Having brought countless obscure tracks from the '80s to our attention through their mix CDs and club nights, Optimo now turn their attention, albeit temporarily, to the decade of drums, the 90s. While the later part of the 1990s saw dull tribal house and one-note loop techno monotony prevail, this split release shows that the use of heavy drums wasn't always tedious. On "The Way Out Is The Way", Norwegian-English duo Illumination deliver three minutes' worth of searing bass and epic keys before the filtered drums roll in, while Mr Marvin's "I Want You" is straighter percussive rhythm although its stuttering vocal sample makes it stand out. Best of all though is Fuel's "Rigid", a panning, stomping affair with traces of Chicago's ghetto sound.
In 2013, the artist formerly known as Elite Force - a trail-blazing tech-funk pioneer throughout the late '90s and early 2000s - returned under his given name, with a well received foray into minimal and tech-house territory. Two years on, and a string of releases later, he returns to Stereophoenix with two more twisted dancefloor bombs. "Bishoujo" sets the tone, peppering a chugging, locked-techno groove with spooky melodies, EDM effects and gnarly noises. There's a little more dustiness and depth to "SWT", which successfully fuses a woozy deep house sensibility with Shackleton's trademark tech-funk swing and bump.
Having dropped his latest party bomb, Hate On Me, back in the Summer, Herve (aka Josh Harvey) breathes further life into the tune with some new remix action. Jaded eschew the campy gurrrl-friendly vibes of the original in favour of some prowling, moody bassline house (which also gets re-edited by Herve himself), while Skapes & SFX go for the jugular - delivering some prime retro speed garage with plenty of funky house garnish on top.
Steve Bug proves his skill as a remixer with these two versions of fast rising act Pentatones' "Karma Game". Taken from their forthcoming album, the Poker Flat boss has turned the original version's haunting, pop noir sound into a stone-cold dance floor killer. Bug's 'retouch' is led by sublime chimes, an evocative, MANDY-style bass and is supported by a pulsing groove. Better still is the instrumental version, where Bug puts a focus on breathy, saccharine sweet melodies and a series of subsonic bleeps. Fused with a similarly evocative bass and a stepping rhythm, it shows that Bug is one of the most talented remixers in his field.
It's no surprise that Italian brothers Alessandro and Federico Fognini aka Mind Against have enjoyed such a rapid ascent. The duo's music melds many of electronic music's recent tropes into an accessible blend - audible on this release for Life & Death. The title track is based on a stripped back rhythm and the kind of sonorous bleeps one might have heard on a Sandwell District record. Despite this, "Strange Days" exudes warmth. The same can be said of Recondite's remix, with the German producer adding only a hint of melancholia thanks to some sensuous strings and a more stripped back rhythm. "Polarstern" is another unusual melange, with the pair fusing wounded wasp 303s and the kind of tie-dyed melodies that Border Community specialises in.
As far as stage names go, ?! is right up there with !!!. That said, it doesn't stop the artist in question from delivering an impressive, dubby house release. Inspired by the San Francisco tribal sound of the late 90s and the spacious warehouse tracks of turn of the millennium UK tech house, "Shattered Mind" sets the tone for the release. Spooky vocal samples, system-levelling dub bass and a jacking rhythm all combine to deliver a lethal dance floor track. "Push The Boundaries" is more of the same, albeit with a more jerky groove and dubby whooshes, while "Detox" sees the mysterious producer veer into a deeper, moody techno sound.
It's now traditional for long running Swedish techno imprint Tronic (established way back in 1998) to kick-start the year with a digital compilation of exclusive dancefloor workouts. This year, that compilation has been split into two parts. This second EP features six pulsating excursions, covering a variety of techno styles and moods. Contrast, for example, the spooky melodies, swirling atmosphere and prog trance influenced bottom end of Eric Sneo's "Beauty of the Sky", with the raw, distorted thump of Matt Sassari and Rainier Zonneveld's "Gas". There's plenty to enjoy elsewhere, too, including a brilliantly intense chunk of no-nonsense loop techno from Raffaele Rizzi.
If you haven't heard DJ Pierre's 1994 original, then this re-release provides an opportunity to check the acid house creator's psychedelic melding of rave intensity and his beloved 303 sound. However, many listeners may be more interested in the remix treatment it gets from the stellar cast Get Physical has lined up. Guti's version is sleek and metallic, the vocal parts subsumed by the angular percussion, while label owner DJ T goes deeper, with floaty synths unravelling over a plunging bassline. Pierre also supplies a '90s house' take, which delivers a rough, jacking groove, but all eyes and ears are on Ricardo Villalobos. Clocking in at 32 minutes, the minimal house artist deploys driving percussion as a backdrop for cosmic textures and what sounds like the original track's vocal in a heavily sedated mood.
Graham delivers his annual state of the trance nation address and it's far removed from the glowstick-led buffoonery of mainstream EDM iterations of the sound. If anything, this collection has a closer connection to techno than tie-dye melodies. Solid Stone, one of Graham's favourite acts, appear a number of times here and impress most with the billowing chords and snaking pulses of "Absolute" and the floaty, icy synths of "Blink". Elsewhere, Graham shows his progressive house roots with the excellent tough drums and insistent filters of Chicola & Sahar Z's " They Made Me Do It" and veers into tougher techno territories on the pummelling tribal rhythm of Alex Di Stefano 's "Black Panther ".
