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The Month's Electronic Music: Finding Connections
Christian Eede , May 9th, 2016 06:55

For the second edition of Hyperspecific for this year, Christian Eede looks at how London's clubbers lack connections with the city's club spaces while also reviewing releases from Avalon Emerson (pictured), Blawan, Bruce and more

I’ve used this column a number of times in recent months to muse on where the UK, and specifically London, finds itself today as a cultural spot for people to lose themselves in music on dancefloors. With the closure of Dance Tunnel in the interim period since the last edition of Hyperspecific, this question continues to hang over the heads of many invested in the scene with it now seeming, more than ever, that London is specifically lacking truly great clubs.

That’s not to say, of course, that London does not have good club venues. As I wrote on these pages in February, when referencing some of Europe’s more obvious world-beating club institutions as well as those lesser obvious spots dotted around the continent - say Lisbon’s Lux and Frankfurt’s Robert Johnson (both currently the subject of Resident Advisor’s ‘In Residence’ series which aims to celebrate some of the world’s clubs) - it is very possible that mere proximity to London venues cheapen them somewhat to me, the novelty of the hallowed institutions around Europe potentially coming down to little more than just how distant they are from me. However, clubs such as Berghain, Paris’ Concrete and the aforementioned Lux and Robert Johnson are ones that people will base entire city trips around no matter what the line-up. It's hard to say the same about specific clubs in London right now.

A lack of tight license restrictions placed on these clubs in other European cities means that those booked to play can settle into four-hour sets as a norm rather than having to pack a punch in the 90 minutes many will often, but not always of course, be given playing in London. That catching Objekt play for three hours at Corsica Studios last month - a mind-blowing set that saw him cut between techno and electro of various tempos via ambient pieces from the likes of Shinichi Atobe - was a standout experience of my year thus far, due largely to the length of set afforded to him, speaks volumes to me personally.

We all have responsibility to share though in where we are currently at. Government and various forms of authority have consistently tried to stifle nightlife for decades and always will if they think there are benefits to locking us into the nightmarish cycle of nights out ending at midnight in a Clapham wine bar in time to catch the last tube home. After all, a more imaginative nightlife doesn't suit the short-term gains of property sales and all the various uninformed, authoritarian clichés attached to clubbing.

The rise of ‘event clubbing’, in which a large number of big-name DJs are packed onto line-ups, also does its insidious bit to dampen the progression of our nightlife culture and I’m as guilty of buying into £30 tickets to catch my favourite DJs as anyone else is. While many of those that move in underground electronic music circles will sneer at the theatrics and excess of EDM, they’re fooling themselves if they don’t also believe that the scene they invest their interest in also buys immensely into notions of DJ-worship and club hierarchy. At the risk of sounding like a grump twice my age or George Hull, it’s rare this year that I feel I’ve found myself in one of the capital’s clubs surrounded by people really dancing, many happy instead to gawp at the night’s headliners or have a lengthy chat - a vibe killer if ever there was one - a product in part of the pedestal that many DJs are placed on in certain venues.

Most interesting, coming off a recent discussion with friends, is a lack of connection to both certain clubs and nights/promoters. Siren, established earlier this year, certainly seems like a potential response to that with its resident focus and clear mission statement, that of women booking and promoting the talents of other women, driving it forward and seeming to gather a dedicated audience thus far. Other nights such as Rhythm Section and World Unknown, with recognisable faces behind them, also currently offer the city’s clubbers the best chance to form connections that are more meaningful than turning up at a club every now and then and necking a few pills.

More of that could work wonders for the diversity and long-term success of London or any city's nightlife. It’s difficult though for new promoters to resist the formula of booking a 'name' headliner when starting out. After all, they offer the best chance of financial return and a less sparse room. As we continue to lose clubs like Dance Tunnel though, the bubble only seems to get closer to bursting. Perhaps a move away from conventional spaces will inspire something positive; only time will tell.

Neuroshima - Rave Archive EP
(All Caps)

All Caps releases don’t come by too often, with label heads Bake and Ryan Martin opting mostly to put their focus on one or two records a year. It’s an approach that has seen the pair craft a particular yet diverse back catalogue thus far taking in bass-driven excursions from UK producers such as Alex Coulton and Kowton as well as interpretations of what has come to be known as the ‘Vancouver Sound’ in releases from Bluntman Deejay and, just last year, Florist, all housed in lovingly crafted and designed artwork.

With Florist’s Phenomena EP having last year flirted ever so slightly with elements of ‘90s breakbeat and rave, notably on lead track ‘Marine Drive’, the eighth release from the label continues further, darker and deeper, along that line in Neuroshima’s Rave Archive EP, a six-track collection that takes in a number of productions that have been gathering steam over the last couple of years owing to radio and club play from DJs such as Kowton, Ben UFO and, of course, Bake himself. While this latest release goes somewhat moodier than the bulk of All Caps’ previous output, a line can be traced most patently back to DJ Guy’s 2014 EP 20 (1996), the label’s fourth release, owing to the icy synth patterns, rushes of noise and disjointed beats that can be found across both releases.

