The Month's Electronic Music: Freaky, Freaky Techno Is What I Like
, September 17th, 2012 06:58
This month's edition of our electronic music column delves deep into chest-bursting techno and full body ambient, via cassette tapes and tropical storm percussion. Words: Rory Gibb
Madteo - TTTree Low G. Tapes: Mad Dip Revue [Trilogy Tapes]
In spite of my best intentions, in recent months I appear to have been acquiring a cassette tape collection for the first time since I was a child, thanks largely to some excellent material by The Trilogy Tapes and Broken60. The slight faff of finding a decent player aside - I'm lucky enough to have a decent hi-fi cassette deck kicking around the house - I can see the appeal, especially when releasing music that lands somewhere in that awkward hinterland between DJ mix and actual artist release, like Madteo's Trilogy Tape does. It's too long and seamless - and perhaps a bit too strange - to release on vinyl, but it consists entirely of original material, a fact that would likely end up lost in an internet swamped daily with free-too-download material. So a cassette seems the perfect compromise.
Marshall McLuhan's iconic phrase "the medium is the message" fits here, too - Mad Dip Revue's mode of delivery makes a statement about the music it contains, which is cluttered with hiss, audio detritus and artefacts left over from its defiantly low-key, old-school, collage approach. Madteo operates where hip-hop methodologies - crate digging for old records to provide source material, cutting, pasting and looping; occasional appearances by MC Sensational - bleed into uneasy four-to-the-floor throb, suggesting some worn to the bone variety of techno. Here, they're turned into 20-odd minutes of brooding and often near-ambient house music whose basslines mumble and thrash distractedly.
Aaron Dilloway & Jason Lescalleet - Grapes & Snakes
Lee Gamble - Diversions 1994-1996
Bill Kouligas' PAN label is on a cracking run of form this year. It's been particularly exciting to find it becoming a major participant in a growing dialogue with labels like Subtext, Broken20 and Editions Mego, all of whom are crafting rhythm-driven electronic noise and frequency explorations that draw equally from club music, industrial and ambient. That shared space is giving rise to some of the most adventurous electronic music I've heard for quite some time.
Aaron Dilloway & Jason Lescalleet's new LP Grapes & Snakes, for example, is equal parts meditative and jarring, occasionally tearing without warning into screaming high frequencies or hacking coughs. The soft pulses and filter runs that course through the 20-minute A-side flirt with your own biological rhythms, producing a bodily engaging form of ambient music that beckons you to dance as much as it threatens to sweep you away in the slipstream. The B-side is harsher and a little like what you might imagine live urban infrastructure to sound like, were you to crack the city's surface: an ever-present rumble of fuzz in the background, creaks and echoes from darkened corners, the hum and crackle of electricity in junction boxes along a Tube line.
Lee Gamble's Diversions 1994-1996 EP, which trails a full-length to arrive later in the autumn, makes its club affiliations more explicit. It deals with British rave history in a manner similar, both in method and concept, to V/Vm's gargantuan The Death Of Rave or Mark Leckey's Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore: by using old dance records to construct a hazy stew of half-obscured samples through which recognisable motifs occasionally leer into earshot. Gamble built each of its two side-long tracks entirely out of samples from jungle cassette mixes, making Diversions a sort of mixtape of a mixtape, as well as an oblique love letter to pirate radio.
Although largely beatless, the resulting music burbles and splashes, stained various colours by E'd up whoops and dessicated hardcore riffs. The rush of cymbals and struck metal percussion opening the B-side suggests the steppers' momentum of jungle; later, a thrilling minute finds diced breaks and ping-ponging sub-bass bubbling upward through the mix. It's a hauntological document, in a manner of speaking - the text accompanying the release makes explicit references to the role of memory here, as did V/Vm's James Kirby in the manifesto accompanying The Death of Rave ("featuring all of the hits and many misses from the golden age of the Northern UK rave scene"). But where Kirby's work was suffused with melancholy, directly addressing the loss of the promise and collective identity of the pre-1994 rave scene, Gamble lacks such a clear agenda. There's a love and respect for his source material here, but it's not tainted by overt sadness for the fact that it's been lost to the past. The clue's in the title, Diversions 1994-1996, suggesting that this record is very much a personal document, a means of looking back at a music and culture that completely took over Gamble's life for an all-too-brief period of time.
