A new five track release from Rabih Beaini’s Morphosis project is out now on the Honest Jon’s label.
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A new five track release from Rabih Beaini’s Morphosis project is out now on the Honest Jon’s label.
Next month sees Honest Jon’s release Petrol Laughs, a split release between Bullion and Elmore Judd.
“I can’t explain how I made those tracks, it’s just impossible,” Darren Cunningham said when describing the process of making his third album, R.I.P, in a press release back in February. “It’s like painting with button and sliders… Melting and dripping, seeping yourself liquid into the machinery.” It’s a rare moment of honesty from a man whose Twitter persona is one of the most baffling of any of his peers – whilst he obviously doesn’t shy away from the limelight like Zomby, happy to undertake quite serious, thoughtful interviews, his online identity is nevertheless filled with misdirection and incoherent half-statements which veer off on tangents as if he’s mentally channel surfing.
With Honest Jon’s on the cusp of gracing an expectant audience with R.I.P, Darren Cunningham’s third album under the Actress moniker, the moment seemed right for the core of Juno Plus to delve into what came before. Read on as Aaron Coultate, Scott Wilson and Tony Poland offer up their favourite moments from the producer’s endlessly impressive discography.
Wisely gathering together the slew of 12”s that were issued in a celebratory culture clash very typical of Honest Jon’s, Shangaan Shake is the complete document of the remixes the label commissioned to pit leftfield Western artists against the Shangaan electro of South Africa. When your choice of remixers spans Ricardo Villalobos and DJ Rashad, and the source material is 180 bpm African music, you can only expect varied results.
Seemingly intent on keeping a captive following guessing, Actress has spent much of 2011 merely hinting at what his next substantial move will be. Those who follow his obtuse Twitter feed will no doubt have basked in the free sonic experiments he’s left as a digital trail over the past few months, whilst there have been some intriguing remix commissions along the way (a sonic dissection of New York’s Laurel Halo in particular resonates still). Of course there has been a drip feed of original material this year too, with a decidedly swampy contribution to the NonPlus canon complemented by what was revealed to this website as a personally illuminating experience in Africa recording as part of the DRC album for Warp.
That wait is of course drawing to a close with the recent news that Honest Jon’s will release the third album from Actress, further strengthening the relationship that commenced when the label released his second album Splazsh in 2010. An advance chance to bask in the possibilities of how the as yet unnamed album will sound is afforded with this sonically challenging but quite excellent twelve inch. There is plenty to admire here, with the lead track described quite presciently by the label as the “alien son of Sleng Teng”. Just like that riddim pioneered a new wave of digital dancehall when Wayne Smith joined forces with King Jammy on “Under Me Sleng Teng”, “Rainy Dub” seems to signify a concentrated shift in focus towards ever new jagged dissections through the fuzziest extremes of sub bass. Minute attention to detail such as the near indecipherable vocal gurgles trapped far beneath ensure you keep returning to the track as new sonic elements come to light.
“Faceless” creeps towards you like second album highlight “Purple Splazsh” regurgitated through a robotic variant of the human centipede, with the track’s hazy melodic elements desperately trying to claw through the claustrophobic rhythms, creeping corroded textures and rising gurgles of stomach acid. It would be churlish to presume how that forthcoming album may sound on the basis of “Rainy Dub” and “Faceless” as neither will be present on it, but both tracks show one of the UK’s most interesting musical talents in uncompromising form.
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.
Compiled by Honest Jon’s co-owner Mark Ainley and Mark Ernestus last year, Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa collected several tracks of Shangaan, the electronic version of a traditional South African music with a massive following, despite its localised nature. When it was announced that Honest Jon’s were planning a series of Shangaan remixes, it probably had many wondering how its typical 180bpm speed could possibly be reconciled with the west’s more conservative 100-140bpm range. The results have been impressive, with Ernestus, Anthony Shakir and Oni Ayhun previously supplying reworkings that have used the source material to rebuild the tracks from the ground up, concentrating on tone and colour than more literal reworkings, and it’s telling that the series actively avoids the word “remix”.
This third 12” sees the unlikely pairing of Peverelist with Ricardo Villalobos & Max Loderbauer reworking the Tshetsha Boys. Following their album of reworks from German jazz label ECM, Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer are perhaps the ideal choice for a project like this, with a result that is far more danceable than that collaboration. The minimal bassline and hypnotic bounce on their rework of “Nwampfundla” is typical Villalobos, but the appeal lies in the snatches of melody and vocals from the original track which float in and out of audible range. These fragments capture the original’s melodic charm whilst filtering out its gaudier excesses and almost trick you into believing you’re listening at the original speed, such is the disassociative trickery of the production.
