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Reissue Of The Week

Reissue Of The Week: Tresor 30
Noel Gardner , October 1st, 2021 08:22

A new compilation celebrating 30 years of the essential Tresor Records is an immense undertaking, combining classic tracks from the Berlin label’s back catalogue and new specially recorded music

At its best, a Tresor Records release completely takes you over and reprograms your cultural receptors to the point where you don’t just find yourself thinking “this is the best shit ever”, you’re in the zone of “I am never going to listen to any other type of music again”. Guess that’s the rave mentality in effect – like, doubtless all kinds of music can induce it in different people, but something about being hours deep into a ripper techno club night really brings that feeling to the surface. Right?

I tangibly caught it a few times while listening to Tresor 30, which I have not been doing in a club but which, at around five hours, lasts as long as you might expect a visit to a club to. (Non-British and/or well-travelled techno consumers might consider this the observation of someone living under the yoke of miseryguts UK licensing laws – and they’d be right.) An immense undertaking, combining classic tracks from this Berlin label’s back catalogue and new, specially recorded ones from contemporary producers continuing its legacy, it’s by no means wall-to-wall bangers and doesn’t attempt any ‘story of a night out’ type overarching, although the sequencing is at times worthy of praise in itself. The physical version is a box containing a dozen 12-inch records, meaning that the final three tracks of 52 (!) – Carlota’s ‘Breakfast On The Moon’, ‘Deep Mid’ by Torus and Mareena & JakoJako’s ‘30 Perlen’, all varyingly calm and ambient – sit on Side X.

Mareena is a resident at Tresor the club, which was founded not long before the label in 1991 – hence the occasion for this release – and has since moved premises, from a concrete vault to a repurposed power plant. Both sides of the operation had a sort of precursor version: in Tresor Records’ case a label called Big Sex, which released some examples of German acid house (not then in abundance, just post-unification) and Deep Into The Cut by Detroit EBM duo Final Cut. Jeff Mills of Final Cut, having definitively thrown his lot in with the city’s techno scene, also featured on the first Tresor release, the X-101 LP with Mike Banks and Robert Hood. While there’s never been a nailed-down ‘Tresor sound’ you could point to without someone countering, “well, what about…”, this new-gen Detroit tackle, all high-minded blood-and-thunder panel-beating, formed the basis of the label’s basic deal for some time after.

Mills, Banks and Hood remained label lynchpins, and all feature on Tresor 30. Has anyone before or since programmed hi-hats better than Jeff Mills, I ponder while revisiting ‘Late Night’, taken from his 1992 debut LP Waveform Transmission Vol. 1 and as bubbly as it is brutal. Robert Hood’s ‘Master Builder (Sandman Option)’ dates from 1995, the same period and mindset as his genre-coining Minimal Nation album and audibly working the same inspirations. And Banks opens this collection under his best known alias, Underground Resistance: ‘The Final Frontier (Nomadico Remix)’ is balletic starfighter rave that soars, froths and backspins, utterly futuristic in its initial context 29 years ago.

The first three sides of this, by design or otherwise, very much frontload Tresor 30 with affirmation of techno’s Blackness. Following UR is a younger Detroitian, Huey Mnemonic, and his crisp, melodic ‘Transmutation’; Indianapolis producer D. Strange’s ‘Metal Mono’ is paranoid electro clank of a type that will return later. Working as Speaker Music, DeForrest Brown Jr. is one of the most distinctive techno figures in years, cf 2020’s astonishing Black Nationalist Sonic Weaponry; ‘focus.point.shoot’ combines a low-tech, dance-unfriendly rhythm with audio from what might well be a police scanner.

Juan Atkins’ ‘I Love You’, a rare cut from 1995, chugs wistfully, and if you’re reading this with any degree of prior interest you probably know he’s the Year Zero Guy for all this crazy crap, so it strikes me as very cool that his Side C vinylmate is Manchester producer Afrodeutsche. Making good with synth-string sweeps and Michigan-via-Yorkshire clatter-chatter on ‘Can’t Stop’, contrast her presence here (likewise, some four hours later, London’s wonderful Yazzus, whose ‘Turn Of Speed’ is a bleep-ardkore tornado to pogo to) with the UK contingent on Tresor’s older roster. Let me be clear! It included some legit dons – yet was uniformly blokeish and almost entirely white.

To that end, beefy kicks and grinding electronics prevail in Surgeon’s ‘Berlin Disease’, even if it isn’t Anthony Child at his hardest, while Regis and James Ruskin double up as O/V/R, their ‘Natural Enemies’ an ultra-functional tech-funker. On that tip, NYC’s Function – a Regis associate in Sandwell District – is a recent addition to the Tresor catalogue with 2019’s Existenz; ‘Mirror Hour’ is a finely groove-orientated Millsian shiverer. The tastes, or curatorial instincts, of founder Dimitri Hegemann and others behind the label weren’t purist, exactly, but didn’t really venture into mutant varieties of techno like hardcore and jungle (ambient more so, however). Austrian producer Claudia Anderson, another current Tresor resident, belies that history with ‘Track 3’, six swirling, high-BPM minutes, and ‘Love In Allegiance’ by LSDXOXO sounds like a dug-up UK rave acetate, with vocals that could have been edited on an Atari.

