Favourite Tune of 2015: DJ Stingray – eRbB4(Kon001 Mix). A Friday Night Tune Special

Choosing a favourite tune from all the tunes released in a single calendar year is a stupid thing to do. It is almost as pointless as teaching quantum physics to cats, as twice as hard as herding the little feline buggers into the lecture theatre in the first place. In 2015 there were literally hunners of tunes I fell in love with. Some of that – the larger amount – were infatuations that burned away in a few hours or days. Others were longer affairs, the tunes settling into my hears and head for a brief honeymoon. Very few, though, lasted the course.

Some of them weren’t from 2015 at all, and were actually rediscoveries of tracks I had once loved and all but forgotten about or older tunes I was hearing for the first time. I hadn’t heard Blake Baxter’s Our Luv  for maybe 10 or 12 years before Goodhand played it at the Numbers/Mystec party in September. It was a similar story with a host of old electro records from the likes of Spesimen, Third Electric and I-F. Others were new to me but still old. If it’s possible to wear out a FLAC through overuse I’ve just about done it with Boris Divider’s 10-year-old Clone Factory.

As for the tunes of 2015, they were there in thick bunches, and many of them seemed to be by Luca Lozano. Almost every record he released this year was a cracker whether it was a solo effort or in collaboration, with Gun Fingers and Dripbox standing out particularly brightly. Shanti Celeste’s SSS blew me away when I heard its deep, Detroitish tones, as did DJ Overdose’s Vinca on UTTU. Arcanoid’s Acto 2 from La Cólera De Los Débiles on Odio also smashed my tiny brain when I first heard it – such a loose jam; always close to falling apart yet just about managing to keep it’s fantastic vibe flowing. Peverelist’s Undulate came out of nowhere and just floored me, as did Florist’s endlessly spacious, Basic Channel invoking Final Bounce of All Caps.

There were two tunes in particular which seemed to keep dragging themselves into my consciousness with the nagging enthusiasm of their own brilliance. I hadn’t really paid too much attention to Adesse Versions in the past even though I have most of the releases. Somewhere along the line, and I’m not sure why, Pride just started cropping up whenever I was doing a mix. A lot of house music just now seems to get me down. Predictably comfortable shapes and sounds, an over reliance on it and discos past and the increasing suspicion of its growing musical conservatism got to me. Pride, from his release on Numbers, isn’t like that, though. Its sleazy, debauched and darkened air is sharpened by focus, and brought to life when the vocal eventually kicks in with the wild force of a drunken ex turning up on your doorstep at three in the morning. I seem to play it at +8 a lot, which is possibly why the tune’s sultriness morphs into something even more purposeful. It’s one of those rare tracks which seem to straddle the line, equally at home in a big club, playing to a big club crowd as it does a tiny, grimy place on a humid Friday night. I made no conscious effort to get to know it and yet it got itself in there. If that isn’t the mark of a great tune I don’t know what is.

DJ Stingray’s Cognition EP on Lower Parts was one of a couple of great releases for the veteran producer, and his best moment was the KON001 remix of eRbB4. I don’t know who KON001 is, whether he’s connected to the label or the guise of someone well known, but he turns in one of the very best reinterpretations I’ve heard in a long time. I’m not a major fan of remixes. Too often they seem to bring little to the table to make the effort worthwhile, or they totally rebuild to the point you might as well have just written something from scratch. KON001 retains the tough but wistful bustle of Stingray’s original but burns away its laidback air and Model 500 touches allowing a deeper, haunting, and quite beautiful piece of unbelievable electo-soul to bloom instead. It takes an age to get going, but when it does it can’t help but bowl you over. It’s a dusky autumnal masterpiece, taut with slowly unfurling drama and warmed ever so slightly by a playful charm that makes it’s presence increasingly felt when the little fragments of Detroit’s heritage begin to glint in the turning light. The more I listen to it, the more I love it. If this doesn’t get full Classic status from the European Commission For Banging Tunes it will be an injustice. If you don’t hunt this down you’re making a mistake. The best of the year? In my ears yes; it really is that special. Outstanding.

Favourite Records of 2015.

I don’t remember having this much trouble last year in coming up with a few favourites. In 2015, though, great records came in gangs. I won’t go into all of them that stuck with me this year. I’m sure I’ll keep remembering more 12″s that should have been on this list for months to come, but as with the other lists this one isn’t supposed to be exhaustive. It doesn’t reflect the views of a committee, or professional wags furnished with every record, and it doesn’t try to cover ever angle of every genre. All this list represents are a handful of records I really liked this year, and was drawn from those I could get my hands on.

