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Hyperspecific

The Month's Electronic Music: A Visitor From Someone Else's Memories
Rory Gibb , August 12th, 2014 07:34

Our electronic music column returns for August! In this edition, Rory Gibb explores the imaginary worlds and auditory illusions conjured up by Lee Gamble, Throwing Shade (pictured), M.E.S.H, SOPHIE, Tin Man and more

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"Physical placement is becoming less important to a music's conviction of its own worth," wrote David Toop in Haunted Weather, his 2004 reflection on music, performance and the act of listening. "In this context, the imaginary dimensions of space can become more significant than its actual physical character. Computer music can pull sound out of 'nothing' ... or can transform a recording of a place and past events, to establish a new mythic location, more closely located within the consciousness of the musician than in any locale we can directly experience as a haptic reality."

Prescient as ever, Toop's observation has only become more relevant in the intervening years. When the book was published our globalised, decentralised club culture was still an embryonic reality, and the dawn of the era of mass social media participation, rolling news feeds and trending topics still a couple of years away. It was still possible, albeit decreasingly so, for a dance genre to evolve in relative isolation, rooted in a particular cultural or geographical location - one good example being dubstep's gradual gestation, around that time, in South and East London.

Fast forward to 2014, a full decade on. Echoes of Toop's statement - their force, if anything, only intensified by dance music's ten years spent rebounding around the online reverberation chamber - can be clearly heard in a recent 032c interview with Berlin's stylistically exploratory Janus crew. "There's a lot of homeless club music right now," said co-founder Dan DeNorch. "There are a lot of scenes and networks that get promoted but there isn’t a place where it exists ... I think as residencies become less and less the norm, club music becomes more theoretical. It’s like people could dance to this somewhere. This might go off in a club somewhere, I don’t know what club, because I don’t play anywhere ... That’s still a problem that’s being worked out in club music. Because you have club music that’s made in a lot of different spaces that travels and goes everywhere, even though it’s not sonically supposed to work in the places that it ends up being played."

Since reading that interview a few months ago I've been reflecting on its implications. On one hand, how does that "homeless" character of much contemporary dance music affect its ongoing evolution in sound? Beyond facilitating swifter idea exchange between scenes and crews separated in space by thousands of miles, might it encourage the proliferation of traits that work against its central imperative to move bodies - and in doing so send shoots off into new and unexpected territory? Whether the relationship is causal or not, there's plenty of evidence of those sorts of left turns taking place, whether the dynamic club-concrete collage of artists like Total Freedom, neo-grime's crystalline tessellations, or the spatial distortions people like Lee Gamble and Eomac have been enacting upon rave and techno. You could also count SOPHIE and the emerging PC Music collective among their number too, though their work's relationship to club music feels more ambivalent than those already mentioned, and whether you can handle listening to their earsplitting squeak 'n' bass for any length of time depends largely on personal taste.

But beyond that, I can't help but wonder what it means for our own personal, physical relationships with dance music. Comfortably contained within a structured, legislated work-leisure societal framework, and lacking the shock and appeal of the new, dance music (in the West) seems to have long lost its power to galvanise wider sociopolitical and philosophical thought and action. Part of that also comes down to community, or lack thereof; speaking subjectively, it feels tougher now than for a while to find spaces - venues and club nights - in London that actively foster a sense of shared responsibility and equal investment between DJ and audience, while also willfully pushing attendees well beyond their audio comfort zone. (This, of course, is also a consequence of many externally interacting economic and political factors, whose implications are far wider reaching - and, let's face it, more vital to society on the whole - than dance music is right now.)

One recent particular personal observation, born of many hours absorbing tracks via a laptop over the past three years: too much time spent listening to dance music solely through headphones (even great ones) changes its character and subtly reframes your relationship to it. It closes space around you, drains the music of room to breathe, squashes and foregrounds it into a reflective, introspective experience, where your mental avatar throws solo shapes on the club floor between your ears. A highly pleasurable trap, though one that it's worth taking the effort to escape from occasionally. Hearing a well-known track in an unfamiliar context frequently feels like rebooting your knowledge of it; slate wiped clean, you're ready to refill yourself with new, muscle-based memories.


