Having brought countless obscure tracks from the '80s to our attention through their mix CDs and club nights, Optimo now turn their attention, albeit temporarily, to the decade of drums, the 90s. While the later part of the 1990s saw dull tribal house and one-note loop techno monotony prevail, this split release shows that the use of heavy drums wasn't always tedious. On "The Way Out Is The Way", Norwegian-English duo Illumination deliver three minutes' worth of searing bass and epic keys before the filtered drums roll in, while Mr Marvin's "I Want You" is straighter percussive rhythm although its stuttering vocal sample makes it stand out. Best of all though is Fuel's "Rigid", a panning, stomping affair with traces of Chicago's ghetto sound.
It's fairly rare that a remix will blow you away, but that's undoubtedly the case with Acid Arab's astonishingly good remake of Etienne Jaumet's Metallik Cages, the first single to be taken from the former Zombie Zombie man's forthcoming album, La Visite. Utilising only the briefest snippets from the original (sadly not included in this package), the Paris-based duo deliver a snaking, slow-building, deliciously paranoid rework that puts their exotic intentions and dense Middle Eastern percussion at the heart of the action. In truth, the clips don't do it justice; it's an amazing piece of work. Versatile boss Gilb'r sticks close to the druggy, EBM-inspired chug of the original on his solid Club Mix, but it's his Bonus Beats version - a trippy rhythm cut that makes excellent use of stereo panning effects and weird noises - that impresses more.
Modeselektor's label provides a neat soundtrack for two sides of clubbing on its latest release. "Oben" (German for upper floor) is built for the kind of peak-time action its title suggests and sees Fjaak let loose with a slamming, relentless rhythm, heavy drums and a cut-up of the "Amen" break, while a detached vocal witters away in the background. By contrast, "Unten", which is German for 'bottom' - or, in this context, 'the basement' - is more considered. Cavernous, spacious kicks and heavy claps provide the basis for a chord sequence that flits and floats through the arrangement as randomly as conversations at an after party.
Having originally made his name with the (now dormant) Peanut Butter & Jams blog, Washington-based Jackson Ryland has turned his hand to music production. This debut release for Massimo Previti's popular DaBit label shows much promise. Lead cut "Crystal City" is particularly potent, with glassy-eyed chords and gently throbbing melodies tumbling over sweaty, carnival style percussion. The thumping, cut-up house of "JP's" is also impressive (check the heavy sub bass that enters during the breakdown for proof), while "Up The Shelf" expertly fuses new age electronics with the best of British bass music. Chiwax man Steve Murphy remixes "Crystal City", delivering a tight-but-swinging roller that makes great use of deep chords and colourful piano stabs.
Here's something of a curveball from DFA: a surprise single from Italian misfits Ninos Du Brasil, whose dark, intense and percussive Novos Misterios album on Hospital Productions was one of the highlights of 2014. Here they continue on a similar tip, delivering two apocalyptic fusions of surging, low-end electronics and dense Latin percussion. "Aromobates NDB" sets the tone, with discordant effects, delay-laden electronics and powerful live percussion being layered atop a sludgy, slow techno rhythm. "Cleilia Cleilia" ups the ante, delivering a 134 BPM techno smasher built around dense tropical melodies and nightmarish percussion. Not for the faint hearted, but unsurprisingly sublime nonetheless.
It's hard to believe that Phantom Delia is Cologne-based Lena Willikens' debut record as it has more personality and identity than 99 per cent of music being released right now. Bookended by the dense, droning title track and the brooding bass textures of "Howlin Lupus", Delia is as expansive as it is diverse. "Nilpferd" is a spooky soundtrack about an unfortunate soul who has lost their way, while "Asphalt Kobold" sees Willikens drop slow-motion hip-hop beats and punishing subs. Despite all of these offbeat twists, there is also no doubt that Willikens can rock a dance floor - "Noya Noya" is led by tight 808s and noirish electro stabs and "Mari Ori" is a brilliant, mysterious groove whose only, admittedly vague reference points are Clock DVA and Silent Servant.
It's been interesting to see Le Texier's gradual shift towards purist techno and "Valiant", the first track on this release, could be a Jeff Mills composition. Over gargantuan kicks, he lays down a bleepy sequence that moves up and down the tonal scale. Oscar Mulero's remix is typical of the Spanish producer's sound, with broken beats underscoring a dramatic, building filter that cover the original's bleeps in a dense cloud. "Divergent" sees Le Texier deliver a more intense version of 90s techno and its distorted kicks and merciless claps sound more like Luke Slater than Mills. Mike Storm's ravey take on "Divergent" completes this flawless underground release.
As Dance Mania continues to bring the goods back to wax and digital, so Paul Johnson's classic entry in the development of ghetto house gets a look in 20 years after its original release. From the cheeky fun and games of "Feel My MF Bass" to "Booty Call" (for all the lovers of "Percolator" out there) you're never going to have a dull time with one of these jams playing out. It's a demonstration of when dance music truly knew how to be rough and ready, with little more than a beat and a couple of catchy samples.
It's now traditional for long running Swedish techno imprint Tronic (established way back in 1998) to kick-start the year with a digital compilation of exclusive dancefloor workouts. This year, that compilation has been split into two parts. This second EP features six pulsating excursions, covering a variety of techno styles and moods. Contrast, for example, the spooky melodies, swirling atmosphere and prog trance influenced bottom end of Eric Sneo's "Beauty of the Sky", with the raw, distorted thump of Matt Sassari and Rainier Zonneveld's "Gas". There's plenty to enjoy elsewhere, too, including a brilliantly intense chunk of no-nonsense loop techno from Raffaele Rizzi.
