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.

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Posthuman Ft Josh Caffe – Preach (Dixon Avenue Basement Jams)

Posthuman Ft Josh Caffe – Preach (Dixon Avenue Basement Jams)

After a few releases where DABJ seemed to be moving on into new pastures the label reverts to something close to the sound they first started out championing. Posthuman’s first release for the Glasgow label has already drawn comparisons to Paranoid London’s deep and haunted acidic skank, and there are certainly elements common to both which bring out the best of the little silver box’s history without delving too far into the mire of homage.

Where Preach departs from its peer’s music is in its mix of the dirty and the sensual. The 303s are more restrained, playing a central role in forming the prowling grooves without ever dominating the otherwise stripped down and lean tunes, and the extra leg room is spent in allowing the fine, rubbery, rhythms and perc a moment in the sun.

The leading pair of tracks, Preach and Temptation, square themselves up in classic territory; a core of stone-cold funkiness moves them more into house territory than pure acid, partly through the way they make wonderful use of Josh Caffe’s sleepy vocals, allowing his voice to bloom and blossom across the empty expanse above the marshalling 303s growling and precise assault. Preach is the more compressed of the two, a tight yet flighty number which ties its acid down into something with an almost tribal ruffle to it, and shifts its arse with an energy sadly rare in a lot of modern house. It’s a mad wee groover, working over feet and ears almost equally. Temptation loosens up a bit, but spirals upwards and outwards with Caffe’s vox accenting the proceedings and directing your attention like a ringmaster in a particularly funky circus before the introduction of some scarlet, shimmering synths opens an unnoticed gateway and the whole thing just spills out, expanding into every nook and cranny previously untouched.

Last tune, Exit Drums (Extended Mix) shimmeys in a touch of experimentation, which pulls apart the foundations of the previous tunes with a 303 which curls and flickers around the wonky, scattered throw of the beats. It remains acid house, but only just, and breaks open the music to allow a sense of playful misadventure not always evident in such a rigorously curated genre. The other two tracks with – probably rightfully – will draw most of the interest and the plaudits, but it’s Exit Drums that will likely reward both many, many listens, and DJs willing to kick beyond the typical will find its cheeky pop a smart move out to a brilliantly alien tangent. A potent record which reworks many classic elements into something deeply modern. It turns in some of not only the fiercest, darkest, acid grooves of the moment, but adds to it a flare of clever sensuality which provides a sharp edge not often found in contemporary acid.

Review: DJ Trump – Trumpin’ Trax Vol 1 (Black Beacon Sound)

Chief amongst the modern age’s extravagant weirdness is the lumbering orange gonk enthroned in the Whitehouse. Language has remained almost powerless to explain it. And now, even a year on, a large swathe of the planet still wakes up in the morning and begs an answer from whatever deity they hold sacred to give them an answer, an explanation, as to how the actual fuck Donald Trump became President of the United States of America.

Still, we’ve had a while to think on it and the responses are beginning to slowly drift out into the wider world. For electronica, a scene which has always seemed a bit reticent to involve itself in anything other than a handful of laudable causes, commentary is often sheltered if it’s there at all. The signs, though, are that this is slowly changing.

Which brings us here to Trumpin’ Trax Vol 1 by DJ Trump and a dose of satirical, cynical house music. Whether or not you’ve been waiting for a collection of tunes by a mysterious producer and featuring a narcissistic, tiny handed, manchild is neither here nor there. We needed some sort of response. We’ve got one now, and the spotlight burns bright over that awful, weird, haircut.

But how is the music? Interestingly, although the record’s label, its imagery and symbolism, would have you believe that it leans heavily towards the tight avenues of Dance Mania’s pugnacious, stomping sound, the music actually casts its net wider, and that energized DM feel provides only a small part of the power. Largely, this is dark, prowling, scything UK acid house; bleached by a glorious tongue in cheek cynicism, and tensed with rave’s tempering effect on homegrown acid.

