Best Of The Represses Jan 2019.

What the actual drokk! 2019 is a made up year, isn’t it? IT’S ONLY SUPPOSED TO EXIST IN SCIENCE FICTION! Personally, I think this is at the heart of the human race’s current weirdness – we peaked in 1991 and now we just don’t know what to do with ourselves, and as we’re human (so I’m told) we’ve attempted to blast our way back to that temporal safety blanket by being fixated by walls, being fascinated by Bros, and listening to all our music on vinyl which is actually a bloody terrible way to listen to anything – although I guess it’s still better than having some dingbat like Kanye teleport the sounds right into our brains, and charge us every time they makes us blink.

2018 was a pretty decent year for the represses, I think, although I suspect that whether you agree with that statement largely depends on what your electronica postcode is. Obviously from an electro point of view it was a smashing 12 months where it felt at times that the represses were edging it over the brand new releases in both quantity and quality. Down at the other end, I sometimes wonder why we’ve really not had a huge avalanche of quality jungle and d&b returning to us from the distant past – or hardcore for that matter, given the wee waft of love for all things ravey and breakbeaty we’ve seen in some quarters. Mind you, the slightly underwhelming rave revival seems to have shrunk away as quickly as it came, leaving little behind but a vague impression of something started without a clear plan for what to do next. If you’re British, that’ll be a little bit familiar just now….

Elektroids – Elektroworld (Clone Classic Cuts)

I’m sure Elektroworld by Elektroids will be just as familiar. Well, it has to be, hasn’t it? It was pretty much the definition of ubiquitous at one point – certainly up here, anyway – and I imagine at least half the tracks on it remain just as familiar now as they were in the late nineties. While a portion of the record’s enduring fame probably owes something to the ongoing question of who exactly wrote it (the blurb on the record claimed it was ‘four young brothers’. Everyone else says it was Drexciya), it remains a smart collection of Kraftwerk inspired electro which mixed in a massive dose of Detroit soul and funk, and had a big a role in helping electro’s transformation from interesting diversion into the all-conquering genre it sometimes is these days.

What else it there to say? The chances are that if it’s your sort of stuff you probably have it in some form – the previous reissue, perhaps, or the long available digital files. Still, simple availability doesn’t usually detract too much from a good repress, and this one is certainly that, with the memorable original cover, and a light tarting-up of the mastering helping ease out the few doubts and creaks. Everyone will witter on about Japanese Telecom, or Future Tone as the album’s stand out track, but although they’re excellent tunes the best thing on it by far is the utterly funky Midnight Drive – still a moment of captivating, hazy, brilliance nearly a quarter of a century on.


Ectomorph – subsonic vibrations (Interdimensional Transmissions)

Unlike Elektroids, Ectomorph have probably never quite got the attention they deserved – particularly for the run of releases early on in their career where they displayed a fine understanding of a form of electro which seemed to borrow liberally not only from Detroit but also from Rotherian noir without ever becoming beholden to either. The end product was something distinct from either discipline – starker than Drexciya, sparser than anything to come out under the UR or 430 West banners but also fiercer and more embracing than their northern European peers.

Although the Stark EP remains my favourite of Ectomorph’s early run (and I’d love a repress of that one, particularly for the fantastic Time Fold), Subsonic Vibrations is a pretty remarkable d├ębut by any standard. Right from the very start, the little kinks that separated them out from everyone else are evident. The title track with its wonky, drifting, bass; Last Days Of Skylab’s bubbling acid mayhem; Parallax View’s shuffling, compressed, energy. All led off by Skin’s charging, righteous, grooves. Like the Elektroids album, this is a magnificent snapshot of the point electro began its metamorphosis. And for anyone one unfamiliar with Ectomorph (and there seem to be more than I thought), what better place to start than right at the beginning?

No Smoke – International Smoke Signal (Warriors Dance)

Ok. Aside from a vague recollection of someone mentioning this to me at some point, and a suspicion I’ve heard a couple of the tunes before, this repress of a 1990 release is pretty much an unknown to me. It probably shouldn’t be but there it is. My God, though, It’s brilliant. And I’m slightly embarrassed not to have really known about it before, especially seeing as one of the members is Tony Thorpe whose work as Moody Boyz took British electronic music off on so many insane journeys.