So on one level, finding a communal space for artists and audience to share musical experience brings real rewards - socially, but also in encouraging DJs and musicians to take further risks, and to step into territory they might have otherwise avoided. The recordings of Juju & Jordash and Surgeon from last month's Freerotation festival, both playing middle-of-the-party ambient sets, are one good example - I highly recommend spending some time with them. For best effect you're advised to imagine seeing them take place inside a tiny low-lit yurt set up in inside a country manor house, with the rest of the building's perpetual kickdrum pulse leaking energy in like a dripping tap. Wandering, spaced-out and slick with sweat, away from the dancefloors just down the corridor, I'd occasionally find myself stumbling across these performances and others. They felt like secret gatherings, indents in the fabric of regular time where actions and perceptions occurred at a slower pace than elsewhere.

Yet equally I've also recently found similar sonic refuge in headphones, via club-rooted music that conjures up viscerally affecting, unfamiliar inner spaces. Janus crew member M.E.S.H's recent Scythians might be my favourite 12" release so far this year, not because it's perfect, but because the environment and atmosphere it establishes is so convincing. Listening to its five tracks feels like wandering, pleasurably lost, through someone else's memories - a liquid glass hall-of-mirrors, whose instability mimics the unreliability of human recall. Rhythmic motifs, sampled words, verbal splutterings and melodic flourishes swirl around one another, audible one moment, gone the next, never falling into quite the same arrangement twice - always the same, always different.

Delving back into Haunted Weather last month for the first time in a couple of years, I was struck by Scythians' resemblance to Toop's description of this "mythic location" as a window into another person's consciousness. But I was also struck by the persistent romance of that idea. In a world of oversharing, amid the daily online bombardment of other people's opinions, ambiguity feels like something to be prized. Scythians, and other recent releases by artists like Fis, Shackleton and Actress, communicate inner experience through lingering images - thematic clues, gestures and auditory illusions, open to new interpretations each time you hit play. That extends right into pop music, too. On both last year's EP2 and her new, often gloriously odd LP1, FKA Twigs' sonic and visual aesthetic is striking in its complete mingling of corporeal experience and inner-self introspection. Her videos, which feel inseparable from the songs they're coupled with, hinge around images of posture, physical motion and sensory experience, yet they nonetheless emerge as if from disembodied dream spaces - intricately rendered elsewheres, where typical laws of physics and perception distort around you. To watch and listen is to teleport yourself, Inception-esque, into someone else's imagined reality, and to interpret for yourself its hidden meaning.

After three highly enjoyable and illuminating years, I'm leaving my position as new music editor at the Quietus at the end of August to pursue other projects. It's hard to overstate how much of a privilege and a pleasure it's been to work here, so I'd like to publicly extend my sincere thanks to Luke Turner and John Doran for giving me the job in the first place, to Laurie Tuffrey and Sophie Coletta, and to all tQ's writers, friends and extended family.

That said, Hyperspecific will still continue to wobble forth under my steady(ish) guidance for the foreseeable future, and hopefully in a more regular manner, as befits its 'monthly column' tag. The preceding introduction has laid out the mindset for this month's edition; a selection of dancefloor and not-so-dancefloor music dedicated to enhancing the grain of this world, or dragging you through the portal into another one entirely.

Lee Gamble - Kuang EP
(PAN)

Eomac - Monad XVII
(Stroboscopic Artefacts)

You could be forgiven for associating the recent dancefloor-leaning music of Lee Gamble with the roughed-up house and techno gathered around labels like L.I.E.S, Trilogy Tapes and Berceuse Heroique; Gamble has, after all, played back-to-back with people like L.I.E.S boss Ron Morelli, and he draws for plenty of tracks in that style for his DJ sets. Yet his own compositional practice, if anything, seems aimed in almost the polar opposite direction to recent fetishes for immediacy and noisy textures in club music. It is, as the truism goes, relatively easy to make an impact by wrenching the volume and abrasion upward. Far more challenging is to play it quietly, to draw listeners into your world with small, painstakingly controlled gestures, delivered with an awareness of the tiniest details. Gamble's beats are EQ'd to feel slender and attenuated, like tiny flickers of activity in a vast and reverberant space. The two rhythm-driven tracks on Kuang, a precursor 12" to upcoming new album KOCH, toy with the dancefloor as if from behind a two-way mirror. You're aware of rhythmic presences there, lurking behind the surface veneer, but they're shadowy and half-formed, as diffuse and volatile as shapes forming in plumes of smoke. Watching Gamble play live to up-for-it club crowds over the last couple of years has been fascinating. Some people reach their own level with his music and settle into states of constant motion, finding rhythm between the grooves when things start to dissipate; others move in fits and starts, drawn in by the comforting thunk of a four-to-the-floor kickdrum then repelled again by lapses in regularity; still others stand motionless, absorbed, their few actions betraying nothing.

