Tag Archive: Ben Klock


1329235942_folder

1. Voices From The Lake – Voices From The Lake (Prologue)

This is an album that has stayed with me since I first listened to it in the freezing early months of 2012. As the year has once again reached the months of dark skies and chilling air, “Voices From The Lake” remains a favourite and a release whose place in pole position for album of the year was never in doubt. The work of Donato Dozzy and Neel is both beautiful and lucid with deep ambient atmospherics and an exceptionally crafted piece of sound design. Listening to “Voices From The Lake” is an immersive experience as the deep wells of ambient sounds develop and unfold at their own pace. Textured beats and unhurried rhythms pour forth with a hypnotic flow, creating an intoxicating sense of tranquillity. Drones and gently pulsing bass drums lead us into soothing pillows of thick ambience against a humid backdrop. The pair’s reworking of the previously released ‘S.T.’ is a revelation. After 30 minutes of bubbling and pulsation, the album’s first proper bass line emerges underneath a gently ascending and descending chord progression, creating the album’s biggest moment of impact while remaining airy and translucent. Rhythm, texture and atmosphere are the key components of “Voices From The Lake”, creating an enveloping physical presence that asks contemplative concentration; a meditative state of listening. Its patterns shift and morph in minute detail, so subtly and patiently that it gives the album an unusual feeling like it is floating while simultaneously surging from the depths of a dense forest. The construction is painstaking, so much so you can’t tell where one track begins and another ends yet, surprisingly for something that has been put together so intricately, it contains warmth that feels inviting and effortless. “Voices From The Lake” is a unique, entrancing release that supplies the closest aural equivalent to waldeinsamkeit since Pantha Du Prince’s “Black Noise”, my top-ranking album of 2010.

2. Shed – The Killer (50 WEAPONS)

“I hate guitar music…because guitars have been out there for hundreds of years now, and I think it’s enough.” Shed (Rene Pawlowitz) the stern-faced German doesn’t care for much, at least that is what his interviews in English depict and with “The Killer”, the producer delivers the tracks on his third album in true German attitude: to the point, straightforward and no bullshit. “The Killer” doesn’t introduce listeners to anything new but by his own admission he doesn’t aim to. For him the best techno was released in the ‘90s and he finds the genre as it is currently, boring. Pawlowitz testifies, “I guess by about 1995 techno stopped being new or innovative and since then it has stayed the same. That’s why I like the past so much, nowadays there is no big change in techno.” What “The Killer” does do is stand as the most visceral and powerful techno album of 2012. Pawlowitz brilliantly drags tracks away from being simple genre exercises by burying nuances and his enigmatic personality among the flashes of brutal intensity. The insistent breakbeats and searing, sinister synths that make up the sadistic throbbing of ‘I Come By Night’ would become tiresome in another producer’s hands but Shed’s nuances are there in the background with the addition of delicately fluttering synths that weave through the track. Making “The Killer” all the more interesting are the feverishly repetitious melodies that flourish underneath the deep, pounding drums, crackles and ambient noise. They are omnipresent yet only really reveal themselves after several listens. Again Shed has pulled the magician’s trick of hiding them in plain sight. Dreamy melodies float through ‘Silent Witness’, Pawlowitz upturns typical techno arrangement by forcing the drums to follow the lead of the billowing melodies on ‘You Got The Look’ and rapturous techno beats are suspended by melodious atmospheric synths on the floating ‘Phototype’. “The Killer” and its producer are refreshing in their directness and techno purity and it is Shed’s individual blend of brutality and subtlety that makes “The Killer” one of the best albums of 2012.

3. John Tejada – The Predicting Machine (Kompakt)

The Austria born, L.A. based producer runs wild, excitedly and purposefully pulling sounds from an assorted catalogue of eras and styles for ‘The Predicting Machine” as it cycles through ten tracks that fluently weave lean electronics and pounding, yet sparse, beats with Tejada’s famously emotionally resonant melodies. It covers a lot of ground yet perfectly summarises his deeply focused approach to production and when it comes to effortlessly and beautifully conveying emotion in music no one gets close to John Tejada’s finely tuned melodies or his instinctive musicality. “The Predicting Machine” moves with pace through sculpted bleeping hooks and thick ambient fogs that rise from aquatic grooves, a Kompakt schaffel-inspired rhythm makes several appearances and the percolating tech house that made Tejada’s name features on the knowingly titled ‘A Familiar Mood’. A moment of magic occurs when the opening bars of the anthemic ‘The Function And The Form’ begin. Its fizzing melody and growling bassline lifts “The Predicting Machine” up a level and the incredibly rich modular synth textures and sparkling arpeggios surrounding it play out joyously. Throughout “The Predicting Machine” long gleaming melodies and spiralling arpeggios mingle with wet, elastic rhythms and effervescent clouds of synths. Every one of his tracks is an inviting and wondrous soundscape filled with luxurious and elegant detail; pure Tejada.

