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 Flügel’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]


July 3, 2007

Syncom Data - Beyond the Stars Remixes

200712"TechnoDub

It seems wrong to call Speedy J a stalwart, because that suggests the guy’s still making average records, despite being “hard at it” for more than a decade. If at times his production (however brilliant) goes a little bit off the hard/deep end for my delicate ears (I spook easily) - with an incredible live show and a few seminal albums behind him, you’d have to say the guy’s an innovator. And an undermentioned one. Maybe the problem with him, the reason why he never became a Craig or a Hawtin, was just that he’s singular - there’s something inimitable about his style that has deterred disciples, and his deep, textured, powerful music has remained a cul-de-sac or an appendix, albeit a beautiful one.

But when he pulls one out, he really pulls one out: this remix of Syncom Data is one of the most powerful, expressive, deep, and interesting tracks I’ve heard all year. Like some of the contributions on the Shut Up and Dance compilation as well as some of Monolake and T++’s more epic workouts, this is more freestyle/deepscape than techno pure and proper; their cylinders are too large, and there’s two much gas in them for this to be a bog-standard four-pot burner. Damn, it’s is just…fantastic (gush alert).

Oh yeah, and there’s two other remixes here too, which are both great in their own way, although not nearly as grand as the A. SD’s remix is much more digi-dub (similar to the Burialmix & ~scape sound), taking a melodica into delayed terrain with some heavy beats which move all the textures around. Meanwhile, Legowelt comes out with one of his best tracks of late, opting for something which (as always) is both steeped in his ‘85-’95 passions/influences and is in possession of an eccentric expressivity that’s solely his own. This one also goes bang around the two and a half minute mark, with a massive kick that puts the whole kaboodle into peaktime orbit.

Syncom Data Records / SD05
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


June 28, 2007

Studio - Life’s a Beach! (Remixes)

200712"Neo-DiscoBalearic

Along with Finland’s Uusi Fantasia and Sweden’s Bjorn Torske, Studio are one of the groups whose sounds and sympathies orbit the cosmos of Prins Thomas’ imagination of space/disco/dub. It’s “not disco” though, or not as we know it, but a form busted open by eccentric tastes and open ears. In a recent interview I did with Prins Thomas, he explained how the relative marginality of Scandanavia (and especially Norway) has kept things prised open, and open things prized. “On the one hand,” he explained, “I could have lived anywhere and made the music I do – but the isolation is important. I think that’s one of the reasons why there’s a lot of diversity here. We’re open to a lot of styles and it’s been an important part of generating our open approach…you have to work hard to please everybody when you play here – there’s no sub-genre nights or anything like that. You can’t afford to be a genre fascist in Oslo.”

Prins’ remix of “Life’s a Beach” opens with an appropriately stomp-paced cosmic bassline with all sorts of shifting Balearic textures thrown over it, slowly rising to full swing alongside spills of space delay. Then, at the five minute mark, by the strange and welcome intrusion of a very 8-bit sounding note, the track reaches its peak (which only sounds once!), after which the whole thing just drifts away on congas and beachy spume. Meanwhile, back at the disco, Todd Terje turns tables on the tracks, rendering “Beach” nocturnally capable with some chunkier percussion, altering the mood from giddy to “giddy up”. Terje likewise uses the same 8-bit note at almost exactly the same point in the track, then opts for the a similar long outro, re-done in a more late-evening fashion. Oddly similar, the two mixes here are sun and moon to each other. Ah, so much good music.

Information / INF 003
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


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 90’s techno has proved hard to shake from the everyman’s 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 Berlin’s Ostgut Ton label; an anomaly in today’s 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 label’s 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. Âme, 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 city’s 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 you’d 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. Sleeparchive’s sparse ending provides the perfect ending to flow into the compilation’s centrepiece, Âme’s 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 Craig’s ubiquitous remix of Delia & Gavin on DFA, the 4×4 kick is a a very powerful tool when it’s employed midway through a track, but “Fiori” also demonstrates the efficacy of its removal; reintroducing the introduction’s ingredients now provide respite to the toughened middle section.

