While this writer feels Larry Heard’s output has been hit-and-miss for some time – the superb 2006 cut “The Sun Can’t Compare” being the outstanding ‘hit’ in a relative sea of recent mediocrity – there’s no denying his immense contribution to the history and development of house. Of course, he’s most fondly remembered for his Mr Fingers and Fingers Inc productions, which almost single-handedly developed the blueprint for deep house as we know it today.
Along with Kraftwerk, Drexciya are one of the most mythologised acts in electronic music. Read any review or article about the Detroit act and invariably, there will be a reference or two to fish men, underwater civilisations and society-changing storms. In the same way that the Dusseldorf quartet are inextricably linked to the notion of man and machine creating art in perfect harmony, the Detroit duo are synonymous with mysterious sub-aqua worlds populated by fish men and the belief that their music was powerful enough to allow the anointed access to a higher plane of existence. Like UR, during their existence, Drexciya successfully pedalled this narrative to their fans, who along with wide-eyed journalists (this writer is as much to blame as anyone else for this) perpetuated Drexciya’s myths.
It’s rare that electronic music artists push themselves to the same degree as Danny Wolfers. The Dutch artist is one of the most prolific contemporary artists, working under an often bewildering array of guises - The Paranormal Soul is his ninth album as Legowelt – but this latest release sees him go deeper than before.
Master tape of "Strings Of Life", Derrick May's 1987 techno classic
A great remix can be as memorable as an original production. There are numerous examples of remixers using their unique signature to turn an original composition into a classic - think the never-ending snare-led climax on Hardfloor’s version of Robert Armani’s “Circus Bells” or the ecstatic pianos, rave whistles and carnival drums that make David Holmes’s version of Sabres of Paradise’s “Smokebelch 2” an acid house anthem. In both instances, the remixers became the story, turning the adequate originals into classics. But what happens when remixers rework classics?
Following the first installment of Journey Of The Deep Sea Dweller, Clone delves back into Drexciya’s archives for the follow-up. Like the first release, the Dutch label has been granted access to tracks from the Detroit duo’s earlier releases, including Bubble Metropolis and The Unknown Aquazone, which fetch hundreds of pounds online. Invariably, some owners of these original releases will balk at the music’s exclusivity being lost. These are the same kind of people who used to hurl insults from behind the counter at people who came in to browse releases in the local record store and should not be given any credence. Others, including this writer, who own original releases, laud Clone for remastering and repressing Drexciya’s early work and making it available to a new generation of people whose appreciation of electro does not start and end with Deadmaus.
Conforce’s music remains loyal to techno– tough, driving beats saturated in electronic funk – but also nicely incorporates the dub elements of Basic Channel, Dub Taylor and Rhythm & Sound. Having released records on Rush Hour, Curle and Delsin his sound is synonymous with deep, throbbing bass, sweat-inducing synth work and rounded, warm stabs soaked in reverb – a particular aspect which gives his true form of techno another dimension.
Holland doesn’t have the same status as Detroit or Chicago or boast the kind of game-changing clubs that New York and Berlin have been home to, but its importance in electronic music spheres cannot be understated.
Judging the best record labels in any given year is not an easy task. The necessary combination of established labels reaching their peak and fresh imprints flourishing in their infancy is not an easy one to reach; inevitable comprises in the age old quantity vs quality debate are liable to be discussed ad nauseum. This year’s list came together slowly but surely, and we believe it provides a neat snapshot of all that is good about electronic music right now.
The aforementioned upstarts are visible in force (Hivern, Long Island Electrical Systems) as are their more established counterparts (Clone, Planet Mu, Honest Jon’s). Their combined reach is truly global, with our selected labels based in cities as diverse as Barcelona, New York, London, Glasgow, L.A. and Bristol – their respective rosters have an even broader reach and they collectively touch on too many genres to mention.
Anyone with a finger on or someone near the pulse of electronic music right now won’t need us to tell you the importance of record labels these days. They serve as what Andrew Weatherall describes as a “cultural filter”; the best labels wade through oceans of sameness to illuminate the interesting corners of music, earning our trust and admiration in the process. There are, of course, many, many more labels worthy of end-of-year coverage, but here is the Juno Plus selection of the labels that impressed us most in 2011.
Those subscribed to the Clone mailouts will no doubt have been thrilled by the news that the Rotterdam based record label and shop were undertaking an extensive reissue program of the Drexciya back catalogue via the Clone Classics offshoot. The first release has now been announced, in the shape of Journey Of The Deep Sea Dweller Part 1.
The three members of the Aniara gang – Alexander Berg, Nils Krogh and Fabian Bruhn – have created something special with their record label, party and production collective. They’ve caught the ears of some very respected artists who might have dismissed Sweden as belonging to the staid, manly sounds of Techno with a capital ‘T’. The austere yet psychedelic music of Genius of Time and Dorisburg combine an understanding of the past with a yearning for something new and space age. It’s for these reasons that we singled out the Gothenburg-based imprint to be the first in a new feature focusing on our favourite record labels. And while the guys can seem reserved or shy at first, a few drinks in, they can party with the best of them – just as Berlin-based Juno Plus scribe Pablo Roman-Alcalá found out. (Scroll down to the bottom of the article to hear a stream of the recent Genius Of Time set at Swiss club Dachstock.)
