[Clone Basement Series]
Mike Dehnert’s album Framework, on Delsin, is one of the year’s best, and he’s already augmented it with the similarly excellent Before Framework EP. Does this therefore mean his latest substantial 12″, featuring four full-bodied techno tracks and dropping on Clone Basement Series, is something of a footnote? Yes, a bit, but only if we nerdily accept that the footnotes are where we leave behind the day-trippers and get into the real fun. This record never exudes the grandeur of, say, Framework‘s “Palindrome,” but it is certainly calculated to get techno true believers hot under the collar with maximum efficiency. “Sonderbar” is made to sound like two tracks jammed together. It is the record’s boldest moment but the rhythmic intensity overrules much appreciation of Dehnert’s delightful sound design. “Briser” thumps hard and gives center stage to some recalcitrant upper-midrange notes which seem likely to bother the ceiling pleasantly in a large room, but I must admit are a little harsh for at home use.
The other two tracks are some of the most intimate from Dehnert in a while. He is a true master of the relationship a piece of music can build with you when it comes in on a strong note, first abrading against your sensibilities but then gradually yielding in fine seductive fashion. “Oblique” feels misjudged upon entering the room wearing a big bashy beat and a few hints of shredded sound from some nocturnal jungle. But the whole thing decays amid a decadent dub aesthetic and expands its breathy vocal snippet until each surface steams up. “Plonger” is not quite such a switched on tactile treat. It reminds me of the sweaty, beleaguered truth George Orwell extracts from his time washing dishes in a hellish restaurant basement in Down and Out in Paris and London. If Orwell’s turn as a plongeur and this Dehnert track don’t quite associate the same way for you, hopefully you’ll still agree that this is a fine example of no-pain-no-gain techno, where an intimidating attitude sublimates into something inscrutably rewarding. By restating these well-established techno paradoxes through a superb command of techno tone and texture, Dehnert once again proves he is a top-class talent.]]>
It’s often said that Nirvana only fully found the sound they would make their own because of the aesthetic direction urged by their first label, Sub Pop. Whether or not this particular claim is true, a similar phenomenon is commonplace in electronic music: when a talented producer gains a critical mass of momentum, his or her productions often shift just a little, this way or that, to fit a broad variety of labels interested in the tunes they offer. When all goes well, an artistic personality is honed, rather than diluted, in the process, and the mature producer emerges with a vibe unmistakably their own, but nevertheless flexible. If this is the recipe, Jus-Ed has started with the finished dish, and cooked in reverse. Excepting only the occasional single, all of his releases in the past six years have come out on his own Underground Quality, the label which forms the core of a happy, NYC-centered house family who all seem happily to do their own thing. In this light Jus-Ed’s latest album, on Tokyo’s Mule Electronic, is a major departure.
Jus-Ed’s name looks like a good fit for the Mule roster: labelmates DJ Sprinkles and Kuniyuki Takahashi also specialize in reduced yet coruscatingly individual deep house styles. The question, then, is why Jus-Ed decided to break with a staunch tradition of musical isolationism to release a full album on someone else’s label. And, more importantly, was he wise to do so? For the answer to the first question, you’d be better off asking Edward McKeithen. The answer to the second is that — and this is said with love — other people’s input seems to have been exactly the kick up the backside Ed needed to harness his diverse herd of sounds into a single team pulling in the same direction. It’s not that Jus-Ed is better here than before; he’s always been creative and good. But in my book Vision Dance is the moment Jus-Ed has gone from the magnetic but prickly man in the corner to the true blue friend sitting just to your right.
If Ed’s albums all have their spiritual home in and around New York, Vision Dance has gone on tour en route to Tokyo. Four different track names reference assorted cities: Offenbach, Berlin, and London (twice). But the music itself feels just as much like a tour of contemporary deep house geographies, never really resting long in any single aesthetic. Opener, “A Little Deeper,” fuses a comforting bass line, crafted from only a very few notes, with shreds of semantic sound floated in careful opposition around an arpeggiated vocal note starting man and ending, a few notes higher, cyborg. Eventually a mildly dissonant piano glides into the mix, completing an arrangement whose delicacy and artful use of tonal contrast probably has not been equaled since Thomas Melchior’s best moments. It is not until somewhere near the end of the track that the awareness of what has made such fineness dawns: Jus-Ed’s drums melt into the air around them, the product of an extraordinarily deft touch.
