Mesak – Kirot (Vortex Traks)

Mesak has been kicking around for a long while now, but I have to go ahead and admit that our paths haven’t crossed too often. I’m not sure why; checking out his back catalogue over on the Font Of All Knowledge (Discogs) shows a producer with an ear for the slightly off-on-a-tangent electro I tend to lap up. The occasional interface – a single track on the first Vortex Traks release, and the excellent Deep In My Mind split with Mono Junk on DUM – managed to show me differing shades of his work while holding on to something interesting and a little alien.

Kirot extends that feel, and does so by avoiding several of the major sonic themes so popular within the scene just now. The abyssal depths, IDM tinting and blood and thunder banging might well be noticeable by their absence, but they are replaced by something both older and more fluid.

That might not be your first reaction on hearing Kirot, and certainly the riot of colour with splashes out during the loose, scattered opener Spirit Ahoy is suggestive of a more deconstructed take on the genre, one that builds itself out of shards of Nintendo-esque sound and slow changes of tone where the tune travels from something upfront to a cooler, more muted approach. Such moves imbue the tune with depth rather than deepness, especially coupled with the flares of Two Lone Swordsmen style melodies and synths.

In fact, it’s in this that Kirot shows itself most clearly; a sort of remembrance of an era when electronic music was unabashedly, well, electronic, and was pushed to see how far it could go in splicing the artificial with the organic. Occasional this vibes gets a bit ahead of itself. Kiero, as an example, takes too long to establish some sense of itself amongst the vaguely random noises even if it does pull it out the bag somewhat towards the end as it begins to straighten itself out and make use of the multitude of wonkiness that almost buries it.

But this is a rare enough overstepping and shouldn’t detract from the generally pretty nice vibe the record sets out towards. Max Toisto, at the end, comes closest to setting its stall out as a burst of fairly conventional, contemporary, electro, but it avoids such a fate by means of its scruffy playfulness. Yes, you’ve certainly heard similar, but the way in which it evokes the flavour of dirty, crumbling, techno (and even the faintest tang of early Plastikman) locks down its energy to a different sphere entirely.

The standout here, though, is probably Vietti, a woozy, half-speed exploration of space and tone which starts out small and compressed, barely shining any light into the shadows in the corners, but slowly winds itself up into a ruffled and studied piece of porpoising weirdo-funk which shimmers with odd grandeur before diving out of sight.

I have a slight worry that Kirot stands a little too outside the gang to be picked up by the people who would benefit the most from hearing it, those who might find a little epiphany of sorts in Kirot’s wonderful asymmetry and joyful, playful, reworking of the genre’s basics. There is nothing here to scare off the legion of new electro fans; it’s not deliberately harsh (actually not harsh at all) or wilfully obtuse. What it is, though, is certain of its vision, displaying enough steel in its individualist streak that it won’t back down it its mission to expand upon electro’s themes.

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Best Of The Represses – September 2017

Alright. Let’s get down to brass tacks. Firstly, anyone who missed the last lot of Frustrated Funk represses (I don’t know how you could – there were pure hunnerds of them) can now, once again, attempt to pick up some fine, fine, fine electro from the likes of Plant 43, ERP, Lost Trax, Cybonix and others. ERP’s Pith and Cybonix Make This Party Live are particularly fine records. Do us all a favour and pick them up. I won’t tell you again, you nuts. Strictly Rhythm’s attempts to out repress Trax sees them bringing Phuture’s ace Rise From Your Grave back from the dead. All the cuts are pretty sweet, but my choice is the brilliant ‘wild pitch’ mix which’ll still roll over any floor like a ghost train of pure funk. New Yorican Soul’s The Nervous Track also seems to be doing the rounds again, which is nice as I’ve got a soft spot for it, especially the Ballsy mix. That the veg, folks, now on to the meat!

Ross 154 – Fragments (Applied Rhythmic Technology)

Released originally all the way back at the dawn of time in 1993, Ross 154’s lovely Fragments makes a remastered return to the living world. In many ways it was a record well ahead of its time. While some people have described it as IDM, I’ve personally never been sure that’s the right way to go. While a lot of other ambient tinged records of the era were certainly no slouches in flavouring the sonic broth with muscle cut from other genres, Fragments remains a bit unusual in the depth and breadth of its influences. Sure, the crimson-sky flickers of the actual ambient fragments remain as delightfully hazy as ever, but what stands out now is how freaky modern the complete, ‘proper’ tracks sound as they pull through broken electronica, dinky, ravey warmers, almost Ninja Tune style experimentalism, and slow burning groove-outs. Stand out for me has always been Mayflower, a tune where the subtlest – and cleverest – of melodies informs some ultra-fine, silky, funk and sounds as if it has stopped just for a moment in Detroit to ask directions to deep space.