There’s too much here to really get my head around. Vocals from The Mali Singers scent tracks like Don’t Touch Me or the sprightly funk of International Smoke Signal, with smokey atmospherics which stretch the house in deep and wonderful directions. Just listen to the ace Anti Galactic Devotion, replete with a cheeky Star Wars sample, and the sort of beats which ride as if they know UR and the future lie just up the road. There is so much excellence on offer. Best of all is Ai Shi Temasu (Japanese Love) – deep and throbbing, it cuts house down to its constituent parts and focusses on the music’s raw, physical presence. It’s just superb.

See, this is the reason represses can and should be more than a simple exercise in commodifying nostalgia. Every so often something like this appears, something you’re not familiar with, and just floors you, making you wonder why you haven’t loved it since the day it first came out. An absolutely essential blast of UK house, acid, and breakbeat from the days they were all part of the same creation. Go and buy it right now. We need more of this.

A festive Clearing the Decks. Ho ho ho. Featuring Perko, Ben Pest, 214, and Carcass Identity

Jesus Christ once said, “get up you whinging slob and stop feeling sorry for yourself. Pull yourself together and write about some records”. So that’s what I’ve done. It might not have been Jesus, come to think of it, it might have been Christopher Reeves. I’m not sure. One of those guys, anyway. So here are some really quickly written and probably not all that informative reviews you can slip into your loved ones line-of-sight this festive period in the hope that Santa might bring you some tunes. Santa or Jesus. I’m not sure. One of those guys, anyway.

Basically, I’ve not been myself for the last few months. I’ve been a bit unwell. The result is that there is a build up of music around here, like sonic plaque on your techno-teeth. So, like a mad toothbrush, here’s the first of a bunch. I’m embarrassed that it feels like I’ve been sitting on this Ben Pest EP (that’s BN PST – although I still don’t understand electronica’s hatred for lovely vowels) for what feels like a billion years (because reasons) and it’s a shame because it’s a very likeable and daft example of everything I like in current British electronic music. Basically, this means that it reminds me a bit of Unspecified Enemies in the way it refuses to stay still. Mind you, it’s not quite as scabrous as UE but very few are. Instead it hovers around a bunch of genres. Electro, house, and techno, all get thrown into a blender and come out the other side in a big shiny bouncy, smiling, acidic electro form. Extra points for taking great delight for smashing between breaks and 4/4 in the same tune. Not enough people do that, probably because they’re miserable. Kudos to Ben whose records always sound like they’re having a ball. Top of the lot is probably Carbs Live VIP, which sounds like your pet ferret going to town on your hidden stash of naughty pills before heading off into the night. Bright, cheeky and wriggly.

Next up is one which is getting a lot of praise just now, and that’s Perko’s NV Auto on Numbers, which I’ve seen described by various bods as ‘next generation club music’ – a phrase I’m always suspicious of (unless I’m the one saying it) because it so frequently seems to refer to stuff that sounds designed to be discussed rather than actually danced to in any club I’ve ever been too. Weirdly, NV Auto doesn’t really hit me as being next generation anything, and instead comes across as a collection of fluid, quietly funky, grooves which draw together various strands of DNA from the last 20 years or so of dance music in a similar way to some of the Bristol crowd. There are touches of garage, of Intelligent d&B, and what it really comes across as is a decent example of contemporary British electronica, one that evokes the high times of several byegone club eras while remaining true to its own sense of modernity. It mounts shimmering threads over bare-bones beats and thrumming, heavy bass, and mixes up the more lively moments with glistening ambient interludes. Perhaps surprisingly (perhaps not) it’s a big sound, and one sure to find a place in certain record bags.