“Acid Techno” calls to mind Berghain sounds: big, bold, both house and techno, but somehow never tech-house. Bright piano chords pulsate over a rumbling muscle of bass beneath. “Emotion” flips “Acid Techno”‘s rampaging, sexual extroversion into something querulous, yet timid and withdrawn. It nevertheless builds to fraught intensity. In “Ice 592″ the drums stop hiding and the album bursts forth into a self-sure stomp, building towards a groaning sound — maybe a synth organ — which engulfs the rest of the sonic space in its bovine glory. Stefan Goldmann, or even the funkier Carl Craig, would approve. “Project 1 London” and “Project 2 London” are an exuberant mess and only reward listening reluctantly, comprising statements of the dangerous pride which can be Jus-Ed’s Achilles’ heel. “Stuck in a Train to Berlin” is aptly named: there is a feeling of simultaneous motion and stasis caught in its slowly-turning loops, until, eventually, muted lights flicker with queasy, focalizing brightness.
“The Truth” is the Jus-Ed we recognize from past records: just a few sounds, arrayed with ease, softness and awesome drums; “This Shit Is Hot (Re-scrub)” is similar, but perfectly signals what makes Vision Dance just a little different by floating some celestial synths above the typical Jus-Ed template. By the time “Train Ride to Offenbach” loses us in clouded secrets like Bvdub — or, indeed, Newworldaquarium — might, it has become clear Jus-Ed has matched the best albums of the year, from Morphosis and Rick Wilhite, with an understatement to equal their (respective) wildness and surefootedness. Vision Dance never calls attention to itself while also taking enormous risks, most of which pay out even as they demand a certain generosity from the listener. You might have heard most or all of these components before, but as a result of the adventurousness and stubbornness of present-day house music’s ultimate journeyman, something permanent has emerged here. Good news indeed that house’s two mules have joined forces so well.]]>
Royal Oak is a Clone sub-label that has put out music by Reggie Dokes, Gerd and Space Dimension Controller in its two year history. Its releases slot perfectly in between the new house underground of insular labels like NDATL Muzik, We Play House, Psychostasia, and Uzuri and the larger number of contemporary deep house outfits that branch out as far as they can into the mainstream. The latest Royal Oak 12″, from Genius of Time, shows why Clone just doesn’t get enough love. Genius of Time have already established themselves as a talented outfit by releasing some worthwhile tracks on their own Aniara Recordings, based in their native Sweden. Their Same Old Place EP especially put its finger on the warm, polished, and deep aesthetic that is Move D’s calling card, starting with the more typically European predilection for smooth and shimmering sound design and arriving at the authentic feeling that Chicago and Detroit deep house strives towards by means of all those jagged edges. But Drifting Back/Houston We Have a Problem is likely the best to date from Genius of Time, meriting discussion on its own terms rather than just by mapping its position in the house forest.
“Drifting Back” is a suitably chilled excursion, with all the soft pads, reverb, mellowly tinkling organ chords and intermittent conga you might expect from a less talented Moodymann. (That’s a complement, of course!) The cannabis haze clears enough on “Houston We Have a Problem” to see the stars in between the branches of the Oak we’re dancing under. A plundering bass line and sound design as crisp as the night breeze start the party before bold and enrapturing female vocals complete a thoroughly memorable ditty, the EP’s strongest track. “Juxtapose” is meditative and at the same time tightly groove driven, but the song structure is a little too loosey-goosey for my taste. Where the previous tracks distilled their open air charm into effective, refined club fodder, “Juxtapose” more often just floats away. Of course, perhaps that’s the point. Another fine release from Royal Oak that finds Clone’s newer signings matching the quality of their more established label mates.]]>
Elgato’s vehement and repeatedly stated view is that club experiences are best in small venues with a direct connection to the DJ, hopefully shared between people with a passion for music and who may even be friends. One dominant theme that emerged from our chat was a desire to pursue a musical career adhering as closely as possible to that ideal. His time spent in Bristol seemed like it came close; there he helped run a night called Bruk which sold tickets without letting on who would play, relying instead on trust to draw in the crowd. But if he’s keen for music itself to do most of the talking, LWE’s 70th exclusive podcast is a good start. What Elgato prepared for us showcases only old U.S. and UK house and garage, genres he thinks claim a shared history, remaining closely entwined after growing from shared roots in the Paradise Garage. The fertile aesthetics of both house and garage, on both sides of the Atlantic, can also be felt in his tracks “Tonight” and “Blue” (the latter of which stunningly grabbed the #3 spot in LWE’s top tracks list). That the programming of this mix makes so much room for not-always-appreciated music at the intersections of these styles might go some ways to explaining the parallel emotions of recognition and surprise that made his debut release so good.
