Review: V/A – Apartment and Sunday Times (Apartment Records)

Back in the nineties it started to become possible to home in on individual and specific strands of house. The music was beginning to explode into a million forms as the original template drifted out of the hands of the original progenitors and into the sweaty grasp of people whose love for it, and their understanding of what it was, wasn’t tied to a specific era or geographical place. This brought benefits, chief amongst them a widening of the basic concept as various groups sought to rewire the sound for their own scenes and their own lives.

In the same way that we are attracted to the music which reflects something of ourselves, so it was for different communities. Of course, nothing can remain eternally pure, and nothing can remain true to a concept which only a handful of people may originally have held. With this was a growth in popularity, accompanied by a probably inevitable softening of many of genre’s strongest and most important elements. House today is a far cry from what first coalesced in Chicago clubs more than thirty years ago. It is a commercial enterprise now, and one which dwarfs every other electronic genre with the exception of the EDM charade.

The upshot of this is that when you do come across music which still harks back to something that is organically, intrinsically house (whether soulful, or acidic, or harder), it can sound alien to ears which have become attuned to the sleek forms which now dominate. We hear so much about deep house, about lo-fi house, that the deluge tends to drown out all other sounds. We begin to, well, maybe not so much accept them as the spiritual successors as allow them more leeway than they really deserve. It’s easier just to let it go.

Which brings us to this new four tracker on Irish label Apartment, a record which sounds and feels like the antithesis of so much of that contemporary house. Certainly, after so long stuck with house music which seeks to do little more than provide a momentary sugar rush, the collective of ideas, influences, and subtly altering moods on display here feel incredibly rich and a little jarring. It’s like coming face to face with an old friend you had thought long-lost; the warmth of familiarity filtered through a strange sense of anxiety and displacement.

Part of this odd feeling is rooted, perhaps, in the way that each of the four tracks here feel disconnected from the usual selection of influences, those ageing ideas which each new generation feels it has to tip its hat to. Sure, if you dig into the DNA far enough you’ll find those threads of Marshal Jefferson or Mr Fingers, or brush up against a genetic memory of Disco or Italo, but what you won’t get is the note-by-note transcription of the ancient past, and there is virtually none of house’s recent infatuation with ‘how we got here’. Which is a breath of fresh air because there comes a point where the past is nothing more than a roadblock.

Even so, Tr One’s Afrobeatdown has the feel of classic house, even if it’s of the breezy, Detroit techno tinged sort that Derrick May would melt your mind with in the middle of a set. Easy to swallow, but nourishing, it rides closest to the sort of thing which was coming out of the East Coast a few years back, and championed by the likes of DJ Q: a blend of thick house vibes cut open with razor-sharp touches and quick movement, held together by a bass which’ll void the insurance on your speakers.

Colm K’s Rays feels very much like a companion piece to Afrobeatdown, a more introspective examination of what happens when the music opens out to accommodate a wellspring of subtly variating moods. So much of the groove is carried in the little, almost incidental moments that it almost feels as if it doesn’t need the beats, although they are most welcome when they finally make their cameo.

It isn’t deep, not in the conventional sense of layering hackneyed, jazzy, riffs over lazy pads. Instead it works the contrast until the edges vanish into the shadows, and the way it plays with expectations, deconstructing rhythms and toying with the tune’s direction keeps it locked to an internalized and hidden compass. As open as the music’s sense of soulful adventure seems, it’ll have you working to get everything you can out of it.

Colm K’s other track, the short blast of late night soul that is HEY, could easily feel like a pastiche, but actually nods it’s head towards those parent genres which informed and influenced house but now feel cut out of the lazily written official history. It glistens with the grooves of 80s synthetic funk, R&B, and Vandrossian soul. There’s very little to it, if truth be told, but it’s a brilliant reminder that stepping off the path brings rewards.

