Best Of The Represses – August 2017

Well, heck. I should admit something right now: I’ve kind of being running around a lot over the last month and have barely had time to look at any records at all, let alone gather up a sweet posse of represses. About the only one I’ve felt any real excitement about is the return of is DJ Bone’s Riding The Thin Line which I covered away back in what now feels like another life time but is now available from the linked site above as well as all your favourite stores. It’s a genuine classic and you’d be an idiot of sorts to pass it up. Elsewhere, the rumours of Direct Beat represses seem to actually have some truth to them, with the Aux 88 lads themselves revealing the existence of Direct Beat Classics, a new label which’ll print up a bunch of, uhh, Direct Beat classics. No news yet what records will actually be getting touched with a beam of magic sunlight but they’re pretty much all gold so it’ll be good whatever happens. Not quite so brilliant is the way the much vaunted Metroplex re-releases seem to have funtered out into nothingness. We had high hopes of some real doozies being pumped towards us, but the way in which the above mentioned DJ Bone release (originally on Metroplex) was shunted off to another label has us a wee bit concerned. Mind you, Juan Atkins has been rocking around the place for the last few months with his old muckers Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson on a big time Belleville Three tip so perhaps once all that’s over things will get going again. Anyways, Here’s some stuff I’ve snuffled around in for your perusal.

LNRDCROY – Unthank 8 (Unthank/Firecracker)

As regular readers probably know, I am apparently the last person on Earth who is still to be convinced by the merits of the whole Moodhut/Vancouver thing. I don’t get it. God I’ve tried, I really have, but far from feeling it as some sort of charge towards on-point futuro-authenticity it kind of strikes me as the soundtrack to a really underwhelming afternoon in the sort of coffee shop that chunders on about how they roast their beans before selling you a thimble of tepid, bitter, bum water for a fiver. AAAND relax….

I exaggerate (mostly), and their have been one or two records over the last couple of years which I’ve almost liked, and there have indeed been a smaller subsection of those which were pretty darn good actually. Chief amongst these have been LNRDCROY releases, either complete records or occasional tracks cropping up elsewhere. This repress is of his 2015 release on Unthank, a label which goes to almost insane lengths to provide the sort of overall experience in terms of artwork and all that jazz which makes you want to weep at all the blank-label-with-stamp records you own. It is a fitting union for LNRDCROYS deep, fluid meditations, and this is one of those releases where the concept of ambient really does harken back to a concept of space and beauty.

Both Donny On The River, and Freedom For Antboy II pitch and yaw in the nothingness, rising and falling with simple emotions which keep them hanging there in starlight. Terragem’s silken thunder, in comparison, is far more direct, and reaches back towards both early techno and the first steps of IDM to cook up a tune which sounds like a long-lost warehouse anthem still dancing on in the ruins of a carpet factory somewhere on the M25 even though a million sunrises have come and gone since a strobe last flickered across it. Beautiful and gentle, and utterly entrancing.

Gemini – On The North Star (Peacefrog)

As great as Peacefrog’s run of represses have been I’ve found it a little hard to get excited about them all, particularly knowing that the records from their back catalogue I’d love to see re-releases seem to be forever just out of reach. As cute as a lot of the house they recently restored to our record players has been, it’s done nothing to alleviate the hunger I’ve got for some of their techno from bods like Luke Slater, DBX, or Purveyors Of Fine Funk. And the fact they still haven’t gotten around to repressing Eddie Flashin Fowlke’s quite frankly brain squashingly brilliant Stella 2 is a crime, an actual crime.

Still, having said all of that, they have repressed On The North Star, a record which in my opinion is quite possibly the best thing Gemini ever did. I wrote about it way back in 2014 not long after I started doing the blog and it’s been a constant around these parts for many years.

Part of North Star’s beauty is the way in which it isn’t really a Chicago record. While it certainly has all the hallmarks of its home city, it actually draws from further afield for influences on which to build its magic. Most obviously, perhaps, is how techno it actually sounds; there are moments on North Star where the universe falls away leaving only the faintest tug of gravity to keep the music on course as it reconfigures itself into some of the finest high-tech soul to ever not come out of Detroit. Elements of it feel closer to Kenny Larkin or Octave One than to Paul Johnson or Glen Underground, and it’s probably heretical to suggest that it’s all the better for it.