LWE Podcast 70: Elgato (56:09)
01. Classic Man, “Here’s The Sample” (Bassment Jam Mixdown)
02. Norma Jean Bell, “Dreams” [Peacefrog Records]
03. Kerri Chandler, “Downtown” (Dark Mix) [Downtown 161]
04. Oscar G, “Movin’ On” (Original Vocal Mix) [Kumba Records]
05. Janet Rushmore, “Joy” (Choice Mix) [Released For Pleasure Music]
06. Rick Wade, “Harsh Thoughts” [Harmonie Park]
07. Underground Solution, “Paradise ’97″ [Quench Recordings]
08. Mood II Swing, Do It Your Way” [Groove On]
09. A Baffled Republic, “Sweetness (I Wanna Ho)” [Catch]
10. Tuff & Jam, “Track No Name” [Unda-Vybe]
11. DJ Disciple, “Keep On Movin” (Laid Back And Funk Mix) [Interstate Records]
12. Anthill Mob, “Promise Of…” [Confetti Records]
13. US Alliance, “All I Know” (N.Y.S.C. Dub Mix) [Locked On]
14. Groove Chronicles, “The Beginnings” [Old Dog Recordings]
15. Indigo, “Fly To The Moon” (The Mood II Swing Sentinal Dub) [Defender Music]
16. Jovonn, “Don’t Wanna Let U Go” [Goldtone Records]
There’s not a lot of biography about you available online so far? What do you want to tell me about yourself?
Elgato: That’s a difficult question to answer! I’m not sure to be honest.
I read that you’ve been involved with the people behind Bruk for a while?
Yeah, although it’s actually a different group than the one who publish Bruk Magazine, ‘cos I’ve seen some confusion over that before. But yeah, we’re just a group of friends who started putting on parties in Bristol, irregular things across a few different venues for about four years. We did it for the longest at this spot Take 5 Cafe, which was basically just a little cafe that happened to have a tiny basement underneath it. Our mate had a soundsystem (out to Joe!) he used to do free parties with, so we would take that down and run it out of there, do two or three pound door fee, sometimes book a DJ and have a party, all of us playing on rotation. I felt we were able to do something a bit different in that place; I loved the parties we did there. We’ve also been doing a show on sub.fm for a while, four of us on rotation now. It’s a very loose affiliation of people, just me and my mates! A lot of my experiences of dance music have been with or from the people involved with Bruk. And all of them are heavy DJs, and we all bring quite different styles.
I also read that you’ve been gradually absorbed into a Hessle Audio universe?
Yeah, I’ve known Ben [UFO] and those guys for a while now. It’s a funny thing with the record coming out though, to read how these things are perceived from the outside. I see them just as individuals really, friends, but then obviously they also have the music thing going on.
So it wasn’t a case of I’ll go down to the gig, and bring a CD-R…
No no, I’d been good friends with Ben and the other guys for a while before I sent them anything I’d done. It wasn’t like, ‘I’ve done these tracks, and these ones are ready.’ At first I shared them unfinished, just as a friend asking for impressions and feedback on the production and that.
A lot of your sets seem to take in a lot of 90′s UK Garage. As a DJ, do you see yourself as primarily part of that heritage?
Heritage is an interesting word. I think there’s a lot more to heritage than just taking an aesthetic as an influence or playing records of a style. There’s no doubt that music has shaped the way that I feel music, make music, but I don’t know if I could consider myself as a part of that heritage.
Garage seems to be a major influence across a range of key producers in the contemporary London bass scene though. At the same time, I’m not aware of the same number of reissues of classic garage tunes, or DJs who play it on the broader club circuit.
I don’t know, I suppose it kind of depends what scene you’re plugged into. Plenty of DJs in London play garage, people like Oneman and Ben [UFO] have been doing it for a while. And then on the London pirates you hear it all the time, I don‘t think they ever really stopped. I suppose it’s maybe different to the European house and techno scene where you seem to have some big names going that way and putting loads of older house in their sets. But then I bet there are guys all over Europe who never stopped playing that stuff. The reissues thing is kind of interesting, I hadn’t thought of that before really.