The closer, Static’s Fallen Sky is perhaps the odd one out, being a heavier, less warmly open piece of house. Actually, it’s barely house at all and in many ways has little to do with any particular form of modern electronica (although that alone probably makes it a better example of modern electronica than most.) I don’t quite know where to start with it. It makes me think of Public Image – perhaps because the echoed snaps of vocals have more than a little of John Lydon’s honk to them – but mostly, as with HEY, it reminds me that the received wisdom of house is usually wrong, that the ocean of genetic soup that birthed it was far more stormy and exciting than we are led to believe. Part new wave, part Leftfield, part I haven’t got a clue what, it rotates the wrong way around, and forever catches you looking, guiltily, backwards.

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Clearing The Decks: Part 2 In A Sort Of Occasional Series.

Wait, what do you mean there’s more? Nah mate, I’ve just written one of these and now you want me to spaff on and on about Kon001, Ultradyne, Binaural, and Sweely? Are you mad? OK then, let’s get it going. Can I do this from the pub?

Ultradyne – Ocular Animus (Pi Gao Movement)

The Detroit electro outfit return with their first release in going on three years – not counting last year’s repress of the Antartica album. While it would be nice to see them being a bit more active, you can pretty much forgive all that the moment a new record arrives in your hands because, simply, there is no one else who sounds quite like them. This is another master class in slightly cracked but utterly compelling Detroit fuelled electro. It seems prudent to give the warning that it might not be for everyone, though, particularly the sprawling, de-constructed, winter beauty of Reflex Movement No. 4, a tune which seems less like music and more like a sonic rorschach test. The other two tracks are moderately more sane, with the beguiling, spinning, Suicide Relay stripping away all of contemporary electro’s baggage to reveal the genre’s glowing soul. Please buy it now. It’s one of the best this year so far.

Binaural – Mescla (Dream Ticket)

Binaural have been around since the late nineties, making their debut with the highly regarded Unison on the legendary Djax and following it up with a body of work sooooo slender it pretty much becomes invisible in strong light. They unexpectedly reappeared last year with the excellent Prisms LP and seem to be ramping up their presence with this, their first EP in 13 years. It orbits a similar mass to Radioactive Man, or Sync24, in the sense that this is electro of a particular vintage where extraneous fluff is blown away to better reveal the tight rhythmic workouts which lie at the heart of every tune. Occasionally, though, this approach does leave the tracks a bit sparse in terms of emotion, as if they lack an obvious centre beyond the bounce of the beats. Even so, Mescla wears its heart joyously on its sleeve. Director’s deceptively potent mix of Dopplereffekt style grooves and old school story telling lends it a moody sense of emotion, but it’s Qwerty’s empty, wrong-side-of-midnight, scamper which raises the game – and the atmosphere – to unexpected heights.

Sweely – Les Chroniques De Monsieur Montana Part II (Concrete Music)

I’m always a little bit suspicious of music which elicits an immediate liking, as if there is something in its willingness to please which suggests there might not be much beyond first contact to hold your attention. Of course, this is largely because I’m a bit of an arsehole who sees disappointment beyond every corner, but it’s an occasionally useful strategy for separating the pretenders from the real deal. A good record will blow you away, but a great record will still blow you away years down the line. Les Chroniques De Monsieur Montana Part II is a bit of a mix; electro, house, jazz, funk, and little thrills n fills from elsewhere are condensed into a slick pack of prowlers which echo with a sense of homage for a music that never really existed. Straight of the bat, it delights in its winding takes and sensual grooves in a way that occasionally recalls fellow French genius/legend St. Germain, particularly on the languid Ambassadors Of The Jungle. Elsewhere Sweely sidesteps what, in other hands, may have been the temptation to dive into the lazy world of dull, chunky, disco to colour the music with true deep night, lounge-house textures which open up the sound to a wider, far more interesting world. More Love rolls with a coy, heartbreaking vibe that’s all understated chords and throbbing bass. No More Salad goes even further, latching onto a deliciously tight, cheeky groove which reminds me of Neneh Cherry for some reason. Lovely. So, yep, it’s a pretty good record. If you want to know whether it’s a great one though, check back in three years time and I’ll let you know.

