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]


March 28, 2007

ULTRA Festival, Day Two (WMC, Day Three)

Our trip to Ultra for Day 2 was fraught with difficulty from the start- Ross was hanging some of his paintings for a show Sunday at Flavour in Coconut Grove, which is the kickoff for a new weekly party hosted by Miamis G-Unit/Shadyville DJ Epps, who rocks on The Beat 103.5. At any rate, the hanging of the show on Saturday morning took a great deal longer than anticipated, so we headed off to ULTRA @ around 5, after stormclouds began a-brewing. Walking to the event from about twelve blocks away (and through a pile of people queuing for the Miami Heat game), we had to seek refuge from the onslaught of pounding rain. The sky looked to be clearing, though, so we kept on through it and made it to Bicentennial Park with high hopes and slightly damp clothing.

We had no freaking idea. The downpour began almost immediately. I was keen on seeing DJ Hell and then Tiefschwarz, who were scheduled to rock the Amnesia Electro/Techno stage starting about that time (wed already missed Tiga, at least according to the schedule), so we headed right over there after skating through the V.I.P. (L.O.L.) entrance. Right as we got there, we felt the rain pick up and then saw everyone running away. Thats funny, we were thinking - where could they be running to in an open-air event? ANYWHERE, thats where. The intensity of the storm was unendurable, buckets of water pounding down on the masses until everyone had to seek some form of cover. Someone out there will be able to appreciate the irony in our source of refuge - the Carl Cox & friends tent. If everything was going according to schedule, Danny Tenaglia was playing. Whoever it was, for the twenty minutes or so that we could endure the oppressive, stifling atmosphere of thousands of bodies completely pressed against each other, the music was like a hard-house version of Nazi marching band tunes. I like feeling compelled to dance, but my hackles get raised when its seems like Im being ordered to. It looked something like this, although it really only approximates the painful crush of flesh:

Luckily, the rain slowed down, and though it took a long time to really go away (and even then, one couldnt be sure), the worst was over. Only a couple of the stages were covered, so most of them had some delay in their schedules to work out. With tarps covering the stage and equipment (including the massive speakers), the DJs at the Electro-Techno stage finally got cracking - the DnB and House stages quickly picked up ravers as well. In fact, the House stage seemed the most attended of the evening apart from the Main Stage - at least during David Guetta and DJ Dans sets.

A long stroll around the whole site left us both in awe - the attendees of Ultra, despite a million other parties going on in closed spaces with no danger of getting drenched, really stuck it out to wait for their favorites get behind the wheels of steel. Whether they were holding out for Paul Van Dyk, BT, Cox, Richie Hawtin or whoever, they raved and raved and raved. Some raved a bit too hard - the night turned ghastly for us when we saw a woman who was dancing next to the fence at the Amnesia event suddenly collapse. Her boyfriend attempted to revive her and not really getting anywhere, so we contacted the nearest staff person. By the time we returned, she was obviously shaken but had motor control, so we stepped back and hoped for the best. Luckily, amongst the thousands of people there, this was the only incident that gave us fright - most everyone else seemed to be at least nominally in control of the situation.

Still, as the approach to midnight began in earnest, we left, somewhat shaken but thankfully not bruised. The Heat were losing as we walked past the arena, watching with some amusement as traffic was diverted around the massive congestion of the game and festival area. Not to say we walked blithely past, knowing wed be dealing with it soon enough, but it felt good to come out of such intensity and see people who had absolutely no clue about the madness happening just a few hundred feet away. So we drove back to the beach in high hopes, looking forward to the party with Spank Rock and the Rub.

[Mallory O’Donnell]


March 2, 2007

Heartthrob - Baby Kate Remixes

Heartthrobs Baby Kate was something of a summer anthem last year after its pole-position appearance on the min2MAX compilation, and while it wasnt really all that memorable in and of itselfsome routine minimal beats, a deep, bending, two-note analog riff, a few stuttering noises and little elseit worked well in everyones sets and that sense of space is also what likely gives it such appeal as a remix. Theres so much room to roam here, so much that can be done with a track that is essentially nothing more than a half-dressed mannequin waiting for someone to come along and drape it in their own fashion. Which is exactly what happens here across seven remixes (including some of those pesky download only versions, which are really starting to boil the blood of we vinyl purists), as the remixers take turns making the cut sound like their own work.