DJ Stingray 313 – Cognition (Lower Parts)

OK, not that old really. It’s, what, a couple of years? If you don’t have it already, though, you really should take this opportunity to land it. What’s always interesting about Stingray is that his take on electro really doesn’t sound like anyone elses. Even after all these years. Yes, there are still touches here and there which reminds you of his eternal links to Drexciya, but he long ago phase-shifted past that and into a realm entirely of his own creation. This EP captures him at his peak; less opaque than some of his material occasionally is, it’s a wonderful testament to the scope of the genre, ranging as it does from floor shaking 4/4 fired tracks like Acetylcholine to Dendrite‘s fractured, ghostly, footwork toned workout. The best track though remains Kon001’s remarkable remix of ErbB4 which takes the lush techno-soul of the original and wraps it in shadows and colour, and just the tiniest, almost visible, shades of ancient Model 500. It’s a thing of genuine, stunning beauty. It was my tune of the year a while back, and listening to it again, it still bloody well is.

Syncom Data – Den Haag EP (Syncom Data)

I don’t know why, but something about Syncom Data has never really filled the wings of the wider world For those in the know, though, both the band and the label have long been held has purveyors of some very fine music which maintain a brilliant ability to provide particularly singular takes of well-known genres be they minimial, acid, electro, dub, or just about anything that takes their fancy.

The Den Haag EP first appeared on the label about 13 years ago, and the prices of an original were beginning to head towards idiot-land on Discogs. Thank God for the repress as this is a stonker. I don’t even know how you’d describe it properly – a sort of acidy belt of wonky electro which simply couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks it is. Stuff like this – entirely headstrong, and original in both take and execution – doesn’t come along very often. It is a very Glasgow record (being the sort of thing I would expect to hear in certain clubs here) and I can’t really think of higher praise than that. From Abenteuer Im Abendschein’s spooky, freaky deaky skank to Den Haag’s machine funk which sounds entirely created from broken radios and a knackered washing machine this is a record which does a job on both the feet and the brain, and will leave your ears wondering what just happened. Superb, cheeky, and deadly serious.

Review: CEM 3340 – Polaris 1° (Lunar Orbiter Program)

OK, here’s a thing, had you asked me to describe my perfect electro I would have instinctively babbled on about dirty, nasty, beats, about darkside vocals, and the still potent thrill of techno-bass. For all the delicate, studied, tonality inherent in a lot of modern electro, I remain disappointed there isn’t more thunder and fire. It’s not that I don’t like a lot of it, it’s just I find myself lamenting the way the grooves have often become subsumed by a more patient and intellectualised approach.

Which is probably not a complaint you could level at Polaris 1° and its rough-housing blast of old school techno-bass and twisted electro. What we have here on this double debut (both the producer and the label are, to the best of my knowledge, brand new to the scene, although I suspect the producer may well turn out to be a well kent name) is the sort of electro which was once very common and now not so much. Beyond the obvious similarities to certain Direct Beat material, and peak period UR, it shares DNA with certain snarlers like Valve, Sole Tech or, at perhaps a bit more of a distance, Erotek and DJ Di’j’tal. There is even something of I-F and Murder Capital here.

A year ago I think this would have very much been an outlier, a record haunting the edge of what everyone else was doing. More recently though, there has been the beginnings of a resurgence of these stronger shapes and textures, and a renaissance for several of the above names as older material has slowly been rediscovered by a scene perhaps, like me, hungering for something a little bit more visceral.

All of this makes it sound as if Polaris 1° is dumb, route one music designed to be played fast, to floor it during a particular time of night. Well, yes, there is an element of that I suppose, especially on the first two tracks, Sedna and Salacya 2004, and it takes a couple of listens before the original image fades. Even still, the record hits all those same markers which made the first crop so thrilling back in the 90s.