I wondered if you’d tell me a bit more about the garage you love, whether there are any go-to producers you’ll always check or that kind of thing?
The thing about UK garage is that it was running — in some ways it’s still running — but what most people would call garage proper came from like ’94 through 2003 or something. So there’s so much amazing music from that period, and so many styles. Tuff Jam were big for me, but there are too many UK 4×4 producers. To name just a few people like New Horizons, Underground Solution, James Lavonz, Anthill Mob and all the Confetti producers, RIP Productions, Jeremy Sylvester, Ramsey & Fen, their tunes still kill it, there‘s nothing that sounds like that stuff. Then all the 2-step stuff, again too many to mention but a lot of the obvious ones like Dem 2, Steve Gurley, Industry Standard, Groove Chronicles, DND, have all been big for me. There are too many to name though, and that’s not even really touching the grimey or darker stuff and what came after. One producer who always stands out in my mind — though not cos he’s necessarily my favorite, although he is one of them, but for how unique his style was — is Wookie. His sound was so different, and it feels fresh even now in a way that I’m not sure many others do.
And then recently the original garage vibes have started making a lot more sense to me, both the vocal disco stuff and the really early New Jersey vocal stuff, stuff like early Blaze and Movin and all of that. But I’ve loved the more tracky U.S. garage and house for a while. With this mix I kind of wanted to show love for some of that music, ‘cos it has done a lot for me.
Is there a particular feeling that helps you draw out a record that you’d play as a DJ?
I dunno really, I wouldn’t say one feeling or vibe, ‘cos as a DJ I tend to play quite differently depending on where I’m playing and what I’m feeling, and I‘ve got a lot of different styles of records. It’s something that having a tune out has put a point on, ‘cos all of a sudden I’m wondering whether I need to have a more consistent style as a DJ. But I think I’ll probably stick to just doing whatever seems right for the vibe.
In this mix, there’s quite a tight focus on old UK and U.S. house and garage, do you prefer a narrower range when you program your mixes?
Yeah, I tend to try to give my sets quite a strong vibe running through them. It’s not that I won’t play different styles next to one another but I strive for something that holds together quite tight in terms of the feeling. I think there’s still a lot that can be done within that, though, in terms of drawing in tracks from different times or places but which have that feeling in common. But this mix was slightly different, ‘cos in my mind it almost became kind of a celebration of this music rather than a showcase of the kind of thing I would necessarily do as a DJ in a club.
What does the immediate future hold for you as a DJ or as a producer?
Just making more tracks, seeing how they come out, hoping they’re good, and playing out as much as I can.
Italian born, Dublin-based Leopold Rosa might strike you as a man apart. In a world where crew affiliations are often the most important bit of branding involved in selling a DJ’s services, Lerosa’s five year discography is scattershot across apparently unrelated labels. Likewise no club seems like a primary base: his gigs crop up regularly, though not constantly, at European clubs like Rex, Studio 80, and Russian Bar. The decision to release a cassette only album on Further Records early this year was a straight-up curveball, albeit one that began to make sense after a few listens. But with his third release on Uzuri Recordings, the most of any artist, coupled with the promise of an album to follow, one would think the game of pin the tail on the producer is getting easier.
The music on the Facade EP, however, is as enigmatic as the man making it seems. “Facade” is the clear winner, marrying a pared-down Chicago aesthetic with the polished production familiar from Panorama Bar house like Steffi or Basic Soul Unit. The analog sounding groove is totally irresistible; it ensures “Facade” is one of the catchiest instrumental house ditties of the year. Very quickly some lush, intricately arranged synths pull the listener away from the simple groove and the track goes deep. The very approachable pop appeal with which the track began proves itself to be very much a facade.
