The short-lived and insanely prolific 1080p label represents a truly odd recent development in electronic dance music whose output between the years 2013-2016 has continued to indirectly inform much of the current zeitgeist within dance music (cavalier amateurism without the results). Founded by New Zealander Richard MacFarlane following a move to Vancouver, the label helped pave the way for the cult-of-the-amateur genre that is 'lo-fi house' by highlighting novice producers that were generally new to dance music. At the time, I remember it felt like everyone I had met through the noise scene upon my move to Brooklyn in 2007 was all of a sudden making dance music and putting out records through either 1080p or L.I.E.S., not much of it striking me as anything remarkable or particularly new.
Last year, I had one of the more memorable conversations in recent memory with a music journalist whose writing had long been influential for my own music discovery and writing. We got to discussing what 'genre' meant today and the fact that we seem to be lacking a lexicon that allows us to indicate an emerging style of music. Mentioning my suspicion that labels had assumed a more central role in establishing a niche style or aesthetic, he took it one step further by noting how in 2010 a raft of British labels emerged within the post-dubstep and gained international prominence (Hessle, Hemlock, Butterz, Numbers, Night Slugs, The Trilogy Tapes, Opal Tapes, Avian, Swamp 81, etc.). A similar trend emerged on this side of the Atlantic as those young musicians and artists seeking inspiration outside of the DIY noise scene of the 00s began turning to dance music with labels like Fade to Mind, L.I.E.S., WT Records, Spectrum Spools, and 1080p presenting rosters of largely unknown artists amongst whom listeners could begin to draw the dots in terms of sonics and aesthetics. While L.I.E.S. first twenty releases were quite stylistically diverse (and remain so today), they had many sonic consistencies including use of distortion, tape hiss, and other lo-fi hallmarks. With 1080p, as it focused on cassette releases in terms of a physical product, casting a warm hissy glow upon the sounds of local Vancouver artists like Lnrdcroy and Khotin (whose 2014 Hello World album remains an outstanding exception in the 1080 catalog) and joining the likes of local labels Mood Hut and Pacific Rhythm in making the city an object of musical journalist hype-mongering.
The label's precocious child image made them a bit irritating to dance music fans like myself--no label gets the press they did without calling in some favors or leaning on professional contacts. Still, the fact remains that it's often been those with little to no experience in making electronic dance music whose lack of familiarity with gear and music history empowers them to take risks and try out ideas more seasoned producers would otherwise rebuff. A former music journalist, MacFarlane's own network of PR contacts provided the label with a means to get press most labels aren't able to buy as seemingly every major music publication was soon publishing list of the five or ten 'most incredible and bestest releases' that the label had issued. Growing alongside inceased demand for the 1080 brand, MacFarlane started releasing twelve-inch records in 2015, the artists that comprise the label's seventeen vinyl releases reads like a who's who of today's major dance music movers and shakers, including Project Pablo, Mall Grab, Via App, J. Albert, Umfang, and Jayda G. Between the summer of 2015 and 2016, the label maintained a brisk release schedule and an extremely hit-or-miss A&R strategy (the records of Sasha Jan Rezzie and Image Man didn't exactly set the world of fire.)
It was the end of summer in 2016 when one of my friends who works in the industry informed me of a career-destroying controversy erupting on Facebook. Though I do not know the details as I was hearing all of this second-hand, a post had appeared alleging MacFarlane of abusive behavior towards women in his life and he was compelled to admit his past indiscretions, closing the label as the artists whose careers he helped jumpstart jumped ship to salvage their own burgeoning profiles. For reasons I can only speculate about, MacFarlane's story was not picked up by press outlets and the sudden cessation in releases led to comments like the following posted on the label's Discogs page in April of 2017: "Does any1 know if this label is gonna continue? Nothing out so far in 2017 after an insanely prolific 2016." By the end of that August, the closest the label's shuttering came to a public announcement emerged in the wake of this errant observation: “Funny how Resident Adviser are so against misogyny and the like but have not spoken a single word on why this label has 'disappeared.’" Of course, MacFarlane's accuser may have requested and received media anonymity. But it was Discogs user Olischefski who made the following statement that effectively ended any remaining speculation as to the label's fat: "Label head was incredibly abusive toward women in his life, when it came to light he was rightly abandoned by artists on the label. the details are gross but I can't personally confirm and won't post them here.”
