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.

Advertisements

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.

Best Of The Represses March 2018

I think the title of this column is occasionally a bit misleading. Not tonight, though.

Timenet – Dishwasher (Frame Of Mind)

Now, this is an example of someone really, really, digging back and returning with something unexpected. The original was released in 1992 as a white label by the members of the short-lived techno outfit Ubik, and that’s about all I know of it. Judging from the fact that the same PR blurb is out there on about 100 record store sites, I’d say that’s about all most seem to know about it which is pretty cool and interesting because it’s not often we get something genuinely obscure popping up as a repress at the moment.

Musically it’s very much of its time with its mix of Acid, techno, and rave, lending it the distinctive UK sound of the early nineties. While Dishwasher feels far more classically Chicago – mainly because it’s an homage of sorts to Mr Finger’s Washing Machine – the other tracks cram in a good dose of messy, day-glo, fun alongside some wobbly grooves. On The Move comes straight out of a dingy club at the wrong end of the high street with its baggy T-shirt stained with sweat and dry ice; ravey stabs and grinning daftness do something similar to the inside of its mind. DX Moods is the pick though, with its low-slung, electro tinged, moodiness eventually bursting into a smiling, fractal, sunrise.

Aux 88 – Technology (Direct Beat)

Although not the highest ranking record in my personal ‘Direct Beat represses I need right now’ list, not least because Technology is one of the tracks on last month’s repress of Bass Magnetic, this is still an important one to get back out seeing as it represents not only the first ever release on Direct Beat but – I might be wrong about this – also the first appearance of Aux 88.

While Technology feels a little rough and ready compared to some of their later, slicker, work It remains a great tune and one which helped to define the entire techno bass sound with its blend of electro, house, and soulful Detroit techno. But where techno bass – as a whole – eventually began to suffer from a little too much in the way of cookie-cutter sounds and off-the-shelf attitude, Technology remains wonderfully alive to the possibilities. Even better is the Rhythm mix which swaps the fluid breaks for a stomping 4/4 beat, head-rushing energy, and connects the Detroit sounds of the early 90s with something altogether more up-front and explosive. This Direct Beat Classics thing is beginning to shape up very nicely.

k Alexi Shelby – All For Lee-Sah (Transmat)

One of a very small band of producers whose work truly crossed the – mostly imaginary – boundaries between Chicago and Detroit, K-Alexi could always be counted on to deliver the sort of utter banger that everyone knew even though they lived in the ‘secret weapon’ category. This repress of his Early Transmat release – the first proper repress we’ve had from the label in a long while – brilliantly sums up that rare duality with three tunes that you’ll have heard plenty of times even though you didn’t know who made them.

My Medusa is probably the most familiar, particularity as its wonky, eternally optimistic, skank has been out on a couple of other relatively recent represses, but the other two tunes bring very different facets of K-Alexi’s sound to the fore. Vertigo is one of the dirtiest, funkiest, acid tracks ever released. It’s a tune so pungent you’ll be catching it at the edge of your senses for weeks. All For Lee-Sah is just a work of near genius. A swirling, compressed, storm of emotion and mood it floods over a stone cold groove which gradually winds itself up into some brilliantly subtle acidic funk. Bring the strobes for this one.

Favourite Tune of 2017: Hodge and Peder – All My Love

2017. Gone but not forgotten. Here we are with the last of the festive round-up things, like a Christmas tree up past the 12th night, looking like it’s needing watered, its decorations embarrassingly bright and hopeful in January’s bastard glare.

My favourite tune of 2017. I don’t know what my favourite tune is, how would I know? What a horrible question to ask anyone. Hyperbole aside though, it’s usually a fairly easy one to answer when you actually sit down and think about it. Unless you’re a shop-soiled musical academic sort, bent on making some terrible and prescient point on the music’s role in the contemporary strata, and building complicated data models to support your oddball, joyless, thesis, deciding whether we like something is usually a fairly innate act. I usually base this kind of thing on how often I listen to a tune. What a weirdo I am.

