Best Of The Represses – February 2019: Internal Empire Special

Robert Hood – Internal Empire (Tresor)

It probably goes without saying, but Robert Hood’s music has changed by quite a bit over the last 25 years. There is perhaps no greater evidence of this than the current primacy of his Floorplan project, with its emphasis on warmer, fuller, and more straight-up dancefloor friendly techno. It has also helped introduce him to a new generation of fans for whom the term ‘minimal’ has greater connections with Berlin, Richie Hawtin, and a more recent take on the sound, than anything Hood was doing back at the Dawn Of Time.

Minimal techno in its original form had many masters, but few pushed the sound so far, or became so symbolic of it, as Robert Hood. Not long separated from Underground Resistance, and reacting against what he considered a loss of feeling and meaning in techno, Hood spent the middle years of the 90s creating a sound which took everything back to the genre’s most basic and functional form.

The results are still startling, perhaps even more so today than at the time when innovation crowded the woods with trees. Hood’s vision was a techno in which everything that didn’t help carry the funk was pared away until all that was left were grooves and sinew. It was, and remains, a devastatingly futurist take on the genre, one where everything is predicated upon movement, and Internal Empire is still the album which best encapsulates this ethos. On a personal level, Internal Empire also remains one of my three favourite techno albums of all time, along side Carl Craig’s Land Cruising, and Model 500’s Deep Space. Something within each of them contains not only the DNA of techno in its original, Detroit form, but a blueprint for the future.

Internal Empire sits as the middle child between those other great markers of Hood’s approach, Minimal Nation, and the run of records which began with Protein Valve, and led into the various Moveable Parts sessions. What is apparent, with the aid of hindsight, is the way in which Internal Empire now stands as perhaps the greatest expression of minimalist techno. With Minimal Nation (and, to an extent, with Protein Valve) there are traces of something else in the sound which harks back to Hood’s earlier incarnation as Underground Resistance’s ‘Minister of Information’, with tracks like Acrylic snarling along with a very Mad Mike feel, or the original The Pace, with its vaguely discoid honk acting as a precursor for the Floorplan genotype. By the time the Moveable Parts material arrived, the music had begun to reach a logical end-point, its tones and moods stripped down almost to nothingness, with what was left set to exploring an increasingly experimental realm of endless motion.

Internal Empire, then, was the point at which the idea of minimal techno found the perfect balance between movement and emotion, and its connection to the music which later took on the mantle of ‘minimal’ remains tangential. While there are obvious similarities between this and the sound as interpreted by a younger, Berlin based, generation, the differences keep them from every becoming too cosy. It’s like comparing a leopard seal to the ones bobbing along in the surf off your nearest beach.

Hood’s take is sharpened by his need to lay down not only a sound, but a belief in what it represented. Such philosophies are achingly difficult to transmit from one producer to another, and most, sensibly, don’t even try. It’s possible that this is the reason Internal Empire, and Hood’s minimalism generally, sounds so thrillingly individualistic – it was built by one person for a particular reason, and that has imparted the music with a soulfullness that is difficult (if not, in fact, dishonest) to try to copy. As a result, very little sounds like Robert Hood at full tilt, and it has helped to keep the music distinct and pure even in an age of endless conceptual recycling.

And the music itself? Well, where can you begin? With Minus, perhaps, still astounding in the way a repeated, three note motif can provide such gorgeously, mournful depths. Or Internal Empire, where skeletal fingers of sound reach out to guide a frosty, clattering, stomp. My favourite was always Home, with its washes of languid synth over a tight symphony of beats and snaps, forever carrying the seed of classical Detroit techno into a new era.

In fact, this is the thing which is always the last to be remembered. It wasn’t just the way the music had been stripped down that made it so powerful, but the way the emotional content was suddenly able to fill the space, and rely on tiny little touches, and the simple repetition of a handful of key elements, to convey meaning and ideas. When we talk about minimalism we rarely mention the way in which the music is dense with the intangible, and the way in which those invisible tones colour the sound and provide depth. This is especially true of Internal Empire. It defines the music, it drives it, and provides such a total re-imagining of what techno can be, and what it can do, that twenty-five years on it continues to open our ears to new ideas and toy with our expectations.

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Best Of The Represses Jan 2019.

What the actual drokk! 2019 is a made up year, isn’t it? IT’S ONLY SUPPOSED TO EXIST IN SCIENCE FICTION! Personally, I think this is at the heart of the human race’s current weirdness – we peaked in 1991 and now we just don’t know what to do with ourselves, and as we’re human (so I’m told) we’ve attempted to blast our way back to that temporal safety blanket by being fixated by walls, being fascinated by Bros, and listening to all our music on vinyl which is actually a bloody terrible way to listen to anything – although I guess it’s still better than having some dingbat like Kanye teleport the sounds right into our brains, and charge us every time they makes us blink.