Part of what made the discovery of MacFarlane's past so frustrating for even music fans like myself was that the label served at the launch pad for a large number of female artists in a way most dance labels simply do not, many of whom have since shown themselves to be amongst his most accomplished signings. For while I may not have done backflips over the debut of Via App or Beta Librae and totally slept on the likes of James K and Ramzi, they’re all creators of challenging and forward-thinking experimental dance music. (I can’t nor won’t say the same about the likes of Umfang, Project Pablo, or Mall Grab but whatever, time is on my side and mediocrity will get boring at some point...right?)
Personally, I didn’t clue into the fact that the label might have released a few gems amongst the deluge until finding a download of Laura Sparrow aka LNS’ debut tape entitled Maligne Range and being drawn in by its haunting cover art. Once the opening downbeat of “Atmosphere” effortlessly pivoted from chill out mood setter to ethereal EBM on my first listen, I knew I was hearing something special and made with care. The follow-up twelve Helical Rising that arrived later that summer on Jayda G’s Freakout Cult showed an artist growing by leaps and bounds at an alarmingly fast rate with a quirky flair for high drama and dizzying melodies.
And then came what I took to jokingly calling “the great Wania drought of 2017” when the Vancouver producer continued her relationship with the crazy Norwegian clan headed up by DJ Sotofett, a producer whose Scandinavian brand of balearic house has just never really sat right with me. Now, to be fair, my hateration at the time was also born of economic necessity as I wasn’t about to go spending $15 on releases from a label’s whose output I found underwhelming. Since spending the past month with her first solo effort since 2016, I have gone back and revisited the four releases and must say…I judged too fast and too harshly.
Now don’t get me wrong. I find the producer’s output sounding as if it is trying to hard to sound like something I’ve heard before. Namely, the 90s. Like, all of it. At once. Perhaps it’s his penchant for using versions as an opportunity to take a piece into different flavor countries or the fact that his average ten-minute run time rarely feels warranted. But where the endless build of the free-floating "Slow Peak Mix" once struck me as uninspired and excessively long, now I at least grin at the fact that Sparrow makes Sotofett's style of production bearable. Where her tracks prior to the Wania releases often felt like they ended a bit too soon, getting to hear her emotive melodies and lovingly sculpted pads stretch out within the longue duree of her collaborator's compositions.
In addition to spending a year honing her production skills and songwriing sensibilities in addition to jamming it the fuck out, what shines through across all four Wania twelves is that Sotofett’s productions feel more realized, more emotional, and more sincere than I’ve ever found his work to be in the past. Sure, the oh-so 90s Latin house of “Jugando Con Fuego” still elicits eye rolls in spite of its impressive arrangement as it ultimately fails to overcome the combined force of the assembled tropes. But the intricately patient IDM-informed house of “Missed Connection?” Yeah, I can see the appeal now.
Perhaps if I had given the Wania releases more of a chance upon initial release, I would have 'gotten' LNS's new six-track EP Recons One a bit faster than the month and change it took before clicking. For fans of either her earlier output or her Wania releases, the first thing you’re likely going to be struck by is the absence of uptempo jams geared for the club as the EP breaks down into three acts. The first is centered around the one-two electro punch of the title track and “Wasp ,” the middle section comprised of two brief, mood-setting pieces, and the third introduces a new, more exploratory side to the artist's ever-growing production arsenal. The second notably different aspect is the overall fidelity, the lo-fi quality of her earlier releases having been upgraded by a solid mix down and mastering job courtesy of Ronny Pløsen that gives ample articulation to the six landscapes she paints in just under thirty minutes, her beats obtaining a punchy low-end and crisp middle range.