But still, but still….Digging deeper reveals new layers. Beyond the heavy beats, the winding, lithe bass lines, there is something else at play here, something far more modern. I think this extra factor makes its presence felt most obviously in a couple of ways. Firstly, the over all sound is a world away from the sonic perfection of a lot of contemporary electro. It’s rough, harsh even; serrated by electronics and cut up more in the mix until it almost engenders an aural vibe not entirely dissimilar to what we’ve heard in lo-fi house. This sense is further amplified when the synths drop in. Sharp, often woozy, and always seemingly on the verge of splitting apart into shrapnel they add a strangely spectral energy to the music. Salacya 2004 in particular makes great use of them, and the way they roll out over the top of the barked, sore-throated, sawtooth riff simultaneously adds a gossamer grandeur to the track while leaving the meat free to really knock you down. Their use on Sedna is less centre stage, but still accents and shapes the fury. On the last track, Hygiea, they whisper and evoke memories of early, dirty, Dutch electro.

There is an argument that perhaps Polaris 1° is a little too perfectly ‘my sort of electro’, that the whole thing hits too many buttons to be anything other than cunningly studied, almost an homage to a whole bunch of memories. I’ll be honest, I can’t entirely be dissuaded from that. It also makes me wonder whether one of the reasons I like it so, so, much is because of a very real emotional connection to all the influences which went into it. Do I like it because I’m an old bastard and it does a job on me? Is this me turning into the old guy at work who likes modern bands because they sound like classic rock?

I think the answer is ‘yes, a bit’ but that isn’t the whole story. The music on Polaris 1° doesn’t entirely work those ageing synapses into a fugue state of memento mori. In reality, it’s a very modern take on an older sound, one which takes admirable liberties and augments it all with a sharp panache which leaves you knackered and happy. The fact that a lot of records used to sound like this doesn’t really detract from the fact that very few modern records do, and I quite like that about it. And if, at the end of the day, the worst thing you can say is that it’s a bit knowing, perhaps the best response is to admit that you know too, and then keep dancing. That’s the best response of all.

Wee Reviews: Nachtzug – XP Lore (Possblthings), Diasiva – Station 1805 (Acroplane)

Well, Like I said the other day, I’ve been a bit drifty with regards to getting stuff done and the big pile in the corner is getting scary and wobbly. Luckily for me, if not for everyone else, the summer was a season of fairly slim pickings as all your favourite producers tootled off to Ibiza or wherever it is they go to cluster together in a great big techno-nest and jabber themselves to sleep with talk of cables and machines that go ‘wheep’.

Nachtzug – XP Lore (Possblthings)

Still, there’s been some decent stuff floating about. first up is Nachtzug. A German duo ( I think) who may not be overly familiar even though they’ve been tune-smithering for a decade or so. Most recently they cropped up with a fine release on Vortex Trax, and now appear on new label Possblthings with XP Lore, a record which comes at electro and techno from a slight tangent.

In fact, it might be best to describe XP Lore as an electro outrider. Although its core is very much electro, it skirts many of the more obvious sounds, reaching instead for a toolbox of influences that take in IDM, the waviness of early techno, and a rosey mist of ambient. Tunes such as Side Track and Cable Cake are tied tightest to the genre, and are both pretty darn good. Mixing crisp breaks with acidic grooves and flurries of angelic synths, they lock down their moods quickly to draw out some icy funk. Elsewhere the electro feel is toned down in exchange for a greater sense of IDM exploration. Komitee Kosmos danks down the speed until it becomes a slowly unfurling coil of shifting gothic emotions. Transmit rides a similar road, but stretches out a belt of acid to give it direction. While XP Lore never really convinces about what exactly it wants to be, it’s content to explore the shadows at the edges of a number of genres, doing so with a certain amount of panache.

Diasiva – Station 1805 (Acroplane Recordings)

A collaboration between Monolog and Swarm Intelligence, Station 1805 was very nearly victim to me not properly getting it at first. The first time it barked out the speakers at me I wrongly assumed it was going to be a slab of industrio-goth mentalness and I got ready to treat it accordingly. While my initial reaction was not entirely racing off in the wrong direction, there is a heck of a lot more going on that I first gave it credit for.

Once you dig below the crust of static and distortion, the leads and chords bent out of shape and the ricocheting beats, Station 1805 is a record of much invention.A lot of modern techno at the harder end of the circus has reached a point where grooves and funk have been almost surgically removed (well, as surgically as anything can be removed with a rusty penknife and lots of shouting) in order to cram as much bleak noise as possible into a limited frame-work. While Station 1805 feels at first as if it’s aiming for the same burning horizon, it actually veers away towards something very different.

