Best Of The Represses – January 2017

Here we are at the fat end of 2017 with an entire year of new music to assail us, thrill us and more than likely annoy us a little bit too. I’ll be honest: On the whole I thought 2016 was a little bit on the dull side when it came to represses, although there were a few crackers and surprises buried under the piles of more obvious re-releases.

Now, I don’t know exactly what’s in store for 2017, but for those of us who enjoy a bit of electro nonsense it looks like we might be well served with a 2LP retrospective of Detroit’s excellent Le Car coming very soon, and a reissue of Drexciya’s final LP, Grava 4 coming in March. Even better, We will be finally getting a vinyl reissue of Other People Places Lifestyles Of The Laptop Cafe. For many this is something of a holy grail, representing – aside from the great music – the last work of Drexciyan hero James Stinson. Beyond electro, Derrick May’s seminal Transmat label is gearing up for a wee run of represses, which looks like including the label’s best ever release – the Ikon/Kao-tic Harmony doubler. I’m hoping if they do well Mr May might be tempted to start shunting out some of the Fragile back catalogue too. Also, following a press release from Submerge on the subjecet of increased issues with pressing and distribution, we are soon to get the Underground Resistance and Red Planet catalogue released as remastered digital files via Bandcamp. Lovely. All we need are for Metroplex to put out more of their classic records and we can all go to bed happy.

Ultradyne – Antarctica (Exterminador Records)

Anyone with a nervous disposition can look away now, for Detroit’s Ultradyne are not an outfit which caters for shrinking violets. Even by the once fierce standards of Detroit’s more militant acts, the music Ultradyne offer is fast, furious and hard. This is a reissue of their one and only album, originally available on their own Pi Gao Movement label all the way back in 1999, and it still feels tight with the nervous energy which characterised the last days of the second millennium. Even in its quieter, subtler, moments the tunes play host to riotous, seething bursts of sound which disorient and pound. It’s in the faster tunes that everything comes together though. Whether its breakneck, swirling techno, razor-sharp electroid hunter/killers, or rogue industrialized slabs of funk which defy such easy categorization, Antarctica is a singular vision, a snap shot of electronic music taken right on the very edge of sanity. Much, much recommended. Listen and learn.

The Exaltics – 10 Million Light Years (Solar One)

Solar One had a very good year last year, with some truly special records encompassing work from the likes of E.R.P, Gerald Donald and The Exaltics themselves, to say nothing of a pair of splendid samplers which included off-kilter hits of acid, techno and electro from a host of class acts. 10 Million Light Years is a special 10th anniversary reissue of the labels first ever release, and comes on splendidly weird dye injected coloured vinyl which goes a long way to offsetting the fact it’s a creepy 10″ (and yes, 10″ records are creepy. You know I’m right on this so don’t argue.) Encapsulating Drexciyan overtones, and blending them with something more overtly European 10 Million Light Years shifts its electro skeleton on its axis until it becomes a far more esoteric beast. Haunting rather than deep, stalking rather than either frosty or pounding, but never losing sight of the grooves which underpin it, the record remains a surprisingly accessible burst of sleek and future-proof funk powered by machines with alien DNA.

V/A – Stilleben 045 (Stilleben Records)

OK, so this is a bit of a cheat on my part. Originally out in 2014 as a digital only release, the vinyl version finally landed late last year and was promptly buried somewhere in my stack until I remembered it over the Christmas period. Apologies if you can no longer find it anywhere other than Discogs. Still, it’s certainly worth tracking down, even if it’s just to get you acquainted with a label which is slowly moving back into gear after a couple of quiet years. Various Artist samplers are, of course, all the rage just now in electro, but even by current standards this is something of an all-star release featuring two tracks from Swedish electro pioneer and Stilleben head honcho Luke Eargoggle (one with Weltwirtschaft), an absolutely fine, free funking groover from E.R.P and a storming, Detroit wired, midnight rambler from -=UHU=-. Each track digs into a different vibe and shows how wide open the genre can be.

Favourite Records of 2016: Featuring Umfang, Morphology, Lok 44 and More!

Best record? Naah, there aren’t any best records, just lots of good uns. I’ve heard a few people here and there saying it was a poor year for music. Well, I guess it depends where you look. There wasn’t a huge amount of house music that did it for me this year, I have to say. While the genre’s taste for nostalgia was fun enough to begin with, it’s now looking more and more like a chronic – and limiting – condition. There was some brilliant techno once you got past the hordes of records which assaulted you with matching beats, sounds, tones, and themes. And as for electro, well…although its true that electro never went away, it was certainly in a rather sleepy state until it began to get a head of steam again last year. The effort has been rewarded in 2016 with some astounding music. Even better, the electro renaissance looks like continuing into next year and beyond.