Luciano’s 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 Slater’s “Symphony for the Surrealists”, unconsciously continuing Luciano’s theme of infancy with a lush, ambient introduction accompanied with bleeps and xylophones that bring a child’s music box to mind. As the title suggests, it’s 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. Slater’s 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 everyone’s looking to individual artists for 2007’s top electronic album, this release definitely shouldn’t be swept under the carpet. It’s certainly very ironic that by collaborating with an organisation that’s 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 won’t be enough to make Berlin’s 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 it’s done its job. One thing’s for sure, it’ll make a lot of electronic music fans very happy indeed.

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


May 3, 2007

In Flagranti - Intergalactic Bubblegum

I once read an interview where one of the In Flagranti dudes said he spends literally as much time as possible rooting through old junk at flea markets, thrift stores, and the like. It shows in all the ancient porn they use for their sleeves, and the vintage disco samples that so many of their singles are based around. Vocalist G. Rizo teams back up with the duo for “Intergalactic Bubblegum,” and she channels ESG ca. 3000 for her elastic, sci-fi raps. Based around Amii Stewart’s “Knock On Wood,” the sticky-sweet, bass-infused beat shuffles hard, with phasers at full blast. Chunks of broken robotic drums plunge from the sky, while ascending oscillations of synth carry her into orbit like a Cylon hooker on a mission to fuck.

The remaining two tracks carry the astronautical theme but aren’t quite as successful, seemingly directed more towards the bulky robots from ‘50s b-movies than the sexy, sleek replicants of the future. “EFX 10-11″ is an icy-cool raver whose bleeps, bloops, and hand-claps groove is too affected by its many starts and stops to really gain momentum. It also has what sounds like samples from an old-school instructional record, which I have a very low tolerance for after years of abuse by inferior DJs and producers. B-side “Bipolar” is a rather unremarkable exercise in Kraftwerk-styled italo synth grooves, and while it carries on for seven minutes, it leaves as smoothly and airily as it arrives. Stick to the title track (pun intended) and let’s hope In Flagranti have some more grooves and better b-sides planned for the year.

Codek / CRE 012
[Listen]
[Peter Lansky]


March 31, 2007

The Week In Review: 2007, Week 13

Faze Action - In The Trees (Juno)

Nick Sylvester: Especially with the crowd that space-disco’s drawing at the moment, you can’t go wrong re-releasing what in retrospect sounds like an accidentally seminal cut. Speaking of accidentally seminal cuts, don’t be surprised to find, as I did, the Carl Craig remix in otherwise aggravating neu-rave Franco-filter-metal sets happening in Lower East Sides near you.

Andy Stott - Handle with Care / See in Me 10” (Modern Love)

Lusine - Podgelism / Podgelism Select Remixes (Ghostly International)

40 Thieves - Point to the Joint (Smash Hit Music)


Tobias - Dial EP (Logistic)

Peter Chambers: In every way the sequel to Street Knowledge, Dial is the second part of a manifesto that lays out the unmistakable patterns of an incurable machine romance.

Mad Mike - Hi-Tech Dreams (Underground Resistance)

Patrice Bäumel - Just Electricty (Trapez)

Justus Köhncke - Justus Köhncke vs Prins Thomas (Kompakt)


Jacek Sienkiewicz - Good Night & Good Luck (Cocoon)

Michael F. Gill: As good as “Six Feet Above” and “Double Secret Life” were, “Goodnight & Good Luck” sounds like a breakout release, straddling high-clarity minimal techno with a set of winding trance-esque melodies a la Orbital.

2007 Winter Music Conference Coverage: Day Three, Night Three

Weekly Staff Charts
Beatzcast #25: Nativespeaker (Peter Chambers) - dysappearance


March 29, 2007

Jacek Sienkiewicz - Good Night & Good Luck

In comparison to his more introspective material on his own Recognition label, Jacek’s singles on Cocoon are usually more of a mainroom affair, and this one’s no exception. As good as “Six Feet Above” and “Double Secret Life” were, “Goodnight & Good Luck” sounds like a breakout release, straddling high-clarity minimal techno with a set of winding trance-esque melodies a la Orbital. “Good Luck” is the stunner: twelve minutes of pure sunrise techno, starting with high-pitched ping-ponging synth octaves, and adding in twinkling bells and warm drones half way in. “Good Night” is a bit more reminiscent of Donnacha Costello’s recent work, with crisp, dry bell sounds working an echoing lock-groove that eventually shows itself to be just as mesmerizing as its counterpart. Highly recommended.