It’s those very same ricochetting beats which make the difference, cutting through the clouds of noise with precision and giving the music a clarity of vision. Ethereal and Scrape are the biggest threats, both of them twisting the rhythms until the tracks lean away from raw techno, dragging out nuance from hardcore and jungle until they become pitch black slabs of alternative rave swaddled with echoing chiming insanity and dispassionate, cinematic, angles. Neckbrace ducks back into a tunnel-like 4/4 structure, and pumps out a nasty skanking mover which is reminiscent of 65D Mavericks’ sweet viciousness. Closer, Suffer Your Woes is a thick morass of despondent frequency, barely alleviated by the puncture-wound beats. It’s slow, heavy, and fascinating to witness. Like the back of some vast primordial rising through the brackish water it is thrilling and compelling and very unsettling.

Even so, it is the proto-grooves which keeps the music going. Not an easy feat in such a darkened and cloudy environment. And while Station 1805 is never going to be a record of choice for peak time escapades, there is a lot here to fire you up and out as the sun dips below the world’s edge.

Review: Solid Blake – Mario EP (Outer Zone)

There is, I think, a change slowly taking place within electro. It’s one that may not have been very obvious at first; alteration at a fundamental level is often invisible to start with, and it’s only later, as the variations have propagated throughout the environment, we really begin to pay attention. There is still a great deal of electro being made which is largely as it always was, but there is also a more nuanced understanding of mood and tone than previously. Much of the music has become increasingly influenced by IDM, or synthwave, which has introduced new themes to the mix. It has grown deeper, maybe even more mature, certainly more accessible and less ‘abstract’. It has also, possibly, become less fun.

But at the same time there has been another, largely unremarked, growth of electro which is more experimental and willing to delve into ever more shadowy places in search of those influences. We’ve seen it in releases on labels like Brokntoys, Trust, or Mechatronica amongst others, a willingness to push the sound beyond the old boundaries and into new worlds. Often the music feels much like electro always did, but there is a new looseness, and desire to twist the familiar shapes, and blend them with choice additions of fresh genetic material, until new and weird hybrids appear.

Which is how we come to this belter of an EP from Glasgow native and Copenhagen resident Solid Blake. It’s a record which appears to have largely flown in under the radar to deliver a take on the genre which is as far removed from all those expansive and slightly boring contemporary remakes of electro as you can get. Part of what makes the Mario EP so good is that it holds both electro’s past and present at arm’s length. Yes, the sounds are there, as well as little touches and motifs which have long earned their place in the genre’s lexicon, but a scalpel has been taken to them, sheering them away from their original meanings and remounting them on a very different feeling sound.

And what a sound. It’ll take a while to adjust your expectations. Anyone looking for something that’ll remind you of ferocious Detroit technobass, or Warp inspired wobbliness will have to work harder to get what they want from the record. In a sense, the simplest way to explain it is that there is a similarity to the way in which the current crop of Bristol producers have built their own new forms of house and techno by smashing down what was originally there and recreating them with Dubstep’s thunder, polyrhythmic madness, and a thousand other little bursts of colour and excitement.

This is electro formed from heavy elements and thick clouds. As with the Bristol gang there are throwdowns to dubstep here, but also to dirty, cranky techno and an almost AFX style love of melancholy chaos. The result is a thick sound, breathlessly hazy in parts, as on the opener, Lens, with its ominous half-step rhythms thudding menacingly through the ground fog, and its pads lacerating the darkness with curled whips of lights. On Mario the music tightens up, coiling around the barks of bass, and the beats develop an urgency made all the stronger by the ricocheting perc and nerve fraying layers up high. In some ways this is music which lies closest to the potent moodiness of some old school D&B than it does to electro, or even techno, and it’s all the richer for it.

Even when a bona-fide electro legend is brought in for remix duties the music retains its ability to shock with its freshness. Stingray’s mix of Mario holds the original’s grimy heaviness close to its centre, but widens the vistas to include more of the wormhole. It’s a freefall, all gravity inverted; rogue smears of bass bounce and collide, creating a complex, almost alien, environment where the little emotive touches of the orginal are accented and allowed even more space to bury themselves into your brain.

Only Yagharek, right at the end, feels anything like a traditional electro tune. Even then it feels reflected through a similar mirror of madness as producers like Busen have long been working through – and there is a sense that the form the music takes is only one element of it. Yagharek is less willfully obtuse than anything Busen have done, though; it’s a slicing, focussed, stormer; sinewy and cold. But the structure is perhaps the least important element, nothing more than a conduit for the stark, anxious, energies at the tunes heart to conjure prowling, flickering ghosts into being.

Forget all the IDM stuff: this right here is real next generation electro – an EP cut away from a party on the edge of a tomorrow we might not have. Superb, and one of the most brutally fresh takes on the genre you’ll get right now.