Mark Fell - Sentielle Objectif Actualité
snd's Mark Fell has recently been making excursions onto the dancefloor, albeit in his own dizzying way, under the Sensate Focus banner. His full-length exploration of a similarly house-influenced sound palette, Sentielle Objectif Actualité, deserves more than the cursory mention I'm going to give it here. As well as featuring, impressively, a Mark Fell remix of a Mark Fell remix of a Mark Fell and Terre Thaemlitz track (how very meta), it's remarkable in its deconstruction of club tropes right down to the very molecular material they're composed of. These slivers of sound - including, according to the detailed notes accompanying the album, a single kick and a single clap from a Roland TR707 and a sample from Kerri Chandler's remix of Bassmental - are introduced to the ecology of the mix and allowed to interact. Silvery chords glance off one another, triggering off the transfer of kinetic energy elsewhere and sending kicks and claps flailing in all directions; though rather than pushed to abstracted levels of remove from physical reality, as on other Fell releases, they're put to the service of defined grooves. It's virtuosic and aurally sumptuous stuff.
Blawan - His He She & She EP
You know those cautionary tales you'd get told in drug education sessions at school, or in overwrought TV dramas, about that one kid who spiked himself so thoroughly with home-cooked speed and cheap psychedelics that he flung himself off a multi-storey? Since he forsook the spring-loaded dubstep mutants he first cooked up for Hessle Audio and R&S, Blawan's (pictured, top) modus operandi has been to extrapolate that guy's hideously boxed-in sense of self out into eight-minute long, tunnelvision club tracks. The results - which find him strapping 90s industrial techno onto a makeshift operating table before hacking away chunks at random with various rusted implements - aren't pretty. Truth be told, while impressive as artefacts, up to this point they've mostly felt more like backward steps, squashing the rhythmic intricacies of his earlier music into an earthtone mush.
His He She & She EP works because he abandons completely any residual concerns for the listener's welfare. The four tracks on here are utterly unforgiving, stomping slabs that don't build and drop, so much as lurch into view and lumber brutishly for the duration. Basslines, if they exist at all, land somewhere between anguished scream and predatory snarl; percussion clatters away in the gloom as if trapped inside a tiny wooden box; a mess of distortion courses through the core, mashing everything down into an indistinct, pulsating mess. Sometimes he tears so viciously into the music's fabric that only spare threads are left to hold things together. The experience is coarse, one-dimensional, thoroughly unpleasant - all the things which make it so peculiarly irresistible.
It helps, too, that Blawan's got a mean ear for a hook, and a knack for using it to disguise the grubbiness of the music surrounding him. At least two of the four tracks on His He She & She are built around snatches of rapped dialogue from The Fugees' 1996 single 'How Many Mics', lending them a slithery, earwormy quality. It's not exactly often you find yourself humming warehouse techno tracks hours, or even days, after you first heard them blasting from a sound system - though both 'His Money' and YouTube sensation 'Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage' (whose voice is slurred to that of a malignant drunkard, stood a few paces away from you at a bus stop in the early hours, issuing sinister threats from inside a can of Kestrel) are liable to lodge in the mind for weeks on end.
Hizatron & Bashley - Discharge EP
I'm not entirely sure what kind of discharge Nottingham's Hizatron and Bashley are referring to here, but whatever it is, I'll bet it's not pretty. Quietus scribe and Sonic Router editor Oli Marlow coined the term 'rude boy techno' to describe the music Wigflex have been quietly putting out into the world over the last few years, and to be honest, I'd struggle to better it. Hizatron's earlier releases were exquisitely strange and violently toxic things, cocktails of grim humour and queasy funk that made the club feel as though it had inverted 180 degrees around you: the bassline on 'Von Glooperstein' that turned itself inside out to expose its pulsing innards; the multi-tweak freak outs of 'Telescope Dope' that made having all the air crushed from your lungs feel like a privilege and a pleasure.
Discharge is no exception, except that Bashley's presence appears to have imposed at least some modicum of control over Hizatron's tendency to flip straight from idea to idea. So these tracks have a sort of narrative sense, even if that only means 'establish a groove and pound listeners with it for nearly ten minutes'. 'Discharge' is grotesque and brilliant, like James Holden's 'The Sky Is Pink' remix force-fed carbs and steroids until its biceps and pectoral muscles rip outward like John Hurt's chest in Alien; 'Baggah Peeds' is practically all sub-bass, save traces of clickety click percussion, placemarkers that just about manage to hold the unruly beast in check. Of course, their sullen refusal to pander to anyone else's idea of 'techno' or 'bass music' - plus their sheer, bloody minded rudeness - may well be sadly destined to scare off DJs (perhaps rightly) terrified of what they might do to their clean floors. "No hats no hoods chaps, come along now."
