The Month's Electronic Music: Working With Restrictions
, March 2nd, 2017 13:10
Christian Eede takes a look at the benefits of limitations in producing a mix CD, while also reviewing releases from Inga Mauer (pictured), Smagghe & Cross, Sapphire Slows and more
It's long been said that the mix CD is a dying format, needless in an age of unlimited online mix series and SoundCloud profiles allowing DJs to share collections of music at any time they want and to anyone they want. Many CD series have come to an end owing to the decreasing appetite for the CD format as well as, as stated above, the free access to so many alternatives. Taking Call Super’s recent mesmerising addition to the fabric compilation series though, its charms as a concept are still on full display.
Most obviously, the difference between the slew of online mixes available at our disposal and physical releases, save for the ease of access, is the limitation that the latter places on the end product by way of licensing restrictions. Frequently, this is looked upon as a con to the physical format - after all, why limit exactly what tracks you want to include? These restrictions certainly have their perks though since the freedom of too much choice can certainly send things awry. The process of licensing music, and only being able to pull something together from that pool, naturally encourages a different approach to how one might approach a non-physical mix, and certainly asks that a DJ really believe in what it is that they’re throwing into the mix. Speaking to Shawn Reynaldo for RBMA Radio recently, Call Super said that, in producing a fully licensed mix compilation, “your original ideas will be thwarted pretty much for sure”, but as he elaborates, that’s a distinctly interesting proposition in that it encourages you “to suddenly work within certain parameters, and then try and build something that is a very honest reflection of what you do”.
Working with these limitations, Call Super’s fabric 92 actually ends up carrying a distinct sense of freedom, flowing so smoothly that, at times, you might be unsure of whether there are two or three tracks in a mix, or when one track finishes and another starts - no mean feat for a mix that traverses overwhelming techno from Objekt, blissed-out trips from Carl Craig and a 1970s blues acapella piece recorded by Walter Brown, with beatless and electro tangents somewhere in between. Amongst a sea of truly outstanding mixes from the DJ, it stands as one of his best, and that it was born of restrictions shouldn’t be understated - it’s that factor that can often bring out the best in a DJ. Here’s hoping there’s a lot more life in the format yet for that reason.
Inga Mauer - Shtum 012 (Shtum)
I name-checked Inga Mauer as a DJ I’m particularly hoping to catch play in a club this year in the last edition of this column, having made a name for herself over a series of hard-as-nails techno mixes for outlets such as Resident Advisor, as well as more esoteric outings on her Bon Voyage show on Radio Cómeme - all of which are must-listens if you haven’t yet had the pleasure. Just as promising though are her first couple of releases with this latest record for the Shtum label arriving off the back of her debut, From Cologne To Clone, which saw release on Hivern Discs late last year.
Shtum’s 12th release sees Mauer deliver four cuts of rugged techno that certainly stand in stark contrast to the rigid structures and presets that often befall music so clearly defined as ‘techno’ at present. ‘Dno’ builds around a repeating bassline, its synths rolling to a hypnotic climax. ‘Silences’ is sludgy and shows that Mauer is just as comfortable drawing on EBM in her productions as she is in her DJ sets. ‘My Flights Without You’ is perhaps the record’s highlight, making minimal use of a distant 808 and a twisted, malevolent bassline. On Shtum 012, Mauer refines the ideas presented on her production debut, and one can only imagine her ascendency will rightfully continue. I certainly can’t wait to hear more from her.
Junes - Of No Memory (Wicked Bass)
Arriving late last year on the Galdoors label that he co-founded, Neil McDermott’s, otherwise known as Junes, last record, Trails, signalled his most obvious shift yet towards the more minimal depths of club music, its shuffling beats coming off like a record that might not sound too out of place on a record label like Perlon. Turning up now on Ukrainian label Wicked Bass for his first non-Galdoors outing, McDermott further pushes this tangent with Of No Memory, a three-tracker which refines the punchy simplicity of that previous record.
The record’s three tracks are a reminder of just what can be done when the barest elements are put to use effectively, all delicately swung beats and hazy, distant arpeggios. The blissed-out pads introduced at around the halfway mark of the title track feel like coming up for air, while ‘Pacing’ skitters along, punctuated by squelchy synths and occasional hi-hats - sure, the stark simplicity won’t be for everyone, but when has any music that could be collected under the minimal and tech-house bracket. Closer ‘Body Shirk’ is a highlight, its synths pinging off the kick drums and darting off in different directions alongside foggy, elongated, heavily processed vocal samples. McDermott’s work has consistently flirted with the minimal end of house and techno since his debut in 2013, though it has always maintained a distinctly UK edge. Of No Memory perhaps signifies his further departure from those UK sensibilities yet, but still crucially continues to mark him out as one of the UK’s more underrated producers of house and techno.
Simo Cell / Don’t DJ / K-LONE - On Line Vol. 1 (Wisdom Teeth)
Coming a year on from the last release, Facta and K-LONE’s Wisdom Teeth returns with On Line Vol. 1, marking another various artists outing from the label, taking in contributions from Simo Cell, Don’t DJ and K-LONE himself. The record’s three tracks offer different explorations into polyrhythms, something that Don’t DJ certainly is no stranger to, following on from past excellent releases on labels such as Emotional Response, Diskant and SEXES. His offering, ‘Übergang Zur Metrotram’, is razor-sharp, taking up a typically chuggy pace, and sprawling out across eight minutes, adding bells into the melee at around the halfway point, as a creeping pad oozes its way into your sub-conscience with each 16-bar.
