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

Sunday, 8 November 2009

TVO - The Starry Wisdom [Highpoint Lowlife]

Highpoint Lowlife is one of those little-known labels that puts out music of such furiously consistent quality that it’s a wonder more people aren’t aware of its existence. It’s a shame – quite aside from anything else, Thorsten Sideboard’s label is leading the pack right now in terms of digital distribution. Every new release is available to buy though the HL website for an almost shockingly small amount, as well as through larger digital distributors such as Boomkat for a little more. When coupled with the label’s impressive output – in the last few months they’ve released, amongst others, glitch-ridden electronica from 10-20 and a wonderful ambient EP by Pausal – it instills a real sense of loyalty and a ‘buy-before-you-try’ mentality that’s increasingly important at a time when it’s becoming ever less financially viable to release music independently.

Ruaridh Law, the artist more commonly known by pseudonym The Village Orchestra, has a long history with the label. As a producer he’s quite impressively prolific, during this year alone already releasing an hour-long ambient improvisation under the title I Can Hear The Sirens Singing Again and a more dancefloor-directed 12” on Stuff, The Dark Is Rising. His latest as TVO, The Starry Wisdom caps off a good year then, and on a particular high – it may well be the best thing he’s done yet.

Ostensibly a techno record, The Starry Wisdom’s core tracks twist and shift like some kind of cosmic Rubik’s cube, themes interlocking and forming oddly tessellated shapes for short periods at a time before disengaging again and floating off into the ether. Opener ‘Aklo Cut With Saffron’ is driven by a rippling 4/4 stomp worthy of Berghain in its relentless forward momentum, yet on headphones it’s as powerful an experience as it would be on a massive club system, underpinned by an almost intangible melodic drift that remains long after the beat dissipates. The diffuse percussive webs of ‘Arkham, Mass.’ are even worthier of Berlin status and a little reminiscent of T++, their mechanical stylings progressing through several distinct patterns across the track’s seven minutes.

Best of all though is the EP’s least immediately club-driven moment. The twilight electronics of ‘The King In Yellow’ are stained a deep nocturnal purple, lit by sudden flashes of light that elongate like car headlights trapped in a long exposure. If the recent reissue of Kraftwerk’s classic albums has managed to collectively remind a generation of their immense impact on modern dance music, ‘The King In Yellow’ epitomises just how far their influence extends in 2009 – still traveling at a consistent pace down the midnight autobahn, still moving relentlessly forward to the insistent pound of an engine that continues to extend as far as the eye can see. Right now, it looks as though Law will continue the journey to its logical conclusion.

And the entire thing only costs three pounds. That’s less than a pint if you live pretty much anywhere near London, and you don’t even have to leave your seat.

Postscript: Close compadres Sonic Router are giving away 'The King In Yellow' for free, courtesy of HL. Grab it here.

October 2009: A month drawn in records

As is becoming customary, due to the massive amount of material we miss out on covering in detail at CB/OB, this weekend presents a round-up of the finest new (and old) music that’s made its presence felt over the course of October.

Album of the month: Shackleton - Three EPs [Perlon]

With his Perlon debut, a collection of three 12”s entitled Three EPs, Sam Shackleton has gone that difficult step of further bettering his awe-inspiring music for Skull Disco. Paradoxically lighter of touch and yet more all-encompassingly dense than ever before, here his music flits between nocturnal flights of fancy and remarkably elegiac laments for a world gradually subsuming beneath its own emotional weight. As with all the best trilogies (the one notable exception being Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom), its middle 12” is Three EPs’ high water mark, moving from the voodoo whirl of ‘Mountains of Ashes’ to a climactic Himalayan devotional hymn on ‘Moon Over Joseph’s Funeral’. Utterly exceptional. I reviewed the record for Drowned in Sound - read the entire piece here.

Hudson Mohawke - Butter [Warp]

Hudson Mohawke is fast establishing himself as a curious national treasure. Whilst his debut EP for Warp, Polyfolk Dance, was still audibly connected to the kind of music his LuckyMe contemporaries were making, his first full-length Butter is drenched in dazzling synths and the eighties’ decadent cocaine nights. Its sheer oddball charms can become a little overwhelming at times – ‘Joy Fantastic’ verges slightly towards the irritating – but the wealth of ideas contained in its relatively short runtime drench the listener in constantly shifting bursts of grinding darkness and pure pop nous. More on Gigwise.

Do Make Say Think - Other Truths [Constellation]

With Other Truths, Do Make Say Think continue to cement their reputation as Constellation’s most furiously consistent band, stretching their folk and jazz influences into four longform, widescreen jams that take in long stretches of twilight contemplation before sudden illumination launches them skyward in a flurry of brass and thrashed guitar. Their live show in London this month was similarly essential, showcasing the band’s considerable talents in the form of both supports, Charles Spearin’s Happiness Project and Ohad Benchitrit’s Years. Full review on Drowned In Sound.

