August 6, 2007

G-Man - Quo Vadis


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
[Peter Chambers]

July 19, 2007

Brother From Another Planet / .Xtrak - 7th City Classics Vol. 1


Daniel Bell’s fabled 7th City imprint was working the whole minimal techno vibe long before there was even a name for it, and early sides on the label are treasured by that community not just because of their rarity, but for their enduring quality. While reissued tracks from Bell himself (or hell, new music!) would likely be the most welcome to collectors (he didn’t record much for 7th City himself), the two tracks chosen for the first of the three-volume 7th City Classics series are certainly worth additions to anyone’s crate.

Claude Young’s Brother From Another Planet alias contributes the mighty “Acid Wash Conflict,” which, naturally, sounds exactly like the title would lead you to believe, but its Todd Sines’ .Xtrak entry that really should open some ears here. “Multiplexor” is a stomping stealthmode workout in the mold of DBX himself, with a popping riff and acid-style knob-tweaking that moves insistently as much as it jogs in place. If the 7th City sound was before your time, the Classics series are essential. Now, if DBX would get to reissuing those classic Accelarate sides…

7th City / SCD 022
[Todd Hutlock]

June 20, 2007

From The Archives #2

From The Archive is a selection of dance related articles and reviews from the archives of Stylus Magazine.

Sami Koivikko - Salmiakki (Shitkatapult)

Todd Burns: Quite simply, tennis has become less of a game of finesse and more of overpowering menaces that demand respect less because of their innate ability to outthink the other player and more because of their ability to stifle any response. For a long time, this was the state of German techno…

Various Artists - Inflation (Mu Label)

Michael Heumann: This is, in short, a remix album where the source material is inaudible and the artists must use these inaudible sounds to create audible music.

Monobox - Molecule (Logistic Records)

Todd Burns: The true highlight of the album comes with “The Diamond Age,” which oddly enough sounds much more like early Autechre or Posthuman than any other obvious antecedents to Robert Hoods brand of minimal techno.

On Second Thought: Thomas Brinkmann’s Studio 1 Variationen / Concept 1:96:VR (Profan / M_nus)

Todd Hutlock: In the liner notes to the release, Brinkmann explains his system (which one can assume he used on both releases) in detail: “I used a self-made turntable with 30 kilo plate, and two SME 309 Tone Arms utilizing both Ortofon and Van den Hul moving-coil pickups. The interventions with the actual vinyl are few: I slowed down the speed of the record and used the left pickup (arm) for the left channel, and the right pickup (arm) for the right channel. It’s possible to hear a melodic displacement between the channels. With a little intervention and displacement of elements, the Concepts are sounding different. The same information they had before, but two times present. Like the idea of cloning and twins: still Richie’s DNA with a little mutation. A different groove.”

On Second Thought: Pete Namlook and Dandy Jack - Silent Music (Fax)

Dane Schultz: Silent Music could be seen as a stylistic pastiche of the entire FAX catalogue.

June 19, 2007

Dopplereffekt / Los Angeles TF / Mike Dunn - Gesamtkunstwerk / Magical Body / So Let It Be House


Three more italo, electro, and house nuggets from Clone’s reliable Classic Cuts imprint, and the hits just keep on coming. First up is Dopplereffekt, the well-known Detroit electro collective featuring Gerald Donald of Drexciya. Gesamtkunstwerk is a reissue of a compilation that Gigolo put out in 1999, made up of all the vinyl sides from the group’s own Dataphysix Engineering label. It’s got all the hallmarks you’d expect to find on an electro record (sci-fi/technology themes, bleakly monophonic synths, precise/robotic beats) but with a consistency and a pop sensibility that the genre often lacks. The sleazy female vocals deadpanning on tracks like “Pornovision” and “Pornoactress” also predict what Adult’s Nicola Kuperus (and in turn, many electroclashers) would be doing years down the road. Great stuff.