Deep breath and were off. Magda plays it straight by simply rearranging and tweaking the riffs and noises a bit while keeping the same general pulse and tempo of the original in what could easily be mistaken for an alternate take by Heartthrob himself. M_nus newcomer Konrad Black adds some more noises (the ones Magda left out, perhaps?) and a bit more rhythmic percolation to the pot, while Troy Pierce dispenses with the main riff altogether in favor of the sort of noises that come out of a fax machine when youve accidentally dialed one on the phone. Even M_nus boss Richie Hawtin takes a crack heretwice. Hawtins Plastikman mix is a refreshing trip down memory lane to the days of Spastik and Krakpot that keeps things low, thumping, and repetitive, with a few tweaked stabs of the original riff to break the hypnosis. Hawtins other mix is under his long-dormant Robotman guise (remember Doo Da Doo? Aw, yeah!) which follows the same rhythmic template as the Plastikman version, but with a bit more funk to it, not to mention a hi-hat and other bits of sorta housey perc. Good to hear the old boy remixing again, even if the tracks sound nearly exactly like things he did a decade ago.

As for the non-M_nus guests, they provide the more interesting and original work here. Sasha Funke gives the rhythm track a much-needed seeing to while clipping the riff into an altogether more sprightly sounding thing, while Adam Beyer and Jesper Dahlbck up the tempo a bit and work the riff into a big, bouncy dancefloor monster with more energy than the other remixers combined. See what happens when your beat is more than a simple minimal thump in 4/4, kids?

Everything here is good if not great, but I definitely walked away wishing that more remixers with different styles had been invited to contribute, as a few of these versions tread pretty similar territory. What might, say, Audio Werner have done with these elements? Or Alan Braxe and Fred Falke? Or Radio Slave? Or, hell, the DFA? Even if they had failed miserably, the whole package would have been better served by a few more truly different takes. If youre gonna bother with seven mixes, you might as well mix things up a bit more than this.

M_nus / MINUS48
[Listen]
[Todd Hutlock]


February 23, 2007

Paco Osuna - Crazy

Barcelona DJ Paco Osuna makes his Plus 8 debut with this four tracker (and again, a fifth available if you download it from Beatportam I the only one who doesnt like that trend?) and the bouncing, layered minimal tech-house grooves fit the imprint nicely. The title track features a bunch of little ping-ponging analog bleeps and riffs that build in frequency and intensity nicely over the six and a half minutes, but the secret weapon is the sizzling, distorted hi-hat sound that he uses on the breakdowns. Alsound and Joakhim feature a more standard and more fucked up percussion pattern respectively, with the former being more of a trad banger and the latter being more of a funky workout thang.

Closer Sechamps sounds a lot like vintage Plus 8 stuff from the early 90s, but in a good way, and online bonus track Cretine is a slightly slower take on the same style. So all in all, another solid Plus 8 release, but whats really amazing to me is how Richie Hawtin manages to recruit all of these totally diverse artists for his label, then they turn out tracks that fall perfectly in line with the Plus 8 house style, even after more than 15 years. Neat trick, but no one else really does it and we techno fans do tend to be creatures of habit, so I cant complain. Whens Speedy J coming back?


Plus 8 / PLUS8093

[Listen]
[Todd Hutlock]


February 9, 2007

Tractile - Silent Movie

This four-tracker (five if you buy the download version) from Canadian duo Tractile perfectly encapsulates both what is so wonderful and what is so frustrating about Richie Hawtins M_nus imprint these days. On the one hand, the tracks are all tight, slightly funky minimalist workouts with clean and interesting sounds and fairly rocking rhythms. On the other hand, it doesnt really do much to distinguish itself from any other M_nus release of late. Theres certainly nothing wrong here, but there isnt that intangible magic that makes the best releases on M_nus the most individual ones (and vice-versa). So whats a fan to do? Keep buying these releases because they are technically sound and useful and just as good if not better than the other releases on the label? Dont bother with it because youve heard it all before, or at least some variation of it? I suppose the answer depends on many factors (collector scum status, bank balance, need to fill out a minimal DJ set), but with cookie-cutter releases like this, Hawtin is diluting his own talent pool. Silent Movie is perfectly good, solid minimal techno, make no mistakeif anything, it may be a little too perfectbut chances are youll discover it at the back of your crate in a few months and not remember a thing about what it sounded like.

