The Month in Electronic Music: Cooly G & Cosmic Funk
, October 31st, 2011 09:49
Rory Gibb takes a journey through some of this month's choice club cuts, including new material from Hyperdub's Cooly G and DVA, an excellent album from Space Dimension Controller and the usual crop of Bristolian goodies
The Quietus office crash landed back in London last week after three days of hefty, lumbering guitars at Birmingham's Supersonic Festival. After witnessing Raster-Noton honchos Alva Noto and Byetone dealing the coup d'etat to an already demolished crowd on Sunday of the festival, some smooth and slinky club beats seemed like the best option. This edition features Cooly G's finest material yet, spacey galactic funk from Space Dimension Controller and a bracing set of techno remix 12"s from The Black Dog and Perc. Perfect to scour the last peelings of riff from our tired ear canals.
To accompany this month's column, this mix from Bristol's 'best kept secret', DJ duo The Kelly Twins comes as highly recommended listening. Recorded for Bass Music Blog, it gathers together strands from the city's current infatuation with house music with a bit of hip-hop, techno and other club stuff from around the globe. Stretching to over ninety minutes and featuring Hackman's stunning 'She's Smoking Miaow', it's easily the best free mix of the last month.
Cooly G - Landscapes/It's Serious [Hyperdub]
DVA - Madness feat. Victor Dupiaux/Polyphonic Dreams [Hyperdub]
These two upcoming 12"s on Hyperdub give some indication of where label boss Kode9's head is at right now, and point towards exciting new routes for London's bass music community. For a while now the overlapping region between genre-blurrers like Hype Williams and UK producers accustomed to working with functional club forms has been giving off promising signals. Hype's signing to Hyperdub earlier this year was in itself quite a telling move. Where both Cooly and Scratcha's earlier singles found them pigeonholed as UK funky, these two new 12"s find them occupying similarly liminal zones as Hype. DVA's 'Madness' has Dilla encoded in its DNA, a slice of low-slung cosmic hip-hop leagues from the greasy house of his Hyperdub debut 'Ganja'. On the flip, 'Polyphonic Dreams' is closer to his older tracks, but only in tempo. Its helter-skelter core melody is a shaky, half-corroded thing, as if someone accidentally spilt a beaker of sulphuric acid all over Scratcha's MIDI keyboard. They're both good, though neither quite have the 'what the fuck?' factor of a track like 2009's 'Jelly Roll'.
Cooly G's 12", though, is very special indeed. During 'Landscapes' (featuring Simbad) her already sultry sound unravels into sensuous semi-ambience. Percussion's still an integral component, but it's of secondary concern - all attention's on the interaction between her vocals and the background's cosmic synth radiation. More than UK funky, its rhythms recall broken house don Karizma; appropriate, given that B-side 'It's Serious' brings him in on collaborative duties. Its percussion is very much what you'd expect of the Baltimore man, shuffly and packed with incidental detail, but with the frantic edges pared away, presumably by Cooly herself. She's always been far more interesting than most of her contemporaries, but here she's set the bar higher once again. If she can continue the momentum from these tracks, next year's full-length might well be the best album Hyperdub have released since Burial.
Space Dimension Controller - Pathway to Tiraquon 6 [R&S]
Fancy a spot of celestial funk? What with Space Dimension Controller's name and preposterous titles (he's previously brought us such hits as '2EZ (Autopilot's Lament)' and Unidentified Flying Oscillator), his music's hardly going to be calling to mind earthly concerns. But it's still been a lot of fun to track his trajectory over the last eighteen months or so, to witness just how far out he's been heading. Back down at planetary level, Jack Hamill already proved himself a precocious talent with his 2009 debut 'The Love Quadrant' (still a track I revisit about once every three or four days) and last year's Temporary Thrillz EP on R&S. The latter was particularly brilliant - the gravitational pull of its house music core sucked in elements of funk, G-funk and disco, all shrouded in a thick atmosphere of saturated synth tones.
His full-length follow-up for the label Pathway To Tiraquon 6 heads even further into the void. The travel connotations of its title are well-justified. Admittedly, my experience of it has been in a rather more prosaic setting: the 9:52 Highbury & Islington to Stratford, rather than an interstellar spacecraft with course plotted toward Tiraquon 6. But in its easy forward drive and bleed between tracks, it does have something of the mood of a journey about it. Its longer, more club-friendly tracks borrow more heavily from classic Detroit textures than before, particularly on the lush techno of 'Usurper' and the Warp-ish 'Max Tiraquon'. They're punctuated by long beatless interludes, the sound of the music occasionally falling into weightlessness, as if sucked out of an airlock. And it's only during the stunning zero-gee disco of highlight 'Flight Of The Escape Vessels' when Hamill feels compelled to unleash one of the wriggling worm lead lines that pockmarked most of his earlier music. During its final minute one briefly appears, gracefully pirouetting in the distance before being lost to the interstellar murk. Hamill's most complete sounding statement so far, and one of the few dance full-lengths I've heard this year that works like a proper album, Tiraquon 6 bodes well for next year's upcoming sequel.
Perc - Wicker & Steel Remixes 1 & 2 [Perc Trax]
The Black Dog - Liber Chaos (Remixes) [Dust Science]
These remix packages complement each other perfectly, offering a great overview of some of the more exciting things currently going on in UK (and UK-associated) techno. Despite apparent similarities, these remixers – the likes of Sandwell District, Sigha and Perc - operate as distinct from the utilitarian force of much of the Berghain set. Instead they work moods and sounds more closely associated with industrial music into finely textured club tracks that strike an unsteady balance between meditative and savage. The two jump-off points for these remix 12"s are both excellent in themselves: The Black Dog's Liber series of records and Perc's aptly titled Wicker & Steel album. The former finds the long-running collective shifting towards dark but supremely funky dancefloor fare, and the latter's uniquely British vision evokes soot-caked mining towns and the moorland occult.
