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.

Best Of The Represses – July 2017

Blake Baxter – When We Used To Play (Mint Condition)

Mint Condition have now officially ruined this repress malarky for every other label by actually making it interesting. Where, once upon a time, various outfits could chuck out endless re-releases of well-known hits from yesteryear, safe in the knowledge that they’d be lapped up again and again, Mint Condition have arrived on the scene and promptly spunked all that cynicism right up the nearest whatchamathingmy with the simple act of releasing a slew of interesting selections that seem all the more exciting because they aren’t really titles that you would have thought of if asked.

Anyways, This is one of two Blake Baxter represses appearing on Mint, and it’s a blinder. The other record, When The Thought Becomes You, essentially a re-release of his Prince Of Techno EP with a slightly different track listing, is probably up there with Sexuality as his most loved track – and that’s fair enough; it’s an eternal jam, as beautiful as it is groovy and a permanent reminder of just how intoxicating techno can be. But I’ve always loved When We Used To Play the most out of the three. I’m not sure why, only that I know it does something to the hairs on the back of my neck and drags me back through time to when I first heard Baxter’s music. It’s a great release, and every track is a corker, but it’s worth it for the breakbeat mix alone which is a true work of wonder. Buy now and try to work out why Baxter isn’t held in as much esteem as the Belleville three – if not more.

Keith Tucker – Detroit Saved My Soul(Mint Condition)

Look! It’s Mint Condition again, and they’re proving everything I wrote above! Gorblessem! While their release schedule is brilliantly off-to-one-side, this repress of Detroit Saved My Soul, first released on Glasgow label 7th Sign back in 2005, is a real treat for the electro heads. Seeing as Keith Tucker is better known for his work in Aux 88, Optic Nerve, Alien FM, DJ-K1, and a legion of other names, that aforementioned electrohead just happens to be me.

First thing to say here is that it’s a slightly curious feeling record. That’s not a bad thing – quite the opposite – but it’s not wall to wall technobass banging. In actual fact, this is an exploration of a slightly different side of Tucker’s musical personality. And although he brings an impressive, effortlessly cool slice of Detroit electro-futurism to the party in the form of Elektronik (and provides a snapshot of sorts of the musical links between Model 500 and Aux 88), the other two numbers are equally worthy of your time. The title track itself kicks on with a slick, laidback groove that’s part prowling, darkened house, and part pure Detroit techsperimentaion, all strung together with a shadowy energy which wouldn’t be out-of-place on either of the Baxter records I discussed earlier. My Metal State closes things down with a swirl of deeply introspective techno-soul which’ll climb through your mind like it’s looking for somewhere to hide from the world. A very different side of Keith Tucker. Get on it.

VA – Rhythms Of The Pacific (Pacific Rhythms)

This much more recent release (from 2014) seems to have got a wee bit of a much-needed repress recently, which is great because the original seemed to sell out pretty darn quickly all over the shop. I’ve never really bought into the whole Moodhutty/ Vancouver thing. I’ve tended to find a lot of the music either a little hazy and insipid, or a lot less fresh and new than some people claimed. Still, there’s no doubt of the scene’s popularity, and Pacific Rhythm’s little run of VA samplers was generally quite a good collection of tunes by an interesting bunch of artists.

LRNDCroy’s Time Zone, which sounds like Joey Betram’s Energy Flash shot full of tranks, and Hashman Deejay’s wonderfully scruffy and low-rent mix of Memory Man’s Memory Man are both great and ear opening additions to the canon, but it’s the other two tracks which do the real damage. Cloudface’s Panter Blue is acid house reduced down to the absolute minimum of drum track, a 303, and a weird springing noise. It needs nothing more to do its job as it wobbles around, always looking like it’s about to fall flat on its face. Cheeky and pretty damn funky.

The genuine highlight though is LNRDCroy’s opener, Sunrise Market, which is a tune so haunting and warm it should be considered worthy of that most overused sobriquet, ‘classic’. It really is. Not only a high point of LNRDCroy’s own work, but one of the real moments of the last few years of electronic music. An absolutely timeless piece of drifting, new-age funk which serves to prove that deepness needs soul in order to work its magic. Gorgeous.

Review: Second Storey – Telekinesis Via Fax (Trust)

Second Storey – Telekinesis Via Fax (Trust)

It seems to have been a quiet 2017 for Second Storey so far after a busy 2016, and this release on the excellent Trust represents his first record of the year so far. We last saw him around these parts with his Bismuth release on Houndstooth back in the Autumn. That record was the sort of genre-bending we still don’t see overly much of in electro, and it doused the grooves with ripples of Detroity synths and dapples of abstract experimentalism. It was class and eye-opening blast of future dancefloor.

