Downwards has long been a label synonymous with techno. For each of its 20 years of operation the British imprint has remained relevant and resistant to trend while staying true to their ideals and aesthetics - no mean feat considering some struggle with this after five years. With the release of Tropic Of Cancer’s debut 10” in 2009, Downwards has undergone something of a curatorial renaissance, honing in on a renewed focus across the intersection of noise, techno and post punk also beloved of Blackest Ever Black. Rather than opting for a continuous drool of reissues and represses, the label’s insatiable thirst for a contemporary metamorphosis of their initial vision has led them to unearth a singular legion of fresh and forward thinking, techno-not-techno producers.
This year Downwards has begun to fully embrace the digital medium by choosing to release an essential selection of back catalogue material that, as Regis describes, fits in with the, "new, young and thrusting stuff." For this Downwards takeover, Juno Download spoke with label founder Karl O’Conner for a brief email interview, while OAKE, a German duo who have so far released two records with Downwards sub-label D/N, provided a heady mix of Downwards-only material, and we have a free download of an unreleased Talker production called "Carrier"
Having struggled to find his niche during the early part of his career, things started looking up for Randomer when he popped up on Numbers back in 2011 with the bombastic blends of acid house and techno that made up his impressive Real Talk EP. Since then, he's impressively flitted between techno and bass music, and here delivers an all-out techno assault for Clone's occasional Basement Series. There's a real no-nonsese feel to the relentless kick-drums and cut-up vocal samples of "Stupid Things I Do", which comes in "New School" and "Old School" mix formats (the latter including some looser techno breakbeats, and thus being our pick). The EP also includes two formidable percussion workouts, which deliver driving drums and booming basslines.
It seems like the last few months of 2014 are going to be quite big for a newly bearded up Surgeon with a series of enticing looking reissues of '90s material under the SRX banner due to commence soon, as well as an incoming British Murder Boys retrospective on DNS. First up, the UK techno legend makes his debut proper on Token with Fixed Action Pattern, a two-track single of distorted, broken beat techno tailor-made for the Belgian label. Essentially two variants of the same track, the original is exactly the sort of searing, peak time wall-shaker you'd expect when Surgeon meets Token, and it's complemented nicely by a dub version that the label quite aptly compare to Lee Scratch Perry dabbling in industrial electronics.
In addition to his work as one half of Mista Men, London via Doncaster producer Ryan Aitchison has been making solo moves under his Mella Dee guise these past few years with appearances in all the right places (think Wolf Music, Shabby Doll and Sccucci Manucci). In fact Mella Dee's featured on two of the latter label's releases so it's little surprise to find the producer popping up on the affiliated Manucci's Mistress operation. The Feel It Out EP sits snugly between house, techno and bass music with the lead cut featuring a rather vicious sub bass line and some superb vocal edits, whilst "Raptor" opts for a moodier UKG meets snapping techno flex. Do check the smudged out bass refix from Will Berridge too.
For the second installment of the WNCL compilation series, a host of label regulars are swapping their parts around and remixing each other for a typically eclectic and positively bumping set of results that truly define where the label is at right now. J Tijn makes a tracky "drum tool" out of Bobby Champs' "Krenshaw", while Knowing Looks takes a rough blade to the label boss' "Drop" and comes out with a decidedly jagged breakbeat workout. Kamikaze Space Programme simmers Kevin McPhee's "In Circles" into a crunchy techno study, and then West Norwood Cassette Library himself takes J Tijn's "Flat" to task with a blissful dub-meets-breakbeat house version.
One of the first techno producers to embrace abstract sounds a few years back, Tommy's latest release feels like both a refinement of this textured sound as well as a shift in direction back towards the club. "OX1" combines swathes of eerie effects, noisy textures and half-heard sounds over a stepping, off-beat rhythm. "OX2" meanwhile is a more dance floor friendly track, with a relentless, spiky rhythm shot through with jacking, rattling beats. Maybe he has tired of remaining in the abstract shadows and wants to be back in the thick of the dance floor action - certainly the thumping, rolling reshape of "OX1" by Oscar Mulero will help to facilitate this.
Itokim, aka Tendo-based producer Takuro Ito, aligns with DJ Bone's Subject Detroit label with the Subject Japan: Rhythm Poems EP and his opening gambit certainly leaves a dent. "Motechnique" features weighty but warm kicks start as they mean to go on, bursting with pace and vigour as thrusts and stabs pinprick the brooding chords. The laidback, easy-going connotations of the title to "Roll Up and Shine" are very much the ethos and aesthetic of the production, as a playful, bubbling melody sets a warm and almost sugary tone from the off before being bolstered by a suave melange of full-bodied kick and dexterous percussion. "The Mood Device" is a to the point groover that melds elements of the previous productions to stunning effect, melding innumerable coatings of percussion and synth into one delightfully deep and multidimensional slice of formidable dancefloor composite.
