Review: Will Azada & Alex Falk – The Illuminati Traqckx (CGI Records)

Atlanta label CGI have, in the space of about three years, gone from being an interesting but hardly vital stable to one of a handful of indispensable US labels currently doing the business. Their first half-bag of records pushed a sound that was occasionally harder and expansive but mostly lighter, bouncier, and bigger than the bulk of the techno and house of the time, favouring as it did a kookier acid fun house energy over anything more serious or contemplative. More recently though, as techno has dug a bigger hole for itself in search of deepness, CGI have again sidestepped the rest of them and began to propagate a sound which mixes grooves and rawness with an experimental veneer. The results, particularly over the last three or four releases, and taking in music from Golden Donna, Twins, and Black Suede, have been some of the most gloriously rude and proper techno 12s of the last couple of years.

Proper Trax boss Azada joins Alex Falk for a double A side, the first music either of them (under their own names at least) has released on CGI for a while. Azada’s side takes his slicker minimal leaning and roughs it up. Flutterbutt opens like a tribal version of Plastikman before tightening itself down into a driving, dirty techno that would be right at home in the peak time sweat-a-thon of a really grimy warehouse. It’s purely functional but climbs relentlessly for its entire length. Illuminati Traqckx delves further into the night and although it starts pretty much where the last track finished, it opens up nicely and swaps the building energy for some hypnotic chords, adding warmth and serenity to the crackling lunacy underneath.

Alex Falk’s last record for CGI, The Justin Beiber sampling funk of GF, unfairly slipped under many radars but seems to have become better known since. Hopefully it won’t take people as long to pick up on his two tracks here. The first, MR1, perhaps represents his best work to date. Deceptively heavy, it pushes itself forward with a potent, ever fluctuating riff that locks down the vibe right away. Frayed by distorted edges, and chewed at by charging, high floating toms, it actually hides a lightness of touch, and disguises a mesmerizing, dreamy quality behind the urgency and froth of static. BLAZEIT takes a lot longer to get going before it delivers some shadowy Millsian voodoo techno. While it at first seems to be riding off to Loopy Banger territory, Falk cleverly centers the track’s potency in the groove rather than in the sound, negating dense frequency with an airiness that lets the funk take control.

While I’m not sure this is as buy-on-sight as CGI’s last handful of records, it’s worth more than a couple of quick glances. For both producers it’s probably their best work so far, and an evolution of their talents, especially in Falk’s case. If you haven’t picked up on their names so far (or the label for that matter) this is a pretty solid place to get involved. Dirty techno with heart, soul, and funk.

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Alex Falk: GF – CGI

Alex Falk first appeared on the scene last year with his understated debut, Terse, on Proper Trax, the label he runs with Will Azeda. Well, I say understated. The music on it scampered across the various sounds of the Techno range with nods to the likes of Rob Hood and Jeff Mills (on BPR, a glorious take on faded Hoodian – Yeah, I’ve just coined that term – minimalism) and a discordant thumpingness which still puts me in mind of French producer Terence Fixmer in one of his slightly more unhinged periods. Its big moment in the sun was surely the appearance of one of the tracks , PTR, on Hessle Audio chief Pangaea’s entry into the Fabric mix CD series. It’s a great tune; a sparse beat hanging steady under great sweeps of filtered noise. It sounds like its trying to erase its own tracks. As a whole it was a deceptively heavy EP, sounding at times like a man asleep, but with his hand wrapped around the knife hidden under the pillow.

GF sees the Tennessee native moving south to Atlanta and signing up with CGI for this, his first release of the year. It’s always a good sign of strength in a producers work when they can turn in something that has little in common with whatever they’ve been up to previously. Of course, on the strength of a pair or records, it’s all but impossible to say whether the raw Techno of Terse was a good example of where his head is hat, or whether, it’s here amongst the deep funk of GF, his talents are better served.

If you follow such things, you are already aware that GF carries a sample from a tune by some well scrubbed child-scrote called Justin Beiber. Not that you would probably notice. From the sound of it, Beiber has been hacked apart and rebuilt using parts from a very, very knackered 1970’s era robot. It’s like Falk found Twiki from Buck Rodgers in a bin and stapled Beibers head to its yellowed plastic torso. As this is the sort of thing I tend to hope happens to most people who are richer, more beautiful and successful than me, I can only give it my full support and play it whenever I can. The rest of the track chugs along nicely, but it’s the sample that sets up the denouement.

The record doesn’t really come to life until Foam Party, though. A wispy, deeply groovy little mover, Foam Party swoops in on the back of a winged funk cherub and dives into soulful waters where fish with the faces of Carl Craig and Kenny Larkin wriggle through dapples of saturated light. More seriously, the track hangs at the interchange between House and Techno seemingly uncaring about which way it wants to go. I think it’s pure House. Others may disagree.

BF is coming up on that interchange as well. A feint vocal snippet fades in an out of the mix, nicely accenting the tight, regimented riff that calls to mind Chez Damier and, perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, echoing some of Anthony Naples recent work. It’s probably a purer form of House than Foam Party, a classic builder that’s probably at it’s happiest slightly out of the limelight and welcoming others to the mix.

Miley’s Plateau takes the lessons learned over the previous tracks and marries the House vibes to a tougher Techno groove. It’s probably closer in spirit to Falk’s first release, but the peels of synth that ring out give it a warmth that record did not have. It’s the rhythms here that are the most exciting; where previously they sometimes seemed slightly perfunctory under the roll and smile of the riffs, on Miley’s Plateau they are front and centre, scattering pockets of static into the corners of the speakers and pushing forwards without ever threatening the fun, whimsical atmosphere; a stomper with a heart of gold.