The good news is that Telekinesis Via Fax runs on a similar engine. This is not electro of a comfortably familiar sort; break beats are fractured, morphing from shape to shape with an ear for theoretical impact; structures glimmer and strobe before disappearing into the ether. While electro provides a base, there is a lot more going on. IDM-ish lunacy fuels the music, as do nods towards dubstep and grime, particularly in the way chunks of bass are fused to the weirdly joyous asymmetry of the tunes.

Opener, Attack Of The Modlings, siphons a lot of these twisted leanings right from the off, and the tunes buckles under its own broken, breakneck, internal logic. There are beautiful passing motifs and touches, but the scattergun approach frustrates the evolution of the groove and the tune slackens from its early energy into a stutter of disparate ideas. The DLMS mix is more successful, eschewing the randomness in favour of a sleeker, tighter, and more traditional roller that mounts the original’s fuzzy storm over a tight and fierce beat allowing the funk room to breathe.

Quantock Point To Point prowls in a hinterland of long shadows and nervous glances. But it never descends into anything overtly dark. Instead it builds a free-riding cybernetic jacker out of the contrasts between the concrete slam of the beat and twisting, spiralling leads and little rivulets of sound which recall less electro and more a subtle reinterpretation of breakbeat in its early, happy-go-lucky UK incarnation.

Telekinesis Via Fax itself latches onto a similar early rave vibe and marbles it with colourful veins of Dopplereffekt-ish machine warmth. Not that it goes the whole way down that route though; Early AFX and other Brit IDM textures dress the acerbic breaks, and something of the unhinged majesty of prime period Black Dog coupled with Square Pusher’s boundary breaking approach shines through, illuminating the deeper corners of the tune.

That the IDM influences are stronger than the electro ones is neither here and there. The two genres are often found in orbit together, and the fact is that they compliment each other on Telekinesis Via Fax – IDN’s celestial imperiousness illuminating electro’s spikiness. While it’s a record which will take a few listens before you can fully reach into its hidden humour and grooves it’s also one which’ll reward you for doing so. Experimental electro with a strong sense of self.

Review: Dez Williams – Forlorn Figures in Godforsaken Places EP (Mechatronica)

Even after the best part of two decades Dez Williams remains an outlier in the electro scene. There is something in his work – a feel for the darkened end of the electro spectrum perhaps, or his use of other genres heavy elements – which separates him from his peers. This has become more obvious over the last couple of years as the genre has begun to envelop more and more of the silvery and rarefied tastes of IDM, or the ongoing investigations into just how deep you can go. As those trends have grown a large part of electro’s current fashions seems to have receded from Williams. Or, perhaps more appropriately, Williams has receded from them.

As if in retort Williams’ has made potent use of a host of sounds that seem to have drifted out of fashion elsewhere; acidic elements retain, in Williams’ hands, a power to sear and knock you sideways instead of rendering them into a sort of vaguely cool hat-tip they appear to have become with other producers; his breaks, thundering in a middle space between the deceptive fragility of European electro-noir, and Detroit’s looser, technobass funk, rides fast, the percussion barbed and cutting. His forays into techno, frequent and very much on a par with his electro, contain not only a dose of the spiky rawness of FUSE and early Surgeon, but the energy of furiously debauched and hungry rave, all tied together with post-punk’s dirty skank.

Forlorn Figures in Godforsaken Places taps into much of this prevailing energy. While it is very much an electro EP in the most modern sense, it rarely allows itself the luxury of staying on that one path. At times it fluctuates, resonating on some unheard and innate frequency, until fragments are shaken away to reveal the new and underlying structure. It’s also a record which takes delight in revoking electro’s unfair reputation as a medium too abstract for dancing to. That such a claim still exists is weird, but Williams’s brings with him a bag of tricks and touches which emphasise the funk and grooves even while it sounds as if the four horsemen are on the loose.

This is not to say Forlorn Figures is particularly heavy. Perhaps in relation to a lot of contemporary electro is weighs in at the heftier end, but it’s less abrasive than some of his recent techno work, bringing a certain amount of light which dials up the contrast. Generally the harsher tones serve to scour away extraneous tissue, removing bulk and limbering the tunes up. The results are lean and dangerous.

From the off, Williams’ taste for the shadowy side of electronica’s past is at work. Opener Xen sparks into life and builds a focus on bleak billows of bass extracted from the most prowling forms of techstep. It brings a gravity to the track which leans hard on the breaks, capturing them and pressing them into a scattered orbit where they clatter and pop. Troom, right at the end, slips the whole tune into a slower circuit, and evokes flickering images of Le Car’s Detroit born, synth pop tinged experimentalism, and late 80s hiphop jams. It’s a confident, brash number, the track smacking beats and bass of an off-kilter half-melody as it grows more and more fiery.

