September 7, 2007

Deepchord Presents Echospace - The Coldest Season

2007CD/AlbumTechnoDub

Dub techno is a bit of a challenging listen, much in the same way, say, free jazz is. On first listen, the genres are practically opposites, but in approach and execution, they are remarkably similar—it isn’t about the melodies, it’s about the sounds and the feelings. The “challenge” in free jazz is to follow all the different parts down their winding paths and to see the craft and invention in its rendering. The “challenge” in dub techno is the opposite, to find the excitement and movement in what at first sounds like a static and unmoving piece.

Since dub techno was pioneered by the Basic Channel camp in the early ’90s, casual listeners might not even have noticed much progression—after all, the template is basically the same concoction of deep, muted, echoing chords, subsonic bass lines, compressed hi-hats, and lots of tape hiss—and much the way that Ornette Coleman might sound just like Anthony Braxton to the untrained ear, so might Maurizio sound just like Thomas Brinkmann. Dig a little deeper into either genre, however, and the subtleties and nuances become more and more apparent, and one’s appreciation deepens. The devil may be in the details, but so are the thrills.

Detroit native Rod “Deepchord” Modell—he and Chicagoan Steven “Soultek” Hitchell are partners in Echospace, also a label—has been operating as a shadowy entity for some time now, unleashing limited-run singles over the years that fetch crazy sums on eBay. Now with this, their highest profile and best-distributed release to date, the pair have stepped up and released their masterwork. Judged on its own merits, The Coldest Season should stand as one of the best electronic releases of the year, and one of the best dub techno releases in the last decade.

Certainly, one can appreciate the music here on strictly a background level. The album definitely conjures a mood, and played at a low level, it creates a suitably laid-back, chilled atmosphere—downright icy, in fact. The beats don’t kick in on opener “First Point of Aries” until well past the three-minute mark, giving the swirling, hissing synths plenty of time to work up some steam (or frost, if you will). The tracks tumble and roll into each other through the entire first half of the album, each track morphing into the next, but distinct in themselves, and listening to these transitions, admiring the little differences from track to track, is half the fun of the dub techno experience. “Ocean of Emptiness” is nearly 12 minutes of beatless space; “Celestialis” is a shuffling, almost funky drive through the big city at night. Tiny trails of melody drift, barely audible, through “Sunset,” while “Elysian” ups the percussion and twists and turns the mix actively throughout its, almost aggressive. The biggest and best thrills are saved for last, however, as the closer “Empyrean” is the most inventive and downright catchy thing here, with a percolating rhythm track, spooked-out organ stabs, and a truly inspiring drop out. If anything here makes you leap for the repeat button, it’s this. Otherwise, just playing the entire album on a loop will do just fine, thanks.

With all this in mind, anyone going into The Coldest Season expecting some sort of radical departure from the dub techno style that has proceeded it will likely be disappointed. Basic Channel effectively invented the wheel of this genre, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t admire the latest models to roll off the modern assembly line. There are enough new wrinkles and, yes, thrills here to appeal to devotees and newbies alike.

Modern Love / LOVE 33CD
[Listen]
[Todd Hutlock]


September 4, 2007

Andy Stott - Fear of Heights

200712"DubMinimal/Deep

Aside from relentless bleakness and a highly developed sense of minute sound-design, the hallmark of Andy Stott’s music is its continual restructuring. As a child, I used to build my Lego castles as per the instructions, but only the first time. The subsequent re-builds would slowly deviate, riffing around the structures of the original but adding, subtracting and supplementing elements, to the point where my later creations were unrecognisable as mutants of the original. I don’t mean to give myself airs by saying “I once owned a castle” or that my childish re-builds were in any way as creative as Stott’s music. I mention this to emphasise that, perhaps more than any other contemporary techno artist, Stott has mastered modularity with a playful, seemingly effortless ability to build completely novel structures into every track, despite the fact that each one is made out of similar sounds.