4. Sigha – Living With Ghosts (Hotflush)

After a bundle of 12”s for Scuba’s Hotflush label Berlin-based, UK-born DJ and producer Sigha (James Shaw) delivers his debut album “Living With Ghosts”. The album’s twelve perfectly balanced techno and ambient productions fuse his love of classic techno with the genre’s contemporary sound that is owned by Germany’s capital and over the course of “Living With Ghosts” Sigha shifts between brooding subterranean techno soundscapes and fluid emotive strokes. Album opener ‘Mirror’ slowly introduces the listener to the show with an unhurried sketch of quietly grinding austere noise until the second track ‘Ascension’ kicks in with a throbbing techno beat that almost suffocates its undulating synth. The addition of subtle changes to the rhythm and percussion in the final third takes the track close to breakbeat territory. For the last 30 seconds the drums suddenly drop out to a soft drone that acts as a palette cleanser; refreshing the listener for ‘Puritan’’s 6:40 minutes of a wonderfully unrelenting, thudding 4/4 groove and gossamer synths. A highlight is ‘Scene Couple’, its wet licks of acid rise and swells with force yet feel restrained and intricately textured; a track that will be killer on dancefloors for months to come. Sigha cleverly uses two tracks, ‘Suspension’ and ‘Delicate’, to allow the listener to come up for air, making it even more potent when they are thrown into the techno waves again. Their carefully weaved layers envelop in silky ambience; adding an extra stunning dimension to the release. Hypnotic beats punctuate an enthralling windswept soundscape in the nine minute ʻTranslateʼ. The elegant ‘Aokigahara’ rounds off the album in a ten minute beatless wall of foggy ambience that swathes and soothes the listener. Like “The Killer” by Shed, “Living With Ghosts” is a techno record that contains countless moments of experimentation, depth, subtlety and exhilaration across a format that can be the downfall for many producers who are used to delivering 12”s.“Living With Ghosts”, with its commitment to the motifs of UK and Berlin techno, is a skilfully paced, cohesive, complex and compelling album.

5. Marcel Dettmann – Range EP (Ostgut Ton)

As with last year’s “Translation” and the recent “Landscape” EPs Dettmann’s “Range” shows that though the scale of his material is narrow his resolute, glorious techno still contains many shades within their concrete canvas; 50 shades of grey so to speak. Swirling atmospherics introduce the EP’s title track as an unsettling drum pattern ploughs through sullen, foreboding terrain. The pulsing bass drum on ‘Iso’ only just holds the track together as a dense assortment of spiky and hissing sounds ring out and dissipate above cavernous and unsettling held chords. It feels like it’s on the brink of collapse and reaching out from the depths of this instability comes ‘Push’’s barely discernible pitched down voice intoning variations on the track’s title above a rhythmic dry-hump made up of deep bass thuds, whooshing hats and skittering percussion; a standout. Final track ‘Allies’, which was an important inclusion in Ben Klock’s recent, wonderful “Fabric 66”, is an excellent example of Dettmann’s skill. Essentially a single harmonically-rich chord repeats infinitely while razorblade hi-hats and jacking snares alter every single bar. As with most of his unforgiving slabs of techno, he builds and builds the pressure to almost uncomfortable levels without gifting the listener with any real sense of climax or release. “Range” will still be a favourite on dancefloors twelve months from now.

6. Orcas – Orcas (Morr Music)

Named after the mammal native to the Pacific Northwest where Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below) and Benoit Pioulard hail from, their collaboration as Orcas blends poignant, twinkling pop songs with shuddering masses of electronic sounds; a fusion of song-writing with ambient minimalism that stands somewhere between the piano-based modern compositions of Peter Broderick, the Field’s highly emotive techno and GAS’ subdued beats and stately atmospheres. ‘Pallor Cedes’ sets the tone of the self-titled album with rising and falling drones and a clipped guitar rhythm sitting under softly picked acoustic guitar and Pioulard’s aching repetition of the phrase “like coming up for air”. “Arrow Drawn”’s clever use of vocal double tracking and harmonies slowly seep into the listener’s ears as quiet acoustic guitar and piano merge into ‘Standard Error”s floating loop of sighs. Calling to mind GAS and Irisarri’s work as The Sight Below is “Carrion”, an unhurriedly evolving hymn that encompasses a distant beat, echoed piano parts, an irregular guitar chord and Pioulard’s gauze-covered sad-eyed voice. A standout is their sublime cover of Broadcast’s ‘Until Then’, a poignant tribute to the untimely passing of singer Trish Keenan. Continuing the album’s use of piano, the track is built on a close-mic’d delicately played piano which frames Pioulard’s reflective vocals. Across the album Benoit Pioulard’s vocals glide along amid quiet piano and guitar notes and backing textures that rise and fall in gentle interplay, vinyl crackle and natural reverb adding an important touch of atmosphere. “Orcas” is a beautifully dignified album that summons a sense of space, understated progression and emotional depth.

7. Deepchord – Sommer (Soma)

Deepchord (Rod Modell) is an artist that continues to reinvent and diversify within the dub techno/ ambient techno genres. “Sommer” (summer in German) has lighter, more ethereal feel than Modell’s previous output but his characteristic manipulation of space and time remains. Effect-heavy textures, sliding and shifting rhythmic elements and intricate production details create a constantly evolving almost vaporous tapestry. Field recordings made on a beach close to Modell’s home generate a balmy atmosphere that breathes underneath the light-footed percussion and bass pulsing from the speakers. Like “Silent Harbour”, “Sommer” creates evocative sound passages. Beautiful, humid atmospheres are drawn in ‘Glow’, ‘Wind Farm’ and ‘Cruising Towards Dawn’, dark fluid journeys are traced with ‘Flow Induced Vibrations’ and ‘Gliding’. The listener travels towards the sunny getaway that ‘Amber’, ‘Benetau’ and ‘The Universe As A Hologram’ propose. The album is an amalgamation of deep, warm organic atmospherics and dance music creating a mood evoking the relaxed warm summer evenings the title alludes to.

8. Christian Löffler – A Forest (Ki)

The forests of Usedom, north Germany in which Christian Löffler lived during the making of the album are the backbone of “A Forest”. Over the twelve tracks that make up the album a rich yet spacious tapestry gradually unfurls as we see an entrancingly atmospheric representation of dense woodland. Warm, organic samples of wooden percussion are underpinned with fragile synth melodies; the chord progressions recall John Tejada’s melancholic, sunset-tinged tracks combined with Pantha du Prince’s percussive rhythms, dense textures and obsessive attention to detail. Although the 4/4 bass drum dominates rhythmically it remains unobtrusive, lying low in the mix beneath hypnotic, dreamlike moods. The three vocalists on “A Forest”, Gry, Mohna and Marcus Roloff, are a new dimension to Löffler’s productions and imbue the album with an even greater emotional resonance. On ‘Swift Code’ lyricist and poet Marcus Roloff’s German spoken word passages alternate between implicit and explicitly threatening verses, Mohna’s  dreamy, fragile voice on ‘Eleven’ is surrounded by buzzing noises and distant bass frequencies. In one section her looped voice sits between chopping hi-hats and a bass line that rolls back and forth like sea waves. The beautiful ‘Feelharmonia’ features the Danish singer Gry whose mournful voice is embraced by shuffling percussion, syncopated drums, tapping wood blocks and a bouncing synth pattern. “A Forest” is a standout in its wonderfully elegant and atmospheric beauty.

