Review: Azimuth sees the ever impressive Don't Be Afraid turn to Italo-Bulgarian Berlin transplant Alis for their latest release. Alis is the current nom de plume of Sabina Plamenova, who formerly recorded under the name Subeena, and she joins the Don't Be Afraid fray soon after releasing her debut album Hybrids In The Attic. Plamenova apparently established the Alis pseudonym as a means to reflect a more personal and vocal lead side to her production palette, "not just music about music" as she terms it. It's an approach she continues to develop with finesse on this EP, which slots nicely in the DBA canon of deep but danceable house and techno and comes backed with a superb remix from D'Marc Cantu!
Review: Having been impressed by Ben Cohen's contribution to Don't Be Afraid's 19.5 label sampler 12", Semtek has decided to give the relative newcomer a full EP on which to showcase his talents. The Purple Moon EP is an intriguingly atmospheric affair, with Cohen delivering a trio of dancefloor workouts - plus the pleasing ambient weirdness of "Slowness" - variously influenced by classic Detroit techno, the creepiness of '80s industrial, and the snappy beats of Chicago house. The spooky throb and spacey synths of "Black Oddyssey" [sic] arguably standout, though most DJs will instinctively reach for the title track, whose cracking military percussion, clandestine textures and barely audible vocal samples make it something of a banger. Spacey techno opener "Kanem Bu Warriors" is pretty darn tasty, too.
Review: Sub Club resident Domenic Capello teams up with Lee Duncan for a release that lives up to its name. Ceol is the Gaelic word for music and this three-tracker has no shortage of musical moments. The title track is led by a ponderous bass and a rolling groove. It sounds like Octave One united with Prescription-style house as tripped out keys create a beautiful feeling. "D3" is harder and faster, with any semblance of melody stripped away and a focus on the brutal bass. However, Capello finds it hard to stray too far from his love of US dance music and "Third Thought" unravels with all the shimmering synth mystery of early Carl Craig productions.
Review: Don't Be Afraid sub-label DBA Dubs pulls out an intriguing single, pitching tastings of Bristol bass, middle-eastern themes and watery tabla rhythms of D-Malice with Canada's house faithful Basic Soul Unit. This D-Malice release, somewhat of a surprise inclusion to the label, follows music by Claws For?, beat fusionist Kelpe, Adjowa and No Corner and Idle Hands artist Lily. Both tracks fit a house tempo and it's the percussion of the original that's the real hook, while BSU's thumping remixing delivers a menacing Vermona kick drum with swathes of heavy, dub techno-spheres. A versatile release.
Review: Now, Damon Bell is an interesting signing, indeed. This is especially true for this latest EP on Bristol's Don't Be Afraid, both because he acts as an interesting and refreshing addition to the label's catalogue, but also because he has pretty much only released on Deepblak until now. "Ankh Boogie" is everything you'd expect from Damon Bell: a kinetic, dusty percussion that has been processed significantly, and an airy collection of circulating atmospherics. "Aural Afrek" is deeper, more mysterious and techno-minded, while "Time For Change" breaks out the dubbiness and goes for a Basic Channel kind of approach that is layered smoothly over a more delicate house framework. Effective and impressive - shouts to Semtek.
Review: Speaking to Resident Advisor recently to accompany his podcast, veteran Detroit artist DJ Bone looked to clarify the distinction behind his new DIFF-ERENT project, stating it is "darker, more aggressive and straight to the point but still manages to remain beautiful in a very twisted way." This statement is fully qualified on the two track for Don't Be Afraid that make up this excellent debut 12" from the DIFF-ERENT project. "Differ-Ent (Hrall)" is the more musical of the two, with Bone teasing minor keys and acid squiggles over a stripped back, yet still quite forceful rhythm. "Differ-Ent (Ity)" is where that dark aggression is let loose and is the sort of ominous techno you crave to hear deep into the night.
Review: Detroit's DJ Bone is and always has been one of his city's most underrated producers. In fact, the man is a killer behind the decks too, mashing up house and techno with that inimitable US speed that has also been championed by the likes of DJ Rush et al. His relationship with Bristol's Don't Be Afraid has been a fruitful one of the last year or two, releasing a couple of gnarly EPs under the Differ-ENT moniker, a sound that expands upon his comparatively more rigid techno sound. This is the debut album under the Differ-ENT alias, and we most certainly agree that It's Good To Be Differ-ENT." There isn't a dud tune on here, and for an LP that focusses primarily on the dancefloor, it manages to convey a strong narrative throughout, built with mastery and dedication by this talented artist. Tunes like "Met Allergic Flew Antsy" or "Marvel Less" are muscly and fast-paced, but there is still plenty of exploration going on at their core, while remnants of electro can be heard on tunes like "Compute Her". This is a vibrant LP, made up of many different guises and shades, all finely tuned around the dancehall, and strangely fitting with the UK's lust for the broken sound. Recommended.
