Review: Boneless One/Type 303 7″

Boneless One/Type 303 – Split 7 (Not On Label)

It’s probably fair enough to say that of all the countless forms of electronica, acid has been one of the biggest victims of its own success. Although it’s now the best part of half a life time ago that those early, primitive, acid house records began to filter out of Chicago and into the wider world the sound has refused to die, its basic vibe now incorporated into almost every other genre – sometimes brilliantly, sometimes not so much. But while these mutations now fill countless racks in your favourite record shop, music which sets out to capture something of the original energy remains a little more rare. Not that there hasn’t been a few classic feeling bangers released over the last couple of years, it’s just that they have been buried under the endless avalanche of 303 abusing tunes hailing from other places.

When I talk about original sounding tunes, I’m mostly thinking of something which filters a little of the spirit of the music of Armando, or Bam Bam, or DJ Pierre (amongst others) – stripped down jackers which rely on the functionality of a rolling groove to let the 303 do its thing. It’s not as common as you’d think any more. The trick is all in that groove, that intangible magic which should never be seen but always felt. Anyone can drag a 303 to a slab of psy-trance, but you can’t make it move you.

Over the last couple of years, Boneless One’s explorations of a relatively pure acid sound have come closer than most to syphoning the funk from these old records. His last outing, the Pixelae Destructium EP on Computer Controlled, was a fierce, cracked, and storming collection of acid doused tunes which shot up a more modern and warehousey feel with a little of that old madness, and drew on the more brain mashing moments of the likes of Bam Bam to source the DNA.

This 7″ release is closer to the original Chicago vibe than that – closer in fact than he has yet got – And he and his friend Type-303 (a newcomer, with a single other release to his name, a pretty classy blast of acid house on I Love Acid) take a side each to work the funk.

Type-303’s number, the rippling Jytäcid, is a near perfect dose which evokes old, old shapes but tempers them with something a little more modern. On top of a wonky, loose, beat, the little silver box is allowed to do what I’ve always thought it does best, it gets down and dirty amongst the lower registers where is trademark warble is swapped for a gnarly, gritty, bassy snarl which gradually climbs upwards, but never so high as it stops winding itself around your feet. it floats, and buckles, and dribbles around your brain, squirting away like a mad thing. I’ve never understood why people try to overthink the 303. This tune doesn’t; it relies on what the box is good at, warping your thought patterns. The results are pretty much all you could wish for.

Boneless One’s tune, Houz Basics 5, is very much of a similar breed, but the 303 is allowed to wrap itself around a chunky, floating piano riff which locks the tune into something a little more out there and recalls some of those old Brit acid tunes even more than their Chicago ancestors. The acid does its job brilliantly, but it’s the interplay between the warbling leads and the piano which lend it a weight it would otherwise not have had.

It can be difficult these days to get too excited about acid, even classic sounding acid. But what makes the difference here is that the sounds are, in fact, the least important things on display. It’s the grooves, the funk, which make both tunes so lively. And as I’ve said so many times before, time travelling to get the sounds is all well and good, but if you return home without the ideas, without the soul, it’s been a wasted trip. Not in this case, though: its the way they move which make them so fun. It’s a limited release so track it down before it vanishes.

Review: Second Storey – Telekinesis Via Fax (Trust)

Second Storey – Telekinesis Via Fax (Trust)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Dez Williams – Forlorn Figures in Godforsaken Places EP (Mechatronica)

Even after the best part of two decades Dez Williams remains an outlier in the electro scene. There is something in his work – a feel for the darkened end of the electro spectrum perhaps, or his use of other genres heavy elements – which separates him from his peers. This has become more obvious over the last couple of years as the genre has begun to envelop more and more of the silvery and rarefied tastes of IDM, or the ongoing investigations into just how deep you can go. As those trends have grown a large part of electro’s current fashions seems to have receded from Williams. Or, perhaps more appropriately, Williams has receded from them.

