Explaining why Regis and his music exist is a difficult one. A pop psychologist could point to his surroundings, the concrete mazes of Birmingham, as being pivotal in shaping his relentless, unfliching vision for techno in the same way that the decaying Detroit cityscapes informed the first wave in the US. Equally, it is also possible to posit that O’Connor is merely following in a long line of UK pop, punk and industrial situationists who were unwilling to just make and release music and who wanted to leave something more meaningful in their wake.
There’s been an analogue rumbling emanating from the north of England of late, with its ruminations reaching as far as Chicago before rippling back across the rest of the world. In terms of electronic music, Liverpool doesn’t have the same steady stream of artists that neighbouring Manchester or more southern cities have. Legendary club nights such as Voodoo still remain a part of 90s techno folklore, but the scene has tended to draft in its talent from elsewhere instead of nurturing locals, leaving the ‘Pool somewhat under-represented.
Fine Art Recordings chief Nitzan Hermon clearly has a sharp eye for concepts. One of his most intriguing ideas to date was the 2009 MVSICA project – pronounced ‘musica’ – a CD compilation of downtempo music from producers known primarily for their 4/4 techno output. The CD, a collaboration with Sawdust studio, was released on a special ‘scratch off’ surface on hard laminated paper, meaning that the cover would evolve over time – much like the music contained within. Those who bought one of the 200 copies made could either keep it in pristine condition or subject it to the rigours of regular use and thus earn something genuinely unique.
In an era where technology and cheap air travel guarantee that electronic music is tarred with the same homogeneous brush as the rest of globalised popular culture, Ali Wells has decided to make a decidedly British techno album. By invoking two distinct strands of British culture, eccentricity and industry – the latter at both at a societal and musical level – Wells has firmly pinned his colours to a mast marked ‘music-making English oddball’. The challenge is whether he can represent these values without in the process looking like a token dissenter from the borderless, incessant march of techno culture?
Certainly, album opener “Choice” is a promising start. Dreamy ambience and found sounds provide the backdrop for a camp, wistful interview subject talking about his mundane childhood and how it in turn affected his artistic output. Is it Perc himself or a disturbed, fictional representation of his character? We will never know. Despite this, there is something almost ghoulish about this track, allowing the listener to eavesdrop on someone who sounds vulnerable, but that’s also a great part of its charm.
“My Head is Slowly Exploding” also elicits a similar reaction; over the kind of hypnotic beat you’d expect from industrialists Throbbing Gristle, Perc throws down bars of slamming metal but softens the blow with layers of wispy ambience. It’s like watching one of the greatest British horror films, “The Wicker Man”, in reverse, and discovering first that the islanders burn intruders before experiencing the touchy-feely side to their paganism. With this part of the concept thoroughly covered – although “You Saw Me” also reveals a menacing undercurrent to his eccentricity with a slow chugging train groove – Perc then focuses on the industrial side of his album.
Borrowing as much from the former greatness of the north’s steel foundries as the unrelenting linear brutality of Surgeon and Regis, “Gonkle” and “London, We Have You Surrounded” deploy evil sirens and searing metallic riffs over malevolent broken beats and white-knuckle rhythmic fury. If there was ever a soundtrack to document the possibility of the British population north of the Watford Gap turning on their southern counterparts, it’s “London… “ Perc pursues this concept to a logical, merciless conclusion with “Jmurph”, where what sounds like a malfunctioning jackhammer descends into atonal repetition, but by that stage it is patently obvious that this is a unique album, birthed and moulded in Britain.
The best artists are the ones who don’t repeat themselves. This may sound like contradictory advice for producers involved in a style that places repetition high on its list of necessary attributes, but there are countless techno artists who kept ploughing the same furrow and now reside in the ‘where are they now’? category.
So far, Szare has shown himself to be someone who is not afraid of changes. While there are common characteristics and nuances in each release, both as Szare and under the 220.127.116.11.5 guise, this new release on Idle Hands sees unmistakable progress. The title track is, like his recent remix of Shifted on Syndrome Z, a steppy, lurching number, but by no means plays by the rules. Distended, dislocated vocals appear amid the fuzzy bass licks and heavy claps, lending the arrangement an ethereal feeling. A similar approach is audible on “Action Five”.
