Best Of The Represses March 2018

I think the title of this column is occasionally a bit misleading. Not tonight, though.

Timenet – Dishwasher (Frame Of Mind)

Now, this is an example of someone really, really, digging back and returning with something unexpected. The original was released in 1992 as a white label by the members of the short-lived techno outfit Ubik, and that’s about all I know of it. Judging from the fact that the same PR blurb is out there on about 100 record store sites, I’d say that’s about all most seem to know about it which is pretty cool and interesting because it’s not often we get something genuinely obscure popping up as a repress at the moment.

Musically it’s very much of its time with its mix of Acid, techno, and rave, lending it the distinctive UK sound of the early nineties. While Dishwasher feels far more classically Chicago – mainly because it’s an homage of sorts to Mr Finger’s Washing Machine – the other tracks cram in a good dose of messy, day-glo, fun alongside some wobbly grooves. On The Move comes straight out of a dingy club at the wrong end of the high street with its baggy T-shirt stained with sweat and dry ice; ravey stabs and grinning daftness do something similar to the inside of its mind. DX Moods is the pick though, with its low-slung, electro tinged, moodiness eventually bursting into a smiling, fractal, sunrise.

Aux 88 – Technology (Direct Beat)

Although not the highest ranking record in my personal ‘Direct Beat represses I need right now’ list, not least because Technology is one of the tracks on last month’s repress of Bass Magnetic, this is still an important one to get back out seeing as it represents not only the first ever release on Direct Beat but – I might be wrong about this – also the first appearance of Aux 88.

While Technology feels a little rough and ready compared to some of their later, slicker, work It remains a great tune and one which helped to define the entire techno bass sound with its blend of electro, house, and soulful Detroit techno. But where techno bass – as a whole – eventually began to suffer from a little too much in the way of cookie-cutter sounds and off-the-shelf attitude, Technology remains wonderfully alive to the possibilities. Even better is the Rhythm mix which swaps the fluid breaks for a stomping 4/4 beat, head-rushing energy, and connects the Detroit sounds of the early 90s with something altogether more up-front and explosive. This Direct Beat Classics thing is beginning to shape up very nicely.

k Alexi Shelby – All For Lee-Sah (Transmat)

One of a very small band of producers whose work truly crossed the – mostly imaginary – boundaries between Chicago and Detroit, K-Alexi could always be counted on to deliver the sort of utter banger that everyone knew even though they lived in the ‘secret weapon’ category. This repress of his Early Transmat release – the first proper repress we’ve had from the label in a long while – brilliantly sums up that rare duality with three tunes that you’ll have heard plenty of times even though you didn’t know who made them.

My Medusa is probably the most familiar, particularity as its wonky, eternally optimistic, skank has been out on a couple of other relatively recent represses, but the other two tunes bring very different facets of K-Alexi’s sound to the fore. Vertigo is one of the dirtiest, funkiest, acid tracks ever released. It’s a tune so pungent you’ll be catching it at the edge of your senses for weeks. All For Lee-Sah is just a work of near genius. A swirling, compressed, storm of emotion and mood it floods over a stone cold groove which gradually winds itself up into some brilliantly subtle acidic funk. Bring the strobes for this one.


Carl Finlow – A Selection Of Works Part 1 (For Those That Knoe)

Whether the strangely fertile nature of UK electronic music helped to crowd it out, or the deeper, harder, louder sounds of the genre emanating from the states or the continent were more in vogue, or whether it was simply a little bit out of phase with what else was going on I don’t know, but British electro always seemed to have a harder time convincing the wider world of its merits than it should have. Where other home-grown takes on particular genres shone, UK electro languished in the shadows, getting plenty of kudos from those who gave serious consideration to the real thing, but remaining a curiosity to most.

The climate has changed though. The last couple of years have obviously been good ones for electro, and while a lot of the newly lit limelight has tended to fall mostly on the newer members of the gang, there has been a quiet revaluation of the old team, and a sense of energies surging. Perhaps, then, it’s the right time to re-evaluate the work of the producers who built the scene and helped shape a sound which in its own way is as important to the history and growth of modern electro as techno bass or European noir.

Which brings us to Carl Finlow, an artist who has been right at the hard edge of the genre for nearly a quarter of a century. Along side the likes of Ed Upton, Phil Bolland, Dez Williams, and a small handful of others, Finlow has helped to define an electro sound that’s both incredibly potent in its own right, but remains subtly different from the sounds emanating from elsewhere. And given the fact his career has covered so much ground,from the initial bang in the 90s right up to now, the concept of a retrospective of his work is an intriguing proposition. The reality of A Selection Of Works Part 1 is just as intriguing. Much of the focus falls on his work as Silicon Scally – the guise he remains best known for – and is largely drawn from releases hailing from the early of the Millennium, including tunes which only ever appeared as extras on CDs.

