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.

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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.

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.

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.