There could be hundreds of special mentions here, so I’ll just stick to a few of those who got me going. I could write a huge essay about Luca Lozano’s tight mix of house and rave which poured out across a number of great records this year, or Special Request triple hit of eye watering hardcore on XL, all of which pointed to a growing interest in other routes through electronica’s past rather than more classic house and techno. It wasn’t all nostalgia, though, Pevererlist’s Undulate/Grit 12″ gave us a pair of future dancehall bangers which lit up with sly grooves, and O Xander’s Nous record gave us the last word on crumbling, frayed techno.

For me, it was a pretty important year for electro, and it won’t be long now before all you heathens know you love it best. DynaRec and Heinrich Dressler had some very classy releases, as did VC-118 on Tabernacle. Cygnus’ EP on Recondite is particularly worth finding if you don’t have it already. Its graceful, haunting electro had made it as far as a test pressing a couple of years ago before being benched. DJ Stingray seemed to have a quiet year, yet every one of his three records explored a difference facet of his musical character. Last but not least was Shanti Celeste’s SSS split with FunkinEven, an authentic breeze of genuine high-tech soul born in Detroit and raised in Bristol.

Our, err, elder statesmen had a good 12 months as well. Marco Bernardi was on fire for much of the year, with perhaps his EPs for Berceuse Heroique and Brokntoys being the best. Glasgow’s Sparky finally started getting the attention we all knew he should get from a larger audience when he built on last years release of Portland with Signals, a slow burning groove of winding synths and wistful melodies that had attained anthemic qualities in Glasgow long before it had been released.

What else? Jared Wilsons follow-up to last years Ghost Miners, the cleverly titled Ghost Miners 2, managed to build and improve on some already great music, and DJ Overdose delivered a crazy tapestry of beats on Housejam Freaker for UTTU. I’ll stop now. I think I’m going mad.

Mikron – Sleep Paralysis (Central Processing Unit)

When a journalist recently described electro as a genre that was too abstract to really dance too, I suspect Sleep Paralysis was the sort of record he had in his mind. Like a lot of CPU’s output this début for Mikron is built out of sparse beats and an economy of frequency which slices out the unnecessary and leaves behind a lean cut marbled with classic electro and EBM, and flavoured with ghostly atmospherics which are as primal as they are advanced. While there are moments that pull towards the abstract, though, Sleep Paralysis is a record which is as dance floor functional as anything else you’ve heard this year. Side A fuels the tension with a pair of sleek electro bombs, before Dry Sense and it’s refrain find release with their floor rocking, Dopplereffeck tinged double act.

Privacy – Human Resource Exploitation Manual (Lobster Theremin)

Lobster Theremin’s release schedule has had a good go of covering almost every genre under the sun, but there had been a noticeable lack of anything truly electro. Human Resource Exploitation Manual went some way to dealing with the oversight. The three tracks mash dripping acid, crumpled techno-bass and weirdo-rave styling into the space between the break beats and pummel them until they emerge as an angular, driven machine. Privacy and Apex Predator charge ahead with loping beats and nods to classic electro, but it’s the slow, woozy Code that trumps them both as it bristles with grooves under a blizzard of industrialised bleeps and darkly acidic chords.

Stellar OM Source – Nite Glo (RVNG INTL)

As with Bass Clef’s Raven Yr Own Worl last year, Nite Glo takes acid house as a starting point before removing all but the smallest nod to nostalgia and hauling the sound into the future. While there is an element of Plus 8’s approach to acid house in the way Stellar Om Source marries the 303 to something more recognizably techno, she goes further, drawing on synth pop, rave and experimental house to flesh out the skeletal acid and leave us with a work that is full of invention and clever touches, and which captures something of the spirit of both LFO and Matt Herbert. While the warbling and deceptively deep Sudden and the cheeky, bright Sure are the most obviously, immediately acidic, the stand out is the midnight drive of Never which invokes the swirling Detroit funk of Juan Atkins and Carl Craig to brilliant effect.