When I spoke to Gamble recently for The Wire, he described a fascination with manipulating sound on a microscopic level - for constructing club tunes with scientific precision, an approach markedly different to the 'jam now, think later' ethos of much current hardware house. On translucent breakbeat flurry 'Kali Wave' and 'Girl Drop', a thirteen minute long, beatless flight across a green-tinged landscape, you're drawn inexorably inward. The worlds they evoke are striplit, desolate, their crumbling features familiar yet somehow uncanny in appearance. They remind me a little of the irradiated strangeness of the Britain of Chris Petit's 1979 film Radio On, where ostensibly mundane landmarks - identikit country roads, seaside towns, city centre hotels and flyovers - are charged with an unearthly glow, shedding new light on a pre-Thatcher landscape on the cusp of rapid change. A more recent reference point might be current Channel 4 series Utopia, where lingering, colour-saturated shots lend the familiar countryside around London the dreamlike intensity of a desert mirage, more Australian outback than Home Counties.

"I've noticed recently that I really like the idea of making these little worlds, almost, little spaces somewhere that you could just go into," said Gamble during our interview, explaining the thematic link between Kuang and KOCH. "You could be in there, and then you're out, and you're in another one, [which] might feel nicer, feel less nice, feel more warm, feel less warm, feel colder, feel more purple or more blue, or whatever. I really enjoy making music like that, where I've got the main structure of a track, then I can really get in there and give it some viscosity, texture, like a material or something. That's a processual thing, technically, but I've learned little ways to do that. So it's like, this track's there, it's not here. I don't think any of my music is here, I really don't."

I've reflected a lot on that conversation since, and how it relates to other artists operating in similar modes. An obvious kindred spirit to Gamble's music on Kuang and KOCH is Actress, whose work in turn is steeped in the influence of veteran Detroit minimalist Terrence Dixon. Listening to Dixon's 2013 series of Reduction 12"s, under his Population One alias, was like inadvertently stepping through an invisible doorway into a parallel reality. Stripped of nearly all recognisable dancefloor signifiers, they imagined techno as an unending stream of near-subliminal pressure, each track's single looped motif turning back in on itself at the end of each iteration. Actress' newly released Xoul 12" is markedly less challenging for those not accustomed to Dixon's psychic deep-dives, but possesses a similar eerie power, like gamelan played by an ensemble of robots, or a music box discovered on an alien world. As I've enthused in this column before, I've also had the music of New Jersey's Joey Anderson on near constant repeat. Fittingly for a producer who cut his teeth as a semi-pro house dancer, his After Forever album on Dekmantel blurs the lines between external sensory perception and your responsive internal ecology of neural pathways, rapid electrical impulses and slower hormone blushes. "I was mostly a dancer [in the past]," Anderson told me when I spoke to him earlier this year. "So I can't run from that, it's always going to be in my subconscious when I'm working on music." Lacking house's regular kick-snare funk, Anderson's tracks instead coast along as rolling cascades of percussion, sparring drums and melodic sleight-of-hand, turning your mind further inwards as you breathe deeply and concentrate on keeping pace.

Another recent release with similar characteristics is Eomac's contribution to Stroboscopic Artefacts' ongoing Monad series of digital EPs. His music is slippery stuff at the best of times - this year's Spectre album on Killekill had the fast-beating heart of a fizzy-headed raver, while the techno he produces as one half of Lakker is often warmer, gooier, inviting in a Selected Ambient Works kind of way. Monad XVII travels into still deeper, stormier climes. What propulsive force is present comes not horizontally but vertically, in harsh, fizzing pulses of bass that drive upward through the mix like pistons. On the tremendous 'DF4', drums rattle like loose bits of metal in an engine. Melody drifts in as foglike drones, clinging loosely to the music's core structural components. It's an environment deep and curious enough to imagine walking right into.

