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
[Ian Mathers]

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 similarit 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 progressionafter all, the template is basically the same concoction of deep, muted, echoing chords, subsonic bass lines, compressed hi-hats, and lots of tape hissand 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 ones appreciation deepens. The devil may be in the details, but so are the thrills.

Detroit native Rod “Deepchord” Modellhe and Chicagoan Steven “Soultek” Hitchell are partners in Echospace, also a labelhas 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 atmospheredownright 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]

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
[Richard Carnes]

May 7, 2007

Pepe Bradock - Rhapsody in Pain


Deeply deranged. This word pair keeps frothing up as I reach for the adequate descriptors for Pepe Bradocks musical worlda comparison with (pre-Napoleon complex) Herbert/Wishmountain might get you partway there, but theres something uniquely subversive about Bradocks collisions of atmospheric musique concrete and sweet (but not sugary) deep house. The covers of both his classic Burning EP and the later Intrusion set the scenerepetitions of disturbing mannequins, mannered yet monstrous.

But of all of Bradocks oddball curveballs, this has to be the strangest and curliest. The fact that its called Rhapsody in Pain should help you realizewe are most definitely not in Kansas anymore. The track (I hesitate to call it a track) is ostensibly a wonky house number that might warm the cockles of a Metaboman or Lump fans heart, exceptits urged along by looped choruses of people screaming. Not the screams of tortured souls, more like camping zombies being bitten by fire ants. Youre not going to have a lukewarm reaction to this compositionI love it, but that might be a reflection of my overdeveloped sense of the ridiculous. Im so happy people are making fearlessly individual, expressive music like this, experimenting with the idiom of groove to make something perverted, pervertingyet still funky. Deeply deranged, and funky. Or otherwise, you might say (as my partner did) What is this monged rubbish?

Atavisme / ATA 007
[Peter Chambers]

April 23, 2007

Baby Oliver - Primetime (Uptown Express)


Ever since the T.E.E. departed from Dusseldorf in ‘77 (final destination Tokyo, making all local and trans-galactic stops), hymns in praise of rail-based transport have been all the rage for techno artists. From the “Disco Train” to the Last Train to Lhasa, the railway serves nicely as a metaphor of convenience for electronic dance music and its slowly-chugging agenda. Baby Oliver, newly signed to Jersey’s finest label Environ, maps out their program of disco-derived deviance with “Primetime,” an ode to the A & C trains of the NYC subway system. Crisp, mm-bopping synths cycle around a chunky bassline and we’re told we “will never feel pain again.” Clubkids familiar with the sweaty, ecstatic comedown on an empty early-morning plastic bench will recognize. Flip “Hypochondriac” is peak-time crack though, offering its cheeky lovers’ rebuttal (”You think you’re sick of me / But you’re a hypochondriac”) over a thick-ass kick drum and sharp, high-pitched stabs before breaking out the fuzzy electro football pads in the second half. And it ain’t no powder puff game, lemme tell ya.

Environ / ENV 027
[Listen / Buy]
[Mallory ODonnell]

January 19, 2007

YMO - Solid State Survivor

YMO (aka Yellow Magic Orchestra) have always been blocked into history as the Duplo to Kraftwerks Technicsthe Technicolor toy version of the Kling Klangs more adult, high-minded man-machine constructions. A glancing listen to Solid State Survivor might do little to remedy that impression, with the first two tracks sounding for all the world like the theme tune for a second-rate 70s anime. But listen closer, listen againthe whimsical surface belies undeniable pop smarts and a keen ear for song craft that beavers away at your humorless notion and leaves you realizing that, far from being some second-rate kitsch mensch-maschine thieves, youre actually hearing the coming out of one of the most innovative, playful groups in technos history.

Yes, techno, thats right. Although it might be a mistake to say that any individual invented techno (Id give the title to the quiet hands of Roland Corp. or Leo Theremin), but if you do subscribe to a musician inventor theory, youd have to say that YMO may well deserve the title1983 might have been the year of Kraftwerks unreleased Techno Pop album and YMOs Technodelic, but the word finds an earlier home as Technopolis, the fourth track on Solid State Survivor, a track that is itself already fully fledged techno, albeit in pop form.

