Reviews: L-R – The Rambler (Asking For Trouble)

The fourth release on Radioactive Man’s Asking For Trouble label sees the L-R electro supergroup reuniting for the first time since their debut in 2017. Ok, I say ‘supergroup’ even though we all know Sandwell District still hold the copyright on the term, but the first outing for this collaboration between Radioactive Man himself, Simon Lynch of London Modular Alliance, and Johnny Oakley of Monoak was an unexpected treasure, not least for the way in which it eagerly kicked against many of the genres current trends.

The Rambler is a slightly different proposition to the debut, being somewhat less fierce in the way it wields its beats. Nor is there anything as precise as Land, a track which fed its exquisitely frosty frequencies into that record’s overarching vibe.

Instead, The Rambler shifts down a gear, and opens itself up to something earthier. Some of this is to do with the sustained attack of the growling, booming, 303s which congeal around the low-end like a foundation of thick quicksand. This is particularly true of the opening tunes, with both Doctor Dark and Rings holding the velocities at a breathless strut as the bass winds in coils around the beats. Neither track mounts itself towards a full-bore assault; they delve deep into the muck and grime, and return with something more fluid than you would expect given the heft of the music.

And it is a weighty sound indeed, one that plays with the lower registers more than a lot of modern electro where the accent is on a more crystalline mood. Part of me thinks this is because the tunes here are much more focussed on physicality, on the kinetic structure, but that really only covers part of the sound. The way many of the other touches are compressed down into the soft and malleable bedrock suggests a rogue sense of experimentalism at work. Rings, especially, is a good example. Behind the bass the beats are loose, wobbling, deliberately haphazard in the way they always feel just about ready to jump forward or fall apart. They don’t follow electro tradition so much as echo to the vibe of soul, and rhythm and blues; organic beats following the groove rather than suggesting its own path. Rings’ liveliness makes light work of its low-speed.

Dinky’s Tone does something similar, at least in the sense that it seems just as determined to incorporate those humanoid touches to the music. Perhaps even more so. Here it works as winding bass over snarling beat’s and razor-sharp percussion which evokes something closer to light-speed hip-hop, or brutally rolling funk. Once again the heart of the tunes is made of a loose, living, energy that provides the ghost in the machine, an intelligence that is both empathic and vampiric. Where The Lights Are tugs hard on the soul, and focusses on a deep, sensual, and fiery groove that buckles and corkscrews, and leads the tune through a virtual future-disco of machines and drunk AI. It emerges on the far side as a surprisingly deep and playful high-point of the record, and one where the funk is rainbowed by jazzy exploration and and a subtle but disarming vulnerability.

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HVL – Mumdiva (Tabernacle)

I’ve banged on here and there recently about electro’s need to open itself up to more diverse influences, worrying myself that the genre has a tendency towards thinking that a variation on a theme counts as exploration of the possible. There have been some outstanding electro releases over the last couple of years, but you often have to have yourself pressed firmly up to the ear-trumpet of obsession to sometimes be fully aware of the little wobbles and variations that seem to count as invention.

It is true that any genre can sound a little monotone if you’re a newcomer, or simply haven’t been paying invention, but electro can often have a particular dislike in moving too far away from its favourite stomping grounds. This has begun to change a little bit recently, with more producers finding worth in influences beyond the usual reliquaries of Drexciya, or Rother, or what have you. This often translates into a dalliance with IDM or other, more cerebral, forms of The Art, but it has also begun to feed back into itself with a number of more organic records which borrow a bit of other genres funk and grooves to re-educate the breakbeats. DJ Tiffany’s house-flecked Feel U, for example, Or Mor Eilan’s silicon soul infused Persona Non Grata.

HVL’s Mumdiva pushes this further, moving on from directing the methodology of other influences to accent and tone the music, to emphasise instead the shared histories and evolution. It helps, perhaps, that Mumdiva’s electro is allowed to act as a framework, a platform, for these other sounds and ideas to proliferate. It allows a deeper sense of exploration to work without the baggage of trying to keep the overriding vibe tied down to any one base.

It also helps to keep things burning with a particular energy that many of Mumdiva’s strengths are derived from a distinct era rather than genre, and much of the record recalls the wide open creative environment of early techno where cross-pollination was the norm. Opening cut, Tea and Sympathy, comes closest to sonically invoking the Gods of Classic Electro, even cleansing the tune with a mid-point wash of languid, Drexciyan synth. But the feel is dominated by the sprightly spirit of pioneering UK techno, warming colder tendencies and allowing room for a looser sort of groove to grow in the space. A similar vibe lies at the heart of Dirty Hardwood (Vox), where the harder ranging breaks offset the more skeletal form of the track, and distant throbbing 303s whip up a fine, billowy, funk.