I’ve got to be honest now, I’m not sure that calling a techno act Carcass Identity bodes well for domination of the all-important friday night debauchery and decadence crowd, but as the rest of the world has officially gone pure 100% mental I guess we can forgive and move on. They’re here with a self titled EP on Italian label Random Numbers which pushes as far away as it can from what most of us consider dance music. This is slow, treacle thick, grimy, and seemingly happiest when it’s pressing unexpectedly hard on various synapses. While the name might well give you the fear that it’s going to drag you into terrible death metal territory, it in fact works some surprisingly subtle and nagging grooves into its quicksand-like form. Here and there the rhythms evoke something not entirely a million miles away from the period of Tom Wait’ career when he started folding cabaret and Kurt Weill into his trademark gutter-blues – particularly on the opener Reflection Ocean – and in fact the music’s arc lends it a weird electronic gothic-folk vibe that is probably fairly unique at the moment, with the possible exception of the sort of strange broken-funk techno the excellent Maghreban has been doing for a while. Dark, heavy, but certainly not without a sort of achingly playful energy that has you imagining a wooden puppet of the devil from one of those strange and wonderful Czech animations you used to get on TV in the early 80’s is about to pop up. I admit I wasn’t sure at first, but I can well get on board with this. It’s like the soundtrack to one of those fucked up central European folk tales people don’t tell to their kids anymore because they don’t want to scar them for life. Brilliantly out there.

Well, where do go after reviewing the sort of record which has you thinking you’re about to trade your soul to Old Nick for a magic violin? Why not listen to one of the most consistent electro producers of the last few years? Shall we? Lets!

214’s Exit 32 on Berlin based Klakson is another record I’ve been sitting on for a while and enjoying like a fine whisky, taking a sip here and there and trying to savour. There has been some damn fine electro this year, and Exit 32 is pretty much up there with the best. What I love about it is that 214 has made it into that team where his music is very much his own – not an easy thing in electro given how heavy the dogmatism of Important Influences (you know which ones I’m talking about) lie on the genre. That being said, Exit 32 seems to aim itself with a harder silicon groove than we’ve heard from 214 a while. It’s less loose and fluid than normal, instead building up a whirlwind of tight, breathless, scores which flare out into the sunset with jacking, acidic bass and infinitely deep Ibizan strings. While Pattern Rotate and Soap Dish evoke a less constrained and earlier age of electro, and Synthesizer Made Of Paper holds you between wings of glass, it’s Snow Banks deep, inquisitive machine soul that best sums up the record with its quirky, restless, desire to move you. Sophisticated, exploratory and endlessly funky. What more could you want?

Review: V/A – Apartment and Sunday Times (Apartment Records)

Back in the nineties it started to become possible to home in on individual and specific strands of house. The music was beginning to explode into a million forms as the original template drifted out of the hands of the original progenitors and into the sweaty grasp of people whose love for it, and their understanding of what it was, wasn’t tied to a specific era or geographical place. This brought benefits, chief amongst them a widening of the basic concept as various groups sought to rewire the sound for their own scenes and their own lives.

In the same way that we are attracted to the music which reflects something of ourselves, so it was for different communities. Of course, nothing can remain eternally pure, and nothing can remain true to a concept which only a handful of people may originally have held. With this was a growth in popularity, accompanied by a probably inevitable softening of many of genre’s strongest and most important elements. House today is a far cry from what first coalesced in Chicago clubs more than thirty years ago. It is a commercial enterprise now, and one which dwarfs every other electronic genre with the exception of the EDM charade.

The upshot of this is that when you do come across music which still harks back to something that is organically, intrinsically house (whether soulful, or acidic, or harder), it can sound alien to ears which have become attuned to the sleek forms which now dominate. We hear so much about deep house, about lo-fi house, that the deluge tends to drown out all other sounds. We begin to, well, maybe not so much accept them as the spiritual successors as allow them more leeway than they really deserve. It’s easier just to let it go.

Which brings us to this new four tracker on Irish label Apartment, a record which sounds and feels like the antithesis of so much of that contemporary house. Certainly, after so long stuck with house music which seeks to do little more than provide a momentary sugar rush, the collective of ideas, influences, and subtly altering moods on display here feel incredibly rich and a little jarring. It’s like coming face to face with an old friend you had thought long-lost; the warmth of familiarity filtered through a strange sense of anxiety and displacement.

