The Maghreban – Pots and Pans (Zoot); 6D22 – Dragon’s Path (Midnight Shift)

The Maghreban – Pots and Pans (Zoot)

It’s been quite a while since I last reviewed anything by the Maghreban, but I’ve tried to keep an ear on whatever Ayman Rostom has been cooking up. The former hip hop producer’s track record with house has largely been a great education on what house music can sound like when it really does come from the left-field, instead of claiming to do so just because it uses tape saturation.

What has always made Rostom’s take on the genre so listenable is the way it barely seems connected to any academic concept of what house is supposed to be. Frequently revelling in strange and expansive moods, the music is often a tapestry of alien qualities which accent Rostom’s taste for oddball skank. What has always elevated it away from the hordes of cookie-cutter outsider house producers, though, is the way he brings with it a fuzzy humanism which tempers the esoteric vistas he creates.

Pots and Pans further enhances this reputation with three tracks which duck and drift through some warm sonic landscapes. In some ways the tunes on offer hold a similar vibe to Barry Adamson’s sonorous, post-modern, soundtracks to non-existent movies. This is particularly true of both Elka and Martha where the beats are shepherded by a fat bass you can imagine being thrummed out by some heavy 70’s dude replete with thick moustache and royal-blue polo neck. In actual fact, the grooves on both pieces work in a subtlety different manner than you might expect. It’s less about moving the body, but the imagination, and both rock with a heady air of drama, evoking a strange landscape where the deep fog is more of a physical presence than the ground it rolls across. Martha is perhaps the more effective of the two; a slow mover, it takes a good while to really get itself into place, building up a tight, claustrophobic atmosphere before the broken, maudlin, occasional, melody of a piano cuts a path back towards the fresh air.

Pots and Pans itself is more upbeat and less concerned with the minutiae of mood as it works up a lather with clipped polyrhythms and simple, unfettered joy. It does little more than circle itself, and offers no more than it has to give but it comes out the other side feeling like that is more than enough. A great, smiling, little tune which should help see you through the long, cold nights of turkey ahead.

6D22 – Dragon’s Path (Midnight Shift)

If I’m remembering correctly, I opened this year’s Pattern Burst with a review of Giorgio Luceri’s 6D22 project so it seems weirdly fitting that the last review of the year goes to him too. Back then, it was his Istar release on Zeinkalli we were discussing. This time he’s on Midnight Shift with a collection of tracks inspired by the far east.

Firstly, it’s easy to see why Luceri has been a bit of a fixture on Jamal Moss’ Mathematics Recordings over the years. Dragon’s Path combines a resolutely old school techno flavour with something a little more detached and cerebral, and a lot of the time it evokes a sense of that point when balearic beats began to give way to something that would eventually become trance.

But just as there is an old school techno feel, it works a similar trick with those trancey moves. It’s closer to Jam and Spoon in execution – a sense of house music which has gone off on a tangent, drawing in a heavy mood of strobes ‘n’ ice, and building towards a vast heaven through simple melodies and rhythms built upon each other.

The three original tracks are bigger tunes than you might at first expect. Tianlong and Huanglong on the A side are a pair of shimmering climbers, both of which lock down their moods and movements early on and rise upwards relentlessly. Tianlong bleeds away excess energy towards the end, swapping it for a more delicate sense of tone and texture. Huanglong really pushes the early 90s big room vibe towards a logical conclusion. It’s all thunder and whispers; coaxing one moment, the next pushing you forward with both hands towards a bleary, hyper-real sunrise.

Longwang is from a similar place, but slower and more content to blur the motion with a feel of mysticism and some profoundly trancey 303s which bubble away seductively behind the veil of the melody. Once again the mixing of house like movement and techno rhythms provides a foundation for Luceri to build some tight complex sounds on top off, and the pulsing strength of the combination pushes towards some very old school hands-in-the-air moments.

Longwang’s remix comes from the fertile mind of the one and only Heinrich Mueller. Yep, That Heinrich Mueller. And, as you’d expect, it’s just about as far a deviation as you’d be able to get. Heinrich Mueller has created bit of a thing over the last few years from creating tunes that aren’t really tunes, where their obtuseness, their de-constructed qualities, have begun to drag the music of in strange, sometimes awkward, but often exciting directions. And he does that again here, transforming Longwangs effervescent brightness into a minimal, internalized stab of serrated, compact madness as if he’s taken the original’s nervous system and mounted it outside its skin. As most of you probably know, I’m not that fussy for remixes unless it something new or unexpected. This is a pretty good example of the art. Borderline terrifying and bleak, it’s as if the ghost in Longwang’s machine has crawled out of its mouth and gone on a rampage. Truly demented, excellent stuff.