Work The Box Trump The Box and Trump Dat revel in the fierce snarl of Armando doused 303s and crumbling kicks. The former stretching the garrulous rhythms until they pound your brain into tiny pieces with its dirty wobble, the latter throws itself straight up, harnessing the dripping clip of the acid lines to marshal some choice Trump vox. Its chorus of ‘dirty Trump, nasty Trump, filthy Trump’ pumps it beyond a simple acid kicker, the vocals locking it down into proper mid period Dance Mania filthiness and elevating it into the sort of demented Friday night anthem you never knew you needed. God, I can think of some parties where this would lock the floor solid.

Elsewhere, the format is finely kinked. Trump That Body evokes French Kiss’ sophisticated simplicity, but adds in more 303s and a ruffle of bright, primary, colour which gives it the feel of a maniacal euro-house banger going off on a real tangent. It’s a simple trick, but one done with real aplomb. It’s also quite, quite, insane; the wide grin of the music pulling heavily at the happy cheesiness at its heart. Ghetto Trump rolls out with a wild pitching burst of jacking house and is happy enough to just kick around, piling on the beats.

The two best tracks here are the ones which reach out further from their beginnings. American Carnage, again with snippets of the lummox in full, fecund, throw down, starts out as more primo acid, but slowly becomes more ambitious, building in collapsing riffs alongside the 303s and flavouring the smoky atmosphere with nitrous tang of hard, early techno and classic acid house.

Feel My Trumpin Bass is even better, and expands the sordid trip further with an accent on a sort of lithe, poppy, swagger which powers the mayhem. The acid is held slightly in check, allowing the tune to open up and build on interlocked themes and frills, rounding out the sound and drawing in a sense of shiny nihilism. It’s fresh enough you could envision it on Top Of The Pops. A really sick and twisted ToTP maybe, but ToTp nevertheless.

What gives the music its strength is the way that, although its riddled with dark humour, it never plays for laughs. Yeah, the kookiness of the name and the theme might give lie to the idea this is some sort of bleak novelty record, but it really isn’t; the snap and snarl of the music, the seriousness that sits at its heart quickly forces that idea out of your head. And if it still contains a slight feel of surreal art terrorism, then that is surely something which is more indebted to a sort of heavy KLF style playfulness than anything less biting. A record for our times, created from discontent. Buy it now and play your resistance loud.

Best Of The Represses – August 2017

Well, heck. I should admit something right now: I’ve kind of being running around a lot over the last month and have barely had time to look at any records at all, let alone gather up a sweet posse of represses. About the only one I’ve felt any real excitement about is the return of is DJ Bone’s Riding The Thin Line which I covered away back in what now feels like another life time but is now available from the linked site above as well as all your favourite stores. It’s a genuine classic and you’d be an idiot of sorts to pass it up. Elsewhere, the rumours of Direct Beat represses seem to actually have some truth to them, with the Aux 88 lads themselves revealing the existence of Direct Beat Classics, a new label which’ll print up a bunch of, uhh, Direct Beat classics. No news yet what records will actually be getting touched with a beam of magic sunlight but they’re pretty much all gold so it’ll be good whatever happens. Not quite so brilliant is the way the much vaunted Metroplex re-releases seem to have funtered out into nothingness. We had high hopes of some real doozies being pumped towards us, but the way in which the above mentioned DJ Bone release (originally on Metroplex) was shunted off to another label has us a wee bit concerned. Mind you, Juan Atkins has been rocking around the place for the last few months with his old muckers Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson on a big time Belleville Three tip so perhaps once all that’s over things will get going again. Anyways, Here’s some stuff I’ve snuffled around in for your perusal.

LNRDCROY – Unthank 8 (Unthank/Firecracker)

As regular readers probably know, I am apparently the last person on Earth who is still to be convinced by the merits of the whole Moodhut/Vancouver thing. I don’t get it. God I’ve tried, I really have, but far from feeling it as some sort of charge towards on-point futuro-authenticity it kind of strikes me as the soundtrack to a really underwhelming afternoon in the sort of coffee shop that chunders on about how they roast their beans before selling you a thimble of tepid, bitter, bum water for a fiver. AAAND relax….

