Friday Night Tune: 5th Birthday Special.

Five years, particularly in our strangely whacked-out world, feels a lot longer than it sounds. When I wrote the first of these way back at the start of February 2014, I had no real idea what I was going to do, except to blurt out a few disjointed thoughts about some electronic music I liked. I wasn’t even sure whether there was any worth in a blog beyond that of a slightly massaged ego. Did people really read blogs? Did I care if they didn’t? I’d always told myself I was doing it to get back into writing again. What else mattered? Well, The fact I read mattered.

I read. I find blogs and devour the content, one post after another. In the year before I started this I went through places like MNML SSGS, Little White Earbuds, Infinite State Machine, and others with the sort of ferocity that only gets going when it’s got the teeth of a new obsession to chew things apart with. I’ve always been a sucker for music writing, and the teenage me, trapped in a bedroom behinds piles of Melody Maker, and NME, and Sounds, would have probably blown something important in his brain had there been access to blogs. Even now, when a lot of my reading time is taken up with panicking that I’ve just written another review of a record I might have covered a month before, I like to lose it in blogs whenever I can.

I like the feel of blogs, the way they provide something off on a spiky tangent from the smoother, and better adjusted, Resident Advisors and Mixmags of this world. Too young to have any real memories of punk the first time around, blogs always felt to me like an extension of that genre’s fanzine ethos – cooked up by nobodies and thrown out into the world to see what would happen. And the fact that they do seem to exist in a strange half-light between the underground and the mainstream further heightens the appeal.

But covering something as unwieldy as electronic music can be annoying. It’s impossible to keep up with everything that happens; the way genres split away, forming new and every more niche shapes, has been both a fascinating process to watch, but also a slightly fraught one. It’s one of the reasons I need to excuse myself when I hear people talking about ‘the community’ as if it’s some overarching, exquisitely formed, hive-ethos. If there ever once was such a thing, it is surely long gone, at least in any honest sense. And the idea of a community stretching from Moscow to Detroit, or from Capetown to Chicago frequently feels designed to flatten differences which should be celebrated. Again, the cynic in me tends to think of this as a sort of pan-global form of gentrification, a techno-Macdonald’s in every venue. It sometimes seems a device for bestowing the power to dictate direction, to decide tastes, and enforce authenticity, none of which really promise more than frothy argument in a world of infinite ideas and intentions. The billion or so forms of house, techno, electro, jungle, dubstep, and Lord knows what else, don’t really need to care about where they came from, they only need to know where they’re going, and watching how they react to each other, the tensions growing, the common interests blossoming, is all part of the fun.

This endless, shifting, mass of sounds and ideas is the real reason we all get excited, though, even if there is simply too much for one person to go through in a single lifetime. Occasionally I worry that the sheer availability of the music I like – both new and old – makes it far too easy to stay put, to gorge myself on familiarity when I could be exploring. It’s a danger, to be sure, and is another reason I doubt the idea of a monolithic dance music culture. The crossover is increasingly rare, and once the movement comes to a halt, even for a moment, it is startlingly easy to lose track of what’s going on. In a world which caters to all tastes we quickly alight on the ones which appeal the most, and as the gap between genres and styles widens, we end up on separate islands and evolving down separate paths like those cool flightless parrots in New Zealand. Wait, did I write a parrot metaphor? Erm….

But none of this should be cause for existential teeth gnashing. Electronica is a wonderful organism, flickering with countless colours, and vibrating with a trillion basslines. It doesn’t matter if you’re locking yourself into a bunker with an armload of doom-heavy euro-techno, or fluttering between the brightest lights with only the vaguest understanding of the way they are all strung together, because it’s all just people finding what they like and, perhaps even more importantly, what they don’t. Forget community, and think about what people are actually doing. The scene in Glasgow better be different from the ones on Detroit, or Berlin, or Sheffield, or Bristol, because different movers, different histories, different politics, and different tastes have all played a part in creating them. Ignore the official histories. Chicago may have birthed the sound, but the acid that comes from Manchester, or Liverpool, or London is no less authentic, even if that authenticity has been sparked from different sources. Embrace the differences, Enjoy the clashes. Pay due where it’s due, but never listen to spokespeople, or ‘voices of the people’: they’re always playing the angles. And especially, definitely, particularly, ignore any ageing blog writers who try to convince you of anything. They’re just in it for the fame, and the occasional promo. If I’m still here in five years, somebody come round and unplug the computer. Cheers for reading.

