Sunday, 27 December 2009

Free Grievous Angel remix

Perfect remedy to too much food and wine - a rather fine free remix of Monkey Steak's Tigris Riddim by man of the moment Grievous Angel, courtesy of the good people at Steak House Records.

Grab it

The second Steak House 12", a follow up from the first which featured Octa Push and Mr. Gasparov, is due for release in the new year and features three new tracks from the Monkey Steak duo (Atki2 & Hanuman). It looks set to be a good 'un.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Tune of the day: December 21st

Tune/track of the day returns, inspired by a painstakingly slow, snow-coated shuffle home along with the rest of the walk-back-from-work masses:

Fennesz – ‘Black Sea’

Taken from Christian Fennesz’s latest and quite possibly greatest full-length, the title track from Black Sea neatly sums its parent up in ten gorgeous minutes. Shifting from an opening hum and crackle to a sudden burst of delay-drenched guitar, it conjures up an enduringly bleak landscape as suited to a darkened walk in the snow as to the quiet headspace of a midnight train journey.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

10-20 - Lake [Highpoint Lowlife]

Fresh from bigging up Highpoint Lowlife and 10-20 in my Short Circuitry 'summary of the year' thing, more big ups for 10-20's new EP Lake. It's expectedly great.


Highpoint Lowlife wunderkind 10-20’s self-titled debut album looks destined to wonder, delirious and confused, into the upper echelons of this year’s best ‘lost’ records. It’s a shame – his music is certainly worthy of wider appreciation, managing to cram into its awkward, lanky form elements of classic Warp electronica, folksy sampleplay and sudden glimpses of hip-hop influenced swagger. It’s a surprisingly complete record considering it came out of nowhere, marked by a devotion to peculiarly organic textures and claustrophobic closeness that reached its highpoint (heh) in the self-perpetuating ambient whorl of ‘Arcadeagle’. It’s also only four quid from the label’s website, which to these ears makes it the bargain of the year.

Following on from the full-length, he has turned his attention to the ‘Landforms’ series of EPs, beginning with the summer’s Island and now reaching its second installment. I’m not entirely sure to what extent mental projection is responsible, but Lake does sound distinctly more aquatic than its predecessor, each track drowning in limpid lakes of delay and sending hollow ripples outward from each burst of synthetic energy. The crunchy, static-infused ‘Overloam’d’ is certainly the least immediate thing he’s managed to craft yet, drawing attention to brief melodic flashes that burst suddenly outward to stain its greyscale backing in deepest green.

Out of the four tracks here, ‘Endzone’ is probably closest in spirit to his earlier work. With each release his fascination with texture over colour has become more pronounced, resulting in the hypnotic double blow of ‘Boat’ and ‘GolgothA’, both of which prioritise subtle shifts in pace and structure to create disorienting sonic environments in which to wonder. In this sense, 10-20 shares at least a little in common with sound installation artists – in particular a fascination with the structural integrity and architectural potential of music – but his sense of narrative arc remains a defining feature. These are still pieces, with defined temporal development, a beginning, middle and end, and are all the better for it. Roll on the subsequent landforms.

A year of Short Circuitry

My final Short Circuitry column of the year has just been published on Muso's Guide, encompassing a (relatively) swift run-through of the year in electronic music and a couple of lists which, whilst containing some fantastic stuff, could in no way be said to be definitive. Such is life.

The column can be found here, avec lists and embedded videos - here's a text only reproduction of the main body of the feature.

There’s something so offensively bland about end-of-year lists that I’m almost loathe to curate one myself - yet given that this column only started in July, it seems almost churlish not to. At this point, the power to make music of such technical proficiency that it makes the work of Warp’s early pioneers sound lo-fi by comparison is encoded within the hardware of every single computer. This fact is not only responsible for the remarkable state of diversity that electronic music finds itself in at the end of this decade, but also for its lucid, shapeshifting nature.

The second half of the noughties has been the point at which the ‘net has really come into its own for distribution of information – musical, cultural, political or otherwise. Away from questionable government interest in filesharing and data availability (I’m looking at you, Murdochs), and valid concerns about our increased reliance on screens for survival, such enforced globalisation has without a doubt been the key shaping force in modern music this decade. It’s hard to avoid the feeling that the musical landscape circa now would be far less exciting without its myriad charms and pitfalls.

Which leads neatly into the soca beats and tribal flex of UK house: 2009 was the year when our bass sounds fully woke up and ‘got’ funky – and began getting funky with one another. The last twelve months have been characterised by incredibly rapid cross-pollination, giving rise to a host of luminous, supple and deeply sexy hybrids spanning the links connecting two-step, dubstep and UK funky itself. It’s been an intriguing cultural and musical collision: at the end of 2008 all eyes were on the ever-expanding fertile zone between dubstep and techno, exemplified by the mechanistic and cyclical heart of 2562’s debut album Aerial and the music on Appleblim’s Dubstep Allstars 6. A year later, the sounds of Detroit and Berlin have become absorbed into the living whole, one of many influences permeating cutting-edge dancefloor sounds – lending Untold’s skeletal grime a cool, chrome sheen, and infusing Peverelist’s gorgeous machine soul with an intrinsically mechanical, hypnotic heartbeat.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his record for pushing things forward (FWD?), Kode9’s label Hyperdub has led the charge toward pastures new and flexible. One of the first traditionally ‘dubstep’ DJs to fully embrace the truly global permutations of funky, his own ‘Black Sun’ was something of a landmark release, its furiously acidic synthline as much a rallying cry to battle as a call for celebration. And, along with the swung futurism of the Blunted Robots crew, Geiom’s tropical bounce and Cooly G’s unique take on house, it was both: simultaneously declaring war on the stagnant cul-de-sac dubstep was staggering drunkenly into and opening the floor for a welcome return of an ‘anything goes’ mentality to the dance.

Elsewhere, the mainstream beckoned following chart-hogging and still-ubiquitous remix commissions for Skream (La Roux’s ‘In For The Kill', naturally) and Joker (Simian Mobile Disco’s ‘Cruel Intentions’). Next year looks set to be an exciting time for Joker and his compadres Gemmy and Guido, with their scorched melodies and future-shocked R’n’B perhaps arriving at the right time to court a mainstream increasingly excited by all-things synth-based.

Away from club concerns; though not strictly electronic, Broadcast & The Focus Group crafted a wonderful insular world of their own on their ‘stopgap’ EP Witch Cults Of The Radio Age, burying the occasional ‘proper’ song in the fuzzy detritus of a lifetime’s worth of nostalgia. It may have been the year’s finest example of what The Wire have recently been calling ‘hypnagogic pop’ – hazy and often beautiful music buried under the weight of its own past. Sounds as disparate as Leyland Kirby’s achingly beautiful ambience on Sadly The Future Is Not What It Once Was, Gold Panda’s sample-based travelogues and Nite Jewel’s uber lo-fi electro-pop tap into the same mindset. Whether such ideas differ in any way from Boards Of Canada’s kidulthood or the ghosts that haunt Burial’s spectral two-step - or whether they represent some more general social phenomenon - is up for more sophisticated discussion, the likes of which it seems excessive to go into here. Ultimately, each of these artists has enough character to last far beyond theorizing, and all are well worthy of investigation.

