Review: L-R – L-R EP (Null+Void Recordings)

I was determined not to describe this record as a release by an electro supergroup because, well, calling anything that tends to elicit images of old, beardy men knocking out tired versions of 70’s country rock with extra noodling. With a supergroup the general vibe seems too often to be that of a jam session gone feral. It’s not usually a term of endearment.

But, hell, that’s what I’m going to describe L-R as, seeing as it contains Johnny Oakley of Monoak and Freerotation, Simon Lynch of London Modular Alliance, and Keith Tenniswood of Radioactive Man and Two Lone Swordsmen fame. That’s a heck of a pedigree right there, so supergroup it is.

I shouldn’t have really worried though, because any imagined Curse Of The Supergroup is only really noticeable by its absence. What the L-R EP brings us is actually rather difficult to define; this certainly isn’t straight forward electro, and in that, interestingly, it shares musical space with several other current producers who are perhaps using the freedom created by the genre’s new-found kudos to push outward from a common source towards new world.

While electro certainly provides part of the foundation, you get the feeling that it is really present as one of many different coloured threads which make up the fabric of the L-R sound. Where a lot of the current scene has explored unimagined depths of, uh, deepness, or woven old-school fury over new school bones, L-R have driven right on. Aside from the more obvious influences, there is a breadth to the music which draws on a welter of textures providing styling and concepts which help to expand the ideas at the centre of the music.

In fact, it’s possible to split the EP into two parts. The first, containing Tigerstripes and Fruitcakes are closest to the genre we know and love. Tigerstripes in particular welds a tight, jackhammer beat to a shimmery, shadowy, realm which slowly grows not only in intensity but also in a dark humour which feeds the stormy clouds of bass and chattering fills, and helps to propel the track into a place reminiscent of a time when UK electronica was often defined by a subtle (actually usually not so subtle) mix of menace and cheekiness – a very different type of attitude which long kept it distinct from what was happening both in the States and mainland Europe. The vocal sample, buried deep enough in the mix that it remains blurred and unsettling, accentuates and tightens that mood very nicely indeed.

Fruitcakes, a wide-eyed burst of insanity, is perhaps even more fun. The same mood is mounted here on something that is perhaps a little more obvious – a sort of more classically technobass feel that takes you quickly in hand before slamming you against the wall. The little touches are flavoured by the Detroit of Underground Resistance and Drexciya but are never as overt as that, and the tune works a grubby, delighted, magic through suggestion, the ghosts of those Motor-city ideas rather than the sounds themselves, as it ramps up the heat. It feels like a lost tune from UR’s classic Interstellar Fugitives compilation album with a similar nervous yet righteous energy acting as both guide and pacemaker.

The other half of the EP resets everything, and it benefits from you resetting yourself as well. On Land the breaks vanish, replaced by a straightened, precise, and cybernetically 4/4 drive which paces itself beneath swirling half-colours. The tune evokes an older form of electronica, one that dates from before house music had made its full impact. It’s not so much in the unfurling sounds, for there are elements there just as at home in early, woozy, minimalist techno, but in the way the lazy, gentle, melody travels with the breeze kicked up by the shifting tide of the beats, and predicates its insistent warmth on a measured introspection.

Aesop, finally, blends many of the previous approaches and ideas together into a stark exploration of modern machine soul which drapes an almost R&B-like vibe over a graceful, half-stepping beat which locks the track down into a sinewy but unhurried groove and evokes the feel of something synthwavey refracted through far eastern ears. At times thick and rounded, at others almost spectral, it fades away into the haze far too quickly, leaving you hunting in the silence for any lingering embers. Always the mark of a great tune, and a great summation of a record which takes real pleasure in rewiring your expectations, and furnishes us with further proof that electro is slowly, but irrevocably, beginning to evolve into a brand new form.

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Review: Hodge and Peder – All My Love (Peder Mannerfelt Productions)

I’ve written this damn thing about 30 times now, and each and every attempt falls apart on the second paragraph. I started arse-over-tit by beginning with some conclusions that could only be borne out with some primo-grade reality bending, and now I’ve decided that honesty is the best policy. I know: you don’t get this sort of thing in the Wire, do you? It’s amateur hour around here.

