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"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The hitherto unknown Hank Jackson came to the fore earlier this summer with Deposit, the sixth release on Eamon Harkin and Justin Carter's Mr Saturday Night label, a three-track EP that marked him out as an exponent of gritty, mechanical weirdness that wouldn't sound out of place on an Opal Tapes release - "Cole's Lullaby" in particular. With little subsequent information on the Southern Californian out there, the focus remains on Hank Jackson's productions and this new release for Proibito proves to be every bit as distinctive. The stodgy concrete seriousness of the title track's opening moments are offset by the most playful of percussive rhythms, whilst "Sizzler" retains the frazzled distortion that marked Jackson's debut release. It's "Track 3" that stands out for us however; the playful and distorted elements of the other two tracks are present, yet it's distinguished by what might be the sound of garbled duck whistles ripped in several direction simultaneously, lending it a bizarre charm reminiscent of Mr. Oizo at his weirdest.
Releases thus far on the Proibito label operated by young Anthony Naples have lived up to the Brooklyn-based producer's intentions to use it as a platform to "promote and document the more experimental side of music coming out of New York City, the US and beyond." Huerco S donned the Royal Crown Of Sweden costume for material slightly more club grubby than his excellent LP whilst an EP from Local Artist highlighted how impressive the Vancouver crew Mood Hut are becoming. Naples himself lines up on the third Proibito release - allegedly named in honour of Naples favourite restaurant in his hometown Florida) and the experimental outlook remains very much in place. The grizzled, lo-fi thrum of Naples is very much evident on both "POT 1" and "POT 2" but as they surge past the ten minute mark the productions end in an entirely different headspace to how they began. The second track ends on a particularly psychedelic note and demonstrates Naples is clearly progressing as a producer.
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.
Yes! Powder Horn is the result of Powell's Diagonal label coaxing a new album's worth of material out of Shit & Shine, the masterful project of Texan musician Craig Clouse. Whereas previous Shit & Shine material has seen Clouse working with other musicians, this album is purely his own work and delights on so many levels. It's fairly hard to accurately surmise how this nine-track album sounds such is the range of styles covered though Diagonal's description of Powder Horn as a raucous collection of 'deviant funk, wiry disco and burnt-out acid' is pretty on the money. Perhaps it's best to describe it as everything (and more) you'd expect to hear in a Powell DJ set with "Pearl Drop" and "PG13" particular standouts.
Huerco S returns with this long delayed offering for the quietly impressive Proibito label under the shortened HS mantle. Keen followers of Huerco S will of course know the Brooklyn transplant inaugurated Anthony Naples' label last year with the rarely used Royal Crown Of Sweden alias and the four tracks on this A Verdigris Reader EP prove to be just as intoxicating. It's also arguably Proibito's most experimental release so far; compare the ambient amble of "A1" with Hank Jackson's offering for the label or the Levon-esque "POT" from Naples himself. Our tip of the four is "B1" which is little more than a dull siren constantly trying to reach its peak tone over crunched up percussion but the results have you pulling the needle back again and again.
Anthony Naples' blooming Proibito imprint was launched earlier this year with a record from Huerco S under his newly adopted Royal Crown Of Sweden alias, supplying the crunchy deep house of the R.E.G.A.L.I.E.R. EP. Maintaining the label's ethos to highlight rising talent from across North America, Proibito return here with Local Artist, a search engine vexing producer who seems to brandish affiliations with the rising Mood Hut collective based out of Vancouver. His/her self titled four track effort continues Proibito's dalliances with the rawer end of the 4/4 spectrum with cuts such as "Mr. Kiwi" and "004" notable for the viciousness of hammering cowbells and crisp hi-hats. Those seeking something deeper should turn to "Sun Raw" and "Mansion of Hours" which demonstrate Local Artist eminently capable of crafting dubbier and moody productions too.
The Year Of Naples continues apace here as the celebrated Brooklynite Anthony Naples opens proceedings on his newly formed Proibito label with a sublime EP from Royal Crown Of Sweden. More commonly known as Huerco S, those who've enjoyed the Kansas based producers murked out house deviations for Opal Tapes, Future Times and Wicked Bass will be pleasantly surprised that Royal Crown Of Sweden is relatively straight forward experiments with a drum machine and 4 bar samples. The R.E.G.A.L.I.E.R. EP takes its cue from an old Pau Johnson record and the three original cuts veer lopsided through dusty DJ tools . For added interest, lead track "Vanern" has been rewired on the go by L.I.E.S. duo Steve Summers and Bookworms with some assistance from their friend Lori - the results will please anyone whose been digging their Confused House output.