October 4, 2007

Soul Capsule - Waiting 4 A Way

For their first single as Soul Capsule in six years, Thomas Melchior and Peter “Baby Ford” Adshead deliver not so much a set of DJ tools but something similar to an “open source code” of minimal techno. It’s wonderful to hear an EP that builds out of its own heritage, bringing the warm waves straight out of the depths of the circuits they’ve been coursing through for almost fifteen years.

Like a lot of his recent solo tracks, Baby Ford’s voice comperes the whole event he’s a quiet master of ceremonies who murmurs, whispers, and coaxes you through the auroral atmosphere like some kind of positively charged Leonard Cohen. As evidenced on the long and winding title cut, Ford’s influence on Melchior’s style is akin to the flattening of a wiggling arc - he basically gets Tommy to turn the brightness of his space-dusted melodies inwards. B-Side “Beauty and the Beat” brings the sound closer to the epic, deep minimal techno explored at length on Ford’s Sacred Machine a machine that wills the eternal return of a perfectly pitched and filtered kick drum. A repetition without gravity. Welcome back, guys.

Perlon / PERL 63
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


September 19, 2007

Smith N Hack - Space Warrior

200712"Neo-Disco

Space is techno’s key fantasy. From Detroit to Moscow (via lower earth orbit), this is a music whose bedroomed machines have relentlessly beat out rhythms that dream of comet tales and gas giants. Starship Smith-N-Hack hits hyperspace blur right at this point, just as an eight bit melody rings out, and proceeds to do battle with the space invaders in a ship that looks like the Death Star gone disco Darth’s daft mirror ball turned planetary assault machine.

“Space Warrior” begins with an ascending/descending eight-bit synth line which breaks into a pixelated rhythm just as the neon pads hit. When I play it loud, it makes the neighbour’s tomcat mewl in a way that suggests (as some have suspected) that cats are aliens after all. Or just horny and confused. Then the bassline grounds everything, colouring everything three shades more Italo for a moment until the lo-fi shenanigans of the “rayguns” start blasting away. There’s a touch of Legowelt at work in the madness, but none of the ironisation apparent in the work that Danny Wolfers relegates to the comments he makes around his music

If you can’t get the local felines going with “Space Warrior”, try them on the “Scratchapella” without the drums holding all those rayguns carefully in place, the effect is the techno/laser-beam equivalent of an unmanned garden hose set to stun. “Falling Stars” begins very much like Roman Flgel’s remix of Audion’s “Just Fucking”, but quickly traverses any sexual fantasy to find itself among distant heavenly bodies. It glides beautifully, making it right across the galaxy in a little over nine minutes. Not bad for two geeks and their machines, is it? Forget all that new age twaddle, if you want to experience astral travel from the comfort of your own headphones/nightclub, this is just the (space) ticket.

Smith N Hack / Smith N Hack 03
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


September 18, 2007

Basteroid - Upset Ducks

At first it’s hard for me to imagine Upsets Ducks being used for dancing. I mean, I’ve felt that alchemy before, where physically encountering the music at proper volume in a dark and sweaty room consecrated to moving your ass makes even the most unassuming jams take on dimensions you couldn’t imagine in your most feverish headphone dreams, but Sebastian Riedl’s long-playing debut under the Basteroid name is too captivating in its insular, rough-and-smooth way to imagine listening communally, let alone dancing. The opening “16 Steps Away from the Stars” especially soft shoes its could-be-huge raft of interlocking burbles, melodic stabs, and static washes into something that seems to be continually turning away from the listener into somewhere more private and inaccessible; sure enough, having to be the pursuer just makes the attraction of the track fiercer.

Which isn’t to say at all that Basteroid sounds difficult or obtuse or dull; each track here packs all the “cloudbursts, breakdowns, and big hooks” that Peter Chambers summed up as the hallmarks of Areal’s sound in Beatz semi-recently. The artist and record that Riedl’s work here summons unavoidably to mind for those of us who are happy observers but not necessarily devotees of techno is The Field’s From Here We Go Sublime. But as good as that record is, the title is maybe even more appropriate for Upsets Ducks (although I wouldn’t want to lose Riedl’s sense of humor); Axel Willner’s opus opts for the in-your-face sparkle that makes his name so appropriate (think field as ground versus object, not plot of land) whereas the sneakier apogees of Basteroid get to the same heights by rougher, subtler, more sublime means.