A similar atmosphere also defines the music of Highpoint Lowlife’s success story of the year (depending, of course, on how you define success), 10-20. He’s been startlingly prolific, releasing one of the year’s best records in the shape of his self-titled album, as well as two EPs from his new Landforms series, Island and Lake. His music itself treads a curious line between impossibly busy and warmly ambient, the tension between stuttering percussion and muted melody on tracks like ‘Hallows’ and ‘Arcadeagle’ creating an intense, hallucinatory sensory deprivation that finds its resolution somewhere between waking and dream.

Long term Highpoint Lowlife associate Ruaridh Law – The Village Orchestra, or TVO, to give him his official title – has had a similarly busy release schedule. His hour-long ambient improvisation I Can Hear The Sirens Singing Again was wonderful, but even better were the six-tracks of upfront, highly percussive techno that made up his The Starry Wisdom EP. Again treading the line between energy and introspection, ‘Aklo Cut With Saffron’ and ‘The King In Yellow’ drive relentlessly forward, even as delicate wisps of melody drift through the superstructure like smoke. Both intensely physical and almost intangible, it’s this delicious contrast that makes The Starry Wisdom the most rewarding techno record of the year.

To wind up where we began, in pleasingly techno-esque fashion, Highpoint Lowlife’s attitude towards swift releasing and digital distribution mirrors what I discussed in the opening paragraphs. In many ways Thorsten Sideboard’s label is leading the pack in terms of modern technology: each release is immediately available digitally at an almost comically reasonable price through the HL website. As a new decade starts and the debate about mp3 sharing continues unabated, it also posits an example of the internet’s largely untapped potential: here is a label unearthing as yet undiscovered gems and making them widely available, simply and cheaply, motivated by nothing other than love of music. At this point, that seems as inspirational an idea as any to take forward to the next decade.


What a disappointment.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

'It's a London ting'

Nico Hogg - 'Nightmare at minus 70 feet'

Since I relocated away from the Big Smoke for the second time, I’ve become increasingly aware of the hypnotic pull the city exerts; every time the coach pulls into Victoria station my identity immediately subsumes into the surrounding morass of ‘London’ as an entity. It’s a strangely safe and comfortable feeling. Ordinarily, traveling on a packed tube train is something to be dealt with rather than appreciated, but for at least the first half-hour post-arrival it takes on the rose-tinted sheen that comes from knowing you’re back in familiar territory.

When you grow up somewhere it’s easy to never stop and consider its effect on your psychology, attitudes and actions. I was only starting to appreciate the city for what it was when I left the first time, and that same experience has been repeated this year. A lot of people never leave – Ken Livingstone for one is proud of having spent his life in London. One of the people who first ‘properly’ introduced me to my home city, Nico Hogg, does an impresive job of photographically documenting some of its less obvious aspects. In focusing on events and areas oft ignored - or simply not noticed at all - by most bystanders, his photos manage to draw attention to some of the thousands of tiny stories that we swiftly pass by daily, creating tiny microcosms of the city's character as a whole.

Nico Hogg - 'Nicholl House, Woodberry Down'

Nico Hogg - 'Metronet, I do a f*ck to your mother'

Nico Hogg - 'Under the greenway'

Bass culture fiend Martin Clark is acutely aware of the city’s characteristic aspects, both conceptual and actual – London’s impact upon the evolution of post-garage music is a subject he has regularly discussed over the last five years of his Blackdown blog (which articulates everything I'm trying to say in this little piece in a far more coherent way). It was also the loose theme of his debut album with production partner Dusk. Upon its release, I initially found Margins Music to be an intriguing curio, delving deeper into the geographic and cultural boundaries and blends that have shaped UK bass music than any other producer’s music.

With a year or so’s retrospect, it’s one of the most complete albums to have emerged from the dubstep scene as a whole – shifting from tracks influenced by its progenitors’ love of early grime (‘Concrete Streets’ and ‘The Bits’, featuring Durrty Goodz and Trim respectively) to periods of swirling ambience and strikingly vibrant garage (‘Focus’). The album’s single most attractive character though is its unrestrained exploration of new musical modalities – droning tones and unusual scales taken from traditional Asian musics, which sound at once foreign and strangely familiar – London’s legacy. The thought of what we’d be left with if the BNP had their way is terrifying: London’s vitality simply wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for its inseparable blend of cultures, nationalities, geographies, wealth, ideas and aspirations that exist alongside one another physically yet often seem to inhabit entirely different spaces (the ‘glass walls’ Blackdown referred to in his interview with Nico).

At the tail end of last month Clark’s label Keysound Recordings released Grievous Angel’s Margins Music Redux, a reimagining of the original album in keeping with his previous Ableton mixes, which manage to highlight hitherto unnoticed aspects of other artists’ tracks. He’s done a stellar job on Margins Music, weaving its entirety into a single unbroken hour or so’s journey and futher focusing the original record’s cross-cultural blend into a hypnotic, delay-drenched drift through London’s astral plane. Vocal snippets are awash in oceans of aquatic echo and often oddly muted within the mix, as though reaching the listener from the far side of some invisible void. Themes ebb and flow across the album’s length, opening and closing with the first and last word from Durrty Goodz, and climaxing during ‘Focus’ with an eerily poignant line from Trim’s ‘The Bits’ – intentional or not, it manages to refer simultaneously to the city’s recent past and the dystopian nature of its near future, as CCTV cameras close in on our every move.

“1984/This was not the world I was born in.
I fell from the sky and was found and kept/But I’m still curb crawling with intent”

As well as drawing attention to the roots of the duo’s distinctive sound, Grievous Angel has also done an impressive job of making explicit their links with other artists across the globe who strive to create a similar sense of dreamlike wonder: the awkward, percussive stutters and asymmetric scales recall Gang Gang Dance as their most abstract, whilst the ghosts of a hundred different voices that rise and fall throughout create a hypnagogic feeling of dissociation – not a million miles from the Wire’s handily lumped together crop of ‘hauntologists’.

It may well be destined to be one of 2009’s ‘lost’ records, buried beneath the shards of its parent genre’s recent fragmentation and the increasing demands of the dancefloor, but there are hidden treasures to be found amongst the alleys and mazelike twists of Margins Music Redux’s cityscape.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Dirty Three, in session 1998

Whilst trawling YouTube for Dirty Three clips to include in my last post, I stumbled across this quite startling set of three songs performed in session during 1998. Warren Ellis is still clean shaven at this point, which essentially says all you need to know. Needless to say, they're well worth the time out of your life.

Last Horse On The Sand

Sue's Last Ride

Distant Shore

'Disneyland for rednecks'

The benefit of hindsight is always a good thing where All Tomorrow’s Parties is concerned. It’s probably a side effect of it being held at Butlins, but it induces a curious and intoxicating sense of removal from the outside world that always takes a few days to wear off after the inevitably painful journey home on Monday.