As if in retort Williams’ has made potent use of a host of sounds that seem to have drifted out of fashion elsewhere; acidic elements retain, in Williams’ hands, a power to sear and knock you sideways instead of rendering them into a sort of vaguely cool hat-tip they appear to have become with other producers; his breaks, thundering in a middle space between the deceptive fragility of European electro-noir, and Detroit’s looser, technobass funk, rides fast, the percussion barbed and cutting. His forays into techno, frequent and very much on a par with his electro, contain not only a dose of the spiky rawness of FUSE and early Surgeon, but the energy of furiously debauched and hungry rave, all tied together with post-punk’s dirty skank.

Forlorn Figures in Godforsaken Places taps into much of this prevailing energy. While it is very much an electro EP in the most modern sense, it rarely allows itself the luxury of staying on that one path. At times it fluctuates, resonating on some unheard and innate frequency, until fragments are shaken away to reveal the new and underlying structure. It’s also a record which takes delight in revoking electro’s unfair reputation as a medium too abstract for dancing to. That such a claim still exists is weird, but Williams’s brings with him a bag of tricks and touches which emphasise the funk and grooves even while it sounds as if the four horsemen are on the loose.

This is not to say Forlorn Figures is particularly heavy. Perhaps in relation to a lot of contemporary electro is weighs in at the heftier end, but it’s less abrasive than some of his recent techno work, bringing a certain amount of light which dials up the contrast. Generally the harsher tones serve to scour away extraneous tissue, removing bulk and limbering the tunes up. The results are lean and dangerous.

From the off, Williams’ taste for the shadowy side of electronica’s past is at work. Opener Xen sparks into life and builds a focus on bleak billows of bass extracted from the most prowling forms of techstep. It brings a gravity to the track which leans hard on the breaks, capturing them and pressing them into a scattered orbit where they clatter and pop. Troom, right at the end, slips the whole tune into a slower circuit, and evokes flickering images of Le Car’s Detroit born, synth pop tinged experimentalism, and late 80s hiphop jams. It’s a confident, brash number, the track smacking beats and bass of an off-kilter half-melody as it grows more and more fiery.

Even when the music contains the more recognizably straight up tones of electro, they are toyed with, and mutated. On The Verge latches the mood to noir-ish streets, slowly dousing the light levels under a shroud of Rother-esque leads before illuminating everything with gentle flares of melody and glowing rivulets of sultry strings which accent the rain-lashed and cinematic roll of the tune. Carkrash Vikdem in comparison, corkscrews through, industrializing the beats, straightening out the groove into what snarling, peak time nastiness, and weaving in machine soul by way of static bursts of bleeps.

Forlorn Figures… is a corrective of sorts for a scene which has the first, very slight, symptoms of playing a bit too readily for the gallery. It’s tautness comes not from a modern electro-minimalist approach to reduction, but from the simple understanding of how everything goes together, fits together, perfectly, and its fire and energy draws from a time when electro was first and foremost a mover of limbs and feet. It’s this which informs the music most: fast, sometimes heavy, and occasionally even brutal, it’s always done to power the grooves. Excellent, excellent electro that bites back.

Best Of The Represses: June 2017

Sorry for the lack of updates. I’ve been working, on holiday, and watching things go weird in my down time. I’ve also been taking stock of the big wide world of electronica and thinking about things. All sorts of things. Anyway. Here’s three choice picks for this, the allegedly the first month of summer:

DJ Bone – Riding The Thin Line (Another Day)

This has been up there in the top five of my personal repress wishlist for a very long time now and I’m delighted it’s finally available. Originally released on Metroplex, this is simply DJ Bone at his peak. A Peerless blast of brain twisting techno and electro, from the cosmic-tribalist stomp of Shut The Lites Off to The Funk with it’s tight, stark, and sparse collision of wiry beats, bass wonk, and robots-gone-feral vocals this is a record you really shouldn’t be without. The whole thing is close to techno perfection as you’re going to get without dying and going to techno heaven. Shipping at the end of the month, although you can get the DL right now if you buy from the Bandcamp page. I don’t know why you’re even still sitting here reading this.