I exaggerate (mostly), and their have been one or two records over the last couple of years which I’ve almost liked, and there have indeed been a smaller subsection of those which were pretty darn good actually. Chief amongst these have been LNRDCROY releases, either complete records or occasional tracks cropping up elsewhere. This repress is of his 2015 release on Unthank, a label which goes to almost insane lengths to provide the sort of overall experience in terms of artwork and all that jazz which makes you want to weep at all the blank-label-with-stamp records you own. It is a fitting union for LNRDCROYS deep, fluid meditations, and this is one of those releases where the concept of ambient really does harken back to a concept of space and beauty.

Both Donny On The River, and Freedom For Antboy II pitch and yaw in the nothingness, rising and falling with simple emotions which keep them hanging there in starlight. Terragem’s silken thunder, in comparison, is far more direct, and reaches back towards both early techno and the first steps of IDM to cook up a tune which sounds like a long-lost warehouse anthem still dancing on in the ruins of a carpet factory somewhere on the M25 even though a million sunrises have come and gone since a strobe last flickered across it. Beautiful and gentle, and utterly entrancing.

Gemini – On The North Star (Peacefrog)

As great as Peacefrog’s run of represses have been I’ve found it a little hard to get excited about them all, particularly knowing that the records from their back catalogue I’d love to see re-releases seem to be forever just out of reach. As cute as a lot of the house they recently restored to our record players has been, it’s done nothing to alleviate the hunger I’ve got for some of their techno from bods like Luke Slater, DBX, or Purveyors Of Fine Funk. And the fact they still haven’t gotten around to repressing Eddie Flashin Fowlke’s quite frankly brain squashingly brilliant Stella 2 is a crime, an actual crime.

Still, having said all of that, they have repressed On The North Star, a record which in my opinion is quite possibly the best thing Gemini ever did. I wrote about it way back in 2014 not long after I started doing the blog and it’s been a constant around these parts for many years.

Part of North Star’s beauty is the way in which it isn’t really a Chicago record. While it certainly has all the hallmarks of its home city, it actually draws from further afield for influences on which to build its magic. Most obviously, perhaps, is how techno it actually sounds; there are moments on North Star where the universe falls away leaving only the faintest tug of gravity to keep the music on course as it reconfigures itself into some of the finest high-tech soul to ever not come out of Detroit. Elements of it feel closer to Kenny Larkin or Octave One than to Paul Johnson or Glen Underground, and it’s probably heretical to suggest that it’s all the better for it.

Aside from the crackling heft of X, this is a record which places an amazing importance on the way melody interplays with the grooves, as if one could not fully exist without the other. Day Dreaming and Snow Drop both haunt a hazy world, following their own quizzical natures, but neither are mere wistful dawdling; the rhythms in both are complex, frequently flipping on their axis to drive a sophisticated funk. A Blue Night is Rhythim Is Rhythim whittled down to the barest components, the extra space filled with moonlight. This is house music as something utterly new – an alien, forward facing hybrid which was reaching out to the future. And I don’t think it ever got as close again. Pick it up now before it’s too late.

Model 500, 3MB – Jazz Is The Teacher (Metroplex)

**********STOP THE FLIPPING PRESS****************

Literally just as I was writing the nonsense above, my good friend Terminal313 alerted me to this which I had pretty embarressingly missed. What can you say about Jazz Is The Teacher? I wrote about it way back last summer, and I still stand by every word. This is one of a handful of genuine classics which went on to become one of the hallmarks of the genre. It did so because instead of coming to ecapsulate a particular time or scene, it instead became a sonic symbol for everything techno was supposed to be, that meeting ground between soul and art and electronics, their bonds tightened by a shared hopefulness and romantic notions of ‘tomorrow’. And quite aside from all that it remains, after a quarter of a century, one of the most recognizable techno tunes ever written. It’s not just that track which is legendary: Bassmental is both pounding and delicate like strands of frequency unspooling from a cooling supernova, and Cosmic Courier is very possibly better than Jazz Is The Teacher, an almost Platonic ideal of Detroit techno, a dream quest through the singularity. As collaborations go, I doubt whether this group of Atkins, Mauriz Von Oswald and Thomas Fehlmann will ever be bettered.