It’s probably the other two tracks which best carry off this dominant mood, though. Tamar 1160 (Mix 1) dumps the electro aesthetics entirely, painting a bitter-sweet swirl of colour, before letting it clear away and allowing light to fall on the forthright and clattering 4/4 beats underneath, releasing a delicately weaving riff to prowl through memories of that point where techno, trance, and house were no more than different limbs of the same organism.

Inhabitable Earth Analogue crowns the record, a gorgeous, burst of frequencies, erupting in slow-motion, and with all the hazy, lazy urgency of a tune which knows exactly where its going and how it means to get there. The surprising heaviness of the collapsing beats drawing nothing away from the twist of electronics which cajole the track into stately movement.

DJ Di’jital – Electrohop (Trust)

For those of you unfamiliar with the work of Lamont Norwood AKA DJ Di’jital – and I know there will be a few – here’s a brief recap. One time DJ for Aux 88, Di’jital has been a true stalwart of Detroit electro for more than twenty years. His original slew of records (released on Aux 88’s Direct Beat label) were thick with that particular tang of Kraftwerk, soul, and techno that we now tend to roll together under the term ‘techno-bass’. While this was certainly a close enough description of Di’jital’s music in a broader sense, it doesn’t really convey much of the scratchy, instectoid funk, or the corrosive acidic energy he brought to the party. It’s a sound he’s developed from his Direct Bass days onwards, whether it’s been on Twilight 76, his own Di’jital Access label or elsewhere, and it’s one he’s continued to perfect over a prolific career.

His début release on Austria’s Trust is very much an extension of this sound. In some senses this is the antithesis of modern electro, not only of the wide-screen, deeper and more symphonic breed we have become accustomed to over the last few years, but also to a great deal of the tunes which borrow liberally from the energy and movement of techno-bass itself.

What I mean by this is that Electrohop is not the fulsome, and genre flexing sound we’ve become used to in electro. These are stark beats, combative and taut. They are stripped down beyond the point where concepts like ‘functional’ have any real currency and, indeed, some of them lie squarely in the territory we once called tools. On occasion that exact tightness, the compression of tones and grooves, can take the breath painfully away, and leave you reeling with claustrophobia.

That never lasts. There is always something sliding into place; a slight change of direction, a ripple of acid bass. always accenting the drive of the beats, and shaping their throw. On the fleeting 808 Kits it is the radioactive pulsar burst of bass locking everything within its gravity. On Gamma Radiation it is the spidery creep above the searchlight flash of bass and the regiment of kicks and hihats. On the more rounded-out numbers, such as Entity (The Get Down) flashfloods of melodic bass, and stabs of synths loosen up the rhythms, adding a larger, lighter groove. On Input Main the occasional shiver of discordant, broken, chords, on top of the prowling acid bass catches a mood which makes overt a subtle playfulness at the heart of the record.

It is a harsh record, but that mentioned playfulness, a humour and warmth, smooths many of the sharper edges. But what stands out are the grooves which are whip-like and whip-smart, reminding us that this is first and foremost a dance music, regardless of where the experimentalism takes us. While Electrohop can sound alien in comparison to so much contemporary electro, that’s part of its charm. These tunes might be too much for ears tucked away at home, but drop them in the deep-night fury of your favourite subterranean sweat box and you will watch the room explode.

Review: No Data Available- The Night EP (Null+Void)

 

There are so many electro labels now its becoming difficult to keep an ear on them all. Not that this is much of a problem when it comes to Null+Void, however. For a label with such an, err, economical release schedule – that’s four releases in nearly four years – it’s impressive that they’ve managed to nail their colours to a particularly virulent strain of electro so successfully. Each record has been a departure from the prevalent trends in the genre; eschewing the braindancey/synthwavey stuff that keeps fouling up the nets, they’re instead pushing a sound which has its feet in a very British take on the scene, and mixing in a blast of old-school grooves just to make sure.

No Data Available’s début on the label pushes all of those buttons right from the off, and it’s just so damn more-ish.  The Night EP is a record which draws energy from a whole bunch of sources, but never lets that interfere with a very strong sense of self.

