The Month's Electronic Music: Alive In The Sea Of Information
, February 28th, 2012 04:12
Hyperspecific spends time with some of February's best dance music. Rory Gibb is your correspondent
Now then, this is fun. In a piece at the end of last year about club music beginning to take embryonic shape within the wracked circuitry of the post-noise underground, I touched on the fact that many artists' forays into scuzzy dance music weren't yet fully mining the potential of that crossover space. However, the early part of this year has already been marked by a number of quite significant diversions from either side of the fence into that liminal zone. Many are featured below: Strategy on 100% Silk, Madteo, Laurel Halo as King Felix, Xosar. There and elsewhere, 2012 is beginning to warm up nicely. This edition also features more new 12"s from the Bristol engine room, some lovely, dusty techno from Claro Intelecto and new music from Berlin's techno experimentalist Shed.
Claro Intelecto - Second Blood [Delsin]
Madteo - Bugler Gold Pt. 1 [Hinge Finger]
Something funny's been going on in Manchester over the last couple of years, with first Andy Stott, then Pendle Coven's G.H, and now Claro Intelecto heading for none-more-knackered territories - not to mention the 'it's grim up North' rainy sample collages of Demdike Stare and Slant Azymuth. Arriving after the gurny immediacy of the Millie & Andrea records, you could be forgiven for presuming that someone at Modern Love's 2010 Christmas party spiked the kettle with barbiturates. To be fair though, the Second Blood EP might be slow and overcast but it doesn't sound anywhere near as wasted as Stott's recent records. It marks Claro's shift across to Delsin, in advance of a new full-length coming later in the spring, and beautifully stretches his dub-leaning techno across wider spaces. The static that courses through the title track's veins is closest to the mood of the ML crew's recent output, but elsewhere it's lighter: 'Heart' is more aqueous, delayed guitar chords ping-ponging across springy surface tension. In comparison to the rest of the EP, 'Voyeurism' sounds positively sprightly, bringing a bit of mouldy warehouse to your headphones. It would be nice to see someone actually making the effort to put on parties that focus on this stuff - if people came and got into the spirit of the thing, it would be like watching a crowd try to dance their way through a bog.
Madteo has released music through Workshop - another hotbed for this stuff - but last month he shifted to a UK label for the first release on Joy Orbison and Will Bankhead’s new outing Hinge Finger. The Bugler Gold Pt. 1 EP is in a fairly advanced state of decay but it still retains most of its structural integrity, like a mummy unearthed after several thousand years of slow dessication. The voices that whip across its surface have a similarly archaic feel, especially on the title track, whose half-formed ghost whispers are reminiscent of Shackleton's wordless incantations. Elsewhere, 'Scream Seq 2's baggy arpeggios are reminiscent of the paint-splattered-on-canvas approach of Actress, though where the latter's artworks feel deliberately messy, Madteo goes in for a more graceful end result. There's a danger that, given the net's capacity for breaking nascent sounds apart before they've even fully crystallised, this sort of slow, beaten-down house music will quickly become yet another sound to be appropriated and made generic. It's not happened yet though, and judging by these two we should remain content to wallow in the mud for at least a while longer.
Strategy - Boxy Music [100% Silk]
King Felix - Spring EP [Liberation Technologies]
Strategy's wonderfully titled Boxy Music EP is the most addictive thing 100% Silk have yet committed to wax. Paul Dickow's been exploring these spaces for years, releasing dance music drawing from Italo disco, funk and Kraftwerk as well as windswept, dubby noise for labels like Kranky since the first half of last decade. Here he’s in playful mode, swinging from the crumbly neo-Detroit techno of opener ‘Bolly Valve 2000’ to the well-named ‘Skanking Stabs’, whose reggae-ish off-beat pulses are accompanied by background synth chatter. The flickering central melody of ‘Starry Day’, meanwhile, is oddly reminiscent of grime’s virulent, hypercoloured computer game motifs, but recedes in and out of earshot around seas of delay. Closing rework 'Bolly Valve Reduction' is the highlight, sinking the original's percussion so deeply into the surrounding murk that only the kickdrum's thud, rippling as if through fluid, rings out from beneath the shifting sands of its surface. One of the most appealing aspects of dance music whose edges crumble like this is its mimicking of the sensory experience of dancing to four-to-the-floor music on a high volume club floor. It might not physically construct that environment around the listener, but it tickles your perceptions in much the same way.
