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.

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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.

A Couple Of Record Reviews Via The Scenic Route

No matter how comfortable, a prison is still a prison. There is a window which looks out upon a scruffy tree and a concrete wall, and the room, small but not tiny, contains everything I might want for my work; note pads and an ancient computer, piles of records and books. The door leads to an airless corridor of peeling paint and scuffed linoleum. At one end is the bathroom with a small, high window through which you can sometimes hear snippets of distant conversation. At the other is the one door which leads to the outside world. It is never locked, and I can leave any time I want. Except, where would I go? and what would I do? Somehow that makes my sentence worse.

I sit at the desk and patter out loose words which describe the way I imagine the people who make the music want me to feel. I suspect I’m rarely right but I don’t really care because once the music’s in the wild, the only interpretation which matters is the one each listener brings to it. You can love your children, but once they leave the nest they are the only ones who can define themselves.

Once a week the doorbell will ring and I’ll swear, drag myself to my feet and shuffle down the corridor to let in The Archivist. He will lope past me; black jeans and a blacker mood, a stab of the eyes letting me know to leave him well alone. I am the scribe, and he is the archivist and so our work goes on.

He’s only ever happy when drifting through the shelves and the piles on the hunt for records. He seldom looks it though, and in this I think we are the same. I am only ever happy when I am writing but I will do my damnedest to avoid doing any. I will pull books apart to find out what makes them tick; I’ll construct cunning excuses with the same level of effort it would’ve taken to have written a novel; I’ll dilly and I’ll dally; I’ll hide, I’ll fuck about. The only thing I won’t do is work. Not until I’ve run out of every other available option.

There is a telephone in the room with The Archivist and I. They had it installed years ago and it’s an ugly thing of thick, moulded plastic the colour of over-ripe avocado, and with a handset so large and heavy it strains your hand to hold it for more than a minute. They got it from the reception desk of an A+E ward which was being closed down, and They smirked at the irony that something so essential could end up serving something so ephemeral. I hate phones at the best of times, but this one, this hideous thing, I despise. And of course, it senses when I have finally started to write because it begins to ring, it’s anxious, fussy trill filling the room. I try to ignore it, knowing I won’t be able to, and out of the corner of my eye I can cam see The Archivist glaring at me; He’s holding a battle-worn Jeff Mills EP and he hisses “Aren’t you going to answer it?” I shrug, knowing full well all that will do is piss him off.

I pick up the receiver before The Archivist blows his top, and say hello. There is nothing on the other end but silence and static at first, and I wonder briefly whether they are screwing with me. Eventually, just as I’m about to hang up, a voice, tiny, tinny and far away, says “have you heard it yet? Did you listen to it?”

I say nothing, letting he voice continue. It develops a slightly maniacal edge, pleading, and then demanding, I listen to the record it’s talking about, an anonymous 12″ by an unknown producer on a label called Keep Your Mouth Shut.

“I think it’s the Aphex Twin,” It says. “I think it’s him. There is an Aphex Twin sample on it. It would be delightfully ironic, wouldn’t it?” I Look over at The Archivist. I had put the phone onto speaker and now The Archivist is standing there, shaking his head at me.

“Sure, “I say. “Ironic.” And it would be, wouldn’t it? The Aphex Twin, once famous for his obtuse remixes which left not a trace of the original producer, identified as an unmarked, unknown artist, purely from a sample culled from his best known work. Ironic. Yeah. But I don’t know whether it’s true. I doubt it. It’s probably someone vaguely known to those of us who haunt the edges of The Music. Either that or a huge star harvesting easy kudos and their ticket back to the underground. Maybe. The rest of the record doesn’t really sound anything like him. The first track, for instance, is really just an average, middle of the road bumper that doesn’t go anywhere. Inoffensive, but lacking anything identifiable or unique. It could, literally, be anyone. It’s an American label too, not that it means anything in this day and age, but the clues are often found in the most unlikely of places.

The rest of the tunes are pretty good. No, scratch that. They’re excellent.

“I hope it’s not the Aphex Twin,” I tell the voice on the telephone. “I’d be much happier if it turns out to be a genuinely unknown artist. That second track with the AFX sample is a killer, but the B side – wow!”
“A strong release would you say?” the Voice enquires.
“As strong as it gets.”