Once Riedl hits the late period trifecta of “Pulsador de Alarma”/ “Allright” / “Un Dos Windows” it’s clear that although he’s not so headphone-pointillist as Willner he’s at least his match in crafting snarky movers that don’t so much burst at you as slyly insinuate themselves into your hindbrain. Like a lot of listeners normally so devoted to the Word, or at least the Voice, I can’t say I can actually hum any melodies even after weeks of devoted (obsessive?) listening, but I do find its steady, building pulse threading its way into more and more of my waking life.

Even as the construction of this album apparently disturbed the waterfowl outside his studio (especially the buzzy, grainy “Attention: Upsets Ducks,” I’d imagine), Riedl was crafting a near seamless 70 minutes that deserves to rival Willner’s big debut for the affections of those who normally listen to things with guitars in them.

I lack the technical or genre vocabulary to communicate to the diehards the difference in technique between, I can only talk about emotion: The Field is more like the sensation of sunshine on your face, a train ride to a new city, leaning in to kiss someone; Basteroid evokes instead the feeling of finally leaving work for the day, walking alone through your city late at night, falling asleep to the muted sound of the party next door. That the former is more obviously, maybe even aggressively ‘good’ as a set of signifiers is true, but there’s at least as much space (if not more) in my life for the latter. Riedl is definitely still capable of tearing up a dancefloor but he along with his contemporaries have finally learned the hard lessons of techno’s rich history of trying to make albums: how to craft an experience beyond that of getting up and moving, while still allowing the latter response. The result is rich and compelling enough to warrant repeated listens even from the neophytes.

Areal / AREALCD 6
[Listen]
[Ian Mathers]


August 24, 2007

Charts: August 23 2007

Michael F. Gill

Kettel - Marliesje [Marguerita Recordings]
San Serac - Fairlight [Frogman Jake]
The Replicants - Club Para (Matzak Instrumental Remix) [Gobatcha]
Paul Murphy - Withnail & I [Routine Records]
DMX Krew - Snow Cub [Breakin’ Records]
Rideout - Someone Special [Enterprises]
Cellophane - Music Colours (Parts 1-3) [Did Records]
Jones Girls - You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else [Philadelphia International]
Phortune - String Free [Hot Mix 5]
Fly Guy - Fly Guy Rap [P&P Records]


July 18, 2007

Len Faki - Rainbow Delta/Mekong Delta Remixes

Like a lot of people, my first sensible reaction to hearing Len Faki’s Rainbow Delta/Mekong Delta was, “Holy shit!” Some tracks grow on you, but Faki’s pounced. But this is no panflash superstar both sides of the EP still get a regular caning six months down the spiral. I have the same prolonged reaction to both Tobias EPs, and find a need to not only fit them into any mix (regardless of fitness) but even to structure whole mixes around a dramatic presentation of their treasures.

Its just such a dramatic presentation that Adam Beyer’s remix here has attempted, and it’s half successful. The kicks seem over-filled though, too compressed. There are moments here where you could be listening to some dire Mauro Picotto mix, hearing the wriggling tads of some “hard house rubbish” haunting the dark shadows by the bassbin. In another way though, this is a fun piece of hard techno…if I hadn’t heard the original, I might like it more.

Jerome Sydenham’s mix likewise goes for a big, fat kick and a whole lotta balls, but focuses more on getting the whole thing to tunnel into an unstoppable, rushing flow. It sort of works in a way, but it’s a kind of taming, levelling out Faki piped through Sydenham’s circuits. Faki musak. The great little tear-outs, the microdramas, they’ve all gone missing in a great surging wash of beats. In a way, it might have been better for Faki to get someone totally unexpected to do a remix, or a person who would have guaranteed a complete renovation. I can’t help but think that the Kompakt boys, especially Mayer, Koze, ‘Pitcher, or Wolfgang Voigt, would have done the best job with this material, and would have understood how to handle its delicate, powerful emotions without sapping, scaring or overpowering it.

Ostgut Tontrger / o-ton 08
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


July 17, 2007

Lee Douglas - New York Story

200712"Neo-Disco

It takes a special kind of artist to make you slap your head in stupid realization. My introduction to Douglas Lee (and his Lee Douglas “pseudonym”) gives him a free pass to that group. Although I’ve been a fan of Lee for more than a year, I finally listened to his music a couple months ago. In the passing time, his illustrations and high-profile motion graphics work left me drooling. His ability to make psychedelic and neon-tinged illustrations feel new again is as good start as any to see what this artist-musician is capable of. With the Lee Douglas moniker, Lee might sound as mature as any, but he’s only given us two singles to hold, coo over, and cherish.