The sight of a Butlins camp – a by-word, as far as the majority of festivalgoers are concerned, for cheap and tacky holidays from a bygone era – during the winter is oddly emotionally charged. There’s a unique sense of bleak beauty that emanates from its rows of identikit one-storey chalets and maze-like sports complex, abandoned save the odd small group playing chilly football on a small five-a-side pitch. During the night it bristles with activity, as warmly wrapped individuals huddle and run from home to central complex and back; in the early morning’s emptiness it glows with a sad serenity and the slightly uncomfortable juxtaposition of the old-fashioned and the new.

Which goes some way towards explaining the appeal of ATP’s winter festivals – quite aside from the year-round draw of some mightily impressive bookings and the living, breathing hangover cure that is the pool’s lazy river. Recently though, I’ve been a little skeptical about the festival’s increasing reliance on indie nostalgia – if still unable to resist its draw. The My Bloody Valentine curated Nightmare Before Christmas is a case in point, as it takes all of an hour onsite to remind me of exactly why I keep returning.

There’s also the small matter of the bands. Friday evening sees Josh T. Pearson take his preacher/demon act to new levels of intensity, wringing squalling treble noise from his guitar on a stage bathed in deep blood red. Whilst his performances always tend towards the anarchic, the presence of a drummer and swelling walls of scorched distortion brings fire and brimstone bubbling through the cracks between Pearson’s baritone yelps.

Yo La Tengo’s Popular Songs could almost qualify for lost album of 2009 status, disappearing as their records often do amongst waves of hyperbole for vastly inferior indie bands. In some ways their problem is that they’re simply too consistent. Friday’s show in Centre Stage acts as a reminder of how well pitched their precarious balancing act between pure pop and blistering feedback can be. ‘Periodically Double and Triple’ and ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ infuse sixties pop through a filter of keening Americana, ‘Autumn Sweater’ is beautifully understated and mind-bendingly intense fifteen-minute closer ‘Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind’ outdoes My Bloody Valentine’s performance later that evening for sheer acid-fried noise.

On Saturday, Lightning Bolt actually perform onstage, in an act of inclusiveness that turns the entire front half of Reds (myself included) into a seething mass of bodies. Every ATP seems to include at least one classic performance in the intimate confines of Reds – Be Your Own Pet’s scathing turn at Thurston Moore’s festival in 2006, my first exposure to Fuck Buttons in 2007, The Mae Shi’s glorious technicolour antics earlier this year – Lightning Bolt take the prize for the end of 2009. Later that evening, Bob Mould joins No Age onstage for a run through of three Husker Du songs. Yes.

As ever though, the Dirty Three’s performance on Sunday night acts as a reminder that, yes, they remain the finest live act in the world. Warren Ellis, Mick Turner and Jim White are probably the three most accomplished musicians onsite this weekend, yet Ellis’ wonderfully surreal and self-depreciating stage banter has the quality of making the huge Pavilion stage seem as tiny as a pub back-room. The sheer feral intensity of opener ‘Indian Love Song’ and serene beauty of ‘Some Things I Just Don’t Want To Know’ lift the sizeable crowd away from Ellis’ neatly observed “Disneyland for rednecks” and into hitherto unexplored regions of inner headspace. I could watch Dirty Three play every night for the rest of my life and find something new to enjoy every evening; such is the personality and dreamlike sense of wonder and loss they inject into their ostensibly simple instrumentals.

Which seems an apt way to describe each ATP really – each time the local bus rolls away from Butlins on a Monday morning an entirely different set of memories is left behind.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Peverelist - Jarvik Mindstate [Punch Drunk]

ATP-related hiatus well and truly over (for another few months at least), I've spent the last few days continually obsessing over Jarvik Mindstate, the debut album from Peverelist (also known as 'Tom from Rooted'). It's just crashed straight into the top echelons of this year's finest albums for me - gathering together elements of jungle, d'n'b, techno, ambient and dubstep and blending them together with a big ol' dollop of Bristolian soul. I reviewed the album for Drowned in Sound (it also got an entirely inaccurate and woefully self-congratulatory piece on Pitchfork, but hopefully that can be ignored as much as humanly possible) - here it is again:

It’s probably worth opening with a proviso – I’m a bit of a geek for Tom Ford’s music. It may have had something to do with the fact that his involvement in Bristol’s electronic scene runs deep – he manages the city’s finest record shop, Rooted Records – but even on his earliest 12-inch releases the music he made as Peverelist seemed to emerge curiously, precociously whole. Shorn of many of his scene contemporaries’ commitment to gritty analogue hiss and hard dancefloor edge, ‘Erstwhile Rhythm’ and ‘Infinity Is Now’ were all chrome sheen and stumbling, looped melody – aspects that immediately drew slightly overzealous comparisons.

Much has been made of his perceived debt to techno; indeed, along with Scuba, 2562 and fellow Bristolian Appleblim his music is regularly cited as being a major point of crossover. And its presence is indisputably felt: his slowly deconstructed themes and habit of taking a single idea through to its logical conclusion are hallmarks that define the nine tracks that make up his debut album Jarvik Mindstate. The dreamlike permutations of ‘Bluez’ and labyrinthine tunnels of opener ‘Esperanto’ both use melody as a basis for experimentation, creating a consistent rhythmic environment in which a fairly simple central premise can be thoroughly explored.

Ford’s music tends to be mentioned in the same breath as London and Berlin - incorporating as it does elements of both cities’ dance cultures - but strangely enough rarely with reference to his home city’s history. Yet if Jarvik Mindstate – named after the inventor of the artificial heart - serves to confirm a single fact, it is that his music falls effortlessly into a continuum extrapolated straight from The Pop Group through The Wild Bunch, Smith & Mighty, Krust, Massive Attack and on into the future.

Bristol’s musical credentials barely need repeating. The city’s unique cultural and social heritage gave rise to a neatly drawn lineage of artists fusing emergent US hip-hop influences and the restless, rebellious energy of punk – epitomised by The Pop Group’s seething debut Y – with the bass ‘n’ space-heavy soundsystem culture of the city’s sizeable Caribbean community. The resultant blanket term ‘the Bristol sound’ in turn gave way to the vague and far more irritating trip-hop label - and in doing so opened the floodgates to a seemingly endless stream of turgid post-club pre-bed chillout fluff. The ubiquitous coffee table beckoned, with predictable results.

All of which makes it fairly easy to forget how otherworldly and alienated Blue Lines, Protection and Maxinquaye actually sound even now, after a decade-and-a-half of overplay. The same can be said of the city’s earlier junglist material, even after the slow stagnation of an increasingly homogenous drum ‘n’ bass scene. Ford’s label Punch Drunk Unearthed has just re-issued Smith & Mighty’s (al)mighty classic ‘Bass Is Maternal’, which in four minutes pretty much manages to define the phrase ‘ahead of its time’, predicting the following two decades of UK dance music in its deft amalgam of delicately sliced breakbeats, clipped vocal samples and cavernous bass echo.