Opener ‘Scanner’ is the steeliest of the EP’s six tracks, built around stuttering drums and menacing bursts of noise before all-out assault is launched in the track’s third minute. Sitting amongst three stark interludes - taste of what else the mysterious producer has to offer - are two further club-minded tools in ‘Chatter’ and ‘Headspace (Ground Control Mix)’. The former continues in much the same vein as ‘Scanner’; all faltering beats, throbbing bass and frosty presets. The latter, meanwhile, goes even harder, throwing madcap spinback FX and manipulated vocal samples that form the track’s main melody source into the mix. It’s hard to tell where exactly All Caps will go next but with such quality control instilled into the label now five years into its lifetime, there’s no doubt it’ll be worth keeping an eye out for.

Blawan - Communicat 1022 EP

The launch last year of his own Ternesc imprint afforded Blawan the platform to begin releasing some of the results of his ongoing interest in modular techno, previously pursued in live sets alongside Surgeon as Trade and Pariah as Karenn. The label’s first two releases, issued mid-last year saw the producer fine-tune and distill the evocative, brutalist techno that has mostly formed the backbone of his discography thus far, following on from early explorations of various strands of bass music sitting at around the 140BPM mark issued by labels such as Hessle Audio and R & S. Last year’s pair of EPs came following a three-year gap in solo releases, marking his first lone output since 2012’s His He She & She on Hinge Finger, and while that EP saw the producer working within the parameters of techno, the differences were stark, the beats packing a much harder punch than ever before with the gap having been bridged by his aforementioned work alongside Surgeon and Pariah.

On Communicat 1022, he continues further along this path with excellent results, delivering four bleak and banging, yet distinctive cuts firmly steering clear of the possibility for some modular production to retreat into a somewhat repetitive rut. Opener ‘Say What You Want To Say’ is best described as springy, its rubbery synth lines running circles around hefty drums. ‘Rubber Industry’ is slightly more reserved though no less blunt with a bassline that doesn’t fail to meet the requirements of the track’s title as a creeping melody eases in on the track’s final four minutes just to add a further point of tension. ‘Marga’, meanwhile, is perhaps the most big-room of the four tracks on offer, a tumult of thunderous drums and prophetic, clanking synths. The strongest EP yet on Ternesc, 1022 Communicat finds Blawan hitting on all the best possibilities of working with modular tools.

Machine Woman - Genau House
(Where To Now?)

With few releases to her name thus far, most prominently last year’s eerie, industrial, Peder Mannerfelt-released For Sweden, Nottingham’s Anastasia Vtorova, or Machine Woman, makes her first move this year on the ever-reliable Where To Now? with Genau House, made up of two original productions and a captivating remix from Kassem Mosse. Opening out on the sprawling 11 minutes of ‘I Can Mend Your Broken Heart’, the narrative arc that Vtrova had been inspired a series of failed Tinder dates that she had gone on is quickly introduced. What’s also apparent from the start is how considerably gentle Genau House is in comparison to the overlying brooding that permeates her 2015 EP. Vtrova’s soft, purred vocals tease in and out of the mix over the tick-tocking drum pattern, metronome-like sound effects and airy synths that repeat throughout the track’s runtime. Not a great deal changes in the track’s 11 minutes and yet in Vtrova’s hands, that isn’t a negative.

Kassem Mosse’s interpretation of the track maintains the length and much of the simplicity of the original, Vtrova’s hushed vocals once again drifting in and out over sharp, thumping drums. Also yet again, little changes until the sixth minute, Mosse’s breakdown giving way to big room claps and fits of percussion driving the track that little further into the stratosphere. Completing the EP is the distinctly more sinister ‘Friday Night’, a merciless slice of techno and the kind that befits the Berlin club scene that acts as the impetus for the track. With “sometimes unfortunate exclusivity inherent in sectors of the Berlin nightlife” referenced explicitly in the text accompanying the release, the specific parts of the city’s club scene that Vtrova is referencing are clear, though she appears to maintain an even hand in the argument. Her heavily pitched down, altered vocals and early calls upon her subject to join in her fun (“I wanna show you how I get down”) paint a picture of unity in the scene that is, to some at least, seen as somewhat exclusive. Soon, Vtrova’s lyrics turn to feelings of loneliness, while the pulsating, industrial backing continues unrestrained. It all hints at something far more complicated, away from the projected hedonism that exists across much of both the underground electronic music and club scenes today.

Avalon Emerson - The Frontier

Stepping up for her debut release on Young Turks sub-label Whities, The Frontier sees Avalon Emerson drawing on her Arizonan upbringing to create two spellbinding cuts prime for those brooding moments of euphoria on the dancefloor, the Berlin-based producer taking in influences from the desert that surrounded her childhood home, twinkling synths bringing to mind the clear night skies that would surround the dusty climes that she once called home. Where the desert would perhaps usually be painted as an arid, barren land, here it forms an influence for something distinctly meditative.