9. King Felix – SPRING EP (Liberation Technologies)

This “SPRING EP” by King Felix (Laurel Halo working under a name taken from a previous EP) carries on the thread of the “Hour Logic EP”, notably the accelerated beats and ecstatic cries of ‘Aquifer’. The first three tracks, ‘SPRING01’, ‘SPRING02’ and ‘SPRING03’, are reconfigurations of the same instrumentation and theme, one that heavily references early nineties Detroit techno, in particular Drexciya’s underwater world and the sheen of early Model 500. Their rhythms are restless and shuffle constantly. Halo races the drums forward then scales them back to allow piercing synths to sit atop. The vast organ samples that screech through the opening of ‘SPRING 01’ are anchored by a visceral beat and razor-sharp synth textures. Only on the dramatic ‘SPRING03’ does she let a percussion-filled, 4/4 techno beat dominate. The final track, ‘FREAK’, is a collage of drones. Its sagging bass line looms underneath a quivering synth pattern and Halo’s submerged voice which merges into stretched-out chords. “SPRING EP” is coloured by its immediacy, moments of frightening suspense and an almost aggressive purposefulness. Though the four tracks string together as a narrative arc each presents a different personality and it is Halo’s ability that imbues the collection with cohesion.

10. Claudio PRC – Inner State (Prologue)

The young Italian’s debut album takes us into the abyss. It is a minimalistic world of profound and effortless deep, hypnotic techno and one that is filled with thick atmospheres, foggy dubs and unrelenting beats. Claudio’s love for techno and production skills is displayed with confident poise. In his own words, “In most of my tracks, the electroacoustic side plays the more emotional role, where the atmosphere created by the sound research and processing are my means to tell a story, while the rhythm reveals my natural matrix of energy I use to give life to these stories.” Opener ‘Echoes’ is a pitch black techno track with a relentless bass line that fold into waves of static and hi-hats. Intense, snapping percussion tops a droning bass line and cloudy textures in ‘Transparent’ and beat-less ambient track, ‘Leave’, provides a reflective moment before ‘Radial’’s vitriolic beats kick in. With “Inner State”, Claudio PRC has shown great potential while Munich-based Prologue maintains its output of high-quality techno releases.

Kirsty’s reviews

Disappointment of the month

Monoloc – Drift (CLR)

“Drift”’s arrangement recalls late ‘90s crossover dance/rock acts like The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy or Death In Vegas whose rock audience-friendly albums were divided into ‘we’re trying hard to be deep and meaningful’ tracks filled with soulful vocals or film dialogue, minor key mid-tempo ‘emotional’ pieces and tacky wave-your-hands-in-the-air bangers; all amounting to the aural equivalent of weak tea. Similarly “Drift” suffers from pathetic tameness too when it should be injecting listeners with Red Bull and vodka, the choice of drink for anyone who wants to dance for 60 hours while being pummelled by techno. Its alternation between minor and major keys, use of monotone vocals and pacing does nothing to shake off these unflattering comparisons and very little justifies “Drift”’s 52 minute length. Techno tracks like ‘Try’ and ‘About’ should thump and grind but the production on “Drift” has oddly sucked the air out; bass drums are squashed, synths sound meek and the compression has flattened all tone and colour. ‘It’s Mine’ featuring Daniel Wilde and the two other vocal tracks take their cue from “Violator” era Depeche Mode. It’s pretty convincing despite being flat and one-dimensional. Their classic singles, like ‘Personal Jesus’ or ‘Enjoy The Silence’, sit in a rock-pop-industrial techno triangle, which ‘It’s Mine’ tries to emulate but unlike ‘Personal Jesus’ it simply isn’t a good, catchy song that people will be able to sing 20 years from now. Elsewhere ‘Try’ screams of unadventurous filler for a DJ set and someone who uses gospel vocals in a dance track has to come up with a fresh take; ‘Pblc’ isn’t this song. Listeners who want exciting, vibrant techno ought to drop “Drift” and spin Shed’s “The Killer” or anything on the Prologue and Ostgut Ton labels.

Marcel Dettmann – Range (Ostgut Ton)

In this last year Marcel Dettmann has received criticism for a lack of musical range but the ‘Range’ EP shows that though the scale of his material is narrow his resolute, glorious techno still contains many shades within their concrete canvas; 50 shades of grey so to speak. Swirling atmospherics introduce the EP’s title track as an unsettling drum pattern ploughs through sullen, foreboding terrain. The pulsing bass drum on ‘Iso’ only just holds the track together as a dense assortment of spiky and hissing sounds ring out and dissipate above cavernous and unsettling held chords. It feels like it’s on the brink of collapse and reaching out from the depths of this instability comes ‘Push’’s barely discernible pitched down voice intoning variations on the track’s title above a rhythmic dry-hump made up of deep bass thuds, whooshing hats and skittering percussion; a standout. Final track ‘Allies’, which was an important inclusion in Ben Klock’s recent, wonderful “Fabric 66”, is an excellent example of Dettmann’s skill. Essentially a single harmonically-rich chord repeats infinitely while razorblade hi-hats and jacking snares alter every single bar. As with most of his unforgiving slabs of techno, he builds and builds the pressure to almost uncomfortable levels without gifting the listener with any real sense of climax or release. Like Dettmann’s previous EPs “Translation” and “Landscape”, “Range” will still be a favourite on dancefloors twelve months from now.