As ever though, the best option is to ignore genres and simply buy stuff that gives you pleasure. it’s a lesson some of us are slow to learn, and even slower to put into practice. There was a fair bit I liked this year, and less that I really loved. Here are the honourable mentions plus the five I wouldn’t part with for anything. As ever, no true favourites, no attempts to frame debates, or make a point. These are genuinely, simply, records I enjoyed because I enjoyed them. What else matters?

Bruce brought his A-game on three releases this year, but it was the filthy technoid skank of I’m Alright Mate (Timedance) which was still on my decks at the end. Likewise, Randomer was a busy lad throughout 2016, and he left the biggest impression with the strange, polyrhythmic charmer Running Dry on Dekmantel. Michael E kicked us into a time loop with the stripped down, direct-to-jack acid of Child Of God, with Give Me Vision particularly invoking memories of wobbly bangers long departed. Jared Wilson also went down acid house lane with Communicating With Ghosts (Dixon Avenue Basement Jams), but the stark, pared down approach was swapped out and replaced with a more muscular and techno vibe. LnrdCroy also brough acid house to the fore with Ooze City (Mood Hut) and soaked the floor with sludgy, swampy grooves. And if you thought acid was the only game in town this year, DJ Overdose’s Don’t Get Burned (Computer Controlled) pushed back with a record flavoured by the stomping house of Dance Mania (and, yes, a little bit of acid).

It was a mental year for electro, and I could have done this entire list ten times over with nothing but the electro records. Jeez, I don’t even know where to begin. How about with 214, who continues to get better with every release. This time it was Fuel Cells on CPU which best showed his box of tricks as he gave us a record as quirky as it was jagged. London Modular Alliance’s Out Of Sync (Brokntoys) brought some full throttle electro and mixed it up with warped, abstracts, and Annie Hall’s Tenured Position (CPU) dived into deep pools of light to create some of the most joyful and shining takes on the genre this year. Special shouts to Carl Finlow, Silicon Scally, Plant43, and Dez Williams who all added their unique voices to electro’s new awakening.

There are too many names to list. Far too many. I’m sure there will be some later I remember and kick myself for forgetting but that’s life. Here are five of my absolute favourites from 2016. I’m sure you will all join with me in wishing that 2016 gets tae fuck and in hoping that 2017 is, at the very least, a tiny bit less stupid. I’m going for a long drink. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Umfang – Riffs (1080p)

There are always records kicking around here which get lost in the general messiness of my unordered mind. Often times I stumble over them months later when I’m looking for something else and curiosity finally reasserts itself. I wasn’t familiar that much with Emma Olsen’s slender body of work, and the little I had about her was mostly related to DJing, but this EP on Vancouver’s 1080p simply blew me away. Described in one review I read as ‘minimal’ the reality is that record is a juxtaposition of empty space and the sharp, potent sounds which gradually flow in to fill them. Some of the hardest techno I’ve heard this year, it infuses it all with a spiky, acidic energy before muting it with a worn world weariness. Listen to Ecstatic_Layer‘s hammer-blow of industrialized, focussed, mood and see what I mean. Essential for anyone made despondent by techno’s current production line sounds.

E.R.P – Ancient Light (Solar One)

While Gerard Hanson’s 2845 album under his Convextion guise garnered most of the publicity, it was this release for Solar One which really shone. languid, spectral, and distant in the sort of way great art often is, Ancient Light brought all of its qualities to bear in a trip to the furtherest reaches of the universe and powered it all with a warp drive of the tightest, purest machine grooves. Whilst it recalled something of Detroit’s own aural deep space program, it refused to settle for too much homage, creating instead its own cosmic funk by way of some very modern electro. Deep doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Samo DJ Kicked Out Of Everywhere (TTT)

The Trilogy Tapes had another undoubted year of quality, with some great releases courtesy of Elmo Fudd, Bored Young Adults, and Rezzet, it was Samo DJ’s Kicked Out Of Everywhere which best symbolised the labels leaning towards a deceptive and subversive accessibility throughout the last 12 months. Too heavy for house, too hypnotic for rave and too lively for techno the record stalked a different course, rolling little bits of everything together and making the connections through kindred grooves until the music took on a lithe independence all of its own.

Lokk 44 – Bouse (Trust)

It took me a little time to adjust to Bouse; rightly or wrongly I expected something a little bit more comfortably electro, at least a little less obtuse. Eventually it all blossomed and I woke up the way Daniel Lodig plays with both the conventions of the genre and our own preconceptions to create a sound world strongly coloured by quiet drama and a flair for taking electro forms and reworking them into something wider and symphonic until each tune sounds like the soundtrack to a private and untold story. In a year when some electro went for the jugular, and some angled it downwards into the gloomy depths, Bouse’s subtle experimentation and clever structures made it an important – and timely – milestone.

