Best Of The Represses July 2018

It’s been a disappointing couple of months, music wise. Whether it’s new stuff or represses, I just can’t seem to find a huge amount of enthusiasm. House increasingly looks like it no longer even fancies doing something fun tonight, techno has increasingly become obsessed with sucking all the soul out of itself. And electro. Oh my beloved, beautiful electro. Stop pretending you’re in a shite experimental, gothy, 80s synth band. It was toss then. It is toss now. You know better.

Anyways, there are still a couple of things passing in this direction which help to dial back the jadeness. Here’s some old gear pretending to be young again.

Black Noise – Nature Of The Beast (Metroplex)

Oh you beautiful, crazy, bastards. You did it. You actually did it. You went and repressed Nature Of The Beast by Black Noise. At last. My own copy of this has all the scars and bruises you would expect from a veteran of the Techno Wars. This record has seen some shit over the years; a thousand yard stare locked into a disk of battered, tired, wax.

I wrote about this record an age ago, comparing it to a mass extinction event. I haven’t changed my mind. If this isn’t my favourite bit of hard techno ever, it is pretty close. listen to it on a big system, and squeal with delight as it takes you apart atom by atom. I think one of the reasons I’m so fond of it is because it doesn’t seem bothered by the fact it’s simply a gargantuan slab of brain-chewing noise latched onto the most basic of kicks and percussion. I can think of very, very few records that approach the seething, heavy, heat of Nature Of The Beast while maintaining a forward momentum that’s almost breezy; it moves so sweetly for a big guy it’ll take your breath away.

Still immense, Still more alive, more potent, and more inventive than a thousand safe modern techno EPs. One of the very best records on one of the very best record labels. buy three copies right now and play them all at the same time.

Transllusion – A Moment of Insanity (Clone Aqualung)

I’m not sure what to say here. Anyone who follows me here and there probably know my feelings towards the constant discovery of ‘new’ old material relating to either of the Drexciyan members. Suffice to say I’m not a massive fan of it, and it feels a little more problematic in the case of James Stinson because, obviously, he is no longer here to stamp his approval of the bits ‘n’ bobs that seem to keep getting released. I don’t doubt that Clone are releasing this stuff because they love Stinson’s work, but you wonder how much more there can be that’s worth it.

This isn’t technically a repress then, because to the best of my knowledge none of these tracks have been released before. Even so, it seems right to stick them here, in the old folks home, so we can baff on about how things were better in the old days.

It’s just not an amazing record. It feels disjointed, weirdly self-conscious with ideas that come across as laboured and only passingly believed in. There are touches, here and there, which transcend that sense of circular entertainment, where you can glimpse something more vital moving behind the haze. The final track is a good one, particularly for the way it completely side steps any expectations to sound like Stinson’s gone and got himself a gig opening for Sonic Youth circa 1985. As for the rest, well, someone or other will probably tell me it’s genius but we both know it isn’t. Collectors who have to get everything will lap it up, as will the teams who put more stock in the name than the game. Anyone who wants to get in on Transllusion are better served by getting the album, The Opening Of The Cerebral Gate, or the first EP, Mind Over Positive And Negative Dimensional Matter where the mind-blossoming possibilities of the ideas are stoked up by sleek grooves and more soul than the Wigan Casino on a Friday night.

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Best of the Represses. June 2018

By the look of the shops, electronic music is about to hit that mid-year crappy zone where everyone pisses off to play at some terrible festival or other and pretend they’re some synth-nerd version of Jimi at Monterey while simultaneously tweeting about how awesome they and all their friends are, and how DJ How-Are-You-Still-Alive is totally awesome/sweet/killing it (delete as applicable.) Even worse, everyone who works at the Ministry of Represses are on their way to becoming infatuated with their own summer brilliance, and have decided to take a three month sabbatical so they can concentrate on curating an instagram thingie of their warm weather selfies. They’ve left a pile of tawdry, beige disco, re-releases to be pumped back out to us and absconded with anything remotely interesting, including the long rumoured but never confirmed version of Jimi playing Monterey with a bloody great bank of modular synths. I’m lead to believe it sounds great but that Mitch Mitchell gets a little lairy when Jimi tries to sync him with a Moog.

That’s the state of it. Before I go and suck down a nearly frozen six-pack of watery, imported lager, here’s this month’s ricochetting treats.

Edward – Into A Better Place (Giegling)

Not a label I ever really went for, even before last year’s wee sexism rammy, I’ve tended to walk away to the side whenever the team have started barking off on one about their stuff. They’re used to it: I did it for shitting ages when Mood Hut were being pronounced Lords Of Everything, and I’ll run backwards to escape any warm words about the latest psy-trance revival, so they quickly twigged that Giegling’s trademarked brand of tech-house dressed as something flighty did not float my boat. Aren’t the sleeves nice, though?

I know, I know. It’s not all like that, and the handful of releases by Edward on the label are mostly all ‘not like that’. It’s not really a surprise he’s been one of Giegling’s real breakouts alongside the Trumprinz/Prince Of Denmark double feature. Across his back catalogue Edward has shown a fairly consistent looseness when it comes to interpreting a particular strand of in-vogue techno, and the result is something livelier, fuller, and rawer than many of his contemporaries.