Advertisements

Pseudopolis – Pseudopolis EP (Redstone Press)

A new label, from my neck of the woods in the Scottish highlands, and therefore I’ve an idea of the way the hunger for new music and the wonkiness of relative isolation can feed into the mindset. In my day, it was mostly metal which was the music of choice for Highland youth, morphing slowly over the years into happy hardcore and the more straight up forms of bangy techno. Not that this debut EP is either, and I admit to be being pleasantly surprised by the tunes here. I’ll go ahead and say it – this is great stuff.

What leaps out of the music straight away is that it refuses to limit itself to a particular direction. Instead it veers closest to the sort of wild invention and killer jams which Bristol folks have been slamming out for a while now, and there is a similar disregard for hard genre limits on show. Pseudopolis exhibit a profound sense on adventure across the three tracks, taking in bits of house and techno and using them to colour the bones of something which really lies closer to dubstep, jungle, and even a wee bit of dance hall, in vibe. The result is a strong release which has a gleeful sense of doing something right by doing it wrong. Really, it shouldn’t work as well as it does, but it ends up tight and brilliantly alive. The grooves flourish under a procession of chunky, occasionally day-glo moods and energies which ramp up both the sense of fun and seriousness. At Last bubbles with a seductive cheekiness, mainlining all those dry ice and strobe moments which are burnt into your subconsciousness. We Can All Groove slows everything right down and wraps up the movement with thick darkness.

Tracer is the definite standout; a joyous, rhythmic, burst of bright colour which hits up all the spots suggested by the other two tunes, but takes it further and makes more of a particular tribal heft which was only hinted at elsewhere. There is a kindred vibe to The sort of stuff Randomer has been working out his system over the last few years – nods to garage and dark, crunchy, house are filtered through a palpable sense of drama, and encapsulates a lot of what’s good in current UK electronica away from the big room beats.

It’s always interesting when a new label or a new act come out of the gates without doffing their caps to what everyone else it doing. And while there might be more Bristolly influenced stuff kicking around than there used to be, that’s still got to be better than yet another collection of tunes making their pilgrimage to Detroit, Chicago or New York. Check it out.

Best of the Represses – Nov 2017

So I’ve been away in India for a bit. Not so much ‘finding myself’ as avoiding getting run over by psychotic bus drivers, motorised rickshaws, and camels, whilst eating twice my own weight in garlic naan. And although I’ve come back home with one of the meanest colds I’ve ever experienced, I’ve also returned with an unwillingness to give the benefit of the doubt to this whole repress malarky anymore. Seriously, label folks: this is about the third month in a row I’ve had to scrape around to avoid writing about endless disco edits and re-releases of watery 90s deep house. My brain, feet, and other less remarkable bits of my anatomy demand old school sonic fun and it just ain’t happening. It really isn’t. And with that, here’s the cream of a very, very, slender crop:

Model 500 – No UFO’s – Metroplex

Metroplex’s anouncement that it was going to start repressing some it’s classics was pretty much acclaimed by everyone with ears. Unfortunately the whole project seems to have gone off the boil a bit, with a number of scheduled bangers failing to appear. Even worse, the long-awaited repress of No UFO’s does that currently fashionable dirty trick where the original’s full arsenal has been ransacked to make room for stuff that, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, really isn’t all that great. In this case, both version’s of Future’s screwy, sleazy funk have been tossed out and replaced with remixes of the title track courtesy of Moodyman and Luciano. Both are unwanted and unneeded. While the Moodyman version is just -just- about passable, it tries too hard to straighten out the unstraightenable and turns in something fairly limp but bearable if you squint at it enough in low lighting. The Luciano version, though, is gash, and seems designed to be played in a god awful wine bar setting at 6.30 on a Wednesday night. For shame. I mean, if you hate Juan Atkins that much, why not just kick him in the nuts and leave the rest of us out of it? Luckily, the original versions of No UFO’s still sizzle with the same cyborg electrofunk energy they always have, their sense of fun, adventure, and machine-mysticism undiminished by being more than 30 years old. Buy for these two examples of effervescent genius and pretend the rest of it doesn’t exist.


Cube 40 – You Make Me Function – Was/Is

Although I’m not entirely sure of what came first, I think it’s safe to describe Cube 40 as a side project of Air Liquide’s Cem Oral and cocreated with his brother, Cam, way back in 1995. This is actually one of two Cube 40 represses which came out recently but, strangely, this one appears to have been a limited edition. The other, Bad Computer came out on another label and should also still be available.