Peverelist’s remix is a complete curve ball – clocking in at under 120bpm it’s certainly not his usual fare, its nonchalant handclaps taking its cues from the more shuffling bass infused house that’s been coming out of Bristol recently from the likes of Kowton. His rework of “Uya Kwihi Ka Rose” goes even further into micro elements than Villalobos does, isolating a specific tone and subjecting it to a syncopated stutter that appropriates Shangaan’s body shaking marimba rhythms, and using his particular talent for stripping tracks right back, leaves a loose skeleton of the original. Like Villalobos & Loderbauer, he isolates enough melody to convey the spirit of the original, but shambling within a spectral reverb it takes on an eerie new quality.
Actress, real name Darren Cunningham, remains of the most elusive, singular, and, well, interesting characters in contemporary electronic music. His unique brand of muggy, heavily compressed electronica has graced two much-loved albums – one on his own Werk Discs imprint, the other via West London record emporium Honest Jon’s. There have also been EPs via Instra:mental’s Nonplus and Trus’me’s Prime Numbers labels, but it has been his relationship with Honest Jon’s (who released Spazsh, and will release his next album) that has given him his widest audience. His shadowy reputation has been fostered by an (at times) aloof attitude to self-promotion and a wonderfully baffling Twitter account, through which he’s been known to give away free tracks en masse. His live performance at the recent Field Day festival in London, although not quite attaining Zomby levels of capriciousness, served only to enhance his reputation: 25 minutes late for his scheduled slot, he arrived dressed in a black cape and proceeded to put on one of the most incendiary performances of the day.
He recently took part in the DRC project – on Oxfam initiative spearheaded by former Blur frontman Damon Albarn, which saw a troupe of UK based musicians travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo to record an album with local musicians. Albarn’s close association with Honest Jon’s no doubt alerted him to Cunningham’s production prowess, and he was joined on the voyage to Central Africa by a varied cast of musicians including XL boss Richard Russell, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Dan The Automator, Jneiro Jarel, Marc Antoine, Alwest, Remi Kabaka, Rodaidh McDonald and Kwes. The album, entitled Kinshasa One Two, was recorded in Kinshasa over a five day period in July this year and will see release via UK label Warp. We spoke to Cunningham about his time in the Congo, which he discussed in vivid detail, describing it as a “life changing” experience. Typically, he chose to take a slightly different approach to his peers, spending most of his time away from the studio interacting with local families, walking through the ghettos of Kinshasa and experiencing the city’s vibrant club scene.
There are moments on Quartet, where Vladislav Delay manages to capture the sound of humanity laid bare and humbled, the feeling that follows on from the breakdown of modern society. Unsurprisingly then, the comparison to Cormac McCarthy’s desolate novel The Road are apposite for tracks like “Minus Degrees, Bare Feet, Tickles”, where Delay, ably accompanied by fellow Finnish experimentalist Mika Vainio as well as Derek Shirley and Lucy Capece, delivers a fin de monde wall of drones, barely restrained feedback and, as an outro, a death march stomp. A similar approach is audible on “Hohtokivi”, but here the mood is even tenser, with a humming bassline trailing off into abstraction thanks to a noisy interference.
However, unlike McCarthy’s opus, Quartet also shows that the human spirit can overcome disaster. “Santa Teresa” for example, which follows “Minus Degrees”, is almost upbeat by comparison, its double bass groove augmented by atmospheric pads and squealing sax lines. “Killing The Water Bed” adopts a similar tact, but nudges the foursome further away from their experimental bent and towards the dance floor thanks to its pounding drums and heavy bass. Then Delay and his collaborators focus their energies on redemption and healing rather than doom and desperation. The muffled keys and lumbering bass of “Presentiment” suggest that there are hints of light in their canon, while the clipped beats and squealing sax – this time more celebratory than the nightmarish world painted out by “Hohtokivi”. That’s not to suggest that Delay and his collaborators have flip-flopped between themes or moods. While there are some flirtations with optimism, the overall mood is sombre and downbeat, as captured on the somnambulant finale, “Salt Flat”. Gloom rarely sounded so compelling.
Sam Shackleton has always done things his own way, and this release for Honest Jon’s is no different. “Deadman” is inspired by dub, but rather than taking the listener on a journey through the alleys of Bristol’s recent musical past or displaying his knowledge of Basic Channel/Chain Reaction’s scuffled techno, he uses it to veer further into experimentalism.
