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.

Advertisements

Review: Cignol – Hidden Galaxies (Computer Controlled Records)

Although it might seem as if Computer Controlled Records have a dedication to keeping the flame of a particular form of old school techno and acid alive, it’s not really something that bears up to close scrutiny. Although the label are unlikely to give the likes of Lobster Theremin or LIES stiff competition in terms of quantity, each of the their records so far have certainly helped define and strengthen a place within the current scene where rawer and differing forms of house and techno can flourish. I think this is partly possible because the music, far from being simple facsimiles of stuff you would have heard in late 90s clubs, takes the basic sounds and reforms it into something that understands standing still isn’t really an option, that the music has to evolve in order to retain both its relevance and its potency.

It’s a tricky thing to ask of a producer, and even more tricky to pull off. Irish producer Cignol’s d├ębut on the label is one which, at first listen, seems pleased to deliver a straight up dose of acid techno. But it doesn’t take too long for other forms to start unfurling underneath the 303s.

Essentially this is acid which has been subjected to a concerted blast of information, opening its eyes to the wider possibilities of the changing sonic world. Although the acid provides a true foundation for Cignol’s increasingly complex take on the genre, it never becomes dominant – which is an interesting fact in itself given the ubiquitousness of the little silver box across the EP’s five tunes. Tracks like Final Approach, or Galway Acid Are imbued with rolling acid lines, and certainly hark back to the mix of techno, acid, and trance which was once to be found in some of the wider ranging and less frenetic Harthouse releases. But what makes things different here, and adds a deepened, widened, take on the genre is that interplay of icy, gossamer melody. At times, especially on Galway Acid where a certain suggestion of heavy energy weights the tune towards a particular breed of classic Chicago acid, it loosens up the tight, compressed grooves, shuttling mood upwards and unlocking a sense of grainy, introspective drama.

In fact, it’s this which is the dominant theme, and it’s well partnered by Cignol’s sense of movement which makes great use of a much lighter touch than we typically find in acid house of any era. For all the little genre hallmarks which are scattered around, Hidden Galaxies has more in common with the likes of Versalife, Morphology, or – in particular – ERP: artists who have taken techno, electro and IDM and sliced out many of the more obvious approaches and added a cinematic sense of place and time to the music.

It’s particularly evident on the gracious, swirling and break beat powered electro of No Reply From 806 – a deep, noirish tune which folds in on itself and lets little light escape. The grooves hatch from the half-space between the acid lines, but draw their energy from the dizzy roll of the cold, lost pads. Submerged Aegis is a note harsher – a crushed rave anthem falling through time, but propelling itself towards a frozen dawn. It’s a gorgeous and unsettling fantasy; the 303s kept slowly coiling around the flickering melody and the beats rising to fill the emptiness.

Anyone looking for solid acid bumpers are going to come away feeling a little lost, a bit out-of-place. Hidden Galaxies isn’t a record which plays to the genres strengths. It does quite the opposite. It takes certain elements and sends them scurrying and hunting towards a far larger, and colder, horizon. It stops short of breaching the barriers of IDM perhaps, but this is a good thing I think. It remains recognizable in tone and texture, but almost effortlessly shows how the music can find a new place amongst the vistas of a much larger world if it’s allowed to stretch it body and its mind. Excellent, sublime, and unexpected acid house from a dark and haunted future.

Paul Blackford – Fireflies (Tokyo Electro Beat Recordings)

Paul Blackford – Fireflies (Tokyo Electo Beat Recordings)

Although he is perhaps better known for his straight-up electro work, Paul Blackford has long been one of a small pool of artists who seems equally happy exploring other sounds. In the wider world of contemporary electronica this usually means the artists move between house and techno – two genres where these days the differences in style are often unremarkable enough that eyelids are barely batted when a producers swaps one for the other; Let’s face it, the symbiotic relationship between the two rarely affords a specialist in one a true opportunity to spread their artistic wings.

Fireflies is a useful reminder, perhaps, that the world of electronic music remains a larger one than we typically tend to be aware of. Partly the blame for that is down to the way in which the music is packaged to us these days. Packaged and consumed; the increasing compartmentalization, the way in which we are often steered down particular routes based on the prison of our buying habits and basic tastes tend to lock us quickly into specific sonic interests. It is not only producers who find themselves failing to branch out. We, the listener, are just as culpable. And it can be hard to escape even the most obvious traps. We like what we know. It speedily defines us, and sometimes even the most educated of palates can be the ones with rarefied and limited tastes.

What we have here is perhaps a little difficult to quantify for anyone coming at it from the modern world’s searing electronic strains, and unused to such a departure. Downtempo, sleepy, and warm may go some way to covering Fireflies but they don’t come close to capturing the essential spirit. It is, in some ways, reminiscent of an earlier time, an era when electronic music lacked a lot of the self-awareness it now wears like armour. Perhaps self-absorption is a better way to put that.

There is a gentle and adventuring energy at the heart of Fireflies, and a certain amount of purity, which provides direction for the bitter-sweet melodies which fuel and heat the music. Latitude unfolds and engulfs with the delicacy of IDM at it’s most meaningful, that crossroads it occasionally reached between its attempts to distance itself from the sweat and thunder of the club and its desire to be thought of as ‘proper’ music where it reached towards a fleeting sense of grandeur. It’s a pretty tune, wide-eyed and alive to the interplay between rhythm and melody. Moonlight evokes a similar vibe, but stretches it outwards, gilding the tune with quivering, soulful, light. Fireflies itself is more introspective, shading itself with deepening mood.

Syndicate is perhaps the best of the collection. On the surface it doesn’t deviate too far from the rest of the tunes, but it instates a noticeably darker hue; moodier and perhaps even heavier, it fluctuates between the simple beauty of the rest of the release and something more solid. There is a genuine wistfulness at its heart which lends it a maturity and slight cynicism which elevates the little touches and half-melodies, and gives the track a sense of movement perhaps lacking elsewhere.

Mostly, though, Fireflies is built on variations of a theme. While the music is gorgeously realised, the emotional depth of Syndicate amplifies it’s contrasts with the slighter moments and the beats, well formed though they are, sometimes lack a little bit of bite which might have tightened up the moods and pushed the music onwards towards a more colourful horizon.

Even so, it feels like a departure from contemporary electronica’s increasingly work-a-day styling. And while it occasionally feels a little uncertain of moving beyond beautiful and slightly hazy sketches to something more emotionally sure of itself, it remains a release of rare subtlety and warmth.

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.

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.