In this I’m right. While the first track is OK, and the second, with its sample taken from AFX’s remix of an ancient St. Etienne song, is a deep well of lively nostalgia reworked into a hard and energized groove, it’s the other two tracks which really kick it into the next level. Track 3 with its heavy, slow breakbeats, wonderfully languid melody (another AFX sample?), and shadowy touches rises above the day-to-day and brings depth and imagination to a style that often locks itself down in a single direction. Track 4, a radioactive dose of cosmic craziness, neurotic and acid burned fluidity, is one of my favourite tracks of the year so far. I’d find a place for this gorgeous hit of wistful darkness in every set I’d play if I could ever get out of here.

“You don’t think…..” The Voice tails off, as if teasing.”you don’t think there is something to it that’s a little bit, well, old-fashioned? A little too set in the early nineties?”
“That’s why he likes it!” Hoots the archivist. “He can’t see that he automatically favours new music that reminds him of when he used to have some sort of a life!”

I give him the V’s and take the record off the deck, placing it on top of a pile of books and papers out of The Archivist’s reach just to annoy him.
“I can’t find a sample of it online to link to,” I moan. “I don’t like it when I can’t find a sample to link to.”
The Voice giggles. “Never mind. I’m sure they’ll get the gist from your amazing descriptive powers.”

The doorbell rings again, and The Archivist shuffles off to see who it is. He returns a moment later with a box of records he lovingly, carefully slices open with a craft knife. He doesn’t let me do it any more, having seen the way I tear at the card and the glue.

He holds up one of the fresh records. “You should review this. I think it’s going to be very popular.”
“Who is it by? what label is it on?” He reads the names.
“Oho! It’s them! I wondered why they’d been Liking so many of my posts on social media! Kiss arses! Brown Nosers! Trying to smooth me up after they ignored me for months!”

The tiny voice on the telephone speaker chimes in. “Calm yourself you dingbat, you dilettante. You’re paranoid. The pressure is getting to you. I’m sure they’re not kissing your arse. I’m sure they’re just admiring your writing.” The Archivist and The Voice break up into hysterics. I slam the receiver down and glare at The Archivist who stares back. We square up over a pile of filthy Dance Mania records. The phone rings again and I pick it up, dumping the handset on the desk as I press the loudspeaker button. I reach over and grab another one of the new records from The Archivist. A different one. “What about this one? It’s on Happy Skull, isn’t it?”

“Charnel House by Bass Clef,” he mutters. “You like Bass Clef.”
“Some of his stuff, Yeah. Didn’t go for that last one on Trilogy Tapes though, did I?”
“Neither did I.” Says the voice on the telephone.
“Who asked you?” I snap. “We don’t even know who you are. Maybe you’re from that arsekissing record label, maybe you’re that guy on social media who told me to go read a book! Maybe you’re the bastarding Aphex Twin. Maybe this is all just one of your marketing ploys!”
“Chill out, you oddly cynical illiterate.” The voice chided. “How do you get through a day without falling apart?”
“He doesn’t” snickers The Archivist. He takes the record off me and slides the vinyl out of the sleeve. “Shall we give it a listen?”

I drop into my knackered chair, sulking, as the archivist puts the record on the 1200 and places the needle.

“What’s this one called?”
Charnel House” The archivist sits down on his stool by the window and lights a rollie, taking heavy draws and staring into space as his head bobs along with the tune’s fat, wonky, rhythms. I’m not so sold on it, not at first anyway. It seems like a beat and a bass quacking out a rudimentary melody. But when it ends I signal for The Archivist to roll it again. He does and he quickly locks down in time with the groove. It’s growing on me too. Something about its simplicity, the way it blends a certain tongue-in-cheek Super Nintendo vibe with a particular rawness begins to do a job on my brain. Before long we’re all quacking along with it.

“Nice,” I say, and cadge a rollie from The Archivist.
“I liked it too,” The Voice interjects.
“Nobody asked you!” The Archivist snaps. I grin and give him the thumbs up as he turns the record over.

This one, Acid Hearse, feels less knowingly daft but more exploratory, as if it spends the first couple of minutes trying to stake out its territory before it gets going. When it does, though, it fuels itself with a pleasingly early ravey mood that weaves in and out over the top of the breaks. There’s a little flurry of dub techno-ey reverb somewhere in the background. I mention that this is the best way to do dub techno. The Voice on the phone sounds a bit piqued. The Archivist gives me a look.

“This isn’t dub techno.”
“I know that. I never said it was. I said that there’s something a wee bit dubby now and again.”
He shrugs. “That’s your opinion. I like it.”
“I like it too. It’s got a bit of cheekiness to it without losing sight of something a bit more meaty. It sounds fresh.”
“Fresh.” Something in the way The Archivist intones the word gets my hackles up but I stay quiet. So does The Voice, strangely.