Review: Konx Om Pax – Refresher (Planet Mu)

Konx Om Pax’s last release on Planet Mu, the album Caramel, was a kaleidoscope of fractured electronic dreams and one sharpened by shard-like memories of rave filtered through the static of ancient tapes. It was a quietly, thrillingly, disorienting experience which captured something of the essence of a long-lost scene without recourse to burned out samples or slavish homage. In doing so it came closer than most to evoking the hazy dissonance of rave’s undoubted impact.

It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to describe Refresher as a follow-up, although it certainly has that going for it in many senses. Musically its world’s apart; Where Caramel haunted the edges and fed flickering ideas into your mind Refresher pushes upwards and outwards, and is a far less spectral affair. At the same time it holds closely its predecessor’s ability to surprise and beguile, and it does so with a ready expansion of ideas and textures.

While the dreamlike memories of rave are still present, they are presented in what can almost be described as part of a wider history, and no longer form the music’s central core, except, perhaps, as a shifting and ethereal spirit at the very heart of the tunes. The two original tracks here, Cascada and Species With Amnesia, are shorn of much of Caramel’s smoky experimentalism, swapping it for tantalizing glimpses of an even more complete philosophy. Cascada is by far the most direct and accessible tune from either record, a rolling, 4/4 locked tune which pumps out day-glo melodies and thick, hefty, riffs constructed from strobes and smiles. It’s a real melting pot of influences, running from foundational Detroit to a slightly tongue-in-cheek moodiness which hovers somewhere just off Daft Punk’s flair for connecting the most radio friendly of sounds with grade-A grooves while pitching the whole towards a shifting acid house vibe. It’s probably the happiest tune you’ll hear this year, and its sense of sweat-drenched, hands-in-the-air abandonment is more authentic than a truckload of contemporary ‘rave’ with their carefully applied make up.

Species with Amnesia is less cheery. A very different beast, it’s slower, heavier, and moodier. It exchanges Cascada’s organic thrills for something more mechanical, the ghosts in the machine swapped for machine ghosts. It also rather wonderfully, evokes an even earlier time, and the electronica is of an ever more primitive era; beyond acid or rave, even before house in fact. There is a bluntness deep inside which feels rather 70’s. Not blandly disco either, or even italo, but the first steps of post-punk towards something larger. Wrapped up there, in the midst of its discordant yet subtle melodies and pulsing bass is a chip of which reminds me so heavily of Magazine’s bleak and beautifully daunting soundscapes I can’t listen without imagining Howard Devoto’s voice scowling and frowning somewhere in the background.

The remixes are a less complete experience than these two originals, but both bring different colours to the palette. U-ziq’s mix of Caramel captures a lot of the original’s haunting fragility, but adds a beguiling airiness to it while mounting it on a plinth set in clouds and drawing on previously undiscovered hues with which to paint fresh muscle on the rebuilt bones.

Huerco S’ reworking of Beatrice’s Visit is a long, misty ambient piece that swirls around the original’s wistful energy but never comes close enough to its playfulness. Where U-Ziq’s mix embraces and toys with Caramel’s rich ideas, this skirts the thinking. It’s pretty, certainly, but feels as if it’s holding the original at too great a distance.

So, not a follow-up, I don’t think. Rather, Refesher is an examination of the same themes from a different direction. Looser, more aware not only of those same themes but their place in a deeper context, it’s a smart addition and a bright companion to the original’s dusky grace.