PS, I was going to choose a record from the last five years that really meant something to me. But, well, I sort of couldn’t be arsed, so here’s a bunch that I quite like instead.

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DJ Di’jital – Electrohop (Trust)

For those of you unfamiliar with the work of Lamont Norwood AKA DJ Di’jital – and I know there will be a few – here’s a brief recap. One time DJ for Aux 88, Di’jital has been a true stalwart of Detroit electro for more than twenty years. His original slew of records (released on Aux 88’s Direct Beat label) were thick with that particular tang of Kraftwerk, soul, and techno that we now tend to roll together under the term ‘techno-bass’. While this was certainly a close enough description of Di’jital’s music in a broader sense, it doesn’t really convey much of the scratchy, instectoid funk, or the corrosive acidic energy he brought to the party. It’s a sound he’s developed from his Direct Bass days onwards, whether it’s been on Twilight 76, his own Di’jital Access label or elsewhere, and it’s one he’s continued to perfect over a prolific career.

His début release on Austria’s Trust is very much an extension of this sound. In some senses this is the antithesis of modern electro, not only of the wide-screen, deeper and more symphonic breed we have become accustomed to over the last few years, but also to a great deal of the tunes which borrow liberally from the energy and movement of techno-bass itself.

What I mean by this is that Electrohop is not the fulsome, and genre flexing sound we’ve become used to in electro. These are stark beats, combative and taut. They are stripped down beyond the point where concepts like ‘functional’ have any real currency and, indeed, some of them lie squarely in the territory we once called tools. On occasion that exact tightness, the compression of tones and grooves, can take the breath painfully away, and leave you reeling with claustrophobia.

That never lasts. There is always something sliding into place; a slight change of direction, a ripple of acid bass. always accenting the drive of the beats, and shaping their throw. On the fleeting 808 Kits it is the radioactive pulsar burst of bass locking everything within its gravity. On Gamma Radiation it is the spidery creep above the searchlight flash of bass and the regiment of kicks and hihats. On the more rounded-out numbers, such as Entity (The Get Down) flashfloods of melodic bass, and stabs of synths loosen up the rhythms, adding a larger, lighter groove. On Input Main the occasional shiver of discordant, broken, chords, on top of the prowling acid bass catches a mood which makes overt a subtle playfulness at the heart of the record.

It is a harsh record, but that mentioned playfulness, a humour and warmth, smooths many of the sharper edges. But what stands out are the grooves which are whip-like and whip-smart, reminding us that this is first and foremost a dance music, regardless of where the experimentalism takes us. While Electrohop can sound alien in comparison to so much contemporary electro, that’s part of its charm. These tunes might be too much for ears tucked away at home, but drop them in the deep-night fury of your favourite subterranean sweat box and you will watch the room explode.

Best Of The Represses Jan 2019.

What the actual drokk! 2019 is a made up year, isn’t it? IT’S ONLY SUPPOSED TO EXIST IN SCIENCE FICTION! Personally, I think this is at the heart of the human race’s current weirdness – we peaked in 1991 and now we just don’t know what to do with ourselves, and as we’re human (so I’m told) we’ve attempted to blast our way back to that temporal safety blanket by being fixated by walls, being fascinated by Bros, and listening to all our music on vinyl which is actually a bloody terrible way to listen to anything – although I guess it’s still better than having some dingbat like Kanye teleport the sounds right into our brains, and charge us every time they makes us blink.

2018 was a pretty decent year for the represses, I think, although I suspect that whether you agree with that statement largely depends on what your electronica postcode is. Obviously from an electro point of view it was a smashing 12 months where it felt at times that the represses were edging it over the brand new releases in both quantity and quality. Down at the other end, I sometimes wonder why we’ve really not had a huge avalanche of quality jungle and d&b returning to us from the distant past – or hardcore for that matter, given the wee waft of love for all things ravey and breakbeaty we’ve seen in some quarters. Mind you, the slightly underwhelming rave revival seems to have shrunk away as quickly as it came, leaving little behind but a vague impression of something started without a clear plan for what to do next. If you’re British, that’ll be a little bit familiar just now….