“Shall we do another one?” Asks the Archivist.
“Nah. I’m tired now and it’s getting dark. I’m hungry. Let’s order a curry.”
“I’d rather have pizza.”
“What about me?” The Voice whines from across its infinite distance.
“Nobody care about you” We both shout at the same time. I hang up the phone. The Voice doesn’t call back.

Monrella: Process and Report EP (Berceuse Heroique)

I should have probably written about this one last week when I did the repress stuff but, y’know, that’s the way it goes sometimes. Ok, the background is that this is essentially the first two Monrella 12″s from the mid nineties whacked together into one easily digestible EP. Well, I say easily digestible but that might not be entirely accurate. Monrella was one of the nom-de-plumes of Mick Harris, one time drummer for the legendary Napalm Death, and Extreme Noise Terror, and a creative force of nature who also released some pretty outstanding work as Scorn, Lull, and Trace Decay as well as collaborating with such luminaries as Anthony Rother and Meat Beat Manifesto. Given all of that you’d probably expect the music here to be of the kill-em-all-ask-questions-later variety. You’d only be partly right.

There is no doubt that the four tunes here would naturally be at home on something like Jeff Mill’s Live At The Liquid Rooms mix CD. They’re natural bedfellows not only of Mills’ own brand of molten 90’s slammers, but also of the likes of Surgeon. Each of them carries considerable heft, and propel themselves along with the sort of absolutely huge, planetary kick drums which used to be all over the place before techno producers got together and decided they wanted their beats to sound like a finger click surrounded by cold chip-fat. These are vast tunes, and disturbingly lively.

But they are also full of unexpected subtlety, and little glimmering touches of shade and contrast. While the beats steam right on, everything else helps to add definition to the movement, shaping something which is far less monolithic than it has any right to be. Process 2, for instance, is ablaze with the colour of early morning light, the riff both simple and to the point but holding a mirror to the grooves; accelerating and controlling the gathering storm but always keeping the murk from closing in. Report, a fraction slower, throws a curve ball in the form of a woozy, lop-sided lead which lends the tune the vibe of a ride in a demented fairground, the strange journey punctuated by sparse handclaps and frosty percussion.

That they sound of-their-time is probably unavoidable, but I think it’s also partly the point. Techno and its DNA have altered so much over the last 20 years, and it has done so in a way that sometimes makes it difficult to notice until you are once again confronted with its earlier form. A tune like Fixed, forever prowls around in that section of the brain where I hold my definitions of techno; angular, buckling, and edgy with a nervous energy, it sums up so much of what I want techno to be. Process 1 is like a slingshot back in time, but one which reminds you that the grimy snarl which used to be such a regular thing is nothing to be afraid of – particularly when you remember that the energy of these tunes were entirely predicated upon their desire to make you move, to get you on the floor. Not only is this dance music of the most stark sort, it’s dance music that isn’t embarrassed about that fact. There’s a lesson here, but only if you’ve got the guts to learn.

Best Of The Represses – August 2018

In which the Scribe pisses and moans about things which are – mostly – not your fault, gets annoyed at the way the Glasgow/Turkish bath level humidity is making his arms stick to the desk as he tries to write, leading to an unpleasant variant of Skibberene, and debates with himself the correct way to ignore Aphex Twin advertising campaigns. One of these things, dear eletronichildren, is true. Or perhaps none of them. Read on to find out!

Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (R&S)

While a small and boring section of the world continues to confuse an Aphex Twin marketing campaign with something tangible, interesting, and – you know – musical ahead of the piss-taking maestro’s newest album, R&S have sneakily put out another repress of his d├ębut, the still wonderful Selected Ambient Works 85-92. Ordinarily I probably wouldn’t cover this here (or at all), not least because I’ve a strange feeling that I’ve already written about a previous incarnation in BoTR but mostly because I assume that pretty much everyone who wants a copy already has it. I’ve got about 4 spread across different formats, including the brick-like cassette album and a CD that long ago did it’s very best to disprove the notion that the format was somehow indestructible.

So, why am I talking about it now? Well, quite aside from the fact it still contains a selection of tunes that defy any sort of easy categorisation, it’s a reminder that there was actually a time when the Aphex Twin wasn’t about the myth. Selected Ambient Works… is from an era before the stories of him living in a bank vault, before the urban legends of him terrorizing Cornish B roads in an armoured car, before he achieved an admirable level of anonymity through the creation of a massive media mirage which reflected not what he was but what everyone wanted him to be. That was a clever move, no mistake, but the knock on has long been the near impossibility of discussing the actual Aphex Twin music in a sane and useful manner.