M_nus / MINUS 46
[Listen]
[Todd Hutlock]


October 13, 2006

JPLS - Program

JPLS is midwesterner Jeremy Jacobs, and with this, his debut 12-inch, he drops three tracks of sparse, down-tempo percussion-based tracks in the mold of Minus boss Richie Hawtin. Two of the three tracks here (Program and Program 3, which sit together on the A-side) literally are nothing but percussion, reminiscent of Plastikmans Closer LP in style and composition. There is a dark edge, and with not even so much as a bassline to keep your attention, you really need to either be in the mood for the most minimal of minimalist tracks, or be ready to mix them with something else. Standing alone on the flip is Program 2 which takes twice as long to go pretty much the exact same placenowhere. I swear to God, I got up halfway through to flip the speed to 45 only to find it was already there. There are some interesting spatial things going on here to be sure, and if you like your minimal reallllly minimal, you might dig this, but it sure as shit aint for dancing around the house or anywhere else for that mattereven pitched up to plus 8.

Minus / MINUS44
[Listen]
[Todd Hutlock]


October 6, 2006

Interview: Nitzer Ebbs Bon Harris

From 1984 to 1995, U.K. duo Nitzer Ebb pioneered a unique sound that fused elements of techno, punk, and industrial into a ferocious string of singles and LPs. Through tracks like Murderous, Join in the Chant, Let Your Body Learn, Lightning Man, Getting Closer, and many others, Douglas McCarthy (vocals) and Bon Harris (drums, programming) spread relentless minimal menace to dancefloors worldwide, influencing the likes of Richie Hawtin, Darren Emerson, Sven Vth, DJ Hell, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, and countless others along the way. Now, a decade after calling it quits, Nitzer Ebb are back with a two-disc compilation (Body of Work), a new remix collection (Body Rework: Remixes), and a worldwide tour. Stylus editor Todd Hutlock caught up with Bon Harris recently to discuss the bands comeback, legacy, and future.

Stylus: So what happened to bring Nitzer Ebb back into the limelight? Last I had heard a few years back, you and [vocalist] Douglas [McCarthy] werent even speaking to each other.

Bon Harris: I think Douglas and I decided to stop doing work as Nitzer Ebb more than a decade ago because wed been together a long time and it was certainly an intense sort of band anyway. We wanted to go off and do our own things and taste life as individuals rather than as part of a band. We did very well over that decade, actuallyI went into production and worked with the likes of Marilyn Manson and Billy Corgan and so on, and Doug went off and became quite a successful commercial director and worked in film a bit. So weve had a long time apart from each other, but both of us really enjoy performing live, and we both had a sense that the time would perhaps come around when we would feel like working together again and that it would feel right. And basically that is what happened. People were always asking us, Will the Ebb ever get back together? and we just got asked so often that we finally talked about it and it went from there. It just felt like the right time and the right thing to do.

So the two of you have essentially patched things up now?

I would say that working together again on this tour has probably been some of the most fun weve had in the band since it first began. There was a period when we didnt talk to each other at all and did our own things, but weve been friends since school and I think it was just one of those things where we needed to cool off. Granted it was a long cooling-off period, but it was intense and that amount of time was necessary to offset the intensity of the work we had done. It seems to have worked, and were getting along really well.

One of the things that struck me when I was listening to Body of Work was how so many different acts took little things from the Nitzer Ebb sound and have cited you as an influence. Do you look back now and feel that you have a legacy?

We are aware that we have been influential in a lot of ways, but all that really stems from the fact that when we first created the tracks, we were really trying to do something special. We really did care about it and wanted to uphold a high standard of work and we were constantly searching to break barriers. There was always that thirst for uncovering more, pushing ourselves, and that meant that we did come up with some groundbreaking things. So I think we are aware of it and we are quite proud of it.

The other thing that struck me was how much of an evolution in sound there was from the early tracks to the later days. There are strings on tracks, you worked with George Clintonyou were all over the musical map more than people might realize.

Yes, and we were also always trying to do things that were more on the subtle side. I think there are little things going on during many of the tracks that people dont really appreciate even now. Its interesting that for all the amount of acceptance weve had and being cited as influential, I do think that in a lot of ways we are still quite misunderstood, even by people that really like us. There was always this whole thing where we were lumped in with what they call industrial music. When I listen to tracks like Lightning Man, I think to myself, Well, theres a synthesizer in there… but other than that, you tell me what else is industrial about that song? So as much as people did get it, theres still a lot that perhaps people dont get.

Even on the new remix album, Body Rework, its really something to see Derrick May on an album alongside The Hacker and Robag Wruhme, and that speaks to the diversity present in your sounds. Do you see a connection between Nitzer Ebb and the minimal dance music that is so in vogue today?

