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's the onset of a brave new era for Ostgut Ton as Panorama Bar 06 signals the label's decision to halt the manufacturing of CDs for their much loved series of mixes. Due for free download via the Ostgut site on August 11, the Berlin operation have not forgone the vinyl format with all the exclusives gathered by mix curator Ryan Elliott pressed up across a pair of 12" samplers. And boy did Elliott call in the favours with this first sampler featuring new and unreleased music from Neworldaquarium, Roman Flugel, Terrence Dixon, Tuff City Kids and Borrowed Identity. It is an overall exquisite selection, running from the ambience of NWAQ's contribution to Flugel's big room stomper and the sweeter, more playful sounds of Tuff City Kids and Borrowed Identity.
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.
If anyone can knock out a techno LP of 25 quality big room club tools it's Developer. The Modularz boss is one of the few producers to reliably release a constant stream of booming 909 sounds without losing a sense of artistic character through oversaturation. For the DJ, In Pure Form is like a box of bullets: each track is deadly as the next. All productions vary between reverb-soaked drum patterns and distorted bell sequences to grittier productions flexing between music you'd expect from Sandwell District, LB Dub Corp and Oscar Mulero's Pole Group. Arm yourself with some Developer techno.
The latest release on Rodhad's label comes from a new Berlin-based artist, Alex.Do. Although he had previously contributed to a split release on Dystopian, this is his first solo EP and it demonstrates his considerable abilities. "Investigation" is an upfront affair, its tough dubby beats and screeching siren making for a dynamic combination. On "Conversion", Alex.Do abandons conventional techno structures to focus on a soundscape that veers from subsonic bleeps and trancey drama into a grinding, grimy outro. Best of all though is "Desire". Borrowing the stripped back, pointillist approach of Terrence Dixon and situating it in a frosty, frozen environment, it combines Detroit's love of the abstract with Berlin's dark pulses.
Scuba's Hotflush label introduce Auden, a producer described simply as "A fresh voice in UK techno" by the label and whose self titled debut EP fits in snugly alongside recent releases from South London Ordnance and Scuba himself. Proceedings commence with "Trip To Fade" a broken yet beatless track that will lend itself to anyone requiring an atmospheric opener for their DJ mixes, whilst "Flex" is the first chance we get to see Auden flex (sorry) his percussive muscles on a dynamic techno production that has some neat delayed effects. The acid dipped "Whispers" showcases Auden's talent for developing a sense of subtle sonic tension, something that is explored further on the mammoth eleven minute closer "Tension".
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.
Matt Spendlove aka Spatial pushes house music to its outer limits and back for this release on Jimmy Edgar's label. The title track is probably the most conventional arrangement, a stripped back groove that gradually builds to reveal kooky vocals and pulsing blips and bleeps. "Eloptic Energy" sounds like Spendlove has immersed himself in dub reggae. Leaning heavily on the reverb, the arrangement is full of plaintive vocals and underscored by solid beats and snappy percussion. "Sufani" veers towards dubstep, its stepping rhythm and horror stabs recalling a time before the bass-techno alliance. Finally, there's the oddball "Recover". Here, Spendlove deploys a stepping rhythm, but it's the backdrop to a compelling hook that sounds like Jeff Mills' "Changes of Life" on downers.
Amid a whole stack of MDR represses of late the label throws in three new cuts of older Dettmann material remixed by arguably the top boy of UK techno. Luke Slater under his all devouring Planetary Assault Systems alias provides two remixes of "Apron" from 2009's MDR06 and another for the track "Rush". The 'PAS Tubed mix 2' of "Apron" is a jittery piece of Luke Slater brilliance that harks back to his earlier, minimal productions as Planetary Assault Systems on Peacefrog, while the 'PAS The Rhythm remix' stays true to the dusty sound Dettmann surfaced with toward the end of last decade. Meanwhile on the flip in the 'Deep Release remix' of "Rush" sees Planetary Assault Systems provides more bona fide booming techno for Berghain that re-popularised the genre several years ago.
For the third release on his label, the Berghain resident has tapped fellow Berlin dweller Thomas Hessler. The similarities don't end there and Perception shares many of the same qualities as Fengler's own productions. "Stratosphere" evolves from lithe break beats into a dark and grungy bass that eventually morphs into a squealing morass. "Consequence" is dance floor based but understated, with a pulsing bass and an intricate web of percussion throughout, while the title track pushes in the opposite direction. Underscored by concrete block beats and rickety percussion, it features a spiraling acid line. Finally, as is also Fengler's wont, Hessler delivers "Distance", a dramatic, sensuous ambient piece of mood music.