Release of the month

Sigha – Living With Ghosts (Hotflush)

After a bundle of 12”s for Scuba’s Hotflush label Berlin-based, UK-born DJ and producer Sigha (James Shaw) delivers his debut album “Living With Ghosts”. The album’s twelve perfectly balanced techno and ambient productions fuse his love of classic techno with the genre’s contemporary sound that is owned by Germany’s capital and over the course of “Living With Ghosts” Sigha shifts between brooding subterranean techno soundscapes and fluid emotive strokes. Album opener ‘Mirror’ slowly introduces the listener to the show with an unhurried sketch of quietly grinding austere noise until the second track ‘Ascension’ kicks in with a throbbing techno beat that almost suffocates its undulating synth. The addition of subtle changes to the rhythm and percussion in the final third takes the track close to breakbeat territory. For the last 30 seconds the drums suddenly drop out to a soft drone that acts as a palette cleanser; refreshing the listener for ‘Puritan’’s 6:40 minutes of a wonderfully unrelenting, thudding 4/4 groove and gossamer synths. A highlight is ‘Scene Couple’, its wet licks of acid rise and swells with force yet feel restrained and intricately textured; a track that will be killer on dancefloors for months to come. Sigha cleverly uses two tracks, ‘Suspension’ and ‘Delicate’, to allow the listener to come up for air, making it even more potent when they are thrown into the techno waves again. Their carefully weaved layers envelop in silky ambience; adding an extra stunning dimension to the release. Hypnotic beats punctuate an enthralling windswept soundscape in the nine minute ʻTranslateʼ. The elegant ‘Aokigahara’ rounds off  the album in a ten minute beatless wall of foggy ambience that swathes and soothes the listener. Like this summer’s “The Killer” by Shed, “Living With Ghosts” is a techno record that contains countless moments of experimentation, depth, subtlety and exhilaration across a format that can be the downfall for many producers who are used to delivering 12”s.“Living With Ghosts”, with its commitment to the motifs of UK and Berlin techno, is a skilfully paced, cohesive, complex and compelling album.

Liam’s reviews

Offshore – “Bakehaus” (Big Dada)

The debut mini album from Glaswegian beat maker Offshore starts as it means to go on with ‘Breeze’s ascending synth melody and twitching hi-hat pattern taking centre stage before the main beat drops it’s the simple musicality of this intro track that marks this release and Offshore himself out from the current electronic music crowd.  The trend continues with the surging synth bass of the house-like ‘Fraser’ though again there’s Offshore’s unique twist as he’s add his own synthetic guitar parts and plinking piano to stunning effect.  The next two tracks ‘Life’s Too’ and ‘Venom’ ratchet up the melodic elements and we hear for the first time the child-like playfulness that runs through Offshore’s music. Melody continues to dominate on the excellent ‘Downer’ with its Peter and the Wolf-like string melody and on ‘Black Bun’ with its pedal steel melody and suitable woody sounding beats. Melody isn’t the only thing that Offshore excels at as he keeps the listener on their toes with a selection of beats that runs from the classic (‘Back Wynd’s electro hip-hop beat) to modern dance beats (‘Venom’). On ‘Long Now’ and album closer ‘Downer 2’ Offshore shows his gentler side and adds yet more diversity to this impressive release. The future looks bright for Offshore who already looks like he could overtake his more famous contemporaries Rustie and Hudson Mohawke.

Container – “LP” (2) (Spectrum Spools)

Container’s second album is more a refinement of the sound of his first album than a greater department from his debut. Both albums overall sounds subscribed to the model of analogue driven noise-techno that Container was pioneering just a year ago. The difference between the materials on the two releases is subtle. While the new album isn’t a ferocious as his debut it shows that Container is far from a one trick pony with the broken and busted up breakbeat of ‘Paralyzed’ being one of the highlights of album. In fact, it’s only brilliant closer ‘Refract’ that sticks rigidly to the techno grid, the others allowed to be more rhythmical free. The creepy and twisted vocal samples that were used on the first album’s ‘Protrusion’ and ‘Rattler’ are a dominant and expertly utilised across the whole of “LP 2”. Though “LP 2” maybe slighter than its predecessor but from the opening bippty-boppity drums of ‘Dripping’ via Acid arpeggio and four to the floor bass drum of ‘Perforate’ right through to the blur of electronic drums and descending synth effects of ‘Refract’  it has enough noisy energy to satisfy fans of both noise music and techno.

Zombie Zombie – “Rituels D’Un Nouveau Monde” (Versatile)

“Rituels D’Un Nouveau Monde” is the second full length album by French electro duo Zombie Zombie, the album sees the duo consolidating and refining the sound established on their debut album “Land of Renegades” (2009) and their mini album of John Carpenter reinterpretations “Zombie Zombie plays…” (2010). The album is bookended by the cinematic electro of ‘The Wisdom Of Stones (Do You Believe In..?)’ and ‘Black Paradise’ which offset clanky electronic drums with acoustic drums and percussion and atmospherics and synth sounds that could only be influenced by the aforementioned Carpenter. ‘Illuminations’ takes on a four to the floor rhythm though this is still offset by percussion and synthesizers that could be included on a classic film score. ‘Rocket #9’ continues to ups the dancefloor ante going up out with catchy vocal refrain and acid inspired synth lines before a saxophone takes the track to its delirious climax. ‘Watch The World From A Plane’ begins with a lone synth melody growing in complexity until it reaches analogue synth nirvana part way through and stays there until its conclusion. “Rituels D’Un Nouveau Monde” demonstrates that Zombie Zombie continue to develop with each new release refining and improving their potent formula and even throwing in the odd surprise e.g. the saxophone on ‘Illuminations’ and ‘ Rocket #9’. All lovers of electro and synth based soundtrack music should definitely check this out.