Dez Williams – Sleight Of Hand (Shipwrec)

Yeah, if there has been a theme around here this year, it’s electro shaped. Sleight Of Hand refuses to be quite so easily pigeon-holed though, and in actual fact the out and out electro occupies only half of the record. Regardless of what genre the individual tunes call home however, William’s weaves a common narrative through all of them. Seeming almost too dark on first listen, the music soon blooms into something far less downcast, and there is more than enough light to evaporate the shadows, most of them anyway. The tribally undertones of Death Threat and the cosmic shuffle of the Millsian Slave Driver are perhaps the tracks that stray furthest from home ground, both of them adding a deeper and fragile mood to the record, but it’s Balancing Act that takes hold the quickest and feels like Hardlfoor’s acid trance rebooted with a punchy directness and grittier foundations.

Ekman – GMMDI (Berceuse Heroique)

Thinking about it, there could be a number of BH records worthy of being here. Marco Bernardi, Mark Forshaw and several other all did the job for the label this year, and Hodge’s Forms Of Life in particular was an unexpected treasure of deconstructed moods and wobbling grooves. Ekman, though, has had a pretty impressive year and this one even tops his killer Trilogy Tapes release whilst encapsulating BH’s ethos of sharp beats and scuffled tunage. GMMDI is scuzzy, street level techno of the filthiest kind; serrated and tireless it just won’t stop moving, the melody buried under so much dirt it probably needs a blood transfusion. Breaker 1 2’s remix clears some of the trash but goes a bit mad in the process, painting over the manky patches with other worldly burst of rave and maintaining all the unhinged delight of a killer clown standing in the rain staring at you. It’s techno gone wrong. What’s not to love?

Favourite Labels of 2015

I wonder how many labels there are? Has anyone ever tried to count them? I’m just asking because it feels like every second record I bought this year was by some tiny mob I’d never heard of before, and don’t seemed to have heard of again. While its good that so many people are willing to put their money where their mouth is, you wonder how sustainable it all is. Are we going to see a great cull in 2016, a mass extinction event brought on by population growth? Probably not. As long as there is music demanding to be released, there will be some nutter willing to do just that, although you sense that a thinning of the herd might be a good deal when you remember how bad a lot of that music is. It has never been easier for a label to get itself off the ground and into the fight, but it has probably also never been harder for a label to make a mark.

The bigger labels had slightly mixed fates this year. L.I.E.S seemed to have a quieter one by their standards. Although the sheer speed of their release schedule seemed undiminished, there doesn’t seem to have been as much noise about many of their records, Randomer’s Kid’s Play and DJ Overdose perhaps making the biggest splashes. The Trilogy Tapes also seemed to take a bit of shelter from publicity overload this year, but nevertheless maintained a storming and acclaimed slew of releases from the likes of Ekman, DJ Spider, Coni and Omar Souleyman. The other big hitter round here, Lobster Theremin, went from strength to strength with an ever-expanding roster of artists and sub labels as they rolled their own out of every genre they came up against.

Unknown To The Unknown also ended the year in rude health with class bombs by POL Style, Brassfoot, Bleaker and that man again DJ Overdose wringing every last drop of inspiration from the label’s ethos of underground acid, rave and hardcore. Likewise, Atlanta label CGI really began to push their vision of darkened dance floor grooves with a handful of killers by Black Suede, Golden Donna and Twins. There are so many others, Numbers, Northern Electronics and the brilliant, acid fuelled Super Rhythm Trax amongst them. Too many! So here’s a few who stood out for me.

Shipwrec

Given that my much desired electro renaissance never really came to fruition in 2015 I’ll have to content myself with having a couple of electro labels amongst my favourite. Shipwrec had a good year, a very good year, and their releases stood as an ongoing testimony to how exciting contemporary electro could be. Not that electro was all that they were interested in. Whether it was Chris Moss’s acid blinding Phantasy EP, Ekman’s mutant terror-funk or returning techno heroes Random XS, the label never missed a beat, and tied everything together with an obvious love of the more shadowy corners of the scene. Stand out was Dez William’s Sleight Of Hand EP, an outstanding burst of sinewy rhythms, winding grooves and deep, acid soaked electro madness.

Central Processing Unit

The second electro label on the list is perhaps even more pure in its manifesto than Shipwrec is. Even though there are techno tunes dotted here and there in the releases, CPU is almost entirely about the electro. As one commentator has pointed out recently, there is something determinedly old-school about their ethos, but that works entirely to their advantage because there are few other labels quite so fiercely loyal to the music they love. Ranging from defiantly classic electro, to the breaks and intelligent jungle of Missqulater (whose They Rave Us is a pretty special record) and Cygnus’s sunny wistfulness, CPU turned out number of records that deserved far more coverage than they got (and that includes this blog I’m embarrassed to admit). My favourite was Mikron’s Sleep Paralysis where whiplash techno and the ghosts of Aux 88’s glory years partied on a beach in a Drexciyan colony. Such a great record and another high point for a label that has so many it looks like a mountain range.

