The Maghreban – Pots and Pans (Zoot); 6D22 – Dragon’s Path (Midnight Shift)

The Maghreban – Pots and Pans (Zoot)

It’s been quite a while since I last reviewed anything by the Maghreban, but I’ve tried to keep an ear on whatever Ayman Rostom has been cooking up. The former hip hop producer’s track record with house has largely been a great education on what house music can sound like when it really does come from the left-field, instead of claiming to do so just because it uses tape saturation.

What has always made Rostom’s take on the genre so listenable is the way it barely seems connected to any academic concept of what house is supposed to be. Frequently revelling in strange and expansive moods, the music is often a tapestry of alien qualities which accent Rostom’s taste for oddball skank. What has always elevated it away from the hordes of cookie-cutter outsider house producers, though, is the way he brings with it a fuzzy humanism which tempers the esoteric vistas he creates.

Pots and Pans further enhances this reputation with three tracks which duck and drift through some warm sonic landscapes. In some ways the tunes on offer hold a similar vibe to Barry Adamson’s sonorous, post-modern, soundtracks to non-existent movies. This is particularly true of both Elka and Martha where the beats are shepherded by a fat bass you can imagine being thrummed out by some heavy 70’s dude replete with thick moustache and royal-blue polo neck. In actual fact, the grooves on both pieces work in a subtlety different manner than you might expect. It’s less about moving the body, but the imagination, and both rock with a heady air of drama, evoking a strange landscape where the deep fog is more of a physical presence than the ground it rolls across. Martha is perhaps the more effective of the two; a slow mover, it takes a good while to really get itself into place, building up a tight, claustrophobic atmosphere before the broken, maudlin, occasional, melody of a piano cuts a path back towards the fresh air.

Pots and Pans itself is more upbeat and less concerned with the minutiae of mood as it works up a lather with clipped polyrhythms and simple, unfettered joy. It does little more than circle itself, and offers no more than it has to give but it comes out the other side feeling like that is more than enough. A great, smiling, little tune which should help see you through the long, cold nights of turkey ahead.

6D22 – Dragon’s Path (Midnight Shift)

If I’m remembering correctly, I opened this year’s Pattern Burst with a review of Giorgio Luceri’s 6D22 project so it seems weirdly fitting that the last review of the year goes to him too. Back then, it was his Istar release on Zeinkalli we were discussing. This time he’s on Midnight Shift with a collection of tracks inspired by the far east.

Firstly, it’s easy to see why Luceri has been a bit of a fixture on Jamal Moss’ Mathematics Recordings over the years. Dragon’s Path combines a resolutely old school techno flavour with something a little more detached and cerebral, and a lot of the time it evokes a sense of that point when balearic beats began to give way to something that would eventually become trance.

But just as there is an old school techno feel, it works a similar trick with those trancey moves. It’s closer to Jam and Spoon in execution – a sense of house music which has gone off on a tangent, drawing in a heavy mood of strobes ‘n’ ice, and building towards a vast heaven through simple melodies and rhythms built upon each other.

The three original tracks are bigger tunes than you might at first expect. Tianlong and Huanglong on the A side are a pair of shimmering climbers, both of which lock down their moods and movements early on and rise upwards relentlessly. Tianlong bleeds away excess energy towards the end, swapping it for a more delicate sense of tone and texture. Huanglong really pushes the early 90s big room vibe towards a logical conclusion. It’s all thunder and whispers; coaxing one moment, the next pushing you forward with both hands towards a bleary, hyper-real sunrise.

Longwang is from a similar place, but slower and more content to blur the motion with a feel of mysticism and some profoundly trancey 303s which bubble away seductively behind the veil of the melody. Once again the mixing of house like movement and techno rhythms provides a foundation for Luceri to build some tight complex sounds on top off, and the pulsing strength of the combination pushes towards some very old school hands-in-the-air moments.

Longwang’s remix comes from the fertile mind of the one and only Heinrich Mueller. Yep, That Heinrich Mueller. And, as you’d expect, it’s just about as far a deviation as you’d be able to get. Heinrich Mueller has created bit of a thing over the last few years from creating tunes that aren’t really tunes, where their obtuseness, their de-constructed qualities, have begun to drag the music of in strange, sometimes awkward, but often exciting directions. And he does that again here, transforming Longwangs effervescent brightness into a minimal, internalized stab of serrated, compact madness as if he’s taken the original’s nervous system and mounted it outside its skin. As most of you probably know, I’m not that fussy for remixes unless it something new or unexpected. This is a pretty good example of the art. Borderline terrifying and bleak, it’s as if the ghost in Longwang’s machine has crawled out of its mouth and gone on a rampage. Truly demented, excellent stuff.