You Make Me Function is, simply, a bunch of fun that really doesn’t try to do anything other than shift its arse around a wee bit. There is a really strong vibe of very early Relief records here, and its funk-slinging dumbness also works up a bit of a Dance Energy sweat which is all the more interesting because it predates the whole darn massive ghetto house DM explosion thing by a year or two. But even though bumptious Chicago second wave house is the obvious influence there is a bit more to it than that – little slivers of sound from Plus 8 and early European experiments in the genre tie it all together. I think Fun House on the B side is actually the better of the two tracks, kicking it out with the sort of wobbly acid shuffler that entire nights out once built themselves on. Maybe not the classiest thing you’ve ever heard, but if you can listen to it without smiling you’re dead inside. Dead. And you probably really like the Luciano remix of No UFO’s too. Get out of here, you bum.

Microthol – MicroKosmos (Anniversary Edition) – Trust

I wrote a bunch last month about the way in which Bandcamp was on its way to becoming a great resource and archive for all sorts of old music no longer available. I had planned to write a bit about some dinky Fastgraph stuff I found on it a while ago, but it seems to have been removed for God knows what reason. Never mind, because DJ Glow’s might Trust has supplied us with an even better option in the shape of Microthol’s debut album from 2006.

This is simply spiffing; a mix of vibes, atmospheres, and energies which take in a number of genres. MicroKosmos locks down a heavy mass of invention and sophistication with some potent grooves – some delicate, some prowling. While the electro forms the core of this collection, it reaches out towards EBM, Detroit flavoured techno, acid and all manner of gorgeously synthy madness. Comes complete with some excellent additional remixes from Dynarec, Marco Passarani, Alexander Robotnik, and Old Man Glow himself. While each of them is great, the Passarani and Robotnik reworkings really hit the spot. Just superb. Get it now.

Friday Night Tune: Robert Hood – Unix

The heavy mass of genres and styles which have influenced electronic music are well known, and we’ve been subjected to plenty of guff about it over the years. I used to be surprised by the amount of producers willing to spraff on about their affinity with hairy-arsed, self involved, proggy bollocks in interviews, or the sort of harsh krautrock which sounds like a psychology experiment gone wrong. You don’t see so much of it nowadays. I don’t imagine this is because there is any less desire to out oneself as a fan of the sort of music which makes you question your life choices, but more because – simply – the years have rolled on enough that the influences have changed in a way which allows this stuff can be consigned to the past.

There was, I think, another reason for it. By claiming a lineage to music which had undeservedly gained a reputation as somehow intellectually and musically superior, you are sticking your own flag in that endlessly trodden ground. In the earlier days, when you could get yourself into pointless arguments with all sorts of indy knobs and snobs once it was known your tastes in tunes ran to stuff that went doof and squelch, it was natural to adopt a defensive position, to pretend that your taste was important.

It was the same reasoning which led people down that boring little road where they squirted all that pish about 126 bpm being at the same speed as the human heartbeat, as if they were welding their love for acid house to a shamanic tradition which predated the fall of Atlantis. It’s interesting to note that although this sort of thinking had thankfully been battered around the head over here, as even the indy kids realised that electronic music wasn’t some weird virus that would turn you into one of those day-glo rave clichés you used to see upsetting farmers and Tories on the 9 0’clock News, the growth of EDM across the pond has fostered a resurgence. I imagine the circumstances are the same. As electronica fans over there have begun to admit it, they’ve probably been having to explain it to the sort of people who still think Rage Against The Machine are the cutting edge of underground music.

Still, that’s by the by. I’m lucky enough that both the prog rock and the dodgy heart based symbolism were things I missed. It’s not that I didn’t have arguments with Neds Atomic Dustbin fans who were strangely angry I liked techno, but more that I never realised I was supposed to be embarrassed about liking it. I did, however, find moving on to house and techno a natural progression from the music I had already been listening to. While nowadays we tend to remember the role disco played in the evolution of so much electronic music, we remain a bit reticent about giving soul its due. It’s there, though; particularly in the development of Detroit techno, for obvious reasons. In Britain these links were perhaps even stronger – the Northern Soul movement of the late 60s and the 70s was in many ways a massive precursor for rave and acid house, and the two are tied together in a common heritage.

But it was punk that I found to be the closest. Perhaps not in sound, nor in the popular meaning. It’s a difficult task to recognise the symbolism of peace and love and unity in the hard cynicism of Nation Of Ulysses or Scratch Acid; it’s virtually impossible to draw a line from Barbara Tucker’s luscious vocals to Steve Albini’s harsh sneer (and I bet that’s the only time in history you’ll see both of those names in the same sentence.)

It’s there though, the common heart, and the energy. And when I listen to a lot of Robert Hood’s earlier music it jumps out at me. I’ve written about Hood’s minimalist take on techno plenty of times before, the way he takes a tune and pares it down until nothing is left but a lean and furious groove. Many people tried to imitate him, but very few got close. There was always the need to throw something else into the mix which alleviated the almost terrifying starkness of the sound. And when that happens, the music loses its edge.

