September 9, 2007

The Week In Review: 2007, Weeks 33, 34, & 35

Beatzcast: Freestyle Essentials 01
Beatzcast: Freestyle Essentials 02
Beatzcast: Freestyle Essentials 03

Pikaya - Cambrium (Cadenza)
Genre: Minimal/Tech

Peter Chambers: This is not house so much as the ivy that clings to it.

Will Saul & Lee Jones - Hug the Scary
(Aus Music)
Genre: Minimal/Tech, Electro-House

Charts: August 23 2007

Gavin Mueller’s guide to Ghettotech

Future Loop Foundation - The Sea and the Sky (Louisiana Recordings)
Genre: House, Neo-Disco

Osborne - Outta Sight (Spectral Sound)
Genre: Acid, House

Nate DeYoung: If we’re heading into the last days of summer, then by all means let it be soundtracked by shimmering piano-house.

Brendon Moeller - Jazz Space (Third Ear)
Genre: Techno, Dub

False - False (M_nus)
Genre: Minimal/Deep

Andy Stott - Fear of Heights
(Modern Love)
Genre: Dub, Minimal/Deep

Peter Chambers: 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.

Tobias Thomas - Please Please Please (Kompakt)
Kaito - Contact to the Spirits (Kompakt)

Nina Phillips: Thomas is too busy crafting to see the dancers looking back at him from the floor. No wonder this was mixed live—in an empty dance club in Cologne.

V/A - Grand Cru 2007 (Connaisseur)
V/A - Rekids One (Rekids)

Nina Phillips: If you build bangers, they will come.

Wiley - Playtime Is Over
(Big Dada)

Chris Gaerig: Playtime Is Over proves that Wiley truly does run the grime game. Hell, he’s the only one left.

Arsenal - The Coming (Idjut Boys Mixes) (Play Out!)
Genre: Downtempo, Balearic

Beatzcast #47: Crambe Repetita

Deepchord Presents Echospace - The Coldest Season (Modern Love)
Genre: Dub, Techno

Todd Hutlock: 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.

September 7, 2007

Deepchord Presents Echospace - The Coldest Season


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
[Todd Hutlock]

August 28, 2007

Future Loop Foundation - The Sea and the Sky


The introduction of the operatic to the electronic is invariably a mixed moment. For Mark Barrott (aka Future Loop Foundation), this moment may tremble full of horns, strings, and soaring spirits, but it also shivers in the fear of past monsters, which the same arrangements of instruments and intentions often produce. Heaven and hell: think Moby. Think BT – late career BT. Are you inspired, or afraid?

Speaking of inspiration, the writer Paulo Coelho also seems to be a latent influence here, as there is something in Barrott’s music that strives to “overcome adversity”, “discover its true self”, and “become one with the infinite spirit,” all in the space of nine or so overblown minutes of symphonic dance. I remember a co-worker (who happened to be a BT fan) lending me a copy of Coelho’s The Alchemist. He kept badgering me: “What did you think? Didn’t you think it was wonderful?” I found myself at a loss. I thought it was one of the worst novels I’d ever read, but I also understood this as being in no small measure due to my hard kernel of cynicism and atheism, and I could also see just how much the book meant to him. “It was…good,” I said, “I think it taught me something new.”

Likewise with The Sea and the Sky: somebody’s going to get…something from all these swooshing strings and bombastic drum breaks. The original twists and builds to a rousing climax, like a sunburst (in extremely poor taste) that makes you think, “It’s coming, it’s coming!” Ashley Beedle’s remix re-structures matters within an epic house frame, offering patterns and repetitions that would make it the perfect incidental music for one of those highlight montages sports programs show during the Olympics. The Padded Cell remix dries things out a bit with a spare electro-disco re-slap, which, once the choir and the horns comes in, is the manic bearded other to Tolga Fidan’s depressive, clean-shaven horrorcore minimal. It’s actually not bad. Finally, TG’s “Angry Trucker Mix” offers up a very prog/minimal mix, replete with metallic tear-outs and a mids-heavy bass riff.