Which is a shame because his work has often been more than good enough to do its thing without any of the concomitant bollocks, although I’ve always had a suspicion that James’ Aphex Twin music is the price he pays in order to work on other stuff free from it being dissected by tits like me. But then, I reckon at any given time half the one-off white label records by a ‘unknown artist’ are probably him on the sly so what do I know.

Look, you know the record as well as I do. Parts of it are truly beautiful, parts are alien hymns blasted out towards earth, across light years and infinite frequencies, a billion years ago, and parts are like dangerous shifting sands always ready to suck you down the moment you think you’re on solid ground. Every track on it still sounds utterly timeless because even when it was released it didn’t sound of its time. If you forced me to choose just one tune, I’d have to go for the languid, captivating, and soul stealing Ageispolis as my choice. Those slowly unfurling breaks, that bass….that bass….Somehow, when you’re talking about Selected Ambient Works, the word ‘classic’ seems far too small.

Spesimen – Infocalypse Era (Frustrated Funk)

Even veteran electro fans have glaring gaps in our collections, and for me that is found where the Spesimen records should be. Partly this is down to the fact that there were never more than a handful of releases; a slim four records released between 1996 and 2003. Even worse, they’ve now landed in that Discogs category of pricing that, while not entirely unaffordable, are pricey enough that you don’t want to throw good money at the vagaries of Discg-sharks grading. For a long time the only one that was easy to find was 2003’s Archaeology – and even then it was only because Pomelo Records have been selling the digital version on their Bandcamp.

Since then it was pretty much all quiet until Spesimen quite unexpectedly turned up a couple of years ago with a couple of tracks on a split EP on Libertine. While it’s probably harsh to describe them as a disappointment, they certainly paled in comparison to the expectation that had been building up for the best part of 15 years. And so we settled down and counted our pennies in case a decent price appeared on Discogs.

Well, thank God for Frustrated Funk, who have delved into the Spesimen back catalogue for this new release. First thing to state is that the label have gone down a route I’m not usually overly excited about, to wit: the picking and choosing of tunes from different EPs rather than just re-releasing the damn thing the way nature intended. However, I’m willing to overlook it this time because the treasures here are worth it, and I suspect there may be mitigating circumstances.

Infocalypse Era, then, takes tunes from the first two Spesimen records, which were both originally released on their own label, Infocalypse. From the debut release, 1996’s The Pupae EP, we have PSIO and Harmonik Science, and from 1998’s The Larval Stage EP we get Satellite and Astrologer. All four are good choices – no, they’re great choices – but it leaves a lot of material behind, especially from the larger second EP. It may be our old enemy, the licence issue. It usually is. But I suspect a more prosaic and, unfortunately, terminal reason: The tunes on my copy are intermittently distorted (and not in a good way) as if the record is filthy or I’m playing them through a dirty needle. The fact is the deck and needle are fine, and the record is in perfect condition. I wonder, therefore, whether the reason for the cull is simply that the original tapes or DATS are too badly degraded for any other tracks to be included. I hope I’m wrong and that my copy is just a shite press, and I pray that there is another volume on its way. But if there isn’t I’ll give thanks for what we have.

And boy do we have a treat. This is wonderful electro that sidesteps all of the prevailing tastes of the era. This is neither technobass, nor the smoother, darker, European electro-noir. It’s not Dutch squatter bangers, nor is it cheeky, cheesy, old-school fizzers.

The music doesn’t exist in a vacuum though, and there are kindred spirits sharing Spesimen’s nebula. Most obviously, perhaps, the music of Andreas Bolz, particularly in his Third Electric partnership with Gregor Luttermann, shares a similar vibe. Ectomorph’s cold funk also echoes with a common interest in precision yet abstracted grooves. And yet, Spesimen’s box of tricks seems to draw from another source, an endless well of zero-point energy constantly feeding a particularly compelling funk, and powering the strangely angular breaks into a realm where experimentalism and the commonplace become one and the same.

Regardless of my personal feelings about the lack of the other tracks, this is a superb release, and all the better for being entirely unexpected. Lose yourself in Satellites oddball, occult arms, glide above a gravity well on Astrologer’s broad back, and bounce across the surface of a strange, impossible, world with the utterly irrepressible PSIO at your side. One of the cleverest, most important, and stand out represses we’re likely to get this or any other year. Buy on sight.