Elektroids – Elektroworld (Clone Classic Cuts)

I’m sure Elektroworld by Elektroids will be just as familiar. Well, it has to be, hasn’t it? It was pretty much the definition of ubiquitous at one point – certainly up here, anyway – and I imagine at least half the tracks on it remain just as familiar now as they were in the late nineties. While a portion of the record’s enduring fame probably owes something to the ongoing question of who exactly wrote it (the blurb on the record claimed it was ‘four young brothers’. Everyone else says it was Drexciya), it remains a smart collection of Kraftwerk inspired electro which mixed in a massive dose of Detroit soul and funk, and had a big a role in helping electro’s transformation from interesting diversion into the all-conquering genre it sometimes is these days.

What else it there to say? The chances are that if it’s your sort of stuff you probably have it in some form – the previous reissue, perhaps, or the long available digital files. Still, simple availability doesn’t usually detract too much from a good repress, and this one is certainly that, with the memorable original cover, and a light tarting-up of the mastering helping ease out the few doubts and creaks. Everyone will witter on about Japanese Telecom, or Future Tone as the album’s stand out track, but although they’re excellent tunes the best thing on it by far is the utterly funky Midnight Drive – still a moment of captivating, hazy, brilliance nearly a quarter of a century on.


Ectomorph – subsonic vibrations (Interdimensional Transmissions)

Unlike Elektroids, Ectomorph have probably never quite got the attention they deserved – particularly for the run of releases early on in their career where they displayed a fine understanding of a form of electro which seemed to borrow liberally not only from Detroit but also from Rotherian noir without ever becoming beholden to either. The end product was something distinct from either discipline – starker than Drexciya, sparser than anything to come out under the UR or 430 West banners but also fiercer and more embracing than their northern European peers.

Although the Stark EP remains my favourite of Ectomorph’s early run (and I’d love a repress of that one, particularly for the fantastic Time Fold), Subsonic Vibrations is a pretty remarkable début by any standard. Right from the very start, the little kinks that separated them out from everyone else are evident. The title track with its wonky, drifting, bass; Last Days Of Skylab’s bubbling acid mayhem; Parallax View’s shuffling, compressed, energy. All led off by Skin’s charging, righteous, grooves. Like the Elektroids album, this is a magnificent snapshot of the point electro began its metamorphosis. And for anyone one unfamiliar with Ectomorph (and there seem to be more than I thought), what better place to start than right at the beginning?

No Smoke – International Smoke Signal (Warriors Dance)

Ok. Aside from a vague recollection of someone mentioning this to me at some point, and a suspicion I’ve heard a couple of the tunes before, this repress of a 1990 release is pretty much an unknown to me. It probably shouldn’t be but there it is. My God, though, It’s brilliant. And I’m slightly embarrassed not to have really known about it before, especially seeing as one of the members is Tony Thorpe whose work as Moody Boyz took British electronic music off on so many insane journeys.

There’s too much here to really get my head around. Vocals from The Mali Singers scent tracks like Don’t Touch Me or the sprightly funk of International Smoke Signal, with smokey atmospherics which stretch the house in deep and wonderful directions. Just listen to the ace Anti Galactic Devotion, replete with a cheeky Star Wars sample, and the sort of beats which ride as if they know UR and the future lie just up the road. There is so much excellence on offer. Best of all is Ai Shi Temasu (Japanese Love) – deep and throbbing, it cuts house down to its constituent parts and focusses on the music’s raw, physical presence. It’s just superb.

See, this is the reason represses can and should be more than a simple exercise in commodifying nostalgia. Every so often something like this appears, something you’re not familiar with, and just floors you, making you wonder why you haven’t loved it since the day it first came out. An absolutely essential blast of UK house, acid, and breakbeat from the days they were all part of the same creation. Go and buy it right now. We need more of this.