Review: Not content with two conceptual sub labels to keep themselves occupied inbetween releases on main operation Don't Be Afraid, Semtek and co launch another theme specific offshoot in the shape of DBA Special Editions. Described as "a series of classic dancefloor cuts from the most sought after producers on the underground house circuit" the Special Editions label has been primed as an outlet for label boss Semtek to release dancefloor specific one-off releases from artists not so closely tied to the DBA roster and the upcoming debut release from Disco Nihilist sets a high standard. Four tracks deep, Journey To The End Of The Night sees the Maine-based producer continue to plunder his raw take on house music made using analogue sequencers and hardware, all recorded straight to tape with the slightly deranged jackbeat of "Midnight To St. John" a particular highlight.
Review: Responsible for two killer releases on DVS1's Mistress label, Doubt now drops an excellent record for Semtek's imprint. The title track is a linear, pulsing groove, led by hypnotic pads and electronic squiggles, but featuring a rhythm that's tough enough for techno DJs. "When I Was Young" sees the US producer focus more on techno, with a droning sequence unravelling over a rolling, grainy groove. Doubt goes off the dance floor radar on "Dios", using broken beats and a buzzing bass to create a captivating alternative, but soon enough he's back with the Mr G-style filters and punishing subs of "Frosx."
Review: Ian Lehman's debut release as Doubt appeared on Don't Be Afraid back in 2014, and after a string of releases on other imprints , he makes his way back to Semtek's imprint. "April" starts the release with dreamy, lullaby melodies and an understated, organic groove, while on the title track, Lehman offers up a more tracky affair. While the loose, out there approach remains, there is a sense of mystery with the arrangement also integrating eerie sound effects. There is a similar aesthetic at play on "What Is Happening", albeit with a more electronic, glitchy sensibility playing out, while on "Samusex" Lehman voyages into a darker, more foreboding space, still supported by those loose drums and percussion.
Review: Bristol's Don't Be Afraid, proudly helmed by the experienced DJ Semtek, is fast becoming one of our go-to imprints, and is arguably in the running for label of the year. Each new release is more finessed and mature than the next, and Semtek is quickly introducing us to a whole new selection of artists. This time, it's the Dyad duo that make an appearance on the label, and their cold, steely strain of techno is a perfect way to bring in the Autumnal months. Ben Gibson and Fundamental Interaction are the two producers behind this project, and this is the first time that they branch out from their self-titled DYAD imprint. "Illumine" is a fast, kick-driven techno missile with a spiralling set of sonics at its core, while "Oblique" takes a darker, more barren approach to its thumping 4/4; it's one which instantly calls to the warehouse, and the sort of material one drops as the clock hits 5am. Sick.
Review: Initially coming to prominence under the name Darling Farah, Kamau Baaqi delivered one of last year's most striking debut albums in the form of Body, a smoky collection of introspective techno that recalled Actress in his more straightforward moments. Here he drops the first half of his moniker to become simply known as Farah, and delivers an excellent EP for Don't Be Afraid. The honed sound design that has characterised the producer's work is still very much present on Metal Irene, but there's a newfound warmth and directness on display that make them feel like a step forward as well. "Cloudy Apple" and "Speak In The Spotlight" straddle the line between deep house and techno with finesse, but it's "Lockhead" and "Pieced Apart" which really impress, both revolving around stripped back rhythm constructions which play havoc with your perception due to their strobing sonics and heavy use of delay. For a label that is often so defined by its focus on house music, the Metal Irene EP was an interesting move into different sonic territory for Don't Be Afraid, and a fine development for a maturing producer.
Review: Although Don't Be Afraid have had a busy year in 2013, adding DBA Dubs and DBA Special Editions to its label family, and issuing an album from Mr Beatnick, label owner Semtek has still found time to uncover some new talent in the form of unheralded Finnish producer Halvtrak. Little is known about the producer aside from a fondness for Chicago house, but the music on his debut Dust Under Bridges EP for DBA more than speaks for itself; opener "Finding Yourself" combines rumbling bass, searching chords and acidic textures in a Legowelt vein, while the frantic pace of "A Thousand Years" sounds almost UK funky-inspired. The dark melody and bubbling acid of "Barracuda" sees a return to restless sci-fi inspired melodies while "Face Two" delves into hypnotic 303 territory.