Broadcast & The Focus Group - Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age [Warp]

James Cargill and Trish Keenan’s collaboration with The Focus Group’s Justin House is frequently spectacular, inhabiting that odd region between nostalgia, innocence and sheer terror (if there even is such a place). The album’s few complete songs are isolated nodes in a sky clouded with noise from the thousands of other stars surrounding them. Between each asterisk of Cargill and Keenan’s burnished pop, House draws lines in fractal, broken samples and a carnival/funeral of strange and often unsettling instrumentation. Nonetheless, it’s often strikingly pretty, especially during the softly lilting ‘The Be Colony’ and the whistling winds of ‘Round And Round And Round’. Full review up at Middle Boop.

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - White Lunar [Mute]

I’m not entirely sure whether this falls under bona fide album or reissue territory, but as far as I’m aware a large proportion of the music on Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’ soundtrack compilation has never been made commercially available, so it’ll go here. Gathering the peak points of their scores for several films and documentaries, White Lunar makes an impressive introduction to their quite astonishing creative partnership. Away from the sexually charged dynamics of the latest Bad Seeds and Grinderman records, these scores draw the connection explicitly between Ellis’ piercing instrumentals with the Dirty Three and Cave’s balladeering later days, all wrapped up in alternating tension and release so tangible you could cut it with a knife. As winter begins to set in, its dry and dusty atmospheres are a welcome contrast to the damp of Bristol in November. I've just written a full length spiel here, on DiS.

Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport [ATP Recordings]

Tarot Sport explodes from the starting line with the eardrum-shattering noise that defined the Buttons' debut Street Horrrsing, but harnessed into Ibiza-worthy melodic shapes the experience is positively euphoric, constantly engaging and disengaging with the listener like a perfectly balanced DJ set. They’ve been playing closer ‘Flight of the Feathered Serpent’ live for the past couple of years and have honed it to breaking point, the perfect balance between tension and released achieved in the album’s final technicolour explosion. Full article here.

Hyperdub - Five Years of... [Hyperdub]

I devoted an entire column this month to Kode9’s label and its five-year anniversary compilation – it’s just that good. Anyone with even a passing interest in electronic music or some confusion about the maze-like structures dubstep seems to be forming as it matures should already have picked this up.

Reissue of the month: Max Richter - Memoryhouse [FatCat]

Over the last couple of weeks the BBC have shown a series of documentaries about the GDR and the final fall of the Berlin Wall, to coincide with its twentieth anniversary. From the vantage point of 2009 it seems almost impossible to reconcile the idea that such a monumentally different Europe still existed only two decades ago. Like his beautiful score for Ari Folman’s animated documentary Waltz With Bashir, Max Richter’s ‘lost’ debut, Memoryhouse could soundtrack any number of these programmes, capturing in its starkly drawn lines the strange contrast between what our memories tell us and the reality of what occurred. I reviewed the record in full for Drowned In Sound, here.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Hotflush Podcast No. 5 - Jus Wan

Hotflush have just put up the fifth in their series of podcasts, and true to past form (previous mixes have come from label head Scuba, as well as London's dub-tech explorer Sigha and a host of others) it's a good 'un. Jus Wan's mixing is like the eye of a storm, generating a strange sense of meditative calm even as fast paced elements of dubstep and techno form a dizzying whirl around him.

Download it here, and marvel as a fast-paced garage workout gradually dissipates into the Zen centrepiece of Shed's remix of Peverelist's 'Junktion'.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

New Four Tet album!

I watched Kieran Hebden DJ in Bristol this weekend. It certainly wasn't the slowed down techno pulse I'd expected from previous outings and his regular appearances at Border Community nights in the past. Instead his two hour or so period on the decks jumped stylistically from the swirling minimalism of his hypnotic 'Ringer' - a track which comes to life in a club like no other - to shuffling funky from the likes of Roska and Hard House Banton and a sudden, oh-so-right emergence of So Solid Crew's 'Oh No'. From the sounds of it, he's been absorbing and processing a host of welcome influences - his new 12" 'Love Cry', released last week with the minimum of fanfare, climaxes with a chorus of chopped female vocals and stuttering bass straight out of a UK funky track.

Today FACT have gone one better and confirmed that connection further
- Hebden's new Four Tet album is to be released on January 25th. Entitled There Is Love In You, it will be preceded by a remix 12" later this month from none other than Roska and Joy Orbison. This is going to be big. Four Tet's recent work has been uniformly stunning - expect no difference here. Also, nice picture.