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Pseudopolis – Pseudopolis EP (Redstone Press)

A new label, from my neck of the woods in the Scottish highlands, and therefore I’ve an idea of the way the hunger for new music and the wonkiness of relative isolation can feed into the mindset. In my day, it was mostly metal which was the music of choice for Highland youth, morphing slowly over the years into happy hardcore and the more straight up forms of bangy techno. Not that this debut EP is either, and I admit to be being pleasantly surprised by the tunes here. I’ll go ahead and say it – this is great stuff.

What leaps out of the music straight away is that it refuses to limit itself to a particular direction. Instead it veers closest to the sort of wild invention and killer jams which Bristol folks have been slamming out for a while now, and there is a similar disregard for hard genre limits on show. Pseudopolis exhibit a profound sense on adventure across the three tracks, taking in bits of house and techno and using them to colour the bones of something which really lies closer to dubstep, jungle, and even a wee bit of dance hall, in vibe. The result is a strong release which has a gleeful sense of doing something right by doing it wrong. Really, it shouldn’t work as well as it does, but it ends up tight and brilliantly alive. The grooves flourish under a procession of chunky, occasionally day-glo moods and energies which ramp up both the sense of fun and seriousness. At Last bubbles with a seductive cheekiness, mainlining all those dry ice and strobe moments which are burnt into your subconsciousness. We Can All Groove slows everything right down and wraps up the movement with thick darkness.

Tracer is the definite standout; a joyous, rhythmic, burst of bright colour which hits up all the spots suggested by the other two tunes, but takes it further and makes more of a particular tribal heft which was only hinted at elsewhere. There is a kindred vibe to The sort of stuff Randomer has been working out his system over the last few years – nods to garage and dark, crunchy, house are filtered through a palpable sense of drama, and encapsulates a lot of what’s good in current UK electronica away from the big room beats.

It’s always interesting when a new label or a new act come out of the gates without doffing their caps to what everyone else it doing. And while there might be more Bristolly influenced stuff kicking around than there used to be, that’s still got to be better than yet another collection of tunes making their pilgrimage to Detroit, Chicago or New York. Check it out.

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.

Review: DJ Spider And Franklin De Costa – F Planet (Berceuse Heroique)

I’ve grown a little jaded about techno over the last few months, a little weary of what is beginning to feel like a game of generics where a host of electronic men-in-black seem increasingly tied into a competition where the aim is to out donk each other, to create sounds where the individual tunes can only be differentiated by how much more TECHNO!!! they are than the last. There are no doubt a number of doozy old reasons for this (and those reasons include the possibility I am talking out of my arse), but the first and foremost suspect is the old killer of all genres – a lack of imagination.

Not that this is something you could really accuse either DJ Spider or Franklin De Costa of. Both of them have shown many times a taste for deep, fluid, and effective techno which, while orbiting the familiar take on the genre we all know and occasionally love, tends to travel to more esoteric worlds, propelling the music with sounds drawn from a wider range of sources than whatever’s fallen out of Berghain or Tresor recently.

F Planet marks the duo third (I think?) collaboration together, and in some senses it feels like a continuation of work begun on the two Genetically Modified Tracks Eps previously released on Killekill. Actually, ‘continuation’ is probably the wrong word. There is a greater sense of evolution. Where the Genetically Modified was, in turn, aggressive, funky, and playful (the still phenomenal Buzzaw remains a case in point) F Planet approaches with a far away look in its eye.

Overall, perhaps, the music is more mature and rounded. It doesn’t lose sight of the funk – both the original tracks here retain a rare ability to move your feet as well as you ears – but the rawness, the ground down, ragged steel that was once more apparent, has been newly tempered, folded in on itself to provide a stark emotional foundation which has allowed the duo to simply do more and take the music further.