Favourite Tune of 2018: Linkwood – Fresh Gildans (Firecracker)

2018 was for me a bit of a shitter, to put in bluntly, and I think my relationship with music – particularly electronic music – took a bit of a battering. If I’m honest it was mostly the circus which seems to now permanently orbit electronic music which really did it for me. Frauds, arseholes, and grifters are par for the course in all the arts, but something particular in electronica’s wide-ranging seems to have drawn them in. The gap between what I’m looking for, and what there seems to be, is growing. There were times I just couldn’t have cared less. And it’s led to an interesting re-education in the basics of what it is I want from electronic music, and the realisation at the heart of it all is that I’m not looking for authenticity, but honesty. And I’m happy to take it wherever it appears regardless of whether it’s the underground or somewhere more accessible.

This fed back in on itself, and when more personal issues raised themselves my fallback wasn’t into electronic music, but into soul, and punk, and all sorts of bit n pieces that were as far from techno or electro as you could get. Comfort music, I think. I probably listened to more soul last year than I have in a couple of decades. The unintended up-side to that is that it gradually came to colour almost everything else I listened to, and remind me of what it was I really loved about a lot of electronic music in the first place. I’m sure I have said it before, but you can parade all your disco icons, or Krautrock gods around as much as you want, but the real heat in-house, and in techno, comes from soul before anything else. Without soul music this is all just expensive sound boxes bleeping at each other.

One of the niggles I’d had with electro all through 2018 – that after the sugar high its mini-renaissance delivered in 2016 and 2017, and after it had once again settled down into relative isolation there would be a slow drift back into entropy; all the newly won energy and ideas boiling away into the cold-state of same-old same-old, with what was left further calcifying into the chilly fractals of IDM-ish academica – was probably related to this. There seemed a dearth of electro which offered something beyond either frigid introspection or gleeful abandon. It’s a wonderful genre, but it does have a certain taste for starkness at times, and a predilection for particular routes and directions which sometimes makes it look like a dog who can’t turn right.

There were a few tunes here and there which pushed out from these common boundaries. Mor Elian’s Xerik Zula started off with threats of large-scale stomping but became an endless fluctuation of mood and shade; glimmering light forever hanging on the edge of sharp transients. Posthuman’s Steal The Show, right at the end of the year, tied a prowling breabeat into a shuffle of bright rave stabs and set them to work in a cathedral of strobes. La4A’s Creased was almost the best thing I’d heard this year. A tune which remembered that one of the things about early IDM which made it so good was the optimism, the sense of wonder and escape, of machine minds looking out across the sun-dappled uplands towards a future-music. It was graceful, blissful, and majestic. These, and a handful like them, were tunes which dug a little beyond the obvious of the genre. Track 2 on the anonymous Keep Your Mouth Shut EP brought a sample from an Aphex Twin remix of Saint Etienne and created a daft, ambling, and deadly track that sounded like the best anthem baggy never had. It was as brilliant as it was stupid.

Fresh Gildans, though, was the one I listened to probably more than any other, and I think the reasons for that are probably quite simple. Something in its weight didn’t feel like anything else this year, and yet it felt entirely comfortable; It rode straight in there under the intellect, hitting up a connection on the emotional level. In some ways it reminded me of Theo Parrish’s 71st and Exchange Used To Be on Trilogy Tapes from a few years back. Not because of a similarity of music, but in the way the music flares out, working in the guts and the feet, but lingering a beat behind in the subconscious, rendering the whole thing instinctual.

And Fresh Gildans just strutted. So bright, so alive. So utterly captivating in the groove it required nothing more than to be allowed to do its job. The beats (particularly at the start) are pure Mad Mike. Taut, rolling. Perfectly marshalled. The rain of Detroit-esque strings, the throb of the bass. It felt liked submerging yourself in cold water on a hot day. It was a master class in the idea that music does not always have to challenge you on an obvious level to get a reaction, and that the best tunes sometimes work by simply showing you what they right from the start. There weren’t many tunes this year which made me want to laugh and cry at the same time, but this one did. There was honesty and soul here for sure. It was heavy with them, using them the fuel a vibe of warmth and life, and remind us of the simple joy of movement. 2018 didn’t deliver many treasures, but it delivered this. And that’s far, far, more than I had any right to expect.

