Tony Lionni’s involvement in the Manchester dance crews scene of the late ’80s/early ’90s is a known entity now, but at the time he revealed the fact it was nothing short of revelatory. Here was an artist coming out with serious house and techno records without any solid threads to his origins, to the experiences that brought him to the here and now with what seemed like such unfettered ease. Once you understand how Lionni’s connection to music formed through the club culture of the Haçienda, jazz house dance battles and his own self-confessed study of “black music in all its forms” you realize that this is no passing fancy for him. And the fact that Lionni is a former dancer doesn’t hurt his chances of getting asses moving either.
Following hot on the heels of some formidable techno/house releases in the form of his powerfully addictive “Found A Place” contribution to Len Faki’s Berghain 03 mix album and more recently “The Brain EP,” Tony Lionni has again landed on Wave Music with his third release for Francois K’s label. “The Games People Play EP,” like so much of his other work, toes a fine line between what could be considered house and techno; but rather than falling into the clichéd framework of what gets labeled tech-house these days, Lionni uses the choicest elements of each to create a sound that is both and neither genre. On the title track Lionni again utilizes his keyboards to lead the way, creating grand synth vamps and lustrously aching note slivers as a foil that provides moody atmospherics before grounding it to the groove with a tight bass line. It most assuredly falls on the house side of the tracks, and with that hits a deeper mark. “Aurora” starts with a simple keyboard chord progression loop before a galloping beat steps up, bringing with it chunky bass fragments, incorporating Italo influences into his aforementioned tech-house structures. Lionni manages to rein it in by drenching the track in gorgeous FM synth sweeps but it isn’t quite enough to save it from a lackluster outcome.
The last track on this EP proves to be its finest. “Protection” rides a gradual build up of flanged synth pulsations, bass line stabs and shuffling percussion for the first half of the eight plus minutes. A steady transition drives the tune in a new direction: the synth pulses grow clearer but more urgent, a glowing pad envelops its vertiginous layers before a distant vocal sample emerges suddenly, bringing “Protection” to its perfect place. The elements coalesce in a feverish chaos that drives the groove, its series of subtle progressions proving their reward to the attendant listener and dedicated dancer — perhaps someone like Lionni himself.