This is electro of a particular sort. In some ways it’s a forerunner of the deeper shades which have been so prevalent recently, but where a lot of contemporary electro makes it point by travelling through a heavy atmosphere of thick, symphonic, and patiently curated moods, Finlow creates horizons in the sound, and builds the means to reach them through a sonic world where the accent is on the grooves and a sparse, locked down, cerebral energy. A lot of UK electro in the 90’s felt as if it was reaching back a little bit, still in love with the moves of an older school. This isn’t the case here; this is forward-looking music, accelerating onwards and drawing on a greater wealth of influences. The stunning, empty, and evocative Pace, for example, doesn’t even feel like electro so much as a blend of darkly billowing trip-hop and noirish story telling. It’s as modern as anything you’d find on a Brokntoys record.

And although the three different projects which the record draws from – there are a pair of tracks here under Finlow’s own name, and a single tune from his excellent Voice Stealer work – pitch and pull in differing directions, this mix of the physical and the mental, and of a deep sense of experimentalism informing the nature of the music rather than being its point, remains central to them all. The Silicon Scally material, however, perhaps benefits the most. Tunes such as moonax and Dark Matter are lithe, prowling creatures, but little bursts of light, fragments of melody and movement, temper the forward momentum with purpose and adventure. The one Voice Stealer track, the wonderfully downbeat yet optimistic Unintensional, reverses this, using the slow, skipping beats to add a sparkling warmth to the languid torpor.

It would have been nice to have had more Voice Stealer work on offer, but I’m sure the follow-up volume will rectify that. The track listing has been put together with an ear for music that means something to Finlow and For Those That Knoe label-head Ben and, as such, probably can’t be regarded as a definitive snap-shot of Finlow’s career. But given how much material there is in the archives, and over how years and styles it falls (way back to the straight up house he made with Ralph Lawson and Dominic Capello, and the Wulf-N-Bear work with Lawson, again, and Huggy) there are really few more sensible ways that this could have been done. I have a slight preference for some of the looser, heavier sounds from his releases on Device or Electrix for example, but that’s just me, and there is no doubt that A Selection Of Works Part 1 is an incredibly useful guide to the work of one of the outstanding pillars of the scene even if it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. The nature of the tunes makes it as vital for those of us who think we’re entirely familiar with Finlow’s work just as much as it will be for those who are looking for a way in, not only to his own history, but to the wider past of British electro. Very much to seeing what volume 2 is going to bring.

Reviews: Benoit B – Japonaiserie (Berceuse Heroique); Dawl and Sween – Rise Of The Humanoids (Klasse Wrecks)

Benoit B – Japonaiserie (Berceuse Heroique)

I’m not sure if Berceuse Heroique’s output has mellowed in recent months, or whether my usual base level of rage has been dialled significantly up to the point where anything other than skin-flayingly harsh electro and jungle has a difficult time getting in past my own on-board censor, but Japanaiserie really, kinda, feels very much like a departure of sorts from the label’s usual fare.

It’s not so much of a departure for Benoit B, however, with the producer having created a tapestry of work where subtle dynamics and strange angles collide in loose, ambienty house and IDM-ish workouts, and here the basic format is shifted towards the far east, its influences drawn from Japanese electronic music and art. The results are airy and gently mellow, barely breaking from below gossamer sheets of silk, and almost all of the seven tracks circle a central theme where the feel and mood of the influences are held tight.

It’s a pretty record; gentle touches of melody unfold unhurriedly over delicate mists of tone and form and it’s evocative of a more distant tradition and meaning (or, at the very least, a sympathetic western interpretation of them). Occasionally, such as on Electric Town, or the beatless Compression And Release it ventures beyond that remit, coaxing elements of 80’s synth-pop, or free roaming sound experimentalism, to come to the fore. For all the prettiness, though, it skirts here and there with the edges of pastiche, some of the more haunting moments arching towards a colder knowingness than was perhaps intended. It is not, I suspect, a record for the depths of winter, when you need more warmth than is delivered on a whispering breeze, but as the days lengthen into spring I imagine its languid sense of hope and serenity might find a more fitting backdrop.

Dawl and Sween – Rise Of The Humanoids (Klasse Wrecks)

The music that Klasse Wrecks champions has tended towards a very modern vision of a resolutely old-school sound where the genres which were once the soul and heart of the burgeoning scene – rave, acid, breakbeat – have been re-explored and old ideas subtly altered. Often there is a new emphasis on the playfulness of the original music, and other elements, such as melody, are given a more rounded role, perhaps becoming the focus itself. Occasionally there has been the feel that some of these new takes have lost something of the hunger and drive which were such important factors of the older sounds, as if a slight detachment has crept in where once things were inescapably in-your-face.