While Szare again avoids the temptations of the straight kick drum, the drizzling percussion and incessant filter will give it some DJ usefulness in the right hands. However, it’s the gorgeous melodies, mysterious yet strangely beautiful melodies that make “Action Five” so special. Reminiscent of the esoteric warblings of the 4AD label in its heyday, it will pique the curiosity of those who might normally run a mile from techno.
Those who have followed German imprint Workshop Records will already be well aware of the label’s strong visual and musical aesthetic. Built around a core of artists – chiefly label bosses Even Tuell and Lowtec alongside Move D and Kassem Mosse among others – the Workshop sound touches on melodic, dusty and raw house and techno. The label was launched in 2006 shortly after Lowtec (aka Jens Kuhn) folded his Out To Lunch imprint. Every release since then has been imbued with the deepest of grooves, from the woozy narcosis of Lowtec’s Workshop 6 to Move D’s disco-sampling jam on Workshop 4 and the epic B-Side of Mosse’s recent Workshop 12 release.
A distribution hook-up with Germany’s home of discerning dancefloor music, Hardwax, gave Workshop the platform it deserved, and it has flourished. Given the attention to detail that accompanies every Workshop release – it’s the little things that stand out, like shrink wrapping, hand stamped vinyl and embossed text – it should be of no surprise to learn that one half of the label runs a boutique fashion label, with Even Tuell (real name Paul-David) having launched Airbag Craftworks back in 1995. Juno Plus editor Aaron Coultate caught up with Kassem and Even prior to the recent Workshop Records showcase hosted by London club types Electric Minds.
It’s hard not to see Passed Me By as an artistic leap forward for British producer Andy Stott. His obsessively refined style of moody dub techno has been bolstered by the use of vocal snippets and raw, crackling atmospherics – the culmination of a gradual move away from his earlier productions which purveyed sparse, icy and clinical moods. This is visually represented by the magnificent artwork that adorns this release, with both sides of the double 12″ fronted by a frankly scary looking tribesman bearing impressive battle scars.
Strictly a double EP rather than an album, Passed Me By opens with the subversive paranoia of “Signature”- a short, unsettling introductory piece that channels the kind of malevolent forces employed by Modern Love label partners Demdike Stare. This leads to the brilliant “New Ground”, which utilises a drowned-out vocal sample that immediately brings to mind the work of Actress (most notably tracks like “Lost”), which is buried deep beneath dense loops. When the barest of kick drums enters the equation after a minute and a half, the result is utterly thrilling.
The grumbling dub of “North To South” – which sounds like an approaching electrical storm, shuddering and groaning with metallic chords and tribal percussion – contrasts neatly with “Intermittent”, in which rasping drum hits form the rhythmic pulse, allowing another deftly tweaked vocal snippet to float over the top. It’s this track more than any other that sees Stott tap into the post-dubstep aesthetic, with the almost playful use of synths resulting in probably the most accessible moment on the release.
The second 12” takes on an even darker hue, with the raw, almost Shackleton-esque drum hits of “Dark Details” sprawled across the entire A-Side, evoking images the EP’s artwork. The terrifying drone of “Execution” is perhaps best heard at a vibrational level – ideally via the medium of some pretty expensive speakers – with the bubbling layers of sub bass capable shaking you to the bone; it’s hypnotic, tribal and entirely visceral, the perfect soundtrack to a shamanistic ritual in the deepest, darkest recesses of the Amazon. The crackling, ghostly atmospherics of the title track round off the release with a scorching, barely penetrable soundscape.
Given that he hasn’t released an album in more than a decade, it must have been tempting for Anthony Child to follow the example set by some of his peers and just keep DJing all over the world. Thankfully, the Birmingham-based producer chose not to take the easy option and Breaking The Frame shows that the creative fire that fuelled Force & Form, Patience and Balance still burns brightly. It’s the second time he’s released an album on his own Dynamic Tension label, following 2000’s Body Request, and his seventh overall, although there have been a glut of singles in that time as well as last year’s excellent Fabric mix.
Like his previous long players, a good part of Breaking The Frame is devoted to abstract sounds and textures. This is no concession towards current trends, but rather glimpses of the elixir, the sonic glue that binds the rest of his music. So while “Dark Matter” and “We Are Already Here” emit pontilist hisses and droning, atonal frequencies respectively, they do not exist in a vacuum. The same strength through repetition applies on the jangling loops on “Presence”, which, by Child’s standards is relatively mellow, a cacophony of lithe, acoustic humming unfolding over slow motion, gloopy beats.