2018 was a pretty decent year for the represses, I think, although I suspect that whether you agree with that statement largely depends on what your electronica postcode is. Obviously from an electro point of view it was a smashing 12 months where it felt at times that the represses were edging it over the brand new releases in both quantity and quality. Down at the other end, I sometimes wonder why we’ve really not had a huge avalanche of quality jungle and d&b returning to us from the distant past – or hardcore for that matter, given the wee waft of love for all things ravey and breakbeaty we’ve seen in some quarters. Mind you, the slightly underwhelming rave revival seems to have shrunk away as quickly as it came, leaving little behind but a vague impression of something started without a clear plan for what to do next. If you’re British, that’ll be a little bit familiar just now….

Elektroids – Elektroworld (Clone Classic Cuts)

I’m sure Elektroworld by Elektroids will be just as familiar. Well, it has to be, hasn’t it? It was pretty much the definition of ubiquitous at one point – certainly up here, anyway – and I imagine at least half the tracks on it remain just as familiar now as they were in the late nineties. While a portion of the record’s enduring fame probably owes something to the ongoing question of who exactly wrote it (the blurb on the record claimed it was ‘four young brothers’. Everyone else says it was Drexciya), it remains a smart collection of Kraftwerk inspired electro which mixed in a massive dose of Detroit soul and funk, and had a big a role in helping electro’s transformation from interesting diversion into the all-conquering genre it sometimes is these days.

What else it there to say? The chances are that if it’s your sort of stuff you probably have it in some form – the previous reissue, perhaps, or the long available digital files. Still, simple availability doesn’t usually detract too much from a good repress, and this one is certainly that, with the memorable original cover, and a light tarting-up of the mastering helping ease out the few doubts and creaks. Everyone will witter on about Japanese Telecom, or Future Tone as the album’s stand out track, but although they’re excellent tunes the best thing on it by far is the utterly funky Midnight Drive – still a moment of captivating, hazy, brilliance nearly a quarter of a century on.


Ectomorph – subsonic vibrations (Interdimensional Transmissions)

Unlike Elektroids, Ectomorph have probably never quite got the attention they deserved – particularly for the run of releases early on in their career where they displayed a fine understanding of a form of electro which seemed to borrow liberally not only from Detroit but also from Rotherian noir without ever becoming beholden to either. The end product was something distinct from either discipline – starker than Drexciya, sparser than anything to come out under the UR or 430 West banners but also fiercer and more embracing than their northern European peers.

Although the Stark EP remains my favourite of Ectomorph’s early run (and I’d love a repress of that one, particularly for the fantastic Time Fold), Subsonic Vibrations is a pretty remarkable début by any standard. Right from the very start, the little kinks that separated them out from everyone else are evident. The title track with its wonky, drifting, bass; Last Days Of Skylab’s bubbling acid mayhem; Parallax View’s shuffling, compressed, energy. All led off by Skin’s charging, righteous, grooves. Like the Elektroids album, this is a magnificent snapshot of the point electro began its metamorphosis. And for anyone one unfamiliar with Ectomorph (and there seem to be more than I thought), what better place to start than right at the beginning?

No Smoke – International Smoke Signal (Warriors Dance)

Ok. Aside from a vague recollection of someone mentioning this to me at some point, and a suspicion I’ve heard a couple of the tunes before, this repress of a 1990 release is pretty much an unknown to me. It probably shouldn’t be but there it is. My God, though, It’s brilliant. And I’m slightly embarrassed not to have really known about it before, especially seeing as one of the members is Tony Thorpe whose work as Moody Boyz took British electronic music off on so many insane journeys.

There’s too much here to really get my head around. Vocals from The Mali Singers scent tracks like Don’t Touch Me or the sprightly funk of International Smoke Signal, with smokey atmospherics which stretch the house in deep and wonderful directions. Just listen to the ace Anti Galactic Devotion, replete with a cheeky Star Wars sample, and the sort of beats which ride as if they know UR and the future lie just up the road. There is so much excellence on offer. Best of all is Ai Shi Temasu (Japanese Love) – deep and throbbing, it cuts house down to its constituent parts and focusses on the music’s raw, physical presence. It’s just superb.

See, this is the reason represses can and should be more than a simple exercise in commodifying nostalgia. Every so often something like this appears, something you’re not familiar with, and just floors you, making you wonder why you haven’t loved it since the day it first came out. An absolutely essential blast of UK house, acid, and breakbeat from the days they were all part of the same creation. Go and buy it right now. We need more of this.

Best Of The Represses – November 2018: Marguerita Recordings Special

V/A – Marguerita 1, 2, 3 (Clone West Coast)

The big repress news around here is probably the forthcoming re-releases of The Kilohertz EP and the Elektroworld LP by that electro super-group of yore, Elecktroids. While their exact line-up has always been one of those weird open secrets the scene seems to get it panties into a right old bunch about (and it was mostly the Drexciyan lads anyway), you can’t really take anything away from Clone’s public service reissue. Well, you can a tiny bit because Elecktroworld has been available in digital format for blooming yonks. But it’ll be nice to get our hands on Kilohertz again, and I guess for those of who value actual, proper, hold-it-in-your-hands-and-weep physical authenticity (and let’s be honest, most of us are in that particular club) it’ll be just lovely to get the album without paying some Discogs weirdo seven large for the privilege. Musically they’re both pretty important records, so we’ll have a little proper looky when they finally turn up.