In many ways Jarvik Mindstate picks off where the city’s pioneers left off, and Ford’s intricate attention to percussive detail betrays his interest in its early drum ‘n’ bass scene. ‘Yesterday I Saw The Future’ is jungle deconstructed, stripped bare to its very essence. Here, the drums themselves are the track’s central facet, interlocking to form odd tessellated shapes before disengaging again and returning to diffuse forms, all in front of the most skeletal of melodic frameworks. Pinch collaboration ‘Revival’ gives dub the same treatment, further elevating the genre’s studio trickery and spacious atmospheres to high electronic art.

If the danger remains that all of this could sound soulless, an excuse for tech-head experimentation, the adrenaline shots of chromatic synth that ripple across the appropriately cyclical ‘Not Yet Further Than’ provide ample evidence to the contrary. Similarly, both ‘Clunk Click Every Trip’ and ‘Infinity Is Now’ are examples of shockingly emotive machine soul, their strikingly individual and weirdly beautiful aspects undiminished by regular play since their original releases.

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Peverelist’s is a singular and fascinating ear for production - heavily stylised, instantly recognisable and relying on hypnotic repetition to generate eerie idiomotor responses. In spite of its modern exoskeleton, in addition to generating the same curious sense of urban dissociation common in his predecessors his music also maintains their distinctly human aspects. When all is stripped away what’s left is essentially the opposite of Robert Jarvik’s famed invention: a warm, beating heart, intrinsically mechanical but terrifyingly fragile.


Yes, it's just that good.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The year's lost gems 1: Nite Jewel - Good Evening

First off, I suppose it’s fair to say that my 2009 has been marked by total immersion in bass culture – theorising, dancing like a loon and writing about it afterwards: the lot. The upshot of this is the feeling that I’ve got some handle on the rapidly changing landscapes of UK-centric bass music. Its downside is the feeling that I’ve completely missed out on a large number of records, those ones that seem to have drifted past with minimal fanfare from either mainstream or indie press. With this in mind, December (with its tendency for few new record releases) presents a pretty decent catch-up opportunity. Recommendations on a postcard to the usual address.

Nite Jewel’s Good Evening, released on No Pain In Pop back in August, deals me a tiny pang of irritation at each listen, uncomfortable in the knowledge that I could have discovered this so much earlier. Loosely, its self-consciously lo-fi atmosphere and the delicately woven strands of free-association that make up each song’s narrative drive could fit neatly within the Wire’s incredibly smug ‘hypnagogic pop’ genre boundaries (or ‘glo-fi’, or whatever the latest term happens to be). Certainly all the elements are present and correct; primarily a curious sense of disconnection between music and listener, as though each song is emerging fully-formed from a separate temporal and spatial zone. Yet sticking a blanket term around a group of artists inevitably serves to set up invisible barriers, and there’s far more that attracts me to Ramona Gonzales’ music than to, say, Ariel Pink’s.

I’m sure most people remember times when the indistinct notes of a tune you recognise drift from someone else’s stereo, and you’re so sure you know what it is that your brain starts ‘hearing’ the vocals from the song in question. It doesn’t even matter if it’s not the song you thought it was – the mind is a powerful convincing tool. It’s an odd phenomenon, and one I can’t imagine has been given any ‘proper’ name as I’m not convinced there’s anything remotely tangible or scientific to it.

Anyway, on Good Evening Gonzales’ half-mumbled, half-sung vocals are buried so deep in a wash of hash fuzz that they sound more like half-recalled memories, an artificial, listen-too-hard-and-you’ll-miss-them construct of the imagination. As far as these ears are concerned it’s a major part of the record’s appeal, generating a kind of slightly wonky, off-key nostalgia that reaches its pinnacle on ‘Heart Won’t Start’. Like the entire history of indie/dance deconstructed and stripped bare to its basest components – addictive drumbeat, meaningful/less vocal slurs and blunted synth shimmer – it sounds a little like the early Factory bands might have, had they grown up in a sixties US hippie commune instead of the grey concrete jungle around seventies Manchester. Either way, it’s gorgeous and has barely left my stereo since I got hold of it.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Put the fun between your legs

"Over the course of the last week Bristol’s Arnolfini has played host to an invasion of thinkers, doers and those of every persuasion in between, in an bid to form a collective mindset in the lead-up to the climate talks in Copenhagen in a couple of weeks’ time. The Bike Bloc was formed as a collaboration between the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination and Climate Camp, each bringing to the table their own perspectives and thoughts under a common shared brief: a group of people gathering together to brainstorm, plan, prototype and create a finished product over the course of a short and intense session."

I've just published a short piece on threadme's fantastic 'Thoughts & Finds' blog about this week's Bike Bloc project at the Arnolfini, which has brought together a disparate group of people to work collectively and pool ideas to create an 'irresistable new machine of resistance'. The result has been a set of prototypes for the bloc, built out of old bicycles, which will be recreated and brought into operation in Copenhagen next week. It's been a worthy and interesting project for the Arnolfini to be involved in, bringing a living, open art project to a public art space and encouraging the generation of novel ideas.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Geiom & Shortstuff [Planet Mu]

Of the many trajectories along which post-garage sounds are traveling, there’s one in particular which is rapidly marking itself out from the others in its sheer, slavish devotion to shockingly bright melody and soca-infused funky beats. Despite her own productions’ often thoughtful and subtle nature, Ikonika is probably the best example of a DJ pulling out all the stops in this direction – her recent sets have flitted between genres with seeming ease, unhesitatingly flirting with the boundaries of excess and in doing so becoming thrilling exercises in how to work a packed floor. Her recent set for Resonance FM, available to stream on Soundcloud, functions as an impressive summary of where this strain of dubstep is at now – and includes, amongst others, Brackles’ mind-bendingly brilliant remix of Crystal Fighters’ ‘I Love London’.

The Other Woman featuring DJ Ikonika by ruthbarnes
Mix starts about halfway through

The epicentre of the group of producers actually making this material though seems to be focused on the Blunted Robots/Berkane Sol axis – Brackles, Shortstuff, Martin Kemp and Nottingham relations Geiom and Spam Chop. All are impressive DJ/producers in their own right, but some of their most exciting material is emerging from collaborations – Shortstuff in particular, whose ‘Tripped Up’ with Mickey Pearce was a highlight of Ramadanman’s recent Dubstep Allstars mix. Arriving with surprisingly little fanfare, Planet Mu’s latest contains the products of his work with Geiom, a pair of tracks that together constitute both his most dancefloor-ready and most musically progressive material yet.

To a certain extent it’s possible to detect the roles of each producer in the making of ‘No Hand Signals’ – the impossibly busy beat structure and schizophrenic dynamics are pure Shortstuff, yet Geiom’s composer’s ear and recent experiments at house tempo lend the track both longevity and a metronomic bounce that belies the complexity of its percussion. It’s also fantastic, seething with cartoonish energy and swung UK funky rhythms.

