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Surgeon
Unreleased Tracks 1995-1996 EP Albert Freeman , July 20th, 2015 07:26

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Ever since founding the legendary House Of God nights and making his bone-crushing debut on the earliest Downwards catalogue numbers, the status of Anthony Child as one of the UK's greatest techno innovators has been easily assured. Alongside Birmingham friend Karl O'Connor, London associates James Ruskin, Oliver Ho and the 65D Mavericks, and rave innovator Luke Slater, few artists' work in techno has stood the test of time quite so well as his, a fact made even more clear with the far-reaching re-evaluation campaign currently occurring around the Surgeon discography. Since he raced back to the forefront with Breaking The Frame, both Tresor and Downwards gradually reissued a portion of his classic recordings, a process which accelerated this year on Tresor and found its furthest-reaching implications in the extensive SRX series on Child's own Dynamic Tension imprint, which saw reissues of four of his most important early works alongside a pair of rarer finds.

If the repress campaign has not exactly altered Child's well-earned reputation for brutality, it has given listeners new and old alike a change to re-evaluate this influential catalogue, sometimes with surprising finds. In its day brushed partially aside as a waypoint between the Downwards-esque Basictonalvocabulary and the genre-altering Force + Form, his Balance LP emerges now as a masterpiece in its own right and a techno album of extremely rare accomplishment. Even the early Downwards records, Communications in particular, reveal a greater range than their 'monotrack' reputation would suggest, although in fact his greatest accomplishments were yet to come. The Rare Tracks EP on SRX was a tasty quartet of lesser-known nuggets, including two of the highly sought-after 'THX' series pieces, but the grandest find arrives in Unreleased Tracks 1995-1996, essentially a full album of top shelf, unheard Downwards-era Surgeon.

With Child in the midst of his second great period of creativity and popularity, remarkably little new music has emerged in the last four years since his 2011 album, a fact that would be more frustrating if not for the breathtaking quality of the reissues that have continued mostly unabated. Unreleased Tracks 1995-1996 does nothing to break this winning streak, its six pieces a varying and, at times, eye-opening look into the vaults. Its harshest moments are up there with anything in his released discography; its more reserved ones slide in easily with familiar points already seen on the SRX series. Certainly the aptly-titled 'HARD', the furthest thing from a joke and a high point in brutality not just here but for his entire catalogue, is bracing, its choking clouds of filthy distortion and noise and pummeling rhythmic foundation an outlier in a catalogue already well-respected for its intimidating ferocity.

'95-96 is obviously too early for the ambient experiments that came just a few years later, and predictably the remaining five pieces stay firmly in unashamedly banging and intense Birmingham techno territory. Opener 'Spider', while still pacy and distinctive, is Surgeon at his most utilitarian: there's little happening apart from some basic filters applied to the sequence and simple percussion shifts that sound nearly-predictable given the greater context of Birmingham techno, and while it effectively gains some atmosphere in the second half, it remains the weakest piece here. The B-side picks up immediately with the searing, aforementioned 'HARD', and 'Lash Lite' is similarly singleminded, evidently framed around one note with filters applied and a slightly dubbed-out atmosphere. Its related counterpart 'Lash' keeps the dub elements but buttresses them with full-on outbursts of noise, taking the track into full-throttle in an entirely more aggressive direction. Closer 'IT-2' foreground dub influences to a surprising extent, especially considering its production date, giving Basic Channel a decent challenge for dub techno innovation for its era. C-side 'Zilla' is the classic Birmingham monotrack in its most lethal form, an amalgamation of dub, acid, and battering hard Jeff Mills style techno ideas that sounds like nothing before its early date and has influenced nearly everything since.  

While an addendum like this may do little to add to what was already well-established as one of techno's most influential ouvres, it both teasingly and tellingly suggests that there remains more brilliance from this early era that is unheard and has yet to see the light of day. With all of the aliases, collaborations, and secret projects that remain under wraps, it's likely the full extent of Child's work will never be known. For now, we have a batch of archival Surgeon tracks that easily stand up to those already heard and give connoisseurs and initiates a peek into an unseen corner of the work of an artist who remains one of the most important to work in his area.

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