Part of this odd feeling is rooted, perhaps, in the way that each of the four tracks here feel disconnected from the usual selection of influences, those ageing ideas which each new generation feels it has to tip its hat to. Sure, if you dig into the DNA far enough you’ll find those threads of Marshal Jefferson or Mr Fingers, or brush up against a genetic memory of Disco or Italo, but what you won’t get is the note-by-note transcription of the ancient past, and there is virtually none of house’s recent infatuation with ‘how we got here’. Which is a breath of fresh air because there comes a point where the past is nothing more than a roadblock.

Even so, Tr One’s Afrobeatdown has the feel of classic house, even if it’s of the breezy, Detroit techno tinged sort that Derrick May would melt your mind with in the middle of a set. Easy to swallow, but nourishing, it rides closest to the sort of thing which was coming out of the East Coast a few years back, and championed by the likes of DJ Q: a blend of thick house vibes cut open with razor-sharp touches and quick movement, held together by a bass which’ll void the insurance on your speakers.

Colm K’s Rays feels very much like a companion piece to Afrobeatdown, a more introspective examination of what happens when the music opens out to accommodate a wellspring of subtly variating moods. So much of the groove is carried in the little, almost incidental moments that it almost feels as if it doesn’t need the beats, although they are most welcome when they finally make their cameo.

It isn’t deep, not in the conventional sense of layering hackneyed, jazzy, riffs over lazy pads. Instead it works the contrast until the edges vanish into the shadows, and the way it plays with expectations, deconstructing rhythms and toying with the tune’s direction keeps it locked to an internalized and hidden compass. As open as the music’s sense of soulful adventure seems, it’ll have you working to get everything you can out of it.

Colm K’s other track, the short blast of late night soul that is HEY, could easily feel like a pastiche, but actually nods it’s head towards those parent genres which informed and influenced house but now feel cut out of the lazily written official history. It glistens with the grooves of 80s synthetic funk, R&B, and Vandrossian soul. There’s very little to it, if truth be told, but it’s a brilliant reminder that stepping off the path brings rewards.

The closer, Static’s Fallen Sky is perhaps the odd one out, being a heavier, less warmly open piece of house. Actually, it’s barely house at all and in many ways has little to do with any particular form of modern electronica (although that alone probably makes it a better example of modern electronica than most.) I don’t quite know where to start with it. It makes me think of Public Image – perhaps because the echoed snaps of vocals have more than a little of John Lydon’s honk to them – but mostly, as with HEY, it reminds me that the received wisdom of house is usually wrong, that the ocean of genetic soup that birthed it was far more stormy and exciting than we are led to believe. Part new wave, part Leftfield, part I haven’t got a clue what, it rotates the wrong way around, and forever catches you looking, guiltily, backwards.

JEM – Daisy Cutter (Sheik N Beik)

JEM – Daisy Cutter (Sheik N Beik)

First release – I think – for Joe Europe, a fellow scribe who might be familiar to you if you read the Ransom Note, and it’s not what I was expecting. To be fair, I don’t know what I expected; we music writers are a starkly talented bunch, but when it comes to cooking up a batch of our own jams we tend to run towards the ‘difficult’ end of the wedge as if to show the world that we really do know better than the rest of you (which is usually true so stop crying,) even in that means dousing the music we love in clever, sour-faced, experimentalism.

Daisy Cutter goes off in another direction. Rendering a number of relatively familiar influences and moods in unexpected ways, the record sidesteps the above malaise by the simple act of delivering four tunes which amplifies a feeling that the EP is, in some ways, a history tour which takes in not only JEM’s own musical experiences, but one that seeks to link together various ports of call through house and techno’s past.