Nils Frahm – “Screws” (Erased Tapes)

On his new album “Screws” Nils Frahm has turned an accident that resulted in a damaged thumb for the experimental pianist into a triumph. He ended up with four screws inside his thumb and dealt with it the only way he knew how to, by playing his piano. The result is nine intimate piano pieces, so intimate in fact that you can hear Frahms shifting position on his stool and the bits of metal that rattle around in his prepared piano. It’s as if you’re in the room with him while he plays these minimal and yet emotional varied pieces. The album opens with ‘You’ which manages to somehow to sound both bright and poignant at the same time, like the sound of cautious optimism. ‘Do’ changes things up with a sparser arrangement and more bass notes before ‘Re’ turns things on their head with its lilting melody floats through the air as if barely touched by human hands and recalls Tchaikovsky. ‘Mi’ is a harder and dissonant piece that features long overtones and mismatched notes. ‘Fa’ is sad and pensive, while ‘Sol’ takes things a step further feeling both dark and desolate. The lightness returns with ‘La’ which gentle bass undertow gives the track gravity and purpose at the same time. ‘Si’ contrasts heavy chords with a light and air melody complimented by a stately feel. Finally the albums concludes with ‘Me’ with its steady stream of notes regular interrupted by extended pauses, the silence is almost deafening even in these minimalist music surroundings. With “Screws” Frahms adds another stunning album to an already impressive and expressive back catalogue. For emotive music of the highest order look no further.

Holly Herndon – “Movement” (RVNG INTL)

“Movement” is the excellent debut album from Holly Herndon an artist whose been compared to Laurel Halo. While there are similarities between the two (they both produce experimental and techno music based around heavily processed vocals) Herndon is no copyist as this album proves. While Halo usually coats her vocals in luxurious reverb and reaches for a warm sound, Herndon prefers to create mostly abstract layers of vocals. Abstract to the point where it’s hard to tell what’s Herndon’s vocal and what’s a synth sound, Herndon also focus on harder and colder more digitalized sounds. Opener ‘Terminal’ is a case in point it’s hissing and snorting slivers of sound send a shiver down the spine while as drawing the listener in. With ‘Fade’ the album switches into its twitchy techno mode, its unpredictable drum machine pattern, slippery synth bass and warped arpeggio help it stand out from the crowd. ‘Breathe’ returns us to the experimental sound of ‘Terminal’ centring on Herndon’s nervous inhaling and exhaling, shaky effects and an occasional synth chord, it’s highly effective and “exquisitely horrifying”. ‘Movement’ is another twitchy techno number with reverse vocals and a shifting rhythm pattern that’s simultaneously exciting and disorienting for the listener. The album’s sparse finale ‘Dilato’ uses a slow synth pad (or is it heavily processed vocals) and Herndon’s lead vocal to create an effect that recalls a Muslim prayer, though there’s a subtle digital feel to the track.

Hello Skinny – “Hello Skinny” (Slowfoot)

The eponymous debut album from Hello Skinny aka Tom Skinner is one of this year best debut albums and effortlessly blends genres and acoustic and electronic sounds. The album explores a very modern form of psychedelic music folding into its mix dub bass and FX, jazz saxophone, clarinet and drums, splash of colourful synth and electronic beats that owe a debt to both hip-hop and the more organic end of electronica. This blend is presented from the off with opener ‘Aquarius’ which is based around an electronic rhythm track, bubbling synth bass and a sonar synth effects before later in the track there joined by acoustic jazz drums and dub delay. The title track takes things down a notch with a downtempo feel complimented by a submerged dub bass and a clarinet melody that recalls Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and in the second half of the track there’s a great twisted saxophone solo the first of a few spread across the album. The album continues in a similar vein throughout switching between more upbeat material similar to ‘Aquarius’ and more downtempo and reflective tracks similar to the title track. ‘Me and My Lady’ is the one exception to this rule playing out like a classic cowboy film theme or a dub version of one of Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Upsetter’s cowboy themed reggae tracks. “Hello Skinny” is an understated but engaging and enthralling listen, can’t wait to hear what Skinner comes up with next.

Peaking Lights – “Lucifer In Dub” (Weird World)

“Lucifer In Dub” does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s a dub album of Peaking Lights “Lucifer” album which has been a Sonic Fiction favourite this year. “Lucifer In Dub” acts very much as a flip side to “Lucifer” whereas the parent album reduced the amount of dub effects to a zero and pushed the dub bass lines right back in the mix, this album pushes all that to the fore and adds a healthy amount of dirt to the previous clean pop production. The album opens with ‘Cosmick Dub’ which revolves around a rolling bass guitar riff, heavy electronic drums and organ covered in lashings of dub delay. Then there’s the tropical sounding melody of the delightful ‘My Heart Dubs 4 U’ and album highlight ‘Beautiful Dub’ where a guitar riff, organ chords and female vocals float high above tough dub bass and electronic drums to stunning effect. The band changes tack on ‘Live Dub’ with its pounding synth bass line, swan diving guitar that sounds like a police car siren and double time beats. The use of double time beats is repeated on closer ‘Midnight Dub’ and I’m not totally convinced it, though it does show a potential new direction which Peaking Lights can experiment with and refine. Overall, “Lucifer In Dub” is a superb addition to the Peaking Lights back catalogue and in time could prove to be their best album yet.