It's been a long time coming for Marco Shuttle's eagerly awaited debut album and the results are huge. Take one listen to "Beyond The Mass" and you won't need further convincing. The first half of the eight-track album provides an industrially vamping, static heavy collaboration with Donato Dozzy, while "And Then" is an atmospheric tingle of analogue statics and booming gongs. For deep, tripped-out techno check out "Masay Lama" and for a cinematic call to arms "Elephante" is a bedroom DJ's wet dream to play in Berghain. Shuttle then goes to similar depths as Joey Anderson on "Volts" and closes out his first long player with the rejuvenating synth play of "The Way Out". We have lift off.
This pair of tracks from Untold represents the first release on a new sub-label of his Hemlock Recordings label, Hemlock Black. Launched to specialise in "futuristic physical club music", the first missive wastes no time in getting down to business with "Doff", a frazzled combination of nightmarish jungle subs and jackhammer rhythmic pulses. "Phive" is a very different beast, pairing plucked strings with a gravity well of bass pressure that seems intent on sucking everything on the dancefloor into its orbit. Without doubt some of the most innovative stuff Untold's made in recent years, and highly recommended.
Ontario Hospital is a new collaboration between Dave Foster from Teste and Rich Oddie, who is one of the founders of industrial techno act Orphx. Slowed down to a death march pace, this four-tracker spits blood and fury at every opportunity. The title track sets the tone for the release, a lumbering mid-tempo broken beat arrangement, with the splintered drums and gnarly knots of bass providing the backdrop for a bile-soaked narrative. "Consumer Report" is more of the same, cloaked this time in corrosive acid, while "Perfect Skin" sees the pair revisit their techno background as firing percussive nails are added into the arrangement. "Bleed Down" brings the release to an unforgettable end by descending into a noisy, discordant mess.
By sampling a famous scene from Scarface for this release's first track, is Delroy Edwards, like Tony Montana, trying to say: "You need people like me so you can point your fuckin' fingers and say, 'That's the bad guy'"? With an EP title like Kickin' Butts!! it's certainly possible, and he's the type of artist that's made it known he doesn't care what others think of his music. It's a minimal five-track EP overall and very lo-fi, none more so than the Steve Poindexter-styled "Str8 Fuckd" and on the swirling, metallic phase action of "Insane In The Membrane". Edwards throws down a basic hip hop beat in "Die Motherfucker" while it's the title-track that provides this release with the most dynamic moment of the lot.
Richard Smith, AKA L/F/D/M, made his debut on Optimo Trax in 2013, with an EP bristling with analogue acid and robust machine jams. Last year's follow-up for Clan Destine Records, LHF 3, was similarly minded. This debut album switches things around a little, supplementing his usual hard-wired, hypnotic rhythms, motorik attitude and hazy melodies with a gaggle of more experimental cuts (see the freaky ambience of "New X" and new wave-era shuffle of "Book of Five"). It's not a dramatic stylistic leap, of course, but one that makes perfect sense.
There's been a five-year gap since Stephan "STL" Laubner's last release on Echocord, so Dubs Etched Into Relief could arguably be seen as overdue, were it not for the German's prolific nature. Regardless, any new STL material is cause for celebration, and opener "Dub's End" is a particularly inviting proposition - a chugging dub-house opus with all the hypnotic attractiveness and crackly textures of authentic dub techno. Laubner goes deeper still on "The Dark Future", where fuzzy ambient textures, intermittent chords and yawning melodies ride a sparse, and minimal techno groove. On the flip, Lithuanian producer Grad_U offers his own interpretation of "Dub's End", turning the original into a slowly evolving dub techno epic - the kind of tackle you'd expect to lose your mind to in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Issued on Moerbeck's label, Mute takes the listener back to early / mid-90s techno. "Have You Ever Had A Dream" conjures up feelings of wide-eyed wonder and fear, like an innocent stumbling upon Sven Vaeth's Omen residency for the first time. This is achieved through an airy ambient intro, followed by thundering beats, skull-rattling percussion and then some unintelligible background ramblings. The title track dispenses with any pleasantries and oozes menace as concrete kicks and cheese-wire percussion take hold. Only when it breaks down to a vocal that asserts 'everything is swimming in silence' does a human element become apparent. "Sabotage" and "Lost Signal" are decent, acid-soaked tracks, but neither captures the naked ferocity of the first half of Mute.
Graham delivers his annual state of the trance nation address and it's far removed from the glowstick-led buffoonery of mainstream EDM iterations of the sound. If anything, this collection has a closer connection to techno than tie-dye melodies. Solid Stone, one of Graham's favourite acts, appear a number of times here and impress most with the billowing chords and snaking pulses of "Absolute" and the floaty, icy synths of "Blink". Elsewhere, Graham shows his progressive house roots with the excellent tough drums and insistent filters of Chicola & Sahar Z's " They Made Me Do It" and veers into tougher techno territories on the pummelling tribal rhythm of Alex Di Stefano 's "Black Panther ".
Upwellings is a name that's been kicking around the digital alcoves of dub techno for some years now, and with this release on MOSHItaka the French artist looks to be hitting some form following a release for Telrae. Blue Line Dubs sees Vincent Raude deliver four tracks rocking Steve O'Sullivan-like kick, bassline and hi-hat combos, cutting through light atmospheres that go deep, but not too deep. "Blue Line To Brixton" is the most overtly dub reggae production and "King's Cross Dub" the most uber dub track of the bunch, while "First Storm" and "Remember Donau" deliver elements of the aforementioned styles made to fit a danceable framework.