Throwing Shade
'Chancer' / 'Blanx'
(Happy Skull)

Throwing Shade's Nabibah Iqbal is swiftly developing into a fascinating artist. Her recent 19 Jewels single for No Pain In Pop, a set of pristine instrumentals and cavernous pop reductions whose dazzling facets sounded spun from spider silk and glass fibre, was a significant step up from her Ominira debut. On this new 12", 'Chancer' and 'Blanx' make moves for the nearest club floor while retaining a similar essence, where a mist of what could be acoustic sound sources - bells, struck gongs, the glowing drones of a Tibetan singing bowl - are folded and overlaid into and over one another until their contours and borders blur together, like silk fabric draped over the edge of a chair. Their shimmery blue hues make them sound tempting to simply dive headfirst into, a blast of cold seawater on a hot summer's day - which belies the nervy edge that saws relentlessly away at your perception, with the raindrop patter of drum machines provoking a sense of itchy restlessness, leading to a build up of excess energy that can only be diffused by physical motion. Kowton on the remix follows the spirit of the thing; he plays it uncharacteristically linear, glossy and reinforced glass tough, a suit that fits like a glove. I hope there's more where this came from, from both artists.

SOPHIE
'Lemonade' / 'Hard'
(Numbers)

On the subject of imaginary spaces for club music, I can't think of many more disembodied and artificial than the ear-shredding synthetic hit of SOPHIE and the closely associated PC Music collective. I'm aware of opening myself up to the usual accusations that "you just don't get it", but I found last year's 'Bipp' single tough to handle, and although 'Lemonade' succeeds in creating an even more crisply realised world than its predecessor, it's not somewhere I'm keen to spend much time. His commitment to taking such a distinctive pop music aesthetic to such extremes of abrasion is, however, impressive by itself. 'Lemonade''s barrage of chipmunk song and manic drum clatter demands your immediate and total attention, as if you've had your eyelids pinned back, Clockwork Orange style, and been forced to absorb the ever-rolling noise of a thousand Twitter feeds at once. Despite its interesting conceptual aspects, that makes it a slog to get through without swiftly feeling worn out - and I spend enough time feeling knackered by the internet as it is. 'Saccharine', with its associations of guilt-free bingeing on diet-friendly goods, seems too weak a descriptor here; 'Lemonade' feels more like having gallons of molten sugar - full-fat, so to speak - pumped into your body, along with all the nauseous sensations that come with it.

Flip the record, however, and 'Hard' is a more appealing proposition. Coming across like post-Classical Curves digi-funk accelerated to a state of delirium, it's a freaky mess of glitterball melodies, militarised drum smacks and hoover bass stabs that career wildly all over the place. As with male producer SOPHIE's current press image - depicting a female model in a world of fluorescent colour, cropped to near-facelessness and striking an ambiguous pose - there's something distinctly uncomfortable about the way its pitched-up, infantilised voice delivers suggestive one-liners about "PVC" and "latex gloves" like a sexy automaton. You sense that provoking discomfort is part of the aim here - a fact intriguing enough to make me slightly curious, in spite of myself, to hear future SOPHIE music. In truth the entire thing - whether intentionally or not - comes across as rather silly and Carry On bawdy, rather than pointedly aggressive.

Different Fountains - Muybridge
(Different Fountains Editions)

The dance music community in Belgium is on strong and productive form at the moment, via a cluster of labels and associated artists including Brussels' young VLEK and Bepotel crews as well as the longer running Meakusma, home to previous transmissions from international artists Terrence Dixon, Upperground Orchestra and Madteo, as well as a series of brilliant 12"s compiling new music from the Belgian underground. As is often the case outside the heartlands of journalistic attention on dance music, what's striking about the music emerging from these collectives is its lack of allegiance to particular scenes or styles; the VLEK label, for example, has effortlessly swerved from adventures in tripped-out house and techno from Bepotel and Sagat, to subby club bangers, to murky, impulsive collage compositions from Aymeric De Tapol and the UK's WANDA GROUP. There's something to that collective's shared activities and DIY approach - with hand-crafted and screenprinted label artwork, collaborative musical projects and regular parties - that reminds me a little of Bristol's Young Echo crew and associated labels like No Corner and Peng! Sound; a connection further echoed in their shared ear for dense atmospheres and heavy-lidded, immersive dub.