Review: As ever, the legendary production stylings of Ikonika have done it again as she unveils an absolutely stunning selection here on Don't Be Afraid' under the EP name 'Bodies'. It's always an enjoyable experience taking in one of her new EP's, but this one stands out for sure as we firstly dive into the stunning harmonic layerings and melodic inputs of 'Your Body', before sweeping smoothly into the more moogy bass punches and tight drum switches of 'Nobody'. Next, 'What Kinda Pain Are We Talking About?' combines moody sub-lines with hypnotic arpeggios and softer carnival rhythms with really fun results, finishing up with the shimmering delays and sweeping pads within the Roller mix of 'Bodied'. Awesome stuff as per!
Review: Michigan's Jason Fine has appeared mainly for esteemed imprints like FXHE and Kontra Musik since 2007. He makes his debut for Semtek's Bristol based imprint Don't Be Afraid with the Moonscapes EP, following up his remix of Typesun on the label's Dubs 10" series in 2016. The shadowy producer's deep and emotive takes on the homegrown 'hi-tech soul' sound are expertly executed. From the dubby and evocative opener "Amalthea", to the spacey and tunnelling acid of "Dione" and the sublimely galactic excursions in deepness like "Elara" or "Larissa", respectively, which hone in on the same vibe of Windy City experts like Chris Gray or Da Rand Land: Fine has really got it going on!
Review: Brum's best techno export since Regis, Jayson Wynters returns to Don't Be Afraid with four more strident constructions. Rooted in classic machine funk and loop craft we take off with the gradually pummelling percussive hypnotiser "Beta" and crash land to the soothing synthesis and deep acid textures of "The Kansei Method". In between we're treated to the soft-but-stern swoons of the white knuckle "One Hundred N Forty" and bashed senseless by the warehouse crumbling jacker "Into The Void". On point.
Review: DJ Semtek's Don't Be Afraid Returns with more soulful Detroit inspired techno courtesy of one Jayson Wynters from Birmingham. Starting off with the emotive and classic hi-tech soul sounds of "Technological Enslavement" which gets a seething and bass heavy remix by Bristol favoutite Kowton, "Double Standards" has an evocative element abut it similar to early Carl Craig and the EP finishes in fine form on the deep and sublime "Sonic Boxing" with its layers of rich pads, dark strings and stylish sense of restraint.
The Workers Are On Strike (Via App remix) - (5:29) 131 BPM
He's Been Teaching Me To Drive (Ron Morelli remix) - (5:52) 127 BPM
It's Not Worth The Bother (E. Myers remix) - (5:18) 136 BPM
Why Does Your Father Look So Nervous (M/R remix) - (7:42) 125 BPM
Review: Karen Gwyer's third album, Rembo was one of 2017's best long players. It saw the US artist consolidate her reputation as a purveyor of raw, hardware-driven electronic music and was one of the many highlights in Don't Be Afraid's stellar release schedule. Now Gwyer's material from the album gets reworked by an impressive group of artists. First up is Via App, who drops a grating, abstract take on "The Workers Are On Strike", while Ron Morelli takes time out from running L.I.E.S. to drops a skewed, stripped back techno version of 'He's Been Teaching Me to Drive'. It's hard to choose a highlight, but that honour belongs here to E.Myers, who uses sublime keys and a funk bass to turn 'It's Not Worth the Bother' into a gloriously soulful affair.
Review: Given her rising reputation in recent years, it's something of a surprise to find that Rembo is Karen Gwyer's first full-length excursion since 2013's Kiki The Wormhole on Opal Tapes. While that latter set was impressive, Rembi is arguably even better. For starters, Gwyer refuses to settle on one groove, following a glistening ambient opener with a fuzzy, IDM-influenced chunk of left-of-centre dancefloor techno, which in turn makes way for a beat-less slab of hazy synthesizer positivity. It's a pattern that continues throughout, as the talent American producer delivers bustling, redlined techno jams laden with dirt-encrusted synthesizer motifs, spacey IDM club tracks and picturesque electronic soundscapes that sidestep easy categorization.
Review: London-based electronic artist Karen Gwyer has kept on impressing us over the last four years. With releases for labels like No Pain In Pop, Kaleidoscope, and Nous, Semtek's Don't Be Afraid seems like a natural fit to her improvisational take on techno. "Prophase Metaphase Anaphase Telophase" is a stunner, a nine minutes' techno journey that's spans the whole length over nine minutes with its loose, aqueous groove barely held in place by raw, analog drum programming. "And Again Those Eyes" sees the artist return to more familiar territories thanks to a broken sway of beats and melodics, whereas "Meiosis Gametes" is a harsh, menacing techno swing with an electrifying buzz running through its groove. Solid, as per usual. This material comes hotly recommended. She's one to watch out for in 2016 and beyond.