The one thing that confuses me is why this isn’t part of Metroplex’s own current repress schedule. While I’m obviously happy to have it again in any forms, the nerd in me would love it to have the original art. Anyone know why? Answers on a postcard to the usual address. I bet the magic word here is ‘licence’. I’m beginning to hate that word.

D’Arcangelo – D’Arcangelo EP (Suction Canada)

Another record which has made the jump from its original home is this 1996 EP by Italian outfit D’Arcangelo. First out on the much missed Rephlex, it’s not hard to see why it found a place in the Aphex Twin’s own stable. Pushing between bone snapping, hard as nails, experimentalist industria, and something akin to Kraftwerk having a happy picnic in the country, there’s no doubt it’s a brain masher; the way it jumps from the mind shredding heaviness of the A-side to the complex, smiling, and frequently beautiful, melody led material on the B might leave you wondering what the hell is going on, but it’s also indicative of a pair of producers rich with ideas and who weren’t scared to keep themselves out in front of the genre trap.

While the searing Somewhere In Time still does the damage after 21 years, the real keeper here, for my money, is the gorgeous, snare-flaring, Diagram VII (80’s Mix). That such a trippy, wistful and grinning piece of sunshine can wander into existence after the record’s distortion drenched openers is a minor source of amazement. That it sounds like the theme to a long-lost 80’s travel show, or a schools program about European countries, just makes it even better.

Glenn Underground – Atmosfear (Peacefrog Record)

Peacefrog’s much discussed repress schedule is finally getting some steam up. We recently had a bunch of Theo Parrish and a Moodyman re-releases, but the label’s back catalogue contains so many bona-fide classics we can’t help but lick our lips in excitement over what might be coming back out further down the line. Most people will be ferverently praying for a nice fat vinyl reissue of DBX’s Losing Control but there are so many more possibilities you could go mad from thinking about it.

Glenn Underground’s Atmosfear should hold most of us over for the time being. Heck, it should do more than that because this really is a pretty special album. This isn’t ‘deep house’ – it’s just house done the way it used to be done: soulful, fluid, iridescent, and chilled. While listening back to it for the first time in a long, long time, you might notice it runs to chunkyness here and there in a way you don’t remember, but it still brings enough charm and panache to win over all but the most diehard of macho, black jeans wearing, technopods.

Tunes like the sunset tinged Israelee Night Falls aren’t simply classics, but are ingrained now in house music’s conciousness. Elsewhere, the jacking Colouration, and Soundstruck, weave funk around the most louche and laidback beats imaginable. Bonus shout out to the slightly tongue in cheek title of May Datroit and its wee homage to a city not too far away.

Labels That Changed My Life: Relief Records

Of all the labels which formed the cornerstone of my love of electronic music, Relief records is one of the most cherished, and the most infuriating. Cherished because without it not only would my understanding of house music be substantially worse off, but also the chances are that I would have more than likely never have immersed myself quite as fully in the genre as I did. Infuriating because, well, of all the labels which were special to me, Relief most often seemed to fail to deliver on their promise.

Beginning life as an offshoot of Cajmere’s seminal Cajual Records, Relief quickly developed a life and a character all of its own. My own early brushes with them probably came not from house, but from mix tapes by DJs such as Derrick May, Detroit techno people who had long been throwing every style into the mix. Back then I was not quite as sure about house music as other genres. Detroit techno, electro, and the harder variants which certain Chicago producers were beginning to release on European labels offered me something I was looking for. House music didn’t, not really. Not at first.

But there was something in Relief’s sound which set it apart from everything else. The first tune I heard, – and I imagine it was the same for many of us – Green Velvet’s Preacher Man, was quite possibly one of the finest tracks ever created. It wasn’t just that remarkable sample, the ranting, half-crazed sermon by Aretha Franklin’s father C.L that made the tune so great (although, yep, it certainly added to it). The tune itself, a stomping, wonky, building chunk of madness, of searing noise and bar structures not quite getting it together, felt utterly alien to almost anything else which was going around back then. Not only that, but it seemed as if it had transcended Chicago usual style. This wasn’t really house, it was Chicago techno, a sweltering, loose and heavy assault on the senses which had virtually nothing in common with the likes of Marshal Jefferson or Jackmaster Funk.

