Phillip Sollmann’s career is a lesson in contrasts. Though his first morsels came out as Dial was just getting established, Sollmann, better known as Efdemin, came to prominence just as the minimal boom of the mid 2000′s was waning, with perhaps his best known tracks (“Acid Bells,” “Lohn und Brot”) eschewing the bland pastiche that minimal was becoming in favor of reduced, hypnotic house music. His ability to construct deeply engaging, resonant long-players (2007′s Efdemin, 2010′s Chicago, and the recently released Decay) has kept him and his characteristic sound firmly in the spotlight — a sound that tempers the roughness and directness of Detroit house and techno with a distinctly German minimalism without compromising its dance floor propulsion. His work in computer music and drone under his birth name has long been distinct from his career as a DJ, but with Decay the two worlds are becoming ever closer. We talked to Sollmann recently about the merging of these two worlds, the Internet, and the history of electronic music.
Last year you gave a lecture called “100 Years of Techno.” What was that all about?
Phillip Sollmann: That was a really funny experience. It was at Robert Johnson in Frankfurt. They have had this series going on for two years, I think, where they invite people from different areas or domains of electronic dance music to talk about whatever they want to. They asked me what I want to do, and I said I could imagine talking about the origins or the predecessors of what we have today as techno. It was a pretty freestyle thing; I wouldn’t call it a lecture. I was talking about music that was loop oriented as well as early electronic pioneers. I gave some examples in films and audio, and I brought a large collection of records and played music from Iceland to the Sahara and back. It was a really a lot of fun.
I always thought that if I know about something, then everybody knows about it, but the guy who invited me told me to talk about everything because most of the audience was quite young, and they would love to hear about that. It was a very nice two or three hours — I don’t remember; I could have done maybe five. I brought so many records and pictures and stories, and then I played a long DJ set: about seven hours, which was awesome because everyone who came for the lecture stayed in the club and we had this very close experience. I had the feeling I could go much further in my set musically than I could normally because people had heard me talking for a long time, and they could ask things and we had this intimate situation, which was a really great experience. I mean, I love that club anyways, and playing there is among the best experiences you can have, but that was a very special night. So we are now talking about a second edition because there was so much left to talk about.
What were some of the key records that you brought for that first edition, and what were some that you want to touch on going forward?
Like I said, I think things that I know or love are too obvious to talk about. I played Silver Apples to the young people, and most didn’t know about them, and they were blown away by this music, with sinewave oscillators and drums, but all live and so loopy and awesome. And then I played music from This Heat — “24 Track Loop.”
I talked a bit about Hermann von Helmholz, who did all the basic physiological writings about acoustics in Berlin in 1850, around that time. I talked a lot about Raymond Scott’s early music, and early ideas of sequencing, like the Rhythmicon from 1931 which was built by Léon Theremin, and all of the Moog stuff, the Buchla, and how those led to Roland and Yamaha. And of course a little bit of Stockhausen, the musique concrète guys, some Xenakis, Laurie Spiegel, and Morton Subotnick. I didn’t play any Pyrolator, which I love so much, and there is so much that I didn’t show. It was good fun, but it was not, like, a big thesis or anything. The title, “100 Years of Techno” was only to show that this idea of repetitive music is old. I also played some stuff from Ethiopia, some pattern-based ritual music, and it’s so much like Detroit techno, somehow. So it was just the idea of broadening the view.
How do you apply your love for these earlier forms of techno into what you produce now?
Well, I don’t know. All the music that I listen to and everything I read and watch and see becomes part of my system, and it’s quite uncontrolled, the subconscious part of what you’re doing. It forms and filters what I do and what I don’t do, or what I don’t like and what I love. The perfect moment for making music is that you prepare a lot and you set up a system or a setting where you can let yourself go and just react to what is happening. Right now I’m playing a lot with a modular synth, and I am just starting to work with that again after two years of not doing it. It totally controls me by its boundaries and possibilities, and everyday it’s completely different. I don’t have a goal that I want to reach or, like, a record I want to release. It’s just playing at the moment because I have some time to explore. Of course I record here and there and I use some of it, but this is the best state, when you can just let yourself go. And sometimes out of nothing something happens — I wouldn’t say I make it, it’s more like it’s happening.
You went to the Institute of Computer Music in Vienna. What was your focus there, and what did you do there that you still use today?
I think the most important thing about that time is that when I decided to go there after I got accepted, from that moment on, my whole life was focused on music completely. Before that I was always working in different fields, like as a journalist, or working in bars, and doing different things while trying to make music without connecting it to making money. In Vienna I was living on nothing for a few years, and I had a very simple life. I was studying a lot of music. I had very nice teachers and had some help in Max/MSP programming and stuff like that, but I had a lot of time on my own. I was making music that never made it into a release, but it feels like I was preparing something that I could use later.
I didn’t buy any techno records for three years. Not at all. I had no money, and I wasn’t really interested in that for a while and was really absorbed by this whole improv and neue musik, musique concrète stuff. I was exploring all that and trying to find what I wanted to do and always ended up with drone. And then when I came to Berlin, I met some old friends and I went out and I saw Berghain and saw all this crazy after-hours stuff, and it was very interesting. I started making a lot of music again, and it all came together. And now I am here, you know? [laughs] It kind of took over, and now I’m trying to go back to the Viennese time a bit more, now that I’m getting older and can’t work late too often anymore.
Your drone or installation music is under your real name, while everything else is under a pseudonym. Why?
Yeah, it’s quite strange, but it’s more serious stuff, and at that time I wanted to divide it into parts. But with the new record [Decay], I think it was the first time that it came together, these two different people. That will be the goal for the next years: to make music that contains both worlds and is still interesting. That would be my vision of future techno. I’m never really satisfied with what I’m doing; even if I put out something, it’s only just what I’m doing at the moment, and I try to realize much better music in the end, hopefully.