It’s untenable to give everything on here its due, let alone all their related stylistic, geographic and subcultural pockets. A triple salvo of Porter Ricks, Basic Channel and Moritz Von Oswald underscores that while early 90s Germany initially lagged behind the US and UK for innovation in electronic music, somewhere in Berlin dub techno was being minted. There are, in what appears to be a first for the label, producers from Africa (KMRU’s ‘Neutral Points’, where the globetrotting Kenyan’s new agey wash is scuffed up by high-pitched synth tones, and terrific proto-techno rawness by Zambia’s SHE Spells Doom); Korea (Machína’s fizzy, modular ‘Trio’, the artist notable for having arrived in this scene via a brief K-pop career); and Turkey (the monolithic kickdrum of Nene H’s ‘Only Words Break Silence’). Maybe a third of Tresor 30’s contributors are women or non-binary individuals, set against the stretch from ’91 until a few years ago where Tresor’s discography comprised a solid wall of dudes, and Kelli Hand. (As with many similar situations, considered retrospectively, this is not specifically their fault – but, given their position and influence, not something they gave the impression of being especially concerned by either.)

K-Hand, as she usually went by on record, died in August of this year, inviting a wealth of respect for her all-round steez. ‘Boiler’, her contribution here, is an uncompromising oddity built from eerie, buzzing synth and quicksharp beats. But for unexpected tragedy, Hand’s inclusion might best be thought of as part of a cabal of undersung Detroit trueschoolers. The proverbial birthplace of techno figured in Tresor’s plans from the outset, but they (rightly!) go big on it here.

A pair of house-adjacent builders from DJ Minx and Whodat pre-empt a wild mid-90s jam by Anthony “Shake” Shakir – ‘Madmen’ is one of the best things on here, despite often being very little but a battered-sounding drum machine and a terse enunciation of the title – and Daniel Bell’s choppy, minimal ‘Still Buggin’’. Granted, we’re getting away from ‘undersung’ and into ‘globally respected dance music figures’ at that point, a bracket also containing Claude Young and Blake Baxter; the latter’s ‘One More Time (Acid Mix)’, from 1992, finds him urging a paramour not to walk out on him in a way that’s as suave as it is pathetic, like lots of classic pop music. (There’s an alternate version of this with the lyrics sung by a house diva, if you fancy a different spin put on it.)

Perhaps the compilation’s most satisfying sequence sees tracks from subaquatic gamechangers Drexciya – Gerald Donald and the late James Stinson – and Drexciyan acolyte DJ Stingray bisected with Russell E.L. Butler’s cards-on-table homage, ‘James Stinson On A Beach In The Mid-Atlantic’. Its haunted-house synth trills in a lo-fi frame, coupled with the unusually pop-leaning ‘Jazzy Fluids’ from Drexciya’s 1999 album Neptune’s Lair and the intense bass mechanics of Stingray’s ‘Bioplastics’, kick off the Tresor 30 Electro Hour (actually about 45 minutes, if we’re being pedantic). Aussie producer (think that might be another nation’s label debut, actually) Jensen Interceptor is tipping his cap to the greats, but with a deep electrofunk style I could even imagine synthwave fans digging. Ectomorph, active since the mid-90s, serve incredibly stark machine communique: ‘It Knows Your Name’ is one for headphones or big rigs. And Simulant, probably the most mysterious entity to feature, also dates from the late 90s and, on ‘The Purpose Of Simulation’, sounds like the 80s – or an idealised version of it, at any rate, akin to the likes of DMX Krew at the time.

Tresor is a canonically important label in techno history, certainly my personal one, and undoubtedly still has ample accumulated cachet: like, if someone from its roster was headlining your night, you’d be smart to put their dot-circle logo on the poster. It does nevertheless feel like it’s been pushed to the side, as regards scene discourse. As with Tresor the club, long overtaken by Berghain as the bucket-list destination for sesh gremlins in Berlin, any number of newer imprints do more to push the genre in one direction or other (even if only fleetingly). Lengthy periods in the 21st century where their release schedule consisted largely of reissues and new material from old favourites likely has much to do with this. Still, evidence that Hegemann and co don’t merely wish to rest on their laurels has been apparent in the last two or three years, culminating in this hulking anniversary time capsule. Tresor 30 is a bridge between four separate decades, and overwhelming both in its size and sense-altering thrill factor.

Tresor 30 is out now as a limited Edition 12 x 12" vinyl boxset. You can purchase it here