The Month In Electronic Music: Everything & The Kitchen Sink
, July 19th, 2012 08:11
In this month's Hyperspecific, Rory Gibb takes you through kitchen sink techno, junglist house and VHS-saturated noise
Thanks to illness and mid-year list plannings, this edition of Hyperspecific arrives late, so the premise is simple. A bumper collection of reviews, charting some great dance music that's been released over the last six weeks or so, and a few still to come. All of these are worth your attention.
Bandshell - HES021
Speaking to Oli Marlow for the Quietus' Sonic Router column a few weeks ago, Hessle Audio's near-unknown new signing Bandshell claimed never to have been clubbing, save a trip to see Daft Punk in around 2007. Where in the hands of other producers that statement might seem a tad hyperbolic - especially for someone who's just signed to one of the UK's most respected club music labels - the hermetic depths of his debut EP suggest that he may well be speaking the truth. I'm reminded of Leipzig's man of many names Gunnar Wendel, as well as Peverelist, the Young Echo crew and the early music of Actress, especially during the grubby kitchen sink drama of third track 'Metzger', whose brief gasps of static and clattering crockery percussion swirl briskly around a loopy core melody. Like the latter's Hazyville, it offers a British-sounding take on the brusquely psychedelic Detroit house of Shake, Marcellus Pittman and Omar-S. But where that album was sunk so deep into the recesses of skunk paranoia that you could practically see the bugs crawling down the walls, Bandshell brings a skippy lightness to proceedings that prevents it becoming bogged down in its own troubled psyche.
The same mix of playfulness and intrigue extends to the track titles on display here, which combine evocative imagery with a determined streak of the mundane. Appropriately, the most directly keyed in to UK club trends is 'Rise 'Em', whose title is presumably a phonetic nod to 'rhizome', a term appropriated from plant biology by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, and which has wriggled its way into the critical lexicon surrounding dance music subcultures. Its four minutes of off-kilter techno prowl in a similar way to recent music by Perc and Kowton, though it sounds like it's evolved under a removed set of conditions from its closest cousins. It's hard to imagine many of these tracks getting much play on a dancefloor - 'Dust March' is as forbidding and desert-dry as its title suggests - but given their tangential genesis that seems scarcely the point. The trio who run the Hessle Audio label seem to have sensed that they can now use the leverage they've gained through hard work, excellent DJing and clever curation, in order to showcase music that would normally never find its way anywhere near most club DJs' bags.
Champion - Crystal Meth
Fast, rushy, rough enough to twist bodies into horrible shapes: seldom has a track been so aptly named as 'Crystal Meth'. Champion's debut for Butterz is the London funky figurehead's brusquest transmission to date, mainlining into the central nervous system in less time than it takes to ask: 'is this actually house, or just grime at 130?' The question is largely academic anyway. The initial rush of energy that propelled funky out from the underground may have abated, but its essence remains the same - grime's raw sucker punch, softened by fluid runs of percussion and bounding syncopations that hint towards a wider global urban house diaspora. Indeed, Champion's most distinctive feature is his approach to rhythm, where both kicks and snares land in unexpected places. In 'Crystal Meth', that elasticity whips to the surface, bubbling upward into a series of harsh robotic snarls. Nauseatingly tense B-side 'Speed' almost entirely eschews low-end punch, only resolved two-thirds of the way through when it passes through a sheet of synth to transform, momentarily, into a skanking dub track.
Kowton - Des Bisous
Alex Coulton - Bounce EP
Like many others, the Livity Sound trio of Kowton, Peverelist and Asusu emerged, blinking, from the ashes of the dubstep scene, before feeling for new directions in which to channel their collective muse. What marks them out as distinct from the vast majority of their contemporaries is that they haven't forgotten to keep the 'dub' element intact. In fact, it's the very cornerstone of their music. Lying at the roots of what they do, sound system culture and bassweight form a sticky tar that clogs the gears of the house and techno structures they knead into it. That's evident in their productions, their live set - where one member is always at hand on the mixing desk, effecting tracks on the fly - and their plans to release a CD album containing dub versions of the music the label has released so far.