So, at the risk of seeming a little off, here’s what you need to know: Hodge and Peder’s first collaboration pretty much came out of nowhere and did a number on my brain. I had meant to draw cunning and sophisticated allusions to hardcore and rave culture, to avoiding homage and smash ‘n’ grab nostalgia runs back to the early 90’s but the fact is that all of this sort of thing just slides off the music as if it’s wearing teflon armour. Yes, the tunes are coloured with a certain hue of day-glo insanity but All My Love isn’t really a nod to the current (and admittedly welcome) trend for snarling, compressed, rave bombs from yesteryear. There is a lot more going on here than that.

If I was trying hard to stick to that theme, I suppose I could describe All My Love as less of a reworking of classic genre influences, and more of a re-imagining. While certain tones and ways of movement will be familiar to anyone who has a passing interest in these genres, the way the music rises up is very modern and absolutely without any interest in revisiting the past as you might know it. There are moments it bolts away from all your preconceptions entirely, veering close to a sort of mayhem that KLF once described as ‘stadium house’. At other times it evokes the heavy swirl of the sort of dirty, acrid, techno which seems to be very much in decline these days, a form of techno which simply does not give a toss what you think about it, a form of techno which exists for the sole purpose of making you dance and shout and sweat.

Bird Chant on the flip hits all those switches almost from the start, stumbling on its beats like it’s been shot up with vodka and gravel and hasn’t washed in a month. It pulls hard on the feet, channelling itself by means of a riff so huge and heavy it has its own gravity well. And while the riff dominates proceedings, little, equally fierce textures spiral around it, congealing and feeding the brutal movement. Inside the Rain is a necessary palette cleanser, a mind-wash of fractals and pinches of disorienting dreams which seethes and surges downward, drawing the light away until the shadows billow.

But All My Love itself is the king in this broken place. It’s immense – a summation of darskide vibe. The hardcore leanings are at their most obvious here, but Hodge and Peder compress them, and keep compressing them until the breaks take on an almost tribal shape before being blasted further by hoover bass. The vocal ties it together, bonding the explosive martial kicks with a demented, majestic, anxiety. Unbelievably, wonderfully, nasty and one of the stand out moments of the year so far. Hardcore for the 21st century. And the 31st. Yas.

A Bunch Of Reviews Starring Libertine, DABJ and More!

V/A – Libertine 005 (Libertine Records)

Libertine’s slim catalogue of releases has been a little hit and miss so far, I think, although they certainly have their hearts in the right place. With a little bit more certainty when it comes to knowing exactly what sort of thing they want to be doing they could be a very strong label indeed. Already they have my undying admiration for bringing back the mighty Spesimen for their first outing since God knows when, and if they can move a bit away from some of the relatively nondescript minimal techno we might have something special going on.

Their 6th release goes down the now time-honoured route of getting a bunch of electro artists together for a sampler, and it’s certainly a boost away from the label’s more techno focussed material, even if it does swing wildly from one extreme to the other. Mind you, samplers like this wouldn’t be quite the same if they all sang from the same hymn sheet. Where Gosub keeps it focused with the light hearted, moonlit electro of Black Sequence II, Corp and Octogen bring in the Detroit feels with both Cosmic Velocity and Scionide revelling in strong, early, Model 500 influences. Both are great tunes, with Octogen’s Scionide in particular really invoking Juan Atkins’ machine soul. Space Travel’s From The Sea locks everything into a compressed 4/4 trip of dense, bleepy, and regimented mayhem to close things off. A nice sampler from a label who seem to know what it’s about even if it hasn’t entirely come together yet.