The original version of “Deadman” is a tense, dense affair that skirts on the edges of dancefloor accessibility, but is chiefly concerned with setting a tone rather than delivering instantaneous gratification. Admittedly, there are pummeling tribal drums and rolling percussion at the heart of the arrangement, but they act as a facilitator for the eerie textures and the almost detached-sounding vocal intoning ‘everyone starts from point one, no one…’.
Honest Jon’s have recruited Roger Robinson and Kevin Martin to contribute a remix as King Midas Sound and their ‘death dub’ version certainly lives up to its title. Dispensing entirely with the already tenuous dancefloor link, the duo conjure up foggy textures that sound more malignant than anything the current wave of dub techno producers could muster, and use them as the basis for an eeerie, childlike vocal - like the creepy kid from ‘The Sixth Sense’ movie on quaaludes. Finally, the crackle remix provides some light relief, with tiny, chiming bells tinkling through an abstract take characterised by soft-focus edges.
Back in the nascent days of the record industry, HMV began a brief campaign to open up new markets in Africa. Songs were recorded, sent to Britain to be pressed and were then sent back as 10″ 78′s as part of a series known as “Native Records”. Despite the rampantly colonial title, the records were aimed at African buyers, with the majority of the songs drawn from Kenya & Uganda and sold as a way to drive both record and gramophone sales in an as yet untapped market place.
While only proving to be a footnote in pre-rock music history, these auspicious recordings have been lovingly excavated via EMI’s archive by Honest Jon – the crate-digging label who have previously struck gold with the excellent post-Windrush calypso compilations London Is The Place For Me. The first in a series of three, this equally wonderful collection focuses on the period between 1938-46 and is peppered with both story-telling minstrelry and the Arabic-leaning sounds of taarab.
As if to almost shock the listener into appreciating the general lo-fi quality of the recordings to come, opener “Wireless” by Ssekinomu sees a flickering ndingidi (a single-stringed fiddle) and a staccato vocal modulate and distort violently thanks to the primitive audio capturing. However, such obscure quality is rare – the following song, Ali & Party’s “Enyi Wa Hiari”, is brittle but still captures the distinctively East African melodies, characterised by swooping violins and mournful vocal intonation. Elsewhere, the folk story “John Geko” is told with stubborn, forceful vocals and an accompanying accordion, while in a similar vein, “Njane Kanini” by Shinda Gikombe is told almost solo, save for some thin handclaps in the distance. The severe lo-fidelity frequently adds much to these outstanding songs – just listen to the sinister, distorted and eroded bell sound on Machakos Party’s “Meselou” for example. There are few things on earth that sound quite so sinister and haunting. Not only is this a fascinating artifact, aided by an extensive inlay booklet on the CD release, it also makes for an incredibly unique and unusual listen.
A taster for the trio’s forthcoming third album, Horizontal Structure, this single sees Von Oswald and collaborators Max Loderbauer and Sasu Ripatti (aka Vladislav Delay) further explore the notion of merging dub techno with other, previously unconnected styles. “Restructure 2” is a swirling, atmospheric piece, its languid, low-tempo groove accompanied by some tastefully spacey guitar playing and mellow jazzy vibes. It sounds like what would happen if late-stage Velvet Underground were to happen upon Charlie Parker in a wormhole and decide to decamp to modern-day Berlin to do cover versions of Burial Mix. It’s understated, studied and about as far removed from Maurizio’s “Ploy” as one can get, but yet it still retains much of the same cavernous production sound.
The choice of remixer, Mala, is also surprising as it eschews Von Oswald’s techno habitat in favour of dubstep. That said, the Digital Mystikz producer has a credible string of releases for DMZ, Tectonic and Soul Jazz, and like the Basic Channel producer, fully understands the power of the bass. There is also some subtle referencing to the time that Van Oswald first rose to prominence through the use of ‘Intelligent Techno’-era melodies and the ambient outro, but Mala’s remix is all about the tumbling drums and tribal, swinging rhythms.
If the recent over exposure to the distinctive noise of the vuvuleza has put a dampener on your inclination for African music, we recommend you immerse yourself in the smile inducing, marimba heavy 180+bpm booty shaking afro electro world of Shangaan Electro courtesy of the good people at Honest Jon’s. Label boss Mark Ainley curates Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa with a little help from iconic Basic Channel figure Mark Ernestus. The duo select twelve tracks which document the best moments of Shangaan Electro since its emergence in 2005.