In a similar vein, anyone wondering what Laurel Halo’s music would sound like if she bubbled the techno heart upward from beneath the surface of last year’s stunning Hour Logic EP ought to direct themselves to her new EP post-haste. Released under the alias King Felix (not so subtle, given that it was the title of her first EP), the Spring EP also opens up a new venture from Mute, the Liberation Technologies label. Though when I interviewed LibTech’s Daniel Miller and Paddy O’Neill they dismissed my suggestion that they chose it for that reason, the label’s name seems significant in that it could quite happily be describing the internet itself, and its empowering of a generation of new musicians with access to cheap and easily accessible tools. In combination with Laurel Halo it’s even more potent: for all that it harks to signifiers that aren’t particularly internetty – Drexciya, nineties R&S, footwork – her music is decidedly web-age, and the warmly utopian, bathing-in-a-stream-of-information serenity of her earlier releases remains very much the same here.
As well as the closing, beatless ‘FREAK’, Spring features three differing versions of the title track, riffs on a theme: a pair with juddering, diffuse rhythms that recall footwork and electro, and ‘SPRING2’, her stunning first foray into proper four-to-the-floor dance music. At only four minutes it’s painfully short, and all the more so given that its finest moment arrives during its final few seconds when the beat drops away and a human voice emerges, tentatively, from the surrounding mist. It's been clear for quite a while now, but Halo continues to cement her place as one of the most exciting electronic musicians of this decade so far - both in her ability to wring a great deal of emotion and sensitivity from her machines, and for the way she makes our current internet-naive world feel like an exquisite, temporary creature to be cherished, rather than a dark presence to fret over.
Xosar – Ghosthaus EP [Rush Hour]
As well as finally releasing last year's The Teac Life on vinyl this month, Legowelt crops up as the primary remixer on Xosar's Ghosthaus EP, where he offers his own takes on both the EP's original tracks. Xosar is something of a mystery, though she’s toured with Legowelt and her music channels something of the latter’s ‘haunted hardware’ feel. Both her originals on here are less club primed than last year’s Tropical Cruize EP: their percussion feels practically incidental, used as backdrops to a pair of minor key synth jams that land closer to the weightless techno-mutants of Laurel Halo and Stellar OM Source than anything you’d associate with early-hours house music. Seemingly aware of this, Legowelt keeps his interventions to a minimum, simply transforming each track in turn into sharper and more bristly club tracks. A beautifully spooky, beguilingly repetitive 12”.
Peverelist - Erosions/Salt Water [Livity Sound]
Alex Coulton - Brooklyn/Candy Flip [Idle Hands]
Keeping those Peverelisms well and truly intact, somehow Tom Ford manages to lend everything he makes the space-time stretching sensibilities of jungle, even as tempos continue to slow and gloop outward. He's among the true originals to have emerged from the scene surrounding dubstep. His characteristic traits - off-kilter, very repetitive melodies that weave back and forth around the core rhythm; open hi-hats and swung drums; bulbous soundsystem bass - all contribute to an overall sound that's very much his own. This first solo 12" for a while is no exception, though where his previous work only hinted, here he's fully surrendered to the techno bug. That said, it's still about as far from straight-up techno as it's possible to get. No, it's more like the genre disassembled right down to the nuts and bolts, scattered across the carpet, scrambled around and rebuilt in a slightly misshapen form (bringing to mind the old adage about mechanically-minded kids learning how a car works by ripping apart the motor and putting it back together again, much to their parents' dismay). It doesn't bang like techno but its ongoing momentum feels as inevitable as clockwork.
