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Manbait Luke Turner , August 21st, 2015 14:48

Despite the resurgence in stern and severe techno in recent years, Karl O'Connor has, for the most part, remained a background, mischievous uncle figure, remixing a new generation of artists, as well as launching the likes of OAKE and Samuel Kerridge on his Downwards label. Rather than make an easy return to the Jeff-Mills-goes-Mad Max brutalism that he mastered in the 1990s, the Regis aesthetic of the past five years owes much more to the rattly post-punk, no wave and gothic sonics that shape this compilation. There's always been a sense that O'Connor likes nothing more than winding up the techno bros - after all, this compilation (out on Blackest Ever Black) of his recent work is called Manbait and comes accompanied by a press release quoting a moping 'fan': "'Fuck this shit. I was hoping to see a long-awaited brand new LP. Not a necklace of flashbacks. Fuck BEB. Fuck Regis. Life sucks.'"

Yet perhaps this commenter, dripping tears onto his battered Tresor slipmat, has a point. Five years, and what do we have to show for it? O'Connor is always good value in interviews ("The Wombles were performing to a 'Glitter Beat' backing, wildly dancing and dancing with so much energy and elation that it was almost infectious and indeed people started to join in, but I noticed even with this amazing display of great happiness and exhilaration, their eyes were black and dead, especially Tomsk who was my favourite. I think that level of performance with dead eyes to a glitter beat has been my inspiration ever since") and Downwards have had a pretty solid run of form. But are we not right to expect a little more? After all, his old sparring partner Tony Surgeon has been Professor Brainstorm busy getting to grips with new ways of working with his Buchla system. So, what of Manbait? Only three original Regis tracks? One in three versions? Is Karl O'Connor techno's Private Walker, Dad's Army's spiv who gets away with flogging old meat through a quick mouth and bravura?

That, though, is partly the point. Contemporary experimental electronic music feels overly polite and safe, 12" releases designed to look nice on the Boomkat web shop and be described as "sick" backstage at Unsound by 20-something cultural theory graduates. It could do with a bit of a wind-up, some ribald saucy postcard fun. Make no bones about it, Manbait simultaneously fucking bangs and is a very clever record. It's nuanced, never dropping too many techno Viagra to become hard for hardness' sake.O'Connor has created an album that actually feels so coherent it might as well be a new, original studio piece entirely created by his own hand. Everything reworked here, from Ike Yard's early 80s no wave tub thump 'Loss', to Vatican Shadow, Raime and Tropic Of Cancer, marches to Regis' heel. On 'Loss', O'Connor teases out the top rattle, muddles the vocals, makes Ike Yard even more broken New York anxious than they already are. On their own I've always found Dalhous to be overly sombre and flat, but 'He Was Human And Belonged With Humans' here takes on a new life, the weird sax and synth sounds combining with the gloomy pulses to make it 'Another Green World' dancing at the top of 20 Jazz Funk Greats white cliffs. Vatican Shadow's original 'Church Of All Images' could (perhaps deliberately) be the backing music on a video sales pitch for an anti-tank weapons system, but here is beefed up, histrionic, factory-fresh. Like the Regis take on Tropic Of Cancer's 'Plant Lilies At My Head' it'd be nicely served with snakebite and lace. Raime's 'This Foundry', meanwhile, becomes sticky and tactile.

O'Connor is also a dab hand at repurposing his own tools. On British Murder Boys' 2014 live album swan song, old Sandra Electronics track 'As Above So Below' went from being five-years-too-late austere post punk to a thundering slab of motivational doom. Here, the album takes its title from 'Manbait', a 1987 track by Family Sex, one of O'Connor's youthful endeavours. The new version leads that innocent through a darkened doorway and down some stairs that, if you fell, would only be soft thanks to the leather. 2010 track 'C U 1', recorded under his CUB guise, is an exercise in how to do the sort of tension that doesn't really go anywhere except deliciously unpleasant.

Best of all are the most 'pure' of the Regis originals featured here. They're heavy, lumbering pieces that keep the record anchored and give it structure. 'Blinding Horses' appears no less than three times, in original, Turin and Stableboy versions, which simply dial up different levels of goth preposterous, a great metallic whirring sound, a giant ham slicer going through a Lilliputian space ship. 'Blood Witness', though, is the finest moment here. It's just so pleasingly thwacky in the way it the succulent rhythm keeps rolling ever forward. It's not steely at all, just rather juicy; the sort of angst music for sex people that gets us going round these parts. It's very easy to make hard electronic music that sounds dour for dourness' sake, put together by some twitchy-armed berk with a Tumblr waterfall of clichéd bleakness open behind a cracked copy of Ableton. Yet for all the gloom and gothic stylings, Manbait is a record shot through with a sense of purpose, proof that those who superficially appear not to take things very seriously, frequently take them very seriously indeed.