So let me coo for a bit because Lee or Douglas’ latest single, New York Story, is worth it. The title track begins with a Loose Joints strut of a bassline, adds a Trans New York Express synth, and caps it off with a balearic synth that bleeds out onto the summer sun. The song has a life of its own from all the oxymorons a pummeling track that also swirls, it’s wide-eyed and effortless as a wind-up toy but packs 500-lb chimes straight out of Blondie’s “Rapture”. None of this accounts for the cowbell fest of a b-side, “Ramv”, which makes sure that Liquid Liquid won’t get the last laugh with “Optimo.” But that’s the beauty of Lee Douglas’ oh-too-tiny body of work: he’s too busy smacking you with glee.

Rong Music / RONG 20
[Listen]
[Nate DeYoung]


July 6, 2007

Theo Parrish - Sound Sculptures Volume 1

200712"CD/AlbumHouseDetroit

Like most well-known Detroit techno producers, Theo Parrish is as much a shrewd marketer as he is a talented musician. Since so much of what comes out of Detroit is shrouded in mystery, one needs to be really clued-in to all the limited edition vinyl, homemade CD-Rs, and mail-order labels to try to make some sense of what is going on in the scene. Having talked about this with people from the Detroit area, I get the sense that this protectiveness often stems from a demand that the listener take the music seriously. But there’s a reason why someone like Omar-S, with his handwritten vinyl sleeves, 12 inches that play inside-out, and one-sided white labels, has created a stir in techno geek circles the past couple years, and it ain’t just the music.

If you’ve been following minimal and techno the past year or so, you’ll have noticed that house and soul have been turning up more and more as an influence (or as a no-longer-latent fetish). What with Antonelli naming his last single after Bobby Konders, Efdemin’s “Just A Track” based on a Chicago styled preachapella, Ame writing “WILD PITCH I LUV U” on the back of their singles, the growing ubiquity of Schwarz/Ame/Dixon’s “Where We At”, Carl Craig remixes, and Larry Heard’s “The Sun Can’t Compare”, as well as the popularity of openly Detroit/deep house themed labels from Europe (Innervisions, Philpot, Delsin, Styrax), demands for jackin’ are high.

It’s the perfect time then for Theo Parrish to release this new triple LP on his own Sound Signature label. With the residual love from Carl Craig’s remix of “Falling Up” still coming in, Sound Sculptures Volume 1 arrives with high expectations, and a hefty import price if you live outside the States. The extra exposure might explain why Sculptures sounds like a more streamlined and accessible version of Parrish’s music, although you can’t really say it’s watered down. As always, the vibe here is as much mechanical as it is soulful. No matter how organically jazzy or funky the music gets, it’ll always be stymied by some hard-boiled drums and extremely tight programming and editing. What’s missing on these nine tracks is Theo’s wild sense of vocal juxtaposition and gratitutious use of live EQing, the stuff that often works miracles in his live sets, but can be more frustrating to plow through on his studio albums. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has problems listening to Natural Aspirations (released by Parrish’s collective group The Rotating Assembly), where vocals either sit too high or low in the mix, and are set against music which seems completely incongruous.

Listening to Sculptures in comparison is a piece of cake: everything here goes down smoothly and easily. The first three sides are actually pretty concise, almost song-oriented. “Second Chances” open things up strongly with vocalist Monica Blaire impressively soloing and vamping around a four line refrain and some subdued piano/rhodes lines. “The Rink” is very similar to Theo’s Ugly Edits series, where a couple of very short soul/disco samples are chopped up, put against each other, and then looped for five or six minutes. The final three sides are all extended eleven minute workouts, including album highlight “Soul Control” (another vocal showcase, this time for Alena Waters) and the rather straightforward acid-tech groove of “Synethic Flemm”, which was engineered by the aforementioned Omar S.

As far as a potential crossover release goes, Sound Sculptures does its job. It’s representative of Theo’s sound, it’s consistent from front to back, and there are some great standout tracks. For long time fans, it may feel a bit redundant, a bit safe. To me, there is still enough of a distinctive “soulful” (for lack of a better word) quality to this music that comes across as tangible, even when motifs are being heavily repeated. I’d almost even equate such a feeling to eating corn on the cob: it’s hard to not walk away from the experience with some flavor stuck in your teeth.