‘Wardenclyffe’ is the real gem here though, an aggressively melancholy garage skip that drifts along on gorgeous wisps of oriental synth melody. A minute or so in the track suddenly shifts gear, opening wide to allow a devastating descending breakdown to take over for a precious few seconds before kicking off at full pace once more. It manages the tough feat of being both a wonder to listen to on headphones and an absolute dancefloor bomb, and also happens to be one of the most spectacular tracks I’ve heard all year

Friday, 27 November 2009

Playlist: Hyperdub - Corsica Studios

It’s been a pretty tiring few days on a plateau I’ve only really started to descend from now, and it’s Thursday/Friday already. Hyperdub’s fifth birthday celebration was on Saturday at Corsica Studios, and over the course of the seven or so hours spent there it served as a potent reminder of its roster’s heady blend of deep contemplation, druggy haze and razor-sharp, technicolour edge. Aside from the growing differences – of which there are many - between its key players, the combined effect of placing such a varied host of artists alongside one another brought into sharp relief their shared thought patterns. So rather than attempting to write a hazy, several-day-later review of the evening, this playlist is designed to try and emulate that effect.

King Midas Sound – Cool Out – one of the highlights of their live set, Kevin Martin’s almost supernaturally thick bass frequencies played off an oddly catchy vocal hook to hypnotic effect.

Digital Mystikz - Anti-War Dub – dropped by Mala in re-worked and re-energised form, its deeply considered aura and sentiment shines through whatever treatment it’s put through.

Skream – I (Loefah Remix) – no-one does bass frequencies like Loefah does; thick, viscous things that swallow an entire room full of people whole. Mala ending a set with this – one of my favourite half-stepped tunes – was a minor stroke of genius.

The Bug – Poison Dart ft. Warrior Queen – not much needs to be said about this except that it utterly ruins a dancefloor at 4:30 am.

Kode9 – Black Sun – Kode9 seems to be at his most effective when left to his own DJ devices for extended periods of time (see also: his whole night takeover of FWD earlier this year). His three-hour set saw the label’s boss move from his own warped take on UK funky through his label’s dubstepping back catalogue and a killer final hour of old school drum ‘n’ bass and jungle.

Ikonika – Smuck – over the course of this year, Ikonika’s sets have become ever harder and more streamlined, fusing into an inseperable fusion of colourful bleeps, restless forward propulsion and gut-wrenching bass drops.

Cooly G – Narst – coming straight after Ikonika’s technicolour, almost painfully vibrant melodies and fried circuit-board dynamics, Cooly G’s opener was a welcome slice of minimalism strapped to a lithe and slinky funky beat.

LD – Shake It – one of the final things we managed to stay dancing for, and an appropriately energetic send off into a freezing night.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Short Circuitry: November 2009

Muso's Guide have just published the latest edition of Short Circuitry, featuring Hyperdub's London party last Saturday along new material from Four Tet, Joy Orbison, Kowton, Grievous Angel, and more.

Check it

Other Peoples' Tunes 1: The 'F**k National Express' Mix

So called because it was thought out and planned on a hugely delayed bus from Bristol to London. Here's my middle finger to National Express: proof that something productive can come from the fact that one of your buses got 'lost' on the M4.

A new mix of other peoples' tunes - some new, some old - recorded by myself on Ableton in one go, no overdubs, re-recording or somesuch. Tracklist below:

Naphta – Soundclash 1 (Grievous Angel VIP)

Ghost – In The Club

Brackles – Rawkus

Asusu – Taurean

Guido – Chakra

Darkstar – Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer

Relocate – Origins (Original Mix)

Geiom – Bubbles

Scuba – Aesaunic

Peverelist – Clunk Click Every Trip

Pangaea – Router

Untold – Don’t Know, Don’t Care

Octa Push – Dubsssh

Ramadanman – Revenue (Untold Remix)

Roll Deep – Eskimo (Vocal Mix)
Sully – A Reminder

Joy Orbison – BRKLN CLLN

Ghosts On Tape – Predator Mode (Roska Remix)

Geeneus – Yellowtail VIP

Pearson Sound – Indelible
The Hizatron – Von Glooperstein

Kowton – Stasis (G Mix)

Download here, if the idea takes your fancy.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

12" Round Up: October-November

In slightly late style, here's a round-up of the last couple of months’ most essential releases on wax, ranging from the willfully psychedelic bassbin techno of Berkane Sol’s Hizatron/Geiom plate to T++’s bubbling tech reduction of Monolake’s epic ‘Atlas’.

The Hizatron – Von Glooperstein
Geiom – Bubbles [Berkane Sol]

Geiom’s Berkane Sol label has been one of the most consistent operators in UK bass over the last couple of years, acting as a home for his own productions as well as those of his Nottingham contemporaries. This most recent release has seen the turn of Wigflex’s Hizatron, who turns in ‘Von Glooperstein’, a downright evil sounding slab of brooding, bass-driven minimal techno that builds ever-so-slowly until every element begins circling one another; a battle between bass and percussion that generates a gradually escalating whirlpool of psychedelic elements. You’re lost at two minutes, and spat out at its end.

On the flipside Geiom returns to dubstep tempo for his most intensely percussive workout yet – ‘Bubbles’ does exactly that, swelling and bursting with minimal dancefloor fire. There’s talk of the next Sol release being his incredible ‘Sugar Coated Lover’, a second collaboration with vocalist Marita. Yes please.

Untold – Gonna Work Out Fine EP

This should really have had its own post all to itself, but as it’s been a few weeks now since Jack Dunning dropped his latest mutant creation on the world it has merged itself into the entirety of this round up. Still, Gonna Work Out Fine is indisputably one of the year’s finest releases, and is likely to withstand any competition for the top place over the next month or so. Much as the early signs were there, in the stretch-and-snap dynamics of early Hemlock release ‘Discipline’ and the slithering minimalism of ‘Anaconda’, there is very little that could have paved the way for a track like ‘Stop What You’re Doing’, its jerky nature and bass-driven propulsion demanding that you do exactly that.

Even better though are some of the other tracks on here: ‘Don’t Know, Don’t Care’ welds a devastating stop-start grime hybrid to classic house piano licks, and ‘Palamino’s rising synth intro stretches on for what feels like an eternity, generating a sublime vertigo that sudden falls away when the snare driven riddim hits in full force. I reviewed the record in full for Sonic Router, but it really has to be heard to be believed – this is the bold new world for bass music in 2009, and its willful ignorance of anything as stilted as ‘genre’ is an inspiration to carry over into 2010.

Hyetal – Neon Speech/Gold Or Soul [Soul Motive]

Bristol producer Hyetal’s ‘Pixel Rainbow Sequence’ was a sleeper hit, akin to fellow residents Joker and Gemmy in its technicolour synth-led chaos. His new 12” for Soul Motive is a little more considered, two slices of melancholy, melody-led dubstep that hark back to the city’s trip-hop heritage – ‘Neon Speech’ is strangely delicate and moody despite the presence of thick subs. ‘Gold Or Soul’ is the standout though, a slow roller buoyed by thick swells of aquatic synth wash that seems to end all too soon.