This London label has a great track record in cultivating new talent, and Venus by upcoming artist Philippe Petit is no exception. The title track is a high-octane affair, centred on a steely percussive rhythm, tough tribal drums and soaring acid lines. In stark contrast is "Guadalupe". It sounds like the French producer has taken inspiration from Detroit producer Terrence Dixon. Teeming with pointillist bleeps and subsonic pulses, its slinky rhythm is a lesson in sleek techno. "Meteorite" follows in a similar vein, but this time Petit adds in snapping percussion and a more menacing undercurrent. The label's choice of remixer for "Meteorite" is spot on, with Fachwerk's Roman Lindau adding in ominous, dubby chord washes and stabbing percussion.
The wolf and caps lock loving pair known simply as OAKE make a welcome return to Downwards, complementing their stunning debut from earlier this year with a four track EP that is, if anything, even heavier going! Quite where Karl O'Connor found OAKE isn't clear but the Berlin pair fit right in on the current configuration of Downwards alongside the likes of Cut Hands, Kerridge, DVA Damas et al. Whereas OAKE's three track debut Offenbarung was finely balanced between cinematic strings and vocals reminiscent of Coil and a pin-dropping bass-heavy dread shared with kindred spirits Demdike Stare and The Haxan Cloak, Vollstreckung is resolutely darker in execution. See, for example, the serating bass tones of "Sehtohree Diin Chromtas Vehns" and the cacophonous drums of "Tuturden Giit Chreteen Dwe" that both drowning out the more delicate vocals.
Given the success of his early EPs on Werkdiscs and Rush Hour, hopes are naturally high for this debut album from adopted Londoner Moire. The mystery producer has previously spoken of his love of the capital city, variously calling it "raw, yet so full of soul" and describing his style as "London techno". Certainly, there's a notable world-weariness amongst the attractive analogue electronics, enveloping chords and post-industrial dancefloor rhythms of Shelter. While there are unsettling moments - see the bubbling, acid-flecked warehouse hypnotism of "Rings" and the disarming sludge of "Stars" - for the most part Moire deals in hazy, late night beauty, smothering the album in intoxicating textures and flitting late night melodies (see the dawn-over-Hackney Marshes feel of "Mr Figure" for proof).
While he may have been active since the mid '00s, it's only in the last couple of years that Dax J has started to truly fly out the releases, and after successful stints on Deeply Rooted and others, the London-based artist is back on his own EarToGround imprint with an EP of dark, electro-fied techno. "Corinthians" matches rousing choral pads with dark clanging chimes to make for a dynamic and engaging romp, while "Blade Runner" gets into a more unstable mindset with a piercing arpeggio and a light spread of drums. "Tunnels" is a markedly feistier tune, while Emmanuel's remix channels the growling synth tones into a more metallic, sleek kind of techno workout.
Ahead of his Double Divide album dropping on Houndstooth, the artist formerly known as Al Tourettes sneaks out this lead track in his inimitable style of slithering, intensely detailed machine funk. "Shaman Champagne" is a foreboding affair layered with disorientating sonic matter that flies around a rock solid beat before the track lifts off into more magical realms of sci-fi romance. Perc steps up to perform a remix duty on the track and he doesn't hold back in slamming down a monstrous techno vision packed full of abrasive noise and rigid a rhythm. Machinedrum meanwhile ignites his Aden alias for a more subtle reappraisal that feeds off the wild energy of the original to create a taut and multi-faceted tech house barnstormer.
Ital has always confounded expectations, releasing electronic music that flits between styles and defies easy categorization. The American producer's at it again on Endgame, an album supposedly inspired by minimalist composers and his recent experiments with psychedelic drugs. Certainly, Endgame boasts the hypnotic, off-kilter pulse of, say, Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and the dreamy, hard-to-focus musical wizardry most associated with psychedelia. Despite these influences - and occasional nods to both jazz and dub - it's primarily a techno album, with ghostly electronics, skittish rhythms and drowsy chords underpinning crystalline melodies. It's certainly his most considered album to date, and arguably his best.
Listening to Force, it's hard to believe that Damon Kirkham was once involved with Instra:mental. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a more disconnected path to his former guise than the one he ventures down here. The title track has a closer bearing to Kirkham's other releases as Jon Convex in that it teems with snare rolls, Chicago kettle drums and an ominous bassline. However, at its core is a baseline so brutal and oppressive that it sounds like Borghesia or Laibach on speed. "Snake" is even more explicit in how Kirkham wears his influences and its oppressive low end pulses and doom vocal sound like a modern, techno tribute to Front 242.