“Fear of Heights” takes the woofer-busting bass from “Handle with Care” and throws it over a new rhythm, with sharp, reverbed hats and a haunting melody where the rising call of one synth is met by the reedy fall of the other. It’s mind is Mancunian gloom, but the physical parts are precious high-gloss Dial darkness. “Made your Point” follows the rhythmic template of Claro Intelecto’s Warehouse Sessions, but, as is the norm now, the “student” outdoes the master, playfully rendering the Modern Love sound several shades darker in colour and lighter in touch. Again, the bassline is massive – this one rumbles just below the reach of small speakers, only to come humming out of a large system like the sudden presence of a heretofore un-named ghost.

Modern Love / LOVE 37
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


August 30, 2007

Brendon Moeller - Jazz Space

200712"TechnoDub

Beatz regulars might be familiar with my rendering of “Abletonitis”, the disease which seems to infect every promising Ableton-arranged track with the “limitations of almost infinite possibility”. Somehow, in being able to do almost everything, the program seems to prevent most people from doing, well, anything. Instead of painstakingly hand-programming drum patterns, writing hooks, and making sure the phrasing of all the instruments swing together as one on the one, you just stretch, mute, transpose, and if things are getting boring, drop in a ping-pong delay. Presto! The recent release of Robag Wruhme’s The Lost Archives function as Exhibit A in showing the corrosive effects of this sickness on talented producers, showing how lazy, formulaic and FX-dependent so many interesting music makers have become due to such “amazingly streamlined workflow” and the “incredible drag and drop VST plugins”.

Moeller’s Jazz Space should be just another victim of this epidemic, but somehow, the EP is more like the soundtrack documenting Moeller’s overcoming of the illness by doing pitched battle with several bouts of its symptoms. Sonically, we’re very much in the territory of T++ and Monolake, with dry, granular, and planar sounds rolling through spacetime, their flow interrupted by eruptions of parameter-tweaking breakdowns, which are kept in check by big, deep, round basslines.

“Pink Noise” reaches such proximity to Momentum-era Monolake that you’d have to flag a co-write on it, while “Jazz”, with its warm, friendly micro-boompty feel sidles up very close to Robag’s work on Vakant. But it’s “Space” which goes someway toward staking out Moeller’s very own place on the moon, working intimations of early new-millenium Force Inc into something approaching its own musical identity. While not nearly as accomplished or atmospheric as some of the recent Deepchord material, Jazz Space lays out a musical question-mark that flags the possibility of another talent taking their dub-tech workflow all the way to the cold satellites (and back), in a way that entertainingly re-frames the tried and true template of this narrow but seemingly inexhaustible sound-vein.

Third Ear / 3EEP 068
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


August 6, 2007

G-Man - Quo Vadis

20071990s12"TechnoDub

Like Baby Ford and Mark Broom, Gez Varley is one of the few British producers from the dawn of the era who has continued to make interesting, relevant minimal music that still adds something to the original template he helped formulate. I first heard “Quo Vadis” on Richie Hawtin’s 1995 Mixmag compilation, a mix that has aged remarkably well and is still definitely worth a rinse, especially in light of recent directions in house-influenced minimal techno. Given the survival of the track in this context (or, more generally, the fact that it’s never really stopped being played), who better to re-release the classic than Styrax Leaves, a label who are (thankfully, actually) stuck in the best bits of ’90s techno, a place of patchy perfections at the best of times.

The drum sounds themselves are as dated as you’d expect, but it’s the subtle seductions of their patterning that help this release retain the breath of life. Stripped, deep, and long, the themes rise out of a flat gas of beats, repeating and slowly mutating through the addition, reduction, or substitution of one simple element. With nothing more than plodding, dogged repetitions, these tracks lumber forward, only allowing the slow revelation of a timbro-melodic theme to happen “in the fullness of time.” It’s a strategy that gave rise to a lot of exceedingly dull records, but Varley knows exactly which tone-pots to touch, and how. Listen to these puppies and dream of candyflips in a sweaty bunker, consoled only by the natural warmth emanating from the rhythm machines. It’s enough to make you slowly bug out.