Joy Orbison – J. Doe/BRKLN CLLN [Doldrums]

It’s a little unfortunate for Joy Orbison that ‘Hyph Mngo’ was so hyped, and so loved by everyone from Martin Clark and Mary Anne Hobbs to Sacha and Zane Lowe (one notable exception being Energy Flash author Simon Reynolds), as it sets him an almost insurmountable peak to reach with each subsequent release. Luckily enough this doesn’t seem to be a particular stress point for him, as the first 12” on his Doldrums label gathers two more of his productions that stand up well to their predecessors.

Even if neither gathers quite the same MDMA-enhanced serotonin mindfuck that the intro to ‘Hyph Mngo’ is capable of causing even now, both give some indication that he’s already developed a singular style, blending strongly house-influenced, complex drum patterns with thick, shimmering synths and dreamlike vocal stabs. ‘J. Doe’ follows that formula to a tee, building in miniscule increments with almost sickening restraint before a glorious resolution two-and-a-half minutes in. ‘BRKLN CLLN’ sees him on a funky flex, cyclical percussion reaching ever greater heights as the track continues to grow to ever-greater heights over its length.

Joy’s may be a relatively simplistic concoction, but when the results are this slick, there’s not a lot that can be said to deny his endorphin-focused pleasures.

Ghosts On Tape – Predator Mode (Roska Remix) [Wireblock]

Roska is fast becoming the funky-remixer du jour, recently reworking everyone from Untold and DVA to Four Tet and upcoming synth botherer Ghosts on Tape. The latter is one of Roska’s best remixes thus far, taking the original’s cheeky vocal sample and layering it above dark, grimey beats and an escalating techno infusion. Well worthy of investigation.

Gemmy – Johnny 5 EP [Planet Mu]

The title track of Gemmy’s new EP was the highlight of his mix for Mary Anne Hobbs’ Bristol: Rise Up Special, all frazzled SNES melodies and grinding low end. All four tracks on this release are easily its equal, shifting from delicate skank (‘Shanti Riddim’) to full-on, head-busting dubstep (‘Wata Down Sound’). Full review for Sonic Router here.

Monolake – Atlas (T++ Remix)

Torsten Profrock takes hold of Monolake’s huge techno-odyssey ‘Atlas’ and boils it down to the barest of elements in true T++ style, before layering it up with progressive, shifting percussion that slides back and forth as though sinking in quicksand. Profrock’s forte seems to be in taking the raw materials of other peoples’ music and filling every corner with some sort of sound – be it odd bubbling, scrapes and grinding or ever-present static wash – yet somehow maintaining its intrinsic groove and danceability, in spite of his work’s devastatingly minimalist nature.

Photo: 'Ridley Market' by Nico Hogg

Friday, 20 November 2009

Apple Pips Autumn: Al Tourettes & Instra:mental

Laurie Osborne’s Apple Pips imprint seems to have been operating in fits and starts lately. During the summer, no sooner had Brackles’ long awaited Get A Job/Lizards 12” hit the shelves than the label’s seventh installment arrived, pitting a second Appleblim-Ramadanman collaboration on an unsuspecting world. ‘Justify’ was the definition of a slow-burner, hiding its riches in the label’s least dancefloor-aimed release. Yet its smooth transition between rough and smooth - the opening crackle of staccato synth suddenly opening wide to a flood of aquatic melody that drenched the track in nocturnal ambience and more than a hint of foreboding – offered a glimpse into Osborne’s mindset.

Never aiming merely to provide the next big floor hit, the Apple Pips roster thus far has staged excursions ever deeper into the crossover realms between UK bass and gaseous, white-noise infused house and techno. This autumn’s two releases follow the same set precedent, with a minor detour in the shape of Instra:mental’s quite startling ‘Leave It All Behind’.

Pips008 is the turn of sometime Appleblim co-producer Al Tourettes, who turns in a pair of incredibly odd but strangely compulsive tracks that straddle the lines between dubbed-out Bristol business and the percussive whirlwinds of labelmate Torsten Profrock. In fact, the closest comparison here is Profrock’s work as T++, all dense, mechanistic whirrs and melody generated the interplay of a host of separate mechanical components.

It’s not exactly what you’d describe as floor-friendly – on ‘Dodgem’ the kick drum seems to go out of its way to form an awkward, stumbling rhythm more suited to falling down a set of stairs than dancing with any level of grace – but compulsive in its sheer complexity. The same is true of ‘Sunken’, each individual piece of the puzzle has been placed so deliberately that listening requires an impressive feat of concentration.

On Pips009, Instra:mental follow the stellar ‘Watching You’ with a pair of more experimental oddities that take the duo further than ever from their roots at drum ‘n’ bass tempo. I reviewed the record in full last month for Sonic Router, but it really is an astonishing piece of work. Nowhere near as immediately accessible as ‘Watching You’, but equally rewarding, ‘Leave It All Behind’ sets their distinctive vocoder work over a swirling 4/4 backdrop. On the flip, ‘Forbidden’ is a tough-as-nails exploration of austere techno/dubstep territory, bristling with barely resolved aggression and reining in their typical displays of emotion on a tight leash, so as not to let the track's elastic tension tear itself apart entirely.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Seasonfive - The Tube, 14th November

At the tail end of 2009, the whole dubstep/techno crossover ideal feels increasingly less an isolated concept, as 4/4 motion assimilates as merely one of many influences driving bass music into new and ever more exciting territories. Yet Seasonfive, hosted at the Tube once a month by Furesshu and Snugfelix, probably does more to encapsulate the sheer diversity and weighty calibre of Detroit and Berlin-inspired UK sounds than any other Bristol club night.

Last month saw a co-headlining bill from Untold and Pangaea, with the latter’s spun out garage flex and soul mutations going head-to-head against his former labelmate’s increasingly chaotic future grime. As the best evenings tend to be, it was all a bit of a blur by the end, but special mention has to be made of the new tracks Pangaea’s been taking on the road recently - ‘Why’ in particular is stunning, following on from where ‘Memories’ left off with a deftly chopped bit of soul sampling and churning stabs of sub-bass.

So it’s appropriate that his fellow Hessle Audio head Ben UFO makes an appearance at the follow up. As the swung soca rhythms of UK funky make further inroads into the realms previously marked by garage mutations, his own DJ sets increasingly skim along the bleeding point between genres, shifting between four-to-the-floor derivatives and the increasingly broken beat structures favoured by his labelmates. One moment in particular stands out above the others: I’m at the bar when the strains of Geiom’s second collaboration with Marita, ‘Sugar Coated Lover’, ring through the Tube and force a fairly undignified dash for the floor, minus drink. Still, it’s worth it – certainly the most accomplished track he’s produced at house tempo, its minor key pulses and sweet vocal hook summon the same sense of bittersweet longing that made ‘Reminissin’ so addictive.

Blunted Robots mainman Brackles follows with a set similarly heavy on London-style rudeness and his label’s well-attuned sense of post-garage swing. The man’s a consummate skill on the decks - being able to stand a couple of feet away to watch him mix merely enhances the experience further.