Not only does Solid State Survivor constitute a landmark in the emergence of techno, but the album itself is a joyously, sweetly disrespectful romp through its various frames of reference. In a recent interview, Uwe Schmidt, whose most recent Seor Coconut album Yellow Fever re-worked the trios classic materials into his vision of electro latino, explained that for him, YMO were far more important than Kraftwerk, simply because of their willingness to leap whole genres in a single bound and gather the ecstatic treasure in trash with as much reverence as youd give to Bach. Solid State is bursting with enthusiastic genre-bending and stylistic pastiches that borrow as heavily from advertising jingles as enka.

Technopolis sounds like the promotional music from Expo 1980 or any number of incidental tunes still doing the rounds on NHK. Absolute Ego Dancer is a fully-fledged bubblegum techno rocket and the high point of the sugar rush. But its the moodier numbers such as the pop ambient Castalia (emphatically Sakamotos song, judging by the mood) and the mixed weather of Behind the Mask (later covered by Eric Clapton) as well as a hilarious, bent cover of the Beatles Day Tripper which really amaze. In the space of less than 35 minutes and only eight tracks, YMO nailed out a hyperactive manifesto whose garish reverberations can be heard across the poptronic spectrum, from Devo, through Daft Punk, Mouse on Mars, and right up to the more boisterous moments of microhouse.

[Peter Chambers]

December 1, 2006

Substance & Vainqueur - Surface / Immersion


Colin James Nagy: In terms of sound and style, there’s nothing particularly new or groundbreaking here, and that’s fine by me. The tried-and-true formula of Basic Channel-style dub techno doesn’t get old to these ears, and this instalment on Scion-seen as a successor to the Chain Reaction imprint-consists of two impossibly deep constructions created from a restricted palate of sounds. Per the style of the sub-genre, there are no clearly defined tones (i.e. discernible hi-hat) in the sound field, but rather everything is blurred together in a wet, spinning haze. “Surface” is the more up-tempo of the two tracks on the release, anchored by a deep, driving kick and space-echo drenched static clips and tones. On the flip, “Immersion” is absolutely essential. It is much more dynamic, building into a swirling crescendo with pointed, golden synth stabs and a bass line that keeps driving deeper and deeper then you thought it could possibly head.

Peter Chambers: There’s a rumbling about in the dubbier parts of the Berlin techno underground: first the See Mi Yah remixes, then the recent Monolake “Alaska Melting” reworks, and now this puppy. Are we witnessing the productive rebirth of Basic Channel, or perhaps even a new sound alliance between the deepest of minimal techno and the maturing dubstep sound? Ren Lwe and Peter Kuschnereit may still be preoccupied with “nothing much,” but what a wonderful “nothing much!” Ten years on, and nobody (except the rest of the Basic Channel crew) produces dub techno that sounds so beautiful, deep, and timeless. Working with the barest of palettes and the sharpest of ears, the duo have here managed to blend Vainquer’s sound (which tends to a liquidity, the sound equivalent of a pint of Guinness slowly developing on the bar) and Substance’s clangier, mineral/metallic tone palette. The audible result is another two pieces of time-and-space conquering heaven, the very essence of techno stripped of all its tinsel and glowsticks. Amazing, once again.

Surface / Immersion
Scion / SV 01


October 20, 2006

Charts: October 20 2006

Mallory ODonnell
My My - Songs for the Gentle [Playhouse]
Trentemoller - The Last Resort [Poker Flat]
Tussle - Telescope Mind [Smalltown Supersound]
Lil Louis - Blackout Phase 3 [Mathematics]
Hot Chip - Colours (Fred Falke Remix) [Astralwerks]
Lindstrom & Prins Thomas - Tempo Tempo [Eskimo]
Tony Allen - Moyege (Mark’s Disco Dub) [Honest Jon’s]
Brennan Green - Divisadero [Modal]

