a stunning tune, and a perfect summation of everything that is good about Drexciya; almost zen like in its calmness, its like diving into a pool of crystal clear, freezing, mountain water on a hot summer’s day.

Ttrax: Weekend (from Technobass: The Mission) – Direct Beat

I’ve never understood why there are so few electro tunes with proper vocal. I mean, yeah, there are plenty with wonky vocoder bits, and a few which untilise snippets of other types of vox. But actual songs? Rarer than an EDM star with credibility. This is one of the few I have and, thank God, it’s a cracker. I’ve written about it before so if you want something more in depth you can look it up. It’s a simple message, but it chimes with something in all of us, something that used to be a reason for getting through the week (still is, if you’re not an old bastard like me). That simple yearning for Friday night, coupled here to a slick, wide angled, funk from Aux 88’s Tommy Tucker, adds together to a devastatingly tight and eternally truthful call to arms.

Anthony Shakir: Mood Swing (from Mood Music For The Moody) – Frictional

At the end of all this, long after the sun swells up and eats its children, after the last black hole has bled itself away through a billion frequencies, and even after the last of the stars blink out, and heat death steals the universe of its last breath, Anthony Shakir will still be thought of as one of the greatest talents of any era to emerge from Detroit. Any era. This is an outrageously serious piece of electro – even more so because it is from an artist who is not especially known for it. Stark, poignant and utterly captivating, it exists purely in that almost invisible point where dreams, hope, and reality come together to create life. A master class, make no mistake.

Mor Elian: Xeric Zula (from Persona Non Grata) – Hypercolour

Persona Non Grata was one of those rarest of beasts – a record which everyone said was great but was probably even better than that. I held out for a while but once I heard it I was completely sold. The title track is probably the most immediately accessible tune on it, but I gradually came to prefer this over Persona Non Grata’s cosmic electro. Something about Xeric Zula continues to give long after you’ve heard it for the hundredth time; harder than you expect, it’s a symphony of broken machines and rogue electronic carefully shepherded into an endless spiral of slowly evolving funk. It’s like an AI reaching for sentience and developing its own hi-tech soul. Mad Mike would be proud, and I can think of no higher praise.

Review: V/A – Apartment and Sunday Times (Apartment Records)

Back in the nineties it started to become possible to home in on individual and specific strands of house. The music was beginning to explode into a million forms as the original template drifted out of the hands of the original progenitors and into the sweaty grasp of people whose love for it, and their understanding of what it was, wasn’t tied to a specific era or geographical place. This brought benefits, chief amongst them a widening of the basic concept as various groups sought to rewire the sound for their own scenes and their own lives.

In the same way that we are attracted to the music which reflects something of ourselves, so it was for different communities. Of course, nothing can remain eternally pure, and nothing can remain true to a concept which only a handful of people may originally have held. With this was a growth in popularity, accompanied by a probably inevitable softening of many of genre’s strongest and most important elements. House today is a far cry from what first coalesced in Chicago clubs more than thirty years ago. It is a commercial enterprise now, and one which dwarfs every other electronic genre with the exception of the EDM charade.

The upshot of this is that when you do come across music which still harks back to something that is organically, intrinsically house (whether soulful, or acidic, or harder), it can sound alien to ears which have become attuned to the sleek forms which now dominate. We hear so much about deep house, about lo-fi house, that the deluge tends to drown out all other sounds. We begin to, well, maybe not so much accept them as the spiritual successors as allow them more leeway than they really deserve. It’s easier just to let it go.

Which brings us to this new four tracker on Irish label Apartment, a record which sounds and feels like the antithesis of so much of that contemporary house. Certainly, after so long stuck with house music which seeks to do little more than provide a momentary sugar rush, the collective of ideas, influences, and subtly altering moods on display here feel incredibly rich and a little jarring. It’s like coming face to face with an old friend you had thought long-lost; the warmth of familiarity filtered through a strange sense of anxiety and displacement.

Part of this odd feeling is rooted, perhaps, in the way that each of the four tracks here feel disconnected from the usual selection of influences, those ageing ideas which each new generation feels it has to tip its hat to. Sure, if you dig into the DNA far enough you’ll find those threads of Marshal Jefferson or Mr Fingers, or brush up against a genetic memory of Disco or Italo, but what you won’t get is the note-by-note transcription of the ancient past, and there is virtually none of house’s recent infatuation with ‘how we got here’. Which is a breath of fresh air because there comes a point where the past is nothing more than a roadblock.

Even so, Tr One’s Afrobeatdown has the feel of classic house, even if it’s of the breezy, Detroit techno tinged sort that Derrick May would melt your mind with in the middle of a set. Easy to swallow, but nourishing, it rides closest to the sort of thing which was coming out of the East Coast a few years back, and championed by the likes of DJ Q: a blend of thick house vibes cut open with razor-sharp touches and quick movement, held together by a bass which’ll void the insurance on your speakers.

Colm K’s Rays feels very much like a companion piece to Afrobeatdown, a more introspective examination of what happens when the music opens out to accommodate a wellspring of subtly variating moods. So much of the groove is carried in the little, almost incidental moments that it almost feels as if it doesn’t need the beats, although they are most welcome when they finally make their cameo.

It isn’t deep, not in the conventional sense of layering hackneyed, jazzy, riffs over lazy pads. Instead it works the contrast until the edges vanish into the shadows, and the way it plays with expectations, deconstructing rhythms and toying with the tune’s direction keeps it locked to an internalized and hidden compass. As open as the music’s sense of soulful adventure seems, it’ll have you working to get everything you can out of it.

Colm K’s other track, the short blast of late night soul that is HEY, could easily feel like a pastiche, but actually nods it’s head towards those parent genres which informed and influenced house but now feel cut out of the lazily written official history. It glistens with the grooves of 80s synthetic funk, R&B, and Vandrossian soul. There’s very little to it, if truth be told, but it’s a brilliant reminder that stepping off the path brings rewards.

The closer, Static’s Fallen Sky is perhaps the odd one out, being a heavier, less warmly open piece of house. Actually, it’s barely house at all and in many ways has little to do with any particular form of modern electronica (although that alone probably makes it a better example of modern electronica than most.) I don’t quite know where to start with it. It makes me think of Public Image – perhaps because the echoed snaps of vocals have more than a little of John Lydon’s honk to them – but mostly, as with HEY, it reminds me that the received wisdom of house is usually wrong, that the ocean of genetic soup that birthed it was far more stormy and exciting than we are led to believe. Part new wave, part Leftfield, part I haven’t got a clue what, it rotates the wrong way around, and forever catches you looking, guiltily, backwards.