Mary Boyoi - Zooz EP
This first release from the Sud Electronic camp after a five year long break in operations (during which time they've put on some blistering parties in London, before decamping to Berlin) is a righteous package. Its lead track is 'Zooz' by South Sudanese singer and human rights activist Mary Boyoi, and was originally released on a 2009 compilation called Sudan Votes Music Hopes, which aimed to raise awareness of the importance of fair elections. The proceeds from this 12" release will go towards Boyoi's work in the region.
That the music itself is wall-to-wall great is unsurprising - this is Sud - but further sweetens the deal. Boyoi's original is as bizarre as it is infectious: a towering, house-tinged, synthetic string-driven pop song. It sets up a central theme and repeats throughout its length, with Boyoi's vocals chasing strings wildly up and down the register. Panoramabar resident and long-term Sud family member Tama Sumo retains the original's buoyant energy by dicing its chords into tiny fragments and scattering them across the track's surface. But it's Sud co-head Portable that delivers the decisive blow. His remix leaves only trace elements of the original intact, instead stretching it outward into a carnival of multi-layered, syncopated percussion, which crumbles to dust in its final minute.
Bass Clef - 'Dawn Chorus Pedal'/'You Don't Know Don't Know You'
What makes Bass Clef's music so exhilarating to listen to, regardless of the form he chooses to tackle (dubstep; misty-eyed rave tribute; Oneohtrix-style echojams; cosmic house), is the sense that he too is discovering things along with the listener. Each subsequent release is simply a new creature birthed from an ever-evolving, ongoing dialogue between one man and his machines. These two tracks feel like further explorations of the template he laid down with the stargazing house of this year's Reeling Skullways album. 'Dawn Chorus Pedal' is a tad more earthbound, though; a satisfyingly hefty kickdrum and bassline that puddles around the feet are burnished with lovely, sustained chords that sweep through the mix but aren't quite strong enough to lift the entire construct into orbit. In the same way as last year's 'Everyone I Know' from his Inner Space Break Free tape, 'You Don't Know Don't Know You' is rave nostalgia incarnate, those pleasant afterglow comedowns you used to experience before you overdid it once too often and they turned into brutal, shredding ordeals.
Joe - 'MB'/'Studio Power On'
Hessle Audio's Joe had already started to forsake dubstep tempos for slower and stranger climes by the time of last year's 116 & Rising compilation, whose highlight was the jazz-freakout-in-a-posh-hotel-lounge of 'Twice'. 'MB' and 'Studio Power On' take that idea - curling fragments and motifs from jazz, funk and soul around slow and loose percussive structures - and run with it to extremes. 'MB' is slow enough to confuse dancefloors raised on 120bpm plus, but deeply funky with it, taking maximum advantage of the space that the lowered tempo affords to give a sinister and unresolved piano lick time to shuffle. 'Studio Power On' wrings junglist manna out of smashing windows, a woodsaw, 70s science documentary bleeps and a few spare woodblock hits, a feat whose skill is matched only by the suffocating strangeness of the resulting track. Only the most daring of DJs need test these freaky bastards on a dancefloor, and they're all the better for it.
Cut Hands - Black Mamba EP
(Blackest Ever Black)
Irrespective of my slight unease about the overall aesthetic of the Cut Hands project, especially those disturbing live visuals that depict a detached and uncontextualised view of colonial Africa, it's hard to deny that William Bennett's evil new baby is producing some astonishing music. Drawing inward every percussive sound source he can lay his hands to - ksings, djembes, the bong of wood-on-wood, rocks smashing together - Bennett then abruptly flips the polarity and sprays them outwards towards the listener in a deadly weaponised salvo. Surprising given his tenure in Whitehouse and preponderance towards audio assault is the fact that its punishing force is frequently matched by an itchy and compulsive danceability - even if its multiple interweaving layers of continually shifting rhythm would require that dancers sprout an extra couple of limbs in order to do it full justice.
'Black Mamba' picks up where 2011 debut Afro Noise left off: in a barrage of drums that rain downward with all the unstoppable force of a tropical storm. When I interviewed him last year, he spoke of using unpredictability as a tool to bamboozle the nervous system into a trance state; true to form, minute twists and slippages in rhythm make it tough to track its next move, though there's a serpentine grace to the entire composition that matches its given name. B-side 'Krokodilo Theme', meanwhile, is a remarkable move for a man better known for writing tracks called things like 'Wriggle Like A Fucking Eel' and 'I'm Coming Up Your Ass', and one of the only things Bennett's ever done that could legitimately be described as 'beautiful'. A beatless wash whose piercing string dissonance recalls the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop pioneers, it's the calm in the title track's destructive wake, and at only four minutes it's tantalisingly short.