Styrax Leaves / strx leaves 005
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


July 11, 2007

cv313 - Dimensional Space

200712"TechnoDub

More mystery mastery from the Detroit underground, as the second release from Rod (Deepchord) Modell and Steve (Soultek) Hitchell’s Echospace [Detroit] imprint isn’t exactly laden with information - no proper names at all, no writing credits, no sleeve notes (or even a sleeve; the grey marbled vinyl comes in a clear plastic envelope), and even the mastering was done by “PCMJR,” (although that one’s not too hard to figure out with a quick visit to Discogs). As soon as the needle hits the groove, however, the mission becomes clear, as these two long cuts continue the recent string of sublime dub techno issued from the Echospace camp, albeit with a bit more bite than most.

If the recent Deepchord double-pack was a monolithic glacier examined from all angles, “Dimensional” is a smoldering, pre-eruption volcano, bubbling with throbbing-bass fire and an insistent drum loop, waiting to explode on some village in the South Pacific. On the flipside, “Space” ups the percussion ante and introduces what just might be a little funk into the mix. I still have no clue exactly who or what cv313 is, but I honestly don’t care at this point. If you thought you’d already heard all the dub techno you need to hear in this lifetime, think again: the Echospace crew are currently reinventing the wheel.

echospace [detroit] / echospace002
[Listen]
[Todd Hutlock]


July 3, 2007

Syncom Data - Beyond the Stars Remixes

200712"TechnoDub

It seems wrong to call Speedy J a stalwart, because that suggests the guy’s still making average records, despite being “hard at it” for more than a decade. If at times his production (however brilliant) goes a little bit off the hard/deep end for my delicate ears (I spook easily) - with an incredible live show and a few seminal albums behind him, you’d have to say the guy’s an innovator. And an undermentioned one. Maybe the problem with him, the reason why he never became a Craig or a Hawtin, was just that he’s singular - there’s something inimitable about his style that has deterred disciples, and his deep, textured, powerful music has remained a cul-de-sac or an appendix, albeit a beautiful one.

But when he pulls one out, he really pulls one out: this remix of Syncom Data is one of the most powerful, expressive, deep, and interesting tracks I’ve heard all year. Like some of the contributions on the Shut Up and Dance compilation as well as some of Monolake and T++’s more epic workouts, this is more freestyle/deepscape than techno pure and proper; their cylinders are too large, and there’s two much gas in them for this to be a bog-standard four-pot burner. Damn, it’s is just…fantastic (gush alert).

Oh yeah, and there’s two other remixes here too, which are both great in their own way, although not nearly as grand as the A. SD’s remix is much more digi-dub (similar to the Burialmix & ~scape sound), taking a melodica into delayed terrain with some heavy beats which move all the textures around. Meanwhile, Legowelt comes out with one of his best tracks of late, opting for something which (as always) is both steeped in his ‘85-’95 passions/influences and is in possession of an eccentric expressivity that’s solely his own. This one also goes bang around the two and a half minute mark, with a massive kick that puts the whole kaboodle into peaktime orbit.

Syncom Data Records / SD05
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


June 26, 2007

Andy Stott - The Massacre

200712"TechnoDub

We live in the time of “dodgy rips” that clip and fudge your precious music. Crap, flat, dead sounding mp3s might well be the key reason that gets all you tune-filching Oinkers back into the shops to buy music that sounds as it was meant to. My previous experience of Pantha du Prince’s This Bliss was blighted by bitrates of only 128kbps, a reminder of just how crap mp3s were/are, and how much you really do miss out on by not listening to a prime source (or at least a high quality rip).

