Whether the strangely fertile nature of UK electronic music helped to crowd it out, or the deeper, harder, louder sounds of the genre emanating from the states or the continent were more in vogue, or whether it was simply a little bit out of phase with what else was going on I don’t know, but British electro always seemed to have a harder time convincing the wider world of its merits than it should have. Where other home-grown takes on particular genres shone, UK electro languished in the shadows, getting plenty of kudos from those who gave serious consideration to the real thing, but remaining a curiosity to most.
The climate has changed though. The last couple of years have obviously been good ones for electro, and while a lot of the newly lit limelight has tended to fall mostly on the newer members of the gang, there has been a quiet revaluation of the old team, and a sense of energies surging. Perhaps, then, it’s the right time to re-evaluate the work of the producers who built the scene and helped shape a sound which in its own way is as important to the history and growth of modern electro as techno bass or European noir.
Which brings us to Carl Finlow, an artist who has been right at the hard edge of the genre for nearly a quarter of a century. Along side the likes of Ed Upton, Phil Bolland, Dez Williams, and a small handful of others, Finlow has helped to define an electro sound that’s both incredibly potent in its own right, but remains subtly different from the sounds emanating from elsewhere. And given the fact his career has covered so much ground,from the initial bang in the 90s right up to now, the concept of a retrospective of his work is an intriguing proposition. The reality of A Selection Of Works Part 1 is just as intriguing. Much of the focus falls on his work as Silicon Scally – the guise he remains best known for – and is largely drawn from releases hailing from the early of the Millennium, including tunes which only ever appeared as extras on CDs.
This is electro of a particular sort. In some ways it’s a forerunner of the deeper shades which have been so prevalent recently, but where a lot of contemporary electro makes it point by travelling through a heavy atmosphere of thick, symphonic, and patiently curated moods, Finlow creates horizons in the sound, and builds the means to reach them through a sonic world where the accent is on the grooves and a sparse, locked down, cerebral energy. A lot of UK electro in the 90’s felt as if it was reaching back a little bit, still in love with the moves of an older school. This isn’t the case here; this is forward-looking music, accelerating onwards and drawing on a greater wealth of influences. The stunning, empty, and evocative Pace, for example, doesn’t even feel like electro so much as a blend of darkly billowing trip-hop and noirish story telling. It’s as modern as anything you’d find on a Brokntoys record.
And although the three different projects which the record draws from – there are a pair of tracks here under Finlow’s own name, and a single tune from his excellent Voice Stealer work – pitch and pull in differing directions, this mix of the physical and the mental, and of a deep sense of experimentalism informing the nature of the music rather than being its point, remains central to them all. The Silicon Scally material, however, perhaps benefits the most. Tunes such as moonax and Dark Matter are lithe, prowling creatures, but little bursts of light, fragments of melody and movement, temper the forward momentum with purpose and adventure. The one Voice Stealer track, the wonderfully downbeat yet optimistic Unintensional, reverses this, using the slow, skipping beats to add a sparkling warmth to the languid torpor.
It would have been nice to have had more Voice Stealer work on offer, but I’m sure the follow-up volume will rectify that. The track listing has been put together with an ear for music that means something to Finlow and For Those That Knoe label-head Ben and, as such, probably can’t be regarded as a definitive snap-shot of Finlow’s career. But given how much material there is in the archives, and over how years and styles it falls (way back to the straight up house he made with Ralph Lawson and Dominic Capello, and the Wulf-N-Bear work with Lawson, again, and Huggy) there are really few more sensible ways that this could have been done. I have a slight preference for some of the looser, heavier sounds from his releases on Device or Electrix for example, but that’s just me, and there is no doubt that A Selection Of Works Part 1 is an incredibly useful guide to the work of one of the outstanding pillars of the scene even if it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. The nature of the tunes makes it as vital for those of us who think we’re entirely familiar with Finlow’s work just as much as it will be for those who are looking for a way in, not only to his own history, but to the wider past of British electro. Very much to seeing what volume 2 is going to bring.