Into A Better Place isn’t a bad album at all, and although it occasionally dips into unremarkable techyhousey wobbleabouts like Yes, or At Ease, it provides quite a lot of evidence of a producer at his happiest when bringing a bit of funk to the left-field. Let’s Go is a frazzled, joyously playful, little mystery both overexposed and full of contrast. Skating Beats sticks a winding, subtle, Detroit groove under some ancient, creaking, Chicago heat until things take off.

Cream of the crop is Hectatic’s breakbeat workout which weaves between billowing ambience and driving energy. Although it never allows itself to pitch into outright fury, it still manages to storm on with an unexpected, and perfectly weighted, meanness.

Posatronix – Danz EP (Direct Beat Classics)

It says a lot about the depth and quality of Direct Beat’s back catalogue that the three represses so far can be absolutely brilliant and still not come close to representing the label at their very best. Hopefully we’ll get some of the real monsters on their way sooner rather than later, but even so we cannot be disappointed by what we’ve received so far.

Posatronix represents quite a leap forward through the collection. Where the first two represses (the Bass Magnetic double EP, and Technology) are from the very earliest days of the label in 1993, Danz shifts four years along the timeline, and drops into an era where Detroit’s take on electro was fully in control, with Auxx 88, Underground Resistance, Drexciya, and many others, almost at their peak.

Even so, Danz shines with its own merits. Everything from the gritty, pitched down vocals which stain the tunes like dirty rainwater, to the high-riding and clipped beats and broiling bass lines is Posatronix at his best. Danz itself is the eternal dancer, sharing a filthy energy with the work of fellow Direct Beat alumni X-ile and filling the corners with one of the most liquid and damaging bass lines in the genre. 142BPM is sharper, more old school> it’s perhaps the less adventurous of the three, very much playing tail-end-charlie when it comes to invention and sheer force of will, but it does a fine enough job as a straight up driver to get the feet going.

Night Vision is a real techno-bass classic. The rolling, acidic, riff and growling vocals bring out the thunder, while the mesmerizing, whistling top ties it all down with a taut vibe that informs the rest of the tune with an infectious, and surprisingly nervy, atmosphere. This run of DB returns has been one of my highlights of the year so far. It better never stop.

Best Of The Represses: May 2018

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

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

Textasy – Dallas Gun Club (Craigie Knowes)

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

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

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

Sonar Bass – Dark Matter (Deeptrax)

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

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

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

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

Only the one this month. Just because.

Vision – Spectral Nomad (Metroplex)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Of The Represses March 2018

I think the title of this column is occasionally a bit misleading. Not tonight, though.

Timenet – Dishwasher (Frame Of Mind)

Now, this is an example of someone really, really, digging back and returning with something unexpected. The original was released in 1992 as a white label by the members of the short-lived techno outfit Ubik, and that’s about all I know of it. Judging from the fact that the same PR blurb is out there on about 100 record store sites, I’d say that’s about all most seem to know about it which is pretty cool and interesting because it’s not often we get something genuinely obscure popping up as a repress at the moment.

Musically it’s very much of its time with its mix of Acid, techno, and rave, lending it the distinctive UK sound of the early nineties. While Dishwasher feels far more classically Chicago – mainly because it’s an homage of sorts to Mr Finger’s Washing Machine – the other tracks cram in a good dose of messy, day-glo, fun alongside some wobbly grooves. On The Move comes straight out of a dingy club at the wrong end of the high street with its baggy T-shirt stained with sweat and dry ice; ravey stabs and grinning daftness do something similar to the inside of its mind. DX Moods is the pick though, with its low-slung, electro tinged, moodiness eventually bursting into a smiling, fractal, sunrise.

Aux 88 – Technology (Direct Beat)

Although not the highest ranking record in my personal ‘Direct Beat represses I need right now’ list, not least because Technology is one of the tracks on last month’s repress of Bass Magnetic, this is still an important one to get back out seeing as it represents not only the first ever release on Direct Beat but – I might be wrong about this – also the first appearance of Aux 88.

While Technology feels a little rough and ready compared to some of their later, slicker, work It remains a great tune and one which helped to define the entire techno bass sound with its blend of electro, house, and soulful Detroit techno. But where techno bass – as a whole – eventually began to suffer from a little too much in the way of cookie-cutter sounds and off-the-shelf attitude, Technology remains wonderfully alive to the possibilities. Even better is the Rhythm mix which swaps the fluid breaks for a stomping 4/4 beat, head-rushing energy, and connects the Detroit sounds of the early 90s with something altogether more up-front and explosive. This Direct Beat Classics thing is beginning to shape up very nicely.

k Alexi Shelby – All For Lee-Sah (Transmat)

One of a very small band of producers whose work truly crossed the – mostly imaginary – boundaries between Chicago and Detroit, K-Alexi could always be counted on to deliver the sort of utter banger that everyone knew even though they lived in the ‘secret weapon’ category. This repress of his Early Transmat release – the first proper repress we’ve had from the label in a long while – brilliantly sums up that rare duality with three tunes that you’ll have heard plenty of times even though you didn’t know who made them.

My Medusa is probably the most familiar, particularity as its wonky, eternally optimistic, skank has been out on a couple of other relatively recent represses, but the other two tunes bring very different facets of K-Alexi’s sound to the fore. Vertigo is one of the dirtiest, funkiest, acid tracks ever released. It’s a tune so pungent you’ll be catching it at the edge of your senses for weeks. All For Lee-Sah is just a work of near genius. A swirling, compressed, storm of emotion and mood it floods over a stone cold groove which gradually winds itself up into some brilliantly subtle acidic funk. Bring the strobes for this one.