Ronan Fitzgerald
And Again - To The Moles and the Masses [Sender]
Heckmann and Kaufelt - Kookaburra (Knarz Mix) [AFU-Ltd]
Alland Byallo - Buckets [Liebe Detail]
Pascal Feos - Timeless [Synaptic]
Reynold - Over There (Donato Dozzy Mix) [Montrose]
My My Moneybowl [Aus Records]
Alexis Tyrell - Rebecca Loos [Weave Music]
Daniela Stickroth - Ghost In The Attic (Dan Berkson and James What Mix) [Meerestief]
Chaton - Prcis 2 [Plak]
Shonky - Solar [Substatic]

Todd Hutlock
Ric Y Martin - Sini Est [Perlon]
Andrew Weatherall - Edie Eleven [Rotters Golf Club]
Tony Allen - Moyege (Marks Disco Dub) [Honest Jons]
Matthew Dear - Dog Days (Pantytec Interpretation) [Spectral Sound]
Six Cups of Rebel - Arp She Said [Feedelity]
Plastikman - Plink Plonk [Minus]
Terrance Dixon - Minimalism [Utensil]
The Infiltrator - Im In [Underground Resistance]
Renegade Soundwave - Space Gladiator (Dub) [Mute]
Shane Berry - Fillertet 2 (Gabriel Ananda Remix) [Trapez LTD]

Michael F. Gill
Was A Bee - On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever) [Schema]
Jesse Rose feat. Solid Groove & Jamie Anderson - Nice & Slow [Front Room Recordings]
Citizen Kain - Above The Influence (Oliver Koletzki Remix) [Regular]
Logistics - Call Me Back [Hospital]
Lady Saw - Sweetest [Soul Jazz]
Breeze - Get Back [Heartbeat]
Underground Resistance feat. Yolanda - Your Time Is Up [Underground Resistance]
Minimal Vision - Vertigo [Vibraphone]
Raven feat. Jocelyn Brown - So In Love [Silver Cloud]
Convertion - All I Want Is You [Sam Records]

October 13, 2006

Metope - Kobox

In my opinion, Metope was always the least interesting artist on Areal. His tracks, while possessing the same Machinedrum and Nord barbarity as his label mates, never contained any satisfying melodic shapes or rhythmic structures, repeated too much and developed too little but hey, he runs Areal and gave Ada her break, so maybe I should do him the same favor. Sleeparchive has swarmed all over the originallike all his own recent productions, this mix is a fuzzfest, full of air and static. Increasingly, his techno seems to be utilizing distortion as a constant presence, like a sitars javari or a shamisens sawari. Theres something magical in his subtle understanding of drum machines and their resonances, and this cut, whilst hardly in dialogue with Metope, shows why he has a closer affinity than almost anyone else with his own circuits: he seems to be able to faithfully translate what the machines themselves want to say but cant. Adas mix displays her usual gift for melody and structureshe takes his track and turns it into a song. After all the intimations on her amazing Blondie album, I think its time for Ada to come right out of the pop closet and make a fully blown pop album. Basteroids contribution here is a real disappointment. Far from the tech-electroid perfection of Against Luftweiderstand or the fist-pumping rushes of Sympathy for Disruption or Sonnenbrilliant, this mix noodles around without focus, looping irritating sounds into an ungainly, annoying hodge-podge.

Areal / Areal039
[Peter Chambers]

September 22, 2006

Marek Bois - Mampe Halb / Halb

Freud thought that repetitions were caused by a failure to remember. In a sense, thats also true of machine music: too many mnml kids these days are failing to remember, and are possessed by the urge to repeat, repeat, repeat something they cant let go of. Marek (Dapayk) Bois Mampe Halb is a symptom of this kind of sufferingand youll be feeling it too if you listen to these tracks outside their functional context. Both on my home system (with a subwoofer), my good headphones, and the tinny earbuds I use at the gym these tracks speak loudly of an inability to remember that compression is no substitute for songwriting. Remember songwriting? Remember songwriting? The title track at least has a good hook, but once introduced (after three minutes of static drum programming) it just goes round and round, like the shred-head in the apartment next door whos still trying to master that one Sabbath riff. Sutskop could easily find its way chopped, looped, and re-constructed in a Magda set, but as a finished piece it lacks color and character of its own. Schnelle likewise could easily prove a useful tool, but like everything here, its too repetitive, and not at all memorable.

Rryglar / RRY07
[Peter Chambers]

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