With Decay you seem to be a little more focused on techno.
I think techno was always part of my musical world. If you listen to the first album, you have that side there as well. I just posted this set from seven years ago in Jerusalem, which I just listened to for the first time after seven years. It’s exactly the same music that I’m playing at the moment. I’ve always been interested in both worlds. I love house music and I even love people singing or whatever, but I also like very dark and strong techno. But this is a problem for the outside world, that they are not supposed to be presented as one — you know, in one person or one show or whatever. I always try to bring in as much as possible. For some people, that maybe know me as the guy that did “Just A Track” or “Bergwein” or something, and they may be a bit surprised.
Going back to Underground Resistance, in the early days you would have extremely harsh techno music, and then you would have vocal house with saxophones and whatever. It was the same label and the same guys, and that was just one idea. I like these extremes.
Over the last two or three years, I’ve just played more and more what I want to play. Sometimes I was maybe playing more for the audience, or thinking that it would fit better if I would play more like this or that instead of just playing what I was feeling. That is completely over, and I’m just playing what I want to play now.
[Ostgut] has helped me a lot, of course, with filtering some stuff out that I don’t want to play, but I think I’m just trusting myself more and also realizing that there’s people coming to hear what I’m playing. Sometimes I felt like I have to entertain someone, but that’s so boring — if you try to play to meet people’s expectations, everybody’s bored. You have to present something that you want to do, and then most of the time it’s surprising, and then it can get really good. Sometimes really bad. [laughs] But that’s part of the game.
How did your recent stint in Japan affect your work on Decay?
It didn’t affect this record because it was all recorded in Berlin before I left for Japan. I only organized and made final decisions in mixing there, but the music itself was 90% recorded in Berlin. But I was impressed by the culture and behavior of the people. I’d been there many times, but this time we stayed there for three months and we met lots of people. We also traveled a lot through the country and we went to a temple for two weeks, nearly every day attending a ceremony. That had a very strong impact on us, and in this state of mind I finalized the album. But there’s no Japanese music or instruments on in. I’m trying to work with someone who plays a very old Japanese instrument. I can’t say if it’s happening, but I would love to do that. There are some very interesting tunings and some very different performing rituals. I would love to go back there for a year, if I could. It was really a very intense experience.
So you would say it was more that the environment of Kyoto affected the album?
Exactly. Yeah. It’s very funny. Most of the journalists are focusing on this and saying it’s a Japanese album or something. [And I'm like], “Aw, dude, come on. I told you. There’s nothing Japanese in it.” You can mention it, but you don’t have to completely focus on that. But of course everyone does. Of course you need something special or new because otherwise it’s just another techno record — I understand. [laughs]
You tend to use a lot of samples in your music from old TV shows and movies, and instead of burying them in the mix they sit very prominently on top. What can you tell me about that?
I just have to do it. When a track is about to be finished, then maybe I can work in some strange person talking about something that you might not understand. I have a large collection of these recordings. Whenever I see a movie which I like or where I think someone’s voice is interesting, I try to record it. There is no big concept behind it, I just like it. I think it’s a nice contrast to the electronic music that you have. There is this person talking and this recording always has so much information of the space it was recorded in, the time, the technique, the hiss… or maybe it’s from a vinyl record or it’s from an old VHS or something. And that’s what I totally love, to bring all this information in. I’m trying not to filter it out or to clean it or put it into reverb on it or something, because that would hide most of the information, and I like this contrast between electronic music and the human, very bodily experience of someone talking. The first track, “Some Kind of Up or Down Yes,” is my favorite track.
It sounds like it’s from one of those old quiz shows.
Yeah, it is. It’s Salvador Dalí on “What’s My Line?”.
There’s always been a strong visual element to what you do, between the design of the record sleeves, as well as your involvement with the art world in Berlin. And nowadays it’s really common for basically every song to be on YouTube with some sort of video behind it. Does this sort of thing bother you?
Yeah, a little bit. I’ve tried to control it as much as I can. I mean, I appreciate that people like the music that much and that they want to put their own visuals under it, but I would like to control it. So I am working with some [visual] artists for this project, and we’re about finish some videos. Maybe it can reach other people as well if you have the visual, and it reflects the musical ideas a little bit.
The whole Internet thing kind of freaks me out. All this information and all this hype and these blogs and whatever… I can’t really decide anymore what is important or what I should look at. It takes so much time, and I still — honestly, I’m a person who really loves to have a paper in his hand and read, or a magazine or a book. I’m really too old for this blog world. I’m always happy when someone tells me, “This is a really good one.”
It was just this week that De:Bug is going out of print — I guess that’s just a sign of the times.
Yeah, it’s sad. De:Bug helped us so much. They were big, big, big supporters of Dial from the beginning. It’s really sad. I know many people that work there or used to work there, and I know that all of them put all their effort in and never really earned a lot of money or anything. It was just because they liked doing it. How did you find out about this?
I saw it on Facebook.
What do you think about Facebook?
In what way?
I mean it’s there now. We have to deal with it. These days you end up more and more with — there’s a link somewhere and you click on it, and then you end up on a Facebook page, which contains no information and has always the same grid and this cage-like design. It all looks the same, and so much is lost on the way. I don’t want to sound negative, or like a cultural pessimist or something, but I’m really not the biggest fan.
The Internet changed the way people listen to music quite drastically. I think it’s very rare that people listen to a whole album these days. So the experience that I have in my car still, which has a CD player, is a very rare one. Like, when I get a CD I put it in and I listen to the whole CD. Sometimes I drive an extra mile to finish that song or that CD, you know? It’s not good for the environment, I’m sorry, but it’s a very nice way of listening to music.
Well you have a Soundcloud, but it’s all mixes. Would you ever put your own music up there?