Even when the music contains the more recognizably straight up tones of electro, they are toyed with, and mutated. On The Verge latches the mood to noir-ish streets, slowly dousing the light levels under a shroud of Rother-esque leads before illuminating everything with gentle flares of melody and glowing rivulets of sultry strings which accent the rain-lashed and cinematic roll of the tune. Carkrash Vikdem in comparison, corkscrews through, industrializing the beats, straightening out the groove into what snarling, peak time nastiness, and weaving in machine soul by way of static bursts of bleeps.

Forlorn Figures… is a corrective of sorts for a scene which has the first, very slight, symptoms of playing a bit too readily for the gallery. It’s tautness comes not from a modern electro-minimalist approach to reduction, but from the simple understanding of how everything goes together, fits together, perfectly, and its fire and energy draws from a time when electro was first and foremost a mover of limbs and feet. It’s this which informs the music most: fast, sometimes heavy, and occasionally even brutal, it’s always done to power the grooves. Excellent, excellent electro that bites back.

Best Of The Represses: June 2017

Sorry for the lack of updates. I’ve been working, on holiday, and watching things go weird in my down time. I’ve also been taking stock of the big wide world of electronica and thinking about things. All sorts of things. Anyway. Here’s three choice picks for this, the allegedly the first month of summer:

DJ Bone – Riding The Thin Line (Another Day)

This has been up there in the top five of my personal repress wishlist for a very long time now and I’m delighted it’s finally available. Originally released on Metroplex, this is simply DJ Bone at his peak. A Peerless blast of brain twisting techno and electro, from the cosmic-tribalist stomp of Shut The Lites Off to The Funk with it’s tight, stark, and sparse collision of wiry beats, bass wonk, and robots-gone-feral vocals this is a record you really shouldn’t be without. The whole thing is close to techno perfection as you’re going to get without dying and going to techno heaven. Shipping at the end of the month, although you can get the DL right now if you buy from the Bandcamp page. I don’t know why you’re even still sitting here reading this.

The one thing that confuses me is why this isn’t part of Metroplex’s own current repress schedule. While I’m obviously happy to have it again in any forms, the nerd in me would love it to have the original art. Anyone know why? Answers on a postcard to the usual address. I bet the magic word here is ‘licence’. I’m beginning to hate that word.

D’Arcangelo – D’Arcangelo EP (Suction Canada)

Another record which has made the jump from its original home is this 1996 EP by Italian outfit D’Arcangelo. First out on the much missed Rephlex, it’s not hard to see why it found a place in the Aphex Twin’s own stable. Pushing between bone snapping, hard as nails, experimentalist industria, and something akin to Kraftwerk having a happy picnic in the country, there’s no doubt it’s a brain masher; the way it jumps from the mind shredding heaviness of the A-side to the complex, smiling, and frequently beautiful, melody led material on the B might leave you wondering what the hell is going on, but it’s also indicative of a pair of producers rich with ideas and who weren’t scared to keep themselves out in front of the genre trap.

While the searing Somewhere In Time still does the damage after 21 years, the real keeper here, for my money, is the gorgeous, snare-flaring, Diagram VII (80’s Mix). That such a trippy, wistful and grinning piece of sunshine can wander into existence after the record’s distortion drenched openers is a minor source of amazement. That it sounds like the theme to a long-lost 80’s travel show, or a schools program about European countries, just makes it even better.

Glenn Underground – Atmosfear (Peacefrog Record)

Peacefrog’s much discussed repress schedule is finally getting some steam up. We recently had a bunch of Theo Parrish and a Moodyman re-releases, but the label’s back catalogue contains so many bona-fide classics we can’t help but lick our lips in excitement over what might be coming back out further down the line. Most people will be ferverently praying for a nice fat vinyl reissue of DBX’s Losing Control but there are so many more possibilities you could go mad from thinking about it.

Glenn Underground’s Atmosfear should hold most of us over for the time being. Heck, it should do more than that because this really is a pretty special album. This isn’t ‘deep house’ – it’s just house done the way it used to be done: soulful, fluid, iridescent, and chilled. While listening back to it for the first time in a long, long time, you might notice it runs to chunkyness here and there in a way you don’t remember, but it still brings enough charm and panache to win over all but the most diehard of macho, black jeans wearing, technopods.

Tunes like the sunset tinged Israelee Night Falls aren’t simply classics, but are ingrained now in house music’s conciousness. Elsewhere, the jacking Colouration, and Soundstruck, weave funk around the most louche and laidback beats imaginable. Bonus shout out to the slightly tongue in cheek title of May Datroit and its wee homage to a city not too far away.