Rather than house, or even the great mass of techno (Detroit or otherwise) I’ve always felt that Hood’s tunes have a kindred spirit with the hardcore of Fugazi. The DC band often showed a similar take on sound, even though they came at it from a very different direction. Their own militancy, their anti-authoritarian stance, and fierce independence echoed something of Hood’s first band, Underground Resistance, and their music contains that same approach, the same stripped down, lean grooves powered by a compressed rage and potent, erudite, take on the world around them. That their tunes were largely powered by some of the greatest bass and drum patterns in rock music has often been overlooked as people focussed on Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto’s sharp lyrics, but Brendan Canty’s drums, and Joe Lally’s bass provided direction, and control, and – most techno of all, perhaps – a strange, alien sense of melody and completeness.

I’ve often felt that Fugazi’s seminal Repeater – one of the greatest records of the 90s – is what Hood may well have come up with had he been into punk instead of techno. Sometimes we look for links in places which are too direct, too obvious to really make sense. Often its only when we get past the surface noise and concentrate on the energy, the vibe, and the meaning, that we begin to realise that inspiration, influence, rarely comes from where we expect it too, and that sometimes we have far more in common with those who are supposed to be strangers than with those we are supposed to recognize as our own.

Review: Cignol – Hidden Galaxies (Computer Controlled Records)

Although it might seem as if Computer Controlled Records have a dedication to keeping the flame of a particular form of old school techno and acid alive, it’s not really something that bears up to close scrutiny. Although the label are unlikely to give the likes of Lobster Theremin or LIES stiff competition in terms of quantity, each of the their records so far have certainly helped define and strengthen a place within the current scene where rawer and differing forms of house and techno can flourish. I think this is partly possible because the music, far from being simple facsimiles of stuff you would have heard in late 90s clubs, takes the basic sounds and reforms it into something that understands standing still isn’t really an option, that the music has to evolve in order to retain both its relevance and its potency.

It’s a tricky thing to ask of a producer, and even more tricky to pull off. Irish producer Cignol’s début on the label is one which, at first listen, seems pleased to deliver a straight up dose of acid techno. But it doesn’t take too long for other forms to start unfurling underneath the 303s.

Essentially this is acid which has been subjected to a concerted blast of information, opening its eyes to the wider possibilities of the changing sonic world. Although the acid provides a true foundation for Cignol’s increasingly complex take on the genre, it never becomes dominant – which is an interesting fact in itself given the ubiquitousness of the little silver box across the EP’s five tunes. Tracks like Final Approach, or Galway Acid Are imbued with rolling acid lines, and certainly hark back to the mix of techno, acid, and trance which was once to be found in some of the wider ranging and less frenetic Harthouse releases. But what makes things different here, and adds a deepened, widened, take on the genre is that interplay of icy, gossamer melody. At times, especially on Galway Acid where a certain suggestion of heavy energy weights the tune towards a particular breed of classic Chicago acid, it loosens up the tight, compressed grooves, shuttling mood upwards and unlocking a sense of grainy, introspective drama.

In fact, it’s this which is the dominant theme, and it’s well partnered by Cignol’s sense of movement which makes great use of a much lighter touch than we typically find in acid house of any era. For all the little genre hallmarks which are scattered around, Hidden Galaxies has more in common with the likes of Versalife, Morphology, or – in particular – ERP: artists who have taken techno, electro and IDM and sliced out many of the more obvious approaches and added a cinematic sense of place and time to the music.

It’s particularly evident on the gracious, swirling and break beat powered electro of No Reply From 806 – a deep, noirish tune which folds in on itself and lets little light escape. The grooves hatch from the half-space between the acid lines, but draw their energy from the dizzy roll of the cold, lost pads. Submerged Aegis is a note harsher – a crushed rave anthem falling through time, but propelling itself towards a frozen dawn. It’s a gorgeous and unsettling fantasy; the 303s kept slowly coiling around the flickering melody and the beats rising to fill the emptiness.

Anyone looking for solid acid bumpers are going to come away feeling a little lost, a bit out-of-place. Hidden Galaxies isn’t a record which plays to the genres strengths. It does quite the opposite. It takes certain elements and sends them scurrying and hunting towards a far larger, and colder, horizon. It stops short of breaching the barriers of IDM perhaps, but this is a good thing I think. It remains recognizable in tone and texture, but almost effortlessly shows how the music can find a new place amongst the vistas of a much larger world if it’s allowed to stretch it body and its mind. Excellent, sublime, and unexpected acid house from a dark and haunted future.