Likewise on “Remover Of Darkness”, eerie organs appear to hover in a loop until their gradual descent into gamelan-like repetition. “Power Of Doubt” pushes this ethereal sensibility onto the dancefloor thanks to snappy broken beats, and, even when he veers into more conventional, straighter 4/4s, as he does on “Those Who Do Not”, the galloping beats are accompanied by spacey filters and eerie sound tapestries. The most incendiary moment comes halfway through, with the relentless, pummelling slab of techno otherwise known as “Radiance”. Breaking The Frame is on a par with Surgeon’s very best work, in some ways the logical progression of Force & Form – and its title neatly sums up this work and pretty much everything else he turns his hand to.
Andreas Tilliander helped to kick start glitchy hip-hop with his “Cliphop” release a decade ago, and his latest release ensures the Swedish producer is as relevant as ever. The Mokira project’s association with Kontra Musik has already attracted its fair share of high-profile contributors, with Redshape and Silent Servant remixing his work and Marcel Dettmann using his music as a basis for the “Factory Report” single.
As any astute label owner will know, prominent remixers will only get you so far, but thankfully this is not an issue on Time Axis Manipulation. Eschewing the dancefloor almost entirely – allthough there is an urgency to the building river of chords on “Time Track” that would work effectively in conjunction with an accompanying tool track – Tilliander shows his love of abstract sounds and field recordings. This is most audible on the static hisses and hums of “Rainford”, its layers of drizzling noise building to an understated climax, or on “Kendal”, where fragile chords drip gently like beads of rain falling from a spider’s web.
The album is also in tune with the swing towards dub techno techniques, but rather than going down the obvious route inhabited by overladen echo chambers, he delivers the tantalising, half-stepping shanty of “LFU Skank” and the breathy sounds of “Axis Audio” – remixed in suitably laid back style by Cv313. Time Axis Manipulation is quite the understated masterpiece.
A few years ago when the focus shifted from mnml to the classic 90s-inspired sounds of Berghain, Berlin-based artist Roger Semsroth did the unthinkable – he took a hiatus from techno. For the majority of producers involved in electronic dance music, where disposability and short-termism are defining characteristics, this move defied logic. It seemed Semsroth had diverted from the record-release-tour-earn money model that is pervasive in all forms of contemporary music. However, the man behind Sleeparchive had merely taken a brief break – and it is quite obvious that for Semsroth, someone who will be around when most of his peers are back doing day jobs, three years is indeed a shortish period.
At a time when all around him tried to outdo one another in the sincere techno stakes, he focused his efforts on making the most willfully noisy, experimental racket possible. Semsroth brings that sense of experimentation to Ronan Point, his comeback techno record. Great waves of noise underscore the rivers of viscous bass and titanium-plated drums that are at the heart of these arrangements. Fused with the kind of austere bleeps that made releases like “Hospital Tracks” such classics, this combination makes a potent dance floor fusion on “Point Two”. “Point Three” is less detailed and its rhythm is inspired by Detroit minimalism rather than the Finnish variant, but bookending this excellent comeback are “One” and “Four”, which present the listener with impenetrable walls of dense, frazzled abstraction. Welcome back you brilliantly awkward bugger.
Last year, a series of records appeared simply bearing the artist name Skudge. Nothing was known about the person or people behind the alias, other than the fact that they had released a record on Alphahouse the previous year. What was clear from early on however was Skudge’s dense, looped tracks were causing a stir, with support from everyone from Ben Sims, Luke Slater and Ben Klock to Shakir, Deetron and Efdemin as well as Marcel Fengler, 2562, Rolando and Aardvarck lining up to do remixes.
For those with an open-minded approach to electronic music, the output of Chicago’s Mathematics label has always been essential listening. While clearly steeped in the traditions of the Windy City’s famous house scene and the far-sighted electronic pulse of Detroit techno, Mathematics is just as likely to release something off-the-wall and interesting as straight-up jack or murky dancefloor bounce. Much credit should go to label boss Jamal Moss, better known as Hieroglyphic Being.