Favourite Records of 2018

So, as usual, my policy is simple. Write about some records I liked over the year. That’s it. For a year in which I didn’t feel as if I bought very many, it turned out to have been a bumper crop. As you can guess, most of these are electro, so if that’s not your thing I can only apologise and get back to enjoying these crackers. Maybe next year will bring more house and techno records I liked. 2018 didn’t manage it very often, but I’m always hopeful. Extra big shout outs for the ones that I’ve run out of space to cover like Posthuman’s The Snake That Bites Twice (Craigie Knowes), Linkwood’s Fresh Gildans (Firecracker), Bass Junkie’s Low Frequency Fugitive (Bass Agenda), 214’s Exit 32 (Klakson), Svboda by Locked Club (Private Persons), Shadow Child and Mark Archer’s Non Stop (Super Rhythm Trax), Ludgate Squatter’s UK Steel (West End Communications), Binaural’s Mescla (Dream Ticket), Static by Contactless (Unknown To The Unknown) and a huge host of other bangers. It’s been an unexpectedly good year, music wise at least. Cheers to you all!

Ultradyne – Ocular Animus (Pi Gao Movement)

After the dissolution of Drexciya, there were very few electro acts who could claim to have been in possession of a similarly unique sound. There was Ectomorph, of course, (even with their links to Drexicya) and a tiny handful of others, but it was the Frank De Groodt led Ultradyne who looked the most likely to occupy the vacant throne. They’ve released some great music over the years, but something about them has always rubbed slightly against the accepted mores of the scene, keeping them locked, perhaps, in the strange purgatory of the open secret. No matter, Ocular Animus was their first release since 2015’s Return From The Abyss LP, and their first EP in 5 years. It was a belter of a record – as abrasive as it was pure, it delivered a hit of 100% thoroughbred Detroit electro of a sort you imagined was long gone from the earth. Suicude Relay, especially, was a tune in which to lose yourself. It was like being picked up by arms built from raw frequency and soul, and taken to another, very different, world.

Persona Non Grata – Mor Elian (Hypercolour)

Persona Non Grata was a record which emerged as if from nowhere and caught a few of us on the hop. At first I resisted because, AS WE ALL KNOW, if more than three people tell you a record is great they’re probably completely wrong and just saying it because everyone else is. It turned out they were right. This is a fine reworking of electro themes and motifs, one that takes a little from the genre’s varying sounds, and adds them into something billowing, warm, and alive. It’s a record which makes no pretensions about what it is, and draws a real sense of strength from that. Even better, it remains massively accessible without losing any of its foundational electro charms. Lovely and soulful in equal measure, with some killer grooves to seal the deal.

Historical Repeater – Scientific Calculator (Earwiggle)

A collaborative debut on Earwiggle for Solid Blake and CTRLS, Historical Repeater was one of the more interesting techno records released this year. Perhaps it was the blend of CTRL’s undeniable talent for twisting grooves out of scrap metal and bouncing electronics, and Solid Blake’s tastes for drawing strange lines out of broken, snapped, electro, that sent the release off in a very different direction than the one the bulk of techno chose to follow. There’s something about the way in which coaxes movement from disparate sounds which gives it a grubby, funky feel that feels very refreshing; At times hard, almost industrial, at others wiry and dementedly charming, it remembered that techno is dance music and pulled every trick in the book to make sure you remembered too.

ScanOne – E.Oneseven (Analogical Force)

For all the fierceness and complexity of its limb-snapping rhythms, for all the brutality lying just under the surface of the tunes, E.Oneseven has a surprisingly large amount in common with the producers cresting the current wave of heavily IDM indebted electro. There is a love of melody, and sharp, intuitive sound-scaping, which engulfs and enlarges the music, opening vistas not immediately apparent, that owes a debt to braindance and ambient. Even so,it’s the rhythms which really dominate, and provide movement, structure, and meaning. They shape everything else around them in an eruption of breaks, allowing the melodies to fall like ash over the ridges and furrows they form. Exhausting and euphoric.