They keep telling me that I should upload my album there and make people listen to it a week before it comes out, but that seems so silly to me. Because then why do we have a release date? But they tell me, “Yeah, but this is how people do it these days.” And I’m just like, “Hm, OK.” I’m not sure how to deal with all this.
Is Pigon still mostly Max/MSP-based?
No, but we haven’t done anything in two years, sadly. Because Oliver [Kargl] is the father of two kids now, and he’s taking care of them most of the time. He can totally live without making music for a while. But I have the feeling that he’s coming back soon, and we can start making new stuff again. But no, Pigon was never limited to Max/MSP. It started with that, but then we used whatever. I think when he comes to my new studio, which is finished now and very nice and working and everything is connected… you can just come in and switch it on and it starts. What’s more important than the tools that you use is what you want to do and what inspiration you have. And that was always good, making music together. I hope he’s ready soon.
You were using this Max patch that you called Rocker. Do you still use it? Has it evolved over the years?
No, I have it on the computer that’s in the basement, and I want to now bring it up and see if it’s still running. I hope it is — it had a very nice sound. I loved it. I want to hook it up and sync it to my whole environment now. I stopped using Max for a while because I’m not a super-clever programmer and it took so long for me to make things. And then I decided to make music instead of making patches. But I miss some things about it. I really appreciated the idea of Max For Live, and I used Live at the time when it came out, but now I work in an analog environment and use the computer as a tape machine.
Were you using Max mostly to create things that you needed but that didn’t exist? Or did you enjoy making patches in Max?
I think it was an interesting process because I learned about sound synthesis while patching in ways I would not with, like, Cubase, or something that someone else programmed. I looked at patches other people made, and then totally changed everything in there. I always loved physical modeling, and Max has some really amazing abstractions for that. I’m not the math guy, I’m not a programming freak, so it took a long time to make something useful. But I like the sound a lot; I think it’s much better than anything else from a computer. But then you have friends that say, “Yeah, but if you used SuperCollider then you would have real sound.” It’s like, “Okay, forget it.” [laughs]
You also run a couple of small labels: Lirum Larum and Naïf. What’s your approach to these labels?
Naïf is a platform for friends, and a bit more tool-y music — club music. Cheap production, no cover. It’s the opposite of Dial, let’s say. And it’s totally free because the guy that runs Diamonds and Pearls distribution is such a nice guy. It is such a luxurious possibility that he’s like, “Whenever you want to do a record, you can do a record.” Normally people would get on your nerves and say, “Yeah, you need a business plan, at least four records a year,” something like that. Hopefully there will be more records coming in the next year. It’s called Naïf; it’s simple music you can play in a club. It’s just a vinyl record. That’s it. And I love the a cappellas — I love vocals, as you know. So that is the only rule that I have: that you have to deliver the extra vocal skit. I play a lot of these little snippets in my sets. I always loved records where you have something to play on top of the music, just for a second.
Liram Larum is with Oliver, and when he became a father we kind of slowed down a little bit. But we also will continue with that one day, but it’s also the same distribution, same situation. Totally fine, no hassle with that.
So what else is upcoming for you?
I’m traveling a lot this year, playing a lot with the album coming. And I have all these videos to be released soon, and I will make some more experimental, droney stuff, hopefully, this year. And two remixes… the last ones ever, because I really don’t like remixes.
I don’t know. It takes so long. I don’t really understand the idea of remixes. It takes so long for me to make music, and if I make a remix, I spend so much time making other music. I’m not the best remixer. There are people who can easily do it in five hours, and I’m not them. I try to be as relaxed as I can and take care of myself. Sometimes this traveling is a bit too much, but I’m trying to find strategies to deal with it better. But it’s really good.
The great thing about playing and being a DJ is I can go to Japan this year, or I can go to the States and to South America again, and I really appreciate that, after all these years. Sometimes you end up in this kind of ghetto where you meet the same people you could meet in Berlin, or you see the same shops or the same clubs that have the Funktion-One sound system now and, you know, blah, blah, blah. But from time to time you run into something completely mindblowingly different, and so local, and so full of love, and so disconnected. When that happens, it’s so great. And that happens — especially in Japan, still. You end up in a club in southwest Japan, and it’s so mindblowing because it’s awesome people and amazing sound, with, like, hand-made sound systems and no lights and people just dance. It’s great, you know? And that’s why I still love doing this so much. Of course, I also like playing in Fabric, it’s also great. London is a very different vibe than Berlin or New York. But it’s very rare that you end up with something that you don’t expect at all and it’s a completely local style.
Do you have any other examples?
Last year I had one of these experiences when I went to Istanbul. I expected to play at a club inside, and then it was outside, on the beach… Suma Beach — I didn’t expect that. It was such a beautiful vibe, and they had this hippie feeling going at the beach. It was very soon after the riots: at Taksim they had these riots, and the military was suppressing it. Then you had all these people there, and it felt so free and kind of like a parallel world to the Turkish reality at that time. It was really, really great. I didn’t want to go home. Sometimes when you don’t expect anything it’s the best.]]>
Huerco S’s ascendency from obscure Midwestern producer to in-demand artist has been quick but hardly surprising. Intriguing shards of sound were peppered throughout his early releases, but the twin focus of dance floor hit “Apheleia’s Theme” and the beguiling album Colonial Patterns crystallized Brian Leeds’ captivating take on dance music over the course of a remarkable 2013. On the surface, his music seems unconcerned with club potential, but the Kansas-born Leeds has a knack for turning unassuming, jumbled morasses of samples into effortlessly hypnotic house cuts. LWE caught up with him in advance of his appearance this Friday at Unsound New York’s Mutual Dreaming party to talk about naivité, jungle, and just who exactly Huerco S is.
So you were born and raised in Kansas City?
Brian Leeds: Just Kansas. I’m originally from Emporia, Kansas. It’s two hours outside, but I guess it’s easier just to say Kansas City. But I lived in Kansas City for three years.
How did you initially get into techno?