It’s fitting that the Elecktroids material should reappear on one of the many Clone sub-labels. There have been a few outfits over the last couple of years who have made good on reissuing classic electro, some of them pulling out all the stops to secure licenses from a host of genuine underground beauties which seemed to have escaped everyone else’s attention. In Clone’s case they’ve built a reputation as an archivist of sorts for the billion-odd reissues of material from Drexciya/Gerald Donald/James Stinson, but they have also seen fit to repress music from other, perhaps less well-known sources, some of which occupies particular and important places in the history of the genre.

There have been reissues of material from the likes of Unit Moebius, the inventively fecund Dutch outfit who were a major influence on an entire constellation of European electro producers; last year saw Clone releasing a beautiful and absolutely essential retrospective of Le Car, the Detroit art-electro collective, and this year we’ve had re-releases of both parts of Detroit In Effect’s The Men You’ll Never See, which ranks up there with some of the best-in-show since the start of the millennium. And while it’s certainly true that there have – perhaps – been others who have delved further into the muddy past of the underground’s history and returned with rarer or even brighter diamonds, Clone reissues have allowed the strange jigsaw of this particular end of electronica to look far more complete than it could have been, and that’s before we even discuss the way they have continued to fly the flag for a huge amount of contemporary electro.

Their latest venture into the world of classic electro is perhaps even more interesting. Marguerita Recordings was a brilliant outfit operated by Ben Spaander – AKA Cosmic Force – which rocked out of Amsterdam from the start of the millennium until about five years ago. I’m unsure whether it’s still a going concern, although if it was I don’t suppose there would be a need for another label to license their stuff. They had a great run though, with a catalogue of extraordinary music, much of it from Spaander himself under a number of pseudonyms, or collaborations between himself and Edo Edens (who also recorded for the label as E8) and a small handful of other like-minded individuals. Beyond their own music, there were releases from a number of genuine luminaries such as Detroit In Effect, Dexter, and a mix CD by none other than DJ Stingray (who has played the hell out of a lot of the Marguerita tracks over the years). They even released a notable series of sampler EPs under the 030303 name which boasted an extravagant collection of big-name producers, with the likes of Mike Dredd, Neil Landstrumm, Legowelt, Like A Tim, Ceephax Acid Crew, and Luke Vibert all featuring. Now, by anyone’s standards that’s a special gang to feature on your label.

The three records of material Clone have reissued, though, keeps it in the family. There isn’t anything here by the more famous producers, but that isn’t a problem in the slightest because what we get is some of the most insane electro to emerge over the last twenty years. While a lot of the electro we’ve had from the Netherlands over the decades has been special, the Marguerita stuff seemed to take pride in being out there, following its own weird path into the future. Having said that, the links and influences on their own material and that of the US always seemed more pronounced than you tended to find with that of, say I-F’s Viewlexx/Murder Capital releases. Where the Viewlexx records are scratchier, and as in love with italo, disco, and a host of heavier (and often non overtly electronic) sounds as they are with electro, Marguerita Recordings championed a creation which was bouncier, brasher, and purer.

What we get here is essentially a collection of tracks culled from the earliest releases on the label, with Spaander, Edens, and their closest collaborators appearing under a number of guises, with the bulk of the tunes drawn from Eden’s work as E8, or from the single EP the pair released as Doubledutch. There are also a couple of other tunes featured from their work as Proskool, and a single track by Ototax which may or may not be its first time released anywhere – even with the aid of Discogs my old brain can’t seem to place it in a prior release.

And – oh, mate – this is a holy trinity of vinyl. While it’s perhaps fair to suggest that the quality is a little uneven here and there, there are so many riches on offer that you simply won’t notice or care. While there are a couple of tunes, such as E8’s H20, you wish had made the cut (hopefully Clone have held a bit back for a further release), nobody in their right mind could really object to the curation; and there is a simple thrill in having such utter monsters as Doubledutch’s Launch Detected or the compressed, nasty, brilliance of E8’s Micropacer 1 causing mayhem within earshot of each other.

Aside from these two giants the records provide a pretty good snapshot where the label’s head was at in its early days, and pleasingly indicates just why so many big names were lining up to work with them. This is electro which burns white-hot. Even the tunes which aren’t balls-to-the-wall mental, such as Proskool’s Hit $ Run, display a sleek and dirty sense of groove and fun which is worlds away from the dryness a lot of contemporary electro seems to find itself specializing in.

This is electro written to be played loud. Sometimes stripped down, acidic, and wonky – as on the single Ototax track Voices Of The Universe, at other times heavy-loaded and brutal, there is such a crowd of lunatic mindsets at play there can be little wonder they utilized so many pseudonyms.

Look, it’s getting late, and this piece is getting long, so I’ll finished by saying the obvious: go and buy all three right now. Clone deserve all your praise for these completely unexpected treats, and even though we’ve become a bit spoiled for choice with quality electro represses, these stand out as particularly fine examples of how unhinged, how massive, and how downright exciting it can be when it finds itself in the hands of people who are fuelled by nothing more than their own demented sense of what the music is, and what it can do.

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.

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 début, 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.