The melancholic, crystalline motif that kicks off the emotional electro of the opening title track quickly reveals the third major adjustment to Sparrow’s sound and that’s the apparent access to different gear and means to produce sounds that suffuse each track with a polyphony of perfectly-calibrated synthetic voices. Where both her debut cassette and twelve-inch releases sounded like the product of a bedroom producer adept at judiciously navigating the endless choices afforded by most DAW’s while remaining in search of curious and unique sounds, Recons sounds like her set-up has been beefed up considerably. But more importantly, she’s clearly put in the time to further refine her own artistic voice resulting in what feels like the most realized recording of her productions.
While the often retro instrumentation of electro can keep it a frustratingly musical genre devoid of the type of atmospherics and sound design, both Ciel and LNS present a reworking of the genre defined by their own personal sensibilities which can skew towards a more detailed and saturated sound. This is certainly the case on both the title track and EP stand-out “Wasp’ as an endless array of melodies both major and minor, minimal and maximal, and tonal and atonal provide the color and shading. Where “Retcons One” is an icy, aerodynamic thrust of groove, “Wasp” sounds as if someone applied Instagram’s Warm and Saturation filters tandem and kicked both up to 100, the notes coming through the speakers with condensation bubbles condensing into trickles of sweat. Providing the track with its most memorable element is the Vini Reilly guitar tone-channeling line that hovers effortlessly above the restless drums and arpeggiations. Mixed and edited with frequent collaborator E-GZR, the Wania veteran extracts that guitar melody and re-situates it atop a fragment of an ice glacier that is quickly melting into the warming ocean.
The second half of the EP sees the producer really come into her own at a pace of her own choosing. Astral ambient flurries of cosmic debris can be heard raining down upon a liquid water, the surface of the water transitioning from a cement wall to an immersive embrace. Ripples of delay carry the listener through the six-and-a-half minute sustained build of “July Rain.” A simple three-note bassline is rendered in tectonic scale, each staccato stab hitting with a piercing velocity to initiate a brief rhythmic bounce-back that gives the track an upwardly chugging trajectory. During a brief respite from the anchoring bass, a creeping anxiety takes hold as the atmosphere thins and oxygen levels drop before Sparrow returns the low-end to the mix for one last refrain before returning the listener to a spot not unlike where they began. Closing the record is the cyclical build-and-release of “Eons.” Centered around a pensive, darting Kraftwerkian synth vamp and another post-IDM machine beat that is at once driving and ambivalent, the track follows a parabolic trajectory with an extended closing third that ends on a sustained note existing somewhere between major and minor.
Calling to mind Ciel’s rich and romantic electro stylings that made her Electrical Encounters such a highlight of last year, LNS continues her interpolation of 90s electronic genre tropes in a manner that feels more of a piece with the type of genre science being conducted by Batu’s Timedance family of producers. Clearly finding a certain freedom within the vast hinterlands of that ultimate genre vagary, electronica—more reflectronica, amiright?—she seemingly takes the jazzy beatscapes created with Sotofett as a new structuring element to craft machine music in the purest sense. Not unlike Mickey’s doomed sorcerer attempting to conduct sentient tools to carry out their own unique algorithms programmed into their very being, “July Rain” and “Eons” threaten to escape the bonds of their sequencing while achieving that most satisfying of syntheses in its marriage of the human and machinic. Even on the straightforward electro dance-pop tracks that start the album, one can hear the artist carefully splicing together ideas and tropes pulled from IDM, leftfield electronica, electro, and house and techno so that at any moment the track can take the form of one or all of its genre building block. Her compositions take on different hues and qualities when viewed from different vantage points so that what sounds like a singularity in fact contains an endless mutlitiplicty of influence and inspiration through which Sparrow continues to carve out her own grey area in which to bask.
Tacheka - Factory 141 (LNS Remix) (Love Potion 2018)
In addition to the new EP, 2018 has also seen the release of Sparrow's first two remixes as LNS. Starting off with the most recent, we have her ambient remix of Japanese producer Takecha's "Facory 141" from his Deep Soundscapes full-length. Not something I’d typically dig as like a formulaic house track, this remix trades heavily in trad ambient pacification. But it's not just superficial as there is beating heart beneath all the pillowy pads, making for an interesting footnote to the producer’s uniquely singular corpus.
Eric Copeland - Minor Shredder (LNS Remix) (DFA 2018)