The remaining tracks make good use of the work the opener did in befuddling expectations. All are complex ruminations that put familiar elements — Roland drum machines, acid squiggles, and dislocated vocals — into a very distinctive Lerosa shaped mold. The results sit unexpectedly alongside the classic Chicago sound Lerosa brings to the table in his choice of instrumentation. Same components, but very different results. “I Care,” “Rex,” and “Tanned Legs” have absolutely no boastful bombast, no huge synthesized melodies, and definitely no Screaming Rachel style vocals. Instead, they are Lerosa’s subtle tribute to the less cliched but no less captivating deeper style of early Chicago like Joe R. Lewis’ “Dub My Own” from Target Records in 1987. Combined with stunning musicianship and a certain queasy sensibility all of his own, Leopold has made a record indispensable to those even a little devoted to house heritage as it exists in 2010.]]>
It would be easy for the story of his label to overwhelm that of Elgato, when trying to make sense of the producer’s debut on the Leeds-cum-London dubstep powerhouse Hessle Audio. After all, the identity and back story of Elgato is being held close to the chest: all we know so far is that he’s had a longtime commitment to the London scene via the crew behind the Bruk blog. What’s more, even a cursory listen will reveal that this latest is just one more rabbit out of a hat for a label that has built its identity from a habit of outdoing each previous release with the next. But Hessle — which so far seems by far the most persuasive choice for label of the year, in a year when it’s set to release as much again as it has from 2007 to 2009 — inevitably fades into the background as soon as the needle drops onto Elgato’s tracks.
The B side, “Blue,” is the more prepossessing of the two tracks. It’s the more talked about so far, and is undeniably the deeper effort. A plundering bass organ settles deeply into a beat skeleton held aloft by a steady 124 bpm kick drum; its suppliant skank is counterpoised perfectly by a chopped, looped female vocal, “my dreams,” which snakes in and out of the track ensconced in puffs of sublimating synths. The sound design recalls in tone and texture Norma Jean Bell’s “Dreams.” A similar opiated, bass-weighted dreamscape aesthetic rules both. Where “Blue” really emerges into its own, however, is in the admirably subtle musical structure that guides its extraordinarily reduced components into an exponentially engrossing eight minutes, until they weigh on the mind like the shivering stammer suggested by the intensely looped vocal.
A side “Tonight,” however, is far too rich a dish to think of as an appetizer for the flip. The more I listen to “Blue”‘s more rustic counterpart, the more it becomes clear that diners at this platter had better be hungry enough for two dinners. “Tonight” is as spare, or more so, than “Blue,” and what begins pretending to be a dance floor shockout quickly frustrates this easy label, eventually settling into a mess of bubble and tweak. A thoughtful bass presence eventually takes over from the attention grabbing chords that begin the track; the participation of these low frequencies in the emotional language of the track would make James Blake or Mount Kimbie proud. In short: a superb effort worthy of every plaudit I can give, but even more so of immersing abandonment in front of the nearest big system where you can hear it.]]>
Scuba’s dubstep productions couldn’t be more different from SCB’s techno. SCB is direct, magisterial in expression to the point of being sensually shocking, at times even overpowering. In contrast, Scuba’s dubstep is among the most understated in the game. His synths feel like the ghostly remnants of his peers’. The feeling transmitted by his gelid tracks is a curiously neutral one, which nevertheless deepens on every listen, while keeping obvious emotional content just the far side of the veil. D-Bridge has, in the last year or two, showed himself to be every inch the technical equivalent of Paul Rose, but his productions speak a different language. They are self-consciously charming, and aim to seduce and cudgel you onto the floor in equal measure. D-Bridge’s remix of Scuba’s “Tense,” therefore, is a brave experiment. The controlled tech of the original is upswung into an extended DnB shuffler, driven by a familiar “Amen” breakbeat. This is the case of what can happen when two highly distinctive producers make a brave choice in mix/remix pairing, and don’t compromise on their usual aesthetics: a muddle.
