Review: Casio Royale – The Beat Will Control: Dance Trax 4 (Unknown To The Unknown)

I’ve been a fan of Casio Royale’s dark, acidic, gutter house for a while now, and as most people who picked up his slew of releases on Dixon Avenue will attest, there is something in the mix of muggy old school vibes and very contemporary black humour which elevates the music far above the crowd of other producers digging their way through an otherwise similar seam. The track Save It (For Yourself Tory Scum) , released at a time when this septic land seemed in freefall, may not have been the anthem we wanted but, by God, It was the anthem we needed. In short, it’s proper nasty house music for a proper nasty era. What’s not to love?

While The Beat Will Control largely follows logically on from what Casio Royale has released previously, and captures much of the same glimmering, decadent, energy, there is a feeling of something else going on. It’s not that the sound is more mature – although that could be debated long into the night – but rather it has grown larger and more sure of itself, and it provides a wider glimpse of the same smeared background. It is even more acid house in mood even if it is perhaps musically less so. The scope has opened up to take in influences from beyond what we’ve come to expect, and the end result pays off, providing a fuller soundscape where the full on jackers mix with material of a deeper emotional core.

And that may be surprising on first listen given that A, the jackers provide the foundation for the EP, and B, the base formula remains very much a hybrid of Relief and Dance Mania brought together with a savage sense of aural playfulness and adventure. The Beat Will Control and Work That both lock down that vibe early on, and deliver gnarly thrusts of pure dance floor craziness that benefit further from a glint of polish that perhaps has not always been present in the past. This isn’t to suggest there was previously anything particularly rough, just that now the sound feels wider, more explosive, and contains a fresh vitality. This is particularly evident in The Beat Will Control with its deliciously infectious and slicing wild pitch leanings, and the way the leads wraps itself around a tight, rolling beat which never forces itself too far into the tune, but holds the centre ground, allowing the tune’s slick, kicking charms freedom to roam and grow.

J4m15 works a similar jam, but latches everything around the deep wobble of a gloriously understated acid bass which brings with it a suggestion of pugnacious darkside nastiness reminiscent of Armando and delivers a blast of white-hot, Radikal Fear style mayhem (now there’s a label I’d love to see some represses from). Radikal were always a much under appreciated label, and it seems entirely fitting something of their insane sound should be brought up to date.

Plenty of people elsewhere have remarked on Organa and the fact that even on an EP as complete as this one, it stands out. They’re right of course, and Organa is perhaps the best thing that Casio Royale has done. The reasons for this are simple. The tune itself is a departure, and possibly shouldn’t work so well as it does considering the feel of the other tracks. But it does. It’s a huge track, both in sound and scope, and is a departure from all the previous influences. It’s a slice of gorgeous, peak time, acid; swirling and effervescent, it takes real pleasure not only in its long, weaving 303 lines, and the tumultuous pads and synths, but also in the simplicity of its fun – it’s a no holds barred hands in the air killer that feels like a distillation not of Chicago, or New York, but all those nights in below-the-ground dives in Glasgow, or Liverpool or Sheffield or Manchester. It’s a tune built from our sweat and adrenaline and excitement, the last moment of heat before the garbled, too-loud conversations in the freezing, damp autumn air as you await the taxi home. Evocative of house music’s past? maybe. But it’s our house music’s past, and it’s a treasure. What a keeper, and one of the stand out moments of the year so far.

Review: Snow Bone – Live Elements, Ben R Brown – Play Politics (White Metallic)

I’m beginning to suspect that, like Cockroaches and Keith Richard, tapes will survive the coming apocalypse. There is something in their below-the-radar simplicity and cheapness that not only seem to evokes a simpler, less artifice obsessed time, but positively resonates with a certain punk chic. And beyond even that, their lo-fi, work-in-progress feel has a connection with techno that in some ways even supersedes the ubiquitous black wax. You can download all the carefully curated podcasts you want because nothing – nothing – will beat the scabby thrill of a hissing mix tape knocked out from your favourite deejay’s set at a local club and bought in a Sunday market for pennies.

White Metallic is a new label from Rob Hare, better known for his series of EPs on Lobster Theremin as Snow Bone. Amongst the seemingly endless vistas of Lobster’s roster Snow Bone’s work always stood out – a sort of fierce, frayed maelstrom of techno of the type which sometimes seems in danger of dying out with its nods not only to Mills, but to that generation of searing electronica which included Surgeon, Regis, and Luke Slater. While it’s certainly a brave move debuting with tapes rather than vinyl or even a digital release, it’s a decision that works pretty well. And, even better, in the context of the music on offer, it’s one that makes a particular sort of twisted sense.

The Snow Bone tape is comprised from material culled from live sets and studio work, and walks a line between a proper album and a mix tape. It’s an intriguing move, not least because it delivers an energy which entirely studio base productions lack – a randomness of tone and noise. Well, not quite randomness, but a sense of unlocking, of movements outside carefully controlled parameters.

Musically, any fans of Snow Bone’s previous work will be well served. This is techno of the sort which has little in common with the considered, overly academic approach to the genre which has been in accession over the last few years. The A side in particular is home to bursts of raw, visceral noise. Tracks such as Reply All, or Element 3 pulse with barely contained fury, locking sledgehammer beats down under crawling, almost spectral non-melodies and leads reminiscent of mid 90s techno at its most strident. It’s lazy to compare modern techno producers to Mills – Lazy but often undeniable, and parts of the A side are dominated by a similar alien jack to which Mills made his own; Occasionally discordant, but often sublimely pummeling, The first 30 odd minutes keep you climbing upwards before the tone subtly, but quickly changes with the last track, Redshift, where a great deal of the pounding furore is replaced by something more focussed, and quietly and effectively sets up the B side.