Veteran UK producer Mark Broom has gone through more musical transformations than his colleagues - most recently into an Ibiza-friendly house direction - but on Untitled, he turns to the sound that he knows best. The title track is a killer, purist techno groove, in the mould of Broom's vintage Pure Plastic releases. Rumbling drums roll in over a banging, jack-hammer groove and dubby undercurrents. It manages to strike a balance between tough functionality and a murky, experimental sound bubbling beneath the surface. Edit Select also delivers an excellent remix. More restrained than the original, its eerie, dubby effects and ponderous, menacing groove are just as effective as Broom's thunderous original.
The latest release on Richie Hawtin's label isn't all that it seems. In spite of their name, Whyt Noyz delivers an EP that has very little to do with minimalism or the noisy effects that afflicted that sound. "Jingles' kick-starts the release in fist-pumping mode and its brooding dark bass is redolent of Resse-style techno. "Less Is Mo'" goes even further with squelchy sub-bass, eerie synths and sirens screeching in the background. There is some hint at minimalism on the stripped back "Closure", but its muffled vocals and grinding rhythm are only a temporary distraction and on 'One, Two, Four", Whyt Noyz bring back the bass pressure, this time accompanied by jittery piano lines.
The Ecstatic label run by Walls pair Sam Willis and Ale Natalizia has really stepped it up this year in terms of scope and intrigue. Both the Daphne Oram reworks and the long form sonic decay from The Field producer Axel Wilner as HANDS suggests a label is happy to remain driven by the esoteric interests of its founders. This latest release is another conceptual curveball which finds Natalizia teaming up with Pye Corner Audio for Intercepts, a split album themed around notions of espionage. Regardless of how much you invest in the conceptual motivations of both artists, fans of Pye Corner Audio and Not Waving are spoilt musically with the latter's side proving particularly dreamlike and intoxicating - "Protect The Revolution" is a notable highlight.
When it comes to DJing there aren't many names as trusted as Marcel Dettmann to provide the essential mix, be it in CD or podcast format. To date he's curated the second installment of Ostgut's in-house Berghain mix series and the Conducted mix for Belgian label Music Man. So it's about time Fabric invited the Berghain resident to participate in their own mix series, with this 77th edition providing a selection mostly based on unreleased MDR demo tracks that Dettmann's been utilising in his sets for years. The result is a good primer for what to expect from his label in the future, with Answer Code Request, Norman Nodge, Ilian Taper Dario Zenker and French producer Marcelus amongst the high-profile names contributing unreleased productions.
Once again, Tiga's label delivers a slamming, uncompromising record. Russian producer Proxy has been putting out music on the label since 2007 and Iron is the latest in a series of barnstorming, no-nonsense releases. The title track starts with repetitive vocal hooks and a dense rhythm, before Proxy introduces a screeching siren that builds and builds over rolling snares. It's like an unofficial cover of Mike Dunn's "Magic Feet", as played by a disaffected Moscovite, amped up on industrial strength amphetamine in the top floor of a communist-era apartment block. "Jumanarama" follows roughly the same approach - only instead of the sirens Proxy has used the tortured squeals of an unnamed piece of studio equipment.
This German producer has a brace of EPs and a debut album out on Boysnoize, but he is only in his early 20s. Despite his young age, 16 is a deeply accomplished affair. It benefits from the fact that he is free of some of the prejudices older producers might suffer from, and as "Computers Do Have Souls" so ably demonstrates, he has no problem mixing up ghetto techno grooves with floaty synth textures. There's a similarly daring cocktail of influences on "Ghetto Youth", as high-octane, stepping rhythms collide with dubbed out drums, a Resse-style bass and DBX-inspired pitched-down vocals. "Grati Juve" and the vaguely anthem-like "Totally Together" complete this flawless release.
Originally released in 2004, Fist/Splinter was the first BMB 12" on Karl O'Conner's Downwards following their first two EPs for Surgeon's label Counterbalance. By this stage, ten years ago, the pair's rough and rhythmic collaboration had already earned a formidable reputation as a force to be reckoned via their fierce and unrelenting drum tracks. The rolling kicks and industrial sizzles of "Fist" build and swirl into a crescendo of coarse noise before a moaning hum underlines the mayhem, while "Splinter" strips back the caustic overtones, instead beating down like a intensified Kalon production. No nonsense.