STL, Check Mate

[echospace [detroit]]

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When the time comes for year-end wrap-ups, count on STL’s pursuit of techno’s humid depths to be one of 2009’s leading stories. The past eleven months saw Stephan Laubner following other creative muses as well (and prolifically), but between the “Silent State” EP for Smallville and a mix CD tellingly titled Dub Techno Explorations, it seems safe to declare a new chapter in the STL legacy. Despite its reverb and grit, “Silent State”‘s bass lines were so buoyant that many notched it as house, but Exploration‘s seventy minutes of dub techno oxidation aimed more for texture and atmosphere. Appropriate enough, then, that the Echospace crew took interest, helping Laubner issue — by my count — his tenth record of 2009.

The two STL tracks featured here, “Check Mate” and “Beautiful Mind,” both appeared on Explorations mix (tracks 2 and 5, if you want to check). Tenuously contained between hasty fade-ins and fade-outs, these aren’t autonomous tracks so much as windows opening on sonic continuities exceeding the capacity of vinyl. Not that they’re less entrancing for it, though. Hypnotic, soft focus, texture, murk, haze, smoke — you know the tags. But this is nebulous even as dub techno goes, the ponderous chords, treated percussion, and field recordings matted into diffuse abstraction. The listless, tinny percussion in “Check Mate”‘s high-end captures the track’s sense of absent drift but, all the while, churning bass grooves and neat kick drum patterns steadily pull us forward. It’s the permeating fog that registers most, of course, and that goes double for the sleepy-eyed “Beautiful Mind.” Dub techno lends itself well to headphone-listening, and Laubner’s gift for early morning, solitary music really blossoms on this track. Behind a drizzle of shakers and dripped drum taps, the atonal chords moan like emanations from some distant shipyard. It’s gently immersive but, more than that, its casual melancholy achieves an emotional depth that sets it apart from just about everything else on the field.

We’re also treated to a rare remix of STL’s work, courtesy of cv313. Their “Remodel” of “Check Mate” — actually positioned at the front of the record — asserts dub over drift, its tougher kick drums and cheerier rhythms resulting in a firmer track with a lot more oomph. Offering a sort of counterpoint to STL’s take on the genre, it’s another fine entry in cv313’s run of dub-inspired head-nod. There’s not a complaint I can lodge against this package.

chrisdisco  on December 1, 2009 at 11:51 AM

i have a complaint i can lodge against this package: it is boring. i dont care if STL has had a great year, or if echospace do dub techno better than most, this is just not that interesting. yes, it is better than most of the horribly mediocre dub techno that is polluting the electronic music world right now, but i still dont find much that appeals abotu this release. it is dull.

Paul  on December 1, 2009 at 5:48 PM

I´m a massive fan of STL but i´m afraid i have to agree with Chris. STL is capable of much better. I really think he should stick to his Something style releases, way more hypnotic and interesing. I just wouldn´t have the patience for this.

Martin  on December 2, 2009 at 3:57 AM

I really like STL, but don’t like these boys from echospace/deepchord crew, who have sent dub techno into vein of really uninteresting, dull and boring music.

Michael  on December 2, 2009 at 9:04 AM

I haven’t heard more than the samples of this from surfing around the net and I loved what I heard. It reminds me a lot of the old DeepChord releases, if you love those the way I do this will not let you down. If you’re looking for a release that falls in the current “trend of the second sound” or something currently in the top spot on RA or minimal sausages this will most likely not be it. If you like dark, hypnotic and most importantly, deep music, this is something you must own. I might add that the cv313 mix sounds like it could work a real treat on a dancefloor, looking forward to getting this on vinyl and deciding for myself.

chrisdisco  on December 2, 2009 at 12:42 PM

@ michael: dub techno definitely has a spot within mnml ssgs. i’ve been a long term fan of it as a genre and also of deepchord. i got the promos for this EP a while ago and tried really hard to like it, but in the end it just isn’t particularly exciting. of course it is well produced, but like a large amount of dub techno that has been released in the last year or so – on echospace and other places – it is working within a pattern and sound that has been done to death. there just isn’t enough here to make it worthwhile. and i’m a bit surprised you can be so sure about a release without even having heard it properly. seems to me like you are just going on rep. STL and the deepchord guys are great producers, but both are capable of much better than this.

James Jays  on December 2, 2009 at 2:11 PM

Not for me at all. It is obvious that everyone from the echo/deep/chord/space (their various names merge into one for me) gang have a love and knowledge for what they are doing, but they have removed all the edge and innovation from this music and are now just knocking out well-produced but ultimately dull dub-techno wallpaper.

James Jays  on December 2, 2009 at 5:21 PM

And before someone says it, I realise that this is a mainly an STL release, but I have the same feelings about it. Despite my posts here I am positive about a lot of music, give me Levon Vincent, Marcel Dettmann, Scuba, Forward Stategy Group, Milton Bradley etc when they are on form and I’m a happy man.

Michael  on December 2, 2009 at 6:25 PM

@ james, where did you get the release, its not even out yet?

Michael  on December 2, 2009 at 6:31 PM

@ james, give me mike huckaby or deepchord over levon vincent, he tried to steal what those guys were doing in the 90’s and made it even more dull, sorry but i do not agree with that comment at all.

Chris Miller  on December 2, 2009 at 7:58 PM

I have to agree with what’s being said here. This is just a case of “heard it before”, and nothing really stands out. Currently listening to “From a Distance” and that takes the dub techno sounds and does plenty with them, resulting in something fresh and captivating.

I simply can’t hear anything in “Check Mate” that makes me sit up and take notice. It’s nice enough, but that just doesn’t cut it when there are hundreds of records sounding pretty much the same.

Michael  on December 2, 2009 at 8:28 PM

I agree, the samples do sound similar, actually “check mate” is pretty much a knock off of deepchord 11 which came out in 2001 or so, but I also happen to love that record. The track I was into the most here was the cv313 mix and “Beautiful Mind” which is the B side cut, sure this record isn’t re-inventing the wheel but neither are any of the artist listed in reference by James or others here. I actually think Mike Huckaby was doing more interesting things with this back in 1996 with his Sandcastles remix and his remix of Deepchord was also a template for the copycats of today.

New James  on December 7, 2009 at 11:34 AM

Blah blah blah, this discussion is as boring as the record.

jonnyp  on December 7, 2009 at 3:19 PM

perlon gets bashed for not sounding perlon enough.
echospace gets bashed for sounding too echospace.
funny how it goes.

harpomarx42  on December 10, 2009 at 12:17 PM

Reminds me of a dubbier “Ghosts Have A Heaven” by Actress.

todd  on January 9, 2010 at 3:20 AM


speaking of perlon, give me another stl on that label please

Axs  on January 20, 2010 at 8:08 AM

Just got the vinyl a week ago, and while I can understand some of the comments here, I must say I totally agree with Chris’s review.

While this record may not sound as fresh as some “cutting edge” techno productions from, say, Dettmann and such, keep in mind that this is dub techno : there are certain rules to the sound, a certain feel to the chords that has to be achieved for the record to be classified in the genre.

This release happens to fall dead center in the rules of the genre, while the much more lauded “Silent State”, retaining some dub techno aspects, was really more house-sounding than dub techno, and in a way I think that’s why people liked it more than this one.

You can’t really have some kind of a “mixed-opinion” on dub techno, I feel it’s one of those genres where there are two categories of people : the ones who love it and the ones who don’t. So for the people who don’t like this release, it’s not really a matter of how much you like or dislike this release in particular, I think you gotta ask yourself if you like the genre enough. I love dub techno, and for me, this release is better than Silent State.

Sorry for the big comment…

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