Sound Signature / SS 026 / 027 / 028
[Listen]
[Michael F. Gill]


July 5, 2007

Tolga Fidan - Venice / Tambulistan

Perhaps in this age of microgenre and marketing category, all one needs to do is to corner a market, and carve out a niche. Everybody decries pigeonholing, but (tacitly) we all know it’s the road (or crevice) to success. It doesn’t really matter which one. A film-making friend of mine may be right there’s absolutely no point compromising your creative vision these days, if you’ve got effective distribution. Hell, I’ve been to 12k gigs in Tokyo crammed to the gills with microsound geeks, all of them ready to record the show with their mini-disc players. Now that’s a freakshow.

Vakant have their slot sorted too ominous, dry, digital sounding minimal/techno. The names of the producers even sound to my Anglo-Saxon ears like those of vampires: Mathias Kaden, Onur zer, Tolga Fidan. Fidan’s Venice/Tambulistan follows hot on the shiny black heels of zer’s Red Cabaret EP, which everyone else seemed to like but me. First listens (while washing dishes) made me think, “hey, they’ve sent me zers EP again by mistake”. But no, it’s different, just the same.

Just like Red Cabaret, the A-side is full of noises that seem to have come from flipping through VST patches. Once something sufficiently menacing is found (black horns, icy strings, something scaly and slithering), a two-note minor interval or an arabesque/creepy/ancient-sounding melody is mixed in, and there’s your track. Pardon my cynicism, but I hope the artlessness of this is remedied by the dancefloor impact. Anyway, there’s lots of cool, spooky ideas here that are thrown into the cauldron for good effect, and I think it’d sound great mixed into something incongruously “happy and gay”. The B-side, “Venice” is rhythmically more interesting, vibrating with little ideas and intrusive hits and hisses. I guess you can’t fault the novelty, really with only one or two other labels making horror house minimal (Underl_ne and Perlon [in its dark moments]) this record has a very distinctive sound/feel that, like all monsters, is equally repulsive and attractive.

Vakant / SD05
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


June 4, 2007

Justice - D.A.N.C.E.

I’m sure that there are moments of brilliance in the very hip French filter-metal-disco scene (see: “Killing in the Name Of” simultaneously killing a dancefloor and [possibly] killing a movement), but as I just let loose in the parenthetical above, I sincerely doubt this thing’s got more legs. Justice’s upcoming album proves that much in short order and, if it weren’t for “D.A.N.C.E,” I’d predict their downfall for sometime in mid-2008.

But here it is and I’m forced to point out that it’s kinda structured like a song (a feat for these guys), is much lighter than their previous speaker-blowing plod-fests, and actually bounces along like something that an actual human being might dance to. It’s as if someone got a hold of these guys after they made the track “Phantom,” which appears here as a B-side, and told them, “You know what would be cool for those DJ gigs you guys’ll be going to soon? Music that girls actually like. Music that has a tension between hard and soft. Music built for the floor - and not the blog.” Thank God they listened.

Ed Banger Records / ED 017
Because Music / BEC5772071
[Listen]
[Nina Phillips]


May 29, 2007

Various Artists - Shut Up And Dance! Updated

All too often when I admit my passion for techno music to someone, the image that they conjure up is far from my own perception of it. To them, the word seems to imply a sound of hard and infinitely spiralling industrial loops; in short, music for drugged up idiots with their shirts off. This stigma that seems to stem from the more aggressive side of 90s techno has proved hard to shake from the everymans psyche, and is one of the main reasons why minimal has proved such a popular term for DJs, producers, and fans alike as they desperately try to distance themselves from the boorish connotations that many people draw with the genre.

The minimal techno (no matter how “minimal” a lot of these so called tracks are) scene seems to have manufactured an image for itself that suggests an intelligence behind the music and its creation, whilst simultaneously being extremely danceable and able to assert transcendental experiences on the dancefloor through innovative sound design. Some of the more rockist critics may scoff at this supposed ideology, writing it off as yet another excuse for hedonists in their twenties to go out and take as many drugs as they can get hold of, but the same criticism could be levelled to almost any other style of music. Would they say, for example, that punk meant nothing because a high proportion of the audiences were high on speed? Another argument aimed towards techno as a mindless, pedestrian form of art focuses on its simplistic rigidity of structure. Whilst its true that 99 per cent of tracks share uniformity through their 4/4 time signature, it is this theoretical canvas that allows producers to concentrate on the finer details and layers within the music, in addition to maximising the benefits that stem from using patterns and repetition to absorb the listener into the sound.