LNS – Recons one (LNS)

Recons One is another example of a growing – and welcome – breed of electro producers who are creating a sound which takes influences from a wider range than we might have seen in the past. Above the crisp, playful, breaks you can sense everything from classic Detroit techno to Autechre to bleep, all helping to create a wide, shining, and expansive sound. In the ambient pieces, there is the same attention to detail, and a curious pragmatism which anchors the music under familiar stars. Occasionally a little more restrained than it needs to be, Recons One remains a beguiling and smart record.

LA-4A – Slackline (CPU)

I love CPU. One of the main movers in electro over the last couple of years, they have done more than most to keep it in the public consciousness, even though they seem to frequently wonder off into territory that’s a bit cold, clinical, or experimental for my basic tastes. And then they release an EP like Slackline and it all makes a weird kind of sense. As with the label itself, it’s not entirely accurate to describe Slackline as electro. It’s certainly there, rubbing its sweat all over the furniture, but it’s marshalled by rogue elements of garage, and the off-kilter freedom of the very early IDM movement. There’s also a vibe familiar from breeds of mid nineties techno which skirted between genres, often pushing between the walls as they felt like it. Creased is superb tune, rising and falling as it tries to hang onto an early morning trance.

Textasy – Dallas Gun Club (Craigie Knowes)

I could have filled a large part of this list with any number of Craigie Knowes releases. The records by Carl Finlow, Posthuman, and Derrick Car in particular were damn fine. But it was Dallas Gun Club, from the very start of the year, which gets the nod. Why? Because it’s insane. The recent trend for rave and breakbeat has had an impact of sorts, but without creating anything amazing. What’s great about Textasy’s approach to much the same with is that he de-emphasises some of the more outlandish, noddyish, elements and accents the breaks and the way they play off the sharp little touches and spikes of melody and mood which made up a lot of the underlying tension of rave. The results are torrents of vibrant colour and electric, peak time moments. A stand out record on a brilliant label.

D. Tiffany – Feel U (Planet Euphorique)

It’s not always easy to feel charmed by a record, but that’s exactly what Feel U manages. There is something about its chirpy nature that should irritate, should drive you into the stack to find something darker and fierce. It doesn’t though. It invites you in, occupying you with its wriggling little grooves and the nagging suspicion somebody forgot to tell D Tiffany that electro was supposed to be abstract and unapproachable, just like all those gonks with arm loads of dry,’moody’ techno told you it was. But while Feel U was one of the most joyous records of the year, that doesn’t detract from the fine emotional depths it also managed to create, tingeing the happiness with something wistful, half-remembered and – at times – almost mournful.

Kosh – Null 212 (Casa Voyager)

I hate using the term ‘break out’ because it all it usually means is ‘was too small for me to care about before.’ I’m happy to use it in Casa Voyager’s case, though, because they came out of nowhere with a bunch of great EPs, and I’m even more delighted to use it about Kosh because this one is going to be going places next year. I’ve no doubts about that whatsoever. Null 212 is a bit of an outlier in the way it evokes the sounds of genuinely classic electro: this is a record which takes pleasure in drawing its influences from much further back than Drexciya or Aux 88. You can hear Cybotron in this, and the Egyptian Lover. The beats are scratchy and strutting, the bass spiky and slippy, and the overall mood is of a record absolutely determined to deliver a particular breed of hazy, laid back electro funk of a sort we all need much, much more of. A gem of old school threads woven into brand new togs.

Bitstream – Switch Holo (Frustrated Funk)

It might have been a very quiet year for electro powerhouse Frustrated Funk, but they did still manage to deliver to great records. The first of those was a repress of ancient and fantastic material by Spesimen, the second was Bitstream’s Switch Holo, their first record in a decade. It’s a corker. Dark, cracking with malignant energy, it frequently feels as if everything is about to crumble around the disorienting grooves and abrupt changes of direction. But then you start paying attention to the odd, controlling, non-human intelligence that lies underneath at all, keeping it in check, and it all begins to make so much sense. Rampant, sketchy, alien funk that’s having a ball and simply doesn’t care whether you are too.