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.
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.
This year we decided to expand our best tracks of the year list from 50 to an admittedly bulging 100. The simple fact is, listening to records as we do, day in, day out, we hear a lot of good music. Some great music, in fact, and in our top 100 we have specified exactly what drew us to each title – was it the quirky B-Side, the anthemic opener or, as with our number one selection, the entire EP? Read on to find out…
Romanian producer Cosmin Nicolae has been on an epic journey over the past few years, but as Simulat so ably demonstrates, it has not yet reached its conclusion. Cosmin’s path, from drum and bass and dubstep into techno has been well documented on Juno Plus. But the love affair that officially began with “Liebe Suende” on Rush Hour has been afforded the opportunity to blossom on Simulat. Apart from his ability to mix and match from a broad range of influences, Cosmin’s other main strength lies in his ability to bring that most secretive and elusive of elixirs, funk, to his productions.
Simulat has this quality in spades and is audible on “Less of Me, More of You”, where minor keys reverebed to infinity and beyond ride a brooding bass and a typical Cosmin shuffle. The end result has a swing that few producers can emulate, and a similar approach is audible on the jazz-tinged, mournful rhythms of “Amor Y Otros’ and the woozy chords of “Ritmat”. However, Cosmin’s conversion to techno only is only part of this story. The eerie abstractions of “Infinite Helsinki” and the deep space ambience of the grandly titled “Interstellar Inflight Entertainment” show a producer trying and succeeding to take his work beyond the confines of the dancefloor. The dubby groove of “Want You To Be” also sees him flirting with a more subtle form of techno and “Lillasyster” sounds like his own interpretation of early 90s bleep’n’bass. Let’s hope Cosmin’s journey never ends.
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.
Sonar turned 17 this year, and for a good number of people it’s an essential part of the calender. The schedule is fairly well mapped out – bask in the hazy bonhomie of Sonar By Day, conveniently located a stones throw from Las Ramblas, before allowing yourself to be pulled gently into the mayhem that is Sonar By Night. Those still standing when the sun rises over the back of the unnervingly large complex that houses the evening’s festivities can give themselves a pat on the back. All of this usually takes place in the standard Barcelona summer weather (scorchio) – oh, and at some stage you’ll probably get pickpocketed too.
In recent times, Rush Hour’s Direct Current offshoot has been a constant source of inspirational, dancefloor baiting material. Seemingly designed to offer a retro-futurist take on house from producers perhaps better known for their more experimental material – most recently seen on the thrilling, head-warping releases from Cosmin TRG and BNJMN – the imprint has rarely put a foot wrong to date.
This two-tracker fits neatly into the RH DC template. Braille is a new pseudonym for Praveen, one half of post-dubstep visionaries Sepalcure (whose recent Hotflush EP Fleur was one of that label’s most interesting and forward-thinking releases yet). In true RH DC style, the tracks presented here offer a cutting-edge take on house music that gives classic Chicago jack and the melodic futurism of Detroit a fresh new twist.
“The Year 3000” opens with a delay-laden vocal snippet from Sterling Void’s Chicago classic “It’s Alright”, before sprinting off on a woozy journey into 21st century Euro-jack – all dub-laden percussion, heavyweight 808 thumps, hissing jazz cymbals, spiralling vocal cut-ups and heavy, off key chords. The bassheads currently making their first forays into house will love it.
“Leavin’ Without You” treads a similar path, but offers more basic, straightforward thrills. A heartfelt vocal sample nimbly dances round a ricocheting rhythm of off-beat 4/4 percussion, densely layered chords and mind-altering FX. By the time the organs drop after two minutes, you’ll be lost in the pulsing, ever-evolving groove. Like its impressive A-Side, “Leavin’ Without You” is off-kilter late night house music of the highest order.
Cosmin Nicolae is a producer who debunks the notion that musical styles are specific to certain locations. Cosmin’s breakthrough single “Put You Down”/”Broken Hearts” launched Ben UFO, Ramadanman and Pangaea’s Hessle Audio imprint in 2007, an outlet that has since become inextricably linked with contemporary UK bass music. That release, particularly the ethereal, post–hardcore vocals of “Broken Hearts”, sound like they were inspired by the early morning vista from a council tower block in Hackney rather than downtown Bucharest.
Looking back at the still fledgling but truly impressive history of Rush Hour’s Direct Current series, it’s possible to chart a figurative inspirational fault line that has strengthened with each release. There’s been a clear progression in sound demonstrated by the series’ main protagonists Falty DL and Cosmin TRG in addition to startling contributions from newcomers Policy and BNJMN.
The unexpected delights of the latter’s full length album Plastic World – an album rich in brilliant Utopian techno futurism – lays the foundations of expectation for this release from Cosmin TRG and true to form the Romanian steps up for his third outing on the series and delivers perhaps his best work to date.
A Universal Crush - formed of four tracks spread luxuriously across two harlequin themed twelve inches – is the starkest example yet of the Romanian’s continual development from his dubstep roots towards a fluid house and techno sound. Of course there are plenty of artists currently moving in a similar direction, the most recent example being the Joy O release on Hotflush. Whilst “Wade In” is an accomplished techno production which has even caught the ear of Villalobos, it’s somewhat lacking in that sonic personality to distinguish it from the continual swathe of techno releases.
Crucially, Cosmin TRG’s distinct style is apparent from the moment the title track arises from the ether – listening to the glitchy melancholia coated rhythmic twists that run through “A Universal Crush” the mind remains blank when scouring for obvious comparisons, be it contemporary or historical. Similarly “Negligee” sounds wholly unique, delivering six minutes of warped analogue sex – excellently twisting itself inside out amidst the euphoric chords that drive the track forward.
Opening proceedings on the second, white slab of vinyl “Magnetic Bodies” is perhaps the one instance where TRG plays it straight – delivering into a soaring deep house thump that’s still sprinkled with enough ingenuity to make it stand out. Special mention is reserved for the final track “Sirop” – perhaps the finest six minutes here – with the dizzyingly brilliant rhythms and sweat-addled thumping joy worthy of far more than mere verbs.
This Romanian producer has stood at the crossroads between dubstep, funky and techno, but on the evidence of this release, it sounds like he is gravitating towards the older style. Of course, it’s not that simple and never should be when attempting to categorise artistic endeavour. Context is everything and Cosmin takes reference from and is inspired by his previous releases. It explains why “Separat”, though featuring granite weight beats, surging filtered chords and chain mail percussive elements – all of which would be likely to push even the most powerful sound system to its limits – still has a certain swing to it, a lack of rigidity that, when played alongside many contemporary releases, will sound positively liquid.
Cosmin brings the same qualities to bear on “Izolat”. Although it’s slower than “Separat”, there is no doubting its efficacy; similar chord filtering is evident, anchored by thundering claps and eerie strings. However, none of this can prepare the listener for the wall of noisy bass that Cosmin unleashes midway through and which makes all the other elements sound dwarf like by comparison. There has been way too much talk about the dubstep-techno or techno-funky crossovers; this is the record that finally reconciles the 4/4 sound with the power of bass music.