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.


Best Of The Represses, Feb 2018

Damn it. I hate buying records at this time of year. It always feels like I’m doing it to get back at the long darkness. It sometimes feels as if producers and labels know that too, and dump their also-rans into the mixer, grinning like Tories because they know I’ll buy whatever they have. What’s the option, go without? Man, you haven’t been paying attention have you? You’re no collector; you’re no fan – just a chancer with rudimentary reading skills. Off with you, your Beatport account needs seeing to…

Represses seem deserving of your time round about now. There is something in the season which makes you want to dig up older sounds. What’s still slightly irritating is the way we seemed to hit peak flood after months of famine. There’s a bunch of good stuff about. I had wanted to write about the new Carl Finlow anthology that’s out now on Those That Knoe, but my copy hasn’t arrived yet. It’s stuck in a box somewhere, its serious electro muscles kept in check by the twin bastards of heavy-duty cardboard and a lazy postman. Expect words when it finally makes its appearance.

214 – Lyle At Dawn (Frustrated Funk)

214’s 2015 release on Frustrated Funk, Lyle At Dawn, has come around for a second pass, which is a good thing. Chris Roman’s take on electro has been an important touchstone in the genre’s current resurgence, and it’s one that has shown an impressive disregard for remaining loyal to any one facet of the modern sound. While I don’t quite love Lyle At Dawn as much as a couple of his later records – North Cascades in particular – it’s still pretty impressive in the way it loosens up stark, Rothian noir just enough to inject a dose of Metroplex era electro’s smart and fluid funk. Cut of the 12 is definitely the aurora-skimming Time For, where Autechre and Model 500 come together in the gloriously languid depths.

Future Sound Of London – Lifeforms (Virgin)

Next up is Future Sound Of London, who return to the land of the living with a quite frankly huge re-release of 1994’s Lifeforms. Remastered across 4 sides of glistening and weighty vinyl, it’s replete with a download code befitting the trendy nerd-about-town lifestyle you’ve all bought into, even though you all work in an office and cry yourselve’s to sleep. It’s a pretty nifty package – even if you quietly wonder why they didn’t just go the whole hog and do it as a 3×12″ just for the thrill of it like every other label is doing just now. I won’t bore you by banging on about what it sounds like because I imagine you’ve heard it. For a while, back there, it threatened to become techno’s own The Wall, which is a terrifying thought for anyone who hate Pink Floyd as much as I do. For the three of you who haven’t heard it, well, you can recreate it by chucking some rainforesty samples around on top of shuffling breakbeats for about six hours and getting some environmental studies students to pretend to be travellers while they sit in the corner and spraff about how ace fractals are. Welcome to 1994.

I’m joking! Well, mostly. In actual fact it’s not a bad record when it gets itself going, and it feels very much like the last document of a world of electronica which has all but passed out of sight now. Here and there are moments of genuine, mind bending beauty and complexity but, as a whole, it never felt quite as ground breaking as ISDN, nor as fun as Accelerator. Having said all that, the tune Lifeforms itself is a triple-headed ambient-techno monster, and up there as one of the best things FSOL ever did.

V/A – Scopex 90/00 (Tresor)

Last but very much not least is the startlingly mental and deeply impressive set of Scopex Records 12″s which have been repressed into an enormous retrospective set by Tresor. For those who don’t remember them – which is going to be most people, I expect – Scopex was a British electro label which flared into life at the end of the last millennium just long enough to furnish us with a tiny number of brilliant records. Tresor bring together the two releases by Simulant with the single Pollon release, and throw in a dinky little 7″ as well.

This is an astounding set. Really, it’s phenomenal. Tresor deserve every bit of praise you can muster for putting this out. I’ve a suspicion this’ll really only be picked up by the hardcore electro geeks (scratch that – the hardcore electro geeks with deep wallets; it’s a pricey set) but it deserves to be owned by everyone. The music on offer here is fantastic, rolling between angular Drexicyan melodies, housey funk, and grainy, expansive, atmospherics. Even in the moments where it fuels itself with old-school vibes, it still like the soundtrack to a future you’ll spend dancing in the eye of the cyborg. This is a stunning collection, and if you have even the most passing interest in the genre, you should hunt a copy down. Do it soon, though. I suspect that unless Tresor keep pumping out new copies this repress might soon be going for the same sort of stupid money as the originals do. You have been warned.

Review: Lab Rat XL – Mice Or Cyborg (Clone Aqualung)

Like everyone else, I’m a sucker for anything Drexciya related, but I’ve begun to grow a little anxious about what could possibly be described as the ‘Drexicyan Heritage Industry’ over the last year. While it hasn’t quite hit the same level of recycling you see with some big-name rock bands, where every demo and out-take is lauded as evidence of burgeoning genius, you might still be forgiven for wondering whether there is really that much more which is worthy of being dug out of DATS and released in a pretty sleeve. Some of it for the third time.