Electronic evangelists such as myself may even stick their necks out on the line to say that modern techno music is high art at its peak of visceral effectivity; marrying artistry and craftsmanship with sheer functionality to create an end product that is capable of stirring the minds, hearts, and feet of even the most casual observers. Obviously there are exceptions to this sweeping statement, but there are many stables of artists that almost certainly subscribe to this way of thinking. The prime example of this would be Berlins Ostgut Ton label; an anomaly in todays scene as its owners are also the proprietors of the infamous Berghain club. The club itself can even be seen in an artistic light; the unused power station being the perfect structural homestead for the machine music that inhabits its interior, whilst the Panoramabar upstairs hosts a painting by Turner prize winning German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans.

The labels latest venture, Shut Up And Dance! Updated, sees them consciously attempt to bring techno music closer to being accepted as a form of high art by creating a project that merges the music with a form of dance that has been part of the high art status quo for centuries ballet. The highly regarded Berlin Staatsballet are the chosen collaborators, and Ostgut have roped in an equally elite cast of producers to provide their soundtrack. me, Luciano, NSI (aka Tobias Freund and Max Loderbauer), Sleeparchive, and Luke Slater (as The 7th Plain) are the chosen few that were cherry picked to submit compositions, and all of the artists were given no instructions as to how the music should sound.

NSI open up the body of work with their effort, entitled “Bridge and Tunnel People”, which is possibly a comment on the suburban ballet fans travelling to the industrial locale of Berghain to sample the delights of the citys vibrant techno scene (read more about the phrase here). The track begins with a section of typical orchestral instruments; a delayed harp, looped string section and a cascading piano, slowly building in intensity until the sounds are enveloped by rumbling bass and chaotic synth stabs that usher in the beat. The fourteen and a half minute piece continues to develop throughout, delicately segueing between and merging the sounds generally associated with both the techno and ballet worlds, and as such, is a perfect opening gambit for what is to come.

After the turbulent synergy of the opener, Sleeparchive contributes what is (as youd expect from him) the most resoundingly minimalist track of the five; conjuring up a slowed down techno track that works its way from low frequency throbs and buzzes to wonky high frequency synth loops, removing them a minute from the end to give the music a sense of spaciousness that is only amplified by the low tempo. Sleeparchives sparse ending provides the perfect ending to flow into the compilations centrepiece, mes seventeen minute long cosmic micro-houser “Fiori” (Italian for “flowers”). Foreboding arpeggios and subtle whooshing percussion set the tone, before other elements are slowly introduced to the mix. The rhythmic bassline gives some bounce to the delicate beats, and warm yet melancholic synths are washed over intermittently to provide some relief to the intensity that is only increased by the strengthening of the percussion just before the halfway point. As proved with Carl Craigs ubiquitous remix of Delia & Gavin on DFA, the 4×4 kick is a a very powerful tool when its employed midway through a track, but “Fiori” also demonstrates the efficacy of its removal; reintroducing the introductions ingredients now provide respite to the toughened middle section.

Lucianos contribution, “Drunken Ballet”, injects some much needed humour and light-hearted quirkiness to the aphotic productions that precede it. The usual organic swing that underpins his work is accompanied by an intertwining vocal (simply consisting of a male and female oohing and aahing) that gives it a childlike, yet strangely sexual feel. Things are neatly rounded off with Luke Slaters “Symphony for the Surrealists”, unconsciously continuing Lucianos theme of infancy with a lush, ambient introduction accompanied with bleeps and xylophones that bring a childs music box to mind. As the title suggests, its this track that has the most in common with traditional classical music in both structure and aesthetics, the typical orchestra being replaced with ebbing and flowing synthetic sounds. Slaters use of intermittent percussion, radio static, detached voices, and eerie electronics throughout the thirteen minute epic is astounding, and even though only the most adventurous after-hours DJs will be playing it, it definitely marks itself out as one of the best electronic tracks of the year so far.

At a time of the year where everyones looking to individual artists for 2007s top electronic album, this release definitely shouldnt be swept under the carpet. Its certainly very ironic that by collaborating with an organisation thats as exclusionary as the Staatsballet, Ostgut Ton have created a body of work that will appeal to a much wider range of people than the usual club-based techno album. Whilst it almost certainly wont be enough to make Berlins older ballet crowd journey back to Berghain for one of their usual debauched parties, if it makes a few of the more open minded classicist and rockist listeners think differently about techno, then its done its job. One things for sure, itll make a lot of electronic music fans very happy indeed.

Ostgut Tontrger / ostgut CD03
[Listen]
[Richard Carnes]


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