Second up is a reissue of Los Angeles TF’s electro-italo smash “Magical Body” from 1983, sounding amazingly pristine here in a new remaster by Alden Tyrell. I wasn’t originally sold on the vocal version, where singer Taffy (of “I Love My Radio” fame) seems to over-emphasize the end of each phrase (”Magical! Magical! Is your bod-EE!”), but the tracky instrumental on the B provides immediate gratification, and shows why so many nu-italo producers were inspired to do what they do.

For the third helping, we get another EP of vintage acid house from Mike Dunn. Clone boss Serge was so scared to damage his vinyl copy of Dunn’s “So Let It Be House” he’s gone out and secured this reissue of it, along with two superior b-sides. While the press releases gushes about the title cut’s rareness, and frames 1980s Chicago as this exotic, magical place, to these ears it’s an overly sparse acid track with another “Birth of House Music” speech. It may be the weakest of this trio of releases, but I sort of get the cross-continental appeal. I’m never going to be a intimidating black man from the streets either.

Clone Classic Cuts / C#CC 004/005/006
[Michael F. Gill]

June 5, 2007

Oto Gelb / Daniel Wang - Magical Yellow Sound From Germania / Look Ma, No Drum Machine!


It’s likely that over the past year or so, “disco edits” have been clogging up the new releases page on your favorite vinyl retailer’s website. Now that any chimp (let alone human) can freely acquire an editing programming like Audacity within a few mouse clicks, we are all that much closer to being exposed to Rising Disco-Tech Producer #56 extending the introduction to a favorite or obscure disco/new wave track by four minutes, and paying for the privilege to hear it. All together now: “And then I was discouraged by YOU!”

At their best, disco edits reveal hidden potential in otherwise imperfect tracks, and/or turn you on to a new set of tracks to dig for. The Idjuts Boys’ series of re-edit CDs on Noid takes this one step further by adding in new material, overdubbed effects, and wilder arrangements to the original source material. But it’s negligible how many edits actually need to be released on vinyl, especially when the original artists/tracks are rarely credited.

Daniel Wang seem frustrated at this state of edits too, and seemingly in a response to raise the level of re-arranging discourse, has reactivated his Balihu label with two edit-friendly releases of his own. The first is a new release of disco edits under the name Oto Gelb, with a press release that justifies itself by saying “[this is] music you just can’t make on a laptop, and that’s why it’s so good.” I hate to be an equally bitter pill, but there is not much to get excited about here, unless the idea of disco versions of Bach and Debussy tick your novelty sensors. This version of Bach’s “Air On A G-String” does give me a suave and sentimental feeling though, as if I was visiting Dimitri from Paris in an old folks home twenty years from now.

The second release is a reissue of Wang’s debut EP from 1993, Look Ma, No Drum Machine, which is one of his most highly regarded works, thanks to “Like Some Dream (I Can’t Stop Dreaming)” being a long time staple of disco and house DJs. And the track still works a treat, pasting an emotionally tense vocal snippet from Sleeque’s “One For The Money” onto a blank disco drums canvas, effectively flattening the tension into some kind of detached wonder. Actually, the entire EP is made up of sampled disco records, and while it was a common practice at the time for deep house records to work off a disco sample, Wang’s material here has more of a raw and homemade feel to it. On the b-side, “Gotta Get Up” is as fine a disco-house number as you can get without using a bassline, “Warped” falls a little flat if you’ve heard “Time Warp” from Disco Not Disco 2, and “Get Up, Get Up” locks into a more soulish loop a la Theo Parrish’s Ugly Edits.

While both of these records feels more “angsty” than necessary, Look Ma is still worthy of your time, and should put Daniel back in the public eye with both DJs and MP3 bloggers, just in time for his upcoming full-length album.