The B-side of Kowton's latest 12", a version of the A-side simply titled 'Dub Bisous', offers a glimpse of how exciting the results can be. Like the original, whose grimey strings and sub-low wallop suggest an unholy matrimony of Loefah and Levon Vincent, it's raw to the point of raising blisters on speaker cones, but there's something still more elemental here. Where the original is evocative of urban territory, this conjures up a landscape flattened from horizon to horizon. Turned up loud, the bass is indistinct, the threatening promise of a thunderstorm sitting heavy in the near distance; the strings stretch out to near infinity, leaching into all sections of the mix. It's the most spectacular track Kowton's yet put his name to. Translated into English its title reads 'Dub Kisses', which seems somehow fitting.
Dnuos Ytivil (get it?) has just been minted with a 12" from Idle Hands/Horizontal Ground producer Alex Coulton. The label's aim is to showcase music in the Livity spirit, but not made by the original trio, and for this first one they've landed bang on the money. Coulton's 'Bounce' spits drum fragments like shrapnel, summoning an uneasy swarm of rhythmic artefacts to buzz in space above a lean steppers' rhythm. Peverelist's remix on the flip is by some ways the sparsest thing he's created to date, further sinking his music's inner mechanics into the recesses of the echo chamber: bulbous subs carry it along, anxiously, until a recognisable conga motif from the original joins the fray and ups the ante.
Ruff Draft - 'Lone Ranger' / 'The Shining'
A blistering bit of work, this, and something that seems to have been ignored in critical circles, perhaps because of its low-key release. The work of two well known producers collaborating incognito, Ruff Draft features a pair of tracks that roughly chop breakbeats into heaving broken house and dubstep. There are shades of jungle and D&B in the duo's deliciously disingenuous treatment of their source material, which gives the false impression of being sloppily assembled, when in actual fact it's pinpoint precise. That doesn't make it any less chaotic; the opening moments of 'Lone Ranger' create a false sense of security before abruptly flattening dancers in a deafening hail of metallic breaks, enough to stop most club floors dead in their tracks for a second. 'The Shining', label adorned only with an image of the dead-eyed girls from its filmic namesake, is faster, hinting at halfstep even within the frenzy unfolding around it, in the manner of Vex'd and other early Planet Mu/Tectonic material.
Joey Anderson - '3200 BC House Dancer'/'Join Her'
(Until My Heart Stops)
Various Artists - Earth Tones 3
"I'm doing such a favour to the listener, getting them to hear this guy," said New York house luminary Levon Vincent of his decision to include several of Joey Anderson's tracks in his excellent Fabric.63 mix earlier this year. A member of the city's loose collective that also includes the likes of Vincent himself and DJ Qu, Anderson has released a string of beguilingly strange deep house records. They share traits with his local contemporaries, in particular what Vincent, in the same interview, described as the "mysticism" of current New York house: an easy sense of funk, paired with a hard-to-place heaviness and atmospheric weight that presses in upon the listener.
In keeping with the spirit of the festival, which has strong connections with the NY crew, Freerotation residents Leif and Joe Ellis have minted their new label with a pair of cuts from Anderson that plumb the depths: 'Join Her' is a slowly unraveling vortex of a track, opening with just the muffled throb of a kickdrum before splaying outwards into a spluttering mesh of percussion and lazy chords. It doesn't go anywhere fast, and nor does its wonderfully titled A-side '3200 BC House Dancer', where a fiendishly catchy three note bassline and chattery woodblocks lead into threadbare melodies so lovely and feather-light it's a wonder they aren't scattered to the wind. On the latest volume of Soul People's Earth Tones series, Anderson's 'Track 3' does something markedly different - a slow and sensuous grind whose oppressive dub techno chords scream '3am'. The three tracks from other producers on the EP are nearly as good, though Black Jazz Consortium comes a close second with the characteristically languid 'Hypnothesis'.