It’s here, on the flip, Snow Bone really impresses. Freed from the stridency of the A side, the outpouring and freed up energy is redirected into something different. It’s more experimental perhaps, and tunes such as Ferrous Type, XOX, and Antigravity, both slow things down and open up new directions for the music to explore. Ferrous Type, in particular, is a highlight of the tape, a buckling tune which pushes as far as it can from the more obvious techno influences, cradling the build with the feel of Jamal Moss’s weaving, growling, grooves. And even though final track, Steel Version reinstates some of the earlier swagger, it’s shot through with a housey, almost ravey potency which lightens the load while twisting in the funk.

Ben R Brown’s tape, Play Politics, is very much a departure. Gone are almost all the early techno influences and they’re replaced by a welter of ideas and sounds which have formed the bedrock for an often overlooked side of the current US underground. While techno is still part of the equation, so too are the sort of textures native to the output of labels like Nation, or even LIES. It’s a heady brew, part jackbeat and EBM, part seedy, gutter level house, and it’s all bound together with the faintest strands of de-constructed, broken, acid. Where the Snow Bone’s Live Elements rose quickly and brutally, Play Politics stalks the listener, playing with rough tones and weird angles, and letting you fall along dead ends before being guided by shadows back towards the path.

There is a similarity of tastes here between Brown and other figures of modern American techno. Tunes like Duo, or the phenomenal Waves inhabit a similar head space to the work of artists like Svengalisghost of Beau Wanzer, and the playful yet unsettling Palaces rolls with a sense of fractured melody which evokes thoughts of where lo-fi house could have gone if it hadn’t so quickly become infatuated with its own press. Closing track, Night, is also a proper keeper; lopsided, bleak and dark, it’s also grown from the most subtle of grooves on which it hangs billowing shades of acid drenched drama.

There is apparently the possibility that some of the tunes from both releases may make it to vinyl in the future. I hope so, because some of the material on offer would be great freed up to continue their work in another setting. But even if they don’t it shouldn’t matter too much. Both tapes deliver more than just snap shots of different takes on electronica, they provide something different, space in which ideas can unfold in their own time, allowing them the room to push beyond the usual confines and deliver somethinng not only more alive, but also more vital.

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: Boneless One/Type 303 7″

Boneless One/Type 303 – Split 7 (Not On Label)

It’s probably fair enough to say that of all the countless forms of electronica, acid has been one of the biggest victims of its own success. Although it’s now the best part of half a life time ago that those early, primitive, acid house records began to filter out of Chicago and into the wider world the sound has refused to die, its basic vibe now incorporated into almost every other genre – sometimes brilliantly, sometimes not so much. But while these mutations now fill countless racks in your favourite record shop, music which sets out to capture something of the original energy remains a little more rare. Not that there hasn’t been a few classic feeling bangers released over the last couple of years, it’s just that they have been buried under the endless avalanche of 303 abusing tunes hailing from other places.

When I talk about original sounding tunes, I’m mostly thinking of something which filters a little of the spirit of the music of Armando, or Bam Bam, or DJ Pierre (amongst others) – stripped down jackers which rely on the functionality of a rolling groove to let the 303 do its thing. It’s not as common as you’d think any more. The trick is all in that groove, that intangible magic which should never be seen but always felt. Anyone can drag a 303 to a slab of psy-trance, but you can’t make it move you.

Over the last couple of years, Boneless One’s explorations of a relatively pure acid sound have come closer than most to syphoning the funk from these old records. His last outing, the Pixelae Destructium EP on Computer Controlled, was a fierce, cracked, and storming collection of acid doused tunes which shot up a more modern and warehousey feel with a little of that old madness, and drew on the more brain mashing moments of the likes of Bam Bam to source the DNA.

This 7″ release is closer to the original Chicago vibe than that – closer in fact than he has yet got – And he and his friend Type-303 (a newcomer, with a single other release to his name, a pretty classy blast of acid house on I Love Acid) take a side each to work the funk.

Type-303’s number, the rippling Jytäcid, is a near perfect dose which evokes old, old shapes but tempers them with something a little more modern. On top of a wonky, loose, beat, the little silver box is allowed to do what I’ve always thought it does best, it gets down and dirty amongst the lower registers where is trademark warble is swapped for a gnarly, gritty, bassy snarl which gradually climbs upwards, but never so high as it stops winding itself around your feet. it floats, and buckles, and dribbles around your brain, squirting away like a mad thing. I’ve never understood why people try to overthink the 303. This tune doesn’t; it relies on what the box is good at, warping your thought patterns. The results are pretty much all you could wish for.

Boneless One’s tune, Houz Basics 5, is very much of a similar breed, but the 303 is allowed to wrap itself around a chunky, floating piano riff which locks the tune into something a little more out there and recalls some of those old Brit acid tunes even more than their Chicago ancestors. The acid does its job brilliantly, but it’s the interplay between the warbling leads and the piano which lend it a weight it would otherwise not have had.

It can be difficult these days to get too excited about acid, even classic sounding acid. But what makes the difference here is that the sounds are, in fact, the least important things on display. It’s the grooves, the funk, which make both tunes so lively. And as I’ve said so many times before, time travelling to get the sounds is all well and good, but if you return home without the ideas, without the soul, it’s been a wasted trip. Not in this case, though: its the way they move which make them so fun. It’s a limited release so track it down before it vanishes.

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.