Yet it’s testament to the weighty calibre of tonight’s line-up that the venue is comfortably full with people by the time of Peverelist’s set at the comparatively early time of half twelve – although perhaps unsurprising, given his local reputation and the fact that his debut album Jarvik Mindstate is due for release in the next couple of weeks. As far as these ears are concerned his is the set of the night, ‘Not Yet Further Than’ in particular honing the ever-shifting dynamics of his earlier tracks into a subtly morphing synth-driven epic. Its pleasingly circular title perfectly fits the track’s maze-like paradoxes that seem to wrap themselves around the room’s edges and cut through the crowd with unerring accuracy. Later on, the insectoid dynamics of The Hizatron’s ‘Von Glooperstein’ bring to mind the click and scuttle of giant mandibles, yet its darkened intent is offset by a lurching bassline that poises itself somewhere between willfully psychedelic and utterly hilarious.

Once again, things have gotten a little blurry by the time Furesshu closes, although his airing of Brackles’ ‘LHC’ marks an appropriate energy boost for the unwanted return to street level and chilly cab ride back to a flat weighed down in empty cans and bottles. Next month’s second birthday party is set to feature a two-hour set from Scuba, as well as Hotflush labelmate Sigha – yet another lineup it would seem foolish to miss.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Guido - Beautiful Complication/Chakra [Punch Drunk]

On paper, there are several things about Guido’s music that really shouldn’t work. Despite his origins and current operation within Bristol’s blossoming bass scene, his ear for bright and shimmering melody recasts him as the polar opposite to the introspection of the city’s smoked-out past and tech-heavy current operators Pinch, Appleblim and Peverelist, trading at times on unabashed sentimentality. His debut 12” for the latter’s Punch Drunk label, Orchestral Lab/Way U Make Me Feel, was drenched in the kind of luxuriant, silky-smooth synth work last heard on the soundtrack to some dodgy eighties erotic thriller. Upon initial inspection at least, his productions forgo the gritty dancefloor flex of his Purple Wow companions Joker and Gemmy. Yet he manages to skirt all of these potential pitfalls with surprising delicacy, infusing his future-shocked R’n’B with a wide-open sense of space and melancholy undertone that sits perfectly within his home city’s dubbed-out musical continuum.

Aside from being one of the most immediately gripping things to emerge from the post-dubstep sprawl in 2009, his second 12” continues to push the increasingly convincing argument that the raft of new producers emerging in the wake of the genre’s sudden outward trajectory are responsible for some of the most forward-thinking UK music to emerge in years. Given that Guido is markedly less prolific than the majority of his contemporaries, the sheer leap in ambition, vitality and vibrancy between his first and second single releases seem an indicator that he may well be on his way to eclipsing the work of his closest musical bedfellows. On a label not short of wonders over its thirteen-release runtime, Beautiful Complication/Chakra may well be the finest thing Punch Drunk have yet put out.

The aspect that elevates ‘Beautiful Complication’ to instant classic status is a deliciously human tension set up between Aarya’s angelic vocal performance and Guido’s minimalist, brooding production. In contrast to the none-smoother, none-richer layering of ‘Orchestral Lab’, he strips the track’s chassis down to its bare essentials, at times reduced to nothing but beat and raw-edged stabs of sub-bass that constantly threaten to overwhelm her presence entirely. So when all the elements meld together and her voice disintegrates around the edges to blur into soft-edged synth pads, the sense of release is tangible, and glorious.

‘Chakra’ on the flip is brighter, driven by a whipcrack snare figure and tightly-wound funk dynamic that pushes forward relentlessly underneath a wonderfully simple and sparse piano motif. Almost entirely untreated in the surrouding morass of heavily processed vocoder elements and dancefloor propulsion, it could have been taken straight from a classic Chicago tune, bumping upward in tight syncopations before spiraling back down into the mix. During the final minute, after three minutes of forward motion and a sudden move towards future-garage flex, the track’s central elements merge into a tantalizingly short tangent straight towards Detroit, gradually submerging underneath a chorus of glassy bleeps that finally fade to close.

This is the stuff that modern pop music is made of. Forget where it came from or the scene that begat its closest relatives – if Cowell and co had managed to put out a single song as affecting, uplifting and vital as either of these two, the entire reality TV charade would have been worthwhile. Luckily, it doesn’t matter one iota that they haven’t, and it wasn’t.

[Photo: Resident Advisor]

Friday, 13 November 2009

Vladislav Delay feat. Lucio Capece - Union Chapel

Tonight the Union Chapel is an oasis of calm in a city beset by a sudden torrential downpour. As London venues go it’s particularly appropriate for this evening’s performance, the church’s intricate architecture and slightly odd acoustic properties reflected in Vladislav Delay’s almost indecipherably complex sound sculpturing.

In many ways it’s difficult to know how to interpret Sasu Ripatti’s performance tonight. Whilst on record his delicately shaped abstractions maintain a certain sense of direction, this evening’s show with Lucio Capece downplays obvious build and release dynamics for more exploratory meanderings. It could hardly be considered a bad thing – the music the duo craft is complex and almost irresistibly immersive, managing to slow the brain’s activity to some sort of suspended animation for the hour or so they are onstage. The spell is only broken by sudden, punctuated bursts of abrasive noise and percussive utterances from Capece’s formidable array of clarinet preparations – including, amongst other things, several differently sized coffee tins and, perversely, what appears to be a large silver vibrator.

The real joy in tonight’s performance though is in witnessing the interaction between the two players. Throughout, Ripatti and Capece face in almost opposite directions, their minimal physical communication belying the almost superhuman concentration that seems to be focused on every musical development. Capece’s sax and bass clarinet are passed through Ripatti’s impressive tabletop array of processors, setting up a complex feedback loop that allows each player to feed both directly and indirectly off the actions of the other. The result is an hour’s worth of crystalline percussive textures that shift back and forth as though alive, lent an eerie physicality by occasional phases of cavernous, dubbed out bass – a memory of Ripatti’s seven years spent making music in Berlin. That this evening is the first time they’ve performed live together makes it all the more entrancing to watch.

Despite the set’s heavily improvised nature, there are odd moments when recognisable melodic themes appear briefly and lock into the groove, stretching out to infinity under the pair’s ever rippling surface tension. The thick analogue tones of ‘Kuula (Kitos)’ form a central motif around which the ocean of heavily processed sound breaks off in tiny eddies before pulling back together as the melody sinks below the surface. The aquatic comparison is an apt one – each tiny sound produced by Capece is added to Ripatti’s sonic whirlpool and takes on a life of its own, turning away on odd tangents before becoming re-absorbed into the maelstrom. When the final notes ebb away the pair leave the stage in as understated a manner as they arrived, the odd silence hanging in the air feeling merely like the next section of a much longer performance.

Photograph: 'Brixton Monsoon' by Nico Hogg

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Four Tet previews new material, remixes

After last week's post about Four Tet's upcoming new album and remix EP, Hebden himself made an appearance on Gilles Peterson's Radio 1 show this week to preview a new track, 'Plastic People' and Joy Orbison's remix of 'Love Cry'.