It’s a complaint which can be partly levelled at Rise Of The Humanoids, where a similar Klasse-wreckian taste for the bouncier elements of the old school is very much on show at the expense of some of the original, attendant, innocence. What holds the interest beyond the day-glo initial hit, though, are the threads of something a little deeper which unspool around the finely crafted rhythms.

It’s a vibe most evident on Blast Our Way Out where heavy, morose, pads weigh down on the bleeping machine stomp before a twisting, discordant lead tangles you up. Rise Of The Humanoid itself rolls in with sweeping acid breakbeat but heightens it, lightening the load but cooling the mood until cracks show in its sure-footed bullishness. All Systems Down cracks like a thundering battle-cry. It’s as much a nod to the exuberance of big-beat as to the pillars of a long forgotten underground, and is tempered with a popiness which is hard to quantify but which directs the music into a different direction than the one you might have expected.

Although Rise Of The Machines does suffer a bit where, as on Transmitting Noise, it focusses too heavily on the forms and shapes of the old-school, and misses something of the actual meaning, it still manages to bring something far more contemporary to the party. It’s a widening, I think, of the basic idea, and one where mood is allowed to shape the beats far more than would have happened in the past. The result is a record which is at its best when it keeps its distance from the things that made the older sounds so important for their own time, and instead uses the energy to empower its own, brand new, ideas.


Review: V/A – Mechatronica 5 (Mecahtronica)

OK, let’s not waste any time on small talk.

Various Artists – Mechatronica 5 (Mechatronica)

I’m always happy to admit that I really like Mechatronica. For a label which is still very much an embryonic project, each release has been a delight in the way it adds another clue to where this Berlin based outfit are going. Whether they really have a grand plan for all of this I don’t know. What I do know is that their slender output has been pretty impressive so far, and their love of the Various Artist mini compilation has provided us with a far broader body of work that one could ordinarily expect from such a young project.

So far we’ve seen the likes of Dez Williams, Privacy, Luke Eargoggle, and a host of others dropping cuts on the label which both reinforce and take apart our idea of what electro is. And here at the outset of 2018 they’ve provided us with a snap shot of the genre’s health as we head into what I suspect might well become a very strange year for electro, what with the increasing ‘I’ve always been into it’ jabber of chancers from other ends of the electronic spectrum who don’t seem to have ever played an electro track in anger before.

That aside, one of the things I like most about Mechatronica is the way they’ve never been content to propagate a single idea of what electro is, preferring an approach which helps to cast its light over a wide section of what is increasingly a very broad church. While the names here – Norwell, DJ Nephil, Gestalt, and Innerspace – may well, with the exception of Innerspace, be less immediately familiar to anyone except the truest heads, the comp more than holds its own with four choice tunes that do a bang up job of getting over something of the strange invention and scruffy majesty that has defined some of the best electro over the last couple of years.

Innershade kicks it off with the shoulders-out electro-pop stylings of Aalst To Charlois, a rakish charmer roughed up by clawing acid lines and a profoundly stompy sense of urgency before it gives way to Tranzs by Norwell where a gentler and more playful mood emerges from beneath the stern beats to elevate the tune up into the starlight.

Gestalt’s Mndfck and DJ Nephil’s White Dwarf roll out from a similar starting point but quickly slide off into very different places. Mndfck keeps the heartbeat high with a wobbly, wonky grooves tied together by a honk of bass and the infinite warble of a hungry 303, circling above White Dwarf’s looser, grittier, and down right more ornery take on the same themes. The acid here is plucked of its warmth and left to curl around the scattered beats for heat.

You know what: you should know by now. Mechatronica have done some pretty bang up work so far and this is another example of their ability to choose some of the best work in the genre. They deserve to be spoken about along side CPU and Brokntoys. This is great electro that never falls into the trap of doing what it’s expected to do. And the way things are going just now, that’s a quality you can’t put a price on.


Review: Lab Rat XL – Mice Or Cyborg (Clone Aqualung)

Like everyone else, I’m a sucker for anything Drexciya related, but I’ve begun to grow a little anxious about what could possibly be described as the ‘Drexicyan Heritage Industry’ over the last year. While it hasn’t quite hit the same level of recycling you see with some big-name rock bands, where every demo and out-take is lauded as evidence of burgeoning genius, you might still be forgiven for wondering whether there is really that much more which is worthy of being dug out of DATS and released in a pretty sleeve. Some of it for the third time.

Like I said though, if it’s Drexciyan related I’m probably gullible enough to buy it. That hasn’t really been a problem so far; the quality of most of the re-releases has been as high as you might expect. There has been the occasional number which remains more interesting for the background it provides (a bit of the ‘Burgeoning Genius’ syndrome) such as James Stinson’s Hyperspace Sound Labs as Clarence, but mostly we have been pretty well served.