My listening was all over the place in 2017. I probably listened to less electronic music than I’ve done in years, filling the spaces with hoary old rock and Derrick and Clive CDs. When I did give the machine music a go, I drifted fairly evenly between the various camps, but rarely alighted for longer than a quick shuffle at each. Some tunes, like Finn’s excellent Late At Night or the creepy shoogle of Forest Drive West’s Static wormed their way in to my brain and stayed their long after they should have moved on. Others, like Tinfoils’s Twerp, Stenny’s Old Bad Habits, and a host of other bad-tempered, crumbly, bangers briefly flared at the moments I needed a hit of something harsher (and there were quite a few moments like that,) and departed as the moods subsided. The less frequent needs to luxuriate in house were dealt with too. Casio Royale’s acid peaker Organa, and Posthuman and Josh Caffe’s dark and brilliantly malicious Preach fed on the same well of energy, but took it in different directions. Jared Wilson’s lazy, tumbling, Getting That Feeling stole at the quieter minutes.

But as for something more permanent, those tunes were strangely absent. Even electro seemed devoid of something longer lasting. I rattled through piles of electro records this year, some of them brilliant, but very few individual tracks clawed their way to the surface for anything more than a moment, although the ones that did, like Privacy’s old school invoking U Can Tell, Adapta’s dirty funkbomb Drapse Harmonic, CEM3340’s Salacya, and the tight tremor of London Modular Alliance’s Wolves, stayed up there for the way they each captured a different facet of what is still the most inventive genre around. While Frankie Bones’ two Bonesbreak records weren’t strictly electro they kicked some ass, with Mandolay Break leading a dirty charge through a large part of the year.

It was albums which ended up providing the bulk of the special moments, in fact. Perhaps it’s an indication of a growing confidence producers have in creating these larger bodies of work, of tying things together, and using it to feed the music that made the difference. Maybe, but I suspect there was more to it than that. The two albums I probably listened to most, John Heckle’s Tone To Voice, and Karen Gwyer’s Rembo played on deep memories of an era when genres were fluid. For some reason I spent a large part of 2017 on a vague nostalgia trip, but one not easy to define. These two albums helped to solve the condundrum. It wasn’t really old sounds I was looking for, but something more fundamental to why I started listening to all this stuff in the first place. They brought together those incessant ghosts with the drama, whimsy, and adventure of earlier forms of house and techno, allowing melody and drive to form new bones for the spirits. John Heckle’s Obsidian Cityscape locked all that down – and more. Relentlessly groovy, it built a new world for itself out of classic Detroit and IDM, colouring itself with flushes of Model 500, Kenny Larkin, and Black Dog, it shone with rare optimism and excitement, the melody blooming over the rogue stammer of the kicks.

Gwyer’s Rembo was perhaps less informed by that vibe, and the ghosts were blurred by her talent for a sort of quiet experimentalism which often goes unremarked upon, but is central to the way the tunes unfold. The Workers Are on Strike, endlessly effervescent and fizzing with rude invention, is a long moment of continuous discoveries. The initial vibes are much the same as they are with the Heckle track, but the point of departure is much earlier, and is more determined, perhaps, to investigate how those starting points influence the future. It too is a beautiful track, shaping a gracefulness from the tune’s coltish movement. At times it feels like a piece of Cronenberg soundtrack accelerated far out of sync with the movie, at others a garbled radioburst from a distant, glimmering, star.

But it was Hodge and Peder Mannerfelt’s All My Love which I came back to more than anything else. In the increasingly occasional mixes I messed with it became a vital component, powering up and throttling down the ride when needed. I don’t really recall why I took to it as much as I did. It opens fairly unassumingly, unfolding carefully like a piece of flat packed Blawan before it flies right up your brain and slaps it around. Oh, balls; you know what? I’m going to go all soiled academic here after all. All My Love felt like a distillation of a lot of what was good in music this year. It brought something of the fundamental fun and darkness of the hardcore and rave resurgence without resorting to simple musical theft. It locked down techno DNA from the very earliest days, and brought a freshness and moodiness which we were in dire need of. It was neither big nor clever, it didn’t open doorways to new and fundamentally different styles. It simply provided a sliver of dancefloor dark matter that felt joyously, brilliantly, right. All My Love was ‘just’ a great tune. And as the outside world continued to fold in on itself that alone was more than anyone could wish for.