Nothus and Deliwke – RedWalls (XCPT)

Perhaps it has something to do with both the recognition that the UK’s strand of wide-influenced music is getting just now, and the current vogue for – again largely UK based – hardcore, but there is a definite trend emerging in-house and techno that brings a little of that gleefull, breakbeat based mayhem to the floor, even if a lot of the tunes don’t quite get what made that stuff so good originally. XCPT label heads Nothus and Deliwke haven’t entirely gone whole hog for some full on bass madness here, but have attempted to coax something of the attitude into the music.

Does it work? Yes, to an extent, although neither of the two original tracks here – Redwalls and Requiem – really allow themselves to fly off towards some manky, early nineties warehouse, both are capable bangers, suggesting more than a passing kinship with what’s been coming out of Bristol over the last few years. Redwalls itself feels a little harsh, and leans more towards what you could describe as a Semantica style translation of the vibe. The shuffling breaks are hard, and most of what should be the soul of this style, the crazy perc, is stiffly sampled instead of destructively wild. Even so, it’s a nice tune – and deeper than it probably has any right to be. It unfolds nicely, getting in there with some blissfull, bleeped out melodies and squirts of 303. Requiem is even better, jacking into a strongly IDM-ish mood and allowing itself a little more leeway with getting its head down.

It’s left to Mgun and DJ Plant Texture to bring some much needed craziness to the proceedings. Mgun’s take on Redwalls smashes the original apart and uses the pieces to build a trippy, oddly haunting rocker which glimmers with a strong Detroit light. Plant Texture just goes proper mental on his take, rendering Requiem into a snarling, multi-limbed hardcore monster which terrifies and consoles in equal measure.

M.A.P Vs DJ Haus – X-Mod EP (Dixon Avenue Basement Jams)

Dixon Avenue are now one of a vanishingly small band of labels who are still willing to bring a form of house to the floor that has little truck with the deeper varieties currently clogging up the nations ears. And while there is still space in their release schedules for family members like Jared Wilson, the last year or so has seen them expanding outwards towards an even messier, warped and rave fuelled take on the genre.

It’s entirely fitting that they should have brought Unknown To The Unknown head DJ Haus onboard. Haus’ own projects have long had more than a passing similarity with DABJ’s, and this EP, alongside Mak and Pasteman, seals those shared interests nicely. X-Mod is an EP rich with sonic mayhen, drawing heavily on a rough bumping take on Dance Mania and ghetto-house’s weaponized stomp. Both Drive MF and Bang It – the second one in particular – Bring a bruising, jacking energy to the tunes, reminiscent of DJ Funk but with a surly, day-glo charm replacing Funk’s fecund lyricism. Both are straight to the feet and straight to the point, with Drive MF especially bright with its high-speed, shuffling grooves.

Even better is X-Mod itself. Even though it draws from the same well as the other two, it injects the music with a slobberingly dirty blast of late night rave which tightens the tune and dims the light until you just don’t feel safe. We’ve waited a long time for house to start bruising ankles again. Long may it continue.

Happy Birthday To Us: We Are Three.

Newspaper reporter at typewriter

Well, we made it to three years old and no one is more surprised than me. It feels like a very long time since I sat down that night at the start of February 2014 to write the first post. Back then I had little idea what I wanted to do, except find a subject which might energise me to write more than I had been. As any writer knows all too well, very little kills the muse than working a full-time job – particularly when it’s a job you hate – and being subject to all the attendant niggles and irritations which build up during the course of the 9-5 day.

From that point of view it has been a personal success, even if the last year has been something of a struggle to keep going in the face of a work life which has been bordering on the ridiculous for a long time now, and reached a new nadir during the spring. As a result of that my blog output fell away here and there during the year while I attempted to deal with other issues. Such is the life of a blogger. The bad news is that work related issues continue to be a major pain in the arse. The good side is I’m trying to focus on the blog more.

That’s all just bad gravy though. The real focus has always been on the music, and one of the things which has been interesting to me as I’ve looked back at old posts over the last few days has been the evolution of my tastes over the last few years. A blog like this is always going to be a different proposition to writing professionally for one of the big publications, and one of the obvious joys has been the relative freedom to focus on music which I love and which excites me. As regular and veteran readers probably know, I only got back into electronic music properly five or six years ago after pretty much trying to escape from it for a decade. As the big man said in The Godfather ‘just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in’ and I found that electronic music was such an integral part of my DNA that I really couldn’t go on pretending it wasn’t there.