Big Boi – “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours” (Mercury)

“Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours” is an ambitious and highly emotive album, one that fuses together 80’s funk, new wave and ambient synth textures with Big Boi’s trademark Dirty South hip-hop style. It is in short Big Boi’s pop album and rivals fellow OutKast member Andre 3000’s “The Love Below” as the finest pop entry in their respective back catalogues. This is the album that I thought I’d be hearing from Andre 3000 when he got around to making his debut solo album but Big Boi has beaten him to the punch. I’d go as far that is the most emotional raw and broad hip-hop since Kanye West released “808s and Heartbreak” (2008). It’s difficult to single out highlights on an album where quality level never drops from start to finish, this could be an overcooked and busy affair with seventeen tracks and many more collaborators but Big Boi and his opulent backing tracks gel with everything single contributor. Whether it’s the swarming strings of ‘The Thickets’, the 100% electro fest that is ‘Thom Pettie’ or the lush 80’s funk come-on’s of closer ‘She Said Ok’ it all just works even when it shouldn’t. Big Boi recently proclaimed his love of Kate Bush’s music and this influence runs through the whole album informing its lush synthetic and acoustic textures and arrangements. Prince is another 80’s pop star whose influence is a regular feature on the album and it’s no bad thing even on the out-and-out cheese fests of ‘Raspberries’, ‘Descending’ and ‘She Said Ok’, the influence is always present on 80’s funk numbers ‘Apple of my Eye’ and ‘Higher Res’. I didn’t think I’d be writing this but with “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours” Big Boi might have just trumped his debut solo album“Sir Lucious Left Foot: Son of Chico Dusty” (2010).

Top Release of the Month

Raime – “Quarter Turns on the Living Line” (Blackest Ever Black)

CS470505-01A-BIG

On their debut album “Quarter Turns on the Living Line” Raime have thrown down the gauntlet to all artists currently working on electronic and experimental music, “up your game before it’s too late.” Though it wasn’t the duo’s intention the album sounds like the soundtrack to an unreleased film, subtly referencing John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” score or repositioning Ennio Morricone’s work to an industrial post-apocalyptic world. The duo expand on the critically acclaimed 12”s by adding emotional depth and a more organic sound via the use of field recordings, foley samples and acoustic instrumentation such as guitar, violins and cellos. Whereas the 12”s focused strongly on the duo’s jungle and industrial influences they broaden their range here to include post-rock, the doom metal of Sunn O))) and Earth and of course those previously mentioned soundtracks. The duo also manage to maintain a balance between the dark, heavy sounds and lighter, brighter sounds; another progression from the earlier 12”s. Raime have produced one of the debut albums of year, one that leaves many more established acts in the shade. Long may these soundscapes shapers continue to reign supreme.

“I don’t like things that are too obvious…If you, as a listener, are always putting something in a certain cupboard, I’ve never liked that. If you say, this is jazz, this is pop, this is…experimental techno and all these kinds of things, I don’t like that. I want to make it that somebody can create his own language… That’s what I tried to do. I’ve always tried to do new tracks, sounds that you don’t know, that you can’t define.” Moritz von Oswald, The Wire, July 2009.

Berlin-based producers Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald established Basic Channel in 1993. Building on the techno dialogue between Detroit and Berlin in the early nineties and the duo developed a slender but adored catalogue of stripped, ultra-minimal releases that compacted together techno, dub and ambient. Besides Basic Channel, the pair also operated under the ambient-leaning label Chain Reaction and other numerous projects: Cyrus, Phylyps, Quadrant, Maurizio and Rhythm And Sound.

This month’s Classics Critiqued covers “BCD”, a collection of their seminal 12” vinyl records. I have picked “BCD” because, as well as been a personal favourite, its tracks have been incredibly influential on this current generation of techno DJs and producers and without Basic Channel’s existence the genre’s landscape would be very different yet they and their releases are seldom covered in mainstream music press.

Germany’s techno scene was conceived while the country began to redefine itself in 1990.  With Detroit techno serving as their main influence and Berlin as the natural capital, Germany’s youth built their first dance music scene. The no-man’s land that sandwiched the Wall still remained after its collapse, leaving many buildings uninhabited during the year-long reunification process; as such the unclaimed and derelict spaces served many with the opportunity for club locations. Dimitri Hegemann and his Interfisch label peers found a series of underground rooms in the redundant Wertheim Kaufhaus (once Europe’s largest department store), on the Potsdamer Platz artery. The group took on their newly discovered space and named it Tresor (vault or safe in German). Hegemann recalls in Dan Sicko’s expert book ‘Techno Rebels’: “We were the place where East and West kids came together, musically…” Tresor was vastly important in bringing together the once divided generation and became one of a number of clubs in Berlin that introduced thousands to techno and united people through it. Also at the heart of the capital’s techno scene is the Basic Channel-linked record shop and distributor Hard Wax. Co-owned by Ernestus, Hard Wax had and still retains a high regard for Detroit techno and its principles and was central to the explosion of the genre in Berlin.

Rather than being culturally significant in the way that Tresor was, for example, Basic Channel’s value is in their influence on techno’s sound, aesthetics and preference for anonymity; that “let the music do the talking” mantra. As with Drexciya and Detroit’s Underground Resistance, Basic Channel infused techno with the mythology that would become as fundamental to the genre as its steady bass drum. Rarely permitting press coverage and by choosing a purely functional and unyielding name, Moritz von Oswald and Mark Ernestus divorced themselves from the outside world with a self-contained production and distribution house that included their studio, label, Dubplates & Mastering facility and Ernestus’ Hard Wax. As with some techno artists, Basic Channel can be an alienating experience for those uninitiated in the genre and near impossible for a casual listener to penetrate; record sleeves contained little information but for a Berlin fax number and a sticker instructing “buy vinyl”. The cryptically named tracks, murky and populated by machines churning and throbbing, have little humanness or apparent emotional content.

Throughout the first half of the nineties, Basic Channel were one of Europe’s first techno innovators. Ernestus and von Oswald defined dance minimalism early on, both through a love of repetition as a form of change and a desire to let the music speak for itself. The tracks, released on their eponymous label, were termed ‘dub-techno’, owing to the subtraction of all but the genre’s most essential ingredients, which were then reconstructed to merge Jamaican dub, 4/4 bass drum pulses and dissonant synthesisers swallowed by rippling delays and reverb. They restrained techno’s energy to untethered pulses and glancing synths that churn and wash below a surface of fog and crackle; ‘murky’ is a signature adjective. As respected electronic music journalist Philip Sherburne wrote, the pair were making “music of horizontal energies, sinking in and spreading out.”