The first Perc remix 12” and The Black Dog's Liber Chaos share the same mood and many of the same names. Someone recently described to me the experience of seeing Sandwell District play live as "two hours of tunnel vision techno", and it's harder to come up with a better descriptor than that. Their remix is the highlight of Liber Chaos, all the light squeezed out and replaced by an omnipresent volcanic rumble. Pay close enough attention and its apparently featureless surfaces focus into sharper resolution; they're actually exquisitely detailed, rough like fine-grained sandpaper and just as subtly abrasive. Both Sigha remixes specialise in repetition with subtle modification, and Blawan's 'Black Chamber Order' furthers his transition from percussive dubstep experimenter to crumbly techno enthusiast. Perc and The Black Dog swap remixes: the rising melody that appears halfway through the latter's 'Gonkle' offers some unexpected warmth, where the former's 'Bass Mantra' adds furnace heat to burn the original's flesh away. In all cases the same tension that makes the best industrial music so thrilling - human warmth versus machine chill - is present, and effective.
The second Perc remix 12” is softer and slightly more fluid than the first. Walls' remix of 'Choice' is the only one to make use of the wonderfully downbeat Louise Wener monologue that opens Wicker & Steel. Where the rest of the remixers deal with percussion as hard and clean as pebbles, here the drums are allowed to blur into the rest of the track, to hazy effect. Broken20 label head TVO is an unusually versatile producer, a fact reflected in the inclusion of his two remixes of 'You Saw Me'. His 'Free Fife' version is drawn-out, icy drone, percussion only allowed to flicker across its surface; the 'Cherry Red' version is slow, funky techno in the vein of the Horizontal Ground label. Both versions are excellent, making for the strongest out of the three 12"s here.
Mosca - Wavey EP 
Leave it to Mosca to gift every genre he tackles with a rudely anarchic, very London sort of swagger. In the space of only four solo 12"s, he's taken on dubstep, hip-hop, funky, garage and bassline. With Wavey he's taken another stylistic divergence into streamlined, tightly syncopated techno. So it's to his credit that everything he's produced sounds like him, and no-one else. Certain signifiers are present throughout: a constant tangle between smoothness and grit, clearly influenced by turn-of-the-millennium two-step; percussion that crumples like a pissed tumble down a club staircase; hyped MC chatter that toasts the track then vanishes. In keeping with that spirit, Wavey is a million miles apart from a lot of modern techno, which demands you maintain your composure even with a headful of cheap stimulants: Mosca's take on the genre has lobbed back a couple of rums and taken a running dive onto the dancefloor. The four tracks here - very appropriately named after club tipples ('Jager'; 'Dom Perignon') - all sound battered, in a chaotic but ultimately benign way. If you were to accidentally step on 'Wray 'n' Neph's boxfresh Nikes, he'd probably square up, eye up, screwface; then pause, grin, and throw a sweaty arm round your shoulder.
October & Borai - Sticky Fingers/Left Out [brstl]
Asusu - Sister/Too Much Time Has Passed [Livity]
Vessel - Wax Dance EP [A Future Without]
And we finish with another edition of Bristol Corner, as has become customary for Hyperspecific by now. That's partly down to this writer's personal bias, but mostly because there are very few places in the world currently churning out such consistently excellent electronic music. Lately, as if to keep pace with the city's new adventures in house music, two new hand-stamped white label imprints have sprung up: Livity and brstl. The former's second release is from Asusu, whose earlier music remained engaged with the dubstep/techno axis circa-2008. 'Too Much Time Has Passed' stays in that zone - it's a lovely, spiraling dub track that recalls Appleblim & Peverelist's already seminal Skull Disco collab 'Circling'. 'Sister' is closer to the Bristol of now, matching swung percussion and a four-to-the-floor kick to reedy treble drones.
Brstl's opening salvo is of an excellent pedigree. It's associated with both Idle Hands and Immerse - two labels already very much involved in the Bristol scene as it stands - and its first release comes from October & Borai. October's activities anticipated the city's current vogue for house music - he's been producing beautiful, live-sounding analogue house and releasing it through his old label Caravan for several years - so it's fitting that he's starting to gain wider recognition for his music. These collaborations with Borai are both nicely aligned with Kowton's current experiments in stripping house to the bone. 'Left Out' is composed of little other than tightly swung percussion, the odd stammer of human voice and thick, loping chords that drag out across its surface. 'Sticky Fingers' is slower and lonelier, its stringy chords and thin melodic lines better suited to nocturnal wanderings than peak-time club floors. Both tracks are fantastic, and it's released on a strictly limited, no digital basis, so it's worth snapping one up quickly.
If you've listened to Vessel's excellent mix for the Quietus, you'll have some idea what to expect from his new digi-only EP on Throwing Snow's label. Seb Gainsborough is something of a musical magpie - in the interview accompanying his mix we talked equally about footwork, gabba and James Ferraro. Wax Dance, however, is still pitched in the direction of house, albeit that of the knackered variety. He doesn't DJ out very often, which shows. These five tracks often feel less concerned with typical clubwise horizontal development than the establishment and maintenance of atmosphere. In that they're roundly successful - something in Gainsborough's treatment of melody is very reminiscent of Philip Jeck's ability to wring great quantities of emotional matter from antique vinyl. Still, they could all coax serious movement out of a club crowd. 'Cuba' and 'Trapped Wave' are both glorious - how I imagine Jeck would sound if he made sunken disco rather than scuffed ambient. Stunning stuff. It's only a shame they're digital only, these gorgeous miniatures would sound sexy on wax.