Balihu / BAL 016
Balihu / BAL 001
[Michael F. Gill]

December 15, 2006

The Orb - Blue Room


With longer singles coming back into vogue again, a glance back at the longest chart single in UK history seemed in order. Cleverly timed at exactly 39:58 to get under the 40 minute limitation on UK singles chart entries at the timeit reached number 8 in the summer of 1992Dr. Alex Patterson and Co.s Blue Room stands as a monolithic signpost for the ambient house movement and remains surprisingly listenable today. It may seem odd to refer to a 40-minute track as anyones finest moment, but if the moon boot fits

In direct comparison to the Villalobos track, which concentrates on working a single basic idea into an infinite amount of mutations and permutations, Blue Room is a relative explosion of musical textures and spaces. If Fizheuer is a journey to the inner spaces of ones mind via beat transmogrification, Blue Room is a trip to the dark side of the moon and back, complete with all the sci-fi noises and relevant vocal samples and sound effects you might expect. The track isnt tight in the leastits a free-flowing mlange of sounds (Steve Hillages spaced-out guitar licks and bubbling percussive sounds chief among them) and textures, but its tethered down by the rock-solid anchors of Jah Wobbles throbbing bass groove and the gently popping backbeat. The rhythm tracks start around the 6-minute mark, giving the track enough time to establish a mood but not to reach boredom threshold, and Patterson mixes things up from there. With such a wide palette of sounds to mix up and years of experience in this modified ambient-dub style (check back to the KLFs masterful Chill Out album to hear Patterson cutting his teeth on a similarly long-form piece), Blue Room never gets old, never sits still, never blows its cool. It honestly doesnt sound a second too long. And that bassline oh, that bassline. It makes you see trails. The sonic detritus is interesting enough to maintain the ears interest; the groove is strong enough to keep heads nodding and toes tapping. Ambient house may have been coined a few years prior, but one could argue that this single track should play on the terms Wikipedia page, perhaps over a shifting kaleidoscope of colors and astronomical images.

Fizheuer and Blue Room take very different paths to get where they are going, and outside of the length, there is very little in common between the two recordings on the surfacein fact, the comparison is a study of contrasts. While the Orb leave more space in their track, they also use far more sounds. While Villalobos uses only two basic pieces to construct his track (horns and drums), he is just as much of a manipulator and his track actually sounds far more dense. While criticisms may abound about both (generally from those with short attention spans), youd certainly never hear Blue Room referred to as an overgrown DJ tool. Still, examining how two very different producers tackle epic-length electronic tracks can be a fun and enlightening exercise, assuming you have an afternoon to kill. Get comfy.

[Todd Hutlock]

November 17, 2006

Ricardo Villalobos - Heike


Originally released in 1998 (and with a Nelson Machado mix not included on this reissue), Heike finds our man from Chile in transition mode from his earlier dancefloor-minded tunes to his latter-day expansive and experimental leaningsin fact, this one piece of vinyl may be the best example of that stylistic shift. The original mix on the A-side is perfectly serviceable, above-average banging techno, given to a chugging beat, hands-in-the-air type riffs, and a relentless construction that shows little of the sublime detours that have become his signature of late. On the flip, however, Villalobos provides a peek at what was to come. Far more sparse, mellow, and downright groovy, the Mood Mix gets dense and clattering at some points, nearly beatless at others, and leaves that intangible space between the noises that makes Villalobos more recent works such an adventure. Far from being simply a cash-in reissue of a hot artist, Heike serves as a significant signpost in the history of minimal that still sounds great eight years after initial release.

Lo-Fi Stereo / LO-FI 038
[Todd Hutlock]

September 1, 2006


I first heard LFOs self-titled debut single in September 1990, in the DJ booth at my first-ever club gig. One of the managers of the clubLeah Hunter, a big hip-hop fan who had a soft spot for some deep house recordsbrought a white label copy into the booth before my set started and told me to give it a listen. I dug what I heard, already having a bit of Detroit techno in my crate and figuring it would mix well with Model 500 and the like. I also wanted to get off on the right foot, and so I told her I would be happy to drop it into my set.

Peak time hit a few hours later and I took a chance on LFO, thinking as I cued the record that the Speak and Spell vocals would likely hook the crowd if the beat didnt, and the low-end rumbles would sound amazing through the clubs giant system. Sure enough, the snapping snare and swerving, bleeping riff went down a treat, as did the ridiculous bass groove, sounding absolutely mammoth as I tweaked my EQ to accentuate the richness. But then a funny thing happened a little less than a minute in, at the point in the song where the bass riff drops another (Im guessing here) three octaves or so and solos on its own for a few seconds. DOOM DOOM DOOMDOOM. DOODOODOODOOOM.