Aside from the crackling heft of X, this is a record which places an amazing importance on the way melody interplays with the grooves, as if one could not fully exist without the other. Day Dreaming and Snow Drop both haunt a hazy world, following their own quizzical natures, but neither are mere wistful dawdling; the rhythms in both are complex, frequently flipping on their axis to drive a sophisticated funk. A Blue Night is Rhythim Is Rhythim whittled down to the barest components, the extra space filled with moonlight. This is house music as something utterly new – an alien, forward facing hybrid which was reaching out to the future. And I don’t think it ever got as close again. Pick it up now before it’s too late.

Model 500, 3MB – Jazz Is The Teacher (Metroplex)

**********STOP THE FLIPPING PRESS****************

Literally just as I was writing the nonsense above, my good friend Terminal313 alerted me to this which I had pretty embarressingly missed. What can you say about Jazz Is The Teacher? I wrote about it way back last summer, and I still stand by every word. This is one of a handful of genuine classics which went on to become one of the hallmarks of the genre. It did so because instead of coming to ecapsulate a particular time or scene, it instead became a sonic symbol for everything techno was supposed to be, that meeting ground between soul and art and electronics, their bonds tightened by a shared hopefulness and romantic notions of ‘tomorrow’. And quite aside from all that it remains, after a quarter of a century, one of the most recognizable techno tunes ever written. It’s not just that track which is legendary: Bassmental is both pounding and delicate like strands of frequency unspooling from a cooling supernova, and Cosmic Courier is very possibly better than Jazz Is The Teacher, an almost Platonic ideal of Detroit techno, a dream quest through the singularity. As collaborations go, I doubt whether this group of Atkins, Mauriz Von Oswald and Thomas Fehlmann will ever be bettered.

Advertisements

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.

Best Of The Represses – April 2017

Bring me your represses, your…actually, that’s all. Just bring me your represses. And don’t be bringing me rubbish ones neither. We only want the good stuff here.

The Other People Place – Saturday Night At The Laptop Cafe (Clone Aqualung)

With all the predictability of night following day, Clone follow Warp’s recent repress of the legendary Lifestyles Of The Laptop Cafe with a re-release of this companion 12″ from 2002. To be honest, I suspect part of its fame has come from a combination of James Stinson’s untimely passing, and its relative unavailability over the years. Sorrow & A Cup Of Joe is a pleasant, downbeat slice of electro tinged deep house that many people have hailed as a classic. While I’m not sure it’s quite as good as its reputation suggests it’s impossible to fault it too much, particularly since it pulls of a rare trick in sounding even more contemporary than many of the tunes being released right now. Beyond that, any electronic tune which manages to sound so utterly downbeat yet hopeful deserves a couple of minutes of your time, and everything I said a month ago about the album is just as relevant to this release.

Mystica Tribe’s Telepathic Seduction on the flip is the more vital of the pair, with Stingray bringing some seriously low slung swing and dappled evening sunlight to a tune which wobbles nicely through some almost R&B-ish movement until it falls asleep under the stars. It’s really pretty nice, and worth a look if deep house in disguise isn’t really your thing (I raise my hand here). If you’re a sad-case completest ( I raise my other hand here), a tightly bearded hipster, or simply curious about what all the fuss is about consider this the opportunity to fill your boots.

Gemini – Le Fusion (Another Day)

Spencer Kincy’s Gemini project was one of the truly great sources of house music to emerge from Chicago in the mid nineties as the city’s second wave began to get into its groove. Originally released on Cajmere’s Cajual Records, Le Fusion was one of the corner stones of Gemini’s enduring fame and even today it still carries with it a sense of being both well out on a tangent as well as being ahead of its time. Soundwise it rolls between bumptious, tweaked, Relief styles jackers, and trippy, oddball, thickly rhythmic workouts which are far more experimental examples of house than you tend to find in today’s rigorously codified climate. The opening track is perhaps one of the finest distillations of this grooving madness ever committed to vinyl, with its woozy fairground organ and malicious, descending double bass brewing up the warped and nervous energy as our host holds court in French. While it sound absolutely demented – and it actually is demented – that never detracts from the fact it’s a stone cold killer. And for those of us who like shit to be done right, this release has apparently been licensed from the reclusive Kincy himself meaning that – unlike with a lot of releases bearing his name – he’ll see royalties for it.

Cybonix – Make This Party Live (Frustrated Funk)

Frustrated Funk brilliant series of classic electro represses is really getting into gear now, and if you have any money left following their recent re-releases of E.R.P, Plant 43, Ovatow, Duplex and others you’d best throw your last pennies at this slice of genuine old school Detroit electro.