Cocoon / COR0336
[Listen]
[Michael F. Gill]


March 27, 2007

Lusine - Podgelism / Podgelism Select Remixes

200712"CD/AlbumDowntempo • Ghostly International • Minimal/Deep

Seattle’s Jeff McIlwain has been cranking out quirkified electronic fare on Ghostly International since the label’s early days, and now they’ve set some interesting remixers (and Mr. Lusine himself, natch) loose on his back catalog to see what they can make of it, including such luminaries as Lawrence, Apparat, and Deru. That sounds like a great idea, and even if four of the mixes on the CD are from 2004’s Flat Remixes EP, the whole thing still flows pretty well, despite the Frankenstein nature of the remix album.

The three Lusine mixes are spread throughout the running order, adding a unified sound to the proceedings and helping to draw the connection between McIlwain’s lush sound sources and the disparate styles of the remixers. Even the 2004-vintage mixes sound fresh and inspired here, especially the reworks from Matthew Dear (funky, bubbling minimalism) and Dimbiman feat. Cabanne (funky, soulful percussionism). If you already own the Flat Remixes twelve, no problem either, as Ghostly has seen fit to release a “highlights” four-tracker on wax including four of the best new mixes, including Robag Wruhme’s ping-pong-in-orbit take on “The Stop” and John Tejada’s swinging tech-house update of “Make It Easy.” On one format or another, there’s a lot to love about Podgelism.

Ghostly International / GI-68 / GI-67
[Listen / Listen]
[Todd Hutlock]


March 16, 2007

Beatzcast #23

Mixes2007

Stylus editor Todd Burns presents a mini-mix of electronic music…

Tracklist
01: Junior Boys - Like a Child (Carl Craig Mix) [buy]
02: Efdemin - Acid Bells (Album Version) [buy]
03: Misstress Barbara - Jamais Moi Sans Toi (Original Mix) [buy]
04: Underground Resistance - Jupiter Jazz [buy]
05: Paul Ritch - Souba [buy]
06: Jurgen Paape - Fruity Loops 1 [buy]
07: Douglas Greed - Ille und Soeren [buy]
08: Patrice Baumel - Fantomas [buy]
09: Lindsay J and Sneak Thief - Open the Door (Truffle Club Mix) [buy]

Subscribe to the Beatzcast.


March 16, 2007

Charts: March 16 2007

Mallory O’Donnell
Propaganda - Duel / Jewel [ZTT]
Silver Convention - Mission to Venus [Midland International]
Visions of Tomorrow - Galaxy (Charles Webster Edit) [Past Due]
Cat Stevens - Was Dog A Doughnut? (Pilooski Edit) [Dirty]
D-Train - Keep On (Dub) [Prelude]
Depeche Mode - Enjoy the Silence (Hands & Feet Mix) [Mute]
40 Thieves - Point to the Joint (Electric Boogie Band Remix) [Smash Hit Music Co.]
Sascha Funke - Auf Aix [BPitch Control]
Junior Boys - Dead Horse EP [Domino]
Juan Atkins - Wax Trax! Mastermix Volume 1 [Wax Trax]

Michael F. Gill
Teena Marie - You’re All The Boogie I Need [Gordy/Motown]
Brass Construction – Movin (12” Mix) [United Artists]
Number One Ensemble – Back To Heaven [Radio Records]
June Evans – If Your Want My Lovin [H & H records]
Roundtree – Hit On You (Tony Humphries Dub) [Discfunction]
Afx - VBS.Redlof.B [Rephlex]
Moonbeam – Sunshine [Traum]
Each – Sunrise (Original Mix) [Out of Orbit Recordings]
Joachim Spieth – Connect [Paso Music]
Dub Taylor – Schmidt’s Cat / Schmidt’s Katze (Part 1) [Organic Domain]


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