Lead track ‘The Frontier’ kicks into life with driving drums underpinned by harsh dashes of bass and is carried along across seven minutes by synths that sound somewhat mournful yet underline the sense of longing that permeates the EP’s 3 tracks - the EP is completed by a beatless “Synthapella” of the lead track which allows Emerson’s devastatingly plaintive melodies to shine all by themselves. ‘2000 Species Of Cacti’, meanwhile, is what cements Whities’ sixth release as one of 2016’s best yet, comprised of hopping drums, touches of piano swirling around, the occasional buzzy drone of a distant synth making its way in and out of the mix here and there, and repeat. It’s deftly simple and all the better for it - an unfussy concept that expertly sidesteps any possibility of tying the music down too heavily.

Bruce - Steals / The Trouble With Wilderness
(Hessle Audio / Idle Hands)

I first mentioned Bruce’s ‘Steals’ on these pages late last year among the wealth of bass-driven techno that had been and still is emerging out of Bristol and the surrounding areas. Such is its bonkers brilliance, it had set tongues wagging in its radio rip form (complete with “Rinse FM” dents and DJ talk-over) six months ahead of its release date which finally came last month via Hessle Audio, the imprint through which the producer had made one of his first steps onto the scene with via 2014’s Not Stochastic EP. There’s a distinct quality that has marked out most of Larry McCarthy’s productions to date, that being his use of space in the music, and particularly occasional breaks of complete silence. Despite being clearly primed for the dancefloor, the EP’s lead track takes hold of that trusty formula once again to excellent effect, the stuttered beats of the intro giving way to a wail of feedback, and then nothing before it comes chugging back to life, more forceful this time and propelled by almost nursery rhyme-like melodies - I’ll proudly own up to having sung along to them in a club on occasion. I’ve also witnessed that silence throw people once or twice in the club in recent months and it never stops being entertaining.

Elsewhere on his latest EP for Hessle Audio, Bruce explores almost noise-rock tendencies on ‘Relevant Again’, a clatter of bass, drums and the odd, distant vocal sample, while ‘Petal Pluck’ is a more soothing, beatless number, a repetitious melody contracting and expanding giving the track a guiding sense of rhythm. Bruce’s second outing with the label follows on from what is already a strong start to 2016 for Hessle after February saw the debut release from fellow Bristol-based producer Ploy with the expert use of a J Dilla sample forming the rhythmic backbone to that EP’s best track ‘Move Yourself’.

Not wasting any time, Bruce quickly follows his latest work for Hessle Audio with a debut EP via the Idle Hands imprint, run out of the Bristol record shop by local scene figurehead Chris Farrell. The Trouble With Wilderness once again sees Bruce exploring his non-linear approach to dancefloor music with title track, perhaps the EP’s most ‘floor-friendly’ catching him in a rather melancholic, minimalist place and ‘Waves’ built around solemn drones and gorgeous, sinuous melodies. The EP is completed by ‘Summers Gotta End Sometime’ on which the gaps are ever-present and the synths a fair antidote to the gravity of the other two tracks, stepping out of the wilderness as such. With such characterful productions emerging in abundance and a clutch of material also forthcoming this summer, Bruce continues to make his mark as a name to trust for outstanding ‘underground’ music.

DJC - Club Constructions Vol. 7
(Night Slugs)

Listening through the four tracks that make up the latest in Night Slugs’ ongoing Club Constructions series, it likely won’t take much prodding for fans of the label to deduce exactly who is behind DJC. What’s most interesting though about the seventh instalment of Club Constructions is the stark difference in tempo to that of the six releases that have come before it. While maintaining the rather utilitarian approach that defines Club Constructions and that Night Slugs heads Bok Bok and L-Vis 1990 outlined in 2014 in a manifesto of sorts - “Tracks are as raw and stripped back as possible, built around one simple idea” - DJC’s contribution to the series takes a markedly different tact within those rules.

While both said that rules could be broken, it’s clear what tied together every Club Constructions release and it’s no less clear here, but where previously the rule that tracks be “grounded in the club” meant that most of those contributing were working within 130+ BPM territory, DJC explores how slower music can be just as affecting on the body in a club environment. Furthermore, while the tone throughout remains somewhat solemn in the vein of previous releases in the series, DJC deviates ever so slightly from the manifesto with elements of affecting synth play, providing subtly melodic bursts, albeit sparingly as you might expect, on opener ‘Capricorn’ and ‘Native’.

The drums throughout bear hallmarks of both hip-hop and grime, no surprise in light of Night Slugs’ previous output, but despite their sedate state, the arrangements can only be described as dancefloor-focused, raising at the very least a rhythmic tap of the toe from the most casual of home listener. The EP’s latter two tracks find DJC closer to traditional Club Constructions fare, owing to their skeletal drum workouts, underpinned by faint rafts of bass and little else. Club Constructions has always been about getting the most of as little components as possible and while Club Constructions Vol. 7 could be considered in parts to take in more elements than other producers in the series, it still remains that no present feature is surplus to requirements.