Berceuse Heroique

Well, it wasn’t only the music that made the headlines with Berceuse Heroique this year. The controversy over that tweet and the attendant discussion about imagery just about overshadowed the labels genuine achievements, and only time will tell whether there are lasting repercussions. In terms of the music, though, not much went wrong, and almost everything went right. Their reissue of Smackos’ Age Of Candy probably garnered them interest from new quarters just as the Loefah repress had last year, and they continued to challenge expectations with tunes that ranged from the traditionally harsh and dirty, like Mark Forshaw’s two-fingered requiem, The Fuck, to Hodge’s expansive and beautiful Forms Of Life. Work from EMG, Japan Blues and Beneath also helped push the label forward. The fluid, glimmering, high-tech symphony of Marco Bernardi’s The Dancing Clowns was also a top moment, not just for BH, but for Bernardi himself; a man in the midst of a proper purple patch.

Black Opal

The more challenging forms of electronica tends to have an analogue with certain breeds of modern art when it comes to image, and it can probably stand to be said that some of Opal Tapes releases over the last couple of years would have your average punter shrugging with confusion as they tried to work out what was going on. yet for all the releases that corresponded to those stereotypes, there were others that offered something special, added grooves and colour to formula. And now they seem to have found a home here on the offshoot. Black Opal is the only sub label on this list, I think, and even though it has only a small number of releases each of them has been a cracker. Disassembling rigid electronica and rebuilding it with a flair for movement and an eye on the dance floor, this little volley of records brought Xosar, Nathan Melja and J Albert out of the shadows with mean, broken down techno. Life’S Track’s Smell Of Sanctity stole the show though, with four tracks of filthy gutter techno that laid both the funk and the corruption on thick.

Don’t Be Afraid

Whilst Berceuse Heroique or Opal Tapes have always gone straight for the jugular, Don’t Be Afraid has always taken a more subtly subversive path towards their goals, and given more classic house and techno forms a wee kick up the arse, resulting in a fresher, more off-kilter take on the familiar. It’s an interesting and successful approach, particularly when it’s coupled to the work of producers like Mgun and Neville Watson, or DJ Bone, who released some of his best work in years for the label under his Differ-Ent project. If only more labels were willing to blend the functional, the classic and the experimental together into such a potent whole. Further gems were to be found in The Room Below’s Homemade Waves and Herva’s Dreams Of Unknown Tales. But my favourite was the V/A four track sampler that came out in the summer and tied electro, techno and sleek house together with a rare deftness, and epitomised so well everything DBA is trying to do. A label that is definitely going to get bigger.

Favourite Albums of 2015

2014 was a watershed year for the house and techno long player. It seemed as if everyone had gotten bored with the limitations of the 12″ and suddenly decided that the extra length of an album would help them tell their stories better, giving them the space to develop ideas without having to worry so much about the incessant need of the dance floor. Not every album was a cracker, not every album wanted to do much more than stick a bunch of unrelated tracks in the same package, but there were some real stand outs, some real gems, and some important releases.

This year has felt a quieter one for albums but a quick glance at Discogs shows the hunger for long players hasn’t yet been sated, so perhaps it’s just me who found less I was interested in byuying. Even so there was some top class work to be picked up. As ever this isn’t a list of The Best Album Of 2015, but rather a list of the ones I enjoyed the most chosen from those I’ve heard.

Special mentions go to Helena Hauf’s Discrete Desires, an EBM infused stormer that sounded as if it had been produced by a Kraftwerk hailing from the wrong side of the Autobahn, and Paranoid London’s eponymous long play debut which brought Phuture’s raw acid jack up to date with an extra dose of deep, slightly creepy grooves. Santiago Salazar delivered some proper, old style, rolling Detroit techno into play with Chicanismo and flavoured it with house stabs and latin soul. Xoxar’s debut LP for Opal Tapes offshoot Black Opal confirmed to anyone who was interested that the imprint was serious about uniting the occasionally obtuse electronica of the parent label with a far more sophisticated dance floor approach while TTT and Plan B alumnus DJ Spider dropped Upon The Gates Of The Great Depth on us, a firebomb which blended heaving, claustrophobic techno with a house flair, touches of warped discoid funk and brutal noise. Lastly, a proper shout out to Levon Vincent, whose debut LP upped his reputation for sweet, submerged yet gritty grooves no end. Extra kudos for Mr. Vincent as he released the entire thing on MP3 for free on the internet ahead of the vinyl release.

