Review: Solid Blake – Mario EP (Outer Zone)

There is, I think, a change slowly taking place within electro. It’s one that may not have been very obvious at first; alteration at a fundamental level is often invisible to start with, and it’s only later, as the variations have propagated throughout the environment, we really begin to pay attention. There is still a great deal of electro being made which is largely as it always was, but there is also a more nuanced understanding of mood and tone than previously. Much of the music has become increasingly influenced by IDM, or synthwave, which has introduced new themes to the mix. It has grown deeper, maybe even more mature, certainly more accessible and less ‘abstract’. It has also, possibly, become less fun.

But at the same time there has been another, largely unremarked, growth of electro which is more experimental and willing to delve into ever more shadowy places in search of those influences. We’ve seen it in releases on labels like Brokntoys, Trust, or Mechatronica amongst others, a willingness to push the sound beyond the old boundaries and into new worlds. Often the music feels much like electro always did, but there is a new looseness, and desire to twist the familiar shapes, and blend them with choice additions of fresh genetic material, until new and weird hybrids appear.

Which is how we come to this belter of an EP from Glasgow native and Copenhagen resident Solid Blake. It’s a record which appears to have largely flown in under the radar to deliver a take on the genre which is as far removed from all those expansive and slightly boring contemporary remakes of electro as you can get. Part of what makes the Mario EP so good is that it holds both electro’s past and present at arm’s length. Yes, the sounds are there, as well as little touches and motifs which have long earned their place in the genre’s lexicon, but a scalpel has been taken to them, sheering them away from their original meanings and remounting them on a very different feeling sound.

And what a sound. It’ll take a while to adjust your expectations. Anyone looking for something that’ll remind you of ferocious Detroit technobass, or Warp inspired wobbliness will have to work harder to get what they want from the record. In a sense, the simplest way to explain it is that there is a similarity to the way in which the current crop of Bristol producers have built their own new forms of house and techno by smashing down what was originally there and recreating them with Dubstep’s thunder, polyrhythmic madness, and a thousand other little bursts of colour and excitement.

This is electro formed from heavy elements and thick clouds. As with the Bristol gang there are throwdowns to dubstep here, but also to dirty, cranky techno and an almost AFX style love of melancholy chaos. The result is a thick sound, breathlessly hazy in parts, as on the opener, Lens, with its ominous half-step rhythms thudding menacingly through the ground fog, and its pads lacerating the darkness with curled whips of lights. On Mario the music tightens up, coiling around the barks of bass, and the beats develop an urgency made all the stronger by the ricocheting perc and nerve fraying layers up high. In some ways this is music which lies closest to the potent moodiness of some old school D&B than it does to electro, or even techno, and it’s all the richer for it.

Even when a bona-fide electro legend is brought in for remix duties the music retains its ability to shock with its freshness. Stingray’s mix of Mario holds the original’s grimy heaviness close to its centre, but widens the vistas to include more of the wormhole. It’s a freefall, all gravity inverted; rogue smears of bass bounce and collide, creating a complex, almost alien, environment where the little emotive touches of the orginal are accented and allowed even more space to bury themselves into your brain.

Only Yagharek, right at the end, feels anything like a traditional electro tune. Even then it feels reflected through a similar mirror of madness as producers like Busen have long been working through – and there is a sense that the form the music takes is only one element of it. Yagharek is less willfully obtuse than anything Busen have done, though; it’s a slicing, focussed, stormer; sinewy and cold. But the structure is perhaps the least important element, nothing more than a conduit for the stark, anxious, energies at the tunes heart to conjure prowling, flickering ghosts into being.

Forget all the IDM stuff: this right here is real next generation electro – an EP cut away from a party on the edge of a tomorrow we might not have. Superb, and one of the most brutally fresh takes on the genre you’ll get right now.

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.

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.

Review: Second Storey – Telekinesis Via Fax (Trust)

Second Storey – Telekinesis Via Fax (Trust)

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

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

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

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

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

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