It isn’t as complete as that, of course, but instead offers an interesting and alternative journey through the music’s history, one that is slightly off-centre compared to the usual route. Opener Daisy Cutter offers up a vision of Detroit that owes a great deal to Robert Hood’s original minimalist take on the city’s sound before it loosens off into a more slanted funk. Temple evokes the collision between hard, machine tightened, acid house, and techno which fuelled the music that used to flow out of Radikal Fear and early Djax. While it doesn’t lean on the floor as hard as some of those old records did, it builds a tight groove with a lighter touch.

Elements of Daisy Cutter, in fact, are smoothed with that lighter touch, rougher edges patted down even when the music is a little more expansive. The fractured, dreamlike Neb carries itself on an insect-call like 303, but relies on the delicate engine of its percussion to move, and little synth stabs to flutter at the mood and let the light in.

Semiotic tries to mix Daisy Cutter’s examination of mood and atmospheres with a more straight ahead approach but it doesn’t quite fit together, with neither part managing to move itself ahead. Even so, its cocky playfulness lends it an unexpected charm that sets it well with the rest of the record.

And, unexpectedly, it’s Semiotic’s playfulness that actually ends up, in some ways, defining the whole of Daisy Cutter; it’s in the way influences have been taken apart and cleaned up, put back together in slightly wonky and interesting forms, and in an understated delight at the way the new, mutant forms go their own ways. Ultimately, the deconstruction unlocks a sense of sly mischief and fun within the music that holds the interest even once the initial thrill of discovery has passed.

The Maghreban – 01deas (R&S)

Let’s be honest about something right from the start: When I heard that The Maghreban was making an album I was a little uncertain about how it would go. Having been a fan of his music for a long while now I think I have a fairly good grasp of its qualities, and I suspected that the mix of wide-screen exploration and loose, hynpogogic, grooves might be a little rich for a longer playing project, as if such qualities were better in smaller doses.

Thinking it over, though, and you begin to wonder whether a LP might not actually be better suited to Ayman Rostom’s music than its usual 12″ home. Sometimes when a house or techno producer aims for an album there is an amplification of the basic influences and ideas which shape the music. It becomes harder to avoid noticing if they are stretched too thin. In this case you would hope that the extra leg room might allow for the music to blossom and flourish, and to allow the space for many of Rostom’s tastes to really mature and come into their own.

Even with the real estate offered with four sides of wax, though, 01DEAS is a busy album. Crowded with starting points, and tangled with divergent paths though a forest of influences, it’s easy to lose yourself at first in a maze of concepts and interpretations until, gradually, the lie of the land begins to make itself known. The hip hop, the house and the techno, the touches of dub and d&B, the woozy, broken, vocals and the taut, noirish, moods, all seem to lead off to different horizons and it takes time to follow them back to the point where they feed into the records central tones and atmospherics.

It’s not a dark record, although it has is moments in the shade, and much of it is illuminated with an excitement of how much fun all these different toys can be. It’s a simple joy in the way the snap of a sultry but wistful mover like Revenge where Rutendo Machiridza’s plaintive vocals light a torch above a wiry and buckling rhythm can emphasise a similar energy to Sham’s scatter beat drums and billowing Rhythim Is Rhythim pads.

01DEAS has some of its best moments in tunes like these, or in the tight, sunlit, funk of Mike’s Afro where all the elements come together under a focus of mood and tension.
Crime Jazz is looser, more typically Maghreban it its de-constructed jazz and effervescent alien kitsch, like a xeno John Barry let loose. Strings pulls at a drifting house number until it comes apart in the hands, and puts it back together with an inside made of AFX bass and a skin of broken blues.

It’s an intriguing record in the way it finds common ground in the midst of such an expanse of ideas. Occasionally it drifts a little too far to the outer reaches, worrying a little too much about direction than the destination, but there is usually something there, a burst of spectral dialogue, or a sudden wash of synths, to show you the way back, and when it works itself up into its handful of true grooves, it’s very, very good indeed. Fittingly for a record which draws on so many sources, 01DEAS is an album of evolution and anyone expecting the same as the 12″s spread over a larger canvas will find themselves challenged, perhaps, by the way the same ideas have been pared down until they better fit a much more rounded, and exciting, whole. This is The Maghreban with excess stripped out and a new, clearer, vision showing the way forward.