A friend of mine– I was in a band, and he went away on holiday in France when I was 16. At the time I was into metal and hardcore punk and stuff. And he came back and was like, “Yo, check it out, it’s like jungle, drum and bass,” and I was like, “Holy shit, this is so crazy.” So through him, listening to podcasts and just.. genre to genre, skipping my way through, with the help of the Internet.
You mentioned the Hospital podcasts before, so why aren’t you making drum and bass?
That you know of! I did do some jungle tracks, but they never, like — they’re under an alias — it’s under “unknown.” So you can’t really search that. Sometimes it’s fun to go back; I never really took it too seriously. I just made what I thought a nice, perfect drum and bass song sounds like, you know? Nothing completely revolutionary.
Were you mostly consuming music online through things like podcasts?
Yeah, back then, for sure. I used to just go through sites and download as much shit as I can, but I don’t really use digital music at all anymore. I’ll listen to some podcasts, but mostly radio shows. Like NTS, Berlin Community Radio. But at the time it was definitely all podcasts, Internet-driven stuff.
In Kansas, were you ever buying records, ordering them from overseas?
To be honest, I didn’t get into buying records until maybe a year and a half ago. And I would mostly just order from Boomkat and overseas stores. There were a couple of, like, junk, second-hand record stores, but most of them, they maybe have a dance section, and it’s hip-hop singles or something. It’s not very categorized. And occasionally I would find Todd Terry, Strictly Rhythm records, or whatever, but nothing super crazy.
So is it safe to say that you only got into DJing very recently?
Yeah, for sure. Last year was the first full year that I’d been DJing.
And was that just because people were asking you to play shows or something, and that was—?
I mean, it was something that I wanted to do, and I guess I was doing the kind of live thing before that. But then I didn’t really like how I was going about that. DJing was an easier solution, and it’s something that I enjoy.
When you play, how often are you doing live sets as opposed to DJing now?
I haven’t done a live set for over a year. I’m going to try to do a live set sometime soon, but I want it to be special. I just don’t really know how to do it; logistically it just seems really difficult.
How did you start making music?
With he same software I’m using now. I’m still using FruityLoops. I just bootlegged a copy, put it on my mom’s desktop computer, and I’d stay up really late making tracks. Eventually I got my own laptop as a graduation present, and it’s just the same stuff over and over.
I have a record coming out [on Proibito] in a month or so, and this is kind of the first record I’ve done differently. I mean, I do use the computer, but the computer is only an editor. I didn’t do any sequencing; it’s all recorded from synths into Audacity and then I chop it up. I’m trying to use the computer as little as possible. But that’s just because my computer is quite old, so it’s really hard to work with. Bypassing that whole thing just makes it easier. But yeah, the majority of everything else is all in the box.
It’s maybe been overstated in your case, but there’s a very distinct, gritty quality to the music that you make, and yet you work completely on a computer.
Some of it is intentional. It’s not like I’m adding an entire track of white noise or static. It’s always things that are present, and I just choose to accentuate those things instead of hiding it — I just let those things shine through. Like low-bitrate samples. You hear the compression in the audio, these artifacts. I mean, I shouldn’t be using these bad things, but I don’t know… I think they sound interesting.
Do you start tracks with a sample in mind?
There’s never really one definitive “this is how they all start”… It’s just kind of an epiphany. I’ll be on YouTube looking at German advertisements from the 80s, and then I’ll be like, “Yeah, that one second is really sick. Let me go to, like, mp3finder.com and get, I don’t know, maybe a 320 [kbps] rip if I’m lucky.” I don’t even know what that means, though. Usually I like to sample things that aren’t necessarily musical, or would be considered, like — “Oh, I could definitely make a song out of that.” I think the more difficult the sample, sometimes the more interesting it can be.
How do you distinguish your remixes from your own tracks that you make with samples?
Well, I guess with a remix they’re already providing me with the samples. I just dig into that and try and fuck it up as much as possible. Like, I just did a remix recently, and the dudes really love it and I’m really happy with it, but it kind of comes to a point where I don’t really know what is the original and what I’ve added. But that’s kind of cool— completely making a new song with what they’ve provided. That, for me, is a remix, you know? Not just keeping the same vocal, or something.
Who are Apheleia and Hiromi?
Apheleia — I was just going through lists of minor Greek deities, and she’s the deity of lust. And Hiromi happens to be the woman who provided her voice for the track, the spoken-word Japanese. I think she wrote this novel, and she’s just doing a book reading. I really don’t even know what it says. I’ve asked some Japanese friends, and they’re always like, “Oh man, it’s so sad.” So that’s good I guess.
You wrote “themes” for these two. How do you see the links between the tracks that you make and the titles?
A lot of times titles are an afterthought. I never think, “Oh, I’m going to name a song this,” and then make the song. For me and a lot of friends, naming songs… it’s so hard. My project files have the worst names. You know, just like “Pizza Box” because you see a pizza box on the ground. You just need something to save it. So just some number. The titles [on the album] lent itself more the whole concept of the album, but for a lot of other things I don’t really think too much about the titles. They’re not really as important.
How do you approach the overarching themes of some of your records?
The Opal Tapes one is definitely a bit — that whole thing has this weird, perverse kind of sexual thing throughout. I mean the untitled track — obviously that name doesn’t lend itself to anything, but tracks like “Press On” or “Elma” it’s just “male” jumbled up — I don’t know. But Royal Crown of Sweden one, they’re all just the biggest and deepest lakes in Sweden, so yeah, pretty simple.
Is Royal Crown of Sweden the only known alias you have?