Well, someone like Richie Hawtin has been a champion of our music over the years, but hes also been a pretty groundbreaking chap himself. Those are the sort of people that you are proud to have been an influence ontheyve picked up the baton and taken things in all sorts of new directions. So I see that connection, in that there are inquiring minds and people that arent afraid of a challenge, especially in dance music because it can be a confined sort of thing to do.

Beyond the tour, will there be new recordings? Yeah, that was something we discussed as soon as we got together and agreed to do the tour, so we threw the door open on that way back. We said that if we enjoyed working together and its fun and everything then well do it. Doug and I have been getting along together really great and weve been working together on some new ideas. Hopefully well have some time near the end of this year to put something together. Were hoping to have something ready for the spring of 2007, perhaps. The whole thing has been like a stone rolling down a hill and gone so much better than anyone even thought it was going to be. And if the ball is rolling, you might as well roll with it.

What should audiences expect from the Nitzer Ebb live show in 2006?

Its a really stripped down, back-to-basics approach to doing things. When Doug and I discussed it, we decided to concentrate on our earlier era, with the mainly electronic tracks, and with the whole basic, minimal militaristic image that people seem to like. People have been telling us that it is everything it used to be but somehow even better with maturity or experience or whatever it is. People have told us that we havent lost any of the energy, and in fact it looks like we found more from somewhere. So you can expect it to be pretty loud and feisty, because thats the way we like it.

Body of Work and Body Rework: Remixes are out now in Europe on Mute; Body of Work is released in the United States on October 17. For more information and remaining tour dates, visit www.mute.com and www.nitzer-ebb.com.

[Todd Hutlock]


August 11, 2006

Interview: Amy Grill / Speaking In Code

Stylus and Beatz By the Pound are very excited to bring you an interview with sQuare Productions Amy Grill, director and producer of the upcoming techno documentary Speaking in Code.

So, Amy, youre making a movie about electronic music. Why?

Speaking in Code is a techno movie thats not really about techno. Its about people. It is a feature length character driven documentary that follows a global cast of underground electronic music writers, DJs, producers, and label heads as they survive and thrive in the digital age.

Within the indie electronic music community there are many compelling characters. By tracking these characters Speaking in Code discovers some very human truths about subculture, independence, DIY determination, risk, obsession, and eccentricity.

The music (and the minimal scene) is a colorful, captivating backdrop and binding force for several intersecting character driven storiesthe film has a narrative arc to it based on the life changes and exciting, even funny moments that happen over the course of the year and a half that we will have spent making the film and following these people.

There are a lot of electronic music documentaries out there that have attempted to do one of a few things: capture the spirit of rave culture, survey a specific genre of electronic music, engage the viewer in DJ worship and/or crazy laser light fascination, or make some kind of grand statement about the significance of electronic music, but this film is nothing like any of that.

We are interested in exploring personality, motivation, and getting beyond the surface-y, questions and answers. The film invites the viewer in to experience being thereat the club, in the studio, in a forest, climbing a hill on the way to see chalk mines, visiting moms in the suburbs, driving through a white-out snow storm, performing at a huge festival, entering the secret underground club or illegal party, and on and on. We have unprecedented access and we get very close with the main characters in the film.

We want to surprise people and perhaps change their minds about electronic music or at least open their minds and show them something they didnt expect. This movie isnt just for the techno heads, its for the hip old ladies who love character-driven art house documentaries too.

What about 2005/2006 strikes you as the right time for this sort of film?

A film like this could have been made 10 or 20 years ago and although some of the themes and characters would have a different tone and purposemany similarities would still exist.

There is something special about right now thoughfrom a big picture historical perspective we are seeing the effects of the digital age that make advanced communication and sound technology very accessible. This has strengthened the possibilities for independent music and subculture and our main characters are living proof.

From a more localized perspective on the minimal scene and our charactersover the last year or two minimal techno has arguably become the dominant sub-genre in techno and it has been fun to explore the personalities in the minimal scene and experience the musics rise in popularity vicariously through our characters. Of course, its difficult to even know what minimal really is: is it a sound, an aesthetic, a lifestyle, a hairstyle, a look, or all those things combined perhaps? Some of the characters cant even be described as minimal at all, but they are somehow minimal by association or connection to the minimal scene. Musings aside, I have to emphasize this is not the what is minimal techno? film. Im sure there is a DVD project like that on the way soon, but we arent the ones making it.

Where all have you traveled to get footage for the film?