From the start there was a mix between the more traditional sounds and the harder edged. But even the records which leaned closer to what had come before felt subtly different, blending house tropes with a stripped down functionality where elements such as the basslines or the samples gained a prominence which moved them away from what I guess you could describe as a song structure towards something closer to techno’s machine music movement. Where Cajmere’s Green Velvet continued to kick out dark, almost twisted takes on his own earlier It’s Time For the Percolator sound, others on the roster where beginning to explore further, bringing it all together with an ear for the most contemporary dance floor funk.

And what a roster that was. Paul Johnson, Boo Williams, Tim Harper, DJ Sneak, Gemini and many others – virtually the cream of Chicago’s second wave, and each of them releasing at least one record which has stood the test of time to become regarded as bona-fide classics. With Williams and Johnson in particular creating a house sound which stripped back the genre’s more humanizing elements and replacing it with soulful machines, layering the tunes with beats culled from the deepest and heaviest of the Chicago underground, and with the likes of Harper creating an epic, spiralling take on the same thing, it felt as if house music was launching itself into the future.

This was music which worked best blaring from a stack of speakers across a packed dancefloor in the late hours. While dance music is exactly that, it’s rare to find much of it which is simply not the same beast when removed from its natural habitat. But this was at the heart of what made Relief so special: It was music first and foremost for dancers. You want entertained at home on a Sunday afternoon? I’m sure there’s some worthy IDM instead. Relief is for the club.

While there was a similar, almost kindred, energy, with what Djax was getting out of it’s Chicago contributors half a world away, where the two differed was just how far they shied away from house. Djax’s take on house was fuelled by a much harder European market, Relief’s take, while belting, took greater pleasure in the grooves, in the funk, and in a delicious twisting of what was expected. It was a similar sonic decadence to what Chicago had been doing for a long time, but it was more direct, dressed to sweat, but with a kink in the programming which kept it ahead of the game.

Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to keep them ahead for long. Chicago labels always seemed to have a habit of indulging in release schedules that would terrify even the most hardy and insane of completests, and Relief was no different. The truly great period for the label lay across 95 and 96; a vanishingly small window for such a hugely influential label to have made its mark. While there were great records from the label before this time, and a handful after, these two years were the real home of the label’s classics. The problem was, and the thing that even I eventually grew weary of, was that for every record which sailed close to genius, there seemed a bunch which didn’t even try. There may have been a lot of great records, but the rest pointed to a label which seemed increasingly content with throwing everything against a wall and seeing what stuck.

The special magic which Johnson, Williams, Gemini and others had brought to the label dissipated under the weight of records which simply offered little more than one note disco samples, or straight-to-video rehashes of the percolator style which aped Cajmere’s original sound but without any of the humour or funk. By ’97 there were still occasional blast of special music coming out from artists like Mystic Bill, but they were bittersweet, emphasising the ways in which a label had lost its way, and buried under rafts of older material released as CD compilations for various markets. It all but vanished for a couple of years, and on its return at the start of the millennium it seemed more interested in releasing endlessly repackaged Green Velvet material.

It has relaunched again in the last couple of years, almost entirely in a digital format, and maybe it will get back to where it was before. Maybe. Things have changed, and house is yet again a different beast from what it once was. Perhaps the simple fact was that Relief was a product of a particular period of time, one where everything was up for grabs and new ways of doing things were coming along at an insane rate.

The remarkable drop off the label suffered from shouldn’t be forgotten, but neither should it be its memorial for the fact is that even though it shone for such a short period of time, some labels – hell, even some entire genres – couldn’t claim such a run of truly, stunningly, brilliant records as Relief managed across a handful of months in the mid nineties. They were a label that touched genius and changed the way house sounded forever, no matter how flawed they were towards the end. Big Old C.L Franklin had Relief’s number right from the start: ‘You got to watch out when folks are playing house.” That should be their memorial. Amen to that.