Throughout their eight-year career thus far, Lisbon act Gala Drop have undergone numerous changes in both style and personnel which has been reflected in the shifting emphasis of their output. These releases – two EPs and a single album in six years – have featured a myriad of influences. Humid tropical rhythms, krautrock, experimental disco, Balearica, dub reggae, punk funk, drone and ‘60s West Coast psychedelia all play their part to varying degrees in the dense, loose and trippy sound Gala Drop have cultivated.
What does it say about the state of contemporary house music that tracks salvaged from an old DAT make so much of it sound bereft of ideas and soul? Listening to Moonlight Fantasy, the latest Rush Hour release from Chicago producer Floyd, it’s clear that none of the magical touches and flourishes he lays down are audible in the deep house form nowadays. That’s not to suggest that this writer wants to engage in reductive, simplistic ‘everything was better back in the day’-style arguments. It’s far too easy to be of the opinion that everything made in the late 80s / early 90s was better simply because of its age. It isn’t.
In one word; classic. The Actor’s Exploded View is one of those reissues that you’re either going to have loved already or that you’re going to feel like you’ve already loved, if this time round is your first listen. A welcome addition to the ongoing restoration of the European electro-wave archive, this 1982 Dutch showpiece had and still has everything going for it: it’s a black car, rainy day, cinematic kind of record. It hits on all the clichés of early 1980s gloom but always very consciously and intelligently – and in fact it enjoyed its fame in the Dutch tape panorama, has had underground cult status for years and, while some tracks have reappeared more prominently than others (notably “Lights” and “Covergirl”), the record has deeper, surprising folds. It’s worth listening to it again and as a whole because there’s a thread that runs through it, there’s a logic, a story.
While he may seem to be a new name on a new label, Jamie Curnock has in fact been flying the flag for loud, tough, uncompromising techno in Bristol for the best part of a decade, long before the city was embracing such sounds more open-heartedly. The Onnset imprint is coming to life through a collective that includes in its ranks Joe Farr, who has recently been scoring releases on Power Vacuum and other such highly regarded labels, and this first release makes for a neat demonstration of where die-hard and vanguard don’t need to be mutually exclusive.
The Bordello juggernaut keeps on rolling and while most of us have put away our swim shorts and shades for another year, Riviera Disco Volume 3 shows that the label is happy to keep reliving those happy summer memories. This installment doesn’t have the kind of fist-pumping anthems that Bordello has been dropping with alarming regularity this year, but it does show that the label is adept at capturing many different moods.
There’s something stoutly timeless about the Reagenz project. In so many ways it’s a venture that sounds forever in thrall to the heady early 90s pastures of deep techno that members Move D and Jonah Sharp arose from, thanks largely to the tools used and their warm and soulful deployment. At the same time it doesn’t have any of that contrived attempt to sound ‘old-school’ but rather gazes to the future with the devices of yesterday, like any great piece of vintage sci-fi. It’s also one of those tantalizing treats that manages to maintain the veil of mystery that accompanied leftfield electronic music in the pre-internet era, where sporadic appearances make each release significant for those already tuned in to the Reagenz frequency.
Speaking about his production techniques in this writer’s Separate Mind column for Juno Plus back in July, Gavin Russom said: “I like to let all the wild spirits come through. But also balance that with structure, composition and storytelling…. often a really good techno track stands out to me because of the sounds themselves and the background noises, And this is a very cool idea that sets techno apart from more conventional music.” Russom was true to his word and on that debut Entropy Trax release; “Enthroned” drew on dub and disco techniques, using a pulsing, hypnotic groove as a backdrop for a morphing spectrum of abstract sounds.
Though you’ve likely seen his mug plastered across Boiler Room feeds over the last half-decade, FTD label founder Charles Drakeford seems to prefer remaining out of the spotlight. During a whirlwind year which finds several Boiler Room contemporaries branching out into the label-running business (Bradley Zero’s Rhythm Section International imprint as well as Nic Tasker’s hotly-tipped Whities series), Drakeford’s label seems the most reclusive of the three – a carefully considered project that he admits he’s been ruminating over starting for several years when speaking to Juno Plus recently.
The Tempa Allstars Vol 7 release that dropped recently marked an interesting point in time for one of the labels instrumental in breaking dubstep to the wider world. With Alex Coulton, Wen and Batu amongst the artists tasked with shaping out where the iconic label is at right now, it made for a succinct demonstration of how 4/4 rhythms have truly infected bass-led music, even if not exclusively, while an industrial, monochromatic palette guides the kinds of sounds being employed. Out of those names picked as appropriate demonstrators of this phenomenon, Hodge and Facta were perhaps two of the names most conspicuous by their admission (along with Beneath). Now, with this single, it becomes clear why; the pair of Bristol producers clearly had a release already waiting in the wings, and fortunately so as we get to enjoy two tracks stretched out on their own sides of wax.
The recent release of Oceans Apart, a compilation put together by Cut Copy, documented the current strength of a music scene in Melbourne that’s been building for some time. It featured a veritable who’s who of Victorian talent, from Fantastic Man, Nike Delta and Bell Towers, to Michael Ozone, Andras & Oscar and Tornado Wallace, and whilst the absence of boogie revivalists Inkswel, Benny Badge and the rest of the Hot Shot Sounds crew was notable, this omission was balanced out by a range of tracks from little-known or previously unheard artists. There’s a suspicion – confirmed by this 12” on Bradley Zero’s Rhythm Section International imprint – that there’s even more previously untapped talent in the city just waiting to be unleashed.