I did a track as Huerco S. called “Welfare,” and Max D put it in his FACT mix a long time ago, and I think Anthony did as well. It’s just something I did in 2010, kind of this dubby house track, and I didn’t really think that’s, like — it’s not really Huerco S. anymore, so after this next record of mine comes out, which is 06, there will be a split of a bunch of artists on Proibito, and that will be on there under the name Independence Avenue Orchestra. I lived on Independence Avenue in Kansas City. And I’m doing a remix as that for a friend, so that will pop up. It’s me trying to do, like, Maurizio meets Kerri Chandler… I don’t know. Dubby New York house, or something.
Well, so if that isn’t Huerco S., what is?
I don’t know. I struggle with that all the time. That next record I’m doing for Anthony… it is Huerco S., but it doesn’t say “Huerco S.” on the record. And I don’t think it’s going to say “Huerco S.” on the press release. It’s just “HS.” But I don’t know, sometimes I just get tired of seeing my name so I just make something else, you know?
It’s funny that you mention all these upcoming releases on Proibito, because one of my questions was that you’ve never released twice on the same label, up until this moment. Is there any reason for that?
I think inexperience. I was presented with these opportunities — I’m turning 23 in a month, so I still think I have a lot of learning to do. It just makes more sense to settle down. I have a good group of friends and we’re all like-minded. It just makes sense. Anthony’s a good bud, and I trust him. I mean, I have no problem with the other records that I did and how that came about, the whole thing, but it definitely is not as personal. Talking to someone on the Internet, you send them a file, and then, “Oh yeah, you’re records going to be out in, like, a week. Where do you want us to send them? Here’s your PayPal.” You know, I just want to work with friends; that’s pretty much it. And I’m just going to try and do that from now on.
With Proibito, I can basically do whatever. But Software is still there. I plan on doing another LP, but no rush. It’s well in the future.
So what’s next?
There’s a four-track titled A Verdigris Reader on Proibito. Some remix work, LP maybe 2015. I think after the LP last year, I really need to refocus and consider what I want to do. With a lot of dance music, especially with how fast things are moving, there’s this need to always be putting literally whatever you make out — “Oh, I did this jam. Let’s fuckin’ press it to a record.” I think people need to just chill out a bit, just make good music instead of putting out tons of shit and having to sift through it all.]]>
Sendai, the collaborative project between Belgian techno oddballs Peter Van Hoesen and Yves De Mey, has grown steadily weirder with every release. Their two 12″s back in 2009, a banner year for Van Hoesen by all measures, worked in clubs but felt slightly uncomfortable there, like they were repressing their more abstract desires. Sendai’s 2012 full length Geotope focused more on sound design and only occasionally nodded toward the floor, distancing itself from most techno albums of the time and remaining engaging two years on from its release. With their new CD A Smaller Divide they’ve plunged fully into another place.
Which is to say that there’s very little here that even tries to play into DJs’ hands. Opener “Capstan” even seems to take Geotope‘s most played track “EP2010-4″ and throw it in the blender, breaking it down into shards of sound and reconstructing it during a manic episode. Autechre is easily the closest touchstone here — a phrase you’d expect to utter more often given the duo’s towering influence for over 20 years.
The album’s strong start, from the aforementioned “Capstan” through the bright, almost anthemic “Second Uniform Estimate,” is tempered slightly by the album’s middle section, which spends time wandering through rooms full of intriguing sounds that stimulate the mind, but don’t always grab in the most visceral way (a problem Ae themselves often encounter). Those that do, however, are killers, such as the pounding, growing “A Smaller Divide” and the shattered groove of “Sequential Convex”. And then there are the last two tracks, setting the whole album on its head and forcing you to go back to the beginning and listen to it all again. “Norms of True Behavior” is nearly beatless, stargazing and carving out a space in Sendai’s sonic universe, while “Tetras Part” plays with frequency sweeps and rhythmic modulations (606 snare rolls speeding up and down) to delirious effect. A Smaller Divide creates an engrossing, curious world that extends both producers’ terrain well into the cosmos, exploring and encountering new shapes and textures that strict adherence to the floor would never unearth.]]>
At Disconnected Moments is nowhere near STL’s debut album, but it’s his first for a label other than his own Something Records — which functions more as a studio journal than a label proper — meaning this is one of the more eventful releases in Stephan Laubner’s career. And while there have been plenty of highlights on Something (“Vintage Hunter,” “Mindbender,” and a smattering of loops come immediately to mind), it seems to me that he’s usually saved his strongest material for Hamburg’s Smallville. Given “Silent State,” that might seem rather obvious, but At Disconnected Moments all but confirms it. Granted, this somewhat depends on your preferred STL style. The blunted kicks, razor-sharp hats, and rickety synth lines are completely absent from At Disconnected Moments in favor of the kind of dubby house he usually sends two hours north up from Harz to Hamburg. For those looking to dive deep into the kind of airy, long-form grooves Laubner does so well, At Disconnected Moments is a gold mine.
Ignoring the CD-only tracks (“Silent State” and “Neurotransmitting Clouds on the Secret Freeway,” both of which were released four years ago), At Disconnected Moments perhaps seems, at first, like a double-pack mostly for DJs. “Scuba’s Motion Dub” kicks things off on the floor-focused tip with thumping kicks and plenty of delay; and while nothing really changes over its 11-minute runtime, it’s a case-study in what makes STL such a remarkable producer. There’s plenty of dubby, elongated techno/house around, but there’s something about “Scuba’s Motion Dub” (and really the whole album) that makes it impossible to turn off, and makes every track’s final breaths a bummer. “One Day” is more laid back, while “Space Cats” switches up the palette ever so slightly with space-age synths and grubby percussion.