A super niche genre from the Soweto region of South Africa, Shangaan Electro was borne out of the mid tempo Shangaan Disco sound that has dominated the region since the 1980s. Sowetan composer and producer Nozinja is largely responsible for inventing the genre by upping the Shangaan tempo exponentially and replacing bass and guitar with marimba and mid keyboards. Shangaan Electro has subsequently become a local phenomenon, with Nozinja a central figure, overseeing weekly dances and producing the most popular Shangaan Electro groups that include the distinctively dressed Tshetsha Boys and Zinja Hlungwani – both of whom feature prominently on this compilation.
It would be a mistake to categorize this genre by the devilish speed and over abundance of marimbas alone as every track is infused with a real sense of soul and passion with Zinja Hlungwani’s “Nwa Gezani My Love” the most startling example – Hlungwani’s haunting vocals wrapped in a choir of synthesized yelps and harmonious backing vocals. Similarly Hlungwani’s “Thula” is a spell binding end to this impressive compilation.
The Fader recently drew comparisons with Baltimore house, Argentinean cumbia and Mexico’s tribal guarachero stating that Shangaan Electro’s inherent hyper local regionality lends the genre a beguiling charm lacking in more conservative musical movements and it is true. In fact the only way to improve on Shangaan Electro is to search out the rich volume of accompanying YouTube videos which improve the experience no end for fans and will help convince listeners not instantly taken by the charm within.
Review: Tony Poland
Darren Cunningham’s 2008 debut Hazyville was a wonderful journey though a myriad of disparate influences, from Detroit techno to glitchy electronica and dubstep. Here we see the Werk Discs chief revisit some of those influences but also tread new ground with his follow up LP, Splazsh. It’s a startling journey: every track on here is worth listening to, digesting, and listening to again. “Hubble” is a neat way to start, taking off where Hazyville left off with warm, luscious pads buried deep beneath a sea of heavy compression.
“Lost” is one of the more tender moments on the album, with a female vocal draped over a rolling synth line and metallic snare. “Bubble Butts & Equation” would be the perfect theme song should the world come to as sudden and messy end, while “Always Human” has the squelchy leftfield techno sound of Anthony Shake Shakir, with some chopped up R&B vocals and a Space Invaders sample that seems to be Actress’ way of saying, ‘hey I could make a normal track, I just don’t wanna’. Then comes “Get Ohn (Fairlight mix),” which sounds like a Simon & Garfunkel b-side warped to within an inch of its life through compression and layered samples. “Maze” is one of the album’s true highlights, a stunningly simple piece that shows how beautiful electronic music can be when stripped back to its bare bones, while the broken beat of “Purrple Splazsh” once again shows Cunningham’s deft touch with sampling.
Things get more obtuse as the album trundles along, but that only serves to keep the listener engaged. Even the weird, experimental tracks toward the end are deliciously rich and textured, including the superbly titled “Supreme Cunnilingus”. With so many ideas crammed into 14 songs it’s a wonder Cunningham has ended up with such a perfect little album – often artists suffer from a surplus ideas, but on Splazsh that is not the case. This album could only have been made in 2010 and that, above all else, it what makes Splazsh so special. This is one for the ages.
Review: Aaron Coultate
Torsten Profrock’s T++ project has continually spread its wings since conception in 2005. Championed by fans of techno, dubstep, experimental and drum & bass alike, his latest EP for Honest Jon’s (and rumoured to be his last under this monkier) showcases the amalgamation of styles and sounds that has earnt the German such a far reaching fanbase.
If it does prove to be the final T++ release ever, then the alias will have left us with the most expressive and energetic of his works. Adding a real sense of personality, Profrock unearthed a handful of samples of the singer and ndingidi player Ssekinomu, recorded in East Africa in the 1930s and 40s in the label’s vaults for this release. Skilfully, the producer works these snippets into the complex rhythm structures, giving his music a human touch that has never been seen before. Profrock looks to the radical fringe of UK garage for the snapping 2 step vibe in these rhythms that remain central to all four tracks on the EP. This results in a clutch of tracks that take on an immensely tribal and subconsciously innate feel. They morph new structures from the forms of 2 step, techno and drum & bass around which Profrock wraps twisted FX and weighty sub bass to create one whole, throbbing organism.
So with quite possibly his final release, T++ leaves us, rather fittingly, with a record that sounds at once both ancient and modern. It has a totally unique tone, like a form of tribal language that can only speak to and be understood by today’s culture through these sub-heavy, atmospheric sounds.
Review: Tom Jones