Kon001 – 65489 CETO (Pulse Drift Recordings)

Confession time: I’ve had this kicking around for a while by mistake, having stupidly convinced myself that I’d already reviewed it. Such is the danger of being a one-idiot operation who relies heavily on scribbling things down on the back of unpaid leccy bills and hoping that counts as living an ordered life. What the content of that non-existent review was, I couldn’t tell you, but if I was writing it now (which, you know, I am) I’d point out that Kon001’s mix of Stingray’s ERBB4 was my tune of the year a while back, and was a gorgeous, accessible, reimagining of what was a wonderful but fairly obtuse tune. I’m not entirely sure, but this would appear to be Kon001’s actual, full d├ębut, and it’s somehow not what I expected on the back of that one, miraculous, remix. On first listen I thought it too slick, too ready to sacrifice rhythms and grooves for melody and straight-ahead structure. On successive listens that feeling alleviates somewhat – although it’s never entirely laid to rest – and once your ears realign to the dominant frequencies it develops a fierce sense of itself. While it’s very much electro in tone, it frequently dives away from that to wrap itself up in Detroit techno as much as anything else. The truth is that 65489 CETO is a record which does put the melody of emotion, mood, and tone, ahead of a more pugnaciously rhythmic heart, but in doing so it evokes a type of deep-space soul which we don’t hear quite as much of as we used to. While UW Colony XY70S’ harder electro-funk may be the one that us grumpy old purists gravitate towards first, the real meat on the EP is best summed up in USO’s sedate, wide-angled investigation into collapsing melodies and bigger-than-life motifs. The big moment for me, though, is in Project Lyra 705’s oort cloud bop; a tune that feels as if it was shot into space in the late 70’s and it only now broadcasting back to an Earth. When it stops trying too hard, and lets the music breathe instead, 65489 CETO is a pretty good record.

Review: OverworX – OverworX 001 (OverworX)

Next up is Ovewrworx, which is Ben Pest in disguise, and heading up what I think is his own label. For those who don’t know him, Ben Pest has been around for a while, with releases on underground luminaries like I love Acid, and Jerome Hill’s Don’t – both pretty decent arbiters of leftfield heat.

What we have here is a blast of the underground from a direction which has been growing a little bit over the last year or two. It’s reminiscent of Unspecified Enemies in the way it rewires broken bits of rave, house, electro, and God knows what else into a wonky looking, but hard moving, creation which exudes a sense of venomous glee. I Am The Cream Is a big room, day-glo stomper that whirls around the always improbable point where house begins to warp into rave. Let’s be honest here: it’s a brutally dumb track, but it’s not built for subtlety. It’s vast, colossal, and unashamedly aimed at getting hands-in-the-air. Carbs Before Marbs is less bothered about raising a smile – although it certainly does – and channels a bit of old Djax harshness into a clattering, rickety, skeleton always on the edge of falling apart.

The two digital only tracks pull a similar hit ‘n’ run to their vinyl siblings, but take aim at something less straight up and warehousey. Credible Honk is a frayed, garagey, scruff of fractured beats that expand and contract with heat. Leaner than the first two tracks – vainer too – it provides contrast and shade from the earlier work, and opens the record up to a wider world of influences.

Flybot’s electro is coloured with little tweaks, and a careful roughness, which accents an old-school looseness wedded to a Rotterdam-esque skank. While it never quite hits the scabby, mutant, heights of a Murder Capital/Viewlexx banger, it still manages to bring that same feeling of getting lost somewhere between the ribs of the groove and hoping you could get back to the open before it hits off on a tangent.