Which brings us to “Amelie’s Dub”: a remarkably potent slice of dub-house bliss. Its carefully modulating and subtle melodies reach out from a swelling morass of kicks and low-end, hypnotizing effortlessly over its impossibly brief 10 minutes. “Ghostly Ambit” is a creepy, late-late-night slow-build, and nestled near the end are the short beatless cuts “Good Wine” and “Over and Out.” Yet while it’s essential for DJs, the vinyl comes away feeling slight. The extra ~24 minutes of music that the CD version supplies brings At Disconnected Moments firmly up to classic status. Yes, it’s long, but especially on the CD version it seems like that’s the whole point. This is an album to lose time to; an album that you put on to disconnect with everything around you. It’s a remarkably strong suite of tracks whose longevity is essentially already proven. I’ve owned and played “Neurotransmitting” and “Silent State” rather consistently since they were released, and I never tire of hearing them. I suspect all of At Disconnected Moments will end up that way, too.]]>
The third in a trilogy of Dance Classics from Kouhei Matsunaga, Vol. III sees NHK’Koyxeи engage with techno more overtly than on previous issues. While “501″ may still have some of the hip-hop/Autechrian swagger of foregone volumes, most of the album might actually bring DJs to entertain the notion of squeezing this stuff into their sets. A tall order, for Matsunaga’s music is far too fluid, far too free-spirited to stick to any one groove for very long. “341,” a solid slice of party-rousing deep house, certainly sets the table right but disappears just as quickly as it began. Album highlight “768″ lays the ground work for a sub-heavy, bleepy techno roller, and then shifts into a stuttering 90s rave anthem — something like Donnacha Costello’s Colorseries scanned at obtuse angles. “675″ starts off sounding like filtered and sequenced white noise, but soon coalesces into a heads-down, delayed techno roller.
“766″ sounds like a version of “768,” with a longer runtime allowing it to stretch its legs and breathe a bit. It flits between being tightly wound and letting its synths really sprawl out, perfect for dance floors with more esoteric proclivities. Dance Classics Vol. III evokes the work of nsi. in its brainy, academic-leaning approach towards dance music, eschewing DJ utilitarianism in favor of something more idiosyncratic. It is not, however, overly challenging music, as its sub-heavy grooves and enveloping sonics are sure to light up dance floors in both the laboratory and the living room. Music this beguiling and this effective can be hard to come by in techno, as there are certain genre rules that techno simply must play by before it’s a different genre entirely. Dance Classics Vol. III is hardly seeking to turn techno on its head, but it does stretch the rules in directions that aren’t always considered. It’s playful and it’s serious; it’s floor-ready and it’s a DJ’s nightmare; it’s immaculately produced and yet caked with noise at times. It’s one of last year’s most unfortunate casualties of the year-end charting season, and yet it’s far too timeless to really give a shit. In short, Dance Classics Vol. III is just that: a future classic.]]>
Abdulla Rashim has certainly made quite a name for himself on the back his hypnotic, glacial techno tracks, both on his own eponymous label as well as Prologue and Semantica. While perhaps immediately reminiscent of Donato Dozzy’s shamanist dance music tendencies, Rashim brings an unmistakably Nordic sensibility to his music, one that his new label Northern Electronics seems to underline in triplicate. Northern Electronics had a busy 2013, with five (according to Discogs) intriguing releases from Rashim as well as his friends Varg and Acronym. Ulwhednar, a collaboration between Varg and Rashim, was at the helm of three of those releases: two cassettes, and an LP of mesmerizing, immersive techno.
Ulwhednar, excerpts from LP
LP‘s structure is rather straightforward: four static, tripping cuts of techno with three short interludes, one at the beginning, one at the end, and one in the middle. Those short tracks are nice, beatless palate-cleansers, but the real meat of the record is found in between them. Each of the four tracks might at first sound like loops, but while they progress imperceptibly over their run-times, they create hypnotic whirlpools one could conceivably get lost in for days. “Synden Mot Den Helige Ande” hits hard with overdriven kicks and strobe-lit elements, while “Kornguden I Vånga” seems almost frostbitten with its ghastly atmospheres and rumbling percussion. “Dömd Till Elden” is more austere, with frozen 303 notes and submerged drums, while “Nåjden Från Norra Västbyn” is the warmest of the four. Despite its name, LP certainly doesn’t give off the vibe of an album, but rather of an ambitious EP, one that clocks in just under 30 minutes. Album or not, it’s an engrossing listen all the way through, whether holed up in your apartment while sheltered from arctic winds, or as a key component of a DJ’s record bag. Northern Electronics has carved out a space for itself and is well worth keeping an eye on.]]>
More than any previous year, narrowing down my list of the five best EPs that 2013 had to offer was a tough one. Some highlights: Levon Vincent started the year with the release of the much anticipated Rainstorm II; James Ruskin crafted a seven-track strong EP for his new Jealous God imprint; and Pépé Bradock kept his Imbroglios series humming along with installments three and four. Elsewhere, Ital unleashed a meditative 12” on Workshop, Anthony Naples polished his house sound on a record for The Trilogy Tapes, and Samuel Kerridge plunged further into the darkness on two very impressive EPs for Downwards. All of that was just the tip of the iceberg, though, as those records, along with plenty of others, all found themselves just shy of the top five. As always, in order to keep this list sensible and narrowed down enough to be meaningful, I’ve followed a set of criteria in determining what records are defined as an “EP” and thus eligible for inclusion here. EPs on this list must be released on a single piece of 12” vinyl, they must be the work of a single artist (i.e. not a compilation), must contain three or more tracks, and mustn’t have any remixes (though alternate versions of a track are OK).
Those of you who are not from New York City may be unfamiliar with the BQE, so let me summarize it for you. The work of one of the most hated New Yorkers ever, Robert Moses, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is a mostly elevated highway built straight through the heart of those two boroughs, slicing up some neighborhoods, isolating others, and being jammed with traffic at all hours of the day. So if it is true what they say about the suffering artist, Fred P has shrewdly chosen the BQE, a source of immeasurable suffering, as the muse for his strongest EP in some time. It sees the Queens-based deep house producer operating in a more spaced-out techno vein than ever before, with the contorting synths of “Splitting Particles” hitting the floor hard, while the dubby jazz vibes of “Tube Compression” retreat deep into the sewers. “Storm Clouds” is a widescreen, ominous cut, observing the city from the heights of… the Kosciuszko Bridge, I suppose, and “State Of No State” closes the EP out with a swinging, spoken-word track aimed straight at the dance floor. BQE‘s an invigorating listen at home, and, combined with its club potential, it’s one of the year’s best bets.
