couple of years ago, a paradigm shift occurred in the world of techno. Minimal techno and hard techno DJs reached an apogee of aggressive floor-pounding and stark rhythms; they exhausted the potential of mindfuck-minimal sounds in the scene of the warehouse. The scene itself was exhausted, and was beaten down on two fronts: by commercial-corporate-criminal inroads controlling much of the production of events (as well as drugs), as well as police quite literally beating down the participants of underground events (I remember quite well an outdoor party I threw in Vancouver, BC; the cops, shutting us down, told everyone to go to the “legal rave” being held at that time at UBC). A year or two passed—perhaps it was in 1995, or 1997, as it happened in pockets and sporadically—where the scene dedicated to “the underground” (whatever that is) grew bitter and cynical. Some went far out into performance art and politics; others gave it up altogether, and a few sold-out for the bucks as electronica hit the mainstream. But somehow, at some point, the techno scene came around to the house scene (as it always has, the two often being almost indistinguishable). Techno producers moved into experimental territory, either into microsound or minimal house-techno, what we, in 1998, called “tech-house.” Today, these same producers often produce both genres, mixing elements and production techniques of the two (Taylor Deupree comes to mind). The mood has shifted. Gone are the days of Richie Hawin-Jeff Mills style “Sickness” parties and relentless tribal speaker worship; instead we welcome the days of intellectual music festivals with a heavy dance component, choosing weed and alcohol over ecstasy and acid, getting down at events such as Mutek, Sonar, and DEMF.
Which leads us to this compilation on Telegraph, a sublabel of Logistic Records.
I have a confession to make: despite my theoretical supplements, and penchant for experimental music, I am primarily a beat-driven DJ. It’s in my blood and my roots and nothing, these days at least, nothing gets me down and grooving like solid minimal house that combines the warmth of funk with the stark groove and percussion of techno. Give me a shade of experimentalism, excellent spatialisation and production, and a catchy sample looped in linear sequences, and you’ve got me jacking. Life should be fun; this is not a guilty pleasure but an overt peepshow.
This compilation, as the press releases notes, is perhaps more than that: it’s a manifesto. It’s a statement of happiness that compliments the melancholy of contemporary experimental releases. And yet this collection of odd blips, beeps, sampled guitars, dub-influenced washes and drum kicks is not a bland collection of overtly-funked house tracks or hands-in-the-air anthems of any sort. It’s a journey through beat-driven music, which is a strange category indeed, an isthmus of creative production that has been continually co-opted by various commercial and mass forces hell-bent on turning every underground genre into advertising muzak or jar-head bump n’ grind grooves for the bar-star crowd.
No doubt minimal house will, one day, be the music of choice for college frat parties. Perhaps it already is, somewhere in Germany. However, and perhaps like hard techno, it has reached a point of experimentalism that is always going to require a little too much thinking or deep listening for the ass-pinching bar-wanker to appreciate. It’s either too intense or too weird. And in the meantime, we are once again at an apogee of music, a height of production technique and funk that resonates not only in the studio but in the global festival scene. With producers such as Ricardo Villalobos, Dimbiman aka Zip, Akufen, Cabanne, and Ben Nevile (to name a few on this comp) continuing to infuse funk with stripped beats in a diverse array of styles and techniques, and labels such as Telegraph supporting the distribution and arrangement of such music, I think we’re going to find ourselves riding this wave for quite some time to come. With veteran Detroit artists Daniel Bell and Robert Hood also on this compilation, it might even be said that we are riding a wave that, indeed, never broke in the mid’90s: in some ways, music production today has returned to themeatics of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that were shelved for a time during the warehouse-influenced days. Now that we have moved away from the warehouse and its associated hedonistic culture—a culture that many of us were a part of and that we watched self-destruct from the inside-out—and into the warmth of the club, but most predominantly, the new space of the multimedia art-gallery (often a gallery by day and dance hall by night, such as the SAT in Montreal), we are experiencing a renaissance of music that sees its spatial initiative as one that is warmer than the massive echoing distances that provoked classic warehouse tracks such as Daniel Bell’s “Losing Control” and Robert Hood’s Minimal Empire album. Both Detroit producers today, while still retaining their respective styles, have moved on to produce music that embraces a new stage of listening in these new spaces, as well, it might be noted, in the home-space of the dedicated headphone listener (a relatively new phenomena for this sort of dance music, I think, as it crosses over between the beats and the intellect, meshes the two, and questions their separation in the first place, a separation that is intricately tied into Western dichotomies surrounding the African cultural basis of this music, and historically programmed in metaphysics as the mind/body split).
Post Office is not just a collection of minimal house tracks, either. It goes through several moods, from the sample-laden quirky styles of ex-Punk and Montreal stalwart Akufen, to the stripped and fast techno rhythms of Robert Hood, who reminds us of the heartbeat of techno, to the post-funk (without any kick drum whatsoever) of the eclectic electronic-jam “Panic Patrol Blues” by Deperissement Progressif. Cabanne makes a strong appearance on the sonic manifesto, contributing the majority of tracks and showcasing his quirky, vocal-snippet style that is not afraid of funk, exploring ranges of clicks n’ bleeps with warm synth tones that speak to a meaningful amount of time spent in the studio satisfying the groove. This is especially noticed in the contrast between the minimal house beats of “D a w n” and the downtempo jam-funk of “Epik.” Weirdness pops up on this album in the form of two artists: Unknown Mysterioso, whose slow yet frontal kick preludes an almost industrial sequencing style, and Ark, who presents us with squidgy basslines that sound like 303 pisstakes, moving into broken-beats off the 4/4 that are refreshing while cartoon-synth-solos bop along over the mix. Other relative newcomers include Ultra Kurt, who runs the gamut with crackly yet cautious house-beats full of swing, and Vancouver’s Ben Nevile, whose emotional house track full of his own vocal samples, quietly fading in the background, captures in warm, blue and green hues the sun setting on the quaint capital of BC, Victoria. (Ben Nevile’s work is always impressive in its ability to conjure landscape imagery, which represents, in my mind, a semiotic component of the music in its ability to express a topos). Then there are the established European names: Chilean-German Ricardo Villalobos (as always) delivers an incredible track, “My Life Without a Wife,” which is one of the best things I have heard from his studio, full of his trademark basslines, strange pops and clicks linearily sequenced, and Perlon’s Zip aka Dimbiman cuts his classic “Do the Dimbi” for the comp. What also makes this compilation so listenable on CD is that otherwise long and repetitive DJ-tool tracks are cut down to a resonable size, and often quickly cut into the next track on the CD. The CD version, in this respect, features more work than the vinyl double-pack, which is designed with the DJs in mind.
So what do we have? A sonic manifesto, of sorts, dedicated to the underground but not refusing to engage in certain forms of pleasure; a representation of a paradigm shift; and a track-listing featuring some of the best minimal house and techno work happening today.
Reviewed by: tobias c. van Veen
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01