So it was (do I confess to much?) with my recent copy of Andy Stott’s EP The Massacre – a pre-release purloin, the codec kept coughing and spluttering all over a bassline that was simply too fat to chew on without choking. I ordered the vinyl the next day, and haven’t looked back. Stott’s recent work has brought in greater and deeper bass, to the point where a wooferless recital is only half the goodness, at most. “Unknown Exception” makes my headphones quiver on their headband, sending rippling buzz down the cable. Inside the can it’s a different matter, as the delicacy that Stott always fixes in high contrast to the threatening brutality of the deep below plays itself out. It’s extremely hard to believe this guy’s only been making music for a couple of years, and that he’s Claro’s “apprentice”.

“The Massacre”, the B, takes a burbling drum machine pattern then puts a very Moritz-y melody over it, sending it forth into the never-never with another huge bassline. The closer on Efdemin’s recent (and exceptional) RA podcast, this track is the definition of deep, the soul of techno laid bare. The outro is exceptional, as tiny amounts of delay are added to the basic percussive pattern until it skips into itself, just as the bassline sidles up underneath, then pulls back, then returns, then fades back down. Ahhh. Listen closely and you can hear each element modulating slowly and inter-acting – nothing has been allowed to “just loop”: everything has been considered and placed perfectly in the mix, each part plays with every other. Rarely is techno so subtly or skilfully written.

Modern Love / LOVE 035
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


June 11, 2007

DeepChord - Vantage Isle

200712"7"TechnoDub

Echospace [detroit] is a new label launched by Rod Modell (half of DeepChord, along with partner-in-crime Mike Schommer) and Steven (Soultek) Hitchell, two leading lights of the minimal dub techno scene. And as with anything DeepChord, the entire release has an air of mystery to it. With the minimal packaging, restricted distribution, and the fact that this set of two 12 inches and one colored 7″ is limited to 1,000 copies, everything about Vantage Isle is geared toward the underground, or “those who know.” This isn’t an elitist thing - there’s nothing but love of their craft driving these grooves, certainly not a cash-in effort - but it is a crying shame that more people won’t be able to hear this absolutely brilliant collection of spacial dub wonder. Take that as a warning: go out and find this now while you can, or you’ll be paying through the nose for it later.

That all said, Vantage Isle consists of a whopping 10 takes of the title track, reworked across the three pieces of vinyl by Modell and Hitchell in various guises (DeepChord, Soultek, Echospace, Spacecho), as well as a guest spot (and first ever remix) from Gerald “Convextion” Hanson (more on that one later.) Across their 9 versions, Modell and Hitchell manage to take the DeepChord template (analog synths, deep bass, gently throbbing beats, bursts of static and noise, and of course those deep, deep chords) into a surprising variety of directions, akin to looking at the same giant glacier from a helicopter from every angle possible: some are beatless and undulating, some are pulsing and dynamic, some are looking up from under the ice and some are towering overhead. The aforementioned Convextion version, however, is revelatory. It’s built on cascading and echoing pieces of the original that are layered like shifting sands, for a distinctly dark and shimmery journey to the bottom of the frozen ocean and back. It is literally breathtaking.

It’s remarkable enough to get all these takes on one basic template to sound somewhat different, given that the source material is really just a skeletal array of sound sheets. Consider it a bonus, then, that all of them are masterfully realized and capable of mixing and matching with each other into entirely new shapes and forms by an enterprising sound sculptor with two decks. Vantage Isle is perfection for anyone looking for the logical successors to the Basic Channel throne, or just looking for something mellow for those steamy late summer nights. A stone cold classic of the genre. Don’t miss it.

echospace [detroit] / echospace001
[Listen]
[Todd Hutlock]


May 24, 2007

Trentemoller feat. DJ Tom and Vildtand - An Evening With Bobi Bros

200712"DubMinimal/Deep

The word antipodes was recurred in descriptions justifying the quality of Trentemoller’s productions after the hype generated by “Polar Shift”. Hype that appeared to come to dust here, in the Antipodes (Australia), after a notoriously bad live show that showed beyond all reasonable doubt that “minimal” was totally at odds with itself, generating a hype-based following who neither understood nor liked the music they nonetheless deigned to dance to. Why? In Melbourne, it’s hard to discount the pervasive effects of five years of progressive dishwater on spongy young minds – here was a producer that re-packaged the “antipodes” of prog in a crispy, beautifully designed form. But it’s still dishwater if you ask me – the much loved Last Resort album is conspicuous both for its polished hi-fi sound design and its lack of taste. It’s not bad taste, no, just tasteless, inert – but for the light taint of detergent. Offensively inoffensive. Okay, so now you get both the “truth” of Trentemoller and this reviewers own prejudices (or at least one of the two). What of the music?