Actress’ only release for 2013, Silver Cloud, doesn’t swing through styles and moods like his well-loved LPs, nor does it scream for your attention like his EPs for Nonplus — it mostly just hopes you brought your cough syrup. “Voodoo Chronic Posse Illusion” takes up the whole A-side, sticking with a simple, strummed chord progression over its entire length while frayed sonics may have you checking your turntable’s connections. A languid tune that evolves on its own time, it sucks you in with its subtlety, with sub-bass that occasionally rears its head, and with its stubbornness and confidence. Flipping over, “Silver Cloud Dream Come True” dives even deeper into Actress’ sludgy, hissing mess, with a slower tempo inviting comparisons to some of the last couple year’s most prevalent trends in both hip-hop and house. “Floating In Ecstasy” makes those hip-hop comparisons even more explicit, with growling, soot-covered bass lines and low pitched vocals leading towards something of a climax. Silver Cloud has nowhere near the stylistic variety of pretty much every other Actress release — it’s really rather monochromatic — but that’s perhaps what makes it such an excellent listen, and the perfect soundtrack to endless spliff-rolling sessions.
The first time I wrote a “Top EPs” list for Little White Earbuds, back in 2009, I had considered including STL’s Silent State on Smallville, but in the end decided against it. Its title track was clearly track-of-the-year material, making the record a must-buy, but while the other two tracks were very good, the 12″ felt a little too one-sided. In 2013, DJ Qu’s “The Way,” is, for me, a clear standout track, but the EP from which it comes feels a lot more rounded. With its vocals from Peven Everett and Josh Milan, “The Way” is an incredible slice of deep New Jersey house, its melodies both far in the distance and shockingly intimate. The side continues with Part 2 which is less focused and more free-form, dishing out a more celebratory and looser vibe that compliments its original version wonderfully. And yet I sometimes feel that once you flip the record over it only gets stronger: “Liquid” is a propulsive, technicolor house track that swerves through moods while keeping locked in a hypnotic groove. Yet as a DJ, I always reach for the B2, “Liquid (Beats),” which distills “Liquid” into a potent, reduced, early-morning jacker. Superb.
Move D has been peddling strong EPs for his whole career, so his inclusion on a chart of this sort should come as no surprise. A 1996 version of this list would certainly contain his wonderful Cymbelin three-tracker for Warp, and recent EPs for Workshop and Uzuri (not to mention his many great records with Benjamin Brunn and Juju & Jordash) are all of unquestionable quality. Yet by reaching back into his archives and assembling a five track mini-album, one with nods to the dance floor but no desire to feel beholden to it, Move D really nails the aspects that make an EP such a rewarding format in and of itself. The five tracks veer from the grungy synth tones of “Kriek – Animals” through the dubby, acidic timbres of “Ground Zero” and the late-night melodies of “Picking Flowers For You (Off Major).” “Ovi Riese” ventures most strongly in the direction of a dance floor with its filtered bass line and drum machine workouts, while closer “March Of The Cheesecrackers” is the kind of minimalist coda that really could only make sense on this record. For what is ostensibly a compilation of old material, The KM20 Tapes flows remarkably well, and is another in a long line of essential 12″s from Move D.
Terekke’s first release, the incredible two-tracker of “Damn” and “Pf Pf Pass,” inaugurated the L.I.E.S. white label series, introducing an exciting new voice to the house landscape. Dubbed out, spacey house tracks that sounded like they were recorded with the shittiest cassette deck in existence, they nonetheless proved so infectious that their lo-fi quality became a trend all its own. Yet the mellow master Terekke has kept his music close to his chest, releasing only a single track “Asidis” last year. 2013 sees him double his discography with YYYYYYYYYY, a record that was easily the year’s best 12″ at the time I heard it, and which nothing has surpassed. “Bank 3″ sounds cut out of some marathon jam session: its swinging hats, pummeling kick, compressed pads, and simple bass line all conspire to jack better than every copycat that’s come along. It still sounds like shit, but no matter: “Bank 3″ is one of the strongest house cuts I’ve heard this year. On the B-side, Terekke travels deep into the ultra-deep field images of its cover: “Piano” is a Chain Reaction record with lower production values and in even less of a hurry to go anywhere, while the wonderful, slightly out-of-time samples and smoked-out haze of “Amaze” provide simply the greatest bed-focused house track of the year. In fact, all of YYYYYYYYYY is probably best consumed horizontally, but with its singular vibe and strong sonic identity, as well as its versatility and ability to be enjoyed in numerous environments, there is no question that YYYYYYYYYY is one of 2013′s most notable releases.]]>
Juan Mendez has been steadily honing his production chops for well over a decade now. His preliminary releases as Jasper often hinted at greatness, but as Silent Servant he’s consistently supplied some of the strongest techno of the past five years, both on his own and as part of the nebulous Sandwell District collective. With his new Jealous God label it seems like Mendez is ready to take his well-established sound and step outside of it: dissolving it, reshaping it, and bringing it into new territories. Earlier this year, Jealous God’s first release, a collaboration between Mendez and Svreca, distilled his bass lines and tape-saturated atmospheres into minimalist shapes that hypnotized through subtle prodding.