More commonly known for his vicious club constructions on Night Slugs as Helix, US producer Beau Thigpen added the DJ Vague alias to his collar earlier this year with Porsche Trax for Sydney's Templar Sound. That title was largely inspired by Thomas Bangalter's run of Roule 12"s from the late '90s. Thigpen's latest DJ Vague transmission for Unknown To The Unknown beefs up the house of before into something more associable with Shed and Head High than Daft Punk. Fast and loopy French house does make an appearance on "Hard Workin' Trax 2" however, while on "Hard Workin' Trax 3" intense drum rolls, deep synths, mechanical hi-hats and reverberant atmospheres create a blusterous techno production. Three safe DJ tools.
It sounds like N-Phonix doesn't get much sleep. The Russian producer has released nine singles over the past year, but as Benway, his debut record on Darko Esser's label shows, he retains a hyperactive creative streak. It's hard to imagine whom "Nebrakada" will appeal to, as its spacey chords unravel over a frenetic rhythmic backdrop. The title track is more accessible - if you measure accessibility by noisy, stepping rhythms and occasional blasts of noise. Following on from this Shed-meets-Lakker jam, the Russian artist drops "Black Acid". Living up to its title, it features frazzled, grungy 303s layered over a tracky, insistent rhythm.
Last year Berlin techno producer Moerbeck inaugurated the Code Is Law label with the Teens On Fire EP during a period of time that saw him branch out from his trusted Vault Series label. He later went on to appear on Code Is Law's third missive, the various artists Movies For The Blind EP that also featured music from Eomac, Delta X and XVII, and now he provides the label with its fifth release following the introduction of Janzon. Moerbeck supplies six tracks this time, beginning with a smooth and new-age "Holy K (95 mix)" before upping the drums in the title-track. "Silver Shadow" is a reduced cut of '90s sounding techno similar to what you might expect from DJ Slip while "Shine Down" and "Uprising" are blurry, dubbed out versions of Moerbeck's Vault Series-styled product
The Schwarz brothers team up with long-time collaborator Hagelstein for an expertly weighted house affair. More stripped back and spacey than much of the Tiefschwarz catalogue, the arrangement allows Hagelstein's resonant and occasionally ominous tones the room that they need. Coupled with some understated melodic flourishes, it makes for one of the duo's best records. There is an extended version from Tiefschwarz themselves that makes Hagelstein's vocals sound more breathy and brings breezy synths to the fore, while Fango's take lends it a darker, eerie feeling. DoP's 'Girl' remix is the most impressive contribution however, its chiming pianos, lush strings and disco stabs seducing the listener at every step.
Already supported by Ben Sims and Kirk Degiorgio, 04/14 is one of the best examples of modern underground techno. In fact, it's a shame that the producer behind this series doesn't step from the shadows because he/she deserves praise for this three-track release. "Mo 7" provides an irresistible combination of swelling chords, skipping, metallic percussion and tough kicks, while "Mo 8" is more abrasive. It sounds like Mod3rn has constructed the beats from rusty oil drums and the filters rage like a storm over the Adriatic. The best track however is "Mo 9"; over stomping kicks and a swinging rhythm, Mod3rn drops cheese-wire percussive volleys that make the track sound like Mike Dehnert in ballet shoes.
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.
The Heavy Thinker EP finds the legend that is DJ Skull back on SECT to regale our ears and limbs with further precious techno and house gems! "Bazzar" hits the spot with beautifully harmonious synths and a techno funk guitar lick that will keep you dancing forever. "Heavy Thinker" is a delirious peak time dance floor killer, working organic drum programming against techno siren and ominous kalimba hook. "Power" is all about the old school Detroit strings and tones, setting a steady pace to keep the momentum going into the small hours. Finally, "Rise" has those unmistakable Chicago house values emerging once more, as keys and strings lift the spirits to elevate mind and body.
Peter Van Hoesen and Yves De Mey's collaborative project doesn't adhere to any rules or conventions, so it's the ideal act to contribute to the Monad series. The release begins with "Isobaric 3", where a cacophony of whirrs and abstract noises, whirrs and ticks combine as the sound of the wind whisks through the background. "False Entities" follows a similar route, but is more hyperactive and fizzes and crackles with an impressive energy. Then there's the alternative view, "Directive". Clocking in at over 11 minutes, it moves from cricket-chirping percussion to widescreen atmospherics and acidic surges. The Belgian duo completes this exemplary release with "Martens' Deficit", the only dance floor friendly track, where swirling synths and tight broken beats collide.
Downwards returns with Live From Tokyo, housing some rare live material from the Regis and Surgeon project British Murder Boys. Conceived in 2002 as outlet for the British pair to take their brand of techno into ever more extreme sonic territory, British Murder Boys material surfaced over a series of 12"s on Downwards and Counterbalance before the project was put on hold around 2006. Having been coaxed back into working together by Liberation Technologies, further BMB material is due to arrive through the more familiar outlet of Downwards. Ahead of a full BMB retrospective, Live In Tokyo would seem to originate from the duo's performance together in the Japanese city last year. Stylistically you can expect a cut of brattish, broken techno wedged between some feedback laden noises pieces.