Their pioneering catalogue has informed the work of Monolake (Robert Henke is an alumnus of Dubplates & Mastering), Drexciya, (another duo who until recently have been unfairly ignored by music press) Hard Wax and D&M associate Pole and Plastikman, who, alongside Basic Channel, form an important family from which minimal techno was born. Later Vladislav Delay, Thomas Brinkmann, Beat Pharmacy, Echospace and DeepChord incorporated the moist grooves of their music into different templates. Their aesthetics can be traced in labels such as Ostgut, Delsin, Stroboscopic Artefacts, CRS Recordings and Perc Trax, while contemporary DJs and producers Marcel Dettmann, Ben Klock, Voices From The Lake, Skudge, Morphosis, and the mammoth Berlin techno club Berghain are closely related to this renaissance in the duo’s catalogue.

Basic Channel have become a synonym for vaporous dub-techno and their legacy is such that they are consistently referenced in press releases and artist descriptions within electronic music magazines yet journalists rarely explore their career or catalogue. A search through the archives of FACT, xlr8r, Resident Advisor, Pitchfork and The Wire will reveal hundreds of references to Basic Channel though disappointingly only a couple of articles written about them. Ernestus and von Oswald built a body of work that needs to be investigated. They were instrumental in the creation of a new culture in techno and theirs is a 20 year heritage whose influence can be heard in hundreds of artists. They are widely acknowledged to have perfected the dub-techno sound and without them techno would be a markedly different genre.

Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald have grown into the genre’s figureheads and “BCD” is an essential synopsis of one of the most important names in all of techno. As von Oswald stated in his interview for The Wire, “It’s not about status, It’s not about legacy; it’s about listening.”

Vier

Spotify playlist:

Various Artists – BCD

or if you don’t have Spotify listen to three minute previews at Hard Wax’s website.

The 2000s saw techno tangle with pop music with many artists incorporating directly pop-influenced melodies and harmonies as tracks evolved into songs. Meanwhile minimal techno and its main purveyor M-nus continued to blossom and Kompakt’s rich techno hallmark garnered critical acclaim. The end of the decade also saw the rise of the Berghain and Ostgut Ton artists who have captured the imaginations of many by reinvigorating the ‘Berlin’ sound that some had perceived to be stagnating. Similar to the Three Decades of Techno: The Second Chapter, I will focus primarily on the genre’s development in Germany throughout the last decade whilst covering other European and South American artists who have shaped the sound of techno’s future.

Growing into an empire of distribution with an incredible record and download shop, booking agency and a number of sub-labels (Immer, Profan, Kompakt Pop, Kompakt Extra), Cologne’s Kompakt has a near mythological quality in the techno world, is admired by virtually all techno fans and can be pinpointed from the start of the 2000s as the beginning of techno’s cross-pollination with pop music. Wolfgang Voigt has described the label’s signature as “honest, simple. It is adult techno, cultural techno” and has also frequently spoken about the importance of the “boom boom boom” that underpins all electronic music, something the label has explored by releasing boundless variations of techno, tech-house, ambient, ambient-dub and pop music. In essence the famous “Kompakt sound”, which is mentioned in almost everything written about the label, is the incorporation of traditionally pop music melodies and harmonies into that fundamental pulsing 4/4 bass drum and looped, textural ambience: firm but supple.

Despite first making its reputation as a sponsor of minimal techno Kompakt’s trademark has always been a full and distinctly, a lovingly intimate sound. Thomas Fehlmann’s “Honigpumpe”, the “Nah Und Fern” compilation by GAS and The Field’s “From Here We Go Sublime” embody this eloquently. Its core artists Voigt, Michael Mayer, Superpitcher, DJ Koze, Reinhard Voigt and Justus Köhncke have been with the label for a decade or more. Though they have often released projects under pseudonyms covering different styles these artists have helped the label achieve its distinct and renowned identity. Kompakt has played a remarkable role to techno over the decade with music critic Simon Reynolds crediting it as the “label that’s contributed more than any other to Germany’s dominance of electronic dance music this decade [the 2000s].”

Chilean-German DJ and producer Ricardo Villalobos is one of the most revered names in techno. Though usually described as minimal techno, his productions are too singular to be part of one genre. His critically celebrated 2003 debut album “Alcachofa” from which the seminal ‘Easy Lee’ and ‘Dexter’ were cultivated is a unique collection of intricate and highly detailed tracks; keywords in Villalobos’ discography. Included on several compilations and mixes curated by his peers Richie Hawtin and Michael Mayer and others that year, ten minute opener ‘Easy Lee’ builds slowly with delicate percussion pattering under an uneasy vocodered vocal refrain and showcases Villalobos’ expert hand in creating subtly composed sound-designed tracks. Writing for All Music Guide, Andy Kellman observed “Alcachofa”‘s (artichoke in Spanish) appropriate title, “If the kind of vivid house you hear blaring in the hip clothing store is an apple, giving the mouth an instant burst of flavor the moment the teeth puncture its skin, then the microhouse of Ricardo Villalobos is more like an artichoke – a more subtle fruit that’s consumed by peeling off its fleshy leaves and delicately skimming the pulp off the inner surface.”

An exceptional feature of Ricardo Villalobos’ work is that his productions truly feel equally perfect for both home listening and DJ sets, something that many artists have tried to achieve, because despite the elongated grooves and naturally evolving structures that are suited to the dance floor the microscopic details and the queasy feeling of nervousness that permeates his material, especially “Alcachofa”, can only be detected when listening in stasis.

His bespoke speakers that resemble a gramophone which use every frequency across the spectrum, his passion for audio fidelity and sound design, his immersive Fabric36 mix and the sheer complexity and amount of work that Villalobos puts into creating his productions display why he is such a highly regarded figure in techno who is continuously mentioned by critics and artists. The influence of his work on new producers going in to this decade like Nicolas Jaar, Shackleton and The Field in such a short space of time is a testament to his talent and individual material.