Despite operating around the fringes of the Chi-town scene for some 15 years, Mathematics compilations are few and far between. Sure, there have been the essential Music From Mathematics CDs, but little else. In fact, this non-stop live vinyl session from fellow Chicagoan Daryl Cura is in fact the label’s first official mix CD. That it’s something of a delight isn’t much of a surprise. Cura wisely uses the opportunity to touch on many of Mathematics’ disparate themes, and over the course of a spellbinding hour, picks and blends some real highlights from the label catalogue. There’s the bittersweet downtempo piano vibes of Bocca Grande, the future space-disco of Les Aeroplanes, a dash of Metro Area on Smack (Audio Atlas’ brilliant “Alaska”), touchy-feely techno and tech-house from Alessandro Izzo and Marcello Napoletano, sprightly synthscapes from Vagin Brei, and even a clutch of far-sighted floorfillers (the brilliance of Liverpudlian newcomer John Heckle). Oh, and indispensible space-jazz from Gentl3man.
It’s in parts delightfully melodic, achingly melancholic, indescribably heavy, thrillingly futuristic and unashamedly backward looking – everything great electronic music should be, basically. Cura’s mix is impeccable, and perfectly encapsulates what Mathematics is about. If you’ve yet to discover the label, it’s the perfect place to start.
Cosmin Nicolae is a producer who debunks the notion that musical styles are specific to certain locations. Cosmin’s breakthrough single “Put You Down”/”Broken Hearts” launched Ben UFO, Ramadanman and Pangaea’s Hessle Audio imprint in 2007, an outlet that has since become inextricably linked with contemporary UK bass music. That release, particularly the ethereal, post–hardcore vocals of “Broken Hearts”, sound like they were inspired by the early morning vista from a council tower block in Hackney rather than downtown Bucharest.
Al Bleek and Damon Drama, better known to us as iconoclastic genre-defying duo Instra:mental, first appeared early in 2000 with a collaborative release on Source Direct’s offshoot Demonic. The pair have since gone on to become something of a tour de force in the underground electronic music scene, with releases on Darkestral, Exit, Semantica and their own labels NonPlus and Autonomic (which they co-run with dBridge). They have been attributed with reinvigorating D&B from the roots by borrowing from house, techno, electro, IDM and electronica, slowing it down to create that half time, deep, minimalist Autonomic style (almost a sub-genre in itself, some might say). Now, though, Instra:mental seem to have abandoned D&B altogether in favour of tempos hovering between the 110-140bpm range and Resolution 653 showcases this in a magnificent twelve track opus.
The album starts with the broken arpeggiated sounds of “Sun Rec”. Previously released as a 12” on Semantica last November alongside “Love Arp”, it is a sparkling and incendiary track which segues nicely into “User”, with its menacing muttering lyrics, spaced out atmospherics and thumping drum kicks. Strangely robotic but beautifully bouncy, upbeat electro stomper “8” shakes things up before we are plunged into the calming, blissed out haven of “Waterfalls” and back again to the glitchy, ADHD riddled beats of aptly named track “Aggro Acid”, which reminds us of a bizarre melange of Hud Mo, Arp 101 and Ramdanaman.
“Thomp” encapsulates the eclectic range of Instra:mental’s reference points, beginning as a dubbed out Mala style venture before swiftly developing into a funked up, head-nodding 4/4 fest. “Plok” is another quirky cut, sandwiched between the taught, twitching beats of “Talking Mono” and superb stand out track “Delta Zone (Advance)”, which is rather reminiscent of “Voyeur” – Instra:mental’s acclaimed and much rinsed release on Skream’s Disfigured Dubz. Closing track “Memory Implant” sees a flick back to the established sounds of “Waterfalls”, with whispers, echoes, the sounds of rushing water and an air of mystique that permeates through Resolution 653 as whole. Without wanting to sound too earnestly like part of the hype machine, this really is quite superb – a culmination of Instra:mental’s success to date and an example of electronic music at its best. That is all.
Kenneth Christiansen’s label celebrates its tenth year in business without any fuss or the whiff of the understated marketing campaigns that underpin some of Echocord’s peers. Indeed, it is reasonable to say that the key to the Danish imprint’s longevity has been to focus on the deeper, dubbier side of techno, without worrying too much about what all around them are doing. Put simply, Echocord was releasing textured techno for the head and the floor before and after it was trendy to do so. Unsurprisingly, the Echocord Jubilee Compilation manages to capture these two spheres.