Sitting either side of that are pieces from Simo Cell and K-LONE. The former’s ‘Symmetry’ is distinctly lighter, piercing synths shooting off in different directions to create something that should be shrill, but is instead deeply comforting, as brief flashes of roaring sub-bass rear their head in irregular patterns, stripping back the best elements of his releases to date for the Livity Sound label. K-LONE’s ‘Woniso’ takes up a melody reminiscent of a xylophone creation across its eight-minute stay, laying down most transparently the “minimalism” and “repetition” that Wisdom Teeth promise from this release. So far, Wisdom Teeth’s name has been synonymous with the emergent bass-heavy strains of UK techno emerging from areas such as Bristol, but On Line Vol. 1 sees the label branching out and creating some captivating music in the process.
Mark - Here Comes A Fucking Startup Campus (A Colourful Storm)
It’s worth noting, and admitting my own shortcomings in the process, that this column hasn’t featured anywhere near enough drum & bass in the time since I took over proceedings. This is a distinct oversight given the health of a number of labels such as Exit, 20/20 LDN and Samurai Music, all loosely operating within this axis currently and frequently exploring half-time patterns to system-punishing effect. Mark, as you might expect from a producer whose name is so search engine-unfriendly, has little back-story and this record arrives, with a knowing wink, accompanied by a press release that signs off: “Politics is very in these days, got the PR campaign sorted. Pizza?”
Accompanying the release, the story is told of a former DIY artist and musician’s co-op in East Berlin which was later bought out by real estate mogul and “CEO of Berlin’s largest tech incubator and co-working space, Factory Berlin”. The move left a number of artists studio-less and while plans exist to extend the building in order to give them a new hub, these ideas are still up in the air. Most crucially, we are told that the basement’s co-op would regularly host the “Ruf Mich Nie Wieder An (‘Don’t Ever Call Me Again’) techno and drum & bass parties”. The record’s two tracks, it could perhaps be concluded then, were influenced by such parties, as the producer behind the record delivers two punchy, yet refined cuts, opting to lay off frenetic breaks and instead let the sub-bass do the talking. It’s a record that’s distinctly experimental within its field, yet certainly wouldn’t sound of place amongst other current and past drum & bass. There are so many excellent producers operating within this template right now - as evidenced by the labels mentioned above and in the discographies of acts such as Fixate, Ancestral Voices and Felix K - and this is a debut that certainly stands out amongst the best.
Sapphire Slows - The Role Of Purity EP (Mundus)
The first release in nearly four years from Tokyo’s Sapphire Slows, this new record marks the launch of a new series from the always excellent Nous Disques label, called Mundus. Across four tracks, the producer explores warming, ambient textures and produces gorgeous results. Opener ‘The Role Of Purity’ spans out across 11 minutes, built around delicately piercing synths that wouldn't sound of place amongst some of the best ambient Monolake works.
‘Speculation’ is rooted around a recurring bell-like synth sequence that burrows its way into your conscience with every cycle, drawing on shiny new age influences. ‘Mallets & Marbles’ pares back the rich melodies for something more peculiar recalling the oddball beatless techno works of Aleksi Perälä in his ongoing Colundi Sequence. Perälä is a strong reference point on closing track ‘Silent Escape too’, though that’s not to understate the individual brilliance of Sapphire Slows’ work across this record. It dazzles in its intricacy and retains an underlying eccentricity throughout, with melodies that I still wouldn’t tire of after hours of looping.
Smagghe & Cross - Ma (Offen Music)
Vladimir Ivkovic’s Offen Music label has offered much in the way of brilliant curiosities since its inception in 2015, as you might expect from a label run by one of the best DJs you could hope to catch at present. Following on from a clutch of archival releases of material by Rex Ilusivii and Ihor Tsymbrovsky, as well as the excellent coldwave grit of Toresch’s Essen Für Alle, Ma, the first collaborative release between Ivan Smagghe and composer Rupert Cross, melds new age with the balearic, frequently calling to mind the polyrhythms of Don’t DJ.
It’s hard to pick a highlight, such is the record’s smooth, warming flow, but across the record, the pair draw on field recordings and bring together the acoustic and the electronic to create something that’s at times haunting, and, at others, soothing. ‘Warren’ is gloriously eccentric, its shrill synths creating something not dissimilar to a bunch of arcade machines noisily vying for your attention. On the other hand, ‘Onde de Choc’, following it, is delicate, built around dainty pianos and crescendoing electronics. ‘Cock Of The North’, meanwhile, is oppressive, clunky bursts of noise occasionally interrupting a relentlessly bleak monologue. A lot more apparently lies on the horizon for Offen Music in 2017, as Vladimir Ivkovic noted when sharing his recent excellent Resident Advisor podcast, and Ma certainly sets it up as one of this year’s labels to keenly watch.