The speakers went silent.

The crowd thought I did it and I thought the needles skipped, but when the riff appeared again a few minutes later, I figured out what happenedthe bass overloaded the clubs system and it just cut out altogether. They never even heard it. Being as how no one in the room except Leah and I knew what happened, it didnt really cause much of a ruckus. After I calmed down a bit and realized that I wasnt going to be on the hook for blowing out the clubs speakers, I relaxed and the rest of the set was smooth as glass.

LFO opened my eyes that nightit taught me a lesson about sound and the power and the fury of it all, about the things you could do with mixing and EQ and production that I literally had never considered. It was a revolution in my head, and based on the way Warp took off after LFO became a hit, Id say I wasnt the only one who felt it.

A few months later, when I purchased the Tommy Boy domestic release of the single, it came with a warning on the back: Tommy Boy Music, Inc., its affiliates and licensees disclaim any and all liability for speaker damage resulting from the playback of this sound recording. Amen.

Warp / WAP 5
[Todd Hutlock]

July 14, 2006

Lemon8 - Model8


It shouldnt come as much of a surprise to find this acid techno classic from the golden age of the genre reissued by none other than Richie Hawtin himself, as the track was a regular feature of his own DJ sets back in the day and was even included on the X-Mix-3 mix CD that he released with Plus 8 partner John Acquaviva back in 1994. Hawtins one-man revival campaign (see the last few reissues on Plus 8 for evidence, including Baby Ford + Eon, Link, and even Teste, originally released on his own Probe imprint) may be the result of a feeling of nostalgia or a longing for the good old days but it is sure making for some damn fine records to be rescued from obscurity.

Model8 was an early single from the aptly named Dutch producer and DJ Harry Lemon and you can hear the early Plus 8 sound all over its grooves. The classic drum pattern, bouncing bass riff, and especially the smashed-to-hell hi-hats might sound a bit dated now, but an enterprising DJ could likely still work it into a set. The original mix builds in layers to a big breakdown about halfway through before really letting fly with the acid/percussion madness. All well and good, but its the remix on the flip that is the real killer. It sounds infinitely more modern, with its stripped-down percussion attacks and positively HYOOOOOGE build-ups and breakdowns clearly prefiguring where Hawtin was going with F.U.S.E. and later with Plastikman. A massive, floor-filler of a record that isnt quite ready to be retired yet.

Basic Energy / ENERGY 103-5
Plus 8 / PLUS8089
1993 / 2006
[Todd Hutlock]

June 30, 2006

Bandulu - Phaze In-Version


Something hit the techno community like a shot in 1993: the influence of dub. While the mixing techniques (drop-outs, phasing, echoes, etc.) had been commonplace on house and techno mixes in the previous decade or so, at the time, no one was really attempting to fuse the style of King Tubby and Lee Scratch Perry to electronics. But in early 93, with the release of the first records on the mighty Basic Channel label, the long, echoing, repeating, phasing patterns on top of hard techno beats took the world by (quiet) storm.

Generally forgotten in all of this, however, is this masterful single by British group Bandulu released through indie powerhouse Creation Records dance offshoot, Infonet. Messers. Bissmire, OConnell, and Thompson start with heavily phased and repeated keyboard wash and turn it over and over and over again for what seems an eternity (its closer to five minutes) before the stomping, Mills-esque drum loop comes in to move things from outer space to the dancefloor. The beat drops out again after a few more minutes, only to return, Phoenix-like, after another dark, swirling waterfall of sound. Epic. Big on vibes, atmosphere, and sticky green smoke, Phaze In-Version is the missing bridge between the London, Detroit, and Berlin scenes of the early 1990s. If youre a fan of any of the above, start digging in the crates for this slept-on gem.

Infonet / INF 012T
[Todd Hutlock]

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