Review: Ben Boe – Leagues To Light Years (BOE Recordings)

Despite BOE Recordings now being in their 8th year of existence,’Leagues To Light Years’ has the distinction of being label head Ben Boe’s first solo release. There have been a handful of tracks and remixes here and there but nothing that gave us more than the briefest glimpse of Boe’s personal talents and tastes. In a scene largely dominated by labels that began life as applications of techno’s much vaunted DIY ethos or even as stylish vanity projects, there is something a little bit heroic about a label owner who seems largely content to stay in the background and let his stable of artists get at it instead. And although I’m happy to concede that it’s much more common than it once was (particularly amongst British labels, interestingly,) it still awakens a certain amount of curiosity.

Still, with a network of producers that includes Kris Wadsworth, Perseus Traxx and Anaxander, BOE Recordings haven’t really had to rely on home base for some great material, which makes Boe’s belated début on his own label even more interesting. Given the label’s core philosophy of releasing underground music influenced by Detroit and Chicago, it’s no surprise that ‘Leagues To Light Years’ gives a heavy nod to classic US house and techno. In saying that though, none of the three tracks are slavish in their devotion. The influences may be common enough but they are delivered with a lightness of touch that pleasingly adds to their understated feel.

Ganymede is the more open of the three, riding in on the subtle crunch of the kicks amid the occasionally tumbling tom. Beyond the jacking of the first couple of bars the tune soon blossoms into a rising piece of high-tech funk the likes of which we don’t hear enough of any more. By turns warm and sleepy it propels itself onwards and upwards on the back of some classy, wobbly 313 bass towards the sunbeams of synths which light up each element that falls away, fluttering back to earth, and illuminating the tune’s heart.

DEEeeP-r is somewhat denser. What it lacks of Ganymede’s symphony of light, though, it makes up for with a throbbing real-world groove that builds itself up from the gloriously old school bassline; always shifting, never settling, the bass rides the snap of the percussion, the wispy pads and the smudged vox like it was born to it. It puts me in mind of Gemini at his loosest – and that’s never a bad thing.

Atomic Fuzz comes as a vinyl only extra, which is a laudable enough idea even if it seems a bit unfair to keep it exclusive given it’s quality. It’s the most ambitious of the three tracks and swaps the wide vistas of the US influences for something much closer to the moodiness and blending of styles that remains a hallmark of British electronica even now. The interplay of the break beat and the icy pads suggests IDM, but the roll of the perc and the heavy tech-steppy warp of the bass push it beyond that and into a twilight where touches of drum n bass and garage sparkle in the half-light. It is quite possibly the best thing here and more than enough reason to get your hands on the vinyl rather than just settling for a digi.

Whatever reason Boe has had for holding off on his début doesn’t matter now. The joy of the two main studies is undeniable, but it is Atomic Fuzz, with it’s serious understanding of the flow and mood of something beyond the classic (and yet fun) influences that lodges in the heart and mind. Tasteful rather than raucous it’s a strong record that gets inside the fabric of high-tech, soulful funk. With a bit of luck we won’t have to wait another eight years for the follow up.

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Review – Anaxander: Travelogues (BOE Recordings)

There are a few producers who – for reasons I’m sure the Peanut Gallery can expand upon from the sanctity of their skinny jeans and dainty beards – seem to be if not exactly ignored then denied the larger audience they really should be due. Amir Alexander is an obvious one. He has been kicking out sublime jams for years but never seems to have hit the success he should have. I’m not talking about making millions of bucks here, or being handed little cups of sake by Richie Hawtin in some Ibizan gonk-pit, but the sort of cultural respect where he is simply regarded by everyone as a talent worth talking about. (Not that there aren’t many of us who aren’t doing that, but there should be more…many, many more.)

French producer Anaxander is another who seems to be mysteriously under the radar for a lot of people. There are in fact parallels with Amir beyond this weird oversight. Both have the sort of rapid fire output that gives L.I.E.S a run for Morelli’s riches. Both are smack right down in the middle of a serious love of analogue funk, and both make the sort of deep and intelligent House that we just don’t get to hear enough of anymore, which is a shame because it’s the sort of music we need now more than ever.

While I’m not sure Travelogues represents Anaxander’s very best work to date, it’s certainly an accomplished release with more going for it than should be allowed. In many ways it’s a journey back to the days when House was still informed by true Electronica, by tribal rhythms, by disparate influences being slammed into each other. Informed by everything, in fact, except itself. The astounding taste House music has developed for its own reflection is treated across Travelogues with the sort of respect it deserves. In short, it is ignored.

The A-side carries two pure bred grooves that don’t stint with the depth. Wild Grass is a tricksy number, pushing and pulling on your emotions with scattered yet restrained breaks and a dropping bass line that loops through the haze of synths with laser guided precision. There are certainly tribal elements to it, straight from the South Med and offset by twirling candyfloss strands of bleeps and squeals that never hold still in the breezy thrust of the rest of the tune. Night Train drops into dusk with a burrowing and acidic prowler that drags a crimped vocal into it’s path and mauls it for kicks. The discordant pads spill out like gasses from dirty vents, the percussion hacking malevolently at the coiled bass but never getting the better of it.

The B side is remix heavy. Label boss Ben Boe takes aim at Wild Grass with his 16bit mix and transforms it into a slick plateau dweller. It’s nice but over polished and lacks the warmth and adventure of the original, reframing the shenanigans in a straight 4/4 groove. The second remix of Wild Grass , the Madjurai Raj Dub reinstates the sense of experimentalism with a half speed shuffle and extra bleeps. Its fun and odd at the same time, like Tom Waits left alone with a bunch of Techno DATS and his imagination.

The last tune, The Snake Charmer, is a ‘vinyl only exclusive’ which should get you out to your local Brick and Mortar store if you have any sense. It’s a lithe grooved, square bassed little stomper that loops and bucks with a cheeky verve and energy that is a little lacking elsewhere on the side. Worth the wait. Play it loud.