People in the past have spoken of Pev's tracks as being austere, as though their attention to rhythmic and textural detail somehow pushes them into the realms of the nerdy. That's not something I've ever taken from them - to these ears, his is among the most heartfelt of UK-rooted club music. 'Salt Water's rhythms are organic in the extreme, and combined with the sustained synth that sweeps giddily through the track at around the halfway mark, the result is a veritable symphony of granular emotion. Props, too, to the very British touch during its closing seconds of near-silence, where a theremin warbling ominously into the distance provides a lovely little BBC moment.
Livity Sound, the trio of Pev, Kowton and Asusu, recently played their debut live show at Bristol's Take Five Cafe - you can watch the video below. It bodes well for their future projects and the ongoing development of the Livity label, which so far has fostered a strong ethos of collaboration and co-operation between its three members. The film is by Tape Echo, the Bristolian site/collective/radio show/zine that over the last year or so has been keeping close tabs on ongoing developments there. It's very much worth a look, and their paper 'zine is cheap, beautiful and well worth a few quid. Check their website here.
The latest addition to Bristol's Idle Hands roster is Manchester's Alex Coulton. This 12" follows on from his recent material on All Caps, but where his Representations EP for that label was rather glossy, both 'Brooklyn' and 'Candy Flip' offer hardier treats. One of the risks of UK producers raised on drum 'n' bass or dubstep simply appropriating the sonic signifiers of US or European house is that they'll drop the wild energy of our own dancefloor history. Where Representations was a tad guilty of that, Coulton's tracks here, as well as a couple of others that have recently appeared in other peoples' sets, avoid that pitfall. Both carry themselves with the swagger of early Lil Silva or Ill Blu, all swooping subs and a bare minimum of melodic embellishment. However, they drop the distinct snare syncopations that quickly became ubiquitous in London's funky sound in favour of a relatively straightforward jacking house rhythm. The funky 'scene', such as it was a few years back, might have withered and fallen away, but its spirit is still channeled in rude health here. So there you go: Alex Coulton, the future of UK funky. Or, err, something like that.
Shed - The Praetorian/RQ-170 [50 Weapons]
Though he's never short of an alias, my favourite of Rene Pawlowitz's work tends to be released under his more exploratory Shed moniker. This 12", in advance of his upcoming third album through Modeselektor's 50 Weapons label, continues his ongoing evolution. He's never been afraid of leaving behind the dancefloor, but neither track on here is remotely interested in pandering to a crowd. Instead, on 'The Praetorian', a stiff rhythm is used as a frame around which to hang long, luxuriant sheets of synth. It sets up a space within which to operate, spins there gracefully for six minutes, then ebbs away.
What makes Pawlowitz's Shed music so appealing is its wish to broaden the parameters of ‘true techno music’. So he draws in sub-driven steppers' rhythms influenced by dub and UK sounds (jungle, dubstep), as well as distilling club tracks down until they become pure expressions of the original idea. Much of his work, too, harks back to the earlier days of rave, steeped in the sort of dewy-eyed melody and prickly background ambience you might expect to find on a British jungle or electronica record from the nineties. Such a synthetic approach to techno chimes neatly with a world where YouTube mines new channels through dance music history, stripped of easily traceable chronologies. Thanks to his resolute interest in the world of now, Shed does so without invoking the dread notion of shallow nostalgia. This 12"s second track, 'RQ-170', addresses these ideas as directly as usual - rattling along at near drum & bass tempo, its offbeat sub pulses are pure jungle, while nearer the surface their bouncy momentum is stalled by crumbling percussion and the ominous whirrs of collapsing heavy machinery. An intriguing preview for the new album, suggesting it may well be Shed's most wide-reaching to date.