'Plastic People', a reference to his residency at the club of the same name, is of the same ilk as 'Love Cry', a gradually building and shifting 4/4 overlaid with certain Four Tet trademarks - loose-limbed, organic percussion and delicate chimes. It's also quite wonderful, playing a distinctly garagey beat that could have some straight from his collaborative work with Burial against looped diva vocals and the all-encompassing synth wash that he shares with Joy Orbison.

Chatting to Peterson, he revealed that his new record was largely influenced by his DJ residencies at The End and Plastic People, and "just changing the tempo of my music to a more house type of tempo... the combination of that and the DJing has been the biggest influence on the new record for sure".

Joy Orbison's 'Love Cry' takes the original's vocal stutter and runs with it, setting the entire thing to the same balance of euphoria and melancholy that made 'Hyph Mngo' so addictive, and manages to out-class the already brilliant original.

Roska's also put a snippet of his 'Love Cry' remix up on his Myspace - it's as expected from Roska, complete with his trademark cocky namecheck vocal sample. Both mixes are due out on a 12" in the next couple of weeks.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Interview: Vladislav Delay

Even by his usual prolific standards, this summer was a productive time for Finnish electronic maestro Sasu Ripatti. Fresh from a professed desire to move to a more organic and increasingly ‘physical’ mode of music-making after the sleek vocal house of his last record under the Luomo moniker, Convivial, Ripatti’s diffuse percussion work on the Moritz Von Oswald Trio’s Vertical Ascent long player saw him make a return to the drumkit. The results were stunning, as his delicately shifting patterns lent a sense of urgency to the Basic Channel mainman’s dubbed out electronica and half-remembered techno beats.

In a suitably timed move, his magnificent latest album as Vladislav Delay, Tummaa, was released only a couple of months later and elevated these more human elements to the logical next step. Building heavily on an improvisational framework and featuring the work of a live trio of musicians alongside Ripatti’s trademark subtly integrated electronic textures, its seven compositions veer from oppressively dense dub-tech to widescreen, jazz-influenced modalities, all bound together by a keen spirit of exploration.

As the days draw to a close on 2009’s strangely extended early autumn, Vladislav Delay’s fragile soundscapes seem to become ever more seasonally appropriate. I caught up with him for a chat for Drowned In Sound, in advance of a rare London performance with Tummaa guest musician Lucio Capece.

You’ve been on a fairly busy tour this autumn with the Moritz von Oswald Trio as well as your own shows – how has it been going so far?

There actually hasn’t been any tour to speak of, more or less just the usual string of shows with/under different formations. But it has been going well, thanks.

Do you prefer touring with a full band rather than doing solo sets?

Both if possible. It’s the same as in the studio when producing music, I prefer to have a wide range of things going on rather than just staying focused on one project or style. Being with a band is so different from doing solo stuff it really resets the whole mood, and when solo shows and band shows are mixed it really makes the playing more concentrated and interesting. You need to change how you approach the music when you play a solo set of whatever kind of music the previous night, and then play with a band. And during a solo set the next evening you might try to incorporate something of what happened with the band the night before.

The bottom line is that when you do solo sets it’s more or less catering to your ego and doing exactly what you want, whereas with a collaboration of any kind you have to leave your ego at the door, look at the bigger picture and support it whatever way you can. I like both a lot and wouldn’t like to ever face a situation where I had to choose one over the other.

Do you find that the process of working with a group of musicians, as opposed to solo, changes the way you write and results in a different end product?

Of course. It’s already in the nature of a group that there are many more variables and influential factors compared to doing it all by yourself. At least in my case, I have never been in a dictatorship-like group where someone commands the whole show and you just try to follow that. It’s a process of interaction and reflecting upon what others do, so it changes much more than when going it alone. I find it much harder to stay on any premeditated course with groups, whereas in solo projects I can keep more or less the vision that inspired me in the beginning, and create something around that.

Do you have any plans to work further with Moritz von Oswald?

We’ll do more sessions in December and we’ll have to see if they work out well. I have a good feeling that they will though, the group is really growing together and finding new areas to explore.

When you began writing the pieces that became Tummaa, did you have any overall idea in mind for what the end result would be, or was it a matter of elements changing as the recording went on?

With Tummaa I wanted to go even further away not only from beats but also this whole ‘electronic’ feel, to try to see if I could come up with interesting music and soundscapes through other methods and sound sources. Even so, in the beginning I established some ‘grooves’, which I reduced bit-by-bit along the way, and in the end there weren’t many beats remaining at all. So I had a driving vision as always but it changed along the way, perhaps more than usual.

The easy availability of sequencing programs and soft-synths seems to be generating a host of very similar-sounding club-based music, all made with the same basic tools. Has your move towards more organic and spontaneous recording been affected by a desire to continue to make music that sounds unique?

Probably, although it’s not just the means to produce but also the marketplace, clubs, audiences, and especially DJs that are responsible for the lack of any interesting movements in club music.

I also find it more difficult to make club music with interesting sounds and so forth that would have a unique feel to it. I’m definitely driven by the desire to look for new and interesting sounds and musical discoveries, so I naturally tend to often go to more leftfield territories.

Do you think that the more leftfield musical direction you’re currently exploring as Vladislav Delay bleeds back into your more club-oriented music? Do you see any potential in transplanting the physicality of your work with the Moritz von Oswald Trio and on Tummaa into a club-based form?

I’m sure things influence back and forth, at least subconsciously. I’m about to begin some new work that is directed towards the club area. If my experimental projects don’t influence the club stuff directly, at least they do in the sense that when I work enough with experimental stuff, I feel the urge to do more pop stuff. That is how I look at the club stuff, pop and mainstream as it is. I don’t know what underground club or dance music is to be honest, I haven’t for many years now.

That probably means that there is actually less direct influence and borrowed elements than there could be. When I change course and begin new work and a new style I try to lose the old baggage as much as I can, even if for nothing other than private inspiration. I think it will take quite some time before I even try to replant anything like Tummaa onto club format.

In previous interviews you’ve described the process of recording Tummaa as involving real-time processing of actual instruments, and from listening to it I can imagine that its basic song-forms are robust enough to withstand further changes. Are you fond of taking these more improvised aspects into your live performances? Can we expect your London performance to incorporate a healthy dose of new and/or re-imagined music?

To be fully honest, I have no idea what i will do in London with Lucio. It’s the first time we will appear together on stage, and we haven’t even discussed what we should or shouldn’t do yet. Which is great, but it doesn’t allow me to really say much about the coming concerts. I’m very keen to include as many improvisational aspects in live concerts as possible, that’s actually my biggest joy about playing. Planning ahead is a joy killer for sure.

And finally, you tend to have a number of projects on the go at any one time – what can we expect from you in the near future?

Right now, I’m in Belgrade setting up the studio and all the works for Vladislav Delay Quartet to record our first album’s material. So that’s the main focus now, doing the group and seeing what can be done with it. It’s very much improvised music with a touch of jazz, with myself playing drums - so it’s a whole new playground again, which I shall enjoy a lot. Besides that, there are some new projects being planned that are more towards a club and less a head-oriented direction.

Vladislav Delay (featuring Lucio Capece) and Food perform at The Union Chapel this Thursday, 12th November, with support from Eyebro