If you work with youth in some capacity, you’ve probably made homemade playdough before. And if you’ve made homemade playdough before, there’s inevitably that kid who decides to blend every available type of food colouring in the spectrum together, resulting in a purply brown lump of goo. While the structures that Romanian-born, Berlin based Cosmin Nicolae is creating on his new album Gordian are much more complex than mixing flour, oil and water together, there’s a compelling drive to add more and more components that Nicolae himself seemed surprised by when speaking to Juno Plus earlier this year. “To be honest, I’d intended the whole album to be really minimalistic and kind of hypnotic,” Nicolae stated, “and it’s not minimalistic at all. I didn’t want it to be musical, and it is fairly musical. There just seems to be a lot of stuff going on, when in fact I was trying to subtract.”
In the last three years, Cosmin TRG has shaken off his dubstep roots to craft some of the most innovative techno in a scene awash with staid facsimiles. On the eve of his second album release, he talks to Tom Banham about Dadaism, ancient myths and real ale.
Although the gospel of contemporary bass music has been spread across the world, France’s involvement has been fairly minimal to date – with the exception of French Fries, most would be hard pressed to mention any memorable names, the country seemingly still suffering the fallout from the Kitsune and Ed Banger days. However, Teki Latex’s Sound Pellegrino imprint has released music from the likes of Bok Bok, L-Vis 1990 and Teeth in recent years alongside its electro house offerings, suggesting an enthusiasm for it in Paris at least, but somehow those relatively colourful offerings seem incompatible with the darker, techno influenced sound that seems to be in the ascendant at the moment. It’s interesting then, that Bambounou, a promising Parisian who collaborated with, of all people, Joakim last year on some particularly oddball house, should arrive with such an impressively serious release on 50Weapons.
Techno is an international music, but the characteristics that shape its identity are often rooted in location-specific naunces. As Richard Brophy recently discovered, this proved to be the case with Rene Pawlowitz, the producer who works as Shed and under numerous other house and techno-related projects including Wax, EQD and WK7.
“If you do not hear this” a distorted voice says at the start of Shed’s third album, The Killer, as low bass frequencies are deployed, “Or that – you will not feel it”. It’s a suitably tongue in cheek moment from René Pawlowitz, who, despite operating in a fundamentally dry area of dance music, seems to be increasingly keen to have some fun with what he does. It’s therefore not totally surprising that he’s ended up releasing an album on 50Weapons, a label run by a duo (Modeselektor) whose personal brand is represented by a stylised monkey face, who have always been outsiders to what the rest of Berlin’s techno scene has been doing at any given time, much like Pawlowitz himself.
And so it continues. Cosmin ‘TRG’ Nicolae’s evolution as an artist has at times seemed like a condensed history of electronic music in reverse. From jungle, bass and break beat to house, electro and techno and now what sounds like his take on Detroit techno, the Romanian could never be accused of standing still.
There have been hints surfacing from the 50 Weapons camp regarding a new LP from German techno machine Shed for a while now: today it was revealed the album will be called The Killer and arrive in July.
It is ironic that just as Marcel Dettmann appears to be branching out from the Ostgut stable, through his mix for Music Man and now this EP for 50 Weapons, he comes out his purest, most refined techno record yet. No one is suggesting that the Berghain resident has split with Ostgut or is neglecting his own MDR label, but it is an undeniable fact that no matter what he releases on, classic 90s techno influences form a key part of his musical DNA.
This is audible on “Duel”; functional yet subtle, it owes a debt to the loopy techno of the 90s, caught somewhere between Mills’s Purposemaker releases and the UK variant it spawned, as a dense, filtered groove rolls to a backdrop of tight claps and insistent riffing. This being a 2011 release, the tempo is slower than the records it is influenced by, with the drop in bpms lending “Duel” a mushier, groggier feeling.
“Deluge” on the other hand, is far closer to its source material. A wiry, squelchy serving of minimal techno, it recalls Dan Bell in pared back, 7th City mode, while its jarring, jack-knifing central riff is every bit as visceral as Robert Hood. Irrespective of where he’s putting out music, the purest sounds are at the core of each Dettmann track.
Continuing their relentless assault on the electronic music world through their own output and two labels, Modeselektor issue forth the second album on their club orientated 50 Weapons imprint with this highly intense collection from the somewhat shadowy Anstam. Releasing a series of 12”s on their own label to announce their arrival some four years ago, whoever is behind Anstam clearly has a confidence in the strength of their own work, and this certainly reflects in Dispel Dances from the moment it surges to life. The reference points are blurry, as a droney fug puffs up around the disembodied spirits of rhythm that provide the backbone of the album.
In the way that artists such as Tipper or Amon Tobin excel in plunging their audience into dense, brilliantly conceived sound worlds, so Anstam also manages to transport the listener to some positively otherworldly places. However, where those aforementioned craftsmen render their multitude of sonic tools in pristine production graft, Anstam opts for a more roughneck approach which only serves to make the whole experience more engulfing.
The whole style harks back to a more classic electronica aesthetic, not least on the sea-sick electro thump of “Bitten By The Snake”, which pits crisp arpeggios and a stern break against amorphous swathes of metallic orchestras and creaking bumps-in-the-night. By the time the track peters out to a sweet woodwind refrain, you’d be hard pressed to pinpoint exactly where in the track you had lost yourself. This mind-boggling technique doesn’t let up for the whole album, and yet it somehow slips into your chosen ambience naturally. Rather than the jarring nature of much experimental electronic music, Anstam still manages to be thoroughly listenable.
Whatever happens though, your preconceptions about any given track as it finds a groove can and should be ignored, as there is always another curveball gliding around the corner to set you off on an entirely different path. If you got excited by the way an artist like Shackleton flouted the rules and found a way of summoning up dark forces in his music, then Dispel Dances should be a very welcome continuation of that fine tradition.
Not content with unveiling a forthcoming twelve inch from Ostgut don Marcel Dettmann, 50 Weapons today rolled out a shiny new website that contains a welcome surprise in the shape of a forthcoming highly limited, bespoke seven inch from Swamp81 mainstay Addison Groove.
Further to the news that a stellar cast will appear on Monkeytown, the eagerly awaited third album from Berlin bass bin botherers Modeselektor, the duo have ramped up the pre-release teasing with the chance to sample all eleven tracks held within.
Few other producers do the magpie approach quite as adeptly and skilfully as Cosmin Nicolae. The Romanian producer’s greatest talent is his ability to make the listener hear sounds or elements that could be borrowed from another record but which on closer inspection, turn out to be merely his own interpretations. This is audible on the title track of his latest missive for Modeselektor’s 50 Weapons, where dreamy chords lead into a wiry minimal techno arrangement. It could be Robert Hood but it’s not visceral and frenetic enough. Equally, those dubbed out drums that anchor the track sound like Frozen Border but are looser more fluid, while the acid line is too cheeky to be the work of a ‘serious’ retro Chicago–inspired producer.
The same kind of guessing game applies on “De Dans”. There, Nicolae starts the groove with some epic techno chords, which quickly veer into stabs that Dave Clarke used on “Red 2”, but again they are too dissected and less bombastic than the Baron’s signature 90s sound. The dubby bass drum that holds the arrangement together is similar to a Dehnert production, but as soon as he starts to sound like one of his peers, Cosmin drops wave upon wave of doubled up snare drums. They recall Plastikman’s classic “Spastik”, but aren’t precise and militaristic enough to be Hawtin’s own. It’s a guessing game what a Cosmin TRG record will throw at the listener and that air of unpredictability is what makes “Fizic” such a compelling listen.