And what a sense of self it is. This is music that takes liberties with the electro of Detroit and New York, as well as the wonderfully pungent UK homegrown, and delivers something which absolutely hits it. You can hear it in the opener, Yes Mate, where huge, solid steal beats punctuate the drizzle soaked moodiness of the synths before the growling, dirty, bass snaps in to assert itself. It’s a corker of a tune: completely in your face and yet strangely downbeat. It pulses with a hi-tech, grimy, energy but keeps it’s eyes skyward.

This duality is revisited several times as the record unfolds. Oh Now Really is heavier than it’s forerunner, but simpler. Everything comes second to the massive wave of bass that unwinds through the track, and yet the spiral of lines which haunt the open space above the wall of low-frequency constrict the moods, shrinking everything down to more human vistas. Traitor takes it further: A squirt of acid and a collapsing ravey piano riff slap the tune down into a particularly day-glo stained time and place, locking the grooves down into something more frantic and debauched without losing sight of the warm and wonderful roll and slide of the beats. By the time The Night slowly thickens into being, allowing the snapping pace to boil away into darkness, you are aware that this is a record which does it right. It knows where it’s come from and it knows where it’s going.

There is an element to modern electro which plays up far too much to the lazy idea that it is abstract, that it is difficult to dance too. This is a record that doesn’t play nice with those kind of thoughts. Quite frankly, if you can’t get your feet moving to this, alongside your brain, you’re all done with dance music. Belter.

 

 

 

 

Review: Versalife – Nova Prospekt (Trust)

Boris Bunnik re-activates his Versalife project for an outing on Austria’s Trust, and while Nova Prospekt is full of trademark pulses of sonic, cosmic, radiation, and wide, rainy sweeps of atmospherics there is, here and there, a slightly less recognizable steeliness at work underneath a lot of the material.

Versalife remains one of the big electro projects that people from outwith the scene are probably familiar with. It’s not all that surprising; beyond Bunnik’s work as the well-known Conforce, Versalife’s music draws from a pool of sounds and influences which are hardly exclusive to electro, and as a result it feels hybrid in its creation – electro beats, certainly, and a bit of techno’s grunt as well as something less tangible, less immediately obvious.

Here that intangible quality works its way between the notes and into the fabric of the music. Echoes Of A Resonant Cascade hooks deliberately lopsided beats of glass with fragments of shimmering light. It does so with subtle nods to the rainy textures once so common to the expansive horizons of earlier IDM. It lends the tune a downbeat mood, one which is never far from the surface across the whole EP.

Part of that comes from an air of quiet experimentalism which informs much of the music, and heavily supported by Bunnik’s love of expansive synths and pads. They build and roll like clouds in Autumn, changing shape and meaning as they unfurl. Occasionally they overstep their mark. Nova Prospekt itself fills the empty space between the chiming bassline with drifting and silvery pads, but they draw the nascent groove away from the bass, which hints at deep, prowling, funk, and aims the tune towards the sky instead of letting it get its feel dirty in the dance.

2 A Spacts finds a remedy for this gentle intrusion by shifting itself a bit more, shortening the time available for introspection while keeping open wide avenues for the atmospherics to paint their pictures. There is a vibe of proto-rave here; not frenetic nor posturing, just a simple sense of self which adds a bite to the drums and propels it along with a greater purpose. The closer, Exosuit is a compressed, nervy, twist of electronics on a spine of clattering beats. It’s sparseness a counterpoint to the rest of the EP, and it cleverly retools the overarching mood, turning the shining highs into shadow-filled depths.

Do I love Nova Prospekt? I’m not sure I do. But I’m not sure it’s a record which is supposed to elicit love. It’s so measured, so precise in its tonal shifts and use of swirling, frosty, synths that it instead demands respect for something that falls beyond the usual remit of dance music as a whole. In this it is once again evocative of early IDM, and the sense that the electronics, the man-machine, could be pushed further than the framework allowed, if they could avoid becoming trapped in a newer structure of orthodoxy.

When Nova Prospekt does come into its own, though, such as on the fuzzy and funky Echoes Of A Resonant Cascade, or Exosuit’s tight emptiness, all of those structures come together, the grooves informing the structure, the structure guiding the grooves. As parts of electro continue to deepen themselves, its worth stopping here for a moment to witness the fact that balance can give the music something that transcends trends and draw heavily on a tradition of electronic sounds which served to unlock worlds as much as moods.