Brussels duo Different Fountains are part of that extended crew of friends and collaborators, and their two EPs for their own label this year - of which Muybridge is the second - epitomise many of those qualities. Their beats fall roughly into a swung, broken house framework, but they're teasingly loose, assembled into systems where tension ricochets from drum hit to drum hit like a pinball, always threatening to half-dissolve in a cloud of effects. One clear touchstone for 'Muybridge' itself is Skull Disco era Shackleton; its voices, drowned in enough reverb and delay as to become indistinct, drift through cool desert air and rub against percussive patterns carving out intricate hieroglyphics against a star-strewn night sky. Though triggering an instant desire to dance in wide open space, it simultaneously begs to be dropped loud in your nearest subterranean sound system outfitted dive; those lashes of sub-bass and acres of room could swallow a roomful of bodies whole. Taking the arcane network of internal tensions that powers the original track and splaying it outward across seven minutes, the terrain evoked by London resident Karen Gwyer's remix is smoother but just as transportive - by the time it uncoils, halfway through the track, into a vortex of cross-connected rhythms and fizzy melody, you're already long lost in its depths. There's a Different Fountains full-length album, Shrimp That Sleeps, due out on Meakusma next month; if the rest of this year's output from them is anything to go by, it should be quite something.

Kucharczyk -Demon Techno W Okularach
(Mik Musik!)

Skipping across Europe a few hundred miles, we arrive at Poland's Wojciech Kucharczyk, head of the Mik Musik! music label and - as the title of this album proclaims - self-described Demon Techno W Okularach ("Techno Demon In Spectacles"). With this column's subject matter in mind, there are few current European artists I can think of who've created more of a convincing world for followers to immerse themselves within. Mik Musik! has been running since the 1990s - the era of Kucharczyk's acclaimed former project Mołr Drammaz - but after an extended hiatus he rebooted the label last decade and embarked on its formidable current run of form, taking in all manner of mad-scientist electronic experimentations from Kucharczyk himself, percussive dancefloor drum-circle freakouts from RSS B0YS, the windswept post-industrial romance of Paweł Pesel's Ekscentryzm, the haunted autumnal landscapes of Mangrove Mangrave, and more. One of the most curious and exciting aspects of this iteration of Mik!, and one that heightens the sense of involving yourself in a consciously sculpted, self-contained world, is that you're never quite sure how many of these artists might actually be Kucharczyk himself operating incognito. Many of these albums have been released as part of the label's 'Even More Secret Series', with the true identity of their creators left unknown. In any case he's a prolific artist, with records under multiple aliases - including his former guise The Complainer - emerging regularly through the Mik Bandcamp page, where you can also find the records listed above.

Demon Techno W Okularach further travels down the wormhole of mechanistic dance music Kucharczyk has been carving out for a while. Like some of of the better, more anarchic recent techno-into-noise music from producers such as Steve Summers, Container and Svengalisghost, these raucous, churning beasts sound as though they've been hewn from chunks of malleable organic matter. They often seem to disintegrate and corrode as they play, like clunky old steam trains falling deeper and deeper into rust, wreck and ruin. But alongside the often po-faced intensity of much of the US set, they're marked out by that telltale streak of mischievous humour that runs through Mik's entire output (a closer comparison in that sense might be the puckish recent 12"s from Dom Butler of Factory Floor's Bronze Teeth duo). Tracks explode into action and drop out just as quickly, take abrupt left turns to knock listeners out of their steady groove, and are often ushered into action by bursts of spoken dialogue, delivered in studied, electro-mannequin monotone. Sequenced beautifully so that tracks flow into one another with nary a break, the overall feel is of being dropped into the middle of a propulsive, grinding peak-time DJ set, complete with some particularly lovely emotional peaks. 'Ponoson And Nothing Instrumental' is gorgeous decaying disco in the manner of a Soundstream edit, and builds to an all-too-brief climax of synthesised strings that cuts out just as it's threatening to launch into orbit.