Well, I do concede this is a nice EP, actually. Again, maybe I only think so because of my bias in favour of all things deep and dubby, but both these tracks represent two ways into the groove via thoughtful, interesting arrangements filled with emotion and even… antipodes!

The A-side (with DJ T.O.M) opens on a keyboard line with something of the atmospherics of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm”, adding a scratch-textured loop for a momentary nod to Jan Jelinek before the signature crispy compressed kick-snare sets to work. The main melodic refrain from the keyboard part goes solo in the third minute, unfolding as the groove marks time and breaking apart with occasional outbursts of delay. I wonder if I can still pick up the remnants of the washing up? No, not here. Trentemoller’s collaboration seems to have moderated and mellowed the fellow, in a good way.

The B harks back to early MRI and the halcyon days of Force Tracks, which can’t be a bad thing – there’s even a very white female vocal on hand to lend curves to the sound planes. (Are we due for a dub-house revival?) But then there’s those lyrics – honestly, as a DJ, I couldn’t stand behind the decks with my best “serious DJ” mien while “You are ecstasy/you are sex” came oohing and ahhing out of an otherwise well put together track. Ah, my tainted palette. Argh, bubbles, bitterness – dishwater! How could you? Why did you? CD-users and edit-freaks offer themselves the possibility of truncating this taste lapse, but for me and others who play the track as it lays, this renders a whole side un-usable…unless you like the lyrics? Given that I was almost alone in my assessment of Last Resort, you’ll probably find a lot to love here.

Kickin Records / KICK 154
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


April 19, 2007

Convextion - Miranda Remixes

200712"TechnoDub

Dallas native Gerald Hanson originally released “Miranda” as an untitled cut way back in 1995, as the first release on Sean Deason’s Matrix label. As it was a small pressing and unavailable for many years, it has grown and grown in stature exponentially since then, buoyed by lots of club play from famous jocks. Now, Hanson finally cashes in by repressing the original mix and adding three new remixes in a very limited (1,200 copies worldwide) double pack. The hype has been ridonkulous, and after waiting for months and through several delays (apparently there was a pressing-plant/mastering issue or something) that served only to stoke the flames even further, I felt lucky as hell just to get a copy. So the question on everybody’s lips is, of course: is the hype justified?

Well, no, of course not. The original mix is a damn fine piece of second-wave Detroit techno, all jumping rhythms, dubbed-out keyboard stabs, and ring-modulated riffage, but fuck, this ain’t the second coming of “Strings of Life” or something. I mean, it’s good, and I can say from experience that it sounds great in a club through the big system, but it hardly makes the top 10 Detroit techno tracks of all time—maybe top 30.

The remixes by Deason (as Psykofuk), Deep Chord, and Echospace are a bit of a letdown too. Deason doesn’t do nearly enough with it (sounds like he just turned up the kick drum, sped up the tempo a bit, and added a fairly useless vocal sample, none of which the original needed), and ends up with what amounts to a decent Jeff Mills-esque track. Deep Chord and Echospace both turn in 12-minute Basic Channel-style cosmic dub versions that are quite nice for what they are, but are hardly the stuff of legend. So in the final tally, rather than move heaven and earth (or knock over an ATM) to get one, you might be better advised to wait for the inevitable single-plate reissue that is sure to come around eventually. In the meantime, I’m quite sure you can hear the original in clubs all year round and likely on some mix CDs in no time.

Matrix / MATRIX 1.5
[Listen]
[Todd Hutlock]


Next Page »