Like I said though, if it’s Drexciyan related I’m probably gullible enough to buy it. That hasn’t really been a problem so far; the quality of most of the re-releases has been as high as you might expect. There has been the occasional number which remains more interesting for the background it provides (a bit of the ‘Burgeoning Genius’ syndrome) such as James Stinson’s Hyperspace Sound Labs as Clarence, but mostly we have been pretty well served.

It isn’t the record’s first time under repress – it was last spotted in 2008, with the vinyl being followed a couple of years back by the digital version – but it has arrived at a time when there is a lot of great electro getting another day in the sun, and interest in the genre’s past is on the increase. Lab Rats XL’s Mice Or Cyborg carries some added interest for being work by the actual duo as opposed to solo work by one of the two, and forms a neat triangle with their Abstract Thought, and L.A.M projects, falling somewhere between in terms of tone and mood.

Let me get this said: Mice Or Cyborg is a decent record. It displays a breadth of nuance and ideas in a way which has perhaps become a little rare in the genre today, and it does so without losing sight of a central and overarching ethos, one which guides and glues everything together. It also weaves its experimentalism deep into the fabric of the music, making it feel as integral to the tunes as the beats or the grooves, instead of relying it to provide a meaning all by itself.

I’m not sure that’s enough, though, to make it a great record. If this had been released today by a new act we’d maybe be hailing it as pretty special. Unfortunately Stinson and Donald’s work as Drexciya colours the reaction. Whether or not that’s fair is a difficult question to answer, but it’s difficult to avoid the comparisons. This works in both directions, however, as some of Lab Rat’s issues are also to be found in Drexciya. With both there is a tendency, at times, towards the meandering, to locking down a movement for just a little too long, pushing it into that region where the heat begins to dissipate. With Drexciya it’s rarely an issue; often it tightens other ideas up, and provides a genuine springboard from which they can push outwards and upwards, but here it occasionally betrays, warming a suspicion that maybe some of the material is a little lacking in anything else.

It’s not that the tunes feel unfinished, more that they haven’t quite reached that level where they can be left to guide themselves to a truly meaningful ending. Lab Rat 2, for instance, wobbles out into the world upon a squat 4/4 beat and a finely worn bass line, but it never seems to have enough energy to propel itself beyond an initial judgement, the delicate chords which should tone the piece forever swamped by the repetitive insistence of the bass. Similarly, Lab Rat 5 frustrates and not only with the irritatingly stop/start nature of the rhythms, but also in the way it feels as if it has been designed to be obtuse, constantly feeling on the verge of pulling everything together before once again yanking away any sense of completeness.

There are elements to the music, however, which saves the album from falling too far out of the light. Its way with melody, the way it lies at the heart of the most potent moments, allows a glimpse not so much of burgeoning genius, but growing maturity. It tempers even the rawer moments, and often combines with grooves in ways which surprise. Likewise, the whole of Mice Or Cyborg is filtered through an air of introspection, giving a sense of lived-through world-weariness and adding a warm sense of soulfulness which helps bind things together.

And when these elements combine, the album becomes much more interesting; even more so when it seems to be deliberately sidestepping any solid comparisons with Drexciya. Lab Rat 3 is a beauty of a track: a long, drifting paean to a far more Kraftwerkian take on electro than we tend to expect from this pair of minds. A long machine hymn which returns time and again to simple motifs and movements, layered with a lazy, quiet, charm, it evokes a rare sense of serenity and gentle wonder. There is a sense of Stinson’s Other People Place work at the root of it all, but it remains woozier, less inclined to douse its robotic soul with more human touches.

The strongest tracks are found right at the start, where the mood of exploratory mischief is at its strongest. Lab Rat 1 defies easy categorisation in the way it brings its submerged grooves together with melodies that are sometimes jazzy, sometimes strangely alien, like creatures calling over a silicon landscape. Lab Rat 6 feels closest to the Drexciyan ideal, lithe and stark, breathless and compressed, it is darkly affecting, and quickly draws you into to its grasp.

Is Mice Or Cyborg essential? No, probably not. Originally envisioned and released as the last part of their ‘Drexciyan Storm’ sequence, Mice Or Cyborg doesn’t really feel like a logical end-point. None of the six tunes really feel like a final word, and even the good ones can’t quite escape the thought that their better qualities had been echoed previously, and to better effect, elsewhere across the duo’s insanely exemplary oeuvre – both together and in solo work. Does it remain an interesting and important record? The answer is yes, mostly, although some of the lustre which could be present in that answer is scuffed by the fact that this is not an album from their early and formative years, but from right at the end when they should have been at their peak. It doesn’t really come close to the highs of Dopplereffekt, or The Other People Place, and it doesn’t even begin to suggest anything of Drexciya’s off the scale majesty.