Just over halfway in to the decade The Knife released “Silent Shout” and Ellen Allien and Apparat released “Orchestra Of Bubbles” in 2006. “Silent Shout” is an ideal example of the blurring of lines between techno and pop seen in the 2000s, due in part to The Knife’s conceptual, theatrical heart. The Swedish pair’s music is as much techno as it is pop: it has narratives, chord changes, even sing-able choruses. Karin Dreijer Andersson, singer and co-producer, manipulates her voice to become the songs’ protagonists, enabling her to sing in the first person; making the songs far more personal and significant. Yet they are also distancing – as if the listener is an audience member in a macabre play where each scene introduces a new character – the lyrics are skeletal and leave the subject matter open-ended. Dreijer Andersson has explained that the films of David Lynch, in particular the scene from Mulholland Drive in which the lead characters go to a midnight concert where the music is generated from a playback tape, are a great influence on how she presents the songs.

The nightmares of the title track, ‘From Off To On’’s whispering voices, the naïve character in ‘Forest Families’ who, shamed for having “a communist in the family” and told their “favourite book was dirty”, sings about the particular and the universal as the song rises and falls, the furious sexual equality sea-shanty ‘One Hit’ and the schizophrenic voice in ‘We Share Our Mother’s Health’ going hysterical with fear all create the haunting and uneasy mood of “Silent Shout”. Yet it also offers easy to miss humour in the sly  hip-hop beat that announces the arrival of ‘We Share Our Mother’s Health’ and ‘Marble House’’s ‘singing whale’ synth. The album pushes what we can consider to be ‘techno’ and it is The Knife’s ingenious use of pop melodies and characterisation which play against the techno landscape of rippling filters, de-tunings and thunderous 909 claps that makes “Silent Shout” compelling and musically momentous.

Berliner Ellen Allien, acclaimed DJ, producer, graduate of leading ‘90s club Tresor and chief of the record label BPitch Control has spent the last decade releasing five albums and numerous DJ mixes that showcase her distinctive blend of pop-indebted melodies (she claims to have learnt to speak English by listening to David Bowie records), thick bass lines and techno-fied breakbeats. Apparat who co-runs the record label Shitkatapult has released a handful of albums and EPs which combine his understated voice, not unlike Thom Yorke’s, with home-listening designed intelligent dance music (IDM). Their album “Orchestra Of Bubbles” is perhaps the pinnacle their careers. Their differing electronic music styles: Allien’s sweet, dance floor techno and Apparat’s melancholic IDM make the release a thrilling album where the tracks pull and push against each other. It ascends and descends, the glide of techno is resisted by jerky IDM beats, misty pads contrast oomph-ing bass lines, rippling arpeggios swirl around Ellen Allien’s dreamy, accented voice. The songs present a guessing game of which part belongs to whom: interlocking sections shine through as Allien’s as her huge analogue synth leads go head-to-head with Apparat’s grainy crunches and snapping beats, as presented in ‘Turbo Dreams’ and the gorgeous ‘Jet’.

The triangle on ‘Metric’ and ‘Way Out’’s ride cymbal that quietly pushes the chorus along are hidden gems that mark out “Orchestra Of Bubbles” as something that has being meticulously composed. Every aspect of the album sounds considered yet effortless: the vocal stutter that bridges the two sections of ‘Floating Points’ and builds to a demanding SH101 bass line, to standout ‘Do Not Break’, which breathlessly speeds for 5:13 minutes. Its entirety is full and encompassing, even in comparison to Allien’s effervescent “Thrills” released the previous year, and is brimming with the blending of digital and analogue timbres which are so richly textured they are nearly physical. Those looking for an essential song-based techno album and a microcosm of techno in the 2000s will find it in “Orchestra Of Bubbles”.

Ostgut Ton, the Berlin-based label launched six years ago to provide a base for Berghain and Panorama Bar residents, has become the name du jour in the past 18-24 months. ‘90s pioneers Basic Channel’s unique dub-techno sound architecture has left an indelible mark on the productions of Ostgut Ton’s main artists: Ben Klock, Marcel Fengler, Norman Nodge and Marcel Dettmann. Perfunctory, mechanical, cold: adjectives used to describe Ostgut Ton’s output contradict the productions’ true sound. On closer listen they are clearly imbued with a womb-like warmth and depth. Typifying this is Marcel Dettmann’s debut album “Dettmann”, which is filled with immersive atmospherics and bass frequencies that embrace and surround; more akin to Basic Channel and early techno like Model 500 than the icy, driving beat that is associated with Berlin techno. Despite murmurs of a backlash Ostgut Ton have entranced many with its pure stylistic signature and this with Berghain’s infamously strict door policy give the label an exclusive nature that harks back to techno’s beginnings in elite parties for only the most dedicated. Hopefully this limitation will stop the popularity and hype of Ostgut Ton/Berghain been its downfall.

Ahead of his performance at Coachella last year Richie Hawtin was asked in an interview with LA Times: “You’re based in Europe now, where everyone seems to think the edgiest electronic music is being made today. How do you think the American scene can catch up?” To which he replied, “Well, to catch up would be hard in a way because it’s been sustained for so long there. It’s not about catching up; it’s about following your scene and your location’s individual path. And that’s what electronic music’s about. There shouldn’t be one electronic music hit everywhere, like Jay-Z is everywhere. Electronic music is like a snake that you can’t grab. So it should be different in different scenes. That’s what makes it interesting.”

Hawtin’s point encapsulates what techno in the past three decades has been about and done.  It has mutated and flourished in numerous countries, evolving into different breeds independently and yet the genre’s founding ideologies have remained: emotive and human, pushing the limits of technology, valuing music for head as much as the feet. Techno is so adored and indestructible it will continue to be a dominant force for decades to come.

%d bloggers like this: