Patron saint of a certain corner of the techno MP3 blog world in the late 00s, Belgium’s Peter Van Hoesen is always a reliable source for tripping technoid weirdness. His latest offering comes under his new Maison Attali alias and is released on the Archives Intérieures label he runs alongside Yves De Mey. Improvisations on an Elka Synthex is exactly that: six brief and compelling pieces that make a strong case for why the titular synth is such a cult item amongst gear heads. And while we’re on the topic of those crazy Belgians, De Mey has a new CD out on the always-essential Entr'acte label. Exit Strategies Part 1 is eight pieces of study designed for the Modor NF-1, a newly-designed polyphonic digital DSP synth with an astonishing capacity for harmonic modulation….Despite having released brilliant albums fusing ambient and dub techno for nearly two decades now, last year’s essential Delsin reissue of his 2009 Rigning LP brought renewed interest to Icelandic techno overlord Yagya. For his first album on music-blog-turned-ambient-electronica label A Strangely Isolated Place, the producer seems to have made his sound both more immediate and even more ethereal across Stormur’s eleven tracks. A real beauty….I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of halftime d’n’b simply gets me pulling for “Horror Show.” But it’s still been extremely fascinating to watch d’n’b artists acknowledge the centrality of hip-hop to their lineage in increasingly clever ways. After two well-received twelves, Exit Records has issued Dolenz’s first album Lingua Franca, sixteen tracks of under-quantized and thoughtful Dilla-fied beats. Raise the roof….If you’ve visited Boomkat in the past week, chances are you’re aware of Nammy Wams’ shimmering Yellow Secret Technology cassette on Slackk’s newly instantiated Grime Tapes label. Over twenty top-shelf beats, Wams showcases the ethereal, Sino-tinged, and deeply melodic strain of post-Boxed grime that you might hear on a label like Local Action, but with a banging directness that makes Yellow Secret Technology one of those tapes you can play in any situation and it will always sound dope af. Praise all around….In other UK rave tape news, Borai & Denham Audio’s Club Glow unleashed an absolute brick in the form of a tape split between Mani Festo, fresh off his platter for Rupture London, and LMajor. Borai & Denham Audio Presents: Club Glow Vol 2 is a pretty overwhelming prospect at twenty-eight tracks and a two-hour run-time, but good lord, this tape is just an absolute delight that takes in the past three decades of hardcore mutations while keeping its gaze set on the present. Highlights include the sub-rattling UKG flex of Mani Festo’s “Hammerstein” and LMajor’s burrowing “Switch.” Just give it a go….It’s been a hot minute since a Music From Memory release has caught my ears, but the label put out a quiet corker at the start of April via Suzo Sáiz’s latest album, Nothing Is Objective (great title). There are a lot of records with slow-moving melodies and textures these days, but Nothing is as accomplished as they come, deploying disjunctive, environmental field recordings and the composer’s immaculately sculpted tones to quietly devastating effect. Blissful….Man, there are some really compelling label compilations floating around right now (see Tombstone Trance below). Luke Younger/Helm’s Alter imprint has plotted out its own thorny course between noise, dance, and bedroom production throughout this decade and their fiftieth release, the spellbinding Alert! compilation, feels like a culmination of the label’s ethos: “zero coffee house easy listening or functionality here.” Containing tracks Teresa Winter, Anna Peaker, Moin, Mumdance, The Modern Institute, and others, Alert! builds its own world of punky, industrialized, bombinating sound….Portland’s Sahel Sounds unveils yet another headcracking slice of Saharan synth music in the form of Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla’s omnivorous Terrouzi. A virtuosic keyboardist, Lewia is also a student of pop music with tracks like “Khal Kar” effortlessly fusing multiple strains of 90s r&b and “Niamey” indulging in a blissful, global vision of trap mechanics. Massively recommended….
Arc Light Editions is one of those labels that only puts out one or two records each year, but when they do, it’s seemingly guaranteed that they’ll be coveted by all the record nerds you know. Following on from last year’s two-volume Salm: Gaelic Psalms compilation and past explorations of overlooked artists like Joan La Barbara and Pekka Airaksinen, the label has trained its archival eye upon Martin Bartlett, a British-born, Canada-based composer. Considering that his Discogs page is currently made up of two entries, Arc Light has basically doubled his available output with the release of the Anecdotal Electronics: Live Experiments & Other Recordings LP and Ankle On: Electronic and Orchestral Works CD, two immense and deeply rewarding collections that offer up a much-welcome insight into a little-known composer….Given the renewed interest in ambient and New Age throughout this decade, it was only a matter of time before early 90s chill-out room jams would start pressed up again. The past year has introduced a younger generation to the likes of Heavenly Music Corporation (via Astral Industries) and Mappa Mundi (via Midnight Drive) with Young Marco’s Safe Trip label doing the damn thing by reissuing Trans-4M’s excruciatingly rare 1992 album Sublunar Oracles. Clocking in at under thirty minutes, Oracles is a vital document of a time and sound that is so often imitated these days. Don’t bother with the imitators when the real thing is just a click away….Reboot culture has seen two beloved house labels, U-Trax and Down Low Music, roar back to life in the past year and reissue seminal albums from Dutch ‘dreamy techno’ duo The Connection Machine. A few weeks back I was banging on about Down Low’s reissue of 2004’s Painless, now I’m urging you to check out The Dream Tec Album originally released in 1993. It’s a keeper….
There really is no one out there quite like Lukid, an artist who’s excelled at crafting a distinctive, homespun, and humid brand that is amorphous and omnivorous in a way that actually merits the tag of ‘electronica.’ After the blindingly original Twisted Blood EP released on his own Glum imprint in December 2017, not to forget that lovely Rezzett LP from last year, he joins the ranks of rejuvenated Warp sublabel Arcola to release the ambitious, wide-reaching Drip. It’s a sleepy stunner (and one of the few artists that could get me to link to Spotify;)….It was only a couple months back that I was raving about FFT’s breakneck electro, and the producer is back with a new two-tracker on Will Bankhead’s The Trilogy Tapes. A label that always pulls from the weirdest remit of an artist’s hard drive, Regional/Loss sees the producer stretching out as both cuts extend past the nine-minute mark with “Regional” advancing the paranoiac, post-Dopplereffekt (by way of Objekt and Minor Science) brand of electro the producer has become known for while “Loss” on the B-side pushes into housier, more abstracted territory. Absolutely one to watch….It perhaps makes a bit too much sense that following 4X4’s dominance over the dance music imagination for much of this current century, an array of two-step styles have come back in vogue, from electro and UKG to New Beat and beyond. The Barcelona-based M.U.S.A. label has turned to Belgium on their second release, the five-track compilation Raval Rave Breakers Pts 1, and it’s a serious party starter with the vamps always lurking beneath the surface and highlights coming from Patricia and Boris Divider. Not mad at this….Fresh off of from his split with Gramrcy last fall, the homie Gaunt is back with two new cuts of anarchistic dance music for the heads. The first release on Mosca’s Not So Much imprint since 2016, She's No Patsy / Spacebirds sees the producer in heat-seeking mode, the A-side sounding like a weirder Jam City while the B-side resembles a lo-fi reimagining of a mid-00s big room Get Physical-styled banger. Check it….Toronto’s Cosmic Resonance label is back with a new compilation entitled Cosmic Residents Vol. 1 and it’s a delightful affair that showcases six of the city’s artists who are partaking in a proggy, brainy strain of Balearic-informed cosmic disco that brings to mind the output of The Emperor Machine, Broker Dealer, Sorcerer, and SENTRALL Records while pushing further out into the edges. Solid stuff….I tend to sleep on the Jacktone label and that’s 100% my loss as they release some of the more tripping and thoughtful dance music. Label co-founder Doc Sleep dropped the quietly monumental Your Ruling Planet and while I was slow in checking it out, it’s about as top-shelf as they come. And while you’re at it, be sure to scope Mathematics’ alum Roche’s positively psychedelic Integral Synthesia Sessions Vol. I and 2 (with vol. 3 set to drop this week)…..Dark techno bores the living daylights out of me. And in reading mainstream dance music sites, it’s hard not to feel like a majority of producers decided to start a Throbbing Gristle cover band of one, the eighties becoming the sixties in many a millennial mind. Of course, while so much of the music suffers from a comical level of self-seriousness and a penchant for boring post-EDM bombast, there are also plenty of dark-minded producers out there with actual ideas of their own. While I don’t find myself falling for many of their releases, I have nothing but admiration for the dark EBM of the Pinkman label and finally made my way to the Night Of Nights EP they put out by December a couple months back and hooooo doggie, “Intervention Tune!” is a goddamn banger. Scope it….And while I’m on a thoughtfully dark tip, Belgian artist Seraphym Rhythm trots out his ambient industrial alias Damaksin for three immaculate slices of droning, gently distorted techno on the Apologia EP for Insulin, backed with a grinding, ornery Codex Empire remix. This one’s for all the Napalm Death fans out there….Rome’s La Beauté Du Négatif excels at putting out archival and new releases that look back fondly at various strands of ‘intelligent’ dance music from the 90s. Their latest compilation, V.A. 4 is a wonderfully varied affair that features an ace 1996 Monomorph cut previously only available on CD alongside a typically on-point cut by contemporary IDM maven Brainwaltzera and tracks from The Jaffa Kid, Ssiege, and label head Rawmance….I briefly mentioned this one last time, but as it’s now streaming over at Bandcamp, let me urge you once again to scope the latest twelve from the exceedingly promising Seven Hills camp who pull out a real gem with Ron's Mobile Disco, editing together two halves from the pair of EPs he released on One Louder Recordings in 2001 and 2002 into the Subconscious Exploration EP. “Subconscious Threat” is as good as sadboi tech-house gets….Something you can expect older dance music heads to gripe about every now and then is the lack of solos in today’s tracks. It’s always an interesting discussion as while I can never disagree that, yes, dance music solos are something of a lost art, I also don’t really know if I particularly miss them. That said, the energy of freeform noodling is front and center on lastminuteman’s new Iamb EP released last month on Dublin’s Jheri Tracks, five tracks of on-the-fly, lo-fi musical ideation that feel aimless and charming in the same breath. Really, it’s a rather confounding set of tracks that very much live up to the label’s promise that “are left asking more than answering anything." Dance music for those afflicted with wanderlust….
Teakup - Miscellanea (is / was 2019)
Oh my fucking gawwwwwwwd, this is what’s up! Dance music is the funniest thing; the ideas have all been done to death, and yet if you just put some actual feeling into it, the ingredients turn magical. Radioactive, even. Pittsburgh’s is/was label certainly has some heat on it going into their next release and they step up big time, dropping a proper DAW rave banger that we all needed with four tracks from the fabulously named Teakup. Much like the moniker, the ideas on Miscellanea are just clever; not groundbreaking, but who needs to to be when you have four absolute belters that make your job easier? “Lose My Mind” gets right to the point, employing a wicked, wiggling b-line and a cyberdelic vocal that has surely ripped the heart out of many a dancer already. Gunfinger techno of the highest caliber, this. “Shimmer” is the dutiful set-closer that will make you wish you had all the pills, the glistening hook and foley effect rhythms engineered to get every hair on your body standing at attention. Things go absolutely off the rails with “Darkcore 2020,” a pitch-perfect genre science experiment that feels destined to be mixed with Clouds’ recent output. Closer “I Don’t Fkn Know” is even more sublimely astounding, a two-note bass line is sent into the stratosphere by ballooning textures, enveloping pads, and (once again) whip-smart drum programming. is / was has given all the peak time DJ’s and those who want to be them a wonderful toolbox for the summer that shows the spirit of rave is alive in a big way in the midwest. Big ups.
*This came out last summer, but I enjoyed coming across it too much not to gush<3
In this week’s edition of International Cutie Pies, please direct your attention to this pair of smiling Icelandic wizards who’ve gone and released one of the more ear-catching debut records I’ve heard all year. Taking the concept of “designer techno” to laughably inspired extremes, the duo of “entrepreneurs” Ástvaldur Axel Þórisson and Emil Svavarsson manufacture “high end sound products” that appear to take a healthy amount of inspiration from UK Bass rhythm science and eMego-styled digital terrorism. Released in an eye-catching PANG™-adorned white plastic bag, the music more than matches the saavy branding, eschewing obvious melodies for Fennesz/Kevin Drumm-esque metallic drones draped over grid-scrambling beats. Opener “PANG PANG” is simply bursting with ideas in the best sense, the jittery triplets of footwork animating the focused yet restless movement, while “PANG PANG PANG”’s maniacally intent half-time lurch is the sound of eyes narrowing. “PANG PANG PANG PANG” thrives on an 81-styled lowrider 2-step beat and tangential phrasing that keeps the listener on their toes and engaged throughout, the tempo dropping further still on the organic oud-like gurgle and restless, shifty drum programming of “PANG PANG PANG PANG PANG.” The sonic intensity is ratcheted back up as a gabber-like kick announces the start of “PANG PANG PANG PANG PANG PANG” before a roundhouse kick pattern and a nerve-spiking, high-end string digs its heels in, a reminder that these sound products designers have zero interest in being tasteful, inoffensive BGM. Closer “PANG PANG PANG PANG PANG PANG PANG”—ok, these song titles are incredibly annoying to write out, haha—starts off with another droning, vaguely Shepard tone before a gear-like kick pattern and a broken dial-up modem melody, the assorted sonics careening ever upward.
Various - Tombstone Trance Vol. 1 (StabUdown 2019)
Well, this is a positively massive compilation from Cleveland’s StabUdown Recordings featuring a whole bunch of heavy hitters delivering some serious burners. Fresh off his appearance on ANSIA 003 , James Donadio of Prostitutes, er, fame assembles an inspired cross-section of artists for an inspiring state of the union for the noise techno uppercrust. Seriously, where else are you gonna have an absolute fucking mind-mangler from Italian bass scientist Piezo followed by an EBM bootytapper from Tigerbass alum and DIY SF OG C.L.A.W.S.? I honestly hadn’t once thought the words “I love 2019” until hearing that sequence, so yeah, them’s my priorities.
Is this overly conceptual record store guy dance music? Totally! Does it rip? Dear god, yes. Once you’ve picked up your shattered skull after experiencing Piezo’s agenda-setting “Sponge Effect,” Donadio’s thoughtful sequencing keeps you guessing every step of the way. Hotflush regular and Minneapolis resident TML throws the hammer down with the 303 bass bomber “Goshun,” its post-bruk agenda perfectly setting the stage for the hyper-focused breakbeats and inquisitive arps of Koehler’s experimental dancehall-inflected yarn “Below Andromeda.” Downwards associate Samuel Kerridge drops a maniacal industrial-electro torpedo on “Death Is Upon Us (Live Cut)” followed by a much-needed atmospheric breather via Long Bastard’s martial “Send.” The blown-out bass of Bad Tracking’s “Arnos Veil” takes the listener deeper into the distorted abyss as Prostitutes’ “Destiny Rush” flirts with a hardcore-freestyle mutation that’s enjoyably confounding. Things get more diffuse in the comp’s last third with East Side Ancients’ illbient-channeling “New Happy Fortune” a particular highlight alongside Grey People’s smoked-out, dubbed-out “Mourning Etiquette.” There’s even a slice of Eldritchtronica served up by Organic Dial’s whimsical “Absolute Other.” Diagonal chief Powell pops up near the compilation’s end to drop the gooey, plasticine “Glitter Flux,” a beatless study that contains a perplexing sound at its core that sounds like a mash-up of godzilla’s bark, a raptor’s scream, and a siren’s song before Vanity Productions’ whimsical “No Peep Show Here” serves as a penultimate palette cleanser. By the time the stoner metal trip-hop of The Rancor Index’s “Death By Misadventure” rumbles into being to close things out, it’s hard not to be dutifully impressed by all the ground traveled across Tombstone Trance Vol. 1’s sixteen tracks and just how well-curated the whole affair is. Donadio has accomplished something truly remarkable here: connecting a collection of diverse yet resonant grid points to plot a distinct, cross-continental coterie of artists assembled from a host of different, seemingly unconnected scenes, revealing a punky, noise-flecked core attitude that extends far beyond any existing dance music orthodoxy. 100000% essential.
Where the PANG record above is a relatively recent edition to the ever-growing canon of grime techno, Sam Walton is a veritable OG of the sound, endlessly fusing warped bass growls with house-facing 2-step variants. Hot on the heels of February’s steady-as-it-goes Inside EP for Pinch’s Tectonic, the producer drops four meaty slices of ascetic tastefulness for Manchester’s Kaizen label. Doing exactly what it says on the tin, opener “Squelch” rocks a floor-shaking LFO and a light-on-its-feet rhythm that compels you to start pogoing around like an utter loon. Fun times. Introduced by an all-too-familiar post-Inception battle horn, “Onslaught” features a madly martial rhythm that calls to mind the cavernous death marches of W3C’s Atmospheric Entry EP for Pinch’s other label, Cold Recordings. Things get extra wild on the title track, the rhythms of UK Funky rendered leaden. Considering that there isn’t much going on across Murdah outside of bass and percussion, the wailing siren cascading atop “Submerged” is romantically sinister in that most tinnitus-inducing of ways. For as excitingly visceral as Walton’s music is, what always titillates me to no end is the brute minimalism of it all, an that serves as a hearty reminder of ‘classy bass music’’s predilection for hypnosis and entrancement.
Ryan James Ford - Out of the Wreckage (SHUT 2019)
A lifer if there ever was one, Ryan James Ford has been honing a distinctive production voice over the past few years that pairs booming, big-room kicks with brainy, UK-derived IDM and nuum elements. It’s a Berlin-friendly sound that has earned him releases on labels like Marcel Dettmann Records, Answer Code Request, and Repitch Recordings. Last year’s Ormst Kaban saw his sound getting gauzier and even a little BoC-tinted, the ideas coming fast and furious and his latest EP for his own SHUT label sees his dance-music-for-sapiosexuals brand becoming sharper and more festival-friendly, in the best sense possible. At a time when every producer under the sun is turning a warmed-over braindance retread, it’s genuinely refreshing that opener “Public Domain” nails its mathy, catchy-as-hell hook without losing any of its 4beat force. And indeed, if anything becomes clear over Out of the Wreckage’s five tracks, it’s that James Ford has an undeniable ear for massive, melancholic, and uplifting melodies with the production prowess to back it up. Slippery hardcore and jungle beats of come through with varying force on the positively salvific “Aylith Yard” (choon!!) while ambient techno gets a Berghain polish on the rapturous “Erinwoods.” “Dreamcast” is a solid beatless closer that has significant hints of SAW II-era RDJ wafting through it, providing a calming comedown to a seratonin-jacking quartet of euphoric floor-fillers. Just super solid stuff.
Pyramid Of Knowledge – The Elevation (Hard Beach Entertainment 2019)
ENDFEST - Mariahoeve EP (Cobra Club 2019)
Electro has always sat in the back of the dance music classroom, periodically reminding its peers that it exists by saying something rudely clever before going back to doodling in its notebook, content to live in its own world. Throughout this decade, there’s been a deluge of renewed interest in a number of other back-of-the-class styles like industrial, wave music of all stripes, EBM, and New Beat. And while dance music seems to rediscover electro once or twice a decade before moving onto the next flavor of the month, the electro renaissance of the past few years has arguably attained staying power by more explicitly integrating elements of those adjacent styles, resulting in a festival-ready sound that is equal parts retro and timely (if not, at times, maddeningly trendy). It’s the type of market where a totally adequate producer like Sydney’s Jensen Interceptor can shit out eighteen twelves in eighteen months to a demanding audience of DJ’s, tastemakers, and dancers, basically living the dream the rest of us can only imagine of (which, good on him, truly). Of course, there is no shortage of newer artists looking to JI and the electro/wave/new beat zeitgeist and the past month has unleashed a couple of corkers from the relatively new Cobra Club and the ascendant Hard Beach Entertainment labels. Producer ENDFEST—founder of the East Dutch Arctic Boogie that “injected da kids over there with Kraftwerk, Italo & Westcoast Sound of Holland Electro(nics)” (cute!)—dropped a pair of EPs last month for Onrijn Records and Cobra Club, the latter of which deftly weaves together the above elements with a wavey af mindset. The EP launches straight into the stratosphere with the dark, bootie-rocking electro-pop of “Meeting Mr. Magpie,” which is backed with a light-stepping, cosmic italo Mark Du Mosch remix that is all kinds of charming. Built around a vocal sample that sounds like the Dutch equivalent of getting peanut butter stuck to the top of your mouth, “Drank (2 Flesjes Bier Minimix) is less-focused and heat-seeking than “Magpie,” but “Bus 53” picks up the slack with its mutant baroque electro-disco. It’s a poptastic and muscular EP and one that pairs beautifully with the latest record from the Hard Beach camp, a truly stupendous first effort from Pyramid of Knowledge. The Elevation’s thizz-faced MO is beautifully articulated by its titular opening salvo, a surly peak-time jawn that boasts tumbling toms (soooo good), a surly bass line, and arm-raising dynamics that should be a festival staple this summer (well, should being the operative word, SIGH). Pyramid drops the BPM down a few notches on the rave-starting “Secret Order Of Jaresiwald,” smartly fusing classic acid house flexes with a contemporary electro template that might not break the rules, but slyly subverts them. The breaks are judiciously trotted out on “The Afterworld” for a New Jack-facing rabble rouser before the energy gets ratcheted up on the obliquely spiritual “Son Of Edjo” as classic drum machines are wisely programmed around droning, restless arpeggiations and a sampled voiceover. This shit BANGS; one to watch fo’sho.
Mark Broom - Drift (Mosaic/Frame of Mind 1998/2019)
The Dutch label Frame of Mind is one I’ve been meaning to dive into a bit more substantially, having mentioned their Timenet and Hi-Ryze reissue. A house music reissue label with a very intentional purview—softly brainy house music from the early 90s and label owner Gerd’s own productions—they’ve helped to shine a light on niche producers like Nature Boy, whose Ruff Disco Volume One album from 1992 served as the label’s inaugural release back in 2017. It’s been a busy year for them so far, with their spring releases including an April release from Gerd’s Fortek alias, a tasty serving of to-the-point yet thoughtful tech house from a moniker that hasn’t been active release-wise since 2002. Although it’s currently streaming on Bandcamp, the label has an especially exciting release on the dockets for May from the UK techno godhead that is Mark Broom and his 1998 Mosaic-released EP, Drift. Interestingly, this reissue arrives at a time of renewed interest in Broom’s catalog, with Delsin pressing up the 1995 Repeats album from his intelligent techno supergroup Repeat. Released at a time when “intelligence” in techno and IDM was becoming less inspired and more excessively dull, Drift’s adroitly split the difference between ideas and the dance. Opener “Flip Flops” is a charming, if not overly safe, interpolation of salsa harmonics into Detroit techno dynamics, though the dub version that appears near the EP’s end is an inspired 2-step barnburner and I am all for it. “R-Root” psyches out the listener by switching from an IDM downtempo jawn into a full-throttle electro-informed tear-out while “B.G.R.” slides into the middle lane atop a boisterous bass line and some deliciously minor pad work. Opening and closing out the second half of Drift is two versions of the title track, the “2019 Mix” drenched in all the Detroit strings you could ever want whereas the “Dub Mix” takes I-94 all the way into the windy city for a properly acidic beatdown.
SSTROM - Drenched 1-4 (Rösten 2019)
Shxcxchcxsh’ Rösten imprint has swiftly become a label to watch thanks to stunning twelves from Stanislav Tolkachev and Sissel Wincent (TIP!!!!!!!). SSTROM is one half of Shxcxchcxsh and has previously released the Otider LP and Vitriol EP on the imprint. Released last month with a second and third volume slated for May and June, Drenched 1-4 kicks things off in fine fashion with four slices of psychedelic, rainy 4beat techno that smartly advances past the typical blown-out industrial histrionics in favor of a much more nuanced, considered sound. Opener “Drenched 1” rocks a skipping beat and 303 cadences that is textured by carefully sculpted white noise and a submerged arpeggiation that gradually digs its way to the surface of the mix. “Drenched 2” picks up the pace, a leaden boom-chk beat digging in its heels, another quasi-acidic low-end hook providing the track with its central idea, which SSTROM smartly picks apart over a seven-minute runtime. The mood turns Millsian on “Drenched 3,” an Axis-styled stomper that expertly ratchets up the energy to delirious levels, neatly setting the stage for EP highlight “Drenched 4,” a motorik bruiser built around what sounds like a broken clarinet drone intent on wrecking minds and stealing souls. A love for sonic exploration and adventure is what connects the four tracks on Drenched 1-4 alongside a desire to gently subvert dance music’s rules, its brand of dark psychedelia introducing much-welcome nuance into a sound that has become increasingly overwrought and formulaic.