Harmonia & Eno '76 [Amazing Sounds]

I’ve already discussed the merits of Shackleton’s meditative remix of Harmonia & Eno’s ‘Sometimes In Autumn’, back when it was free to download from RCRD LBL, but it bears repeating. In light of his staggering Three EPs album (which I reviewed in full for Drowned In Sound), already a strong contender for best of the year, it showcases a little of the new direction to his sound. Both intangible and incredibly forceful at the same time, it’s of a more widescreen nature than his material for Skull Disco, allowing sudden sunlight to lance in through occasional breaks in the cloud. It’s finally released on wax this month through Amazing Sounds, the new label from DJ/producer duo Allez-Allez, along with a second remix through Bristol boys Appleblim & Komonazmuk.

Both remixes stay true to the spirit of the originals, emphasising Eno’s talent for ambient texturing and lending each track a motorik sense of calm embedded in trancelike, repeating elements. Of the two, Appleblim & Komonazmuk’s take on ‘By The Riverside’ is the more oppressive, as the duo fill every space available with a sampleadelic wash of percussive and melodic shards as though viewing the original through a kaleidoscope. The result is a deep, limpid pool of sound that seems to draw the listener ever further from lucidity.

In another exciting remix development, FACT announced today that Shackleton has created a full remix EP of London band Invasion, entitled Invasion vs. Shackleton: Wizards In Dub. Expectant ears are imagining some sort of crossover not a million miles from Massive Attack & Mad Professor's No Protection album. Appetite suitably whetted.

2565/A Made Up Sound

Dave Huismans operates at the cutting edge between genres, bleeding dubstep’s fractured shell into a kind of hyperactive take on modern dance that melds cavernous junglist bass weight to the propulsive perpetual motion of several generations of house and techno. His mix for FACT Magazine was an exercise in how to DJ several styles of music the right way, flitting seamlessly from 4/4 techno pulse to shockingly vibrant broken beats from Hyetal, Shortstuff and Martyn, and his live sets are becoming steadily more fluent in their magpie-like approach.

It’s fitting then that the distance between the opposite poles of his work – the greyscale atmospheres of 2562 and the futurist house and techno released under his A Made Up Sound moniker – is ever decreasing, as aspects from each seep into the other to produce an inseperable hybrid. With the release of his second 2562 album
Unbalance coinciding with the first 12” from his A Made Up Sound label, Rework/Closer, the two lines come ever closer together, albeit without ever quite converging.

Is the notion of ‘dubstep x techno’ already passé? Given that his first album essentially defined its crossover, it’s a distinct possibility. More than ever before Huismans is a member of the ‘don’t know, don’t care’ school of producers casually disregarding strict genre conventions for a free flowing, ever shifting aesthetic that makes for defiantly uncategorisable yet utterly thrilling club music. Whilst
Aerial was shocking in its cool surgical precision – not a note out of place, nary a whisper of feedback or a delayed snare that wasn’t intended to be just soUnbalance paints the same picture in vibrant shades of warmth and colour. It proves to be his second album’s defining factor; another run-through of Aerial, vital though it was, would have felt too much like a safe way out. Stunning early 12” ‘Love In Outer Space’ set the precedent – a disoriented, lurching rhythm besieged by whipcrack snares and a furious sense of forward propulsion, the sudden emergence one minute in of a curious melodic duality between silk-smooth and stutter launching it hard toward its namesake.

Similarly, A Made Up Sound’s ‘Closer’ is bathed in a bubbling, ever morphing ocean of synth ripple, rises and sudden drops continually engaging and disengaging with a shuffling, deconstructed beat. In terms of sonics, it’s as unusual as anything on Unbalance, yet bristles with a forward energy often downplayed in his role as 2562. The same is true of ‘Rework’, a phenomenal ascending techno workout that builds, beatless, to a groaning drop that gains then loses layers of sound as though shedding excess clothing.

If A Made Up Sound is currently allowing Huismans to fulfill his dancefloor requirements in the most straightforward way he seems capable of, 2562 has fast become home to his more unconventional abstractions. The result is a collection of tracks that feels less like a compilation of dance music and more like an actual, coherent album. The title track drifts in on a two-minute long wash of feedback that underpins its entire length, shifting menacingly under its ungainly steeping beat before disappearing in a wash of delay that ushers in album highlight ‘Superflight’. Buffeted on all sides by shrieking gusts of wind, Huismans’ delicate synthetic melody somehow manages to stay adrift, buoyed by the thermals generated by an ever-present sub-bass rumble.

The flight metaphor is an appropriate one – throughout
Unbalance every individual element maintains a perfect distance from one another as though traveling in a flock formation. Production-wise it’s a fair distance from his closest stylistic bedfellow Martyn’s Great Lengths LP, eschewing that record's warm, soulful vibe for something of a wintry chill. As far as these ears are concerned, that's entirely a good thing.