Weve been all over: Montreal, San Francisco, New York, Boston (I live in Boston), Barcelona, Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Jena, Amsterdam, Miami

Most of the film has been shotwhat techno celebs can we expect in the final cut?

Well, weve shot 217 hours of footage since we began production in May of 2005 and we hope to cull all of that into a feature-length film, so I hesitate to list everyone at this point, but certainly you can expect to see a lot from these people:

Robert Henke aka Monolake (co-creator Ableton Live)
Modeselektor, Bpitch Control
Ellen Allien, Bpitch Control
Wighnomy Brothers, Freude-Am-Tanzen
Bryan Kasenic (minimal techno promoter in NY)
Jimmy Johnson (owner of Forced Exposure)
Philip Sherburne (writer, DJ)
David Day (Label Manager and Marketing Director at Forced Exposure, DJ, writer, promoter)
Mike Uzzi aka Smartypants, Unlocked Groove
Dan Paluska aka Six Million Dollar Dan, Unlocked Groove
Tobias Thomas, Kompakt
David Prince, M3 Summit

Interviews / Appearances (it remains to be seen whether or not all of these people will make the final cut and we have interviewed many more people not included in this list to help us round out the story):/p>

Akufen
Deadbeat
Apparat
Wolfgang Voigt
Michael Mayer
Reinhard Voigt
The MFA
James Holden
Superpitcher
Isolee
Luomo
Anja Schnieder
Richie Hawtin
The Juan Maclean

Any surprising anecdotes that you can share with us (Vitalic actually is a robot, etc.)?

Too many stories to even tell. The whole film is like one big surprising anecdote, but a surprising anecdote with a point. ;)

What kind of role has Philip Sherburne played?

Philip is a character in the movie, and as a co-producer he has been part tour guide, advisor, consultant, and friend throughout the entire process.

Tell me about financing something like thiswhat sources are you relying on to keep it going?

Plastic, lots of plastic (as in credit cards) and a handful of small private investors and a community of online supportersalthough we are nearing the end of our credit limits and this last Europe trip tapped most of the small investments. So we are now really relying on grassroots fundraising online and also an upcoming benefit/screening/art party/happening here in Boston on August 26 at the sQuareone studio space in Fort Point / South Boston (New Englands oldest and largest artist community). We want to stay away from corporate sponsorship, so we are hoping that people who want to see the film made will help us make it. Anyone can donate any amount on our websitewe are offering screen credit in the film for any donation of $50 or more. The grassroots efforts are to make the film mirror the DIY attitudes youll see in the documentary.

We are also seeking a film producer to help us cultivate prospective investors and help manage the business end of the filmand most importantly we are looking for investorsbig and small.

We need another 25K in the very immediate future to finish production in the fall (Camera and equipment rentals, bus/train/plane tickets, gas, tape stock, the Director of Photographys day rate) and also to purchase a G5 and enough drive storage (several terabytes) to be able to cut the film. We are currently hobbling along with my laptop and a few Lacie Hard Drives. We also need to be able to pay an assistant editor to log the tapes.

It isnt cheap making a filmespecially when the locations are all over the world even if we eat on the cheap and stay with friends when we can. And, now Scott (our Director of Photography) is paidhe volunteered for a full year, but it is important to start paying him. Fortunately the most expensive part of the production is out of the waywe can see the light at the end of the tunnelwe just need a little more funding to get through the last few months of production and post production.

By May 2007. Then begins the festival circuit and search for distribution. We would like to see the film get international and domestic theatrical distribution, some broadcast play abroad, and a DVD release toowith lots of extras for the collector type.

Related Links
sQuare Productions
Speaking in Code @ MySpace
Photos from Speaking in Codes Production
Contribute to sQuare Productions [Todd Burns]


July 28, 2006

Steve Bug - Bugnology 2

Poker Flat boss Steve Bug continues his series of Bugnology mixes with this second volume, picking up where the first left off. Each track have been edited and reconstructed on computers and, as such, the mix is spotless and the tracks fold together a lot cleaner than they otherwise might. This tactic leaves some listeners cold, but Bugs construction and pace is so damn good and chooses such great tracks, that it seems like an empty complaint. Highlights include tracks from Pan-Pot, John Tejada, Gui Boratto, and Carl Craigs already-classic remix of Theo Parrishs Falling Up. Fans of the flawless, minimal mixes by the likes of Richie Hawtin need look no further for their next fix.

Poker Flat / PFR CD 16
[Listen]

[Todd Hutlock]


July 14, 2006

Lemon8 - Model8

Reanimation1990s12"TechnoAcid

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]


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