OverworX001 does a good job on opening up upon a similar electronic world as Jerome Hill, Textasy, a few others. Sonically they often bear little resemblance, but there is a shared energy that owes a lot to a brasher, louder, and dafter, musical heritage than we are usually treated to. OverworX001 differs in that, unlike those other producers, it’s at its happiest when moving between the various extremes, not particularly staking a claim to any one form. The ground it covers brings a wealth of ideas and, perhaps unexpectedly, moods. While the speed it moves at sometimes leaves things a little hazy, the energy it imbibes everything with is insane. Four directions on offer here. I hope each get their turn to be fully explored in the future.

Best of the Represses. June 2018

By the look of the shops, electronic music is about to hit that mid-year crappy zone where everyone pisses off to play at some terrible festival or other and pretend they’re some synth-nerd version of Jimi at Monterey while simultaneously tweeting about how awesome they and all their friends are, and how DJ How-Are-You-Still-Alive is totally awesome/sweet/killing it (delete as applicable.) Even worse, everyone who works at the Ministry of Represses are on their way to becoming infatuated with their own summer brilliance, and have decided to take a three month sabbatical so they can concentrate on curating an instagram thingie of their warm weather selfies. They’ve left a pile of tawdry, beige disco, re-releases to be pumped back out to us and absconded with anything remotely interesting, including the long rumoured but never confirmed version of Jimi playing Monterey with a bloody great bank of modular synths. I’m lead to believe it sounds great but that Mitch Mitchell gets a little lairy when Jimi tries to sync him with a Moog.

That’s the state of it. Before I go and suck down a nearly frozen six-pack of watery, imported lager, here’s this month’s ricochetting treats.

Edward – Into A Better Place (Giegling)

Not a label I ever really went for, even before last year’s wee sexism rammy, I’ve tended to walk away to the side whenever the team have started barking off on one about their stuff. They’re used to it: I did it for shitting ages when Mood Hut were being pronounced Lords Of Everything, and I’ll run backwards to escape any warm words about the latest psy-trance revival, so they quickly twigged that Giegling’s trademarked brand of tech-house dressed as something flighty did not float my boat. Aren’t the sleeves nice, though?

I know, I know. It’s not all like that, and the handful of releases by Edward on the label are mostly all ‘not like that’. It’s not really a surprise he’s been one of Giegling’s real breakouts alongside the Trumprinz/Prince Of Denmark double feature. Across his back catalogue Edward has shown a fairly consistent looseness when it comes to interpreting a particular strand of in-vogue techno, and the result is something livelier, fuller, and rawer than many of his contemporaries.

Into A Better Place isn’t a bad album at all, and although it occasionally dips into unremarkable techyhousey wobbleabouts like Yes, or At Ease, it provides quite a lot of evidence of a producer at his happiest when bringing a bit of funk to the left-field. Let’s Go is a frazzled, joyously playful, little mystery both overexposed and full of contrast. Skating Beats sticks a winding, subtle, Detroit groove under some ancient, creaking, Chicago heat until things take off.

Cream of the crop is Hectatic’s breakbeat workout which weaves between billowing ambience and driving energy. Although it never allows itself to pitch into outright fury, it still manages to storm on with an unexpected, and perfectly weighted, meanness.

Posatronix – Danz EP (Direct Beat Classics)

It says a lot about the depth and quality of Direct Beat’s back catalogue that the three represses so far can be absolutely brilliant and still not come close to representing the label at their very best. Hopefully we’ll get some of the real monsters on their way sooner rather than later, but even so we cannot be disappointed by what we’ve received so far.

Posatronix represents quite a leap forward through the collection. Where the first two represses (the Bass Magnetic double EP, and Technology) are from the very earliest days of the label in 1993, Danz shifts four years along the timeline, and drops into an era where Detroit’s take on electro was fully in control, with Auxx 88, Underground Resistance, Drexciya, and many others, almost at their peak.