In comparison with the other names I just listed, this is a thicker sound, but although it shares a lot of common ground with its home city’s sweaty techno-bass there is something even more swaggering at its heart. I’ve never been exactly sure what that is. Perhaps it has something to do with the way it sounds as if the techno influences came second to old school electro and hip hop, or the way Cybonix throw down a more humanized emotional element which gives the music a messier, less precise and far more chaotic sense of fun than is found in other, more Kraftwerkian strands of the genre. It doesn’t matter. All you really need to know is that Make This Party Live is a bonafide classic and it’s good to have it back.

Strengthening the original three tracks of the original release further is Let’s Bang from the band’s debut Cybonix In Effect. It’s a very nice little bonus, adding both a little history and context to the rest of the material. Every tune is a banger, but the standout is the rude grooving, Shake Your Body with its pumping bass and moody piano riffs. A very nice and welcome addition to a growing roster of old electro making its presence felt once again.

Various – V-Max Records (Warehouse Finds)

Finally a special shout out here to Glasgow’s Rubadub who apparently stumbled across a bunch of 12-inchers in their warehouse from the brilliant V-Max label and got them back into circulation. I’m not sure which ones they found, but I got my hands on a bunch of Heath Brunner material under both his Silicon and H&S guises.

This is some world-class electro, but numbers are pretty limited I would imagine, so if you want some, better start hunting before it’s too late. My pick of the bunch is Silicon’s Static EP – You’re unlikely to hear anything as good as this masterclass in stark, warp speed electro for a long while. What Brunner does it astounding – so few elements so much groove. There is almost nothing there but magic. Get on it now or cry like a wean for ever onwards.

Friday Night Tune: Gemini – X

Discogs is a dangerous place for the unchaperoned record obsessive, no matter what their poison. Its bland, functional front end is nothing but a doorway to a realm of scarcely imagined temptation and once you’re in there is no real escape. Sure, you can avoid it, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months, but sooner or later the hunger will reawaken inside you and you’d better get your wallet ready, and your prayers, because your on your way to a poorhouse made of wax.

I’ve been good around Discogs, allowing myself only scant purchases over the years. But the pull is always there – that junky feeling, and the whispers…oh Lord, the aching seductive tones….

Like most people, I try to use it as an online archive of what I own and what I would like to own. Discogs is great for that. That and checking prices. I came across this EP, On The North Star by Chicago legend Gemini in my stack at home a few weeks ago. I hadn’t listened to it in years. It’s in not bad condition and I went onto Discogs to stick it in my archive. As I did so I checked the price – £100.

Is it that good? No idea. I used to love it, though. across its four tracks it builds on what would probably now – wrongly – be called Deep House. Blue Night, for example, is pure Detroit Techno pushed and pulled by Chicago nous. Day Dreaming is a glorious, Bass led mind rush of spiralling and effervescent tweets and chirps and Snow Drop a gorgeous, dreamy trip through the latest of late night moments.

X was always my favourite, though. Opening with a simple beat courtesy of some of the finest overdriven and crunching kicks you will ever hear, it builds so subtly over its 9 minute length that it comes at you like a soft padded mugger. It exists at the interchange between House and Funk. The grimy, sampled bass fluctuating in harshness as Gemini works the filters over and over, constantly bringing to boiling point before he brings in another Wonderful element. And when the snares come to life a couple of minutes in the whole thing transforms in a loose limbed jacking monster. Even in its more tender moments it never quite leaves you: a snarling guitar snaps out at you, demanding you keep your eyes and ears focussed.

Gemini -AKA Spencer Kincy – all but disappeared before the high tide of the nineties crashed against the new millennium. But he left one hell of a body of work in the few years he was active. I don’t know why he chose to vanish – I’ve heard rumours and stories – but it remains a shame. He was one of the originators, one of that second generation of Chi-town producers alongside the likes of Cajmere, Paul Johnson and Boo Williams who had such a profound effect on the direction of House. Kincy’s influence is still strong today whether or not that truth is conceded – listen to X and tell me you can’t here a generation of modern House and Techno in its sounds and grooves, tell me you don’t hear this record when you listen to Kyle Hall or Jay Daniels.

Some of his work has been re-released in recent years on a couple of different labels, all of it more reasonably priced than this one is on Discogs. Would I sell it? Nope. Some things are more precious than money no matter what the profiteers of the internet might think. This one is a keeper.