On the flip, the problem is pretty much the same: Kontext — operating here as Dissident — makes sounds that shouldn’t fit together glide down your ears (or on a big system, your windpipes) smoothly and without complaint. Headhunter takes sounds that just do belong together, and flexes his reduced grooves along their surface. The combination of the two approaches, on Headhunter’s remix of Dissident’s “Society of Silver Skeletons,” is an extraordinary study in rhythmic discipline and the position and counter-position of controlled tonal elements into broken traces of melody. Listening to this is rather like trying to remember a few things from last night in the club and not quite succeeding. Which is fun. I’m all for aesthetic experimentation, but fundamentally there is a basic problem alongside these strengths: the off-kilter vibe might be great as a passing moment in a mixed set, but there is no real evolution as the track plays out. “Society of Silver Skeletons,” unfortunately, goes out on the same slightly lugubrious handshake it came in with. Four of the most consistent producers making broken beats today have therefore assembled a whole less than the sum of its parts here. At the very least put this one in the noble failures pile.]]>
LWE’s Kuri Kondrak caught up with South Africa’s RezKar two weeks ago, noting the promise of big things to come. RezKar’s newest, one track backed by four remixes on the Running Back label, is significantly more assured, without quite seeming to realize the potential present in earlier efforts. There are a number of very good things in the original mix of “Above the Clouds”: pretty melodies that dance through artful synth arrangements, defying both hands in the air schmaltz and limpid disco house recombinations. This is a good trick to know, and the track generally betrays a good ear and considerate attention to musical quality. But carefully negotiating a divide that has at its one end Gui Boratto and its other Prins Thomas is an insufficient accomplishment for someone whose earlier output promised galloping individuality. If I’m above the clouds when listening to this, it’s more in the familiar way of a twice-weekly Ryanair commute than flying with the angels. These chord structures are too familiar, and the whole thing cries for the flourishes and risk that this producer has been capable of imprinting on his music before. “Above The Clouds” also runs the risk of sounding too close to recent efforts from Donnacha Costello.
The same dilemma affects a lot of the output on Gerd Janson’s Running Back. A loose affinity of taste governs the roster as much as a cut and dry sound. Some tracks — Prosumer’s “Brownstone,” Tensnake’s “In The End (I Want You To Cry)” — have capitalized on that tendency to stretch out towards greatness. But the label is a platform, not a uniform product in the way of Perlon, and that leads to the opportunity to slough off onto it mix fodder instead of outstanding music. Which is an utter shame considering the frequent quality of those who run this label and those who contribute.
John Daly sometimes falls into the same pattern as Running Back. He always shows huge potential but sometimes makes things that are less than the sum of their parts. This is one reason why his remix here should be celebrated. A lovely, questioning Moog riff animates the occasionally complacent original components and gives them an earthy weight and balance. When the track takes flight around the seven-minute mark, it seems to complete a far fuller and more committed narrative. For this reason, Daly’s remix is in a different league from Mystery Boy’s. The latter producer does a delicate job in adding dance floor bombast while staying close to the original. Unfortunately, the fine artifice Mystery Boy shows would have gone further if he had combined it with a fresh perspective on the original. I would wait on RezKar until he decides on a sound that can accommodate his voice, and slot effortlessly into the sets of his European counterparts. Otherwise, it would be too frustrating to see another talented producer subsumed into the flabby, homogeneous underbelly of contemporary boutique house.]]>
Equalized #003 is not an easy record to identify, and not just because its creator went through reasonable pains to stay anonymous. Both sides of the disc feature thoughtful, hard tripping grooves that feel like they might disintegrate into warm, gooey, and rhythmless piles of mash at any moment. Drums lurch into the mix on one off-beat, never to be seen again; towards the end of the A-side, a house stomp emerges from the techno shuffle: this is a record that makes unpredictability into an art form, using surprise, rather than an emotional sonic palette, to deliver pleasure. On its own, this might not make the latest from EQD worthy of careful discussion. Plenty of tracks in techno history evolve in unexpected ways — I’m thinking now of Jichael Mackson’s dubby rework of Chris Isaacs — but very few producers are skilful enough to avoid using the genre conventions of house and techno enough to let the surprise do so very much of the work.