Tin Man - Ode
(Acid Test / Absurd)

Donato Dozzy & Tin Man - Test 7
(Acid Test / Absurd)

Johannes Auvinen's recent work as Tin Man for Absurd's Acid Test series has been a perfect example of how operating within a familiar framework - in his case deep, melodic acid house - can still yield results that feel new and startlingly idiosyncratic. He wields his 303 like a calligrapher's pen, etching out lead lines whose balletic shifts in weight and posture make them sound effortless; indeed, his command of the instrument is such that, in his best tracks, the melodies have such presence, such apparent autonomy of mind, that they sear through the barebones percussion around them to dominate the music's psychic space. It's as if they're constantly recharging themselves with life force drawn from the organic matter that surrounds them: at once feeding energy into and guzzling it back out of its spaced-out dancefloor surrounds, the sustained lead line of last year's superb 'Mystical Acid' tumbled like spring water down a mountainside, cutting back on itself, curling into smoothly looped arcs, leaping out into dizzy freefall, offering multiple routes for you to follow.

With its cool reverberations and sensation of perpetual motion - of long-distance transit between one place and another - new album Ode could as easily be called Trans Arctic Express. Fingers of ice prickle outward to form spiderweb patterns across its glassy surfaces; rails clunk and clatter underfoot; percussive features that suggest telegraph pylons and snow-dusted conifers linger in the middle distance before swooping by in an abrupt rush. In the distance lies empty tundra, through which sounds echo outward to the horizon. Through this space swim Auvinen's 303 motifs, the music's defining feature - on 'No New Violence' and 'Depleted Serotonin' superheated acid lines burn upward through the permafrost like magma from cracks in the earth's crust, while 'What A Shame' is craggy and treacherous as a glacier-carved cliff face. You end up dancing in slo-mo, silhouetted by their internal glow as if caught in headlights. Their combination of liquidity and pinpoint intricacy recalls the virtuosic, lubed-up 303 juggling of early Plastikman, but lacking Hawtin's mechanistic, cyborg sensibility, they also remind me in atmosphere of Luomo at his best: the same shivery feel of a hot-blooded organism stranded in a freezing far north environment, the same spun-out, dissociated dancer's grace.

Tin Man & Donato Dozzy - 'Test 7'

Fitting the album's title - Ode, it's hinted, refers to mourning for a night out just reaching its end - for a DJ these tracks are proper afterparty weaponry, but not in a hackneyed or obvious way. That's a characteristic Auvinen shares with Italian techno hypnotist Donato Dozzy, with whom he collaborated for Acid Test's ninth instalment, released around the time the last edition of this column was published. (It's been a while, yep.) It's worth digging back a few months for, with the duo occupying a middle ground that's exactly how you'd imagine Dozzy and Tin Man together to sound - pure sensory deprivation, save a handful of crucial details: 303s that dart, wriggle and snap back on themselves, dappled light like dancing shadows on a fireplace, and an overriding sensation of nagging familiarity, a certainty that you've been in this place before but can't quite reconstruct the memories.

Surgeon - Fixed Action Pattern
(Token)

Surgeon - Surgeon EP (remastered reissue)
(SRX)

Coinciding with his first solo 12" since (I believe) 2010's Compliance Momentum - as well as a new Tresor repress of his brilliant 1997 album Basictonalvocabulary - Tony Child has just announced a self-released series of six remastered reissues of his earliest material. Neatly timed indeed, since listening to the Surgeon EP (his 1994 debut, originally released through Downwards) next to Fixed Action Pattern highlights both what's changed in the intervening years and, perhaps more tellingly, what's remained essentially the same. Still present is the sensation of hypnotic bodily overload, of a carefully considered motif burrowing its way deep into your psyche, its deeply funky percussive exoskeleton puncturing though layers of skin, sinew, bone and nerve until it resonates through your entire being. 'Fixed Action Pattern' and its graceful dub version remind me slightly of Child's last album, 2010's meditation-inspired Breaking The Frame. In both, dense clouds of melodic matter swoop in glowing arcs around centrifugal drum patterns that hint cheekily towards a stable pulse, just enough to empower dancers to move without dictating how. It's bliss enough just to listen.