“Lust Abandon” goes elsewhere, this time picking up where his excellent Negative Fascinations album from last year left off. Through that record and his recent DJ sets Mendez has made his interest and love for 80s post-punk and EBM explicit, and “Lust Abandon,” with its steady 115 BPM tempo and gloomy atmosphere, all but caps it off. A constantly shifting arpeggio functions as the track’s backbone, guiding us through Mendez’s reduced environment of minor-key pads and heavily processed voices. The track’s sense of focus and confidence mirrors that of Silent Servant’s best work — its steely, plodding thud never blinks and never abates, seemingly building ad infinitum. Powell does his thing on the B-side, pushing “Lust Abandon” even further down the path of no-wave rhythms and post-punk attitudes, but while it’s an interesting enough listen it mostly serves to highlight just how good the A-side is.]]>
Remember Your Black Day is Vatican Shadow’s debut album. While my shelf full of Vatican Shadow records that run upwards of 40 minutes might contest that point, Dominick Fernow would retort that all of his previous releases under that name were either compilations or released initially on cassettes — that Remember Your Black Day is the first Vatican Shadow release fully conceived as an LP. Yes, it seems a bit nitpick-y, but it does raise some interesting points about what an “album” is and the ways an established producer with 10 distinct releases can approach something like a “definitive” statement. It ticks all of the boxes, aesthetically, that the Vatican Shadow project has come to represent: a black plume of smoke rising above Baghdad on the cover, track titles that read like headlines from the War on Terror, but those have all remained consistent throughout the project’s history.
How do you define an album? Is it just by format, or is it by feeling? And we came to the conclusion that it’s about feeling [....] It’s a return in the sense that it’s not dealing with one theme, it’s dealing with many; as opposed to a kind of concept piece which focuses one sound or one idea thematically or lyrically. [...] I guess that’s how I’d define the real albums. – Dominick Fernow
Based on that quotation, Fernow would probably contend that it’s the variety and lack of a single, unifying concept that makes Remember Your Black Day the first “proper” Vatican Shadow album. Looking back at the project’s discography over the past two years, it’s true that his releases are often variations on a single theme. Jordanian Descent presented us with two extended warmongering dance cuts, and Atta’s Apartment Slated For Destruction featured four melodic rhythms that were all nine minutes long, while Ornamented Walls paired a previously released live set with a B-side full of sketches and versions.
“OK, fine,” you say, “it’s his debut album, it’s not his debut album — what does it matter? Is the record any good?” Well, indeed, if Remember Your Black Day wasn’t such a mixed bag, it wouldn’t matter at all, but it is. This seems to recast the “proper album” posturing in new light. “Circumstances Quickly Become Questioned” starts strong but ends immediately, followed by the slow dirge of “Tonight Saddam Walks Amidst Ruins.” It’s a classic bit of Vatican Shadow mood setting and tension building, but early-album momentum gets snuffed out by “Muscle Hijacker Tribal Affiliation.” 808 kicks and distorted drones set the scene with metallic percussion, but the percussion soon drops out to leave a rather bland synth line standing alone. The track ends up going nowhere, which is a shame because next cut, “Contractor Corpses Hung Over The Euphrates River,” is one of Vatican Shadow’s strongest to date. Pummeling kick drums, far-off guitar chords, unsettling melodies, and head-cracking percussion stacked on top of each other to blissful effect.
Which brings us to “Enter Paradise,” whose distorted guitar riffage in what’s nominally a techno record is perhaps an attempt at the variety hinted at above. Personally, I find the black metal guitar riff a bit over the top — it never really gets any more interesting in repetition — but its surroundings all conspire to obscure it. Given the throbbing triplet bass line and the slow-paced percussion getting funkier with each bar, its easy to forget the guitar is even there. From here on out the album is smooth sailing: the fleet-footed building of the title track is sure to get play at your darker clubs, ditto the raucous mouthful that is “Not The Son Of Desert Storm, But The Child Of Chechnya.” “Jet Fumes Above The Reflecting Pool” sees the record out on a high note, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that something is slightly off about the whole thing. Remember Your Black Day may contain some of Vatican Shadow’s strongest material to date, but the record’s weaker cuts threaten its momentum precisely when it needs it the most, and make it an album best enjoyed piecemeal. With every listen, high-points such as “Remember…” and “Contractor Corpses…” get even better — their raw, straight-to-the-jugular intensity gets more furious with each spin, which throws into stark relief those meek tracks that seem to be simply biding time (“Muscle Hijacker…”). As an album, debut or not, and as a front-to-back listen, Remember Your Black Day does not rate as Vatican Shadow’s finest, though some of its tracks most certainly do. Flaws and all, however, it is a fascinating listen, and one that delights just as it frustrates.]]>
[Soma Quality Recordngs]
Given his recent spate of releases with Soma, one could infer that Deepchord sure has been doing a lot of yoga lately. Soma’s name may very well stem from the way Burroughs and Huxley used it to refer to opiates, but for many “Soma” refers to the drink used in Ayurveda, the traditional medicine system of Hinduism. Rod Modell’s recent 12″ goes so far as to shout-out two key yogic concepts: that of prana (the life force one takes in through breathing) and tantra (a system of meditation using said life force). Perhaps most damning, however, is that Prana/Tantra just moves more than any Deepchord record I’ve heard in awhile. Its motions are not unlike those of a yoga class, as each measure flows into the next without ever really leaving its mat.
“Prana” features slowly building percussion, icy high-end, and minor chords on the upbeats, but while the constituent parts of dub techno rarely change, it’s immediately apparent when a particularly exceptional slice of the stuff lays in front of you. “Prana” is quite a bit brighter and more swinging than we usually hear from Deepchord, but few would mistake it as anything but Modell’s work. Its kick drums and sub-bass lines entangle just so — the same of which applies on “Tantra.” “Tantra” is more subdued in its approach, but as delayed elements pan around the stereo field and samples swell in the background its hard to think of anything else more hard-hitting. Like any good yoga class, Prana/Tantra hypnotizes with its physicality and its contentment to just let a good thing be the way it is. It may not try to rewrite the playbook, but Prana/Tantra has lately been the first thing I reach for when needing to escape to another place for 20 minutes.]]>