VA – Mac-Talla Nan Creag (Firecracker Recordings)

The big album from Firecracker this year may have been their sumptuous reissue of LNRDCroy’s Much Less Normal, but the real diamond was this work of utterly captivating beauty by a collection of Scottish producers including Lord Of The Isles and House Of Traps. Approached by the Forestry Commission to create a record which captured something of the feel and spirit of various locations in Scotland, the label went ahead and delivered a tightly curated work which blends contemporary electronics with far more traditional and folk elements. The result is simply beguiling – evocatively accenting the weight of history and the passage of time on an incredibly ancient and haunting landscape, and the memories of the peoples who have vanished from it. Every track transports you somewhere new, but mentions go to the heart-rending paean Where The Corries Hold The Snow, and the simple yet other-worldly Cup And Ring Cycle. I wish to God I’d bought the vinyl edition.

Jamal Moss – My Gherkin Life Volume 3 (Gherkin Tracks)

Jamal Moss has drawn an occasional comment this year over the idea that his release policy sometimes resembles that of a man throwing every he has against a wall and seeing what sticks. You can’t doubt that he has an output which rivals that of several entire labels put together, but it’s easy to forget that his hit rate is pretty high too. My Gherkin Life Volume 3 was released virtually unheralded as a limited edition CDr a few months back and reveals a more focussed, less experimental side to his work; Each of the eight tracks are dancefloor bombs first and foremost. Grounded in 4/4, textured by articulate drumming and shimmering with hypnotic synths, Gherkin Tracks works over acid, Detroit and harder techno with Moss’ inate sense of tone and frequency, and holds off some of his more chaotic elements even as he allows his unique talents free rein. His most disciplined and funky release this year, and probably all the better for it.

214 – North Bend (Shipwrec)

There is a noticeable lack of electro from my album purchases this year, which is a real shame as there are few genres better suited to experimentation over a longer format. Regardless of why that might be the case, Chris Roman’s 214 project delivered more than enough proof that electro can really kick out when given the space. North Bend brings some quite stunning deep space grooves planet side and takes a scalpel to them before splicing in Drexciyan DNA and touches borrowed from the northern European scene. While there are one or two moments which feel a little bit like ‘ambient interlude’ filler, the big track like La Proxima Manana or Windon Earle roll with hypnotic power and clever delicacy. Tune of choice is Pickles and Mints which swaps the rest of the albums wintry beauty for something grittier, looser and malicious.

Abdulla Rashim – A Sense Of Speed (Northern Electronics)

As with ‘deep house’, the concept of ‘deep techno’ has suffered over the last couple of years and seems to have been used to describe anything from tech-house blurters all the way up to the tragi-comic industrialised end of the spectrum, while taking in plenty of boring, careful, by-the-numbers tunes as it went. Abdulla Rashim’s Northern Electronics label has made concerted attempts to reclaim deep techno over the last couple of years, and A Sense Of Speed fits right into this re-imagining. While the tunes on this remain hard and driving, they do so whilst conjuring up glittering and very alien sonic worlds. Grand vistas glanced through fractal lenses temper the instinctual momentum and allow mesmerising grooves to emerge through the studio trickery. A Sense Of Speed maintains its grasp no matter what depths the atmosphere reaches, never alighting too long on a particular mood without bringing something shadowy and almost unseen along to screw with you. A case in point is the slowly growing sense of dread and uncertainty that riddles Scania Flood. Deep techno, not boring techno. And that’s the difference.

Container – LP (Spectrum Spools)

OK, I lied. I did have a favourite album this year. It’s this, LP by Container. It may have been a few months since I reviewed it but I’m still blown away every time I hear it. As techno albums go it might be quite far out there. A collection of raw as all hell drum jams occasionally interspersed by stuff that only superficially resembles anything that anyone else is doing, LP was a tight blast of regulated fury that owed as much to hardcore punk rock and no wave as it did to anything that came out of Chicago or Detroit. Hell, it owed more. In fact, if you squint a bit it’s possible to see what those genres might have grown into if they had retained their sense of adventure and experimentalism instead of treading water and fanning their own increasingly conservative snobbery. There is a lesson there, and don’t think for a moment it doesn’t apply to house or techno. An absolute beast of a record. Do not be without.