Surgeon - 'Move'

Looking back to 1994, what's particularly curious is how comparatively little tracks like 'Magneze' and 'Move' have aged in the two decades since they were made. That's in part to do with trends, of course, and with an increased number of younger artists currently stripping this sound for ideas, it feels familiar as a contemporary club style. Equally brusque in tone, and equally influenced by Jeff Mills' perception-bending early Waveform Transmissions work, as then-contemporary material from Downwards boss and frequent collaborator Karl O'Connor, these tracks remain markedly more psychedelic in effect. 'Argon''s sinewy melodies are knotted together into a writhing, snakelike mass, with details momentarily emerging from the fray before worming away into the depths again. Listening to the way 'Move''s sour, reinforced tones are layered into bracingly odd harmonic interactions, leaving a metallic taste in the mouth, I'm also reminded of Child's teeth-grindingly intense recent improvised live sets with Blawan under the duo's Trade moniker. Which speaks less to Surgeon's having remained in a fixed place (he hasn't), than to the potential power to be unlocked through mining deeply into an aesthetic over many years.

Dour Tonic Input & DJ Votive - Yogyakarta / Dead Roads
(Broken60)

Whatever restlessness drives the Broken20 collective's stubborn and laudable unwillingness to sink into predictability of output (recent and upcoming releases include a USB collection of almost the entire output of multi-disciplinary artist/filmmaker Chris Dooks, a digital EP of slow-stepping techno from Semtek, and an audiovisual performance software package from London's Spatial), it's also felt on the level of compositional approach. Besides a shared interest in processes of decay and distortion, its artists have zig-zagged across pleasingly wide stylistic territory over its four year existence, with a resulting back catalogue that's always a pleasure to dip into (and you can do so here).

This latest of their Broken60 cassette releases, described as an homage to the hip hop beat tape, is a case in point. Drawing on Indonesian gamelan, dusty breakbeats and luscious New Age synth shimmer, there's a distinct feel of 1990s chillout room ambient and trance to proceedings, lending the tape an out-of-time air, like a historical curio newly rediscovered after decades tucked away in a shoebox. Both Dour Tonic Input and DJ Votive are apparent newcomers to the label, but I'm not convinced these producers aren't known operators in disguise - the latter's B-side 'Dead Roads' opens with the cracked voice of William Burroughs ("ectoplasm, crystal balls, spirit guides and auras ... diseased demon lovers"), who also featured prominently on label boss TVO's 2013 tape Red Night. What follows is a gorgeous, half-hour long meditation where watery melodies and singing voices dissolve and billow in seas of reverb. Dour Tonic Input's A-side, a series of gamelan-sampling tracks titled Yogyakarta, further departs from previous Broken20 form; fitting the beat tape format, they feel more like sketches than completed artefacts - fragmented tone clusters looped and corralled into turbulent miniatures, forever in motion, never resolving. As is often the case with the label's releases, there's enough here to get lost in for quite some time.

Hyperspecific returns next month with another selection of current electronic and dance music

Julian Bond
Aug 13, 2014 4:44pm

Re homeless club music. I imagine not an indoor yurt but the main room at Corsica Studios magically transported to the far end of the west wing of a large country house. And fitted out with leather chairs and sofas, a coffee table and a full wet bar. There doesn't seem to be anywhere that has a Funktion One system, that can be played properly loud but is also comfortable. So we end up listening to club music in warehouse spaces with terrible acoustics, churches (!) or on the odd occasions that the sonics are good, you have to remain standing for 8 hours. The more cerebral dance music gets played in people's kitchens. Comfortable and free, but with crappy sound and neighbours who don't understand. So we end up listening to this stuff on computer desktop speakers or on earphones while walking or cycling. Or very occasionally at vaguely illegal parties in the woods where the sound's kind of ok if you stick your head in the speaker but there's still nowhere to sit down. In the UK it's really quite hard to find somewhere private enough and far enough away to be able to let rip without getting a knock on the door to turn it down.