For us Drexciyan geeks it will always carry an importance far beyond the reality of its offerings, but for anyone wanting evidence of Donald and Stinson’s talents, there are far better places to be looking. Buy it for what it is, definitely, but be prepared to search elsewhere for what it isn’t.


Best of the Represses – Jan 2018: Aux 88 – Bass Magnetic (Direct Beat Classics)

Aux 88 – Bass Magnetic (Direct Beat Classics)

The announcement back in the Autumn that Aux 88’s Tommy Hamilton and Keith Tucker were launching Direct Beat Classics with the intention of repressing some of the treasures from Direct Beat’s back catalogue was greeted in Pattern Burst Towers with a level of excitement that is normally kept for winning the lottery. Whether the new label was a long-term plan or something that grew quickly from necessity is, like worries of license hell, suddenly unimportant, for the first of these long-awaited reissues is upon us, and it’s a bloody good choice of starting point too.

I’ll admit something up front: I was particularly excited to find out Bass Magnetic was to be the first one out of the gate. I’ve never owned a copy of it. Originally released in 1994, I came to them slightly too late to pick it up, and by the time I realised how much I wanted it, copies were pretty much impossible to find. While I’ve spent plenty of time over the last two or three years convincing myself to pay over-the-odds for it from Discogs, something at the back of my mind suggested I waited. I’m glad I did.

Bass Magnetic, Aux 88’s second release, was a real statement of intent, one that utilised the 8 tracks to begin to codify not only the duo’s own sound, but also that which would quickly become known as techno bass, that blend of old-school electro, Miami bass, and techno, which would become such a defining factor for Detroit’s second wave. There were, of course, others who did techno bass, but Aux 88 were pretty much the definitive act, and their influence hangs over countless producers in the same way as that of their peers, Drexciya, even if it is not quite so apparent just now in a revitalized electro genre where there isn’t always such a focus on the raw groove.

And at heart, beyond everything else it does, Bass Magnetic is a collection of grooves. Whether it’s the hot, heavy, shuffle of Fly By Night, or the stalking tightness of Let’s Dance, every element is turned towards creating movement. Perhaps because of that necessity, the tunes themselves are stark and paired down – certainly in contrast to the swelling sound scapes that are to be found in a lot of modern electro – but there are still traces of something else, most noticeably of Detroit’s own relatively recent past. Model 500’s role in the evolution of the sound is apparent in many places, particularly on Time Space and Technology where it floods the tough jams with the glimmer of cosmic lighting.

This mix of past and future – in itself an important hallmark of all Detroit techno – runs like a river through Bass Magnetic but it never holds the music back from forming its own meaning, or stops it from pushing onwards to become an important stop, in its own right, in the city’s musical journey. It isn’t always a perfect record. Occasionally there is a sense of finding its feet, as if still forming the sound; here and there the beats echo into repetition as the soul and the groove don’t quite come together. Elsewhere, now and again, the ideas on offer drift into something a little one-dimensional, as if waiting for a missing element to be introduced.

There are people who think that, in terms of definitive statements, it’s 1996’s Is It Man Or Machine? which really nailed things down. And there is a lot of merit in that, but it was also, in some ways, the start of a period when the Aux 88 sound began to be refined to the point where further invention was rare. On Bass Magnetic there is a looser vibe, the beats less crisply executed. There is the sense of a band following different paths just to see where they go. Bass Magnetic, the tune itself, is certainly a premonition of later material, but its evocation of classic electro was straighter, less directly fuelled by Miami and Detroit. The quite frankly marvellous Sonic Boom, a stand out track in an already ridiculously good album, displays a sense of deep, joyous, funk-abandon that Aux 88 didn’t really approach again. It feels the odd one out, not because of its quality, but the way in which it feels closer to the energies of acid or even rave than technobass. It is a pure hit of good time accelerant, wobbly and all-embracing.

To anyone reared only on the electro of the last couple of seasons Bass Magnetic will probably be a slight shock with its direct and relatively austere execution. Even those of us who remember it from before might have our ears reopened, and be reminded that it’s this very directness that made Aux 88 such an amazing prospect. It’s electro with no quarters given, existing purely as a device for causing panic and delight on a packed dance floor, and quietly (actually, no, not quietly at all) reinventing the genre, setting it on a course with the future by taking the best bits of what had come before and adding in something new. Very few records are really deserving of being called a classic, but that it what Bass Magnetic is. An absolute treasure which sets the bar high for the rest of 2018.


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.