It’s been a year full of Italo anthems, many of which have appeared on Bordello A Parigi – but is there a danger that the label is spreading itself too thinly? The Dutch label recently set up a house-focused sister operation called Bitter Moon, and as we reach the latter stages of 2014, the releases keep coming on the mother label. Following on from Carradine, there is a third installment of the excellent Riviera Disco series in the pipeline featuring the inimitable Fred Ventura. So can the label keep on landing the hammer blows?
According to the press release accompanying Loom’s debut EP, he discovered grime scanning through frequencies on his Dad’s radio. It’s become such a common backstory to hang off new producers mining grime and jungle for inspiration that it’s difficult to tell just how much it’s being exaggerated. In the case of Loom, whose debut EP comes through Boxed resident Mr Mitch’s Gobstopper Records, you feel like it may actually be true.
Push It. There’s a moment midway through “My Last Reese Cup” that sounds like Salt N’ Pepa’s most recognisable hit is trying – and failing – to escape a salty death at the hands of O B Ignitt’s sampler. This moment passes almost as soon as it arrives, which is not surprising given the sheer amount of ideas thrown into the mixer by Ignitt here. “My Last Reese Cup” is a worthy A-side to this second release from Ignitt’s low key OBONIT Records, and the sort of production that will stop you in your tracks.
Greta Cottage Workshop has worked long and hard to build up the identity they have as a label today. Starting out as a digital-only concern is a tough gig for anyone trying to get their music heard, and so it then comes down to dogged curation and faith in your own peculiar tastes to make it work. Now onto their eleventh vinyl release (on top of a sizable stack of digital output), it feels as though GCW is part of the firmament of oddball house and techno in the UK, and that’s largely from a roster they have nurtured themselves. Mudkid is one such prime example, as an alias of German producer Franklin Da Costa that has released almost exclusively for the UK label and, some might argue, has yielded his best work. The Loik 10” in 2011 made a sizable impact, and with only one other EP in between, this latest offering comes forth as a welcome treat from an intermittent project.
Mike Jefford’s debut album as Positive Centre is also the first long-player on Sigha’s Our Circula Sound label, and as opening statements go, it’s on a grand scale. In Silent Series sees the Berlin producer cast his gaze far and wide to create an album that is united by an underlying ferocity but which still draws on disparate and occasionally unexpected influences. On the brilliant, nihilistic “Back to Steaming”, Jefford reaches Orphx-like levels of industrial intensity, combining pounding broken beats and deranged siren shrieks, “Ashes in Exhalation” is propelled by an insistent kick drum and relentless filtering that repeatedly races up and down the frequency scale and “Out Was The Old In” channels the relentless percussive hum and hiss and clanging metal rhythms of MDR-style purism.
At the start of the year, we would probably have described RüF Dug as “fast-rising”. These days, though, he’s more of an established name – a maker of unusual, off-kilter electronic music that generally defies easy categorization. Since releasing the brilliant The Head Cleaner on Süd Electronic last autumn, he’s pushed on impressively, with the Lectric Sands-released Magnetic Atmosphere being complimented by a sprinkling of superb remixes, most notably for Tusk Wax, Rhythm Section International and ISM.
In his sizable and celebrated career Peter Kerstin has often displayed a propensity for ambient music. From his first Lawrence LPs and singles on Dial and Ghostly through the long association with Mule Musiq and Ladomat 2000 amongst many others, even his housiest moments have been shot through with that winsome, ethereal musicality that would sit comfortably in the chill-out room were they stripped of their rhythm section. There have been some outright ambient tracks that have appeared scattered throughout his releases, but here on this new album for Mule we get to take a long form ride through the softest, most gentle sides of Kerstin’s output.
There’s a moment towards the end of Faith In Strangers when you momentarily forget you’re listening to an Andy Stott album. The melody that emerges about a minute into the album’s stunning title track breaks through like a sunshine breaking through heavy cloud cover on a grey, drizzly day in the Lake District. While most of Stott’s music over the past few years has sought to crush the life out of you either physically or emotionally, “Faith In Strangers” feels more like an embrace. More than that, it’s a bonafide pop song, and one of the best you’re likely to hear this year.
It would be fair to say that something special is happening at Glasgow’s Green Door Studio, and has been for some time. The West End institution, founded by local scene stalwarts Emily McLaren, Stuart Evans and Sam Smith, has prospered in recent years by offering local musicians subsidised production courses, free studio time and a thrillingly open-minded attitude to the possibilities of musical creation. This opportunity-for-all attitude, combined with a studio space packed with dusty old analogue kit, has paid dividends. To date, the studio has played a role in the creation and development of inspired records by Golden Teacher, Organs of Love, LAPS (AKA Ladies As Pimps, whose recent EP on Clan Destine was something of a dark, woozy masterpiece) and Hausfrau, plus a veritable skipload of obscure cassettes and 7” singles by one-off projects, unlikely supergroups and experimental combos.
It’s easy to be cynical about Helena Hauff and her fast rise to prominence. She’s the resident at an in-vogue club, has released on many of the ‘right’ labels and is playing a fusion of sounds – acid, EBM and minimal wave – that are very much back in. Viewed this way, her ascension could even have the whiff of a premeditated campaign to it. However, such suspicions quickly dissipate with the release of Shatter Cone. It’s easily the German DJ’s best record so far, because it doesn’t play to stereotypes.