Morphology – Frozen State (Vortex Traks)

Although Morphology’s first release of the year, Lack Of Light on Abstract Forms, was a superbly unnerving example of bleak, frozen, electro, this release on nascent Berlin label Vortex Traks takes everything from the first record and improves on it in every way. Well, not every way because Lack Of Light’s heart of ice has thawed by application of some furious, acid soaked grooves and a burgeoning sense of urgency which invades the structures of the music like a benevolent virus. In the moments when it isn’t building dancefloor-chewing future funk, it’s evoking the spirit of IDM to accent the tunes with a palpable sense of adventure and wonder. Of all the great electro records this year, this one comes closer than any other to summing up the genres new-found spirit of excitement and vitality.

Review: Matt Whitehead – Bombing EP (Super Rhythm Trax); E.R.P – New Road (Tuppence)

Finally getting to the bottom of the pile. Just in time too. Here are the last reviews of the year, I think. All the contractually obliged best-of lists up next week if I can remember anything about what I listened too.

Matt Whitehead – Bombing EP (Super Rhythm Trax)

Matt Whitehead’s name is probably most recognizable to people on the back of his A Is For Acid Ep on Perc Trax acouple of years back. Although the record never contained the original tune, Perc’s furious remix was heard pretty much everywhere. Here he alights on Jerome Hill’s superb and criminally underrated Super Rhythm Trax – A label which is a great fit for Whitehead’s love of old school forms dragged into the here and now.

The Bombing EP is acid house pure and simple, and anyone who does’t get giddy at the sound of a 303 going mental should probably look elsewhere. I have to admit that I occasionally get that fear myself; the basic form is so played out it can be difficult to feel anything other than jaded when it rears its head again. What makes the difference here is that it stays away from aping the sounds of Chicago. The acid on offer here is far more British in tone: Scruffier, harder, informed by rave and dungarees. It makes a difference, especially these days when that Brit acid house 88 spirit is often mentioned but seldom experienced. Both Birdland and Crosstalk hit up exactly that theme, replete with loose grooves and chirpy acid squiggles, descending quickly into cheery acid madness. We’re Bombing shifts the goalposts with a slab of brilliant and precise old school electro so authentic you can imagine it framing a montage in an 80s movie.

Best of the lot is the shuffling acid thunder of Seeing Red, which finally yanks on that Chicago umbilical cord to great effect. Slowly unfolding, menacing and funky as hell, it’s a purebred reminder of how effective, and potent, that original sound was when it was delivered by the right hands. I misspoke earlier: Anyone who doesn’t get giddy at the sound of a 303 going mental should look right here. If this doesn’t fix you, you’re probably beyond needing fixed.

E.R.P – New Road (Tuppence)

E.R.P, AKA Convexion, AKA Gerald Hanson steps up to the plate for one final blast in what has been a very interesting year. His Convextion album, 2845, did the business whilst uniting our various gangs, crews, and teams in a desperate hunt to actually find copies of the bugger before the label did the decent thing and repressed it. The one other E.R.P release this year, the Ancient Light EP on Solar One, effortlessly redefined the ways in which electro can break free of gravity and wander the universe.

This final hit of electro for 2016 comes on 7″, which is a weird treat for me as I think it’s the only one I’ve bought this year barring a Nina Simone repress. Doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference, of course. At least it’s not a 10″ which, as we all know, are evil, strange, and wrong. E.R.P makes good use of the limited waxy real estate with a pair of tunes that largely take up what he was doing on the Solar One record. Many people have attempted to copy this sound, but Hanson’s relationship with deep, spatially twisting electro is second to none.

That said, New Road itself suffers from its truncated length, weighing in as it does at a fraction over three minutes. While many tunes overstay their welcome, this one is just beginning to weave a tangled emotional web, courtesy of those trademarked lattices of fragile, angelic synths. Here they’re chaperoned by some growling, speaker humpingly deep bass, but the tune simply runs out before things really come alive.

Summer Nights holds a lot of the purer electro impulses in check and is perhaps better for it. Warm, flowing, and – importantly – long enough to really invest in the rich tapestry of mood, time and place the music brings into being, it has a touch of classic Detroit to it, to the extent that the rhythms and percussion, and the way they slip and roll around the slivers of melody and the pads, recalls Derrick May’s way with subtlety and interplay. Slight, perhaps, gossamer in its build it still manages to captivate with its gentle persuasion. Couldn’t find any clips so get it before its gone.