House and techno are very much creatures of convention. The minor keys of deep house that are everywhere at the moment are but one example of the dozens of characteristics that define the narrow confines in which producers must usually work if they want their records played. Indeed, it’s the subtle manipulations of convention that make dance tracks accessible to one another, and why they can sustain or enhance their meaning so well in mixed form. This characteristic can be a strength or a weakness. But its also vitally important that producers know when to break free, cleanly, from those conventions. Equalized #003‘s plodding organ, tremulous beats, and artfully insecure arrangements, are frustratingly coy genre signifiers. It’s exactly what’s wanted at a moment when too many producers are aping each other in a never-ending quest for authenticity. On the label and in the tunes, Equalized #003 doesn’t identify with any brand. There are plenty of records to be enjoyed as part of one cult or another. With this one, though, it’s better to forget about origins, lifestyle, scene, art and even context, and just enjoy the sonic adventure.]]>
As in a Papal Conclave, so in international dance music. This may or may not be a hard and fast rule. But “always follow a fat pope with a skinny pope” seems to be proving true in the way the wind is blowing now: ever so softly, away from U.S.-influenced, Berlin-centric deep house, towards techno. That house movement, spearheaded by the able likes of Move D, used a different set of instruments than much of the deep house that influenced it, but picked up on the same old impulse of house to use new technology to provide a listening experience that is immediate, directly rewarding, and that closes the gap between pleasure receptors in the brain, shaking hips, and stomping feet. Cio D’or is intricately tied to a different response to the Berlin minimal that, for better or worse, has been the previous decade’s most powerful force in shaping electronic dance music. Her music is a lucid exploration of the space between Saturday night minds and Sunday morning bodies, and Die Faser is the culmination of that trend to date. It is also a rare full length from a motley international crew who are reshaping attitudes about the relationship of foreboding sonic aesthetics and pleasure, and pointing out, to those of us who might have missed them before, the horizons of the challenging and rewarding style that I would rather call anything else but “headfuck techno.”
The format of Cio’s album is unusual. Die Faser is available on vinyl only in bits and bobs. A string of 12 inches feature a track or two each, backed up by remixes. These platters will seemingly be convenient to DJs who want to weave a few Cio moments into their sets, but are useless to anyone who wants to take in the album as an integrated whole. For this, digital download is the only way. The album’s deft assembly makes the physical version of this music more disposable than the version made up of ones and zeroes only. This unusual situation rather suits the sounds that reach your ears. The ephemeral tracks here seem not to be very anchored to the tactile world. “Faser” means fiber, or grain, and for all the organic connotations of those words, this album seems more like a strand plucked from the more remote corners of the techno aesthetic. That aesthetic can be imagined to correspond to a nebula in space, or an icy, remote mountain vista. What all these images share is the notion of a place far removed from everyday experience, where perhaps our instincts even warn of danger, but where an otherly beauty shocks our senses at a stunning pace.
Opener “Zellulose Wind” is a short ambient piece that does just what it says: Cio extracts a sound like hollowed out bass which is what we would hear if we transmuted wind into film. A few helpful, foreign bleeps and blips hint at nice things to come, without promising much. And then “Goldbrokat” bursts in. Its resonant kick drum and bass line combination — redolent of Plastikman’s “Consumed” — brings the listener immediately back down to earth, more specifically to the club. What starts as a neatly toned, purely consistent bass grinder, reminiscent of Sandwell District techno, quickly grows complex with asymmetrical percussive touches sprinkled around the mid-range. And then gloriously, if not quite surprisingly, a cellulose piano springs its voice into the gaseous breakdown in the track’s fourth minute.
The effect is terrific. Beauty and harshness, feeling rough and feeling good, being afraid to go further and wanting to find what you might if you do: all seem to go together again, still maintaining their proper segregation into techno bass and trance bleep, minimal helter-skelter and ambient tension. The rest of the album keeps up this balance, pulling similar tricks in unexpected ways, using musical sleight-of-hand to unified effect. It isn’t until very near the end, in “Cotton (La Petite Geisha),” that all of these impulses succeed in binding together to shift the stylistic paradigm into something the album’s fluid understanding of genre, tone and emotion has promised. “Cotton” is almost certainly not the album’s strongest track in terms of musical construction, but it is the moment when Cio’s perspective comes most authentically to the fore. Reluctant drums open in territory that might make you think we’re diverging towards Prologue’s more skittish moments. But luminous beeps, and strings, which probably bear more of a debt to trancer Kosmas Epsilon than Richie Hawtin, work miles better than they have any right to, and we soar towards something imperfect, which strives towards the numinous.
The two closing tracks reveal the range here in terms of style, but also in quality. “Wildseide,” with its discontented echo of ø; “Atomic,” drives us back towards the earthy trepidation that grand moments always cost. But “Pailetten (Bonbonus),” strikes out to the realm of the inhuman, in the album’s most questionable experiment. Cio D’or has delivered a frequently flawed album that nevertheless reveals a deep engagement with what electronic music can offer us, and understands the pain most of us have felt in trying to get to it. Her honest acceptance of taboo elements like trance and minimal has made for an integrated experience that will leave you asking different questions about the rest of the records that you hear for a while to come. Just don’t call it headfuck techno.]]>