The Sun God - Being Hieroglyphic
And while we're on the subject of house music mysticism... You tend to have a pretty good idea of what you're going to get with a new release from Jamal Moss (pictured at top), even before you drop the needle on the platter, but it's always startling just how dazzling its effects are. He's so continually inventive, even within his self-imposed textural bubble, that hearing each new Moss track is a little like hearing him for the first time again. Riffing on his Hieroglyphic Being moniker for the title of this new 12" as The Sun God, he turns his distinctive VHS-distorted melodies to the service of three tracks of focused, funky, sexy-as-all-hell techno.
With rhythms locked in place to the point that you could actually envisage mixing them (often a challenge, thanks to the free-flowing logic of many Moss tracks), Being Hieroglyphic frequently recalls the crisp and shimmering techno soul of early Detroit practitioners like Juan Atkins and Eddie Fowlkes. It's easy to imagine Moss hunched over a desk full of equipment, allowing these jams to play out with subtle modulation for hours, before sluicing out eight-minute long segments of each for release. That sense of free improvisation, of allowing the track itself to dictate Moss' path through it, is what ties him very directly to Sun Ra, a huge influence and his namesake for this project. The title track in particular is spectacular, led throughout by a thin, ping-ponging melody that, comet-like, acquires interplanetary detritus as it goes.
A Made Up Sound - Malfunctions
A Made Up Sound - Archive II
(Clone Basement Series)
As regular readers of this column might have noticed, Dave Huismans' music never fails to blow me away (one reason why it's always worthy of a mention here). His rhythms have become increasingly distinctive, always toying with the tension between rigidity and total fluidity. 'Malfunction (Despair)', taken from his debut 12" on Modeselektor's 50 Weapons label, is a case in point: a lone hi-hat sticks tight to the offbeat, while everything surrounding it is swung to the point of disarray. It's just enough to keep the whole thing in one piece, resulting in a virtuosic display of rhythm science that roils away beneath a freezing cold dusting of synth. Its twin sister 'Malfunction (Adjust)' has slightly better posture. Rather than slumping around in a melancholy haze, it bounces forward in a fashion that might seem sprightly, were its constituent components not so thoroughly caked with sweat and engine grease. Archive II, his second for Clone's well-named Basement Series, is more direct, with 'Hang Up' constructed around a dagger-sharp, Robert Hood-esque loop and piston pumping sub bass. It's devastating in its simplicity, but like Hood's material its ease on a dancefloor belies the sophistication of its construction: this is a well-tuned, well-oiled machine, all its components moving in perfect tandem.
Metasplice - Topographical Interference EP
The last eighteen months has seen no shortage of artists from the noise and post-noise scenes begin toying with more co-ordinated rhythms, and in doing so moving their distorted synth constructions towards the realms of the dancefloor. The more interesting have found the two meeting in the middle, with 12"s that hint either towards the direct-to-tape rawness of early house and techno, or are simply gutted by caustic squawks of static and high-end muck. A few such things have turned up via New York's L.I.E.S label - Svengalisghost's debut, for example - but recent releases through Rabih Beaini's Morphine label are a reminder that the latter have made forays into this fruitful middle ground for far longer than most.
The skeletal techno of Metasplice's Topographical Interference EP is the latest. The first thing you notice is its brilliant titles - things like 'Bohrium Slunk' and 'Thermite Jack', which suggest that these tracks are raw earth materials brought up from underground for closer examination. Indeed, they sound like freshly mined ore, their techno content yet to be fully extracted. The beats are present but they're impure and unrefined - surfaces are left abrasive, frequencies from across the spectrum bleed into one another, definition between individual elements is often hard to detect. There's always a risk with these kind of textures - scuzzy, assembled with analogue gear, alive with sci-fi radiophonics - that the music they drive ends up feeling rather anachronistic, a living fossil dug up from a past age. Like past Morphine releases, Metasplice avoid that trap thanks to their music's heavily psychedelic component: a little like label boss Morphosis' recent TEPCO Report 12", final track 'Laminate Resonan' restrains its aggression, doling it out in portions small enough so as not to obscure its overall drugged, hypnotic swagger.