Part of this is down to a noticeable absence of Proper Techno Nonsense: No light sucking kick drums, no perc which sounds as if it was rendered from field recordings of bin lorries at work; no attempt to retrofit the music to a particular template. Even in its harsher moments (and there are, still, enough to rattle your skull) F Planet revels in a subtle vibe grown out of a deepened well of influences. You can feel the gritty soulfulness of East Coast deep house in it, as if the music of DJ Q or Joey Anderson had washed against it in the depths of night; there are little kinks: half observed flashes of old style low countries techno, signal bursts from the mid west, cold frosts of the bleakest of noir soundtracks.

The two original tracks excel at creating a tightening hold on the imagination. F Planet and Astral Pilot rattle between a dark snarl and a far more shimmering, icy, energy where they delve into cold fogs and claw unsettling beauty from the mists. Astral Pilot is a touch less biting than the sibling, particularly when, about three minutes in, it begins to unfurl thick pads over the top of the haunted groove. The Shifted Remix of F Planet is, perhaps understandably, a more conventional affair. Hardly surprising considering the way the original takes pleasure in wrong footing you between its growl and its sighs. It’s still a damn good attempt, heavier in mood than either of the original tracks, but suffers from the way in which it straightens the alien curves which led you out into the weird hinterlands. But the way in which it screws down into its own, odd path through the shadows makes it easy to forgive. Another deep hit of occult techno from a duo who are really beginning to think as one.

Paul Blackford – Fireflies (Tokyo Electro Beat Recordings)

Paul Blackford – Fireflies (Tokyo Electo Beat Recordings)

Although he is perhaps better known for his straight-up electro work, Paul Blackford has long been one of a small pool of artists who seems equally happy exploring other sounds. In the wider world of contemporary electronica this usually means the artists move between house and techno – two genres where these days the differences in style are often unremarkable enough that eyelids are barely batted when a producers swaps one for the other; Let’s face it, the symbiotic relationship between the two rarely affords a specialist in one a true opportunity to spread their artistic wings.

Fireflies is a useful reminder, perhaps, that the world of electronic music remains a larger one than we typically tend to be aware of. Partly the blame for that is down to the way in which the music is packaged to us these days. Packaged and consumed; the increasing compartmentalization, the way in which we are often steered down particular routes based on the prison of our buying habits and basic tastes tend to lock us quickly into specific sonic interests. It is not only producers who find themselves failing to branch out. We, the listener, are just as culpable. And it can be hard to escape even the most obvious traps. We like what we know. It speedily defines us, and sometimes even the most educated of palates can be the ones with rarefied and limited tastes.

What we have here is perhaps a little difficult to quantify for anyone coming at it from the modern world’s searing electronic strains, and unused to such a departure. Downtempo, sleepy, and warm may go some way to covering Fireflies but they don’t come close to capturing the essential spirit. It is, in some ways, reminiscent of an earlier time, an era when electronic music lacked a lot of the self-awareness it now wears like armour. Perhaps self-absorption is a better way to put that.

There is a gentle and adventuring energy at the heart of Fireflies, and a certain amount of purity, which provides direction for the bitter-sweet melodies which fuel and heat the music. Latitude unfolds and engulfs with the delicacy of IDM at it’s most meaningful, that crossroads it occasionally reached between its attempts to distance itself from the sweat and thunder of the club and its desire to be thought of as ‘proper’ music where it reached towards a fleeting sense of grandeur. It’s a pretty tune, wide-eyed and alive to the interplay between rhythm and melody. Moonlight evokes a similar vibe, but stretches it outwards, gilding the tune with quivering, soulful, light. Fireflies itself is more introspective, shading itself with deepening mood.

Syndicate is perhaps the best of the collection. On the surface it doesn’t deviate too far from the rest of the tunes, but it instates a noticeably darker hue; moodier and perhaps even heavier, it fluctuates between the simple beauty of the rest of the release and something more solid. There is a genuine wistfulness at its heart which lends it a maturity and slight cynicism which elevates the little touches and half-melodies, and gives the track a sense of movement perhaps lacking elsewhere.

Mostly, though, Fireflies is built on variations of a theme. While the music is gorgeously realised, the emotional depth of Syndicate amplifies it’s contrasts with the slighter moments and the beats, well formed though they are, sometimes lack a little bit of bite which might have tightened up the moods and pushed the music onwards towards a more colourful horizon.

Even so, it feels like a departure from contemporary electronica’s increasingly work-a-day styling. And while it occasionally feels a little uncertain of moving beyond beautiful and slightly hazy sketches to something more emotionally sure of itself, it remains a release of rare subtlety and warmth.