Every producer wants to make records that set themselves apart from other records. You’d think this would have to be true, right? Otherwise, why would anyone take the time and considerable cost necessary to create a piece of dance music? Practically every producer I hear strives to differentiate him or herself by way of the sounds — to get them as far away from the presets as possible; to design the presets of tomorrow, perhaps. Yet so many of the best moments in house and techno are those when the music itself fades away into a feeling. You can tune your drum machines all day, but if you can’t get something more out of them than soundwaves — if you can’t tease out that hypnotizing x-factor that makes certain dance records good beyond words — then you’re missing something critical.
As the Internet allows for the fragmentation of tastes and musical scenes to increase with each passing year, critical attempts to address an overarching annual narrative seem as if they’re becoming a thing of the past. Instead we get something closer to an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” with several intricate sub-plots coexisting and influencing each other to enjoyable, unpredictable ends. 2009 found house developing still deeper on one hand and running at surface level on the other, some of its adherents picked away by a Latin strain which grew rather unwieldy. UK bass music of all sorts reached further afield for its influences, adding boogie, house and freestyle into its repertoire while dubstep proper refined its sound as the wobble variety began to grate. Techno grew harder, weirder, and more fiercely independent than most had seen in years, and many of its talents continued their courtship with stepping musics. And by the end of the year, there was more than enough excellent tracks to declare 2009’s yield both fruitful and memorable. After looking back, we’ve chosen these 25 tracks as the best this year had to offer.
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.
“Smallville ist nicht Dial.” A De:Bug review of an early Smallville release (DJ Swap’s superb “The Walk”) made this clear, but until last year, many people still persisted in treating it as a mere sub-label of the more established Hamburg imprint. Of course, this is understandable, given Peter Kersten (Lawrence/Sten)’s involvement in both, not to mention the similar influences and palettes. Both have grown out of the Hamburg scene, share a reverence for Afro-American music, and have a sophisticated yet melancholy European air, but this past year has seen Smallville come gloriously out of Dial’s shadow. Where Dial releases music as much for the couch or even concert hall as the club, Smallville is more firmly dance floor-orientated. Still, as this CD compilation And Suddenly It’s Morning proves, their music is equally at home, well, at home.
2009 may go down as the year of the private press, but STL (aka Stefan Laubner of Bad Harzburg) has traveled this hand-paved road for six years with his Something imprint, issuing scuffed-up house and techno tracks, field recording collages, and numerous combinations thereof. The best of these come off as soft-spoken bedroom curios, but garner enthusiastic support as potent groove tracks. Juggling a prolific release schedule and bankable quality control, STL’s steadily amassed a loyal fan base. Farming out the occasional release to Perlon can’t have hurt either, but it’s a new alliance with Smallville, bringing with it the overwhelmingly embraced “Silent State” EP, that’s really raised STL’s profile this year. Yet his in-house press is as busy as ever. Arriving in June, “The Unseen Voyage” is familiar, steadfast STL, a sign perhaps that neither “Silent State” nor the increased attention have disrupted the Something agenda. Don’t mistake it for a retread, though.
The title of Styrax’s In Loving Memory series is both intriguing and provocative. Is the compilation intended as the final epitaph on techno’s gravestone? A nostalgic tribute to the pioneers of all things deep and dubby? A signpost to the mournful nature of much of the music contained in the four volumes? Or just a Moodymann reference?
As the owner and sole driving force behind the label Something, the enigmatic Stephan Laubner manages to freely indulge his prolific nature without sacrificing quality. In 2008 alone he notched up six well rated releases, three of which could be considered albums, only one arriving on another label (“Lost In Brown Eyes” for his friends at Perlon), and he’s already released a new 2×12″ in 2009. Laubner’s efforts also seem immune to easy characterizations. They stretch from massaged field-recordings to wistful deep house, caustic techno to more chipper tech-house treats, and that’s ignoring the many loops etched into most STL releases. What’s surprising, then, about STL’s debut for Smallville Records is not that it turns the page in the self reliant producer’s catalog, but rather its potential to loom large over what came before it.
[Something] It’s a somewhat rare feat for a producer’s high output to be matched with high quality, let alone stylistic depth. Stephan Laubner, better known as STL, is one of the few who pulls it off. Already this year he has six new releases to his name, ranging from techno and deep-house to field-recorded soundscapes. […]
[Noble Square Records] The man known only as Satin Jackets was raised on a Navajo Indian reservation in the 80’s where he proved himself as a skilled archer and sprinter. While passing through the territory on tour, one of house music’s greatest figures (who asked not to be identified) saw the boy darting across the […]