Even so, Danz shines with its own merits. Everything from the gritty, pitched down vocals which stain the tunes like dirty rainwater, to the high-riding and clipped beats and broiling bass lines is Posatronix at his best. Danz itself is the eternal dancer, sharing a filthy energy with the work of fellow Direct Beat alumni X-ile and filling the corners with one of the most liquid and damaging bass lines in the genre. 142BPM is sharper, more old school> it’s perhaps the less adventurous of the three, very much playing tail-end-charlie when it comes to invention and sheer force of will, but it does a fine enough job as a straight up driver to get the feet going.

Night Vision is a real techno-bass classic. The rolling, acidic, riff and growling vocals bring out the thunder, while the mesmerizing, whistling top ties it all down with a taut vibe that informs the rest of the tune with an infectious, and surprisingly nervy, atmosphere. This run of DB returns has been one of my highlights of the year so far. It better never stop.

Wee Reviews – Posthuman and Marquis Hawkes.

The snow has gone, and the clouds are doing interesting things beneath patches of blue sky. The trees are beginning to blossom and while the black dog isn’t exactly back in his kennel he’s at least napping in the sun. Well, mostly. Sorry I haven’t been around: stuff and that. On the plus side there’s a pile of records and what-nots sitting here beside me. On the down side there is a pile of records and what-nots sitting here beside me. Let’s see what we have….

Posthuman – The Damocles Syndicate (Shipwrec)

Posthuman take their squelchy, acidy, wobble across the sea to Dutch label Shipwrec with this two tracker. It’s a good fit, seeing as how both parties have a skill for retooling older sounds until they have a more contemporary feel. While it’s maybe not as gloriously messy and dark as the last Posthuman release we covered (last year’s Preach on DABJ), The Damocles Syndicate still delivers a heavy and stinging burst of future-acid.

The Damocles Syndicate moves itself with a slow swagger, knowing it doesn’t have to shift itself for anyone. It’s a slow, grand, unfurling of biting 303s and drums barely held together by a rumour of velocity as it peels itself apart to reveal the twisted, de-constructed, rave entity at its core. Netflix and Kill accelerates the party into a kinked bop and holds the acidic overtures at arm’s length while the tune builds itself silly before letting the bass burrow into your head. A very nice addition to a genre that sometimes struggles with invention these days. Smart, deep, and heavy, this is next-gen acid with its eyes open to the rest of the world.

Marquis Hawkes – The Return Of Marquis Hawks (Dixon Avenue Basement Jams)

It’s been an eternity since Marquis Hawkes last dropped anything on DABJs, which is a shame because his four previous on the label are still amongst his (and the label’s, in fact) best. In the invtervening period there have been controversies about cultural appropriation, a handful of records under his Juxta Position handle, and a slew of Hawkes releases across several other imprints that never quite seemed to reach the same level of heat as he managed with the Dixon Avenue gang.

While I don’t think The Return… is up there with Cabrini Green, or Higher Forces At Work, it’s still a pretty banging and convincing slice of noisy house, drawing on the spirit of Dance Mania and Relief – which always scores extra points around here.

In particular, Rush Hour Traffic and Bodywork draw on a strong, tracky, mid nineties Chicagoan spirit to add heft to the tunes’ acceleration. Rush Hour Traffic is a pure bred, peak time hammer of tongue-in-cheek funk and slapping drums which carries off a slightly knowing attitude with aplomb. Bodywork is less in-you-face about itself, but deepens the same basic formula, adding the tang of a big-room jacker to the mix.

It’s the slower and understated Moonmin that steals the limelight though. Deeper but wider in scope than the relatively straight up tunes which form the rest of the EP, the track curls around some truly grimy bass and drums, and feels as if it gets looser and looser as the track goes on. It strips out the house colour from elsewhere and draws the curtains, leaving only the suggestion of dawn breaking over the rest of us as it gets on with the night’s heavy business.