Which makes me wonder where the producers imagine us consuming their productions and in what circumstances. What emotional state are they trying to create in us? And of course what's curious about this is the musics are often created in people's front rooms on near field monitors. So even the people making it rarely hear it as it's meant to be heard.

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Taun Aengus
Aug 13, 2014 10:49pm

Bravo. Beautiful writing as usual. Thanks for listening too and bringing this music to our attention.

And---right on, Julian Bond. I'm with you.

I, for one, have pretty much resigned myself to life inside headphones. When I listen to music, I really listen. I don't listen to music while doing the dishes or answering emails, or making love. Mostly--I find myself trying to find a place of silence so when I do put on the headphones again-- I,at least, have a point of reference.

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Ergo Sum Qua Non Falala
Aug 14, 2014 7:23am

Wow, never thought I'd read the word 'Bravo' in connection with electronic music. You guys need to pull your heads out of your arses and actually go dancing, just because you can't see it from your bedrooms doesn't mean fun people aren't doing it.

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Julian Bond
Aug 14, 2014 9:34am

In reply to Ergo Sum Qua Non Falala:

Yebbut, I do and enjoy it. I've even been known to dance a bit (like a geography teacher). But I'm still tired of trying to listen to some quite complex stuff in venues where the sound quality is actually pretty sh*t. eg Synkro/Throwing Snow/Flako in Autumn St, Laurel Halo/Shackleton/Demdike Stare in St Johns Church, Lakker/Perc/Factory Floor in Oval Space, Shlohmo in TheLaundry, Haxan Cloak in Netil House and so on, and so on. There's too many big warehouse spaces that are all concrete surface reverb with a couple of bass bins stuck in the corners.

Look at that listicle and hardly any of it is actually *dance* music. Some times I don't think it's even meant to be danced to. But it does borrow heavily from Dance Aesthetics. It mostly has a strong groove. And it's all got plenty of bass weight. So what *is* it for and where are you *supposed* to listen to it?

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Adam
Aug 15, 2014 3:11pm

In reply to Julian Bond:

@Julian:

Don't you think you're limiting the context of dance music by wanting a hi-fi club and a cliched approach to socially consuming music?

You've touched on a question that's been lurking in the back of my mind for a while: Why do we lump a HUGE amount of unrelated musical styles & approaches under the banner of 'dance'? Killing Joke & Can are as musically 'dance' to my ears as SOPHIE or a Polish oompah band. Don't forget Killing Joke & Can both have electronic sides &/or studio approaches &/or songwriting that fits with modern electronically produced music.

^Pretty much anything with a stable rhythm & tempo can be danced to. Assuming that's what you mean by 'groove' (...and there's another word with dodgy connotations). Bass is nice, but not essential for dancing.

In other words the more I read about/discuss dance music the more it irritates me as far as how pigeonholed people's expectations are. It seems the context of what dance music is or can be gets caught up in what we know already & how we expect to respond.

By the way, I'm a bedroom producer. Some of what I do could be called 'dance' & that's cool because it's subjective. Any kind of reaction's better than none, right? Believe me, in this crowded world I know EXACTLY how it feels to be ignored. You know what? That's fine, because as long I'm happy listening to my music I'll keep making it. If others like it, cool! Do you honestly think that folks like Shackleton or Haxan Cloak depend on other people for gratification & justifying why they make their music? The fact you enjoy their work is surely reward enough (not to downplay paying for their music and attending their shows).

I listen to my music on the same crappy speakers & OK headphones as the rest of my music collection because that's all I can afford. If I can write a decent tune then make the music sound good on them, that's all that matters. In the search for the best SOUNDING song we often forget the best WRITTEN song. Not saying anything you named is lame, quite the opposite- I'd love to be able to attend shows like the ones you've mentioned but I live in the wrong hemisphere.

Why are crappy speakers in your kitchen less legit than a nice accoustic space with a huge PA? That and repetitive music with certain tonalities fit activities like walking or cycling perfectly.

Disclaimer: I've only very briefly skimmed this article. Intend on reading it properly tomorrow when I can spend the time to check all the embedded songs. Made it to your comments about listening spaces & felt compelled to write up this contrary brainfart. Cheers!

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