Clone’s Royal Oak offshoot has barely put a foot wrong since launching in 2009, providing open-minded deep house/disco/electro-funk heads with quality material from the likes of Space Dimension Controller, Reggie Dokes and the hotly tipped Genius of Time. Here they give a Royal Oak debut to Holland’s Morning Factory, a relatively unknown production partnership who have already released a string of strong EPs on Yore and 2020 Vision.
This two-tracker, though, is noticeably different to those previous outings. Their two Yore EPs, in particular, were full of thick, quietly melodic cuts that owed just as much stylistically to vintage US deep house as European house and techno. In particular, Jean-Pierre van der Leeuw and Jozef Lemmens’ swirling, jackin’-in-space sound owes much to American house titans Chez Damier and Ron Trent – and we’re not just talking about their production moniker (in case you’ve not spotted the reference, they’re named after one of Chez & Trent’s finest releases). While you can still hear a distinct Ron Trent influence on “Fantasy Check”, it’s much more musically complex and stylistically refined than any of their previous outings. Where those occasionally tickled the senses, “Fantasy Check” overpowers them all at once.
It’s something of a slow-burning delight – an emotion-rich soup of gently cascading jazz pianos, dream sequence chords, simmering strings and filtered electric bass – all atop beats that could have come straight from an old Moodymann 12”. It’s a terrific piece of music, and one that should be played on a loop to anyone who says house records lack emotion, feeling or musical worth. Flipside “Diane’s Love” is perhaps a little nearer what we’ve come to expect from van der Leeuw and Lemmens, but it’s still far more finely-sculpted than anything in their back catalogue. There’s more percussive pressure and typically heavy low-end – think Theo, Rick Wilhite etc – but they still find space in the mix for oddly cut-up strings and synths. There’s also a delightful female spoken word vocal that helps give focus and emotional resonance to a track that’s simply brimming with inventiveness. Royal Oak rarely misses the mark, and this is no different. It’s one of the label’s best releases to date, and certainly Morning Factory’s best work.
Over the years, Holland’s Dexter aka Remy Verheijen has done much to dispel the common if often inaccurate perception that electro producers are a miserable bunch. With tongue in cheek classics like “I Don’t Care” and the good time interpretations of Chicago on the “Boogie Chasers” collaboration with Marco Passarani, his music is often at odds with the stern and angular precision of many of his fellow 808-obsessed peers.
Given his background, it is no surprise that Space Booty remains true to form. On the title track, Verheijen’s love of Chicago house and ghetto electro is to the fore. The result is a groove powered by tingling, insistent 808 drums and underscored by a lunging bass that sounds like it was borrowed from DJ Godfather and then had its tempo halved. That said, “Booty” acts as only a prelude to the real fun.
“Fat Skinny People”, like “I Don’t Care”, is delivered with tongue firmly in cheek. The bassline is rougher and more distorted, and the use of driving percussion in the break will ensure it gets DJ rotation, but at the heart of the arrangement is that vocal. Sounding like a robot force fed helium and Quaaludes, its daft-sounding tones intoning the track’s title are then cut up and placed strategically for maximum giggle effect.
There’s no shame in admitting that a release might catch your eye for the simple reason that curiosity was piqued by the unique name, or it houses a remix from a certain producer. Indeed, for the elder record buyers amongst us, stumbling upon an unknown pleasure via this tactic was one of the real highlights of a crate digging session. In the case of Moogie from Rushhour it is both of the above that lead to this review. With such a distinctive name housing a remix from Alden Tyrell, immediate thoughts were this was a slice of forgotten electro from the 80s that was inspiration for the Amsterdam shop and label of the same name. The sort of record that labels such as Clone and Crème Organisation seem particularly brilliant in discovering and releasing.
Naturally – as with so many blind assumptions in music – that couldn’t be farther from the truth! Rushhour are in fact two disco loving graffiti artists from St Petersburg called Zool & Vir who may well take their name from the aforementioned Dutch emporium of musical greatness, or indeed in honour of the cinematic tour de force starring Messrs Chan and Tucker. Regardless, Moogie is a startling debut release for the duo, presenting a sound rich in analogue warmth, occupying that crowded space between contemporary disco and house productions but with enough personality and verve to separate it from the chaff.
Everything about the title track impresses, a production filled with thrilling key stabs and moog flourishes, working through different movements to a taut backdrop of throwback geetar funk and hand clap lead percussion. Clone don Alden Tyrell seems a perfect fit to remix the track – indeed he even mastered the whole EP – and he expertly twists “Moogie” filling it with waves of synth euphoria that grab you from take off.
It’s a mark of Rushhour’s auspicious talent that their productions do not cower in the shadows of Tyrell’s towering presence, with the innate confidence and quirkiness demonstrated on the opening track carried throughout. “Ultradancin’” seems to slip between glacial electroboogie, vintage Metro Area and Legowelt style synth freakouts with nonchalant ease, whilst “Cosmico” settles into an almost haunting melodic refrain before mutating into an ascendant futuristic Detroit groove filled with glisten and sheen.
In an internet-centric climate where instant music knowledge is but a Discogs check away it’s all too rare for an unknown record to grab you so hard, but it’s truly an exhilarating feeling when it happens.