Review: Ever evolving as a producer with a sizable catalogue of charming electronica, Kel McKeown reaches out to a label he has no previous history with; Don't Be Afraid. It's a move that makes sense as the London label continues to establish itself as a reliable source of left-leaning but listenable machine music, and that's exactly what you get with "Monte Verita". The rhythmic function is loosely based around house, but as you would expect with Kelpe there are plentiful kinks and errors in the groove. The synths are the real stars here though, from warm fuzzy chords to Radiophonic bubbles in that heart-warming delivery that Kelpe has made his own. Kevin Reynolds meanwhile takes what he likes from the original and threads a whole new tapestry of more focused, not to mention decidedly pared-down, techno musings.
Memory Jacket (Madteo's Tutto Nero remix) - (7:31) 113 BPM
Review: Semtek's Don't Be Afraid imprint returns with a rather special little two-tracker for the Dubs series. Mystery producer Lily - who has quietly appeared on Spargel Trax, No Corner and Idle Hands in the past - drops "Memory Jacket, one of the strangest and most daring five minutes to emanate from the Bristol-based imprint. The tune is a stuttering, pseudo-house joint filled with flurries of FX and resembling something more like a post-punk B-side than a club number. Strangely enough, it's NY's Madteo who is the one to re-arrange the track back into some sort of regular shape and the Queens-based goes for a truly 'insider' house approach, where a stumbling 4/4 groove meets deadly, club-ready chords. Warmly recommended.
Review: Given Don't Be Afraid's long relationship with Manuel 'M Gun' Gonzales, it's pleasing to see Semtek's label releasing the Detroit producer's long-awaited debut album. Predictably, it's a fine set, containing a mix of far-out techno throbbers - the hypnotic, piano-laden alien funk of "Half Past 3", fuzzy "Past Due", and classic Derrick May revivalism of "Bed & Breakfast" - dusty electro jams (the brilliant "NVR"), and more experimental downtempo fare (see the bass-heavy, dubbed-out "Nobs" and jazzy opener "Pok"). While it arguably takes mutiple listens to really peel back the layers and get your head round Gonzalez's impressive use of textures, it's more than worth the effort. Put simply, Gentium more than delivers on its' promise.
Review: Since his breakout solo debut as MGUN on Wild Oats with the psychedelically charged Harmnear back in early 2012, Detroit's Manuel Gonzales has found a place for himself among the current crop of talent from the Mid West's techno capital with a prolific production rate that's seemingly too much for labels to keep up with. Operating at the more abrasive end of the techno scale, Gonzales nonetheless has exhibited a keen understanding of Detroit's music heritage across a killer run of records for Semtek's increasingly influential Don't Be Afraid, The Trilogy Tapes, Berceuse Heroique and the Third Ear label. Having most recently rubbed shoulders with Jamal Moss on Pangaea's excellent mix CD for Fabric, MGUN now graces the Don't Be Afraid label for a third time with the Resin EP. Some six tracks deep, this EP sees Gonzales occasionally dip into the experimental style taken on his Savant side project - see opener "Assumptions" which could almost be from a Minimal Wave reissue - but there is still plenty of gritty techno here for the heads, "In The Road" is particularly apocalyptic.
Review: Since his emergence on Wild Oats collaborating with Kyle Hall as NSNT PRJCT, Manuel Gonzales has impressed under the MGUN moniker across a string of releases for the likes of Don't Be Afraid and Will Bankhead's The Trilogy Tapes. His return to the former with Are You Reading This is a hefty six tracks deep, and allows him the space for an expansive portrayal of the MGUN production palette with excellent results. Demented moments such as the rickety rhythms of opening track "Hand Over Fifth" and the unpronounceable exercise in tape screeching boom bap that is "Jijijijij$ijijijiji" sit next to clubbier arrangements like "Proxy" and the almost Berghain-like "Funnel Vision", but it's "Tritan" and "Bean Chirp", tracks with similarities to his aforementioned Kyle Hall collaboration, albeit moistened with wet reverb, dribbling acid and washy synths, that evoke a more classic Detroit style, albeit in his own unique way. Highly recommended stuff all round.
Review: Something of an unearthed gem in the Detroit scene, Manuel Gonzalez has been touring with Underground Resistance and working with Kyle Hall before this appearance on London label Don't Be Afraid, but he's far from a familiar name. From the strength of this four track EP, it's highly likely we'll be hearing more from him in the future, as he glides between strung-out house ("Let Conversation Take Place") and decaying, virulent electro ("Gas Chamber") with ease. There's a healthy amount of homespun charm to these decidedly unpolished tracks, as the wobbly machines jerk to Gonzalez's whims and carve him an unpredictable space in the Motor City scene.