So, what can I say? Do you like BT? Do you like Paulo Coelho? Do you like your house painted in Wagnerian strings? Well then, maybe this one’s for you.

Louisiana Recordings / TAT 004V
[Peter Chambers]

March 14, 2007

Moonbeam - Eclipse / Sunshine

Triple R’s got a spy in Moscow, or at least a summer house. Yet Moonbeam, his latest Russian import, are a perfect fit for Traum, delivering two luminous tech-house tracks with sweetly detached melodies. Like their countrymen SCSI-9, everything here has been polished until it shines, so even the pulsing minor-key melody of “Eclipse” ends up with a stronger sense of wonder than melancholy. “Sunshine” is where it’s at though, showing its potency through a lulling synth loop that is effectively hypnotic, no matter how many sprightly prog-house melodies they throw on top of it.

Traum / TRAUM V82
[Michael F Gill]

February 16, 2007

Audision - Jetlag

A download-only release from Russian imprint Between Us, Audision returns with more dubby, brooding melancholia that sounds like an outtake from the first quarter of Michael Mayer’s Immer mix. While the original is best suited for a headphone listen or perhaps to create atmosphere early on in a set, the remix by Pablo Bolivar pushes things down further down the filtered-down, Basic Channel path to enlightenment, also adding a bit more swing and animated drum programming to make it slightly more floor friendly. Recommended.

Between Us / BTWN 07
[Colin James Nagy]

February 16, 2007

Beatzcast #19



01: Strangelets - Riot on Planet 10 (Blitz Gramsci Rmx)
02: Tracy Thorn - It’s All True (Martin Buttrich Remix)
03: Kalle-M - Glow with the Flow
04: Aril Brikkha - Berghain
05: Sian - Merman
06: Partial Arts - Trauermusik (Original Mix)
07: Lil Suzy - Take Me in Your Arms

December 15, 2006

Disco Down, H-Town (Part One)

Cities and “scenes,” like the human beings that (partly) make them up, are mottled, confused things. Houston is, of all the places I’ve lived, worked and played, the most jumbled and the most vibrant. The cultural makeup here is more diverse than any northeastern city, but laid out in striated patterns not dissimilar to its sprawling architectural limbs. (It’s like a thrashing monster with the downtown nexus as its heart.) Given very little other than crappy weather and a flat surface for its nature, nurture here has been given almost free reign. And, like the lack of zoning laws that allow cozy neighborhoods to reside in the shadow of huge apartment blocks, the action in H-Town is spread across an impossibly wide canvas—a club or bar with a dance event is as likely a tenant in any building or shopping mall as a seafood restaurant, lingerie shop, or the ever-ubiquitous tanning salon. Extend this pattern across more than 600 square miles, with a population (the fourth largest in the US) that has huge Mexican-American, African-American and Asian-American communities and, well… you get the picture.

I relocated here and have been here now for nearly three months (already?), and I hardly feel as though I’ve dipped a toe in the proverbial waters. But what I have found has been outstanding enough to excite my interest in plumbing the depths.

Of course, the most prominent scene in Houston (as your Aunt Judy could probably tell you by now) is the hip-hop one, which has gained enormous national attention in recent years. As a result, there are two kinds of specifically “dance music” events here—the ones that have a hip-hop element and the ones that don’t. Clubs such as the excellent, always free a38 have a loose “no hip-hop” policy and cater to those seeking a variety of house sounds. A number of regular events bring a classic retro feel—the requisite 80’s night, but also old-school garage and funk nights, classic hip-hop and disco-funk, etc. On the more eclectic tip, Rockbox! at the Proletariat (which also features possibly the most entertaining Karaoke night I’ve ever attended) and Danseparc at Numbers are the place to hear dancey rock, classic house, rap, old-school funk and disco—Sister Sledge rubbing up against Bowie and Kraftwerk, T.I. rapping over Metro Area while Justin brings the sexy back, etc. These type of freewheeling, anything goes events have become popular in most big cities of late, but there’s a real sense of looseness to the aesthetic in H-Town that keeps the events fun for the very mixed crowd they often draw.