What I’ve discovered since my triumphant return is that there was a world of sound which had gone on developing, splitting, and growing that I knew nothing about. There will always be some constants; I like my techno snarling, tetchy, and funky, I like my house dirty and acidic, and I love my electro neck snappingly fast and alien. But there was so much more. Some of that I’ve grown a bit bored with, as is going to be the case with anything. In other instances, such as the current rehabilitation of hardcore and rave, I’ve found myself coming to terms with my own historic snobbery and ignorance and beginning to both appreciate and understand the mammoth impact these genres has on the development of everything else. This was an eye opener for me, because there was no way that the younger me, elitist and snobby about Detroit techno as I was, would have ever countenance such blasphemy. The older me? It’s all good.

From a very personal perspective I am head over heels in love and excited about electro again. To be fair, I never stopped loving it. It was always the genre which, after Detroit, seemed to hold within it all the things which made electronic music so special to me – the speed, the futurism, the idea of man and machine coming together. Many people have always attempted to play up the more organic side of electronica but that was something I never cared much about. I’ve always loved the synthetic and cyborg nature of the music, and that is something electro does better than any other genre. It was also noticeable that my desire (actually a need, if I’m honest) to write about electro has lost me a few readers here and there, and it must have been something of a shock for people who originally came here to read about lo-fi house to find I was dumping a lot of that to make time for 140 bpm weirdo music. Well, I’d like to say sorry. I’d like to but I can’t. Electro is too damn fine.

So, what next? Well, I have no idea. I’d really like to get more occasional podcasts going but between everything else and my own natural laziness it hasn’t really happened yet. I talked a while ago about doing interviews more often (EG: at all) but the same caveats as with podcasts apply, perhaps even more so. I did think about changing the name of the blog, but I’d really only want to do that if I was going to make material changes to what I’m trying to do. I’ve also a couple of ideas for non music writing I’d like to start taking seriously, but that’s for tomorrow.

What I can promise is that I will continue to write about the music I like in the way I like. I could probably stand to be a little more critical of some of the records I review but, you know, I get excited about stuff and then the prose kicks in….There are in truth records I buy which I don’t like, but I just cannot be bothered talking about them. I’d rather blather on about the ones that get me going and the ones that I think you should like too, and I’ve always been very happy that a lot of the records I’ve covered don’t seem to get much publicity anywhere else, and I’m especially proud that a few names have had their first actual exposure here before being picked up elsewhere. What can I say, I define the Zeitgeist (and if you believe that….)

So thanks for reading, and for following me on social media, even if I’m probably more politically whiny at times than you were expecting. I might take the piss out of the scene and the community a little bit here and there, but I think it kind of needs it occasionally, and it’s healthy to burst a few balloons now and again. Besides, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t, deep down, love it all – the silliness, the seriousness, and the obvious love so many people have for music made by dorks in their bedrooms on machine that go bleep. Three years down. Wow. Let’s see where the next one leads.

Cheers, folks.

The Scribe.

Quick Words On A Whole Big Mess Of Records.

I’ve got this stack of records I haven’t really got around to reviewing yet because it’s winter and I’m tired and in a mood. It’s a pretty big stack though, and looking at it is beginning to make me feel guilty. As a record junkie I keep buying more of them…and more, and more. There comes a point, usually when your knocking the damn things around every time you move your chair, or your chair is in fact a bunch of records, that you begin to wish you could have found a healthier obsession. Stamps would be good. They don’t take up much space or melt when you leave them near a radiator. Nice and quiet, stamps. Lovely things. Anyway, in a slight change to what I normally do I’m just going to sling through some of these and see what happens.