Review: Manuel Gonzales aka MGUN follows up 2016's Gentium album with another inspired, sprawling work. As befits the Detroit producer's freewheeling approach, Axiom veers wildly in styles, from the disco-led "You Inside Me" to the more tracky grooves like "Nichrome" and "Sil". The album also features more abstract, minimal arrangements in the form of "K Art W Heel" and "She Finna Blow", while he also makes nods to deeper techno strains on the moody, chord-led "359". As he has demonstrated before, MGUN isn't just about house and techno, and Gonzales proves himself to be an adept electro arranger on the spiky "Hole". If you're looking for a snapshot of where modern electronic music is heading, give Axiom your attention.
Review: It's two years since Nick 'Mr Beatnick' Wilson released the final part of his brilliant Synthetes Trilogy on Don't Be Afraid, and a year since his similarly impressive Marshmallows 12" on Tief. As usual, he's in fine form, kicking things off with the spacey but melancholic synthesizer chords, sun-kissed electronic melodies and rolling, Italo-influenced bottom end of "Stutter". His renowned beat programming skills come to the fore on the Detroit futurism-goes-broken beat brilliance of "Jellyfish", before "Formed In The Stance" offers up a deeper, marginally darker and certainly moodier take on broken techno. Finally, he's back to his sunny, melodious best with the sparkling brilliance of "Obsidian Morning". Stellar stuff, as always.
Review: The increasingly impressive Don't Be Afraid label drops perhaps their best EP to date - no mean feat given the recent Photonz killer - with London button caresser Mr Beatnick at the helm. The Sun Goddess EP is Beatnick's second outing for the DBA imprint, impressing further on our ears his undeniable talent for crafting housier tackle than the smudged out boogie he came to the fore with for labels like Burntprogress and Altered Vibes. It would take an uneducated ear to not bask in the glory of the title track, which positively reeks of glowering warmth and rhythmic intricacy that's reminiscent of Theo P in his more laidback moments. This approach to programming of subtly introducing track mutations - either melodically or rhythmically - seeps through the rest of the EP ensuring each track reveals all new moments of delight with each listen.
Review: Following two superb, floor-friendly EPs from Disco Nihilist and Neville Watson, Don't Be Afraid's occasional Special Editions series returns with a typically bombastic EP from British techno stalwart Colin "Mr. G" McBean. Predictably, McBean is in ruthless form, delivering a trio of sweaty, late night assaults in his distinctive no-nonsense style. "Tutonic" is particularly punchy, layering hazy after-party chords and occasional keys over a formidably restless groove (think five-note bass, thumping kicks, powerful handclaps and incessant cymbals). There's a dubbier, acid-flecked feel to the hypnotic "Last Chance Saloon (Mango Boy's Plantation Dub)", while the thrilling "Rum Trip Up" sounds like it was inspired by early bleep techno explorations by Juno, Ability 2, Ital Rockers and Xon.
Review: In recent times Photonz have been on fire, establishing their own One Eyed Jacks imprint, which delivered the humongous chunk of Fulton style dancefloor terror known as Lamborghini Funk last year. They've already emerged with one of our favourite releases so far this year in the unhinged WEO for new Lisbon based label Principe, and here now they grace the Don't Be Afraid imprint with the equally excellent The Love Spectre EP. The curious chiming melodies and hallow percussion on opening jam "Spectre" contain just the slightest nod towards classic Chicago House yet retains a wholly singular - and immensely beguiling - feel throughout. "Wall" sounds like it was recorded in one take in a sweaty Lisbon basement and is all the better for it; this is followed by the brilliant spacey electro of "Dokos" and frankly mad "Prometheus" (we suggest pitching this down for sleazy/hypnotic results!). Highly recommended.
Review: "Forward Flamingo" originally appeared on rRoxymore's 2019 album, Face To Phase, also on Don't Be Afraid, and now the label has commissioned a rich variety of remixes of this dystopian track. First up is Hessle Audio regular Joe with a tight, stepping groove, underpinned by dense drums and containing dreamy samples. Altered Natives opts for a different route, with atmospheric synths unfolding over cascading drums, while the Badsista version offers a more dance floor-friendly proposition, with acid-soaked vocal samples unfolding over a sinewy groove. DJ Plead's take sees organic drums fused with dreamy synths, while rounding out this remix package is the rickety rhythm and lo-fi tones of Banga's reshape.