It opens with the ethereal, wistful “Tides” by Fluxion, which slides into the shantying “My Safe Harbour” by Quantec. By the time that Deadbeat’s contribution appears, the tempo has gradually gone up thanks to the Canadian’s trademark tribal drums and Onmutu Mechanicks’s contribution turns the mood slightly more menacing as “Calyx” marches to the beat of metallic drums and teems with foreboding chords. This being Echocord however, reflective and evocative sensibilities are never too far away, and Luke Hess’s “Kratos”, although based on clipped drums, boasts breathy, shimmering melodies. Christiansen also proves that he has a keen ear for potential crossover tracks, and Intrusion/Echospace producer Stephen Hitchell’s “Fox Convextion”, with its pulsing bassline and uplifting hooks, could propel this label into the spotlight that so many lesser, hype-driven labels occupy.
By Richard Brophy:
DJ Hell was the first to sense it coming. Speaking to this writer in 2006, the Gigolos boss claimed that “the chill out concept still exists … this music is not so popular anymore, but I hear it here and there and hope it comes back”. Hell made his own contribution to this revival on the second rambling, Heroes/Low-era Bowie-inspired CD of his 2009 album Teufelswerk and last year’s mix for Get Physical, which offered transgressions from the dancefloor with music by Klaus Schulze and the Balanescu Quartet. However, the Gigolos boss was only partly right: there is a left of centre resurgence going on in techno, but it doesn’t focus on beatless tracks full of whale mating noises and isn’t fronted by silver suit-wearing zippies like Mixmaster Morris urging listeners to lie down for their rights.
Berghain and its residents may be the epicentre of the techno and house universe right now, but they never forget to acknowledge who and what they have been inspired by. Indeed, while Ben Klock’s mix CD for sister label Ostgut Ton last year showcased new school talents like Martyn, Jonas Kopp and Roman Lindau, it also featured a long-lost Tyree classic as well as giving tacit recognition to Detroit’s influence on modern-day Berlin techno with contributions from Rolando.
While the “Knights of the Jaguar” creator has focused his efforts in recent years on house music, “De Cago” sees him re-explore the middle ground between these styles and fittingly, there’s a solemn vocal intoning ‘Detroit…Chicago’. This is a familiar trick and one that has gained currency as a lazy crutch in recent times. Thankfully though, in Rolando’s hands it becomes an effective weapon as he filters it in DBX-style and it also helps that he underpins it with a dense, drummy groove and chilling, atmospheric chords.
“Junie”, which provided the outro to Klock’s mix, opts for a radically different approach. Like Carl Craig’s more introspective work – “Landcruising” springs to mind – Rolando favours a mid-tempo arrangement, with the somnambulant pace providing the ideal backdrop for orchestral strings and a sombre bassline. The sum of these parts proves yet again that Detroit artists still have the ability to surprise and inspire, 25 years after the city birthed techno.
A taster for the trio’s forthcoming third album, Horizontal Structure, this single sees Von Oswald and collaborators Max Loderbauer and Sasu Ripatti (aka Vladislav Delay) further explore the notion of merging dub techno with other, previously unconnected styles. “Restructure 2” is a swirling, atmospheric piece, its languid, low-tempo groove accompanied by some tastefully spacey guitar playing and mellow jazzy vibes. It sounds like what would happen if late-stage Velvet Underground were to happen upon Charlie Parker in a wormhole and decide to decamp to modern-day Berlin to do cover versions of Burial Mix. It’s understated, studied and about as far removed from Maurizio’s “Ploy” as one can get, but yet it still retains much of the same cavernous production sound.
The choice of remixer, Mala, is also surprising as it eschews Von Oswald’s techno habitat in favour of dubstep. That said, the Digital Mystikz producer has a credible string of releases for DMZ, Tectonic and Soul Jazz, and like the Basic Channel producer, fully understands the power of the bass. There is also some subtle referencing to the time that Van Oswald first rose to prominence through the use of ‘Intelligent Techno’-era melodies and the ambient outro, but Mala’s remix is all about the tumbling drums and tribal, swinging rhythms.