Albums first. I’ve laid off buying LPs a bit this year as I rarely give them the time the cost deserves, but I recently picked up Pangaea’s In Drum Play (Hessle Audio), and I’m glad I did because its pretty bloody good. I sometimes fear techno records from the gang who kicked across from dubstep and bass into techno because the techno sometimes feels a wee bit flat and by-the-numbers. Not that this is an issue here as Kevin McAuley digs deep into his bassy bag of tricks to furnish everything with a gleefully grubby sheen. While occasional tunes such as Rotor Soap are fine enough in a relatively conventional way, the album comes alive on the weaving experimentalism of DNA, More Is More To Burn’s oddball skank and the furious, constantly morphing, breakbeat sharpened brilliance of One By One. An excellent example of where modern British Electronica is going. Comes with a digi code as well, which is always, always welcome.

My second album purchase was Convextion’s 2845 (A.R.T.Less). Yeah, I know, even your mum was going on about it. Part of the hype was no doubt down to the fact that finding a copy was harder than winning the lottery. Eventually I got my dirty hands on one, which was great and all, but if you didn’t it looks like a wee repress is coming at the start of next month (if they aren’t already in the usual stores right now). Is it worth the trouble of landing a copy though? Well, yeah mostly. While it maybe doesn’t quite live up to the hype which emanated from all quarters, it’s a lovely slab of deep space techno which pushes its more drifting, cosmic tendencies into a slightly more muscular framework than you would perhaps expect and actually comes out sounding far less ethereal than some of Convextion’s stuff under his E.R.P alter ego. There are moments here and there (such as on Distant Transmission, for instance, or Saline Moon) where the influence of classic Detroit’s take on similar themes is as inescapable as the gravity of a neutron star, but that’s hardly a failing. Best album cover of the year too; if that isn’t a Cobra Mk3 from Elite I’m a Martian. Also comes with a (slightly more convoluted) DL code, and the digi is available from Bandcamp if that’s your laudable thing.

As for 12″s, there have been more than I would like to admit. A bunch of them are reissues of older electro stuff so we’ll just skip them for the time being and see what else there is. Zeta Reticula’s EP 5 got a buy largely because it’s on Billy Nasty’s brilliant Electrix label. Zeta Reticula is, of course, the more dub techno/electro-y alter ego of Slovenian DJ and producer Umek who, I find, usually elicits some sort of reaction from people. You either love his stuff or loathe it. This EP brings out a bit of both feelings in me. Side A is pretty good; a pair of pummelling electro tunes bordering on techno-bass, both of which howl out at the sort of velocities that’ll give you a nose bleed. The B side reverts to slower, dubby 4/4 tracks which are both weirdly clean sounding, lacking enough fogginess to cover up the fact that not very much is happening in a not very interesting way. But then, I’m not a dub fan so they might be brilliant. Worth it for the electro stuff, though. Puts me in mind of some of the stuff The Advent’s done for the same label.

Joy Orbison gets back together with his long-standing collaborator Boddika for another installment of their SunkLo series. SUNKLOFYV (SunkLo) is an interesting release, occasionally sounding as if it has simply been left to get on with inventing itself, it refracts several strands of electronica with a fine intensity. More Moan, for example, puts me in mind of a lighter, pleasingly off the wall, take on Ancient Methods trademarked morphic stomp – swapping out the heaving weightiness for a touch of humour and sunlight. My favourite here, though, is the opener, Severed Seven, which hits things up like a sentient AI tasked with remixing Beltram’s Energy Flash and doing so with the addition of much clattering noise, and emancipated 303s.

Last but absolutely not least is Dez Williams with Ever Decreasing Circles (Earwiggle). Williams immediately deviates from his usual electro tastes for four tracks of massively dirty, crumbing and scary techno replete with bowel softening bass and enough distortion to take all the skin off your fingers. Occasionally driving downwards towards the sort of place which makes you wish for something lighter, like Bathoray or Hellbastard, here and there he eases back, opening the tunes up and allowing the beats to suddenly ripple off in different directions. while it’s not his best release of the year, it’ll probably scare enough memories of what else he’s done out of your skull that it really doesn’t matter. Nice, in a not very nice way. You know what I mean.