It isn’t the record’s first time under repress – it was last spotted in 2008, with the vinyl being followed a couple of years back by the digital version – but it has arrived at a time when there is a lot of great electro getting another day in the sun, and interest in the genre’s past is on the increase. Lab Rats XL’s Mice Or Cyborg carries some added interest for being work by the actual duo as opposed to solo work by one of the two, and forms a neat triangle with their Abstract Thought, and L.A.M projects, falling somewhere between in terms of tone and mood.

Let me get this said: Mice Or Cyborg is a decent record. It displays a breadth of nuance and ideas in a way which has perhaps become a little rare in the genre today, and it does so without losing sight of a central and overarching ethos, one which guides and glues everything together. It also weaves its experimentalism deep into the fabric of the music, making it feel as integral to the tunes as the beats or the grooves, instead of relying it to provide a meaning all by itself.

I’m not sure that’s enough, though, to make it a great record. If this had been released today by a new act we’d maybe be hailing it as pretty special. Unfortunately Stinson and Donald’s work as Drexciya colours the reaction. Whether or not that’s fair is a difficult question to answer, but it’s difficult to avoid the comparisons. This works in both directions, however, as some of Lab Rat’s issues are also to be found in Drexciya. With both there is a tendency, at times, towards the meandering, to locking down a movement for just a little too long, pushing it into that region where the heat begins to dissipate. With Drexciya it’s rarely an issue; often it tightens other ideas up, and provides a genuine springboard from which they can push outwards and upwards, but here it occasionally betrays, warming a suspicion that maybe some of the material is a little lacking in anything else.

It’s not that the tunes feel unfinished, more that they haven’t quite reached that level where they can be left to guide themselves to a truly meaningful ending. Lab Rat 2, for instance, wobbles out into the world upon a squat 4/4 beat and a finely worn bass line, but it never seems to have enough energy to propel itself beyond an initial judgement, the delicate chords which should tone the piece forever swamped by the repetitive insistence of the bass. Similarly, Lab Rat 5 frustrates and not only with the irritatingly stop/start nature of the rhythms, but also in the way it feels as if it has been designed to be obtuse, constantly feeling on the verge of pulling everything together before once again yanking away any sense of completeness.

There are elements to the music, however, which saves the album from falling too far out of the light. Its way with melody, the way it lies at the heart of the most potent moments, allows a glimpse not so much of burgeoning genius, but growing maturity. It tempers even the rawer moments, and often combines with grooves in ways which surprise. Likewise, the whole of Mice Or Cyborg is filtered through an air of introspection, giving a sense of lived-through world-weariness and adding a warm sense of soulfulness which helps bind things together.

And when these elements combine, the album becomes much more interesting; even more so when it seems to be deliberately sidestepping any solid comparisons with Drexciya. Lab Rat 3 is a beauty of a track: a long, drifting paean to a far more Kraftwerkian take on electro than we tend to expect from this pair of minds. A long machine hymn which returns time and again to simple motifs and movements, layered with a lazy, quiet, charm, it evokes a rare sense of serenity and gentle wonder. There is a sense of Stinson’s Other People Place work at the root of it all, but it remains woozier, less inclined to douse its robotic soul with more human touches.

The strongest tracks are found right at the start, where the mood of exploratory mischief is at its strongest. Lab Rat 1 defies easy categorisation in the way it brings its submerged grooves together with melodies that are sometimes jazzy, sometimes strangely alien, like creatures calling over a silicon landscape. Lab Rat 6 feels closest to the Drexciyan ideal, lithe and stark, breathless and compressed, it is darkly affecting, and quickly draws you into to its grasp.

Is Mice Or Cyborg essential? No, probably not. Originally envisioned and released as the last part of their ‘Drexciyan Storm’ sequence, Mice Or Cyborg doesn’t really feel like a logical end-point. None of the six tunes really feel like a final word, and even the good ones can’t quite escape the thought that their better qualities had been echoed previously, and to better effect, elsewhere across the duo’s insanely exemplary oeuvre – both together and in solo work. Does it remain an interesting and important record? The answer is yes, mostly, although some of the lustre which could be present in that answer is scuffed by the fact that this is not an album from their early and formative years, but from right at the end when they should have been at their peak. It doesn’t really come close to the highs of Dopplereffekt, or The Other People Place, and it doesn’t even begin to suggest anything of Drexciya’s off the scale majesty.

For us Drexciyan geeks it will always carry an importance far beyond the reality of its offerings, but for anyone wanting evidence of Donald and Stinson’s talents, there are far better places to be looking. Buy it for what it is, definitely, but be prepared to search elsewhere for what it isn’t.