The overwhelming virtue of Houston’s dance scene is one that can be found at any event: the casual, unpretentious attitude towards throwing a party that I’ve found sadly missing from too many clubs. There is very little focus placed on technique, a real off-center avoidance of the kind of “micro-scene” attitude to be found with many DJs, and almost no unnecessary stressing of “timeliness.” Unlike the been-there, done-that attitude of a lot of even the most eclectic parties in, say, the New York or DC area, people in the H, even the nebulous “hipsters,” don’t stress an overfamiliar 70’s disco cut or a played-out filter-house track (think Modjo’s “Lady”), an attitude I find deeply refreshing—in fact, it’s helped in many ways to cure me of my own eye-rolling habits (which, luckily don’t run that deep).

And, yes, that means in the last two months I’ve heard both “Losing My Edge” AND “House of Jealous Lovers,” and you know what? I was on the dancefloor for both of ‘em.

(To be continued…)

[Mallory O’Donnell]

September 15, 2006

Kid606 feat. Johnny P - Seaya Face and P.J. Body


MC Johnny P disses Jamaican women who keep their skin brown but bleach their faces to look “pretty,” but his message will likely to be lost on the dancefloor. Not that many THC-clogged minds would ponder our man’s critique of post-colonial fallout in the first place (the “P.J. body” is of black PM P.J. Patterson and the “Seaya face” is inspired by Caucasian PM Edward Seaga). Johnny’s baritone accent is so thick and rapidly spat in a typical raggacore fashion that most listeners will just nod along to. That being said, this is Kid606’s strongest excursion in dancehall. He delivers a faithful dubstep groove that tick-tocks to an ace Middle Eastern poly-rhythm and synth growls that resemble a lazer gun shooting blanks (I assure you that they got funk). The fact that this track is produced by the same mastermind behind the vandalistic Ma$e remix, “It’ll Take Millions in Plastic Surgery to Make Me Black” has left me a little mystified though.

Shockout / SHOCK12
[Cameron Macdonald]

July 14, 2006

Johannes Volk - The Mysteries of Tharsis Montes


Mission 6277 continues to be a brave imprint dedicated to exposing new talent, and thanks to label boss Jeff Mills’ belief in exposing the next generation of electronic composers, that trend should continue. Johannes Volk is the latest unknown to catch Mills’ golden ear, and based on his debut EP, there should be more to come. This vaguely Martian-themed five-tracker is chock full of deep chords, plucked-string synth sounds, skittering drum patterns, and lots and lots of atmosphere. You know, all the stuff you love about Jeff Mills records. The surprises come when, after the Mills-clone grooves of opener “Memories of the Astronaut,” the beats disappear altogether for the rest of the side. The flip returns to the Millsian Minimalism style, but one can already hear Mills himself using the ambient tracks as mix tools for his own beats. All props to Mills for being adventurous enough to release the Mission material at all, but if he keeps it up, he might just have to watch his back.

Mission 6277 / MISSION 11
[Todd Hutlock]

June 30, 2006

Sian - Gypsy Life EP

The gypsy and proud of it Spaniard takes his time letting these tracks pop—”Grixle” is two minutes on the same three loops, no heavy snare clicks—but goddamn do they pop when they do. If you’ve seen Mathew Jonson do a live set, it’s the same well-manicured paranoia, small sounds all around but a little reverb on the bassline goes a long way. Not crazy about “R U Aware,” which wants to be Kompakt Pop, but “Zeroid Flight” is fantastic neo-jack music, the progression straight out of Chicago 85 but the round faux-analog sound out of Basteroid’s sound bank. Rhymes with Zeroid, and you wonder why.

Karmarouge / KR 19
[Nick Sylvester]

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