By their standards, Jack Fell Down - AKA producers James Vickers and Tony Craig - had a fairly quiet 2014, with an acclaimed EP on Quintessentials their only release of note. Here, they kick-start 2015 with an expansive EP for Jacques Renault and Nik Mercer's Let's Play House imprint. Despite the intergalactic melodies and acid-flecked funk of "Space Junk", it's a largely heads-down, late night affair, with the duo variously offering up clanking rhythms and wonky electronics ("Overrated"), moody tech-house ("Epiphany") and thunderous, dub influenced after-party fare ("Blackmail"). Matrixxman channels this clandestine mood, turning "Overrated" into a typically Germanic chunk of mind bending tech-house.
Paris-based producer Giacomotto delivers his most impressive release so far. It opens with the dramatic "Bipolar Star", a tranced out, pulsing affair, characterised by bursts of noisy bass and a series of dramatic break downs. The title track is in a similar vein; thumping drums and punishing sub-bass provide the basis for a vocal intoning 'now you're fucked'. "Interplanetary" sees Giacomotto adopt a more stripped back approach, albeit with the surprises addition of an insane, twisted sax line knitted into the minimalist groove. It's only a temporary diversion however and soon enough, Giacomotto returns with the malevolent sirens and dramatic bassline of "Worldology".
In case you're still suffering from the January blues, then the first record of 2015 on 8 Bit will cheer you up. The German label is known for its rolling, tool house and in that respect, Nielsen's latest release is no different from the rest of its catalogue. However, it differs from the normal label sound on the title track, and the gloriously soulful vocals that urge the listener to 'check your head' adds "Something" an extra dimension. "Foxy Foxy" is more in keeping with 8 Bit's typical sound and its swinging groove is full of insistent vocal snatches, surging chords and the kind of niggling percussion that has become the label's staple.
Carl Cox's latest compilation shatters the perception of the White Island as being a haven for monochrome minimal and deep house - and Space Terrace is a full on, rave-fuelled journey through the veteran UK DJ's crate. While he is best known for tough house and party techno, Cox's roots lie in the early 90s rave movement and this part of his background seems to have inspired many of these selections. From the piano keys on Future Freakz' remix of Audiolush's "Feel The Power" to the psychedelic riffs that infest DJ Sneak's version of Green Velvet's "Shake & Pop" to straight up rave bangers like Overnoise's "Caramuy", this compilation will have you reaching for your glow sticks.
It's been some four years since the last output of note from the formerly prolific French producer Anthony Collins. Why he fell off the radar is unclear, but before that he was something of a rising star (check out his impressive discography for proof). Happily, this is a return to form, with "Lie To Me" - a hook-up with vocalist Big Willie - delivering 12 minutes of pounding techno drums, speaker-rattling bass, eccentric spoken word vocals and little else. "Swing State" is a similarly raw and stripped-back study in the power of percussion. Clearly Hakt felt the need to calm things down a bit, as Lightbluemover's dub of the title track is a deep and dreamy trip into dub techno territory at 114 BPM - a welcome respite from Collins' intense originals.
Situated between deep house and minimal, Pleash's latest release draws on the best qualities associated with these sounds. "Perceive The Condition" is led by a spiky rhythm and firing percussion before it moves into atmospheric, acid-soaked textures. "Some Orgs" is in a similar vein, but it sees Pleash drop the melodies and put a greater focus on stripped-back rhythms. "Once In A While" moves in the opposite direction and is laden down with soulful vocals and underpinned by an organic groove. Best of all though is "Nice To Fool "; with its acidic burps, brittle percussive nuances and tripped out melodic hooks, it makes for a near-perfect deep/minimal house fusion.
Will 2015 be remembered as a year when the vocal prevailed in techno? It's impossible to tell yet, but there are already a number of techno records out that draw heavily on vocals - and Ninetoes' Papaa is one of them. With a background in hip-hop, it's not surprising that this veteran German DJ and producer loves the sound of the human voice. On "Jiving", he sets a smart call and response approach against the backdrop of loose tribal drums, but the title track is more impressive. Faster and more furious, its dense drums and insistent stabs play host to a vocal sample that gradually becomes more prominent as the track progresses. It's not a new trick, but it's a hugely effective one nonetheless.
Will 2015 be the year when minimal house makes a comeback? The latest release on German imprint E Minor makes it sound like that is a distinct possibility. Carbon's "Back in Time" is a swirling, atmospheric affair, its mixture of lush pads and angular rhythms even making room for some bluesy guitar lines. Despite having these musical elements, it still retains a dance floor edge. Steven Campodonico's "Classic Coke" is less frenetic, but it is possibly even more effective due to its tripped out, spacious arrangement - as well as the series of siren-led break downs that make it sound like a close relation to False's Fed on Youth.
Eyerer cleverly unites a range of different sounds and styles on this release. "Navigate" is a pulsing groove that juxtaposes the scary synths of mutant disco with the curdling death rattle of classic acid trax. By contrast, "No Way Out" is a cold, minimal groove, but the addition of vocalist Boot Slap lends it a soulful feeling. Best of all though is closing track "The Rolls". Here, Eyerer uses a pounding electronic bass and a repetitive, old school vocal sample that he cleverly filters all the way through the arrangement. It sounds like a lean, streamlined version of Trevor Rockliffe's late 90s tribal house.
Vagale is India's best-known underground DJ and with releases on SCI+TEC, Tronic, Trapez and Bedrock, has done more than anyone else to showcase the sub-continent's growing interest in electronic music. The title track is a driving, heads-down affair, led by rickety, skittish drums and a resonating bassline, while the hiccupping vocal sample will endear it to a more mainstream audience. There are no such concessions on "Amor", where a tunnelling, droning groove suggests that Vagale has been quietly absorbing and then interpreting the hypnotic, bleep-laden techno of Berlin. Coupled with bursts of hissing white noise and cheese-wire percussion, it makes for a killer combination.